Monday, March 23, 2015

Review: THE SCULPTOR by Scott McCloud

the sculptor cover

David Smith is having the weirdest, worstest birthday ever. He just got fired, he's about to be kicked out of his apartment, he's flat broke, and it looks like his dreams of becoming a successful sculptor are about to die a cruel death. Then he runs into his Uncle Harry. Problem: Uncle Harry's dead. Instead, David's talking to the Grim Reaper, who offers him a deal he can't refuse. David will receive the ability to magically manipulate any material with his bare hands, a dream for the down-on-his-luck artist. The catch is, if he accepts the offer, he'll die in 200 days. David agrees eagerly, only to find out that success and ability don't necessarily go hand-in-hand, and 200 days isn't nearly long enough when you're in love.

Scott McCloud is undoubtedly considered an expert on the subject of comics–his book, Understanding Comics, is the go-to comic book about comics, or so I've heard–but The Sculptor is his first graphic novel. I have to agree with Neil Gaiman that it's the best graphic novel I've read in years. But it's also cynical as shit and gives Hamlet a run for its money in depressing endings.

It would be a little too much to call The Sculptor masterful, but it is REALLY well-done, and it's definitely something you should read, especially if you're a fan of Bryan Lee O'Malley. McCloud and O'Malley share a gift for telling a visual story in a very clear, yet expressive way. There are no wasted lines or panels in The Sculptor: everything on the page is drawn economically and is well-composed, with an understanding of how to use negative space for visual impact. As someone who tends to gets headaches reading graphic novels that are visually cluttered, I absolutely loved McCloud's drawing style.

david the sculptor scott mccloud
David discovers his new powers.


The story is very well-told, too, and it's meaty. McCloud takes the typical art historical tale of the hero-genius and turns it on its head, questioning why we create art, why we buy it, why we lionize it, and what the definition of success should be. I loved that David's sculpture develops over the course of the novel. I have to admit, when I saw his first sculptures, I thought they were borderline terrible. But by the end of the book he's actually doing things that are very original and interesting.

That said, I'm not sure The Sculptor is really about art per se. It's more about ego and legacy and forming connections. As in some of the greatest heroic journeys, David has to be stripped of absolutely everything, even his promises to himself, before he can recreate himself and change his life.

I also loved the main female character, Meg. Talk about a fully-realized female character. Even though her role in the book is basically as David's love interest, she has her own things going on and a complex backstory with a believable, unidealized personality that McCloud does a fantastic job of expressing both visually and through dialog.

the sculptor scott mccloud
David checks out his competition for an important art prize.


I would absolutely give The Sculptor five stars and list it as one of my favorite books... if it wasn't for the ending. Look, The Sculptor's obviously going to be a tragedy, that's clear very early in the novel. But the cynicism of the conclusion and the way it played out completely blindsided me. Life has no meaning and we all die and there's no afterlife. Oh, and no one gives a fuck about art and nothing matters. I've felt more cheerful after watching Romeo & Juliet. I'm not saying McCloud should have changed the ending–it made sense with the story–just that I can't fully get behind something that unrelentingly cynical.

I still think The Sculptor is very much worth reading, though. And you've been warned about the ending, so you can prep with some whiskey to brace yourself.



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Sunday, March 22, 2015

Sunday Snapshot and Spring is Here!

Sunday Snapshot is a summary of my weekly exploits, bookish and non. What's your week been like?

flower


This week was better than last, productivity-wise. The reason will become apparent post-haste!

What I'm reading right now:
The 4-Hour Workweek, by Timothy Ferriss (library book)
I started this book very skeptical, but there's tons of great advice here. It's not so much about making money as working as efficiently as possible so that you can do what you want and have fun. I'm a proponent for having fun.
Roulette, by Megan Mulry (ebook)
I know a bunch of bloggers love this book, even though I can't remember who specifically recommended it at the moment. Anyway, the recommendations are on target-it's pretty good!

Movies watched this past week:
The Gunman, starring Sean Penn, Javier Bardem, and Jasmine Trinca
Three thoughts: 1) Sean Penn's been working out. Way, way too much. 2) I love it when there's one female character in the whole movie and she's basically a bone for the hero and villains to fight over. That's my favorite. 3) Hand wounds are lethal! I kept waiting for someone to mutter, "Out, out damn spot."

Subscription boxes received this week:

rocks box

I got my Rocks Box on Monday and I have to say I'm pretty happy with it! I think this service is totally worth it. The jewelry items are ones I'd never pick out for myself but I've fallen in love with them, and the necklace goes with so many of my outfits.

bulu box


I also got my Bulu Box, which I'd totally forgot about ordering. This is a sign I should pull back on the subscription boxes, no doubt. Bulu was better than I thought it would be-I like the Allergease, which are basically fancy Ricolas. Haven't tried any of the other stuff yet but it all looks healthful and useful.

Reviews in the Queue:
Supermind by Mark Phillips

Theme of the week:
A few weeks ago, I decided I wanted to lose five pounds. A measly five pounds. This is the first time in my life I've actively tried to lose weight and it's infuriating! I lost three pounds the first week-great-but now I've gained it all back and I've been doing the exact same things. WTF?!

Bonus:
I've been thinking a lot about my favorite songs this week. There are a half dozen songs that I think of almost like talismans: Tequila Sunrise, What's New, Besame Mucho, Poncho and Lefty, U Got it Bad, and Coming Up (which is my personal theme song). What are your favorite songs?















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Monday, March 16, 2015

Review: THE HOOKER AND THE HERMIT by LH Cosway and Penny Reid

hooker and the hermit cover

Annie Catrel, secret celebrity blogger and social media expert, loves making fun of stars' poor fashion choices. But when she posts a pic of someone who may or may not be Colin Farrell (he's not), the real celebrity–Irish rugby hooker Ronan Fitzpatrick–blows a gasket and sends her a VERY nasty email. Annie would love to respond by posting it online and publicly shaming him, but she can't. Because he's just hired the PR firm she works for to improve his image, and she's been put in charge of his account. Will Ronan figure out Annie's "the Socialmedialite," and will Annie come out of her shell enough to let him in? #willthesetwocrazykidsgettogether

This review is going to have some mild spoilers. It just is. If you want to read The Hooker and the Hermit completely free of any plot reveals, go and do that, and THEN come back and read my review, okay? I'll wait. Take your time.

Are you back? Okay, let's do this thing.

The Hooker and the Hermit is LH Cosway and Penny Reid's answer to Fifty Shades of Grey. You've got your young, lip-biting female who isn't very confident; and you've got your stalkery rich guy who wears nice suits, drives fast cars, and whose "deep dark secret" is that he's into BDSM (or, as Ronan takes care to point out, technically it's just bondage and dominance... like in FSoG, really). But since this is Cosway and Reid writing, the characters are quirky yet sympathetic, the story is fun, and the bondage thing makes sense.

I have to admit The Hooker and the Hermit had me from the word go because I'm pretty sure Annie's my fictional doppelgänger. This was my mom's face when I told her Annie reminded me of myself (my mom and I occasionally read the same books):

uhhh yeah


For example, Annie strategically picking a seat next to the exit so she can leave as quickly as possible, if necessary. This is something I do ALL THE TIME. Also: refusing to make eye contact in order to avoid being drawn into conversation with strangers. I wouldn't say I do that all the time, maybe more like 80% of the time, and mostly at Walmart. In any case, I immediately identified with Annie and found her adventures in the first part of The Hooker and the Hermit to be pretty hilarious.

Then I got to the middle of the book and things started falling apart. First of all, I found the fact that Annie let Ronan's mom bully her into breaking up with him–in less than three minutes, no less–irritating. For the past fifty pages these two have been like a couple out of the sweetest, sappiest romcom in history; and then suddenly she walks out on him in the middle of lunch just because his mom, who is CLEARLY trying to manipulate her, throws some shade? Eye roll. You just lost me. THEN, three pages later, Annie's tells Ronan, "Oh, I knew she was just being a bitch and you're nothing like that, but I still think we belong in different worlds and it's better for us to stay apart." Wha-huh? Obvious deus-ex-machina to keep the characters from having sex even though there is no logical reason why they wouldn't at this point is obvious.

Secondly, in the second half of the book Annie's hermit-like ways are treated as a symptom of her psychological problems and fucked up childhood. UHG WHY. I know it brings some dramatic tension to the story, but drawing a correlation between being a hermit and having something be wrong with her was just lazy plotting, in my humble opinion. It reduces that aspect of her personality to little more than a gimmick.

On the plus side, though, at least Cosway and Reid didn't imply BDSM was a good substitute for psychotherapy, or that Ronan was into bondage because was abused as a child. So I guess one of these characters got a free pass.

The ending felt like it dragged on interminably and I almost lit my Kindle on fire when I saw there was an epilogue; but for the most part, The Hooker and the Hermit was a very enjoyable, successful collaboration between two authors whose work I really enjoy. I hope Cosway and Reid decide to write another novel together in the future (unless it stars the secondary characters from this novel, that would be annoying).


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Sunday, March 15, 2015

Sunday Snapshot for the Ides of March

If you're new here, Sunday Snapshot is a feature where I ramble on about basically nothing. I know you want to read it now!

How is it that an entire week can pass with me getting nothing done? This is madness. I feel super busy but I get no reading done, no writing done, the laundry is still unfolded (and will remain so for at least a month, if history is anything to go by). Uhg. The only thing I got done this week were my taxes, and that took literally the entire day.

Anyway, enough whining.

What I'm reading right now:
I didn't read anything this week (see above), so it's the same books as last week with one exception: I finished Supermind by Mark Phillips on audio and started The Gold Bag by Carolyn Wells, which I'm honestly finding pretty boring but will probably finish anyway.

Movies watched this past week:
Night At the Museum: Secret of the Tomb, starring Ben Stiller and Robin Williams
Fun and entertaining (no surprise there), although the epitaph for Robin Williams and Mickey Rooney at the very end gutted me.
Run All Night, starring Liam Neeson and Ed Harris
Kind of an odd movie. On one hand, you have a mob drama √† la Heat (excellent movie, incidentally); and on the other hand you have these absolutely ridiculous, over-the-top escape/shooting scenes. Neither side of the movie was entirely successful.

Subscription boxes received this week:
This week I got my Hello Fresh box and it was actually really good. They send you all the raw ingredients for three meals, portioned out, and recipes to match. The ingredients were all nice and fresh, the recipes were easy to follow, and there was very little clean-up at the end. Plus the meals themselves were healthy and generously portioned.

I forgot to take pics of the first two meals we made, but here's one of the Spanish steak salad. Very tasty!

hello fresh meal


I also got my March Glam Bag from Ipsy. I only care about the lipstick and highlighter, but that's the good thing about Ipsy–those two things together are probably worth about $10, anyway. And I love the bag this month.

ipsy march glam bag


I also got Love With Food, which is a snack subscription that's curated by famous chefs, foodies, bloggers, etc. I had major expectations for this one, but the box items felt really random. The theme was supposed to be healthy snacks, but why is a packet of herbs de Provence included? Yeah I can roast potatoes with it, but that's hardly a snack. I can't eat chocolate, so the chocolate items (most of the box) are wasted on me, AND my dad ate all the chips and then told me he didn't like them. So.

love with food snack box


Reviews in the queue:
No reading, no writing, no new reviews. I would like to write a review of Dutch's American Era bitters for my cocktail blog if I find a moment, though.

Theme of the week:
I think you can all guess that one.

need more time


Bonus:
This is the best thing I saw all week:

firth things firth


I would love this Benedict Cumberbatch coloring book. I wouldn't even need to color it.

benedict cumberbatch coloring book



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Sunday, March 8, 2015

Sunday Snapshot

Hey cool cats! I was in the middle of writing a review and got the idea for this weekly feature, basically giving a quick update on what I've been up to. Hopefully this will help with the radio silences that tend to happen around here when I'm not reading much or am buried by deadlines.

What I'm reading right now:

Supermind by Mark Phillips (audiobook)
This novel is like urban fantasy meets The Maltese Falcon. I'm enjoying it quite a bit, despite the endless dialog tags.
Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge (ebook)
I started this one last night and am only one chapter in. Loved the first sentence.
Green: The History of a Color by Michel Pastoureau (hardback)
Having trouble getting into this one, although I love the concept. The book doesn't seem to have a strong central thesis.

Movies watched this past week:

Focus, starring Will Smith and Margot Robbie
I'm a sucker for caper movies. Focus got a little too artsy and touchy-feely at times, but there were at least two fantastic scenes, and overall I liked it a lot.
The (One?) Hundred Foot Journey, starring Helen Mirren and Manish Dayal
I really wanted to love The Hundred Foot Journey, but there were several things that just didn't make sense. It also felt like it went on for a REALLY long time.

Somewhat obsessed with:

Subscription boxes. It all started with Ipsy (makeup). Damn you, Facebook! Anyway, as of today I've tried True & Co. (bras), Taste the World (food), Stitch Fix (clothes), Nature Box (snacks), Loot Crate (gamer and geek stuff), Bark Box (dog treats and toys), and Zockster (socks). I'm waiting on Rocksbox (jewelry), Bulu Box (nutrition and vitamins), and Hello Fresh (meals). I think I might need a spreadsheet to keep track of all these.

Edited to Add: Here are some pics from my adventures in unboxing recently:

bark box
The dogs don't know what to think of their Bark Boxes and are more interested in napping.


video

zockster
Bamboo socks from Zockster. Was hoping for something a little more quirky and colorful, but they are nice socks.
loot crate
The Loot Crate box–this was fantastic. Not only did I get Ready Player One, but the box unfolded into a game board! Also there's a mechanical bug I can now use to terrorize the dogs, win.
stitch fix
My five clothing items from Stitch Fix. I decided to send two of them back, but I was on the edge about it.


So far Ipsy is the best deal in terms of what you get for an affordable $10, but I also really like Loot Crate and think it's a good bargain at $13 (admittedly, this is mainly because they included a book). The downside to Loot Crate is that they charge shipping. Stitch Fix was a bit pricey, but fun and everything fit perfectly. Bark Box was also super fun–who doesn't enjoy playing with their dogs?–but at $30 a month I think it's overpriced. I'm still on the lookout for a foodie box to fall in love with.

Reviews in the queue:

The Hooker and the Hermit by LH Cosway and Penny Reid
The Sculptor by Scott McCloud

Theme of the week: I need more sleep.

I came down with The Crud this week, and that was only exacerbated by the fact that I'm going through one of my insomnia strikes and we switched to Daylight Saving Time this week, the evil bastard. The only saving grace is I can sleep in since I work at home most days.

Bonus: Two hilarious Facebook Quizzes

These quizzes were super funny. I love the bizarro options on the inkblot one.
Inkblot Personality Test
Can We Guess Your Age Based On How You Use the Internet? (I got 35)



That's all I have the energy to focus on today. Let me know how you're week's going and if you know of any subscription boxes I absolutely need to try!



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Sunday, March 1, 2015

Review: KISS OF THE ROSE PRINCESS by Aya Shouoto

kiss of the rose princess vol 1 cover

Anise Yamamoto's father has warned her that if she removes her rose choker, she'll be cursed by a terrible punishment, which is why she always wears it even in defiance of her school's dress code. But when the choker mysteriously disappears, Anise is suddenly confronted with four Rose Knights, who insist that she's their sovereign. Oh, and they happen to be the four hottest boys at school. Most girls would think this a dream come true, but Anise can't help but wonder if having to put up with these guys is her punishment.

It's been a while since I reviewed a manga, probably because it's been a while since I enjoyed one enough to finish it. Kiss of the Rose Princess is a very promising start to a series, with a great twist on a vampire romance storyline.

Essentially, the Rose Knights are vampires, in that they need to draw blood from Anise in order to wield their powers. At least one of them isn't human, although I'm not sure if that's true of all of them or not.

My favorite of the Rose Knights is Kaede Higa, who's more or less a regular teenage boy. He and Anise are friends... of a sort. If you consider their constant bickering a form of friendship (I love it when the hero and heroine fight in romance novels, by the way).

rose knights kiss of the rose princess


The other Rose Knights include Mitsuru Tenjo, the class president and most handsome and popular boy at school; Seiran Asagi, a gentle and sweet kid who has allergies (yup, roses... ironic); and Mutsuki Kurama, he of the non-humanness. He's also rumored to be an otaku, but I'm not exactly sure what that's supposed to mean in the context of this book. Whatever it is, it's not good.

Anyway, Kiss of the Rose Princess feels surprisingly modern, mainly because of Anise. She's very independent, good at sports, not interested in putting up with any of Kaede's crap, and quick on the uptake that more penises mean mo' problems. She's not some beautiful and passive princess type.

kiss of the rose princess anise


As for the artwork, I sometimes find graphic novels a little headache inducing, and there are times when the visual storytelling could flow better and be less confusing. But overall it wasn't too bad. I really liked the title pages.

Definitely a promising manga to keep an eye on! The second volume was only just published (in the US, anyway) and a third one is on the way in May, I believe, so it's early days yet, but I can see this series developing into something as addicting as Vampire Knight in future installments.



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Sunday, February 22, 2015

Five of My Auto-Buy Authors (TSS)

The other day Colette from A Buckeye Girl Reads mentioned that she couldn't think of more than three authors that are on her auto-buy list. In case the title's not self-explanatory, auto-buy authors are authors whose work she will automatically buy, no matter what the book's about.

This made me realize I don't have a bunch of authors on my auto-buy list now, either. I *used* to have dozens of auto-buy authors. I'd even visit their websites on a weekly basis so I could check to see when their next book was coming out. I would keep track of all the upcoming releases in a spreadsheet and stop by Barnes & Noble every Tuesday to pick up my new books (remember when new books were only and always released on a Tuesday? Why was that?). And if the book I was anticipating wasn't there, I was PISSED.

But now, like Colette, it takes some thinking for me to come up with my auto-buy authors. I definitely have them, but my buying habits have changed so much that I don't really keep track of them anymore. Instead of having to go looking for when their next book is coming out, they email/tweet/facebook me about it. Instead of making a special trip to the bookstore, now I can download their new book within seconds with one-click.

Also, the authors that are on my auto-buy list have changed dramatically. Most of the authors I used to keep track of have moved on to different genres I'm not that into (Christina Dodd, Lisa Kleypas), settled into a long-running series I have no interest in (Patricia Briggs, Gaelen Foley), or simply stopped writing.

However, there are definitely new (new to me anyway) authors whose books I will absolutely buy, even if they're priced outrageously. Here are my top five; who are some of your auto-buys?


laura florand

Laura Florand
Florand wrote several of my favorite reads in 2014. Even when I don't fall completely in love with one of her novels, I know that they're going to be romantic, emotional, and escapist stories with a fairy tale vibe. I simply love her books.

daniel silva


Daniel Silva
At this point I'm so invested in the Gabriel Allon series that's there's no question of me reading the latest book, which should be out in early July. Speaking of, I'm still waiting for Gabriel to take down ISIS.

lh cosway


LH Cosway
This is a perfect example of one book making me a fan of an author for life. I read Painted Faces several years ago, but Cosway didn't make it onto my auto-buy list until I read Still Life with Strings last year. I know with Cosway that I'm going to get unique characters and a non-formulaic story. I also love her writing style.

craig johnson


Craig Johnson
This is cheating somewhat, because I've actually never bought one of Johnson's books yet. I'm still trying to catch up on the series, and my mom owns all his books, so I just read those. But I definitely consider Johnson a must-read author and his Walt Longmire series is very much worth buying in hardcover.

bryan lee o'malley


Bryan Lee O'Malley
Even though I was a bit disappointed in Seconds, it was one of the few books that I pre-ordered in actual book form in 2014. Actually, scratch that–it was the ONLY book I pre-ordered, in ebook or paper. O'Malley won me over with his brilliant Lost at Sea and the crazy-fun Scott Pilgrim series. I will happily fork over whatever money I have for his next graphic novel. All he needs to do is write faster.

Bonus authors:
Rebecca Rogers Maher, Megan Whalen Turner, Dan Brown (yes I will read every book he puts out), Stephenie Meyer, and JK Rowling (of course).



So that's my top five. I'm surprised by how many men are on it! Used to be one in every one hundred books I read were by a man. I also find it interesting that two of the authors on this list self-publish. Obviously it's not just my buying habits but my reading habits that have changed in the last few years.

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