Sunday, August 23, 2015

Looking for Alaska | by: John Green

Despite my deep love for the first John Green book I'd ever read, The Fault in Our Stars, it has taken me a few years before even getting my hands on a copy of Looking for Alaska. I tend to avoid situations in which tears are inevitable, and based on what I'd heard about Looking for Alaska, it sounded like tears would be inevitable.

This assumption was proven correct.

I'm sure most people - even the ones that haven't read it - have a general idea of what this book is about due to its massive success and critical acclaim. Pudge (his real name is Miles) narrates the story starting when he first leaves for boarding school. His life hadn't been particularly exciting before and he's hoping to change that in this new setting filled with new people. He joins a group of eccentric and adventurous friends, one of them being Alaska Young, who he may or may not be in love with. She's mysterious, moody, yet full of life, and she's about to change Pudge forever - some ways are intentional, others are not.

Pudge got way more than he asked for... He got what no one would ever ask for. But I loved reading about him and his group of friends. I loved Takumi, and Pudge and the Colonel's friendship was demonstrated so honestly and perfectly. It was so beautiful and sad to see how they'd need each other as the story progressed. But part of the reason they're all so great to read about is that John Green didn't try to make any of them 100% likeable. They're all flawed in some way or another - even aside from Alaska - and that made them more lifelike. Anyone who is going to connect with any of these characters will connect on a deep level because of it. Furthermore, I was just as confused about Alaska as the rest of the characters, and that made it all the more important in making me want to find out what exactly happened to her and what she was feeling.

And of course, John Green's writing is just flawless. Despite the wonderful characterization, the intriguing and easy-to-relate-to themes, his books wouldn't be as amazing as they are if he wasn't so damn great with words. There are a lot of beautiful passages in Looking for Alaska, but that last paragraph has to be one of my favorites in all of literature. Not only does everything he writes sound beautiful, but it's filled with these gut-wrenching emotions that readers can't help but feel along with the characters. I cried - granted, I only cried about 10% as much as I did when reading The Fault in Our Stars, but still. Green's words on forgiveness, loss, and guilt truly resonated with me, and even the quotes he chose to weave into the story were beautiful and perfectly matched... I think I picked an appropriate time in my life to read this, if I'm being honest.

But I doubt that anything I'm saying is any different than what everyone else has said about this one. The entire Internet told me that Looking for Alaska was brilliant, and it was. Once again, John Green got me right in the feels and left me thinking about his characters days after I finished the book. Damn that genius.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Liebster Award Challenge

Ladies and gentlemen, today is a very special day! Rebekah at Wordsmithing and Worldbuilding tagged me in the Liebster Award Challenge! I've been blogging since 2010, but... THIS IS THE FIRST TIME I'VE BEEN TAGGED TO DO ANYTHING. EVER. I'M SO EXCITED! Thanks, Rebekah! :)

Basically for this tag, Rebekah has asked me and ten other bloggers some questions. (Check out the link to Rebekah's blog above for more info, she has a link that thoroughly explains the award/challenge/tag.) Once I'm done, I get to tag more people and ask them my own questions.

1. Do you listen to music while you write? If so, what? If not, why?
Almost always. It kind of depends on the situation though. If I'm writing a music review then I'll just be listening to the album I'm reviewing, but if I'm writing any other review or blog post I'll just listen to whatever I feel like. However, if I'm writing a story, I can only listen to instrumental music (usually film scores) for the most part. Otherwise I get distracted with the words and I want to sing, and since my creative writing is my 'serious' writing, I don't want to be distracted in any way. Plus, I search the Internet for instrumental music for specific scenes I'm writing. It helps if I have music that fits the feel of what I'm writing. But when I'm writing poetry I need silence.
Wow. I'm complicated.

2. Do you have a certain type of character that you always love/root for? (I. e., the orphan hero, the bad boy/girl with a heart of gold, the loveable rogue). Why do you like them?
Honestly... I think I root for all character types as long as I like the specific character, but I feel like my favorites begin at opposite ends of the spectrum: I really love the badasses and the orphan heroes. Let's face it, everyone loves a badass because they convey the strength we wish we all had, and they're usually really stern or sassy. But the orphan heroes are usually these really sweet people who deserve happiness and may seem so ordinary or even weak at the beginning, and they end up proving that we really can be strong... Isn't that just so heartwarming?

And then we can cheer even louder for the orphan heroes when stuff like this happens:

3. Has your taste in books changed much in the past ten years? Do you find that you like a certain type of book now better than you did then?
In some ways, yes, but in some ways, no. I still love all fiction and I still have a soft spot for fantasy/paranormal/science fiction, but I definitely have gone in spurts. I used to be completely enthralled by the paranormal romance explosion that happened after Twilight, but as stories got repetitive I lost interest (and it seems like I'm not the only one). I still don't read enough contemporary even though I appreciate it just as much. However, I've come to really love dystopian novels and my love for the classics just keeps increasing with intensity. I feel like I read a bigger variety now.

4. What literary trope or cliche do you hate the most? Which one really doesn’t bother you?
The whole 'love at first sight = we were reincarnated and meant to be together forever' thing. I mean, I get the appeal. Reincarnation is cool. I believe that it's possible. And really, the idea that love interests keep crossing paths is interesting... But it just happens too much and it feels like an excuse to get out of relationship building. Love triangles don't always bother me even though they probably are overused and never happen in real life -  however, the whole 'we're going to throw in a new contender that everyone knows isn't going to be with the main character anyway during the sequel' thing got old VERY quickly.

5. Name one book that you love that no one else seems to have read. Include a picture and a link so the rest of us can check it out.
Well, I'm going to choose a modern book and a classic:

Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork

Villette by Charlotte Bronte

6. Do you prefer contemporary novels or historical fiction? Why?
I prefer contemporary. While I think historical fiction is fantastic when done well, it's risky. Obviously any author who wants to write a piece of historical fiction is going to have to research the given time period... But sometimes they get really carried away with the information they give readers and it doesn't feel natural. I don't want to read ten thousand words about wagons, horses, sanitation, etc. Just get to the point. I'm here for a story in a historical setting, not a lecture.

7. If you write (stories, novels, poetry, anything other than blog posts), do you write with the hope to publish, or just for fun?
That's kind of complicated. Ultimately, I write for fun, but I often do hope to publish. But I guess for me it might not necessarily be about the publication as much as it's about my work being good enough for publication, and since I often feel like the Editing Queen, publication would actually signify completion. When I write novel-sized stories I often think of publication as the eventual goal, but when I write poetry I scarcely ever think of publication. I just write it when I feel like it, and only recently have I begun to put serious thought into my poems.

8. Why did you start your blog? What keeps you posting?
I started this blog because I had been reading a lot of books but a lot of my friends weren't really into them, and I needed a place to fangirl without driving people crazy about stuff they didn't care about. This also happened a lot with music... Some of the stuff I listen to is rather unconventional. I figured if I let out all my feelings about all the fantastic books I'd been reading and music I'd been listening to it'd make me happy, and the only people who would bother to read it were people who have similar interests. I keep posting because I need to get my opinions out there, even if only one person reads them. I continue this blog for the same reasons I started it.

9. If the internet disappeared overnight, how would you feel? Do you think life would be better or worse, and why?
I would FREAK. OUT. I'd feel so... Cut off. Restricted. Keep in mind that I truly do understand that the Internet is making us lazy and that social media is probably making us antisocial, but I don't even have Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, so I don't particularly care about that. The access we have to so many underground artists that we'd never discover without the Internet - gone. The instant answers to random questions - gone. The ability to have conversations with fanbases on a global level - gone. I can't live in a world that doesn't have symphonic metal music, and I sure as hell can't buy any new CDs within that genre without the Internet. In fact, I wouldn't know anything about the future of any of the bands I listen to. My whole musical life would be ruined.

10. If you could have tea (or coffee) and a chat with any author living or dead, who would you pick? What would you want to ask them?
I'm totally picking more than one. Sorry, not sorry. The answer to me is clear: J.K. Rowling and Charlotte Bronte. They're my heroes. I'm not entirely sure what I'd specifically ask J.K. Rowling, but I know I'd definitely talk to her about her writing process, how she created such an intricate world filled with complex characters and how she coated everything in mystery. If we had enough time, maybe I'd ask her to read some of my writing and provide advice on how to improve. And of course, I'd tell her that I admire her as a writer and as a person.

And Charlotte... Well, I guess I'd ask her why she took it upon herself to write the unconventional, anti-Victorian novels she wrote, and what drove Anne to publish something as controversial as The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. I'd thank her for having the guts to say what needed to be said, to write the books I so desperately needed.

And I'd make sure to tell her that things got better.

11. What do you like best about your writing or your blog? Why?

I think the best part about writing this blog is knowing that people actually read it on occasion. Granted I only really started it so I could just unleash the opinions and fangirling, but I love knowing that people are interested in a lot of the same things as me. Plus, it's fun to look back at all the old posts and relive the memories of discovering a favorite album or book for the first time. In a way blogs are like little diaries, no matter how professional or unprofessional they are. And of course, remembering a book or an album can help us remember our personal highs and lows at the time we were listening to it for the first time.


I have to admit, those were some pretty damn good questions. I had to really think about a few of them; it was fun!

Now... This is the part where I'm supposed to come up with eleven questions and tag eleven people. But here's the issue: I don't even think I follow eleven active blogs right now. I know, it's sad. And of that small group, I honestly can't think of anyone that would want to be tagged, and I follow more than just book blogs, so forming questions would be tricky...

So, here's what I'll do instead: If you are reading this post right now and you want to be tagged, leave a comment and I'll come up with eleven questions based on whether you blog about books, writing, music... If you blog about other fun things that I don't know as much about, like food or photography, I'll ask you about miscellaneous things - that could be fun!

...I don't always get tagged, but when I do, I apparently throw the rules out the window...? I'm kind of ridiculous. But seriously, let me know if you'd like to be tagged and I'll give you questions as soon as I can!

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Fire and Ashes EP | Xandria

After impressing much of the symphonic metal community with their still-recent release Sacrificium, Xandria has decided to release a short EP, Fire and Ashes. Personally, I wasn't the craziest about Sacrificium: While Dianne van Giersbergen's voice is stunning and the instrumentation is epic, overall I simply felt that too many songs blended together. Still, I was curious to see if I'd enjoy any songs from this new EP.
Fire and Ashes opens with three brand new tracks: "Voyage of the Fallen," "Unembraced," and "In Remembrance." "Voyage of the Fallen" is the lead single, and like many of the tracks from Sacrificium, the instrumentation is epic, but overall it just doesn't spark much affection from me. The chorus is nice and bombastic, reminiscent of old Nightwish, but it's not a track I'd revisit.
However, the other two new songs left me totally impressed. "Unembraced" begins with a beautiful fast-paced piano part that reminds me of the song "True" by Tom Twyker, Johnny Klimek, and Reinhold Heil but gives way to thrashing guitars and strings bound to catch any symphonic metal fan's ear. It's irresistibly catchy in a way that reminds me of Within Temptation and Delain; it stands out because of the way it's written and utilizes the bands best elements without necessarily trying to blow the world away with ALL the orchestration all at once. Then of course there's "In Remembrance," a power ballad that showcases Dianne van Giersbergen's powerful and beautiful voice. "Tides of Time" is to Epica as "In Remembrance" is to Xandria, and that's saying something - it's just so gorgeous, particularly that chorus! The first half primarily consists of piano and vocals, and while Dianne certainly sounds strong in the beginning, by the time we reach the key change towards the end she truly unleashes her voice, the band fully backing her.

As for the rest of the EP, Xandria decided to have a little fun and remake a couple of their older songs (they seem to be very proud of their sound with Dianne, and really, who can blame them?) as well as cover a couple of songs. This is the part where I'm perhaps too impartial: I never really listened to Xandria before Sacrificum and I'm not particularly attached to the songs they covered as I don't listen to Meatloaf or Sonata Artica. However, I looked them all up out of curiosity to see how these new versions compare.
From their old catalogue, Xandria redid "Ravenheart" and "Now and Forever." Personally, I prefer these new versions as I really adore Dianne's voice. Both are quite catchy, but I prefer "Ravenheart." As for the covers, Xandria first tackles Meatloaf's "I'd Do Anything for Love (But I Won't Do That)" - I think we can all agree that was an amusing choice. It's definitely the most lighthearted track on the album... But they sure know how to make a cheesy old rock song heavy. Xandria also covered Sonata Artica's "Don't Say a Word," which probably makes more since as both are metal bands. That being said, Xandria's version isn't wildly different, but it certainly has its own charm - the vocal styles alone are different enough to make each version feel different. Dianne mostly sounds operatic as usual and she sounds great on this track, but sometimes she belts, and she sounds perfect either way. I'm going to have this one on repeat for a while.

As only a casual Xandria listener I was merely curious to see if I'd enjoy a song or two from Fire and Ashes, but truth to be told, I loved the vast majority of this EP. Two of the three new songs were added to my ongoing list of favorite songs almost instantaneously, I now appreciate a couple of their older songs a bit more now that they've been rerecorded with a voice that I'm more familiar with and generally more impressed by, and I've also found a new favorite in "Don't Say a Word." I'm pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed the material; hopefully Xandria can keep it up.