Friday in Review: The Words We Live By

51x-r1uip2l-_sx386_bo1204203200_

THE WORDS WE LIVE BY is an annotated guide to our constitution, written by Linda R. Monk. More fondly known as “The Constitution Lady” Ms. Monk took it upon herself to write this book to help those unfamiliar with the little intricacies that make up one of our governments most notable documents figure it out.

I recommend purchasing your own copy. That why you’ll be able to write in the margins and have it to reflect on over the years. You can click on the image, or right here, and a link will whisk you off to Amazon. (Feel free to order from a local bookstore.)

I didn’t think I’d enjoy it so much, but I am! And I hope you enjoy it too!

Happy reading!

xxoo-A

 

 

Advertisements

Review: Ghosts

This week I give you GHOSTS by Raina Telgemeier:

25903764-_uy2400_ss2400_

Yes, GHOSTS is a middle-grade comic, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth checking out.

Here is what it’s about: (via goodreads)

Catrina and her family are moving to the coast of Northern California because her little sister, Maya, is sick. Cat isn’t happy about leaving her friends for Bahía de la Luna, but Maya has cystic fibrosis and will benefit from the cool, salty air that blows in from the sea. As the girls explore their new home, a neighbor lets them in on a secret: There are ghosts in Bahía de la Luna. Maya is determined to meet one, but Cat wants nothing to do with them. As the time of year when ghosts reunite with their loved ones approaches, Cat must figure out how to put aside her fears for her sister’s sake – and her own.

It’s worth a read. Telgemeier takes the subject of ghosts, illness, family, and first love–and intertwines them into an loving story about two sisters dealing with the one thing no one will discuss: what happens after death.

For more information on GHOSTS and Raina Telgemeier, head over to her website: GoRaina.com.

Happy Reading! -A

Review: Strange Afterlives

strange-afterlives-cover

For the first review of the year–I give you STRANGE AFTERLIVES an anthology edited by A. Lee Martinez.

In a short story world filled with a sea of anthologies–some that are good, some that are not–it’s always exciting to picked up one like STRANGE AFTERLIVES. Instead of one or two interesting reads, it’s filled with eleven of them.

I read it in one sitting. I loved it that much.

Here is the Goodread’s summary:

In this anthology of eleven original tales, the undead are never quite expected. From sinister feline mummies to ravenous zombified cars and any and all things in-between, the living dead have returned from their graves, junkyards, and even the war torn skies to haunt the lands of the living. With stories horrific, funny, and weird, Strange Afterlives has a little something for everyone who has ever wondered what terrible secrets could be lurking in that rotting tree or broken toy.

If you’re a fan of horror, and enjoy a bit of humor in the mix–this anthology is for you. As I said before, most times I read anthologies I like one or two stories, but read this one from the beginning, MOUSE TROUBLES by the editor and chief, A. Lee Martinez, to the end, THE SCAVENGER HUNT by John Sanders, Jr.

Happy Reading! –xxoo-A

Friday in Review: The Future is Blue

drownedworlds

I probably should have opened with I’ll only be reviewing ONE story from this collection. [Drowned Worlds–edited by Jonathan Strahan] If you’re asking why, well–that is a fantastic question. My answer is this–I really loved this one.

“THE FUTURE IS BLUE–by: Catherynne M Valente

Now, if you will–imagine a world where people and politician don’t believe the threat of Global Warming is an issue. I know it’s a hard stretch–but please, try.

This collection of short stories are all derived from that notion. The simple idea of what will come of this world if we don’t get ourselves into check.

I actually really enjoyed more than one of these tales–but THE FUTURE IS BLUE stuck out somehow. Here is a short summary “Teenage Tetley lives in a human settlement (one of the last) built on a miles-wide floating garbage dump. She explains why everyone hates her now.”

I know. Sounds drab. Who wants to read a story about a young woman who is hated by all–but it’s an amazing read. So utterly removed from the reality that is floating around her, Tetley exists in a world filled with leftovers from our forgotten era. Simply put, she never romanticized the world she had been born into or the life that was handed to her.

Even though she should be mad as hell, and spitting nails .

There is a very special whimsical element to the main character. It’s this component that helps you cope what what you’re really witnessing. And it doesn’t hurt that the floating world Valente built is stunning, once you sift through the mess. (Rather like Tetley.)

I highly recommend this short story–and the rest of the book. (I mean, may was well… am I right?)

Happy Reading!! xxoo-A

Friday in Review–Alias

alias-594x480

Many years ago a friend gave me the complete omnibus of Alias for Christmas. Written by Brian Michael Bendis and artist Michael Gaydos, ALIAS tells the story of on-time costumed superhero, turned P.I. Jessica Jones.

Maybe you’re unfamiliar with this story, so here is a description of the series, via Goodreads (and amazon if you’re checking):

“Once upon a time, Jessica Jones was a costumed super-hero, just not a very good one. Her powers were unremarkable compared to the amazing abilities of the costumed icons that populate the Marvel Universe. In a city of Marvels, Jessica Jones never found her niche.

Now a chain-smoking, self-destructive alcoholic with a mean inferiority complex, Jones is the owner and sole employee of Alias Investigations – a small, private-investigative firm specializing in super-human cases. In her inaugural arc, Jessica’s life immediately becomes expendable when she uncovers the potentially explosive secret of one hero’s true identity. But her wit, charm and intelligence just may help her survive through another day.”

Like I said, I’ve had this book on my shelf since (maybe) 2006. It’s a large book. (It’s also a very heavy one.) I never intended to ignore it–but book are a ‘go to’ gift when it comes to me. So I have many, and some get overlooked. But then…Jessica Jones landed on Netflix.

Now, admittedly, I am one of the few who didn’t much care for the series. Being a huge fan of Marvel’s Daredevil series, also on Netflix, on top of a giant David Tennant fan–I counted down the days for that show.

But I never finished.

So, I’m reading the book, or, better put: I’m reading the omnibus graphic novel the TV series was (loosely) based on.

My review is this title is as follows: if you liked the Netflix series or didn’t, you should still pick up ALIAS. Jessica Jones is funny, intelligent, sardonic, and caring. The character is SO much better in the novel. She whines a lot less, plus she kicks ass–AND–has super friends. It’s a great story to look at another side of the whole ‘super hero’ world we’ve become inundated with in recent years. It also doesn’t hurt that Bendis is a hell of a writer and Gaydos is a hell of an artist.

And once you finish this series, you can run over to your local comic shop and pick up the new Jessica Jones series (also by Bendis and Gaydos) that was released last month.

Happy Reading! xxoo-Aryn

The West Wing–Friday in Review

s61Wp41473101141

THE WEST WING, clockwise from top left: Janel Moloney, Stockard Channing, John Spencer, Dule Hill, B

Happy Friday! This week I wanted to review dialogue, and what a better way than looking at THE WEST WING.

The series aired from 1999-2006 and told the story of the White House Staff of fictitious President Jed Bartlet–a democrat that no one really liked (even thought they should.)

I’m not so much *reviewing* this show as I am pointing it out as a wonderful resource and example of how to write compelling dialogue. If you’ve never tuned in to an episode, this series is very much a character driven show. Any current television show that revolves around cameras following  the cast at a panicked pace as they talk at, over, and around each other–well, THE WEST WING is the show to thank for that.

More specifically–Arron Sorkin is the man behind the show.

It’s very easy when writing dialogue to get caught in the back and forth of a written conversation. He said, she said–each line complete with the perfect punctuation, but in reality people talk over each other. We cut each other off. One of my flaws comes out when I’m tired or distracted. In the middle of a conversation I will just stop talking.

Example: “Yes, I’ll pick up some bananas when I…”

I know I do it. It drives my husband batty. I don’t mean to do it–but such is life. I am human, flawed like the rest of the world. Just as our characters are human–flawed as they must be. Unless their Spock, but even he has fallen prey to that 1/2 human side of his makeup.

If you have Netflix, the entire series is on there ready to stream. You can tune in, choose a specific episode, and go from there. All emotions are touched on, and Sorkin’s dialogue mixed with a very talented cast, is a fantastic resource for those who don’t want to go to the ball and watch crowds to see how they interact. Josh is a fan favorite of mine. He has a lot of compulsive mannerisms that make up his character. This show is very much worth your time (no matter what you’re politics are.)

Happy watching!! xxoo-A

The art of listening–audio books

audible-full-size

I recently entered the world of Audio Books. I got the idea from my writing partner–Michelle Bond. And if I’m going to be honest, I live in a city where audio books should reign supreme. They (study makers) say that people in LA spend, roughly, ninety hours a year stuck in their car.

What is a better way to use that time then to listen to an audio book? I like to call them “bonus books.” I like to find ways to sneak books into my life. I have my “night time” book–and then I have the books I read for research when I’m writing–now I have my traffic books.”

Most of these books I finish, but I’m finding my newly added “traffic books” don’t seem to get the attention they deserve.

I’m only two books into this experience. (Three if you count the time I tried to listen to Divergent, but we won’t count that because I only made it two lines in before I called it quits.)

Why did I call it quits? Two reasons.

#1–Book 1. I came out of the gate with “Gone, Baby. Gone.” Written by Dennis Lehane, who has a magnificent way of weaving words around you like a spider wrapping a fly–the book is narrated by Jonathan Davis, who also did a fantastic job at transporting me into the world of this story.

Why did I stop? The subject of this book is a hard one for anyone to read. As a mother and a woman, it was even harder. I found myself yelling at the stereo, and then I realized anytime I listened to Gone, baby. Gone. I would be depressed for the next hour or so.

My son has never had so many hugs as when I was listening to this book.

So I chose to stop because my heart couldn’t handle the content. That said, the characters in this book are incredible. If you’re a writer looking to get into the mystery market–read some Dennis Lehane. He’s very, very good at what he does.

 

#2–Book 2. Proven Guilty by Jim Butcher. Now, I haven’t officially given up on this book. I have four days left on the copy I downloaded from the library–but there’s a chance I’m going to let it expire and put a hold on the paper back.

Initially excited, the book is narrated by James Marster (whom you may remember as Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV show), but then it became an issue… Every last word goes up at the end. Every. Last. Word. At first I shrugged it off as a character trait–which it may be. Proven Guilty is book 8 of a series, and was the only one available when I went looking at Jim Butcher books–but the longer I’m listening the harder it’s become to deal with it. At times it makes the MC feel insincere. But this is my number one grievance for audio books. If the narrator doesn’t pull it off–then the listener will turn it off.

 

That’s what happened with Divergent. I don’t have a clue who the narrator was/is. I’m not going to go look it up, but all I remember is how she delivered the first two lines, and I turned it off.

 

At this point I plan to keep trying. There have to be some books that are waiting for me to hear their sweet words, but if you have any tips on how to pick things out–I would love to hear them! I really don’t want to lose my bonus books… the make my day brighter. Mostly.

Happy reading! –Aryn–xxoo

How to make it better–Transparent review

screen-shot-2016-08-08-at-10-50-26-am-www-imagesplitter-net_

Welcome to a television review. I would prefer to only review books, but I feel when you find a good, even great, story–it’s worth a watch.

If you are unfamiliar with TRANSPARENT, here is the synopsis from IMDB:

“An L.A. family with serious boundary issues have their past and future unravel when a dramatic admission causes everyone’s secrets to spill out.”

Honestly, this doesn’t clear much up, so I’ll tell you this. After living a lifetime in confines of a mans world, Mort Pfefferman comes out as a transsexual named Maura. Set here in Los Angeles, the Pfefferman’s live in a world that most would be envious of. They have the house, the bank account, the two cat in the yard–but no one is happy.

TRANSPARENT first aired on Amazon Prime in 2014, and let me tell you, season one wowed me. This is a topic you don’t see on television. Maybe more now, but not when it first touched the airwaves. As a writer I love how complex the roles are. The cast of characters are all slightly crazy, living lie after lie. One by one the socially acceptable words they built around themselves crumble leaving each character in a hot mess of their own making.

I like this show, BUT I actually didn’t care for season 2. Firstly, I didn’t hate it–but the story lines for each character turned me against them. What feeling I had build for them in season 1 dwindled away by the season finale of season 2.

Season 3 is what brings me here today. Turning a reader or viewer around is hard as a writer/creator. A lot of times the reader/viewer will simply walk away. There are thousands of books to read and thousands of television shows to watch–but I went back, and I’m glad I did.

My contempt for Ali–the youngest and possibly the most messed up Pfefferman–transformed into compassion. That actually happened for all of the children of Mort/Maura. Their selfish nature’s that forced me to condemn them last season turned me on my heels this season and turned me into a total mom.

“It’ll be okay, honey. Just eat this and come sit for a while.”

As a writer, what I learned from TRANSPARENT Season 3, is forgiveness. Humans are fallible, we all know this–but displaying true navel deep vulnerability will bring your characters to life. This makes them relatable–even when they’re life is nothing like yours, because deep down inside all of us is that flicker of insecurity we have to master, daily.

If you haven’t had a chance to see TRANSPARENT, all three season are available on Amazon Prime for your streaming pleasure. Created by Jill Soloway and staring Jeffery Tambor, Gabby Hoffman, Amy Landecker, Jay Duplass, and Judith Light–it’s the best 24 minutes you’ll treat yourself.

PS–Judith Light really should get a nomination for her role as Shelly Pfefferman this year. If my two cents counts, please make that a thing.

Happy watching! xxoo-A

Friday in Review — Six of Crows

s61Wp41473101141

51isww2rpol-_sy344_bo1204203200_

A little over a month ago I began the #BooksWithFriends Challenge with my crit partner Michelle Bond–and look! I finally finished!

In my defense, I get my books from the library–and the waiting list was long… The title Michelle choose for me was SIX OF CROWS by Leigh Bardugo.

I’m going to steal a page from Michelle’s playbook and post the general description from GoodReads.com on here for you to aquatint yourself with the title–if you don’t already know it.

Ketterdam: a bustling hub of international trade where anything can be had for the right price—and no one knows that better than criminal prodigy Kaz Brekker. Kaz is offered a chance at a deadly heist that could make him rich beyond his wildest dreams. But he can’t pull it off alone…

A convict with a thirst for revenge.

A sharpshooter who can’t walk away from a wager.

A runaway with a privileged past.

A spy known as the Wraith.

A Heartrender using her magic to survive the slums.

A thief with a gift for unlikely escapes.

Kaz’s crew are the only ones who might stand between the world and destruction—if they don’t kill each other first.

The ambiance of this novel reminded me of THE LIES OF LOCKE LAMORA by Scott Lynch, and maybe even a little bit of THE BLADE ITSELF by Joe Abercrombie. There is a grit to these titles, just as there is grit to THE SIX OF CROWS. Now, no one likes an antihero who had a soft life. Where does the hate come from? Where is their drive for vengeance if not born from trials, tribulations, and an inherent need to survive. Okay, maybe more Locke Lamora than The Blade Itself–but the ambiance… read them all and you’ll see what I mean.

SIX OF CROWS is a longer book–running over 400 pages–but there is a lot of of world building and back story that is intergral to the plot. You need to travel those first 250 pages to float through the rest of the novel. It’s worth the work–I promise you that.

Each character presented was relatable and likable (in their own warped way.) Yes, they aren’t Mother Teresa, but you felt for them. You rooted for them. You wanted them to win.

But here is my complaint.

Above I’ve listed three books. All three of these titles are series. THE LIE OF LOCKE LAMORA is book #1 in the Gentleman’s Bastards Series. THE BLADE ITSELF  is book #1 in the First Law series. SIX OF CROWS is book #1 in it’s own series as well. Book two–CROOKED KINGDOM–was released on September 27th.

Now–what they have in common are:

  • great characters
  • general ambiance
  • epic fantasy

What they don’t–both Locke Lamora and The Blade Itself are stand alone books, and The Six of Crows is not.

I am not a fan of this. I just am not. I don’t like the feeling I’m being bullied into a series. When I arrived at the cliff hanger of an ending it immediately squashed the excitement I had for this title. I wanted a conclusion to this adventure. Does that mean that there can’t be a sequel–absolutely not. Let’s use Star Wars as an example.

I’ve come to notice this seems to be a YA thing. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe there are Adult titles out there that have open ended finales so you’ll ‘tune in next week’ for the new title–whenever that will be. Over all, I find it disappointing.

It may be my age, but I look at series like this–J.R.R. Tolkien didn’t have to do this to make me move on to the next title. Neither did J.K. Rowling.

I’m not going to say, “don’t read this book,” because I really did enjoy Bardugo’s writing style, and the world, characters, relationships, magic, etc.–but that doesn’t change the hit of disappointment lingers like a bad taste in my mouth.

I wish this trend would go away. I think we would all be better if it did.

 

 

Friday in Review–Toby’s Room

s61Wp41473101141

pat-barkers-tobys-room

“Toby’s Room” by: Pat Barker

TOBY’S ROOM isn’t my normal read. Yes, I like a good historic fiction from time to time, but in my experience a good story is hard to find.

I picked up TOBY’S ROOM for an online course I was taking on World War I heroism and art. There was a list, and this was the first one my library had a digital copy of–so it won out over all the rest. This may not sound like the most compelling reason to read a novel, but it turned out to be luck of fate.

I very much like the sadness that encompassed Toby’s Room.

Toby’s Room is the story of the civilians during WWI. More specifically, artists. Before this war–the war to ‘end’ all wars–the world was a much different place. Imperialism was just coming to an end, and how we–the public–viewed war was filled with chivalry and grand gestures. World War I put men in trenches and was anything but whimsical and heroic.

The story was twisted, much as life often is. There are a lot of gray areas in the real world. Moments that complicate life, making it anything but cut and dry. That is what I enjoyed the most about this tormented tale.

There are so many moments you should look away. Too many broken people who deserve your charity rather than your gawking–but gawking I did. From the first chapter to the last.

No, this is not an every persons book. If you don’t like history, or war, or gray patches–you may want to pass. But I feel the complexity of the character and Ms Barker’s ability to force you to feel compassion, even for those who don’t deserve it, will leave you turning pages.

Happy reading! xxoo-A