Thursday, October 19, 2017

24 Karat Magic: My Birthday Haul!

Well, it's official: as of this past Sunday, I officially turned 24. While it's weird contemplating yet another trip around the sun, thankfully, my existential dread has been put on hold for a moment... so I can play with all the new toys I got!

(Just kidding. To be fair, though, I'm really most excited for is for the new bedding I ordered to arrive tomorrow afternoon, so I can rest easy in Garnet Hill Signature Navy Toile Flannel Sheets, instead of on the as-to-now-sheetless double bed I was handed down earlier this year.)

Still, I'm not joking when I say my parents (and friends! and siblings!) are awesome, and took advantage of my inability to buy my own books in order to pick out a few just for me. Resolution 2017 is still holding strong, but my shelves still get filled with oodles of awesome new reading material... and that's the best bday present I could have asked for!

thrifted fashion reference books for women's styles in the 1800s
While my birthday itself was mostly spent in Seattle, Washington, playing Dungeons and Dragons with some of my sorority sisters (and biological sister), I had gone thrift shopping with my other younger sister the day before, and she was determined to use the excursion to find the perfect present. She did, in these reference books for 1800s women's fashion, focusing on European styles in the later half of the century. While I'm mostly planning on using them for scrap-booking, but also think that some pages will look amazing in the new gold frame I picked up on the same trip!

The Purloining of Prince Oleomargarine, by Mark Twain and Philip Stead, illustrated by Erin Stead
My mom knows that I read The Adventures of Tom Sawyer every year, and that Twain is one of my all-time favorite authors... which is why she made a perfect guess in picking up this new picture book, based off of stories that Samuel Clemens told his own daughters before bed.

Dear America: The Fences Between Us: The Diary of Piper Davis, Seattle, 1941, Kirby Larson
I've been a long-time, hardcore fan of the Dear America series since I first started reading them as a kid, but this has probably been the first that I sought out specifically because of its content. Not only is this 2011 release set in my city of choice - Seattle, WA - but it deals with a historical moment that has been close to my heart throughout college: the West Coast Japanese internment during WWII.

Before the Devil Breaks You (The Diviners #3), Libba Bray
To be perfectly honest, my younger brother - with whom I share a love for this series - and I definitely did not realize that its most recent release was due for publication just weeks ago. Whether it's the lengthy waiting time between each installment of this fantastic series, or the fact that the publisher is changing the cover style for the third time with the third book, we were taken completely by surprise! But not too surprised that he couldn't run out and buy me a copy... with the expressed intention of reading it right after me, of course.

The Lemonade Cookbook, Alan Jackson and JoAnn Cianciulli
Lemonade LA - one of the most Instagrammable restaurants in existence, touting fresh salads, cafeteria-style desserts, and over fifteen different candy-colored flavors of its titular beverage - has long taunted me due to the sheer distance I'd need to cover to taste its fare. Now, there's no plane ticket required, because I've finally got my hands on some of its "California comfort food" recipes!

of course, it wasn't all just books...

  • One of the presents I was most excited for, actually came two days after my birthday, on the 17th: the season one DVD of Starz's American Gods - based off of the Neil Gaiman book of the same name, which I freaked out about only last summer - has finally arrived! 
  • And while it's not based off of a book of its own, it might as well be: influenced by the enduring legacy of British period crime novels (like those penned by my beloved Agatha Christie), and serving as the reason why Julian Fellowes was able to give us Downton Abbey so many years later, the Academy-Award winning Gosford Park is one of my favorite rainy day movies... and now I can watch it whenever I want! 
  • I've been geeking out about my beautiful Tombow dual-brush pens for a full year now, as I only received my first set of them for my birthday last year. Now, the obsession is back... and in pastels! 
  • Like I mentioned before, I spent my birthday playing D&D. While the hobby itself can be a relatively cheap one - all you really need is a set of dice, a Player's Handbook, the Character Sheet app on your phone, paper and pencils, and some good friends to play with - it's always fun to upgrade with game-specific goodies. That's why I'm so excited I got a HeroForge gift card from my friend Bernie: this complete-customization mini-figurine company allows you to build one that looks just like your character... so you don't have to just use a d6 as a stand-in on battle maps, like I've been doing for the past two years! 
  • True, I took sewing lessons as a kid. But now, as an adult, my Project Runway and thrift-flipping obsessions have made themselves manifest once again, in a request to take some Joann's classes on improving my non-existent skills. So I'm signed up for three of them! 
  • And, of course, one of the rare and few benefits to spending all of my time at home, is the fact that I get to rock Zella Live-In leggings whenever I want... which is probably why the pairs I've owned since freshman year of college all recently bit the dust. No worries, though: the two new pairs I got for my birthday should keep me comfortable for a while! 

Much and many thanks to everyone who helped me celebrate my birthday, even though there's nothing exciting about turning 24! 
What's your favorite way to celebrate a birthday? Let me know, in the comments below!

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Review: Slasher Girls and Monster Boys

While I was a huge fan of R. L. Stine's Goosebumps and Fear Street books growing up, my first real brush with Horror came courtesy of Stephen King's short story collections, like Skeleton Crew and Nightmares and Dreamscapes... so when I first saw this compendium of horror shorts, courtesy of notable YA authors, I knew I had to read it this October. 

When I finished, and saw that it had originally been published two years ago, I was absolutely shocked. Why hadn't I heard of this book before? 

Psycho, I Know What You Did Last Summer, Alice in Wonderland, Carrie. Marie Lu, Leigh Bardugo, Kendare Blake, Danielle Paige.

Slasher Girls and Monster Boys, edited by April Genevieve Tucholke, is jam-packed with plenty of names and titles you'll recognize... and they're counting on it. Drafting some of Young Adult's most thrilling authors to pen their own horror shorts inspired by works of fiction - from movies, television, music, and more - this collection takes familiar fictional tropes and trends, and turns them on their heads. Now, it's up to you, to do your best not to lose yours...

While reading, even before I'd managed to get halfway into this collection, I said, out loud, "This is so much better than it has any right to be." You go in expecting some kind of watered-down YA version of Horror, but this is still straight-up the real deal. There were plot twists, there were genuinely creepy atmospheres, there were characters you didn't know whether to root for or not, and there were Final Girls galore... this book took its source material seriously.

And they were proud of it: each story - like I said, inspired by one or more musical, television, movie, etc. influences - takes those various forms of inspiration, flips the script, in more ways than one, and creates a completely new story, recognizable by a few key ingredients that you can latch onto throughout the course of the narrative. When you're done, it lists its foundational titles upside down at the end of each chapter, to check whether your hunch was correct, or in case you're wondering what your further reading should include if you happened to like it. Not only do they want you to recognize that the stories are re-imaginings, they wanted you to explore the original when you're done. 

Which is an important step, when the stories you're telling sometimes bear only tangential relationships to the original. They're never a complete rehashing of the original tale, it's more like a revisiting or a re-interpretation... or in the cases of those that come courtesy of multiple mythologies, it's not so much strict collaboration or a careful conversation of interlocking parts, but a mutation between them both. For instance, I went through one story absolutely sure that it was inspired by Carrie, only to come to the end and find that it was a variation on, among other things, The Omen and Frankenstein. Meanwhile, Carrie came up again later on in the collection, tucked in amid an I Know What You Did Last Summer retelling.

(For people who love metamedia, this collection might make for an interesting course study, due to the remediated relationship between these culturally-iconic movies and their inclusion in literary-formatted retellings, aimed at a similar audience. Just a thought!)

If there's anything the stories have in common, it's certain themes of reclamation, with young girls finding vengeance or making their own hatch marks on the genre, creepy older men and typical social predators - like Internet stalkers, leery-eyed truckers, and manipulative doctors - getting their comeuppance, and those that would want to ignore either party, being force to look on and understand. For a genre that only too frequently finds young women at the center of their gruesome games, many of these stories did a good job finding opportunities to turn over the power to the actions of the female protagonist.

While the stories held true to a familiar genre, and the theming felt similar, too, the tones within them varied significantly: some were almost uplifting, like zombie-uprising short "Fat Girl With A Knife," while others definitely knew the dark place to which they were carrying their readers, like when a victim of a sexual assault comes back to brutally haunt her rapist, in "The Girl Without a Face." Some, like Nirvana's "Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge on Seattle"-retelling, "Verse Chorus Verse," leans towards teen celeb culture and bright city lights, while rural-based "Hide and Seek" comes complete with barren fields to run through, and a barn in which to take refuge. Eerie WWII-set "Emmeline" contrasts with Upstairs, Downstairs - riffing "M".

And that's only six of the fourteen stories contained in this collection.

Honestly? I hate pitting books or authors against each other, but there's really no other way to describe it: this is the kind of book that recently-hyped Because You Love to Hate Me collection wishes it was. Both collections of prominent authors traversing new ground, centering their retellings or prompt-adaptations on baddies you know not to root for, but can't help doing so. But unlike that collection, I absolutely love all of the directions these stories went. There weren't standout favorites, like I had with BYLtHM, because there weren't any that dragged or I had to skip through. Almost all of them had something unique and entertaining to offer, even when I could see where the plot was headed from a mile away. Even when you could easily identify the source of the stories, you enjoyed the way they were told. 

This is the kind of book I wish I had bought instead of just rented from the library, because I have a million people I want to recommend it to! Halfway through reading, I posted about it on Snapchat and reblogged photos of it on Tumblr, and my sister messaged me saying that I was required to bring it up for her the following weekend so she could read it, too. I had to tell her no, because it was only a rental, but I hope she takes the time to seek it out for herself, like I know I'll be doing this time again, next year.

Final Verdict: Pulling from a diverse variety of cultural inspiration, and featuring the talents of plenty of YA's finest, Slasher Girls and Monster Boys makes for a unique and entertaining creepy read, perfect for younger fans looking for an accessible entry into the genre. Not only am I still in shock that this book was so good, I've already picked out a few authors to explore later on in the year, because their short stories did so much to recommend them.

Have you read this collection before? What's your favorite horror short? Let me know, in the comments below!

Thursday, October 5, 2017

My Spooky October TBR, and Other Favorite Creepy Reads

There's nothing my family loves more than a great theme... which might be one of the reasons why all of our Halloween decor made their way out, all the way back in September. We've been preparing for this since August, when our suitcases returned from Disneyland bursting with Haunted Mansion paintings and picture books, and now that the spooky season has finally arrived, we've wasted no time in getting the celebration underway.

We've got a stack of our favorite horror DVDs lined up for viewing by the television. We've got a stockpile of pumpkin- and apple-flavored goodies in the kitchen. And you can bet that I've got a long list of creepy reads, stacked a mile high. 

Here's what I'll be reading in the month of October, as well as some of my favorite unexpected Halloween recommendations, for you, too!

my personal spooky October TBR

19364719Slasher Girls and Monster Boys, edited by April Genevieve Tucholke
Okay, full disclosure - at the time of this being posted, I've already pretty much finished this one! A spooky story collection written by some of your favorite YA authors - including Marie Lu, Leigh Bardugo, A. G. Howard, and more - each tale features a signature point of inspiration or two, taken from famous, movies books, and music, and it's up to the reader to tease out the source material. Can't figure it out? Don't worry! All secrets are revealed at the end of each story.

Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge, Paul Krueger
This urban fantasy follows a band of magical mixologists, whose signature cocktails whip up more than just a buzz, as they tackle a band of miscreant monsters terrorizing downtown Chicago. The book itself is also peppered with drinks to try at home, and promises plenty of riffs on the "Young Woman Called to Defeat Scary Baddies" trope that I love so much.

Vicious, V.E. Scwhab
You ever been so excited to read a book, that you let it sit in your TBR pile for a long time instead of picking it up, because you want to make sure the moment is absolutely perfect? V. E. Schwab is one of my favorite authors of all time, and this novel - about two ex-best-friends with supernatural powers and a rivalry that could destroy the world - has been languishing on my shelves for far too long.

Our Dark Duet, Victoria Schwab
32075662Yet another V. E. Schwab title, but thankfully, this one hasn't had so much of a waiting period: the sequel to This Savage Song, in the Monsters of Verity duology, this novel just came out earlier this summer. In a world where terrifying monsters are born from intense occasions of violence, it's up to Kate and August to face their demons, inside and out, if they want any chance of making the lives of the citizens of Verity worth living again.

The Beauty, Jeremy Haun and Jason A. Hurley
They say beauty's only skin deep, but the truth is so much more than that: physical perfection has become attainable, when deliberately contracting a sexually-transmitted disease can effectively alter its host to the aesthetic ideal. Unfortunately, this status comes with a deep price. While the idea of an STD-altering the biology of those that contract it is hardly new in the comics world - it was most famously done with the iconic Black Hole series, from Charles Burns - I've been looking forward to this one, because, let's face it: I'm more than happy to judge a book with that kind of cover.

32796253Final Girls, Riley Sager
There was Lisa, the sole survivor of a sorority massacre that claimed nine of her sisters, and there was Sam, a late-night Nightlight Inn employee standing off against the gruesome Sack Man. Now, there's Quinn, who left for a vacation with five friends, only to be the only one to return home alive, after a gory altercation with the mysterious figure only known as Him. Of course, this exclusive club of Final Girls starts to get even more dangerous, when one of them turns up dead.

One of my most anticipated reads of the year, I purchased this novel at the same time as Meddling Kids, for my Seventh Bloggoversary, which turned out to be a 2017 fave, so I'm hoping that the super-meta, culturally-commentative creepy vibes rubbed off on this one, as well!
Playing Dead: A Journey Through the World of Death Fraud, Elizabeth Greenwood
This non-fiction, in-depth exploration of the motivations and planning of people who committed complete pseudocide asks the age old question, "Am I better off dead?" without any of the messy follow-through.

Of course, all of those reads make for a pretty intense and lengthy TBR. Because I've been making my way with five or six books a month for the past few months, I don't want to make this list any longer than it really needs to be... but that being said, if I can, I'd absolutely love to make it through Martha Brackenbrough's A Game of Love and Death, Shirley Jackson's We Have Always Lived in the Castle, and Stephanie Meyer's New Moon, as well!

some of my favorite unexpected creepy October reads

I've talked about my Halloween favorites on this blog before, on many a "Top Ten Tuesday," no less.

2015 saw me discussing some of the best children's Halloween favorites in our giant stack of holiday books (one that's only grown through some pretty fantastic new purchases in the past two years), while 2016 got me gabbing about best books for YA, Adult, and Non-fiction readers for the spooky season, too!

That being said, there are still plenty of great books to read this October that encapsulate that Great Pumpkin feeling that haven't made it onto my lists yet, so while I still adore talking about Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, Mark Z. Danielewski's House of Leaves, and Mary Roach's Spook to my heart's content, here are a few other books you might not necessarily think to read this October, that are absolutely worth the scare:

16299And Then There Were None, Agatha Christie
A chilling mystery favorite, with eerie ambiance and a creepy supporting cast, this classic whodunit-turned-murder-spree has been widely lauded since it was originally published 1939. As houseguests to a mysterious and missing owner, ten people with troubling pasts they'd like to keep secret are forced to determine who among them has been killing off their fellow residents. (For a more YA-friendly take on this classic story, check out Ten by Gretchen McNeil!)

The Witch of Blackbird Pond, Elizabeth George Speare
Okay, so the titular witch of this series might not actually be a witch, and this read doesn't benefit from any of your typical thrills and chills, but it does feature a stifling and suspicious Puritan colony, a feisty and unconventional heroine, a well-written romance, and is a pretty classic Fall read for those looking to up the witch content in their 2017 TBR.

Northanger Abbey, Jane Austen
398199Austen is known for her Regency-era romances; however, she also played a fair hand with this parody, aimed at the trendy world of Gothics, featuring decrepit castles, locked rooms, cryptic messages, and unwelcoming relatives. While the book is still at its heart a love story, it's one whose shadowy atmospherics and eternally-suspicious leading lady make for a fun and funny take on the literature movement that made many of Jane's contemporaries famous.

The Night Circus, Erin Morgenstern
The circus arrives without warning. Boasting an array of dazzling sights, sounds, magical and mysterious acts, and more, Le Cirque de Reves has served as a stage for many things, but a battle between the proteges of two expert magicians will watch it soar to its highest heights... whether these star-crossed lovers want to play the game or not. A longtime fave with plenty of atmosphere, and plot to back it up, you might not get scared, but you certainly won't be able to look away.

3682A Great and Terrible Beauty, Libba Bray
While I've lauded her Diviners series for its masterfully macabre and perfectly paranormal stories and characters before, I haven't given as much attention to the Great and Terrible Beauty series, which is what turned Bray into an auto-buy author for me all the way back in the seventh grade. Featuring a Victorian-era boarding school, a mysterious band of girls, special powers and the supernatural forces that try to take them away, this would be a great YA read for anyone looking for less spooks, and more of a general creepiness.

And while I haven't read them myself, I've heard only good things about Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodrigeuz's Locke and Key comic book series. In terms of horror comics, I've enjoyed the American Vampire series from Scott Snyder and Raphael Albuquerque in the past, and even the first in the Mike Carey and Peter Gross Unwritten series is pretty gosh-darned creepy!

So there you have them: some of my favorite and no doubt soon-to-be favorite reads for the Halloween season in October. "When hinges creak in doorless chambers, and strange and frightening sounds echo through the halls, whenever candlelight flickers where the air is deathly still"... it might just be the perfect time for a great spooky read or two.

And make sure to keep the lights on, when you do!

So, what are you planning on reading this upcoming spooky season? Do you have any Halloween traditions, especially bookish ones? Let me know, in the comments below!

Sunday, October 1, 2017

News and Things: September Favorites

This month has been a bit of a whirlwind, where all too much has happened, from all of us making the return jump to school and family life after two solid weeks of blissful vacation, to ending the month running a gamut of doctor's visits. It has been, on the whole, a bit of a pain.

To be perfectly honest, I've been ready for September to be over for a while now. I finally convinced our Family to set up all our Halloween decor last weekend, I've got a stack of 20 spooky movies downstairs next to the TV and a plan to watch as many as possible in the coming month, and out of the five of us who live in this house, we've already made it on to our fourth box of orange-and-black Oreos. October holds both my birthday and my second-favorite holiday, and I'm ready to start the celebrating right now.

And thank goodness, the time has finally arrived. I'm ready to stuff myself with everything apple and pumpkin flavored known to mankind, and reflect of all that I've learned in the past month (Lesson #523: throw out unused cosmetics and skincare).

As for the rest of it, we've seen some News. We tried some Things. So now, it's time for News and Things!

There's been plenty of discussion about Teen Vogue within the past year, as it becomes more politically active and diverse in both interests and model selections, for what was once simply viewed as one of the most unrealistic teen magazines. It's time to thank the mag's new visionary Editor in Chief for the shake up (and for the love of lip gloss, can the media stop condescending down to teen magazines?).

Between the flooding and hurricanes in the South and Puerto Rico, to the asthma-inducing fire and heat in the North, this past late August and early September has seen plenty of weather extremes... which is why pretending climate change isn't an issue is deliberately dumb and willfully stupid. Calculate your carbon footprint, and see what kinds of daily changes you can make.

How women write women, versus how men write women: what the new Bette Davis memoir - versus the new Ryan Murphy-helmed Bette Davis TV show - tells us about how women's lives are constructed and communicated when women are at the helm. 

While the name "Iggy Azalea" might not flit through your consciousness on a regular basis, it's fascinating to watch her overnight success, and just-as-fast plummet to D-List stardom, in this Jezebel article, charting her industry build-up and take-down in its entirety. 

In this month's surprising, not-surprising movie news: stop quoting the cerulean speech from The Devil Wears Prada, because it's not even an accurate description of the ways trends progress! (On all other counts, though, probably best to listen to Miranda Priestly.)

Have you thought about the outfit you'd like to be buried in? Unless you're a fan of Mary Roach's Stiff and Caitlin Doughty's The Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, like I am, probably not a whole lot. But thanks to a social media caption trend among teens, it's given this Racked author reason to reflect.

The Big Bang Theory is one of the most successful sitcoms on television right now, but its opponents can be just as fervent as its supporters. I've had a hard time describing my own issues with the show before - "easy" and "colloquial" humor, characters who rarely demonstrate personal growth, throwing in just as many intellectual buzzwords as necessary to keep up the charade that it's a "smart" show - but this video, classifying how the casual sexism and misogynistic humor in the show means for women in greater geek culture and Hollywood comedy, really lands the mark.

Fans of musical theater and food rejoice: Eater hosts a casual interview with the Pie Consultant (amazing job alert) for Waitress: the Musical on Broadway! 

Someone put a hold on my debit card, PBTeen has now launched a new Harry Potter collection! Granting you the ability to outfit your bedroom with plenty of wizarding wonder, I'm taking it as no coincidence that this collection was released at the same time I'm looking for a new set of bedding. I may have long graduated from my own castles of choice, but a college grad can still rock Patronus bedding, right?

I'm a huge fan of celebrity impersonators, and this expert reading of Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven" in 100 celebrity voices is a great way to get into the spooktacular season. (Personal faves include Adam Sandler, Rod Sterling, Sterling Archer, John Cleese, and Christopher Walken.)

My personal makeup standby - like that of many others - is undoubtedly my mascara. While I long stood by Tarte's "Lights, Camera Splashes," they changed the formula a couple of years ago, and I've been hunting for the perfect replacement since then... and when I heard that a drugstore fave had released a new waterproof mascara to rival Too Faced's "Better than Sex," I knew I had to try it! L'Oreal's "Lash Paradise" Waterproof is my new go-to, and has the benefit of being just as great as much more expensive mascaras. 

Bless the reality television gods, Project Runway is back on TV! Tim Gunn, Swatch, Heidi and crew are back and better than ever, and this season is seeing one of my favorite twists ever: all of the models are between the sizes 2 to 22, and if you think we'd get through the season without someone whining about styling plus size, you are wrong! (Seriously, it's like the contestants on this show have never actually seen a whole season before.)

Hi, I mentioned this in the intro, but I don't know if you heard me fully: we're now on our FOURTH BOX of Halloween Oreos, and October only started this morning. I know they're literally the same flavor as the original, with just an additional dose of food coloring... but we can't stop snacking!

I've long been a fan of hit musical Something Rotten, but didn't get a chance to see it in person until I came to Seattle's Fifth Avenue theater. What transpired: sassy Shakespearean takes, expertly inappropriate lyrics, and the perfect blend of awesome dance moves and Renaissance riffs. Take a few minutes of your day to listen to one of my favorite songs, "God, I Hate Shakespeare."

What have you been up to this September? What were your favorite News and Things? Let me know, in the comments below!

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Review: Because You Love to Hate Me

Trying to justify buying books because of the insane amounts of hype involved in their marketing is a hard thing when you're only (only???) three-and-a-half months away from the end of a year-long book-buying ban. Thank goodness the public library will always be there for me... even if it meant waiting a couple of additional weeks for processing, and the person in front of me in the hold line to finish it. 

Because even when you're trying to get your hands on books about thieves, murderers, scoundrels, mayhem, and more, you've got to play by the rules. 

Because You Love to Hate Me: 13 Tales of Villainy, is a short story collection edited by R&B superstar and BookTuber Ameriie (which is one of the most bad-ass LinkedIn descriptions I've ever heard). Comprised of the works of thirteen published YA professionals and thirteen YouTubers, the social media super-fans were tasked with posing prompts from which the authors would design and create a new take on a classic villainous trait, origin, or figure. Each short story is paired with a response or addition from the YouTuber who helped spark the idea, and gives greater context to the worlds in which these characters came to life, or the ways they interact with the status of villainy in our own world. From bonafide baddies like Moriarty and Medusa, to competitive siblings grappling for royal power, to the personification of war in the form of a fourteen-year-old girl, no one villain is like another... and they're a far cry themselves from the fairy tales, myths, legends, and more, that you thought you knew, too.

Due to the sheer caliber of talent involved in the project - and the participation of some of my favorite BookTubers, too! - I couldn't wait to get my hands on this collection... and I know I wasn't the only one. This has probably been on every single "Most Anticipated" list I've seen in the past year, and its coming was heralded over quite a bit of social media (which was, of course, to be expected).

While I didn't end up being overwhelmed by the sum total of the collection, there were definitely individual standouts.  Marissa Meyer, author of the Lunar Chronicles series, received a prompt from Zoe Herdt (of readbyzoe) that played to her strengths, calling for a little more intriguing backstory to the classic Sea Witch character from The Little Mermaid. My personal favorite BookTuber, Regan Perusse (of theperuseproject) tasked Samantha Shannon, author of the Bone Season series, with creating a compelling retelling of the Erl Queen tales, only in 19th-century London. And Jesse George (at jessethereader) handed one of my favorite fantasy authors, Victoria Schwab, what I thought was probably the best prompt of the bunch, with Death waking up at the bottom of a well in Ireland.

Of course, there were some stories that fell a little flat, too. Whether it was because they seemed to be more focused on retaining a strictly YA voice - like keeping things too contemporary, or leaving emotion at more surface levels instead of diving deeper into the characterizations - or just didn't take advantage of their (admittedly brief) space to make a lot of character impact, for every great short story, there was one that was just average, and another that was a little less than a chore to read. To be perfectly honest, I skimmed through a couple.

I also sped-read through the various commentaries that some of the YouTubers posed. While I think it was a nice concept - giving the fans who had initiated the concepts in the first place the opportunity to thematically respond to the work itself - in the end, the majority of them felt like either a throwaway Buzzfeed article, or worse, a half-hearted book report. Very few of them actively contributed to the larger presence of the story they'd helped create as a whole.

The stories themselves were, of course, the obvious stars here. The fact that the collection was intended for YA audiences lent a distinctly feminist take to some of the stories, whether that was due to the dimension and background not typically granted to female villains, given through additional context - like with the Sea Witch story from Meyer, or a Medusa retelling courtesy of Serpentine author Cindy Pon - or even the deliberate manipulation of setting and story to make a marked statement of female empowerment, like Samantha Shannon's Erl Queen in "Marigold."

However, while I feel that there was attention paid to the women's empowerment side of feminism, there wasn't a lot done for the sake of representing diversity. The Medusa retelling (written by, may I remind you, Cindy Pon, a co-founder of the Diversity in YA movement, and an advisor for We Need Diverse Books), and Shannon's "Marigold" are two of the only stories I can name  off the top of my head from the collection which made the specific point of including non-white characters... and yes, there was a mermaid, a giant, and even an alien race in this collection, too, so there definitely could have been more of an effort to emphasize diversity.

Additionally, after all of the LGBT-friendly YA I've been reading this summer, I was a little shocked that none of the stories attempted to incorporate that particular point of diversity either.

(Side note: while the point could be raised that it might not be in the best intentions to advocate for more LGBT characters in what is ostensibly a collection of villains, there were plenty of non-villainous characters - and romance! - involved, as well. The reason this is even a point I brought up, is because of a short story that generates a relationship between boarding school students Jim Moriarty and Shirley Holmes... and when you work that hard to change the gender of the world's most famous detective, it just comes off as a little heteronormative. If the recent runaway success of "In a Heartbeat" shows us anything, it's that the world is more than okay with a sweet romance between two boys in blazers. And if an author could make Sherlock Holmes a girl, any of them could have easily flipped the genders of plenty of other characters in these works, too.)

Overall, the collection itself only felt like a taster. For some of the stories, I hope their authors branch them out more, taking them further and using them as the basis for some of their next work, because let's be real: they were so good! On the other hand, for others, it just felt like they were reaching for an idea they never quite got a firm hold on.

So here's my pitch: I'd love Ameriie to take some of those great stories, and curate a larger collection of villainous novellas those shorts could become. I'd also like her to keep posing these kinds of new and interesting challenges, perhaps even to up-and-coming writers, rather than established factors in the industry. There are just so many directions this project could be taken, I sincerely hope it gets pushed further, because let's be real: it feels so good to be bad. 

Final Verdict:  A fun and brief read, giving reason for favorite authors to stretch their writing styles and subjects in a new and interesting direction. I really hope Ameriie curates another grouping of short stories soon, because her editorial challenge was the thing that ended up generating such a fascinating collection in the first place.

What's your favorite short story collection? What villainous figure would you like to see undergo a literary makeover? Let me know, in the comments below!

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Bits of Books: the Summer of LGBT YA

One of the most interesting byproducts of tracking your summer reading, like I do, is watching the trends of who exactly you're reading develop in real-time. From measuring how many female writers you're supporting, or how many authors of color you're reading, to tracking things like genre or time period or length or format, there's a lot to look at in that string of reads in a short summer period. 

The most surprising - and welcome! - trend I noticed, by far, was the inclusion of LGBTQ+ friendly young adult fiction I read in the months between June and August. While it certainly wasn't planned into my TBR schedule on purpose, the fact that two of these books were Summer 2017 releases demonstrates a certain focus within the industry that deserves some commentary, as well. 

Here are my mini-reviews of those reads: The Upside of Unrequited, The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue, and Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

the upside of unrequited, becky albertalli

Molly Peskin is in a pickle: frequently the crush-er and never, ever the crush-ee, she's dealing with the fact that her twin sister, Cassie, has really got herself a new girlfriend, and she's feeling more left out than ever before. Thankfully - or maybe not? - she's found herself a new crush in Will, Cassie's new girlfriend Mina's best friend... but then again, there is her new nerdy co-worker Reid, too. But after her twin's new romance leads to her making some pretty adult decisions, and her moms decide to finally stage the wedding they always wanted, Molly finds herself caught up in more love than she knows how to deal with. 

First things first: Becky Albertalli is a master of YA romances, especially those involving LGBT+ characters, and her previous work - Simon vs. the Homosapiens Agenda - is absolutely one of my favorite YA books ever... a tall order, being that contemporary romance is not exactly my fave genre. And yet, this novel was such a highly-anticipated read, that the second it came home from the library with me, I sat down on the couch, and didn't get up again until it was finished that afternoon. It is absolutely clear that not only does Albertalli know how to write romance well, and especially in a way that appeals to modern teens, but she knows how to do so with the perfect amount of modern inflection, writing true to contemporary culture while keeping things relatable. 

(Also, shoutout to the chubby girls in the room! With Molly's weight being a frequent factor in her love life contemplations, I'm always happy to see more representation for our bodies in the sometimes cringe-y realm of YA contemporary.) 

While I didn't think this book left quite as much an impact on me as its predecessor, it was definitely cute, fun, and a perfect read for a sunny summer afternoon. Final verdict: 4 stars 

the gentleman's guide to vice and virtue, mackenzi lee

The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue
Henry "Monty" Montague is an 18th century rake and never-wannabe gentleman, which is why his domineering father absolutely insists on nothing but sterling behavior as Monty - as well as his best friend, and longtime crush, Percy - navigate around a Grand Tour of Europe, before Monty returns to learn how to manage the family estate. However, such a request has never been Monty's strong suit, and after a major party foul during a Versailles fete throws French politics into chaos, Monty, Percy, and Monty's sister, Felicity, find themselves fleeing from an intense manhunt that leads them through Spain, Italy, Greece, and more. His relationship with Percy in jeopardy, his society name blackened, and a bounty on his head courtesy of a French duke, Monty has to decide for himself about what being a gentleman really means... and whether it's worth it.

If there's a book of this list that you've heard on people's lips this summer, it's definitely this one. From BookTube, to Goodreads (where it currently holds a 4.24 rating), to everywhere in between, this fun and flirty romp through Europe has been drumming up some incredibly intense hype.

Unfortunately, I don't think it totally lived up to it. It was the little things that did it in for me: while the period settings were fairly accurate, the intensity of action taking place within them strained believability too much for me to handle; where there were more fantastical elements - like the inclusion of alchemical compounds as a major plot point - I didn't feel that they fit the outer framework of the story; the main character came off as just, holistically, a jerk and a menace to society; and in terms of attempts to make it more modern, it was done in a manner that made it seem satirically anachronistic, rather than enmeshed in the reality of the setting.

However, it was very much a fun, short read, and it is a nice addition to the list of LGBT-friendly YA I've been reading recently. Final verdict: 3 stars

aristotle and dante discover the secrets of the universe, benjamin alire saenz

Aristotle is a loner, a fighter, an angry young man with a strained relationship with his parents, two sisters who don't understand him, and an older brother in jail. The summer seems determined to pass by in a haze of heat and days spent at the swimming pool... but when one of those days introduces him to Dante, Aristotle thinks that things might be due for a change. Tracking the friendship between these two boys across two summers, growing up might just mean growing closer than you ever thought possible.

This is a book that's been recommended to me for years and years, but I never could come up with a great time to read it. However, earlier this year, I vowed to do so after a round of Bookish Speed-Dating, so I finally settled down to peruse it during these last few days of summer.

I read it in under a day, and it made me both laugh and cry out loud, which is not an easy feat! The emotionally captivating story of these two unique and relatable teenage boys navigating a new friendship - and budding romance - was absolutely enrapturing, and difficult to put down. There were so many elements that made this book one of a kind, from the 1980s period setting, to the focus Saenz places on their Hispanic heritage, to the dramatic-yet-believable action that swallows these two boys up. Funny, unique, and relatable, both Dante and Aristotle are so easy to love, that it's beautiful to watch how their relationship develops over the course of the book.

With a diverse main cast, unique time period and setting, and realistic and relatable supporting characters, this has been one of the best YA romances I've ever read, and I can't believe I waited this long to read it. Final verdict: 5 stars 

side note: tracking LGBT diversity as a publishing trend

As a byproduct of this unintentional gamut of LGBT young adult fiction I've read in a relatively short amount of time, I've become increasingly more aware of these kinds of characters in books, and more importantly, when they're not included. In fact, it almost feels out of place for me to not encounter any gay or lesbian characters now, especially in the realm of recently-published YA... feelings I dealt with recently while reading the short story collection, Because You Love to Hate Me (review coming soon!).

Like I said in the introduction to this post, two of these books - Upside and Gentleman's - were both published to high acclaim this past summer. (At the same time, Albertalli's Simon is currently undergoing filming for its movie adaptation, due to premiere sometime next year.) Aristotle and Dante was originally published in 2012, five years ago, and has been held up as a prime example of LGBT YA... and has also been found on nation-wide Banned and Challenged lists every year since its publication.

On one level, these three books speak to the greater inclusivity and positive trends within the scope of just this division of publishing, especially because this range of book consumers is such a powerful, voracious, and vocal one. On the flip side, it's a little annoying that this marked shift is visible in only a small portion of literature: while there are certainly LGBT characters found in adult fiction - and I even read some of them this summer, as well - I don't think that they are always written as realistically, relatable, or intersectionally as in YA.

YA is still viewed as "lesser" reading: written for younger audiences, primarily written and read by women, YA has been fighting for as long as its been around for not just literary attention, but respect. These three books demonstrate significant changes in contemporary reflections of sexuality, race, social justice, and it's important for industry leaders to note that they're not any less worth noticing because of the library shelves they're found on.

So, it's up to us now to make sure this particular trend has staying power: publishing stories for diverse readers and LGBT teens cannot pass by the same as watching the tide of dystopian novels blow over. There are no swoony immortal vampires with a penchant for high schoolers here. These are real stories, written by real people, being read by real teens who see themselves really reflected in their pages... whether those reflections are as varied as a girl watching her lesbian twin fall in love for the first time, as a continent-crossing rake in the 1700s, or a young man realizing his true relationship with his background and his best friend at the same time.

While I've always been a champion for books to help shape the minds and empathy of its readers, this is a particular trend that is absolutely capable of doing real, lasting good, and I hope it's not just a trend, but an industry paradigm shift.

What are some of your favorite LGBT-friendly YA reads? What do you think of more recent diversity trends in publishing? Let me know, in the comments below!

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Top Ten Tuesday, Throwback Edition: Ten of My Most Impactful Pre-High-School Reads

"Top Ten Tuesday" is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by The Broke and the Bookish!
As of last Wednesday, my younger siblings are back in school. Fall has commenced in earnest in our household, and I've found myself reflecting fondly on those glory days of my youth, filled with plaid-skirted and khaki-panted uniforms, the holy grail snack of pizza Lunchables, and the long-awaited and oft-celebrated Read-In Day.

Thank goodness this week's Top Ten Tuesday theme is a "Throwback Freebie," so I can ruminate on the books of my youth, too!

What, you didn't think that I could grow to be this big of a book nerd, without having fostered the habit back when I was a kid, right? From waking up early on weekdays so I could fit a Magic Treehouse book into my busy schedule before going to school, to passing around Percy Jacksons like contraband around the lunchtable, to viewing Book Fair and Sustained Silent Reading days like they were national holidays, I've been this kind of a nerd since I soared through my first Bob book.

So, in celebration of the new academic year, here are ten of the books and series I remember loving back in elementary and middle school!

elementary, my dear reader


1. The Magic Treehouse series, Mary Pope Osborne
I'm not kidding when I say I used to wake up early before school to read one of these smart, short installments before being hustled off to second and third grade. Then, when I'd gotten home from post-school daycare, I'd sit on the couch and read another while my mom made dinner. I blame this series for my adamant need for historical context in period pieces.

2. The Phantom Tollbooth, Norton Juster
One of the first books my Dad ever read us kids before bed, and one of the most frequent rereads when I need an extra shot of inspiration, this book remains one of my all-time favorites, even though it took me a little while after first hearing it to understand all of the witty wordplay. I will always and forever be a proud resident of Dictionopolis!

3. The Princess Tales series, Gail Carson Levine
While Levine's other books - including middle grade icon, Ella Enchanted - were also frequently found in my reading rotation, it was the petite and pastel Princess Tales hardcover series that originally won my heart. Set in the fictional kingdom of Biddle, this collection of brief fairy tales like The Princess Test, The Fairy's Mistake, and Princess Sonora and the Long Sleep, were spunky and original, riffing on classic stories with hilarity and fun.

4. The Dragonriders of Pern series, Anne McCaffrey
You know how every classroom had that one girl who was obsessed with horses, or that girl who loved cats? Well, I was the girl who loved dragons. And Dragonsong's Menolly was probably one of the first blatantly feminist influences I remember reading. So, double foundational personality trait points, there!

2976715. A Series of Unfortunate Events series, Lemony Snicket
The fact that one of my favorite series from my youth has garnered such a sterling media adaptation, I can't tell you. I mean, the fact that they included one of my all-time favorite lines from the actual third book in the series - "If you are allergic to a thing, it is best not to put that thing in your mouth, particularly if the thing is cats" - made me gasp out loud. This series made me think eating straight wasabi would be a good idea (Grim Grotto), and gave me second thoughts about attending a fictional boarding school (Austere Academy), as well as wildly misplaced conceptions about how precocious my incredibly young siblings would be (ie, Sunny). It definitely had a hand in forming part of my brain, which I'm choosing to believe is a good thing.

stuck in the middle with you


6. The Percy Jackson series, Rick Riordan
In what I can say was probably one of the only book clubs I've ever been a part of - and a definitely non-official one at that - my friends and I swapped around the books in this series as a part of a regular middle school cafeteria exercise. I have no idea whose copies the originals were, but since then, my younger sister and brother have invested in their own boxed set to share.

7. The Luxe series, Anna Godbersen
I can't remember if this series was actually billed as "Gossip Girl in 1899" or if that's just something that I used to label it in my head, but whatever the case, it's an apt description. Involving a set of friends experiencing love and scandal for the first time in the New York petticoat set, I was actually kind of embarrassed to be caught reading this at school... until some of the cool girls I sat next to in Social Studies complimented me on it.

8. The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams
While my great group of friends was in the midst of experiencing Percy Jackson, we were also undergoing a bit of a British Invasion, courtesy of two key members with family who were originally from England. Because of them, I got to experience the genius of British sci-fi humor, including Red Dwarf, and this genius book. We even celebrated Towel Day together in high school, and there's a pic of about five of us packing hand towels in our backpacks floating around on Facebook somewhere.

9. The A Great and Terrible Beauty series, Libba Bray
5I still regularly read Libba Bray's amazing work - like the Diviners series, set in paranormally-inclined New York, or her standalone Beauty Queens (aka, the only Lord of the Flies female-driven homage anyone should be caring about) - but the first book that got me set on this brilliant author still got me a few weird looks once classmates read the back blurb. It became one of my defining regular series in middle school.

10. The Harry Potter series, J. K. Rowling
Um, yeah, we all knew this would be here. What you might not have expected? That there was a period for about a year and a half, where - instead of seeking out any new or interesting reading material - I just reread a whole bunch of Harry Potter books over and over again. And not even in order, either! I just skipped around. I think I topped out at reading Prisoner of Azkaban a grand total of about13 times.

What's in your Top Ten? And what are some of your favorite school reading memories? Let me know, in the comments below!