Tuesday, July 31, 2018

media update: July

I had a lovely birthday week!  G and I spent several days in San Francisco and Monterey with his family.  There were some snags along the way (excruciating 9+ hour drive there due to traffic, no laundry facilities in either AirBnB, a few minor injuries/ailments in our group, parking in SF is a biiiiiiiitch), but overall it was a great trip.  Highlights: doing an escape room with G's nephews, SFMOMA, the Monterey Bay Aquarium, and---at the risk of sounding sappy as shit---just spending time with my wonderful second family.  Good folks, all of 'em.

It's another big update this month (as far as books go, anyway) because the massive heat wave scorching SoCal meant that I spent as much time indoors as humanly possible.

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. A Guide for Murdered Children* by Sarah Sparrow:  The souls of murdered children enter a purgatory where they take over the body of an adult (called a "landlord") in order to track down the person who killed them and take revenge.  This haunting novel is like nothing I've ever read before, but I have to issue a huge fat warning here: although most of the murders aren't described in graphic detail, the exception was so disturbing it haunted me for days afterwards.

2. When Katie Met Cassidy by Camille Perri:  Katie has always considered herself to be totally straight, but when she befriends a lesbian named Cassidy, she starts to consider other options.  The writing is a tad clunky at times, but it's still a fun and breezy read.

Side note: I kept picturing Ruby Rose as Cassidy while reading this, so if this gets made into a movie and there are any casting directors reading my humble blog, please enjoy this free idea.

3. The Anomaly by Michael Rutger:  Nolan Moore is an archeologist who's gained fame by doing a schlocky webseries called The Anomaly Files.  Going by the reports of an explorer from the early 20th century, they set out to find a mysterious cavern in the Grand Canyon, and it's no spoiler to say they find something bad.  Like Annihilation had a baby with Jurassic Park and then they dosed the baby with LSD.

4. Her Body and Other Parties* by Carmen Maria Machado:  A collection of short stories.  My favorite was "Real Women Have Bodies", in which women start to slowly become invisible, but they're all quite good.

5. Tell Me Lies by Carola Lovering:  When Lucy and Stephen meet in college, there's instant chemistry between them, but to quote Lady Gaga, it's a bad romance.  An interesting look at both sides of a toxic relationship.

6. The Last Time I Lied by Riley Sager:  When she was 13, Emma went to summer camp, and three other campers disappeared, never to be seen again.  Fifteen years later, she returns to the camp as an art instructor in hopes of discovering what happened to her friends.  The second book I've read by this author, and it will probably be the last; in both cases, the premise was good, but the execution was seriously lacking, the ending blew, and there was too much "tell, don't show".

7. A Gathering of Secrets by Linda Castillo:  After a barn is burned down and a body is discovered inside, police chief Kate Burkholder is asked to investigate, but despite her Amish roots, nobody in the community wants to cooperate.

8. Bright We Burn by Kiersten White:  This is the final book in the trilogy about a genderswapped Vlad the Impaler, so I can't review it properly lest I spoil its predecessors.

9. Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata:  Keiko has always had trouble getting by in the world, but when she takes a job at a convenience store, she finds its rules and regulations soothing.  She's perfectly content to let her job define her, but society wants her to do more.  It's very short, but it packs a punch.

10. Give Me Your Hand by Megan Abbott:  When Kit and Diane were teenagers, Diane confessed a secret to Kit that changed their friendship forever, and they lost touch.  But after a decade, they wind up meeting again unexpectedly when they're both selected for a prestigious research program, and shit continues to go downhill.  It was okay, but I was hoping for better.

11. Baby Teeth by Zoje Stage:  On the surface, Suzette seems to have it all, but she has a secret: her 7-year-old daughter Hanna is a monster, and Suzette thinks Hanna wants to kill her.  The writing style had that stiff feeling that I associate with translated books (though there are no translator credits, so I'm assuming it was originally written in English), but it was still an interesting and creepy update of The Bad Seed.

12. My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh:  The unnamed narrator of this novel is so worn down by life that she begins a year of doing almost nothing but engaging in sleep marathons, and she's aided in this quest by an unscrupulous psychiatrist willing to prescribe the pills.  A 3 star book with a 5 star ending.

13. The Cabin at the End of the World* by Paul Tremblay:  Seven-year-old Wen and her fathers, Eric and Andrew, are spending their vacation at a remote cabin.  Wen is catching grasshoppers when a large man named Leonard appears and strikes up a conversation.  They're having fun, but then Wen spots three more strangers walking towards them, carrying homemade weapons, and Leonard says "None of what's going to happen is your fault."  I'll leave off there for fear of spoilers, although I will mention that this was going to be a double star until the ending.

14. How to Be Famous by Caitlin Moran:  The continuing adventures of Dolly Wilde, teenage music journalist and self-described lady sex pirate.  The story itself is just okay, but there are occasional gems like this one that really made it worth the read: "A book is a beautiful paper mausoleum in which to store ideas...to keep the bones of your thoughts in one place, for all time. I just want to say 'Hello. We can hear you. The words survived.'"

2018 TOTAL SO FAR:  72


1. Goodbye, Sweet Girl by Kelly Sundberg:  A memoir about surviving domestic abuse.

2. Little Shoes: The Sensational Depression-Era Murders That Became My Family's Secret by Pamela Everett:  When the author was a teenager and acting out, her father said "I lost two sisters and I can't lose my daughter."  She had no idea what he was talking about, but when she grew up, she looked into it and discovered that she had two aunts who (along with another girl) were murdered when they were children.  The investigation and trial led to a media circus and the conviction of a man who the author thinks may have been innocent.

2018 TOTAL SO FAR:  19


1. Takane and Hana by Yuki Shiwasu

2. Yokai Rental Shop vol. 3 by Shin Mashiba

3. Hungry for You: Endo Yasuko Stalks the Night by Flowerchild

4. Sweetness and Lightning vol. 10 by Gido Amagakure

5. My Solo Exchange Diary* by Nagata Kabi

6. Rin-Ne vol. 27 by Rumiko Takahashi

2018 TOTAL SO FAR:  26 volumes of manga and 8 graphic novels


1. Pacific Rim: Uprising:  This sequel is rather light on kaiju action and suffers tremendously as a result.  Aside from a few decent action sequences, it's boring and can be safely skipped.

2. Flower*:  Teenager Erica (Zoey Deutch) makes money having sex with, and then blackmailing, older men.  When she meets Luke, the son of her mother's new boyfriend, and finds out that he was molested as a kid, she decides to get revenge on his behalf.  An entertaining indie flick with some very good performances and one of the best lines of the year.

3. White Girl:  After moving to NYC for college, Leah becomes involved with a drug dealer named Blue, and when he's arrested, she finds herself in possession of his massive cocaine stash.  If you liked Spring Breakers, you'll probably like this too, but honestly, I didn't like either movie much.

4. Blockers:  When they discover their daughters have made a "sex pact" for prom night, three parents decide to stop them.  It had its moments, but I thought it would be much funnier than it really was.

5. A Quiet Place*:  A family struggles to survive in a world where monsters with super sensitive hearing mean that the slightest noise could lead to their deaths.  Tense as HELL.

2018 TOTAL SO FAR:  61

Monday, July 02, 2018

media update: June

I'm writing this at work after almost two full weeks of vacation and boy am I salted about it!  At least I had a wonderful time; my family, G, and I took a train through the Canadian Rockies and enjoyed ourselves immensely.  Canada is a magical wonderland full of bears, candy, and OTC allergy medication that actually worked for me and I would like to go back please. 

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 Song of Achilles* by Madeline Miller:  A reworking of the myth of Achilles as told by his friend and lover Patroclus.

2. What I Lost by Alexandra Ballard:  16-year-old Elizabeth has just been admitted to a treatment center for her anorexia.  As she struggles with learning how to eat properly again and realizing how much her mother's skewed view of food has shaped her own, she finds solace in the anonymous care packages sent to her.  But are they from her ex-boyfriend or someone else?

3. Furyborn by Claire Legrand:  The stories of two women, one blessed (or cursed) with all seven kinds of elemental magic and the other an assassin, intersect in this enjoyable fantasy.  It was shelved as YA, but it doesn't read like it; it reminded me of the Tearling novels by Erika Johansen.

4. Pretend I'm Dead by Jen Beagin:  Mona volunteers at a needle exchange site, where she meets a client she calls Mr. Disgusting.  They fall in love, but when things go wrong, she moves to New Mexico in hopes of a fresh start. 

5. When Life Gives You Lululemons by Lauren Weisberger:  After leaving her job as Miranda Priestly's assistant (cf. The Devil Wears Prada), Emily now works as an image consultant.  When the beautiful supermodel wife of a politician is arrested for drunk driving, she swears it's a set up and desperately calls Emily for help.  It's not going to win a Pulitzer or anything, but it's a breezy read that's perfect for the season.

6. How Hard Can It Be?* by Allison Pearson:  Kate Reddy is about to turn 50, and between perimenopause, dealing with her teenagers and unemployed husband, and renovating a money pit of a house, she's losing her mind.  She decides to reenter the work force, and she creates a resume with so many lies that, in her words, it might as well be experimental fiction.  To her surprise, she gets a job at the hedge fund she originally founded many years ago, but needless to say, her complicated life gets even more so.

Kate originally showed up in the author's debut novel, I Don't Know How She Does It, which I read many years ago, and although I don't remember much about it, I do remember really enjoying it.  This sequel is also really good: funny and insightful, and Kate is a terrific heroine to root for.

7. The Woman in the Woods* by John Connolly:  After the body of a young woman is discovered in the woods and forensic evidence shows she had given birth shortly before her death, a lawyer contacts Charlie Parker and asks him to look into the missing child.  Definitely the best Connolly novel in years, although I had forgotten about something that happened in the previous novel and it made me sad when I was reminded.

8. The Good Son by You-Jeong Jeong:  Yu-jin is prone to seizures, but he doesn't like to take his medicine because he enjoys the high he gets right before one hits.  But when he wakes up with little memory of the night before and discovers his mother's murdered body, he tries to figure out who's responsible.

2018 TOTAL SO FAR:  57


1. Calypso by David Sedaris:  A new collection of essays.

2018 TOTAL SO FAR:  17


1. Bingo Love by Tee Franklin, Jenn St-Onge, and Joy San

2. Food Wars!* vol. 24 by Yuto Tsukuda and Shun Saeki

3. Queen's Quality vol. 4 by Kyousuke Motomi

4. Beauty Bunny by Mari Yoshino

2018 TOTAL SO FAR:  20 volumes of manga and 8 graphic novels


1. Molly's Game*:  After her Olympics dream came literally crashing to a halt, Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain, predictably excellent) moved to Los Angeles and started an underground poker ring frequented by celebrities and high rollers.  Aaron Sorkin wrote it, so the dialogue was sharp and rapid-fire.  Based on a true story.

2. Game Night*:  Max and Annie (Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams) host a game night at their home every week, but when Max's brother hosts a murder mystery party at his place instead, it turns into something unexpected.  An overlooked little gem with lots of funny lines and an especially good performance by Jesse Plemons as their forlorn neighbor.

3. Maze Runner: The Death Cure:  This is the final film in the series, so I can't review it properly lest I spoil its predecessors.  It was definitely the best of the three.

4. Thoroughbreds:  After reconnecting, childhood friends Lily and Amanda hatch a plan to kill Lily's overbearing stepfather.  A bit slow, probably due to the fact it was originally supposed to be a play, but good.

5. Red Sparrow:  After an accident destroys her ballet career, Dominika (Jennifer Lawrence) is recruited by a Russian intelligence agency to serve as a "sparrow", a spy who uses sex to get information.  It's howlingly bad and extremely violent, but honestly, I kind of enjoyed it.  It's the cinematic equivalent of fast food: you should probably not spend any of your precious life consuming it, but you'll enjoy it while you do.

6. Cell:  After a strange cell phone signal turns people into rage-filled zombies, a small band of survivors looks for safety.  Based on the Stephen King novel, though they changed so much from the book that you wouldn't know it.  (King cowrote the screenplay, so I'm guessing he was fine with the changes, but I'm not sure why they were made.)

7. Love, Simon*:  Simon is a teenage boy who's hiding the fact that he's gay.  He starts corresponding with another closeted teenage boy online, but when Simon forgets to log out of a school computer, a classmate finds the emails and begins blackmailing him.  I wish this movie had ended about 5 minutes sooner, but it was still a super sweet movie that left me feeling ultra schmooply, so I'll give it a star.

8. Tomb Raider:  Aside from one decent action sequence, this reboot was dull and full of terrible dialogue.  Skip it.

9. Fifty Shades Freed:  Pretty sure you don't need me to tell you what this is about!  God, it was so fucking bad, even by its predecessors' standards, but adult refreshments helped make it bearable.

2018 TOTAL SO FAR:  56