Monday, September 19, 2016

Unpopular Opinion: A Rant on #Diversity

In my ASL class on Monday, we did receptivity practice with numbers. Someone signed a bunch of numbers at a moderate pace, and we had to write down those numbers on a whiteboard. While it first seemed straightforward, many of us found that it was actually really hard to split our attention between the signing and the writing. Taking my eyes away from the signer meant I was missing something – either the facial expressions or the signs themselves. I had to be a much more active receiver of information.

When one of my classmates brought this up and noted how difficult it was, our teacher Brian responded like, "Yes! Exactly! Now you get it."

Not only does effective communication require a certain level of visual attention, but think about how signing gets affected by poor lighting, people who don't face you when they speak, multiple people speaking at the same time...

For hearing people, these things don't really affect our ability to communicate. That's not true for deaf people.

It made me start thinking about accommodations. Lip-reading is an accommodation. Vocalizing can be an accommodation. Sometimes hearing aids and cochlear implants can be an accommodation.

Deaf people frequently have to accommodate hearing people. The reverse is much less frequently true; the hearing world does whatever the hearing world wants. The hearing world says, "We are the norm, and you have to figure out how to bend to our ways." (Sometimes the hearing world gets their feelings hurt when they are called out for being ableist. Sometimes they vehemently deny it. Sometimes they rationalize their behaviors.)

I think the same is true in other situations between privileged and non-privileged groups – so often, the non-privileged community has to accommodate the other. Like when the well-meaning privileged people start asking questions and making requests (because it's not like Google is a thing that exists):

"Why is X bad?"
"Why is Y good?"
"Can you explain...?"
"Tell me what I did wrong!"
"Tell me what I can do better!"
"Walk me through the hundreds of years of history & oppression so that I can understand what's wrong with this situation! Don't forget your sources!"

There's a certain exhaustion to being "diverse."

(Ugh. I really hate that word. "Diverse." It's an easy, lazy buzzword that absolves people from having to try. All you have to do is retweet a Diversity Tweet or post a Diversity Hashtag and suddenly you're exonerated from your racist, ableist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, etc. ways! Congrats!!!!)

To be clear, I'm not knocking diversity. I am part of a "diverse" (ugh) community. I love being who I am. I'm genuinely glad that I come from a family of immigrants. I like the way I was raised. I like my perspective in life. I like my family's history. I like the values I've been brought up with. I like our culture and traditions.

I'm not saying that being "diverse" (ugh) is a burden.

I'm saying that in a world where you are different because of the way you identify, it can be exhausting to have to negotiate the world with that identity. (I'm saying that it's mostly other people who make it exhausting. I'm specifically saying that constantly accommodating other people is exhausting.)

And THEN when you're not being asked to accommodate – when you're not being asked to explain everything ever to people whose feelings are hurt – you're frequently being reduced to an object by those who are attempting to embrace diversity.

Take #MSWL, which stands for Manuscript Wish List, which is where agents/editors post book submissions they'd like to see in their inbox. There's some interesting requests ("a fresh new spin on REBECCA"), and then there's a lot of this:

"I'm looking for more diversity in MG and YA!"
"Looking for: diverse voices."
"Diverse, fresh fantasy!"
"Syria! Just, anything related to Syria!!!!!!"*

Oh. My. God. I hate when editors and agents and self-proclaimed diversity warriors make broad sweeping statements like this.

Here's what I'm hearing: "It doesn't matter what it is! Just diversity! Anything! Go team! OK!"

It strikes me as incredibly self-aggrandizing, and it feels like the people making these requests just want to claim their diversity/relevance cookie without even trying to understand why it matters and what's wrong with the industry as it currently stands.

Telling the stories of underrepresented people is not a trend. We're not a marketing ploy to boost your sales, or position you as socially/politically/culturally aware and relevant. We're not objects to collect – your token Asian girl, your token trans character, your token fat protagonist. DO NOT BE THE PUBLISHING EQUIVALENT OF DONALD TRUMP'S DIVERSITY COALITION. It won't ring true.

Listen. I am all for representation. But representation has to be meaningful – the point is to let readers see themselves in the books they read. And right now it appears there's a very low bar for diversity in stories – the kinds of requests coming from people in the industry make me feel like we're going to see a lot of misguided literature published in the name of being diverse.

I hope I am proven wrong. I hope I am just being pessimistic and cynical.

I'm going to continue keeping an eye on this whole diversity movement, and I'll continue to support "diverse" authors and "diverse" stories until I see the word "diverse" so many times that it stops making any sense. (I'm already halfway there.) I'm going to rethink purchasing and reading books written by people who have shown, time and again, that they don't care about inclusiveness, representation, intersectionality...

I'm going to end this post here because I'm tired of writing and talking about diversity. Like I said, it is EXHAUSTING.

S/o to all my people who regularly speak out and write thought posts on this stuff. I admire you.


Thursday, September 15, 2016

Trade Me by Courtney Milan

Title: Trade Me (Cyclone #1)
Author: Courtney Milan
Publisher: Courtney Milan
Publication date:  January 19, 2015
Rating: ★★★★

Summary (via Goodreads):

Tina Chen just wants a degree and a job, so her parents never have to worry about making rent again. She has no time for Blake Reynolds, the sexy billionaire who stands to inherit Cyclone Technology. But when he makes an off-hand comment about what it means to be poor, she loses her cool and tells him he couldn’t last a month living her life.

To her shock, Blake offers her a trade: She’ll get his income, his house, his car. In exchange, he’ll work her hours and send money home to her family. No expectations; no future obligations.

But before long, they’re trading not just lives, but secrets, kisses, and heated nights together. No expectations might break Tina’s heart...but Blake’s secrets could ruin her life.

I have NO appropriate words to describe how much I loved this book, even with its lackluster resolution. Every time I think about Blake and/or Tina, I just want to puke in enthusiasm.

I mean, an Asian female MC in a new adult book?

An Asian female MC in a new adult book who is actually bright, and driven, and sex-positive, and proud of her family, and not fetishized, and compassionate, and socially aware? A character that I can actually relate to??!?

Pinch me. I must be dreaming.

Tina Chen is the main reason I picked up this book. I needed to read a new adult novel that was not all about white people. And you know what? She struck a deep chord with me.

I always, always love a female MC who shies away from love and commitment. I love a girl who thinks relationships are dangerous, who believes in protecting herself (and her family) first. I AM THAT GIRL. And Tina is that girl. She has to grapple with safety and risk, and contend with her interest in the perfect-by-traditional-Western-standards Blake Reynolds.

Blake is fascinating. He's imperfect and flawed in ways that matter. Despite his ignorance and privileged upbringing, he respects people. He makes mistakes but he learns and tries to do better – he is everything I wish the people of the Internet would be. (Ahem.)

Tina and Blake are compelling on their own, but when they're together, it's impossible to drag your eyes away. Their dynamic is so interesting – the back and forth, give and take. They make each other feel understood. They make each other feel good. They call it like it is. They speak openly. They don't play games. It's so goddamn refreshing to see two intelligent adults acting like intelligent adults in a relationship. How annoying is it when the key conflict in a story could be resolved by a couple actually communicating with each other? There's none of that nonsense here. The conflicts and challenges they face actually matter; they're complicated. There's no easy way out.

Blake is a complex person with a complex relationship with his father; for better or for worse, it colors his life and the decisions he makes, and it is because of this that the "issues" in this book don't feel like "issues." The problems and solutions, as Blake says, are "all tangled up, knitted together so firmly that you can't excise the problem without blowing the solution to bits." Courtney Milan has certainly knitted together a story where that's the case, though I do wish the "solution" had been somewhat less anti-climactic. The end came together rather quickly and rather too conveniently – before I knew it, the story was over. I wish we had gotten to see a little more romance between Tina and Blake. Softer, slower moments. A little more lingering instead of a constant rush forward.

Maybe because of the way it was written – with scenes that propelled the story forward – I read this book in 5 hours. I devoured it. And on my commute to work this morning, I started reading it again. To savor it. To revisit and reconsider my thoughts on relationships. To bask in the existence of a well-written Chinese female character. A well-written Chinese female character, written well by a non-Chinese author. (I mean, whaaaa???? Side-eye emoji. Side-eye emoji. Side-eye emoji.)

This is the part where I don't really know what else to say. Trade Me made me laugh. It made me cry. It made me feel like I was learning something. It was a really smart book. It made me feel seen. It made me have some degree of faith in humanity. (No joke.)

Read this book if you're tired of never seeing yourself in books.
Read this book if you want to see relationships based on mutual respect.
Read this book if you like your parents.
Read this book if you don't.

Read this book if you think stories should mean something. Because this one does.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016


Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

This week's prompt: Top Ten ALL TIME Favorite Books Of X Genre.

HA. What a joke. I don't have ten "all-time favorite" books. Ten is an impossible number. There's, like, 30 books on my favorites list. And then I have to subcategorize from there: is it a forever favorite, a nostalgic favorite, or a favorite-because-it-was-perfect-for-my-life-when-I-read-it? If I read it again today, would I still love that book? Did I only love that book because it defined my life at a specific time? Does it matter?

It's complicated. And I realize that perhaps I give way too much thought to these Top Ten Tuesday prompts, but... such is life. I CAN'T CHANGE WHO I AM. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

I did my best to narrow it down to my top ten all-time favorite young adult novels. And even that got a little squishy. (What about the books that were never reeeaallly classified as YA, because YA didn't exist when they were published? What about ________?! That's definitely not YA but it's absolutely one of my ALL-TIME FAVORITES!!!! etc.)

Soooo... okay. I fudged it a little. But rules are meant to be broken, right? Right.

1. Charmed Thirds by Megan McCafferty

I'm pretty sure most of the Jessica Darling lovers hate this book. Charmed Thirds is my favorite. It's soul-crushing and heart-breaking and has countless moments and lines that I'll never, ever be able to get out of my head. (Just a reminder that Marcus Flutie is probably the fictional love of my life.)

2. This Lullaby by Sarah Dessen

Not surprisingly, Dexter Jones is also on my list of boy crushes. I feel like I've touched on this before, but Remy Starr is ME. I mean, she's the exact opposite of me (ESTJ? vs. INFP), but emotionally, SHE'S ME. And this book changed the way I look at relationships and vulnerability.

3. Quintana of Charyn by Melina Marchetta (goddess of everything!)

I can't even think about this book without wanting to cry. The whole Lumatere Chronicles series is gorgeous and intense – if you haven't read Finnikin of the Rock, then drop everything and do so NOW – but Quintana is perhaps my favorite, favorite, favorite Marchetta character ever. And that's really saying something, because MM writes so many wonderful characters with magnificent stories. So many passages that still punch me in the gut.

4. Missing Angel Juan by Francesca Lia Block

Francesca Lia Block was a HUGE deal to me when I was sixteen years old. When I read Witch Baby, the second in her Dangerous Angels "series," it was like I had a moment of awakening – of yes, finally!, someone who sees me for who I am. Missing Angel Juan was kind of revolutionary for me because it made me realize that I could be loved – even with my weird, messy, wild thing, snarl ball ways – but that I could also be okay on my own, and that it was important to know how to be alone and to have healthy relationships.

5. Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler & illustrated by Maira Kalman

I read this in college and re-read it and cried for days. Min's writing style reminded me of my own. Her experiences felt like ones that I had had. When I read this book, I would totally have written sincere, guileless letters to a former love. Why We Broke Up was the perfect mix of quirky romance and startling honesty, and it just hit me unexpectedly in all the right ways.

6. Wild Awake by Hilary T. Smith

I don't know if I'll ever really be able to articulate what makes this book so important to me. Instead I'll toot my own horn and link you what what I think is the PERFECT playlist for it. I'll also include what I wrote in a previous Top Ten Tuesday post:

Hilary T. Smith is amazing for writing this book about people living with mental health issues. It doesn't tiptoe around anything but neither is it your standard clinical categorization of "so-and-so suffers from this and that." It's a barbaric yawp over the rooftops of the world, in more ways than one – yes, it's about mental illness, but it's also about life and how we choose to exist in and interact with the world. Unexpectedly, Kiri and Skunk have become one of my absolute favorite literary couples. They're both so imperfect and screwed up and uncontainable and dealing with their own traumatic memories, yet they help one another become healthier and happier without forcing each other to be different.

7. Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli

I guess this is what people would consider a window book – I must have read this when I was twelve or thirteen years old. It opened my eyes to the idea of nonconformity. It made me realize it was okay to be different. I know the world is different now, and probably every kid grows up today being told that it's okay to be different (the perks of being raised by Gen X/Gen Y, I guess), but for me it was a life-changer.

8. Wild Things by Clay Carmichael

Not strictly YA, but it's an incredibly underrated comfort read. It's whimsical and so human. So many elements still linger with me, from the description of Uncle Henry's incredible sculptures, to the detached chapters written from the perspective of a feral cat, to the colorful characters and their relationships. It's really, really great.

9. Siege and Storm by Leigh Bardugo

I know. This one is probably a weird pick, but I swear to god it changed me. In Siege and Storm, everything was shades of gray. You didn't know who was really bad, or who was really good, and it messed with your head (and your heart, ouch, ouch), and it's just such a perfect reflection of life. (Click here for my short review for Siege and Storm.)

10. The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Finally. The Little Prince. Again, LIFE-CHANGING. I finally watched the film adaptation on Netflix a few weeks ago – it was all wrong, ALL WRONG – I knew it would be, but I still bawled watching it. The Little Prince is a classic. Relevant from childhood to adulthood. It means the world to me.

Bonus! (because I really wanted my picture rows to be nice and even)

Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill is very much settled in the land of adult/literary fiction, but I died reading this book. It made me angry and incredibly depressed and blew me away and I underlined basically the entire book.

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman is perhaps my favorite Neil Gaiman book. Eerie and quaint and sad and sweet... The perfect comfort read for a self-proclaimed weirdo. If you haven't read this before, add it to your fall reading list. With a cup of tea or hot chocolate, it'll feel 100% spot-on.

So, those are my favorite young adult(-ish) books. I feel pretty good about the accuracy of this list. Do you feel like you know me better now?! (Probably not because I already talk about these books all the time anyway.) Have you read any of these books I mentioned? Did you like them?? What are your all-time favorite YA books & why?

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Waiting on Wednesday: The Year of the Crocodile

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.

After reading Courtney Milan's Trade Me – the first title in her contemporary NA series (review to come...) – I've become so obsessed with Tina and Blake. The next book (it's a short story, really) from their point of view is called The Year of the Crocodile and it is all I can think about.

Reasons why I'm dying to read The Year of the Crocodile:

  • More from a Chinese female MC who is bright, sassy, and fierce AF! I love Tina. What a lovable porcupine.
  • More from Blake! Yay Blake. I love Blake. I need more men like Blake in my life.
  • Relationship development. I just want to know what those two are up to. Are they stable or still figuring things out? Are they in lovebird stage? What are they dealing with now???
  • When parents collide. Tina's funny, quirky, hardheaded social activist/anti-cop mother meets Blake's self-proclaimed asshole billionaire dad. Hilarity ensues.
  • Chinese New Year! I love when authors inject real parts of the culture into the story. Courtney Milan did such a great job of it in Trade Me so I look forward to seeing how she does it here.

What upcoming releases are you excited about??

Title: The Year of the Crocodile (Cyclone #2.5)
Author: Courtney Milan
Publisher: Courtney Milan
Publication date: September 12, 2016

Summary (via Goodreads):

Tina Chen and Blake Reynolds have been together for almost a year. In that time, they’ve grown closer on just about every front. The one exception? Blake’s father has never let anything stop him. Tina’s parents have never let anyone push them around. And they’ve never met.

That’s about to change. But don’t worry—fireworks are traditional at Chinese New Years.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Seven "Educational" TV Shows I Love

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

I went through a long phase of not watching television. It's quite possible that I didn't regularly watch television from high school through college.

If you're thinking it's because I have great willpower, I'll tell you right now that you're wrong.

My problem with TV is that I get sucked in. I'm a little too empathetic and characters feel a little too real, and I just need to know that they end up okay. (If you're a book lover, I'm sure you can relate.) So I end up on Netflix, which just enables me to binge watch every single episode from every single season of so many great, compelling shows until my eyes glaze over and my brain melts.

My avoidance of television is purely out of self-preservation.

To this day, I still try to avoid going down the rabbit hole of TV obsession. Sometimes I'm successful. Usually I'm not. Sometimes I fudge it by watching pseudo-educational shows – at least I'm learning things, right?! It could come in handy in case I ever write a novel about lumberjacks in space. I'm very good at rationalizing to myself.

These are some of my favorite semi-educational TV shows:

Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey

My favorite episode might be "Sisters of the Sun," which pays homage to two female astronomers – Cecilia Payne and Annie Jump Cannon – and their underrated, undercelebrated contributions to astronomy. It has a great introduction as well, with Neil deGrasse Tyson sharing the mythology behind the Pleiades, otherwise known as the Seven Sisters, and now I always think of that story whenever I see that constellation in the sky.

Switched At Birth

Remember when I said I had been taking an American Sign Language class? The show itself is basically a young person's soap opera, but I love that it casts real deaf actors. I watch this show all the time to help me practice my ASL. It's made me more socially aware, as well.

Friday Night Lights

I totally binge watched all five seasons of Friday Night Lights. It's one of my all-time favorite TV shows. (The first season is absolutely the best.) (Matt Saracen!) The only reason I'm including it in this list of "semi-educational" television is because it taught me SO MUCH about football. For someone who grew up in the football-loving South but never had any interest whatsoever in the game, it was also something of a sociocultural education & exploration of stereotypical American high school culture. (I told you I was good at lying rationalizing to myself.)

Barnwood Builders

I discovered this last Christmas when I was home with my family. (My parents get all the good channels, including DIY Network.) Barnwood Builders is about a team of guys around the West Virginia area who salvage centuries-old barnwood and build new structures with it. I realize it sounds lame, but it's not, I promise! The guys have such a great camaraderie – they come from different walks of life, some are old, some are young – and you also learn so much about woodworking and American pioneer history. It's great. 10/10, do recommend!

Dr. Jeff: Rocky Mountain Vet

This show on Animal Planet is such a comfort to me. Dr. Jeff is so passionate about what he does. He believes in accessibility, so he runs a low-cost veterinary clinic in Denver and travels with his amazing team across North America with his free mobile clinic, which allows them to help so many animals (and, by extension, people).

Since watching the show, I think I've become a little more compassionate towards people, more okay with the circle of life (and death), and definitely more comfortable with medical stuff – I can watch vets perform basically any kind of surgery without cringing. (Except for eye surgery. I'm not quite there yet.)

Anthony Bourdain's Parts Unknown

Watch the episodes of countries you have no interest in or have never even heard of. Those are the most fascinating. You'll likely never make it to Gaza or the Congo. You may never eat at Noma in Copenhagen – you almost definitely won't ever go foraging with René Redzepi.

And hey, maybe you've never wanted to. Maybe you've never even thought about any of these things before. But when you explore all of these places, cultures, histories, and people through his eyes, you might feel a twinge of longing. You might be in awe at how overwhelmingly large the world is – and at the same time, how small.

Rebelde Way

No one has ever heard of this show from the early 2000s. But I bet some of you (any one? any one?) know of its much more famous remake, Rebelde, which spawned the Mexican pop sensation RBD.

Rebelde Way is an Argentinean telenovela that follows four characters – Marizza, Mía, Pablo, and Miguel – as they attend a prestigious private boarding school and deal with all kinds of challenges. It also helps you pick up (Argentine) Spanish pretty quickly.

I started watching this show in high school, but I've never actually seen all of the episodes because there are like ten bajillion of them (telenovelas generally air every weeknight... so 5 episodes a week, and the show ran for a year and half). But I love it so much. It's one of my favorites still.

Do you like any of these shows? Have you heard of any of them? Do you watch educational television/documentary series at all? What are your favorites, and is there anything else on TV that you're excited for this fall?

Thursday, September 1, 2016

August Month in Rewind

August is over! Goodbye, heat wave (hopefully). Goodbye, weird summer. Hello fall, pumpkin spice lattes, and being a basic Betty who lives in sweaters, leggings, and boots. Exclusively.

Highlights from August:

A photo posted by @tiffyofthemonts on

Got to hang out with people from the Internet! Melissa from Live Love Read was in town last weekend, so I got to meet her in person (finally), along with lovely Dana and Brittany. Social media is so amazing – I have no idea how I'd ever make friends with YA lovers otherwise, and it's incredible that we now live in an age where it's normal to meet online friends in person. As Drake says, what a time to be alive!

I finished my Level 1 American Sign Language class! Not exaggerating, I have been trying to learn ASL for years. One of my work friends referred me to this great school earlier this summer and I finally registered for the class. It's been such an incredible education. I'm excited to start Level 2 in a few weeks.

December travel plans! I booked my plane ticket for Paris. I'll be traveling solo (I think) for 2 weeks and hopefully meeting up with my friend Carmay at some point. I plan to drink a decent amount of chocolat chaud (and pretend I'm Anna in Anna and the French Kiss) and speak to people in abysmal broken French. Allons-y!

Books I finished this month:

Cloudwish by Fiona Wood (4.5/5)
Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo (3.5/5)
The Clasp by Sloane Crosley (3.5/5)
Trade Me by Courtney Milan (4.5/5)

Things I bookmarked:

The Best Player in the NFL Is Also the Weirdest. A story on Von Miller who is a football player. I can't remember what team he plays for, but that's not important. What's important is that he's working on a Plan B (in case the football thing doesn't work out), and Plan B involves him being a chicken farmer. A chicken farmer! Von Miller is officially my favorite non-fictional football player and also the only non-fictional football player I know.

Chasing Banana: One Girl's Quest to Find Britney Spears' 2001 VMA Snake. This diligence. This perseverance. I applaud the journalist who wrote this article, which is not only enlightening and interesting but also hope-restoring.

This Twitter thread of diverse book recommendations and aesthetics. Everything about this is flawless. And while we're at it, have a look at Maf's new adult book recs too.

Why Do So Many Women Who Study Engineering Leave the Field? Harvard Business Review reiterates everything we know about women in STEM fields with a mic drop-worthy conclusion (emphasis mine):

Women’s experience of their education differed along two critical dimensions – they encountered a culture where sexism and stereotypes were left unaddressed, and they saw only lip service offered toward improving society – and both of these disproportionately alienated them.

The number of women and men are nearly equal in law and medicine, and the number of women in basic sciences is growing annually. With such a low proportion of female engineers nationally, educators and businesses need to pay more attention to how an occupation founded on a commitment to complex problem-solving so consistently fails to repair its well-documented gender problem.

Efforts focused only on changing the curriculum are insufficient because they simply reproduce the norms and practices of the profession. In order to curb the high rates of women leaving the field, engineering programs need to address gendered tasking and expectations among teams, in class and at internship work sites. The culture has to learn to take women seriously.

Recent obsessions:

I've been putting together my own syllabus/curriculum to educate myself on the art of storytelling, and the Enchanted Realm of René Magritte, an immersive play from Exquisite Corpse Company, was something I happened upon a few weeks back.

The play is set in a house on Governor's Island – the premise is that René Magritte is selling his childhood home, and we the audience are potential buyers. Through the play, we get to explore the life and inspirations of Magritte through interactive storytelling.

The Enchanted Realm of René Magritte was mesmerizing and such a wonderful experience. To this day, I am still thinking about it and the marvelous cast, set design, choreography, lighting, script... I want to find more stuff like this.

What I'm looking forward to in September:

Crooked Kingdom launch party at the Strand later this month! I am most certain it will be a total shitshow but as we all know, I love(!!) Leigh Bardugo so I'll deal.

How was the month of August for you? What good things are happening in September? I feel like it was a rough month for a lot of people – really, I feel like 2016 has been a rough year in general. Here's to a new season of learning, growing, and being brave enough to put ourselves out there again and again and again.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Cloudwish by Fiona Wood

Title: Cloudwish
Author: Fiona Wood
Publisher: Poppy
Publication date: October 18, 2016
Rating: ★★★★½

Summary (via Goodreads):

For Vân Uoc, fantasies fall into two categories: nourishing or pointless. Daydreaming about attending her own art opening? Nourishing. Daydreaming about Billy Gardiner, star of the rowing team who doesn't even know she's alive? Pointless.

So Vân Uoc tries to stick to her reality--keeping a low profile as a scholarship student at her prestigious Melbourne private school, managing her mother's PTSD from a traumatic emigration from Vietnam, and admiring Billy from afar. Until she makes a wish that inexplicably--possibly magically--comes true. Billy actually notices her. In fact, he seems to genuinely like her. But as they try to fit each other into their very different lives, Vân Uoc can't help but wonder why Billy has suddenly fallen for her. Is it the magic of first love, or is it magic from a well-timed wish that will eventually, inevitably, come to an end?

A million thanks to the publisher for sending me an advance copy. Cloudwish hooked me from the very beginning and did not disappoint.

While the story itself is compelling (give me the "girl and boy come from two different worlds and fall in love?" trope any day of the week... especially if mixed class or mixed race relationships are involved), I was most notably blown away by how personal it felt and how deeply I could relate to Vân Ûóc and her thoughts and feelings and experiences.

Let me be very clear: Vân Ǔóc and I come from two different backgrounds. I am Taiwanese-American with parents who immigrated to America out of their own free will. They went to college in Taiwan and were able to pursue further education when they moved to the States. They had NOTHING when they came here but they were not refugees by any means. In spite of our differences, I still understood Ván Ûóc as though I were reading my own diary.

Having grown up in a suburb filled with affluent white kids, I know the feeling of being an "other." I understand the social navigation, the responsibilities, trying to measure up and fit in, trying to keep school and home separate, the shame of being part of a different culture, and the guilt that comes from feeling ashamed at all...

But I also know what it's like to balance all of that with dreams. And expectations. I was the English-loving STEM student who spent her lunch hour in the art room working on mixed media pieces or in my sketchbook and tutoring kids who needed physics help after school. The premise behind my AP Studio Art portfolio? Head vs. heart. Home. Belonging. Choices. I applied to college as an engineering major. (And eventually transferred into the humanities.)

So I get it.

How refreshing to see a fragment of my own experiences reflected back at me. (How silly that such a small thing feels "refreshing"—for white readers, this is just a given.) But Ván Ûóc is smart and thoughtful and proud and insecure and observant and dedicated and driven and creative and reflective and funny and socially conscious and politically aware and practical and daydreamy and weird and a typical teenage girl and also not a typical teenage girl at all. She reminds me of myself at age 17. Kindred spirits. I can't help but think that if I had read this book back then, I would have been all the better for it. I could have learned a lot from a girl like Ván Ûóc when I was 17.

But back to the book itself. The story was charming, and the characters delightful and sincere and real. (I'm so glad Michael showed up again. He was my favorite in Wildlife, so I was pleased to see him still doing his thing. I also liked Billy Gardiner—he's kind of a lovable idiot who is courteous and means well and is very polite to parents but is self-assured and arrogant and maybe a little offensive and ignorant because he was born and raised privileged. He reminded me of some of the boys I knew in high school, whom I looked at in very much the same way that Ván Ûóc looks at Billy.)

The relationships are complex and varied—there's friends and then there's school friends, and first love, of course... But you also have a mother/daughter relationship that is riddled with the complexity of culture "clash" and additional baggage, and it makes the interactions feel that much more poignant and sweeping. And the writing was rich and clever—what a voice. It carried me through the pages and left me satisfied but also still wishing I could stay just a little longer.

Books that feature POC characters and are written by white authors can often go awry, but I thought this was done incredibly well. To me it really feels like the author did her due diligence in researching and speaking with many actual Vietnamese people—in other words, letting Ván Ûóc speak her story without it being muffled or slanted by white preconceptions. Does the story rely on certain stereotypes? Sure. But those stereotypes exist and are still relevant today, so I'm happy to see those stereotypes (and their effects/influences) as an important aspect—but not the main focus—of this story.

Anyway. This review has turned into one massive blog entry so I'll sign off here and just leave you with this: Cloudwish is easily my favorite Fiona Wood book by far. I feel blown away and want to flip back to the very beginning and reread it all again right away.

Monday, August 8, 2016


I feel like I've been caught off guard with all the book releases that are just around the corner. It's making me realize just how far behind I am in my reading list. I've prioritized my TBR on Goodreads (from highest to lowest priority: "read like you're running out of time", "follow through goddamnit," "show me how to say no to this," and "nope not gonna happen"). However... my shelves are starting to merge because I keep accidentally buying books from my "follow through goddamnit" shelf, which makes me feel like I need to prioritize those higher since I'm actually spending money on those books. Bookworm problems. Welcome to my brain.

So, ANYWAY... I'm using this post as a note to myself of what needs to happen and by when(ish) so that I can have some semblance of control as far as books are concerned.

Tiffany's Official List of Books to Read:

  2. Tell the Truth, Shame the Devil by Melina Marchetta, goddess of everything **okay so this isn't actually out until October but Melina Marchetta lives high on my priority list in general so she can just stay here and hang out
  3. ✔ The Clasp by Sloane Crosley **I don't particularly want to read this book but it's for my book club and in the name of expanding my reading horizons, I will do my best to follow through... READ IN SEPTEMBER – if you can manage after Six of Crows, that is
  4. ✔ The Wrath and the Dawn (re-read so you can remember what happens before you read...)
  5. The Rose and the Dagger (but maybe you should first read...)
  6. The Moth & the Flame / ✔ The Crown & the Arrow / ✔ The Mirror & the Maze (?)
  7. Summer Skin by Kirsty Eagar **ask Aunt Christine to buy in Australia... or maybe purchase in December when you're tentatively in Australia it's getting released in the United States! (in 2018!)
  8. Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi **OCTOBER BOOK CLUB
  9. Every Word by Ellie Marney **technically I should read this asap but Book 3 doesn't currently have a US release date lol lol lol </3 BUT maybe I can buy this in Australia even though my covers won't match
  10. Iron to Iron by Ryan Graudin (I was so excited for this e-novella so WHY HAVEN'T I READ IT YET)
  11. Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley **out in October although it might not actually be released in the US until later but we'll just keep this as a placeholder for now
  12. Blood for Blood by Ryan Graudin **out in November 2016
  13. Strange the Dreamer **really shouldn't even be on this list since it's not out until 2017 but ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ NEW LAINI TAYLOR BOOK WOO!
  14. Between the World & Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates **DECEMBER BOOK CLUB HIGH PRIORITY ALERT ALERT READ THIS although you probably won't be able to attend this book club meeting... maybe it'll be rescheduled for January? – discuss with Louise
  15. The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen **for book club, Pulitzer Prize winner
Listing all of those out definitely did not make me feel any better. But I will definitely put Six of Crows on my list for late August/early September reading, which will probably give me just enough time to experience a quarter-life crisis and obsess over the book for a couple of weeks before I am able to pick up where I left off and read Crooked Kingdom. I'm really dedicated to that instant gratification.

Wish me luck!

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Currently Reading: Kitchens of the Great Midwest

Hi there. Hope your summer's been going well. Haven't been super interested in blogging lately, but I've still been reading and buying too many books. I started working on my manuscript again... and then put it aside because I think it would be better served in a different medium. (But I'm excited to work on this project and I'll do my best to post sporadic updates as I continue to make progress.) I've also been getting back into the swing of reading books that I might not normally pick up – i.e. non-YA. It's been nice to read works that reexamine the human experience.

I'm reading Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal for my book club at work. It's the first book I've wanted to read since Everything I Never Told You way back when. (Wow, it's been a year already.)

Kitchens of the Great Midwest is delightfully quirky and very charming – and I was getting ready to write it off as an easy, breezy read, until I got to one particular paragraph in a chapter narrated by a character named Jordy. For various reasons, I'm not going to republish that paragraph here, but I will say that it's the first time in a very long time that I had such a strong personal reaction to something that happens in a book.

I've cried over characters before – their stories, their trials, their pain – but I've almost always had this undercurrent of awareness that those characters are separate from me. That they exist in a different context, a different plane. That they belong to the world of beautifully complex, well-crafted stories. Perhaps my emotional response to those characters is amplified by the startling and heart-wrenching awareness (or denial) that they are not, in fact, REAL and that their stories and the remainder of their lives are forever unknowable and untouchable, fixed and immutable.

By contrast, my reaction to Jordy's chapter – and not even the whole chapter... it's literally one sentence – has actually very little to do with Jordy and everything to do with the unexpected precision with which it accounts for a really universal human experience... I wish I could explain it better though. This sentence, it's such a small detail – a throwaway paragraph, even – but it comes up out of something that, for me, rings so clear and true. It's like the author was tying strings to words while I wasn't watching, reviving old memories and emotions and personal experiences in my subconscious mind, just orchestrating everything behind my back, and then all of a sudden – he tautened the rope and stopped me cold and all of those feelings came rushing out like a dam.

Maybe it's one of those you had to be there moments... or maybe you just have to be me to fully get this particular instance. But I do hope that this – in general, being knocked back by the unexpected truth/resonance in a work – is something you've experienced while reading. Or just something you can relate to... It doesn't often happen to me, but it's these kinds of moments when I feel like I'm becoming more of who I am... more in touch with humanity (the beauty/ugliness, the joy/suffering, the exquisite within the ordinary), with the people around me, with myself.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Review / Truthwitch by Susan Dennard

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

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.

A list of things I loved about Truthwitch:

1: Safi and Iseult's BFFship. Totally heartfelt and inspiring and honestly not forced or cheesy at all. They have their own lives, they hustle, but they depend on each other and they take care of each other and they prioritize each other's needs before their own. It's awesome, and it makes me want to find a like-minded assassin/thief BFF to Netflix and chill with on the weekends.

2: The characters, who are all even better than I could have imagined. Every single one of them.

2a: Uncle Eron, Safi's perpetually drunk uncle. He doesn't feature that heavily in this book, but goddamn if he doesn't make your head spin.

2b: Iseult. She is so easy for me to relate to (I love her "aloofness" and I really understand the struggle between feeling too much and not feeling enough). She's probably the second most compelling character to me, the first being...

2c: Aeduan – what a cranky snarl ball! All throughout her promotional interviews and tours, Susan Dennard kept emphasizing that Aeduan may or may not be a villain, and I kept thinking to myself, "Yeah, yeah, he's bad on the outside but good on the inside (#MorallyComplicatedYA)." I was convinced he'd start off as a terrible person, but turn into a dark Prince Charming halfway through the book. Easy peasy. But no – Susan Dennard has some tricks up her sleeve. Aeduan is such an interesting character – so similar to Iseult in that he's learned to distance himself from his emotions – with an even more interesting background that I'm excited to explore over the course of the next few books.

2d: Kullen! I have a crush on Kullen! I want a novella about him and Ryber!

2e: Merik! I did not think I was going to fall for Merik. I'm not usually a sucker for the handsome prince with washboard abs, but everything changed with these four words: "Your loss, I promise." (!!!) I reread that sentence, like, FIFTY TIMES and blushed for the rest of the day.

3: Being able to jump from one character's perspective to another. Variety is the spice of life, and it's really fun to be able to hop around from location to location and experience so many different things in this huge, wonderful world.

4: The moments when characters start to fall in love. There are so many magical scenes littered throughout the book that really shine. Such a treat to read.

5: The action. Listen – I'm not the biggest fan of action-adventure stories because (a) I'm a crybaby scaredy-cat and (b) I'm more of a sucker for stories with lots of navel-gazing, sadness, and angst. But the action in Truthwitch is fantastic. It's what propels the story forward. It's compelling and exciting, and it's impossible not to turn the page.

With all that being said, there are two things keeping me from liking Truthwitch more. The writing is awkward at times – it feels a little bit too conversational, almost like the author is sitting next to me, telling me the story, rather than me reading and being fully immersed in it. But that's totally a personal preference – I'm sure others will see this and have NO clue what I'm talking about.

The pacing is the other thing that bothered me about this book. The story starts out with a bang – you're thrown into this world that is huge and complicated, and it takes a while before you really understand what's going on. And then the story slows down a lot. In the first half, you're mostly getting grounded in the historical and political context of the Witchlands, while the second half is where the story really gets off the ground. It's a bit of a slog, and I do wish that those details had been explained more efficiently... but hopefully that just means that once Book 2, Windwitch, is published, we'll be familiar with the context already and it will be smooth sailing from there. (Get it? Because he's a sailor/ship captain? Right? *slinks away*)

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Weekend Reads

Some recent reads that have lingered in my mind... These will go perfect with some sunshine, iced coffee, and a lazy weekend. Feel free to share anything you've bookmarked lately – I love reading these interest pieces and spending way too much time pondering over them later.

The Cure for Fear

(click to read)

Kindt's work brings to mind Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. But she prefers to say her treatment "neutralizes" fear memories, instead of erasing them.

What if you could get rid of (or "neutralize") your fears? Would you do it, if you were given the chance? I think this is some of the most fascinating research I've come across in a long, long time.

Forget Mindfulness, Stop Trying to Find Yourself, and Start Faking It

(click to read)

What's wrong with a life plan? When you plan your life, you make decisions for a future self based on the person you are today, not the one you will become.

I'm constantly bouncing back and forth trying to figure out what to do with my life and how I can be better at everything. It's straight up exhausting. More and more I wonder if I'm better off just distancing myself from the conventional wisdom of the modern-day world (and its obsession with cultivating the best version of yourself and optimizing every aspect of life)... and letting myself just be... me. Weaknesses, flaws, inconsistencies included.

Gems from Quora: On Being an Introvert

(click to read)

People think I am weird and avoid me because I am quiet and avoid small talk. I have tried my whole life to change this, but it seems that I am just a born introvert. How can I change, and should I change?

Totally empowering and inspiring and comforting for introverts everywhere! I loved this little bit: "A world without Introverts would be a world with few scientists, musicians, artists, poets, filmmakers, doctors, mathematicians, writers, and philosophers. That being said, there are still plenty of techniques an Extrovert can learn in order to interact with Introverts. (Yes, I reversed these two terms on purpose to show you how biased our society is.)"

The Urban Poor You Haven't Noticed: Millennials Who're Broke, Hungry, But On Trend

(click to read)

In a country where genuine hunger is ubiquitous, this brand of it comes via lifestyle choices. Somehow, we've built a culture that places such immense value in appearances that we'd rather spend a lot to appear full than spend a little bit to buy food.

I like to think that I'd never get to the place where I have to sacrifice my own well-being in order to keep up with the Joneses, but honestly there are probably a hundred other situations where I compromise something in order to fit in. Maybe the impacts aren't as physically apparent, but who knows what emotional or psychological effects they're having on me? Something to think about for sure.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Eleven Hours by Pamela Erens

Title: Eleven Hours
Author: Pamela Erens
Publisher: Tin House
Publication date: May 2, 2016
Rating: ★★★★

Summary (via Goodreads):
Lore arrives at the hospital alone—no husband, no partner, no friends. Her birth plan is explicit: she wants no fetal monitor, no IV, no epidural. Franckline, a nurse in the maternity ward—herself on the verge of showing—is patient with the young woman. She knows what it’s like to worry that something might go wrong, and she understands the pain when it does. She knows as well as anyone the severe challenge of childbirth, what it does to the mind and the body.

Eleven Hours is the story of two soon-to-be mothers who, in the midst of a difficult labor, are forced to reckon with their pasts and re-create their futures. Lore must disentangle herself from a love triangle; Franckline must move beyond past traumas to accept the life that’s waiting for her. Pamela Erens moves seamlessly between their begrudging friendship and the memories evoked by so intense an experience. At turns urgent and lyrical, Erens’s novel is a visceral portrait of childbirth, and a vivid rendering of the way we approach motherhood—with fear and joy, anguish and awe.

Many thanks to the publisher for sending me this electronic copy via NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

This book is SO "literary." It feels like a grad school writing prompt gone wild. But in a good way. (Really, what else would you expect from a publisher like Tin House?)

I requested Eleven Hours on NetGalley because I recognized the author, Pamela Erens. (Someone had recommended her previous book, The Virgins, as a better (less racist? - my words, not theirs) version of Eleanor & Park.) I haven't yet read The Virgins, but suffice it to say I was interested in her work.

The story is told from a third person perspective, following two characters - Lore Tannenbaum and her midwife Franckline. For me, Lore is the more compelling of the two, so I will focus on her here.

At the onset, Lore is not the most likable character. She is demanding and cool - perhaps too outwardly emotionless and independent for her own good. It's not easy to empathize with her, and the story's slightly detached point of view doesn't make it any easier. As the book progresses, we find out more about her relationships and the emotional pain she has experienced - all of the things that have led her to where she is at that moment - and though it doesn't exactly make us like her any better, it feels like we slowly come to understand her.

On a personal level, I found myself fiercely rooting for her. I understood her - I understood her compulsion to push people away in order to protect herself. I understood her need for control. I understood her seemingly cold nature and unwillingness to let herself get attached. It was fascinating to experience her journey through pregnancy, as well as her shifting attitudes toward this child that she carried.

My investment in Lore's wellbeing surprised even myself - I am not one for books about motherhood. I can barely stomach mommy blogs. A story about a woman giving birth? The miracle of life? Ummm. Thanks but no thanks. And yet I found Eleven Hours to be a surprisingly gripping read - there's just enough suspense to keep you turning the pages. For those of you who think books about birth are boring, THINK AGAIN. Birth is freaking terrifying and gory. It's like voluntarily turning your life into a horror film. Women are badass.

But I digress.

The book goes back and forth between past and present, shifting from a focus on Lore's life to Franckline's. The story seems to wander leisurely, the tension slowly building as Lore gets closer and closer to birth.

The writing really is something. Ideas are expressed so articulately - you'll read something and think, "Yes, exactly. That's exactly what it feels like." In some ways, I feel the writing is much stronger than the story. And in fact, Eleven Hours feels like less of a "story" and more like an exercise in empathy - it's like the author wanted to take a not-particularly-likable character and make the reader want to fight for her by the end of the story, whether or not you've experienced motherhood or pregnancy yourself. Whatever the intention, it worked for me. I am much more conscious and simultaneously in a state of awe and fear of pregnancy after reading this book. Lore Tannenbaum is certainly not someone I'll forget in a jiffy.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Kitchen Table Talk: How Do I Be A Normal Human Being?

Trying out this YouTube thing... because sometimes it's nice to see a face with the blog. And because sometimes you want something that feels a little more like conversation.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Fever at Dawn by Péter Gárdos

Title: Fever at Dawn
Author: Péter Gárdos, Elizabeth Szász (translation)
Publisher: Anansi International
Publication date: April 30, 2016
Rating: ★★★

Summary (via Goodreads):

Twenty-five-year-old Holocaust survivor Miklós is being shipped from the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp to Gotland, Sweden, to receive treatment at the Larbro Hospital. Here he is sentenced to death again: he is diagnosed with tuberculosis and his doctors inform him that he has six months to live. But Miklós decides to wage war on his own fate: he writes 117 letters to 117 Hungarian girls, all of whom are being treated in the Swedish camps, with the aim of eventually choosing a wife from among them.

Two hundred kilometres away, in another Swedish rehabilitation camp, nineteen-year-old Lili receives Miklós’s letter. Since she is bedridden for three weeks due to a serious kidney problem, out of boredom — and curiosity — she decides to write back.

The slightly formal exchange of letters becomes increasingly intimate. When the two finally manage to meet, they fall in love and are determined to marry, despite the odds that are against them.

Based on the original letters written by Miklós and Lili (ninety-six altogether), Fever at Dawn is a tale of passion, striving, and betrayal; true and false friendships; doubt and faith; and the redeeming power of love.

Many thanks to the publisher for sending me this electronic copy via NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

The synopsis of Fever at Dawn is far more compelling than the book itself. My problem is this: the storyline meanders on and on, with far too many loose ends left behind. By the time you reach the end of the book, you're left wondering why you even bothered to read the thing you just read.

Fever at Dawn is based on the real life story of the Jewish-Hungarian author/director Péter Gárdos's parents, which perhaps makes the story more interesting than it would be otherwise, but it also makes me wonder if the author just took bits and pieces of real life, added in a weak backstory, and called it a day. There were moments that stood out to me, but there was not enough "plot" or momentum to really hold everything together. In some ways, it felt like I was reading a fictionalized account of someone's daily journal - some things were interesting, but on the whole, it was missing a roadmap. If you were to ask me, I don't think I could even tell you what the real point of the story was - the plot structure was unclear and really lacking.

Like I said, the description of Fever at Dawn oversells the book for me - the themes mentioned (betrayal, friendship, striving, love...) are all there, but they feel like afterthoughts - somehow disjointed from the essence of the story. But I do have to say that the writing is lovely and well-translated by Eliabeth Szász. The characters are also interesting - particularly Miklós, the optimistic and quirky and ever-hopeful protagonist. I only wish the storyline itself had been more carefully thought through.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

Title: Me Before You (Me Before You #1)
Author: Jojo Moyes
Publisher: Pamela Dorman Books/Viking
Publication date: December 31, 2012
Rating: ★★★★★

Summary (via Goodreads):

Lou Clark knows lots of things. She knows how many footsteps there are between the bus stop and home. She knows she likes working in The Buttered Bun tea shop and she knows she might not love her boyfriend Patrick.

What Lou doesn't know is she's about to lose her job or that knowing what's coming is what keeps her sane.

Will Traynor knows his motorcycle accident took away his desire to live. He knows everything feels very small and rather joyless now and he knows exactly how he's going to put a stop to that.

What Will doesn't know is that Lou is about to burst into his world in a riot of colour. And neither of them knows they're going to change the other for all time.

This was a great book. It was touching, poignant, funny, sad – all of that stuff you might expect from a book that brands itself as a "heartbreakingly romantic novel.” And maybe if I had read this at some other point in my life, I’d have more to say along those lines – but the fact of the matter, and what I’ve found to be true time and time again, is that what you get out of a book depends entirely on where you are in your life.

There are some moments in your life that you recognize as turning points. Whether it’s in your professional development, in your relationships, whether it’s emotionally. My work friend Anita lent me her copy of Me Before You just as I was standing on the cusp of the most devastating moments in my life so far… so it wasn’t hard to identify with this story. The love. The loss. Both of which can be seen on so many levels.

In some ways it is soothing to read all the things you’re feeling: this weird hysteria and the irrational urge to laugh. The inexplicable need to stop time. The feeling of not being able to. Wanting to disconnect and, at the same time, to wrap every fiber of your being around a moment, to keep it from escaping, to keep the memory from fading away. All of the things I felt while reading this book mirrored all of the things I felt while living my real life, and it was horrible, wretched, devastating, completely soul-shattering. And it was also somehow a salve… like a gentle touch on the back of your neck to remind you that it’s okay to feel the things you’re feeling. And that you’re not the only person who’s bathed in this ocean of grief before.

I’m keeping this book for myself and buying Anita a new copy because this copy that she’s lent me now has creases in the pages, drag marks, smudges and spots, that are important to me. They are physical reminders of things that happened that I want to keep close to me forever.

I really have nothing else to say so I'm going to leave you with a song that I listened to on my way home from the airport that I think fits the tone of the book. It also just resonates so deeply with me on a very personal level. I don't even know what the lyrics are, but it feels like a blanket and I had to try really hard to keep from bawling my eyes out right there on the bus.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Weekend Reads

Every so often I find myself in a reading drought, where I don't want to read the things that I normally want to read – no contemporary novels, no fantasy, nothing even fiction... I just want to read interesting, thought-provoking things where I can learn something without committing to a 300-page journey that requires the suspension of disbelief or the exercise of my imagination. Most of the time, my craving results in obsessively reading the news, magazine articles, and occasionally the self-help listicle (but all of those listicles tend to blend together after a while), so I thought I might start sharing some of my favorite reads, since I spend so much of my downtime on Medium and Pocket and all those other websites/apps anyway.

Inside Harvey Levin's TMZ

Found via Danielle Binks! Such a fascinating world we live in, where celebrity secrets are a commodity, and their comings and goings are written about by people who are essentially real beat reporters. There's a lot of fluff in those stories, but there's also an incredible power in being the first to document something that sets the pop culture wheels in motion – or to even be the media outlet that pushes pop culture in a certain direction. (See: Paris Hilton bringing some random girl named Kim to a nightclub in LA. And TMZ being the first to capture it. Oh, and by the way, Kim's last name is Kardashian.)

The behind-the-scenes look at TMZ is totally compelling. It's a game of people using people to get ahead – except here, the terms are almost mutually agreed upon. The average person might think celebrity gossip is trashy and despicable, a tasteless violation of privacy, but the reality (as far as TMZ is concerned) is that there's an intricate dance involved in validating information and toeing the line between destroying a person and propping them up. It's more than mindless chatter. There's strategy and relationship management and creativity and, yeah, maybe Harvey Levin is a complete dick, but he's also really bright and really resourceful, and I kind of have to admire him for that.

What Romance Really Means After 10 Years of Marriage

(click to read)

Appropriate read for Valentine's Day. I can't really speak too much about this particular article – love is one of those things that I have very complicated, personal views on – so I'll just leave you with these passages that I really like & that offer some kind of paradigm shift:

"Someone is dying in their own bed, and someone’s spouse is sitting at the bedside, holding the dying person’s hand, and also handling all kinds of unspeakable things that people who aren’t drowning in gigantic piles of cash sometimes have to handle all by themselves. To me, that’s romance. Romance is surviving and then not surviving anymore, without being ashamed of any of it.

"[A]t some point, let’s be honest, death supplies the suspense. How long can this glorious thing last? your eyes sometimes seem to ask each other. You, for one, really hope this lasts a whole hell of a lot longer. You savor the repetitive, deliciously mundane rhythms of survival, and you want to keep surviving. You want to muddle through the messiness of life together as long as you possibly can. That is the summit. Savor it. That is the very definition of romance."

Was Dr. Asperger A Nazi? The Question Still Haunts Autism

(click to read)

This one ties back to my post a few weeks ago about All the Light We Cannot See. It really gets at one of the questions I perpetually struggle with: How do we decide if someone is "good" or "bad"? What lens are we using, and how can we be sure that that's the right one? After all, we're inherently biased and limited by our own experiences – most of us probably lack the foresight and ability to understand the long game strategy, or even just the bigger picture. I especially appreciate this sentiment: The controversy also gets to the heart of the difficulty of accurately judging the behavior of people living under brutal regimes, particularly decades after the fact.

This Is How Paris Hilton Fooled the Entire United States of America

(click to read)

Speaking of Paris Hilton... This is an article I read a few weeks ago and posted as an afterthought on my other/new blog – which, by the way, I've almost officially given up on. Anyway, I thought this was a really intriguing story about the personas we build – the way we play ourselves to play others. It's similar to that TMZ article above, in that there's people who manipulate circumstances to get ahead, but the manipulation isn't bad, in and of itself. People expect one thing, and you give it to them, and they get what they want, and you get ahead. And it isn't just Paris Hilton either – think about all the celebrities who you shake your head at – their ridiculous outfits, the stunts they pull, the relationships they get into... and consider that maybe some, if not all, of those actions, outfits, stunts, relationships are actually planned and carefully thought through. Is your mind blown yet?

What do you think about these reads? Are there any articles you've been reading lately that are of interest? I've been wanting to start a non-book book club – I guess it'd just be an article club a la Joanna Goddard – where you'd pick a few articles and read them and talk about them with people... Does anyone else think this would be fun??!

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Top Ten Tuesday: Ten Songs That Would Make Great Stories

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

Music is one of those things that's hard for me to talk about with other people – not because I don't want to – it's more that I sometimes just don't have the words and then I just end up fumbling for the right thing to say and it turns into a novel.

Sometimes a song, like a book, is nothing to you until and unless it reaches you at exactly the right moment, and then it transforms into this bigger thing that's just intangible – it becomes bigger than the moment alone, which is why when you listen to it three years later, you still get transported back to the memories you had and the feelings you felt and maybe even the life stage you were in. (It's also why – for me, at least – songs can sometimes feel tainted when you hear them in a car commercial or at the mall… It's like, how can this sacred thing be tossed around in such an ordinary, casual way??)

So that's part of the reason why this week's Top Ten Tuesday list is challenging for me… 10 songs I wish were books? Are we talking about songs that are the foundation for a scene in a book? Or for a character? Or for a complete story or vibe? Because some songs are for the smaller moments, and others really are enough to launch a thousand ships that could carry the threads of a story in a hundred different directions. You see my dilemma. We'll see how this goes.

1. Salted Wound by Sia
Okay, (another) one of my problems is that maybe 80% of the time, the songs I love are already associated with a book or character – either in my head, or officially. Like Salted Wound. This one is from the Fifty Shades of Grey film soundtrack. I've never read that book, but I watched two-thirds of the movie and… kind of liked it? And I love this song because I love, love, love Sia, who seems to understand the human condition so acutely. And because Salted Wound is so clearly about a character who pretends to be one thing but is really another. And I will never say no to books with complex characters!

2. Broken Piano by Frank Turner
I love Frank Turner. Love. Him. One of England's great singer-songwriters. Broken Piano is a great, raw, powerful song with a savage beat. (So great that I'm including it twice. The album version and a live version.) I feel like it would be kindred spirits with books like Wolf by Wolf or Wild Awake – books that have their own savage beat poetry.

3. Wanderlust by Frank Turner
When this album came out, I must have listened to Wanderlust a couple hundred times at least. It really shook me to the bones because I kept imagining some kind of cowboy-esque figure, a boy who doesn't stay, a boy who lives for adventure, for independence, for freedom – who somehow finds himself in love but unable (or unwilling) to stay. I'M ALREADY SAD JUST THINKING ABOUT IT.

4. Handcuffs by Brand New
This song is 1000% for the complex villains. I feel like a lot of Brand New's music (and Jesse Lacey's lyrics) lean that way in general. Dark, with a pinch of self-loathing. The words sometimes feel stark and crude, but the melodies have a strange haunting beauty of their own. See also: Jesus Christ.

5. Runaway by Matt Corby
Matt Corby is one of the great musical loves of my life. He represents a really interesting and emotionally important time in my life, and this song is equally interesting and emotionally charged. I imagine it to be about a girl who plays games, who says all the right things without meaning them, who is something between a masterpiece – wild and beautiful and reckless and free – and a real piece of work. (Look at that wordplay! Maybe I should be the one to write this book.) If you look at the lyrics objectively, it almost feels a little like a guy suffering from Nice Guy™ syndrome – how dare you put me in the Friend Zone, how dare you not want to be with me, etc. etc. – but the music is so pretty and so layered and complex that it feels less petty and more… I don't know. Sad and wistful, maybe. I could see this song being the basis for an epic love story about two people who are total trainwrecks, who fall madly in love and it doesn't end well. (Or maybe it does. Because as much as I love angst, I'm a sucker for the happy ending, too.)

6. Do What You Have to Do by Sarah McLachlan
This is one of my weirder musical obsessions, but I went through a solid 2 year period where I listened to this song on repeat for HOURS. I don't even know. It was just so filled with yearning and sadness and regret, and I think those things make for interesting characters and stories – I mean, just imagine a story about a man who wants to be with someone but has been burned one too many times and knows that he should move on but can't and instead just settles for getting through the day intact while being steeped in self-loathing. RIGHT?! Or maybe he's separated from what he really wants due to circumstance – like duty and responsibility, or societal expectations, and he's struggling with what his heart wants and what his head tells him is right. SO MANY POSSIBILITIES.

7. You Are the Moon by The Hush Sound
Literally the only song I've EVER liked by the Hush Sound. It feels like a dark love song, and I feel like that concept could be applied to a story – a dark love story, whatever that looks like…

8. We Walk by The Ting Tings
Trying to change up the pace here because I'm realizing that I have morose, depressing taste in music. Does anyone remember this band?! I like that the melody feels a little bit off-kilter and the beat is so full of energy. I could see this song transposed into a character's thought process as they're coming to grips with a realization that turns their world upside down.

9. Wedding Song by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs
It took me a long time to get around to listening to and loving the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. My sister recommended them to me for AGES before I caved – I just never thought I'd be a fan – they were always a little too edgy, too post-punk for my tastes. (I still sort of feel that way, although I have consistently LOVED all of their acoustic stuff.) Anyway, Wedding Song feels like great music for a turning point, like the perfect backdrop to a crush that develops into something else. It's the song that plays on late night aimless drives, when you start to see someone in a new light.

10. Signal Fire by Snow Patrol
One of my favorite, favorite songs. What I really love about this song, as far as storytelling is concerned, is that it sounds like a story, with the way it ebbs and flows – and it doesn't feel time- or genre-bound. It could be a story that takes place in ancient history, and it could just as easily happen in outer space a hundred years in the future. To me, it's a song and a story about love and safety and two people who depend on each other and how they keep it together in the face of external factors that threaten to tear them apart.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Note to Self (from Melina Marchetta – Part 2)

I saved this little snippet from an old interview with Melina Marchetta, goddess of everything. It's so old that the link to the source doesn't even exist anymore. In the interview, MM talks a little bit about character origins and development. Fun little bit of trivia if you've read and loved Saving Francesca and The Piper's Son, but also just good to keep in mind – that characters can come up out of seemingly nowhere.

"What I also appreciate about Francesca is that it introduced me to Tom Mackee, another favourite. He was included in the first draft as the bully; someone who was not going to be important. But I taught boys that year who began as bullies or were perceived to be and they really surprised me by the end of the year. The developing of Tom as a character got caught up in all of that. I always think he was a bit of a sneaky little bastard hiding in a part of my creative head waiting for the right moment five years later to spring out and demand a novel of his own." – Melina Marchetta

Thursday, February 4, 2016

All the Light We Cannot See

Title: All the Light We Cannot See
Author: Anthony Doerr
Publisher: Scribner
Publication date: May 6, 2014
Rating: ★★★★★

Summary (via Goodreads):

Marie-Laure lives with her father in Paris near the Museum of Natural History, where he works as the master of its thousands of locks. When she is six, Marie-Laure goes blind and her father builds a perfect miniature of their neighborhood so she can memorize it by touch and navigate her way home. When she is twelve, the Nazis occupy Paris and father and daughter flee to the walled citadel of Saint-Malo, where Marie-Laure’s reclusive great-uncle lives in a tall house by the sea. With them they carry what might be the museum’s most valuable and dangerous jewel.

In a mining town in Germany, the orphan Werner grows up with his younger sister, enchanted by a crude radio they find. Werner becomes an expert at building and fixing these crucial new instruments, a talent that wins him a place at a brutal academy for Hitler Youth, then a special assignment to track the resistance. More and more aware of the human cost of his intelligence, Werner travels through the heart of the war and, finally, into Saint-Malo, where his story and Marie-Laure’s converge.

After I finished reading the most magnificent, beautiful, thrilling, dazzling, wonderful Pulitzer Prize-winning book called All the Light We Cannot See, it got me wondering about a lot of things that I can't seem to shake...

1. The way we pass judgment on people.

The way we decide if someone is "good" or "bad," and whether or not they are redeemable. The way we hold people accountable. How do we decide who the Von Rumpels and Claude Levittes of the world are? And the Werner Pfennigs and the Frank Volkheimers? How do we decide whose decisions are justified, whose motivations are strong enough to counterbalance all the bad that they create, whose backstories rationalize their actions & where they end up?

Anthony Doerr, the author of the book, paints Werner and Volkheimer in the most fascinating light. Werner, the small boy, instrumental to the German war effort, but still just a boy, one who buttons his coat all the way to the top and pulls his sleeves down over his fingers when it's cold. Volkheimer, the giant, the one all the boys look up to – who will shoot a man in the back of his head but whose entire expression changes when he listens to classical music.

Every so often there's something in the news about former Nazi supporters being found out and tried as war criminals. I bury myself in the comments as the debate rages on: Does justice even matter at this point? Should people be held accountable for what they did 60 years ago when they were young, impressionable teenagers? Can war crimes ever be forgiven? For some people, it's black and white. And for others, it's more complicated. I'm not sure what I believe, but I do know that within a single human being, there is the capacity to be both very good and very bad. And maybe certain things in our lives push us toward a proclivity for one or the other.

2. The reality of war & the impossibility of happy endings.

When people get taken to labor camps and prison camps, they probably won't come back. And yet, one still hopes... (Maybe I am an optimist after all.) I spend so much of my life hoping for miracles, for impossibilities, for torn apart families to find each other again, for there to be a switch that makes everything better. I'm not prepared for books that mix magical realism with reality, it messes with my brain.

3. The way we trivialize the past.

We're so careless with history, the people who have lived and died. Like they're just facts in a textbook, even though they changed lives. The self-immolating monk. Emmett Till. The Vietnam War. All of these things I learned in school, reduced to grainy pictures in a history book that I never read, that was filled with doodles from all the students of years past. Historic sites are filled with tourists who say cheese as they snap their selfies. Candy wrappers strewn about military forts where men and boys gave their lives. A Buddhist saying: Nothing is sacred.

4. Courage, manifested by everyday heroes.

"When I lost my sight, Werner, people said I was brave. When my father left, people said I was brave. But it is not bravery; I have no choice. I wake up and live my life. Don't you do the same?"

I don't know, I don't know. I just want to leave these few lines here and let them germinate because it seems so natural, live your life, do what must be done, but it's still so easy to bury your head in the sand and pretend like nothing's the matter. Marie-Laure kept her head up, but it took Werner longer, and maybe it takes other people such a long time as well – so how do we learn to live our lives like we have no choice, to do what must be done, even when we're scared? What are the stakes and how do we make them matter so that we don't let our days fall away?

5. The world, which spins on and on and on.

The Sea of Flames is a blue diamond that took eons to form and has existed for eons after. It has lived through dynasties, the rise and fall of empires, endless numbers of births, deaths, and continues to live through all of these things, even as people's entire worlds come to an end.

Bombings, a new state of emergency, viruses spread. Pop culture icons die, one right after another, in the span of seven days, and the world keeps spinning on. Just headlines on the news' front page. Tomorrow the headlines will change. Maybe there will be more bombings, maybe the viruses will continue to spread, but the tides still rise and fall, Earth still spins on its axis, stars explode and die out and it takes a thousand light-years for us to even notice.

I love these books that make me question my life and my world and my society and the way we move forward in time. It's like staring up into the sky at night, away from all the lights, and you're swallowed by the vast expanse of space and you feel both big and small, important and alive but just the owner of a life that will be lived and gone in the blink of an eye.