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.