Category Archives: my so-called life

I Deleted Social Media for a Week

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Life was simpler when I was younger. No job, no bills, no responsibilities except the minute amount of homework that, let’s be honest, I was excited about. I could play all day, pretending to be any number of characters from movies and books, and that’s all I really had to worry about. Even in high school and college, where the homework amounts were staggering and jobs and bills and responsibilities started to become a never-ending nuisance, things were simpler.

So what happened? I graduated college in 2008, right around the time facebook opened its doors to the masses (rather than just the college kids like it was when I signed up) and twitter became a thing. And phones got smarter.

Sure, there was myspace and livejournal and all that when I was in high school, and facebook in college, and we all carefully curated our Top 8 friends and our AIM away messages, but there was still a level of disconnect we don’t have today.

Now, there are 15 different social media apps for each part of your life you want to share, and they’ve taken over our free (and not so free) time.

As a high school teacher, I see the dangers and perils of social media on a daily basis, and realized that while I’m older and no longer subject to much of the same levels of cyberbullying these kids go through, I’m on social media entirely too much.

So I’m going to conduct an experiment: for one entire week, I’m going to stay off social media.

I want to see what happens when I don’t have mindless scrolling at my fingertips when I’m bored. Currently, my phone is a constant distraction whenever I’m trying to be productive in my creative endeavors. At work it’s not really a problem since I’m a teacher and free time is a luxury, but on the evenings and weekends, my phone battery dies faster than you can say YouTube.

For the record, these are the social media networks I regularly use (so will not be using during my experiment): YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, and Facebook. 

This will be going from Sunday, May 7 – Saturday, May 13 (at midnight, a full 7 days). I will be deleting these apps from my phone for the duration of the experiment.

Let’s see how this goes!

Saturday, May 6 11:37pm

I tweeted a “see you later” and deleted twitter, facebook, instagram, and snapchat apps from my phone so I’m not tempted by the little red numbers (or habit). I wonder if anyone will like/favorite/DM/comment while I’m gone. Will I be sad if they don’t?

Sunday, May 7 9:39am – Day 1

I woke up this morning, grabbed my phone, checked my email, and then felt lost. Normally this is when I catch up on all I missed overnight… but now? So I got out of bed, made breakfast, and checked goodreads ratings on all the books I bought at the library sale yesterday (Goodreads doesn’t count as social media!). Semi-productive already. Now… to read?


I finished one book (The Master and Margarita – FINALLY) and started another (The Upside of Unrequited) and am starting to do that thing at chapter breaks where I pull my phone out looking for a distraction. Which makes no sense because I’m thoroughly enjoying this book. But no distractions await me, and I open the book for a new chapter.


Day one: done. Also, I finished The Upside of Unrequited, but that may have also been because it was a fast read and I had a decent chunk of time to devote to it. Also, no social media distractions… I wonder what else I can accomplish this week. I do sort of feel disconnected, though. Like, I want to share my thoughts about this book and see all the Disney posts on Instagram and check twitter and get rid of the Google Plus (YouTube) notification on my email. But I can’t.

Monday, May 8 9:30am – Day 2

It’s only been a day and already I feel so much freer without being tied down to the various social media feeds. What am I really missing? Drivel. I did feel a bit weird this morning as I drank my coffee – usually the time I scroll through all my feeds – but I just opened my phone and didn’t know what to do with it. So I listened to my audiobook instead. So far, no social media equals more productivity. I want to keep this in mind when I’m back in a week.


I told my students about my experiment and convinced another to try it. Another told me she tagged me in something but I told her I can’t check it until Sunday. That might be the hardest part – the communication barrier. Social media is how we connect now, it’s how businesses and artists get followers, create connections. So much of the world is online. But what if I don’t want to be? (To an extent, at least – I feel like it’s impossible now to avoid the internet totally, especially for creative types because it is such an easy/cheap way to distribute your work.) But do I really need a twitter/insta/facebook/snap? No. Do I enjoy them? Sometimes. Do I feel the effects of not having them? Yes.

Tuesday, May 9 2:48pm – Day 3

It’s starting to get annoying now, mostly because

  1. I’m bored, and
  2. I created a poll for online lit mag titles and I can’t crowdsource, so I have to do it the old-fashioned way, which gets fewer responses.

I’ve restarted my feedly as well, in an effort to curb the planning block boredom. Does that count as social media? It’s articles – mostly from online lit mags – so it’s educational, right?


After work I went to Happy Hour with teacher friends for teacher appreciation week (appreciating ourselves) and at one point, the other three were all on their phones, scrolling through social media (for memes based on AP Exams, because teachers), and so as the only person not on social media (or an AP teacher, for that matter), I definitely experienced the non-social side of social media. I was left out because I wasn’t on my phone, yet we’re all leaving ourselves out by being on our phones rather than interacting with the world around us. Ironic.

On another note, my sister-in-law asked me for a picture of us from Prom, and even though I was pretty sure one existed on facebook, I couldn’t get to it, so I had to physically find all my old photos and dig through them to find one.

On a side note: How weird is it that when we share pictures now we just shove our phones in people’s faces? And then there’s no control – what’s stopping them from scrolling through your other pictures? With physical photos, they only get the stack you give them. Invasion of privacy is the new normal. Oh, and I downloaded two new games to my phone just to have something to do to kill small amounts of time. Distractions, distractions. Hard to get rid of them all.

Wed, May 10 9:32pm – Day 4

I almost went on facebook today by accident. I was on my computer, procrastinating writing (as one does) and opened a new tab. I was just about to type the ‘f’ when I realized autopilot had taken over, and I closed the tab.

I’ve been good, but now it’s starting to get annoying. It’s not that I miss it, per say, I just liked having the option to scroll. Though I guess that’s the problem – the option becomes the norm becomes the auto-action and we get sucked in.

I guess I Just wonder if I’ve missed anything. I know – rationally – that I haven’t. That nothing on social media is important. But it’s also how people communicate, and what if someone tried to message me? (Well, I guess if they really needed me, if it were really important, they’d find a way.) And how often do I get messages anyway? Not very. I fear that part of me expects other to have missed my presence, that I’ll come back to all sorts of messages and notifications… when, in reality, I probably won’t have any. And I’m kind of worried how I’ll feel when that happens. It would seem I’m much more in the clutches of social media than I thought.

Thurs, May 11 9:36pm – Day 5

The only time no social media really affected me today was when I wanted to check facebook to see if was my friend’s birthday (it was). I didn’t want to tell her happy birthday if it wasn’t and don’t have that info anywhere else (because that’s what facebook is for), so I had a student look for me. Yep, I sunk that low. I guess that in itself is a lesson: don’t depend on social media for courtesy and manners. That kind of thing should be kept in a safer location – what happens if the account had been deleted, or facebook was hacked and everything gone? No more birthday reminders. Old school might be the best way to go.

Fri, May 12 11:28pm – Day 6

Only one more day. I’m not sure how I feel about that. Part of me says “thank goodness,” while the other part knows how quickly I’ll probably sink back in. But I’ve been so productive this week without it, and the whole thing has been positive and freeing, so I hope I remember that.

Sat, May 13 11:03pm – Day 7

Last day! Last hour! I think today was the day I checked my phone the most, since Sunday, before realizing I had nothing to do on it. Probably because it’s the weekend and my days aren’t filled with school distractions. But, I’m going to preemptively say (because I’m going to watch a movie and go to bed), I MADE IT!

Sun, May 14 – What I missed

Facebook: 20 notifications, 0 directly for me
Instagram: 1 comment, 5 followers, 14? Likes
Twitter: 4 messages (some with missed threads), 27? Notifications (some of these from a group tag)
Youtube: 6 comments (no new video posted)
I didn’t reinstall Snapchat.

So did I miss anything super exciting or pressing? No.

I responded to maybe three of the tweets I was went, and that’s it. And honestly, I scrolled through them all for about 15 seconds before I realized I just didn’t care, and closed my phone.

Social media is great for communicating – it’s an easy way to get in contact with people on an informal level (or like, with students – two of my notifications came from them), but mindlessly, endlessly scrolling is a waste of time. There’s nothing important there, and it’s all FOMO, basically. If I quit scrolling, I may miss something important/genius/hilarious/etc, but nine times out of ten, there’s nothing there, or it wasn’t all that profound/important/funny anyway.

I also noticed that as soon as I turned it all back on and started the scroll, I started judging and comparing myself to others. Well, they got a nice note from a student I didn’t get (except I did, last week, and Instagrammed it too); they commented on that post; they’re celebrating 5 years, etc. It’s all there to put our best lives forward, but at what cost to ourselves and others? Numbers don’t matter and yet we all live so anxiously by them. By tiny digital hearts and thumbs up that mean ABSOLUTELY NOTHING.

Social media drives the world rather than talent, ambition, intelligence, creativity. It’s all about your following – it’s how Trump got elected.

And it’s terrifying.

So I’m back, but not like before. And I know how easy it is to slide back in, but I’m going to try my hardest not to. I hope this sticks, because this past week felt good, and I don’t want to get lost again.


Honestly, it’s been 12 hours and I’ve barely scrolled. I just don’t care anymore. The conversations are nice – the FOMO I’d felt wasn’t really about the tweets and instas, it was about the missed opportunities for conversation, through notifications and DMs. Five pictures down my Insta and I was done. I deleted most of my twitter notifications because again, I just don’t care.

And I don’t want them clogging my time, my energy, my optimism, my life.



Harry Potter and the Cursed Child | review


Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by JK Rowling, John Tiffany, & Jack Thorne

First off, let me preface this by saying (for those who don’t know): I LOVE Harry Potter. Like so many others, I grew up reading the books, wanted to be Hermione, went to as many midnight releases as I could (both books and movies), instilled a “Harry Potter week” at the camp I used to work for, and even have a Harry Potter tattoo. Harry Potter is life.

Some people hate the continued content J.K. Rowling has put out since publishing the final book but I eat up every little bit, wanting to devour as much of the Wizarding World as I possibly can. Did I think she made a mistake in some of her history of the wizarding world in America? Yes, absolutely. Do I hate that she said (spoiler) Ron and Hermione shouldn’t have ended up together? 100% (R/H is my OTP and I even named my wedding table after them – they were all named after literary couples, so this isn’t as weird as it initially sounds). BUT, any additional information about her fantastic world is welcome to me.

Despite that, I was hesitant to pick up Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. I still bought it at midnight (here’s the link to my vlog of that night: and read it first thing in the morning, but I was apprehensive going in. Would she break up my OTP? Did I really want to read about Harry’s humdrum life at the Ministry, about him adulting? Was I ready for adult issues from my favorite, golden trio?

11adf1b0-fd14-0133-805a-0e31b36aeb7fHarry Potter and the Cursed Child picks up with the epilogue of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (a section many fans dislike), with Harry sending off his eldest two children to Hogwarts, and a young Albus is nervous about the sorting.

Here’s where things start to veer from the books, however. The Albus in the Deathly Hallows epilogue seems quiet, nervous, but overall a happy and well adjusted kid. The Albus in Cursed Child is not. This eleven year old boy is conflicted, troubled, and living in a heavy shadow of his father.

And so Cursed Child begins.

The story itself is a fun throwback to Prisoner of Azkaban and Goblet of Fire (sometimes a little too on the nose), and it’s classic Harry Potter adventuring: kids think they know everything and make decisions that affect the entire wizarding world without consulting adults. We get to explore the effects of the decisions Harry and co. made so many years ago, and see how some of our favorite characters have fared post-Voldemort.

2333The hardest part for me, however, was seeing the trio as adults. It’s been nine years since the last Potter book hit the shelves, but we’re catching up with Harry in today’s timeline. When I read the books growing up, I was aging with Harry (I was 10 when the first book came out and 20 when the final one did), but now, Harry is way past me. He’s in a different stage of life than I am, and I found it harder to relate to him. I’ve never been 40, never had kids; I don’t know the struggles of parenting yet.

I also associate these three as teenagers saving a world that’s bigger than them, so to see them in their boring Ministry jobs and home lives, away from Hogwarts and Voldemort and the thrills (and anguish) that came with it, was difficult. I miss the precarious attitudes and adventures of youth.

The other thing that Cursed Child suffers from is the play format, which did it a bit of a disservice because the limits of the story are constrained by the time and scale, and reading it left something to be desired. Novels allow for nuance, slow build up, strong character development, thoughts, emotions, and details, but plays rely on the actors’ performances and set designs. Cursed Child is already a two part play, and I still feel like so much was skipped over or left out. Plays are meant to be performed, and I think this one is no different. On stage, it’s probably magical and a theatrical wonder, but on the page it’s lacking that dynamic layering that performances can give.

On to spoilery thoughts:

I wasn’t a fan of the reveal that Voldemort secretly had a child. I thought it was way too simple and also out of character for He Who Must Not Be Named, a loveless shell of a man who never cared for anyone other than himself. I just didn’t buy it.

tumblr_oawwevXdqo1uhoadvo1_1280Albus’ sorting into Slytherin and friendship with Scorpius made me happy, however. I thought it could’ve been simple for her to put him in Gyffindor and struggle to live up to Harry’s legacy in his own house, but putting him in Slytherin shook things up. It showed not all Slytherins are evil (finally) and allowed him to sort out his own legacy (even if he made some stupid decisions and I just wanted to shake him half the time). Scorpius is my new favorite character, though, and I’m glad Malfoy got to redeem himself.

The time travel element felt cheap to me, but it was a good way to bridge the stories of Harry and Albus together, to bring readers/viewers in, and it also allowed for the idea that every death and detail in the original story is important, that without each of those elements, time would have moved in a very different way. Death, particularly of the innocent, is hard on those around it, and sometimes we can’t get over it, but that might be the reason the war is won.

This meddling with time also just proved how much Ron and Hermione are right for one another, despite Rowling’s later admission. Every time time tried to rip them apart, they always found one another in the end (even if Ron’s character was very much a comic relief and pushed to the side for Harry and Hermione to run the world… he read more like Steve Kloves’ version of Ron rather than Rowlings). As this was one of my biggest concerns going into the book, I’m grateful Rowling kept with the canon, despite her misgivings.

End spoilery thoughts

Overall, it’s Harry Potter. Although I may not have felt that same rush I felt when reading the original seven, I was still giddy and excited to return to the world and characters I love so much. The characters – old and new – were wonderful, and the story was a reminder of why I fell in love in the first place.

Harry Potter has always been about relationships, being true to yourself, and finding a light in the darkness, and Cursed Child is exactly that.

So despite my misgivings, I absolutely loved it and am happy to have another Harry Potter story on my shelf.

Can someone buy me tickets to the stage show (and a ticket to London)? Now I really want to go. 😉

5/5 stars

172 Hours on the Moon | Review


172 Hours on the Moon by Johan Harstad

I wanted to like this book, I really did. I’d heard such raving reviews from some of my friends about it, and I was intrigued by the idea of a thriller set on the moon. What could the premise possibly be? Aliens? Astronauts gone rogue? I was excited to find out.

And then I started reading it.

The premise of 172 Hours on the Moon boils down to: there’s something dangerous and weird happening on the moon, and NASA has kept silent about it for fifty years, but now it’s back and they need to fix it. To build popularity and hopefully gain support (read: $), they decide to make it a big spectacle: the 50th anniversary of the first Lunar Landing, using models that look like those from Apollo 11. Oh, and did I mention their plan involved sending teenagers to space?


This is where my problems began, and despite my hopes they’d get better, they didn’t.

So NASA, this big giant space organization that has LITERALLY put man on the moon, that employs some of the SMARTEST people on the planet and has a contingency plan for their contingency plan, decides it’s going to hold a lottery and choose three teenagers from around the world to send to space.

That’s right. THREE.


The application said they needed to be in good health, etc, but there were no tests actually required, no fitness evaluation or mental stress tests. No knowledge of space or science required.

So… you’re telling me that out of the entire world, NASA just happened to RANDOMLY pick three teenagers to go to space and all three of them are perfectly fit to go?


(also, they all speak English, I’m assuming, since they communicate without effort amongst one another despite their different countries of origin?)

If I’d been in charge at NASA, I would’ve put in place some evaluation they had to pass before they could even apply. THEN I would’ve chosen 50 or so candidates who scored the highest (on a range of tests – physical, mental, stress, etc) and maybe even dreamed of becoming astronauts (instead of going because they wanted to get a girl back, ugh), and then made them go through even more tests to whittle it down to the final three. Think The Selection/The Bachelor meets Armageddon.


But hell, if I were in charge at NASA, I wouldn’t be sending teenagers to space. Or really, I wouldn’t be doing anything from this dumb book.

So they get to the moon. Our three main teenagers aren’t particularly interesting, and the events on the moon sound like The Martian but way less smart and with some weird “thing” killing people. Even the deaths were boring.

Idk. I thought the “thing” (no spoilers) was pretty dumb and if they knew that much about it beforehand, it seems pretty reckless to send people up there without any methods of taking care of it. Maybe let your peeps know there’s something out to get them instead of keeping it a secret? You know, to protect their lives on THE MOON.

Half of what happened on the moon didn’t even make sense, and I just really wanted more development of what could have been a really cool idea.

The scariest part about this was the urban legend one of the characters tells that has nothing to do with the plot. Cool story, bro.


Anyway. This is more of a ranty ramble than a well structured review and I apologize for that. But this was just dumb and made me dumber for having read it.

2/5 stars for what it could’ve been with a better (or even just adult) writer, and for the fact that I did finish it and was mildly intrigued at times.

The Regional Office is Under Attack! | Review


The Regional Office is Under Attack! by Manuel Gonzales

The premise of The Regional Office is Under Attack! is very exciting: a secret underground organization of badass warrior women who save the world, is under attack. It’s Die Hard with cyborgs and angsty teenager girls, with Oracles in turtle bathtubs and orange macbooks; what’s not to like? Or so I thought.

It starts out well enough; one of the assassins, Rose, is counting down the minutes until she can give the infiltration signal, before she can descend the mile underground to the Regional Office under stealth, before things go wrong.

But soon enough, the story gets lost in the spiraling backstories of characters I can’t find myself liking and the confusing narration, and it loses that initial spark.

The story follows two main characters: Sarah, the Director’s right hand, who has a mechanical arm and a broken past; and Rose, the newest and youngest recruit, but who is also rash and angry and doesn’t quite fit in. them are a handful of other secondary character that are perhaps more important to the plot than the two main protagonists are: Henry, the Recruiter on whom Rose has a crush, and who is perhaps behind this attack; and Mr. Niles, who, along with Oyemi, created the Regional Office and broke Sarah’s life. The men are the ones pulling the strings, despite the womens’ best efforts.

The story is told in sections based on each of the female characters, with chapters flip flopping between the past and present; in between these character sections are dissertation accounts on the Regional Office and it’s history and what could have happened to it. Much of it is speculation, but it does add backstory to the Regional Office and offers an outsider viewpoint on what happened.

Basically, this story is weird. I appreciate the tongue in cheek narrative about heroes and hero plots, but I had a really hard time getting through this. I didn’t particularly care for any of the characters, and had a hard time getting past the writing style (there’s a lot of “I could have done this, then I would’ve done this, and watch this… except I didn’t do any of it”) and a lot of it is left up to the reader’s interpretation of events.

I thought the premise was cool, but didn’t enjoy this nearly as much as I wanted to.

Why Hanson Still Matters

Hanson Day is May 6. What started as a one-day celebration of the band Hanson in 1997 in Oklahoma, their home state, has become a yearly event celebrated among Hanson fans (fansons). This is why the “mmmboppers” still matter.

  • Like it or not, “mmmbop” is a classic pop song. It has a catchy hook (even if no one knows exactly what the words are) and reminds us of happy 90s pop. Along with the Spice Girls, Hanson helped relieve us of the grunge that was infecting the radio and delivered us catchy, bubblegum we all wanted to chew.Hanson-Disco-1447188684
  • In a time of heavily processed music and musicians who don’t write their own music, Hanson still writes and plays all their own music, and they rely on their instruments and their voices to create catchy songs, not computerized beats and autotune. Their music is a throwback to classic 50s and 60s rock and roll and has only matured as the boys (men) have grown up.

  • They put on a damn good live show. With twenty years of music and six studio albums of backlog – not to mention all their fans-only EPs, independently-released albums pre-fame, and covers – there are PLENTY of songs for them to choose from, and they don’t play the same setlist two nights in a row. This makes the concert-going experience unique for each individual show, and keeps fans coming back. You never know when they’re going to bust out an old song you haven’t heard in 15 years, or a song they’ve never performed live before. It isn’t a Hanson show without “mmmbop,” and when the entire crowd sings along, it’s chilling and magical.

  • They’re still making music. The number one question I get asked when I talk about my love of Hanson is “are they still making music?”. Yes. 2013 saw the release of Anthem, their sixth studio album, and they collaborated with Owl City and Blues Traveler in 2015. They’re currently working on their newest fanclub exclusive album, Loud.

  • They’re doing it all themselves. After their label, Mercury Records, merged with Island Def Jam in 2000 and subsequently didn’t know what to do with this pop band of long-haired brothers, Hanson went solo. They documented their struggles with their label and the making of their third album, Underneath, in the iTunes-released documentary, Strong Enough to Break (now on YouTube). The result was the formation of their own label, 3CG Records, and they’ve been doing it on their own ever since.

  • It’s not all about the music. Starting in 2007, Hanson helped raise awareness for poverty and AIDS in Africa by hosting barefoot walks prior to their concert, where, flanked by fans, the brothers walked a mile through the streets sans shoes and then donated $1 for each person who took the walk with them. The Take the Walk campaign was done in partnership with Toms Shoes.


  • So often, children who rise to the huge stardom Hanson saw later endure difficulties adjusting to an adult life and are the scrutiny of the media. See: Lindsey Lohan, Miley Cyrus, Aaron Carter, Justin Bieber, McCauley Culkin. But Hanson made it through alive and relatively unscathed. Sure, there are rumors Zac went to rehab, but nothing’s been confirmed and the boys still retain their wholesome image. Some of that is due to their religious upbringing (no, they’re not mormons), but family has always played a big part in their lives, and Hanson is a family-friendly band both the parents and the kids can bop along to.


  • They don’t rely on references to drugs, sex, or the f-word to make catchy songs. Hanson lyrics are purposefully vague, complicated, and poetic. They talk about life, love, music, and growing older. Even “mmmbop” was more mature than people give it credit for: it was about learning to hold onto the moments in life, about holding on to the people who matter and letting go of the people and things that don’t matter.

“So hold on to the ones who really care, in the end they’ll be the only ones there/when you’re old and start losing your hair, can you tell me who will still care?”

“This Time Around” is just one of their many songs with thought provoking, powerful lyrics:

  • Their fans are epic, have been there a long time, and they realize and appreciate that. Most fansons were teenagers when they first listened to Hanson – the same age as the boys themselves – and have grown up with the band. Our first loves stay with us, and for many fans, Hanson epitomizes that. They’ve been there from the long blonde hair and higher octaves, to the marriages and children. The band is a place for the fans to come and feel like they’re “home” again, and the boys don’t disappoint. There’s the online fanclub, which comes with exclusive online rights and content as well as early admission to concerts, a yearly “members EP,” and invitations to special concerts and events. In addition, they put on special events each year to interact with the fans – their Back to the Island retreat in Jamaica, Hanson Day festivities, etc – that aren’t just about the music, with more personal events included. There are livestreams (the Christmas specials are a favorite), youtube videos, interactive forums, etc. They know they wouldn’t be who they are without the fans, and they give back.

  • They’re not afraid to make fun of themselves and branch out. As they get older, they have new interests, and the best example of this is their new beer, mmmhops. It’s a twist on their biggest hit, but it also showcases their tongue-in-cheek attitude about their success and desire to expand.

So grab a bottle of mmmhops and sit back, relax, and listen to Hanson.

A Visit from the Goon Squad | Review


A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

A Visit From the Goon Squad is a depressing, vignette-style collection of interconnected short stories about growing up, reflection, time, and life. It’s beautiful and ugly at the same time, and I loved it.

The reader follows character after character, somehow related to the one previous, during a specific period in their lives. You learn about where a character came from through their friend’s memory of childhood, then view them years later from their ex-wife or child. At times it can be disconcerting and puzzling to figure out how the current perspective relates to the grand scheme, but when it hits, it’s cathartic and fun.

The stories aren’t about anything in particular, just a brief moment in that character’s life and who they were at that moment, but it reflects on memory and trying to recapture moments, nostalgia and the passage of time.

goon-map-UPDATED-May13What I really loved about this book was the format and risks the author took. You see characters from different perspectives, giving them more dynamic characterization and development; most are flawed, with vices and honest moments of clarity and introspection. Even the writing differs based on the characters, which makes it easier to dive into that character’s head and feel what they’re feeling. Interconnected stories that jump through time and characters are some of my favorite stories, and this doesn’t disappoint. I couldn’t wait to figure out who the next perspective would be, to hear their story.

At times A Visit From the Goon Squad can be very depressing. It talks about life, loss, and growing older; watching your life pass by from the sidelines, reflecting on who you were and how the world has changed around you, but you haven’t. Depressing, but also poignant and beautifully poetic.

4/5 stars

Nora and Kettle | Review


Nora and Kettle (Paper Stars #1) by Lauren Nicolle Taylor

In the post-WWII 1950s America, stereotypes and prejudices against the Japanese were still prevalent. Kettle is a Japanese American boy, raised in the internment camps, who prefers life on the streets to the brutality of life in a Home. Along with his “brother” Kin, Kettle leads and protects a group of lost boys, known as the Kings, in a more “free” life. Nora, on the other hand, lives a privileged life of luxury and money, at least on the outside. Behind the scenes, Nora is physically abused by her father and is the sole protector of her younger sister, who has already been the permanently affected by his abuse.

A historical fiction loosely based on Peter Pan, Nora and Kettle is heartbreaking, beautiful, and rich with character development.

My biggest problem with this book is also one of its strengths: character development. While I loved the extensive look into these characters and their lives, understanding their motivations and who they are individually, it took 200 pages before the characters actually came together and the plot advanced. While this is written in a more “contemporary” style, focused on character and relationships, I would’ve liked to see that struggle of them coming together as more of the focus on the story. Nora on the streets, Kettle struggling with his identity: that’s where the real story lies, not 200 pages of will Nora leave home or not.

15305456The first book in a series, the ending, while cathartic at times, seemed more interested in setting up the next book than finishing the current one. Readers are left with a cliffhanger and a major change in Nora’s life that should’ve been addressed much earlier.

That being said, Nora and Kettle is lyrically written, with beautiful paragraphs of dialogue and description that naturally flow together. It’s very easy to picture and watch the words dance around your head.

Dealing with some very tough topics, Nora and Kettle doesn’t shy away from the brutality of child abuse and racial prejudices, but doesn’t make it the sole characterization of its characters. Nora is abused, and that affects her in very real ways, but she’s also a sister, a dreamer, and someone whose mind hasn’t been shut to new experiences. Kettle is a Japanese American, but even he doesn’t know what that means for him; he doesn’t know what to identify as, and while he keeps his head low to avoid confrontation, he also works hard, refuses to give into those prejudices, and protects those that need it.

Though it takes some time for the title characters to finally come together – for Peter to whisk Wendy away through the window – when they do, it’s magical. They have a natural chemistry, and knowing them as well as we do, it’s exciting to see them together and beginning to fall for one another. It’s fast, but it also feels very slow at the same time.

A big fan of Peter Pan and its many retellings, this was not a disappointment.

3.5 stars

The 52ND | Review


The 52ND by Dela

I received a copy of The 52ND from the author for an honest review.

After disastrous events in the days of the Aztecs and Mayans, the gods and the beings of the underworld came to a truce: Every 52 years, 52 humans would be sacrificed to the underworld, and a family of Watchers would be there to ensure this happened as it should. But there’s also a prophecy that states one of the sacrifices, a 52nd, will end this once and for all.

Lucas Castillo and his family are the Watchers: immortal beings from the time of the curse, designated to spend their years protecting the balance between the gods and the underworld.

Zara is a typical college freshman, but ever since she met the Castillo family at the bowling alley where she worked, things haven’t been the same.

Basically, The 52ND is Twilight but with Aztec immortals rather than vampires.

Lucas and Zara have this tug of war relationship, constantly going back and forth from love to hate. One moment they can’t stand one another and rush to be rid of them, the next they can’t fathom life without them. Yawn.

Not only that, but there are other striking similarities to a certain sparkly vampire: Lucas is super fast with incredible hearing, has never been in love despite being 500 years old (though he HAS at least had sex), he’s incredibly attractive and can glamour people into falling in love with him,  and he’s overprotective and has stalker tendencies. Not creepy I’m-going-to-watch-you-while-you-sleep stalker, but pretty darn close.

In his defense, only part of that was his uncontrollable desire for her; the rest was because of PLOT!

The major plot of the story is that Zara is being hunted by the Executioners – the slaves of the Underworld – who want to kill her, the final sacrifice. Lucas, however, believes she is the “chosen one” and wants to save her because of the Cosmos.

Things I liked:

the-historic-ruins-of-the-ancient-mayan-city-of-tulum-mexico1The culture and history were very exciting and completely different from anything else I’ve read. I loved reading about the Aztecs and Mayans and their traditions and myths, and only wished there’d been more of that in the book. This heritage and diversity was probably my absolute favorite thing about The 52ND.

I also really liked the Castillos. Much like I loved the Cullens in Twilight, the Castillos were pretty awesome. Lucas is moody and overprotective, but he’s got a fight in him that Edward didn’t, which I appreciated. Dylan, Gabriella, Valentina, and Andres were what I needed out of this immortal family though: tough, funny, and tight knit.

Zara is your typical YA female protagonist. She’s well-liked but “hard to crack” emotionally (i.e. all the boys are in love with her but she doesn’t know it/they’re too scared to admit it), and she’s a bit wishy-washy, but she’s strong-willed and able, for the most part, to take care of herself (except that time she got super needy and was afraid to drive).

Things that need work:

My biggest problem with the plot was just that while it appeared pretty early on, it disappeared for 200 pages in the middle. Seriously. This book is 463 pages, and a good majority of it is Zara going to school, figuring out how she feels about Lucas, and then there’s some weird training sequence that’s kind of cool but then abruptly ends. I didn’t feel the threat of the Executioners enough – they showed up maybe twice in three months and both times it didn’t seem that difficult for her to get away. It just felt like the author was biding her time until the “magic day” when everything was supposed to happen, and I felt the long stretch of those months.

The plot showed back up toward the end, with a racing section, but for all that build up, I would’ve liked to see that stretched out longer.

There’s also the matter of Zara’s virginity being crucial to the plot of the Underworld, yet no one ever thinks to just get rid of that problem? Even if it’s something Zara’s not willing to do, it at least needs to be addressed.

As for the writing… it needs work. There are sloppy transitions all over the place, missing information, and weird sentence structure. There are times when it feels like there were sentences taken out in editing, but the surrounding sentences didn’t change to accommodate that missing line. Sometimes Lucas seems to know things without Zara telling him, or he’ll react to something she didn’t say, and there are inconsistencies and weird quirks regarding Zara and her maturity. She’s supposed to be in college, yet school sounds awfully like high school, and she doesn’t act like she has the independence a college student – regardless of whether they’re living at home or not – should have.  There are also split perspectives but only rarely do we leave Zara’s. And the dialogue feels stilted and unnatural.

My last complaint is the forced love triangle at the end, setting up a potential sequel. It felt forced and out of nowhere between two characters I never really felt the chemistry between. Not every teen romance needs a love triangle.

I really loved the concept and the exciting rushes of the plot, and think that Dela has a lot of potential as an author if she cleans up her writing and embraces her unique ideas rather than just catering to the overused tropes so prevalent in YA.

A Gathering of Shadows | Review

A Gathering of Shadows Final

A Gathering of Shadows (Shades of Magic #2) by VE Schwab

Minor Spoilers Below

The second installment picks up a few months after A Darker Shade of Magic left off, with Lila fulfilling her pirate dreams and Kell and Rhy experiencing some new setbacks in their relationship. Their lives magically tied together, they can feel each other’s pain and emotions, and it’s starting to take its toll on the boys.

Kell is frustrated and can’t seem to expel the energy he has pent up inside, and Rhy is conflicted over feeling grateful he’s alive but wishing he’d had a choice in the matter.

Meanwhile, Red London is gearing up for the Essen Tasch, a magical tournament between the three neighboring kingdoms (a la Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire) which pits twelve magicians from each kingdom against one another in four rounds of fighting.

While this is happening in Red London, White London is mending itself, and the darkness from the first book is slowly creeping its way back into control. A Gathering of Shadows, indeed.

The characters are what made me love the first book so much, and they continue to astound me and captivate me here, as does the newcomer, Alucard Emery, who is contesting to be my new favorite. He’s charming, magical, has secrets, and he’s a Captain, what’s not to like?

tumblr_nw8mfvX7nT1qaryrmo1_500I also really like the relationships between this cast of characters, and how they’re all varying and intricate. Not to mention, the romantic relationships that start blooming set my ships asail. My favorite ship from the first book totally sunk, but was replaced with one I may even like better. Also, yay! gay/bi characters! and Schwab’s light touch on the romance aspect. This is a fantasy, after all, NOT a romance. There’s some light kissing, but that’s about the extent of it.

The pace was about on par as the first book for me, which is to say, it’s a bit slower, but I attribute that to the rich writing and detail and my desire to savor the moment rather than rush it. Also, Schwab’s writing never feels very rushed or particularly fast-paced, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t exciting.

The Essen Tasch itself was really cool. I liked seeing how the magicians used magic as a weapon and learning more about the magic system itself. My only complaint is that I wish there’d been MORE! I do love tournaments and games though, which is why Goblet of Fire is my favorite of the Harry Potter books.

I also kept thinking more was going to happen with the neighboring kingdoms that were visiting. There were some subtle, throwaway lines about that, so my mind kept predicting massive slaughters and backstabbing during the Games. The ending is “catastrophic,” (it’s the name of the chapter), but not in that way. The book overall kind of feels like too much of a setup for the next book, as not a lot of major plot happens, but there’s some cool stuff and development along the way.

That catastrophic ending was close to what I’d predicted it would be, and I’ll be anxiously awaiting for the third (and final?) book next year.

4.5/5 stars

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August | Review


The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North

As Harry dies, he is reborn as himself, in the exact same place, time, and circumstances, as if he’d never lived before. Except he remembers everything.

This book explores time, life, science, memory, and humanity. How do you spend your life if it’s your only one, then what happens when you realize it isn’t? How does living change, how does your perception of time, events, people, and memory change?

To live the same life over and over, to watch the same disastrous things happen, life after life, it can get tedious, depressing, and may encourage one to start to change.

Harry is not the only ouroboran (person who dies then lives again), and in one of his early lives, he’s introduced to the Cronus Club, a group of his peers who are set on making sure history stays the same. Disastrous things can happen when you mess with time, after all, and the Cronus Club regulates that. In addition, the Cronus Club makes life easier for those who are fated to live their lives a thousand times. When their memories return as early as two, they begin making connections and escape plans, where their hundred-year-old minds aren’t as trapped by their young bodies.

Imagine going through puberty dozens of times. Ugh.

Harry-August-PrizesHarry was born in the 20s in England, and he spends most of his lives in and around England, fighting in the war, studying various degrees, and traveling the world to help himself understand his predicament. In one Cambridge stay, he befriends a young man named Victor, with whom he has philosophical and scientific discussions on the theory of time. When Victor suspects Harry is a member of the Cronus Club, he punches him and disappears.

Years later, a young girl comes to his deathbed with a message from the future: the world is ending faster and faster, and they can’t figure out how to stop it.

Harry’s fifteen lives are a mixture of boring and interesting, with the storytelling interweaving between the lives and connecting similar moments. Some lives were definitely more interesting than others (I wasn’t a fan of the time he spent in a mental institution, though I suspect he wasn’t either), and some of the slower lives could drag the story down at times.

That being said, it wasn’t enough to deter me from the complexity of this story.

I love time travel, even though it makes my brain hurt when I think about it too often. In the beginning, I wrote down several questions and theories I had regarding this story and its usage of time, and as the novel progressed, many of those questions were answered for me.

Harry himself is kind of a boring character with a boring life, but in the second half, he starts to become more interesting, more deceptive, more creative, which made him more likeable in turn. His dabbles with “evil” in Russia help pick up the plot, and the centuries-long deception is intricate and incredible.

I loved the mix of science and history and I thought the concept was really, really cool.

4.5/5 stars