Monday, April 28, 2014

Classics: The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

Sylvia Plath's only novel, The Bell Jar, is a generally bleak piece of fiction in itself, but knowing that this book is partially an autobiographical account of Plath's struggles and knowing what happened to her in the end just makes it all the more depressing. Plath incorporates pieces of herself in the form of Esther Greenwood, an intern at a fashion magazine. She falls into a deep state of depression, and as she's numb in the present and oftentimes thinking of the past, she seems to be losing her mind. But of course, when readers encounter this book today, we consider all of Plath's ties to the scenario, and as much as we want Esther Greenwood to be okay, we also want Sylvia to be okay... But she wasn't.
The Bell Jar itself is a very emotional novel, but like I said, knowing Plath's history makes it even more depressing. It's just harder to take in knowing that someone was really feeling like this, that someone was that desperate to die. While it's easy to feel sympathetic for Esther Greenwood/Sylvia Plath, it isn't so easy (for me) to relate to the situation, but I feel like if I could relate, it would've been a very long, overwhelming read (despite the book itself is small) because it's so honest. It reveals so much in such a natural style.

Esther tells us about quite a few experiences she's had, between the death of her father, her time in New York at a fashion magazine, and her relationship with Buddy Willard. They all add up; the memories weigh heavily on her mind. Her grip on reality loosens gradually, for she begins this tumult of severe depression and anxiety by withdrawing bit by bit. We also get to read about her experiences with electroshock therapy, and how that first time made her frightened of any treatment of the sort for a while. I've never read anything of the sort before.

But what I believe this novel seems to do best is capture readers with flowy, basically perfect writing. Plath's prose is gorgeous; The Bell Jar is incredibly well-written. I could tell that much just by reading the first half of the first page. There are so many beautiful (and sad) quotes within that I kept going back to reread them and absorb them once again. I also really loved the poem featured at the end, "Mad Girl's Love Song." Plath is just such a talented writer; The Bell Jar may be her only novel, but I am definitely going to read all her poetry.

Plath's beautiful prose is half the allure of The Bell Jar. She just has ways of saying things that just sound so perfectly fitting. But unfortunately, the other half of the allure is seeing a glimpse of how she was really feeling. It isn't a happy read. It's gloomy and devastating, but it's honest, and it stays in one's thoughts after finishing.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Broken Crown Halo | Lacuna Coil

Lacuna Coil has made a lot of amazing music throughout its career. I've always respected this band even though they've also made some music that's left me indifferent. Their latest release, Broken Crown Halo, came out within the past month. The album title may be a bit of a clustersnub, but the music is even more solid than I expected. It stays true to what they've been doing for the past few albums, but it also throws back to some of their older work.

"Nothing Stands in Our Way" is the first track, displaying a heavier approach than what's been Lacuna Coil's usual. Cristina Scabbia's vocal line in the verses is both flowy and fierce while Andrea Ferro joins her for the chorus. After the middle eight, the chorus breaks down to an intense, pulsating staccato (one of the song's best aspects) that never fails to leave me swaying in my seat. Ferro and Scabbia take turn vocalizing at the end, finally leaving us with Scabbia's very powerful, vocally-strong last line, "That's our way." "Nothing Stands in Our Way" is addictive and impressive and stands as one of the album's best songs.

Other strong highlights from Broken Crown Halo include “I Forgive (But I Won’t Forget Your Name),” “Cybersleep,” and “I Burn in You.” All three songs lack the speedy ferocity of "Nothing Stands in Our Way," for they all have a certain mellow quality despite the ever-present electric instruments. But, that certainly doesn't mean that any of these songs are passive; Scabbia's voice embodies plenty of emotion in all three - in fact, the single "I Forgive (But I Won't Forget Your Name)" probably wouldn't stand out as much without Scabbia's powerful chorus. 

Cybersleep," on the other hand, has a prominent string line that complements the guitars and Scabbia's vocals quite well. The song as a whole reminds me a bit of Lacuna Coil's older material; it almost feels like a less-heavy version of "Swamped." "I Burn in You" is a song that really flows; I love the opening riffs. Andrea's vocals in the first verse are so eerie, but Scabbia really owns the amazing chorus. It’s an all-around standout track for me.

Aside from my four personal favorites, there are some other songs that were able to please me. “Hostage to the Light” seemed mediocre to me at first, but the catchy last minute really won me over as Scabbia repeats "A world of false illusions in my head/ Deep inside my head/ Deep inside my head." But the single "Die and Rise" is perhaps more interesting still. It has a generally dark sound with its pounding guitars and cool synths; I always picture the 2003 film Underworld when I hear it due to the synths mixed in with the guitars. Cristina Scabbia sings in Italian during the middle eight, her voice layering to create eerie and urgent harmonies - what's not to like?

As far as the rest of the tracks from Broken Crown Halo: Even though these few I haven't mentioned are still solid songs, I just couldn't get into them quite as much as the others I mentioned. Somehad potential thought "In the End I Feel Alive" is especially strong with its chorus and the choppy guitar part in the verses, but the bridge is awkward with Andrea repeating "burn, baby." I may have enjoyed it more if that part wasn't included. But, "Infection" and "One Cold Day" were the only ones I couldn't get into at all.

So overall, Broken Crown Halo is a very enjoyable album; I definitely see it as an improvement from Lacuna Coil's last few albums. There are heavy moments, there are relaxing moments - any rock fan would find something they like about this album. I'm quite happy with it.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

The Dark and Hollow Places | by: Carrie Ryan

The Dark and Hollow Places is the final book of Carrie Ryan's Forest of Hands and Teeth trilogy, and I have been in love with the first two books for quite a while now; they were so fantastic in several different aspects and focused on a different character each time.
In this installation, the story continues through Annah's eyes. Annah has spent majority of her life in the Dark City with Elias, both fighting to survive in a horrific post-apocalyptic world crawling with Unconsecrated ever since they were children. But Elias has been gone for a long time - for years - and just as Annah thinks she may have to move on forever, she encounters a man named Catcher. He knows where Elias has been; he even knows her sister, who has constantly haunted her thoughts.
Her life has consisted of so many struggles, between the Unconsecrated, her aching regrets regarding her long-lost sister, and the general sense of ugliness she constantly feels, but now Annah has to face even more of the monsters of both the dead and the living. What will push her - what pushes everyone - to continue fighting?
With all its action amid a dreary dystopian setting and emotionally-charged characters and situations, The Dark and Hollow Places explored some really deep concepts and kept me anxious. But all together, I must say it's my least favorite of the trilogy. It's a great book, but I didn't find the perfection that was reminiscent of the first two.
One of the things I loved about The Forest of Hands and Teeth and The Dead-Tossed Waves was Carrie Ryan's writing, but unfortunately, the way this book was written was probably its biggest downfall for me. It was just too repetitive at times. I realize that Annah was dwelling on memories and emotions that have scarred and shaped her life, and I think this is why it was so repetitive - to show how it all dominated her. But, I really felt it was just too much. Because of this, sometimes I doubted Annah's strength even though she kept reminding us how she survived all alone in the Dark City.
Even though I wasn't always a fan of the way the author tackled the ebb and flow of Annah's POV, her internal conflicts are a big part of what made this book interesting. This girl has obviously felt a great deal of pain and regret in her life, and I don't think I've ever read anything that dealt with the concept of self-perception like this one does. Annah feels ugly all the time; her self-esteem couldn't possibly be lower due to her scars. Carrie Ryan tackled these issues in what felt like the most realistic way to do so.

The bleakest aspect of this novel, however, was the Recruiters. Their general brutality was difficult for me to read about; they honestly scared me more than the Unconsecrated zombies... Well, I think the zombies were pretty equal by the end of the book. (Seriously. That was a whole lot of action to make up for any lack of Unconsecrated in the rest of the book - SO intense!) There were warm-hearted moments amongst our protagonists as well though. I really enjoyed the focus on sisterhood; Annah and Gabry happened to be in some unique situations considering how their childhood went and how they seemed to swap love interests, and I was so happy to see them push past all of that and still love each other. And of course... CATCHER. I LOVE HIM. He's one of my favorite love interests - that's always a plus! Moments of romance were always relatively brief, but they spoke volumes. It's what they had to hold onto when continuing felt hopeless.

The Dark and Hollow Places also dealt with questions concerning whether the living suffer more or the dead suffer more, how to rebuild, and how to find happiness when living in a world so full of fear. Like I said, there's a high level of emotion in this novel, and I always appreciate that. There were so many things I loved about this book, but I just didn't love it as much as the previous two due to the writing's repetitions. However, I can definitely still say that I loved the trilogy overall - this one just wasn't my favorite.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Blogging for FOUR Years

Today, this blog is four years old. From what I've heard around the blogosphere, that's a pretty good chunk of blogging time even though 'four' is such a tiny number, and I must admit, four years does feel like a long time as I look back. I've gradually grown as a person, gone through some phases... Typical people stuff. It doesn't surprise me that I've continued to blog throughout these past years; I've listened to a lot of great albums and read a lot of amazing books, and a girl's gotta express herself somewhere. It might as well be here.
But, like my general character, my blog has evolved over the past four years. It's kind of odd saying that considering that last year, I didn't even write one of these posts because I didn't feel like anything really changed between 2012 and 2013, but as I look at the entire spectrum, the past two years have sparked the most changes. I started getting a little more "involved" with the outside blogging world by participating in Top Ten Tuesday (I really love this meme) and instead of just reviewing, I do some general fangirling nonstop. I added the Anticipated Releases page as well as an About Me page (finally! even though I still don't know if it's sufficient), and I got rid of my Flag Counter; while it was so cool to see how many different countries have visited, I discovered that the stats just weren't very accurate.
There are some other changes that I've been considering the possibility of making but haven't yet, primarily because I'm not sure if I like my ideas. So, I rarely ever act on these ideas. But, who knows what'll happen.

My most viewed posts of all time has changed a bit since my last blogoversery post. Some are still the same, but others have taken an unexpected turn:

1. Blood | In This Moment
2. Favorite Voices
3. The House of Night, Books 1-6 by P.C. Cast + Kristin Cast
4. Sailor Moon: The Effects Last Forever
5. 'Salem's Lot | by: Stephen King
6. Design Your Universe | Epica
7. Fallen | Evanescence
8. Best Books I Read: 2011
9. End of 2010 Book Survey
10. Artist Evolution

That's a pretty decent variety, if I may say so myself. It isn't surprising that my movie reviews aren't getting much attention because I rarely ever review movies; I rarely ever see them for reasons, and it makes me sad. (Unfortunately, that hasn't changed in four years.) But I'm always surprised at which posts get the most views; I have really cool readers! :) More people have been visiting The Critiquing Critica now than ever before, and it makes me so happy that people are fangirling with me. Thanks for sticking around, but if this happens to be your first time here, I'm happy you stumbled in.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten "Gateway" Books/Authors in My Reading Journey

Top Ten Tuesday is a feature hosted at The Broke and the Bookish. This week's topic is Top Ten "Gateway" Books/Authors in My Reading Journey, and I'm not entirely sure if I did this right. Usually when I think of "gateway" books, I think of books that got people into a certain genre or just made them a reader in general. I don't have too many of those books, and I also have "firsts" in other senses, sometimes more personal senses. So, here I go!
Top Ten Five "Gateway" Books/Authors in My Reading Journey
The Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling
The Harry Potter books were marginally better than almost all of the books I read during my childhood, and it was the first time I ever went crazy over a book. Plus, this was the first big fanbase I was (and proudly still am) part of. These books weren't really my gateway to reading - I didn't really have one of those, I just read when I learned how to and never stopped - but they were the gateway to a life of fangirling. (Not only over this series, but other books, movies, and musical artists.) Even as time goes on, I find new things to love about this series, particularly with J.K. Rowling's ability to create fantastic characters and mysteries. One could only dream to do it as well as she did.

Edgar Allen Poe's poetry
Poe's beautiful poetry has inspired me beyond belief. Reading his poems led me to my love for poetry in general (preferably if it rhymes) and allowed me to see for the first time that we can take our darkest moments of life and use them to craft something. From that moment of discovery and onward, anytime I wrote, I wanted to sound like him. Even though his short stories are really well-written as well, nothing touches his poetry.

Annette Curtis Klause
So many were introduced to paranormal romance through the Twilight series, but for me, it was Annette Crutis Klaus' Blood and Chocolate and The Silver Kiss. I began reading Twilight after I read those Annette Curtis Klause novels, and I was led to her books through the film rendition of Blood and Chocolate (which is EXTREMELY different from the book, but I actually really love both). These books led me to discover a lot of great paranormal romance novels, but there's something so magical about Annette Curtis Klause's works that I can't find in other paranormal novels: Despite the supernatural elements, both books flow like contemporaries (especially The Silver Kiss, which is why it was so hard to put down). And my goodness, I just really love her prose!

Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech
 This was the first contemporary novel I ever read, all the way back when I was eleven years old, and it was the first one to have an enormous emotional impact on me. I had to read it for school the first time and we read the last quarter of it out loud in class, so I couldn't really let out my emotions in front of everybody. But I bawled hysterically the second time. It's still one of my favorite books and has a lot of qualities I like to see in literature.


Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
Jane Eyre thus began my love for Jane and Mr. Rochester as characters, and it also began my quest to fulfill my need (NEED, I tell you!) to read everything by the Bronte sisters and some other select British literature. I seriously loved it that much. Reading about Jane and Rochester caused me to evaluate what I like in fictional characters, too. For example, Rochester is one of the most swoon-worthy characters I've read about, but he's far from perfect, and I loved that. And of course, Jane is just such a strong character in general; I admire her self-respect. Every woman needs to have Jane's influence in her life; this was a gateway book in more than just my reading journey.

I could only come up with five for today's topic. Oh well. Feel free to share a link to your Top Ten Tuesday post and have a great day!