Everything I Read in January

Reading Round-Up (9).png

Another year, another Goodreads Reading Challenge.

I finished 2018 just shy of my goal of 50 books (I managed 48, which is still pretty impressive if I do say so myself). A busy November and equally hectic December, coupled with the two LSATs I studied for last year, hindered my reading a bit more than I anticipated. I admit that it left me a bit frustrated, but it is what it is. All I can do is dust myself off and try again, which is why I set 2019’s goal at the same number.

You know how they say insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results? Yeah, I’m putting that to the test. Let’s see if I’m reasonably ambitious, or just internet-definition insane.


BEFORE I GO BY RILEY WESTON

I read this book for a book club and, honestly, I'm sort of glad I wasn't able to attend this particular meeting. While this book had a solid concept, its cast of characters garnered no emotional response from me. I just couldn't bring myself to care about them - aside from, perhaps, David and Jack, who I just felt bad for in the spaces where they weren't being used as flat and mindless plot devices. Madison treats everyone around her horribly, a trait that she clearly inherited from Annie who, despite painting herself a martyr, was just as vile and inconsiderate of others - especially her own husband - as her daughter. Without any emotional connection to the characters, and especially without any connection to the main character herself, I found myself skipping and skimming pages just to get through it. 

I can't say that it's all bad. The story itself is well-plotted and well-paced. There are few spots where the action slows down, but i never gets slow enough to be boring, which is something I appreciate in a 400 page book. Madison's health issues arise, and are subsequently batted away, in a believable way: subtle changes brushed off as soreness or exhaustion from training, which is common for real-life athletes. There is also a certain realness in the constant back-and-forth between Annie and Madison, in which they alternate between between animosity and warmth in a way that can be quite true to teenage child/parent relationships. I appreciated all of these elements, as they added some realness and authenticity to the story.

My qualm is that without characters who are, at the very least, likably unlikable, all of this background work falls flat. I've seen other reviews equate this book with John Green's The Fault in Our Stars, and I can definitely see that. I can even see it being a bit like Jesse Andrews' Me And Earl And The Dying Girl. It falls into that teen-romance-battered-by-cancer category. But Before I Go misses one vital element: characters like Hazel, Gus, and Rachel are all, even in their darkest and bleakest and most selfish moments, likable kids that audiences want to root for. Madison just doesn't fit in their roster, and her abrasive personality made it hard for me as a reader - and even for the other characters filling up her story - to connect with her.

CARNIVAL GAMES BY D.E. KERR

This book is powerful. 

I actually wound up reading this two times through to really soak it up. There is a particular intensity to this story that demanded my attention, and I felt like I owed it that second read: to understand, to sit with each poem, to gather every ounce I could. This is an extraordinarily personal piece for Kerr; something that I knew going in, and something that I understood more and more deeply with each turn of the page. The vulnerability that she shares is humbling, and the power that grows out of it will have you cheering. 

This is an important book about the equally important topic of mental and emotional abuse. It digs into the uncomfortable corners that no one ever wants to get near. It shows you the deception of emotionally abusive people, and most importantly, it shows you that there's a way out.

The further into the book you get the more and more hope is injected into every line, until the poet emerges like a phoenix from her ashes. And while every ounce of me wishes that Kerr, and that all the thousands of people like her, never had to go through this sort of pain, I'm so awed at the way she turned it into a striking story of resilience, rebirth, and regrowth. She truly did save herself, in every way, shape and form, and being allowed a glimpse inside her world is a privilege I'm grateful to have.

DAUGHTER-SEED BY ARIELLE TIPA

This is the kind of book that settles deep in your bones and reaches into the most shielded parts of your soul. Each poem packs a punch, and you're breathless from it all by the time you close the back cover. I found myself flipping right back through it a second time just to be sure I caught every nuance, every little word, every tiny metaphor. This book is a small fire. It'll catch in your heart if you let it, and you won't want to put it out.

DRAGONHEARTS BY NIKITA GILL, AMANDA LOVELACE, & TRISTA MATEER

This book is equal parts sweet and empowering. 

It took me back to the days in middle school when my friends and I used to pass around notebooks and spent worksheet papers to write poems line-by-line with one another - of course, Dragonhearts takes that to a more polished kind of poetry, but the sentiment remains. You can feel the bond that these women have with one another deepen with every turn of the page. By the end of it, you're left feeling like you can call Amanda and Nikita and Trista your friends, too. 

This book will make you feel supported, understood, and most of all powerful. It reminds you of all the good things about yourself that you oftentimes overlook, or even doubt exist at all. It's like having the girl group of your childhood dreams fall into your lap. It's truly beautiful, and an equally beautiful read.

Everything I Read in August, September, & October

Reading Round-Up (1).png

I guess you could say the last few months got away from me. Maybe I was little burnt-out from all the summer reading I did, maybe I was feeling the weight of some emotionally heavy anniversaries, maybe I was just bogged down with books of a more academic nature. Really, it’s combination of all three that lead me to read a little less per month on this summer-fall cusp. But that’s okay - but I still cracked a few spines and flipped a few pages, and now I’ve got three months worth of reviews to share with you! Here’s a round-up of everything I read in August, September, and October.

POETRY MAGAZINE (JULY/AUGUST 2018) EDITED BY DON SHARE

I found it difficult to stay focused through a lot of this edition, especially through the last poem and the last essay of the issue. There were some gems - such as Terrance Hayes' excerpt from "To Float in the Space Between" & Krista Franklin's excerpt from "Under the Knife", both of which made me want to run out and read the full works. I also fond of some of the poems, especially pieces by Dunya Mikhail and Tony Lopez. Overall, though, I felt like this was a weaker issue. The lengthier pieces made it feel like work to read through them, and it felt like there was too much focus being placed on featured, big-name poets. It took away from the magic of the other pieces.

HONEYBEE BY TRISTA MATEER

I'm obsessed with this book. Absolutely, positively obsessed. I've wanted to get my hands on it for a long time, having read quite a few of Trista's chapbooks already. When Trista announced that it had been picked up by Central Avenue Publishing, I couldn't wait to see this beautiful little book with all of Trista's beautiful words perched on a bookstore shelf. Seeing that publishing house dream come true for other writers makes my heart swell, and this was no exception. 

Trista has such a unique style to her. It sits somewhere on the hazy border between simplistic and modernized poetry and more layered, metaphorical forms - and each every word is tied up with the poet's own raw nerve-endings. These come from somewhere deep inside her, and reading something so intimate feels a bit like an intrusion and a lot like a privilege. It's one of those poetry books that makes you feel - happy, sad, heartbroken, lost, hopeless, hopeful. And all of that wild emotion can even inspire you to pick a pen. I've always felt that that's how you know a poetry collection works; if a book makes you feel so many things that you have to take a blank page to empty it all out on, then that book has done something right. That' Honeybee. A roller coaster ride of emotions that makes you get off ready to build your own theme park. 

I just can't sing this collection's praises enough, and I truly can't wait to see what more Trista has hidden up her sleeve.

WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF BY EDWARD ALBEE

I first watched the film adaptation of this play in a high school creative writing class about seven years ago now, and again had it discussed in college lecture halls, but I'd never - not once - actually sat down and read the book. 

I'm so glad I did, because while these words are meant to be read aloud on stage, there's something visceral about letting them playing out in your own head. The most interesting thing about this story to me is that in all my years studying the material, and now in finally reading its source, I don't like a single one of the characters. Not one. And yet, they're still sympathetic. I still feel for them, even if their personalities rub me in all the wrong ways, I still feel for them and I still care about how the story turns out. For a while, I thought this was just from acting choices in the movie pulling at my heartstrings, but just reading the words on a black-and-white page still made me feel for this dysfunctional little cast. That's pure talent on Albee's part: making unlikable people sympathetic. But I think it's also pretty true to life. There have been plenty of people I've met who I might not be crazy for and might not want to grab drinks with on a Saturday night, but I still feel for them when they hit rough patches, because we're all human and we're all just trying our best, and sometimes our best is messy or things just don't work out. 

Checking this one off my reading bucket list felt good, but now I'm eager to dive in again and dissect it a little further. I'm just fascinated by the structure of the play and the nuances of its rough-edged players.

THIS SIDE OF PARADISE BY F. SCOTT FITZGERALD

I so wanted to love this book. 

F. Scott Fitzgerald has long been one of my literary idols. The effortless way he drips detail into fluid, poetic prose has dragged me since that one day in eleventh grade English when I scanned the opening lines of The Great Gatsby for the first time. I've been hooked ever since, and have even tried (and failed, and tried again) to capture its essence in my own work. 

That easy, languid style is present in this book. That's what made it so sensational, and it's what still has copies flying off shelves and into the hands of eager literature buffs. I appreciate that style, and I appreciate the story that it tells, but the characters just didn't grab me the way I wished they would. I found myself just not caring what happened to them. I was bored by them, and that made me apathetic toward the book as a whole. I wanted to care - I tried to care - but, ultimately, I just couldn't. From a literary standpoint, I can understand how this book boosted Fitzgerald to fame. The prose is absolutely beautiful, and he weaves thoughts and actions in a seamless blend that pull you easily from page to page. He threads themes of love and lust and greed and ambition effortlessly into even the simplest of sentences, and he truly as a talent for building fictional words on the foundations of his world's reality. But personally, I just didn't find myself rooting for Amory or caring much about what happened with his varied courtships.

JOHANNES CABAL THE NECROMANCER BY JONATHAN L. HOWARD

I've had this book recommended to me by the same person, over and over again, for about a year. We were book browsing one day (as in, we're two penny-pinching twenty-somethings not looking to spend any money but wanting very much to look at, but not buy, new books - which, in hindsight, was a mission destined to fail) when she got excited and yanked this one right off the shelf. "This one," she said, "This is what I've been telling you about." So I read the first page, and then the second page, and then wound up at the cash register passing bills to the store clerk because damn it I needed to see this thing through. 

If you're into the creepy, twisted nature of something like American Horror Story: Freakshow but prefer it with a dash of black comedy a la Beetlejuice or Young Frankenstein, this is the book for you. The world inside these pages is wild and weird and, yes, pretty twisted. But the vivid characters, the moral hopscotch played by Johannes Cabal himself, and the spectacular landscape make the ride so incredibly worth it. It's comedic horror with a heart and everything about it just works so well. The carnival, the demons with their odd-shaped skulls and ghoulish bodies, the portrayal of Hell as a glorified and overheated DMV. It's funny and poignant and everything in between, and I can't wait to dig into the rest of the series!

Honestly, my dream now is to see this story portrayed as a film or mini-series. I'm telling you, it could be Netflix's next cult hit. And I might not have any screenwriting credits to my name, but if Jonathan Howard wants to talk adaptation rights, my line's open. Seriously. Call me.

UNCOMMON TYPE: SOME STORIES BY TOM HANKS

I like Tom Hanks. I like short stories. I like mundane, slice-of-life fiction. Put this all together and you'd think I'd be all about Tom Hanks writing mundane, slice-of-life short fiction and for a few precious moments in this book, you'd think right. There are some real gems in here, and Hanks really does tell all of stories with a genuine and honest voice. I just missed the spark I was really looking for out of this book.

Maybe the problem is that I went in with high expectations. I've read some of his writings before, so I was really ready for Tom Hanks to deliver. On a few pages, he did. On most, there was a lot to be desired. The majority of this book felt like it was scratching the surface of something special, and perhaps a little more digging would've broken through to the full potential each of these stories has. Because they're good. Their characters are solid and their concepts are rich. There's some really unique ideas in here, including a group of friends and a trip to the moon in a DIY rocket ship (a story that feels a little out of place among the other more contemporary pieces in the book, but that is perhaps all the more intriguing because of this). I just wish that there was more to them. This book really could be something incredible - it has so much untapped potential inside. As-is, though, it seems to sit on the cusp of greatness.

OUT OF AFRICA BY KAREN BLIXEN (ISAK DINESEN)

This is such a beautiful book.

I'm going to be completely honest and say that even though I've heard this title batted around hundreds of times before - in and out of classrooms, with other book enthusiasts, on Gilmore Girls - I never really knew what, exactly, it was about. I'm also going to be honest when I say that I'm glad I went in a little ignorant to the content. It made opening up the pages and exploring Blixen's world like an expedition to a new land. 

Out of Africa shows the continent, its people, and its daily life in such a warm light. You can feel the love that Karen Blixen has for her farm and for the people she knew because of it. She formed such honest relationships with people whose customs were foreign but whose hearts were big and open. This is like a cross-cultural exploration of a place that truly deserves a bigger spotlight. It's also so historically rich, offering a unique perspective on European colonialism and its direct affects on both native African peoples and the colonists themselves, through Blixen's eyes. 

I expected this to be a quick, easy read - and it was, but it was also so much more. It was a living snapshot of Blixen's life, and the life of those on her farm, bursting with color and with pride, with respect and with love.

BARRELHOUSE MAGAZINE ISSUE EIGHTEEN

I absolutely loved this issue, but it was the prose that really stood out to me. The fiction and non-fiction contributors in number eighteen held absolutely nothing back. They pulled at my heartstrings, they made me think, they made me more afraid of swarms of cicadas than I have been since I was a kid. If you want some weird and unique short fiction or seek poignant reflections from fathers and punk rockers, you need to pick this one up. You won’t be disappointed!

Everything I Read in July

Reading Round-Up (7).png

Originally posted on August 5, 2018.

A brief stay-cation gave me an opportunity to dive into some fun reads last month! A week of beach going gave me ample time to finally get around the a spring edition of Poetry magazine (after months of shelf-sitting and dust-gathering), plus I got through two fascinating fiction reads and a timeless piece of non-fiction I've been hoping to read for a good year. I hope you enjoy my July reading round-up!

LITTLE FIRES EVERYWHERE BY CELESTE NG

This book is beautifully written, brilliantly constructed, and equal parts heartbreaking and hopeful.

The only draw I had was the slow nature of the pacing. It seems that something big would happen, and then things would settle for a long while before the second shoe dropped. This, however, I'll chalk up to personal preference. I'll admit that I like a heavier peppering of drama throughout a book and that I found myself getting a little restless with the downtime in this one. 

That being said, the characters are truly what kept me hooked. Celeste Ng writes with beautiful intimacy when it comes to her characters. She peels back their layers bit by bit, the way we ourselves often do when we meet new people. She gives us someone who fits in one dimension in our minds, then unfolds them so we can see their many sides. That kind of reality is striking and intriguing. She then uses her almost uncomfortably real cast to tackle equally real, layered, and complex issues including racial and ethnic identity, motherhood, and the impact of long-held secrets. The small town feel of the book puts each character under a microscope. We get the sense, right off the bat, that everyone is being watched and scrutinized, and it's interesting to see how each one of them reacts to this feeling. 

This definitely one of the most interesting books I've ever read. Ng has a beautiful narrative style and truly paints pictures with her words. As I said, the pacing is my only drawback, but that is entirely a "me problem". Otherwise, I truly can't recommend this book enough. It's interesting, thoughtful, and engaging and is sure to get your mind wrestling with some really tough questions.

WISHFUL DRINKING BY CARRIE FISHER

This book was born from Carrie Fisher's one-woman show of the same name, and it certainly reads like it. I definitely recommend the audiobook version over the print, because it gives you that live show feel the book was written to capture, and hearing the stories in Carrie's voice elevates them in a lot of ways - including hilarity! 

I had previously read "The Princess Diarist", and although some of the stories repeat between the books, they are told in a way that feels new. I feel like I could listen to Carrie Fisher spin the same anecdotes twenty times and still be riveted for the twenty-first. She was an incredibly gifted storyteller - funny, insightful, thoughtful. She was the kind of person who could be sentimental and sarcastic in the same breath. 

This is definitely a must-read for fans of Carrie's. It's so interesting to hear her stories in her own words. It's like getting a chance to sit down with her over coffee - a special, intimate experience.

POETRY MAGAZINE (APRIL 2018) EDITED BY DON SHARE

I picked up this issue when it was first released and finally had the chance to sit and read it. I have to say, off the bat, I love what seeing a magazine with such a long and and storied history dedicating its pages to deserving organizations. There were a lot of really special pieces in here that offered valuable perspectives. I think there are a lot of gems in this issue, but overall I felt something of a disconnect between the three sections that made each page seem jumpy and made it difficult for me to settle into a flow or rhythm with the volume as a whole. I definitely dog-eared some pages to flip back to, but overall I felt like there could have been more cohesion.

IF WE WERE VILLAINS BY M.L. RIO

There's no other way to describe my relationship with this book other than that I'm obsessed with it. 

If you're a fan of theater, Shakespeare, and murder mysteries than this is the story for you. It sprinkles in romance and drama in all the right intervals, never letting a single relationship take control of the narrative. I felt so enveloped in this world. I was on the stage with this characters, I was at their cast parties, I was traipsing through Oliver's past alongside him. The pacing was effortlessly flawless - just enough to keep the ending out of reach, but never reaching the point of slow. I found myself unwilling to put the book down. Each chapter called for me to jump to it, and I was in a constant of state of wonder: what happens next? what does this mean? who did it? 

I can tell that this is going to be book I re-read again and again. I feel like there's still a lot to pick up that I may have missed the first go around, and I'm excited to dig a little deeper into the story. My only complaint is that I wish there was more of it. I found myself almost sad at the end, flipping through the last few pages as if turning them faster might make more appear. It's a truly brilliant story, and perfectly crafted. I can see why this one blew up on the book club circuit - it's wonderful!

Everything I Read in June

Reading Round-Up (6).png

Originally posted on July 2, 2018.

It's that time again - the end of one month and the start of a new. The LSAT has been conquered, summer is in full swing, and I've got eight new books to share with you! Last month I started to explore the audiobook world to hack away at a Stephen King classic (review of It is in May's round-up!). Since then, I've become an Audible addict. The app let me read four extra books this month from the comfort of my car, and my laundry room, and the beach. It's really amped up the amount of books I've been able to read, and while it will continue to help me reach my reading goals this summer, I'm most excited about the possibility of being able to actually read for pleasure when I start school again!

But enough about me. Let's talk about the books.

JURASSIC PARK BY MICHAEL CRICHTON

I'm a huge Jurassic Park fan (like, capital-h Huge) so this book was a natural selection for me. In honor of the movie's 25th anniversary, I used this one in my first From Book to Box Office post! You can catch that comprehensive review here, but for now I can tell you this: 

Jurassic Park is my favorite movie, and I grew up loving the film franchise, so it was only a matter of time until I finally picked up the book. I'm so, so glad I did! There are, expectedly, marked differences between page and screen - but those changes make each story uniquely its own. The way that each character is portrayed and how they each interact with one another, the way that the dinosaurs are introduced - both initially, and after the park-wide shutdown, the way that scientific and even mathematical concepts are talked about and dealt with each have slight variances in the worlds of the film and the book, and those differences make the stories each interesting, engaging, and fascinating in their own rights. 

As far as the book goes: the plot is incredibly well-structured, with tension rising and rising and rising and then releasing just slightly before rising yet again. The threats posed to the characters are equal parts horrifying and fascinating (don't tell me raptors tricking a human to attack another human isn't fascinating - dinos participating in strategic planning on par with human beings? that's! so! cool!), the conflict between the characters, the effects of stress on fear on each of them. It's so smart, and creates such an amazing and timeless narrative. It doesn't matter that the book was written almost thirty years ago - the scientific advances we've made since then doesn't make the fictional science of this novel any less scary, and doesn't make the story of John Hammond's ambitious park any less of a cautionary tale. If anything, maybe it's more relevant today. It's truly a wonderful story, and a wonderfully executed one at that. I definitely have a new favorite book going on my shelf!

THE LOST WORLD BY MICHAEL CRICHTON

I also featured this one in the From Book to Box Office series, but here's a briefer look:

I didn't think that Michael Crichton's dinosaurs would pull me in as much as they have, but wow. 

I downloaded this book immediately after finishing "Jurassic Park" and dove right in. It captured me in just the same way the first book did. The story is similar- island of dinosaurs, group of scientists trapped on it, there are kids involved, there's another group trying to ruin everything. But there's enough new information, enough new thoughts, to make this story unique. The characters are just as vivid as book one, with action just as heart-stopping and conflicts just as dire. 

The major different is that this book features a smaller cast of characters, and they are entirely on their own. There's no regular boat schedule to rely on, and no means of communication with the outside world. This isolation increases the intimacy between them; it strengthens bonds and makes conflicts and tensions more severe. It forces the characters to rely on each other, brings about leadership in each person in different ways, and makes for a compelling character-driven drama. This is exactly the type of action/adventure I love, so it's no surprise that this book quickly rocketed up my list of favorites. I hate to be "that person", but this book really does reach above and beyond the film. It feels more rooted to its source content, and a bit more grounded in reality. 

I'd definitely recommend this for any action-enthusiast, dinosaur fanatic, or Jurassic Park fan. It's a fun, insightful, thought-provoking, and all-around a wonderfully crafted story.

WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR BY PAUL KALANITHI

What a beautiful book. What a heartbreaking, breathtaking, wonderful, inspiring, beautiful book. 

In the epilogue Kalanithi's wife, Lucy, mentions that the manuscript was left unfinished at his death; in a way, this is apparent. The book ends a bit abruptly. Kalanithi's narration suddenly stops, and is instantly taken over by Lucy, who dives into his last days in greater detail. It all happens quickly, which to me seems fitting - isn't that how death is? Doesn't it sneak up on us like that, regardless of whether or not we're expecting it?

And while the ending punctuates Kalanithi's story between a period and an ellipsis, the whole of the book is a true gift. It is the last words of an honest and hard-working man who yearned to understand life and death. His soul sings through his words. He bares himself wholly and completely in this book, sharing his life without hiding the weak points or trying to write them off. He shows himself in health and in sickness, shares his thoughts and fears, resulting in an intimate and touching account of his life and of his- ultimately untimely -death. Kalantithi strove to help others in his life as a neurosurgeon and neuroscientist, and his memoir- his story, his words, his life -will surely go on to help many more.

THE GLASS MENAGERIE BY TENNESSEE WILLIAMS

I haven't touched this book since high school, and barely remembered the story when I decided to crack it open again. In a way, I'm glad for that - it was as close as I could get to revisiting a book with that same first-time feeling, which is a rare experience to get to relive.

I've always been a fan of Tennessee Williams, and this one-act is a prime example of why. His characters are so insanely vivid. They are layered and complex in ways that make them real. I believe this is due in part their basis in reality. Williams wrote his fiction in an autobiographical sense that tied his make-believe stories to his own everyday life. This draw on personal experience creates characters that are flawed, eclectic, varied, and emotional. They do not get stuck in the intricacies of their individual roles. As the play goes on, we peel back layers of each person and come to know them as we would our own friends, family, and neighbors. Amanda becomes much more than a forlorn former Southern belle wishing for her youth, Tom much more than an unhappy warehouse worker, and Laura far more than a timid young woman. And it's this pulling back of layers that tugs the action along and makes for a whole and complete story.

The language is beautiful, the pacing is perfect, and the story- though small and quick -resonates loudly.

SUNFISH BY SHELBY EILEEN

This book is so thoughtful and intimate. There's a rawness to it that struck me - I felt, in part, like I was reading words meant for another person. Like, somehow, I was intruding on somebody else's letter. But that kind of honesty is so pure. That kind of honesty, and openness, and realness resonates. This book paints a sometimes beautiful, sometimes difficult, sometimes heartbreaking picture of Shelby's family. I feel like I've come to know them through her words, and I feel so grateful to have been introduced. This is a really special little book.

JAWS BY PETER BENCHLEY

I genuinely enjoyed this book. Being a long-time fan of Spielberg's version, I'm glad I was finally able to sit down with the original. There's definitely more layers to the story in Benchley's original telling. The plight of the people of Amity is a greater concern, and there are many interpersonal relationships that don't quite make it to the film. The shark poses somewhat of a different threat in Benchley's version. The film is sensationalist. It milks the scare factor for all its worth, using the shark to showcase a mastery of special effects. In the book, there's more uncertainty surrounding the shark. It attacks in a more erratic pattern, making both characters and readers question the water's safety.

There is one subplot in the book that frustrated me. The affair between Brody's wife, Ellen, and Hooper distracted from the action for what felt like no reason. It seemed the intent was to deepen the tension between Brody and Hooper, but all it did was create soap opera level drama that fizzled out after Hooper met his fate. For me, the shark and the tensions it creates in the town brings more than enough to the table. All the affair gave nothing that wasn't already there, and could have been left out without hurting the story.

Honestly, that one problem is the only reason this isn't a four or five-star book for me. It was an exhaustive element that just didn't need to be there and that detracted from an overall excellent, frightening, and compelling thriller.

LOST GIRLS BY JOHN POLLONO

I was lucky enough to see this play during its run at the MCC Theater in New York and it was incredible, and received a digital copy to read after reaching out to John Pollono on Twitter (oh, the power of social media!). Being able to read the script gave me a while new appreciation for this story. It's subtle complexities come to life on stage, but are embedded into the language in such a way that's utterly unmissable on paper. 

One of the things that always drawn me to John's writing has been his dedication to authenticity. His characters feel like real people. They're average Joes and Janes just trying to make ends meet, performing balancing acts between work and friends and family that are all too familiar to readers and audiences. This kind of characterization is the heart of Lost Girls. We feel for these characters. More importantly, we feel with them. Through expert prose, heartstrings are pulled and readers easily find themselves rooting for these people. We want to see them happy at the end, because we know that they deserve to be happy. And why shouldn't they? They're just like us. And don't we all wish for and deserve a happy ending? 

This play is somewhat reminiscent of Tennessee Williams. It's a family story, much like The Glass Menagerie, with dynamic characters rooted firmly in real life. It's both simple and complex in characterization and story and truly reads like a modern classic. This play a true gem, and it's one that sticks with you for a long time after.

OUR WILD MAGIC BY AMANDA LINSMEIER

Instant classic. That's what kept coming to mind as I read this gorgeous collection of poetry. It's an instant classic. Drawing from stories we all know and love- the fairy tales and myths that have fascinated people for centuries -Linsmeier takes readers on a journey. She uses the whimsy of make-believe worlds, the magic we longed for as children, to show us how our own lives can read like a storybook. We go through trials. We fall down. We have hard times, we struggle, but we persist. We rise up, over and over again, even when it's hard to do. It's what makes us human. 

This collection feels like it's existed for a long time. It feels like it has a history, and that's why I kept this feeling that could easily become a modern classic. Amanda is a wonderful poet. She is honest and truthful. She expertly weaves tough-stuff material into language that sings. She has something incredible special with this book, and I truly cannot wait to see what she does next.

Everything I Read in May

Originally posted on June 3, 2018.

There's only one week left until the LSAT! Which is both terrifying and exciting. Terrifying because, well, there's only one week left to prepare. Exciting because the end of my marathon study-sessions can soon be replaced with books. Lots and lots of books. Which will, hopefully, get me back on my original goal of reading four books per month. For May, though, I remained buried by analytical reasoning problems and riddling through sufficient and necessary assumptions. I still managed to get some reading done. Here's everything I read in May!

DROPKICKromance BY CYRUS PARKER

This book has so much heart. It lives and breathes with its author, it draws in with emotion and a story that is all-too-familiar for so many of us. I especially love Cyrus's wordplay and use of shapes and spacing in many of his pieces. Something as simple as moving one single word to the opposite side of the page carries so much weight in these poems. His style is concise and poignant, and his voice holds a tone that will surely resonate with so many readers. You can flip through the pages and go "yes, I know what that feels like" and instantly feel just a little bit less alone. This is a beautiful debut collection from a wonderful poet - can't wait to see more from such an honest and open mind.

STAN LEE: THE MAN BEHIND MARVEL BY BOB BATCHELOR

As a long-time fan of Marvel, this book was such a fun and insightful read. I grew up delighted by Stan Lee's many cameos in Marvel superhero flicks, and while I knew that he was the creator (and cocreator) of many characters and that he was essentially the face the Marvel Comics, I don't think I fully grasped his long history with the company or the struggles he went through to create such iconic characters and stories. Batchelor's extensive research delves into Lee's life from his upbringing during the Great Depression, through his army days, the inception of his first hero team in the Fantastic Four, all the way to his MCU cameos and geek culture stardom. It's an all-encompassing account of the life one of the most prolific figures in popular culture over the past six some-odd decades. I came away from this book feeling both inspired and awed - inspired to create, and awed at the tenacity and persistency of one man as he stormed American and worldwide popular culture. Stan Lee is a remarkable figure. He's a hardworking, creative, tireless talent who is notorious for taking ideas and running with them. This book gave me a much deeper appreciation for him as a creator and as a writer. It's definitely a must-read for Lee aficionados!

IT BY STEPHEN KING

I've been meaning to read this book for ages, and I'm so glad I finally did! I will admit that if I didn't listen to this as an audiobook I don't think I ever would have finished, so shout-out to Audible for the helping hand. It's not the story isn't fascinating - because it truly is - but there is just so much to this book, and while each little detail is important to the overall story, it can be tough to get into the first few chapters. About a third of the way through the book, though, I was hooked! The omnipotent narration gives an incredible cinematic quality to the story. I loved the way the book was broken up; the splits between past and present were perfectly balanced, and the interludes aided them brilliantly. The relationships between the characters are so authentic, and King's mastery of capturing their personalities both in childhood and adulthood is wonderfully real, charming, heartbreaking, and about a million other adjectives. This is a layered story, with many different twists and turns, that is thoroughly engaging, will tug at your heartstrings, and despite being a true brick of a book, will somehow leave you desperate for me even after you turn the past page. Stephen King has a wonderful way of writing horror with heart, and this book proves that about ten times over.

Everything I Read in March & April

Reading Round-Up (4).png

Originally posted on May 4, 2018.

I'm back at it again with the read round-ups! After a difficult couple of months, I'm here with four books that I read over March and April. True to form, I've got a non-fiction pick in the form of a memoir; a classic pick from the realm of the epic; a poetry pick from a modernist favorite; and a fiction pick straight off the big screen. Let's dive in, shall we?

THE HEROIN DIARIES BY NIKKI SIXX

I've been a big Cruehead ever since I was a kid; my dad raised me on all the 80's metal he grew up with, and for some reason that was the band that sucked me in. I loved their sound and their over-the-top, theatrical vibe. They were different, and a great deal of that was thanks to Nikki Sixx's vision from the get-go. He's an artist in the full sense of the word, and I believe this book proves that. The strength that it takes to bear one's soul so openly and so vulnerably is incredible. He takes his weakest moments, something most people would stuff into a corner and hope to forget, and lays it out for the whole world to see. He's done it through music for years, increased the intimacy by opening up his diaries in front of the world, and has gone on to help others show what makes them different and beautiful through his photography. He has an incredible mind, an incredible sight, and it's so interesting and awe-inspiring to get a glimpse inside his head.

I knew most of his history growing up simply because my dad was something of a rock 'n roll encyclopedia and would spew out fun facts while we listened to his playlists in the car, and I was excited when he told me that he heard that Nikki Sixx was publishing a new book. We listened to The Heroin Diaries Soundtrack together when it first came out, and discussed 1987 Nikki/Crue at length - this was also around the time that he took me to my first Motley Crue concert. I first read the book in spurts whenever I would visit Borders (which was often, until it broke my heart by closing), and returning to it ten years later - and seeing where Nikki is ten years later - was both nostalgic and uplifting. I adore this book, admire all that Nikki has been able to do, and admire his spirit and voracity for life and art and new experiences. There's a lot to be learned from him, and this book is a true testament to the power of second chances.

BEOWULF TRANSLATED BY SEAMUS HEANEY

This was a third-over re-read for me, after having visited this book in both high school and college. It was an upper level literature class in undergrad that first allowed me to appreciate this story and all it did for Western literature. Before that, either the mood of the class soured my mood of the book, or I was just too young and too involved in more modern fantasies to be bothered. I'm grateful for the professor who shed some much-needed light on the epic, and even more grateful to have stumbled upon a new copy at Barnes & Noble when I was looking for Gilgamesh (a re-read that will still be done, of course).

You can get everything you need out of this single poem: action, adventure, horrors, sorrow and loss, triumphs. Reading through it, you can see how Beowulf's story was shaped by its time - and also how it helped to lay the groundwork for many a modern masterpiece. The fact that these characters and their stories still resonate with readers centuries after its writing speaks volumes of its quality. The tale is truly timeless.

THE WITCH DOESN'T BURN IN THIS ONE BY AMANDA LOVELACE

Amanda Lovelace has a powerful voice, and is truly a force to be reckoned with. Her debut collection was full of fire and passion; reading it felt like being trusting with Lovelace's innermost thoughts. But where Princess burned, Witch seemed to sizzle - for me, anyway. 

Lovelace's signature style still shined through this book, and her simplicity hammered home the many valuable lessons scattered throughout. There were many a page where I felt empowered and ready to take on the world, and for that feeling I'm grateful. Not all poetry can inspire that, and it's a testament to Lovelace's talent that this book can rile emotion and spark confidence. There was just something about it that left me wanting more; something about it that felt flat. I didn't feel Amanda's personality in this book the way I did in Princess. She felt lost in statements rather than at the forefront of her work. 

This is still a book I would recommend to others. There's no doubt there's a power in it, and the potential to raise up many. This book offers a hand to hold for many women struggling to have their voices heard, and I feel that there's a lot to garner from these pages. But it isn't my favorite of Lovelace's work. I don't want to say that I feel cheated, because Lovelace still delivered some really powerful poems, but I do feel like as a whole the collection left something to be desired.

THE SHAPE OF WATER BY GUILLERMO DEL TORO & DANIEL KRAUS

This world - weaved by two minds, nurtured in two mediums, set forth in the world to conquer - is exquisite. It pulls you in like no other and leaves in a dream. For all the fantastical elements included, the story and its characters feel fully grounded in reality. It's pure magic.

I will say that I do feel the concept lends itself more easily to film. The visual elements incorporated in del Toro's award-winning feature are what drew me into The Shape of Water in the first place, and what kept me so firmly rooted in it. However, I appreciate the insights into the minds and lives of each character that the book offers. The book added so much depth to characters who were mere background pieces in the film, and I found myself having a greater understanding of and appreciation for each one as I read. 

All in all, this is a beautiful book, and a beautiful companion to the movie. Each stands alone well, but together, they create a world so awe-inspiring you'll never want to leave.

Everything I Read in February (Part 2)

Reading Round-Up (3).png

Originally posted on March 1, 2018.

As discussed in part one of my February reading round-up, because I read so many books last month I decided to break up my book reviews into two posts. In part one I discussed my fiction pick and four of the poetry books I read, and in this post I will be discussing my classic pick and the remaining five poetry books. 

Because I read so much this month, I decided to break up this post into two parts. In this one, I'll cover my fiction pick and four poetry books. In part two, I'll cover my classic pick and five poetry books. Advanced copies or copies I received in exchange for a fair review will be noted. 

TENDER IS THE NIGHT BY F. SCOTT FITZGERALD

I'm a huge fan of Fitzgerald, and while I genuinely enjoyed this story I felt it simply dragged too slowly along. 

The characters are wonderful and vivacious. The world is painted in true Fitzgerald fashion- with glitz and glamour and some dark secrets underneath. It's a captivating story; I just felt, too often, that I was being weight down with too many details. The same amount of story could have been told with about 100 less pages. That said, I was fascinated by these characters and the world in which Fitzgerald dropped them in. I appreciated the back-and-forth between time periods, giving readers a deeper understanding of who each of these characters were and where they all came from. The amount of drama, tension, and the weight of a very prominent love triangle makes the book read like a riveting 1920s soap opera. It's a wonderful story. I'm just not sure it's one I'll be re-reading over and over again, a la The Great Gatbsy.

PLEASE HEAR WHAT I'M NOT SAYING EDITED BY ISABELLE KENYON

I have a poem in this anthology and was able to get an early contributor's copy. Please Hear What I'm Not Saying was released on February 8, 2018. Proceeds from the anthology benefit the UK-based mental health charity MIND

I'm so grateful to have a piece in this beautiful collection. Every poet who contributed offered up pieces of themselves in poetry, and it truly shines through. From start to finish, I could barely put this book down. Every voice is so unique and distinct. It's wonderful to have a chance to see so many different perspectives of mental illness. Seeing people lay their hearts out so honestly is humbling. There is so much gorgeous talent in this book, and it was but together for an incredible cause. I'm honored to have been a part of it!

MAROON DAYDREAMS BY CHEYENNE RAINE

I adore Cheyenne, and I adore her poetry just as much. Her work here is as sweet and dreamy as ever. There is something positively ethereal about this little book. It is calming and comforting in its relatability, and sparks a hopeful tone for new adventures ahead. This book made me want to run outside and be with nature; to talk to the moon and sail away on the sea, make friends with the stars and come back with songs in my heart. That's the kind of feeling Cheyenne leaves you with- wanderlust and serenity. She's truly a special poet, and one I will keep in my heart for a long, long time.

LOVE, AND YOU BY GRETCHEN GOMEZ

Gretchen does not hold back. Every emotion pours through with clarity and an exceptional rawness through this collection. She is an open book in her poetry; I felt each pang of heartache, each stepping stone of strength, and each and every triumph she expressed as if they were my own. It takes a special kind of writer to translate such intense emotion into clear poetry. Her honesty is humbling and beautiful. I adore this collection, and absolutely cannot wait to read more from Gretchen.

IT STARTS LIKE THIS BY SHELBY LEIGH

My only qualm with this collection is its brevity. The poetry's simplicity lent itself to the clarity of its themes, and the whole book was beautiful because of it. I can see why Shelby chose each piece as a favorite. They all fit and floated together, but were each different enough in their tone to bring emotions up and then down and then up again with every turn of the page. The rhythm of the book never once faltered. This is a relatable, beautiful book of poetry that's left me wanting more.

PRIVATE POEMS MOSTLY BY CHRISTOPHER MAHAN

This is truly a unique little book. 

I always enjoy getting a glimpse into people's lives, even through the smallest of windows, and that is what this felt like. The poems were indeed personal, most of them speaking to or about specific people, and each left me wondering what the Mahan's relationship with these people are. They sound truly special and remarkable to have such lovely words written about them. I also enjoyed that Mahan documented where some of the poems came from- Twitter DMs, etc. It gave me a feeling of sitting beside him and being told stories about all these wonderful people who had become so special to him. It's very sweet, and very touching. My interest is definitely piqued and I can't wait to delve into even more Mahan's work.

Everything I Read in February (Part 1)

Reading Round-Up (3).png

Originally posted on February 28, 2018.

I read a total of eleven books this month. 

I'm a little disappointed that, despite my goal of reading at least one non-fiction book a month, I didn't get to finish my February pick. I'm also disappointed that I didn't get a chance to read a screenplay this month, so there will not be a bonus screenplay read. On the bright side, this month was amazing for poetry reads. Of the eleven books I read, nine of them were poetry collections or anthologies. The other two books were a novel and a classic novel, respectively, fulfilling my goal of reading a work of fiction and a classic work each month. Hopefully in March I'll be able to make up my non-fiction and screenplay deficit! 

Because I read so much this month, I decided to break up this post into two parts. In this one, I'll cover my fiction pick and four poetry books. In part two, I'll cover my classic pick and five poetry books. Advanced copies or copies I received in exchange for a fair review will be noted. 

BONFIRE BY KRYSTEN RITTER

This book is very Gillian Flynn-meets-Erin Brockovich. It plays on unreliable narration, small town scrutiny, and conspiracy. What begins as an environmental lawyer's quest to bring clean water to her hometown quickly spirals into the uncovering of a massive conspiracy that may finally bring answers to a ten year old case of a missing teen. There are a lot of twists and turns throughout this book, and each one is more important than the next. Everything you learn throughout the story comes back in some way or another at the end. The narrator, and the reader in turn, spend a lot of time lost in a fog of confusion over who to trust and what to believe. This kind of absorbent writing hooks you from the get-go and doesn't let go until you reach the last page. This is a gripping, interesting, fascinating thriller that I truly could not put down until I finally hit the back cover. I love Krysten Ritter's acting, and now I can confidently say that I adore her writing as well. She knows her characters inside and out, and uses them to drive every moment of her story.

HOWLING AT THE MOON BY DARSHANA SURESH

This is an exquisite collection of poetry. It's so thoughtful and heartfelt, and is truly written from the soul. It's a book that grabs onto your heart and doesn't let go. Suresh is such a wonderful talent and I'm so grateful to have found her words. She has an incredible of writing about hard topics, about things that a lot of people would consider ugly or would want to hide, with a gentle but honest hand. Though the content of the book can oftentimes be heavy, Suresh's spirit remains light and hopeful even in its darkest moments. I truly cannot wait to read more from this incredible poet.

SMALL TALK BY THERESA SOPKO

I was given an advanced digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Small Talk was released on February 21, 2018 and is now available on Amazon.

I adore the concept of this book. Sopko uses typical small talk prompts, such as talking about the weather and asking after someone's parents, and gives deeply honest answers through poetry. Her pieces are incredibly intimate, and many of them offer a sense of nostalgia that spurred up my own memories of my childhood home and all the things I did as a kid. She has this truly beautiful way of reaching into your soul and stirring around all the feelings you've kept hidden inside. In sharing her own thoughts and feelings and memories she made me think on my own, and that's some truly powerful poetry. I couldn't recommend this book enough - it's beautiful.

ELLIPSIS: POEMS OF DISASTER BY JORDAN TONEY

I'm forever a sucker for narrative poetry, and this book certainly did not disappoint! I will say that it took about thirty pages or so for me to feel truly hooked, but once I was, this book would not let go. While apocalypse stories are not uncommon these days, this one is unique. Tones of desperation and confusion were felt throughout, and each chapter brought in some new change to this wildly spinning, ever-unstable world. It felt as though I were reading some form of mythic history. Toney certainly has an incredible way of viewing the world, and a wonderful talent for storytelling.

HUMMINGBIRD BY SOPHIA ELAINE HANSON

There is something incredibly unique and refreshing about Sophia's poetry, though I can't quite put my finger on what that is. I think it's something beneath the words and their quiet simplicity. She writes as though jotting down notes; as though keeping track of her life in the way people do when they're trying to make sense of things. It turns the book into a complete narrative, and kept me sucked in throughout. The illustrations by Munise Sertel were a beautiful touch and helped to elevate the words. This is a beautiful little book, and is something I can see myself recommending to anyone going through heartbreak. The words bring both relatability and perspective.