Saturday, March 31, 2012

March Overview

I did stuff this month! No seriously, I did. *gestures wildly to seventeen March posts* I'm still behind, but at least I'm not ridiculously so. Well, except on the album front. I might have to reassess that goal. Or go through a crazy perusal of albums in the summer.

Books:

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
In Sheep's Clothing
And Then Things Fall Apart by Arlaina Tibensky
The Boy Book by E. Lockhart
Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle
Dangerous Neighbors by Beth Kephart

This number means that I am still two books behind, but hey, I will take that!

Movies:


Bridesmaids
Chicago

Albums:

Led Zeppelin, Led Zeppelin
Blue, Joni Mitchell

I know, I'm at a pathetic -8, but I like to spend a lot of time with my albums. I'll keep better track next month. (That is, if midterms don't kill me.)

TV Seasons:

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season 5

Aha, at least I've kept up my TV quota! I love March break.

Plays:

Tempting Providence

I'm behind by one, but I was feeling ill the day I was supposed to go to another play. Leave me alone.

Things Unrelated to Educate Emma

Social Media Has Fed the Fever in The New York Times' The Power of Young Adult Fiction debate post

So, I'm not doing terrible at present! I could be better, but I should make a recovery in the summertime. I've realized that stress reading is an incredibly effective way of dealing with emotions, so hopefully I'll surpass my fifty book goal.

How are your reading/culture goals going?

Bloggiesta 2012: To-Do List


Oh yes, it is THAT time of year again. I know I am woefully late to the game, but I think I can blame most of my issues on, you know, getting published on The New York Times site . While this opportunity was fabulous, it sort of made plunging through schoolwork impossible for two days. You may think writing 369 words should take no time at all, but you didn't see how many drafts I wrote. However, I am now going to cease complaining about what might be the most amazing and ridiculous first world problem. Now, I am actually going to work on my blog. Here's my to-do list for the next two days.

  • Write those two reviews I've been putting off
  • Finally use Evernote to keep track of all my Educate Emma progress and suggestions
  • Compile all the various ideas I've had for that idea of a weekend opinion feature
  • Sort through my review list and organize according to Educate Emma
  • Write a March post for Educate Emma
  • Get caught up on my google feed and follow more people via RSS
  • Finish the back up and review policy mini challenges
  • Respond to all review requests
  • Organize my new blog email with folders

I am pretty sure that's it. *blinks* Well then. *scurries off to do everything* What are your blogging goals this weekend? What have you completed so far?

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Thoughts On the New Year and Educate Emma

Let's face it: I wasn't a very good blogger in 2011.

I was going through a lot, not particularly interested in trying to write things when I wasn't sure of what I wanted my blog to be, and lazy. I am always lazy.

However. I've read enough blogs, been around enough amazing people, and started determining my fiction process long enough to realize what I want my blog should look like.

This is largely because of one thing that happened in the YA universe this year. And that was the Darkness Too Visible post by Wall Street Journal that turned us all into balls of RAGE. It made me talk about all the issues of censorship that have been attacked by people much more eloquent than me.

And then it made me write.

It made me write for an hour. That was it. The writing made me think and realize why this lady had pressed all of my buttons, made me talk until 3 am with a close friend, and still was irritating me. I posted it thinking some of my friends would notice, I might get a little bit of interest from the rest of the YA world. That would be it.

But the response. The comments. Being told that I was a great writer, that I was a smart reader, that I had the capacity and the words to make a difference. It affected me. This was the first time my words earned a large response, and it made me realize that what I wanted my words to do was make people think. I wanted discussion and insight and resonance. I was not interested in becoming a blogger celebrity or getting a lot of ARCs or even making a hoard of author friends. Although these things would be nice, the #YASaves experience made me truly realize that what I wanted was intelligent discourse from the people who were intrigued by my thoughts. That's it.

That's a big realization for someone. It inspired me. Now, of course, there's the process of earning that kind of discourse, becoming a thought provoking blogger, creating a kind of platform that makes it seem like I have something to say. And I'm pretty sure I have an idea that will help me start.

I'm the kind of person who wants to know EVERYTHING. I am so hungry for information that I have a habit of becoming intrusive. Knowledge matters to me that much. And despite being reasonably well read, receiving a quality music education from my parents, owning the capacity to analyze a script, and being aware of my local theatre personalities, I am not as cultured as I would like.

I think the blog could help me with this. What I'm saying is that for this year, Booking Through 365 is going to include Watching and Listening.

I plan on reading a book a week, watching a movie a week, listening to an album a week, seeing a play a month, and watching a TV season a month. The reviews toward this long winded project are going to be a part of a 2012 feature called Educate Emma. This week I'm reading The Gemma Doyle Trilogy again, but after that, I'm devoting myself to this project.

I've wanted to experience other genres and become more educated about the arts for YEARS. I've just never thought to give myself an external motivator. And this is perfect. There are two rules:

1. I'm aiming for 50 books, movies, albums and 12 TV seasons + plays. I'll be writing 3-5 posts a week for these goals and various opinion posts I have planned, but if I don't consume all of these media every week, I'll simply have to make it up some other time. I am refusing to get too far behind, and if I do, I don't know, you can punish me by buying an Edward Cullen action figure or something.

EDIT: I've been ignoring my mother's offerings to go see plays long enough for me to forget about the thriving art scene in my community. I have WAY too many opportunities to see plays. Only viewing 12 in a year is a pathetically realistic goal. I already see a play a month with my local theatre thanks to their school program. I'm raising the play quota from one play a month to two, although depending on how well I organize my time with Fringe, that may still be a goal that's too attainable. No matter, this rise should push me a little harder to see the local theatre scene more, and if not, I can always increase the quota. If the promise of good art makes me do my homework earlier, then all the better.

2. I want to take one comment culture request per month. If I get enough comments for each media sector, I might make it one request per art outlet. I really wanted my friends to finally have an outlet to beg me to read things, so I'm obedient within a short time frame. I figured this would also help me move farther from being an exclusively YA blog and become a more well rounded reader, music enthusiast and audience member. However, this means that I'm NOT accepting requests from places like twitter or Facebook. (Friends, did you hear me? BLOG ONLY.) This will make it easier for me to record and keep track of everything. And because I'm selfish, it hopefully means that I more often experience the little explosion of heart happiness I get whenever I receive a comment.

I am very excited, because this project is going to force me to relax and do things outside of school. It also means that I'll focus on reviews and opinion posts, and memes will be banished altogether. The only thing I'm concerned about is creating a review format for TV, plays, movies and music. I love how breaking down my book reviews keeps me active and focused, but I'm not sure how I should break down all these different creative forms. Do you have any suggestions, or should I begin to review products from these artistic outlets and figure out the best formatting individually? If you can, let me know. I'd really appreciate it.

I'm very excited for this year, and I hope to become more cultured and blog more regularly due to Educate Emma. What are your 2012 blogging goals?

Monday, March 26, 2012

Educate Emma: Movies: Chicago

Chicago has a great premise: celebrities whose crimes are their claims to fame. It's set at a great time period, the cinematography is perfection, and the choreography and music are excellent. Its main problem is its drab, boring protagonist. Roxy Hart (Renee Zellweger), just isn't compelling. Catherine Zeta-Jones' character, Velma Kelly, shows that you can be unlikable and yet interesting to watch. Roxy is completely dull, and the acting from the rest of the cast is never good enough to make up for her monotonous stupidity. Zellweger's acting never makes her lines notable. There is nothing worse than an unlikable character who can't even inspire hatred. Roxy is that.

Despite the lacking storyline, the music numbers make the movie worth noting. The cinematography is absolutely beautiful, although I'm not sure I think Roxy's mind is capable of crafting an entire musical. Choreography is fantastic, and the acting within numbers is exceptional. Songs like Cell Block Tango, We Both Reached for the Gun, and Razzle Dazzle take full advantage of the film medium. Other numbers are more interested in the traditional musical staging, but regardless, everything is visually beautiful. It is rare that a film adaptation respects its roots and plays effectively with different mediums. Chicago does that, and it's enough to keep me listening to the soundtrack. However, I doubt I'd see the film again.

The actual point: Go for the musical numbers rather than the movie itself. The story just can't hold its own in comparison to the music and dancing. I have to see the musical now, as I bet there are plenty of actresses who can pull off Roxy better than Zellweger.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Educate Emma: Books: A Wrinkle In Time by Madeleine L'Engle

Dust Jacket Description:

"It is a dark and stormy night. Meg Murry, her small brother Charles Wallace, and her mother are in the kitchen for a midnight snack when a most disturbing visitor arrives.

'Wild nights are my glory,' the unearthly stranger tells them. 'I just got caught in a downdraft and blown off course. Let me sit down a moment, and then I'll be on my way. Speaking of ways, by the way, there is such a thing as a tesseract.'

Meg's father had been experimenting with this fifth dimension of time travel when he mysteriously disappeared. Now the time has come for Meg, her friend Calvin, and Charles Wallace to rescue him. But can they outwit and overpower the forces of evil they will encounter on their heart-stopping journey through space?"


Characters:
Yes, this is my first time reading A Wrinkle In Time. My father was blamed for never introducing me properly to Led Zeppelin, so I can blame my mother for never giving me Madeleine L'Engle. Most of my issues with A Wrinkle In Time would have been minimal if I had read the book when I was younger, but I'm glad I read it now rather than I was older. I have the feeling this could have been one of my favourites as Tiny!Emma if I had experienced it earlier.

I adored Meg. Seeing a strong female character is a joy, but one who is impatient, stubborn, fiercely loyal and also intelligent is a special kind of delight. I loved how she was put at the forefront of the story and her faults were spot on. Usually the imperfections Meg possesses would annoy me, but L'Engle gets the writing just right. I wanted to hold fast to all of Meg's personality traits. Meg actually reminded me a lot Harry Potter in terms of character.

Charles Wallace and Calvin were great. I loved how each personality was distinct, despite the amount of characters in the novel. Charles Wallace creeped me out earlier on in the story, but I grew fond of his observance and gentility. Calvin was also total perfection. I wish I had seen more dynamic between him and the Murry family earlier in the story. While L'Engle makes Calvin's abrupt entrance natural, I needed a bit more of his emotions and personality to fully feel like his introduction fit the story. Calvin's interactions with Meg made me smile on multiple occasions, and I was impressed that L'Engle got his entrance to feel organic at all.


It's a small component of the story, but I also like what L'Engle did with Meg's perception of her father. Mrs Who, Whatsit and Which were divine characters. It took me a while to differentiate between them all, but there are clear differences. Relationships felt real, magical, and tangible. I can tell I'll be rereading this in the years to come. 4 and a half flowers.

Writing:
Sometimes I grew aggravated with L'Engle rhetorical questions, but the way she describes the planets the characters visit is marvelous. Her tone is hard to place, but it's this mix of sci-fi and fantasy realism that I want to hold onto. 4 and a half flowers.

Plot:
I love being inside of a book and knowing that I'll need more of the story after I leave it. World building is brilliant and the complex world L'Engle crafts is one I want to stay in for a long time. It's rare that Christianity in children's novels isn't preachy, boring or obnoxious. L'Engle pulls it off thanks to her strong, multifaceted characterization. The passages of the Bible she decides to use are powerful in reasonable, important ways, and so I actually enjoyed that layer of the story. Pacing was perfect for the story, too. My biggest issue was the simplification of good and evil. After resonating with Sylvia Plath's passage in The Bell Jar about shadows being the most beautiful thing in the world, it was hard for me to emotionally believe The Dark Thing's significance. This one pet peeve has more to do with my adolescent age than the text itself, but it did take me out of the text once or twice. Besides that, this is amazingly crafted and I want to get my hands on the sequel soon. 4 flowers for me, but four and a half for everything else.

End:
A little fast, but fitting. 4 and a half flowers.

Dust Jacket Description:
Calling Calvin a friend seems to be inaccurate, but it feels old and epic. It has the tone of the novel. 4 flowers.

Cover:
This cover is so awful, it's awesome. At least the physical traits are accurate, and I love smelling used book store on the pages. 4 flowers.

Overall:
I see why this story is so well treasured. Its strong characters and world-building make it compelling, and L'Engle's writes difficult angles and story elements with ease. I now fully understand L'Engle's quote about writing the most complex stories for children rather than adults. This is a gift of a novel. 4 and a half flowers.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Educate Emma: TV: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season 5

Ever since the end of season two, it's felt like Buffy has been desperately groping for some real point with no success. I enjoyed seasons three and four, but they didn't have the same relevance and emotional depth as season two. If I had been watching the show on the air, I would've been frustrated by its lack of meaty plot. Luckily, everyone I know loves seasons five-seven, so I knew there was hope for me. If I thought season two was the end of all encompasing season mastery, I was wrong. Season five is when Buffy starts to feel like it's moving again.

From the season opener, you can tell this season is going to challenge Buffy as a character, and it does. I complained in my season four review that the past two antagonists didn't have the same emotional baggage that the Big Bads of seasons one and two had. Season five changes that, and it's the first time in ages that Buffy seems genuinely scared of an antagonist. The Big Bad of the season is fun, mysterious, and darker than more recent ones. This made me feel as if important things were really at stake, and being reacquainted with that anxiety was delightful. It showed me Whedon had more up his sleeve.

I'm not a big fan of the new character of Dawn. Her personality is dull, obnoxious and irrationally stupid in a way that is accurate for her age. That makes it even more irritating. However, she reveals a different side of Buffy. Viewers have often seen Buffy being protective of those in need from episode to episode, and taking too much responsibility on amongst her equal friends over seasons. Dawn provided the great opportunity for Buffy's protection to seem like a healthy, necessary responsibility, as she was not Buffy's equal. Seeing that side of Buffy made me love her even more amidst her heartbreak.

As for regular characters, relationships deepen and the Scooby Gang seems to finally begin emerging into true adulthood. Xander is officially not annoying, and his dynamic with Anya is sweet and perfect for his character. I can't get enough of Willow and Tara. I've been very curious and confused by Spike's supposed personality progression, but now I see it, and I love what the writers did with him. Fool for Love is absolutely spot on in showing his change of heart, and its dark edge was an indicator of things to come.

Overall, it's a great season, and it excites me to know the show is finally going somewhere with its plot, rather than just characterization and episodic formatting. The Gift will make me cry for many years to come. At this rate, I'm definitely going to need a Buffy box set to get me through bad times.

Favourite episodes: I'm having a hard time narrowing down my favourites. A lot of fabulous tones are utilized in this season, and I can't choose between the different styles. Family created a huge amount of emotional resonance for me and represented the strong ties of The Scooby Gang. The Body played with a different style and completely embodied feelings of grief. Both of these are Whedon's masterful creations - if for completely different reasons. However, I'm also partial to the dark, touching tones of Fool for Love, the psychological spin of The Weight of the World, the sentimental feelings produced from Tough Love, and the heroic, perfect finale The Gift. Okay, I might have just referenced practically a third of the entire season. But I can't help loving the characterization and plotting of this season.

Least favourite episodes: The Real Me was irritating, if only for my confusion and general dislike of Dawn. Listening to Fear was neither campy enough nor dramatic enough to hold my attention. I wanted to be more emotionally affected by Spiral. Overall, not too bad for the season. There was no episode I really despised, and most of the campy elements were fun rather than impossible to enjoy and ridiculous.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Educate Emma: Books: Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead

Dust Jacket Description:

"
St. Vladimir's Academy isn't just any boarding school–it's a hidden place where vampires are educated in the ways of magic and half-human teens train to protect them. Rose Hathaway is a Dhampir, a bodyguard for her best friend Lissa, a Moroi Vampire Princess. They've been on the run, but now they're being dragged back to St. Vladimir's–the very place where they're most in danger. Rose and Lissa become enmeshed in forbidden romance, the Academy's ruthless social scene, and unspeakable nighttime rituals. But they must be careful lest the Strigoi–the world's fiercest and most dangerous vampires–make Lissa one of them forever."








Characters: I loved Rose's personality. Lissa is usually the character in YA who would get the most attention - her quiet, analytical nature fits the perspectives of most YA paranormal romance characters I've met. Rose is rash, sexy and hyper protective. You don't see a lot of strong, powerful flirts being YA protagonists, and I liked her confident, clever nature. I did get a little grossed out when she would turn all Edward Cullen on Lissa. Rose oversteps a few boundaries with Lissa, and while it's uncomfortable to view, they're seen as mistakes. I can forgive wrong doing that is framed as such. I liked seeing a narrator with unusual kinds of insecurities, and a different, more protective sort of responsibility than most paranormal MCs.

It was Rose's feisty, loyal personality that kept me from hating Lissa. It's not that Lissa is particularly awful, it's just that Mead seems to have a hard time properly identifying her personality. First she's shy, observant, anxious, troubled. Next she is charismatic but traumatized. The mix of charming and introverted didn't work well for me. I hope she rings true in later books.

Mead certainly has a good grip on her love interests. Even Christian pulled off the dreamy-and-dangerous vibe without making me want to gag. Dimitri's appeal to Rose is understandable, and I found myself liking him as a result.

They're not a particularly amazing cast of characters, but they're fun to read about. Rose is worth reading all on her own. 4 flowers.

Writing:
The dialogue is kind of dry and cliched, but again, it works as a vessel for the story. The writing is not distracting and the grammar isn't too horrible. I was so caught up in the action I wasn't very picky. 3 and a half flowers.

Plot:
I really like how Mead manipulated the traditional vampire ideas and made interesting political and social worlds. The pacing is perfection. Mead doesn't let her readers rest for one second, and it makes for a quality plot. Sure, the ending is predictable, but there are a couple of surprising twists and turns. I did feel like Rose's ability to see into Lissa's mind was a POV cop-out, but hey, I shouldn't be complaining when I didn't love Lissa anyway. Conflicts are never dragged out. That's a major skill for a writer. 4 flowers.

End:
It feels natural. I like when stories actually feel like they're appropriate candidates to be a series. 4 and a half flowers.

Dust Jacket Description:
I don't appreciate how the last sentence makes the conflict seem different than it actually is. Beyond that, I would have liked a little more of a focus on Rose and maybe a sentence about Dimitri. 3 flowers.

Cover:
I've heard many bloggers bemoan this series' covers. I understand why. They're typical and boring. I'm glad I read this one on my ebook. 2 flowers.

Overall:
If you want something with a strong protagonist, a strong pace, and a solid paranormal world, pick Vampire Academy up. I'll definitely read the rest of the series. 4 flowers.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Educate Emma: Books: The Boy Book by E. Lockhart

Dust Jacket Description:

"
Here is how things stand at the beginning of newly-licensed driver Ruby Oliver's junior year at Tate Prep:

• Kim: Not speaking. But far away in Tokyo.
• Cricket: Not speaking.
• Nora: Speaking--sort of. Chatted a couple times this summer when they bumped into each other outside of school--once shopping in the U District, and once in the Elliot Bay Bookstore. But she hadn't called Ruby, or anything.
• Noel: Didn't care what anyone thinks.
• Meghan: Didn't have any other friends.
• Dr. Z: Speaking.
• And Jackson. The big one. Not speaking.

But, by Winter Break, a new job, an unlikely but satisfying friend combo, additional entries to The Boy Book and many difficult decisions help Ruby to see that there is, indeed, life outside the Tate Universe."

Characters: I read The Boyfriend List back in 2009, and while I enjoyed it, reading the rest of the series wasn't a pressing desire. I loved Lockhart's The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, so it's natural that I like her writing in other books. However, Ruby does not have Frankie's same brilliance or charm. Her behavior makes her fairly unlikable in parts, and the book's premise is not intriguing enough to make me devour the series whole.

But, I needed something light hearted but clever over the weekend, and I knew I needed to go back to Lockhart. Ruby becomes a little less icky in The Boy Book, and she actually seems to be recovering. Noel becomes even more adorable than he was in the original, and Meghan and Nora actually grow to be interesting. Jackson is still a big jerk, but I may finally see his appeal to Ruby.

There's not a lot in terms of characterization, but I liked seeing the relationship between Doctor Z and Ruby. I also love that this series has done a great job of the who-will-Ruby-end-up-with dance. I've seen several candidates for the role. Although there's the painfully obvious option, I honestly am not sure who will be there at the series end. Usually romantic choices are glaringly predictable, so that's surprising.

It's a decent ensemble that doesn't fit cookie cutter genre expectations. Ruby's story makes for a good way to spend a late night. 4 flowers.

Writing:
I love Lockhart's footnotes and Ruby's grammar and feminist musings. It's made me consider rereading Frankie. 5 flowers.

Plot:
If this book were any longer, I'd say it suffers from the sophomore slump. Not a lot happens in this novel, but Ruby's emotional recovery helps with the lack of true action. 4 flowers.

End:
I like seeing Ruby do the right thing. I like her misfit friends. I like the road she's headed on. It's a good way to leave the story. 5 flowers.

Dust Jacket Description:
I'm not sure I agree with the sentiment of the last sentence, but the list format fits Ruby's voice. 4 flowers.

Cover:
I like the cover's relevance to the story. I also love the shiny, quirky exterior of the penguin. 5 flowers.

Overall:
If you don't necessarily have to love your MCs to love a story, the Ruby Oliver series is for you. It's clever, fun, and kind of surprising. I like that. 4 flowers.



Sunday, March 18, 2012

Educate Emma: Albums: Led Zeppelin (the album)

I'm a little ashamed I even get to review this album in the first place. How it wasn't an integral part of my childhood is totally beyond me. I got my Beatles, Nina Simone, Bob Dylan, James Taylor, Johnny Cash, Joni Mitchell, Bruce Springsteen with dashes of popular singles from serious music icons. I also grew up with CDs made by several obscure independent musicians that happened to find their way to Vancouver, BC while touring. I blame my mother for my love of rock operas and New Wave. Some quality contemporary was incorporated too, from The Killers to Norah Jones. My father can only be applauded for supporting my short but passionate devotion to Avril Lavigne because he gave me the actual good stuff too. I thought I received a solid music education from both my parents, even if mom forced me to listen to Muskrat Love more than...zero times, and dad would have made me craft a shrine to Bob Dylan if he ever got the chance. You know, they had their faults, but they were easily forgiven.

After listening to Led Zeppelin's One, I'm pretty sure I'll never love my father the same way again. I mean, there was no hope for mom heavily incorporating Zeppelin into my life, but I will always carry resentment towards my dad for never cranking up Immigrant Song or Black Dog or Kashmir in the car. There's about a lifetime worth of payback I'll get for that one transgression.

Pretty serious words, even coming from a hyperbolic, pretentious adolescent with a blog, I know. But besides occasionally hearing Stairway to Heaven and knowing the band was supposed to be The Best Thing Ever No Seriously, I never understood what the big deal was about.

Now I get why Led Zeppelin was considered revolutionary. When I even try to grasp how strange it would have been to hear the album as a kid in 1969, my mind kind of breaks apart and struggles to reassemble itself. As soon as you reach the guitar solo in Good Times Bad Times, you know you've stumbled onto a great thing. The entire first side of the album is perfection. After originally being confused by the leeway from Good Times Bad Times into Babe I'm Gonna Leave You, I found a love for it by the time I played the album over for the third time. After the first few days of listening to One, I replayed Babe over and over and over again until I knew it was the appropriate time to go to bed. Then I played it five more times. I couldn't stop myself.

This album is like basking in the holy waters of rock music, except somehow you swallowed the water when you dove in and now you're on this acid trip. Above everything else, you don't want the acid trip to end, because everything is suddenly so shiny. I'm starting to look like a fangirl, aren't I? Before I digress from my usual hyper-critical review style, I get how One's sound is somewhat derivative. Its heavy blues tones weren't wasted on me, and the band was obviously playing around with their style.

I'm mostly so excited about this first Educate Emma album because the music is so intuitive. It's less about perception and more about emotion - and I don't say that to make up for lack of quality or excessive gimmicks. The songs can't be rushed. They just have to take their course. And when they do, the music in between words does not seem frivolous. The guitar itself seems to be saying much more poignant and excellent things than the lyrics themselves. The instruments are necessary to communicate, even more necessary than the words. You soak in the album and its progression. That's a refreshing pace from most of today's popular music.

You can tell this is Led Zeppelin's start, but they show some versatility in the differences between songs like Dazed and Confused and Your Time Is Gonna Come. I want to bask in the music and bind myself to the sound. And as the cherry on top, the more often I listen to it, the more I fall in love with arrangement of the album. The rises and falls, the fun and the heartbreak, they all fit exceptionally well. I'm a little bit in love with the flow of One alone. There's so much to enjoy here. I don't want it to stop.

Favourite songs: The raw desperation of Babe I'm Gonna Leave You tops all the others in my opinion. Dazed and Confused would be my runner-up, just because it doesn't evoke the same power for me. As for non-covers, the last track, How Many More Times is the perfect closer.

Least favourite song: Oddly enough, it's probably Communication Breakdown. You can tell it's a single, and maybe that's my problem with it. It can't hold the same weight as other songs on One.

I think this facet of Educate Emma is going to be awesome. Feel free to leave recommendations in the comments!

Friday, March 16, 2012

Educate Emma: Books: And Then Things Fall Apart by Arlaina Tibensky

Dust Jacket Description:

"
Keek’s life was totally perfect….

Keek and her boyfriend just had their Worst Fight Ever; her best friend heinously betrayed her; her parents are divorcing; and her mom’s across the country caring for her newborn cousin, who may or may not make it home from the hospital. To top it all off, Keek’s got the plague. (Well, the chicken pox.) Now she’s holed up at her grandmother’s technologically barren house until further notice. Not quite the summer vacation Keek had in mind.

With only an old typewriter and Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar for solace and guidance, Keek’s alone with her swirling thoughts. But one thing’s clear through her feverish haze—she’s got to figure out why things went wrong so she can make them right.




Characters: If reading The Bell Jar was like experiencing my Jungian shadow self, then And Then Things Fall Apart was like visiting a more juvenile version of my personality.

Keek is fun and easy to relate to. She's punk rock mixed with literature appreciation and age appropriate behavior. I'm all for the two formers, but watching the latter in action was both frustrating and refreshing at times. YA literature these days seems to be obsessed with overly responsible female protagonists. It loves their hyper aware, wise-beyond-their-years personalities, but often robs them of true character in the process. Keek is the exact opposite. I'm not saying that she's entirely oblivious or selfish (although she certain has her moments). However, Keek does act the way her fifteen years would indicate her to behave.

I didn't always agree with Keek's thoughts on The Bell Jar. Sometimes I was flabbergasted as to how she found those themes, but I liked the way Keek challenged me. She angered and soothed in equal measures. Her easily predicted pubescent nature was why this book's emotional impact surprised me. Keek is dramatic, immature, self-involved, and her use of sofa king at regular intervals made me want to kill something for the lack of realism. But her all consuming love of Plath and her hormones and her loneliness make the book ring true. In fact, Keek inspires similar feelings Esther Greenwood does, even if it is from a completely different angle. That's rather masterful for Tibensky, and her fun house mirror symmetry to Plath is impressive.

As for the rest of the characters, Tibensky makes them escape stereotypes with a few seconds to spare. Little dialogue is used in the book, which means that a reader is very dependent on Keek. Somehow it works, and characters slowly separate from their original archetypes. I really liked what Tibensky ultimate did with the personas of Keek's mom and dad. Although I was confused by the things Keek decided to dwell on and the things she let slide with no further information.

Regardless, Keek feels genuine. When I need someone who makes me feel a little older, a little wiser, and a little braver, I'll go to her. 4 flowers.

Writing:
Tibensky has her voice, as well as her characters. But the constant use of sofa king grated on my nerves. Especially when it oozed middle school and made its intended origin all the more ridiculous. 4 flowers.

Plot: I liked the pacing of the book, and it's very rare that I actually enjoy diary/letter formats. I don't know if Keek's typewriter pieces count under that format, but if they do, they still work. I'm still a little fuzzy on Keek's easy forgiveness towards the end. 4 flowers.

End:
Perfect for the character and her world. Tibensky does a good job. 4 and a half flowers.

Dust Jacket Description:
I feel the end sentence is there purely to add action where there is none. However, it fits the tone and it mentions the important technologically deficient part of the story. 4 flowers.

Cover:
I love this cover and its clever design. I love the way the book feels under my fingertips. This may be because the lovely Maggie Desmond-O'Brien broke it in for me and then decided to share like the beautiful person she is. There is nothing like a spot-on book recommendation. 5 flowers.

Overall: If you want an accurate portrayal of a teenage girl's mind and divorce woes (god forbid), this is the perfect book. I certainly have a recommendation for all my fellow Bell Jar lovers. 4 and a half flowers, even if the half star is just because of my emotions.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Educate Emma: Movies: Bridesmaids

Bridesmaids was surprising. I heard the rave reviews and the huge bouts of praise, but Twilight ruined me for the idea that the masses have good taste. You'd think Harry Potter would have saved that, but nope. JK Rowling is the one exception.

I was skeptical of the movie's premise, if only because of the trailers. But the writing was female-oriented, funny, and actually fresh. Sometimes its comedy was a little too body-related for my taste, but I'm more of your British humor type. I was rather amazed by the sheer originality and non-sucktitude of something that had received so much attention.

It was nice to see a piece that was focused on female kinship and problems rather than your average male-driven movie. The relationship between Annie and Lillian is subtle but solid, Meghan's heart to heart with Annie is brilliant, and the frenemy dynamic between Helen and Annie is much more realistic to normal life. We're not all Blair and Serena. In fact, I'm pretty sure none of us are.

I ended up having a whole lot of hatred towards Annie around the height of the rising action. Luckily for the story, this frustration with her selfish character was brief, and she turned her life around quickly enough for me to still pay attention. Nathan's character was perfect for the material, some scenes were completely brilliant, and it inspired several laughs.

The actual: Overall, if you're entertained by some gross scenes, and want something with genuine characterization, an excellent romance, and fresh humor, go watch Bridesmaids. You can handle Jon Hamm not being sexy for one second. Yes you can. I promise. No seriously.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Educate Emma: Movies: Heartbreaker/L'arnacoeur

I have a thing for heists. I have a thing for clever romances. I have a thing for the entire French language. L'arnacoeur isn't anything super special in the world of romantic comedies, but it's a fun way to procrastinate on homework and spend time with your mom. Or...take a break. I like that wording better.

Alex works in his sister's business. They help women discover better romantic situations than they currently have. In less flowery terms, they break people up. Unsurprisingly, Alex ends up falling in love with his mark, Juliette. He also has a bunch of debts and it's a dire situation and blah blah blah you've heard this story before.

The thing with romantic comedies that aren't set in the US, (it may be harsh, but it's true) is that their characters are usually aware of the tropes that burden the formulaic structure. I would usually say it's a cop-out to make your characters aware of the downfalls of their own story, but it works in L'arnacoeur. It makes the personalities seem intelligent and realistic, rather than irritating and cliched. What could be a waste of time turns into an endearing way to spend a fluffy afternoon, and that's mainly because of this layer of understanding.

The heist element and witty dialogue help too. You combine sophisticated, over-the-top ploys and good characterization and I'm sold. It's probably a weakness in my personality, but I've always had a thing for spy movies and stories in the same vein. Chemistry is good, and even when plot isn't, it's still French. I can forgive most French things. Not a good excuse? Au contraire, reader. Leave me and my subtitled movies alone.

The actual point: It has a problem with wonky pacing, but I wasn't expecting a flawless movie. I got great cinematography, pretty French people, a surprising amount of laughs, and HEISTS. It was worth the afternoon.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Educate Emma: Theatre: The Great Gatsby

I should start by saying I'm not the most objective viewer of this play. Since I had just finished the book two days before, I was very partial to the text whilst watching the play. However, I'd like to think that I'm good enough at this writing thing to view a piece separately from my emotions, so I'm still posting about this one.

To start off with the positive, everything about the set design was absolute perfection. The simplified, rich 20s style was beautiful. For a reader who couldn't quite picture the right setting due to my lack of historical knowledge, the visuals were a treat. Even the way the curtains transitioned scenes helped with the decadent style of the play. Costumes were very close to be perfect. They were gorgeous, but my issue was with how little attention was drawn to Daisy's consistently white dresses. Jordan also dressed in white during several scenes, and so the metaphor would have been lost to most audience members.


The ambiance the play has is excellent. The beginning and ending scenes of The Great Gatsby are pure brilliance for the eyes. The atmosphere's tone and prop staging is spot on; it's the actual content of the play that is lacking. The adaptation itself possesses many problems. For the majority of the play, the dialogue either feels inorganic or too self aware for the class and time. The amount of times prohibition was mentioned took me out of the play. I highly doubt a group of rich people with the means to buy alcohol really cared about the law - they certainly didn't in the book. The consolidation of scenes made sense, but my fangirl heart still whimpered at the lines and scene elements that were excluded. Some of these elements would have been worth the few seconds to include, but that is the way it works with adaptations. Everyone's a critic.

As for the actors, Gatsby and Daisy had little to no chemistry. That is a problem, when Gatsby had sustained himself on the promise of seeing Daisy when he is a reformed man. Gatsby had the mystery without any of the charisma or charm - there is no Nick Carraway monologue about the power of Gatsby's smile, and it's as if that key component of Gatsby was taken away along with it. Daisy was the most disappointing to me, though. She was intriguing and playful enough to see why the characters loved her, but Daisy was not mesmerizing enough for the audience to love her too. She owned none of the manic pixie dream girl qualities that made Book Daisy compelling, and so Gatsby's motivations and adoration seemed hollow.

Jordan Baker had fantastic costumes, but she talked too fast when she was telling stories. Baker is supposed to be athletic and used to wealth. Those fast, jittery sentences didn't fit the personality of the character, and they took me out of the story. Tom Buchanan's mannerisms did not properly communicate the pressing stature of a rich idiot. It was a shame, because that is all Buchanan is. The best actor in the entire ensemble is Myrtle, who matches the bright, lewd nature of the character in the book.

The actor who played Nick Carraway fit my physical image of Nick in the book, and his acting was fine. My main issue with Nick came back to adaptation. I get why it would be a better option to give Nick more emotions and eliminate his arrogance, but it screws with the character motivation once again. If Nick had been genuinely in love with Jordan, I don't think he would have been as consumed with Gatsby's story as he was. However, this is how the adaptation works, and it doesn't attempt to show the contradiction of Nick's words and actions. While it's only a small element of the story, that facet was one I loved. I was sorry to see its nonexistent nature in the play.

Some staging was exceptional, while the intonation of certain famous lines did not register the right conflict or characterization for me. This one had strikes against it before it even began, but I was disappointed by the acting ability and script.

The actual point: The work of the backstage team led to a masterful, magical result. The problem with The Great Gatsby is its core - the script, and the message the actors decided to communicate through it.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Educate Emma: Books: The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

Dust Jacket Description:

"Working in New York one hot summer, Esther Greenwood is on the brink of her future. Yet she is also on the edge of a darkness that makes her world increasingly unreal. In this vivid and unforgettable novel about the struggles of growing up, Esther's world shines through: the wide eyed country girls, her crazed men-friends, hot dinner dances and nights in New York, and a slow slide into breakdown."













Characters:
I am naturally a critical reader. Actually, I may be the real life Nick Carraway, to make a reference to The Great Gatsby. It is rare that a book resonates to the point where my review can't possess an objective angle or element. But if there was ever a book, it's The Bell Jar.

That's not to say The Bell Jar isn't exceptionally crafted. Esther will be the passive, Jungian shadow self of many readers who pick up the book. The characters are not exactly real, but they are a product of first person narration. The way Esther perceives everyone from Doreen to her mother reminds me of my musings in fever dreams - dark, heavy-lidded, and more right than I'd like to admit. It's just that I am a part of the audience Plath is and writes for: female, educated, middle to upper class, predominately white. Not that this narrative is invalid - while it's a more popular and well-known feminist perspective, it still has value. It is simply that Plath's words attach themselves to my mind and linger. Every thought Esther possesses feels right, every action she takes fits. It is not quite the soul-mate meeting Gemma Doyle and I had, but more like suddenly finding a different version of yourself and their story.

Esther's story floats on the periphery of my world rather like Lolita's did - its dark humor echoes my own mind far more often than our society allows. It presses down, finds you in a place alarmingly nihilist, and it lets you find your way out on your own. I slip into this mood without aid sometimes, but it was helpful seeing that other people possessed it as well.

Esther fits me. Not in a way that gets me excited or passionate, but in one that creates an ease from being found. Plath maintains her tone and her character with precision. 5 flowers.

Writing:
Plath's metaphors are stunning and reserved. I liked this combination. The pacing was sort of surprising, and I liked that element. My one qualm - which might be my edition, as it was chock full of typos - was some of the ambiguous grammar in the novel. Sentences seemed unintentionally long winded at times. Overall, Plath's style is like getting drowsy from a scalding bath. 4 and a half flowers.

Plot:
I thought the arc Esther undergoes was perfect for the content. Looking from its beginning to its end, the progression is another way of mocking society. The way Plath uses details is like being inside a good play, and I loved that. 5 flowers.

End:
Many novels make an attempt at ambiguity in its end, but Plath makes her reader feel it. Some part of me is dissatisfied with the place it ended, but once again, tone and emotion trump all. 4 and a half flowers.

Dust Jacket Description:
To be honest, no jacket was going to give this justice. There's no way to match the tone in such a short period of time. This one makes the novel feel like an Oprah book, but I can't blame it. It's too big of a task to complete. 2 flowers.

Cover:
This feels so wrong for the content. I wanted a picture of a bell jar, or one of the various lovely metaphors in the book. This girl and her camera shot don't work, but I see how they'd appeal to female readers. 3 flowers.

Overall:
This is one book where I can't pinpoint my reaction. It's brilliant, well written and it resonates. But the emotion Plath creates is one that lives somewhere deeper than where passion resides. Somewhere a whole lot harder to get at. It's worth reading to see what it inspires in you. 4 and a half flowers.



Monday, March 5, 2012

Educate Emma: Movies: This Means War

I know, I know, this seems less like Educate Emma and more like me just reviewing any movie I can get my hands on. But I believe all genres have merit, and I think critiquing something like this is valuable. Also, I do now have a list of movies I actually want to watch for Educate Emma. They DO fit under the label of "culture", so you can leave me alone now. And if you want me to watch anything in particular, it's your responsibility to write me in the comments. You have no one to blame but yourself. Okay? Okay.

Yes, I saw this movie. Yes, it was exclusively because it had Tom Hardy and Chris Pine in it. Also because there was the promise of spies and weaponry. Don't judge me.

Surprisingly, This Means War didn't make me want to kill everything, roll around on the floor, and bemoan Hollywood's ridiculousness. It actually had some funny parts, witty dialogue, and chemistry. Colour me surprised, but it was nice to see that Hardy and Pine didn't sign up for anything downright awful. Relationship dynamics between all three main characters were excellent, and Reese Witherspoon added to the ensemble rather than detracted.

Now, it had its boring aspects and a predictable, tidy ending, but I still call this movie a winner. I would have liked more of a solid spy plot line, but fine, romance wins over assassins and weaponry. I did get my sufficient dosage of explosions, and for that I am thankful.

My only main qualm is that Tom Hardy was written as a loyal, boring, serious-relationship sort of guy. Which is fine, except when the person who plays the character is Tom Hardy. Did they even look at his face? This is not the man who acts as the best-friend personality in a love triangle. Just look at him.

The actual point: If I am ever forced to watch a romantic comedy with a bunch of people who don't understand my biting sarcasm, This Means War will be my pick. Because explosions, good on-screen tension, and Chris Pine and Tom Hardy. That is all.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Educate Emma: Movies: Almost Famous

Almost Famous has been mentioned in passing by various people I know. It seemed interesting and fitting of my tastes, but I never pursued it long enough to search on IMDB. It took a TV channel perusal for me to watch it. Now I'm certainly glad I did.

It's not necessarily that the story is amazing or the relationships strong or even the struggle compelling. It's more that Almost Famous is the perfect coming of age story about a timid boy with a love of music. William's characterization is so spot on that his aspect of the story is perfection.

Not only is William's progression and personality entirely accurate, but the acting allows potentially cliched characters to seem fresh. William's mom is this weird mish-mash of hippie and conventional, while Lester is a little too honest to pull off the mentor archetype. Everyone effectively toes the line between tired and familiar but intriguing. That's not something you see often in film.

In particular, Kate Hudson did well with the potentially unlikable character she had. Hudson does a good job of playing a magnetic manic-pixie-dream-girl. Based on all her performances in recent years, I was pleasantly surprised by her ability to make Penny Lane attract audiences as well as the characters within the story.

The pacing of Almost Famous is sometimes slower than necessary, and the piece is better when viewing it in songs as opposed to an album. Certain scenes shine, and then the tone is dropped entirely in the shot after it. Flow is not its strong point, but there are times where the acting and script mix to create astonishingly organic moments.

Plot tension loses its drama towards the end, and viewing the movie as a whole makes it seem less valuable. Regardless, the acting chops are what make Almost Famous great. How it plays with journalistic integrity is also worth noting - if less so its limited perspective on music itself.

The actual point: If you want a movie that feels indie without actually being it, Almost Famous is a good choice. The acting is great, and its adolescent story rings true.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Educate Emma: February Overview

My new semester started, a friend came for half a week and I experienced a life-changing martial arts seminar. Those are my excuses for not staying on top of things this month. You can hit me through the computer screen or something.

Books:

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, which puts me at -5.

Movies:

The Descendants - which I'm not reviewing because I can give my whole opinion right here. 1. It felt unoriginal and dull to me, which is mostly due to how its protagonist is a middle aged man. The plot has been done so many times before, so its conventional narrator didn't interest me. 2. Shailene Woodley's performance was great, and felt natural for the character.

Almost Famous
This Means War
Heartbreaker (L'arnacoeur)

I'm at -2.

Albums:

A disastrous -6. I've been trying for ages to figure out how I wanted to start, but I figured it out. The journey will start on Sunday for me.

TV Seasons:

Sherlock, Season 2, which gives me a perfect score!

Theatre:

House
The Last 15 Seconds
The Great Gatsby

This also leaves me with perfect as well.

These will be updated with links once I review all of them. With March break nearing, I should be able to get myself back into gear very soon. Please leave any suggestions you have for me in the comments!

Educate Emma: Theatre: The Last 15 Seconds

The Last 15 Seconds is about the encounter a suicide bomber and his victim have after their deaths. The concept is intriguing, but the clarity of its execution left me weary.

There is no doubt that this play is beautiful. The infusion of acting, video, singing, and dancing makes various points without being overwhelming. Everything, particularly the dancing, is done with excellence. The artistry of this piece may be its best feature. I was impressed by the incorporation of all mediums, and it was done well.

The two men have families played by the same three women, and the effect of this is perfection. The duality communicates a message without words ever having to pass from the actors' lips. The similarities between these men and their pasts is great, and the actors do an exceptional job of showing this.

My main problem with this play is the script itself. The mediums that are used to perform the story are gorgeous, but the story itself is unclear and confusing. Important plot points are neglected, character motivation is explained in brief, and the beginning and ends of the play conflict in a way that frustrated me. The premise of this play is a great idea. I especially loved how both men come from the same culture, since it shows a different narrative regarding terrorism. But the main characters aren't compelling and their actions aren't well illustrated. The story's insufficient nature left only beautiful movements without purpose or content.

The actual point: The Last 15 Seconds might have been thought-provoking, but it ends up only having wisps of the kind of genius it could have held. I wish its script had been just as good as its actors.