Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Review: Newsies on Broadway

"Beyond the incredible singing, dancing, and the important lessons, there's this underlying energy and enthusiasm that ties up the show and takes it from great to extraordinary."

If you follow me on Twitter, you've probably witnessed my fangirling over Newsies since the end of August. 

The show closed on Broadway on August 24th, so before then, I had been anxiously hoping to be able to see the show before its closing. I happened to be in NYC on the 15th and figured I would try my chances in the lottery. And I actually won! I was beyond excited, and I could not be happier.

Can I just say, WOW! This show blew my mind away. Most Broadway shows are definitely more theater/acting/singing oriented. But my favorite aspect of Newsies is the dancing. As a dancer, I was especially amazed and blown away. The guys (and the few girls) are superb dancers; I am so jealous of their dancing abilities! Every single one of them shined in their performances. The dance numbers were larger than life, and I think every single person in the audience was watching in awe. Just AHHH! If you're a dancer, you must see Newsies at some point. (And if you're not a dancer, you still must see Newsies. ;))

But of course, as a Broadway show, I do have to address the acting/singing aspect of the show as well. The songs and the singing? Spot on! The audience laughed at the funny moments, and the audience sat in silence at the sad, somber moments. I think everyone felt every emotion we were meant to. The group songs definitely do inspire a sense of camaraderie and the "Yes we can!" spirit of the newsies. You really grow to root for them, cheering for them all along the way. It's frustrating when they are faced with a setback, but ugh, it's just perfect. And the singing is just as great. They really do the music justice. They're all more than 100% into the singing, and it really shows. It really affects the audience, even if it may not seem that way at first. They're just infectious (but in a good way!). And the songs themselves are so sing-able, and once you listen to the songs/the cast album, you'll have it stuck in your head for days. Every song is attacking and completes its purpose and more. It's the same with their acting! Every member is so amazingly talented, as is usually the case on Broadway. (And can we just talk about how for most of the cast, Newsies was their Broadway debut?! Including Corey Cott, who took over as Jack Kelly, the main Newsie, right out of college.)

Then, there's the plot. I like the setting and the exploration of the newspaper industry during the time of Pulitzer and Hearst, especially after having learned a bit about it in my history class. However, parts of the plot were probably the weakest (but not by much) parts of the show. With the exception of one point/twist which may or may not be a surprise to people, it's fairly straightforward and isn't too difficult to predict. But I believe that with the rest of show being so great, you kind of push this to the back of your mind while watching the show. And besides, there are some great lessons that the story shows--from tackling the struggles of females and highlighting a strong, willful female character to showing how determination and teamwork can make the unthinkable/"impossible" happen, the show has something to teach everyone, young and old.

There's just this air about the show and the performers that's different from the other shows I've seen. Of course, everyone on Broadway is amazing and really in character, but with Newsies, there's this deeper energy that goes from the performers to the audience, and I think that's why it's impacted so many people, and I think that's why it's gained such a large following. Beyond the incredible singing, dancing, and the important lessons, there's this underlying energy and enthusiasm that ties up the show and takes it from great to extraordinary. 

I highly, highly recommend Newsies for everyone. Seriously, the show isn't on Broadway anymore (*sobs*), but a different cast is going on a national tour. And while I can't vouch for them for certain, I know they'll put on an amazing show at a Broadway worthy level. Please, if they're stopping near you, go watch the show. I promise you won't regret it!

(Also, my dance competition team is doing a Newsies mash-up for our production number this year, and I'M SO EXCITED YOU HAVE NO IDEA)

Learn more about Newsies and Newsies on Tour HERE

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Tour: The Rise of Aurora West by Paul Pope, JT Petty, and David Rubin (ARC) (+Exclusive Art)

The Rise of Aurora West by Paul Pope and JT Petty; Illustrations by David Rubin
Publisher: First Second Books
Release Date: September 30th, 2014
The extraordinary world introduced in Paul Pope's Battling Boy is rife with monsters and short on heroes... but in this action-driven extension of the Battling Boy universe, we see it through a new pair of eyes: Aurora West, daughter of Arcopolis's last great hero, Haggard West. A prequel toBattling Boy, The Rise of Aurora West follows the young hero as she seeks to uncover the mystery of her mother's death, and to find her place in a world overrun with supernatural monsters and all-too-human corruption. With a taut, fast-paced script from Paul Pope and JT Petty and gorgeous, kinetic art from David Rubin, The Rise of Aurora West (the first of two volumes) is a tour de force in comics storytelling.
Disclaimer: I received an ARC from the publisher. This did not affect my review in any way, nor am I being compensated for this post.

When Gina, First Second's publicist, emailed to ask me if I would be interested in taking part in this tour, I was thrilled. I love First Second's books, and I've enjoyed interacting with Gina (who is the kindest!). Of course I said yes!

This time around, I wasn't really sure what to expect in terms of the book. I also received a copy of Battling Boy (Aurora West is a companion novel/prequel book), but I had never really taken much interest in the book before. But I decided to give both a shot because I love reading books with awesome, kick-ass female characters, and that's what Aurora West seemed to encompass.

While I wasn't necessarily disappointed in the novel, there was a lot that detracted from my overall enjoyment of the book. Firstly, while overall the illustrations were okay (see below for some exclusive art from David Rubin), they're not what appeals to me the most. It's more of a personal preference, but it did take a bit away from my personal enjoyment of the book. Also, I feel conflicted on the black and white and on the size. Sometimes, it felt like there was almost too much going on and in too small of a space. I believe the final copy of the book is a bit bigger. Some of the black and white also bothered me a bit but only when there was a lot going on in a panel or on the page. It felt a bit overwhelming. Additionally, it was just a bit jarring at first to see the difference in illustrations between Battling Boy and Aurora West. While Sadisto's gang pretty much looks the same, some of the characters seem to look a bit different. One thing that especially stuck out to me was the way Aurora, and often her mother's, face was drawn when facing forward. It just looks so...awkward! But perhaps that's Rubin's drawing style. Overall, I enjoyed the illustrations, particularly after the first few pages once I got accustomed to them.

Haggard West also occasionally bothered me for some reason in this book. I enjoyed seeing him outside of the spotlight and to see him as something other than a hero, but sometimes the things he said stuck oddly with me.

But then, one of my favorite aspects of the story is Aurora herself. I love how she's not just kick-ass and awesome; we also see her flaws and her struggles and failures. I believe that makes her more real and more human, something we sometimes forget when we just see the "hero" aspect of someone. We don't see teen heroes and heroines also struggling through school. We don't often see them with their friends, family, and mentors. I love her confidence but also her lack of it at times. I love that she's portrayed as both vulnerable and tough. Because behind every superhero is this duality. You can't be the perfect hero all the time, and both Aurora and Haggard West really embody this idea. As much as Haggard bothered me a bit, I absolutely loved the exploration of the parent-child/daughter relationship. It's really nice because it lends itself to showing Aurora's weakness, but it also shows her determination and spirit. And there's this one scene on a bridge that I can't elaborate on, but that was my favorite scene. It perfectly captures the relationship between a parent and child, and it is SO heartwrenching. I do wish there had been more of a follow-up or a clearer transition or to see its effect more in the rest of the book, but it was amazing nevertheless.

The plot itself was really interesting. The beginning was a bit slow, and it took a lot more time to read the book and get into it than I've experienced with other books in the past. But once Aurora started to piece together the past, it picked up and go very exciting. So do I think Aurora's friend is merely used to lead to important information and discoveries and isn't otherwise needed (beyond the school scenes)? A bit. The connections, though, were cool to put together, and it all came together nicely in the end. Not to say there wasn't a cliffhanger ending that left me like "noooooooooo!" But really, it was the way that the past and present were tied together that made me love this book. It also sets up book 2, as well as explaining some of the monsters and storylines of Battling Boy. (By the way, I should've mentioned this earlier, but you don't need to read Battling Boy in order to read and enjoy The Rise if Aurora West.) Overall, The Rise of Aurora West is a great read!
AND HERE'S SOME EXCLUSIVE ARTWORK (nope, I didn't forget ;))
The Rise of Aurora West: Goodreads | Amazon | B&N | Book Depository

Follow the rest of the tour:

Wednesday, September 24

Thursday, September 25

Friday, September 26

Saturday, September 27

Sunday, September 28

Monday, September 29

Tuesday, September 30

Wednesday, October 1

Thursday, October 2

Friday, October 3

Saturday, October 4

Sunday, September 21, 2014

To-Be-Read Tag

This tag was created by Rachel @ A Perfection Called Books and Dana from Dana Square.
Thanks to Isabel @ Tween 2 Teen Book Reviews and Em @ The YA Book Butterfly for tagging me!

How do you keep track of your TBR pile?
So usually, I use Goodreads, but sometimes I'll get lazy and won't. Then depending on the book, I may forget that I wanted to read it. But for the most part, I'm pretty good about keeping track on Goodreads. Then switching books to "read" is a whole other problem...

Is your TBR mostly print or e-book?
Definitely print! I mean, technically, I don't differentiate, but my default is almost always print anyway, with the exception of my large number of eARCs I haven't gotten around to yet...

How do you determine which book from your TBR to read next?
It's different every time depending on the situation, but usually it's a mix of my mood, if it's a blog tour book or not, if it's a Lit Up Review Spotlight book (ahem I need to read Let's Get Lost for this month, and I still haven't started yet), and the release date of my ARCs. In terms of ARCs, I'm much more likely to prioritize paper ARCs than eARCs, unless it's a book I'm really excited for. I'm also the kind of person that starts a million books at once, so....

A Book That's Been on Your TBR List the Longest
In reality, I'm not really sure because the way I added them onto Goodreads doesn't necessarily reflect how long it had been that I wanted to read the book, but according to Goodreads, it's Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children (in my mind, it's definitely not that, but!).

OH! I found one that's been on my list for AGES (but isn't first on my Goodreads page). I wanted to read this book since I finished Fairest sometime in elementary school...I still haven't read it. Now, I don't know if I ever will. Maybe just for old time's sake. :)

A Book You Recently Added To Your TBR
According to Goodreads, one of my very latest additions is Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld. I kept hearing about it but didn't know what it was about. Then, the other day, I finally looked it up, and I was like I NEED THIS. ;)

A Book In Your TBR Strictly Because of Its Beautiful Cover
I don't think anything is on my TBR list just because of its cover, but. Okay, so here's one that I originally was interested in because of the cover. And THEN I got super interested because of the blurb.

An Unpublished Book That You're Excited For
Uhhh...you want me to pick JUST ONE??? Fine...this just one of many

A Book On Your TBR That Basically Everyone's Read But You
Probably most of them? ;P

A Book On Your TBR That Everyone Recommends To You
Besides those two up there (^), these two for sure! I really do mean to read them; I just haven't around to them yet.

A Book On Your TBR That You're Dying To Read
How about every single one of them? Okay fine, a snippet then: Echoes of Us, The Book Thief, Afterworlds, The Sky is Everywhere, Lola and the Boy Next Door + Isla and the Happily Ever After, Lies We Tell Ourselves, I'll Give You the Sun, The Start of Me and You, Salt & Stone, Snow Like Ashes, Red Queen, The Orphan Queen, The Broken Hearts' Society of Suite 17C, Under the Lights, Written in the Stars, The Girl at Midnight, A Thousand Pieces of You, Winterspell, Amy and Roger's Epic Detour, The Shadow Cabinet, A Darker Shade of Magic, No Place to Fall, The Hit List, AND MORE. Yup...*slinks away*

How many books are on your Goodreads TBR shelf?
533 on Goodreads, plus the ones I haven't put on Goodreads and the books I want to reread...

Now I'm tagging:

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Tour: Review: Sulan by Camille Picott (ARC) (+Giveaway)

I'm super excited to be a part of this tour! The concept/blurb of this book drew me in in a snap, and I'm excited to share it with you today. I must warn you that's it's been a while since I've read it, but I still feel the same way now as I did at the time when I read the book. Enjoy!


Sulan Book Cover_Amazon
Episode One: The League ~ Sulan by Camille Picott
Publisher: Pixiu Press
Release Date: June 2012
Sixteen-year-old Sulan Hom can’t remember life before the Default—the day the United States government declared bankruptcy. As a math prodigy, she leads a protected life, kept safe from the hunger and crime plaguing the streets of America. She attends the corporate-sponsored Virtual High School, an academy in Vex (Virtual Experience) for gifted children.

Beyond the security of Sulan’s high-tech world, the Anti-American League wages a guerrilla war against the United States. Their leader, Imugi, is dedicated to undermining the nation’s reconstruction attempts. He attacks anything considered a national resource, including corporations, food storage facilities—and schools. When Sulan witnesses the public execution of a teenage student and the bombing of a college dorm, she panics. Her mother, a retired mercenary, refuses to teach her how to defend herself. Sulan takes matters into her own hands. With the help of her hacker best friend, Hank, Sulan acquires Touch—an illegal Vex technology that allows her to share the physical experience of her avatar. With Touch, Sulan defies her mother and trains herself to fight. When Imugi unleashes a new attack on the United States, Sulan finds herself caught in his net. Will her Vex training be enough to help her survive and escape?
"I enjoyed the book, but there's a lot that keep me from loving the book the way I had anticipated."

Disclaimer: I received a copy of the book for this tour. This did not affect my review in any way, nor am I being compensated for it.  

As I mentioned above, what really got me interested in this book was the blurb. The first thing I noticed when I read it was that the main character is Asian (or at least has an Asian name). I then found out that the author, Camille Picott, is actually a Chinese American. Yay for diversity! It really did make me very happy to see that in this book. However, I was almost a little disappointed that of course, she was the math/science prodigy. I get it in the context, and of course, there are reasons why that stereotype exists but gahh! There's more to people and society than math and science, people! As a social studies/English lover, it makes me so sad that even in this dystopian society, those subjects aren't even close to being valued.

There's a really interesting cast of characters in the book, and I really enjoyed reading about them and seeing their interactions with one another. I like Sulan's fierceness and her determination. She kicks ass! I loved Billy and Hank, both separately, together, and with their interactions with Sulan. It's fun and yet realistic. Hank's anxiety over school is especially well done, as is her relationship with Billy. And while I'm okay with Gun as a character, I am not a fan of how quickly Sulan began to rely on him. Additionally, I was pulled in so many directions regarding Gun, and I guess that's the point but because the beginning of their relationship felt weak, I feel like the reader is meant to trust Gun, and I really don't/didn't. But one of my favorite interactions/relationships (besides Hank and Sulan's) is Sulan and her mother. I just love the way they interact. It's not smooth, and they clash a lot, but you can really see both of their sides of the safety and training debate. I think it represents a mother-daughter relationship fairly accurately, considering Sulan's age and the world in which they live. My last point about characters is that I feel as if they all should have been more fallible. It often felt as if they were invincible or something, and I'm just like no!

The book is fast-paced and engaging. It was a quick read for me, though I felt a bit shaky about the world-building. There's just something that continued to feel off for me, and there was a lot I was confused about for a good portion of the book. The technology is much more advanced, but they're not always explained fully. The book's not perfect, but it's not bad either. There were a few "twists" that were extremely predictable and took away from any of the suspense (namely the reveal about who Midnight is, as well as the frog business near the end of the book). Overall, I enjoyed the book, but there's a lot that keep me from loving the book the way I had anticipated.

About the Author: 

Camille Picott is a fifth-generation Chinese American. She writes science fiction and fantasy books with Asian characters and/or Asian settings. Camille grew up reading speculative fiction stories largely devoid of Asian characters and culture. This, coupled with a passion for her heritage, is the reason she strives to bring some aspect of Eastern myth, legend, culture, and ethnicity to all of her writings. 

Two $5 Amazon Gift Cards (INT)

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Review: Jump! by Julia Dweck

Jump! by Julia Dweck
Publisher: Sleepy Sheep Productions
Release Date: September 1st, 2014
What’s a Jack-in-the-box without his home? Poor Jack has never jumped out of anything before, but his worn out box. Can Barker, the neighborhood dog, prove to Jack that there are many more exciting jumps outside in the great, big world? Young readers will find lots of giggles in the rhyming text and wondrous jumps that Barker and Jack discover together. The full screen art by illustrator, Brian Allen, positively leaps off the page. The author, Julia Dweck, has done a wonderful job of weaving in the subtle message that it’s important to believe in yourself and to think outside of the box in order to realize life’s wondrous possibilities.
"If I were a parent, this would definitely be a book I'd want my kids to read (and hopefully love)."

Disclaimer: I received a review copy from the author. This did not affect my review in any way, nor am I being compensated for it!

In writing this review, I realize I'm probably not the best person to be writing reviews for children's/picture books as I didn't necessarily progress the same way many of my peers did and because I'm no longer a child nor do I have children, so I'm really out of touch with what a good children's book that's the appropriate level and content would be with the exception of general ideas. In reading some of the other reviews for this book, I found others pointing out bits that never would've stuck out or seemed strange to me. But anyway! Enough blabbing for me and onto the review.

I quite enjoyed Jump! from the very start, and it just got better throughout. There's a very simple rhyme scheme, but I think that works for younger readers. At the same time, the connecting of the ideas seems to be for slightly older readers (6ish?). Seeing as Dweck is a gifted elementary school teacher however, I can definitely see how this could work for more advanced younger readers. I feel like this is a book I would have enjoyed very much in pre-K and kindergarten, though it would have been too easy for me in first grade.

I absolutely love the moral/lesson/theme in Jump! It's an important one for kids--and for everyone--to learn. The moral is very clear throughout the book, at least for me. Personally, I'm not a fan of how she ends with outright stating the moral of the book, but I read somewhere that many children's books actually do that, so I'm not sure! Either way, I did enjoy the way the moral was presented throughout the book, and I love how she uses a jack-in-a-box to show the idea of thinking outside the box!

I also love Brian Allen's illustrations, which really pop and bring the story to life. The images matched the writing extremely well, and it's the perfect complement to the wonderful story.

And I must end by noting/pointing out the activities at the end of the book. They're so fun, and they really make kids think! I can see how being a gifted elementary school teacher actually has affected and influenced the way she writes and the content she includes. The activities are a great way for kids to get involved and engaged, even if they aren't fans of reading. Props to you, Julia!

If I were a parent, this would definitely be a book I'd want my kids to read (and hopefully love).
Jump!: Goodreads | Amazon
Julia Dweck: WebsiteTwitter | Facebook | Amazon | YouTube

Monday, September 15, 2014

Tour: Review: Divinity by Michelle L. Johnson

Divinity by Michelle L. Johnson
Publisher: Spence City
Release Date: September 23rd, 2014
When Julia climbs into a flaming car to save a trapped child, she's left wondering why either of them survived. Then she learns that her father is the Archangel Gabriel, and that she is half human, half Archangel. With guidance from Michael, the most powerful Archangel, Julia sets out to discover her own history and explore her angelic powers. But her journey is cut short when an evil force, invisible to human and angel alike, tears her world apart. Now Julia must fight through her despair, harness her newfound gifts, and risk her very soul to stop the A'nwel and protect the family she never knew she had. What she doesn't know is that Archangels have secrets too.
Disclaimer: I received an copy for review from the publisher. This did not affect my review, nor am I being compensated for this review.

Divinity has such an interesting concept, and that's really what drew me in to the book in the first place. For the most part, I would say it followed through with that. While I know many exist, I haven't read many books about angels, and I don't think I've read any books with angels such as the ones in this book. I really enjoy the interactions between Julia, humans, and angels. It's a really interesting mix of ideas, lifestyles, purposes, and more. I think Julia's perspective was even more interesting as she was able to see both sides, yet she is not completely one or the other.

The world-building is fairly well-done. The concepts are distinct enough, and I fairly good sense of what was going on in both sides. I'm glad there were different picture markers to differentiate between the points of views (angels vs. Julia). While a lot of the immediate surroundings were more difficult to grasp, I think the author's point was for readers to get a sense of the world beyond the every day setting, which is why it isn't explored as much.

However, I do think that some aspects and questions took too long to be answered. Yes, some part of that is the fact that Julia isn't learning the information quickly, but I think it leaves the reader in this in-between state for quite some time, and it got really frustrating towards the middle/end. Of course, it all came together in the end, but argg! Also, I'm not really a fan of how long it took the angels to figure out the "stuff" about the A'nwel, and then, when we started to learn more, it was as if they were putting together the pieces way too quickly. It just didn't work for me because the pacing felt so off. It was slow in the beginning, and then it just seemed like Johnson was trying to make up for it by pushing most of the story/action into the last half of the book.

Similarly, while there were plenty of twists in the novel, particularly in the last half, it seemed that a lot of it had very little foundation. There wasn't a lot of foreshadowing that would lead to those twists (most of which weren't that big, but anyway).

My other problem with the angels is that since they can see above and beyond what humans can, many times, they would discuss an event that was going to occur, making it less surprising and impactful as it could be. Additionally, I was confused by the fact that they would talk to each other out loud, though they can hear one another's thoughts and can speak in that way (and much more quickly). I'm not sure if it's a matter of privacy or something (as is semi-explained), but it just seems strange to me.

Another one of my other problems with the book is that I don't think it handled Julia's past/trauma well enough. We are repeatedly told that she tried to commit suicide and that she came from an abusive adoptive family. And while there's a certain extent to which she has healed, particularly because of Alex, I feel that a year wouldn't realistically be enough. That being said, I've never been in her situation, and I can only imagine what it's like. But I feel that a trauma so great (both the suicide attempt and her past) would have much more far-reaching effects. I don't mean that these need to be the center of the story, but I feel that it should be addressed and represented. At the very least, it should come up when Julia is trying to get Charlie to leave her abusive boyfriend.

Lastly for this section (for now), the writing sometimes felt...choppy or just off to me. I can't pinpoint what it is, but a lot of the dialogue felt unnatural, and there was just something about the writing that wasn't always smooth reading for me.

At the same time, there's a lot that was done well in the book. One particular aspect was the relationships throughout the novel, as well as the exploration of what family means. Of course, the first is Alex and Julia's relationship. I love their relationship so much because it's clear they both understand and love one another. It's real, and he loves her for who she is, despite her tough past. I think part of what I love about their relationship is that it gives me hope for something similar. Then there's Julia and Charlie's friendship. I love how they meet online and have grown into such great friends. People often dismiss online friendships, but they fail to realize how special and amazing they can be. As someone who has many online friendships, it makes me happy to see this (healthily) represented. (It also makes me sad that I'm not nearly as close to my online friends as the two of them are.) Additionally, I'm really glad the book explores Julia's attempts to get Charlie out of her bad relationship and Charlie's refusal to do so. It's impactful and completely disheartening.

Of course, there's also Julia's relationship to Gabriel and to the other angels. It's a really interesting dynamic, in which the angels are humanized by Julia, yet they are still above humans in many ways. And then Julia becomes more and more aware of her angel side. They're both really interesting progressions.

Then there's the exploration of family and what it means. Julia comes to see how Alex and Isabel, Alex's mother, are her new family. She also realizes that just because someone adopts you into their family doesn't mean you have to consider them your family. She lived a horrible childhood that left her scarred, and she was adopted, never knowing her parents other than the fact that she knew her mother was supposedly crazy. But for the longest time, she always said that she doesn't have a family, and she realizes that she does. Family is more than your blood. I just love the focus on this aspect.

Overall, this book was enjoyable once I got past the slow beginning. The plot was fairly interesting and held my attention, if not because of the action but because of the deeper topics explored in the novel. But there was a lot of the book that bothered me or continue to keep me hesitant towards the book. It's not bad by any means, but I would only recommend it to a handful of people that I personally think would enjoy the book. And while that ending leaves a compelling, interesting cliffhanger, I don't know that I would read the next book.

(Thanks to Spence City for having me on the tour for Divinity!)

Monday, September 8, 2014

Review: First World Problems by Leigh Ann Kopans (ARC) (+giveaway)

First World Problems by Leigh Ann Kopans
Publisher: Self-published
Release Date: September 1st, 2014
Sofia's had a really rough year - busted for cheating at prep school, dumped - dumped! - for the first time ever, and her new non-profit working stepmother is turning out to be an uppity bitch.

She deserves to treat herself. But when she throws herself a birthday party with 20 of her closest friends in Paris and (accidentally!) maxes out her dad's credit card in the process, he’s had enough of her attitude. As punishment, he switches her planned gap year touring Europe to one doing community service work with the evil stepmother’s relief organization in Guyana.

The rural village of Dabu needs help in every area from education to getting safe drinking water. But Sofia’s more concerned about her roommate Callum, the gardening expert, who calls Sofia "Princess" and scoffs at her distaste for sweaty, muddy, iguana-eating, outhouse-using life in Guyana.

Eventually, life on the equator, her work in the village, and especially Callum - with his brooding eyes and bewitching New Zealand accent - start to grow on Sofia. Life is rough in Guyana, but it’s roughest on the girls, whose families are too poor to send only the most promising boys in school. They’re trapped in a cycle that will keep them from ever making a better life for themselves, or for the village. Worse, Callum doesn’t seem to think any of the changes Sofia envisions are actually necessary.

Determined to change the girls’ futures, she comes up with a strategy to help them and, ultimately, the village. But what starts out as a plan to convince Callum and her father that she’s fallen in love with Guyana, turns into the realization that maybe she’s falling for Callum, too. And that by changing these girls’ lives, she might also be changing her own.
"[First World Problems] reminded me of many of my own experiences, and I treasure this book for it. The romance is perfect, but it's also secondary to Sofia's character growth and development, and I find that fact really valuable."

Disclaimer: I received an eARC from the author. This did not affect my thoughts in any way, nor am I being compensated for this review.

GUYYYSSSSS. You have NO idea how excited I was to finally be able to read this lovely book! I've been eagerly awaiting this book since I finished Solving for Ex, which I thoroughly enjoyed. I even wrote a song inspired by the book! Anyway, I'm happy to say First World Problems lived up to my expectations.

Of course, I must start out by talking about Sofia. In Solving for Ex, you're meant to dislike her. For the most part, I'd say you do. But First World Problems really changes the way you view her. Of course, you start off still not liking her. She's spoiled and bratty and everything you remember from SfE. But as the story progresses, you really start to see her change. Some of it is very subtle and/or slowly developed, and some of it occurs very obviously. They both work well for the different aspects of Sofia's character. Her character arc reminds me a lot of Lainey's character arc in The Art of Lainey by Paula Stokes. That being said, of course, there were many moments when Sofia really annoyed me for one reason or another, even towards the middle/end. She's determined, but part of that also means she's incredibly stubborn. There were times when I wanted to shake her and just gahhh! Frustrating! But maybe that's the intended response; I'm not quite sure. The thing is, she really did change.

You can really see her change when she is finally able to get back home. Wow, what a difference that made. It's then that you especially see how much she's gone through and how different she is now. Yet she remains determined through everything she does, which pays off in the end. I just can't put into words you how well-done this part of the story is. It makes you start to view our world and our lifestyles in a different light. I can't even explain how impactful it is. It highlights Sofia's change in so many ways, and it's one of my favorite aspects of the story.

However, there was one aspect of her character change that I found to be really sudden. It was really the transition from her doing all the great stuff to please Callum and get a good report so she could go back home to suddenly realizing she really loves it and actually does like Callum, not just for show. The thing is, there was a part where I personally thought she had made that transition through Kopans' showing not telling. Then, it seemed like a few pages later, I was told that she was still just manipulating Callum. Then, a bit later in the book, she suddenly goes no, I actually do like this, and I'm not pretending anymore. Uhh...

Speaking of Callum, I love him, and I love how he's written as a character. Oftentimes, swoony guys are written to come off as nearly perfect. But Callum is different. He is completely flawed, and we know it. But just like Sofia, we come to see the other side of Callum. I love Callum because of good parts, but I also love Callum because he is flawed and imperfect and moody and everything, yet he's genuine, and he cares so much. And it's so real because every person you love in this world is like Sofia and Callum and all the characters in this book too: flawed, yet loved. And I can't tell you how powerful that message is. While it certainly exists in most books, for some reason, it really stuck out to me in this book. Maybe it's because of how stripped down the book is. When you take away all these prized possessions and are left with the bare basics, if that, you really view everything differently. You get to see who a person is when they have nothing to hide behind.

And Callum's relationship with Sofia is beautiful in the way it evolves throughout the story. It's so far from perfect, but I liked how it was slow-burning in the best way possible. They start off at great odds and for good reason. But their evolving relationship also serves to highlight the character development both of them go through. It's obvious they'll end up together, and it'll be happily ever after for them in the end, but it progresses at just the right pace, changing at the right moments as they correlate with the character's arc up to that point. (Also, can we talk about how interesting it is to learn about Sofia's thoughts on her past relationships?!)

I also really enjoyed the other characters in the story: Lena, Arielle, Anne, Riya, etc. Vincent serves as a nice reminder of who Sofia used to be, but it's also really nice to get a small glimpse into their side of the Solving for Ex story. It's a great way to tie the two together, though they're very different stories. In a similar way that Callum and Sofia's changing relationship shows how they're both changing, her relationship with Anne, her stepmother, also highlights Sofia's change throughout the book. 

Arielle and Lena are interesting characters to say the least. It was interesting to see their interactions with both one another and with Sofia on a separate basis. Particularly at the beginning, it really went to highlight how foreign the situation and environment is to Sofia. So I don't really agree with how they react to some of her actions, but overall, I liked what they added to the story. The plot arc and interactions between Arielle and Lena were interesting, but I'm not sure why it didn't occur before. I mean, I get it, but it felt like they'd been in Guyana for a while, so I'm not quite sure what exactly brought about what happened between the two of them. Just something to think about...

And of course I have to mention Riya and the other girls, especially in terms of how they influence the story. It's really through this storyline that we see Sofia's transformation. She's completely dedicated to her/their project, and I think it's really great that Sofia's really trying to help them. I do have some qualms about it, but that's my interested-in-international-development part showing. I don't know...I do think what she's trying to do is great and beyond amazing, but at the same time, I wonder how it works into their culture and society. The Guyanese people don't seem to particularly want to be influenced by Western society and culture, and I'd be interested to see how the project will affect them in the future. Because yes, it's amazing for the girls. It's empowering and educational and it allows them to use their skills to help themselves and their families, but there's always more to an issue than that. (As you can tell, I'm really interested in this kind of stuff. Hence why I want to study International Relations/International Development.)

Which somehow brings me to one of my last points. This book has a special place in my heart because it reminds me of one of my own experiences. Three summers ago (summer 2012), I visited Brazil so I could see my family. But I also went to volunteer. It turns out, just a few minutes/blocks away from one of my uncles' apartments is one section of one the biggest favelas in Sao Paulo, Brazil. And so, I spent one of the two months I was in Brazil teaching English to kids and teens in a church-run center. I can't tell you how much that experience changed the way I view the world. Have I given up my unnecessary possessions? No. But it really did change how I view myself in the world. It's an experience I will never forget. The teens I taught showed me so much love, and they really showed me that some things span across language barriers because in the end, at the heart of everything, we're all human, and we always find ways to communicate. It was beautiful, and it was also so heartbreaking to see the conditions under which they were living. A handful of the students have such potential, and it still breaks my heart to know that the world will likely never see that potential because they're poor and don't have the means. Unlike Sofia, I didn't have to live in the conditions they were living in, but even knowing it was like a bullet in my heart. I wasn't able to help them as much as Sofia was able to help Riya and the villagers in Guyana, but I hope I inspired someone to continue their education. I hope I inspired someone to learn. I hope I inspired someone to continue to study English. I admire Sofia's courage and determination to set up the project for the girls in Guyana because I wish I could've done something to help the people I met in that favela more than teaching them the bare bones of English in one month. And so I greatly connected to Sofia's story and her experiences.

(On a separate note: A few months after I got back home and got back to school, I learned that a large portion of the favela had been burned down. I also learned that the government was planning to get rid of the homes the residents had made, kicking out all the residents and leaving them to figure out what to do. Part of that included knocking down the center I had volunteered at. The government is planning to build a new Metro stop there for the Olympics (and at that time, supposedly the World Cup). The last I heard, most of the homes were knocked down, but the center hasn't been knocked down yet. More recently, I learned that one of the girls I taught gave birth to a baby boy. She's younger than I am. I can't necessarily say I'm surprised, but it's one of the issues facing residents in favelas. I do wish her happiness, but I can only imagine how different her life would be if she had been born into a different life.)

My only other qualm that I want to address really quickly is there are a couple of inconsistencies in the book, if I recall correctly. None of it is major, which is why I'm making this short and to the point. The one that stuck out to me the most was how Sofia started off being afraid of heights (when faced with the hammock). Then, later in the story, she claimed to love, or at the very least not be afraid of, heights. But again, it's just something small.

I really enjoyed this book, and I really hope a bunch of people will check out the book and love it too. It reminded me of many of my own experiences, and I treasure this book for it. The romance is perfect, but it's also secondary to Sofia's character growth and development, and I find that fact really valuable. Her growth is what really makes this book shine. It's thought-provoking, at least for me, and I hope to book push this when possible. Please check it out, especially if you read and enjoyed Solving for Ex but also if you haven't or didn't. This is a very different story in the best way possible.
First World Problems: Goodreads | Amazon | Website
Leigh Ann Kopans: Goodreads | Website | Blog | Twitter | Facebook | Pinterest

PS. Be on the lookout for a song inspired by the book soon (hopefully)!

Comment below with why you want to read the book and/or what you liked about the book. Be sure to leave your email, so I can contact you if you win. (I'd greatly appreciate a follow, but it's not necessary to be entered to win.) One person will win an ecopy of First World Problems! Thanks for stopping by, and good luck. :)
Ends Oct 1st.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Review: Shake It Off by Taylor Swift

Shake It Off by Taylor Swift
Label: Big Machine Records
Release Date: August 18th, 2014

WOAH! STOP THE PRESSES! New Taylor Swift single and the announcement of her new album, 1989. (I started this review the day all of this was announced, so this is slightly outdated now. ;)) Anyway, given that I have many, many, many thoughts about Shake It Off and T. Swift's new musical direction, I figured I would write a review for the song.

I'm gonna be honest; it's not my favorite. I love Taylor, but I'm also not the biggest fan of her musical shift. I was hesitant about the Red album at first, but then when I figured out that most of the songs weren't like the pop singles she was putting out, I felt a lot better. In fact, I now love Red (though Speak Now is still my favorite album) because she really matured both lyrically and for the most part vocally. She had a different sound, but for the most part, it was mature. That's not to say her other works aren't because for the most part, they are. But she really grew up a lot in Red. I don't mind her new shift and her new sound but some of my favorite songs are the ones that sound most like her older music. Yes, there are plenty of the new ones with a different sound that I like, but in Red, for example, Treacherous and All Too Well were among my favorites.

Which brings me to Shake It Off. Lyrically, it's okay. I like the feel-good, positive-ness of it. I love the message of the song. It's very simplistic in comparison to some of the other songs she's written, but it's not horrible. But it sounds like most pop songs (that's not necessarily bad. It just doesn't particularly stick out). It's still pretty "Taylor," but it also feels and sounds like there's just something missing. The melody doesn't particularly stick in my mind, and I've had a hard time remembering it at times. Also, the "hella"? I cringe...

The video also isn't my favorite, but it's not horrible. The twerking made me look away. I get that it's sort of a parody but ugh no. Also, as a dancer, I cringed a lot, but I guess that's what the song is about. That's it's okay to be the one people cringe about. Just be yourself and shake it off!

Overall, Shake It Off is okay. It's far from Taylor's best, but it's not the worst song I've heard. I'm interested in seeing the direction her music is taking, but I'm hoping 1989 isn't just filled with Shake It Off-esque songs. I know she's full pop now, but I'm hoping she'll still keep SOME elements. I suppose all I can do now is wait and see. I WILL still be pre-ordering the album though! :D

Watch the video:

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Mini Review: Above the Dreamless Dead

Above the Dreamless Dead: World War I in Poetry and Comics edited by Chris Duffy
Publisher: First Second Books
Release Date: July 15th, 2014
As the Great War dragged on and its catastrophic death toll mounted, a new artistic movement found its feet in the United Kingdom. The Trench Poets, as they came to be called, were soldier-poets dispatching their verse from the front lines. Known for its rejection of war as a romantic or noble enterprise, and its plainspoken condemnation of the senseless bloodshed of war, Trench Poetry soon became one of the most significant literary moments of its decade.

The marriage of poetry and comics is a deeply fruitful combination, as evidenced by this collection. In stark black and white, the words of the Trench Poets find dramatic expression and reinterpretation through the minds and pens of some of the greatest cartoonists working today.
"If there's one word I could use to describe the book, it would be poignant."

Disclaimer: I received an advanced copy of this book from the publisher. This did not affect my review or thoughts in any way, nor am I being compensated for this review.

Wow. Just wow. I read this back in July, but I still can't forget about the book. If there's one word I could use to describe the book, it would be poignant. Both World Wars were obviously incredibly devastating, but you get a first hand look at what it was like for the soldiers through the trench poetry. There were definitely some poems I loved more than others. I generally like poetry with "pretty" writing more, so some of the poems in this book weren't for me. Overall, however, I really liked the mix of experiences and poems found within the book. Some were very difficult to decipher, but I really enjoyed reading most of these.

I had to take this slower than most of the other First Second books I've read. It's very hard to process the poems because of how much of the weight you feel from the soldiers. You feel what they're feeling, and it's a lot to take in. At first, I had hard time really getting into the book, but I really enjoyed the later half of the book.

The artwork varies because they're all different artists. Some of it is very gory, and some can be triggering. Some are beautiful, some are comical. There were definitely a few poems+comic combos that made me cringe, and those are the ones I wouldn't read again. Overall, however, the book is moving and impactful. After finishing, you're left needing a moment of silence and contemplation just to soak it all in. It's harrowing and poignant, but it's also so important for people to read about the experiences of these soldiers that endured and suffered so much.
Above the Dreamless Dead: Goodreads | Amazon | B&N | Book Depository

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

A Month in Review: Summer 2014 Edition

Oh man, guys. I'm still out of the whole blogging thing, but hopefully, now that school is starting, I'll be getting back into the flow. Doesn't necessarily correlate, but let's see! Anyway, I'm super sorry for not actually being around all to much this summer. I'm a senior in HS now, so it's a pretty crazy time, and I've been super busy. But alas, I apologize!

Since I missed July's Month in Review, I'm just making a big summer edition, given there's not much anyway (*cringe*)

Books I Read



TV Shows:


Other Posts

Challenge: Clear Your TBR Pile: Intro to Challenge, My Introduction, Update (Halfway), Wrap Up

Personal Stuff
1) Whew! What a summer it's been. I interned, tutored, danced, volunteered, visited colleges, and so much move. Ack!
2) Finally finished my summer reading. Mwahaha...it was torture
3) Saw Newsies on Broadway and fell in love!
4) Took a master (ballet) class with a former student of my dance studio. It was awesome!
5) Visited a lot of colleges...let's not even count.
6) Got my learner's permit and drove for the first time!
7) I don't remember...this summer has simultaneously long and short....Why am I back to school already?
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