Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Book Review: The Scent of Desire by Rachel Herz

scentdesire I must admit that I was almost totally ignorant about our sense of smell until I read Rachel Herz's Scent of Desire. Herz is recognized as the world's leading expert on the psychology of smell, and she now shares her knowledge with us in this book.

Scent of Desire is full of fascinating information about our sense of smell and its functions, and after reading it, I am amazed by how much I now know on the subject. Most of us never really think twice about this amazing sense of ours, taking it for granted and never noticing how valuable it is until we lose it. I'm guilty of not appreciating my own sense of smell as well.

There's a question that I like to ask the people I meet in an effort to get to know them better, "If you had to choose, would you rather be deaf or blind?" Their answers let me learn a little more about them, but isn't it a telltale sign that out of all our five senses, we usually only focus on our sight and hearing.

Perhaps we believe it's unlikely for us to lose our sense of taste and even more unlikely to lose our sense of touch, unless someone writes a book about these two senses and enlighten us otherwise. We also seldom hear about people losing their sense of smell, but even if we did, we don't understand the importance of the loss and we'd probably go, "He's lucky he didn't lose his sight or hearing instead!"

The few times I've contemplated my sense of smell are mostly when I travel and am forced to use a particularly foul-smelling toilet. At times like these, I usually wish I could lose my sense of smell. I'm glad I didn't get what I wished for, after reading Herz's Scent of Desire, I now realize that a loss like that would be devastating.

While it's true that losing my sense of smell would mean that I would be spared from smelling foul odors from a dirty toilet, it would also mean that I wouldn't even be able to detect my own body odor. In the case of Jessica Ross, one of Herz's clients who became anosmic(loss of smell) in a tragic accident, she started becoming paranoid that every time someone looks at her in a certain way, it's because she smells bad and doesn't know because she couldn't smell herself. She would shower at least twice a day, and wash her clothes every day, and still she'd worry that she may have an offensive body odor that she wouldn't be able to detect. She also worries that she wouldn't be able to smell smoke and fire, or spoiled food.

Jessica is also more irritable and depressed since losing her smell, and cries often. She feels that she has lost her quality of life, and that she's disconnected from herself and the people around her. She's also lost interest in sexual intimacy and isn't as attracted to her husband as before.

Herz explains later in the book, that we instinctively choose our mates by their smell, and having our sense of smell tampered with by external factors may cause us to choose the wrong mate. In various experiments where men and women had to choose their most preferred odor of the opposite sex, they almost always chose the odor of someone with the most different biological makeup from themselves. The exceptions are in cases where the women are on birth control pills, in which case, they choose the odor of the person with the most similar biological makeup to themselves.

Herz's theory is that for the human species to thrive, we were instinctively built, biologically, to be attracted to the mate most biologically different from ourselves, to avoid inbreeding and to ensure the survival of the species. Birth control pills mimics the conditions of pregnancy, causing us to instinctively look for safety and family, which in turn makes us attracted to mates who are more similar to us biologically, rather than mates who are biologically different from us. Herz further speculates that this may be why there is such a high divorce rate in our society. Women on birth control pills find themselves attracted to men they normally wouldn't be interested in, and after getting married and getting off the pill, they suddenly find that they are no longer attracted to their men.

It's definitely food for thought, our sense of smell controls our behaviors and actions more than we know, and it certainly explains why we have so many relationship problems. Jessica's inability to smell her husband's odor may be the reason why she finds herself losing her attraction to him.

Herz also talks about the why some odors are considered pleasant to us and unpleasant to others, and vice versa. She says that there are no universally 'good' or 'bad' odor, liking or disliking an odor is due to societal conditioning. I believe her. Living in a country where the durian is called "The King of the Fruits" and savored by locals, it astounds me that foreigners, usually Westerners, can't stand the smell of this wonderfully delicious fruit. Apparently, it works the other way around too; Westerners love cheese, which Asians supposedly can't stand. Personally, I love cheese, but I know a few friends who hate it. I suppose there may be some Westerners who love durians as well.

One anecdote of Herz's that stuck in my mind was about how she became fascinated with our enigmatic sense of smell. When she was a little girl, she loved the smell of skunk, and it was only when she expressed her love of the scent to her friends that she discovered that the smell skunk was supposed to be "bad" when they made fun of her.

It reminded me of something similar that happened to me not too long ago in college, when a friend of mine just came back from a break, and I said to him, "You smell nice." He and a couple of other friends gave me weird looks, and it wasn't until later, when I realized that he smelled of cigarette smoke, that I understood why they behaved so strangely at my compliment. In fact, I thought I was weird!

While the information Herz shares in The Scent of Desire assures me that I'm not abnormal for liking the smell of cigarette smoke, I have no idea why the smell of it on my friend smelled good to me, I don't remember any particularly good memories associated with the smell of smoke as I am a non-smoker, and no one in my family smokes. As for what happened with my friend after that, he probably thought that I was interested in him and that was just a terrible pickup line, because he went out of his way to be nice to me after that.

Herz also covers other odor-related topics like aromatherapy and how lavender, peppermint, and other oils don't really have any beneficial effects on us except through conditioning, how particular smells can trigger long-forgotten memories, the link between our senses of smell and taste and how our sense of taste can diminish without our sense of smell, and what the future holds in odor technology.

The information contain within the pages of The Scent of Desire is astounding and sometimes mind-boggling, but Herz conveys these information so well with her wonderfully charming voice and writing style. She is a pioneer in this field and she has my utmost respect for creating the awareness we need about our amazing sense of smell.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Darcy & Elizabeth: Nights and Days at Pemberley by Linda Berdoll

Darcy & Elizabeth I recently reviewed Linda Berdoll's Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife, which was her sequel to Jane Austen's classic, Pride and Prejudice. In the review, I mentioned that Berdoll's sequel was a maturation of Austen's original story, and that Berdoll gives us so much more of everything; drama, complexity, and even sex.

Berdoll's sequel to her sequel, Darcy & Elizabeth: Nights and Days at Pemberley, is a continuation from where we left off in Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife, and again, it gives us more of what we loved in the first sequel.

In Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife, we read about Elizabeth and Darcy's relationship as a married couple, Darcy's devotion to Elizabeth, Elizabeth's love for Darcy, and even the wild sex they have. And to spice it all up, there's all the trials and tribulations their notorious relations put them through in between, most notably the annoying ninny, Lydia and the despised blackguard, Wickham.

In the first sequel, we end the book with the knowledge that Wickham is in fact Darcy's half brother from one of their father's transgressions with the hired help. John Christie, whose mother had sexual relations with both Wickham and Darcy, turns out to be Wickham's illegitimate son, whom he later murders in cold blood during his desertion from the battlefield.

Wickham is believed to be dead by all, including his wife, Lydia, but we find out that he's well and alive before the book ends. At the same time, we also see that Georgiana, Darcy's sister, is in love with Fitzwilliam and has gone in pursuit of him to war, and Elizabeth faces her pregnancy alone and later gives birth to twins, while Darcy in turn, has gone in pursuit of Georgiana.

In Darcy & Elizabeth: Nights and Days at Pemberley, the sequel to Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife, we see how Elizabeth and Darcy adjust to life with their newborn twins, Georgiana and Fitzwilliam gets married, and Wickham returns from the dead. But what really makes this sequel exciting, is that Lydia, believing the reports of Wickham's death in battle, has already remarried, and John Christie's half sister, Sally Frances, is determined to find her brother's murderer and mete out her own brand of justice.

There is remarkable connectivity between the characters and how each one relates to another. What I like most about Berdoll's sequels are that every character, even the lowliest ones, play very important roles in the plot. Sometimes there might be a passing mention of a particular character we deem unimportant, and later we see the same character again, playing a larger role.

I am amazed by Berdoll's ability to flesh out complex and interesting characters and plot lines. There isn't a single boring passage in the book, even when the characters are only talking about mundane matters. Berdoll has an amazing grasp on understanding human nature and how to make the characters seem larger than life with their thoughts and motivations.

I really enjoyed the journey with Elizabeth and Darcy and all the Pride and Prejudice characters, and also with the new and very interesting characters, that Berdoll has taken me on. While I thought that Darcy & Elizabeth: Nights and Days at Pemberley ended perfectly, with every character getting just what they deserved(especially Wickham), I can't help but be a little sad that it ever had to end. If Berdoll ever decides to write a sequel to Darcy & Elizabeth: Nights and Days at Pemberley, you can be sure I'll be one of the first to acquire it.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Neptune Noir Edited by Rob Thomas

neptune_noir Veronica Mars hooked me the moment I stepped into the DVD store and read the plot synopsis on the cover of Season One. Her best friend murdered and her sheriff father removed from office because he accused the dead girl's father of the murder, Veronica Mars and her father try to build new lives as private investigators but her obsession is with solving her best friend's murder. Wouldn't you be hooked?

Yeah, I was hooked from that synopsis, and from the first episode until the season finale. Then I bought the second season of Veronica, which had nothing to do with the murder of Veronica's best friend anymore; it had an altogether different plotline, and I was hooked too. And now I'm just waiting for Season Three on DVD to reach our shores, and then I'm gonna go out and get it too.

So what is it about Veronica Mars that keeps me hooked? It can't just be the plotline, because plots only go so far without good characters, dialogue, and chemistry. To be quite honest, I've never really thought about why I loved Veronica Mars so much, or why I kept on watching episode after episode. Sure, the chemistry between Veronica and Logan Echolls may have something to do with it, but it's not the only reason to get hooked. There are many other great TV romances after all.

Here's where Neptune Noir comes in. Neptune Noir is a completely unauthorized collection of 18 essays by various authors analyzing the show and why we love it. The essays aren't just fan reviews talking about how much they love the show and what they love about it — the essays are actual intellectual analyses about the show complete with footnotes and references. That's not to say that it's a dry and boring "scientific' book," but in fact, a very interesting one that gives a lot of insights into the workings of Veronica Mars.

The book starts off with an introduction by Rob Thomas, the creator of Veronica Mars, about his professional life as a screenwriter from the time he wrote his first TV show, Cupid, until Veronica Mars was picked up and how Veronica Mars "saved my career and, less importantly, my soul." Rob Thomas also edits Neptune Noir and includes comments on what he thought of each essay included in the book.

The first essay, "Welcome to Camp Noir" by Lani Diane Rich, takes a look at the "noir-ness" of Veronica Mars, and also its "campy-ness." Well, the noir I can understand — some of the other writers in the book chose that as their focus too, and the title of the book is Neptune Noir. But the camp, well, I don't see it, and as Thomas writes, "When something on Veronica Mars feels campy, it means we have failed." However, he also writes, "Reading Lani's essay...I see that she has...a wider net of what she considers camp..." and I agree, Lani's point of view is very interesting to read.

There are a couple of essays which talks about the importance of the father figures in Veronica Mars. Joyce Millman explores the many complexities in the father-daughter relationship between Veronica and her father in her essay "Daddy's Girl," and Amy Berner's essay "Daddy Dualities" marvels at the importance of the roles of the father figures in the show in a time when there is so much focus on single mothers. Both essays opened up my eyes to another facet of Veronica Mars' appeal and the fact that sometimes fathers have more "motherly instincts" than mothers. Which we see shown in Veronica Mars time and time again, especially with Veronica's own alcoholic mother, who left the family when the going got tough, and then later even stole Veronica's college fund money.

Some of the essays I really enjoyed were "'I Cannot Tell a Lie. And If You Believe That...'" by John Ramos, and "Lawless Neptune" by Alafair Burke. John talks about all the lies that Veronica tells in the show; lies to gain information, to manipulate people, to solve murders, to save lives. Why do we accept all Veronica's lies and still love the liar that she is? Because ultimately, although most of us still believe that honesty is a virtue, we also believe that the ends justify the means. Yes, Veronica is a liar, but she lies for the greater good. She lies so that she can help people and solve mysteries. But it's not just about what she lies about, or why she lies, it's also about who she lies to. Lying to a random hotel clerk or librarian to get information is fine, lying to Sheriff Lamb or Vinnie Van Lowe is probably encouraged, but lying to Wallace or her father? Well, she'd better think twice.

Alafair's "Lawless Neptune" takes a look at the fact that the law enforcement in Neptune is pretty corrupt and indifferent under Sheriff Lamb's command, which it has to be, for Veronica Mars to work. What use would Veronica's sleuthing skills be, if she had no crimes to solve because the law was fair and the police did their job well. Neptune had to be lawless, so that Veronica could solve her best friend's murder that her best friend's billionaire father tried to cover up. It had to be lawless, so that Veronica could plot with Duncan to save his daughter Lilly from her abusive grandparents. It had to be lawless, basically, so that Veronica Mars could work.

My favorite essay in the book was a surprise to me. It is Lawrence Watt-Evan's "I'm in Love with My Car," which talks about automotive symbolism in Veronica Mars. It's surprising because I don't particularly like cars, I don't know cars, and I didn't even notice the cars in Veronica Mars. Lawrence's essay is extremely enlightening about the use of cars in the show to symbolize the characters' personalities. For example, Veronica's LeBaron represents the all-American life, fun and carefree, but because it is an old model it is just a reminder of what she used to have; Aaron Echoll's flashy Aston-Martin sport car simply screams narcissistic movie star; and even Lianne Mars' beat-up Plymouth symbolizes that she's been beaten down in life.
The funny thing is, Rob Thomas isn't a car guy either. The decisions about cars used in the show are made by his assistant Alex and writer Phil Klemmer, and from Lawrence's essay, it's obvious they did a terrific job.

All the essays in Neptune Noir are enlightening and really fun to read. I didn't know that there was so much to the show until I read the book, and now that I've read it, I can't wait to go back and watch the whole series again with new eyes and points-of-view. As Rob Thomas said, "This is a must-read for Veronica Mars fans."

Thursday, November 01, 2007

DVD Review: Smallville Season 6

smallville6 I haven't always been a fan of Superman, or any other superhero for that matter. In our family my older brother's the one who collects comic books, and he's the one who tells us about the adventures of his favorite superheroes. It's no surprise, then, that he's also the one who introduced me to Smallville.

My brother started collecting DVD box sets when they started making them. He has dozens: the complete Friends series, Alias, CSI, Desperate Housewives, Six Feet Under, Buffy... you name it, he's got it, including of course, Smallville. I couldn't be bothered to watch them because there were just too many and I didn't have the time. Sometimes my brother would tell me about how good some of the shows were, but I usually ignored him, and he usually left it at that.

When Smallville came out, though, he insisted that I watch it. He actually bribed me! "I'll pay you ten bucks to watch one episode," he said, "on the condition that you give me back the ten bucks if you like it. You can keep the money if you don't like it." How would he know if I really liked it? I could pretend not to, and keep the money. "Well, then you won't get to watch the other episodes." Shrewd guy, my brother. But then again, he was so confident I would love Smallville that it wasn't really a gamble to him.

(SPOILER ALERT: spoilers ahead for Smallville seasons 5 and 6.)

So I watched Smallville, and six years later, I'm still watching. The thing about Smallville is that although it's one of the most unrealistic shows on TV, it's got a human element that touches and inspires. I can't even begin to count how many episodes have brought tears to my eyes since Season 1. Judging from the fact that Smallville is now in its seventh season and still going strong, I'm not the only one who feels that way.

So many things have changed since we first met Clark, Lana, Lex, and the rest of the gang in Season 1. Our favorite characters have grown and changed, some for the better, some for the worse. We've lost a few beloved characters - most recently, Clark's father, who died in Season 5. Tell me you didn't cry when you watched that happen, and I'll call you the biggest, fattest liar on the face of this earth.

Season 6 brings even more changes. It starts with Lana and Lex still together after Lana's breakup with Clark. For most of the season, as we watch Lana and Lex dancing around their trust issues, we can't help but think that this may be one of the worst couples in television history. It's plain to all Smallville fans that they're so terribly wrong for each other. Lex even tricks Lana into believing that she's pregnant with his child so that she will agree to marry him.

Well, she does end up marrying Lex despite all Clark's efforts (or lack thereof) to break them up. Lana had actually decided at the eleventh hour not to marry Lex, but then was forced into it because of Lionel's threats against Clark. I was resisting, praying all the way to the altar for something to stop the wedding, but I guess it had to happen. It's what kept me on the edge of my seat throughout the whole season, that's for sure.

This season is also when Lana finally finds out the truth about Clark for real, with no losing her memory or whatever nonsense that usually happens after she comes even remotely close to the truth. It's actually part of the reason she decides not to marry Lex, though it happens just a little too late.

My favorite thing about this season, though, is the introduction of DC Comics' Green Arrow intojustin the show. Justin Hartley makes his debut as Oliver Queen a.k.a. the Green Arrow, and he is deliciously hot! He's so hot I'm getting a fever just thinking about him in his green tights (which as it happens, his character wears to a costume party that Lex organizes). Oliver Queen is a young millionaire who used to be Lex's schoolmate, but they weren't exactly the best of friends, and we find out later that the apparent death of another schoolmate was what ended their acquaintance all those years ago.

Lex isn't happy about Oliver's appearance in their lives, but I sure am thrilled about it! The show desperately needed more good guys; there were too many meteor freaks using their powers for evil, and while Clark may be a superman, sometimes even Superman can use some help. Oliver Queen a.k.a. the Green Arrow is the perfect addition to the show, and I hope to see a lot more of him in the coming seasons.

If babelicious Justin Hartley isn't enough to make you want to go out and get Smallville Season 6 on DVD now, then wait until you hear about the special features. "Green Arrow: The Legend of the Emerald Archer" is a special documentary about the evolution of Green Arrow through the decades. I must admit I had never heard of Green Arrow until his appearance in Smallville, but this documentary is a really intriguing look at the character's history.

"Smallville Legends: The Oliver Queen Chronicles" are short computer-animated stories about the Oliver Queen character. There's also "The Making of Smallville Legends: The Oliver Queen Chronicles." "Smallville Legends: Justice & Doom" is an animated feature about the superheroes introduced in the season. These special features give so much more depth to the Oliver Queen character, and to the other superheroes, Cyborg, Aquaman, and Impulse. smallville_justicepic

The best extra, though, is "Smallville: Big Fans," a feature on Smallville fans from all over the country. They talk about what Smallville means to them, how much they've gotten out of it, how much more meaningful their lives are because of it - basically how great the show is. It's truly wonderful and amazing to see the effect Smallville has had on people. It has brought so many people closer. Just watching this feature made me feel closer to fans halfway around the world. This feature in itself is worth getting the DVD for. I'm not a die-hard fan of Smallville like most of the fans profiled, but like them, I've been given something deeply inspiring in my life by Smallville.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Music Review: Karl Latham - Resonance

resonance Karl Latham's Resonance is an album of jazz music played by a group of very talented individuals. With Karl Latham on drums, Vinnie Cutro on trumpet, John Hart on guitar, and Kermit Driscoll on acoustic bass, there is no denying their technical knowledge and skills. Listening to each one of them, especially during certain parts of the music where their individual instruments are featured, you can tell they are really good at what they do.

However, while their individual skills on their instruments are obvious, the music that results doesn't seem to be as good as I expected it to be. I spent many hours listening to Resonance, feeling there was something off. Then I asked both my father, who is an audiophile and a jazz enthusiast, and my boyfriend, who is a musician, to listen to the album and give me some feedback on what they thought about it. All of us felt the same thing; there was something not completely right with the music. My boyfriend said that many of the songs were 'messy'. My father said that the arrangement wasn't well done, the music doesn't mesh, and it feels like each of the musicians are playing separately from one another.

I have to agree with both of them. The music isn't terrible, in fact, some of the tracks aren't bad at all - I particularly enjoyed "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" and "Pagan Poetry", but you do get the feeling that the music somehow just doesn't come together. "Manic Depression" in particular, is one of the messiest song on the album. For most of the song you wonder what the musicians are doing; the sounds seem jumbled up and going in all sorts of different directions. It gets better later in the song, but it still sounds pretty messed up.

Some of the other tracks aren't bad, I quite enjoyed listening to "Higher Ground", "Spanish Castle Magic", and "Past Time Paradise" as well, but as I have said, the arrangement could have been better. Latham, Cutro, Hart, and Driscoll are all extremely talented and skilled musicians, but sometimes when musicians are too skilled individually, they may not be able to play well together as a band. Each person's sound is too distinct and different from the others', and that may be what makes the tracks in this album sound so messy.

I do think that if the musicians practice together more often, and listen to each other instead of just focusing on their own parts, they will be able to come up with an extraordinary album in the future. They've got the skills, after all. Karl Latham's Resonance showcases each of the musician's talents very well, but it may not be the best buy if you're looking for something that has great arrangements and music that flows and meshes beautifully. Hopefully, Latham's future albums will be better.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Music Review: Laura Pursell - Somewhere In This Room

laurapursell I enjoy many genres of music, but as it gets harder to keep track of all the sub-genres that are popping up nowadays, I find it easier to simply divide music into two categories: "good music" and "bad music." Some people enjoy only one or two types of music, but I enjoy all kinds, as long as it fits into the "good music" category, that is. In addition, as musicians, my band mates and I enjoy playing many different styles of music.

That's why I was intrigued when I came across Laura Pursell's Somewhere In This Room. The album is a collaboration between singer and lyricist Laura Pursell and composer Andrew Bonime, and is a unique project for two reasons. The first is that it consists of songs in many different musical styles; there's jazz, rock, blues, bossa nova, gospel, and even a children's song. As a music lover, I admire Pursell and Bonime for making no distinctions among different music styles for this album other than the "good music"/"bad music" distinction.

The second reason it's unique is that the album isn't so much "a collection of songs" as it is "a book made up of songs." You have to listen to it from beginning to end. It even has an overture and a finale arranged by famous composer, arranger, and pianist, William Pursell, who is also Laura's father. Every single song has a story to tell, and while I was listening to the album I had the curious feeling that I was reading rather than listening to it. It was as if I were reading a book of short stories, and the songs were the chapters of the book, and the book was Laura Pursell's diary.

Set to Bonime's music, Pursell's lyrics are based on her experiences and her accounts of those experiences in her diaries. From falling in love, in the rock number "It Might As Well Be Magic," to heartbreak in the dark and somber "Not Much To Lose," and running away from love in the bittersweet ballad "Skywriting Neon Lights," and from the death of a close friend, in "My Heart Knows You Were Here," to her experiences as a child trying so desperately to fit in, in "A Maple Tree," Pursell tells her stories in her meaningful lyrics. My favorite tracks are the title track, "Somewhere in This Room," and "When You Come Down," which both tell very interesting stories.

Pursell's talent for writing beautiful lyrics is matched perfectly with Bonime's ability to create beautiful music and melodies, resulting in an incredibly unique album that is such a pleasure to listen to. The only thing I thought could be improved upon was Pursell's singing.

Fortunately, Pursell is blessed with an unusual voice; there's a happy, joyful tone to her voice that few singers have. When I was younger, my father, who's also a music lover, pointed this trait out to me while we were listening to The Corrs, my favorite band at the time. Andrea Corr, the lead singer, has that joyful tone in her voice that comes out even when singing sad songs; although you can hear the somber emotion in her voice, the joy is also there. The only other singers my father knew with that tone, before he heard Andrea Corr, was legendary Chinese singer Teresa Teng, and the equally legendary Karen Carpenter. Now we can add Laura Pursell to that exclusive list.

Unfortunately, while she has that tone, she doesn't seem to know how to use it as well as the other singers I mentioned. I thought that her singing was quite flat and emotionless at times. Her lack of color and dynamics are most apparent in the song "It Might As Well Be Magic" - or perhaps she's just not meant to sing rock songs. I do hope she cultivates her singing talent though, it would be such a shame to waste that wonderful voice of hers.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Music Review: Karmina - The Kiss (EP)

I knew I was going to like Karmina the minute I heard the band's first single "The Kiss." The title track of their five-track EP illustrates exactly what people love about pop music.

With a catchy melody, fun music, and Karmina's sweet voices, "The Kiss" is sure to win the ears and hearts of listeners. It's better than anything other popular two-girl-bands, such as M2M or The Veronicas, ever released. The way Karmina's going, I'm sure it will be much more successful, too.

Karmina is made up of sisters Kelly and Kamille, who write their karminaown songs and already have plenty of experience under their belts. When Kamille was younger, she worked with veteran producer David Foster and performed with a younger Josh Groban at various high-profile fundraisers. Kelly and Kamille have competed in various music and songwriting competitions, such as the John Lennon Songwriting Competition and the San Francisco Concerto Orchestra Competition among others. The sisters even won the California State Vocal Competition 27 times!

Their first national exposure came when they competed and won in Disney Channel's "Two Hour Tour," which later led to Darren Hayes of Savage Garden mentoring the girls and selecting them to open for his band at the Fillmore Auditorium in San Francisco. All that experience and they are only 23 and 21 years old respectively!

There is much to admire about Karmina, but I love the fact that the sisters write their own songs and that these songs are amazing. Other than the catchy title track of their album, The Kiss, they have four other beautiful tracks all of which I really like as well.

"Free" is a song that really touches you with its emotion and the keyboard and guitar melodies in this track haunt you with their bitter sweetness. "Stay" is a vocal-focused song, and shows the emotional power of the girls' voices. "The Whoa Song" is very sweet, melodious, fun, sexy, and seductive all at once. My favorite track in this album is "Inside of You", which is soft, dreamy, and so hauntingly beautiful that all I can do when I listen to this track is close my eyes and let it take me into a fantasy world where I'm a princess waiting for my prince to come rescue me.

Karmina's The Kiss is a wonderful album of dreams brought to life. It showcases sisters Kelly's and Kamille's amazing musical talents in both instrument and voice.

The album is full of fun and catchy melodies, and the sisters' voices are beautiful and emotionally-packed. If you enjoy M2M or The Veronicas, you will love Karmina much more. There is more depth to Karmina's music that you don't find in the other bands.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Hundreds of Years to Reform a Rake by Laurie Brown

hundredyrsrake Laurie Brown has written exactly the kind of romance novel I enjoy most in Hundreds of Years to Reform a Rake. It has humor, mystery, ghosts, history and romance all packaged up nicely into an enjoyable paranormal love story. What can I say? I'm a sucker for paranormal romance, and judging from the fact that paranormal romance is one of the bestselling romance subgenres, I'm not the only one.

Hundreds of Years to Reform a Rake tells the story of Josie Drummond, who is a modern career woman. In fact, she is a professional paranormal investigator, and she has been hired by the ghost of Deverell Thornton, the ninth Earl of Waite, to go back in time to when the earl was still living during the Regency period. She is to prove that Madame X, the medium Deverell's mother hired to contact her dead husband, is a dangerous charlatan who wants to swindle his mother out of the family fortune. Sounds intriguing already, doesn't it? Wait until you hear the rest of it.

Josie meets the living Earl of Waite, who of course has no idea who she really is, much less that it was his own ghost who brought her from the future, and predictably, they make each other's hormones rage. So amidst all the trials that Josie has to face, trying to unmask Madame X while at the same time pretending to fit in as a proper, respectable lady in the complicated scene of the Regency period, she and Deverell fall in love. Unfortunately, time is running out for the lovers, because the longer Josie stays in the past, the more she forgets about her future, and in the end she has to choose between her modern comfortable life as a professional, and life in the Regency period with Deverell. We all know how that's going to end, but the journey is so much fun.

As with most romance novels, and especially romances with paranormal elements, many things don't make perfect sense, I mean, Deverell's ghost has abilities that are way too out there for us to even try to believe. But then again, sense is never the point with romance novels. It's all about the romance; boy meets girl, girl meets boy, they fall in love and live happily ever after. The fun is in the telling of it, and Laurie Brown has done such a great job with Josie and Deverell's love story. Hundreds of Years to Reform a Rake is pure fun, great for a late weekend night read, or a rainy Sunday afternoon, or anytime you just feel like having a dose of romance. If you enjoy paranormal romance as much as I do, you'll enjoy Hundreds of Years to Reform a Rake.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Fables from the Mud by Erik Quisling

fablesmudErik Quisling first released handmade copies of his new book, Fables from the Mud, nine months ago. Since then, this little text has gone on to becoming a classic with the likes of Saint-Exupery's The Little Prince and Axel Hacke's and Michael Sowa's The Little King December. The thing is, Quisling's Fables from the Mud can hardly be considered a children's book. It is quite dark at times, and more than a little gory too, and it is told in succinctly few words to express profound ideas.

The first fable of "The Angry Clam", for example, tells the story of a mollusk who struggles with its existence and goes through many trials trying to find meaning in his life, even converting to Islam, and then abandoning it again when it doesn't seem to help. Quisling includes a tragic but completely realistic epilogue of the angry clam's ending days.

The second fable, "Adventures of Glen in My Stone Garden", is a slightly ridiculous but hilarious look at the adventures of a pessimistic ant named Glen. His adventures include a garden barbeque, getting stomped on by a boot, and captaining a pirate crew. What happens to Glen in his adventures gets pretty gory, because he gets swallowed by a dog and even gets his own head severed, but don't worry, everything works out in the end for Glen.

Things don't end as well for the protagonist of the final fable though. "Grant's Tomb" is about a has-been warrior worm whose best days are behind him and find the future to be empty and meaningless. He plots to commit suicide in a spectacular manner as a glorified finale, but needs to evade other dangers that face him on this new quest. Inevitably, he finds meaning with his quest and loses the will for suicide, but unfortunately with this new turn of events, only tragedy can result.

These fables of Quisling's are so funny and popular that Hollywood animation studio Luma Pictures have now optioned the right to create short animated films from Fables from the Mud. They plan to enter the films into film festivals and also the Academy Award Short film competition, and also market them to networks to be converted to animated series. Not too shabby for Quisling's little book about invertebrates.

I enjoyed these little stories very much, although I cringed at some of the gory parts. Fables from the Mud is a realistic parody of life, for us and for the invertebrates, and I'm sure when my brain recovers from the gore, I will find that it was an enlightening read too. I can't wait to see what Luma Pictures does with the fables, and I'm waiting anxiously for Quisling's next book!

Music Review: Clare Burson - Thieves

clareburson_thieves_02The first time I heard Clare Burson sing on one of her older songs, I thought she had a beautiful, mellow voice that intrigues the listener. I was very excited when I got her new album Thieves because I was looking forward to listening to more of that beautiful and mellow voice, but when I first listened to this album, I wasn't sure if I could like it. Her songs on this album are so different from what I normally listen to. The songs are so dark and somber, that when combined with her melancholy voice, my ears just couldn't like them at first.

As I listened more, however, and started getting used to the melancholy, I started to really like and enjoy the music. Thieves brings images of a cold, colorless winter spent reminiscing about the past. I could just imagine myself, sitting on a windowsill, looking out the window wistfully, staring at trees bare of leaves and snowflakes falling down from the sky, and engrossed in nostalgic memories while I listened to Clare Burson's Thieves. It helps my imagination somewhat that one of the most beautiful tracks on the album is entitled "Love is Snow."burson_photo

This album is beautiful, I can't use this word enough, and so poignant. The music draws you in, the lyrics are profound, and Burson's voice is just so hauntingly alluring. My favorite track on the album is "Let Me Lose Me." Burson croons this beautiful (there's that word again) love song with the emotion of a woman desperately, but so gently, asking her man to let her love him. Its melody lingers long after you've stopped listening to all the other tracks. "Angels" is another favorite of mine, and is much more memorable than Sara McLachlan's highly popular song, "Angel."

Burson also sings a cover version of "These Boots Are Made For Walking", and I must say, I'm very impressed with her take on it. I've heard dozens of versions of this song, but none the way Burson does it. It defies description, it's just so different and unique. "1000 Miles" is also one of my favorite tracks on the album and the only song that can be described as a happy, uplifting song.

It took me a while to warm up to Clare Burson's Thieves, but once I did, I loved it so much that I've been listening to it every chance I get. The songs on this album are just so beautiful (last time I'm using this word, I promise) and heartbreaking. They weave such an enchanting spell on you that you can't help falling in love with them and letting them bring you into that melancholy winter world where "Love is Snow." I'm glad I didn't let my first listen to Clare Burson's Thieves turn me off, I would've missed out on a beautiful (oops...absolutely the last time!) album.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Release Alerts for Your Favorite Authors' and Musicians' New Releases

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I've always found it a hassle to check for my favorite authors' new releases, or my favorite musicians' new albums, and I hate scrolling through all those lists just to find if one of my favorite authors has written a new book or if one of my favorite singers has a new album out. The worst thing is spending hours scrolling through the lists just to find there isn't anything new. And sometimes because I get so tired of checking for new releases, I just can't be bothered anymore and end up missing my favorites' new releases. It's a major annoyance.

Now there's this new site,, that has made it so much easier to keep track of my favorite authors' and musicians' new releases. It does the checking for new releases in for us, and it's free! I love free services!

If like me, you've missed any new releases from your favorite authors or musicians in the past, and if you can't be bothered to scroll through lists and lists to check if your favorites might have released something new, then why not sign up for's email alerts.

It's really easy to use, all you have to do is sign up, search for your favorite authors and musicians, and register for free email alerts whenever your favorite authors release new books, or whenever your favorite musicians release new albums. Don't worry, you won't get any unsolicited emails, the only email you'll receive are the release alerts you registered for. I've signed up for a couple of my favorite authors already, and I've bookmarked the site so I
can add more of my favorites in the future.

All I have to do now is sit back and wait for to let me know whenever there's a new release. I don't have to waste hours and hours of my time, and I don't have to anxiously check for new releases anymore. That's the best thing!

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Once Bitten, Twice Shy by Jennifer Rardin

I've always been partial to vampires. Sleeping during the day, coming out at night, biting unsuspecting humans and sucking their blood, having all sorts of powerful abilities...what's not to like about them? I wished I was a vampire more than a couple of times when I was a teenager, and any true vampire fan will have wished the same at least once in his or her life. But unless I meet a vampire who's willing to turn me into one, the only way I can fulfill my vampire wish is to read about them.

Jennifer Rardin's Once Bitten, Twice Shy has definitely given me a delicious taste of vampirism. It's fun, hilarious, exciting, and scary all at once. While the protagonist, Jaz Parks, isn't exactly a vampire, she's a foul-mouthed, wise-cracking, ass-kicking lady who kills bad guys. Besides, she hangs with a vampire: Vayl, a gorgeous, powerful, 300-year-old vampire assassin from Romania. That's almost as good as being a vampire.

Vayl's her boss...well, sort of. She's his bodyguard. Or, at least that's how it starts out. Amidst all the action and ass-kicking, there's a love story that unfolds beautifully. Jaz and Vayl find time to fall in love with each other while saving the world from a lethal virus and a soul-feeding Kyron known as Tor-al-Degan. The Tor-al-Degan is one scary demon who can destroy the world at the bidding of the Deganites. She (yes, it's a she) had been bound years ago, but the Deganites plan to bring her back, and Jaz and Vayl have to do everything they can to foil the Deganites' plan.
Rardin has done a wonderful job with Once Bitten, Twice Shy. Jaz Parks is a delightful character with a strong spirit, and the more I got to know her, the more I liked and admired her. Vayl is simply so delicious that I just wanted to sink my fangs into him, and the rest of the cast are so colourful and full of life that I wished I could meet them all for real.

What I liked most, though, is Rardin's humor. The narrative and conversations are filled with irony, sarcasm, and wit, and sometimes the things Jaz says and thinks to herself sound a lot like what I might think or say to myself. I laughed out loud at so many of the passages, and cringed more than once when the characters had to face the terrible Tor-al-Degan.

Rardin is a terrific writer, and I look forward to the second and third book in the Jaz Parks series. Another One Bites the Dust will be coming out this December, and Biting the Bullet will be out in February next year. More adventures with Jaz Parks? Count me in!

Monday, September 24, 2007

A Secret of the Universe by Stephen L. Gibson

Stephen L. Gibson's novel A Secret of the Universe is a story of love, loss, and the discovery of eternal truth. It focuses on two friends, Ian and Bill, and their quest for this truth and faith. Brought up in a dominantly Christian society, Ian looks elsewhere for answers that his faith can't provide after some tragic events. Bill, on the other hand, finds that his Christian faith gives him the answers and the comfort he needs. This book takes us with Ian and Bill on their journeys, exploring and discovering the truth about their faiths. Gibson tells us this story steeped in facts about Christianity and the Bible much like how Jostein Gaarder told us about philosophy with Sophie's World.

A Secret of the Universe isn't an easy read though. There were many philosophies which I didn't agree with, and a lot of times I just wondered what Gibson's point was. There were times that I just really wanted to give up on it, and it wasn't until the end that I finally understood what the secret of the universe was supposed to be, and then I thought about Gibson, "You made me read more than 500 pages just to tell me this?!"

Don't get me wrong, this book is really more about the journey than the destination, and the information we learn on the journey is very interesting, but because the conclusion is so unbelievably simple, you wonder why you had to walk 500 miles to your destination when all you had to do was take the five mile shortcut. The truth is that most of us already know what Gibson is trying to tell us with his conclusion, so this so-called "Secret of the Universe" is in fact, not much of a secret at all.

However, with that being said, if you don't care about the destination, the ride Gibson takes us on is a extremely enlightening, but only for Christians or for people living in Christian societies. Other than the interesting facts about contradictions in the Bible, and the theory that Jesus Christ may not be a real person, this book just went over my head. All the talk about being Christian and believing in the word of the Bible meant nothing to me, and calling a revelation about Jesus Christ "a secret of the universe" seemed very narrow-minded to me. It would be a huge secret, yes, and an earth-shattering one, maybe, but not a secret of the universe because the rest of the universe who aren't living in Christian societies just wouldn't care.

This isn't meant to be Christian-bashing or anything, it's just that when a book tells me that I'm going to find the secret of the universe in between its covers while supposedly fostering a truth-driven thinking, whatever your faith may be, and then focuses solely and completely on Christianity and the Bible, made it seem really narrow-minded to me. I understand that Gibson is telling this story from the point of view of Christianity, and like I said, it's a very enlightening journey for Christians. But to anyone else who isn't interested in Christianity beyond basic knowledge, Gibson's A Secret of the Universe is probably a waste of time.

If you are a Christian in search of truth, however, or if you're just interested in learning more about Christianity and some of the contradictions in the Bible, this is a must-read. The information provided within this book is staggering and extremely eye-opening, and you will have to stop once in a while to digest all the information, but it will make you see things that you might never have thought of. You will get upset with some of the views he explores, and you will sometimes feel like throwing the book across the room and stomping on it. Do stick to it until the end though, and you will understand it better when you do, and don't just believe everything you read, do your own research and find your own truth, that's what A Secret of the Universe eventually tells you. There's no any one truth, the truth is what works for you. You can visit the website to find out more about it.

Ultimately, while I didn't agree with many of the philosophies in this book, particularly the part where Ian's family discouraged their mother from going to a faith healer (because I think you stop having the will to live when you stop having hope), it did open my eyes to a lot about Christianity, and it piqued my interest so much that I am now reading a chapter of the Bible every day. Just for curiosity's sake, you know. I am all for truth-driven thinking, as the book promotes, but I think emotion-driven thinking has its place as well. That's why we have both our heads and our hearts, and not just one or the other after all. Kudos to Gibson for making me think so much until my head hurts. I'm going to need to play at least 72 hours of mindless video games after this.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Music Review: Tokyo Rose - The Promise in Compromise

Every time I came across a new rock band, I'd share it with my guitarist boyfriend to get his opinion about them. When I let him listen to New Jersey-based Indie rock band Tokyo Rose's third album The Promise in Compromise and asked him what he thought about them, he said, "This band will go far." I asked him why he thought that, and he said, "They put their heart into their music." I couldn't agree more.

Tokyo Rose is made up of lead singer and guitarist Ryan Dominguez, backup singer and bassist Chris Poulsen, and drummer Jake Margolis. I'm amazed by their heart and passion for their music. They've really gone all out with their new album The Promise in Compromise and it's apparent that they put a lot of effort into their music and song arrangements. Every single song on this album is high-speed energy, with extremely skillful playing on all three member's parts. There's real chemistry here, that's for sure.

Jam packed full of high-energy, catchy, and upbeat tracks, this album makes you want to get on the dance floor and rock until you're exhausted. The only song that can be considered 'slow' is the last track, "Seconds Before the Crash", but it's slow only in relation to the rest of the tracks in the album. I don't know how they do it. Every song is great. Every song has a catchy melody and an upbeat rhythm. Every song catches your attention and makes you sit up and take notice.

I enjoyed all the songs on this album, there's not a single unlikable song here, but I do have some favorites. Their first single, "We Can Be Best Friends Tonight But Tomorrow I’ll Be..." is one of my favorite songs on the album, about a lighthearted look at bands getting intimate with female concert goers only to go back on the road the next day. It has a slightly 80's disco feel to it that makes it really fun and upbeat. Steve C. Miller, the major motion picture director best known for the horror movie Automaton Transfusion, was so intrigued with this single that he worked with Tokyo Rose for this single's music video.

The 'slow' track, "Seconds Before the Crash" is another favorite of mine, reminiscent of Hoobastank's style. Other favorites are the title track, "The Promise in Compromise", "A Pound of Silver Is Worth Its Weight in Blood", "Swimming with the Sharks" and "Call It What You Like, Just Leave Us Out of It". You can listen to them on Tokyo Rose's myspace.

Tokyo Rose is an amazing rock band with a lot of heart, passion, chemistry, and energy. They really care about their music, and they make you care about their music. I'm excited for them, because this is only the beginning of their music careers, and who knows where they'll go from here. The sky is the limit!

Monday, September 17, 2007

Music Review: Aiden - Conviction

I was very impressed with Aiden's story when I heard about them. Two years ago, they were virtually unknown, but now they have been featured on the covers of Alternative Press, Metal Edge, Kerrang! and others, won Kerrang!'s Best International Newcomer Award, and Metal Hammer's Best Newcomer Award, and have even shared the stage with the likes of Linkin Park and Marilyn Manson.

They signed on the Victory Records in 2004, before two of the five members that make up Aiden had even graduated from high school, and their last record, Nightmare Anatomy was the best selling debut in all of Victory Record's history! How could I not be intrigued? Of course I had to get their latest album, Conviction, I had to hear for myself what it was that made them so popular.

The unfortunate truth, however, is that their latest album disappointed me. They still sound like a high school band that haven't had enough exposure, and their music sounds unoriginal. No doubt they have a lot of energy, and energy translates well in live performances.

Their energy comes across in the CD too, but they tend to use the same techniques over and over again with their songs in Conviction, like the overdone pick scratch in "She Will Love You." It was originally one of the songs I liked, but the more I listen to it, the more I get bored of hearing the pick scratch. Although some of their songs aren't bad, they have no unique sound, and you get the feeling that they don't put a lot of effort into their song arrangements.

The worst song by far in the album is "The Sky is Falling," it just reeks of laziness. Everything in this track, from the melody to the arrangement tells me that they didn't put any effort into it at all. It's really dissatisfying because I'm sure they can do much better than that. "Teenage Queen," "One Love" and "Believe" are a few of the better songs in this album, and they give me a glimpse of their potential, but only a glimpse. Aiden has the potential to be great, but they still have a long way to go to before achieving that greatness.

They need to expose themselves to more styles and techniques because their songs are in danger of sounding the same. If they don't do something, they will end up becoming like Michael Learns to Rock whose later songs are boring and sound alike. Aiden hasn't found a unique sound of their own yet, but they are young and they are skilled, and with a little more exposure and effort, I'm sure they'll get there. Their latest album, Conviction is a disappointment, but Aiden can only get better as they grow and mature, so hopefully their next album will exceed expectations.

Friday, September 14, 2007

DVD Review: The TV Set

I work from home, so whenever I need a break, I plop down on the couch and watch TV for a while. Sometimes a good show will be on, and I'll be entertained for a half hour or so, other times there won't be anything showing that interests me at all — but I always wonder who makes the decisions to air these particular shows, and how they decide.

I don't really ponder it too much, but when a couple of my favorite shows got canceled, my ire towards television networks and the people who canceled my shows popped up. I wouldn't do anything except mutter under my breath about my dissatisfaction, but watching The TV Set makes me think that any protest I make would be futile anyway.

The TV Set, starring David Duchovny and Sigourney Weaver, is a satire about what happens behind the scenes of our beloved dramas and sitcoms in the television industry. It isn't 'laugh-out-loud hilarious' as much as it is 'smirky-sarcastic', but it does give us a pretty good idea of the problems and trials the people behind the television networks face.

David Duchovny plays television writer Mike Klein, who writes a script that has personal meaning to him. He sells it to a network and they seem to love it. However, network president Lenny, played by Sigourney Weaver, wants him to make some changes to the script that compromise the original premise of the story. Mike Klein's wife (Justine Bateman) is pregnant with their second child, and he has to decide between standing up for his ideals and being out of a job, or compromising his script and getting it on air. His optimistic manager (Judy Greer) wants her client to be happy, but she also wants his script to air, so she encourages him to go with the changes Lenny wants him to make. The only person who seems to understand Mike's ideals is the network president's second-in-command, Richard McAllister (Ioan Gruffudd), but even he doesn't dare stand up against Lenny.

As the movie proceeds, we see Mike make more and more compromises to get his show on the air, and eventually the show ends up becoming entirely different from what Mike started out with. The TV Set is a very realistic portrayal of the inner workings of network television, and although it's meant to be a comical portrayal, it also comes across as a little bit sad. Mike's experience is funny, but so very sad, because many of us have had to sacrifice our ideals for one reason or another at some point in our lives. Whether it is because the boss said you had to, or your significant other asked you to, or maybe your parents guilted you into it, most of us have had this experience, and it's sad. Perhaps that's what makes The TV Set so poignant.

While I wouldn't call The TV Set the best comedy I've watched in a while, I did enjoy the moral behind it, and the cast's performance was simply superb. David Duchovny, Sigourney Weaver, and Ioan Gruffudd portrayed their characters really well, but that's no surprise. Lesser known actor Fran Kranz, who played the lead actor in Mike Klein's sitcom, was a very interesting surprise; I thought his different portrayals of his character's character was hilarious, and Lindsay Sloane, who plays the female lead in the sitcom, reacts beautifully to his antics as well.

Special features on the DVD include a featurette of "The Making of The TV Set", audio commentaries by writer and director Jake Kasdan, David Duchovny, Lindsay Sloane, and producer Aaron Ryder on the making of The TV Set, and Jake Kasdan and executive producer Judd Apatow on the inspiration for The TV Set, and a deleted scene of small talk at the network's event before the introduction of Mike Klein's sitcom.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife by Linda Berdoll

I have read Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice only once quite recently, and I have seen the movie starring Keira Knightley twice. So I'm not a die-hard fan, but I did love both book and movie. How can anyone not fall in love with the charming, bold Elizabeth Bennet and the mysterious and sexy Mr. Darcy? Their love story is so romantic and entertaining, and the rest of the cast of characters and their antics are hilarious. I, like every other person who loved the story of Elizabeth and Darcy, was glad that they ended up together, but sad that the story ended there. If you're like me, you'd be hungry for a sequel to Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice because you'd just want to know what happens next.

Luckily for me, Linda Berdoll has written a beautiful sequel to Elizabeth and Darcy's romance with her book, Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife. In Pride and Prejudice, we see Elizabeth as a girl flowering into a young woman under Darcy's romantic pursuit of her. In Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife, we see Elizabeth's flower positively blooming when she becomes Mr. Darcy's wife.
Berdoll's sequel is a maturation of Austen's Pride and Prejudice in every sense of the word. It isn't just that the characters mature and evolve in this book (there are some exceptions, I fear Lydia will never mature), although I positively love Berdoll's portrayal of all the notable characters. Berdoll stays true to Austen's characterization, but she brings so much more. Pride and Prejudice is a flowering book, just as Elizabeth was a flowering girl in it, but Berdoll's sequel has bloomed into a beautiful epic.

Everything is more mature, more serious, more dramatic, more adult, more, more, more. Berdoll's sequel is just so much more of Austen's Pride and Prejudice. If you're an Austen purist and you're reading this, you're probably throwing rotten tomatoes at me in your head right now, but it's true, Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife is more! In fact, I'd say it's almost in the same league as Margaret Mitchell's Gone With the Wind. I wouldn't be exaggerating at all, and I would be covered in rotten tomatoes.

I guess this is one book where you will either love it or hate it. In my case, I loved it, which I think is great because it's so much better when you love books than when you hate them, don't you think? There were a few things which bothered me, like Berdoll's use of the language which sometimes didn't seem right to me, but it's not enough to take away from my enjoyment of the book. I loved Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife, and I want more! And being the lucky girl I am, there's more, because Berdoll has written a sequel to this sequel. I will be continuing the exciting story of Darcy and Elizabeth in Darcy & Elizabeth: Nights and Days at Pemberley. I can't wait!

Music Review: Ingrid Michaelson - Girls and Boys

Listening to Ingrid Michaelson's debut album Girls and Boys triggered a nostalgic reverie of my younger days. Girls and Boys has an innocent, rather naive quality to it that reminded me of when I was young, carefree, and invincible. Or at least, I thought I was invincible. That was when I thought my first love would last forever and dreamed about white weddings, picket fences, three kids and a dog. That was when every little disagreement was a dramatic catastrophe and making up was like Christmas. That was before all the growing up that I had to do; leaving some dreams behind, and eventually, leaving some loves behind. Girls and Boys brings all the memories back.

Ingrid Michaelson has had four songs featured on Grey's Anatomy, three of the songs from this album, Girls and Boys. Although all three songs featured; "Breakable", "The Way I Am", and "Corner of Your Heart" are beautiful songs, it was the fourth song, "Keep Breathing" which was written specifically for Grey's Anatomy and featured in the season finale, that catapulted her career forward. The day after the finale aired, Ingrid and "Keep Breathing" were on Google's most search items list in the US, and sales of Girls and Boys soared. "Keep Breathing" isn't featured on this album, but is included in Grey's Anatomy Season 3 Soundtrack which was just released on September 11.

If you heard of Ingrid from Grey's Anatomy's feature of "Keep Breathing" and you loved it, you will love Girls and Boys. Ingrid gives us more of what we loved about "Keep Breathing". Her album is a mixture of cute and happy tunes like "Breakable", "The Way I Am", and "Far Away", which are three of my favorite songs, and melancholy tunes about heartbreak and goodbyes like "Glass" and "December Baby".

"Breakable" is about how fragile our hearts can be, but Ingrid sings with a child-like manner that makes you think of a little girl asking her mother innocent questions about love. "The Way I Am" is a wonderful love song which just delights. "Far Away" is about imaginations about a romantic life in a far away place, and reminds me of my own 'white picket fences' dreams. Another favorite is "The Hat", which brought back wistful memories of my first love. "Die Alone" and "Masochist" are also favorites.

In fact, I loved almost all of the songs on this album. Ingrid Michaelson is an exceptionally talented and original songwriter. Innocence is such a rare quality, but Ingrid has captured it so easily and beautifully in her music. Her music expresses innocence of youth and vulnerability of heart that brings out a part of me I thought I had left behind a long time ago. What a rejuvenating experience!

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Music Review: Emmy Rossum - Inside Out (EP)

The first time I ever heard Emmy Rossum's voice was from the movie version of Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera. She starred as the female lead, Christine, and I was blown away by her performance. With her voice and talent, I knew it was only a matter of time before she came out with her own album, and sure enough, here it is.

Emmy Rossum's debut album, entitled Inside Out showcases her talent with her voice, alright, but in an entire different way from what fans of The Phantom of the Opera might expect. Rossum doesn't try to show off her range or the high notes she can hit in this album. Instead, she shows off her voice as an instrument of harmony. It is one of the things that instantly strikes you when you listen to her songs.

There are very few musical instruments that can be heard on the album and excepting some keyboard and percussion, almost every other sound is sung by Rossum herself. She says, "I wanted to create a kind of music that would allow me to use my voice as another instrument. I sing the parts that would be played by guitar or piano. I tried to discover, how much can you do without instruments? What is the boundary of the human voice?” The result is an amazing album of songs that delights the senses with their sweet sounds and peaceful harmony.

The song "Slow Me Down" is the perfect example of how beautiful music can be when Rossum uses her voice to replace the usual instruments. Rossum sings every single one of the 150 parts and harmonies of "Slow Me Down", including some of the percussion! It sounds wonderful and very serene, and listening to it makes you want to relax and slow down a little. "Stay" is like a very sensual siren's song, and you can almost imagine yourself as the besotted sailor who finds it really, really hard to resist Rossum's plea for you to stay with her for that one romantic moonlit night. "Falling" is my favorite and it makes me feel like a giddy teenager tumbling into love. You can listen to the songs on her myspace page.

Emmy Rossum has done something creative and entirely different from any other kind of music with her debut album, Inside Out, and I'm delighted with the incredible result of it. While her album isn't what I expected from listening to her sing in The Phantom of the Opera, it surpasses all creative and musical expectations. This is just the beginning of a long and successful musical career for her, and it's going to be one I'll be happy to follow.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Music Review: Barcelona - Absolutes

Barcelona has quickly become one of my favorite bands in the few weeks I've "known" them. Their debut album, Absolutes is like my own personal portal into Alice's Wonderland where everything feels so surreal and 'space-y', that you don't know which way is up and which way is down, and you don't know if it's real or just a very beautiful dream, but you don't care because you're enjoying every minute of it so much.

Except that the Wonderland it brings you to is a little more somber than Alice's version. It feels more like Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere than Alice's Wonderland, actually. In fact, I have a feeling that if Neil Gaiman's novel Neverwhere was going to be made into a movie, Absolutes would make a very good soundtrack for it.

Barcelona's Absolutes has a combination of sounds that are really exquisite, from the regular sounds of guitars, piano, and drums, to the not so regular sounds of the rhodes, violin, and glockenspiel, Barcelona has created music that catches your breathe and imagination. I honestly have to marvel at Brian Fennell's songwriting talent. Brian Fennell was originally a solo artist, but when he assembled a band for a short tour which included Brian Eichelberger on bass, Chris Bristol on guitar, and Rhett Stonelake on drums, he realized that a band suited his musical talents better than a one-man show. Thus, the birth of Barcelona and one of the best bands ever.

What I love about Barcelona's music is that it gives you a sense of magic and other-worldliness. The lyrics are profound and very different, you're not quite sure what they really mean, but you know it makes sense on some level. It's like when people talk about seeing music and tasting color, the lyrics give you a little hint of how that might feel like. And the music, oh, the music...What can I say?

"Colors" is one of the most beautiful songs I've ever heard, lyrically and musically, and I absolutely loved the keyboard melody. "Colors", "Response" and "Numb" are originally from Brian Fennell's solo album. "It's About Time", "Lesser Things" and "Stars" are a few of my favorites songs on the album, the bass on "Stars" is incredible, you've just got to hear it, but "Colors" is by far my most favorite track. The other songs like "First Floor People", "Get Up, Get Up, Get Up" and "You Will Pull Through" reminds me a little of Radiohead, they're a little darker but still other-worldly, and so extremely sad to listen to. You can listen to some of their songs on their website.

I really love how Barcelona has captured fleeting emotions and indescribable feelings and put them into the slightly more tangible forms of music and lyrics. I have spent countless hours listening to them, and I'm loving them more and more each time. I absolutely loved their debut album, Absolutes and I am looking forward to hearing more from Barcelona.

Music Review: Joe Satriani - Surfing with the Alien Legacy Edition

I had never heard of Joe Satriani until my band mates introduced him to me. They are big fans of his, and as guitarists themselves, it is obvious why they admire him. The first Satriani song I ever heard was "Surfing with the Alien," but I liked it so much I decided that I had to get this album. The Legacy Edition of Surfing with the Alien includes a remastered audio CD of the original album and a DVD of the previously unreleased concert from the Montreux Jazz Festival on July 15, 1988, which also happens to be Joe Satriani's birthday.

All I can say after listening to the CD and watching the DVD is that I'm amazed by what Satriani can do with his guitar. And this was 20 years ago. I've heard he's better now than he was before, and if that's true, I can only imagine how phenomenal he must be now. He does things with his guitar that I never thought were possible. Granted, I'm not very knowledgeable about guitars, but I've seen enough to know that he's brilliant.

Listening to the CD, I fell in love with "Ice 9," which was inspired by Kurt Vonnegut Jr.'s book Cat's Cradle, "Circles," which has a great melody and an interesting arrangement, "Midnight," which has a very crisp sound and wonderful melody, and "Always With Me, Always With You", which he says himself was the best melody he had written for this album, and I agree. "Always With Me, Always With You" is my favorite track in this album.

I didn't fully appreciate his talent until I watched the DVD of the Montreux concert. It was absolutely mind-blowing, and I'm amazed at the great audio. It's hard to believe this concert was recorded 20 years ago. I was so drawn in by his passion for the music, and it's going to be hard to describe it without getting explicit. I've often heard people describe music or musicians with words like orgasmic and sensual, and I'd always thought that they were just exaggerating. I must have been missing out on a lot of passionate music before I heard Satriani!

Seriously though, watching him perform on stage was like watching him make love to his guitar. Sometimes he makes wild and sexy love to it, and it screams in pleasure, other times he caresses it gently and it murmurs back lovingly. It was truly an orgasmic experience, and none of the songs were more sensual than "Rubina." I really can't find a better word to describe the song than with that word.

Stuart Hamm, who plays the bass, amazed me too with his skill with a fretless bass guitar on this track. "Bass Solo" like its title says, is a bass solo by Hamm, and it showcases his amazing talent. He shows off different techniques of playing which include tapping as well. I have seen my band mates using this technique, but never to the level that Satriani does with "Midnight." His two-handed tapping technique on "Midnight" is a sight to behold. The drummer, Jonathan Mover, was spectacular too, by the way. At the end of the track "Circles", he has a drum solo which tired me out just to watch. The speed, coordination, and energy of his playing simply astounded me.

Watching Satriani perform on stage is an experience every guitar enthusiast should have. If you're a fan of his, and even if you already have the original Surfing with the Alien album, you must get this remastered edition, if only for the DVD. It includes extra tracks like Hamm's "Bass Solo," "Memories," "Rubina," and "Hordes of Locusts." They're great and you shouldn't miss out on them. The DVD also includes bonus features; an interview with Nigel Tufnel (the fictional lead guitarist in the movie This is Spinal Tap played by actor Christopher Guest), the "Satch Boogie" music video, and the "Always With Me, Always With You" music video.

While guitar isn't my musical instrument of choice, watching and listening to Satriani made me appreciate the beauty and the potential of the instrument. I'm so glad my band mates introduced his music to me, and I will definitely be looking for his future works.

Why We Read What We Read: A Delightfully Opinionated Journey Through Bestselling Books by Lisa Adams and John Heath

This book should come with a warning: "Read at your own risk, the authors will not be responsible for any book-buying binge during or after the reading of this book."

Why We Read What We Read by John Heath and Lisa Adams is basically one long book review about nearly 200 bestselling books, most of which the authors actually took the time to read, and as the case usually is, this particular 'book review' has piqued my interest in at least ten books now. Luckily for me, I had already read a few of the other books they mentioned.

This book isn't just a review about the books we read though, it's also a psychological insight to why we choose to read these particular books and make them bestsellers, because there's nothing particularly special about bestsellers after all. Like Heath and Adams said, they only become bestsellers because we buy them.

In Why We Read What We Read, Heath and Adams cover topics by book genre. Chapter one is about the obvious; self-help books, inspirational books, and diet books which include Dr. Atkin's New Diet Revolution, The South Beach Diet, Robert Kiyosaki's Rich Dad, Poor Dad, Who Moved My Cheese, and the Chicken Soup for the Soul series. Heath and Adams state that while a lot of these books don't actually help or change a person, we all still buy and read them for the hope that the next diet book will be the one to help us lose weight (as if all you need to do to lose weight is to read a diet book) or that reading a particular get-rich-now book will make us instant millionaires.

Chapter two discusses the starkness of our views of good and evil, the "if you're not for us, you're for them" mentality. The John Grishams and Stephen Kings come under this section. We love their books because they give us a clear, black and white picture of good and evil. The protagonist is good; the antagonist is evil, simple as that. Even though sometimes the protagonist has many flaws, we can empathize with them because we know they're good people deep down inside. But those evil antagonists, they don't have hearts — they're just evil through and through. It's the same with the political nonfiction. The left wingers say that they're good and the right wingers are evil, the right wingers say they are good and the left wingers are evil. Either way, they're both right and wrong.

Chapter three is for the hopeless romantics. Romance, whether historical, contemporary, Regency, or otherwise is one of the bestselling genres, and I'm not surprised. I can read seven romance novels in the time it takes me to read one literary one. Of course, there's the happily ever after factor that all of us can't help but be sappy for. We all love happy love stories and most romance novelists are just too happy to give it to us. Unfortunately, most of us don't really have happy real life love stories, hence the bestselling nonfiction books on relationships, which scare me with some of the not really practical advice they give.

Chapter four is my favorite and by far the one that probably will cause the most debates and indignation. Christians and New Agers battle it out with their literary works like the Christian-themed Left Behind series which use a fictionalized account of an apocalypse to get the message across that either you believe in God and Jesus and worship them with all your heart, mind, body, and soul, or God abandons you. And then there's the New Age-themed Conversations With God series where Neale Donald Walsch talks to a loving, generous, supportive God who wants you to make your own choices and be happy. It's kind of obvious which side I'm on, isn't it? To be fair, the Left Behind series do address the doubts and questions that cynics have, but saying things like, "I'll do it even if I don't understand it" just isn't satisfactory to my infinite curiosity and quest for knowledge and understanding, so I stay on the New Age side of the fence.

Chapter five is about the trials and triumphs that people face in literary fiction; guilt, and then redemption, or surviving through abuse, addictions, and other hardships, and then triumphing over them, or sometimes not. Oprah is especially good with these books; she picked 43 books of literary fiction between 1996 and 2002 for her book club. Some of the books selected include Ursula Hegi's Stones from the River, which is about a dwarf living during the Holocaust and the trials she faces with being different and living in a difficult time, and She's Come Undone by Wally Lamb, which is about a girl struggling with an eating disorder. I've read both these books, and I absolutely loved them both. I don't watch Oprah often, but I think it's great that her book club has spurred so many non-readers to read. Not all of Oprah's selections turn out to be great though, so you shouldn't read a book just because she says so.

Chapter six is dedicated to The Da Vinci Code, and is basically a summary of the conclusions the authors got from analyzing the bestselling books that we have been reading from 1991 to 2005. The bottom line that Heath and Adams got to is that a lot of us readers don't like people challenging our views and our dreams.

We read political non-fiction, but only the ones which tell us what we want to hear, we're not really open to looking at the other side's perspective. If we do read the other side's story, we say they're liars. That's why the mysteries and thrillers get to us too; it's us, the good guys, versus them, the bad guys. It's the same with spiritual and religious non-fiction. New Agers most likely will not read Christian literature, and vice versa. We read self-help books because we want to believe that there is a book out there that can change our lives, because we're too lazy to actually change it on our own. I don't necessarily believe this to be true because I have read some which, while not having changed my life, did help me improve a little bit. There is a reason they are called 'self' help books after all, the books don't help you if you don't want to help yourself. Romances are important to us because we want to believe that there is a happily ever after. We want to believe in dreams, in love, in destiny. Romance novels give us all of that and more. Don't tell us that there's no such thing as happily ever after, we're not going to buy that book. We read literary fiction about the hardships others go through so we feel better that our lives aren't as bad as theirs, and if they triumph, we feel inspired, we feel good because we know that there is strength in the human spirit, the human spirit cannot be beaten.

Like I said, while I don't necessarily agree with all the authors' views, I do find some of them to be true and insightful. It is a very interesting look at the books, and consequently the ideas and opinions that have pre-dominated our thoughts in the last fifteen years. It will start you thinking about the books you've read and what they may say about you. It will introduce you to a lot of books that you may not have been aware of, even if they are in the bestselling lists, and I guarantee you that before you've finished reading this book, you'll probably go out and buy at least a couple of the books mentioned. At last count, I have fourteen new books I want to read. Well, there goes my paycheck.

The Portable Obituary - How the Famous, Rich, and Powerful Really Died by Michael Largo

I've always had a morbid fascination with how some historical figures and celebrities died, so when I came across The Portable Obituary, I was absolutely delighted with what I found within its pages.

The Portable Obituary by Michael Largo is an A to Z encyclopedia of obituaries compiled of the rich, famous, and powerful dead. From Alexander the Great to Guy Williams, the actor who played Zorro, you can find out how they all died in this book. There are many interesting facts and trivia about how these people died, and how they lived their lives. Most of the deaths were tragic, as deaths usually are, but they ranged from the spectacular, like the guy who died via jumping off Niagara Falls and Cleopatra's death by snake poison, to the mundane, celebrities who died simply from 'old age', which sometimes meant health complications like heart attacks or diabetes.

In fact, there were many who died from poor health, whether at an early age or in their advance years, and many who suffered from infectious diseases or exposure to poisonous chemicals, Marie Curie from the effects of radiation, and Daniel Fahrenheit, who discovered the use of mercury for thermometers and consequently died from mercury poisoning.

There were also those who died from tragic accidents, James Dean in the spooky accident with his Porche 550 Spyder, Buddy Holly and Richie Valenz from a fatal air crash, and Stevie Ray Vaughan, who died 17 years ago this week from a helicopter crash. I was glad that Wong Ka Kui from the Hong Kong band Beyond was mentioned too, he was thirty-one and Beyond was at the height of fame, when he fell eight feet off a stage and died.

Apparently there were many who died from overdose of drugs or alcohol; Jimi Hendrix for one, Jim Morrison another (although whether he's actually dead is still controversial), and Judy Garland, and even more who committed suicide; Kurt Cobain of Nirvana fame, George Reeves of Superman fame (no relation to Christopher Reeve), Sylvia Plath who was famous for The Bell Jar, and even Nero, the cruel Roman emperor who killed himself when his rule was overthrown.

The Portable Obituary also includes the deaths of such great teachers as Socrates and Confucius, among others; authors like William Faulkner and John Steinbeck; dictators such as Adolf Hitler and the previously mentioned emperor Nero; great explorers like Christopher Columbus and Vasco da Gama; presidents Abraham Lincoln and George Washington; and a whole lot of other rich, famous, and powerful people. This book has satisfied my curiosity about these historical figures and celebrities and more.

If, like me, you have a morbid fascination for facts and trivia about the deaths of famous people, or if you're just curious about the details of some of your favorite celebrities such as Elvis Presley or Katherine Hepburn, you should definitely get this book. Michael Largo has done his research well; The Portable Obituary tells you all you ever wanted to know about how the famous, rich, and powerful really died. It's the ultimate collector's item for the morbidly curious, and countless hours will be spent with your nose stuck firmly between the pages of this book.

DVD Review: Unaccompanied Minors

Unaccompanied Minors is about a group of kids who are stranded in the airport on Christmas Eve because of a snowstorm. They get put into the Unaccompanied Minors room with all the other minors traveling without their parents or guardians, and of course, when there's a room full of kids and no proper adult supervision, chaos reigns.

Spencer, played by Dyllan Christopher, and four other kids, Charlie (Tyler James Williams), Grace (Gina Mantegna), Donna (Quinn Shephard), and Beef (Brett Kelly) find unlikely friendship in each other when they sneak out of the Unaccompanied Minors room and wreak havoc in the airport. They get into trouble and Spencer is separated from his sister, Katherine (Dominique Saldana), when she and the other unaccompanied minors are sent to a nearby hotel to wait out the storm. Spencer and his friends are kept under supervision in the UM room at the airport under the orders of Passenger Relations Manager, Oliver Porter (Lewis Black).

Spencer and his friends find creative and ingenious ways to escape and get to his sister at the airport so that she can have a Christmas with Santa, and get into lots of adventures and mischief along the way.

Special features on the DVD include a commentary by director Paul Feig, writers Jacob Meszaros and Mya Stark, and actor/comedian Lewis Black, who plays the Passenger Relations Manager in the movie. There's also Charlie's dance reel, additional deleted scenes, and a featurette of the guards in the hall which run up to about twenty minutes. You can watch some of it courtesy of the BC Goodie Bag.

It's a fun movie, with lots of antics to laugh at, sweet and awkward teen romance, and a feel-good Christmas ending to it. It's highly unrealistic, sure, but most movies usually are, so that doesn't really matter here. When the film was released in December, Chris Beaumont compared it to Home Alone “but without the heart, but that’s me judging based on a trailer.”

I think it's got a heart, and what I like most about Unaccompanied Minors is that it's mostly about friendship — how a group of kids that have absolutely nothing in common can become friends when circumstances bring them together, and the way they work together to make the lousy situation of being stranded at the airport on Christmas Eve less intolerable for everyone. This friendship factor is something that Home Alone certainly didn't have. Even the clip of the guards in the hall features the friendship between them.

While Unaccompanied Minors is no epic movie, it is hilarious and enjoyable, and definitely worth watching with your friends.

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