Review: Classic Human Anatomy in Motion

Posted on August 29th, 2015 @ 10:50
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Classic Human Anatomy in Motion: The Artist's Guide to the Dynamics of Figure DrawingClassic Human Anatomy in Motion: The Artist’s Guide to the Dynamics of Figure Drawing by Valerie L. Winslow

My rating:

Blurb:

This highly illustrated reference book provides artists and art students with an understanding of human anatomy and different types of motion, inspiring more realistic and energetic figurative art.

Fine-art instruction books do not usually focus on anatomy as it relates to movement, despite its great artistic significance. Written by a long-time expert on drawing and painting human anatomy, Classic Human Anatomy in Motion offers artists everything they need to realistically draw the human figure as it is affected by movement. Written in a friendly style, the book is illustrated with hundreds of life drawing studies (both quick poses and long studies), along with charts and diagrams showing the various anatomical and structural components. This comprehensive manual features five distinct sections, each focusing on a different aspect of the human figure: bones and joint movement, muscle groups, surface form and soft tissue characteristics, structure, and movement. Each chapter builds an artistic understanding of how motion transforms the human figure and can create a sense of expressive vibrancy in one’s art.

Review:

[I received a copy of this book through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.]

This book took me more than a month to finish, not because it was boring, though: because there’s so much to get out of it, and a couple of sittings just isn’t enough. Incidentally, it is definitely worth having a paper copy, as a PDF is not the most convenient format to use it to its full extent.

The author goes methodically through anatomical fundamentals, along with plenty of illustrations to show how bones, muscle and sinews “translate” into once put on paper. While this can be read from front cover to back, I think it’s not the best way to approach this book, and it will probably be much more interesting to start with a specific chapter, learn from it, and/or observe first the drawings and then read the anatomical “lessons” related to them. I had quite a lot of fun observing myself, trying to make a note on every detail (where a bone is apparent, etc.) and then compare with the written information (“so that’s why there’s this little justting parth ere: it’s [bone X]“).

Another interesting element is how some of the illustrations likens the body to objects (for instance, the condyles of the femur to a pair of casters): it provides another kind of reference, especially useful for people with a visual mind and who are more likely to learn from visual cues in general, as they can recall such references in order to draw those very parts later. Additional tidbits are provided, among which the reasons why this or that body part was named in such a way, something that in itself I always find good to know.

Last but not least, it one needs to understand processes to learn better, then this book goes exactly into that: if you understand how limbs are articulated, how muscles are tied to bones and then work together, how the vertebrae allow the spine to bend… then after a while, you can draw pretty much any position. And this, to me, is something I neglected for far to long, and wish I had realised sooner: to base one’s drawings on realistic information and then only find one’s style, instead of doing the contrary and learning from bases that aren’t necessarily strong enough.

In other words, I recommend this book to anyone who wants to learn seriously about how to draw the human body and be able to draw it later without using (many) models and references.

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Review: Suspended in Dusk

Posted on August 28th, 2015 @ 09:45
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Suspended In DuskSuspended In Dusk by Simon Dewar

My rating:

Blurb:

DUSK
A time between times.

A whore hides something monstrous and finds something special.
A homeless man discovers the razor blade inside the apple.
Unlikely love is found in the strangest of places.
Secrets and dreams are kept… forever.

Or was it all just a trick of the light?

Suspended in Dusk brings together 19 stories by some of the finest minds in Dark Fiction:

Ramsey Campbell, John Everson, Rayne Hall, Shane McKenzie, Angela Slatter, Alan Baxter, S.G Larner, Wendy Hammer, Sarah Read, Karen Runge, Toby Bennett, Benjamin Knox, Brett Rex Bruton, Icy Sedgwick, Tom Dullemond, Armand Rosamilia, Chris Limb, Anna Reith, J.C. Michael.

Introduction by Bram Stoker Award Winner and World Horror Convention Grand Master, Jack Ketchum.

Review:

[I received a copy of this book through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.]

Not as horrific a I expected it to be, or maybe I’m just hard to scare, at least when it comes to what tends to spook a lot of people? This said, while none of the works here jumped at me as being absolutely striking, none was abysmal either, and it was still an interesting collection of stories—some closer to “traditional” horror (zombies, vampires…), and some mixing their scary revelations with elements appearing out of tales at first. Only at first.

The ones I liked best:

“Shadows of the Lonely Dead”, in which a hospice nurse can feel the impending death of her patients and take this darkness into herself, looking for a reason to this strange power of hers.

“Burning”: a store burns at night, but the people of the town do not seem eager to do anything about it, nor to worry too much about the people who live there. Not a traditional horror story, but one that plays on different horrors, unfortunately so close to our world that they’re made even more terrible.

“Ministry of Outrage”: a secret government body engineers situations to keep the masses in control. Made scarier by the fact it’s not even so far-fetched, in a conspiracy-theory kind of way.

“Digging Deep”: being buried alive is probably an atavistic terror for most of us. But being rescued may be even more terrible…

“Hope Is Here”: when a group taking care of homeless people also takes matters in hand, making sure that they have all the right candidates for their program.

“Negatives”: creepy abandoned theme park is creepy. Twins go to a derelict place to take pictures, and find out what’s on the other side of the mirror—and that dreams can so easily turn into nightmares.

“A Keeper of Secrets”: when a little girl meets a fae child in the attic, and starts whispering secrets to keep her new friend strong and alive.

“The Way of All Flesh”: this story about a man who comes into a small rural town has two elements that tend to fascinate me—small towns with not so innocent inhabitants, and a flesh-eating killer.

Other stories worth mentioning, even though they may not be the ones I’ll remember in the long term: “Fit Camp”, “Maid of Bones”, “At Dusk They Come”. Overall this anthology is a good pick, especially if you scare more easily than I do. 3.5 stars, rounded to 4.

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Review: The Veil

Posted on August 27th, 2015 @ 09:13
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The Veil (Devil's Isle, #1)The Veil by Chloe Neill

My rating:

Blurb:

Seven years ago, the Veil that separates humanity from what lies beyond was torn apart, and New Orleans was engulfed in a supernatural war. Now, those with paranormal powers have been confined in a walled community that humans call the District. Those who live there call it Devil’s Isle.

Claire Connolly is a good girl with a dangerous secret: she’s a Sensitive, a human endowed with magic that seeped through the Veil. Claire knows that revealing her skills would mean being confined to Devil’s Isle. Unfortunately, hiding her power has left her untrained and unfocused.

Liam Quinn knows from experience that magic makes monsters of the weak, and he has no time for a Sensitive with no control of her own strength. But when he sees Claire using her powers to save a human under attack—in full view of the French Quarter—Liam decides to bring her to Devil’s Isle and the teacher she needs, even though getting her out of his way isn’t the same as keeping her out of his head.

But when the Veil threatens to shatter completely, Claire and Liam must work together to stop it, or else New Orleans will burn…

Review:

[I received a copy of this book through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.]

I’ve only read the beginning of Neill’s Chicagoland Vampires series, so I’m far from beginning an expert when it comes to her writing. Nevertheless, I definitely wanted to lay my hand on the beginning of this new series, as the premise clearly looked interesting.

And it is, both when it comes to what’s going on in New Orleans itself as to what’s happening behind, let’s say, other scenes as well. On the one side, the humans, trying to eke out a living in a city they don’t want to give up on and leave because, well, it’s *their* city, Veil or not. Containment as well as a couple of private contractors and other bounty hunters do their best to keep in check the resident Paranormals, stranded here after the Veil between their respective worlds closed during the war a few years ago. But are the “Paras”, as they’re nicknamed, so evil and threatening, or simply beings who mourn the loss of their own home?

I liked that things weren’t so black and white as they seemed at first. The Devil’s Isle is both a prison and a refuge, a temporary (or maybe not so much temporary) home, where angels, demons, fae and other creatures have to remain, cut from their magic and forbidden to use what’s left of it. As for Containment, it’s a very ambiguous organisation in its own rights: protecting humans, sure, but perhaps not doing as much as they could and should do regarding certain things. These things being notably the wraiths, humans sensitive to magic, whose powers were awakened by the ripping of the Veil, and who turn into mindless killing monsters after a while because of that very energy they were never supposed to touch in the first place. So once captured, they get locked up in Devil’s Isle… just as normal, still-human Sensitives are as well. And since they’re not allowed to do magic, they can’t expel what’s in them, and so they turn to wraiths, and… Not good, not good.

Pretty interesting for me, with the promise of hidden agendas, potential turncoats, unveiling of secrets, more knowledge about what’s going on behind the Veil, and so on.

However, what didn’t make this a better read for me were the characters: they’re merely “OK”, with a budding romance between Liam and Claire that felt somehow… typical of a lot of urban fantasy novels, without the added chemistry that would make it more palatable. These characters in general aren’t bad, just mostly sketched out rather than filled in, and as a result, I didn’t care that much about them. No special repartee and witty dialogue, no one particularly rising above the lot, so to speak.

The novel also felt more like an introduction than a real story, with a lot of it devoted to setting up the backdrop. It was good for world-building, but less good when it came to the plot itself, whose resolution came too fast after a few chapters I generally found less interesting.

I rate this book between “it’s OK” and “I like it”. I’d kind of like to know what happens next, yet more because of what briefly appeared behind the Veil, of what’s going to happen with Containment, than because of the characters themselves. 2.5 stars, rounded up to 3 for now.

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Review: The Gospel of Loki

Posted on August 23rd, 2015 @ 09:28
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The Gospel of LokiThe Gospel of Loki by Joanne M. Harris

My rating:

Blurb:

With his notorious reputation for trickery and deception, and an ability to cause as many problems as he solves, Loki is a Norse god like no other. Demon-born, he is viewed with deepest suspicion by his fellow gods who will never accept him as one of their own and for this he vows to take his revenge.

But while Loki is planning the downfall of Asgard and the humiliation of his tormentors, greater powers are conspiring against the gods and a battle is brewing that will change the fate of the Worlds.

From his recruitment by Odin from the realm of Chaos, through his years as the go-to man of Asgard, to his fall from grace in the build-up to Ragnarok, this is the unofficial history of the world’s ultimate trickster.

Review:

[I received a copy of this book through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.]

I was quite keen on reading this one, but now that I’m done, I can’t help but feel that something was sorely lacking, and that the portrayal of several of the gods and goddesses wasn’t what I wanted to read.

Don’t get me wrong: different portrayals aren’t bad per se. They allow to shed another light on a character, to see a specific element in another way, to cast a whole other meaning and play with what is the “officially accepted” meaning, and so on. However, even though I’m fare from being a specialist in Norse mythology, I didn’t really understand some of the choices made here. For starters, what was wrong with Loki as a Jötunn (I’m not a proponento f Christian interpretations, so having here as a “demon” was definitely weird)? I especially couldn’t agree with the portrayal of Sigyn done here. I’ve always felt there should be more to her than what we know of, but seeing her reduced to a soupy housewife made half-crazed and happy to finally control his husband in the cave didn’t sit well with me. Granted, Loki made fun of all the gods and goddesses, only the way it happened with this one didn’t seem like an appropriate idea.

The tone of the story was somewhat light and funny in spite of the end of the Worlds it was bound to lead to, and highlighted Loki as a Trickster. The two episodes with Sleipnir and Thor disguised as a bride were particularly fun to read—I can never get tired of the latter, I guess. The gods and goddesses in general weren’t shown under their best colours, which here too fits with Loki’s point of view (being able to see the defects in people, himself included, and using them to his own advantage).

The “trickster tricked”, though, is another peeve I couldn’t shake off. Loki has always been a very ambiguous figure for me, not an evil one, so while his portrayal as being rejected because he’s a “demon” fits with his growing resentment (wouldn’t things have been different he had been accepted as Odin promised he’d be?), the end result looked more like a child being constantly thwarted and then whining about his fate, than a God bent on revenge for having been wronged once too often. This is not the kind of Loki I wanted to read about. He deserves more than that; his being tricked does happen (Útgarða-Loki being a good example), yet it quickly felt as if he always got the end of the shaft without never learning anything, and it doesn’t seem believable that a character like this one could be tricked from beginning to end.

I was probably also a bit annoyed by the omniscient view cast over the story, as it is told from Loki’s point of view after Ragnarök: I tend to grow quickly tired of structures of the “but the worst was still to come” kind. It didn’t help me to stay immersed in the narrative.

Overall it was a strange reading experience: when I was in it, it was alright, but every time I stopped, I had trouble picking the book again. It *is* pretty close to the Edda stories in some ways if you except the demon/Pandaemonium one, and probably this is both a strong and a weak point, as in the end, apart from being narrated by Loki, it doesn’t bring that much novelty or development to the already known myths. The Gods remain fairly one-dimensional, and while it was somewhat fun to read, I don’t feel like I’ll be opening this book again one day.

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Review: The Gateway of Light and Darkness

Posted on August 20th, 2015 @ 20:35
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The Gateway of Light and Darkness (The Gateway Series Book 2)The Gateway of Light and Darkness by Heather Marie

My rating:

Blurb:

The battle of good vs. evil wages on for Aiden Ortiz in this final installment of the Gateway Series: The Gateway of Light and Darkness. With the Dark Priest defeated, and the Brethren of Shadows refusing to forfeit calling upon the Darkness, the Brethren are determined more than ever to discover a way to banish the Men of Light for good. And as the Dark Priest’s curse invading Aiden’s veins continues to take on a life of its own, he finds himself in a standoff between his own kind, and the Brethren that want to recruit him for all the wrong reasons. Accompanied by fellow Gateway, Julie Martin, and his best friends Trevor and Evan, seventeen-year-old Aiden prepares himself for the battle of his life.

Protecting those he loves, and learning to put aside his differences for his father in order to learn the ways of the Light, Aiden begins to realize that the thing endangering their lives might not be the threat of the Brethren alone, but the thing taking shape inside of him —readying to unleash itself upon them all.

Review:

[I received a copy of this book through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.]

I still like the mythology/back story woven into this series, but… but… Seriously, this trend of ain’t-telling-you-nothing-itis has to stop. I don’t know what it’d take. I don’t know why this is still considered a good idea. It’s not. It’s not building plot, it’s forcing it down into holes that aren’t even the same shape.

So basically, Aiden makes the wrong choices (some crossing into Too Stupid To Live territory) mostly because all the characters around him who have information don’t share it with him. And when he stumbles and falls, they get all “I’m disappointed in you”, “I told you so”, “I knew it”, “I’m sorry I falied you”. When they know very well that he *wants* to get rid of his curse. Their “help” in that regard, though, falls so far from the mark that it’s not funny. I don’t buy the belief that someone has to battle against darkness alone, and if they fail, well, then it means they were doomed from the start, weren’t they? No. Maybe people wouldn’t fall if they had just the right help. There are times when it’s too much for one person to tackle. In this book, it’s one of those times. (I also don’t buy “we did it for your own good”, because had this failed, whoops, they’d likely have killed him, too bad, son.)

I guess it was almost painful, seeing how this character had to go through it half-blindedly when it mattered most. The training his father gave him, the support he was supposed to have, were only part of what he needed. What he actually needed, he didn’t really get. Thus his mistakes and wrong choices. It didn’t help that Aiden didn’t open up much about Koren, what he felt for her, thinking he could still “hear” her, etc… but what else to expect? His tentative attempts at getting answers always ended up in closed doors. Many people would give up and clam up for less than that.

It didn’t help that the story was a little slow going, and peppered with events where more than one person shone through their wrong choices. Things picked up after the 70-75% mark, though, and the ending was more enjoyable. I would’ve liked this story more, I think, if its pacing had been more balanced in that regard, and if we had gotten to see more some of the secondary characters (Aiden’s parents, for instance, or Seth). What felt slow could’ve been more exciting if they had been given some more limelight.

Not terrible per se, but not more than “just OK” either for me.

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