Wednesday, May 31, 2017

media update: May

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


1. The Perfect Stranger by Megan Miranda:  After her career implodes in a spectacular fashion, Leah Stevens impulsively relocates to a small town with her old friend Emmy.  Shortly after they arrive, a woman who looks like Leah is attacked and left for dead and Emmy goes missing, and Leah discovers that pretty much everyone she knows has something to hide.

2. Given to the Sea by Mindy McGinnis:  Khosa was born to be the Given, which means that once she has a child, she'll be sacrificed to the sea to protect her kingdom from flooding.  Needless to say, she's not real thrilled with her destiny.

3. Into the Water by Paula Hawkins:  After her sister commits suicide at a spot notorious for such events, Jules reluctantly returns to her hometown and discovers there's a whole lot of nasty shit going on.  It was a bit of a slog, to be honest.

4. A Court of Wings and Ruin* by Sarah J. Maas:  This is the latest in the series, so I can't properly review it lest I spoil its predecessors.

Side note:  it's interesting that the main character's name, Feyre, could be pronounced so many different ways: fair, fairy, fire, Farrah, fiery.  (According to the internet,  it's FAY-ruh.)

5. Skitter by Ezekiel Boone:  This is the sequel to spider apocalypse novel The Hatching, so I can't give it a proper review lest I spoil its predecessor.  It wasn't as good as the previous book, largely because it was sorely lacking in spider action.  (This is the only time you will ever hear me criticizing something for not having enough spiders!)

6. Virgin by Radhika Sanghani:  Ellie is a 21-year-old virgin who's determined to change that fact.  Not particularly good, so don't pay attention to the blurb from Joan Rivers (this is not a recent book, obviously) on the front cover.  I almost wonder if it's from someone who just happens to be named Joan Rivers, but not THE Joan Rivers.  That would be rather clever, actually; I'd respect that hustle.

7. This Is Not Over by Holly Brown:  After she stays in a rental house, Dawn receives an email from Miranda, the homeowner, telling her that she's deducted $200 from Dawn's deposit to replace stained sheets.  Dawn doesn't think she had anything to do with it, and moreover, she's pissed off at the implication that she's dirty.  Thus begins an epic catfight in which both parties refuse to budge.

2017 TOTAL SO FAR: 38


1. There Is No F*cking Secret: Letters from a Badass Bitch* by Kelly Osbourne:  In this memoir, written in epistolary form, the reality TV star reflects on everything from life with her (in)famous family to her struggles with drugs and alcohol.  Highly entertaining and often quite funny.

Side note: the censorship is in the original title; I obviously have no problem typing "fuck"!

2. The Fact of a Body** by Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich:  The author had always been against the death penalty, so when she started an internship working to help people accused of murder, she was shocked when she learned about a case and instantly wanted the defendant to die.  She decided to dig deeper into the case of Ricky Langley, convicted of murdering a young boy, and in the process started to come to terms with her own complicated past.  Absolutely gripping.

3. One Day We'll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter* by Scacchi Koul:  An excellent collection of essays covering everything from racism to the joys (and horrors) of the internet.

4. Priestdaddy* by Patricia Lockwood:   After a medical crisis wiped out their finances, the author and her husband Jason moved back in with her eccentric family, including her guitar playing, frequently semi-naked father, a Catholic priest.  (Despite being married with children, he got ordained through a loophole.)  Extremely funny and occasionally moving (especially the chapter called "Abortion Barbie"), and practically every page has a quotable line.  (One of my favorites: Jason sees an extremely gory crucifix on her parents' dining room wall and says "It looks like someone screamed into a ribeye."  Another favorite is when she has a sip of a particularly strong drink and says "It tastes like being thrown through a window.")

2017 TOTAL SO FAR: 14


1. Erased* by Kei Sanbe

2. Monstress** by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda:  This series is so fucking good oh my god.  The art is spectacular, the world-building is fantastic, and I absolutely adore Kippa, the little fox-girl who's sweet but no pushover.  (If anything ever happens to her---not a spoiler---my heart will fall out of my asshole.)  Definitely give this a look if you like graphic novels.

3. So Cute It Hurts!! vol. 12 by Go Ikeyamada

4. My Love Story!!** vol. 12 by Kazune Kawahara and Aruko:  I think this series is only topped by Persona 4 and Harry Potter in terms of having characters I'd kill to be friends with in real life.

2017 TOTAL SO FAR:  17 volumes of manga and 4 graphic novels


1. The Conjuring 2:  Paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren go to England to help a family being tormented by a demon.  Like its predecessor, it's not particularly scary aside from one scene, but it's decent.

2. A Monster Calls*:  Trying desperately to cope with his mother's impending death, young Conor (Lewis MacDougall, who's terrific) is visited by an enormous tree creature who promises to tell him three stories in exchange for the truth that Conor can't bring himself to admit.

Ooof...I mean, JFC.  I can't imagine anyone not being touched by this movie, but if you've ever loved someone with a terminal illness, it's going to fucking WRECK you.  It's one of the most honest depictions of grief I've ever seen.  It bombed hard at the box office, probably because it was sold as a fantasy film for kids, but honestly, I think most kids would be traumatized by it.  For adults, though, it's beautiful and cathartic.

3. Why Him?:  Ned (Bryan Cranston) is horrified when he meets his daughter's boyfriend, tattooed tech millionaire Laird Mayhew (James Franco).  Some scenes dragged on WAAAAAY too long, but it had some very funny moments.

4. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them:  In this movie set decades before the events of the Harry Potter series, Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) visits New York and accidentally frees a horde of magical creatures.  Visually stunning, but they took far too long to make Newt a sympathetic character.

5. Split*:  In M. Night Shyamalan's latest, James McAvoy plays a man with dissociative identity disorder who kidnaps three teenage girls to fulfill the needs of his newest (and extremely dangerous) identity, "The Beast".  I didn't like it as much as I thought I would, mainly because I had a few things ruined for me, but it was still quite good, and James McAvoy was excellent.

6. Teen Titans: The Judas Contract:  Pardon this extremely generic write-up, but I'm trying to avoid spoilers for those of you who might care:  the Teen Titans battle a new threat.  Fairly standard animated DCU fare, but it had some good (and surprisingly adult) lines.

7. Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas:  After the goddess of chaos steals an important book and frames Sinbad for it, he has to find it before his childhood friend Proteus (who nobly offers himself as collateral) is killed.  The inclusion of this older Dreamworks movie on my list probably has you wondering "Da fuq?", but it had just started on HBO when we were channel surfing and we got sucked into it.  It's not GREAT, and Brad Pitt is a terrible voice actor, but it was fun.

8. Resident Evil: The Final Chapter:  Promise?

9. My Life as a Zucchini*:  After his mother dies, Zucchini (not his real name, but the one he prefers to go by) is sent to an orphanage, where he begins to rebuild his life.  We only watched this because it was nominated for a Best Animated Feature Oscar, and we're glad we did; it was really sweet and touching.

10. Rings:  Set 13 years after The Ring, this movie follows...oh, who cares.  This movie was BALLLLLLLLLS and I'm angry I wasted almost 2 hours of my precious life on it.  Please do not make the same mistake.

11. Ocean Waves:  In this melancholy animated film, a high school student's world is turned upside down by an enigmatic transfer student.  It's not bad, but it's for Ghibli completionists only.  (I was thrilled to hear Toshihiko Seki, though; he's one of my favorite Japanese voice actors.)

2017 TOTAL SO FAR: 37

Monday, May 01, 2017

media update: April

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. Rabbit Cake* by Annie Hartnett:  After her mother drowns, 10-year-old Elvis and her family try to come to grips with their grief.  Her older sister Lizzie sleepwalks (and sleep-eats), her father wears her mother's lipstick and brings home a parrot that speaks in her mother's voice, and Elvis decides to finish writing her mother's book.  It's quite good, but it really needed to end one chapter sooner than it did.

2. Blood Rose Rebellion by Rosalyn Eves:  Anna is a member of the Luminates, an order of magicians who use their power to control pretty much everything, but her only real ability seems to be breaking other people's spells.  When she screws up her talented sister's magical debut, Anna is sent to live with family members in Hungary, and she discovers that her power might not be as useless as it initially seemed.  It wasn't bad, but I doubt I'll pick up any future installments as it never really grabbed me.

3. The Secrets You Keep by Kate White:  After a car accident, Bryn is slowly recuperating mentally and physically, so she isn't thrilled when her husband Guy wants to throw a dinner party.  She reluctantly agrees, and regrets it almost immediately when the caterer turns out to be a bitch, several hundred dollars go missing, and someone leaves a box of burnt matches behind, which she takes as a reference to the car accident.  Things continue to go downhill from there, including the copyediting, because there were a shit ton of typos in here.

4. One of the Boys by Daniel Magariel:  The narrator of this book (who's never named) and his older brother move to New Mexico with their drug addicted father, whose behavior keeps getting worse.  Dark and sad.

5. A Simple Favor* by Darcey Bell:  Stephanie is a young widow and "mommy blogger" who befriends glamorous Emily, the mother of her son's friend Nicky.  One day Emily asks if Stephanie can pick up her son after school, and Stephanie agrees, but Emily never picks Nicky up, and her disappearance leads to all sorts of trouble.  This cribs pretty heavily from something else I won't mention for obvious reasons, but it's still really good.

6. Lola* by Melissa Scrivner Love:  Lola's boyfriend Garcia is in a gang called the Crenshaw Six, which has recently partnered with a Mexican drug cartel.  Everybody outside of the gang thinks Garcia is the leader, but the Crenshaw Six knows the truth: Lola is the boss, and when a drug drop goes horribly awry, Lola has to use her street smarts and the cartel's ignorance of her true status to survive.  The author is a screenwriter, which probably explains the super sharp dialogue.  An addictive page-turner that practically begs to be made into a movie.  I was going to give it one of my rare double star ratings until some nonsense near the end, but it's still a great read.

7. Marlena* by Julie Buntin:  Cat isn't thrilled when her family moves to a tiny Michigan town, but then she meets her next door neighbor Marlena.  They quickly form a close friendship, but Marlena's problems catch up with her, and decades later, Cat tries to come to grips with the tumultuous year they spent together.  Beautifully written and a keen observation of female friendships.

8. It Happens All the Time by Amy Hatvany:  Amber and Tyler have been friends since they were teenagers, and although Amber wants to keep it platonic, Tyler doesn't feel the same way.  After college, Amber comes home and starts spending more time with Tyler, and one drunken night, she impulsively kisses him, and then he sexually assaults her.

I've read all of Amy Hatvany's books, and her work is similar to Jodi Picoult, except that she doesn't throw in stupid and/or enraging twists.  So if Picoult has pissed you off one too many times, like me, then give Amy Hatvany a try.

9. Dead Little Mean Girl by Eva Darrows:  Emma doesn't care that her mother has started dating another woman, but she DOES mind when the other woman moves in and brings her daughter Quinn, a nightmarish bitch who makes Emma's life hell.  But when Quinn dies of an allergic reaction (which doesn't happen until well past the halfway point; I'd have skipped this detail due to spoilers, but the title kind of gives it away), Emma reconsiders her relationship with Quinn.

2017 TOTAL SO FAR: 31


1. Scared Selfless: My Journey from Abuse and Madness to Surviving and Thriving by Michelle Stevens, PhD:  When the author was 8 years old, her mother became involved with a man who was only interested in Michelle.  He proceeded to make the next several years of her life a living hell, sexually abusing and torturing her and pimping her out to other sick fucks.  She developed multiple personalities, but managed to survive, get her PhD, and help other abuse survivors.  My synopsis might have been enough warning, but I'm going to give you another one:  she doesn't spare many details, and this book is exceptionally disturbing.  I'm glad she went on to live a beautiful life (her words, not mine), because she certainly deserves it.

Side note: at a couple of points, she mentions a civil suit she brought against her stepfather and mother (who knew about the abuse and did jackshit to stop it), but she never mentions the outcome, which was frustrating as I wanted to know what happened!

2. The Rules Do Not Apply* by Ariel Levy:  A memoir about how the author thought she had it all and then watched as it turned to shit.  It's deeply sad, but it's full of thought-provoking moments and even some humor.  (She even managed to make me laugh at her cat's funeral.)

2017 TOTAL SO FAR: 10


1. Carry This Book by Abbi Jacobson

2. Rin-Ne vol. 23 by Rumiko Takahashi

3. Food Wars!* vol. 17 by Yuto Tsukuda and Saeki Shun

4. Sweetness and Lightning vol. 5 by Gido Amagakure

5. Everyone's Getting Married vol. 4 by Izumi Miyazono

2017 TOTAL SO FAR:  14 volumes of manga and 3 graphic novels


1. Logan**:  In the near future, Logan (aka Wolverine) is slowly losing his regenerative powers.  (He even has to wear reading glasses, which I thought was a nice touch.)  He's isolated himself in the Mexican desert with Professor X, who is suffering from dementia.  All he wants to do is save enough money to buy a boat where he and Professor X can safely live out the rest of their days, but he reluctantly finds himself charged with getting a young mutant (newcomer Dafne Keen, who's really good) to safety.

I mean...goddamn.  It's violent, dark, exciting, often quite funny, and the performances are terrific.  (Patrick Stewart deserves a supporting actor Oscar nomination.)  And ooof, the feels.  So many feels!  It's my favorite movie of the year so far.

2. Moana*:  After demigod Maui's antics put her island in jeopardy, young Moana sets off across the sea to right his wrongs and save her people.  Beautifully animated and quite charming.

Side note: considering that this is a Disney movie, I was really surprised (though not in a bad way) that there was no romantic angle at all. 

3. The Edge of Seventeen*:  Surly Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld) has always lived in the shadow of her super popular older brother Darian.  She finds comfort spending time with her best friend Krista, but her world falls apart when Krista and Darian start dating.  Excellent performances and a great script; it was like an updated John Hughes movie.

4. Desierto:  A group of Mexicans trying to cross the border are targeted by an unhinged sniper (Jeffrey Dean Morgan).  The ending is a bit abrupt, but the performances are good and it was suitably tense.

5. Nocturnal Animals:  When Susan receives a copy of her ex-husband's new book, a dark revenge thriller, she starts to think it's actually about her.  Great performances, but I found the sections from the book much more interesting than the main story.  Also, the ending was kind of ambiguous, but we found some pretty good theories online.

6. Hell or High Water*:  Two brothers resort to robbing banks in order to save their family's ranch, but a Texas Ranger (Jeff Bridges, who was excellent) is hot on their heels.   A beautifully shot modern western.

7. The Girl with All the Gifts*:  An unusual young girl named Melanie may hold the key to humanity's survival after a fungal infection causes a zombie outbreak.  A very good adaptation of Mike Carey's excellent novel.

Side note:  If this sounds a lot like The Last of Us to you, you're not alone.  When I read the book a couple of years ago and got to a particular point, I thought the author had completely ripped TLoU off!  But I read an interview with him that mentioned the similarities, and he said he was almost done writing the book when the game came out and considered scrapping the whole thing, but he'd put too much time and effort into it.  

8. La La Land*:  Aspiring actress Mia (Emma Stone, who won the best actress Oscar) and jazz musician Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) fall in love while chasing their dreams in this bittersweet musical.  It was a bit overhyped, but still charming enough that I really enjoyed it.

2017 TOTAL SO FAR: 26