Posts Tagged ‘watching’

July Diversions

03
August
2016

Here’s what I was up to in July…

READING

The White Cat and the Monk by Jo Ellen Bogart, Sydney Smith [Picture Book]
A lovely picture book inspired by one of my favorite bits of actual history: the Irish monk who wrote a poem about his cat, comparing the cat’s hunting to his own scholarly work.

Crown of Midnight by Sarah J. Maas [YA Fantasy]
More adventure, more magic, more romance. I started reading this series because they’re so tremendously popular and I wanted to study what they were doing right, but the deeper I get the more I’m just enjoying the story. On the other hand, one particular plot point in this book left me very unhappy and uncomfortable in terms of the treatment of characters of color, even though it made sense storywise. I’m going to keep reading because I love a lot of the other elements of the series, but I want to make that comment here as a caveat to other readers.

Exit, Pursued by a Bear by E. K. Johnston [YA Contemporary]
An incredibly compelling (I could not stop reading) and ultimately uplifting book about a very painful topic. But I don’t want to label this as an “issues” book because it’s so much more than that. It made me care about cheerleading, It made me love these characters, and root for them living their lives, not just surviving a harrowing experience. I loved how it so thoughtfully and deftly explored aspects of personal choice, friendship, gender roles and expectations, and dealing with trauma.

Ms. Marvel, Vol. 5: Super Famous by G. Willow Wilson, Takeshi Miyazawa, Adrian Alphona, Nico Leon [YA Graphic Novel]
This series continues to be so delightful and rich and wonderful. I especially love how Kamala is having to balance all the different parts of her life; so often we see a character struggling with a bunch of responsibilities that they *don’t* want, and ultimately the message is about not wasting time on things that aren’t important to you. It was refreshing to see Kamala confronting the fact that she actually loves all her responsibilities and *wants* to say yes to everything, especially since that’s more true to my own experience (both as a teen, and an adult). And bonus points for the wonderful way the series is handling Kamala’s relationship with her long-time best friend who she loves but just can’t be in a relationship with due to her superheroing. I love that we see him in a new relationship with an awesome, smart new girlfriend who isn’t portrayed as the villain just because she’s a sort of “rival”, and see Kamala navigating that challenge and making mistakes and learning from them.

Jem and the Holograms, Volume 2: Viral by Kelly Thompson, Emma Vieceli, Corin Howell, Amy Mebberson, Maria Victoria Robado [YA Graphic Novel]
Delightful, rich and wonderful are good words for this volume too. My favorite bits are the Stormer-Kimber romance and the effervescent joy of the colorful art and seeing all these cool different female characters interacting with each other.

Monstress, Vol. 1: Awakening by Marjorie Liu, Sana Takeda [Adult Graphic Novel]
I actually read this as individual issues but the collected Volume One is now available so I’m listing it here since it is an amazing work of art. A complex and multi-layered world and characters, swinging from pure beauty to harsh, gruesome horror. Unlike anything else I’m reading.

Saga, Volume 6 by Brian K. Vaughan, Fiona Staples [Adult Graphic Novel]
Still wonderful! Everything else I can say is a spoiler!

Seveneves by Neal Stephenson [Adult Science Fiction]
I am a sucker for disaster movies, and this book is basically one big long disaster movie (or at least, the first two thirds are– the last third takes place 5000 years after the event) with a lot of bonus scientific digressions on orbital mechanics and space-station architecture. Which made is an excellent book for my tastes, though I suspect some readers may want to skim a bunch. It’s also a tremendously thought-provoking book, and also one of the most harrowing books I’ve read recently. I rarely get nightmares from books but the overwhelming dread of the basic premise here really struck me hard: all life, all human civilization on the surface of the earth is going to be wiped out in the aftermath of the breakup of the moon. Humanity will survive in the form of a few thousand people sent into space who must then persist for 5000 years, at which point they’ll need to reseed the Earth with life and recolonize it. This was a book that left me thinking, left me wanting to talk to other readers about the choices the characters made, the shape of the societies that endured, and so much else.

WATCHING

Stranger Things
This Netflix original series was even better than the talk online led me to expect: amazing story, perfect pacing, excellent acting, detailed, pitch-perfect 80s-era costumes/sets/music. We watched all eight episodes in three days, and I still wish there were more RIGHT NOW. I am so glad to hear there is a second season coming!

Editing to add: There was one element of the show that did bother me, which was the treatment of one particular female character, Barb (one of my favorites, possibly because she reminded me of myself) . I just had a friend share the link to this article that really pinpointed why Barb’s story was problematic, and also explored some other critical commentary I found really interesting. Again, I did love the show and recommend it, but I would love it even more if it addresses the issues laid out in that article in Season 2!

Ghostbusters
I loved the new Ghostbusters! It had all the joy and humor and excitement I remember from the original, and I adore the new cast.

February Diversions

19
March
2016

What I was up to last month:

READING
The Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan [MG Fantasy]
I quite enjoyed this. It was exactly what I was in the mood for when I read it: a humorous middle-grade adventure that made me laugh and kept me turning pages.
How I found it: I was in the mood for a middle-grade adventure and it was available via the library ebook lending program, and then the first chapter hooked me!

Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas [YA Fantasy]
I will admit I was dubious about this, especially as I was reading the first several chapters. And I am sure there are other readers who find the main character unlikable, particularly at the start. But that’s actually one of the reasons I enjoyed this and am already on the library wait-list for book 2. I kind of love that Celaena is unapologetically selfish and vain and proud (she’s also loyal and kind and brave in turns). In any case, this was, for me, a fun and fast read.
How I found it: It’s a hugely popular YA fantasy series…

Death at Victoria Dock by Kerry Greenwood [Adult Mystery]
I continue to enjoy the Miss Fisher novels very much! I am taking a break so I don’t inhale them all at once, which I might otherwise be tempted to do.
How I found it: Ongoing series…

WRITING
I got back some really helpful feedback from my amazing and generous critique partners, then dove into a revision that consumed most of my spare energy this month (thus the comparatively small size of my reading list for February — and the fact that they were all read at the beginning of the month).

I tend to find revision more mentally all-consuming than drafting (except in the end-stages of drafting when I want to just write all the time to get the book finished). When drafting I will usually do my work for the day and stop and feel satisfied, whereas with revision I generally feel twitchy and guilty if I am not working on the revision ALL THE TIME. But now it’s done, and off, and I’m dedicating a good chunk of time to reading and gaming and letting myself brainstorm and muse and mull and research for new projects!

GAMING
Lara Croft GO: I played this on my tablet and found it both visually beautiful and addictive. The puzzles were just hard enough to make my brain twist, but rewarding enough to keep me coming back.

Monument Valley: Another tablet game! This one was also amazingly beautiful. It has a sort of mystical, surreal quality that I love; I think if you (like me) are a fan of the aesthetics of the game JOURNEY you might enjoy Monument Valley purely for the visuals. The puzzle aspect was also engaging, though not brain-twistingly challenging. But I think my favorite part of this game is that it gave me the feeling that I was walking around in an M. C. Escher painting.

Here’s the trailer, which gives a good overview of the amazing art:

WATCHING
UnREAL: I have never been interested in watching any of the “dating” reality shows (I prefer Project Runway, Face Off and The Great British Baking Show. And my late, lamented The Quest!). But this isn’t an actual reality show. It’s a drama about the people producing and competing in a fictional reality show. I found it incredibly compelling (and also kind of horrifying). The characters do terrible, terrible, hurtful, and outright evil things, and yet I understood why they did them, and the show manages to confront and examine so many interesting and important issues, particularly those related to the experiences of women working in a male-dominated industry. I’m eager for season 2, especially having heard that they’re going to be having a black bachelor on the show-within-the-show (something that the actual real-world Bachelor has never done in 20 seasons).

The Fall: I will admit I started watching this for pretty much one reason: Gillian Anderson. And it’s worth watching for her portrayal of a cool, capable Irish detective with a seemingly-endless supply of beautiful silk blouses, who is tracking a serial killer. But it’s also got a compelling story, and an intriguing setup in which we start off the very first episode knowing who the killer is; the tension is in watching his story and the detective’s story weave back and forth, closer and closer. If you are looking for a more eloquent review that delves into some of the feminist aspects of the show, you can also read this article over at the Atlantic.

November Diversions

06
December
2015

What I’ve been up to in the last month:

READING
Serpentine by Cindy Pon [YA Fantasy]
Lushly detailed, immersive, and romantic! I especially loved the main character’s struggles with identity and agency, and the complicated and rich female friendship. There’s a bit of a cliff-hanger in the end, so I am eager for book 2!

How I found it: I’ve known Cindy since we both had our first novels debut the same year (back in 2009). She’s amazing and super hard-working and multi-talented, and I loved her first duology, full of epic action, fierce ladies, delicious foods, and cute boys.

The Young Elites by Marie Lu [YA Fantasy]
I am a sucker for super-hero stories, and this one has the added benefit of being set in a fantasy version of Venice!

How I found it: I was a fan of Lu’s first trilogy, starting with LEGEND, and loved the notion of a story about a girl “villain” inspired by Darth Vader.

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han [YA Contemp]
I loved this — it had a bit of the feel of some of my favorite comfort reads, with the strongly rendered and complicated family at the center of the story. I loved all the little details of Lara Jean’s life, her relationships with her older and younger sisters.

How I found it: I’d been peripherally aware of it for a while, as it’s popped up on various blogs and such that I follow, and the premise was compelling (girl writes secret love letters to every boy she falls in love with, and then one day they all get accidentally mailed). I made the leap to actually reading it when I saw my library had an e-copy available.

Jem and the Holograms: Showtime by Kelly Thompson and Sophie Campbell [YA Graphic Novel]
This was indeed truly, truly outrageous, in a good way. I grew up watching the original Jem cartoon and I love how this new comic interpretation takes the best elements of the source material– the female friendships, the secret identity hijinx, the rival girl bands, the awesomely colorful clothing– and reinterprets it, with an added helping of diversity.

How I found it: I think I first heard about the new comic via The Mary Sue.

WATCHING

How To Get Away With Murder
It only took one episode of this to completely hook both my husband and me. I’m still not entirely sure if I actually *like* any of the characters, but they are certainly engaging and compelling! I was slightly dissatisfied by the resolution of the overarching mystery, but I am still eager to continue with season 2.

The Crimson Field
One of my favorite of the recent batch of British period dramas, depicting the lives of nurses serving at a hospital camp in France during WWI. I’m very sad it wasn’t renewed! There was so much great material to work with, and fantastic acting. At least the final episode left things in a reasonable spot, and I can invent my own endings for the various characters.

Dark Matter
I loved this! And am very glad to hear that it was renewed. It combines a fantastic premise (six people wake from stasis on a starship with no memories and have to figure out who they are, what they were doing, and how they will define themselves now) with a fairly diverse cast and fun, scifi action. I think I was especially partial to it as it reminded me so strongly of Mass Effect, aesthetically.

CRAFTING
Late fall seemed like the perfect time to break out some colorful, glittery yarn and start a new hat:

WRITING
I’m drafting away on a new project. Unfortunately, I hit a block in the middle of the month, just after hitting 45K, and sunk into a small pit of despair. Fortunately, I started keeping a writing journal last year, and in the midst of my misery I thought to look back and see how I was doing while working on the first draft of my last book. I discovered I hit a terrible block on that one too… just after hitting 45K. It didn’t necessarily help me figure out the block (that took a lot of banging of head against outline and some backtracking) but it did make me less angstful. So much about writing is just learning to recognize your own creative patterns and processes!

BLOOMING
Both my African Violets are blooming, and (for the first time in at least 15 years!) so is my Purple Passion Plant (the fuzzy orange blobs in the background of the below photo). I’d like to think the PPP blooms are a good omen, but they kind of smell like something rotting, so maybe I should actually be worried? :-)

October Diversions

07
November
2015

What I’ve been up to in the last month:

READING
Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older [YA Fantasy]
This was such a vivid book, with a compelling protag, amazing voice, and a very cool magical element. Lots of little powerful moments that explored character, choice, and pushed at important questions of identity and family and race and history.

How I found it: I saw the cover on an “Upcoming Releases” post somewhere online and was immediately drawn to it: the colors and her amazing hair and her expression… After reading some positive reviews, I gave the first chapter a shot and was hooked by the amazing voice.

Saga, Volume 5 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples [Adult Comic]
I continue to love how this series pushes further, challenges its characters more, and continues to surprise me.

How I found it: Ongoing series I’ve been reading!

The Traitor Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson [Adult Fantasy]
One of my favorite reads of the year so far: the world-building, the amazing characters, the choices, the questions it raised… And who knew economics could be so compelling? I also appreciated that in spite of the fact that the main character goes to a very dark place, it wasn’t the sort of book that left me feeling bad. Just really eager for the rest of the story! I will note, however, that this book has divided readers in how it handles the issues of queer characters in the narrative — see the link below for some discussion of this and links to other reviews on that topic.

How I found it: I saw a reference to the title in passing and was instantly interested. The description intrigued me, as did the cover and the references to it as a book about someone who is basically becoming a villain and doing terrible things for a “good” purpose. Then I read Amal el-Motar’s review for NPR (and her commentary on queer responses to the book) and made a point to actually read a sample and was hooked.

The Martian by Andy Weir [Adult Speculative]
I saw the movie first, but I was glad to also have the chance to read the book that inspired it. It covers pretty much the same story (as the movie was, IMO, a faithful adaptation) but I enjoyed the extra details and insights, and some additional challenges that were not in the movie. And SCIENCE!

How I found it: I saw the movie and loved it and wanted even more…!

Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis by Robert D. Putnam [Adult Nonfiction]
Heartbreaking and thought-provoking. I wish everyone would read this. One of the bits that sticks with me most is the recognition that the vast majority (95% per the authors citation) of Americans believe that “everyone in America should have equal opportunity to get ahead.” But that with the growing class segregation in America, those on the upper class side have less and less empathy for or understanding of the situation for poor kids, and the growing number challenges they face. The author himself admits that he, having worked hard to climb the socio-economic ladder in his own youth, assumed that kids today could do the same. But what his research reveals is how much harder it is, now, to do so, for a whole swath of reasons that the book lays out much better than I could here.

The other point this book makes that surprised me was that it equalizing per-student spending on education via schools does not make as much of a difference as one would hope. It’s not as straightforward as that, nor as “easy”. As the author says, this problem has developed gradually over the last several decades and the solution is not going to be quick or simple. But there are some strategies outlined in the last chapters of the book that gave me some hope.

How I found it: I think I first heard about this via a friend who recommended it on Facebook. I had recently listened to an outstanding This American Life episode on education and segregation and this book seemed like a way to explore that further.

LISTENING
I (like a large portion of the internet) recently discovered the Lin-Manuel Miranda’s hip-hop historical musical Hamilton.

If you haven’t already joined the obsession, and are curious what the fuss is about, you can listen to the entire soundtrack free via Spotify. Or you can watch various clips available via YouTube (Edited: I switched my link from the White House performance to a longer news item that has more clips from the stage version)

The more I listen to the entire album, the more impressed I am by the intricacy of the rhymes and word-play, the layers of meaning, and the repeated themes. I still cry every time I listen to Stay Alive (Reprise). And at any given moment there is a very good chance I have My Shot, You’ll Be Back, Helpless, Satisfied, The Room Where It Happens, or Alexander Hamilton going through my head.

Some of my favorite things about the soundtrack: The way hip-hop, Jazz, rap, and R&B are used for the revolution, while King George sings pop. The fact that something like Cabinet Battle #1 can get me so excited about the founding of the treasury. The way the elements in My Shot (and the iconic image on the album cover) are reinterpreted in The World Was Wide Enough, and in particular all the double-meanings of “my shot” — Hamilton’s shot at glory and fame, and the final gun shot he choses not to take, by aiming at the sky. And I will stop there because I could write another whole post about all the clever and heart-wrenching details. Basically Lin-Manuel Miranda is a genius!

Speaking of which, if you’re already obsessed, and have not yet done so, I highly recommend spending some time reading the annotations on the soundtrack over at genius.com.

WATCHING
Person of Interest Season 3
I’ve been enjoying this show from the very start, but I’ve particularly loved how this season is really amping up the science-fictional elements (artificial intelligence) and taking things in a new direction. While I was sad to see Taraji P. Henson leave, I’ve loved the increased presence of Sarah Shahi’s Sameen Shaw, and also Amy Acker’s Root. And Bear. It’s hard for me not to give a show extra points if there’s a recurring dog character.

The Great British Baking Show Season 1
(For reasons I don’t understand, this is titled The Great British Bake Off over in the UK, and what’s airing in the US as Season 1 is actually Series 5)
This may be the most adorable reality show I’ve ever watched. It’s a very kind show, with contestants who cheer each other on, judges and hosts who seem genuinely concerned about the contestants, and lots of footage of pretty gardens and gamboling sheep and glorious pastries. The only downside is the very real danger that it will make you either go running out to the nearest bakery to stuff your face, or come home from your next grocery shopping laden with butter and flour and cream and sugar.

Of all the delicious things on the show so far, I think the one I am most interested in sampling is the princessetarta. Sponge cake, pastry cream, jam, whipped cream, all under a layer of pale green marzipan!

The Miss Fisher Murder Mysteries Season 3
If you love smart, feminist, brave ladies and elegant costumes and settings and a touch of murder and mystery, you really should be watching these! I didn’t find this third season quite as consistent as the first two, but it was still delightful.

OTHER STUFF
I always go into the fall season wanting to try to make the most of it, full of dreams of autumn picnics and apple-picking and walks in the woods and Halloween decorations. I never actually accomplish it all, but it’s fun to try!

This year was a little tougher as my ongoing back injury has been making some activities more challenging, but I did manage to go to a cider-pressing party at my apple CSA’s farm, visit a pumpkin festival, take several gorgeous hikes with my husband and my dog, and carve my first pumpkin in several years:

Picture of my dog Charlie laying down beside a jack-o-lantern