Tuesday, May 31, 2016

media update: May

CONFIDENTIAL TO G-VO:  Skip fiction review #6 as you may want to read it at some point.

Oops...I just realized that I've been forgetting to keep track of how much I've read/watched since the beginning of the year, so I'll start doing that again as of this entry.

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


1. Maestra* by L.S. Hilton:  Judith Rashleigh works for a prestigious London art house, but when she's fired for daring to suggest her boss is trying to sell a forgery, she realizes that being good has never gotten her anywhere.  She reinvents herself as a femme fatale, living the glamorous life and getting herself in all kinds of sticky situations, from the gruesome to the erotic.  It's quite the page-turner, with an interesting antiheroine and some legitimately hot sex scenes.  Maestra is the first book in a planned trilogy; I'll definitely be curious to see what else Judith gets up to.

2. The Nest by Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney:  The Plumb siblings have been waiting to get their hands on The Nest, a trust fund set up by their father that has grown to a significant amount over the years. But when their brother Leo gets into a drunk driving accident that costs his passenger her foot, their mother taps into the fund to pay the settlement, causing a serious rift in familial relations.  A bit overhyped, but decent enough.

3. The Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson:  Princess Lia doesn't want to be forced into an arranged marriage, so she flees to a faraway village and starts a new life under a new name.  When two men show up at the inn where she works, she's attracted to them, but unbeknownst to her, one of them is an assassin sent to kill her and the other is the prince she was supposed to marry.  I enjoyed it enough that I'll be picking up the sequels.

4. The Heart of Betrayal by Mary E. Pearson:  This is the sequel to #3, so I can't review it properly lest I spoil its predecessor.

5. Food Whore by Jessica Tom:  Tia Monroe moves to New York City in hopes of pursuing her culinary dreams.  When an internship she'd hoped for doesn't pan out, she thinks she's lost her big chance, but then another one pops up when the restaurant critic for the New York Times lets Tia in on a secret: he's lost his sense of taste but doesn't want anyone else to know, so he asks her to be his ghostwriter in exchange for sumptuous meals.  It's like The Devil Wears Prada set in the culinary world, and I liked it.  I do wish it had a different title, though; I had to fashion a plain paper cover so I could read it in the break room at work without getting hauled in front of HR.

6. The Fireman** by Joe Hill:  Millions of people are infected with a plague nicknamed Dragonscale that causes most of the carriers to spontaneously combust.  When a school nurse named Harper Grayson finds out that she's not only infected, but pregnant, she flees for a camp where survivors have taken shelter, but it's not necessarily the safe haven she's hoping for.  I kept wondering whether I should downgrade this to one star, due to spoilery reasons, but I went with two because it's riveting and Joe Hill writes really good female characters.

7. The Assistants* by Camille Perri:  Tina works as the executive assistant to the CEO of a major media company.  One day, an error on an expense report works out in her favor, and instead of correcting it, she uses the money to pay off her student loan.  She vows never to do anything like it again, but other assistants in the company manage to find out, and they all want a piece of the embezzlement pie.  A quick, clever, enjoyable read.

8. A Court of Mist and Fury** by Sarah J. Maas:  Sequel etc.  I will say that it's excellent, and holy crap, Sarah J. Maas writes REALLY hot sex scenes.  Surprisingly graphic for YA, too, though I've also seen this book shelved under "new adult", which is probably much more appropriate.

2016 TOTAL SO FAR:  55


1. Shrill** by Lindy West:  A collection of essays by the former Jezebel contributor, covering everything from flying while fat to confronting a particularly nasty Internet troll who impersonated her dead father.  Blisteringly honest, often uproariously funny (I literally, and I mean literally in the actual sense and not the way it's usually used, sprayed masticated pretzels across a break room table while reading this because I was laughing so hard), and an absolute must-read.

2. Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City* by Matthew Desmond:  A stark look at how evictions have become commonplace in the US due to the never-ending cycle of poverty.  Not a fun read, but an important one.

2016 TOTAL SO FAR: 7


1. The Ancient Magus' Bride* vols. 2-3 by Kore Yamazaki

2. Food Wars! vol. 11 by Yuto Tsukuda and Shun Saeki

3. Say I Love You vol. 13 by Kanae Hazuki

4. The Demon Prince of Momochi House vol. 4 by Aya Shouoto

5. The Walking Dead* vol. 25 by Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard

2016 TOTAL SO FAR:  3 graphic novels and 25 volumes of manga


1. Vacation:  In this spiritual sequel, Rusty Griswold (Ed Helms) decides to take his family on a road trip to Wally World; complications ensue.  It's nowhere near as funny as the original, of course, but Ed Helms and Christina Applegate have good chemistry, Chris Hemsworth (as Rusty's super hung brother-in-law) is hot as hell, there's a hysterical cameo by Norman Reedus, and it made me laugh hard and often.  I don't know if I would have been as forgiving if, say, I'd paid to see it in the theater as opposed to getting it from Netflix, but I did enjoy it.

2. Room*:  Joy (Brie Larson, very deserving of her Oscar) has been confined to a small shed for over seven years by a man she calls Old Nick, along with her 5-year-old son Jack (Jacob Tremblay, not nominated but should have been).  Despite their situation, Joy has given Jack the best life she could, but she's reaching her breaking point.  Very moving, with terrific performances, and I cried throughout most of it.

3. The 5th Wave:  After alien invasions decimate Earth, Cassie (Chloe Grace Moretz) is separated from her brother and tries to find him, but staying alive won't be easy.  It was a massive commercial and critical flop, but it really wasn't that bad.  The book was way better, though.

4. Spotlight*:  This is the true story of how the Boston Globe exposed the Catholic church's practice of taking priests accused of sexual molestation and moving them elsewhere...you know, because a change of location would keep them from hurting kids.  I don't know that it was worth the Best Picture Oscar, which probably should have gone to Room instead (though I haven't seen all of the nominees yet) but it was still very powerful.

5. Dirty Grandpa:  Jason (Zac Efron) reluctantly agrees to drive his grandfather (Robert DeNiro) to Florida for spring break, and they wind up getting into all sorts of shenanigans.  It had a couple of really funny lines/scenes, and Robert DeNiro looks like he's having a blast, but it lost steam about halfway through, and I'm getting really tired of the shrewish fiancee stereotype.  Also, the stinger was so fucking creepy I actually squirmed.

6. Justice League Vs. Teen Titans:  Robin is being a little bitch, so Batman sends him to live with the Teen Titans.  While he's there, Raven's demon father Trigon possesses the Justice League, so the Teen Titans have to fight him and restore order to the world.  Decent enough, but not one of the better installments in the direct-to-video DC movies.

7. The Witch:  After being banished by their settlement in 1600s New England, a family makes a new home at the edge of a forest.  It seems idyllic, but there's something VERY nasty in those woods.

I was really looking forward to this movie, because it got great reviews, but aside from one genuinely disturbing scene near the beginning, it's just not scary.  I didn't care about anyone (which dooms pretty much anything for me, but especially horror movies), and I fear the hype machine led me to expect something much better.  I'll give it credit for beautiful cinematography and an eerie score, but I was very let down, and G-Vo absolutely hated it.  (He gave it 1 star to my 3.)

8. Captain America: Civil War*:  The United Nations wants to limit what superheroes are allowed to do, and although some of the Avengers are okay with restrictions, others don't like the idea at all, causing a serious rift and some truly badass action scenes.  Immensely entertaining (far more so than The Avengers: Age of Ultron) and am I a Stucky (Steve/Bucky) shipper now?  Goddamn right I am. 

2016 TOTAL SO FAR:  47

Sunday, May 01, 2016

media update: April

Why, hello there!  I am (semi-)freshly back from a trip to Las Vegas.  I was just there in late August/early September, but my brother was going to be there and I hadn't seen him in a while, so we made arrangements to meet up.  Overall it was a pretty good trip, even though we won diddly fucksquat; we walked about a million miles, gambled, ate some delicious foods, and saw Ka and comedy hypnotist Anthony Cools.  I also met up with my longtime (30+ years!) friend J, and we had dinner at a tapas bar, went to the Erotic Heritage Museum, and sat for a couple of hours talking about everything from the serious to the sublimely silly.  At one point, I was laughing so hard I was literally sobbing, but the good thing about Vegas is that you will almost never be the most interesting thing in any given place, so nobody was paying me any mind!

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 always, your mileage may vary.


1. Burning Glass by Kathryn Purdie:  Sonya is an auraseer, meaning that she can feel what people around her feel both physically and emotionally.  After she inadvertently causes a tragedy, she's sent to serve the emperor and finds herself at the center of a brewing revolt.  It's got several interesting touches (auraseers routinely practice self-injury as a way of calming themselves; Sonya can't eat meat or wear fur or silk because she can feel the deaths of the animals that provided them) that elevate it above the usual YA fare.

2. Half Lost by Sally Green:  This is the final book in the Half Bad trilogy, so I can't review it properly lest I spoil its predecessors.  I'll just say that my feelings about this particular installment were INTENSELY COMPLICATED and leave it at that.

3. The Way I Used to Be by Amber Smith:  After her brother's best friend rapes her, Eden can't bring herself to tell anyone the truth.  She tries to change everything about her life in hopes that she'll forget what happened, but nothing works, and she finds herself getting deeper and deeper into trouble.  It's not as good as the similarly themed All the Rage (by Courtney Summers), but it's still good and really heartbreaking.

4. The Winner's Kiss by Marie Rutkoski:  This is the final book in a trilogy, so I can't properly review it lest I spoil its predecessors.  It wasn't very good, which was especially disappointing since I enjoyed the first two books in the series.

5. The Revolution of Ivy by Amy Engel:  This is the sequel to The Book of Ivy, so I can't properly review it lest I spoil its predecessor.  (Man, I wish I got paid for every time I have to type the latter part of that sentence!)  It was a good wrap up to the series.

6. Starflight by Melissa Landers:  Solara Brooks wants to book a flight to the outer realm, but it costs too much money, so she reluctantly indentures herself to spoiled rich kid Doran.  But when some shit goes down, they wind up on a spaceship run by an eccentric crew (think Cowboy Bebop) and on the run for their lives.  It was okay.  Please note: if you decide to read this despite my lukewarm review, be warned that the back cover blurb contains a big spoiler.

7. Somewhere Out There by Amy Hatvany:  When they were little, Natalie and Brooke were taken from their mother after her conviction on child neglect charges and separated.  Natalie grew up in a loving home; Brooke bounced around from foster homes and state institutions.  As an adult, Natalie wants to reconnect with Brooke and find out what happened to their mother.  The thing about Amy Hatvany's books is that they're very predictable and "Lifetime movie", but that's exactly what I find enjoyable about them.  Sometimes my brain just needs the literary equivalent of comfort food.

8. The Moon in the Palace by Weina Dai Randel:  When Mei becomes the emperor's concubine, she hopes to regain her family's fortune and make a decent life for herself as well.  But the kingdom is filled with backstabbers, and she has to figure out who she can trust.  It got really draggy near the end, but it was okay.

9. The Darkest Corners* by Kara Thomas:  Tessa reluctantly returns to the town where she grew up to say goodbye to her father, who is dying from cancer while serving a prison term.  She doesn't want to see her old friend Callie, because she knows it will bring up bad memories, but soon she finds out that she doesn't have a choice.  It was like a YA version of Dark Places (this is not a spoiler; it's very similar in tone and characterization, but not so much plotwise), and I really enjoyed it.

10. Alice & Oliver* by Charles Bock:  The title couple live in New York City with their baby daughter Doe.  Things seem just about perfect, but when Alice is diagnosed with cancer, their world is sent into a tailspin.

I was really looking forward to this because it's the second book by Charles Bock, whose Beautiful Children was one of the best debut novels I'd ever read.  Although it wasn't as good as BC, and I could have done without the epilogue, it was still riveting and heartbreaking in equal measure.  Some of it was very hard to read, but it was worth it.

11. Girl in the Dark by Marion Pauw:  Iris is a high-powered attorney who finds out that she has a brother she's never met, and he's in a mental institution for killing his neighbor and her little girl.  Iris doesn't think Ray is guilty, and she decides to reopen his case in hopes of getting him released.  I wasn't entirely satisfied with how it wrapped up, but it was still pretty good.

12. The Devil You Know by Elisabeth de Mariaffi:  In 1993, rookie reporter Evie Jones is assigned to cover the breaking news story of (real) serial killer Paul Bernardo's arrest.  The case brings up the memory of her childhood friend's murder, and she decides to investigate, which puts her in grave danger.  Some really creepy scenes, but like the novel above, I wasn't entirely satisfied with the conclusion.


1. I Will Find You* by Joanna Connors:  At the age of 30, the author was raped while working on a newspaper story.  After her rapist was convicted and sent to prison, she didn't want to speak of the rape ever again, but while touring a college campus with her daughter, she decided to tell her children.  In the process, she decided to get closure by learning more about the man who had changed so much of her life.  Excellent.

2. The Long Shadow of Small Ghosts** by Laura Tillman:  The residents of the poor border town of Brownsville, Texas were no strangers to tragedy or crime, but the brutal murder of three young children in 2003 shocked everyone.  The author began corresponding with the father (who, along with the children's mother, was convicted of the murders) of the victims in hopes of understanding why.  At the same time, she explored the impact of the crimes on the community where it happened.  A really heartbreaking, powerful book.

3. The Wurst of Lucky Peach: A Treasury of Encased Meat by Chris Ying and the editors of Lucky Peach:  The subtitle says it all; this is an appreciation of sausages from around the world, along with essays and recipes.


1. Library Wars vol. 15 (final volume) by Kiiro Yumi

2. So Cute It Hurts!! vol. 6 by Go Ikeyamada

3. My Love Story!!* vol. 8 by Kazune Kawahara and Aruko

4. Attack on Titan: Before the Fall vol. 7 by Ryo Suzukaze and Hajime Isayama

5. Patience* by Daniel Clowes


1. Creed:  Rocky Balboa reluctantly agrees to train Adonis Creed, the hotheaded son of his former rival Apollo Creed.  Good acting, and the fight scenes are exciting.

2. Carol:  Sparks fly when shop clerk Therese (Rooney Mara) meets wealthy socialite Carol (Cate Blanchett).  But it's the 1950s, and Carol's estranged husband plans to use their relationship as proof that Carol's an unfit mother.  It's verrrrrrry slow, but the performances are terrific and it's gorgeously shot.

3.  The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2:  Sequel, etc.  I liked it quite a bit, although a certain extremely important scene from the book was truncated, which lessened the emotional impact.

4. The Forest:  When she finds out that her twin sister has gone missing in Japan's infamous Suicide Forest, Sara decides to brave the forest in hopes of finding her; spooky shit ensues.  The biggest problem with this movie, however, is that not ENOUGH spooky shit ensues.  Oh, and I am real goddamn tired of practically every other horror movie in the last 5+ years ending with exactly the same fucking shot.

5. The Hateful Eight:  During a blizzard, a bounty hunter and his captive take shelter in a cabin with several other (guess how many!) people, and it soon becomes obvious that the storm might have been a less dangerous option.

Oof.  I mean, I'll always watch anything Quentin Tarantino does, but in my opinion, this is by FAR the weakest of his movies.  It's just a deeply weird and unpleasant movie that seems like an excuse to watch Jennifer Jason Leigh getting smacked around for almost 3 hours.

6. Victor Frankenstein:  Igor (Daniel Radcliffe) is a very smart man relegated to working as a circus clown (and one that looks alarmingly like Robert Smith from The Cure) due to his pronounced hunchback.  He's rescued by Dr. Victor Frankenstein (James McAvoy), and together they begin working on creating life out of death.  You've heard this story a million times before, but it's visually interesting and I thought James McAvoy was especially good.

7. Sisters:  When sisters Kate and Maura find out their parents are selling the family home, they decide to throw one last party like the ones of their youth, but things quickly spiral out of control.  It had some pretty funny moments, and one scene with a music box had us howling.


(Note: this review is for the Xbox One version, but it's also available on PC, PS3/PS4, and the Xbox 360.)

In Life Is Strange, Max is a teenage girl who's just received a scholarship to a prestigious boarding school called Blackwell Academy, located in Arcadia Bay, Oregon, where she hopes to further her dreams of becoming a photographer.  She and her family used to live in Arcadia Bay before moving away, and her childhood friend Chloe still lives there, but Max and Chloe have fallen out of touch.  One day, Max is in the bathroom when Nathan Prescott, an unhinged fellow student, storms in, followed by a blue-haired teenage girl.  Oblivious to Max, who's hiding in the corner, Nathan and the girl argue, and Nathan pulls out a gun and shoots her.  Max holds out her hand in shock, and to her astonishment, she discovers that she has the power to rewind time, which she does to save the girl...who turns out to be Chloe.  They rekindle their friendship, and after Max proves her powers to Chloe, they try to unravel the mystery of Chloe's missing friend Rachel.

  • The writing and voice acting (especially Chloe) are terrific.
  • This game passes the Bechdel test with flying colors, which is rare for a video game!
  • Max keeps a journal that she constantly updates with entries and sketches, and it's really well done.
  • The game has important points to make about bullying without being overly preachy.
  • No matter what decisions you make, Max second guesses them.  This sounds like a negative, but it makes it very realistic!
  • Max has a classmate named Warren that I absolutely loved.  He's got flawless taste in movies (a text to Max talks about Primer), and he's just so sweet.  There's a decision you have to make involving him (not a huge decision, so this isn't a spoiler, don't worry), and all I can say is that there's only one right choice out of the three, and anyone who chooses either of the other two options is a heartless monster.
  • I cried at least four times.
  • It can be really funny; at one point, a bitchy classmate tells photography-obsessed Max to "go fuck yourselfie", and at another, Max says "Life is...weird," which was awesome because, of course, G-Vo and I were waiting for her to say "Life is...strange".
  • There's a creepy section that's straight out of Silent Hill.


  • The graphics are serviceable, but nothing to write home about, probably due to its genesis as a downloadable game.
  • There are a couple of glitches, including an entire scene where Max's mouth didn't move at all despite the fact that she was talking.
  • I REALLY could have done without a character calling Max the c-word.  True, it wasn't a character we were supposed to like, but it seemed unnecessary.
  • The rewind mechanic occasionally went way past the point it was supposed to.  Along the same lines, you could press the right bumper to skip dialogue you had already heard, but you had to keep pressing it after every sentence, which was annoying.  It should have just taken you to the next dialogue choice.
  • The title, although appropriate, isn't particularly good.  I think Rewind would have been better.
  • No replay value, especially since you can just rewind to see what would happen if you had chosen a different option.
  • Max's powers are never explained.  (Though to be fair, I would prefer no explanation over a crappy one.)

If there had been a decent explanation for Max's ability, and if there was more replay value, Life Is Strange would have gotten a 9 out of 10.  As it stands, though, it's still a phenomenal game that I heartily recommend.  I give it 8 Polaroid pictures out of 10.