Tuesday, January 03, 2017

2016: the year in review

JANUARY:  Finished leveling up all Vocaloids to max affection in Project Mirai.  (That may be the geekiest sentence I've ever typed.)  Had to slam on my brakes in heavy traffic, which caused minor whiplash that plagued me for a few days.  Alan Rickman and David Bowie died.  Finished season 1 of D4.  Read 8 novels, 1 nonfiction book, and 3 volumes of manga; watched 13 movies.

FEBRUARY:  Southern California was hit by an unseasonal heat wave.  Went to Little Tokyo with G, C, and J.  My Aunt Sue (technically my great-aunt, but she and my mom were only 12 years apart so they were more like sisters) died, which really broke my heart because she was a wonderful woman.  Finished Game of Thrones (the Telltale video game, not the series).  Took a long Valentine's Day weekend.  Finished Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask story mode.  G's parents were in town for a few days, and we watched the Oscars together.  Read 13 novels, 1 nonfiction book, and 2 volumes of manga; watched 11 movies.

MARCH:  My work bestie transferred to Arizona, which really fucking sucked because she was the one person at work that I considered a friend.  Took a desperately needed mental health day, and I ordered Red Robin delivery from Door Dash, mainlined the Captive Prince trilogy, and read a fat stack of magazines.  Read 14 novels, 2 graphic novels, and 11 volumes of manga; watched 8 movies.

APRIL:  Went to Santa Monica with our friend M for her belated birthday celebration.  Got my hair cut. Prince died.  Met up with my brother in Las Vegas, and we spent 5 days eating delicious foods, walking about eight thousand miles, and seeing shows (Cirque du Soleil's Ka and a comedian/hypnotist named Anthony Cools).  I also got together with my good friend J, and we had dinner, went to the Erotic Heritage Museum, and hung out talking about everything and nothing.  At one point I was laughing so hard I was literally sobbing!  Read 12 novels, 3 nonfiction books, 4 volumes of manga, and one graphic novel; watched 7 movies.

MAY:  Came back from my Vegas trip to a massive shitstorm thanks to new draconian policies and bitchy emails from my [c-word] boss N.   Spent a weekend by myself because G was out of town for his nephew's graduation and I couldn't get the time off work.  Although I missed G, I kept myself busy with a trip to the mall, naps, Netflix, and reading.  I was jealous as hell when G came back and told me that he got to stay at the super swank penthouse of a cult director.  Finished Life Is Strange.  Read 8 novels, 2 nonfiction books, 5 volumes of manga, and 1 graphic novel; watched 8 movies.

JUNE:  My boss N got promoted and decided to throw a few more shit nuggets at me before leaving by changing my coveted shift and assigning afternoon lobby duty (an incredibly cushy job) to someone else.  The new boss, K, turned out to be a bit goofy and annoying, but at least she's stationed in an office 2 hours away and only came to our office once or twice a month.  G's sister, brother-in-law, and nephew came for a short visit.  Finished Uncharted.  Read 8 novels, 3 nonfiction books, 8 volumes of manga, and 5 graphic novels; watched 8 movies.

JULY:  Spent the 4th of July weekend in Portland with G and his family; we stayed in a rental house that was nice except for a bad ant problem, and we visited Voodoo Doughnuts, Powell's Books, museums, botanical gardens, and Multnomah Falls.  G and I also had the best macaroni and cheese of our life at a restaurant called Branch; we were literally moaning, and G doesn't get excited about food, so you KNOW it was good!  Took an extra long weekend to celebrate G's and my birthdays, which are two days apart.  Hung out with our friend M.  The wildfires set off my allergies something fierce, not that that's the big tragedy.  Finished Tales from the Borderlands.  Read 10 novels, 1 nonfiction book, 9 volumes of manga, and 2 graphic novels; watched 10 movies.

AUGUST:  Had to go to the eye doctor because I had what looked for all the world like a zit on my eyeball, which freaked my shit out.  Fortunately it was just something called a retention cyst (probably from rubbing my eyes too hard, so don't do that) and went away on its own.  An El Pollo Loco employee was so rude to G (without provocation, mind you) that I had to restrain myself from flinging a cup of mashed potatoes at her.  Finished Uncharted 3.  G and I celebrated our 12th (!!!) anniversary together with dinner at Cheesecake Factory (the site of our first date) and a showing of Kubo and the Two Strings.  My absolute least favorite coworker retired, which made me do the happiest of dances!  Read 11 novels, 5 nonfiction books, 8 volumes of manga, and 2 graphic novels; watched 8 movies.

SEPTEMBER:  Got a nail in my tire.  Finished Stranger Things.  Glenn's sister A, brother-in-law J, and nephew D came out for a visit, and we went to LACMA to see the Guillermo del Toro exhibit.  My work bestie J came to California for a visit, and it was so awesome to see her!   Work continued to suck my ass out when the powers that be decided to put us on phones 100% of the time.  Not only that, but they closed our lobby, which robbed me of 2 gloriously slacky hours in the late afternoon.  Finished Gal*Gun Double Peace, a pervy but not particularly good PS4 game.  Went out to dinner with our friend M.  Had a massive allergy attack.  Read 14 novels, 1 nonfiction book, 2 volumes of manga, and 3 graphic novels; watched 9 movies.

OCTOBER:  Finished Hatsune Miku: Project Diva X.  Got a glorious reprieve from phone duty when my boss asked me to work on a project.  Because nothing can ever be easy, the project had a pretty steep learning curve and the software I needed was plagued with problems, but I eventually got everything smoothed out and rejoiced in my phone-free life.  Became addicted to Hidden City, a mobile game that is about as addictive as black tar heroin.  Took 4 days off as staycation.  Spent Halloween with G eating candy and watching The Purge: Election Year.  Read 8 novels, 1 nonfiction book, 6 volumes of manga, and 3 graphic novels; watched 8 movies.

NOVEMBER:  Published two articles.  G-Vo came down with either a very bad cold or a relatively minor case of the flu, and I followed suit the next week.  Donald Trump won the election.  Went clothes shopping with G-Vo.  Played the "Lost in Nightmares" DLC for Resident Evil 5.  G-Vo's parents, sister, brother-in-law, nephew D, and D's girlfriend T came out for Thanksgiving weekend.  We had dinner at a local restaurant, went to several museums, and visited Little Tokyo, where I scored 12 bags of my favorite (and extremely rare) potato chips.  Read 9 novels, 3 nonfiction books, and 2 volumes of manga; watched 5 movies.

DECEMBER:  Saw Doctor Strange in the theater.  Was EXCEPTIONALLY unhappy at the news that I'd have to be on phones for the last two hours of my shift, but at least it wasn't all day like it used to be!  A bird crapped on me.  Our friend R came to California to visit her family, and we got to spend an evening together laughing ourselves sick.  Finished Sherlock Holmes and the Devil's Daughter.  Got yet ANOTHER new boss, this one located in Virginia, because sure why not.  Spent a lovely long Christmas weekend with G-Vo playing video games, watching movies, and eating...in short, perfection.  George Michael, Carrie Fisher, AND Debbie Reynolds died.  Rang in the New Year with a bottle of prosecco and my favorite person in the world.  Read 4 novels, 3 nonfiction books, and 7 volumes of manga; watched 8 movies.

Sunday, January 01, 2017

media update: December

Happy 2017, and good fuckin' riddance to 2016!  I want to believe that 2017 will be much better, but...uh...considering what's going to happen near the end of January, probably not.  (And a friendly aside to the Grim Reaper:  if you're still hungry after gorging yourself so often last year, feel free to take out Bill Cosby, Brock Turner, OJ Simpson, Jared Fogle, or any of their ilk as opposed to, you know, MY CHILDHOOD ICONS.)

You may notice this media update is pretty sparse by my usual standards, as I didn't get much reading done this month.  Southern California finally got the memo that it's winter, so I was able to walk on my breaks at work instead of staying inside to avoid heatstroke, and Hidden fucking City continued to eat away at my free time, so I wasn't getting much reading done at home either!

The movie list is also smaller than usual because G-Vo and I spent most of our time gaming: Sugar Smash, Hidden goddamn City, Sherlock Holmes and the Devil's Daughter (not as good as the previous games, and the ending was weird, but it was still enjoyable), and Dead Rising 4.  Ohhhhhh yeah.

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


1. The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen:  After the death of her mother Queen Elyssa, Kelsea was raised in hiding to protect her from those who would kill her.  When she comes of age, she returns to the kingdom to claim her throne and finds herself squarely in the crosshairs of those who aren't happy to see her again. 

Side note: Emma Watson bought the movie rights to this series, and from what I understand, she's going to play Kelsea.  This amuses me because Kelsea is repeatedly described as plain, and I doubt there's much you could do to ugg out Emma Watson!  They'll need Charlize Theron's Monster makeup artist to even have a chance.

2. Scythe by Neal Shusterman:  In the future, humanity has managed to conquer aging and death, but of course this means there are way too many people on Earth, so an elite group of people known as scythes randomly pick people to kill.  Two teenagers named Citra (this is YA, so of course most of the names are goofy; there are also characters named Tyger, Jacory, and Kohl) and Rowan are chosen to apprentice under a scythe, but neither one of them wants the job.  A very interesting premise, but it could have used some tighter editing and a good proofreader.  My personal favorite oopsie was when Citra is described as being incapable of doing things "half-fast".  I had no idea what he meant, but then I said it out loud and realized he meant "half-assed".  HALF-FAST.

3. The Invasion of the Tearling by Erika Johansen:  Sequel etc.

4. The Mothers* by Brit Bennett:  Unmoored by the suicide of her mother, 17-year-old Nadia Turner begins having sex with her pastor's son.  When she gets pregnant, she has an abortion, the effects of which will resonate through the rest of their lives.  Beautifully written and heartbreaking.

Side note: although the synopsis makes this sound anti-choice, I didn't take it that way, although other people may think otherwise.

2016 TOTAL:  119


1. Moranifesto by Caitlin Moran:  A collection of columns covering everything from the silly (the addictive qualities of the Daft Punk song "Get Lucky", her crush on Benedict Cumberbatch) to the deadly serious (female genital mutilation, sexism).

2. Kathy Griffin's Celebrity Run-Ins by Kathy Griffin:  The comedian spills the super salty tea on the many celebrities she's met.

3. Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton:  After several years of bulimia and alcoholism, the author found love, got married, had children, and published an instant bestseller.  As you might imagine, things were looking pretty good, but then she found out that her husband was cheating on her.  I'd give the first half of this book a star, but the second half gets awfully New Age woo-woo mushy.

2016 TOTAL:  24


1. What Did You Eat Yesterday? vol. 11 by Fumi Yoshinaga

2. Rin-Ne vol. 22 by Rumiko Takahashi

3. Sweetness and Lightning vols. 1-3 by Gido Amagakure

4. Food Wars! vol. 15 by Yuto Tsukuda and Shun Saeki

6. So Cute It Hurts!! vol. 10 by Go Ikeyamada

2016 TOTAL:  67 volumes of manga and 18 graphic novels


1. Doctor Strange**:  After a car accident robs him of the use of his hands, arrogant surgeon Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch, terrific as always) goes to Nepal in search of healing, and a whole new world of superpowers opens up to him.  Just a really fun movie, with some surprisingly good dialogue and trippy visuals that more than justified the extra cost for the 3D experience.  If you want to see it and haven't yet, I'd definitely recommend seeing it in the theater, assuming it's even still playing by the time I post this.

Side note: why do people like messing with Mads Mikkelsen's eyes so much?  In this movie, his eyes are charred around the edges; in Casino Royale, his eyes leak blood; in the trailer for the upcoming video game Death Stranding, his eyes leak black goo.  Considering how nasty Hannibal got, I'm amazed he made it to the end of the series with his eyes intact!

2. Don't Breathe:  A trio of teenage burglars hears about a rich blind man living in an abandoned Detroit neighborhood, and they think he'll be an easy score.  Big mistake.  A painfully tense thriller that gets almost grindhouse by the end.

3. Mechanic: Resurrection:  Retired hitman Arthur Bishop is forced out of hiding when an old enemy kidnaps his girlfriend and refuses to release her unless Arthur completes three more jobs.  The absolute best scene was spoiled in the trailer, but it still has a lot of fun action and Jason Statham in a wetsuit, which:  HNNNNNFFFFFFF.

4. The Darkness:  A family unwittingly brings a really crappy souvenir back from vacation in the form of a malevolent spirit.  This movie was HYPNOTICALLY bad, to the point that I didn't even want to stop watching because I was kind of impressed by just how terrible it was.  The best part was the 5 second clip of ParaNorman they showed near the beginning.  (ParaNorman is a wonderful movie.  Watch that instead of this.)

5. Suicide Squad:  A group of supervillains is recruited to fight a supernatural being.  It's just as incoherent and messy as you've heard, and the soundtrack is unbelievably distracting (the cost for music rights must have been stratospheric), but Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn and Will Smith as Deadshot are terrific.

6. Krampus:  A family comes under attack by Krampus, a creature from folklore who's basically the evil twin of Santa Claus.  WAY better than expected, and really fun.

7. Goat:  After suffering a horrifying attack, Brad decides to pledge the same fraternity as his brother in hopes of finding friendship and healing, but instead he finds the exact opposite.  This raw and disturbing flick is based on the memoir by Brad Land, which I read many years ago, but I'd forgotten most of the details.

8. Nerve*:  Desperate for money, Vee (Emma Roberts) becomes entangled in an online game with ever-increasing stakes.  We weren't expecting much from it, but it was actually quite entertaining!

2016 TOTAL:  103

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

best of 2016: miscellaneous edition

And finally, here's my list of random favorite things from 2016.  A few notes before I begin:

  • Not all of these things first made their debut in 2016, but that's when I first experienced them.
  • In years past, I used to include a picture of/from each item, but that became a colossal hassle due to continued issues with Blogger/Photobucket.  My apologies.
  • These aren't in any particular order.
  • Those of you familiar with my intense love of the Dead Rising series might be surprised to see Dead Rising 4 missing from this list, but that's because I haven't played it yet!  That will definitely change this weekend, though.  (Watch for it here at the end of 2017.)
  • And, as ever, your mileage may vary.

1. School-Live!:   This anime is about a group of girls who belong to the School Living Club, and honestly, that's all I want to say about it because the less you know about this show going in, the better.  You might be tempted to give up about halfway through the first episode, but I promise your patience will be rewarded.  (Available for streaming on Crunchyroll)

2. Tales from the Borderlands:  Telltale Games does it again with this incredibly funny take on the Borderlands series.  Although I imagine some familiarity with the original games would enhance your enjoyment, they do such a great job that it's not even necessary.  (Available on most major consoles)

3. The Uncharted series:  I watched a clip from Uncharted 4 and was so enchanted that I decided I wanted to play it, even though I hadn't played the first three games.  G-Vo would have none of that, so I went ahead and plowed through the first three games over the course of two months.  I still haven't played Uncharted 4, as we're waiting for the game of the year edition, but I'm looking forward to spending more time with cheeky treasure hunter Nathan Drake and his crew.  (Playstation exclusive)

4. Stranger Things:  In this pitch perfect homage to the 80s, a group of friends become embroiled in a sinister government plot after meeting a strange girl named Eleven.  It's really fun, and I for one welcome the return of Winona Ryder to pop culture.  (Netflix streaming)

5. Daredevil:  Blind lawyer Matt Murdock has a secret: he's also Daredevil, crime fighter extraordinaire.  Lots of really fun action and JFC, Daredevil's ass gives me a thirst not even a gallon of Gatorade could quench.  (Netflix streaming)

6. Ash vs. Evil Dead:  If you enjoyed the original Evil Dead movies and you love Bruce Campbell (I didn't say "or" there because who the hell doesn't love Bruce Campbell?!?) AND you haven't seen this yet, what are you waiting for?  It's gooey, gory, hysterical fun.  (Season 1 available on DVD; season 2 just wrapped up.  It's on Starz, so if you get that channel, you might be able to catch reruns or stream it.  I'm living the basic cable life, so my broke ass doesn't know for sure.)

7. Life Is Strange:  Max is a teenage girl who's just discovered she has the ability to rewind time, which of course is both a good and a bad thing.  Realistic characters, fun gameplay, agonizing moral choices, excellent voice acting, and super sharp writing made this, by far, my favorite video game of 2016.  (Available on most major consoles)

8. Hidden City:  THIS GODDAMN GAME.  I love it because it's so much fun, but I hate it because it's so fucking addictive that it's taken over most of my free time.  It's a hidden object game that starts off easy and steadily gets harder and harder.  The artwork is absolutely stunning, and the dopamine rush I get when I manage to find something in the last couple of seconds cannot be denied.  I'm actually grateful when my energy runs out because it forces me to put the game away and do something else for a while.  Recommended only if you have a lot of free time and/or the willpower to put it aside when real life demands your attention.  (Free download, though I'm not sure of everything you can get it on; G-Vo plays it on the iPad and I play it on the Kindle Fire.  Of course, like most mobile games, you can pay for boosters and whatnot, so be careful!)

9. Compartes Cereal Bowl candy bar:  White chocolate studded with Lucky Charms pieces?  Oh yes please.  I'm actually grateful this is so expensive ($12/bar, not even kidding) or else I'd be plowing through one or two of these a week.  They have lots of other flavors too if white chocolate isn't your jam.  Gorgeous packaging.  I get it from a gourmet candy store at my local mall, but you can also buy it online.

10. Hatsune Miku: Project Diva X:  Everybody's favorite virtual idol returns in another addictive rhythm game!  (Playstation exclusive)

11. Game of Thrones (video game):  Telltale Games knocks yet another one out of the park with their take on the GoT universe.  It's seriously like playing a side story from the books, and has all the hallmarks of a Telltale game: great writing, great voice acting (speaking of which, I tweeted something pervy about a character in this game and the voice actor favorited it; awkward!), great everything.  I would really like the second season now, please.  (Available on most major consoles)

12. Glory by Britney Spears:  What, you think my iTunes is all 80s songs and obscure Japanese noise bands?  Nope; I have a soft spot for Britney Spears, and albums like this one are the reason why.  Her previous album, Britney Jean, was terrible, but she more than makes up for it with Glory.  It's got everything: slow sexjams ("Just Luv Me", "Slumber Party", "Make Me..."), songs that will make you (okay, me) jump around your living room like a maniac ("If I'm Dancing", "Do You Wanna Come Over?"), and an achingly pretty ballad called "Man on the Moon".  There's one turd tossed into the mix ("Private Show", which is so terrible it makes me want to trepan myself in the few seconds I hear before my finger can reach the skip button on my iTunes), but carping about it is petty when everything else is so damn good. 

Monday, December 19, 2016

best of 2016: movies

And now it's time for my favorite movies of 2016!  The usual disclaimers before I begin:

  • Not all of these were first released in 2016, but that's when I saw 'em.
  • The first two movies listed were definitely my favorites, but the rest of the list is in random order.  (It's pretty weird that my two favorite movies were both stop motion animation, considering that it's somewhat of a dying art.) 
  • Despite my most fervent wishes, 2016 isn't over yet, so it's possible I'll watch something between now and the end of the year that belongs on here.  If so, I'll update accordingly.
  • I don't know why #3 and #4 on this list look tiny and squinchy; Blogger is being a butthole again.  I've tried to fix it but it's not working, and I lack the time/patience to type this all over again, so my apologies.
  • As ever, your mileage may vary.

1. Anomalisa:  Michael Stone is alienated from other people to the point that they all look and sound alike to him.  But when he's on a business trip, he hears a woman talking in the hallway of his hotel, and her voice is different, so he runs after her.  Her name is Lisa, and they form a strange and tender bond.

Oh man, you guys, this movie is something else.  It's weird, as you'd expect from a Charlie Kaufman movie, and wonderful and heartbreaking and funny.  The stop-motion animation is incredible (be sure to watch the "making of" featurettes on the DVD to see how much work went into it) and the voice acting is terrific and it's like nothing else I've ever seen.

2. Kubo and the Two Strings:  Accompanied by a sarcastic snow monkey and a beetle samurai, Kubo embarks on an epic quest to find a magical suit of armor.  Absolutely stunning stop-motion animation from the geniuses at Laika, combined with terrific voice acting and an alternately exciting and touching story, made this a perfect afternoon at the movies.

3. The Martian:  A group of astronauts is working on Mars when a storm forces them to leave the planet early.  They think their crewmate Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is dead and they leave him behind, but he's actually alive, and he has to figure out how to signal Earth for help.  Intense and incredibly enjoyable.

4.  The Visit:  Siblings Becca and Tyler are excited to meet their grandparents for the first time, but their vacation turns into a nightmare when Nana and Pop Pop begin acting very, very strange.

I know M. Night Shyamalan's name has become tarnished over the years due to flops like The Happening and the utter cinematic abortion that was The Last Airbender, but I swear to you, this movie was really fucking GOOD.  The acting is great, there are some really funny scenes, and the stuff that's supposed to be scary is tense as hell.  G-Vo and I weren't expecting much from this flick, but we were very pleasantly surprised.

5. Captain America: Civil War:  The United Nations wants to limit what superheroes are allowed to do, and although some of the Avengers are okay with restrictions, others don't like the idea at all, causing a serious rift and some truly badass action scenes.  Immensely entertaining (far more so than The Avengers: Age of Ultron) and am I a Stucky (Steve/Bucky) shipper now?  Goddamn right I am. 

6. 10 Cloverfield Lane:  After a car accident, Michelle wakes up handcuffed to a cot.  A man named Howard walks in and tells her that he rescued her and brought her to his bomb shelter because the world has been decimated by a chemical attack.  Is he really her savior, or something worse?  The ending was a little goofy, but it's incredibly tense and well done, and John Goodman is great as Howard.

7. Room:  Joy (Brie Larson, very deserving of her Oscar) has been confined to a small shed for over seven years by a man she calls Old Nick, along with her 5-year-old son Jack (Jacob Tremblay, not nominated but should have been).  Despite their situation, Joy has given Jack the best life she could, but she's reaching her breaking point.  Very powerful, with terrific performances, and I cried throughout most of it.

8. Eye in the Sky:  A planned drone strike to take out terrorists in Kenya goes awry when a little girl chooses the worst place possible to sell bread.  Very tense, and as you'd expect from a cast that includes Helen Mirren, Alan Rickman, and Aaron Paul, the performances are excellent.

9. Doctor Strange:  After a car accident robs him of the use of his hands, arrogant surgeon Stephen Strange goes to Nepal in search of healing, and a whole new world of superpowers opens up to him.  Just a really fun movie, with some surprisingly good dialogue and trippy visuals that more than justified the extra cost for the 3D experience.

10.  Zootopia:  Despite her size, plucky bunny Judy Hopps manages to become a cop.  She's assigned traffic duty during her first day in the force, but a string of missing animals might wind up being the case that will make everyone take her seriously.  The trailers for this were absolutely awful, so our expectations were very low, but it turned out to be really charming and funny.

SEEN IN THE THEATER:  Deadpool, Captain America: Civil War, Lights Out, Kubo and the Two Strings, Doctor Strange

MOST HORRIFYING SCENE:  I can't decide between the arm injury or the boxcutter scene from Green Room, but they both made me gasp.

 No Escape, The Martian, Sherrybaby, Freeheld, 99 Homes, The Good Dinosaur, Ratter (which I know sounds lame as hell, but I can't explain what got to me without massive spoilers, so please just trust me that it's not as lame as it sounds), Anomalisa, The Drop Box, Zootopia, Me Before You, Kubo and the Two Strings, The Jungle Book


WORST MOVIE I WATCHED THIS YEAR:  I was going to say Gods of Egypt or The Darkness, but although they were absolute trash, at least they were mildly entertaining and I wasn't compelled to write two blog entries ripping them apart.  Ergo, my least favorite movie this year was The Neon Demon, which was visually impressive but so stupid and so goddamn pleased with itself that it made me angry.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

best of 2016: nonfiction

And now it's time for my best nonfiction picks of the year!  A few notes before I begin:

  • Not all of these were first published in 2016, but that's when I read them.
  • Aside from the first two, which were definitely my favorites of the year, these aren't in any particular order.
  • And as ever, your mileage may vary.

1. Shrill by Lindy West:  A collection of essays by the former Jezebel contributor, covering everything from flying while fat to confronting a particularly nasty Internet troll who impersonated her dead father.  Blisteringly honest, often uproariously funny (I literally, and I mean literally in the actual sense and not the way it's usually used, sprayed masticated pretzels across a break room table while reading this because I was laughing so hard), and an absolute must-read.

2. The Long Shadow of Small Ghosts by Laura Tillman:  The residents of the poor border town of Brownsville, Texas were no strangers to tragedy or crime, but the brutal murder of three young children in 2003 shocked everyone.  The author began corresponding with the father (who, along with the children's mother, was convicted of the murders) of the victims in hopes of understanding why.  At the same time, she explored the impact of the crimes on the community where it happened.  A really heartbreaking, powerful book.

3. Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War by Mary Roach:  The science writer looks at the science behind keeping soldiers alive, ranging from uniform design to shark repellent.  It wasn't one of my favorites of her books, but it's still well worth reading.  How could anyone resist a book with a chapter called "Leaky SEALs: Diarrhea As a Threat to National Security"?  Also, it includes the line "a tasting flight of sodden tampons" (referring to an experiment to see if bears really are attracted to menstruating women), which is truly one of the weirdest sentences I've ever read in a book.

4. You'll Grow Out of It by Jessi Klein:  A collection of hilarious essays ranging from the author's loathing of the term "ma'am" (1000% agreed; Southerners exempt) to discovering the joys of porn and Anthropologie (not at the same time, though that would make an interesting RedTube clip that I would definitely watch).

5. The Best of Dear Coquette: Shady Advice from a Raging Bitch Who Has No Business Answering Any of These Questions:  I'd never heard of Dear Coquette, but I saw this on the shelf at the library and couldn't resist the title, so I had to pick it up.  Good choice!  Her advice is brutal but fair, and occasionally so sharply witty you could cut yourself on it.

6. I Will Find You by Joanna Connors:  At the age of 30, the author was raped while working on a newspaper story.  After her rapist was convicted and sent to prison, she didn't want to speak of the rape ever again, but while touring a college campus with her daughter, she decided to tell her children.  In the process, she decided to get closure by learning more about the man who had changed so much of her life.  Excellent.

7. On Living by Kerry Egan:  The author, a hospice chaplain, reflects on the lessons the dying have taught her.  It may sound maudlin, preachy, or depressing, but it's absolutely not; it's very moving and thought provoking.

8. KooKooLand by Gloria Norris:  A memoir about the author's love/hate relationship with her complicated father Jimmy, an alternately charming and psychotic con man.  Definitely worth reading if you love engrossing memoirs or want to be reassured that someone out there had an even more dysfunctional family than yours.

9. The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo by Amy Schumer:  An entertaining collection of essays ranging from the hysterically funny to the decidedly not, like the heartbreaking chapter about the two women who were shot and killed during a showing of Trainwreck.

10. Playing Dead: A Journey Through the World of Death Fraud by Elizabeth Greenwood:  The author made an offhand remark to a friend about faking her own death to get out of her student loans.  The comment spurred her interest in the world of "pseudocide", and this fascinating book covers everything from Michael Jackson "death truthers" to the author's trip to the Philippines, where she successfully faked her own death just to prove she could.

Friday, December 09, 2016

best of 2016: fiction

I can't believe it, but it's already that time of year again when I sort through everything I've read/watched and make my top 10 lists.  A few notes before I begin:

  • Not all of these were first released in 2016, but that's when I read 'em.
  • These are basically in preferential order, though I keep wavering on a few of them.  Number one was definitely my favorite, though.
  • G-Vo, skip #1 and #4.
  • Obviously 2016 isn't over yet (which is a shame as this has been one shit year), so if I read something between now and 12/31 which belongs here, I'll update accordingly.
  • This is my second time trying to post this, and I don't have the time or patience to keep messing with it, so if it looks like shit, I apologize.  This has been happening more and more with Blogger, so I might pack up and go elsewhere if it continues.
  • As ever, your mileage may vary.

1. The Last One by Alexandra Oliva:  While competing in a reality show set in the woods, Zoo (as the producers call her) gets separated from her teammates.  Because they're cut off from the outside world, they don't realize it's been ravaged by a pandemic, and when Zoo finds evidence of the devastation, she assumes it's a trick being played by the producers.  All she wants is to get back to her husband, and her ignorance of the truth will either save her or kill her.  A clever premise, expertly executed.

2.  The Captive Prince trilogy by C.S. Pacat:  After his half brother usurps power over the throne, Damen is captured and sent to serve as a pleasure slave to Laurent, the prince of an enemy kingdom.  Suffice it to say things don't turn out how either one of them expects.  It's a bit of a cheat to list a trilogy of books as one item on this list, but this is my blog so I'm gonna.  Very well written, and scorchingly hot at times.  I started the first one on a Monday night and took the next day off work so I could finish it, after which I immediately started the second one, like the literary equivalent of chainsmoking.  (Note: in order, the books in this series are Captive Prince, Prince's Gambit, and King's Rising.)

3. Sweetgirl by Travis Mulhauser:  Concerned for her drug addicted mother's safety during an impending blizzard, 16-year-old Percy sets off for a local meth dealer's cabin in hopes of finding her.  Instead, she finds the dealer and his girlfriend passed out, the corpse of a rotting dog, and a crying baby left in a freezing cold room.  Impulsively, Percy takes the baby, setting off a chain of unfortunate events.  Alternately funny and heartbreaking (it made me cry, which books rarely do), and it would make an absolutely killer movie.

4. The Fireman by Joe Hill:  Millions of people are infected with a plague nicknamed dragonscale, which causes most of the carriers to spontaneously combust.  When school nurse Harper Grayson finds out that she's not only infected, but pregnant, she flees for a camp where survivors have taken shelter, but it's not necessarily the safe haven she was hoping for.  Riveting, and Harper is a great heroine to root for.  (Joe Hill is exceptionally good at writing female characters.)

5. A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas:  This is the sequel to A Court of Thorns and Roses, so I can't properly review it lest I spoil its predecessor, but it was excellent.  Bonus points for really hot (and surprisingly graphic for YA) sex scenes, too.

6. Security by Gina Wohlsdorf:  Manderley Resort is a luxury hotel that's getting ready to open for business, but somebody doesn't want it to ever open its doors, and the staff is getting murdered one by one.  Tense and exciting; it would make one hell of a movie, and thanks to several "split screen" passages, Brian De Palma would be the ideal director.  

7. The Kingdom of Little Wounds by Susann Cokal:  In the 15th century city of Skyggehavn, Princess Sophia has just gotten married.  She is the royal family's greatest hope, as the other children of the king and queen have either died or are suffering from a mysterious illness.  But her wedding night goes horribly awry, and the kingdom is thrown into turmoil.  In the midst of it all, a disgraced seamstress, a mute nursemaid, and a scheming count try to survive by any means necessary.  The sumptuous writing reminded me of As Meat Loves Salt by Maria McCann, which is not a comparison I would make lightly, but be warned: it's classified as YA (and won a prestigious award given for excellence in young adult literature), but in my opinion, that was a mistake.  It contains several graphic descriptions of rape and sexual blackmail, a story about a woman mating with a monkey, and horrifying descriptions of dead bodies and debilitating illness.  But if you can handle its darkness (and it is DARK), I think you'll find it well worth the read.

8.  All the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood:  Wavy's father is a drug dealer and her mother is mentally ill, so she's left to her own devices most of the time, which she's fine with.  She's obsessed with constellations, and one night she's staring up at the sky when a man passing by wrecks his motorcycle.  The man is Kellen, an associate of her father's, and they form a friendship that other people don't get.  Beautifully written and extremely uncomfortable at times; it's probably the only book I've ever read where I agreed with both the 5 star reviews and some of the 1 star reviews on Amazon.  (Explaining the latter would be a massive spoiler, as the reviews in question are negative because of plot elements, not the writing.)

9. IQ by Joe Ide: Isaiah Quintabe is known around the neighborhood as IQ in deference to his intellect.  He solves cases and charges those who can afford it higher rates to make up for people who pay in tires and blueberry muffins, and there are far more of the latter than the former, so a case involving a rapper might be the cash cow he's been waiting for.  Really different and enjoyable; think Sherlock Holmes in the 'hood.

10. The Kept Woman by Karin Slaughter:  When a dead body is found at a construction site, it turns out to have startling links to detective Will Trent.  As you'd expect from Karin Slaughter, it's engrossing as hell and filled with plenty of surprises.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

media update: November

Hello, everybody; I hope this finds you in fine form and that you enjoyed your Thanksgiving holiday.  G's family (except his nephew I.), plus nephew D's girlfriend, came to California for a visit.  On Thanksgiving itself, we had dinner (underwhelming, which especially sucked because the Yelp reviews were so good) at a local joint, and on Friday, we went to the Getty.  Unfortunately, G had to work on Saturday, but the rest of us (except his parents, who were visiting friends) went to Little Tokyo, where I managed to score 12 bags of the jyaga bata chips that G and I love so much.  (They're a seasonal item, so we have to grab as many of them as we can on the rare occasions we find them!)  Afterwards, we dropped the kids (they're both 19, but I've known D since he was 7 so he'll always be a "kid" to me) off at the Greyhound station, and the rest of the group left on Sunday after the Giants/Browns game.  All in all, a lovely long weekend!

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.

You'll note that I don't go into much detail on some of the following titles, but that's because I honestly couldn't think of a thing to say about them.  


1. Replica by Lauren Oliver:  The most interesting thing about this book is its format: one side tells the story of a clone named Lyra and the other tells the story of a teenage girl named Gemma, and after reading one side of the story in whichever order you choose, you flip the book over and read the other.  Aside from the novelty factor, though, there's not much to recommend it.

2. The Patterns of Paper Monsters by Emma Rathbone:  Jacob Higgins is a teenage boy living in a juvenile detention facility.  While he’s there, he pines for a girl named Andrea and tries to figure out what a creepy resident named David is planning.  I still have no idea what the title means.

3. Cruel Beautiful World by Caroline Leavitt:  When Lucy runs away with her high school English teacher, her sister Charlotte and guardian Iris try to pick up the pieces of their shattered lives.

4. The Walking Dead: Search and Destroy by Jay Bonansinga:  Sequel etc., and not a very good one.  Christ, the author referred to a character as "the portly woman" three times in TWO PAGES.  We get it, Norma is portly, stop fatshaming the poor chick.

5. Paris for One by Jojo Moyes:  A novella and eight short stories by the author of Me Before You.

6. IQ* by Joe Ide:  Isaiah Quintabe is known around the neighborhood as IQ in deference to his intellect.  He solves cases and charges those who can afford it higher rates to make up for the people who can only pay him in tires and blueberry muffins, but there are far more of the latter than the former, so a job involving a rapper is just the cash cow he's been hoping for...if he doesn't get killed in the process.  Really different and enjoyable; think Sherlock Holmes in the hood.  The epilogue hints at a sequel, and I'll definitely pick that up too.

7. Chaos by Patricia Cornwell:  The discovery of a dead bicyclist turns out to have startling connections to Dr. Kay Scarpetta.  Meh for the most part, like most of Cornwell's recent novels, but the ending takes a very interesting turn.

8. The Weight of Zero by Karen Fortunati:  Catherine is a bipolar teenage girl who's stockpiling medication for the day that Zero (as she refers to depression) finally takes over.  But when she falls in love with a classmate and forms a close bond with a girl in her therapy group, she starts to gain hope for the future again.  Handled in a very sensitive and realistic way.

9. The Diabolic* by S.J. Kincaid:  Nemesis is a Diabolic, bred to have superhuman strength.  Her sole reason for existing is to protect Sidonia, the daughter of a galactic senator.  But when the emperor orders Sidonia to be sent to his kingdom, Nemesis undergoes body modification and goes in Sidonia's place.  I wasn't sure what to expect from this book, especially because the names are so goddamn goofy, but it was really good!   

2016 TOTAL SO FAR: 115


1. The Best of Dear Coquette: Shady Advice from a Raging Bitch Who Has No Business Answering Any of These Questions*:  I'd never heard of Dear Coquette, but I saw this on the shelf at the library and couldn't resist the title, so I had to pick it up.  Good choice!  Her advice is brutal but usually fair, and occasionally so sharply witty you could cut yourself on it.
2. Bandit by Molly Brodak:  A memoir of the author's relationship with her bank robber father.

3. On Living* by Kerry Egan:  The author, a hospice chaplain, reflects on the lessons the dying have taught her.  It may sound maudlin, preachy, or depressing, but it's absolutely not; it's very moving and thought provoking.

2016 TOTAL SO FAR:  21


1. Ajin vol. 8 by Gamon Sakurai

2. No Matter How I Look at It, It's You Guys' Fault I'm Not Popular!* vol. 9 by Nico Tanigawa

2016 TOTAL SO FAR:  60 volumes of manga and 18 graphic novels


1. Holidays:  An anthology of horror shorts revolving around different holidays.  The best were Easter, which featured a creepy Easter bunny/Jesus hybrid (and gave me a huge jump scare; I was watching it on Netflix with headphones and just about leaped out of my skin, which of course startled the shit out of G too) and Father's Day, which reminded me of Silent Hill 2 (music and general mood, not story).

2. X-Men: Apocalypse:  The X-Men team together to fight an ancient mutant named, yup, Apocalypse.  It could have been much better if Apocalypse had been a more interesting villain (and if they hadn't buried sexy Oscar Isaac under all that blue paint and prosthetics), but it's decent enough.  As usual, Quicksilver gets the best scene by far.

3. Disconnect:  A drama about a group of people and the effect technology has had on their lives.  Interesting character studies (and some nice eye candy in the form of Alexander Skarsgard and Max Thieriot), but not required viewing or anything.

4. The Legend of Tarzan:  Now living in London under his birth name of John Clayton, Tarzan (Alexander Skarsgard yet again, looking particularly nffff-able) is reluctant to go back to Africa, but he's convinced by an American to go and investigate rumors of slavery. 

5. Sausage Party:  In this extremely raunchy animated flick, the sentient food items living at a grocery store are excited to go out into the "great beyond", but when they find out what really happens to them, they stage a revolt.  Not nearly as funny as it should have been, but it has its moments, and I'll give it credit for a scene that shocked even me.

Side note:  the character design for the hot dog bun freaked me out.  WHY DID IT HAVE BOOBS.

2016 TOTAL SO FAR:  95