Thursday, September 08, 2016

rubbed the wrong way

During my lunch break, I got to experience the kind of embarrassment that makes you feel like your entire body has been engulfed in flames.

A bit of backstory first: 

There's a massage school in my city where you can get super cheap massages from the students because they need hands-on (pun intended) hours to get their certification.  By "super cheap", I mean $30 for an hour of full body massage.  They also have a few graduates who either haven't gotten jobs elsewhere or want to make some cash on the side, and they get $45 an hour.  Still cheap, but generally not worth the extra money.  Obviously, some of the massage therapists are better than others, but I've been going there at least once a month for the last 11 years, and I've only had a few really bad experiences.

Anyway, like Bill Clinton, I always prefer a female intern.  It's not like I think the male therapists are going to do something awful to me; the doors don't have locks, and it's such a small office that a scream would bring someone running.  But like every woman in the history of the world, I have body image issues, so I really don't want any strange dudes checking out my goods.

But last month, they didn't have any female interns OR graduates available, and my shoulders felt like granite and I was stressed out as hell, so I went ahead and booked a massage with a male graduate named Tony.

What can I say about Tony?  Well, Tony turned out to be pretty fuckin' awesome.  He has the warmest hands ever and his playlist (ambient, Hotel-era Moby, stuff like that) is a very welcome change from the usual Enya/whale songs/Gregorian chants.  Plus he's just really, really talented.  Sometimes he can be a bit too rough---I swear we need to set up a safe word---but he's always very quick to ease up when I say something.  I've seen him three times now, and he's definitely worth the extra money, especially because the effects of the massage actually last for a few days.  Usually I go to bed the night of a massage and wake up the next day with my shoulders and neck just as tense as they were before, but not when Tony works on me.

As far as how Tony looks, he's basically a human version of the city of Portland, Oregon.  He's got a man bun and a beard and his arms and legs are covered in tribal tattoos.  He looks like he knows every vegan restaurant in the area and he probably attends a drum circle at least once or twice a year.  I don't mean any of this in a pejorative way; I'm just trying to give you a general idea of what he's like.

Okay, back to today.  (You:  "JFC, about time!")  I had to go to the bank on my lunch break, and the ATM is located inside a grocery store, so after I got my money, I decided to grab a few things.  I walked into the beverage aisle and lo and behold, there was Tony!  He was with a woman in a batik skirt and a "Free Tibet" shirt, i.e. exactly the type of woman I'd expect Tony to be with.  I don't know if they were actually together or not, but the vibe between them sure read as romantic to me.

As they approached, I said, "Hey, Tony!"

He squinted at me and said "...hi?" in a voice that sounded like he was trying to place where he knew me from.

I said, "Oh, sorry, I'm [name].  You probably didn't recognize me when I'm not lying down!"

And that's how I know embarrassment will not actually kill you; it will just make you wish you were dead.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

media update: August

Another blisteringly hot month, another meaty media update!

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 ever, your mileage may vary.


FICTION

1. And I Darken by Kiersten White:  Lada and her brother Radu are given by their father to the sultan of the Ottoman empire as political collateral.  Lada dreams of revenge, but things get complicated when she falls in love with the sultan's son.  I'm not ordinarily big on political fiction, but I enjoyed this book because it was unusual for a YA novel in that the heroine is both ugly and mean.  (There was another unusual facet, but it's a spoiler, so I can't share it here.)

2. The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware:  Still traumatized by a recent break-in at her home, journalist Lo Blacklock jumps at the chance to take a gig reporting on a luxury cruise.  But one night in her cabin, she hears a scream next door, and rushes out onto the veranda just in time to see a body fall into the water.  She immediately reports the incident, but all of the passengers and crew are accounted for, and there's no sign that anyone was ever in cabin 10.  Is Lo losing her mind, or did something really happen?  Not nearly as compelling as the author's previous book (In a Dark, Dark Wood, which received one of my rare double star ratings), but still a nifty little mystery.

3. A Time of Torment* by John Connolly:  When Jerome Burnel intervened to stop a homicide, he inadvertently made himself the target of some very bad people, who proceeded to ruin his life.  He goes to private investigator Charlie Parker with his story, and Charlie agrees to look into it, which puts Charlie in the crosshairs of a reclusive community that really, REALLY hates outsiders.  Connolly's books have been hit or miss the last couple of years, but this one (despite a couple of florid passages) is a definite hit.

4. The Beauty of Darkness by Mary E. Pearson:  This is the final book in the Remnant Chronicles trilogy, so I can't review it properly lest I spoil its predecessors.

5. You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott:  Devon is a gymnastics prodigy whose parents, Kate and Eric, have high hopes that she'll make it to the Olympics someday.  But when an unexpected death rocks the community, Kate is forced to take a closer look at her life and what she's willing to do to ensure her daughter's success.  I didn't like it as much as I thought I would, but I will say this: Megan Abbott sure knows how to write about teenage girls in a realistic way.  (See also The Fever and Dare Me.)

6. I'm Thinking of Ending Things* by Iain Reid:  I really don't want to spoil this book, because I think the less you know about it going in, the better.  It didn't end as well as I would have hoped, but I still decided to give it a star because parts of it made me so tense I was actually nauseated.  It would make a fantastic movie.

7. The Telling by Alexandra Sirowy:  Lana is devastated when her stepbrother Ben is murdered.  But then the body of Ben's girlfriend is found, and more bodies start popping up, some with bizarre links to stories Ben had told her.  I loved the author's previous book The Creeping, but this one was a bit disappointing, largely because I figured out where it was going pretty early on.

8. Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris:  Grace seems to have it all: she's beautiful, she has a gorgeous house, and she's married to a handsome and rich attorney who adores her.  But why does Grace keep backing out on hanging out with her friends, and why is her purse completely empty?  The writing can be a bit choppy and the ending seemed very rushed, but it's still a diverting read.

Side rant: I am so freakin' tired of every single psychological thriller in the last few years being compared to Gone Girl and/or The Girl on the Train.  It's almost never accurate (seriously, I can think of ONE book in the last three years where that comparison even came close to fitting) and it's fucking lazy to boot.

9. Harmony* by Carolyn Parkhurst:  Tilly is a 13-year-old girl with emotional problems that nobody seems to be able to diagnose; she's smart as hell, but prone to things like repeatedly touching her head to the floor of a restaurant and making inappropriate comments.  (On page 6, she's telling her father that she's going to suck his cock.)  Desperate for help, her parents take her and her younger sister Iris to Camp Harmony, a place run by a child behavior expert named Scott Bean, but will it be a place of healing or make things even worse?

Carolyn Parkhurst's novel The Dogs of Babel was one of my ten favorites of all time until relatively recently, so I was anxious to get my hands on this, and it did NOT disappoint.

10. Watching Edie by Camilla Way:  Edie and Heather were friends in high school until one terrible night wrenched them apart.  Now Edie is living alone with her baby daughter, and just when it seems she'll collapse under the strain, Heather reappears in her life.  At first Heather is a huge help with the baby, but Edie begins to wonder if Heather's intentions are completely benevolent.  A compelling psychological thriller, and bonus, not a SINGLE blurb (out of 11!) on the back cover mentions Gone Girl or The Girl on the Train, which (as you can tell from my mini-rant above) is a huge pet peeve of mine.  (The Amazon page for this book, however, makes the dreaded comparison.  Sigh.)

11.  Listen to Me by Hannah Pittard:  Married couple Mark and Maggie are taking a road trip to visit his parents, but things are strained from the get-go.  Maggie is still traumatized by a recent mugging, and Mark's patience is wearing thin.  When Mark and Maggie are forced to stop at a remote hotel due to a major storm, things manage to take an even sharper turn for the worse.  It's good, but it was REALLY mismarketed.  The inside cover and several reviews made it sound like a thriller, but it's not.

2016 TOTAL SO FAR: 84

NONFICTION

1. 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 people who believe Michael Jackson is still alive to the author's trip to the Philippines, where she successfully faked her own death just to prove she could. 

2. I Live Inside: Memoirs of a Babe in Toyland* by Michelle Leon:  The subtitle says it all!  I was lucky enough to see Babes in Toyland live in the mid-90s, and this brought back some good memories and spurred a downloading spree.

3. True Crime Addict by James Renner:  The author became obsessed with the case of Maura Murray, a college student who wrecked her car and disappeared immediately afterwards.  Don't read this if you want closure, since she's never been found, but it's a pretty solid read.

Side note:  I plucked this at random off the library shelf because it sounded interesting, so I was pretty surprised to see that I'd chosen a book in which a potential pseudocide factored so heavily since I'd just read #1 on this list the week before!

4. 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.  (Actually, although there are certainly funny parts, I'd say it veers more towards the serious; there are also chapters about the nonconsensual loss of her virginity, an abusive ex, her father's battle with MS, and her mother's affair.)

5. Presto! How I Made Over 100 Pounds Disappear and Other Magical Tales by Penn Jillette:  The magician talks about how his mounting health problems (including a systolic blood pressure over 200, which: JFC!) forced him to finally make drastic lifestyle changes.  There's one breathtakingly delightful line in which he says that Donald Trump's hair looks like cotton candy made of piss that I will think of every time I see Trump.  (Hopefully not much after the election.  Please, God I don't believe in.)

2016 TOTAL SO FAR: 16


MANGA/GRAPHIC NOVELS

1. Say I Love You vol. 15 by Kanae Hazuki

2. A Silent Voice vols. 5-7 (final volume) by Yoshitoki Oima

3. Saga* vol. 6 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples


4. Kaze Hikaru vol. 24 by Taeko Watanabe

5. Attack on Titan: Before the Fall vol. 8 by Ryo Suzukaze and Satoshi Shiki

6. Dark Night* by Paul Dini and Eduardo Risso

7. Food Wars!* vol. 13 by Yuto Tsukuda and Shun Saeki

8. So Cute It Hurts!! vol. 8 by Go Ikeyama


2016 TOTAL SO FAR: 12 graphic novels and 50 volumes of manga


MOVIES

1. The Bronze:  Despite being injured, Hope (Melissa Rauch, best known as Bernadette on The Big Bang Theory) won the bronze medal in gymnastics at the "Olympics" (it's not actually called that, no doubt due to trademark issues, but it's very obviously supposed to be the Olympics) and has been coasting on her fame ever since.  She wears her team jacket everywhere so nobody can miss her, cons people out of free meals and pot, and treats her sweet (if enabling) father like crap.  In short, she's an asshole. When she gets a lucrative offer to train a new contender, Hope takes it, but finds it hard to share the spotlight.  Occasionally quite funny, especially a particularly, uh, creative sex scene.

2. 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.

3. Kung Fu Panda 3:  Meh.

4. Short Term 12:  Grace (Brie Larson) works at a residential facility for at-risk teenagers.  She's good at her job, but not so great at maintaining an emotional distance from her charges.  The story isn't anything you haven't heard before, but the cast is great.

5. Demolition:  After his wife is killed in a car accident, Davis (Jake Gyllenhaal) becomes a bit unglued, taking solace in destroying things and writing deeply personal letters to a vending machine company.  An interesting character study.

6. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice:  We had pretty low expectations for this movie, and they were certainly met.  Wonder Woman was cool, though.

Side note: How many fucking times do we need to see Batman's origin story?  WE ALL KNOW.  Jesus, when the dude pulled out the gun to kill Bruce's parents (I am not even bothering with a spoiler alert, because like I said, we all know this story already), G-Vo said "Wait...wait for it...yep, there goes the pearl necklace!  Aw, shit, Martha!"

Side note #2: Thomas and Martha Wayne were played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Lauren Cohan, aka Negan and Maggie from The Walking Dead, which was just REALLY odd.

7. The Boss:  After spending time in prison for insider trading, entrepreneur Michelle Darnell (Melissa McCarthy) tracks down her former assistant (Kristen Bell) and convinces her to start a new company with her.  Started out pretty good, but turned into a mess by the end.

8. 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.

Side note: if you're interested in this movie, I would highly recommend catching it as soon as you can, because it's not doing so hot at the box office and will probably leave theaters soon.  If you miss out, it's still worth watching on DVD, obviously, but it really is worth experiencing on the big screen.

2016 TOTAL SO FAR: 73


ADDED TO MY IPOD

1. Glory (full album) by Britney Spears:  I am not ashamed for my love of Britney and I never will be as long as she keeps putting out quality bops like this one.  (We do not speak of Britney Jean in this household.) My favorite track is "Man on the Moon", possibly because the melody reminds me so much of "Way Back into Love" from Music and Lyrics.  (I'm no music expert, though, so I'm going to run it by trained musician G-Vo and see if he agrees.) 

Monday, August 01, 2016

media update: July

How do you do, fellow kids?  I've got an extra-meaty media update for you this time around, thanks to blazingly hot temperatures and two long weekends.

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 ever, your mileage may vary.

FICTION

1. American Girls* by Alison Umminger:  15-year-old Anna is sick of her home life, so she steals her stepmother's credit card and runs away to Los Angeles to live with her actress sister Delia.  Anna winds up researching the Manson girls for Delia's boyfriend's movie project and crushing on the teen star of a shitty TV series.  Sharp and funny, and unlike a lot of (non-dystopian) YA novels, the author seems to have actually spent some time around teenagers.

2. 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.

Side note:  according to some of the reviews on Amazon, the aforementioned split screen passages are unreadable in ebook format, so you might want to pick up the hard copy instead.

3. The Girls* by Emma Cline:  Near the end of the 1960s, lonely teenager Evie Boyd sees a group of girls in the park and is struck by how free and happy they seem.  She befriends one of them and finds herself caught in a Mansonesque cult.  Along with Sweetbitter, this was one of the most hyped novels of the year; unlike Sweetbitter, this one actually deserved it.

Side note:  the fact that I read two books in one month inspired by the women in Charles Manson's cult is strictly a coincidence.

4. Shiny Broken Pieces by Sona Charaipotra and Dhonielle Clayton:  This is a sequel to Tiny Pretty Things, so I can't review it lest I spoil its predecessor.

5. Among the Wicked by Linda Castillo:  Chief of Police Kate Burkholder grew up Amish but left the order.  She gets a call from a sheriff's department in New York asking her to go undercover and infiltrate an Amish settlement that might have been involved in the death of a teenage girl.  She agrees, but the can of worms she opens up might be a fatal one.  All of the books in this series have been good, and this one is no exception.

6. We Could Be Beautiful by Swan Huntley:  Catherine West is super rich, but her life feels empty.  Then one day she meets a handsome older man named William, and they begin a whirlwind romance.  It turns out that his parents and her parents were friends many years ago, but when she tells her mother, who has Alzheimer's, that she's dating William, it doesn't go well.  As time goes on, Catherine begins to wonder whether William is the man of her dreams or something more sinister.  I enjoyed it, although the fact that Catherine isn't a very likable narrator prevented me from giving it a star.  Also, it should have ended two chapters earlier than it did.

7. Dear Fang, With Love by Rufi Thorpe:  After 17-year-old Vera suffers a psychotic break, her father takes her on a trip to Lithuania, where his grandmother grew up, and learns a few things about his family in the process. 

8. The Hatching* by Ezekiel Boone:  The world is understandably horrified when a new breed of spiders starts snacking on people.  A delightfully creepy thriller that is best read with a can of bug spray nearby.  I swear to God, I got up while reading this to get a drink and there were two (small) spiders in my sink and I freaked the fuck out.  Those bitches got washed down the drain right quick!

Side note: this ends on a cliffhanger, so if you're a completionist, you might want to wait until the next book is out before starting this one.  (I don't know if there will be more than two books.)

9. Try Not to Breathe by Holly Seddon:  Alex Dale is a journalist working on an article about coma patients.  While doing an interview at the hospital, she discovers that one of the vegetative patients is Amy Stevenson, who was attacked 15 years ago in a notorious case, and Alex is determined to figure out the truth of what happened to Amy.

10. 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, none of them realize that the outside world has 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 home to her husband, and her ignorance of the truth will either save her or kill her.  A clever premise, expertly executed; it's my favorite novel of the year so far.

2016 TOTAL SO FAR: 73

NONFICTION

1. 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).

2016 TOTAL SO FAR: 11

MANGA/GRAPHIC NOVELS

1. A Silent Voice vols. 2-4 by Yoshitoki Oima

2. Fight Club 2 by Chuck Palahniuk, Cameron Stewart, and Dave Stewart

3. Idol Dreams by Arina Tanemura

4. Rin-Ne vol. 21 by Rumiko Takahashi


5. The Ancient Magus' Bride vols. 4-5 by Kore Yamazaki

6. Sex Criminals* vol. 3 by Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky

7. My Love Story!!* vol. 9 by Kazune Kawahara and Aruko

8. The Demon Prince of Momochi House vol. 5 by Aya Shouoto

2016 TOTAL SO FAR: 10 graphic novels and 42 volumes of manga

MOVIES

1. The Night Before:  Three friends (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen, and Anthony Mackie) have spent the last several Christmases together getting stoned and being goofy, but now that they're older and have adult responsibilities, they decide this Christmas will be their last.  Of course, things go awry.  An excellent cast (which also includes Michael Shannon and Ilana Glazer) is completely wasted on a terrible, mostly unfunny script.

2. The Boy:  Greta (Lauren Cohan) is a young American who takes a nanny job at a secluded estate in the English countryside, only to find out that her charge is actually a doll.  Of course, she's like LOL WTF, but she figures it's easy money, so she decides to stick around, and shit goes sideways.  A decently creepy little flick, and bonus points for not ending on a super lame jump scare like basically every other horror movie in the last 15 years.

3. Green Room*:  Desperate for cash, a young punk band agrees to play a gig for a bunch of neo-Nazis.  But when they stumble upon a dead woman, they find themselves in a standoff with a group of thugs and their leader (a supremely creepy Patrick Stewart).  It's extremely tense and well done, but MAJOR WARNING: this has some of the most viscerally disturbing gore I've seen in a movie in a LONG time.  Like, "peek through your fingers while moaning in horror" disturbing.

4. Only Yesterday:  Taeko decides to take a vacation from her life in Tokyo and spend some time on her grandmother's farm in the country.  While she's there, she thinks back on her childhood and wonders whether she's made the right choices in her life.  As you'd expect from a Studio Ghibli film, the animation is beautiful (if a bit dated; it's from 1991) and it's charming, but it's extremely slow and I imagine most kids would be bored to tears.  (Though, to be fair, I don't think it was made FOR kids, but I could see someone picking this up on the strength of Studio Ghibli's name and being disappointed.)

5. 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.

6. The Adderall Diaries:   Steven Elliott (James Franco) is working on a memoir about life with his abusive, supposedly deceased father.  But when his father pops up at a reading, thus screwing over Steven's book deal, Steven becomes obsessed with the trial of a software engineer accused of killing his wife.  Oddly compelling, even though there isn't much to it.

7. London Has Fallen:  Terrorists assassinate the British prime minister in hopes of taking out all of the world leaders that will attend the funeral, and Secret Service agent---uh, Gerard Butler, I don't remember the character's name---will stop at nothing to protect the president.  Jingoistic, loud, and stupid, but it had some decent action.

8. Lights Out:   Rebecca has been estranged from her mother Sophie for a long time, but when her little brother Martin calls to tell her that a malevolent entity is in their house, she's determined to stop it.  A perfectly adequate little chiller. 

Side note: we saw this in a theater we don't usually frequent, but boy is THAT gonna change, because they put in reclining armchair-style seats, and oh my god, the COMFORT.  I'm amazed that none of us fell asleep!

9. Kill Zone 2:  A Hong Kong cop and a Thai police guard team up to take down a human organs trafficking ring.  I wish they'd let Tony Jaa kick more ass in this---seriously, would you keep a racehorse in a veal pen?  Let the man rage!---but it still had some great action scenes.

10. Gods of Egypt:  There have been times when G-Vo and I watched a notorious critical flop and then been pleasantly surprised; this was not one of those times.

2016 TOTAL SO FAR: 65

VIDEO GAME OF THE MONTH

Despite positive buzz, I never played Borderlands, because first person games tend to make me puke and/or get a migraine.  But when I heard that Telltale Games had put out a Borderlands game, I knew it would be safe because none of their games are first person.  I also knew it was a must-play, because every Telltale game we've played has been top notch, and Tales from the Borderlands (PS4) was no exception.

In Tales from the Borderlands, you alternate between two characters.  Rhys is a corporate shill who's trying to get promoted, and Fiona is a con artist who's always on the lookout for her next big score.  When Rhys hears rumors about a Vault Key (used to open vaults containing priceless treasure), he and his friend Vaughn set out to find it, which brings them into contact with Fiona and her sister Sasha; complications (and hijinks) ensue.

LOVED

- The script is terrific: funny and dramatic by turns.  And Telltale Games always does an amazing job at making their games accessible to people, even if they're not familiar with the source material, like me.  Of course, if you ARE familiar with the source material, like G-Vo, you'll probably enjoy it even more.

- The voice acting is perfection.  There's a reason Troy Baker (Rhys) is in pretty much every video game these days: he's the best in the biz.  He's reunited here with Laura Bailey (Fiona; they were also in Persona 4 together) and Ashley Johnson (Gortys; she was the Ellie to his Joel in The Last of Us).  I can't think of a single voice performance in this game that was bad or even unremarkable.

- The soundtrack is really good, featuring both an original score and licensed tracks.

- I liked the inclusion of a lesbian couple.

- It made me tear up twice.

LOATHED

- It froze up a couple of times, including (oddly enough) during the ending credits.

- Uh, that's it, really.

 If you're a fan of Telltale Games' style, you'll no doubt like this too.  I give it 8 Vault Keys out of 10.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

media update: June

'Sup, yo?  It's been a very stressful month for me because work has been sucking Satan's hairy balls.  This is not a new development, of course, but they keep piling straws onto this camel's back and it's about to break.  On the plus side, my dreadful boss got a promotion, so we're getting a new one next week.  She seems a little goofy (when she said she'd only be in the office once or twice a month, she threw her hands up in the air and said "Party in the office, whooooo!", which oh my god, lady, stop), but nice enough, and without doing something that would get her canned, there's no way she can be worse than the old regime.  For those of you keeping track at home, this will be my SEVENTH boss in 2 years.

On the video game front, I played the first Uncharted game and am well into the second one, which is considerably better (not that the first one was bad).  I hadn't planned on playing any of the Uncharted games, but the fourth one was written by Neil Druckmann, who wrote The Last of Us, so I figured Uncharted 4 was a must-play and I didn't want to go into it without playing its predecessors. 

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

FICTION

1. Map of Bones by Francesca Haig:  This is the sequel to The Fire Sermon, so I can't review it properly lest I spoil its predecessor.  Unfortunately, I didn't like it nearly as much as its predecessor; to be honest, it was kind of boring, so hopefully the final book is better.  Also, I don't know why it was called Map of Bones, because there was no such thing.  Someone kept referring to a MAZE of bones, but no map.  Weird.

2. Girls on Fire* by Robin Wasserman:  In 1991, lonely teenager Hannah Dexter is befriended by Nirvana-worshipping, brash Lacey Champlain.  Hannah reinvents herself as "Dex" and they form a tight bond, but Lacey has some secrets that could destroy them both.  A dark and disturbing look at all-consuming female friendship that I loved.  One line that really stood out to me:  when Hannah says that before Lacey entered her life, she was "on the fast track to an uneventful life and just smart enough to care."

Warning: the inside of the book jacket spoils something rather major, so don't read it if you're interested in this book!  Amazon's synopsis is spoiler-free, so that's safe if you want to know more.

3. The Last Star by Rick Yancey:  This is the final book in the 5th Wave trilogy, so I can't review it properly lest I spoil its predecessors.  To be honest, I wasn't a fan of how it wrapped up.

4. End of Watch by Stephen King:  This is the final book in the Bill Hodges trilogy, so...well, you know the drill by now!  Not as good as Mr. Mercedes, but WAY better than Finders Keepers.

5. If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo:  After a troubling incident, Amanda transfers to another school and moves in with her father.  She doesn't want to get too close to anybody lest they discover that she's trans, but she finds herself falling in love with a handsome boy named Grant, and she's afraid he won't accept her if he finds out the truth.  Well written and mostly believable, probably because the author is trans herself.

6. Fellside* by M.R. Carey:  Jess is a heroin addict who is blamed for setting a fire that killed a young boy named Alex.  She's sent to a women's prison called Fellside, where she is visited by Alex's ghost, who absolves her of guilt and wants her to find the real killer.  It's sort of like a non-humorous Orange Is the New Black with a supernatural twist.

7. Sweetbitter* by Stephanie Danler:  Desperate for a new life, Tess moves to New York City and gets a job as a backwaiter for an elite restaurant.  She receives a culinary education, but also an education in drugs, sex, and love.

This got some of the biggest rave reviews I've seen in forever, so I tried to temper my expectations because I was pretty sure there was no way it was as good as the hype machine claimed, and I was right.  (I mean, for god's sake, the jacket blurb says "You will never again read a debut coming-of-age novel as stunning as this one."  Quite a claim!)  But even though it's not "OMG the best book ever!!eleventy!!", it's still very good and provides a warts-and-all look at the restaurant industry.  I also really liked this line:  "As I contemplated the skyline this double feeling came to me as one thought, pressing in from either side of the bridge, impossible for me to reconcile:  It is ludicrous for anyone to live here, and I can never leave."

8. Daughters Unto Devils* by Amy Lukavics:  Amanda's family moves from their small mountain home to the prairie to begin a new life.  But the walls of their new home are covered in blood, which turns out to be exactly the bad omen you'd expect.  I had to pick this up because one of the review blurbs said it was like Stephen King's version of Little House on the Prairie, which was pretty spot on.  A good creepy thriller to give you chills on a hot summer night.

2016 TOTAL SO FAR: 63

NONFICTION

1. 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; most bears are not, but polar bears get REALLY excited by it, so stay the fuck away from polar bears if you're raggin', or ever, really), which is truly one of the weirdest sentences I've ever read in a book.

2. The Vegas Diaries by Holly Madison:  In her second memoir, the author talks about starring in a now-defunct Vegas revue called Peepshow and trying to shed her image as Hugh Hefner's former girlfriend.  Not as good as Down the Rabbit Hole, largely because it doesn't spill any new tea, but enjoyable enough.  She didn't really talk about her husband and daughter, so I'm guessing she'll be writing another book!

3. Sex Object* by Jessica Valenti:  A candid, often funny, and even more often depressing memoir about sexism and the toll it has taken on both the author specifically and women in general.

2016 TOTAL SO FAR: 10

MANGA/GRAPHIC NOVELS

1. Avatar: The Last Airbender - Smoke and Shadow* vols. 1-3 by Gene Luen Yang and Gurihiru

2. What Did You Eat Yesterday? vol. 10 by Fumi Yoshinaga

3. Yotsuba! vol. 13 by Kiyohiko Azuma

4. A Silent Voice by Yoshitoki Oima

5. Food Wars!* vol. 12 by Yuto Tsukuda and Shun Saeki

6. Say I Love You vol. 14 by Kanae Hazuki

7. Kamisama Kiss vol. 21 by Julietta Suzuki

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

9. The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service vol. 14 by Eiji Otsuka and Housui Yamazaki

10. Hot Dog Taste Test by Lisa Hanawalt

11. Something New* by Lucy Knisley

2016 TOTAL SO FAR:  8 graphic novels and 33 volumes of manga

MOVIES

1. The Revenant*:  After being mauled by a bear and left for dead by the other members of his fur trapping team, Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) has to fight to survive at least long enough to get his revenge.  Brutal but good, with absolutely stunning cinematography.


2. Batman: Bad Blood:  The Bat Family investigates Batman's disappearance.  The animation is a cut above the usual straight-to-video DC fare, and kudos for not straightwashing Batwoman.  Also, my thirst for Nightwing is so great that not even 100 gallons of Gatorade could possibly quench it.

3. Anomalisa**:  Michael Stone is alienated from other people to the point that they all look and sound alike to him, even his wife and son.  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 the best movie I've seen so far this year.

4. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies:  It's all right there in the title: the classic novel, but with zombies thrown in!  We weren't expecting much out of it, but it was surprisingly decent.

5. Darling:  A young woman moves into an old house in Manhattan to serve as its caretaker, but she slowly begins losing her mind.  It's a bit of a ripoff (or homage, if you're feeling generous) of Repulsion, but the black and white cinematography is gorgeous and the sound design is superb.

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. The Brothers Grimsby:  Nobby and Sebastian (Sacha Baron Cohen and Mark Strong) were separated as children.  28 years later, Nobby is a soccer hooligan with 9 kids and Sebastian is an elite spy.  When they're reunited, Nobby fucks up an important mission, and he and Sebastian have to try to make it right.  We weren't expecting much from this, but it was pretty funny and features what is quite possibly one of the grossest scenes in film history.  Also, some of the action scenes were actually quite good, probably owing to the fact that Louis Leterrier also directed The Transporter and Unleashed.

8. The Drop Box*:  This documentary follows a South Korean pastor who built a drop box where people could safely leave unwanted infants, most of them with special needs.  Pastor Lee has so much compassion it's practically a superpower, and I cried throughout pretty much the whole thing.   

2016 TOTAL SO FAR: 55

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

1UP

As you may already know, I'm a gamer and have been for the vast majority of my life.  I don't remember the first video game I ever played, but whatever it was, it triggered an obsession that has never gone away.  It's not my favorite pastime---that is and will always be reading, of course---but I enjoy the ever lovin' shit out of it.

Anyway, as I was stuck in traffic during my morning commute, for some reason I began thinking about some of my favorite video game memories and decided to write a blog post about them.  I will do my absolute level best to avoid spoilers.

These are not in any kind of chronological or preferential order.

  • When I was a kid, we lived about a mile away from a shopping center that for many years was my favorite place on earth.  There was a laundromat with an old-fashioned Coke bottle machine (the kind with the built-in bottle opener) and an Eyes cabinet (total Pac-Man ripoff and creepy as hell, but fun), Scotty's Liquor (where I bought my Archie and Amethyst, Princess of Gemworld comics in addition to assorted snacks; they had Space Invaders, Donkey Kong, and Q*Bert), and Casey's Arcade, which needs no further introduction.  During the summer, I would walk to that shopping center almost every day with a pocket full of quarters, and I would not return home until every last one had been spent.
  • I got caught in a MASSIVE lie and my punishment was no video games for a month, which was the second worst punishment my parents could have (legally/morally) given me.  The first would have been no reading, but who's going to tell a kid they can't READ?
  •  I got a Colecovision for my birthday and it was one of the best presents I ever got.  It came with Donkey Kong, but over the years I amassed a few more cartridges:  Mousetrap (Pac-Man ripoff), Berzerk, and Ladybug (yet another Pac-Man ripoff).  I'm sure there were more, but I cannot for the life of me remember them.
  • In the late 80s, arcades began dying out and it was rare to see anything other than the occasional faded Pac-Man cabinet in a bar or something.  But when the Playstation came out in 1994, it spawned a resurgence that is still going strong to this day.  I didn't get a Playstation until 1996, for reasons I will explain shortly.
  • When I was about to start college in California, my dad got transferred to Minnesota.  The timing was, to say the least, not ideal, because it meant my family would be 2000 miles away as opposed to the 100 they originally were.  He had to be there about 2 weeks before I had to be at school, and we were in a bit of a pickle because I had all of my stuff and nowhere to keep it, and it was too expensive for me to go to Minnesota with them and then come back 2 weeks later and try to get to school with all of my shit and no car.  Fortunately, my dad had a colleague who lived about a half-hour away from my college, and he agreed to let me live with him and his family and then take me to school when it was time.  (I still have no idea why on earth they were willing to do this, but I have always been grateful.)  The parents were at work all day and their 8-year-old son was in school, and oh my god, my days were BORING AS FUCK.  There was a shopping center about 2 miles away, but they were nowhere near as exciting as the one I mentioned earlier, so I watched a LOT of bad daytime TV, flipped aimlessly through the mother's terrible book selection, and napped on the patio with their cat curled up by my side.  But about halfway through my stay, we went to Best Buy to get a Game Boy for the son's birthday, and that kid made the mistake of leaving it in the living room at night and when he was at school.  I don't know how many hours of Tetris I played on that thing, but let's just say I spent a LOT of money at that shopping center buying batteries to make up for the ones I kept killing.
  • In 1996, I was working as an assistant manager at Blockbuster, and we had a demo Playstation for customers to abuse.  I don't remember what game we had in there, but one night when it was blissfully slow and all of the cleaning duties had been done an hour in advance, one of my coworkers asked if we could take out the demo game so he could play something else.  I was a cool manager and said yes.  I started putting tapes (yes tapes, goddamn it, I'm fucking old) away, and when I walked past him about ten minutes later, I said, "Oh man, what is that?"  He said, "It's called Resident Evil.  You're in a mansion with all these zombies and it's really awesome!  Do you want to try?"  Dear reader, I did, and my dormant video game obsession flared up again hardcore.  I bought a Playstation of my own (and, of course, a copy of Resident Evil) the very next day.
  • My friend T and I spent a very drunken New Year's Eve in a hotel room playing Bust a Groove.  My favorite character, to no one's surprise, was Kitty-N.
  • Playing Resident Evil 2 and falling in MAD love with Leon Kennedy, who is still my favorite male video game character of all time.  (His costar in RE2, Claire Redfield, was my favorite female VG character of all time until Ellie from The Last of Us came along.) 
  • When I heard that Resident Evil: Code Veronica was a Dreamcast exclusive, I bought a Dreamcast immediately.  That turned out to be false, but I never regretted buying a Dreamcast because it had some of the most weird and wonderful games I've ever played.  Seaman was a sim game in which you raised a strange fishman creature through his evolution into a strange frogman creature.  It came with a microphone peripheral, and you could talk to him and answer his questions.  Obviously, the voice recognition left something to be desired most of the time, but when it hit, it HIT.  Once Seaman asked me if I lived alone, and I said, "No, I live with my dad."  A couple of days later, Seaman asked me just as my dad came into the room, "Hey, how's your father?"  My dad said, "What the fuck is that?!?  How did it know?"  Other classic Dreamcast games included Illbleed (survive a horror-themed amusement park while dodging traps; included some of the sickest humor I've ever seen in a VG) and D2 (your plane crashes in the Canadian mountains and you have to survive by hunting food and killing aliens; includes a scene in which you shoot a vagina-shaped supercomputer while it moans, and that's not even the weirdest thing about it).
  • Playing Resident Evil: Code Veronica for over 8 hours straight, with only short breaks to refill my water bottle and use the bathroom.
  • Resident Evil kicked off my survival horror jones, but Silent Hill cemented it.  The original is still the scariest fucking game I've ever played, and Midwich Elementary is still the scariest fucking area in any VG of all time ever and I hope nothing else is ever as scary in a VG to me or it might literally kill me.
  • Calling in sick so I could play Silent Hill 2.
  • Turning down a date so I could play Devil May Cry.
  • One of the first things G and I bonded over was our mutual love of video games, so when Resident Evil 4 came out, you know we snapped that shit up pronto.  We played through the first insane fight, and when Leon said, "Where's everybody going...bingo?" and the title screen came up, we actually cheered.
  • When G and I first started playing Dead Rising, we got so frustrated that we almost sent it back to Gamefly.  But something kept me from sealing up that envelope, and when we tried it again and realized you were SUPPOSED to die and just keep trying until you were sufficiently leveled up, it became one of our favorites.
  • Hearing those horrible bird monster things in Dead Space 2 and saying to G "I can't, that is the most horrifying sound I've ever heard in my life, I am LOSING MY FUCKING SHIT."
  • G and I went out to lunch and were going to see Iron Man 2, but when we stopped by my place, I had Heavy Rain waiting in the mailbox.  We skipped the movie and played Heavy Rain in almost one sitting.  It's still my third favorite video game of all time.
  • I have to remain vague here, but giraffes.
Those are some of the highlights of my gaming life, and I'm looking forward to many more.  They'll have to pry the controller out of my dead, cramped up hand. 

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

media update: May

CONFIDENTIAL TO G-VO:  Skip fiction review #6 as you may want to read it at some point.

Oops...I just realized that I've been forgetting to keep track of how much I've read/watched since the beginning of the year, so I'll start doing that again as of this entry.

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

FICTION

1. Maestra* by L.S. Hilton:  Judith Rashleigh works for a prestigious London art house, but when she's fired for daring to suggest her boss is trying to sell a forgery, she realizes that being good has never gotten her anywhere.  She reinvents herself as a femme fatale, living the glamorous life and getting herself in all kinds of sticky situations, from the gruesome to the erotic.  It's quite the page-turner, with an interesting antiheroine and some legitimately hot sex scenes.  Maestra is the first book in a planned trilogy; I'll definitely be curious to see what else Judith gets up to.

2. The Nest by Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney:  The Plumb siblings have been waiting to get their hands on The Nest, a trust fund set up by their father that has grown to a significant amount over the years. But when their brother Leo gets into a drunk driving accident that costs his passenger her foot, their mother taps into the fund to pay the settlement, causing a serious rift in familial relations.  A bit overhyped, but decent enough.

3. The Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson:  Princess Lia doesn't want to be forced into an arranged marriage, so she flees to a faraway village and starts a new life under a new name.  When two men show up at the inn where she works, she's attracted to them, but unbeknownst to her, one of them is an assassin sent to kill her and the other is the prince she was supposed to marry.  I enjoyed it enough that I'll be picking up the sequels.

4. The Heart of Betrayal by Mary E. Pearson:  This is the sequel to #3, so I can't review it properly lest I spoil its predecessor.

5. Food Whore by Jessica Tom:  Tia Monroe moves to New York City in hopes of pursuing her culinary dreams.  When an internship she'd hoped for doesn't pan out, she thinks she's lost her big chance, but then another one pops up when the restaurant critic for the New York Times lets Tia in on a secret: he's lost his sense of taste but doesn't want anyone else to know, so he asks her to be his ghostwriter in exchange for sumptuous meals.  It's like The Devil Wears Prada set in the culinary world, and I liked it.  I do wish it had a different title, though; I had to fashion a plain paper cover so I could read it in the break room at work without getting hauled in front of HR.

6. The Fireman** by Joe Hill:  Millions of people are infected with a plague nicknamed Dragonscale that causes most of the carriers to spontaneously combust.  When a school nurse named 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's hoping for.  I kept wondering whether I should downgrade this to one star, due to spoilery reasons, but I went with two because it's riveting and Joe Hill writes really good female characters.

7. The Assistants* by Camille Perri:  Tina works as the executive assistant to the CEO of a major media company.  One day, an error on an expense report works out in her favor, and instead of correcting it, she uses the money to pay off her student loan.  She vows never to do anything like it again, but other assistants in the company manage to find out, and they all want a piece of the embezzlement pie.  A quick, clever, enjoyable read.

8. A Court of Mist and Fury** by Sarah J. Maas:  Sequel etc.  I will say that it's excellent, and holy crap, Sarah J. Maas writes REALLY hot sex scenes.  Surprisingly graphic for YA, too, though I've also seen this book shelved under "new adult", which is probably much more appropriate.

2016 TOTAL SO FAR:  55

NONFICTION

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. Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City* by Matthew Desmond:  A stark look at how evictions have become commonplace in the US due to the never-ending cycle of poverty.  Not a fun read, but an important one.

2016 TOTAL SO FAR: 7

MANGA/GRAPHIC NOVELS

1. The Ancient Magus' Bride* vols. 2-3 by Kore Yamazaki

2. Food Wars! vol. 11 by Yuto Tsukuda and Shun Saeki

3. Say I Love You vol. 13 by Kanae Hazuki

4. The Demon Prince of Momochi House vol. 4 by Aya Shouoto

5. The Walking Dead* vol. 25 by Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard

2016 TOTAL SO FAR:  3 graphic novels and 25 volumes of manga

MOVIES

1. Vacation:  In this spiritual sequel, Rusty Griswold (Ed Helms) decides to take his family on a road trip to Wally World; complications ensue.  It's nowhere near as funny as the original, of course, but Ed Helms and Christina Applegate have good chemistry, Chris Hemsworth (as Rusty's super hung brother-in-law) is hot as hell, there's a hysterical cameo by Norman Reedus, and it made me laugh hard and often.  I don't know if I would have been as forgiving if, say, I'd paid to see it in the theater as opposed to getting it from Netflix, but I did enjoy it.

2. 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 moving, with terrific performances, and I cried throughout most of it.

3. The 5th Wave:  After alien invasions decimate Earth, Cassie (Chloe Grace Moretz) is separated from her brother and tries to find him, but staying alive won't be easy.  It was a massive commercial and critical flop, but it really wasn't that bad.  The book was way better, though.

4. Spotlight*:  This is the true story of how the Boston Globe exposed the Catholic church's practice of taking priests accused of sexual molestation and moving them elsewhere...you know, because a change of location would keep them from hurting kids.  I don't know that it was worth the Best Picture Oscar, which probably should have gone to Room instead (though I haven't seen all of the nominees yet) but it was still very powerful.

5. Dirty Grandpa:  Jason (Zac Efron) reluctantly agrees to drive his grandfather (Robert DeNiro) to Florida for spring break, and they wind up getting into all sorts of shenanigans.  It had a couple of really funny lines/scenes, and Robert DeNiro looks like he's having a blast, but it lost steam about halfway through, and I'm getting really tired of the shrewish fiancee stereotype.  Also, the stinger was so fucking creepy I actually squirmed.

6. Justice League Vs. Teen Titans:  Robin is being a little bitch, so Batman sends him to live with the Teen Titans.  While he's there, Raven's demon father Trigon possesses the Justice League, so the Teen Titans have to fight him and restore order to the world.  Decent enough, but not one of the better installments in the direct-to-video DC movies.

7. The Witch:  After being banished by their settlement in 1600s New England, a family makes a new home at the edge of a forest.  It seems idyllic, but there's something VERY nasty in those woods.

I was really looking forward to this movie, because it got great reviews, but aside from one genuinely disturbing scene near the beginning, it's just not scary.  I didn't care about anyone (which dooms pretty much anything for me, but especially horror movies), and I fear the hype machine led me to expect something much better.  I'll give it credit for beautiful cinematography and an eerie score, but I was very let down, and G-Vo absolutely hated it.  (He gave it 1 star to my 3.)

8. 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. 

2016 TOTAL SO FAR:  47

Sunday, May 01, 2016

media update: April

Why, hello there!  I am (semi-)freshly back from a trip to Las Vegas.  I was just there in late August/early September, but my brother was going to be there and I hadn't seen him in a while, so we made arrangements to meet up.  Overall it was a pretty good trip, even though we won diddly fucksquat; we walked about a million miles, gambled, ate some delicious foods, and saw Ka and comedy hypnotist Anthony Cools.  I also met up with my longtime (30+ years!) friend J, and we had dinner at a tapas bar, went to the Erotic Heritage Museum, and sat for a couple of hours talking about everything from the serious to the sublimely silly.  At one point, I was laughing so hard I was literally sobbing, but the good thing about Vegas is that you will almost never be the most interesting thing in any given place, so nobody was paying me any mind!

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. Burning Glass by Kathryn Purdie:  Sonya is an auraseer, meaning that she can feel what people around her feel both physically and emotionally.  After she inadvertently causes a tragedy, she's sent to serve the emperor and finds herself at the center of a brewing revolt.  It's got several interesting touches (auraseers routinely practice self-injury as a way of calming themselves; Sonya can't eat meat or wear fur or silk because she can feel the deaths of the animals that provided them) that elevate it above the usual YA fare.

2. Half Lost by Sally Green:  This is the final book in the Half Bad trilogy, so I can't review it properly lest I spoil its predecessors.  I'll just say that my feelings about this particular installment were INTENSELY COMPLICATED and leave it at that.

3. The Way I Used to Be by Amber Smith:  After her brother's best friend rapes her, Eden can't bring herself to tell anyone the truth.  She tries to change everything about her life in hopes that she'll forget what happened, but nothing works, and she finds herself getting deeper and deeper into trouble.  It's not as good as the similarly themed All the Rage (by Courtney Summers), but it's still good and really heartbreaking.

4. The Winner's Kiss by Marie Rutkoski:  This is the final book in a trilogy, so I can't properly review it lest I spoil its predecessors.  It wasn't very good, which was especially disappointing since I enjoyed the first two books in the series.

5. The Revolution of Ivy by Amy Engel:  This is the sequel to The Book of Ivy, so I can't properly review it lest I spoil its predecessor.  (Man, I wish I got paid for every time I have to type the latter part of that sentence!)  It was a good wrap up to the series.

6. Starflight by Melissa Landers:  Solara Brooks wants to book a flight to the outer realm, but it costs too much money, so she reluctantly indentures herself to spoiled rich kid Doran.  But when some shit goes down, they wind up on a spaceship run by an eccentric crew (think Cowboy Bebop) and on the run for their lives.  It was okay.  Please note: if you decide to read this despite my lukewarm review, be warned that the back cover blurb contains a big spoiler.

7. Somewhere Out There by Amy Hatvany:  When they were little, Natalie and Brooke were taken from their mother after her conviction on child neglect charges and separated.  Natalie grew up in a loving home; Brooke bounced around from foster homes and state institutions.  As an adult, Natalie wants to reconnect with Brooke and find out what happened to their mother.  The thing about Amy Hatvany's books is that they're very predictable and "Lifetime movie", but that's exactly what I find enjoyable about them.  Sometimes my brain just needs the literary equivalent of comfort food.

8. The Moon in the Palace by Weina Dai Randel:  When Mei becomes the emperor's concubine, she hopes to regain her family's fortune and make a decent life for herself as well.  But the kingdom is filled with backstabbers, and she has to figure out who she can trust.  It got really draggy near the end, but it was okay.

9. The Darkest Corners* by Kara Thomas:  Tessa reluctantly returns to the town where she grew up to say goodbye to her father, who is dying from cancer while serving a prison term.  She doesn't want to see her old friend Callie, because she knows it will bring up bad memories, but soon she finds out that she doesn't have a choice.  It was like a YA version of Dark Places (this is not a spoiler; it's very similar in tone and characterization, but not so much plotwise), and I really enjoyed it.

10. Alice & Oliver* by Charles Bock:  The title couple live in New York City with their baby daughter Doe.  Things seem just about perfect, but when Alice is diagnosed with cancer, their world is sent into a tailspin.

I was really looking forward to this because it's the second book by Charles Bock, whose Beautiful Children was one of the best debut novels I'd ever read.  Although it wasn't as good as BC, and I could have done without the epilogue, it was still riveting and heartbreaking in equal measure.  Some of it was very hard to read, but it was worth it.

11. Girl in the Dark by Marion Pauw:  Iris is a high-powered attorney who finds out that she has a brother she's never met, and he's in a mental institution for killing his neighbor and her little girl.  Iris doesn't think Ray is guilty, and she decides to reopen his case in hopes of getting him released.  I wasn't entirely satisfied with how it wrapped up, but it was still pretty good.

12. The Devil You Know by Elisabeth de Mariaffi:  In 1993, rookie reporter Evie Jones is assigned to cover the breaking news story of (real) serial killer Paul Bernardo's arrest.  The case brings up the memory of her childhood friend's murder, and she decides to investigate, which puts her in grave danger.  Some really creepy scenes, but like the novel above, I wasn't entirely satisfied with the conclusion.

NONFICTION

1. 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.

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. The Wurst of Lucky Peach: A Treasury of Encased Meat by Chris Ying and the editors of Lucky Peach:  The subtitle says it all; this is an appreciation of sausages from around the world, along with essays and recipes.

MANGA/GRAPHIC NOVELS

1. Library Wars vol. 15 (final volume) by Kiiro Yumi

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

3. My Love Story!!* vol. 8 by Kazune Kawahara and Aruko

4. Attack on Titan: Before the Fall vol. 7 by Ryo Suzukaze and Hajime Isayama

5. Patience* by Daniel Clowes

MOVIES

1. Creed:  Rocky Balboa reluctantly agrees to train Adonis Creed, the hotheaded son of his former rival Apollo Creed.  Good acting, and the fight scenes are exciting.

2. Carol:  Sparks fly when shop clerk Therese (Rooney Mara) meets wealthy socialite Carol (Cate Blanchett).  But it's the 1950s, and Carol's estranged husband plans to use their relationship as proof that Carol's an unfit mother.  It's verrrrrrry slow, but the performances are terrific and it's gorgeously shot.

3.  The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2:  Sequel, etc.  I liked it quite a bit, although a certain extremely important scene from the book was truncated, which lessened the emotional impact.

4. The Forest:  When she finds out that her twin sister has gone missing in Japan's infamous Suicide Forest, Sara decides to brave the forest in hopes of finding her; spooky shit ensues.  The biggest problem with this movie, however, is that not ENOUGH spooky shit ensues.  Oh, and I am real goddamn tired of practically every other horror movie in the last 5+ years ending with exactly the same fucking shot.

5. The Hateful Eight:  During a blizzard, a bounty hunter and his captive take shelter in a cabin with several other (guess how many!) people, and it soon becomes obvious that the storm might have been a less dangerous option.

Oof.  I mean, I'll always watch anything Quentin Tarantino does, but in my opinion, this is by FAR the weakest of his movies.  It's just a deeply weird and unpleasant movie that seems like an excuse to watch Jennifer Jason Leigh getting smacked around for almost 3 hours.

6. Victor Frankenstein:  Igor (Daniel Radcliffe) is a very smart man relegated to working as a circus clown (and one that looks alarmingly like Robert Smith from The Cure) due to his pronounced hunchback.  He's rescued by Dr. Victor Frankenstein (James McAvoy), and together they begin working on creating life out of death.  You've heard this story a million times before, but it's visually interesting and I thought James McAvoy was especially good.

7. Sisters:  When sisters Kate and Maura find out their parents are selling the family home, they decide to throw one last party like the ones of their youth, but things quickly spiral out of control.  It had some pretty funny moments, and one scene with a music box had us howling.

VIDEO GAME OF THE MONTH

(Note: this review is for the Xbox One version, but it's also available on PC, PS3/PS4, and the Xbox 360.)

In Life Is Strange, Max is a teenage girl who's just received a scholarship to a prestigious boarding school called Blackwell Academy, located in Arcadia Bay, Oregon, where she hopes to further her dreams of becoming a photographer.  She and her family used to live in Arcadia Bay before moving away, and her childhood friend Chloe still lives there, but Max and Chloe have fallen out of touch.  One day, Max is in the bathroom when Nathan Prescott, an unhinged fellow student, storms in, followed by a blue-haired teenage girl.  Oblivious to Max, who's hiding in the corner, Nathan and the girl argue, and Nathan pulls out a gun and shoots her.  Max holds out her hand in shock, and to her astonishment, she discovers that she has the power to rewind time, which she does to save the girl...who turns out to be Chloe.  They rekindle their friendship, and after Max proves her powers to Chloe, they try to unravel the mystery of Chloe's missing friend Rachel.

LOVED
  • The writing and voice acting (especially Chloe) are terrific.
  • This game passes the Bechdel test with flying colors, which is rare for a video game!
  • Max keeps a journal that she constantly updates with entries and sketches, and it's really well done.
  • The game has important points to make about bullying without being overly preachy.
  • No matter what decisions you make, Max second guesses them.  This sounds like a negative, but it makes it very realistic!
  • Max has a classmate named Warren that I absolutely loved.  He's got flawless taste in movies (a text to Max talks about Primer), and he's just so sweet.  There's a decision you have to make involving him (not a huge decision, so this isn't a spoiler, don't worry), and all I can say is that there's only one right choice out of the three, and anyone who chooses either of the other two options is a heartless monster.
  • I cried at least four times.
  • It can be really funny; at one point, a bitchy classmate tells photography-obsessed Max to "go fuck yourselfie", and at another, Max says "Life is...weird," which was awesome because, of course, G-Vo and I were waiting for her to say "Life is...strange".
  • There's a creepy section that's straight out of Silent Hill.

LOATHED

  • The graphics are serviceable, but nothing to write home about, probably due to its genesis as a downloadable game.
  • There are a couple of glitches, including an entire scene where Max's mouth didn't move at all despite the fact that she was talking.
  • I REALLY could have done without a character calling Max the c-word.  True, it wasn't a character we were supposed to like, but it seemed unnecessary.
  • The rewind mechanic occasionally went way past the point it was supposed to.  Along the same lines, you could press the right bumper to skip dialogue you had already heard, but you had to keep pressing it after every sentence, which was annoying.  It should have just taken you to the next dialogue choice.
  • The title, although appropriate, isn't particularly good.  I think Rewind would have been better.
  • No replay value, especially since you can just rewind to see what would happen if you had chosen a different option.
  • Max's powers are never explained.  (Though to be fair, I would prefer no explanation over a crappy one.)

If there had been a decent explanation for Max's ability, and if there was more replay value, Life Is Strange would have gotten a 9 out of 10.  As it stands, though, it's still a phenomenal game that I heartily recommend.  I give it 8 Polaroid pictures out of 10.