Wednesday, February 26, 2014

What Am I Reading Now

Whenever I find the open time to do something enjoyable, I like to sit somewhere peaceful and read a book. Even when I find open time during my work schedule or am going somewhere with which empty time makes up part of the equation, reading is the way I generally fulfill that open gap. Unfortunately, due to my busy English major based college schedule, finding time to read for pleasure is not necessarily common in this point in time. We're assigned work to closely read and then analyze in a particular fashion. We're also assigned passages to read in a text book that increase understanding of what happens to lie ahead. Fortunately, I am seeking every possible opportunity to read what I enjoy, whether it's considered "class material" or "casual material."

If there's a novel that I have my primary focus on at the moment we speak, it's Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak. I'm currently taking a history class having to do with Soviet Russia, which covers the status of the country from the Russian Revolution onward. While I have made it a goal to read more Russian literature (which includes Great Russian Short Stories published by Dover Thrift and edited by Paul Negri), I am also required to write a book review and have been given the honor of doing a powerpoint presentation on 20th century Russian literature. Pasternak is a definitely cover, for Doctor Zhivago was a key and controversial work when it was released in 1957. The novel was released in Italy, then in the United States before it was even released in Russia. When nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1958, Pasternak was put in a difficult situation to the point in which he had to turn down the honorable award. We'll just have to see how this novel turns out.

For my casual read, I still have Ghost Road Blues by Jonathan Maberry on my "to finish" list. I started reading it last year, put it down to finish later, picked it back up to continue, then had to put it down due to the flow of the semester. I find Maberry's work to be exciting and he doesn't hold back any punches. We'll just have to see how well it concludes. Another delay may come from what I read to prepare for Literary Gladiators, which will depend on when and how we tape the web show. I'm in the process of finding a time to re-tape some episodes that were lost. Maberry's novel will be the first light read I get back to when I'm able.

Aside from these two, I also have a collection of Anne Sexton's poetry and James Joyce's Dubliners to get to, while I'm making an effort to get my hands on The Fault in our Stars by John Green to read during the year. I've heard so many positive things about that novel from just about anybody I have had a literary discussion with. In addition to these, a goal of mine is to read some work from those I know and want to promote as being a lesser known author that deserves recognition.

I am making the effort to submit some more posts to my blog within the upcoming year, which will include some short story and poem reviews, along with plenty of other offerings that have to do with literature. Whether or not I read exactly what I mentioned above in that order and before anything else I didn't mention is something I cannot promise, but this is what floats through my head as we speak. As I end most of my web shows: Keep Reading!

Friday, February 21, 2014

Book Review: "Sunshine" by Nikki Rae

One of the biggest sins in the industry of books, literature, and written work is that people seem to only get their hands on the work that is introduced to them in a recognizable fashion. This means through mass market sales, advertisement, whether or not a movie will be coming out for this film, Oprah, or the New York Times. Beyond these flashy medians are plenty of other novels written by lesser known authors that are looking for their opportunity to shine. These are known as "indie authors" and if this term sounds familiar through how it is used to describe lesser known films, the term "indie" means the same thing. Nikki Rae, the author of the Sunshine trilogy (Sunshine came out last January, Sun Poisoned in June, and Sun Damaged will be out March 28th), is an new adult indie author in both respects. One, she exemplifies an author that is doing all of the work in promoting her name and writing and comes out with new material. Two, she's an "independent author" to the extent that "indie author" is being defined at this point in time. Since she was unable to seek approval with a publishing company, she went to self-publishing and is doing a relatively successful job. This review will be on Sunshine, the only novel from her that is currently in print (though I would imagine Sun Poisoned will follow shortly).

Sophie Jean lives an aggravating life to say the very least. She has a condition that causes a sensitivity to the sun and requires that she wear a massive amount of protection when going outdoors. Her over the top mother, whom I swear has is either a Hypochondriac or a subject to Bipolar Disorder, has pushed her to attend the doctor so he could engage in an operation that will cure her of this condition. By the time we are settled in to Sophie's world, we are also settled in to the fact that Sophie wants nothing more than to transition out of the demanding life she's living in order to follow her own path and dream of becoming a performer in a rock band with her friends, Boo and Trei. Boo and Trei are siblings and happen to be Sophie's closest friends. Their chemistry provides the obvious sibling waves, as if they're Bert and Ernie (even though we should know by now Bert and Ernie aren't siblings), which brings me to Sophie's siblings. She has two younger sisters and two older brothers, one of which make up the light-hearted gay couple of Jade and Stevie. Adam is the nurturer and looks after the siblings when their mother goes off the wall, while her sisters provide Sophie and the other older siblings with reason to nurture.

Sophie works at a bookstore in the mall, which is where she meets Myles, who would inevitably become her love interest. Myles starts as a tag-along, participates in her English class, and then throughout the story grows closer and closer to Sophie. Sophie is hesitant to opening up to him, for a horrific event at the junior prom has caused her to shut herself from people in society, especially the males. Unfortunately for Sophie, Myles pops up suspiciously whenever she seems to be in what is either a harmful or stressful situation. As much as she tries to hide this from Myles, he knows. Myles also sounds quite innocent when he presents himself to Sophie. He could come off as being very suspicious and sly, but he's more like a Bloodhound than he is a fox with regard to his attitude. We later learn that he is, in fact, a vampire that's several hundred years old. On top of that, he bears plenty of responsibility and resistance and will do anything and everything to make sure that Sophie is loved and that she is safe from those villainous demons that also happen to be vampires, even if it means putting Sophie through quite a hell ride and one that could rank along those rides she's been along throughout her past.

Sunshine would be categorized best as a new adult paranormal romance. If you're looking for a horror fiction piece that displays vampires in what is close to their original state or as vicious creatures, this may not be exactly what you are looking for. Sunshine strays a little bit closer to the direction of Twilight, but does not make an attempt to murder the impression we have on vampires and werewolves. What Sunshine excels at is being a meaningful novel that gives us a reason to care for and adore Sophie Jean and those around her. We love who we love and hold bitter hatred toward those who provide harm to Sophie, whether it be her mother, her ex-boyfriend, Barbie (who's a snobby, "popular" high school "type"), or even the music teacher. The meaningful characters allow me to enjoy the rest of the novel as well. I was able to continue reading and enjoying the piece, regardless as to where I was.

I feel that on one hand, the paranormal elements resemble many stereotypes that have been used in plenty of the young and new adult works of the current day. You really need to be into paranormal romance or have the ability to tolerate some of their core elements to appreciate this work. On the other hand, Sophie is somebody you can sympathize with, even if she's aloof to the point that she's the kind of person that would want to shut herself from anybody who's concerned about how she is feeling. There are plenty of introverts in this society!

What I know for sure is that given the potential, the Sunshine trilogy could garner itself a loyal following the way that Harry Potter and The Hunger Games have. If Nikki Rae continues to come out with good material, this series, along with her other works that are in progress, will be able to create the necessary recognition that she deserves. This is exactly the kind of story that attracts droves of people and turns into mass market films that people go and watch, so the jump shouldn't be too high.

Sun Damaged, the last novel in the series, will be out on March 28th in ebook form. For now, you can find and enjoy Sunshine in ebook and trade paperback and Sun Poisoned in ebook.

Verdict: 7/10  

Monday, February 17, 2014

Let's Be Brutally Honest: The Word "Like" Is Used Too Much These Days (And Often Times Improperly)

Anyone who was born in the 1990s can remember watching The Amanda Show on Saturday nights. I most definitely remember these days when Spongebob actually came out with good episodes, All That was the Saturday Night Live for teenagers, and The Amanda Show was perhaps its greatest spinoff (though plenty of people would argue that Kenan & Kel take that title). There was a sketch called "Totally Kyle" where Drake Bell would begin with a guitar solo and then tell a story. The story would roughly follow this kind of format: "Ummm... one time... I was walking my dog... and I like... tripped on a rock... and I like... fell... and I was like... ouch!" I'm almost positive none of the sketches followed this format, but it's certain that he used the word "like" plenty of times when he spoke. While we saw this as a bit ridiculous upon seeing this and we saw Kyle as being completely zoned out, fifteen years later, most people use the word "like" in their vocabulary as a way to connect one thought to another. In all honesty and with all due respect to the people that use "like" when they don't need to, it's a sad, disturbing truth that this is hurting verbal communication.

At one point in time, I was intrigued to take a tally on how many times the word "like" was used improperly to replace "ummm," "ahhhhh," "uhhhhh," or a pause in order to signify either a transition in thought or an unnecessary word used to precede an example or second thought. A prime example would be during a British Literature class, someone would say, "Hamlet's father was killed and he was... like... feeling depressed." For the record, I DID take a British Literature class, but I DID NOT hear this exact statement. I've heard the word "like" used in my classes, but nobody said something to this caliber.

Why do people use "like" improperly and pause so often? The answer is simple: Technology is taking over our lives so drastically that it has changed the way we communicate. We are in an age where texting through a smart phone and social networking have become the way of life. In fact, people have found it much more comforting to communicate with somebody through their cell phone than they do in person. This means that I could be a friend of yours and I'm in the same room as you, but your attention is on the friend that's texting you from their toilet in another state. Of course, we have yet to reach the point where the friend in the room garners less attention. For now, face-to-face communication is yet alive. Though we may very well see a future with which electronic communication, whether by phone, computer, or any other advanced tool, is far more common and appropriate.

If there's one thing technology has done to our train of thought, it's the fact that it has caused us to think much slowly as an individual. While it's nice to see that we're thinking before we say something that may come off as being hurtful, this has also shown in how people communicate with one another when they're doing so the old-fashioned way. They pause and use the word "like" in order to make it seem like the conversation is flowing just as a common conversation would sound. Unfortunately, using the word "like" excessively isn't hiding very much. It just makes it sound like Totally Kyle has created several spawns.

I will admit, my verbal train of thought is slightly spaced as well. Some of that could be seen from episodes of Literary Gladiators. Speaking of which, a new episode will be up tomorrow!!! I do, however, do my best to refrain from using "like" as a "filler word." In its authentic ways, "like" is meant to be used as a compliment (such as "I like you"), as a mean of comparison (such as "he looks just like you"), or in similes (such as "like poetry in motion"). I also feel that technology also offers plenty of positive attributes. As long as we are the ones running technology and it's not the other way around, such a tool could be deemed to have brought the greatest impact to the human age.

My key piece of advice would be to start by pausing instead of using the word "like." While it may sound like a stammer at first, once you get the hang of it, the word "like" won't be used improperly. Of course, I'm not angry at people who use "like" improperly, it's just a warning about how technology should not have to hurt face-to-face communication and damage the execution of a verbal statement. At the same time, thinking before you speak has come off as being a positive. For the record, I too will do my best to add a flow to my spoken statement.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Ellen Page

This past Valentine's Day, Ellen Page, who is my celebrity valentine (blush), came out as being a lesbian during the Human Rights Campaign. She backed this statement up with mentioning how she was tired of hiding her honest feelings and felt that she had the right to live life as she pleases. Coincidentally enough, this is her human right. We were previously aware of the fact that she was in a few relationships, dated a few men, and is a pro-choice feminist. While some speculation could be made, there was not entirely enough to confirm. This announcement has become confirmation. Regardless, my stance on this has not changed in the very least.

For those who are not familiar with Ellen Page, she is a Canadian actress who has made her way into the hearts of plenty of moviegoers from across the globe, but especially in Canada and the United States.While her first televised role was in Pit Pony in 1997 and her first full-length film was Marion Bridge from 2002, it was Hard Candy, a 2005 film about a teenage girl (played by Page) garnering the attention of a rapist. This began the trend of Page playing characters much younger than her actual age, for she looked the part (she'll be 27 at the end of the week, yet she still looks 18). This trend continued with perhaps her biggest role of playing Juno MacGuff in the 2007 film, Juno. Here, the title character faces the challenge of teenage pregnancy using humor and excellent planning, while battling the struggles someone in her predicament would face. From there, she had roles in the roller derby film Whip It and the Leonardo DiCaprio mind-boggling thriller Inception (which, by the way, was a brilliant film that continues to keep me thinking). While Page is not necessarily in the spotlight as often at this point in time, she remains active in roles that include a video game voiceover in Beyond: Two Souls and she will have a role in the upcoming X-Men film.

As you may notice throughout my blogging trends, I am not one to respond to the coming out of celebrities. The one thing that is making "coming out" news is that it has been immensely unfamiliar before this new era. Even in the 1990s, opening up was quite vague. We are now about ready to see an era in which the first openly gay football player, Michael Sam, will enter the NFL Draft. At this moment, we are seeing a breaking of barriers. Ten years from now, I hold high hope that those who are part of the LGBT community will not have to make noise and feel as if they are figuratively bungee jumping out of a plane fifty thousand feet into the air in order to create acceptance among their fellow citizens. Hopefully, at this point in time, someone could live their lives as being gay, lesbian, bisexual, transsexual, or in any other fashion and be seen just as everybody else is and be treated with true equality. They don't necessarily need to have a news article printed out about their decision to live life the way they please. It's respect that the LGBT community, like everybody else in society, deserves.

At the beginning of my post, I mentioned that Ellen Page "is my celebrity valentine." That's not a typo. I believe that I do not have to change the way I look at people just because they have an attraction to the opposite gender or are "not my type." She is a phenomenal actress with a charm and great sense of humor. I don't know her (and will probably never know her) personally, but I can only imagine she's a nice person. Usually, if I don't see people on Entertainment Tonight or on the cover of tabloid magazines, I usually see that as being the first good sign. 

For now, I hope that some time in the near future, Page will return to film in some capacity. Perhaps a nice drama or even a film with a protagonist that has to tackle the issue of sexual orientation. I'm almost positive that it would send plenty of people to the theaters (and I would be one of them). I'll be sure to keep an eye out. Her talent as an actress, my friends, is what I see as Ellen Page's best strength. Like Page, everybody, regardless of orientation, race, color, religion, or condition (physical or psychological), should be viewed by their actions and their hearts; and not be afraid to be who they are and just live their lives to the fullest.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Literary Gladiators: Episode 1- "The Road Not Taken" by Robert Frost

I had mentioned a few weeks ago that I was working on a web show over the winter break titled Literary Gladiators. Well here it is! This was the pilot that we filmed while waiting for our final classes. If you enjoy this, there will be eleven more episodes to come, ten of which were filmed while the other will be the individual segment episode with which we discuss the work that made us literary enthusiasts.

The second season of thirty-six episodes is being planned out and is looking to film over the summer.

For now, take the road that most will want to travel!

Saturday, February 8, 2014

My Ten Favorite Songs From The Beatles: 50 Years In America

On February 9, 1964, the world of music saw a drastic turning point when The Beatles made their debut on The Ed Sullivan Show, attracting millions of fans. The group would continue to remain active in adapting to the times and creating a phenomenon until finally breaking up in 1970. Nevertheless, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr would become household names for fifty years and counting. Not only did these four men establish themselves as members of arguably (and in my mind) the greatest group that rock and roll has ever seen, but they did the same as solo figures. While John Lennon was shot to death in 1980 and George Harrison lost a battle to cancer in 2001, their legacies continue to live on and the careers of Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr continue.

The Beatles not only fit in to their era, but also played a huge role in shaping it. The British Invasion consisted of several artists (The Rolling Stones, Herman's Hermits, Eric Burdon & The Animals, The Fortunes, etc.), but The Beatles represent the rise of such a crucial era. The later sixties became one of psychedelia, inspired by rebellion and how resorting to substances such as marijuana and LSD became popular. Several hits from The Fab Four fed into the idea of going on trips, "Strawberry Fields Forever" and "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" are just a few examples. By the time the group was beginning to see strain, the songs were also inspired by peace and good value, as oppose to love and relationships in the fashion that several groups engaged (Between you{the reader}and I, I feel much of this was inspired by John Lennon marrying Yoko Ono, which many could rightfully argue led to the collapse of the group). No matter what kind of music they were presented with, The Beatles was always spectacular.

Like I have done on plenty of occasions, I will name my ten favorite hits from the Fab Four and include YouTube videos that you are welcome to listen to when you finish reading this post. Being the honest person I believe to be, this top ten in this particular order is not a list of consistency. My favorite songs change with my mood. One day, one particular song may seek my interest, while on the other day, another may do the same.

We shall begin...

#10: Paperback Writer (1966)- If you know me well enough, this selection should not come as a shock whatsoever. I'm a English major who wants to use my degree to become a writer. This song has my name written all over it and my interests as well. With Paul McCartney on lead vocals, the song features plenty of situations of a humble little writer trying to submit their work, hoping the subject would be interested. One piece is described as "dirty" (perhaps erotic), while another was "over a thousand pages, give or take a few." The Beatles rarely fail to deliver when it comes to coming up with something clever.

#9: A Day in the Life (1967)- Inspired by the multiple news headlines during the time (this was the Vietnam era and The Beatles were in the middle of their peace and love era), "A Day in the Life" is the hit that is often overlooked, but to hardcore Beatles fan is often declared their #1. If my friend, Ari, was compiling a list, I would put my wagers on the fact that this would be on the very top. Clocking in at just over five minutes, "A Day in the Life" features both Lennon and McCartney on lead, Lennon engaging in the more psychedelic vocals (such as the "I read the news today") segment, while McCartney actually sings about the day in the life of an ordinary civilian. The most mesmerizing part of the song, however, is the use of the orchestra to deliver intensity before ending on a powerful note.

#8: Come Together (1969)- The direction that this song is heading is one that would require longer hours of intense studying of the lyrics, but the beat of the song and the execution that Lennon gives as he performs it makes it one of those enjoyable songs nevertheless. Perhaps the ideas of tripping plus the situations involving each of the members could be brought into play, but when most of us listen to this song, we just think of the randomly bizarre lyrics, no matter what they're supposed to mean. "Shooting Coca-Cola" sticks out the most and actually brought forth a lawsuit for using a trademarked term. One may also argue the comparison of "Coca-Cola" to "cocaine."

#7: Eleanor Rigby (1966)- Written and sung by Paul McCartney, this song stands as a ballad for those who are lonely. We concentrate on the lonely title character who attends an empty church and listens to the sermons of the lonely Father McKenzie. By the time she dies, she is simply buried and left. This song stands as one of their greatest stories that they could come up with and the story was performed relatively well. It's always delightful to listen to it, regardless of how poignant the song really is.

#6: You're Gonna Lose That Girl (1965)- Now starts the light-hearted hits that made up the first portion of The Beatles career. In this song, led by Lennon, The Beatles show courage in telling a male subject that if they don't tend to their girlfriend, they are going to make the effort to sway them away from this subject and over to them. In essence, the song warns, "if you're not good to your partner, she'll be gone and happily going to me." In this day and age, such an encounter would be outrageous... even if it was quite outrageous back in 1965. Not only do I like the concept that you should treat your partner well, but the execution to this song accompanied by the music made for a pleasant combination. John Lennon was always spot on when it came to executing what he wanted to say through the song.

#5- I Feel Fine (1964)- Here's a favorite feel-good song of mine from The Beatles, executed by the direct vocals of John Lennon. As it was recorded during the early days of their career, the song has to do with the subject's happiness about the girl he's in a relationship with. Nothing could go better! The song sends off so many positive vibes that we can't help but long to be in such a position. This song always succeeds at delivering happy waves through the air, even if it's only rolling for two and a half minutes.

#4: Twist & Shout (1964)- While the song was sung previously by groups such as The Isley Brothers and earliest by the Top Notes, The Beatles gave the most memorable performance of this song and in my mind the best (though at one point, I would argue The Isley Brothers did better, but this is a great song nevertheless). Out of all of the covers The Beatles performed, which are not notable as they were with a handful of acts during that time (such as Mitch Ryder & The Detroit Wheels and Johnny Rivers later on), "Twist & Shout" will go down as being their most memorable. This song was originally recorded during the end of an exhausting session and while John Lennon's voice was worn out, he belted this one out. Even if the song started with "Well, Shake It Up Baby" instead of just "Shake It Up Baby" like it did with The Isley Brothers, it made the song authentically Beatles.

#3: Here Comes the Sun (1969)- George Harrison is my favorite Beatle. He and I share a lot with regard to being initially quiet, but when given the opportunity, we can come up with some decent material. As for this song, it's beyond decent. It's extraordinary and peaceful to the point it warps you elsewhere. By this point in time, The Beatles were fracturing to the point they would actually record separately. Harrison actually left at one point in time before finally breaking apart for good. Through this song, you get a vibe that nothing bad is happening at all. It's so easygoing and carries a message that says, "another day has come, but it's another day you're up and breathing." It's quite a way to look at life. When listening to this song, I always think about a bright sun in a red sky. While it represents a sunrise, the red sky holds better fortune when it's present during a sunset. The red sky is just the way I view the song and that's what quenches my desire for the song even more. Random fact: John Lennon was not present for this song, as he had been injured in a car crash beforehand.

#2: Something (1969)- When he was given the opportunity to incorporate his singing and songwriting talent, George Harrison was the Beatles that made the most powerful statement, even if he spent his Beatles tenure as "the shy one." With "Something," Harrison delivered one of the powerful, somewhat sentimental performances for the group. The concept was a relatively simple one: an attraction for a girl that turns into something mesmerizing, the "something" being the unknown reason as to why the subject has such an attraction for the girl. What a clever way to just tell somebody that you adore them. When the song kicks it up a notch, it adds a great, necessary sense of intensity that makes the song even more enjoyable. Harrison was only warming up with his songwriting, as he would go on to have the first solo hit after the band broke up (with "My Sweet Lord").

#1: Hey Jude (1968)- If you asked me to come up with my favorite Beatles song or the song that I felt defined the group about ten years ago (if not sooner), this song would have not even cracked the top ten. After years of continuously listening to the group and their many hits, I realized that this is more than just a song, it's one of the greatest anthems. It represents what it means to end a show on a powerful note and in a fashion that could get anybody that's viewing involved. Led by Paul McCartney, the inspiration for this song is John Lennon's young son, Julian, who was dealing with the divorce between Lennon and Cynthia Powell. Lennon eventually married Yoko Ono with whom he had one son, Sean. The two stayed together until Lennon was shot and killed. When taking the inspiration into account, this song is easily viewed as being about motivation. Of course, a young boy like Julian wouldn't be ready to go looking for girls JUST yet, but the song is meant to be something that anybody could relate. Half of the song comes off as an anthem ("nah, nah, nah, nah... Hey Jude!), but hey, if this was meant to motivate someone, then The Beatles did a heck of a job!

It's quite incredible how it has been fifty years since The Beatles led the driving force of the British Invasion and not only changed music forever, but remained a presence to the world of music. They withheld the test of time in a way that very few could engage. The Beatles not only continue to hold onto the fans they created many years ago, but they continue to garner new fans everyday. These are my top ten and while I'm sure every list is bound to be different, I'm sure everyone could agree about the legacy they have left on music.

All of these videos are owned by those who uploaded them, while the music and lyrics are owned by the record labels, producers, songwriters, and members of the group.