Friday, September 14, 2018

media update: September

Asterisks denote something I particularly enjoyed or found especially worthy of my time; double asterisks are reserved for the creme de la creme.  As always, your mileage may vary.

FICTION

1. Penance by Kanae Minato:  When they were children, Sae, Maki, Akiko, Emily, and Yuko were approached by a man asking for help.  Emily went off with the man and was murdered.  Because the others were unable to describe the killer to the police, he was never found, and Emily's grieving mother tells the surviving girls that if they don't find the killer, they must perform penance, or she'll make their lives hell.

2. Something in the Water by Catherine Steadman:  On their honeymoon in Bora Bora, Erin and Mark discover a duffel bag floating in the water.  They turn it in to the desk clerk, but the desk clerk misunderstands what they're saying and it winds up in their room.  Intrigued, they decide to open it...and it's full of cash and diamonds.  Mark has just lost his job, and Erin doesn't make much money as a documentary filmmaker, so they decide to keep it, and it's not much of a spoiler to say that this turns out to be a bad decision.  It reminded me of a seriously dumbed down version of A Simple Plan, so if you've read or seen that, you don't really need to read (or see; I have no doubt it will eventually be made into a movie) this.

Okay, I need to rant about something in this book, so skip the following paragraph if you want to read/see this:

MEDIUM SPOILERS FOR SOMETHING IN THE WATER

I won't go into the details as to why they need to do this, as it will take a long time, but at one point, Erin and Mark need to get rid of CCTV footage at a hotel.  So Erin fakes food poisoning and Mark throws a fit at the front desk to distract the clerk.  Erin sneaks into the back, erases the footage, and comes back out, easy as pie.  It gets better!  Back in their room, Erin realizes they also need to erase all of their guest information on the hotel's computer database, and Mark says he'll take care of it.  She waits in the room, and precisely 46 minutes later, he comes back and says "It's done."  No explanation of how!  I mean, the fact that they were able to erase CCTV footage without anyone noticing (and it's a Four Seasons resort, not a tiny B&B where there could conceivably be just one or two people around) is LOL-worthy enough, but the database too?  And the author couldn't be arsed to give even a shitty explanation of how Mark did it!  This book is going to sell a zillion copies and meanwhile my favorite book of all time probably sold, like, 30 and I am peeved.

3. Cross Her Heart* by Sarah Pinborough:  Lisa has a secret past that she's tried to keep hidden for many years, but seemingly random incidents start making her think everything is going to come into the light.  An engrossing psychological thriller; it's not nearly as wackadoodle batshit as Behind Her Eyes (seriously, that had one of the most astonishing endings of any book ever), or as good, but I really enjoyed it.

Side note: kudos to whoever wrote the inside jacket copy; it tells you just enough to make you intrigued, but it doesn't spoil anything major, which is sadly quite rare.

4. Idyll Hands by Stephanie Gayle:  Police chief Thomas Lynch doesn't have much to do in the small town of Idyll; after working as a homicide detective in New York City, cases like illegally dumped clamshells are really boring.  But then a body is found in the woods, which brings back bad memories for fellow cop Michael Finnegan, whose sister disappeared many years ago.  Together they try to find out who killed the woman in the woods and what happened to Michael's sister.

5. The Silence of the Girls* by Pat Barker:  During the Trojan War, Briseis is taken as a war "prize" and given to Achilles.  But after Agamemnon demands that Achilles give Briseis to him, it sparks a new conflict that could change the course of the war.  I read The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller earlier this year, and this was an interesting counterpoint as it focused not on the warriors, but on the women left to serve their needs and clean up their messes.  I love historical novels, and this fit the bill beautifully.

6. Sadie by Courtney Summers:  After her beloved younger sister is murdered, Sadie goes on the run to find the man she thinks is responsible.  Meanwhile, a radio personality starts a podcast about the case and goes in search of Sadie at the request of her surrogate grandmother.  Well done, with some stunning lines.  ("Eighteen years old, but the kind of eighteen they write about in books...the kind of eighteen that lives faster than the speed of hurt.")

7. #murdertrending by Gretchen McNeil:  In the near future, convicted killers are sent to an island called Alcatraz 2.0, where they're stalked by internet-famous assassins with punny names like Hannah Ball and Cecil B. DeViolent (seriously, not Cecil B. DeKill?!?) and their murders are shown live on a wildly popular app.  Dee, wrongfully convicted of killing her stepsister, manages to kill her would-be assassin, Prince Slycer, on her first day on the island and finds the target on her back has grown even larger.

8. #fashionvictim by Amina Akhtar:  Yes, another book with a hashtag in the title!  (Oddly enough, both of their covers also feature stick figures, one of which has been decapitated.)  In this one, a fashion editor's obsession with her seemingly perfect coworker turns deadly.

9. Two Dark Reigns by Kendare Blake:  This is the latest installment of the Three Dark Crowns series, so I can't properly review it lest I spoil its predecessors.

10. The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock** by Imogen Hermes Gowar:  In 1785 London, wealthy merchant Jonah Hancock is horrified when the captain of one of his trading ships comes back and says that he sold the ship in exchange for a dead mermaid.  Jonah decides to try to cut his losses by exhibiting the mermaid, and it quickly becomes a sensation.  Meanwhile, a celebrated courtesan named Angelica has recently lost her patron, and when Jonah agrees to lend the mermaid to the brothel where she used to work, their lives intersect in unusual ways.  As I mentioned in my review of #5, I love historical novels, and this one was fantastic.  If you liked The Crimson Petal and the White, I can't imagine you wouldn't like this too.  It's my favorite novel of the year so far; I can't believe it's the author's first!

11. Come Closer by Sara Gran:  Amanda's life turns weird: she hears odd noises in her apartment, she inexplicably jabs a lit cigarette into her husband's thigh, and she keeps dreaming about a woman standing in a bloody ocean.  Eventually, she starts to think she's actually possessed.


2018 TOTAL SO FAR:  95


NONFICTION

Nothing this month.

2018 TOTAL SO FAR:  20


MANGA/GRAPHIC NOVELS

1. Monstress** vol. 3 by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda

2. Citrus* vol. 8 by Saburouta

3. My Brother's Husband* vol. 2 (final volume) by Gengoroh Tagame

4. Home After Dark by David Small
  
2018 TOTAL SO FAR:  38 volumes of manga and 10 graphic novels


MOVIES

1. Housebound*:  After robbing an ATM, Kylie is placed on house arrest and moves in with her mother and stepfather.  Kylie scoffs at her mother's insistence that the house is haunted, but strange events start to change her mind.  An immensely enjoyable horror comedy from New Zealand; there's an American remake in the works, but this is perfectly fine on its own.  Why don't people ever remake shitty movies?

2. Rampage:  Dwayne Johnson (I can't remember his character's name, but like it matters) plays a primatologist who has to save Chicago after his gorilla friend George, a wolf, and an alligator become mutated and start rampaging through the city.  Incredibly stupid, but kind of fun.

Side note: someone on Twitter said that whenever Dwayne Johnson's character is referring to himself in ASL, he uses the sign for "rock", which is a fun little nod.  (Because you can't always trust shit online, I googled it and it's been confirmed by numerous sources.)  

3. Upgrade*:  Even though the world is almost entirely run by computers, Grey (Logan Marshall-Green, excellent) prefers the simpler things in life, like tinkering with his old-school car.  But when his wife is murdered and he's left paralyzed, he's given a new shot at life with an experimental computer chip that not only helps him walk again, but turns him into a total badass.  I didn't expect a whole lot from this movie, but it was actually pretty good!

4. Won't You Be My Neighbor?**:  A documentary about Mister Rogers and the impact he had on TV and generations of children.  I had no idea that some of his shows were so revolutionary; for example, he discussed the assassination of Robert Kennedy and showed himself sharing a foot bath on a hot day with an African-American man.  (Which doesn't sound all that amazing, but keep in mind that this was during a time when white hotel owners were pouring bottles of corrosive chemicals into pools while African-American people were in them.)  An especially poignant segment shows a woman singing a duet with Daniel Striped Tiger (a puppet voiced by Mister Rogers) after Daniel wonders if he's made wrong and, even though she is singing that she likes him just the way he is, he continues to sing about feeling like a mistake.  That's a pretty incredible insight into not just kids, but people...that even when those we love tell us we're fine as we are, we can't just instantly stop picking on ourselves, and Mister Rogers was kind and smart enough to acknowledge that it's not that easy.  This movie is like a warm hug from the man himself, and I didn't just cry...I sobbed.


Side note: at Mister Rogers' funeral, a group of protesters (I won't give them the dignity of sharing their name here, but it's the group you'd expect) stood outside with signs saying "Mister Rogers in Hell" because he was tolerant of the LGBTQ+ community.  My first thought was how fucking DARE these cretinous, maggoty piles of pigshit; my second thought was "If Mister Rogers is in hell, then literally every human being above the age of 6 is doomed."

5. Hereditary*:  Annie (Toni Collette) is a deeply troubled woman with a family history of severe mental illness.  After her mother dies, Annie thinks she might finally have some peace, but she's very wrong.  One of the most viscerally disturbing and upsetting movies I've seen in quite some time; at one point, we were tempted to turn it off because it was really getting to us.  We persevered, and I'm glad (?) we did because overall it was really good (though I have some major qualms with the last 20 or so minutes), with unrelenting tension, excellent performances, and some terrific set and sound design.  I'm giving it a star, but I never want to see it again; it was like having my nerves shredded by a cheese grater for 2 hours.

6.  Tag:  A group of friends has been playing the same game of tag for many years, and they're determined to tag the undefeated champion and finally make him "it".  Loosely based on a true story (you see footage of the real friends during the end credits), it was much better than expected and had some very solid laughs.  You'll have "Mmm Mmm Mmm" by the Crash Test Dummies stuck in your head for days afterwards, though.

7. Searching:  After his daughter Margot goes missing, David (John Cho) desperately tries to find her by combing her social media for clues.  Told almost entirely via computer/phone/TV screens, a la Unfriended, it (and a box of pretzel nuggets with mustard on the side) made for a nice diversion on a mental health day.

8. Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom:  Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard try to rescue the dinosaurs when a volcano begins erupting on the island.  Not great, but it had its moments.

Side note:  there's a stinger with absolutely dreadful CGI in it, which was startling considering the special effects in the rest of the movie were good.  It's like they decided to put a stinger in at the last minute and the CGI folks had already left, so they called Syfy and said "Hey, do you have any Sharknado people left that can whip out a quick stinger for us?"

9. Police Story: Lockdown:  Police officer Zhong Wen (Jackie Chan) investigates when a man takes an entire nightclub hostage.

10. It Comes at Night:  After an unknown disease ravages the world, a man barricades himself in his home with his wife and son, but another man shows up begging for refuge.  Not bad, but not remotely what I was expecting based on the title.

2018 TOTAL SO FAR:  82

Friday, August 31, 2018

media update: August

Asterisks denote something I particularly enjoyed or found especially worthy of my time; double asterisks are reserved for the creme de la creme.  As always, your mileage may vary.

FICTION

1. You Were Made for This* by Michelle Sacks:  After moving to Sweden from the US, Merry and Sam seem to have a perfect life and a perfect marriage.  Then Merry's (female) friend Frank comes for an extended visit, and the cracks in Merry and Sam's life start to widen.  I read the first 30 pages or so and wasn't sure if I'd finish it, but then an offhanded comment made by Merry caught my attention, and I decided to stick with it.  I'm glad I did, because it got very intriguing and super dark.

2. Jar of Hearts by Jennifer Hillier:  When she was in high school, Georgina Shaw helped her boyfriend Calvin cover up the murder of her best friend.  Fourteen years later, Angela's body is discovered and Georgina is arrested for her part in the crime, but Calvin has escaped custody...and it looks like he's back to his old tricks.

3. America for Beginners* by Leah Franqui:  After her husband dies, Pival Sengupta leaves India for a tour of America, where she hopes to reconnect with her estranged gay son.  She's accompanied on this journey by a guide named Satya, who's from Bangladesh but posing as Indian, and Rebecca, an aspiring actress hired for modesty's sake.  A charming novel with some interesting thoughts about culture clashes.

4. Watch the Girls* by Jennifer Wolfe:  After her younger sister disappeared, teen star Liv Hendricks quit acting.  Fifteen years later, she hears about a small California town called Stone's Throw, made famous by a horror director, where several young women have vanished.  Hoping to kickstart her career again, Liv begins a webseries and goes to Stone's Throw to investigate.  An engrossing thriller.

5. The Cheerleaders by Kara Thomas:  Five years ago, five cheerleaders at Sunnybrook High died in three separate incidents:  two in a car crash, two were murdered, and one (Jennifer) died by suicide.  While looking for pain pills, Jennifer's sister Monica discovers a locked drawer in her stepfather's office, and what she finds makes her reconsider the truth about the tragic events.

6. Her Pretty Face by Robyn Harding:  Frances Metcalfe is a lonely stay-at-home mom who manages to befriend the beautiful and wealthy Kate Randolph.  But there's a catch: one of them is not who she seems.  Too many parentheticals in this book, and I guessed a major thing that happened way before it actually did, but it was a pretty enjoyable read.

Side note: if you plan on reading this, I'd skip the inside cover blurb as it spoils something rather big.

7. The Darkest Legacy by Alexandra Bracken:  A standalone novel set in the Darkest Minds universe following Suzume as she goes on the run after being framed.  The best part of it was a new character named Priyanka who got a ton of really good lines.

8.  The Line That Held Us* by David Joy:  It isn't deer season yet, but when Darl Moody sees a huge buck, he decides to shoot it because the meat will last through the winter.  He accidentally shoots and kills a man instead, and not just any man: the brother of Dwayne Brewer, the meanest man in town.  Excellent Southern noir that would make a great movie; after seeing #4 on the movie list below, I could really imagine Joaquin Phoenix as Dwayne.

9. Jane Doe* by Victoria Helen Stone:  Jane has just gotten a job at an insurance company, where she hopes to catch the interest of Steven, one of the managers.  He takes the bait, but what he doesn't realize is that Jane isn't who she says she is, and she wants revenge.  Smart and nasty.

10. Pieces of Her by Karin Slaughter:  Andy is having lunch with her mother Laura when a gunman bursts into the restaurant and shoots two women.  Despite having no combat training, Laura manages to kill the gunman with a knife through his neck.  Shit manages to go even further downhill from there, and Andy has to go on the run in hopes of discovering the truth about who the hell her mother really is.

Argh...it pains me to say this, because Karin Slaughter is easily one of my five favorite authors, but this book did absolutely nothing for me.  It's the only one of her novels where I wasn't rushing to pick it up whenever I had a free moment, and at times, I struggled to continue.  I'm sure it's just a hiccup; one meh novel is nothing compared to over a dozen excellent ones.

11. Vox* by Christina Dalcher:  In the not-so-distant future, women are restricted to 100 words a day, whether verbal, written, read, or gestured.  If they go over their limit, a counter on their wrist gives them a painful shock; additional infractions make the pain considerably worse.  Dr. Jean McClellan, a linguist, chafes under this rule, but when she's asked to help the president's brother after a traumatic brain injury, she sees a way out for herself and her daughter.  Intelligent and all too plausible.

12. Sweet Little Lies* by Caz Frear:  When a woman's body is discovered, London policewoman Cat Kinsella is called to the scene.  She thinks the corpse looks familiar, but once the victim is identified as Alice Lapaine, Cat dismisses her initial reaction.  But then it turns out Alice is actually a woman named Maryanne Doyle, who had been missing for years...and Cat had always suspected her own father of having something to do with Maryanne's disappearance, which complicates the investigation.  A really enjoyable mystery that reminded me of Tana French's Dublin Murder Squad novels.  (I hasten to add it's not as good as Tana French, which I don't remotely mean as an insult; that's a very high bar!)

2018 TOTAL SO FAR:  84


NONFICTION

1. Lush by Kerry Cohen:  A memoir about the author's struggles with alcohol addiction.

2018 TOTAL SO FAR:  20


MANGA/GRAPHIC NOVELS

1. The Water Dragon's Bride vol. 6 by Rei Toma

2. Everyone's Getting Married vol. 8 by Izumi Miyazono

3. The Promised Neverland** vols. 1-5 by Kaiu Shirai and Posuka Demizu:  I hadn't even finished the first chapter of the first volume when something happened that made me gasp out loud.  I highly recommend this series, but if you have any interest in it, don't spoil it for yourself!  It's going to be an animated series next year, too.

4. Kaze Hikaru vol. 26 by Taeko Watanabe

5. Food Wars!* vol. 25 by Yuto Tsukuda and Shun Saeki

6. What Did You Eat Yesterday? vol. 13 by Fumi Yoshinaga
  
2018 TOTAL SO FAR:  36 volumes of manga and 8 graphic novels


MOVIES

1. Ready Player One:  In the future, practically everyone spends their free time in a virtual reality world called OASIS.  When the creator dies, he leaves behind a video challenging OASIS players to find three keys, which will give the winner the rights to OASIS and a massive fortune.  Visually impressive, but I found it a bit too messy and chaotic.

2. Tully*:  Overwhelmed by the demands of her family, including a newborn, Marlo (Charlize Theron, excellent as always) accepts her brother's gift of a night nanny who's almost too good to be true.  An uncompromising and often quite bleak look at motherhood, but it includes some snappy dialogue courtesy of Diablo Cody's screenplay.

3. Gemini:  The assistant (Lola Kirke) to a starlet (Zoe Kravitz) unexpectedly becomes embroiled in a murder investigation in this interesting neo-noir.

4. You Were Never Really Here*:  Joe (Joaquin Phoenix) is a hitman hired by a senator to rescue his underage daughter from a bordello.  A grim but very good Taxi Driver for the new millennium.

5. Lockout:  When the president's daughter is held hostage during a riot at an outer space prison, a man framed for murder is recruited to rescue her in exchange for having his charges dropped.  Dumb but fun, and Guy Pearce shows some surprisingly good comic timing.

6. Revenge:  Jen accompanies her married lover Richard on a hunting trip, but when his friend rapes her and Richard seems to take it in stride, Jen threatens to tell Richard's wife.  Things get worse, and Richard and his friends leave Jen for dead in the wilderness, but she's alive...and now she's REALLY pissed.  I don't ordinarily watch rape revenge movies---you would have to pay me a LOT of money to watch I Spit on Your Grave, for example---but this got a good review on Jezebel, so I figured it wasn't going to be sexualized.  It was visually stylish and the rape scene, though obviously upsetting, was not graphic.  (I'm guessing the fact that this was directed by a woman had a lot to do with that decision.)  Warning: very gory.

7. The Death of Superman:  Superman takes on his most dangerous foe yet, and as you can tell from the title, it doesn't go so well.

8. Isle of Dogs:  In this animated movie, all of the dogs in Japan are banished to Trash Island after an outbreak of "snout fever", and a young boy goes in search of his lost pet.  Visually inventive, but an inexplicable plot decision about halfway through robbed it of a star.

9. The Strangers: Pray at Night:  In a deserted trailer park, a trio of masked killers terrorizes a family.  Thanks to its trim length (not even 90 minutes) and the fact that we actually care about the family in question, the tension remains high throughout.

10. Deadpool 2*: Deadpool tries to stop a time-traveling mutant named Cable from killing a kid who will eventually grow up to murder Cable's family.  I enjoyed this one much more than the first one; it's extremely funny and has one of the best stingers ever.

11. Unsane:  After inadvertently being committed to a mental hospital, Sawyer is horrified to see that her stalker works there, even though she moved to another state to get away from him.  But is he really there, or is he a figment of her imagination?  An interesting thriller, shot almost entirely on an iPhone by director Steven Soderbergh.


2018 TOTAL SO FAR:  72





Tuesday, July 31, 2018

media update: July

I had a lovely birthday week!  G and I spent several days in San Francisco and Monterey with his family.  There were some snags along the way (excruciating 9+ hour drive there due to traffic, no laundry facilities in either AirBnB, a few minor injuries/ailments in our group, parking in SF is a biiiiiiiitch), but overall it was a great trip.  Highlights: doing an escape room with G's nephews, SFMOMA, the Monterey Bay Aquarium, and---at the risk of sounding sappy as shit---just spending time with my wonderful second family.  Good folks, all of 'em.

It's another big update this month (as far as books go, anyway) because the massive heat wave scorching SoCal meant that I spent as much time indoors as humanly possible.

Asterisks denote something I particularly enjoyed or found especially worthy of my time; double asterisks are reserved for the creme de la creme.  As always, your mileage may vary.

FICTION

1. A Guide for Murdered Children* by Sarah Sparrow:  The souls of murdered children enter a purgatory where they take over the body of an adult (called a "landlord") in order to track down the person who killed them and take revenge.  This haunting novel is like nothing I've ever read before, but I have to issue a huge fat warning here: although most of the murders aren't described in graphic detail, the exception was so disturbing it haunted me for days afterwards.

2. When Katie Met Cassidy by Camille Perri:  Katie has always considered herself to be totally straight, but when she befriends a lesbian named Cassidy, she starts to consider other options.  The writing is a tad clunky at times, but it's still a fun and breezy read.

Side note: I kept picturing Ruby Rose as Cassidy while reading this, so if this gets made into a movie and there are any casting directors reading my humble blog, please enjoy this free idea.

3. The Anomaly by Michael Rutger:  Nolan Moore is an archeologist who's gained fame by doing a schlocky webseries called The Anomaly Files.  Going by the reports of an explorer from the early 20th century, they set out to find a mysterious cavern in the Grand Canyon, and it's no spoiler to say they find something bad.  Like Annihilation had a baby with Jurassic Park and then they dosed the baby with LSD.

4. Her Body and Other Parties* by Carmen Maria Machado:  A collection of short stories.  My favorite was "Real Women Have Bodies", in which women start to slowly become invisible, but they're all quite good.

5. Tell Me Lies by Carola Lovering:  When Lucy and Stephen meet in college, there's instant chemistry between them, but to quote Lady Gaga, it's a bad romance.  An interesting look at both sides of a toxic relationship.

6. The Last Time I Lied by Riley Sager:  When she was 13, Emma went to summer camp, and three other campers disappeared, never to be seen again.  Fifteen years later, she returns to the camp as an art instructor in hopes of discovering what happened to her friends.  The second book I've read by this author, and it will probably be the last; in both cases, the premise was good, but the execution was seriously lacking, the ending blew, and there was too much "tell, don't show".

7. A Gathering of Secrets by Linda Castillo:  After a barn is burned down and a body is discovered inside, police chief Kate Burkholder is asked to investigate, but despite her Amish roots, nobody in the community wants to cooperate.

8. Bright We Burn by Kiersten White:  This is the final book in the trilogy about a genderswapped Vlad the Impaler, so I can't review it properly lest I spoil its predecessors.

9. Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata:  Keiko has always had trouble getting by in the world, but when she takes a job at a convenience store, she finds its rules and regulations soothing.  She's perfectly content to let her job define her, but society wants her to do more.  It's very short, but it packs a punch.

10. Give Me Your Hand by Megan Abbott:  When Kit and Diane were teenagers, Diane confessed a secret to Kit that changed their friendship forever, and they lost touch.  But after a decade, they wind up meeting again unexpectedly when they're both selected for a prestigious research program, and shit continues to go downhill.  It was okay, but I was hoping for better.

11. Baby Teeth by Zoje Stage:  On the surface, Suzette seems to have it all, but she has a secret: her 7-year-old daughter Hanna is a monster, and Suzette thinks Hanna wants to kill her.  The writing style had that stiff feeling that I associate with translated books (though there are no translator credits, so I'm assuming it was originally written in English), but it was still an interesting and creepy update of The Bad Seed.

12. My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh:  The unnamed narrator of this novel is so worn down by life that she begins a year of doing almost nothing but engaging in sleep marathons, and she's aided in this quest by an unscrupulous psychiatrist willing to prescribe the pills.  A 3 star book with a 5 star ending.

13. The Cabin at the End of the World* by Paul Tremblay:  Seven-year-old Wen and her fathers, Eric and Andrew, are spending their vacation at a remote cabin.  Wen is catching grasshoppers when a large man named Leonard appears and strikes up a conversation.  They're having fun, but then Wen spots three more strangers walking towards them, carrying homemade weapons, and Leonard says "None of what's going to happen is your fault."  I'll leave off there for fear of spoilers, although I will mention that this was going to be a double star until the ending.

14. How to Be Famous by Caitlin Moran:  The continuing adventures of Dolly Wilde, teenage music journalist and self-described lady sex pirate.  The story itself is just okay, but there are occasional gems like this one that really made it worth the read: "A book is a beautiful paper mausoleum in which to store ideas...to keep the bones of your thoughts in one place, for all time. I just want to say 'Hello. We can hear you. The words survived.'"

2018 TOTAL SO FAR:  72


NONFICTION

1. Goodbye, Sweet Girl by Kelly Sundberg:  A memoir about surviving domestic abuse.

2. Little Shoes: The Sensational Depression-Era Murders That Became My Family's Secret by Pamela Everett:  When the author was a teenager and acting out, her father said "I lost two sisters and I can't lose my daughter."  She had no idea what he was talking about, but when she grew up, she looked into it and discovered that she had two aunts who (along with another girl) were murdered when they were children.  The investigation and trial led to a media circus and the conviction of a man who the author thinks may have been innocent.

2018 TOTAL SO FAR:  19


MANGA/GRAPHIC NOVELS

1. Takane and Hana by Yuki Shiwasu

2. Yokai Rental Shop vol. 3 by Shin Mashiba

3. Hungry for You: Endo Yasuko Stalks the Night by Flowerchild

4. Sweetness and Lightning vol. 10 by Gido Amagakure

5. My Solo Exchange Diary* by Nagata Kabi

6. Rin-Ne vol. 27 by Rumiko Takahashi

2018 TOTAL SO FAR:  26 volumes of manga and 8 graphic novels


MOVIES

1. Pacific Rim: Uprising:  This sequel is rather light on kaiju action and suffers tremendously as a result.  Aside from a few decent action sequences, it's boring and can be safely skipped.


2. Flower*:  Teenager Erica (Zoey Deutch) makes money having sex with, and then blackmailing, older men.  When she meets Luke, the son of her mother's new boyfriend, and finds out that he was molested as a kid, she decides to get revenge on his behalf.  An entertaining indie flick with some very good performances and one of the best lines of the year.

3. White Girl:  After moving to NYC for college, Leah becomes involved with a drug dealer named Blue, and when he's arrested, she finds herself in possession of his massive cocaine stash.  If you liked Spring Breakers, you'll probably like this too, but honestly, I didn't like either movie much.

4. Blockers:  When they discover their daughters have made a "sex pact" for prom night, three parents decide to stop them.  It had its moments, but I thought it would be much funnier than it really was.

5. A Quiet Place*:  A family struggles to survive in a world where monsters with super sensitive hearing mean that the slightest noise could lead to their deaths.  Tense as HELL.

2018 TOTAL SO FAR:  61

Monday, July 02, 2018

media update: June

I'm writing this at work after almost two full weeks of vacation and boy am I salted about it!  At least I had a wonderful time; my family, G, and I took a train through the Canadian Rockies and enjoyed ourselves immensely.  Canada is a magical wonderland full of bears, candy, and OTC allergy medication that actually worked for me and I would like to go back please. 

Asterisks denote something I particularly enjoyed or found especially worthy of my time; double asterisks are reserved for the creme de la creme.  As always, your mileage may vary.

FICTION

1. The Song of Achilles* by Madeline Miller:  A reworking of the myth of Achilles as told by his friend and lover Patroclus.

2. What I Lost by Alexandra Ballard:  16-year-old Elizabeth has just been admitted to a treatment center for her anorexia.  As she struggles with learning how to eat properly again and realizing how much her mother's skewed view of food has shaped her own, she finds solace in the anonymous care packages sent to her.  But are they from her ex-boyfriend or someone else?

3. Furyborn by Claire Legrand:  The stories of two women, one blessed (or cursed) with all seven kinds of elemental magic and the other an assassin, intersect in this enjoyable fantasy.  It was shelved as YA, but it doesn't read like it; it reminded me of the Tearling novels by Erika Johansen.

4. Pretend I'm Dead by Jen Beagin:  Mona volunteers at a needle exchange site, where she meets a client she calls Mr. Disgusting.  They fall in love, but when things go wrong, she moves to New Mexico in hopes of a fresh start. 

5. When Life Gives You Lululemons by Lauren Weisberger:  After leaving her job as Miranda Priestly's assistant (cf. The Devil Wears Prada), Emily now works as an image consultant.  When the beautiful supermodel wife of a politician is arrested for drunk driving, she swears it's a set up and desperately calls Emily for help.  It's not going to win a Pulitzer or anything, but it's a breezy read that's perfect for the season.

6. How Hard Can It Be?* by Allison Pearson:  Kate Reddy is about to turn 50, and between perimenopause, dealing with her teenagers and unemployed husband, and renovating a money pit of a house, she's losing her mind.  She decides to reenter the work force, and she creates a resume with so many lies that, in her words, it might as well be experimental fiction.  To her surprise, she gets a job at the hedge fund she originally founded many years ago, but needless to say, her complicated life gets even more so.

Kate originally showed up in the author's debut novel, I Don't Know How She Does It, which I read many years ago, and although I don't remember much about it, I do remember really enjoying it.  This sequel is also really good: funny and insightful, and Kate is a terrific heroine to root for.

7. The Woman in the Woods* by John Connolly:  After the body of a young woman is discovered in the woods and forensic evidence shows she had given birth shortly before her death, a lawyer contacts Charlie Parker and asks him to look into the missing child.  Definitely the best Connolly novel in years, although I had forgotten about something that happened in the previous novel and it made me sad when I was reminded.

8. The Good Son by You-Jeong Jeong:  Yu-jin is prone to seizures, but he doesn't like to take his medicine because he enjoys the high he gets right before one hits.  But when he wakes up with little memory of the night before and discovers his mother's murdered body, he tries to figure out who's responsible.

2018 TOTAL SO FAR:  57

NONFICTION

1. Calypso by David Sedaris:  A new collection of essays.

2018 TOTAL SO FAR:  17

MANGA/GRAPHIC NOVELS

1. Bingo Love by Tee Franklin, Jenn St-Onge, and Joy San

2. Food Wars!* vol. 24 by Yuto Tsukuda and Shun Saeki

3. Queen's Quality vol. 4 by Kyousuke Motomi

4. Beauty Bunny by Mari Yoshino

2018 TOTAL SO FAR:  20 volumes of manga and 8 graphic novels

MOVIES

1. Molly's Game*:  After her Olympics dream came literally crashing to a halt, Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain, predictably excellent) moved to Los Angeles and started an underground poker ring frequented by celebrities and high rollers.  Aaron Sorkin wrote it, so the dialogue was sharp and rapid-fire.  Based on a true story.

2. Game Night*:  Max and Annie (Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams) host a game night at their home every week, but when Max's brother hosts a murder mystery party at his place instead, it turns into something unexpected.  An overlooked little gem with lots of funny lines and an especially good performance by Jesse Plemons as their forlorn neighbor.

3. Maze Runner: The Death Cure:  This is the final film in the series, so I can't review it properly lest I spoil its predecessors.  It was definitely the best of the three.

4. Thoroughbreds:  After reconnecting, childhood friends Lily and Amanda hatch a plan to kill Lily's overbearing stepfather.  A bit slow, probably due to the fact it was originally supposed to be a play, but good.

5. Red Sparrow:  After an accident destroys her ballet career, Dominika (Jennifer Lawrence) is recruited by a Russian intelligence agency to serve as a "sparrow", a spy who uses sex to get information.  It's howlingly bad and extremely violent, but honestly, I kind of enjoyed it.  It's the cinematic equivalent of fast food: you should probably not spend any of your precious life consuming it, but you'll enjoy it while you do.

6. Cell:  After a strange cell phone signal turns people into rage-filled zombies, a small band of survivors looks for safety.  Based on the Stephen King novel, though they changed so much from the book that you wouldn't know it.  (King cowrote the screenplay, so I'm guessing he was fine with the changes, but I'm not sure why they were made.)

7. Love, Simon*:  Simon is a teenage boy who's hiding the fact that he's gay.  He starts corresponding with another closeted teenage boy online, but when Simon forgets to log out of a school computer, a classmate finds the emails and begins blackmailing him.  I wish this movie had ended about 5 minutes sooner, but it was still a super sweet movie that left me feeling ultra schmooply, so I'll give it a star.

8. Tomb Raider:  Aside from one decent action sequence, this reboot was dull and full of terrible dialogue.  Skip it.

9. Fifty Shades Freed:  Pretty sure you don't need me to tell you what this is about!  God, it was so fucking bad, even by its predecessors' standards, but adult refreshments helped make it bearable.

2018 TOTAL SO FAR:  56

Thursday, May 31, 2018

media update: May

This month, I have contenders for both my favorite novel and favorite movie of 2018!

Asterisks denote something I particularly enjoyed or found especially worthy of my time; double asterisks are reserved for the creme de la creme.  As always, your mileage may vary.

FICTION

1. You Think It, I'll Say It by Curtis Sittenfeld:  A collection of short stories.

2. A Court of Frost and Starlight by Sarah J. Maas:  This is the latest in the series, so I can't give it a proper review lest I spoil its predecessors.

3. How to Be Safe** by Tom McAllister:  Anna Crawford is a high school teacher who's just been suspended for losing her temper in class.  While she's home, she's horrified to see a news report saying that there's been a shooting at her school...and that she's the primary suspect.  Even after she's exonerated, people still don't trust her, and the town falls into chaos as people try to make sense of the tragedy.  All too timely, and unfortunately it probably always will be.  My favorite novel of the year so far (and oddly enough, pushing another book about our society's gun obsession out of the #1 spot).

Side note: don't let the synopsis fool you; although it's dark, it can also be quite funny, as in the scene where Anna gets an angry phone call from a man threatening to smother her with dicks and she says "Where are you getting all of these spare dicks?  I could use a few."  Anna's one hell of a good character; she reminded me a lot of Frances McDormand in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.

4. The Perfect Mother by Aimee Molloy:  A group of friends, all new mothers, get together twice a week to share their experiences and just hang out.  One of the women, Winnie, is a single mother who's never left her baby Midas (oy) with anyone before, but the others convince her to get a sitter, and then they receive the horrifying news that Midas is missing. Overhyped.

5. The Pisces* by Melissa Broder:  After her relationship implodes, Lucy accepts her sister's invitation to dogsit for an extended period of time.  One night, Lucy is walking down by the beach when she meets a hot surfer guy who turns out to be a merman.  Yes, I know you're thinking of The Shape of Water, but this is sexier, quirkier, and much funnier, and damn does it stick the landing.

6. Ash Princess by Laura Sebastian:  After her mother, the Fire Queen, is murdered and her country invaded, Theodosia is taken captive by the Kaiser and given the mocking title of the Ash Princess.  She tries to cope as best as she can despite constant cruelty, but when the Kaiser forces her to murder an innocent man, she begins plotting a rebellion.

7. Circe* by Madeline Miller:  A retelling of the life of the mythical sorceress made famous by The Odyssey.  I thought this would be a "broccoli book" (i.e. "nutritious" but no fun), but it's really good!

8. Our Kind of Cruelty* by Araminta Hall:  Mike and Verity (who he calls V) have a game they love to play together.  They go to a bar, V starts flirting with a guy, and just as it's getting hot and heavy, Mike angrily interrupts them and then he and V go off and have passionate sex.  But after Mike and V break up, she gets engaged to another man rather quickly, and Mike is convinced she's still playing their game...just an especially elaborate version.

This was one of my most anticipated books of the year, not least of all because it got such a rave review from Gillian Flynn.  Unfortunately, my expectations were too high, but it was still pretty good.  A word of advice, though: if you are the type of person to read the acknowledgements first, even if they're at the end, DO NOT do it with this book!  I sometimes read them first, but I didn't in this case, and man, I was so glad I hadn't. 

9. The Mars Room by Rachel Kushner:  Romy has just been sentenced to two consecutive life sentences in prison.  (The reason isn't given until a good chunk of the book has passed, and astoundingly the inside cover doesn't spoil it, so I won't say what she did here.)  While she navigates  her new surroundings, she reflects on the choices that brought her there.

10. The Favorite Sister** by Jessica Knoll:  Kelly and Brett are sisters on a reality show called Goal Diggers, which showcases successful businesswomen.  Kelly is older but new to the cast, with a young daughter; Brett is a tattooed lesbian who runs a successful spin studio.  We find out on the very first page that Brett is dead, but we won't find out how or why until the end.  It's a nasty, savage, catty book (I mean these adjectives as compliments) with a pointed message, and I enjoyed it immensely.

11. The Outsider* by Stephen King:  When the mutilated body of an 11-year-old boy is discovered, all evidence points to the town's popular Little League Coach, Terry Maitland, as the killer.  His fingerprints and DNA match that found at the crime scene, and several eyewitnesses saw him covered in blood and acting strangely.  Just one problem: Terry was out of town with a group of coworkers for a lecture, and not only do his coworkers vouch for him, but he's captured on video asking the lecturer a question.  So who killed the boy?  Well, considering that this is a Stephen King book, it's no spoiler to say it was more of a "what".  Much better than most of his recent work.

2018 TOTAL SO FAR:  49


NONFICTION

1. The Girl Who Smiled Beads by Clemantine Wamariya and Elizabeth Weil:  When Clemantine was six years old, she and her older sister Claire fled the massacre in Rwanda and spent the next several years wandering through Africa before being granted refugee status in the US.  They moved to Chicago, and although their fortunes were greatly improved, Clemantine was unable to forget her terrible past.

2. Not That Bad: Dispatches from Rape Culture* edited by Roxane Gay:  A collection of essays about sexual assault.  Not cheerful reading, of course, but important.

3. The Trauma Cleaner* by Sarah Krasnostein:  The riveting true story of Sandra Pankhurst, who survived abuse and neglect as a child named Peter, underwent gender confirmation surgery in the early 80s, became a sex worker, and eventually started a successful trauma cleanup service.  This book alternates between Sandra's life story and anecdotes from the job.

2018 TOTAL SO FAR:  16


MANGA/GRAPHIC NOVELS

Believe it or not, nothing this month!

2018 TOTAL SO FAR:  17 volumes of manga and 7 graphic novels


MOVIES

1. Batman Ninja:  Batman and his enemies are sent back in time to feudal Japan, where a whole lot of WTF happens.  There are gigantic mech buildings and a huge troop of monkeys that form a bigger monkey and it's all just incredibly weird.  The story is incomprehensible and filled with cliches, but it's beautiful to look at and it's definitely different!

2. Avengers: Infinity War**:  The Avengers team up against their most insidious foe yet in this REALLY FUCKING GOOD flick.  I had high hopes for it because the Russo Brothers did such a great job with the Captain America movies, and they did not disappoint.  It's dark, albeit leavened with some terrific humor, and Thanos is a much more compelling villain than you usually find in superhero movies.  My favorite movie of the year so far.

3. The Disaster Artist*:  When aspiring actor Greg (Dave Franco) meets an intensely weird dude named Tommy Wiseau (an unrecognizable James Franco, who also directed), they wind up making The Room, one of the worst movies of all time but also a beloved cult classic.  It's a funny and entertaining look at how sometimes your dreams come true...just not in the way you expected.

4. Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle:  A group of teenagers accidentally get sucked into a video game and turned into its avatars (i.e., the nerd is now Dwayne Johnson and the bitchy popular girl is now...Jack Black).  They have to beat the game in order to return to the real world.  Dumb but fun.

5. Bad Moms:  Amy Mitchell (Mila Kunis) is trying to juggle the demands of her career and motherhood, but she feels like she's doing a terrible job of it until she meets two other moms (Kathryn Hahn and Kristen Bell) who help her let loose.  I thought it would be funnier, but it has its moments.

2018 TOTAL SO FAR:  47

Monday, April 30, 2018

media update: April

Asterisks denote something I particularly enjoyed or found especially worthy of my time; double asterisks are reserved for the creme de la creme.  As always, your mileage may vary.

FICTION

1. Emergency Contact by Mary H.K. Choi:  Penny has just moved to Austin, Texas to attend college in hopes of becoming a writer; Sam is a tattooed barista with a flair for baking.  After Penny helps Sam while he's having a panic attack, they exchange numbers, joking about becoming each other's emergency contact, and it turns into a serious texting flirtation.  Some really nice, sharp dialogue in this book.  I don't usually read YA novels that aren't dystopian/sci-fi/fantasy, but this one kept my interest.

Side note: this book has one of my favorite covers in a long time.  It's GORGEOUS.

2. The Innocent Wife* by Amy Lloyd:  Dennis Danson has been in prison for over 20 years after being convicted of murder, but a group of true crime fanatics believe he's innocent.  Sam, a young British woman, becomes obsessed with the case and begins writing him, and soon she moves to Florida to be with him as much as possible and help a documentary crew with their film about the case.  Dennis and Sam even get married, but a series of events leads her to start doubting his innocence after all.  It's so good I had a hard time believing it was the author's first book; I'll definitely keep an eye out for her future work.

3. Rainbirds by Clarissa Goenawan:  When his sister Keiko is stabbed to death, Ren Ishida takes over her position at a cram school and her gig reading to the bedridden wife of a politician in hopes of discovering what happened to Keiko.  It sounds like a thriller or a mystery, but it's more of a mediation on grief.

Side note: oddly enough, The Innocent Wife is partially set in the Florida county of Red River, and this book, which I read immediately after TIW, is set in the (fictional) Japanese town of Akakawa, which means...red river.

4. Stray City* by Chelsey Johnson:  Andrea is a lesbian living in Portland in the late 1990s.  Feeling vulnerable one night after seeing two of her exes together, she starts hooking up with a guy named Ryan.  She keeps the relationship secret so as to avoid the judgment of her "gold star" (i.e. lesbians who have never had sex with a man) friends, but then she becomes pregnant and decides to have the baby.  I don't usually cry over books (which is weird, because pretty much everything else ever makes me cry), but the last couple of pages WRECKED me.

5. The Gunners by Rebecca Kauffman:  When Mikey was a kid, he hung out with a group of other kids that called themselves the Gunners (after a sign in front of the abandoned house where they hung out).  Now an adult, Mikey gets a call that one of his old friends has died by suicide, and he gets together with the others to figure out what happened.  It wasn't bad, but there's a plot point that was so ridiculous that it bothered me.

6. Two Girls Down* by Louisa Luna:  Jamie Brandt leaves her daughters Kylie and Bailey in the car while she runs into Kmart to buy a birthday gift, but they're not there when she returns.  Desperate for answers and not trusting the overworked local police, Jamie's aunt hires Alice Vega, a former bounty hunter, to look into the disappearance.

7. The Elizas by Sara Shepard:  Shortly before her first novel is about to be published, Eliza Fontaine is found at the bottom of a hotel pool.  She's rescued and swears someone tried to kill her, but because she has a history of suicide attempts involving bodies of water, nobody believes her...especially when the lines between her reality and her fiction start to blur.  One thing that really bugged me is that almost every other chapter is an excerpt from Eliza's book, and it is SO SHITTILY WRITTEN that I had an extremely hard time believing it led to a huge advance.  I mean, The Elizas itself is pretty bad, but the novel-within-a-novel is breathtakingly awful.

8. Lawn Boy by Jonathan Evison:  After getting fired from his landscaping job, Mike Munoz tries to scrape by while dealing with his family and a hopeless crush.  There was a major character development that seemed to come out of nowhere, but other than that, I liked it.

2018 TOTAL SO FAR:  38


NONFICTION

1. Sister of Darkness: The Chronicles of a Modern Exorcist by R.H. Stavis:  The author, a self-proclaimed nondenominational exorcist, talks about her process and some of her most difficult cases.  I was, and remain, skeptical, but I read it as entertainment and it succeeded on that level regardless of its veracity (or lack thereof).

2. Eat the Apple by Matt Young:  An unusually structured memoir about the author's stint in the Marine Corps and his three deployments to Iraq.  (The title comes from the expression "Eat the apple, fuck the Corps!")

3. Look Alive Out There by Sloane Crosley:  A collection of essays about everything from a particularly noisy neighbor to the author's porn star uncle.  (Well, technically her mother's cousin, but she refers to him as uncle.)

4. You All Grow Up and Leave Me* by Piper Weiss:  As a teenager in the early 90s, the author had an unusually attentive tennis coach named Gary Wilensky.  Gary tried to kidnap one of his other students, and when his attempt failed, he killed himself.  An engrossing combination of memoir and true crime.

5. A Thousand Naked Strangers: A Paramedic's Wild Ride to the Edge and Back by Kevin Hazzard:  What it says on the tin!

2018 TOTAL SO FAR:  13


MANGA/GRAPHIC NOVELS

1. Gabriel Dropout vols. 2-3 by Ukami

2. The Water Dragon's Bride vol. 5 by Rei Toma

3. Food Wars! vol. 23 by Yuto Tsukuda and Shun Saeki

4. Erased vol. 4 (final volume) by Kei Sanbe

2018 TOTAL SO FAR:  17 volumes of manga and 7 graphic novels


MOVIES

1. Lion*:  When young Saroo (Sunny Pawar, in an extraordinary performance) get separated from his brother at a train station, he climbs onto a train and winds up thousands of miles from home.  Eventually, he's sent to an orphanage and adopted by an Australian couple.  When Saroo gets older, he (now played by Dev Patel) decides to track down his biological family using Google Earth.  Based on a true story, this movie is compelling and bittersweet.  (And yes, the title is explained, though you have to wait until the very last moment.)

2. Murder on the Orient Express:  When a passenger is murdered on the titular train, Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh) investigates.  Enjoyable, especially because I had no idea whodunnit!

3. Thelma:  The title character is a college student in Oslo whose long-dormant supernatural abilities are triggered when she falls in love with another woman.  It's pretty good, and the opening 5 minutes were so compelling that I knew I would finish it.

Warning: there's an extended scene involving strobe lights, so view with caution if you have epilepsy or flashing lights set off migraines, as they often do for me.  (I looked away and had to hope there was no important dialogue in that scene; the movie is in Norwegian with English subtitles, and the only Norwegian word I know is tak.)

4. Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay:  Amanda Waller sends the Suicide Squad after a mystical "Get Out of Hell Free" card in this ultra-gory animated flick.

5. The Commuter:  Michael MacCauley's bad day gets worse when a mysterious woman sits across from him on the train and makes him an offer: locate a particular passenger and get a nice payout, or his family will be killed.  Standard thriller fare elevated by an interesting opening and the tastiness of both Liam Neeson and Patrick Wilson (as a cop, no less!  HNNNNGH).

6. Creep:  When Aaron answers a Craigslist ad for a videographer, his client Josef says he's terminally ill and wants to make a video diary for his unborn child.  But as the shoot goes on, Aaron discovers that Josef is, well, a creep.  Tense and unsettling.

7. Black Panther:  Since everybody in the world has already seen this movie, I'll skip the recap!

8. Dead Calm:  After the tragic death of their son, John and Rae (Sam Neill and Nicole Kidman) are spending time at sea when they rescue a man (Billy Zane) escaping from a sinking ship.  They take him onboard, but they begin to regret their decision when the dude turns out to be a psychopath.

9. Downsizing:  Paul Safranek (Matt Damon) undergoes a new procedure to shrink himself to 5 inches tall, which allows him to live in luxury and reduce his carbon footprint. 

2018 TOTAL SO FAR:  42


VIDEO GAME OF THE MONTH

(Note:  this review doesn't cover the bonus episode "Farewell", which wasn't included on the disc we got from Gamefly.  We watched it on YouTube afterwards and were glad we didn't pay the $10 to download it, as it was only about an hour's worth of gameplay and didn't really cover any new ground.)

With its unique time-rewinding mechanic, honest depiction of how teenage girls behave and think, and thought-provoking storyline, Life Is Strange was my favorite game of 2016.  So when a prequel was announced, I knew I'd have to pick it up.

Life Is Strange: Before the Storm (hereafter referred to as BTS) revolves around Chloe Price, a teenage girl who's never quite recovered from two losses she suffered: her father died in a car accident only days before her best friend Max moved away and dropped off the radar.  Despite the fact that she doesn't try all that hard, Chloe's smart enough to have scored a scholarship at the prestigious Blackwell Academy.

One night, Chloe sneaks into a concert and gets involved in an altercation.  Much to her surprise, she's rescued by Rachel Amber, Blackwell Academy's golden girl, and the two form an immediate and strong connection.

LOVED

  • Like its predecessor, BTS does an incredible job of creating strong, believable, flawed but endearing teenage girls.  Chloe is angry and snarky, but she's also funny, resilient, and fiercely loyal, and I couldn't help falling in love with her all over again.  
  • Chloe doesn't share Max's ability to reverse time.  Instead, a mechanic called "backtalk" has been introduced in which your dialogue choices can either get Chloe out of a tough situation or make things much worse.  
  • Chloe keeps a journal filled with beautiful art and collages, and it's both fun to read and a good refresher on past events.
  • For the most part, the voice acting is excellent.
  • A wonderful musical score.
  • Getting to know Rachel Amber made Life Is Strange even more poignant in retrospect.  In fact, if you haven't played LIS, I'd recommend playing BTS first for that very reason.
  • LGBTQ+ issues were handled respectfully.  (Take some notes, Atlus!)

LOATHED

  • Probably due to its origins as a downloadable game, the graphics aren't great.
  • Chloe's original voice actress didn't return for BTS.  Her replacement VA was perfectly fine, but the original VA was phenomenal, so she was badly missed.  
  • The voice acting for a couple of minor characters was pretty meh, and one fairly important character legitimately sucked.
Overall, although it wasn't as good as its predecessor, Life Is Strange: Before the Storm is definitely worth your time.  I give it 8 stolen concert tees out of 10.


Monday, April 02, 2018

media update: March

I think this may be one of my biggest media updates ever!  I consumed so many books/movies for several reasons: my workload was slow, so I got a lot of reading done at my desk; heavy rain near the end of the month kept me inside; I took a 2-day staycation; G and I didn't have an "us" video game this month, so we watched more movies than usual; and I finished a surprising number of my Netflix discs.  (It's rare for any of them to pass the 20-minute test!)

Asterisks denote something I particularly enjoyed or found especially worthy of my time; double asterisks are reserved for the creme de la creme.  As always, your mileage may vary.

FICTION

1. An American Marriage by Tayari Jones:  When newlyweds Celestial and Roy are visiting his parents, Roy is arrested for a rape he didn't commit and sentenced to 12 years in prison.  They try to keep their marriage alive, but Celestial finds herself growing closer to her childhood friend Andre.  Beautifully written, but depressing as hell.

2. Zero Day by Ezekiel Boone:  This is the final book in The Hatching trilogy, so I can't review it properly lest I spoil its predecessors.

3. The Hunger* by Alma Katsu:  An ultra-creepy and tense account of the Donner Party, with the addition of a supernatural element.

4. Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyami:  This hot new YA novel is basically Avatar: The Last Airbender with a few changes.  It's not bad, but I really don't get the hype and doubt I'll bother with future installments.

5. Sometimes I Lie by Alice Feeney:  When Amber Reynolds wakes up in a hospital, she can't move or speak, but she can hear the people around here.  She doesn't know who or what put her in the hospital, but she has her suspicions.  If this had ended a chapter earlier, it could have been really good, but because it didn't, it was just okay.

6. Idyll Threats by Stephanie Gayle:  In 1997, Thomas Lynch moves to a small Connecticut town to serve as their new chief of police.  The body of a young woman is discovered on the golf course, and Thomas had seen her in a compromising position with another man just hours before her death.  Unfortunately, he can't share that information with anyone because he's in the closet, and he was trying to hook up with another man when he ran into her.

7. Gun Love** by Jennifer Clement:  Pearl lives with her mother in a car parked next to a trailer park.  Despite their lack of money and material things, they carve out a decent life for themselves, but the prevalence of guns will lead to tragedy; as Pearl puts it, "In our part of Florida things were always being gifted a bullet just for the sake of it."  It's fairly short, but it packs more beautiful writing and emotion into its pages than books twice its length.  My favorite novel of the year so far; it reminded me of Swamplandia! by Karen Russell.

8. I Stop Somewhere by TE Carter:  Ellie is a teenage girl who fell in love with the wrong boy, and after she's raped and murdered by him and his brother, she narrates from the great beyond (a la The Lovely Bones) as she watches them continue victimizing other girls.  I know it sounds a bit cheeseball, but it works.

9. Idyll Fears by Stephanie Gayle:  Small town chief of police Thomas Lynch returns in this sequel to #6.  This time around, he has to deal with prejudice while trying to solve the mysterious disappearance of a young boy.

10. Exhibit Alexandra by Natasha Bell:  Alexandra is being held against her will in a small room; meanwhile, her husband Marc desperately tries to figure out what happened to her.  I was pretty sure I knew where it was going about halfway through; I was only partly right, but being right at all made me enjoy it far less than I might have otherwise.

2018 TOTAL SO FAR:  30


NONFICTION

1. The Heart Is a Shifting Sea* by Elizabeth Flock:  A fascinating look at three couples in Mumbai and how their relationships have been influenced by Western culture and traditional Indian beliefs.

2. A False Report: A True Story of Rape in America* by T. Christian Miller and Ken Armstrong:  An 18-year-old named Marie reported that a man broke into her apartment and raped her; the police (and even her foster mother) didn't believe her, so she recanted, and she was charged with filing a false police report.  Two years later, a serial rapist began terrorizing Colorado, and two shrewd detectives started putting the pieces together.  Not an easy read, but an essential one.

Side note: the title bothers me.  The authors point out that maybe 2% of rape reports are proven to be false, but someone seeing the title might think this is some sort of "they're all liars!" screed, which it most definitely is not.  I almost didn't read it because of that, but when I saw that the authors had both won Pulitzer Prizes, I figured it wouldn't be sensationalist trash, and fortunately it wasn't.

3. I'll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman's Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer* by Michelle McNamara:  Over several years, a man committed numerous rapes in Northern California and then moved to Southern California, where his crimes became increasingly violent, leading to the deaths of ten people.  He seemingly stopped in 1986 without being caught.  The author was a true crime journalist who dedicated her life to finding the perpetrator.  She died while writing this book (it was finished by her research assistant and a colleague), but hopefully her hard work will lead to closure in this case.  Destined to be a true crime classic.

Side note:  I read this immediately after A False Report, and boy, I wish I had spaced them out a bit; too much darkness to take in over the course of a couple of days.  I devoted myself to plowing through some manga and trashy celebrity magazines immediately afterwards!

4. I Am, I Am, I Am* by Maggie O'Farrell:  A memoir about the author's seventeen near-death experiences, from a creepy encounter with a stranger to almost drowning.  It's got a "savor every moment, because you never know what might happen" message without being saccharine or preachy about it.  (The title comes from this Sylvia Plath quote:  "I took a deep breath and listened to the old brag of my heart.  I am, I am, I am.")

5. My Dead Parents by Anya Yurchyshyn:  The author lost her father when she was a teenager and her mother when she was 32.  While going through her mother's things, she found old letters and diaries that made her reconsider everything she thought she knew about her parents.

6. I Wrote This Book Because I Love You by Tim Kreider:  A collection of essays, the best of which is about the author's relationship with his 19-year-old cat.

2018 TOTAL SO FAR:  8


MANGA/GRAPHIC NOVELS

1. Citrus vol. 7 by Saburouta

2. Food Wars!* vol. 22 by Yuto Tsukuda and Shun Saeki

3. The Prince and the Dressmaker* by Jen Wang

4. Everyone's an Aliebn When Ur a Aliebn Too by Jomny Sun:  No, I am not drunk; that's how the title and author's name are spelled!

5. Yokai Rental Shop vols. 1-2 by Shin Mashiba

6. The Customer Is Always Wrong by Mimi Pond

7. Lady Killer vol. 2 by Joelle Jones and Michelle Madsen:  If this series is ever made into a movie, I can totally see Angelina Jolie playing Josie.

8. The Water Dragon's Bride vol. 4 by Rei Toma

9. Queen's Quality vol. 3 by Kyousuke Motomi

10. Rin-Ne vol. 26 by Rumiko Takahashi

11. The Walking Dead* vol. 29 by Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard

12. Gabriel Dropout by Ukami

2018 TOTAL SO FAR: 12 volumes of manga and 7 graphic novels


MOVIES

1. African Cats:  A documentary about cheetahs and lions that's a bit darker than most of Disney's nature series, though still nowhere near as horrifying as The Last Lion (not Disney), which traumatizes me to this day.

Side note:  This is narrated by Samuel L. Jackson, and at one point he said "lion mother" and I reflexively waited for him to add a "fuckers" at the end!

2. Coco**:  Young Miguel's family hates music, but he wants to become a musician like his late hero, the legendary Ernesto de la Cruz.  Miguel accidentally finds himself in the land of the dead during Dia de los Muertos, so he decides to find his idol and see if he can make his dream come true.  Beautifully animated, funny, and touching, and I cried my ASS off.  After a couple of really mediocre movies, it's nice to see that Pixar still has the magic.

3. Mom and Dad*:  A teenage girl and her brother must fight to survive when parents across the country are suddenly struck by the urge to kill their own children.  A jet black horror comedy that was far more enjoyable than I thought it would be, and Nicolas Cage's manic unhinged energy works perfectly here.

4. Call Me by Your Name:  In 1983 Italy, a teenage boy named Elio (Timothee Chalamet) falls in love with Oliver, the doctoral student who is staying with his family.  Gorgeously shot and the performances are great, but it can be awfully slow and I had a hard time believing that Elio's parents would be okay with his and Oliver's relationship.

5. Starship Troopers: Traitor of Mars:  Basically a 90-minute video game cut scene, so take that as a positive or a negative depending on your personal preferences!

6. American Made*:  Loosely based on a true story, this movie is about Barry Seal, a TWA pilot who was recruited to take covert pictures of South American guerrillas and then picked up some side work with the Medellin Cartel.  As G said, it was like a cross between The Wolf of Wall Street and Breaking Bad, and it was quite good.

7. Annihilation*:  A biologist (Natalie Portman) agrees to lead a group of scientists into the Shimmer, a strange area from which her husband barely returned with his life, in hopes of discovering the truth behind its environmental mutations.  Beautifully filmed, with intense sound design and a scene that's honestly one of the most frightening fucking things I've seen in a long time.

8. My Friend Dahmer:  This movie is based on the graphic novel by Derf Backderf, who went to high school with notorious serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer.  It's a pretty decent adaptation, though the book was better, so choose that if you only have time for one of them.

9. I, Tonya:*  An enjoyable biopic about figure skater Tonya Harding and the infamous attack on her rival Nancy Kerrigan just before the Olympics.  Margot Robbie is great as Tonya, and Allison Janney steals the movie in her Oscar-winning turn as Tonya's stage mother from hell.

10. The Shape of Water*:  A mute cleaning woman at a government facility discovers they're hiding a big secret:  an amphibious creature they want to turn into a weapon.  I expected to absolutely love it because the reviews were so glowing and it won Best Picture, but I think my expectations were too high.  I'd give it a 3.5, but I'll kick it up to a 4 (i.e., starworthy) because it was so beautifully shot and the performances were excellent.

11. Justice League:  In an interesting counterpoint to #10, I had absolutely subterranean expectations for this one but wound up enjoying it.  Sure, it's loud and clunky and stupid, but it's mostly fun.  The highlight was Ezra Miller's wildly entertaining portrayal of the Flash.

12. Pitch Perfect 3:  The Bellas compete for a gig opening for DJ Khaled.  We weren't expecting much because PP2 was so bad, but this was fun!  Sure, there was an excruciating subplot with Fat Amy and her estranged father, but there were some great lines and the songs were good.

2018 TOTAL SO FAR:  33