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review 2018-06-14 07:58
The Inflatable Woman (Graphic Novel) by Rachael Ball
The Inflatable Woman - Rachael Ball

Iris (or balletgirl_42 as she's known on the Internet dating circuit) is a zookeeper looking for love when she is diagnosed with breast cancer. Overnight, her life becomes populated by a carnival of daunting hospital characters. Despite the attempts of her friends--Maud, Grandma Suggs, Larry the Monkey, and a group of singing penguins--to comfort her, her fears begin to encircle her, and she clings to the attention of a lighthouse keeper called sailor_buoy_39. The Inflatable Woman combines magical realism with the grit of everyday life to create a poignant and surreal journey inside the human psyche.

Amazon.com

 

 

 

Zookeeper Iris is an active member on a number of online dating sites. While on the hunt for Mr. Right, she is sidelined with a breast cancer diagnosis. Though she is surrounded by support from friends and family, Iris becomes consumed with fear and anxiety when she ponders her mortality. Under the online handle balletgirl_42, Iris meets a lighthouse keeper who goes by the handle sailorbuoy_39.

 

The two quickly develop a bond via email conversations, but Iris fears losing her lighthouse keeper should he learn the truth about her. Though she poses as a prima ballerina, in reality Iris is a heavyset woman. Would her sailor accept her as is if she comes clean?

 

So yes, it's a story that somewhat touches upon the topic of online catfishing, but there's actually so much more here. Inspired by her own cancer story, author / illustrator Rachael Ball crafts a tale that touches upon all the tough emotions women are tempted to swallow down and not face. Fear of acceptance, fear of mortality, anger at your body turning against you, struggles with self-esteem within a female body, the most basic need for being accepted as we are.. yes, these are universal themes regardless of gender, but this story addresses them directly from the POV of being a woman. Powerful symbolism is incorporated, such as illustration of train = giving up while emergency stop pull = will to live.

 

 

The artwork is done almost entirely in black and white except for a few pages where bits of reddish pink are intentionally & impactfully added in. Note: because struggles with depression play a part in Iris' story, there are some pages that feature somewhat dark, disturbing artwork depicting the fight within her mind. But there are also moments of levity to lighten the heavy, such as penguins dressed as nuns! (It'll make sense when you read the book yourself... maybe...).

 

 

If you've been curious to get into the graphic novel genre but don't think anime or superhero arc stories are your thing, let me recommend this one. Though the overall themes are geared towards women, there are plenty of universal feelings within Iris' story that virtually anyone can appreciate. 

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review 2018-06-11 15:49
All The Lonely People by Jess Riley
All the Lonely People - Jess Riley

WANTED: a whole new family to share holidays with. Please have a good heart and be a thoughtful, polite person. No sociopaths, no pedophiles, no fans of the Kardashians. We're not weirdos, I promise. I love old Steve Martin movies, new Steve Martin banjo tunes, Indian food, and reruns of Bob Ross painting happy little trees. So if you're looking for something other than the typical family dysfunction this Christmas, drop us a line.

After losing her beloved mother to cancer, 37-year-old Jaime Collins must confront the ugly fact that she and her siblings don't actually like one another. At all. Fueled by grief and an epic argument at Thanksgiving dinner, Jaime decides to divorce her siblings and posts an ad on Craigslist for a new family with whom to share Christmas dinner.

What happens next is a heartwarming, funny, and surprising journey to forgiveness and healing. Is blood really thicker than water? What makes a family? And how far do we have to go to find our way back home again?

Amazon.com

 

 

 

 

POTENTIAL TRIGGER WARNING: This novel touches upon the topics of cutting, depression, abusive relationships and attempted suicide.

 

Thirty-seven year old Jaime Collins recently lost her mom to cancer. Now the holiday season is just around the corner and Jaime could not be less enthused. She has no interest in holiday shopping or putting on smiles around her insensitive brother and meddlesome sister-in-law. Things come to a head when she ends up having a blow-out fight with her siblings over Thanksgiving dinner. Riding the high emotions of that night, Jaime goes home and decides to place a Craigslist ad for a new family for Christmas. She requests responses from anyone else feeling alone or fed up with their own family situation. She crafts the ad while intoxicated, posts, and within 12 hours has 26 responses to sift through. The winners for her Christmas party include transgender Chris, daschund-loving Paul, welding artist Evelyn (who also happens to have a dander allergy) and Alyssa, a science major struggling through her own grieving process after recently losing her boyfriend in a car wreck.

 

 

All the Lonely People

re-release cover for this book

 

 

While this story certainly has its laughs, it may not be for the more sensitive readers out there because plenty of hard-hitting topics are addressed over the course of Jaime's story. There's also a fair bit of crude language and dark / off-color / risque humor (ie. jokes about strap-ons) implemented in the process. In addition to witnessing our main character work through the grieving process over the death of her mother, we (the readers) are also informed of Jaime's father-in-law battling Alzheimer's, Jaime herself struggling with fertility issues (her journey through IVF treatments), as well as the plot also bringing up the topics of cutting, depression, attempted suicide, abusive relationships and struggles with gender identity.

 

That night, I sleep on the couch for the first time in years... Erik finds me downstairs in the morning, a hurt look on his face. "We never sleep apart," he says, like a wounded little boy. I tell him he was snoring, that I couldn't sleep, that I didn't want to wake him with my tossing and turning. The real reason is this: I'd simply wanted to be alone with my sadness, giving it space to spread out, because there wasn't enough room for all three of us in the queen-sized bed...Part of it was that I felt like a broken shard from a smashed vase, and I only wanted to spend time with the other broken pieces because maybe we could glue ourselves together and hold water again. Erik wasn't a broken shard. He was a whole vase, forged from some space-age unbreakable polymer. He bounced when he fell. I shattered into sharp little pieces waiting to slice into the next person unfortunate enough to walk into the room barefoot. Or as Frankie would say, I'd cut a bitch. And then feel really bad about it.

 

Even though I can appreciate that important topics were brought to light in the unfolding of this story, and the story itself is solidly entertaining, it did go on a little long for me. By Chapter 17 I was feeling like the story could've been sufficiently wrapped up, all questions answered... a feeling that continued on right through Chapter 26... and even after that you get three more chapters! I also didn't always love Jaime. In fact, she struck me as a being a little petty with her dad near the end of the book.

 

In the acknowledgements, Jess Riley gives a shout-out to author friend Jen Lancaster.

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review 2018-05-10 12:51
Mr. Rosenblum Dreams in English by Natasha Solomons
Mr. Rosenblum Dreams in English - Natasha Solomons

1937: Jack and Sadie Rosenblum and their one year old daughter, Elizabeth, are just one family in a crowd of Jewish refugees who emigrate to England. Jack wants to embrace British culture but runs into some roadblocks, one being that over the course of 15 years in England he never quite loses his accent. Jack ponders changing his surname to something more English, but Sadie, proud of their Jewish roots, is against the idea.

 

Being denied access to all the country clubs he applies to, Jack gets the idea to start his own. He becomes obsessed with perfecting all the details of the club and golf course. Meanwhile, wife Sadie suffers social ridicule as the family is deemed "crazy".

 

Jack also finds British humor lost on him. He tries to read Wodenhouse's Jeeves & Wooster series but it turns him off from trying any more English Lit. A strain grows between Jack and Sadie as she continues to mourn the death of her brother and the loss of her old life in Germany. She tries to cope with hobbies like gardening and baking, but it's pretty much just an emotional Band-Aid.

 

There were blips of interest for me within the plot, moments of humor or a powerful line here and there but largely it struck me as a lot more dry and "meh" than I was expecting. That said though, something about this story made me think that with the right director and screenwriter, this could be translated into a fun little film.

 

* Funny Edit: Just saw on the author's Amazon profile that her author blurb says she's a screenwriter LOL

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review 2018-05-10 10:36
Golden Child by David Henry Hwang
Golden Child - David Henry Hwang

From the author of the Broadway play M. Butterfly, Golden Child travels across time and place from contemporary America to mainland China in 1918 and depicts the challenges of a culture in transition to the influences of western civilization.

Amazon.com

 

 

 

 

 

POTENTIAL TRIGGER WARNING: This play includes a scene describing a suicide being carried out. 

 

 

Playwright David Henry Hwang grew up hearing amazing, almost mythical stories of his great grandfather's life, a life crafted by the choice to swap Confucianism for Christianity, boldly breaking with Chinese tradition when he decided to let his daughter grow up with unbound feet. Such decisions would impact future generations and came to inspire Hwang to write the play Golden Child

 

The timeline of the story alternates between a small village in Southeast China during the Winter 1918 - Spring 1919 and Manhattan in the late 1990s. The opening scene combines the two when Andrew Kwong in Manhattan, awakens with a start one night, puts on a robe and begins to take on the personality of his grandfather, Tieng-Bin. Andrew converses with Ahn, his grandmother. She appears to him as a young girl of ten but her voice is that of an elderly woman. This conversation between them eases the audience into the transition to early 20th century China, where we are soon fully immersed. 

 

In the village of Amoy, we meet the three wives of Tieng-Bin, a prosperous land owner: first wife Siu-Yong, second wife Luan, and third wife Eling. Tieng-Bin has recently returned home after a three year absence. He'd been living in the Phillipines for business and now that he is back, man and wives settle into a nice dinner where everyone gets reacquainted. The conversation starts to shift into Tieng-Bin telling of his observations in the Phillipines, mainly the growing influence of Christianity and western culture throughout the area and how that got him thinking about his own upbringing. At first he claims that he merely finds western ideas interesting, the inventions amusing --- some of these inventions he presents to his wives as gifts. First wife Siu-Yong's response to her gift, a cuckoo clock, was the best: "I'm sure it will do wonders for my insomnia." 

 

His traditional wives are suspicious, especially 2nd wife Luan, who fears that their polygamous lifestyle will soon be threatened by Tieng-Bin's experiences. Though the play does incorporate serious cultural themes, the bickering and shade-throwing between the wives ends up offering comic relief. Though Siu-Yong is one of the most entertaining of the bunch at the start of the play, later on I was disturbed by the manipulative nature of some of her conversations with her daughter, Ahn (Andrew's grandmother from the opening scene). 

In the later portions of this story, Tieng-Bin introduces his wives to Reverend Baines, a minister from England Tieng-Bin became acquainted with during his travels. The wives come to know Baines as "white devil". At first I was confused as to why Baines' lines were presented in broken English, as this play is printed in English (my reasoning being "wouldn't the characters understand each other just fine?"). There aren't really too many clues within the text regarding language barrier. Then it dawned on me that what was likely going on was that Baines was probably actually speaking in poor Chinese, so, when translated, his words would come out as oddly constructed. But I do love Baines line that says "You must not fear to speak the truth you know in your soul."

While the story comes off somewhat light-hearted in the early scenes (but mildly snarky, hinting at underlying feelings of discontent to surface later), closer to the end there is a noticeable shift toward the more serious, as discussions between the characters growing increasingly tense as they all finally address the strains they feel as, culturally, the old ways clash against the new. 

"It's not that I want to forget my family, quite the opposite. But to be Chinese -- means to feel a whole web of obligation -- obligation? --- dating back 5,000 years. I am afraid of dishonoring my ancestors, even the ones dead for centuries. All the time, I feel ghosts -- sitting on my back, whispering in my ear -- keeping me from living life as I see fit.
>> Tieng-Bin



An interesting story, but one that didn't REALLY grab me til just before the climactic end. This script may fall under the type of plays where the words alone just aren't enough and perhaps infinitely more is gained by seeing it on stage.

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review 2018-04-14 01:29
The Complete Maus (25th Anniversary Ed.) by Art Spiegelman | Holocaust Remembrance Week
The Complete Maus - Art Spiegelman

The Pulitzer Prize-winning Maus tells the story of Vladek Spiegelman, a Jewish survivor of Hitler’s Europe, and his son, a cartoonist coming to terms with his father’s story. Maus approaches the unspeakable through the diminutive. Its form, the cartoon (the Nazis are cats, the Jews mice), shocks us out of any lingering sense of familiarity and succeeds in “drawing us closer to the bleak heart of the Holocaust” (The New York Times).
Maus is a haunting tale within a tale. Vladek’s harrowing story of survival is woven into the author’s account of his tortured relationship with his aging father. Against the backdrop of guilt brought by survival, they stage a normal life of small arguments and unhappy visits. This astonishing retelling of our century’s grisliest news is a story of survival, not only of Vladek but of the children who survive even the survivors. Maus studies the bloody pawprints of history and tracks its meaning for all of us.

Amazon.com

 

 

 

Inspired by the Holocaust experience of his own parents, cartoonist Art Spiegelman writes and illustrates this Pulitzer Prize wining story of a grown son, also a cartoonist (yes, this one is in the meta / semi-autobio style) who sits down with his father, Vladek  Spiegelman, to record Vladek's story with the intent to publish it. Perhaps to soften some of the more violent aspects of Vladek's story, the tale is told anthropomorphically-- Nazi soldiers are portrayed as big, burly cats, Jewish prisoners are mice, and one African-American man is illustrated as a black dog. 

 

 

Vladek starts with the story of meeting his wife, Anja, and their years together as newlyweds prior to the war. In 1938, Anja develops post-partum depression and is taken to a sanitarium in Czechoslovakia where she experiences, for the first time, full-force anti-Semitism. From there, the war story of Anja and Vladek only gets more painful. Even Anja's millionaire parents couldn't buy her safety. Once captured, Vladek explains that he was able to get some leniency with the Germans because even though his family was Polish, he could speak and write in German, so the Nazis found him useful. 

 

This special anniversary edition features the entire story, Vols 1 & 2, together in one book. As I mentioned before, the story does dip in and out of meta style storytelling. Towards the middle of the book, there is a kind of mini-comic insert where author Art Spiegelman tells the real life tragic story of his own mother's suicide. This book as a whole is not for the faint of heart. There are illustrations of mice with nooses around their necks, descriptions of children being picked up by their legs and swung into brick walls to stop them from crying / screaming (the noise giving away the location of those in hiding). Near the end of Vol. 2 there is also pretty detailed description of the interiors of the gas chambers. This edition also features one color map (the rest of the book is done in black and white) that shows the full layout of the Auschwitz camp. 

 

 

 

Blended with the Holocaust theme, Spiegelman also brings in a modern day father-son relationship story of a grown man honestly trying to make the effort to finally, hopefully, understand the father who has always slightly confounded him. There are some tense life truths brought to the table during these scenes but it provided a relatable, poignant layer to the whole experience that I came to really appreciate. 

 

If you're now reading this thinking, "Man, there is no way I could get through anything that dark," Spiegelman might have had such readers in mind because he does offer moments of levity as well. There's the somewhat scary but also creepy-humorous story of Lucia, the woman who went Stage 5 Clinger on Vladek when he became interested in someone else.

 

 

 

 

Old man Vladek is also dad-funny during his conversations with his son, saying things like "famous like that one guy".... I don't know though, there were a few moments there where old Vladek was coming off as pretty strongly racist himself... so it left me with mixed feelings about him. 

 

I'm glad I finally took the opportunity to experience this epic graphic novel I've heard so much about over the years. The story is a tough one to take, but important to hear. Truthfully though, I'm not sure it's one I see myself revisiting, at least not any time soon. 

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