“The Guardian” NOW in Print!

[Originally posted at my NEW blog, Sci-fiFantasyLit Chick: http://scififantasylitchick.wordpress.com/2013/11/21/the-guardian-now-available/]

The Guardian amazon

My very first novel, The Guardian, is NOW in print!

Book’s Description: Ever since Alex Croft was little, robed beings have shadowed his every move. But after he is wrongfully incarcerated, the robed strangers have apparently abandoned him. Or so it seems. When Alex’s true identity is revealed, he enters a world he has always seen but never really known. A realm where he learns how to protect the innocent from an evil that desires to control everything in its path. Especially Alex. As he trains as an apprentice within the Voror Council, Alex uncovers a sinister secret seeking to destroy him. To save himself and others, he will have to endure the same darkness he sought to escape. In this first installment of The Guardian Trilogy, Alex Croft will not only learn magic-infused Words and make strange, new allies but also discover the truth about himself and his past. A truth that will become either his destiny or his downfall.

The Guardian is the first novel in the Guardian Trilogy, which will later be comprised of The Guardian Prophecy and The Guardian Wars. I’m currently drafting The Guardian Prophecy as we speak and, so far, I’m fairly happy with it.

I’m so excited to FINALLY have The Guardian published! It all started with a quirky idea over six years ago that involved a strange hybrid of a grown-up Harry Potter and the show “Prison Break.” I’m going to devote a future post to my actual writing process as well as the ideas and inspiration behind both The Guardian and its later books. No spoilers though!

You can snag a copy of The Guardian from Amazon.com today as well as the Kindle Store:
http://www.amazon.com/The-Guardian-Trilogy-Volume/dp/1493518801/ref=tmm_pap_title_0?ie=UTF8&qid=1384994937&sr=1-1

“A Modern Apocrypha” Now in Paperback!

This was originally posted at my new blog, http://scififantasylitchick.wordpress.com/

Modern Apoc

Great news! I just re-released my poetry collection, A Modern Apocrypha, in paperback! There was always the Kindle version, which I published in spring 2013. But with the holidays approaching, I felt it was time to let a print version be on the market.

A Modern Apocrypha is a congregation of poems I wrote years ago as well as more recent pieces. I pondered what to do with them all, knowing the poetry market has never been thriving in modern times. So I felt self-publishing was best.

A Modern Apocrypha covers a lot of ground thematically-speaking, and it’s informally split into “parts” that focus on various themes, such as sin, temptation, addiction (not just to substances but also to wealth and fame), self-image, superficiality, complacency, and, of course, the end of the world. While A Modern Apocrypha isn’t a religious book, its more cataclysmic moments were inspired by the bizarre imagery found in the Biblical book of Revelations.

A Modern Apocrypha is small in size but big on food for thought. So if you’re hunting for a good stocking stuffer but want to give something that has more to chew on than a candy cane, then check out A Modern Apocrypha!

Paperback link: http://www.amazon.com/Modern-Apocrypha-Nicole-R-Pramik/dp/1492991929/ref=sr_1_1_title_1_pap?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1383512438&sr=1-1&keywords=a+modern+apocrypha

Kindle link: http://www.amazon.com/A-Modern-Apocrypha-ebook/dp/B00G7QY13I/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&sr=1-1&qid=1383512438

Check Out My “Other” Blog – Sci-FiFantasyLit Chick!

Greetings everyone, followers and visitors alike!

I just started up a new blog, called Sci-fiFantasyLit Chick, devoted to my fledgling writing career. There is not much here for the time being but I plan to start posting about writing/reading/story-related topics shortly. As well as share any big news about up and coming publications.

If you currently follow me here at Beauty & Brains, I warmly invite you to join me at Sci-fiFantasyLit Chick as well:
http://scififantasylitchick.wordpress.com/

No worries – I won’t be abandoning Beauty & Brains. I just felt I needed to just separate my random reviews from my writing work.

Hope to see some of you there! :)

 

Brain Post – Book Review – “The Girl Who Could Fly” by Victoria Forester

Girl who could Fly

Would you believe this novel is about football-playing aliens from space? Of course not. The title pretty much says it all! I discovered this book while browsing the independent readers section of the bookstore. I have found that, in recent years, some of these books actually hold my attention better than novels for adults. Just call it unleashing my inner child.

The Girl Who Could Fly chronicles the peculiar childhood of Piper McCloud (yes, some character names do make obvious puns) who, as the title implies, can fly. Growing up in a farming community where everyone is expected to look and act the same, high-flying Piper stands out among her snooty peers. One day, when Piper’s innocent antics catch the attention of the entire town during a picnic, her seemingly supernatural talent becomes global news. Before long, Piper is visited by Dr. Letitia Hellion who oversees I.N.S.A.N.E., an institute where children with special gifts reside and learn. Piper accompanies Dr. Hellion to her secluded underground bunker and meets other not-so-normal kids like herself. But the institute isn’t the pristine, perfect environment Piper initially thinks it is. In fact, it may just house the most dangerous secret in the world with Piper in the thick of it.

If this premise sounds a little like X-Men, you wouldn’t be entirely wrong. But the super-gifted children in The Girl Who Could Fly are not mutants – just average kids blessed with special abilities. Plot-wise, generally speaking, it’s been done before – the average kid discovers he/she is gifted and goes to meet other people just like him/her. But The Girl Who Could Fly is a sweet tale with an immediately likable protagonist. The story is told from Piper’s perspective with some exceptions to that pattern. I found myself so emotionally connected to Piper that when she was overjoyed, so was I. When she was sad, I was, too. And when she got cotton-pickin’ mad, so did I. Some readers may not like Piper’s dialectal tone and down-home clichés, but for me they added to her charm.

As for the rest of the cast, Piper’s peers and even the adults were fleshed out fairly well for a book of this size, scope, and its intended audience. Granted, some of the folks are subtle stereotypes but manage not to entirely cross that line. My only genuine complaint about the novel is its narrative inconsistency. As stated above, most of the story is from Piper’s perspective. But it occasionally drifts into other character’s line of sight, such as the calculating genius kid Conrad and even Dr. Hellion. Younger readers might not notice this shift but I found it a bit rough around the edges when it happened. I think I would have found it less jarring if it occurred more frequently, with Piper sharing part of the narrative and the other characters relating the rest. Instead, the Piper-less parts read a bit disjointedly.

Another issue some readers might have (though I didn’t) is the principle message of the book. Let me state there is absolutely nothing wrong with telling kids it’s okay to be an individual and embrace and use their talents. But sometimes this message gets hammered home in the book a little too much, especially when one character touts a “different is bad, normal is good” philosophy that sounds heavy-handed and forced. Again, the execution of this theme might tie into the book’s primary age group where repetition and directness is better than subtle inference. Another area that seemed weaker than the rest of the text, or at least glossed over, is the introduction of the character J. who tries to help Piper escape. While J. is briefly shown early on, his character is essentially dropped and then, even after his exchange with her, never brought into the picture again as if he wasn’t supposed to be present or had a stronger role in one draft but omitted in other versions. Also, Piper seems too eager to forgive another character for betrayal. Granted, she’s not the type to hold grudges but her casual response didn’t feel entirely believable. Lastly, the closing chapter, while charming, seems to wrap things up a bit too quickly. Overall, none of these are true negatives nor do they keep me from enjoying the book, but they are some of the story’s less than stellar moments.

All of that being said, I appreciated Piper’s depiction as a Christian girl. While the book isn’t overtly religious, the theme that each person is “fearfully and wonderfully made” is fairly evident. Likewise, Piper prays, blesses her enemies, is nice to everyone, and keeps her cool. While her parents seem strict, they raise her right in terms of her values, and Piper almost never strays from them. Rather than being goody-goody, Piper is an old fashioned, down-home girl who wants to do what’s right and fair. This aspect of her personality is derived from her Christian upbringing but neither her family nor her are portrayed as Bible-thumping blowhards. Thus, The Girl Who Could Fly is as simple as Piper herself. There is no flashy prose and nothing here would really challenge a young mind diction-wise. But the pacing and overall plot are enjoyable.

Content-wise, it’s almost pointless to discuss anything. There is no overt violence through there are tense moments where characters are subjected to treatments and testing against their will. But these scenes would only frighten very young readers, most of whom would be too young to read this book. No sexual or sensual content of any kind emerges and only two or three PG-level profanities appear. Otherwise, this book is spotless and perfectly acceptable for the age group it’s intended for as well as us older folks.

Overall Score: Three Brains (out of Five). The Girl Who Could Fly is a book I read every year and thoroughly enjoy for its charming characters and story. It’s sweet without being saccharine. While it does possess narrative weak moments, it delivers where it counts, especially as an edifying read. Anyone who has ever felt like an underdog will immediately relate to Piper McCloud and experience a catharsis by the end.

Beauty Post – Makeup Review – Nine Worst Eye Shadows

While these worst offenders have already departed my makeup collection, I decided to resurrect them for the sake of giving a few mini reviews of eye shadows that looked good but weren’t worth the money or space in my beauty drawer. So, without further ado, here’s a look at the nine worst eye shadows I’ve ever owned. (Swatches include a dry and wet sample.)

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Swatch Photo: Dry (left), Wet (right)

9. Poison Orchid (Too Faced)
I like Too Faced’s eye shadow formulas but this color was nothing special. When applied dry, it just looks dark – not dark purple, not even black. Just generically dark. Applying it wet made the purple tones stand out but I’ve seen better. It’s not a bad shadow, but if you already have a large collection, chances are, you have this color.

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Swatch Photo: Dry or wet? Can you really tell the difference here? :(

8. Rapture (Kat von D)
I’m not the biggest Kat von D makeup line fan. I actually reviewed Rapture along with other loose powders that were part of her True Romance Pigments line (check the archives!). But I stand by my remarks that Rapture was a weak contender – easily duplicated, dusty application (yet chunky when at rest in the jar), and weak either dry or wet.

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Swatch Photo: Dry (top), Wet (bottom)

7. Frigid (Urban Decay)
This was one of the last Deluxe shadows I bought and I believe UD has discontinued that line. Again, Frigid isn’t bad. The application is good and the color okay. But that’s my biggest gripe. The color on your skin looks nothing like the shadow in the pan! When I bought this, I was expecting a deep, rich, cool-toned blue. But what I got was more of a purple shadow that, again, is easily duped. Applying this shadow wet does make the blue stand out a little bit more but I felt slightly cheated that the payoff wasn’t exactly true to pan.

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Swatch Photo: Wet (top), Dry (bottom)

6. Stalker (Urban Decay)
This color is from UD’s older line, so it doesn’t feature the improved formula. That being said, Stalker looks nice in the pan but is an utter pain to apply. It’s dry, the pink is far too faint for my liking, and the glitter doesn’t stay put. I will admit that when I swatched this wet, it looked a little better, but it reminded me of Sugarpill’s Birthday Girl, which I like, so I decided to discard this troubled cousin.

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Swatch Photo: Dry (left), Wet (right)

5. Twilight (Lime Crime)
This was one of the first Lime Crime loose shadows I ever bought. I wasn’t impressed then and I’m not now. The color is dull and an odd cross between violet in some lights, light blue in others, and slightly grey at other angles. It’s a chameleon of a shade and I don’t mean that as a compliment. Not to mention that when applied dry, this shadow is very pale, but when applied wet, it becomes the consistency of wet chalk. I rarely used it for all of the reasons stated above, hence why it is probably resting comfortably in a New Jersey landfill.

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Swatch Photo: Dry (left), Wet (right, shine is from the water, not the glitter!)

4. Tropic (NARS)
This is another shadow that gave one impression in the pan but left an entirely different impression when applied. In the pan, it’s a gorgeous, glittery teal. Under the sparkling Sephora store lights, it’s no surprise this caught my eye. Unfortunately, my love for it ends there. See all those lovely large glitter squares? They don’t transfer when applied. If you swipe your finger across the shadow in the pan, you’ll definitely pick up some glitter; but when it comes to having the glitter on your lids where it counts, count this shadow out. Not to mention it’s a very dull, dark teal that, without the glitz, is just plain boring.

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Swatch Photo: Dry (left), Wet (right)

3. Ebony & Ruby (Merle Norman)
This is one of the Luxiva Color Max shadows and was a disappointment the moment I got it home years ago. First, the application is horrendous. When applied dry, it’s barely noticeable (odd for a dark shadow). When wet, it falls apart. But the true irritant for me was, once more, the deceptive color in the pan. Ebony & Ruby looks like it’s going to be a gorgeous maroon with a black base, but when applied, it’s a black shadow with an ever-so-subtle hint of maroon. It’s an ugly combination that doesn’t live up to its lovely name.

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Swatch Photo: Dry (left), Wet (right)

2. Circus Girl (Lime Crime)
Why oh why did I buy this? Yellow shadows are not my thing though I do own and occasionally use Sugarpill’s Buttercupcake. But Sugarpill and Buttercupcake this isn’t! Circus Girl suffers from the same issues as Twilight (see above). When applied dry, it’s boring and ugly. When applied wet, it’s like liquefied chalk. I can’t remember ever using this and was pleased to be rid of it.

This shadow is so bad what could possibly top it? I’m glad you asked….

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Swatch Photo: Dry (left), Wet (right)

1. Sex Kitten (Bare Minerals)

I already own several browns, so if you do, too, then Sex Kitten isn’t an innovative shade. It’s only good point is that it is a nice color but applies bold and dark, not giving you much control over how saturated you want it. Applying it wet makes it bolder, as if that was even possible. But it stains – horribly! Most brown or red-based shadows tend to leave their mark, but I get annoyed when I have to use soap and water to wash off just tiny specks of shadow on my vanity. Not to mention the jar design. It is (and you must pardon my capitalization and use of British profanity here but, trust me, it’s warranted) BLOODY AWFUL! The lid is so flimsy, the jar so small, and the contents so insistent on sticking to the edges of the jar, that getting it open without making a mess is impossible. Just look at my hand – this is just from opening and closing the jar, not applying the makeup. And you must use eye makeup remover, soap, water, AND a good, harsh towel to wash off every trace of this color. Truly terrible. Now, to be fair, I own two other Bare Minerals loose shadows and they apply much better. Maybe the formula has been improved. But I know one thing, this Kitten deserves a permanent stay in that great big litter box in the sky.

Brain Post – Music Review – “I Am the Club Rocker”

Inna_-_I_Am_the_Club_Rocker

I’m not ashamed to admit I’m a fan of Romanian pop music. No, I don’t speak Romanian and I have no ties to that corner of the world. But I their brand of pop laced with dance is fun to listen to, regardless whether or not I can understand what they’re saying.

One such Romanian pop star who sings primarily in English is Inna. I had never heard of her until iTunes spotlighted her 2009 album “Hot.” After sampling some of the tracks, I grew to like her, so when she released her second full-length album, “I Am the Club Rocker,” in 2011, I decided to snag a copy.

Most of the songs (thirteen in all) are listenable and worthy of repeating. This album actually reminds me a little of Madonna’s “Confessions On a Dance Floor” (2005) in that it has no ballads or slow-tempo songs. The closest “I Am the Club Rocker” comes would be “July,” which retains a dance beat though it’s more subdued and chilled than the rest of the songs.

Music-wise, all of the are fusions of pop and dance. The mesh certainly works though sometimes it gets repetitive. This especially holds true in my least favorite tracks, “House is Going On” and “No Limit” (“We’re Going in the Club” is a close third but it’s not quite as monotonous as the two aforementioned songs). Speaking of repetition, don’t expect any thought-provoking lyrics here. These are basic dance songs and possess no storyline and consist of either a single verse or are chiefly chorus. That’s not necessarily a criticism since most club music isn’t meant to have the same depth and dimension as, say, a Florence + the Machine song.

Speaking of lyrics, most of Inna’s songs possess a limited thematic spectrum: meeting guys, partying, and dancing. To be fair, none of the songs are overtly crass. Probably the worst offender would be the title track in which Inna assures a male companion that “we can make love automatic” and encourages him to put his hands on her, making her feel “naughty.” “Wow” contains a line where she beseeches a man to “come and take me tonight” but that could be taken as a request to take her to the club rather than something less innocent. Elsewhere are typical club song references to moving your body but, again, these don’t have a clear sexual context. I’ve heard worse and, at least for myself, I can listen to this album and not make much out of it. Standout tracks would be “Moon Girl” (my favorite), “Wow,” “Endless,” “Senorita,” and “Sun is Up.” These possess fun, optimistic beats and I enjoy them primarily for that, not so much for their lyrics. “Endless” is a nice love song that doesn’t include club-hopping so I appreciate it’s slant for that. Overall, “I Am the Club Rocker” doesn’t push boundaries, musically or lyrically, but it’s a fun listen.

While most of the songs here are relatively clean, or at least vague in their references, the rest of Inna’s body of work isn’t so pristine. (And I do emphasize “body.”) The liner notes for “I Am the Club Rocker” feature Inna standing among fellow club rockers who don breast-baring garments. The most sensitive portion of their upper anatomy is censored but it’s fairly obvious what’s supposed to be exposed. (Online, this photo is not obscured and Inna is also shown giving two middle fingers to the camera, another image edited in the album’s notes, which depicts her presenting two fists instead, middle fingers not projected.) The imagery is a bit randy compared to the album’s songs, which aren’t so risqué. So, for that, I was a bit disappointed.

My other caution is that Inna’s music videos amp up the sensual factor by several degrees. A few videos for various tracks on “I Am the Club Rocker” actually made me uncomfortable, primarily when it comes to women making sensual moves towards women and displaying their bodies (usually in slow motion) to eager male onlookers. Inna definitely uses her looks to bring sex appeal. While I won’t condemn an artist for their choices, there are some lines that just aren’t cool to cross in my opinion. Some viewers have labeled Inna’s videos as soft porn and they wouldn’t be too far off regarding a few of them.

Overall Score: Two Brains (out of Five). “I Am the Club Rocker,” the album, is a fun party romp. But I would warn against getting too interested in the rest of Inna’s work. Recent songs and videos have upped the sexual ante and I can’t say I would purchase another full-length album of hers for that reason. In the end, use discretion. For me, “I Am the Club Rocker” is a tame dance album but for others, that might not be the case.

Beauty Post – Makeup Tutorial – Nude Eyes for Red Lips

Sometimes it’s hard to find that perfect eye look to sport with glossy red lips. As a basic rule, if you want to play up your lips, you want to downplay your eyes. Here is a look that I found (can’t remember where) and adapted. It’s meant to be worn with a bold lip color, so go crazy!

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1. Start out by using an eye shadow primer across the entire lid. (I used Urban Decay’s Primer Potion in Sin.)

2. Brush a shimmer and glitter-free nude eyeshadow, close to the same shade as your own skin color, over the entire lid. For this, I used Urban Decay’s Sin over the entire lid and Virgin on the brow bone.

3. Select a medium-brown shadow and create a false crease above your natural crease line. Blend both together so no harsh or evident color lines show. I used Urban Decay’s Buck to create the fake “crease” but I actually applied shadow to my natural crease and  formed another “crease” above it.

4. Apply black mascara to the top lashes only and line your upper eyelid, giving a quick flick for a cat eye. You could opt to use false lashes but because I don’t use false lashes, I applied one coat of Armani’s Eyes to Kill and one coat of Buxom Lash. For the liner, I used Loreal’s Carbon Black Linear Intense.

5. For the lips, after applying my Urban Decay lip primer, I used MAC’s Russian Red and a thin layer of Sephora’s shiny gloss in The Red to intensify up the color.

Enjoy! :)

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Brain Post – Book Review – “The Casual Vacancy”

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Being the Harry Potter fanatic/junkie that I am, as soon as news broke that J.K. Rowling was releasing another book, I went straight to Amazon and placed a pre-order. Honestly, I didn’t care what it was – I just wanted another book by her! Now, to be fair, I knew this latest venture was not going to be anything like Harry Potter and was more for an adult audience. Those two descriptions definitely fit The Casual Vacancy, which doesn’t entirely disappoint but it is quite a departure and some readers might not be ready for it.

For starters, the Harry Potter series was told from a single narrative point, Harry Potter himself. Granted, there were a few chapters that deviated from this, such as the first chapters in Goblet of Fire and Deathly Hallows and the first two chapters in Half-Blood Prince. But we chiefly see the world filtered through Harry’s eyes, thoughts, and emotions. Instead, The Casual Vacancy presents the reader with multiple points of view; thus, it’s more of an ensemble piece as opposed to a solitary character study.

The Casual Vacancy is set in a modern fictional British suburb called Pagford where the town is in political turmoil after one of their parish councilmen unexpectedly dies. I did find the depiction of small-town politics a bit funny because, despite it being British, it possesses similarities as to how small-town America can be run where a select few call the shots. The novel introduces a plethora of characters, ranging from well-to-do factions of society to rebellious teens. I give Rowling credit for tackling ponderous socio-psychological issues such as drug abuse, child abuse, self-harm, adultery, poverty, suicide, rape, welfare, and issues related to social class (primarily who does or does not possess a “voice” or say). Needless to say, it’s a heavy read you won’t finish overnight.

To be honest, I struggled with this book. I wanted to like it but at slightly over 500 pages (in hardcover form), the plot sagged sometimes. It feels like a long read that, page-wise, really isn’t. But with the large cast, multiple story threads, and hefty social issues, it’s weighty. Granted, I have to admit I don’t like ensemble novels because there are so many characters to keep track of, I end up losing count. That happened to me often with The Casual Vacancy and I sometimes even forgot who I was reading about and why I needed to care about them.

If one character stood out to me it would be Krystal Weedon, the rebellious teenage daughter of a drug abusing mother. Krystal epitomizes everything the novel seeks to depict – how dysfunctional, discouraging, and destructive modern society is. Krystal also abuses drugs; was raped by her mother’s drug dealer; endures living in a fractured home; engages in premarital sex; and ends up [SPOILER WARNING!!!] taking her own life after losing her little brother Robbie, the only person who seemed to strike a sensitive and defensive nerve in Krystal. She is no role model and can be downright disgusting, much like most of the cast. But the fact she cares about Robbie and at least tries to rise above her station in life makes her slightly likable.

In short, no one in this book is a model citizen but I sense that was what Rowling was going for. She wanted to show contemporary society as it truly is without the façade we construct to hide or pretty up serious social, psychological, and political matters. But more importantly, every character in the novel possesses an internal vacancy, whether it is money, social status, sexual fulfillment, or personal achievement. They try to fill this void with something material or another person (who is just as messed up as they are) but it doesn’t fulfill. Hence, I feel what Rowling was trying to say was that money, sex, drugs, and the like are not modes of redemption. People have to look deeper, beyond the superficial and beyond themselves, to find hope and a purpose. Just as the Harry Potter novels possess subtle spiritual overtones, The Casual Vacancy possesses latent messages in the form of negative positives – don’t be or live like these people or you will end up just as miserable as they are.

Writing-wise, Rowling definitely has no issues with execution, character development, or plot. My only complaint is that there are so many plot threads it can become tedious trying to shuffle through them. I understand why she wrote this novel in this manner but I still struggle to connect with books featuring a large central cast as opposed to one or two focal figures backed by a secondary cast. But she does have a way with words and I compliment Rowling on her use of language that doesn’t insult the reader’s intelligence. Below is a passage to give you a feel of the writing, delivery, and narrator’s voice:
None of the delight frothing and fizzing inside Shirley had been apparent while Howard had been in the room. They had merely exchanged the comments proper to sudden death before he had taken himself off to the shower. Naturally Shirley had known, as they slid stock words and phrases back and forth between them like beads on an abacus, that Howard must be as brimful of ecstasy as she was; but to express these feelings out loud, when the news of the death was still fresh in the air, would have been tantamount to dancing naked and shrieking obscenities, and Howard and Shirley were clothed, always, in an invisible layer of decorum that they never laid aside.

Content-wise, this is definitely not a book for the young Harry Potter crowd. Rowling said she wished to write a novel for adults and The Casual Vacancy is exactly that. While not “adult” in the sense that it’s erotic, the novel does deal with issues too mature for a young audience. Strong profanities are utilized by several characters, especially the teens who don’t blink an eye in letting F-bombs fly. Drug use and self-harm are depicted and described though not in ways to encourage said behaviors. Overt graphic violence is non-existent but there are instances of abuse that might disturb persons who have endured similar situations. Lastly, there is quite a bit of sexual content, from dialogue to references to sex acts. It isn’t dreadfully graphic but more sensitive readers might not enjoy reading exchanges between teenagers describing their first time. Overall, The Casual Vacancy is for mature readers and older teens at the youngest. Nothing here exists for shock value but if you have concerns about certain content issues, you’ll probably find yourself skimming or skipping a few pages.

In the end, I certainly won’t revisit The Casual Vacancy as much as I do my Harry Potter books but that’s only because I prefer Harry Potter’s genre more. That doesn’t mean this standalone book of Rowling’s is horrible but it is dark and peels back the layers of society to reveal a sinful underbelly in serious need of redemptive repair.

Overall Score: Two Brains (out of Five). The Casual Vacancy isn’t a bad book and I don’t think Rowling could compose anything I would label as “bad.” But I do find it difficult to follow ensemble narratives. Likewise, it’s a lengthy read that did try my patience. Some of the drug abuse and sexual material in particular might be turn offs to readers though their inclusion is strictly to prove how such things never make a person feel whole. For anyone interested in reading a slice of modern British life, this novel is an okay pick but the sundry plots, characters, and persistent focus on political schemes and scandals caused me to withdraw just a bit.

Beauty Post – Makeup Review – Stilla Custom Color Blush

If there is one beauty product I can be finicky over, it’s blush. Being a fair-skinned lady, some colors are just too dark or too pale against my skin, so it’s tough to find a blush that, for me, is just right. While I’ve had tremendous success with NARS blushes, one of my all-time favorites comes from Stila. This particular blush purports to be self-adjusting to your skin’s pH levels and, while I’m not a scientist and can’t attest to how that occurs (if it even does), I can say that Stila’s Custom Color Blush is an amazing find!

There are actually two Custom Color Blushes offered by Stila, one is sheer pink and the other is coral. I avoid corals, so I was immediately drawn to the pink. For starters, it’s a yummy, candy-colored pink that reminds me of cotton candy, bubble gum, pink lemonade, and the cheeks of a porcelain doll all rolled into one! To be honest, the color is bright and scary in the pan, but it immediately transforms into a more appropriate shade on your skin.

One aspect (among many) that I love about this blush is that I don’t have to pile on the color. One or two swipes are enough and after I blend it into my skin, it’s a perfect, flattering shade of pink that applies hassle-free. You can adjust not only the amount of blush you want but also the strength of the color. If you want pinker cheeks, apply it more heavily. If you want a dewy glow, use a lighter hand. But I have found that gently patting the applied blush with my hands creates a natural-looking hue.

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Sadly, I didn’t keep the box but the compact itself is cute without being girly. It might look flimsy but it’s fairly durable. Of course, I keep it stashed inside a nice and cozy makeup drawer, so it really doesn’t get too abused.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHere’s the inside! Sadly, my camera makes the blush look a bit washed out; it’s honestly not this pale in person.

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And here’s the blush on me. This is applied normally (for me) – not too light and not too heavy-handed. I like a nice, subtle color, not glaringly obviously cheeks! (No, my hair isn’t grey – that’s foundation sneaking into my hairline! I threw on some foundation in haste to take this photo.)

Honestly, if there is a more perfect blush out there (excluding the NARS blushes I own), I’d love to meet it. Now on to the Beauty Marks!

Packaging – 5/5 Beauty Marks: Stila’s blushes come in a cardboard box that sport the stencil-looking Stila logo, ingredient list, and a small strip showcasing this blush’s color. In the Custom Color’s case, its strip runs from dark pink to white to show how its color can change depending on your skin type and tone. Sadly, I had no photos of the box to display but I did take a few pics of the actual blush compact. It’s a typical compact and made of sturdy plastic but it’s not big and hard to handle. All in all, the packaging services its product well and feels solid.

Product – 5/5 Beauty Marks: I can’t brag enough about this blush! Granted, I have the perfect skin tone to sport this shade but I think it’s versatile. Ladies with yellow or olive-toned skin might be the only ones with some trouble but even at that, I think mixing this blush with another shade or two would work. It’s a dream to apply and blend and it’s a flattering color that adds warmth despite being a cool-toned pink. Aside from the shading in this formula, Stila’s Custom Color blush doesn’t leave fallout all over your vanity top. It’s smooth and user and wearer-friendly. I don’t own any other Stila products but this blush is a definite keeper.

Price – 3/5 Beauty Marks: Stila’s Custom Color Blush in Sheer Pink costs $20 through Sephora. While there are certainly pricier blushes and this blush is essentially flawless in construction and function, the $20 price point feels high to me. But that’s really my only gripe.

Overall Score & Final Thoughts: Stila’s sheer pink Custom Color Blush scored a 13 out of 15 Beauty Marks. Outstanding! Other than the price, which seems steep, it’s a real winner for any lady who has been searching for the perfect pink blush.

Brain Post – Media Analysis – Me vs. the Nostalgia Critic

YouTube has been my latest place to relive some of the movies I loved as a kid. I don’t mean watching full-length movies free online, I’m talking about the hilarious reviews courtesy of the Nostalgia Critic. He has his own website, which has other videos as well: http://thatguywiththeglasses.com/

In a nutshell, the Critic delivers a no-holds-barred review of movies from (chiefly) the 1980s and 1990s. Most of the movies he reviews are ones I watched, too, as a kid. But he has a knack for pulling out all the goofy, corny aspects of those movies. And, in most cases, he’s right.

For this post, I want to call attention to his comedic (albeit sometimes crude) genius and compare his reviews alongside my own thoughts about the same movies. He’s reviewed so many that I’m only going to isolate two, one I loved and one I loathed.  I’ve included links to the Nostalgia Critic’s reviews, which generally run around 20 minutes, but I do want to point out that there is often strong language and some crude humor, so if you’re easily offended or under age 18, you might want to skip them.

Let the double-headed review being!

3 Ninjas
3 Ninjas (1992)

Nostalgia Critic’s Review:
http://thatguywiththeglasses.com/videolinks/thatguywiththeglasses/nostalgia-critic/766-3-ninjas

My Take: I loved this movie when I was a kid and watched it repeatedly. I’m not sure why but the silly slapstick and slick villain just caught my attention. The plot is fairly basic and, yes, it borrows from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Home Alone in terms of the martial arts and sight gags. But it’s a clean movie for kids. There isn’t much character development and there are some fairly obvious errors, some of which the Nostalgia Critic points out so I won’t repeat them here. The only gripe I can add is that I wished Snyder, the villain, would have been fleshed out more. It’s easy to see where the good guys are coming from and why they do what they do, but not much motivation is shown regarding why Snyder is involved in black market weapons. Is he a terrorist? Does he aid terrorists? Why does he have an army of ninjas? None of these are aptly addressed, so we’re left with a villain we’re supposed to hate just because he’s the villain. For me, that makes a weak antagonist and I’ve seen other movies for kids (such as Rise of the Guardians, check out my review in the archives!) that have a compelling, three-dimensional villain. It’s not a matter of ability but execution, so I will cite 3 Ninjas for being sloppy in this department.

One element parents might have to watch out for is that the three kids do take risks by taking on several baddies, from a trio of bonehead robbers to expertly-trained ninjas. For older kids, this won’t be a big deal, but for anyone who has a hard time grasping the difference between reality and fiction, it might be cautioned that kids could think they, too, are invincible. 3 Ninjas is just a movie and none of the things these kids do should be tried at home. Or at least outside of a dojo.

Besides those minor negative points, I will credit 3 Ninjas for having a consistent plot. It’s not anything groundbreaking but it keeps the pace and makes for easy watching. I also will say I feel the movie fairly portrays the philosophy behind the martial arts. I’m not sure how seriously the kid characters take these ideas, but Grandpa does the right thing by teaching them that the martial arts are more of a mindset, not just cool ninja moves. As one reviewer, Kevin Thomas, observes, “Although their attention may wander, parents can be grateful that there’s some substance as well as fun in this Disney release, for martial arts is presented as a matter of defense rather than aggression, emphasizing that it is a matter of mind and spirit as well as body and requiring resourcefulness and discipline.” All in all, I can still watch 3 Ninjas now and get a kick out of it (no pun intended).

Overall Score: Three Brains (out of Five). 3 Ninjas is a typical 90s kid flick with a relatively weak villain in terms of development and a trite plot. But it’s harmless fun and teaches good lessons about family unity, self-discipline, and courage.

Source: Kevin Thomas. “’3 Ninjas Best Left to Under-10 Crowd” Aug. 7 1992.  Apr. 20 2012.
http://articles.latimes.com/1992-08-07/entertainment/ca-4735_1_ninja-training

Inspector Gadget
Inspector Gadget
(1999)

Nostalgia Critic’s Review:
http://thatguywiththeglasses.com/videolinks/thatguywiththeglasses/nostalgia-critic/30015-inspector-gadget-the-movie

My Take: I’ve seen this movie twice and I agree 100% with the Critic. “Inspector Gadget” the show had potential to make a great movie. But this adaptation strays so far from the original material it’s shameful for it to even wear the Gadget name. For starters, the casting is not spot on and, much like the Critic’s gripe, I thought it ruined Dr. Claw’s menacing mystique by having the actor visible. Not to mention his behavior and dialogue are utterly out of character from the television show’s villain. Likewise, Penny and Brain, who always teamed up with Gadget in the show, take an almost non-existent backseat here. But the character who receives the brunt of my irritation is Gadget himself, played by Matthew Broderick.

For the record, I’m not a Broderick fan. In any movie I’ve ever seen him in (and they have been very few), he plays the same sort of bland, emotionless character. Maybe he does better on stage but film isn’t his strong point and he bombs as Inspector Gadget. In the show, Gadget had a bubbly (though bumbling) personality who was capable of being three-dimensional, but Broderick’s portrayal is more of a flat interpretation of everything the original Gadget was. Likewise with Dr. Claw. On the show, he was the nearly invisible leader of a sinister crime organization called M.A.D., but in the movie he’s just a business mogul with a bad side, which lessens his villainous potential. We’re never told why the movie version of Claw wants to get his hands on advanced robotic technology – we just see that’s what he wants. Finally, Gadget here is given a love interest that, essentially, just gives us the stock damsel in distress. All in all, the casting is abysmal, both in selection and acting. Not to mention the plot seems piecemeal, moving from sight gag to sight gag without much in between.

I heard there was a sequel to this movie and some viewers cited was better but I’d probably never watch it. I’ll just take everyone’s word that it was an improvement. It truly is a shame because I still believe “Inspector Gadget” would make a good movie. But Inspector Gadget isn’t it and falters on all critical cinematic levels – plot, character, and execution. While I suppose it’s okay for kids, it really is a pallid ghost of the cartoon. Myself, if I had kids, I’d have them watch the original show instead.

Overall Score: One Brain (out of Five). Inspector Gadget takes a perfectly good, charming kid’s television show and turns it into something that’s almost unrecognizable. As a big fan of the cartoon, I was appalled at how the movie treated the characters, both the good guys and the bad. If you’ve never seen the show, definitely check it out. But if you happened to miss this cinematic remake, you’re not missing out on anything.

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