Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Series: 13 Reasons Why

The book Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher has been on my radar for a long time, and I still haven't read it, but the internet has been buzzing since the series adaptation premiered on Netflix recently, so at the very least, I decided that I wanted to watch it, even though normally I like to read the book first.

The basic story is that the students of Liberty High School are reeling from the suicide of fellow student Hannah Baker, including Clay Jensen, who was her coworker and friend, and who also had a crush on her. About a week after her death, Clay receives a mysterious box full of cassette tapes: before her death, Hannah had decided to record herself discussing the 13 reasons - specifically, people and incidents - that had slowly eroded away all her hope, self-esteem, and will to live, resulting in her decision to take her own life. The box is meant to make its way around to all 13 people whom she discusses on those tapes, and Clay, it seems, is one of those 13, and the story follows him as he makes his way through them.

It's a heavy and troubling indictment on bullying, high school jock culture, and rape culture. And it is unflinching in its portrayal of that side of teen life that we all know exists, but don't like to think about, and the unfortunate cluelessness of adults (all adults - parents, teachers, counselors, etc.). As a parent and as a former high school teacher, I found myself constantly questioning my own level of awareness as I watched the series (which I blitzed through in about 24 hours). Edited to add: By the way, there are scenes that may be potentially triggering (violence, sexual assault, suicide), and while the episodes themselves offer content warnings, I also want to note the presence of such scenes here as well, and I recommend that you proceed with caution.

I have to comment on how fantastically racially-diverse the cast is. And, again, I haven't read the book, so I don't know what sorts of descriptions Asher used in his text, but I noticed that all the characters have Anglicized names, even if they were played by POC actors, so my inclination is to believe that they just went ahead and made the conscious decision to cast POC in roles that could've/would've easily gone to white actors, since we are all conditioned to imagine characters as white in the absence of particular racial signifiers in the book descriptions (and even when there ARE descriptions). In the hands of any other crew, this show could've been all white people, but it wasn't, and I was sooooooooooooo happy about that. I think I almost crowed with joy. And you know what? The names not "matching" the faces didn't bother me. It didn't take me out of the story at all. In fact, the only thing that "took me out" of the story was just my incredible, pleasant surprise at the diversity, because for the first time, I was watching something where the racial breakdown pretty closely resembled what I might actually see at the school I used to work at. (And in fact, from what I could see, this fictional school had a more diverse faculty and staff than the one I actually worked at.) So this was fantastically amaaaaaaaaaaaazing to me. And out of all the characters, there was maybe only one who felt like a little bit of a stereotype (racially? culturally?), but considering his role in the story, and how he's also one of the "good" characters, I could understand it. (Though it is not my place to co-sign it or say it was "fine." It just is what it is.)

Also, while there is a pretty clear message that no one (not even Clay) is a totally "good" character, there is maybe only one character who appears to be totally "bad." Everyone in the story, including Hannah herself, resides in the gray area, and that's important too. One of the common themes of the story is that you can never really know what's going on in someone else's life, and this is applicable to all the kids involved, no matter how unsympathetic we might find them. (Again, except for maybe one.) It doesn't excuse their actions, but it helps you understand where the bad behavior, entitlement, enabling, and jockeying for position comes from - which is to say, from somewhere. A person doesn't just wake up and decide to be cruel; usually, it comes from a history of other negative factors.

And of course, the main point is that a person doesn't just wake up and decide to take her own life -  this series shines a spotlight on what happens when there is just too much straw falling too quickly onto the camel's back. And how everyone around her played some sort of role in letting that straw fall, some in small pieces and others in truckloads.

Netflix is calling this season 1 - I'm not sure how much story there is in the book beyond getting through the 13 reasons, so I'm wondering if they are branching into more original (as in, non-adapted) storylines for future episodes. Regardless, I'm definitely going to keep watching. It's been a long time since a tv series has had me so hooked (because usually that's what books do!), so I can't wait to see more.

PS - Whoever the music director is for this series... ARE YOU ME???

  • Not one, but TWO Joy Division songs. Although, one was a cover, and the other was "Love Will Tear Us Apart," which, come on, that's the one people ALWAYS use, so whatever
  • "Fascination Street" by the Cure???
  • Elliott Smith's cover of Big Star's "Thirteen"???
  • A breathy girl cover of Neil Young???

Plus a whole slew of 80s- and 90s-inspired stuff, which is TOTALLY MY BAG, BABY. It's like, did you climb inside my first-generation iPod or something for this show? I kind of heart you.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Unprofessional by JD Hawkins

While my blog post itself does not contain any sexual content, this book does. This is a review for a book that is meant for mature audiences, and therefore is unsuitable for minors.

This book was provided to me for free by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Thank you for also providing the press kit with the graphics and blurb.

Thoughts at a glance: **** (I really liked it)

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Elements of Chemistry series by Penny Reid

Thoughts at a glance: **** (I really liked it)

Summary: Kaitlyn is the queen of hiding and being invisible. Despite being the daughter of a senator and a college professor (and her grandfather was an astronaut too!), Kaitlyn prefers to pass through life unnoticed - she avoids parties, she wears baggy clothes, and she doesn't really talk to anyone at her school except her best friend Sam and her lab partner, Martin. Her very hot, very rich, very cocky, very a-holeish, even, lab partner, Martin.

Kaitlyn is literally hiding in the cabinet in the chemistry lab (as she often does) when she overhears two other students plotting against Martin, and when she warns him about it, she realizes that she hasn't gone unnoticed after all - at least, not by Martin. What follows is a whirlwind romance that begins with a spring break trip to remember, where Martin exposes her to a different type of chemistry.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Serial fiction podcasts: Welcome to Night Vale and Alice Isn't Dead

I know, I know - podcasts aren't books. 

BUT, there are some amazing ways that podcasting is being used to tell stories, much like the old radio programs of yore. And I feel like following a story via listening is a bit different from watching it unfold on-screen. Listening to serial fiction podcasts isn't reading, but it's not watching tv either. I guess you could say they're closest to audiobooks :) Which I am totally in favor of, as a reader.

I don't listen to a LOT of podcasts. Or, I should say, I don't subscribe to a lot of podcasts, since I'll listen to episodes of random podcasts because they have guests or topics I'm interested in for that particular episode. But there aren't many that I would stick around for.

Welcome to Night Vale is one of them. In fact, it's the podcast I've been subscribed to the longest. It's a fictional series, about a mysterious desert town, where everything is... well, the quickest, simplest summation I can give is that it's basically a place where any conspiracy theory you can think of is true. (All at the same time, even.) But it's really not that simple.

The podcast is presented as a classic radio program hosted by a man named Cecil, and he talks about town news, the community calendar, the traffic report... you know, normally mundane things, except that there is the Sheriff's Secret Police to contend with, mysterious hooded figures hanging out at the dog park, a glow cloud, and random appearances by The Faceless Old Woman Who Secretly Lives in Your Home. It's witty, hilarious, touching, and really, really weird.

Anyway... Night Vale is extremely popular, and I've been a huge fan of it for years, and I'm giving this giant lengthy introduction as a lead-up to talking about Alice Isn't Dead, which is the second podcast series launched by the crew behind Night Vale. (There are currently four series being produced by Night Vale Presents.) Alice first began about a year ago, running ten episodes for its first season, and I'm just now getting around to it because season 2 is about to start, and I wanted to catch up.

I'm only a few episodes in, and so far, it is amazing. I was expecting it to be similar to Night Vale, and while it too has its share of eerie figures and conspiracies, Alice is creepy where Night Vale is comical. It is narrated by a woman (voiced by Jasika Nicole) who has become a truck driver in search of her wife, whom she previously thought was dead. And as she drives from town to town to find Alice, she encounters strange happenings and people-who-might-not-be-quite-human.

WHY it took me so long to finally listen to this is beyond me, because I am hooked right now. It's engrossing. It's scary. It's even a bit heart-breaking, as the narrator addresses the woman she loved and mourned directly through her recordings. And it's really well-written, which is no surprise, since Joseph Fink is one of the writers behind Night Vale.

If you're looking for something different, either because you're between books or you want something in addition to what you're reading, I highly recommend including some serial fiction podcasts in your literary life. And Night Vale and Alice are two great places to start.

And if you've got some favorites you're already listening to, please drop some suggestions in the comments!

Monday, March 6, 2017

Seven Days of You by Cecilia Vinesse

This book was provided to me for free through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Thoughts at a glance: *** (I liked it)

Summary: Sophia is moving back to the US in seven days, after spending most of her life in Tokyo. She doesn't want to say goodbye to her school, her friends, and the brilliant, electric city she has come to know and love. 

And to make matters worse, Jamie has just moved back to Tokyo -- Jamie, with whom she'd once been good friends and who had hurt her terribly before he left. Why couldn't he have just waited another week?

As she counts down the days and her friendships start to splinter, she finds a connection forming between her and Jamie. But with only a week left to go, is she just setting herself up for more heartbreak?

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Rock star romances by A.L. Jackson and Crystal Kaswell

Disclaimers: while my blog post itself does not contain any sexual content, this book does. This is a review for a book that is meant for mature audiences, and therefore is unsuitable for minors.

NA/A romance has a lottttttttt of sub-categories, so depending on what you like, you can find romances involving football players, hockey players, military men, billionaires, etc. My particular interest is in rock stars, although perhaps not for reasons you'd expect: I played bass guitar in a cover band for all of high school, and while it was all very innocent and teenagery, it left me with an appreciation for music and performing that I still have to this day, even though I stopped playing long ago. Music (playing, not just listening) has always been a part of my life, ever since I was a child (and I ended up being kind of a music snob in my 20s too), so it's probably no surprise that I like reading rock star romances - I'm often paying as much attention to the descriptions of the music and performances in these books as I am to the actual love story. (For example, one book I read that I didn't end up reviewing on my blog had the band playing a sort of darker, moodier version of Lady Gaga's "Bad Romance," and I found that suuuuuuuper interesting, and wished I could've heard it for real.)

Anyway... so I have a couple series I've read recently to share with you today, in case you're interested in rock star romances too.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Hard to Fall by Marquita Valentine

Disclaimers: while my blog post itself does not contain any sexual content, this book does. This is a review for a book that is meant for mature audiences, and therefore is unsuitable for minors.

This book was provided to me for free through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Thoughts at a glance: *** (I liked it)

Summary: Hayden is the son of a senator, looking to break free from the impending burdens of a political career he doesn't want to have. Saylor is a quirky, geeky animal-lover trying to escape her own troubles having to do with her parentage.

They hook up at their friends' wedding, and it's magical. At least, for Saylor it is. Hayden doesn't seem to remember a thing - not the night they spent together, and not the fact that they actually decided on a whim to get married.

But he does remember how drawn he is to her, and he just can't seem to stay away. And as their worlds collide (even more), Saylor isn't so sure that she wants him to. 

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Wintersong by S. Jae-Jones

Thoughts at a glance: **** (I really liked it)

Summary: Liesl has always been the plain, overlooked Vogler child - her younger sister, Kathe, is the golden-haired, beautiful child, while her younger brother, Josef, is the violin prodigy. As the oldest, she is saddled with responsibility and duty, and the only things that have brought her joy her entire life are composing music and hearing about the legendary Der Erlkonig, or the Goblin King.

But he's not just a legend - when he kidnaps Kathe, Liesl must follow him to the underground to rescue her. And when it turns out that the price of saving her sister is to give up her own life to become his bride, she pays it.

Now the Queen of the Goblin realm, Liesl finds a delicious freedom that she has never experienced before as a mere human. But even that comes with a price.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Yes, I am Team E-book.

It's been debated furiously for years, with adamant fans on either side - which are better, e-books or real books?

I've been a reader all my life, since well before the invention of e-books, and I was an English major, AND I'm an English teacher, so of course, I would love to side with Team Real Books. But to be honest... considering my life and my needs, I really have to admit that I am Team E-book. (Specifically, I'm Team Kindle.)

Why have e-books moved to front and center in my reading life over real books?

- I am a terrible DEVOURER of books. You know how there are some people who take their time eating a delicious meal, savoring every bite and enjoying the dining experience? I'm the total opposite of that when it comes to books. (Ironically, I AM a slow eater though.) I love to slam through books and then immediately start in on the next book in the series (or on another book by the same author) and just completely consume them until I'm sitting in a puddle of my own feels, fighting a major book hangover. Having a e-reader makes it SUPER easy for me to do that. With real books, I have to have the foresight to order the entire series ahead of time or I have to sit there impatiently, burning and burning until either I get a chance to go to the bookstore or Amazon finally shows up with my delivery.

- Speaking of less waiting, this might be Amazon-specific, but when I preorder a book in Kindle format, it actually shows up on my device the night before the official release date, around 9pm (because I'm on the West Coast, and therefore, it's technically tomorrow on the East Coast). For books that I have been hotly anticipating for a YEAR (like the upcoming third book of Sarah J. Maas' ACO series), this is huge! When I preorder a physical book from Amazon, they do have guaranteed release-date delivery, but 1) sometimes UPS doesn't deliver the actual package until later in the evening, and 2) sometimes there's a delay, and it doesn't actually arrive on release day for whatever reason (and I pretty much lose my s*** over it).

- Sometimes the only time I have to read during the day IS after 9pm, when I have to put my daughter to bed, and even though she's 7, she still has trouble falling asleep without me next to her. So I'm thankful for my Kindle's backlighting (which I find more tolerable than the lighting from smartphones and tablets, by the way). I've tried the clip-on book light thing, and it just doesn't work well enough for me. Plus, my kid likes to snuggle on my arm, and it's hard turning pages with only one hand. :)

- I have a bad tendency to change my mind about what I feel like reading at any given moment, and it's hard to carry around as many physical books, especially when I don't quite know what I'm in the mood for.

- This is also Kindle-specific, but I love that a lot of my Kindle books are synced with my Audible audiobook files. (Sorry, this post sounds like one huge advertisement for Amazon. I promise you that I'm not being paid or sponsored in any way. Though if they offered, I probably wouldn't refuse.) I like listening to audiobooks while I drive, and it's nice to be able to switch between audiobook and e-book and have each one pick up where I left off with the other one automatically. Also, with some books, if you've already purchased the e-book, the audiobook is offered at a super-discounted price. Score.

- This is a mere convenience, but I like finding all the quotes I've highlighted in one place afterward.

- I really appreciate the discretion of e-books. I'm sure this is no surprise to you, if you've been a follower of my blog for a while, but I read a lot of romance novels. Many of them prominently feature MAN ABS and busty women and risque poses, and even the titles of some YA books can be rather cornball and ridiculous. I would never, ever feel comfortable busting out a physical copy in public, like in a waiting room or at the pool during my kid's swimming lesson. But, unless there are people sitting close enough to read the words on my screen (which is too damn close, in my opinion - BACK OFF!) my Kindle allows me to read things that I don't want other people knowing that I'm reading. ALSO, I have a Kindle Voyage, which fits neatly into the pockets of most of my sweatshirts, which makes for easy surreptitious trips to the bathroom. (What? Don't judge - you KNOW it's a good place and time to read.)

- I also really appreciate e-book sales, and with websites like BookBub, which sends me daily emails about cheap e-books, and especially with my Kindle Unlimited membership, I can often find books to read for very, very cheap (or even free!) And yes, I know, I could also just go to the library, but I like being able to read without a deadline looming over me.

- It's easier for me to knit and read at the same time if I'm using my Kindle, rather than a real book :)

- Having recently moved... packing and moving books can be quite an ordeal. (TEN BOXES. I'm just sayin'.)

I'm not saying that e-books rule all things and that we should all convert. I definitely have a love for real books for many reasons (here's one), and nothing will ever make me want to get rid of my bookshelves full of books, but in terms of what works best for me in my life, I'm generally going to reach for my Kindle more often.

But what works for me isn't necessarily going to work for everyone else, so whatever you want to read, HOWEVER you want to read, is totally all good :) In all honesty, I am Team ALL THE BOOKS

Monday, February 6, 2017

Favorite book boyfriends

Valentine's Day is coming, and if you happen to be unattached, you may be looking forward to spending some time with your favorite book boyfriend. Hell, I'm even in a relationship myself, and I will probably end up spending Valentine's Day with a book. (Though, this is because we choose not to celebrate, so don't feel bad for me or anything.)

I thought I would take some time to make a list of some of my favorite dudes. These are the guys who make me swoon every time I read, who are just too precious cinnamon-roll-y for the real world, but whom I love all the same.

Note: I fully acknowledge that this post is absolutely heteronormative.

Also note: For any teenaged YA guys that I choose, that crush is coming from Teenaged Me. Or I'm projecting them forward into adulthood. I am not literally imagining mid-30s me with a teenage boyfriend, because that would be Not Okay.

Also ALSO note: Spoiler warnings for all the books listed below.

There were MANY I could've chosen, but I decided to narrow my list down to ten.

Without further ado, and in no particular order: