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.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Interview: MINK Talks About Their Music and Goals

I had recently had the privilege of reviewing MINK’s self-titled debut album, and I loved it so much I couldn’t stop singing their praises to everyone I met. As luck would have it, I had the opportunity to interview them and find out more about this up and coming band. MINK consists of singer Neal Carlson, drummer Stella Mozgawa, guitarists Nick Maybury and David Lowy, and bassist Grant Fitzpatrick. They graciously took time out of their busy schedules to allow me to interview them, and here is the result.

Hi everyone! Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions. I absolutely loved your album, and I'm thrilled to have this opportunity to interview you. Tell me about the birth of MINK. How did it all start?

NEAL: Nick, Grant and I met through a friend who was living in NYC at the time. Our first few jams were very loose and informal, but there was definitely something exciting there because we wrote about nine songs over the course of the seven or eight days. Shortly after that I moved to Australia for awhile to do some touring. It was there that I met Stella (an old friend of Nick's). There was an instant connection and it's been moving very fast since.

Nick comes from a jazz background, and the rest of you from very different backgrounds that include Broadway, garage-rock, punk, and experimental backgrounds. How have your various backgrounds influenced your music in MINK?

NICK: ‘Sonic’, ‘tones’ and ‘emotion’ are my main approach to playing electric guitar. My background and approach has influenced Mink to the extent where I've use a wide range of tones to create my own signature sound - most commonly noticed is the octave fuzz sound, which is really a trick I stole from Hendrix. It's this gnarly, growl-y octave-up effect I use, combined with an overdrive unit to create a distinct lead sound that always cuts through the mix. It can be heard in the "Madame Chung" solo, the "Pressure Pressure" lead parts, and the "Dematerialse" chorus and outro lead parts. Another key element is the use of delay, which processes the guitar signal to repeat and echo. I use it for certain parts to stick out and sound bigger than they are. The Edge is a pure genius at this and a big influence - feedback combined with delay effects is one of my favorite live tricks.

My jazz studies have also become handy in my writing parts for Mink, where I've used passing tones and scale tones around the chords to create my riffs, like in the "Sweeter" chorus, or using the mixolydian mode in the "Pressure Pressure" solo, or building a very basic chord melody approach in "Will Not Let You Down", used before the bridge and outro.

My blues background is also very strong in my approach and the way I play live. I use a clean non-master volume valve amp that needs to be turned up loud to get ‘The Tone’, which has strong roots in blues music even dating back to the African tribes, before modern music had evolved. They would try to distort their instruments by adding shells and beads to create buzz tones and added vibration. To get a good tone you need to get the frequency to respond at a certain level to get enough ‘juice’ to sing…and it sounds more exciting and nasty. That's why we play so loud and why Stella hits so hard on the drums. It's also about feel and attitude and letting your emotions out on the instrument.

Stella, you’ve been called “the female John Bonham” because of your awesome power and speed. John Bonham was the drummer in Led Zeppelin, and is one of modern rock’s most influential and respected drummers. Does that make you feel like you have a reputation to live up to?

STELLA: It's very flattering to be compared to drummers that I have endless respect for. I learnt a great deal from Bonham and a lot of the 60's/70's rock drummers but I wouldn't say I feel pressured to allude to their drumming style. I'm just another music geek!

Neal, I love you...I mean, your voice. Are you married or involved with anyone? Seriously though, you have a unique voice that I really admire, and I love how you get so involved in the songs.

NEAL: Thanks a lot! I love singing. Letting out a good scream is such a great vent for me. Frank Black of the Pixies is one of my heroes and he can scream like a demon.

I thought “Madame Chung” was unique, and “Dematerialize” and “Jodi” had some interesting lyrics. Are there any real life stories or personal experiences that inspired these songs or any of the other songs on your album?

NEAL: I'd say that the most personal songs are “Dematerialize”, “Crazy World” and “Will Not Let You Down”. I wrote the lyrics to “Dematerialize” when I was on the show Rockstar: INXS and the music for the song came together with the band in November 2006. “Crazy World” is one of my favorite tracks on the album.

Sylvia Massy is the noted producer of Tool and Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Chris Shaw is a two-time Grammy winner who worked with Bob Dylan and Wilco. How does it feel to be working with them?

NEAL: It was such an honor to work with Sylvia and Chris. The thing I loved most about working with them was their willingness to experiment and make the experience fun. Sylvia has an incredible studio in Weed, California. For any Twin Peaks fans out there, being in Weed felt like being in the show.

STELLA: Both recording endeavors were really different but both were amazing. We recorded with Chris in New York at Avatar studios; one of the city's most revered studios and we were placed in the ghost town of Weed with Sylvia. She had restored a vaudevillian theatre into a studio, very unique and made for interesting sounds on the record. It was an honor to work with both of them!

NICK: I feel honored to be associated with such well known and talented producer/engineers such as Sylvia Massey and Chris Shaw. I mean, how cool is it to have the opportunity to work with people of that caliber. Sylvia and Chris are very different though: Chris pulls amazing sounds, as does Sylvia, and was more hands on with pre-production, where as Sylvia is a vibe guru and liked to get us pumped every take, ala school of Rick Rubin. None of them are better or worse, just different. Both have outstanding credits. I'm very proud to have heard the last Dylan record form the monitors off the pro tools session at Avatar; that was just a rare special experience (thanks, Chris!). Hopefully we will be in their proud list of credits one day!

You've gone on tour with Saliva and KISS. Tell us about your experience rocking with them.

GRANT: It felt great. They both were a lot of fun to work with and helped us immensely in terms of getting some of our songs in better shape and sonically also.

What are your immediate goals and what do you ultimately want to achieve with MINK?

NEAL: Currently we're on tour with Perry Farrell's Satellite Party. One of the most important things I've learned from Perry is to have fun on stage and be yourself. We're always trying to put on a great show and show our appreciation to everyone who watches us play.

STELLA: Immediate goals: more touring! We love touring the states, can't wait to venture into other territories…check out Europe and Asia. Ultimately we'd like to produce plenty of super albums and build a catalogue that we're really proud of.

GRANT: To keep touring and being a better player and person and to have a career with longevity.

NICK: My immediate goal with Mink is to get as much positive recognition as possible, and sell as many records and shows possible, and be big enough to have people working our myspace for us because we are too busy, get to Japan Europe and kick ass in Australia, do a second album, move the band to LA to write the next album - I think we could revive a rock scene over there - and be bi-coastal. I want to buy some property and build a studio so I can continue to pursue my musical goals in writing new music and to challenge listeners on a commercial level. MULTI-platinum!!! To gain an O-1 Visa and or citizenship in the USA, so I can keep it much more real than what Australia has to offer. KEEP TOURING THE USA - I love it! Make the MINK brand as huge as KISS! And I think we should get a big FUCK OFF neon MINK logo behind us when we start doing headline shows!


Visit MINK's website!

MINK's self-titled debut album is available from

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Lest Ye Be Judged by David C. Trimble

Lest Ye Be Judged is David C. Trimble's first novel, and as a story, all I can say is "Wow!" What else can you expect when the subject matter is about a murder of a Bishop? Dunstan Mitchell, a liberal Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Central Kentucky, and not a very nice or godly one at that, stepped on too many people's toes when he pressed his agenda too hard. It's apparent that he's a liability to the Church and needs to be eliminated. Somebody murders him, and his body is found weeks later in the pool of a prominent Judge who hated him. As the story unfolds, many shocking and surprising secrets and scandals are revealed.

It's a great story, but unfortunately it wasn't told as well as I hoped it would be. The characters were interesting, but I couldn't relate to any of them. There were a few protagonists, but no strong ones, and the character developments didn't make sense to me. I wasn't sure who the good guys or the bad guys were supposed to be because there weren't any strong protagonists, or antagonists for that matter. Perhaps the storyline made it hard to have a particular protagonist to relate to, but it threw me out on a loop because of that. It's only late in the book that I realized, "Oh, I'm supposed to take the side of so-and-so." There were a couple of characters who I thought could have played bigger roles, and some who I thought behaved out of character.

Also, while I loved the ending, there was some parts of it that I found a little unrealistic; some of the characters behaved very uncharacteristically here, and I thought it went on just slightly longer than it should have. I would have loved the ending more if it stopped right after we found out who killed the Bishop. The events after that seemed unnecessary to me.

Other than that, I loved the book. Trimble's description of places and events are very thorough and vivid. He obviously did a lot of research and took great pains to make sure he got his facts right especially with the finding of the body and the post-mortem descriptions. The book was pretty slow-moving in the beginning, but once the trial started, things got really fast-paced and interesting. It's a great story, and as far as plots go, one of the best I have ever read. Lest Ye Be Judged tells a intriguing story of how power and politics go head to head in a religious setting, and the things people are able to do to protect their faith and beliefs.

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