Full of Grace

Been a bit busy this week so I haven’t had a chance to put together a playlist. But I do have one review for today:

Graceling by Kristin Cashore

Genre: YA fantasy

This is a book that definitely packs a punch. In the world of Graceling, there are a small number of people born with a grace: an extreme skill that makes them an expert at one specific thing. For Lady Katsa, her grace is a violent one: she can kill a man with minimal force and barely break a sweat. Her gift is also a curse because it makes her a slave to her uncle the king: a petty man who uses her to intimidate, threaten and maim his enemies.

But Katsa isn’t happy being the King’s hired thug. She wants to use her talents for helping others, something she gets a chance to do when she meets Prince Po, who is also graced. This is where the romance aspect of the plot takes over. While Cashore has definitely created an original world in Graceling, I could have done with less romance and more adventure. But that’s a minor complaint: this couple has chemisty, that’s for sure. My only other minor complaint is the pacing: there are a few sections where the book meanders at a slower pace, only to have it pick up again in grand style. If you find your attention slipping halfway through you owe it to yourself to read on. The best is still to come, I promise.

Final grade: A-

Unlimited

This was another great weekend for TV with two of my favourite shows, Merlin and Once Upon a Time both turning in solid episodes – Merlin in particular. I don’t want to spoil too much of it, but it was one of the best episodes the show has ever produced. The best part is when Merlin confronts Uther! It was a scene we’ve all been waiting for since the show started, tbh. Then over on Once we got to meet Captain Hook, who promises to be a worthy adversary for everyone’s favourite antihero Rumplestiltskin.

 All this great fiction softened the blow when reality became a bit of a let down at Skate America, where I saw a few of my favourite skaters falter (though there were rousing victories too.)

With that in mind, this week’s playlist will consist of songs that you should listen to when you need to be reminded of how much you’re capable of. Songs that make you feel… unlimited.

Weekly Playlist #5: On With the Show

1. “What You Want” – Evanescence: “I’m everything you can’t control”

2. “Die Another Day” – Madonna: “I’ll die another day, it’s not my time to go.”

3. “Defying Gravity” – Wicked soundtrack: “I’m through with playing by the rules of someone else’s game.”

4. “The Show Must Go On” – Queen: “Inside my heart is breaking, my makeup may be flaking but my smile still stays on.”

5. “Leverage” – Lyriel: “I will carry on to do what I must do.”

6. “April Rain” – Delain: “Count your blessings and prepare to change your point of view.”

7. “Gives You Hell” – All-American Rejects: “When you hear this song I hope that it will give you hell.”

8. “Sweet Sacrifice” – Evanescence: “Fear is only in our minds.”

9. “Stand My Ground” – Within Temptation: “I won’t give in, I won’t give up.”

10. “Shake It Out” – Florence + the Machine: “It’s hard to dance with the devil on your back, so shake him off.”

Wallflowers and wizards

Another book review today! I’m on a roll.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower – Stephen Chbosky

Another quick read – this isn’t a big book. There’s already been a lot said about this highly successful novel so I won’t re-hash what’s been written already, except to say that I really appreciate books written in the epistolary form. You don’t see that so much anymore and it was done very well here.  For a book where not a lot happens (at least not directly) it still manages to stay interesting. It wasn’t the most mind-blowing thing I’ve ever read, but I would definitely recommend it.

Though on an entirely superficial level, I keep getting distracted by the trailers for the movie. I keep thinking, Why is Percy Jackson trying to get with Hermione Granger, even though I know perfectly well that they’re both just actors and not those other characters. I know that. And yet I can’t unsee it. Maybe I’m just depressed because I know there will be no more Harry Potter movies, but at least we’re getting another Percy movie and Annabeth is blonde this time and Anthony Head is playing Chiron instead of Pierce Brosnan (Giles Pendragon!) I’m still looking forward to seeing the movie adaptation of Perks though. Emma and Logan are both great actors and I’m sure they’ll pull it off beautifully. But still! Percy and Hermione… it’s like the best crossover EVER.

Final grade: B+

Like rats in a maze

Another book review for you today!

The Maze Runner by James Dashner

Genre: YA futuristic/dystopian

It didn’t take me long to read this once I got into it. The Maze Runner is told from the point of view of Thomas, a teenage boy who is transported to a mysterious place called the Glade with no memories of his past life. The only clue is the Maze that surrounds the Glade: the boys who live there believe that if they can solve the maze without being maimed or killed by the ghastly creatures that live there, they will find their way home. But as is so often the case, not everything is what it seems… I don’t want to give up too much of the plot, but it’ll definitely give your brain some work figuring your way through. There’s a few times where I guessed at what might really be going on before the characters did.

When you’re reading this book, you’ll feel a lot like Thomas does: disoriented and full of questions. Since this is the first in a series, obviously not all the questions are answered here. Thomas asks questions constantly – something that can get a little annoying. In fact that was my only complaint: sometimes inquisitiveness isn’t the most attractive character trait.

But if you’re not a fan of romance in YA, you’re in luck: there really isn’t any. There are hints that there might be something between Thomas and Teresa, but nothing happens (at least not in this book  – I can’t speak for what might happen later.)

The book leaves plenty to anticipate for the sequel and overall is a fast-paced read. It’s not the type of plot that everyone would enjoy, but I liked it.

Final grade: A-

What kind of corset is this?

^ So quoth Princess Aurora on last night’s episode of Once, after which I, and the rest of the fandom, nearly died laughing. It was a good episode all in all. I enjoyed Lancelot. This week’s Merlin was good too (and next week’s preview promises the return of a deceased character and lots of drama!) It looks like Mordred isn’t going to be the new Agravaine after all (or is he?!) I also caught the pilot episode of Arrow and I think it shows promise. I’ll definitely be sticking around for more of that! Added bonus: Katie Cassidy is in it and she’s pretty badass, so I’ve got hopes.

Before doing this week’s playlist I have one book review for you:

Shards of Excalibur: Song of the Sword by Edward Willet

Genre: YA fantasy/adventure/Arthurian

Being the massive Merlin fan that I am, I like looking at other takes on the legend. For me the best YA take on the Arthurian legend that I’ve read so far is Meg Cabot’s Avalon High and that still stands – though Song of the Sword is a well-crafted effort. My biggest issues with this book stem from my own biases: I’m so used to seeing Merlin as a young man on the TV show that I have to readjust my brain to thinking that he’s an old guy again. This time around Merlin was the villain – an intriguing re-interpretation, though I’m not sure if he was the most convicing villain. I’m hoping future books in the series explore his backstory a little more because I think there’s more than can be done. I get what the author was going for though: I’m just so attached to seeing Merlin in a certain way that I couldn’t get past it. The problem is with me, not the text.

But the novel’s main protagonist is Ariane Forsythe, a teenager who discovers that she is descended from the Lady of the Lake and is the only one who can stop Merlin in his quest for power by finding the scattered shards of Arthur’s legendary sword before he does. Where I didn’t so much care for Merlin as the villain, I quite liked Ariane as the Lady of the Lake. Again I was reminded of Avalon High, but this interpretation is different from what Cabot did. So if you’re a fan of Arthurian legends and are looking for a new re-envisioning, be sure to check this series out.

Final grade: B

And now for that weekly playlist I promised:

Weekly Playlist #4: Visions are seldom all they seem

1. “Once Upon a Dream” – Sleeping Beauty soundtrack

In honour of Aurora, obviously.

2. “Shalott” – Emilie Autumn

Literary geek alert: Lancelot quoted Tennyson’s “The Lady of Shalott” when they were at the dried-up lake.

3. “Reflection” – Mulan soundtrack

I’m still a fan of Mulan on Once, but I’m going to run out of songs from the Mulan soundtrack if I keep this up…

4. “Defying Gravity” – Wicked soundtrack

But I haven’t run out of songs from Wicked yet!

5. “Abraham’s Daughter” – Arcade Fire

I was trying to think of a song to represent Arrow and this one from The Hunger Games soundtrack popped into my head because… archery, etc.

6. “Angels” – Within Temptation

Thinking about how Regina and Cora rip out people’s hearts on Once I thought this song was appropriate: “You took my heart, deceived me right from the start.”

7. “Slay Your Dragons” – The Dreamside

Morgana’s pet dragon is looking a little worse for wear, isn’t she? I wonder what’s going on there…

8. “Humanity in Motion” – Nathan Lanier

Weaver/Poje’s new freedance music.

9. “Shot in the Dark” – Within Temptation

I keep listening to this lately and it seems appropriate after Emma had that little mishap with her gun.

Chair makes the world go ’round

It’s been a good long weekend for TV.

First, this past Saturday, it was the Merlin series five premiere and the show is back with a bang: a bang that includes a new Mordred and the reign of QUEEN GWEN – a character who is finally living up to her full, very regal potential. But of course everyone still treats poor Merlin like crap. It can’t be easy being the unsung hero. But this premiere episode sets up what I can only hope will be some juicy storylines for the rest of the season…

Speaking of juicy storylines, we got some interesting backstory on the relationship between Regina and Rumple on this week’s Once Upon a Time. I loved that thing Regina said about needing to learn magic even if it turned her green (foreshadowing?! Let’s hope so!) and Rumple was as creepy/excellent as always. And Charming’s back in action! I can’t wait to see what happens next week when they bring in Lancelot. I’ve always liked him a lot.

Then last night was the sixth season Gossip Girl premiere – a show that I only watch because I love Chuck and Blair. And it looks like they’re finally gonna make it happen, so it’ll be worth the wait. But in the meantime we’ll be forced to put up with the icky subplot of Rufus and Ivy (WTF?!) and whatever shenanigans Serena gets up to before we see Chair ride off into the sunset together. But Georgina’s hanging around and that’s always fun. And Blair wore a very becoming chapeau, which was tres jolie.

And now without further ado, here is this week’s playlist:

Weekly Playlist #3: Chair, time travel and the land of what might have been

1. “The Time Warp” – Rocky Horror Picture Show soundtrack

I also saw Looper this weekend, so in honour of Joseph Gordon Levitt growing up to be Bruce Willis, I’m including the first song that popped into my head about TIME. And because doing the time warp is just plain FUN and you sholdn’t need an excuse to do it. After all, it’s just a jump to the left…

2. “Tonight” – Fun featuring Janelle Monae

So this song is old news now but it was used very effectively in last season’s Gossip Girl finale. I will forever associate this song with Chuck Bass and Blair Waldorf. Someday these two are gonna set the world on fire.

3. “I’m Not That Girl” – Wicked soundtrack

Because everyone can relate to being not that girl or not that boy at some point in their lives. *sniffle*

4. “Skyfall” – Adele

After the rather underwhelming “Another Way to Die” from Quantum of Solace, this new Bond theme is everything I was hoping for. I’m so excited for this movie! The trailers look amazing and I can’t wait to see what Mr. Bond has got up his sleeve this time around. And there’s a new Q!

5. “A Girl Worth Fighting For” – Mulan soundtrack

Still enjoying the Mulan character on Once. She’s so badass! How ’bout a girl who’s got a brain who always speaks her mind?

6. “What Have You Done?” – Within Temptation featuring Keith Caputo

Even despite everything that’s happened, I still ship Merlin/Morgana. This song pretty much sums up how I feel about the two of them. I feel like they could have had something, but destiny got in the way. Why does fate make us suffer?

7. “White Rabbit” – Jefferson Airplane

This one is dedicated to Jefferson: one of my favourite characters on Once. Did you catch that rabbit stuffed animal he had in his car? So cute and so heartbreaking. Off with his head!

8. “Un Amor” –  Gipsy Kings

Because I’m in love with Hubbell/Donohue’s new flamenco/Gipsy Kings free dance.

9. “Je Suis Malade” – Lara Fabian

And since we’re on the topic of free dances, my heart still belongs to Weaver/Poje’s “Je Suis Malade” from last season (though this season’s is going to be epic!)

10. “Alejandro” – Lady Gaga

I’ve had this stuck in my head again lately.

 

Sixteen Moons

So, who gets intimitaded by big books?

I’ll admit it: I’m still a little weary, even though I’ve read some monstrously huge things in University (we’re talking 500+ pages here.) So when I’m reading for fun, I won’t always pick up a big book (at least not until I’ve read a few shorter ones first and I’m looking for something more substantial.) I refuse to read two overly long books in a row because I’ve gotten lazy now that I don’t have reading deadlines to meet. 

So when I picked up a copy of Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl’s Beautiful Creatures, I was a little put off by the size, even if the back-of-the-book description was compelling enough (Southern gothic with supernatural elements? Yes please!) I don’t know why I’m still put off by things like that: I’ve read lots of really long books for school – we’re talking Dickens and Collins and the like – and loved both. But I’ve come to the conclusion that length isn’t the most imporant thing. There have been tons of books I’ve read that have felt too short. I can’t even make up my mind! It’s either too short or too long, which is worse?

Ultimately what’s really important is: is the story compelling enough to warrent all those pages? In the case of Beautiful Creatures there’s definitely more than enough plot to require the book to be so long. I won’t lie: there are moments where the story drags a little (the book could have been roughly 50 pages shorter) but at the end of the day, it’s a hell of a story. So often we see the ordinary girl in a supernatural tale being taken in by an extraordinary boy, but in Beautiful Creatures, this dynamic is flipped on its head: we see the thoroughly ordinary Ethan Wate fall for the extraordinary Lena Duchannes. The text isn’t without its unfortunate Romeo & Juliet moments but thankfully there’s no love triangles getting in the way. A few of the adult characters (Lena’s uncle Macon, Ethan’s caretaker Amma, the librarian Marian Ashcroft and Mrs. Lincoln) are particularly compelling, which rounds things out nicely. So often the grown-ups can be throwaway characters in YA, which is a shame (though fortunately not the case here.)

So, is the book too long? Maybe. Is it worth reading? Definitely. Moral of the story: don’t judge a book by its length. One of my favourite books in the world is Collins’s The Woman in White and it’s HUGE. But it’s also one of the best books I’ve ever read. I reviewed Kelly Creagh’s Nevermore awhile back and it’s not much shorter than Beautiful Creatures – you’ll recall I gave that one an A+. You just feel like you’ve achieved more when you read a big book. I still remember my mind reeling when I read the final pages of The Woman in White. Because it takes longer to read a big book, you get to spend more time in its universe and you come away feeling like you’ve really stepped inside the story.

Final grade for Beautiful Creatures: A-. Can’t wait for the movie!