And Then There Were Three: Taking a Short Break From Blogging

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 me.

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!

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Are You Being Cheap or Being a Mindful Consumer? Some Thoughts

While most people reacted positively towards my post “What Does My Baby Need?  The Balance Between Necessary Consumption Versus Over-Consumption”, I did receive a few emails from readers alarmed by the fact that I was being ‘cheap’.  In essence, I was told that, if a parent loves their child, they would buy it anything and everything it needs.  According to these readers, there is no such thing as over-consumption when it comes to raising a little one.

These comments—which were shared thoughtfully and respectfully—made me think about the importance we place on material things as tokens of love.  I don’t think that showing love through material things is a bad thing (and those who have given me gifts can attest to how I love receiving them!)  However, thinking that love can only be expressed through the gift of material things makes me quite uncomfortable.

How did this equation come to be?  And what other overly formulaic equations coexist with it?

Companies’ Hope for Consumer Behaviour

The first thought that comes to mind is that, within the context of aiming for ever-increasing profits, companies have to convince consumers that their stuff is worth buying again and again and again, be it because they need to be replaced or updated.  One of the most powerful emotions being that of love, it would make sense for companies to want consumers to link it with purchasing material things.  The most obvious example of a company tying the concept of love with the purchase of an over-inflated item as a token of undying love is, of course, the diamond.  One can’t help but be horrified and fascinated by the meticulous creation of this construct by De Beers, further enhanced by the false belief that diamonds are rare and valuable and therefore an essential sign of esteem (check out this amazing piece in The Atlantic).

And so it could be that an honest belief in consumers that buying more as a token of love is basically the consequence of really good marketing.

A Fear of Poverty

Everyone aims to have some form of security in their lives.  One type of security is financial; one sign of financial security is the ability to be able to buy whatever one needs or wants.

Sometimes I feel like even the act of reusing something is seen as a reflection of financial insecurity.  I remember with crystal clarity an incident that happened to me a couple of years ago; I was reusing my tea bag and someone asked me if everything was OK.  Further into the conversation, it became clear that the person was concerned about my financial situation; they couldn’t understand any other reason for my reusing my tea bag.

For the record, I don’t like waste, don’t drink my tea dark, and oftentimes reuse a tea bag not just twice but even thrice to make three cups of tea that are just as good as the other.

While the friends’ sentiment was really sweet, I found it a little odd that he was convinced that the only reason I was reusing my tea bag was financial insecurity.  It suddenly dawned on me that perhaps this is one of the biggest obstacles to leading environmentally sustainable lifestyle.  Could it be that the first two steps in decreasing our consumption—reducing and reusing—are so intimately linked to signs of financial insecurity that we avoid them, at the cost of the health of the environment?

Feelings of Inadequacy

There seems to be a lot of pressure on the modern day North American parent to do it all for their kids and to do it perfectly, while at the same time having a perfect house, clean cars, an active social life, and being physically perfect.

I don’t know about you guys, but even those of us without children have a tough time pulling all of that together.  How in the world can regular, middle-class parents accomplish the same, what with all the responsibilities they have?

Taking into consideration the way advertising triggers all kind of insecurities to convince consumers that they need to purchase certain products, could it be that buying stuff for one’s kids is a way of covering up feelings of inadequacy, faced with the abovementioned impossible tasks of doing it all, and doing it perfectly?  No doubt a lot of great parents, bombarded with messages that they are not enough, would want to do more, but not having enough resources to be the “good” parents they are told they should be, they take the only path they have access to: buying stuff for their kids?

So…  What’s Next?

Just like with so many things, a mindful step-by-step approach that includes moderation and open-mindedness seems to be essential.  There is no need to stray away from buying anything.  If you want a diamond, go ahead and save and get yourself one.  But don’t feel like you have to get it.

I would say that as consumers, we have to make sure that we are buying the right thing for the right reason.  And as members of a community, we have to accept that “the right thing” and “the right reason” will vary from person to person, from generation to generation, from culture to culture, from one gender to another.

This means that the conversations that can be had in the process of figuring what is “the right thing” and “the right reason” are numerous and no doubt rich—and I look forward to continuing it on my blog.

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Is There Such a Thing as a Healthy Consumption of Unhealthy Media?

Up until really recently (like, last week), I thought that an audience can consume a lot of media without it having a negative effect on it, as long as members of said audience are media literate, take the time to reflect on the message actually contained in the media they are consuming, and analysing how it fits or clashes with its perception of reality.

So for example, I can read a fashion magazine and, as long as I remember that each model went through hours of makeup and hair, that the clothes are pinned in the back to make the fit perfectly, that the lighting is arranged by the millimeter, and that the pictures are photoshopped, I will be fine.  Why?  Because I’ll know that I can look amazing myself if I were on the same regimen as a fashion model and pictures of me were taken following a similar process (and if I learned how to pose!)

Of course there are extremes that I think will affect a consumer no matter what, especially when the inner nobility of man appears nowhere in a picture/scene/song/etc.  But extreme media based on a complete denial of the higher nature of humans are not the media I have in mind when writing this post.

Unhealthy media can be made healthy by the way we consume them, I used to confidently think.  But last week, as I was Fasting, I thought about this belief of mine in the context of the metaphor of the human body.  If I eat junk food, is there anything I can do to eliminate its negative effects on my body?

I don’t think so.  After all, I’m ingesting/absorbing/welcoming into my very cells a bunch of chemicals that are not really meant to be there in the first place.  Similarly, I’m starting to think that negative media cannot but have a negative effect on us.

There are of course way I can minimize the effects of junk food.  For example, if I lead an overall healthy life that includes a healthy, unprocessed diet and regular exercise; if I limit the intake of junk food; and if I choose less junky junk food—all of these can ensure that whatever junk food I end up eating has a minimal effect.  It can even be argued that in these conditions, the pleasure of eating said junk food might outweigh the negative effect it has on my body, but that’s a whole other topic of conversation (and potentially an excuse for a writer who has a bunch of chocolate permanently stationed on her desk).

If this metaphor stands, it means that whatever negative effect of the media we consume can be countered by certain habits.  What does it mean, though, to lead an overall healthy life with regards to media consumption?  What kind of media is healthy and would help counter the negative effects of unhealthy media?  What is the line between healthy and unhealthy media?  Is it subjective or objective?  And how much unhealthy media can remain healthy-ish?

Taking another step into this discussion is one that bloggers and writers like myself have to seriously consider: is the content that we are producing and sharing healthy or unhealthy?

I would love to hear your thoughts on this matter!  Feel free to comment below or, as always, if you don’t want to share such intimate thoughts in a public forum, email me at saharsblog (at) gmail (dot) com.

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Music Review: Tumbler – ‘You Said’

Tumbler 'You Said'Tumbler band members Richard Grace, Dave Needham, and Harry Grace have put together a 12-track album titled You Said that was released earlier this month. It is a collection of beautiful, fun, and melodic music well worth the listen.

The thumping drum beat of “Moments (She Reappears)” opens the album, joined first by an acoustic guitar and then by vocals. The track slowly builds with more percussion, more guitars, and backing vocals. It’s a catchy, upbeat, foot-tapping song that is hard to define – it is folksy at times, alternative rock-imbibed elsewhere, with a light touch of electronic. The guitars are a lot of fun to focus one’s ears on, especially during the solo near the end.

While just as upbeat as its predecessor, “Don’t Think Twice (She Says)” is much less folksy and much more alternative rock with nary a hint of electronic. The vocals are led by a different singer than “Moments (She Reappears)”, which comes as a nice surprise. Hand claps give it a cheerful quality which the bouncy melody is building. Once again, the guitars are quite a pleasure to listen to. It’s simply built—vocals, drums, guitars, and backing vocals—that seems to hint towards an era of simpler music.

The mid-tempo “London Girl” is an adorable number both because of the tenderness of the lyrics and the ukulele-led melody. The vocals are back to the original singer, a great choice that well matches the topic and melody. “Businessman Blues” breaks all expectations that might have started coalescing by now. The guitar-led blues-imbibed track is crunchy, snarly, gritty, and almost dirty. It’s a lot of joy to listen to and gives the impression that it was just as so to record.

A song with the title “Sleepy Bananas Are Cool” makes one think of a Dr. Seuss book; the analogy isn’t that far off, as the lullaby-like soft melody is strangely relaxing like story-time is supposed to be. “Dennis and Jean” is just as sweet but in a completely different way. It’s mid-tempo to its predecessor’s slow one and is led by a cheery piano melody underlining the story of a couple. It would make for a great and touching video clip, what with all the snippets of a beautiful marriage from its beginning to the end.

The album takes another detour with “Bueller” which comes off as a pop-rock song, returns into alternative rock territory with title track “Break or Fall” before heading straight back into folk territory with the male/female duet “Call Me Sentimental”. The funeral march plucked on the ukulele opens “Dead Man’s Bones”, so you probably won’t be surprised that I chuckled a few times during this upbeat country and folk number.

“Flowers and Miracles” is yet another cheerful, ukulele-led folk contribution that makes good use of a harmonica. Closing ballad “Rowan Tree” is slow, sweet, and almost magical lullaby-worthy that sets the entire thing to bed.

You Said is a mix of songs that are more or less imbibed with folk rock elements and flavours. The stories told in some of them are the highlight of this album. More information is available on the band’s official website; tracks are available for streaming on SoundCloud.

Pictures provided by Independent Music Promotions.
First published on Blogcritics.

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Music Review: Jon Briggz – ‘Still Lost’

We R The Lost 'Still Lost'I’m all about questioning the status quo, as anyone familiar with my writing can attest to. And so it comes as no surprise that I was intrigued by the idea of a group of young men throwing off the paralysing mantle they were being told to wear for another one that suited them better. This was all the more interesting a premise for a group or artists like the one brought together by Milwaukee’s Jon Briggz (which he named We R The Lost) as it sometimes feels like the genre, which was born out of a place where the state of affairs was always questioned, has become for the most part an unhealthy status quo in itself.

Released last April, Still Lost is the brainchild of Jon Briggz who got help from the likes of Bili Ro$e, Damir Balo, and Sir Castro. Briggz wanted to express the way he and those around him lived, rebutting the criticism levied at him and his friends for their easy going attitude, their perceived lack of drive, and their seeming indifference to academics, politics, and religion. While others negatively labeled them as lost, Briggz decided to embrace and embody the concept.

The jazz-laden, up-tempo instrumental introduction, “I’m Spotted” makes the most of the limited time it has available to make quite the impression. “New Black” might sound like many of the songs already available in the genre, what with its rhythmic, head bobbing beat and synthesizer melody, but the lyrics are well worth the listen. Directly challenging the perception that they and their friends are “lost”, the track claims that “I ain’t sayin’ I’m looking for a handout/Imma get this money on my own/They sayin’ I ain’t even got a chance though/So someone tell me what I’m doing wrong.”

Its successor is a lot more layered in depth although, at 25 seconds, it is the shortest contribution to the album; the poem “Gold” speaks of a relationship with seemingly a lot of potential that ended up being a worthwhile as fool’s gold. The most radio-friendly track is the pop-laden “Say the Word”, which features a very chill, relaxed beat and rhymes with a smoothly-sung chorus that brings it together. The brooding and almost foreboding “Still Got Love” sounds again quite familiar but this time both in melody as well as in lyrics. One can’t help but wonder how is the current of affairs being questioned?

While well-constructed and delivered, “X”, featuring Charlie Brigante, had too much anger (and, consequently, too much strong language) for me to be able to appreciate it. It’s a little disappointing that an album meant to question the status quo falls into the stereotypes it’s trying to challenge. Racial tensions are at the heart of “The Times”, which begins with a small snippet of a speech from Dr. Martin Luther King and leads into a heavy, throbbing, mid-tempo beat and reaches all the way into present-day challenges of police brutality. “Influence” also seems to be a contradiction between what the album is meant to be and what it actually is. It’s about being under the influence of some sort of relaxing drug that translates into a slow, electronic backed melody with a smooth R&B chorus. It also brings out some of the sadder, more melancholic side of the group, who admits that perhaps indeed they are a little lost after all.

While I appreciate what the group is trying to do, there might be a serious need for introspection. Because while they are trying to prove that they are not lost, it does seem at times that they have not quite found themselves after all. Tracks are available for streaming on SoundCloud. More information about the group is available on their official website and on their Facebook page

Pictures provided by Independent Music Promotions.
First published on Blogcritics.

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Music Review: Elessar Thiessen – ‘A Rainy Week in Paradise’

Elessar ThiessenWinnipeg-based Elessar Thiessen was forced, like so many others in his native Canada, to stay indoors often during the winter months. He passed the time through music, buying his first guitar at the age of eight. With a little help from Cam Friesen (drums, percussion), Brody Britton (percussion), and David Landreth (bass), Thiessen is clearly trying to implant himself in the same category occupied by John Mayer, Jason Mraz, and Ed Sheeran.

From the get-go, he claims that he doesn’t want to just write another love song in his introduction named, aptly enough, “Another Love Song”. The sound of rain opens up the track, with Thiessen’s vocals and an acoustic guitar joining in. It’s an almost-delicate track that sounds very much like John Mayer or Jason Mraz. The song is sparse and slow, a hesitant expression of a confession that makes the singer-songwriter seem open and vulnerable—a combination sure to make more than one heart swoon. “I Need A Woman”, a soul- and blues-imbibed pop number, is a mid-tempo ballad in which Thiessen lists what defines his kind of girl, which includes writing him a love song. The track will probably remind listeners of yet another crooner of this day and age—Ed Sheeran.

The piano-led slow ballad “Lover Dear” is just as sparse and sweet, and comes off as a list of reassurances from Thiessen to his lover who is going through some difficult times that have taken the passion of their singing. In the pop imbibed “I Don’t Wanna Go”, Thiessen reflects on the sometimes overwhelming responsibilities that his life has imposed on him and how he is going to have to let others help him not lose either control nor his identity. The blues-imbibed, drum-led “You Girl” features Alexa Dirkz, who adds powerful vocals to the album that contrast with Thiessen’s soft, almost delicate ones.

There is a rock edge to “When The World Ends”, in which Thiessen contrasts a light and almost cheerful piano-led melody with dark thoughts on just how and when the world might end. There is a second silver lining to this track: the advice near the end of the track of how to live a meaningful live before the end of the world, however horrid it might be, making this a track with a socially important message.

“Without Him” is the first track on this album with lyrics that are not simple or straightforward, making it one of those poetic, deeper types of numbers listeners can find different meaning in. Some mild distortions to the vocals add another layer of mystery to the track as a whole. The contrast between the quieter sections and the increasingly loud and layered ones made for a captivating listen. A slight Americana/Western vibe seems to have percolated its way into “Truth”, an upbeat and cheerful positive track about breaking away from perceptions and imposed truths to reach for our true selves.

Even though the thought of a rainy week in paradise may seem depressing, Thiessen makes it hopeful and optimistic in the radio-friendly title track. Instead of being soaking wet and freezing cold outside, we are inside, hands around a cup of hot cocoa. Perhaps this is the feeling Thiessen associates with winter; a warm, cozy, cheerful home set within the embrace of a bejeweled white coat. It’s quite clear in the mid-tempo, guitar-led ballad “Sister” that Thiessen is very proud of his sibling, whoever she may be. It’s easy to imagine an older brother leading his sister for a dance on this song on her wedding day a few moments before everyone in the crowd—and potentially the bride—require massive amounts of tissues.

A Rainy Week in Paradise ends with the mid-tempo, guitar-led soulful “The Perfect Bloom”, a cheerful and warm track sure to leave listeners uplifted. The album might sound familiar, but Thiessen has enough character to have put together a sound that will linger in one’s ear. Tracks are available for streaming on SoundCloud. More information is available on his official website and his
Facebook page.

Pictures provided by Independent Music Promotions.
First published on Blogcritics.

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Featured Post: ‘Why We Do Dumb or Irrational Things: 10 Brilliant Social Psychology Experiments’

When it comes to both personal development and community building, understand certain theories that psychologists have developed has come in quite handy.  I mentioned this to a friend recently who confessed that he had tried wading into reading about such studies a few times but he stepped right back out because it was just all too much.

Confession: I agree!  There is **so much** out there that I often get lost myself.  This is why I particularly enjoy posts like the one featured this week: a round-up of some essential studies, many of which most of us have at least heard about.  It barely makes a dent into the entire body of texts available to us, but it definitely helps us acquire a broader vision of the patterns of behaviour guiding community building activities.

The author of the post in question introduces the ten studies as follow:

“I have been primarily interested in how and why ordinary people do unusual things, things that seem alien to their natures. Why do good people sometimes act evil? Why do smart people sometimes do dumb or irrational things?” –Philip Zimbardo

Like eminent social psychologist Professor Philip Zimbardo (author of The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil), I’m also obsessed with why we do dumb or irrational things.

The answer quite often is because of other people – something social psychologists have comprehensively shown.

Over the past few months I’ve been describing 10 of the most influential social psychology experiments.

Each one tells a unique, insightful story relevant to all our lives, every day.

Some of these studies are really scary to be honest; I caught myself quite a few times wondering: ‘Do I also do this?’  But with awareness comes the insight to do something about these patterns of behaviour.   When combine with empowerment, surely we can change the way we function as a group.  Hopefully in 100-200 years, psychologists will look back at these studies and wonder how humanity could ever have done such things in the first place.

The post can be found here.

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Book Review: ‘Date like a Girl, Marry Like a Woman: The Polished Woman’s Guide to Love, Romance, and Sex’, by Jessica R Bunevacz

About the author

What do you get when you mix a strict Catholic upbringing, a strong curiosity for the opposite sex, and the need to grow up quickly? If you’re lucky you get an outcome like Jessica Bunevacz, the vivacious and outspoken first time author behind Date Like a Girl, Marry Like a Woman: The Polished Woman’s Guide to Love, Romance, and Sex.

Date Like a Girl Marry Like a Woman Jessica R BunevaczBorn Jessica Rodriguez in the Philippines and raised by her grandparents after the separation of her mother and father, Bunevacz was thrust into the role of provider after the murder of her mother when she was fifteen. With four siblings relying on her she began work early, first as a live mannequin and later as a model, actress, talent manager and television host. The jobs not only helped her to support her siblings, but also her first two children. One of her proudest moments while working in entertainment was as the force behind a project called “Miss Ugly No More” where women were showed how they could feel and look their best. Juggling family and work Bunevacz was not content to simply sit on the sidelines while life passed her by, and dating became her favorite contact sport.

​Traveling frequently for work and fascinated by men it wasn’t long before she developed a set of rules to snag them, and guidelines for how she could remain at her best without being bested by the games others were playing. It wasn’t long before she became a self-proclaimed MANnizer, capable of capturing and holding the attention of whoever interested her, while also continuing to do what was in her best interest as both a mother and entrepreneur with both family and a business to protect.

A romantic at heart however she soon stopped her pursuit of “Mr. Right Now” when she met the man who was “Mr. Right”, the man who became her husband. Newly married, she found herself rethinking everything she knew and realized that the same qualities that made a woman an amazing girlfriend didn’t necessarily work for a wife. Rather than wait for someone else to write a marriage manual, she retooled her dating rules for herself to apply for a life after marriage. Jessica Bunevacz is now a happily married wife and mother of three currently residing in California.

While her life has been unconventional she has no regrets, and lives with the understanding that we all have the same basic desire: to feel loved, whether it’s just for one night or for an entire lifetime. Using her own life experiences as a basis she develop real-world relationship advice to help women feel more confident and comfortable whether they’re dating or have already said “I do”.

About the book

Date Like a Girl, Marry Like a Woman: The Polished Woman’s Guide to Love, Romance, and Sex will help you navigate how to have a good time with “Mr. Right Now” and how to hold onto “Mr. Right” once you find him. Providing a mix easy to follow rules, and anecdotes showcasing how they worked (and in some cases what happened when they were ignored), Jessica Bunevacz is the best friend you’ll wish you had all along and the one whose advice you’ll go back to again and again.

Date Like a Girl Marry Like a Woman Jessica R BunevaczUnlike “The Rules”, its successors, or similar books offering guidance on how to snag a man, this book isn’t about playing hard to get, instead it’s about playing to win. And the only way that you can truly to that is when you acknowledge yourself as the MVP. This is why one of the first rules in Date Like a Girl, Marry Like a Woman: The Polished Woman’s Guide to Love, Romance, and Sex is about shedding your insecurities, and why other rules offer insight on looking, feeling, and being your best, with an emphasis on having your own life. Additionally, while other guides stop when you get to a marriage proposal, this is the book you’ll come back to after you say “I do”. Understanding that happily ever after may be a good way to end a movie, but isn’t a good way to start a marriage there are real tips about everything from friendship to sex to finances with both humor and heart.

Ultimately Date Like a Girl, Marry Like a Woman: The Polished Woman’s Guide to Love, Romance, and Sex is a work that is meant to transcend beyond the pages as it’s lessons are applied in daily life. It never asks a woman to shy away from her impulses or to hide who she is or what she wants, and instead celebrates her independence and sensuality while showing her ways that she can make her romantic life more fulfilling.

Book Review

The rules that currently defines the dating world create relationships which are, in my mind, built on the wrong foundations and conducive to weak marriages.  I picked up Jessica R Bunevacz’ book thinking that is was the result of brilliant thinking: the title, to me, said that the author was encouraging a different type of dating, one that balanced out the fun a girl likes to have with the maturity that I woman should have, which would lead to the emergence of a long-term, mature, and healthy relationship between two committed people.

If your understanding of marriage is that you win at the dating game; that you can first having a lot of fun by dating around and snagging any man you find interesting; that you need to always keep an eye on your husband to make sure nothing goes wrong; that you have to first shed your insecurities to be able to get into a healthy relationship in the first place; and other such notions—then you should definitely pick up this book.  The book’s tone is engaging, the author’s outlook bright, her language optimistic, and the topics flow well for an easy, uninterrupted reading.  You will definitely enjoy this book as much as you would enjoy having an older sister whom you look up to giving you a whole lot of advice you can put to excellent use.

But this book didn’t do it for me.  Although it claims to be different from other “rule books” about dating and finding a spouse, it clearly falls into a lot of the same traps the authors of those books have.  Being told that, as a wife, I have to feed my husband’s ego; I should never say no to sex when my husband requests it; that I have to be the kind of wife that knows how to cook; that I have to know how to keep my husband interested in my body—and many others included in the book—well this is not at all my definition of marriage.  My understanding of marriage is one of teamwork; one that it beyond the physicality; one in which the emotional, mental, and spiritual is so fantastic that, as a natural consequence, so it the physical aspect of it; one in which my husband and I help each other get conquer our egos; in other words, a definition of marriage that is completely different from the one the author lays the foundation for in the dating section of her book.

Add to Reading List?

Depending on your definition of marriage and what kind of dating that definition entails.

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Book Review: ‘Ghost Hope’, by Ripley Patton

Review of Previous Volumes in the series

Review of Ghost Hand.
Review of Ghost Hold.Review of Ghost Heart.

About the Author

Ripley Patton lives in Portland, Oregon with one cat, two teenagers, and a man who wants to live on a boat. She is an award-winning short story writer and author of The PSS Chronicles, a YA paranormal thriller series.

About the Book

Sahar's Blog Book Review Ghost HopeOlivia Black does not feel safe. Nightmares plague her sleep and haunt her days. If she has to endure one more minute stuck in a safe house in rainy Portland, she’s going to lose it. When Mike Palmer sneaks off to find her sister Kaylee without her, it’s the last straw. She has to do something.

Then Palmer’s hackers find the Dome on a satellite feed: dark, abandoned and smack in the middle of the Oregon desert three hundred miles from where it started. If they can reach it before anyone else, they can crack the computer systems and access every piece of information on PSS the CAMFers and The Hold have ever collected.

But in order to do that, Olivia must face her fears in a race against all the forces that have ever pitted themselves against her. She must unravel decades of deceit to reveal the true origins of Psyche Sans Soma to the world at last.

Book Review

Once again, Ripley Patton delivers.  Ghost Hope is a great ending to a series with many a high.  While the writing is tight, the plot engaging, and the characters well developed, for me the main reason to read this book remains its lead character, Olivia Black.

There is still quite a dearth in strong female characters available in youth adult literature.  While there have been some strong ones that have made an appearance in recent years, these are not enough to counter the stereotypes that still abound.

Olivia continues to be a character I feel many a young female reader can connect with.  Most importantly thought, because the chapters of the book are written from different points of view, we also see what others see, giving legitimacy, in a way, to Olivia’s strength and leadership.  She is seen as a threat by the enemy, which implies she is powerful; she is seen as inspirational by family and friends, which implies that she is worth looking up to; she is seen with begrudging respect by colleagues, which implies that she does not hold back because of her gender; and she is seen as beautiful and attractive by a romantic interest, which implies that she can do all of the above and be a woman.

I also liked that although Olivia has the many concerns of any young woman her age (she turned 18 during the course of this book), she really doesn’t fall into the typical female character stereotypes.  For example, although she is clearly in love with Marcus and is heartbroken about his memory loss, she doesn’t fall into a mess because of it.  The pain is present and it comes and goes as she interacts with him, but she isn’t defined by it.

Similarly, when she loses someone very close to her (you’ll find out yourself who), she is again heartbroken.  Although this death deeply affects her—and we see the effects—Olivia isn’t defined by it.  Quite the contrary actually; she uses it as a way to step, once and for all, into the leadership role that was meant for her for quite some time.

Ghost Hope is a great book for young adults and adults alike, male or female.  Action-packed, well thought out, touching upon many important concepts (such as the elimination of prejudices by increasing one’s perception to really see beyond each person’s outer skin), and featuring an actual strong female character rather than one seemingly is so, Ripley Patton has finished off the PSS Chronicles on a high.

Add to Bookshelf?

Definitely.  No questions asked.  Just do it.

Thank you Ripley Patton for providing me
with an ARC to review!

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Music Review: We Are Ardent – ‘Bright Shadows from Dark Lights’ EP

We Are ArdentCanadian band We Are Ardent is releasing the EP Bright Shadows from Dark Lights in November. The six numbers from the EP are certainly “ardent”—they are enthusiastic and burn with passion. Josh Brazeau (guitar, vocals, bass), Kat Kerley (vocals, kalimba), Matt Dalton (bass, guitar), and Justin Brazeau (drums) have put together a set that provides listeners with well-executed, familiar sounds with unique twists that makes them stand out.

Bright Shadows from Dark Lights opens with “Low”, an alternative rock, heavy electric guitar-led melody which accompanies dual male and female vocals; the former is gritty and contrasts well with the latter’s more crystalline tone. The lyrics are empowering, of the “this too, shall pass” mindset, with the chorus promising: “Feel low/Sometimes/That’s all right/You’ll be fine.” The same electric guitar leads the way into “Young and Giants”, of similar build but with a different sound. It feels that there could have been a lot more power in this track, but something is holding the band back. It seems to be an ode to hopefulness and action that defined their younger years, when they “were young”, “were giants”, and “were lost” but “at least trying”. These lyrics are bound to make older generations think about what happened to their drive and ambition, and perhaps rekindle it.

The balance between the two sets of vocals is tipped in favor of the male ones in “Quiet Like Noise” which come off as husky and throaty. The band makes use of a kalimba in this song, a thumb piano from the southern parts of Africa. In contrast, “Vultures” puts the focus on the female vocals in a ballad like number led by plucked electric guitars. Despite some very dark lyrics—such as “Palpable misery/Air of despair/Pleasantry’s history/Long past repair”—there is a sense of power within the melody that leaves listeners with a sense of hope.

The slow burn of lead single “The Time Is Now” continues after the track is over. Starting off with a melody plucked on the kalimba, it builds up with an electric guitar, drums, and female vocals—which, although accompanied by the male ones, are the centrepiece of “The Time Is Now”. The EP closes off with “Nameless”, a rocking grunge number with a throbbing beat that features the male vocals once again. Despite the darkness of the themes in the EP, Bright Shadows from Dark Lights manages to stay somehow upbeat and optimistic. Tracks are available for streaming on SoundCloud. More information about the band is available on their official website and Facebook page.

Pictures provided by Working Brilliantly.
First published here on Blogcritics.

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