Thursday, December 29, 2011

End of 2011 Book Survey

Last year I filled out a cool book survey from Jamie at The Perpetual Page Turner, and this year she’s created a 2011 edition! Yay for surveys!

1. Best Book You Read In 2011?

Click here for the full post!

2. Most Disappointing Book/Book You Wish You Loved More Than You Did?

‘Salem’s Lot by: Stephen King

This wasn’t a bad book, but my expectations were kind of high. Stephen King’s novels tend to be hit-and-miss for me but in general I think he’s brilliant. Plus, I love vampires, so I figured this one would be perfect since it was two good things in one. But, I ended up being just entertained for the moment. It was nothing too memorable.

3. Most surprising (in a good way!) book of 2011?

Hush, Hush by: Becca Fitzpatrick

I thought it was quite disappointing the first time I read it (and even called it the most disappointing of 2010 in last year’s survey), but for whatever reason, when I read it back in January I really enjoyed it!

4. Book you recommended to people most in 2011?
Like I mentioned last year, most of my good friends are guys, so I never end up recommending any girly books… So I recommended these awesome books:

The Hunger Games Trilogy by: Suzanne Collins
The Catcher in the Rye by: J.D. Salinger
The Diary of a Young Girl by: Anne Frank
The Help by: Kathryn Stockett
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter by: Seth Grahame-Smith

5. Best series you discovered in 2011?

The Forest of Hands and Teeth by: Carrie Ryan
I’m not sure if it’s called The Forest of Hands and Teeth Series or what, but whatever the official term is, I loved it.

6. Favorite new authors you discovered in 2011?

Carrie Ryan
Elie Wiesel

7. Best book that was out of your comfort zone or was a new genre for you?

Night by: Elie Wiesel
I’m not good with sad books/movies, let alone true Holocaust survival stories. I’m too empathetic and I knew that this book would tear me apart, but it was a really good book. It’ll make you think about things like death, food, and humanity.

8. Most thrilling, unputdownable book in 2011?

Catching Fire by: Suzanne Collins
Mockingjay by: Suzanne Collins

These books were amazing! They were almost impossible to put down and kept me flying through pages like a mad woman! In the midst of so much action, there was still a ton of emotion – both elements by themselves are present in a huge way in these books.

9. Book you most anticipated in 2011?
The only books that I highly anticipated this year and actually read was Awakened by P.C. Cast + Kristin Cast and Illusions by Aprilynne Pike.

Others that I was so excited for but unfortunately didn’t get a chance to read this year:

Across the Universe by: Beth Revis
Silence by: Becca Fitzpatrick
Destined by: P.C. Cast + Kristin Cast

10. Favorite cover of a book you read in 2011?
Torment by: Lauren Kate

Honorable Mention: Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter by: Seth Grahame-Smith

11. Most memorable character in 2011?
Holden Caulfield (The Catcher in the Rye by: J.D. Salinger)
Katniss Everdeen (The Hunger Games Trilogy by: Suzanne Collins)
Gollum (The Lord of the Rings by: J.R.R. Tolkien)
Aibileen (The Help by: Kathryn Stockett)
Miss Celia (The Help by: Kathryn Stockett)
12. Most beautifully written book read in 2011?

Night by: Elie Wiesel
The Forest of Hands and Teeth by: Carrie Ryan

13. Book that had the greatest impact on you in 2011?
Night by: Elie Wiesel
This book made me different. As I read it I didn’t want to eat anything because all I could think about were the starving people. I’d randomly cry out of the blue thinking about the monstrosities of the damned Holocaust, wondering how people could ever be so awful to each other.

14. Book you can't believe you waited UNTIL 2011 to finally read?

The Lord of the Rings Trilogy by: J.R.R. Tolkien
I’m a nerd. I love fantasy and classic novels, yet I haven’t read any of these books until this year! What’s with that? And I haven't even read Return of the King yet!

15. Favorite Passage/Quote From A Book You Read In 2011?

Night by: Elie Wiesel
-Juliek’s death scene.

Mockingjay by: Suzanne Collins
-There is a paragraph in there somewhere in which every other sentence is “Making knots.”
The Catcher in the Rye by: J.D. Salinger
-The part where he admits that he feels the need to be a catcher in the rye.

16. Book That You Read In 2011 That Would Be Most Likely To Reread In 2012?

The Catcher in the Rye by: J.D. Salinger
I want to read it now, actually. I’ve wanted to read it since I put it down!
17. Book That Had A Scene In It That Had You Reeling And Dying To Talk To Somebody About It? (a WTF moment, an epic revelation, a steamy kiss, etc. etc.) Be careful of spoilers!

Even though this one is elaborated, I’m still not quite sure what it’s talking about lol…

1. New favorite book blog you discovered in 2011?

Steph Su Reads is basically my favorite book blog!

2. Favorite review that you wrote in 2011?

I don’t really have favorite reviews actually.

3. Best discussion you had on your blog?
Artist Evolution

It talks about how artist tend to change over time and how “fans” freak out. I think it’s the only discussion on my blog.

4. Most thought-provoking review or discussion you read on somebody else's blog?

I'm sure I've read multiple of these, but I can't remember specific ones.

5. Best event that you participated in (author signings, festivals, virtual events, memes, etc.)?

I’ve never been to one.

6. Best moment of book blogging in 2011?

Being asked to review one!

7. Most Popular Post This Year On Your Blog (whether it be by comments or views)?

By Views:

1. The House of Night, Books 1-6 by: P.C. Cast + Kristin Cast
2. ‘Salem’s Lot | by: Stephen King
3. Favorite Voices
4. End of 2010 Book Survey
5. Fallen | Evanescence
6. Look What I Made!
7. The Unforgiving | Within Temptation  
8. The Fame Monster | Lady Gaga
9. Evanescence | Evanescence
10. A Thousand Suns | Linkin Park

8. Post You Wished Got A Little More Love?

Any book review. The only book review in my popular posts is for ‘Salem’s Lot and the one where I did mini-reviews of the first six House of Night books, which is a terrible example of my reviews! Come on, guys! Show the books some love, too!

9. Best bookish discover (book related sites, book stores, etc.)?

Barnes and Noble is way cheaper than Borders and Books-a-Million. Just saying.

10. Did you complete any reading challenges or goals that you had set for yourself at the beginning of this year?

Nope. I failed at the 2011 Stephen King Reading Challenge.

1. One Book You Didn't Get To In 2011 But Will Be Your Number 1 Priority in 2012?

SO MANY! But, I think Across the Universe by Beth Revis will be top priority next year, as well as Pathfinder by Orson Scott-Card.

2. Book You Are Most Anticipating For 2012?

I’m too preoccupied with this year’s books that I didn’t read that I can’t even think about next year. Ask me next year.

3. One Thing You Hope To Accomplish Or Do In Your Reading/Blogging In 2012?

Maybe get my first ARC. I don’t want a ton of them like a lot of bloggers get, primarily because I don't have the time, but maybe one or two a year.

So... that's it! I hope everyone has a wonderful new year, and hopefully everyone will have a very awesome upcoming year for reading! Thanks so much for reading my posts; being heard is always appreciated.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Best Books I Read: 2011

2011 really flew by fast! Even so, I read quite a few amazing books in 2011 and I've decided to share those with you in another end-of-the-year wrap-up. Even though I read less books this year than last year, I have eleven books on this year's list. Ten made last year's list.  Like my Best Books post from last year, the best books are those that received 5/5 Stars from me and the runner-ups received 4.5/5 Stars. If any of these books have been reviewed, I will add the link.

Best Books - 5/5 Stars

Catching Fire by: Suzanne Collins
This book was a cardiovascular workout. All I did was sit on the couch and read this nonstop and meanwhile my heart was pumping like crazy the whole time, so much that it actually made me worry. This second installment in The Hunger Games Trilogy was just as good as the first with its action and morbidity interloping to form such a mesmerizing story. If you haven't read these books yet, you need to. Right now.

Putting Mockingjay down was painful. This is the final book of The Hunger Games Trilogy and it still held onto action in the midst of fighting against the disturbing government, but this time it was more of an emotional ride for me. After I plowed through all the pages, I couldn't stop crying. In fact, I don't think I've ever cried so much because of a book. I've never read something with such a bittersweet ending. The night I finished it, I had nightmares about different endings with no happiness at all - that's how far this story was embedded in my brain. I loved it so much; Suzanne Collins couldn't have done a better job.


Night by: Elie Wiesel
Although this autobiography is short, extremely well-written and keeps one's attention, it was so hard for me to read. I don't really see how anyone can get enjoyment out of reading it. It tells the story of Elie Wiesel's life in concentration camps during the Holocaust, living in a world of death and unimaginable circumstances. Right from the start I knew I was in for a very bleak reading experience, but I feel like this book changed me in some way. As I was reading, I had to force myself to eat. I didn't want to eat anything anymore. How could I when Elie was starving? If you're an empathetic person, be prepared.
Oh, Juliek...

The Diary of a Young Girl by: Anne Frank
Another Holocaust autobiography, but this story was not a survival story in the end. Anne's diary that she kept as her family hid in an attic for a couple of years isn't what you'd expect from someone her age; she really was a good writer, just as she aspired to be. Even though Anne could only ever be herself, I think a lot of coming-of-age girls could relate to her feelings of being shut out and cast as a child without her own ideals. Personally, I could relate to Anne's feeling that people don't prefer her to speak out, but they still complain when she holds her opinions back.

Even so, the irony of Anne's words will make you feel so heartbroken by the time you've finished reading this. She really did live on after she left, but in a different way than anyone would have expected.

Awakened by: P.C. Cast + Kristin Cast
Another awesome addition to the House of Night series! Stevie Rae's story finally gives us all some closure and Zoe always has something to deal with, but the theme that love is always the best choice really made this book special. These characters are starting to become more and more admirable as I go, and I plowed through the pages completely satisfied but looking forward to more.

The Catcher in the Rye is one of the strangest books I've ever read, and I loved it to death! I wanted to reread it again as soon as I put it down, and I've never had the urge to do that before. Of all books to want to reread as soon as possible, I ended up picking the one with basically no plot in terms of events, but a huge plot in terms of Holden's psychology. A lot of people who read this novel were bored for this reason and fed up with Holden. Though I understand this point, I find that the things people complain about are what make The Catcher in the Rye so unique, along with the fact that I could relate to this book in unusual (and less extreme than depicted) ways despite that Holden's such an odd and pitiful character. This misunderstood is by far one of the best I've ever read, perhaps the best.

I don't scare easily, especially when it comes to zombies, but the Unconsecrated freaked me out. To add to that, I don't even like zombies. I've always thought they were dumb and unnecessary, but Carrie Ryan knew what she was doing and created a fantastic dystopian novel! The bits of romance included do not take away from the creep-factor or make it gushy in any sense. Mary was a strong main character dedicated to exploration and I enjoyed reading about her struggles in the messed up world her story took place in.

Another thing I will always remember about this book is Carrie Ryan's wonderful writing. Her writing style is beautiful and more than effective, making this book even darker and emotional than the storyline already promised.

Jesus Freaks: Martyrs: Stories of Those Who Stood For Jesus, the Ultimate Jesus Freaks by: dc Talk and the Voice of the Martyrs
A book of dying for something you believe in with all your heart... Yeah, it was good. Every story included in this book is one of many true accounts of people giving up their lives and sanity before oppressors due to their undeniable Christian faith. Many of these stories talk about the miracles that were experienced by these martyrs before they died and even the miracles experienced by survivors. I don't really think you necessarily have to be a Christian to read this book, just a fan of those who stand for something in the midst of cruel treatment and even persecution. Personally, it really made me want to be a less grudging person, to learn not to hate enemies.

The Help by: Kathryn Stockett
This book will make you laugh, cry, and tell everyone about how you laughed and cried. It follows the intertwining stories of three loveable characters (Abileen, Minny, and Miss Skeeter) and how they live in the midst of racism in Jackson,  Mississippi during the 1960s. I think this is the only book that I have a hard time choosing who out of the three narrators is my favorite, but I suppose if I had to choose, it'd be Aibileen (with poor Miss Celia at number two). Although this book deals strongly with racism and the need for equality, there are a lot of different themes involved, adding complexity and adding to the list of things I love about this awesome book.

Runner-Ups - 4.5/5 Stars

The cover of this book itself pretty much screams that it's a unique story, just look at it. This book was extremely interesting, combining a good amount of mournful moments with humor as one of America's most beloved presidents is turned into one of Buffy's collegues.
One highlight from this was how Edgar Allen Poe and Abraham Lincoln were buddies! My favorite poet and my favorite president fighting vampires? Hell yeah! Plus, other famous figures were included as history meets fiction, and some were actually vampires. I liked this book even more than I thought I would, especially with that surprise ending...

Well, who knows if I really like this book or not? The first time I read it I found  nothing special about it, but the second time, I loved it! Somehow I could suddenly relate to Nora and find my own voice in her dialogue. Hush, Hush had a number of now-you-see-it-now-you-don't moments, and I find that such moments can't be visualized well in a lot of books, but it worked well in this case. Plus, I like stories with angels. They have a certain feel to them.
Of course, being the fangirl that I am, I must say that I really liked Patch...

Saturday, December 17, 2011

2011: A Great Year for Music

This year has been beyond exceptional for new music (in my opinion). I suppose it could have been a terrible year for whatever types of music you listen to, but a lot of my personal favorite artists released new material this year and a couple have announced that they will have full-length albums released early next year. That being said, here's a little wrap-up of my favorite parts of 2011 in the world of music.

It all started on March 29th when Within Temptation released their fifth studio album, The Unforgiving. A lot of speculation seemed to grow around this album from day one due to complaints that Within Temptation changed their sound too much for comfort, but I was not disappointed. Despite the change in sound, I believe that The Unforgiving was a really cool album, although I do hope that in their next release Sharon will sound more operatic again. Also, a series of comics have been released based on this concept album, and rather than just having music videos to follow the singles, Within Temptation has made short films (with actual actors, not band members) to emphasize the plot while being able to use all the violence they want.
A couple of months later, Lady Gaga dripped her highly-anticipated new album, Born This Way. Very rarely do I enjoy pop albums as much as I enjoy Lady Gaga's and Born This Way surpassed all of my expectations as she experimented with different sounds throughout the album and showed a lot of vocal improvement. Then in the summer, Vanessa Carlton returned with a new album called Rabbits on the Run. Like Gaga, Vanessa has also shown vocal improvement over the years. I've been a fan of her relaxing music ever since the beginning in 2002 with her too famous single "A Thousand Miles" (which I'm really sick of). It seems that ever since her debut in 2002 people have forgotten her and I think that's ridiculous since her three albums since then have been much better than the first! However, I have not listened to Rabbits on the Run yet with the exception of a couple great songs and from them, I am looking forward to buying this album (expect a review).

Next, Evanescence's new self-titled album was released on October 11th. Evanescence has been my favorite band for about six years now, so I've been looking forward to this album ever since their second album, The Open Door, was released in 2006. Each of their albums always have a very different feel from the other, as did this one. Amy Lee's voice has not lost any of its power during Evanescence's hiatus and the band sounds the way she described, happier and stronger. This is not to say that the music itself is happy, would it be an Evanescence record if it was? Still, despite what anyone may say about their current approach, I loved this album. It was definitley worth the wait, bringing me new gorgeous Evanescence favorites and something to relate to.
On November 30th, a new Nightwish album called Imaginaerum was released exclusive to a couple countries. Throughout the month of December and into January 16th, this new album will slowly but surely be released in multiple countries, including the USA (released January 10th). A special edition will be available and it will include the album in instrumental format. From what I've heard, even fans of their older, heavier material will have a good chance at enjoying this album. I will purchase it as soon as it is available to me!

But, 2011 didn't just bring awesome music, it also brought news of more cool music set to be released next year! According to their official site, Epica is going to release a new album called Requiem For the Indifferent on March 9th. (Note that it won't be released in the USA until March 12th.) Lacuna Coil will release their new album entitled Dark Adrenaline on January 23rd (January 24th in North America) and have already released their first awesome single from that album, "Trip the Darkness."

What an awesome year! I guess I got lucky this year with all my favorite artists releasing new material and can look forwarad to a few more next year. Did you like the new music of 2011, maybe from others I didn't mention?

Long live music!

Saturday, December 3, 2011

The 2011 Stephen King Reading Challenge: I Surrender

I don't really sign up for reading challenges, but when I saw the 2011 Stephen King Reading Challenge at Book Chick City I thought I'd try. After all, I couldn't have picked an easier challenge. All that was required was for me to read six of Stephen King's books this year. Six books. That's it. Simple, right?

Well, I epicly failed. I should've raised the white flag in October to be honest... The only Stephen King book I read this year was 'Salem's Lot back in January. I even had a good start at the beginning of the year, but could I keep it up? No! I love Stephen King despite his novels can be hit-and-miss for me, and I have a ton of his books on my TBR (to be read) list, but I only got around to reading one this year. From this, I'm concluding that I can only read what I want when I want. Challenges don't seem to motivate me at all.

If I ever try the whole reading challenge thing again, maybe I should go for something broader, more general. For example, one that targets a specific genere that I typically read like dystopia, science fiction, or fantasy.

As a side note, I highly recommend Stephen King's Under the Dome (this book was my first ever review, so the link leads to a really short and tacky review). In the near future, I plan to read Carrie, The Shining, The Stand, and Full Dark, No Stars.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, Part 1 | Screenplay by Melissa Rosenberg | Directed by Bill Condon

The first part of The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn was finally released two days ago. Although all the anticipation for this new film has awakened Twilight fans everywhere, I was less enthused. I was completely unhappy with the decision to split the book into two films; I believed that we'd get an adequate film adaptation otherwise. Well, Breaking Dawn, Part 1 ended up being much better than I expected. I actually really enjoyed it!

As we all know from watching Eclipse or simply watching Breaking Dawn, Part 1's trailer, Bella (Kirsten Stewart) is finally going to marry Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson), her long-term vampire boyfriend. Of course, this would result in a honeymoon... Which ends with a pregnancy scare. But what exactly is the species of the abnormal fetus that is weakening Bella?

Now, it is to the point where Edward is in need of Jacob's (Taylor Lautner) help to defend who they both love.

During the first quarter of the film there was plenty of eye-rolling from me. Other than the bits of humor we get from nearly everyone, everything was just so corny and the acting just seemed too gushy for me to digest. This gave me a bad first impression of the movie, especially since it seemed to be just as bad as my extremely low expectations that prevented me from being excited to see Breaking Dawn, Part 1. For those who will probably end up experiencing the same first-hand disappointment, my advice is to hold tight. The last half of the film makes it all worthwhile. Even the acting somehow magically gets better.

On normal circumstances, I always stress that Twilight films are strictly for those who read the books since the films are nice but do not give the same effect; therefore, those who see the movies without reading the books first may not truly understand the allure. Breaking Dawn, Part 1 is an exception to that rule. The last half of this film is so awesome and intense that anyone who hasn't read the book should get the full effect. Even cross-over appeal is present with the film's new found intensity, but I'm not going to say much so I don't spoil it for those who haven't seen it yet or have missed previous films.

We get in on some major drama within the wolf pack this time, and it intertwines with Bella's pregnancy predicament. In the process, Jacob becomes a stronger character that not even Taylor Lautner could ruin (I say this because in the past I have been unimpressed by his acting). However, the portion of the book that was narrated by Jacob isn't included in the movie. I don't really think it was needed since I read the book, but I'm not so sure if those who haven't will see the change that I saw in Jacob. In that portion of the book, I gained a lot of new respect for him, but I'm not so sure if others will see that change.

Despite the film is ended with what could be considered a cliff-hanger, it's a very satisfying one, embedding anticipation for the next film into my brain (though my favorite parts of the book were all at the end of this movie) but letting everyone know what happens.

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, Part 1 is the best of the film series, surpassing my expectations by a longshot as well as doing the book justice in the process! Thanks to the second half's great save, I loved it!

4/5 Stars

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Artist Evolution

Bands and singers tend to change or tweak the sound of the music they make over time. This happens constantly, whether you've noticed it or not; if they didn't, all of their music would sound the same and result in being very boring. Sometimes, a band will noticably change very quickly by getting a new lead singer or something, and their fans tend to respond very negatively, claiming that their favorite band is now terrible, and "sold out to mainstream" or "are just trying to make money."  If the circumstances were more normal, I'd be able to understand these viewpoints. However... I really can't take any of these extremely annoying people seriously.

Left: Anette Olzon, the new singer of Nightwish
Right: Tarja Turenen, Nightwish's previous singer
For example: Nightwish. Nightwish is a rather popular symphoniac metal band from Findland. Their original female lead singer, Tarja Turunen, had a very distinctive operatic vocal style that went perfectly with the epic metal compositions. So, when Tarja had to leave the band by all of the other members' request, the fans were upset. When Nightwish released their 2007 album entitled Dark Passion Play (which was already musically different than Nightwish's norm) with Anette Olzon, who had a much different vocal style than Tarja... people went crazy. And I mean crazy. Tarja has a lot of extremely devoted fans. All over the internet people argue "THIS ISN'T METAL ANYMORE WE LOVE TARJA BOOHOOO!" Don't get me wrong, Anette has loyal fans who defend her honor as well, but what am I supposed to do when I like both eras? I still felt like it was the same band that I loved, but they have just renovated their approach. They evolved.
Just recently, Within Temptation released a new album called The Unforgiving. Within Temptation has gone through a lot of different eras; no two of their albums sound too similar. But for whatever reason, when this album was released people started to freak out again. Much like the Nightwish ordeal, many people kept complaining that Within Temptation wasn't "metal" anymore, since this new album included more upbeat tracks. What made me laugh most was that they actually considered that album to be pop... Pop? Within Temptation? Ever heard of this genere called rock? It's pretty epic, too. (But I personally still consider Within Temptation to be a metal band; I still consider their new material to be metal.) While I read angry comments concerning this on YouTube, all I could think of was "If I was in a band, I think I'd want to mix the sound up as we went on, too." Within Temptation's been around for over a decade; they can do whatever they want, in my book.

I've also seen this a lot with Evanescence since their albums tend to vary in sound (which is mainly due to lineup changes, and don't we all know that causes drama). "This isn't Evanescence anymore boohoo." Really, it isn't? Sure sounds like them to me. Isn't it awesome how they can make CD after CD and the songs are completely different? Or am I the only one that thinks that...? In this case, sometimes it's just a matter of getting new sets of songs from an artist that makes everyone have hissy fits.
Lady Gaga
She has even evolved visually!

Even the most popular woman in the world is sometimes criticized for evolving her sound. Occasionally people complain that Lady Gaga is too weird now and needs to return to her beginning stages of fame. Usually when people argue about an artist's evolution, they complain that they're less unique in comparison to how they started, but that doesn't apply in this case. Lady Gaga's first album, The Fame, was nice and everything, but it didn't have too many songs where you can say you've never heard anything like that before. Her music is now more artistic and has more variation, in my opinion. One thing that I think everyone can agree on is how much her voice has improved since her debut album, giving her new songs more power since her voice has more power.
And besides, do you really think Lady Gaga wants to act normal?

That is my point, ladies and gentlemen. At the end of the day, it's up to the artist and what they want to do. If they want to change the style of their music then they're free to do so. We as listeners and even fans cannot choose what our favorite bands and singers should do, only they can. It's their decision; it's their right. Have some respect.

Just because your favorite band sounds a bit different doesn't mean that they sold out. How would you like to perform the same old stuff all the time? Even if your favorite metal band "isn't metal anymore" in your opinion doesn't mean they've reverted to pop, because there are so many different types of metal! Plus, rock is still an existing genere. And quite frankly, it's possible to like the changes that they undergo. I do. It's all just evolution.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Critiquing Critica's New Look

The Critiquing Critica has a new look!

After getting a newer (and much better) computer, I could see the layout better due to the larger screen, which means I saw more of the old rainy-mountain template. It was nice and subtle... But it just felt so boring all of a sudden! Soon, my best friend Nickster at the Unofficial Cedar Point Blog mentioned that even though all of my posts were so happy, the background was too gloomy. I couldn't take it anymore after that. So, I decided to get a new template and go for a more "fun" approach. I hope everyone likes it as much as I do!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

"Evanescence" | Evanescence

Five years have passed since Evanescence released their last album, The Open Door. Since they've been my favorite band since 2005 I have been especially excited for this album... not to mention quite impatient in the midst of my anticipation. Finally, they've come back with a different line-up as well as a general feel that sepreates from their previous albums in many ways. Everyone in the band contributed to the songwriting this time around, which was a big reason why they decided to name the album Evanescence. 

The album opens with the first single, "What You Want" and it may surprise people because it's so upbeat for Evanescence. It has a catchy hook and is undeniably infectious, making me unable to sit still. Amy's voice is a powerhouse and the band is rocking harder than ever, with Amy's piano of course.

"Made of Stone" follows, and it opens with heavy guitars with an eerie piano part overlapping it in the second half of the intro. Like the previous track, it's quite catchy. Amy's voice is angry and gorgeous all at the same time in this rock tune, repeatedly enforcing "It's never enough!". But, the bridge includes a very pretty piano bit that quickly gathers the drums and guitars and crescendos back into the band's new found heaviness.

The third track is called "The Change," and though the verses seem rather chill, the chorus blows up (I mean that in a good way). Amy's vocalizing might remind one of Alice in Chains and it sounds memorable and awesome! The lyrics are very good, much like in the next song, "My Heart is Broken." Although it certainly fits this new era, it reminds me of older Evanescence music, with Amy's soaring voice, the moving melodies, and combination of hard rock and classical. The piano is very potent throughout this piece as well, very soft at the beginning but it has a higher tempo for the rest of the song. All Evanescence fans should enjoy this one.

"The Other Side" is about death... but done differently. The drums begin the song, and even as the guitars and Amy's voice come in, it still sounds pretty upbeat. What is probably most noticeable is the fluiditys in the vocal line, and how cool it sounds when Amy sings "take me higher." But, the chorus and bridge are much bigger and darker than the verses, creating a very interesting track that captures a few different emotions. Next, we have "Erase This." A very catchy piano riff goes on throughout the song.

Evanescence has made the best ballads ever created in the history of the world and "Lost in Paradise" is no exception. Simplistic piano chords open the track, and Amy's voice sounds ethereal and vulnerable as she sings the best lyrics of the album. The piano picks up, strings come in, and between the chord progression and the emotion in Amy's voice, I get chills each time I hear her sing "...but I"m broken." When the band comes in, it emphasizes all the emotion in the lyrics and strengthens them. This will be the Evanescence fan anthem forever since it's about how Amy was "lost in paradise" when she took a break from the band. Amy herself has called it an "apology to the fans" in a track-by-track explanation with NME. It's beautiful and definitely my favorite from this album.

The eighth song is called "Sick," and the chorus immediately drew me in and had me pumping my fist. Amy's voice almost sounds scary as she belts out "Sick we are! Sick we are!" and for whatever reason it makes me think of the film V for Vendetta and overthrowing totalitarian governments. "End of the Dream" follows with a much more relaxing (yet still heavy) feel. The bridge sounds very metal-ish with the pounding, rythemic drums.

"Oceans" comes next, and it is one of my favorites. It opens with an electronic vibe, but it doesn't last long; the guitars kick in at the chorus, and are full-force in the urgent bridge. The vocalizing in the background of the chorus sounds purely amazing, and the line "cross the oceans in my mind" is just so classic to me. It's a great composition that will appeal to fans of just about any of Evanescence's eras.

The heaviest of the album is "Never Go Back," another one of the album's best tracks, written about the tsunami disaster in Japan. This is especially evident in my favorite line from the song: "The only world I've ever known sleeps beneath the waves." Metal is basically the only word to describe the heavy guitars, and Amy's voice still manages to soar above them. One of the best elements of this track is the epic bridge, where piano and guitars collide theatrically. I love it!

"Swimming Home" ends the standard edition of the album. It's by far the most different song from Evanescence; it's electronic and the harp is included for the first time. Again, it's about death, but in an usual way. It's about actually dying and saying goodbye. As previously mentioned, Evanescence is superior in the ballad department, but "Swimming Home" is probably the prettiest. Amy's gorgeous voice, the harp, and electronic composition is an otherworldly blend that will touch your heart.

The deluxe edition comes with four bonus tracks that are just as promising as this wonderful album. This includes "A New Way to Bleed," an awesome track that includes harp in the bridge; "Say You Will," a more upbeat track; "Disappear," a powerful song that won't disappoint those who enjoyed this album; and "Secret Door," a very unique and beautiful classical song that features the harp. "Secret Door" is probably the most relaxing song that's come from this band.

Evanescence has renovated their sound with every album, so the fact that this self-titled piece of work differs from the rest shouldn't be surprising to fans. Even so, I don't think that many will be disappointed in this new release. It's still very Evanescence-y and includes many fantastic songs. In my opinion, one of the biggest things that drives this band's music is the emotion put into each song that no one else can really capture, and there's plenty of that. Not to mention the incredible music.

Lyrically, this album is very strong. Amy seems more confident than ever, and in her writing it is evident that she knows there's a way out of darkness. It makes the album more positive than the other albums, yet it still has the dark vibe that comes with Evanescence's amazing music. She's a stronger person than ever before, and it shows.

Evanescence is back, and they are still the perfect band I've always believed them to be.

5/5 Stars

Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Help | Kathryn Stockett

The Help follows the intertwining stories of three women who narrate the novel, which is set up in Jackson, Mississippi during the 1960s. Racism is commonplace, and the black maids that work for white families are often underappreciated and discriminated against. Miss Skeeter, an aspiring writer, misses her family's previous African American maid who raised her, Constantine, but she left years ago and Miss Skeeter has no idea where she is. She longs to talk with Constantine, who had been a maternal figure to Miss Skeeter. After all, Constantine would not judge her like her mother constantly does.

While wondering where Constantine has gone and witnessing racist discrimination from everyone in town (especially Miss Hilly), Miss Skeeter has a controversial idea: To write a book of the true stories of various black maids in Jackson. Despite the awful risks, Aibileen, a maid who raises white children, and Minny, a maid who tends to smart mouth her bosses and often gets fired, decide to help Skeeter. All the while, these women have their own problems to face, altogether creating a wonderful story with so much depth in this story of radiant hope.
At my first glance of the movie trailers of The Help, I thought it looked like a chick flick version of To Kill a Mockingbird. Therefore, I immediately held intrerest in reading this book though weary of giving it a try. But even though it may be in the same league as To Kill a Mockingbird, it's actually quite different. I loved it.

The Help is an extraordinary novel with great characters that embody strength. The stories of Minny, Aibileen, and Miss Skeeter were so interesting and captivating I never wanted to put it down. Because of the three narrations, this book had an incredible amount of depth - much more depth than usual with books that have multiple narrations. I felt for so many of the characters, even in addition to the three narrators. Miss Celia, who is Minny's strange boss, has secrets that will break your heart. I enjoyed reading about how strange she is to Minny.

Between all of these characters, this story has everything: racism, depression, love, abusive relationships, bad parenting, good parenting, great characters, and hope. And all of this drama is captured with flawless writing from Kathryn Stockett, so it flows perfectly.

In the midst of all this, you'd be surprised by how much humor is woven into this novel. I've never read a book that made me smile so much. Ever. Even when something wasn't funny, I still managed to smile at this touching story. A lot of times, it was because of Aibileen and her relationship with Mae Mobley. There's no way that kid would be properly loved if Aibileen wasn't around to tell her that she was smart and pretty every day, because Elizabeth sure didn't care much. I was amazed at the bad parenting demonstrated here.

What really shocked me was the direct racism. I've read To Kill a Mockingbird a couple of times, but now I realize that since the situation in that book took place in court where you can't just come right out and say "I blame Tom Robinson because he's black" the racism was usually just hinted at. The Help is much more direct than that. People come right out and talk about awful things, like seperate bathrooms so none of the feared "diseases" can be caught. I couldn't believe it. And the antagonist, Hilly, seemed to be the epitome of it all, while other ladies just sat and agreed with her just for the sake of agreeing.

There's a reason for all of the hype behind The Help, and that reason is simply that it is a marvelous story. It will make you laugh and it will make you cry... I know I did quite a bit of both.

Please, for your sake, go read this book.

5/5 Stars

Stockett, Kathryn. The Help
New York: Penguin Group Inc.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Favorite Voices

I've been listening to tons of new music lately and that's inspired me to share with you all who my favorite vocalists are!

Amy Lee
*Lead singer of Evanescence
*Also recorded solo songs

With an amazing range of four octaves, Amy Lee has a very emotional, dark voice that can go so surprisingly high and low. People typically cheer when a singer hits crazy high notes, and that happens during Evanescence's live performances, but I've even seen videos of live performances where people cheer for how deep her voice can get. Her gorgeous voice just soars with the feeling she puts into every song.

Simone Simmons
*Lead singer of Epica

She's classically trained? Yeah, and it's obvious. What a wonderful, crystal-clear voice! Her flawless singing is what tends to give Epica a cross-over appeal for those that may think that Epica's music would be a bit too heavy for them, with potent guitars and Mark's grunting.

Sharon den Adel
*Lead Singer of Within Temptation
*Has done multiple duets

A wonderful soprano at her best. In early recordings, her voice had this cold factor that immediately made her seem other-worldly. Typically, she now sings with a compassionate, softer feel but far from weak. In songs like "The Promise" she sounds like an operatic powerhouse, but in others like "Sinead" we see a more fun side of her amazing voice.

Ben Burnley
*Lead singer of Breaking Benjamin

Ben's voice is so full, smooth, and dark. Yet he can still scream (darker still) in a way that sounds perfect and awesome. You really don't hear voices like this in the hard rock scene too often.

Emmy Rossum
*Solo artist
*Portrayed the role of Christine Daae in the 2004 film The Phantom of the Opera

A young operatic singer who wowed me with her talent in The Phantom of the Opera, which she starred as the leading lady, Christine Daae. Her voice has a sharpness and sincerity that gives me chills.

David Gilmour
*Lead singer of Pink Floyd

This guy has a voice that'll put you to sleep. Seriously, go buy any Pink Floyd album and tell me that his voice isn't incredibly relaxing, especially in the songs "Another Brick in the Wall: Part 1" and "Breathe". He's always sounded just as great live as he does on the studio-recorded albums, very chill, but still rock n' roll.

Lady Gaga
*Solo artist

Say what you will, but I really enjoy listening to Gaga's voice. I'm not absolutely crazy about how she sounded in her first album, The Fame, because she's shown big improvements in her latest album, Born This Way. Her voice gives off a classy, bluesey/rock n' roll feel in songs like "Speechless" and "You and I", and I think the world has been missing this for a while. Personally, I think she's basically the best at singing live in the pop music world.

Jackie Evancho
*Solo artist
*Contestant on America's Got Talent

Is there anybody out there who hasn't been moved by Jackie? The very first time I heard her on America's Got Talent my jaw just hung open in my moment of being completely awestruck that someone her age can sound so mature and beautiful.

Dave Gahan
*Lead singer of Depeche Mode

I'm not sure what main reason I have for finding his voice so appealing. There's just something about it that flows like velvet in its soft richness...

Chris Martin
*Lead singer of Coldplay

Of all the males on my list of favorite singers, Chris stands out as the highest in pitch. His voice can definitely be described as peaceful and soothing, and easily unique.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Cover Reveal

Even though I know I can't judge books by their covers, I must admit that I love book covers anyway and still appriciate them. P.C. Cast and Kristin Cast's House of Night book series has a lot of amazing covers. I love them all. Recently, the cover of the ninth book in the series, Destined, has finally been uncovered! And the Critica is quite happy with it!

Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Forest of Hands and Teeth | by: Carrie Ryan

When I first saw this book the title immediately intrigued me. Later on, I heard that The Forest of Hands and Teeth is about zombies. This turned me away since I've never cared much for the idea of zombies. If this fact also makes you want to stray from reading this, do not let it. The Forest of Hands and Teeth is scary and sophisticated.

In The Forest of Hands and Teeth, the world has turned horrifying. A small fenced-in village lies in the midst of the Forest and it is dominated by the ideals of the Sisterhood. Mary can only dream of life outside the Forest, for she has been told that they are the last of humankind, that only the Unconsecrated lurk in the Forest outside of the fences, trying to get in and kill off the rest of them. Still, Mary questions the Sisterhood as she makes a few discoveries about them and the outside world, which she refuses to believe is nonexistent.

Mary is quite unhappy with this confusion as well as the confusion of having two men in love with her. But when the Unconsecrated manage to slip through the fences, pandemonium spreads, and everything Mary believes is tested as she strives to survive.

Wow. That word pretty much sums up this reading experience. This is a gripping page turner that is both suspenseful and sad. It's kind of a combination of The Village and Clive Barker's The Plague, only done much better and will appeal to much more people.

From the very first page I knew that this novel is darkly and wonderfully well-written. It was so epicly beautiful and really fit the storyline and situations throughout the entire book. I can't stress the practically perfect writing enough! Carrie Ryan is an artist with words! It's part of the reason why I love this book so much!

The Forest of Hands and Teeth had an effect that I don't recall ever experiencing while reading... I actually got scared. And I don't scare easily. But the Unconsecreated never rest, and I kept jumping at noises I heard while reading and had eerie dreams if I read too late into the night. The general setting kind of creeped me out even though I loved it (I'm a fan of forests), and it's all because of the Unconsecrated.

Everything in this book is so different than others I've read. Although it's dystopian, it feels more like you're going backwards in time by the way the community functions under the Sisterhood. (Might I add, the Sisterhood also scared me!) Even the love theme was atypical. It isn't a typical love triangle, it's more of a love square, but it's not always the most evident thing in the storyline. It seems that Mary knew who she wanted, but the question of what was more important hung with her: Fulfiling her childhood dreams and her curiosity, or love? I've never read about this sort of thing before since in most books nowadays love isn't questioned unless there's more than one man involved. I'm happy for this refreshing change of feel, and it fits Mary's character and showed that she really valued exploration. She's is a curious wanderer surrounded by tragedy, and I felt for her.

The ending was satisfying, but I'm still anxious for more! I recommend this frightening apocalyptic tale to just about anyone... Go buy it and read it NOW!

5/5 Stars

Ryan, Carrie. The Forest of Hands and Teeth
London: Gollancz (imprint of Orion Publishing Group)

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Classics: The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

Classics is a little thing I started where I talk about classic novels (or older novels that have no need of being reviewed in this day and age). I do not necesarily review the books, just give my opinion and talk about why they're important, whether I enjoyed them or not.

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger may be one of the most widely read and questioned classic novels ever written ever since its release in 1951, as it deals with teenage angst, depression, and sexuality. However, many see that there's not much that happens in this story when you look at it through a general perspective. It's a novel that you have to look deep into in order to understand it. For that reason, some people do not care much for this novel. Personally, it's one of my favorites. I love it.

Holden Caulfield, the strange yet wonderful main character, has flunked out of college again and is headed for home. The story is led by his string of thoughts about how "phony" so many people in the world are and the reader sees he is oftentimes overcome by depression. It seems that the only people he really does care for is children, for they aren't phony like most adults. He finds realizations in the midst, and feels sad for those fake people he can hate so easily.

With that, some may think that it's odd that I can relate to Holden. I felt like I could understand him and agree with him on certain terms in ways I've never been able to relate to any other character or person. Holden may have taken those similarities between us to extents that are more extreme than I reflect them, and because of those extreme feelings of his, he's someone that I easily felt sorry for right away. I was depressed when he felt depressed, and I felt sorry for him when he was sorry for everybody - even people he didn't like.

It's too bad that The Catcher in the Rye isn't always understood. That such a marvelous piece of work is often challenged and even banned. There's something so much deeper to it. But I guess not everyone can be quite so peculiar as Holden nor as strange as me. Maybe that's why this book is so special to me; it speaks to me in a way that no other story ever has and others simply don't understand. That connection has to be rare, right?

I cried a couple of times while reading The Catcher in the Rye since it moved me so. It was a lot of firsts for me, and the way I could relate to some of the elements of this book wasn't the only first for me either. Immediately after putting it down, I wanted to read it again. That's never happened to me before.

This book is something that I can't even talk about in a way that conveys how I feel.

5/5 Stars

Friday, July 15, 2011

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 | Directed by David Yates | Written by Steve Kloves

Well, this is it. It's over.

We all picked up J.K. Rowling's final novel of the beloved series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows knowing that it would be the final book. There would be no more after that. But honestly... it didn't even feel over after the last page had been finished because we all knew that a marvelous movie would be made of it (in this case, two movies) and we could hold onto the magic for a little while longer. I, for one, could never really get the idea to sink in that at some point there wouldn't be anymore Harry Potter books or movies, and having grown up with this series... It's hard.

David Yates, the director of the last four films, only impressed me when it came to the Deathly Hallows films. He had the pressure of the Harry Potter loving world on his shoulders. Let it be lifted.

Action engulfs the entire film, but the emotions that are struck are even more potent. Everything that happened in the novel comes to life and is magnified in the most spectacular way in two senses: Seeing and feeling. The special effects could not have been better, and the story is depicted... basically, perfectly - and that's what we diehard fans are all about. And of course film scores are extremely important to me, and I immediately fell in love with this one. It had old, innocent themes as well as new dark themes that gave me chills. (Thank you so much, Alexandre Desplat, and John Williams for the creating the origins of the sound of pure magic.)

But this film had to be perfect. It had to be, otherwise majority of the world would have been cheated. Disappointment would have settled in me and turned to rage. Yeah, maybe people think I'm overdramatic, but honestly, this is the best series in the world. Hands down. None other book series nor film series will ever move the world as Harry Potter has moved us.

I know this isn't much of a review, but I really think that this occasion cannot be typical. How is the world going to even function without looking forward to another Harry Potter film? Will the records ever be topped? Because I personally hope they will never be surpassed.

The ending will not disappoint at all. Harry, Ron, and Hermione can ONLY be depicted so well by Daniel, Rupurt, and Emma... Thanks to them for being as fantastic as the series itself.

For the last hour of the movie, I cried and cried consistantly. Not only because of the mere fact that this was the ending of it all, but because of the touching story itself. Oh, Snape...

Farewell, Harry Potter. Forever.

5/5 Stars

And for the record, if they ever decide to recreate these film in the future, don't expect me to watch them. When it's perfect the first time there's only room for disappointment when someone tries to do it over again.

Thank you J.K. Rowling. I don't think you'll ever realize the impact of your story on the world.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Illusions | by: Aprilynne Pike

Aprilynne Pike's latest release, Illusions (note that the UK title is Wild), is the third book in her wonderful series of friendship, love, and faeries.

Laurel has gone through quite a bit in the past couple of years, for she has learned that she is a faerie and that trolls are a threat to her life. But, luckily, no trolls seem to be lurking or causing any trouble lately. So when Tamani returns to the human world, saying that the trolls have not been absent as she has believed, it is a surprise that sends Laurel's world upside-down. Not only because of the peril the trolls will bring, but because Tamani's return reignites the love triangle between him, Laurel, and Laurel's human boyfriend named David.

Plus, there's a surprise you never saw coming.

Illusions is a great installment in this series! Aprilynne Pike did not let me down! I adored both of the previous books in the series, Wings and Spells just as I adored this one, but Illusions definately has the most unexpected twists and turns. Also, it was nice to have the third-person narration set on Tamani as well as Laurel.

At this point, I'm positively sure of which side I'm on as far as the love triangle, and it really gets heated in Illusions. Things are starting to get a little out of hand between Tamani and David, and Laurel's mixed feelings will leave readers frustrated. Tamani seems to stop at nothing to have her, and of course David has a problem with it. But David really irritated me when he got so out of line.

The love theme is strong in this novel, stronger than in the previous books of this series. However, that does not mean that there wasn't any room for action. It may not have been quite as suspensful, but definately the most mysterious of the three books in the series. This is my favorite element of the book. We are introduced to a new character, Yuki, and much of the book is about figuring her out as well as understanding how the trolls seem to get by, leaving little trace. All of this probably sounds like chaos, and it kind of is. Laurel has a lot to worry about and readers will have plenty of entertainment in front of them.

Although the chaos in Laurel's life doesn't feel quite so chaotic, because Aprilynne Pike is a writer that knows what she's doing. The only time I've ever had to re-read anything in this book is because of something in the plot that surprised me. That being said, Aprilynne keeps everything crystal clear and flowing quite nicely.

Of course... Aprilynne left us with a cliffhanger... A cliffhanger that's basically a couple sentences after the intense climax. I feel as though more and more authors are doing that these days. I wonder if they enjoy our suffering, waiting for their next book to be published like the overly eager fans many of us are. We get some general idea of what's going on, what's behind the mysteries, but not the specifics. There's still so much to know about the trolls, Klea, and Yuki.

I loved Illusions. It's magical, it's romantic, and it's interesting. I just wish the final book was waiting for me on my shelf...

4/5 Stars

Pike, Aprilynne. Illusions
New York: Harper Teen

Monday, June 27, 2011

Awakened | by: P.C. Cast + Kristin Cast

*Since this is the eighth book in the House of Night series, I cannot garuntee that there will be absolutely no spoilers. The more of the previous books you've read, the less spoilers you will encounter.

Just two years ago I fell in love with this mother/daughter duo's House of Night book series, and it's amazing to see how this story grows and evolves so much.

Zoey and Stark remain within the Isle of Skye, recovering from their life-altering journey which we read all about in the previous novel, Burned. But will they ever really get a break? Chaos still rages at Tulsa's House of Night, especially since Neferet has returned. She seeks to destroy Zoey, and Zoey's friends at the House of Night are not the least bit fooled otherwise.

Told through multiple narrations, different stories and different sides are seen clearly, helping us to truly understand what's going on. Espeically with Rephaim and Stevie Rae. Can Stevie Rae convince Rephaim to leave the side of Darkness for the Light? And besides, Stevie Rae doesn't want to lie to her friends as she hides her secret anymore.

I. Love. This. Series! (Thank you, Grandma, for buying me the first four books for Christmas!) I have nothing bad to say about Awakened because it was so awesome!

Throughout my Burned review I mentioned that I'm so amazed by how this series has evolved so much. Honestly, I think it has a lot to do with the multiple narrations. Now, we get to hear the antagonists' point of view and what they go through (like what Kalona truly thinks of Neferet), as well as other protagonists like Stevie Rae. Speaking of Stevie Rae, I remain utterly captivated by her story and how it is completely intertwined with Rephaim. The situation may be kind of messy, but still, sort of beautiful. I loved every aspect of Awakened, but their story made me the most nervous.

Also, Zoey has grown a lot since the first book. Zoey tries so hard to be a great High Priestess and has emerged as a strong leader. It drives me absolutely crazy that Neferet is such an idiot and tries to make her look bad.

Out of all the House of Night novels, Awakened is the most moving. I teared up about five times while reading this, and almost cried. Everyone goes through a lot or has been through a lot, and their Goddess of Night, Nyx, is always enforcing the most important law of life, that love is always the best choice. "Always love." I seem to like Nyx more and more nowadays. Keeps me close to my own religion.

Of course, there's plenty going on for the duration of the entire novel. I can promise that you won't get bored and find yourself unable to put the book down. The twists at the end actually left me gasping, and the cliffhanger really isn't helping my House of Night Anxiety right now. Well, I guess it's some degree of a satisfying cliffhanger, if there's ever such a thing. I guess it could be worse. Anyway, I'm so excited for Destined. I look at P.C. Cast's blog often, and I can assure you she's working very hard on it.

Awakened is a wonderful installment, and I didn't expect it to be this good since the previous novel was so wonderful. It's an action packed novel that'll touch your heart.

"Always love."

5/5 Stars

Cast, P.C. and Cast, Kristin. Awakened
New York: St. Martin's Press

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Torment | by: Lauren Kate

Torment is the second installment in Lauren Kate's Fallen series, and I must say, it took me way too long to finally go buy this book.

Luce's boyfriend, Daniel, is a fallen angel, so things are never simple. Just as she left Sword and Cross, a jail-like reform school, she must go to Shoreline (a school where she's the only one who's fully human) until she's safe from the Outcasts. Of course she's saddened that she cannot be with Daniel yet after she's finally found him in this lifetime, but he's not telling her everything about thier past, nor their future. While at Shoreline, Luce makes a few friends as she tries to find out what she can, between learning about their past lives together as well as the shadows she's been seeing her whole life.

I really enjoyed the first novel in the series, Fallen, and Torment is just as good! (And I'm not just referring to their gorgeous covers!) All of the characters really hold their own throughout the novel, for Lauren Kate distinguished them quite well. Any time I laughed during this rather dark book was because of a character's interesting idiosycrasies. So as far as character development goes, it's one of the strengths of Torment, and Lauren Kate's writing is still as appealing as ever.

However, when I first began reading this book, my expectations were on the lower side. Not only because sequals have a tendancy to disappoint, but because of the lack of information which lasted throughout all of Fallen and the very beginning of Torment. Luce was pretty much clueless, and so was I. But, that's one of the great things about this novel. In the end, we find out so much about the shadows she's seen and the gravity of the situation, which is also easier to understand. We still don't know everything at the end of the book, but I know I feel much better in that department.

Luce, the main character, became much more three dimensional to me. She questioned her relationship with Daniel as well as her relationship with her new friend, Miles. I didn't agree with her right off the bat because I trusted Daniel as a character, but it wasn't long until I understood her reasonable (yet conflicting) perspective. I remained as unsure as she was; she realized that Daniel didn't tell her everything and that she may just be going through motions. Still, once in a while the romance of this novel felt corny, mainly because of Daniel's gushy dialogue, which surprised me since he was such a jerk in the last book. But, this didn't last, and I only felt this way a few other times while reading.

There's more action in Torment than in Fallen, and this definately made me happy since it's one of the best elements of the series in general. Fights between the angels, demons, and Outcasts were so epic and unique to me, and I commend Lauren Kate for that. Angels have always captivated me, and I find Nephilim, demons, and Outcasts to be quite interesting subjects, so it's natural that I love hearing about them in this novel.

Fans of the first will not be disappointed. Torment will entertain readers with its dark romantic theme and leave everyone wanting more after its remarkable cliff-hanger of an ending.

4/5 Stars

Kate, Lauren. Torment
New York: Delacorte Press

Friday, May 27, 2011

Born This Way | Lady Gaga

Little Monsters, rejoice! Mother Monster is back with her new album, Born This Way, a wide variety of unique sounds and ideas that is just as good as (or even better than) her previous creation, The Fame Monster.

(However, I would like to say that I am reviewing the standard version. I am an owner of the Expanded Edition, and it has seventeen tracks on disc one and remixes on disc two. I especially encourage the purchase of this version because it includes the track "Black Jesus + Amen Fashion," which is like going to a fashion show, yet at the same time admiring Jesus! The first disc also includes "The Queen" and "Fashion of His Love.")

The album opens with "Marry the Night." Right away, I knew that it was one of the most empowering (yet somehow sad) song any pop star has done. The synthetic chords fit together so spectacularly that it gave me chills, sort of like The Fame Monster's impact, but stronger. All in all, this song is kind of everything. It's happy, it's carefree, but something about it is so much deeper.

Of course, the next track is the lead single from the album, called "Born This Way." The intro is epic, with a narration from Gaga, and it sort leads to a random explosion of sound. I'd like to call this the first ever pop gospel about how everyone is beautiful no matter what because they were "Born This Way." But then the next song is "Government Hooker," and this is where things get weird, even for Gaga. A mystic, operatic beginning leads to an electronic, bass-thumping sound, and obviously the lyrics of this song are quite sexually provocative (I mean come on, it's about being a hooker).

Next up is "Judas," which is one of the bounciest songs on the album with it's pop/electronic synthezisers and Lady Gaga's accented vocalizing that puts Shakira to shame. This is definately a favorite of mine. "Judas" isn't the only culture exploring song though, "Americano" is clearly a Spanish-influenced song, and she speaks much more Spanish in this than in the Spanglish in her last album. ("Hair" follows this song, and it brings more of a positive message about being free.) Also, "Schibe" is spoken in some German, and it's definately the song from Born This Way that will most likely be played in clubs world-wide since it's energy is off the charts.

"Bloody Mary" is track number eight, and it is the darkest Lady Gaga song that the world knows of. It's almost a dark-cabnet type of song, resembling the style of little-known singer/violinist Emilie Autumn. She screams twice, and there are points in the verses where she practically growls. The bridge is epic, with a male choir singing "Ga-ga." Being a fan of creepy music, this is probably my favorite from the album.

"Bad Kids" is something that reminds me of the 80's, in musical content as well as lyrical content. You just don't hear songs like this anymore, where "Bad Kids" are the cause of their parents divorce and are 'punks.' Anymore, being bad is all about smoking something illegal and sex. This song surprised me. "Highway Unicorn (Road to Love)" is another empowering track with a fabulous ending, and is completely unlike "Bad Kids" but both songs have less of an electronic vibe. The drums are very potent "Highway Unicorn (Road to Love)" and you get some guitar action in "Bad Kids".

Next up on the standard edition is "Heavy Metal Lover," though no metal is included. It's very electronic, in the same sense of "Government Hooker" but the songs don't sound the same. Gaga's voice almost blends with the music, and it's catchy, yet sort of relaxing. It's sort of in league with "Electric Chapel" in the sense that it's relaxing, but the songs are so different in influence, for we're back to the 80's again with "Electric Chapel." The guitars run off and on throughout with an electric flow, and sometimes church bells are heard, making the whole thing sort of eerie in the midst of it's energy.

"You and I" serves Gaga's tradition of putting something kind of old school in her albums, with a blusey piano and almost unsynthesized guitars and drums. It's the love song of the album, the song you belt out in the shower. It kind of shows how Lady Gaga is influenced is influenced by stuff that's totally different than majority of the songs she writes.

The final song is called "The Edge of Glory," and it's happy and sad all at once. It's a chill-inflicting pop song, and so far, Lady Gaga has been the only one to accomplish such a thing. Saxophones are in parts of the song, giving it a pop-jazz-nighttime feel, especially as it fades out, ending the song. Put your paws up for this one, because there's some sort of unexplainable beauty about this song.

Born This Way will not disappoint fans, I can garuntee that. If anything, it'll grant Lady Gaga even more fans (is that even possible?) because of all the different types of sounds compacted into one magnificent album, all put together by one person. Thank you, Gaga!

5/5 Stars