Wednesday, February 28, 2018

media update: February

February was quite an interesting and (mostly) good month for me.  They changed my department's job duties yet again, but for once, it was a change for the better!  Although taking claims had its moments, like the time a guy reported that his windshield was broken by a "replica male organ", overall it was tiring and people could be so rude and/or stupid that I was borderline incoherent with joy upon hearing that we wouldn't be doing it anymore.  My new responsibilities aren't exactly exciting, but they're much better than taking claims!  As a bonus, there's plenty of idle time while waiting for work to arrive, so I got a lot of reading done this month.

In other work news, three of my coworkers took early retirement, so today is their last day.  I had a neutral relationship with the mail guy, and the woman I refer to as Big Bang Theory Fangirl (because oh my god she never talks about ANYTHING other than her grandkids or BBT) have a mutual loathing of each other, but I'll really miss MP, who sat directly next to me and is one of the nicest people I've ever met.  End of an era.

As far as other things go, my work bestie (who transferred to Arizona a couple of years ago) came out for a visit, and we went to a cat cafe for lots of delightful feline lovin' and then to one of our favorite restaurants for dinner and a chat.  And, of course, Valentine's Day with G was wonderful.

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


1. Reign of the Fallen by Sarah Glenn Mars: Odessa is a necromancer tasked with bringing nobility back from the dead, but once she's revived them, they must remain completely shrouded or they turn into a dangerous Shade.  When far too many Shades start appearing, putting the entire kingdom in jeopardy, she tries to figure out the cause.

2. Poison's Cage by Breeana Shields: This is a sequel, so I can't review it properly lest I spoil its predecessor.

3. The Other Side of Everything by Lauren Doyle Owens: A Florida community is rocked by the murders of several elderly residents.

4. Brass* by Xhenet Aliu: Teenage Elsie works at a diner in a town that fell apart after the brass mills packed up and left.  She falls in love with a married Albanian line cook and gets pregnant; 17 years later, their daughter Luljeta tries to find out more about her long-absent father.  Sharp and enjoyable.

5. Force of Nature* by Jane Harper: A group of women go on a corporate retreat deep in the Australian wilderness, but one of them doesn't return.  Like Harper's debut The Dry, it reminded me of Tana French, and I loved it.

6. Still Me by Jojo Moyes: The continuing adventures of daffy heroine Louisa Clark, this time in New York City as the assistant for a troubled trophy wife.

7. The Belles* by Dhonielle Clayton: In the world of Orleans, a group of young women has the power to change people's appearances.  Camellia desperately wants to become the Queen's favorite so she can live in the palace, but court life is different than she imagined, thanks to psychotic Princess Sophia.  An interesting premise and some beautiful descriptions.  (I want a teacup elephant.)

8. Night Moves by Jonathan Kellerman: Psychologist Alex Delaware agrees to help his friend, LAPD homicide detective Milo Sturgis, with a weird case:  a faceless and handless body is found dumped inside a family's living room, and they have no idea who the corpse is.  Kellerman tends to be hit or miss, but this one was pretty good.

9. Only Child by Rhiannon Navin:  First grader Zach Taylor survives a school shooting; his older brother Andy does not.  As Zach's parents fall apart, Zach tries to figure out a way to help them heal.  I started this only a couple of days after the Parkland shooting (and it was released the week before the shooting), so it was perhaps not the greatest timing.

10. The House of Impossible Beauties* by Joseph Cassara:  A vibrant, fictionalized account of the House of Xtravaganza, the legendary Harlem ball house made famous by the documentary Paris Is Burning, and the people who created a family there.

Side note: there is a LOT of Spanish in this, and although much of it can be figured out by context, some of it can't, so have Google open if you're not fluent.

2018 TOTAL SO FAR:  21


1. Brave by Rose McGowan: The actress and activist talks about being raised in the notorious Children of God cult, coming to Hollywood, and trying to survive in its predatory waters. 

2018 TOTAL SO FAR: 2


1. My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness** by Nagata Kabi: This autobiographical manga covered a lot of topics I've never seen depicted (or depicted realistically) in manga: self-injury, eating disorders, debilitating depression, and coming to terms with one's sexuality.  It was terrific, and I highly recommend it.  A sequel is out in June, and I've already preordered it from Amazon.

2018 TOTAL SO FAR:  4 volumes of manga and 2 graphic novels


1. Super Dark Times: When horseplay turns tragic, a group of teenage boys tries to cover up the incident. It started strong, but ended poorly.

2. Dunkirk: During WWII, Allied soldiers are stranded on the beaches at Dunkirk, trying to survive until they can be evacuated.  Technically impressive, but I never felt emotionally connected to anyone.

3. Batman: Gotham by Gaslight*: In this animated flick, set in Victorian era Gotham City, Batman tries to stop Jack the Ripper.  It sounds goofy, but it was quite enjoyable.

4. It*: Teenage misfits band together to fight a monstrous child-eating clown in this adaptation of Stephen King's classic.

Side note: I was kind of a goody-goody in school, but one of the only times I ever got in trouble was when I got caught reading this in home ec.  No wonder I still can't cook.

5. The Foreigner: After his daughter is killed in a terrorist attack, Quan (Jackie Chan) sets out to track down the perpetrators.  Much more serious than most of Jackie Chan's work, and not nearly enough action for my tastes.

6. Train to Busan*:  A train trip turns into a nightmare when it's overrun by zombies.  Strangely thoughtful and moving for a zombie flick.

7. The Lost City of Z:  Based on the true story of a British explorer searching for (you guessed it) a lost city in the Amazon, this movie is reeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeally slow.  I mean, it's not bad, but you could fast forward huge chunks of it and not miss much.

8. Free Fire:  A meeting to purchase illegal weapons goes horribly awry.  Meh; I wanted to like it much more than I did.

9. The Cloverfield Paradox:  Astronauts test a particle accelerator in hopes of solving Earth's energy crisis, but they wind up creating a different type of problem instead.

10. The Florida Project:  Young Moonee and her mother live in a dilapidated Florida motel in the shadows of Disney World.  Although they live hand to mouth, Moonee still manages to find joy in every day with her friends.  I'm not sure why this got so much critical acclaim; although it's beautifully shot and the child actors are good, the characters (with the exception of Oscar-nominated Willem Dafoe as the weary motel manager who tries his best to help the motel's residents) are really goddamn bratty and largely unsympathetic.  Hell of an ending, though.

11. Suburbicon:  An idyllic community in the 1950s is rocked by two events---a home invasion that ends in murder and an African-American family moving in---and the neighborhood is more horrified by the latter than the former.  It tried to do a few too many things at once, but overall it was pretty good; certainly much better than the reviews led us to believe.

2018 TOTAL SO FAR:  21


Shortly before Uncharted 4's release, Kotaku featured a video from the game (for those of you who have played it: the couch scene), and I was so instantly charmed I knew I had to play it.  But I didn't feel like I should do so without playing the others, and it just so happens that G-Vo owns them all!  So I plowed through Uncharted 1-3 in rapid succession, and then I tucked into the fourth, and potentially last, installment.

This is going to be a slightly unusual review in that I don't feel like I should get into the plot, as it might spoil character developments from the previous games, so I'm just going to go straight into the bullet lists.  This review also covers the DLC, The Lost Legacy; if something is specific to one or the other, I'll put (U4) or (TLL).


  • Uncharted 4 has the best graphics of any video game I've ever played, period.  The scenery is jaw droppingly good, and some of the little details are amazing too.  There are a couple of parts where you explore houses, and everything from the bedspreads to the bookshelves is carefully designed.  They didn't skimp on The Lost Legacy's graphics either; they didn't even reuse any areas!
  • The voice acting is top notch, as you'd expect from a cast that includes Nolan North, Troy Baker, and Laura Bailey.  A special shout out to Emily Rose, who's not as well known as those previous names but does a fantastic job as Elena.
  • Great scripts by Neil Druckmann (U4) and Josh Scherr (both) that include both funny moments and touching ones.
  • Lemurs (U4) and elephants (TLL)!
  • Exciting gun battles.
  • They're pretty generous with the autosaves, which was a very good thing indeed; see my first item in the "loathed" section.
  • That epilogue in U4...[clutches heart]


  • It's pretty difficult; I bet I died hundreds of times, and that's not an exaggeration.  (Though sometimes it could be really funny, like the time I survived an epic firefight only to fall off a cliff while trying to climb onto a fucking box.)
  • Those exploding mummies can fuck right off.  (U4)
  • There was a fencing section that was so difficult I would have ragequit if I hadn't been so close to the end.  (U4)
  • Although I didn't have any issues with sim sickness for any of the other games in the series, there was a section near the end of TLL that made me barf and gave me a headache.
Although the Uncharted games aren't my favorite type of gameplay, I definitely enjoyed my time with all of them.  Uncharted 4 and The Lost Legacy both earn 8 pirate coins out of 10.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

media update: January

(G-Vo, skip the next couple of paragraphs as you've heard this story a million times already.)

Happy New Year!  It started off on a weird note because I got a postcard in the mail telling me that I'd missed jury duty and HAD to come in.  Well, that was alarming, because I never got the original jury summons in the first place!  I wasn't sure where the courthouse was and I don't have a GPS system, so on the first day, I left super early and, despite heavy rain, got there 90 minutes early.  Oops!

Anyway, I wound up being chosen for a civil trial that was expected to last for SEVEN WEEKS.  On one hand, it was a good thing, because I hate my fucking job and it actually pays for jury duty no matter how long you're out, plus the judge and bailiff were hot and the cafeteria was surprisingly good; on the other hand, the drive to the courthouse was a 63 mile round trip as opposed to my usual 7 mile (no, that's not missing a digit!) round trip commute, which was awfully hard on my nerves and car, especially since the trip back home involved driving up a very steep hill in rush hour traffic.  I was dismissed during voir dire by the plaintiff attorney because a family member had been involved in a similar lawsuit, so I only had to do three days.  It was an interesting experience, and I actually wouldn't mind serving jury duty at some point, just not for, you know, SEVEN WEEKS.

Anyway, this is a particularly meaty media update thanks to a few mental health days and time spent cooling my heels during the aforementioned jury duty.

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.


1. Being Fishkill by Ruth Lehrer:  Growing up with her young mother and abusive grandfather in extreme poverty, Carmel Fishkill always dreamed of something better.  When her grandfather dies and, shortly afterwards, her mother disappears, Carmel thinks she's found a safe haven living with her eccentric friend Duck-Duck (real name: Christine) and her single mother Molly, but unexpected news threatens to upend her newly happy life.

2. The Blinds* by Adam Sternbergh:  Caesura (more commonly known as "The Blinds") is a tiny Texas town filled with people who have had their memories wiped and their names changed.  They don't know whether they were the victims or perpetrators of violence, only that if they leave, they can never come back.  Things are fairly peaceful, but then a suicide followed rapidly by a murder threaten to destroy the whole thing.  Clever and engrossing.

3. The Grip of It by Jac Jemc:  When James and Julie find a new home in the suburbs, they move in despite their misgivings about the weird noises they hear.  (Not much of a) spoiler alert:  they should have trusted their instincts.  This book was creepy enough under the fluorescent lights of a jury duty break room; it was damn near unbearably so late at night during a rainstorm.

4. The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn:  Anna Fox is an agoraphobic living alone in the home she used to share with her estranged husband and their daughter Olivia.  She busies herself with online chess, old movies, lots of drinking, and spying on her neighbors across the street...until she sees something she shouldn't have.  Practically every one of my favorite authors (Gillian Flynn, Joe Hill, Stephen King, Ruth Ware...) gave this a rave review on the cover, so I thought it would be fantastic, but nope.  The writing is weirdly stilted and 90% of it is very predictable.  Give it a hard pass.

5. Everless by Sara Holland:  In a world where time is literally money, the rich can live forever while the poor die young.  Jules Ember and her father lived at the royal estate of Everless until they were banished, but Jules returns in hopes of earning enough time to save her father's life.

6. The Forever Ship by Francesca Haig:  Sequel etc.

7. The Wife Between Us by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen:  When Vanessa finds out her ex-husband is newly engaged, she takes it rather badly.  I'll give this novel credit: unlike #4 on this list, I definitely didn't guess where it was going.

Side note: when the fuck is every psychological thriller going to stop being compared to Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train?  Because, yep, this one mentions those two books on the cover, and I believe #4 did as well.  Obviously I know WHY publishers do it, because those were monster hits, but how long are they going to keep fucking that chicken?

8. Disappearance at Devil's Rock** by Paul Tremblay:  A group of three teenage boys makes a surreptitious late night trip to the titular rock, and one of them, Tommy, vanishes.  His mother Elizabeth is devastated, and then random pages from Tommy's journals begin showing up on the living room floor.  Scary and heartbreaking in equal measure.

Side note:  I'd advise not reading the chapter names as they're awfully spoilery.

9. The Perfect Nanny* by Leila Slimani:  After Myriam decides to return to work after having two children, she thinks she's hit the jackpot when she finds Louise, the (yup) perfect nanny.  But tensions mount as Louise becomes resentful of the family's ever increasing demands.  I read the first chapter at Target and knew I had to buy it; it's probably the most intense and horrifying start to any book I've ever read.

Side note #1:  Oh look, a Gone Girl reference on the back cover!  SHOCKING.  And this book has even less in common with GG than most.

Side note #2:  I know I have at least one faithful blog reader who has a problem with violence against children in media; please do not read this book.  Not as big a spoiler as you would think; the very first line is "The baby's dead", so...yeah.

10. The Chalk Man by C.J. Tudor:  When he was a kid, Eddie and his friends had a special secret code consisting of stick figures.  One morning Eddie follows a message into the woods, where he finds a dead body.  Now that Eddie is a grown man, he gets an anonymous letter with a drawing of a stick figure, and he tries to figure out what really happened so many years ago.


1. Getting Off* by Erica Garza:  The author's account of her addiction to sex and porn.  Brutally honest but not judgmental.

Side note: the first paragraph of the introduction says "My favorite porn scene of all time involves two sweaty women, fifty horny men, a warehouse, a harness, a hair dryer, and a taxicab.  You can put it all together in a dozen different ways and I bet you still can't imagine just how revolting the scene actually is."  I consider myself pretty creative, but WHAT THE HELL WAS THE HAIR DRYER FOR?!?  With great trepidation, I did a Google search with those keywords, but all I got were hits for this book.  The author never mentioned being into, uh, dark web kind of shit, so I can't imagine it was...snuff-y, but I just can't figure it out.  Maybe I'm better off not knowing.


1. School-Live! vol. 9 by Sadoru Chiba and Norimitsu Kaihou

2. The Nameless City by Faith Erin Hicks

3. You & a Bike & a Road by Eleanor Davis

4. Idol Dreams vol. 4 by Arina Tanemura

5. Queen's Quality vol. 2 by Kyousuke Motomi

6. The Stone Heart by Faith Erin Hicks


1.The Accountant:  Christian Wolff (Ben Affleck) is an autistic accountant who has a side gig working for criminal organizations.  When he's hired to look into a discrepancy at a robotics firm, what he discovers will put his life, and the life of his coworker (Anna Kendrick), in jeopardy.  Good, but a couple of things that were supposed to be big revelations were pretty obvious to anyone who's ever seen a movie or read a book before.

2. Beach Rats:  Frankie is a teenage boy with a hot girlfriend, but he secretly hooks up with older men.  Not bad, but there was no real character growth, and I was distracted by how much one of the characters looked like an ex-boyfriend of mine.

3. Brawl in Cell Block 99:  In order to save his pregnant wife, a man (Vince Vaughn) arranges to be sent to a notorious prison so he can kill a fellow inmate.  Extremely violent and grim, but it has some surprisingly sharp dialogue.

4. The Hitman's Bodyguard:  The titular bodyguard (Ryan Reynolds) agrees to watch over the titular hitman (Samuel L. Jackson) until he can testify in court against a war criminal.  Better than expected.

5. Mayhem:  A "rage virus" spreads through a quarantined office complex, and a recently fired employee takes advantage of the chaos to try to get his job back.  Funnier than the somewhat similar The Belko Experiment, but not nearly as good.

6. The Untamed:  This is going to be a tough movie to describe, but I'll try.  Basically, there's a couple in the Mexican countryside with an extraterrestrial creature living in their barn. It can provide unbelievable pleasure, so they let people visit it for sexytimes, but it doesn't know its own strength.  It's like a combination marital drama, horror movie, and hentai.  I wasn't sure what to expect from this odd little movie, but I found myself drawn in almost immediately; it's like porn directed by David Cronenberg.  Only the abrupt ending kept me from giving it a star.

Side note:  although I used the word porn up there as convenient shorthand, this isn't as explicit as actual porn; however, it's about as graphic as it gets without BEING actual porn, so let that be a warning or an endorsement depending on your particular tastes.  Oddly enough, the violence is not graphic at all.

7. Happy Death Day*:  Tree is a college student who is murdered on her birthday by someone wearing a creepy baby mask...and then she wakes up alive on her birthday.  It turns out she's caught in a time loop and will keep getting murdered until she finds out who's doing it and why.  It's like the love child of Groundhog Day and Scream, and I enjoyed it WAY more than I thought I would.  What a pleasant surprise!

8. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri*:  After her daughter's brutal murder goes unsolved, Mildred (Frances McDormand) takes out three billboards accusing the local police force of shuffling their feet.  Excellent performances, and I appreciated that the script didn't go quite where I was expecting.

9. Blade Runner 2049:  This sequel to the iconic 80s sci-fi film is visually interesting but incredibly slow and dull.

10. Tokyo Idols*:  A fascinating documentary about Japanese idol culture and its obsessive fans.  This would make a brilliant double feature with the classic anime movie Perfect Blue.

Side note #1: one thing I found particularly interesting is that idol CDs usually have a raffle ticket in them for a "handshake event", where you can shake an idol's hand and talk to them for a minute.  (Literally; there's a guy standing there with a timer.)  So a lot of fans will buy numerous copies of a CD in hopes of getting some face time with their favorite idol, which of course helps push the album up the charts.  This is one of the reasons that Japan still has robust sales of physical CDs instead of digital downloads.

Side note #2:  It's one thing when an idol is in her (there are male idols, but this documentary focuses on females) late teens or older, but near the end, they showed an idol group made up of little girls, and it was really fucking disturbing watching a bunch of men in their 20s and older fawning over them and saying things like "I like them best when they're not fully developed."  Does Japan have a version of Chris Hansen? 


Back in 2015, I played The Evil Within, expecting terrific things because it was created by Shinji Mikami, who made Resident Evil and is therefore nothing short of a god to survival horror fanatics like me.  Unfortunately, although I enjoyed some aspects, overall it was a bit of a mess (see my original review here).  When the sequel was announced, I figured I'd rent it or buy it used someday, but GameStop had it on sale for $25, so I went ahead and picked up a copy.  Boy am I glad I did, because The Evil Within 2 outshines its predecessor and then some.

As the game begins, ex-detective Sebastian Castellanos is grieving the death of his daughter Lily and the disappearance of his wife Myra.  He's drinking heavily at a bar when his former partner Juli Kidman approaches him and tells him that Lily is still alive, but she's being used as "the core" (sorry, kind of hard to explain) by a secretive organization called Mobius.  Lily's disappeared inside an alternate reality called Union, and Mobius needs Sebastian's help finding her.  Reluctantly, Sebastian allows himself to be put under, which enables him to enter Union.  But far from being the utopia that Mobius intended, Union has gone to hell, and Sebastian must confront the monsters within, and perhaps even more terrifying, his own guilt.


  • First and foremost, I have to give credit to TEW2 for fixing what I considered to be the biggest flaw in the first game:  they finally made us care about Sebastian.  In the first game, he was such a cardboard character that I never really cared about him, which is not a good thing for any video game protagonist, but especially in a survival horror game.  This time around, you care about Sebastian, and you want him to find his daughter.
  • The monsters are scary as shit, both in appearance (like a giant monster made up entirely of trussed together corpses) and the noises they make.  Props to whoever worked on the sound design for this game, because it's first rate.
  • TEW2 includes one of the most disturbing scenes I've ever encountered in a video game, and considering that survival horror is my favorite genre, that's really saying a lot!  It actually made me a little nauseated.
  • New game plus is a blast, thanks to the addition of a magnum to your arsenal and the fact that you get to keep all of your weapon and health upgrades. 
  • Union is beautifully rendered, with streets that abruptly crumble away into an abyss (shades of Silent Hill) and other areas floating in the sky.
  • Good music, including a very appropriate use of Duran Duran's (well, a cover) "Ordinary World" over the end credits.
  • A sly wink at one of Resident Evil's most infamous lines.
  • It's surprisingly emotional at times; I teared up more than once. 
  • THIS GAME IS FUCKING TERRIFYING.  There were several areas/enemies that freaked me out so badly that I almost didn't want to continue.  It's the scariest game I've played since Dead Space 2.
  • There's a cat in Sebastian's office (which serves as a safe room), and as soon as I saw it, I thought "Oh, great, wonder how and when the cat will be brutally killed?" because god forbid a horror movie/game allow a cat to live. did!


  • Considering how good the background and monster designs are, the facial animations of the main characters are practically PS2 level, and what's with the super stringy hair?
  • The voice acting is improved from the first game, but still not as good as one might hope. 
  • The story can be a bit convoluted.  I'd recommend reading a synopsis of the first game, even if you played it, before tackling the sequel.
  • There are only a few puzzles, and they're embarrassingly easy. 
  • I'm not a colossal fan of stealth, and there was a ton of it in this game, so you (like me) might get frustrated a few times.  Sure, you can just blow enemies away (well, mostly; there are a few enemies that can't be beaten, so you must sneak around them), but trust me, you'll run into a serious ammo crisis if you get too trigger happy. 
  • Much to my surprise (and dismay), there was an area that switched to first person view, which makes me puke and/or triggers a migraine, so I had to pass it off to G-Vo for that section.
  • It crashed on us a couple of times.
  • The cat in Sebastian's office is a good and lovely kitty but you can't pet it why :(
Overall, The Evil Within 2 was a very pleasant surprise.  It's like Silent Hill and Resident Evil had a baby, and although it's not as good as either of those games, it's still very much worth your while if you love survival horror games.  It gets 8 1/2 locker keys out of 10. 

Monday, January 01, 2018

media update: December

Happy New Year!  May everyone get exactly what they deserve in 2018.

Just out of curiosity, I compared the total read/watched in 2016 to 2017, and the results are in parentheses.  I was going to say that I don't know why the numbers are so much lower this year, but I think I have a guess:  Hidden City.  Now that my obsession with that game has drastically waned (I still play it every day, but not for hours at a time like I used to), it will be interesting to see if 2018's totals go up.

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.


1. The Empress by S.J. Kincaid:  Because this is a sequel to The Diabolic, I can't review it properly without spoiling its predecessor.  It was really disappointing, though, which sucks because I loved The Diabolic so much.  Hopefully the next one is better.

2. The Last Namsara by Kristen Ciccarelli:  Asha is a dragon slaying princess with a fearsome power that will either save her world or completely destroy it.  It wasn't bad, but if this winds up being a series, I doubt I'll read any future installments.

3. A Line in the Dark by Malinda Lo:  Jess is a teenage girl whose best friend, Angie, is gorgeous and popular.  When Angie starts dating Margot, a snobby girl from a prestigious boarding school, Jess begins to feel left out.  I appreciated the LGBTQ+ characters, but other than that, there wasn't much to recommend this.

4. Only Daughter by Anna Snoekstra:  In order to get out of being arrested, a young woman impulsively claims that she's really Bec Winter, who had disappeared several years ago.  Bec's family is overjoyed to see her, and welcomes her with open arms, but whoever took Bec is still at large, and the impostor is in danger.  Interesting ideas, but it was hard to enjoy because I kept getting taken out of the story to marvel at how fucking stupid 99% of the people were.  Example: after "Bec" is taken to the hospital, they try to take her blood and she says no because, obviously, the blood tests will show that she's not who she claims to be.  And they're just dandy with that!  Yes, that's what would happen.

5. Poison's Kiss by Breeana Shields:  Marinda is an assassin who can kill just by kissing someone, but her world is upended when her newest target turns out to be the boy she loves. 

6. Boy, 9, Missing by Nic Joseph:  When Francis was a kid, his brother drowned in the bathtub.  The only witness, Sam, was the son of his parents' friends.  23 years later, Sam's son disappears, and he thinks Francis' father had something to do with it.  

7. Ultraluminous* by Katherine Faw:  The narrator is a girlfriend-experience prostitute who's just returned from Dubai to continue plying her trade in New York City.  Her days consist of drugs and visits with her clients, including one whose demands keep escalating.  Depressing, but very well written.

Side note: if you plan on reading this, don't read the inside cover as it spoils a huge plot point that doesn't occur until the book is nearly over.  Thanks for that, anonymous blurbist!

8. The Kizuna Coast by Sujata Massey:  After the 2011 earthquake and tsunami hit Japan, Rei Shimura leaves her home in Hawaii to search for her mentor and finds herself caught up in a mystery.

9. The Complete Sookie Stackhouse Stories by Charlaine Harris:  What it says on the tin.

TOTAL READ IN 2017:  100  (2016 total 119)


1. Hit So Hard by Patty Schemel:  A memoir by the drummer of Hole that talks about her time with the band and her struggles with addiction.  Best read with the iconic album Live Through This playing in the background.

2. Buzz: A Stimulating History of the Sex Toy* by Hallie Lieberman:   As the subtitle states, this is a look at sex toys throughout history, and boy is it entertaining!  I had to overcome some significant embarrassment to check this out at the library, but I'm glad I did.

TOTAL READ IN 2017:  35  (2016 total 24)


1. The Cape by Joe Hill, Zach Howard, and Nelson Daniel

2. Food Wars!* vol. 21 by Yuto Tsukuda and Shun Saeki

3. Sweetness and Lightning vol. 9 by Gido Amagakure

4. Everyone's Getting Married vol. 7 by Izumi Miyazono

5. Idol Dreams vols. 2-3 by Arina Tanemura

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

7. School-Live!* vols. 4-8 by Sadoru Chiba and Norimitsu Kaihou

TOTAL READ IN 2017:  54 volumes of manga and 16 graphic novels (2016 total 67 volumes of manga and 18 graphic novels)


1. Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets:  Valerian and his partner Laureline are sort of intergalactic FBI agents who are trying to retrieve a special creature that's the last of its kind.  This movie was a critical and commercial flop, so our expectations were very low, but we actually enjoyed it!  The humor is flat and the action isn't anything special, but it's absolutely gorgeous to look at.

2. Logan Lucky:  Two brothers (Channing Tatum and Adam Driver) team up with a group of ne'er-do-wells to rob a racetrack.  I didn't like it quite as much as I thought I would, considering how terrific the reviews were, but it had some funny scenes.

3. The Villainess*:  In this Korean movie, a woman trained as an elite assassin decides to take revenge on the people responsible for her father's death.  A few scenes drag on a bit, but they're more than redeemed by some really exciting action.  There's a scene near the end that had me nearly delirious with joy.  Definitely worth checking out if you love kick-ass heroines.

Side note #1: The opening scene was done in first person, which made me nervous since that tends to make me nauseated and/or give me a migraine.  But fear not if you're similarly afflicted; that's the only scene shot like that.  (If you happen to enjoy first person action and aren't made sick by it, I'd recommend Hardcore Henry, which G-Vo loved.  I, of course, was unable to partake.)

Side note #2: If you're not a fan of reading subtitles, the dubbing is actually tolerable.  (Well, with the exception of a little girl who was obviously dubbed by an adult, which made her sound like a possessed doll.  Fortunately, she doesn't talk much.)

4. Lady Bird*:  The title character is actually named Christine, but she's renamed herself Lady Bird in an effort to stand out.  She lives in Sacramento with her family, but she wants nothing more than to break away and move to New York City.  A wonderfully true look at the love/hate relationship between mothers and daughters, with exceptional performances by Saoirse Ronan as Lady Bird and Laurie Metcalf as her harried mother.

5. Ingrid Goes West:  Ingrid (Aubrey Plaza) is a disturbed young woman who becomes obsessed with an Instagram star named Taylor (Elizabeth Olsen).  Ingrid uses her inheritance to move to California and "accidentally" bump into her idol.  This was billed as a dark comedy, but it wasn't very funny. Good performances, but it mostly just made me cringe.

6. Star Wars: The Last Jedi:  No recap since I don't want to spoil anything for anybody, plus if you have any interest in seeing this, you probably already have.  I have to be honest and say I thought it was disappointing; it felt really flat to me.  And lest you think the opinion of a casual SW fan doesn't count for much: I saw it with two lifelong SW fanboys and they didn't much care for it either.  Hopefully the next one is better.

7. Kingsman: The Golden Circle*:  The title organization teams up with a spy agency in the US to take down a perky drug lord named Poppy (Julianne Moore).  Lots of really fun action; I liked it more than the first one.

Side note:  This movie and Logan Lucky both feature Channing Tatum and the John Denver song "Country Roads", which is kind of weird.

8. Better Watch Out*:  A normal babysitting gig turns into a nightmare for Ashley when she becomes the victim of a home invasion and must defend the boy she's watching.  Absolutely not for everyone, but if you like your humor pitch black and don't mind some extremely twisted shit, you'll enjoy it.

9. Atomic Blonde:  In the middle of the Cold War, an MI6 agent (Charlize Theron) is sent to Berlin to retrieve a list of double agents.  A 3 star movie with a 4 star soundtrack and a 5 star fight scene.

10. Mother!*:  A young woman (Jennifer Lawrence) and her much older husband (Javier Bardem) find their lives upended by unexpected guests.  After #6 above, this was probably the most polarizing movie of the year.  I thought the allegory was a bit heavy-handed, and parts of it are extremely disturbing, but I wound up giving it a star because it did affect me and Jennifer Lawrence is really good.

11. Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children:  After his grandfather dies, Jake discovers the titular home and tries to help the residents escape from a sinister threat.  Visually creative and better than expected.

TOTAL SEEN IN 2017:  90 (2016 total 103)

Monday, December 18, 2017

best of 2017: movies

Finally, it's time for my favorite movies of 2017!  A few notes before I begin:

  • Not all of these were first released in 2017, but that's when I saw 'em.
  • Aside from the first movie listed, which was definitely my favorite of the year, these aren't in any particular order.
  • If I see anything else before the end of the year which belongs on here, I'll update accordingly. 
  • There are a few miscellaneous tidbits at the end of this entry too.
  • And, as always, your mileage may vary.

1. Logan:  In the near future, Logan (aka Wolverine) is slowly losing his regenerative powers.  (He even has to wear reading glasses, which I thought was a nice touch.)  All he wants to do is save enough money to buy a boat where he and Professor X can safely live out the rest of their days, but he reluctantly finds himself charged with getting a young mutant (newcomer Dafne Keen, who's really good) to safety.  It's violent, dark, exciting, often quite funny, and the performances are terrific.  (Patrick Stewart deserves a supporting actor Oscar nomination.)  And ooof, the feels.  So many feels.

2. Wonder Woman:  After learning of a massive war from a pilot who crashes on her island, Diana leaves home to help out.  I was going to give this a double star until the last third, where it stumbled a bit, but it was still extremely enjoyable.  

3.  Lady Bird:  The title character is actually named Christine, but she's renamed herself Lady Bird in an effort to stand out.  She lives in Sacramento with her family, but she wants nothing more than to break away and move to New York City.  A wonderfully true look at the love/hate relationship between mothers and daughters, with exceptional performances by Saoirse Ronan as Lady Bird and Laurie Metcalf as her harried mother.

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

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

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

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

7. Baby Driver:  Baby (Ansel Elgort) works as a getaway driver for a group of bank robbers, but when he falls in love with a pretty waitress, he wants out.  Stylish as all hell (check out that uninterrupted shot near the beginning) and a whole lot of fun.

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

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

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

Bonus stuff!

SEEN IN THE THEATER:  Rogue One, Logan, Thor: Ragnarok, Lady Bird, Star Wars: The Last Jedi


MADE ME CRY (OR AT LEAST TEAR UP):  Rogue One, Finding Dory, Arrival, Manchester by the Sea, Moonlight, Logan, Moana, A Monster Calls, My Life as a Zucchini, The Zookeeper's Wife, Colossal, Wonder Woman, Born in China, War for the Planet of the Apes, Wind River, Your Name, Kedi, Lady Bird, Star Wars: The Last Jedi

PLEASANT SURPRISES:  Life, The Great Wall, T2 Trainspotting, Passengers, Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas, My Life as a Zucchini, The Handmaiden, Finding Dory, The Villainess

STARE AT A WALL FOR 2 HOURS INSTEAD, IT WILL BE MORE ENTERTAINING:  Independence Day: Resurgence, Jack Reacher: Never Look Back, Rings, Jason Bourne 

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

best of 2017: miscellaneous

Now it's time for my favorite miscellaneous things from 2017!  A few notes before I begin:

  • Not all of these things first came out in 2017, but that's when I first played/read/watched them.
  • In years past, both video games and manga/graphic novels got their own posts at the end of the year, but I didn't have enough contenders in either category this year to warrant separate posts.  (My OCD won't let me make one of these lists unless there are at least 5 entrants.)
  • These aren't in any particular order.
  • As ever, your mileage may vary.

1. Dead Rising 4:  The latest installment of the survival horror franchise is set during Christmas, and although it's certainly not one of the best DR games, it's still worth playing for the sheer thrill of plowing through thousands and thousands of zombies.  Bonus points for a combo weapon called the Gandelf, a magical staff that shoots exploding lawn gnomes.  (Xbox One)

2.  Telltale's The Walking Dead: Michonne:  The backstory of TWD's beloved katana wielding badass.  (PS4)

3. The Santa Clarita Diet:  Drew Barrymore plays a real estate agent who's got a big secret: she died and was mysteriously revived, but now she has to eat humans to survive.  Her husband (Timothy Olyphant) reluctantly helps her track down deserving victims.  Extremely funny, and the leads have great chemistry together.  (Netflix streaming)

4. Erased by Kei Sanbe:  Satoru is an aspiring manga artist who has a special ability he calls Revival, which allows him to go back in time and prevent tragedies from occurring.  After his mother is murdered, his powers kick in and he goes 18 years in the past, when he was 10 and three of his friends were murdered.  With his previous knowledge of the situation still in place, he's determined to stop the killer and save his friends and his mother.  The art isn't the greatest, but the story is fantastic.

5. Monstress by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda:  This series is difficult to sum up, so I'm going to copy Wikipedia's synopsis here:  "The series is set in a matriarchal 'alternate Asia' riven by war between the Arcanics, magical creatures that can sometimes pass as human, and the Cumaea, an order of sorceresses who consume Arcanics to fuel their power."  The art is absolutely stunning, the world building is terrific, and it not only features talking cats called Nekomancers (in case you don't get the pun, neko means cat in Japanese), but a fox girl named Kippa who's one of my favorite comics characters ever.

6. My Favorite Thing Is Monsters by Emil Ferris:  A stunningly illustrated graphic novel in which a 10-year-old girl named Karen tries to solve the murder of her upstairs neighbor.

7. Telltale's The Walking Dead: A New Frontier:  Another beautifully written and highly emotional installment from Telltale.

8. Persona 5:  I reviewed this in my November media update, so I won't repeat myself here; I'll just say that it's not only my favorite video game of the year, but one of my top ten of all time.  (PS4)

9. Mindhunter:  In this series, FBI special agents Holden Ford and Bill Tench interview serial killers in hopes of learning information that will help solve other cases in the future.  The first two episodes are by far the best, thanks to David Fincher's direction and an award-worthy performance by Cameron Britton as notorious killer Edmund Kemper.  (Netflix streaming)

10. Westworld:  A Western theme park for the rich and (occasionally) depraved, filled with sentient androids, starts to fall apart when the "hosts" begin to turn on the guests.  I apologize for mentioning that there's a twist, because I consider that a bit of a spoiler, but I have to mention it because it literally left my jaw hanging open.  (HBO)

Monday, December 04, 2017

best of 2017: nonfiction

And now it's time for my favorite nonfiction books of 2017!  A few notes before I begin:

  • Not all of these were first released in 2017, but that's when I read them.
  • Aside from the first two, which were definitely my favorites for a year (and #1 beat out #2 by the tiniest of margins), these are in random order.
  • If I read something by the end of December that belongs here, I'll update accordingly.
  • And as always, your mileage may vary.

1.  After the Eclipse by Sarah Perry:  When the author was 12, her mother was brutally murdered as Sarah hid in the next room.  Sarah spent the next several years being shuffled between family members and trying to cope with her immense loss.  Alternating between "before" and "after", this memoir is beautiful and heartbreaking; to quote a blurb on the back, the author wrote her mother back into the world. 

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

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

4. My Fair Junkie by Amy Dresner:  A memoir about the author's struggles with drugs, alcohol, and sex addiction.  She doesn't come across as particularly likeable or sympathetic, but I still found this book worth reading.

5. American Fire by Monica Hesse:  A riveting account of a string of arson incidents in rural Virginia.  I knew I was going to like it as soon as I read this paragraph on the opening page:  "I spent the next two years trying to understand why he did it.  The answer...involved hope, poverty, pride, Walmart, erectile dysfunction, Steak-umms, intrigue, and America."

6. Oh Joy Sex Toy by Erika Moen and Matthew Nolan:  A delightfully illustrated series about sex, covering everything from sex toy reviews to interviews with sex workers.  Inclusive, charming, and often quite funny.

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

8. Priestdaddy by Patricia Lockwood:   After a medical crisis wiped out their finances, the author and her husband Jason moved back in with her eccentric family, including her guitar playing, frequently semi-naked father, a Catholic priest.  (Despite being married with children, he got ordained through a loophole.)  Extremely funny, and practically every page has a quotable line.  (One of my favorites: Jason sees an extremely gory crucifix on her parents' dining room wall and says "It looks like someone screamed into a ribeye.")

9. We Are Never Meeting in Real Life by Samantha Irby:  Another outrageously funny (and occasionally heartbreaking) collection of essays by the Bitches Gotta Eat blogger.  I was reading this in bed while suffering from a massive allergy attack, waiting for the Benadryl to kick in, and there was one scene where her cat was hugging and kicking her dildo and she was screaming "Give me back my dick!" and I started laughing so hard I was weeping.  As I began passing out,  I was still chuckling intermittently, which is honestly a pretty terrific way to fall asleep.

10. Black Dahlia, Red Rose: The Crime, Corruption, and Cover-Up of America's Greatest Unsolved Murder by Piu Eatwell:  A new look at the 1947 murder that scandalized America, with a closer look at a suspect the author thinks committed the crime for sure.   She provides plenty of compelling evidence to support that theory, too.  I know it's too late for justice for Elizabeth Short, as the murderer(s) is/are long dead, but it would be nice closure if the case could be solved once and for all.  It will probably never happen, though, thanks to the cover-up mentioned in the subtitle and the fact that so much evidence was "lost".

Friday, December 01, 2017

best of 2017: fiction

I can't believe it's December already, which means that it's time to start posting my "best of 2017" lists!  First up is fiction, but a few notes first:

  • Not all of these were first published in 2017, but that's when I read them, so they belong on this list.
  • Aside from the first two books listed, which were definitely my favorites, these aren't in any particular order.
  • These were all written by women, which is pretty cool!
  • If I read something between now and the end of December which belongs here, I'll update accordingly.
  • And as always, your mileage may vary.

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

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

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

3. Lola by Melissa Scrivner Love:  Lola's boyfriend Garcia is in a gang called the Crenshaw Six, which has recently partnered with a Mexican drug cartel.  Everybody outside of the gang thinks Garcia is the leader, but the Crenshaw Six knows the truth: Lola is the boss, and when a drug drop goes horribly awry, Lola has to use her street smarts and the cartel's ignorance of her true status to survive.  The author is a screenwriter, which probably explains the super sharp dialogue.  An addictive page-turner that practically begs to be made into a movie.

4. The Salt Line by Holly Goddard Jones:  A lethal tick-borne virus leads to an extreme new form of tourism where the rich pay to tour what's left of nature, knowing full well it could lead to their deaths.  A group of tourists is kidnapped and taken to a camp outside the safe zone (aka the salt line), where the residents have special plans for them.  Really engrossing; if the movie rights haven't already been snapped up, then someone's sleeping on the job.

5. See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt:  A fictionalized version of the Lizzie Borden murder case that reads like an exceptionally creepy fever dream.

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

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

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

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

10. Fierce Kingdom by Gin Phillips:  Joan and her 4-year-old son Lincoln are getting ready to leave the zoo when Joan sees a man with a rifle.  She grabs her son and runs back into the zoo to hide, hoping they can survive until the police get there.  A tense thriller that explores some tough moral questions as well.  My only real gripe is that Lincoln seemed too articulate for a 4-year-old, but I'll admit that I don't have much experience with kids of that age, so I could be way off base on that.  Anyway, it's fantastic, and I think it would make a great movie.  I can see Naomi Watts as Joan, although good luck finding a child actor that young who could pull it off.