Monday, November 30, 2009

Music Monday: Hedwig and the Angry Inch

One of my favorite albums is the soundtrack from the movie Hedwig and the Angry Inch, which is based on the musical of the same name. Ranging from hard rock to sugar pop, each song tells a piece of Hedwig's story.

Hedwig began as Hansel, an East German teenager who fell in love with a U.S. soldier. But in order for Luther and Hansel to marry and escape communist East Germany, Hansel had to have a sex-change operation and take his mother's name, Hedwig. The operation is botched, leaving Hedwig with a scarred, dysfunctional one-inch mound of flesh -- the "angry inch" of the title. Hedwig and Luther move to the U.S., but on their one-year anniversary Luther leaves Hedwig for a man.

Hedwig forms a band comprised of fellow Army wives and performs at VA halls, before meeting angsty teenager Tommy. Hedwig falls in love with Tommy, but he leaves her to become a popular rock star, stealing songs written by Hedwig, and failing to give her credit for songs they co-wrote. Angered by the betrayal, Hedwig forms a new band, The Angry Inch, and follows Tommy on tour, with Hedwig and the Angry Inch performing at restaurants and coffee shops and trying to garner media attention.

The clip below is of the song "Wig in a Box." Before leaving her, Luther often gave Hedwig wigs of different styles, which she would use to dress up and act out different characters. For that period of time, she can be anyone she wants to be -- instead of being Hedwig.

The clip below is of my favorite song from the movie, "The Origin of Love." The song is a take on Aristophanes' speech at the Plato Symposium, a satirical explanation for the three sexual orientations (heterosexual, gay, lesbian).

The song tells a tale of early humans who were once two-faced, four-armed, four-legged creatures. Some were two men together, some two women, and some were a man and woman together. After angering the gods, Zeus cut humans in half, separating the two beings. Humans were then filled with the desire to seek out their other halves -- their soulmates, if you will. When the two halves try to fit themselves back together, they're making love.

With interesting animation interspersed with shots of Hedwig and the band, the song has emotion and energy behind it that makes for compelling music.

Have you seen Hedwig and the Angry Inch? Are there any movie soundtracks you enjoy listening to?

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Review: Breakfast in Bed by Robin Kaye

My review of the latest in Robin Kaye's Domestic Gods series is up over at AAR. Overall I had an enjoyable time with Breakfast in Bed -- despite a couple of issues -- and will check out the first two books in the series. I actually have Too Hot to Handle on my TBR shelf, I just haven't gotten around to it yet. Click here to read my full review.

Disclosure: This was a free ARC I received as an AAR reviewer.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Music Monday: Songs That Make Me Dance

Last week I was digging through my CD collection looking for something to clean the house to, when I came upon the forgotten CD of one of my favorite dance tunes. Since cleaning requires energy, I need music that energizes me -- which means songs that make me want to move.  When one of my "dancing songs" comes on the radio, it doesn't matter if I'm at home or in my car, you can bet I'm shaking my groove thang.

So that got me thinking about which songs make up the Top 5 Songs That Make Katie Dance, and I came up with a list. I was a bit surprised to discover that the most recent song on my list is from 1989, and the oldest is a full 50 years older at 1939. It's not that there haven't been songs released in the last 20 years that make me wanna dance (Single Ladies, anyone?), it's just that I've heard them so much they've lost their oomph. Additionally, three of the songs on my list have nostalgic memories associated with them -- either from a favorite movie or favorite activity.

I'm sure that as soon as I publish this post, I'll think of another song to add, but that's the problem with making lists. So, without further ado -- and before I change my mind -- here's my as-of-right-now Top 5 Songs That Make Me Dance:

(The song title hyperlinks will take you to YouTube. The other links will take you...other places.)

#5 Pour Some Sugar On Me by Def Leppard (1987)
Even though it's become the clichéd anthem of the MTV Spring Break crowd -- and the karaoke bar scene -- every time I hear this song I crank up the volume and start my dirty stripper grind moves. Yeah, yeah. Keep laughing.

#4 Move This by Technotronic (1989)
Way back when I was in high school, my sisters and I attended a dance school. During our freestyling and warm-ups, the instructor would play this song to get us all moving. To this day, whenever I hear this song I've just gotta "shake that body."

#3 Don't Leave Me This Way by Thelma Houston (1976)
I have no idea how this song first came on my radar; I just know that it's my all-time favorite from the disco era. When this song plays, I turn into a singing, dancing fool. Which is rather unfortunate for anyone in the vicinity, as I am pathetically tone-deaf. At least I can dance. I think.

#2 In the Mood by the Glenn Miller Orchestra (1939)
My love affair with this song began with one of the greatest movies of all time: Cannery Row starring Nick Nolte and Debra Winger. Based on two of John Steinbeck's novels, Cannery Row and Sweet Thursday, the film features the romance between marine biologist Doc and prostitute Suzy. One of the best scenes of the film is when Doc and Suzy dance to "In the Mood." As narrator John Huston so aptly describes, "It never occurred to them that maybe they weren't any good."

#1 Twist and Shout by The Beatles (1964)
What is there to say? I think this clip from the iconic Ferris Bueller's Day Off speaks for itself.

So come on, tell me: What songs just make you wanna get up and dance? It's okay, you can admit them.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Pinups and Totes and Aprons, Oh My!

I just finished a bit of online shopping indulgence, and seeing as how this weekend I have no one else to show off my purchases to, I'm going to show them off to BlogLand. Not that any of you actually care, but for the moment I'm going to pretend you do.

Since I always seem to be carrying an armful of books wherever I go, I decided I needed a tote bag to make things easier. I checked out the local big box stores, but nothing captured my interest. So I went online to Etsy. That's where I stumbled upon My Great Gifts.

I have quite a thing for vintage and vintage-inspired clothing and accessories, so I was all excited to find this cute pinup tote bag:

And that's not all I found: My Great Gifts also makes vintage-inspired aprons! Of course, with the holidays coming up -- and my mind filling with images of me cooking Thanksgiving pecan pie while decked out in a cute apron -- I totally rationalized my purchase. I took a while to decide between these two:

Although I love the 1940s style of aprons (the one on the right), it was the cherry print, polka-dots, and red ruffle trim that eventually sold me on the bib-style one.

I fully plan to bring the apron to Mom's for Thanksgiving kitchen duty. About half the women in attendance will likely mock me for being so outdated as to wear an apron, *coughmysisterscough*, and the other half will fawn over my très cute kitchen attire.

So, where do you stand: Are aprons outdated or hip?

P.S. After I purchased my cherry print apron, I discovered Boojiboo's shop. I may need to increase my apron-buying budget. Seriously.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Eeny, Meeny, Miny, Mo

Last year, I read every single book I checked out from the library. Every single one. This year, I'm lucky if I have the time to read any of them before the 3 week loan period is up. The problem is that I'm still checking out the same number of books, I'm just far busier now than I was a year ago.

Right this very minute I have seven books checked out from the library, all of which I want to read, but with a stack of review books and all of the books I own sitting in my TBR pile, the reality is that I'll probably only read one or two of these before I have to return them. (Most I can't renew because there's a waiting list.) So I need some help in choosing which of these seven books I should make the biggest effort for.

"A comedy of manners set in Victorian London: full of werewolves, vampires, dirigibles, and tea-drinking." I normally avoid paranormals, but the completely awesome cover of Gail Carriger's Soulless hooked me. Well, that and all the good reviews I read. When Blythe, who like me normally avoids vampires like the plague, told me that she really enjoyed this book, I thought that it might just be worth breaking my vampire ban for.

I heard about His Secret Agenda by Beth Andrews over on Wendy's blog, and it interested me for pretty much one reason only: the heroine is a former lawyer turned bar owner. This is so totally up my alley that I didn't even read the back cover blurb before borrowing it. Apparently the hero is some kind of undercover agent and he thinks the heroine is hiding something, which apparently, she is. Whatever. The heroine owns a bar. 'Nuff said.

Dirty by Megan Hart was also recommended by Wendy. I read Tempted by Hart a couple of weeks ago, and it was a nice change of pace from all the romances I've been reading. Wendy described the plot of Dirty as "a self-destructive heroine who wields sex like a weapon meets her match in the hero, a man determined to love her. Whether she wants him to or not...." Sounds great. Now, if only I can find the time to read it.

Stolen Heat by Elisabeth Naughton attracted my attention when fellow AAR reviewer Emma gave it a great review. I love Adventure Romances, plus my first few years of college were spent as an anthropology major, so an action-adventure romance featuring an Egyptologist heroine just screamed my name. I know this is part of a series, but I'm hoping it stands alone well.

I've read exactly one Mary Kay Andrews book before -- Savannah Blues -- and while I enjoyed it, I didn't love it. I'm not sure what prompted me to check out The Fixer Upper, other than seeing it on several people's Eagerly Awaiting lists. Of all the books on this list, this is the least likely to get read. But if I hear a great recommendation, maybe I'll bump it up on the priority scale.

I borrowed Never Love a Lawman by Jo Goodman because I've never read a Western (romance, that is), and I heard many good things about this one. Although it features a will-stipulation plot, I'm still interested. Who knows, maybe the author can sell it. Also, the hero is a sheriff named Wyatt, so that's got to be good, right?

Last, but not least, is Bad Moon Rising by Katherine Sutcliffe. This book also made Wendy's Top 16 list, which is what brought it to my attention. A romantic suspense set in New Orleans (+), featuring a disgraced recovering alcoholic hero (++), and a heroine who's a former prostitute (+++). How can I not read this book? It's got my name written all over it. At this point, this is the book that's leading the pack for my attention.

So tell me: Any books on this list that I absolutely, positively must make sure I read? Any I should just forget about, or save for another time?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The First Person Narrative Problem

I've known for a while now that I don't like first person narratives, I was just having trouble accepting it. Logically I can find no reason not to like them, so I tried to force my enjoyment. I thought if I just made myself read some FPNs, I'd get over my issue and would have even more books to love. So I gave it a go, bit back the inevitable groan upon discovering a book was an FPN, and put up a valiant fight.

I lost.

So in an effort to determine exactly what my dislike is stemming from, I've been pondering the issue of late. And, by golly, I think I've got it figured out.

This all came to a head recently when I happened to read three FPNs in a row. In the past, my FPN reads had big gaps between them filled with bunches of third person novels, so I'd never before noticed differences between my FPN reading experiences. It wasn't until I read these three stories back-to-back that I realized it wasn't as simple as disliking the FPN style across the board. In fact, I've discovered that I actually do enjoy FPNs depending on certain factors.

Tense: Present vs. Past
For me at least, present tense has a sense of immediacy to it -- this is happening right now -- whereas past tense reads more like storytelling -- this has all happened already, and the narrator is telling you the story. Logic tells me that I should enjoy present tense more because the narrative style should make for more compelling reading. But logic fails me in this case: I just don't like present tense. I prefer the storytelling feeling I get with past tense, and more often than not, present tense just irritates the hell out of me. I can't really explain it; I just don't like it.

Genre: Romance vs. Everything Else
But tense isn't the only problem I have with FPNs. A lot of it boils down to which genre the book is in. As I've been pondering my apparent dislike of all books first person, I realized that there are a number of books that I've really liked that are FPNs. Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum series, Helen Fielding's Bridget Jones's Diary, and Megan Hart's Tempted are just a few of the books written in FPN (past tense) that I've really enjoyed. And they all have one thing in common: they're not romances.

Thinking back over the FPNs I've read, I realized that when I'm faced with an FPN in a genre other than romance, I don't care about the narrative style. It's only when it comes to romances that my dislike for FPN rears its ugly head. I finally recognized that my preference is all tied up in whose story is being told. For me, a romance is always the story of two people, and I want to know what's going on in both of their heads. I get enough of having just one person's POV (mine) in real life romance, so fiction romances provide a gratifying opportunity to know what both the main characters are thinking and feeling. I love that. When it comes to mysteries, women's fiction, or any other genre for that matter, I view it as one person's story, so FPN works for me.

Me: Present Me vs. Past Me
What about those few FPN present tense romances that I've read and enjoyed? What about Dancing Shoes and Honky-Tonk Blues by LuAnn McLane? Or Just One of the Guys by Kristan Higgins? I'll be honest: I liked them, but I didn't like them enough for it to make an impact on my dislike of the narrative style. I read them at a time when I was so hungry for romances of any kind that I was eating up any and every romance I could get my hands on. But I've yet to read another Kristan Higgins, even though so many people rave about her, and every time I pick up a LuAnn McLane my reading experience includes an internal battle over the narrative style.

Nowadays I have a monstrous TBR pile that continues to grow every week, and I also have less free time for reading. So basically I've become pickier about what I choose to spend that time reading. When I say "pickier" I don't mean to imply that FPN romances aren't as "good" as third-person romances. What I'm saying is that there are so many romances out there to choose from, and so little time with which to read them all, that I'm done trying to force myself to enjoy a narrative style that just doesn't work for me.

The positive side of all this is that I believe I've finally made peace with my dislike of the first person narrative style: I'm giving myself permission to not read them. I also think my future reading experiences will be all the more enjoyable for having a better understanding of when FPN can work for me. Does this mean I'll never again pick up a first person romance or first person narrative in the present tense? Not at all. (Although it remains unlikely.) It just means I'll stop forcing myself and let it come naturally.

What about you? Do you have a preference for first person or third person stories? Does past or present tense make a difference to you? Does genre impact your preference? Have your preferences changed over time?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

2009 Holiday Reading Challenge

Yeah, I'm a sucker. And a joiner. And maybe a bit of an overachiever. This is the second reading challenge I've signed up for this week. I heard about this holiday reading challenge via Anna at Good Gone Girl, and I'm pretty excited about it. I try to read  holiday books exclusively from the day after Thanksgiving through New Year's. This year I'll have to throw in some non-holiday books that I'm reviewing for AAR, but I'm still planning on making it a Big Freaking Holiday Extravaganza.

The challenge starts November 20th and ends December 31st. I decided to really go all out and commit to a minimum of 5 books for this reading challenge. The nominees are:

A Very Merry Christmas* by Foster, Maynard, and Bruce
Christmas Knight* by Carin Rafferty
A Blazing Little Christmas by D'Alessandro, Rock, and O'Reilly
A Snowball's Chance by Nikki Rivers 
A Christmas Carol by Kathleen O'Reilly
Home for the Holidays by Sarah Mayberry
To All A Goodnight by Kauffman, Shalvis, and Dimon
Kissing Santa Claus by Kauffman, Shalvis, and Dimon
When He Was Bad* by Jane Sullivan
"Turning Up the Heat"* by Susan Donovan
"Nutcracker Sweet"* by Nancy Warren
High Heels and Holidays by Kasey Michaels
Titles marked with an asterisk (*) are re-reads.

Last year a list this size wouldn't have even made me blink, but this year I've got a lot more on my plate and a lot less reading time. But I'm sure I can read at least 5 of these suckers by New Year's Eve. 

To learn more about the reading challenge, check out Nely's post at All About {n}.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Music Monday: Cowboy Casanova

Carrie Underwood's "Cowboy Casanova" is the ultra-catchy tune that's currently topping Country Music's Most Overplayed Songs Chart, but it's one that I'm not tired of. Yet. At some point in the near future, I'll hit saturation level and it'll make my ears bleed, but for now I'm happy to get my thrice-hourly fix.

The first time I heard Cowboy Casanova it was like Cold-Hearted Snake déjà vu. Anybody else experience that? Anybody else even remember Cold-Hearted Snake? Also, which currently overplayed songs are you not yet tired of, or have never tired of?

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Terry Pratchett 2010 Reading Challenge

I've decided to join Marg's Terry Pratchett 2010 Reading Challenge. This makes for a significant departure from my normal choice of reading material, which is mainly romance. So why am I doing this?
  1. I've never joined a reading challenge before, and am eager for attention so I thought I'd give it a go.
  2. Several of my favorite authors list themselves as Terry Pratchett fans, so now I can suck up to them I figure I'll enjoy the books too.
  3. I cave under peer pressure. I love the chance to discuss books with other readers.
  4. I want to show off the cool blog badge. It's always good to expand one's reading horizons.
At this point I'm only committing at the "Cashier at Ankh-Morpork Mint" level because I've never read Pratchett before and I may very well hate his books. We'll see. Since I'm a stickler for reading series in order, I'll be starting with The Colour of Magic, the first book in the Discworld series.

For more on the reading challenge, check out Marg's post over at Reading Adventures.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Review: Desert Heat by J.A. Jance

Title: Desert Heat
Author: J.A. Jance
Genre: Mystery (Contemporary)
Published: 1993
Sensuality: Subtle
Setting: Arizona
Series: Joanna Brady #1
Disclosure: Borrowed from Library

I've never read a J.A. Jance novel before, but I've been seeing her books around more and more, so I decided to give her a try. A review of her website led me to Desert Heat, the first book in her Joanna Brady series. The back cover synopsis is of a widow investigating her husband's death, and risking life and limb to track down the killer. That's not really how the story goes down, but I was still kept fairly entertained.

Andy Brady is a Deputy Sheriff with the Cochise County Sheriff's Department in rural Brisbee, Arizona, and is running for sheriff's office. When he doesn't come home the night of their 10th anniversary, Joanna senses trouble and goes searching for him. She finds him on the side of the road, dying from a gunshot wound to the stomach. She gets help and Andy is airlifted to the hospital in Tucson.

After going through surgery, it looks like Andy may recover, but there's a possibility of paralysis. Joanna holds a vigil at the hospital, sitting with him for as long as the staff will allow. Unfortunately, the killer learns that Andy isn't dead, comes to the hospital to finish the job, and is successful in killing Andy.

Complicating matters is that the Sheriff's Department is investigating Andy's death as a suicide, and the DEA is claiming that he was involved in the illegal drug trade though Cochise County. Joanna is outraged by these claims, but is having trouble getting anyone to listen to her. She decides that she is going to prove that Andy was murdered and restore his good name.

Essentially this book was a setup for the rest of the series. Probably the first third of the novel involves discovering Andy's body and Joanna's vigil at the hospital. Next we move on to her planning his funeral, and the aftermath that she and their daughter have to deal with. It's not until the very end that the real action takes place.

The other problem I had was that Joanna doesn't ever do any investigating. She talks a lot about proving her husband was murdered, but doesn't actually do anything about it. Rather, the whole case is solved based on the actions of a secondary character, and Joanna is given all the credit in the end.

I really would have preferred this book to be more stand-alone than just the setup for the rest of the series. At the end of the book there are still unanswered questions surrounding Andy's death and his actions prior to his death. These issues should have been resolved for the reader, but the focus seemed to be on setting it up for Joanna to run for sheriff in the next book. This big push for her to run didn't make sense to me. She's only 28 years old, doesn't have any background in law enforcement or the military, and really the only thing she did to solve her husband's case was to insist he didn't commit suicide.

Despite my problems with the plot, the story moved along at a fairly decent clip, and I was never bored. While the identity of the killer is never in question--the reader knows from page one--there was a good amount of suspense involving the aforementioned secondary character. It was this secondary character's story that I found the most interesting, and it was probably the main reason I kept reading. Add in some interesting tidbits about the case that come to light throughout the story, and I was kept fairly entertained.

In the end though, I expect the protagonists of mystery series to, you know, actually solve the mystery instead of whining about it while others do it for them. I know, I'm strange that way. I especially can't buy into the questionable logic that's supposed to make Joanna a qualified candidate for sheriff, either. Which is disappointing because I was really looking forward to a good mystery series with a female sheriff protagonist. So, overall, while the book was fairly enjoyable, the issues I had prevent me from recommending it, and will likely prevent me from reading more of this series.

Grade: C+

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Review: Power Play by Nancy Warren

My review of Power Play by Nancy Warren is up today over at AAR. I really enjoyed Warren's take on the Accidentally Double-Booked Hotel Room plot, and her hero Jonah is just yummy. In her last couple of Blazes, her heroes have been more on the beta side, and I'm really liking it. Jonah has this laid-back confidence about him that's so much more sexy, IMHO, than the domineering alphas the genre is overripe with. Click here to read my full review.

Disclosure: I purchased this book myself.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Computer Shopping Sucks

It's official: I'm getting a new laptop. There've been months of warning signs that my trusty steed would be crapping out on me soon, and I'm finally listening -- being forced to listen, actually. So now I have to go computer shopping, which I sort of hate.

It's a sort-of-hate because while I get all excited about new technology, reality quickly bursts my giddiness bubble. First there's the spending a hefty chunk of change aspect. Then I think about having to transfer all of my files, and experience tells me not all of them will survive the transition -- such as my DRM'd music library purchased way back in the day and given one license for exactly one computer. Or the various software programs that either 1) CDs don't exist for and I probably won't be able to find on the Net, or 2) won't be compatible with a new operating system.

I think about the utter pain in the ass it is to reload all of my software programs onto a new system. To have to un-register my old laptop and register my new laptop for my library's e-borrowing program, Audible, Sony Reader, Adobe Digital Editions, etc. etc. etc. I think about my fantastic printer/scanner/fax machine, which most likely won't be compatible with a new OS. I think about the fact that I'll probably have to shell out gads of money for a whole new Microsoft Office suite, because there's only so long one can continue on Office 2000. Which of course makes me think about how much I loathe the Office 2007 suite.

In short: I hate this. But I have to do it.

So now I'm in the process of narrowing down the choices for exactly which new laptop I'll be purchasing. Decisions, decisions. Probably none of you give two hoots about this, but writing it all down helps me figure out what I'm doing. Plus, I could use any advice you techies out there have for me.

Mac vs. PC
I hear lots of great things about Macs, but as they don't exist in remotely the same universe as me and my budget, I'll be sticking with PCs.

Operating System
I didn't fall for the crap that is Windows Vista back when it was released, and I'm sure as hell not falling for it now. So it looks like I'll be going with Windows 7, as XP just won't continue to be supported indefinitely.

Now we get into the nitty-gritty. Do I go with a Pentium Dual Core, or shell out the extra cash for a Core 2 Duo? A year from now will I curse myself  for being too cheap, or, as a non-gamer, will I even be able to tell that the Core 2 is a faster processor? Will I end up overclocking my system? I'm still up in the air on this one.

Do I stick with Dell, or go with an HP or Toshiba or something else entirely? Is there really any difference when they're all using the same major components? For me, it will probably come down to price and familiarity. I'm not likely to go with an unknown brand just because it's cheaper. I've been burned too many times on that in the past.

Hard Drive & Memory
Is bigger always better? For hard drive, 250GB or 320GB or 500GB? For memory, 3GB or 4GB? Is it worth the cash when I haven't even fully loaded my current 40GB hard drive?

I have a list of various other must-haves -- DVD/CD burner, wireless networking card, etc. -- but I pretty much know what I want with those and they aren't the vitally important aspects.

So, any advice for me? Do you dislike setting up a new computer as much as me, or does the giddiness factor outweigh the pain-in-the-assedness of it all? Any computer horror stories you'd like to share? And just how long will it be until I'm happy with my new system and have purged the transition memories from my brain?

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

A Supernatural Addiction

I'm over at After Hours today blogging about my newfound Sam & Dean addiction. Am I just the last one to the party on this awesome TV show? I just watched all of Season 1 on DVD in about five days. Now I'm eagerly waiting to get my hands on Season Two.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Music Monday: Favorite Cover Songs

Last week Jane Granville blogged about her favorite versions of the song "Hallelujah." I'm not really familiar with any versions of that song, so I couldn't contribute, but her post did get me thinking about cover songs in general. While I can enjoy a cover song that stays fairly close to the original version (if I liked the original in the first place), the covers I'm really drawn to are the ones with very unique interpretations of the original. Often this involves moving it to a very different music genre, changing the tempo, changing the instruments, and so on.

So I sat down and compiled a list of my Top 5 Favorite Cover Songs to share with you for Music Monday -- and boy, did I make some tough decisions. Although I officially limited my list to the top 5 -- in honor of High Fidelity -- since two of the songs are versions of the same song, I decided to throw in an Honorable Mention as well. Some of these covers are well-known, while others not so much, but each takes a very unique and cross-genre approach to the original.

I've included MP3 clips for each pair/group of songs. If you click the Play button you'll hear 30 second samples of the songs discussed, starting with the original version of the song. (Note: The playlist will continue looping until you press Pause.)

So, without further ado, my Top 5 favorite cover songs in no particular order:

All Along the Watchtower

The Jimi Hendrix Experience Version
Original Artist: Bob Dylan
Album: John Wesley Harding
Released: 1967
Genre: Folk Rock
Cover Artist: Jimi Hendrix
Album: Electric Ladyland
Released: 1968
Genre: Psychedelic Rock
Probably the most recognized rendition of "All Along the Watchtower," the Hendrix version is celebrated as one of the best rock songs of all time. Hendrix turned Dylan's acoustic folk song into a psychedelic rock version which displays Hendrix's pioneering use of the electronic guitar effects he would become legend for. Dylan described his reaction to Hendrix's version this way: "It overwhelmed me, really. He had such talent, he could find things inside a song and vigorously develop them. He found things that other people wouldn't think of finding in there. He probably improved upon it by the spaces he was using. I took license with the song from his version, actually, and continue to do it to this day." (Read more at Wikipedia....)
The Dave Matthews Band Version
Cover Artist: Dave Matthews Band
Album: Recently
Released: 1994
Genre: Jazz Rock
"All Along the Watchtower" is a staple of Dave Matthews Band live concerts, and has been performed live by them more than 600 times. They've never released a studio version of the song. The DMB version maintains the original's chord structure, but is very different in style. The song starts out slow with just acoustic guitar and vocals, with the other band members joining the song at different points, gradually picking up the intensity and speed. The DMB version also features extended solos by different band members, including an incredible saxophone solo. (Read more at Wikipedia....)

Smooth Criminal
Original Artist: Michael Jackson
Album: Bad
Released: 1987
Genre: Pop
Cover Artist: Alien Ant Farm
Album: ANThology
Released: 2001
Genre: Alternative Rock
Featuring heavy guitar riffs and a hard, driving beat, Alien Ant Farm's alt rock cover of Jackson's pop song soared up the music charts when it was released in 2001. The band had started off playing sections of the song during their gig warm-ups, but would often receive requests from audience members to play the entire song, inspiring them to release a full cover version. (Read more at Wikipedia....)

The Devil Went Down to Georgia Scunthorpe
Original Artist: Charlie Daniels Band
Album: Million Mile Reflections
Released: 1979
Genre: Country
Cover Artist: Toy Dolls
Album: One More Megabyte
Released: 1997
Genre: Punk Rock
Originally the story of a young fiddle player from Georgia who's challenged to a match by the devil, British punk band the Toy Dolls made Johnny a guitar player from Scunthorpe in their little-known cover of this country music classic. (Read more at Wikipedia....)

Tainted Love
Original Artist: Gloria Jones
Released: 1964
Genre: Soul
Cover Artist: Soft Cell
Album: Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret
Released: 1981
Genre: Synthpop
"The vocal-and-synth duo Soft Cell had become aware of the song through its status as a Northern Soul hit, and recorded a drastically different arrangement of "Tainted Love" in 1981. Produced by Mike Thorne, the Soft Cell track featured a slower tempo than Jones' version, and instrumentally relied on synthesizers and rhythm machines rather than the guitars, bass, drums and horns of the original." The Soft Cell rendition rapidly climbed the UK charts, but scaled the US charts the following year much more slowly. Eventually though, it reached #8 and spent 43 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100. (Read more at Wikipedia....)

Honorable Mention: Sweet Dreams
Original Artist: Eurythmics
Album: Sweet Dreams
Released: 1983
Genre: New Wave
Cover Artist: Marilyn Manson
Album: Smells Like Children
Released: 1995
Genre: Industrial Metal
Marilyn Manson's slow, harsh industrial metal cover of the classic Eurythmics song helped lauched the band into the mainstream. Manson's version added the lyrics "I wanna use you and abuse you/I wanna know what's inside you," and "I'm gonna use you and abuse you/I'm gonna know what's inside you," to the original Eurythmics version. (Read more at Wikipedia....)


So what are your favorite cover songs? Do you prefer covers that stay close to the original version, or do you prefer covers that re-interpret the original in a unique way? How do you feel about any of the songs mentioned? If you love the original song, do you find it difficult to enjoy a cover that's very different?

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Top 10 Favorite Comfort Reads

At All About Romance the pollsters are back with this month's theme poll: Favorite Hanky, Comfort, and Holiday Reads. I knew I would participate in the poll, but I'm a total procrastinator when it comes to actually sitting down and ranking my favorite books, so I probably wouldn't have bothered to prepare my ballot until the last minute -- which is November 15th, by the way. Then I read Janga's post about her favorite comfort reads, and I was inspired to not only come up with my list early, but also to explore just why I find certain books more comforting than others.

For me a favorite book is not necessarily a comfort read, although all my comfort reads are favorite books. Comfort reads are the books I go to when I need to feel uplifted, when I need to laugh, and when I need to smile. All three are a requirement. They're the books that, just by picking them up, I'm infused with positive feeling. When I begin to read, I feel a sense of peace wash over me -- all is right with my world when I'm in the world of this book. They're the books that, when I close the book after the last page, I'm filled with optimism, hope, and an overall sense of goodness. I don't know that I can fully describe the feeling I get from a comfort read, I just know that it's not the same feeling I get from a really good book. It's different somehow.

So, without further ado, here are my (as of right now) Top 10 Favorite Comfort Reads, in no particular order. (Which really means that I just haven't gotten around to ranking them yet.)

Bet Me by Jennifer Crusie comes in as a very close second behind Welcome to Temptation as my all-time favorite romance, but is the only one of the two to make this Top 10 list. Min Dobbs is one of my favorite romance heroines, in all her bitter, straight-forward, let's-cut-the-crap glory. The dialogue sparkles; the chemistry is outstanding. There's that scene in the park when Cal feeds Min a donut. Ho-ly smokes. Add in a fabulous cast of secondary characters and some mouth-watering food, and I'm a goner every time. I also suffer from Chicken Marsala cravings every damn time I read this book -- cravings which I always give in to.

Tall Tales and Wedding Veils by Jane Graves is similar to Bet Me in that it's also the story of a curvy plain-Jane who falls in love with one gorgeous hunk of a man. But from there the plots diverge. Tall Tales also features one of my favorite romance heroines in the form of Heather Montgomery. After I read a slew of romances featuring not-so-bright women, I often turn back to Tall Tales for a dose of Heather. She's smart, damn capable, and is killer when she's in crisis mode. In other words: she rocks. Of course I wouldn't love the book so much if I didn't also love hero Tony McCaffrey -- a man who at first glance is nothing more than a carefree playboy, but deep-down has a vulnerability and sweetness about him that melts your heart.

Anyone But You is the second of four Jennifer Crusie books to make this list, but surprisingly, while I love it, it's actually fairly far down on my overall Crusie ranking scale. For some reason though, it's an absolute favorite comfort read. Maybe it's the dialogue. Maybe it's the Hero in Pursuit aspect. Maybe it's the scenes between Nina and Alex when they're watching movies and are both too shy to make a move on the other. I don't really know. I just know that I laugh, I smile, and I just feel good every time I read this book.

The Trouble with Valentine's Day is one of two Rachel Gibson books to make this Top 10 list, but it's not my overall favorite Gibson book -- that honor belongs to Tangled Up In You. But Tangled isn't in my Top 10 comfort reads, and I think it's because of the heavy subject matter. Valentine's, on the other hand, is a Favorite Funny and has just a touch of that heavy emotional stuff. Both Kate and Rob have had to deal with some crap -- of their own making in both cases -- and their experiences have left them both gun-shy when it comes to trusting other people. But they find redemption in each other; learning to forgive themselves, learning to trust again, and ultimately find true love. Mostly though, this book just makes me laugh.

Getting Rid of Bradley and Manhunting are my two favorite category romances by Jennifer Crusie, and they're also both great comfort reads. In Bradley you have an Opposites Attract romance mixed with a touch of romantic suspense, and in Manhunting, Crusie delivers a funny friends-to-lovers story that makes me smile from start to finish. Both feature Crusie's trademark wit and charm, which I love falling back into during my re-reads.

Continuing with the category romance love is When He Was Bad by Jane Sullivan (aka Jane Graves). Bad is both a favorite comfort read and also a favorite holiday read, as it's set during the Christmas and New Year's season. This is another Opposites Attract story, featuring bad boy shock-jock Nick and good-girl pyschologist Sara. I can't quite explain why I love this book so much. I suspect one reason is the excitement of the secret affair these two carry on. But I also love that I'm able to totally buy into Nick being a reformed bad boy by the end, because he's mentally already started down that path before Sara even enters the picture. He would have made it there eventually; she just provides that extra incentive to do it faster. So this is one of those rare Good Girl/Bad Boy romances that I'm able to fully believe in at the end.

See Jane Score by Rachel Gibson. Perhaps my all-time favorite sports romance -- and man, do I love my sports romances -- Jane features a reporter determined to make her mark on the journalism scene while battling against sexism, and a bad boy hockey player who just makes you want to say "Mmmm." It's also a Best Enemies plot, which I'm a total sucker for, and I just love the feeling of authenticity that Gibson brings to her heroes. Luc is damn sexy, but he can also be crude and arrogant and obnoxious. But damn, he's sexy. And Jane is no wallflower, even though she dresses like one. She's a woman who knows herself, and is comfortable with who she is. Plus, she kicks ass at darts. Oh, and did I mention that Luc is damn sexy?

The Matchmaker's Mistake by Jane Sullivan (aka Jane Graves) was released as part of the now-defunct Harlequin Duets line. I've read the other story in the book, but it's Matchmaker's that I keep coming back to. Shy hero Mark is determined to win the woman of his dreams, but she won't give him the time of day. Enter gregarious bartender Liz, who takes pity on Mark and gives him a makeover sure to catch Dream Woman's attention. What she doesn't expect is to start falling for Mark. I just love stories like this. I tend to be a sucker for makeover type stories anyway, but I especially love those rare romances where the shy plain-John is getting the makeover instead of the other way around.

The last entry on my list is a comfort read just for the sheer nostalgia factor, if nothing else. I first read A Dangerous Game by Candace Schuler way back in junior high, and my adolescent self just absolutely loved it. Dangerous features a tough-as-nails ex-Marine who's a bit sick and tired of all the "I'm woman, hear me roar" attitude coming from modern career women. He meets his match in private investigator Natalie -- one of those pesky "hear me roar" feminists who's a bit sick and tired of all the alpha male chest-thumping she encounters in her line of work. This is definitely a comfort read for me, but I really don't know how much of my love is based on the actual story, and how much of it is being swamped with nostalgic memories over one of my first favorite romances. Either way, Dangerous will be staying on my keeper shelf for another 18 years at least.

So that wraps up my Top 10 Comfort Reads list. What books make your list? Feel free to share your favorites, along with what kinds of books make good comfort reads for you. I'll just sit back and enjoy my chicken marsala.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Libraries in the Digital Age

Today I'm blogging over at All About Romance about how libraries are adopting new technology and going virtual in this increasingly digital age. As part of my research I interviewed Digital Services Librarian Megan Wong, who provided much great insight into what she does and what her goals are. If you're interested in learning more, Megan has her own blog at The Digital Underground, where you'll find "tech talk from a digital librarian."

In the meantime, check out my post over at the AAR blog and let me know what you think about libraries in the digital age.