Bookworming

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: The Moonstone

As you know – or don’t, but you should ’cause I say it all the time – when the sun is bright and the leaves are green I like to immerse myself in a novel of Victorian society and green English countryside. This year came the turn of

er-themoonstoneThe Moonstone by Wilkie Collins

Category: Books

Find it on: Amazon

What it is:
A second-best known novel by Wilkie Collins (after The Woman in White) thought to be the first (or one of the first, literary historians rarely agree on anything) modern detective story in English language. It tells a story of a diamond stolen from India and taken to Britain but (justly) pursued by the original owners. The thief bestows the diamond to his niece Rachel but it is promptly stolen and the entire book focuses on the search for the jewel. It is told through multiple narratives of various witnesses to parts of the story, as commissioned by Franklin Blake, a gentleman deeply involved in the whole drama and determined to find the diamond.

How I found it:
A couple years ago I read The Woman in White and it quite enchanted me: it proved so much more than I’d expected. So I decided to read more of Collins some time and when the time came to choose this season’s Victorian novel, The Moonstone it was.

Summary judgment:
I enjoyed the story, more for the atmosphere and the narrative experiments than for the mystery itself.

Best things about it:
It goes beyond what you would expect from a mystery story, particularly in its use of different narrations. It gets less visible towards the end but the first two narratives: by Betteredge and, to a lesser extent, by Miss Clack shine with understated humor and credible character quirks.

Worst things about it:
This is hardly the novel’s fault but detective stories, with the single exception of Sherlock Holmes, don’t excite me too much. At least this one is not about a grisly murder.

Other pluses:
I liked its leisurely, you could even say: gentlemanly, atmosphere.
Even though you could object to certain elements of representation – of women, of the Hindu culture – from today’s point of view, for Victorian standards the novel has quite progressive aspects in the depiction of servants, sometimes of Rachel, of social outcasts and even in its criticism of colonialism.
It takes care to focus on different social classes and does justice to the complexity of Victorian society.
Betteredge’s narrative is quite a delight, a whole level higher than the rest of the novel. It sparkles with humorous observations and boasts a distinct, believable voice. I particularly liked the fragment in which he notes how hard ladies and gentlemen of leisure have to work to find anything to fill their time with.

Other minuses:
I felt the picture of Miss Clack lacked the compassion that other characters enjoyed from the author and the satire became a little too thick. Perhaps Collins had his own grudge against single-minded evangelizers but I found it a little grating.

How it enriched my life:
Well, it’s another classic to tick off on my never-ending list, and one somewhat significant from a historical point of view. I also quite enjoyed it, particularly the portraits of the varied characters.

Fun fact:
This time something about the book, not about me: Collins was an opium addict and so he manages to introduce the addiction into the story. Interestingly, opium addiction as he presents it is neither demonized nor glorified.

Follow-up:
Even though I’ve now read the most admired Collins’ novels, he wrote quite a few more and I might check them out in the future because I enjoy his writing.

Recommended for:
Fans of Victorian literature and/or of detective novels (but not those kinds with a lot of thriller-y tension). Fans of the English countryside. Fans of Robinson Crusoe (it makes sense when you read it).

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Next time: Fantastic Beasts, maybe. But also, as the new academic year is upon us with its teaching duties, one-update-a-week weeks may happen more often now than during holidays. Just roll with it – as I know you will.

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Picture Perfect

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Dior Exhibition

We are back from our almost spontaneous, short trip to Paris and, as usual, Paris delighted us. We saw a couple of our best-ofs, including the Louvre and the towers of Notre Dame and we lived in the middle of the Latin Quarter, which might be the best area we’ve stayed so far in Paris: it managed to be both lively and quiet somehow and we valued it. We also had a bit of an adventure when we missed our flight back (or just the check-in, which was even more infuriating) – in case that never happened to you, keep it that way because it’s not fun. But we managed to return (and it only took 8 more hours and way. Too. Much. Money) so that I can share with you the impressions made by the exhibition

er-diorcouturierdureveChristian Dior, Couturier du rêve

Category: Exhibitions

Find it in: Musée des Arts décoratifs (until January next year)

What it is:
The biggest ad you’ve ever seen – but also a huge exhibition about the career of Christian Dior: his life, his designs and his fashion house, including information about other designers who took over as heads of the House of Dior after his death. It takes up a large part of the museum and shows a lot of archival information, movies and, of course, dresses.

How I found it:
While Arts décoratifs is not the best museum in Paris, it has two advantages: it’s located next to the Louvre and it is included in Museum Pass, a ticket for many museums in Paris. So every time we’re around we drop in because at least twice we saw very interesting temporary exhibitions there – any very well-designed ones, too. The Dior exhibition cost extra so we almost skipped it but the entry to the exhibition that we saw from the hallway looked so impressive that we decided to return the next day just to see the design of the whole thing, even if we didn’t find the theme all that exciting.

Summary judgment:
It is a magnificently looking exhibition about a somewhat interesting subject. But even if you’re not into fashion, it’s likely to impress you with its scale and effort.

Best things about it:
The design is breathtaking. This is clearly an exhibition designed and executed by someone with a keen eye and a huge budget. Every room is governed by a different visual idea – yet not so different as to cause chaos and a consistent dominance of black and white helps to create a classy, unified look. The entrance, which attracted us in the first place, recreates the entrance to Dior’s boutique with smartly placed screens showing movies. One of the early rooms called Colorama contains only glass cases going on and on, full of everything Dior (shoes, cosmetics, accessories, dress models) arranged by color and it’s a brilliant way of showing the scale of Dior’s enterprise. My favorite design bit was the room focused on floral inspirations whose ceiling is completely covered by white paper flowers and leaves: and if that wasn’t enough, each part has different kinds of plants – roses, ivy etc. There is also a white room filled with simple, white models of dresses that focuses on the technical aspects of sewing (complete with a live seamstress that answers questions) followed by a black room showing the history of Dior through iconic dresses (black and red ones). It all culminates in a bombastic room full of ball gowns with a fairy-tale-like lighting and I dare you not to be impressed by the whole thing. That was by far the most spectacularly constructed exhibition I’ve ever seen.

Worst things about it:
This is clearly a huge event in Paris because even two months after the opening you wait in line for the tickets. But worse still, there are so many people inside that you need to manoeuvre through the crowd rather than just focus on the show and it’s pretty hot in some rooms. Sounds like a minor thing but it gets a bit jarring.

Other pluses:
Some of the designs are lovely to look at, particularly in the ball room, even if you are not excessively interested in fashion. I imagine that if you are, it must be a heavenly experience.
Many beautiful fashion photographs from different periods are also displayed, including great shots by Avedon among others. Also, older fashion designers were great sketch artists and you can see some of their sketches.
The exhibition does justice not only to Dior himself but also to other heads of the house who followed him, including Galliano and Saint Laurent, and this, together with other historical bits, has a bit of an educational function.
In the whole opulence of the show it becomes an afterthought but it shouldn’t be: Dior’s artistic inspirations are illustrated with some loaned paintings (from d’Orsay and other places) which by themselves would be worth visiting an exhibition, at least in any other city.

Other minuses:
This is minor but the typeface used on some of the captions is tiresome to read in the highly contrasted light in the black rooms. That would be easy to fix by choosing a different variant of the same typeface. (I had to.)

How it enriched my life:
Actually, it taught me a lot about the history of fashion, a subject of which I have a very loose, blurry idea. It also delighted me with the design of the exhibition, raising the bar of my expectations in this area. So high.

Fun fact:
As I was looking at the dresses and liking some of them I realized that I would have nowhere to wear a Dior even if I could and wanted to buy one. Not only do I not go to this kind of events often but also the people I meet wouldn’t probably recognize how much money and effort I put into my dress so what’s the point? And this was a happy realization in a way because otherwise I might get frustrated about how I can’t really afford any of those dresses on display.

Follow-up:
Whenever I’m in Paris next time I will check for Arts décoratifs’ new temporary offering, as usual.

Recommended for:
A must for anyone interested in fashion in any way. Even more so for designers of exhibitions. But I believe this exhibition has something to offer to other people as well, as long as they’re interested in history, art or room lighting.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Next time: Moonstone

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Gaming Night

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Harry Potter Hogwarts

I am a fan of Harry Potter, board games and Lego blocks. And so today’s game was made specifically for me.* Let’s talk about

er-hplegoboardgameHarry Potter Hogwarts: a Lego game

Category: Games

Find it on: Amazon

What it is:
It is a Lego board game where you build the board out of Lego blocks and then play a game with Lego figures (but those smaller than regular ones). You play as one of the Hogwarts houses, trying to complete four homework assignments (which basically means collect four objects) and return to your homeroom before anyone else. The difficulty lies in the fact that throwing dice is inherently hard and that corridors are constantly moved by players so you often find yourself on a blocked path.

How I found it:
I guess I saw it in a store? We got it as a Christmas present a couple of years ago and play every now and then when we want to play something silly and fun.

Summary judgment:
It’s a fun game that most people enjoy, with just enough competition and a lot of Hogwarts atmosphere.

Best things about it:
We are pretty sure this is the best Harry Potter Lego set and Lego board game set that was released (not that we have any others). Its depiction of Hogwarts, while symbolic and minimalistic, allows you to feel its atmosphere like the books do.

Worst things about it:
This feeling when you don’t know how to move the corridors to get where you want to and to stop Slytherin from getting to their destination. (I’m not great at strategy or spacial planning.)

Other pluses:
The game is quite intelligently designed in that the mechanics fit with the fact that it is built of blocks.
Like Lego tends to be, the components are of good quality and building the board is simply fun, like assembling any other simple set.
You can change the rules of the game by changing sides on the die, which we do happily every time to make for a more varied – and meaner – game.
I’m not normally into competitive playing but here it’s a lot of fun and I’m sure it would also work with kids.

Other minuses:
I guess the instruction booklet could use a bit better visual design. But it works, which means I’ve seen worse instructions.

How it enriched my life:
It’s a great addition to any evening with people who don’t take themselves too seriously and don’t irrationally hate on Harry Potter.

Fun fact:
Whenever we play no one wants to play Hufflepuff and everyone gangs up on Slytherin. I usually play Ravenclaw (and managed to lose badly the last time).

Follow-up:
I would play another Lego game if I had a chance though not necessarily buy one.

Recommended for:
Fans of any of the following: family board games / Harry Potter / Lego blocks. Which is to say: everyone?

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

* No, it wasn’t.

Next time: Holiday break. But I’m sure I’ll be back with a lot of new stuff to review

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Celebrations, Personalness

Birthday!

Happy birthday to me.

I’m leaving for a short vacation next week but there will be one pre-scheduled post. And then I already have a whole queue of things to review and the vacation is sure to bring some more. So stay tuned and have a great weekend!

Also, since I never get to say it in the reviews, thank you for the likes and follows. Every one means a world to me. X!

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Rotten Tomatoes

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Man Up

How do you feel about romantic comedies? Me, I’m conflicted. I’m bored and often discouraged by their by-the-numbers plots and usually won’t even get through the whole movie. But then, their natural lightheartedness and optimism appeal – or should appeal – to me. And so for a while now I’ve been on a quest for an original, good romantic comedy which has recently led me to

er-manupMan Up

Category: Movies

Find it on: Amazon

What it is:
A 2015 British rom-com directed by Ben Palmer. It stars Lake Bell and Simon Pegg (I didn’t know either of them before) as a couple who mistakenly go on a blind date together (it’s contrived but not excessively by the standards of the genre) and – who didn’t see that coming – find out they’re perfect for each other.

How I found it:
Heh, I found it on a list of recommended romantic comedies somewhere. I liked the trailer, particularly as it included a diss on Dan Brown.

Summary judgment:
I didn’t have any expectations but this movie surprised me: first with the d-word joke which unexpectedly made me laugh and then with how invested I became in the characters. It might not be reinventing the wheel (or the genre) but it’s fun to watch.

Best things about it:
It’s actually funny quite a few times and I really enjoyed watching it.
Characters look more or less like real people not like Hollywood actors who spend their entire days working out and undergoing cosmetic procedures and, I guess, the older I get, the more I appreciate this kind of variety on-screen.
It’s very well acted, particularly by Bell, who’s relatable and outlandish at the same time.

Worst things about it:
It doesn’t even try to reinvent the genre. I wish it was at least a little bit more original.

Other pluses:
I like most of the characters; even those who by the conventions of the genre should be ridiculous – like Jessica – turn out full of heart.
I enjoyed the relations between the members of Nancy’s family: the cool parents and the supportive sister – very inspiring.
The scenes taking place in the streets of London made me nostalgic for holidays.
In some places music fits the scene perfectly.
I appreciate the little jokes, like the triathlon Nancy comes up with.
The emotional range is quite wide.

Other minuses:
I except Sean from my admiration for the characters: he is way too much though it remains true to the nature of the movie that even he gets some good will in the end (and the pudding scene was kinda funny?).
A few jokes went over the top for me, but mostly because they felt overdrawn.

How it enriched my life:
It made me laugh – and so few movies do.

Fun fact:
So about the quest? In case you’re curious what gems it has brought so far, it’s Penelope and (500) Days of Summer. The search continues.

Follow-up:
I’ve got a few things on the rom-com list but I’ll be honest: they don’t look too promising. I think My Big Fat Greek Wedding will be next.

Recommended for:
Fans of romantic comedies with predictable happy endings (spoiler?) and not discouraged by raunchy humor.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Next time: Harry Potter Lego board game

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Gaming Night

Wildly Enthusiastic Review: Mousquetaires du Roy

Board games are one of my hobbies and we play them often, either just with R or with our regular “gaming group,” Z&A – or, occasionally, with other people who share our interest. I’ve played many different games but for me personally nothing beats the co-operative mechanics where all the players come together to beat the game itself. All my favorite games belong to this category and the first place (though jointly with another game) is forever held by an unknown gem called

er-mousquetairesduroyMousquetaires du Roy

Category: Games

Find it on: Amazon

What it is:
A board game based on Dumas’ The Three Musketeers. In the standard version 1–4 players play as musketeers and 1 plays as Milady, who tries to trump all their attempts to save the queen’s honor. In the version we strongly prefer all players play against the game in a typical co-operative way where everybody tries to beat Milady together.

How I found it:
Probably on boardgamegeek.com and then I got it as a gift for my birthday from R – and what a great gift it was.

Summary judgment:
It’s one of my two favorite board games ever and seeing that I’ve played quite a few of them, that’s saying something.

Best things about it:
This game has uncanny balance. It always seems to me like with all the different things to do, each harder than the next one, and the slightly messy gameplay, it should feel unbalanced but usually we end up winning or losing by a very small margin, which makes every dice roll exciting.
Story-based board games usually have a difficult job because too often they feel like complex mathematical constructs with some theme thrown on top of it. Not so here: you feel yourself in Paris, fighting for the queen’s honor as hard as she’s trying to ruin it.

Worst things about it:
This might seem minor to some of you but it’s a big thing for us: some typographic elements of the game are horrendous, particularly everything including numbers.

Other pluses:
The characters are drawn great in the cards. I particularly like dirty-yet-sexy d’Artagnan in his white shirt (who I usually play). The art style has just the right mix of cartoony and semi-realistic to please me.
The custom dice are lovely and also make for one of the most intuitive, fun duel mechanics I know.
The different tasks and mechanics that the game employs cover most of the basic plot of the novel and you don’t feel like anything is missing (except for the satire, of course, but that’s standard in the novel’s adaptations).

Other minuses:
I guess the instruction booklet is very unclear and it even needed some clarifications from Board Game Geek forums but once you learn the rules it doesn’t matter so much.

How it enriched my life:
It’s so much fun! I spent hours playing this game either with R or Z&A and it never disappoints, even that one time when we wasted a few turns trying to beat someone who permanently had two shields raised and we couldn’t hit him at all, showing what lousy fencers our characters were. In fact, it was one of the most hilarious games we played.

Fun fact:
This is off-topic, but have you tried re-reading The Three Musketeers as an adult? It’s quite surprising how the story functions as this great adventure novel about four friends and their exciting hijinks (and that’s certainly how I read it for the first time as a kid) while, in fact, it’s quite a merciless satire with despicable main characters. D’Artagnan is a rapist, Athos (whom I loved as a kid) an insane murderer, all of them abuse women and people of lower social classes… It’s so weird how little of this transferred into the general knowledge of the story. I suppose the action is just too good for people to pay attention to anything else?

Follow-up:
I’m sure we’ll be playing the game many times more but I will also review a few of my other co-operative favorites in the future.

Recommended for:
Anyone who likes co-operative games and is ready to muddle through the instruction until they figure out the game. Fans of themed games. Fans of corrupt 17th-century France.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Next time: Man Up

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Bookworming

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Marvels

er-marvelsMarvels by Kurt Busiek

Category: Comics

Find it on: Amazon

What it is:
A 1994 comic by Kurt Busiek, illustrated (or, precisely, painted) by Alex Ross. It describes the emergence of superheroes in the Marvel Universe from the point of view of a very much not superpowered newspaper photographer who tries to deal with the fact that regular human beings are no longer the top of the food chain. It shows classic events from the history of superheroes like Namor, X-Men, Spider-Man et al. as seen by someone who doesn’t really know what and why is going on.

How I found it:
I don’t even know. It’s been on my reading list for a while and I even started it twice before but I never got past the first issue then.

Summary judgment:
The art is wonderful, the story is okay.

Best things about it:
Definitely the art, it’s freaking amazing. I love watercolors in most appearances but this shows such mastery of the medium and Ross uses the style to create a fresh re-telling of old stories that has its unique flavor.
And I like the concept itself, it’s always interesting to think what superhero-infested world feels like for people who have to live in it and someone actually wrote a book about it.

Worst things about it:
After a while I got tired with how gloomy-doomy everything felt. I know it fit with the story but I wish there were more small superhero moments like X-Men anonymously viewing Alicia Masters’ exhibition while people talk trash about them.

Other pluses:
The moments like that one, most of all. Also, and expectedly, I like the X-Men storyline and how Busiek tries to explain why people in the MU accept other superheroes and hate mutants – I actually buy his explanation. The story of Spider-Man accused of murder also worked for me: basically, anything that wasn’t too grand-scale.
Personally, I love stories that redefine recognizable characters (that’s why X-Men: Evolution and 1602 are some of my favorite things ever) and this new look on old comic stories definitely speaks to me. I only wished I knew more about the original Marvel characters to recognize most allusions, especially the ones happening in the background.

Other minuses:
I didn’t very much like Phil Sheldon as a character.
Also, that zero issue is definitely skippable.

How it enriched my life:
I enjoyed the comic and it kept me company during a very unpleasant day I had to spend in bed.

Fun fact:
This is just a fact I feel the responsibility to mention: what I’ve been calling watercolors might rather be gouache, so a different kind of water paints but I imagine it doesn’t really matter to most of you.

Follow-up:
For a while I’ve been meaning to return to 1602 and I will.

Recommended for:
Fans of Marvel and/or watercolors.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Next time: Mousquetaires du Roy

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