Thursday, July 20, 2017

Review: The Traitor's Kiss

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I received a free copy of this book through the Goodreads First Reads program. While I had originally hoped to be getting one with completed cover art - how could I not? It's gorgeous! - I unfortunately was met with a far more underwhelming gray ARC cover when I opened my package. Oh, well! It was still one of my more anticipated YA debuts of the year, so I was pretty excited to crack it open. 

While the end result was a lot more disappointing than I had anticipated, I'm still glad I gave this book a chance. Here's why!

The Traitor's Kiss, by debut author Erin Beaty, follows Sage Fowler, the rebellious ward of a prominent family. Bound by duty, they keep her on as a tutor, only to submit her to be judged by a nearby matchmaker when she turns sixteen. After her interview goes awry, she's enlisted instead as the matchmaker's apprentice, serving as a ledger keeper and judge of character for her preening charges. As the country prepares for the Concordium - a gathering in the capital in which wealthy brides will be matched with their future spouses - the army prepares for war, as unseen enemy raiding parties from nearby Kimisar are spotted in the forests. When Sage's world collides with that of a charismatic army soldier, enlisted in protecting the valuable entourage from harm's way, she must keep her background a secret, in order to stay as invisible as possible. However, she's not the only one keeping secrets.

It sounds like a lot of fun, right? It was! At least for the first half of the novel. While there was some troublesome YA tropes that arose early that the fast-paced plot couldn't shake, I was enjoying the way the story was flowing.

One of the most notably different aspects of the novel from others in its genre was the significance of army movements and military strategy within the narrative of the novel. Its inclusion was so remarkable, that I felt persuaded to look up whether the author had participated in military service... and she had! Beaty has a Navy background, and is very effective in translating this kind of tactical description to paper, and I was on board.

Still, even while only halfway through the novel, it was hard to really sink into what I was reading, without ruminating on some of the accusations other Goodreads reviews had been leveling at the novel long before I'd even gotten the chance to crack open the cover. From accusations of racism, whitewashing, and even anti-feminist characters, there was a lot of ground to cover in the critical reading of a YA novel.

Here's what I found: 

  • While quite a few on Goodreads argue that it succumbs to the "dark skinned aggressor" trope, there are actually quite a few PoC within the main cast, including the primary love interest... it's just that the ways they're described are a little strange. Like, lots of references of how dark their skin/hair/eyes are, but not many mentions of any other notable aspects of their biological makeup. It did come off a bit as tokenism, but then again, there are plenty of YA novels that fulfill that generic qualification, too. However, the aggressors themselves are only partially fulfilling the cliche they're accused of: while the background army of antagonist characters are described as dark-skinned, the primary villain and his retinue are white. 
  • The idea of whitewashing - or deliberately stripping uniquely culturally-referential stories of their ethnic roots - can 100% be chalked up to a tragic marketing job. Here's the root of it: in the original marketing copy, they list the book as a "Mulan retelling." Naturally, anyone who hears this, then gets a white main character, will be justifiably upset, being that the story of Mulan is firmly enmeshed within the Chinese cultural canon. The problem is, anyone who reads more than 50 pages will immediately find that it's not that kind of story. Nor is it "for fans of Jane Austen," as the revised Goodreads blurb might suggest, or even a "Jane Eyre retelling," as it's apparently been seen elsewhere. Overall, the whole thing just screams of a lazy marketing job, and as the authors are rarely responsible for the promotional material, I can't fault the story for the sins of its PR team. 
  • The anti-feminist claim is a little trickier to handle, because of how obvious the purported "girl hate" was, as well. I think by this point, we're all a little tired of main characters making it so clear how they're "not like other girls," even though being like other girls isn't necessarily a bad thing at all, unless you write it that way. It sucks when you've created a cast of numerous female characters, and just coincidentally, not many of them manage to get along. And, of course, even our main character's beneficial qualities immediately fall to the wayside, once there's a hero involved. It's annoying that these are all such pervasive tropes of a genre that primarily caters to young women, and I don't think readers are wrong to ask that authors knock it off.

But even when you try to clear aside all of the controversy and enjoy the story for what it is, I still had some niggling doubts of my own, that were unfortunately exacerbated by a very disappointing third act, complete with its own insane handful of plot twists (Like, I'm talking Belzhar-levels of disappointment with those plot twists). And I feel vindicated by the fact that I'm clearly not the only one who thinks so: scroll through at least half of the reviews on Goodreads left by people who read the book, and you'll see that the majority agree that the book takes a significant plunge about halfway through. 

While it was a decent way to pass the time, and easy enough to overlook some of its more cringe-y conventions, I don't think I'll be recommending it to any of my friends or anything. It's probably the kind of book I would have liked a lot more back in middle school... but that was a decade ago. 

Final Verdict: Controversy has seemed to rob this book of a fighting debut author chance, but even with its fast pace, interesting world-building, and unique military focus, unfortunately, it's true downfall is a disappointing second half and overly-cliched main characters.



Have you ever been disappointed after judging a book by its cover? Do you look at Goodreads reviews before reading a novel? Let me know, in the comments below!

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Tastee-Reads: Year of Cozy, Milk Bar Life, and Endless Summer

Some of my favorite kinds of books to buy - and absolutely the hardest kind of purchase I make in book-buying - are Cookbooks. I love cooking, and I love the aesthetic uniformity and chef power that comes from carefully selecting a Cookbook from its shelves, so wouldn't you think my collection would be a little more expansive? But beyond the Jamie Oliver obsession that hit me like a freight train in middle school (and still shows no signs of slowing down), I actually don't have that many.

I know why, of course: they're so expensive! It's easy to throw a few bucks over the counter for a cheap, popular paperback, but cookbooks almost always run upwards of $20, even if they're on sale. And because they're so expensive, it's hard to justify the costs, especially when I've already got over 500+ recipes saved up on Pinterest that I want to try.

That's why every single time I take a trip to the library, you can bet that I'm selecting at least one new read from the Cooking section, whether its a new installment from a favorite chef, a collection of seasonal recipes to fit my surroundings, exploring a new kind of cuisine, or even just figuring out what the heck the deal is with the hottest new cooking trends (That being said, I will probably never check out a raw vegan cookbook ever again. Don't y'all eat anything fun?).

You've got a little hint of this fixation before, in the form of my review this past year for Voracious, from Cara Nicoletti. Recently, however, I've racked up a couple of cookbooks from the library that I've been incredibly tempted to go out and purchase for myself. Of course, I'm still on my book-buying-ban for this year, so I'll have to wait a little while to get my fix. But as for right now, I'm content to keep renewing these copies until the library kicks me out!


The Year of Cozy, Adrianna Adarme

Image result for the year of cozy goodreadsBased off of Adrianna Adarme's popular blog, A Cozy Kitchen, this book is a compendium of all kinds of DIY, from recipes to home crafts, to adventures you can take yourself. Arranged by season and month within the context of a yearly cycle, this cookbook-slash-DIY-guide encourages you to reach beyond the habits and routines of your daily life, to try something new, and most importantly, to do so with the company of people you love. From sourcing delicious seasonal ingredients for yourself, to taking the time to relax and take part in a quick craft, this book is both instructional and fun, filled with not just exciting but downright cute things to do. A really fun project would be to make it a personal challenge to do at least once a month... but with the collection of great recipes and more inside, I don't know if you'd be able to limit yourself to just one!




Milk Bar Life, Christina Tosi


I turned Tosi's "Greta" sugar cookies bars into a unicorn-colored daydream,
in an attempt to use up old sprinkles!
Culinary purists, you're not in Kansas anymore. An adventuresome eater's paradise awaits between the pages of this tome, courtesy of Momofuku Milk Bar's Christina Tosi. Including not one, but two different nacho recipes, and not one, but two different dessert recipes involving store-bought Ritz crackers, this kind of laid-back and accessible cookbook, with a reckless eater's edge, is something I'm totally a fan of just leafing through on a lazy afternoon, let alone trying out these recipes for myself. Tosi is such a notable New York food authority and visionary, I'm almost willing to overlook the mental struggle that is the Spaghetti-O and breakfast sausage sandwich.

I'm absolutely obsessed with getting my hands on this book's predecessor, Momofuku Milk Bar, which contains the recipes they use in the actual bakery, instead of behind the scenes in their daily lives, because like the rest of the country, I'm obsessed with their birthday cake (though, of course, there are cookies and cakes in this cookbook, too!). That being said, from aesthetic quality to zany recipes, this is one of my favorite library repeat checkouts. I've even made some of the food from the book myself!


Endless Summer Cookbook, Katie Lee

Image result for endless summer katie lee goodreadsMy favorite member of Food Network's The Kitchen and a recent obsession of mine, Katie Lee's airy homage to the sweetest season looks like something straight out of Instagram: sumptuous, colorful photography and hand-scrawled notes lend this cookbook some aesthetic credibility, while the low-ingredient, high-seasonal-payoff recipes themselves offer up a breezy, effortless vibe... perfect for those dog day afternoons. Her simple and fresh ingredients lists make the entire thing super affordable and easy, while the food itself ranges from Southern-inspired to classic summer fare, to inspiration taken from Lee's trips abroad, and even collegiate life! I'm tempted to try everything from her "Virginia-Style Hot Dogs," to her "BLT Ranch Burger," to almost everything in the Breakfast section, and I'm thrilled that I got the chance to renew this from the library before anyone else could get their hands on it before August.



What are some of your favorite cookbooks? Which of these books would you want to check out for yourself? Let me know, in the comments below!

Saturday, July 8, 2017

JUNE FAVES

I get it, okay? I get it. Summer is all too brief, and incredibly precious, so I can't keep mentioning how fast the months are going by, specifically when June seems to be the quickest one of the bunch so far this year. I know. Okay?

ButJunewasjustsoshort.

From watching my siblings finish up their last few days of school, to excitedly watching my friends graduate college, to winding down the month with back-to-back camping trips, tackling summer library challenges with my brother, and celebrating Seattle Pride - and my sister's new girlfriend! - this entire month has been a blast and a half.

Can you really blame me for taking a few days to wrap it all up like this?

But, as we have with every month, we've seen a lot of News. And we've seen a lot of Things. Here are some of my faves from June!



Of course, the collective Book Universe and outer offshoot populations of humanity celebrated the 20th Anniversary of Harry Potter this past month. In the midst of the think-piece and Buzzfeed quiz madness, all I was really struck by was a sense of extreme nostalgia, one I think my Dad - who read us the books as kids - felt a lot more than he let on.

If there's anything that got Book Universe talking more than the Harry Potter anniversary this month, it might just be John Green, who released the title for his upcoming YA book, Turtles All the Way Down. 

2017 has been a big year for looking back on the history of dystopian fiction, and this past June 27th was no different. The day marks the events of iconic short story "The Lottery," from equally iconic author Shirley Jackson, and the significance of the systematic cruelty present in that tale has not lessened over time.

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a fan favorite Austenian novel, must be in want of an Emmy-award-winning transmedia webseries. Happy 5th Anniversary to the Lizzie Bennet Diaries! Have you been following along with the rewatch on Instagram?

Ever get tired of those clickbait-y type articles that tell you about everything you're messing up, from shampooing your hair, to meditation? No? Well, this will make you happy: The Cut has compiled a list of everything women are supposedly doing wrong! 

And of course, the Tony Awards took place this past June, too! While I'm still a little steamed that Great Comet didn't win the accolades it deserved, it's hard to be mad when Ben Platt's just the cutest. A competitive year with some surprise winners, here's a great breakdown, courtesy of NPR, of the evening's events. 




Speaking of Dear Evan Hansen at the Tony's, the Dear Evan Hansen cast performance of "Waving Through a Window" rocked me so hard that I had downloaded it on iTunes the morning following the broadcast, and have been listening to it ever since.

I am an addict to self-help anything, but rarely does any of that information stick in a meaningful way. It's just so difficult to deliberately maximize your happiness... this video on "Ways to Maximize Misery," on the other hand, immediately finds its mark.

I've already spoken about my recent obsession with the podcast Into the Twilight, as well as my plans for reading through the series, starting this summer. Well, I can tell you this: not only am I finally through the first 13 episodes, but I also finished rereading Twilight, and have already passed it on to my brother! I'm so excited for this summer challenge to continue, and see what my other siblings have to say about it. (I, myself, will have a little more to say on the topic soon enough, too!)

I'm pretty sure I've said this before, but it's worth bringing up again: being a part of Bachelor Nation is not for the faint of heart. Not only am I fervently following Rachel's season of The Bachelorette, but I've recently become enamored with several sets of commentary on the subject. A standout: the Ellen Show Bachelor Recap webseries, ran by producers of the talk show, who are also Bach-superfans!

It honestly isn't summer if my family isn't deeply embroiled in the latest installment of Food Network Star. While we haven't selected an agreed-upon favorite to win this season, I'm a huge holdover fan of Jason's from his victory on Holiday Baking Championship.

I've got to say, my mom and I don't agree on a lot... but when we do, those obsessions roll hard. Case in point: a deep and fervent love of the alt-rock band, The Killers, which resurfaced once more upon the release of their new single this month. While the rest of the album won't drop until September, you can bet I'll be blasting "The Man" until then.

After that information, you'd probably find it difficult to guess what other quirks my mom and I have in common... and "a complete fascination with E!'s Hollywood Medium, Tyler Henry" would probably not be at the top of your list. The show is enthralling, emotionally moving, and way too incredible to describe briefly... so you'll have to wait for my review of Henry's book, coming to the blog soon!

I'm not a huge poetry person, but "I'll Call You (a poem)," from a fave bullet journaling YouTuber and Tumblr queen Cheyenne Barton, really struck a chord. Maybe it's Barton's recent relocation to a city I love, or the familiar feeling of infinite potential stuck within finite space, but it was just the kind of thing I needed to listen to on a June Gloom afternoon.


And because I'm a little late this month... here's one last thing that has been inspiring me recently.


What kind of a start is your summer off to? What sorts of News and Things have you been enjoying? Let me know, in the comments below!

Friday, June 30, 2017

How to Construct a Vacation TBR Pile You'll Actually Read


We're almost at the end of June, which means that Summer is well and truly underway. And chances are, between 4th of July fireworks and Labor Day barbecues, you're going to be getting out of town for a while... and you're probably trying to tackle a few good reads along the way!

I consider myself a particular expert on the traveling TBR pile. Whether it's our multiple-times-a-year excursions to Sunriver, OR, or even just a weekend getaway into one of the PNW's many glorious state parks, I'm pretty notorious for the extensive list of titles I choose to take with me. While it might take up a little extra room in my backpack, it's well worth the hassle, because I know that the better the selection of tomes I have with me, the better the likelihood that I enjoy as many of them as possible.

Here's my tried-and-true strategy for selecting the appropriate titles to take with me, no matter where I roam:

how many books should I bring? 

For me, that's no more than one per day I'm on vacation: not only is that the absolute most I'd be capable of reading anyways, but I'm likely not going to be able to read even that much. So, this offers me a realistic amount of book titles to pack, while also allowing room for options. 

why shouldn't I just pack regular vacation reads? 

As you shall see once we get into the bigger list below, I am an enormous advocate for packing a large variety of books, rather than strictly one genre (something I routinely see others get into trouble with, after only stuffing their travel totes with *beach reads*). Sure, you're here to relax, but last time I checked, reading itself is a means of relaxing. Why waste all that time on whatever Entertainment Weekly's touting at the moment, instead of getting some real quality time in with your whole bookshelf? 

size matters, too

My Spring Break 2017 Vacation Pile! I only got through three
out of eight, but having them all with me made it feel like home.
Beyond genre, this kind of diversification also applies to length and density of your reading material. Don't just pack the five heaviest tomes you've got, in the hopes that you'll emerge from the other side of your vacation with a brain practically pulsing with newfound knowledge. You're going to get burnt out by book #2, if you even make it that far! 

Instead, go for a wide range of sizes and reading levels. Classic read + fave genre + nonfiction = an always decent formula for packing diversely for a weekend's reading, or you can always just take a quick run through your local library and grab a new title from each of your favorite sections. Know which will take you longer and shorter amounts of time to read, and make sure to balance them. 

and don't forget alternative reading! 

Don't just stop at your typical book formats! Load up your iPhone with a podcast you enjoy, or an audiobook (or several), especially if you're traveling somewhere with a lot of room for hiking or leisurely walks. Stroll through your local Barnes and Noble magazine racks before you head to checkout, and make sure you pick up a publication you've never read before. There's nothing wrong with taking time out of your regular reading schedule for a little light editorial reading, too. This way, even if you end up getting burnt out or bored with your TBR - or even just too painfully sunburned to hold up a whole novel by yourself - you've got backup material to keep you busy. 


the book buffet : the very best kinds of vacation reads 

Once you've determined the number of books you want to bring, and you've already selected a few alternative reads to bring with you, it's time to get down to packing the actual books themselves. Bearing in mind the advice I've already given, here are the kinds of reads I'm most likely to stuff my own travel bag with:


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  • the Titan of Tomes. It's the massive novel I've been saving for a worthy occasion, something that's going to take a long time, and that I'd never have enough concentration to get through in the hustle and bustle of home, but will completely be worth it in the end. Last summer, this was Neil Gaiman's American Gods, and man, was it totally worth the wait! 
  • the Kind of Embarrassing One. It's the fluffy, girly YA contemporary I save for only when I'm around immediate family, because it's not like I can have anyone I actually know seeing me with it. If you haven't read anything Sarah Strohmeyer has written from the past 5 or 6 years, I absolutely insist you do. 
  • the High Fantasy Fanfest. I'm going to need every brain cell I can scrape together to remember all of the names and places in these kinds of books, and I already know I'm not going to be able to put it down as soon as I start reading, so I might as well do so somewhere quiet. Tamora Pierce's Tortallan books will always feel like summer to me. 
  • the Memoir. The next-best thing to having an actual real-life friend to take on vacation with you, these kinds of conversational, personal gab fests are some of the best for days that are too hot for spending time inside your own brain. Bonus points if it's a celebrity memoir, double bonus points if it's a "celebrity" memoir! 
  • the Fact-Heavy Nonfiction. Not only does a vacation award you the kind of thinking space necessary to comprehend all of this information, but it can also be easily used as a makeshift nugget of self-importance should your parents somehow manage to run into someone they know. ("Oh, I'm freelancing it at the moment, but I'm currently working my way through a nonfiction class-breakdown of the spread of cholera in 1854 and how it affected modern medical science. How is Carley liking D.C.?") 
  • the Period Piece, with corresponding appropriate seasonal setting. It's easy: American Lit is for Summer and Fall, Russian Lit is for Winter, and French and English are for Spring. Duh! 
  • the Super-Hyped Thriller. I'm an anxious person by nature, so it's best to be surrounded by family and friends when reading about people trying to kill each other. Better read it in comfortable and relaxing digs under a bright summer sun today, and tell people how much you enjoyed Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl later! 
  • the Classic Mystery. It's like eating a bowl of cereal: it doesn't really need to correspond to any meaningful moment, but can be consumed freely whenever you want. I can be struck by the sudden need for a good mystery - similar to a bowl of Lucky Charms - at any time, so it's best to have an Agatha Christie or two on hand. 
  • the Entire Series. Okay, so it's not for everyone, but I'm absolutely the kind of kid who's gone on vacation, only to return having burned through three or four books in a series. For instance, in high school, I once read every single fictional book Lauren Conrad has ever written while on a vacation.  Find an author you really enjoy, and pick out a brief series or a duology you know you want to tackle. Just make sure not to do it all in one sitting! 
  • and last but not least, Ol' Faithful. I've made no secret of one of my favorite annual summer habits, rereading Mark Twain's The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, but this time of year seems to be my favorite for reconnecting with old favorites. I finished Annie Dillard's An American Childhood in the midst of camping this past weekend, and it immediately took me back to reading it for the first time for summer homework before my Junior year of high school. 
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So, there's my list of tried-tested-and-true tips for building your own vacation TBR pile, that you'll actually manage to read. 

Then again, I do have one more piece of advice for these kinds of things: Remember, you're on a vacation! Don't feel like you have to spend every second reading, and don't just let yourself get complacent, cooped up in your hotel room, cabin, or campsite. Get out there and do some exploring. There's too much of this world left for you to see, to feel like you can view it all through the pages of a book. Take a little bit of time out of your day, every day, to just walk around, and find something new. 

You never know... there could be a bookstore out there! 


What are some of your favorite books to read on vacation? What are some of your favorite book-packing tips? Let me know, in the comments below!


Monday, June 26, 2017

Review: Love Warrior


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Happy Pride! While we're still feeling the after-effects of this past weekend's festivities in Washington, I felt inspired to post about a recent read, by an LGBTQ author. Here's the thing though: despite the fact that this memoir came out last year, she didn't necessarily identify herself in that fashion yet. You'll see what I mean... 

Glennon Doyle Melton is a successful blogger and author, who found her voice in the popular "mommy" sphere of the internet, discussing her children and her faith with readers across the world. However, they haven't necessarily seen this side of her yet: delving deep into the story of her eating disorder, alcoholism, addictive personality, and a rocky relationship with her then-husband, Love Warrior gives Melton a platform to explore the sides of her life that aren't as camera-ready as what she puts on her blog.

This book was awarded the distinction of being Oprah's 2016 Book Club Selection for notable nonfiction, and was a nominee for Best Nonfiction Memoir and Autobiography on Goodreads that same year.  Her previous book Carry On, Warrior, was a New York Times Bestseller, as was this one, and her blog has enjoyed popularity for years now. But the reason I knew about this book, of course, is because she's a fellow Sigma Kappa (She's actually spoken at one of our national conferences before!). Essentially, it was a sure gamble I'd like this book, even before I'd cracked it open.

And when I did, it was like I couldn't close it again. I read this book nearly one sitting, because I absolutely couldn't put it down! Half of that is probably due to the incredibly emotional nature of Glennon's source material - from bulimia and self-image issues, to marital problems and loss of faith in religion, and the growing pains of a growing family - but it's also due to her empathetic and enrapturing style of writing. It's one thing to speak of tragedy, but its quite another to make your reader sympathetic to that pain, instead of ostracizing them from it. Glennon openly admits she's not your perfect role model, but when alcoholism, abortion, and a second unwanted pregnancy align when your author was only a few years older than you are now, you can't help but feel for her.

As you might be able to tell from my previous descriptions, one of the most interesting perspectives in the memoir, are those on faith and religion... In this way, her writing is once again, very personal, and founded in a confluence of varying ideological families, from traditional Christianity, to yoga, to something that is uniquely hers. It's interesting to watch these perspectives intersect and unfold, from an epiphany standing at the feet of a statue of Mary, to a greater understanding of her place in the universe through radical meditation.

(Because of all of this, I definitely don't invite you to read any of the comments sections on her blog, Momastery. All Glennon is doing is looking for her own kind of healing, and people can be so vitriolic.)

Of course, I have to offer up the disclaimer that I include in nearly every review I write of a memoir, that some of it sounded a little overly dramatic and self-involved, like most memoirs are wont to do. But even where it does, it fits the scheme of the book: Glennon is trying to find herself in the midst of her own life, so if it sounds like she's focusing inwards, it's because she has every reason to be doing so.

However, like I mentioned in the intro, I identified it as being written by an LGBTQ author. Reading this book now is a little more difficult to do, due to the context of where Melton is now: her attempts at rekindling a loving marriage with Craig ring a little less true, because they ended up separating again before the book was even published, for good this time... and as of Mother's Day, 2017, she's happily married to soccer star Abby Wambach!

Take a peek at the couples' Instagrams: not only are their wedding photos totally adorable, but its clear that Abby's embracing her unconventional role in Melton's life. Abby even posted a photo of Craig on Father's Day, making it clear that even the family got a little bigger, it certainly didn't lose any love (they even play on the same co-ed soccer team!).

Still, beyond the author's personal life - beyond the very personal accounts of her life in her memoir - this book is an engrossing read, that led me to dog-ear some of the pages to come back to later when I need them. I'm especially excited to see what another book from Glennon might look like, now that her life looks a little different than when she wrote this one!


Final Verdict: An enthralling and emotional remembrance of this popular author's life, and a testimony to the power of self-love and personal healing, Love Warrior is a quick, moving read, that will inspire you, no matter your own religious background.


Have you read any of Glennon Doyle Melton's works before? What do you think of her and Abby's wedding pictures? Let me know, in the comments below!

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Summer 2017: Challenges, Book Club, and a little Bingo


Happy Summer Solstice, everyone! Today officially marks the end of a temperamental, busy Spring, and the onset of a jam-packed, beautiful Summer (aka, one of the best reasons to live in the PNW!).

This means that for the time being, my younger siblings are out of school, our daily schedules are clear for fun, and unless I find some way to occupy my time, I'm going to totally lose it.

So, like I do every summer, I'm giving myself a bit of a challenge - or three, or four - to make sure that I'm spending this downtime in the most productive manner. From library challenges to Goodreads Challenges, to even some other challenges you might not expect, I've got a plan to help make this summer one for the books... literally!


goodreads challenge 2017


First of all, I'm still on track for this year's Goodreads goal. As you might remember, I altered my Challenge a little bit for 2017 to give myself more room to read the kinds of books I actually want to read, which don't always find their place in a speed-reading stack of 75 books a year. So, while I'm making my steady way towards 50 great titles, I'm still trying to be a little more conscious of what I'm consuming, and how. 

For instance, I've been going to the library quite a bit in the first half of this year, and while that's a great way of getting new titles that I like, it's not doing a lot to help alleviate the number of books still sitting on my TBR bookshelves (yeah, bookshelves). 

I'd also like to do a better job switching up the kinds of books I'm reading. So far, there's been a fair amount of YA and Memoirs - like there always is with me -  but I'd still like to try swinging for a few more hefty tomes this year, which will be perfect for these drowsy summer afternoons. I've got everything from Edith Wharton to medical nonfiction sitting in my TBR, so it's only fair that I give those kinds of reads as much of a chance as I do the easier stuff. 


library book bingo challenges


But speaking of libraries, you won't be surprised to find that I'm taking part in the Seattle Libraries Summer Book Bingo again this year. What you might be surprised by, is that I'm taking part in the Tacoma Public Libraries Book Bingo, as well! 

I know, I hear you: it sounds like a lot. 

However, both library branches have their own systems for completion that make taking part in both doable: for instance, whereas Seattle's Bingo has each square representing a book, Tacoma's has other options, like "attending a library event," or "reading for 60 minutes straight." The kinds of books each promotes are also different, because while there are some overlaps - like science fiction novels, or novels by a person of color - there are others that get pretty specific, like Seattle's "a book from the year one of your parents was born," or Tacoma's "a book set in the Middle East." Taking part in both is primarily an exercise in pushing my bookish boundaries, and I know that while I won't be making a blackout on either card, it will help me get to more interesting reads this summer. 

For instance, take a peek at some of the books I have lined up to fill those spots so far: the Ariel poetry collection from Sylvia Plath, Stephen Covey's 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, the first installment of the Saga comic book series, Helen Oyeyemi's Boy Snow Bird, and even an old favorite, Annie Dillard's An American Childhood, which I'm actually reading right now! 

And, of course, I'm rereading Twilight

Wait, what!? 

the twilight family book club


Image result for into the twilight
Find the podcast on Soundcloud HERE!
So, funny story: back during my time at UW in Seattle, in classes required for completion of the English major, I met this really cool girl, named Ally. While Ally went on to move to Portland,  we still follow each other on social media... which is how I found out late last year, that she had started a podcast with one of her friends, Cody, called Into the Twilight. 

Every week, these two hilarious co-hosts read and recap a two-chapter segment of - you guessed it - the Twilight series. While Cody hasn't ever read the books before, and is only tangentially aware of what goes on in the series, Ally is a super-fan with a significant awareness of some of its fictional foibles, with an academic background perfect for picking them apart on air.

Because I have such a bad track record with keeping up with podcasts - and, um, Twilight? - I put off actually listening to it... that is, until earlier this month, when a short family trip to Portland gave me more than enough time in a car to commit to the series. After only a few episodes, I was completely hooked, and quickly pissing off the other inhabitants of the van with how much I was giggling.

In an attempt to actually persuade myself to get my butt to the gym, I'm only listening while I'm on the treadmill, which is why, despite their hilarity, I'm only in the mid-teens of the episodes already produced. However, in the midst of losing my breath partially from cardio and partially because I can't stop laughing, I made a surprising decision: I wanted to go back and reread those books, too! 

I proposed the idea to my 21-year-old sister, as to whether she wanted to casually book-club some of the series with me this summer, and she immediately accepted, without follow-up questions (to clarify: Rainier is Delaney's favorite type of beer specifically because Charlie Swan drinks it, and on a thrift store trip a year or two ago, purchased a "Bella + Edward Forever" shirt that she still wears in public). When I mentioned it to my other two younger siblings - my 17-year-old sister and 15-turning-16-in-August-year-old brother - they surprised me by wanting in, as well.

So, thanks to Ally, I now have a new incentive to die laughing at the gym, as well as a family book club for the summer!


and, of course, other stuff


So, even though I've got three separate bookish focuses for my time this summer, they're not the only parts of my life worth focusing on. Of course, we've got plenty of family vacations to look forward to - kicked off by our first-out-of-three camping trip this weekend, while some family membs take a break on Saturday to go up to Seattle Pride! - and August is bisected by vacations in Disneyland and Sun River, OR.

While some of my siblings are occupied by their own summer courses - from college classes, to driving school - I'm trying to take a class or two of my own from what's offered online (And if you have any recommendations for courses you enjoyed, please let me know!). 

There's plenty else, too, from revitalizing my resume and LinkedIn in a continuation of my efforts to get a real-person job instead of freelancing, ticking off a few activities in a bucket list full of summer favorites, and maybe even taking part in Camp NaNo for the month of July. Plus, let's not forget that later this Summer, I get to celebrate my 7th (!!!) blog birthday with Playing in the Pages! 

So, for right now, I think I'm okay. There's plenty to get started on, of course... but all I really want to do, is curl up in our hammock with a glass of lemonade, and a really good book! 



What are some of your most anticipated reads for Summer 2017? Are you taking part in any fun reading challenges? Let me know, in the comments below!

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Review: The Magicians

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It's hard for me to believe it took me a little less than two months to read this book... I got about 50 pages in, but couldn't get invested, so I let it sit for a while, and even considered just returning it to my shelves for later this year. But ultimately I decided to give it another shot... and absolutely soared through the rest of the book!

Lev Grossman's international bestseller and first installment of the Magicians trilogy, The Magicians follows Quentin Coldwater, an unassuming and depressed high school grad, who suddenly finds his childhood beliefs realized when he's brought into the world of Brakebills, a school for magic users. There, he finds that the fantastical fictional adventures he craved in his youth might not be as far-off as he had always envisioned... and that it might house dangers more menacing than he ever would have guessed. With Quentin and his friends coping with more than just secondary education, but relationships, friendship, and the existence of forces beyond their control, they're going to have to stick by each other if they're going to navigate this new territory, not to mention get out of it all alive.

Like I mentioned before, getting into this book was a little bit of an exercise for me. I had originally included it in my experiment with Book Speed-Dating a couple of months ago, and immediately planned to read it soon... but when I did, I found myself getting bored, to the point where I nearly DNF'd about 50 pages in. I let it stew for about another month, and didn't feel too inspired to pick it up, which nearly led me to remove its bookmark and put it back on the TBR shelf, but I decided I wasn't going to let it go without giving it my very best try.

Only a few days later, I had completely finished the book, and immediately planned for procuring a copy of its sequel. So, a little bit of an exercise in patience and perseverance.

I think the main factor of this irritation, was that it takes a little while to get going. And it's not just the beginning of the novel: I feel like there are some pacing issues throughout the rest of the book, as well, mainly factored into its divisions into Parts throughout its body.

Going alongside that, there were segments of the book that just moved along too quickly, and didn't feel like there was closure on elements of the novel that I would have liked to have seen a little more focus on. One of those particular points, of course, was of Quentin's life at Brakebills, which - despite the descriptions on both the book's official blurb, as well as it's marketing strategy summed up by the phrase "grown-up Harry Potter" - was fairly short, as perhaps only the first half of the book summarized his few brief years there.

This was a bit of a bummer for me, because as someone who's spent a lot of time attending schools that look fairly magical from the outside - see Stadium High School in Tacoma, or the University of Washington in Seattle - I'd like to have heard more about the inner workings of a real one.

Because I mentioned the Hogwarts send-up, I feel like I need to address that point, as well: yes, the book pays homage to elements of Harry Potter, as it also does for the Chronicles of Narnia series, in a way that is very deliberately evocative and more than a little tongue-in-cheek. However, while the worlds of Brakebills and Fillory owe a lot of creative inspiration from those fictional juggernauts, the counterpoints never felt like they were retreading any overly familiar material in a way that was cliche, or heavy-handed. It still managed to keep it new, by integrating systems of magic that were really comprehensive, and was one of the best portrayals of urban fantasy I've read in a while, especially when integrated with elements of high fantasy, as well.

Another thing Grossman did quite well, was write Quentin's depression in a way that informed his character and impacted his relationship and progression with other characters, with truth and realism behind it. It's not made too much of an explicit plot point, but it does serve as an implicit character trait, and explains much of his relationship with the idea of magic and the escapism of Fillory. It was probably one of my favorite stylistic and character choices throughout the novel.

Another favorite character choice, was that it would be nearly impossible to pick my favorite character. The answer is not "Because they're all my favorite!" but more along the lines of "Because they're all kind of jerks a lot of the time!" Neither Quentin, nor friends like Alice, Penny, Elliot or Janet, are very good people... in the case of black and white characters, there all fairly among the spectrum of determinedly dark grey, and that provides some pretty unique shading to their interactions. It's a loyal group of fairly self-serving people, and those conflicts that arise are so firmly entrenched with their own deficits, that the plot - a urban-high fantasy hyrbid with monsters and magical schools - remains incredibly character-driven, at its core, which seems like a pretty impressive feat to me.

(And, because I'd feel bad if I recommended it without mentioning, there's quite a bit of sex in it. Yeah, I know, but it something I feel like I needed to bring up, because it's never just sex, but sex in the weirdly semi-uncomfortable way that seems unique to almost the entire male fantasy writer canon - Neil Gaiman, George R. R. Martin - so it's not like it's anything too out of the ordinary. I just skipped through those parts, honestly.)

Final Verdict: Beyond minor pacing issues, a lack of magical school syllabus, and maybe a little bit of awkward romantic interaction, this book was an absolute favorite of mine this year. I'm already looking forward to reading the sequel, The Magician King, sometime later this summer, and I've still got this mental teeter-totter argument going on with myself about whether investing in a Hulu account is something I'm willing to consider as doable, specifically for the sake of watching the SyFy show, which I've heard praised by nearly everyone I know who's watched it.


Have you read this series yet? Are you a fan of the SyFy show? What would you be willing to do to attend a magic college? Let me know, in the comments below!