Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Nine Novels That Are Guaranteed to Make You Swoon

Top Ten Tuesday is run by wonderful The Broke and the Bookish. This week, we're covering our favourite romances. Here are some of my most beloved relationships and love interests.

I really loved the progression of Katsa and Po's relationship. They were equal partners, and they had a ridiculous amount of chemistry. I still haven't read Graceling's companion novels, but they're definitely on my list.

I was not expecting to love Taylor and Jonah when I started this book, but I adored them by the time it ended. It's such a heartfelt read, and that extends to its relationship dynamics. 

Weaver may not technically be the love interest of this novel, but he is very swoon-worthy. I loved his intelligence and courage, as well as his relationship with Mattie. He's one of my all-time favourites. 

I really liked seeing Mia and Adam together, and that one scene where they discuss musical instruments? Yowza. 

While I didn't swoon over any of the characters in Annie, the relationship between Annie and Liza was note-worthy. Their tenderness was wonderful, and it helped the book transcend its tropes. 

Eleanor and Park's relationship develops organically and I think it perfectly showcases adolescent love. It's gotten a lot of praise as of late, and rightfully so.

Etienne is well-rounded, compelling and flawed as a love interest. I loved watching the way his dynamic with Anna grew and changed. 

Nick and Norah is one of the first YA books I read, and it really captures the wonder and struggle behind loving again. It also does a good job of showing the issue of getting over your ex.

Yes, another time that The Gemma Doyle Trilogy shows up on one of my Top Ten Tuesday lists. What can I say, I'm kind of a big Kartik/Gemma fan.

That's my list! What's your favourite YA romance?

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Educate Emma - January Recap

So January happened, and I was able to accomplish a lot towards my Educate Emma goal. I think this is the first year that I've been on track in the first month! Yay for change.

Books - 4

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
Every Day by David Levithan
The S-Word by Chelsea Pitcher
Death Comes to Pemberley by P. D James

Admittedly, this tally should be 5 with the extra week in January, but it's close enough for me! I also read the 1500+ page Gemma Doyle Trilogy for the sixth time. I say it was a rather good reading month.

Albums - 5

Both Sides Now - Joni Mitchell
Tusk - Fleetwood Mac
Rubber Soul - The Beatles
Abbey Road - The Beatles
Easter - Patti Smith

Success on this front! And yes, I was in a Beatles mood. I couldn't help myself.

Movies - 4

V for Vendetta
The Wolf of Wall Street
American Hustle

Way ahead of the game here! I watched double the amount I'm supposed to each month. All of the films were pretty well done, as well.

Theatre - 1

The Passion of Narcisse Mongeau

I should have seen one other play this month, but seeing as I attend 10-15 plays during the Fringe Festival, I think this is fine.

TV Seasons - 2

Angel - Season 3
White Collar - Season 2

I've been watching a lot of TV, largely because of winter break and how I use television to destress. My Buffy rewatch/Angel run-through is going slowly, but surely. I'm also really enjoying White Collar, because heists! I plan on reviewing these two shows once I'm finished them in their entirety. If I can at least get through Angel and White Collar in the next six months, I'll be a happy girl.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Abbey Road: Album Review

I had a fairly decent Beatles education as a child. We never listened to the full albums in my family, but I certainly knew most of the hits, even if I didn't always know they were written by The Beatles. Revisiting the band's music has been one of my favourite nostalgic experiences over the years, because I'm consistently amazed by the way The Beatles reinvented themselves and their music. If only boy bands today were this creative and subversive! While I'd previously done full runs of albums like Sgt. Pepper, Rubber Soul, and The White Album (which has a dry wit and absurdity that I will always hold dear), I had never actually listened to the last album of the band. Sure, I knew the major songs - I still love the sentiment behind Something and I will happily belt off key to Oh! Darling -  but many of the pieces had slipped under my radar. After listening to the album all the way through twice, I may have put You Never Give Me Your Money on five times in a row, and I'm always amused by how many of the more bizarre Beatles songs I failed to listen to as a kid, such as Maxwell's Silver Hammer or Polythene Pam. I liked being able to both revisit childhood favourites and explore new material in the same body of work.

One of the main reasons that I wanted to do albums in Educate Emma was to have a better understanding of how musicians craft a cohesive narrative - an art that is largely underrated with the way that music is sold nowadays. I think Abbey Road may be one of my favourite Beatles albums in how it's crafted. I always appreciated Sgt. Pepper's pacing, and I loved the jarring nature of The White Album's composition, but in both of those cases, I can still remove an individual song from the album and be content with the way it sounds by itself. This isn't the case for me with Abbey Road, as I really do enjoy all the songs better when they flow from one to the next. It has just the right mix of blues, pop, ridiculousness, and magic to make it work. That sense of unity may be what truly differentiated Abbey Road from the rest of The Beatles' material. I don't think it's my favourite, but it's certainly up there.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Nine Great Books That Have Made Me Cry

Top Ten Tuesday is run by the lovely The Broke and the Bookish. This week, we're supposed to cover our top ten tearjerkers. Unfortunately, I could only think of nine, so here they are for your enjoyment and inevitable suffering.

I was very confused by the first one hundred pages of Jellicoe Road, but it was really brilliant after that initial bump in the road. The intense nature of a lot of the subject matter - relationships, loss, and family - made me tear up on multiple occasions. I definitely recommend Marchetta's work, and I plan on reading more of her.

It's been several years since I read this novel, but I remember adoring the writing style and the way it made me re-examine the importance of life. One of my favourite scenes was when Mia's family talks about what songs they would want to play at their funerals.

I loved ANL when I first read it, and I felt so strongly about the novel that I burst into tears in several parts. The way it tackled the issues of fate and morality really fascinated me, and I had to stop after almost every chapter to process the frustration that I felt with Mattie. 

This book was a really tough read, and there is one major scene in the book that just totally overwhelmed me. It's undeniably the best book about eating disorders that I've ever read, though. 

Yes, Donnelly makes it twice on this list! While Revolution wasn't a major tearjerker, there is one scene with Andie and her father that really affected me with its realism. Revolution is one of the most emotionally resonant books that I've read over the past few years.

I think almost everyone has been affected by Katniss' scene with Rue. It's just too disturbing and infuriating not to produce an emotional reaction.

Stargirl is the first proper YA character whom I adored, and the loneliness she often feels in this novel really got to me in certain parts. The ending always makes me cry happy tears, however. 

I only read Code Name Verity last month, but it's one of the most emotional resonant novels that I've ever encountered. During the climax, I couldn't help but wail a little bit. 

Six times, I have read this book, and six times, I have sobbed while reading this book's climax. It will always affect me, and it's been more successful at making me emotional than any other book I've ever read.

That's my list! What's yours? Do you disagree with me on any of these?

Monday, February 3, 2014

Her: Movie Review

I think humanity's always been a little fascinated by robots. Whether dealing with Mary Shelley's pessimistic view of man-made creatures in Frankenstein, or Isaac Asimov's helpful Three Laws of Robotics, there's something about artificial intelligence that tends to draw us in.

This is definitely true for Her, which follows Theodore Twombly, a man who writes personalized lover letters as his job. Ever since Theodore separated from his wife, Catherine, he's been incredibly lonely. This issue is seemingly solved when he buys a brand new operating system with AI - one that names herself Samantha. Over the course of Her, Samantha and Theodore fall in love, and the film explores the issues of existential isolation and relationships through their dynamic.

I really loved Her. I've been fascinated by the issue of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl - or a female love interest who exists purely to save and fascinate the male lead - for many years. I don't think there's a better example of a MPDG than a humanized operating system. I'm not entirely convinced that Jonze tried to make a statement about the male gaze and issue of gender relations in this film, but that element was one of the most compelling aspects of the story to me.

Her's world doesn't seem unlike our own. The aesthetics are slicker, and there is a lot more voice-activated technology, but I can easily see tech and media advancing in the direction shown in Her. This makes its loneliness even more poignant, as everyone seems to be too invested in their own universes to acknowledge anyone else's. Theodore keenly feels this detachment, and it's only once he starts interacting with Samantha that his emotions change. With Samantha, he's able to  empathize in a way that's more than superficial. In certain parts of the movie, I'll admit that having a personalized OS seemed desirable to me, because Samantha is able to give Theodore a regained sense of wonder and connection. However, being in love with an operating system doesn't keep Theodore from feeling removed and inferior. Watching the evolution of Samantha and Theodore's dynamic was intriguing, because it showed how even when Theodore is in a relationship with a piece of technology designed to service him, he cannot escape his deficiencies. The movie frequently deals with the issue of Theodore's mental state: is he so screwed up that he's incapable of relating authentically with a real person, or is the human condition so torturous that we'll all eventually prefer the company of machines to people? Her's answer is a little disconcerting, but it is honest. 

The movie wouldn't work without Joaquin Phoenix's exceptional performance, which ensures that Theodore is a relatable character rather than an absurd one. It's also amazing what Scarlett Johansson is capable of emoting with only her voice. However, it was very difficult for me to see Samantha as only an OS while constantly visualizing Johansson's sensual aesthetic. I can see how that may have been a conscious directorial decision to make the audience understand Theodore's perspective, but it was a bit disorienting in parts. Another one of my favourite aspects of the film was the cinematography, as it helps create an atmosphere of beauty and solitude in equal measure.

Overall: A really compelling piece of work that raises interesting questions about human connection, gender dynamics, and how technology is changing the way we relate to one another. With fantastic performances and visuals, as well as a great plot arc, I have little to say besides go see the movie.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

V for Vendetta: Movie Review

 Major spoiler alert.

By now, I expect that most people have at least a vague sense of what V for Vendetta is about. After all, Guy Fawkes masks have been used by everyone from famous hacktivists to criminals. However, for the sake of this review, I'll explain it briefly. V for Vendetta is set in a fascist United Kingdom and it follows a multi-talented freedom fighter who is determined to stop the government. That anarchist happens to be V, and he pulls Evey (Natalie Portman) into his efforts to topple the current regime.

Finally watching V for Vendetta was a strange experience for me. After all, I'd argue that this movie is one of the two major cult classics of millennial youth - that and Mean Girls, of course. (The fact that these two movies can be grouped together probably says something very interesting about youth today, but I'm not clever enough to extrapolate.) I've heard about this movie for years, and yet it was a very different experience from what I was expecting. Unfortunately, not all of the surprises were pleasant.

V does have a fantastic aesthetic, many quotable lines, and a very believable political premise. When the story focuses on its visuals and world-building, it's rather interesting. The problems begin when the narrative centres on V's story and his relationship with Evey. First of all, I was initially excited to learn V's back-story, but the explanation about his past seemed more fantastical than realistic. Yes, the idea of disease warfare makes perfect sense as a federal defense tactic, but the idea of a super-human being who is able to withstand a horrific fire seems more Frankenstein than dystopian. Also, the movie implies that V lost his eyesight in the accident, which makes no sense when viewing his physical capabilities. This element of the story just made the narrative do a genre-flip on me.

And then we get to Evey. I really wanted to like Portman's character, and I hoped that the story would give her competence and agency. Instead, I got an idiotic personality who only develops interesting traits after she's molded into shape by V. Molded by abuse, I should add. The worst insult to my intelligence was when I was expected to respect and understand V's decision to simulate a torture scenario for Evey. For an extended period of time, she's tortured, interrogated, and left in terrible living conditions, because V feels that it's necessary for her to develop courage. He justifies his actions by saying that Evey needed to be in a life-or-death situation for her to understand that some principles are more important than her individual life. This creates a nice moral epiphany for Evey, but the fact that it's orchestrated by a man who is supposed to care for her is disgusting. There's something off about a freedom fighter who insists on manipulating other people in a way similar to the fascist regime he is fighting against. To make the issue even worse, when V confesses this information to Evey, his initial reaction is to tell Evey about how terrible it was for him to torture her. I understand the message behind this aspect of the story, but all admiration and sympathy I developed for V evaporated after this incident. It's very difficult to consider him the moral heart of the story after he justifies his treatment of Evey so easily, and with so little regard for her own experience.

V has its moments, and its world and ultimate message is well crafted. I just wasn't expecting such a beloved movie to be this problematic, and I was a tad disappointed as a result.

Overall: Very glad I saw it, despite all my issues with the material. Also, I had no idea that it was originally an Alan Moore graphic novel until I did research for my review. I'm definitely planning on reading the source material. I recommend seeing V, even if it's only just to understand the ideology of groups like Anonymous and watch V's fabulous introductory scene.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Death Comes to Pemberley Review

Dust Jacket Description:

"There are now two handsome, healthy sons in the Pemberley nursery, Elizabeth's beloved sister Jane and her husband, Bingley, live within seventeen miles, the ordered and secure life of Pemberley seems unassailable, and Elizabeth's happiness in her marriage is complete. But their peace is threatened and old sins and misunderstandings are rekindled on the eve of the annual autumn ball. The Darcys and their guests are preparing to retire for the night when a chaise appears, rocking down the path from Pemberley's wild woodland, and as it pulls up, Lydia Wickham, an uninvited guest, tumbles out, screaming that her husband has been murdered.

Characters: I'm no P & P purist by any stretch of the imagination. I fell in love with The Lizzie Bennet Diaries last year and how it modernized the story. I've been exposed to several different adaptations, and have appreciated many of them. But I'm just not buying Death Comes to Pemberley. Elizabeth has no wit whatsoever, doesn't usually give her opinion to Darcy, and is more self-sacrificing than flawed. Darcy had a marginally better portrayal, as his stiff exterior and strict morality was depicted several times in the novel. However, watching him deal with Wickham without any sense of anger or aggression made him unconvincing as Darcy. My least favourite part was reading the interactions between Darcy and Elizabeth, as they have none of the passion, cleverness, or intimacy that's present in the original. James tries to distract readers from this by making the characters use terms of endearment a lot, but it doesn't work very well. It didn't feel like a Pride and Prejudice story, so much as a ploy to get a larger readership by inserting Austen's characters into the text. One flower.

Writing: I really wish I had started reading James with a different one of her works. The same phrases are referred to in the same contexts multiple times and the attempts at emotion seem forced. The constant references to the canon seemed heavy-handed to me, as well. It's clear that James has talent, but this seems very poorly edited. One and a half flowers.

Plot: The mystery was a bit interesting, but there just wasn't enough character investment, tension, or cleverness to make me care about where it was going. I also didn't have much interest in the English legal system, since so many names were mentioned that I could barely keep track of who had which responsibilities. Two flowers. 

End: I was somewhat surprised by the twist, but the conclusion seemed inevitable and incredibly stale. One flower.

Dust Jacket Description: It clearly explains what has occurred in the Darcy family post-Pride and Prejudice, and it is well structured. However, it is incredibly misleading. If only this had been a story about Wickham's murder! It would have been way more intriguing. 3 and a half flowers. 

Cover: I quite like the look of this one. Everything from the font to the illustration is well done. 5 flowers.

Overall: An unimpressive Austen tribute and mystery. I'm not giving up on James just yet, but this really isn't worth the time. One and a half flowers.