'Dark Places,' my third Gillian Flynn

Following Sharp Objects, I immediately began to read Dark Places, which was probably not the best choice for either my sanity or my REM cycle, but hey. YOLO. After such an amazing masterpiece that was Sharp Objects, my expectations were high. Sadly, Dark Places fell short for me, miles short of either Gone Girl or Sharp Objects. Here’s why.

5886881The premise of the book is immediately engaging: Libby Day is a thirty-something woman who survived the slaughter of her mother and two sisters when she was only 7 years old. She famously testified that her brother was the murderer, and never looked back. Obviously, Libby is not a functioning, happy adult, and when her bank account runs dry, she discovers that there are groups of homicide-obsessed people who are willing to pay her for her memories and memorabilia. And the clincher is that they all believe—with good reason—that Libby was wrong, and that her brother, who has been in jail for twenty-odd years, is innocent. To get the money, Libby begins to question her own testimony and re-open the case. It turns into an emotional and terrifying journey for her to discover who actually did murder her entire family.

It sounds great on the back cover, but I think this book fell short because of several reasons. For one, every other chapter is a flashback to supposed-murderer Ben Day’s last 24 hours before the murder, and it’s in third-person limited. The rest of the chapters are present-day and in Libby’s first person. This makes the narrative less engaging because the reader knows so much about the events of that day, and it turns boring fast. The immediacy is removed, and the narrative becomes punctuated. It also confused me when the point of view changed so much. There’s a good way to do all this stuff, but unfortunately, Libby Day’s voice was not strong enough to make it obvious when the point of view changed. It all felt like Flynn’s voice, and that’s a problem.

Second, I guessed the ending and that frustrates me because I’m the absolute worst at guessing endings. I’m a naive and blind reader, and the fact that I guessed the ending just shows me that it was extraordinarily predictable. The murderer[s] aren’t scary, and the villain[s] are supposed to be complex but they end up being either caricatures or completely unbelievable. It didn’t feel real, and it didn’t scare me as the other two definitely did.

That said, I think if I had read this book by Gillian Flynn first, I’d have liked it better. Gone Girl and Sharp Objects just eclipse this one entirely.

signoff

‘Sharp Objects,’ my second Gillian Flynn

My first Gillian Flynn was appropriately Gone Girl, and I’d heard a lot about her first two smashing novels, Sharp Objects and Dark Places, so I recently took a weekend and read these novels almost in one sitting each, which is fabulous and also I couldn’t sleep for like four days, because holy mother of pearl, this book was a nail-biter. It’s a classic whodunit with no small measure of psychological mind-effing thrown in just to make you second-guess both your sanity and your humanity.

66559Sharp Objects is elegantly plotted and succinct. Camille Preaker is a second-rate journalist at a failing Chicago newspaper sent down to her Missouri hometown to investigate what seems to be a serial killer. Two girls have been murdered within a year’s time. Both girls were feisty, mischievous middle-schoolers, and both were found with all their teeth pulled out.

That detail alone was enough to make me cringe. Gillian Flynn has a knack for making singular gory details vivid and endlessly disturbing. Camille is a troubled thirty-something whose rich mother never loved her. Going home to investigate the murders has made Camille face her own demons, the biggest of which is that she is a cutter. But instead of lines on her wrist, Camille cuts deep words all over her body. Her whole body is therefore covered in gleaming white scars that spell over a decade’s worth of self-harm and self-loathing.

Camille also has to bond with her beautiful and cruel younger sister, the thirteen-year-old Amma. Their family structure includes a neglectful, controlling mother, a wild and ferocious teenage girl, and Camille’s younger sister, who died at ten years old. Camille’s investigation becomes personal very quickly, forcing her to confront her own humanity.

“Camille?” Her voice quiet and girlish and unsure. “You know how people sometimes say they have to hurt because if they don’t, they’re so numb they won’t feel anything?”
“Mmm.”
“What if it’s the opposite?” Amma whispered. “What if you hurt because it feels so good? Like you have a tingling, like someone left a switch on in your body. And nothing can turn that switch off except hurting? What does that mean?”

So much of this book plays on your own sense of humanity. It seems to suggest that there is something bestial, demonic and evil within all of us, and that our basest instincts may always be lurking just below the surface. It’s deeply unhealthy because it almost feels true, this idea that maybe we are all capable of horrible acts of violence, that it’s normal for humans to maim, abuse, control, and kill.

It’s deeply unsettling, but it’s almost a triumphant piece of fiction because it is so powerful and disturbing. As gross and nasty as this book is, it also achieves elegance and beauty, and that truly frightens me.

4.5/5.

signoff

Fashion | Dark Paradise | featuring The Scarf Shop

I got the chance to style this airy, feather-light, beautiful 100% silk scarf from The Scarf Shop, and styled a black-and-white outfit around it with this lace duster I got from White Crow Clothing. It’s still so cold in the Northeast. I took these on a sunny but windy day, and now I’m looking forward to wearing florals, sandals, bright colors, skirts and no tights! Please be spring soon. Please?

Check out The Scarf Shop: their website is going live soon…

IMG_1263IMG_1353 IMG_1204 IMG_1354 IMG_1361 IMG_1272IMG_1345
top and boots from Yesstyle, scarf c/o The Scarf Shop, jodhpur leggings from F21, cardigan c/o White Crow Clothing

Smile Brilliant! Professional Teeth Whitening | Review & Coupon Code!

File Mar 27, 12 04 26 PMRecently, I got the opportunity to try out a very useful product: at-home professional teeth whitening by “Smile Brilliant!” This system lets the customer create custom teeth trays for use with their teeth-whitening gel, using the same system that dentists use, but for much, much less money. The purchase of this product gives you all the tools you need to make your own dental impressions, plus three tubes of Teeth Whitening Gel and three tubes of Desensitizing Gel.

Photo Mar 27, 12 09 07 PMPhoto Mar 27, 12 09 42 PM

Pros: This system definitely works, and fast. I noticed a difference after only three gel applications. Secondly, the trays don’t move at all, unlike many OTC whitestrips. You can talk normally, the gel doesn’t leak out, and it feels almost like you have just really smooth teeth. I kept running my tongue over my teeth cause it was just so smooth! Since the trays are made specifically for your teeth, they fit flawlessly. You could probably even wear them at work/school without anyone even noticing.

Using this system also means that you have the trays for life and can stop buying whitestrips and just keep buying Smile Brilliant gel (which I’m sure is part of the business model—guaranteed repeat customers because of the custom dental impressions). But really: it’s a great product to use.

Smile-Brilliant-Teeth-Whitening-Trays

A huge plus for me was the addition of “Desensitizing Gel,” which significantly reduces tooth sensitivity and strengthens your teeth after whitening, which can sometimes soften the tooth. Having this additional way to protect my teeth and ward against sensitivity makes this product unique, and makes me second-guess any system that does not account for tooth damage.

Another plus is how hard the employees care about educating you about the proper process for teeth whitening and what you can expect from the complete process. Many people aren’t aware that there are different natural shades of people’s teeth. Some people’s natural teeth shade is beige, not white. Therefore, a full whitening system won’t turn these people’s teeth white. It’s important to know that, since many assume that their teeth will be blinding white even though that’s not always possible.

They also include a lot information about safe use and what you can expect. For example, there’s this handy chart included that tells you the different kinds of stains and how many applications it’ll take to remove them completely:

Screen Shot 2015-03-27 at 11.55.09 AM

And this side-by-side comparison of teeth whitening system that shows that we’re all just basically wasting our money on Crest Whitestrips, so go figure:

Screen Shot 2015-03-27 at 11.54.25 AM

In summary, Smile Brilliant takes teeth whitening seriously, and I trust this kit more than I trust OTC whitestrips now, after trying this process. They’re not kidding when they say they’re professional teeth whitening. But without the expensive cost. I’m excited to keep using it because I will never quit drinking coffee or red wine.

Cons: The process takes a long time. First you get the Tray Creation Kit and have to find time to make the dental impressions. Then you send them off. Then you wait longer to get the custom trays. THEN you have to read all the literature and instructions because this professional whitening system is a little more fussy than OTC versions. So, for those people who want a quick teeth-whitening for an event or vacation or whatnot, this is not for you. This is for people who want to whiten just to whiten.

You have to brush and floss thoroughly first, and can keep the trays on anywhere from 20 minutes to 3 hours—it just depends on your schedule and/or the sensitivity of your teeth. But that’s where the Desensitizing Gel comes in. Although the inclusion of the Desensitizing Gel means there’s another step, another half hour/hour when you have to keep the trays in. Many people just don’t have that kind of time.

Before and After:

Photo Mar 22, 1 19 36 PMPhoto Mar 23, 11 43 49 AM

Conclusion: I’m going to keep using the product and I would recommend it to others. I can also offer my lovely readers 5% off their own Smile Brilliant Kit (which costs $120-$180 USD) when they use the code “THEMOSTHAPPY” when they purchase. This code expires on April 30, 2015.

Buy this product if you’re willing to commit to a high-quality, professional whitening system. Because otherwise, you may find this process too complicated. Personally, my opinion is that if you’re going to do something, do it right. That’s what Smile Brilliant is good for.

Hey Rocksbox! You're pretty awesome…+ coupon code!

File Mar 04, 9 18 35 PMRocksbox is basically a monthly service that sends you three pieces of handpicked jewelry for you to wear on loan for as long as you like. They approached me to review their service, and I find it very convenient and customizable. I’m always wary of anything that chooses items/products for you (it’s for this reason that I don’t sign up for Birchbox and why I didn’t like StitchFix), but Rocksbox is awesome so far, and it’s because you can choose individual items you’d prefer to have included in the box for you. It’s also jewelry, so it’s much less fussy; for example, StitchFix was terrible with my size, and sample products always run the risk of being incompatible with skin type or allergies, etc., but with Rocksbox, all those variables just don’t apply! I actually love it, and I think you will, too.

Here’s my first box:

Photo Mar 04, 7 48 40 PMPhoto Mar 04, 7 49 37 PM

Before ordering the box, I went on the site and browsed their current collections. You have the option of adding certain items to your “wish list” and so your stylist uses those items, plus information taken from a style quiz, to pick which items of jewelry they’ll include. I’m into very dainty gold pieces, especially with some architectural flair, and the pieces I received were ones I would have picked out myself. That says a lot. Here they are from the website:

Screen Shot 2015-03-04 at 9.41.57 PMScreen Shot 2015-03-04 at 9.42.04 PMScreen Shot 2015-03-04 at 9.42.10 PM

I also love that there’s no time limit to when you have to return your jewelry. You also get $10 of “Shine Spend” each month to put toward your purchase if you decide you simply can’t part with the jewelry you’ve received! It does expire, but I think this service is worth the monthly $19 price. Especially since the average combined worth of each box is $200. Two hundred dollars. And you can wear them as much as you want for only $19.

Jewelry style is something that changes constantly for me. The earrings/necklaces I bought a year ago may either be overworn or incompatible with my current style, and selling old jewelry is arduous and often fruitless. Rocksbox is therefore both a luxury and a solution. When I get tired of the jewelry, I can return it, and for the time being, I can have elegant, on-trend, high quality jewelry I can wear as often as I want. I’m truly a big fan of this service.

SO. For my readers, use the code lisaloparoxoxo (that’s me!) to get a free month of Rocksbox! Try out this service for yourself and see if you like it as much as I do. 🙂

My Winter in Books

Winter sees me lying motionless for hours at a time, reading. When the weather turns cold and it starts to snow every week, all I want to do is make hot chocolate and cuddle up and read. This January saw a lot of re-reads for me: I re-read Twilight to great effect and experienced emotional upheaval, and right now I’m re-reading one of my favorite books ever, The Crimson Petal and the White. Still, I have a huge stack of new books I got for Christmas still languishing on my shelves, so here’s what I’m eager to read this winter, accompanied by a very large mug of something delicious:

101766701786073951ij7Wkmw6L

S. 

This rather strange book was conceived by JJ Abrams and written by Doug Dorst. It contains a sequential story as well as handwritten margin notes written by the readers of the novel. It’s somewhat labyrinthine and definitely a mystery, and not just because I have no idea how to start reading it. I seriously can’t wait. The book itself is a wonderful object, made to look and feel like a library book much graffitied upon and containing loose pages and pictures and notes. It’s going to be an adventure.

And Then There Were None

I’m a total sissy when it comes to scary movies and books, but I’ve always wanted to read the original novel ever since I saw Ten Little Indians when I was just a kid. I anticipate having to stick the book in the freezer if I get too afraid. It’s also my first Agatha Christie novel.

The Original Folk and Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm

I’m so so excited to finally read this. These are the original fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm, before they edited them six times to suit a younger audience. This is the first English translation ever of the gory, gruesome, gross Grimm stories in their original form! I have the last edition in English, and I can’t wait to compare the stories. #dork.

Reading anything special this winter?

John Green's 'Paper Towns' Blew Me Away

I knew I loved The Fault In Our Stars but I don’t know, maybe I wasn’t expecting a repeat performance of anything so grand and eloquent. John Green, Maestro, I underestimated you.

Paper Towns is a work of poetic genius. Looking back at the story—which took me only a day to blow through, so enthralled was I—it has taken on the aura of a fairy tale or a story of magic, something unique, poignant, and triumphant. Green really knows how to write a book that feels like nothing else you’ve ever read before, with characters who are familiar and yet constantly surprise you.

The book’s plot is this: Quentin, “Q” for short, has been in love with his popular next-door neighbor Margo for most of his life. She’s adventure personified. Fearless, beautiful, unattainable, Margo Roth Speigelman is easy to love. Everyone loves her, everyone is in awe of her, but no one really knows her, a fact that becomes evident when she disappears.

Margo spends one night with Q executing a brilliant plan for revenge against the classmates that betrayed her, and Quentin once again falls in love with her adventurous, free spirit, but she doesn’t show up to school the next day. Margo has a history of running away from home and leaving clues hinting at her location, so Quentin is on a mission to find the puzzle pieces she left him which will lead to her, the girl of his dreams.

Literally.

The closer Quentin and his friends come to finding Margo, the less they realize they ever knew her. She’s an enigma. She hid so much of her personal struggle and her inner personality that Q is desperate to learn about the “real” Margo, the one that was hidden for so long.

At the core of this story is the idea that people fall in love with ideas more than with people. We reflect our own desires and fantasies onto someone else, without really seeing them for who they are. Quentin was in love with Margo for his whole life and held this conception of her that unraveled completely with the slightest inspection. This paragraph of the book encapsulates the idea much better than I could ever paraphrase:

“Maybe its like you said before, all of us being cracked open. Like each of us starts out as a watertight vessel. And then things happen—these people leave us, or don’t love us, or don’t get us, or we don’t get them, and we lose and fail and hurt one another. And the vessel starts to crack in places. And I mean, yeah once the vessel cracks open, the end becomes inevitable. Once it starts to rain inside the Osprey, it will never be remodeled. But there is all this time between when the cracks start to open up and when we finally fall apart. And its only that time that we see one another, because we see out of ourselves through our cracks and into others through theirs. When did we see each other face to face? Not until you saw into my cracks and I saw into yours. Before that we were just looking at ideas of each other, like looking at your window shade, but never seeing inside. But once the vessel cracks, the light can get in. The light can get out.” 

Quentin spends the entire story thinking he’s getting closer to finding the “real” Margo. This is as much a coming-of-age story as it is a mystery and a poem, because Quentin also comes to deal with his own insecurities: his anxiety, fear, and timidity among them. This story stresses the importance not only of getting to know others, but also of getting to know—and love—yourself.

Five Enthusiastic Stars.

Beauty Review | Only Love for Too Faced 'Natural Eyes' Palette

I got the Too Faced ‘Natural Eyes’ palette for Christmas and fell in love with the creaminess, texture, pigment, and blend-ability of the shadows, finding them far superior to what I had been using. So I’d like to show y’all that today and maybe you’ll fall in love, too.

I do a simple shadow look: something very light, almost white, as the shadow and something darker, brown or dark taupe, on the crease. Blend, add eyeliner, repeat. Easy.

IMG_0489 IMG_0491

I usually use these two shades: Mac’s ‘Folie’ and Urban Decay’s ‘Virgin,’ the two shades you can see in that first photo. I love the natural tones of these shadows and the light/dark extremes that allow me to get a striking look without a lot of work and without a lot of different shades. One thing I hated about my Mac ‘Folie’ is its inability to blend. The stubborn, hard shadow hardly comes off on my brush, let alone onto my eyelid. Blending is such a hassle and I can’t imagine why. The Urban Decay ‘Virgin’ is slightly better but it doesn’t adhere to my lid very well, causing me to load up my brush so much more, wasting pigment.

The Natural Eyes palette is ultra-blendable and it literally falls onto my brush with the slightest touch. I love that. The pigments are concentrated and rich, so a little goes a long way. I’m utterly in love:

Here I used the ‘Silk Teddy’ and the ‘Chocolate Martini.’

IMG_0500

What I also love about this palette is that you get nine shades for way less than you would if you paid separately for them. Usually I pick two or three shades I think I’ll use every day and wait for them to deplete before replenishing, since they’re just so expensive. With the Natural Eyes palette I can do a new look every day with these nine shades that fit my style and skin tone perfectly. The combinations are endless. I have the freedom to experiment without having to spend an entire paycheck on eyeshadows.

My sister got the palette for Christmas too, and she loves it just as much as I do. Definitely check it out.

A Review of "Side Show" on Broadway and a 2-for-1 Offer!

Last week I got the opportunity to see Side Show on Broadway. I received two comped tickets in exchange for a review. And luckily, the musical blew me away.

Photo Dec 14, 3 00 27 PMIt’s an amazing (based on a) true story. Here’s the premise, which I was not aware of until my friend and I found our seats and opened our Playbills: Daisy and Violet Hilton were British twins born in 1908, fused at the pelvis. Sold by their mother, the twins were raised to sing, dance and play musical instruments, and eventually traveled to Texas and placed in sideshows during the 1930s. They were completely controlled by their handlers and even though they made a lot of money, they never saw a dime until they emancipated themselves. Their true story is a harrowing one, and Broadway managed to take that story and turn it into a glittering feast for the eyes and for the heart. So many times during this musical I found myself with wet eyes, completely moved by the characters and their pain and strength.

The musical opens with the sideshow. We see the typical players: Bearded Lady, Cannibal King, the boy who’s half dog, the Tattooed Lady, and Sir, the owner of the sideshow and of the girls. We also meet the beautiful and talented Daisy and Violet Hilton, Siamese twins who have been exploited all their lives because of their conjoined bodies. They’re also naive, innocent dreamers who want to see those dreams come true. Through an introductory musical number we learn that Daisy is the one who wants to be a movie star, and that her sister Violet cherishes a more modest dream: simply to get married and have a family. Both dreams are close to impossible as they are. Right there, I could feel their pain, made the more poignant by the fact that I knew these characters were based on real people.

Daisy and Violet are “discovered” by a hot-shot talent scout and are liberated from their handler Sir and trained to be vaudeville stars. They quickly become famous but they can’t ever be normal girls like they want to be. I wish I could transport myself back into the show and experience these songs again, with songs like “I Will Never Leave You,” “Like Everyone Else” and “One Plus One Equals Three.”

I suppose I should buy myself the soundtrack! The characters are also extremely well developed: Daisy becomes a shameless flirt after her dreams of Hollywood are dashed and her sister Violet lashes out at her for acting “fast.” The talent scout, Terry, becomes obsessively infatuated with Daisy but is tortured by her condition; he can’t overcome the fact that she’s attached to her sister and wants her “all to myself.” His song—a tortured man’s obsessive song—is so powerful my jaw dropped. It also includes an amazing dream sequence wherein he dances with Daisy (separate from her sister) and you can feel the sexual tension and longing building up in each character.

Then there’s Jake, a former sideshow performer and the caretaker of the twins. He’s desperately in love with Violet and when she accepts a marriage proposal, sings a heartbroken song about how Violet “should be loved…like I love you.” He knows that the marriage is simply another exploitation and that Violet can’t see it. His song is also one that shook me to my core and let me feel everything the characters were feeling.

It’s also a visually arresting show, which is the norm for Broadway but which still blew me away. We sat front row (a little too close, but hey, I’m not complaining) so we could see every line, every scratch, every muscle of these actors and every detail of the set. It was all so beautifully set, blocked, and choreographed.

It was also SO much fun to see two Broadway actors pretend to be literally attached at the hip, dancing a pas de quatre with two men, pulling the other one along when they walk angrily away, and having to dance vaudeville dances, all the while probably mashing their bums together. The effect was so realistic that when, during the finale, they finally separate (supposedly in their heads) I was like, “WAIT.” I forgot the two women were in fact not born that way. I think that’s a success.

Simply put, this show pierced my heart and soul. After the show I looked up the Hilton sisters briefly and learned that their story is even sadder than the one portrayed onscreen. The musical does scrub away some of the worse parts of their lives and makes the sisters—supposedly very promiscuous in real life (although the mechanics of that fact make me cringe and also scratch my head)—much more innocent and childlike. I’m planning on reading a biography of the sisters and have chosen The Lives and Loves of Daisy and Violet Hilton: A True Story of Conjoined Twins. There’s also a well-researched documentary entitled Bound By Flesh. And if you want to see the Hilton sisters for real onscreen, they starred in two movies: Freaks and Chained For Life, an exploitation film.

The real Hilton sisters

What really made me sad is that due to low ticket sales (even though the reviews were great) Side Show is closing on January 4th. So, for my readers, I can offer two-for-one tickets until January 4th for any performance! For those of you in New York please go see this show before it closes. And for those of you elsewhere, come to New York and see this show. 😉 You won’t regret it.

Redeem the offer online by clicking https://www.telechargeoffers.com. The online checkout code is “SS241RSH.” 

musical photos from Broadway.com.

Beauty Review // Peter Thomas Roth "Oilless Oil"

eBay is my best friend. I first heard about the Peter Thomas Roth “Oilless Oil” through Beauty Army that time when I briefly considered signing up for the service. On the website I heard about this miracle facial oil that uses that mysterious and amazing creation, squalane oil, to moisturize and heal the skin. The oil is called “oilless” because it doesn’t necessarily feel like the way you think an oil would feel: it absorbs into the skin and doesn’t leave a greasy, filmy residue. I am here to tell you not that this product isn’t good, but that my face is Frankenstein. It needs a lot of attention and doesn’t know if it’s human or not. What?

It’s really sensitive, much like Frankenstein. So I can understand why this oil didn’t work as magically as I was expecting it to. I bought a teeny, tiny sample size bottle from eBay for a few bucks (hence the intro) and I’m glad I didn’t splurge and buy the big guy. My nightly facial routine is basically honey-baking soda-apple cider vinegar, so I added the oil as a moisturizer before bed.

Photo Oct 10, 3 37 14 PM

The first two nights the oil worked great. I woke up with glowing, dewy skin and prayed to the gods. But after a couple more nights I realized that the oil was preventing my face from breathing and I started to break out. It took a few days to reverse, and so I figured I couldn’t use it that often but then I just forgot about it at all. My face seemed fine. So I didn’t even finish the minuscule sample size of the oil and haven’t used it since.

Oh, well. This is why I can’t have nice things, Frankenstein face.*

*Frankenstein’s monster, duh.