Music Sundays: The Ark

You’ve probably noticed the lack of ladies on music Sundays, well, that’s about to change! There’s a new girl group that’s just debuted (kpop) and they are fantastic! I’ve been watching to a lot of their fancams and they are super fantastic. They can sing (and rap) very well, their music is fun, and they harmonize exquisitely. I can’t wait for them to release more stuff!

Here are one of their medley covers (if you’re into kpop, you’ll recognize some, if not all, of these):

They also covered a Bangtan Boys (BTS) song called Boy in Luv (and did it 100x better than the original):

They also covered (better than the original as well) Hanson’s song MMMBop (I sent this to my sister, who quite enjoyed it and she’s not a kpop fan):

And, lastly, here’s an acoustic version of their actual debut single, The Light:

See? I need more! I totally need more. I can’t wait! And, here they are, being adorable during photoshoots:

Book Review: Sparrow Hill Road

I’ve been a fan of Seanan McGuire since before I knew that her pen name was Mira Grant. It was my sister who hooked me up with McGuire’s series under her own name (October Daye, for those who’re curious — highly recommended) and it’s her copy of Sparrow Hill Road that I read.

Let me start by saying that I like ghost stories. I’m not a big fan of movies about ghosts or the stories you tell around camp fires, but I do like ghost stories in novels, especially ones that are more X-Files than traditional. And while there aren’t any FBI agents running around in Sparrow Hill Road, that doesn’t make the story any less X-Files-ish or amazing. Of course, even if you’ve never watched The X-Files, this book is still pretty great.

Sparrow Hill Road is about a road, of course, but it’s really about a network of roads … and even then, it’s about a girl (she’s known as the phantom prom date, among other names) named Rose. Of course, Rose is dead. She is the ghost of our story (full of many ghosts).

When Rose was sixteen, she was waiting for Gary to pick her up and take her to prom. When Gary didn’t show, Rose went after him and was then subsequently run off the road and thus she died, in her prom dress, at age six. That was in 1952.

McGuire’s writing in Sparrow Hill Road is some of her best. Rose’s story is always entertaining, always engrossing and thoroughly engaging. We follow Rose across the years, from 1952 (and even a bit earlier) to 2014. Rose crosses the country and we go with her. In some ways, Sparrow Hill Road is a young adult novel, much of Rose is still sixteen — but the truth is that she’s not. She’d be almost 80 if she’d been alive, but ghosts don’t age.

Sparrow Hill Road is a love story. It’s a sad story. It’s beautiful and thoughtful. It’s about both kinds of family — those by blood and those made. It’s also about Michigan, as Rose is from Buckley Township (there is a Buckley Michigan, though I don’t know if these are one and the same). If you live in the state, you’ll definitely recognize some of the city names.

Rose died on the road and thus her ghost lives on the road. She’s what’s called a hitchiker. She travels the ghost roads, looking for rides, among other things. But really, Rose is chasing the man that killed her, all those years ago. Unlike many suspense-filled novels, there’s only a sense of urgency when Rose feels it. I didn’t want the book to end, I wasn’t ready to stop reading about Rose. But as the the stories that make up the novel converged into the present day, Rose was ready find some sort of closure.

Do we get it? In a manner of speaking. Is it satisfying? You better believe it.

Sparrow Hill Road is also about cars and drivers, about staying alive and what happens to the dead in this world of Rose’s. It’s also a bit of a philosophical read, which was a pleasant surprise (perhaps intentional, perhaps not, that’s not important). If you’ve never read anything by Seanan McGuire, Sparrow Hill Road‘s not a bad place to start. In a way, it’s like the best of both Mira Grant (her pen name for when she writes horror/zombies/etc) and Seanan McGuire (the urban fantasy author). So, go pick it up. You’ll enjoy the ghost story, I promise.

The Wednesday Four (05/27/15)

Today’s links deal with issues of death, chemistry and awesomeness. Who  knew?

Elements with the greatest supply risk. Red is high, blue is low.

Elements with the greatest supply risk. Red is high, blue is low.

Series Review: Seonam Girls High School Investigators (kdrama)

If you want to watch, you can see all 14 episodes on Dramafever or Hulu.

I decided to watch Seonam Girls High School Investigators for a couple of reasons. The first time the show came to my attention was because of a lesbian kiss (a quick google search gives you pictures, videos and news articles), something that you don’t really see in kdramas, even cable ones, like Seonam Girls, but it wasn’t until I’d finished a couple of other dramas (Healer and Bad Guys) that I decided to start the show. The second reason was because I wanted a show that was empowering to women and, well, fun. Seonam Girls seemed like the perfect fit and for the most part, it totally was.

The show follows new student Ahn Chae-yool. She’s been having problems in school and Seonam Girls high School is her mother’s last resort before sending her to American, which Chae-yool seems to want to do. But Chae-yool is like every other teenage girl, she has her opinions and she’s not going to let other people tell her what to do. Chae-yool’s relationship with her mother sets the tone for show — it’s equal parts amusing and serious, which is the show in a nutshell.

We follow Chae-yool as she is befriended by a young woman (who plays an important role in a later episode) at the behest of Chae-yool’s mother. That doesn’t work, of course, but it does give Chae-yool the impetus to at least listen to a group of friends who want to be her friend. That group, of course, is the Nancy Drew-esque foursome aka the Seoname Girls Investigators. The self-named group solve crimes, starting with the very first episode. On her way to school, Chae-yool is bitten on the wrist and the girl detectives decide to track down the criminal and also attempt to befriend Chae-yool.

Thus begins a very contentious friendship that grows and then blossoms through all fourteen episodes. Each episode flows into the next, there are cliffhangers for some, but not all, of the episodes and a few of the cases are wrapped up before the episode ends. After the wrist biting case, the girl detectives begin to address many issues that high school students in Korea, and across the globe, are familiar with.  These range from bullying to abortion to the aforementioned kiss (which is more about secrets and loving people than it is about the actual kiss, which, nicely done, show). While I didn’t love everything about all the stories (the abortion episode could’ve been handled differently, but I’m pretty sure that’s my Western privilege speaking), I loved everything about the show.

The five girls aren’t the only characters. There’s Chae-yool’s mother, her brother (and his love line with one of the girls detectives which is hilarious and adorable), and her father (to a lesser extent). There’s also a very interesting (and sometimes unsettling) teacher with his own mystery that’s woven throughout the series, coming to a head in the final episode, as well as his nephew (I think) who has really great chemistry with Chae-yool. There’s Chae-yool’s truly adorable homeroom teacher (I adore him) as well as other teachers and minor characters — many of whom are students involved in the cases the girls are solving.

While Seonam Girls is about high school students, like all good YA, it’s not just for them. The characters are all fully developed and their friendship runs very much like real friendships – hot and cold. One of the things that I love about this show, though, is that no one’s perfect and everyone fucks up once in a while, but they find a way to make things work. The girls do screw up a few of the cases, but the apologize and make amends when necessary. Also, their friendships seem very real in many ways and I love it because you rarely see two female characters, much less five, who are actually friends. Chae-yool and the rest of the girl detectives are amazing for many reasons, but that is one of the most important.

The emphasis of this show isn’t on school, which to an outsider might seem ridiculous (no one really does any homework) but for a country as obsessed with school as South Korea, I thought it was a nice, refreshing change. They do, of course, deal with studying issues, but not nearly in the same way as the others.

At the heart of Seonam Girls aren’t the crimes they solve nor the overarching mystery that stretches through all fourteen episodes. It’s the relationship the girls have to each other and to the people (especially the adults) around them. It’s what made us love all those teenage crime solving shows and books — the girls want answers and they want to find them — but they want to do it together. And even when things go wrong (and they very much on one of the cases) they must make it right. The adults in their lives won’t (can’t) fix it for them, which is how real life goes, too.

You should watch Seonam Girls because it’s fun and funny. You should watch it because it’s clever and endearing. But you should watch it because it’s so damn good at getting what it means to be a teenager. You should watch it because friendships are important and they’re so rarely done well and Seonam Girls is full of some of the best friendships anyone could wish for.

I want a season two, though I’m not sure the controversy surrounding the kiss will let that happen. But don’t let that stop you from watching. Go, watch. And maybe you’ll enjoy it as much as I did.

Music Sundays: Kim Sung Kyu

You may or may not have noticed (though if you talk to me and enjoy kpop, you definitely knew this) that there are a string of kpop idols I like who have had solo albums, but I’m not a fan of their group. Kim Sung Kyu (sometimes written Sung Gyu) is another one in that long list. He’s a member of the group Infinite (I like a number of their artists: four, in fact), but I’m not interested in the group as a whole, at all. But, man, I love Sung Kyu’s voice. He’s just released another solo mini album which is just as good (read: sad) as his first. Here are the two music videos for two songs off his newest album

Book Review: Razorhurst by Justine Larbalestier

Razorhurst by Justin LarbalestierI’ve said many times to many people that I’m not a big fan of historical fiction unless there’s some sort of fantasy/SF twist and, as a general rule, this is almost always true. There have been a few exceptions, but mostly I find the genre boring without something else. It’s personal preference, I know plenty of people who love historical fiction. I’m just not one of them.

Justine Larbalestier’s new YA novel, Razorhurst, is historical fiction with that twist. The main character in Rarzorhurst is Kelpie, a young girl who can see ghosts. She lives on the streets of Sydney in the 1930s, when gangsters ruled the city.

At the end of the novel, Larbalestier gives a brief history of her interest in 1930s Sydney and that the events in the novel are basically fiction, but they’re taken from real events and some of the characters are also borrowed from history. But, unlike so many historical fiction novels (that I don’t know), Larbalestier puts more of her fiction into the novel than reality — which is part of the reason I like it.

Prior to reading Razorhurst, the only novel of Larbalestier’s I’d read was How to Ditch Your Fairy, which was a cute and lighthearted fantasy novel (almost urban fantasy). Razorhurst is about as far away from that as you can get.

Kelpie’s life isn’t easy, in fact it’s exceptionally hard — though she has a couple things going for her. She looks younger than her actual age, she can read, she knows the streets of the area she lives in (this Razorhurst area) and she can see and talk to ghosts. Kelpie doesn’t see the last thing as something that helps her, or at least recently she hasn’t. Growing up, she’d been raised by some ghosts and a couple of actual humans (Neal Darcy and a man named Snowy). But her interaction with people is rather limited and she feels, mostly, more at home with the ghosts than with people.

Kelpie’s luck holds throughout the novel, though in some ways it doesn’t hold at all. The world Kelpie lives in is ruled by two ruling gangsters, Mr. Davidson and Gloriana Nelson, and it’s by sheer coincidence that Kelpie finds herself in the middle of that world. She stumbles into the aftermath of a murder and runs into the most popular woman in Razorhurst, Dymphna Campbell.

Soon, Dymphna and Kelpie are on the run. Much of the novel is told from Kelpie’s point of view, but many other characters get chapters. We follow Kelpie as she tries to figure out how to survive and what to make of all these people (and ghosts) suddenly in her life. The story skips around and as we follow Kelpie we learn about her past in some chapters, before catching up with the present. Nothing’s neat or easy, which Larbalestier does an excellent job of illustrating throughout the novel. Characters do die and the story isn’t pretty, but it’s not meant to be.

I’ve read a couple of review that talk about how this doesn’t seem to be a YA novel, but I beg to differ. The story is mature, but it’s no darker than others I’ve read. But it does set itself apart from other YA novels — even with the ghosts, Razorhurst is a very real novel. It’s dirty and gritty, just like Kelpie’s world. But it’s also about found family, something that I really love (remember my Fast & Furious post?).

The heart of Razorhurst (and yes, there is one) is Kelpie’s struggles and how her world changes when she meets Dymphna. It’s about the importance of having people care about you, no matter what your circumstances are. It’s also tangentially about the importance of reading (one of the ghosts in Kelpie’s life taught her to read). It’s also about the differences between poverty and the upper classes, between the middle class and the lowest classes. It’s also about the idea that no matter how much money you have, crime is still crime and you can’t buy respect — and it’s kindness that really counts.

I don’t know if Larbalestier will write more, I haven’t read if there will be a sequel, but the story doesn’t need one (though it could have one). In some ways I hope it doesn’t, not because I don’t what to know what happens to the characters, because it seems more real that we don’t know. They don’t know, either, and neither should we. Much of the novel is spent waiting to see what’s around the next corner, how long the’re going to survive and not having all the answers makes the book all that much better.

I definitely recommend this book. It’s a fast, harsh, read, but it’s also clear that Larbalestier cares about her characters and we should, too. The story skips around, as we follow Kelpie we learn about her past in some chapters, before catching up with the present. It’s not a perfect novel, few are, but it’s a good book.

The Wednesday Four (05/20/15)

Tumblr, Sheep and other things in life and the internet.

I can’t believe I wasn’t following that shepherd on twitter! I’m a huge fan of sheep, as many of you who know me personally already know. I’m totally following him now, though.

Book Review: Someone To Watch Over Me by Yrsa Sigurðardóttir

22545458I’ve read most, if not all, of Yrsa Sigurðardóttir’s novels that have been translated into English. Most of her novels, save one, are about Icelandic lawyer Thóra Gudmundsdóttir and the cases she takes.

Someone To Watch Over Me is set in Iceland and the backdrop of the story is the financial crisis that destroyed much of Iceland’s economy. At the start of the novel, Thóra’s parents come to her because they’ve lost all their money and want to move in with her. Thóra’s house is already full, with her children, plus her grandchild and her boyfriend (Matthew, he’s German and we meet him early on in the series). But because Thóra loves her parents, she lets them move in.

One of the things I enjoy about Sigurðardóttir’s series is that she gives us not only the that Thóra is working on, but glimpses on Thóra’s life at home as well. The first couple of books in the series are the best, especially because Sigurðardóttir mixed the traditional crime novel with domestic life of a family and added lots of humor. Sadly, there’s not quite as much humor in the latter titles.

That’s not to say that Someone To Watch Over Me isn’t an entertaining or interesting read, because it is. Though it’s a slow burn and the reveal doesn’t come near the end — too close, really — the novel is interesting and once it gets going, Sigurðardóttir keeps the pace high.

The case that Thóra takes is an old one. She’s asked to reopen a murder and arson investigation that happened some years prior. A fired burned up a home for disabled adults and a young man with Down’s Syndrome, Jakob, has been imprisoned for it, though he was ruled as mentally incompetent (I believe). Instead of throwing facts at us or not doing her research, Sigurðardóttir makes sure that Thóra is aware of her shortcomings in knowledge about mentally and physically disabled persons in general as well as Down’s Syndrome specifically. Through Thóra, we’re given a brief history of disabilities in Iceland, including what has and hasn’t changed. This information is given both all in one go, and scattered throughout the conversations Thóra has with people involved in the case.

Throughout the novel, we’re given chapters that focus on different crimes, all of them related to Jakob’s case, but neither we, nor Thóra (when she discovers them) know how they’re related. We follow the story of a young mother and her family who believe they’re haunted by the ghost, a young man who runs a radio program, the psychopath who hired Thóra to look into Jakob’s case as well as other people as they come up in Thóra’s investigations.

Of course, Sigurðardóttir treats all her characters well and makes them interesting, but none of them have the depth that Thóra does, if only because she’s our main character. My biggest complaint is that Sigurðardóttir tends to include a bit of repetition within Thóra’s life; especially related to her parents, Matthew and her terrible secretary, Bella. These are problems in all of her novels, not just this one, and are easily overlooked because the case is so interesting.

In spite of the slow burn and my other minor complaints, I enjoyed Someone To Watch Over Me. The story — was Jakob innocent and if he is, who started the fire at the home — is compelling and the cast of characters who could have started the fire was long. Thóra’s investigations were interesting and I always enjoy the way she doggedly, but in her own way, manages to get the truth. She’s a smart woman and doesn’t let anything, even her relative lack computer skills, get her down.

Like her previous Thóra novels, Sigurðardóttir manages to balance Thóra’s home life with the cases she’s working on. I would recommend this book only if you’ve read the others, as some of it wouldn’t make sense. I can’t vouch that the information about disabilities and the disabled in Iceland is correct, but I have no reason to believe it’s not.

If you like crime novels and are looking for something different than the traditional police procedural, I would recommend the first of Sigurðardóttir’s Thóra Gudmundsdóttir novels: Last Rituals.

Music Sundays: GIRIBOY (기리보이) – Back And Forth 30min (왕복 30분) (Feat. Shin Jisu (신지수))

I used to like Giriboy’s music, but sort of fell out of love with it. But my friend H had me watch this video and it’s pretty great! The lyrics are amusing (click on cc if they don’t show up automatically), the MV is very funny and the song is just … it’s cute, I guess? I don’t know, I’m strangely fond of it.

Series Review: Doctor Stranger (SBS)

Note: this was originally posted on a different blog, but I’m moving it here because it’s more relevant. It written in July of 2014.

Warning: Spoilers for all 20 episodes of DS.

Park Hae Jin in Doctor Stranger via PHJ's Weibo.

Park Hae Jin in Doctor Stranger via PHJ’s Weibo.

I was first introduced to Park Hae Jin on old episodes of Family Outing, a show which I still adore (though only that first season). Up until deciding to watch Doctor Stranger, the extent of my watching PHJ was a handful of episodes of My Love From Another Star*. I like him for all the superficial reasons, but I had no idea what he was like as an actor. Sure, he seemed to do a good job in those 5 (I think?) episodes of MYFAS, but that’s not enough to really go on. Plus, I’d heard great things about Lee Jong Suk (and he’s in at least one thing I want to watch). And while I don’t really like medical dramas, I figured this might be interesting. After all, a guy escapes from North Korea and becomes a doctor, it sounds good!

And those first couple of episodes? They were brilliant. All the back story that built up LJS’s character was incredibly well done. The cinematography, plot, and acting were spot on. And then the show caught up to read time and devolved into a mess. It wasn’t immediate and I didn’t quite realize what was going on. I liked LJS’s tears and PHJ’s ice cold demeanor. I thought the show had potential … and I guess it did? And maybe that’s the root of the problem. It had so much potential that I kept watching in hopes that it might realize the potential.

For example, the early scenes between Jin Se Yeon (Jae Hee/Seung Hee) were exception and understated. Many of flirty scenes between LJS and Kang So Ra’s Soo Hyun were promising because their chemistry was palpable. This was a storyline I wanted to follow. And the true reveal (for what we already knew or perhaps I guessed) about PHJ’s character’s true identity finally gave me something to hold onto. Revenge makes for good drama (I did quite enjoy Golden Cross) and I thought that, perhaps, PHJ would get to (no pun intended) act on it. Unfortunately none of these story lines carried through from one episode to the next, much less throughout the whole show.

When Hoon (LJS) discovers that his first love has come back, there’s no chemistry. When Soo Hyun and Jae Joon (PHJ) have scenes together, there’s almost no chemistry — which in this case is not the actor’s fault. All the Hoon and Soo Hyun scenes have shown us who should end up together. It’s only the interactions between Chang Yi (played exceptionally well by Sistar’s Bora) and Hoon as well as Chang Yi and her love interest, Chi Gyu (played by Lee Jae Won, who was in H.O.T, which I had no idea), that were consistently entertaining throughout the whole show. That’s pretty sad, guys.

And yet, in spite of all of this — the bad acting, the plot holes as big as the Lake Michigan, and the nonsensical episodes, I KEPT WATCHING. I don’t know if it was the magnetic power of  PHJ’s beauty or the chance I might get to see LJS cry again — or maybe it’s as simple as watching a train wreck (at least no one was actually hurt) when you can’t look away. It wasn’t hate watching, because I never actually hated the show (that’s what Level 7 Civil Servant devolved into — it took a sheer force of will to keep watching it). But there was something that kept me watching.

I’ll probably never know and, to be frank, I’m fine with not knowing. Why? Because it’s over. I never, ever have to watch it again.

And I’ll end on this note. Every time someone asked me about the show/what I was watching, I would struggle to describe it, except to say that Doctor Stranger took place in the single worst hospital ever. I still stand by that statement. That being said, though. I’m looking forward to watching LJS in I Hear Your Voice and PHJ in his new murderer/serial killer (?) role. And maybe one day I’ll finish YWCFTS.

*It’s not quite a year later (give it a few months) and while I’ve watched some more of YWCFTS/MLFAS (My Love From Another Star) I don’t think I’ll ever be able to finish it. It’s just terrible, or at least terrible to me (and my friend who is currently powering through). Sorry, PHJ.