Category Archives: reviews

Favorite Books of 2015

I surpassed my goal of reading 40 books in 2015 by reading 56 instead. I may have overshot a little. Here were some of the ones I liked best.

10149142The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson
I went into this unsure of how I’d feel about it, considering it was about a dysfunction family and written by a man. What I thought might be an entire book dedicated to manpain turned out to be a funny, endearing narrative told from the perspective of a woman, the older daughter of the Fang family. It follows the Fang children when, after brushes with bad luck, they both end up back in their eccentric, artist parent’s home. They worry they’ll be dragged back into the chaos that was their childhoods. A great story for anyone who worries they’ll never escape being the child of their parents, which is something I know a lot about.
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27111324The Less Than Epic Adventures of TJ & Amal by E.K. Weaver
Finally. FINALLY this is available all together in one wonderfully, giant package. I’ve been following E.K. Weaver’s characters, TJ and Amal, since she was posting character designs and stitched together long-form comics on, uh, less than reputable art gallery sites. And that was around 2008? 2009? So I’m a little biased. The web comic can be read here, but if you can get your hands on the omnibus, I recommend you do. So much wonderful story, but also concept art, design notes, extras – all in one beautifully bound edition. The story: After coming out to his parents, Amal leaves Berkeley on a cross country trip to see be at his sister’s college graduation. A man he meets at a bar, TJ, agrees to pay for the trip, no questions asked, so long as he gets him to the other side of the United States, and like, right now.
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13497818The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling
Does this book need an introduction? The life of a British idyll is disrupted when one of their parish council members dies unexpectedly. “Disrupted” might be the wrong world. “Goes totally fucking insane” might be better. I loved this book, and I was crushed to see how much people disliked it overall. The characters and their inner lives were fascinating, and the struggle between the rich and poor of the town was heart-wrenching and hit hard. As someone who grew up poor, this book meant a lot to me. And knowing Rowling lived in poverty before she struck it rich with Harry Potter, I’m sure she’s drawn on a lot of real life experience, and that makes it all the more engaging. If you tried reading the book and thought she was “trying too hard” with the crassness in the first part of the book, or that she was trying to distance herself from the boy who lived, go back and try again. Forget it is by the beloved author of Harry Potter and read it as a stand alone book. You may be surprised what you find.
GoodReads

18630542Seconds by Bryan Lee O’Malley
I loved this graphic novel, because I’ve been saying for years that I wanted a version of Scott Pilgrim from Ramona’s perspective. And while I may never get that, I did get Seconds, which is pretty close. Katie runs a successful restaurant, but she’s still not content. She wants to open another, but things are not going well. She gets a second chance when she finds a tiny notebook and a basket of mushrooms – all she has to do is eat a mushroom and write what she wants to happen in the notebook, and she gets to go back and change the past! But of course nothing is that simple. As a slacker fuck-up in her twenties, I appreciate that O’Malley’s mastery for creating slacker fuck-up characters extends beyond Scott. My only complaint was that Katie should have ended up with Hazel, but that might just be me.
GoodReads

12349My Year of Meats by Ruth Ozeki
Have I mentioned I love well-written female protagonists? Because I do. When Jane Tagaki gets a job making a documentary television series for a Japanese audience to sell American meat products, she uncovers not only misogyny, bigotry, and racism, but an insidious industry cover-up that penetrates deep into her biggest fears and (perceived) failures. Not only does Ozeki create wonderful characters in her protagonists, but the families she has Jane and her crew interview are so wonderfully real. I read “A Tale for the Time Being” a couple years ago, and I look forward to reading Ozeki’s third novel, “All Over Creation,” as soon as I can.
GoodReads

23093359The Wicked and The Divine: Volume 1: The Faust Act by Kieron Gillen & Jamie McKelvie
WHO LOVES WELL-WRITTEN FEMALE PROTAGONISTS? THIS GIRL. Anyway. I read Gillen & McKelvie’s run on one of my all-time favorite super teams, The Young Avengers, and when I heard they were doing an original story for Image, I jumped on that so fast my head spun. And I was not wrong. Every nine years, a pantheon of gods are reborn into living mortals, and within two years, they are all dead. It’s depressing as hell and gives wonderful commentary on the state of (mainly comic book) fandom. They go to a convention for gods, for Christ’s sake. Pun very intended. Sadly, I haven’t been able to keep up with the releases, but rest assured I will collect the graphic novels as they come out.
GoodReads

22318578.jpgThe Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo
Marie Kondo and I have a lot in common. I mean, she’s a well-respected, certified domestic goddess and I’m not. But! We both hate clutter and think hanging on to things you never use is unnecessary and should be remedied as soon as possible. I appreciate that Kondo encourages people to purge things from their life, but not to think of those things as useless or garbage. Nicely kept possessions can be sent on to second hand stores, and worn items can be thanked for the joy they brought you and laid to rest in the garbage. You would be surprised how freeing thanking and saying goodbye to a possession you no longer have use for is. Needless to say, she even encourages you to pass her book along to someone else, which I did. Also needless to say, I’m pumped for the sequel. In-depth sorting and organizing tips? Please, go on.
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More Adventures in the Young Adult Lit Universe: Doll Tie-In Edition

Ah, the tie-in novel; an age old tradition usually reserved for a mass market paperback with a movie poster on the cover. In the world of toy marketing, the tie-in novel is usually produced to get parents to buy more from whatever brand their child is already obsessed with and is often, uh, terrible. Since getting into Monster High and Ever After High, and spending probably a little too much money on dolls, I knew I wanted to read the books, but couldn’t afford to drop too much more cash to do so. So I did what any self-respecting adult fan of a children’s toy line would do – I borrowed them from the library.

Spoilers ahead.

Monster High by Lisi Harrison

Monster-High-Books-2012-Pic I admit I only read the first volume of this four book series (and a couple chapters of the fourth book because I’m a big fan of Draculaura), but that was enough for me. The first book read like the author took the characters of Monster High, whittled down their personalities, and stuck them into a Gossip Girl-esque world. Compared to the charm of the webisodes and movies, it was like reading some jaded teenage sister’s attempt at showing her little sister how Monster High could be made “cool.” One thing that especially stuck out for it’s awfulness was the character of Melody Carver, who seems to exist to be a checklist for fan fiction Mary Sues: sudden transformation that made her beautiful, actually a monster born to a “normie” family that just doesn’t get her, has a beautiful singing voice that can enchant anyone who hears it & make them do what she wants, and has serious angst due to her singing voice being the one thing she can’t share with the boy she loves for reasons that are dumb. Seriously, did Harrison write Harry Potter fic back in the early 2000s? Because that is some My Immortal level character building.

(And just in case you were wondering, I don’t even have a problem with teenage girls writing Mary Sues in fan fiction. They can do whatever their little hearts desire, but I expect more from a published author.)

The one  thing I will give this series is that it zeroes in on the core message of the MH franchise, that being yourself is key, and textually acknowledges that monsters (or “RADs” at the book calls them) are feared and hated in the same way that people of color, homosexuals and other groups have been over the years. Unfortunately from what I’ve read, it looks like that’s ALL the series does, briefly talking about it and then going right back to being shallow.

Rating: No stars. Just. None.

Monster High Ghoulfriends Series by Gitty Daneshvari

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The Ghoulfriends series is very different from the first Monster High series in that it takes a much more basic and familiar approach to the MH universe. Instead of trying to make the ghouls act more like stereotypical teens, this series tries to keep the innocence and charm of the webisodes and movies intact while telling a story about tertiary character Rochelle Goyle, Robecca Steam and Venus McFlytrap. The main ghouls make appearances as well, but usually acting as side characters.

I have read the first two books of this series , and while they were much easier to get through than any of the original MH series, it’s still not quite what I was looking for. I realize Mattel does not keep tight a canon with Monster High, but I felt Daneshvari’s characterizations are still a bit off, or at least unappealing. Rochelle is cute, and her obsession with rules and correction reminds me of many teenagers I’ve known (and perhaps been), but Venus and Robecca fell flat. Robecca relies heavily on the young adult literature trope of tirelessly spewing catchphrases when the author doesn’t have a voice for her. Being a recently reassembled 116 year old robot, she naturally uses dated slang like “bee’s knees,” but then goes about inventing similar sounding expressions that seem to pop out of nowhere, such as “mouse’s house.” And while this could be considered at least cute and charming, Venus, on the other hand, comes off as an annoying hippie type, getting angry at Cleo for using paper shopping bags and sneezing her “pollens of persuasion” on people when they don’t agree with her viewpoints.

I like both Venus and Robecca, but I don’t feel like they need to be featured so heavily in these books. If I had the chance to do something with the series, I would love to see perhaps Skelita and Jinafire step into their places, becoming Rochelle’s roommates after the events of the Scaris movie. Skelita and Jin do play a small part in Ghoulfriends, but they are largely ignored by other MH canon, and I feel fleshing them out in a series like this would be a big improvement upon their state as one-note cultural placeholders. I like them both a lot, and I felt their characters were poured from the molds of “Mexican monster character” and “Chinese monster character” when developed for Scaris and have yet to develop personalities that differentiate them from just their cultural identities. Making them two of the three main characters of series like this would flesh them out beyond “Mexican skeleton with a sugar skull for a head” and what basically boils down to the fact that the design team created a stereotypical dragon lady. (Which honestly blows my mind, like – how did that get past marketing???)

But I digress. Two big saving graces of this series are the beautiful cover & chapter art and the story’s original characters. The drawings are numerous and done in a sketchy pen and ink style that stays true to the original character designs and makes the covers very attractive. The original characters, unlike Melody Carver of the first MH series, are actually interesting and engaging, and fit in well with the universe and it’s style: Cy Clops, a shy, one-eyed monster with a crush on Robecca; Ms. Sue Nami, a waterlogged disciplinarian who refers to the students as “non-adult entities”; and Ms. Slyphia Flapper, a dragon, new teacher, and the main antagonist of the series. Just from their punny names alone I love how well they fit into the universe and have so far been a lot of fun to follow and watch interact with the main trio.

I will probably finish this series, as it only took me a couple hours to read each book, but I’m not assuming the story will get any more engaging or the characters any more rounded. Cute and charming, not unlike the webisodes, but still leave something to be desired.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

Ever After High: #1 The Storybook of Legends & #2 The Unfairest of Them All by Shannon Hale

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It’s hard not coming off as biased, but I LOVE these books! I think I can chalk my love of the Ever After High story to Mattel’s tight canon bible as well as Hale’s (h)excellent writing. I definitely got the impression from both books that they are what’s really going on behind the doll line, a mature, but still sweet and charming take on the Ever After High universe with wonderful characterization, great plots, and well-written prose. These books really round out the characters we’ve so far only seen in webisodes and make the universe seem all that much more alive and thriving.

I’ve talked a bit on my Twitter about my love for EAH, with it’s many layers of meta text, focus on choice and choosing your own path in life (but remembering the consequences), and message of living the life you want, free of expectations of others, especially peers and parents. I could talk endlessly about the world building, the meta, and the excellent messages it has for kids and adults alike, but then we’d be here all day.

The series itself is well written and Mattel did itself a great favor in picking Hale to write it. She clearly understands the conceit of the series and writes the characters so well that they are all sympathetic and interesting. Apple White, a hated character among webisode-only fans, really shines, getting her message through and actually making me question my very rebellious leanings. And while the books don’t follow the canon of the webisodes to a T, or vice versa, they parallel and compliment each other nicely.

I have literally nothing bad to say about this series and I really hope Hale is able to write it until it’s inevitable “The End.”

Rating: ★★★★★

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YA Lit: Year One

That title makes this entry sound badass, like the origin story of a comic book character. But really, this post is just about the other handful of YA books I read last year and haven’t yet talked about, in the vein of this post.

9779094This Dark Endeavor (The Apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstein #1) by Kenneth Oppel
I hate to say it, but I couldn’t really find anything I liked about this book. It didn’t seem to know what it wanted to be, but here are a few things it tried to be: the origin story of Doctor Frankenstein from the novel Frankenstein; a romance novel/paranormal romance/love triangle Twilight-esque thing between twin brothers and their cousin; an adventures novel with a lot of really confusing descriptions of said adventure; and smart, which it wasn’t. Burn? I don’t know, this just didn’t do it for me. As I read, I kept waiting for it to get more interesting, but it mostly just read as a bastardization of the original Frankenstein story. Which it was. Many YA novels based on classic works of literature are prone to this problem, but this was especially bad. [GoodReads]

Rating: ★☆☆☆☆

10369932The Eleventh Plague by Jeff Hirsch
I may just be biased, but I really can’t get into YA novels with male narrators. Nine out of ten times, I just won’t be interested from the get-go, and this book was no exception. I was really hoping for some zombie carnage to see if that would save it, but no, this was mainly a survival story. The writing was solid though, and I will give the author props for making the “minority” of this story an actual minority, not just some white guy with like, mutant powers or a weird disease. The world and it’s post-apocalyptic problems were also very realistic, but I just wasn’t into it. If you’re a fan of adventure/survival, this may be for you, but it just didn’t do it for me. [GoodReads]

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

13316306Invisible World by Suzanne Weyn
This book is a hybrid as far as historical significance is concerned, because not only is it about the Salem Witch Trials, it’s also a story about slavery, which I loved. So many novels, especially of the YA variety, will focus on one significant historical event while ignoring anything else happening during the same time period. Although clearly a fictionalized version, where witches actually exist, some good and some evil, it depicted the period well and fairly accurately.

That said, it read much like a YA novel from before the recent boom – a standalone book with a meandering plot that focused less on the paranormal elements and more on the inner feelings of the main character. Though this is not necessarily a bad thing, it wasn’t really what I was looking to read when I started on this adventure. I give major props to the author for being daring with historical integration, though. Very few YA novels set in this time would bother trying to tie in a slavery subplot, and Weyn does it very well, making it significant but not preachy. [GoodReads]

Rating: ★★★☆☆

12188615Ten Miles Past Normal by Frances O’Roark Dowell

I have to wonder just how many American kids spend their teenage years living on farms after their parents decide on a whim to relocate them in an attempt to… I don’t know, ride out a mid-life crisis? Anyway, I see this as a plot in books quite often: “How can I make my main character weird in a way that doesn’t actually make them weird, but might get them teased and would definitely make them hate their parents? I know, I’ll have them go from living in the city to living on a farm! Genius!” Really, you could replace farm with just about any place that isn’t the sort of place a teenager would want to live and it would still work. What I’m saying is, it isn’t a terribly original plot device. But it wouldn’t be a plot device then, would it?

The book itself is well written, but like The Invisible World, it reads like  a pre-boom novel with a meandering plot and a teenage protagonist whose only worries are smelling like cow pies and having a flaky best friend. Not that every YA book needs heavy (or any) supernatural or romance plot lines to carry it, but it was again just not what I was looking for. And it was cute, but it could definitely have been better. [GoodReads]

Rating: ★★★☆☆

13602234Scarlet (The Lunar Chronicle #2) by Marissa Meyer
Oh gee golly gosh am I glad about how quickly Meyer gets these books out. Only a few scant weeks until book three is released! End preemptive squeeing.

Scarlet is the second book in The Lunar Chronicles series and introduces quite a few new characters. Cinder remains, and spends much of her time running from the law in this novel, while Meyer introduces the second girl in the “team,” Scarlet. Scarlet is a French girl whose grandmother has gone missing. When her absentee father suddenly returns, she knows something is up, and partners with a prize fighter named Wolf to find her.

Though I think Cinder spent a little too much time on the lam without much to show for it (except a new partner in crime and Iko’s transformation from robot to ship), meeting Scarlet and seeing what Queen Levana is truly up to was definitely worth it. It actually took me a while to finish this book because I was reading an ebook version on my iPod. Yeah, my iPod. That’s how desperately I wanted to read it, but the eye strain kept getting to me. I persevered and finished, but for the next one in the series I think I’ll just get a print copy. [GoodReads]

Rating: ★★★★☆

5530930Geektastic: Stories from the Nerd Herd by Holly Black & Cecil Castellucci, et al.
WOW, did I have a hard time with this book. Short stories collections are great, because it basically gives you allowance to jump around a book without consequence, but this one was a goddamn nightmare. For every good story, there was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad one. And who they were by would surprise you. (Maybe.)

It is now apparently a trend to make your geeky protagonist a middle-to-high-school aged girl with a single quirk that makes her “geeky”, give her a BAOF (“best and only friend,” a term actually used in one of the stories), and then pit her against a popular girl, or have her have a hopeless crush – or worse, both. The stories in the collection that boil down to this were clearly phoned in, and it shows. But let’s not dwell.

Some stories that were really amazing were the following: Black & Castellucci’s “Once You’re a Jedi, You’re a Jedi all the Way”, a Romeo & Juliet/West Side Story-esque tale about Klingon and Jedi cosplayers who meet at a con and fall in love, is hilarious and cute. Tracy Lynn’s “One of a Us”, about a group of geeks who teach a cheerleader how to be, well, one of them, is incredibly sweet and heartwarming, as well as great commentary on geeks and geek culture. M.T. Anderson’s “The King of Pelinesse” is melancholy and smart, a take on the pulp novels of the mid-20th century. And Wendy Mass’ “The Stars at the Finish Line” is a cute romance that was actually believable and fun to watch unfold.

And I may have embellished a little. Many of the stories were very good. I’d say maybe only a third were utter trash. But in the words of LeVar Burton, don’t take my word for it. [GoodReads]

Rating: ★★★☆☆

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This Post Contains a Lot of Spoilers

2013 is my year for reading Young Adult literature, and so far, so good. I may have cheated a little and read a few in late 2012, but I was eager to get started. Here’s what I’ve read so far:

11870085The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
I figured if I was going to start anywhere, I might as well see what the big fuss was about with John Green. I’m a fan of him and his brother, Hank, and their various YouTube channels (though, if I’m being honest, I have to say I like John’s videos better), so I figured why not give his books a try? I pretty much automatically went with “The Fault in Out Stars,” since it’s his latest and most famous work. The book was good, and Green writes teenage girls pretty well. I like that he treated her as a person rather than just a “girl character”. Considering I’ve heard all of his protagonists have thus far been male, and all of their love interests manic pixie dream girl types, I was delighted to find how much I liked Hazel.

Overall, I found it a sweet, sad and enjoyable book, though I noticed a lot of John Green’s characters sound just like John Green. A lot of the time, I read their dialogue in his voice. Thank God Hazel never really said “And then I took off my bra.” I also didn’t cry, but it might have more to do with the fact that I’m a heartless bastard then anything.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

11235712Cinder by Marissa Meyer
I’d been wanting to read this since I heard about it, as I first saw it at Books Inc. being recommend with the phrase “Blade Runner meets Sailor Moon”. And if you know me at all, I love anything and everything that has to do with Sailor Moon.

The book itself was an EXTREMELY fun read. I love the characters, the fast pace, the funny dialogue and the world Meyer built in New Beijing. Cinder herself was smart and resourceful, and I love that in a YA heroine. I also love the trope subversion of “the girl does not think she’s beautiful until someone else (usually a guy) points it out”. Cinder is (SPOILERS) Lunar, so she is able to use a glamour to make herself look differently, which is something she didn’t know until a scientist told her. Anyway, it amuses me.

I was really impressed by this book, and also downloaded the shorts stories “Glitches” and “The Queens Army” from iBooks. I had no idea it was such a trend to write short stories to tie series books together, but apparently it’s then norm in YA books these days. The second book in the series, “Scarlet” is out now, and I can’t wait to get my hands on it!

Rating: ★★★★☆

7137327Enclave by Ann Aguire
I found this book a little duller than the other two on this list so far, but I really liked the world in which it was set. In fact, the two short stories that accompany this book “Foundation” and “Endurance,” the first being about the how the underground enclaves came to be, and the second about the main character’s best friends and their escape from their enclave, were a lot more interesting to me. Post-apocalyptic stories are some of my favorites, and I always love to read about different versions of how people will think the world may “end”. I was just sad to find the characters that live within the world kind of boring. My favorite parts were definitely before they left the enclave, and everything after that seemed kind of slow and meh. Also, the character of Stalker especially bothers me, since he and the main character, Deuce, have a dubious relationship. Considering his original plan for her was (trigger warning: rape – highlight to read) most likely a gang rape, I am not happy that he joined the “hero’s party,” as I tend to call it.

I will give the second book a try,  but I am not in love with the main cast. It’s a little disappointing since I liked the short stories so much. I hope the characters receive more development in the later books and become more interesting and likable.

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

12000129What the Dog Said by Randi Reisfeld
I was surprised to see Randi Reisfeld’s name on the cover of this book, as I recognized it from the novelizations of the television show “Sabrina the Teenage Witch” I used to read when I was a kid. It’s interesting to see she’s doing original writing and now, and was also responsible for the book series T*Witches (along with H.B. Gilmour, to whom “What the Dog Said” is dedicated), which I remember being turned into a Disney Channel movie starring Tia and Tamara Mowry from “Sister, Sister”. I’m having flashbacks to the 90s, guys.

“What the Dog Said” is a cute book about a girl who starts hearing her sister’s dog talk. I thought the summary sounded a little like a Disney Channel movie, as it seemed like it would appeal to a younger audience than YA readers, but what do I know about them? Though I thought the narrative dragged in place, I liked Grace, enjoyed her story and even related to her. She’s depressed due to her father’s death, and when she gets stuck with training the service dog her sister brings home, it was encouraging to watch her pull herself out of her muck and learn to feel better again. And I may also have a soft spot for goofy dogs.

Overall, a cute book, and though it might be a little on the young side for me, it was a good story with a good message. I hope it encourages a couple of kids who read it to think about training a service dog, or to at least adopt one from a shelter if they can.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

12358349Ruby Red by Kerstin Gier
I’ve already written a short review for this on GoodReads, so I think I’ll just copy and paste it. ;)

I was very surprised by Ruby Red. First, whoever wrote the jacket description should be fired. It does not reflect the good, solid writing contained within, nor does it do it justice. The book is well-written, funny and charming, which is exactly how I like my YA novels. If you have to spend an entire book (or three) in someone’s head, they had better be entertaining. The other thing that surprised me about the novel was that I actually cared about the main couple, which is not something I tend to do with YA books. Often the romance seems forced or unimportant to the overall plot, but Gwen and Gideon’s relationship seemed very natural, and the author didn’t leave you wondering about it. She tells you within the first half of the first novel they’re a thing, and, unusually for me, I wanted to find out how it happened! Time travel is tricksy that way. Not to mention, the time travel aspect thus far well done, too. It’s not easy keeping track of complicated timey-wimey rules, but Gier manages it. I’m just hoping the next installments shed some light on the mysteries and don’t leave too much unsolved, but suffice to say I will definitely be reading them.

Rating: ★★★★☆

And that’s all so far! I’ve got a few more on my current list, including the second books in the “Cinder” and “Ruby Red” series. I’m currently reading “This Dark Endeavor” by Kenneth Oppel, about the twin brothers Frankenstein, and I also have “The Eleventh Place” by Jeff Hirsh and “Invisible World” by Suzanne Weyn waiting – courtesy of my mother-in-law who teaches seventh grade English and knows about all the good YA books. (I actually read everything on this list except “Cinder” and “The Fault in Our Stars” on her recommendation!)

Does anyone else see a trend here, by the way? Every YA book I’ve read so far has been narrated by teenage girls. And it’s kind of great. A lot of YA books I read in the past and disliked (“The Perks of being a Wallflower” by Stephan Chobsky, “Hairstyles of the Damned” by Joe Meno, “Playing with Matches” by Brian Katcher, “Miss Peregine’s Homes for Peculiar Children” by Ransom Riggs, etc.) all had male narrators. I’m not saying men/male narrators automatically make for bad YA books (I didn’t like the way “The Hunger Games” was written, and Cory Doctorow’s “Little Brother” is one of my favorite YA books), but I think I was just reading the wrong stuff. How sad that it put me off the genre so long!

How about you guys? Read any good YA lately? Have anything to recommend? I’m all ears!

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See You at the Movies!

From my list of 22 movies I wanted to see this year, I’ve so far made it 12. Yes, I had to skip a couple, but that’s okay. I’ve also seen some originally unscheduled ones, as well, and found some I’d rather watch when they come out on DVD, or, in fact, not at all. (The Three Stooges? What was I thinking?)

I’ve also added a couple to the list:

  • Seven Psychopaths – I just recently saw In Bruges, which was amazing, and I LOVED Martin McDonagh’s play The Lieutenant of Inishmore, so I can’t wait for this! Luckily, it’s out in just ten days.
  • Wreck-It Ralph – A video game movie that doesn’t make me cringe!
  • Rise of the Guardians – I was skeptical of this at first, but it’s getting amazing reviews and has already won awards despite it not even being out yet. Sign me up!

And a couple of movies I’ve loved so far:

  • The Avengers – Despite it’s flaws, it lived up to the hype.
  • ParaNorman – I can’t recommend this movie enough! The studio behind Coraline, Laika, has not failed me yet. The story is so touching, the art is amazing and I can’t help but love a children’s movie that doesn’t talk down to it’s audience. Practically perfect in every way.
  • The Cabin in the Woods – Curse whoever let this go so long without getting released! This really was the horror movie to end all horror movies. Or maybe begin them. Who knows? Plus, I really missed Franz Kranz. And yes, it amazes me I have this many Joss Whedon-directed movies on this list, too. Don’t judge.

Overall, this has been a great year for movies. See anything good lately that I should add to my list?

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Exciting & Free: Puppies & Bracelets

I’ve acquired two new, precious things recently, and, as luck may have it, they were both free. First, of course, is my puppy, Olive.

Olive is the first dog I’ve ever owned, and I’m so happy and lucky to have her. She’s 9 months old, a chihuahua mix and probably one of the smartest dogs I have ever met. She already knows “sit”, tells us when she has to go out, and otherwise uses her puppy pads – which she learned to use in a matter of days! If I was a better photographer, there would be tons of photos of her all over this blog, so just be glad I’m not.

Olive was free thanks to Maddie’s Fund, a wonderful organization that tries to get as many dogs and cats adopted as possible. We were just lucky to meet her so close to the upcoming adopt-a-thon, where she would have been had we not already taken her home. My fiancee and I plan to donate to the fund when we can.

The second thing is a beautiful cuff bracelet from the up-and-coming jewelry retailer, Morphik.  They recently had a contest in which you told them what sort of piece you’d like to own, and how the artist featured who created it impacted your life. My favorite artist of all time, Junko Mizuno, is featured on the site, and I wrote about how I’d love to wear her “Wedding” print on a blue cuff for my upcoming wedding as my “something blue”, as her art has kept me going through tough times, and that I’d like it to be there for happy ones, as well.

A mock-up from the site. As I mentioned, I’m not much of a photographer.

The bracelet arrived today, and I was stunned by the quality. The cuff is turquoise-dyed leather, extremely durable, but light. The piece on the inset is like a miniature fine art print; it’s detachable, and can be displayed in the small, beautiful box it comes in, complete with a hook on the back, so you can hang it on the wall if you want. This allows for display AND handy storage, especially if you acquire another print and want to start wearing that instead. The prints are held in place with a strong magnet and won’t fall out, though you can pop them out easily through a hole on the back of the cuff when you want to change them.

I’m so glad to have won this piece, because it is extremely beautiful and is going to be playing a big part in my future. I’ve had it posted on my Pinterest wedding board for a while now, so I’ve been hoping it would! I plan to order some more pieces eventually (you know, when I don’t have a wedding to pay for), and I’m especially excited for any new artwork that may find it’s way onto Morphik’s site.

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Review: Strapya World’s Alice in Wonderland 2012 Schedule Book

Note: This post is for Strapya’s Review Contest.

My last planner was awful. Because I bought it before the end of last year, I was forced into buying one that started in June 2011and ended in June 2012. I was hoping to find a 16-month planner, something akin 16-month calendars, but they weren’t available at the office store I went to. I probably should have taken to the internet in my quest for a 16 months planner, but in my haste to get one, I took the easy – and cheap – way out.

And “cheap” is definitely the right word. After only a month, the back cover fell off, and I had to keep the book permanently folded over to make sure nothing else fell off. And because then the pages were always exposed, they began ripping out and getting scratched up when in my purse. It was a mess. I tossed it as soon as the new year started, despite  it having six months left.

Luckily, for Christmas, my wonderful boyfriend bought me one of Strapya World’s Alice in Wonderland 2012 Schedule books, the A6 sized “Bottle” planner. (Sadly now sold out.)

Opposed to my old planner, this books is gorgeous. It’s in a smaller size than my last book, so it’s easier to fit into my purse. It’s not spiral bound, so none of the pages can fall out. In fact, it’s bound like a regular book, with a plastic sleeve over the cover to protect it from spills or purse damage.

I love the cover, which is designed to look like various sweets bottles and containers that implore you eat and drink the contents. Alice graces the cover a couple times in silhouette form, trapped in bottles, or  joining cookies as they tumble from the shelves. It’s cute and elegant at the same time, making the design very attractive. In fact, it was my favorite design, and though I told my boyfriend to choose which version to get, he picked the one I liked most.

The plastic cover also wraps around onto the inside of the book, providing small pockets for notes and business cards, as well as a pen holder.

But of course, that’s only the outside of the planner. The inside is designed like an actual book, with endsheets and a title page. And it had exactly wanted I wanted when I was first looking for a planner: four monthly calendars for September through December 2011! I’m actually a little sad I didn’t order the planner for myself earlier, because then I wouldn’t have had to waste time on the previous one AND I would have saved money. But, hindsight  is 20/20, etc.

For 2012, the book has both monthly and weekly calendars, decorated with Alice art created especially for the book. Holidays are also conveniently marked through the book, both Japanese and international. At the end of each month are summary pages, and though my Japanese isn’t great, I think the idea is to sum up what happened that month and how it affected you. I could be wrong, though.

Finally, at the end of the planner, there are cute note pages that can either be ripped out and used as scratch paper or left in for important notes you need to carry with you. There’s also a small address book and Japanese subway maps, which although not useful to me, are at least fun to look at. The only thing I didn’t particularly like about the extras was a number of pages devoted to weight, diet and calorie “data”, which assumes all women using it are constantly watching their weight and dieting; but it’s probably just a culture thing. While that would be inappropriate to put something like that in every schedule book in the US (and not just those made with the idea of weight loss in mind), in Japan, it’s probably a different story.

In short, I love my new planner! It’s cute, sturdy, filled with helpful information and has just the right amount of space for all of the things I have to remember. Though this one is sold out, there are other versions still available in different designs and sizes so everyone can find the exact right one for them, and I definitely encourage trying.

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