Aw, man. It's been way too long between reviews posts. Time to get back to it.
And with that, I bring you a little piece on a new vintage shop that opened recently in my hood (St. Clair West/Hilcrest Village).
The shop's called Gypsy
and it's FABULOUS.
Gypsy is located in the same space as another local store that died recently (always a bummer). If you live in the neighbourhood, you might have noticed the recent changes to the facade. It used to be beige/tan. Now it's a wine/plum/burgundy colour.
Initially, this change made me nervous. Burgundy brings back memories of my 9th grade fetish for crushed velvet baby-doll dresses.
I was wrong to worry. The building's colour, and the romantic signage perfectly suit the moody, eclectic interior. The shop is dark and sumptuous, like a Parisian boutique you found hidden in a neighbourhood you only visited by accident. (In other words: it's awesomesauce and full of personality.)
On the day when I was there, I didn't have my camera, so I will rely on shots pilfered from the shop's own Tumbler page (linked via the shop name above).
What I love about it? It's PACKED with stock. This is one of the most well-stocked vintage shops I've ever visited, in fact. It's a little overwhelming. Though the space is not enormous, every square inch is filled with treasures, from boho dresses to leather boots, to jewellery, to collectibles to oddities. My friend and I stayed for two full hours and I don't think we managed to see everything.
And in general, stuff at Gypsy is well priced. It's a mid-range pre-loved kind of place. Here's a quote from the shop's Tumbler, describing the prices for some of the pieces in a recent window display:
"The jean dungarees on the tall model go for $30, which is a bit higher than the average for our jean shorts. Her 100% silk peasant blouse top is $38, and all the silk ties she’s adorned with (for belts and roses) - as well as all the silk ties in the store - are $24 each."
All those prices are fair, I'd say. Well below mall-range retail, but pricier than Goodwill, which makes complete sense when you factor in the work it takes to curate a nice vintage collection.
The shop's owner, Donnetta Galloway, seems like a lovely lady, with lots of experience. She told me she used to do custom bridal back in the day. (Her partner apparently owns one of the newish cafe's in the 'hood as well - NOIR - so shopping at Gypsy makes me feel like I'm supporting TWO small local businesses, which gives me the warm fuzzies.)
I didn't buy any clothing (not that I wasn't tempted), but I did snag a decorative piece that I absolutely love: a brass, moroccan-style pendant that I could easily convert into a light fixture. For the time being, it's hanging from the ceiling in my office.
Look past the bad lighting. It's great, right?
Anyway. Do check out Gypsy if you're in the hood. I couldn't be happier to see such a cool little shop making a go of it. GYPSY (found objects)
762 St. Clair Ave. W.
Toronto, ON m6C 1B5
So, I'm not usually much of a jewellery person. I mean, I LIKE jewellery. I like looking at it, and I admire it on other people, but owning to a raging inherited contact allergy, I can't wear much metal adornment myself. I break into horrible rashes and hives. Even my vintage rose gold wedding ring irritates me sometimes.Anyway, as a result, I hardly every post about jewellery. But today, I just had to share something with you: City and Cedar - Handcrafted Jewellery made by a girl I know right here in Toronto.I don't know Rachel -- the artist -- well. She's the partner of a guy who is a friend of my husband (not exactly a close connection), but DAMN, I like her stuff. (In fact, I almost descended into a little jealous rage when I first saw her website, which made my website look kind of hokey.) Anyway, take a look at some of this awesomesauce jewellery. It's a mix of boho/industrial
styles, urban and hippie chic at the same time. Here, look - I've pulled a few of my faves:This is the Kunda Flower Bracelet. ($15 each - probably the most inexpensive piece in the shop). Looks so good layered.
Next up, two incarnations of the Neci necklace:
And finally here's a bad-ass necklace called the Kita:
If I wasn't wildly allergic to brass, I would buy some of this stuff in a wink, but since I can't, I thought I'd spread the word to you in the hopes that you might buy a piece of two and let me live vicariously. (Note: some of City and Cedar's other pieces include customizable ribbon, wood beads, and leather cords. You can definitely make any of their pieces your own.)
Seriously... this stuff is funktastic. Pretty, feminine, unique, urban, etc. Love it. And I'm so happy to be able to give a little blog shout-out to a local artisan who's making a go of something crafty and wonderful instead of giving in to a life as a cog in the corporate machine. I really want people like this to succeed, especially when they're super talented.
Anyway. Last, but not least, here's a sweet (and very hip) behind the scenes video Rachel made of the recent City and Cedar "look book" photo shoot.
Bejewel yourself, my friends. You won't be sorry.
It's been ages since I've done a review, so I thought I'd spend a little time today talking about author Karen Russell. I received both of her books recently (one for Christmas and one for Valentine's Day) and I enjoyed them quite a bit.
Russell's prose is unusual -- almost lyrical -- and the imagery she uses is very strange, but I think I might love her. I've certainly never read anything like her before, and in a saturated market, you can't beat good, old-fashioned creativity.
According to The New York Times, Swamplandia!
is "a novel about alligator wrestlers, a balding brown bear named Judy Garland, a Bird Man specializing in buzzard removal, a pair of dueling Florida theme parks, rampaging melaleuca trees, a Ouija board and the dead but still flirtatious Louis Thanksgiving. Sound appealing? No, it does not. Unless Ms. Russell had you at “alligator wrestlers” — not likely — you may well recoil at every noxiously fanciful item on that list." Cute as it is, reducing Russell's book to this list of "noxiously fanciful" oddities, even for the purpose of proving a point before going on to shower the book with praise, which the NYT article does, does her a disservice. Certainly,
the aforementioned images and characters appear in Swamplandia!
, but they're not what the book is about. Not even a little bit. The book is about a grieving family, recovering from the loss of their matriarch while trying to deal with financial ruin and teenage growing pains.
At it's heart, this is universal stuff.
For all the talk about the strangeness of Russell's settings, her story is ultimately about a very average family. They simply happen to live in very unusual circumstances. The "Bigtrees" live on the fringe. They're island-dwellers who home-school their children (and the children are, as a result, seriously unsocialized). But the drama of the story grows out of loss, grief, poverty and assimilation. It's a book about things you know, wrapped in a shell of things you are unfamiliar with (say, the alligator wrestling) and the result is extremely compelling, and very, very sad. (Look out for very serious stuff such as possible suicide attempts and rape.)
I really don't want to give too much away except to say that the impression I got from this book was similar to what I felt while reading Peter Rock's My Abandonment
(which I raved about last year). If you read that book and liked it, I highly recommend you read this.
P.S. If you decide to try Russell, you might not want to start with Swamplandia!
I started with the novel because it's the book I was given first, but it might have been better to begin with the 2006 short story collection, St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised By Wolves. The stories will give you a good idea of Russell's style and you won't have to commit to a longer piece. Also, St. Lucy's contains a prototype or seed story that seems to have germinated into Swamplandia! as a whole, so that's another good reason to read it first. (The story won't be as compelling if you read it after getting to know the same characters in the longer novel.)
So, I'm starting to think this whole "sell your jewellery" thing is a big fat crock.
I don't get why the fad is still going. Selling gold to be melted down is a HUGE rip off, in my opinion, as will be evidence by this little post I'm about to share about my recent experience trying to sell to Toronto's Omni Jewelcrafters at Bathurst & Glencairn.
Here's how it went:
I went to Omni hoping to sell 3 things. These things are as follows:
1) A 14k gold circle pendant (with chain) featuring a ring of small diamonds. (Original price: about $500)
2) A pair of diamond earrings (studs). Smallish, by v. high quality diamonds, set in white gold. (Original price: $750)
3) One 18k gold earring set with six small diamonds (like the ones in the circle pendant) that didn't have a mate. It was real, but I don't know how much it cost, because I found it in Heathrow airport six years ago.
I wasn't expecting that much, but considering that I had original receipts and/or appraisal documents for each item, I figured I might get a nice little chunk of change. Maybe... $200? $250?
Not even close. Omni offered me $110. For all three items combined.
Now, this is jewellery I don't want. It's stuff I don't wear. Besides the found earring, it was all given to me by an ex and is infected with bad juju. I WANTED to sell it, but I just couldn't bring myself to settle for such a crappy pay out.
I had receipts! I had appraisals! But in the world of jewellery hocking, such things mean nothing, I've learned.
Perhaps I should have known. I mean, consider the kinds of ads these outfits run.
I'd also like to add that the clerk at Omni was a bit smarmy and condescending, which didn't make me want to make a deal. Regarding the pendant necklace, he said "I know it's pretty and it sparkles, but it's not really worth anything." And "these diamonds are sOooo small ... it would cost me as much as they're worth to remove them from the setting."
Um. Yeah right, I thought. You could take apart this setting in five minutes, buster. You're not fooling anyone.
The whole experience was lame. I parted with the one earring and was paid $20 for it. (Six little diamonds, plus the thick gold setting and all I got was $20. But hey... he was doing me a favour, right? The diamonds were soooo small.) I let the earring go because I'd found it. Didn't seem fair to profit too much from someone else's loss. But I took the rest of my pieces home.
After having this experience, I can't understand why people sell jewellery this way at all. You've got to be desperate.
Maybe I'll do some sort of bad juju cleansing and start wearing this stuff again. Maybe I'll regift it. Who knows?
Omni Jewel & Java Café
2793 Bathurst St.
Toronto, ON M6B 3A4
P.S. Also, there's a built in café/restaurant at the Omni location I visited. Because it makes total sense to combine food service and fine jewellery sales? Totally weird.
I definitely should have known.
I want to like this show. Really, I do. It seems to have everything going for it. Attractive, interesting actors? Check. Creepy, but chic sets? Check. Nice fonts? Check. Dead babies? Check.
I've been trying to like American Horror Story for more than eight weeks now. Trying ... and failing.
But it's just not working for me. Not at all. The scares come primarily from gore and cheap tricks designed to make you jump, but even when I DO jump, I'm always more unsettled and grossed out than frightened. And frankly, the plot makes NO SENSE. I know I'm supposed to be patient and that things will likely be explained in more detail by the end of the first season (which hasn't aired yet here in Canada). But I'm sick of waiting! Instead of introducing new ghosts in every freakin' episode (last night's newbie being an imagined version of Elizabeth Short (a.k.a.The Black Dahlia, played by Mena Suvari), why not advance the plot a little bit? I'm sure there's a reason, but I just don't care.
The problem, I think, is that nearly every character in American Horror Story is hateful. With the exception of Vivian, played by Connie Britton, who is clearly meant to be the heart of the cast, not one character is particularly likable.
Husband Ben Harmon (Dylan McDermott) is a philandering jerk face. Daughter Violet (Taissa Farmiga) is little more than an annoyingly angsty teen, neighbour Constance (Jessica Lange) is somewhat appealing, probably because of Lange's acting, but she's not nice. And the legions of ghosts are generally creepy and horrible, which makes sense I suppose, since they're ghosts and evil and all that, but still ... a viewer needs SOMEONE to relate to and love. (At least, I do.) And Vivian doesn't appear enough to fill that role.
I've come this far, so I'm going to keep watching until the end of the season, but I'm not hopeful. American Horror Story will appeal to some, I'm sure, but without a little more heart, I can't see it ever becoming a mainstream favourite.
As some of you guys know, I work in the Queen West area of Toronto, right at the edge of Parkdale. And in nice weather, I like to wander the neighbourhood during my lunch hour. This wandering has lead me to a lot of great vintage stores.
In particular, one I'm loving more and more lately is 69 Vintage
One of a small chain/group of shops, the 69 Vintage on Queen carries a lot of country/western style garments. Think leather boots, bags and jackets. Pendleton and Hudson Bay style patterns. And beautiful wools.
They've also got some great old dresses - both glittery and saloon-style.
I pop in regularly, but don't often buy because it CAN get a little pricey. (At least for my budget, which is miniscule, though in general, items range from $50 to $150, which seems fair considering their high quality). That said, I did find something for Nathan recently: A COACH Beekman Briefcase (in a rugged, worn tan). It was $60, but retails for over $500 new, so I'm happy with the deal.
(While we're talking price, I should also say that there are often $10 items at 69 Vintage as well. Ironic vintage tees and that sort of thing.)
Back in 2007, Robyn Urback
at BlogTO did a piece on the store, but all I really remember about it was her focus on the smell... as in, the smell
of vintage stores. She LOVED that 69 Vintage didn't (in her opinion) smell.People are so weird. Why do so many people think second hand stores smell bad? It's all in your head, weirdos. Do they smell different than new stores? Yes. Do they smell unique in the way that people's houses smell unique? Yes, they do. But don't be a snob, please. It's totally lame.
Just because another person's body has touched a piece of clothing, doesn't mean it's going to smell
. Geeze.Anyway, here are some ads and images that capture the 69 Vintage look:
Creative commons image by moon angel, from Flickr.
Dolce & Gabbana ad from fall/winter 2008/2009.
The Dude, fromThe Big Lebowski. If you liked his cardi - read more about it on the Pendleton blog.
If you like the look of the stuff above, you'll like 69 Vintage. I suggest you check it out.
On Tuesday, I promised to post about the last four books I read while on vacation last week and I'm nothing if not a promise keeper (and okay, sometimes breaker). Regardless, in this instance, I'm keeping my word. Here are some more mini book reviews:
Then Came You by Jennifer Weiner ** 1/2
I wish there was a nice way to explain this book without invoking the words "chick lit." But there isn't.
That said, Weiner's work is some of the best in the genre. It gives you the warm fuzzies, it features young women in New York, but it's not completely predictable.
This one tackles the world of infertility, from egg donation, to IVF, to surrogacy. Women's lives intersect. Things get a bit tense, there are several red herrings, and ultimately, a happy (and unbelievable) ending. It's a decent beach read, but I wouldn't say it's more than that.
Home Safe by Elizabeth Berg ***
I liked this book. It read like very (very) light and accessible version of Unless by Carol Shields. It features an aging writer-narrator, still dealing with the sudden death of her spouse a year ago, who must also face her writer's block while navigating her relationship with her adult daughter (who often finds her exasperating).
The best thing about this book is the voice of the writer/narrator. She's appealing, and I felt like I could relate to her, even though she's more my mother's age than my own. I'd recommend this, but I'd warn readers not to expect too much.
Lemon by Cordelia Strube *** 1/2
This is probably one of the "best" books I read all week, in that it is very well written, and very literary, but I'm not sure it's mainstream or accessible enough to warrant a full-on endorsement.
Title character - Limone (aka Lemon) is a 16 year old girl with a whole lot of angst. No false optimism for her. Sounds predictable, but it's not. For one thing, the book's written in a stream-of-consciousness-esque teen-speak that twists and turns in unpredictable ways. For another, the basic plot is ultimately WAY more upsetting than any teen-focused book you're likely to encounter in the main stream. Expect disturbing sexual assaults, for one thing.
My one quibble is that I'm not 100% convinced that teens like Lemon even exist. She's a bit too literature/history obsessed. A bit too Holden Caulfiend. As I said, this book isn't for everyone, but I do think it's good. It was on the Giller Long List. Make of that what you well.
Heaven is Small by Emily Schultz ** 1/2
This is definitely the weirdest book I read all week. The premise is this: protagonist Gordon Small dies and (failing to notice his death) seeks new employment. He gets a post-mortem job at Heaven -- the world's foremost publisher of romance novels.
The rest of the book is about Gordon realizing he's dead and trying to figure out exactly how "Heaven" works. It's kind of funny, I guess. And ultimately pretty light.
In the end, however, I'm not sure what to make of it. I thought the book was okay, but I didn't feel edified by it. I finished reading on the plane ride home and closed the cover thinking... nothing. Little about it resonated.
The book's strangeness makes it kind of interesting, but even having finished it, I'm on the fence about whether I liked it or not.
Anyway. There you have it. Four more mini-reviews to round off my week of holiday reading. I've begun Eve Ensler's Insecure At Last now, but I'm not sure how that's going to go. I think I need a book break. I sort of feel like watching TV and reading some magazines instead.
Nate and I just got back from a week-long trip to Cuba, filled with nothing but surf, sand, food and books. I burned my way through eight solid tomes (plus a couple of magazines). I read fast. It's not always a good thing. When I go on holiday, it means taking a very heavy suitcase. (No e-reader suggestions, please. Not for me. Not yet.)
Anyway, here's what I read and what I thought about it, in two parts. I'll post about the first four books today and the last four on Thursday. None of these books are really new, but that just means each will be a little cheaper if you want to pick one up yourself.
(P.S. Nate read Game of Thrones over the course of the week, for which I teased him mercilessly.)
Beautiful Boy by David Sheff *** 1/2
This one is a heavy memoir about a parent's relationship to his son's addiction to crystal meth. I think both author father and addict son were on Oprah once, so maybe you've heard of it.
Sometimes people ask me about why I haven't had kids yet. The answer is in this book, to some extent. Because having a child is TERRIFYING. You never know what might happen. You can do everything right (or as right as possible). You can try your best. Your kid may still become a meth addict. Anyway, like I said, this book is heavy. A little dense, and not for everyone, but I thought it was very smart, and very worth reading.
Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks ****1/2
This was the best thing I read all week, by far. It's historical fiction about a small town in 17th Century England (1665-1666) that is beset by plague.
Over the course of one year, more than half the population dies. The novel is narrated by a housemaid who survives.
It's incredible. Really. Totally engaging. Totally disturbing. In some ways, hard to read (because bad thing after bad thing happens, with almost no relief), but I couldn't put it down.
3 Willows by Ann Brashares ***
By the author of the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series, this book is about a "new sisterhood" of three eighth-grade girls.
It's not an adult book, and it's not great literature, but I enjoyed it. The struggles each girl faces are fairly predictable, but then again, I'm in my 30s. The girls in the story are familiar, and that's a good thing in YA literature.
If you have a younger teen daughter, I'd recommend this to her. (It also contains lots of interesting facts about willow trees. Bonus.)
The Almost Archer Sisters by Lisa Gabriele **
Not terrible, but the weakest thing I read all week. It's about the relationship between two (predictably different) sisters. One sleeps with the others husband. Drama ensues. But you know how it is... relationships are complicated. There's family history to consider. Sisterhood. Blah blah blah.
The thing that bothered me most was the book's obsessive weight chatter. Body type was regularly noted as if it was important to the plot. At one point, the narrator describes a woman (who weighs 160lbs, FYI - Gabriele actually tells you that) giving her a "fleshy" hug. Eesh. Such things ruined an otherwise average book.
Okay, so there's the first four books down. Like I said, I'll tell you about the last four shortly. Happy reading.
Since I last posted here on the Reviews blog, I've tried out a few new shows I thought I'd tell you about. But before I get to that, here are my updates on the ones I posted about last time:
Pan Am: I think it's awful. Badly written. Predictable. Trite. People like it because the faces/people are pretty and it's getting massive press. But I think it stinks.
The Playboy Club: Already canceled, which is really too bad, because it was my front-runner for the best new show of the season. I think it bombed because the network didn't support it with a good marketing campaign.
Ringer: I'm still love Buffy, but Ringer has been going steadily downhill since the first episode. Not worth it.
Revenge: Surprisingly watchable. Silly, certainly, and DEFINITELY a soap, but it doesn't try to be anything else. It feels like a night soap meets Gossip Girl meets The OC and it's working for me.
Now onto the new shows:
Person of Interest
At first, I kept thinking this show and Prime Suspect were the same thing. They are NOT. On J. J. Abrams' name alone, I gave this a chance. Wish I hadn't. That's an hour I'll never get back. The show is boring. The dialogue is terrible. The cast is fine, but nothing special. If you've been looking forward to POI, expect to be let down.
I NEVER thought I would like this show, but I didn't initially realize it was based on the ITV series of the same name. As far as traditional cop dramas go, I think it's the best of late. (Shocker!) It's like The Closer meets NYPD Blue. The gender dynamics on the show are interesting. Best of all, it's well-paced and it's NOT predictable. That's saying a lot for a cop show. I highly recommend you give it a try.
Up All Night
I'm not a comedy person in general, but I tried this because the cast looked good. I enjoyed it. It's not amazing, but it has lots of funny moments and the baby is adorable. Maya R. does her usual over-the-top thing, but not everyone is so in your face. The Lorne Michaels/silly SNL influence is strong. If you saw last year's Mr. Sunshine, compare it to that. You'll find this to be a LOT better.
I'm a bit of a television addict. Always have been. I like TV about a million times more than movies. I like the serial nature of it... having familiar characters to check in with each week.
That said, I'm discerning. There is SO much garbage on TV. And not just "these days" - always. There's always been SO MUCH garbage on TV. And every autumn brings around a new round of stinkers. Many stinkers become successes (Two and a Half Men?) More still are very decent, but soon canceled (Rubicon). And then there's that one-in-a-million show that's both legitimately great and a commercial success at the same time (ER, or more recently, The Good Wife).
Anyway. That's a lot of rambling to introduce this post which contains wee reviews of a few of the new fall shows I've peeped so far this season. I like to give everything a fair shake, but you should know that I'm partial to dramas, I'm currently tired of bad fantasy/sci-fi, and I just don't do one-hour reality shows anymore. Those are my personal biases.
So much hype, so little payoff. Cute costumes? Check. Kitchy, 60s-era production values? Check. Terrible writing? Check.
If the first episode is anything to go by, this show is going to be one big, predictable cliche after another.
Sure, you'll be seeing Pan Am stewardess costumes this Halloween, but that doesn't mean the show isn't totally canned. I'll keep watching for now, but I'm predicting it will go the way of Desperate Housewives: lame, but a probable main-stream success.
Look for: Great wardrobe (because I seriously doubt Pan Am will have more to offer).
The Playboy Club
Surprisingly good, particularly when compared to Pan Am. The Playboy Club is a nice example of how to rip off Mad Men, but do it well.
The first episode was compelling: an accidental murder, a small-town, doe-eyed girl, a wanna-be State's attorney, plus good set-up of the season's greater arc.
Add high production values and smart nods to the political issues or the era, (feminism, gender, race) and you've got the makings of a good show. I'll keep watching.
Look for: Bad faux Hef voice-overs to keep you from becoming TOO invested.
After seeing a series of terrible CW promos set to over-played Adele songs, I didn't have high hopes, but Ringer wasn't that bad.
Despite some extremely heavy-handed visuals (I mean, we get it... they're twins... "dead" ringers... we get it), not to mention terrible green-screen work, the show manged to deal well enough with the emotional plot line, which is to say the drama associated with how one person might deal with taking over her sister's life. It was convincing enough... for now.
I'll give it a chance because I'm an old-time Buffy fan and I like SMG, but I'm not hopeful and am reserving judgment.
Look for: Incredible New York sets. This is some 'lifestyles of the rich and famous' stuff right here.
RevengeNot being a fan of Emily Vankamp (who made Brothers and Sisters even more insufferable, if that's even possible), nor of the nighttime soap, I only watched this because
Nate was out and I had nothing else to do, but I was pleasantly surprised. It's pure fluff set in the Hamptons, but fans of Gossip Girl and the like may enjoy its adult, contemporary spin on some old themes. It reminded me of a modern day Dallas, with a little more dark meat. I'll watch again, but I won't subject Nate to it (nor will I admit liking it, no matter what you do to me). Look for: Ashley Madekwe (trouble-making best-friend from Secret Diary of a Call Girl), preppy couture by the busload, and Madeleine Stowe in skin-tight wasp-wear, totally unsuitable for a woman of her age. There you have it: my little round up of some of the new fall shows. Make of it what you will. P.S.
I still plan to watch Terra Nova and Person of Interest, but haven't had time yet. No spoilers please!