Monday, June 18, 2018

Summer 2018: Reading and Writing Goals

Well, after having already celebrated two graduations and a wedding shower, and gearing up for even more family events to come in the next couple of months, I think I'm pretty confident in saying that summer has finally arrived. Of course, it's not officially here until the 21st, but like every set of goals in your life, it's probably best to get them sorted out in advance.

Every summer since I was about 13, I've given myself a reading challenge over the course of my break, from completing 25 books (the standard throughout high school), to checking off library bingo cards, to last summer's podcast-inspired rereading of Twilight. Naturally, this year isn't any different... or is it?

Here are some of the challenges I've decided to undertake for Summer 2018...

ray bradbury challenge, and camp nano

Those who have been following my blog for a while might remember my NaNoWriMo project this past November: to use the course of the 50,000-words-in-a-month challenge to build out a collection of short stories, a medium I had only written for once before.

This summer, I'm trying something a little similar. Ray Bradbury was once quoted as giving this writing advice: "Write a short story every week. It's not possible to write 52 bad short stories in a row." I've decided to adopt that mantra as a form of challenge for over the course of the summer: I'm going to try and write around one short story a week, with the objective that by the end of the challenge, I'll have at least five or six complete short stories before my family goes on vacation in August.

This way, I'll continue to flex those same concise-and-consistent storytelling muscles that I started to build up back in November, in the hopes that I'll keep improving in the medium. Thankfully, Camp NaNoWriMo is almost here (for the month of July!), so I'll be including my word counts towards that particular endeavor.

And who knows? Maybe in the end, I'll come up with something really worth reading... and maybe I'll have to test that theory on other people!

reading romance: an introduction to bodice-rippage 

For almost all of my reading life, I've traversed regularly over a consistent breadth of genres. Sure, I have my set of tried-and-true favorites - Biography and Memoir, Mystery, History, Self-Help, and Fantasy - but for the most part, I cover a significant amount of library ground.

Except, that is, when it comes to Romance!

And I'm not just talking about books with an undercurrent or subplot of romances, or even YA contemporaries that make romance the whole plot... I'm talking about dime-a-dozen '80s Harlequin mass market paperbacks. I'm talking about covers full of bare torsos and flowing dresses. I'm talking about the kinds of books I'm fully prepared to rent from the library or get on my Kindle, because I can't have the physical presence of those purchases manifested in the real world.

But why am I doing this, other than to make up for an area of bookish experience that I currently lack? I've been party to enough Gender and Women's Studies discussions on the feminist origins and theming of romance novels, without having actually gotten an up-close-and-personal look at the material, and I want that to change.

Keep your eyes out for an update soon on exactly what this kind of challenge is going to look like!

playing in the pages, on the 'gram

I've been toying with the idea for a while now of starting an Instagram account separate from my own personal one, on which to post all of my reading and writing updates that would be more in keeping with what I promote on this blog.

It's not that my own Instagram doesn't provide enough real estate for that kind of thing, but that it's geared a little more towards things like my family and friends, regular hobbies, and major life events, rather than reading time. It's not something I update terribly regularly, and honestly, I'd like to save it for some of the important stuff.

Additionally, I've been looking for a means of keeping myself a little more personally accountable for my reading and writing habits, and I wanted to start taking more pictures of these things that I do so frequently.

I figured that the best way to tick all of these boxes, was to start an Instagram profile specifically for these objectives: I can post daily accounts of how my writing is going, what I'm reading, and what I've been posting on the blog, while also upping the amount of pictures I take on a regular basis, and not bugging everybody in my regular life while doing so (while also hopefully making some new friends interested in the subject, too!).

other reading goals for 2018

Library Book Bingoes in Seattle and Tacoma

Another summer to me means, of course, another set of book bingo cards courtesy of the Seattle and Tacoma Public Libraries. This year, I'm not just aiming for another set of bingoes, but also looking to take on some of the more difficult blocks on the Tacoma card, like attending a library event, or utilizing some of their non-bookish resources, like the buildings index or cd rental systems. Others, like making a recipe from a library cookbook, or taking a shelfie at the library, are things my brother and I are already looking forward to completing together!

Continuing Harry Potter Rereads

I'm halfway through Goblet of Fire right now - I know, I know, the same thing I said in my most recent "Year with Harry" recap - and am looking forward to my next Potter Party with my brother, but I have to say, I thought I'd be further along in this journey by now! I'm trying to read at least the fifth book by the beginning of August, because we've still got a ways to go on this particular adventure.

Reading books from my TBR shelves instead of the Library

Out of all of my resolutions for 2018, this one is probably off to the roughest start, because out of the over 30 books I've recorded in my Goodreads Challenge for this year so far, only about 8 of them have come courtesy of my TBR shelves, the rest having been rereads or library checkouts. Yikes! That's got to change over the summer, which makes for the perfect time to tackle those tomes that might be a little too thick, intimidating, or otherwise require more attention than your average beach read.

What are some of your reading and writing goals for the summer? What are some projects you're trying to tackle in the sunshine? Let me know, in the comments below!

Thursday, June 7, 2018

My Year with Harry: Prisoner of Azkaban

My new year started off with a bang - not unlike the ones heard during a game of Exploding Snap in the Gryffindor common room - when I decided to make it one of my 2018 resolutions to reread every book in the Harry Potter series. After a very successful return to the first novel, and an interesting series of revelations during the second, I was extremely excited to what had been my favorite novel from the series in my youth! 

personal history 

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban was published in the summer of 1999, and its movie followed five years later, in the summer of 2004. Without a doubt, this installment of Harry's adventures has always been my favorite, due to the compelling characters, the advancement of intrigue in regards to Harry's past, and a really spectacular film adaptation. 

I remember thinking about my age in terms of Harry Potter books as I grew up - comparing where I was at in my own life and drawing it up against the exploits of the Golden Trio - and this was one of the years where I began to give thought to things like, "Hermione is taking a million classes at once, and Harry spends every night practicing Quidditch until it's dark out... what am I doing with my life?" (To be fair, it's also the year I took fencing lessons, so at least I was doing something kind of cool with my free time.)

I must have read this over twenty times over the years, but have never really taken the opportunity to consider it critically, which I was almost a little nervous to do... I mean, what if I didn't end up liking it as much? The good news is, with a decent amount of personal removal from the narrative - being that I haven't read it in over a few years, and same with observing the film - I felt I was able to really appreciate it for what it was a little more upon the reread.

the reread 

And what I found it to be, was a solidly constructed, plot-driven novel, that demonstrates a successful beginning to the series' transition in writing style from the middle grade first installments, to the more YA-leaning later books. 

Specifically, the tonal differences are what start to demonstrate the audience shift. I talked a little about how dark Chamber of Secrets is in my last post on this subject, once you isolate the severity of the basilisk attacks, and understand how much danger a large group of vulnerable school children were obviously in. However, while I think Prisoner of Azkaban might not be able to reach Chamber's danger level in terms of scale and scope, it definitely makes up for it in angst, especially in interpersonal relationships. That conversation between the group of people in the Shrieking Shack, is probably one of the most emotionally fraught and plot-significant of the first half of the series.

In terms of characters, one thing I enjoyed most was the continued development of major players, who begin to take on greater depth and dynamism. In particular, I felt Hermione's character really started to come much more into her own in this book, which I think sets up well for her involvement in Goblet of Fire. The novel didn't just continue to prop her up as a the incredibly intelligent and somewhat remonstrative force she was in the first two books, but started to illustrate that more Gryffindor-esque side, someone who isn't afraid to go toe-to-toe for their beliefs, who breaks precedent in order to pursue radical goals, and most importantly, who is fully capable of smacking Malfoy in the face.

Some other thoughts I had: 

  • Prongs chose the worst animal as an Animagus, hands down. If your friends can all turn into a rat, a dog, and a wolf, why the actual hell would you choose a stag, of all things? The only information I can glean simply focused on how his Patronus took the form of a stag as well... but I don't know what that says about James. 
  • And furthermore, while on the subject of animals, why would any Hogwarts student choose a pet that's not an owl? I get it, Crookshanks ended up being very helpful, but as someone known for her intelligence and sense of pragmatism, Hermione's choice of a cat as a Hogwarts pet - even over her own professed interest in a more functional one, like an owl - is still a puzzle to me.
  • I think one of the key differences between the books and the movies - particularly where the innately endearing nature of Alan Rickman's trademark monotone are involved - is the highlighting of Snape's prolonged hatred for, and mistreatment of, any and all students who are not Slytherins. In any place of learning, a teacher demonstrating that level of consistent nepotism, antagonism, and lack of consideration for student safety or emotional well-being, would get a teacher fired five or six times over. 
  • Now that I started noticing them in Sorceror's Stone, I can't stop: there are still references to Hagrid being drunk again. Is this just more appropriate in British children's lit for some reason? Because beer is such a common place beverage - and drinking laws are more lenient - is this a more easily accepted behavioral pattern for someone supposed to be seen as an authority figure? 

favorite quotes

"Harry!" said Fred, elbowing Percy out of the way and bowing deeply. "Simply splendid to see you, old boy -" 
"Marvelous," said George, pushing Fred aside and seizing Harry's hand in turn. "Absolutely spiffing." 
Percy scowled. 
"That's enough, now," said Mrs. Weasley. 
"Mum!" said Fred as though he'd only just spotted her and seizing her hand too. "How really corking to see you-" 

"I solemnly swear that I am up to no good."

“You think the dead we loved truly ever leave us? You think that we don't recall them more clearly in times of great trouble?” 

the end 

In the end, while I never quite made it to that same level of adoration I felt when I was younger, I did appreciate viewing Prisoner of Azkaban through a more critical lens, in order to better observe its subtle nuances in tonal shifting and character development. It might just be that Hermione's more substantial placement in the novel was one of the reasons I remember liking it so much! 

I am incredibly excited to get to the books on the thicker end of the series, and am currently in the middle of Goblet of Fire, which is, to be honest, giving me a little more trouble than I bargained for.  We'll see how the rest of it goes, and hopefully I'll be able to check in again soon... and remember, I'll be reaching another movie point, so a Potter Party recap should be included in the next update! 

Is Prisoner of Azkaban your favorite? What would your Animagus form be? Let me know, in the comments below!

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Top Ten Tuesday: Books Worlds I'd Never Want to Live In

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by The Artsy Reader Girl!

Summers in Washington State are one of the best reasons to live in the beautiful Pacific Northwest
. Between the gorgeous state and national parks, the easily accessible beaches, and the ample opportunities to get out and explore, there are so many reasons I love to live here.

Of course, I don't spend all of my time soaking up the sun... I prefer to escape, and often, into the pages of books! In terms of novels traveled, I've got a very well-stamped passport. That being said, not all of those places made for an easy vacation, and very few can stack up to the beautiful of the land I already call home.

Today's "Top Ten Tuesday" topic is "Book Worlds I'd Never Want to Live In," and man, are there a lot of them!

Image result for game of thrones book goodreads Image result for queen of the tearling book goodreads Image result for narnia book goodreads Image result for peter panbook goodreads

1. Obviously the first world that comes to mind is Westeros, aka, the fictional land from the George R. R. Martin Game of Thrones series. Too much blood, sex, and court intrigue... and not nearly enough dragons to go around!

2. Same goes for the Tearling, from Erika Johanson's Queen of the Tearling series. Seriously, if I want to live any place, it will be one not on the brink of war or civil ruin. Magic is great, but not when it's trying to kill me.

3. And speaking of magical lands, you can keep Narnia, from C. S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia series, too. I'm more welcome to moralizing than you might think, but it seems like the Pevensie children go through a lot after going through the portals to this particular fictional destination... and the warping time would make for a weird return to normal chronologies when you wish to vacation.

4. Other children's book lands I'd wish to avoid? Neverland, of J. M. Barrie's Peter Pan fame. I've got enough of a dislike for that particular boy wonder to know that things would not work out for me there... and there's a surprising amount of violence, the crossfires of which would probably make things difficult.

Image result for wonderland book goodreads Image result for series of unfortunate events book goodreads Image result for darker shade of magic book goodreads Image result for oliver twist book goodreads

5. While it may come as a shock, I'm including Wonderland, of Lewis  Carroll's Alice in Wonderland, on this list, too. Despite my love for this locale as both a child and an adult - as well as my literary understanding of the story behind it - I'm not sure my hips would even fit through the rabbit hole. Besides, nothing down there makes a lick of sense!

6. Rounding out this particular train of thought, I'd like to steer clear of the anything that runs through the Series of Unfortunate Events, too. From Damocles Dock at Lake Lachrymose, to the Village of Fowl Devotees, to the Caligari Carnival, and so on, each setting is altogether too terrible and tragic for occupation... and who would be able to relax, with that villainous Count Olaf running around?

7. Other settings that are just plain unsafe? White London - and Grey London, for that matter - from V. E. Scwhab's A Darker Shade of Magic series. Too vicious, too bloodthirsty, too bland and muted a color palette.

8. And while we're on that tangent, any book set in Victorian England would be a no-go for me, no matter the genre. It's nice to daydream of wearing lots of beautiful gowns, while roaming around on long walks, taking tea and spending my days embroidering, but the reality would be living in dirty, dingy, smoky environments, and a lot more akin to a Dickens novel.

Image result for the lorax book goodreadsImage result for hitchhiker's guide book goodreads9. The planet Vogon, home to the Vogon alien race from Douglas Adams' Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. If I wanted to spend time with dim bulb, bureaucratically-obsessed nitwits with a crippling lack of artistic appreciation, I'd be friends with more people in politics.

10. Final place: Thneedville, from Dr. Seuss' The Lorax. Like I said before, I'm a proud, native Washingtonian. I'd die of a broken heart, if I ever had to live somewhere without plenty of trees.

This feels like a lot of negativity, though. Well, just because you were so sweet about asking, here are a few of the places I would actually love to live: Nancy Drew's River Heights and Tamora Pierce's Tortall. I already consider myself a proud resident of Dictionopolis, from Norton Juster's Phantom Tollbooth, though if anyone knows where I might find a tee shirt about it, let me know!

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

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Getting Bache-Literate: The Need-to-Read List for Fans of ABC's Bachelor Franchises

For a significant portion of the television-watching American public, this upcoming Monday night can't come fast enough. Plenty have already set their DVRs to celebrate the occasion, and planned watch parties or ordered floral arrangements to go along with it. My youngest sister and I have been sending each other a flurry of social media posts a day, and already have chocolate-covered strawberries lined up as our snack of choice with which to view the proceedings.

Because Monday night, of course, marks the premiere of the most recent season of The Bachelorette. 

I've been watching The Bachelor's various franchises for a while now. It was never a household fascination during my formative years - other than a brief stint watching Jake Pavelka's disastrous season  - but instead, an obsession I cultivated in college: despite the annoyance I feel at it playing into stereotype, there really was nothing quite like huddling up in front of the lounge television, post-chapter meetings on Monday nights, with my sorority sisters. 

The thing about learning to love The Bachelor in this way, was that it wasn't just dipping one toe in the water and deciding whether I liked the temperature... it was doing a full-on cannonball into the deep end, at the goading of my wonderful friends. My entry into the fandom was swift, and immediately immersive. 

Over the space of my four years in college, I went from having only a modicum of knowledge and one season under my belt, to cheering on eight total Bachelors and Bachelorettes - Sean, Juan Pablo, Chris, and Ben, as well as Desiree, Andi, Kaitlyn, and JoJo - and sinking further into the world of group dates, hometowns, fantasy suites and final roses than I ever thought possible.

True to form, I've also read several books, found trustworthy sources for behind the scenes info, and got hooked on two podcasts. Because loving The Bachelor isn't just being a part of a fandom, it's a lifestyle. And like any lifestyle, I needed to master the accompanying literature.

Here are the books - including two new releases - I think are filled with all of the history, gossip, and glamour (or lack thereof) true Bach fans need to read, in order to prepare themselves for what Chris Harrison will inevitably tell us is the "most dramatic season yet" of The Bachelorette

Amy Kaufman's Bachelor Nation

Amy first rose to Bachelor prominence as a reporter for the L.A. Times, but when her access was revoked due to her slightly snarky episode reviews, she made sure to voice her feelings on Twitter instead. Having amassed a following specifically for these reasons, she can frequently be found during the on-season, tweeting play-by-play commentary to the show as it airs. It's this tongue-in-cheek sense of humor, quick wit, and industry knowledge that makes her so appealing in short-form communication, and helped get her a book deal.

And boy, does she not disappoint. Not only does she examine the history of the show itself - as well as its producers, schedule, and genre background - with the rigor and breadth of a seasoned journalist (which she is), but at no point is the point ever lost that she is, at her heart, a fan of the show. She can get bogged down by the sordid details of exactly how television sausage gets made, without losing a taste for it. It's one of the reasons fans of the show would love this analytical examination of what makes one of America's most beloved television phenomenons tick: the history and culture is laid out bare for judgement (and oh boy, do we judge), but in a way that seasoned viewers can recognize and appreciate as something akin to their own fascination. It's not enough to love something... you have to know how it works to truly understand it, and Amy dives deep.

Look here for not just a collection of meaningful fragments of Bachelor history from across many years of popularity - highlighted from legitimate publications, to tabloids, to the many memoirs that have come from the show - but also communication with recent stars and television personalities, brief testimonials from celebrity fans who love to watch, and many, many rememberances of notable episodes past. Amy separates the truth from the hearsay, and lays it out with as much context she can muster from the infamously close-lipped cast and crew.

Andi Dorfman's It's Not Okay

Almost exactly a year ago, I published a post about books recommendations for fans of reality TV, and this memoir - written by Andi Dorfman, the attorney-turned-Bachelorette who originally appeared on Juan Pablo's season - more than warranted a place on the list.

While her sophomore effort, A Single State of Mind, is out now - detailing the dating scene after Bachelorland- it focuses less on the television show, and more on her life in New York. Her first NYT-bestseller, though, is all about dishing on her life in the spotlight of the franchise, complete with behind-the-scenes glimpses and some not-so-glamorous moments after the cameras stopped rolling.

While Dorfman might not be totally willing to give up the identities of the many people she encountered within the pages of this memoir, seasoned veterans of the franchise will have little problem identifying exactly who's who... especially when it comes to notable moments from her own Bachelorette season (and that "Men Tell All" special). Dorfman is still an attorney at heart, and just as to-the-point as she was on the show, so while she may be protecting identities by using numbers instead of names, you can count that her candor and personality still manage to shine brightly through this read.

Courtney Robinson's I Didn't Come Here to Make Friends

If Dorfman's recollections of her time with the franchise deliberately play coy with the identities of those with whom she shared a screen, then Roberston's veer sharply in the other direction. Unlike Andi, Courtney holds nothing back, choosing to name and shame the girls with whom she competed for Ben Flajnik's affections with relative impunity, calling out catty backstage behavior, two-faced made-for-TV friendships, and the struggles of living in close quarters with so many girls, with so much heartache on the line.

Throughout, she clearly establishes her protestations at being categorized as a Bachelor villain, while also admitting that the many choices she made on screen came from a place of insecurity, discomfort, manipulation, and in-the-moment brattiness. However, the context given throughout - around her upbringing in Arizona, her previous relationships, her interactions with production throughout filming, and her attempts to win over Ben - give the reality television lightning rod some much needed sense of personal ownership over those particular proceedings.

And with that comes a distinct branding point: this is absolutely Robertson's book, rather than anyone else's (despite the accompanying ghost writer). There is a significant sense of one side of the story being told... then again, that's mainly because Robertson is probably one of the few people from the franchise interesting enough to warrant her own book deal.

It should surprise no one - especially fans of the show's social media reflections - that the producer tasked with handling Robertson, as detailed in Kaufman's Bachelor Nation, was Elan Gale. In fact, out of all of the tabloid fodder, tell-alls, "true stories" to come out of the show, I feel like Robertson's book has reflected some of the most positive interactions with the production side of things... perhaps because a lot of her on-screen antics, and in-the-moment interviews, made it so easy to tell a compelling story. Maybe just not one meant for long-term love!

Elan Gale's You're Not That Great

So, why not focus on Gale's story, too? The longtime Bachelor franchise producer is a regular social media fixture on the Instagrams of many of competitors of the show, making his distinct hair and penchant for sarcasm a familiar presence to most dedicated fans. Due to his status as a member of production, Gale remains tight-lipped about Bach's creative process... but with his new book, maybe fans can get a glimpse at the mentality of the man who helps run it.

Focused around the idea that negative thinking can be just as powerful as positive thinking, and that people's difficulties in reaching their dreams are in part due to a failure in self-honesty, You're Not That Great (But Neither is Anyone Else) is probably a good fit for fans of Mark Manson's similarly subversive self-help book The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F***. Showcasing a stunningly blunt self-deprecating wit and evocatively descriptive take-downs, the book is sure to send a polarizing message to those who enjoy the self-help genre, particularly those like Jen Sincero's You're a Badass.

Personally, I didn't enjoy that particular book, and I found a lot more interesting content in Gale's endorsement of working past your own self-acknowledged flaws, rather than promoting the belief that the Universe is conspiring in your favor. His honesty in itself stretches far beyond just advice, and draws from his own personal experiences as someone who suffers from body dysmorphia and is a recovering alcoholic. 

It might not sound like this kind of a book has anything to do with Bachelor franchises - especially to casual fans - but it's when you factor in the holds the show clearly has on Gale's private and public lives, that the connection is more clear. Even his descriptions of his work take on a unique tint, when you consider the lifestyle of the man discussing them: for instance, his admittance to insecurities of taking his shirt off, while filming with very attractive people in a tropical locale, takes on a new and understandable meaning when you consider he's talking about Bachelor in Paradise. 

Are you a Bachelor fan? Have you read any of these books? Are you going to be watching the new season? Let me know, in the comments below!

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Top Ten Tuesday - Books I Hated, But I'm Glad I Read

"Top Ten Tuesday" is a weekly bookish meme hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl!

Today's theme for "Top Ten Tuesday" - Books I Hated, But I'm Still Glad I Read - threw me for a bit of a loop. It's a very specific grey area to fall in, in terms of reading criteria: there are plenty of books I'm glad I've read over the course of my life, and there are a sizable amount of books I've hated, but the lines of intersection between those two points are fairly few and far between.

So, instead, I focused in my attention on the reasons behind the list, aka, reasons why we hate, but appreciate. Some because they gave me broader scope of literary comprehension, which I disliked for their content or style, but the reading of which allowed me entrance into further realms of popular discussion. Some, because they allowed me to clarify the reasoning behind what I like and don't like in novels - specifically, the latter - as well as authors, and gave me the opportunity to vocalize that dislike more clearly. And of course, others just to say that I've read them, whether for bragging rights, or just to get people off my back!

Just for clarification purposes, I should note that I purposefully chose not to include books that were completed for a course grade, which is the only reason why John Steinbeck does not make an appearance on this list (as both Of Mice and Men and Grapes of Wrath were assigned in high school, and both were long, arduous slogs that I hated every step of the journey for).

for greater cultural understanding

5071571. Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte 
Okay, remember the rule I just said about no school books? Throw it out for this first installment, as I originally had to read it as a summer project in high school. I originally chalked my dislike of it up to having read it at the wrong time, as it's difficult to place yourself squarely in the middle of the murky moors when it's 80 degrees and shining outside. Upon a later reread, I realized that nope, as it turns out, I just find 90% of the characters in this book morally reprehensible and unworthy of my attention. (However, if I had to confess... I still reread it from time to time. And it gave us that sweet-as-heck Kate Bush song.)

2. The Catcher in the Rye, J. D. Salinger
I still use the term "a total Holden Caulfield" to define pain-in-the-butt high schoolers as a form of shorthand. When my brother was assigned to read this for school, I was terrified he would identify with one of the rare similarly-aged protagonists you encounter in that environment... but good news! I've raised the boy right, and he thinks that Caulfield is a snot-nosed punk, too.
3. You Are a Badass, Jen Sincero 
A recent addition to this list, based on this review published just yesterday morning! While I disliked the book itself and found it highly unhelpful for a self-help book, at least now I'll know what everyone's so hyped-up about.

4. Wicked, Gregory Maguire
How unfair is it that one of the greatest contemporary musicals was based on such a deeply sub-par reading experience? Severe lack of Kristin Chenoweth, 0/10. On the real, though: the two formats of the story find their narrative in ways so disparate and unlike each other, chances are you're only going to like one or the other.

for judging people 

105072935. The Selection series, Kiera Cass
While I consider myself to be a fairly positive person - especially when it comes to books - as well as one who would support others, no matter the differences between their interests and mine - especially when it comes to books - the Selection series was the first YA book series I've ever recalled having more fun dishing about with my friends, than actually reading. That being said, I've also read all of them for that very purpose, so she's the one who's got my money.

6. Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov
"I dislike Jane [Austen], and am prejudiced, in fact, against all women writers. They are all in another class. Could never see anything in Pride and Prejudice." 
2429135Of course, he would later change his tune - after reading, of all things, Mansfield Park - and include Austen in several of his lecture series. This should not distract from the fact that Nabokov was, in my book, a complete twerp, and from what he says in contexts other than this one, a misogynist, and should be regarded with much higher scrutiny, from both a literary and moral context. 

7. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Stieg Larsson 
Ditto to the above. Morally and literarily, I cannot get behind anyone who enjoyed this book series. I only made it through the first book due to sheer obstinance alone, and what I read in there was so vivid, the impressions it left still haunt me, and even seeing the book cover alone is now enough to make me curl my lip.

for saying I've read it

109648. Outlander, Diana Gabaldon
Holy cow, is this book beloved by a wide-ranging and strangely incensed group of people, many of whom I'm predominantly convinced have only watched the television show and somehow persuaded themselves they'd made it through this 800-something-page behemoth. I didn't enjoy it, but it checked off a square of a summer library challenge many years ago, and now I can pull out the receipts if fans try to check me on my dislike.

9. A Farewell to Arms, Ernest Hemingway
3766Same for the above: this one's all about reading it, only to come to understand more about how I don't like it. To be clear, A Moveable Feast is pretty good. To also be clear, Hemingway is a dipstick of the highest order, and if he were alive today, he'd be the human embodiment of a Bud Light that spilled on a wooden floor three days ago and no one thought to clean up.

10. On the Road, Jack Kerouac
In college, I had a friend who was absolutely incensed by the Beat and counter-culture writer's generation, and as a means of trying to relate, I decided to read Kerouac. The result was confused, messy, and boring. But at least I could tell my friend exactly why I didn't like it!

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

Monday, May 14, 2018

Bits of Books: The Art of Non-Conformity, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F***, You Are A Badass

I know I'm not the only person in the world who enjoys reading self-help books... I mean, who doesn't like to entertain the thought of becoming a better person every once in a while? So, we subscribe to the various forms of activity that the author promises will radically improve our lives: we start a gratitude journal, we practice our "I Am" statements in front of the mirror, we focus on being present and meditating and putting away our phones after 10pm.

But what if we're looking for something a little more radical, here? What if we're not just looking for a minor tweak that will set our daily schedules back in order, like a chiropractor working on the hour blocks in your planner instead of the vertebrae in your backbone? Let's get crazy, for crazy results. These three unconventional self-help books set out to do just that: revolutionize your life, in non-conformist, who-gives-a-f***, badass ways. At least, that's what their covers tell us they can do!

the art of non-conformity, chris guillebeau

8978488I've been a solid conformist my whole life. When you're an eldest child of four, raised by two extremely protective parents, you pretty much content yourself with a life of  living obediently. (There's a reason why I first read The Adventures of Tom Sawyer at the age of eight, y'all.) Naturally, a book that runs perpendicular to every way I've lived my life since birth seemed like a fitting choice for a little radical action.

Guillebeau himself has really oriented his livelihood around the concept of international travel, especially in how this relates to his ability to dedicate his life to service and volunteer with various nonprofits of all kinds of platforms. Writing not only books, but a successful blog, and various business supplements, has made the globe his office space, writing on a laptop in hotel lobbies, hostel roofs, busy cafes, and spacious parks all over the world. It's hard to turn your nose up at that kind of life, especially when he lays out exactly how he makes that kind of lifestyle so accessible.

Sure, he's pretty extraordinary in a lot of ways, as he humble brags about in various places throughout the book, including in how he skipped most of high school, took maximum course loads from several colleges simultaneously, and spent four years volunteering on a nonprofit medical ship off the African Coast in his 20s. But he also comes off as a fairly normal guy. It's easy to listen to him talk about the actions he's taken throughout his life to make sure it is an extraordinary one.

In what I hoped was a non-conformist fashion - hey, I'm new here - I decided to mark up the book, and let me tell you, the pages are absolutely scribbled and lined and starred over within an inch of their life. Pretty impressive, considering I read it in about four sittings across three days.

the subtle art of not giving a f***, mark manson

Whereas other self-help books promise to help you improve efficiency, gain happiness, or forge more meaningful relationships by way of various progress guides, implemented regimens, or restructuring perception, Mark Manson has decided to tell you how to achieve these goals by focusing on the complete opposite direction: stop caring so much. As a matter of fact, stop giving quite so many f***s. 

There are some things that still warrant attention: things like important familial bonds, interpersonal relationships, and attention to various goals. These values are those pillars by which you direct the rest of your no-f***s-given lifestyle. So you keep those. But then you do whatever the heck you want. Because once you start giving the status quo the middle finger, there's a lot of options opened up to you. 

Ask out that guy. Go for the promotion. Publish your novel. Lose the weight. Who gives a f***? If the answer is you, and you've got a good reason for doing it, then do it. If you're taking anything else into account - including failure, the opinions of others, or the simplistic terror you feel when you do it - then those are unnecessary f***s you're Pez-dispensing right now. 

Manson uses a variety of examples to explain his development of this technique, including understanding that negative feelings are a signal for change, focusing agency on yourself rather than extraneous sources, taking ownership of your need to be the victim and acting against it, considering the fact that you are most likely wrong about most things, and, the classic, that we're all worm food anyways (To be honest, I think that a few more self-help books could probably use a dose of nihilism. You know, for balance's sake). 

While these explanations and accompanying anecdotes were usually spot-on to his intended messages, they could sometimes be winding and not feel entirely cohesive. There was a lack of comprehensivity that made the book feel like it wandered away from target messages, which might also have been an effect of the lesson in the first place. I almost wished there was a kind of wrap-up in a bulleted list format at the end... instead, I felt like I should have been taking notes, which is distinctly off the no-f***s brand. 

In the end, I liked it, I thought it was funny, and it riffed enough on Stoicism that I felt like I understood its underlying messages fairly well. That being said, I still feel like I should have taken notes. 

you are a badass, jen sincero

First off: this is not my kind of self-help book. I thought it would be - after seeing it so glowingly hyped by everyone from close friends, to YouTubers and podcasters I adore, to even the reviewers on Goodreads - but it's not.

To be fair, I understand why others might enjoy Sincero's unapologetic and no-holds-barred endorsement of somewhat unconventional-yet-completely-conventional self-help practices: visualize what you want and believe it will come to you, the Universe is conspiring to give you what you want, the only one holding you back is you and your subconscious, etc. These mantras are almost tropes of the genre, but when presented with her gleeful candor and motivational speaker attitude, they take on new life, and a lot of new language.

Unfortunately, these are exactly the kinds of things I dislike about the majority of self-help books. I do not buy into the Law of Attraction or its associated precepts, and I don't think that such a cavalier attitude towards action will get you very far: I don't think that just setting an intention for something, and blindly running towards it with all the enthusiasm you can muster, is an effective means of setting goals or working towards them. I like self help with substance, not spacey, new-age maxims attached about how The Supreme Motherlode is waiting for me to open the right door. Like I said, I totally get why this is some people's jam, but like deep meditation, cauliflower rice, and long-distance running, what might have changed someone else's life, is stuff that is absolutely not for me.

One thing I did enjoy, though, was Sincero's very authentic and genuine approach to preaching self-love and acceptance. No matter what list throughout her book - whether about how to trust your gut, utilize positive visualization, stave off feelings of overwhelm - the last tenet of each, was to love yourself first.

Ultimately, I wish this book was full of more concrete action steps and utilizable items on how to actively make your life more bad ass, rather than just restructure your mind-space into thinking you are one.

Do any of these books sound interesting to you? What kinds of self-help books do you like to read? Let me know, in the comments below!

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Tastee-Reads: Magnolia Table, Hot Mess Kitchen, Bon Appetit's Food Lover's Cleanse

I've been vocal about my love of cookbooks on this platform before: they're a uniquely clear and distinct aesthetic package of good food, good photography, and oftentimes, really good storytelling. The narrative might not be linear, and the characters involved are a little more on the not-so-imaginary side, but cookbooks are yet another means of translating culture and personality to eager readers, alongside all of the culinary skills and interesting ingredients.

The best part about this kind of recreational reading is, you can bring its contents right off the pages, with some basic kitchen abilities and a decent budget for grocery shopping! No matter how magical the Harry Potter series is, even it can't promise you that.

Here are a few cookbooks that have caught my eye recently, and along with how well they'd fit in with my own collection.

magnolia table: a collection of recipes for gathering, joanna gaines 

Image result for magnolia table goodreadsAs with millions of Fixer Upper fans the whole world 'round, when Joanna Gaines released the news that she would be publishing a cookbook, I waited with bated breath. When my mom - another Magnolia fan - surprised me with a copy only a couple of days after it came out, I positively squealed!

And this cookbook is well worth the squeal. Soon after I posted a picture of it on my Instagram Story, questions came pouring in from friends, as to whether the somewhat-hefty price tag that comes with a cookbook was worth it. Here's what I told them:

The book is one hundred percent a product of Mrs. Gaines. If you're a reader of the couple's Magnolia Journal quarterly magazine, then this cookbook will look faintly familiar to you, because the entire thing is done with Joanna's signature shiplap-and-rustic-ivory eye for style completely throughout. If the sheer fact that this is a gorgeous cookbook to look at wasn't enough to sell you, then the recipes inside will.

With relatively straightforward and low-cost ingredients lists, and steps that are easy to understand, the food inside this book is delicious and accessible. The first recipe in the whole cookbook is for Joanna's signature biscuits, and the rest of them follow in similar suit: homey, comfort food fit for feeding a family.

If you do decide to purchase one of these - something I would recommend for longtime fans of the show - then definitely go for the Target version: not only is it cheaper than what you might find in other stores as a recent release, but due to the retailer's exclusive deals on the Hearth + Hand collection, there are even extra recipes included at the back of the book specifically for Target shoppers.

hot mess kitchen: recipes for your delicious and disastrous life, gabi moskowitz and miranda berman 

Image result for hot mess kitchen goodreadsOne of the first things I do when I read a new cookbook, is look at the author's page, and check out their credentials. What I found was a happy surprise: Gabby Moskowitz, half of the writing team, is the blogger for BrokeAss Gourmet... as well as the inspiration for the show Young and Hungry on Freeform, which is based off of her life and writing!

This explains the clever and clearly accessible recipes found throughout the cookbook, all whimsically named for the various states of panic/ frustration/ inability that various young people might find themselves in when encountering a kitchen, a cutting board, and a state of hunger. For instance, "Someday I'll Be Rich Rice and Beans" kicks off the book, while "All My Friends are Married Mud Pie," brings forward one of the many quick and simple desserts tucked inside. "Mercury is in Retrograde Mango Smoothie" is for days when you want to eat a little cleaner, while my personal favorite recipe in the book - "Just Put it in a Bowl," literally just a list of snacks you can put in a collection of bowls to make it seem like you prepared for any party - makes entertaining a breeze.

But despite my enjoyment of the author, my appreciation for the funny writing, and even the forward - courtesy of Mindy Kaling, for crying out loud! - I really couldn't get into this cookbook. Maybe it's because I left this kind of frantic, novice-style cooking behind a while ago, before I made it my purpose in high school to learn my way around the kitchen, or perhaps because I think the styling choices and photography of the cookbook leave a lot to be desired. Overall, I wasn't entirely impressed.

A fun, funny cookbook written for seriously entry-level wannabe-chefs, this might be a cute selection for a novelty graduation present, or the gift of a gentle ribbing for the friend who could burn ice.

bon appetit's the food lover's cleanse, sara dickerman 

Image result for bon appetit food lover's cleanse goodreads
Bon Appetit has been a trusted culinary resource to me, for as long as I've been alive: I would ruthlessly tear through copies my mom got as a subscription when I was a kid, pasting recipes I thought were pretty into an unkempt, scrapbook-y "Recipe Collection," and I recently became obsessed with the publication anew after the discovery of its enrapturing and informational YouTube channel (check out the "It's Alive!" series with Brad Leone, or space out for a few minutes to the enthralling butchery videos they put out with industry talents). So, when The Food Lovers' Cleanse showed up on foodie lists back in January on how to start your year off right, I put a hold on it at the library as soon as I could.

The book is divided seasonally - as you find produce is at its best and most nutritious when it is harvested in season, thereby offering the best quality to you, the distinguished Bon Appetit consumer - and includes two weeks of meal planning for each season, based off of the recipe contents of that specific section of the cookbook.

The recipes are beautiful, captivatingly captured through tell-tale editorial photography fit for the magazine, and offer goods that are just as high-end as they look. From what I could discern, the offerings are primarily paleo-influenced, and offer plenty of options for customization to fit alternative diets, like for vegetarians (unless, of course, that diet is primarily baked-goods oriented, in which case, you are out of luck here).

However, while they add a few curves to conform to your individual dietary needs, hopefully that doesn't include a low bank account balance, because Bon Appetit definitely caters to those holding a certain amount of cha-ching. From meat options that include Lamb, Albacore Tuna and Buffalo, to the call for flavorings that range from za'atar to harissa paste to preserved lemons, this cookbook was created to cleanse a certain clientele... I guess being a "food lover," like the title suggests, comes with a price tag.

For the discerning and high brow foodie - or just those who love expert food styling - this cookbook offers plenty of interesting and inventive recipes to break you out of your dieting rut.

Have you read any good cookbooks recently? Would you be interested in reading any of the ones on this list? Let me know, in the comments below! 

Friday, April 27, 2018

Book Versus Movie: Love, Simon

So, what feels like a million years ago, I used to have a recurring series on this blog called "The Novel and The Movie," running through various book to movie adaptations, and determining between the two which I thought was superior (Spoiler alert: Between The Maltese Falcon, Bridget Jones' Diary, and Wild, the movie came out on top once!). 

Of course, these posts weren't the only times I've talked about movies on this blog - like in last summer's exploration of the Twilight legacy - but they were unique in that they pitted two different mediums of the same story against each other. When my siblings and I recently saw a movie that led us to consciously make those same kinds of judgments, well, I knew I had to bring the series back! 

(And yes, I'm very aware that this post jumps on board the hype train a little late, as the movie came out March 16th. I'm excusing it, because Albertalli's newest book, Leah on the Offbeat - which focuses on the character of Leah from Simon's story - just came out a few days ago!) 


If you do remember the Twilight post that I just mentioned, then these two might seem a little familiar!

While I read Simon vs. the Homosapiens Agenda all the way back in 2015, and have been telling everyone how much I love it ever since, neither my younger sister, Delaney, or youngest sibling and only brother, Beaumont, had ever got around to reading it. Naturally, I mandated that before anyone got to see the movie adaptation - Love, Simon, which premiered this past March to a Rotten Tomatoes score of 92% positive - they would have to do so.
  • Delaney is a college senior and soon-to-be graduate, with a passion for HR, and a legacy in Greek life, serving as both Chapter President and Panhellenic President. Despite having been a cheerleader for all four years of high school, and coming out as a lesbian to our parents in college, she has somehow never seen the the seminal LGBT film, But I'm a Cheerleader.
  • Beaumont is a high school sophomore, and member of the Knowledge Bowl, Jazz Club, and School Band, as well as Crew for the annual Spring musical. He loves watching Jeopardy with his family, and would like to make sure this profile mentions his beloved pet hedgehog, Beignet.
Delaney read the book quickly over Winter Break - after I gave it to her for Christmas - and Beau did it in the Spring, finishing up just a day before we saw the movie. 


Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, by Becky Albertalli, follows the story of Simon Spier, a teenager who keeps his sexuality hidden from everyone... except for the stranger from his high school, Blue, that he's been messaging online. After he mistakenly leaves his email open in the library, and is subsequently blackmailed by geeky Martin into helping win over his friend Abby, Simon's junior year gets a lot more complicated. Can he juggle friends, family, the school musical, and this huge secret? More importantly, can he do so, while winning over Blue? 

For Delaney, this story meant a lot, due to her own high school experiences. "As a closeted teen I read most of my LGBT+ books secretly, either not mentioning the plot at all or shuffling the novel amongst the straightest YA fictions you could find," she told me. "In fact, Simon vs. The Homosapiens Agenda was the first LGBT+ book I’ve read since coming out. I can easily say I was not disappointed. The plot was juicy, well thought out, and came from a place where, while I knew the author herself was straight, I trusted her with the characters." 

Beau was a lot more new to the sub-genre, but still went in with high expectations. "While I've read books with LGBT+ characters before, they've never been contemporary or romance... if anything, almost all have been in the fantasy category. I read Simon vs. Homosapiens Agenda because it came highly recommended by both of my sisters, and I wanted to read it before seeing the movie. I really loved the characters, because they were very realistic, and it was funny, emotional, and very dramatic, and overall, a good, solid read." 

Notes from the Field (courtesy of my siblings)
  • Delaney hates it when teen-speak is incorporated into YA novels, especially when it comes to things like Internet slang or social media-specific lingo. Understandably, it was important to the plot - as the school's gossip Tumblr, creeksecrets, plays an important factor - but that doesn't stop the language itself from being somewhat cringe-inducing. 
  • In fact, Delaney couldn't help but flinch at some of the email conversations between each chapter from Blue and Simon, "not because they weren’t as valuable as the story itself, but because they reminded me too much of my own relationships and conversations in high school, and it honestly made me uncomfortable. " 
  • Beau just scoffed at the idea of lengthy chains of email responses back and forth. "There are plenty of other ways to message people." 
  • Beau thought some of the pop cultural references were well-integrated into the plot, but others were awkward, and even automatically dated the novel. "Some, like Harry Potter, will stand the test of time, but others that are really funny now, might not last as long." 


The movie follows the same plotline as the book, to a fairly impressive degree, in terms of a film expectations for an adaptation of a YA novel. They were especially successful is maintaining the sense of personality that Simon imbues throughout the story, as well as creating realistic characters portrayed with emotional depth. However, the changes that were made, were definitely noticed. 

Delaney said that overall, some of her favorite moments of the movie involved Simon's parents, played by Jennifer Garner and Josh Duhamel. "I thought they captured Simon’s parent’s reactions beautifully in the movie... I could feel such sincerity in both of their small scenes individually addressing Simon’s coming out. I will always see Jennifer as my second mom." 

One of the other elements of the movie that my family really enjoyed included the depiction of the various emailing sequences throughout the movie. Depending on which person Simon was currently guessing at being Blue, the actors playing the mysterious correspondent rotated, all with a blue filter saturating the screen. Delaney said, "Using the Blue filter over our mystery email boyfriend adds a sense of mystique, especially when partnered with the changing characters filling the screen and voice over as Simon’s suspicions change." 

Additional elements that generated rave reviews? The addition of Ethan, an out-and-proud boy at Simon's school, as well as the inclusion of some of Simon's quirks from the book, like his affinity for Oreos. One of the funnier family conversations we had in anticipation of the movie, was whether they'd have anything Harry Potter-related in the film, which generated even bigger laughs when they actually did. 

Of course, they can't all be positive. Certain changes were made to the movie in order to generate a different thematic tone than what was possible through a movie, versus book, translation. Emotional responses were bumped higher and bigger, the cast of characters was streamlined or changed, and plot points were exaggerated or blown to a larger scale in order to convey a grander sense of drama. 

Personally? I missed the Tilt-a-Whirl ending, and it's clear from my conversations with my siblings that I'm not the only one. In the movie, the entire climactic action - of Simon meeting Blue for the first time - was made much more public and "celebrated," which was probably a deliberate tonal cue the movie wanted to hit, being that it was intended for teens... the problem is, the ending in the book is much more subtle and personal, and reflected more of the interiority of Simon that we get from his firsthand narration. Have a crowd of kids below him on the Ferris Wheel, watching him as he waited, and putting a lot of pressure on his Blue, just didn't hit that emotional point for me. 

Notes from the Field 
  • No one warned me that this soundtrack is so good. Like, it's really good. As in, something we all talked about after the fact. 
  • Great casting choices all around, but mainly in Nick Robinson, who plays Simon, and - of course - the always-glorious Jennifer Garner. Both pulled significant emotional weight through some of the film's most vital moments, and conveyed sincerity and authenticity in a narrative that really warranted it. 
  • All of the characters in this film must be loaded, because these houses are positively huge... particularly Simon's, whose digs look like the setting for a West Elm catalog photoshoot. If you're a fan of immaculate home sets, you'll be in heaven. 
  • The school musical has been changed from Oliver to Cabaret. Beau thought that change was not only a little unnecessary, but also highly unlikely, as a school would rarely actually elect to put on something as risque and subversive as Cabaret. It was like they wanted something that screamed "musical theater" more, and their eventual pick was a super unlikely one. 


Despite the fact that all of us siblings truly enjoyed both the book and the movie, and understood the necessity of the alterations made between the various mediums, at the end of the day, we couldn't help but feel one tells the story just a little bit better.

As Delaney put it, she prefers the book to the movie, "because of its ability to deepen the plot in a way that the movie isn’t able to. I like the dynamic of his family a little better in the book, maybe because it more closely reflects my own."

However, she insists on emphasizing that the movie is incredibly important viewing. "In no way is this the best movie you will ever see, but I’ll be damned if I’m not exceedingly happy that I’ve seen it. Whether you are LGBT+ or straight, you will see a bit of Simon in yourself, and that relatability is what helps make this movie so personal. While it is no Brokeback Mountain or Moonlight, Love, Simon owns what it is - a little silly and a lot heartwarming - and that is why it now owns a part of my soul."

For Beau, the changes between the two ended up being the deciding factor. "Both the movie and the book follow the same general plot, however the movie made several changes... and these changes are probably my biggest problems with the movie as I felt they were unnecessary, and even detracted from the plot.

However, like Delaney, he also really enjoyed the film. In fact, something else the two both agree on, is what order in which to take in these two story mediums: Delaney recommends reading the book first, then seeing the movie, like all three of us did. "In the case of having already seen the movie first, then you should still read the book!"

"It’s a positive way to see each form of content as a separate interpretation." 

Regardless, we hope it's clear that this is a story we all truly enjoyed and loved, and the likes of which we hope to be seeing grace the big screen again soon. Only, after we read the book, first! 

Which do you prefer, the book or the movie? When did you see Love, Simon in theaters? Have you read any of Albertalli's other books? Let me know, in the comments below!

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Review: Sounds Like Me: My Life (So Far) In Song

25434361Grammy Award-winning and Tony-nominated singer, songwriter, and actress Sara Bareilles has a whole lot of titles to stick onto her name already. 

Which means, of course, I was overjoyed when she decided to add "author" to that lineup! 

Ever since her hit single "Love Song" became a chart-topping success back in 2007, Sara Bareilles has made a career out of her folksy voice, genuine lyrics, and penchant for speaking to the heart of her worldwide fanbase, with songs like "Brave," and "King of Anything." Now, she takes to a different kind of writing platform, to share even more of her life in her own words, including views of her unconventional childhood, how to write a song, her battles with anxiety and depression, and what it took to make the world stop, and listen.

Sounds Like Me: My Life (So Far) in Song is divided into eight chapters, organized around songs she has written that have been both personal to her, and influential to her career. From her origins with "Love Song," all the way to "She Used to Be Mine," the standout hit from her Tony Award- nominated original score for Waitress: The Musical, the stories held within the book cover not just themes of heartbreak, growth, the industry, and family, but detail what kind of work went into the construction of these notable works of art, and her impressive career.

To be clear (if you haven't been able to tell thus far): Sara is one of my favorite musical acts of all time. As one of my favorite contemporary songwriters, it would make sense that her words would speak to me just as completely through the format of a memoir, as they would through her music.

In fact, this book is one of those things where it's almost hard to review this objectively, due to the sheer amount of love and unconditional support I feel for the person who wrote it. I love Sara, I love her songs, and the feeling's not going away any time soon. Her music has long had a foothold in my life, and I've overjoyed at her continued success.

So, I refuse to distance the concepts of reviewing this as an outsider, versus the status of being a fan: this memoir not only made me love her even more as an already-established admirer, but gave new and additional insight into some of the elements of her career that I've been able to observe from the outside, as a fan, from stories behind the writing of songs I already know all the words to, to the creative process for Waitress, to exactly why she left her judging position on my family's one-time favorite show, The Sing-Off (aka, the a capella reality competition that first brought us the gift that is Pentatonix).

(Also,  in case you were a fan of that show, fellow judge Ben Folds wrote the forward!)

For instance, the story behind "Love Song" is a little different than what you've read or heard before, even when it was told by Sara herself. Her efforts to remain authentic in a media-obsessed industry have helped her carve out a sound and fanbase that's all about celebrating being yourself, which is one of the reasons why "Brave" was so personal to her. And when it comes to the song "Gravity," it captures the feeling of heartbreak so perfectly, because it was an artifact of heartbreak, itself.

In fact, Sara spoke so completely through the memoir, that I ended up highlighting excerpts from some of the chapters, because it meant so much for me to read them. Her writing is conversational and straightforward, while still preserving a sense of artistry that is unique to her style as a performer. In fact, the audio book is even narrated by her, so if you're as big a fan as I am, it might be worth it to hear her tell her own story, in her own voice, out loud.

Regardless, this was probably one of the most meaningful memoirs I've read in the last year.

Final Verdict: Direct, authentic, and incredibly personal, Sara Bareilles' voice shines through her memoir just as completely as it does through her music. Whether you're already a fan of her music, or a fan of celebrity memoirs, I think you should take a chance, and take a listen, because I feel like it's impossible to come out of this not rooting for her unique blend of musicianship and heart.

What's your favorite celebrity memoir? Have you read any written by musicians? Let me know, in the comments below!

Monday, April 9, 2018

Bits of Books: Enchantment of Ravens, The Magician King, Lost Boy

If you're going to settle down to the task of reading a great deal of books, you have to accept the reality that some of those books are going to be better than others. Some might be a total dumpster fire. Some might be a slightly smaller kitchen fire that someone started when they got a lighter too close to a potted plant. And even more so, some of those books are going to be... completely mediocre. You know, okay. Maybe even a little more than okay. Maybe even "perfectly fine."

But you can't just give a two word review like "Perfectly Fine." Instead, that's why I have room for mini-reviews of recent reads, in Bits of Books

An Enchantment of Ravens, Margaret Rogerson

An Enchantment of Ravens is the first novel for Margaret Rogerson, and follows a young painter, named Isobel, whose Craft attracts patronage from many of the fair folk. However, while she frequently finds herself in the company of these unique and dangerous subjects, she makes a crucial mistake when depicting one of the most powerful of all: she paints mortal sorrow into the Autumn Prince's eyes. Now she must travel with him to the Autumn Court and await trial for her crimes.... if they manage to get that far.

The story itself didn't exactly distract me, so much as leave me waiting for it to develop further. There were kernels of interest, new and exciting ideas, that appeared every once in a while, and parts of description where Rogerson really shined; however, too much of it was built on YA genre tropes for me to really grab hold of the narrative without thinking, "I've seen this too many times before."

Even worse, some of those belonged in the more annoying hallmarks of YA, such as insta-love, a regular person who is the chosen one for fairly achievable talents or personality traits, and the typical trappings of an immortal and ageless prince falling in love with a literal teenager.

The world-building felt lackluster, like every time the ideas started to develop outwards more fully, it fell short a couple steps before actually making the journey into a new concept. It was so close to so many different things, that could have been really cool or new, but never quite made it all the way there.

I'm not about to blame my dissatisfaction on the genre, either, as I've read some pretty remarkable fairy-based fantasies recently. Still, while it's easier to take stories about comprehensive high fantasy communities and multiple groups inter-working in one universe, the idea that all fairies exist in this one concise radius, know each other, and interact throughout the courts regularly, seemed a little claustrophobic, as well as unlikely.

All in all, definitely not a great read for me. However, the cover is stunning... and I was interested in enough of the minor nuances of the story concepts that I might be tempted to pick up one of the author's future reads. Maybe.

The Magician King (The Magicians #2), Lev Grossman 

The Magician King, by Lev Grossman, is the second installment in the popular The Magicians series. Once again following Quentin, Elliot, Janet, and Quentin's long-ago classmate Julia, the journey starts in Fillory, where Q finds himself wrapped up in an uncertain quest. Seeking a key at the end of the world, his journey takes him back to Earth, to the canals of Venice, and farther beyond the reaches of Fillory than he even accounted for. His magical education at Brakebills can't help him here... but Julia's unbridled street-learned abilities might just be the thing that takes them home.

In terms of second books that really feel like second books, this is very much a continuation, and in a lot of ways, specifically felt like a bridge for Quentin. The story was much more about Julia, who I enjoyed getting to know better, especially because of how much she'd been sidelined in the first novel. In fact, I still wish her story had been amped up even more.

Additionally, if the series does a great job of making settings feel like characters themselves, and if the main characters in the first book included Brakebills and Fillory, then the second book was oriented more towards Earth - specifically, the safe houses - and Outside-Continental-Fillory. Each place the characters traveled to carried its own distinct ambience and sense of construction.

I almost appreciated being on Earth more, because the narrative couldn't get away with deus ex machina conventionality so much. With Fillory, it often feels like things just happen due to "magic" and it's used as a brush-away excuse, but when confined to the limitations of Earth, even magic is forced into some form of confine that gives it a greater shape and depth.

I'm not terribly satisfied with the ending, but I suppose that's one of the great things about reading a series after its finished. I mean, I can just run out to Barnes and Noble this weekend and pick up a new copy. The same, however, cannot be said for those who read it in the time of its publication... in which case, how did you guys stick through it?

Lost Boy, Christina Henry

Lost Boy, by Christina Henry, is a retelling of J. M. Barrie's classic Peter Pan, told from the viewpoint of Captain Hook, long before he became captain. Before he joined the ranks of the Neverland pirates, and before he ever lost his hand. Back when he was Peter's first and favorite friend, and more often than not, the only thing standing between the other lost boys and some of the more unsavory parts of the island. When he thought that he'd never, ever grow up.

In the scope of adult-oriented fractured fairy tales, it's yet another Peter Pan retelling; this time, courtesy of the Captain. Among the various choices for narrator of various forms of this many-times-fractured tale - Wendy, Peter himself, Tiger Lily, Tink - those featuring the viewpoint of James Hook have always struck me as the most interesting... probably because, like him, I don't particularly care for Peter Pan, either.

It's not that I don't like the original narrative, it's that its a great story with just too many elements within it that rub me the wrong way. The good thing about Lost Boy, is that it adapts to this problem, both honing in on some of that difficulty in order to make it a central conflict, or zapping it out of the plot at all.

For instance, the brutality of Neverland - the endless cycles of violence, especially between boys and pirates, being depicted as fun and games - and the status of each Lost Boy as being someone shucked off by society in the real world, both come into direct conflict with the unbothered, unbloodied boyishness of Peter. These tragic status symbols that are widely brushed over in the original works, are made into plot fixtures in this one: Were the Lost Boys ever really that lost, unwanted, or forgotten? Was it really the children who demanded so much bloodsport? 

Other plot elements, like the problematic depictions of "Indian" tribes in Neverland that have plagued pretty much every adaptation of this story ever, are taken out entirely, and replaced with the antagonizing force of the "Many-Eyed," which are basically giant spiders. While these new creatures could just have been made to be an example of one of the Island's many beasts, they were completely central to the plot, and the tribe was not mentioned in the narrative whatsoever.

The book was okay, and more than that, it was exactly the kind of book I would have loved when I was younger, especially in how it runs up against other Peter Pan adaptations I've loved in the past. However, this book just didn't feel like it went that extra mile in making the story something more than itself. And when you try to retell a story as iconic as this one, you want to make sure the narrative soars all the way to that second star.

Have you read any so-so books recently? Do you have any book reccs for me? Let me know, in the comments below!