ARC Review: Fresh Ink (anthology)

Genre: YA contemporary/science-fiction/fantasy/graphic novel/historical fiction

Publisher: Crown Books for Young Readers

Publication Date: August 14, 2018

Synopsis:

fresh ink.jpgIn partnership with We Need Diverse Books, thirteen of the most recognizable, diverse authors come together in this remarkable YA anthology featuring ten short stories, a graphic short story, and a one-act play from Walter Dean Myers never before in-print.

Careful–you are holding fresh ink. And not hot-off-the-press, still-drying-in-your-hands ink. Instead, you are holding twelve stories with endings that are still being written–whose next chapters are up to you.

Because these stories are meant to be read. And shared.

Thirteen of the most accomplished YA authors deliver a label-defying anthology that includes ten short stories, a graphic novel, and a one-act play. This collection will inspire you to break conventions, bend the rules, and color outside the lines. All you need is fresh ink.

Disclaimer: I was provided an eARC in exchange for an honest review. Thanks to Netgalley and Crown Books.

I think this is the first YA short story anthology I’ve read and I really enjoyed it! Like all collections, what’s inside varies and different stories will appeal to different readers. I appreciated this one included a play and a graphic/comics story. I sort of wish it was longer, but I think its size also contributes to its feeling of immediacy, and the short stories might appeal to struggling or less avid readers. This would be especially great for new YA readers because they can be exposed to many authors and then check out their other works. It’s also great for teens looking to see themselves in literature–I believe all are #ownvoices for people of color, and many are LGBTQ as well. Ultimately, I think this anthology might help students interested in writing their own stories and introduce them to new authors to read.

Now, to talk about each story…

“Eraser Tattoo” by Jason Reynolds: This is a cute story about a teen couple in Brooklyn saying goodbye before one of them moves away. It weaves in the backstory of their friendship and romantic relationship, and I loved how I felt I was also sitting on a stoop in Brooklyn while reading it (helps I’ve been there). Unfortunately, there are still occurrences of everyday white privilege that rears its head.

“Meet Cute” by Malinda Lo: This is about a black Dana Scully cosplayer and a female Sulu (from Star Trek) cosplayer who meet at a con and the power goes out. And they’re cute and slowly discover they’re both queer and by the end you’re rooting for them to trade numbers. I loved this because I’m a huge X-Files and Star Trek fan and the commentary was great and hilarious, even if some comments about Star Trek have already become outdated due to the new series Discovery.

“Don’t Pass Me By” by Eric Gansworth: This story about a Native American boy going to a public school outside of the Reservation has lots of great commentary on how the school system treats Indigenous people and the concept of a “normal” skin color being white. It’s unfortunately a viewpoint we don’t see enough in YA or fiction in general. I also appreciated that this wasn’t a romance like so many of the others are.

“Be Cool for Once” by Aminah Mae Safi: This is a really cute story about a Muslim girl attending a rock concert with her friend and her crush shows up. He can’t really be there for her, can he? I loved how fleshed-out the characters were and how Shirin grew.

“Tags” by Walter Dean Myers: This short play was apparently written by Myers before he died. It takes place on a street the young male characters are trying to “tag,” each telling about how they died. The format definitely sets it up for the fantastical premise. Unfortunately, and especially since it’s short, it can be easy to mix up who is who while reading which is a problem I still have with plays and I’ve been reading them for a while. That said, I think it still has the potential to be powerful with young readers and I’m glad this different format was included in the collection.

“Why I Learned to Cook” by Sara Farizan: This was a really sweet story about an Iranian-American bi girl learning to cook Persian food with her grandmother for her girlfriend, though she isn’t out yet to her grandmother. I liked the overall themes, though I found the writing style rather bland.

“A Stranger at the Bochinche” by Daniel José Older: This was definitely unlike any of the others…a fantasy set in something like 1800s Brooklyn with a monster. The writing is very atmospheric and I admit I had trouble following it at the beginning, but by the end I was along for the ride.

“A Boy’s Duty” by Sharon G. Flake: This was a historical fiction story about a black boy during the World War II. I honestly had trouble following it and I don’t think much happened, but I appreciated the atmosphere the writing generated.

“One Voice: A Something in Between Story” by Melissa de la Cruz: This timely story follows the effect two hate speech graffiti incidents at Stanford has on an undocumented Filipina student. I loved that it was told in sections and the messages and discussions were definitely on-point.

“Paladin/Samurai” by Gene Luen Yang, Thien Pham (illustrations): This was maybe the shortest of the bunch, but the little narrative trick it pulled was cute and enjoyable. It’s about a group of kids playing a Dungeons and Dragons-like game, the girl some of them like, and their identities.

“Catch, Pull, Drive” by Schuyler Bailar: This story is about a trans boy swimmer who has just come out to the whole world and the team and is navigating his first practice back. Some other boys are welcoming, some are not (tw for slurs), but he prevails. This is a good example of showing what might happen after coming out, as so many stories only cover understanding one’s identity and coming out.

“Super Human” by Nicola Yoon: Maybe this is because I read this last, but I think this is my favorite, and I think it succeeds on a great concept and execution that’s perfect for the short story format. It’s about X, the world’s one and only superhero who has vowed to destroy the world, and the one girl who has been chosen to stop him (because shew as the first he saved). The catch: the superhero is a black teen. There’s some great satire to how the world reacted to this that echoes events like Obama becoming president, but of course, there’s much deeper and heartfelt commentary to be had about the way society treats black teens and their double identities (code-switching). The girl (Syrita) is black too, but from an upper-class background with different experiences. The ending is perfect, too.

Advertisements

Mid-Year Book Freakout Tag

I was tagged by Linda over at Linda’s Little Library to do the Mid-Year Book Freakout Tag. I’m a little late for this because I was on vacation, so I’m not going to include anything I’ve read so far in July, since the end of June marked the middle of the year.

1. Best Book You’ve Read So Far

ivy aberdeenI think I have to say Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World by Ashley Herring Blake! This is such a beautiful, heartfelt middle grade story about a girl whose house has been destroyed by a tornado, and in the aftermath she works through her feelings for other girls and her relationship to her friends and family. It has so many important messages and the tone is perfect.

2. Best Sequel You’ve Read So Far

I haven’t read many sequels this year, but I have to say Ms. Marvel Vol. 6: Civil War II. I actually read Volumes 3-6 (so far!) this summer and I LOVE them, and they just keep getting better and better. The sixth volume has some really interesting ethical debates (it’s part of a larger Civil War II arc I think) and serious consequences for the characters.

3. New Release You Haven’t Read Yet, But Want To

hurricane childI really want to read Kheryn Callender’s Hurricane Child, which came out in March, but I also want to own it and I’m trying not to order books right now. We’ll see how long I make it. This is a middle grade book about a girl born during a storm, considered unlucky (it takes place in the Virgin Islands), who is determined to find her mother. It’s magical realism and I believe the main character is also discovering her sexuality. Also, isn’t the cover beautiful?

4. Most Anticipated Release for the Second Half of the Year

There are several, but I think I’m going to have to go with What If It’s Us by Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera. I love their individual works and found the first chapter to this one (at the end of Leah on the Offbeat) adorable. Most of all, I’m excited for all the Broadway references that have been promised!

5. Biggest Disappointment

Not counting July, I’ve got to say King Lear. There are too many characters and the ending was pretty unsatisfying because the showdowns you wanted to see all happened offstage! C’mon, Shakespeare!

6. Biggest Surprise

Another Shakespeare play, Cymbeline. This is a very strange one and I’m not sure I would consider it “good,” but it was definitely entertaining. It felt like Shakespeare was becoming self-aware of all his tropes and it was pretty ridiculous. And then Jupiter descended!

7. Favorite New Author (Debut or new to you)

I usually consider questions like this to be referring to authors who I’ve read more than one work by, but there hadn’t been any new ones to me that I read more than one book from through June. So for those I’ve read one thing from so far: Anna-Marie McLemore (Wild Beauty) or Ashley Herring Blake (Ivy Aberdeen).

8. Newest Fictional Crush?

I always draw a blank on these and frankly, this just isn’t something I look for when reading. So, no one?

9. Newest Fictional Character

I suppose this isn’t completely new, since I read the first two volumes last year, but I have SO MUCH love for Ms. Marvel/Kamala Khan right now. I care so much about her and her story and her friends and family.

10. Book that made you cry

Honestly, I don’t think I have a true answer to this because I don’t remember crying to any book yet (it’s not that I’m not a crier…I just didn’t read anything that got me?), but I will say that I was reading Anger is a Gift by Mark Oshiro and about halfway through a THING happened and I was pretty shaken. I still haven’t finished it, although I plan to. It just wasn’t the book I wanted to read at that time.

11. Book that made you happy

wild beautyI cheered myself up by reading Ivy Aberdeen next, which did make me very happy, but you’ve already heard about that so I have to say Wild Beauty. That book is so beautiful and lovely with great commentary.

12. Favorite book to film adaptation you saw this year

…So, I still haven’t seen Love, Simon, because my plans kept falling through and I haven’t bought it yet. I honestly don’t watch too many movies. I think my pick will have to be Carol, because even though I didn’t read the book I did enjoy the movie and I watched it on Netflix in like January.

13. Favorite Review You’ve Written This Year

Does this count? I’m really behind on reviews because during the school year I didn’t read much outside of classwork, and now it’s the summer I’m reading lots and can’t keep up.

14. Most Beautiful Book You’ve Bought/Received This Year

Well, I have been avoiding buying books, so I don’t have too many to choose from here. That said, I LOVE the Ivy Aberdeen cover (above) with all my heart.

15. What books do you need to read by the end of the year?

Yikes. So, excluding books for school (lots of 18th-19th century stuff, some contemporary stuff), here’s what I REALLY DO want to read by the end of the year; the rest I’ll be more flexible with, hopefully. Things always are up in the air once I get to school, but I do want to stay focused.

  • Hamlet (currently reading. Yes, I’ve never read it before.)
  • Finish Anger is a Gift
  • 100 Years of Solitude
  • The Empathy Exams
  • Beneath the Sugar Sky
  • Sadie (ARC)
  • Unbroken (anthology, ARC)
  • How to Make a Wish

I’m not going to tag anyone because it’s a bit too late for this…but feel free to do it if you want to!

 

Catch-Up Reviews: Turtles All the Way Down, Wild Beauty, Exit Pursued by a Bear

This has been a long time coming. Here are some mini-reviews and thoughts about books I wasn’t quite able to cover on this blog because of school. Turtles All the Way Down I read in December, Wild Beauty in January, and Exit, Pursued by a Bear in April/May.

A small update: I’m thinking of doing monthly wrap-up reviews this summer because I’m trying to focus less time on blogging, discuss books rather than review them (focusing on my position as an author and teacher), and spend more time writing. We’ll see how this goes. In the fall when I’m back at school, I plan to finally start a YouTube channel about books and teaching and writing. We’ll see!!

Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

turtles all the way downI read most of John Green’s books several years ago. I still enjoy his YouTube stuff with his brother Hank–especially when they’re providing educational materials like Crash Course–but I figured I wouldn’t pick up the book he came out with next. And then it was announced last summer, and it featured a girl with OCD, and since I’d seen John Green’s videos talking about his OCD, I knew I had to read it. There aren’t that many #ownvoices depictions in YA, and I’ve enjoyed what I have read (Patrick Ness’s The Rest of Us Just Live Here and Adam Silvera’s History is All You Left Me).

So, mental health is complicated, but as far as I know right now, according to professionals, I’m on the OCD or OCPD (the personality disorder) spectrum. Even though mine doesn’t manifest in the same way Aza’s does, but I definitely found similarities in the “thought spirals” and her obsession with a cut on her finger. I think a lot of depictions of OCD tend to focus on the actions and leave out the thoughts, which are such a key component. Green depicts these by manipulating language/sentence/paragraph structure, which works well.

I really appreciated the specific setting and references to it (Indianapolis). The story addresses issues of money, including how it relates to college, which I really appreciated because it really is on the mind of high school students. At first I found some of the characterization flimsy and there was some unhealthiness in the romance and friendship the story focuses on, but that ended up being addressed. (Unfortunately I read this a while ago and my notes aren’t too clear about it, but I remember being pleased at the directions it took, and also it would probably be a spoiler anyway.) Overall, definitely my favorite John Green book another great addition to the #ownvoices YA books on OCD, because everyone’s experiences are different!

Wild Beauty by Anna-Marie McLemore

wild beautyThis book is as gorgeous inside as it is on the outside. It’s a magical realism story about a Latina family, the Nomeolvides, where the men disappear and the women all can grow flowers. Their land, La Predera, keeps them isolated from the community that is afraid of them and their powers. Then a boy shows up, speaking no English without memories of where he came from, and the Nomeolvides women wonder if it’s one of their male lovers from the past.

The writing is certainly beautiful, but the story also deals with themes of colonialism, immigration, privilege, sexuality, and family. At the beginning, the five girls of the youngest generation all have a crush on their neighbor, a girl (who dresses more masculinely), and this is just accepted–even though the girls know their mothers and grandmothers are not accustomed to this. The main character, Estrella, develops feelings for the mysterious boy named Fel, and it’s great to see a queer girl in a f/m relationship because I feel like that is underrepresented often in stories. And the discoveries and plot twists? Amazing.

There are definitely others better qualified than me to talk about where this book and the rest of McLemore’s novels (which I’m excited to read soon!) lie within the canon of magical realism, but based on my limited knowledge I can see how the story and themes of colonialism and family fit into that Latin American tradition, with the addition of sexuality representation. I can’t wait to read more of her books!

Exit, Pursued by a Bear by E.K. Johnston

exit pursued by a bear.jpgI picked this up because I was studying Winter’s Tale and adaptations in my Shakespeare class, so I was curious about how that frankly bizarre story was interpreted through a contemporary YA lens. It’s a rather loose adaptation and focuses on the Hermione character (also named Hermione), who while at a cheer camp her final year of high school is drugged and raped, found unconscious in a lake. She doesn’t have memories of the incident

I know some people feel that this book works out very conveniently; Hermione is not met with negativity from investigators (and the main police officer assigned to her is female). Her choice what to do when she discovers she is pregnant is explored and fully supported (although it is Canada which does have different laws concerning health care, etc). Indeed, that means it often lacks tension throughout, but I also think that’s important because there is this gentle healing tone throughout the book, and lose ends are tied up. (That said, I thought there could have been more atmosphere and work on the secondary characters.) Plus, Hermione struggles with this calmness herself, as she lacks memories of the incident. While it was sensitive and didn’t “shy away” from things (I’m putting quotes because I don’t like how that phrase is used to justify some things…looking at you, 13 Reasons Why), Exit, Pursued by a Bear definitely is important for showing that not all stories about rape have to be brutal, dark, and sad.


That’s it for now! What are you reading? I’m hoping to post my June Wrap-Up soon!

Pride Month TBR

HAPPY PRIDE, EVERYONE!

A note: unfortunately, because of school sucking up my time and dictating what books I read, I haven’t been able to do some of the other minority month-specific celebrations. That said, I work toward discussing and reading diverse books all year long, which brings me to the second point:

This is not going to be very strict. The only one I’m definitely going to read is Ivy Aberdeen, because I have a physical copy and it’s my top priority to read those this summer so I don’t have to move them back to college with me. Accordingly, I’ve added a section of “possibly,” some of which are related, some of which aren’t. And if I end up picking up something like Persuasion because I feel like it, so be it.

Probably

These are books that I already own that are LGBTQ related, with priority given to physical copies. Of course, this is more than I’ll realistically read in the month, so who knows.

  1. Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World by Ashley Herring Blake: A cute f/f middle grade ! Yay!
  2. Anger is a Gift by Mark Oshiro: I think I’m going to break my book-buying habit and get this, like, right after I finish this post. I can’t help it. I have to read about student activism and the school system and intersectionality.
  3. When the Moon Was Ours by Anne-Marie McLemore: I loved Wild Beauty and just got this, so I’m excited to read it!
  4. How to Make a Wish by Ashley Herring Blake: I’ve heard so many good things! Including it will break my heart, apparently.
  5. Release by Patrick Ness: Another release (…no pun intended) from last year I haven’t gotten around to yet.
  6. The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by MacKenzie Lee: Ditto. I’m not as interested in reading this as I originally was, but several of my IRL friends have read it and I look forward to talk to them about it because there just aren’t that many times we read the same books. And I have the ebook anyway.
  7. We Are Okay by Nina LaCour: And ditto. It won the Printz, too! And it’s short!

Possibly

  1. This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki: I checked this graphic novel out from the library and it seems like the perfect summer read.
  2. Ms. Marvel vol. 4+: I’m continuing to check these out from the library and read them because I LOVE Kamala!
  3. The People’s History of the American Empire by Howard Zinn: An impromptu graphic novel pick from the library, this is a graphic novel version of Zinn’s famous A People’s History of the United States. I’m sure I’ll learn something!
  4. Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds: I want to get back into audiobooks and this seems perfect, as it’s only about 2 hours (I believe it’s a novel in verse). Though I do eventually want a physical copy for my classroom.
  5. Other audiobooks I’m looking at: Neil Patrick Harris Choose Your Own Autobiography and Alan Cumming’s Not My Father’s Son, because I want to learn more about these two actors (who have been in two of my favorite musicals) and audiobook seems like the perfect format.
  6. Plus, my original plans for this summer: A Long Day’s Journey into Night, Hamlet, 100 Years of Solitude, The Bell Jar, An Ideal Husband…

Whew! We’ll see what I get through. What are your reading goals for this month?

Olivia

Productivity is Hard

Well, I haven’t done some booktalking or reviewing on here because I thought I would catch up on some other stuff…and then I also failed to do said other stuff. I’ve learned some things about productivity, though, even if I’m not great at implementing them…

  1. Be at desk if needed. This basically set me behind most of May. I cleaned up my desk after a week or two of being back, but after or before a long shift at work this was not really where I wanted to spend my time. Unfortunately, it’s really where I need to be when writing certain scenes, especially if I have notes on paper or am using other resources.
  2. To-do lists…everywhere. I need to use my Passion Planner less now that my days are less structured, so I’ve taken to keeping to-do lists on my phone and computer, mostly with Evernote because it syncs between the two. I have big goals and miscellaneous at the top, and then I’ve broken it down into writing, blogging, and reading. Sometimes I also need to do plans for specific days. Checking off tasks just makes me more focused and like I have accomplished something, especially if the tasks are not the biggest (like writing/blogging/reading), because I do have other goals.
  3. Sometimes planning needs to also be on paper. I’ve been planning on journaling my writing projects for a while now, and I’ve finally begun with this current novel because I’ve had notes now for over a year that I really need to consolidate and narrow down, without deleting what I already have on Scrivner. I’m not sure that makes sense to you, but it’s how my brain is working right now–plus, there is less direction. So I’ve designated pages to plots, subplots, characters, and themes, and will be filling them out when I need to figure out what to write next.
  4. Writing sessions can’t be quick. I need time to immerse myself in the story and focus on what needs to come next. Sometimes, it also helps if I’m alone (see #1).
  5. Figure out sleep schedule/routine. Last school year I kind of developed a bad habit of staying in bed too late, attached to fragments of dream, and this has carried over to the summer. I’m working on it, but I also need to take advantage of the fact I do work better at night because it’s what I’m used to. So on nights I’m not working until midnight, I’m starting to take some time upstairs to write at my desk before bed.
  6. Staying off phone if not productive. Of course. This is something I’ve always struggled with, but I’ve accepted it’s still productive if I’m interacting with others on Twitter or Instagram rather than just scrolling. That’s part of growing my blog and “author brand” or whatever. Still, I need to limit it and not get distracted. I should probably get in a habit of using the Forest app again.
  7. Keeping myself accountable. Right now, I’m making a thread on Twitter where I update my word count when I write, hopefully finishing the draft by the end of the summer. In the past I’ve used trackers like Pacemaker, but since my schedule is different from day to day I find less pressure in this, and so I’ll probably be less likely to give up.

What I’ve been enjoying lately

I read Dear Martin (review/discussion coming soon) and short story collection The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2016 (really for my own writing research not planning to discuss much on here). I’m currently reading Six of Crows (finally!) and I’ve also been working through some issues of Ms. Marvel (so good!).

I’m continuing my marathon of Brooklyn 99 which I LOVE so much still, and I think I’ve gotten my family into it. I just watched the episodes where Rosa comes out to the squad and her family and my heart is so full. I’ve also been catching up on podcasts and I’m hoping to try an audiobook soon but we’ll see.

Hopefully see you soon with some sort of booktalk/review!

Olivia

Review: Leah on the Offbeat by Becky Albertalli

Genre: YA contemporary

Publisher: Balzer & Bray

Publication date: April 24, 2018

Synopsis:

leahLeah Burke—girl-band drummer, master of deadpan, and Simon Spier’s best friend from the award-winning Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda—takes center stage in this novel of first love and senior-year angst.

When it comes to drumming, Leah Burke is usually on beat—but real life isn’t always so rhythmic. An anomaly in her friend group, she’s the only child of a young, single mom, and her life is decidedly less privileged. She loves to draw but is too self-conscious to show it. And even though her mom knows she’s bisexual, she hasn’t mustered the courage to tell her friends—not even her openly gay BFF, Simon.

So Leah really doesn’t know what to do when her rock-solid friend group starts to fracture in unexpected ways. With prom and college on the horizon, tensions are running high. It’s hard for Leah to strike the right note while the people she loves are fighting—especially when she realizes she might love one of them more than she ever intended.

About a year ago, I read Becky Albertalli’s first two books: Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda and The Upside of Unrequited, and I really enjoyed them–especially Simon, because his anxieties over coming out were very relatable to me personally. Sadly, my plans to see Love, Simon with friends this spring fell through (darn schoolwork!), but I’m sure I’ll see it soon. So as school wound down this year, it seemed only fitting to read her new release, Leah on the Offbeat. (And somehow no one had checked it out from my library’s Libby yet!)

Leah is a sequel of Simon of sorts, taking place during their next and final year of high school. It’s from Simon’s friend Leah’s perspective, and she’s bi but hasn’t come out to any of her friends yet, even though she’s known since she was eleven. She’s also still a drummer in her band, outspoken, and body-positive. All of this is great. Unfortunately, I was a little disappointed.

First of all: this was difficult for me to read personally. This isn’t a criticism of the writing itself…in fact, it might be a compliment. The senior year of high school feelings of high school were very on-point, but it reminded me of my own intense feelings from that time, especially when the story dealt with break-ups, college anxieties, and prom. (Ugh, prom. But if Leah taught me anything, it’s that promposals maybe are okay if they’re  not as overwhelmingly heteronormative as the rest of prom is?) Leah’s own anxiety was absolutely on point, and I related to that; it was just difficult to read. I really loved her commentary on how expensive college visits/applications/etc were and how she felt left out because she was going to a state school, and how she didn’t want a public promposal because of her anxiety. And that prom scene with the realization that it’s all going to be over soon? Yup. Real.

It’s been a while since I’ve read Simon, so I don’t think I can comment too much on the continuity of the characters between that and this, but I do have some thoughts. Simon and Bram were adorable and had relatable anxieties and were probably my favorite part. Morgan and Anna had a tough and important storyline to play with Leah (“what if your best friends since middle school are not the people you still want to hang out with because they have a tendency to be racist/forgive racist comments easily?”), but I barely remembered them from the first book and felt like I was missing something. I really wish the band had gotten more time, and that was what I thought from the title, and mostly I wish Taylor had been more fleshed out. Nick seems to be who many are disappointed about, but my main concern with him is how he was a loose end kind of tossed away at the end. Seriously, is he okay?? He seems to be heading into self-destructive behavior and alcohol usage and I’m just really worried as someone who went through a big break-up around that time, too. I understand not everything is tied up by the end of high school, but Leah’s “three months later” email to Simon didn’t seem to indicate they were taking the issue seriously as his friends.

Some parts definitely felt like fanfiction, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and it’s nice commentary to see two female characters from the original fall for each other like many had hoped, as there had been hints in Simon. I was more ambivalent about it because I think I just have a limit for shipping and romcom tropes, personally. But…how this was approached was frustrating to me at the least.

THIS IS WHERE WE HEAD INTO SPOILER TERRITORY. HEADS UP.

So…all the Leah/Abby interactions were definitely cute and swoony, and while they only just begin their relationship at the end, I just felt like there was something missing there…mostly, more of an emotional connection. There were opportunities for it, but Leah kept avoiding it in a very frustrating and almost hurtful way.

Abby tries to express the fact that she has wanted to kiss her for a year and a half and is questioning her sexuality, but Leah shuts down and isn’t supportive of this. This makes sense initially, as she’s hurt because her first kiss has possibly been “stolen” by a straight girl, and it’s all consistent with Leah’s brash personality. THEN Abby comes out to her as “lowkey bi” after discussing this with her cousins (from Upside!) and Leah shuts her down, insisting this isn’t a real thing. Which is false, because it’s a spectrum…surely Leah is on Tumblr enough to know about the Kinsey scale and such. And while painful to read, this scene is still consistent with Leah’s character and ratchets up the tension.

But…this never gets addressed. At the end Leah just accepts that their feelings are mutual, and Abby never explicitly comes out and they never have an opportunity to discuss their sexuality, which would have been interesting and honestly a discussion that should be had after Leah’s previous behavior. Because Leah just never apologizes!! That’s just it!! And as a result, their conflict just doesn’t feel resolved but rather brushed aside, kind of allowing Leah’s behavior.

END OF SPOILERY SECTION

Ultimately, while Leah on the Offbeat was as enjoyable to read as any Albertalli book and depicted emotions well, the central love story left many loose ends and issues not addressed, leaving the conflict feeling unresolved in a troublesome way to me.

PSA: THERE IS A PREVIEW OF WHAT IF IT’S US IN THE BACK OF THE BOOK. THIS IS NOT A DRILL. IT IS ADORABLE.

Shuffle the Music Tag

Music is something I should talk about more, and I’ve got a great opportunity because Ash at For the Love of Books tagged me in the Shuffle the Music Tag!

Here are the rules, although I’m going to modify them a bit:

  1. Thank the person who nominated you for this tag and link to their blog.
  2. Shuffle your entire music library (no matter how old songs the songs are) and talk about the FIRST FIFTEEN* songs that come up (anything like why they are there, if they signify something, any story, why you like them, etc.)
  3. Mention the songs as well as the artists.
  4. Tag 7 people or more to do this tag and please let them know!

*Ash did 20 songs, so I’m doing 20. Also, my library is split between iTunes and Spotify, so I’m going do 10 from each. Long story short, iTunes has a lot of older music I would listen to, some bought, some on CDs from my parents. It’s probably also a smaller collection. Spotify, meanwhile, I got more recently and now use frequently, though I think I’ve mostly saved (and listened to) musicals. So this will be interesting!


iTunes

1. “The Long Run”: The Eagles

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This song wasn’t on our Eagles greatest hits CD, so I remembered I ended up buying it on iTunes, maybe toward the end of middle school or early high school. The Eagles often sound somewhere between rock and country, and while I don’t really listen to the latter, I find the Eagles’ songs catchy. “The Long Run” is definitely one of their hits, all about taking a chance on a relationship and seeing what happens.

2. “Daniel”: Elton John

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As a kid, I resisted my dad trying to get me into Elton John for a long time, but let’s be honest, he fits very easily into my musical tastes. “Daniel” became one of my favorites…I realize now it’s a pretty sad song about the narrator’s brother, a Vietnam vet, but it’s just so pleasant and breezy to listen to?

3. “Rent”: Rent, film version (Jonathan Larson)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This was the last album I purchased on iTunes before I was hacked and basically lost my account (though I still had the music downloaded on my laptop as I do own it). I actually much prefer the Broadway version because it’s less stylized, introduces more characters (not to mention has actual context before it), and has more of an ensemble focus…but overall this has been one of my favorite songs recently. “How do you document real life when real life’s getting more like fiction each day?” is basically how I feel watching the news, and I love the lines about trying to focus on the future and escape feelings from the past. Let’s be honest: this isn’t about the actual rent, but the burdens of society on those looked down upon (Roger can’t escape HIV+ and his mistakes that led him to that diagnosis, Collins gets mugged, etc). It’s angry and such a rousing opening number; when I saw this live during the 20th anniversary tour, that opening riff’s volume took me by surprise and I thought, “Yep, this is a rock musical, all right.”

4. “I Have Confidence”: The Sound of Music, film version (Rogers & Hammerstein)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Apparently my iTunes does have quite a bit of musicals on it! I’ve had this CD since my childhood…I was in a (minor) car accident when I was 5 and was mostly worried if this CD, which had been in the car’s player, was okay. This movie got me into loving musicals and singing back then and I’ve never looked back. While I might generally prefer stage productions to movie musicals now, but I still return to this one regularly and it holds up thanks to the wonderful dialogue and performances. “I Have Confidence” is such an empowering song, and a great scene in the movie–even though my dad annoys me with it sometimes.

5. “59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy)”: Simon & Garfunkel, live Concert in Central Park

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Simon & Garfunkel Concert in Central Park CD from the titular 1981 concert was a regular listen on car trips when I was a kid, and I fell revisited and fell in love with it in early high school, I think (it has a better version of “Sound of Silence” than the original, IMO). The soft rhythms and their lovely harmonizing is certainly present in this carefree song. (Fun fact: my dad was at this concert back then. It was free.)

6. “You Don’t Mess Around With Jim”: Jim Croce

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Clearly there’s quite a bit of folk-rock songs in my foundation. While not my favorite Croce song (that would be “Bad Bad Leroy Brown” or “Time in a Bottle”), this is again something introduced to me by my parents’ CD collection and radio channels. It’s just SO CATCHY and casual with plenty of dropped -g’s, humming, lyrics like “ba-da-bee,” sort-of monologue, and good advice (don’t spit into the wind!). Also this is about some sort of gangster named Jim Wailker, not about Croce himself! This song creates a fully-realized world and legend in less than 3 minutes.

7. “Guinnevere”: Crosby, Stills, and Nash (and Young??)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I really got into Crosby, Stills, and Nash (sometimes with Neil Young) during middle school as I discovered my love for soft songs with lovely harmonies. “Guinnevere” is certainly one of them: slow, some parts almost whispered, close harmonies. And yes, it’s about comparing a woman to the King Arthur character.

8. “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da”: The Beatles

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Disclaimer: YouTube didn’t have an easy-to-find original version of the song, so instead please have this amusing choir arrangement because I am also choir geek.

The Beatles were another band my parents introduced me as a kid and accompanied us on our long car rides to family. I remember this one fondly, of course, because what kid wouldn’t like the nonsensical chorus of this song? And it certainly remains fun. LIFE GOES ON…BRRRAAA!

9. “Katmandu”: Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another car trip favorite was Bob Seger. This song is heavier than some of his others and so it sticks out…K-K-K-K-Katmandu! Unfortunately, I didn’t learn/remember where Katmandu actually is until much later in life. I always thought of it as mountains in the Western U.S. for some reason?

10. “We Go Together”: Grease, film soundtrack

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I think Grease is kind of a bizarre movie, from the first time  I watched it in like middle school to rewatching it this year. But that’s another topic, and regardless I’ve always liked the music, because the 50s style was something I listened to when I was younger. “We Go Together” is definitely one of those I would listen to…I know all the words, and some aren’t really “words.” One of these days, I will go to an old-fashioned sock hop!


Spotify

1. “No One Mourns the Wicked”: from Wicked (Stephen Schwartz)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So, this is saved because it was initially one of the musicals I intended to listen to when I first got Spotify, as several of my friends really love it. While I know some of the songs, and there’s a chance I might have heard snippets of this one somewhere, I still haven’t listened to the whole musical and honestly it’s so popular that I’ll probably see it someday and so I don’t feel an urgency to.

2. “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”: U2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I know U2 gets a bad rap nowadays, mostly because of their iTunes gift that became difficult to delete because of iTunes’ updates (and now they have another new album??), but I really like their older classics like “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.” Bono’s vocals are great, and the slow build of the instruments leading into a steady melody provides an immersive experience. My favorite version, though, is probably this, a three-part harmony sung by Broadway and Smash stars (though I haven’t seen that show) Andy Mientus, Krysta Rodriguez, and Jeremy Jordan.

3. “I Love My Daughter” (But Not In A Creepy Way)” from Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oh, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, how your song parodies make me laugh. This one’s from an early first season episode and it definitely helped win me over on the show. Nothing beats Darryl’s coming out “Gettin’ Bi” song, but he’s genuinely one of my favorite characters and any song with him is a gift. This one satirizes common themes and aesthetics in country songs to a cringeworthy but funny effect.

4. “Imitation of Life”: R.E.M.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

R.E.M. is in that collection of music my dad introduced me to as a kid and that I generally grew up with, but that was mostly limited to their big hits and Automatic for the People (one of my favorite albums). But last year I discovered some of their other work on Spotify, probably because I was searching for more of that ’80s-’90s angsty political rock with great vocals like Rent (their album Lifes Rich Pageant was the answer to that). “Imitation of Life” stuck out to me because it’s just plain catchy and I would get it stuck in my head, though the central idea of “imitating life” does have plenty of weight to it. (Also I just watched this video for the first time and…what??)

5. “Take A Byte”: Janelle Monáe

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Surprise, a new, non-musical song! This doesn’t happen very much at all. Dirty Computer was actually one of the first albums I really anticipated, mostly because a friend made me listen to the Prince-style catchy “Make Me Feel” when it came out, and I was intruiged by the style of that and the singles that followed, especially as it all made a sci-fi storyline with queer representation. “Take a Byte” isn’t one of my favorites on the soundtrack, but the electronic feel at the beginning definitely highlights the technology theme of the story, and it can definitely be read as queer desire in context.

6.”Many Meetings”: Howard Shore from Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring soundtrack

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Lord of the Rings music is absolutely memorable and great background music. This track has atmospheric elvish (I think?) singing, and the Hobbiton motif that just reminds me of nature and a sense of belonging/home keeps repeating…it’s really beautiful.

7. “Encore: Our Shot”: from Spamilton

 

 

 

 

Although I don’t have much of a personal connection to it because it was so popular and I didn’t quite come to it on my own, I love Hamilton. What a surprise, I know. But did you know there is an off-Broadway parody? Some of it’s great, some is less so, and some of it relies on knowledge of other musicals and actors, but if you love Hamilton it’s worth the listen. This track is just a little ending piece to the tune of “My Shot” about how now their voices are shot and they need a drink. Probably what every performer thinks after a show!

8. “Not Too Bad”: from Fun Home (Jeanine Tsori & Lis Kron)

 

 

So, like Wicked, here’s a musical I intended to listen to but still haven’t. I’ve heard some of the songs, but I had to read the book for class last year and I loved it, and I’m just not ready to experience an adaptation of it because what I liked about the graphic novel was so intrinsic to its form and voice. But I’ve heard it’s good. (Also let’s be honest, a song from this started playing once and it was too sad I just couldn’t listen to it.)

9. “Telekenetic Energy”: Chris Tilton, from from Fringe Season 4 soundtrack

 

I love the TV show Fringe (which, alas, is a subject for another time), and I discovered it has a pretty good score to listen to as background music, so of course I added the albums when I got Spotify. My favorite thing is that most of the titles are puns, including this one! This piece is very tense initially but then evens out (albeit with a heartbeat-like thumping in the background) and grows quieter…definitely like the main character Olivia gaining control of her telekenetic powers! (Maybe. Not sure when this was used specifically.)

10. “I Am Playing Me”: from [title of show] (Jeff Bowen)

And here’s another musical I haven’t listened to, although this one I fully intend to because it’s lesser-known and I don’t really know the storyline. Apparently it’s about the creators of a musical, so it’s very meta, which is the kind of stuff I love.


Wow, iTunes went really well with lots of childhood memories and Spotify was…not nearly as expected. I think I tend to save musicals to listen to them later and what I haven’t listened to is larger than what I have

I tag…

I’m Back!

My sophomore year of college is done, and I’ve rested enough that I’m ready to get back to blogging! I want to catch up before I publish (or write) a main post and talk about some goals, which I hope to do more on this blog.

School

My sophomore year of college went pretty well on the academic front. I was worried I was going to lose my 4.0 second semester but I actually managed to keep it. Things definitely got busy though, and I didn’t do so well on the time management front and the staying generally healthy front. I developed a difficulty getting out of bed (my brain would always find some reason I needed to stay in my half-dream), didn’t go to the gym as much as I wanted, my social anxiety affected things, and ultimately I realized  I’m really ready to move into an apartment (which I am doing next year!) rather than a dorm. So hopefully all of that improves. I did meet plenty of great people, though, and I got involved with theater FINALLY (even if it was just props) which has honestly been a lifelong goal of mine even if I didn’t realize it for a while.

Reading

Well, I read quite a few Shakespeare plays and modern Japanese literature novels and stories for my classes. This meant I didn’t read a lot otherwise because of timing, but I’m mostly on top of my Goodreads goal (60), and I did get through a couple of books outside of ARCs I reviewed that I hope to talk about now: Wild Beauty, Exit Pursued by a Bear, Texts from Jane Eyre, Tipping the Velvet. I just finished Men at Arms, one of the Discworld books, and I’m reading Leah on the Offbeat now. Meanwhile, I’m on sort of a book-buying ban that has been going so well I should really extend it to Kindle deals because those do add up and I’m getting in a habit of checking out ebooks from the library.

I made a reading list at the beginning of the year I want to stick to, although I’ve been eying library books instead of what I already own. Nevertheless…here it is.

Writing

Unfortunately I didn’t do much writing outside of class, mostly because of my time-management problems. But I did write two (very different) 5,000 word stories for class which I’m pretty proud of, especially the one I revised for the final. The other one was more of an experiment that I didn’t go full satire on and should have, probably.

This summer, I want to maybe submit a story or two to a couple of publications if they are fitting. As much as I’m tempted to wander to a different project, I want to work on the project (a novel) I started last year because I do have a decent plot and should at least be able to get a rough draft. Mostly, I need to make it a habit! I’m hoping on keeping myself accountable with some friends, and I really need to work on my social media presence because my followers have stagnated.

Journaling and Design

I got really into journaling last summer. I have a Passion Planner and got a lot of materials for productivity and journaling, because I do miss organized brainstorming and personal entries without the burden of a daily recap. I tried a habit tracker this year but got sick in February and never picked it back up. Ultimately, if I clean up my desk at home, I should be able to really make it a habit and it will hopefully help me stay focused on my creative projects.

I also want to get back into designing…I haven’t really made anything for my Redbubble since figuring out Illustrator this school year, and I really want to become more adept at it. Plus, new blog and social media graphics are always great.

Music

This is a small note, but like always I love musical (and musicals) and this past year I’ve collected sheet music of some of my favorite Broadway songs (often tenor, because I’m a low alto…it took some trial and error) to sing and play along to. So I hope to continue that, especially the piano-playing part while I’m home…if we have room to set up my keyboard again. My brother’s been really into guitar and while we have totally different styles, it should be fun.

What are you guys up to?

Review: The Beauty That Remains by Ashley Woodfolk

Genre: YA contemporary

Publisher: Delacourte

Release Date: March 6, 2018

Synopsis:

the beauty that remainsMusic brought Autumn, Shay, and Logan together. Death wants to tear them apart.

Autumn always knew exactly who she was—a talented artist and a loyal friend. Shay was defined by two things: her bond with her twin sister, Sasha, and her love of music. And Logan always turned to writing love songs when his love life was a little less than perfect.

But when tragedy strikes each of them, somehow music is no longer enough. Now Logan can’t stop watching vlogs of his dead ex-boyfriend. Shay is a music blogger struggling to keep it together. And Autumn sends messages that she knows can never be answered.

Despite the odds, one band’s music will reunite them and prove that after grief, beauty thrives in the people left behind.

Disclaimer: Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with an e-ARC in exchange for an honest review.

The Beauty That Remains is–as you might guess from the title–is a rather beautiful book. It follows three distinct POVs: Autumn, whose best friend died in a car accident; Logan, whose ex-boyfriend died by suicide; and Shay, whose twin sister died after a battle with cancer. These are all different and distinct perspectives; Autumn is quiet and wracked with guilt; Logan is angry and turning to alcohol; and Shay is dealing with increasing anxiety.

And, of course, the stories begin to intertwine in a satisfying way, surrounding an important, now-defunct band of the local music scene. I loved how music influenced all of the characters, whether it was listening, viewing, managing, singing, creating, reviewing…it’s very much the world I’m in right now and so I loved the atmosphere Woodfolk created.

I really liked the inclusion of the social media of the dead characters at the beginning of each chapter. As someone who has experienced how social media has reacted to the deaths of friends and family, it really resonated, as did the various other inclusions of social media. These kids are YouTubers, bloggers…that’s the world we live in.

Shay was maybe my favorite character; her anxiety was so relatable, and I loved how her friends stepped up to help her out. Logan worried me at first he was so troubled and had some really negative perspectives, but everything ended up being addressed in this therapy and along his journey. Autumn I didn’t grow as attached to, probably because she was more internal. That said, the various relationships–family, friends, and romantic–and how those changed over the course of the story was really well done.

This is a quieter, very character-driven book, but I found it very compelling as the characters grow and the threads come together. By the end, it appropriately felt like a healing process.

Review: The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert

Genre: YA fantasy/fairy-tale

Publisher: Flatiron

Publication Date: January 30, 2018

Synopsis:

hazel woodSeventeen-year-old Alice and her mother have spent most of Alice’s life on the road, always a step ahead of the uncanny bad luck biting at their heels. But when Alice’s grandmother, the reclusive author of a cult-classic book of pitch-dark fairy tales, dies alone on her estate, the Hazel Wood, Alice learns how bad her luck can really get: Her mother is stolen away―by a figure who claims to come from the Hinterland, the cruel supernatural world where her grandmother’s stories are set. Alice’s only lead is the message her mother left behind: “Stay away from the Hazel Wood.”

Alice has long steered clear of her grandmother’s cultish fans. But now she has no choice but to ally with classmate Ellery Finch, a Hinterland superfan who may have his own reasons for wanting to help her. To retrieve her mother, Alice must venture first to the Hazel Wood, then into the world where her grandmother’s tales began―and where she might find out how her own story went so wrong.

Well, I’m back. I had a LOT of reading to do for school and also have been sick, so I wasn’t able to read much else. Now it’s spring break, and I finally finished my first ARC of 2018, so here we go! Disclaimer: I received an eARC for Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

I think The Hazel Wood is a book that works for me in pieces, but not as a whole. There are about three parts to this novel. The first, which I found quite gripping, was a combination of Alice’s backstory with her mysterious fairy-tale bestseller grandma and mysterious happenings to her, culminating in the disappearance of her mother to the “Hinterland,” the place from the fairy tales. Then she goes to Ellery Finch, a rich boy from her school who knows about her grandmother and even managed to read a copy of the book once, and they try to track down the Hinterland while avoiding supernatural forces stopping them. This section dragged more for me. And finally, as you might expect, they reach this fantasy world.

I won’t spoil, but something did happen in between the second and third sections described above that made me lose investment in the story because it came across as negating a lot of what the novel had put time and effort into, making a good chunk of the book inessential for a cheap plot twist. Of course, it’s not all as it seems, but I’m not sure I found the conclusion is all that satisfying, either.

Otherwise, the fairy-tale world section was enchanting, disturbing, and definitely the most interesting, and even though it seems to come in at a bizarre place in the novel, it’s definitely the resolution. Of course, that means there’s a lot of exposition to swallow. That said, there were some good twists, great descriptions, and really interesting metafictional aspects that made me like the concept (the mysterious book of fairy-tales) even more than I did at the beginning.

Albert’s overall writing style was great: there were plenty of great turns-of-phrases, figurative language, creepy sequences, and pop-culture references. Like others, I found Alice frustrating, but the plot ended up explaining some of this so I can’t really complain, I suppose, though I really wish I got to see her develop more relationships. I rather liked the ending…I understand there is going to be a sequel now (perhaps a trilogy?), but it’s written as a stand-alone and I think it can be read that way because it wraps up neatly. I frankly don’t think this is a series I’m interested in reading more of (which is no surprise if you know my lack of interest in series).