Tuesday, October 14, 2014

#CBR6 Review #26: Kingdom of Scars by Eoin Macken

The simplest way to describe Eoin Macken’s debut novel Kingdom is Scars would be to say that it’s about an Irish boy just living his life and experiencing the things that teenage boys go through: trying to fit in and become a part of a group, being bullied at school, disrespecting authority, flirting with petty crime, first sexual encounters, being unsure how to deal with girls, drinking, smoking, and all other kinds of things.

And while this may make it seem like just another one of those novels trying to be ultra profound about growing up and coming into manhood, Kingdom of Scars doesn’t seem to try and be extremely poetic about the experiences at all; that is not to say that there is no skill in the writing, but the story told just plays out as if to say, “it is what it is”. In fact, I have difficulty describing what the overall plot of action would be in this novel, as it comes across almost as a series of connected vignettes of one boy’s experiences that come to affect him, his actions, his relationships, and his understandings of the world. Our lives are a series of moments and experiences that shape us, and that is what I see Kingdom of Scars as describing.

The protagonist of the novel is young Sam, who lacks a circle of friends at school (save for one boy), and is trying desperately to be fully accepted by a group of boys who he lives by that he likes to hang out with on a regular basis. The novel follows Sam for a period of time as he engages in different acts and experiences with the boys he wants to be a part of, as he is introduced to a girl and takes his first steps into the world of dating and sex, and as he learns what it means to assert yourself when you need to. In the middle part of the novel I got a little excited by the prospect of there possibly even being a little bit of a surprise paranormal element to the story, but that didn’t really play out like I thought it might (not that that’s a bad thing, I just really like supernatural stuff).

More than anything, however, I was struck by how Kingdom of Scars seems to examine this idea of the illusions we hold of people (though that might just be my interpretation of it): Sam would be seen holding people in such high regard and wanting to be closer to them, only to find that perhaps people are not all that they seem once we do break the barriers and come to know them better. People float in and out of our good graces as our illusions of them are broken by their actions or our new understandings of things, and the more you learn about someone or go through your life experiences, the more you come to grow in terms of seeing people for who they truly are, and seeing yourself for you who are. These are the things that I ended up thinking about while I was reading this novel, and I particularly enjoyed the fact that it got my mind going about such topics.

Overall, I read Kingdom of Scars quickly, and it’s not difficult to get through as the language is reasonably straightforward and effective. While many may be tired of reading angsty teenage stories about growing up and experiencing the world, I found the novel to be illustrative on the experiences that many may have, and to be presented in a way that was simple and not exhausting like I often find some of the more weighty writing styles to be. But then again, that’s just me!

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

Monday, September 29, 2014

#CBR6 #23-25: Systems Therapy, Genograms, and Helping Skills

More textbooks! I swear this isn’t all I read, but when you have to read so much for school, the last thing you want to do when you have free time is crack open another book (so shameful, really, but I just got a few new comic books I should be able to work my way through soon!). And so, here are a few more of my required readings for my current educational program in art therapy.

This joint review is for the following:
- Essential Skills in Family Therapy: From the First Interview to Termination (2nd edition) by Patterson, Williams, Edwards, and Chamow
- Genograms: Assessment and Intervention (3rd edition) by McGoldrick, Gerson, and Petry
- Helping Skills: Facilitating Exploration, Insight, and Action (4th edition) by Clara E. Hill

First things first, “Essential Skills in Family Therapy” focuses on the basics of working with families and other systems in therapy. What I liked most about it was the fact that they did not assume the reader would be well-versed in any particular therapeutic language and addressed the reader as a “beginning therapist,” as this is basically an introductory book to working with family systems. It also made sure to note many common fears and issues that beginning therapists have, with tips on how to deal with these as they arise, as a way of putting the reader’s mind at ease, which I definitely appreciated as right now I am not the most confident person when it comes to therapeutic skill.

“Genograms: Assessment and Intervention” is a basic starter book on how to both build and explore genograms in a therapeutic setting. There are some interesting genograms included as examples of different famous or historical families, which shed some interesting light on various families that I never knew before (though it is pointed out that the information included is what has been shared in public record and may not be 100% factual, though it is often believed to be). And although the book goes deep into how to interpret genograms and work with them, I found it beneficial in a simple sense of coming to be familiar with what genograms are, how to start creating basic ones, and how they can be useful in therapy and exploration of the self through looking at patterns and history and relations to others in one’s life.

Finally, “Helping Skills” is another introductory book on the helping and therapeutic professions. I have a bit of knowledge in these areas, and the book is thick and I felt like it was dragging in parts that I was already familiar with (though that is no one’s fault but my own). Like the Family Therapy book discussed above, it also lays down some guidelines and examples of working in therapy, along with skills that one should know and typical issues that a beginning or inexperienced therapist might run into, along with tips on how to potentially avoid these issues and how to deal with them when they occur.

All three of the books have been helpful in one way or another, but at the end of the day they are textbooks, and I’m not sure who would want to read them unless someone was just generally curious as to the basics of working with genograms, family, and individual therapy.

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

Monday, August 18, 2014

#CBR6 Review #22: American Vampire, vol. 3 by Scott Snyder and Rafael Albuquerque

I have this problem where I always say I’m going to read the next volume or book in a series as soon as I can, but since I always have so many series on the go, it ends up being far too long before I actually get reading the next installment. In any case, it’s been a while since I’ve read any American Vampire, but fortunately I seemed to remember most of the characters and what-have-yous from the previous volumes when I picked up this third collection of issues #12-18.

Volume 3 is split into two major stories, both set within the timeframe of World War II. The first tale, “Ghost War” focuses on the vampire Pearl’s husband, Henry, as he goes on a mission to Japan in the hunt of a new breed of vampire, only to find an island with an infestation that is far more than he (and a tag-along Skinner Sweet) had bargained for. The second half focuses on a miniseries entitled “Survival of the Fittest,” with vampire hunters Felicia Book and Cash McCogan going to Nazi-occupied Romania in search of a cure for vampirism, that Felicia desperately wants in order to remove the non-manifested vampiric blood she has in her veins, while Cash wants to use the cure on his vampire son. But when they go, they find that perhaps their enemies at war are not necessarily searching for a cure, but to ally with the creatures of the night, while the doctor searching for the vampiric cure has other ideas in mind regarding the awakening of great vampires of ancient history.

As per usual, the action is fast-paced, and the story of the vampire bloodlines and evolution is very interesting as we continue our trek through history. The only thing that I was having trouble with was discerning certain character faces from one another at different times, particularly the soldiers while they were in Japan. But I don’t know, maybe that’s just me. In any case, this may not be my favourite comic-book series, but I still enjoy it quite a bit nonetheless.

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

Sunday, August 10, 2014

#CBR6 Review #21: Zeus Grants Stupid Wishes by Cory O’Brien

“Hey, is there a female version of wingman? Wingwoman sounds awkward. I’m coining a new phrase: Titcaptain. Tell your friends.”

This is it, that book that became a sensation because of Tumblr. And that is in fact where I first found out about it too, only to be so intrigued by the hilarious chapter titles (ie, “Ganesh is the Very Definition of an Unplanned Pregnancy”) that I had to read it.
Essentially, Zeus Grants Stupid Wishes is a collection of a few myths from various cultures and religions, but told in a somewhat non-canonical but still reasonably accurate manner (the degree of keeping canon to the source material varies from story to story and the author’s familiarity with it, it seems). And the manner of retelling is absolutely hilarious, as though some bro just got really jazzed about some myths and HAD to tell you about them because they are so strange and interesting: O’Brien doesn’t hesitate to mention how weird and random these myths are, no matter what culture or religion they are from, spanning from Japanese to African, from American History legends to Native American creation, Christian biblical tales to Buddhism and Scientology, and even some evolutionary science of the creation of the universe. But what ties these stories all together is how themes and personas seem to crossover between many cultures, and the ridiculous “moral” to each story that is added to the end, such as: “although the temptation may be great, you should not assume that everybody you meet is a shape-shifter. It is almost as dangerous as not assuming everyone you meet is a shape-shifter."

The neat little wrapup that is provided at the end of the book is also a nice touch (although quite a shift in tone), as it basically summarizes the idea that no one way of looking at these things is necessarily correct, and all these myths and stories have just been created by people to try and make an account for things that we may not be able to understand or explain in some ways.

Some of the cultures’ myths made no sense to me the way they were told (such as Egyptian, though I am not very familiar with these myths at all), while others were an absolute riot, such as Greek and Norse in particular which I do have a little experience in learning before. Basically, it’s the even cruder and non-censored version of these myths told in the most outlandish way possible, and if you are familiar with the myths to begin with you can’t help but laugh and think, “that’s it! That’s exactly what happened!”

I will admit, however, that reading this in one shot might be a bit much: the humor gets a little tiring at times if you read too much at once, so I would suggest doing it in small installments (which is easy as each chapter is reasonably short and quick to read). I can also see how this humor is not for everyone as well; it’s a little coarse at times, but honestly I just heard myself while I read in my head, and the way that I like to explain stories to my friends in the most flippant and excitable manner. All in all, however, I laughed out loud a few times, and would recommend Zeus Grants Stupid Wishes to anyone who enjoys mythology and all the wacky stuff that happens therein.

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

Monday, July 14, 2014

#CBR6 Review #20: Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

With accompanying illustrations by Keith Thompson, Leviathan is a young adult’s Steampunk mechanics vs. Biopunk Darwinists tale set within an alternate history of the initiation of World War I. And at the end of it I was thinking, “that’s it? That’s where you leave me?” only to be pleasantly surprised to discover that Leviathan is only the first in a series of novels (how I wasn’t aware of this before, I’m not sure) that I definitely plan on continuing with when I am able to.

The story begins with two separate focuses: Alek, the prince of the Autro-Hungarian Empire, on the run from the country that has turned on him with a small group of loyal men after his parents are assassinated, and Deryn, a young woman who disguises herself as a male in order to join the British Air Service. For the first half of the novel we see these two young people’s lives being swept into adventure and danger as the beginning of the war in Europe unfolds, and I kept wondering how their two paths would ultimately cross, where they eventually did. But the Austrians are what are known as “Clankers” and invested in creating mechanical war machines, while the English are “Darwinists” who biologically engineer animals and creatures for their usage: does this mean that these two young people will be enemies based on their national backgrounds, or unlikely allies due to the secrets that both of them hold?

The descriptions of Leviathan are vivid, making you feel as though you can really see and hear the strange contraptions and creatures presented, though Keith Thompson’s illustrations scattered throughout help to understand Scott Westerfeld’s vision of this world he has created. The illustrations are detailed and wonderful to see, and the story itself moves along at a quick pace, though I often found myself drawn far more to Deryn’s story than that of Alek’s, despite the fact that I sometimes found Deryn’s use of slang terms of her time/class to be a little over-used or unnecessary. Perhaps my preference from Deryn came from loving the feisty attitude she held, while Alek often seemed a bit too irritating and pompous for my tastes, though that definitely is an important aspect to the character.

Overall, however, and keeping in mind the fact that Leviathan was written to appeal to young adults, I definitely found myself enjoying it and wondering how exactly the reimagining of historical events would turn out. I guess the simplest way to describe this book would be to say that it was just a fun and easy read, with some interesting and creative visions thrown in there. Hopefully I can find and read the next in the series, Behemoth, soon!

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

Friday, July 4, 2014

Some Drawings I've Been Working On...

Although I am also posting this over on my art blog, I am excited to be finished an art project I've been working on for a while (especially since I haven't had a whole lot of time to work on projects for myself recently)! And that project is a set of portraits of all the lovely young men in One Direction. Did I also mention that I'm going to Arizona to see them in concert for the first time later this year? I'm extremely excited for it! In any case, here is my completed project, though I still have to actually physically attach them in a single frame in order to put it up somewhere.

Each drawing itself is 3.6''x10'' in pencil, using various references (and you can see a somewhat closer look at each of them individually: here). 
So what do we think? Do we like them? Personally, despite the fact that I am always insanely critical about my own artwork, I'm pretty pleased about with they all turned out.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

#CBR6 Review #19: Peter Panzerfaust, vol. 2 – Hooked by Kurtis J. Wiebe and Tyler Jenkins

It’s been almost a year (if not more) since I read the first volume in the Peter Panzerfaust series, which I absolutely adored! And so I had forgotten a few details about what actually happened in the previous installment. But once I got into it, I remembered quickly, and thoroughly enjoyed this second volume entitled “Hook”.

This volume includes issues #6-10 of the comic series, and picks up with one of the French orphans, Julien, at an older age; here, Julien recounts the tales of his group of brothers in war led by Peter, as they try to find and rescue their lost friend, Felix. Along the way, the group meets up with a French resistance, and joins forces with them. One of these French members is a young woman named Tiger Lily, who is tough as nails and Julien soon falls for. We also once again meet Kapitan Haken, whose encounter with Peter is very intriguing due to that which it seems to reveal, but also leave hidden about who Peter truly is.

All in all, this volume continues with an interesting take on the classic story of Peter Pan, but set during the Second World War. The drawings by Tyler Jenkins are energetic and engaging, and I thoroughly enjoyed the inclusion of some strong female characters in this volume. I just wish that each volume could be longer, so I guess I will have to try and pick up another one soon to keep going with these captivating characters.

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

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

#CBR6 Reviews #17-18: More on Art Therapy...

I promise that I will read and review something different soon, I’ve just been very focused on my school readings right now. And so, here is some more on art therapy! And two very different approaches and focuses within the field at that:

- Studio Art Therapy: Cultivating the Artist Identity in the Art Therapist by Catherine Moon
- Introduction to Art Therapy: Sources & Resources by Judith A. Rubin

Judith Rubin’s Introduction to Art Therapy is just that: an overview of the different possibilities inherent in the field of art therapy, taking a look at the various pioneers of the field who contributed to its history and progression to today, as well as many of the different theories and practical models that may inform one’s practice. The book is a conglomerate of a broad scope of information, yet doesn’t go too in-depth in any particular area. Interspersed throughout, Rubin provides personal cases that she has faced with a number of clients over the years, showing how each client who receives art therapy is different, and therefore requires a sensitivity from the therapist as to which approach will work best for them. While interesting, I found the book to be a little thin in terms of providing just a quick glimpse of a wide range of topics and theories, without providing any true of understanding of any of them. But as a starting-point to possibly inspire more researching and reading into one of the many areas covered? That’s basically what I felt like I was getting into.

Catherine Moon’s Studio Art Therapy on the other hand, was presented as though the reader was already an art therapist (or someone studying art therapy) themselves. Although she clearly presented some of the practical and theoretical bases of the field and her practice, the majority of the book came across as a personal reflection of the importance of knowing the self before being able to help others or to sense what another may need. Many of the stories of clients and experiences Moon presents show how much she relies on her senses and being attuned to the situation and energy of those around her to determine what best to do in any therapeutic situation. Maybe coming across as a bit whimsical or metaphysical at times, I appreciated how sensitive Moon appears to be to others and their needs, as well as her own. This is definitely a skill that I am trying to work on in myself, particularly for my own future studies and (hopefully) work in art therapy.

At the end of the day, Judith Rubin’s introductory book might be good for someone who wants an overview of the field of art therapy, while Catherine Moon’s would be beneficial to those looking at practicing art therapy and being unsure as to how one might come to foster their identity as an artist, a therapist, or both.

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

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Does the Quarter-Life Crisis Exist?

Or is it just the "emerging adulthood" stage of life where you are supposed to be moving into the world as an adult, and yet so many things keep you in a stage of dependency like a child?
Just like those hitting middle-age have a mid-life crisis where they yearn to hold on to something from their youth or do something rash in an attempt to not feel so old, maybe those in their late teens and twenties are the same: but when does this happen? After high school when people take a year off to travel and discover themselves? But more and more now due to certain pressures, teens are moving into college right after high school. Does this mean they have their crisis after they graduate from university and are now expected to be adults despite being in school since for 16 years and not really experiencing the full "adult world" yet unless they have had to under certain circumstances?
Is the quarter-life crisis why so many take a year off to travel or do whatever they please now once they finish 4 years of college or university?

I ask these things because I wonder about myself. I'm now newly involved in a masters program after having completed 5 years of university, entering into a new stage of adult learning with cohorts who are all older than myself. I feel like such a child and yet I am moving forward and being in an adult world, educationally speaking that is. My age is adult and so are my goals but my life still feels hinged and held back in a bit of lingering adolescence (emerging adulthood, as it were). 
And to be honest, I started thinking about all these things because recently I expressed that I only have a little time left to get away with doing things and blaming it on being "young and dumb". 

But why can't you act young and alive and grasp onto a childlike sense of wonder and excitement sometimes when you grow older? Does it all have to be serious?
Why can't I dance outside my school on the grass and in the sun to my favourite upbeat songs every morning as people walk by?
Why can't my friend and I decide to go on a trip purely to see one of our favourite bands on tour if they make us happy?
I think it all boils down to the fear of facing the world and having people put so many expectations and pressures on you at such a young age: you're supposed to know what you want to do with the rest of your life at 18 when you leave high school? You're supposed to have your life together in your early 20s? Let me tell you, all these people I have come to be humbled by and appreciate in my new school so far have had quite the diverse journeys to get to this point, so I really don't think we need to expect young people to have everything figured out so fast.

Plus, you are only as old as you think you are, right? Live while you're young, but also live like you are young regardless of what your biological/chronological age says. This is something I'm coming to learn now, even though, yes, I myself am still literally quite young at this moment. 
I am learning to put my fears behind me and appreciate everything in life at every stage, and I hope I can continue to grow in this way in the months and years to come.

(I'm not sure why I felt like writing all this at this time, but I did. And I feel good about it.)

Friday, June 6, 2014

#CBR6 Review #16: Spirituality and Art Therapy: Living the Connection by Mimi Farrelly-Hansen

An edited collection of essays from a number of different practicing art therapists, from a diversity of backgrounds. Each author presents a different view of art therapy practices, and stems from a different spiritual background, yet they all focus on the connection between creative expression, artistic practices, and the spiritual sense of the human soul. Ranging anywhere from Christianity to Buddhism to Spiritualities connected to the Natural world, the authors tell their personal stories, as well as those of clients that they have worked with, all using the arts to connect them with something greater outside of the self. In turn, discovery of the self and the spirit comes from relating and engaging in the artistic and spiritual world.

Now, this all may sound a little hokey to some, and I understand that: art therapy isn't for everyone. But for those that can really engage and connect to the process, it can be vital in providing a sense of healing, or at the very least, a release of some kind. This book definitely has it's ups and downs in terms of essays that really resonated with me, but all in all, I found myself understanding where the authors and artists were coming from. Being an artist and student of art therapy myself, it would reason that I would find Farrelly-Hansen's collection to be interesting and informative. For others, however, it may be a little dry or seem a little too whimsical. I just don't really know anymore, as when I speak to some about the idea of art therapy, they are incredibly receptive and see it as being a very useful practice. Yet when I speak to others, they are extremely skeptical about the whole thing, and think that it would be a waste of time. I suppose that is what this book would be like, as well: you might buy into it, you might not. Just like the whole concept of spirituality and the multitude of ways to look at that in itself, not even in relation to artistic practices.

One of my personal favourite instalments within the compilation was entitled "Each Time a New Breath" by Bernie Marek, which looked at the creative process through a Buddhist lens: the intake and outtake of experience, moment by moment, allowing things to be present as they need to be, and healing through having a sense of wholeness of the self, opening up to the rawness of our world and our experiences. 
I'm realizing that this review isn't coming across as helpful at all, is it? I guess all I can say is that I found Spirituality and Art Therapy: Living the Connection to be easy to read, and I can definitely see how it relates and will be helpful to my understanding of my studies (yes, this is once again a book I am reading for school). If you are interested in art therapy and how it relates to spirituality, then by all means, read it as well! I certainly found the personal stories included to be quite interesting. 

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