Back in June, I announced the arrival of a new member of the family. I had intended to start blogging again in mid-July, but I am enjoying motherhood so much and want to make sure not to miss out on any of these precious moments with our bundle of (mostly) joy. So while I fully intend on getting back to this blog and already have a pile of post ideas waiting to be written, I will not be getting back to it this summer. A tentative date of fall 2016 has been set for a full return to blogging. Until then, a sporadic book review, featured post, music review, or post on something particularly thought-provoking might make an appearance. Any support for the blog in the form of sharing older posts would be much appreciated. See you soon!
It happened; our family went from two to three! It was, as expected, an intense and beautiful experience. We are now settling into life as a family of three, learning how to function in such a way that the needs of all three members are met.
And so this is why this blog is going on a short, month-long hiatus. There are going to be some music reviews going up on Mondays, some book reviews going up on Thursdays, and some featured posts on Saturdays (hey, a girl’s gotta read, and will do so extensively during the long hours feeding a newborn!)
Until 15 July, I wish those of you in the northern hemisphere a great beginning to the summer!
Australia’s Billy Roberts and the Rough Riders released this month the 11-track Go By Myself, their latest album which blends country, rock, Americana, folk, and blues. Roberts (vocals, guitars), Alex Quinn (guitar, bass), Ed Glass (drums), and Billy Anderson (piano) have written songs about the daily struggle to survive, be it because of the breakdown of family to the hardships of a soul-breaking modern life.
While country does seem to define many—if not all—of the tracks on this album, it is well worth noting the little details that add to the experience, as well as the detours the band takes here and there. For example, there are a couple of things that hit listeners when “Beat Down and Broken” begins, the main one being how discretely dissonant the track is, which makes a statement in itself.
The mid-tempo, drum-driven track features a layer of heavy guitars that add a sense of weight to track, yet another nod to its theme. In contrast, there is a certain cheerful optimism in “Hard Times”, which makes one wonder how seriously we should take the warning that “hard times/are coming”.
Uptempo electric guitars drive the right kind of attitude that goes behind asking the question, “Who Do You Think You Are,” while the nasal vocals in the piano-driven ballad-like “Kayla” are hard to shrug off; the melody though is well composed. The horns in the mid-tempo, drum-driven “Driving” give it a strong blues flavour but “Seen It All Before” is a little hard to place. While there are definitely country vibes to it, there are also hints of keyboard-centered 1980s pop rock that makes it quite the smooth track.
Eerie, yet universal, Go By Myself is bound to make listeners question the way they live this supposed “modern” life. Tracks and videos are available on YouTube; more information about the band is available on their official website.
Pictures provided by Independent Music Promotions.
First published on Blogcritics.
Cashavelly Morrison’s debut album, The Kingdom Belongs to a Child, is a collection of songs exploring the deeper side of the human experience. The journey she takes listeners on was born out of Morrison’s own painful experiences, which lend each track a level of authenticity that captures from the very first moments of the album. That Morrison channels her pain in the most constructive of ways—speaking up not only on behalf of those who suffered as she did, but also in the name of those suffering the consequence of social injustices such as police brutality and mining accidents—would already be inspiring in itself even if the resulting album wasn’t as beautiful as this one. Such acceptance of grief no doubt was quite empowering to the singer-songwriter and can help listeners deal with their own personal tests.
The sounds on The Kingdom Belongs to a Child, while mostly steeped in Americana, hold hints of folk and world music. The opener, “Long-Haired Mare,” does well to introduce the way Morrison melds Americana with hints of folk to her delicate yet rich voice. Just like with the following track, “Emory,” there is a hint of country that cannot be denied. The banjo-led “Emory” creates an interesting contrast between the somewhat subdued and raw vocals and the almost cheerful melody.
The song inspired by Morrison’s miscarriage, “May 5th”, starts with the honest and somewhat chilling lyrics: “You grew/Inside/You grew/A short time/Made a womb/Your tomb.” Each layer of this mid-tempo track is sparse, making the lyrics come through even more sharply, almost naked in their grief. “Pink Dress” and “Long-Haired Mare” deal with gender inequality in its most extreme forms. In the latter, a woman trying to protect her daughter from abuse is punished for it. The former explores society’s oppressive definitions of a woman’s worth. The acoustic guitars and Morrison’s voice seem to be dancing in “Made of Sand,” as do the subdued male vocals that join Morrison’s in “Breakwater.” The first couple is engaged in a waltz of sorts, whereas the second couple are teasing one another across the dance floor.
There is a sweetness that pierces through the melancholy throughout the entire album that makes the title quite appropriate and the lessons it contains all the more powerful. Information and updates about Cashavelly Morrison is available on her official website, her Facebook page, and through her Twitter account.
The latest offering of New York City-based Jordan Okrend is a six-track EP titled World Keeps Turnin’, a collection of comforting and uplifting songs that seem to be a form of therapy, be it for the singer-songwriter or for the listener. While the overall genre is deemed to be pop, there are soul, blues, jazz, folk, and rock elements peppered throughout. Okrend also puts efforts into developing lyrics that go beyond typical pop fare, even going into the socially conscious sphere of things.
The comparison to John Mayer and Ed Sheeran comes to mind as soon as the first notes of the EP’s title track play. “World Keeps Turnin” starts with an almost minute long acoustic introduction featuring a guitar and Okrend’s vocals; the comparison is reinforced when the piano, drums, extra guitars, and backing vocals kick in. The upbeat pop number has a certain bluesy feel to it reinforced by the guitar solo at the two third mark. The blues factor also clearly makes its mark in the more restrained, down-tempo “Never Alone With You”.
That is not to say that Okrend is all wide-open fields, balloons, and puppies; a certain raw, in-your-face attitude (blunted by the sweetness of the main vocals) comes through in “Too Much To Love”. There are hints of musical sophistication embedded in the tracks. In the mid-tempo, folksy “Keep Coming To You” there is some great guitar work—one can imagine fingers flying over the chords of a guitar in the quick succession of notes that becomes one of its defining touches. There is a certain patient acceptance of the fact that no wonder what he does, Okrend always finds himself coming back to the object of this song.
There is a warmth to all the songs, even those that broach more serious topics. “Go My Way” could have been such a dark and depressing track, as it touches on how tough things usually are in the challenging world of today. And yet, although admitting to all the difficulties that surrounding us, the ultimate message in this groovy, potentially anthemic number is that something is bound to go our way.
Okrend might not be bringing anything particularly cutting edge to the music buffet, but what he does bring is well executed. He also makes available to those looking for hope in dark times a bright ray of light of which one can really never have enough. The talent is clear in the acoustic version of “World Keeps Turnin’,” which has the potential to become a fan favorite. Tracks are available for streaming on SoundCloud. More information about Jordan Okrend is available on both his Facebook page and his official website.
Happy Sunday! As you ready yourself for another great week, are you wondering what book to take along with you on your commute? Take a peek at this week’s recommended commute companion!
Recommended Book: ‘The Dress Shop of Dreams’ by Menna Van Praag
Since her parents’ mysterious deaths many years ago, scientist Cora Sparks has spent her days in the safety of her university lab or at her grandmother Etta’s dress shop. Tucked away on a winding Cambridge street, Etta’s charming tiny store appears quite ordinary to passersby, but the colorfully vibrant racks of beaded silks, delicate laces, and jewel-toned velvets hold bewitching secrets: With just a few stitches from Etta’s needle, these gorgeous gowns have the power to free a woman’s deepest desires.
Etta’s dearest wish is to work her magic on her granddaughter. Cora’s studious, unromantic eye has overlooked Walt, the shy bookseller who has been in love with her forever. Determined not to allow Cora to miss her chance at happiness, Etta sews a tiny stitch into Walt’s collar, hoping to give him the courage to confess his feelings to Cora. But magic spells—like true love—can go awry. After Walt is spurred into action, Etta realizes she’s set in motion a series of astonishing events that will transform Cora’s life in extraordinary and unexpected ways.
Blog Reviewed: SOFIEYAH
Her favourite post: http://sofieyah.com/2015/12/28/december-realife-2015-powerofmakeup/
Blog Review: Introduction
Blogging for a little over two years now, Sophia explains her blog as “[n]ot just the average beauty, fashion, and lifestyle blog with tips about life and love is intermixed with the regular blog posts.” Rather, she is trying to create “[a] blog that believes in that beauty and fashion does not discriminate based on imperfections, but that anyone can embrace who they are, free of judgement.”
Readers of my blog are probably not surprised that this kind of statement got my full attention. After all, I believe that we have been created as noble creatures and are meant to help one another develop as individuals as well as a community—and while putting one’s best foot forward is a coherent, integral part of this process, it should be done in the broader sense of the word.
I mean, just check out this from her “About” page: “I believe in beauty being emitted from actions. I believe in style being emitted from confidence. And I believe that everyone is unique in their own way and have the right to hold onto that unique part of themselves. […] Just remember, that you are who YOU are, and that make up and fashion shouldn’t be covering up who you are, but should be enhancing yourself instead.”
I’ll stop here, but for more on this topic, you can check out my series of posts on beauty.
Working My Way Across The Blog
There are three main categories in the blog’s main menu bar; with the extra seven sub-categories, it gives us eight categories to explore. Under “ReaLife”, Sophia discusses various topics many will no doubt connect with, such as the all too real issue of time management. Posts under “Blogaries” are journal entries of sorts on places Sophia has been and places she has gone. It’s fun to read about her travels, and I especially liked her post about her visit to San Francisco. Unsurprisingly, I love the section “Books & Music” (shocking, I know) where I might have added this and this book to my TBR pile. Sophia also shares her opinion on various movies under the category—you guessed it—“Movies”.
The blog’s “Beauty” and “Skincare” sections include posts on Sophia’s various beauty hauls, her favorites beauty items of the year, and quite a lot of reviews on individual beauty-related items. And Every couple of months, Sophia goes through all her favorites things of the month, be it life in general, food, what she watched, makeup, etc., which comes off as a great exercise in gratitude.
This blog has a lot of potential to balance out both an interest in beauty and fashion with a perspective on the betterment of our real selves and of the world around us. But I do sense that, just like with my blog, it’s tough to stay on track. And so I will be keeping an eye on SOFIEYAH with the hopes that both our blogs figure out how to remain focused on our primary purpose in a blogosphere that seems to be carried away easily by the same forces shaping so many of the other aspects of our world for the worse.
Add to your blog reader?
Update on the Blog Review feature
This is the 29th blog review I have posted on this blog since the summer
of 2015. I was hoping this feature would generate interest in the
blogs I have had the pleasure of discovering. But although
a lot of love and energy go into this feature, it isn’t
yielding enough interest by either the bloggers
reviewed or my readers to warrant continuing.
And so, once I have fulfilled my promise to
review the remaining eight blogs on the
list, I will be discontinuing this feature.
It’s been a great ride and, should
interest be generated in the
future, I will reconsider!
First published on Sahar’s Blog on 14 May 2016
In this modern-day retelling of the classic My Fair Lady, Bridie Clark makes poor Lucy Jo, a sweet yet clumsy young lady from Minnesota, jump through all the hoops that Wyatt Hayes IV (a brilliant yet bored anthropologist and, as the “IV” in his name might have clued you in on, whose family is insanely rich) deems necessary for her to jump through to become a socialite.
Like so many others before her, Lucy Jo’s dream is to become a designer. And so she moves to Manhattan where she finds a job on a Garment District assembly line. After a particularly disastrous evening, which was supposed to be Lucy Jo’s first foray into the high-end fashion industry but ends up being her ultimate humiliation, she finds herself without a job. To make matters worse, the subway is down and in the mad rush to find a taxi, Lucy Jo’s honest attempts are foiled by the underhanded techniques of the rich to steal her hard-earned cab rides.
And so when Wyatt and his friend Trip seek shelter under the same bus shelter as her, she is more than insulted at Wyatt’s offer to take part in his experiment. But she soon hits rock bottom and decides to take him up on his offer.
As far as Lucy Jo knows, her three-month transformation, which is to culminate in her attending the Fashion Forum Gala, is the result of a bet between two rich and bored young men. However, Wyatt has much more than a mere bet riding on Lucy Jo’s success; unbeknown to her, he has signed a publishing deal with Harvard University to write a book about this social experiment.
At first, Wyatt isn’t bothered by the deal, as, in his mind, both he and Lucy Jo will be getting the boost their respective careers need: him, a book that is bound to appeal to both the general public and academic circles, and she, a much-needed foot into the door of the fashion world, by meeting the many contacts in Wyatt’s network of acquaintances.
However, as one can expect, Wyatt and Lucy Jo start developing deeper feelings one for the other, which (needless to say) complicate things. Lucy Jo’s unexpected close friendship with Trip’s longtime girlfriend Eloise also complicates matters, as does her mother Rita’s discovering Lucy Jo’s sudden good fortune, which she wishes to tap into. But all of these complications would be nothing without that of Wyatt’s ex-girlfriend, Cornelia Rockman, New York’s reigning socialite, whose superficiality is what initially inspired Wyatt to want to run his ‘study’ in the first place.
The Overnight Socialite is a great read, but also a bit of a disappointment, as Lucy Jo’s transformation is only covered in the most perfunctory fashion. The opportunity for the exploration of the social processes at work in creating a world where people are famous for just being seen wasn’t well taken advantage of, as the clashes between Lucy Jo and Wyatt are kept at the level of bumbling student and perfectionist teacher.
Had the psyche of the characters been examined a little more thoroughly – how her determination is helping her get over her humiliation, how she feels about Wyatt throughout the various stages of the transformation, how Wyatt’s perception of Lucy – as a project, then as a friend, then as more – crept up on him, this book would been a more enjoyable read. It would also have been a better examination of the social criticism that the author barely touches upon but is of the utmost importance: today’s rabid, raving celebrity obsessed culture, in which being a socialite becomes a self-serving career rather than an opportunity to carry on philanthropic work.
If you are looking for a relaxing, well-written chick flick, The Overnight Socialite will answer your needs. And although the topics are not explored in depth, a book club can easily host lively discussions on the superficiality of the celebrity-obessions that currently imbibes many levels of our society. And for those of you who just want to read the story of a young woman defying the odds and making it, The Overnight Socialite is definitely for you.
First published here on Blogcritics.
First published on Sahar’s Blog on 7 June 2013.
About The Author
With master’s degrees in education, special education, and counseling, Anjenique “Jen” Hughes is a high school English and math teacher who loves teaching and mentoring young people. She enjoys traveling and has worked with youth on five continents. Saying she is “young at heart” is an understatement; she is fluent in sarcasm, breaks eardrums with her teacher voice (students have complained when they were within earshot), and cracks sarcastic jokes with the best of her students. Her work with ethnically and socioeconomically diverse youth has inspired her to write books that appeal to a broad variety of students seeking stories of bravery, perseverance, loyalty, and success.
About The Book
Under the totalitarian reign of the 23rd century’s world’s government- The Sovereign Regime- control is made possible by the identity chip implanted in every human being, recording everything that is seen, done, and experienced.
No more bank accounts.
No more smartphones.
No more secrets.
When Goro inadvertently overhears an exchange of sensitive information, causing him to confront the truth about his world and prompting him to choose his true loyalties, his dream of revolution kicks into high gear. Goro doesn’t know he has covert intel in his possession both the SR and the resistance movement are desperate to acquire.
Determined to attempt the impossible task of bringing down the world government, he and his closest friends gain access to the key to ultimately deciding who has sovereignty.
But who will get to Goro first: The resistance or the Sovereign Regime?
Sovereignty is a well-written, engaging, and interesting book. There are some parts that are a little difficult to read in that the flow gets a little blocked either because of repetition (some of Goro’s thoughts and reflections at the beginning of the book are repeated a few too many times rather than increasingly dug into) but overall it didn’t negatively affect the reading experience created by Hughes.
The most satisfying thing about this book is how, contrary to many other young adult dystopian fictions, it doesn’t focus as much on the violence and horrors of the world but rather on the way it got there and some of the principles that govern it. It didn’t quite satisfy my itch though—it could have gone further. But it is, in this sense, still ground-breaking in many ways.
One of the most powerful things that Hughes did was to create a world in which the problems faced can easily be paralleled to those that we are having in our world today, but not in a cheesy, awkward, or clumsy way. I felt myself thinking often “Huh, this is a lot like the challenge of [insert problem of choice here] we have these days” which made me curious to see how this challenge affected the people in the world created in this book. This is all the more reason for the author to dig things further in subsequent books in the series, so that from these parallels perhaps readers can glean insights they can apply in their own efforts to create a better world.
Add to Bookshelf?
Thank you to iReads Book Tours for providing a
copy of this book for me to review!
About Coleen M. Story
Colleen M. Story writes imaginative fiction and is also a freelance writer, instructor, and motivational speaker specializing in creativity, productivity, and personal wellness. Her latest novel, “Loreena’s Gift,” was released with Dzanc Books April 12 2016. Her fantasy novel, “Rise of the Sidenah,” is a North American Book Awards winner, and New Apple Book Awards Official Selection (Young Adult). She is the founder of Writing and Wellness (writingandwellness.com) a motivational site for writers and other creatives. Visit the author’s website or connect with her on Twitter.
About the book
A blind girl’s terrifying “gift” allows her to regain her eyesight—but only as she ferries the recently deceased into the afterlife.
Loreena Picket thinks she knows herself. A blind young woman who lives with her uncle, a reverend at a small-town church, she’s a dutiful niece and talented pianist for the congregation. But they’re both hiding a terrible secret. Loreena can kill people with the touch of her hand.
While her uncle sees her as an angel of mercy, helping usher the terminally ill members of his flock into the afterlife, Loreena has her doubts. Torn between doing her uncle’s bidding and the allure of the fleeting moments when her eyesight returns on the journey to the other side, Loreena cooperates with her uncle until her troubled older brother returns to town. When she reveals her power by saving him from a local drug dealer, she is drawn into a sinister and dangerous world that will test the true nature of her talent and force her to consider how far she is willing to go to survive.
An exciting debut that crosses fantasy and literary fiction, Loreena’s Gift is a thought-provoking meditation on life and death and what ultimately lies beyond this world.
Whatever you may think of any of her books, Colleen M. Story is an excellent writer, at least when it comes to Loreena’s Gift. It is a very well written book with absolutely great quality writing from the first page. The flow is impeccable, I didn’t detect even the whiff of a plot hole or details that seemed off—and those things really bug me when they do appear in a book. The pace is non-stop throughout; pages turn without you noticing and, concomitantly, the clock ticks forward and you realise you’ve been up most of the night. Trigger alert: there is a rape scene in the book which I skipped—I always skip such scenes and thankfully this one was easy to see coming. On a side note, how does one give such a trigger alert without spoiling a book? On the one hand, I’m not saying anything about the who and the context but then again, I am mentioning something that happens—but I feel it is important for readers to know about such content beforehand.
The paranormal aspect of the Loreena’s Gift offers a way for the author to examine the concept of life after death. Now of course we can’t expect to ever know what it is about until we are there ourselves. But the author’s vision of the next world as one each creates for their own selves is a very interesting one indeed. In this world of ours, we definitely do define our own world by the every day decisions that we make. Is it so far of a stretch to think that something similar is happening with regards to the next world, the one waiting for us when we pass on from this world? Using the analogy of a baby in its mother’s womb passing on from the “womb world” into our world, whatever “reality” the baby has created in the womb—whatever limbs and organs it has developed to the peak of perfection will serve to make his physical life in this world either heavenly or hellish. So perhaps when we are good people in this world, we are doing the same—we are developing our qualities and virtues to the peak of perfection that will serve to make our life in the next world heavenly. This seems to be the idea that the author is tapping into with her version of the afterlife.
Whether you are looking for an easy read to take to the beach or a profound one, Colleen M. Story provides both options in Loreena’s Gift. The story itself is at times a heart-pounding thriller in which survival is dependent at times on nothing more than a very thin thread. Combined with the grace of her writing and the profound concepts touched upon, Loreena’s Gift is a must-read.
Thank you to iReads Book Tours for providing a
copy of this book for me to review!
A band name usually evokes something about the nature of the music it produces; in the case of Idiot Grins, one can imagine a set of songs that makes listeners grin like idiots at the sheer pleasure of listening to them.
Although it’s not certain that this is what Oakland, California-based Idiot Grins had in mind, this is the first thought that comes to mind when learning of their name. And while at times, members Michael Conner (keyboards), Evan Eustis (bass), John Hansen (vocals), Michael Melgoza (drums), and Randy Strauss (guitar) seem to have accomplished synergy between the name of their band and the music in their latest album—titled Big Man—no signature sound comes through. This means that listeners with very different tastes might find something they love in its 11 tracks.
Another name that deceives a little is “Paso Robles”; it could be named after a city in California. Or, if my friend’s Spanish is to be trusted, it might also be named after its meaning, which is “I pass oak trees”. Whichever it may be, the number sounds like nothing that either of these meanings would evoke. Rather, it’s a country tune featuring a simple guitar and drum-led melody around which twirl a piano and extra guitars.
The most unique thing about Idiot Grins’ work is how they use horns throughout their new album, released earlier this year. They go from leading songs like “How to Get to (Baltimore)” to subtle background details such as in “All Alone”.
Another interesting thing the band has done is to fit in horns in completely different-sounding numbers. In the playful rock-inspired “Poppy Piss”, the horns seem to have taken the place of the guitars one normally associated with the genre.
The up-tempo horn-led “Stack This” is all about creating a dynamic, cheerful, toe-tapping-worthy framework for a piece of art that doesn’t quite shine through, as the vocals are for the most part almost drowned out of the track. In the slow, guitar and drum-led “All Alone”, discrete horns lend gentle support to a simple melody. The song is about saying no to having an affair with one’s best friend’s brother’s wife, an act that deserves applause and pride but that instead is met with a self-deprecating and depressing thought that the protagonist only deserves to live a life alone.
Some of the most impressive horn work in the album comes into play in the soulful, energetic, mid-tempo “Hot to Get to (Baltimore)”. The song is in fact completely supported by horns, and given an extra je ne sais quoi with the help of more of them, especially with the horn solo around the two-thirds mark. It does, however, sound like the vocals have trouble keeping up, but in this case, it adds to the track instead of taking from it. The vocals in “Big Man” seem at times a little strained, perhaps as a reflection of the topic at hand. The piano-led slow tempo melody is again supported with gently placed and played horns.
In Big Man, Idiot Grins have put together tracks that span a variety of styles and genres. Some are available for streaming on SoundCloud. More information about the band is available on both their official website and their Facebook page.
Pictures provided by Independent Music Promotions.
First published on Blogcritics.
Alternative Rock band Mleo, hailing from Los Angeles, released in the summer of 2014 an album called Sunken City. The 11-track offering put together by Audrey Reed (vocals), Victor San Pedro (guitar), Nick De La O (bass), and Elias Vasquez (drums) contains hints of funk, hip hop, indie rock, indie pop, jazz, punk rock, and R&B, a wide-ranging palette of influences the band manages really well. Sunken City often sounds like a collaboration between the Red Hot Chili Peppers and No Doubt in their earlier years.
From slow tempo and more emotional tracks such as “Paralyzed” and “Change Your Mind” to high energy ones such as “Bury Me There” and “Normal Guy”, all contributions to the album demonstrate each members’ skills, be it in songwriting, instrumentation, or vocals. Tracks like the energetic “Round Two (If You Feel It)” make each of these elements shine. From the first notes, played on the electric guitar, the energy is high and every member keeps up with it. The instrumentation is detailed and well-performed, while Reed’s lead vocals slide up and down quite an impressive range of emotions and rhythms. This seems particularly apparent in the mid-tempo “Hemlock Smile” each layer of which is sparser than in other tracks giving auditory space to listeners to really appreciate the contribution of each band member. These same elements make of slower tracks on the album, such as “How I Feel,” quite magnetic.
Mleo’s sounds will capture many a listener’s attention, while the talent of each member and the quality of the end product will no doubt make of many of them happy. The band currently has a new single out, titled “Ridiculous”. Tracks are available for streaming on SoundCloud, and more information about the band is available on both its official website and its Facebook page.
Pictures provided by Independent Music Promotions.