26 Jul 2013

Sookie Stackhouse Series Reviewed

We all have our guilty pleasure reads, those books that we pick up and fly through at speed between weightier tomes. The Sookie Stackhouse series by Charlaine Harris certainly belong in this category. While reading them my brain was picking out flaws, predictable characters, and plot holes in every chapter, yet I kept going back for more.

A lot of you may have heard of this series because on the HBO adaptation True Blood, a show that ramped up the sex appeal and made it even sweatier and raunchier; no mean feat for what is effectively a vampire erotica series of books. The last of the 13 book series was published this year in May, and I just finished reading them a couple of weeks ago. 

We have a brand new set of the books 1-8 for €25(or €20 if you mention this blog post at the stall)

The story follows waitress Sookie Stackhouse in the small town on Bon Temps Louisianna, whose has telepathic abilities mar her life with a case of 'too much information' from all who surround her. Vampires have just been outed to the general public, and it follows the integration of supernaturals into society after years of hiding in the coffin. As the series progresses we are introduced to witches, werewolves and fairies, just to broaden the magical spectrum. As a whole the idea of outing vampires is a great one, initially it makes for really interesting reading. There are lots of parallels to homophobia, racism, drug culture, and xenophobia, that really add dept to what could have been a very two dimensional series. 

I have lots of problems with this series, mostly it's Harris's writing style, it's painfully simplistic to read. Aside from a few notable exceptions such as Pam and Eric Northman many of her characters are completely predictable and lacking any depth. One of the biggest downfalls is the unlikable main character Sookie Stackhouse, whose ditsiness seems near endless. Sookie is constantly referred to as intelligent and quite the catch for the successful vampires and weres that she hooks up with, but her actions show her as a vapid two dimensional heroine. The whole way through the series I was irritated by the protagonists voice and actions;obviously something that really hindered my reading pleasure. The main character refers to her own hobby of reading and expanding her vocabulary on many occasions, but most of her examples of 'intellectual' words are near remedial in their simplicity. I know it's only a small thing, but it was something that repeatedly rankled with me. 

The series would have worked much better if it was limited to a trilogy, half way through things were really starting to wither and grow stodgy around the edges. It felt like Harris was creating more bizarre and completely farcical dramas for Sookie to get embroiled in just to drag out the series of books. It passed the point of credibility to believe that anyone would continue to be so stupid about endangering their life on a near weekly basis just for a bit of fun between the sheets. The books peaked on the first novel, which successfully merged vampire erotica with a mystery in the deep south, after that they just floundered from one constructed drama to the next. 

I'm not sure why I kept reading after the first few books, maybe it was just because I had the whole set on audio book and they were an easy listen while doing some drawing. Part of it was the cheap tricks of 'what happens next' appeal, but the merits of a book cannot stand on that alone. On the whole I would say they are good if you want to turn off your brain and enjoy some sexy, sweaty, fluff that is not going to challenge you in any way. Or maybe just watch the tv series instead, it's cuts out a lot of the rubbish and you actually get to look at the rippling muscles and gyrating bodies and not just imagine them. I think the HBO series is the rare case of the adaptation being better than the books, they seemed to capture the narrative potential of the books and use them as a spring board rather than sticking to the books meandering plot.

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24 Jul 2013

Author Illustrations

Recently I was invited by Sky Arts Tv to sell my work at their Dublin leg of their hunt for national portrait artist of the year. The event itself ended up being quieter than I expected, I blogged about it over here, but there was one upside to the invitation; it spurred me to do lots of new drawings and paintings. Previously I only had a small selection of authors on offer, about 10 or so, during the past few weeks I have beefed that up to nearly 25, and having caught the bug for painting I'm adding more to that all the time.

I also printed the images up as 5x7" greeting cards, and am selling these at our bookstall at the Milk Market and also online in my Etsy shop. After chatting to fellow artist Tanya Bond I realised I needed to stop being so lazy and actually list all of the items online. I pulled the proverbial thumb out and photographed all the cards and paintings, and got busy posting them online. The last thing I need to do is shooting all of my new canvas bags. That will take at least a few days work, but it will be worth it in the end. It's at times like these that I wish I had an assistant or magical helper elf.

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7 Mar 2013

Badges for Book Nerds

We don't just sell books at our book stall but also a selection of book themed crafts. You can see from the sidebar the canvas bags and cards that we've had for a while. We recently bought a 1" badge maker and branched out into making small buttons. It was no surprise that lots of book badges made an appearance. They are €1 each or 6 for €5, and they are available at our market stall in the Limerick Milk Market. They currently aren't available in our etsy shop, but they hopefully will be soon.

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5 Mar 2013

Handmade by Book Lovers

I am a sucker for some lovely book themed crafts, and am happily guilty of making some myself. I collect links to them like a magpie waiting for the day that I can hit it rich so I can fill my house with them. Here are some of the latest shiney lovlies that I've discovered. I originally saw this darling purse on Becky Bedbug's Blog, but here is the link to where you can buy it on etsy from psBesitos for €60.

This lino print immediately appealed to the printer in me, the lines are so beautiful. It was another Pinterest find, frustratingly not leading to any correct links,after some Google Images searching, I eventually found the link to Tortilla Press's etsy shop where you can get this gem for a mere $25( I am very tempted).

I also found these gorgeous bookends through Pinterest, they are also on sale on etsy from Design Atelier Article for €39.

I really like these unusual cowls from Storiarts, with the text from famous novels printed on them, this one has a piece from Jane Eyre, I kinda like the idea of being kept warm by a story, this one is $42.

Miniatures make me pretty giddy, I made a doll's house as part of my final year project, I now realise I did it quite inexpertly, but I had a lot of fun doing it. These amazing tiny books are so beautiful, and can be bought from Lilliputs Treasures for $18.

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1 Mar 2013

Review: Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett

While working at the book stall there are certain books that get repeatedly recommended to me, I love chatting with people and finding out about new books. I noticed that Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett came up in conversation with lots of people, with many of them citing it as one of their favourite books. I'm an avid audio book reader, I listen to books as I'm making my work for Nice Day Designs, and at well over 30 hours this seemed like a good one to go for(don't worry I don't just chose books by their length, but it does help).

In brief Pillars tells of the lengthy construction of Kingsbridge Cathedral, from the first brick to the last. This building entangles the lives of  it's master builder Tom and the monastery's prior Phillip. There are many struggles and trials of funding, wicked power hungry peers, towns being ransacked, and disaster being over come. It's an historical novel set in the 12th century, but much of it's content reminded me of the many fantasy books I've read; just without the magic and dragons. If you are into reading of castles, kings, and serfs with lofty ideas then this will probably appeal to you.

I'm pretty torn about this book, I would probably recommend it to a friend as there are elements that were really enjoyable, the story at it's core is a compelling one. Yet at the same time there are massive problems with some of Follett's writing that just can't be ignored. To be honest when I closed the book(not literally as it was audio) I was more than a little baffled as to why so many people loved it. I think I may have enjoyed it more if I hadn't expected so much.

I'll start with the good parts; it's 'nice to be nice' as all mammies say. I really enjoyed the scope of the story, we see all the characters develop over a large expanse of time, it's satisfying to see them grow and develop. At the same pace we feel the Cathedral rise around the story, it's slowness is foreign to a modern reader, and this is a perfect metaphor for the speed of this time, so different from our own. It's when Follett is talking of the building and architecture that his writing really shines. It appealed to my art history background, and this book brought to life lots of stale facts I had gathered in lecture halls about transepts and arches. I read in other reviews that they found these parts too technical, and maybe they are for some readers, but I thought them a joy. There are also some genuinely likable characters such as Jack Jackson and Aliena, which helps to keep interest going when other areas are waning.

I had major difficulties with some aspects of the book though. The writing style leaves a lot to be desired, aside from where he shines in discussing architecture a lot of the time it feels flat and forced. This is especially noticeable when building connections between characters, and some particularly awkward and blue sex scenes. Please don't mistake me for a prude, but you just shouldn't cringe at the self consciousness and woodenness of a writer, especially during a point when trying to create intimacy. The sexual interludes vary between baffling, the initial woods scene with Tom builder, and needlessly violent and strangely detached.

If the flaws ended there I would have forgiven the book, and still loved it, but they don't. Follett shows a very black and white view of the world, good people do good things, have bad things happen to them, and are beautiful and/or talented. Bad people only do bad things, are wealthy, and become more ugly as the book progresses. This is so shockingly naive that it nearly becomes funny as we follow the predictable trials and tribulations of the poor worthy folk. There is a seesaw flow to the story, good thing followed by disaster, followed by good thing, and so on. All the crisis are perpetrated by the same evil overlord, who gains a silly ghoulishness by wearing his Scoobydoo like 'bad man' mask. If there was a variation in characters of wrong doers it might have made the constant drugery a bit more believable. Instead about half way through the book I became numb to the hardships the main protagonists had to face, as I knew the inevitable positive was coming. Compare this to Martin's Song of Ice and Fire where no character is truly good or bad, people do things for very complicated reasons to do with honour, fear, selfishness and greed.

So if you read this book don't expect to be bowled over by amazing writing, expect the expected, but sit back and enjoy a very easy, if albeit lengthy, read.

(On a side note I would recommend the tv series in much the same way; it's not ground breaking but it's certainly entertaining. Particularly Eddie Redmayne and Hayley Atwell).

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27 Feb 2013

Unusual Word of the Day: Zaftig

I love discovering new words, we stumbled upon this one after playing a game of scrabble and we were wondering what good words you could make using the letter 'Z'. So out came the dictionary and a fascinating perusal of the latter sections of our OED. My new favourite word is Zaftig, the Yiddish word for pleasantly plump or voluptuous, coming from the word juicy. I love finding out where words come from, this ones seems particularly appropriate!

I originally got this lovely photo here on a Plus Model Magazine, and I added my own definition on top. Feel free to share the love of zaftig ladies, just please link back to this post if you are using this image.

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25 Feb 2013

Crossword Vol VII

Here is the latest edition of our free crossword compiled by the devilishly handsome John Elliott. If you feel you are going to tear your hair out head over to the solutions page.

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24 Feb 2013

Review of How to be a Woman by Caitlin Moran

About last year sometime I noticed a lot of my female friends talking about How to be a Woman by Cailin Moran. I normally don't read biographies(and this is more a biography than a feminist bible-ignore what the dust jacket says) but I'm more than a little interested in feminism so it caught my fancy. Back in college I took  gender politics and sexual aesthetics modules and really loved them, I even when through a non-bra wearing and shaved head stage, so you can see that this was in my area of interest.

I hadn't read any of Moran's columns before and didn't realise that she was a well known British journalist and presenter. Mostly I like knowing nothing about a book beforehand, like my rule of not watching movie trailers or reading reviews before I watch a film; to not have any preconceived notions. I prefer to read reviews afterwards to see how a reviewers ideas tally with my own. So I'm glad that I wasn't expecting this to be the latest Female Eunuch or Beauty Myth, as it really isn't, they are far better written and well argued works of insight. This is more like one woman's memoir through her life explored through her experiences of being a woman. As a autobiography is genuinely laugh out loud funny, I really enjoyed her casual writing style and she has a comfortable and familial voice in her writing. The book reads like a chat you have in the wee hours when the bottle of vodka has come out of the back press. Embarrassing admissions and  observations like what do you call your vagina and breasts, to the etiquette of bikini waxing etiquette and botox. 

A lot of what she is saying is not new or groundbreaking, it's one woman's voice, her bumbling journey through her life. She is reminding us that feminism is still important, and that we can't allow it to become uncool and a 70's hippy thing. In an age that teenage girls are growing up surrounded by porn, brazilians, Photoshopped goddesses, and starved icons we need to applaud any sane voice saying no this is not reality, this is not what we want our girls to look up to. If I had a teenage daughter I would want her to read this, just to show her that being a teenager is awful for most people, it takes a long time to like your self, but you'll get there in the end, and when you do it will be pretty great. As an a woman reading it, it didn't really teach me much, but it was comforting to hear a familiar voice, someone else who doesn't understand non existent pubic hair, the obsession with marriage and babies, and the need for overly priced handbags.

In short this won't change your life, but it will make you laugh, and hopefully a lot.

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14 Nov 2012

Maeve Binchy Free Printable

A while back when Maeve Binchy died I made up this free printable of one of her quotes. It was really popular of Facebook and got a tonne of shares. Now that we have a website I thought I would post it here too. Feel free to share and repost it, just please link back to her for the original credit.

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