Thursday, April 30, 2015

Review: An American in Paris on Broadway

"There's this really subtle beauty to the show, and I hope others will soon discover it too."

I've been desperately wanting to watch this show ever since I heard about it, especially given that it's very balletic and both Robert Fairchild and Christopher Wheeldon are huge parts of the show. That's me fangirling hard and hoping to see the show. And luckily, my parents bought tickets for a friend and I to see the show for my birthday! Yay!

The show Firstly, it was pretty cool because I actually recognized two of the songs because we use the instrumental versions in ballet class. But speaking of dance, the dancing was really what did it for me. Everyone in the show is so great at dancing and at telling a story through dance. It's so gorgeously together, and for those who appreciate storytelling through dance, An American in Paris does just that, and it does it so well. I was impressed that even when moving sets, the actors and actresses were dancing. Everything was made into a show, everything a part of the setting and the story. As a dancer and as someone who just loves watching ballets and dancing, I'm in love with the show and blown away by all the talent. I didn't realize until the day after that Leanne Cope, who plays Lise, is only in the corps de ballet at the Royal Ballet (Robert Fairchild is a principal dancer with the NYCB). Like wow! She is so talented, as is the rest of the cast.

What was particularly interesting was the mix of ballet and jazz in this production. While I'm not sure how likely such an abstract work as the one they "performed" in the show (there's a show within the show) would have actually happened in that time period, I quite liked the mix of the two, and I think it helps those who don't necessarily like ballet. Even the music is a combination, and it's done very tastefully.

Speaking of the music, it should be noted that that's where things get interesting. The thing is, both Leanne Cope and Robert Fairchild are pretty good singers, but it's also pretty clear they're pretty inexperienced with singing on Broadway. In particular, I noted that every time Robbie Fairchild was singing with other people, they turned his mic way down and turned up the mics of the other singers. This is totally reasonable, and I'm glad he was cast because his dancing is fabulous, but it was just something I noticed almost right away. That being said, the rest of the cast is fabulous. While there aren't many big ensemble numbers, the few that are there are really spot on and SO fun. But the vocal performances I loved most were those of Jill Paice (plays Milo Davenport) and Max von Essen (plays Henri Baurel). The thing is, if you're looking for a classic Broadway show with big flair and lots of really fun ensemble pieces, this is not that kind of show. There's much more dancing than singing, and as I've mentioned, it's more for those that can appreciate storytelling through dance. Very rarely are the leads singing and dancing at the same time, and I would normally want more singing in general, but if you don't mind (like myself), then it's fine.

(On a side note that I'm not sure where to put: I love how well the actors and actresses generally stayed in-accent, even when singing. I remember seeing Kinky Boots and not seeing that really being brought across. Props to this cast!)

The story itself is also fantastic and very well-executed. It's easy to follow, and while I'm not a huge fan of the way they were all going after Lise, it's a lovely story about love, freedom vs responsibility, finding true love, and art. And it's hilarious! Not in a way that kids may necessarily understand, but for those of us who are older, there's so much humor found at all the right portions. In particular, Adam (Brandon Uranowitz) and Madame Baurel (Veanne Cox) stand out in the comedic front. Their performances were stellar, and they made everyone laugh.

Lastly, I really want to mention the sets and costumes. The set design was incredible, and the use of the screen for backdrops was amazing. The images that were projected and the physical sets, which were all very moveable and had various uses, really set the mood and the place, and it wasn't hard to see oneself in Paris. Many of the sets were simple but perfect for what was needed. And I can't not mention the glory that was turning the stage into a stage, with the audience of the show within the show being the back of the stage, so that the cast and dancers were facing the back for large portions of the "American in Paris" number. It's confusing to explain, but it's so cool to see when you watch it on stage. Of course, the costumes were gorgeous as well, particularly those for the ladies. They matched the time, place, and situation, and each really fit the personality of the character.

I really enjoyed An American in Paris, and while it certainly isn't going to be for everyone, it was everything I was hoping for and more. I'm so glad I was able to see the show, and I hope the show will stay on for a long time. It likely caters to an older audience, as I also noted when I went to see the show, but really, I think anyone who can appreciate the amazing dancing will love it. Fans of ballet will especially love it, but it's so easy to fall in love with the show. There's this really subtle beauty to the show, and I hope others will soon discover it too.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Damsel Distressed Bookiversary Bash!

A few months back, I was lucky enough to be part of the blog tour for Kelsey Macke's Damsel Distressed. The book easily became one of my top reads of last year and one of my favorite books ever. I'm really excited to be a part of the bookiversary bash because I really want this book to get more exposure. It honestly deserves ALL THE LOVE. Feel free to check out my review of the book! 

Anyway, today I'm going to be sharing a partially alternate, partially deleted scene from the book. 

Author's note: This scene is in the book (pages 35 - 36 in the finished copy, the end of chapter 4), but it’s slightly different than what ended up in the final version of the story. It’s partially an altered scene and partially a deleted scene.
I toss and turn.

This pillow is made of suck.

I can't fall asleep, and therefore, I can't stop my brain. It churns and pumps out information in a steady noisy stream.

What's in a name?

My mother is in my name.

She chose Imogen because she loved the play Cymbeline. She always called me "Princess Immy", which was my favorite term of endearment.

I wonder if I can smother myself with this pillow?

Dad never called me that.
Until she died, that is.

The very same day he told me she was gone, he began to use the pet name she'd given me.
He's called me that ever since.
I think she would have liked that.

Stupid brain.

Playing and replaying the saddest scenes of my life over and over behind my closed eyes.

My kingdom for a reel of funny cat videos up in here.
I take a deep breath and try to clear my mind.

The speckled colors swirling inside my eyelids distract me.

This is good.

Very good.

Watch the swirly speckled things.

The swirling slowly becomes turning, and the turning slowly becomes dancing.

The dancing slowly becomes my mother.

Or maybe I mean eclectic.

An actress, dancer, painter, singer.

If it involved creativity, she did it.

Whatever she was doing, she exuded this brilliance she always kept just beneath her skin. She glowed. Everyone thought so. My poor dad was drawn like a moth to a flame. She was a blazing fire, popping and crackling with joy and life.

They met when they were both living in New York City in the early nineties. My mother performed in a few workshops and off-off-off Broadway shows. Some of them were unsuccessful, and some of them were even less successful, but she didn't care. She loved the stage.

My father, meanwhile, was accepted into the creative writing program at Columbia. One evening, he followed his classmates into the city to see this crappy little show, in this crappy little theatre, and as he sat waiting for the lights to come up, he felt her. 

He always tells me that he felt her before he saw her. His heart jumped and his eyes, almost desperately, scoured the small stage. As the lights rose, hues of violet and blue fell over my mother's body as she held it in a delicate, yet strong position. Her arms were raised above her head in sweeping arcs, and her left leg stood steady as her right extended far behind her. As she lowered her chin, her blazing eyes swept the crowd and were caught in the drawing gaze of my dad.

I can't even count the number of times I've heard that story.

But I know that every single time was in the years after she died... not before.

I can't count the number of times I've seen the movie Hairspray. Why can't that be the story replaying in my head.
Where is Zac Efron when you need him?
Be sure to check out the book and its accompanying CD!

Damsel Distressed by Kelsey Macke
Publisher: Spencer Hill Contemporary
Release Date: October 14th, 2014
Hot girls get the fairy tales. No one cares about the stepsisters' story. Those girls don't get a sweet little ending; they get a lifetime of longing.

Imogen Keegen has never had a happily ever after–in fact, she doesn't think they are possible. Ever since her mother’s death seven years ago, Imogen has pulled herself in and out of therapy, struggled with an “emotionally disturbed” special ed. label, and loathed her perma-plus-sized status.

When Imogen’s new stepsister, the evil and gorgeous Ella Cinder, moves in down the hall, Imogen begins losing grip on the pieces she’s been trying to hold together. The only things that gave her solace–the theatre, cheese fries, and her best friend, Grant–aren’t enough to save her from her pain this time.

While Imogen is enjoying her moment in the spotlight after the high school musical, the journal pages containing her darkest thoughts get put on display. Now, Imogen must resign herself to be crushed under the ever-increasing weight of her pain, or finally accept the starring role in her own life story.

And maybe even find herself a happily ever after.

Damsel Distressed is the story of Imogen, a girl who's survived the years after her mother's death by focusing squarely on her best friend, Grant, musical theatre, and lots of cheese. The book is full of humor and heart, and also contains a few surprises. Full page sketches are scattered throughout the novel, and each one contains a QR code that corresponds to a song from the book's soundtrack. Imogen Unlocked is a 12-song album of original music written by the author and her husband Daron as their indie-pop band, Wedding Day Rain. Together, the book Damsel Distressed and the soundtrack Imogen Unlocked work together to tell the story of a girl who might just make her own Happily Ever After, if she can just hold herself together.

Track Listing:
1. Heavy
2. No Goodbye
3. Something About
4. Sinking
5. Don't Wake Me Up
6. Let Me Go
7. My Strength
8. Unseen
9. Always Speak Too Late
10. The End is Just the Beginning
11. Breathe Easy
12. Edge of the Fall

About the Author
Kelsey Macke has been creative for as long as she can remember. From an early age she was on stage singing, penning poetry, and writing notebooks full of songs. When the idea for her debut novel, DAMSEL DISTRESSED, popped into her head, she was undeterred by the fact that she had no idea how to actually write a novel. Her bff, the internet, was her guide, and after much trial, error, and candy, she finished it, and set out to get it published... a process far more difficult than, the internet (now her mortal enemy), had lead her to believe.

Her whirlwind adventure was made even more unbelievable when she signed with fabulous agent, Jessica Sinsheimer of the Sarah Jane Freymann Literary Agency and, shortly after, Danielle Ellison of Spencer Hill Contemporary bought her debut.

This innovative, mixed-media art project has given Kelsey an incredibly unique opportunity to join two of her passions: writing and making music with her husband as half of the folky, indie-pop band Wedding Day Rain.

DAMSEL DISTRESSED, and the companion album of original songs, Imogen Unlocked, are scheduled for release in October 2014.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Flashback Friday (#7): Mini Review: Just One Day by Gayle Forman

This is a more irregular feature. Flashback Friday is where I review, or possibly discuss, an old TV show, movie, book, or album. So what's considered old? Anything that was not released within the past year and a half. By years, I mean calendar year (so for this year, June 2014-December 2015 would NOT be old).

Just One Day by Gayle Forman
Publisher: Dutton Juvenile
Release Date: January 8th, 2013
Allyson Healey's life is exactly like her suitcase—packed, planned, ordered. Then on the last day of her three-week post-graduation European tour, she meets Willem. A free-spirited, roving actor, Willem is everything she’s not, and when he invites her to abandon her plans and come to Paris with him, Allyson says yes. This uncharacteristic decision leads to a day of risk and romance, liberation and intimacy: 24 hours that will transform Allyson’s life.

A book about love, heartbreak, travel, identity, and the “accidents” of fate, Just One Day shows us how sometimes in order to get found, you first have to get lost. . . and how often the people we are seeking are much closer than we know.
"[Allyson's] personal journey to finding herself and finding her own strength is so powerful and almost inspiring to me."

Note: I originally wanted to make this a mini-review, but then I started just writing. I'm still going to call it a mini-review though because I'm not really covering most of what I cover in my reviews.

A little more than halfway through reading this book, I was ready to give this book a 3 or 3.5, but then, the story began to change, and it began to reshape itself, totally becoming a story that I loved and connected with.

I enjoyed the beginning. I did. But the pacing felt wonky, and the book wasn't really keeping me engaged. I loved the setting for the story, but none of it felt particularly "real" for me, not because it can't happen, but because there was something that was missing for me. It was cute but also a really awkward situation when you look at it in a grander context. I mean, I wish I could do something similar--end up in a random place in Paris and explore the parts that tourists don't tend to see--but I don't think I'd ever do it with some guy I just met.

And then Allyson's loss of identity and sense of self just made it all crash down even further. Maybe it's because I've never been in love or anything, but I couldn't get why she couldn't just get over it. I know, easier said than done, but she had barely even known him!

But then it began to pick up, and Allyson's journey began to fascinate me. On the one hand, I still wanted to shout at her to get over it, but on the other hand, her personal journey to finding herself and finding her own strength is so powerful and almost inspiring to me. I totally understood Allyson's self-doubt, and I connected to that. I've been in her place, feeling all that self-hate, faking for so long you don't even know who the real you is anymore. I deal with that every day. But her story and her journey gives me hope.

I also really enjoyed the discussion about the difference between being in love and falling in love. It's a distinction I never used to think about, but now, I'm constantly thinking about the difference between the two phrases. We see them as equal phrases, but what if they're not?

Anyway, I think another reason I began to greatly connect to Allyson is that I'm about to head off to college. Her fallout with Melanie is everything I fear about going to college and that feeling of everyone moving on and becoming someone new draws in and scares me at the same time (which is funny because I'm that person that can't wait to get out of high school, doesn't really have any friends so it doesn't really matter, and am really excited to finally be who I am/be someone new). And she has really interesting relationships with her roommates. I'm scared I'll be like that too--too anti-social and with too much social anxiety to make any friends (which I know is irrational but whatever). But then there's Dee! He's such a big part of Allyson's journey, and he's such an amazing character that came in at the perfect time in the book. I wish I could have more friends like him!

Overall, it was slow and a bit disappointing at first, but the latter portion of the book really made up for a lot of it and left me with lots to ponder.
Just One Day: Goodreads | Amazon | B&N | Book Depository
Gayle Forman: Website | Twitter | Facebook | Tumblr | Instagram

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Waiting on Wednesday (#14): Under the Lights by Dahlia Adler

This feature is hosted by Breaking the Spine!
For more info on this feature, see my features page. My version is just adapted to include more than just books.

Under the Lights by Dahlia Adler
Publisher: Spencer Hill Contemporary
Release Date: June 30th, 2015
Josh Chester loves being a Hollywood bad boy, coasting on his good looks, his parties, his parents' wealth, and the occasional modeling gig. But his laid-back lifestyle is about to change. To help out his best friend, Liam, he joins his hit teen TV show, Daylight Falls...opposite Vanessa Park, the one actor immune to his charms. (Not that he's trying to charm her, of course.) Meanwhile, his drama-queen mother blackmails him into a new family reality TV show, with Josh in the starring role. Now that he's in the spotlight—on everyone's terms but his own—Josh has to decide whether a life as a superstar is the one he really wants.

Vanessa Park has always been certain about her path as an actor, despite her parents' disapproval. But with all her relationships currently in upheaval, she's painfully uncertain about everything else. When she meets her new career handler, Brianna, Van is relieved to have found someone she can rely on, now that her BFF, Ally, is at college across the country. But as feelings unexpectedly evolve beyond friendship, Van's life reaches a whole new level of confusing. And she'll have to choose between the one thing she's always loved...and the person she never imagined she could.
;lakjsdl;kfjal;kdjf SO EXCITED!!! I absolutely loved and adored Behind the Scenes, and I can't wait for this companion novel. It seems to have a bit of everything, and I'm already sure I'm going to love it. I luckily have an ARC of this, so I can read it before it comes out, but I can't wait to annoy the heck out of people by shouting my love of the book and of Dahlia. You're welcome. ;)

Monday, April 20, 2015

Music Monday (#11): Gamble by Lily Rose

Every other Monday, I'll share a song/artist/album that I'm either currently listening to or currently obsessed with, though they often go hand-in-hand. Some may have special themes or surprises. This means that I might share a playlist, fan!mix, Top Ten list, etc.

I could have sworn that I'd heard this song before, but evidently not because I didn't know the song title nor the artist. Anyway, I found Spotify's "Your Favorite Coffeehouse" playlist, and I'm now in love with the whole playlist. But right away, Gamble stuck out to me. I'll definitely be checking out more of her music.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Review: The Shadow Cabinet by Maureen Johnson

The Shadow Cabinet by Maureen Johnson
Publisher: Putnam Juvenile
Release Date: February 10th, 2015

Rory and her friends are reeling from a series of sudden and tragic events. While racked with grief, Rory tries to determine if she acted in time to save a member of the squad. If she did, how do you find a ghost? Also, Rory’s classmate Charlotte has been kidnapped by Jane and her nefarious organization. Evidence is uncovered of a forty-year-old cult, ten missing teenagers, and a likely mass murder. Everything indicates that Charlotte’s in danger, and it seems that something much bigger and much more terrible is coming.

Time is running out as Rory fights to find her friends and the ghost squad struggles to stop Jane from unleashing her spectral nightmare on the entire city. In the process, they'll discover the existence of an organization that underpins London itself—and Rory will learn that someone she trusts has been keeping a tremendous secret.
"The book suffers from mid-series syndrome...but I still greatly enjoyed [it]"

I have been waiting for this book for what seems like ages, so I'm so happy that it's finally out! The book picks up where The Madness Underneath left off, which was both a good and a bad thing. Good because it was such a cliffhanger; bad because I had a hard time remembering everything that had happened. But thankfully, I found that the book cleverly inserted dialogue, thoughts, and passages to discreetly help readers recall the events of the previous books. It's done in a way that it's not very obvious if you do remember the plot but it's so helpful if you don't.

Anyway, I think my favorite aspect of the series is the interactions between the group comprised of Boo, Callum, Stephen, and Rory. The Shadow Cabinet, by nature, wasn't able to capture that same energy and connection. That's not to say there aren't some great moments, but I thought that a lot of that chemistry was lost, not that it was anyone's fault. It obviously makes sense for the story, but it's a bit disappointing. I did enjoy Jerome and Freddie's addition/part in the story, and I hope to see more of them in the next book. The thing is, Freddie didn't really seem to do anything. She seemed more like a plot device, used to get information to the group that they couldn't figure out themselves. But beyond that, she wasn't doing anything; I'm really hoping that'll change in the next one. In addition, I can't wait to see more of Sid and Sadie. What an interesting pair that will definitely cause lots of havoc. I'm excited to see how things will play out!

[[Contains some spoilers for The Madness Underneath]]]
But while Johnson continues to do a great job with Rory's character, I was a bit disappointed to see how obsessed she was with getting Stephen back. I understand how upset she was, and I think that fact is reflected in the different reactions Boo and Callum had. But Rory seemed too caught up with Stephen, seemed too dependent and too boy crazy. I wanted her to stand up and do something for a reason other than to get Stephen back. I completely understand why she would want to, but I would have liked to see her stake in it as being more than because of him. [[End spoilers]]
Again, that's not to say I didn't enjoy how Rory was written. I think that her inner thoughts very much reflected the character I'd come to know her as. She kept her weirdness, and she still made me laugh. She went through a transformation, and while part of it was through everything going on with Stephen, it was also a large part her finding herself and her power and strength. I like that she did what she wanted, not without caution but her interpretation of caution and danger differs from most of our ideas on the two.

Plot-wise, the pacing was wonky at times, slow for large portions followed by fast-paced action-y portions. The book is different from the past two in that there is a bit less action, as the circumstances is slower and not so much on the front lines. The true "enemy" is unclear for a large part of the story, and much of this book sets up facts and ideas for the next book. It definitely means that the book suffers from mid-series syndrome, in which while the events in the book are really important, they mostly set up the events of the next book. There was enough going on and enough dots that needed to be connected to keep me interested and really engaged. I don't think this was the exciting book I was expecting, but I understood the need for a more slowly moving book. I predicted many of the twists, but it was so fun trying to put the pieces together about The Shadow Cabinet and how it relates to what's going on.

I was a tiny bit disappointed with the book, but I still greatly enjoyed The Shadow Cabinet. There's so much that the book sets up for the next/last (?) book. I already can't wait for it! I didn't find the plot or the character interactions nearly as strong in this book as the past two, but there's so much room for more in the next book.
The Shadow Cabinet: Goodreads | Amazon | B&N | Book Depository
Maureen Johnson: Website | Tumblr | Twitter | Pinterest | Facebook | Instagram

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Friction Fiction (#17): The Challenge of Reviewing Through a Feminist Lens

These posts are meant to bring about some conversation, discussion, and perhaps even a debate. These discussion posts can occur at varying days of the week, mostly depending upon what's scheduled on the blog and what I feel like discussing.

If you don't already know, I also blog on two other blogs. One of the them is Feminists Talk Books, where we review books through a feminist lens, exploring and analyzing books based on how representative and diverse it is. As we've begun to really settle into this blog, I've also begun to think about how I want to review the books that I do on this blog. This particular dilemma came to me when I was writing my review for Nil. In that review, I talked about how the author, Lynne Matson, did a great job with on-the-surface diversity, and then I also said that I wished for more--maybe some characters with disabilities or something. And it got me thinking about how I've been reviewing on this blog and how I want to analyze the books we review here.

At the very basic level, I'm always going to be talking about the female characters, regardless. That's how this blog came about after all. I know I'll always talk about female representation and how the females in a book are written as compared to the males. Along the same vein, I'll be talking about complex characters, gender roles and stereotypes, diverse representation (are females being treated as humans, or are they all roughly the same?), slut shaming, etc. At the very basic level, that's what we started this blog with, and I know it's what brings this blog together.

But as we've noted, feminism is about more than how the characters are written and how they may be treated differently because of their gender. It also includes us seeing more diversity of characters as a whole. We don't just want females to be treated as humans, we also want people of other marginalized groups to be treated as humans in the books we read. We want to see all types of people represented in books.

I will almost always comment on what a book does well in terms of diversity--mental illness, disabilities, race/ethnicity, LGBTQIA, experiences, etc. But at point do we ask for more? At what point do we say the book has done a great job? Is it bad to keep asking for more of a book/author, even if a book already does much better than most of what's out there? Is there a point at which a lot is too much?

This was my problem when reviewing Nil. There was already a lot of diversity and there was a good gender balance, with each character having equal treatment in that they're all real and human and have flaws. But I wanted more. Certainly, I don't think asking for the central characters to be more PoC rather than the PoC being secondary characters is too much too ask. But is it right for me to say that I was hoping for disabilities to be represented, even if it's just asthma? Should I be happy that the author tried to do something great in terms of diversity already? Because I don't hold all books to that same standard (expecting there to be some disabled characters), so is it fair for me to add that for that book/review?

And sometimes, I can't tell what's realistic. Is it realistic that most people in the midwest are white? Probably. Certainly there are non-white people living there, but can I fault a book that takes place there for lacking racial/ethnic diversity? My school has a great program for students with mental disabilities and learning disabilities, but I don't hang out with them. Should I ask for authors to represent such people more if they're not a huge part of everyone's lives? (Of course, if the character or someone close to the character is, I would hope it's well represented in the book.) Is it reasonable to ask for a little bit of everything or is that too overwhelming? How can we represent everything, as we can find in our actual lives, without overwhelming the books? I know disabled people, people with mental illnesses, people with anxiety, people of different/multiple races/ethnicities, LGBTQIA people, etc, but I find that often, when authors try to have all of these in a book, it becomes too much and perhaps even begins to cause other problems.

I don't want my reviews to be inconsistent, but I can't help but wonder if that's the only way to review books here. Each book should always be taken on a case-by-case basis, but again, I have the issue to not being sure what to do about a book such as Nil. There are books that certainly manage to address multiple areas that I like to look for, such as Lies We Tell Ourselves, but what about the rest?

It's these questions that have become challenges for me when I'm reviewing. I don't think there is one particular answer. I don't think there is a right way to do this. I hope that I've explained my dilemma/challenge well enough for you all to understand my conflicting thoughts.

This post is cross-posted from Feminists Talk Books. Check out the post there for some insightful comments/discussions as well.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Review: The Body Electric by Beth Revis

The Body Electric by Beth Revis
Publisher: Self-published
Release Date: October 6th, 2014
The future world is at peace.

Ella Shepherd has dedicated her life to using her unique gift—the ability to enter people’s dreams and memories using technology developed by her mother—to help others relive their happy memories.

But not all is at it seems.

Ella starts seeing impossible things—images of her dead father, warnings of who she cannot trust. Her government recruits her to spy on a rebel group, using her ability to experience—and influence—the memories of traitors. But the leader of the rebels claims they used to be in love—even though Ella’s never met him before in her life. Which can only mean one thing…

Someone’s altered her memory.

Ella’s gift is enough to overthrow a corrupt government or crush a growing rebel group. She is the key to stopping a war she didn’t even know was happening. But if someone else has been inside Ella’s head, she cannot trust her own memories, thoughts, or feelings.

So who can she trust?
"While it isn't my favorite book or anything, I would still recommend it, and it was an enjoyable read." 

I didn't know what to expect from this book. Years ago, I had tried reading Beth Revis' Across the Universe series, and I really couldn't get into it. But this sounded like the kind of book I would enjoy, and the cover is gorgeous.

I'm not normally into sci-fi, if only because it they can sometimes be too heavy on the "sci" part, but I found The Body Electric to have a good mix of science and fiction/other, so that it wasn't overwhelming, and I could still follow it to some extent. It was confusing at times, but that didn't really inhibit my understanding of the book and the plot as a whole. The plot is engaging and relatively quick and easy to follow. The pacing was a bit back and forth, but it worked with the rest of the story.

Perhaps the strongest part of the story is the premise and the execution of the premise. I've been having a tough time lately because so many of the books that I've read have had premises that failed to deliver. This book was not one of those. It kept me on my feet, guessing and turning the pages throughout the story. Revis crafts the story so that there are tiny hints scattered throughout about the truth. While I figured out before the big reveal, I didn't really mind. I didn't know all the pieces, but I knew enough to start to piece it all together. There were plenty of supposed twists that I knew long before the truth came out; while it's something that sticks out to me now, while I was reading it, I didn't mind it very much. 

The world-building in the book is amazing, and I could really picture the world they were living in. There are some aspects of the society and the founding of the world that didn't really sit right for me, and I found that there were parts that were missing or were a bit confusing. I wasn't entirely sure how everything/future Malta fit within our world or the future world. There was a brief explanation of the Secessionary War and the Unified Countries, but there were gaps. It doesn't really hurt the story, but as someone who's interested in international affairs, this part stuck out to me. Otherwise, the world-building, as I said before, is really well done.

I think it's the characters I struggled with the most, along with the fact that I sort of figured out the ending before the end. I enjoyed Ella as a character; she's an unreliable narrator, but her story, her struggles, her thoughts, and her actions/reactions felt incredibly real to me. She didn't go jumping into Jack's arms, and she questioned everything while we're questioning everything she knows and does. I found the reveries fascinating, and I had a love/hate relationship with them as they connected with Ella's story, if only because I sometimes couldn't tell if she was in a reverie or if she was in reality. I think that was part of the point, but I do wish the bees were explained more. I started to figure it out, and I think Revis wanted readers to take it as they wanted, but I wanted to know more about the bees because I saw them as potentially good and potentially bad.

Jack was also an interesting character, but I wish we got to know him more. I still don't feel like I really got to know him or his story, and maybe that's the point. He's a character that I normally would have loved and would have fallen in love with. But he seemed to remain kind of distant to me as a reader. This made it even harder to really feel and understand the romance. Not only was the back story a bit weak and not completely explained, but I couldn't really see Ella and Jack reconnecting and coming back together. I didn't feel the sparks there, and it remained a weak point between the characters.

The other characters were interesting but not particularly memorable except for Ms. White. I really liked getting to understand her motives a bit more, and I liked her part in the story. The plot involving Ella's parents were also pretty interesting, and it was definitely a big part of the story and of the lead-up to the ending. And while I liked some of the other minor characters, again, they aren't very memorable to me. They left a great impression while I was reading the book, but once they either disappeared from the story or once I put the book down, I don't know that I ever once thought about them. Maybe the story works better this way, especially since it's as if Ella doesn't get to know people well and people move in and out of her life. Certainly given the events in the book, it's not hard to see why not much attention was paid to the secondary or tertiary characters, but there are still some characters I would have liked to see more of.

Overall, I enjoyed The Body Electric. As someone who doesn't normally read/like sci-fi, I enjoyed the book and didn't find it too heavily science-based. There were concepts that I still don't totally understand, but I don't think it impacted my overall ability to enjoy the story. While most of the characters didn't really stick out or leave an impression on me, I enjoyed how complex Ella is. In addition, I found the world-building to be impeccable, though the part of me that's interested in international relations was pickier. While it isn't my favorite book or anything, I would still recommend it, and it was an enjoyable read.
The Body Electric: Goodreads | Amazon | B&N | Book Depository
Beth Revis: Website | Twitter | Tumblr | Facebook | Instagram

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Review: The Mystery Writers of America Cookbook Anthology

The Mystery Writers of America Cookbook (Anthology) Edited by Kate White
Publisher: Quirk Books
Release Date: March 24th, 2015
The Mystery Writers of America have joined forces to deliver this superb collection of more than 100 wickedly good recipes. From Mary Higgins Clark’s Game Night Chili and Harlan Coben’s Crab Meat Dip to Scott Turow’s Innocent Frittata and Kathy Reich’s Shrimp Scampi, this cookbook offers one tasty treat after another. Complete with a glamorous art-deco design and intriguing sidebars on the surprising—and sometimes deadly—links between food and foul play, this is the ultimate cookbook for crime aficionados.
Disclaimer: I received a copy for review from the publisher. This does not affect my review in any way, nor am I being compensated for this post.

Well, here's something new and different! I'm reviewing a cookbook, with recipes from mystery writers! I don't know if you can tell by the content of my blog, but I'm not normally into mystery books/adult mystery books. I love a good Nancy Drew book, and I love suspenseful novels with a hint of mystery, but it isn't a stretch to say that I don't know very much about the mystery genre. I also don't cook. BUT. I want to learn to cook some meals before going off to college, and I loved the idea of connecting books and food, so here we are.

I love how simple and easy to follow most of the recipes are. I do wish there were some more single serving recipes, but otherwise, there's a great variety of foods and recipes, split by type: breakfast, appetizers, soups and salads, entrees, side dishes, desserts, and cocktails. Each recipe is short and concise. Each recipe also has a short summary above it explaining the dish and its importance or why the author chose to include that recipe. It was really interesting, even as someone who doesn't know much at all about mystery books, to see how these foods play a role in the stories. The book also includes some other book/food related anecdotes and explanations, ranging from using food to poison people in mystery novels to an explanation of what a red herring is.

The book is also incredibly aesthetically pleasing. The cover is even more gorgeous in real life, as are the end papers! The layout of the book/recipe is clean and crisp. There's a professional cookbook feel, while also definitely still being very much geared to a niche group--mystery book lovers. The cover pages for each new section are also really impressive and well/creatively laid out, featuring a typewriter with a short, funny, related blurb typed on the page. Also, there's a ribbon bookmark! The pictures are very well laid out as well, incorporating both the food and things associated with mystery novels. I think the biggest negative with the book is that there weren't more pictures. Maybe it doesn't bother someone who's used to cooking or using cookbooks, but for someone who's new to the whole thing, it would have been nice to have a few more pictures here and there.
The Mystery Writers of America Cookbook: Goodreads | Amazon | B&N | Book Depository

Monday, April 6, 2015

I'M 18?!

*inserts celebratory GIF I'm too lazy to look for and figure out how to insert*

As you can probably guess from the title of this post, it's my 18th birthday today! I've recently begun to feel very awkward about birthday posts because they can sometimes feel more like "oh look at me! It's my birthday so you should all treat me in x way," but I think birthdays should still be noted and celebrated. I don't remember what I did last year, but I'm going to once again take the time to give a few shout outs (please don't feel bad if you don't get one here; I still love you. It just means that either we haven't talked in a while and have maybe grown apart or just that I didn't have the space) and talk about some of my accomplishments in the past year.

This has certainly been a crazy year with me applying for colleges and getting my acceptances and just dealing with everything that comes with being a high school senior. Then, there's dance and competition, which is even more hectic this year since I have a solo and we have a production number. It's been so fun, but there are also plenty of difficult times. In my senior year overall, I've really been dealing with periods of really low self-esteem and just feeling like I'm not good enough. I've also been much more aware of my social anxiety and how uncomfortable and out of place I feel in many situations, probably made worse by the fact that I'm thinking about having to meet all new people and make all new friends (both something exciting and also the part about college that has me most nervous besides handling the work load). But there have also been times of incredible highs, and it's also been so wonderful to know that my blogging friends and books, particularly Harry Potter, are always there for me and can cheer me up. Everyone's been nothing but supportive, and it's amazing to have such amazing people in my life.

Anyway, I guess I should start with some of the great blogging/bookish moments of this year.

1) Lit Up Review! A little over a year ago (February 2014), I joined the LUR team. There have been times where I definitely struggled to juggle the two blogs, but I'm so happy to be a part of this group, and now that we're better than ever, with a new writer and a handful of awesome contributors,

2) Feminists Talk Books! Two months ago (Late February 2015), we finally launched this little project of ours, and I'm so proud of all we've already done and hopefully will continue to do. We're still small, and I know I've been pretty bad at promoting it lately, but I'm honestly so happy with the blog. We're all passionate women, and though we all have lots on our plates already, we believe that we have to take a stand and try to start a conversation and create change. We hope you're all enjoying our content!

3) I was invited to see Side Show on Broadway in exchange for mentioning the show on my blog. Turns out, I got to see it only a few short weeks before it officially closed. I got amazing seats, and it was just such a cool experience. I don't know that I'll ever get such an opportunity again, but it was one of the coolest things that's happened to me because of this blog.

4) BookTube and Instagram. Though BookTube is now on the backburner, for some time, I was trying to post more on YouTube. I have a few reviews that I filmed and then my book hauls. I'll still be doing my book hauls in video format (I have yet to film my March book haul, though), but other than that, I'm leaving BookTube for now to focus on my blogs and my Instagram. Speaking of Instagram, I finally created a separate account just for bookish pictures and such. My feed was getting crowded since I was following so many people on IG, so I decided to split it so that I'd have one account for books/my blog and then my personal one for everything else. It's been going great so far, and it's been really fun! I'm still really new to the whole scene, and I've been slacking with the pictures, but I can't wait to get more involved in the community there.

5) I was able to help beta-read for Katherine Locke's Turning Pointe, the prequel novella to her upcoming book, Second Position. As a dancer and a fan of books with ballet, I'm eagerly awaiting Second Position. I don't even remember how I first connected with Katherine on Twitter, but I'm so glad I did. And when she found out that I'm a dancer and asked if I'd like to read through Turning Pointe and give her some feedback, particularly on the dance elements, I couldn't refuse. It was such a different experience for me, but it's also so cool to think about the fact that I may have helped to shape the final piece, which will actually be read by people! Man, I need more ballet books in my life. :P (PS. You can now read Turning Pointe online!)

Now, because I'm short on time and procrastinated on this post until the last moment, at which point half this post disappeared, I will quickly write my shout outs to people I've met through blogging that I'm grateful for every single day and who I want to remember on my birthday.

1) To everyone who will not be listed by name before. There are so many bloggers I only know on the surface, never having really had too many conversations besides those about books or about whatever in my life I tweet about. There are also so many blogging friends that I've kind of grown apart from recently for various reasons. I don't love you any less, nor am I any less grateful, because so many of you have helped shape me into the blogger I am today. But I neither have the space nor time to name you all. I just hope you know that I love you, and I'm grateful for you too.

2) The first person I have to shout out is Sonia Fuderer, who has been nothing but supportive and kind and encouraging since we first met. Sonia, I will never not be grateful to have met you. You are so supportive and kind, and I know you're always there for me. I love our email threads (which reminds me: I'm going to be emailing you soon! We have lots to catch up on), and I know that if I ever need something or just need someone to talk to, you're a tweet or email away. I am eternally grateful for our friendship, and I can't wait for the day we can finally meet face-to-face! I don't know that I'll ever be able to fully express in words how much our friendship and you mean to me, but thank you.

3) Nova @ Out of Time. Girl, you have been one of my longest blogging friends, and I can't even tell you how much I love you. I still remember our video chat from way back when, which was near the start of our friendship. You're such an amazing person, and you're so incredibly supportive and kind, always there to help me when I seek it. Your advice is invaluable to me, and I know I can trust you. Thank you, thank you, thank you for everything.

4) Allison @ Sleepless Reads. We've both been having crazy school years, but it's so nice to know that you've always got my back. I always love talking to you, even if it's not very often anymore. I can always count on you for an honest opinion, and I know you're always going to be one of the first to offer any support or help you can. Both of our blogs have been through huge transitions and changes, but I'm so happy that our friendship remains pretty consistent.

5) Katherine Locke. We don't necessarily talk often, but I'm constantly reading your tweets. You've always been so kind to me, and you've always supported me. I know that if I ever tweet something asking for help or advice or just some hugs, you'll almost always be one of the people that will answer. And just being able to have someone else to talk to about dance/fangirl about dancers is just so great. Thanks for always having my back!

6) Kaitlin @ Next Page Please. KAITLIN!!! Our friendship is still pretty new, but I couldn't write this post without mentioning you. You're always there to cheer me up, and you're always supporting me, whether it's blogging-related or life-related. It's so awesome to see you grow as a blogger, and I really hope that everything I say is helpful. Stay you, because you're wonderful.

7) All of the authors I've met and befriended, such as Dahlia Adler and Paula Stokes! You're all amazing and lovely and just so damn cool. Thank you for your endless support, and thank you for the books you write.

8) To everyone who's tweeted their support and their hugs when I was receiving college decisions. You all rock!

9) Willa @ Willa's Ramblings. You are amazing, to say the least. Thank you for all the love and the support. Thanks for the long conversations about things ranging from school to books to Orphan Black. Thanks for always believing in me and for sending hugs when needed. You are literally one of the coolest people I know, and there are so many times when I wish I could be more like you because you're awesome like that.

10) My co-bloggers at both Lit Up Review and Feminists Talk Books. I won't say much because there are so many of you, but you ladies rock my socks. Some of you I don't know very well; others, I know much more. But it's always amazing to work with you guys. You're all so talented, and I love all of your individual blogs. You ladies constantly inspire me.

11) And last but never ever least, my best friend, Jessica @ Exposure Yourself (photo blog, not book blog). Jess, I don't want to say too much because I'm saving it all for your birthday and for your yearbook, but you don't even know how much you and our friendship mean to me. We are not perfect people, but I will never stop thanking you for accepting me for who I am and for allowing me to be who I am. There are so few people who I can say that about, but you'll always be one of them. Like literally, you're the only person I knew I was for sure inviting to lunch for my birthday; as it turns out, you're also the only one who can make it, but that's a different story. ;) You're like the biggest supporter of this blog and of everything else I do. You're one of the only true, good, amazing friends I've ever had. I will never not be grateful, no matter where we end up in life and no matter if we're still friends years from now. You will always have a place in my heart. 

And there we have it! I'm now 18, have my full driver's license, and can vote in two countries! I'm both excited and terrified of what's to come, but thanks to all of you reading this for making this whole blogging thing such an amazing experience, one that I know is part of what's to come in the next year. :)

Saturday, April 4, 2015

A Month in Review: March 2015

Hey, lovelies! Somehow, another month has passed us by. March felt simultaneous long and short, with school, college admissions decisions, college visits, dance competition, etc. The spring will be even busier for me, but I can't wait for one hopefully completely free summer vacation this year.

Blog-related news: I created an Instagram for my blog to keep it separate from my personal account. Please check out my feed and follow if you like what you see! I want to get more involved on Instagram and maybe learn a thing or two about photography/book photography. ;)

Books I Read:


Other Posts:

1) Lots of college admissions updates, some happy, some not.
2) First dance competition of the year! It was a mix of proud moments and disappointing moments, but overall, I'm so proud of my team. 
3) I've actually been okay with juggling Fly to Fiction, Lit Up Review, Feminists Talk Books, and my Instagram account! For now.
4) College visits, accepted students days, the whole shebang. 
6) Eagerly awaiting spring break...

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Friction Fiction (#16): Being Realistic with ARCs

These posts are meant to bring about some conversation, discussion, and perhaps even a debate. These discussion posts can occur at varying days of the week, mostly depending upon what's scheduled on the blog and what I feel like discussing.

When I first started blogging, I had no idea what the heck an ARC was. I would see the word thrown around but didn't think too much of it. I enjoyed blogging about books that I was reading and enjoying, and I was just happy that blogging was helping me to get back into reading again. I became aware of books that I never would have heard of if I hadn't started blogging, and I fell into the blogosphere. I was loving it. I was still mostly reading books I could get from the library, though my TBR list kept growing. I was also blogging about TV shows, reviewing my favorite shows and their different episodes, movies, and music. Part of that was that when I first started, I wasn't reading as much as I am now, and because it was the summertime, I was watching much more television. But my blog has lost a lot of that diversity, the diversity that made me think that my blog stood out against other book blogs. The thing is, yes, I love books, and reading has always been a large part of my life, but other obsessions-TV shows, music, movies, etc-have also become big parts of my life. But I started to become solely book-based. Why? Part of it was that I was reading more, watching TV shows and movies less, but it was also because I began to want to make my splash in the book blogging community a bit bigger. 

While a part of it was just wanting to know that people were reading the reviews I had put so much work into, a part of it was also that I learned about ARCs. I was fascinated by ARCs. I think I actually began to look into what they were when I won a Goodreads giveaway for Emily Liebert's You Knew Me When. It was the first book I reviewed on my blog, and it was one of my first interactions with an author. I didn't realize it was an ARC until I received the book, read it, and then realized the book wasn't out yet. I then realized that I had an early copy, an advanced reader copy. Maybe that's how the spiral began. Slowly and then swiftly, I began to spiral into an ARC frenzy, just wanting to get ARCs without really thinking about them and the responsibility and meaning behind those books. Sure, I was reviewing the books, but sometimes, I was trying to get ARCs just for the sake of receiving them. Just to seem like I was something, anything, in the blogosphere. 

But as I began blogging more, I began to see the downside of ARCs. Suddenly, I was feeling overwhelmed. I wasn't reading all the ARCs I had requested and received. I was putting them aside, choosing to read books I was actually excited about. To some extent, I was still keeping up, but the eARCs were really growing. I began to see other bloggers talking about ARCs and about keeping a limit and about how they were both a good thing and a bad thing. A lot of other bloggers were feeling overwhelmed and were also getting ARC envy. I was beginning to too. But then, I also began to have some hiatuses. Partially because of school, partially because I was feeling overwhelmed and wasn't really loving working on my blog anymore. So I took a break. I took a step back. I breathed. I read what I wanted, at the pace that I wanted. I continued to keep blogging in the back of my mind, jotting down some notes after finishing a book so that I could try to throw together a review once I got back to blogging. 

I also cleaned my book shelf. I don't have a lot of shelf room. All of my books are stored on two and a half shelves in one of my closets, along with DVDs, CDs, and other miscellaneous items. I also read a lot of series, so it's hard to keep them together and have room for everything. I began to pull out some books that I own but haven't read. I realized this even more with my most recent hiatus and book shelf/closet clean. I bought those books wanting to read them. Why didn't I? Because I was getting caught up with reading ARCs. And I realized, yes, getting ARCs is still awesome. It does make me feel a little more important. But I also blog because I want to read awesome books. Sometimes I find them through the ARCs, but I first fell in love with the books that I bought and with the books I found at the library. I want to get better about reading the amazing books I have at home. Sure, I still sprinkle it in with ARCs here and there, and there are ARCs I really want to receive because I truly want to read the book and spread the word, but I don't approach ARCs the same way anymore.

I don't mind not receiving ARCs. Again, it's awesome to get them, but they're not my priority. I still get a bit envious, but then I remind myself of why I'm really doing this. I'm not in this for the free books. I'm in this for the great, amazing books that I can't wait to read and talk about. And thinking this way has freed me in my blogging in many ways. I feel less stressed about reading ARCs on time (the ones I do have still make me feel this way sometimes, but it depends on the book). I've been a really mood-y reader lately, so it's nice to know that I can pick up a book when I want to, not because I need to review it soon. I'm not feeling so overwhelmed anymore. I feel better about picking certain books to request because they're books I really do want to read. I'm trying to get back on track with the books I got via Netgalley. I'm trying to not have that ARC mentality. For the most part, I'm doing well with this, and I'm happier for it. 

One day, I think I'd like to start taking on more ARCs again, and I still can't wait for the day that I receive (an) unsolicited book(s)/ARC(s) (I did receive one from First Second, which is awesome, but I can't wait to get a novel). But I don't place value on my blog or the work I'm putting into my blog based on the number of ARCs I have. It's nice to have them. It's nice to talk to bloggers about books we've already read though it's not out yet. But I'm enjoying myself so much more this way. I've been getting used to blogging on three blogs, while also trying to get into Instagramming more. I've never been happier with my blog and my content, and I'm trying to re-diversify my blog again, including music, movies, and TV shows when I can. I'm being realistic with my blog(s), I'm being realistic with what I can do and what I have time for, and I'm being realistic with ARCs.

What's your take on requesting and/or receiving ARCs? How has your view on ARCs changed, if it has? 
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