Wednesday, November 25, 2015

00100011 01100010 01111001 01100101 / Illuminae Fanmix

Some books are impossible to talk about – maybe the words don't come, maybe your thoughts aren't cohesive. All you really know is what you felt while reading the words on the page... the grief, the fear, the surprise, the worry, the secondhand heartbreak and love...

I can't figure out a way to share that experience in my own words, so I crafted a playlist to do it for me.

It's thirteen songs that embody my own experience reading Illuminae. These songs are a little bit electronic, a little bit futuristic, unearthly. It's the present-day version of what I would expect to hear in 2575. It represents moments, pages, general vibes. And I threw in that Explosions in the Sky song as a memorial to the people who die in this book. Because they deserve it. Especially that one character in particular. Who I'm still crying about.

Anyway. Thanksgiving is tomorrow – whether or not you celebrate, I hope you're all surrounded by the people you love and who love you back. Here's what I'm thankful for this year: my close-knit family, my privilege, and the fact that I'm not being hunted down by intergalactic terrorists.

"Miracles are statistical improbabilities. And fate is an illusion humanity uses to comfort itself in the dark. There are no absolutes in life, save death."

listen on spotify )

01 // Beyond Daft Punk (x)
The perfect song is framed with silence / It speaks of places never seen / Your home's a promise long forgotten / It is the birthplace of your dreams

02 // Milk and Cookies Melanie Martinez (x)
Hush, little baby, drink your spoiled milk / I'm fucking crazy, need my prescription filled / Do you like my cookies? They're made just for you / A little bit of sugar, but lots of poison too

03 // Digital Love Daft Punk (x)
Last night I had a dream about you / In this dream I'm dancing right beside you / I don't know what to do about this dream and you / I wish this dream comes true

04 // Fuck Em Only We Know Banks (x)
Did I say / You're all that matters to me anyway / I'd give up everything to see your face

05 // Prophet Pretty Lights (x)

06 // Gifted N.A.S.A. ft. Kanye West, Santigold & Lykke Li (x)
You don't know my mind / Like I've said a thousand times / I gotta stay ahead / Know what I'm fighting for

07 // Remember Me As A Time Of Day Explosions in the Sky (x)

08 // Be Together Major Lazer ft. Wild Belle (x)
Maybe if the stars align, maybe if our worlds collide / Maybe on the dark side we can be together

09 // Waiting Game Banks (x)
What if I never even see you 'cause we're both on a stage / I don't wanna say your love is a waiting game

10 // Thousand Miles Tove Lo (x)
That's when I run / All of these thousand miles to get you back

11 // Light It Up Major Lazer ft. Nyla (x)
We live where the war is raging / Chasing our crazy dreams / Hoping that the bridge won't cave in

12 // The Game of Love Daft Punk (x)
There is a game of love / This is the game of love / And it was you, the one that would be breaking my heart when you decided to walk away / I just wanted you to stay / Me, I just wanted you to stay

13 // Svefn-g-englar Sigur Rós (x)

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Things I Learned at the Illuminae Book Tour in NYC

On Saturday I went to an author panel at Books of Wonder with Kendall Kulper (Drift and Dagger), Mackenzi Lee (This Monstrous Thing), Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff (Illuminae), and Jon Skovron (This Broken Wondrous World). I was mostly there to see Amie & Jay – it was the last stop of their Illuminae tour, and I have a thing about Aussie authors, and I also have a thing about Illuminae, so how could I resist?

If I were a more diligent person, I would have taken notes and pictures and written down all the questions that were asked, but alas we can't all be Jo from Wear the Old Coat, so instead I've just searched the recesses of my brain to cobble together the most interesting bits from this event.

There were maybe fifty people in attendance, mostly teens, which was good (I always feel kinda squicky when I see pictures from YA book events and the front row seats are filled by adults). There was also a moderator with a very laissez-faire attitude toward moderating (in other words, the best kind of moderator!), which made the panel a lot more interactive... kind of like Twitter, but with more face time and no character limits.

Anyway GOD I'M SO SORRY – I'm really sucking at highlighting the "interesting bits." Let's just jump right in.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Note to Self (from Junot Diaz) & Thoughts on NaNoWriMo

How is everyone doing with NaNoWriMo so far?? I have personally released myself from the bonds of National Novel Writing Month. Yep – released. No, I'm not "giving up" or "quitting." I'm setting myself FREE!!!

What I've learned is that the hype & excitement over NaNoWriMo is incredible. It's forced me to be excited, once again, about the stories that have been swirling around my head. Like air kick, back flip, hi-YAH excited. It's forced me to write a thousand words, pause, and rethink the story I want to tell. And it's made me more focused about who my characters are and what they become.

What I've learned is that my villain is not the villain, my love interest is not the love interest, the friendship is more important than the romance, and bad decisions are all relative. And I think, I hope, that that's what makes for complex characters and sophisticated, compelling stories.

What I've learned is that writing by hand in a composition book is easier said than done. But it's still perhaps less daunting than facing a white screen on a computer with your cursor blinking. Blinking. Blinking.

What I've learned is that getting words out, in any way you can, is what matters. And that a first draft is destined to be a trainwreck. And that is okay.

But what I've also learned is that the pressure of writing 50,000 words, and being surrounded by people who tweet or blog about their progress ("11k words and I'm only on Day 2!" or "I FINISHED DRAFT 1 OF MY NOVEL IN 4 DAYS" – Cait from Paper Fury, I'm looking at you, you incredible supernatural being), gives me mega anxiety and doesn't motivate me at all, even though I know in my head that this isn't a competition.

So yes, I hereby declare that I am no longer tied to the NaNoWriMo machine.

But to all those who have been chugging along on their novels – good job and good luck. And to those of you who have similarly decided to write your novel on your own terms and your own timeline, I throw a fistful of confetti in your general direction. Huzzah! These words of wisdom belong you to you, too.

"A writer is a writer not because she writes well and easily, because she has amazing talent, or because everything she does is golden. A writer is a writer because, even when there is no hope, even when nothing you do shows any sign of promise, you keep writing anyway." – Junot Diaz

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Waiting on Wednesday: A Moment of Truth(witch)

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly feature hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine.

I wanted to have a weekly feature on this blog where I talk about all the new releases I'm looking forward to reading – I had the best/worst name for it too: Worked Up Wednesday!!? But then I discovered there is a far more legitimate weekly feature that already exists in the book blogging world, and that feature is the less charmingly named but more universally recognized "Waiting On Wednesday." So, officially, this feature will be called that – but just know that I'm still referring to it as Worked Up Wednesday in my head.

This week, I'm talking about TRUTHWITCH by Susan Dennard.

Title: Truthwitch (The Witchlands #1)
Author: Susan Dennard
Publisher: Tor Teen
Publication date: January 5, 2016

Summary (via Goodreads):

On a continent ruled by three empires, some are born with a “witchery”, a magical skill that sets them apart from others.

In the Witchlands, there are almost as many types of magic as there are ways to get in trouble – as two desperate young women know all too well.

Safiya is a Truthwitch, able to discern truth from lie. It’s a powerful magic that many would kill to have on their side, especially amongst the nobility to which Safi was born. So Safi must keep her gift hidden, lest she be used as a pawn in the struggle between empires.

Iseult, a Threadwitch, can see the invisible ties that bind and entangle the lives around her—but she cannot see the bonds that touch her own heart. Her unlikely friendship with Safi has taken her from life as an outcast into one of reckless adventure, where she is a cool, wary balance to Safi’s hotheaded impulsiveness.

Safi and Iseult just want to be free to live their own lives, but war is coming to the Witchlands. With the help of the cunning Prince Merik (a Windwitch and ship’s captain) and the hindrance of a Bloodwitch bent on revenge, the friends must fight emperors, princes, and mercenaries alike, who will stop at nothing to get their hands on a Truthwitch.

I've had the opportunity to read a preview of the book, and I think this one is going to be really good (and not just because I'm on the street team, hah!). In the 15 chapters I've read, I've noticed a few things...

1. Susan Dennard puts so much care into crafting a story.

She knows every single thing about the world she's built – the history, the magic, the language, the political strife... even the best (and worst) place to grab a cup of coffee. And she knows each of her characters like the back of her hand: Iseult and Safi and Merik and Aeduan and Uncle Eron and Prince Leopold and Alma – their backgrounds, their insecurities, their joys... It's very clear to the reader that there's more to each of these people than what's printed on the page – that they're all complex and multi-faceted and just compelling. It's impossible not to turn the page.

2. Susan Dennard has said that she loves a slow burn romance, and it shows.

I cannot wait to read more about Iseult and Safi and Merik and Aeduan as they get to know each other – they're all fascinating in their own right, and I want to see how they (and their relationships, whether romantic or not) grow and change over the course of this book. Susan Dennard is good at writing moments and interactions that feel powerful and intense and a little bit steamy and a little heartbreaky, and I'm looking forward to seeing more of that in Truthwitch.

3. Characters with diverse backgrounds and stories!

I am particularly excited about this!!! Listen, you've got a main character who is an outcast, part of a nomadic group that represents the lowest rung of society; another main character who comes from nobility but has a dangerous secret and shirks expectations through her bravery and love of adventure (and trouble); a handsome hot-tempered prince whose nation is in poverty; and a monk and assassin with questionable morals... And those are just the main characters! Let's not forget Safi's alcoholic military strategist uncle, or Iseult's annoyingly perfect but unexpectedly fierce childhood friend!

So many interesting pieces to this story and so many things to anticipate. And here's a bonus for you – if you preorder by January 4, you're eligible to receive a free signed bookplate and double-sided poster with your order. (First 2000 preorders and available in US/Canada and UK only, though.) You can read up on all the details at

Monday, November 9, 2015

A Brief Intermission: Illuminae

Normally I like to highlight snippets and quotes from the books I'm currently reading, but Illuminae has been a treasure trove from cover to cover, and I wouldn't even know where to begin. So instead I'm going to share some of the photos I've been taking obsessively while reading. The book is a goddamn work of art, honestly – I'm so stinkin' impressed with it.

There we are. Isn't it marvelous? I borrowed this from the library and by the time I was a quarter of the way through, I was sure of two things: First, Edward was a vampire. First, the hype is 1000% deserved. Second, I desperately need my own copy of this book. (Which I bought. And which will arrive just in time for Saturday's book signing with Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff.) I am mega excited about the event now! If all goes well, I'll try and do a recap of the event on here next week! xo

Friday, November 6, 2015

Tonight the Streets Are Ours But I'd Rather Netflix and Chill

Title: Tonight the Streets Are Ours
Author: Leila Sales
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date: September 15, 2015
Rating: ★★★

Summary (via Goodreads):

That's how seventeen-year-old Arden Huntley has always thought of herself. Caring for her loved ones is what gives Arden purpose in her life and makes her feel like she matters. But lately she's grown resentful of everyone – including her needy best friend and her absent mom – taking her loyalty for granted.

Then Arden stumbles upon a website called Tonight the Streets Are Ours, the musings of a young New York City writer named Peter, who gives voice to feelings that Arden has never known how to express. He seems to get her in a way that no one else does, and he hasn't even met her.

Until Arden sets out on a road trip to find him.

During one crazy night out in New York City filled with parties, dancing, and music – the type of night when anything can happen, and nearly everything does – Arden discovers that Peter isn't exactly who she thought he was. And maybe she isn't exactly who she thought she was, either.

Pancakes, Nebraska, Tonight the Streets Are Ours. What do these three things have in common? They're all FLAT. In a nutshell, Leila Sales' latest book did not meet my expectations.

What doesn't work for me:

There's not a character in this book that I care about, from "recklessly loyal" Arden to her actually-terrible best friend Lindsey to Peter the Internet sensation (who, in my opinion, is 1000% overrated from the start).

Our narrator Arden is especially frustrating to read. She seems to see herself as a saint, which is the strangest thing because we're seeing the world through her eyes, and even then it's pretty clear that what Arden considers to be her strength is really her biggest flaw. I mean, sure, sometimes it's hard for us to recognize our own shortcomings... but it's still exhausting to read a character who continually paints herself as a victim and refuses to acknowledge her part in things.

But I'm biased in that respect. I like stories with women who take responsibility for their lives, never mind if they're "likable" or whether or not they make good decisions – at least they're owning those decisions. I don't take well to characters who complain about their circumstances but don't take steps to change them... and for me, Arden fits smack dab in the middle of that category.

Sadly, the story development is lacking, too. The plot line itself is intriguing, but there are a lot of throwaway details – scenes, events, moments, characters – that make the story feel unfinished. Plot points are revealed much too conveniently, with lots of telling and not enough showing. Resolution comes easy ("I was wrong," "no, I was wrong," "no, trust me, it was my fault," "it was both our faults, now let's kiss and make up"), and key themes are written in a way that feels a little bit preachy and forced ("love isn't this simple thing that I always thought it was, it's actually this other simple thing!").

Leila Sales' writing style in this book is also just too clunky for my taste. It's told in the third person perspective, but shifts from past to present. Interesting stylistic techniques resonate much more with me when the story and characters are equally compelling, but since I didn't care for either, the writing style felt out of place and mismatched.

I just wasn't into this book. That being said, there are a few things I did appreciate about it.

What works for me:

The cover is beautiful. And when it comes to giving books a chance, that's half the battle, isn't it? The colors are gorgeous, the photo is classic (though it doesn't really represent the story), and the typography is so lovely. It's just a really pretty cover.

Leila Sales writes New York City perfectly. According to this map, I am a Real New Yorker, so you can trust me on this. It's fun to read and recognize and imagine these places and moments in New York City – the Cube at Astor Place and the homeless people and anarchopunks that do indeed sleep under and around it... the wild imaginative loft parties... the incredible window displays along 5th Avenue... the rambling late night walks on streets that are empty enough to feel like they're really yours... Leila Sales captures the city vibe extremely well and makes it feel as awful and as magical as it is in real life.

Tonight the Streets Are Ours is a contemporary read with some strong elements and an interesting premise, and I like that there are some unexpected twists in the story, but the plot is poorly developed, the writing is awkward, and the characters fall flat. Tonight the streets may be ours, but I think I'd rather Netflix and chill.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

I'm Obsessed With a Story About Beautiful Rich White People & I'm Not Sure How To Feel About It

I hope everyone's got a nice cup of tea on hand because we've got a long discussion ahead... Here's the deal. I've started reading this new adult series and I have so many conflicted feelings about it.

On one hand, I love it. A lot.

The characters in the Addicted series are complex and real. They're not all likable – in fact, they're all pretty unlikable and insanely flawed, but everyone is written in a way that feels relatable, even if it's impossible to ever truly understand their experiences.

I also love this series because it explores important issues like sex addiction and alcoholism, and it does so in a really intelligent, honest, and respectful way. Despite the strides we've made in sex positivity and sexual empowerment, sex addiction continues to be a taboo subject in society. Still, Krista and Becca Ritchie make it accessible and understandable without ever dumbing it down or relying on hurtful stereotypes to tell the story.

The other books in the series delve into issues like gender roles and double standards, friendship and sisterhood and what those things can look like, addiction and its impact on both the addict and the people around them... This series is meaningful and important, and it tells stories that matter.

And yet...

And yet. Even though it does represent a subset of diversity, I feel guilty about reading it and supporting it. The main characters are all white. They are rich. They are all described as conventionally attractive – most of them look like models, tall, with perfectly tousled hair, sharp cheekbones, thin bodies. I mean, it's not hard to rationalize – a WASP-y community is, by default, rich and white.

But it does beg the question: Do we need to keep glorifying and telling stories from the same perspective again and again? Every time you buy a book, you're saying, "I support this author and this genre and the subject matter and everything that makes this book what it is." And sometimes I get tired of continually supporting work that ignores the existence of other cultures, including my own.

In the grand scheme of things, the Addicted books are far less problematic than most of what's getting released into the world. But it represents characters so far on the other end of the spectrum that it's hard for me to ignore just whose stories are being told. Especially when I look through the fanmade graphics and edits for the series and all I see is one beautiful white face after another.

It's okay to consume and enjoy problematic media.