May Book Reviews 2017

It’s time for another session of book reviews! I have to say that of all the various posts that I do here on the blog, the book review postings are probably my favorite out of all the posts. I enjoy reading through a book or two and then writing about them afterwards. But they can also be the most challenging of the posts because I can’t always remember everything that happens in the story and oftentimes, will leave out details that I was unclear on or unsure about. This would be less likely to happen if I were to just focus on only one book at a time I guess. But then, it would take me longer to get to all of the books that I wish to read, now wouldn’t it? 😉

So, while you try and figure out that little paradox, let’s move on to the reviews.

Sadly, the books that I wanted to review today are only about a third of the way read so far, so they’ll most likely be reviewed next month. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t have something to present for this month. One’s a children’s novel and the other is a teen graphic novel. So with that all said and done, let’s get to it!

My Vietnamese readers may find this first book pretty interesting.

Inside Out & Back Again Cover

It’s called Inside Out & Back Again, by Thanhha Lai. It tells the story of a young Vietnamese girl named Ha, who travels with her mother and her three older brothers from Saigon, Vietnam, to the state of Alabama in the US during the 1970s, in order to escape the war that’s currently taking place in her country. We learn of Ha’s struggles in learning how to adjust to American life, which includes, learning English, going to school (which is segregated), attending church and dealing with bullying at school. Ha’s main antagonist, whom she simply calls, “Pink boy”, makes her experience in school an even greater challenge by calling her names, like “pancake face” and shouting “Buddha” at her in a mocking tone, which the author shows by writing it like this: “Boo-Da”. As you read through the story (or listen to it in my case), you can’t help but feel for Ha and how she must put up with “pink boy’s” constant taunting, often rallying many of the other kids around him to do the same thing to her. Ha is bullied by having her arm hair pulled by some of the other kids. She is even reduced to eating her lunch in the bathroom stalls during lunchtime at school as she can’t deal with all of the noise and the laughter in the school’s cafeteria, which I can clearly understand that.  I hated lunchtime at school for several reasons, but the loud cacophony of the cafeteria was one of the major reasons for this.

But all is not bad for Ha, as she learns more about American life. She becomes friends with two students, Pam (which she pronounces as “Pem”) and Steven (which she pronounces “SSsi-Ti-Van”), as well as two teachers at school, in which she confides in concerning the bullying. And towards the end, Ha finally stands up to “pink boy” (good for her!) and he finally leaves her alone.

And I also like how she describes her first time trying fried chicken (assumed to be KFC, as she said that her family’s host brought them chicken in a paper bucket, which is one of KFC’s main trademarks, after Colonel Sanders of course) and how she didn’t like it.

This was a good story. It speaks about a sort of hope, as Ha often speaks about her missing father, whom she hints is in the Navy fighting in the war, as well as a hope of finding a better life in America. There’s a hint of sadness to the story also. A sadness that goes beyond the bullying and struggle to learn English. It has the same feel as another book that I read a while back, called The Girl Who Wrote Loneliness by Shin Kyung‑Sook. It’s not a story where you find adventure, comedic conversations or silly scenarios that will keep you laughing well into next week, but a story of silent hope and happiness for a young girl wanting to fit into the American lifestyle and have friends.

So I give Inside Out & Back Again, a 4 out of 5. Like I said, it was a good story, and I enjoyed listening to it (the reader did a superb job of telling Ha’s story), but it was a little hard to follow. It’s very short (only 2 discs in the audio version, the shortest audiobook I think I’ve ever listened to) and written in the form of a diary/journal. I had to listen to it several times before fully grasping what was happening to Ha and fully connecting her story with that of the author’s, which she based from her own experience growing up in the 1970s. But it was still good and I can’t wait to read Ms. Lai’s second book, called Listen, Slowly.

My second book for this session is one that I mentioned before.

shoulder-a-coffin-kuro-vol-1-cover

It’s Shoulder-A-Coffin Kuro by Satoka Kiyuduki, a graphic novel series that shows the adventures of a girl named “Kuro” (her real name is never revealed), her bat friend, Sen, and two little “cat” girls, Nijuku and Sanju. Kuro, as she calls herself due to the fact that she wears black (“kuro” means “black” in Japanese), is on a journey to find a witch that has cursed her body and is forced to wear black unless she finds the witch and breaks the curse. Though not directly stated how exactly her body is cursed, certain scenarios in volume 1 indicate that she is different from that of ordinary people. This is seen early on, shortly after Kuro finds the cat sisters, Nijuku and Sanju, who have special abilities, one of which is the ability to both absorb and distribute colors from other objects that they touch. Nijuku tries to do this to Kuro and nearly turns all black in the process. Kuro kindly explains to them that no matter what colors they try to give to her, it will always come out black.

Another indication of Kuro’s condition is when the twins invite her to play in a nearby pond with them and she immediately declines, to which her friend, Sen, jokes that she will melt (presumably into an ink puddle), but is not 100% clear on how true this really is.

Kuro also wears bandages under her clothes and must change them from time to time, as doing this seems to slow down whatever condition she has from the curse.

The four travelers meet some interesting characters on their travels, which include, but are not limited to, a wondering traveler (who likes to try and scam people for money), a fibbing old man who tells “tall tails”, two young lovers that are united, thanks to Kuro, and a good “witch” that can “read” Kuro’s true self, saying to her that she believes that someone “forced” the black that Kuro wears on her and that it’s not her true color; her true color being tainted by the color black. Funny little “fun fact” about this is that someone actually said something similar to this to me once, I’m guessing because I wear black all of the time, ha. 🙂

While my main focus of the book reviews is not to present graphic novels, I will make an exception with this one as I really like it. Besides, it’s my blog so I make the call as to what books I want to present on it. 😉 I hope to have volume 2 up soon, whenever I finish it.

That’s all for now. Be sure to check out both Salazar’s and Kezzie’s respective blogs to see their latest book reviews and see what they’re reading.

Until next time!

 

For The Love Of Summer…

Okay, I need to give you all a small disclaimer here. This post has nothing to do with postcards, or SIA pictures or books. So if you were expecting any of these, you won’t find them here in this post.

While I usually write for my readers (thank you all so much for reading!), this post is more for me than anyone else.

Over the past several years, I’ve always struggled emotionally when summer came around. I hated it, and I still do to this day. Once upon a time, summer was probably one of my favorite times of the year. Summer vacation, warm weather, fun and games, you name it. What kid wouldn’t love summer, right? Well, I loved it up until a few years ago. VERY painful memories associated with this season, made it the most hated time of the year for me. I won’t get into the details, as it’s too personal and too painful and you all probably don’t want to hear it anyway.

But let me end this very short, very serious post by saying that I’m going to do my best to finally reconcile with the past and what has hurt me for so long (last year was the worst yet) and try to move on.  This doesn’t mean that I’m forgetting what happened. It just means that I’m willing to be okay with what happened (more or less) and to find the good things that summer has that I usually miss out on, as I’m usually too busy sulking. And one of these good things is the beauty that nature has during the summer months; the vibrancy, the colors; everything that makes summer, well, summer. And while technically, it’s still spring, today looked very much like how summer looks, in all of its glory.

I took these photos today while on my lunch break. I walked up to our local college campus (where I graduated) with a friend and saw how beautiful it is. So many cool angles and parts of the campus that I have never seen before. Check them out below.

So there I go. First step toward healing…

SIA: “Venus”

For this SIA, I’ve chosen a very simple look. Chosen by Salazar over on 14 Shades of Grey, this challenge involves a poster that’s part of a series of posters created for the recently discovered exoplanets (planets that are outside of our solar system, hence the prefix “exo”). You can read more about these awesome worlds both here and here. Some of these things dwarf even the “Mighty Jupiter”, the largest planet in our solar system. For those of you who know me well, I’m a HUGE astronomy buff and could probably talk all day on the subject.

But I will spare you all the lecture as I’m not feeling that great and need to retreat back to my bed. Been sick all day but needed to get this post ready for launch on Monday.

So let me cut to the chase and show you what I’ve come up with for this SIA.

Venus Poster SIA

Like I said, very simple. The poster has a very pastel look to it with lots of pinks and greys/silver colors. And since I don’t have any pink in my closet of clothing (I doubt I’d wear it, even if I had), I opted to go with the more silver-like colors that are seen in the poster, using my light gray shirt. And my black pants and tiny black logo on the shirt, cover the bit of black that’s seen in the poster. Incidentally, the logo you see is the company that my mom works for, Summa Care. I think my mom brought a few shirts home a few years back and had given me one, which I have never worn, until now. It’s way too big for me but I thought that it would be perfect for this challenge when I found it in my closet.

So that’s it for now, dear readers. Be sure to check in to Salazar’s blog on Wednesday to see how everyone else interpreted this SIA challenge.

Okay, back to bed with me…

Postcard Post: “Evening Forest”

Hey there, dear readers. Got another postcard to share with you all. I call it Evening Forest, as the bit of glow that you see in the sky behind the trees, makes me think of a sunset. Pretty simple.

Evening Forest Postcard

Like my last current postcard, Quiet Pond, seen here, I based this one off of one of Bob Ross’s paintings that he did, called Island in the Wilderness. You can watch how he did his painting here.

But unlike my last Bob Ross inspired painting, this one is somewhat disappointing. For one thing, the so-called “reflections” that I tried to do of the trees in the water (bottom right) did not come out good at all. They look more like deformed stalactites that you’d see in a cave. They are way too dark.

Another thing that bothers me about this one is the bottom left, where I’ve tried to paint the bushes that Bob did in his painting. They look more like really bad mustard stains that you can’t get out of your shirt, no matter how many times you throw it in the washing machine. Ugh….

But still, what do you expect with watercolor? It’s hard to do layering of color properly with this particular medium. Oil paint would have probably been better, if I had any. Oh well. You do the best that you can with what you’ve got.

And besides, it’s not all doom and gloom here. I really liked how I did the evening sky with the trees in front of it, fading back into the space. And the little sticks and twigs that I added along the water bank are pretty cool too I think.

So overall, not bad. I hope to do better paintings (whether Bob Ross inspired or otherwise) in the future and maybe give my watercolors a mini hiatus and use color pencils or oil pastels (which I used a little in the end to enhance some of the green on the trees).

Hope everyone has a great week!

P.S. Like with my last post, I put this one on a timer as well so that it will go public around 7am (Eastern Standard Time), Monday morning. Since I found success in this method the last time I did it, I deem that it’s worth doing again.

SIA: growARTS Painting #2

Before I begin, I want to announce that I’m trying something totally different for this post. I’m going to try and set this post so that it publishes at a certain time on Monday, May 8th. I’ve noticed that several of my “blogging buddies” manage to post daily at nearly the same time, which I think is pretty awesome. And I’ve always wondered how they can post so consistently. So I did a little research and found out that WordPress has a handy dandy little feature that allows you to publish posts at a set time so that you don’t have to worry about being in front of your computer when you want to make a post go live.

So my SIA post will be my test, if you will, to see if this works. If it does, it should go live at around 7am (Eastern Standard Time), Monday, May 8th. Fingers crossed.

So, onto this week’s challenge.

This week’s SIA challenge was curated by Erin on her blog, over on Loop Looks. She has chosen another growARTS piece, which you can read more about on her blog.

Grow Arts SIA 3

I went with a pretty obvious choice of colors for this one; black shirt and khaki pants (sorry, no purple in my wardrobe), similar colors to what we see in the painting.

But like I told Erin when I submitted my photo, the problem that I have with my outfit is my pants looking too “baggy”, which I don’t like. They are too long for me and a trip to a good tailor might be in order. But for a quick fix, I guess I could have just rolled the bottoms of them a little. Live and learn, huh…

So there you have it. Be sure to check out Erin’s blog tomorrow to see how everyone else interpreted this latest SIA installment.

 

Postcard Postings #6: A Look At Past Works: “Fire In The Sky”

I don’t know if I ever gave this next postcard an “official title”. Like many of my earlier ones, it was more about just making them, making sure they looked good and mailing them off to my pen pal. It wasn’t until late last year when I really started to give my art names.

Fire In The Sky Postcard

So this one here went unnamed for some time. As I was looking at it earlier today and thinking of a good name for it for today’s post, quite a few came to mind, ranging from simple names like Volcano and Lava to very elaborate names like Fire Bomb Blitz and Magma Mayhem. In the end, I sort of fell in between the two and settled on Fire In The Sky. It’s simple and to the point. I decided on this name because I want the focus of the piece to be more about the light emitted from the spewing volcanoes, lighting up the dark sky in the background, as opposed to the lava that’s flowing from them.

In any kind of painting or drawing, balance is always an important factor. If you don’t have good balance in a picture, it tends to look “lopsided” or “top/bottom heavy” and it won’t “read” right to many viewers. So I try to incorporate this sense of “balance” in my postcards, particularly in the later ones as I continue to develop my technique.

And for me, the light that I show from the tops of the two volcanoes helps balance out the very “bottom heavy” look of this picture with the lava flowing on the right and the melted rock on the left. And looking at this picture that I did with colored pencils back in 2015, makes me feel very hot, like skin melting, sweaty, blistery hot. Quite a feeling to have, considering how cold it’s been here this past week. We are in the month of May, aren’t we? Sure doesn’t feel like it so far…

Have a great weekend! Hoping to get another postcard posting up next week!