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Monday, December 31, 2018

2018. The Good Bits.

So, I had this entire blog written, with pictures, links, formatting, you name it. I saved it about a dozen times. I even hit publish. But apparently nothing saved and nothing published and wow, that is totally on-brand for 2018.

Anyway. 

This was a year of burn-out. I had two art shows back-to-back which fully fried my art brain and all of the really crummy things going on in the world did a number on my spirit. But I want to try and focus on some of the things in 2018 that made me happy: I read so many dang books, I journaled every day and blogged *nearly* every month, I had an art show in Los Angeles, I spent lots of time with my family and went to California with my mom, I joined a new gaming group (and continued to play D&D with my beloved Strong Ladies), and I got an awesome new tattoo. Yus. 


MOVIES / TV
One of my favorite movie memories of the year was seeing all three extended edition Lord of the Rings films in the theatre with my mom and dad. I didn't get to nearly as many films as I would have liked in 2018, which is doubly disappointing since I work at a movie theatre, but here are my favorites.

SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE
Spider-Verse easily tops my list for favorite movie of the year. No other film excited or inspired me quite like this one. The story and staggeringly beautiful animation work so well. This is definitely going to be one of those movies that I rewatch a million times. 

CALL ME BY YOUR NAME
I completely fell in love with this movie. I really like the way the film approaches topics of love, identity, friendship, and sex, and the creative ways director Luca Guadagnino is able to illustrate these abstract concepts. Michael Stuhlbarg's wonderful monologue toward the end made me instantly erupt into tears, even more so the second time I saw the film, and the final long shot is so beautifully simple and heartbreaking that it's going to stick with me for a very long time. Plus it includes excellent new Sufjan Stevens songs that I listened to all year. Seriously, Visions of Gideon was my most listened-to song.

PADDINGTON 2
I watched this film with my family on the last day of the year and absolutely did not expect to like it as much as I did. It's adorable, fun, well designed, and smartly scripted. Everyone involved seemed to be having a great time. It made my heart very happy and sometimes that's all you need. 

YURI!!! ON ICE
All of my time watching Olympic figure skating coverage (the Olympics were THIS YEAR you guys) finally put me in the right mood to finish watching Yuri!!! on Ice. It has drama. It has ice skating. It has rivalries, friendships, and cute boys falling in love. It has sparkly outfits. What's NOT to love? 💕

CASTLEVANIA
I liked the first season of Netflix's Castlevania but it definitely felt like a prologue. With season 2 we finally get to the meat of the story and it's great. I loved all of the characters, including a host of villains that are genuinely interesting and often sympathetic. The season is a bit of a slow-build but the finale is deeply satisfying. I think I must have watched the penultimate "For Love" episode at least 20 times.

I also liked:
Annihilation
Mission Impossible: Fallout
Black Panther
Upgrade
Get Out



VIDEO GAMES

SPIDER-MAN
Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse topped my movie list and Insomniac's Spider-man easily tops my game list. It was apparently a spider-year. I spent so much time just swinging around New York, stopping crimes and collecting things, that I had to keep reminding myself to do the main story missions. And speaking of the main story, it was wonderful too. The writing, animation, and acting all worked so well. Bravo Insomniac. 

ASSASSINS CREED: ORIGINS
Assassins Creed: Origins is another really excellent game that had me devoting countless hours to side missions and exploration. I was happily diverted from the main missions by my need to max out all the equipment, climb that pyramid, explore this sunken ship, escort that crocodile, etc. At one point I accidentally stumbled onto some totally non-canon DLC that gave me a chocobo to ride and Final Fantasy-themed super weapons. It was a while before I stopped laughing. Then I immediately equipped it all. I continue to dislike the utterly boring modern-day story/game bits (they usually detract from the games) but overall this was a winner in my book. 

RUNNER 2
I didn't have much time to dig into any games this summer due to art/life stuff. But I did occasionally find myself with 15 minutes where I needed a break and I used that time to finally finish Runner 2. I love this series to bits and always get a great sense of accomplishment when I'm able to perfectly dance my way through a hard level. 

RATCHET & CLANK
I wanted a bit of a palate cleanser in November after getting super frustrated trying to play Vampyr, and Ratchet & Clank suited my needs perfectly. It's silly and light and very fun to play. I restarted second and third playthroughs immediately so I could get every collectible and upgrade every weapon. I loved the original games and the 2016 version combines lots of good elements from the franchise and manages to feel both new and familiar.



BOOKS
I read 90 books this year. NINETY. That is a personal best and probably explains why I got to so few movies and games.You will notice that, as usual, I was in a happily-ever-after mood. 

NON-FICTION

Books are usually my way to escape the real world for a few hours, so I don't often gravitate to non-fiction. But I am so glad that I read this memoir; Roxane Gay has an incredible narrative voice. Hunger is the account of a truly horrific incident that Gay went through in childhood and how it shaped and corroded her life. It is also an honest and justifiably angry account of what it is like to be a fat woman in a society that does everything it can to shame and erase fat people. A lot of that really hit home for me. "I do that too" I thought, again and again. 

GRAPHIC NOVELS

A beautifully illustrated graphic novel about identity, love, and friendship that follows a young prince who secretly goes out at night as his fabulous alter-ego Lady Crystallia, and the seamstress who designs his gowns. I highly recommend this one. 💖

I also liked:

FICTION

Space Opera combines two of my favorite things: space adventures and glam rock. This book is weird and clever and I already want to read it again. In the not too distant future, a group of semi-psychic blue flamingo/angler fish aliens makes first contact with Earth. In order to prove that humans are sentient and worthy of inclusion among the other space-faring life-forms, one Earth band must attend the Metagalactic Grand Prix, an extra-terrestrial talent competition that will determine the fate of humanity. This monumental task falls on the glittery shoulders of has-been glam-rock icon Decibel Jones and the one remaining member of his band The Absolute Zeroes. If the duo does well, humans will be accepted into the greater galactic community; if they fail, all human life will be exterminated. Space Opera combines the linear story of Decibel’s journey to the Grand Prix with the larger galactic history that surrounds the event, and is written in a flamboyant, funny style that made me very happy.

After a huge portion of the world is covered in water following an apocalyptic flood, the gods and mythological creatures from Navajo legends are reborn and start appearing on earth. Trail of Lightning takes place in what was formerly the Navajo reservation (Arizona, Utah, New Mexico), which declared independence from the US and surrounded itself with an impossibly high wall of turquoise. The story follows Maggie, a monster hunter with a violent past, and Kai, a Medicine Man in training, as they try to find the source of a new kind of monster. I loved this book. The mythology and setting are wonderfully rich and the characters are complex and interesting. The story is written in a way that you don't always know exactly what is going on or what the characters are thinking and it works. Trail of Lightning ends on a bit of a cliffhanger so I am chomping at the bit for the next installment.

Spinning Silver is a kind-of-sort-of retelling of Rumpelstiltskin, mixed with other elements of fairy tales and folk lore. The entire book is written in shifting first-person perspective, which means that every chapter starts with a little detective work as you try to figure out who is talking. At first this was really a challenge for me and kind of put me off the book. But I'm glad I stuck with it, because once I got used to the rhythms of the story and more familiar with the characters, I ended up enjoying it a lot.

I also liked:

ROMANCE

Gentleman's Guide... follows the rebellious son of an English Nobleman, who ventures out on one last "Grand Tour" with his friend (who he is completely in love with, naturally) before he is expected to settle down, be respectable, and take over the family estate. The characters are unexpectedly rich and interesting, the romance is supremely satisfying, the writing is smart, and the over the top adventure and melodrama kept me thoroughly entertained. Despite the fact that our main character Monty makes the wrong decision and says the wrong thing at pretty much every opportunity, Mackenzi Lee was able to keep me rooting for him and on his side even when he didn't deserve it. That takes talent. 

The Lightning-Struck Heart is a fantasy romance (knights, unicorns, dragons, etc) through the filter of RuPaul's Drag Race. It is high camp, wall-to-wall innuendo and sex jokes, and an utter joy to read. I was laughing out loud constantly. Our main character is Sam, a phenomenally powerful wizard's apprentice who literally has NO filter - everything that comes into his head comes out of his mouth. He is accompanied by Gary, a gay unicorn who lost his horn, and Tiggy, a half-giant. Sam spends his days being captured by dark wizards and pining for the dreamy knight commander Sir Ryan Foxheart, who is engaged to marry the prince. When the prince is captured by a dragon, Sam, Gary, Tiggy, and Foxheart set out on a quest to rescue him.

In the universe of The Lightning-Struck Heart everyone talks about sex without shame or reservation, and there are characters with a huge spectrum of sexual identities that never face discrimination for who they love. This is a kingdom where there is nothing unusual about a prince marrying a knight. It's incredibly refreshing. The book is non-stop sassy, salty banter, sexual innuendo, and supreme ridiculousness, yet at the same time there are real moments of heart that caught me off guard. Sam is surrounded by people who love him - his family, the wise old wizard, the king - and there are so many wonderful passages where those characters help and support him. Occasionally the narrative gets a wee bit lost in the excessive banter and once in a while a joke goes on way too long, but this didn't detract from my overall love of the book.

This gothic romance is an unexpected combination of supernatural elements and folklore. The book starts with Lord Thornby, a rudderless bon-vivant who is dragged home and trapped on his father's estate by mysterious, violent forces. A year into his imprisonment, a magician named John Blake arrives to investigate a purported case of witchcraft and the two begin working together to lift Thornby's curse. The magic in this book is really unique (Blake is an "industrial magician" who can communicate with objects like nails and salt) and the chemistry between the two main characters is great.

This two-book series follows an introverted American college student who travels to England for a year abroad, falls in love, grapples with the fear of coming out to his Russian immigrant family, and tries to come to grips with his anxiety and find his voice. The first ABROAD book was one of my favorites from 2017 and the second part did not disappoint. I highly recommend this series.

The premise: reluctantly famous rock star front man falls for a recovering addict who gave up his music career. It is total romance candy with angst and beautiful people smooching each other and I was SO INVESTED IN THIS BOOK. *sigh*

I'm a big fan of historical romance trilogies/series that stick with the same main characters; I like when a relationship is given time to grow and change over the course of several books (see also: Abroad, Arden St. Ives, and A Charm of Magpies). The Happily Ever After is far more effective when you've spent so much time with the characters and this is one of the main elements that makes the Enlightenment series stand out for me. By the end of the third book I was I *very* invested in David and Murdo's love story and the HEA they had to work very hard to achieve. The first book wasn't quite as strong as the following installments, but I would definitely recommend this trilogy if gay historical romances are your cup of tea.

I don't usually have much interest in modern paranormal romances (your sexy vampires, your broody shape-shifters, etc, etc) but I loved T.J. Klune's Lightning-Struck Heart so much that I decided to check out his Green Creek werewolf series. And I could not put this god damn book down. Klune's lyrical writing style is a pleasure to read and there are emotional sections that genuinely made me cry. The story is about werewolves, yes, but also about love, family, revenge, drama, and angst. SO. MUCH. ANGST. I loved it. I am going to be reading many more T.J. Klune books in 2019  (I'm already more than half way through Green Creek book two).

Wrong to Need You is the second book in Alisha Rai's Forbidden Hearts series and contains all of the necessary ingredients for a good romance: feuding families, forbidden entanglements, long simmering crushes, interesting protagonists, and plenty of steamy interludes. While this was my favorite of the series, all three books are very good. 

I also liked:



MUSIC
I became a bit obsessed with Troye Sivan and BTS this fall, so that basically dominated my 2018 music. Apparently I listened to Troye for 109 hours, which is particularly impressive given that I heard him for the first time in September. I also listened to a lot of Janelle Monáe and The Decemberists. As far as concerts go, I was very lucky to see Neko Case, The Wombats, The Decemberists, and a production of Live From Here with Jeff Tweedy. 



ART STUFF
When summing up my year in art, my brain instinctively wants to go negative and focus on all the time I wasn't able to make anything. But I choose instead to focus on all the cool things I accomplished. I finally finished all 52 collages in my Nerd Love series. I had an incredibly exciting small group show at Gallery1988 in Los Angeles. I had a great two-person show in Lincoln. I started a Patreon page and began to make process videos. And I am hopeful for 2019; I already have a bunch of ideas for my August solo show so that's a good start. 

Well that about wraps up 2018. I hope 2019 is a little less grim. May your year be filled with dog hugs, warm cookies, and good friends. 

Thursday, November 29, 2018

October & November 2018



I completely forgot to write an October entry, so here are two months worth of recommendations. Whoops. As you can tell, I followed through on my goal to enjoy some relaxation time and make up for my very busy summer. Read on for my favorite books, movies, and games, and probably too many uses of the word "trope". 

MOVIES & TV

SUSPIRIA (1977)
When I was in college a friend told me about Suspiria (specifically a scene involving razor wire) and made it sound so scary that I decided I would never be able to watch it. Well, I finally worked up the nerve and managed to catch a theatrical 4K restoration and WOW. The combination of incredible color, stunning visuals, and the rad AF synth score work so well together and excited every one of my creativity neurons. The story is supremely weird and strange (not super scary) and totally what one expects to see in an abstract Italian horror film from the 70s. I'm pretty sure it involves witches in a dance school? 

CASTLEVANIA (Season 2)
I liked the first season of Netflix's Castlevania but it definitely felt like a prologue. With season 2 we finally get to the meat of the story and it's great. I loved all of the characters, including a host of villains that were genuinely interesting and often sympathetic. The season is a bit of a slow-build but the finale is deeply satisfying. I think I must have watched the fight scenes from the penultimate "For Love" episode at least 20 times. In fact, I think I need to go rewatch that episode again - brb. 

VIDEO GAMES

RATCHET & CLANK (2016)
I started playing Vampyr in October but had to call it quits (for now at least) after constantly feeling punished by game mechanics I did not understand. Oh wow, did you charm that NPC? Surprise! That NPC is dead now because you charmed her and a huge section of the town is permanently in chaos. *autosave* I understand the developer's goal was to make you "live with your choices" and will probably try playing it again now that I know how the game works but ugggghhhh, I was totally not in the mood for that at the time. 

So I needed a bit of a palate cleanser that wasn't grim-dark or excessively frustrating and then remembered I had downloaded the Ratchet & Clank remake a few months ago. It's silly and light and very fun to play. I restarted second and third playthroughs immediately so I could get every collectible and upgrade every weapon. I loved the original games and the 2016 version combines lots of good elements from the franchise and manages to feel both new and familiar. 

BOOKS

I set my highest reading goal to-date this year (75 books) and surpassed that goal in October! Here are some of my favorites and they aren't ALL romances for once.
...
...

I mean, most of them are but hey...

After a huge portion of the world is covered in water from an apocalyptic flood, the gods and mythological creatures from Navajo legends are reborn and start appearing on earth. Trail of Lightning takes place in what was formerly the Navajo reservation (Arizona, Utah, New Mexico), which declared independence from the US and surrounded itself with an impossibly high wall of turquoise. The story follows Maggie, a monster hunter with a violent past, and Kai, a Medicine Man in training, as they try to find the source of a new kind of monster. 

I loved this book. The mythology and setting are wonderfully rich and the characters are complex and interesting. The story is written in a way that you don't always know what is going on or what the characters are thinking and it works. Trail of Lightning ends on a bit of a cliffhanger (aaarrrrrggg!) so I am chomping at the bit for the next installment. 

I've been reading romance books for a few years now and somehow completely missed the FBI-Partners-Who-Fall-In-Love set up until recently. It is most definitely a thing and I am here for it. The Irish and Whiskey series follows all of the familiar beats, as an experienced (handsome) agent returns to duty after the death of his husband and is paired with a fresh-faced (handsome) partner who is a hacker and used to be a NCAA basketball player. Romance protagonists ladies and gentlemen! It's so very tropey and melodramatic and unbelievable in the best ways and I tore through all three books in a weekend. 

The Lightning-Struck Heart is a fantasy romance (knights, unicorns, dragons, etc) through the filter of RuPaul's Drag Race. It is high camp, wall-to-wall innuendo and sex jokes, and an utter joy to read. I was laughing out loud constantly. Our main character is Sam, a phenomenally powerful wizard's apprentice who literally has NO filter - everything that comes into his head comes out of his mouth. He is accompanied by Gary, a gay unicorn who lost his horn, and Tiggy, a half-giant. Sam spends his days being captured by dark wizards and pining for the dreamy knight commander Sir Ryan Foxheart, who is engaged to marry the prince. When the prince is captured by a dragon, Sam, Gary, Tiggy, and Foxheart set out on a quest to rescue him. 

In the universe of The Lightning-Struck Heart everyone talks about sex without shame or reservation, and there are characters with a huge spectrum of sexual identities that never face discrimination for who they love. This is a kingdom where there is nothing unusual about a prince marrying a knight. It's incredibly refreshing. The book is non-stop sassy, salty banter, sexual innuendo, and supreme ridiculousness, yet at the same time there are real moments of heart that caught me off guard. Sam is surrounded by people who love him - his family, the wise old wizard, the king - and there are so many wonderful passages where those characters help and support him. Occasionally the narrative gets a bit lost in the excessive banter (to the detriment of the story) and once in a while a joke goes on way too long, but this didn't detract from my overall love of the book. 

In the very near future, an army of ten-foot-tall statues that look like Transformers in samurai armor appear in locations all over the world. When protagonist April May records a video about one of them and posts it to YouTube, it is an overnight viral phenomenon and April becomes one of the most famous people in the world. The book follows how this fame shapes and corrodes her life and the growing mystery of why the "Carls" are here on earth. While the book features a frustrating main character (who pissed me off constantly), I think she has a solid, interesting story arc and the novel is well constructed and wonderfully original. 

Salt Magic, Skin Magic is a gothic romance with an unexpected combination of supernatural elements and folklore. The book starts with Lord Thornby, a rudderless bon-vivant who is dragged home and trapped on his father's estate by mysterious, violent forces. A year into his imprisonment, a magician named John Blake arrives to investigate a purported case of witchcraft and the two begin working together to lift Thornby's curse. The magic in this book is really unique (Blake is an "industrial magician" who can communicate with objects like nails and salt) and the chemistry between the two main characters is great. 

Whenever K.J. Charles releases a new book I snap it up immediately. Band Sinister follows a classic romance formula with two characters stuck together in a country house and slowly falling in love. It feels very much like a Jane Austen set-up with a gay twist (the author refers to it as her ode to the work of Georgette Heyer, who I have not read). If you want a light-hearted, cockle-warming historical romance, this one is a lot of fun. 

Despite featuring my absolute least favorite narrative trope (abductee falls in love with her abductor) I somehow still liked this book. I think it's because the author did a lot of work to reenforce the motivations of the characters? I can absolutely understand if a different reader would be unable to get past that crummy set-up - I was on the fence a number of times. 

Every year, the evil Empire sacrifices one girl from each village in a huge pyre. For many years, Gilene has been offered up by her town and has survived due to her ability to wield fire magic. On her fifth trip to the flames, a gladiator recognizes her and leverages his knowledge of her secret powers to gain help in escaping slavery. After they are free, the gladiator kidnaps Gilene and the two travel back to his home country where he intends to use her magic to help re-establish his position as leader. Not the most enjoyable start. But the story that follows includes some vivid storytelling and world building (including a super creepy haunted city) and managed to keep me involved and mostly rooting for both characters. I still really hate that plot device though. 

Monday, October 08, 2018

September 2018



Between the Lincoln Arts Festival and my new show at Gallery 9, I genuinely had no free time in September. Needless to say I’m feeling some really hardcore burnout right now. I had a few nights off this week and it was wonderful.

BOOKS

I took reading breaks amidst all of the art, which really helped keep the stress from becoming overwhelming. A good romance book does wonders for stabilizing my brain when i’m anxious. I only wish that I had picked better books since despite reading 13 of them, I only have a few to recommend. 

(The Mermaid Murders, The Monet Murders, The Magician Murders)
I knew nothing about this series when I started (I think one of the books popped up on an “Amazon recommendations” list?) and ended zooming through all three in quick succession. The series has a long-running they-love-eachother-but-won’t-admit-it romance plus a different mystery to solve in each installment. The main character is an FBI agent from the “Art Crime” devision who keeps getting pulled into the orbit of a legendary (and aloof) criminal profiler. Sleuthing, smooching, and some murders ensue. Definitely a fun series to check out if you want popcorn mystery with your romance.

The Duke I Tempted mixes a gothic-romance atmosphere with a duke who is secretly into BDSM and a gardener who remains unmarried so she can run her own business. I really liked the characters and the way that the "forced marriage due to scandal" plot device doesn’t lead to immediate romance. The two MCs are stuck in a moment of passion/big fight/confused feelings loop for a good long while. But, of course, this makes it all the more satisfying when they finally figure out they're in love. I would definitely recommend this one, although be warned, I found myself yelling “just tell him/her you’re true feelings you idiot!” on more than one occasion. Sadly the second book in the series follows my least favorite character (the Duke’s self-absorbed, phenomenally annoying sister) so I probably won’t read number two. 


MUSIC

Usually I like to have favorite movies or youtube videos playing in the background when i'm working. While prepping my recent LA show for example, I binged three seasons of Fringe. Yet for some reason I found myself getting instantly distracted whenever I tried to watch anything in September (with the one exception being OutsideXbox lets-play videos), so I ended up listening to music most of the time. Specifically a constant rotation of BTS and Troye Sivan. Seriously, the entire month it was just these guys on unending repeat.








ART

I created 11 new pieces for my show at Gallery 9 (which is up through the month of October) and will finally be adding new prints to my shop this week. CLICK HERE to see all the new art. I really don't like how blogspot displays groups of photos so I will spare us both the frustration of trying to add them into this post. 

Now i'm taking a little time for myself to play video games, clean the house, and pay attention to my dog before hopping back in the studio. With all of the really awful things happening in the news I’m finding it harder and harder to recoup between shows, but I’m bolstered by the fact I have new project ideas already. Hopefully that means that my brain is just dried out and not dead all together.

Ok, now to get caught up on GBBO and about a million Netflix shows...