May Rewind (Yes, I’m Still Here)

While I didn’t fall off the face of the earth (exactly), I have been pretty noticeably absent from the internet. Not on purpose. I just had such a busy month that it made April (see Aprilpocalypse) look, bland.

An accurate representation of me and May

Not only was I traveling up and down the country in the first week, I have a lot going on. And no internet at home (I’ve mentioned this), which makes blogging tricky if you also have extremely limited spare time. For the record, I had all kinds of ideas for posts – which I didn’t write – and planned to do some tags – which I didn’t finish (does starting count?) – and you’re getting the picture.

So while I wasn’t online, I actually have a lot of things to recap in the Monthly Wrap-Up Round-Up, hosted and originated by Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction. Click through to check out her lovely book blog and join the link-up/read some more monthly wrap-ups.

May started off with a bang – as I had to go on TV. I’m not a TV person. But hey, what can you do *shrugs*. But here it is, if you’re interested 😛

The books I picked/discussed were Jakob’s Colors, The Residence, Thorn, Haymaker, and Finding Winnie. I thought it was a nice, diverse little group – and I didn’t forget what any of them were about!! (I was seriously worried about this – it’s a bookseller’s nightmare)

After I survived the TV – I immediately flew down to Pensacola, FL. Enroute (okay, at O’Hare Airport), my phone crashed and died and was no more (no idea why). So I had no way to contact my family, who had planned on picking me up later in Pensacola, to then drive us to Gulf Shores, Alabama, to meet up with the rest of my mom’s family. This was annoying, but providentially, my sister was just pulling a loop around the Pensacola airport (in my parent’s 15 passenger van, which is unmistakable due to the Oatmeal Savage bumper sticker – see below).

Before we made the 45 min drive to Gulf Shores, we stopped at a magical place – Joe Patti’s World Famous Seafood Market (I’d never heard of it . . .).

Not that kind of magical place!

It’s full of fresh fish, but you can hardly even smell them, which means it’s incredibly clean. Fyi, if I lived within an hour or two of this place, I would shop there at least twice a week. The fish was gorgeous, fresh, and profuse. They also have a sushi bar and a bunch of cool and/or local ingredients. My sister and I purchased everything we needed for sushi (including a beautiful pound of tuna). We packed it on ice, and headed to the gulf.

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I don’t know about you, but the sight/smell of the ocean immediately relaxes me. It’s the real vacation part (Having a dead phone and being <1,000 mi from work/home helps too).

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Of course, there was a “dangerous sea creatures advisory” the whole time I was there (one guy saw a seven-foot shark – thankfully, I just saw a large stingray. Well. Two.) But this didn’t stop me from swimming. Fortunately, I never saw a shark. I’d love to see a shark – as long as I was nowhere near the water. But not in the water with me. No thank you.

At any rate, I ate my fill of fresh fish. And I made sushi! That tuna was so good, guys – velvety smooth and with the lightest taste and texture you can imagine. And now I’m hungry . . .

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SUSHI

Other than my phone debacle (I wasted a couple of hours trying to fix it), everything was pretty good – until my ENTIRE family got really sick. My grandma and I were the only ones who didn’t get it, even though we were exposed to everyone. Because of the sick people, we were put behind schedule, and I ended up driving most of my family to Tennessee. They were all sickly and weak, but we made it. A good music playlist helped 🙂 (And it was hilarious to hear my littlest sister singing along to Bigbang’s If You – which is almost completely in Korean – and I had no idea she knew the song . . .). But my younger sisters’ favorite non-Disney song to listen to is the catchy, feel-good Just Right by GOT7:

Err, yes . . . anyhow – we survived the trip and made it to Nashville. I got to see my precious niece for a couple of hours (but she was sick too), and my brother and sister-in-law. It was still worth it, though. After this, I had my airport—->BEA 2016/Chicago Adventure, which I actually wrote a post about:

After I got back, it was an immediate plunge back into work – with a few too many 12-15 hr work days (if you combine both job shifts) and far too little sleep.

In the meantime, I cram-read some books – here are a few thoughts on them:

Just My Luck by Cammie McGovern – 4.5 stars (MG fiction)

Synopsis: “Fourth grade is not going at all how Benny Barrows hoped. He hasn’t found a new best friend. He’s still not a great bike rider—even though his brother George, who’s autistic, can do tricks. And worst of all, he worries his dad’s recent accident might be all his fault. Benny tries to take his mom’s advice and focus on helping others, and to take things one step at a time. But when his dad ends up in the hospital again, Benny doesn’t know how he and his family will overcome all the bad luck that life has thrown their way.”

Thoughts: Just My Luck was a sweet, touching, and relatable little novel. The tone and writing were fabulous, and Benny’s voice was pitch-perfect. To be honest, I related more to him than I do to most YA/Adult protagonists! It made me laugh aloud, and I really was rooting for the Barrows family to overcome all their “bad luck.”As a bookseller, this is one of my favorite summer picks for MG readers (and their parents).
The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi – 3.75/4 stars

Synopsis: “Maya is cursed. With a horoscope that promises a marriage of death and destruction, she has earned only the scorn and fear of her father’s kingdom. Content to follow more scholarly pursuits, her whole world is torn apart when her father, the Raja, arranges a wedding of political convenience to quell outside rebellions. Soon Maya becomes the queen of Akaran and wife of Amar. Neither roles are what she expected: As Akaran’s queen, she finds her voice and power. As Amar’s wife, she finds something else entirely: Compassion. Protection. Desire…

But Akaran has its own secrets—thousands of locked doors, gardens of glass, and a tree that bears memories instead of fruit. Soon, Maya suspects her life is in danger. Yet who, besides her husband, can she trust? With the fate of the human and Otherworldly realms hanging in the balance, Maya must unravel an ancient mystery that spans reincarnated lives to save those she loves the most…including herself.”

Thoughts: I loved the setting and the lush descriptions, but I’ve read so many Cupid & Psyche/Hades & Persephone/Bluebeard type novels that I have trouble keeping them straight. I was far more invested in the mythology and world than the story or romance, but that was to be expected. So I’m not sure if it was the book, or just me. Maya was a wonderful, strong heroine though!!
In Defense of the Princess by Jerramy Fine – 4-ish stars (adult nonfiction/memoir/essay)

Synopsis-It’s no secret that most girls, at some point, love all things princess: the poofy dresses, the plastic tiaras, the color pink. Even grown-up women can’t get enough of royal weddings and royal gossip. Yet critics claim the princess dream sets little girls up to be weak and submissive, and allows grown women to indulge in fantasies of rescue rather than hard work and self-reliance.
Enter Jerramy Fine – an unabashed feminist who is proud of her life-long princess obsession and more than happy to defend it. Through her amusing life story and in-depth research, Fine makes it clear that feminine doesn’t mean weak, pink doesn’t mean inferior, and girliness is not incompatible with ambition. From 9th century Cinderella to modern-day Frozen, from Princess Diana to Kate Middleton, from Wonder Woman to Princess Leia, Fine valiantly assures us that princesses have always been about power, not passivity. And those who love them can still be confident, intelligent women.

Thoughts: While I never really disagreed with Fine in the essentials, I thought her take on things would be interesting. Regardless, this was a really fun read, and it was so hilarious that I kept stopping to read lines to my sister. I had definite ambitions to be a princess (specifically Princess Jasmine) when I was little too, and I completely understand the “longing to find the place where you belong, or your ‘people,’ so to speak” that Fine describes so authentically. The most interesting part was her bio list (at the end) of real world princesses. These women don’t sit around on their hands and look pretty!! In other words, this is my pick for a beach read 😛
A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavalaero – 2.75/3 stars (YA Contemporary/Mystery)

Synopsis: The last thing Jamie Watson wants is a rugby scholarship to Sherringford, a Connecticut prep school just an hour away from his estranged father. But that’s not the only complication: Sherringford is also home to Charlotte Holmes, the famous detective’s great-great-great-granddaughter, who has inherited not only Sherlock’s genius but also his volatile temperament. From everything Jamie has heard about Charlotte, it seems safer to admire her from afar.

From the moment they meet, there’s a tense energy between them, and they seem more destined to be rivals than anything else. But when a Sherringford student dies under suspicious circumstances, ripped straight from the most terrifying of the Sherlock Holmes stories, Jamie can no longer afford to keep his distance. Jamie and Charlotte are being framed for murder, and only Charlotte can clear their names. But danger is mounting and nowhere is safe—and the only people they can trust are each other.

Thoughts: I really wanted to like this book. And to be honest, the mystery and setting were kind of interesting, so I finished it. But it didn’t work for me on any other level. Jamie was ok, but I found his admiration of Charlotte to be a bit more slavish than sympathetic . . . Granted, I love the original stories (and the show Sherlock), so I’m a tough customer. To be honest, just read Cait @ Paper Fury‘s review here. She’s 100% right about this book.
Memories of Ash (Sunbolt #2) by Intisar Khanani – 5 stars (YA Fantasy)

Synopsis: In the year since she cast her sunbolt, Hitomi has recovered only a handful of memories. But the truths of the past have a tendency to come calling, and an isolated mountain fastness can offer only so much shelter. When the High Council of Mages summons Brigit Stormwind to stand trial for treason, Hitomi knows her mentor won’t return—not with Arch Mage Blackflame behind the charges.

Armed only with her magic and her wits, Hitomi vows to free her mentor from unjust imprisonment. She must traverse spell-cursed lands and barren deserts, facing powerful ancient enchantments and navigating bitter enmities, as she races to reach the High Council. There, she reunites with old friends, planning a rescue equal parts magic and trickery.

If she succeeds, Hitomi will be hunted the rest of her life. If she fails, she’ll face the ultimate punishment: enslavement to the High Council, her magic slowly drained until she dies.

Thoughts: You can read my full review here – but I loved it! If you haven’t read these books, you need to. Memories of Ash was basically everything I was wanting (only it wasn’t about 600 pages longer). And I’m not complaining about length here, because it was already novel sized, which fulfilled my wish from Sunbolt.
Noragami, Stray God Volume #1 – Manga – 3-ish stars

Synopsis: Yato is a stray god. He doesn’t even have a shrine, not to mention worshipers! Hoping he’ll eventually raise enough money to build himself the lavish temple of his dreams, Yato accepts all kinds of jobs. Of course, he can’t afford to be picky; from finding lost kittens to helping a student overcome bullies, no job is too small for Yato, the god-for-hire! An eccentric story with a charming cast of characters!

Thoughts: Meh. It was funny and the art was good, but I just didn’t care. But that seems to be the case with a lot of first volumes in manga. I might read the second one, but I won’t go out of my way to try . . .

The Decent Proposal by Kemper Donovan – DNF

Urgh. Cutesy, kitschy, trite, twee, tepid – I could go on with the adjectives, but there’s a reason I didn’t finish this one. Adult Contemporary is the new YA – unrelatable characters, randomness, and everyone is stupidly attractive. And we’re supposed to swallow all of this with heaping tables of sugar. No. Thank. You.

Currently Reading:

The Crown’s Game by Evelyn Skye – I’m finally getting into it after several misfires. Once I got over the angsting and being-beautifulness of the first few chapters (and the magical duels started), the story really took off.

Your Lie in April, Volume #1 by Naoshi Arakawa – I got this for free, so I’m reading it. I don’t know how I feel about it yet. The art is cute though. And I’m extremely confused by the title.

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee – I just started this, so I don’t have any opinions. The first chapter is good! Regardless, I’m extremely excited about this one.

My novels:

I’ve been tapping away (a bit) at Red as Blood, and I featured secondary protagonist Mollie in May’s Beautiful People. I plan on using another one of the Seven Sisters for June’s BP, so I’m looking forward to that.

I’ve been reading through The Last Coffee Shop, and been pleasantly surprised – for a NaNoWriMo project, it isn’t nearly as terrible as I thought it would be!! That’s always awesome. At any rate, if I can get my act together, I might be ready for a few betas sooner than I thought – maybe this fall :0 I still love the world, story, and characters, and I want other people to make me more rational about it . . .

Other than that, I haven’t had much time to write (as my lack of blog posts will attest to).

Movies, Music, and More:

I saw Captain America: Civil War twice, and loved it both times. I think it did a great job of incorporating all the characters, the previous movies, and paying tribute to the comics. The acting was spot-on, Black Panther was epic, Bucky and Falcon as rivals/friends/enemies, and I love how the Russos write Black Widow. Now if we could just get that Black Widow movie . . .

I also saw X-Men: Apocalypse, which was a lot better than I was expecting. It wasn’t as good as the animated comic arc from the 90’s, but it was entertaining. And I loved Storm. Professor X and Magneto’s bromance was good as usual, and Cyclops was probably the least annoying he’s ever been, and Quicksilver was the best part of the movie. Period.

At the end of May, my sister and I went to see the touring production of The Phantom of the Opera. I’ve loved the musical since I was little, but I’ve never had the chance to see it live. It was incredible!! The staging and effects, in particular, blew my mind. There wasn’t a weak link in the cast, and everyone did a great job putting their own spin on these familiar songs and characters. FIVE STARS.

As usual, I’ve listened to a bunch of music, and while I didn’t discover much new stuff, I remembered why I loved 90’s Celine Dion so much (on that long car ride). OH, THE DRAMA!

But in all seriousness, her slower songs are so perfectly crafted for her voice. She’s a master of emotion, that is for sure.

I’ve been on the nostalgia train a lot lately, with mid 2000’s pop/rock and a lot of 80’s stuff on my current playlists. Here’s one of my favorite songs as a kid (my dad had a cassette tape with it that I would always request)

It’s still a favorite of mine <3

But because I am a complete and utter goofball, I will leave you with another frequent song on my playlists – Look at me, Gwisun by Daesung (a.k.a D-Lite) from Bigbang. It’s in Japanese, but if you look at a translation, you’ll see that the (hilarious) MV is basically interpreting the lyrics – literally. And be warned, this video is really, really, goofy (don’t blame me if it scars you for life, lol).

This is basically something you watch if you’re having a really bad day. (And what’s with the X-Men suit? Okay, not really X-Men, but that’s what it looks like . . . And GD’s cameo is my favorite thing)

I’ll stop with the videos so you can actually load this post, but there are lots more where those came from. They’re much better than cat videos, trust me.

Looking Ahead:

I’m probably going to be a sporadic poster for the near future. I found out that my sister and I have to move out of our rental by the end of June, and we aren’t sure where we are going. So this has definitely upped my distraction and stress levels. Also, the summer tourist season is upon us at both jobs, so I have no idea how much blogging or blog reading I can do. We’ll have to see.

In the meantime, thanks to everyone who reads these wandering posts and tolerates my erratic attention! I love you guys and hope you are having a wonderful and productive June so far!

<3 R

“In Which I Am Flummoxed by Beach Reads (and Excel at Creative Procrastination)” – A Love Letter (not the title of a Panic! at the Disco song)

All of the images in this post are copyrighted and belong to their respective owners. I am making zero money off of this blog, and off of them. And MARVEL, if you ever see this. I love you.

I could say that I’ve been neglecting my blog because of New York. That would be true. 

I could also say that it’s because I’ve been crazy busy since I got back, which is also true. However, I’ve been avoiding the Internet because I’ve been trying to read as many books that could possibly pass for beach reads as possible.

Confession: I never read at the beach, I swim

Confession: I have no real idea what people read at the beach

I assume it’s a lot like what people read on vacation, but I’m not sure. When I’m on vacation, I’ll read whatever I was reading before I was on vacation, be it an ARC from work or a dry tome on genetic engineering, or whatever subject I happen to be researching for a novel.

Anyhow, I’m supposed to be writing reviews and recommending beach reads. Not for my blog, but for the women’s magazine that I contribute to on a monthly basis. It’s aimed at professional Michigan women of diverse tastes, so I always try for maximum variety in my book suggestions. This is great: it makes me read outside of my normal taste zone, and makes me better at my job (bookselling!). I really do understand that not everyone has reread The Lord of the Rings almost every year, and even more so, I understand that not everyone wants to read gritty, post apocalyptic novels with gallows humor and dry social commentary.* This is a wonderful thing-we are all different.

So today I had the day off from my real job, and I made myself stay home and read. This sounds wonderful, until you realize that I was trying to read about ten different books that I had zero interest in. They were not bad books. Someone would be interested in them. That someone was not me.

I succeeded in finishing a couple, which is a testament to the writers’ skills. I can freely add these to my recommended beach reads, no reservations. But now that I am sitting at the computer, I don’t feel like writing reviews at all. I’d rather work on my current project-a post apocalyptic humor/adventure novel that is silly and snarky and full of duels (wits and weapons), sci-fi tech, criminals, and coffee love.

Or I could be watching Daredevil (the Netflix series, not that dreadful movie). I only have 1.5 episodes left, and I am constantly distracted from what I am doing by wondering what will happen in that finale. It is pathetic.

But this post was not supposed to be about Daredevil.

I Googled beach reads (I do this every time), and found the answers unsatisfactory and banal: Gone Girl,** Beautiful Ruins,***The Notebook, ****The Fault in Our Stars*****

I could go on, but you could probably fill in the rest of this list with most of the pop book hits of the past decade. Some of the suggestions were interesting (And the Mountains Echoed and Where’d You Go Bernadette? for example, both of which are on my to-read list). But the problem was, even the interesting ones aren’t sitting on my floor, waiting to be grabbed. So I considered going to the library.

But no, I was wearing holey jeans and a scrub top******and I didn’t want to change. [As excuses go, this is pretty bad, but there you go]

I also knew that when I got to the library, I would see all the shiny books, forget which ones I wanted, and grab shinies like a magpie in a silver shop. And they would be about monsters, or chosen ones, or ninja assassins, or flying people. They would not be books that land on Real Simple‘s beach reads, or even BuzzFeed.

I try to limit myself to only one book about ^^^^^ per month. Variety, remember?

So instead, I starting reading a book about a woman who was fifty-six and had a falling out with her daughter about a television show. There was architecture, and family drama, and there were bizarrely attractive men sprouting out of the ground, like daisies (not exactly, but you get the point).

And I thought “How is this any more plausible than Harry Potter? How are these financially stable, uber-talented, attractive and successful people any more relatable than Bilbo Baggins or Elizabeth Bennet?

Answer: No. They are not.

I am twenty-six. I work at a bookstore. I write books, read books, and will watch (almost) anything MARVEL. I live with my sister, and if I don’t budget scrupulously, I will not be able to pay my rent or buy food. I chain-drink tea and coffee, and sometimes I wear make-up.

Of the above characters, I relate the most to Bilbo. He’s cranky, he lives in a hole, and he’s enamored with elves [see my other posts]. I love adventures, but I am usually burned out before I embark on one, and decide to stay home instead. I have waited roughly twenty years for a stubborn wizard and a pack of dwarves to show up, but if they did, I would probably be a perfect beast, and if they raided my (lean) pantry, I would be irate. But I would go with them anyway.

This is probably more than you ever wanted to know about me, and if you are still reading, you get a gold star. 

But back to the point (I know there was a point): all novels are fantasy!

And before you wave that super-realistic holycrapsorelatable! thisbookjustgotme! or that thisbookissogritty! sorealandraw! can’tyoujustfeelthedirtthroughthepages,man? at me, hear me out. (I’ll restrict myself to two examples)

EXAMPLE 1: I have never met a bizarrely attractive man in my life (sorry, every man I have ever met). They might exist, but they don’t grow out of the ground, fall from the sky, hang out in my library, or live anywhere near me.*******In fact, sometimes I suspect that they are brewed in a secret S.H.I.E.L.D facility. And the women in the book never seem to notice that this is strange and unusual, instead they spend pages staring at the guy in excruciating, TMI, cringe-inducing detail . . .

AND DON’T EVEN GET ME STARTED ON UNREALISTIC WOMEN! THIS IS OLD NEWS AND HAS BEEN HOTLY DEBATED ELSEWHERE. I am specifically addressing the book I just read.

EXAMPLE 2: Most twenty-somethings through thirty-somethings that I know are:
A. Back in school because paper DECREES they need more if they want to get their dream job
B. Only wish that they were financially secure enough to have their own studio/fancy car/condo/dream house
C. Have student loans
D. They are married/engaged-to [if they aren’t single] absolutely normal (wonderful) people who aren’t secretly spies/master hackers/wizards/billionaires or whatever, and would never concoct schemes to kill them [this is something I’m sure we’re all grateful for].

So those are examples directly addressed to the contemporary realistic fiction that I just read. There are more, but I could write an essay and I have not done enough research for that. I need way more footnotes, and quotations.

But my point remains: regardless of why or what you read, all fiction is fiction, and all fiction is fantasy of a sorts.


Even if we lived a world where we got Hogwarts letters or visits from Gandalf, we’d have to obey the rules of that world, just like ours. I always think about this while reading Jasper Fforde’s lovably loony Thursday Next series. They are crazy and chaotic and wonderful, and I would love to live in them. But what if that meant I couldn’t have other worlds too? What if books there weren’t books here? Call me crazy, but I’m a writer, and this is the sort of thing I like to consider when I’m supposed to be writing reviews.

If you had to give up every book you’d ever read, and the whole world you’ve experienced, but you could have a totally uncertain life in a book-world of your choosing [no guarantees that you would survive, meet Mr/Mrs. Right, be chosen for an adventure, etc], would you actually do it?

Think about it.

Say what you will, we read for a lot of reasons. To know that we’re not alone (you saw that coming, I’m sure). To experience things we’d never want to (really, who wants to be kidnapped and slung over an enemy horse, headed to who knows what terrible fate?). For sheer entertainment. But at the end of the day, if the book is scary, or miserable, or crazy, we can leave. It is the ultimate no-strings relationship. Books never ask for anything, but they give a lot. And after the book, there are people to talk about it with, there is an author to doggedly follow (stalk), and there are often feelings to deal with. There are Pinterest boards and Tumblr posts, and whole websites to make.

I love fantasy-as-a-genre because it is shameless. It says, “this isn’t real, but I can make you believe it.” It challenges your perceptions of reality, and often exposes deep, universal themes and truth. And it is fun.

But I will not force anyone to read it.

And because I know that not every successful, professional woman would like to read about monster hunting, I will read more books about successful, professional women. I will evaluate writing and plots and characters, and be better able to relate to more people.

All of this will help me as a bookseller (and I hope, as a person). But when I finally hit “send” on those reviews, I will dig under my bed for the first book with a monster or a wizard on the cover, and I will forgive every single overly-gifted orphan or bizarrely attractive man, and it will be wonderful.

So, do you have any good “beach reads” to recommend? Do you believe a beach read is anything more than just a book you bring to a beach?

 And how do you feel about the fantasy genre? Do you think that all novels are fantasy novels? Have you ever met a bizarrely attractive man, or are all your twenty-something acquaintances financially stable and ridiculously accomplished? I NEED TO KNOW

FOOTNOTES:
*I honestly love books like this. That may mean I have issues. But even I get tired of them sometimes.
**Really? I couldn’t stand that book. I figured it out by chapter three, then made it through pages of vomit-inducing characters to find out that I had been right about the plot all along, and that there was no plot twist at all. Made me so mad.
***Sooooo boring. We read it for book club. It was sentimental and full of annoying characters and I Just. Didn’t. Care.
****Never read Nicholas Sparks. Never seen one of his movies. Never plan to. But I know why Ryan Gosling is iconic.
*****Preposterous, pretentious, sentimental, and over-rated. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t great, and yes, I read it for book club. I felt horrible because I was the only one present who hadn’t felt a thing the whole novel.
******I do not work in the medical field. My dad had to wear scrubs when I was born, and he gave me the top as a momento (sweet, huh?). No, I don’t look good in them.
*******In this respect, I refuse to believe they exist until I’ve seen one. Not on TV. In real life. If they are hiding in basements, I don’t think I want to meet them.