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

Monday, January 04, 2016

2015: my year in review

JANUARY:  Finished Theatrhythm Final Fantasy Curtain Call.  G-Vo and I returned from our trip to Florida.  My dad came out for a visit, and we visited botanical gardens, a local zoo, and downtown Ventura, and we also ate tons of delicious food.  Got yet another new boss.  Read 4 novels, 2 nonfiction books, and 4 volumes of manga; watched 12 movies.

FEBRUARY:  Watched the Superbowl with G-Vo.  My dad returned to Florida.  Finished Hatsune Miku: Project Diva F 2nd.  Enjoyed a lovely Valentine's Day with my sweetie.  Took President's Day off as a mental health day.  Watched the Oscars and correctly predicted 17 out of 24 winners.  Read 7 novels, 1 nonfiction book, 8 volumes of manga, and 3 graphic novels; watched 9 movies.

MARCH:  Finished Persona 4 Arena Ultimax (P4 section only).  G-Vo gave me a belated Valentine's Day present: gorgeous concept art from The Last of Us, signed by the artist, that he'd gotten custom framed.  Got my hair cut for the first time in 6 months.  Went to a really cool Avatar/Legend of Korra art exhibit.  Finished The Evil Within and The Wolf Among Us.  Enjoyed an entire week where all of my least favorite coworkers were out.  Read 4 novels, 2 nonfiction books, 12 volumes of manga, and 3 graphic novels; watched 9 movies.

APRIL:  G-Vo and I hung out with our friend M for her belated birthday celebration.  Took a mental health day and was punished with an allergy attack and diarrhea.  Finished Resident Evil: Revelations 2.  My brother spent 4 days in the hospital; it's not my place to say why, but I'm glad to report he's doing fine now.  Got a new boss that I really dislike, but on the plus side, she spends most of her time up north and only flies down every couple of weeks to check in on us and be irritating in person.  Was taking a walk around the parking lot at work and was horrified to run across two teenagers having sex in the bushes.  Went to the dermatologist.  Read 6 novels, 1 nonfiction book, 11 volumes of manga, and one graphic novel; watched 8 movies.

MAY:   G-Vo hung up the Last of Us picture he got me for Valentine's Day, and it wasn't until it was above my couch that I realized how much I'd needed something there.  Pulled back the comforter on my bed and was horrified to see a huge spider scuttling over my sheets; fortunately, G-Vo was there and sent that bastard to a watery grave.  Catsat for M.  Had an awful nightmare about the mail lady at work stalking me and trying to kill me.  Took a day off to get my car serviced, and while they were working on it, I had lunch and got an excellent massage at a nearby mall.  Unfortunately, they forgot to reset my TPMS, so I had to go back a couple of days later, which I was NOT happy about.  Went to see Avengers: Age of Ultron with our friends C and J.  Had a lovely Memorial Day weekend with G-Vo, and spent the next one all by myself because he went to Florida for his nephew's graduation.  (I didn't have enough vacation time to join him.)  I consoled myself with piles of magazines, books, and DVDs in addition to lots and lots of junk food.  Read 12 (!!) novels, 3 nonfiction books, 7 volumes of manga, and 2 graphic novels; watched 6 movies.

JUNE:  When I saw G-Vo again after almost 2 weeks, I squeezed him so hard I practically broke a rib!  A Windows update left my computer fucked up, which was awesome.  My friend J had a freak accident that left her seriously injured.  Got a massage from an old Korean dude that left my upper arms looking like bad bananas. Southern California continued to be hot as balls.  Watched the devastating season finale of Game of Thrones.  Went to the crotch doc for my yearly exam, and all of my ladybits are in fine working order.  Took a mental health day, although I didn't do anything particularly interesting.  N00boss continued to be fucking annoying as shit.  Finished The Order: 1886.  Read 10 novels, 2 nonfiction books, 3 graphic novels, and 4 volumes of manga; watched 4 movies.

JULY:  Had a lovely 4th of July weekend with G-Vo.  Booked my September Vegas trip.  My dad was hospitalized after some blood tests came back abnormal, and he was diagnosed with lymphoma.  Took G-Vo's birthday off so I could properly fete him, and we went out for brunch and dinner and went to see Inside Out.  I turned another year older, which sucked, but at least I had a lovely birthday!  Had a belated joint birthday celebration (lunch, a matinee of Trainwreck, and quality time with her cats) with M and another one a week later with C and J in Little Tokyo.  Read 8 novels, no nonfiction books, and 6 volumes of manga; watched 15 movies.

AUGUST:  Got my 'do did.  A major heatwave scorched Southern California (up to 106 degrees at one point!), so I got a ton of reading done since I wasn't walking 3 miles a day.  Got yet another new boss at work, who I nicknamed Squidward due to her unfortunate resemblance to the SpongeBob SquarePants character.  G-Vo and I celebrated our 11 year anniversary.  Closed out the month in Las Vegas on a solo trip; I ate a ton of delicious food, got a "four hands" massage (i.e. two therapists working on me at the same time), saw Britney Spears' show, and hung out with my dear friend Spock.  Read 8 novels, 6 nonfiction books, and 8 volumes of manga; watched 8 movies.

SEPTEMBER:  Finished Until Dawn.  Woke up literally sobbing from a nightmare, but fortunately G-Vo was there to comfort me.  Got a mammogram, and my girls were fine.  SoCal continued to get hammered by high temperatures.  Read 10 novels, 1 nonfiction book, 2 volumes of manga, and 2 graphic novels; watched 9 movies.

OCTOBER:  Took a mental health day because I was feeling really down.  Got stuck doing mail and file at work for 2 weeks because one of the main M&F people was on medical leave and the other one went on vacation.  Cat sat for my friend M.  My kitchen sink started leaking, and the plumber managed to make an unholy mess out of my kitchen AND knock my fridge completely askew, so that was neat.  Read 6 novels, 3 nonfiction books, 3 volumes of manga, and one graphic novel; watched 10 movies.

NOVEMBER:  G-Vo's sister and brother-in-law were in town, so we hung out with them for a couple of days.  Spent Thanksgiving in New Mexico with G-Vo's family, eating a ton of good food and visiting several museums/art galleries and an alpaca farm.  Read 7 novels, 3 nonfiction books, 5 graphic novels, and 10 volumes of manga; watched 7 movies.

DECEMBER:  Got my 'do did.  Had an unusually busy week in the middle of the month:  a live (well, simulcast) RiffTrax showing of Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny, the opening night of Star Wars: The Force Awakens (Poe & Finn = my OTP), and dinner/hanging out with our friend R, who was in town for the holidays.  Said a very sad goodbye to M's cat Sonnet, who had to be put to sleep due to intestinal cancer.  G-Vo got a nasty cold.  Spent Christmas with G-Vo eating orange cinnamon rolls, watching movies, playing video games, and opening gifts from my family.  With only 1 day left in my overall shitty year, I managed to slip on an acorn in the parking lot at work and sprain the shit out of my ankle.  Bid 2015 farewell with a raised middle finger and a glass of prosecco.  Read 8 novels, 3 nonfiction books, 8 volumes of manga, and 1 graphic novel; watched 10 movies.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

media update: December

Good riddance to 2015!  It wasn't the worst year of my life by a long shot, but it still had far more than its fair share of crap: my dad was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma, my brother had serious health issues of his own, work sucked, and my friend M's sweet cat Sonnet, who I loved like she was my own, had to be put to sleep.  Oh, AND because 2015 wasn't sucky enough, it gave me a parting shot yesterday when I slipped on an acorn in the parking lot at work and rolled my ankle.  I had to go to urgent care and get it x-rayed.  Fortunately it wasn't broken, but it's badly swollen and bruised all to shit.  Neat!

On the plus side, some of the happier moments in 2015 included finding out that my dad was officially in remission, fun trips to Las Vegas and New Mexico, and G-Vo and I celebrating 11 years (!!!) together.

Anyway, this is a little early but I don't think I'll be finishing any books or watching any movies tomorrow, so as long as I'm sitting here sulking about my ankle, I figured I might as well post this.  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. Dark Shimmer by Donna Jo Napoli:  A beautifully written retelling of Snow White from the stepmother's point of view.

2. A Madness So Discreet* by Mindy McGinnis:  After being raped and impregnated by her father, Grace is committed to an asylum to hide her secret.  She catches the attention of a doctor who recognizes how smart she is, and they fake her death so he can take her to a different, kinder asylum.  She begins serving as his assistant at crime scenes, but her past keeps threatening to catch up with her.  It took a few chapters to hook me, but once it did, I really enjoyed it.

3. Through the Dark by Alexandra Bracken:  A collection of novellas centered around the author's Darkest Minds trilogy.

4. The Killing Lessons* by Saul Black:  Two men go on a killing spree, murdering women and leaving seemingly random objects inside of their bodies.  Troubled homicide detective Valerie Hart is determined to stop them, even if it kills her...and it might.  Very dark and disturbing, but almost impossible to put down.

5. Need by Joelle Charbonneau:  Kaylee is desperate to find a kidney donor for her brother before it's too late.  When she learns about a new social network called NEED that promises to grant any request in exchange for completing a small task, she thinks it's the answer to her prayers, but NEEDless (hurr hurr) to say, the network isn't as benevolent as it seems.  Good premise, but the execution was lacking.  Read Natsumi Ando's similarly themed manga series Arisa instead.

6. Their Fractured Light by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner:  This is the final installment of the Starbound series, so I can't give it a proper review lest I spoil its predecessors.  It was pretty good.

7. What She Knew by Gilly Macmillan:  Rachel is taking a walk in the woods with her eight-year-old son Ben, and when he asks if he can run ahead, she doesn't see any problem with it.  But Ben disappears, and Rachel finds herself under intense public scrutiny.  Decent.

8. A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay:  In this intensely creepy novel, Merry's older sister Marjorie has begun exhibiting signs of schizophrenia.  But when doctors aren't able to help Marjorie, her parents turn to a priest for help, and in turn, the priest contacts a production company to do a reality TV show about the exorcism.  Suffice it to say that things go badly. 

2015 tally: 90

NONFICTION

1. Troublemaker* by Leah Remini:  The actress talks about her life as a member of Scientology and how she finally got out of it, and hoo boy, she does NOT pull any punches.  She doesn't just spill the tea, she hurls it, and most of it lands squarely on Tom Cruise's face.  Leah Remini has more balls than a juggling act, and this is a juicy, fascinating read.

2. Girlvert by Oriana Small:  This memoir about the author's life as a porn star (under the name Ashley Blue) is truly one of the most depressing fucking books I've ever read.  It's not bad, but I felt like I needed an IV of Xanax while reading it.

(Disclaimer lest anyone think the above review is "sex shaming": in general, I have nothing against pornography made for and by consenting adults, though a few of the more extreme genres are problematic to me on a feminist and/or "that will cause you damage" level.  However, she talks about a porn director/costar choking her so hard during a scene that she thought she was literally going to die, the STIs she was constantly ravaged by, terrible relationships, and some other things that are too gross to share, so no, it was not an uplifting read.)

3. True Porn Clerk Stories by Ali Davis:  The title says it all!  It's a pretty funny read, and I could relate to a lot of her "bad customer" stories.  (Though I worked at Blockbuster and we obviously didn't rent porn, certain types of customers are endemic, like the "I returned those ten titles in the drop box after closing so you couldn't rent them out before the next day anyway so you need to take off the $20 late fee or I'll complain to corporate and they'll give me a free gift card and I hope you get written up because the customer is always right" type of fuckwit.  Yes, I'm still bitter, so FUCK YOU, Mr. Kroyer!)

2015 tally: 27

MANGA/GRAPHIC NOVELS

1. Ajin vol. 6 by Gamon Sakurai

2. Say I Love You vols. 10-11 by Kanae Hazuki

3. So Cute It Hurts!! vols. 2-4 by Go Ikeyamada:  Yes, this title has double exclamation points in it too, like #5 below.  Must be a new trend.

4. Rin-Ne vol. 19 by Rumiko Takahashi

5. My Love Story!!* vol. 6 by Kazune Kawahara and Aruko

6. Food Wars!* vol. 9 by Yuto Tsukuda and Shun Saeki

7. Step Aside, Pops** by Kate Beaton

2015 tally: 83 volumes of manga and 21 graphic novels

MOVIES

1. The Final Girls:  Max has been unmoored since the death of her mother, famous 80s scream queen Amanda Cartwright.  When she's asked to attend an anniversary screening of her mother's most famous movie, Camp Bloodbath, she reluctantly agrees, only to find herself and her friends drawn into the movie and fighting its killer.  A very clever meta movie.

2. Furious 7:  The crew reunites to stop a nasty (but extremely sexy, since he's played by Jason Statham) dude who's out for revenge and a warlord who wants to get his hands on a computer program that can track down anybody in the world.  The dialogue is ridiculous and filled with every cliche in the book, but there are some great action sequences, tons of man candy, the American film debut (I think) of legendary Thai ass kicker Tony Jaa, and a sweet tribute to the late Paul Walker at the end, so it wasn't a complete waste of time.

3. Ant-Man*:  When cat burglar Scott Lang breaks into Dr. Hank Pym's house, Dr. Pym sees a golden opportunity to turn Scott into Ant-Man in hopes of saving the world.  It's a lot of fun, and Paul Rudd is always a treat to watch.

4. American Ultra*:  Aimless stoner Mike (Jesse Eisenberg) works in a convenience store and daydreams about publishing comic books and marrying his girlfriend Phoebe (Kristen Stewart).  But when a woman walks into his store and says something very strange to him, his world turns upside down.  The less you know about this movie before watching it, the better, so I'll say no more except that it's well worth watching.

5. Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny*:  In this bizarre flick from 1972, Santa Claus' sleigh gets stuck in the Florida sand.  What's he supposed to do now?  Well, summon a group of kids and then tell them about Jack and the beanstalk, of course!  And then get rescued by a white rabbit driving an antique fire truck.  Make no mistake, the star I'm giving this is not in any way a reflection of its quality, because it is godawful.  But we saw the live RiffTrax version (well, a simulcast, anyway; the gang was in Tennessee and we were in SoCal), and we all laughed really fucking hard.  Bonus points for the short films at the beginning, including a real headscratcher in which Santa tells a couple of kids about...monkeys.

6. Star Wars: The Force Awakens**:  I don't want to say anything about the movie's plot/characters lest I ruin it for someone who hasn't seen it yet, so I'll merely say that it was a really fun throwback to the classic trilogy and I enjoyed it immensely.

7. Cooties*:   After a virus caused by tainted chicken nuggets turns their students into bloodthirsty zombies, a group of teachers bands together to fight them.  It's so funny that it made me wish I'd waited to post my "best movie lines" list.  (One of my favorites:  "I'm giving you kids an F...for fuck you!")  My only complaint, and it's not a minor one, is that the ending is very unsatisfying.  The alternate ending on the DVD was a little better.

8. Tangerine:  When Sin-Dee finds out that her pimp/boyfriend Chester is cheating on her, she goes on a mad tear trying to find Chester and the woman who stole her man, dragging her reluctant friend Alexandra with her.  It's an interesting character study with a surprisingly sweet ending, and considering that it was shot on an iPhone (really!), it looks pretty good.

Side note:  According to IMDB, one of the reasons this got an R rating is "strong and disturbing sexual content".  Unless Netflix sent me an edited version, I have no idea what they mean by disturbing sexual content (though it was definitely strong), so don't let that scare you off if you're otherwise interested in this movie.

9. Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation*:  Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and his friends try to take down a shadowy syndicate.  This was a really fun installment in the series, thanks to tons of exciting and innovative action and a particularly enjoyable performance by Simon Pegg. 

10. Self/less:  A terminally ill billionaire finds out that for a mere $250 million, he can have his consciousness transplanted into a new body.  (And what a body it is, since it belongs to Ryan Reynolds!  No offense to Ben Kingsley, but MAJOR upgrade.)  But, of course, it's not as easy as it initially seems.  It's a pretty good sci-fi thriller, but it wasn't as visually stunning as I thought it would be, seeing as it was directed by Tarsem Singh.

2015: 107

ADDED TO MY IPOD

1. "Gentlemen Take Polaroids" by Japan

2. "Lucky Number" by Lene Lovich


Friday, December 18, 2015

best of 2015: movies

And now it's time for my final "best of 2015" list.  Just a few notes before I begin:

  • Not all of these were first released in 2015, but that's when I first saw them.
  • Aside from the first two movies listed, these are in random order.
  • And, as ever, your mileage may vary. 


1. Gone Girl:  When his wife Amy disappears on their fifth wedding anniversary, Nick Dunne finds himself under intense scrutiny by the media and the police alike.  The book by Gillian Flynn is in my top 10 of all time, and David Fincher is one of my favorite directors, so I had high hopes for this adaptation...and I wasn't disappointed, because it's fantastic.

2. Nightcrawler:  Lou Bloom (a magnetically creepy Jake Gyllenhaal) is desperate for work, so when he learns about the lucrative industry of selling footage to the local news, he buys a cheap camcorder and a police scanner and heads out on the streets.  Dark, disturbing, and really goddamn good.

3. The Skeleton Twins:  Maggie is just about to take a huge handful of pills when she gets a call saying that her estranged twin brother Milo tried to kill himself.  When he gets out of the hospital, she asks him to move in with her and her husband for a while, and they begin to tentatively repair their relationship.

Jesus Christ, this fucking movie.  Holy shit.  There's one scene that rang so true and hit home so hard that I actually wept in recognition.  And Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader, as you might expect, are terrific.  Not for everyone, but the people it IS for will most likely love it.

4. Ex Machina:  Caleb works as a programmer for Bluenote, a wildly successful search engine.  He's chosen to visit the secluded estate of his boss and evaluate the A.I. capabilities of Ava, a beautiful robot, and see if she can pass the Turing test.  At no point was I able to predict what was going to happen, which was a rare treat.  Clever and thought-provoking.

5. Star Wars: The Force Awakens:  I don't want to say anything about the movie's plot/characters lest I ruin it for someone who hasn't seen it yet, so I'll merely say that it was a really fun throwback to the classic trilogy and I enjoyed it immensely.

6. Spy:  Susan Cooper (Melissa McCarthy) works as a handler for hunky CIA operative Bradley Fine (Jude Law).  When a mission goes awry, Susan is sent into the field.  It's hysterically funny, and Jason Statham shows surprising comic chops.  I'd like to see him do more comedies, and also more nude scenes.  (Not that he has any in this movie, but goddamn do I wish.)

7. It Follows: After a sexual encounter turns seriously weird, Jay finds out that she's being stalked by murderous apparitions that nobody else can see. It's incredibly creepy, and some moments had me white knuckling the armrest in the theater. It's also more clever than the typical horror movie, and led to some spirited discussions between us about how we would try to outsmart It.

8. Wild:  Completely unmoored after her mother's death, Cheryl Strayed (an excellent Reese Witherspoon) decided to hike the Pacific Crest Trail by herself.  I loved the memoir, and the film adaptation did it justice. 

9. The Book of Life:  Manolo and Joaquin are long time friends who are both in love with Maria.  But something happens that I won't spoil, and Manolo has to travel to the land of the dead to make things right again.  This beautifully animated movie was much better than expected.  Bonus points for having a strong anti-bullfighting message, too.

10. Inside Out:  Riley's life is turned upside down when her family moves to San Francisco, and her anthropomorphized emotions battle for control.  A surprisingly honest look at the feelings of an adolescent girl, with plenty of humor as well (including a very sly joke about bears), and since this is a Pixar movie, you better have tissues handy. 


SEEN IN THE THEATER:  The Imitation Game, American Sniper, It Follows, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Inside Out, Trainwreck, Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny (live RiffTrax version), Star Wars: The Force Awakens

MADE ME CRY (OR AT LEAST TEAR UP):  The Imitation Game, The Skeleton Twins, American Sniper, John Wick, The Boxtrolls, The Book of Life, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1, Big Hero 6, Interstellar, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, About Time, Puella Magi Madoka Magica: Rebellion, Cake, Inside Out, Trainwreck, Mad Max: Fury Road, When Marnie Was There, Insidious 3, The Final Girls, Star Wars: The Force Awakens

MADE ME NOT JUST CRY, BUT SOB WHILE CLUTCHING A THROW PILLOW TO MY CHEST:  Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

SICKEST/MOST HILARIOUS SIGHT GAG OF THE YEAR:  A zombie's portable "snack" in Dead Rising: Watchtower.  I don't want to get more specific lest I spoil it, but trust me, you'll know it when you see it.