Wednesday, December 31, 2014


Yep, the year is done!  2014 became a fun, conflicting, hard, and challenging one.  I wish I could say where all the areas of my personal growth lie, but I can't.  I just know that it's there, fed by the hunger for change and a better life.  But one thing I can say that this year has taught me is that you can't give up nor count yourself out.  Nevertheless, I'm trusting that a lot of that troubling energy of 2014 is moving out of the way for some amazing opportunities–especially considering I'm entering my 3rd year here.  And I think I've worked my ass off and built enough momentum to move into the next stage.  Nonetheless, all that talk can wait.  Before the year is completely done, I have to share ten of my favorite reads of 2014.  They're not in any particular rank; they're chronological placed according to when I read them.  Oh, I forgot to mention that according to Goodreads I managed to read 70 books this year.  As for my Goodreads reading challenge, I initially set out to read 60 books.  However, I pushed it up to 65 during a month when I wasn't ready consistently and filled my reading time with short stories and graphic novels.  But that's neither here nor there.  On to the list!

I hope you guys had a great reading year, alongside a Happy New Year.  Actually, I trust that it's all good.  I want to thank anyone who has been sharing my posts, commenting and following along here and/or on my Youtube channel (which I'll be back to updating in January).  Share your favorite books from 2014 in the comments below!  And I'll see you next year.  

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Banana's Kitchen!

Banana Yoshimoto’s Kitchen combines two novellas into one thematic collection. The first, and decidedly best and lengthy one, features the story of a Japanese woman named Mikage Sakurai. Orphaned as a child, Mikage was raised by her grandparents in Tokyo. And per her story‘s opening, her grandmother, the last living relative in her family, has passed and left Mikage alone in the apartment they shared. It’s a bit suffocating to Mikage, living in the loneliness and silence. Nonetheless, she’s always found comfort in kitchens. And not just cooking in kitchens; sleeping on a futon next to a humming refrigerator consoles her just nicely.  Whether she's enduring the struggles provided by life or death, her affinity for kitchens has always been true.  (Filthy or clean, it doesn't matter to her.)  Naturally, this is the first place Mikage feels drawn to after her grandmother’s death.  So without question kitchens are the motif behind her story.

With a life surrounded by the dying of her loved ones, Mikage is the last of the Sakurai family and has no one to turn to. Thankfully, a guy named Yuichi, who works in a flower shop that Mikage’s grandmother frequented, comes to Mikage's “rescue.” With his love of the deceased grandmother spilling over, Yuichi invites Mikage to live with him and his transvestite (to be clear, his father dresses as a woman) mother to help Mikage grieve as well as settle her grandmother’s estate. Needless to say, a bond is formed between Mikage and Yuichi. A bond established by their combined link to death, sorrow and hope.

Now, the second story in Kitchen is called “Moonlight Shadow.” Apparently, it’s Yoshimoto’s first published piece, and is an obvious slant toward the aforementioned story. In “Moonlight Shadow” a young woman name Satsuki is mourning the death of her boyfriend. She grieves through jogging in the early hours of the day, where she crosses a white bridge upon her route. One day Satsuki runs into a woman at this bridge, and it‘s here that the two share a thermos of tea. It appears to be a random encounter, until the woman proceeds to connect with Satsuki on an incorporeal level.

(This next half of the post refers mainly to the title story and not the short, "Moonlight Shadow.")

I feel so conflicted with this, but I was a little apathetic about Kitchen the first few thirty-or-so pages into it. And while I did want a little more "meat," that impassive feeling wasn't because of Yoshimoto’s sort of inconspicuous storytelling. Nevertheless, I want to get to the really, really good stuff first.  

As mentioned, the stories in Kitchen take a steep, subjective step into how some of us approach death, loneliness, sorrow and the eventual necessity to heal. And I've marked some of my favorite passages to illustrate such.
"No matter what, I want to continue living with the awareness that I will die.  Without that, I am not alive.  That is what makes the life I have now possible.  Inching one's way along a steep cliff in the dark: on reaching the highway, one breathes a sigh of relief.  Just when one can't take any more, one sees the moonlight.  Beauty that seems to infuse itself into the heart: I know about that."
"'We've been very lonely, but we had it easy.  Because death is so heavy–we, too young to know about it, couldn't handle it.  After this you and I may end up seeing nothing but suffering, difficulty, and ugliness, but if only you'll agree to it, I want for us to go on to more difficult places, happier places, whatever comes, together.  I want you to make the decision after you're completely better, so take your time thinking about it.  In the meantime, though, don't disappear on me.'"
Good stuff, right?  Well, as we all know, translations are never 100%, so maybe that initial apathetic feeling had to do with the book's translation from Japanese to English.  However, I think I can bottom line those feelings to Kitchen's often defunct subordinate and insubordinate clauses, comma splices, complex sentences, and moments of awkwardly expressed dialogue. Give or take a few. Eventually, I got the hang of it all.  Or I failed to notice or revisit moments of hiccupping narrative to reconnect a few of those uncertain subject-verb agreements.  Not trying to sound like a grammar police because I'm a criminal myself.  But when I notice a missing beat, I notice it.  Technical or otherwise.

Maybe it’s the change of cadence from poetic Japanese prose to English. I honestly don't know. I can only say that for a few pages, I had to establish the rhythm and beat of the book. And thankfully I did because the further the story moved, the further I was moved. And when it concluded, I looked up to the ceiling telling myself: “Damn, that was a good story.”  Of course with the book pinned against my heart for dramatic flare.  Seriously, though.  Once I was there with Kitchen, I was there.  We're talking tense and scared for the outcome; hopeful and unsure.

I'll leave it at that because I think I've muddled what I was trying to say.  Otherwise, we'll be here all day analyzing this book.  Kitchen is worth your attention even if you may also find yourself trying to warm up to the story and characters, delivered by the sometimes hiccupy narrative.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Flavia's Sweetness

"It is the summer of 1950–and at the once-grand mansion of Buckshaw, young Flavia de Luce, an aspiring chemist with a passion for poison, is intrigued by a series of inexplicable events: A dead bird is found on the doorstep, a postage stamp bizarrely pinned to its beak.  Then, hours later, Flavia finds a man lying in the cucumber patch and watches him as he takes his dying breath.  For Flavia, who is both appalled and delighted, life begins in earnest when murder comes to Buckshaw.  'I wish I could say I was afraid, but I wasn't.  Quite the contrary.  This was by far the most interesting thing that had ever happened to me in my entire life.'"

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie was just as sweet as its title.  Sliding from Martha Grimes’ twelve-year-old sleuth, Emma Graham, and into Alan Bradley’s similarly close-aged sleuth, Flavia de Luce, proved successful.  The tartness and twang the two series share is undeniable, albeit explored through protagonists who are a year and decade apart as well as from different countries.  Nevertheless, hear me when I say that Flavia is just as precious, intuitive, resourceful, and smart-alecky as Grimes' Emma. I will say that Emma’s mouth is a lot slicker than Flavia, though. Flavia has her moments when she "reads" an adult or peer down, but she’s not as creatively shady as Emma.  That's probably because Emma's pessimistic and general disregard for any adult who sees her only as a child is a lot stronger.  Whereas Flavia uses an adult's perspective of her to become virtually "invisible" as she snoops.  Seriously, the girl walked straight through the police station at one point and, upon getting caught, bubbled up tears used to ensure her way forward.  Emma would've pitched a fit, but eventually gain the same results. 

Nonetheless, let’s not split hairs here. The truth is that both ladies know how to carry a pleasurable, humorous and intriguing narrative. And respectively speaking, I can't count the number of times I burst out laughing while reading The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. It was simply hilarious watching the curious and outspoken Flavia attempt to solve her given murder mystery; whether she’s questioning a suspect, giving the police crap, or pedaling her bicycle all across the English village she lives in.  And she's not always 100%, but I pique in those tiny moments where she considers something I may have looked over.  An example as simple as her pulling her bike into a shed, so that she can rifle through old newspapers unbothered, is one considerable moment.  Or her hanging back behind a tree to witness an argument, and then walking forward as if casual and unawares (with a high-pitch greeting) is another.  Or covering her ass on the spot with a shameless lie when her presence comes into question.  So I appreciated her thoughtfulness and forward thinking.

Oh, and I have to mention how passionate she is about chemistry and uses her knowledge of it throughout the book. However, on the flip-side, she’s not exactly passionate and mindful of her own family.  While her two older sisters often give her hell, Flavia does have to look after them as well as her father.  (Her mother, Harriett, passed when Flavia was too young to remember her.)  Nonetheless, there were sweet moments where Flavia sort of appointed herself guardian of her father, who naturally found himself arrested as a suspect while the murder took place on his property.  And even toward the end, it was Flavia's oldest sister that came to her rescue.  I've kind of grown to like the de Luces, so I'm interested in seeing their family grow and develop as a sort of B-hook to the series.  Because essentially there's a lot of interesting points made in this area.

I can say that I’m hooked to this series now, and can't wait to start on the next book. Except for a few questionable investigative moments–like Flavia using her braces to pick a lock–The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie was a wonderful ride.  It wasn't the most guttural or complicated of mysteries, and sometimes the backstory related to the victim got in the way of watching Flavia flourish on paper.  Nonetheless, all that rounded out as a necessity to the mystery and narrative.  Otherwise, you may find yourself caring less about Flavia's troubles and fine detection.



Just like with Emma, I have to capture and quote my favorite moments with Flavia.  These are the times I cracked up the most.

"It was dark inside the little bedroom, but there was light enough to see the form lying on the bed; to see the white face staring back at me, its mouth gaping open in a horrid 'O.'

'Flavia!' Miss Cool said, scrambling to her feet, her words muffled by the window glass.  'What on earth–?'

She snatched her false teeth from a tumbler and rammed them into her mouth, then vanished for a moment, and as I leaped to the ground I heard the sound of the bolt being shot back.  The door opened inwards to reveal her standing there–like a trapped badger–in a housedress, her hand clutching and opening in nervous spasms at her throat.

'What on earth...?' she repeated.  'What's the matter?'

'The front door's locked,' I said.  'I couldn't get in.'"


"One day when I found her sobbing on the bench with her head on the closed piano lid, I had whispered, 'Give it up, Daff,' and she had flown at me like a fighting cock.

I had even tried encouragement.  Whenever I heard her at the Broadwood, I would drift into the drawing room, lean against the piano, and gaze off into the distance as if her playing hand enchanted me.  Usually she ignored me, but once when I said, 'What a lovely piece that is!  What's it called?' she had almost slammed the lid on my fingers.

'The scale of G major!' she had shrieked, and fled the room.

Buckshaw was not an easy place in which to live."


"The little man's pale blue eyes bulged visibly in their sockets.

'Why, it's only a girl!' he said.

I could have slapped his face.

'Ay, that's her,' said the suntanned one.

'Mr. Ruggles here has reason to believe that you were up in the tower,' the Inspector said, with a nod at the white mustache.

'What if I was?' I said.  'I was just having a look round.'

'The tower's off limits,' Mr. Ruggles said loudly.  'Off limits!  And so it says on the sign.  Can't you read?'

I gave him a graceful shrug."


"'Feely,' I said, turning on her, 'do me a favor:  Pop back into the pit and fetch me my handkerchief–and be sure to bring me what's wrapped up inside it.  Your dress is already filthy, so it won't make much difference.  There's a good girl.'

Feely's jaw dropped about a yard, and I thought for a moment she was going to punch me in the teeth.  Her whole face grew as red as her lips.  And then suddenly she spun on her heel and vanished into the shadows of the Pit Shed."


Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The Guy Who Almost Faded And Why

I know the filtering and all is wonked out and faded, but I had to make it a little creative and interesting. The reason I post this drawing is because I don't know what to do with it. I've been stuck on it for weeks, slowly progressing until I just… well… stopped. The idea was to give him one of those super big faux fur hoodies, and then I kind of fiddle along and erased everything. I still am keeping that idea, though. Hopefully, I can pull it off. Part of me also wants to open up his face and jaw line, but part of me wants to leave it as it is. I'm not hardcore determined when it comes to proportions and angles.  I'm more into the reasonable, danity and dramatic looks.  Nonetheless, I kind of just draw and let the drawing and coloring come out.  Either I like the results, or I don’t. So I'm led to believe that I have something here, if only I can execute that fur hoodie like I so, so want to express as it regards the current season. 

I just wanted to share my current frustrations. I'm hoping I'll get this guy together soon. He seems like a babe, but not in an overly masculine way.  Then again, none of my drawings would be touted as "masculine".

True to Form Distractions

So yeah.  Playing the video game The Evil Within does absolutely nothing regarding my progress of the drawing.  There's no nutshell way to put this game other than how it's the story of a police officer finding himself in this crazy, sadistic world filled with zombies and chainsaw men.  One of the founding creators of the Resident Evil series is behind The Evil Within–should that be a blip to my nutshell explanation of this game.  I originally pulled the game out of a Redbox in town, curious by the reviews and ready for a little hands-on experience.  That experience lead to a full purchase.  This game is stressful and sick.  Just like I like my survival horror.  It would be even better if I could play the female character.  Y'all know how I roll.  (A woman surviving with a gun is like my expressionist candy.)

Oh, hell.  The other truth is that I also binge watching The Dead Files on Netflix and Amazon Instant Video–which doesn't help my drawing progress either.  It's funny because I can't watch the show as it airs, but watching it stream is like an obsession.  I think the difference has to do with commercials.  Commercials break up the tension, pace and storytelling elements of TV shows (even ones such as this).  It also messes with my touch of ADD.  So the second a commercial comes on, I do something else and have to remind myself to turn back to the screen and focus.  Anyway, while I do think its a bit exaggerated, I do enjoy watch The Dead Files before I go to bed.  Yes, at night.  With the lights off.  Back-to-back spooky episodes.  Like a pro.

As jovial and colorful as I am, I'm somewhat into the macabre.  As you can see.  I hope before the end of the year the drawing is complete, though.

Take care and stay tuned! 

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Die For Love

Oh the fun you'll have with Jacqueline Kirby. I just concluded her third adventure in Die for Love with continued love in my heart [snicker]. In Die for Love Jacqueline damn near spontaneously decides she’s tired of the Nebraska scene and jets off to New York to attend an annual Historical Romance Writers of the World convention. She’s bored, so it only seems reasonable she packs up and leaves. Nonetheless, the convention holds a strange bunch, besides the many adoring romance readers fawning over the panels filled with prodigious romance writers. No, see the fans are only half of what makes this convention crazy.  There’s the squatty and militant super agent–and corner-holder of the romance market–Hattie. Her prize possession is a top-selling romance writer named Valerie Valentine; and Valerie may be knock-dead gorgeous, but she’s also docile and icy. Next to her is her ever more energetic and forceful business partner (of sorts) named Max. Twirl around to the left and you have an old friend of Jacqueline’s named Jean. Jean is in academia, but disguises herself to save the face of her credentials. She doesn't want to risk losing tenure because of the criticism involved with writing romance novels–one criticism in particularly focused on rape. Then there’s Victor, one of few male romance writers. He cajoles with another writer named Sue.  Sue's just starting out in the game, and inadvertently becomes Jacqueline's hotel roomie. A few others litter the plot, but you get the point: everybody has a story as well as a motive to the upcoming killings.

Oh, but wait! There are those who are trying to expose and defame the romance field and its authors. One being a big, brass columnist named Dubretta; the other, Betsy, is an activist against the masculinist lean found in the romance genre.

Then there’s the hyper-fanatic willing to do anything for Valerie Valentine, including assault and robbery. She’s a rich kid with a tempered addiction to pills. Her name is Laurie.

Jealousy, pride, lust, long secrets, and greed are only a few methods of categorizing this large cast and their motives regarding one another.

Nevertheless, out of the many individuals named, two of them don't make it out of the convention alive. Jacqueline immediately employs her investigative hat (as well as her bottom-less, oversize handbag) to solve the crime. And, in between doing so, writes a romance book herself.

Somewhere toward the middle I found Die for Love a labor to get through.  It all was worth it just for Jacqueline, who was still present and oneself a lot more than in the past two books. I’m not sure where the tedium came through, though. The mystery aspect left me questioning, but a few general guesses had me close to home. Even so, the real exhibit in Die for Love is Elizabeth Peters’ view of the romance genre–or a view funneled through her protagonist.  

There's an outer dialogue bubbling out of Die for Love.  You may catch it through the eccentric cast (which isn't so unusual when you review the theme and cast of the past two books), or the desperate romance-reading fanatics.  This next passage is probably a sum up of the conversation.  Once I read it I immediately jumped to whether or not this is still present in the romance genre of today–as opposed to the 80s when this book was published.  Then I thought about a few authors–particularly those in the urban fantasy genre–and I realized that it is still present.

"By the time the forum ended, her [Jacqueline] brain was teeming with ideas and what an uneasy feeling that Betsy and the Woofasses might be right after all.  Several editors had warned that their heroines must be "liberated," independent women, proud of their own sensuality.  So far, so good; Jacquline had no quarrel with that.  But the same editors had warned against promiscuity.  Was it more liberated to be overpowered against one's will than to seek amorous adventures (the phrase had been used by one of the more old-fashioned editors) for the sheer fun of it?  The word 'love' kept cropping up.  The heroines were all monogamous, in intent if not in actuality, and the happy ending consisted of capturing the hero and making him monogamous too.  the books were anti-feminist, and anti-female, not only because of their prurient interest in rape but because they voiced the tired old moral view (invented and enthusiastically supported by most men) that a woman's only legitimate goal in life was to devote all her time, energy, and sexual abilities to one man.  So far as Jacqueline could see, the only difference between the new romances and the old love stories was that 'love' had replaced marriage as a prerequisite for sex."

I really had to think on that.  I don't read romance, but it did stir some thoughts as to why I don't.  And really it boils down to how I dislike women characters even mildly submissive and considerate to the man's point first.  From a personal angle, I look at love and relationships as companionships first.  Or a team.  So what do you think the passage?  Is it true?

Monday, December 15, 2014

How Blanche Sees It

"Blanche White, a forty-year-old black domestic with big thighs, a wry sense of humor, and a jaundiced view of the rich, is a most unlikely and reluctant sleuth.  When someone is killed in the wealthy household where she is working–and hiding out from the Sheriff–Blanche would just as soon mind her own business, given that she's already got her own troubles with the law.  But since she is the most likely suspect unless she uncovers the real killer, Blanche puts her considerable wit and intelligence to work.  With the help of the remarkably efficient old-girl network among domestic workers, Blanche attacks the tangled web surrounding the murder to try and nail the true killer in time.  In the process, Blanche provides a running commentary from a black, working-class, feminist perspective that is new to the mystery genre and rare in any fiction."
~ Blanch on the Lam

Blanche on the Lam is book one in Barbara Neely’s Blanche White mystery series. As noted in the synopsis [see above], the series is unique in how it follows the misadventures of an African American domestic housekeeper who inadvertently finds herself solving murder mysteries. It's a type of character and hook damn near unheard of inside the mystery literary form (African American author Nora DeLoach comes close), and just as scarce inside literary fiction.  Wait, I take that back because black authors have been writing about domestic workers long before The Help.  (There was a little shade there.)  

Nancy Green, the face of Aunt Jemima
Nonetheless, Blanche is the type of character unlikely to find herself perceived as anything other than a stereotype. An Aunt Jemima trope probably springs to mind first, or something else in line with the mammy caricature shaped back in the antebellum days.  However, Blanche is amusing, smart and intuitive; she isn't so Aunt Jemima.  And while she's also compassionate toward the "right" people, her image and character is nowhere near syrupy and sweet like the pancake mixing maven imaged after black activist, Nancy Green. Oh no. Miss Blanche White is highly aware, extremely real and confrontational (albeit furtive) in her dealings with law enforcement, employers and murderers.  Basically those willing to flex their position and privilege over her.  I should also mention she's not afraid to be physical when need be.

I decided that instead of sketching on the mystery, race, class, and societal statements decorating Blanche on the LamI would share some of the best passages that umbrellas fragments of each topic.  (Which were all wonderfully done except for a few typos and spelling errors.)  It’s sort of what I came into this series hoping for, those little nuggets of wisdom and insight provided by someone of Blanche’s status and position. And there were plenty. Some I understood and identified with immediately.  Especially because I, myself, am black living with unspoken generational “codes” regarding manners and attitudes when faced with contempt.

So let’s get started. I hope you enjoy these enough to check out the book yourself…

Blanche on Black Folk Superstition

"The way her hand had itched and throbbed at the same time as she'd stood in her kitchen reading the court summons; the way the glass she was drinking from just before she left the house for court had suddenly developed a crack while she held it to her lips.  She'd ignored both events despite her claim that reading people and signs, and sizing up situations, were as much a part of her work as scrubbing floors and making beds."

Blanche on Code

"She heard a noise on the other side of the swinging door and quickly slipped on the bright-eyed but vacant expression behind which she'd hid from the woman so far.  Blanche had learned long ago that signs of pleasant stupidity in household help made some employers feel more comfortable, as though their wallets, their car keys, and their ideas about themselves were all safe.  Putting on a dumb act was something many black people considered unacceptable, but she sometimes found it a useful place to hide.  She also got a lot of secret pleasure from fooling people who assumed they were smarter than she was by virtue of the way she looked and made her living."

Blanche on Sympa

"This was the second or third time this boy had been on her wavelength.  This thing with him was beyond her Approaching Employer Warning Sense, which alerted her to the slightest rustling or clinking of a nearing employer....  So what the hell does it mean? she wanted to know.  Sympa.  It was a term her Haitian friend Marie Claire used to explain relationships between people who, on the surface, had no business being friends.  Still, an unknown white boy?"

Blanche on Darkies' Disease

"Blanche had never suffered from what she called Darkies' Disease.  There was a woman among the regular riders on the bus she often rode home from work who had a serious does of the disease.  Blanche actually cringed when the woman began talking in her bus-inclusive voice about old Mr. Stanley, who said she was more like a daughter to him than his own child, and how little Edna often slipped and called her Mama....  What she [Blanche] didn't understand was how you convinced yourself that you were actually loved by people who paid you the lowest possible wages; who never offered you the use of one of their cars, their cottage by the lake, or even their swimming pool; who gave you handkerchiefs and sachets for holiday gifts and gave their children stocks and bonds."

Blanche on Night Girl

"'Them kids is just as jealous of you as they can be!  That's why they tease you,' Cousin Murphy had told her.  'They jealous 'cause you got the night in you.  Some people got night in 'em, some got morning, others, like me and your mama, got dusk.  But it's only them that's got night can become invisible.  People who got night in 'em can step into the dark and poof–disappear!  Go any old where they want.  Do anything.  Ride them stars up there, like as not.  Shoot, girl, no wonder them kids teasing you.  I'm a grown woman and I'm jealous, too!'"

Blanche on Confrontation

"There it was again.  Blanche checked his eyes for malice but found only laughter of the teasing variety.

'You ain't mocking me, are you, sir?'

His eyes widened slightly.  'Sensitive, aren't we?'

'Isn't that what you hoped... sir?'

She braced herself for his pulling rank and putting her in her so-called place.  Instead, a hint of red crept up from his neck.  He brushed back his already perfect hair and managed a contrite smile.  He didn't apologize, of course.  That was far too much to expect from a pretty boy who'd probably been admonished only twice in his life, and never by the likes of her."

Blanche on Couth

"She didn't consider picking up people's funky drawers from the floor a normal part of her work.  She expected her employers to put their soiled underwear in a hamper and their soiled tissues in the wastebasket.  She considered his behavior as a sign of what her mother called 'couth,' and a good indicator of whether or not she could expect any respect from a customer–and whether she'd be with that customer for very long."

Blanche on Storytelling

"Their rhythm, the silences between their words, and their intonation were as important to the telling of the tale as the words they spoke.  The story might sound like common gossip when told by another person, but in the mouth of a storyteller, gossip was art."

Blanche on Race Memory

"For many years, Blanche worried that it was fear which sometimes made her reluctant to meet white people's eyes, particularly on days when she had the lonelies or the unspecified blues.  She'd come to understand that her desire was to avoid pain, and pain so old, so deep, its memory was carried not in her mind, but in her bones.  Some days she simply didn't want to look into the eyes of people likely raised to hate, disdain, or fear anyone who looked like her.  It was not always useful to be in touch with race memory.  The thought of her losses sometimes sucked the joy from her life for days at a time."

Blanche on Privilege

"He was a rich white male.  Being in possession of that particular set of characteristics meant a person could do pretty much anything he wanted to do, to pretty much anybody he chose–like an untrained dog chewing and shitting all over the place.  Blanche was sure having all that power made many men crazy.

Blanche on De-Jackassing

"While he might have defended blacks in court, it didn't mean he considered her his equal, any more than her employers did generally.  Usually it took three to five cleaning sessions for a new employer of the racist jackass variety to stop speaking to her in loud, simple sentences.  It took an additional fifteen to fifty substantive contracts before she was acknowledged as a bona fide member of the human race.  Now here was Archibald already past the testing-your-intelligence phase, being mindful and grateful that she'd been smart enough and quick enough to help him out of a difficult situation with Mumsfield, one he clearly hadn't been prepared to handle.  It gave Blanche and idea."

Saturday, December 13, 2014

New Rules: Buffy Season 10 Wins

At the end of Buffy, the Vampire Slayer Season Eight comics/graphic novels, Buffy destroyed the the source of all magic on Earth called the Seed of Wonder. Almost instantaneously magic died out. At the end of Season Nine, Buffy and the Scoobies came together to create a new Seed to save Dawn, Buffy‘s magic-breed sister. In turn they generated a new, restarted system of magic on Earth. It’s fresh. It’s new. It’s un-evolved and raw. Magical creatures, and those who use magic, can kind of wield this untethered magic and make things up as they go.

However, one consequence of this new system of magic arrives in the form of vampires who can walk in sunlight, and shape shift into various other monsters linked to classic vampire mythology (like bats, vapors, wolves, etc.). They're many. They're harder to kill. And they've taken it upon themselves to wipe out your standard variety vampire as they go about creating “new rules” on Earth.

With magic begging to be rewritten, Buffy and the Scoobies (I actually dislike referring to Xander, Willow, and the others as that) have to come together to properly reclaim the state of affairs. And the key to doing so appears in the suddenly blank pages of the “slayer handbook," best known as the Vampyr book.  The book is like a manual to all things vampire, magic, demony, and Slayer-ish. When a few monsters and demons take interest in the book, Buffy and the Scoobies realize that they have to protect it from those who want to use it to rewrite the laws of magic to their own nefarious liking.

And that's the nutshell version...

I have got to say that I really loved New Rulesand that's besides the fact that I'm a die-hard Buffy fanatic.  The truth is that I could keep up with what took place in New Rules, and that's a testament to some improved focus and writing.  I enjoyed Season Eight and Nine, but I had a problem: I was always overwhelmed by the branching stories (some sprung from spin-offs) to the point where I couldn't follow along with all things overarching.  Seriously, some of the storytelling in Season Eight and Nine were like ADD manifested. The character of Spike piloting a spaceship. Dawn as a centaur. That one chapter where future slayers jumped into the past to kill Buffy.  Oh, and a few character mis-directions headed toward some unprofound conclusion.  Then there were some chapters/volumes that were amazingly well-done (Season Nine's Freefall), but ended abruptly before the focus changed in the proceeding. It was just so much going on at one time, and I'm sure a complete back-to-back re-read would work. Nevertheless, so far New Rules feels so much more contained and paced. Also, it had that same classic Buffy humor and fun, without too much of the excessive wackiness that I kind of rolled my eyes at in previous volumes.

While there were some storylines that tied in from spin-off graphic novels featuring other characters in the Buffyverse, that didn't take away from the set-up of New Rules as the opening of Season Ten. I just hope everything remains consistent through each proceeding volume. It’s so much better when the story is simple, and not about the writers making every little thing they can be possible in the comics that couldn't be done on TV.  Buffy has always been about wit, character, choices, sacrifice, and heroism–among many other things.  To me that's enough and everything.  Not so much spaceships and the occasional fairy.  

I won't spoil anything, but the super exciting bonus of Season Ten is that past characters emerge in the battle to reclaim (or snatch) the rules of magic.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Definitely Worth Considering: A Map of Betrayal

A Map of Betrayal by Ha Jin

Biracial quinquagenarian (test driving that word, but it basically means someone 50 and over), Lilian Shang, was born and brought up in America by an American mother and a Chinese father.  For most of her adult life she's had unanswered questions about her Chinese father and his past.  And it's this slew of leftover questions that wakes the need to unbury his life; from his roots in China, his immigration to America, and finally to his incarceration and death as a Chinese intelligence spy working as a mole within the CIA.  Gary Shang, Lilian's father, traded intel used by China to damage the U.S. national security, all the while raising her. So she needed to know his story. His life. From the beginning to the end. And she needed to understand his divided loyalty between China and America.

Long before her mother died of pancreatic cancer, she would complain to Lilian about the affair her husband had with a Chinese reporter named Suzie Chao. With those complaints came the warning: “…have nothing to do with that woman.” Until this moment, Lilian has complied with her mother’s wishes. But now, requiring answers regarding her father, she seeks out Suzie.  Here she finds that her father left six journals chronicling his life between 1949-1980. In these journals Lilian uncovers her father’s first marriage in China. The twin children birthed from this marriage. And the pain he faced working for Communist China who separated him from that family to secure his role as a spy. Unfortunately, his country turn its back on him when his position is uncovered, subsequently throwing him on trial and into prison.

With the story of her father’s life in hand, Liliam finds herself applying his hard lessons to save the life of her nephew and Gary Shang’s grandson here in the present.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Clueless in the Game

"When businesswoman Virginia Kelly, a black lesbian, meets her old college chum Bev Johnson for drinks late one night, Bev confides that her lover, Kelsey, is seeing another woman. Ginny had picked up that gossip months ago, but she is shocked when the next morning's papers report that Kelsey was found murdered behind the very bar where Ginny and Bev had met. Worried that her friend could be implicated, Ginny decides to track down Kelsey's killer and also contacts a lawyer, Susan Coogan. Susan takes an immediate, intense liking to Ginny, complicating Ginny's relationship with her live-in lover. Meanwhile Ginny's inquiries heat up when she learns the Feds suspected Kelsey of embezzling from her employer. Woven into the narrative are observations on lesbian life and on prejudice, which are undercut when the author resorts to stereotyping: Ginny's boss, for example, is a drunken Irishman. Still, an entertaining assortment of female characters makes Baker's debut promising, even though the plot's logic does not stand up to close scrutiny: the police do not suspect Bev of the murder, making Ginny's sleuthing to save her friend appear superfluous."

~ In the Game from Goodreads

I am still in the “what the hell did I just read” post-reading phase as it concerns Nikki Baker’s In the Game. First, I won't strike the book down as terrible, but I can't say that it was all that great either. But a disappointment? Certainly. I don't know what the hell happened, though. Or better yet, I can pinpoint a few of the many complications I had with this book. Some are structural base. Some character base. And some… well… I guess plot/mystery based. However, first let’s get the obvious out of the way.

In the Game is first in Nikki Baker’s Virginia Kelly mystery series, and it’s unique (super emphasis on that) as a mystery series because its protagonist/sleuth is African-American and lesbian. She works in some kind of insurance/financial institution (I was never 100% sure of her occupation) named Whytebread (girl, come on–“Whytebread“). At the beginning of the book, Virginia’s old business school friend, Beverly, calls her up late one night to meet at a bar down in Chicago. Beverly has something important that she wants to ask Virginia. And guess what? You don't exactly know what Beverly wants until page 41, and even then you may just miss the stakes of it.

So what took place between pages 1-41? I'll tell you. The opening's direction is pretty much clear: Wednesday night at a gay bar where Virginia Kelly waits on Beverly while serving readers exposition concerning her family’s rug-sweeping of her sexuality and being black and lesbian in Chicago. Let alone society–I should add. Both areas of her expository conversation are recognizable and revealing, if not slightly dated when considering personal ads have mostly been replaced by dating websites (yes, yes the book was published in the early 90s). Nonetheless, the perspective is worth the acknowledgment, as it allows us to get to know Virginia Kelly as well (its first-person narrative). And all of that is well and good, until we jump into why she’s at the bar.

In steps Virginia’s friend Beverly and a consuming loop of analepsis, or back story. It starts the second Beverly states that her lover, Kelsey, is seeing another woman. Instead of Virginia taking the cue and asking what exactly did Beverly want her to do about it, Virginia’s narrative exposition spins into past race-related scandals that have plagued the bar. Seconds later, it hops into Virginia foreshadowing Kelsey’s fate and how she isn't surprised about the trouble between her and Beverly.  It's almost as if Beverly was suddenly whisked away by the thoughts in Virginia's brain.

So why isn't Virginia surprised? Because a few weeks prior she and her friend Naomi were “eating little meatballs and swilling the free beer” at Beverly and Kelsey's housewarming party. There, the two first peeped the disturbance in Beverly and Kelsey’s relationship. So suddenly we're not in the bar, but at a party where we're introduced to Virginia’s other friend and co-conspirator, Naomi. The details and telling grows thick.  It’s like a whole other chapter where the two woman close in on the history of their friendship, and the occupations and history of their subjects (Beverly and Kelsey). This is how Virginia became suspicious of Kelsey, with her friend Naomi leading the way as they “propose” an investigation on her as a means of protecting Beverly.

You would think that Virginia’s narrative would revert back the bar, where she’s physically located with Beverly. It’s a balancing act that just didn't give because then we get pages of Virginia detailing her current relationship with a woman named Emily, who is also at the housewarming party. It’s like a space that has to be filled once Emily is introduced in the back story.  Just when you think things are moving on, Emily's detailed history adds another sleeve of back story on top of back story. So before actually meeting Emily (as well as Naomi in this case) within the forwarding narrative, we already understand where she comes from and her dynamic in relation with Virginia.  Which came totally out of place in my opinion.

At this point, I was lost and misguided. Because of all the active and moving back story, I had long forgotten that Beverly and Virginia were actually still at the bar.  My inner reader kept asking “what’s the premise of the mystery." Before I could even assert the events, I didn't understand why they were taking place within the narrative before the premise was established in full. Besides Beverly's suspicions of Kelsey’s infidelity, I needed to know exactly–and to the point–what she wanted Virginia to do.

And I only got more and more misguided.

So now that Virginia and Naomi have decided to investigate Beverly’s relationship with the possibly cheating Kelsey, they take it upon themselves to forward Kelsey’s mail to them. But wait!  Before that’s even detailed in the narrative, the back story shoots to Virginia at work. So now she’s piling in the subject of her occupation, with active and moving scenes showcasing such.  I would relate this to watching movie trailers while wondering when the movie is going to start.

Finally, the first chapter ends and we move into the second chapter that’s still in the damn back story! The actual bar Virginia and Beverly are in seems long gone at this point, so much so that I forgot about it and believed that the actual story was moving forward. However, chapter two is four pages of Virginia’s exposition regarding her relationship with Emily, Chicago neighborhoods, race and prejudices, and the fact that she’s a mystery buff. Boom. On to chapter three where Virginia and Naomi are going through Kelsey’s mail.  Then finally the book shifts back into the bar.  We basically learn that the pile of back story that nearly thwarted the movement of the book was two months' worth of information and events used to not-so set up the mystery and characters. 

Even when all that is clear and things got moving I felt like the book would've been best lead by Kelsey’s murder, and then the subsequent events could unfold regarding the investigation process. Instead, the opposite seemed to occur, in the same fashion as a lucid dream.

I've exhausted this post. The sad part is that I haven't gotten into the other things that annoyed me about In the Game. One of those things is Virginia working in the business of money and finances but, in an extreme display of co-dependency, depends on her girlfriend to manage her personal finances. That would include paying her bills and taking away her car and credit card as if she's a child. I guess that’s dynamics at work. It doesn't do any good when Virginia decides to participate in a one-night stand, ensuring further relationship drama that overshadows parts of the mystery.  (In retrospect, it's kind of hypocritical and ironic of Virginia to cheat on her girlfriend consider the case at hand.) Also, I anticipated Virginia as the hard ass of the book, but it was actually her friend Naomi. Who, sadly, was insufferable. Any friend who calls me a “dumbshit” is not a friend.  I'm just saying...

As for the subject of race, sexual orientation, stereotypes and other conversations, they were not so subtle to the mystery.  Which I liked, but disliked at the same time.  I liked them because they are worth discussion.  I disliked them because they would sometimes overpower the objective of the mystery.  Not that it's not possible to blend the two, but had this been strictly a contemporary novel, I don't think I would've been left frowning for the satisfaction of the mystery portion.  Ultimately I found an unbalance in the characters, plot, and narrative. And some awkward scenes delivered at odd times.  ("She got up and walked out into the street leaving me with two lunches and a bill turned face down on a saucer.  I watched her until she climbed the steps to the El platform.  Then I ate both lunches and ordered dessert to console myself.") Nonetheless, I think the series is worth another shot, if for the character of Virginia Kelley's uniqueness within the mystery genre.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

すべてがFになる / The Perfect Insider Soundtrack



Monday, December 8, 2014

The KDrama Factor

Boys Over Flowers.  The obsession begins!
I've wanted to share this for quite some time, especially because next year I want to use this blog to step a little further outside of books and more into my other interests.  So it’s probably a known fact by now that I absolutely love Korean dramas, or Kdramas.  I became transfixed by them about four years ago when I watched Boys Over Flowers on Netflix one summer.  Despite a frustrating and sluggish middle area within its 25 episodes span, I loved and adored its spin on the Cinderella story involving a less fortunate girl gaining the attention of a super rich and popular schoolmate.  From there I alternated between Netflix and Hulu to get my fix (mostly Hulu because they have some currently running dramas as well as a large library).  And I've seen plenty these past years; found favorites and hated only a few.  

Already having a general (well, a lot more than general) interest in Asian culture, it just seemed appropriate that these dramas of love, corruption, bitch-slapping-mothers, and fine manners had the power to effortlessly yank all of my time and attention.  After all, I am convinced that I was an Asian woman in one of my past lives, somewhere bent over in a rice paddy field decking a bamboo hat.  Furthermore, that conviction kind of ties into my affinity for stories/books featuring Asian protagonist, written under the thumb of a writer with matching ethnicity and experience.  Nonetheless, most of that is neither here nor there when I forgot to mention the load of beautiful (dang near flawless, if there were such a thing) Korean actors and actresses featured in these dramas.  Of course, plastic surgery is a supremely high percentage and considerable factor that can't be denied as it pertains to their looks.  Nonetheless, beautiful looks are sometimes enough to keep watching as I revel in being in many of their characters' romance situations.  

Saying all that, on to the Top 4 Favorite Kdramas currently (that's currently–as in now) airing.

1.  The Greatest Marriage
Cha Gi-Young, a highly admired and self-sufficient top dog Korean anchorwoman for a popular news station, develops a brief and steamy relationship with Park Tae-Yeon, a handsome heir and son of a news corporation head. Partly unlike the driven and determined (and even callous) attitude Cha Gi-Young employees, Park Tae-Yeon is slightly her opposite as he’s a little less focused and mellower. With his family’s fortune, he can afford to take a few chances, and he has proven so by leaving business school to pursue his dreams of culinary arts and food reporting. 

While working on adjacent sets, one where Cha is delivering the news and the other where Park is featured on a cooking show, the two eventually cross paths (however highly confrontational) and begin their relationship. Neither seems interested in marriage, but when the couple accidentally becomes pregnant, Park’s immediate reaction is to wed the mulish Cha in order to save face (remember this is an Asian drama). Uninterested, and further discouraged after a vile altercation with Park’s powerfully rich and upper-echelon parents, Cha decides to go her separate way and raise the child on her own as a single mother. This soon brings her a batch of criticism, humiliation and hate from her peers and society as a whole. Suddenly, Cha is no longer on top, but refuses to cave in to a quick marriage nor place her dwindling career before her child.

Why you may want to watch it? Because with all the drama and comedy (and there is plenty also) aside, it’s the story of an accidental feminist flipping society and cultural norms by deciding that she would much rather be a single mother than marry. All of this very much announced to the Korean public. The criticism and backlash she receives is startling. In one instance her company peers yanks her off the set.  They continue to sabotage her career as a means of both saving the face of the news station, but also as a means of them expressing their own dislike of her. Even the higher ups comes for her. Furthermore, the actual hospital where she has her child gives her crap. While in labor, she couldn't even be admitted without the written assent of a man! And even further, she has to legally protect herself and her child from the likes of the father's family because they are within their rights to take her child away from her–especially because it’s a boy heir. Oh, damn. I also forget to mention how Cha's mother threatens to commit suicide to save her own face. Currently 12 episodes out of 16 in, I’m hoping this drama ends well.  Other than that, I drop everything once The Greatest Marriage updates.

2.  Birth of a Beauty
A sweet, overweight woman named Sa Geum-Ran finds herself conspiratorially murdered and later resurrected as a bombshell Korean-style beauty (re)named Sara. However, before this incredible transformation, Sa Geum-Ran lived a painful life as the wife and daughter/sister-in-law to the Lee family–her husband being Lee Kang-Joon. While Lee Kang-Joon is away in the US for seven years, and keeping up an affair, Sa Geum-Ran is busy taking care of his mother, sisters, grandmother, and father. While the latter two actually treated her decently, Sa puts up with a lot from Lee’s spoiled and nasty sisters and mother. Horrible comments aimed at her looks and weight, and passive displays of abuse are the most common. 

However, these do not deter Sa’s loyalty and love for Lee. So, while he’s far off in America, she plays her role without a hitch; swallowing her anger while always presenting her good Korean manners. Then Lee shows up after those seven years away, and Sa discovers his affair. Upon that discovery, an upset Sa flees in her car only to be ran off the road and into deep waters. Later, the assumption is that she committed suicide, but the truth is that she was murdered. Well, not so much murdered as she manages to swim out of her death and seek out a plastic surgeon (he’s featured on a reality show) who completely transforms her with a full-body makeover. One in which she uses to seek revenge and take down several members of the Lee family.

I was up late watching another drama when Birth of a Beauty popped up. Sure it was two in the morning when I decided to forget about sleep and watch those first two available episodes. I've been hooked ever since. Now, the drama was confusing in the beginning. It almost drops you in the middle as you're introduced to Sa Geum-Ran’s other, Sara, initially. Slowly, the hyper-unusual back story fills in, and after that first episode you're kind of good to go. The drama blends comedy, romance (which is always my favorite ingredient), melodrama, and that not so unordinary requirement that you suspend your disbelief regarding its events and Sa Geum-Ran's transformational lease on life.  There’s also the conspiracy behind her death, and a secondary running story that ties into her vengeance against the Lee family. I'm still not quite sure how concise focused the show is, seeing that it takes on the subject of beauty standards and acceptance.  All that aside, I find the actress who plays Sara incredibly adorable in her role–especially when she pulls into a karate stance.   So it's not to be taken too seriously, I suppose.

3.  Mr. Baek
Another Kdrama that ties in the subject of transformations, vengeance and second chances is Mr. Baek. 70-something-year Choi Go-Bong is tenacious, greedy, egotistical, and just plain ole mean. He’s been this way most of his life, so some can deal and some can't. Nonetheless, his obsession consists mostly of building his wealth–which he has done (and continues to do despite his age) by successfully manning a powerful hotel corporation. The price, however, comes in the form of an irresponsible and spoil son who’s impartial to the hotel business’s future. And if that wasn't enough, Choi has to tend to a few of his shifty, money-grubbing siblings waiting to attach themselves to his position and deep pockets.

Almost by accident, Choi ends up meeting a young woman name Eun Ha-Soo. At a retirement village, they stumble upon one another where her kind words deflect and disarm his normally mean spirit. And they find themselves crossing paths once more during a meter shower where both of their vehicles tumble into a sinkhole. In a last stance for survival, Choi reaches for his spilled medication and unknowingly swallows a piece of a meteor. This, in turns, reverts his body to that of his 36-year-old self. With a few more lessons to realize and learn, this gives Choi the chance to fall in love, rescue his company from inside corruption, and, perhaps, find a relationship with his son and heir.

I found myself enjoying Mr. Baek right away. As I mentioned, some dramas I have to warm up to. Thankfully, that didn't happen here. I think what drew me in the most is how it hit home with me regarding parents and their relationships with their children. Parents often wish they could turn back time to be there for their kids, or correct some of the mistakes they felt they'd made. Watching that unfold in Mr. Baek–in its own way–rings familiar to me. We're all the product of our childhood in a sense. We all wish our parents done at least one thing differently that we feel may have empowered us to lead better adult lives. Now that's despite owning the grown-up ability to make decisions based off whether or not we'll allow that "disempowerment" from the past to hurt our present and future. So yeah, Mr. Baek is about second chances and making wrongs right, and also honoring our responsibilities. But while all that is true, I also love the comedy and conspirator elements of the show. As for the romance....  I'm a sucker for the romances involving a girl who manages to capture the heart of a man and change him for the better. The twist with Mr. Baek is that Choi's having his heart changed by the girl whom his son longs for to change his own. I have yet to tell who will she stick with at the very end.

4.  The Perfect Insider (Jdrama)
Based off Japanese mystery writer Hiroshi Mori’s novel All Becomes F comes the Jdrama The Perfect Insider. The show takes on a crime-of-the-week format (to be exact, each crime span two episodes). However, the protagonists are unchanging. One is an architect student at Jinnan University named Moe Nishinosono. The other, Saikawa Souhei, is an associate professor and mentor within the university’s engineering department. These two are the active sleuths, in which their intelligence combines to crack each case. At the same time, they get a hand or two from the local police and a few other associates who stumble through.

As for their first case, the two head to a research institute on the suggested request of a professor in the same department as Saikawa. The research institute holds a laboratory where low temperature -20 degree experiments are conducted. (Don’t ask me what for, as I'll have to rewatch the episode to actually understand the science so heavily involved in this series.) A final experiment is underway, and a host of students and professors are present to watch their research come to a conclusion. Two of those students–who happen to be lovers–launches the last experiment by donning protective gear and stepping into the multi-room depths of the laboratory. The two seemingly come out of the lab one-by-one, as others monitor their progress from the outskirts. But when neither shows up to the celebratory party, questions naturally arise and a search party is formed. Behind one locked door the body of the female student is discovered, having been stabbed in the back. She lay inches from another door in which the male student is also found stabbed in the back. An emergency exit is unable to open from the outside, and a steel service door has a blown motor. This, in turns, creates a locked room double-murder mystery.  Stamped with science, physics, a touch of romance, and creepy murders Japanese style, comes the 10 episode series The Perfect Insider.

So many places I can start with how excited I get watching this drama. The immediate thing I want to share is that I love the music composition so much that I recently ordered its score straight from Japan. Like, I needed it. There’s a specific melody that plays when Nishinosono is theorizing a case of events that strokes the writer in me. I get excited when the beat plays, and boot up my laptop to see if I can construct my own scene. I'm hoping once I get the score I'll actually get back into writing, though. The second thing that comes to mind is how I absolutely love watching Japanese actors at work. Their acting is so aligned with the hard cuts, beats and blunt ends of their spoken language. There’s a certain staccato-ness in Japanese speech that I adore watching in motion through acting. 

As for the actual show, I love it because it’s about puzzles and how to unfold one with a basis in subjects such as science, computers and physics. There’s another level of consideration to the murders beyond just the deduction of the suspects. Elements such as room temperatures, air pressurizing, and what I think are called key frames, all play a part in one case or another. And with all that said, I just love the characters.  Nishinosono has this innocence, bravado, and curiosity for puzzles and murder.  Seeing a beheaded body did anything but cause her to scream, as her mind immediately snaps into unraveling the cause.  And Saikawa is one of those saggy intellectual Japanese babes that stay calm, cool, and trustworthy under pressure.


And this concludes my Top 4 Favorite Currently Running Dramas.  Maybe once they're complete  I'll review them.  Wait.  That'll take forever.  Like this post.  Nevertheless, if you've watched them, please share your take on them below.  Chime in! 

Next I want to do a post about a few currently running Kdramas that I’m on the fence about.  These are the dramas I'm into–but not into.  And I'll tell you why.  Hopefully, I'll get to that soon.  

Don't have an Hulu account?  Well, should you decide to try out Hulu, I'll pass on my referral link here: 

Total Pageviews