Friday, February 22, 2013

Review: Street Art From Around The World by Garry Hunter

Description: Our towns and cities are saturated with the imagery of commerce and advertising, but alongside it a new creative phenomenon is demanding our attention: art, on the street, available for everyone to see. From huge murals to exquisite miniature are that can easily be missed, the examples here are powerful expression of what it is to be a modern human living in an urban landscape. 

Stats: Non-Fiction Art: Street Art, 128 pages, Published by Arcturus Publishing Limited, September 2012. 

My Rating: 4 STARS

Whenever I see truly captivating street art I always wish I could take a peek inside the artist's mind. I'm begging for context. Why do they do what they do? Why were they inspired to create what they have created? Street Art: From Around the World gives a lot of information about the changing landscape of street art through focusing on well known street artists.

Jimmy C, Whitby St, Shoreditch, London 2011
This book takes a look at art done by the people best known for signing their name to the medium of street art at large. Despite the fact that there are plenty of names in this book you will probably have heard of before, there are also plenty of artists that you will be more then happy to be introduced to. (Like Jimmy C and his drip paintings as seen to the left). This works out great because it limits the scope to focusing only on people who are out spoken about what they do and their methods. This is a lot more informative then trying to devolve details from anonymous street artists who come and go in the middle of the night or people who are more concerned about not getting arrested. Information is known about these artists and they are a lot more open about the statement their trying to make and where their methods come from. 

You're getting introduced to a person and not just a single photograph of something cool. In Street Art: From Around the World the artists are not interviewed or quoted outright, but Garry Hunter has done enough research that their personalities and careers shine through along side full glossy photographs of their work with every magnificent detail in perfect focus. 

Because of this focus we also get an interesting look at the acceptance and commercialization of street art. It's a topic weaved throughout the book as Hunter emphasises the ways some of these street artists have gotten recognized in more traditional ways. Having taken their work from the street to galleries, professional partnerships, and community initiatives.  
One of the most fascinating instances of this in the book was Nek Chand from Chandigarh, India and his Rock Garden. You can see photos, videos, and a lot of information about the Rock Garden on the Nek Chand Foundation website. It takes street art to an entire new level.  

"When Nek Chand’s magic kingdom was first discovered it should, by rights, have been destroyed. It was built illegally on government owned land, in violation of strict planning laws that protected Le Corbusier’s 'City Beautiful', where everything had to be a part of the great master plan. Many politicians demanded the Rock Garden's destruction as an illegal development. Others, following public opinion and their own tolerant enlightenment, ensured that the Rock Garden became a well funded public park. Nek Chand was relieved of his duties as a government roads inspector and given a salary to continue with the expansion of the Rock Garden with the title 'Creator-Director'." - Nek Chand Foundation Website

VHILS Wall Art:
In the book we are introduced to artists via their chosen medium. There are artists that use posters, paint, multi-medium, photography, carving, sculpture, mosaic, etc. The variety of styles and purposes was absolutely amazing!

Another remarkable artist that this book introduced me to is VHILS and his wall carving! He uses tools to carve into the distressed walls of urban environments and then paints it to create a breathtaking image. It's just so WOW that I can't even begin to describe it. To see some of his work in full detail check out his website!
I loved having this book give me more then just a collection of photographs and that is what I ended up enjoying about it. I would definitely recommend this as a starter book for anyone interested in learning the basics of what street art really is as well as the people they should be keeping an eye out for. It's easy to read, there isn't a lot of long or drawn out paragraphs, and it provides talking points that I just haven't seen in other books about street art.

This is a stunning look at just what is possible with a creative mind and a wall to paint on. 

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Series Review: Honey Hunt by Miki Aihara

Honey Hunt, Volume 1Series Description: The media is abuzz when word gets out that Yura's mega-famous parents are splitting up. Already accustomed to the daily pressure of being the child of celebrities, Yura's frustration explodes in a rant against her parents--and her heated words end up being broadcasted live on national TV! When a powerful talent scout hears her impassioned declaration, he offers to represent her. The door to showbiz is now flung open for this timid wallflower--will she try to become an actress in her own right?

Stats: Romance Manga, Volumes 1-6, English Publication: April 2009 to December 2010 by VIZ Media LLC.
Current Status: On Hiatus from Publication.
My Overall (1-6) Rating: 2 STARS

According to in this post, Honey Hunt Goes on Hiatus, Author Reveals New Manga, Honey Hunt was officially put on hiatus by Aihara back sometime in 2009. It's been over a year since the last complete volume (Volume 6) was published here in North America and with no news on the series continuation I think it's safe to mark this manga series as complete. To seal the deal, even if Volume 7 was to be published I don't think I would be interested in continuing with Honey Hunt.

When I first started reading, Honey Hunt was a random grab off the library shelf. I try to find first volumes of books I've never heard of before just to give something new a go. I've never read anything else by Aihara, but from what I've seen online she's has a very dedicated fan base. Even with the poor showing of Honey Hunt, I'm still considering reading her Hot Gimmick series.

Honey Hunt started off very well. I found myself instantly interested in the story and the main character, Yura, had me routing for her to succeed from volume one. The plot in itself had a lot of great promise, but then it kind of plateaued. Nothing was particularly bad about it, but nothing was really great either. I liked the series right through Volume 6, but it never hit that level that made it memorable or amazing. Overall, it was just okay.

However, there were a few things that really stood out. One of the things I liked about the series was the overall tone. Honey Hunt is written like a Japanese TV-drama and being a fan of Japanese TV-dramas I was loving it. It had the appropriate mix of romantic possibilities, (which includes a twin brother love triangle, see above right), and story elements with Yura trying to make a name for herself in acting while battling her lack of self-confidence, actual acting skills, and past family issues.

Yura's mother was probably one of my favourite characters. In the manga the comparison is made that she's very reminiscent of The Evil Queen in Snow White. She's vain, possessive, and views her daughter more as competition for attention then someone to nurture. I think it would have been interesting to see the story take on a bit of a Snow White retelling, it definitely had those elements brewing underneath the surface story lines.

Although I did have some problems initially with the chaotic panel design. I did enjoy the art and how each character looked and expressed themselves.

Honey Hunt just isn't something I would recommend to people, despite the good things I have to say, because it's continuation has been put so far on the back burner that it has been completely forgotten.

I just don't understand why a creator would start a series and then abandon it to work on something else without creating some sort of conclusion. I say this especially in light of the manga industry where so many people are trying to make a living. To get the opportunity to publish something and then just stopping after 6 volumes completely baffles me.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra

Antony and Cleopatra (No Fear Shakespeare)Description: Antony and Cleopatra centres around the soldier and noble prince Mark Antony's enthralment with the Egyptian queen Cleopatra, and the tumultuous relationship which ensues and ultimately ends in tragedy. - Taken From Amazon

My Rating: 3.5 Stars

Shakespeare really has a thing about having people commit suicide. In a play about war and love, the only on stage deaths are suicides. There are six in total. If that doesn't get your attention then I don't know what will!

Antony and Cleopatra is what happens when love and war collide in a spectacular division of loyalty. The desire to love and be loved verses the desire for honour and ultimate power. We're given two sides of the coin. In Egypt we have a world of luxury, excess, and two rulers punch-drunk on passion. In Rome, we have rigid wars being fought my rigid people who are attempting to expand the great Roman Empire. We watch (or in my case listen and read) as things fall apart and tragedy befalls everyone. 

For this play I was lucky enough to have an audio book to listen along with as I read the text. I feel like this made all the difference in my enjoyment. Although I enjoy reading Shakespeare's words all by themselves, Antony and Cleopatra is a very dense play with a lot of characters that you have to keep straight. Who is in Rome? Who is in Egypt? Who works for whom? Which side is this person on? Having "BBC Shakespeare: Antony and Cleopatra" to guide my reading along with the text in the No Fear Shakespeare book was amazing experience wise. I actually was reading entranced for a full two hours straight as I finished off the play. That right there is incredible considering the material.   

I particularly enjoyed the No Fear Shakespeare edition for reading because of the great formatting. Here we have Shakespeare's original words on one side of the page and a plain English adaptation just opposite. Although I really dislike modern English "translations" of Shakespeare because they're so often abused by people who don't really want to read anything Shakespeare actually wrote, in the case of this book I do appreciate having something there that provides such extensive context. It is also formatted in a way that you can completely ignore it if you want. The original text is easy to read and the translation is non-disruptive to the flow of the play. 

In the case of Antony and Cleopatra context within the play is important. I stress that there is a lot of politics and battles going on underneath all the inter-personal character conflicts. Knowing who is who and what side they are on is very key. If I had known what I was getting into I probably would have been scared off from reading this and stuck with something more familiar. However, although the complexity is very complex, the simple moments really made this play wonderful to read.

Cleopatra and everything that takes place in Egypt is just so amazing. Just the descriptions characters give of Egypt and the Queen are so good that when you are forced to leave Egypt to listen to some stuffy political Romans all you want to do is get back to Cleopatra's over-the-top dramatics. I mean, this is where the audio book really comes into play because when you can hear her become completely enraged or when her voice softens into sweetness it's really enthralling.

Giving Antony and Cleopatra a rating is harder then I thought it would be. On one hand, I really did enjoy the experience of it! On the other, it does drag at some parts and if I was simply reading the play and not also listening to it l I know I would not have been as interested. My hat is off to all the audio players from "BBC Shakespeare: Antony and Cleopatra" for their performances! For a play about grand passion and grand defeats, although it didn't astound me, I did quite enjoy it.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Review: Between You & Me by Marisa Calin

Between You & MeDescription: Phyre knows there is something life-changing about her new drama teacher, Mia, from the moment they meet. As Phyre rehearses for the school play, she comes to realize that the unrequited feelings she has for Mia go deeper than she’s ever experienced. Especially with a teacher. Or a woman. All the while, Phyre’s best friend—addressed throughout the story in the second person, as "you"—stands by, ready to help Phyre make sense of her feelings. But just as Mia doesn't understand what Phyre feels, Phyre can’t fathom the depth of her best friend’s feelings . . . until it’s almost too late for a happy ending. 

Characters come to life through the innovative screenplay format of this debut, and unanswered questions—is "you" male or female?—will have readers talking.

Stats: Young Adult, 242 pages, First Published by Bloomsbury USA Children, August 2012.

My Rating: 1 STAR

I finished Between You & Me with a bad taste in my mouth. Now all I can wonder is how could I have been so wrong? The short of it is that Between You & Me was incredibly disappointing.

Let's start with what positives there were. Between You & Me has the unique distinction of being written in script format. In my opinion, it is very well executed. The format combines everything that a fluid narrative has along with having all the dialogue being like it is in a script. It's nice to look at and very quick to read. However, will it be this way for everyone? Maybe not. I'm approaching this as someone who already has a love for the format. If you've read books in the past that used email or chat logs and those aspects didn't work for you then neither will this.   

Another positive for me was the concept. Because the dialogue is a script and the narrative is in 1st person we get to have a character that is referred to only as "You". This "You" character clearly has a crush on our main character Phyre, but in the story has no assigned gender. While reading, my mind was overjoyed by this concept in practice! It allowed me to play with the character bouncing back and forth between thinking "You" is male or female. This effects the tone of the story and gives an interactive element that I enjoyed in a chose your own adventure sort of way.

Unfortunately, this is where the positives end and the negatives begin. And boy is it about to get negative.

YA Romance is a genre that can be incredibly underappreciated when it comes to storytelling and sometimes rightfully so. Just because you have a love story, doesn't mean you have a love story. However, I've always enjoyed reading YA romance, because a lot of the time love stories are also relationship stories. In the first 100 pages of Between You & Me I was surprised that beyond Phyre's crushing there was nothing else going on. I kept waiting for something more. Family? Humour? Drama? Romantic happenings? Personal growth? Sexuality? I kept waiting for something to develop, but all I got was this young girl experiencing a crush. 

Do you remember what it's like to have a crush on someone? Although crushes feel all amazing and nerve-wracking when you're experiencing them they're actually pretty dull. A crush is the act of wanting someone, of being attracted to them, and not knowing what to do next. This means we get an entire 250 pages with our main character wanting and wishing but never doing anything about it. You're feelings can't be unrequited if you've never acted on them to begin with. (I'm looking at you back of book blurb from person who I don't remember that mentioned unrequited love. I'm looking at you and judging your judgement!)

Maybe this sort of story can be captivating to those who are still experiencing these sort of roller-coaster emotions. Maybe, god forbid, I'm too old for crushes. I prefer relationships and courting to the wishing and wanting I experienced as a young girl. (I've grown up! Ahhhh!) However, I should still be able to relate to this, especially because the story focuses around a straight teen girl developing a crush on her female teacher.  

When I started the book I had assumed (wrongly) that it would be about teen sexuality. With the concept so focused on gender and sexual preferences I had assumed (still wrong) that this was a look at the "Q" of LGBTQ. Which it was, kind of. Almost all teenagers these days experience having to ask themselves: What if I'm gay? What if I'm bi? What does it mean if I like someone who is the same gender as me, even though I'm straight? It's too bad that none of these questions are asked in Between You & Me. 

Scroll back to that book description, tell me that it doesn't sound like that is what I should have expected. Phyre does have a crush on her female teacher and it is a new experience for her, but in the entire book she probably only thinks about the implication of her affections for about a page, maybe a page and a half. Most of the time we just get the play by play of her crushing. We get to know all about how Mia looks today and her every move and sigh, but nothing of substance. 

That's what really got me. I was surprised by how much thought Phyre put into every small, meaningless event, but when it came to her sexuality she never even stressed it. I'm under the impression that this is the first time Phyre has possibly been emotionally and physically attracted to the same sex and yet she hardly thinks about it! The one good moment of insight is when she say, out of nowhere, that she doesn't know if she wants to be Mia or wants to kiss Mia. That is incredibly interesting! I wish the whole book had rolled with that idea of distinguishing idolism from romantic feelings. Maybe Phyre's crush on her teacher is the same as my crush on Emma Stone. These "girl crushes" are more appreciation then lust. But Between You & Me never goes into these concepts beyond mentioning them. I hate to say this, but I feel like sexuality was used more as a story gimmick then a serious aspect of the story being told. 

I just didn't care for this book. Beyond the issues I had with the story being told I maybe could have liked this if the pacing hadn't sucked out any of the caring I had in me. 

When I read a book that just doesn't have good pacing, I always hope that it'll pick up eventually. Maybe in the next 20 pages something will happen and things will finally get off the ground! Maybe in the next 20 pages! ... Well, maybe this event here will spiral into something! Maybe this boring conversation has some sort of consequences down the road! I hoped that each non-event was going to build up to something until I got more and more hopeless.

I left this book frustrated and upset, which sucks because I was actually looking forward to this one. This is Marisa Calin's debut novel and I never wish to have this sort of experience with a debut. What drew me to the book and what I ended up enjoying about it is how experimental it is. This isn't something I've seen before and risk taking is not something you see a lot of in a publishing market that is desperately trying to follow the trends. I appreciate Between You & Me for what it attempted, but not enough to give it a pass. The negatives completely outweigh the positives. 

Also, PHYRE? As in FIRE? No. I'm not convinced anyone aside from Beyoncé and Jay-Z would name a child this. No. Suspension of disbelief ruined!

January Wrap Up

What does a blogger do when trying to avoid house work? ...This apparently.

My first month of blogging is coming to a close and I am happy to report that most is well on deck here at Reading Robyn. I've read a lot of great novels and am enjoying the challenge of reading based on a monthly theme.

This month, the theme was Death and Dying. Always a fun topic! Despite being a major downer I feel like it's a suitable theme to ring in a new year. This is the time when it feels best to give yourself a good ol' reality check and damn nothing beats not having cancer.

I started this new year of reading off with The Fault In Our Stars by John Green, which had me worried that the rest of the month wouldn't be able to live up to such a high note. However, I was pleasantly surprised by My Life In Black and White by Natasha Friend, even though I do spend most of my review complaining about it. After that I tackled If I Stay by Gayle Forman. Now, I don't remember who I promised, but somewhere along the line I promised a fellow Goodreads user that I would finally buck up and read the damn thing in January 2013. At the time, I'm pretty sure I said it just to not seem like a coward for being scared to approach this one, but as time rolled around I stuck to my promise. Thankfully, If I Stay did not disappoint, although I didn't cry like I expected to. To finish the month off I was planning on reviewing Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver for last week's final theme based book. It's another heavy YA novel that I've been terrified of reading. I'm actually still in the middle of it right now, but I did end up finishing  Agatha Christie's The Body in the Library. It's about death, so I guess it counts... It totally counts.

The only big let down I experienced in January was my poor planning when it came to writing the discussion posts I wanted to do. I was going to post one a week, but chickened out when my first attempted topic ended up overwhelming me completely. (I won't tell you what it was because I'm saving it for some time later this year.) The silver-lining of the whole ordeal is that I've had some time to plan things out, making some much needed lists, as well as a few really cute graphics to help differentiate discussion posts from my normal reviews.


The theme for February is going to be LOVE, of course. The fourteenth is Valentines Day and there's nothing better then some romantic happenings to get my single self into the festive spirit.

The first review will be up later today for Between You & Me by Marisa Calin, followed up with some Lips Touch: Three Times, some Boy Meets Boy, and hopefully some Sarah Dessen. Also, I may try to squeeze in The Princess Bride by William Goldman. (Yes, that Princess Bride. The most awesome romantic movie possibly ever was adapted from a book.) But we'll have to wait and see how things go! Love is such a broad theme that I may get a little grab happy at the library.

As for Jane Austen, my first novel of her's will be Emma and my first Shakespeare of the year will be Antony and Cleopatra.

If you have any suggestions for what Austen novel I should be reading next I would love to know! I'm putting off Pride and Prejudice till later in the year (The Lizzie Bennet Diaries adaptation may have something to do with that), but now I'm having trouble picking which books to read first and which books to wait on.

So, what are you reading next?