Friday, February 22, 2008

Sunshine by Robin McKinley

Okay, so there will be discussion of the Project Runway final collections, but for now we're going to take a break and review a book!

As I mentioned in January, I'm doing the Mythopoeic Award Challenge over at Foxy Writer.

The first book I decided to read was 2004's Adult Fantasy Winner, Sunshine by Robin McKinley

I actually had picked this book up a few times, trying to read it probably three times. I got it from PaperBackSwap on the basis of a friend's recommendation. I picked it up again after another friend mentioned how much she loved McKinley's other book, Beauty.

But I just couldn't seem to crack that first chapter. Reading the book for the challenge, I made myself get through it and I'm not sure if I feel this is an accomplishment, or a foolish endeavor.

McKinley has created a fascinating world, where the Voodoo Wars have changed the face of the city where our protagonist is a baker. Vampires, ghouls, weres, and other paranormal creatures are a fact of life there. Magic handlers are famous, and there's a branch of government called the Special Other Forces.

The author created an interesting situation: the main character, Rae (who is called Sunshine) is the heir of a very important magic handling legacy. She's ignored these talents for years, but has some skills at transmuting. Her "element" is sunshine, which is rare, but gives her interesting skills. Through a few quirks of fate, she ends up imprisoned with a vampire named Constantine, and befriends him. She then ends up joining him in an effort to kill the vampire whose gang captured her.

Okay, with that description, it still sounds like a pretty great book, at least a very interesting one. However, the book doesn't try to actually be about this fascinating world. It doesn't really explore the strange connection between Sunshine and Constantine (though it pretends to, it never gets anywhere). It certainly doesn't really explore why Constantine, of all the vampires in the world, is a good guy. We're told that there are different ways of being a vampire. But then we're told over and over that vampires are evil, terrible, etc.

WHY is Constantine special? HOW is he substantially different from the others? Well, that certainly wouldn't matter, would it?

Except it does. Everything that the reader might desperately want to explore is thrown by the wayside. Why?

I fully blame the fact that the book is written in first person. Rae has only a few settings in her brain, and we're treated to them ad nasueum:

1. She makes cinnamon rolls. Amazing, astonishing, large, popular cinnamon rolls. Lest you forget, we are reminded of these cinnamon rolls every chapter, at least once. If not more times.

2. Rae doesn't trust the SOF, or authority in general. Or really, anybody. So she's constantly talking about all these fabulous people in her life, and then telling us why she doesn't trust them and can't rely on them. Only, her reasons aren't all that sound. Her boyfriend has tattoos. Apparently this means something, though we never get to find out what, and it keeps her from telling him anything. Because he has tattoos. Huh?

3. Rae is a complete vampire fangirl, but don't mistake that to mean she thinks vampires are cool! They're evil, she shouldn't be friends with one! She should stake him on sight! She totally reads anything ever written about vampires but she knows better, she knows they're bad, she just likes to read stories where they're not bad! Or something.

The entire book is Rae complaining that she wants her life to be normal again, while never acting like that's what she actually wants. She pretty much walks around using her powers at every available opportunity, while complaining that she has them and wishing they'd go away. This isn't just a case of the reluctant hero, who eventually accepts that they are the only person who can complete the task. This is just a bad character.

If the story was about Rae, but we weren't treated to her inner thoughts, I think it could have survived. But instead, she thinks the same things chapter after chapter. She doesn't really grow or change. Being treated to her inner workings doesn't give us some insight to her development as a person. She just keeps complaining about how she wants to make cinnamon rolls.

I desperately wanted anybody else's insights. I eagerly read any scene involving her landlady, because Yvonne actually had something to say, and revealed interesting things. But even scenes with Constantine were bogged down with Rae's inner ramblings about vampire physiology. Which would be interesting, if she ever got anywhere with it, but she has no answers or really astute observations.

Sunshine is not a bad book. I've read bad books, this isn't one of them. But I think it desperately needed to be switched to third person, or to go through one more draft to make Rae a fleshed out and interesting heroine. As it is, it reads like a book designed solely to set up a series, but as far as I can tell Mckinley hasn't written any other books in this world.

I encourage people to pick this book up and try it themselves if they think the plot or characters sound interesting, or if they like McKinley. But I also suggest that if you don't make it through the first chapter, don't keep trying. It doesn't get any better.

Friday, February 15, 2008

But I know what I like...

You know, you would think that the art history minor in me would have celebrated this challenge. You would think I would love it. But really? I was kind of bored by it. I think that when they did the inspiration challenge in season two, they nailed it on the head: designers should be inspired by everything around them.

So giving them famous works of art was intriguing but not that fascinating to me. Being inspired by art should be status quo. There was something about the way they were phrasing things, that they were "lucky" to get to be inspired by this didn't make any sense to me.

This episode also made a few things more clear. I'll get into them as I go.

On the one hand, if you put the avant guarde dress and this one side by side, I wouldn't say they were THAT similar. On the other hand: he should have known better.

But really, the similarities to the previous dress weren't what bugged me. To be honest, nobody this season has much of a range. Chris probably has done the most varied work on the show.

What bothered me was that it was practically a direct copy of the inspiration piece. Remember when Andrae took a picture of gutter water and made it a fabulous gown? This was supposed to be about transforming the piece of artwork into something else, and Chris didn't really do that much for it. It was a very literal translation.

It is very lovely though, I will give him that. But I have to say that I'm just sick to death of Chris telling Tim Gunn that he likes his work, and ignoring any advice he's given. "Don't defend the shoe to me!" Every time Tim tells Chris something, Chris ignores it, and then he gets called out for it on the runway.

However I think it's terribly hypocritical of them to be so rude to him about this being similar to ONE other outfit he's made. Rami, Christian, and Jillian have turned in the same outfit over and over again.

I'm so bored with Christian. Where is this talent? Where is this wunderkid? Look, he made skinny black pants, a poofy top, and a short jacket. The sleeves are poofier than usual, sure. But it's still just a more exaggerated version of the same thing he's been making since day one.

I know that the final collections have already been posted, but I like to be surprised so I've only looked at Sweet P's. But if Christian wins with a collection full of skinny, unflattering pants, short jackets, and poofy sleeves, then I will personally write a letter to Bravo telling them to stop abusing my faith in them.

Christian reminds me of Santino with one fundamental difference: once you really looked at it, you realized that most of Santino's problems boiled down to being confident, and putting on an act in order to sell a brand. Christian? I think Christian really is a prissy little drama queen.

I don't think this outfit should have won, because I don't think it's really different at all. I don't even think it's that much of a re-imagining of inspiration piece, it's more of a literal translation. No thank you.

Jillian is also turning in the same outfit over and over, but it took the denim challenge for me to start to realize it. She likes tailored jackets, she likes short skirts and high collars.

The difference is, I think that Jillian's clothes are more wearable, more interesting, and just show more talent. I think she, again, took a more literal approach to creating this outfit, but I think she re-imagined it just enough. Actually, I'm sorely disappointed that everybody went so literal. That is just dull.

I think this outfit was cute and fun, but at the same time it makes me think of ice skaters or maybe ballet dancers. It definitely has a costume vibe to it, but then, so does Christian's. Apparently costume and avant guarde are in the eye of the beholder.

First, let me say that I think this is the best model this season. She is just absolutely gorgeous.

That out of the way, Rami had a chance and he failed it. I can understand his point: why should he compromise who he is as a designer?

The answer? To win the competition. If he wants to be known as the designer you go to for drapy-grecian dresses? That's fantastic. Plenty of designers only really do one thing (See Christian and Jillian), but that should be what you do in a COMPETITION. We know he's good at other things, he's done really great tailored work, he just doesn't LIKE to. But isn't something like Project Runway about the challenge in the end?

This is a beautiful dress. I think it is downright gorgeous and I can find very little to say against it. It was interesting, it was different, it was fun. The color is stunning. As much as I'm tired of Rami's draping, and his attitude about it, I wouldn't have even been upset if this dress had won.

It is, again, far too literal for the inspiration. I really hope he learned his lesson before he made his collection.

Poor Sweet P. I really just think she was out of her depth once she got to this point in the show. It wasn't anything to do with her model being late, it was that the dress itself is just not up the level of everybody else's pieces.

I could make this dress. I try not to say that, but I could. It wouldn't be that hard, but I wouldn't actually do it because it doesn't look that good either. There's just something odd about it, something off.

I think she's the only person that didn't go literal with her inspiration, and went so far afield you can't see it at all. She needed some sort of train, at the very least (thanks Shoka for the suggestion). It doesn't bring to mind "peacock" at all.

Also, it makes the model's hips look large. It's not a very flattering silhouette at all.

One thing I have to say though: of everybody this season, I think Sweet P would be one of the first I would personally hire if I was a rich eccentric. She's full of self-doubt, and that hampers her work in the show, but when she goes for the gusto she really nails it.

I still think she and Elisa should start a line together.

Next week is the reunion show! I probably won't have much commentary on that, since I _try_ to focus on the clothes. But we'll see. Not too long and this blog will return to your regularly scheduled book and movie reviews!

Also: a quick thank you to MyIncognito, for all the wonderful comments : ) I've really enjoyed them!

Friday, February 08, 2008


Before I get started, there is one thing to ramble about. I've said a couple times that I don't get why Tim Gunn keeps saying that this group of designers was the most talented.

He appeared on the Daily Show this week, and elaborated a bit: they're the most talented when it comes to execution and sewing. They are very technically proficient. I have to say, I agree there. They do seem to be accomplishing more and with better results in their time allotment.

Here's a flash for Bravo though: I don't care. I don't care if they could make me a three piece suit in two hours. I don't care if they can line a jacket in thirty minutes. I don't care if they've never seen an unfinished hem.

I want them to be ARTISTICALLY impressive. And those are two very, very different beasts. This batch of designers has been safe, boring, and I've seen almost nothing that really is going to become iconic. Think about it: Jay's Empire State Building dress. Santino's disastrous lingerie. Jubilee Jumbles. Coffee filter dresses. Teal wedding dresses with trashed trains.

The memorable outfits from Project Runway are not the ones that are made impeccably. They're the ones that are different, that show a great amount of creativity, of ingenuity, of insight and just DESIGN.

Christians fit last week, reminiscent of some of Vanessa's complaints from season one, is that "real fashion" isn't like the show. "Real" designers aren't expected to sew a garment in two days, in fact they aren't often expected to sew much at all.

So, in a competition that is supposed to be about design, how can you claim that being technically good, but not that creative, makes them "the best group yet?" They clearly aren't, I'm sorry. They need to be idea people, they need to make more flops that show that they were at least trying to be crazy. They need to take risks and chances. Universally the most interesting challenge this season has been declared the avant guarde challenge. That's because its' the first time this season they've really done something that was out there and not necessarily wearable, but at least interesting.

Okay, all that off my mind now, we turn to this challenge. To make an outfit for a WWE Diva.

Um. Okay? I mean, it's no more ridiculous than some things they've done, but still.

Okay, it's no secret: I love leopard print. I adore the stuff. I can't really pull off wearing it, but I love it all the same. So this was, very much, my favorite outfit of the night.

Plus, I love the hoodie, especially the fablous bell sleeves that give it a little more style and definition. It makes it more flirty and fun.

The criss-crossing straps are also fantastic, and a great way to add some detail to an outfit without loading it down with rhinestones or feathers. I just really love that kind of stuff.

The styling is also fantastic. I love the boots he picked to go with this, they're perfect. And his girl really worked it on the runway, and you can tell she really loved it. I'm not sure what the holster on her leg is, but it's an interesting touch too. It keeps her legs from becoming a big bare area.

I completely agree with this win. This outfit looks fabulous, and I'm glad to see Chris win one.

I know everybody loves this. And I know, I don't like Christian and that's factoring into my opinion. But I can't stand it. One of the things I like about Chris' outfit is that it doesn't scream what it is. Sure, you wouldn't catch somebody just running around in those hot pants, but I could see it being a costume for all kinds of characters. Trust me, you put an anime character in that, and the cosplayers will go nuts trying to duplicate the straps.

There are only so many things that Christian's outfit could be. And most of the ones I can think of aren't very nice. It reminds me of something, and I can't think of what, but it isn't a good association.

Also, I don't think it really displays much creativity on Christian's part. He's making variations on a theme here. Is his entire fashion week collection going to be "feirce" tight pants, short jackets, and skin tight shirts? I realize this is chaps with lace and such. But really, he makes tight pants and a jacket almost every week.

I'm bored with him. I do have to say though, his attitude this week was refreshing. Thanks for having fun with the challenge for once Christian!

This outfit is a very close second for the win, in my opinion. While I think the shoes are horrible, the rest of it is spot on perfect. The shiny fabric makes it the costume, and gives it the Diva attitude. But the design of it is very sporty and fun. It's taking something pretty standard and making it really sexy.

The criss-crossing straps are also fabulous. They showed some close-ups while talking to Jillian and I was fascinated by how well done they were. Also, I again this this outfit is more versatile in it's own way.

Fabulous job from Jillian.

I'm not sure words can describe what I think about the thing he made that poor girl wear. For one, I'm not sure it's the color that's so much the problem, it's what he did with that color.

Something like Jillian's outfit made in that pink? Could be flirty and cute. This frilly, uneven mess? The color just accentuates how terrible it is! I'm absolutely astonished that they didn't think Rami's was worse than Sweet P's. If Ricky hadn't made that horrible sack for his girl, I would be right now declaring that Rami should have been out.

It doesn't fit her, it doesn't flatter her. I can't, for the life of me, figure out how this came from RAMI.

I can't explain my innate "Get it away, get it away!" reaction to this garment. It's that bad.

Ricky, what good will you earned by not crying at your auf'ing, you ruined with your sour grapes complaining on the Bravo website.

He said (paraphrasing) that they wrestle in bathing suits, that their wrestling outfits look like bathing suits.

No, they don't, okay? Maybe, a long time ago they did. But look at what the girls were wearing when you first talked to them. They were wearing things more in line with what Jillian made. Plus, this outfit is not practical for wrestling. As much skin is showing in Chris, Christian, and Jillian's outfits, they were fitted so well and made in a way that they looked like they weren't going anywhere. This? This looks like the first girl she fought would grab that thin bit of fabric in the front, and yank her by it until the thing ripped in half.

But as much as this showed little innovation and not as much skill to make, there's the sack he made to go over it. First, why was that necessary? Because he had the time since his bathing suit wasn't that difficult? Second, it was ugly. It was poorly made, it looked terrible on her, and it was awful looking.

Ricky, don't whine about this. You lasted a lot longer than many people think you deserved, you got one win before you left, it resulted in your outfit being sold (and selling out literally within an hour or so), and you made it this far. Be a big boy, recognize your faults, and move on. Don't say that your outfit fit the theme when it so clearly didn't match anybody else's, because it only makes it more obvious that they understood and you didn't.

I really hope this Diva did her own hair and makeup, because otherwise, Sweet P...what were you thinking?

As for the outfit, I don't think it's as bad as everybody (Sweet P included) seems to think. I can see the Pin-Up influence, and I would actually think it would be fun to do a photo shoot with this outfit doing traditional pin-up poses. With different hair and makeup, of course.

Now, Sweet P messed up on one thing: there was no reveal. She said this Diva's thing is "Robe, and reveal."

Okay, then you need a reveal. However, I think she did the best she could after her fatal mistake: choosing those fabrics. She couldn't do anything with those fabrics, unless she mixed them with something else, that wouldn't leave her Diva looking like the alien princess of the latest Sci-Fi original series.

But in the end, I absolutely do not believe this outfit was on the same level of terrible as Ricky and Rami's. I think she just didn't make what her Diva would like, so she had trouble catering to the client.

I have to say that as much as this was a strange and nonsensical challenge, it produced more memorable outfits than most of the other ones this season. So in the end, I did enjoy it more than others.

The Fashion Week show was this morning! I'm not telling, but I've already read who the final three are, the information is out there if you like!