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.



Thursday, March 31, 2016

media update: March

At the beginning of every month, I start a draft in this humble blog where I keep track of my viewing/reading material, and then at the end of the month, I do some last minute tweaking and post my media update.  Well, much to my intense dismay, something went wrong last week and I lost my fucking March draft.  I tried to recreate my list as best I could from memory, my Twitter feed, and my/G-Vo's Netflix rental histories, but I might have forgotten a couple of titles, and these aren't necessarily in chronological order of when I read/watched them, but rather when I remembered them.  I'm seriously cheesed about this, but hopefully it doesn't happen again.

Also, my font and spacing look kind of weird to me, and I've tried to fix it but my patience grows ever thinner, so my apologies if this looks like ass.  Hopefully things are back to normal next month.

As ever, asterisks denote something I particularly enjoyed; double asterisks denote the absolute creme de la creme.  Your mileage may vary. 



FICTION


1. Glass Sword by Victoria Aveyard:  This is a direct sequel to Red Queen, so I can't give it a proper review lest I spoil its predecessor.  It's not one of my favorite YA series, largely because it's so derivative of other stuff (Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Hunger Games being two of the biggest), but it ends on an intriguing note.


2. Cruel Crown by Victoria Aveyard:  Two novellas from the same universe as the above.


3. The Kingdom of Little Wounds** by Susann Cokal:  In the city of Skyggehavn in the 15th century, 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. 


I found this book in the YA section of the library, and I hadn't gotten very far into it before I began wondering if it had been put on the wrong shelf.  But not only did the spine bear the YA sticker, but there was a seal on the front proclaiming it the winner of a prestigious award given for excellence in young adult literature.  I don't know who decided it was YA, but man, they fucked up.  It's got a story about a woman mating with a monkey, numerous (and very graphic) scenes of rape and sexual blackmail, horrifying descriptions of dead bodies and debilitating illnesses, and a man who has sewn jewels under the skin of his penis.  It is a DARK fucking book.  It's fantastic---the sumptuous writing reminded me of As Meat Loves Salt by Maria McCann, which is a comparison I would never make lightly, seeing as it's my favorite novel of all time---but it is absolutely not for everyone.


4. 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl* by Mona Awad:  Thirteen short stories---some told from the point of view of Lizzie, the protagonist, and some told from the POV of people around her---about being fat and getting thin, but still feeling unfulfilled.  Sharp and poignant.


5. The Long and Faraway Gone* by Lou Berney:  In 1986, several movie theater employees are murdered during an armed robbery, and a beautiful teenage girl named Genevieve disappears from the state fair, leaving her little sister Julianna behind.  Twenty-five years later, Wyatt, the lone survivor of the movie theater massacre, is working as a private investigator in Las Vegas, and he reluctantly agrees to go back to Oklahoma City to look into a harassment case for a friend.  Meanwhile, Julianna is still struggling to find out what happened to her sister.  I was a bit bothered by an aspect of Wyatt's story that I can't discuss due to spoilers, but overall I really enjoyed this beautifully written book, and it has the most fantastic final chapter I've read in ages.  It took my breath away.


6. Hidden Bodies* by Caroline Kepnes:  This is a direct sequel to You, so I can't review it lest I spoil its predecessor.  All I'll say is that it's like a blackly funny rom-com narrated by Dexter Morgan or Patrick Bateman, and if that sounds appealing (and, of course, you've already read You), then you'll love it.


7. Captive Prince* by C.S. Pacat:  After his brother seizes power, Damen is stripped of his identity and sent to the enemy nation of Vere to serve as a slave to its prince. It's like Game of Thrones meets the classic yaoi series Ai no Kusabi, and when I finished it, I couldn't wait to pick up the next one. Unfortunately, there was a (thankfully short) waiting list at the library, so I had to keep myself occupied with the next book on this list until the sequel came in.


Side note: the cover doesn't make it clear that this is a gay romance, so if you're not interested in reading dude on dude action, then I wouldn't recommend it.  If that flips your kilt, though, you are in for a treat.


7. What Was Mine by Helen Klein Ross:  Lucy is desperate for a child, so when she's at IKEA and sees an unattended baby girl, she impulsively takes the baby and raises her as her own, telling her friends and family that Mia was adopted.  But her carefully constructed web of lies falls apart twenty years later due to one of the dumbest mistakes a character has ever committed in the history of fiction, and needless to say, her actions come back to bite her in the ass.  It reminded me of Jodi Picoult in both good and bad ways.


8. Prince's Gambit** by C.S. Pacat:  This is a sequel to #7, so obviously I can't review it lest I spoil its predecessor.  I'll just say that holy mother of god, chapter 19!  This would have been "just" a one star book, but that chapter was so fantastic that I gave it two stars instead.  I was so grateful that...


9. Kings Rising* by C.S. Pacat: ...this arrived at the same time as Prince's Gambit.  God bless the LA County library system!  When I finished PG, I immediately began this one, like the literary equivalent of chain smoking.  Man, what a great series.  It's only a trilogy, but I hope the author writes more in this universe because it gave me so many delicious feels.  (And NO, not all of those feels were in my pants.)


10. The Book of Ivy by Amy Engel:  After nuclear war decimates the population, a small band of survivors creates a new society.  But two families want control, and after the dust has settled, the powers that be decide to marry off the sons of the winning side to the daughters of the losing side in hopes of maintaining peace.  Ivy is about to marry the president's son, and her father and sister want her to get information that will lead to his family's downfall, but instead she finds herself falling in love.  It was pretty good, so I'll be picking up the sequel.


11. The Widow by Fiona Barton:  Jean's husband was accused of a terrible crime, but after he's acquitted, they slowly begin to put their lives back together.  But when Glen is killed in a traffic accident, Jean decides she finally wants to share her side of the story.  It's decent, but not the twisty thriller the reviews made it out to be.  (And JFC, can reviewers PLEASE stop comparing every goddamn book to Gone Girl or The Girl on the Train already?  It's lazy shorthand, and it's almost never accurate.)


12. Shelter* by Jung Yun:  Kyung has never been close to his parents, but after they're brutally victimized during a home invasion, he reluctantly allows them to move in with him.  He tries to be sympathetic, but he can't seem to forget the past or forgive his parents' part in it.  Beautifully written and redemptive.


13. Multiple Listings by Tracy McMillan:  Nicki is a single mother who has a bad habit of always picking the wrong guy, and her current boyfriend Jake is no exception.  Her life becomes even more complicated when her estranged father gets out of prison and winds up on her doorstep.  Predictable as hell, but a decently diverting read.


NONFICTION


Nothing this month.


MANGA/GRAPHIC NOVELS


1. Rosalie Lightning* by Tom Hart


2. The Ancient Magus' Bride* by Kore Yamazaki


3. Rin-Ne vol. 20 by Rumiko Takahashi


4. Apothecarius Argentum vols. 2-3 by Tomomi Yamashita


5. My Love Story!!** vol. 7 by Kazune Kawahara and Aruko:  This series keeps getting better and better, hence the double stars.


6. So Cute It Hurts!! vol. 5 by Go Ikeyamada


7. Black Rose Alice vol. 6 by Setona Mizushiro:  The ending of this volume hints at more to come, but I think I'm done because of the way sexual assault was handled in this series.  Seriously, we're supposed to root for the heroine to wind up with the "hero", who raped his beloved and drove her to commit suicide?  Or are we supposed to root for her to wind up with the dude who raped his twin brother's girlfriend, and then his brother shot her (yes, the VICTIM) in the stomach?  Yeah, no thanks.


8. Say I Love You vol. 12 by Kanae Hazuki


9. Lady Killer by Joelle Jones and Jamie S. Rich


10. Food Wars!* vol. 10 by Yuto Tsukuda and Shun Saeki


11. No Matter How I Look at It, It's You Guys' Fault I'm Not Popular!* vol. 8 by Nico Tanigawa


12. Ajin: Demi-Human vol. 7 by Gamon Sakurai


MOVIES


1. 99 Homes*:  Dennis Nash (Andrew Garfield), his mother, and his young son are evicted from their home by a sleazy real estate broker (Michael Shannon).  Dennis is desperate for cash, so he reluctantly starts doing construction work for the broker, but he soon finds himself evicting people too...a turn of events that leaves him highly conflicted.  A powerful movie with terrific acting; Michael Shannon in particular needs to call the cops because he was robbed of an Oscar nomination.


2. Sicario*:  FBI agent Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) is dragged into the drug war at the U.S./Mexico border.  Gritty and tense.


3. Bloodsucking Bastards*:  After losing his girlfriend and a promotion in the same week, Evan (Fran Kranz) thinks his life can't get much worse, but then his company is taken over by vampires. It reminded me of Shaun of the Dead, and although it wasn't as good as that movie (no disrespect intended; that's a damn high bar!), it was really funny and much better than expected.


4. Crimson Peak*:  Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska) is swept off her feet by dashing Thomas Sharpe (Tumblr's boyfriend Tom Hiddleston), who takes her to his estate in England.  The house is in serious disrepair, his sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain) hates her, and oh yeah, there are ghosts roaming around the halls.  Absolutely gorgeous costumes and production design, combined with excellent performances, made this a nifty little treat.


5. Spectre:  This James Bond flick was so flabby and disappointing that I don't even feel like giving it a real review.  Daniel Craig still looks hot, though, so at least there's that.


6. Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension:  A new family is terrorized in this decent (and often surprisingly funny) installment.


7. Ratter:  Emma is a graduate student who's moved to New York to continue her studies.  She's enjoying her new life until a cyberstalker (or a "ratter") hacks into her devices and starts watching everything she does.  It's shown entirely via her computer and cell phone, much like Unfriended, which brings immediacy to the action.  It also reminded me of Entrance, in that it's a slow burn for 95% of the movie and then things go utterly batshit at the end.  It's not a classic for the ages or anything, but I liked it more than I thought I would (i.e. I actually finished it).


8. The Good Dinosaur:  Arlo is a scaredy-cat dinosaur who gets separated from his family, and while he's trying to find his way back home, he runs into a feral child who used to steal his family's crops. Initially they're at odds, but they become friends along the way.


Man, is this a hard movie to review.  About ten minutes into it, I was so annoyed by the dinosaur family's cornpone accents that I was tempted to quit.  But it's a Pixar movie, and although not every one of their movies has been a gem, their track record is good enough that I'm willing to give anything they've made a fair chance.  And it did get better as it went along, but I had some major complaints.  First of all, the CGI is absolutely stunning; half the time, you can't even tell the backgrounds are animated!  But the dinosaurs are very cartoony, and it's a jarring juxtaposition against the photorealism of the backgrounds.  It reminded me of (and man, am I dating myself here) Dot and the Kangaroo.  The dinosaurs either needed to be more realistic or the backgrounds needed to be LESS realistic so the contrast wouldn't be so jarring.  (Sorry to use "jarring" again so soon, but I couldn't really think of a better word offhand.)  Second, there are two scenes that seemed awfully shocking for a movie aimed at young kids: a startlingly violent decapitation (true, it's just a very large beetle, but the results were unnervingly realistic) and a scene where Spot (the kid) and Arlo eat fermenting fruit and then proceed to have what looks like an acid trip.  It's definitely not the weakest Pixar movie---that would be Cars 2---but it was certainly disappointing.


ADDED TO MY IPOD


1. 25 by Adele (full album)


2. Music and Lyrics soundtrack (full album)


3. "The Rose" by Bette Midler:  This is one of two songs that makes me choke up every single time I hear it.  (The other one is "The Rainbow Connection", but it has to be Kermit's version.)


4. "To Cut a Long Story Short" by Spandau Ballet

Monday, February 29, 2016

media update: February

Thanks to an unusual heat wave (80s and 90s in February...WTF, SoCal?) that kept me inside instead of walking 3+ miles a day, along with a slew of other factors, I was averaging about 5 hours/day of reading time this month, which explains the extremely long fiction list.

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.

FICTION

1. The Bullet* by Mary Louise Kelly:  When Caroline begins experiencing strange pain, her doctor sends her to get an MRI, which reveals a bullet lodged in her neck that she never knew was there.  Her curiosity is understandably piqued, but her investigation leads her down a dangerous path.  An extremely enjoyable read that I tore through in record time.

2. Assassin's Heart by Sarah Ahiers:  Lea Saldana belongs to a family of assassins that's constantly vying for dominance over the kingdom of Lovero.  She's secretly involved with Val Da Via, the son of another clan, but when it looks like his family is involved in the murder of hers, she leaves home to plot her revenge.  Similar to Robin LaFevers' His Fair Assassins trilogy and Sarah J. Maas' Throne of Glass series, and although it's not as good as those books, it was entertaining enough that I'll pick up any further installments.

3. Angels Burning* by Tawni O'Dell:  Due to an underground coal fire, the small Pennsylvania town of Campbell's Run (fictional, but obviously based on Centralia, the inspiration for Silent Hill) has been abandoned for years.  But when the body of a teenage girl is found stuffed into a sinkhole there, police chief Dove Carnahan's investigation turns up some strange parallels to her own past.  I really liked it, and I hope the ending means that there will be more books featuring Dove.

4. Tarnished by Kate Jarvik Birch:  This is a direct sequel to Perfected, so I can't properly review it lest I spoil its predecessor.  I liked it more than Perfected, though.

5. Endure by Sara B. Larson:  This is the final book in the Defy trilogy, so I can't properly review it lest I spoil its predecessors, but it was my favorite of the three.

6. The Silent Sister by Diane Chamberlain:  When her father dies, Riley MacPherson is tasked with cleaning out his house in order to get it ready for sale.  In the process, she discovers evidence that her older sister, who supposedly committed suicide more than twenty years ago, is actually alive, and she becomes determined to find out the truth.  I would have liked it much more if I hadn't figured out two major plot points about halfway through.  (Not boasting; they were pretty heavily telegraphed.)

7. Menagerie* by Rachel Vincent:  Due to an incident called the Reaping, cryptids are viewed with fear and suspicion and rounded up for research or sent to zoos or canned hunting farms.  Delilah Marlow is visiting a carnival with her friends when the mistreatment of a werewolf cub sends her into a rage and unleashes the beast inside that she never knew she had.  She's taken into custody and sold to the very carnival she was visiting, and as she suffers from mistreatment, she begins to formulate a plan for freedom.  Vividly written and engrossing.  There's going to be a sequel, and I would like it now, please.

Side note: although the description makes it sound like YA, it is most definitely not.  I say this not because I have anything against YA (well, obviously, since I read YA like it's my job), but in case anyone was interested in this book and didn't want to read it because they thought it was YA.

8. Immaculate by Katelyn Detweiler:  Mina loves her boyfriend, but she wants to wait until they graduate before losing her virginity.  But when a slew of weird symptoms lead her friends to believe she might be pregnant, she takes a pregnancy test just to prove them wrong...and it comes out positive.  Is she a victim, a liar, mentally ill, or a miracle?  Intriguing premise, but no real closure.

9. Breakdown by Jonathan Kellerman:  Beautiful actress Zelda Chase is brought in for psychiatric evaluation after a psychotic episode.  When her body is discovered later on, Dr. Alex Delaware wants to know what happened to her young son, and the investigation leads to some unexpected places.  Not bad, but I started getting bored near the end.

10. Black Rabbit Hall* by Eve Chase:  Lorna Dunaway wants to get married at Black Rabbit Hall, a beautiful but decaying country estate to which she's inexplicably drawn, but it's haunted by a tragic past.  Gorgeously written and dark; the epilogue could have been left off in my opinion, but the rest of it is fantastic.  Read it in one sitting on a stormy night for the best experience.

11. The Vegetarian by Han Kang:  After a series of violent dreams, Korean housewife Yeong-hye decides to stop eating meat.  Her husband and family aren't happy with her choice, but she's determined to stick to her guns.  There's a bit more to it than that, but I don't want to spoil it.  I didn't much care for it, but at least it was short.  Warning: includes a truly horrifying scene of animal cruelty.

12. All You Never Wanted by Adele Griffin:  After their mother remarries an outrageously rich man, Thea and Alex seem to be on top of the world.  But after an incident at the magazine where she's interning, Alex withdraws into herself, and Thea decides to take advantage of her sister's emotional state.  It's decent enough, but god I wanted to slap the shit out of Thea on practically every page.

13. 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 in an upstairs bedroom, 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), it's my favorite novel of the year so far, and it would make an absolutely killer movie.  Get on it, Hollywood.

NONFICTION

1. 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 has an even more dysfunctional family than yours.

MANGA/GRAPHIC NOVELS

1. Apothecarius Argentum by Tomomi Yamashita

2. Kamisama Kiss vol. 20 by Julietta Suzuki


MOVIES

1. Burnt:  After overcoming his drug addiction, bad boy chef Adam Jones (Bradley Cooper) goes to London in hopes of opening a new restaurant and getting a third Michelin star.  It's not essential viewing, but it's an interesting look at what goes on behind the scenes at a top restaurant.  (Gordon Ramsay and Mario Batali were listed as consultants, so I assume it's pretty accurate.)

2. Freeheld:  When she's diagnosed with terminal lung cancer, police detective Laurel Hester (Julianne Moore) tries to ensure that her domestic partner Stacie Andree (Ellen Page) will receive her pension benefits, but when her request is denied, she decides to fight back.  With the exception of a surprisingly campy Steve Carell, the performances are great, but it had a very "Lifetime movie of the week" feel to it.  Didn't stop me from sobbing for the last 20 minutes of it, though.  Based on a true story.

3. 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 (especially from the woman who plays Nana), there are some really funny scenes, and the scary stuff is legitimately ball-shrivelingly tense.  G-Vo and I weren't expecting much from this flick, but we were very pleasantly surprised.

4. The Diary of a Teenage Girl*:  Minnie is a 15-year-old girl living in San Francisco in the late 70s.  Bored with her life, she decides to proposition her mother's boyfriend Monroe, and he eagerly agrees.  The subject matter is obviously uncomfortable, but I liked the fact that the movie didn't try to define Minnie's experiences for her, if that makes any sense.  It's very well done.

5. Dragon Blade:  A group of Chinese soldiers, led by warrior Huo An (Jackie Chan), teams up with defected Roman soldiers to protect the Silk Road from a corrupt general.  We thought this would be LOL-worthy since it stars John Cusack and Adrien Brody (not that there's anything wrong with them, but they don't exactly scream "historical martial arts flick" material), but it was actually pretty good!

6. Ted 2:  Foulmouthed sentient teddy bear Ted and his wife Tami-Lynn want to adopt a baby, but when the adoption is blocked because Ted is considered property, he takes his fight to court.  This is heresy in some circles, but I liked this one more than its predecessor.

7. Deadpool*:  After an experimental cancer treatment leaves him disfigured, but gifted with accelerated healing powers, Wade Wilson adopts the persona of Deadpool and sets out to find the man responsible.  A gory, gleefully raunchy treat.

8. Grandma:  When her granddaughter Sage comes to her asking for money for an abortion, cranky academic Elle (Lily Tomlin) takes her on a road trip to scrounge up the funds from friends and ex-lovers.  It was refreshing to see a comedy (well, more like a dramedy, though I hate that fucking word) treat abortion in such a non-judgmental manner; the only other one I can think of offhand is Obvious Child.

9. The Transporter Refueled:  Frank (Ed Skrein) makes his living transporting mysterious packages for other people.  A group of rogue hookers kidnaps his father (Ray Stevenson) in order to force Frank to help them, and he must utilize all his skills to save his dad.  It's mindlessly enjoyable enough, but I really missed Jason Statham in the title role.  (Then again, if Jason Statham AND Ray Stevenson had both been in this movie, I don't think I would have been able to handle the hotness!)

10. Hitman: Agent 47:  A genetically modified hitman teams up with a young woman in order to help her find her father and take down a mysterious corporation.  Based on the video game series, which means the story is a muddled mess but the action is aces.

11. Sunshine:  When the sun begins to die, a team of scientists and astronauts is sent into space with a nuclear bomb that they hope will "jump start" the sun back to life, but things don't go quite as planned.  It wasn't quite as good as we hoped it would be, considering Alex Garland (of Ex Machina fame) wrote it, but it was decent.


ADDED TO MY IPOD

(If you're wondering about all the Halloween themed songs on this list, it's because I was browsing the CD section at the library and they had a disc called New Wave Halloween, which of course piqued my interest.)

1. "Everyday Is Halloween" by Ministry

2. "Devil in My Car" by the B-52's

3. "Dead Man's Party" by Oingo Boingo

4. "Pet Sematary" by The Ramones

5. "Theme from Halloween" by MX-80 Sound

6. "Halloween" by Siouxsie and the Banshees

7. "Halloween" by The Misfits

8. "Halloween" by Dead Kennedys

VIDEO GAME OF THE MONTH

G-Vo and I are longtime fans of Telltale Games' series of episodic adventure games, not just because they've been based on some of our favorite things (i.e. The Walking Dead and Fables) but because we know the quality will be outstanding.  Fortunately, Game of Thrones was no exception.

The Game of Thrones video game (hereafter just referred to as GoT) focuses on House Forrester, which appears briefly in the books but hasn't shown up in the TV show yet.  House Forrester lives in Ironrath and controls the production of ironwood, which is highly prized due to its virtual indestructibility.  Unfortunately, lots of other people want to control the forest, and some of them are very bad people.

LOVED

  • The writing is exceptional; like G-Vo said, it's almost like a mini-spinoff of the Game of Thrones TV show.  
  • I enjoyed seeing familiar faces from the show, such as Tyrion, Jon Snow, and Daenerys, as well as meeting new people.  My favorite game-only characters were Asher Forrester, a charming sellsword, and his badass friend Beshka.
  • Speaking of Asher Forrester, godDAMN.  Mama like!  (Side note:  I tweeted something pervy about Asher and his voice actor favorited it.  That was, uh, embarrassing.)
  • The voice acting was terrific (with one surprising exception that I'll address in the "loathed" section).  The actors from the show voice their own characters, and the voice acting for the original characters is high quality as well.
  • Some of the backgrounds are gorgeous.
  • I love the "choose your own adventure" format.  You have to make some really tough decisions, often with very little time to mull them over.
  • Although familiarity with the GoT universe is a plus, I don't think it's absolutely necessary to enjoy this game, especially because it features a codex with helpful background information on all the characters.

LOATHED

  • When Jon Snow made his first appearance, I turned to G-Vo (who had already played through the game on his own) and said, "I guess Kit Harington was busy."  G-Vo laughed and said, "I thought that too, but that's actually him."  I don't know if Kit Harington just felt like phoning it in or what, but it was awfully jarring.  His voice acting did improve as the game progressed, but boy, those first few scenes with him were not good.  
  • Although this is true to the GoT universe (and real life in general), it really sucks that very bad things happen to good people.
  • Occasionally the dubbing didn't seem to match up with the lip movements.  (Note: we played this on the PS4, and that was the only real glitch I noticed; however, people who played on other systems mentioned far worse glitches, so if you have a choice between systems, be sure to do your homework!)
  • It ends with several massive cliffhangers!  There's going to be a season 2, but I don't want to wait. 

Overall, Telltale's Game of Thrones is a worthy addition to both their own library and the Game of Thrones mythos.  I give it 8 defiant cries of "Iron from ice!" out of 10.






Monday, February 01, 2016

media update: January

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. Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff:  After a whirlwind courtship, Lotto and Mathilde get married, much to the horror of his rich mother, who disowns him.  After some very lean years, Lotto finds success as a playwright and Mathilde basks in the reflected glory, but things aren't quite what they seem.

Man, reading this was a weird experience.  I started it, got about 100 pages into it, didn't like it, and went on Amazon to read some (non-spoilery) reviews to see if I should continue.  Everybody said it got really interesting about halfway through, so I kept going, and although they were right, it still wasn't the amazing book I'd been led to believe.  The writing is gorgeous, but I absolutely despised just about every single person in it, and I was glad when I finally finished.

2. Defy by Sara B. Larson:  After her parents are murdered, Alexa disguises herself as a boy to serve in the king's army alongside her twin brother.  But she, her fellow guard Rylan, and Prince Damian are abducted by the enemy, and she's terrified that her secret will come to light.  It's not phenomenal or anything, but I was interested enough to pick up the sequels.

3. The Scamp by Jennifer Pashley:  Rayelle meets a reporter who's looking into the disappearance of several girls, and she decides to go with him in order to get out of her small town, but the investigation turns up some unsettling leads.  If you didn't know anything about this book other than the title, you'd probably assume it was a cute comic romp, and boy would you be surprised.  It's well written, but it's so dark and disturbing I wanted a shower and a nap after finishing it.

4. Descent* by Tim Johnston:   After Caitlin disappears during a vacation in the Rockies, her devastated family tries to pick up the pieces.  I don't usually cry over books (which is weird, since I usually cry at the drop of a hat, if you'll pardon the cliché), but I sure as shit cried over this one.  I did have two problems with the plot, neither of which I can share due to spoilers, but overall it's really good.

5. Ignite by Sara B. Larson:  This is the direct sequel to book #2 above, so I can't review it lest I spoil its predecessor.

6. The Expatriates by Janice Y.K. Lee:  The lives of three American women intersect in Hong Kong:  Mercy, a young woman whose negligence leads to tragedy; Margaret, one of the victims of that tragedy; and Hilary, who desperately wants a child.  Vivid and beautifully written.

7. Perfected by Kate Jarvik Birch:  Genetically engineered human "pets" are all the rage among the elite.  One of these pets, Ella, is placed in the home of a congressman, where she falls in love with his son Penn and begins to hope for a different life than the one she's been trained to accept.  Choppy writing, but the premise is interesting enough that I'll check out the sequel.

8. Passenger by Alexandra Bracken:  On the night Etta Spencer is scheduled to make her professional violin debut, tragedy strikes and she's thrust into the past, where she learns that she's a time traveler and a powerful family wants her to find something her mother stole from them.  I'm not generally a fan of time travel stuff, but I wanted to read this because I loved the author's Darkest Minds trilogy so much.  It was all right.

NONFICTION

1. The Sound of Gravel by Ruth Wariner:  Unwilling to adhere to his church's restrictions against polygamous marriage, the author's father moved to Mexico and started a colony there.  He was murdered by his brother, and afterwards, Ruth's mother remarried a man named Lane, who---to put it mildly---was a shitty husband and stepfather.  It reminded me of Jesus Land by Julia Scheeres, and though it's not as good as that book (which is one of my favorite nonfiction books of all time), it's still a moving story of survival.


MANGA/GRAPHIC NOVELS

1. Attack on Titan: Junior High vol. 4 by Hajime Isayama and Saki Nakagawa

2. Attack on Titan: Before the Fall vol. 6 by Satoshi Shiki and Ryo Suzukaze

3. Citrus* vol. 4 by Saburouta


MOVIES

1. The Man from U.N.C.L.E.*:  This Guy Ritchie reboot of the old TV series flopped hardcore, but it really didn't deserve to.  It's stylish (that 60s couture!), the cast is great, and there are two laugh out loud funny scenes that were worth the rental alone.

2. Revolver:  I don't even know how to summarize this confusing mess, but basically Jason Statham (looking decidedly less hot than usual) gets out of prison and some loan sharks make him start working for them and bleh.  Not worth my time or yours going into more detail.

3. No Escape*:  After relocating to an unnamed Asian country, an American family immediately gets caught in the middle of a violent rebellion, and they have to get across the border before they're killed.  Incredibly intense and well done.

4. Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse:  When a zombie outbreak threatens their town, three scouts band together to save their friends.  It wasn't bad, but it REALLY wanted to be Zombieland or Dead Rising, and it failed.

5. Let's Be Cops:  Two buddies dress up as cops for a costume party and decide that they like the attention it gets them, so they pretend to be real cops...which puts them in the crosshairs of a crime lord.  Incredibly stupid, but it had some funny moments.

6. Amy:  A gripping but intensely sad documentary about the meteoric rise and tragic death of singer Amy Winehouse that will make you rage.  She had to take responsibility for her own choices, of course, but the enablers around her sure didn't make it easy.  That line in "Rehab" where she sings "I ain't got the time/and my daddy thinks I'm fine" is based on something her father actually said.  I know hindsight is 20/20, but I can't imagine anyone seeing her at her lowest point and thinking she was fine.  What a shame.

7. Infinitely Polar Bear:  When Maggie (Zoe Saldana) gets a scholarship for the MBA program at Columbia, she leaves her two young daughters in Boston with her husband Cam (Mark Ruffalo), who's bipolar.  And...that's about it.  There's no real character growth to speak of, and I was actually kind of pissed off at Maggie because (and this following rant is NOT mom/mental illness shaming) why the hell did she think it was a good idea to leave two children with a chain smoking man who REGULARLY decides not to take his lithium AND frequently leaves them alone while he goes out drinking?  Yes, she wanted to make a better life for her family, but come the fuck on.

8. Sinister 2:  Desperate to escape her abusive husband, a mother and her sons hide out in a rural farmhouse.  Unfortunately, because the farmhouse is haunted by a demon who uses young children to commit murder, she may be in even more danger than she was before.  The first movie really got under my skin, but this was a pretty pale imitation.  The home movies of the murders are still incredibly unnerving, though, and the soundtrack by tomandandy (who also scored The Mothman Prophecies) is fucking terrifying.  If we're ever blessed with another Silent Hill game and Akira Yamaoka isn't interested in participating, I'd be more than happy with tomandandy stepping up to the plate.

9. Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials:  This is a direct sequel, so I can't review it properly lest I spoil its predecessor.  I liked it more, largely because of the action sequences, but like G-Vo, I had a few moral qualms about some of the decisions made by the protagonist.

10. Mr. Holmes:  Battling dementia, Sherlock Holmes retires to the countryside, where he tries to remember his final case and why it haunts him.  It's a bit "small", but as you'd expect, Ian McKellen is perfect in the title role.

11. 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.  Immensely entertaining.

12. Sherrybaby:  After being released from prison, Sherry tries to reconnect with her little girl and learn how to live in society again.  It's depressing as hell, but Maggie Gyllenhaal is absolutely phenomenal as Sherry.  The fact that she didn't get nominated for an Oscar when this came out (2006) is a ripoff.

13. Terminator Genisys:  John Connor sends Kyle Reese back to 1984 in order to protect Sarah Connor, and because time travel is fraught with problems, shit happens.  Some pretty good action sequences, but I was confused throughout much of it because I'm not up on my Terminator lore.


ADDED TO MY IPOD

As you can see from the tracks below, I went on a bit of an 80s/ new wave kick.

1. "Lawnchairs" by Our Daughter's Wedding

2. "Papa's Got a Brand New Pigbag" by Pigbag

3. "Bostich" by Yello

4. "Ball of Confusion" by Love and Rockets

5. "Rapture" by Blondie

6. "Beat Box" by Art of Noise

7. "A E I O U (Sometimes Y)" by EBN-OZN

8. "Who's That Girl?" by Eurythmics

9. "Steppin' Out" by Joe Jackson

10. "Space Age Love Song" by A Flock of Seagulls

11. "Oh Yeah" by Yello

12. "Rock Lobster" by The B-52's

13. "Destination Unknown" by Missing Persons

14. "Dancing in Heaven (Orbital Be-Bop)" by Q-Feel

15. "Der Kommissar" by After the Fire

16. Greatest (full album) by Duran Duran