Recent Reads: April

Spring is quite possibly here and therefore outdoor reading is slowly beginning. April afforded me a few days outdoors and I read some lovely books, too. My absolute favorite of the month was The Rose & the Dagger, but that’s going to need its own post once I wrap my mind around it a little better. Here are four others I enjoyed.

Exit, Pursued by a Bear by E.K. Johnston Gut Punch Pretty Words

Johnston’s writing is breathtaking. Her A Thousand Nights blew me away with how beautiful her descriptions are. I was unsure how a contemporary novel would compare since it requires a different sort of writing, but Exit, Pursued by a Bear ended up being just as luscious. I don’t think I’ve ever read two books by the same author so vastly different yet similarly gorgeous.

In Exit, she borrows names from Shakespeare’s Winter’s Tale and turns it into something completely new. In this modern story, Hermione is a cheerleader who is raped at camp and doesn’t know who did it. What follows is a story about friendship and moving on. It takes a lot of talent and care to write a sexual assault story and this novel does it so well.

Paper Hearts, Volume 1: Some Writing Advice by Beth Revis Required Reading

Revis is best known for her Across the Universe series that I read a while back. The ebook version of this first volume of writing advice was on sale so I decided to give it a go. I have two novel drafts just sitting around and I’ve started a number of other projects so felt I could use some motivation. There’s a lot of bad writing advice out there (which Revis discusses) and Revis seemed like a writer I could trust. I wasn’t wrong.

I mostly read this in between fiction readings which helped me pace a little and not devour all the wisdom all at once. If you are someone who writes novels or wants to write novels, this offers a lot of helpful tips and inspiration. What’s great is she doesn’t insist on a particular way to write; she offers different routes you can take depending on what works for you. This is how all writing advice should be.

Holding Smoke by Elle Cosimano Enjoyable Page Turner

I hadn’t heard anything about this book, but the cover caught my eye so I gave it a shot. The basic premise is a teenage boy, John, is in jail for two murders: one he didn’t commit and one that was an accident. He has the power to leave his body and turn into what is basically a ghost to leave the jail and gather information. Things start to change when he comes across someone who can actually see him.

Holding Smoke ended up being more suspenseful than I expected and I’m glad for it. The book is more plot heavy than character centered. I never got a true sense of John or anyone else, but I felt enough for him to be invested in his story.  It’s clear he’s innocent and you want to know what really happened. He uses his ability to trade information for protection or other help inside the jail, but also uses it to get closer to the truth of the day he was arrested (with a little help from the girl who can see him in ghost form.) Because while he knows he didn’t do it, he doesn’t know who did. What unravels is a satisfying mystery that speeds up towards the end of the novel. While there wasn’t a “wow” moment for me, the read was quick and enjoyable, with a little food for thought on our justice system and youth incarceration.

(Note: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a review.)

Wink Poppy Midnight by April Genevieve Tucholke Surprised Me Wow Factor Pretty Words

The poetic prose of this book is lush and the selling point for me. It has the feeling of fantasy and magic in a contemporary setting. The story is told from three points of view of teenagers heading into summer and manages to capture that feeling of mystery and adventure built up by young minds.

There’s a plot I won’t tell you about because part of this book’s reading experience is not knowing exactly what the plot is. Which sounds messy, but I liked the puzzling nature of it. It’s a short, pleasant read that’s not entirely what it seems.


Recently Loved: A Study in Charlotte and The Girl From Everywhere

charlotteA Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro

A thing you will learn about me is I am a sucker for modern retellings. I love seeing how a writer can take a well known story and turn it into something new.

A Study in Charlotte is about the great-great-great grandchildren of Holmes and Watson, Charlotte and Jamie. They both go to a boarding school in Connecticut and try to solve a murder that Charlotte is framed for. It’s a “what if Sherlock and Dr. Watson were real and had descendants a lot like them.” This modern Holmes and Watson duo have the same basic roles, but they get to be their own characters as they play detective.

The mystery has twists and turns and nods to the original Holmes stories, but what I like most about the story is that Charlotte Holmes is a little more human than some other portrayals of a Holmes character. She’s a brilliant girl, but still just a girl.  Jamie Watson is captivated by her, but there is nuance to their relationship that is revealed as the story progresses.

Within the context of the mystery and their friendship, Cavallaro also manages to tackle addiction and rape culture. With Holmes being a teenage girl, those two issues were explored in a way much differently than they could be with Holmes being a male adult. We only see Charlotte through Jamie’s eyes, but there is still a complexity to her he discovers as he gets to know her better. He learns about what she is dealing with and makes some assumptions and mistakes along the way but ultimately their relationship deepens. Charlotte isn’t this cold, unfeeling genius.  She is a person.

As much as I enjoyed the mystery, the friendship between Jamie and Charlotte is what makes this book. While it appears instant, it takes Jamie time to start to understand Charlotte. Sometimes the relationship between Holmes and Watson is portrayed as one-sided, but in Cavallaro’s story there are two people who care for one another.

tgfeThe Girl From Everywhere by Heidi Heilig

This year has gifted us with a few YA time travel books, but this is perhaps my favorite. I adore unique approaches to time travel, because sometimes the topic gets a little stale. It’s difficult to make work because there is always the “couldn’t one little thing completely change the course of time?” question. The rules need to be clear and consistent and Heilig manages to do that without burdening the reader with a time travel how-to guide.

At the surface this book is about time traveling pirates which is kickass on its own. In order to time travel they need a map created at that particular time and place. The main character, Nix, is a crew member of her father’s ship as he tries to find a way to return to his love and Nix’s mother to save her from dying.

Oh how I love so much about this book!

  • Nix and her father, Slate, have a complicated relationship that partially stems from his struggle with bipolar disorder. (You can read an interview with Heilig about this and her own struggle with the illness.) Those with mental illness aren’t always the heroes or the villains. They are humans with good qualities as well as flaws and the depiction of Slate shows this.
  • The entire crew is lovely but oh the charming Kashmir. The witty dialogue between Nix and him is wonderful.
  • History!!! Hawaii written by someone actually from there!!! Real issues the islands faced are incorporated into this fictional story with such care.

Most of all I loved Nix. She makes some horrible decisions, but by the end I care for her so deeply. At the root of this story is a girl trying to figure out her life, which is of course easy to relate to even without having a pirate captain as a father.


Internet Famous

A lot of people seem generally offended that anyone internet famous dare write a book. I, however, am not someone particularly bothered by it or find it some affront to literature. I do get the pushback. The aim for these books isn’t always quality, just money. But hey, the book industry needs to make money and giving Youtube and Vine stars book deals isn’t always a terrible thing. If someone finds enjoyment in the books then so be it. I picked up a few books penned by the internet famous and do not feel like any brain cells were killed in the process.

danphilThe Amazing Book is Not on Fire by Dan Howell, Phil Lester
I was getting old when the Youtube craze was heating up and never got incredibly consumed by it, but there were a few Youtubers I found that I still watch sometimes. Dan and Phil are two of them. Their videos are silly and charming and I was interested to see what they’d do with a book deal. What they came up with wasn’t a memoir, but something that’s more scrapbook-like. It’s filled with behind the scenes info and stories that work as a companion to their videos opposed to being a story of their lives.

It’s something I mostly just flipped through instead of reading from front to back. I had it from the library, but it’s something I’d consider buying since it’s better suited to pick up once in a while rather than read straight through.


carrieAll I Know Now by Carrie Hope Fletcher
Carrie’s videos I watch more regularly than anyone else’s probably. She comes off as completely genuine and her videos aren’t some big production. While she vlogs about her daily life she also discusses a range of a more complicated topics. Her video feels very nurturing and encouraging as she seems to get so much joy from life, which is what I also hoped would come from her book. I wasn’t disappointed.

She isn’t a stranger to writing and dispensing advice. Her book is based on a blog she kept (that I sadly never kept up with) where she talked about life lessons. Her book became essentially an advice book to growing up. While the book is aimed at a younger audience, I still found value in it as an adult. A lot of what she talks about are things I’ve already learned from life, but adults can still use reminders. Letting things go, being kind, and having confidence are all part of the process of living.  I enjoyed anecdotes she shared and how much of her personality she injected into her writing. I don’t always agree with Carrie (both in her videos and in this book), but it’s never angering or distracting. She’s also a girl in her 20s who has figured some things out and is still working on other things. What makes her book and videos lovable is her obvious passion for what she’s doing and her want to share her work with others.


Surviving High Schoollele by Lele Pons and Melissa de la Cruz

Lele Pons is a Vine star and I am someone who was late to Vine. I found a few creators I found interesting and followed them and look at Vine infrequently. But I think it’s an interesting medium and can be an art. Viners appear to be the most highly criticized form of internet entertainers which isn’t completely without foundation. Many rely on lazy stereotypes to make their jokes, but there are plenty of creators who are funny with resorting to racism and sexism.

While Lele’s Vines sometimes veer towards the cliched, stereotypical Vines, she definitely has talent and humor. She’s also young, 19, and 19 year olds don’t tend to be completely enlightened. Her book is a fictionalized memoir of her life. I was hoping to get more insight into her background, but since this is a novel and not about the real her there wasn’t a lot of that. It did however provide a look at what it’s like to navigate high school with newfound fame and a little bit of the Vine creating process.

What didn’t work for me personally is it felt incredibly young. It focused mostly on the pressures of being a teenager that I am so far removed from now. I read a lot of YA I can relate to, but a lot of her stories were connected to the teenage things I don’t even think about anymore. I did like how fictionalized stories of her life transform into what become her videos. There are some funny moments as well as lessons learned about fame but also just friendships and everyday life. Overall the book just wasn’t for me though. I am sure her young fans that adore her Vines will like it, but I am far from the target audience. I was a little too irked by some of the “girls are likes this and boys are like this” cliches when expanded from a six second video to a full story. And as I give teenagers a little more credit than they often are given, I feel they can be entertained by this and work out any potentially negative messages on their own.

Surviving High School was provided for free through NetGalley by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.


Top Ten Tuesday: Ten Books On My Spring TBR

Getting to sit outside and read is one of my favorite things about the warmer weather. I take my lunch breaks to read by the fountains at City Hall. So I’ve already been building a mental list of all the books I’d love to read out in the springtime weather. To narrow this down a little, I went with books that will be released between March 20-June 19 (so took Spring literally.)


The Rose & The Dagger by Renee Ahdieh
The first book in this duology, The Wrath & the Dawn, surprised me by how much I adored it. And the ending!!!!! I’m making grabby hands just looking at a photo of book two. Ahdieh’s writing is scrumptious and I’m dying to read more.


Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld
A modern retelling of Pride & Prejudice? Yes, please, and thank you.




The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi
This is inspired by Indian mythology and sounds amazing. Plus everyone I know who has read it has loved it. Hoping I love it as well!



Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye
I can’t help but be intrigued by anything inspired by a classic I love. This book is inspired by Jane Eyre, and involves a murder.



If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo
This is a book about a trans woman written by a trans woman, so points for that. I am already hearing great things about how well it captures being a teen in general and feeling out of place so definitely looking forward to it.



Double Down by Gwenda Bond
I thought the first Lois Lane book was fantastic. Teenage Lois being the hero is as wonderful as it sounds. Ready for the adventures of part two.



Tone Deaf by Olivia Rivers
Basic premise: A musician who loses her hearing because of a brain tumor winds up on tour with a band and rediscovers her love of music. Sold.



Wink Poppy Midnight by April Genevieve Tucholke
I was definitely drawn to this by the cover and the description sounds amazing. Three character voices and one of them is lying. About what? I don’t know! Easy to grab me with a mystery. Especially when the mystery is a mystery.



Every Exquisite Thing by Matthew Quick
I’ve only read two of Quick’s books (and own an additional two.) I unexpectedly loved one and the other… not so much. But I saw him talk somewhat recently and a lot of what he shared got me interested in reading this new YA book of his.



Outrun the Moon by Stacey Lee
I loved Lee’s debut and have high hopes for another historical fiction novel from her. This one is set in 1906 San Francisco after an earthquake and as Lee’s character development is fantastic, I can’t wait to meet Mercy Wong.


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


Now Listening: New Albums Galore

A bunch of albums I had been highly anticipating all came out around the same time and none of them let me down. Here they are:

Second Love by Emmy the Great
I absolutely adore Emma-Lee Moss. She’s made three albums that all have their own distinct sound (she’s landed in an alternative singer-songwriter electronic hybrid genre) and are all equally amazing. If you haven’t listened to her music, please change that! As featured in the image for this post, I bought her album (and awesome notebooks) at her recent show in Philly which means I got the album before the release date and heard some of the songs live first. Absolutely in love with this album. Emma is one of my favorite lyricists and continues to deserve that honor.

Zoetic by The Rocket Summer
Bryce Avary’s first three albums were all something I held dear as a teenager. While I liked his two after those, they didn’t have the same hold over me. But this new one has pulled me right back in. It has been about four years since the last album and has been well worth the wait. I am falling in love with TRS all over again.

You’re a Man Now, Boy by Raleigh Ritchie
Raleigh Ritchie is the stage name of Jacob Anderson, who sometimes popped up in British television shows I watch. Others might know him from a show called Game of Thrones. (I gave up on it before Jacob Anderson’s character appears so I have no idea how much screen time he gets.) I can’t remember how I came across his music or if I even recognized who he was at first, but one way or another I found his songs and have been waiting for this full length. His music is considered alternative R&B, apparently. A lot of the songs on this album easily get stuck in my head. Many will make it into my summer playlists.

Night Swim by Josef Salvat
Early 2016 has been ripe with releases from artists I’ve been waiting around for new music from based on their singles and EPs. So this is another one to check off my list. Salvat is an Australian pop/electro-pop singer who really got started around 2014. So I haven’t been waiting for as long for this as some other albums. But still I am impatient and happy to have it.

Phase by Jack Garratt
Jack Garratt is quietly becoming the fave of many celebrities. Wishing him all the best luck because his music is truly awesome. He’s a one man band who is impressive to watch live. The way he layers sounds and changes pace during songs is ambitious and it works in unexpected ways. He makes discordance work. Probably none of this will make sense until you listen. There’s a reason I don’t review albums at length.

At Hope’s Ravine by Holy Esque
HOLY SHIT THE DAY HAS COME. After being teased for ages there is finally this full length work of art from Holy Esque and I am unsure what to even say about it. What I do know is the songs have to be mesmerizing live so they should do a real tour of the US that comes to Philly instead of just SXSW and whatever else they’ve been doing.

I’ve also been listening to Ra Ra Riot’s latest and Charli XCX’s new EP, which I haven’t been able to form an opinion on because it’s kind of insane.

Anchor & Braille just released a new album that for some reason I haven’t gotten around to really listening to so I am going to get on that.

Right now my most anticipated album is Frightened Rabbit’s. COME BACK TO ME, MY LOVES.