Thursday, January 21, 2016

Quick Update.

When it comes to side projects, I have a notoriously short attention span. I love starting things, but my eyes are typically bigger than my stomach and I want to start more than I can actually handle. All this to say that I've started blogging about things that are not solely book-related at a new blog:

Little Plainsong

I'm doing this for a couple reasons, really. Won't bore you – or pique your interest... – with too many specifics but (1) I'm starting to get tired of straightforward book blogging, and (2) I want to write about more than just book-related things, and I don't have the attention span to manage multiple blogs at once! I don't know yet which one I'm going to stick with, but if Bookplates for Brunch goes silent for a while, you'll know why and you'll know where I'm at.

(And if the new blog suddenly disappears from the Internet, you'll know it's because I decided I didn't feel like blogging there anymore and probably deleted it.) (Short attention span, remember?)

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Review: Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan

Title: Echo
Author: Pam Muñoz Ryan
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Publication date: February 24, 2015
Rating: ★★★★

Summary (via Goodreads):

Lost and alone in a forbidden forest, Otto meets three mysterious sisters and suddenly finds himself entwined in a puzzling quest involving a prophecy, a promise, and a harmonica.

Decades later, Friedrich in Germany, Mike in Pennsylvania, and Ivy in California each, in turn, become interwoven when the very same harmonica lands in their lives. All the children face daunting challenges: rescuing a father, protecting a brother, holding a family together. And ultimately, pulled by the invisible thread of destiny, their suspenseful solo stories converge in an orchestral crescendo.

Richly imagined and masterfully crafted, ECHO pushes the boundaries of genre and form, and shows us what is possible in how we tell stories. The result is an impassioned, uplifting, and virtuosic tour de force that will resound in your heart long after the last note has been struck.

Pam Muñoz Ryan was one of those authors I was lucky enough to discover at an early age. I happened to randomly pick up Esperanza Rising at a school book fair way back in 2000 and it immediately became one of my favorite books. I must have read it a dozen times, I loved it so much – so when I read an article a few months back that she had won the Kirkus Prize for Young Readers' Literature for her new book, Echo, and when I saw it at a bookstore a few weeks later, I knew I couldn't leave it behind.

Echo is a gorgeous book, from the way the cover and pages are designed, to the imagery and the way the setting is described (which, in my opinion, has always been one of the author's greatest strengths), to the magical storytelling – a fairytale that briefly follows the lives of three children living in three different "eras" in history: Hitler's Germany, the Great Depression, and post-WWII segregation in the United States. Broken into separate narratives, Friedrich, Mike, and Ivy's experiences are each filtered through an historical backdrop. The tension slowly builds and the stakes continue to rise until each of their tales reaches a climax... and then, strangely, it's like the book just fades to black.

This is my biggest gripe, and it's also why I think Echo feels a bit like a beautiful writing project – because it starts with a thread of an interesting concept (a prophecy and a harmonica), but it doesn't get developed in a gratifying way. The pacing is off. Pam Muñoz Ryan lays the foundation for an important chapter in each of these characters' lives, and at the most gripping moment, she cuts off the story. We find out what happens later on, but by then she's just telling us what we missed, a passive recap that feels like a letdown. At nearly 600 pages, this book is already quite hefty, but I actually wish the author had drawn out the story even more.

I'm not sure if it's because Echo is labeled as a middle grade book that the conflict resolution is lacking (I've had a similar observation with other MG books I've read – perhaps the more sordid bits are not deemed appropriate or relevant for younger readers?), but either way it's a shame. For me, this book could have been a five-star read if only the story felt more complete. Everything else is there – the subtle bits of magical realism that sweep you away, the characters that you can't help but root for, the diversity of their backgrounds and experiences, the beautiful writing, the story's overall brilliant premise, and the way everything comes full circle...

Normally, a gaping plot hole would make me dismiss a book entirely, but what makes me relent is the fact that, quite simply, this novel is about hope. It's about three young protagonists, and how a harmonica comes into their lives at exactly the right time, and how it connects them all, and how things happen for a reason. Synchronicity, you could say. So, to that end, I can somewhat come to terms with the author's decision to exclude the parts that she did... because the whole is more than just the sum of its parts, and in Echo, there's something much bigger at play.

Your fate is not yet sealed. Even in the darkest night, a star will shine, a bell will chime, a path will be revealed.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

The Boys I Fall in Love with Every Time

I'm both a lover and a cynic – mostly a dreamer but adulthood has made me something of a realist, too. These qualities can make fictional romance a challenge. I'm not a hopeless romantic, so sugar-sweet contemporaries just don't work for me. I like breakups. I like relationships between screw-ups. I like a little angst. I like girls who are ice queens and girls who overthink and girls who don't need love. I like boys who scowl and boys who have been hurt and boys who are idiots but can be deep and meaningful (when they want to).

One of my favorite things about reading is getting swept away with the right book, the right setting, the right story, the right boy. It's the best feeling. All love, all angst, but without the risk. I mean, sure you may get your heart broken right alongside your precious character babies, but you can always take a step back and tell yourself, SELF: GET IT TOGETHER. THIS ISN'T HAPPENING IN REAL LIFE. BLOW YOUR NOSE AND STOP CRYING GODDAMNIT. And then you can go back to being your totally chill, calm self. Right? Right.

Within my personal library, there are really only a couple boys who have ever totally stolen my heart, and lately I've been trying to understand why. I keep picking them apart, making lists to try and figure out what they all have in common. My lists look something like this:

Jimmy Hailler:

Drug Fiend, Mommy Issues, Lonely Social Butterfly, A Killer of a Listener, Mental Health Ally, Loves a Lamb Roast, Fantasy Fiction Lover, Ass Man, Caretaker of the Elderly, Fragmented, Disappearing Act.

Marcus Flutie:

Former Drug Fiend, Almost-Monk, Open Book, Closed Off, One-Time Disappearing Act, Poet Wordsmith, Experienced Lover, King of the Non Sequitur, Honest Observer, Walking Contradiction, Like Catching Lightning in a Bottle.

Jacob Coote:

Socially Aware, Deep and Meaningful (When He Wants To Be), Experienced Lover, Typical Idiot Boy, Possible Druggie, Not An Idiot, But Kind of An Idiot, Clever Conversationalist, Ladies' Man But Man's Man Too.

And to prove that I don't just love the pot-smoking boys who disappear and leave you hanging...

Dexter Jones:

Rogue / Rapscallion / Musician, Open Book, Believer in Fate, Village Idiot, Non Sequitur Champion, Challenge Accepter, Flailing Limbs, Fearlessly Optimistic.

So what's the connection? Not all of them are broken. Or underdogs. Some of them are more emotionally available than others. Some are dorks. Some are cool. Marcus is too cool to care. I suppose they all have a gentleness to them – not in the same way, but there's always a bit of vulnerability that peeks through in certain moments with certain people... Maybe that's what it is. Maybe it's that none of them are the obvious first choice – they're not necessarily even the second choice or the third – but then, for a moment, you see them in the right light and you start to change your mind. Not because they're suddenly perfect. More that you see their flaws clearly, but you also see what the best days look like: it's Jimmy keeping quiet company on a bad day, and Marcus Flutie kissing your nose when you're self-conscious about the zit that's settled in on it. It's Jacob Coote and his candid chats about life, and Dexter keeping you from shutting yourself up so tight that you can't feel a thing. Boys who turn out to be unexpected.

I'll have to keep thinking about this. Complexity is a big part of what makes a male character compelling to me – well, any character, really – but to that point, there's a lot of characters like that in literature, and they don't all make the cut... so what else is it that makes a person like me fall in love? What's the rest of the magic formula? I don't have an answer yet, but I'll keep pondering.

To be continued...

Monday, January 11, 2016

a place on the jellicoe road / Songs for Jellicoe Road

"What's the difference between a trip and a journey?"
"Narnie, my love, when we get there, you'll understand."

listen on 8tracks )

01 // Crystal New Order
I'm a man in a rage with a girl I betrayed / Here comes love, it's like honey / You shock me to the core

02 // Sunday Bloc Party
When I'm with you I am caught, a pearl in your oyster / Head on my chest, a silent smile, a private kind of happiness

03 // Gold Lion Yeah Yeah Yeahs
We'll build a fire in your eyes

04 // Is There A Ghost Band of Horses
I could sleep when I lived alone / Is there a ghost in my house?

05 // Easy To Love The Jezabels
There it is now, she enters the room / It guts like a fish to see how she's grown

06 // To Build A Home The Cinematic Orchestra
Out in the garden where we planted the seeds, there is a tree as old as me / Branches were sewn by the color of green, ground had arose and passed its knees

07 // The Healing Bloc Party
Calm down, let the world spin round / There ain't no other place to be / Take this lifeline / Skin tears but the flesh will weave back together again, only scars now

08 // Flame Trees Sarah Blasko
Do you remember nothing stopped us on the field in our day?

09 // Your Hand in Mine Explosions in the Sky

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Review: The Start of Me and You by Emery Lord

Title: The Start of Me and You
Author: Emery Lord
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Publication date: March 31, 2015
Rating: ★★★

Summary (via Goodreads):

Following her pitch-perfect debut Open Road Summer, Emery Lord pens another gorgeous story of best friends, new love, & second chances.

Brimming with heartfelt relationships and authentic high-school dynamics The Start of Me and You proves that it's never too late for second chances.

It's been a year since it happened—when Paige Hancock's first boyfriend died in an accident. After shutting out the world for two years, Paige is finally ready for a second chance at high school . . . and she has a plan. First: Get her old crush, Ryan Chase, to date her—the perfect way to convince everyone she's back to normal. Next: Join a club—simple, it's high school after all. But when Ryan's sweet, nerdy cousin, Max, moves to town and recruits Paige for the Quiz Bowl team (of all things!) her perfect plan is thrown for a serious loop. Will Paige be able to face her fears and finally open herself up to the life she was meant to live?

I'm sad to say that Emery Lord's books are perhaps just not for me.

I had heard great things about The Start of Me and You and was hoping I'd enjoy this one as much as others seem to have (or that I'd at least like it more than I did Open Road Summer) – but unfortunately I just thought it was really boring. The storyline was predictable and stale. It felt like every stereotypical teen flick – or the plot of every Sarah Dessen novel, minus pregnancy and jail time – rolled into one.

The characters never really came alive for me, either. I could visualize them all but I didn't connect with any of them or find them compelling enough to really feel invested in their lives. Even now I'm still forgetting the main character's name. (Is it Lucy? Sara? Megan? No. I just checked – it's Paige.)

All that being said, there are two things I really did like about The Start of Me and You. The first is Emery Lord's portrayal of a really strong, loyal group of friends – Tessa, Morgan, and Kayleigh, and eventually Ryan and Max. I didn't have friends like Paige's when I was in high school so I was happy to see (and fascinated by) that solidarity and support. And SLIGHTLY SPOILERY? BUT I was really glad she didn't throw in any unnecessary best friend drama with Tessa – no girl hate, no love triangle (not in the obvious, expected way, at least) – she kept this one thing pure and untainted, thank the (Emery) Lord.

The other thing I loved is the PostSecret scene toward the end of the book. Aside from the fact that I don't love name-dropping of contemporary works (it pulls me out of the story and back into real life – and she does this a lot throughout the book, calling out John Green, Gilmore Girls, Firefly, among others), I loved the way it made everything come together. It made the story feel a little tighter, less slapdash. And it was just a sweet, romantic moment. Special, in a way that the rest of the story wasn't.

The Start of Me and You is a light, easy read. I love contemporary novels but I don't usually go for light, easy reads so this is probably why it didn't gel with me – however, there are some passages and moments and lines in the book that are lovely to read and think about, so for that reason alone I'd say it's worth checking out.

For me, this book feels like the equivalent of eating ice cream on the boardwalk in the summer, or drinking pumpkin spice lattes and wearing chunky knit scarves in the fall: a little bit expected, but enjoyable enough.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

A Brief Intermission: Queen of Shadows

I suspect there may be a few more "brief intermissions" featuring Sarah J. Maas' Queen of Shadows over the next week or so, given that (1) Queen of Shadows is quite lengthy and will take me forever to finish because (2) lately I've only been able to concentrate on books while reading on my subway commute to work. But I've already underlined a few dozen passages and am really enjoying the story so far.

Here's a passage that's been on my mind – probably a throwaway detail to most readers, but I liked it a lot and I'll tell you why in a bit:

Elide gazed across the flickering lights of the war camp, and a chill went down her spine. An army to crush whatever resistance Finnula had once whispered about during the long nights they were locked in that tower in Perranth. Perhaps the white-haired Wing Leader herself would lead that army, on the wyvern with shimmering wings.

I've always been intrigued by the way Sarah J. Maas uses different points of view. The Throne of Glass books are written in a third person omniscient perspective but each chapter generally follows one particular character at a time.

I love seeing things through Elide's eyes for the first time because it creates a richer picture of the world. For example, we've already come to know and understand both Abraxos and Manon Blackbeak in Heir of Fire, but Elide doesn't have that benefit. Her perspective grounds us back into the de facto culture of the Throne of Glass universe, a universe where Abraxos is a creature that is monstrous, dangerous, and untameable, period. And yet he has been tamed by this Blackbeak witch, who therefore must be even more monstrous and dangerous than the wyvern himself.

As readers, we go into a book series with certain assumptions... or sometimes it's certain things we've picked up along the way – it's like we have this basic understanding of a person, or a culture, or a history, that gets built up over time... which is why it's nice to remember that other characters live by other truths that don't always align with our own, simply because they haven't yet experienced what we have. Their perspectives help create a different and, might I add, refreshing picture of something we might already take for granted.

This is a long-winded way to say that I really liked this passage because of the way it described Abraxos as the wyvern with shimmering wings.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Truthwitch Party Prep: Something That'll Keep Your Place

Happy New Year! It's the last day of my Truthwitch party-planning series (*cries*) but Truthwitch is out in just four more days, and I can't freaking wait. I've had so much fun coming up with these ideas and designs. I hope you guys have been liking this series too! I might have to keep doing these for new book releases...

So far we've talked about what to drink, what to eat, what to wear, and what to do... Now I have something that will keep your place as you read about Safi, Iseult, Merik, and Aeduan's antics all across the Witchlands. In other words... free printable Truthwitch bookmarks!

Safi will protect your book (with TWO swords, whaaaat) and keep you from losing track of your spot. Just print the PDF on a heavy cardstock paper, and use the gray outlines as a guide to help you cut out each bookmark.

And... I feel like a broken record at this point but... please remember that these printables are for your personal, non-commercial use only. If you share these anywhere, I would so appreciate if you could include a link back to this post. Thank you & happy reading!

Check out all my Truthwitch party posts: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5