Wednesday, March 25, 2015

#CBR7 Review #13: Locke & Key, vol. 6 – Alpha & Omega by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez

The concluding volume of Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez’s comic series Locke & Key is full of carnage, and I didn’t expect anything different. There is resolution, and yet so many more mysteries left to be explored in this world and with all the magical keys and the history of key house. The only truly bad thing about this book was that it had to end, after everything came to a head and we were left to see where the resulting pieces would end up.

 “Alpha & Omega” takes us to the night of prom for the Locke children, as they plan to have an after-party rave in the caverns by their the Lovecraft house. But Bode, still possessed by the spirit of Luke/”Dodge,” has other ideas for how the night shall end, as he appears to hold all the cards in his little game: with almost all of the magical keys in his possession, and no one aware that he is not in fact Bode anymore, Luke is free to play a game that results in his ultimate quest for a world of select loyal followers and slaves. But there is one hitch in his plan, the unlikely hero of mentally disabled, Rufus, who knows more than he is given credit for.

I knew that things were going to come to a breaking point in this volume, like one final showdown of the Locke’s versus the demon inside their once friend, now family member. And it certainly didn’t disappoint, with expressive language, engaging artwork, and somewhat devastating results. There are so many intriguing characters in this series and some moments of real emotion that I just can’t stop gushing. (Okay, maybe the feelings I had were slighty related to the somewhat disheartened state my heart was already in upon learning of Zayn’s departure from One Direction. Fight me about it). There is one scene in the concluding little section where loose ends are being tied that I can’t fully wrap my head around, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.

In all honesty, I would recommend this series to a lot of people, especially if you like things that are imaginative, full of mystery, and aren’t afraid for things to get pretty dark at times (even within the first part of the first book in this series we experience intense scenes of blood and butchery). They are all unique and I always ended up reading them super quickly due to how enthralled I was. Maybe a re-read will be in order to see if I catch new things that I didn’t the first time around?

[Be sure to visit the Cannonball Read main site!]

A Short Note on Zayn Leaving One Direction

I am saddened to hear about Zayn Malik's decision to leave One Direction at this time, just as it is always saddening to hear about a member of your favourite band leaving, as now it just won't feel quite the same any more.
But the most disheartening thing of all in this situation, is how something that used to make Zayn so happy became something that he just couldn't do anymore. Those boys have been worked so hard over the past (almost) five years, and need a break. I am just happy that Zayn has been able to step back and say that enough is enough, and make the decision to focus on his own well-being. Because how many times have we seen people being pushed too far? He needs to do what is right for him. I wish him all the best, and of course will still love their music as it has made me so happy on so many different occasions.
All my love to Zayn, Louis, Liam, Niall, and Harry, wherever they may be at this time. 

Monday, March 23, 2015

#CBR7 Review #12: Locke & Key, vol. 5 – Clockworks by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez

The penultimate collected volume of Joe Hill’s Locke & Key series (illustrated by Gabriel Rodriguez) provides some history regarding the Lovecraft residence, the history of the magical keys, and how the patriarch of the Locke family became implicated in the history of the house and what is occurring now, back when he was just a teenager. Unlike the previous volumes of this dark and inventive series, past events are the focus of “Clockworks,” and we get some answers as to what the house and keys are all about, and even where they came from. Yet many things remain up in the air, which I am excited to unravel in the concluding book, “Omega”.

“Clockworks” begins with a tale of a young blacksmith named Ben Locke in the Revolutionary War. Most of his family has been killed for harboring fugitives in the caves below Lovecraft, where a door to a demonic world has been found. Ben Locke works to create a lock and key in order to keep this door shut for forever, but also uses some of the metal that has come through the door in order to make other magical keys. These of course become the keys that the present-day Locke children keep finding around their house. 

Upon finding a key that allows them to visit the past as spirits (kind of in a Christmas Carol sort of way), Tyler and Kinsey Locke find this history, and also visit that of their father as a teenager. Their father had been staying at Lovecraft with some friends one year, and it is learned that only children can see and remember the magic of the keys, as a sort of safety trap that ensures no corrupt adult would ever be able to use this magic as a tool for war. Yet the past reveals just how Luke/”Dodge” ended up the way he is today: infected with the spirit of a demon that came through the door that was locked all those years ago. Meanwhile, little Bode lock is searching for the omega key which is what will once again open this door, for as we know from the previous book, “Keeper of the Keys,” Bode isn’t really Bode.

This series is grittier than I realized (not that that is a bad thing, and I really don't know why I'm so surprised by this), and full of imagination, magic, and mystery. Sometimes I get a little thrown off by the language and slurs used at people (oh no, I'm sensitive), but at the same time, isn’t that how people talk when they want to hurt someone? Also, it reflects some of the time-periods in which these events take place, so ultimately it works. All I know for certain in these stories in that there is a final showdown and tragedy on the horizon, where hopefully all the lingering questions I have will be answered and things will come to a head.

[Be sure to visit the Cannonball Read main site!]

Monday, March 16, 2015

#CBR7 Review #10-11: Chew, volumes 6 (Space Cakes) and 7 (Bad Apples) by John Layman and Rob Guillory

I seem to go through this comic book series in little stints. I’ll read a few, then take a break until I acquire some more, and then take another break. And while a few details always get lost here and there, it always manages to draw me back and I start to remember where I left off almost immediately. It’s different and fun, but also dark and dirty at parts, and the drawing style of Rob Guillory really reflects this dichotomy of moods and feelings constantly present within the Chew series: sometime you wonder why people are rendered with such strange proportions or images will be humorously exaggerated, only to then flip the page and find something grotesque on the other side. And yet it works: both the story itself and the drawing is engaging and unique, though I will say that I know a few people who are not particularly fans of the art style of Guillory.

In any case, Space Cakes and Bad Apples picks up some plotlines of the previous Chew installments that were almost starting to seem like they were scattering all over the place without coming together. But now they are! We continue following Tony Chu and his chibopathy (the ability to get a psychic vision of the past life of anything he eats) after he is found almost beaten to death by a hostage taking in volume 5. But in Space Cakes there is an increased focus on Tony’s sister, Toni, and her cibovoyant abilities (the ability to see the future of any living thing she eats, including any humans she bites in to). Toni becomes involved in some food-related cases due to her work with NASA, and her abilities are ultimately discovered by the Vampire who is collecting people with food-related abilities. These events lead to some tragic events that end up sparking a new fire in Tony to go after the Vampire, and I am curious to see how this plays out. These two volumes also feature a new role for Poyo, the killing-machine of a rooster, so that is of course ridiculous yet incredibly amusing.

With a host of new food abilities displayed in these two volumes (some of which are incredibly useless), as well as a collection of intriguing supporting characters (Tony’s ridiculous half-cyborg partner, John Colby, being a personal favourite), nothing is ever boring in Chew. Though sometimes it can be a bit gross or absurd. Because of that, it’s really hard to know who to recommend this series to; I enjoy it a lot, but I know that it would definitely not be well received by some people that I know. All I can say to summarize this reading experience is that it’s bizarre but in a really good way.

[Be sure to visit the Cannonball Read main site!]

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

#CBR7 Review #09: Children Helping Children with Grief by Beverly Chappell

Goodness, February was a hectic month. I feel like so much happened in such a short span of time: too much happened, really! Because I never even had a chance to finish any reading until now, just as I head into a school course focusing on grief and loss.

Beverly Chappell’s book, Children Helping Children with Grief: My Path to Founding the Dougy Center for Grieving Children and their Families does basically exactly what the title implies. It recount’s stories of Chappell and her husband working with various families and children who are experiencing family losses, and how these experiences influenced the ultimate creation of the Dougy Center for grieving children. It also recounts how some other influential people come to become involved with the center as well.

These stories are all told from a personal place, and are often touching to hear. However, being that this was a book that I was required to read for a school course, I was surprised and a little disappointed that there was no real, in-depth insight into how children are able to help other children with the grief process. Sure, there are touches here and there, but the overall method and how this might work is never really expanded on. So aside from being a nice story of the creation of the Dougy Center, I’m not sure I got a whole lot out of it.

But the one thing that will stick with me after reading this more than anything else is a reminder of the fact that children often know that something is going on when a family experiences a loss, yet they are often not involved in the grief process in the same way that adults are: adults are scared of how this information might affect the child, and so they do not explain fully what happened, or they explain the death to the child in a way that the child does not understand. It is difficult to say what exactly the best course of action is in any situation, but knowing that children are resilient and just need to process their experiences in their own way is important to remember. So we shall see what else I learn in the next week to come. 

For now, I will say that this book was not challenging to read and is interesting in it’s own way. I just feel like I wanted something a bit different out of it.

[Be sure to visit the Cannonball Read main site!]

Friday, February 6, 2015

#CBR7 Review #08: The Art of Grief by J. Earl Rogers

I come to read a book on with grief through creative arts therapies at a time wherein I face the impending death of a family member. And I am restless. Being a fidgety person to begin with, I can’t keep my hands still when my mind is full of all kinds of thoughts: preparing for courses in school, learning about grief for an upcoming class, dealing with loss and grief myself, and all other kinds of things. And so I draw. My hands take what I am feeling and put a part of me on a page. And I am not entirely okay, but I also don’t feel like I’m drowning like I have felt all too much recently for far too many reasons. But enough about me…

The Art of Grief: The Use of Expressive Arts in a Grief Support Group is predominantly set up as a guide to running bereavement support groups that utilize the expressive arts as a process of healing and working through grief. Different practitioners with a variety of creative and therapeutic backgrounds contribute ideas and sessions that are set up as a guide for running an 8-session group. Practical matters of materials and working with a few different populations (ie, adapting for children or teens) are discussed, as well as the manner in which these approaches may be helpful for those experiencing loss. I can see myself how some of these sessions would be helpful for me in processing grief, but I can also see how some might not work as well for myself. But that’s how it goes with anyone: some people are more receptive and open up better to different mediums than others. Musicians may write songs. Artists may paint. Dancers may move. All are expressions and therefore, extensions of the self. Or so I believe. 

But along with the practical matters and ideas for art therapists and counsellors to use in running groups, a number of personal stories and experiences are also shared in how the creative arts have assisted those dealing with losses, terminal illness, etc. Those personal stories are a great touch to staunch what might become an overly impersonal setup of “here’s a plan of what to do”. But overall I would say that this is more of a book for those who are studying and interested in setting up some sort of bereavement support group, than anything else.

[Be sure to visit the Cannonball Read main site!]

Friday, January 30, 2015

#CBR7 Review #07: Case Approach to Counselling and Psychotherapy by Gerald Corey

This is a misleading little textbook in terms of how long it actually takes to get through it. I thought, “oh it’s so small compared to my other books, this will be easy!” But no. The writing is compact and while there is a lot of dialogue in the presented case studies to make things interesting, overall it is quite dry and I found it hard to focus on what I was reading. That is not to say that it wasn’t informative! But as compared to the other two textbooks I’ve read so far this year, it’s been the most difficult to get through.

In this book, Gerald Corey presents the hypothetical counseling case of “Ruth”, and provides information that might be acquired during an intake interview. Corey then invites counselors from a variety of different theoretical perspectives to describe what their style of counseling might involve when working with someone like Ruth. There is also an inclusion at the end of each chapter with discussion on what Corey’s process would be with Ruth within each specified theoretical framework. These theories involve perspective ranging from psychodynamic to humanistic, from family therapy to multicultural perspectives, from gestalt to cognitive behavioral, and more.

The range of practices and theories presented is a good, diverse spread, and each makes sense in their own way of working with the same patient. But of course, there are some that I myself am more drawn to than others, as is always the case with each individual person. Overall this book is full of great information on the subject of counseling and practically working with the different theories, however it is an instructional book, and not exactly the most fun thing to read (and let’s not even get started on the price of textbooks today. My heart weeps at the thought of it).

[Be sure to visit the Cannonball Read main site!]

Sunday, January 25, 2015

#CBR07 Review #06: The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

Achilles: No wonder the sky is so gray today, bro.
Patroclus: Why, bro?
Achilles: Because all the blue is in your eyes.
Patroclus: Bro.

There are a number of different interpretations as to what the exact nature of the relationship between Achilles and Patroclus was in Greek Mythology. I mean, we know that they loved each other. For real. But was it a brothers-in-arms kind of deal? Nah. It’s pretty widely accepted that they were in fact lovers. Yet Patroclus is often seen as little more than a side-character in the Illiad, despite the fact that his death has such an effect on the outcome of the war. And so, Madeline Miller chose to write The Song of Achilles from Patroclus’ point of view, which largely focuses on the relationship between Patroclus and Achilles.

Patroclus is a great narrator for the tale, and you begin to feel for him even before he becomes entwined in the myth of the great hero, Achilles. Because how much do we hear about his life before the war in any of the other major Greek stories? Very little. It all begins as a coming-of-age tale for Patroclus and Achilles, whose lives are brought together after Patroclus is exiled from his home. Patroclus becomes a companion for the prince, Achilles, and really the whole thing is a matter of two people spending a lot of time together until one day they realize, whoa, I think I actually love you. The progression of their relationship feels natural and gentle, yet in the early parts of the novel I found myself forgetting just how young the two boys were, and picturing them as far more mature in my mind. But I guess that’s how things were in Ancient Greece, huh? At 16, you are a man (or so the novel says).

Soon after this age of adulthood is hit, however, the Trojan War inevitably begins, and we see how the boys grow old over the long course of the war. How Achilles’ want to become famous as a hero affects him and his decisions. How the politics of war can be shady and underhand and hurt relationships and the status of heroes. We know from the beginning that neither Patroclus nor Achilles will live through this war, and they know it too. And that just adds to the tragedy of their story together.

I thoroughly enjoyed The Song of Achilles, and the way in which this other side to Achilles and his life are finally shown. All we ever tend to see is the story of him in the war, and how he is finally undone by a shot to his heel. Yet this myth of him being immortal excepting the one spot on his heel is not even present in this novel. He is but an exceptionally great warrior, and a mortal one. His Goddess mother, Thetis, wishes Achilles to be a God, and so therefore hates that he loves a simple mortal man. But the temperaments of Achilles and Patroclus match, and I would say that Patroclus is indeed worthy of Achilles’ love, despite what Thetis might say.

The writing of this novel is also rich and beautiful. You can tell that a lot of thought and research additionally went in to being authentic with the story, as well as having Gods and Goddesses present to show how these rituals and beliefs inevitably affected many of the actions of people in Ancient Greece. Yet, if there was one thing that bothered me about this book, it would be the portion after Patroclus dies. He is the narrator, yet he is dead, and still present as a spirit to tell the story. While this definitely works, due to the belief that since Patroclus was not given a proper burial initially he is therefore forced to remain among the living world, it comes across as a bit awkward at the first. The wording of his narration when he first dies left me confused as to what was happening, if he was really dead or still in the process of dying, and even who was being talked about at certain points. After this settled in my brain, however, it all worked out. And then the end of the Trojan War is rushed through a little bit, just to wrap things up. Though seeing as Patroclus and Achilles were the focus of the book, it makes sense as to why things were a little bit breezed through at the end, even if it felt a tad anticlimactic to me.

Overall, I really enjoyed The Song of Achilles, and absolutely breezed through it because I just wanted to keep reading. So I would definitely recommend others to check it out and see if it strikes a fancy. 

[Be sure to visit the Cannonball Read main site!]

Sunday, January 18, 2015

#CBR7 Review #05: The Death Cure by James Dashner

The concluding novel in James Dashner’s “Maze Runner” trilogy has a similar, helpless and not really know what the heck is going on feeling as the preceding two novels of the series. Yet being unsure and running around just trying to figure things out fell a little flat in this book, and almost seemed redundant and like they were treading water for far too long, until a hasty (though reasonably good) showdown near the end. I am glad to have gotten to the end and to finally have at least some answers as to what the maze and everything was about, though a few things still seem to be up in the air… and I don’t know if I’m entirely satisfied.

The first book of the trilogy (The Maze Runner) is very strong and interesting, and leaves you with so many questions that you just want answered. The second book (The Scorch Trials) were difficult for me to get through, and I found them tedious and not nearly as intriguing as the first novel, and even though it ended on a cliff-hanger, I found myself really not caring all that much about what happened after the final page. This concluding piece to the trilogy (The Death Cure) falls somewhere in the middle, and I finally brought myself to reading it after seeing the film for the first novel and realizing that, hey, I kind of do want to know how it all ends. Plus Dylan O’Brien has really pretty eyes.

The Death Cure picks up with Thomas and the rest of the Gladers at the WICKED headquarters after being picked up from crossing the scorch as a part of their second phase of testing. They learn that they were chosen for testing to read their brains due to being immune to the Flare disease that is infecting countless people on the planet (well, most of them are immune anyways), and WICKED plans to give all the subjects their memories back in order to complete the final phases of testing. Thomas, Minho, and Newt, however, refuse to learn about their pasts in helping WICKED and break out of the facility with Brenda, who they met in the scorch but happens to actually work for WICKED as well.

From there, they finally get to see what has become of the world and what cities look like now. Upon reaching the city of Denver, they realize they need to figure out what to do next, what the best plan is for not only their survival, but also others who may be threatened by WICKED’s continuing plan to wrangle up new subjects to put through grueling trials in a search for a cure for the flare. There is a lot of running around and not really knowing where to go or what to do, and new alliances are made with a group called the Right Arm who want to take down WICKED, and old alliances are put to the test. There is always a continual question of who is to be trusted and if what Thomas and his friends are doing is the right thing. Just like in the other books, we have as little knowledge of what is really going on as Thomas does, which sometimes can be intriguing, but can also be frustrating as there always seems to be more questions than answers. Inevitably, everything ends in a showdown between Thomas, his allies, and WICKED.

Dashner writes quite good action sequences, though sometimes they fall into the trap like what often happens in The Hobbit films: something or someone pops out of nowhere to save a person right before they are stabbed/shot/fall off something, etc. You could also see that there was an attempt to make an emotional piece with Theresa and Thomas near the very end and yet I found that I just stopped caring for Theresa a long time ago. And some others. Though not everyone. It was kind of mixed-bag in terms of affection for characters, to be honest. 

Overall I feel as though the ending somewhat makes sense and ties things together reasonably well, and yet I still feel like I wanted more. I’m not sure what it is that I think is missing, but there’s just… something.

[Be sure to visit the Cannonball Read main site!]

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

#CBR7 Review #04: The Silver Drawing Test and Draw a Story by Rawley Silver

When I tell people that I am studying art therapy they often say things like: “so if I showed you one of my drawings you’d be able to tell me what’s wrong with me?” Um… no. That’s not how it works. Everyone approaches artwork from their own experiences with their own perspectives, and therefore often interpret pieces very differently from one another. Sometimes they aren’t even close to what the artist themselves intended. But whatever comes from the artist through their creative expression is an extension of the self, and can possibly provide some clues, cues, or ideas that may be further explored, but as guided by the client’s needs (and not hasty therapist interpretations which may end up being misleading).

Yet there are some simple drawing tasks that have been developed that can act as basic assessment tests. Presented in this book are the Silver Drawing Test, which assesses cognitive and emotional development, and the Draw a Story assessment which may be used to predict depression and aggression. These are two widely uses assessment tools, which can be administered by a range of practitioners in the helping professions.

The book itself details the development and application of these tests, and presents research studies, case studies, and specific areas wherein the test has been used. In this way, it can be shown the different ways in which the tests have either been shown to be valid, typical results and differences in different populations, as well as certain areas wherein the test may still require room for development and further research into it’s usage and the administering of it. I am giving the book a strong rating due to the fact that it was very understandable, particularly as compared to a number of the other books I’ve had to read for school lately. There were a lot of numbers presented and some of them went a bit over my head, but overall it wasn’t too tedious to get through as far as textbooks go.

The Silver Drawing Test was first created as a means of trying to assess intelligence in some non-verbal children, as typically it is through language or words that our cognitive and intellectual abilities are assessed. For these types of clients, instructions may need to be written or pantomimed in order to be understood. The test itself includes 3 parts:
  1. Predictive Drawing: those being tests are given a task which involves them drawing a sequence or predicting how something should look in a certain situation, such as how water will sit in a bottle if it is tilted.
  2. Drawing from Observation: an arrangement will be laid out to draw by those being tested. Scores are typically made as based on how spatial relationships are portrayed between items, as well as the representations themselves.
  3. Drawing from Imagination: the clients are given a number of sheets/a booklet with various drawings of figures, animals, objects, etc. on them. They are asked to draw an image that tells a story that involves one or two of the figures within the books. The story is then written or dictated, so that they can be scored on emotional content, as well as representational and creative content.

Together, the three tasks of the test can be useful in determining different cognitive abilities of those tested, which may include observations of spatial relationships, ability to think abstractly, or ability to combine different elements cohesively, among other things. Depending on how the tests go, further assessment may be needed, or work on a particular area of emotionality, cognitive aspects of thinking to better align with their stage of development.

The Draw a Story test is similar to the Drawing from Imagination task within the Silver Drawing Test: clients are given a number of images of figures, people, animals, etc. and asked to create a story out of them in a drawing. The story is then recounted and titled, either by writing or dictating to someone administering the test. After this, the image is scored on three 5-point scales:
  1. Emotional Content: whether the image depicts a largely positive, largely negative, or ambivalent fantasy.
  2. Self-Image: is the person who created the image somehow represented within the drawing or not? Is the figure they identify with portrayed in a positive or negative fashion? How does the person seem to feel about themselves through their image.
  3. Use of Humor: though humor is not always present, a score is given based on whether the humor present in the image is morbid, self-disparaging, resilient, or playful.

Scores are then assessed together to determine if there are any indicators of possible depression or aggression within the individuals based on how they performed. In general, negative fantasies with high self-images tend to be predictors of aggression. Negative fantasies with lower self-image also tend to be predictors of depression. Yet it is important to keep in mind that other factors may be present, and this is just one assessment that may then be built upon. It is also often necessary to speak to the client about their drawing or have the story explanation to really see how they are identifying in their image (if at all), and to determine the true mood of the picture, given how misinterpretation may happen with artwork.

The one thing that I didn’t always necessarily understand within these tests was how to score for humor. Maybe it is more evident when actually administering tests, but the examples given, I saw things and would have no idea whether the person who depicted the story thought it was humorous or not. In general, however, The Silver Drawing Test and Draw a Story was very informative, and I appreciated the many cases and examples of application in practice to really understand how it might be used in a variety of cases.

[Be sure to visit the Cannonball Read main site!]