one girl’s perspective on life, neopaganism, veganism, politics, books, films, and… stuff.

Posts tagged ‘Reviews’

Music Reviews: First Impressions #1

Given that I work in a music shop, I thought that it might be fun to give quick “first impression” reviews of some of the new CDs that have come out. Obviously this isn’t as in-depth or insightful as reviewing an album that I’ve had a chance to listen to carefully. Nonetheless, it’s fun (and a great way to keep myself occupied when it’s deeeeaddd at work). I’ll probably continue this theme as I remember/can be bothered.

Manic Street Preachers: Journal For Plague Lovers – very different to their older stuff; much rockier, and they’ve started incorporating sound clips into their music. The album opens with an audio clip from the awesome, awesome film The Machinist, which pretty well had me sold. The album sounds pretty cohesive, and stays consistently rock-ish, occasionally bordering on garage, and sounds pretty good. It’s MSP, so there’s little doubt that the lyrics are also good.

Madness: The Liberty of Norton Folgate – another band that has really changed their sound (though it has been many, many years since they produced their most well-known pieces). The first 2/3 of the album is all right, incorporating a little of the almost ska-ish sound that characterised their earlier works. The last third of the album is awesome: New Orleans, Beasly-St style upbeat jazz with brass accompaniment. If the entire album sounded like that, I would have purchased and loved it immediately.

The Mars Volta: Octahedron – some of the singing is very ‘Coheed and Cambria’-ish, and the album sounds pretty similar to their other stuff (or at least what I remember of them). Unless the lyrics are exceptionally good, I think this is more of a background music sort of album.

Gavin DeGraw: Free – very, very laid back album. A few pieces have a slightly more upbeat style, more reminiscent of his big single “I Don’t Wanna Be”, but on the whole the album is a rather quiet, mellow affair. That’s not to say that it’s bad, because it isn’t, it’s just a more easy-listening album, rather than something that demands your immediate and undivided attention.

Tori Amos: Abnormally Attracted to Sin – well it’s Tori, so you know it’s going to be good. I personally liked this album a lot more than American Doll Posse (though I really liked the concept of that one) and The Beekeeper. I think it signals more of a return to her older style; understandably, this album is a little more mellow, but she’s back to really using her voice. The album has a slightly sultry, blues-ish feel to it, without being mellow or overwhelmingly slow or dark. “Welcome to England” is a particularly awesome track.

Random Book Meme

Stolen from Lady Lazarus. Also, I kind of cheat, because most have more than one answer (and that’s after culling my favourites by like 700%).

A book that made you cry: There have been quite a few, but the one that immediately springs to mind is Good Night, Mr Tom. It remains one of the best books about civilian life in Britain during WWII that I have ever read.

A book that scared you: The only one I can think of right now is the graphic novel The Nightmare Factory, based on the stories of Thomas Ligotti.

A book that made you laugh: Definitely Bridget Jones’s Diary. It’s just hilarious, and a frighteningly insightful piece on modern culture.

A book that disgusted you: For actual content, probably Trainspotting (or most things by Irvine Welsh). It’s great, but there are some pretty gross scenes in there (the restaurant bit springs to mind…). Of course, I’m also disgusted by the intellectual insult and misogynist bullshit that is Twilight.

A book you loved in elementary school kindergarten: most were pretty unremarkable “learn to read” sort of crap, but I really did love Bugs in Boxes.

A book you loved in middle primschool: it’d have to be Playing Beatie Bow, hands down. I don’t remember precisely how many times I read that book, but it’d have to be over 50.

A book you loved in high school: Ahahahah, like 50? Number one is of course Lord of the Rings, which I actually read during the holidays between primary school and the start of Year 7. I was a big Dumas fan at that point, too.

A book you hated disliked in high school: I didn’t hate it, but Margaret Hale in Gaskell’s North and South was just begging for a punch in the face. God, but that woman irritated me.

A book you loved in university: hmmm toss-up between The Bell Jar and The Handmaid’s Tale. Man that’s hard to pick, I’ve read several hundred books while I’ve been at uni, and many of them have been pretty damn awesome.

A book that challenged your identity: this is probably somewhat tangential, but Wicca: a Guide for the Solitary Practitioner was pretty influential in leading me down the path of NeoPaganism. Failing that, any and all of the books I’ve read on war are a lot of the reason that I’m so vehemently anti-war.

A series you love: hmm, it’s almost impossible to pick between Tamora Pierce’s Immortals quartet and her Song of the Lioness quartet. I also love Tiernan’s Wicca series (they’re my guilty easy-read indulgence).

Your favorite horror book: I don’t really read much that could be strictly defined as ‘horror’. Dracula and Interview with the Vampire are often classified as horror, and I really, really love them both. The graphic novel From Hell is also terrifying and awesome.

Your favorite science fiction book: Aaaaaah, how do I even pick?? One that springs to mind is Stranger in a Strange Land, but there are many.

Your favorite fantasy: well I’ve already mentioned Tolkien and Pierce, so we’ll go with American Gods, or anything by Neil Gaiman.

Your favorite mystery: not sure if it’s strictly classified as a mystery, but The Picture of Dorian Gray is a favourite. If this was meant to refer to crime novels, then the entire Inspector Rebus series is fantastic.

Your favorite biography: probably Never Have Your Dog Stuffed by Alan Alda. Man, do I love Alan Alda.

Your favorite “coming of age” book: off of the top of my head, probably How I Live Now. Anything by Judy Bloom is pretty classic, too.

Your favorite classic: ZOMG how am I supposed to pick just one??? Anything Austen/Dickens/Dostoyevsky/Tolstoy. Number one favourite is probably… Northanger Abbey, but really the Western canon is my favourite genre.

Your favorite romance book: either Pride and Prejudice (cliche, I know!) or Chocolat. The original graphic novel of The Crow is also beautiful, in a tragic way.

Your favorite book not on this list: hahah, how long do you have? Probably anything by Camus (particularly The Plague), Vonnegut (especially Slaughterhouse Five), Winton (The Riders is amazing), and Caiseal Mor (an Australian writer of Celtic fantasy, one of the best).ary

Book Review: Wuthering Heights

Author’s note: this was actually written for an old blog many, many years ago. So if it makes me sound like a 16 year old girl, it’s because I was at the time. 😛 But I figured I ought to update the blog at some point, before I evanesced into (further) obscurity.

Book: Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë.

This book is one of the classics of English literature for a very good reason; frankly, I much prefer the writing style of Emily Brontë to many of her other counterparts. Her writing style has a greater (and more menacing) atmosphere and style than that of Austen; Charlotte Brontë evokes a similar melancholy air, but her characters are generally more lacking in passion, and deviousness. That is one of the most striking features of the character development throughout Wuthering Heights; the sheer malevolent manipulation shown by all of the characters. Indeed, throughout the novel, the reader is presented with the distinct impression that no-one really likes anyone else, even those who are “passionately in love.” Everyone is simply a means to a selfish end for another character (usually Heathcliff :P).

Unlike Austen, who deals primarily with the very parochial field of the gentry of Georgian England, Brontë incorporates far more universal concepts into her novel, perhaps placing it above Austens P&P, S&S, Emma and the like (heresy, I know), because when it is all said and done, the values, motives, characters and ideals portrayed in Wuthering Heights are more timelessly relevant than the idea of marrying as the only acceptable career of the wealthy.

Manipulation, greed (particularly avarice), jealousy, nature vs. nurture, and loyalty are some of the primary themes explored by the text. Social values are of a lesser concern; the women do not feel that they have to marry as a career, or at least, we are not told as such. What is particularly interesting about Wuthering Heights is that much of the story is presented from the perspective of Ellen/Nelly, a mere servant; when contrasted with Austen’s gentry-focused writings, this is a somewhat unusual feature of 19th century literature, particularly that written by a woman. Note that none of the aforementioned themes in the text are particularly light or cheery; in fact, you rarely feel any great fondness for any of the characters, and any brief affection tends to be destroyed by their cruel, manipulative actions. Some you pity (particularly young Hareton Earnshaw, I felt), others are purely devilish (*cough, Heathcliff, cough*), and others so woefully whining, puling and generally self pitying (ie, Linton Heathcliff) that you want to slap them.

I have two primary criticisms to make of Brontë’s writing; one being the manner by which Joseph’s speech is portrayed. True, the accurate transcription of his yokel accent does lend an air of verisimilitude, but still, when it reaches the extent where one has to read the sentence out loud in order to ascertain what he said does encourage the skimming of his lines. Second, she tends to switch back and forth between using the character’s first and last name; this can be confusing when referring to someone who shares a Christian or surname with another character. And, given that most of the characters are interrelated in some way or another, that is quite frequently. The “Earnshaw” references confused me for a while, until Hindley died. Hindley is particularly confusing, because it is easy to forget that that is a given name, not a surname.

In general, the tone of the book is dreary, foreboding, melancholy, and generally ominous; the relatively frequent occurrences of violence are understated to create a deliberate vagueness that does not detract from the realistic tone of the novel. Some parts are genuinely spooky; however, Brontë creates this feeling through understatement once more. The terse, almost tense style of the writing works well to create an aura of suspense throughout the story; the ending is somewhat anticlimatic, but the final imagery is hauntingly vivid in its understated simplicity. Overall, Wuthering Heights is a delightful read, perfect for a rainy, chilly afternoon. The novel has a strong propensity towards true Gothic literary style, and is quite easy to read, if rather heavy in mood, compared to some of her contemporaries.

Book Review: Fire Child

Fire Child by Maxine Sanders.

I have to admit, this book really wasn’t what I was expecting. Well, in some ways it was, but not in others. Allow me to explain:

First off, this book is almost solely an autobiography of Maxine Sanders’ magickal life (that is, it doesn’t really deal with her personal life, except as it pertains to magick/witchcraft). For instance, it turns out she has a sibling; this is only described in terms of, basically, a one-word mention, in passing. It’s a bit unexpected for a biography, but when you consider that she is one of the founders of a major Wiccan tradition, it makes sense to focus primarily on what is considered one of her major achievements.

I’d like to point out that the integration of magick in her everyday life was interesting; there were a lot of insights into the daily life of a coven, and especially how much British Traditional Wiccan practices differ vastly from what most people think is Wicca today (i.e. what I generally call ‘neo-Wicca’). The techniques of ritual fasting and scourging are nowhere near as prevalent as they seem to have been at the time.

Mostly, this book is useful in this manner; as a sort of time capsule and historical document, giving an account (albeit a highly subjective one, but that’s the nature of religious study, which is by it’s nature qualitative) of the burgeoning Wiccan movement. I found it particularly interesting to compare the way that most people came about witchcraft/Wicca, through the Egyptian religious orders that were so popular in Britain at the time, as well as the Theosophical movement, with the “straight into reading Cunningham (now easily available) and Internet sites devoted to Wicca” introduction that most neophytes now undergo.

One thing that I found a little appalling was the instance of a ‘bad witch’ who led a woman into his house under false pretenses (something about being a grand high magus and going to ordain her, or some such), and then subjecting her to emotional and sexual abuse. When Maxine and the others found out about this, rather than go to the police, they decided to keep it “in community” and basically excommunicate him from the Wiccan culture. Um, that’s all well and good, but when religious organisations take it upon themselves to mete out their own ‘justice’, and believe themselves to be separate from secular law, that’s a problem. Maybe that’s another sign of how much things have changed. At least, I certainly hope they have.

Another surprising thing, for me, was the reminder that, yes, she was the co-founder of a Wiccan tradition, but she is still a human being. She made many mistakes, and at times I was somewhat shocked by her extremely trusting and naïve nature, but that’s the point: it made me stop and reflect upon the fact that we tend to pseudo-deify our religious leaders. It was a good wake-up call.

Obviously, the stylistic elements of auto-biographies are kind of secondary to theme and content; that being said, Maxine definitely could have benefited from a better editor. There are a few grammatical errors and misspellings, and I found that I had to occasionally reread a sentence in order to sort out the meaning that was being obfuscated by poor syntax.

Overall, 7/10.

Book Review: Trainspotting

Book: Trainspotting, by Irvine Welsh.

I loved this book. Immensely. It was a little difficult to get into, occasionally confusing, but these effects only contributed to the overall theme of the novel. Honestly, if you want a straightforward, easy-to-read plot, well, it’s probably best if you look elsewhere. If you enjoy confusing tales told in incremental insights, extended introspective insight, and a book that really manages to capture a very real sense of verisimilitude, then this book is for you.

Obviously, the content (the lives of heroin junkies living in Edinburgh) won’t appeal to a lot of people; and indeed, it’s a book that, while it can appeal to the “outside” crowd (or, the punters, as Rent Boy would say), it is a meaningful and hilarious account for those with experience in the drug scene. In this way, it really is transcendental, in that it realistically encompasses the experience of the middle-class, of average (sometimes above average) intelligence drug user.

A lot of reviews have criticised the book for portraying heroin use in a glamourised, heroin chic manner, but I don’t think that it does. I think that it very accurately, and certainly very vividly, represents how the user feels at the time; it’s hell, but, shit they’re enjoying ever second of it, in a perverse manner. And it’s not as though there aren’t depictions of the hellish periods of heroin-withdrawal, and even the horrific things that happen as a result (an infant’s sudden death, for example). If they appear glossed-over, it’s the natural product of being portrayed from the hazy, warped perspective of drug-users, who are generally in a state of intoxication throughout the novel.

So, that’s content covered. Let’s take a look at style. First off, the language: it’s highly, highly offensive. Especially the parts told from Begbie’s perspective, where the use of the word c**t is less an expletive and more an article of speech. Expletives, racial slurs and sexist remarks abound, but it’s not in a gratuitous context, really; it’s simply the book representing the characters as they are, accurately capturing their patterns of speech. Also the use of basically transliterative/phonetic spelling is a bit confusing at first, but once you get used to reading “tae” as ‘to’, “ah” as ‘I’, etc., it really adds to the feel of the book, to the point that it really conveys the Edinburgh accent when you’re reading.

Free use of the word ‘fuck’ aside, the style is often disjointed and confusing, with sections of the book suddenly skipping between characters, and it’s often difficult to distinguish precisely whose perspective has just been introduced. Sometimes the style of speech is a giveaway, other times you have to wait until someone addresses the character to know whom it is that you’re dealing with. But again, this almost-haphazard style lends the novel it’s pace and context, with the fast-moving, chaotic nature of the lives that it depicts.

I could go on forever about this involving, and surprisingly complex (yet vastly entertaining), novel, but I’ll finish before I write one of my own. 10/10 overall.

Book Review: Prozac Nation

So, I finally got my hands on a copy of ‘Prozac Nation’ by Elizabeth Wurtzel. Let me just say, I really, really wanted to like this book. I endured reading it because, well, I’m right into the ‘memoirs of famous mentally-unstable women’ lately. But there’s a reason I use the quantifier “wanted”; no matter how hard I tried, I just really didn’t like this book.

Stylistically and technically, it’s not too bad; she uses the (somewhat typical) devices of unconventional syntax, punctuation and grammar in order to convey Wurtzel’s chaotic emotions over the course of the book. Some of it is quite creative, but it lacks the unique, creative analogies and metaphors of, say, Plath’s ‘The Bell Jar’, or the tangential reflections of Kaysen’s ‘Girl, Interrupted’. I know that it’s unfair to compare the 3 books, but it’s virtually impossible not to associated them, give their similar content. Wurtzel herself makes reference – perhaps a little conceitedly – to ‘The Bell Jar’, but in the end the lack of insight, and the completely self-indulgent nature of ‘Prozac Nation’ clearly sets them apart. Obviously, in a book that is more or less a memoir, introspection is to be expected; however, the book is less self-reflective and more narcissistic.

Which brings me to my major problem with the book; Wurtzel’s characterisation of herself (I don’t want to say Wurtzel herself, because I’ve never met her, obviously), and the fact that she has almost entirely replaced ‘plot’, pacing and narrative for extended self-pity and time-jumping whining. The entire structure of the book is basically trying to prove that Wurtzel has reason for being depressed (the fact that she admits that she ‘has no real reason for being depressed’ doesn’t qualify the fact that she spends a GREAT deal of the book trying to prove why she has a ‘right’ to be depressed, as though genuine mental illness requires an excuse). And this appears to be the sole aim of the 370 pages of self-pitying, self-indulgent drivel.

A lot of the reviews of this book seem to overlook Wurtzel’s blatant ‘woe is me, I’m so hard done by’ attitude in order to conclude that it’s an ‘important work’ because it depicts severe depression from the perspective of someone suffering it. I’m sorry, but there are a lot of better pieces out there (such as the Bell Jar) that depict the exact same thing, and with more insight and less whining. It’s pretty rare that I have to force myself to finish reading a book, but I was so incredibly irritated with Wurtzel and her narcissistic attention-seeking that, by the end of it, I was reading as fast as I can, purely in order to get it over and done with.

Overall, 4/10. Some good technical aspects, and 1 paragraph out of every 50 is interesting or insightful, but on the whole, the book drips with self-pity and attention-seeking self-indulgence.

13 Awesome Film Soundtracks

After my big long political rant (not that I have those very often, hahaha), here’s a nice light post of my recommendations for the top (instrumental/original) film soundtracks. So, the list doesn’t include ones that are basically just compilations of actual songs, though I may post a list like that later. And there’s 13 because these are the ones I can think of, offhand, and I like the number 13. 😛

Obviously, I also love the above films/television show (with the exception of Braveheart. Emotionally, it’s very good and all, but the blatant, massive, terrible historical inaccuracies just got to be too much for me. And I can take a lot of artistic license, but there is a limit). So, go forth and listen and buy, my capitalist puppets! Mwahahah.

And I’ve successfully spent half an hour avoiding studying Latin. 😛

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