Books Read: September and October 2018

Posted on November 03, 2018 under Books

My reading slowed down a little bit in the first third of October, but I managed to read 10 books over the last two months, bringing me up to a total of 46. I’m very happy with this number! I now only need to read 6 more in November and December to make my goal.

Because I think books can be beautiful objects, this month I’m also sharing photos of some of the individual books that I think are particularly nice-looking.

The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily M. Danforth

To be honest, I thought this book would be okay but not amazing, but boy was I wrong. I absolutely loved the slow, lazy pace, the description of Cameron’s small-town Montana coming of age, the realistic emergence of her lesbian identity. I know some people find it a bit slow, but I thought the pace was perfect, and, you know, teenage lesbians never get the privilege of unhurried coming of age stories so I’m going to savour the hell out of this indulgence. Rarely do I encounter characters who feel as real as Cameron, whose tough façade, genuine conviction in who she is, deep insecurity, and unprocessed grief over the death of her parents converge in such delightfully authentic ways.

Women Talking by Miriam Toews

This is a book about mass, serial sexual assault. It is, consequently, incredibly heavy. It’s based on a true story and concerns a meeting involving eight women from two different families in a Mennonite colony in South America. Being women, they are illiterate, so they recruit a socially reclusive man from their community to record their conversation; the novel is in the form of the minutes of this meeting. The conversation is about the recent revelation that many women and girls from their community (including some of the women present at the meeting) have been given horse tranquilizer and repeatedly raped in the nighttime. The religious leaders of the colony have ordered the women to forgive their attackers, who are also members of the community. The women gather to discuss what to do next: namely, if they should stay and fight this injustice, or leave their community and start anew. It’s absolutely harrowing, but impeccably-written. Each woman has such a clear and distinct voice; Toews treats the topic delicately but completely gets across the immediacy of the dilemma. I think it’s fairly self-evident that those who are sensitive to portrayals of sexual assault (perhaps particularly in the current climate) may want to stay away from this novel, wonderfully-written though it is. It is incredibly powerful and incredibly disturbing.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

I have read a lot of dystopian and post-apocalyptic fiction, so I appreciate when it’s done differently. This is a novel about the flu that ends the world, and it’s also about the troubled life of a thrice-married movie star originally from a tiny island off the coast of British Columbia. It’s a strange mixture, but the opulence of Arthur Leander’s celebrity lifestyle contrasts with the barrenness of the post-flu world – but there is also a symmetry in the isolation of fame and the apocalypse. The world-ending plague has linkages to real-life epidemics: its arrival in Toronto echoes the SARS scare of the early 2000s (I was just old enough to remember that), its spread via air travel reminiscent of Gaëtan Dugas, a Quebecois flight attendant long thought (erroneously) to be “patient zero” for AIDS. What I found most fascinating about this novel was the divide between those who remember the pre-flu world and look back on it with nostalgia and the younger generation, who view things like electricity and air travel as incomprehensible, akin to magic. It’s a very interesting, strange novel. Also, I’m a sucker for anything set in Toronto.

Deadeye Dick by Kurt Vonnegut

Not one of my favourite Vonnegut novels, but still impeccably-written. This one is about a man name Rudy Waltz, who in childhood accidentally shot and killed a pregnant woman and was ostracized from his Midwest community. As a narrator, Rudy seems so far removed from humanity, not necessarily sub-human but somehow inhuman, and he describes humanity with detachment that is borne of his alienness rather than sociopathy. It’s a book about the impacts of childhood trauma and social isolation on the psyche, which is interesting, but it does lack focus. I’m now ten books deep into Vonnegut’s catalogue, and while sometimes I encounter one that I think deserves to be considered on the level of Slaughterhouse-Five or Breakfast of Champions, I can see why this one isn’t often discussed.

On Beauty by Zadie Smith

Smith’s first novel, White Teeth, is absolutely enchanting. So far I have yet to read anything by her that comes close to matching it. She creates characters so wonderfully, and in On Beauty she perfectly captures the cerebral pretensions of academics who are so far removed from the real world that they damage their relationships. But – and, given its subject matter, it’s possible that this is the point – the book felt a bit smug, like its main purpose was to assert its own cleverness. It also felt a bit like a series of vignettes that never fully come together; it shares the issue of an anticlimactic ending with Smith’s NW. Reading her books is frustrating because White Teeth was so enjoyable that it’s almost painful to not feel that her obvious talent is realized.

America is Not the Heart by Elaine Castillo

This is a gorgeous portrait of Filipino communities in Northern California in the early 1990s. The main character, Hero, is a bisexual communist who comes to live with her uncle and his family after being a field doctor for a rebel army in the Philippines for a decade. Her upper class parents have disowned her for her political affiliations, and she must start over as an undocumented immigrant and unofficial nanny of her seven-year-old cousin. It’s a beautifully-drawn story about family, friendship, and diaspora. My only complaint is that the prologue focused on Hero’s cousin’s much-younger wife, Paz, whose story is very interesting – but she becomes a secondary figure in the rest of the novel, which is a bit disappointing!

My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante

I really enjoy novels about fraught female friendships; one of my favourites is Margaret Atwood’s Cat’s Eye, and certain aspects of the relationship between our narrator Elena and her abrasive but dazzling best friend Lila remind me of that book. This novel follows their friendship from its establishment in early childhood until Lila’s wedding at age sixteen to a wealthy businessman. The girls’ respective power relative to each other and their community shifts as they grow up, and Elena ultimately finds herself in Lila’s shadow although she has far surpassed her academically. It’s a thoughtfully-drawn portrait of both female friendship and a country in the middle of a shift towards prosperity under modern industrialization. (I find Italian works set in the post-war period really interesting because the country changed so rapidly – Italian cinema is fascinating for the same reason.) The conclusion of the novel is rather abrupt (and does nothing to address the prologue, which is set decades in the future on the occasion of Lila’s sudden disappearance), but I guess that’s what the rest of the series is for.

Tell The Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt

Fourteen-year-old June is a misfit, understood by one person: her beloved uncle Finn. When Finn dies of AIDS in 1986, June discovers that he had a partner for a decade. June’s mother, who loved Finn but struggled with his sexuality and the stigma of his disease, made the total absence of his partner in June’s life contingent on her brother’s relationship with her. But in the wake of Finn’s death, June strikes up a secret friendship with Finn’s partner Toby, who is also dying. As some of my blog readers might know, I’ve consumed a lot of books and films about AIDS (particularly its early days) and everything in this novel felt realistic, particularly the way June’s family struggled to reconcile their love for Finn with their homophobia and the hysteria surrounding the disease. June was very believably fourteen, though I didn’t fully understand the genesis of her outcast identity.

Conversations With Friends by Sally Rooney

This is a book about people who think they’re very smart and politically radical but who gleefully participate in the institutions they claim to hate. It’s also about a twenty-one-year-old self-described bisexual communist (hey, a theme!) having an affair with a thirty-two-year-old actor who is the husband of a well-known photographer and writer who befriends her one night. I can see why thoughts are so divided here; none of the characters are likeable or display any sort of growth, and their political posturing is truly insufferable. It’s the kind of self-consciously clever novel that seems destined to irritate. But despite it all I actually liked it! It’s full of irony and subverted expectations: that these people can talk endlessly about radical politics while still living privileged lives, that despite the novel’s overt centering around conversations it’s actually about the repeated, sustained failure to communicate, that the sex scenes are without exception a bit pathetic. It’s not really a titillating story about an affair or a politically-meaningful text, but I think that’s what I like about it, that it starts doing these things and then purposefully stops short. The anticlimactic ending is fitting for these characters who are, despite their beliefs in their own intelligence, milquetoast bourgeoisie who are pathologically incapable of making good choices. It all sounds a bit grim, and it is, and I get why people would hate this one. Not really a ringing endorsement, but, hey, I really did like it and if you’re curious I think you should see for yourself.

Starlight by Richard Wagamese

Northern Ontarian Ojibway writer Richard Wagamese died in 2017 before completing this novel, which is about a woman and her daughter escaping from an abusive situation and coming to live on a farm run by a gentle nature photographer named Frank Starlight. There is a lot here that is substantial, compelling, touching. I find the exploration of communication and commonality fascinating, particularly because these characters are explicitly inarticulate and uncomfortable expressing themselves verbally. They find comfort in each other (and nature), affirming their love for others and the world around them in unconventional but profound ways. Starlight is also an interesting character – particularly his ambivalence about his Indigenous identity, which is tied up in the absence of his biological father. (This echoes Wagamese’s real life; he was raised in foster care and discouraged from pursuing his cultural heritage.) However, this novel does feel unfinished, and I don’t just mean because it literally stops halfway through. (I think this is handled well, actually, with an explanation of Wagamese’s intention for the ending, an excerpt from a work with similar themes, and a personal essay in which he explores the absence of his father, who died a year before he reunited with his biological family.) I mean it reads like a draft – a draft by a gifted writer, but a draft nonetheless. I’m talking long sections of pure dialogue, character motivations that don’t quite work, things like that. I think this book is best seen as a posthumous gift to longtime fans; as a standalone novel, it’s imperfect, and I imagine it isn’t the best introduction to his work. That said, I’d like to check out some of his completed novels to get an idea of his writing at its best.

I have a stack of eight books I’d like to get through before the end of the year – I’ll see you in two months with the final tally of 2018.

Lipstick Collection: Reds

Posted on October 11, 2018 under Reviews

So, it’s been five months since the last instalment of this series, but better late than never.

I will always love red lipstick. A classic blue-based red is one of the most timeless lip colours possible; a vibrant warm red perks up my face like nothing else; a deep red is beautifully dramatic without being too out there. My collection of reds isn’t terribly extensive compared to some categories, but it’s absolutely perfect for my needs.

Here are my bare lips, for reference:

And comparison pictures (of a much larger collection) can be found here!

Rimmel Exaggerate Lip Liner in Red Diva

This is a true blue-red. It’s cheap as chips and I have no complaints about the formula – there’s a reason I keep buying these Rimmel liners! I know that twist-up products are a massive rip-off, but they do appeal to my laziness.

Revlon ColorBurst Balm Stain in Romantic

Man, this is from very early in my makeup career. This precise tube is nearing five years old now. (It seems to be doing okay, though?) I’m devastated that Revlon has discontinued this, because if I ever get through it I don’t know where to start in finding a replacement. This is one of my most-used colours – it feels casual but special. It’s red for people who don’t want to commit to red. I feel pretty but not overdone when I wear it. When I think of my favourite lipsticks, I usually think of the bolder, more unusual colours. But when it comes right down to it, there’s not much I’d miss more than this one if my entire collection got destroyed.

(It does tend to look a bit pinker in photos, but in real life it’s categorically a lowkey, lovely red.)

NARS Audacious Lipstick in Annabella

Is this not the most amazing vibrant poppy red ever? Ugh, I love it so much. I used to be exclusively about cool-toned red lipstick, but I realized that true reds are too serious for every situation. A nice bright warm red, though, is just fun. God, I love this colour. And we are now far enough into this series that I know you all know how much I love the NARS Audacious formula.

Charlotte Tilbury Matte Revolution Lipstick in Red Carpet Red

When I bought this lipstick I threw out all my other true reds because there was no way anything could beat it. And I fully stand by that – this is the quintessential red, very aptly named. The Charlotte Tilbury formula, while unnecessarily expensive, is great – it’s so comfortable and wears really well for a traditional bullet lipstick. I also sort of like how luxe it is – a true red is unparalleled in its classic elegance, so I can almost justify buying a bougie version of it. I’ve used a lot of this tube and I wouldn’t be surprised if I actually went through the whole thing. I’m definitely more into warm reds these days, but this will never go out of style.

ColourPop Blotted Lips in Lexi

Not once in my life have I longed for a sheer deep cool red, but when Aisling passed along this tube to me I ended up liking it a lot. I was already a fan of the Blotted Lips formula, and I do like the way this red looks. When I really don’t want to commit, I just dab this on in a very thin layer. It does photograph pretty similarly to Revlon Romantic, but it’s cooler and more serious, I think.

Lancôme Matte Shaker in Kiss Me Chérie*

This is the only liquid lipstick formula I will tolerate. It is so thin and comfortable on my lips, and while it isn’t as long-wearing as something like Stila or the ColourPop Matte formula, it lasts longer than regular bullet lipsticks while basically feeling like one. This is a cool red that somehow finds a perfect balance between deep and vibrant. It means serious business, but it’s not somber.

NARS Velvet Lip Pencil in Cruella

Ahhh, my 2015 Sephora birthday gift is still going strong. This cool-toned, slightly dark red is a perennial fall/winter staple. Lip pencils are probably my absolute favourite lipstick format – they’re so easy to apply, and I love that you can sharpen them for total precision. This formula is great, too; it applies so smoothly, feels comfortable, and wears well.

NARS Velvet Lip Pencil in Dragon Girl

Another classic NARS colour. I absolutely love this super vibrant strawberry red with pink undertones. (It kind of leans coral in some photos, but if it’s anything but red it’s pink!) It’s pure fun, and sometimes that’s exactly what you need.

I guess seven red lipsticks isn’t exactly going to win me any awards for minimalism, but I think I cover all the bases here without any overlap. I’m really happy with this collection and I probably won’t add anything to it in the near future. Also, does NARS kill it with their reds or what?!

Empties: June to August 2018

Posted on September 07, 2018 under Empties

Yay, empties! True to form, I never threw out the very dirty One Direction fragrance set box I’ve been housing my empties in for years even though I totally said I was going to. So today I am clearing out that dirty box to make room for more stuff to make it even more dirty.

Skincare

Vichy Idéal Soleil Ultra-Fluid SPF50: I really liked this. It’s a solid lightweight facial sunscreen that does its job. It’s about $25, which is kind of expensive, but I can also duck into my local drugstore and buy it, so convenience wins. (I do want to try the much-lauded Bioré sunscreen, but it’s not readily-available and I don’t know if I want to commit to such a complicated relationship with an essential step of my routine.)

La Roche-Posay Anthelios XL SPF60 Lotion: I did not care for this. I mean, it protected me from the sun pretty well, but it also pilled on my skin if I sweat. And, the thing is, in summer, when I am most likely to take the time to apply body sunscreen, it is hot. And when it is hot, I sweat. So… yeah. Good thing I got this as gratis, because I’d have been annoyed to spend thirty bucks on this.

La Roche-Posay Respectissime Waterproof Eye Makeup Remover: I have lost count of how many of these I’ve used up. You know the drill – as effective as Lancôme Bi-Facil (and without the cloying fragrance), half the price. (Actually, I’m using up a bottle of Bi-Facil that someone gave me right now, and I think the LRP is a bit better.)

Biotherm Homme Aquapower Eye De-Puffer: I got this as gratis at a Biotherm training and I kept it for myself because I know zero men who would use an eye cream, let alone appreciate an expensive one. This is definitely not worth $31, but I did really enjoy its light gel texture and cooling sensation first thing in the morning.

The Ordinary Advanced Retinoid 2%: This product has been called the Granactive Retinoid for like 95 years now, so that shows you how long I’ve had this. Anyway, I really, really liked it and have actually ordered a new one. I remember when this product first came out and I was blown away that you could buy any type of vitamin A derivative for under $40, let alone its price of $9.80. And it’s truly both gentle and effective.

The Ordinary Hyaluronic Acid 2% + B5: This is maybe my fourth or fifth bottle of this. It’s a great, super cheap hydrating serum. Currently I’m using The Ordinary’s Marine Hyaluronics, which is basically the same thing but with a thin, watery texture and none of the stickiness of the 2%. (The texture never bothered me, anyway, so I don’t have a strong preference between the two.)

Lancôme Absolue Night Precious Cells Recovery Night Cream: Do you think I would ever in a million years tell you guys that a $205 night cream is in any way worth it? No I would not. And I will not. This is a thick, nourishing moisturizer. I will save $170 and keep buying my Origins overnight mask. (Obviously, I received this product as gratis.)

Nuxe Rêve de Miel Ultra-Nourishing Lip Balm: This is just one of those indulgences that I don’t feel bad about anymore. As my mom said to me one day while on vacation, “Thank you for introducing me to this overpriced bougie bullshit.” But, truly, is $17 too much to ask for months of hydrated lips? I don’t think so. (One pot of this usually lasts me about 8-10 months, so I really can’t complain.)

Vaseline Lip Therapy – Aloe: I thought the taste of this was gross. It was also kind of slippery and not that effective.

Nivea Hydro Care Lip Balm: This is still my favourite standard stick lip balm. It’s effective and it layers nicely under lipstick.

Haircare

One lone product in this category today, and though it’s a boring (and standard) one, it’s also a milestone. I truly could not tell you how many tubes of John Frieda Sheer Blonde Tone Correcting Shampoo I went through over my four-year stint as a blonde. However, those days are (almost) over. I’ve almost grown my hair out enough to hack off the last of the blonde, so I’m now trying to find a haircare routine that works for my natural, non-blonde, non-bleach-damaged hair. This is the last tube of purple shampoo I’ll use for the foreseeable future, though it’s certainly a good option within that category.

Makeup

Random unmarked loose powder: There is truly nothing identifying about this packaging. I don’t know what it is. It was a good loose powder. To replace it I bought the Marcelle one, which is huge and will legit last me a decade. (This little tub lasted about three years.)

NIOD Photography Foundation, Opacity 12% (sample): This is very much not a foundation, but rather a liquid illuminator. It’s super pretty under makeup. It’s also $30, so… you know. (I will say, out of all the illuminating primers I’ve tried I do like this one the best. Although I’m a primer skeptic so take that potentially faint praise as you will.)

Maybelline Master Conceal Camoflage Concealer in Fair: I don’t think this product ever really caught on in the wider beauty world, but I liked it pretty well for both blemishes and under the eyes. Honestly, there’s still a lot of product in this tube, which is probably because it’s an outrageously generous 12mL/0.4 fl oz. (That’s 40% of a standard foundation size.) But it is very old, and its time on is up.

Essence Lash and Brow Gel: Yes, this crusty tube once contained clear brow gel. I don’t know why I keep buying this product when I’m feeling too cheap for L’Oréal – it truly has almost no effect. Yes, L’Oréal is audacious for charging $15.99 for a clear brow gel, but it’s also really good. I think it’s time to just accept that (and stock up when it’s on sale).

L’Oréal Paradise Extatic Mascara: I hate to be a Negative Nancy, but this much-lauded mascara (which, in case it wasn’t obvious, is the UK version of Lash Paradise) didn’t do much for me. I mean, it wasn’t awful. I thought it was decent as I was using it. But as soon as I switched back to Clarins Truly Waterproof, I was like, “Oh yeah, this mascara is it.” L’Oréal is not.

Quo Blending Sponge: This was my favourite Beauty Blender dupe for years and years and years, but I think they’ve reformulated them. The one pictured was great, as always, but the one I bought to replace it is a lot denser and soaks up so much product. So now the one good product Quo made also sucks.

Nail Care

Quo 100% Acetone: I used this up over many years. I don’t know why I bought it or even why I didn’t just take the $3 loss instead of stubbornly deciding to use it up. I will not buy 100% acetone ever again.

Quickies Nail Varnish Remover Pads: I honestly bought these because I was like £1 off Superdrug’s free shipping threshold. They’re not very good pads; it takes a lot of elbow grease to get anything off.

Sally Hansen Miracle Gel Top Coat: I have used up many, many bottles of this top coat (over all brands of nail polish) over the past four years. I’m trying out one of Sally’s other top coats right now, but I always seem to go back to this one.

Miscellaneous

Here are some items which are not empty but which are now unusable.

Rimmel Stay Matte Powder: The lid for this powder shattered in my move from Glasgow to Toronto, which is fine because I never use pressed powder. Anyway, this remains one of the most poorly-packaged products ever to torment this sacred Earth.

Sally Hansen Hard As Nails in White On: A leakage caused this bottle to fuse shut; I could probably get into it if I tried, but it’s pretty old and it’ll only cost me like $4 to replace.

Sally Hansen Miracle Gel in All Chalked Up: This nail polish became gloopy and unusable super quickly, which is honestly a huge bummer because 1) I absolutely adore the colour, and 2) it’s been discontinued so I can’t replace it. Maybe this is what will finally make me buy nail polish thinner.

… and that is everything I used up over the summer!