Saturday, November 30, 2013

When It's Merry, Mary! (Music Review: Liz Callaway, Merry And Bright)

Liz Callaway's Holiday album is titled "Merry And Bright," and what an apt title, indeed. I cannot think of a better description to describe her voice: there is such brightness to her instrument that it is instantly cheery and effervescent. What better way then to open her album with the two versions of "Joy To The World." Her version just screams Hallelujah and Sussanah!  Then she follows up with "Grown Up Christmas List," and she sings it with plaintive knowing that I had forgotten the real "melody" of this song as I have heard numerous melisma-infected versions of this. And I always look forward to a duet with her sister Ann Hampton Callaway (there's always one in each of their albums) where they do a medlette of "Silent Night/Mary Did You Know." I have said this before, but no two voices in all the world blends better together: the yellow sunniness of Liz's with Ann's mahogany hued alto.  Liz's son Nicholas Callaway Foster joins the merriment in "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town" (he did the arrangement) and it's a cool cool jazzy arrangeent that will makes your fingers snap instantly. And there's a beautiful melancholy in her "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" that makes one wistful and longing. And then it...ends? "Merry and Bright" is just an EP, I realize, and I suddenly am more melancholy. I wish it was a full album. Curiously, though, my iPod played her version of "What Are You Doing New Year's Eve" (from her album 'Anywhere I Wander') and it somehow was the perfect end to this wonderful, if short, journey.

Heaven Can Wait (Book Review: Mitch Albom, The First Phone Call From Heaven)

Am I really reading Mitch Albom's "The First Phone Call From Heaven"? I know his books are very popular, and I have sort of resisted and even snickered at them, but something - boredom? - compelled me to read this one. Well? I didn't thoroughly dislike it, but there were a couple of things that disturbed me. I thought the writing was a little too simple. I wasn't expecting literary genius, but for a heavy subject matter, a lot of things were written too matter-of-factly, without any kind of logic behind them. And, this book sure doesn't celebrate diversity - a cast of all white people in modern day America? Is Albom just playing to white middle America? But I have to admit that I stick with it, if only to find out how he would get himself out of the hole of a plot line he created. The resolution, kind of lame. I really wanted to give this a chance, it just isn't for me.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Not Just For Streisandists (Television Review: Great Performances, Barbra Streisand Back To Brooklyn PBS)

How many times can I write about Barbra Streisand's "Back To Brooklyn" concert? I wrote about it when I saw it during her concert tour, and recently I wrote about the CD, and now I am writing about tonight's Great Performances telecast on PBS. I will write about it till the day I die. It's a great show - it pulls all the right heart strings, and is all captured on screen this evening. Of course, there's nothing like watching Streisand. In a stadium filled with almost 20,000 people, you feel like she is singing to you alone. Modern artists fill there show with all kinds of effects, but here it is just Streisand and her orchestra on stage, and she fills that stage with her star power.  She moves somewhat awkwardly, but you don't need choreography when she is singing "People" with all honesty and vulnerability. Again, the simplicity of "Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered, " for example is more than enough to touch every single person at Barclays Center. There's just something about her, and her way with a song. Even the non-fan can truly appreciate her artistry here. Every mother can latch on to her duet with her son, Jason Gould as they duet "How Deep Is The Ocean." Every conscientious citizen will be able to relate to "Make Our Garden Grow," and any lover of music can appreciate song after song after song of Streisand's 'like buttah' voice.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

The Summer Rolls (Book Review: Rules Of Summer, Joanna Philbin)

Maybe it's because of my want to be near  body of water, but it's cold and I just read a summer novel: Joanna Philbin's Rules Of Summer. It tes a story of Rory, a working-class girl who spends a summer with her aunt in the Hamptons. Her aunt works for the Rules, a very rich family. So you can more or less expect where this story goes: she falls in love with the family's soon, and we get a poor girl-rich boy love story. Half the story revolves around the Rules' daughter, Isabel, who herself has a fling with a working class boy. Philbin gives us both points of view. The book is immensely readable, and this book is perfect for a Summer afternoon by the pool. I kind of wanted something a little deeper in the book, and that may be my fault. It doesn't aspire to be anything more than it is, and for what it does, it does well.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Thief Of Young Hearts (Movie Review: The Book Thief)

As I got older, I became more and more interested in history. You would think that there are already enough stories written about the Second World War, but still one pops up that touches hearts again. I have not read Markus Zusak's "The Book Thief," but I know it was a huge hit in the young adult market. That gives me great hope for young readers, actually. Imagine a historical novel catching their fancy? Directed by Brian Percival, the movie version is shot like a painting - the images of 1939 are beautiful, romantic even. But we all know that this is a sad story, and honestly, quite depressing. Sophie Nelisse plays Liesl, a young girl adopted by a German couple, played by Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson (both fantastic, by the way)  Liesl is an innocent young girl, but even though she doesn't know how to read, she has inquisitiveness, and intelligence. I know we are supposed to like her, but she is played by Nelisse almost antagonistically, and I found myself thinking she is causing all these problems not just for herself but also for her family. This is a powerful story, and I found myself wincing. It's funny that after all these years, these stories still resonate and affect me.  The first third of the movie drags (it could use some editing, for sure) but things start to pick up after that and you will be riveted. And the end is devastating. If you are already down, steer away. But if you brave yourself f or it, this movie will make you think, and be thankful for life. It's Thanksgiving, this movie could make yours a more reflective one.

Love Is The End (Book Review: The End Game, Lisa Marie Davis)

Lisa Marie Davis' "The End Game" has quite a compelling story: a fifteen year old,Micah,  meets someone, and he thinks this is the boy of his dreams, but things quickly get very dark. Cut to fifteen years later, and we can see how his traumatic past has affected him and how he has put his guards up against finding love. I was instantly hooked, as the story line felt unique. He opens his heart to his boss, Harrison Harper, who has been pining for him, and just as he starts to accept love again in his life, his past comes back to haunt him. I wish the story was more formed, it had the potential of being so much more. As such, we get a run-of-the-mill romance story, with pulp elements. (The sex scenes are almost hilarious) This would be good just to pass time, but then I never expected anything else from it. (78)

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Everything Is Rose-y (Perfumed Product Review: Lush Rose Jam Shower Gel)

I am a shower gel whore.  If you go to my shower, you will see a myriad of choices, and I "match" what I use with my mood, and what perfume I will be wearing that day. So I just had to try the limited edition release "Rose Jam" from Lush. truth be told, I used to love Lush, but their vegan, "fresh" products just got a little too "weird" for me. Still, a rose-scented shower gel? I am so there. This isn't an old-fashioned rose though. It's a delicious "jammy" one - it smells good enough to eat, as it is infused with goji berry- and the vanilla pods give it extra weight. This is a dark rose, and it is intense, and could be quite heavy. The conditioning oils make your skin feel silky-smooth, and after the shower, the rose scent lingers but really does not overpower. It is the perfect layer product if you are wearing a rose scent for the day. For example, yesterday I wore Serge Lutens' "La Fille du Berlin' and it gave the scent softness. La Fille Du Berlin has a slight metallic note, and this gave iit just a little cushion. Rose Jam has become a perfumista favortie. I have read countless positive reviews. Plus, this is a limited edition release, and will not be available after December 25. Boo. I may now have to get the matching Rose Jam perfume (which is also limited edition, natch)

Can't Blame Katherine (Book Review : An Abundance Of Katherines, John Green)

Today while at the movies I saw a preview of Wes Anderson's newest movie. Everyone in the theater was laughing, but I did not even crack a smile. I felt that way about his movie "The Royal Tannenbaum," and I know a lot of people who would put that movie on top of their all-time lists. I thought of this after reading John Green's "An Abundance Of Katherines." I just didn't get this book. I thought the characters were inauthentic and never believed them for a moment. The road trip that Coin and Hassan took did not sound real, or adventurous to me, and their destination sounded so fake. I just chuck this all to not being able to identify with the characters in the book. I thought Colin would be a hopeless romantic based on his character's description, but I wasn't convinced he was by the way he as written. I found this to be a huge disappointment because I the other Green book I read, "The Fault In Our Stars" was superb. (78)

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Hurry Styles (Television Review: Styled To Rock, Bravo)

I am going to try to objectively write about Bravo's new show "Styled To Rock" You see, I have an irrational dislike for Rhianna, and she is executive producing this show. So, yes, I am going to get that out of the way. I feel better now. Ever since Bravo lost "project Runway" to Lifetime, they have struggled to get a fashion competition show, and in my opinion, their demographic is the perfect match for a show about fashion. So enter this show, which is a reboot of one in the UK. It took me an episode or two to "get" the format, and I like it. The challenges are given out in the beginning of the show, but only an x number gets pulled out and shown to the judges. More or less, every week the contestants are given a celebrity judge, and they are to create a look for that person. The celebrities are impressive: Kylie Minogue, Miley Cyrus, and Carly Rae Jepsen have shown up. 

But there's something here that looks "low rent" to me. For example, I don't think the designer pool is as talented.  Episode after episode, I have seen more bad designs that good ones. And, I think the show suffers from not being set in New York City, which gives a more "Fashion Capital" feel (and access to more prestigious designer judges)  I do realize, that this show is more celebrity based than fashion centric. The grand prize for the winner would be part of Rhianna's fashion team, and that is a much different goal than being chose to show at New York Fashion week. Plus, and this is a shallow observation, the designer pool is considerable less telegenic. 

I am five episodes in, after binge watching it, and am sort of hooked. What I like most is the revolving door of celebrity guests, and having them choose and interact with the designers. The hosts aren't really making an impression with me, but the process is kind of interesting. I just need to throw away my NYC fashion bias, and I could really enjoy this.

May Your Berries Be Blue (Book Review: The Irresistible Bakeshop & Cafe)

Mary Simses' "The Irresistible Blueberry Bakeshop & Cafe" starts out great: a woman falls from the deck of the beach and almost drowns, saved by a handsome carpenter. Talk about meeting cute. You just know that they are destined for each other. But of course, there will be complications: The woman, Ellen Branford is already engaged to be married to Hayden Croft, a member of a family with political dynasty. So you and I both know where this is going, right? Simses is a much better writer than one who gives us obvious set-ups, though I wish there were more surprises. I know that Ellen could be a character who may not be as liked, but she loves the Great American Songbook, and that's just fine by me. This is a sweet, pleasant read, nothing more and nothing less.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Matthew Trimmings (Music Review: Matthew Morrison, A Classic Christmas)

So I go from reviewing one Matthew (McConaughey in Dallas Buyers Club) to Matthew Morrison and his new Christmas EP, "A Classic Christmas."  It's always nice to get a new release from Morrison, as I like his voice. I think I have said this before, but I think he has a "handsome" voice. It's hard to explain, and this is just a personal thing, but he has one of those voices where you hear it and you just know that the person possessing the voice is very good-looking. Well, just look at the album cover above and you can't deny that in this particular instance, my theory stands. He sings these classic songs very well, and you will do well playing these songs while trimming your tree. Produced by Phil Ramone, the album sounds great. I wish, though, that the arrangements were a little bit more adventurous.  They showcase his voice well, and he successfully navigates these standards. "O Holy Night," sung with a choir, stirs, and I like the pairing of "I'll Be Home For Christmas" with "Meli Kalikimaka," where he gives the song a sort of surfer dude vibe. A good album to add to your Holiday collection.

Supply And Demand In The Age of AIDS (Movie Review: Dallas Buyers Club)

After seeing "Dallas Buyer's Club," I had an uneasy feeling. I couldn't really pinpoint why I didn't enjoy the movie. It was an interesting story, and I kind of liked Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto's performances, but all in all, the movie fell flat for me. Then I remembered that a friend posted this article, an editorial from Huffington Post titled Not Buying Dallas Buyer's Club and it clicked why. Although it is pointed out in the movie that Ron Woodroff (McConaughey's character) got the buyer's club idea from a New York Times article, it just wasn't pointed out that there were a lot of people working towards the same goal. Yes, I know that this movie is about Woodroff, but I got this impression that he is one of a few people who was carrying on in the AIDS crusade when yes, I saw with my own eyes a lot of the AIDS activism in the early 90s. (I even once accidentally attended an ACT-UP meeting)  But back to the movie:  While I respect the fact that Hollywood is now embracing AIDS movies, I found the script to be predictable. You knew each turn the story would take, and Leto and Jennifer Garner's characters are thrown away to serve points in the story rather than enriching it. And yes, McConaughey gives a brave performance, but to me, it seems too calculated, as if he is begging for an Oscar. Leto fares better as the drag queen Rayon, but, again I felt it underwritten and weak. Garner annoyed the hell out of me - she had this expression in her face throughout the movie: you know, the one where she looks like she is scowling thinking of her next line. Perhaps I had high expectations. This got almost universally raves. I wanted to like it, but felt the film was hallow.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Summer Knows (Book Review: Like The Taste Of Summer)

Sometimes you don't have to read a whole long book to tell a love story. Kaje Harper's novella tells of a sweet one between Jack and Sean. Jack is a college student in Iowa, and Sean is a townie. In the midst of a townie vs college student brawl, they meet, and later on fall in love. And of course, just like any story set in the past (this one is from 1981) you will get the usual hurdles: parent against one being gay, society distaste. I still feel that woman's touch in the handling of the story. I can almost always tell if a gay man is writing about a love story, as opposed to a woman. But this is harmless, and short enough to be worth a quick read.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

A Scent Of Dole (Perfume Review: Histoire du Parfums 1804)

This morning had cold temperatures, and I just wished I were in Hawaii. I wanted to be in a hammock by a tropical lanai, gazing at waterfalls, taking a dip in silky blue waters.  Whenever I feel like this, I scent myself with either one of two perfumes: Kai ( which I review here ) or, as I did this morning, Histoires de Parfums 1804. This  as one prominent note: pineapple. Before Creed's Aventus, there was this. I remember at the time I thought it was quite novel, and this is pineapple in the classiest way. I wish I had Aventus in my wardrobe to compare this with. I sampled Aventus and like it, but have to properly wear the scent to fully experience it. But back to 1804, the prominent pineapple note is front and center here, from the first spritz, and stays to the dry down.  The initial burst of pineapple is joined by some peach, and a flower bouquet of rose, ylang ylang, and gardenia, and this rounds up the fragrance. That, I think is the beauty of this scent. The flowers frame the fruit, making it quite a unique fruity floral. As the perfume develops further, the pineapple is still prominent, but now some musk comes in, and the sweetness gets more weight, though it never gets dark. There's just a hint of patchouli that brings the earthiness here, making the tropical vibe even more authentic. Imagine picking the pineapples from dirt soil. The sillage is strong, and the longevity is like stealth. You have to have a bit of personality to pull this off, it's kind of loud and calls attention to itself. This is definitely not for everyone, but for the right person, this pineapple is super juicy!

Down With OCD (Book Review: Vanessa Curtis, Zelah Green)

Vanessa Curtis' "Zelah Green,"book tackles a common disease: OCD, as experienced by a teenager of the same name. It's a short narrative about a teenager suffering from the disease which manifested after she loses her mother. While this is a serious issue, Green's hand is light, and most of the novel is quite funny. It's a cute way of looking at something that affects a lot of people in some way or another, I found it never really resolved the issue for her character. At the end of the book, things are till kind of up in the air. Then I find out that there is a #2 in the series, and I hope things are resolved better there.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

When I Think Of Home (Music Review: Barbra Streisand, Back To Brooklyn)

A new Barbra Streisand record is always a cause for celebration. Every time a record of hers drops, I have always been there, always first in line to get it. So again with glee I welcome her new disc, "Back To Brooklyn," a live album from her last "comeback" concert, her reunion with Brooklyn, where she grew up. But let's get the worst thing out : her voice isn't what it used to be (and I always say, but whose is?) but I think she is more comfortable with this voice now, and is more at peace with it. At 70, its still a strong instrument, though slightly muddled. My best description of it: it is like listening to her old records in a bad radio signal. But yes, it is still "like buttah." There's still an intimacy in it that feels like she is singing just to you. I think that's what makes even her biggest stadium dates sound just as personal. Die hard fans will froth at this album. It has all her greatest hits: People, The Way We Were, Evergreen. I don't know why, but there's always something new that I hear even if I have heard these songs from her millions of times. She always makes it sound like it's a different scene you are listening to, a different character essaying the song. I love that she draws from the songbooks also, from old standards like "Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered" (in the same arrangement from her early album) and "What'll I Do/My Funny Valentine" She also sings modern standards like the Bergman medley and a tribute to Marvin Hamlisch. There are a lo tof new here: she sings "Lost Inside Of You," a lesser known gem from her discography, "Didn't We," and a sublime "Make Our Garden Grow."  And in my mind I always imagined and hoped that one day she would sing "How Deep Is The Ocean," (My favorite song of all time) and she does that here in a duet with her son, Jason Gould. I could go on and on gushing, and this will sound like a love letter from a fan, but I cannot lie. Yes, I am a fan, and will always be. I will not try to convince anyone to love her. At this point, either you are or you're not. But I will join in always celebrating her. She has given me so much musical joy in my lifetime that it's the lest I could do to give back to her.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Beauty, Or Not, Of Depression (Book Review: The Beauty That Is Us, KJ Boye)

What a depressing read.  Consider this fair warning: reading K J Boye's "The Beauty That Is Us"  may make you want to slit your wrist. If you ever wanted to go inside the mind of a person suffering from depression, then by all means read this book. It is a story of Adrian and Jake, a couple, both with HIV, and then one of them contracts brain cancer, and the other loses a parent in the middle of the ordeal. I mean, talk about catchign a break with these two. I felt so down while reading it that I could only brace for more bad to happen, and Boye doesn't fail me there - there was more despair to be had. I wanted to finish the book right away not because I wanted to know what would happen to these characters, but because I just wanted to rid of them. Yes, I feel like a meanie but these kinds of stories happen to people, but I just didn't feel any joy in reading this story. Even the slight uplift at the end of the story felt like it was too late.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Hipster Ha (Movie Review: Frances Ha)

"Frances Ha" is one of the best-reviewed movies of the year, but I missed it at the cinemas and I am catching it up on Netflix Streaming (Netflix is real great in the instant gratification sense - I read that this movie was available on streaming, and almost five minutes later I am watching it)  I want to be honest: I appreciate this movie more than I like it. I get what it is trying to do: an inky black and white movie about a sort of coming-of-age. Greta Gerwig plays the title character, who is a young woman straight out of Vassar. She is a dancer but really isn't good enough to be a professional one. At the start of the movie, she is rooming in Brooklyn with her best friend Sophie and they have this very close relationship. We see their closeness slowly disintegrate, as life does. We see Frances in different addresses (the movie chops up episodes based on her current dwellings) and we see her grow up (kind of) and make mistakes, and at the end of the move she is in a different place (figuratively, too)  This movie is on the self-indulgent side, and the character of Frances isn't very likeable. I think why I didn't enjoy it more is based on who I am more than what the film is. These characters aren't appealing to me: these young, hipster and semi-hipster people grate on my last nerve, and it is more credit to the movie that they are believable enough for me that I dislike them instantly. Additionally, the world these characters are in is very foreign to me, and I just don't want to visit that world. I actually do like the structure of the movie, and I trust that the screenplay is accurate to the way these people talk to each other. Gerwig is a good actress, and as a matter of fact, she makes the character more bearable for me. In the end, though, I did not want to spend a minute more with the characters, and the film. Like a museum piece that I admire but don't connect with, I will move on tot he next piece.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Dear Diary (Book Review: Whore Diaries II, Tara Burns)

I don't know how I started reading "Whore Diaries II: Adventures in Independent Escorting." I think I got into a couple of pages and just kept on reading. Even though I am really not the target audience for this book, the first couple of stories were written well and kind of interesting that I said sure, why not, I will keep on reading. About halfway through the book, though, I kind of asked myself if there was more here in this book. Perhaps that isn't the point of the book - it was more like a diary, a collection of Tara and her experience with her clients. I get the impression that Tara loves what she is doing, and she loves sex. But I also sense a disdain towards her clients, I get an impression that she really does not like them as people. MY over all impression of the book: interesting for me in a clinical sense, thus I lost interest with the story after a couple of them. They all sounded the same to me after a while.

Il Divo Be Illin' (Album Review: Il Divo, A Musical Affair)

It's a Friday night and I was up for some unwinding and relaxation, so I instinctively put on Il Divo's new album "A Musical Affair,"  their newest album which is a collection of songs from Broadway musicals. I glance at the track listing and rolled my eyes. The song selection is on the uninspired side: songs that we have heard over and over. Can they inject some freshness into these? Well, yes, I think they did a good enough job. The arrangements, though conventional, is not tinny, thanks to the lush sounds of The Bratislava Symphony Orchestra. These four gentlemen fill the big pieces well, and the soars are high that you cannot help but be swept away by them. At times, I felt like I was hearing songs like "Tonight," or "You'll Never Walk Alone" for the first time. I was especially enchanted by "Some Enchanted Evening," as they were able to splice some sentimental shavings into the song. But I feel the real star of the album is its roster of name guests. My favorite is Heather Headley singing with them on "Can You Feel The Love Tonight." I think Headley is one of those singers who can breathe life and nuance to the phone book. Even Nicole Schezinger comes out great on "Memory," as trite as that song is. The duet with Barbra Streisand is nothing new, as devotees of hers have heard that from her 2006 Concert album. And Kristen Chenoweth shows her soprano chops in "All I Ask Of You," making the lyric "And Christine , that's all I ask of you" a little more poignant. I always criticize albums with boring song selections, but in this case, I think even the too-familiar can work. As long as the familiar is a loved familiar.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Run Away To Before (Book Review: Chose The Wrong Guy, Gave Him The Wrong Finger, Beth Harbison)

I was reading another Beth Harbison book ("Always Something There To Remind Me") when I chanced upon her more recent book. "Chose The Wrong Guy, Gave Him The Wrong Finger."  Well, why not read these two books back to back, no? In this novel, the main character, Quinn Barton finds out on her wedding day that her soon-to-be-hubby has been cheating on her. The messenger of this news? Her fiancee's brother, who is also in love with her. So she becomes a runaway bride and leaves for Las Vegas with the brother. Cut to ten years later, and we find out it didn't really work out with the brother either. She is still loveless, after all these years. Then she is faced with both these gentlemen again. Harbison is an expert on these kinds of set-ups, but since I just read another book of hers with a similar plot, that may have been a disadvantage because I can sense quite a few instances from her drawing from a "formula." But I will judge this alone. This is readable, and engrossing enough for me to finish in about a day. And I liked the fact that there is a little bit of suspense in the end. (Though one look at the title of the book and there really shouldn't have been any surprise) It also feels just a bit hollow. I wonder if there was a chapter about the trip to Vegas for example, and if it was edited out. I felt there wasn't enough back story for the man she eventually ended up wth. It's as if we were being set up for something, only for us to be given a twist just for twist's sake.

A Smoking Scent (Perfume Review: Tom Ford, Tobacco Vanille)

I remember at one point in my life, I wore The Body Shop's Vanilla everyday that it became almost a signature scent. I remember it being a very gourmand kind of vanilla - sweet, intoxicating, tasty. I smelled good enough to eat. And as I look at my perfume collection, I do wonder why I have only a few vanilla-centric scents. Perhaps I grew tired of it? Tobacco, on the other hand is a favorite note of mine. It shows up on some of my recent favorites, like Serge Lutens Chergui, or the economically priced Spice Bomb by Vicktor & Rolf. Tobacco Vanille is up there on the "luxury" list. Tom Ford's Private Blend line is prohibitively priced, and I always try to resist it because of that. In Tobacco Vanille's case, I almost think it's worth it. This is a very rich fragrance, it *smells* expensive. You know and sense that there is a richness in the ingredients. It opens in an aromatic haze: tobacco leaf, gincer, maple, tonka bean, fermented fruits. It's all over the place yet blended so beautifully. As the perfume develops, it becomes even more denser: the vanilla pushes forward, and there is a liquor note (Rum? Brandy?) and combined with the strengthening tobacco gives a very dark impression. I can imagine this scent on a grandfather at his smoking room, wearing his smoking jacket (I think this would be a perfect scent for Hugh Hefner, for example) This would also fit a Wall Street mogul. I used to work with a couple of them during the 80s, and a couple of them smelled similar to this. But lest you think this is smells "old man," there is a sweet gourmand note (perhaps gingerbread) that makes this smell very now, very modern.On a cold day like today, I reached for this by instinct, and it is perfection. One spray on my scarf and the scent veiled me for the whole day. I know I use the term "modern classic" a lot, but this perfume really does fit that description. 

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Born To Love You (Book Review: Beth Harbison, Always Something There To Remind Me)

Is it true that your first real love never dies? That no matter what happens, the love of your love will forever be that, and you can never replicate those feelings with anyone else? These were the questions I were contemplating on my mind after finishing Beth Harbison's "Always Something There To Remind Me."  Erin Edwards and Nate Lawson were High School Sweethearts. But a petty disagreement breaks them apart, and years later they show up in each other's lives, and it seems that everything is too late for them. To make matters worse, Nate married Erin's high school BFF, Theresa. But they both know that they have feelings for each other. Will all these obstacles be breakable for the name of true love? I think we would all be fooling each other if we said we didn't know how this story would end, but the fun part is getting there. Harbison does a good job of narrating how true love *feels* and we instantly get caught in the story and root for the main character(s)  The story doesn't always ring true: there are some questionable decisions the characters make. But, the journey is color enough.

Carrie On (Television Review: The Carrie Diaries, CW, Season Two...So Far)

Last year, I finished watching the whole first season of "The Carrie Diaries,"  and I liked it. I didn't love it enough to obsessively wait for episodes, but I would binge watch after two or so episodes were recorded on my DVR. I liked the season finale, I remember: so many possibilities for great story lines with Carrie spending the summer in New York City. The second season picks up just a little further from that time: It's still Summer and Carrie and Walt are still in New York City, though the new school year - their Senior year - is looming. Carrie is still an intern at Interview Magazine, and is starting to be an expert in navigating the city. She is still kind of pining for Sebastian, who is in Castlebury. Walt has discovered himself: he has come out, at least to himself, and again he is navigating his new found realization and the city while in the city. But the best part of the season is the introduction of one of Carries' best friends: Samantha Jones, played by Lindsey Gort. Gort is fantastic - she has perfectly mastered the Samantha Jones persona, albeit the younger more-naive version of it. The episodes sparkles as they handle the city, and their shenanigans are cute fun. On Friday's  episode (Episode #3: "Strings Attached") the kids go back to school in Connecticut, and I was less enthralled. Although it is mildly interesting to see how they handle life as they adjust back to suburban life, they (and we, as viewers) know that Carrie and Walt's heart was left in NYC. And the on-and-off again love angle with Sebastian is getting kind of tiresome: Carrie needs a new love interest, stat, as much appealing as Austin Butler is. I hope this series doesn't get lost in the CW shuffle: it's timeslot is in the dreaded Friday graveyard. I, for one, would love to see the transition from this Carrie to the ones we know and love from later years.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Love Won't Give Me Time (Movie Review: About Time)

I'm a sucker for romantic stories, and I am an Anglophile, so you know I would love "About Time." Plus, it's from the creator of "Love Acually," and "Notting Hill," two movies I am very fond off. And did I mention that it is set in London, which is probably my most favorite European city, so all in all I was expecting a lot from this movie. Maybe because my expectation was too high that I found myself underwhelmed by it. It's a "time travel" story. Tim, played by Domhnall Gleason is summoned by his father on his 21st birthday, telling him that all the male members from his family can travel backwards in time, at specific times in their lives. So when he meets Mary (Rachel McAdams, luminous here) he pulls out all the stops, making sure their cute meet is perfect. The cute meet is my favorite part of a romance, so I was very happy that in here, they have several cute meet stories. But after they marry, the film loses its steam for me. While the story line between him and his father is earnest, it seems to belong in another movie. I have a major problem with Gleason's performance. While his nerdy, geeky persona was cute in the beginning, I felt it stilted the story later on, and I thought he lacked leading man screen presence that I was ambivalent about what would happen to his character. Plus, the message towards the end was a little too saccharine that I found myself rolling my eyes. But the movie made me think: we all have moments in our lives that we wish we could change, scenes we hoped we could change,  but we should also realize that everything else changes after we do so. I wonder if this movie would work better for me on second viewing. Perhaps there was a lot I missed. For now, though, I could only half-recommend this.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Who Brought In The Rain ? (Book Review: Susan McBride, The Truth About Love & Lightning)

You have to really believe in magic when you read a book that has a lot of magical and enchanting elements. I guess you can say my taste gravitate more towards the raw and real. That is probably the reason why I didn't really enjoy Susan McBride's "The Truth About Love & Lightning." It's  a fine novel: simple and charming. It has a great heart, but I just didn't get it. I couldn't connect to it, and thought the characters were underedeveloped. I know I am supposed to just give in to the unbelievable aspects of the story. I know that this is supposed to be illogical, and you just go with the flow. I blame me. I couldn't wait for the book to finish, and knew about its "twist" a couple of pages in. The funny thing is that I wanted to like it and gave it a couple of chances. Still, no sell.

See, Smell, Yawn (Perfume Review: See By Chloe)

A trip to the mall means a trip to Sephora, and as always, I am interested in some of the commercial perfumes. I walk up and down the aisle, but nothing calls, so I just spritz on See by Chloe, which I see was out at the end of last year. This is one of those perfumes that just by looking at the ad campaign, you can sense what kind of smell it will be. So, look at the print ad above: a young girl, wearing a leather jacket and panties. My take ? This would cater to a that girl, you know, the one who goes out at bars, shops at Bleecker Street, and pretends to eat a cronut. This makes sense, because See is Chloe's diffusion line, marketed towards a younger clientele. So, Voila! - the initial burst is fruity. Apples - more green apples - and a hint of pears. It's sweet, syrupy, a bit screechy. I sense just a hint of bergamot and ylang ylang, and I wish there were florals, but the tart apple dominates. This is fruit all the way, almost like a Hello Kitty fragrance, but in all fairness with more quality ingredients. I wore it and rolled my eyes, because, frankly, this is not just me. As it dried down, it turned more nutty, but I don't know if what I am smelling was my olive scented dry oil underneath. This is not an offensive fragrance by any means, but it is far from the most creative, so it is exactly how I expected it to be. Would I wear it? Sure, why not. I would never buy a full-priced bottle of it. But if I were, say, going to the mall, this may be the appropriate thing to wear then.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

You've Got To Show Me Love (Book Review: How To Love, Katie Cotugno)

I was intrigued by the blurb of the book:

"This is a love story. But it’s not what you think. This is not a first kiss, or a first date. This is not love at first sight. This is a boy and a girl falling in messy, unpredictable, thrilling love. This is the complicated route to happiness that follows.

This is real. This is life. This is how to love."

Isn't that ripe for satire? But Kati Cotugno's "How To Love" isn't a bad as it is pretty...mundane. I thought it was more ordinary than anything else. Reena is a sixteen year old high school student who gets pregnant. Her boyfriend is her best friend's boyfriend before the bestie died. So, yes, there are complications. A story like this could have been so much better in execution and details, but here it just falls flat. It would also be easy to fall into the trap of getting mad at the character for falling again for the boy who is bad for her, but we all know that, in her case, bad will always be good.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Merry Mathis (Album Review: Johnny Mathis, Sending You A Little Christmas)

I don't know about you, but for me, Johnny Mathis is synonymous to Christmas music. He has recorded a couple of them (if I am not mistaken eight album)  And here he is, at age 78, releasing another one. And the voice, by gollly, is still there. It has thinned out just a little bit, it's still warm, supple, and perfect for these Christmas chestnuts. Even though I  have heard all these songs before (some may be even by a younger Mathis) I never felt bored by him. As an album, I can't think of a bad track, and he is joined by very special guests that just make the album even better. Starting off the album is a duet with Billy Joel on "Christmas Song" and they show a connection in their duet. Later on, a duet with Gloria Estefan, though blandly arranged, is still not a throwaway because they blend well together. He also duets with Susan Boyle and the lilting arrangement here gives a lift to Boyle's wonderful soprano voice, and the over all effect is not as "heavy." It's a standout on an album of standouts. There are even swell originals here: a track with and composed by Jim Brackman, the title track, and "Decorate The Night," a modern soul track. But my favorite track is his "Merry Christmas Darling," which he sings with less sentimentality than normal, and the message of the song comes just a little more clearly. If you have loved and cherished your old Johnny Mathis albums, prepare to add another more to your collection.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Love Never Left (Book Review: Theresa Paolo, (Never) Again)

Sometimes you just read a book, and you get into it, and then you are finished with it and then you feel like, yeah, that was that. I wasn't expecting Theresa Paolo's (Never Again) to be a life-altering experience for me, but I wanted a little something with my time spent, too. This book almost made me feel like my time was wasted. Liz is in college and she sees her ex-boyfriend, the one that got away. Well more like the one who moved away and never called her black. Liz felt like she never had closure, and she is right, and this made Zach, her ex, much more attractive for her, of course. Oh, but she has a boyfriend, Joe. As the reader, you kind of know that Liz and Zach are probably meant for each other, but a little conflict would have been nice. Instead, we get a cardboard character out of Joe, her current boyfriend, so you are left with no struggle. There's a sub-plot about a school shooting to mix things up a bit, but the writer doesn't take a stand about the issue so I was shaking my head wondering what was the point. I mean, at least make the reader think a little bit about the issue. All these half-baked ideas really just made me shrug and want to move on to the next book.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Scent And The City (Perfume Review: Tom Ford Urban Musk)

Even though I love Tom Ford scents, I don't succumb to them. Maybe because of his gall with regards to pricing his scents. A private collection bottle, 1.7 oz,  has a price point north of two hundred dollars at least, and I always say, even Serge Lutens is cheaper. I mean, who does Tom think he is? But I will admit - he does great scents, and I feel (because I do not know for sure) that he is one of these designers who actually *loves* scents. Even his creations with Estee Lauder and YSL were all stellar. I mean, we can credit (or blame) him for creating the oud phenomenon. So, where was I? Oh yes, today, I tried his Urban Mask for maybe the third time, and again, I liked it a lot, but wasn't emotionally attached to it enough to get it. Maybe I really do need a "proper" wearing of this, meaning, getting a separate sample and using it for a whole day. Today, it seemed weak. Last time I remember it was dirtier, skankier, and today it seemed almost...tame. There's musk in the beginning and it's glorious, I admit. But as I wore it, the scent became, for like of a better word, "cleaner."I get the black pepper in the beginning, but today it just disappeared instantly (maybe the slightly balmy weather is the culprit?) Then I got amber, and it's a weak one, the musk actually dulled it. This time 'round, too, I didn't get the jasmine, which I remember to be on the indolic side last time I wore it (That was its big appeal to me then) As time progressed, the musk became whiter, which kind of make sense from the packaging and bottle - and I am just projecting now, of course. Is this one of those scents that you become less and less enamored as you wear it? Maybe, and that is on the practical side a good thing, because it is saving me money. 

Saturday, November 2, 2013

In Russia In Love (Book Review, The Boy On The Bridge, Natalie Standiford)

You can never judge a book by its cover. I thought Natalie Standiford's "The Boy On The Bridge" was a nice light read, a young adult love story that's cutesy. Set in 1982, it tells a story of a young exchange student named Laura who accidentally meets a Russian boy named Aloysha (Alexei) and they fall in love. Pretty simple, right. But this is in the middle of the cold war, so we get into an internal conflict as to whether Alyosha's love is genuine, or is he just using her so he can get to the United States. It was going all well, and the book gave you a nice feeling until the last eighth of the book where it goes kind of dark and unexpected. It was stirring. I found myself deeply and unexpectedly affected by the fate of their love story. I also enjoyed the local flavor as I have been to St Petersburg in Russia and some of the places they visit are familiar to me. I found myself attached to the characters and the endign is heartbreaking.

Friday, November 1, 2013

This Season's Susan (Music Review: Susan Boyle, Home For Christmas)

I will never apologize for liking moat of Susan Boyle's *recordings*.  She has a voice that is perfect for records. It's an accessible soprano, and she (or her producers) has a knack for choosing the best vocal arrangements that highlight her voice. Plus, she makes record that have an element of "old fashioned" flair while still appealing to modern tastes. She already has a previous album, and she has released another one for this year, titled "Home For Christmas." And maybe because she has home on the title of her album, I imagined this record as set in the villages outside London, England: you know those hearthy wholesome Christmas scenes like we see on those miniature villages. Most of these songs can be fitting music for those scenes. I especially love her slight lilt in her "I'll Be Home For Christmas," the person singing is upbeat and positive, in anticipation of a reunion with loved ones. And I love that she covers "I Believe in Father Christmas," a "controversial" Christmas song that is kind of bitter and angry. She duets with Johnny Mathis (the ultimate Holiday song singer, in my opinion) in "When A Child Is Born" and it's a perfect match. A slight misfire is her 'duet' with Elvis Presley in "O Come All Ye Faithful," because the track sounds just like two people singing together with no connection between them. But the rest of the album is a keeper: an angelic choral lifts up "Hark The Hearald Angels Sing,"  melancholia reigns supreme on "In The Bleak Midwinter," and the sparse arrangement highlights Boyle's beautiful instrument on "The Christmas Waltz." I think I mentioned recently that I have experienced a little bit of saturation with regards to Holiday music, but I listened to this straightaway and felt light and joyful afterwards. I think that's close to what truly is the real meaning of Christmas, ain't it?