Friday, October 31, 2008

media update: October

October was VERY heavy on books (many of these were either really short or "potato chip" books) but light on movies, thanks to the Washington trip, GetBackers marathons, and Silent Hill Homecoming, which is seriously kicking my ASS. Christ, is it hard! I've used every swear word I know while playing it, and had to make up some new ones. (I took to calling one particular boss "Shit-Twat".) At any rate, watch for my review in next month's media update...assuming I've actually managed to beat it by then.

There are so many zombies in this media update that you’d think I was being sponsored by Capcom. We've also got two memoirs about eating in China, two serial killers, and a book about an owl that gave me a serious case of the weepies.

As always, asterisks denote something I particularly enjoyed or found especially worthy of my time; your mileage may vary.


1. Sweetheart* by Chelsea Cain: Gretchen Lowell is a beautiful and charismatic serial killer; Archie Sheridan is the cop she tortured to the brink of death before turning herself in. In this followup to Heartsick, Archie is trying to find a new killer, but when Gretchen escapes from prison, he is determined to stop her for good. A real nailbiter with some truly tense and unsettling scenes.

Side note: You don't have to have read Heartsick to enjoy this book, but I'd recommend it, since it helps to know the characters beforehand. Besides, Heartsick was even better, and one of my favorite novels of 2007.

2. Tomato Girl by Jayne Pupek: A young girl tries to cope with her mentally ill mother and her father's infidelity with the "tomato girl" of the title. Waaaay too melodramatic.

3. Shimura Trouble by Sujata Massey: In this latest installment of the Rei Shimura mysteries, Rei and her family visit long-lost relatives in Hawaii and get involved in arson and a land dispute. I've always really liked this series, but this one was very disappointing. The writing was strangely choppy, I missed the usual Japanese setting, and I found it hard to give a crap about what would happen next. Sigh.

4. The Living Dead*: An awesome collection of zombie short stories. As with any anthology, there are a few clunkers (lots of hamfisted political/ecological allegories), but there are plenty of worthwhile gems, too. In fact, the very first story ("This Year's Class Picture" by Dan Simmons) turned out to be one of the best short stories I've ever read; it actually made me tear up. There are also excellent contributions from Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, and Poppy Z. Brite, as well as a really horrifying story called "Blossom" (about a sick fuck, and I mean that in two ways) and a clever and disturbing parody of Less Than Zero. If you have even a passing interest in our undead friends, you owe it to yourself to pick this up.

5. Bones by Jonathan Kellerman: The bodies of several dead prostitutes, all missing hands, turn up in a nature preserve. When Dr. Alex Delaware and his LAPD friend Milo Sturgis start looking into the murders, they discover that the case is far more complicated than they originally thought. A decently diverting way to kill a few hours.

6. Monster Island by David Wellington: In this novel about the zombie apocalypse, a UN weapons inspector and a heavily armed group of schoolgirls travel to New York City in search of AIDS medicine for a Somalian warlord. Needless to say, complications ensue. I didn't give this a star due to some clunky writing and a really lame subplot, but it's fun and has some good lines, like when the protagonist refers to zombies as "meat-seeking missiles". I'll be checking out the rest of the trilogy too.


1. Shark's Fin and Sichuan Pepper by Fuchsia Dunlop: An account of the author's culinary adventures in China, some of which made me drool...and some of which made me retch. (Live newborn mice? Um, no thanks, I'll be at the McDonald's down the street.)

2. After the Fire by Robin Gaby Fisher: In 2000, a fire broke out in the freshman dorm of Seton Hall University. Three students were killed, and dozens of others were injured. This book follows the lengthy and excruciating recovery process of two friends, as well as the search for the arsonists.

3. Wild Boy: My Life in Duran Duran by Andy Taylor: I was a HUGE Durannie back in the day; once I even had to stay after class and explain to my concerned teacher why I had suddenly started signing my last name as "Taylor". (She thought my parents had gotten divorced or something; when she found out it was in homage to John Taylor, she sternly told me I had to start using my real last name again. I can't believe I just admitted this.) I bought all the magazines and books and plastered my walls with gigantic pinups, as shown here:

Eventually I hopped the fence and wandered over to Camp Mopey (The Smiths, Morrissey, Marc Almond), but I still dusted off my Duran Duran albums (YES, albums, I'm old, shut up) once in a while. And I still have a soft spot for them, too; recently, I found a job listing for a graphic designer at Juicy, and I begged G to apply because one of the cofounders is married to John Taylor, and I was hoping to run into him at the company Christmas party. (Not that I would know what to do if I actually met the guy; probably blurt out something stupid---"I had my first orgasm while thinking about you!"---and then run away in tears.)

Sorry, that was supposed to be a quick drive down Memory Lane, not a road trip. Anyway, when I saw this book at the library, I knew I had to get it. It's not fabulous or anything, but it's an interesting look at the glitz, glamour, drugs, and infighting during Duran Duran's glory days. It also made me fritter away two hours watching Duran Duran videos on YouTube. Ah, memories.

4. An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination* by Elizabeth McCracken: The author was living in France when her son was stillborn; slightly over a year later, she had another son who lived. This is a heartbreaking memoir, although there are moments of grim humor, and the writing is beautiful. For example, here she describes the way her son's hands move as he sleeps: "They underscore closing arguments in dream-baby court; they hail dream-baby taxis." A powerful exploration of grief, love, and hope; so far, this is my favorite nonfiction book of 2008.

5. Serve the People by Jen Lin-Liu: Another memoir about eating in China, but in this one, the author attended a culinary school. Better than #1, in no small part due to fewer icky anecdotes (though there are still a couple, such as when she visits a restaurant specializing in various animal genitalia).

6. The Night of the Gun* by David Carr: A harrowing, occasionally funny memoir about the author's battle with drug addiction. There are some anecdotes in here (like the time he left his twin daughters in the car while he visited a crackhouse, and during a Minnesota winter, no less) which might cause the cynical reader's bullshit radar to ping. In a smart move, considering the recent revelations about James Frey, JT LeRoy, and that chick who claimed she grew up in foster homes with gangbangers when she actually lived in the suburbs with her family and went to private school, Carr interviewed dozens of people who knew him during this time period to get their side of the story. He also includes corroborating evidence in the form of police reports, photographs, and even a scan of his welfare ID card. Disturbing stuff to be sure, but ultimately redemptive.

7. Wesley the Owl* by Stacey O'Brien: Oh my god, this book about a barn owl and his "love affair" with the author made me BAWL. A blurb on the back calls it "Marley & Me with wings", and that's pretty accurate. Have a box of tissues handy; you'll need 'em.

8. Thin Is the New Happy by Valerie Frankel: In this memoir, the author chronicles her lifelong struggles with her weight and body image. Been done before, and better; check out Moose by Stephanie Klein instead.

9. Against Medical Advice by James Patterson and Hal Friedman: The account of Friedman's son's battle with Tourette's and OCD. It was fairly interesting, but James Patterson's involvement was so glaringly obvious (chapters of only two or three pages, lots of italics) that it took me out of the story. I think this book would have been better if he hadn't been involved; no doubt the selling power of his name was behind the decision.

10. Jubilee City* by Joe Andoe: An interesting memoir by an artist, written in an almost stream-of-consciousness style. I especially liked the chapter about his daughter's birth and how lost he felt when trying to relate to her.


1. Kitchen Princess vols. 3-7 by Natsumi Ando and Miyuki Kobayashi: Food porn in manga form.

2. The Walking Dead* vols. 1-3 by Robert Kirkman: After the zombie apocalypse, a ragtag group of survivors tries to keep from falling apart...and doesn't always succeed. This was way better than I expected, and I can't wait to read more. My only quibble is that sometimes it's hard to tell the characters apart.

3. After School Nightmare vol. 9 by Setona Mizushiro

4. Best American Comics 2008


1. Run Fatboy Run: Five years after ditching his pregnant fiancee at the altar, a slacker tries to win her back by competing in a marathon against her new boyfriend. Predictable, but it's cute and there are a few really funny lines.


In this rhythm game/dating sim hybrid, you play as a teenage girl who's magically transported to another land. Turns out that the princess of that land has two left feet, and she doesn't want to go to the ball, so she begs you (her exact double) to attend in her place. You agree, and once you get there, you have a month to get ready for the ball and find the prince of your dreams. You learn new dances by following a pattern on the screen with your stylus, which may sound easy, but the dances get faster and harder as you go along.

This is quite possibly the girliest game I've ever played; by the time I finished, I'm surprised I wasn't farting glitter. You get new costumes and accessories, complete with transformation sequences straight out of a magical girl anime. You are wooed by a succession of pretty boys, and since you have to enter your name at the beginning of the game, they call you "Princess [real name]", which filled me with inexplicable glee. Your dance teacher is a giant rabbit!

Yes, it's corny and cheesy, but even a jaded survival horror fan like me couldn't help but be charmed by it. If you're a sappy romantic at heart, you might be too.