Thursday, December 31, 2009

Book Review: "Dead Men's Secrets"

I discovered this book's existence recently while doing a random amazon search, and I put it on my Christmas list. After receiving it on Christmas, I finished this book by Jonathan Gray in two days. It is largely an easy read, the majority of it being a list of out-of-place objects and places like ancient cities in South America and evidence of ancient space travel.

The book, on the one hand, is interesting and has lots of tidbits not for the faint of heart. I knew about some stuff like ancient space travel and ancient nuclear warfare, but I did not know about the possibility of ancient man being on the moon and Mars, the Black Knight satellite, and widespread supposed underground tunnels and cities. I also found his explanation of monoliths to be very interesting and also in support of the electric universe theory (the theory that the universe is held together by electricity and it explains pretty much everything from meteors, how stars run, and even phenomena like storms on Jupiter and Saturn. is a good place to look, if you are interested, though granted I don't believe in everything the guys are promoting with their theory, but I digress). Pretty much the evidence Gray puts forth argues that ancient man was not hairy and stupid but rather that he was highly advanced, even more so than we are today.

However, I do have some problems with Gray's book. For one thing, he has very few sources. I have yet to check out some of them, but I do take issue with him using Zechariah Sitchin as a source (if you want to be taken seriously, please do not use the writings of a man who believes we were genetically modified by aliens). The lack of sources makes it hard to determine where exactly he got the information and thus makes it questionable at times. I didn't like his theory of how the Ice Age began; here I will say that sadly I think Creationists, though I am in their camp, do not do much research in scientific fields and just like uniformitarians refuse to change their mind or look elsewhere for real explanations. I also thought his interpretation of Scripture was extremely weak. I don't know what translation he used, but some of the words he claimed supported his theories did not make sense at all or just seemed far-fetched; I also do not agree with his view on the Levitical dietary laws being implemented only for health reasons or in his premillenial views that come out a few times in the book. There were a few places where he wrote about events like the night the Flood happened and an ancient nuclear attack that were meant to be dramatic, but I thought they were silly and stupid; it would have been better if he had left them out. At a few points, the book became a bit boring and repetitive, and I think he would have done better not to repeat the same thing a few times. Finally, I think the book should have been edited much better. There were often huge spaces between words, sometimes words were combined like "SumariaBulgaria", on occasion it looked like he forgot to add something under a subtitle, and just in general the formatting and editing was poorly done and pretty noticeable.

Despite these issues, the book was an interesting read and definitely made me think and put things together in certain places, especially because I enjoy learning about things like these when they're not written by a psycho or a questionable source.

I give it three out of five stars.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Joyeux Noel

It's becoming a family tradition to watch the movie "Joyeux Noel" on Christmas Eve or Christmas day. This foreign movie, based on real events, is set in 1914 when British, German, and French soldiers called a ceasefire on Christmas Eve. They exchanged gifts, sang songs, showed pictures, played football, and buried their fallen soldiers. It's a very powerful and stirring movie, not your typical sentimental sap that most Christmas movies are. It's rated PG-13 and has some language, a brief sex scene, and some violence, but it's an excellent movie. I highly recommend it this holiday season.

A merry Christmas to you all!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Hayley Westenra "Winter Magic"

Well, after giving Celtic Woman a heavy critique, I think it's time for a better review for Hayley Westenra's new album "Winter Magic." I must admit, when I first heard the samples a fan posted on youtube, I was far from impressed. However, last week, I was looking on lala and saw that the album had been added. I thought it couldn't hurt, so I listened to it in entirety. This time, I was better impressed and downloaded it.

"The Little Road to Bethlehem"

I'm not familiar with this Christmas song, so it was nice to hear something unfamiliar. It's a lovely song, and Hayley sings it well.

"Carol of the Bells"

When I think of this Christmas tune, I think of it as being upbeat and joyful. Hayley turned it into something slow, and I think she could have done it so much better. She does pick up the tempo a bit, but it doesn't sound as joyful or natural as some of the other songs on her album.

"The Christmas Song"

Hayley's voice sounds very high-pitched here, like she has a cold, but the song itself is lovely. I love the musical arrangement with its intimate, almost jazz-like sound.

"Veni Veni Emmanuel"

One thing that irks me about Christmas songs on the radio is that someone covering a song like this one or "Joy to the World" sings the first stanza for the entire song. Hayley doesn't do that, much to my pleasure. She sings the song entirely in Latin (though she pronounces it as if it is Italian), and the whole orchestra interprets it beautifully, giving it a powerful feel.

" Silent Night"

This has got to be my favorite interpretation of this hymn and one of the highlights of the album.

" Christmas Morning"

Another one of my favorite songs on the album and another that I am not familiar with. Hayley adds joy to this song about children waiting on Christmas morning for the adults to wake up so presents can be opened.

" Sleigh Ride"

Another highlight of the album. Hayley sings this song about two lovers going for a sleigh ride with great joy and as if she herself is going out for the ride.

" River"

I'm not familiar with Joni Mitchell besides Hayley's cover of "Both Sides Now" (which I like). This song is quiet and subdued, yet Hayley sings it well.

" The Little Drummer Boy"

I like Hayley's interpretation of this song with the orchestral accompaniment.

" Corpus Christi Carol"

I've never heard of this song before, but it's very haunting and beautiful. Hayley sings this in Middle English with the gentle accompaniment of the harp.

" All with You"

Hayley herself wrote this love song, and it's pretty. Her voice communicates emotion well, and you can tell she is putting her soul into it. One of the album's highlights.

" The Coventry Carol"

This is a rare Christmas song, as Anuna is the only other group I know to have covered it. It opens up with an Anuna-like Medieval chant that accompanies Hayley throughout the song. Very pretty.

" Winter's Dream"

This is another one of Hayley's compositions, and it has an ethereal feel to it. Another pretty song.

" Peace Shall Come"

The album ends with another song written by Hayley. It has a pop feel to it, yet it still retains power with Hayley's voice.

All in all, this has got to be my favorite Christmas album this season. I like how Hayley mixes in familiar tunes like " Silent Night" with her own compositions and rarer Christmas tunes and also how she ranges from intimate, acoustic pieces to pop to grand orchestral arrangements. The whole arrangement of it all is just stunning, and it all fits together well. My one complaint is that here Hayley does not hit as many high notes as she has on her earlier works like "Pure" and "Odyssey" and that at times her voice is a bit high-pitched then what a fan is used to. Still, this album is beautiful and a worthy addition to any Christmas collection or to that of a Hayley fan.

I give it five out of five stars.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

My Thoughts on "Songs from the Heart"

Well, after what seems to be a long wait, Celtic Woman released "Songs from the Heart." Since I don't have TV, I instead stalked youtube to find videos of the show, only to be pleased to discover that EMI released them. After watching the videos, I must admit that I feel underwhelmed with what I saw and heard. The effects of smoke and lights looked sloppy and not clean like they did at Slane and the Helix. The choir was distracting as they stood directly behind the singers and sang way more than they used to in the past, and the constant views of Helen Kelly quickly got on my nerves (I guess soon this will be "The Kelly Sisters" and not Celtic Woman). I felt bad for Lynn and Alex only getting one solo when everyone else had two (or four in Mairead's case), and it seems like there was more coverage of the other three then on them.

The song choices, I thought were poor. I did enjoy "The Moon's a Harsh Mistress," "Non C'e Piu," "Lost Rose Fantasia" (though I could have sworn it was a longer piece), "Isle of Hope, Isle of Tears," "My Lagan Love," "Finale," and "Pie Jesu." "Nil Se'n La" was catchy, using the original song tune, but here's the thing: they make it out like it's a party song when in the original it is far worse than that; if you want to keep the program G-rated, steer clear of pub tunes and find something else lively to sing. "Amazing Grace" is a lovely hymn, but problem is that it has been done so many times to the point where it is sentimental; I didn't like the bagpipes on it, and I just didn't like it that well. I'm not a fan of the new "Danny Boy" (no one can belt it out with emotion and charisma like Meav) or "Goodnight, My Angel", and I'm getting tired of "You Raise Me Up" being played pretty much every live concert (except for the Christmas one). "Fields of Gold" is ok, though I find "Send Me a Song" and "Caledonia" to be two of Lisa's better pieces. I wish they had added "You'll Be in My Heart" instead of "True Colors," and I wouldn't have minded at all to hear "Carolina Rua" again; it may be a different story when the DVD comes out, but so far what I've heard doesn't sound very good in that respect. "Coast of Galicia" was not bad, but I think Mairead's bow truly leaps into flames only during "The Butterfly" and "Granuaile's Dance"; on that note, I found "Slumber, My Darling/ The Mason's Apron" to be boring and predictable; she should have done "Toss the Feathers" instead (The Corrs did an amazing live version with an amazing bodhran solo), but that's just me. I wasn't a big fan of Chloe's solo pieces either, and neither grabbed my attention. I've read fans reviews saying that the music was sort of boring and not really lively, and I have to agree with them; where's the playfulness of "Spanish Lady," the power of "The Voice", the fire of "The Butterfly," or the melancholy nostalgia of "Newgrange"? Not a lot of variety in song choices this time.

I think one thing I really missed was having Meav and Orla there. Lynn and Alex have lovely voices, but replacing those two just didn't cut it. In fact, to me, it seemed that Lynn was more or less a stand-in for Meav with the choir singing along with her instead of providing harmony like they did when Meav was there. Alex, on the other hand, was not really given a chance to shine. From what I've heard, she can belt out a tune as good as Lisa, but you can't have her competing with Celtic Woman's star performer, so give her simple pop songs that pretty much anyone can do with no high notes or anything of the sort. So, I was disappointed at the way the two new girls were treated on the new show; at least they treated Hayley Westenra with more respect when she briefly performed.

All in all, I'm not very fond of the new show. I may get used to it like I did with "A New Journey," but so far I've got to rank this one at the bottom next to "A Christmas Celebration." I give it two and a half stars out of five.

P.S. Remember, die-hard fans, I control the comments. This is my opinion, so don't bash me for it. Thank you.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

40 K!

I just passed 40 K! That is a big goal marker, which means I am four-fifths of the way through. I calculated that if I write 2 K every day (except Sunday), I should reach 50 K on Monday night, before the contest ends. Yes, I'm thrilled. Getting this far into a story isn't an easy feat, and it usually means that this one will survive.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Getting Impatient...

After watching PBS' promo trailer for "Songs from the Heart," I'm getting antsy. I've finally heard part of "You'll Be in My Heart" again, which I'm really stoked about because I loved it the first (and only) time I heard it. "Nil Se'n La" will prove to be interesting; it's got a catchy tune, but I wonder if they're going to keep the original lyrics (being that it's originally about an irresponsible farmer wasting his money at the pub) or not. "Non C'e Piu" is getting stuck in my head. Yes, I'm feeling very impatient. I'm waiting either for someone to record it off of PBS and upload it on youtube, or for an announcement of a show in Atlanta on their next tour. Either one, and I will be a very happy camper. Until then, I think I'm going to go a bit crazy. Hehe....

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


A week or so ago, my sister introduced me to lala, and I didn't think much of it. It is basically a free website that you sign up for, and you can listen to all kinds of music and even buy a few songs for less than a dollar each. I became impressed when I discovered that it also has hard-to-find artists like indie band Track a Tiger and bluegrass group Grand Union. Tonight I decided to buy two songs off of the website that I have had a very hard time finding elsewhere, and I now have two MP3 files on the computer that I can play on windows media and even put on my MP3 player. I am pleased thus far with my purchase. From what it looks like, lala uploads brand-new albums pretty quickly (for example, this week's new album from Norah Jones is already up. Orla Fallon's "Distant Shore" and Anuna's "Sanctus", which were released recently, are also up as well despite the former not being very well-known). Yet, because it is a bit expensive, I will use it solely for songs that I have a hard time finding elsewhere.

Well, back to nano. And enjoying Deirdre Shannon's "I Know My Love" (beautiful!) and John McGlynn's "Swimming in the Barrow" (the same song Lynn Hilary performed on her album "Take Me with You" though I prefer this version better than hers). I think tomorrow I'll buy a few more.

Saturday, November 14, 2009


So far just over 24 K, almost to halfway point. Whoo!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Meyer vs. Austen

Ok, I know should be working on my nano, but I'm going to write this first.

I really loathe the "Twilight" series, from watching the first movie, reading samples of the story, and reading a summary of the entire thing. I used to enjoy reading the anti-fans of antishurturgal (I probably misspelled that) who loved slamming the series. Despite its occasional crudeness, it was hilarious and gave me an idea of the series (as I side note, I also enjoyed their critiques of the Inheritance Cycle and found them accurate). So by the time I saw the "Twilight" movie, it was pretty much what I expected: horrible. The romance is completely sappy and unrealistic, Bella is such an idiot, Edward is not a guy I'd want for a boyfriend, and the list goes on and on. I was reading more anti-stuff last night and discovered that Meyer's favorite author was Jane Austen and that fans have compared her stories to classic literature like Romeo and Juliet.

*Warning: Spoilers from "Sense and Sensibility" and "Pride and Prejudice" ahead

First off, no one can write a story compared to Shakespeare, Austen, or the Bronte sisters. I think people don't often realize that "Romeo and Juliet" is not a story of true love; it's about two rash teenagers who become infatuated and marry then commit suicide because they can't bear the thought of living alone; as Father Laurence says in the play "violent passions have violent ends." Problem with "Twilight" is that it's the same infatuation that passes for love but instead is portrayed in a favorable light, where it is true love. And this is passed off as being good reading?

I read in an interview with Meyer (that the antis pointed me towards) that she compared Edward and Bella to Austen's work, pretty much implying that her characters were the real deal, comparing "New Moon" to Willoughby and Marianne. That takes a lot of guts to compare the two, but in reality there's no comparison.

In the book, Marianne is the young woman who knows little of the world and falls in love with the dashing stranger who seems to love her too. He abandons her, and she is heart-broken, especially when she discovers he's marrying someone else. She is so grieved that she falls ill, but when she recovers she finds love again: in Colonel Brandon. Compare this to Bella and Edward. Bella is so depressed at being separated from Edward that she does dangerous things to see an image of his sparkly self again. Then, when they are reunited again in "New Moon," everything is just peachy and like nothing had ever happened. Marianne's behavior makes sense because she is young and passionate, so the loss of her love is felt. But when you discover that Willoughby is a complete dirt bag, you don't want him to come back; you want him to get away. Marianne learns through the process, and she matures, which enables her to find true love in Colonel Brandon. What does Bella learn? Nothing. She still goes for the good-looking boy who makes her feel good when she looks at him instead of something more solid. It makes me want to retch.

Meyer also has the audacity to compare "Twilight" to "Pride and Prejudice." Once more, another big no-no that makes me nauseous. Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy actually have personalities, and they both make wrongful assumptions about each other that make their relationship rocky. But in the end, both realize their mistakes and fall in love in a non-sappy way. Compare this to the perfect Edward and his clingy girlfriend Bella, who has a non-existent personality except for centering her entire life around a vampire who wants to kill her. Where Meyer said she was inspired by this book is completely unknown to me because they are like day and night.There is no comparison whatsoever.

Well, now I've got that off my chest. I could probably rant more about why I hate "Twilight," but I'll save that for another day. Maybe I will in honor of "New Moon" in a few weeks.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Day 2

I'm up to 8006 words. I calculated; if I do 4 K a day, I will be done with this nano in roughly ten more days. Now that would be quite a goal to try for and entirely possible. I thought my time would be more limited, but I've found this to be the opposite case so far. If this keeps going, I will hopefully be done by next week... without having to submit to coffee or staying up all night. Now that's something to be proud of.

First Day

Well, I completed my first day of nanowrimo with a nice word count of 4,064. Not bad for squeezing in writing between studying for a midterm and trying to stay awake. Hopefully tomorrow I can stop writing the boring stuff and get into the more interesting part.

Oh, I changed the plot idea. I'm re-breathing life into a story that my friend Brittny and I wrote years ago back when we were romantic, sentimental 13- year olds. It's a Jane Austen-esque type story, though it's set in Scotland and focuses more on the friendship and trials of two young Christian women. I'm looking forward to updating the story and making it more mature. Looking over the original draft the other night was sobering and made us laugh when we realized how stupid we were in writing it. Well, everyone's got to start somewhere, right?

Thursday, October 29, 2009


If you need a laugh, check out the video I filmed with my siblings and a friend yesterday. It's a spoof on horror movies and is meant to be a trailer. Enjoy!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Dino Hunter?

Yesterday, I listened to my brother listen to "Beowulf," that ancient poem that's been adapted into several different movies/ storylines. While listening along and thinking about Grendal as a t-rex dinosaur haunting southern Scandinavia and Grendal's mother sounding like a water-loving dinosaur living in a lake, it got me thinking. My ancestry, as far as I could trace it back, goes all the way to Scandinavia via the Vikings. It made me wonder if any of my red-headed ancestors were dino hunters like Beowulf, if any of them did amazing feats like that in their homeland. I'll probably never know, but it was still an interesting thought, possibly having an ancestor like that.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Seven Days...

No, this isn't "The Ring." I mean, seven days until nanowrimo and my life goes down the tubes for a month. The contest starts at midnight on November 1st, so seven nights from tonight. Seven days to back out at the last minute. Seven days to wonder if I can balance this huge project with school and living life normally. Seven days to finish preliminary world-building of my new untitled world. Seven days to finish Socrates and Plato. Quite a lot to do, and the contest hasn't even started yet. I'm sure if I think about this too closely, I'll lose my nerve. But, no, I must resist. I'm going to do this, and it's entirely feasible. November has 30 days, and the goal is 50,000 words by midnight of December 1st. I did the math and determined that if I write 2,000 words a day, I could finish early or on time... provided I run into no plot kinks which I'm sure will happen. Plus, I have the guys on the BotB forum as extra support for advice and such like that, like they did during last year's contest.

On the plus side, the contest is almost here. I drew a map of my world yesterday, and it really got me stoked. I also made a trailer/ slideshow using random Greek pictures, which has also made me excited. I'm ready to get this story started and to try something new. The link to the trailer is:

Probably because of my mad dash to finish a 50,000 word novel (roughly about 90 pages of a word document with 12 font), I won't be posting here very much unless it's an update on my word count or announcing that I passed the 50,000 mark. Now I'm feeling excited again.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Categories of Irish Music

Having a great love of Irish music and listening to it probably 50% of the time (though probably more), I started mulling over how it could be categorized. After thinking about it, I've come up with my own organization. The following is only my perception of Irish music.

Traditional (rustic)
This kind of music is the good old Irish oldies, the stuff that the purists play. They use all-traditional instruments like the bodhran, the harp, etc..., and their sound often sounds rustic, sort of like how American bluegrass sounds. The Chieftains would fit into this genra, playing oldies like "Boil the Breakfast Early" and "Carolan's Welcome". Clannad, in their pre-1982 "Theme from Harry's Game" days, would fit as well with their pieces like "Eleanor Plunkett," "Dulaman," and "Na Buchailli Alainn." However, they did turn slightly more electric with the keyboard towards the end, though they retained that rustic feel. Irish band Solas in their 1st two albums would also fit. They stuck with Irish and even a few American folk songs with traditional instruments and Karan Casey's distinct, youthful voice, though they later turned more pop-oriented.

Modern Traditional
Modern traditional is taking traditional Irish songs but playing them without the rustic feel of bands like The Chieftains. Irish singer Meav fits into this category, largely performing either folk songs or traditional Irish but usually without the normal instruments. Orla Fallon's first CD "The Water Is Wide" is much the same way, performing largely acapella and accompanied by the gentle harp, though a few other songs of hers use other non-traditional instruments like the piano. The High Kings would also fit here, singing old songs like "Paddy's Green Shamrock Shore" but also focusing on other non-traditional songs. I think the general rule that I read elsewhere is that if an Irish song is sung in English, then it is relatively new (within the last few hundred years) but if sung in Gaelic it is an oldie.

New Age Traditional
This is a small genra, as I only know so far of one artist in it: Aine Minogue. Aine plays with acoustic instruments, especially her harp, but she focuses on nature and Celtic paganism in her themes and in the purpose of her music, such as using the Greek myth of Pan in "Fill It to the Brim" or basing an entire CD on pagan Celtic ceremonies like "Between Worlds."

Before I go further, let me define what my definition of New Age is: I define it not as the sound of the music but its purpose or its lyrics. New Age music, to me, focuses on pagan religions like Wicca, on nature, or on other myths from around the world.

New Age
Ireland's most predominant New Age singer is Enya, though she herself doesn't like being put in the genra, despite her lyric's strong focus on nature and even a small focus on the bloodthirsty druids' religion in the song "Memory of Trees." Moya Brennan would also fit her, even though she does not like the genra either. Her lyrics often center around nature or on Celtic Christianity (which, at best, is a mixture of Celtic paganism and Catholicism); her album "Two Horizons" strongly indicates this, being about a spiritual experience in finding a mythical harp with the help of a mythical figure from the past. Norwegian-Irish group Secret Garden would also fit into this category with their songs like "Dawn of a New Century." Choral group Anuna is New Age somewhat, the premise of the group being to produce music so others can find their spirituality as well as in their songs "Wild Song" and "Shining Water."

Commercial is when the Irish re-make and glamorize their songs for American audiences. Celtic Woman and Celtic Thunder are both examples, though they are moving strongly away from traditional and Gaelic to American pop. Dance shows Riverdance and Lord of the Dance may use themes of paganism or mythology with a few traditional instruments or the Irish sound, but they too are commercial.

American is attempts to recreate Irish music by non-Irish artists. Maggie Sansone plays her hammered dulcimer and does traditional songs like "Jezebel Carol" and "Mist Covered Mountains of Home," and she interprets them well, staying faithful to traditional Irish sound; her album "Mist and Stone" is an excellent example of this, and I recommend it. Loreena McKennitt, considered Canada's Enya, has performed traditional pieces though has moved into more New Age regions with her lyrics and her lovely additions of Middle Eastern sounds. The CD "Celtic Fantasy" is another good example of this genra. The CD focuses on Irish legends and lore though in a non- New Age way; it is mostly made up of instrumental pieces led by the fiddle, but it has a sound much like Secret Garden, maintaining its Irish heritage.

This genra is pretty much anything that doesn't fit anywhere else. Clannad, despite having a sound like Enya's, is different in terms of lyrics, as most of their lyrics (the exception are their soundtracks) are not focused on nature or mythology that much. Moya Brennan also fits here, sometimes being in the New Age realm and sometimes not, like with her first two albums and her recent "Signature." Orla Fallon is also here, as her album "Distant Shore" doesn't fit elsewhere. Anuna is also here because of its occasional focus on traditional songs like "Si Do Mhaimeo" or old Catholic songs like "Sanctus." The Corrs are also here because they are a mixture of sappy pop and a few takes on traditional songs like their album "Home."

And so, that are my categories for Irish music. I'll probably think of more genras or more artists to add later, but for now, that is how I look at Irish music. It is actually a very large branch of music if one looks at it, and it is very diverse in all the artists and songs that make it up.

Friday, October 16, 2009


Sorry for lack of posts, but I have no new topic in my brain as of yet. I've got a few ideas, but I'm not sure if I should act on them or not. I'll try to think of something soon, though I'm not unwilling to take requests.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Orla Fallon- "Distant Shore"

Even though I can't say I have a favorite Celtic Woman, the departure of Meav and Orla over the past few years have changed the group for me, especially when I saw neither of them at Atlanta earlier this year. I grew very excited about Orla's solo CD and bought the pre-ordered, autographed copy. I think I frightened my poor sister when I snatched it from her hands when it arrived yesterday, but I was so looking forward to it.

" Who Knows" is a very pretty soft piece, as is "Distant Shore." I love the up-beat song "Dancing in the Moonlight," which is a sure favorite. "My Land" is lovely, especially with the choir in the background. "Shooting Star" is another favorite, as are "Bean an Ti," "Always There" (which is written by Brendan Graham and Secret Garden who ironically wrote the original "You Raise Me Up" that has become Celtic Woman's theme song), "Voices on the Wind," and "Eleanor Plunkett."

Even though the entire album is lovely, I was slightly disappointed at its more pop-ish sounds. Orla and Meav, to me, were the most Irish out of the other Celtic Woman (past and present), and their solo albums beautifully capture that. This album is less Irish in that only two traditional songs are played here and Gaelic is only sung on one song. Another thing that I missed the sound of was Orla's harp. I hear it a couple of times on the album, but the piano is more predominant, which was a bit disappointing because Orla and her harp go so beautifully together. I also wished that I could have heard the more darker side of Orla's voice, the side that interpreted "Harry's Game" and "Newgrange" so well. Don't get me wrong. I love this album, as it was well-worth it, but I do miss the sound of her trademark harp and her interpretations of traditional Irish songs.

If you are an Orla fan, I highly recommend this album. I give it four and a half stars out five.

Now if Meav will release, a new album, then life will be good :D

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Hold Your Horses

In reality, modern science makes me laugh. With all of its assumptions and leaping to conclusions, it's frankly sometimes embarrassing. Yesterday I read about how now they've found proof that there's water on the moon: sensors picked up a chemical bonding of hydrogen and oxygen. I'm no chemist, but I did study some in a short breeze into organic chemistry last fall in physical science. A chemical bonding of hydrogen and oxygen doesn't mean there's water; there are many other combinations made up of those two elements. Anyway, reading that yesterday just made me crack up.

For you music lovers, stay tuned for an upcoming CD review. I received my Orla Fallon CD "Distant Shore" today and hope to post a review in the next few days.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

An Aura of Mystery

Ok, enough of the music rants. I really should think of more good topics besides either CD reviews or pointing out potential errors in a journalist's work. I've not been in much of a research/ geeking-out mood, so maybe that's why. Anyway, before philosophy class at college this morning, there was a rather hilarious discussion that led to me thinking of a more serious topic.

I'm a bit of a Lord of the Rings geek (I think anyone who reads The Silmarillion, has a Lord of the Rings dictionary, and a series of Lord of the Rings maps is :) ). I've read the trilogy a few times and own the trilogy in movie form. I'm currently making slow progress in re-reading the trilogy again after a few years, and I realized how much deeper and better the books are. I mean, no surprise there as movies rarely capture a book very well (except for Ang Lee's "Sense and Sensibility"). But in reading, I discovered something in the trilogy that I have yet to see in other forms of writing: an aura of mystery.

In "Fellowship of the Ring" (the book, mind you) the four hobbits make their journey across the Shire, through the Old Forest, to Bree, and then to Rivendell. On the course of their long trip, the four (later joined by Aragorn) go through very dark places, places with things that they can't explain. Take, for example, the journey through the Old Forest. The hobbits have all heard legends of the forest being a dark place with angry, living trees and such. Not only do these stories make the four slightly afraid as they travel, but strange occurances like the disappearing of the path and the trees moving so that the hobbits head straight for the strangest part of the forest keep them on their toes. But Tolkien doesn't explain fully why the trees move; as far as I remember, we don't learn of the ents until "Two Towers" and then it makes sense. It is this sense of mystery, the sense of "the hobbits and the reader don't know what's going on" that I found in reading. In a few places in the trilogy, the way Tolkien writes, he speaks of mysterious places, things that most people don't know or don't find an explanation for, like the watcher in the lake outside of Moria or Tom Bombadil. It gives me the sense of a vast fantasy world filled with mystery, a world much like our own where we can't explain everything and probably never will. This, I think, gives Middle Earth, a sense of being realistic and I think makes the story more real and more captivating in a sense.

I've yet to find the same aura of mystery in other fantasy stories. In "Cry of the Icemark," there is an instance of living trees (similar yet dissimilar to Tolkien's ents) that were rumored not to be real, but that sense of mystery is lost when the author explains what they really are. The Inheritance Cycle completely lacks any sense of not knowing what things are, probably because his elves are a bunch of rational know-it-alls. The Binding of the Blade series also lacks this same sense. In this way, to me, they feel a bit flat, a bit lacking in their worlds, making them sterile and as if everything has a rational explanation for it. Completely unrealistic, as there is so much to discover about our own planet and beyond that I don't think we can say we understand the universe. Tolkien, to me, captures this realistic mystery and brilliantly crafts it into his story, making it truly a great one.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Who's Lying?

I know I've ranted about Enya vs. Clannad and the different stories before, but this one is a bit much. This interview was done last year (2008) to promote Enya's Christmas album "And Winter Came." The following is a quote from the interview, though I'm not sure if Ryan or Enya herself gave out the information.

" The split [referring to Enya's departure from Clannad in 1982 with their producer Nicky Ryan and her supposed separation from her family] was acrimonius... but they didn't speak for years, and only recently does she now see her nieces and nephews."

(The full interview can be found at the following link: )

Now check out this picture (I found it on Clannad/ Moya Brennan fansite Northern Skyline, so it is copyrighted to them and not to me):

Judging from the picture with Moya Brennan in the corner with her husband Tim and their daughter Aisling, this was taken probably in 1992 or maybe 1993 (depends on when Aisling was born). Now look in the central back of the picture. Unless my eyes are wrong, that looks like Enya sitting behind Ciaran and her parents. Now look at this next picture (same website, so does not belong to me):

All five of the Brennan sisters are here in the picture, and it certainly doesn't look recent (judging from Moya's hair color and style); it was probably taken between 1998 and 2002.

"Acrimonius" family split? Both pictures look happy with no tension or anything of the sort. If the split was that bad, then I doubt Enya would be in family pictures or sing at her brother's wedding.

The point? Either the writer of this article severely twisted the information given in the interview, or he was given faulty information. I'm not sure which one is true at the moment (though I have my own suspicions that I'm not going to say here), but all I know is that that article, which has provided much of Enya's pre-Watermark biography and her childhood information for wikipedia, is not telling the full truth here. I'm not a journalist and have no real desire to be, but I do know (based on college experience) that when doing research for an article, do a lot of research and not just rely on one source because that one source could be wrong.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

"Amarantine" by Enya

In trying to think of a good Celtic album to critique, I next decided to do Enya's "Amarantine." I've been listening to it and mulling over it, so I think I know how this will go. The following is only my opinion, so no one leap all over me for this, please. Got that? Good. Now on to the review.

" Less than a Pearl"- this opening to the album is sung in Enya and Roma Ryan's imaginary language Loxian (which is pretty much a mixture of five or more languages with no real structure). Despite the oddness of this language, it doesn't sound too much different from her vocalizations/ mouth music that she's done in earlier songs like "The Celts" or "The Longships." It's a pretty song, but the synthesizer and percussion could have been toned down a bit.

" Amarantine"- I'd rank this song as being up there with The Corrs' "Irresistable." It's not well-written, but it's catchy... until you listen to it about five times and then realize how much you dislike it. Not one of Enya's best romantic songs.

" It's in the Rain"- after the happy tone of "Amarantine," we move more to a sad pop sound. The synthezier makes background sounds like rain (though it doesn't sound as good as when it did on "Silver Rain" from another album). The song is meant to be sad, but it doesn't come across to me that way, not like "Evacuee" or even "Only Time" are.

" If I Could Be Where You Are"- this song is malancholy, but it is not the same tone seen in Enya's earlier works (i.e. her pre- "Memory of Trees" albums). There is minimal layering in this song, which works fine for the tone, but her voice is a bit louder than it usually is in her sadder pieces like "Evacuee" and "Exile."

" The River Sings"- and Loxian returns to the forefront again. One professional review compared this song to "Ebudae," but I completely disagree with him. This song uses a lot of layering, heavy percussion, and other artifical sounds, and thus in the end, while the language sounds cool and the song like something out of a sci-fi movie like "Dune," it is just one disorganized mess that on occasion almost drowns out Enya's voice for the sake of sounding electronic.

" Long Long Journey"- this is one of my favorite songs. It is in the vein of "On My Home" in regards to lyrical content, except it is sadder, as if it will be a long way home (makes me wonder if there is hidden meaning underneath regarding her seemingly horrendous break with her family but only if that story is true). The layering and electronic sounds don't drown out her voice and work perfectly together. I think, in my opinion, it is one of the better songs on this album.

" Sumiregusa"- Enya, having sung only in Loxian and English so far on the album, switches gears to sing in Japanese. There are a few parts, which I can't describe here for a lack of words, almost sound, well, odd... as if she's trying to make an imitation of Japanese music, but it comes across as an echo and sounds a bit out-of-place and not really like Enya.

" Someone Said Goodbye"- Roma must have been having a bad day or something like that because the lyrics here are just horrible and completely lacking the charm and beauty of her earlier works. The electronics are loud and almost drown Enya's voice here. It's not that bad of a song, but the lyrics pretty much ruined it for me.

" A Moment Lost"- the theme of this album, if there is one, is "love, the good parts and the bad parts." The song is not one of my favorites, but thankfully it relies more on the voice and not the synthesizer.

" Drifting"- the only instrumental of the album. Instead of a lovely piece on her acoustic piano, this relies on the sythesizer. It is not as well-done as pieces like "Shepherd Moons" and "Watermark." To an extent, the tune reminds me of "Inama Nushif," the beautiful Enya-esque piece from the "Children of Dune" soundtrack.

" Amid the Falling Snow"- another one of my favorites and one that a personally think is one of the best ones on the album. I think it could have been better if the percussion was softer and not as predominant, letting us focus on her voice completely, as a few times it comes close to drowning her out. But, that being said, I still enjoy this song a lot.

" Water Shows the Hidden Heart"- the album ends as it began: being sung in Loxian. After the mess of "The River Sings," this one is much more subdued and more organized. The tone reminds me of "Smaointe." I think it is one of the best songs on the album, not covering up her voice but focusing on that aspect of her talent.

I've noticed, listening back to Enya's earlier works up to present day, her works have declined in quality and beauty. I think this is largely due to the overuse of the synthesizer and bringing it to the forefront instead of letting it do its quiet yet nonetheless powerful work in the background. In the past, Enya's soft voice was in the front but had a quiet power; here, the music is too loud, lacking its original beauty. I think also, maybe, the quality of the lyrics are declining, and it is especially evident on this album. This album seems to have polarized Enya's fans on its quality, but it's not too horrible, though it's not one of her best ones. I think she should return to her "acoustic" roots seen on her early albums and stay there. Or, else, hire a new producer and lyricist and an actual band instead of one instrument doing everything.

I give the album two stars out of five.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

What I Miss

I was listening to Celtic Woman's version of "Somewhere" the other day, and I was struck by its beauty and how the individual, unique voices all blended together perfectly. I then listened (i.e. watched) to their recent version of "Danny Boy" but did not catch that same power. I think that the reason "Somewhere" is so special and, to me, is the defining point of Celtic Woman is because of the different voices. You have Meav's strong soprano, Chloe's youthful soprano, Lisa's strong alto, and then Orla's softer, darker alto. No voice here sounds alike, and that is why it is so beautiful. "Danny Boy," on the other hand, I couldn't tell the difference between Lynn and Alex unless the screen was showing who was singing. There were no powerhouse voices like Meav's on there, and the piece just sounded flat and rather boring with none of the complex harmonies seen in "Somewhere." I think that's one reason that I'm finding myself leaning more and more towards the old Celtic Woman: the unique styles and voices of the singers. Meav sang largely traditional pieces, Orla did traditional and Clannad, Chloe sang children's songs and Sarah Brightman, and Lisa did more pop, New Age pieces. These different styles all came together that one night in 2004, and they blended perfectly together, giving each singer a chance to be unique. I did not see that "magic," as it were, last March. The songs all blended together, just like they did on "Danny Boy," lacking their power and the uniqueness of "Somewhere," as Lynn is a classically trained singer though is more modern Irish and Alex is a theater performer just like Lisa. I guess that's what I miss about Celtic Woman the most, the different styles, different vocal backgrounds, and different voices blending together into a lovely unified whole.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Best of Albums

Don't get me wrong. I like it when artists release "best-of" albums filled with their favorite music. However, what I dislike is when they release too many or too soon. Celtic Woman and Hayley Westenra both released albums only after a career of five years and less than five international albums. Enya did the same thing, a career of about ten years and four albums (I count "Enya" and "The Celts" as the same album), but good thing was I did not own her CD "Memory of Trees" and thus received some new surprises when I received it as a birthday present when I was about nine. But what makes me wonder what's going on is that she's released two other "best of" CDs and just two days ago announced a brand-new one coming out in November. Four best of CDs and seven studio albums. That screams "money-making" to me. Compare that to her sister Maire/Moya Brennan who has released seven solo albums over almost twenty years (roughly the same as Enya) but no best of CDs. Clannad has also released an insane amount of compilations, but I think that is largely because they stopped recording twelve years ago (though I'm eagerly waiting for their acoustic album that's supposed to be released soon).

In the end, I think most of the time "best of" CDs are just an excuse for a recording company to make some more money without going into a studio. Just goes to show, I think, how much the music industry is about making money and sucking the artists dry at their expense.

Friday, August 21, 2009

"Signature" by Moya Brennan

I've finally managed to download most of Moya Brennan's most recent studio album "Signature," and I have to say, it is absolutely lovely.

According to several interviews, "Signature" is like a collection of snapshots, both good and bad, that look back over Brennan's life. Some of the songs are easy to tell what she's talking about, though others not as much. The music returns to a more acoustic, Clannad-esque sound after Brennan's largely electronic New Age "Two Horizons." Despite her age, over time I believe Brennan's voice gets better and better, as she never loses the power and beauty found in her voice like some singers do once they pass a certain age.

"Purple Haze"- nope, this is no Jimi Hendrix, but it is a stunning song. The background vocals are very reminiscent of Clannad, and there is a heavy depth to it without the overdone use of electronics. This song is one of my favorites.

"No One Talks"- a soft, acoustic song about Brennan's first failed marriage.

"Merry-go-round"- Brennan switches gears into a more electronic song written by her and her husband Tim Jarvis. Gaelic is spoken by the background chorus that sounds similar to Clannad. This is also one of my favorites.

"I Will Find You"- this song has been hard to find. It is a remake of Clannad's "I Will Find You" from the "Last of the Mohicans" soundtrack. From what I've heard, it is a pretty piece.

"Always"- another soft, acoustic piece. In comparison to "No One Talks," this is a happier song about finding true love.

"Tapestry"- this is a gentle acoustic piece with harp, guitar, and uillean pipes. The song talks about the bits and pieces of stories, singing, and dancing that fit together beautifully into a tapestry. This is one of my favorites on the album.

"Black Night"- soft piece with a guitar and a cello that in an interview Brennan described as the feeling of being alone. One of my favorites.

"Hear My Prayer"- after several soft, lullaby-like songs, Brennan picks up the pace with this song. It is a call to God, asking for Him to bring her back to Him. One of my favorites.

"Never Stray Far Away"- this song sounds like a Clannad piece, especially like "From Your Heart" from their 1996 album "Lore." I'm not sure about the meaning, but it is a pretty song nonetheless.

"Many Faces"- the song opens up with a chant in Gaelic that is repeated throughout the song. It is more upbeat then the other pieces on the album. The song seems to describe perhaps Brennan's depression in the 80's while Clannad was enjoying their new-found fame. It is one of my favorites.

"Hidden Stories"- after some upbeat songs, Brennan returns to the gentle, acoustic piece. The meaning is a bit obscure, but it is a pretty song though not one of my favorites.

"Gone Are the Days"- this song is similar in some ways to Enya's "Na Laetha Geal M'oige" in that it looks back over the happy days of her youth when she lived without a care. It is accompanied by a piano and on occasion a flute. It is almost like a final look back, over the entire album and over Brennan's entire life, a fitting end to the album.

"Pill a Run O"- this song is the only one on the album that is sung entirely in Gaelic and that is a traditional piece. It is not on all releases of "Signature", and so it is harder to find. It is sung acapella with her harp providing the harmony. It is a lovely song and a lovely finish to the album.

In conclusion, I don't know the entire album that well, but nonetheless it is well done. To me, "Two Horizons" wasn't that good, but this is a return to the acoustic style that sets her apart from her sister Enya. I give the album five out of five stars.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Two Political and Economical Thoughts

Today while I was shopping and running errands, two thoughts came to me that I thought I'd share.

First: The hotly debated healthcare package. Mom and I were standing in line at the tax commissioner's office for 45 minutes, waiting in a loooong line. We were talking, and we both thought, "national healthcare?" One thing that we've noticed is that in places like the post office, the DMV, and here is that there are extremely long lines that take forever to get through. It reminded us that if this healthcare package gets passed, this is what we'll get: more long lines and hours of waiting. Is that really what we want? Especially if there is an emergency and you need immediate attention? I mean, I've already read stories of people dying while waiting for the doctors to see them, but I don't think this bill will help in that regard.

Second, the recession is over? According to the "experts" this week, the recession is over. I beg to disagree. Earlier this week, some dear friends of my family learned that their husband/father was laid off because his company is going down. Also, while I was shopping today, I saw more evidence that it isn't quite over. At both Wal-mart and H-Mart, I noticed much lower prices, especially at Asian food store H-Mart, where there was a huge sale on food. I've tended to notice that if there is a huge sale of unbelievably low prices at any store, that means business isn't doing good. If the recession is over, then there shouldn't be all these stores cutting down prices; cutting prices mean business isn't good.

Those are just two rambling thoughts today.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Chill out, Celtic Woman fans

I was goofing off on youtube (since my laptop is currently out of commission thanks to the non-working power cord, I get to search youtube freely without it locking up my computer) earlier today on the bedroom computer. I was watching videos from Celtic Woman's "Isle of Hope" tour because, frankly, my current CW collection is old and I needed a dose of some new stuff (though I wish someone had recorded "You'll Be in My Heart" because it's a new favorite and I only heard it once... back in March). Anyway, I started off with "Isle of Hope, Isle of Tears", moving on to "Fields of Gold" (it's growing on me, though I don't think it's Lisa's new "Caledonia" as fans are calling it") and then ending with Mairead's encore (amazing piece by her!). On the encore, I noticed comments that had been given so many negative responses so that they disappeared. From what I can guess, the comments looked like they were from fans who said that they wished CW would go back to Celtic music instead of the pop they did on the recent tour. My first thought was "why in the world do fans take delight in butchering those who disagree with them?" Now, granted, the pop music may have been added as more or less a tribute to Americans, but some of the pop was done by British artists Sting and Phil Collins, not by Americans. Anyway, that aside, I wondered why fans were getting so defensive. I myself have come under attack from fans when someone asked if Chloe had lost weight; I answered that it was probably just the dress she was wearing because with girls of larger size (me included), clothing either fits or it doesn't. I was not making an attack on Chloe or anything of the sort (though I would be more likely to make a polite one against the dress designer in this regard); it was a general comment from my own experience and my post gets shot-down and disappears, though I've yet to delete it. If someone can't speak their own opinion about CW without getting shot down by fans, that tells me there is something seriously wrong with the fanbase.

On a related note, I was watching the video from Meav's solo concert back in December 2007 when I saw more comments from another guy who claims to have inside information from within CW, and my, you should have seen the responses. Fans were leaping all over him, saying that he was lying. One was even bold enough to say that he (or she) posted on the CW forum and that there was no information about such things there. First off, fans are not going to know that one of the singers is getting a divorce or that one of the management is in jail; generally, you don't tell your fanbase that unless it gets out in the news, then it's over. Second, I don't think CW forum is the right place to get your information. I've watched it for some time and have seen the evidence that it's under strict control and that you can't say anything bad about the show or PBS without getting the topic locked or losing your membership there. I myself don't have an opinion on this news and will wait until it's confirmed elsewhere, but I'm not closed to the idea that such things could truly be happening.

All this being said, I still love listening to CW's music, even if I don't agree with the whole commerical showiness, but I love the beautiful music they produce. So before fans jump over me, look at the title of my post. Chill out. Don't rant about me being an idiot because the girls are angels and can do no wrong. Everyone has their faults, and not every singer is going to produce songs that all the fans adore. But that doesn't mean that those people with their own opinions should be shot down for speaking their mind about a group or singer that they like. In regards to the other claims, fans, if you don't think they're true, then ignore them. Slamming them like they did in youtube was very immature and only made them look all defensive about it. So, I repeat to you fans, just chill out. Sit back and enjoy the music for what it's worth, not go hunting anyone else who disagrees with you.

I'll get off my soapbox now.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Story Evolution

It's amazing in writing a story how you have a character who acts one way and then over time, quite unexpectedly, that character completely changes.

On the Binding of the Blade forum, I joined a story about gladiators in a fantasy world similar to that of the Roman empire. I wrote two characters: a man named Vladisk who hides his emotions well and has a stony face and a woman named Temini who is very emotional. It's interesting now how different they are. Vladisk is in love with another female character, and Temini now has become emotionally and probably mentally unstable, believing that Vladisk was bewitched and that he betrayed her. If you were to look at the original post and meet the two chars, you wouldn't expect them to turn into what they are now... especially just over a period of about a month. It's amazing, and I didn't even plan on it.

Anyway... that was just a random thought of mine.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Corruption of Music Industry

Yesterday I was on pandora when a song called "Already Gone" by Kelly Clarkson came on, and I was hooked on it. When I looked it up, I discovered that Clarkson had been very unhappy to discover the similarities between "Already Gone" and Beyonce's "Halo." As I listened more closely to the song, I too realized how similar the two songs sounded. Clarkson's producer for that song Ryan Tedders, who had worked with Beyonce as well, denied that the two sounded similar or something to that extent. Then what made me mad was Clarkson telling her record company not to release "Already Gone" as her next single, but they decided to go ahead and do it anyway.

After reading this, it makes me see how corrupt the music industry has become. The artists have little control over what they can release, and producers milk the artists for money and fame. In short, the artists are the "slaves," the ones who do all the work while the producers and the record companies get most of the reward. It reminds me of Clarkson's last album "My December," which received little promotion and no tour because she broke with her producers to do what she wanted. Sadly, that is the way the music industry works: give us what we want you to do, and we'll promote you to the heights; but if you don't do what we want, we'll make you see reason when your album is a flop. It is a sad business, but I fear too many aspiring musicians don't realize the ugly truth until it's too late.

I commend the following artists for forming their own record labels and having the liberty to produce what they want in an honest way: Loreena McKennitt, Anuna, Jars of Clay, and to some extent Hayley Westenra (though she had issues with her recording company recently about promoting herself). To all aspiring musicians and singers, you don't need a big record label and big producers to be famous. Would you rather seek fame in return for slavery to the record companies, or would you be an indie artist with the freedom to perform the music you really want?

Monday, August 3, 2009

The Idiocy of Paleoanthropology

Thanks to Virginia and Jessy on the Binding of the Blade forum, a new debate has begun: facts vs. faith i.e. evolution vs. creationism. Pretty much, the creationists are getting slammed for not going with the flow and believing in facts, so I decided to do my own research. I went to secular websites and those that promote the idea that man evolved from apes, and I studied up on a few different genuses like homo, paranthropine, and australopithicine. After spending a few days on this research, I have come to a conclusion: paleoanthropologists are idiots. They find a few bits of a skull and then draw an entire creature as being bipedal. Then they can't get their facts straight. Regarding the australopithicine "Lucy" (I was suspicious about the circumstances about the finding, and I was later told that it is a hoax), one website says the complete skeleton was found then a few paragraphs later it says 40% was found. I don't know about you, but there's a big difference between 40% and 100%. And another thing, reading about the different species, it makes me wonder if all these are just a previously undiscovered ape species in several variations to adapt to the environment and not a line of the evolution tree from ape to man.

I'm pretty sure I'm going to get stoned to death by Virginia and Jessy for posting those notes, but, hey, at least I look at the evidence from the source and not just buy into it. Besides, I'll never forget something that Charles Hapgood said. In his book "Maps of the Ancient Sea Kings", he said something to the extent that it often takes an amateur to look at the evidence and point out fallacies that the experts don't see. I think of Berry Fell (who studied fish but decoded the Irish language Ogham on both sides of the Atlantic), Leuwenhook (science was his hobby, and he's considered a master in the science field), and someone else whose name eludes me at the moment (he discovered fossil layers during his hobby of geology), and I think that Hapgood is right. Not that I think I'll change modern thinking about various issues, but I do think that sometimes we don't need to trust the experts but that we need to look at the evidence for ourselves.

Well... that research is done. Now either to research something new (not sure what yet) or go back to writing (more likely). All I know is that I'm tired and that I should be in bed.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

A Poem

I'm not much of a poet, but when the occasion rises, writing a poem is good therapy for me, as it enables me to get out my feelings in a way that novel-writing can't. I dedicate this poem to my closely-knit Cunningham clan back in Georgia and to my beloved brothers and sisters in Christ at Covenant Presbyterian.

There is a bond between us,
A bond that has been grown over time,
A bond that remains over long distances,
A bond stronger than any other in this world.
When you laugh, I laugh.
When you are sad, I am sad.
When you celebrate, I celebrate with you.
When we gather in fellowship,
There is great joy in our midst,
A joy that can only come from above.
We laugh together over events that only we know about.
We rejoice when we learn of expansion.
There is a bond between us,
And none can break it.
We meet together on the Sabbath,
And together we worship our Lord and our God,
The One who brought us into His family.
We meet together on the weekends and holidays,
To talk and eat, to debate current events,
To laugh over our pasts, to talk of more sober issues.
There is a bond between us,
And none can break it.
We come together for special days,
And we enjoy each other’s company for hours,
With no sense of boredom or longing to go home.
We catch each other doing stupid things,
And then we laugh afterwards.
We run up and down the beach,
Enjoying the happy chaos while we can.
We jump in the water and tease each other,
Of beaver sharks and giant catfish.
We gather for a movie,
And we end up pulling pranks instead.
We watch new members join our merry group,
And we rejoice exceedingly.
We gather in reading, singing, and hearing,
All learning and worshipping together.
There is a bond between us,
And none can break it
It is one of God’s greatest gifts;
It is called family.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009


As of this morning, I have completed the second draft of Book 2. Granted, it is a piece of disorganized crap and is far from ready to be seen by others except for critiquing purposes. There is still a lot of work to be done, but I've never gotten this far in writing anything! The last chapter was a joy to write, with a battle and then a happy ending with the birth of a child.

I've also decided Book 2's official name (for now): "Waning Silver Moon."

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Book Review: "How to Save the World Trilogy"

This is my first book review that I'll post on the blog. In one sense, it was special to read a published novel by a peer whom I met on-line. I met Nikk Fensterman in 2006 on the Binding of the Blade forum, and though we were not close, we often worked on the same role-playing stories. Because of his aspirations to write a novel, Nikk ceased posting on the forum as frequently and thus I only heard from him when he updated everyone else on his novel. It was exciting to hear that his manuscript was accepted by Tate Publishing and then published earlier this year, even though I have heard that Tate was very dishonest in handling the publishing and charged a fortune for it to happen. That aside, I decided to check out Nikk's book and see how it was. I wish I could be kinder in my review, but I'm afraid it's not possible. Frankly, I was surprised that the story was even accepted for publication. I guess it just goes to show how watered down the quality of books has become, with authors out there like Christopher Paolini and Stephanie Meyer whose books are poorly written yet devoured by thousands of raving fans. But I digress. On to the book review of Nikk's "How to Save the World Trilogy: Twins."

The book is a cross-world fantasy novel, much like CS Lewis' "Chronicles of Narnia." Twin brother and sister Timothy and Taryn Davis are living in a broken home situation and mysteriously have discovered swords and bows/ arrows, which they practice with frequently. One day, they run through the door of their house and then find themselves in the ocean. After climbing out and discovering they are wearing different clothes, they meet the wise old mentor Wyrl (much like Tolkien's Gandalf, Paolini's Brom, or LB Graham's Valzaan) who informs the twins that they are powerful individuals who will bring peace to Kumeria and defeat Argor (Tolkien's Sauron or Graham's Malek, basically Satan) forever. Over time, the twins learn to use the powers El Olam (God) has given them, defeat several enemies, travel long distances, and even find romance.

While the book sounds like the usual epic quest so commonly seen in fantasy, that is exactly what it was. I saw little of Nikk as an individual writer in the story, but I saw more of other fantasy novels than himself. The plagarism was glaring in my mind and angered me greatly. Reading it, I could not help but notice several blatant instances of plagarizing from Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings" trilogy, CS Lewis' "Chronicles of Narnia" series, and LB Graham's "Binding the Blade" series. Lewis was not as blatant, as Nikk shared some of his concepts, though similarities to Tolkien and Graham were strongly there, such as the trip through the mines that is very similar to the Fellowship's journey through the Mines of Moria and several of the names such as Minas Korinth were similar to Tolkien. Nikk merely stuck with the Lord of the Rings formula for his novel and thus showed a severe lack of imagination in this regard, much like Paolini in his "Inheritance Cycle."

Besides the plagarism, another thing that bothered me was the lack of good characterization. I could not tell the characters apart, as they were all the same. They were very inconsistent, with a character supposedly with a stern personality laughing his head off at something, and even with characters switching personalities. Timothy switched from immature to mature, with Taryn in reverse on various occasions. The wise old mentor Gandalf- er, Wyrl was supposed to be wise, yet he led a bunch of inexperienced fighters to kill a terrifying creature in the mines and often gave in to the whims of the teenagers. A similar problem with the characters was their sheer immaturity. Timothy and Taryn are supposed to be seventeen years old, but they acted and were treated like they were thirteen years old. The twins' peers are no different, acting like young teenagers and not like they have an important task to complete to save the world. Lewis' children in "Chronicles of Narnia" were much more mature than Nikk's older teenagers when Lewis wrote them as being much younger than Nikk's.

The prose of the story was no better. It sounded more like someone trying to imitate Tolkien and ending up with a watered-down version of his excellent, well-written prose. Nikk would often say one word than put a dash then a synonym afterwards, which was unnecessary and very distracting. Oftentimes he would say a word like cogg or palm and then not explain it for several pages or not at all, which made the story confusing. The accents of some of the minor characters were hard to understand, and the teens of the fantasy world often used modern words like "wow" or "ok." There were several points in the story where there was an anti-technology (or against killing animals) few sentence sermon that was not subtle and came off as very annoying and not consistent with the characters. There were several inconsistencies in the story like an all-powerful god who doesn't have power against a dragon's talons or Timothy switching from gracefully to ungracefully leaping on and off his horse when he's never ridden before. There was one romance and then a love triangle in the story, but they were the typical cliche and sappy romances and actually quite realistic for the teens' immaturities.

I wish I could have enjoyed the book more, but I fear I could not. I was severely disapppointed that Nikk has fallen into the trap that so many other young fantasy novelists have fallen into: plagarizing Tolkien, showing a lack of imagination, and not taking the time to let their story grow and develop into something that says "this is mine and not a mishmash of other people's ideas." The story, I think has potential, but it needs several more rewrites to get rid of the plagarism and to let Nikk develop his own writing style. The book may be entertaining for some people, but for those who adore Tolkien and hate Paolini, I would not recommend it at all.

I give the book 1/2 star out of 5.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Sparkles Galore

Once more, this is another Celtic Woman rant of sorts. A few weeks ago, I read the following review of Celtic Womans “Isle of Hope” show in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Unlike a die-hard fan, I actually agreed with the review and its criticism of the glam of the show. Compare this review, which was done by an American, to this one done by an Irishman back in 2006:

Quite a difference. Keep in mind that Celtic Woman is very popular in America but not so in Ireland.

After comparing the two reviews, I wondered if there was a difference in the way the shows had been promoted and if people considered the shows sappy and overdone back in 2005 when they first started touring. Sadly, I was not able to find much information in that arena because all the newspaper articles required me to sign up or pay to view them. It does appear, though, that even in Celtic Woman’s early days when it was hailed as a new Irish phenomena like Riverdance, it did have its own share of fans who did not like them being called “Celtic.” However, especially lately, Celtic Woman has not received very favorable reviews for its renditions of pop music and its lights, dry ice, and choreographed movements, being called sappy or other adjectives that would make fans want to crucify the reviewer. In fact, I’m certain that if any fans stumble upon this blog post that they’re sure to sharpen their knives and accuse me of not knowing what good music is.

Good music. What is good music nowadays? Getting up on stage and singing with backup dancers who provide some backup voices, wearing outrageous costumes, having a bunch of dry ice, and prancing around the stage? It seems this has become the norm if you look at artists like Brittany Spears, Katy Perry, and several hip-hop artists. For American Idol viewers, it would be like Adam Lambert and his performance with Kiss during the finale this week: costumes, lots of lights, and other fancy gadgets. Even though Lambert may be able to sing, must he cover up his talent with layers of fluff? That is what I will call this: fluff, extreme fluff. It is this category that I fear Celtic Woman has fallen heavily into.

Fluff in of itself is not bad always. Sometimes a little bit of fluff can be useful or nice if used in small amounts. I consider Celtic Woman’s original concert to have a little fluff, but it was not distracting and still enabled the audience to focus on the raw (albiet lip-synched) talent of the singers and Mairead’s fiddle playing. Here is a sample of their early talent:

The singer Meav is in costume (in what fans have called “the mermaid dress”), is walking across the stage throughout the entire song, there are lights that cast a dark, mysterious air over the stage, and whatnot, but the song nonetheless is beautiful and Meav’s passion for it shines through so the audience knows that she is enjoying the singing. There is mild fluff here, but I find it almost negligable because it adds more to the song’s dark atmosphere and fits in perfectly. Now sample the next video, filmed two years later:

All six girls are in various costumes, you have fire in the background, and then several choreographed movements done by all six soloists and the choir members. They walk all over the stage, twirling their skirts and smiling the entire time. Granted, this performance is different because it was filmed outside so you cannot use the lights, but I found their Christmas performance (filmed once more at the Helix, where the original show had been filmed) was even more filled with fluff and this time was sickly sweet (hence, why the Christmas DVD is my least favorite). Here is a sample of the Christmas show:

All the girls are in bright-colored costumes (not very Christmas-themed) and are certainly lip-synching to a pre-recorded track because the voices sound identical to those of what comes out of the recording studio. Not only that, but they are constantly moving all over the stage. The rest of the DVD is similar, filled with choreographed movements and fake innocent smiles.

My biggest complaint with the “A New Journey” and “A Christmas Celebration” DVDs is the lack of passion on them. Watch the original TV performance then the other two. On the first one, the singers all seem nervous and stiff, but at least they were singing their hearts out. There may be some more recent performances not that way, but Meav’s fire is gone by “A New Journey” and the entire show she looks stiff and uncomfortable and Lisa shows similar symptoms as well. By “Christmas Celebration,” Lisa is beaming (though it might have been because she was pregnant at the time) while Meav looks exhausted and distracted with no passion to her voice or her movements. I believe the passion on the first show was gone by the second and third shows because of all the extra fluff, all the movements, forced smiles, and everything else. Instead of letting the girls do as they pleased, to add their own take to the songs they chose, they told them “ok, now move here when you sing this line, then skip across the stage as the song ends.” So instead of being individual singers who are free to perform as individuals and to sing as they please, to add passion in their own ways, they become puppets, stiff puppets with no individuality.

I fear I may have gone down a bit of a rabbit trail by critiquing Celtic Woman’s three shows, but it is related to the original topic of too much fluff ruining a show. In the Salt Lake City review about the show, it does not treat Celtic Woman well, however, it does not say that the girls are untalented. I cannot remember if it was this article or another one, but someone said Celtic Woman was sappy but had a lot of talent that was being covered up by lights and fluff. This is exactly the problem: the singers’ raw talent is being covered up by lights, costumes, movements, and fake smiles. The show, while it started off with a good idea back in 2004, has turned into something fake and commerical, lights and gadgets masking the girls’ talents and making them look more like paid puppets instead of individual singers with individual talents and vocal ranges.

While I have only critiqued their DVD performances, their “live” shows on tour are much worse, in my opinion. Even though I have only watched one live show and I was in the way back, I could still tell that it was worse. The lights and choreographed movements were distracting, and just it was one mess. If the fluff had been removed from the show, I would have enjoyed it a lot more, even though I still did not like the song choices, but that is a different issue. If Celtic Woman had stuck to its original recipe of limited fluff and focused more on the singers’ excellent raw talents, then the show would be very different. Different but better, in my opinion.

Needless to say, despite this review that would be considered harsh by fans, I still enjoy Celtic Woman… as a band, not as a show. I enjoy their music, particularly from the performers’ solo CDs and from their first CD and DVD. It is on these CDs that their raw talent and their passion shine through without all the glam, and it is beautiful and enjoyable that way.

Monday, May 18, 2009


Welcome to my new blog. The purpose of this blog is to keep up with my family and friends while I'm away in Houston, Texas over the summer and also for my European trip in September and October later this year. This blog will consist of my musical rants (usually they will be about Irish musicians; you have been forewarned... haha), possibly my novel updates, or just interesting events in my life as they happen. I guess it'll all depend upon whatever mood I'm in and what I feel like writing about.