Monday, November 30, 2009

media update: November

Why hello there; I hope you all had a lovely Thanksgiving too. I made Bailey's french toast for breakfast, and for dinner, G and I had rotisserie chicken, mashed potatoes, a bottle of Bridlewood syrah, and red velvet cake. We spent the long weekend cocooning, with the exception of an excursion to C and M's on Friday night for a Flight of the Conchords marathon, and a trip yesterday to the Self-Realization Garden in Malibu and the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica. All in all, a most relaxing and enjoyable weekend, which makes today that much more painful.

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


1. The Girl from Junchow by Kate Furnivall: In this mildly diverting sequel to The Russian Concubine, Lydia Ivanova sets out on a perilous journey to find her imprisoned father. Things get complicated with the appearance of her Chinese lover and the disappearance of her half-brother.

2. The Scarpetta Factor by Patricia Cornwell: When Kay Scarpetta starts appearing on CNN, she begins to attract some serious creeps...including one who sends her an early Christmas present that's anything but merry. I don't think Cornwell will ever get her mojo back, but this is decent enough, although I'll admit to skimming some of the more technical details.

3. The Cloud Pavilion* by Laura Joh Rowland: In 17th century Japan, samurai detective Sano Ichiro investigates the kidnapping and sexual assault of his cousin. To his horror, he discovers that it's not an isolated incident at all, and there are people who will stop at nothing to keep the truth from being revealed. I've enjoyed all of the Sano Ichiro mysteries, and this is probably the best of them to date.

4. Under the Dome* by Stephen King: The small town of Chester's Mill, Maine, is suddenly enclosed in an invisible dome of unknown origin. The chaos starts immediately: a woman reaching for a vegetable in her garden has her hand cut off when the dome slams down; a small plane and numerous cars crash into it; a man's pacemaker explodes when he gets too close. (Yes, aside from the bloodshed, this sounds like The Simpsons Movie, but King swears he first came up with the idea in the 70's.) Things get worse as supplies start to dwindle and people begin to lose hope, and since this is a Stephen King book, of course there are some Very Bad People trapped inside as well...including a town official who takes advantage of the situation in order to turn Chester's Mill into a police state. This monster clocks in at just under 1100 pages (seriously, when I picked it up at the library, I almost asked them for a dolly so I could take it out to my car), but it's very fast reading. Not many people can match King at his best, and he's in fine form here. Filled with black humor, heartache, and nastiness, Under the Dome is a stunner.

Side note #1: I thought it was funny that the book jacket has absolutely no information on or inside of it aside from the title and author's name. I don't think I've ever seen that before.

Side note #2: There's a cast of characters at the very beginning of the book. Mark it with a paper clip or a Post-It, because for the first few hundred pages, you'll be referring back to it a LOT.

Side note #3: Apparently, this has already been optioned for a miniseries. When it comes to onscreen translations, King's work is awfully dicey; with the exceptions of Carrie and The Mist, it seems like the ones that work best are the ones with few to no supernatural elements (The Shawshank Redemption, Stand by Me, The Green Mile, Misery). But Steven Spielberg is executive producing, so it might actually be good. I really hope they cast John Goodman as Big Jim Rennie.


1. News, Nudity, and Nonsense*: A selection of articles from the miscreants at Vice magazine. I didn't care about all of the drug entries, since my illegal drug experience is limited to pot and they talk about drugs I've never even HEARD of, but there's still much to be enjoyed here. Examples: a coroner comments on the realism (or not) of various horror movie death scenes; a guide to being a girl; an interview with an elderly Japanese man who stars in pornos with titles like "Tit-Lover Old Man Kameichi and His Horny Pranks". If you're not easily offended, dig in!

2. Cake Wrecks by Jen Yates: The best of the wrecks from the popular blog.

3. PostSecret: Confessions on Life, Death, and God by Frank Warren: A selection of cards from the PostSecret blog.

4. Japan Took the J.A.P. Out of Me by Lisa Fineberg Cook: Shortly after getting married, the author and her new husband moved to Japan for his job. After a lifetime of being spoiled, she had some adjusting to do. I found her incredibly irritating at times, but I still enjoyed this memoir of culture shock, and---yup---it made me want to go back. I was reading the chapter where she's talking about Kyoto, and I had to stop and go look through my photo album! Ah, memories.

5. Yokai Attack! The Japanese Monster Survival Guide* by Hiroko Yoda and Matt Alt: A really fun, beautifully illustrated collection of assorted Japanese monsters. If you enjoy Japanese pop culture, you'll love this book, because there are a whole lot of creatures in here that show up in manga, anime, and video games. My personal favorites are the kara-kasa, a one-eyed, one-legged umbrella with a long tongue, and the giant skeleton called o-dokuro.


1. Otomen* vol. 4 by Aya Kanno

2. High School Debut vol. 12 by Kazune Kawahara

3. Love Com vol. 15 by Aya Nakahara

4. Kaze Hikaru vol. 13 by Taeko Watanabe

5. Baby & Me vols. 6-7 by Marimo Ragawa

6. V.B. Rose vol. 6 by Banri Hidaka

7. Stitches* by David Small

7. Black Bird* by Kanoko Sakurakoji

8. Castle of Dreams by Masami Tsuda


1. Drag Me to Hell: Sam Raimi returns to his roots (er, no Evil Dead tree pun intended) with this gross thriller. Christine is a young woman who's gunning for a promotion at the bank where she works, so she denies a loan extension to an elderly woman. Bad move, because the woman curses her. Christine learns that she has three days to appease the evil spirit tormenting her or, you guessed it, she'll be dragged to hell. There was a pivotal scene where I stopped feeling sorry for Christine and started thinking she deserved whatever she got; no spoilers, of course, but it will be pretty obvious if you see it. Anyway, I think it was a bit overrated, but still gooey fun, and it contains my favorite line (so far) of the year: "I don't want your cat, you dirty pork queen!"

2. The Unborn: A young woman begins experiencing bizarre phenomena, and it turns out she's being haunted by her unborn twin brother. Standard horror fare, although there are a few good creepy moments and a truly bizarre scene at the beginning that freaked my shit out hardcore.

3. X-Men Origins: Wolverine: It's all there in the title; this is the story of Wolverine's origins. Not the most cerebral flick in the world, but it has some fun action, lots of half-naked Hugh Jackman, and a few good lines.

4. Trick R Treat: A collection of creepy Halloween stories that include a loner being punished for not giving out candy, a serial killer passing on the tradition, a group of kids searching for a haunted school bus, and Anna Paquin as a woman out looking for her first time. Has its moments, but I thought it would be better.

5. The Ugly Truth: Katherine Heigl plays a shrill TV producer who's none too happy when her station hires a cheerfully misogynist commentator. He bets her that, with his advice, she can hook the man of her dreams. If you can't guess how it ends, congratulations on watching your first movie ever! I'm just sorry it had to be this one.

6. The Taking of Pelham 123: A group of gunmen hijack a New York City subway car, and the ringleader (John Travolta, who's scary intense) demands 10 million dollars or he'll start killing hostages. He takes a liking to Walter Garber, the dispatcher who answers his initial call, and Walter gets far more involved than he wants to. A stylish film with good performances.

7. Precious*: The title character is an obese, illiterate black teenager living in Harlem. She has one child, conceived when her father raped her, and she's expecting another by him. Precious lives with her mother Mary, who blames her for "stealing" her man and viciously abuses her both physically and verbally. Things look awfully grim for Precious, but when she starts going to an alternative school, she begins to think that she may survive after all. This may sound like tragedy porn, but it's often very funny (though darkly so) and, strangely enough, hopeful. Expect this one to be a big winner when the Oscars roll around; I guarantee Gabourey Sidibe (as Precious) and Mo'Nique (as Mary) will both be nominated, and I'd be stunned if Mo'Nique doesn't win. She's utterly terrifying, but there's a confrontation near the end where she shows a vulnerable side, and although it doesn't excuse her actions---what could?---it helps you understand her a little better. I do wonder this, though: what scene of hers could they possibly show on the Oscars? She's constantly swearing, and her major scene is both spoilery and disturbing. Ah well, I'm sure they'll think of something.

8. Bruno*: The brilliant Sacha Baron Cohen disappears into the character of Bruno, an uber-gay Austrian fashionista. Like Borat, he goes around annoying the shit out of everyone, and the results are outrageous. I spent a lot of time gasping during this movie...sometimes for breath because I was laughing so hard, and sometimes because I was so genuinely shocked. It stretches the boundaries of the R rating and then some.

9. I Love You, Beth Cooper: A high school valedictorian professes his love for the titular cheerleader during his speech, leading to a strange night of surprises. It has a few funny lines, but overall it left me cold, probably because I didn't like the main characters.


1. "River Deep, Mountain High" by Erasure: So I was watching Kelly Osbourne's bizarre doll dance on Dancing with the Stars, and despite the utterly shitty singer, I was reminded how much I love Erasure's version of this song. I used to have it on a cassingle (and don't even front that you don't know what a cassingle is; I can't be the only Oldie Oldster up in this bitch) and blast that shit on my Walkman.

By the way, Kelly Osbourne is one of those celebrities, like Tori Spelling, Victoria Beckham, and Kristen Bell, that I have an inexplicable fondness for despite being unfamiliar with most or all of their oeuvre.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

best of 2009: manga, graphic novels, and comics

Your mileage may vary, but these are the manga, graphic novels, and comic collections that rocked my face off in 2009. Not all of them were originally released this year, but since that's when I first read them, I've put them on this list. Aside from the first entry, these aren't necessarily in order of preference.

1. Skim by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki: Kimberly, or "Skim" to her friends, is a teenage girl who's confused about her sexual identity, her occasionally stormy relationship with her best friend, and life in general. She finds comfort in a crush on her English teacher, and things take an unexpected turn. This beautifully illustrated graphic novel is one of the best coming of age stories I've ever read in any medium; the description of first love is so real it hurts.

2. The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service by Eiji Otsuka and Housui Yamazaki: A group of Buddhist college students starts a service to help troubled souls pass on to the other side. There's a monk who can talk to the dead by touching their bodies; a man who can "dowse" for corpses; a computer hacker; a teenage boy who channels a foulmouthed alien (my favorite character) through a hand puppet; and a gothic Lolita embalmer. Be warned, things can get extremely gory, but if you have a taste for the macabre, you'll love it. Terrific editor's notes at the end of each volume explain some of the more arcane aspects of the story.

3. Joker by Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo: When the Joker is released from Arkham Asylum, he sets out on a bloody mission to reclaim his turf. If you liked The Dark Knight's nastier vision of the Joker, you'll probably love this.

4. Delivery Cupid by C. J. Michalski: A collection of boys' love stories from one of Japan's most popular manga artists. (Yes, despite the pen name, she's most definitely Japanese.) The stories and art are so sweet they'll make your teeth ache.

5. Token by Alisa Kwitney and Joelle Jones: Set in 1980's Miami, this graphic novel stars Shira, a teenage girl who lives with her father and grandmother. Troubled by her father's budding relationship with his secretary, she seeks solace in shoplifting and a mysterious Spanish boy. Excellent art and a fun story.

6. The Impostor's Daughter by Laurie Sandell: The author grew up worshipping her father, a charismatic Argentinian who boasted about his famous friends, daring exploits, and numerous degrees. But when she got older, she learned that he wasn't quite what he seemed. The art in this "graphic memoir" isn't always the best, but her intriguing story more than makes up for it.

7. Love for Dessert by Hana Aoi: There isn't much erotic heterosexual manga aimed at women, so I was thrilled to discover the Luv Luv line on Amazon. This volume features several stories, ranging from the spicy to the sweet, and all of them featuring fairly graphic sex. It's not, you know, fapworthy or anything, but it may give you some ideas...

8. The Essential Dykes to Watch Out For by Alison Bechdel: After reading Bechdel's Fun Home (my favorite graphic novel of 2006), I became a fan. This enormous (almost 500 pages!) collection of her comic strips is by turns funny and thought-provoking.

9. Sleepwalk by Adrian Tomine: A selection of stories about modern life. Some of these were done very early in Tomine's career, so the art can be spotty at time, but you can definitely see signs of the masterful artist he'd become. His work, both written and illustrated, is so hauntingly beautiful.

10. Unlovable by Esther Pearl Watson: This has such a fantastic backstory behind it that it can't possibly be true, but man, I hope it is. Allegedly, the artist found a teenage girl's diary in a gas station bathroom, and she decided to illustrate the entries. Tammy Pierce (I assume she changed the real diarist's name) is an overweight, obnoxious, and utterly relatable teenage girl. If you were ever a teenage girl---hell, if you're HUMAN---this book will make you utterly cringe in recognition. You'll also laugh your ass off. Don't be put off by the art; this is a must-read.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

full frontal fail

After a clusterfuck week that included more work nightmares and the sad news from K that our "co-cat" Sneakers passed away (rest in peace, sweet tank kitty), I needed a little levity in my life.

Oh, did I say "levity"? I meant Levi.

As in Johnston.

As in the celebutard who knocked up Sarah Palin's teenage daughter and then posed for Playgirl.

Now, I knew there was no way in hell I was gonna pay for something that I'd eventually see for free, but I sure as shit didn't expect the pictures to leak (which is a terrible word to use in the context of nude photos) literally moments after being posted on Playgirl's site.

I ain't gonna post any of them here, because the last thing I need is to be sued by Playgirl (though think of the anecdotes!). But I will point you to Oh No They Didn't. You may have to wade through a few pages of comments to see all the pictures, but if you care enough, then I doubt you'll mind.

My personal take on the photos?

::pause to put on my porn reviewin' hat::

Where is the goddamn PEEN?

Seriously, for $100k the boy couldn't be arsed to show us his babymaker? If someone offered me that much money to pose fully nude, first I'd wonder if they had a mental disorder, and then secondly, assuming they were a legitimate operation and not some lunatic who's making a ladysuit, of course I'd do it! I'd have all sorts of conditions---Cristal and Voluspa Santiago Huckleberry candles in the (un)dressing room, tasteful poses, liberal use of the Bulge Erase tool in Photoshop---but I'd do it. I wouldn't show no goddamn pink for $100k, but a bit of fluff? Sure!

But I gotta say, the pictures are awfully cute. I can't imagine anyone looking at them and then feverishly frigging themselves, but then again, I can't imagine anyone jerking it to scat porn either, so vive la difference. He looks kind of embarrassed and awkward, showing off his flat butt and holding a skimpy handtowel in front of the goods. It's sweet. Twink lovers and teenage girls will be enthralled.

Somewhere, Sarah Palin is grinding her teeth in rage over these pictures. And that, my friends, gives me a much bigger boner than Levi's pictures ever will.

Monday, November 16, 2009

presented without explanation

...'cause sometimes things are funnier that way.

Taken Saturday, 11/14/2009. Thanks to C for taking the picture!

Friday, November 13, 2009

best animated movies of 2009

2009 was such a terrific year for animated movies that I decided to give them their own list. Not all of these originally came out in 2009, but that's when I first saw them. As always, your mileage may vary.

In order of preference:

After his wife dies, a cranky old man named Carl faces eviction from his home. Refusing to cave in, he ties thousands of balloons to the roof and sets out for Paradise Falls, the place he and his wife always dreamed of visiting. This may be a kid's movie, but it's probably one of the best meditations on love and loss that I've ever seen. There's a sequence at the beginning that shows Carl and his wife Ellie throughout their marriage, and by the end, I was scrubbing tears away from my face with a handful of scratchy napkins. But don't worry, it's not a downer flick; there are plenty of funny lines and exciting action sequences too, and the animation is breathtaking. As of this writing, it's not just my favorite animated film of 2009; it's my favorite film of 2009 period.

An absolutely stunning animated film that combines the Indian story of the Ramayana with the story of a modern marriage that has fallen apart. Factor in 1920's jazz and you have something wholly original. Unfortunately, copyright problems with the music have kept this movie from being commercially distributed, but you can watch it online for free (and legally!). Nina Paley, the creator, has links for watching it on her website. If you love animation, you need to see this. Shit, if you love MOVIES, you ought to check it out. Something this unique deserves to be supported.

A devastating animated documentary about the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in the early 1980's. The director fought in the war on the Israeli side, and trying to fill in the gaps in his memory, he interviewed other people who were there. What's especially impressive is that I thought most of the movie was rotoscoped, but it's actually a combination of Flash and computer/traditional animation.

Warning: at the very end of the movie, the animation gives way to real footage of a massacre's aftermath, and it is EXTREMELY upsetting, especially the final picture. If you're sensitive, you may want to stop the movie as soon as that footage starts.

A breathtakingly gorgeous stop-motion animated film about a girl who finds a doorway to another world in her new house. In the other world, the parents who ordinarily ignore her are attentive and loving, and it's filled with magical gardens and tasty treats. But if she wants to stay there, she has to let her "Other Mother" sew buttons over her eyes. Deliciously creepy.

Based on one of my favorite graphic novels, this is about a headstrong young girl growing up in Iran during the Islamic Revolution. The art is generally simple, but the story is compelling.

When zombies infest an airport, Claire Redfield and Leon Kennedy reunite to take them out and uncover the truth behind the new outbreak. I'll be honest, if you're not a fan of the games, there probably isn't much here for you; otherwise, this is a must-see. The CGI is practically flawless, there are some great action scenes, and the voice acting (which includes Claire and RE4 Leon's original voice actors, as well as many other veteran anime/video game voice actors) is excellent.

Note: In the US, this is called Resident Evil: Degeneration. I doubt I had to explain that to this movie's target audience, but just so's you know.

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).

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.

A feature length animated film that provides some much needed backstory for the video game. It's incredibly gory and an awful lot of fun, although---like the Resident Evil movie mentioned above---I doubt it would hold much appeal for non-fans.

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. This probably would have ranked higher, but I was really tired when I saw it.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

best random stuff of 2009, part 2

(Please see my June 11th entry for part 1.)

Not all of these things first made their debut in 2009, but since that’s the first time I used/played/ate/smelled/watched them, they belong on this list. Also, as always, your mileage may vary.

I'm not a big fan of mint, but I reluctantly buy mint-flavored toothpaste because there's no other choice. Oh, sure, kids get strawberry and bubblegum and all that other shit, but I'm a grown woman with a grown woman's dental needs, so I gotta go with the stuff that whitens my choppers and prevents gingivitis and all that other irritating shit that adults have to deal with. Imagine my joy when I found a tube of Tom's of Maine's lemon-lime toothpaste at Whole Foods! It tastes awesome, and as a bonus, I haven't gotten a canker sore since I started using it. (Oddly enough, I couldn't find a picture of the lemon-lime flavor online, but it's the same type as shown above.)

In this awesome RPG, you play a teenage boy who's just moved to the small town of Inaba. It seems peaceful at first, but when bodies start popping up, you and your new friends decide to investigate. Full of moments both humorous and poignant, terrific voice acting, a great soundtrack, characters you wish you knew in real life, and an intriguing plot, Persona 4 was a wonderful surprise. I was listening to my iPod the other day, and when "Your Affection" (an upbeat J-pop song that plays frequently throughout) came on, I was filled with such longing, like I was missing an old friend. THAT is the mark of a great game.

Professor Layton and his apprentice Luke set out to find the Elysian Box, an artifact which supposedly kills anyone who opens it. In order to unravel the mystery, you have to solve puzzles ranging from easy to ones that will have you reaching for your blood pressure medication. G and I haven't finished this yet, so I can't give a full review, but so far it's on a par with its predecessor, Professor Layton and the Curious Village. The art and music are charming, and it's often wryly funny. And as much as I love killing zombies and all manner of creepy things, it's refreshing to play a game once in a while that actually makes me think.

When famous tattoo artist Kat Von D announced that she'd be releasing two fragrances, Sinner and Saint, I instantly wanted to give them a whiff. I knew she wasn't going to be mixing them herself or anything, but I figured that someone as unusual as she is wouldn't put her name on the same boring generic fruity florals that every other celebrity releases. I was right; these are fucking awesome. They actually smell fairly similar to me, but Sinner is spicier, whereas Saint has a thick caramel note that makes me want to chew my arm off every time I wear it. I'm awfully promiscuous when it comes to perfume, but I find myself reaching for these more often than any other perfume in my collection.

Hi-Chew is a line of Japanese candies that are kind of hard to describe; their texture is somewhere between Bubblicious and Starburst. When I read Candy Blog's rave review of the candied apple and cotton candy flavors, I made a mental note to look for them the next time I was in Little Tokyo. Sure enough, I found them, and trusting her judgment, I bought two packs of each. Turns out that wasn't enough. I didn't really think the apple tasted like candied apple; it was more of a fresh green apple flavor. But the cotton candy? Oh my god. It even has little sugar crunchies in it. Unfortunately, the Japanese snack market is highly fickle, so I may not be able to find these the next time I go to Little Tokyo. If I do, though, I'm buying every pack I can find.

Imagine High School Musical with a thick coating of snark, and you've got Glee. Someone online said it's the quintessential love it or hate it show, but I disagree; I certainly don't love it. But I do enjoy it, and the absolute best part of it is Jane Lynch as evil cheerleading coach Sue Sylvester. Seriously, if scene stealing was a felony, she'd be locked up for life. Choice Sue Sylvester quotes: "I've never wanted kids. Don't have the time, don't have the uterus" and "I want it on my desk, warm from the laminator, at 5PM. And if it is one minute late, I will go to the animal shelter and get you a kitty cat. I will let you fall in love with that kitty cat, and then on some dark, cold night, I will steal away into your home and I will punch you in the face." God, she rules.

One day, a mysterious event causes everyone on Earth to lose consciousness for 137 seconds, and when they're out, they have a vision of their lives six months in the future. When everyone wakes up again, they find chaos: cars and planes have crashed, and of course everyone is freaking out. An FBI agent's flash forward seemed to show him working on the case as masked gunmen come through the building towards him, and he uses the clues from his vision to start the investigation. The perfect brain-buster to tide us Lost fanatics over until 2010.

Monday, November 02, 2009

media update: October

October was quite eventful, and not always in a good way. To give you an example: I cried in front of my boss. He's not new to the company, but he IS new to management, and he was absolutely horrified. I wasn't too jazzed about it either; I've cried at work before, but not in a long time, and never in front of anyone else.

Fortunately, October wasn't all smeared mascara and deep draughts of cough syrup to help me sleep at night (joke); there was some fun to be had too. G and I had a terrific outing to Little Tokyo, which included a delicious curry lunch and an amazing exhibit of kokeshi at the Japanese-American National Museum, and of course the Silent Hill haunted maze was awesome. But I also spent a week in Minnesota with my dad and brother, and I got to meet A, Daddy-O's girlfriend of 6 months. She speaks 5 languages, she plays blues harp (harmonica to you honkies), and she and Daddy-O are such a good fit. She's a far cry from his ex-fiancee G, that's for damn sure.

Anyway, aside from meeting A, it was a fairly uneventful trip. I got my nom on hardcore, visited a couple of museums (including an exclusive gallery opening at the Minneapolis Institute of Art, which had free champagne and male and female go-go dancers dressed in skimpy French courtwear), fixed stuff around the house, went to the Como Zoo and Conservatory, read, got the best massage of my life from a petite Korean with hands that should be insured by Lloyd's of London, shopped, and paid off my sleep debt and then some. I wish I could have stored the extra hours, like a camel stores fat in its hump, so I could cash them in when I really need them. I forgot my camera like a dolt, but I took a few cell phone shots. (Unfortunately, no pictures were allowed at the gallery or there would have been some nice juicy go-go dancer photos here.) Mouse over the pictures for more info.

Yeah, I was real thrilled to see this the day after I arrived.  Fortunately, this was the only day it snowed.

The Sacrificial Smores Platter at Chino Latino.  I split this with R because it was ginormous.

Spoonbridge and Cherry at the Walker Arts Center

Emperor tamarins are seriously the cutest fucking things in the universe.  I watched them for about an hour until a hungry Daddy-O dragged me away.

The one in the middle looks like the PRINGLES MASCOT

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


1. Secondhand World by Katherine Min: In the first chapter, we're introduced to Isadora, a Korean-American teenager who's just been released from a burn ward. The book then goes back in time to reveal precisely what happened. It was mostly just okay, but I loved this paragraph about her boyfriend breaking up with her: "What I judged him for most harshly was the terrible cliché he'd left me with: 'It just wasn't in the cards.' That of all the beautiful, funny, and tender things he'd said to me, these were the last words I would hear him speak."

2. Evidence by Jonathan Kellerman: A dead couple, locked in an embrace, are discovered inside a half-built mansion. The man is identified as a "green" architect, but the woman remains a mystery, so psychologist Alex Delaware and cop Milo Sturgis start looking for clues. Not one of Kellerman's better ones, but certainly not bad, and there are a couple of surprisingly sharp lines, like when Delaware refers to the desire to construct huge buildings as an "edifice complex".

3. In a Perfect World* by Laura Kasischke: Jiselle is a flight attendant who thinks her dreams have come true when she falls in love with Mark, a hunky widowed pilot. But when they get married, she finds herself taking care of his three children while he's away. Things only get worse when a pandemic called the Phoenix flu spreads across the US, and when Mark's plane is detained in Germany for several months, Jiselle has to fight to keep her new family safe. Occasionally the author strays into melodrama and purple prose, but overall it's an absorbing read.

4. The Private Papers of Eastern Jewel* by Maureen Lindley: Based on a true story, this novel follows Eastern Jewel, a Chinese princess who is banished to Japan after she's caught spying on her father diddling one of his concubines. Eventually, she becomes a spy for the Japanese government...with disastrous results. I found the political aspects of this book boring, but there are a ton of sex scenes and lavish period detail to make up for it. A rollicking good read that kept me occupied during a long plane ride. (And I was damn glad to have it; the movie was Ice Age 3.)

5. Ai no Kusabi: Metamorphose by Reiko Yoshihara: God, these are SO BAD. I keep reading them, though, both out of loyalty to the source material for my favorite anime OVA of all time and the occasional spicy sex scene.

6. A Touch of Dead by Charlaine Harris: A collection of previously published Sookie Stackhouse stories. I think I might have burned myself out on Sookie, thanks to gorging on every single book back in August.

7. Jennifer Johnson Is Sick of Being Single* by Heather McElhatton: The title character is a woman who lives in Minneapolis, working as a copy editor by day and going on terrible blind dates at night. She dreams of Mr. Right, and when she meets the rich, handsome son of her boss, she thinks her dreams have come true...but of course things aren't so easy. I thought this was going to be standard chick lit, and although it does feature some of the usual cliches (supportive gay friend, weight issues), I was SO wrong. For one thing, I've never read a chick lit novel with an extended description of anal experimentation gone awry; for another, it's incredibly funny, often in a very dark way. (And relatable; the scene where she hides in a bathroom stall so no one will see her gorging on Cinnabons made me cringe in recognition. Not that I've done that recently, mind, but it hit a little closer to home than I would have liked.) Most of all, the ending absolutely floored me. By the 50th page of this book, I thought I knew how it would end, but I was so very wrong. Highly recommended, but fair warning: you will either love or hate the ending. I can't imagine any middle ground.


1. Chocolate, Please: My Adventures in Food, Fat, and Freaks by Lisa Lampanelli: A very politically incorrect memoir by comedy's "Lovable Queen of Mean". It has some hysterical lines in it, but it suffers from the same problem as every other comedic memoir I've ever read in that jokes aren't nearly as funny if you read them as opposed to hearing someone tell them.

2. You Are One-Third Daffodil by Tom Nuttall: A collection of trivia and unusual facts. For example, as the title states, we share 35% of our DNA with daffodils, toasters are banned in Cuba until 2010, and porn stores outnumber McDonald's restaurants by 3 to 1 in the US. (I cry bullshit on this last one, by the way; I can name at least 10 McDonald's within 15 miles of me, but the closest porn store is about 30 miles away.) Also, according to the library's website, books like this are called "vade-mecums". Um, I'll stick to calling them "trivia books", thanks. Anyway, a fun book with a really cool retro cover.

3. The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2009*: God, I'm so anal that I wavered over whether to put this in the fiction or the nonfiction section, since it includes a bit of each, but finally decided it should go here because there's more of the latter than the former. Anyway, these anthologies always have lots of really good stuff in them. My favorite entries this year: a short story called "Wild Berry Blue" by Rivka Galchen and an article called "The Chameleon" about a French con artist.


1. The Best American Comics 2009

2. Living for Tomorrow by Taishi Zaou

3. The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service vols. 7-9 by Eiji Otsuka and Housui Yamazaki

4. The Impostor's Daughter* by Laurie Sandell


1. Away We Go*: A quirky flick about a couple (John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph) expecting their first child. They travel around the country looking for someplace to settle down, and along the way they learn a lot about how to raise their child...and how NOT to. There was one uncharacteristically saccharine scene near the end, but for the most part it was an alternately funny and touching movie.

2. The Girlfriend Experience: A New York City escort struggles to balance her job and her boyfriend with limited success. Like Bubble, another Steven Soderbergh film, the dialogue is so real that at times you have a hard time remembering that you're watching a movie and not a documentary. One thing that threw me, though: the escort is played by porn star Sasha Grey, but there's no sex, and the only time you see her naked, her body is mostly obscured in shadow. Why bother getting a porn star and not a "real" actress if you aren't going to showcase their particular, er, skill set? This isn't to take away from her performance, though; she's not Oscar-caliber or anything, but I think she did a good job. After a few minutes I even forgot that I'd watched her in one of the raunchiest porn clips I've ever seen.

3. Fear(s) of the Dark: An anthology of short, predominantly black and white, very creepy films. The best one was by Charles Burns, in which a boy finds a strange insect, but overall this is pretty skippable. The animation is quite good, but most of the stories don't hold up.


1. "Poker Face" by Lady Gaga