Books read, April-June 2017

Posted on July 03, 2017 under Books

Another quarter gone, another mini book review post to follow. I read 15 books this quarter, bringing my total up to 31. I’m easily on track for my goal of 50 books in 2017!

American Gods by Neil Gaiman

I first read this book in early 2013 and decided to re-read it four years later in anticipation of the Starz adaptation (of which I have only watched two episodes – not sure that it’s going to hold my attention). I would say I enjoyed this sprawling, consuming tale less than I did four years ago, but Gaiman’s writing is still enjoyable. I greatly admire his ability for synthesis; there’s so much going on in the novel and he manages to tie together so many histories and mythologies. The premise was less charming to me this time around, and there was a subplot which, while enthralling, didn’t feel as though it was a part of the same book. Overall I’d say it’s an ambitious, well-executed, but flawed novel.

The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde

This was a very fun and clever book about an alternate 1980s UK. The main character, Thursday Next, is a Literary Detective who enters the world of Jane Eyre to pursue a murderer. (Yes, in this world the line between fiction and reality is not so clear…) I’ve seen comparisons to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, which I haven’t read, but I got a definite Phantom Tollbooth vibe with a pinch of Vonnegut for good measure. I think I’ll end up reading the rest of the books in this series when I want something light but not too fluffy.

A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing by Eimear McBride

I would call this a stream-of-consciousness prose poem rather than a novel. It’s unrelentingly bleak – think childhood illness, brain cancer, sexual abuse, the works. I find extended stream-of-consciousness narratives difficult and tedious, so I guess I wasn’t the right audience for this book from the outset. Combine that with the unending horrors presented in the book and it’s not easygoing. At certain points, I marvelled at McBride’s use of language, particularly towards the end of the novel. But I think that when a book is so unyielding in its darkness, the scales can tip towards melodrama and the whole thing can be surprisingly emotionally hollow. That was the case for me with this book, in any event.

Geek Love by Katherine Dunn

This book blew my mind when I first read it at age seventeen. Suffice to say I loved it even more the second time around. It tells the tale of the Binewskis, a circus family whose children are bred – with various cocktails of drugs – to be purposefully deformed so that they may draw large crowds. Its narratives alternate between the past and present, told by one of the middle children, Olympia, who is an albino, hunchbacked dwarf. As the story draws on the family’s dramas become more and more disturbing and perverse. Dunn’s prose is exquisite and insightful: she doesn’t just offer up an intriguing, dramatic plot (complete with murder, a cult, and so much more), but also meditations on normalcy. It’s unflinching, imaginative, and wholly extraordinary.

The Stone Angel by Margaret Laurence

Margaret Laurence is a wonderful, underrated Canadian writer. Though I enjoyed her best-known work, The Diviners, more, I found The Stone Angel very powerful too. It’s narrated by the formidable Hagar Shipley, a 90-year-old woman who looks back on her life, including her difficult childhood and her terrible marriage. Hagar is fierce and resists help from her son and his wife, though she is deteriorating both physically and mentally. She’s the nonagenarian antiheroine we all need! Having read The Diviners, which is set in the same Manitoba town – though a generation later – I loved recognizing certain characters and settings.

How To Suppress Women’s Writing by Joanna Russ

Seminal, biting feminist literary critique. I’ve been anti-canon since high school, and Russ perfectly elucidates why women’s artistic contributions are not taken seriously. She pays special attention to women of colour and lesbians as well. Essential reading, in my opinion.

Rubyfruit Jungle by Rita Mae Brown

Speaking of lesbians…! Rita Mae Brown’s groundbreaking classic is so full of heart; her protagonist, Molly Bolt, is delightful in her refusal to conform or to feel shame for her love of women. This is a funny, feisty, touching novel and a classic for a reason.

Bodily Harm by Margaret Atwood

Out of the Atwood novels I’ve read this one has the least overt feminist spin – though it’s still there, of course. I enjoyed it as I was reading it, but it really doesn’t compare to Cat’s Eye or The Edible Woman in its portrayal of the minutiae of women’s day-to-day lives. (Though as it’s about a journalist on vacation in the Caribbean, perhaps it’s not entirely about that.) Atwood writes lovely prose, no doubt about it, and this is an enjoyable novel – just not her best work.

A Wrinkle In Time by Madeleine L’Engle

Revisiting a fifth grade classic! As an adult, I found the novel a bit fast-paced – perhaps it’s because I’m used to fantasy novels being long, consuming, and detailed, rather than paced like a thriller. (I mean, the last fantasy I read was A Song of Ice and Fire, so…) Regardless, it’s so imaginative and I love the protagonist Meg – she’s a realistic child, shy and a bit awkward, who comes to trust and believe in herself more as the novel progresses. Great for kids and enjoyable for a nostalgic adult too.

Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

Thought I’d revisit my favourite Vonnegut novel for the millionth time! This novel is everything he did right distilled into one book. It’s absurdist, dark, and caustic. I admit I’m a big fan of Vonnegut’s writing style anyway, but this was the first of his novels I ever read and it really set the tone for me. A few of his novels have come close, but I’ve now read seven and this is still my favourite.

Flowers For Algernon by Daniel Keyes

Should I admit that my interest in reading this novel was sparked by an episode of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia? (By the way, that show is brilliant and I marathoned all twelve seasons in the space of like a minute and a half.) Regardless, it was surprisingly poignant and quietly thought-provoking. Charlie is one of the most sympathetic narrators I’ve encountered in a very long time, and his progression was believable and well-paced. There is an incredible amount of humanity in this novel. Definitely a tearjerker!

Mother Night by Kurt Vonnegut

I’m glad I read Mother Night so soon after my Slaughterhouse-Five re-read, because it, too, is about WWII and is narrated by a character who is mentioned in passing in Slaughterhouse-Five. It takes the form of the confession of Howard W. Campbell, Jr., an American who was raised in Germany and who is currently awaiting trial in Israel for Nazism. The twist is that, according to Campbell, he was an American spy, and his Nazi propaganda actually contained coded messages to the United States. However, the only man who can corroborate his story is nowhere to be found, so here we have a classic case of an unreliable narrator. At the heart of Mother Night is the question of whether or not it matters if Campbell really was an American spy, if ultimately he was complicit in the spread of evil. I’d put this right up there with Slaughterhouse-Five and Bluebeard in my Vonnegut ranking.

The Female of the Species by Mindy McGinnis

The premise of this book is so good: it’s about a girl who kills her sister’s murderer. But wait, it’s actually not, it’s about that girl and her last year of high school and her boyfriend/friend drama. Okay, to be fair, it was also a very scathing indictment of rape culture, and the twist ending was pretty awesome. But, well, it does feel a bit like a bait-and-switch. I wanted it to be way darker than it was, but it was normal YA with a murder-y twist. And I really wish that Anna, the sister, had been developed better. For a book that pushes some pretty feminist themes, I thought it was disappointing that the girl who was murdered ended up pretty much just being a convenient plot piece. I wanted to know about her, not about her sister’s boyfriend.

Cat’s Eye by Margaret Atwood

My favourite Atwood novel. It’s rough going, and it doesn’t get easier when you re-read it, either. The depiction of girlhood – particularly bullying – is gruelling, unrelenting, brutal. When I first read this in 2012, I said that reading it felt like drowning, and I think that’s still true. It’s very banal, in a lot of respects, but it’s also so vicious in its deconstruction of the world. I suppose you might consider it post-feminist; it was written in the 80s and the narrator’s reluctance to be pigeonholed as a “feminist artist” point towards Atwood’s own ambivalence about being renowned as a feminist writer. Either way, this book is fucking brilliant and I love Margaret Atwood.

Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson

I enjoy more contemporary lesbian literature, but the stuff that came out of the 70s and 80s – when things were so very different – is especially compelling to me. I think it’s about heritage, learning what came before. Winterson’s autobiographical novel is hilarious and heartbreaking, her voice strong and clear. She’s unapologetic but reflective. This book convinced me to check out her other work!

I’m hoping to read 10 more books by the end of summer, which will leave me with 4 months to read another 9. I think I can do it, but I’m a little apprehensive about the time-suck of moving to another country and starting grad school. So we will see!

May + June 2017 Behind the Scenes

Posted on June 30, 2017 under Life

So… we’re already halfway through 2017, and I have a little over two months left in Canada. (One of the things I did in May was book my flight to Glasgow!) Here’s what I’ve been up to since the last time I checked in.

Saw Laura Marling

Laura Marling

Laura Marling is one of my favourite musicians of all time. She released her sixth album in the spring and it was as glorious as I had hoped. Her folk-inspired music is intimate, haunting, and beautiful. She’s also an incredible performer: understated, mesmerizing, powerful. I’ve loved her music since 2011 and I will take any opportunity to see her live. I truly think she’s one of the most talented living artists. (The first time I saw her, St. Vincent and Cara Delevingne were in attendance, so clearly she’s doing something right.) If you haven’t heard her music, her new album Semper Femina is wonderful, and I Speak Because I Can and A Creature I Don’t Know are tied for first place in my heart.

Got a tattoo

When my grandpa died in September, I knew that my next tattoo would be for him. I spent a long time really thinking it over, for obvious reasons. I remembered a photo my uncle had taken of him kayaking a few years ago and decided that I wanted that image rendered in traditional style. My grandpa was in the merchant marines as a young man and he loved nothing more than being on the water. Even as his health began to decline, he always made it a point to kayak each summer, although it was very difficult for him to get into and out of the boat. He was determined to live his life to the fullest, physical limitations be damned. The picture symbolizes so much about him. I absolutely love how the tattoo turned out and I’m so happy to have my grandpa with me always. (By the way, I’m big on flower symbolism – I have four tattoos that all include flowers – and when I found out that forget-me-nots were his birth flower I squealed at how perfect that was.)

Turned 23

My birthday was on June 19. I managed to wrangle myself a nice little 4-day weekend, which I mostly took pretty easy. My family went out for sushi to celebrate on the Saturday before, and then on my actual birthday I went to the mall to treat myself with birthday money. It was a low-key day, but I also managed to wake up with a summer cold on my birthday, so that’s alright!

Went to my friend’s bachelorette

Two of my good friends are getting married in a few weeks, and one of them had a bachelorette in Toronto which I got to attend. It was super fun and made me so excited for the wedding! I’ve never been to a wedding before, and I can’t wait. It’s in just two weeks now and I’m buzzing with anticipation.

Took the guinea pigs outside

Now that the weather is nice, we’ve been taking Cassius and Wally outside. Since they’re hairless we can only do it when it’s overcast, or they’ll burn. But they just love standing there eating grass like mini cows. Also, Cassius made a new friend…!

And that is what’s up with me!

Books read: 11
Times I woke up at 4am to buy overpriced tickets to see Harry Styles in London: 2
Percent of my soul that loves Lorde’s new album: 100 (Writer In the Dark and Liability, though, am I right?)

Review: Revlon Mega Multiplier Mascara*

Posted on June 27, 2017 under Reviews

This post features a press sample which I received as part of an Influenster campaign. This post is not sponsored and all opinions remain my own.

Revlon Mega Multiplier Mascara

Mascara is one of those products that is indispensable yet boring. I just can’t get my self excited over mascara as a general product category. I also basically live off samples and whatever I can get from work – I’ve purchased a few luxury mascaras with Optimum points recently, but I haven’t spent actual money on mascara since 2013. I use what I have, and normally I get on with it okay because my lashes are decent to begin with. There are a few that I love, and of course if you read my blog you know that I violently hate Benefit They’re Real!, but overall it takes a lot to get me worked up over mascara one way or the other.

Despite my mascara ambivalence, I was excited for the opportunity to test out Revlon’s newest mascara, the Mega Multiplier. Although my favourite mascara is high end, I am always down to find a good drugstore mascara because I think it’s ridiculous to pay $30 for something that gets thrown out after six months. I also haven’t ever tried Revlon mascara, so why not now? Plus, I love Gwen Stefani (and thank her every day for putting Rich Girl and Luxurious into the world), so it’s cool that she’s the face of Revlon’s summer launches.

I think this is really nice packaging for the drugstore. I would say that the Revlon mascara range still looks like it belongs at the drugstore, but it’s a step above, like, CoverGirl or Maybelline Great Lash. The shape of the tube is fun (but doesn’t compromise function!) and it ties in with their oblong liquid lipsticks. And I like the contrast between the matte black and the shiny plastic of the cap. Not that important, I know, but I am a person who has an opinion on everything.

Revlon Mega Multiplier Mascara wand

The brush isn’t anything special; it’s cone-shaped and made with natural bristles. It looks a lot like Lancôme Hypnôse Star. This type of brush has typically never given me any hassle.

If this mascara billed itself as an everyday option for subtle definition, I’d give it the green light. But, I mean, it’s called Mega Multiplier. That demands a dramatic result. And I just don’t get that. Every time I’ve applied this mascara I’ve felt like it’s barely doing anything no matter how many coats I put on. I just build, and build, and build, and the final result is still lacklustre. And that’s on lashes that are reasonably long and thick on their own! It also kills a curl pretty immediately, and on my lower lashes it smudges. Boo.

Here’s a before and after:

Revlon Mega Multiplier Mascara

Curled lashes, no mascara.

Revlon Mega Multiplier Mascara

After one million coats of Revlon Mega Multiplier Mascara

And another angle:

Revlon Mega Multiplier Mascara

Revlon Mega Multiplier Mascara

I mean… what is being multiplied here? It certainly isn’t my lashes.

For comparison’s sake, here’s a before and after I took today using my Clarins Truly Waterproof mascara, which I banged on about for the second half of 2016 because it is that good.

Revlon Mega Multiplier Mascara

Revlon Mega Multiplier Mascara

And, because I think of everything and don’t want you to have to scroll between these two pictures, I have compiled them for you in one convenient place. Top is with Revlon Mega Multiplier, bottom is with Clarins Truly Waterproof.

Revlon Mega Multiplier Mascara

I mean. We’re seeing the difference here, right? I don’t even hate how the Mega Multiplier makes my lashes look; I think it’s a nice, subtle effect, and if it weren’t for the smudging and curl murdering, I’d recommend it to those who want something very soft. But presumably someone picking up a mascara with a name like Mega Multiplier – and claims of “mega volume and extreme length” – is looking for something with a bit more oomph. Pass on this one then, I say.