Friday, June 02, 2017

my favorite broad

The check came on Monday, and I held it in my hands, staring at the words "The Estate of Sue [redacted]" until my eyes blurred.

Should have kept in touch, should have called, why didn't you at least pick up the fucking phone every once in a while.

Brain, you are correct.  But while I can't go back in time and stay in better touch with her, I can honor her now by sharing this incredible woman with you.


Read more »

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

media update: May

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 Perfect Stranger by Megan Miranda:  After her career implodes in a spectacular fashion, Leah Stevens impulsively relocates to a small town with her old friend Emmy.  Shortly after they arrive, a woman who looks like Leah is attacked and left for dead and Emmy goes missing, and Leah discovers that pretty much everyone she knows has something to hide.

2. Given to the Sea by Mindy McGinnis:  Khosa was born to be the Given, which means that once she has a child, she'll be sacrificed to the sea to protect her kingdom from flooding.  Needless to say, she's not real thrilled with her destiny.

3. Into the Water by Paula Hawkins:  After her sister commits suicide at a spot notorious for such events, Jules reluctantly returns to her hometown and discovers there's a whole lot of nasty shit going on.  It was a bit of a slog, to be honest.

4. A Court of Wings and Ruin* by Sarah J. Maas:  This is the latest in the series, so I can't properly review it lest I spoil its predecessors.

Side note:  it's interesting that the main character's name, Feyre, could be pronounced so many different ways: fair, fairy, fire, Farrah, fiery.  (According to the internet,  it's FAY-ruh.)

5. Skitter by Ezekiel Boone:  This is the sequel to spider apocalypse novel The Hatching, so I can't give it a proper review lest I spoil its predecessor.  It wasn't as good as the previous book, largely because it was sorely lacking in spider action.  (This is the only time you will ever hear me criticizing something for not having enough spiders!)

6. Virgin by Radhika Sanghani:  Ellie is a 21-year-old virgin who's determined to change that fact.  Not particularly good, so don't pay attention to the blurb from Joan Rivers (this is not a recent book, obviously) on the front cover.  I almost wonder if it's from someone who just happens to be named Joan Rivers, but not THE Joan Rivers.  That would be rather clever, actually; I'd respect that hustle.

7. This Is Not Over by Holly Brown:  After she stays in a rental house, Dawn receives an email from Miranda, the homeowner, telling her that she's deducted $200 from Dawn's deposit to replace stained sheets.  Dawn doesn't think she had anything to do with it, and moreover, she's pissed off at the implication that she's dirty.  Thus begins an epic catfight in which both parties refuse to budge.

2017 TOTAL SO FAR: 38

NONFICTION

1. There Is No F*cking Secret: Letters from a Badass Bitch* by Kelly Osbourne:  In this memoir, written in epistolary form, the reality TV star reflects on everything from life with her (in)famous family to her struggles with drugs and alcohol.  Highly entertaining and often quite funny.

Side note: the censorship is in the original title; I obviously have no problem typing "fuck"!

2. The Fact of a Body** by Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich:  The author had always been against the death penalty, so when she started an internship working to help people accused of murder, she was shocked when she learned about a case and instantly wanted the defendant to die.  She decided to dig deeper into the case of Ricky Langley, convicted of murdering a young boy, and in the process started to come to terms with her own complicated past.  Absolutely gripping.

3. One Day We'll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter* by Scacchi Koul:  An excellent collection of essays covering everything from racism to the joys (and horrors) of the internet.

4. Priestdaddy* by Patricia Lockwood:   After a medical crisis wiped out their finances, the author and her husband Jason moved back in with her eccentric family, including her guitar playing, frequently semi-naked father, a Catholic priest.  (Despite being married with children, he got ordained through a loophole.)  Extremely funny and occasionally moving (especially the chapter called "Abortion Barbie"), and practically every page has a quotable line.  (One of my favorites: Jason sees an extremely gory crucifix on her parents' dining room wall and says "It looks like someone screamed into a ribeye."  Another favorite is when she has a sip of a particularly strong drink and says "It tastes like being thrown through a window.")

2017 TOTAL SO FAR: 14

MANGA/GRAPHIC NOVELS

1. Erased* by Kei Sanbe

2. Monstress** by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda:  This series is so fucking good oh my god.  The art is spectacular, the world-building is fantastic, and I absolutely adore Kippa, the little fox-girl who's sweet but no pushover.  (If anything ever happens to her---not a spoiler---my heart will fall out of my asshole.)  Definitely give this a look if you like graphic novels.

3. So Cute It Hurts!! vol. 12 by Go Ikeyamada

4. My Love Story!!** vol. 12 by Kazune Kawahara and Aruko:  I think this series is only topped by Persona 4 and Harry Potter in terms of having characters I'd kill to be friends with in real life.

2017 TOTAL SO FAR:  17 volumes of manga and 4 graphic novels

MOVIES

1. The Conjuring 2:  Paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren go to England to help a family being tormented by a demon.  Like its predecessor, it's not particularly scary aside from one scene, but it's decent.

2. A Monster Calls*:  Trying desperately to cope with his mother's impending death, young Conor (Lewis MacDougall, who's terrific) is visited by an enormous tree creature who promises to tell him three stories in exchange for the truth that Conor can't bring himself to admit.

Ooof...I mean, JFC.  I can't imagine anyone not being touched by this movie, but if you've ever loved someone with a terminal illness, it's going to fucking WRECK you.  It's one of the most honest depictions of grief I've ever seen.  It bombed hard at the box office, probably because it was sold as a fantasy film for kids, but honestly, I think most kids would be traumatized by it.  For adults, though, it's beautiful and cathartic.

3. Why Him?:  Ned (Bryan Cranston) is horrified when he meets his daughter's boyfriend, tattooed tech millionaire Laird Mayhew (James Franco).  Some scenes dragged on WAAAAAY too long, but it had some very funny moments.

4. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them:  In this movie set decades before the events of the Harry Potter series, Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) visits New York and accidentally frees a horde of magical creatures.  Visually stunning, but they took far too long to make Newt a sympathetic character.

5. Split*:  In M. Night Shyamalan's latest, James McAvoy plays a man with dissociative identity disorder who kidnaps three teenage girls to fulfill the needs of his newest (and extremely dangerous) identity, "The Beast".  I didn't like it as much as I thought I would, mainly because I had a few things ruined for me, but it was still quite good, and James McAvoy was excellent.

6. Teen Titans: The Judas Contract:  Pardon this extremely generic write-up, but I'm trying to avoid spoilers for those of you who might care:  the Teen Titans battle a new threat.  Fairly standard animated DCU fare, but it had some good (and surprisingly adult) lines.

7. Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas:  After the goddess of chaos steals an important book and frames Sinbad for it, he has to find it before his childhood friend Proteus (who nobly offers himself as collateral) is killed.  The inclusion of this older Dreamworks movie on my list probably has you wondering "Da fuq?", but it had just started on HBO when we were channel surfing and we got sucked into it.  It's not GREAT, and Brad Pitt is a terrible voice actor, but it was fun.

8. Resident Evil: The Final Chapter:  Promise?

9. My Life as a Zucchini*:  After his mother dies, Zucchini (not his real name, but the one he prefers to go by) is sent to an orphanage, where he begins to rebuild his life.  We only watched this because it was nominated for a Best Animated Feature Oscar, and we're glad we did; it was really sweet and touching.

10. Rings:  Set 13 years after The Ring, this movie follows...oh, who cares.  This movie was BALLLLLLLLLS and I'm angry I wasted almost 2 hours of my precious life on it.  Please do not make the same mistake.

11. Ocean Waves:  In this melancholy animated film, a high school student's world is turned upside down by an enigmatic transfer student.  It's not bad, but it's for Ghibli completionists only.  (I was thrilled to hear Toshihiko Seki, though; he's one of my favorite Japanese voice actors.)

2017 TOTAL SO FAR: 37

Monday, May 01, 2017

media update: April

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

FICTION

1. Rabbit Cake* by Annie Hartnett:  After her mother drowns, 10-year-old Elvis and her family try to come to grips with their grief.  Her older sister Lizzie sleepwalks (and sleep-eats), her father wears her mother's lipstick and brings home a parrot that speaks in her mother's voice, and Elvis decides to finish writing her mother's book.  It's quite good, but it really needed to end one chapter sooner than it did.

2. Blood Rose Rebellion by Rosalyn Eves:  Anna is a member of the Luminates, an order of magicians who use their power to control pretty much everything, but her only real ability seems to be breaking other people's spells.  When she screws up her talented sister's magical debut, Anna is sent to live with family members in Hungary, and she discovers that her power might not be as useless as it initially seemed.  It wasn't bad, but I doubt I'll pick up any future installments as it never really grabbed me.

3. The Secrets You Keep by Kate White:  After a car accident, Bryn is slowly recuperating mentally and physically, so she isn't thrilled when her husband Guy wants to throw a dinner party.  She reluctantly agrees, and regrets it almost immediately when the caterer turns out to be a bitch, several hundred dollars go missing, and someone leaves a box of burnt matches behind, which she takes as a reference to the car accident.  Things continue to go downhill from there, including the copyediting, because there were a shit ton of typos in here.

4. One of the Boys by Daniel Magariel:  The narrator of this book (who's never named) and his older brother move to New Mexico with their drug addicted father, whose behavior keeps getting worse.  Dark and sad.

5. A Simple Favor* by Darcey Bell:  Stephanie is a young widow and "mommy blogger" who befriends glamorous Emily, the mother of her son's friend Nicky.  One day Emily asks if Stephanie can pick up her son after school, and Stephanie agrees, but Emily never picks Nicky up, and her disappearance leads to all sorts of trouble.  This cribs pretty heavily from something else I won't mention for obvious reasons, but it's still really good.

6. Lola* by Melissa Scrivner Love:  Lola's boyfriend Garcia is in a gang called the Crenshaw Six, which has recently partnered with a Mexican drug cartel.  Everybody outside of the gang thinks Garcia is the leader, but the Crenshaw Six knows the truth: Lola is the boss, and when a drug drop goes horribly awry, Lola has to use her street smarts and the cartel's ignorance of her true status to survive.  The author is a screenwriter, which probably explains the super sharp dialogue.  An addictive page-turner that practically begs to be made into a movie.  I was going to give it one of my rare double star ratings until some nonsense near the end, but it's still a great read.

7. Marlena* by Julie Buntin:  Cat isn't thrilled when her family moves to a tiny Michigan town, but then she meets her next door neighbor Marlena.  They quickly form a close friendship, but Marlena's problems catch up with her, and decades later, Cat tries to come to grips with the tumultuous year they spent together.  Beautifully written and a keen observation of female friendships.

8. It Happens All the Time by Amy Hatvany:  Amber and Tyler have been friends since they were teenagers, and although Amber wants to keep it platonic, Tyler doesn't feel the same way.  After college, Amber comes home and starts spending more time with Tyler, and one drunken night, she impulsively kisses him, and then he sexually assaults her.

I've read all of Amy Hatvany's books, and her work is similar to Jodi Picoult, except that she doesn't throw in stupid and/or enraging twists.  So if Picoult has pissed you off one too many times, like me, then give Amy Hatvany a try.

9. Dead Little Mean Girl by Eva Darrows:  Emma doesn't care that her mother has started dating another woman, but she DOES mind when the other woman moves in and brings her daughter Quinn, a nightmarish bitch who makes Emma's life hell.  But when Quinn dies of an allergic reaction (which doesn't happen until well past the halfway point; I'd have skipped this detail due to spoilers, but the title kind of gives it away), Emma reconsiders her relationship with Quinn.

2017 TOTAL SO FAR: 31


NONFICTION

1. Scared Selfless: My Journey from Abuse and Madness to Surviving and Thriving by Michelle Stevens, PhD:  When the author was 8 years old, her mother became involved with a man who was only interested in Michelle.  He proceeded to make the next several years of her life a living hell, sexually abusing and torturing her and pimping her out to other sick fucks.  She developed multiple personalities, but managed to survive, get her PhD, and help other abuse survivors.  My synopsis might have been enough warning, but I'm going to give you another one:  she doesn't spare many details, and this book is exceptionally disturbing.  I'm glad she went on to live a beautiful life (her words, not mine), because she certainly deserves it.

Side note: at a couple of points, she mentions a civil suit she brought against her stepfather and mother (who knew about the abuse and did jackshit to stop it), but she never mentions the outcome, which was frustrating as I wanted to know what happened!

2. The Rules Do Not Apply* by Ariel Levy:  A memoir about how the author thought she had it all and then watched as it turned to shit.  It's deeply sad, but it's full of thought-provoking moments and even some humor.  (She even managed to make me laugh at her cat's funeral.)

2017 TOTAL SO FAR: 10


MANGA/GRAPHIC NOVELS

1. Carry This Book by Abbi Jacobson

2. Rin-Ne vol. 23 by Rumiko Takahashi

3. Food Wars!* vol. 17 by Yuto Tsukuda and Saeki Shun

4. Sweetness and Lightning vol. 5 by Gido Amagakure

5. Everyone's Getting Married vol. 4 by Izumi Miyazono

2017 TOTAL SO FAR:  14 volumes of manga and 3 graphic novels


MOVIES

1. Logan**:  In the near future, Logan (aka Wolverine) is slowly losing his regenerative powers.  (He even has to wear reading glasses, which I thought was a nice touch.)  He's isolated himself in the Mexican desert with Professor X, who is suffering from dementia.  All he wants to do is save enough money to buy a boat where he and Professor X can safely live out the rest of their days, but he reluctantly finds himself charged with getting a young mutant (newcomer Dafne Keen, who's really good) to safety.

I mean...goddamn.  It's violent, dark, exciting, often quite funny, and the performances are terrific.  (Patrick Stewart deserves a supporting actor Oscar nomination.)  And ooof, the feels.  So many feels!  It's my favorite movie of the year so far.

2. Moana*:  After demigod Maui's antics put her island in jeopardy, young Moana sets off across the sea to right his wrongs and save her people.  Beautifully animated and quite charming.

Side note: considering that this is a Disney movie, I was really surprised (though not in a bad way) that there was no romantic angle at all. 

3. The Edge of Seventeen*:  Surly Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld) has always lived in the shadow of her super popular older brother Darian.  She finds comfort spending time with her best friend Krista, but her world falls apart when Krista and Darian start dating.  Excellent performances and a great script; it was like an updated John Hughes movie.

4. Desierto:  A group of Mexicans trying to cross the border are targeted by an unhinged sniper (Jeffrey Dean Morgan).  The ending is a bit abrupt, but the performances are good and it was suitably tense.

5. Nocturnal Animals:  When Susan receives a copy of her ex-husband's new book, a dark revenge thriller, she starts to think it's actually about her.  Great performances, but I found the sections from the book much more interesting than the main story.  Also, the ending was kind of ambiguous, but we found some pretty good theories online.

6. Hell or High Water*:  Two brothers resort to robbing banks in order to save their family's ranch, but a Texas Ranger (Jeff Bridges, who was excellent) is hot on their heels.   A beautifully shot modern western.

7. The Girl with All the Gifts*:  An unusual young girl named Melanie may hold the key to humanity's survival after a fungal infection causes a zombie outbreak.  A very good adaptation of Mike Carey's excellent novel.

Side note:  If this sounds a lot like The Last of Us to you, you're not alone.  When I read the book a couple of years ago and got to a particular point, I thought the author had completely ripped TLoU off!  But I read an interview with him that mentioned the similarities, and he said he was almost done writing the book when the game came out and considered scrapping the whole thing, but he'd put too much time and effort into it.  

8. La La Land*:  Aspiring actress Mia (Emma Stone, who won the best actress Oscar) and jazz musician Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) fall in love while chasing their dreams in this bittersweet musical.  It was a bit overhyped, but still charming enough that I really enjoyed it.

2017 TOTAL SO FAR: 26

Friday, March 31, 2017

media update: March

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

FICTION

1. The Burning World by Isaac Marion:  This is the sequel to Warm Bodies, so I can't review it properly lest I spoil its predecessor.  I'll just say that I didn't enjoy it very much.

2. Heartbreak Hotel by Jonathan Kellerman:  Child psychologist Alex Delaware is surprised when Thalia Mars, a woman in her late nineties, calls him for an appointment.  He goes to see her at the hotel where she's lived for many years, and Thalia is cryptic about what she wants, but she promises to tell him everything during their next meeting.  When her body is discovered the next day and foul play is suspected, Alex and his police lieutenant friend Milo Sturgis decide to look into it.  Not one of Kellerman's better books, but still entertaining.  I could have done without Alex saying "The Internet raped privacy a long time ago" at one point.  Not cool, Kellerman.

3. The Lonely Hearts Hotel by Heather O'Neill:  While living at an orphanage, piano prodigy Pierrot and charming Rose fall in love.  They're separated as teenagers, and their lives take squalid turns, but they never stop trying to find each other.  Some really gorgeous writing in this book.

4. I See You by Clare Mackintosh:  Zoe Walker is stunned when she sees her photograph used in a classified ad, but the next day, a different woman's picture is in the ad instead.  Zoe tries to put it out of her mind, but the ad shows a new woman every day, and some of them are turning up dead.  It was okay.

5. What You Don't Know* by JoAnn Chaney:  Jacky Seever was beloved by his community until the discovery of 33 bodies in his crawl space.  He's now on death row, but the effects of his crimes still continue to reverberate with the cops who arrested him, the reporter who wrote about him, and his unsuspecting wife.  Then new victims with ties to Seever start showing up, and everyone's lives are thrown into turmoil again.  It reminded me a lot of early Lehane; it's terrific.

6. Things We Have in Common by Tasha Kavanagh:  Yasmin is having a miserable adolescence:  her father recently died and she's being bullied over her weight.  She idolizes her beautiful classmate Alice, and when Yasmin sees a man watching Alice, she fantasizes about him kidnapping Alice so she can rescue her...and then Alice actually disappears.  A decent read, and the ending is quite good.

7. Dead Letters* by Caite Dolan-Leach:  Ava fled her dysfunctional family and moved to France, but she's forced to come back home when she finds out that her twin sister Zelda has died in a fire.  She hadn't spoken to Zelda for two years, and she's convinced Zelda is really alive and just playing an elaborate game on her, so she starts following the clues she thinks Zelda left behind.  It took a while to hook me, but MAN does it get good at about the halfway mark.  One of the best last lines I've read in a while, too.

8. Long May She Reign by Rhiannon Thomas:  Freya is a teenage girl who's 23rd in line to the throne, but she has no real desire to be royalty anyway; she just wants to experiment in her lab.  But when a Red Wedding-esque banquet leaves everyone else in line dead, she finds herself with a crown on her head and a target on her back.

9. The Roanoke Girls** by Amy Engel:  When her mother commits suicide, 15-year-old Lane Roanoke is sent to live with her grandparents and cousin Allegra on their huge estate in rural Kansas.  Lane enjoys her new life until something happens that forces her to flee.  She never plans on going back, but eleven years later, her grandfather calls to say that Allegra is missing, and Lane reluctantly returns to see if she can find the cousin she left behind.  The big secret won't come as any surprise, and to her credit, the author doesn't draw out the suspense, but it's still good; imagine a beautifully written V.C. Andrews novel.

2017 TOTAL SO FAR: 22


NONFICTION

1. How to Murder Your Life* by Cat Marnell:  The author is a trainwreck, and before you chastise me for being mean, she'd be the first to agree.  This memoir covers her life of magazine jobs, pill popping, alcoholism, bulimia, and stays in both rehabs and psych wards.  I'd say it needed tighter editing, but the stream of consciousness style works really well because it's like she's telling you all about it in person.  Exhausting and occasionally frustrating (so many enablers!), but---please pardon the pun---addictive.

2. Dirty Thirty by Asa Akira:  A collection of essays by the popular porn star.

3. Eating Korea: Reports on a Culinary Renaissance by Graham Holliday:  Title says it all!

2017 TOTAL SO FAR: 8


MANGA/GRAPHIC NOVELS

1. Black Dahlia by Rick Geary

2. Sweetness & Lightning vol. 4 by Gido Amagakure

3. The Walking Dead* vol. 27 by Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard

2017 TOTAL SO FAR:  10 volumes of manga and 2 graphic novels


MOVIES

1. Moonlight*:  This coming of age story follows Chiron as he grows up in a rough neighborhood with his crack addicted mother.  It's pretty slow, but I'm giving it a star on the basis of its strong performances, especially Mahershala Ali (who won the best supporting actor Oscar) as a drug dealer who serves as a father figure to Chiron.

2. Bad Santa 2:  Alcoholic crab-ass Willie (Billy Bob Thornton) reluctantly teams up with his old friend turned nemesis Marcus and his estranged mother (Kathy Bates) to rob a charity.  Not nearly as good as the original, but it was still much funnier than the dismal reviews would have you believe.

3. Elle:  After she's raped in her home, Michele (Isabelle Huppert) decides not to go to the police because she's had bad experiences with them before.  She proceeds with her life as though the assault didn't affect her all that much, but has she really put it all behind her so easily?  I had a shitload of problems with various aspects of this movie, but Isabelle Huppert (who received an Oscar nomination) is absolutely magnificent.   Major trigger alert: the movie starts with Michele's rape and revisits it several times, and it also includes an extremely violent tentacle rape scene from a (fictional) video game.  (Oh, and a brief clip from what appears to be a real crush video, so thanks to Paul Verhoeven for THAT.  Seriously, he couldn't just have Michele reacting to what she's seeing on the computer instead of actually showing it?  JFC.  Without getting too graphic, it wasn't one of the more problematic kinds of crush videos, but it was still fucking gross and awful.)

4. Passengers*:  On an intergalactic voyage to a new planet, the passengers are placed in suspended animation for the 120-year flight, but a computer malfunction wakes two of them (Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence) up 90 years early.  This was a huge commercial and critical flop, but we actually liked it a lot!  I had the same problem with [plot spoiler] that a lot of people did, and G-Vo had some great ideas as to how different elements could have been improved, but overall, it didn't deserve the hate.

5. Justice League Dark:  Batman has to team up with John Constantine (nfffff) and several other supernaturally inclined superheroes to fight an evil threat.  The animation was just okay, but the plot was decent and it had some good lines.

6. The Handmaiden*:  A Korean woman is hired to serve as a rich Japanese woman's handmaiden, but she's secretly conspiring with a con man to steal all of her money instead.  Gorgeously shot, clever, and erotic.  I was also really impressed by how they adapted Sarah Waters' novel Fingersmith; they kept the meat of the story but added a very unique spin.

2017 TOTAL SO FAR: 18


Tuesday, February 28, 2017

media update: February

Wow, I actually managed to get quite a bit of reading done this month!  We had some crappy weather that kept me inside during my work breaks, I took a mental health day, and my Hidden City obsession has waned a bit (though it's by no means gone; I'm just able to put it aside when I run out of energy as opposed to buying shit to reup it so I can keep playing), so I was able to get some quality time in with a nice big pile o' books.  There's a lot of really quality stuff this time around, too. 

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

FICTION

1. Little Heaven by Nick Cutter:  A trio of mercenaries is hired by a woman looking for her young nephew, who's been taken by his father to the titular religious colony, and let's just say its name is extremely ironic.  Like all of Nick Cutter's books, it's incredibly gory and disturbing; I learned pretty quickly to stop reading it right before bed.

Side note:  this is the third novel by Nick Cutter I've read, and every single one has included at least one truly horrific scene of animal cruelty (not that humans fare so well either), so caveat reader if that's something you find especially problematic.

2. The River at Night by Erica Ferencik:  Wini and her three best friends go on a trip together every year, and this time around, Pia (the de facto leader of the group) has chosen a rafting excursion deep in the Maine woods.  Wini isn't jazzed about the choice, but she figures their guide will keep them safe...which he does until a freak accident leaves the women alone, stranded, and without any supplies, at which point shit gets real bad REAL fast.  It takes a very improbable turn about halfway through, but it's still fun, and I bet it would make a great movie.

3. The Most Dangerous Place on Earth* by Lindsey Lee Johnson:  In a wealthy Northern California town, privileged teenagers bound together by a shared tragedy try to navigate the real world.  Almost painfully real; it made me glad I grew up before social media.  (Well, that and the fact that if I'd had access to online games/Tumblr/Twitter/AO3 as a teenager, I never would have graduated.)

4. The Red Car* by Marcy Dermansky:  Leah feels mired down in a loveless marriage and her unfulfilled dreams.  When she gets a call saying her former boss Judy has died and left her a car, Leah goes to San Francisco to pick it up and finds herself reconsidering her life choices.  Bittersweet and mordantly funny.

5. The Dry** by Jane Harper:  When he was a teenager, Aaron Falk and his father were run out of their small Australian town by people who thought Aaron was responsible for the death of a local girl. Now a federal agent in the "big city", Aaron has reluctantly returned for the funeral of his old friend Luke, who shot his wife and young son and then himself...or did he?  Aaron's determined to find out, but the locals are still convinced that Aaron's a killer, and they're not very happy to see him again.

I'm about to give The Dry two major compliments:  it reminded me of Tana French, and at one point I had full energy in Hidden City and I READ THIS BOOK INSTEAD.  That ought to tell you something right there!

6. The Animators** by Kayla Rae Whitaker:  Mel(ody) and Sharon are two friends and animators who create a movie based on Mel's childhood that becomes a critical hit.  After Sharon suffers from a traumatic incident, she returns to her own childhood home to confront something in her past.  It's a beautiful exploration of female friendship, both incredibly funny and devastating, and it made me think about interesting things like whether confessional (in the non-religious sense) is always a good idea.  Very highly recommended; it's fantastic.

Side note #1:  I'm really impressed at how the inside of the book cover managed to get the story across without spoiling some really important shit.  Give that person a raise and have them write ALL jacket copy from now on!  Shit, there's a book ad I saw recently that includes an incredibly spoilery hashtag and I saw that and was like "Are you even serious right now, fuckers?"

Side note #2:   While I was reading this, I could only picture two people in the movie, should it ever be made:  Broad City's Ilana Glazer as Mel and Abbi Jacobson as Sharon.

7. King's Cage by Victoria Aveyard:  This is the latest installment of the Red Queen series, so I can't review it properly lest I spoil its predecessors.

8. Behind Her Eyes* by Sarah Pinborough:  Lonely single mother Louise meets a super hot dude in a bar one night, and they share a passionate kiss.  Unfortunately, when she goes to her new job a couple of days later, it turns out that the dude is her boss David, and he's married to a beautiful woman named Adele.  It would be a crime to ruin this book, so let's just say some REAL mindfuckery goes down.  Without getting too specific, I'll just say that one particular thing, though absolutely vital to the plot, was so goofy that I didn't wind up giving this two stars.  But man oh man!  If you have any interest in this book, read it before it gets spoiled for you.  Anyone who says they knew where it was going is either the author or a complete liar.

2017 TOTAL SO FAR:  13

NONFICTION

1. Oh Joy Sex Toy* vols. 1-3 by Erika Moen and Matthew Nolan:  Delightfully illustrated books about sex, covering everything from sex toy reviews to interviews with sex workers.  Inclusive, charming, and often quite funny.

Side note:  I had a minor crisis trying to decide whether these should go in the nonfiction section or the manga/graphic novels section of this media update.  They're completely illustrated, but they're definitely not manga and they're not really graphic novels either.  I finally decided to go with nonfiction because the Dewey decimal number places them in the sexuality category.  (Fun fact that I know by heart: graphic novels, comic books, and manga are 741.5!)

2. All the Lives I Want: Essays About My Best Friends Who Happen to Be Famous Strangers* by Alana Massey:  A collection of sharp and thoughtful essays combining personal anecdotes with examinations of how we view female celebrities, ranging from Sylvia Plath to my true boo Britney Spears.  There's also an essay that perfectly encapsulated why I had a problem with The Virgin Suicides, an impassioned and deeply sympathetic defense of Anna Nicole Smith, and a great line where the author is talking about her time as a stripper and how she'd hear sob stories from the guys there, and she addresses their significant others thusly:  "I took their money, but I took your side." 

2017 TOTAL SO FAR:  5

MANGA/GRAPHIC NOVELS

1. Everyone's Getting Married vols. 1-3 by Izumi Miyazono

2. The Demon Prince of Momochi House vol. 7 by Aya Shouoto

3. Food Wars!* vol. 16 by Yuko Tsukuda and Shun Saeki

4. My Love Story!!* vol. 11 by Kazune Kawahara and Aruko

5. Say I Love You vol. 17 by Kanae Hazuki

6. The Ancient Magus' Bride vol. 6 by Kore Yamazaki

7. So Cute It Hurts!! vol. 11 by Go Ikeyamada

2017 TOTAL SO FAR:  9 volumes of manga

MOVIES

1. The Nice Guys*:  In this noir comedy, a pair of private eyes (Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe) investigate a missing woman in 1970s Los Angeles.  G-Vo pointed out that it seemed like it was based on an Elmore Leonard novel, which it wasn't, but that's obviously high praise indeed.  Very funny (a scene in an elevator just about killed us) and highly entertaining.

2. American Honey:  Star flees her shitty home life and winds up with a ragtag gang of traveling magazine sellers.  It's decent, but there's absolutely no reason it had to be almost 3 hours!  (I watched it in chunks over a period of several days because any movie that long better have some goddamn epic battle scenes or orcs or shit if I'm gonna watch it in one sitting.)

3. Finding Dory*:  Forgetful blue tang Dory misses her family, so she sets out on an epic adventure to find them.  Neither G-Vo nor I were huge fans of Finding Nemo (I know, blasphemy), but we really enjoyed this one.  The octopus stole the show!

Side note: Pixar's shorts tend to be pretty hit or miss, but the one featured here ("Piper") was a definite winner.

4. Arrival**:  When aliens arrive on Earth, a linguist (Amy Adams) is hired by the government to figure out their language and what they want.  Intelligent, heartbreaking, a great script, and a wonderful cast.

5. The Girl on the Train*:  Unmoored by her divorce, Rachel (Emily Blunt) fixates on a seemingly perfect couple she sees every day during her morning commute on the train.  One day she witnesses something that freaks her out, and she gets ensnarled in a missing persons case.  I'd read the book so there were no surprises to be had for me, but I still really enjoyed it, and the performances are excellent.

6. Jack Reacher: Never Go Back:  The titular drifter (Tom Cruise) finds himself on the run with a major accused of espionage and a young woman who might be his daughter.  It had its moments, but overall wasn't anything special.

7. Manchester by the Sea:  After his brother dies, Lee (Casey Affleck, who won the best actor Oscar) returns to his hometown and discovers that he's been appointed as his nephew's legal guardian.  Extremely well done and realistic, but JFC was it depressing!

2017 TOTAL SO FAR: 12

VIDEO GAME OF THE MONTH

Dead Rising is one of our favorite video game franchises, and the arrival of each new game is like Christmas for us, so it's especially appropriate that Dead Rising 4 came out just before the holidays!

DR4 (an Xbox One/Windows exclusive) brings back fan favorite Frank West, the intrepid photojournalist who covered the first zombie outbreak in Willamette, Colorado.  He's currently working as a photography professor, but he returns to Willamette with his student Vicky "Vick" Chu, who's convinced the government is up to some shady activity.  Vick's instincts are correct, but some shit goes down, and Frank has to go into hiding.  Several months later, he's found by a federal agent who wants Frank to help investigate a new zombie outbreak in Willamette.  Frank's reluctant to do so, but when he's promised that his name will be cleared and he'll get exclusive rights to the scoop, he grabs his camera and heads to Willamette.

LOVED:
  • Like every single game in the series, Dead Rising 4 is fun as hell.  If plowing through thousands of zombies is wrong, I don't ever want to be right.
  • Frank is just a cool-ass character: funny, tough, and secure enough in his masculinity to rock a sundress if he happens to find one in the mall.
  • Speaking of Frank, he's got a new voice actor this time around.  I did miss the original VA, but the new guy does such a good job that I stopped noticing after a while.
  • NO MORE TIME LIMITS!  Oh my god, what a fucking blessing to be able to thoroughly enjoy the environment without having to race to complete a mission.
  • DR4 has some of the best combo weapons in the series, including the lightning fast ice sword (my personal weapon of choice) and the magnificent Gandelf.  Nope, that's not a typo; you can create a staff that, when pounded on the ground, sends a horde of explosive garden gnomes into a crowd of zombies.  It's even more awesome than it sounds.  
  • The newly rebuilt mall has some really cool areas, including a gorgeous section that reminded me of Tokyo's Akihabara district.
LOATHED:
  • A couple of glitchy bits here and there, including one that crashed the game and caused me to lose a lot of progress.
  • The facial animations aren't as good as they could be.
  • The final boss fight was frustrating as hell.
  • Some repetitive dialogue.
  • I wish they hadn't made Frank look so much like The Walking Dead's Negan.  At one point, he even gets a bat covered in barbed wire!  It's probably a deliberate homage, but it was distracting.  (And that bat wasn't a particularly good weapon, either.)
MADE ME WANT TO PUNCH A GODDAMN WALL:

My absolute biggest problem with Dead Rising 4 is the fact that it ended in a particular, non-negotiable way, and there's going to be DLC that you have to buy in order to get the "true ending".  THIS IS FUCKING BULLSHIT.  It's like punishing the fans for being devoted enough to buy your game as soon as it comes out.  I mean, sure, we COULD wait for the "complete" or game of the year editions and pay one price for the whole thing, but then we risk getting spoiled.

People complain a lot about video games being expensive, and it's true; a new console game typically runs about $60.  But look at it this way, taking DR4 as an example:  G-Vo played through it on his own, and then I played it.  I don't know offhand how many hours total we poured into DR4, but a conservative estimate would be about 25 hours each, so that's 50 hours.   That's $1.20 per hour. 

Now let's take a first-run Hollywood movie and say that it's 2 hours long.  Non-matinee/non-3D movies in California are about $14 a ticket, so you're paying $7 an hour to see that movie.  Video games are a bargain in comparison, right?  But when you see a movie in the theater, THE PRICE OF YOUR TICKET INCLUDES THE FUCKING ENDING.  If the movie ended and the credits included a bit that said "For the TRUE ending, please buy this movie when it comes out on DVD and Blu-Ray", there'd be a riot!

Another way of looking at it:  let's say you go to Wendy's and buy combo #1: a cheeseburger, fries, and a Coke, which costs $7.18 here in California.  (Yes, I know that amount by heart, both because I go to Wendy's a lot and because 7/18 is my birthday, so it's easy to remember.)  It's cheaper to buy the combo meal than each item separately, but DLC is like paying more for a combo meal AND having to wait weeks or months for your goddamn fries to arrive.

Look, obviously I don't begrudge video game companies making money.  And if they want to release DLC that's "optional", like, say, some new weapons or a new area or whatever, then great!  But releasing THE TRUE ENDING for an additional cost is a bullshit move that punishes the loyal.  How about REWARDING the loyal by making the "true ending" a preorder bonus instead?  That way, you ensure a new sale, you give the fans a nice lagniappe, and if someone waits to buy it later, then they can pay for the goddamn DLC if they want.  (Though let me be clear, I don't think any "true ending"/canon story content DLC is a good idea; just put it all in the game to begin with.)

Overall, despite that rant, I would definitely recommend Dead Rising 4 if you're already a fan of the series; it's a lot of fun.  But for god's sake, don't buy it until the game of the year/complete edition comes out.  If we'd known they were going to do this, we would have waited.

Despite all that, Dead Rising 4 gets 4 explosive garden gnomes out of 5.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

media update: January

This is a scrawny media update because I didn't get much reading done when I was in Hawaii; I was much more interested in exploring and soaking up the gorgeous scenery than burying my face in a book!

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

FICTION

1. Pull Me Under* by Kelly Luce:  When she was 12 years old, Chizuru Akitani snapped and killed a classmate who had been bullying her for a long time.  After her release from a juvenile detention facility, she moved to the United States, renamed herself Rio, and created a new life for herself.  But when her estranged father dies, Rio has to return to Japan, where she can no longer escape her past.  Poignant and beautifully written.

2. The Fate of the Tearling by Erika Johansen:  This is the final book in the Tearling trilogy, so I can't review it properly lest I spoil its predecessors.

3. History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund:  Linda is a teenage girl living in the Minnesota woods with her parents when a family moves in across the lake.  Linda winds up befriending the mother, Patra, who hires her as a babysitter for her little boy Paul, but something's not quite right.  This synopsis kind of makes it sound like a horror story, and it is, but not in the way you might be thinking.

4. Everything You Want Me to Be by Mindy Mejia:  Here's another book about a teenage girl from Minnesota!  This time, it's about Hattie, who longs to leave her small town and become an actress, but when she's stabbed to death, the investigation shows that she was an even better actress than everyone thought.  I was pretty sure I knew "whodunnit" about halfway through, but I was pleasantly surprised to be wrong.

5. Of Fire and Stars by Audrey Coulthurst:  A princess hiding magical powers is betrothed to the prince of a neighboring kingdom, but things get complicated when she falls in love with his sister.  For the most part, it's standard YA fantasy fare, but I did appreciate the fact that it had lesbian/bisexual protagonists.


NONFICTION

1. Girl in the Woods by Aspen Matis:  On her second night of college, the author was raped and the school did nothing about it.  She dropped out and decided to hike the 2,650 mile Pacific Crest Trail in order to find herself.  Comparisons to Cheryl Strayed's similarly themed Wild were inevitable, and Wild is the superior memoir by far, but this was still very good.

Side note:  there were a lot of weird phrases and repetitive scenes in this book, but I had an advance reader's copy (which I found at the library's used book sale), so they might not show up in "official" copies.

MANGA/GRAPHIC NOVELS

Nothing this month, surprisingly.

MOVIES

1. Independence Day: Resurgence:  This movie sucked baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaalls.

2. Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates:  The titular brothers (Adam Devine and Zac Efron) have a reputation for wrecking family events, so their parents insist they find "nice girls" to bring to their little sister's wedding in Hawaii.  Unfortunately, the women (Anna Kendrick and Aubrey Plaza) who answer their online ad are wolves in sheep's clothing.  Occasionally quite funny, although one particular scene goes on WAY too long (for those of you who have seen it, it's the one with the massage therapist) and Anna Kendrick's dreadful wig is distracting as hell.

3. Morgan:  The titular character is a human created in a lab who's, shall we say, a bit unstable.  It was okay; the best thing about it was that it helped us kill 2 hours on a plane.

4. Jason Bourne:  More like Jason BORED, because my god this movie sucked.  An action movie should not be dull! 

5. Rogue One*:  In this very dark Star Wars prequel, the Rebel Alliance learns of a flaw in the Death Star and sets out to steal the plans.  Great casting and exciting action sequences made this a very fun afternoon at the movies.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

what I did on my winter vacation

Several months ago, my dad told me that he was planning a vacation to Hawaii for the family, both as a celebration of his lymphoma being in remission and as a mini-reunion of sorts, since it's extremely rare for all of us to be in the same place at one time, scattered across the country as we are.  Not only that, but he said G was welcome too!  Were we interested?  Uh, duh.

Fast forward to January 13th, when we took off on our big Hawaiian adventure.  We spent 4 days in Kona on the big island, and then 5 days in Maui, though most of that final day was spent in the airport.  It would be a bit cumbersome, and probably quite frankly very boring for most of you, if I went over every single thing we did, so instead I'll list the highlights and lowlights of the trip.

THE GOOD

  • Our hotels were fuckin' DOPE.  In Kona, we stayed at the Mauna Lani Bay, which had a beautiful (if somewhat rocky) beach, big rooms, and a terrific breakfast buffet.  In Maui, we stayed at the Hyatt Regency, which also had a gorgeous beach, huge rooms, delightfully fast wi-fi, easy walking access to lots of stores and restaurants, and---check this---penguins in the lobby!  There were two big downsides to the Hyatt, though, which I'll cover later. 
  • Speaking of the birds at the Hyatt, they also had flamingos, cranes, swans both white and black, and parrots and cockatoos.  One of the cockatoos was named Samson, and I got the bright idea of playing assorted iPhone ringtones to see if he'd imitate any of them.  He listened to most of them with either a cocked head or disinterest, but two of them made him fluff up his head feathers, spread out his wings, and bob his head back and forth.  (I checked online to see what this behavior connotes; if it had been fear or aggression, I would have stopped immediately, of course.  Fortunately, it means he was excited and/or happy.)  So if you ever have the chance to play an iPhone ringtone for a cockatoo, try "Choo-Choo" and "Sherwood".
  • We got to see cool animals out in the wild, too, including sea turtles, eels fighting in a tidepool, and---from the safety of a submarine---stingrays, white tip sharks, and assorted fish.  We also saw several feral cats but they wouldn't let me love them.  :(
  • Took a really good bus tour, which stopped at a coffee plantation with a gorgeous view, a caldera which glowed bright orange in the dark, and a lava tube, and it also included a brief night hike through the rainforest.  At one point, the guide asked us to turn our flashlights off, and it was completely black except for the incredible night sky.
  • Took a bus tour on the famous road to Hana, which was very zigzaggy but included stops at beautiful beaches, waterfalls, and lookout points.
  • Took ANOTHER bus tour, this one to Haleakala State Park to see the sunset.  The sunset wasn't as spectacular as I would've hoped, but being high above the clouds and seeing them spread out before us like a massive white carpet was pretty damn cool.
  • Some great food:  prime rib, iberico pork belly with blueberry pancakes (an odd but delicious combo), macadamia crusted chicken, ube ice cream, a piece of hula pie that was the size of my head (and I have a huge fuckin' head).
  • Getting to spend quality time with my family and G.
  • Everybody knows Hawaii is gorgeous, but my god is it STUNNING.  We even saw double rainbows on the way back to the Maui airport, like one last parting gift.

THE BAD

  • Everybody ALSO knows Hawaii is expensive, but I wasn't really prepared for just how spendy it really is.  ($42 for half a rotisserie chicken with no sides?!?  $3 for a Coke Zero?!?  Almost ten bucks for a GALLON of MILK?!?!?!?!?) On our way to the submarine excursion, G was chatting with our shuttle driver, who told us that he and his wife work 5 jobs between them, their property taxes are $14,000 a year, their electric bill was $400 last month, and he was happy about driving the shuttle that day because it meant he only had to work a 10 hour day instead of his usual 12- to 16-hour shift.  He said, "I can't wait to retire and move to Massachusetts!"  (Sounds random, but his daughters are there, and he likes snow.)  Personally, I'd rather live large in a boring state and not have to work 60+ hour weeks, because what good is living in paradise if you're always too busy to enjoy it?
  • Remember when I said the Hyatt had two big downsides?  The first was the unbelievably cramped bathroom, and the second was the massive influx of people who were there as a reward for exceeding their sales goals last year.  (Nice perk!)  They were EVERYWHERE, clogging the restaurants and pools and beaches, and we always knew exactly who they were because, to a person, they carried tote bags emblazoned with their company's name.  Now, obviously they had a right to be there too, but they had lots of pool parties with a loud and annoying DJ who could be heard pretty much anywhere in the hotel, often quite late at night, and it was irritating.
  • This isn't Hawaii's fault, but a water pipe broke at LAX when we were flying out and made the bathrooms in our terminal unusable.  If you wanted to use a bathroom, you had to go to another terminal and then go back through security!  No thanks.  So we sat there for 3 hours, parched as hell but afraid to drink anything lest we have to pee.
  • This also isn't Hawaii's fault, but on the redeye back to Los Angeles, we had a screaming toddler (after landing, I heard his mother say "And now we're part of someone's nightmare travel story!") and the guy sitting next to me (the travel agent couldn't get seats together for G and me, although we were across the aisle from each other) was a shameless manspreader.  We also hit the kind of turbulence that makes you start praying.  On the plus side, at least once we got to LAX, G and I were home within a couple of hours!  My brother had a 3 hour layover, and my dad and stepmother had a SIX hour layover, then a delay, and then they landed in Tampa to discover there was a tornado warning.  The bridges were out, so they had to take a detour while driving home.  They got home about 30 hours after leaving Maui, but at least they got there safely!
Overall, it was an excellent trip, full of quality time with my loved ones, fun excursions, and beautiful scenery.  I'd love to go back some day, but I'll need to take out a loan first!