Thursday, September 03, 2015

media update: August + some other stuff

I thought I'd updated this blog with news about my dad, but turns out I didn't, so here's the scoop: he has Hodgkin's lymphoma, and if that isn't shitty enough, it's a rare strain.  (Because god forbid anyone in my family have something NORMAL, right?)  He's already had several chemo treatments, and despite the sheer suckiness of the whole s(h)ituation,  he's got a really good attitude and is looking forward to getting better and getting on with his life.  I'm so proud of the way he's handling this, and I'm especially grateful for my stepmother, who's taking good care of him and has been an amazing advocate for his care.  She used to be a lawyer for a major hospital---if you live in the US, you've heard of it---and she is NOT the one to fuck with on this kind of thing.

Good thoughts on his behalf are very much appreciated.  Throw in a few for me and my brother too, if you wouldn't mind.  Not to be whiny, but we've had more than our fair share of this kind of shit and it fucking sucks rancid hobo ass.

In more pleasant news, the reason this media update is a couple of days late is because I was in Las Vegas for a short stay.  It was just me, since G-Vo hates Vegas about as much as I love it, and I don't mind traveling by myself.  I was only there for 3 days, but that's my Vegas limit anyway; after that, it becomes way too difficult to resist the temptation to gamble too much, and because I'm too miserly to waste money on cabs (to/from airport excepted, of course), I hoof it everywhere and my feet are basically sashimi by the end of my Vegas trips. 

I got a lot packed into those 3 days, though:  lots of eating (highlights: my first Shake Shack experience, Pink's, a swanky steak dinner followed by vanilla buttermilk pannacotta for dessert, and best of all, french toast dipped in creme brulee batter), quality time with my dear friend J, a comedy/magic show by Mac King, a 4 hands massage (i.e. two therapists working on me at the same time; pricey as hell but deliriously awesome), and Britney Spears' show "Piece of Me".  Yes, I am a closet (not-so-closeted now, I guess) Britney Spears fan, and I have a soft spot for her because she went through a horrible struggle with mental illness in the public eye and seems to have come out ahead.  The staging was terrific, she did all of my favorite songs (and followed my favorite one, "Toxic", with my second favorite, "Stronger"), and goddamn the woman is fucking HOT.  Tabloids that claim she's fat can fuck off out of here with that bullshit. 

Anyway, I had a great time, despite a very crappy travel day back (flight delay, long wait for the flyaway bus, traffic to the flyaway station, traffic HOME, and then my much needed nap being interrupted by extremely loud work on the roof; seriously, I almost cried) and the fact that, despite winning some decent jackpots here and there, I wound up in the hole.  Not by much, though, so whatever.

On with the media update!  Southern California had a brief respite from the heat, but then it came back full throttle, so I got a LOT of reading done since I was doing that in air conditioned comfort rather than walking 3+ miles every weekday, as is my wont. 

Asterisks denote something I particularly enjoyed or found especially worthy of my time; double asterisks are reserved for the absolute creme de la creme.  As ever, your mileage may vary.


1. Local Girls by Caroline Zancan:  Longtime friends Maggie, Lindsey, and Nina are hanging out at their favorite dive bar when movie star Sam Decker walks in.  They strike up a conversation with him, and to their astonishment, he sits down at their table.  Over the course of several hours, long buried resentments rise to the surface, and nothing is ever the same for anyone at that table again.  I wanted to like it more than I did.  It certainly isn't bad, but it wasn't what I was expecting, and not in a good way.

2. The Three* by Sarah Lotz:  On a day that comes to be known as Black Thursday, four planes crash simultaneously.  Only four people survive: three children and one woman who dies shortly afterwards, leaving behind an ominous phone message.  Some people think the children are miracles, but others think they're signs of an impending apocalypse.  One thing's for sure, though: there's something wrong with them.  Utterly fascinating; I had a very hard time putting it down.

Side note:  I read the author's most recent book, Day Four, last month, and it wasn't until halfway through that I found out it was a sequel of sorts to this one.  You could read them out of order, but I wouldn't recommend it, as I think some foreknowledge of the events in The Three would add a lot to your reading of Day Four.

3. Little Black Lies by Sandra Block:  Dr. Zoe Goldman is a resident in training at a psychiatric ward.  She's put in charge of a new patient who murdered her mother, which makes Zoe start thinking about her own mother's mysterious death.  She begins to investigate, but she's not prepared for what she finds.  It was okay.

4. Mindwalker by A.J. Steiger:  Lain is a teenage girl who's in training to become a Mindwalker, a therapist who can access a patient's brain and delete traumatic memories.  Her classmate Steve asks her to help him off the record, and she agrees, but it turns out that he's linked to a government conspiracy.  The premise was better than the execution; I probably won't bother with any future installments.

5. In a Dark, Dark Wood** by Ruth Ware:  Nora is a writer who's a loner and likes it that way.  When she receives an invitation to an old friend's "hen do" (bachelorette party to us non-Brits), she really doesn't want to go, but she feels obligated.  It's being held at a creepy glass house set deep in the woods, and tensions among the group build to the point that Nora begins making plans to leave, but...well, I don't want to spoil it.  It's the kind of clever, excruciatingly suspenseful book that makes you want to call in sick just so you can read it in one sitting.  Keep your schedule clear before you start. 

Side note:  This is probably the fifth book I've read this year that has a comparison to Gone Girl somewhere on the cover, and I'm getting awfully sick of it.  It's just lazy shorthand, and it's almost never accurate.  (There was one exception to this rule, but I don't want to say what book it was because it's a bit of a spoiler.)  The only thing this book has in common with Gone Girl is that it's an excellent book written by a woman.

6. The Witch Hunter by Virginia Boecker:  Elizabeth Grey (wow, a heroine with a normal name in a YA novel!) is a witch hunter, tasked by her king to bring witches to justice.  But when she's accused of being a witch herself, she's thrown in prison.  A notorious wizard frees her under one condition: she has to break the curse that someone has placed upon him.  Decent enough that I'll read the inevitable sequel; I'm assuming it's a trilogy like all other YA books these days.

7. The Barter* by Siobhan Adcock:  Bridget gave up her job to stay at home with her baby daughter, and she doesn't regret it...until a ghost starts haunting her house.  Over 100 years ago, beautiful Rebecca married a childhood friend, but a careless remark she made to her husband on their wedding night changed their relationship forever.  What do these two women have in common?  Well, you'll have to read this book to find out, and I definitely recommend you do so, because it's really good.  I know the whole ghost angle sounds goofy as fuck, but it isn't, and it legitimately freaked me out when I was reading in bed late at night.

8. The Hand That Feeds You by A.J. Rich:  When Morgan comes home one day, her blood-covered dogs greet her at the door.  She thinks they might have injured each other, but the truth is even worse: her fiance Bennett has been mauled to death.  She tries to track down Bennett's parents to tell them about his death, but in the process she discovers that he wasn't who she thought he was.  The mystery has a very unusual conclusion that I don't think I'd ever seen before, but a certain person in the story is so obviously involved that the author might as well have scrawled "[name] is a VILLAIN" on the page where they make their first appearance.

2015 tally so far: 59


1. Fat Girl Walking* by Brittany Gibbons:  The author discusses her life, ranging from her unusual childhood (including an unfortunate use of Scotch tape) to her current role as a body image advocate.  It's refreshingly candid and often uproariously funny.

2. Down the Rabbit Hole by Holly Madison:  The former Playboy bunny spills the tea on her former life as one of Hugh Hefner's live-in girlfriends.  It's actually pretty interesting and loaded with juicy gossip.

3. Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget* by Sarah Hepola:  A very well-written, thoughtful memoir about the author's struggle with alcoholism and how she tried to redefine herself once she was sober.

4. The Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery:  I love octopuses, so I enjoyed this look at what makes them so smart and interesting.  One of the coolest facts:  the slits of their pupils always remain horizontal, no matter what position the octopus is in.  Their eyeballs have balance receptors that make them shift in response to gravity and motion.

5. You're Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) by Felicia Day:  The "queen of the geeks" talks about her lonely childhood and how she found acceptance on the internet and through online gaming. 

6. Stir by Jessica Fechtor:   While she was running on a treadmill, an aneurysm burst in the author's brain and almost killed her.  As she slowly recovered from numerous surgeries and setbacks, she found solace in cooking.  A lovely little memoir filled with delicious recipes.

2015 tally so far: 17


1. Ajin: Demi-Human* vols. 2-5 by Gamon Sakurai and Tsuina Miura

2. Citrus* vol. 3 by Saburouta

3. In Clothes Called Fat* by Moyoco Anno

4. Black Rose Alice vol. 5 by Setona Mizushiro

5. Spell of Desire vol. 5 (final volume) by Tomu Ohmi

2015 tally so far: 59 volumes of manga and 12 graphic novels


1. Run All Night:  When his estranged son is targeted by the mob, retired hitman Jimmy Conlon must try to save him.  Not remotely essential, but it's decent, and of course Liam Neeson and Joel Kinnaman (who will always be Holder from The Killing to me) are quite nice to look at.

2. Love Is Strange:  When the Catholic school where George works finds out that he's just married Ben, his partner of many years, he's immediately fired.  No longer able to afford their home, they're forced to sell and live separately with friends and family, since nobody has space for both of them to stay, and it takes a toll on everyone involved.  It's pretty slow and the ending is kind of WTF-y, but (of course) John Lithgow and Alfred Molina are terrific as Ben and George.

Side note: there's a scene where Ben is talking to his nephew's wife while she's trying to work on her new novel, and the expressions that flit across her face reminded me of when I'm trying to read in the break room and some oblivious twit natters at me.  Dude, take a fucking hint!

3. Insurgent:  Because this is a direct sequel to Divergent, I can't review it properly lest I spoil its predecessor.  It was pretty meh.

4. Faults*:  Ansel Roth is an expert on cults and mind control who's become jaded by his work and a string of personal misfortunes.  After giving a lecture, he's approached by a couple who are desperate to save their daughter Claire from a cult called Faults.  He agrees to take on the job, and he kidnaps Claire and keeps her in a hotel room to try to deprogram her.  This is a very hard movie to review without spoilers, so I'll just add that Leland Orser is absolutely fantastic as Ansel.  I haven't been that impressed by a performance by an actor I wasn't familiar with (though it turns out, after checking his IMDB page, that I'd seen him in supporting roles before) since Michael Parks in Red State.

5. Dracula Untold:  In a desperate bid to save his kingdom, Prince Vlad (Luke Evans) becomes a vampire.  Dumb but enjoyable.

Side note: there's a scene where Vlad's son hands him a food item, and G-Vo said "What the hell?  Is that a TACO?"  It was not in fact a taco, but I still couldn't stop laughing at the thought of Dracula chowing down on a fuckin' taco!

6. Adult Beginners:  After his company falls apart, Jake moves in with his pregnant sister  and reluctantly agrees to serve as nanny to her 3-year-old son.  Not bad, but not remotely essential.

7. Into the Storm:  A group of storm trackers gets caught up in one of the worst tornados in recorded history.  An entertaining slice of disaster porn.

8. Unfinished Business:  After Dan Trunkman (Vince Vaughn) quits his job, he opens his own company.  He and his two associates, horny older guy Tim (Tom Wilkinson, as ever stealing the show) and sweet but dim Mike (Dave Franco), go on a business trip to seal a major deal, but things go awry.

This had some of the worst reviews I've ever seen on Netflix, but it wasn't bad at all!  Sure, there are some touchy feely moments involving Dan's family that feel shoehorned in, but there are also some really funny parts too.  You could do far worse if you're just looking for a fun comedy that doesn't require thinking at all.

2015 tally so far:  71