Media Round-up for 15/04/2018

Accused: Elizabeth Andes

accusedI first listened to Accused last year, not long after the first season was released.  When I found out that the team at the Cincinnati Enquirer was making a second season, I decided to listen to the first season again before continuing on to the new case.

Similar to In the Dark, Accused is a podcast where a team has investigated one particular crime.  Season 1 of Accused examines the 1978 murder of Elizabeth Andes, a 23-year-old Ohio woman who was killed in her apartment just days after graduating from university.  Elizabeth’s boyfriend, Robert Young, almost immediately became the police’s prime suspect.  Young was tried twice for his girlfriend’s murder, both in criminal and civil court, and was found innocent both times.  The case remains open, but it seems as though local law enforcement officials are so dedicated to the idea that Robert Young is guilty, they have not conducted any substantial work on the case in a very long time.

Accused is a terrifying story about how law enforcement officials can get bogged down in pursuing only one suspect.  Personally, this is something about policing that I’ve never been able to understand.  I know that investigations are rarely resolved as tidily as they are in police procedural dramas, but I’ve always believed that detective work should be about keeping an open mind.  In the case of the murder of Elizabeth Andes, however, it seems as though the police focused on one suspect early on and convinced themselves that they were finished.  In this light, law enforcement looks far more like a game of winning and losing than it does like a game of trying to find the truth.

My only real problem with Accused is its audio quality.  There are a lot of interviews with the victim’s friends and others involved in the case and I found that the poor quality of the audio in those interviews can make it difficult to understand what some of the interviewees are saying.  As such, I would recommend listening to Accused on the highest audio quality you can find and with decent headphones rather than trying to listen to it in your car or in a loud environment.

Ugly Delicious

ugly deliciousAs I said in one of my March Media Round-ups, I think that Netflix is knocking it out of the park with documentaries right now and Ugly Delicious is a great addition to their current library.  The series is a discussion about the history and social impact of certain types of popular food such as pizza, dumplings, tacos and fried chicken. Renowned chef David Chang and his good friend, Peter Meehan (a food writer), discuss these foods with friends in the culinary world and travel to various locations to see how those foods are produced.

While I’ve never eaten at any of David Chang’s restaurants, I was familiar with him as a food personality prior to seeing Ugly Delicious.  Chang was the featured chef in the first season of the excellent, Anthony Bourdain narrated, PBS documentary series The Mind of a Chef (which is also available on Netflix) and I’ve been interested in his perspective on food since watching that show.  Ugly Delicious is less a documentary and more a series of conversations about food.  Central to those conversations are two topics of particular interest to me: culinary authenticity and culinary politics.

Chang and his friends ask some important questions about authenticity.  For example, what is required to produce an authentic Neapolitan pizza?  Must it absolutely be made with Marzano tomatoes and Mozzarella di Bufala Campana, which will almost never be fresh if they’re exported internationally?  Or can it be accomplished in Japan with local tomatoes and local mozzarella?  Does authenticity come from using highly specialized ingredients from a particular location, or does authenticity come from making the highest quality product from the highest quality ingredients available nearby?

There are also some phenomenal conversations about sociopolitical aspects of food, examining issues such as the troubled association of African Americans with fried chicken and how Italian pasta is always considered better than Asian dumplings.  These discussions ask a lot of questions that are nearly never asked in food-related programming.  If you are a bit of a foodie or you like cooking shows, please do yourself a favour and check out Ugly Delicious.  It’s awesome.

Media Round-up for 08/04/2018

In the Dark

in the darkIn the Dark is a podcast that examines the 1989 abduction and murder of Jacob Wetterling from a small town in Minnesota with a keen focus on mistakes made by local police and an excellent discussion about how the case impacted law enforcement and policing in the United States.  I absolutely loved it and would recommend it to anyone who enjoys true crime podcasts — particularly miniseries that do an in-depth analysis of one case.

Jacob Wetterling’s abduction is a famous case that has had a significant impact on law enforcement in the U.S.  The first U.S. law to institute state sex-offender registries, enacted in 1994, was the Jacob Wetterling Act.  The effects of the Jacob Wetterling Act and its significant updates and amendments are covered in detail in In the Dark.  This was a highlight for me, as I’ve been interested in U.S. sex-offender registries since reading a phenomenal article in the New Yorker about sex crimes committed by minors.  With just my basic knowledge, I believe that these laws have been used by politicians as an easy way to appear tough on crime without considering the consequences for many subsets of offenders whose crimes don’t really match up with the punishments.

In the Dark is also critical of the Jacob Wetterling investigation itself, positing that local and federal law enforcement officers missed a lot basic, local information due to their widening the search parameters for Jacob so quickly.  American Public Media has done a fantastic job of showing that many typical investigation techniques weren’t followed in the Wetterling case, such as interviewing all of the victim’s neighbors and the individuals that resided on the road where Jacob was abducted.  This is used to frame a wider discussion about the varying quality of law enforcement in the United States, which is far more decentralized than I had previously understood.

I didn’t have a great understanding of the structure of law enforcement in the U.S. prior to listening to In the Dark and I feel like I was able to learn a great deal that will be useful to me in the future when checking out other true crime media.  Highly recommended.

Civilization VI

civilization viI like to play Civilization VI on a regular basis and, unfortunately, it drives my boyfriend a little crazy.  Being a huge fan of deep and complex strategy games, he finds the Civilization series (colloquially called Civ) to be a little unsatisfying and often poorly designed, especially when it comes to the combat.  Given my current physical limitations, however, games with simple control schemes that are slow and can be accessed mainly via mousing through menus are the perfect thing for me to play right now.

Civ VI is a weird game.  In some ways it’s a significant improvement from its predecessor, Civilization V, and then it’s also a huge step backward.  The way that builder units work in Civ VI, for example, is amazing and provides players with a lot more options to customize the way their cities and civilizations run.  The civilizations themselves, however, are all a little dull.  In Civ V, there were a lot of civilizations that had interesting quirks, such as the Venetian Empire, where you could establish only one city or China, which was always great for achieving the science win state.  The civilizations available in the base version of Civ VI feel like they don’t really have any specialties.  They might have a few minor bonuses here and there, but mostly they’re a little generic.  I can see why Firaxis made these changes — the civilizations are much better balanced in VI, but removing some of those interesting quirks just makes the game a bit less interesting for me.

The most disappointing aspect of VI, however is what hasn’t changed since V: the payoff for winning a game is still terrible.  When someone achieves a condition for victory, the game suddenly stops, a short cutscene plays and the game abruptly comes to an end.  It feels a bit ridiculous and unsatisfying after you’ve spent upwards of 12 hours building your civilization and battling against your friends or the AI civilizations for everything to just end without any real ceremony.

My boyfriend and I play VI instead of V mainly due to the changes in how units can move around the board and the builder unit changes — it can be difficult to go back to V if you like those upgrades.  I would not, however, recommend that anyone purchase Civilization VI as it is right now.  Civ V is a great value.  If you can catch it on a Steam sale, you can often buy it for less than $20 and it comes with all of the content added to the game after its release.  VI right now is pricey and new civilizations have to be purchased in DLC packs that, in my opinion, aren’t worth their significant cost.

Media Round-up for 18/03/2018

Sylvia Plath – The Bell Jar

the bell jarThe March theme for my ONTD reading challenge was to read a book by a female author who is considered to be influential and has had a significant influence in literature, culture and/or society.  Some of the other participants had been planning to read The Bell Jar and, since I had never read it, I thought it might be a good choice.  Unfortunately, due to the new puppy, I read the book over quite a long span of time, which I find often diminishes my enthusiasm a little bit.

I’ve always thought that The Bell Jar was a bit like The Catcher in the Rye: it’s a book that you should probably read before you reach a certain age or you won’t get the most out of it.  I read The Catcher in the Rye when I was 15 years old, which was perfect.  I was an angry, angsty little shit and all of the talk of phonies was something I could identify with.  Having read The Bell Jar now, at 37 years old, I’m glad I didn’t read it as a teenager: there’s no way I would have or could have understood it at that time.

The Bell Jar is generally regarded as a roman a clef (a novel that depicts real life events overlaid with the facade of fiction) and depicts the decline of the protagonist’s mental health.  The events in the book are said to be similar to events in the life of Plath.  At the beginning of the novel Esther Greenwood, a 19-year-old college student, is working on an internship at a famous women’s magazine based in New York city.  Once she returns home after the internship, she receives the news that she was not accepted to a famous writing seminar.  From there, Esther’s condition takes a downward turn and we see her experiences with electroshock therapy and institutionalization.

The Bell Jar is one of those great books where it’s possible to dislike the main character and still like the book.  Esther is difficult and not particularly likeable, but there’s a great deal to admire in her rejection of the men who try to oppress her.  The writing style is fantastic: raw, simple and easy to read.  The tone of The Bell Jar is definitely dark, particularly knowing how Plath ended her own life, but I found that it was easy to identify with Esther’s experiences, even though my own struggles with depression aren’t nearly as severe.  While I wish I had been able to finish it more quickly, as I feel that the emotional weight of the novel would have hit me a bit harder, I am glad to have read The Bell Jar.

Dirty Money

dirty money netflixNetflix original series have been a bit hit-or-miss for me.  Some I love and others I don’t and, in my opinion, their offerings aren’t consistent in terms of quality.  Where they seem to be hitting it out of the park recently for me is with documentaries.  I love The Chef’s Table, Strong Island, The Keepers, Joan Didion: the Center Will Not Hold, Audrie and Daisy, and Amanda Knox.  It wasn’t as exciting as I had imagined it would be, but I even enjoyed Lady Gaga: Five Foot TwoDirty Money continues this trend of quality Netflix documentaries: it’s well-produced and fascinating.

Dirty Money has six episodes (all the episodes are all a little over an hour long).  Each episode is a different story about corporate greed and corruption.  The featured corporations/phenomena are:

  • the Volkswagen emissions scandal
  • Scott Tucker and Payday loans
  • Valeant Pharmaceuticals
  • HSBC money laundering for drug cartels
  • the Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers
  • Donald Trump

All of the episodes are great, but for me the Payday loans and Valeant Pharmaceuticals episodes were the most interesting.  I had always known that payday loan companies were sketchy, but I didn’t realize how many folks out there were relying on them for day-to-day survival and how easily the companies could take advantage of that.  The Valeant Pharmaceuticals episode also showed me how insane the market can be for prescription drugs.  I’m not sure how the actions of Valeant affected Canadian customers, but I was astonished at how easy it was for them to markedly increase drug prices for consumers with so little regulation and oversight.  This is doubly interesting when considering the recent Martin Shkreli conviction: he has gone to jail only because he pissed off a bunch of rich people and not because he cheated sick folks out of life-saving medication.

If you haven’t watched Dirty Money yet, you might want to check it out soon.  There’s a lot to learn and it’s very entertaining.  I loved it.

Media Round-up for 04/03/2018

Slow Burn

slow burn watergateSlow Burn is a podcast about the Watergate scandal, which resulted in the impeachment of U. S. President Richard Nixon in 1974.  Since I first listened to Serial, I’ve become a fan of podcast miniseries that cover one topic in-depth.  I tend to be open to different types of subjects, but I do have a significant bent toward true crime.  I decided to try out Slow Burn because it appeared quite often in 2017 year end lists of best podcasts and true crime plus an important political scandal seemed like a combination that would make for a good listen.

It was a good listen, but I didn’t enjoy it as much as some others have.  Of course, the Watergate scandal is fascinating and all of the episodes provide interesting information and are well-produced, but I guess the podcast just felt incomplete.  As a Canadian, everything I know about Watergate comes from seeing All the President’s Men quite a few years ago and I didn’t feel like the creators provided a good overview of the basics of the scandal.  Further to that, while each episode deals with a different aspect of the scandal, I felt as though they didn’t connect together particularly well, as though there wasn’t much of a narrative through-line in Slow Burn.  It also felt a little short and like it could have been more detailed and a lot longer.

The feeling that the podcast is incomplete is problematic for me because the outlet that produces the Slow Burn (Slate) has locked a lot of extra content for the show behind a pay wall.  There are extended interviews and other content that you can access by purchasing a premium membership at Slate.  The premium content is marketed extensively in each episode of Slow Burn as “bonus content,” but it makes me wonder whether the podcast would feel more robust and complete and have a better narrative through line if I was willing to pay for it.  The second season of Slow Burn will be covering the impeachment of Bill Clinton:  interested to see if my feelings about it will be similar to the first season.

Machado de Assis – The Alienist

the alienistThe Alienist is a 100 page novella written ca. 1881 by Machado de Assis, a Brazilian author who is often touted as the father of Brazilian literature.  February’s theme in the ONTD reading challenge was to read a book by a Brazilian author and The Alienist was one of the titles suggested by several other participants.  I’m glad that I chose this book because it was a nice change from what I’ve been reading recently and it’s been forever since I last read any short fiction or novellas.

Alienist is the 19th century term for psychologist/psychiatrist.  de Assis’ novella is a satire about a doctor, Simon Bacamarte, who moves back to his small home town in Brazil to open an insane asylum called Green House.  In line with his theories regarding madness, Bacamarte begins to commit more and more residents of his hometown to Green House, leading many to wonder who is actually insane.

The Alienist is an excellent satire on early psychology/psychiatry which examines how, depending on the expert’s hypothesis regarding the symptoms or nature of psychological disorder, he can find madness in just about anyone.  As Bacamarte’s hypothesis changes, so does the population of Green House.  Initially, I thought that this book might be a bit scary or creepy (I find depictions of insane asylums to be terrifying), but it is purely satirical and, given the length of the story, doesn’t go into much detail regarding the treatment of Green House patients or the institution itself.  I thoroughly enjoyed it and would recommend it to just about anyone who likes short fiction.

Media Round-up for 25/02/2018

Shonda Rhimes – Year of Yes

year of yesDespite achieving greatness in her career while managing to raise three children as a single mother, Shonda Rhimes (award winning creator and show-runner for Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal and How to Get Away with Murder) was miserable. After receiving some tough love from one of her siblings, she took on a life-changing challenge: for one year she would say yes to everything that scared her.  Year of Yes is a memoir documenting the incredible changes and personal development that Shonda experienced as a result of her challenge (which wound up lasting more than one year).  Here are some of the things that she finally said yes to:

  • Having difficult conversations
  • Public speaking
  • Saying no
  • Playing with her children
  • Breaking the cycle of emotional eating

I greatly admire what Shonda accomplished during this period of transformation.  She seems to have made over her life in a way that is extraordinarily positive and, as a result,  seems to have become a much happier person.  I think that there is a lot that I can learn from Year of Yes and I will be revisiting it in the future, because I am definitely the type of person who says no too often and can sometimes create barriers to my own development.  The one downside to Year of Yes is that I think it is a little too long.  Some of the chapters dragged for me at times and I found them to be repetitive.

If you’re unhappy and looking for some inspiration to start turning things around, I would greatly recommend this book.  It’s an easy read and will probably make you laugh out loud at least once.  It may also allow you to give yourself permission to actively seek out more happiness in your life.  Shonda points out, very wisely, that sometimes we get bogged down in the social pressure to always be humble and grateful for what we have, which can stop us for striving for more.

The Story of Saiunkoku (Saiunkoku Monogatari)

saiunkoku monogatariSaiunkoku Monogatari is an anime series that takes place in a fictionalized Imperial China.  Its main character is a young noblewoman named Shuurei Hong, whose family is well-respected, but quite poor.  Shuurei’s dream is to become a government official; however, at the beginning of the series, women are unable to work as government officials.  Instead, she takes on various odd jobs to help her family make ends meet and is a prominent member of her local community.  Through various circumstances, she develops a relationship with the young emperor, who becomes determined to ensure that Shuurei is able to contribute what she can to the government of Saiunkoku.

When I first watched Saiunkoku Monogatari a few years ago, I fell in love with it, warts and all.  It has incredible charm that I just couldn’t, and still can’t, resist.  Shuurei is a wonderful shoujo protagonist — smart, determined and kind-hearted.  Her supporting cast of attractive male suitors is also impressive — they are all well-rounded characters, each with interesting traits that make them unique.  Shuurei’s journey and the overall story of the series are quite interesting, though I do think that it can be a bit slow at times and there are a few arcs that I find a little boring.

While I do love Saiunkoku Monogatari, I think it has its share of weaknesses.  As a reverse harem series (a series format where one female protagonist is surrounded by numerous attractive male suitors), there aren’t many female characters in the world of Saiunkoku; however, the few prominent female side characters are excellent and well-developed.  As I said above, I enjoy Shuurei as a protagonist; however, in my opinion the series creators rely a little too heavily on common shoujo tropes for her development: she is unequivocally the smart girl that is blind to love and romance (see Haruhi in Ouran High School Host Club, and many others).

The negative points I have mentioned above were aspects that I noticed on both my first and second views of the series.  What’s been unique this time around are my perspective and my expectations.  I will be writing at least one full blog post about this, because I have a lot more to say on the issue, but I will discuss this briefly here.  As I mentioned in my essay about my development as a feminist, years ago I was not ready to let feminism and politics get in the way of my fun.  This allowed me to dismiss many of the more pernicious aspects of the media I was consuming; particularly Japanese media, where there are significant cultural differences in the area of romance, particularly regarding consent.  Ryuuki Shi, the emperor of Saiunkoku and Shuurei’s primary suitor, kisses her without her consent on multiple occasions.  Within the shoujo manga/anime culture, this is often considered to be wildly romantic and when I first watched the series several years ago, those scenes didn’t bother me at all.  While they don’t completely ruin Saiunkoku Monogatari for me now, because I think you can still enjoy a show or a book while still being aware of its more problematic themes or aspects, it does detract from my enjoyment of the series now.

While I do still love Saiunkoku Monogatari, I don’t recommend it to anyone who isn’t a fan of shoujo manga and anime, particularly because, as I mentioned above, the pacing is so slow and plodding.  If you happen to be reading this and you do enjoy reverse harem shoujo and you haven’t already seen this show, what on earth are you waiting for?

Media Round-up for 18/02/2018

Carlos Ruiz Zafon – The Shadow of the Wind

shadow of the windThe Shadow of the Wind is a book for people who love books.  It takes place in Barcelona, Spain throughout the first half of the 20th century, a tumultuous time in that country’s history.  In 1945, the book’s protagonist, Daniel Sempere, is introduced by his father, a widowed used bookseller, to a place called the Cemetery of Forgotten Books.  Daniel is allowed to take one book from the Cemetery, as long as he promises that he will preserve the book and its story for the rest of his life.  He chooses The Shadow of the Wind, a novel by a little known author named Julian Carax.  Daniel reads the novel and is completely spellbound.  At 10 years old, he feels as though he has truly awoken to the power of the written word.  He then begins a quest to learn more about the book’s mysterious author so that he can read more of Carax’s work.  His inquiries are met with stories that someone is systematically purchasing and destroying copies of Julian Carax’s novels.  The mystery that ensues is gripping and a pure joy to read.

I adored The Shadow of the Wind.  The writing is both beautiful and easy to read, which is a rarity and even more incredible since the book has been translated from the original Spanish.  If I’d previously known nothing about the book or its author prior to reading it, I would have had no idea that it was a translation.  The characters are rich, vibrant, and easy to root for.  I have not read a novel in quite some time where I was so readily able to identify with and root for the central characters.  They became my good friends over the hours that I spent reading the book.

The mystery elements of The Shadow of the Wind are also wonderful.  The suspense runs quite high until the novel reaches its climax and the denouement, where the truth is explained from the perspective of a character that you would definitely not expect to reveal anything, is tremendously satisfying.  The Shadow of the Wind is just the right length: Zafon has not lingered on any of the plot points for too long and it doesn’t skim over any necessary details.  I would say that the only real weakness of the book is that the true villain is a little underdeveloped and, for me, his motivations weren’t particularly compelling.

If you’re a reader, you should check out the Shadow of the Wind as soon as you can.  You won’t regret it.

You Must Remember This

you must remember thisYou Must Remember This is a Hollywood history podcast written and narrated by Karina Longworth, a writer and film critic, and is probably one of the best podcasts I’ve ever listened to.  When I was sick with the virus that put me in the hospital in late October/early November it was my constant companion.  Karina Longworth’s research is impeccable and her voice and enunciation are fantastic.

The podcast generally follows a series format.  Sometimes the series will explore just one story and others will have single episodes that fit the theme of the series.  Topics that she has covered so far include:

  • Movie stars during the Second World War
  • The Hollywood Blacklist (stories of Hollywood folks who were involved in or affected by the House Un-American Activities Committee)
  • Charles Manson’s Hollywood (the most critically acclaimed series and my personal favourite)
  • Dead Blondes (or, really, tragic dead blondes)

If you’re at all interested in the Manson family (or true crime stories), the Charles Manson series is a must.  If you’re at all interested in old Hollywood or like old movies, or are looking for a way of learning more about old movies, this podcast is a phenomenal tool to learn about film history and also to get recommendations for films to watch.  Try it out sometime and let me know what you think!



Media Round-up for 11/02/2018

This post should have been posted last Sunday (on February 4).  I was so sick that day, however, that I completely forgot to schedule it for automatic uploading.  The end of my second chemo cycle (my fourth treatment on February 2) was difficult.  I spent most of the weekend in bed and didn’t really have the energy to do much other than read a little bit and sleep.  I hope that this doesn’t get to be a habit, but sometimes when you’re not well, you need to give yourself a bit of a break.

Joan Didion – The White Album

white album“The weirdness of America somehow got into this person’s bones and came out on the other side of a typewriter.” — writer and critic Hilton Als on The White Album.

The White Album is my first experience with reading Joan Didion.  I have not loved a book as much as I love The White Album in a long time.  A few years ago I started reading more essay collections and contemporary memoirs because I needed some media that wasn’t fictional and I needed to read words that were put together beautifully, artfully, in ways I could never manage if I typed until my fingers bled and edited myself until I went blind.  Joan Didion’s writing is everything I’ve wanted and more.

I don’t mean to sound snobby, but I don’t like reading bad books.  I don’t like young adult fiction, the trashy mysteries my mother loves, romance novels or those Shopaholic-type tragedies.  I have my sources of fluff and trash (shoujo manga and a lot of video games) and, while I love those things, I want my books to offer something more.  I want them to be beautifully written.  I want to look at the way an author puts their words together and be in awe.  This happens to me less often that I would like, but I find that essayists accomplish this more often than most.

Joan Didion definitely did not disappoint me.  In many ways she is the pioneer of personal journalism: news as memoir and memoir as news.  The White Album is a collection of essays written on various topics written for many different publications between 1968 and 1979.  The topics are an interesting mix of the death of the 1960s, Black Panthers, the Manson family, traffic in Los Angeles, life in Honolulu, the movie industry and shopping center theory.  Yes, shopping center theory.  In each essay she is informing and teaching the reader by relating her personal experience with it.

One would think that because the essays were written as long as fifty years ago that they might seem dated, but that is not the case.  I would say that many of the essays about politics and social change are particularly relevant now, as I believe that we are probably living through the greatest period of social protest and rebellion since many of these essays were written.  The personal nature of the essays also assists in making them seem more contemporary — you’re reading more than just a simple explanation of the events of the time.

I would recommend The White Album to anyone who enjoys nonfiction or essays.  Once I have taken a bit of a break from her work, I will definitely be checking out Fumbling Towards Bethlehem and The Year of Magical Thinking.  I am wildly excited to read more from her.

Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold

joan didion center will not holdI finished reading The White Album a good two hours before my usual bedtime.  The experience of reading it had been so powerful for me that I knew I wouldn’t be able to start reading, watching, or playing anything else that day.  Remembering that Netflix had recently released a documentary on Joan Didion, I decided that this would be a good time to watch it.

The Center Will Not Hold (bonus points if you can, without using Google, tell me which poem this references) is a biographical documentary of Joan Didion made by her nephew, Griffin Dunne, who is a character actor of some note.  It is a nicely put together collage of interviews with the subject (both recent and older footage from television interviews), interviews with other writers, friends and family members, relevant film footage, and readings of excerpts of her work as they are discussed in the film.  In general, I think it does a good job of providing an outline of her life and does an even better job of highlighting the beauty of her work and her significance in the world of writing.

What I found particularly interesting about Joan is her relationship with her late husband, John Gregory Dunne.  Dunne was also a writer and the two had an incredible marriage that seems to have been a truly equal partnership.  While they definitely had rough periods in their marriage (this is made quite clear in at least one essay in the White Album) they relied heavily on one another professionally, as mutual editors: before submitting any piece of writing to any outlet or publisher, the other would read it.  Joan stated clearly in interviews that there was never any competition between them, which I find to be fascinating.

If you’ve read any of Joan Didion’s work, you should watch this documentary.  It will inspire you to read more and if you haven’t yet read any of her work, what on earth are you waiting for?


Media Round-up for 28/01/2018

This might be one of the oddest combinations for reviews I’ve come across in a long time: a collection of Oprah’s columns from her magazine and a hentai game.  Oh well, we all know I like trying a little of everything!

Oprah Winfrey – What I Know for Sure

what_i_know_for_sureWhat I Know for Sure is a collection of Oprah’s columns of the same name, originally published in O magazine.  Each essay is essentially a lesson about something that Oprah has learned for certain over the course of her life and I would say that the tone of the essays is generally inspirational.  What I Know for Sure isn’t the type of book that I would normally reach for, but a YouTuber I follow mentioned that it had been a source of comfort and inspiration to her and, since I am in an excellent position to absorb things that are comforting and inspirational, I thought I would give it a try.

While I did enjoy most of this book, some of the anecdotes made me shake my head at Oprah’s overwhelming privilege.  For example, one of the lessons in the Joy chapter was that one should always look after themselves as carefully as they look after others.  This is a profound idea that can be a struggle for so many of us and the fact that she spends a great deal of time in this book discussing self-care in general is fantastic.  In order to teach readers this particular lesson, however, Oprah employs a story about hiring a famous devotional singer to perform at her birthday party, something she wasn’t willing to do for herself alone and only thought of arranging once she learned that one of her close friends also liked the singer.  Why, Oprah’s friends wondered, couldn’t she have hired the singer for her birthday alone?  Why did she need to do it for someone else rather than doing it for herself?  As I said, the sentiment here is good, but the story is a problem for the wealthy and I found myself rolling my eyes as I read it.

Overall, however, despite a few missteps, several of the chapters of the book were extremely powerful for me, particularly the chapters on Resilience, Gratitude and Connection.  I agree with many of the principles that she discusses, such as the idea that no other person can make you happy if you aren’t happy with yourself, a topic that I spent some time talking about earlier this week.  I also greatly admire Oprah’s commitment to life long learning and completely agree with her when she asks… “when you stop learning, you cease to grow and subconsciously tell the universe you’ve done it all — nothing new for you. So why are you here?”

If you’re into Oprah’s particular brand of radical self love and you like reading inspirational literature, I think that What I Know for Sure is a great book to have in your collection.  I think that this book is best read when you need a short, easy to digest pick-me-up.  If you’re having a bad day, read a column or two and you might find a little extra energy to get on with it.


huniepopIn the video game community, HuniePop is more than a little notorious.  It’s an OEL (original English language) soft hentai game where the player can date and/or sleep with potential anime girl mates by solving match-three puzzles.  I would say that the match-three gameplay is a cross between Bejeweled/Candy Crush and You Must Build a Boat (YMBAB).  The puzzle aspect of the game is well-designed and super fun to play.  At any given time, you can hang out with one of the game’s available female characters (you can play as a male or female protagonist, but all of the dateable characters are female).  You can ask them questions about themselves to earn currency, give them gifts to increase your reputation with them, or you can go out on dates.

The dates are where the match-three puzzles happen.  In order to successfully complete a date, you must match adjacent tiles to earn a set number of points in a set number of moves.  Each colour of tile has a characteristic associated with it and each character has a favourite characteristic, which will yield more points.  If you are able to complete several dates with one character, she will eventually join you at your home and have sex with you which involves a bonus puzzle, some poorly voice-acted moaning and a topless illustration of the character.

All in all, I found HuniePop to be disappointing.  I love romance in video games and the otome visual novel (a romantic choose-your-own-adventure genre aimed at women) is one of my favourite game genres.  Unfortunately, HuniePop lacks the emotional depth that I like to see in romance games and the character interactions consist only of surface-level fan-service.  The characters are poorly developed and the only information you learn about them is similar to what you might find in a profile of a popular boy band member in a teen magazine (height, weight, favourite colour, favourite hobby, etc…).  None of the scenarios I encountered were even remotely romantic or revealed anything deeper about the characters involved.  The game’s only surviving grace is its excellent match-three gameplay.

Media Round-up for 21/01/2018

The Blacklist

blacklistThe Blacklist is the first episodic law enforcement procedural that I have enjoyed in years.  I’ve been speeding through seasons 1-3 (I watched them some time ago and wanted a refresher) so that I can enjoy season 4,  If I had to compare the Blacklist to another series, I’d say that it’s quite similar to the J. J. Abrams spy drama, Alias.  I feel like Alias is much maligned these days, but it remains one of my favourite TV series of all time (the first three seasons anyway, after that it really does go downhill).  The Blacklist has a similar structure that I find to be highly entertaining.

The show features two main protagonists: FBI agent Elizabeth Keen (Meghan Boone) and Raymond Reddington (James Spader).  Raymond Reddington is a former high level US Intelligence officer turned notorious criminal (number 1 on the FBI’s Most Wanted list).  One day, he turns himself in to the FBI in Washington, DC with a plan to assist them in capturing a list of criminals (the Blacklist) that are so nefarious, the FBI is unaware of their existence.  Reddington states that the only FBI agent he will work with directly is Elizabeth Keen, a profiler who is, on that same day, just starting a new position with the Bureau.

Shenanigans and James Spader spy badassery ensue.  It’s pretty damned fun.  I’ve always enjoyed the monster-of-the-week plus interesting overarching plot format.  The supporting cast is good and, of course, James Spader is incredible.  A lot of the overarching plots are a bit ridiculous, but I’m a sucker for high drama.  I’d say that the only aspects of the show that grow tiresome over the first two seasons are the roller coaster relationship between Elizabeth Keen and her husband, Tom, and Elizabeth’s ever-changing feelings about Reddington.  The nature of their true relationship isn’t revealed until, as far as I can tell, season 4 and, in my opinion, this is drawing things out a little too much.  Elizabeth waffles between cursing Reddington, reminding us constantly about how evil he is, and then also clearly caring for him a great deal.  This is probably what any normal person would do in her situation, but it starts to grate a bit if you’re binge-watching.

All-in-all, I would recommend this show to pretty well anyone.  I know it’s difficult these days to justify trying out what looks like it could be a fairly standard police procedural (there are so many now and they’re mostly bad), but I think the Blacklist is definitely worth a try.  James Spader’s performance alone, in my opinion, is worth it.

Lisa Morosky – The Bootstrap VA

bootstrap vaAs I said in my Goals for 2018 posts, I am in the midst of evaluating my options for a career change.  Right now, I’m not completely certain as to what my plan will be, but I do know that I am interested in working online so that I can be more flexible and location neutral.  I am also at a point in my life where I feel like the best way for me to obtain real satisfaction in my career will be to start my own business.  One of the options that I have been considering is working as a virtual assistant.

Lisa Morosky’s book covers a lot of the basics that anyone would need to start a virtual assisting business.  I would say, though, that this book is an excellent and straightforward primer to working as a freelancer online in any capacity.  She has provided advice on productivity and project management software, tracking expenses, marketing and getting and keeping clients.  All this is presented in a package that is easy to read and loaded with links to resources for further reading.  I particularly like the fact that Morosky has clearly outlined business elements that a VA will absolutely need to have before starting their business, along with other elements that can be acquired or created as the business is growing and evolving.

I am thrilled that I read the Bootstrap VA at this moment.  It has provided me with so many ideas for how I can slowly start learning some new skills that will help me narrow down my goals.  The neuropathy in my hands has limited my options for what I can do with my free time, but I can certainly watch some webinars on social media marketing and search engine optimization and start working on my website.  It is my hope that, even if I decide eventually not to take the path of starting a VA business, I will be able to use a lot of what I learned from this book to find the right path for me.

Media Round-up for 14/01/2018

Lorde – Melodrama

Lorde_-_MelodramaLorde’s sophomore album, Melodrama, is one of the best I’ve listened to in a long time.  It’s a loose concept album about love, losing love, being heartbroken, being lonely, and moving on.  Her ideas are expressed incredibly well through tracks that will make you want to move and dance, but is also completely devoid of any kitschy party anthems.  It’s an incredible pop-but-not-quite-pop album, many of whose songs defy pop conventions.  The subject matter of the album’s most prominent ballad, Liability, for example, is not just about a lost love.  Instead, Lorde bemoans her painful loneliness and the fact that the people in her life are no longer interested in spending time with her.

When I first heard the album’s lead single, Greenlight, I instantly fell in love.  I didn’t listen to the whole album at the time, but that song was on every playlist I made after its release in 2017.  I was inspired to check out the album when I saw that it had been high on the top albums lists of many prestigious publications (Rolling Stone and Pitchfork, for example) and, in my opinion, Melodrama deserves all of the praise.  I would recommend this album to pretty well anyone.  Give it a try!

Key tracks: Greenlight, The Louvre, Liability, Hard Feelings, Supercut.

Style Savvy: Styling Star

pEhqGovKfF6EDqheI0HygwgTVOQH33NsI may revisit Style Savvy: Styling Star in a later review post once I have completed the main story, but I wanted to spend some time talking about it now because I’ve been playing it quite a bit over the past two weeks.  For me, there’s no doubt that Styling Star is the second best game in the Style Savvy series.  I don’t think that I could ever love a fashion game as much as I love Trendsetters, but Styling Star comes close.

I was not a fan of the changes that syn sophia made to the third game in the series, Fashion Forward, many of which incorporated elements of Nintendo’s popular Animal Crossing franchise.  I have never been able to get into an Animal Crossing game, despite several attempts.  As a person who typically works a full-time day job, I tend to dislike games that have real time clocks.  Due to the restrictions of my work schedule, I often play games at the same time every day, which means that there are many events and features in those games that are easy for me to miss.  Of course, I can always mess with my 3DS system clock, but in my opinion, forcing users to modify their systems to see what your game has to offer is poor design.

Styling Star retains a lot of the better additions to Fashion Forward (you can work in the hair salon, do makeup and design your own clothes) while returning to the addictive day/night cycle format of Trendsetters.  For me, this format makes it tough to put the game down — I’m always wanting to get to the next day to see what my accomplishments from the previous day will unlock.  They have also added a lot of new outfits and clothing items to the game, which I am very happy about, since I felt like the additions to the previous game were minimal at best.

Overall, I’m excited to keep playing Styling Star.  The main story seems like it’s going to be an interesting departure from previous games in the series, and I think that my character will have a significantly different role to play in how that unfolds.  Stay tuned for more on this game from me.