Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Favorite Heroines from Books (...and Movies!)

Top Ten Tuesday is a fun bookish meme hosted at The Broke and the Bookish and today bloggers were asked to compile lists of our favorite heroines from books. I decided to stick to novels for this list so I wouldn't have to get crafty and find a way to include all of the Sailor Scouts from the Sailor Moon manga by Naoko Takeuchi as there are so many and they all kick ass. Also, I decided to include some favorite movie heroines at the bottom just for fun.
There are so many reasons to read, and one of those reasons is for the sake of connecting with characters. Any person in the world can find themselves represented in some book somewhere, but we can also find who we strive to be. That's what the characters on this list mean to me.
The best heroines are strong but also acknowledge their vulnerabilities, and they come in every variety; whether it's someone like Katniss Everdeen, Linh Cinder, or Somni-451 who are revolutionaries even though they struggle with their fates; or a Bronte heroine such as Jane Eyre, Lucy Snowe, or Helen Graham, who fight for independence and happiness even though it seems that society itself would condemn them for coveting such liberation. These are women who kept going and did the right thing, whether it was for personal reasons or for the sake of doing what they believed was right for the world. They found themselves even if others wouldn't like it, and I know they've definitely helped me find myself and what I strive to be. Who knows where we'd be without having their influence in mind?
Top Ten Favorite Heroines from Books

Left to right: Hermione Granger as portrayed by Emma Watson, Jane Eyre as portrayed by
Mia Wasikowska, Katniss Everdeen as portrayed by Jennifer Lawrence.
Hermione Granger
from the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling
Jane Eyre
from Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
Linh Cinder
from the Lunar Chronicles series by Marissa Meyer
Katniss Everdeen
from The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins
Scarlet Benoit
from the Lunar Chronicles series by Marissa Meyer

Left to right: Vivian Gandillon as portrayed by Agnes Bruckner, Helen Graham as portrayed
by Tara Fitzgerald, and Somni-451 as portrayed by Doona Bae.
Vivian Gandillon
from Blood and Chocolate by Annette Curtis Klause

Helen Graham
from The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte
Lucy Snowe
from Villette by Charlotte Bronte
from The Forest of  Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan
from Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

...And My Favorite Movie Heroines

portrayed by Kate Beckinsale
from Underworld

portrayed by Irene Bedard and Judy Kuhn (singing)
from Pocahontas 

portrayed by Ming-Na Wen and Lea Salonga (singing)
from Mulan

Elle Woods
portrayed by Reese Witherspoon
from Legally Blonde

portrayed by Robin Tunney
from The Craft


Who are your favorite heroines?

Monday, February 16, 2015

Daughter of Smoke and Bone | by: Laini Taylor

Daughter of Smoke and Bone is the first installment of Laini Taylor's beloved fantasy/paranormal trilogy which follows the story of a peculiar girl named Karou. Karou is a human, and she goes to school just like any other human girl would, but her home life is unlike any other. She has been raised by monsters in a shop. Brimstone, the only father figure she's ever had, always has her running errands collecting different types of teeth from all over the world and he's never told her why.
An errand trip gone awry in which Karou must fight for her life may seem to make her circumstance even more confusing, but it will lead her to the truth she's been deprived of her whole life.
I was incredibly excited to start this book. It seemed that everywhere I turned in the wide and wonderful world of the Internet there was always someone fangirling like crazy over this trilogy, and the more I heard about it, the more amazing it seemed. People said it was dark and complicated and just downright fabulous. Apparently I'm the odd one out because to be honest, it's hard for me to pinpoint my feelings about this book. I've never read something and felt such overwhelming uncertainty until now. The only fear I had is that it could be a little overhyped, and that's not even my problem. Bear with me.
At first I was quite intrigued. The setting is unique and the characterization is impressive - that goes for both the humans and the chimera. Since Karou doesn't even know that much about her mysterious world, it leaves a lot of room for a reader to wonder, and when there are characters collecting tons of teeth... Well, you know you're in for something interesting. My first reaction to the first 150ish pages was "This book is weird." And I meant that in a positive way. I was intrigued and entertained. Plus, Taylor's writing is pretty, and it's definitely darker than quite a bit of YA fantasy/paranormal in terms of both the writing and the overall plot.

So after this initially positive reaction, what swayed my opinion toward the negative side? Akiva came along. There's nothing wrong with him as a character or anything. In fact, I like him well enough. The romantic element is done well: Laini Taylor really makes sure her readers feel ALL the feelings and she does the whole reincarnated-love thing better than what I've seen in the past. That's all fantastic and whatnot, but I keep running into the same problem: There are simply too many parallels to Sonja and Lucian's story explained first in the 2003 film Underworld and then explored in depth in the 2009 film Underworld: Rise of the Lycans. Karou and Akiva's specific forbidden love felt unoriginal and so did the past execution - especially the past execution. This aspect of the story would've made Daughter of Smoke and Bone special, but I just can't love it like everyone else, not when I can't stop thinking "this has been done before." I suppose one could argue that the general set-up 'wasn't that original anyway' if he or she wanted, and that if one of the characters in the flashback was human I might not see make the connection as clearly, but this is the first time I've come across anything this similar and the similarities still manage to unsettle me.

Perhaps all the hype it got does contribute to my feelings after all. Maybe if I wasn't expecting something so complicated and new and out-of-this-world (well... it technically is out of this world, but you get the idea) I wouldn't judge it so harshly. Perhaps if I wasn't so in love with Sonja and Lucian's story I wouldn't feel so abrasive towards this book... But it is what it is: The similarities are just too much for me personally. I already have a copy of the second book, Days and Blood and Starlight (although I wish I didn't get it) and I'll have to give it a try eventually and see if I like it any better now that we know Karou's story and can move on.

I'm not feeling too positively about this trilogy so far, but maybe Taylor can change my mind with the second book.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Awakening | Jackie Evancho

When classical crossover singer Jackie Evancho first made her appearance on America's Got Talent back in 2010, she completely astonished everyone watching. My jaw literally dropped - how can a ten year old girl sound like that? Now, Evancho is fourteen and has released quite a few albums over the years, and her most recent, Awakening, was released last September. 

Many of Evancho's fans as well as Game of Thrones fans are well-aware of her lead single "The Rains of Castamere," for it has gotten quite a bit of praise for its epic beauty. This is the masterpiece from Awakening - not only does Evancho sound fantastic hitting lower, darker notes, but one can really feel the melancholy as she chants "Castamere... Castamere..." and even some defiance as she sings "'And who are you?' the proud lord said, 'That I must bow so low?'" But the general instrumentation is quite pretty as well; it's a superb arrangement altogether that's bound to give every listener chills.
There are plenty of other superb tracks to note. "Your Love" is certainly a standout with Evancho's soaring, crystal-clear high notes. It's absolutely gorgeous altogether. I never heard the original until I came across Evancho's rendition, and I must say, I prefer Evancho's signature style to the original. The French song "Je t'aime" appears right after "Your Love" on the tracklist, and it impressed me just as much. I have no idea what she's saying, but it sounds spectacular. It's soft, haunting, and full of emotion; it's what Evancho does best nowadays. The strings are full of nostalgia for some reason that I can't quite put my finger on... It's cinematic enough to be a film score on its own, put perfect with Evancho's voice.

"Ave Maria" is also featured on the tracklist, and while she's done an "Ave Maria" or two before, this one is from Vladimir Vavilov. Out of all the Ave Marias in the world, we still don't have a studio recording of her singing Schubert's infamous version, but even if that's the one you were hoping for (as I was), have no fear: This "Ave Maria" is also very pretty.

The only issue I have with Awakening (as well as Evancho's other albums) has absolutely nothing to do with her performance, but with some of the arrangements (which, of course, I cannot really critique unless I've heard the originals). Personally, I was quite excited to hear that a cover of Within Temptation's beautiful ballad "Memories" would be featured on Awakening since Within Temptation is one of my favorite bands of all time (my favorite of all favorites, to be honest), and while Evancho sings it beautifully (as I knew she would), I'm just not wowed by the overall arrangement. It doesn't do anything Within Temptation didn't and it doesn't do anything differently aside from removing electric instruments. The same goes for her cover of Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Think of Me" - but as I said, her performance is stellar. The end of this song is NOT easy to sing, and she nails it.

Evancho also covers U2's hit "With or Without You," which is one of my least favorites... For probably the millionth time, I stress that I have no problem whatsoever with Evancho's performance. In this case, I just don't understand why this particular U2 song is so special to people. I never have, and I probably never will. It all comes down to taste for this one.

Altogether, Awakening is a solid album. Evancho's voice is, as always, flawless; she sounds great on every track. My only complaint is that I wished for more unique arrangements, but there are certainly some tracks that really shine even beyond Evancho's voice. I'm satisfied with the outcome.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Contemporary Books I Can't Believe I Haven't Read

Top Ten Tuesday is a fun bookish meme held at The Broke and the Bookish, and this week, bloggers were asked to create a list of books we can't believe we haven't read from any genre we chose, and I chose contemporary. I love contemporary. It has a way of making me feel feelings, and in result so many of the contemporaries I read become favorites. The thing is... I don't read it a lot. I don't know why, but I just don't. I guess part of the reason is that a lot of contemporaries make me cry (and I'm not fond of crying... I will wait forever to read a book if I think it'll make me cry) and I just love genres like science fiction, paranormal, and fantasy too. I read a little bit of everything, yet somehow contemporary is what I probably read the least (well, aside from non-fiction... I don't read enough non-fiction either).
I'll warn you all ahead of time: You will probably be shocked when you read some of the titles this list. You will probably think I live under a rock, and then question how I fit my computer under the rock to type all this. You will wonder how it is possible for a lover of young adult fiction to have not read these books. Frankly, I wonder the same things...
Top Ten Contemporary Books I Can't Believe I Haven't Read

Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley

Looking for Alaska by John Green
A Note of Madness by Tabitha Suzuma
The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson
Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

6 & 7
Eleanor and Park & Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

If I Stay by Gayle Forman

The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

As always, feel free to let me know what you think of my list (in all of its ridiculousness) and leave me a link to your Top Ten Tuesday... perhaps there are others who apparently live under a reading rock as I do? Probably not, but we shall see. Have a great Tuesday!