Monday, June 12, 2017

The women who made me who I am

A recent issue of Real Simple magazine featured an article where writers, artists, and other influences described a fictional female character who really helped shaped them as people. Responses ran the gamut from literary heroines and television characters, and even included some whom I would choose as well. I thought I would chime in with a list of my own here, to pay homage to the girls and women who aren't just my favorites, but who actually made me ME.

Ramona Quimby

Aside from Disney fairy tales, Ramona books are some of the earliest books I remember reading and getting REALLY into. (I read all the books, I listened to audiobooks, and I even borrowed videotapes of the tv show from the library.) I guess I was "in the fandom" before I knew anything about the idea of being in a fandom. The Quimby household felt very different from mine at that age, when I felt "more Vietnamese" than I did as I got older, but so much of what eventually became my worldview was absorbed from these books, from the ways Ramona reacted to the events of her life (right and wrong).

Anne Shirley

I can't really have any sort of listicle without including something Anne of Green Gables-related, and this one is no exception. I'm not nearly as loquacious as Anne, and I manage to stay out of trouble more than she does, but what Anne brought to my life was her impassioned love for the world and her ability to see the beauty and potential for hope in pretty much everything. Call me naive, but even now, as a 30-something living in a pretty bleak world, the part of me that still gets excited about rainbows and sunshine and poetry, and still cries happy tears at the drop of a hat probably comes from Anne. She also taught me not to be afraid to be as smart as "the boys" and find joy in learning new things.

Elizabeth Wakefield

As an adult, I can't say I recommend the Sweet Valley books as quality reading, but I can't deny that they were a huge part of my reading life as an adolescent, and I definitely was an Elizabeth. She was the serious studious one who wrote for the school paper, and even though she was shyer and more conservative, she still was well-liked and well-respected among her peers. Yeah, she was boring, but she could always be counted on to do the right thing, and during those very impressionable years, I tried to follow that path as well.

Elizabeth Bennet

Though I would say that I'm a little more like Mr. Darcy in many respects, the truth is, I absorbed some of Lizzy Bennet in my late adolescence/early adulthood as well. It's not just her personality traits that I internalized (her warmth, her intelligence, her unwillingness to settle for anything less than love), but also her skills as a reader and thinker, the way she parses through information (such as, that which Darcy shares with her in his letter) and willingly admits when she is wrong. I learned a lot from Elizabeth, and I carry those lessons with me to this day.

(Non-literary) Honorable Mention: Daria Morgendorffer

She was too important not to mention, even if she's not a book character :) While I'm definitely more of an optimist than Daria is, I definitely learned from her that it's okay if everything isn't sunshine and roses, and it's okay if I don't fit in perfectly with everyone around me. It's okay to take an irreverent view of things, and it's okay not to just accept society at face value and just go with the flow, and that in a way, the urge to critique the world around me is not a symptom of negativity but of being perhaps a little too hopeful, combined with being a little too sensitive, to live in a world like ours. :/

Who are the women who made you who you are?

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Available now: When Life Happened


I'm honored to be asked to be part of this blog tour for a writer I admire so much. Available now is Jewel E. Ann's latest, When Life Happened. You can go here to read my spoiler-free review, and you can read a short excerpt below.

NOTE: The excerpt does contain explicit language/content. Not intended for readers under the age of 18.

Friday, May 26, 2017

When Life Happened by Jewel E. Ann

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 by the author in exchange for an honest review.

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

Synopsis (provided by publisher)Parker Cruse despises cheaters. It might have something to do with her boyfriend sleeping with her twin sister. 

After a wedding day prank involving a strong laxative, that ends the already severed relationship between the twins, Parker decides to grow up and act twenty-six. 

Step One: Move out of her parents’ house. 

Step Two: Find a job. 

Opportunity strikes when she meets her new neighbor, Gus Westman. He’s an electrician with Iowa farm-boy values and a gift for saying her name like it’s a dirty word. 

He also has a wife. 

Sabrina Westman, head of a successful engineering firm, hires Parker as her personal assistant. Driven to be the best assistant ever, Parker vows to stay focused, walk the dog, go to the dry cleaners, and not kiss Gus—again.

Step Three: Don’t judge. 

Step Four: Remember— when life happens, it does it in a heartbeat.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Happy Mother's Day! A Molly Weasley Appreciation post...

Source: wingedcorgi on Tumblr
In honor of Mother's Day, here is a tribute to one of my favorite book moms, Molly Weasley. Molly, who raised six boys and one girl on relatively little funds, who still found it in her to take in one more boy (Harry) and at times one more girl (Hermione), who fights (literally fights) for what is right, who took down one of the most notorious Death Eaters to protect her youngest child, who knits sweaters for her family EVERY SINGLE YEAR (as a knitter, I can appreciate this), and who is just all around an amazing mom. *raises a glass*

These were all collected from Tumblr, my source for all things fandom.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

A Court of Wings and Ruin by Sarah J. Maas

Thoughts at a glance: ***** (It was amazing!)

Summary: This is book 3 of the ACOTAR series; therefore, this review contains spoilers of the first two books. You have been warned! You can click to read my reviews of A Court of Thorns and Roses and A Court of Mist and Fury.

At the end of the last book, Feyre, who has been made High Lady of the Night Court, is taken back to the Spring Court by Tamlin, who sold out his own people to the King of Hybern to get her back. In addition, Tamlin's priestess Ianthe had sold out Feyre's sisters to the King as well, and Feyre had been unable to save them from being changed into Fae by the King.

So now she's in enemy territory, forced to pretend that she is no longer connected to her mate, Rhysand, so that she can gather information and bring down the Spring Court. And that's only the first step in a long and brutal battle to protect all of Prythian and the humans who live in the bordering territory.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Library HAUL

So, one thing I haven't had a chance to do yet since moving is to check out the libraries here. (Libraries, plural! I now live in a two-library town!!) This is the first weekend of the spring library sale, so I figured it would be a good time to stop in, get a card, and browse the sale selection.

It's been a while since I've attended any library sale at all, and the last time I went to one, it was nice, but I didn't find much there to interest me, and in general, there just wasn't much - it was a stretch for me to fill up my $5 bag.

However, that was definitely not the case today. (Also, the books were individually priced, not priced by the bag.) I found sooooo much stuff, and I didn't even get everything that I wanted, so I might have to head back again this week. Now, normally I hate posts about hauls; as a makeup enthusiast, I'm no stranger to haul videos, and I never like watching them because I feel weird about seeing other people show off what they bought, especially since I know I can't afford all that myself (nor do I get anything for free).

BUT... my purpose for sharing my book haul with you today is to say, If your local library does "Friends of" sales too, you should check it out if you can! You might find some awesome treasures, and your dollars support your library! (And yes, some of these were only a dollar!) Everyone wins!

Onto the haul!

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!