Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Reading Room (12)

The Reading Room is a weekly update on books I'm reading and planning to read. It was inspired by the feature On Myshelf at the blog All By Myshelf.

Still working through my list of books from last week. I read Eight Keys in one sitting on Friday and spent the rest of the weekend devouring Eona, which was so fantastic I was halfway through it by Sunday night and had my nose buried in the book all throughout school on Monday, relying on others to warn me of obstacles such as stairs and other people. I finished it last night, and without a doubt it is one of the most amazing books I've ever read. If you haven't read Eon and Eona yet, you need to find copies ASAP.

Now I'm working on The Iron King, which I mentioned two weeks ago but haven't gotten to until now - Eona was commanding all of my attention. I've only read the first chapter and I'm not quite sucked in yet, but I trust the opinions of everyone who recommended it to me, so I'm guessing it'll become more interesting soon. Once that's returned to the school library, I'll move onto A Tale of Two Castles by Gail Carson Levine.

I do have something new to add to my reading list, however. My mom went down to the public library on Saturday and I tagged along to return Eight Keys and help her navigate the nonfiction section to look for Eat, Pray, Love. I said I wasn't going to get a book myself - after all, I still had three at home, two of which I was in the middle of reading. But something that I'd seen last time I was there caught my eye again, and I found myself coming home with a copy of La's Orchestra Saves the World by Alexander McCall Smith.

I couldn't resist. It looked really good. I loved the concept in the jacket description, and I really wanted to read it. It was also one of the few times I'd ventured out of the young adult section and into the adult fiction. I have no problem reading adult books, but I find the shelves that hold them a bit more daunting and difficult to navigate. It's harder to find books that I really want to read, which is why I usually avoid it. This book, however, just jumped out at me. Hopefully it won't disappoint.


Monday, February 27, 2012

Inspire (5)

Inspire is a weekly prompt or writing exercise, posted on Mondays. Anyone who's interested can participate, and you're more than welcome to share what you've written by posting a link in the comments. 

This week's prompt is "Myth." You can interpret that any way you like; invent a myth. Reinvent a traditional story. Write a scene where something mythical is introduced to something modern or someone who never believed in it. Have myths from different cultures interacting. The possibilities are endless. 

Still not sure what to write? Take it a step further and think of fables, fairytales, or legends. Rewrite a well-known one. Create your own. What about theories such as Big Foot, the Loch Ness Monster, or the Abominable Snowman? Those are myths, too, in their own ways. There are so many different ways to interpret this prompt; play around with it, see what comes out, and above all, enjoy!


Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Reading Room (11)

The Reading Room is a weekly update on books I'm reading and planning to read. It was inspired by the feature On Myshelf at the blog All By Myshelf.

I finished Cleopatra's Moon over the weekend, and it was a pretty awesome book. You can check out my full review here, on my Shelfari profile. I haven't started The Iron King yet - I've been trying to get back into Dracula, which I sadly haven't finished yet. It's a really good book, but unfortunately, it never seems to come out on top when there are other, potentially more exciting books to be read. Hopefully, I'll be able to finish it soon. 

There was no school on Friday, so I took advantage of the day with nothing to do to go down to the public library. Instead of just skimming the new displays as I normally do, I scoured the shelves for books I haven't read, and came home with three new additions to my to-read list. 

The first book is Eona, the sequel to Eon: Dragoneye Reborn by Alison Goodman. Eon was recommended to me by a friend a year or so ago and I loved it. It was very unique, and dealt with some interesting concepts in addition to the main conflict. As soon as I saw Eona, I knew I had to check it out. Finding out that there was a sequel to Eon was incredibly frustrating to me, because I was dying to find out how the story ended. Plus, it's another book for me to add to my reading list for the 2012 YA Mythology Challenge I'm participating in.

After Eona, the next book I decided to get was A Tale of Two Castles by Gail Carson Levine. I've known they have it at both the public library and the school library for awhile, but I hadn't read it yet, since I was unsure whether I had outgrown Gail Carson Levine's books. Then I realized I was being ridiculous. I doubt I'll ever outgrow her novels. I've read almost all of her books so far (including most of the Princess Tales books, which I really am way too old for), my copy of her nonfiction book Writing Magic is almost falling apart because I've turned to it so many times for writing advice, and I follow her blog religiously. Not reading A Tale of Two Castles would have been more than silly - it would have been almost disloyal. I'm sure I'll love A Tale of Two Castles as much as I've adored all her other books.

The final book I brought home with me was Eight Keys by Suzanne LaFleur. Even though it's not fantasy and probably is meant for a younger age group, it sounds exactly like the kind of book that I would like. It's hard to say exactly why. Maybe it's just the fact that I enjoyed Love, Aubrey so much and have such fond memories of it. Either way, I'm just as excited to start this book as I am all the others.

Now, if only we had another long weekend for me to read all these books...


Monday, February 20, 2012

Inspire (4)

Inspire is a weekly writing prompt or writing exercise, posted on Mondays. Anyone who's interested can participate, and you're more than welcome to share what you've written by posting a link in the comments.

I stumbled upon this website today, a list of all the (supposedly real) national 'days' for every month. (I was born on National Applesauce Cake Day. I kid you not.) Not only was it fun to look at, but it served as the basis for this week's prompt: invent a holiday. It can be silly or serious, something obscure that no one knew about or a well-known tradition in a made-up world, anything that you want. You can just write about the holiday, you can show your characters celebrating it, you can make up its origins, or anything else you can think of involving it.

If you don't want to invent a new holiday, make up a family tradition that your characters follow every week, month, year, etc. Tell the story of how it started or show the family participating in it. Have fun with the prompt and don't ignore any of the ideas that come to you because they sound silly. Just enjoy.


Sunday, February 19, 2012

Album Review: Ingrid Michaelson - Human Again

Ingrid Michaelson's new album, Human Again, was released on January 24, 2012. Luckily or unluckily, depending on how you look at it, I caught a cold the week it came out, missed school on Friday, and was able to spend most of the weekend listening to it. It's taken me awhile to form opinions on all the songs on the album, but now that I have, I'm here to give you a full review.

When I first started listening to some of the songs, my immediate reaction was "Wow." If all of Ingrid Michaelson's songs are as great as some of the ones I found here, I can't believe that I've gone this long without listening to her. Her voice is amazing and although I didn't buy every song, I really like the new album.

Now, for the individual song reviews.

1. Fire
I LOVE the strings on this song - they're amazing and a perfect background to the vocals. The lyrics are meaningful and have a really hopeful tone, and I love it when songs use metaphors. It adds so much depth. This one is filled with them, and they all create amazing images and tie into the meaning of the song without being repetitive. The only part of the song that I didn't love immediately was the bridge, but even that's grown on me. This song is the perfect first song, and it really gets that album off to a great start.

2. This Is War
I like the music on this one and the way it starts, as well as the first verse and the end of the chorus, but I'm not sure about the main part of the chorus. I loved the line from the second verse - "It's a wonder at all that I decide to breathe", but it was really the only part that stood out from that verse. I also have mixed feelings on the bridge, but I liked the way the chorus following it started, and the song had a nice ending.

3. Do It Now
I love this song, especially the opening instrumental. The verses are amazing - they're both really descriptive, meaningful and extremely catchy. I also loved the line in the chorus - "Don't waste a minute on the darkness and the pity sitting in your mind and do it right now." The only flaw I can see in this song is that there might have been too much repetition of the lines "Do it now, do it right now," and the bridge. It definitely added to the song, but I would have loved to see more of the type of the lyrics that were in the verses, because they were just so awesome.

4. I'm Through
The strings here are pretty, but the slowness of the song bothers me right away. It feels like there's nothing new here, and honestly sounds kind of boring. Her voice does sound really nice, I like the concept and the meaning of the song and don't mind the lyrics, but I dislike the way they're sung, and I dislike the song as a whole. To me, it feels like background music from a Lifetime movie, which is too bad, because I think it had potential.

5. Blood Brothers
This is definitely one of my favorite songs on the album. I love the meaning to pieces, and the lyrics are the fantastic. While the repetition in "Do it Now" took away from the song, here it's perfect and not at all out of place. The background music accents the lyrics perfectly. The chorus is AMAZING. I can't decide what my favorite part of the song is, because it's all so amazing and fits the message SO WELL. It all leads up to the most perfect ending on the album. Just - incredible.

6. Black and Blue
When I first heard the beginning of this song, I was both interested a little apprehensive. The rhythm of the lyrics was very catchy, but it also seemed sort of mainstream-dance-pop-ish. To be honest, it reminds me of the song "Funhouse" by P!nk, but I do like P!nk, so that might not be a bad thing. I do really like the chorus, especially the line "I'm black and blue cause I fell for you." It really makes the connection between emotional and physical pain, which makes the emotion much stronger. I'm honestly not sure how much I like this song, but it's definitely very unique and well written.

7. Ribbons
Yet another song with really pretty opening music. I love the verse, both the word choice and the way it's structured. It perfectly captures the feeling of the song - nothing else would work as well. I really like the first line of the chorus because once again it perfectly captured the emotion. I didn't like the fact that there was a swear word (nothing too horrible, just d*mn) - not because I don't swear words in songs, but because I honestly didn't think that it fit. The second verse and the rest of the song was just as amazing as the first verse;  I think there's some sort of symbolism here, but even if there's not, it's just awesome.

8. How We Love
This song was really touching right from the beginning. The first part of the chorus left me a little puzzled until I listened to the song a few times, but I did like the rest of the chorus. I liked how descriptive the verses were - it created very realistic, beautiful images. I wasn't expecting this song to be as strong as some of the others, but I was pleasantly surprised and overall I really liked it.

9. Palm of Your Hand
Very catchy right from the beginning. The meaning is interesting and kind of hard to decipher - I'm not entirely sure what it is. I liked the line "the haze of never knowing," because that's exactly what it feels like when you don't know something, as if you're trapped in a haze where you can't see anything clearly. As I'm listening, can't help wondering if the line, "shot me right between the eyes" is meant to be taken negatively or not - it reminds me of the line in The Dog Days Are Over by Florence and Machine - "Happiness hit her like a bullet in the head" - it could be about something so sharp and sudden that it makes you start feeling again. I like this song because it feels so contradictory, and I think it fits really well with the theme of the album and the meaning of "Fire."

10. Ghost
Once again, I love the strings at the beginning. The first verse grabs your attention right away, and the line "I didn't even cry, because pieces of me had already died," is a very accurate description. Every moment of the chorus was fantastic - it starts really big, keeps building, and then has a beautiful, soft finish. The bridge-ish area after the second is beautiful and moving. It's so soft and then swells again very suddenly, which shouldn't work as amazingly as it does. It's one of those songs where you can't stop listening to it, and the ending leaves you needing to catch your breath.

11. In The Sea
This is a much more beat-driven song, and I like it. Yet again, the lyrics are so amazing - I don't even know how she comes up with them. They're so intense. The chorus is phenomenal, and although the meaning might seem kind of repetitive, it also helps the album sound really unified in its overall theme. I love the image of being dropped in the sea. For once, I'm not overly thrilled with the ending and the way her voice changes, but it's hard for anything to take away from this amazing song.

12. Keep Warm
I can't help but feeling deja vu with the way it starts - it sounds JUST LIKE "I'm Through," when you first listen to it. I like the lyrics a bit better, but otherwise, I don't like this one any better than "I'm Through" - for most of the same reasons. It's too slow, and to be honest, I couldn't make myself listen to the whole song - I mostly skimmed. Even though I love violins, by this point I was tired of them starting songs, and wished there was some more variety in the instrumentals.

13. End of the World
The instrumentals at the beginning were very interesting; I like the sounds behind the lyrics when the verse starts - it's very intricate. The lyrics and concept of the song are very unique, and while the chorus wasn't quite as strong as on some of the other songs, I still liked it. Throughout the song, the intensity builds really nicely, until it fades out just - beautifully.

So, overall, I'm extremely glad that I decided to check out this album, and Ingrid Michaelson will definitely be added to the list of my favorite artists. I highly recommend this album - aside from a few weak areas, it's pretty fantastic.

Keep an eye out for more album reviews - I plan to post reviews of The Fray's new album, Scars and Stories, and Audrey Assad's new album, Heart.


Don't Rely on "Stuff" for Your Relationship With God

If you were a reader of my blog at this time last year, you might remember a post entitled "Youth Retreat." If you weren't, it was a post about the AEC (Association of Evangelical Churches) Castle Youth Retreat, an event every February that my Youth Group goes to. It's a three-day retreat filled with music, worship services, games but sadly lacking in sleep, hot water, and large enough servings of food. It's always an amazing experience, and I was really looking forward to it this year.

I was planning to write a post about the event and maybe some pictures from it when I got back. There's just one problem: I didn't go. 

There are several reasons, and all of them were complicated, so I won't go into them here, but the week before we were supposed to leave, I found out some things that meant I wouldn't be able to go. I was really disappointed and upset, and kept wishing that things would change somehow so I would be able to go. Of course, they didn't. But even though it wasn't easy and even though I still wish I had been able to go, I think God was using the experience to show me something, which is what this post is about today. 

I had fallen into an unfortunate cycle, which Youth Retreat was a part of. I would feel really energized and on fire for God during the retreat and right after, and for a few weeks I would continue to move even closer to Him. Then, I'd start to level out and maybe drop down a little, staying about the same with slight drops and increases. All year, though, I'd be slowly moving downward. By next February, I would be much farther away from God - and yet, I wouldn't make any effort to change it. I knew Youth Retreat was coming up soon, and I would rely on that to bring me back to where I needed to be spiritually. I wasn't doing any of the work myself. 

This weekend, I learned that I can't rely on anything but myself to have a close relationship with God. I'm definitely NOT saying that I shouldn't go to church, youth group, youth retreat, or any other events, but that I can't use those as an excuse not to put any of my own effort into the relationship. It's easy to feel close to God when you're someplace where he's the entire focus of everyone there. But you need to put in effort of your own all the time. God used the fact that I wasn't able to go to Youth Retreat to teach me that, and I'm glad that I learned it. 

It didn't make it any easier to stay home from Youth Retreat, but that also helped me understand that sometimes if there's something you really need to learn, you won't understand it unless it hurts.

Youth Retreats and other events like them are amazing. Worshipping with other people is so important to having strong faith and being close to God. But I now know that sometimes, the most important thing is to be able to find God when there's no one else except you and Him. 


Thursday, February 16, 2012

Song Wars (2)

Song Wars is where I compare two songs with similar titles, meanings, or lyrics, different versions of the same song, or an original song and the covers that have been made of it. I'll discuss what I like and dislike about both songs, then decide which one I like better. 

This Week
"For the First Time" by The Script vs. "These Hard Times" by Matchbox Twenty

What They Have in Common: Almost identical meanings, somewhat similar lyrics

Title: The titles of these songs are pretty straightforward, and you could probably guess the name just by hearing the song. That's not a bad thing, but because neither title has anything especially interesting about it, it also makes it harder to decide which one I like better. In the end, I'm going to have to go with "These Hard Times" because I think it fits the overall meaning of the song much better than "For the First Time" does. 

Lyrics: This part of the comparison is interesting, because I like different parts of both of these songs. The verses of "These Hard Times" are really descriptive and create a beautiful image that I'm able to see and relate to very clearly. I don't like the verses as much in "For the First Time", but I love the chorus - it's the main reason I like the song. I also like the lines leading up to the chorus in each verse - "How we got into this mess, is it God's test? Someone help us, cause we're doing our best" in the first verse and "How we're gonna make it work when it hurts, when you pick yourself up you get kicked to the dirt" in the second. Each song does a really nice job of creating an atmosphere, but overall, I have to say that I like the descriptive verses of the Matchbox Twenty song slightly more than the intensely catchy choruses of the song by The Script, so they win this round. 

Music: This was a tough category. Neither song has particularly standout music. The beginning of "These Hard Times" is instantly recognizable, but for the most part it has the same sort of sound throughout the song. "For the First Time" is more layered, I think - you can hear several instruments distinctly and they don't blur together the way they do on the other song. There's also some lovely strings in the last chorus, which I can't get out of my head because they're so perfectly place. More than anything else, when I heard the music to this song, I wanted to learn how to play it, and "These Hard Times" just didn't have the same effect, so The Script is the clear winner here. 

Singing: Both songs are really well sung, in my opinion. The tone, the emphasis, the dynamics, everything about how the singers sing each part of the song fit perfectly with the lyrics and music. I just like the sound of the lead singer's voice in The Script more than in Matchbox Twenty - not for any real reason other than a personal preference. Either way, "For the First Time" wins this category to become tied with "These Hard Times." Looks like the next category may be the deciding factor...

Meaning: It's really hard to decide between the meanings of these two songs because they're just so similar. Listening to both songs, I've managed to locate a few differences. "For the First Time" is obviously about a couple, while "These Hard Times" could be about almost anyone - a couple, a group of friends, a family - anyone. "For the First Time" also conveys more of a message of, "Somehow we're going to get through this," throughout the whole song, and "These Hard Times" doesn't. Normally, I would be drawn towards the more hopeful meaning, but "These Hard Times" covers a broader spectrum of emotions and could apply to a lot of situations, making it easier to relate to and my choice for the winner of this round. 

So "These Hard Times" by Matchbox Twenty wins, though the two songs are still close. It's hard to beat the imagery in this song, and while "For the First Time" came very close, it didn't quite make it. 

Which song did you like better?

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Reading Room (10)

The Reading Room is a weekly update on books I'm reading and planning to read. It was inspired by the feature On Myshelf at the blog All By Myshelf.

First off, Happy Valentine's Day to everyone! I hope you had as wonderful of a day as I did. (It included Star Wars Valentines and way too much chocolate, Audrey Assad's new album "Heart" coming out on iTunes and some lovely flowers from my boyfriend.) And I'd like to send a <3 to all my followers. You guys are awesome for finding my blog interesting enough to read.

Anyway. Back to books. I finished most of the books I mentioned in my last post; Ballad was as spectacular as Lament, Firebirds Rising as amazing as Firebirds, and Tiger's Curse wasn't quite as stunning but definitely left me eager to read Tiger's Quest. I also finished Incarceron, which kept me up WAY too late Saturday night because it was impossible to put down. If you'd like to take a look at some of my full reviews, you can see them on Shelfari.

I'm also still reading The Gift, the second book in James Patterson's Witch and Wizard series, and all I have to say is that if all his books are this good, I'm definitely going to have get my friend to let me borrow her copies of the Maximum Ride series. The Gift is even better than Witch and Wizard - there's more characterization, which I love. Unfortunately, neither the school library nor the public library have The Fire...which, I suppose, just means I'll have to download it on my Nook.

The school library does have Cleopatra's Moon, the first book on my reading list for the YA Historical Fiction challenge I'm participating in. (Check out my Reading Challenges page for more information.) I'm really looking forward to reading it - I love historical fiction and have been meaning to read it for awhile, and it sounds really interesting. Cleopatra VII is one of my favorite historical figures, but I've never read much about her daughter, Cleopatra Selene, who is the book's main character.

The other book I picked up while I was in the library was The Iron King by Julie Kawaga. This would almost be one of those moments where I could joyously proclaim, "I was a fan before they were cool!" as I do in almost every conversation I have about Owl City, because I first saw this book a year and a half ago in a bookstore while I was homecoming dress shopping. Unfortunately, I don't get my triumphant I-beat-the-trend moment, because I didn't buy it. (I bought Clockwork Angel instead, incase you were wondering.) Oh, well. That doesn't mean I'm not extremely excited to start reading it now. Four of my bookworm friends have highly recommended it, and we have very similar tastes, so I have a feeling I'll like it. I'll be sure to post a review somewhere once I've read it.

In other reading news, I joined the Reading Competition at my school last week. If you're unfamiliar with the concept, several members of the team read books from a list, splitting it up so that someone on the team has read each book. Then, we go to the school where the competition is being held, and the team answers questions about the books. It's a pretty awesome setup for several reasons: The other people in it are all extremely cool, we get out of homeroom every Thursday and get to hang out in the library listening to music, and we miss school for the competition. It's hard not to gloat. I get to miss school to talk about books.


Monday, February 6, 2012

Inspire (3)

Inspire is a weekly writing prompt or writing exercise, posted on Mondays. Anyone who's interested can participate, and you're more than welcome to share what you've written by posting a link in the comments.

This week's prompt is to write about something strange. Write about an unfamiliar culture, an eccentric character, or an unusual event - anything out of the ordinary. Try to describe it the best you can, especially the qualities that make it so weird. Add in other character's reactions if you want. Change it around and make something you see everyday seem suddenly foreign. Show modern objects that we take for granted through the eyes of a character from the past (and try to describe the shock of seeing them in a new way that you're not used to seeing in any kind of time/dimension travel books.) Anything that you think is strange. 

Have fun with this one!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

I'm back!

Hello, everyone! I just wanted to apologize for being MIA for the past week. I was having some login problems with my account - I'm not sure what happened, but there was a mix-up with my email address and somehow my password got reset, along with a few terrifying days when I couldn't even view my blog when I entered the URL, but luckily I managed to sort things out, and I'll be back to regular posting this week.

Also, for anyone participating in my Short Story Challenge 2012, I've created a shelf on GoodReads of collections of short stories, incase you're looking for some suggestions. If anyone has any recommendations, let me know and I'll add them. You can take a look at the list here.

Well, that's all for now. Once again, I'm sorry about the delay, and glad to be back!