Friday, June 26, 2009

TV Style: So You Think You Can Dance, episode 10

I had a hard time choosing my favorite costume on So You Think You Can Dance this week - between Melissa's amazing drapy ballroom outfit, Jeanine's adorable 40s getup, and Cat's fabulous tribute to Farrah Fawcett, it's a photo-finish within miliseconds. Since I can't pick, I think I'll just list them for your enjoyment, in no particular order:

So far, Melissa and Ade are my favorite couple. They both exude a quiet confidence, which makes it really easy to root for them. This week they did the rhumba; I love it when the contestants get a ballroom category because it really seems to showcase their partnership as a whole - if one person struggles, they both struggle.

Also, it brings out the crazy-awesome ballroom costumes that aim to be over-the-top, sparkly concotions of fabulousness. And that's what Melissa got this week:
It's completely crazy - a copper-colored bikini underneath a sparkly copper toga-thing - yet it's completely amazing, too. It has no real-world style application - it's just amazing for what it is, a fab ballroom costume.

In contrast, I would wear Jeanine's cute 40s dress today if I could:

She and Phillip did a fun dance inspired by the too-great-for-words movie, Singin' in the Rain (no video b/c sound is disabled on all clips I found, copyright reasons or something). Not only did Jeanine get to wear a sweet little lavender dress, but she got to rogue her lips and pin up her hair like a war bride waiting for her man to come home. The whole look was just adorable - it would have been my favorite if Melissa's dress hadn't existed on the same show.

And finally, Miss Cat Deeley, the most adorable show host in all the world. She's just so sweet and seems to have just a bit of the geek in her - I totally want to be her best friend. Along with her hosting duties, Cat gets to wear crazy things that only a tall, blonde dance competetion host can get away with.

This week, she got away with a Hawaiin-print, halter-neck jumpsuit.

Normally, I consider jumpsuits part of the fashion industry's masterplan to dress middle America in unflattering things for their own amusement. However, Cat is an exception - she is the kind of person who can wear something so silly, yet still look amazing. Also, I love that they feathered her hair - intentional or not, her whole look seemed a tribute to Farrah Fawcett's fresh-faced beauty from the 70s.

Book Report: What I Saw and How I Lied

The cover of What I Saw and How I Lied contains a single, stark image of a young girl, in sepia tone, but for her lipstick. The lighting imitates the dark-and-light contrast that characterized vintage noir. It's a beautifully designed cover that speaks to many of the themes in the book.

Evie Spooner is fifteen in 1947; like all fifteen-year-olds, she dreams of being grown-up. Her story begins with a trip to the candy store with her best friend; they buy candy cigarettes so they can "practice smoking." Her friend considers smoking the ultimate in adult glamor; Evie finds that glamor in lipstick, which she's forbidden to wear until she's 18.

It's nearing the end of summer and Evie's stepfather Joe, recently returned from the war, wants to take his girls on a trip to Palm Beach. They stay in a glamorous, but near-empty resort, where Evie is reduced to playing hopscotch on the hallway carpet for lack of a companion.

But that all changes when Peter Coleridge shows up. Joe seems nervous around his former army buddy, but the Spooner girls take to him quite easily. Evie begins spending time with him, finding herself in the middle of her first love.

Although the first love plotline is the stuff of a typical coming-of-age story, What I Saw and How I Lied uses it as a jumping-off point for Evie's true growing experience: Evie loses Peter tragically, then becomes swept up in a murder investigation focused on her parents. The second half of the book centers around Evie's decisions about what she's capable of doing and her own decisions about moral right and wrong.

I've been reading a lot of books from the Young Adult section lately, but this is the first that really tries something different. Judy Blundell writes with a noirish spareness that adds a stylish melancholy to Evie's transition into adulthood. There's a cinematic quality to the story in general - Evie's narration has that cynical noir voice-over quality and the locations are very stylish, grand, and smoke-filled.

It's a story that stays with you. I've been thinking about what I want to say about it all week - that it's stylish, affecting, a believable coming-of-age story. But mostly, it's just a good book that I really, really loved reading!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

TV Style: So You Think You Can Dance, episode 8

It's no surprise that I love So You Think You Can Dance: it's colorful, frothy summer fun. So far this season, the dancing has been great - already, there are a few routines that stick out as being great.

Last week, in particular, Kayla and Max danced a pop jazz routine that was SO cool and SO stylish (go here to see video). The movement was so angular and sharp - combined with a 1920s-ish Russian glamor - that it almost seemed like they were old-timey marionettes. Basically, it was a dance that was made for me to obsess over.

A lot of times, the costuming on SYTYCD is a little silly or obvious, but I was in love with the crazy ballerina look they gave Kayla:

It's got every possible embellishment - feathers, tulle, beading, ruffles, flowers - done in total in-your-face bright colors and it should be totally tacky. Instead, it's completely perfect - she looks like a ballerina who maybe spends a little time in the speakeasy downtown.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Book Report: The Luxe, ect.

If you've read Edith Wharton (and truly, you should), you know that turn-of-the-century, high-class Manhattan was as full of scandal as turn-of-the-other-century Gossip Girl Manhattan. There's the same wealth, the same manipulation, and the same struggle to find true love within a society so concerned with appearances.

It's with that idea that Anna Godberson created The Luxe, a series of young adult novels that read just like Gossip Girl: 1899. The novels focus on a group of wealthy Manhattan teenagers, each of whom has a secret or two. . .

There's It Girl Elizabeth Holland, our old-timey Serena van der Woodsen, who radiates goodness and propriety but has a secret love. Her sister, Diana, an impulsive, romantic, Jenny Humphrey-type, who dreams of life beyond the confines of Manhattan society, but finds herself in love with society's bad boy, Henry Schoonmaker (aka not-as-cool Chuck Bass). The Holland sister's maid, Lina, who resents her place in life and learns that the way up may involve betraying her former employers. And finally, our Queen B, Penelope Hayes, a girl from a new-money family who stops at nothing to get a prominent place in society and the man (Henry) who goes with it.

The connections to Gossip Girl provide a familiar framework for the teenagers who don't normally read historical fiction. Each chapter begins with an excerpt from a society column or etiquette book that ties in with the following pages; like Gossip Girl, the gossip columns sometimes create expectations or realities that wouldn't exist otherwise.

Unfortunately, The Luxe shares another characteristic of the Gossip Girl books: the writing often gets in the way of character development and plot. The dialogue suffers occasionally when it drops from 1899 formality to more modern speech. In places, the historical details feel tacked-on, rather than organic to the setting. And while it's sparkly and scandalous, don't expect much more than a superficial glance into the lives of 1899 Manhattan's elite.

Having said that, don't think that I didn't enjoy this series - I will be reading the final book, Splendor, when in comes out in October, for certain (I have to know if Diana and Henry will finally be together and if Lina finally discovers that wealth doesn't always equal happiness!).

All in all, it's a fun way to wile away a few summer hours, daydreaming about wearing the book-jacket dresses to a fancy Fifth Avenue ball.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Book Report: Neil Gaiman Love Edition

"People respond to the stories. They tell them themselves. The stories spread, and as people tell them, the stories change the tellers. Because now the folk who never had any thought in their head but how to run from lions and keep far enough away from rivers that the crocodiles don't get an easy meal, now they're starting to dream about a whole new place to live. The world may be the same, but the wallpaper's changed. Yes? People still have the same story, the one where they get born and they do stuff and they die, but now the story means something different to what it meant before."

The trickster god Anansi's explanation of stories and the way they instill dreams in people is the perfect distillation of Anansi Boys, a kind-of fantasy, a little bit ghost story, quite a bit funny, magical realist novel by Neil Gaiman. In it, Fat Charlie Nancy learns some unbelievable things after the death of his embarrassing, over-the-top father: Mr. Nancy was actually a god and he had two sons.

Soon after he learns this, Fat Charlie's life spins into chaos: his brother, Spider, shows up and impersonates Fat Charlie, causing trouble with his white-collar criminal boss and stealing Rosie, Fat Charlie's fiance. In trying to sort out his life, Fat Charlie begins an adventure that ends ultimately with a new realization of his family, himself and his abilities.

I'm pretty late to the game so far as Neil Gaiman love is concerned - a good college buddy of mine sent me a copy of Coraline for my birthday last year. I adored the book and it's dark, creepy world and couldn't wait to read more from the author who created that world.

And he doesn't disappoint. Mr. Gaiman's writings are imaginative and funny and, most importantly, numerous. He created and wrote the Sandman graphic novel series and has written quite a few young adult and children's books; Anansi Boys is a spin-off of sorts from his first adult novel, American Gods. And, he keeps a very charming blog - maybe my favorite famous-person blog, next to Stephen Fry.

I'm reading The Graveyard Book next and can't wait to dive into another of Neil Gaiman's fantastic worlds!