Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Last Minute Hipster Christmas Music 2013

I had every intention of curating a lovely little holiday mix tape for you guys this year. I also had lots of other intentions for the holidays: homemade ornaments for the tree, making gingerbread and Christmas jam for the neighbors, sending out cute and crafty cards and greetings of good cheer, and finding the perfect gifts for loved ones, you know, it is the season for perfection in everything.  But when my little overwhelmed heart was about to the explode with anxiety, I willingly let everything slip through my hands, took a deep breathe and let the season embrace me instead of shaking me silly. I gladly excepted the plates of cookies and homemade lovelies from neighbors and friends all bundled up on my front porch, without the guilt of having nothing to give them in return, I excitingly ripped open cards from far away family and friends filled with happy pictures of chubby kids and kinfolk, I found beauty in fresh snow, even when stuck in traffic on route to some last minute shopping, almost cried tears of happiness and learned the meaning of goodwill as a coworker stayed late to help me scrap layers and layers and layers of ice off my car after a nasty ice storm, and (finally to the point) let others curate the music for me this year.  If I was staring in my own Christmas special this year, the moral would definitely be giving love and goodwill, in all it's forms-big and small, is important, but receiving it openly and allowing it to help grow your heart three sizes, is just as important. 

The soundtrack for my holiday special would also most definitely has a great soundtrack: folksy and peaceful and calm, like how it all, as in everything, should be this time of year, filled with songs and mixes from these wondrous music bloggers and music makers: 

Hang A String of Lights: The  Fuel/Friends 2013 Christmas Mix
I've listen to Carol of the Banjos, 1299857 times, just this morning. Truth.

Cover Lay Down's New Artists, Holiday Songs 2013
Yes, you are completely right. I do have a thing for banjos in holiday music. This fact of my life is not going to change, there is no need for an intervention.

And a couple of stand alone albums

Songs of Christmas by Sufjan Stevens. Always, always, always. Always. I will mention this album every year. It's my favorite, always.  

The Lower Lights Sing Noel (new 2013 album)

And if you want a little more kick and punch in your holiday music, Bad Religion's Christmas Songs album will meet that need. I actually borrowed this album from  my local public library. Never underestimate libraries as a hipster's paradise. 

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Song of the Season: On TV

I usually don't like Christmas television specials. I guess in the television business, if you stick Christmas or Holiday in the show title, you don't have to worry about plot, or well written characters or acting. I mean, I may be stuffed with tree shaped cookies and good cheer and what not, but geez, I still got standards.   I also don't like to hear about "the true meaning of Christmas" sandwiched in between commercials for  holiday specials and deals on diamonds and cars and stuff and more stuff. 

But what I can get behind is holiday songs being done well on television. Oh yes, let's do that. 

The National + Gregg Allman + Stephen Colbert + Silver Bells = I get *this close* to fainting.

The Colbert Report
Get More: Colbert Report Full Episodes,Video Archive

Saturday, December 7, 2013

November Reads

I have a co-worker who loves young adult fiction. And while I feel that I read a lot, a wide and current knowledge of teen lit isn't one of my fortes.  Apparently the in-betweeners (not quite kids, not quite grown-ups)  aren't that hip to the tales from Sweet Valley High anymore. So a couple week ago I asked said co-worker, what was it about young adult lit that made her love it so much. She said that YA breaks her heart faster than any adult book ever has, and when she reads she wants to feel. 

I totally get that.  

I want books and music and art and the night sky to make me feel all the feels. In my very demanding nature, I want to be more than just entertained. I want words to move and change me. Half way through the conversation I decided that my reading theme for November was definitely going to be YA and asked for some suggestions, a few realistic titles and a few fantasy/sci-fi titles. My coworker was all too happy to give me list. At the conclusion of November's readings I realized just how behind the times I really am; most of the books that I read are in current production to be made into movies. So along with some good books, let me give you a sneak peek into that what will be hitting movie theaters next year:

If I Stay by Gayle Forman.
One of the quotes on the book jacket describes this book as "heartachingly beautiful," and that is no joke or understatement. Within the first 15 pages Mia, our narrator, and her family have been in a horrible car accident. The rest of the pages are filled with Mia continuing the story as not quite a spirit, not quite a subconscious, as her body lays in a comma in the hospital. She sees family and friends visiting her and reflects on the meaning of relationships and family and love and decides if she wants to stay (alive) or just let go. The book is beautifully written and made me think and feel and stayed with me after I closed the book. Don't read this book in public if you don't like crying in public. It's sad, at times on the verge of an ugly cry sad, but also probably one of the best realistic teen fictions that I have read in quite awhile.  I also loved that music is weaved into the story. Mia is a talented classical cellist, her parents are aging punk rockers and her boyfriend is in a band. So there is a lot of music talk going on, but not just a sprinkling in of band names and music references here and there, but also discussion on the connections that people can make through and because of music. 

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green.
I really, really wanted to like this book. I heard a lot of good things about it, and I know several people who have read it, but I just thought it was OK, not bad by any means, but not life changing either. There are many things that I did like about it. The story revolves around Hazel and Gus who meet in a cancer patient support group and their evolving relationship . So while death is a shadow throughout the whole story, life and what we do with the days we are given is the real moral to the story. Everyone wants know that their mattered, everyone wants a legacy to leave behind so they won't be forgotten by their loved ones and the ages. I also loved how our two heroes went on a trip to bug the author of Hazel's favorite book about the unfulfilling ending to his book. I would totally do that too.  Again, I really wanted to like this book, the writing is witty, the characters are interesting and engaging, but I just couldn't connect to the book, I guess it just didn't break me heart enough. I mentioned to my coworker and she told me not to give up on John Green and that I should read Looking for Alaska by him. 

Divergent by Veronica Roth
I am very late to the Divergent bandwagon.  Usually all the press surrounding this book begins with, "If you like the Hunger Games . . . " There are several similarities between the Hunger Games and Divergent. Both are trilogies, both take place in a dystopian society (I am such a sucker for a good tale of dystopia) where the population has been divided into distinct  factions (in Divergent's case it is 5 groups, based roughly on personality type), both have a strong, bold, young female lead that quite unexpectedly sparks a revolution that might just bring down the social structure, and both have a lot of teenagers training and fighting.  But forget all the similarities. Divergent is a very strong, well written book that deserves any press on it's own merit. When I started to read this book, I told myself that I would just read a couple of chapters and then go to bed. And I did that. I read a couple of chapters, put the book down, turned out the light and went to bed. A couple minutes later I got out of bed, turned on the light and picked up the book again, I just had to keep going, I just had to know what happens. It just pulls you in that much. I loved the message of the book; that we can choose our own path in life, even if that path is different from the path of our families, and different than what is expected of us. That doesn't mean that the right path is easy, said path can beat you down quite easily and regularly, but sometimes that is only when we can start seeing our own potential. Divergent is the first of a trilogy, I am on the library wait list for the second (Insurgent) and third (Allegiant) and even though seemingly everyone has issues with how the story is finally resolved, I look forward to many more late reading nights. 

Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo
Set in a fantasy land that has a feel of Old Russia, Shadow and Bone is the story of a Alina, an orphan that discovers that she has strong magical powers, and those powers not only change her life but they have the potential to change everything. Will she use her powers for good or evil?  It's a classic plot, that veers on being quite predictable at times, but this book has a lot of merit. Oh, and there are flying monsters and a tall dark handsome one called The Darkling, who I am sure will have great abs in the movie version.   I loved the exploration, although very light, of Slavic mythologies, the Greek and Norse usually hog the spotlight, so big Eastern European high five to the author. This is the first book in a series, always a series. . . sigh, so I hope that in the continuing books there is a fleshing out of the different people and cultures in the story, back stories of the main characters and  more world building. I thought it was a good stand alone book, but at the same time I wanted more, which I guess is the goal of the first book in any series.  I have to mention that I felt the same way about Harry Potter, another orphan with magical powers, I didn't get into the books until about the 3rd one. Shadow and Bone has a lot of potential and I am on board with seeing how the story all plays out.  

Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta
I loved this book. I read it cover to cover in one day during my Thanksgiving holiday. It was definitely, a --don't you dare bother me, I am reading- day, and it was glorious. I couldn't put the book down. Set in the fantastical land of Lumatere, a relativity peaceful, happy kingdom, but then the royal family is murdered and the land is put under a curse. The curse traps some of the population, but others are scattered and exiled. Finnikin, the son of the King's Guards and one of the exiled, and his guardian Topher roam the neighboring lands, searching for other exiles in attempts to reclaim their land and lives. Enter Evanjalin, a young, arrogant, stubborn, mysterious girl who challenges Finnikin and his whole expedition.  Beneath all the fantasy is a firm foundation of truth. It's about community. We all need somewhere to belong to feel safe and whole. We need other people, we a need a greater good outside ourselves, we need things to bring us together and keep us together. And you guessed it, Finnikin of the Rock is the first in a series. 

This is Melina Marchetta's first fantasy book and the first book of hers that I have read. Her writing is fluid and at times stunning. I am amazed at her talent to write from the point of view of a young man (Finnikin) and have it come off as believable and endearing. That is not an easy thing to do. I do have to point out, that although it is labeled as a young adult book, it is definitely is an older teen through adult book, the world portrayed can be pretty dark at times.

Melina Marachetta has publicly said that she has no plans on allowing Finnikin of the Rock, or the other books in the series to be made into a movie. Sometimes it is more than OK for books to just stay as books. 

For December's readings, I decided to be a grown-up again, my theme is biographies and memoirs. Many of the ones I wanted to read, probably aren't going to come in time, so I'm now taking recommendations. 

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Song of the Week: Patrick Dethiefs

This year daylight savings time has hit me hard. It get dark so early now and seems to stay dark long after the rooster should be crowing, as they say in these parts. And maybe it is because I am less big city, big city lights bound as I was this time last year, but the early and late night darkness seems slightly different this year, a little deep darker, a little heavier. But it is not just the sunless hours. On some days, I swear I can feel winter approaching, and it is mighty and it is heavy to the bones.  It's just not the dropping temperatures, or the stashing of extra mittens and gloves everywhere, because like a young child, I always, always lose my gloves. It's something else this year, or maybe it's the sum of everything else. The year is quickly coming to a close and pretty soon we will send the last 365 days into judgement as we start thinking about goals and resolutions and new, clean, blank pages.  It is these days where there is a whisper thin line between excitement and anxiety, a seemingly no man's land in between conclusions and new beginnings.

The beauteous "Where You're Caring the Weight," by Patrick Dethiefs is the perfect kind of song for these days, days where you are fighting off the chill and seeking for warmth, physically and metaphysically speaking.

Monday, December 2, 2013

5/10 Things

1. I may not have become a Thanksgiving convert this year, but when my sister made homemade profiteroles (cream puffs) with homemade pumpkin ice cream with homemade maple caramel sauce, I may have warmed up a teensy bit to the idea of this holiday of thankfulness. I also warned up to the idea that she is the better sister.  In other Thanksgiving breaking news, I made a pie (duh):
Pear Rosemary Pie with a Cheddar Cheese Crust (recipe) to be exact. The crust didn't taste cheesy, the cheese, aka the extra fat,  just makes the crust extra flaky. I'm not tip top on doing lattice tops, I'm more of a crumble top girl, but the pie turned super good, I say completely unbiasedly. Also, the highest of high fives to Miranda for keeping the Pie Day tradition alive!

2. A bunch of cable channels are premiering a new biopic about Bonnie and Clyde. It looks awful. Awful.  One of the channels is the History Channel. I am starting to question the History Channel's working knowledge of the word "history." To tie into the film, Project Runaway on the Lifetime Network asked the fashion designer contestants to created outfits inspired by the romance and glamour of the 1930's.  I guess I missed the day in history class where the romance and glamour of The Great Depression was discussed. Sheesh. But here is a true for real fact:  most of the iconic images of Bonnie and Clyde, them posing with guns and cars and stuff come from a roll of film that was found at one of their abandoned hide outs in (wait for it . . . . . . .) Joplin, Missouri. Never underestimate Missouri's love for classic outlaws. 

3. A little boy came into my work a couple of evenings ago wearing Superman pajamas. He confidently came up to me and declared, "I'm Batman!" I first thought that I was witnessing the cutest identity crisis ever, but then I thought that pretending to be another superhero might be the best secret identity ever. No one would ever guess. He, our little Superman/Batman totally fooled me. Also, total props to the kid for remaining within the same comic universe. DC Comics and Marvel crossovers usually cause a crack in the cosmos.

4. A couple of my favorite reads from the Interwebz:

  • A very thoughtful piece on how to support independent music during this season of giving.
  • There is a bleak difference between how our  culture treats those with physical illness and those with mental illness, can you guess which group get cards and casseroles? "What can I do to help?" is a welcome phase no matter if the wounds are easily seen or not. 

5. I saw this sign in a store:
I don't need a boy on clearance.  I need a reasonably priced gentleman. Put that on my Christmas list, Mr. Santa.