Monday, June 26, 2017

Review: Love Warrior

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

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!

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

News and Things: May Favorites

No, you do not have to tell me this post is approximately a week late. I know, okay? I know. And I've been trying. Really hard!

With everything from my younger siblings wrapping up their respective school years, to a weekend trip to Portland (Powells!), to working on a newsletter for the University of Washington Tacoma's Institute of Technology, I've been a little too busy to upload this admittedly lengthy post.

So I woke up before 7am this morning to make sure it got done! Because sometimes, the only thing you need is a little earlier of an alarm clock... and, of course, to have finished up all of those other projects that were preventing me from getting to this part.

Regardless, May is over, June is here, and it's only getting better. In the past month, there have been some News, and there have been some Things. Without further ado, here's May's installment of "News and Things"!

A few years ago, my younger sister and I both realized we had developed a fascination with the same serial killer: the prolific and menacing H. H. Holmes, the figure at the heart of Erik Larson's Devil in the White City. So of course, when news broke earlier last month that his body was going to be exhumed in Chicago, she was the first person I sent the article to!

No matter how many Oscar-caliber stars you jam into one Twitter photo, it's nothing compared to the sheer star power of one Nevada teen who just really wanted some nuggets. Wendy's has committed to their promise of one year of free chicken nuggets in exchange for 18 million retweets... and in a world of viral marketing, I feel like that's a fine trade off!

It's one kind of heartbreak to have your valuables stolen... and it's quite another if it includes a handwritten Harry Potter prequel vignette, straight from J. K. Rowling herself.

Whether you're on the side that seeks to free information for public use, or to restrict literary obtainment as much within the grounds of copyright as possible (both are fair arguments), the elimination of the massive Google Books library marks a significant moment for both. 

Also courtesy of The Atlantic, is a story about one family's modern-day slave, which went viral on my Facebook feed. The idea that there are still countries of the world that engage in slave labor is a harsh reality, when added to the fact that America has always been a country of immigrants... a large population of which were brought over in pain, and unable to ever return home.

So, yeah, I'm a Nancy Drew fan. Did you know that the idea of the girl detective has been around since the first World War? In a culture where Middle Grade reading is still pretty ridiculously pink, I'd like to remind everyone that young female readers have never needed their books dumbed down for them (and that boys read girl detective books, too!).

If we've got any vegetarians in the audience, you probably shouldn't watch this video. But this Bon Appetit breakdown of every single cut of meat from a full side of steer had me aghast from start to finish. The amount of material that is fully used - to the very odds and ends of the fat, which even have their own value - is remarkable... and a great argument to purchase cuts from hometown butchers, instead of wasteful mass-market meats.

Another year, another set of graduates making their way out of universities around the world. Cup of Jo talks about some of her favorite moments from celebrity-given commencement speeches this year, and even includes some old favorites from years past, as well.

In my ever-present quest for snacks that don't make me feel so bogged down, I recently stumbled upon the versatile and delicious world of roasted chickpeas. This Pinterest favorite is incredibly easy and completely customizable... I like to underbake mine a little bit so they're still a little crunchy, but still a little dense. Yum! 

Guess who's got two thumbs and is definitely jumping on board the kombucha crazy train? Me! I don't think I'll ever get to the point of brewing the confusing concoction myself, but I'm more than happy to pick up some of the Brew Dr. Kombucha's Superberry flavor as an afternoon pick-me-up. 

We've always had overripe bananas on-hand at my house, but up until this point, I've not had any really great banana bread recipes to use them in. Until I ditched the idea of banana bread, and started making cute little banana bundts instead! 

Rounding out my personal list of monthly food favorites, has to include my recent artichoke episode. After getting interested in them while watching one of my favorite YouTuber's "What I Eat in a Day" video, I decided to try my hand at the prickly snacks myself, picking up a set of 4 globe artichokes and accompanying garlic spread from Trader Joe's. Long story short: my world will never be the same! 

Saturday Night Live recently wrapped what I think has been one of their most politically charged seasons yet, involving brilliant celebrity cameos, jaw-dropping impersonations, and not one, but two renditions of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah." The Hollywood Reporter sat down with some of the show's shining stars, to find how the whole circus came together. 

Well, we're officially a PNW family: two of my younger siblings and I are now all the owners of identical Starbucks venti clear tumblers. The only way to make sure we're not mixing them up, is with the addition of these fantastic plastic straws! 

I've recently been diversifying my podcast listening habits, and have absolutely found a friend in Pod Save America. A political podcast hosted by White House familiars from the Obama administration, this liberal, hilarious take down of all of Tr*mp's recent antics has been a lifesaver this past month. 

And of course, I'd be absolutely remiss without giving a shoutout to the absolute awesomeness that is our backyard right now. With the advent of warm Spring weather again - the literal only bright side to the nightmare hellscape that our current President is confident in resigning us to - we've been able to pull out the grill multiple times this month already. So, we're all gonna roast, but at least we can roast some veggie kabobs first. 

What have been some of your favorite News and Things this past month? What are you looking forward to in June? Let me know, in the comments below!

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Review: Adulting: How to Become a Grown-Up in 468 Easy-ish Steps

I'm almost a full year graduated from the University of Washington Seattle, and I'm ashamed to admit, I don't know how much "adulting" I've done in the past 12 months. Sure, I pay my student loans on time, and I know how to run a load of laundry and do the dishes, but ask me to define what a 401K is, and I'd just stare back at you blankly. Thank goodness for Kelly Williams Brown, to give us all the low down on how to grow up! 

Adulting: How to Become a Grown-Up in 468 Easy-ish Steps, by Kelly Williams Brown, is a guide for twenty-somethings - or God forbid, older - on exactly how to act your age. Written at the age of 27, Brown tackled her tome on Millenial self-accountability while also working as a journalist, and openly admits throughout the book that she's not exactly a paragon of Grown-Up life, either. Still, this primer on everything from finances, to friendship, can help you get there, at least part of the way.

I was honestly super surprised at how much I enjoyed this book... what I originally thought was going to be a kind of novelty, gag-gift type breakdown of being a functioning human, was actually a comprehensive and informative pseudo-book-of-manners-slash-operating-manual covering a diverse range of issues, such as what is really required for a new apartment, how to make basic kitchen recipes, how to handle yourself in an emergency, and how to handle your friends, family, neighbors, and others in just general, daily life.

The scope stretched pretty far, and contained actual nuggets of wisdom that I'm going to be needing throughout my twenties, especially when it comes to things like the chapter on Finances, which broke down elements of personal money issues that I had genuinely not thought of before.

Does it sound like a lot of this might be common sense, or advice you might already know? Then maybe consider the fact that without opportunities for that kind of learned behavior, people in their twenties might not get too many other examples of how to deal with balancing a budget, learn how to entertain guests, or keep their apartment clean, and plants, living. We don't get Home Ec classes in high school any more; chances are your early adulthood years were pretty fraught with misunderstandings, too.

An actual anecdote of how the contents of this book applied to my early-twenties life encapsulate one of such "common sense" examples: within the scope of the past year, both of my younger sisters have gotten into pretty harrowing car accidents... and neither fully understood the correct order of operations as to how to deal with that on-scene. Sure, you're taught how to drive, but you don't get insurance policies explained to you until you've probably already barreled through one. Having the steps of how to properly document car damage listed out, no matter how common sense they may be to others, is reassuring and affirming in reader abilities to successfully deal with that kind of situation, no matter how great of a driver you are.

Of course, there was some stuff I couldn't have cared less about, too. Chapters on navigating love in your Twenties, as well as how to choose, keep, and drop your friends, came off as very obvious and maybe more than a little off-the-shoulder.

But while Brown's cavalier, expletive-laced directions might rub some parents the wrong way, the fact of the matter is, it makes the book more approachable, interesting, and engaging. It feels like the reader is getting advice from an older, more mature friend, who knows how to do things like get hired for an office job without having a full work wardrobe already hanging in the closet, which is someone I think we all need.

I actually want to pick up a copy of this one for myself - I had rented it out from the library - because despite the somewhat cringe-inducing title, this book is one that I can conceivably see myself using in the future. If you've got a graduate to buy for this year - despite whether it's a young woman or young man entering into the precarious next stages of their lives - this is definitely a purchase you should consider, and one they'd probably thank you for.

Brown also released a modern book on manners just this past April, and I know I'd love a copy of that, too.

Final Verdict: Tackling the troubles of navigating an iffy entry into adulthood - without ever sounding too preachy or mom-ish - Brown is able to translate the difficulties of first-time ownership of your own Life with humor, scope, and understanding.

Would a self-help guide for adult life have made a difference in your twenties? What was the hardest lesson you ever had to learn about growing up? Let me know, in the comments below!

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Recommended Reads: Reality TV

So, if you're in any way connected to entertainment publications, a functioning Twitter account, or a culture-vulture lady in between the ages of 16 and 96 - or, God help you, all of the above - you know exactly what last night was: the premiere episode of Rachel's season of The Bachelorette!

I've been anticipating last night since Rachel became one of my personal front-runners early into Nick's season of The Bachelor earlier this year. She's charismatic, intelligent, gorgeous, and incredibly funny... the perfect lady for America to walk alongside, as she picks out both her own Prince Charming, as well as the next hunk of man candy to cast in the subsequent installment of the hit franchise!

(My favorite article published in anticipation of the new season, is a data breakdown by FiveThirtyEight, charting how best to predict which suitors will make it to the final rounds of competition. It's been pretty helpful in determining how to structure my Bachelorette Fantasy League! And yes, of course there's a Fantasy League... ABC is owned by the same company as ESPN!)

Still, if TV itself helps rot your brain, reality TV can be like dousing the entire thing in lighter fluid and striking a match. As we all disappear into the fire and drama of a new season of hot summer programming, it's important to remember that it's a good thing - a great thing, even! - to pick up a book every once in a while, instead. And yes, of course those books can be about reality TV, too!

Here are some of my personal favorite hits from some of my reality franchise favorites. Pink, but not precious, these lovely ladies with glam gams and spray tans are here to spice up your summer beach reads! And you don't even have to wait for Monday nights to get the scoop.

23215469Down the Rabbit Hole: Curious Adventures and Cautionary Tales of a Former Playboy Bunny, Holly Madison

One of the most throwback picks on this list, the gossip from this tell-all - courtesy of one of the most famous Playboy bunnies of all time - isn't just for rabbit ears only. Going behind the scenes of Madison's time on E!'s Girls Next Door, this memoir shades out the greater insanity of the iconic early '00s show, giving context to some of its most notable TV moments, and illuminating more of the insidious darkness of their production.

My sister read the book before I did, and in a moment of curiosity, went back and re-watched some of the episodes we had viewed for the first time, back when the show was on the air and we were in middle school. Apparently, Holly's words ring true: while the dusty and dark mansion Madison describes seems so far away from its bubblegum depiction on the show, there's an element of falsity that permeates the whole setup... and you can even see it in their dialogue.

You'll also be happy to know that Madison also wrote the book herself: those manicured fingers certainly know how to type, too! Not only was Holly one of the show's stars and a cover model, but she also maneuvered her fame into long-term stints as an editor of the iconic magazine. She's no Stein, or Steinbeck, but she's an accomplished career woman who turned her own circumstances around, and now has the book deal, the bestseller status, and a sequel, to prove it!

4758093The L.A. Candy series, Lauren Conrad

Can I be honest for a second? I don't think there's anyone who can turn a fluffy MTV reality show into a multimedia fashion and entertainment empire quite like Lauren Conrad. Between her lifestyle website, fashion brands, home goods line, and bestselling books - as well as adorable husband and soon-to-be baby! - I think she's found that yes, the rest is still unwritten... but she wants to be the one who's holding the pen.

She got her start straight off the series with these sweet little New York Times bestsellers, following the fictional lives of a group of friends living in L.A., and the camera crews that follow them, too, on a reality show documenting their not-so-real lives. Of course, I feel weird about using the word "fictional" to describe any of it, because as anyone who have seen more than three episodes of Lauren's shows - MTV's Laguna Beach and The Hills - can tell you, it's barely concealing the truth. (Backstabbing costars! The awkward dating scene! Near-sociopathic producers!)

Those longing to get a little more perspective on Conrad's early years should definitely pick up a copy... and, of course, her nonfiction books Style, Beauty and Celebration are all excellent, too.

25986991It's Not Okay: Turning Heartbreak into Happily Never After, Andi Dorfman

Absolutely no citizen of Bachelor Nation was shocked when Andi Dorfman announced to the world that she would be penning a tell-all tome of her time on the hit ABC series. As one of the Bachelor franchises' most no-nonsense contestants, and one of the Bachelorette franchises' most vocal stars, Andi has a TV habit of voicing her displeasure... and she's not about to stop doing it now.

For the benefit of the uninitiated, the title comes from a now iconic Bachelor moment, when then-Bach Juan Pablo Galavis attempted to subdue the frustrated Andi by telling her, "It's okay," after she confronted him about his self-absorbed and narcissistic behavior the night before, in the Fantasy Suite. She dumped him then and there, and came back for Round Two as the Bachelorette, eventually bestowing Josh Murray with her final rose. Still, things weren't all "okay": it was only a matter of time before the ring was back in Neil Lane's pocket, leaving Andi with a lot of relationship drama to fill a book with. 

Dorfman tears into her Bachelor surroundings with the barest veneer of nondisclosure, but anyone who watched her seasons - let alone someone who watched her seasons with her entire sorority providing commentary - would know exactly who she's talking about when she mentions a few key exes. While this may come off across as a little vindictive, once you've been on national television, I think the boundaries get a little blurry as to what is and isn't appropriate to spill the beans on... and once a dude has copped to your hookup in front of a million viewers, I think it's alright to call him out for being a bit of a jerk.

And let's be real for a moment: if you're looking for more good-natured Bachelor reflections, go read Sean Lowe's For the Right Reasons (I've yet to myself, so tell me if you like it!).

Well, I think that sums up some of my more blatantly bad reality TV habits. What shows do you like to watch? Got any recommendations for reality TV reads yourself? Let me know, in the comments below! 

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Review: The Book of Joan: Tales of Mirth, Mischief, and Manipulation

It's no secret that celebrity memoirs are often one of my favorite sources of reading material. It's equally apparent, when looking at my reading habits and frequent recommendations, that there's nothing better in my book, than the book of a very funny lady. The best of both were combined in this surprisingly moving and equally hilarious account by Melissa Rivers, of her life with her comedy star mother, Joan. 

I was always a big fan of Joan Rivers, and would often watch Fashion Police not for any of the actual sartorial commentary, but just because her humor made up such a significant part of it. This remembrance of her, told by her daughter Melissa, contains so much of that spark of irrepressible humor that was so quintessentially Joan. Funny, loving, and laced with enough struggle between strong personalities to remind you of your own relationship with your parents, I really enjoyed reading about Melissa's fond memories of her mother. And just in time for Mother's Day!

Melissa described her efforts in writing this book, were primarily to create something that would make her mother laugh. As such, the book is sprinkled throughout with not only the late Rivers' original style of humor, but also an attempt at replicating it by her daughter. 

The effect of this is sweet, but still a little odd. In the relationship, Melissa was always the straight man - something she openly cops to in the book - so to see her attempt to take on her mother's comedy mantle is a little difficult, because the humor doesn't exactly transfer. However, I don't think it was her trying to start a new kind of career in comedy, it was definitely in honor of Joan.

The style of humor itself, being Joan's, was almost kind of retro. In today's humor environment of shock comics on television and the movies, political satire blowing up in response to the current insane political climate, and whatever the hell kind of humor we're getting from the Internet - especially YouTube - Mrs. Rivers' kind of comedy, with a straightforward format, a diagram-able buildup to a punchline, and tongue-in-cheek meanness, comes off as quietly nostalgic. No one tells jokes like these anymore... and maybe that's because Joan Rivers isn't around to tell them.

The look into her personal life was sweet and hilarious. Joan Rivers was exactly the person you saw on screen when she was back at home: a workaholic who exaggerated the truth and didn't suffer fools kindly, this sharp broad was also a terrible driver, a stickler for manners with the kind of deadpan sarcasm that could flatten a bus, who loved junk food and jewelry, and hated sports. She lived unapologetically as herself, and that personal bravery has clearly made an impact on her daughter.

The one thing that threw me a little bit, were the repeated jokes within the book of how Melissa is now out of a job, and hopes to work for various influential people in Hollywood, often to the point of being a little subservient about it. On one hand, this is just like her mother's often self-deprecating style - one of the reason Joan dealt criticisms so openly, was because she paved the way by mocking herself first - but it was still a little sad: so much of Melissa's life and career was shaped around that of bolstering her mother's, so now she's having to manage her own way with Joan gone.

By the time I reached the end, I thought I could have read this in one afternoon, had I been less busy. Well-organized, and constructed in a pattern that makes sense, the overall story of the two's relationship is incredibly easy to read, and  Rivers' passion for grammar makes for a book that just flows easily.

Final Verdict: This remembrance of a comedy legend would have been just the kind of thing Joan Rivers would have loved. A humorous, caring reflection on the life of one of America's original funny ladies, by someone who absolutely knew her best, fans of hers should take an afternoon to indulge in this quick read.

What is your favorite celebrity memoir, of either themselves, or another? Who's your favorite celebrity mother-daughter pair? Let me know, in the comments below!

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Top Ten Tuesday: Ten Things on my Reading Wishlist

"Top Ten Tuesday" is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by The Broke and the Bookish

You know that saying, "write the book you want to read"? Well, here's the problem... I've got a lot of books I'd like to read, but really not all the time in the world to write them. Is it too much to ask to have the Universe take some of those great ideas off my hands, and turn them into brilliant plotlines, enmeshed with epic world-building and realistic characters, snappy dialogue, and grand action sequences? Is it too much, people?

Clearly, there are plenty others out there, like me, who have dreams of books galore that they'd like to see poof into being on the shelves of their local Barnes and Noble. That's why today's Top Ten Tuesday theme - "Top Ten Things on my Reading Wishlist" - is probably going to be such a unique one... everybody's got something different they'd like to see more of in books, be that a particular time period, characterization, issue under discussion, etc.

Basically, we're all a bunch of nerds, and more than that, we're nerds of our own particular branding. We'd just like to see more of our favorite things, in our favorite format! And here are some of my ideas...

1. Shakespearean adaptations
Even before I found out the Hogarth Shakespeare collection was a thing (for those who have yet to, please pick up Anne Tyler's Vinegar Girl as your first reading assignment), I've long been a fan of the Bard. And such classic stories and characters could surely find a place in the more contemporary range of fiction, too!

2. 1930s Great Depression and 1940s WWII
These are some of my favorite time periods, and ones that will always attract my attention for historical fiction, due to their rather incredible, transformational effects on American history. And while we're on the subject, why not ask for a little more...

3. Cultural history, rather than Political history
Is it too much to ask, that historical fiction doesn't necessarily focus on prominent historical figures - like Marie Antoinette, which I feel like is super overdone at this point - and instead, the literal thousands of normal people also happening to be going through life at the same point? I get that big names help sell books, but man... too many works of historical fiction get bogged down by marketable personalities and huge defining moments instead of just the everyday, of a bygone day.

4. Pirates, especially famous female pirates
Okay, you know how every little kid goes through phases where they get obsessed with certain things and then feel the need to learn every little thing about that thing? Pirates were one - a BIG one - of mine. Like, in the first novel I ever tried to write, there was a piratical bookstore, named Bonny Reads, in honor of Anne Bonny and Mary Read. Like, I just love pirates, you guys.

5. Asian - esp. South Asian - influences and perspectives
Growing up, I was lucky to hang out with a lot of really cool and interesting people in my neck of the woods, widely thanks to the fact that Tacoma, and the state of Washington, happen to be pretty open and inclusive spaces. One of my best friends is Cambodian, and it dawned on me the other day, that I could name very few works of fiction set in Asia, let alone Southern Asia.

6. Media innovation in ebooks and internet publishing
Okay, these next two might sound strange, but hear me out... after watching a TED Talk by comic book author Scott McCloud, I'm convinced that we've really yet to push the boundaries on electronic publishing. Wouldn't it be cool to have a book go viral, and become a bestseller, not just because the book itself is good, but because it's an innovative platform experience? I just feel like that would be awesome.

7. Multimedia book experiences in general
This one's more inspired by Mark Z Danielewski's House of Leaves, which - in addition to its print format - has accompanying internet content and even music (which only lends more cult credence to one of the most immersive and subversive books you will ever read). Connecting books to multimedia experiences is also something we've also seen with the geniuses over at Pemberley Digital, with the Lizzie Bennet Diaries vlog series, multiple linked character Twitter accounts, and accompanying published books. Clearly, it can be done, and well. So why not do it more?

8. Paranormal towns, like in Gravity Falls or The Darkest Part of the Forest
I guess I'm just a real sucker for small towns beset by supernatural forces, particularly when they're set in the Pacific Northwest. And yes, I recognize Twilight technically fits this description, and no, I've obviously not talking about that one.

9. Accessible eco-consciousness for the Millenial set
Maybe it's the March for Science still ringing in my head, but I'd love to see more concrete ways for people to approach daily, routine eco-friendly living. Some of my favorite YouTube series revolve around people buying zero waste or consuming responsibly-grown food, and I want to see that reflected in print content.

10. Modern-day, contemporary updates on British childhood classics - Secret Garden, The Little Princess, etc. 
My brother just got the chance to see the musical version of The Secret Garden in Seattle with his high school drama department, and it got me thinking: what about a contemporary update, where orphaned teenager Mary goes to live with her eccentric uncle in New York, only to stumble upon a secret rooftop garden that's fallen into disrepair? And her cousin Colin is a hypochondriac who turns to WebMD instead of a real doctor, and Dickon is the cute British guy who lives across the hall? Someone write this, please!

Got any recommendations for books that fit my Reading Wishlist? What's in your Top Ten? Let me know, in the comments below!

Friday, May 5, 2017

Long Time Loves: Agatha Christie Mysteries

In honor of Goodreads' 2017 Mystery and Thriller Week - as well as the recent release of photos from the set of Murder on the Orient Express - I thought I'd dive into one of my oldest novel fixations... and no, it isn't Nancy Drew!

It started when I was in middle school... two of my best friends, Jule and Megan, were total Anglophiles - mainly because both of their families had direct-transplants from Britain - and it colored a lot of our mutual interests (like breakfast tea!). Especially when Megan had sleepovers at her house, we loved listening to The Beatles, watching British television (more Red Dwarf than Doctor Who), and, of course, talking about Agatha Christie novels.

Both Jule and Megan had their favorites long before we founded our little group, which meant I had some serious catching up to do, spawning the second largest collection in my already-voluminous bookshelves (the first of which is, of course, Nancy Drews. You can tell that I definitely have a type.). Pretty soon, I had already amassed over 30 titles, picking up at least one or two every time I visited a bookstore, especially when I went on vacation.

My obsession lasted a little over 20 books in, until we got to high school. With that, we splintered, at least for the time being: Megan went off to a local Catholic high school, while Jule and I stuck close with a larger friend group we'd been in the middle of since middle school, as well. While I still loved reading mysteries in my own time, I wasn't talking about books with my peers as much (unless we were the ones writing them: this was the same friend group that introduced me to NaNoWriMo!).

From that point, my love of mysteries developed in various directions: with the popularity in Sherlock Holmes stories in movies and television that hit when I was in high school, I started gravitating towards that particular British standby, Arthur Conan Doyle, while my Dad's love of local mystery writer Aaron Elkins led me to one of my other favorite mystery-solvers, forensic anthropologist Gideon Oliver.

I recently read an Agatha Christie that had long been sitting on my shelves, in my favorite way to do so: with the accompaniment of tea, in one afternoon. It's my enjoyment of that particular novel - Mrs. McGinty's Dead - that prompted me to write this blogpost: while the titles are long-missing from both my blog and Goodreads backlog, it's because for a long time, I powered through these so quickly that I didn't know how to go about discussing them!

So, it's an old love, and a long-term one, and one that I know I can always come back to in the case of needing a little buffer room in my reading habits. At the end of the day, Agatha Christie was known as the "Queen of Crime" for a good reason: her prolific canon of work, as well as the standard of excellence they were known for, have made Christie a standby in the overall mystery genre, as well as my own bookshelves.

I thought I might as well brainstorm a list of why these particular mystery novels will always chart among some of my favorites. Hopefully, you can find a good reason or two to pick up a copy yourself!

  • They follow the classic mystery-solving format. While the typical plot progression of your standard mystery novel might come off as formulaic for casual fans in the genre, for those of us with the power to power through multiple Scooby Doo episodes in one sitting, it's par for the course. After the grand reveal at the end of the novel, it's nice to reflect on the straight-forward nature of the overall story... one of the reasons they serve as a great palate-cleanser for me is because it still can be engaging, without needing to color too far outside the lines. 
  • They're essentially period pieces, and are so totally British. Mrs. Christie's canon stretches through several decades, but each still retains a quaintly historical and distinctively English tone. I think this is why they often lend themselves so well to film adaptation... it's always a sure bet with a '30s or '40s fashioned Brit mystery! 
  • Her characters are classic, yet not: instead of a hard-boiled footprint-follower or dogged detective typical to the Mystery and Thriller genres, we get genial Belgian Hercule Poirot, and unsuspectingly sharp granny Jane Marple (who is also probably the reason behind my high school obsession with reruns of Murder, She Wrote). Even Tommy and Tuppence, some of her lesser popular detectives, are pure fun! So while they now set a standard for mystery protagonists, they still stand out as novelty voices in a novel genre. 
  • She absolutely defined the Mystery game. Christie laid the groundwork for modern mystery novels, and her impact gave credence to the legitimacy of an entire genre. There are awards named after her, and some of your favorite contemporary authors probably hold her up as the stuff of inspiration, too.

And to think: during a period of history that stretched for multiple decades, there were both new Nancy Drews and new Agatha Christies coming out at the same time! Still, I think I may have got it better now: I don't have to wait for any new book releases, and can carefully collect the installments of each, from a few more comfortable decades away. 

Are you a fan of mystery novels? Who is your favorite author? What's your favorite Agatha Christie story? Let me know, in the comments below!

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

News and Things: April Favorites

Not to sound like a broken record... but where the heck did April go? 

To be fair, it's been one of my busiest months of the year so far. With everything from my UW Research project wrapping up our preliminary drafting, to the extensive work I've been doing writing for The Daffodil Festival this year, to spending a week in one of my favorite places on Earth - Sunriver, OR - April was jam-packed with plenty of events and occasions to keep me busy.

Thankfully, this year's high school musical, Hairspray, was able to keep my two younger siblings out of my hair! (Well, for the most part.)

I was able to round out my month with a little time spent in Seattle, too, playing Dungeons and Dragons with sorority sisters, meeting up with my Big - who I haven't seen since last summer - and checking out a few Seattle-area restaurants I've been missing. I even celebrated Independent Bookstore Day in Seattle all by myself, by camping out for a little under two hours inside of Elliot Bay Book Company! I actually ended up breaking my Resolution for this year... but I have several key enablers to thank:

But enough about that, mainly because I'm pretty sure I'll be bringing it up in a separate blog post.

Clearly, April has been a busy month, and not just for me: there's been a lot of News. There's been a lot of Things. So, without further ado, here's the April edition of "News and Things"!

Sometimes, it's hard to listen to criticism. Of course, it's much more fun to hear, when it's not for you! Epic Reads asks their Harper Collins YA authors to talk about their worst reviews, in a sort of bookish-Mean Tweets format that I hope gets more installments.

In a rare instance of direct corporate interference with White House business, Twitter has sued the government to stop the unmasking of one of many Anti-Trump accounts, which have sprung up in the wake of Trump's presidency. These "rogue" Twitter accounts have no direct oversight by the government, despite professedly exposing the work of said departments, which means this case will no doubt bring forth exploration into how far the First Amendment stretches.

As someone who regularly enjoys Instagram-ing special meals and plating her food as if it was the last three minutes of a round of Chopped, I felt especially vindicated by this study explained by YouTube channel Eater, discussing why indulging in food rituals boosts enjoyment. It's all about mindfulness!

In an administration who proposes "alternative facts" while blatantly ignoring concrete evidence, it's no surprise that the White House - and its supporters - are now picking fights with a dictionary. Trump's war on words, tackling lexicographical juggernaut Merriam Webster, poses an interesting argument: at what point does providing accurate, public information become a political statement?

I love well-read celebrities, and our own Hermione/Belle is no exception. This Entertainment Weekly list breaks down every book Emma Watson has recommended through her work as a UN Ambassador, through her Shared Shelf initiative on Goodreads, and even just generally on Twitter.

Of course, as you know, I live in Washington. You really think I'm not going to bring up the March for Science?

It's always awesome when you attempt a new craft or recipe, only to find that you're actually, secretly super good at it. That's what happened this month, when I decided to try my hand at constructing those persnickety French macarons... and it worked perfectly! (Imagine my surprise when taking it one Pinterest-inspired step further - painting them watercolor-style with food dye - worked wonderfully, too!)

If you're a fan of Rachel Bloom in the CW's Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, you're going to love the song "Ladyboss" she wrote for Vanity Fair, extolling the difficult balancing act of women in managerial positions. ("How much boob is too much boob?")

Before catching the high school production my younger siblings were in, my friends and I made some time for a bite at Shake Shake Shake in Stadium District, a '50s style burger joint with some of the best milkshakes you've ever had. My personal fave: the Onion Rings have a super light batter and perfectly tender insides, while the Custom Dippers provide a delicious counterpoint (try the curry ketchup!).

Anyone who knows me, knows that I am also a Pope Francis super-fan, so as soon as I heard that he released a surprise TED Talk on inclusivity and equality, that was pretty much the only thing I watched online that day.

As a dedicated YouTube and stickers obsessive, when I found out that one of my favorite bullet journalers, Myriad Inklings, ran her own trendy Etsy shop - Paper Kumaco - I immediately placed an order. These watercolor succulent stickers are some of my favorites! 

Like I said in the intro, I recently got the chance to hang out with my Big in Seattle this past weekend, and such a sweet occasion was only made sweeter by the Strawberry Rhubarb crumble pie, courtesy of Pie Bar in Ballard. Our favorite part? The silent video of Nick Offerman drinking scotch in front of a roaring fireplace, playing on loop on one of the TVs next to the bar. 

My parents made time in their busy schedules this past month to take me to see Fate of the Furious - the newest installment of one of my favorite film franchises - on a random Friday, while my siblings were busy with the musical. Yes, I am the goober who cried at the end of the movie. 

And just in case you needed me to prove how much time I spend with both my parents and in Stadium District in Tacoma, Indo Asian Street Eatery is a relatively new restaurant that has sprung up and immediately made itself indispensable. Their Wellness Shot cocktail was a table fave, as well as their Sesame Cracker Spicy Shrimp appetizer.

One of my favorite recurring installments on YouTube is the "Seven Bucks Moment" series, from The Rock's YouTube channel. In this iteration, YouTube celebrity Lilly Singh  details the painful depression that sprung up during her senior year of college, and how making the decision to pursue creativity helped her recover her sense of self. Let me tell you, it's exactly the kind of story I needed to hear this month.

What have been some of your favorite news headlines this month? What else has been catching you attention this April? Let me know, in the comments below!

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Review : Below Stairs

Image result for below stairs cover
Shoutout to all the librarians of the world, whose expertly-crafted displays entice even the most introverted of bookworms, who sure as heck aren't brave enough to ask you for a direct recommendation. Such a makeup was how I got my hands on this memoir, this past February! 

Margaret Powell’s iconic memoir Below Stairs provides a fascinating first-hand account of the back staircases and cramped servants’ quarters of the English elite, in the space between the two World Wars. Her vivid portraits of past employers, and powerful hindsight commentary applied to her unique experiences, have inspired the likes of quintessential British programming, such as Upstairs, Downstairs and Downton Abbey. 

This fiesty writer rose not just through the ranks of household staff in her places of employment, but also from her class position, in order to become a vibrant, humorous memoirist. I especially loved her determined spirit and incensed perspectives on both past and contemporary (at the time) expectations of working women. She focuses on both the disparity of social classes and the power complexities of being a young woman in a working environment with a seasoned eye that still comes across as quite modern for her time.

Her origins and evolution provide an intriguing background to the changing modernist dynamics of that time period: having been raised in relative poverty, to waiting on aristocracy, to interacting with artists and the elite, and then going back to poverty and charity reliance once she left the workforce again after she got married, still comes across as a saga. The deliberate points she makes to illuminate various facets of these struggles raises important questions about the relationship and interactions between social classes, even nowadays!

In one memorable section of the memoirs, she even calls herself a feminist by name. Raised in the time of the suffragettes and having written the book itself in the midst of the tumultuous sixties, this struck me as particularly valid. If there’s anyone who warrants that title, it’s those of her stripes, quietly (and not-so-quietly) struggling for those rights at a time where such behavior was unthinkable. Being that we can barely convince today’s Hollywood darlings and pop stars to own up to those kinds of titles that women like Powell worked so hard to bestow, the ownership of the phrase seemed particularly poignant. 

One particularly moving emotional moment – which occurred fairly early on in these memoirs – was that of Agnes, the parlourmaid, at Margaret’s first place of work. While questions about abortion are still carried on today, in even the highest courts of our country and others, the fact that this has been such a documented turmoil on behalf of womenkind for such a long time also lends the memoir a significant amount of feminist credence. When women were widely without protection or options, and men met little to no consequence, this kind of issue could ruin the lives of those with the least security, and hearing about Agnes’ silent suffering and subsequent dismissal were hard to read about, especially in 2017.

Same with the descriptions of Powell’s experiences with poverty, and the expected subservience of the poorer classes on multiple levels – such as demonstrating semi-fealty to community “charity” groups - despite the fact that either she or her husband was regularly working. Deliberate social constructs that kept both her and her sons from pursuing higher education were especially annoying to read about, because anyone could see that this girl was smart, and observant. Empathy should always remain at the root of charity and community, and these examples were perfect illustrations as to why: demonstrated suffering shouldn't serve as a requirement to being poor. 

(As Charlie Chaplin said, "Judge a man not by how he treats his equals but by how he treats his inferiors." No one escapes this book without Powell bestowing some well-deserved karmic payback.) 

Due to the unique nature of these perspectives - as well as the incredibly humorous, interesting anecdotes peppered throughout the work - I would love to read more about the interactions between servants and their employers during this time period. They really did know everything that was going on in a household, even things that their employers were working hard to keep hidden! 

Final Verdict: Below Stairs is invaluable reading for not just fans of the period piece or British writing, but those looking for uncommon perspectives on feminism and social equality.

Are you a fan of shows like Downton Abbey? What's your favorite period memoir? Let me know, in the comments below! 

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Moonlighting: Daffodil Festival 2017

Another April has come and (nearly) past, and the daffodils that sprung up so valiantly in our front yard, are sleepily bowing their heads for another year's rest. Which means, we've wrapped up another Spring spent with the Daffodil Festival!

I've written on my love of the Festival and it's frequent space in my writing life before, but beyond the occasional chaperone gig, and regular attendance of major Daffodil events, I've stayed out of its greater operations... until this year. I was not only asked to continue my regular reporting, but also, serve as one of fives judges who decide the Festival Queen from among the pool of 23 Princesses, as well as contribute to a major Daffodil special edition of the Tacoma Weekly with a series of articles, too.

And as if that wasn't enough, the Festival schedule had been revised this year, to concentrate activity in a two-week period with both the Coronation and the Parade, so my pool of time for Daffodil was really a three-week intensive period. Not to mention the fact that all of this was happening at the same time as my family was preparing for a Spring Break trip to Oregon, which was falling in the exact middle of the major Daffodil dates.

Let me break it down for you:

The actual turnaround time was only a few days between each event... I was writing the Daffodil special edition articles the same week I was attending regular judging events, and the day after Coronation, my family left for Oregon, where I had to finish both those articles, as well as my Coronation correspondence, within the first two days of vacation.

That week, in my absence, that special edition and front pager came out, and the morning after we returned to Tacoma, I was out at 9AM with my Mom, cheering on the Festival from the sidewalk of Pacific Ave in Downtown Tacoma. Two days later, my Parade coverage was due to the Weekly, too.

(And two days after that, the primary draft for my portion of the UW Research Team I'm involved with was due, too. You know that saying, about how 'When it rains, it pours' and that saying, 'April showers bring May flowers'? I think we should really just condense that to 'It rains a lot in April - in more ways than one - so bring a poncho and some rain boots and strap in.')

I didn't want my family to stress out on my behalf - especially because at the point where I was starting to feel the crunch, we were only a few days out from embarking on our long-awaited vacation - so I actually didn't tell them what I'd done until that first Weekly issue itself had already come out. The only person who was in on the secret was my amazing baby (ie, fifteen-year-old) brother, who I had caved to in a fit of self-imposed panic, and who dutifully guarded my weird behavior the entire time until everything was published.

But enough about the blood, sweat, and flowers it took to get us here. Here, in the order of their publication, are all of the Daffodil Tacoma Weekly coverage that I contributed to this Festival season: 

from the front page of the Thursday, April 6th edition - Daffodil Festival Crowns Queen Marin Sasaki

from the Daffodil special edition section: 

from the front page of the Thursday, April 13th editionDaffodil Festival Grand Floral Parade

And, for the first time in my so-far-brief writing career, I actually received two pieces of fan mail!

The first bit of correspondence was forwarded on to me by the editor of the Weekly who serves as my primary contact, and was a well-written postcard addressed to the publication, containing a few brief paragraphs about why they loved the special issue, and how - going off the bylines - I was the person to thank for it. The second came courtesy of a late-night Facebook message from the vice principal of my middle school, who said she was impressed by the number of articles I wrote.

I'm not trying to toot my own horn by mentioning these things or anything... it was just that, after spending so much time not only generating the concepts and content for those articles, but putting them all together in such a high stress period, as well as not informing anyone around me of what the heck I was doing, it was nice to get that extra bit of kudos.

But, of course, no one could have loved it better than my Festival family. The outpouring of admiration and support I got from them in the wake of my articles running in the Weekly was so unexpected and stupendous, and even friends from other Festivals - like Seattle's Seafair Commodores - made me feel very loved and appreciated through their reactions, too. I am so incredibly blessed to come from such a tight-knit and loving community... they make it so easy to write about our events, because all I'm really doing is bragging about the cool stuff my cool friends are up to! 

Does your hometown have any special traditions or festivals of their own? Let me know, in the comments below!

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Top Ten Tuesday: Things that Will Instantly Make Me Want to Read a Book

"Top Ten Tuesday" is a weekly bookish meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish!

Leave it to me to do two Top Ten Tuesday lists in the month of January alone, and then not touch any topics until three months later! Of course, a theme this alluring gave me more than enough reasons to jump back into the game.

Reflecting on my "Top Ten Things That Will Instantly Make Me Want to Pick Up a Book" made me meditate on some of my favorite bookish themes, sub-sub-genres, cliches, and characters... and honestly, kind of made want to pick up some of them again!

So, here are ten perfectly great reasons why a book might launch to the front of my TBR pile, and some examples of titles that have made the leap before. (Got any that you think might fit my bill? Make sure to leave your recommendation in a comment!)

1. The name "Jennifer Egan"
It's no secret that I've long been obsessed with the unique perspectives of popular postmodern author and Pulitzer winner Jennifer Egan, but her work rarely follows the same pattern. That means that when I pick her titles up based on author status alone, I'm taking a serious chance that I'll like the book at all, but for her, I'm more than willing to make the leap.

2. High Feminist Fantasy
What started as an early adolescent fixation on the many (many, many) works of Tamora Pierce, has manifested itself in adulthood with a preoccupation with books like Erika Johansen's The Queen of the Tearling and Naomi Novik's Uprooted. I'm more than happy to dive into any old high fantasy... but if it's helmed by a fearless female, it's moving to the top of my TBR.

3. Jaw-Droppingly Beautiful Covers
Book bloggers have long been known for dutifully ignoring that age-old adage, "don't judge a book by it's cover," but sometimes, that drives itself to extremes. Anything with interesting patterns, vibrant colors, cool fonts, or intricate detailing, will automatically catch my interest. See: Jon Ronson's So You've Been Publicly Shamed or Renee Ahdieh's The Wrath and the Dawn.

4. Books About Books
The only way bookworms can increase in bookishness is by making sure the books they're reading are also written about books. Case in point are titles like Celia Blue Johnson's Odd Type Writers, which details the strange tendencies of famous authors, or Samantha Ellis' How to Be a Heroine, a memoir charted by way of the iconic heroines who have shaped her life.

5. Not-So-SuperHeroes
The only thing better than a hero? A hero-with-issues. A hero-with-demons. A hero-with-enemies-within-and-without. Anything with a compelling, troubled vanquisher fighting near the front means that complex characters will most likely be found elsewhere in its pages, and serves as a decent measure of narrative intricacy. Interpersonal politics abound where there are grey heroes, and I love it.

6. Set in the PNW
Yeah, I'm from Washington. I love our trees, mountains, coastline, and quirky indie spirit, married to the glittering metal towers and bustling sea travelers of the tech and port industries. And, of course, authors have found it to be rife with the paranormal, which is also a quick way to catch my attention. (I mean, this is why I read the Twilight books in the first place, y'all.)

7. Meta-Secrets and Cult Followings
With everything from codes wound into the words, to multi-media scavenger hunts leading to deeper colonies of conspiracy theorists abounding online, I love getting obsessed with the same things others have been obsessed with before me. From Alex Hirsch's Journal Three from the world of Gravity Falls, to House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski, if there are greater machinations lurking deeper than the heart of your work, I'm desperate to find them.

8. "Victoria Schwab" 
My most recent - yet no less passionate - author idol, Victoria Schwab (aka, V. E. Schwab) writes so compellingly that I've been tempted to return paperback purchases to the bookstore for hardcover (tbh, I'm still debating it, especially with the Gathering of Shadows series). I've still got more than half a year left in my Resolution to prevent me from doing so, but the good news is, I also still have Vicious in my stack, to tide me over until 2018.

9. Antiquated and Prestigious (Fictional, Often Magical) Schools 
Surprise, surprise: the kid who had a life-alteringly awful public school experience in her childhood always daydreamed of living far away in a mysterious boarding school, complete with the prerequisite plaid skirts, close companions to go adventuring with, and tons of secrets twisted into the tendrils of ivy growing over our red-brick turrets. Even now that I've graduated college, I'm still likely to reach for books that feature this classic trope, including Lev Grossman's The Magicians, or even Maggie Stiefvater's The Raven Cycle. 

10. Folklore, Epic, and Mythology Retellings
I mean, it's a classic, and out of this list, the one I think I'm most likely to see on other blogger lists, as well. While I've kind of grown out of the fractured-contemporary-fairy-tale proclivities of my YA reading, there is still plenty of room left on my shelves for fresh updates on epic adventures and world mythos. I've most recently cried actual tears over Madeline Miller's The Song of Achilles, and have been collecting news stories about the new adaptation of Neil Gaiman's American Gods on my desktop.

What's in your Top Ten? Let me know, in the comments below!