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

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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).

2017 Reading Wrap-Up, Favorites, and 2018 Plans

I’m behind because I was busy doing the 2017 TV and music wrap-ups (and also I left out The People vs. O.J. Simpson on the TV one! oh no!), but finally, here’s my 2017 reading results, my favorites from the year, and 2018 plans!

The Stats

According to Goodreads, I read a total of 67 books, although that isn’t completely accurate as I explained here…basically, some of the books I counted I read most but not all of for school, but I definitely read enough articles and short stories that wasn’t counted that I figure it’s good enough. Anyway, here is where you can find my Goodreads’ “Year in Books” thing.

  • A total of 29 books/plays/graphic novels I read were for school, although 1 novel and 1 short story collection I chose to read I also used for school projects. Also, I read 1 play because I’m going to be the props master for a production of it next semester!
  • 4 of the books I read were either ARCs or copies sent for review. (Kaleidoscope Song, Kid Authors, Echo After Echo, and 27 Hours.)

Here’s a breakdown of the types of books I read out of those 67

  • 28 novels (fiction)
  • 13 nonfiction books
  • 1 short story (I read more, but this was “The Canterville Ghost” which was long-ish and I marked it on Goodreads)
  • 2 novels-in-verse
  • 9 graphic novels/memoirs
  • 4 short story collections
  • 6 plays
  • 4 epic poems/epics/epic romances

Compared with last year, it looks like I definitely read more diversely (and more–last year I counted 55 books). I read over 4 times the number of nonfiction and over 4 times the amount of graphic novels/texts. I actually read a couple of novels-in-verse (though one was for class). I didn’t read as many plays but I did read more epics, and that’s mostly because of class assignments, frankly. I also, as I had planned, read more African-American literature after I had found myself gravitating toward non-racial diversity in books and deciding that was the demographic I wanted to learn more about. Granted, my school assignments helped a lot with that, too. (Shoutout to a professor who was not only an amazing teacher and lecturer, but made a required survey class be almost exclusively by and/or about POC and queer people.)

Favorites/Books That Have Stuck With Me

These are in the order I read them (more or less), not ranked. Reading so many different types of books makes them really hard to compare against each other! Links to reviews where applicable (some are to come).

  • Rereads of The Great Gatsby and My Antonia, which I still really do love for, sometimes, intensely personal reasons.
  • The Attention Merchants (Tim Wu)
  • Giovanni’s Room (James Baldwin)
  • Fun Home (Alison Bechdel)
  • The Underground Railroad (Colson Whitehead, who I also got to see speak and he was so funny and inspiring!)
  • The Hate U Give (Angie Thomas)
  • Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda (Becky Albertalli)
  • The March trilogy (John Lewis, et al)
  • Lost in the Funhouse (John Barth)…I liked this probably the least of all of these but it was definitely memorable.
  • We Are the Ants (Shaun David Hutchinson)
  • The Color Purple (Alice Walker)
  • Star-Crossed (Barbara Dee)
  • Ms. Marvel vol. 1 and 2 (G. Willow Wilson, et al)
  • Angels in America (Tony Kushner)
  • Persepolis (Marjane Satrapi)
  • Beloved (Toni Morrison)
  • Braced (Alyson Gerber)
  • They Both Die at the End (Adam Silvera)
  • Kaleidoscope Song (Fox Benwell)
  • Echo After Echo (Amy Rose Capetta)
  • “The Canterville Ghost” (Oscar Wilde)
  • Paradise Lost (John Milton)…admittedly I enjoyed thinking/talking about this more than actually reading it!
  • The Book of Dust (Philip Pullman)
  • The Beginning of the World in the Middle of the Night (Jen Campbell)
  • Turtles All the Way Down (John Green)
  • You’ll Miss Me When I’m Gone (Rachel Lynn Solomon)

I’m noticing a pattern…while I did enjoy a lot of books I read for class, most aren’t up here! I think part of it was the speed at which I had to read them, often on top of other books I was already reading. I didn’t get to fully live inside of them. Similarly, books I read outside of class that were heavy (especially Beloved) I feel like I would have enjoyed more had I read in a more rigorous manner. The books that didn’t make a list that I still gave high ratings to might not be personally my favorite (yet), but I will absolutely recommend them to peers and students where applicable.

Also, this is REALLY LONG and I tried to cut it down but it just seemed rather unfair. I read a lot of great books! And they were all great in different ways.

2018 Plans

  • I am using THIS CHART from Book Riot (in addition to Goodreads) to keep track of my reading. It not only keeps track of titles, when you read it, how long it took you, etc, but stats like if the author/character/both are POC and/or LGBTQ, if it’s #ownvoices, in translation, gender of author, type of book, genre, etc. I’m really excited! It will also make posts like these WAY easier and keep me more conscious of the demographics of what I’m reading.
  • Related to that, I’m going to try to complete some of the tasks from Book Riot’s READ HARDER challenge.
  • I noticed I read a lot of YA this year, and while they were mostly great, I want to read the literary fiction I own, too, because I miss that type of story. Related to that, I will continue to be very selective about review copies/Netgalley because I have a lot of backlist to catch up on and limited time.
  • Read more sci-fi/fantasy! I used to love the genre and while I’m not the biggest fan of it outside of middle grade (ah, nostalgia), short stories, and TV and movies, I’ve got some I’ve heard great things about.

 

What are your goals this year?

Review: You’ll Miss Me When I’m Gone by Rachel Lynn Solomon

Publication date: January 2, 2018

Genre: YA contemporary

Publisher: Simon Pulse

Summary:

you'll miss me when I'm goneEighteen-year-old twins Adina and Tovah have little in common besides their ambitious nature. Viola prodigy Adina yearns to become a soloist—and to convince her music teacher he wants her the way she wants him. Overachiever Tovah awaits her acceptance to Johns Hopkins, the first step on her path toward med school and a career as a surgeon.

But one thing could wreck their carefully planned futures: a genetic test for Huntington’s, a rare degenerative disease that slowly steals control of the body and mind. It’s turned their Israeli mother into a near stranger and fractured the sisters’ own bond in ways they’ll never admit. While Tovah finds comfort in their Jewish religion, Adina rebels against its rules.

When the results come in, one twin tests negative for Huntington’s. The other tests positive.

These opposite outcomes push them farther apart as they wrestle with guilt, betrayal, and the unexpected thrill of first love. How can they repair their relationship, and is it even worth saving?

From debut author Rachel Lynn Solomon comes a luminous, heartbreaking tale of life, death, and the fragile bond between sisters.

Disclaimer: I received an eARC of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

You’ll Miss Me When I’m Gone is a complex contemporary novel that’s gripping and very human. Told in dual perspective, Adina and Tovah both have distinct passions, voices, and characteristics, and you really get to know them and their family before the test results so you feel the impact of it. The alternating perspective really does allow for an understanding of the complex reasoning behind the decisions and emotions each twin has, as flawed as it might be, though often that’s because of information they aren’t privy to. But that wasn’t in a frustrating lack of communication way; it all made sense because of their characters and situations. This made it incredibly realistic, especially as it grappled with intense topics. (TW for self-harm and suicide ideation.) The thought-provoking topics of genetic testing, assisted suicide, religion, family, and relationships are handled very well and will make you think about where the story might go.

For a YA book, college admissions is a major focus, and frankly I very much needed this book when I was a senior. I don’t want to spoil too much, but I found that Tovah’s eventual peace at not having her life completely planned out as she had originally hoped–including with her relationship–was so important and something I REALLY needed at that time in my life. Meanwhile, it was refreshing to hear about a teen pursuing classical music, as you don’t see that too much in media (meanwhile, Tovah’s love for more modern music also adds to the music love which I appreciate). Each twin’s romantic relationship was also well-explored as they navigated the differences between lust and love from different perspectives. Toxic situations are called out, and there are many sex-positive discussions about relationships, desire, and contraceptives.

I also appreciated the many details of Judiasm in this book. Adina and Tovah’s mother is Israeli, and they speak Hebrew with her and to each other at times and are raised as Conservative Jewish. The distinction between this and other forms of Judiasm are explored, as is how American society tends to ignore it. Adina, Tovah, and their parents all have different relationships to their religion and culture, especially influenced by their mother’s declining health due to the genetic disease of Huntington’s. I learned a lot and found this complexity not just interesting, but realistic.

Ultimately, this was such a good read that was not afraid to push its characters to act logically and emotionally when confronting big topics, while still managing to wrangle the messiness into a satisfying ending.

2017 Favorites: TV Shows

Next up on my 2017 Favorites: TV Shows. This is meant to be TV shows I watched in 2017, but they’re actually all shows that aired/became available on streaming this year, too, because my backlist watching is scattered over a lot of different shows right now (though I am enjoying Mad Men and Battlestar Galactica and Parks and Recreation…)

So here is my list, in approximate order of when I watched them.

A Series of Unfortunate Events (season 1)

asoueI feel like I’ve been waiting for this since sixth grade when I binged the book series (yes, I know, later than some…I refused to read popular books for a while), and it did NOT disappoint. I actually kind of like the movie, but the series of course is not designed for that format, and it tried to wrap it all up with a definite ending that just doesn’t fit.

From what I can remember, the Netflix show stays faithful to the book, taking its time with 2 episodes for each book/story, and so the first season comprises books 1-4. The old-timey style of the strange setting is rendered beautifully. Patrick Warburton (aka Puddy from Seinfeld) is great as Lemony Snicket, narrating and freeze-framing to point out his characteristic observations. Neil Patrick Harris’s Olaf is, yes, ridiculous–but that’s the point. He seems to be the only adults in on the joke, constantly breaking the fourth wall to comment on streaming TV. I also appreciated and caught the various literary references more, as well as the overall “adults are incompetent” theme. I knew the twist it was trying to pull because it was spoiled for me online (although not really a spoiler because, again, it follows the books), but I enjoyed how more overt references to the over-arching plot of series were weaved in compared to the books (as I remember!). And the kids, of course, I care about as they struggle through the absurd world.

Legion (season 1)

I watched this show quite a long time now, but it had me sold on “very strange experimental TV about an obscure X-Men character who is possibly struggling with mental illness or a superpower or both.” Okay, I actually hadn’t really been into the X-Men before this, but I’d been intrigued by how it can be seen as metaphorical for marginalized youth. Add that to the mental health themes, and I was hoping for something like Fringe (one of my favorite shows of all time), where sci-fi/supernatural elements help communicate the fear of what’s happening in your own head. And it didn’t disappoint on that front, while also being very entertaining with a mix of horror, mystery, action, romance, and surrealism. It even turned into a silent black-and-white horror movie once. Can’t wait to continue exploring the world in the second season!

Naturally, I have to close out with this clip. Aubrey Plaza deserves all the awards for being really creepy the whole season.

Doctor Who (series 10 +  Christmas special)

Doctor Who was my first proper TV love (like 6 and a half years ago now!) and I still continue to enjoy exploring whatever it throws at me each week it’s’ on. This year, I loved the unpredictable, funny, and groundbreaking Bill as the new companion, there were quite a few episodes with great ideas I enjoyed, and Peter Capaldi’s Doctor was continued to delight. The most recent episode, the Christmas special, explored death and change in a very moving way. And I’m excited for the Thirteenth Doctor, too! (Though I’ll have to get used to her being a very different character than she played on Broadchurch…see below.)

Doctor Who S10 Ep1

The Good Place (season 1.5-2.5)

I’m so glad this show has gotten popular! I began watched it when there were only a few episodes out, but it’s certainly become more well-known and well-loved since arriving on Netflix in August. This year, there was the end of season 1 with THAT twist that I did not see coming, and the continuously unpredictable beginning (well, like 2/3) of season 2. I find myself laughing at all of the creative absurdity (and PUNS) it comes up with and I’m so happy there will be more!

Twin Peaks (season 2.5-3)

I debated whether to put this on the list or not. I finally went back to the second (and then final) season of Twin Peaks after several years…I think I was around episode 16 or 17? I’d already known the murderer and everything. Refreshingly, it seemed like I was throughout the slow patch of the season and I really enjoyed the last part of season 2, especially the introduction of Annie and that famous final episode.

Then I continued on to the new Showtime revival. I intended to binge it and avoid paying more than a month of the streaming service (through Hulu), but the season wasn’t all out like I thought it was at the time, and it turned out to be so. slow. There were a lot of intriguing parts, but I honestly missed the old characters together and, especially, Cooper. Who is there, but not really there, as you’ll know if you’ve seen it, which was disappointing as I remembered how much I loved his quirky character after returning to the show. When I did binge the last few episodes to avoid paying for another month, I didn’t really connect with it and was mostly just glad I was over. But it still had those surreal moments I still love, so…

twin peaks finale

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (season 2-3.5)

I honestly wasn’t a big fan of the second season…it seemed to lack something (Greg, honestly, and the realism he brought). But I did watch it this year, so it might as well be on this list, and there were some great moments and songs.

More significantly, season 3 so far has been FANTASTIC. I wasn’t sure where it was going to go and not terribly excited for it, but it has really impressed me by delving deeply into the mental health issues we all know Rebecca has had. The song “Diagnosis” was sadly rather relatable, and I’m so glad it’s gone in this direction. Plus, we’ve been graced with the song parodies “Let’s Generalize About Men” and “The First Penis I Saw.”‘

Star Trek: Discovery (“Chapter 1”)

star trek discovery cast.jpg

I know this might be controversial in the Star Trek fandom (for various reasons, some valid and some just plain racist and homophobic), but I LOVE Discovery! I’m finally glad I get to watch a Star Trek series as it airs (I grew up on reruns of The Next Generation), and it hasn’t disappointed. I love Michael and watching her and the other characters grow. It managed to preserve an episodic structure especially in later episodes that showed fun time on the ship as well as the problem-of-the-week, along with the over-arching plot. Anthony Rapp, who I already loved from musicals, plays one-half Star Trek‘s first gay characters and couple alongside Wilson Cruz, which makes me so happy and is so important. (I know some people are worried something will happen to them, but I’m hopeful, because they’re main Star Trek characters? I know that’s naive, but I think there’s plenty of story they want to tell there.) The finale was especially great–there were twists I didn’t see coming and I thought it explored PTSD well and from an angle you don’t usually see. I can’t wait for the rest in January!

Stranger Things (season 2)

eleven.jpgStranger Things was something I jumped early on the bandwagon last summer and I found it a lot of fun. The second season, which I watched with a couple friends over 3 days (3 episodes over 3 days over a week, basically), didn’t disappoint. Clearly, this was never a show I thought too much about, but I enjoyed this season quite a bit. I wish there was more for Nancy to do, but man can the kid playing Will ACT after we barely saw him last season, and I really liked Eleven looking into her past and coming into her own. And yes, I enjoyed episode 7 for that reason, but that seems to be more common amongst female viewers, too.

Broadchurch (season 3)

broadchurch season 3

I loved the first two seasons (especially the first) of Broadchurch when I watched them back in 2015. But I hadn’t followed the lead-up to the third and final season (first airing in the UK and on BBC America), so it was a pleasant surprise when it arrived on Netflix and I couldn’t stop watching, just like when I first saw the first season.

While references are still made to the initial murder and its fallout that kicked off the whole show, season 3 is about an entirely new case of the rape of a woman. (In fact, I found Mark’s storyline a little tedious…though I suppose that’s the point. He irrationally cannot get over his son’s murder.) It is handled VERY WELL and never explicitly shown on-screen, and much of the season scrutinizes various everyday examples of misogyny in addition to the serious ones. Naturally, it wouldn’t be there’s paranoia running rampant and improper uses of the press. Ellie Miller (who I still LOVE) is caring to the victim, calling out sexism and stressing how important it is to believe the victim and preserve confidentiality. In other words, a great antidote to 2017’s sexual harassment (and worse) allegations. Alec gets some character development as well with his daughter, though I wish Ellie called him out a couple of times he was being rude. Basically, FANTASTIC. Sad there won’t be more, but at least Chibnall and Whittaker are moving to Doctor Who (even though I haven’t been a big fan most of Chibnall’s past Who episodes, I love how he handles this show). Watch the whole series if you haven’t.

Honorable Mentions

  • Class, the (sadly now-canceled) Doctor Who spinoff helmed by YA author Patrick Ness, because I still have only seen a couple of episodes. But what I saw I loved, so I’m sure it’ll make the 2018 list!
  • Big Mouth…I didn’t expect to like this as much as I did? But it also covered female puberty and consent and healthy relationships! And there were some great visual gags! And parodies of R.E.M. and Seinfeld! At the very least, it’s research for teaching middle school, right?
  • American Gods…I binged this in a week and so it wasn’t as memorable as the others, but I did enjoy it and it rendered quite a few wacky moments from the book well.
  • I didn’t love Atlanta as much as I expected, mostly because it wasn’t as surreal as I had been lead to believe, but I loved the very satiric episodes “B.A.N.” and “Juneteenth.”
  • I’m currently watching Mindhunter and may be close to finishing before the year’s up. I’m not entirely sure how I feel about it, but I’m enjoying the commentary on psychology, the 70s style, and everything Anna Torv.
  • I still haven’t watched the last of this year’s Sherlock batch, but I remember enjoying the second one of the bunch (“The Lying Detective”).