Thursday, December 31, 2015

Best of 2015

Hey, lovelies! So I'm hoping to make this blog bigger and better in the new year. I feel like I always say that, but at least for now, I'm really motivated and excited. In addition, I'm hoping to really start up my personal blog, Infinite Golden Floors. At this point, I may still end up combining these two blogs, but I'd probably have to change my blog URL again, and I'd rather not. (Regardless, I'll be changing my Twitter handle.)

But let's talk about this past year! It's definitely been a rollercoaster of ups and downs, but overall, I would say I've had a good year, at least looking back now. I'll admit that I think more in school years/semesters than calendar years, so some of the beginning of the year is fuzzy, but I'm loving where I am now in college.

And here is my Best of 2015 list! Everything is listed in no particular order. (I've reviewed many of these, some won't be reviewed at all, and others will be reviewed in early 2016, by the way.)

Top 10 Reads of 2015






Honorable Mentions: I Crawl Through It by A.S. King, Not If I See You First by Eric Lindstrom, Insurgent by Veronica Roth

Top 2 Graphic Novels of 2015

I decided to just pick two despite having a read a few because most of the graphic novels I read were all within the same rating range and don't particularly stick out.

Top 10 Albums of 2015

(Though most of these were released in 2015, not all were. In addition, I didn't include albums for musicals.)





Honorable Mentions: Stand By You and Fight Song by Rachel Platten, Rabbits on the Run by Vanessa Carlton

Top 3 Movies of 2015

(I'm very bad at keeping track of movies I watch, so I've only looked at those released this past year. I didn't watch very many movies (probably around 5 in theaters), so.)




Honorable Mention: Avengers: Age of Ultron

Top 6 Shows of 2015





American Ballet Theater November 1st Performance (After You, Piano Concerto #1, The Brahms-Haydn Variations)

The Royal Ballet Junes 27th Performance

Happy New Year!

And that's a wrap! I hope you've all had a good year, and I hope the next year will bring even better things. Have a happy new year, lovelies! <3

What were your 2015 favorites? Do you make resolutions; what are some of yours?

Monday, December 7, 2015

Finals Hiatus

Hey loves! I suppose this shouldn't come to anyone's surprise, but I just wanted to announce officially that I will be on hiatus until after Christmas due to finishing up the semester and finals testing. My classes don't actually end until the 14th, when I'll have a few days off before I have 3 sit-in finals between the 21st and 22nd.

Obviously this means I won't be around much anywhere, as I really need to focus on my studies. I'll still try to post on Instagram every once in a while and will be in and out on Twitter.

Some things to look forward to after the hiatus:
Review of Finding Center by Katherine Locke
Review of Spring Awakening on Broadway
Review/Discussion/Post on Master of None (TV)
Discussion posts on blogger jealousy
Discussion on romance in books, particularly in YA
Possible discussion post on blogging friends/online friends

I also have a bunch of post ideas for Infinite Golden Floors, my personal blog, if you might be interested in that.

See you soon! I hope you all have a very happy holiday season, and I wish everyone with finals and college apps the best of luck! <3

Thursday, December 3, 2015

A Beautiful Story About Friendship and "The Future" | Review: Just Visiting by Dahlia Adler (ARC)

Just Visiting by Dahlia Adler
Publisher: Spencer Hill Contemporary
Release Date: November 17th, 2015
Reagan Forrester wants out—out of her trailer park, out of reach of her freeloading mother, and out of the shadow of the relationship that made her the pariah of Charytan, Kansas.

Victoria Reyes wants in—in to a fashion design program, in to the arms of a cute guy who doesn't go to Charytan High, and in to a city where she won't stand out for being Mexican.

One thing the polar-opposite best friends do agree on is that wherever they go, they’re staying together. But when they set off on a series of college visits at the start of their senior year, they quickly see that the future doesn’t look quite like they expected. After two years of near-solitude following the betrayal of the ex-boyfriend who broke her heart, Reagan falls hard and fast for a Battlestar Galactica-loving, brilliant smile-sporting pre-med prospective... only to learn she's set herself up for heartbreak all over again. Meanwhile, Victoria runs full-speed toward all the things she thinks she wants… only to realize everything she’s looking for might be in the very place they've sworn to leave.

As both Reagan and Victoria struggle to learn who they are and what they want in the present, they discover just how much they don't know about each other's pasts. And when each learns what the other’s been hiding, they'll have to decide whether their friendship has a future.
"Thank you, Dahlia, for writing this book. The world needs it; people who were like me in high school need it."

Disclaimer: This review is based of of the ARC, which I won from the author in a giveaway. This did not affect my review in any way, nor am I being compensated for this.

Every time I read a book written by someone I know and love, I hope that I won't be disappointed because that might create awkward situations. But once again, I need not have worried. Dahlia and her books are forces to be reckoned with, and it's part of why I love them.

There is no doubt that the book's strength is its focus on a strong, positive friendship. Reagan and Victoria's relationship is so solid and so important. So often, books focus on romantic relationships or on friends that tear one another down. While those are certainly real experiences, so many of us hope to have or have the kind of friendship that Victoria and Reagan do. I love how they complement each other while also being completely different. I think my best friend Jess and I are like that in many ways. While we definitely have some things in common, we're both very different people. Yet, she's one of the people I'm closest to, and I can't imagine how much more horrible high school would have been without her. Just Visiting made me think about all of my own experiences with her in high school, and while it wasn't quite like that of Reagan and Victoria, their friendship reminded me of how much I treasure my own, both now in college and before in high school.

Another one of Dahlia's strengths is writing complex, intersectional characters who develop throughout the book. It's something that can become easy to expect from all books after you've read a book or two by Dahlia, but then you remember/realize that it doesn't carry across all books (which is sad and terrifying to think about and needs to be changed). But more than having these characters, I love how the different parts of them don't necessarily define who they are. Certainly, being Mexican is a huge part of her identity and shapes who she is, but there's more to her than being Mexican. It's a central theme but not the only one. Almost all of the bigger characters (Reagan, Victoria, Dev, "Freckles," all the parents, etc) in the book are intersectional in different ways, but they are not token characters hoping to give the author and the book diversity points. Instead, it's genuine and reflects how many people in real life are.

Dahlia also has a way of writing heartbreaking tensions and conflicts and excels at weaving a story in a way that makes you smile and laugh in one moment and cry in the next. There's just something I love about her writing and the way she tells stories. I hope she never loses that magic.

Speaking of magic, she also writes the most amazing, magical romances and romantic scenes. *swoons* And I love how while it is a big part of the story, it's not all that there is. In fact, there's so much more said about "the future," the uncertainness of it. I actually recently wrote a blog post on Infinite Golden Floors about my own doubts over my future. It's not something that goes away once you're in college. I've only just started, but so many of my upperclassmen friends have no idea either. But to be honest, do most people ever truly know? But it's especially daunting when you're on the cusp of entering a new part of your life, whether that's graduating high school or graduating college. With my younger sister and many of my friends applying to colleges now and having just gone through the process myself last year, I completely understand that feeling as a high school senior of having to get ready to leave everything behind--all the friends and people you've known most of your life, your home, etc. Of course, not everyone leaves home and some people do stay friends, but again, it's not something you can know for sure. And choosing a college is difficult too--it has to be affordable, be in a desirable location, have your intended major (if you're going in with one), etc. It's so much and can be so overwhelming, but it's also so much better when you have a friend to get through it with you. And to see struggle in book characters can make the feeling so much more validating, can make some feel so much less alone.

It's funny I rated this 4.5 because now that I'm writing this book, I'm not sure what criticism I had for this book. Maybe it was that I felt like something was missing, some missing piece. It may have had something to do with the parents or with wanting certain things to have been talked about a bit more (like how Reagan was forced to type up an assignment even though her teacher knew she wasn't able to at home and would have to go to the trouble of finding another way to get it done). But those are so minuscule when you look at everything else in this book.

If you haven't read any of Dahlia's books yet, I'm not sure what you're waiting for. She always writes the most amazing stories that never fail to make an impact. Thank you, Dahlia, for writing this book. The world needs it; people who were like me in high school need it. And to all the high school seniors out there, you are not alone. You can make it through.
Just Visiting: Goodreads | Amazon | B&N | Book Depository
Dahlia Adler: Website | Facebook | Twitter | Pinterest

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Quiet, Raw, and Subtly Perfect | Review: The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness

The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness
Publisher: HarperTeen
Release Date: October 6th, 2015
What if you aren't the Chosen One? The one who s supposed to fight the zombies, or the soul-eating ghosts, or whatever the heck this new thing is, with the blue lights and the death?

What if you're like Mikey? Who just wants to graduate and go to prom and maybe finally work up the courage to ask Henna out before someone goes and blows up the high school. Again.

Because sometimes there are problems bigger than this week's end of the world, and sometimes you just have to find the extraordinary in your ordinary life.

Even if your best friend is worshipped by mountain lions.
"The Rest of Us Just Live Here is just a beautiful book that I will treasure forever. It's quiet, raw, and subtly perfect."

This book has been on my radar for a while now, but I got even more excited after attending Ness' book signing at Books of Wonder and heard him speak about it and the different themes in the book. I was not disappointed; this book delivered and more.

This book won't be for everyone. It's about the "other" people, the ones who aren't off saving the world. It's about all the people that feel like they could never be the hero and probably wouldn't want to be. It's even about how being "the chosen one" (or in this case, the "indie kid") isn't all that great if you were actually to be one of them. Some people will find portions of this slow and boring, and maybe it is at times, but I liked the slow nature of some of the parts of this story. I love how this doesn't just forget about all the school stuff, about the "real life" stuff. I love how there was more of the mundane because it's what most of us go through every day in high school. It may come off as boring, but there's so much drama in that (but different from the drama in other contemporary novels). It's about showing how our every day lives are just as important as the lives of the "indie kids."

I loved the focus on friendship in The Rest of Us Just Live Here. Yes, there was a bit of romance, and I wasn't always the biggest fan of Mikey's obsession, but I could understand it, and I think it was handled well in the end. I didn't have the amazing group of friends in high school that they have in this book, but I loved every minute of their interactions because it felt real to me. 

The support they provided one another was also really important to me. The honest portrayal of friendship and of defining family for oneself and of mental illness was HUGE. This is the kind of book I wish had come out while I was still in high school. So many of Mikey's anxieties and doubts were/are similar to my own. His insecurities are so much like mine, so I think that what he learns from Mel and Jared and the rest of them are so impactful and could honestly help so many teens. A lot of my deeper connection with this aspect of the story also came from what Ness said during the signing, and it's something that will stay with me for a long time.

The conversation about being the one who belongs the least in the group, of being the least important, is very much something that has stuck with me in the time since I finished this book. The week or two after finishing the book were tough for me because I was feeling exactly this, but I'm not going to lie about how much the book helped me get through that time. To say I read this at exactly the right time would be an understatement. Overall, I just think he does such a great job of having a raw, open, real portrayal of mental illness and of how it affects a family.

But moving on, this book was also hilarious at times. The short inscriptions telling the reader about the indie kids' situations at that point in time were such a treat, showing not only a progression in time but also how those "hero" stories and their timelines would play out in real life. It's an added layer that adds just enough flavor. And there is enough action to keep the story moving but without overwhelming the characterization. The way it picks up and comes together at the end was just brilliant.

The Rest of Us Just Live Here is just a beautiful book that I will treasure forever. It's quiet, raw, and subtly perfect. It's not about being flashy and all out. It's about the little moments and how those little moments mean so much to us, something that can be forgotten about when we have action-packed books. I highly, highly recommend this read.
The Rest of Us Just Live Here: Goodreads | Amazon | B&N | Book Depository
Patrick Ness: Website | Twitter | Tumblr

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Unconventionally Creating a Graphic Novel | Tour: Dare to Disappoint by Ozge Samanci


Dare to Disappoint by Ozge Samanci sounds like an incredible graphic novel. It's about growing up in Turkey and trying to find her passion when her family and society are trying to tell her what direction to go in. What makes the book even more interesting is that she utilizes unconventional materials throughout the book. Each post on this tour will highlight one such material. 

For my stop, Ozge will be briefly talking about her use of evil eye beads. When I saw that that was the featured material for my blog, I got really excited. I actually own a few pieces of jewelry with evil eye beads and have one hanging up at home. They're pretty commonly found in Brazil. But here's Ozge's own words on it.
Beads for evil eye are part of the culture in Turkey. In Turkey, many people believe that babies, kids, adults, men and women can be harmed by the evil eye, the jealous gaze of others. To protect themselves from the harms of evil eyes some people wear an evil eye bead by pinning it under their shirt or visibly by attaching it to a wall of their home or a mirror of their car. In my comic-collages evil eye beads make wonderful eyes for the characters.

I can't wait to read this book, and I hope you'll all check it out as well! 

Dare to Disappoint by Ozge Samanci
Publisher: Farrar, Straus, Giroux (BYR)
Release Date: November 17th, 2015
Growing up on the Aegean Coast, Ozge loved the sea and imagined a life of adventure while her parents and society demanded predictability. Her dad expected Ozge, like her sister, to become an engineer. She tried to hear her own voice over his and the religious and militaristic tensions of Turkey and the conflicts between secularism and fundamentalism. Could she be a scuba diver like Jacques Cousteau? A stage actress? Would it be possible to please everyone including herself?
In her unpredictable and funny graphic memoir, Ozge recounts her story using inventive collages, weaving together images of the sea, politics, science, and friendship.

Monday, November 23, 2015

A Hilarious Broadway Parody | Something Rotten! on Broadway


A friend from high school and I had been planning to see a Broadway show together even before we graduated, and only the other day did we finally make good on those plans and saw Something Rotten! 

I have heard nothing but good things about Something Rotten! but still went in without much of a clue on what it's about except for the fact that it's funny. What an understatement. This was such a fun show, parodying musicals and Broadway itself, as well as Shakespeare. It takes place during Shakespeare's time. We watch as two struggling playwrights who are trying to make money while having to compete against Shakespeare. The older brother, disheartened and desperate, turns to an unlikely source and finds out that the next big thing is going to be musicals. He also finds out that Shakespeare's most famous play is going to be called "Omelette." 

Hilarity ensues as they try to write a musical about breakfast and eggs. Any Broadway fan will get a kick out of the show and the songs featured. There are so many references to different shows, some obvious and others more subtle. Those who don't understand the references likely won't appreciate Something Rotten! as much, and they'll definitely know they're missing something as the rest of the crowd laughs. But even if you're like me and only got maybe 75% of the references, you can tell they're making fun of Broadway while on Broadway.

The actors do an amazing job, from Christian Borle as Shakespeare to Brian d'Arcy James as Nick Bottom to Heidi Blickenstaff as Bea, there is so much mixed talent on the show. The songs are upbeat and fun. The show is so great for when you need a break or just want a laugh. 

But even beyond the hilarity is a level of depth in the story arc. It's not just about Broadway but also about talent, being true to yourself, freedom, happiness, family, and loyalty. It's about learning who to trust and who not to trust--including trusting in yourself. It's about taking a stand and being your own person. There are two fierce and amazing females who show that they are brave and smart and clever in their own right. 

The end was kind of shaky in my opinion, and I'm not sure how I feel about it, but overall, I think the show wrapped up nicely. It shows how success and happiness don't necessarily have to come from fame and how fame isn't always all that it lives up to. It's about starting over but without changing who you are.

This is such a beautiful and hilarious story that anyone, but especially Broadway fans, will enjoy. There's a dash of history, a lot of wit, some literature and writing, and so many laughs. I highly, highly recommend this show and would see it again if I could afford to.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

So Much Potential, But What About Execution? | Quantico Review (Episodes 1-6)

ABC Sundays @ 10 PM EST

I started this show on a Friday night after catching up on How to Get Away With Murder. The night ended with me going to sleep at 4:30, with one episode (episode 5) left to catch up on. What an intense show! While not nearly as intense as Orphan Black or even HTGAWM, there's plenty going on on this show. 

This is one of the most diverse casts on television, and I love it. It's talked about just enough without making it the focus of the show. It just is what it is. With the exception of the Simon not actually being gay plot (which just upsets me to no end), the characters are not defined by their sexuality, race, religion, or otherwise. It certainly plays into who they are, as it does for all people, but they are more than that.

The constant switching between present and future keeps me at the edge of my seat. It's a bit like the flashbacks in HTGAWM, and in both, it's done very effectively, connecting past to present (or present to future, depending on how you look at it). I look forward to seeing how the story will play out and how the show will move forward once this one mystery/case is solved. 

I love crime shows, and I love getting a look at how their training works. There's so much potential in that, and I'm so glad Quantico is taking advantage of that. There's so much tension between the characters as they come to trust one another but also compete against one another. The intensity and time constraint is reminiscent of so many of my favorite shows.

All the lies and betrayal are a bit confusing to follow, and there are so many times when I wish people would just tell one another the truth. There are so many situations where things could end so differently, but I guess that's what makes the show so addicting.

Episode 6 really opened my eyes to the soap opera quality the show was starting to lean towards. I'm hoping it'll go back to more of the FBI/espionage/intrigue soon, without so much of the cheesy romance. The show reminds me of all the best and worst parts of some of my favorite shows, and I guess that's why I keep coming back for more. But I also slowly fell out of love (and sometimes was brought back, sometimes not) with many of the shows it reminds me of. I'm hoping that the show will start to go back in the direction that will keep me interested. I really love what they're doing on the show right now, and I'd hate to see that go downhill for the sake of trying to appeal to a certain group of people. 

The show started out strong in characterization and dialogue, as well as plot. I can only hope it'll continue on an upward trend from now on. The acting is getting shaky, with some strong performances and some weak. Maybe episode 6 will be the exception or maybe it was more of a filler. Fingers crossed, and let's see where the show will take us!

Stay tuned for updates as the show progresses.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

A Celebration of Diversity, Friendship, and Geek Culture | Review: An Infinite Number of Parallel Universes by Randy Ribay (ARC)

An Infinite Number of Parallel Universes by Randy Ribay
Publisher: Merit Press
Release Date: October 16th, 2015
As their senior year approaches, four diverse friends joined by their weekly Dungeons & Dragons game struggle to figure out real life. Archie's trying to cope with the lingering effects of his parents' divorce, Mari's considering an opportunity to contact her biological mother, Dante's working up the courage to come out to his friends, and Sam's clinging to a failing relationship. The four eventually embark on a cross-country road trip in an attempt to solve--or to avoid--their problems.
Disclaimer: I received a copy for review, but this did not affect my review in any way, nor am I being compensated for this.

"At the heart of the story, it's about coming together during hard times. It's about trust and acceptance."

I haven't been seeing this book around the book community, and I wish more people were talking about it. For all the talk about diversity, An Infinite Number of Parallel Universes is such a great example of a book that seamlessly features diverse characters. Though those aspects of the characters are important to their story and their identity, it's not the main focus of the story.

I enjoyed the different characters, though I don't think any of them really stuck to me or really impressed me. They were all at a level playing field, and there were merits and great parts of all their story arcs. Sure, there were some characters who annoyed or angered me at times. There were others I really cheered on. I didn't really like the way their perspectives were split in blocks rather than with switching chapters because it made the overlaps a bit awkward, but I thought each portion was comprehensive and interesting.

What really made this book great was the focus on friendship and overall geek culture. Though the reason they are going on a cross-country trip is concerning, they stick together and look out for one another. They all have their own issues, and they, at times, forget about the fact that everyone else is going through things too. But at the heart of the story, it's about coming together during hard times. It's about trust and acceptance. I don't play D&D, but I love that the story depicts a group of people who originally came together because of a mutual interest but then grew to something more. SO many of my friendships came about this way, but it's rarely depicted in books.

The book was a pretty quick read, though a bit slow/dragging at times. It was easy to get caught up in everyone's drama, and I loved when story lines finally intersected. We got to see some select scenes from both/all perspectives, and it really shows how we think we pay attention to others, when we really spend a lot of time thinking only of ourselves--not in a selfish way, necessarily.

Overall, I enjoyed the book. The cover still makes me so happy every time I see it, though there's no concrete reason why. I love the geek love. I wasn't wowed by the book, but I would recommend it, particularly if you're looking for another "diverse" read.
An Infinite Number of Parallel Universes: Goodreads | Amazon | B&N | Book Depository
Randy Ribay: Website | Twitter | Instagram | Facebook

Sunday, November 15, 2015

A Month in Review: September and October 2015

This will be a quick one, since I didn't read much, and I was/am still on a semi-hiatus. I posted some updates, including my new blog! Hoping to get back to a good schedule of about 2 or 3 posts a week soon. I'm also working on trying to mix things up more on the blog to take the pressure off of having to read and review. I'm having a tough time thinking of discussions, though, and I don't want to rely on features all the time. Anyway, here's the past two months in review!

Books I Read

 


Book Haul

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Library of Souls by Ransom Riggs
Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut
Ways of Seeing by John Berger
Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann
I Crawl Through It by A.S. King
An Infinite Number of Parallel Universes by Randy Ribay (ARC)
Into the Dangerous World by Julie Chibbaro and Jim Superville Sovak
Wolf by Wolf by Ryan Graudin (eARC)
Finding Center by Katherine Locke
More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera
Faking Normal by Courtney C. Stevens
The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness
Just Visiting by Dahlia Adler (ARC)

Reviews:


Other Posts:

Updates on Life, Books, and Starting New
Music Monday (#14): Those Girls Playlist

Personal:

I think I might actually start taking this portion out. I've been really bad at keeping up with my personal blog, but if you're interested in that kind of stuff, please head over the Infinite Golden Floors.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Invisible Helicopters, Bomb Threats, Mental Illness, and more | Review: I Crawl Through It by A.S. King

I Crawl Through It by A. S. King
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Release Date: September 22nd, 2015
Four talented teenagers are traumatized-coping with grief, surviving trauma, facing the anxiety of standardized tests and the neglect of self-absorbed adults—and they'll do anything to escape the pressure. They'll even build an invisible helicopter, to fly far away to a place where everyone will understand them... until they learn the only way to escape reality is to fly right into it.
Disclaimer: I received a copy from the NOVL newsletter. This did not affect my review in any way, nor am I being compensated for this.

"I still don't really know what happened in the book, but it will definitely stick with me for a while."

Where do I even begin? When I finished I Crawl Through It, I was lying in bed reading. All I could think was woah. This book blew my mind; it made me think deeply about our society and how we treat mental illness and PTSD. It left me speechless. I still don't really know what happened in the book, but it will definitely stick with me for a while.

This is the kind of book you want to read with other people because you'll want to talk about it. You'll want to attempt to work through your confusing, probably jumbled up thoughts. You might try to pretend like this isn't the crazy, weird book that it is, but it is. It's labeled surrealist fiction, and I think that's a good way to explain it. There are sometimes invisible, sometimes not invisible helicopters, a girl who turns herself inside out, a girl whose hair grows every time she lies, and a girl who is two people in one body. There are bomb threats and a crazy bush man. There is so much going on, yet it's so hard to tell what's actually happening.

But I could see how the different pieces represent different struggles and the way society treats them/the victims. You can see the messages about what testing does to kids, how people deal (or don't) with grief, how important family is (but how ruined these families are), how society and rape culture impact the victims/survivors, what it feels like to realize that no one is better than anyone else, etc. There's a lot of social commentary in this book, but it's really the way the story was presented that makes you think about them/realize such commentary. I Crawl Through It makes you think deeper about these issues because they come to you--or at least they did to me--when you're trying to figure out what everything in the book means.

By the end of the book, my mind was blown. At that point, it's pretty clear what the messages are, even though the book doesn't end perfectly and leaves a lot left unanswered. I didn't find that to be a problem, however. I think it leaves enough resolved and enough open-ended. There's honestly not that much more to say because it's so hard to talk about anything that happens. I connected to the characters because I could understand their struggle, yet it always seemed like there was a gap between the characters and me as a reader because of the writing and surrealist nature. In the end, I think that the book is more centered on the ideas than on making characters likeable or whatnot (not that characters need to be likeable).

I would highly recommend this if you're looking for a thought-provoking book. I would highly recommend it for book clubs or buddy reads. I Crawl Through It will make you think about our society, and I think it brings about really important social discussions and commentary.
I Crawl Through It: Goodreads | Amazon | B&N | Book Depository
A. S. King: Website | Facebook | Twitter
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