Monday, June 01, 2009

media update: May

Asterisks denote something I particularly enjoyed or found especially worthy of my time; your mileage may vary.


1. Dark Places* by Gillian Flynn: The author's first book, Sharp Objects, is one of my ten favorite novels of all time, so I was chomping at the bit to get my hands on this one. I tried not to get my hopes up too high, even after the awesome first sentence ("I have a meanness inside me, real as an organ"). Was I disappointed?

Sweet fancy Moses, was I NOT. This is disturbing, utterly riveting stuff. It's about Libby Day, a woman whose mother and two sisters were butchered by her older brother when she was seven years old. She managed to escape, but the emotional trauma left her scarred for life. She's been living off donations that poured in after the murders, but the money is starting to run out. Opportunity knocks in the form of the Kill Club, a group of people obsessed with famous crimes. They believe her brother is innocent, and they want her to investigate the crime and see if her testimony all those years ago was coached. Libby is reluctant to do so, but when they offer to pay her, she agrees, thinking it will be easy money. Of course, it winds up being anything but. Not for the faint of heart, but if you like the new breed of female authors (Karin Slaughter, Chelsea Cain, Mo Hayder) who write thrillers that would make Hannibal Lecter flinch, you'll devour this gory treat.

2. Skin* by Mo Hayder: A new Gillian Flynn AND a new Mo Hayder in the same month? I was in heaven! Shit, if John Connolly and Karin Slaughter had published their new books in May too (instead of June and July respectively), I would have just called in sick and spent three days in bed reading.

Anyway, in this one, detective Jack Caffery is looking into several suicides that might actually be murders, and police diver Flea Marley learns a horrifying secret about her brother. I didn't like this one quite as much as her previous books, possibly because I read it right after Dark Places and it was bound to pale in comparison, but it's still very good.

Side note: This isn't out in the US yet; I bought a used British edition from an Amazon seller because it was less than the American hardcover would eventually set me back.

3. Turning Japanese by Cathy Yardley: After winning an internship with a manga publisher, a young American woman finds herself trying to deal with culture shock, homesickness, an unhappy fiance, and a scheming mangaka who has it in for her. Pleasant fluff which (like all things set in Japan) made me want to hop the next flight to Tokyo.

4. Shanghai Girls by Lisa See: A sweeping novel about Pearl and May, two spoiled sisters in 1937 Shanghai. They enjoy their pampered lives and their work as "beautiful girls" (calendar models), but then their father tells them that they've been sold as wives to Chinese-American men. When the Japanese troops move into China, the sisters make their way to America to reunite with the husbands they barely even know. It started to falter a little more than halfway through, and it ended on a really weird note, but for the most part I enjoyed it.


1. I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti by Giulia Melucci: A memoir about the author's love affairs and the food she made during them. A blurb on the back calls it "Eat Pray Love with recipes"; the author only wishes. It's not terrible or anything, just resoundingly meh. Some great food porn in here, though, especially if you love Italian food.

2. House Rules by Rachel Sontag: A memoir about growing up with a controlling and emotionally abusive father and a spineless mother. I had a hard time getting into this, because even though the author's father does sound like a brass-plated butthole, I don't think he was worth wasting 261 pages on. Maybe an essay in Glamour.

3. Crazy Love by Leslie Morgan Steiner: A memoir about the author's marriage to a physically and emotionally abusive man. Not particularly well written, and there was an undertone of snobbishness (i.e. she never misses a chance to talk about her Harvard degree or how rich her family is) that put me off. Also---and this is a minor spoiler, so skip to the next book if you plan on reading this---her dog died of liver cancer because, get this, she fed him a Reese's peanut butter cup every day. Um, okay, if you have a Harvard degree, how do you not know that chocolate is poisonous to dogs? Isn't that pretty common knowledge?

And this is probably an unnecessary disclaimer, but after my unfavorable reviews of this and #2, I want to make sure it doesn't look like I'm unsympathetic to what the authors went through. They both got raw deals and didn't deserve what happened to them, but a crappy life does not automatically equal a good writer.

4. Mommywood by Tori Spelling: I don't even care if you're mocking me right now (and make no mistake, I KNOW you are), because I love her. In college, one of my poetry professors passed out clippings from a tabloid, and we had to write a poem about the article we received. I got one on Tori Spelling. My poem wasn't very flattering, but after reading her first book I wound up liking her because she was so candid and self-deprecating. I would totally hang out with her and her posse o' gays anytime. Anyway, I didn't like this one nearly as much as Stori Telling, but it had its moments.

5. Pretty in Plaid by Jen Lancaster: Various anecdotes from the author's younger years. Definitely my least favorite book of hers; I don't think I laughed out loud even once.


1. Love Com vol. 12 by Aya Nakahara

2. Otomen vol. 2 by Aya Kanno

3. Nightmare Inspector vol. 6 by Shin Mashiba

4. The Mammoth Book of Best New Manga* vol. 3

5. Make More Love and Peace by Takane Yonetani

6. Unlovable* by Esther Pearl Watson

7. V.B. Rose vols. 2-3 by Banri Hidaka

8. Voices of Love by Kanae Hazuki

9. Sounds of Love by Rin Tanaka


1. Splinter*: Two lovers on a camping trip are taken hostage by an escaped felon and his drug-addicted girlfriend. When they stop at a gas station, they come under attack by a bizarre spiky parasite. I wasn't expecting much from this, but I was pleasantly surprised; it's tense, peppered with some great black humor, and a lot of fun.

Side note: I almost didn't watch this because I'd heard that it employs the dreaded "shaky cam", which never fails to make me sick. (I had to flee a matinee of Cloverfield to go hork in the bathroom, and last month I had to quit watching Quarantine halfway through lest I repeat the feat on G's couch.) But for those of you similarly afflicted, fear not; it's only used during the creature attacks, and even though I was recuperating from food poisoning when I saw it, it didn't affect me at all.

2. Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist: Slight but sweet romantic comedy that follows the titular teenagers (including the always enjoyable Michael Cera) around New York City as they try to find a drunk friend, a surprise gig by their favorite band, and closure with their exes.

3. Bolt*: The canine star of an action TV show gets separated from his beloved human costar, and he tries to make his way back to her. However, he doesn't really have the superpowers he thinks he does, which makes things a little difficult. Cute and surprisingly funny (especially the manic hamster).

4. Afro Samurai Resurrection*: Afro's father's corpse is stolen from its grave, and Afro's out for blood...LOTS of blood. A visual masterpiece; the Japanese festival scene is especially impressive.

5. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button: Based on a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald, this is a gentle fable about a man aging backwards. I think it was perhaps a bit overrated, but I still enjoyed it. David Fincher was a good choice for director; in anyone else's hands, it probably would have been too mawkish.

6. Synecdoche, New York*: I seriously have no idea how to describe this movie, so I'll point you towards its IMDB page instead. Even though I didn't understand it and it left me feeling depressed and unsettled, I'm going to give it a star for its amazing cast (especially Philip Seymour Hoffman) and because it's like nothing else I've ever seen.

7. The Girl Who Leapt Through Time: Charming and beautifully animated movie about a teenage girl who discovers that she can leap through time, but even the smallest changes she makes in the past have enormous consequences.

8. Sex Drive: A teenage boy takes his two best friends on a road trip to meet his internet crush. Needless to say, many complications ensue. Stupid, but it has a few genuinely funny moments.

9. Star Trek: I saw the awesome trailer for this before I Love You Man, and even though I'm still traumatized by Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (short version: dragged to it by my dad when I was a kid, spent most of the movie in the lobby watching people play video games, returned just in time for the horrific earworm scene, nightmares for a month), I eagerly agreed to go when G and C wanted to see it on Memorial Day. Well, um...I don't think I was its target audience, but it did have some cool action scenes and a terrific cast. (Any movie that includes Simon "Shaun" Pegg, Zachary "Sylar" Quinto, AND John "Harold" Cho among its cast is aces by me.)

10. Twilight: I enjoyed this more than the book, but that's like saying I enjoyed my last migraine more than my post-Vegas food poisoning.


1. "California Girls" by Magnetic Fields: No, this is not a cover of the Beach Boys classic. I love how this sounds like a cheery summer song until you listen carefully to the lyrics ("I hate California girls").




Awkward Boners (NSFW, obvs) is exactly what it sounds like: photographs of guys who pitched tents at inopportune times. You're welcome!