Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Book Review: MAN RAY IN PARIS by Erin C. Garcia

man ray cover

Some people get all the luck, and no one's a better example of that maxim than Man Ray. An American painter, he hung out with 291 crowd and paid the bills with fashion photography. He met Marcel Duchamp in New York City after the Armory Show and the two quickly became besties. They couldn't talk, since Ray didn't speak French and I guess Duchamp refused to speak English (?); so they communicated through games like chess. Which quite frankly, is ADORKABLE. When Duchamp decided to return to Paris, Man Ray followed, and immediately found the perfect community of artists and intellectuals to hang with. Within a matter of weeks, he had his first gallery showing, was fluent in French, owned the perfect apartment and studio in Montparnasse, invented his own photographic process, and was flooded with commissions for photographic portraits and other projects.

rrose selavy
Rrose Selavy, Marcel Duchamp's feminine alter-ego. Photograph by Man Ray, 1921.

So basically Man Ray is pretty kick-ass and interesting. As for this book about him, well, it wasn't what I was expecting. I thought I would get a lot more out of it.

It's super-short and literally took me less than half an hour to read. For someone completely unfamiliar with Man Ray's work, this would be a good introduction, but for everyone else I think it's pretty sparse. It covers a very short biography of Ray, then dives right into his photographs, which are very interesting. But there isn't much information about them. And there's absolutely nothing about his interest in alchemy or how some of his photographs are homages to other paintings, or about the short films he made with the surrealists, or anything really.

It is cool to look at all the different processes Ray experimented with during his years in Paris, especially solarization and Rayographs. But really I think you could find a more informative book just about anywhere.

If you do want to check out Man Ray in Paris, I'd recommend getting it from the library.

I read this book as part of Paris In July, a challenge hosted by Book Bath and Thyme for Tea. Click on the button for more details.

Fun link of the day: l'Etoile de Mer, one of the many movies Man Ray directed in collaboration with the surrealists.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Harry Potter and the Ungrieved-For Dead

tom riddle

One of the things that's always struck me about the Harry Potter films is that the scenes of Tom Riddle's childhood are so clearly stylized as being circa WWII, from the clothes to the sets and cinematography. To be honest, it's bothered me. Yes, I suppose it makes a certain amount of sense, if Harry is of my generation and Voldemort is of my grandparents' generation, that Tom Riddle would be going to school in 1930s/1940s Britain. But is that kind of time scale really reliable when it comes to wizards? Dumbledore was supposed to have been born in 1881 (although I've always pictured him growing up in late Georgian/early Regency England, mostly thanks to the illustrations in the US editions), and who knows how long Voldemort was alive before he was killed the first time. Furthermore, if the war against Voldemort was the wizarding equivalent of WWII--and Rowling definitely intimates that's the case throughout the books--then wouldn't Harry's parents be part of the "war generation," not Voldemort?

tom riddle in Chamber of Secrets

I've never really known what to make of this issue. It seems logical to say that WWII is so embedded in our cultural memory that Rowling naturally drew parallels between it and a world-changing war between wizards, but then why would the filmmakers design the Young Tom Riddle scenes the way they did? A lot of hands go into making movies, but interviews with Stuart Craig, in charge of production design, suggest that JK Rowling was very involved in the look of the film. But to what extent?

In any case, I put this question aside as one of those things I would never resolve, until last week when I was watching Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2. During the ending when Harry faces off against Voldemort, I was suddenly reminded of something Anne Roiphe had written in her memoir of 1960s New York, Art and Madness--that post-War America was suffocated by the memory of "the ungrieved-for dead," which she intimates contributed to the zeitgeist of the '50s and '60s, and the Babyboomer generation's sense that their parents were hypocrites.

Are those who died in Voldemort's war, such as Harry's parents, ungrieved? All through the Harry Potter series, memories of the dead are present and affect the actions of the living. Many characters have friends and loved ones who died fighting Voldemort--including of course, Harry himself. But have these dead been put to rest? From nearly the very start of the series, one gets the sense that people are holding their breath, waiting for the other shoe to drop. They may have moved on with their lives, but they still live in fear of Voldemort, refusing to say his name and slightly fearful that he may one day return. Of course, this serves to foreshadow Voldemort's actual return for the reader, and may simply be a useful narrative device.

At least as far as Harry is concerned, he spends most of the books grieving for his parents. I do think there are ungrieved-for dead in Harry Potter, but I don't think they're people like Harry's parents who fought against Voldemort. Instead, I would argue that the ungrieved are those murdered for horcruxes. Tom Riddle certainly didn't grieve for them, and their deaths literally tether his soul to the world, ensuring that he can never die and will always be able to return.

Several people are killed on and off-page during the Harry Potter series, but the ones used to create the horcruxes are different. They're not killed in self-defense or the heat of the moment; it's cold-blooded and self-serving. If just killing someone created a horcrux, wouldn't Snape have a horcrux from killing Dumbledore? Or Bellatrix Lestrange from killing Sirius? Voldemort would also have many more horcruxes than he did if every person he killed became a horcrux. The horcrux spell traps the soul because the horror of that death reverberates with neither justice nor guilt. Instead, said people's lives are nothing but a tool to be used for the wizard's own survival.

I think this why Voldemort's war in the books, and scenes of his childhood in the movies, have such a WWII sensibility. It's not just the fact that many died fighting Tom Riddle, but the fact that one person was able to inspire so much destruction and death, that both the movies and the books want to underscore. It would be enough to tear apart the wizarding world completely if it weren't for one thing--the Boy Who Lived. Harry represents everything Voldemort, and others like him, can never kill: love, hope, the human spirit. Even faced with the worst the world has to offer, Harry keeps on fighting.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Demon Bookshelves of TBFB

Very old book  from 1752 . . . . . . .          HAR! Nothing scandalous, no puppies, babies, babes, bikinis or snazzy cars, but > 14,000 views anyway

For a while now, I feel like my shelves have been neglected. Not necessarily my TBR pile, but my bookshelves--where I keep all those books I was sure I wanted to reread at some point. As Tony from Tony's Reading List said, "If I'm only going to read new books... then what is the point of my buying any books at all?!" And in fact I haven't really been buying books--not because I'm poor (well, not just because of that) but because I haven't been rereading books. And really, what is the point of keeping books around if you're not going to reread them? Not that I need a point for keeping junk around, of course.

ANYway, this has led me to a new resolution! Namely, to intersperse my new reads with rereads. One new read, one reread--except for when I really really want to read a new book. And also excepting non-fiction books, because yeahs. I probably had no intention of reading them anyway.

Bookshelf tour time! Let's take a quick survey to see exactly how much of a challenge this is actually going to be.

bookshelf 1

Bookshelf One contains mainly romances and YA novels (feel free to click on any of these photos if you want to stalk ma shelves). Unfortunately, Bookshelf One has spread into Stacks On The Floor 1 and 2, and this random drafting table I couldn't fit into my apartment (I haven't read the ones on the floor or the drafting table yet, though). Anyone want a drafting table?

bookshelf 2

Bookshelf Two is mostly books I haven't read yet, plus old VHS tapes on the bottom because yeah, I'm that much of a packrat. This one has spread into Stacks 3, 4, and 5 (not pictured).

bookshelf 3

Finally we have Bookshelf Three, which is hidden behind a chair. This contains mostly sci-fi and fantasy novels, plus most of my mysteries and some YA and romance novels (apparently I read a lot of that). It has spread to Stacks 6 and 7.

Keep in mind that all of these bookshelves have two rows of books on every shelf, so they're really twice as big as they look. Oh! And did I mention I have books in storage? IN OTHER WORDS, this is going to take forever, which is why I'm not setting a time limit to it. I'm just going to keep it up until I get bored or I finish, whichever comes first.

To reread or not to reread, that is the question. Your opinion?

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Book Review: GLAMOUR--WOMEN, HISTORY, FEMINISM by Carol Dyhouse

glamour cover

Say the word glamor, and immediately images spring to mind of Hollywood starlets in black and white photographs, wearing furs and gowns of silk and satin, with dark eyes and even more darkly painted lips. But glamour was a Scots word originally meaning magic; and the photographers and cinematographers of early Hollywood intuited the link between the magic of movies and the fashion and lifestyle of their stars so well, that eventually the two became inextricably linked in the American mind. Magazines like Glamor (US) started out selling sewing patterns based on the clothes seen in movies, and quickly moved to presenting the entire Hollywood lifestyle in its pages: fashion, cosmetics, hair, potions and lotions.

jean harlow
Jean Harlow. Photograph by George Hurrell.

As Dyhouse points out in this excellent book, glamor isn't always fashionable, and sometimes is quite unfashionable; but it and the start of beauty consumer culture are inextricably linked. For numerous reasons, but mostly thanks to old-timey Hollywood. Does this quest for beauty and glamor represent female empowerment, or the patriarchy of the male gaze? Are the women who actively participate in it laboring to achieve an unhealthy ideal of feminine perfection? Dyhouse addresses these complex questions through a study of glamor's visual and material culture from the early 1900s to the twenty-first century.

princess von furstenberg
Princess Ira von Furstenberg. Photograph by Cecil Beaton.

Although I focused on American glamor in the paragraph above, the majority of this book discusses British glamour. While both countries were influenced by Hollywood, in the UK glamour was regarded with more suspicion than in the US. The upper-classes had a long tradition of favoring reserve and conservatism in fashion, and the middle- and lower-classes likewise were partial to dressing with respectability and modesty (this explains so much about British fashion). Glamour was seen as lurid, the stuff of pin-up girls and pulpy romance magazines, and the complete opposite of English respectability--though luxurious and attractive, nonetheless. Think of the film Rebecca--British in all but its producer--and how the elusive title character is seen as a glamorous, ideal woman by the insecure and young protagonist. "I wish I were a woman of 36, dressed in black satin with a string of pearls!" she says at one point. But by the end of the film, Rebecca's glamor and beauty are revealed to contain only a heart of stone and the morals of an alley cat.

judy garland
Judy Garland. Photograph by George Hurrell.

In fact, it's surprising how unorthodox and non-conformist glamor's consistently been portrayed in the last century. In the '50s and '40s, it was associated with open--one might even say aggressive--sexuality; in the '60s, the decade of youth culture, it was seen as middle-aged; in the '80s, nostalgic. It's always been associated with beauty and fashion, but is much more abstract than either, and therefore can be more broadly applied. Whereas concepts of the former often exclude minorities and lead to "white washing," glamour tends to apply to women of all national and ethnic associations. It also seems to go hand-in-hand with feminism, although this is a problematic relationship--Dyhouse describes one Suffragette who wanted women to be less focused on their looks, but believed that in gaining legal and social autonomy they had become more so. There are also many modern feminist scholars who think glamor debases women.

marilyn monroe
Marilyn Monroe. Photograph by Cecil Beaton.

This study as a whole is really fascinating and well-written. Dyhouse takes a complex subject and analyzes it in a very clear, logical tone. Although it is super-repetitive, I didn't really get bored, possibly because the subject itself is so interesting and very pertinent to women today. How important should beauty and conforming to society's definition of an ideal woman be? This is something every woman must struggle with on a daily basis, as we grow up and as we get older. Dyhouse, however, concludes that whatever body or identity issues women have, glamor is not to blame. It is, first and foremost, about aspiration. Luxury, escape, and perfection can all exist within the enchantment of glamor, something many working-class women appreciate. It's all a temporary illusion, but an illusion that allows a woman to manipulate the world so that it sees her as she wants to be seen. In the end, glamor--even of the pedestrian cosmetic type--is still a kind of magic.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in the subject of 20th century visual culture or women's history! Thanks to Inbooks, Zed Books, and Three Pipe Problem for sending me a copy to review.

Musical Notes: "Which?" by Jeri Southern

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Remembering Harry Potter

luna lovegood

After Tobacco Wars, I think this blog needs a palate cleanser. How about a short and sweet Harry Potter meme from Tif Talks Books?

When and Where (when you first discovered the series): I first heard about it on Oprah. I think I managed to convince my mom to buy the first two books after that (that was before the third one had even come out!) and I read the first one to my brother. But it seemed too young for me, so I didn't start reading the rest of the series until after the second movie was released and my friends bullied convinced me to give it another shot.

Favorite Character: Snape. Obvs.

Most Hated Character: Probably Delores Umbridge. She is reeeeeally annoying.

Favorite Book: Order of the Phoenix. It's so sexy.

Favorite Movie: Probably Half-Blood Prince because of the Snape element (I love how he swooshes around), but I pretty much like them all equally except for the third one, which I hate. With a passion.

Rank the Books (1 = favorite, 7 = least favorite):
  1. Order of the Phoenix
  2. Chamber of Secrets
  3. Goblet of Fire
  4. Deathly Hallows
  5. Half-Blood Prince
  6. Prisoner of Azkaban
  7. Sorcerer's Stone
Most Memorable Scene: The Weasely twins interrupting OWL exams to explode havoc on Delores Umbridge before leaving Hogwarts for good. I was like, "I heart you guys so hard right now!"

What You Will Miss the Most: Release parties

What You Are Looking Forward To (even despite the end): Pottermore and the class on Harry Potter: Image and Media that no one will let me teach. Sadface.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Book Review: TOBACCO WARS by Paul Seesequasis

tobacco wars cover

In this novella, Pocahontas marries John Rolfe and they sail to England, only he dies on the voyage there, and she remains alive to flit about London in the company of characters like Ben Johnson and Inigo Jones. And they're all really lecherous and gross, and Pocahontas turns into la Malinche; and Ben Johnson meets Mary Read and Anne Bonny, and writes the most incredibly awful play, and is sexed up. And there's also a bear.

So. This is what I think of as a dick waving book. You know in middle school or high school, how there was always a guy[s] who was really insecure about his masculinity, so he worked extra-hard at being crude and sexually objectifying women to make up for it? Yeah. I'm not saying dick waving books are necessarily awful--practically all of Ernest Hemingway's novels are dick wavers, let's face it--it just annoys me, purely as a female person. And Seesequasis is no Ernest Hemingway, not in this novella anyway. At least with Hemingway, you get a sense of the author, of the emotions and life experiences that he knows, first-hand. With Tobacco Wars, I felt like author was hiding behind a front of ridiculousness and crudity, and almost afraid to be honest with the reader.

I can see where Seesequasis was going with this novella (tobacco, Indian woman marrying an English dude, bears peeing rivers--it doesn't take a genius), and it's not as if the whole book is a farce--he does make oblique references to boarding schools and poverty, for example--but what he's trying to say in this book has been said before, in much more effective ways. When I wasn't grimacing at some mind-boggling turns of phrase ("the life-giving fountain of her voluptuous vulva," seriously? Please do not ever alliterate vulva with anything ever again, I beg of you) I was bored because there wasn't really anything to latch onto to carry me through the story. No emotion, believable characters, or even anything of intellectual interest; just really sophomoric sex. Yawnz.

Obviously this book wasn't what I was expecting at all. But if phrases like "voluptuous vulva" and "Do those embedded trading post beads make you come," don't make you want to call for a writer's intervention... well, then it won't bother you as much as it did me. Thank you to TLC Booktours for giving me the opportunity to review it, though!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Graphic Novel Review: SCOTT PILGRIM by Bryan Lee O'Malley

Scott pilgrim covers 1 through 3
scott pilgrim covers 4 through 6

Here are a few things you should know about Scott Pilgrim:
  1. He is Canadian.
  2. He is 23 years old.
  3. He is "between jobs."
  4. He lives with his cool gay roommate, Wallace Wells.
  5. He is dating a high schooler (Knives Chau, 17 years old).
Or at least he was dating a high schooler, until he meets Ramona Flowers, a ninja American who rollerblades through his dreams. Somehow Scott convinces Ramona to date his loser awesome self, which is great. Unfortunately, he has to battle Ramona's Seven Evil Ex-Boyfriends to keep dating her.

If God (or the devil) is in the details, then this series is full of both. O'Malley not only gives us a great story with fabulously fun characters and quirky humor, but he fills their world with tons of details that make it seem totally convincing. Some of them are fanciful--the baddy bads turning into coins or bunnies once they're defeated, for example--and some are delightfully practical, like a recipe for vegan shepard's pie or chord charts for songs by Scott's horrible band, Sex Bob-omb.

All the characters in this graphic series are great, but obviously the heart of soul of it is Scott Pilgrim. By all rights he should be total loser--he doesn't have a job, is a complete mooch, doesn't drink because he's too much of a pussy, and his band totally sucks. But he's so lovable it's impossible not to think he's the greatest guy ever! And his character has a lot more depth than you would think--for all his irresponsibility, there are reasons Scott behaves the way he does (not necessarily good reasons, mind you, but reasons). I love how something Scott will do to make you think, "Oh, ha ha, quirky Scott!" has an impact on the story later on.

scott pilgrim wins

As for the art, it's elegant and fab. This might be, visually speaking, one of the best manga-style comics I've ever come across. There's an easy flow to the pages that allows you to relax and enjoy the story, yet at the same time O'Malley really gets across all the characters' personalities and moods. Ramona and Envy (one of Scott's evil exes) are the two best-drawn in the whole series, with clothes and accessories that make them instantly recognizable and interesting--not to mention diametrical opposites of one another.

If you've seen the movie, Scott Pilgrim vs the World, then you pretty much know how this series is going to go. In fact, the first volume of the manga matches the film almost scene-for-scene. But the manga is way better because you get to know a lot more about the secondary characters like Wallace and Kim, the whole Negascott thing makes sense, and the final battle is EPIC. Both the movie and the manga use the seemingly silly plot to show how everyone has baggage and you bring that to your relationships. But the manga is also about how people lie to themselves so they don't have to face things, and eventually all those lies catch up with you. Fortunately, Scott and Ramona get to face theirs together.


Basically... this graphic novel is the shit and you all should read it! The end.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011


teen wolf versus chloe king

This summer two teen-centric series premiered on television: Teen Wolf, which is a remake of a movie I've never seen; and The Nine Lives of Chloe King, which is based on a book and has a very long title.

Both shows are cheesy but good for some "lite" entertainment. But which one is better? Compare and contrast time, kids! Behold, I give you this spreadsheet that took me way longer to put together than if I'd just written a paragraph:

Teen WolfNine Lives of Chloe King (hereafter known as NLoCK)
Scott McCallPersonality: doofusChloe KingPersonality: bubbly
Age: 16Age: 16
Extracurricular activities: lacrosseExtracurricular activities: trying on clothes
Job: vet assistantJob: clerk in 2nd-hand clothing boutique
Favorite superhero reference: The HulkFavorite superhero reference: none
Parents: Mom crazy busy; dad mysteriously absentParents: Adopted; mom crazy busy, dad mysteriously absent
Happy he got superpowers because: he can now play lacrosseHappy she got superpowers because: she's attractive to the men-folk
Sad he got superpowers because: he's even more of weirdo now than he was before.Sad she got superpowers because: she can't hang with her friends constantly
Best Friends
Teen WolfNLoCK
StilesPersonality: adorkableAmyPersonality: Sassy bitch
Brings to the table: a car, research skills, brains, comic reliefBrings to the table: a car, the cold hard truth
Worried about: being eatenWorried about: losing her bestie
Jealousy meter: lowJealousy meter: high
PaulPersonality: lost puppy
Brings to the table: superhero knowledge, emotional support for Amy
Worried about: not being a sidekick
Jealousy meter: medium
Love Interests
Teen WolfNLoCK
AllisonAttractive because: She's new at school, so has no idea what an idiot Scott isBrianAttractive because: Is in college
Sexual aggression meter: highSexual aggression meter: just this side of gay best friend
Romeo and Juliet element: dad is a werewolf hunterRomeo and Juliet element: dad heads organization trying to wipe out people like Chloe
Convenient plot device: soothes the savage beastConvenient plot device: has a car
Special Powers
Teen WolfNLoCK
Better visioncheckBetter visionoh heck yes
Super hearingcheckSuper hearingyes
Shape shiftingcheckShape shiftinghas yet to grow a tail and whiskers
ImmortalnoImmortalkinda; has 9 lives instead of 1
Miscellaneous Plot Elements
Teen WolfNLoCK
SenseiDerek, lives in crappy house and is grumpySenseiValentina, lives in kick-ass apartment and is super-understanding
LocationNorCalLocationSan Francisco
Things this teenager does that teenagers would never doAccept punishment gracefullyThings this teenager does that teenagers would never doDinner party with friends every Wednesday
Pressure to conform?An alpha will kill him unless he joins a packPressure to conform?Chloe must train to become leader of the Mai, an ancient race of cat people.
School AntagonistJackson, captain of the lacrosse teamSchool AntagonistAlek's girlfriend
Superhero AntagonistThe werewolf huntersSuperhero AntagonistAn evil organization dedicated to wiping out the Mai
Uses powers for personal gain?Uses super strength and speed in lacrosseUses powers for personal gain?Listens to friends' conversations when they think she can't hear

As you can see, these shows are pretty similar, but NLoCK is more feel-goody and lighter on the dramaz. I would also say Teen Wolf is slightly better-written than NLoCK.

What interests me about both shows is how both kids seem to have sexuality tied to their supernatural abilities. This is especially true for Chloe, who starts attracting boys the way a Coyote Ugly waitress attracts barflies as soon as she turns sixteen--and comes into her Mai abilities on the same day. Coincidence? I don't think so. Scott also magically starts dating only after he's been bitten by a werewolf.

Both shows are ├╝ber-silly and great for a light brain break. And while I do think Teen Wolf is better-scripted and -produced, there's something about NLoCK that keeps me from hating it, despite the fact that I start grinding my teeth every time I see Chloe's Pier1-sponsored bedroom or her and her mom have a ridiculous heart-to-heart. It's still better than The Vampire Diaries, anyway.

Is anyone else enjoying these shows despite themselves?

Monday, July 11, 2011


art and madness cover

"Normal life beckoned with all the appeal of soiled bedsheets. I wanted to dance in the dark, cheek to cheek, with something dangerous, something that would make me feel alive."
I'm not big on memoirs. In fact, I haven't read a single memoir since I started this blog, nor have I had any desire to do so. But when Jenny from Lit Endeavors tweeted the above quote from Art and Madness, I knew I had to at least give it a try.

Roiphe, a writer of several books both fictive and non, lived in the beatnik heyday of New York City--but not as a writer, as an object of desire. With her primary focus in life being to inspire a great artist, she banged her way through the fifties and sixties--and not monogamously, either. Supposedly all these men were famous, but the only one whose name is even vaguely familiar to me is George Plimpton, and I think that's because I was confusing him with George Peppard from Breakfast at Tiffany's.

My embarrassing lack of knowledge about who these people are aside, the book isn't really about that. It's not a dirty tell-all, it's a coming of age story. Roiphe grew up amidst the upper-class, post-War conformity of Park Avenue, where everything a woman did, including going to college, was meant first and foremost to catch her a husband. Even though Roiphe rebelled against everything her parents' generation stood for, she still suppressed her own desire to create and write and channeled it into the support of the male "geniuses" who surrounded her. Her gradual realization that she had her own voice that was worth expressing, that she could and should be more than just a man's support, is the real narrative of this book.

A few weeks ago when I reviewed The Ghost of Greenwich Village, I complained that the reader got no sense of the beatnik era from the story. That is sooo not the case with Art and Madness. From Hiroshima and the Kennedy assassination, JD Salinger and Freud, men who drink like fishes and keep mistresses on the side, to the beginnings of feminism and free love, the sense of place and time in this book is palpable. It's like watching Mad Men, only more awesome because the mad men in this case are writers. You can see how 1950's conformity--at least on the surface--was a response to the chaos of war and, as Roiphe put it, to the ungrieved-for dead; and you can understand how and why Roiphe's generation violently reacted against that sensibility to create the counter-culture movements of the 1960s.

That being said, I wasn't totally entranced. The book starts to get repetitive and, as I've mentioned, I'm not that big on memoirs to begin with. But the story is interesting and Roiphe's writing style, though seriously old skool, is wonderful and poetic and reminiscent of the clicking of typewriters and smokey sub-basement bars--in other words, totally appropriate to the setting of this book.

If you have an interest in this era, Roiphe's life is definitely worth reading about.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Book Review: UNLOCKED by Courtney Milan

unlocked cover

Lady Elaine has spent the last decade as a pariah in society, mocked for her laugh, and all thanks to one man--Evan Carlton. Now Evan has returned from the Continent and is intent on righting his past wrongs with Elaine; partly because he can't stand himself if he doesn't, but most especially because he's in love with her.

The last Courtney Milan book I read was Proof by Seduction, and this one is definitely better. The story doesn't lag at all (it is only 111 pages) and the beginning is very emotionally engaging--especially if you have any experience with being made fun of, and who doesn't? It's impossible not to feel for Elaine, who has started to erase the personality that makes her herself because she's constantly attacked in society. Meanwhile, Evan's evolution from bully to beta male is a little more difficult to believe, and his--career, I suppose you would call it?--as a mountaineer seemed utterly random, but he's not an unsympathetic character.

At the same time, there were a lot anachronisms and convenient plot devices going on this story that kind of threw me. Elaine runs out into the hallway with her dress undone and just happens to encounter Evan, who just happens to have rope in his room? Hmm. Okay. And I really can't envision a 19th-century male agreeing to be "just friends" with a woman, or even understanding what that means. But Evan and Elaine's relationship was still sweet and sexy and they had a lot of chemistry, so I could overlook the inconsistencies.

The more interesting relationship in the story for me, however, was between Evan and Diana. Diana is Evan's cousin and was his partner in tormenting Elaine--and a lot of other people--before he escaped to mountaineer across Europe. Diana couldn't leave England, though, so she continued to pick on other people in London society. She's actually pretty detestable, but there's one person who has her complete loyalty, and that's Evan. She relies on him to be her one true friend, but knows that friendship is threatened by his love for Elaine, who undoubtedly hates Diana after everything she's done.

Unlike Elaine and Evan's relationship, I wasn't sure this one was going to work out, even though I (weirdly) wanted it to. I also wasn't sure if or how Diana's character would evolve. Out of all the characters, though, I think Diana underwent the greatest evolution and served as an anchor to the entire story.

Overall, this novella is definitely worth the price of its .99 download. I wouldn't say it's the best thing I've ever read, but it is a nice romantic escape.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Movie Review: PARIS, JE T'AIME

18 vignettes highlight the different arrondissements (or neighborhoods) and people that make up one of the greatest cities in the world, Paris.

Here's the thing: I love Paris. I hate big cities, but Paris is the one big city I could live in. So when it comes to a movie like this, which is basically a love letter to a city I love, I'm a sure bet.

I'm not going to tell you what all 18 short films were about (for that you can go to wikipedia), but there were definitely some standouts:
  • "Quais de Seine" A young French man strikes up a friendship with a Muslim girl; a very optimistic and sweet film.
  • "Porte de Choisy" A hair product salesman pays a visit to a Chinese-run beauty salon. This film started off strange but ended up very fanciful and fun.
  • "Tour Eiffel" Two mimes fall in love. Why always the mimes??? Seriously.
  • "Faubourg Saint-Denis" A short film starring Natalie Portland, and one of the most visually interesting vignettes in the entire movie. The more I think about this one, the more I'm impressed with it.
  • "14e arrondissement" I liked this one because it reminded me of me! An American woman from Colorado visits Paris and describes in very s l o w French (which is how I speak it) what her visit was like. I just loved this one and it made me want to go back to Paris so badly I actually started crying, because I am a sap.
paris je taime poster

That's just five short films out of eighteen, but actually the majority of them are pretty good. A few are boring, and a few are like watching the drama team in high school (lots of shouting, dramatic statements, slapping, and--on my part--eye rolling), but the vast majority of them are 100% worth seeing.

That being said, when you watch them all in a row it gets to be exhausting. That's 18 different storylines in a two hour period! It felt way to long and even though I was enjoying it, after the first hour I wanted it to end. I'm glad I stuck with it, but personally I wish I had been able to view each short film one at a time over the course of several days.

There's not much to say beyond that other than, if you love Paris, this movie is definitely worth checking out.

paris in july gif I watched this movie as part of Paris In July, a month-long challenge hosted by Book Bath and Thyme for Tea. Check out Book Bath's blog for more details.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Do Clothes Make the Character?

lolcat clothes

How important is what a character wears?

My initial response would be, "I can't see what they're wearing, so clothes are totally unimportant." But if I said that I would be lying, because badly-dressed characters have the potential to utterly wreck a book for me. One of the reasons I DNF'd Hunting Ground was because Charles dressed like Steven Seagal. I believe my exact words were, "Ms Briggs, may I suggest opening a male clothing catalog published post-1990s the next time you describe what your characters are wearing?" Add in some pointless scenes where his wife bought him several--not one, but several--short-sleeved silk shirts and I was like: No. No. Nooooooooooooo!

Whenever a girl character starts buying clothes for guys, especially if she's interested in said guy, I start to get worried. Such scenes should come with a warning: plz do not dress this guy up like a douchebag. Seriously, is that so hard? The fact that Amy dressed Alexander in khakies and running shoes nearly ruined The Vampire Stalker for me; thankfully the author stopped mentioning it so I could go back to imagining Alexander looking, you know, cool.

And then there are scenes where the hero starts instructing the woman on how to dress. OH LORDY. First of all, a man should have the grace to at least pretend not to notice a woman's fashion faux pas; that's common courtesy. And second of all, this is something that would be guaranteed to piss me the hell off if it happened in real life. Can you say controlling??? The fact that Lucien bought clothes for Jessica in Jessica's Guide to Dating the Dark Side is one of the many reasons why I DNF'd that sucker and nearly set it on fire while I was at it. And in one of my latest reads, Unlocked, the hero, Evan, tells the heroine she should be wearing different colors. Maybe he had a point, but Evan, please shut the hell up before my desire to claw your eyes out right now transfers this book and I break my kindle by smashing it against a wall.

Of course, it's not all about who picks the clothes, it's also about what those clothes say about the character. I was watching some random show about movies once wherein a whole slew of actors, from Dustin Hoffman to Kirsten Dunst, discussed how wardrobe is the key to understanding their characters. One would think for an actor the script would be the most important thing; but apparently the character doesn't come together in their "mind's eye" until they put on said character's clothes. So the outfit really does make the person--or at least our perception that person, our ability to categorize them quickly in a certain way that's very useful in story telling.

There are times when the way I envision a character goes completely against how an author describes them. Like the way I picture Edward Cullen in my head is a younger version of this:

simon baker

and less like this:

edward cullen

and I didn't even notice until I'd read the book for the third time that Edward was supposed to have brown hair or something??? Whatevs, he's clearly a blonde.

I'm not obsessed with fashion or anything, but the fact is that even though we can't see book characters in front of us, clothes play an important role in our understanding of them and the story. Think of the slipper in Cinderella. If an author takes the time to point out how a character dresses, it doesn't become visually important, but rather integral to the understanding of the way that character's mind works--much more so, I think, than when we do see people in real life. If how a character dresses fights against our understanding of who that character is, then that disconnect can kick us right out of the story. So it's wise to use clothes with caution and let the reader do most of the work--if I wanted roles to be cast for me, I'd watch a movie.

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Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Book Review: THE VAMPIRE STALKER by Allison van Diepen

vampire stalker cover

Have you ever...
  • imagined a character in a book was your book-boyfriend or -girlfriend?
  • gone to a book release party at a bookstore, where you had your copy of the new book reserved so you could get it at exactly midnight?
  • canceled all plans or taken off from school or work just so you could read a book?
  • refused to speak to your friends until you finished a book so that you could avoid spoilers?
  • read through a cliffhanger ending and felt like you would seriously die if you didn't find out what happened next???
  • jumped online to discuss a book on twitter or message boards as soon you finished it?
  • written fan fiction?
  • dressed up like a character in a book?
  • wished you could live in a book?
If you answered no to all of these questions, first of all, you're a freaking liar. And second of all, this book probably isn't for you. If you have done any of these things, however, then Vampire Stalker is way up your alley.

Amy lives in Chicago and is obsessed with the Otherworld series, which is kind of like a combination of Harry Potter and the Black Dagger Brotherhood. Her favorite character is Alexander, a teenager bent killing Vigo, the vampire who murdered his entire family. Then one night, Amy is walking home, and she's attacked by a vampire! And Alexander saves her! How did the characters from the book come to life? And how can Amy and Alexander protect Chicago from Vigo?

When I first started this book, I liked it, but it felt really young and frivolous. I didn't get the attraction to Alexander at all and I wasn't expecting much. BUT THEN, it improved! It became awesome! And what really set this novel apart from just some silly story where Mr. Dream Guy shows up is that it actually offers an explanation for why some books feel so incredibly real and why Alexander and Vigo are suddenly in the "real" world. And the explanation kind of makes sense! Two words: literary physics.

After that, for some reason Alexander started to seem more attractive to me. Maybe it was the fact that the author stopped mentioning he was wearing khaki pants and running shoes. *pauses for tragic fashion shudder* Maybe it was that he started gaining some personality. Whatever it was, he was totally swoon-worthy, and I could completely believe that he and Amy would become a couple.

If you have any love for books at all, I would definitely recommend giving this book a try--it's much better than you think. Thanks to Pam from Bookalico.us for recommending & sending it!

Musical Notes: "Moves Like Jagger," Maroon 5

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Book Review: FAIR GAME by Josh Lanyon

fair game cover

As a former FBI agent turned professor, Elliot is in a unique position to liaise with the authorities after a student is kidnapped from his university campus near Seattle. The only problem is, Elliot's former lover, Tucker, is in charge of the investigation. Awkwardness!

While writing my fan letter to John Lanyon, I started buying up a bunch of his novels in the course of "research." This is another fast-paced and entertaining read by him. There's lots of sexual tension between Elliot and Tucker that is very skillfully drawn-out over the course of the novel. The mystery is also well-plotted: I didn't figure out who the kidnapper was until Elliot did, mainly because of some convincing red herrings.

I also kind of loved the university setting. Elliot got his PhD in history before becoming an FBI agent, which is a reeeally drastic change in career goals to say the least, and it's clear he's gained no love for academia in the interim. The professors--most of whom teach art studio or art history, strangely enough--are portrayed as navel-gazing egomaniacs, not that students necessarily fair much better. I really wanted to find out more about Elliot's backstory in this respect and why he decided to go into the FBI after doing all the work it takes to gain a PhD, but perhaps this is implied in the conservative ideology in this book--Elliot's dad is a retro hippie liberal (as are most of his colleagues at the university) who thinks the FBI is part of the Evol Empire and trying to impose a fascist regime. Elliot is never overt about his political leanings, but he clearly situates himself on the other side of the political spectrum, as does Tucker.

All that aside, however, the main draw of the novel is Tucker and Elliot's relationship. Where did it all go wrong--isn't that the question in every failed relationship? It's one Elliot thinks he has figured out, until he and Tucker are forced to work together again. I didn't get as much insight into Tucker's character as I would have liked--he's basically man-candy, let's face it--but I did think his and Elliot's interactions felt authentic and that there was a lot of chemistry between them. Plus, it's in the nature of a novel like this to only know the other characters from a single character's perspective, and watching Tucker progress from a royal bastard to, like, greatest guy ever! was kind of fun.

Definitely another solid mystery from Lanyon that's worth checking out.

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