Josefina Montoya – American Girl Doll

★★★★☆

Josefina was the sixth doll in Pleasant Company’s lineup back in 1997 when I was sixteen and more interested in boys than dolls. I still wanted dolls, but I wouldn’t admit it. Oh, my sister and I bought the Spice Girls Barbies right about then, but as a joke. I mean, nobody expected we really liked those. The whole collection. And I found a Jonathan New Kids on the Block doll on eBay to keep them company. Again, as a joke.

Totally not my Scary Spice that followed me to adulthood

While I was aware Pleasant Company was continuing to introduce characters to their lineup, I was only thoroughly familiar with their first four (Felicity being the fourth, and she was the doll I saved up to buy). When Addy was introduced in 1993, I read her first book at the library, but I was twelve and didn’t want mom and dad to think I was still a kid, so I didn’t read any more (even though that first book was good), and I stopped looking at the catalog. I hated that time.

  1. You get your period. Thats horrible.
  2. You can’t like toys anymore, but your 10 year old sister can, so you encourage her to buy things you wish you could, and your parents yell at you.
  3. You don’t know what to do as an “adult” so you fall headlong into listening to all the music and decide to be a rock star (which didn’t work).
  4. You know next year you’ll be thirteen (a dreaded teenager) and start the lifelong mistake of trying to please people so they won’t think you’re one of “those” teenagers

But this isn’t a review of growing up — that would be a one star.

So Pleasant Company releases Josefina while I’m working at Claire’s, doing the most lackluster recitation of the piercing aftercare instructions. In 2000, Mattel bought out Pleasant Company and rebranded them American Girl, and redesigned the historical characters in 2014.

This review is for the BeForever (redesigned) version of the doll — more specifically the 2017 version where American Girl changed suppliers and upset the collectors. (I officially became a collector in 2015 when I went on a job interview and thought “Is this really what my life is? Why can’t I just play with dolls?” So I bought one.)

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Two sides of me in one day. In which one do I look happier? #suit #innerchild #agjulie #mta #americangirl #america

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In general, I like the redesign. Josefina’s face is more refined and cute. Unlike the other characters, Josefina’s eyebrows are sparse, but wide, every hair detailed, and often arched to make her look concerned or surprised. Mine looks inquisitive and excited.

Warm, coppery highlights streaks her black hair, hard to pick up on camera, and falls about to her knees when unbraided. Because the factory first braids the hair, then cuts it in a straight line, once you take it down, that haircut is janky. I had to go in and soften it. The hair itself is silky and a bit heavy. Really satisfying to brush and style.

Her outfit is similar to her original one. White camisa and red skirt with flowers. This skirt is a brighter red with BRIGHT BLUE flowers, and a thick pattern around the bottom of the skirt. Bloomer-type underwear.

The shoes, though. Originally, they were made of leather, like the moccasins they’re supposed to be. Not incredibly detailed, but something on the doll’s feet to hold you over until you bought an extra outfit or shoe set. The BeForever version uses the same pattern, but in a thin faux suede fabric that smacks of being homemade. Honestly, I’m going to the craft store to buy some scrap leather and make my own version of the shoes using these as a pattern.

The next negative point is the eyes. Collectors complain about the new version of the eyeballs all the time, and it’s no wonder. Originally, the eyes had a soft, grey-ish white to them, an iris/pupil segment, all covered in a cornea of sorts. It’s seamless, they close all the way, and the doll generally has an alert, focused expression. The “new eyes” have WHITES with the iris/pupil set in them, and no smooth covering. You’ll feel a ridge where the parts meet. Also, when the doll is “sleeping”, the whites are still showing. While some aren’t as bad as others, these eyes tend to make the dolls look wall-eyed or downcast, not focused at all.

My Josefina’s eyes are the new type, but it took a little digging to know for sure (I felt for the ridge between the whites and the iris). American Girl might have used a transition eye in 2017 when they changed suppliers, because they aren’t as white or expressionless as the more recent ones I’ve seen. They’re even better than my Nanea’s, who I bought at the end of 2017.

 

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So pretty 🥰 . #agjosefina #josefinamontoya #agig

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My mom bought this doll for me; my sister picked her out. Ever since I started collecting, I thought it would be fun if someone I loved surprised me with a doll — when my sister and mom went to the Madison Children’s Museum Benefit Sale this year, they did it. I’d asked her to pick up a $30 Addy for me (she did), but then I got the message “Addy picked out a friend” and I was beside myself. Of course, they toyed with me for a few hours where they didn’t tell me what they bought. I ran through the entire catalog trying to Sherlock Holmes out who the character might be, and landed on two possibilities: Melody (because she was also $30) and Josefina (because I’ve mentioned wanting her to my sister). Although Melody is cute, I’ve already got 2 Sonali molds and wasn’t interested in her (the hair flip). Josefina, though… 

Whatever details I nit-picked for the review, or noticed as a collector, whenever I look at this doll all I’ll really see is love from two of the people I care about the most.

American Girl has since gone back to their original supplier for the eyes and body fabric (which would have brought this review up to 5 stars). I recommend this doll, but while the stock transitions, be careful with your choice to ensure you get the right one for you — or have someone you trust (like my sister) pick one.


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The Woman in Cabin 10 – Ruth Ware

★★★☆☆

I hadn’t heard great things about this novel, but when I picked it up in the used bookstore, the first page or two read well. Lo (Laura) wakes up to a burglar in her house, and she fights him off (basically) and she goes to the police. The police say that statistically, most burglars will break into your place more than once.

Okay!

So I’m on my toes waiting for this bad guy to come back, but Lo goes on a work cruise and the bad guy isn’t waiting for her there, ready to tie the story together, so I’m already wondering where this story is going.

But she does sort of witness a murder on the cruise, and because she’s still freaked out by the burglary, nobody believes her. That’s all the burglary was there for: credibility reduction.

What I did like about this book was the author’s use of description: the way she described the burglar at the beginning by saying (paraphrased) “that’s how I described him to the police” (which let us know not only what she saw, but provided foreshadowing). And when she got to the cruise and they’re assigning her to her cabin — you think, “she’ll be in cabin 10, surely” but no, she’s not. And you look at the book title at the top of the page, and it makes you a little nervous. Like … who’s in cabin 10 and what’s her deal?

I also liked the author’s placement of emails — but it would have been more effective if she’d labeled the chapters with the date, because I didn’t realize at first that the emails were from a few days in the future.

What I didn’t like started pretty soon after Lo wakes up hearing a murder going on. I mean, of course that’s what she’s hearing. I didn’t like Lo. She’s mean to just about everyone (including her boyfriend, who she leaves on very uncertain terms, but claims to love). Maybe she doesn’t have the built-in niceties I’ve noticed in almost everyone I encounter — you know, that voice inside that reminds you you’re in polite company and to maybe temper your response before you spit it at someone. If I’d been on the cruise with her and she behaved the way she did, I wouldn’t have believed her either and I would have avoided her. I wished I could, but because it was a book, I was tethered to this woman to the bitter end. (That’s not a spoiler, I mean the end of the book.)

As a person who’s dealt with anxiety and some PTSD, I know it can make you a little tweaked sometimes, so I tried to be patient with her. She’s just flying off the handle because she’s been hurt in the past and this is how she deals. Fine. But the plot just drags for a little while. Nobody believes her for about a fourth of the book, and that’s really all that happens. She doesn’t do cruise activities or work stuff (even though she’s there for work), and the other characters are basically cardboard cutouts. And then! It looks like the climax starts about a third from the end, and I’m fanning the remaining pages thinking what could possibly take so long?

But it did take so long. It wasn’t nail-biting, I stopped caring what was going to happen. For me, this book was good enough to finish, but it’ll go back to the used bookstore.


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My Best Friend’s Exorcism – Grady Hendrix

★★★★★

It’s the 80s, and there’s so much of it. Abby invites everyone in school to her birthday party at the roller rink, and only one person, Gretchen, shows up. Gretchen gives a disappointing present, but the two girls become best friends. We follow them through the grades, the boys, the catty friends, until a small group of them try some drugs, try to go skinny dipping, and Gretchen gets lost in the woods. She comes back with maybe some PTSD, and she gets worse before she gets better. Stops bathing. Stops changing her clothes. Stops being normal. Everyone’s worried, but the more 

Abby tries to get to the bottom of what happened and how she can help her friend, everyone turns on her instead. Why is Abby spreading lies, they ask? Why is Abby being such a bad influence? Abby is surely the reason behind Gretchen’s downward spiral, and we don’t want our daughter associating with her anymore. If it’s not Abby . . .

I, like everyone else in the world, just finished watching Stranger Things 3, and needed to go back to the creepy 80s. This book (with that amazing, eye-catching VHS style cover) was exactly what I needed. So much 80s nostalgia, and just the right amount of creepy and heart that I stayed up past my bedtime every night with this book. Eager to read everything else Grady Hendrix has written.


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Bleach Please – Edinburgh

★★★★★

Bleach Please is a new salon in New Town, Edinburgh that first caught my eye with its PINK inside and unicorn head in the window. The next thing was their stellar reviews.

I needed a haircut. Unlike my days when I worked in a salon and my hair couldn’t grow a single inch without my co-workers wanting to “play”, I only get a haircut every six months or so. I tend to keep it long, and they’re damn expensive. You get what you pay for, though, because last time I got myself a £30 haircut at a chain salon and came home needing to un-bulk and finish the haircut at home. Lucky for me, I knew how to do that (it’s harder when you can’t stand behind yourself), but I paid for the whole service, and it upset me to have to tweak it at all.

So I tried Bleach Please. The name has sass. The interior is quirky. When I visited the salon to ask about prices, the small crew was so lovely and welcoming (Marco, the stylist even stopped working on his client to tell me he liked the way I’d put my hair up). I signed up.

Because it’s such a small salon (2 chairs, if I’m remembering right), there’s little to no possibility for the place to become too crowded. I felt relaxed. Rossella made me one of the best cappuccinos I’ve had in a while (chocolate on top — she said she was also experimenting with marshmallows, but ran out of them). She talked to me while Marco finished with his other client. They both made me feel included and wanted in that space.

The haircut itself was a positive experience. Since I’ve been a stylist myself and worked with some talented people in Manhattan, I know the drill. While Marco’s English isn’t 100%, I showed him a picture of what I wanted, he described the work he was going to do, and even had Rossella translate the little bits he couldn’t quite say. When he got to work, I was in the hands of an expert. He’s quick and precise, and in the end my hair looked like what I’d asked for. The blow-dry style was good, but not over the top (pro-tip: you’re not supposed to give an over the top blow dry because you as a stylist need to be able to check your lines, and the client needs to see what their hair can look like in a style they can mimic on their own. If you get a super curly blowout, your stylist is probably hiding a mistake). Most importantly, he finished the whole haircut. I was so happy I was taking selfies the rest of the day (which I almost never do).

So, I walked out of the salon happy with how I looked. The real test comes when you wash and style it yourself, and dammit, it was good then too.

I’ll be coming back — I’ve finally found my salon!


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More than This – Patrick Ness

★★★☆☆

Seth drowns and wakes up alone in an abandoned city, or the weirdest afterlife I’ve ever imagined.

Coming from a religious background myself, the idea of an afterlife is a) ever-present and b) a total mystery (and well-worth imagining). While it seems like Seth might be in Hell, it’s not explicit. For the first 40% of the book, he’s alone (except for the occasional animal, which may or may not be in his imagination), and I’ve never been so engrossed in a book in recent memory. 

The idea of exploring an abandoned city, totally alone, is something I think about all the time. Sometimes when I’m out and the city is crowded, I imagine what I might do if everyone disappeared. Where would I go in my own peaceful time? Would I take things from the stores (because no one’s coming back, it wouldn’t be stealing), or go into the employees only section of a museum and have a private look around, or just lie in the grass and listen to the birds? It’s a lovely dream.

This book took that idea and let me luxuriate in someone else’s imagination. Yeah, I mean, if everyone disappeared, eventually all the food would rot, and the electricity place would stop working, so it was nice to have someone else take the reins. But just like a peaceful moment alone, all that was ruined when other people showed up.

It’s hard to talk about what happens next that won’t ruin the rest of the book, should you choose to read it, but I will say it reminded me too much of The Matrix, and that’s basically all I could think about until the last word. It was fine. The added characters were stereotypical and annoying, and really, I preferred to be alone.

5 stars for the first half of the book, 2 stars for the last half.

Look Alive Out There – Sloane Crosley

★☆☆☆☆

Like Sloane Crosley’s other two books, this is a collection of essays about her life (although I think she’s also written a novel?), reminiscent of David Sedaris. The only problem is when I’m reading these stories, I feel like I’m intruding on her personal space — like she doesn’t want me there.

At the beginning, it was fine. She wrote about the time she had a walk-on role on Gossip Girl (which was interesting, although I’ve never seen the show), and there were enough other people in the scene so that I didn’t feel weird. Then she wrote about going on vacation (lovely) and climbing a mountain in South America with some guys she didn’t really like (tense), and then got altitude sickness (I wanted to help, but I was in the way). 

Toward the middle, she holed up in her apartment, her neighbor died, and she got vertigo (not related to the neighbor). We didn’t interact with any other people, and she wasn’t talking to me. I felt like I was sitting in the corner of her living room pretending to be invisible, like I’d been invited in earlier, but missed my graceful exit. But she knew I was there and planned exactly which button to push to get me out of her space.

She’s all, “I don’t necessarily want kids, but I’m not gonna go telling people I hated baby dolls or anything” (paraphrasing) and I thought, whoa — I didn’t like baby dolls and I don’t want kids. It doesn’t have to be like this, Sloane. And then she said, “I’m not one of THOSE women who’s scared to have kids or just doesn’t want one — I mean COME ON, GROW UP.” And my gloves came off. Ok listen! You’re making this unnecessarily personal! Some people have other issues going on, and it’s not because I haven’t “grown up” or I’m trying to poop all over your personal standards. Maybe there are medical issues involved, or phobias, or maybe some people weren’t raised in an environment that’s conducive to actually raising a viable human being.

Okay, maybe I’m not being totally fair. She doesn’t know me, and she’s just writing her own feelings (as I’m doing now). But I’d gone through the last half of the book getting more and more annoyed with this narrator as a character, and the last chapter was the last straw. I don’t remember what the concluding sentence was, but when I read it I thought, “man, go fuck yourself!” and threw it on the ground.

I didn’t have this reaction to her first two books of essays — in fact, I liked them a great deal (which is why I read this one). Your milage may differ, but I can’t recommend this book. Start with “The Pony Problem” in  “I Was Told There’d Be Cake“.

Oink – Edinburgh

★★★★★

Oink is a pulled pork sandwich, simple as that. You know a place is good when there are more people than sitting places in an establishment (or when the line to order goes out the door, as it often does on Victoria Street). For a person like me, who gets agitated (let’s all say it, “freaked out”) by crowds, I’ll suck it up and go to Oink because it’s one of the best pulled pork sandwiches I’ve ever had.

I’m from Memphis, TN, which has a pulled pork/BBQ festival every year. There’s a BBQ restaurant so famous, it’ll FedEx menu items across the country. I grew up on this stuff, relentlessly comparing my hometown’s craft with everyone else’s. 

While Oink doesn’t doesn’t give me a sandwich slathered in sauce so there’s not a dry piece of pork on the whole thing (and all over my hands), it’s got it’s own delicious thing going: put haggis on the bun, then a heap of meat from the whole pig in the window, a little apple sauce (or BBQ sauce if I’m feeling homesick), and you’re done. The meat is so juicy I don’t need all the extra sauce I’m used to. In fact, if I were to ever go back to Memphis, I’d be looking in vain for Oink over there.

Flash Forward Podcast

★★★☆☆

Flash Forward takes an idea we have for the future (food pills, a world without bees, California becoming its own country, etc) and explores the plausibility of it. I love the idea of imagining futuristic scenarios (who doesn’t want an animal translator?), but some of the episode topics aren’t my cup of tea (a super computer that creates the ultimate religion).

Most of the episodes are great “info-tainment”, and it gives me good memories of the bleak, but wonderful year of 2016 when I started listening to the show and used it as a way to calm down. I’d just moved to a new country (Scotland! It’s so nice!), but my husband hadn’t joined me yet, and my own baby oven said, “since you’re not growing something in here, I will,” and it was tumors. This podcast, among others, gave me something to focus on and look forward to when I didn’t want to be in my own body anymore. 

Because of its speculative and science-y nature, I would compare Flash Forward to Science VS (which explores how scientifically accurate a certain idea is – like if essential oils really do what they claim) or Imaginary Worlds (which takes sci-fi/fantasy ideas in fiction and analyses why our brains accept something that’s clearly not true).

Overall, I like this podcast and I recommend it.

You can listen to Flash Forward on their website, or wherever you like to listen to podcasts.

Cecile and Marie Grace by Denise Lewis Patrick and Sarah Masters Buckley

★★★☆☆

Cecile and Marie-Grace are ten year old girls in New Orleans, 1853 — the year of the big yellow fever outbreak. The girls pull together to help where they can and build a friendship at the same time.

The story itself is fine. I don’t have any beef with the characters (except that they’re almost never together). Switching their perspectives from book to book shows the reader what life was like for a white girl and a free person of color. I didn’t honestly see much of a difference, except for some pretty hard segregation. I’m sure there was more to it than that, and it would have been interesting to learn about. It was interesting to see how primitive their knowledge of medicine and disease were in 1853. If this were just a book for middle-grade kids to read to make history fun, I’d move on and probably never thing about this series again.

But it’s by American Girl.

The characters are supposed to be so vibrant and beautiful, I’m gonna want to want to part with all my money to buy their entire collection in 1/3 scale.

Trust me, I do want to buy their collections. I’ve already got Cecile under my Christmas tree.

I didn’t feel it from the books. Not only did I not feel compelled to buy the whole collection, the descriptions in the book barely made me want to look at it. Don’t get me wrong, the dolls and accessories they released alongside the book series was gorgeous, and I always wondered why it sold so poorly they pulled the characters in only three years.

A few theories:

  1. The illustrations.
    My god. It’s the first thing you see when you pick up the book, and they’re not only supposed to get you hyped about buying THAT DRESS, but also
    to pull you into the world of the story. The illustrations are what made me love Pleasant Company/American Girl in the first place. Come on, Felicity sitting on the rooftop eating an apple? Molly getting sprayed with the hose in her hula costume? Kirsten and Singing Bird? They were charming and magical and captured me.
    But with Cecile and Marie-Grace, the illustrations showed poor connection from character to character (often with no one really making eye contact), in scenes so vague I can’t recall what was going on in any of them.

    Since the stories overlap with the two girls switching POV, there are duplicate illustrations too.
    This is especially upsetting because I looked up the artist, Christine Kornacki, and her work is gorgeous. She really does seem like a shoe-in for American Girl illustrations but … what happened? And you’re gonna see the vignette of that bird like five times.
  2. The descriptions.
    Remember, these books are supposed to sell toys — much like Saturday morning cartoons. Even as an adult who apparently has more important things to do than add to a doll collection, when I read Kit’s series earlier this year (largely unfamiliar with her collection), the author described not only what the character was wearing, but how she felt about it. How she felt about how her room was decorated. The descriptions plus the lovely illustrations made me dive into the back catalogue where I was thrilled to see things I recognized from the books.
    With Cecile and Marie-Grace, it wasn’t like that. Ok, Cecile has a desk where she wrote letters to her brother while he was still in Paris — the desk is gorgeous (I bought it), but it wasn’t in the books anywhere (or maybe a cursory “Cecile sat at her desk”). They have a plate of beignets, beds with mosquito netting, a banquet table, and a table and chairs for the courtyard. I mean, it’s all gorgeous, but it’s not in the book. And I understand that the dolls’ run was cut short, but some of the dresses in the (few) illustrations weren’t even manufactured.

Don’t get me wrong: nostalgia plays a huge part in the enjoyment of these books. I love re-reading about Felicity, Molly, and Kirsten the most because I devoured them when I was a kid. But as an adult when I read about Kaya and Kit and Josefina and Julie, they all felt like I’d always known those characters and those stories even though it was my first read through. That’s so special.

But in saying that, Cecile and Marie-Grace’s series would have fared much better as a continuous novel instead of six books. Dividing it up gives the reader hope that the next book will be different, but they act like episodes in a show — and it got monotonous. In previous series, each book focused on one aspect of the character’s life (school, holidays, summer vacation, etc). If the company had released the characters when they did the Beforever rebrand (where the 6 book series is mushed into two books, and the story reads like one big novel), without the illustrations, the collection might have done better. They went out on a limb to try something different (they’ve never paired two girls before — always focused on one), and it didn’t work.

If you have a middle-grade kid who wants to learn a little about the olden days and yellow fever, and meet some decent characters, this would be a good series for them. For the adult collector who misses Pleasant Company, you could probably skip it.

The Last Black Unicorn – Tiffany Haddish

★★★★☆

I’ve gotta be honest, I didn’t know who Tiffany Haddish was until she hosted Saturday Night Live a few months ago. After a few lines of the monologue, I liked her. I felt like I knew her.

Her book is called The Last Black Unicorn, which was a huge draw for me because I loved The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle. I knew when I started reading that Haddish’s Unicorn would be nothing like Beagle’s, but she had my attention.

From the beginning, she got me with her voice, which reads just like the SNL monologue. The narrative is conversational and intimate about her difficult life. Her stories are hilarious, heartbreaking, and vulnerable, and I couldn’t help but love her at the end.

While I’ve read meatier books, or ones that make a stronger point, as a matter of character, this is one of the better memoirs I’ve read.