Monday, February 29, 2016

media update: February

Thanks to an unusual heat wave (80s and 90s in February...WTF, SoCal?) that kept me inside instead of walking 3+ miles a day, along with a slew of other factors, I was averaging about 5 hours/day of reading time this month, which explains the extremely long fiction list.

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


1. The Bullet* by Mary Louise Kelly:  When Caroline begins experiencing strange pain, her doctor sends her to get an MRI, which reveals a bullet lodged in her neck that she never knew was there.  Her curiosity is understandably piqued, but her investigation leads her down a dangerous path.  An extremely enjoyable read that I tore through in record time.

2. Assassin's Heart by Sarah Ahiers:  Lea Saldana belongs to a family of assassins that's constantly vying for dominance over the kingdom of Lovero.  She's secretly involved with Val Da Via, the son of another clan, but when it looks like his family is involved in the murder of hers, she leaves home to plot her revenge.  Similar to Robin LaFevers' His Fair Assassins trilogy and Sarah J. Maas' Throne of Glass series, and although it's not as good as those books, it was entertaining enough that I'll pick up any further installments.

3. Angels Burning* by Tawni O'Dell:  Due to an underground coal fire, the small Pennsylvania town of Campbell's Run (fictional, but obviously based on Centralia, the inspiration for Silent Hill) has been abandoned for years.  But when the body of a teenage girl is found stuffed into a sinkhole there, police chief Dove Carnahan's investigation turns up some strange parallels to her own past.  I really liked it, and I hope the ending means that there will be more books featuring Dove.

4. Tarnished by Kate Jarvik Birch:  This is a direct sequel to Perfected, so I can't properly review it lest I spoil its predecessor.  I liked it more than Perfected, though.

5. Endure by Sara B. Larson:  This is the final book in the Defy trilogy, so I can't properly review it lest I spoil its predecessors, but it was my favorite of the three.

6. The Silent Sister by Diane Chamberlain:  When her father dies, Riley MacPherson is tasked with cleaning out his house in order to get it ready for sale.  In the process, she discovers evidence that her older sister, who supposedly committed suicide more than twenty years ago, is actually alive, and she becomes determined to find out the truth.  I would have liked it much more if I hadn't figured out two major plot points about halfway through.  (Not boasting; they were pretty heavily telegraphed.)

7. Menagerie* by Rachel Vincent:  Due to an incident called the Reaping, cryptids are viewed with fear and suspicion and rounded up for research or sent to zoos or canned hunting farms.  Delilah Marlow is visiting a carnival with her friends when the mistreatment of a werewolf cub sends her into a rage and unleashes the beast inside that she never knew she had.  She's taken into custody and sold to the very carnival she was visiting, and as she suffers from mistreatment, she begins to formulate a plan for freedom.  Vividly written and engrossing.  There's going to be a sequel, and I would like it now, please.

Side note: although the description makes it sound like YA, it is most definitely not.  I say this not because I have anything against YA (well, obviously, since I read YA like it's my job), but in case anyone was interested in this book and didn't want to read it because they thought it was YA.

8. Immaculate by Katelyn Detweiler:  Mina loves her boyfriend, but she wants to wait until they graduate before losing her virginity.  But when a slew of weird symptoms lead her friends to believe she might be pregnant, she takes a pregnancy test just to prove them wrong...and it comes out positive.  Is she a victim, a liar, mentally ill, or a miracle?  Intriguing premise, but no real closure.

9. Breakdown by Jonathan Kellerman:  Beautiful actress Zelda Chase is brought in for psychiatric evaluation after a psychotic episode.  When her body is discovered later on, Dr. Alex Delaware wants to know what happened to her young son, and the investigation leads to some unexpected places.  Not bad, but I started getting bored near the end.

10. Black Rabbit Hall* by Eve Chase:  Lorna Dunaway wants to get married at Black Rabbit Hall, a beautiful but decaying country estate to which she's inexplicably drawn, but it's haunted by a tragic past.  Gorgeously written and dark; the epilogue could have been left off in my opinion, but the rest of it is fantastic.  Read it in one sitting on a stormy night for the best experience.

11. The Vegetarian by Han Kang:  After a series of violent dreams, Korean housewife Yeong-hye decides to stop eating meat.  Her husband and family aren't happy with her choice, but she's determined to stick to her guns.  There's a bit more to it than that, but I don't want to spoil it.  I didn't much care for it, but at least it was short.  Warning: includes a truly horrifying scene of animal cruelty.

12. All You Never Wanted by Adele Griffin:  After their mother remarries an outrageously rich man, Thea and Alex seem to be on top of the world.  But after an incident at the magazine where she's interning, Alex withdraws into herself, and Thea decides to take advantage of her sister's emotional state.  It's decent enough, but god I wanted to slap the shit out of Thea on practically every page.

13. Sweetgirl** by Travis Mulhauser:  Concerned for her drug addicted mother's safety during an impending blizzard, 16-year-old Percy sets off for a local meth dealer's cabin in hopes of finding her.  Instead, she finds the dealer and his girlfriend passed out, the corpse of a rotting dog in an upstairs bedroom, and a crying baby left in a freezing cold room.  Impulsively, Percy takes the baby, setting off a chain of unfortunate events.  Alternately funny and heartbreaking (it made me cry, which books rarely do), it's my favorite novel of the year so far, and it would make an absolutely killer movie.  Get on it, Hollywood.


1. KooKooLand* by Gloria Norris:  A memoir about the author's love/hate relationship with her complicated father Jimmy, an alternately charming and psychotic con man.  Definitely worth reading if you love engrossing memoirs or want to be reassured that someone out there has an even more dysfunctional family than yours.


1. Apothecarius Argentum by Tomomi Yamashita

2. Kamisama Kiss vol. 20 by Julietta Suzuki


1. Burnt:  After overcoming his drug addiction, bad boy chef Adam Jones (Bradley Cooper) goes to London in hopes of opening a new restaurant and getting a third Michelin star.  It's not essential viewing, but it's an interesting look at what goes on behind the scenes at a top restaurant.  (Gordon Ramsay and Mario Batali were listed as consultants, so I assume it's pretty accurate.)

2. Freeheld:  When she's diagnosed with terminal lung cancer, police detective Laurel Hester (Julianne Moore) tries to ensure that her domestic partner Stacie Andree (Ellen Page) will receive her pension benefits, but when her request is denied, she decides to fight back.  With the exception of a surprisingly campy Steve Carell, the performances are great, but it had a very "Lifetime movie of the week" feel to it.  Didn't stop me from sobbing for the last 20 minutes of it, though.  Based on a true story.

3. The Visit*:  Siblings Becca and Tyler are excited to meet their grandparents for the first time, but their vacation turns into a nightmare when Nana and Pop Pop begin acting very, very strange.

I know M. Night Shyamalan's name has become tarnished over the years due to flops like The Happening and the utter cinematic abortion that was The Last Airbender, but I swear to you, this movie was really fucking GOOD.  The acting is great (especially from the woman who plays Nana), there are some really funny scenes, and the scary stuff is legitimately ball-shrivelingly tense.  G-Vo and I weren't expecting much from this flick, but we were very pleasantly surprised.

4. The Diary of a Teenage Girl*:  Minnie is a 15-year-old girl living in San Francisco in the late 70s.  Bored with her life, she decides to proposition her mother's boyfriend Monroe, and he eagerly agrees.  The subject matter is obviously uncomfortable, but I liked the fact that the movie didn't try to define Minnie's experiences for her, if that makes any sense.  It's very well done.

5. Dragon Blade:  A group of Chinese soldiers, led by warrior Huo An (Jackie Chan), teams up with defected Roman soldiers to protect the Silk Road from a corrupt general.  We thought this would be LOL-worthy since it stars John Cusack and Adrien Brody (not that there's anything wrong with them, but they don't exactly scream "historical martial arts flick" material), but it was actually pretty good!

6. Ted 2:  Foulmouthed sentient teddy bear Ted and his wife Tami-Lynn want to adopt a baby, but when the adoption is blocked because Ted is considered property, he takes his fight to court.  This is heresy in some circles, but I liked this one more than its predecessor.

7. Deadpool*:  After an experimental cancer treatment leaves him disfigured, but gifted with accelerated healing powers, Wade Wilson adopts the persona of Deadpool and sets out to find the man responsible.  A gory, gleefully raunchy treat.

8. Grandma:  When her granddaughter Sage comes to her asking for money for an abortion, cranky academic Elle (Lily Tomlin) takes her on a road trip to scrounge up the funds from friends and ex-lovers.  It was refreshing to see a comedy (well, more like a dramedy, though I hate that fucking word) treat abortion in such a non-judgmental manner; the only other one I can think of offhand is Obvious Child.

9. The Transporter Refueled:  Frank (Ed Skrein) makes his living transporting mysterious packages for other people.  A group of rogue hookers kidnaps his father (Ray Stevenson) in order to force Frank to help them, and he must utilize all his skills to save his dad.  It's mindlessly enjoyable enough, but I really missed Jason Statham in the title role.  (Then again, if Jason Statham AND Ray Stevenson had both been in this movie, I don't think I would have been able to handle the hotness!)

10. Hitman: Agent 47:  A genetically modified hitman teams up with a young woman in order to help her find her father and take down a mysterious corporation.  Based on the video game series, which means the story is a muddled mess but the action is aces.

11. Sunshine:  When the sun begins to die, a team of scientists and astronauts is sent into space with a nuclear bomb that they hope will "jump start" the sun back to life, but things don't go quite as planned.  It wasn't quite as good as we hoped it would be, considering Alex Garland (of Ex Machina fame) wrote it, but it was decent.


(If you're wondering about all the Halloween themed songs on this list, it's because I was browsing the CD section at the library and they had a disc called New Wave Halloween, which of course piqued my interest.)

1. "Everyday Is Halloween" by Ministry

2. "Devil in My Car" by the B-52's

3. "Dead Man's Party" by Oingo Boingo

4. "Pet Sematary" by The Ramones

5. "Theme from Halloween" by MX-80 Sound

6. "Halloween" by Siouxsie and the Banshees

7. "Halloween" by The Misfits

8. "Halloween" by Dead Kennedys


G-Vo and I are longtime fans of Telltale Games' series of episodic adventure games, not just because they've been based on some of our favorite things (i.e. The Walking Dead and Fables) but because we know the quality will be outstanding.  Fortunately, Game of Thrones was no exception.

The Game of Thrones video game (hereafter just referred to as GoT) focuses on House Forrester, which appears briefly in the books but hasn't shown up in the TV show yet.  House Forrester lives in Ironrath and controls the production of ironwood, which is highly prized due to its virtual indestructibility.  Unfortunately, lots of other people want to control the forest, and some of them are very bad people.


  • The writing is exceptional; like G-Vo said, it's almost like a mini-spinoff of the Game of Thrones TV show.  
  • I enjoyed seeing familiar faces from the show, such as Tyrion, Jon Snow, and Daenerys, as well as meeting new people.  My favorite game-only characters were Asher Forrester, a charming sellsword, and his badass friend Beshka.
  • Speaking of Asher Forrester, godDAMN.  Mama like!  (Side note:  I tweeted something pervy about Asher and his voice actor favorited it.  That was, uh, embarrassing.)
  • The voice acting was terrific (with one surprising exception that I'll address in the "loathed" section).  The actors from the show voice their own characters, and the voice acting for the original characters is high quality as well.
  • Some of the backgrounds are gorgeous.
  • I love the "choose your own adventure" format.  You have to make some really tough decisions, often with very little time to mull them over.
  • Although familiarity with the GoT universe is a plus, I don't think it's absolutely necessary to enjoy this game, especially because it features a codex with helpful background information on all the characters.


  • When Jon Snow made his first appearance, I turned to G-Vo (who had already played through the game on his own) and said, "I guess Kit Harington was busy."  G-Vo laughed and said, "I thought that too, but that's actually him."  I don't know if Kit Harington just felt like phoning it in or what, but it was awfully jarring.  His voice acting did improve as the game progressed, but boy, those first few scenes with him were not good.  
  • Although this is true to the GoT universe (and real life in general), it really sucks that very bad things happen to good people.
  • Occasionally the dubbing didn't seem to match up with the lip movements.  (Note: we played this on the PS4, and that was the only real glitch I noticed; however, people who played on other systems mentioned far worse glitches, so if you have a choice between systems, be sure to do your homework!)
  • It ends with several massive cliffhangers!  There's going to be a season 2, but I don't want to wait. 

Overall, Telltale's Game of Thrones is a worthy addition to both their own library and the Game of Thrones mythos.  I give it 8 defiant cries of "Iron from ice!" out of 10.

Monday, February 01, 2016

media update: January

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. Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff:  After a whirlwind courtship, Lotto and Mathilde get married, much to the horror of his rich mother, who disowns him.  After some very lean years, Lotto finds success as a playwright and Mathilde basks in the reflected glory, but things aren't quite what they seem.

Man, reading this was a weird experience.  I started it, got about 100 pages into it, didn't like it, and went on Amazon to read some (non-spoilery) reviews to see if I should continue.  Everybody said it got really interesting about halfway through, so I kept going, and although they were right, it still wasn't the amazing book I'd been led to believe.  The writing is gorgeous, but I absolutely despised just about every single person in it, and I was glad when I finally finished.

2. Defy by Sara B. Larson:  After her parents are murdered, Alexa disguises herself as a boy to serve in the king's army alongside her twin brother.  But she, her fellow guard Rylan, and Prince Damian are abducted by the enemy, and she's terrified that her secret will come to light.  It's not phenomenal or anything, but I was interested enough to pick up the sequels.

3. The Scamp by Jennifer Pashley:  Rayelle meets a reporter who's looking into the disappearance of several girls, and she decides to go with him in order to get out of her small town, but the investigation turns up some unsettling leads.  If you didn't know anything about this book other than the title, you'd probably assume it was a cute comic romp, and boy would you be surprised.  It's well written, but it's so dark and disturbing I wanted a shower and a nap after finishing it.

4. Descent* by Tim Johnston:   After Caitlin disappears during a vacation in the Rockies, her devastated family tries to pick up the pieces.  I don't usually cry over books (which is weird, since I usually cry at the drop of a hat, if you'll pardon the cliché), but I sure as shit cried over this one.  I did have two problems with the plot, neither of which I can share due to spoilers, but overall it's really good.

5. Ignite by Sara B. Larson:  This is the direct sequel to book #2 above, so I can't review it lest I spoil its predecessor.

6. The Expatriates by Janice Y.K. Lee:  The lives of three American women intersect in Hong Kong:  Mercy, a young woman whose negligence leads to tragedy; Margaret, one of the victims of that tragedy; and Hilary, who desperately wants a child.  Vivid and beautifully written.

7. Perfected by Kate Jarvik Birch:  Genetically engineered human "pets" are all the rage among the elite.  One of these pets, Ella, is placed in the home of a congressman, where she falls in love with his son Penn and begins to hope for a different life than the one she's been trained to accept.  Choppy writing, but the premise is interesting enough that I'll check out the sequel.

8. Passenger by Alexandra Bracken:  On the night Etta Spencer is scheduled to make her professional violin debut, tragedy strikes and she's thrust into the past, where she learns that she's a time traveler and a powerful family wants her to find something her mother stole from them.  I'm not generally a fan of time travel stuff, but I wanted to read this because I loved the author's Darkest Minds trilogy so much.  It was all right.


1. The Sound of Gravel by Ruth Wariner:  Unwilling to adhere to his church's restrictions against polygamous marriage, the author's father moved to Mexico and started a colony there.  He was murdered by his brother, and afterwards, Ruth's mother remarried a man named Lane, who---to put it mildly---was a shitty husband and stepfather.  It reminded me of Jesus Land by Julia Scheeres, and though it's not as good as that book (which is one of my favorite nonfiction books of all time), it's still a moving story of survival.


1. Attack on Titan: Junior High vol. 4 by Hajime Isayama and Saki Nakagawa

2. Attack on Titan: Before the Fall vol. 6 by Satoshi Shiki and Ryo Suzukaze

3. Citrus* vol. 4 by Saburouta


1. The Man from U.N.C.L.E.*:  This Guy Ritchie reboot of the old TV series flopped hardcore, but it really didn't deserve to.  It's stylish (that 60s couture!), the cast is great, and there are two laugh out loud funny scenes that were worth the rental alone.

2. Revolver:  I don't even know how to summarize this confusing mess, but basically Jason Statham (looking decidedly less hot than usual) gets out of prison and some loan sharks make him start working for them and bleh.  Not worth my time or yours going into more detail.

3. No Escape*:  After relocating to an unnamed Asian country, an American family immediately gets caught in the middle of a violent rebellion, and they have to get across the border before they're killed.  Incredibly intense and well done.

4. Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse:  When a zombie outbreak threatens their town, three scouts band together to save their friends.  It wasn't bad, but it REALLY wanted to be Zombieland or Dead Rising, and it failed.

5. Let's Be Cops:  Two buddies dress up as cops for a costume party and decide that they like the attention it gets them, so they pretend to be real cops...which puts them in the crosshairs of a crime lord.  Incredibly stupid, but it had some funny moments.

6. Amy:  A gripping but intensely sad documentary about the meteoric rise and tragic death of singer Amy Winehouse that will make you rage.  She had to take responsibility for her own choices, of course, but the enablers around her sure didn't make it easy.  That line in "Rehab" where she sings "I ain't got the time/and my daddy thinks I'm fine" is based on something her father actually said.  I know hindsight is 20/20, but I can't imagine anyone seeing her at her lowest point and thinking she was fine.  What a shame.

7. Infinitely Polar Bear:  When Maggie (Zoe Saldana) gets a scholarship for the MBA program at Columbia, she leaves her two young daughters in Boston with her husband Cam (Mark Ruffalo), who's bipolar.  And...that's about it.  There's no real character growth to speak of, and I was actually kind of pissed off at Maggie because (and this following rant is NOT mom/mental illness shaming) why the hell did she think it was a good idea to leave two children with a chain smoking man who REGULARLY decides not to take his lithium AND frequently leaves them alone while he goes out drinking?  Yes, she wanted to make a better life for her family, but come the fuck on.

8. Sinister 2:  Desperate to escape her abusive husband, a mother and her sons hide out in a rural farmhouse.  Unfortunately, because the farmhouse is haunted by a demon who uses young children to commit murder, she may be in even more danger than she was before.  The first movie really got under my skin, but this was a pretty pale imitation.  The home movies of the murders are still incredibly unnerving, though, and the soundtrack by tomandandy (who also scored The Mothman Prophecies) is fucking terrifying.  If we're ever blessed with another Silent Hill game and Akira Yamaoka isn't interested in participating, I'd be more than happy with tomandandy stepping up to the plate.

9. Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials:  This is a direct sequel, so I can't review it properly lest I spoil its predecessor.  I liked it more, largely because of the action sequences, but like G-Vo, I had a few moral qualms about some of the decisions made by the protagonist.

10. Mr. Holmes:  Battling dementia, Sherlock Holmes retires to the countryside, where he tries to remember his final case and why it haunts him.  It's a bit "small", but as you'd expect, Ian McKellen is perfect in the title role.

11. The Martian*:  A group of astronauts is working on Mars when a storm forces them to leave the planet early.  They think their crewmate Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is dead and they leave him behind, but he's actually alive, and he has to figure out how to signal Earth for help.  Immensely entertaining.

12. Sherrybaby:  After being released from prison, Sherry tries to reconnect with her little girl and learn how to live in society again.  It's depressing as hell, but Maggie Gyllenhaal is absolutely phenomenal as Sherry.  The fact that she didn't get nominated for an Oscar when this came out (2006) is a ripoff.

13. Terminator Genisys:  John Connor sends Kyle Reese back to 1984 in order to protect Sarah Connor, and because time travel is fraught with problems, shit happens.  Some pretty good action sequences, but I was confused throughout much of it because I'm not up on my Terminator lore.


As you can see from the tracks below, I went on a bit of an 80s/ new wave kick.

1. "Lawnchairs" by Our Daughter's Wedding

2. "Papa's Got a Brand New Pigbag" by Pigbag

3. "Bostich" by Yello

4. "Ball of Confusion" by Love and Rockets

5. "Rapture" by Blondie

6. "Beat Box" by Art of Noise

7. "A E I O U (Sometimes Y)" by EBN-OZN

8. "Who's That Girl?" by Eurythmics

9. "Steppin' Out" by Joe Jackson

10. "Space Age Love Song" by A Flock of Seagulls

11. "Oh Yeah" by Yello

12. "Rock Lobster" by The B-52's

13. "Destination Unknown" by Missing Persons

14. "Dancing in Heaven (Orbital Be-Bop)" by Q-Feel

15. "Der Kommissar" by After the Fire

16. Greatest (full album) by Duran Duran