Saturday, February 28, 2015

The Girl Who Dreamt of Earl Moran

She has a name, and it’s Emiko (although I conceptualized her, her surname escapes me at the moment). Japanese? Absolutely. And she dreamt of posing for famed pin-up artist Earl Moran. Or, at least, that’s what inspired all of this; the blueness and semi-sailor look. Oh, also the binoculars that don't exactly look like such (who ever said I could draw inanimate objects anyway?). I have a book on famous pin-up artists, and I use it whenever I want to draw something but am uninspired by anything. So, I take to that book during dry spells. And considering I've promised myself that I would try to draw a new image once a month for 2015, I landed on Earl Moran's chapter. And since today is the last day of February, I’ll let the process images do most of the talking as I try to post this before midnight. Enjoy and comment below. And the image source is HERE!

The usual penciling process.  Sometimes I hate this part because my OCD really kicks in–knowing that if I don't get it right, it's all done for.  While I'll never be 100% accurate or get my proportions right (who needs them in comic and cartooning?), I do use my handy bathroom mirror to reflect the sketch back.  That way, I'll catch some of the obvious little misalignments.

The inking part, of course.

Copic markers for shading and outline.  I've always done this however way.  So not into light sources.

Ah, the stenciling and scrapping part.

I took another piece of bristol board and painted it blue.  A seafaring blue (whatever that is).  The point was to make her backdrop look something like the side of a boat.  I'm going for a theme here.

Dying to use this particular material; I turned her scooped out parts into a shirt.

More color, more pizazz.  I almost didn't get through this, as I was entranced with catching up with How to Get Away with Murder.  Man!  They gave us two episodes this week and they were soooooo good.  I don't think I even ate yet.

I taped the shirt down, seeing that another layer would be added.  Then glued her down to the backdrop.  Neither were as much of a mess as I anticipated.

All done!  Scanned, revived, retouched a bit.  Since I'm not a computer person, I did what I could.  Anyway, Emiko is happy.  Her usual prickly disposition does not show.  I haven't drew her in a long time and have been thinking about her as of recent.  Here's to my girl.


Friday, February 27, 2015

Zazzle This USB Flash Drive

Here I stood, just bought a PS4 and frustrated trying to copy recorded game play onto a USB flash drive that just wouldn't connect. It would save me so much trouble to take game play through the PS4’s DVR and into a flash drive; transfer it to my computer and then edit it from there. However, seeing the USB stick I had wouldn't connect, I decided to go onto Zazzle and create one of my own featuring my drawings. Per usual, I picked a random image and came up with this one…

From 8 to about 36 (I bought the 16GB), Zazzle offers an array of GB sizes (prices rise in accordance with size) and colors for their USB flash drive products.  I chose this pastel pink because it went well with the image.  The drive comes in a nice, clear plastic envelope.

Here is the drive semi-swiveled out.  There’s also a hook piece to attach the drive elsewhere.  Say, like to a lanyard.

I chose a fuller image perspective for the other side to keep “variety” in the piece. After pounding on discounts given by Zazzle, I paid $9.95. As for the shipping, I placed the order on the 24th and received it on the 27th (as a Black Member, standard shipping is free). It came unexpectedly. Unexpectedly fast. 

Give me a couple of days to add USB flash drives to the store. In the meantime, you can visit everything else I have to offer HERE.

Once again, thanks for all the support. Stay strong and motivated, people.  And for all my gamer follows, be on the lookout for my gaming channel.  Sub HERE!

Monday, February 23, 2015

Spotlight: Food for Thought

There are debates as to whether Willie Lynch was an actual person, and to be perfectly honest I lean toward myth by his name alone. Nonetheless, since I read the book anyway, I have to say that The Willie Lynch Letter and The Making of a Slave is a 30-page book consisting of a speech given by a white slave owner from the West Indies. 

Delivered on the bank of the James River in 1712, the purpose of his speech was to coach American slave owners on how to restrain, tame and destroy the minds of African slaves.  Chiefly those newly arriving into slavery. His argument was “[If] You are not only losing valuable stock by hangings, you are having uprisings, slaves are running away, your crops are sometimes left in the fields too long for maximum profit, you suffer occasional fires, your animals are killed," then he has the “foolproof method for controlling your Black slaves.” His speech became a sort of outline for slave owners to generate profit and remove economic blocks.  And this consisted primarily of creating divisions among the slaves themselves, with one via their differences in skin-tone.  Furthermore, Lynch suggested the removal and dehumanizing of the black male as the leading family member.  This, in turn, will "create" lasting acceptance and conformity to life as a slave for men as well as women and children generations and beyond.  

The majority of these "ideas" spun another inner ding concerning Lynch's myth, considering his "methods" were a common practice as is. Nevertheless, “FEAR, DISTRUST, and ENVY” are strategies used to control. And all three were proclaimed by Lynch to keep the Black slave under control for over 300 years.

With the addition of horse breeding analogies to illustrate “Cardinal Principles for Making a Negro," the book also contains small pieces of annotations given by Frederick Douglass and Charles Johnson. However, I believe the truly provocative area comes toward the end of the book, through a contemporary essay titled “Dear Black Americans."

Which I’ll share here:

Saturday, February 21, 2015

~ 2. Back to High School - Towel-Style ~

Here we are with the next five pages.  Click HERE for the first five.  Or you can follow the labels at the end of the post.

Obviously I made my pages super busy.  Busy, packed and hectic.  Nevertheless, that's how I saw a lot of manga pages; busy and occupied.  I suppose I was just copying, but to an extreme.  I wish I had the skill to tell an efficient (as well as effective) story without too much fuss.  Maybe if I tried to do this these days I could get it right.

Once again a busy page.  I didn't have an manga screens (though later I started to print pictures on tracing paper and go from there), so I had to do all of my backgrounds and effects by hand.  I used what I had.  That's why I always tell people to just start wherever you are and enjoy the process.  

I love Towel and Clip's teacher in the top left corner.  "Break's over!  Let's go!" he says.  And as always, Towel decides to call him a "patty mouth dog."  I don't know what that is.  Should I ever get the time to write her these days, she would never say something like that.  It's not clever enough.  Nonetheless, here her and Clip continue to peep the new girl.

I remember showing this page to a friend of mine and he made a comment about the top panel character's (if you didn't catch it, her name is Miino) expression.  He was pretty direct in his observation that the character looks as if she's about to do something salacious.  I'll leave that to your imagination.  Nonetheless, what I want to point out is how the teachers always seem to be yelling at Towel.  Even this female teacher on the left is yelling at her to take a seat.

Towel's trying to be friends with the new girl, Miino.  Instead, Miino is more interested in strangling Towel.  The scene transitions over into the gym area where Towel and Clip reunite to discuss the new girl, as well as some of the male students playing ball topless.  Said boys have taken a liking to Miino–naturally.  This makes Towel even more curious as to who this new girl is.

I don't think Japanese female students wear bloomers anymore for gym class.  However, this is another obvious testament to my love of the shojo manga genre.

The bloomers again.  Other than that, here is where I introduced another male character (other than Towel's best friend Cornbread).  I'm cringing here as I revisit this particular page.  Why?  Because while I was shaky, I don't like how I drew this guy at all.  I think my drawings of him will get better.  But yesh!

See you guys in the next post...

Friday, February 20, 2015

Asa or Forrest

After the death of his parents, five-year-old Forrest “Little Tree” Carter found himself adopted by his Cherokee grandmother and part-Cherokee grandfather. His grandparents own a home deep in the hollows of a mountain, and that's where Little Tree follows them to learn the ways of the Cherokee.  Said ways are about living off and respecting nature.  

Honoring one's ancestors and finding encouragement through their stories also takes part in Little Tree's lessons.  Little Tree also learns/experiences the often problematic nature of his heritage, and how it relates to the white man’s view of Native Americans and their history/role in the America. A book with little to no conflict, The Education of Little Tree is mostly a romanticized example of what it meant to be Native American during The Great Depression as well as growing up thoroughly connected with Nature.

Sounds like a bubbly and syrupy summary, right? Well, the truth is that I don't know how to take this novel, after reading the history behind the author and the book itself. And it’s really, truly funny because I was about a quarter away from the end (having not researched a thing about the book/author) before I decided I was tired of feeling like there was an undertone of patronization taking place. It turns out, I was on to something. That niggling feeling wasn't there for no reason.

Here’s what I learned about this book, published in the late 70’s:

1. While the book is (or was upon its initial publication) touted as an autobiography/memoir, the author is not Native American.

2. The author was white, and apparently a ku klux klan member

3. The author was somewhat forceful in his segregation views. Which isn't much of a surprise when you take in Little Tree’s encounter with black people in the book?

And that’s just to name a few nuggets of information I've gathered. If I hadn't plucked the book from the non-fiction section at Barnes & Nobles, I may have been more or less baffled. I jumped into it thinking it was a memoir of a young Native American kid learning some hard and heart-filled lessons surrounding his heritage, but instead I got an illusion. A lie. However, halfway through I started to pick up that something wasn't right, and then, as I said, a quarter away from the end was when I felt like the voice was sort of patronizing.  It was an almost condescending and kiddy-glove approach to illustrating Native American culture. Everything seemed too charming. Too surreal. Too vividly told, yet simple at the same time. And most of all, a touch too stereotypical.

So I don't know where I stand with this book. I liked it enough that from a storytelling standpoint, it won me completely. But I honestly just… don't… know….  There's speculation as to the author's intent (his real name is Asa Earl Carter).  However, I don't have it in me to figure it out.  So I might as well move on.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

~ 1. Back 2 High School–Towel Style ~

Now this is hilarious. It started out really quite simple: I needed an eyeglass repair kit–but not for eyeglasses. I needed to replace my cell phone’s USB charger port and had all the equipment in one kit, including a useless micro screwdriver. So convinced that I had another one in an eyeglass repair kit, I scoured my room searching. Eventually, I dived into my closet, pulled out a couple of plastic storage crates, and ran across this old comic I drew back in my junior year of high school. It’s where I started to develop and understand this character that’s been in my head all my life. Her name is Towel. (Nicknamed if you will.) She’s young. Highly misunderstood. Stubborn. A romantic. Senseless and often times forgetful. However, most of all, she’s a hero. She’s lived and manifested in many different forms and appearances. Many different races. Many different occupations. Nonetheless, she’s always been influenced by my love of Sailor Moon, Buffy and a variety of other forms and medias that represent women in power.

So it took me a while, but I finally whipped out my scanner, thinking it would be cool to share some of these scans just for the hell of it. It’s rough. It’s hard.  It's random and confusing.  It’s impulsively drawn. But it’s here. So be tickled.  And sorry that some areas are cut off. My scanner isn't that large.

And no. I never found that eyeglass repair kit. Therefore, I was left making a run to the Dollar Store for one.  However, eventually I got my phone repaired.

I’ll release these in a series of 5 per posts...

What other way to introduce Towel other than to make her late for school?  Why was she late?  Because she was busy admiring a dress.  Heavily–and I mean heavily–influenced by Naoko Takeuchi and Miwa Ueda's work, I placed her in a sailor-style uniform just like Japanese students.  Which only exacts her locale.  

While I was rarely late for school/class, I will say that I was not liked by a couple of teachers for other reasons.  Like Towel, I kind of didn't have a filter on my mouth.  I remember one English teacher calling me out because I proclaimed "this sucks" during one dull, boring class period.  It really was boring listening to her read out of some book.  However, school was like that for me; I was always bored.  And though I've always tried, I find it hard to hold back how I feel.  Especially when it comes to the urge to create.

While she may be located in Japan, Towel definitely had my Southern wit.  I also want to mention how, as it regards manga/anime, characters who have blond hair and blue eyes are not necessarily considered white.  In fact, you'll know when a white/foreign character is present in either form, because of the difference in his/her appearance and behavior.  However, the obvious is a silly caricature of say an American or Russian.  

I never really saw Towel as white, mixed maybe.  Eventually she became a black character who dyed her hair blond.  Why blond?  Because Minako/Sailor Venus is yellow-headed of course.  Plus, the color is so light that it's easiest to product and hide mistakes over.

I've always loved these little character introductions in manga.  A quick, running page of information regarding the star and her buddies.  Clip (later changed to Klip) and Cornbread (we'll talk about him later) were always the characters I had in mind as Towel's best friends.  Both have changed tremendously over the years.  Something I'll realize more and more of as I re-read these early introductions.  

Nonetheless, back to Towel.  I wanted Towel to be sporty, unlike myself.  So I made her a basketball player (like my sister at the time) and a gymnasts (so she could do flips like the original Pink Ranger).  She loves to write, which is something that did come from myself.  Ultimately, I shot for well-rounded.

And here enters a character inspired by Naoko Takeuchi's Rei Hino (my second favorite senshi), or other known as Sailor Mars.  She becomes Towel's school rival and later something else entirely.

Perhaps now's the time to ask that you stay tuned for the next half...

#ReadSoulLit ~ Sisters in Crime

#ReadSoulLit is a Black History Month project organized by booktuber, Frenchiedee.  When Frenchie reached out and asked did I want to contribute to the project, I didn't hesitate.  I most certainly did.  And when she asked what I would do my video on, with so much ease I said black women writing black women in crime fiction.  And what a project this turned out to be.  I stressed for about three weeks, then one day got tired and decided to just jump up and do me.  Now, I have to share the videos here with you all.  I've drained myself a little putting this one together.  So I hope you all enjoy...

#ReadSoulLit ~ Sisters in Crime 1: Where I'm Coming From...

#ReadSoulLit ~ Sisters in Crime 2: Their Stories...

Saturday, February 14, 2015

When Bored With a Book...

...Buy more.  That's right.  I'm bored to tears with Chang-Rae Lee's On Such a Full Sea.  If Obsession in Death hadn't released to interrupt the process, I may have walked this week finishing absolutely nothing.  Nonetheless, I've bought plenty and think it's time I put Lee aside for the time being.  No, seriously.  On Such a Full Sea is boring.  Though it's an interesting look at the dystopian theme, it's kind of hard to really connect with as it's told through the first-person plural.  However, it's led by the character of a sixteen-year-old girl who you never really have access to her consciousness throughout its telling.  So I'm on the fence.  Part of me wants to power my way through.  Part of me wants to just give the whole thing up.  Part of me is upset because I loved and was captivated by The Surrendered and hoped this book would be the same.  Nonetheless, I went to the bookstore Friday.  Grabbed the laptop and hung out for awhile before my cousin and I went to our favorite Asian restaurant in the area.  I browsed exclusively in the non-fiction area and walked out with these...

India Calling by Anand Giridharadas substituted for my actual desire for Maximum City by Suketa Metha.  I decided to go into India gently, I suppose.  Hitler's Furies just caught my eye and interest.  Women killers during the Holocausts.  Ouch.

Obsession in Death

So let me set this book up for you, before I get into what I loved about it. Eve Dallas is somewhat of a celebrity cop in New York.  Her and her cases are often featured on the local news as one of New York‘s top homicide lieutenants. Books and movies have featured her cases–and in turn her likeness. And her celebrity comes increasingly valid with a billionaire husband at her side. So without a doubt, Eve is as profile as they come.  The problem is while many hate her (which is an understatement), some admire her. And some admiration comes with a deadly (another understatement) and twisted psychology. 

In Obsession in Death Eve has become the object of someone’s personal fixation. A fixation so apparent and disturbing that this person believes they must kill for Eve, to show and express the value of their “relationship.” The killings are about justice. Respect. They are offerings to Eve, and it becomes all the more evident as each murder relates back to suspects and victims from Eve’s old cases.  Obviously, Eve doesn’t appreciate these offerings. And it’s only a matter a time before their killer turns completely on Eve.  Hence... Obsession in Death.

It’s here. It’s done. Finally, all caught up on J. D. Robb’s In Death series. I thank those who've followed along on this semi-obsessive compulsive journey, as I read my way through four books until arriving at Obsession in Death‘s release on February 10th (where I snatched it a Kroger‘s after filing my income taxes; I had to get Kosher hot dogs anyway). I would go on about my grateful pleasure to those who've kept up with me, but I think I've said enough over the past two months.  Therefore, I'm going to make this quick. 

Obsession in Death is not only the 40th book, but it also marks the twentieth anniversary since the In Death series began with Naked in Death‘s publication on July 1st, 1995. (I'm always amazed, seeing that I was only twelve-years-old on that day.) That’s twenty years and still going; not too many series covering any genre have that longevity. Furthermore, the cool thing in all this realization regards how Obsession seems to recognize the series' hero and its own history. It’s the book that looks closely at the character and evolution of Eve Dallas herself. It’s the book that takes nods to previous cases, previous victims and suspects as well as old, crooked wounds within some of the cast.  It looks back at Eve's relationship with others, and even takes us back to Eve's apartment where she resided at the beginning of it all. I found it somewhat of a tribute to the series–a celebration of sorts. And it was a thrill that easily out beat its predecessor, Festive in Death.  I found myself very much standing at two in the morning to read the book.  I didn't want to get comfortable, I didn't want to sleep.  From start to finish it was a ride–both the syrupy sentimental and a plot that races the clock kind.

Happy Valentine's Day!

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Girl, What? Welcome, Ms. Hayes

I'm a little beside myself because I researched Charlotte Carter’s Nanette Hayes three-book series a number of times only to jump into it with the second book, Coq au Vin. I ordered it thinking it’s the first, which is actually Rhodes Island Red. And you know how anal retentive I am, finding it necessary to read series in order. Not exactly sure what happened, but I’m here and will go back to give this series a proper start. In the future.  So despite my misstep, I did enjoy Coq au Vin and my introduction into Carter’s New York native, jazz playing, smack-talking amateur sleuth, Nanette Hayes.

So until I can go back and speak about this series from the start, I'd better go ahead and begin where I am.

Nanette’s Aunt Vivian has always been a men-loving, money-hungry firecracker. And now she’s an international one, having left America for Paris years ago to indulge in her impulses. She has since gone rogue from a family that didn't too much care for her ways to begin with. Nonetheless, she’s always had a special relationship with her niece, Nanette “Nan” Hayes. So when Aunt Vivian sends a postcard and a telegram to Nanette’s mother relying danger, the family can't help but worry. Yet… they also sigh with exhaustion. While Nanette’s father wants nothing else to do with his sister, it’s Nanette’s mother who gives her daughter the task of seeking out her aunt in Paris. And it would've been easy to reject if Nanette didn't have the added responsibility of handing Vivian her inheritance. Unfortunately, by the time Nanette lands in France, Aunt Vivian has long been missing.

Coq au Vin takes you places. Places where you may forget what’s happening in the book as it relates to the mystery and/or purpose of Nanette in Paris. There are even moments when Nanette took note of how un-progressive she’s been in regard to finding her aunt, usually because she‘s busy sexing up her Paris boyfriend or looking for a place to eat. So in that situation, it never felt like a story with much at stake or any urgency as Nanette fluttered about Paris semi-sorta taking stock of little clues related to her aunt‘s disappearance. Simply put, Carter sprinkled the setup in the beginning, and it wasn't until near the end where it felt as if she crammed in her focus.

So instead, between those two points, more than once I felt like I verged off into a Parisian instant-love story, a black-conscience dialogue (which was the best), or a music history lecture. The book comes loaded with the history of blues and jazz music, from America to Paris. Topped with descriptions of Paris's locales as well, which wouldn't be so bad if you're familiar with the city and didn't require a little research. It goes into the world of the Paris jazz scene also. From the streets to the night clubs. However, you may find yourself wondering, repeatedly, why am I here and what’s the progress of the mystery, or the catalysis to all of these events. And personally, I'm always startled in a mystery book when a protagonist gathers a lead, but decides to go to a nightclub to dance instead of chasing it down. Focus, people. Focus.

The surprises along the way are limited. Some that I conceived would've probably really set the book off. Nonetheless, at last, it all sort of came together, except for a few characters who went off and were never heard from again. While I was over Nanette’s outbursts and arguments, I can say that she made a fantastic protagonist. Especially because she’s black, a woman, and is aware of both these things and how she relates–and is seen–by the world. Even in a place miles away from her New York roots.

I'll leave a few of my favorite moments from Nanette down below…

"Like every musician, probably, I had often wondered what it was like to play high on drugs.  All the cornball stuff crosses your mind:  does the heroin unlock some door in your soul?  Does it makes you better?  I don't just mean, does it make you play better.  I mean, are you better, however briefly

For all my musical forefathers, it had to do more than just make the pain go away.  God.  Negroes and their pain.  What the fuck were we going to do if suddenly it all did go away?  Would be even know who we were anymore?"

"I wanted to say something more than that, but I couldn't quite form the words yet.  The permutations of our relationship to the whole of America were endless.  You could hate white people but not hate America.  You could come to terms with the racism but never accept the insipid culture.  You could view our disenfranchisement as a kind of massive swindle–all that blood, sorrow, loyalty, hope, and patience deposited over the centuries, and the check keeps bouncing.  You could simply self-destruct.  Like I said, endless.  I figured I'd hear the particulars of his take on the thing soon enough."

"'My blackness is not open to challenge.  My father was black, so that means I'm black.  Period.  I guess what I mean is, my people deserve to be honored by me, and I'm serious about doing that–but I deserve some honor too, right?  Who doesn't?'"

Saturday, February 7, 2015

February Housekeeping

It’s Saturday. It’s relatively warm. The sun is out. And I only had to work a quick four–though mildly nerve-wracking–hours on the job. A new episode of Ghost Adventures comes on tonight. I have no plans and don’t care to make any. So what did I do? I went to the bookstore. I had a few ideas in mind, but I mostly went in there blind and ready to browse at my leisure. No pressure, except that emptiness in my stomach alerting me that I didn't have lunch. Just shelf after shelf of… well… looking. As always, I first stopped in the non-fiction section, particularly the area concerning Asian and African (hyphen the two as you will) studies as well as Native American history. And I saw plenty there, but waited and browsed around some more with a couple of those books in mind. 

I wanted to avoid the Mystery and Sci-Fi/Fantasy section. Mystery because I have plenty of them, as they're a well that never runs dry here. Sci-Fi/Fantasy because I can never seem to find what I really want to read about in the genre. I was not–and I mean not–in the mood for female characters sexing it up with werewolves and vampires. Forget that!

I decided to hit the general fiction area blind, but not-so blind as I had my Amazon Wishlist app open like a Geiger counter. My experience with Chang-Rae Lee’s The Surrendered was a clear voice in my head–no doubt. It’s a voice that I tried and tried to fight by picking up another by Ruth Ozeki (after reading A Tale for the Time Being a few years ago, I wanted to go back to another of hers) and fell into shock when I found Junichiro Tanizaki‘s The Makioka Sisters there and available right at my fingertips. For a while, I walked around with Toni Morrison’s Home. Richard Wright’s Rite of Passage hung in there also.  

Like Rebbie Jackson, I was "Ready For Love."  I walked around with a set of three books. Put two back. Walked with one. I reverted back around and picked up one that I let down. I stood in the aisles contemplating prices and mood. And after some unknown amount of time I ended up with these…

Evidently, I couldn't resist that voice for another Chang-Rae Lee novel.  The Education of Little Tree, by Forrest Carter, went to war between The Ways of My Grandmothers by Beverly Hungry Wolf and Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found by Suketu Mehta.  Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan by Herbert P. Bix is still stuck on my list.  Nevada Barr’s Track of the Cat just kind of happened.  I wandered into the mystery section (who the hell was I kidding?) and recognized its familiar cover from my Amazon Wishlist.  It’s the first in her Anna Pigeon park ranger series.  I figured I wouldn't find it anywhere else in such a condition.

So there we are.  I look forward to sharing my experience with these books in the future.  Can you guess which I'll crack open tonight?  Hmmm...

Friday, February 6, 2015

Caught-Up in Death

It has finally happened–I'm caught up on J. D. Robb (except for two short stories) and am officially ready for Obsession in Death’s release on February 10th. (Which is six days away from where I'm standing.) Whoo-hoo! It’s been a thrill slamming these four books down these past two months. A truly fun and exciting treat/reunion. There were nights where I stood up to keep from falling asleep, as I chuck down 200 pages. In contrast, there was a time where I–pitifully–spent ten days with one book.  Which is not a good thing. I got Lay's Simply thick cut potato chips wedged in some books, as I snacked alongside Eve and crew. I silenced my Korean dramas with the MUTE button to funnel my concentration into some of the more gripping cases.  And I suppose I should mention how I was almost late for work one morning, having stayed up to read and awoke to follow-up with a few more pages.

Fun, indeed.

So the last four books are listed as: Calculated, Thankless, Concealed, and Festive in Death. If I had to rate them in order from best to worse, it'll be Concealed, Calculated, Festive, and Thankless. Nonetheless, you can visit my previous post on Calculated and Thankless to see what I thought of them.  From here I’m going into Concealed and Festive. Okay. Enough rambling.

Concealed in Death is book number 38 in Robb’s In Death series, and it ranks up there with one Eve Dallas’s creepiest cases. It started off simple enough. Eve’s billionaire husband–and series star–Roarke is interested in creating a haven for abandoned children/teens. He’s taken an interest in an old building that done such a thing almost twenty years previous.  Then, it was known as The Sanctuary. 

Nevertheless, a bit of demolition is required to fit Roarke’s taste for the building.  With the contractor present, Roarke wields a sledgehammer into a wall to get the process started. And what he uncovers is a pocket of space. Tucked in that space are the skeletal remains of two, wrapped in plastic. Roarke wastes no time contacting his wife, homicide Lieutenant Eve Dallas. And, upon her arrival, the skeletal remains of ten others are uncovered buried in further walls of the building.

This was probably one of the best In Death books since Treachery in Death. It’s books like this that make me roll my eyes at book snobs. You know, the individuals who look down on what they deem–snobbishly I should say–genre fiction. (Personally, I'd rather get rid of the “genre” and stick with Sue Grafton’s equivalent, “literary form.”) However, genre fiction, or mystery to be exact, explores social subjects and themes just as effectively as contemporary fiction. Though it's done under the duress of murder (which may be where all the snobby squealing comes from), that is only the vehicle to said themes and social conversations. 

Concealed in Death provided both murder and the conversation. Robb took readers on the individual stories of twelve (and then some) unfortunate teens who found themselves abandoned and/or abused by their families.  Subsequently, they're thrown into a shelter. Many of them gathered hard, abrasive defense mechanisms used to control those around them. Many harbored powerful, self-destructive rage. And many were so broken they were helpless and prey to a variety of influences. These teens manipulated, stole, and fought to relieve their sadness. And in the end, they were lured to their deaths by an individual just as destructive and broken.

Concealed in Death just goes on and on.  Whether it's the book's additional presence of mental illness and suicide; it opens conversation after conversation while telling a sad, troubling story that’s very much worth a discussion. It ranked right up there with the disheartening feeling I gathered after I closed Promises in Death six years ago.  Now, that's not to say that Concealed didn't have its flaws.  It certainly did.  However, just the conception of the case alone made it a winner to me.  Twelve skeletal remains hidden behind walls is chilling in itself.  Plus, I'm not one to nibble on flaws in books unless they're too big for me to swallow.

Which more or less brings me to book number 39, Festive in Death. A personal trainer named Trey Ziegler is discovered in his apartment. Murdered, of course. He was bashed over the head twice with one of his fantastic, high-flying fitness achievement trophies, before finding himself (well, his corpse of a self) stabbed in the chest with a kitchen knife attached to a note reading Santa Says You’ve Been Bad!!! Ho. Ho. Ho!  It would be somewhat easier for Eve if she found some sympathy for her playboy victim. Oh, yeah. The fact that he drugged his many sexual conquests takes part of her disgust. Nonetheless, this is her job; she must stand for the dead. So the search for his killer keeps going. From a fashion blogger, a native mistress, and Trey’s body-building rivals, the list of his potential killer goes on just as the variety of possible motives.  Was it a vengeance kill?  A passion kill?  Or maybe Trey was getting in the way of someone else's personal achievement? So, who killed Trey Ziegler and why?

There’s not that much I want to say about Festive in Death. I thought it was kind of standard. It wasn't all that exciting–especially after the gripping atmosphere Concealed gave me.  However, it was an enjoyable glide with Eve and the cast. See, the thing about Festive was Robb never really flipped any switches to me. I read it thinking to myself “wouldn't it be interesting if Trey’s killer was his gay lover”. Conversely, “what if Trey’s hiding someone else’s homoerotic voyeurisms.” Or even, “wow, I wish the character who seems naive and dumb was actually a blood-thirsty vengeful bitch.” Anything but the status quo would’ve done. And while it did twist a little in the end, it wasn't all that grand.  Plainly put, the book was too damn safe for me.

The true treat of Festive was probably the long scenes dedicated to Eve and Roarke’s life with family and friends. Seeing that this was a Christmas-themed book, it only made sense. Now, I'm not one to really invest too much in Eve and Roarke’s relationships with others. It’s true. To me, the books move so slow and are so stagnant in the relationship area that I don't feel like I really miss much.  Let me explain... 

Early in the series there was an arc where the dating couple, Peabody (Eve’s partner) and McNab (New York’s electronic division officer), were having a tiff.  He caught her being kissed by another individual and it deconstructed/reconstructed everything between them for a couple of books.  It was an issue that was there.  It came present, explored and experience without having been watered down or glossed over.  Another example comes when the resident psychologist, Dr. Mira, and Eve were on rocky terms during another arc in the series.  Their tiff had to do with an ethical disagreement involving a case. So other than that, nothing really sticks out to me concerning characters and their relationships with others. Perhaps I'm just blind to it, because I've read reviews where others are excited for growth in certain relationships where all I see is the same. Even with Eve and Roarke, I hardly see much of this “growth” people keep talking about. Basically, what I'm saying is that nothing breaks down to be built back up between these characters.  At least nothing serious, detrimental, or dynamic-changing.

I'm not as invested in the character relationships as other readers, but when it happens, I do notice piquing changes.  And I also want to add that I believe part of this issues comes with how everyone's world almost always orbits back around to Eve and Roarke.

Nonetheless, with all of that said, I will say that I did enjoy the parts in Festive not focused on the murder case.  (Honestly, I'm kind of shocked that I did enjoy them.) After all, a Christmas party is usually a good time. And in saying that, I still wish Robb would do something with the gay medical examiner Ty Clipper. So annoying how all these straight couples get to have all the fun. Even the coupling between a licensed male prostitute and a doctor (though I like them in general).

Well, that’s it. Enough rambling. I’m moving on to Obsession. Check with me there!

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Balzac Said What?

"In this enchanting tale about the magic of reading and the wonder of romantic awakening, two hapless city boys are exiled to the remote mountain village for re-education during China's infamous Cultural Revolution.  There they meet the daughter of the local tailor and discover a hidden stash of Western classics in Chinese translation.  As they flirt with the seamstress and secretly devour these banned works, they find transit from their grim surroundings to worlds they never imagined."

~ Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress

There’s a lot to say, and then there’s not too much I can say about Dai Sijie’s Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress.  I mostly found it an ethereal, magical, coming-of-age, young-romance Chinese not-so-love story.  It’s short and sweet.  Flavored and gripping in its telling.  

Balzac takes place during China’s Cultural Revolution, a time where all things Western or foreign was prohibited in place of all things Mao (like that handy The Little Red Book).  Subsequently, many young Chinese were relocated from the cities (populated and occupied with educational prospects) and forced into the mountainous areas/villages for re-indoctrination.  After all, what better way to uphold Mao's principles than to throw the intelligent Chinese youth into the countryside as coal-miners and farmhands?  Anyway, it’s here that we meet the two Chinese teens sharing their story of political migration, and their desperation for love and knowledge.

It gets a little confusing toward the end as the narrative abruptly shifts into the heads of the various other characters.  However, I didn't find it a total disruption, because by that point I was pretty much solid with the simplicity of the story.  So in saying all that, Balzac isn't Ha Jin, Jung Chang, or Yiyun Li.  It's a fascinating and spellbinding read, but it only went so far in depth and conflict.  I left away feeling it was a glimpse, a slice-of-life (but certainly more) moment of what it was like to be a Chinese teen during the Cultural Revolution.  And all the political maladjustment that went into living in that era.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Unbagged: Zazzle iPhone Speaker

What's up, guys!  I'm doing video after video it seems.  Here I do an unbagging of another Zazzle item I recently acquired out of my Zazzle store.  It's my way of sharing to others what these items are like once received as well as trying them out for myself.  And I really needed a new speaker!


The product details per Zazzle's site are as follows:

Dimensions: 2.375"L x 4.5"W x 0.75"D; 3.5 ounces
Powered by 2 AAA batteries and USB cord (included)
Works with ANY standard 3.5 mm. headphone jack audio product
Designer Tip: To ensure the highest quality print, please note this product’s customizable design area measures 2.3" x 4.4". For best results please add 1/10"

January Wrap-Up Videos

In case you missed it, here's my reading wrap-up videos for January.  I titled this set "Killers and Eastern Sorrow" because, well, that's what the month came to reading-wise.

Total Pageviews