BONE GAP by Laura Ruby

Bone Gap is a quiet and masterful tale of two brothers living in a small town whose lives are changed by the mysterious appearance of a beautiful Polish immigrant. Roza is a friend and beacon of hope to 18 year old Finn, known for his dreamy, absentminded behavior – and a spark in the heart to older brother Sean, who gave up his dreams long ago after their mother abandoned them. Just as suddenly, Roza is gone again – abducted by a stranger Finn can’t describe.

The town of Bone Gap puts its head together and murmurs – was it foul play? Did she abandon them too, fly away as fast and thoughtlessly as their mother? Does Finn know more than he’s letting on?

I don’t want to spoil it – but let’s just say this book was not what I expected. It was wonderful, which I did expect, but it was always unusual and spell-casting in a way I’ve not experienced in another book. Simplistic moments merge easily into surrealistic moments. The two brothers are memorably brought to life – the barn animals, the goats and horses and chickens – the eccentric neighbors, the beekeepers daughter, the best friend, the bullies. The writing was lyrical and yet sparse, never lingering too long anywhere, always moving the plot steadily forward through the corn fields.

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED – A MEMORABLE READ – MAGICAL REALISM AT ITS FINEST.

RATING: FIVE STARS

Title: Bone Gap
Author: Laura Ruby
Originally published: March 3, 2015
Genre: Young adult fiction

 

MAGONIA by Maria Dahvana Headley

art by Artem Rhads Chebka

Just finished Magonia by Headley – which had excellent characters, families, and a surreal and highly unusual fantasy world floating above our own. In this book, there is a  world above the clouds, filled with shapeshifting birds and other surreal creatures who have long roamed the secret spaces of the air. These creatures aren’t quite human, though many can transform themselves into humanoid forms. Unable to breath in the lower atmosphere, they have a strange relationship with the human world – basically “fishing” out food and supplies when needed. I must say – it was intriguing.

Unfortunately… it had two severe draw backs. The antagonist was shockingly undeveloped- which was unfortunate. And my biggest qualm, the two main characters were stupidly smart.

Now don’t get me wrong. I love nerd characters. I like obsessive research characters. I have no issue with clever and ingenious young people. Give me Hermione and Willow any day. Math nerds. Astrology nerds. Kids obsessed with poets and literature. But don’t me some insane mega genius who can do literally everything – hack governments, quote ancient philosophy, create robots in his garage, blah de blah. It’s too much. BOTH teenagers were such Renaissance mega minds. Sigh. I will forgive such over indulgence in ‘the smarts’ when dealing with ancient vampires or goddesses or aliens or some such… but no. Not in 16 year olds. Not in 46 year olds. Just… no.

Though I confess I enjoyed reading all the obscure references.

I’m glad I read book but I will not be continuing this series.

That said – I’ll keep an eye out for this author as this was her first book and she’s definitely a good writer – gripes aside, the girl has a fantastic imagination and a way with words.

RATING: 2.5 STARS

Title: Magonia
Author: Maria Dahvana Headley
Originally published: April 28, 2015
Genre: Fantasy Fiction

BURNING (2018) – a meditation in isolation

Burning, a Korean film starring Yoo Ah-In, Jeon Jong-Seo, and Steven Yeun, is a bleak, atmospheric examination of the modern man. And by man I mean mankind, both men and women. It’s based on the short story Barn Burning from The Elephant Vanishes by author Haruki Murakami.

Yoo Ah-In, one of my all time favorite Korean actors, plays a young man who is struggling. In every way imaginable. He struggles to find work. He struggles to come to terms with his upbringing. He struggles to relate to people. He struggles to piece together sentences. You can almost hear the wheels creaking as he struggles to form his own thoughts. It’s ironic that he considers himself a writer, even though there is little evidence of this aspiration around him. Yet perhaps it is most telling that he yearns to find a way to express himself, as this seems to be the insurmountable task of life.

He meets Jeon Jong-Seo’s character, who grew up in the same poor neighborhood as him and is now also struggling in the big city. Though our writer has no memory of this girl, she seems to remember him vividly and drags him into her life. She is also struggling – with money, with work, with career aspirations – but she seems more engaged in trying to articulate the emotions inside her. They feel vast and universal through her portrayal: the search for meaning in the world. She’s found cultural examples of this longing to express an unseen need and actively seeks them out. Pantomime. African rituals and dance. She goes so far as to leave the country to attempt to find the expression she needs, but it seems to elude her. She comes back empty handed, with only a fleeting memory of the setting sun over a vast expanse of nothing and a new man in her life – that seems as disconnected to her as the dreams she’s trying to articulate.

The new man is played by Steven Yeun. He’s American. He’s wealthy. He’s well spoken and confident. He doesn’t seem to struggle with anything at all, so it’s a surprise to our writer that he is interested in keeping company with our poor dreamer girl. There’s a baffling casualness to him, an indifference. Above his easy smile are cold eyes.

Without spoiling the story – let me just say this is a very slow paced film about isolation. The director takes great pains to convey the sense of loneliness and isolation of our main character. He has no friends. He has no family. He has no coworkers. His phone rings but there is no one on the other end of the line. He’s caught it in his own trap – seemingly unable to change his circumstances. He can’t seem to talk when others are around… and when he does, he says the wrong thing.

All three of the characters are isolated – though how they express this is different. Our writer is withdrawn. Our poor girl is animated and talkative, but fails to really communicate with others. Our rich American is surrounded by friends and family and moves easily through life unobstructed, yet his sterile apartment and his secrets show that he is also alone.

There’s a lot you could talk about with this movie, but when I woke up this morning I just thought about how real it all was. Though the class distinctions between the characters is jarring and apparent, they all seemed disconnected. The wealthy people met for cocktails and went dancing and had dinner parties – but they too seemed unable to really connect with each other. Their interactions were shallow, surface level. None of our main characters have anyone meaningful in their lives – and so they’re all reaching out towards these ideas – to be a writer, to find the right modality of expression, to secretly light fires – hoping to find something that matters, that they can connect to. They do not, however, reach out for each other.

In my opinion, the two men in this story were the ones, ultimately, who were able to connect to each other. They tell each other secrets. They see past the surface and examine one another’s lives. They are, fatefully, able to see each other.

I loved it.

It’s so different from the typical film that it can be a challenge. The slow pace. The long sequences without dialogue. The frustrating awkwardness of our characters. I think as moviegoers, we are accustomed to escaping life – to seeing people being witty and beautiful and interacting seamlessly and it is disorienting to watch people on screen be so vague and uncomfortable together. From the opening scene, focusing on the back of a truck while puffs of smoke appear from the side… evidence of our main character tantalizing and withdrawn. It takes it a few beats past the normal reveal, making you wait… and then it forces you to follow after him, crowded and lagging behind. The whole movie is like this. Director Lee Chang-dong is a master. Purposeful. Intentional. And profound.

It’s just beautiful art house cinema.

RATING: 4.5 STARS

FUN HOME by Alison Bechdel

Today I read Fun Home by Alison Bechdel, a memoir graphic novel. As Alison described it, it’s the story of “how my closeted gay dad killed himself a few months after I came out to my parents as a lesbian.” It was… profound, honestly.

I don’t think I can review it briefly – the literary references, the drawing style, the story itself… thankfully, someone else already created a video review covering all these things:

The book had me sniffling a bit, but mainly overwhelmed me with the weight of the topic. My mind raced in a million directions. My mind generally does this when something hits too close to home. It almost shuts down by scattering out, refusing to focus on one thing, avoiding discomfort and personal reflection. These things invariably come later, but my flight responses are subconscious and have been internally developed over years.

Since my brain was pinging through the clouds, I knew I couldn’t do anything else. Read a new book? No way could I focus for that. Instead I went to the internet to find out how other people had responded to the book. I needed another voice – someone who had stepped back enough to let the material digest. I found the above video.

And I also found the Broadway play. Which I did not know existed until that moment. Intrigued, I got cozy and watched the whole production. The play drew a completely different emotional response from me. I was raised on musicals, so it’s no surprise that my brain at last surrendered to the story through song.

Unlike the book, the sets are minimal, the solemn nature of so many scenes in the book transformed with expression and song. Though I liked the source material better, emotionally I connected with the musical. Oh my god, that end song? Why am I standing here? I sobbed my eyes out.

But the play wasn’t just sad – it also felt much more vivacious and joyous – something not found in the monotone ink and watercolors of the novel. The children played, the family drew together and apart beautifully, and our leading female fell in love (I’m Changing My Major!) in technicolor.

Both pieces of work are groundbreaking, original, and necessary. I highly recommend both.

RATING: FIVE STARS

Title: Fun Home
Author: Alison Bechdel
Originally published: June 8, 2006
Awards: Stonewall Book Awards – Israel Fishman Non-Fiction Award, MORE
Genres: Comics, Memoir, Graphic novel

THE EMPEROR OF ANY PLACE by Tim Wynne-Jones

 

The Emperor of Any Place is about men. Specifically, the Canadian son of a draft dodging American, his military grandfather, and two soldiers shipwrecked on a mysterious island from opposing sides of WWII.

It deals with growing up, grief, responsibility, fathers and sons, male mentors, and male friends. There’s a nice mystery that baited me enough that I actually finished the book, even though I was only halfheartedly invested. The author went on and on about things I found tedious and boring (constructing forts, shelters, miniature boat models). There were tangent plotlines that felt irrelevant, mainly the bits about the grandson, his band and his friends. But there were also very intriguing elements – the diary of the two men on the island, for example.

The author did a excellent job of capturing the language construction of a Japanese soldier and his diary entries were generally the most interesting. The other interesting thing was the island itself… home to restless ghosts, monsters, and other strange beings. It’s not presented a fantasy though, merely a place where Japanese mythologies and folklore exists… and it’s as baffling and terrifying to the two men shipwrecked there as it was to me, the reader. In fact, the men on the island knew no one would believe what happened to them, thus their years of secrecy and the heart of the mystery.

My favorite weird plot element was the concept of each man’s lineage were unborn spirits… existing as ghostly children waiting to be born. And that the men could tap into these memories, of their unborn selves following their ancestors… well, that was fascinating.

Still, it just didn’t do it for me. I don’t generally like historical novels or mysteries, so this just isn’t my cup of tea. 

RATING: THREE STARS

Title: The Emperor of Any Place
Author: Tim Wynne-Jones
Originally published: October 13, 2015
Genre: Fiction

The Noise Must Become Music – Ronan Lynch / Adam Parrish

The art of Fumi Mini Nakamura seamlessly folds basic elements into a cosmic narrative. Flowers, hands, faces, skulls, birds, and wolves – with teeth and nails and thorns – wrap around each other to create ethereal, moody images. Her 2009 Untitled works – (which are titled) “WE FIND NO VESTIGE OF A BEGINNING – NO PROSPECT OF AN END” and “THE NOISE MUST BECOME MUSIC” are, to me, the perfect embodiment of The Raven Boys. In particular, of Adam & Ronan.

See more art by Fumi Mini Nakamura

Adam – all dreamy and conflicted, a mix of longing and defeat.

Adam Parrish drawing by Maggie Stiefvater

Ronan – all teeth and noise.

Ronan Lynch drawing by Maggie Stiefvater

The magical woods, their blossoming romance, their tragic pasts, the spaces only they share. They are so different – but such a beautiful compliment.

Like drifting into this song…

Read the Raven Boys Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater if you haven’t (what are you waiting for? get on it!).  The new Dreamer Trilogy will be out soon… starting with Call Down the Hawk, so you better get on it.

Image result for the raven boys cycle

 

Eulogy for Dramafever

I think we were all stunned and deeply saddened by the unexpected and untimely departure of Dramafever, one of our beloved streaming services. Dramafever passed away October 16, 2018, without warning. Known for its large collection of Korean Dramas, spanning multiple decades, and pristine quality videos… Dramafever was a close friend to so many of us K-addicts. It let us comment and review. It offered us helpful collections. It provided adorable fan service. And it held the solitary rights to some of our favorite K-dramas (Goblin! Where will we watch you now???).

I read the articles detailing the reasons behind your demise and, okay, some of them made sense. Basically this is what happens with conglomeration mergers and bidding wars for content that drive the prices too high for our favorite “independent” stores to survive. But Dramafever was more than a profit generating vehicle that bridged the gap between Korean, Chinese, Japanese and Thai content with international viewers. It was a safe haven.  And with its departure, I feel like one of my private spaces has been invaded and blown to pieces.

There is a Dramafever shaped hole in my heart.

You will be missed.

 

Funeral donations may be made to our closest family member, Viki.

Viki.com (Great site, includes lots of shows from all the major channels -fork out for the premium, it’s worth it – $9.99USD/month or $99.99USD/year – almost always sale offers going on)

 

And more questionable relatives may seek comfort from…

Kocowa.com (SBS, MBC, & KBS dramas – $6.99/month, or $69.99/yearly)

AsianCrush.com (more movies, limited tv dramas – $6.99/month, or $69.99/yearly)

OnDemandKorea (lots of dramas, but not everything has english subtitles – $6.99/month)

DramaGo.com (free with tons of dramas – but an external link maze and popup nightmare)

GoodDrama (… I think it’s just a mirror of DramaGo… same boat)

Review – Live

Review – Live

Live is a true gem and definitely worth your time.  Like Misaeng, it’s a character study on individuals within a certain profession.  Misaeng (which is slightly better, in my opinion) covered the insanity of the South Korean corporate business world, and this show deals with police officers.  Following three rookie cops from the three-year cram schools for the Civic Exam, to training, and into their probationary first year, you will experience the full spectrum of what it takes to be a street cop.  And it ain’t pretty.  But trust me, this show is.

This drama will have you enthralled with the lives of its characters.  All of them.  They couldn’t have chosen a better title for this drama.  It will tempt you to do some deep thinking about society, our structured laws, the media, the conundrum of law enforcement, humanity, and crime.  To be fair, there is a slow build up as it takes a while for all the characters to be introduced and come together.  But like Misaeng, if you stick around a while, you won’t want to leave.  Because you’ll be transported into their world, into their struggles and lives and families and ambitions and fears.  I watched the entire show in two days.  I threw it on because it looked vaguely interesting – but by episode five I had a hard time forcing myself to go to sleep so I could watch the rest the next day.

Overall Rating – 9/10.  Code Zero.  Code Zero.  All Units Respond.  Quality K-Drama Alert.  Last Call.

More details, spoilers, characters and more….

Continue reading

Rom Coms or Ambien?

Rom Coms or Ambien?

K-Drama romcoms have always been hit or miss, but there’s a troubling amount of “middling” and “mindless” romcoms coming out lately.  Lazy writing, relying too heavily on cliches, rapid jumps in behavior without foundational character development… I find myself bored before each episode ends.

I will also admit to be very cranky today… so throwing some romcoms into the shredder is just an outlet.  I’m sure I’ll finish each of these shows and may have a totally different perspective once I do… so wait for the reviews.  Until then, let’s pounce on some current summer snoozers!

Example 1:  ABOUT TIME, a new romcom with two outstanding leads… and so problematic.  Character development?  Forget it, not happening.  Chemistry between the leads?  It’s there… but they forgot to actually build up a solid romance before slapping these two together.  Problems in the relationship?  They’re almost entirely manufactured… which is just lazy writing.  We need a conflict!  Oh yeah, let’s just use this jealous rich gal – AGAIN – to randomly throw conflict into the story.   It’s shameless for a show about knowing you’re going to die soon (seriously, has anyone felt the impact of that, cause I haven’t felt the urgency at all) and musical theater (unbelievably dull musical theater… compounded by cheap, corny background music in the actual drama… it sounds like a kid playing on a toy xylophone!  Background music is not supposed to be that noticeable, people… it should enhance the story, not attempt to direct it).  Also, how old is our lead male supposed to be – because he keeps acting like a fourteen year old boy instead of a man and it’s confusing, cause the actor is quite manly looking and what’s supposed to be endearing comes across as pathetic.

Example 2:  WHAT’S WRONG WITH SECRETARY KIM?  Another great cast with an outstandingly stupid plot.  I love a show about an extreme narcissist (Secret Garden, Greatest Love), but it’s important to balance that with commendable naivete and charm.  We have to like you.  We have to… get it.  I don’t get this show.  The perfectionist secretary who all but wipes the butt of her OCD CEO has finally decided to call it quits – but then doesn’t.  OCD CEO very quickly goes into woo-back-my-secretary mode, in an attempt to keep his slave-girl and possibly develop common emotional responses in the process.  It’s actually a cute premise, I mean yes it’s well worn territory, but everyone likes a story about a good-natured woman saving a dumbass from his own self-sabotage .  So why can’t they do it right?  It’s rushed, fails to be charming, and relies too heavily on cliches.  Disneyland?  Already?  And how many shirtless scenes are we going to have?  The oooo la la moments of a glimpse of sculptured man flesh become ordinary if you throw it out daily.  It’s not a dinner special if its always on the menu.  (update:  this show is getting more interesting as it goes, introducing a nice mystery)

Example 3:  ARE YOU HUMAN TOO?  Someone tell this show you can act like a robot without looking like you had a frontal lobotomy.  There is nothing sexy about a full grown man staring at you like a four year old boy.  Gag.  I have always loved the idea of androids – super smart, effective, built to run space ships and bridge the communication gap between complex technological systems and humans.  I also like the robot-soldier idea.  But the robot house-mate / child-replacement theme is odd.  There are deeply rooted societal implications in the creation of robots to replace humans in a world where the human population is so vast.  It seems off putting not to have these issues addressed.  Even in the bubble-gum I AM NOT A ROBOT they at least attempted (poorly) to dive into the sociology of relationships, replacements, servants and subservient, power and powerlessness.

I love romcoms – in particular, “feel good” romcoms – and have rewatched most of my favorites mulitple times… so until another good one hits the market, here’s a list of some alternatives to help us get through the dry season.

Feel Good Dramas.

 

Review – Who Are You: School 2015

Review – Who Are You:  School 2015

Oh, what to say, what to say?  It was… tolerable.  A story about a bullied girl who gets into an accident, loses her memory, gets mistaken for another girl, who also got into an accident, and gets to suddenly live a new life as a pampered rich girl at a fancier school.  It’s just one dumb plot device after another.  Secret twins!  Near Death Experiences!  Amnesia!  Imposters!  Generic Love Triangle!  It still managed to be slightly enjoyable though.  The cast was solid, the cruelty and kindness of teenagers adding drama to each episode.  But overall, I wouldn’t recommend it.  Watch School 2013.  It’s better.

Nam Joo-Hyuk proves he’s got leading male capabilities.  Kim So-Hyun beguiles us with her big eyes and expressive face.  And Yook Sung-Jae gets pushed to the side in the generic role of second male lead.  I really enjoy Yook Sung-Jae, but have yet to decide if he’s strong enough to pull off a lead in a drama of his own yet.  He’s a bit too idol for me, a bit too hammy, a bit too adorable.  Super adorable as a blonde.

Our second female lead, however, is amazing.  The bully.  The villain.  She’ll never want for work.  When she’s old enough, she can easily migrate into the “evil mom,” “evil boss,” and “evil ex” roles.  She delivered some blood curdling coldness.  Jo Soo-Hyang is amazing, but I’m not delusional enough to expect her in leading female roles… she’s lovely, but the beauty standards of South Korea are as strict as Hollywood’s.  And that’s a whole other post.

Overall Rating – 5/10.   Ridiculous Plot Devices & Attractive Teenagers.