Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Most Intimidating Books

Oh my goodness, it's time for Top Ten Tuesday, hosted at The Broke and the Bookish.
Top Ten Most Intimidating Books
1. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov. I just... I can't. I've heard that this book has fantastic writing... But, in case you guys don't know, IT'S ABOUT A PEDOPHILE. If I can hardly make it through the summary, how am I going to read the entire book? I've heard it can be called a "love story" or whatever... Just, no. This sounds way too gross and way too creepy; there's no way I can handle something like this.
2. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson. I've heard nothing but wonderful things about this book. Everyone says that it's got such a great message about speaking up, and I don't doubt any of that whatsoever. It's to the point that I know it's a moving, unforgettable novel despite never reading it. But I just know it'll make me cry and feel miserable since it's about a girl who was raped, so I stay away from it. I'm too emotional.
3. Anything by Nicholas Sparks. Once again, I'm too emotional, and from what I understand, all of his books are tear-jerkers that involve primary characters dying.
4. The Mortal Instruments series by Cassandra Clare. There are a lot of books in this series. Big books. And even if I don't like the series as much as everyone else, there's a chance that I waste my life on the entire series when I could be reading other books. It's not that I'm expecting to dislike it;  I'm actually quite curious about it. It's just that a few years ago I read the first chapter of City of Bones and wasn't feeling it, so I picked up another book instead. I know that it was probably just a mood thing and that I probably shouldn't judge an entire series based off of one chapter, but I'm intimidated nevertheless.
5. A Song of Ice and Fire series by George R. R. Martin. So many books, so little time.
6. Anything by Sarah Dessen. I'm not sure if 'intimidate' is the right word for how I feel about Sarah Dessen's books. There's just something about them that seems off-putting, but I can't put my finger on what it is. Maybe it's just that they look really girly? But that wouldn't make sense for me, because I am a girl and appreciate the good things in life like things that are pink and sparkly... So I don't know. Everyone loves her, but somehow I'm intimidated.
7. Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins. Again, I'm not sure if 'intimidate' is the correct word to describe how I feel about this one. I find it off-putting despite everyone raving about how good it is... Readers, prepare for a stream of consciousness: Why is the guy cut off from the front cover? That bugs me. I suppose the title intimidates me. (Seriously, Anna, whoever you are, get a room.) But perhaps I just have issues with contemporary novels... I love contemporary, don't get me wrong, but I always cringe whenever I hear of people that only read contemporary or mostly contemporary. I'm not sure why...
8. Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand. It's HUGE. It's on my bookshelf just staring at me all the time! And what if it isn't worth it? What if I don't like it and make myself trudge through all those pages?
9. Anything that looks sad. For the millionth time: I'm too emotional.
10. The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper. I've seen the movie, and I loved it, but I've heard that the novel is incredibly boring. I'm not sure why I'm listening to people when it comes to this book; I rarely ever take other people's opinions into my own consideration because I just need to figure this stuff out myself. I guess it's just the overwhelming amount of people that seem to like the movie better.

Let me know if any of these intimidate you or not, and feel free to leave the link to your list in the comments so I can visit. Have a fabulous day!

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Pompeii | Directed by Paul W.S. Anderson | Screenplay by Janet Scott Batchler, Lee Batchler, and Michael Robert Johnson

I've always been fascinated by Pompeii - and really, who isn't? A completely catastrophic natural disaster annihilated an entire city almost two thousand years ago, yet the remains of the dead are still there in an ashy, sculpture-esque form, frozen in time. It just shows how Mother Nature can kick our asses and keep us bound to her forever if she pleases... Pompeii's a pretty deep subject. So, I got excited when I first saw the trailer for Pompeii; it's an ambitious thing to bring to film. Not only did this movie promise special effects galore, but it also promise an interesting take on the event. One cannot simply make a film just about a volcano, not matter how horrible the eruption was. They had to add an actual storyline.
There are a lot of movies about ancient Rome out there, and a lot of them deal with gladiators or battles. So naturally, this is the route Pompeii took with its story portion. Milo's (Kit  Harington) entire family was massacred by Romans and he was taken as a slave, so he proceeded to live his life engaged in gladiatorial battles in his attempts to stay alive. He meets a high-class woman named Cassia (Emily Browning), who treats him so kindly it interferes with her own life, which is about to be nearly as sabotaged by the Romans as Milo's had been. But then Mount Vesuvius erupts, and the string of consequences it brings is both a blessing to Milo and a curse.
I enjoyed Pompeii. Is it perfect? No, but it serves its purpose. There were moments when I had issues with either the script of the acting (I couldn't tell which was more to blame at times) toward the beginning, and Roman brutality was quite prominent throughout the whole film (which is far from the easiest for me to watch, personally), but like I said, it serves it's purpose.
I must say I found myself wishing that Milo and Cassia's relationship had more time to develop, but let's be realistic: This plot is set almost two thousand years ago. Relationships in general hardly mattered half the time, let alone the pace and progression. But I really did like seeing Milo and Atticus' friendship form and hold, especially in their alliance to go against the city responsible for their enslavement. It's easy to feel sorry for them and understand how Mount Vesuvius' eruption was more of a bittersweet event for them.
Honestly though, the only thing that filmmakers had to get right was Mount Vesuvius' role since that's what this movie is really about anyway; that was made apparent at the very beginning. Seeing that enormous volcanic reaction in 3D was intense and cinematic, just as one would expect. The way it the ash blocked the sun and eventually rained down, getting heavier and heavier as the movie came to a close. The way it was consistently horrifying as it just kept going. The lightning above it... They added all the details I can think of.
Still, I can see why there'd be arguments for this film not being accurate to the details of the disaster itself. In fact, I was questioning this myself. I always thought suffocation was what ultimately destroyed the people of Pompeii, so I thought it was a bit odd that this didn't really happen at all in the film. From what I've seen around the Internet as I was browsing around today, I guess there's quite a bit of speculation and no one is really 100% sure, so we can't really judge.
However, Pompeii's biggest accomplishment might be its music. It was quite bombastic and complemented the film very well with its epic choirs; it played a very prominent role throughout, especially during Mount Vesuvius' scenes.
So all things considered, Pompeii wasn't bad. I'm pleased with it in a lot of senses, but I also feel lukewarm about it in a lot of senses. I don't really watch ancient Rome-related movies and mainly went to see this for the take on the natural disaster, so that's probably why it doesn't strike me as super amazing. I liked it, it was well-worth the watch - I just didn't like it quite as much as I wanted to.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

The Killing Moon | by: N.K. Jemisin

Ehiru is a Gatherer, collecting the dreamblood of souls for the good of his people, the people of Gujaareh. His deep devotion to the goddess Hananja has guided him in this job; he and the rest of Gujaareh's citizens live to keep peace in her name. But now, Ehiru's whole world is turned upside down. A Gathering gone wrong, forewarnings of corruption in their society... But are the warnings true?
Alongside a spy from a neighboring city and his apprentice, Nijiri, Ehiru will discover horrifying secrets of his city-state and the strange being that roams it. All the while, debates concerning Gujaareh's use of magic flare. How can something so normal to Ehiru be so wrong in a foreigner's eyes?

The Killing Moon is the first novel of N.K. Jemisin's Dreamblood duology, the second being The Shadowed Sun (which also has a beautiful cover). I discovered this novel on Goodreads some months ago, and of course, the drop dead gorgeous cover attracted me to it, leading me to a most peculiar fantasy-oriented summary. Ever since then, I have needed to read this book.

Now that I've finally read it, I can definitely say that it's a very unique piece of fiction. I don't just mean that in terms of plot and magical elements, but I've simply never read a book set in a mock-Egyptian society. It was refreshing to be in such a different world, and Jemisin did a wonderful job crafting it. At the beginning of each chapter, a law of Gujaareh or a piece of wisdom is written before the scene begins, which helped us get to know the world she created even better. Plus, her writing style is just lovely; she definitely has a lot of skill in that department.
The characters really stood out as well, especially Ehiru and Nijiri. Both meant well and were guided by love for their goddess in addition to love for each other. But I must admit, their relationship confused me. They have a father/son relationship, yet they were also in love in a romantic way (mainly Nijiri). The idea of both relationships taking place at once made sense for their scenario, but it kind of freaked me out. I just can't imagine being in love with someone and then comparing them to a parent. But like I said, it does make sense for their particular scenario, whether anyone likes it or not.
Throughout the novel, there's a huge debate concerning the ways Gatherers use magic, and it parallels to debates on mercy-killing. Anyone reading this book won't be frustrated with this, because the author doesn't really force anyone to pick sides. We're dealing with prominent characters with differing opinions on the matter, and after a while, the problems with Gujaareh become bigger than this debate... Reapers are scary (though very interesting to read about).
Oftentimes when I was reading The Killing Moon, I kind of wanted more. There were just a few things that felt a little bit two-dimensional that primarily had to do with magic and dreamblood. I guess I just had a hard time picturing dreamblood, so I wanted to hear more about it on a physical, scientific level. That was probably my biggest complaint as I read. Anything else that seemed to fall flat was inflated in the end - the end of this book is definitely the best part. So much is explained that I didn't see coming! But the ending turned out to have emotional appeal as well. It made my heart sink a bit.

But this book has some interesting features after the story that I'd like to mention: A helpful glossary to guide us while reading (so we understand words like "dreamseed" and "jungissa") and a fun author interview. The author interview was particularly awesome because N.K. Jemisin got to interview herself, and she has a great sense of humor! A unique addition to a unique novel.

So overall, I'd say The Killing Moon has a lot to offer. I liked this book - it didn't strike me as 'Omg, this is mah new favorite!' or anything like that, it just has an excellent quality to it and I've never read anything like this before. N.K. Jemisin accomplished a lot with it, and anyone looking for a different kind of fictional world will find this refreshing.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Tuomas Holopainen of Nightwish Releases First Solo Video: "A Lifetime of Adventure"

Fans of Nightwish may be interested to know that Tuomas Holopainen, the band's keyboardist and primary composer, is set to release a solo album entitled Music Inspired by the Life and Times of Scrooge, which pays homage to The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck by Don Rosa (click on the link I gave, it gives tons of details about this upcoming album). The first single is called "A Lifetime of Adventure," which features Johanna Kurkela on vocals.
The official music video has just been released, and it even includes Don Rosa himself, for he is the illustrator of the album. There isn't some epic story that goes along with the video or anything like that, it's just a sneak peak of everything this album is about. There's some beautiful imagery along with the musicians recording their parts for the record, singers in the studio, photos of the process, Don Rosa painting... My description may sound like a complete clustersnub, but like I said, it gives us a picture of the album as a whole. It's a nice preview.
The track itself is absolutely perfect for winter; it easily could've been on the Chronicles of Narnia's soundtrack (which I loved to death). Great timing since the Winter Olympics are just beginning! Johanna Kurkela's voice is very pretty and fits the track well, and I must admit I'd never heard of her before this song. (I believe Johanna Iivanainen is the other woman that comes in, correct?) "A Lifetime of Adventure" is a relaxing piece of music; it doesn't show itself off too much. There's a magical, lighthearted feel to it that I really enjoy.
I'm not familiar with The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck, so I can't really say anything about how the music fits the story, and I can't really be excited about the concept of the album, but the point is that it's Tuomas. He's proved time and time again that he's a fantastic songwriter, and I couldn't be happier to hear his work in a score-like setting.
If you've enjoyed the classical elements of Nightwish's music, I definitely recommend this. Or, if you're just embracing this particularly frigid weather up here in the northern hemisphere, chill out to this as you shiver under a blanket/Snuggie.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Hydra | Within Temptation

Dutch symphonic metal legend Within Temptation has finally released their sixth studio album, Hydra, thus changing their sound yet again. The fact that the band has decided to go in a bit of a different direction is not surprising whatsoever; every single one of their previous albums have all been very different from another. Their last album, The Unforgiving, changed the sound in a way that made some fans frustrated. While I must say that I loved The Unforgiving and gave it an extremely positive review on this blog years ago, it has never been my favorite Within Temptation album. Hydra is definitely an overall improvement, bringing the band back to some of its older roots but still being quite dissimilar.

I've been counting the days until Hydra's release for months, for Within Temptation is one of my top two favorite bands of all time. I must say I particularly appreciate the theme of this album as well as the heaviness, which wasn't as present on the last album.

Hydra opens with a quiet, atmospheric synth that crescendos to a stop, cuing the gorgeous and explosive opening guitar riffs (layered with strings, of course) of "Let Us Burn." Melodic lead singer Sharon den Adel's signature vocalizing comes in towards the end of the powerful intro before the eerie verse kicks in, but her vocal style in the chorus is completely different - she's belting it out like nobody's business. I absolutely loved the demo version we were privileged to hear on the Paradise (What About Us?) EP, but this finished version is perfect. Sharon's vocalizing in the intro, new haunting backing vocals in the second verse, amplified string lines, slight changes in some of the choruses' vocal lines, and that middle eight! A choir can now be heard during the middle eight, making it much more epic. "Let Us Burn" is an extremely impressive heavy track filled with emotion.

The second song is "Dangerous," an energetic collaboration with Howard Jones of Killswitch Engage. It was definitely a smart single choice with its heavy, catchy guitar riffs. As Howard Jones sings his half of the verse, Sharon vocalizes with her head voice in the background, creating a fantastic contrast between the two very different vocalists, but their voices end up going relatively well together for the chorus. Really, "Dangerous" is a great morning song; it's bound to get anybody pumped.

Even though Within Temptation fans should be used to the band trying new things all the time, "And We Run" may the most different of anything they've tried, for it features Xzibit - a rapper. While I've been open to the idea of merging rock with rap, I really don't think this is one of Within Temptation's better ideas. The verses are too small for rap, which usually requires longer verses due to the quick recitations, and I'm really not a fan of rapping when it's slower than the speed at which I talk. So, maybe I would've liked it better at a different pace or with a different rapper. The chorus didn't do much for me either, but I must say that I loved the choir in the instrumental.

I'm not concerned though. I highly doubt Within Temptation will try the whole rap thing again since they change so much, and one lackluster song on a fantastic album won't burst my happy bubble.

And I'm sure we all know that their fantastic duet with Tarja can't break anybody's happy bubble. As I said in my review of the EP that was released some months ago, I absolutely love "Paradise (What About Us?)" - what an epic song! It was also #1 on my Top 13 Singles of 2013 list. I must've listened to it on the EP a million times by now and it still isn't old. Those strings are so urgent and catchy as they morph with the guitars, the instrumentation of the verses is just awesome, and the chorus and middle eight are incredibly powerful... I love every aspect of the track. And I must add that this is the first Within Temptation song I've ever heard on the radio on my side of the world (FINALLY), so it definitely served well as the first single.

Halfway through the album, things slow down a bit with "Edge of the World." "Edge of the World" is the track that really surprised me, and I mean that in the best way possible. It begins quite softly with subtle percussion and some strings, but things start to change in the second verse as more instruments come in, eventually bringing in electric guitars with the chorus. A beautiful moment of piano and cello begins the middle eight, giving me chills, and then BAM. Heaviness. Chaotic, screechy violins overlap dark guitars and more intense drumming than usual. That last chorus is just perfect. It's so strange to remember that when "Edge of the World" began, I didn't think I'd like it, but it ended up being my favorite song from Hydra. It's absolutely gorgeous!

Next, the fast-paced "Silver Moonlight" takes fans of  Within Temptation's older material down memory lane. Robert Westerholt's grunts/growls (which were found on Enter, The Dance EP, and the song "Jane Doe") have returned, but that isn't the only resemblance to older material. The guitar riffs are sort of reminiscent of their past music as well. Sharon's vocals are rather impressive on this track, and they're much more edgy than usual, just as I mentioned when I reviewed the song's demo on the Paradise (What About Us?) EP. Like the other songs that we heard early versions of, "Silver Moonlight"  has endured a lot of technical improvement before surfacing on the album.

"Covered by Roses," the seventh track, caught my attention right away with its smooth flow. Sharon vocalizes quite a bit in between the catchy verses and fantastic chorus. Her voice has a nice light tone throughout the track, making this song a rather pretty (though upbeat) one. The middle eight is another highlight of the song with its dramatic strings and eventual breakdown, which left a distorted piano and a child's narration. Another great addition to Hydra.

"Dog Days" is a piano-led ballad that we got to hear the demo of on the Paradise (What About Us?) EP, and the instrumentation is now much cleaner and connected. It's not a bad song, but it doesn't really shine to me, making it my second least favorite from Hydra. At the end, Sharon repeatedly belts "these are the dog days," which doesn't sound like the easiest thing to do... I personally prefer her to switch to her upper register when singing high  notes (because it sounds so pretty!), but more power to her for trying different techniques. We all have our preferences.

The ninth track, "Tell Me Why," pumps up the volume one last time. The guitar riffs in the entire song are heavy and intriguing as Sharon's voice soars - especially those verses! The middle eight begins with vocals (including more of Robert's grunts/growls!) and ends with vocals, but the middle is a bit of an instrumental explosion. The rhythm guitars are so dark during the middle eight under the awesome guitar solo. "Tell Me Why" is one of the heaviest songs on the album, and there's a unique sense of fluidity to it.

But, Hydra had to end at some point. "Whole World is Watching" is the last song at the album, ending it on a soft note. It begins with a bit of guitar and a gorgeous violin. The song features Dave Pirner (the lead singer of Soul Asylum), and it reminds me of "Utopia" in some ways. The best parts are the second half of the chorus and the middle eight as Sharon shows off on the higher vocal lines. It's not one of my favorites per se, but it's still a great song; I really like this one. However, it ends a bit too abruptly for me - especially as an album closer.

But despite any flaws or dislikable qualities found on this rather energetic new album (in my case, mainly just "And We Run" and "Dog Days," and I did find positives in both), it's easy to say that Within Temptation has done it again. The direction they've taken is a bit more metal than symphonic, but the symphonic elements are certainly still there. Within Temptation is doing something different while giving us flashbacks of older work off and on throughout the album, surely giving even the pickiest fans something to enjoy.

Personally, I will be unabashedly replaying Hydra for a long time. I'm sure many others will as well.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

The Fault in Our Stars' Trailer has FINALLY Been Released

I read and reviewed John Green's tearjerker The Fault in Our Stars a year and a half ago after a somewhat long period of avoiding it. I knew how sad it would be, and I tend to avoid sad books since I'm overly emotional and cry over everything. And cry I did. The Fault in Our Stars is such a heartbreaking, emotional novel; John Green definitely created a masterpiece. Considering its popularity, it's no wonder that we're getting a film adaptation soon.
But now we finally have the trailer after waiting anxiously. It's a good trailer; it even features the song "We're on Our Way" by Radical Face, which was in my head the entire time I was reading the book. I couldn't believe they picked such a perfect song for it. Shailene Woodley looks like she'll be a great Hazel, but I'm not sure about Ansel Elgort as Augustus yet. He seems to portray Augustus well, but he's just different than the Augustus in my head. I'm not going to be a Negative Nancy about it though; I'm sure I'll grow to appreciate his performance when I see the film.
I bawled when I read the book, I cried a little at the trailer, and I know when I eventually see the movie I'll be a hot mess. I don't think I've ever been this afraid of seeing a movie in theatres. I just know I'm going to be a hysterical mess and embarrass myself. But, I digress. This is just going to have to be the first movie I take a box of tissues with me to see.