Books for October

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I know, I know. October is halfway over. But I’ve been reading more than I have in months, and thus the blog post I’ve been planning for weeks took a backseat. But here it is!

Fall is one of my favorite times for reading. When I was younger, I liked coming home from field hockey practice, pumping out some homework, and then curling up in flannel pants with a good book.

The best part about fall, and especially October, is that every genre seems like the perfect genre. Horror, classic lit, dystopian…they all seem like the “perfect fall read.” So if you’re like me and don’t want to be anywhere near a haunted corn maze during Halloween month, here are some books to make you feel like you’re still celebrating the holiday you might begrudgingly love.

1. The first one is an obvious one, but it’s one of my favorite classics. I first read Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein in high school, but didn’t really gain full appreciation for it until college. You probably know this by now, but Frankenstein isn’t a monster, and it’s nothing like those black-and-white movies. But it’s eerie, it’s well written, and it’s perfect for fall. If you haven’t picked this one up, do it. I promise you won’t regret it.

2. I’ll admit — I’m not the most avid reader of horror, thriller, suspense, etc. and am therefore probably not the best recommender of such genres. I’m currently reading my first Stephen King novel and I had to take a hiatus because I had my house to myself for the weekend and wanted to be able to sleep. However, I recently chose Final Girls by Riley Sager as my Book of the Month pick and devoured it in a few days. It feels like a slasher, but modern. Refreshingly modern. It uses technology, like smartphones and social media, in a way that I feel like not enough contemporary books do. It was creepy, but not nightmare creepy…at least not for me. It’s central characters are young women who survived mass murders, and obviously, they find out they’re not in the clear just yet. That’s all you need to know, because it’s a thriller, and what fun is a thriller if you already know half the story?

3. Is there anything scarier than a fictional novel that feels like it could just become reality? Of course I’m talking about The Handmaid’s Tale. Margaret Atwood’s famous dystopian story about a future where a totalitarian regime takes away women’s rights and independence (hmm, sounds familiar) just screams spooky October reading. After you read the book, check out the Hulu series — I’ll even give you my password. (Just kidding.) But seriously, as creepy and chilling as this book is, it’s also an absolute masterpiece. I ordered, like, three more Margaret Atwood books on Amazon Prime right after I finished it.

4. The next one is another recent read of mine — The Enchanted by Rene Denfeld. All I knew before going into this book was that it was about death row. That caught my attention enough to buy the book, but the first few pages really entranced me in a way I can’t describe. It’s mystical and enchanting (am I allowed to use the title to describe the book?) in a way that makes you question what’s real and what’s not. But at the other end of that is a raw, very realistic look into society, the prison system, mental health, and what makes people do the things they do. It follows a vast array of eclectic characters through a first person, but also strangely omniscient, narrator. It’s a quick read, but it says a lot.

5. I’m cheating on this last one, okay? But it needs to be said. Because if you’re not reading a Harry Potter book in the fall, are you even fall-ing? I’m making my way through the illustrated edition of Chamber of Secrets right now and seriously, it’s like I’m falling in love with these damned books all over again. Will they ever get old? Will ever an autumn pass during which I don’t devour one of these books for the millionth time? Stay tuned.

So what do you think? Have you read these? Do you have an October reading recommendation? Let me know, and happy spooky reading!

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YA Boys Usually Suck.

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Okay, I have a fatal flaw. A hamartia, some might say. My problem is that I read books. I have a lot of thoughts on them. (Positive and negative, but usually more of the latter.) And then I wait too long to write them down and I forget them.

So, to compromise for my fatal flaw, instead of writing long, thought-out, enticing book reviews that really demonstrate why I graduated summa cum laude with a degree in English, I will give you a few short, less detailed mini reviews of books I’ve read recently. Think tweets, but slightly longer.

 

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before; P.S. I Still Love You; and Always and Forever, Lara Jean — all by Jenny Han

The subtitle to this mini review is: Peter Kavinsky sucks. If you missed out on my thrilling Goodreads reviews of these three books, they can be summed up by the phrases “Peter Kavinsky sucks,” “Peter Kavinsky still sucks,” and “Decent ending. Peter Kavinsky still sucks.” And that’s all I have to say on the matter.

Just kidding, it’s not. But seriously, despite the other potential “love” interests in this series being incredibly dull (I put the term “love” in quotations because, come on…), at least they weren’t arrogant, territorial, emotional abusive assholes like Peter Kavinsky.

Other than that, this series was alright. I found Lara Jean to be very immature and just kind of annoying, but I guess I was also immature and probably very annoying in high school. The family dynamic was cool — I think the Song girls’ story developed in a realistic way. Kitty started out as a sort of Tiny Tim, impossible child stereotype, but I think she progressed and grew up gradually and believably.

Anyway, I think as far as young adult trilogies go, this was a pretty good one. I like Jenny Han’s style, but I’d like to see what she could do with a stand-alone. In fact, I think this would have made a better stand-alone.

Once and For All – by Sarah Dessen

Okay, apparently this is the summer of YA, because I rarely read YA these days. But Sarah Dessen is another story. I will continue to read her books when I am 80 years old (assuming human life expectancy has progressed drastically by then and she’s still writing books.)

This one? Eh. Not my favorite. Surprise, surprise, the romantic interest sucked. I’m sick of the spoiled, immature, kind-of-an-asshole, womanizer, rich kid trope. I really am. And that’s exactly what this book was. And while I’m on the topic of tropes I hate, can we please, please, please stop with the “main character is low key and introverted but her best friend is wild and boy crazy and constantly trying to get her to come out of her shell” trope. I get it, some relationships are like that. But not all of them have to be. I know it isn’t generally the author’s intention, but it begs the belief that being shy and introverted is good and being outgoing and liking to go to parties and on dates is bad. Both are fine within reason, so let’s stop inflicting otherwise on teenage girls.

And, in an effort to stop ranting, I do need to mention the big issue I had with this book, which was the way it dealt with trauma and mental health. I don’t think this is a spoiler because it’s revealed early on, but a character in the book loses someone they love in a school shooting. First of all, just because this is unfortunately “culturally relevant” doesn’t mean it has a right to be used as a one-dimensional plot line. This character lost someone, and there is no mention of therapy or counseling or grieving. Instead, the main “conflict” that’s addressed is “how am I going to put myself out there and find love again?” This is a possible concern, yes. But this is not everything. Honestly, if you’re going to use a very sensitive, very tragic subject as a plot device, it needs to have a message. I’m sorry, it just does.

So, despite all that ranting, this book had some redeeming qualities. The main character was likable. Her job working for her mother’s wedding planning business, her relationship with her mother and her mother’s business partner…all well done. But it’s more fun to hear about the stuff I didn’t like, right?

 

Alright, there were supposed to be a few more books in here, but I think this has gone on long enough, so I’ll make this post exclusive to YA and do another review soon. That means you can look forward to hearing my thoughts on The Handmaid’s Tale and The Sisters Chase in the very near future!

If you’ve ready any or all of these books, let me know your thoughts. If you disagree with mine, please (respectfully) tell me that, too.

5 Songs to Fall Asleep To

I have to say, I don’t actually fall asleep to music very often. I’ve tried, but for some reason I’d rather fall asleep to a podcast or an audiobook. Maybe it’s because they’re longer; I don’t have to worry about changing the song every 3 minutes if something I don’t want to listen to comes on. Or maybe it’s because podcasts and audiobooks require concentration; they don’t allow my thoughts to wander and the worrisome thoughts to set in. 

In the rare event that I do use music to help me sleep, though, this is what I listen to. 

1. “Hundred Ways” – Joseph

First of all, I should mention that pretty much any Joseph song is a good nighttime song. “Sweet Dreams” is an obvious choice, but “Hundred Ways” is my personal favorite. These three sisters from Portland form one of the most talented groups I’ve ever listened to, and I would recommend them to literally anyone ever. Seriously, go listen to them now. You don’t have a choice. 

2. “Scars” – James Bay

I would let James Bay sing me to sleep any day, just saying. This song is sad but hopeful and also peaceful and chill and raw and it’s just great, okay? If you’ve been avoiding James Bay because you think he’s just like every other whiny white dude with a guitar and tight pants, I feel you. But just give him a chance. 

3. “Down in the Valley” – The Head and the Heart

I discovered this song years ago thanks to one of those Starbucks free download cards they have by the pick-up counter. These are a hit or miss, usually a miss, but this one happened to be pretty freaking great. This is a mellow song, but when the pace picks up towards the end, I get chills every single time. Plus, it’s a song about home, and who can resist a good home song?

4. “Blue Jeans” – Lana Del Rey

Lana’s entire Born to Die album reminds me of Amsterdam. When I was abroad, I took a weekend bus trip to Amsterdam, and I have these weird vivid memories of being curled up on a coach bus late at night, driving through the city streets late at night on the way back to my hotel, listening to “Blue Jeans.” Traveling makes me anxious, but in this moment I was so at ease, so I relate this song to that feeling. 

5. “Strong” – London Grammar

This is another one that brings back memories. Similar memories as “Blue Jeans,” actually. Apparently I really vibe with relaxing late at night on coach buses, because I remember listening to this song over and over on the way back from a Red Sox game, and I also listened to it pretty continuously in London when I was a scared college student in a foreign country trying to fall asleep and beat that dreaded jet lag. Hannah Reid’s voice is chilling and solemn and pretty damn flawless. Seriously, I hope this woman either has kids or is planning on having them, because she’ll have no trouble singing them to sleep in a heartbeat. 

Alright, now that I’ve written this and listened to these songs, I think it’s time for bed. 

To check out my Five Songs on Friday Spotify playlist, click here. 

To Reread, or Not to Reread?

I used to be a chronic rereader. There was this book — The Canada Geese Quilt, by Natalie Kinsey-Warnock. The author visited my elementary school every year, so my book was signed. It was my first autographed book, so it was a big deal…even though she signed everyone else’s book, too. But in my mind, this book was mine. Not only was it my first signed book, it was also the first book I read in one sitting. (But certainly not the last — I was an English major, after all. And a master procrastinator.)

I don’t remember much about that book. A girl learns how to make quilts, possibly from her grandmother. Actually, now that I think about it, I’m pretty sure the grandma dies. Spoiler alert. I learned that they’re called “Canada geese,” not “Canadian geese.” Other than that, I literally remember nothing, but for some reason that book stuck with me. I reread it once a month, I’m not even kidding.

Starting with The Canada Geese Quilt and up until now, I guess, rereading has been a source of comfort for me. This comfort generally came in the form of one of the seven Harry Potter books. The good thing about loving a series so intensely is that each book makes me feel something different. Based on my mood and where my mind is at in that moment, I know which of the seven is bound to bring me the most joy.

From a less emotional, more intellectual standpoint, I found real value in rereading books in college. Like I said, I was an English major. Rereading was part of the deal. I’d take classes and have to reread books I’d read in high school, or even books I’d read the previous semester. But for the most part, this wasn’t exhausting. It was enlightening. There were books I got little or nothing out of the first time I read them. Camus’ The Stranger was one. Bronte’s Jane Eyre was a surprising second. Then, I read each of them over again for different classes and had completely different experiences. Maybe it was the professor. Maybe it was the details brought up in class discussions. Or maybe I’m just constantly growing as a reader and sometimes all it takes is a new, more experienced perspective. Listen, college is a wonderful place, okay?

That being said, my rereading experience hasn’t been devoid of heartbreak. I’m terrified to reread Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four because it’s one of my favorite books of all time and I’ve only read it once. What if, years later, it doesn’t hold up? What if it isn’t as profound as sixteen-year-old me thought it was? This has happened to me before, of course. I’m slowly making my way through all thirteen A Series of Unfortunate Events audiobooks because they were my favorite non-Harry Potter books when I was younger. But the reason it’s taking me so long is because I’m bored. I grow frustrated with the repetitive storylines and the lack of character development and have to stop listening for days, even weeks or months, at a time.

So yeah, rereading can be fun, but at what cost? Is it worth rereading my childhood and adolescent favorites now I’m clearly outside the target audience, only to find them annoying and below my intelligence level? Or is it better to keep them engrained in my memory as they were back then? Or, in the case of the books I once despised, do I give them another chance?

Or am I overthinking this whole process? Maybe the real joy of having access to physical books is that they’re timeless — you can keep them on your shelf and go back to them when, or if, you desire.

Maybe part of growing older and learning more and experiencing more is accepting that your opinions on these things will change. Maybe I need to accept that my experience rereading A Series of Unfortunate Events as a 24-year-old college-educated adult will be different than my experience as an eight-year-old book lover and, more importantly, that both experiences are valuable.

Rereading can be a source of comfort or disappointment, but it can also show you how much you’ve grown as a reader, a thinker, and a person.

So for now, I’ll just keep rereading Order of the Phoenix until it gets old. Which is a funny joke, because it’ll never get old.

Five Songs on Friday (26 May 2017)

I missed a week, but to make up for that, I’m back with five great songs. Today, I’m bringing you five songs I’ll literally never get sick of. They’re songs I’ve been listening to for 3 years or longer, over and over, and I’m still listening to them consistently. 

1. “Machu Picchu” – The Strokes

I’m pretty sure this song was my first exposure to the Strokes (I know, I was a late bloomer.) But now they’re one of my favorites. I love everything about this, from Julian Casablancas’ screamy voice at the climax of the song, to the abrupt ending, to the album artwork I get to look at every time I listen to this song. 

2. “Where is My Mind?” – The Pixies

This song reminds me of driving around some abandoned roads in a ’67 Mustang convertible. I’ve never done that, but this is the song I imagine would be playing if I were to do so. The guitar melody is chilling, the vocals are eerie, and there are days I’d certainly love to know where my mind has gone. 

3. “Heroes” – David Bowie

This song was in the movie Horns with Daniel Radcliffe. I knew it before that, but I think this movie gave me a new appreciation for it. DanRad is in a treehouse with the love of his life, she’s wearing this flowy white dress, dancing to this song. The scene is hazy and relaxed, unlike the entire rest of the movie. And this song just works. 

4. “This Train Don’t Stop There Anymore” – Elton John

Elton John is my forever favorite musical artist. I grew up listening to him. I love that he doesn’t have a particular sound — he has his classic sound that people know and love, but then he can turn around and put out and album that sounds almost like country. This song is from my favorite album, Songs from the West Coast. It’s about partying and drugs and Hollywood losing its glamour, and it’s just so solemn and freaking real. 

5. “About a Girl” – Nirvana

Nirvana is another one of my favorites, but my favorite song of theirs is from freaking Guitar Hero. It’s a version of “About a Girl” from their MTV Unplugged in New York concert, and it just sounds so much better “unplugged.”
 
Okay, there are my five. What are your top five songs you could listen to over and over forever? 

Five Songs on Friday (12 May 2017)

I’m back with another five songs on the best day of the week. This week’s theme is “the last five songs I looked up on Shazam.” Is “Shazamed” a word? It is now. (Plus this is 2017, so probably.) So here we go, here are the last five songs I Shazamed.

 

1. It Ain’t Me – Kygo and Selena Gomez

I Shazamed this song at a bowling alley during “Midnight Bowl” (which I hate because I can’t see where the ball is going with all the flashing disco lights.) Anyway, I Shazamed this because the verses were super catchy and it sounded like a Sia song. Conclusion: I don’t think Selena is the best vocalist, but every song she releases or is featured on is a hit. 

2. Cleopatra – The Lumineers

I was out with my boyfriend and he was convinced that there was someone performing live music. I Shazamed this to prove that the Lumineers were not, in fact, performing a free live concert win the middle of a food court in Upstate New York. I get where he was coming from, though, because this song has a very raw sound. I dig it.

3. Wherever You Will Go – The Calling

I heard this at a restaurant and couldn’t remember which broody early-2000s rock band it was. Not gonna lie, this song doesn’t hold up in 2017. It sounds like every other early-2000s mellow rock song. This was for sure on a “Now That’s What I Call Music” CD, right?

4. You Don’t Know Me – Jax Jones feat. RAYE

This was another Midnight Bowl song. I heard it and thought “this would be a great song to run to.” Update: it is.

5. The Great Longing – Lost Under Heaven

This song ended the first episode of 13 Reasons Why on Netflix, which had a killer soundtrack overall. It’s one of those songs that I know I’ve heard before but can’t place. In any event, it’s a good song.

 

To find all these songs plus the songs from last week’s FSoF, check out my Spotify playlist here.

What’s the last song you Shazamed?

Five Songs on Friday (5 May 2017)

I’m starting a new thing for this blog. I’m a big music fan, as I’m sure are most of you reading this right now. Music is one of those things, like reading, that can be both communal and entirely personal at the same time.

When I’m in my car or listening to music through headphones, I’m in my own space. No one knows what I’m listening to — I can skip the songs I want to skip, I can listen to the same song 12 times in a row, and I can listen to those songs I might be embarrassed to admit that I listen to. At the same time, I like going to concerts with friends, introducing people to new music, and getting recommendations from other people.

So here’s what I’m going to do. Every Friday, I’m going to share five songs. They might be brand new songs, they might all have a common theme, I might ask other people for suggestions, or I might just pick songs from my library at random. (I’ll even compile them in a Spotify playlist so they’re all in one place.)

I want these posts to be a place where I can share the music I love, get some new suggestions, and, most importantly, tell the stories I associate with that music.

So for this week, to start, here are the first five songs that played when I put my phone on shuffle.

1. Half of Something Else – The Airborne Toxic Event

Is this a One Tree Hill song? It sounds like a One Tree Hill song. It also sounds like a song that would play the first time a couple sleeps together on a TV show. So, yeah, definitely a One Tree Hill song.

2. Levels – Nick Jonas

As a former self-proclaimed Jonas Brothers fangirl, I tried very hard for a while to support the boys in all their solo endeavors. Sometimes it was easy, as was the case with this song. Other times, not so much. (I’m looking at you, Joe.)

3. Uptown Music – Fredalba

My favorite TV show is a little show called 24. Perhaps you’ve heard of it. There was a character in the sixth season named Milo, played by Eric Balfour. Eric Balfour was in a band called Fredalba. Also, we share a birthday. Also, I thought he was really hot.

Anyway, I was really into this band for a while. It’s like, wanna-be-nineties-hip-hop + low key California beach music. And I used to lay by my pool and listen to it while a sunbathed because I was cool. Sometimes I still do.

4. Running – James Bay

I saw James Bay at Radio City Music Hall in New York last year with friends when I really didn’t know that much about him. Now, he’s one of my favorites. And this song is great.

Highlight from that concert: the very, very intoxicated woman behind me jumping up and down, screaming the wrong lyrics, and shouting “James Bay, you sexy bastard!”

5. Reflecting Light – Sam Phillips

Disclaimer: If you’re a Gilmore Girls fan and this song doesn’t ring a bell, you might cry when you listen and realize what song it is. This song was used during memorable moments in both the original series and the Netflix revival. And it’s amazing. It brings back memories. It gets to me. Even if you’re not a Gilmore Girls fan, listen anyway. It might get to you, too.

Okay, now it’s your turn. Put your phone/MP3 player/streaming system on shuffle. Let me know what comes up. If there’s an associated story, share it.

To view the Five Songs on Friday Spotify playlist, click here.