Saturday, February 20, 2016

Nostalgiareads: A Series of Unfortunate Events (#1-4)

That's right my fellow readers and nostalgia fans, it's time for another installment of Nostalgiareads, where I re-read all of the books from my childhood to see if the adult nostalgia holds up. Are the books I read in my younger years just as fantastic now, or has the passage of time dulled their allure?

When I first conceived the idea for this blog series, there were two series that I had in mind to feature. In fact, my desire to re-read these series gave me a reason to create Nostalgiareads. A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket was one of them. Back in my middle school days, this was my favorite series and at that time, nobody else in my grade was reading them. Aside from Harry Potter, this was the series that I had to obsessively wait for the next book to be released.

About a year ago, I started to get the urge to reread the series, but I never had enough free time. I was either doing schoolwork or I was too busy trying to read all of the new books I was collecting. When I heard the news that Netflix was doing an adaption of the series I came to a sad realization. My memory of the series is pretty sparse despite it being one of my favorites. Much of the plot also seemed to be overshadowed in my mind by that horrible movie adaption starring Jim Carrey. A movie that bad is kind of hard to forget. Anyway, I should stop waffling on and start talking about my experience rereading the first four books in the series. Let's start at the beginning with...

  • The Bad Beginning (Series of Unfortunate Events #1) by Lemony Snicket

First of all I have to say that re-reading this series was like visiting a long lost friend. Those deckled edges, the iconic illustrations by Brett Helquist, and even the dedication to Beatrice just felt right. Looking back I also realized that this was the first book and even the first middle grade series that I encountered that wasn't concerned with wrapping up the story in a happy little bow. The title let readers know just exactly what they should expect and that would be a series of unfortunate events. 

For those unfamiliar with the series, The Bad Beginning centers on our three main protagonists/siblings: Violet, Klaus, and Sunny Baudelaire. Each has their own defining character trait. Violet is known as the inventor, Klaus is the one who loves to read and remembers everything he learns from those books, and Sunny has sharp baby teeth and loves to bite things. One day there is a fire that burns down their mansion, with their parents inside. The three children are now orphans and are sent to live with an assortment of family friends and distant relatives. The first of them being Count Olaf, our villain of the series.

Now on to the reading experience of the first book. All I can say is that it lived up to my nostalgia and even solidified my love for the series. First, I'd completely forgotten how violent this series could be at times. I was a little shocked when I read about Count Olaf's treachery, not to mention the scene when he hits Klaus right across the face. When I was younger I really detested Count Olaf and now as an adult, I see just how twisted he is. When you are in middle school you really don't pick up on the pedophilia tones surrounding Count Olaf. Here's an example which is part of the plotline where Olaf decides to marry Violet to get a hold of the Baudelaire fortune: "Would it be so terrible to be my bride, to live in my house for the rest of your life? You're such a lovely girl, after the marriage I wouldn't dispose of you like your brother and sister" (pg 109). Ugh that passage gave me the biggest case of the willies I've ever had. 

I also remember liking this book because the author/narrator, Lemony Snicket, would take the time to define difficult words for you. Some people probably considered this talking down to the reader, but in reality these books actively increased my vocabulary. I also loved how this first book is a self contained story, but there is just enough of a cliffhanger to draw you into the next book. Speaking of which...

  • The Reptile Room (Series of Unfortunate Events #2) by Lemony Snicket

After the events of the first book, the children are taken to live with their Uncle Monty, who studies snakes, hence the title of the book. At first, Violet, Klaus, and Sunny start to feel like they've finally found a home with their uncle, that is until Count Olaf makes an appearance as Uncle Monty's new assistant. 

When I was younger I always seemed to identify with Violet, the sister who uses her inventions to help her siblings out of danger, but in reality I'm a Klaus. My adult self has come to recognize that fact. I mean when I read about Klaus falling asleep with his glasses on that basically said it all. I'm often found late at night in bed asleep with a book in my hand and my glasses still on. As with the first book, the nostalgia does still hold up. As an adult I love how the narrator, Lemony Snicket, plays an active part in the narration. It's like this book has another dynamic character making witty observations, educating readers, and even hiding some well placed jokes for older readers in the text. I mean this was the book where I first learned what dramatic irony mean't. There were some English majors that I shared classes with in college that could grasp definitions of literary elements like that. Not to mention I had I nice laugh when I came across this line that informs readers the Virginian Wolfsnake should never under any circumstances be let near a typewriter. Yeah, didn't catch that literary jab when I was younger. 

On to the next book in the series.

  • The Wide Window (Series of Unfortunate Events #3) by Lemony Snicket

The Nostalgia re-read continued with the third book in the series. For those wondering, this is the last book that the horrible movie adaption includes, but for me this was one of my favorite books out of the series so far. After the death of Uncle Monty, Violet, Klaus, and Sunny are sent to live with their Aunt Josephine. What makes her so weird is that she has a fear of basically everything and she is a strict grammarian. She lives in a house perched above Lake Lachrymose and provides a tolerable living situation for the children until Captain Sham (aka Count Olaf) arrives. Got to love the hint in the name, right?

I've always thought that this book in particular shows how intellectuals can be heroes too. Here Klaus saves the day with his past reading and understanding of grammar. That's the only way I could imagine myself saving the day. The Wide Window is also the book where you groan out loud in frustration over how all the adults are stupid. I mean Aunt Josephine is too afraid of the police to call them and Mr. Poe is too busy having polite conversations with Count Olaf to even begin bringing him to justice. The only sensible adult in this whole book is Lemony Snicket who wisely informs us that, “For some stories, it's easy. The moral of 'The Three Bears,' for instance, is 'Never break into someone else's house.' The moral of 'Snow White' is 'Never eat apples.' The moral of World War I is 'Never assassinate Archduke Ferdinand.'”  Truer words have never been spoken. 

On to the last book of this particular Nostalgiareads post.
  • The Miserable Mill (Series of Unfortunate Events #4) by Lemony Snicket

The nostalgia trip continues with the fourth book in the series where Violet, Klaus, and Sunny are sent to the Lucky Smells Lumbermill. There they are forced to work for very little food, oh and there is a bit of brainwashing to make the story interesting. The Miserable Mill does have some sentimental value to me because I was given a copy as a gift by my fifth grade teacher. Teachers giving me books as gifts has been a life trend for me in case you were wondering.

Despite that sentiment, this book is actually the least favorite out of the ones I've read so far. I can't really figure out why either. You should have reasons to justify your opinions and I don't. Sorry bout that. The Miserable Mill is also one of the more violent books in the series. I mean you have to assume that right off of the bat because it takes place at a lumber mill. Every series has to have a book that isn't quite as great as the others and this one's it. That doesn't mean that my nostalgia has disappeared from this series. In reality, I'm much more excited to continue reading and rediscover parts of the series that I seemed to have forgotten.

As a whole, I've started to remember why I love The Series of Unfortunate Events so much. I felt nostalgic about it for a reason and it's nice to look at something again with a fresh pair of eyes and a new mentality. Sometimes revisiting the past can be an entertaining experience. I'm not done with this series just yet, so stick around for the next installment of Nostalgiareads to find out what I think about the remaining books!

Friday, February 19, 2016

Penny's Music Recommendations: February 2016

It's time my music fanatics for another month of music recommendations and what a month it has been! For me it seems February was a time for continuing to fall in love with recently released albums as well as doing some exploring into the discographies of some of my favorite bands. Now that I've finally got myself on a decent exercise regimen (OOO So Adult. Much Wow) I have these songs playing in the background. That means the majority of this list will be upbeat, but with the indie flare you've come to expect. So let's get started!

  • Holding On To You be Twenty One Pilots

I bet you aren't surprised that Twenty One Pilots is on this list again. As you will quickly be able to tell, I decided to listen to more of their songs and fell in love with a couple of them that I overlooked in the past. As a general rule, I don't like hip hop. In fact that was the reason why I was originally put off by most of Twenty One Pilots' songs. That quickly changed. I gave Holding On To You a chance and found that I was attracted to the lyrics of the song more than the actual sound. Granted, the song has a nice beat that combines rock, pop, and hip hop. As recent college graduates like me will tell you, the year after college isn't that great. It's this awkward period of transition and I connected with these lyrics on a huge level: 
     You think twice about your life, it probably happens at night, right?
     Fight it, take the pain, ignite it,
     Tie a noose around your mind loose enough to breathe fine and tie it,
     To a tree, tell it, "You belong to me,
     This ain't a noose, this is a leash,
     And I have some news for you, you must obey me."
Whenever I get lost in my head this is the song to pull me out of it. Not to mention I love their commentary on modern music at the end of this song, which is something I wholeheartedly agree with:
     Lean with it, rock with it,
     When we gunna stop with it,
     Lyrics that mean nothing, we were gifted with thought,
     Is it time to move our feet to an introspective beat,
     It ain't the speakers that bump hearts, it's our hearts that make the beat.
You can't argue with that and I hope I've convinced you to listen to this song.
  • House of Memories by Panic! At The Disco

That's right. I am still listening to Panic! At The Disco's album, Death of A Bachelor. I love the entire album and you'll probably be hearing about more of their songs in the future. When I heard House of Memories, I knew it would be one of my favorites. It has the amazing pop rock sound I love from Panic! along with some interesting instrumental bits that have started to make their way into the band's sound. Brendon may be the only original band member left, but I love the music just the same.
  • Chewing Gum by Nina Nesbitt

Every once in a while Buzzfeed releases a list of song recommendations and I always spend some time listening to the ones I know fall right into my favorite genres. That day, Chewing Gum was the only song on that list that I liked. In the past, people have described Nina Nesbitt as being a more folk/pop artist, but I think Chewing Gum is the song that's going to launch her into mainstream pop. The song is, of course, catchy and has some really weird, but interesting backbeats going on. Not to mention the synth gives the right kind of upbeat tempo to make the lyrics pop. You almost forget that this is a song about refusing to get caught in a serious relationship.  
  • Work This Body by Walk The Moon
A couple of days ago I was listening to Walk The Moon's immensely popular song, Shut Up and Dance, and I had the biggest urge to listen to their recent album, Talking Is Hard, again, When I first listened to it I wasn't really feeling any of those songs. The second time around, I had lukewarm feelings about Work This Body, but when I found myself singing the song at work the next day, I made up my mind to fully embrace it. For those who've never heard of Walk The Moon, they are an alternative rock/synthpop band that have recently been releasing songs that you can't help but get up and dance to. Work This Body is now one of my favorite songs on my workout playlist. If you need a song to brighten up your mood, this is it.
  • Migraine by Twenty One Pilots

Migraine was another Twenty One Pilots song that I didn't like the first listen, but now I'm in love. I've listened to this song so many times that I actually have it memorized, which seemed unfeasible when I first heard it. I listen to this song when I'm working out, when I'm in the shower, when I'm just browsing on the internet. I even sing this song under my breath at work when the day starts to drag. This has to be one of the catchiest not quite rap/not quite hip hop songs that I've ever heard. Not to mention the lyrics are more sophisticated and well thought out than all the hip hop songs on top 40 radio. I may have to add a Twenty One Pilots t-shirt to my band t-shirt collection because this has now become one of my favorite bands and I want everyone to know it.

With that, those are the songs that I'm currently obsessed with and deserve some extra praise. Out of all of the months that I've been recommending music, this group of songs might be the hardest to move on from. Hopefully March will be just as music filled and exciting!

Sunday, February 14, 2016

January 2016 Wrap-Up

Hello readers and welcome back to another well overdue wrap-up. January is over and with that another crop of books has been read. Right about now I'm severely missing all of the vacations and winter breaks I got in school. There are never quite enough holidays as a working adult and never enough time to read. I did finish a decent number of books this month, so it's time for some reviews!
  • Mirrored by Alex Flinn

I decided to start out the month with one of the books I received for Christmas, not to mention one of my guilty pleasures: a fairytale retelling. As you can probably guess by the title, Mirrored is a modern retelling of Snow White. What sets this book apart is the fact that it has a dual narrative. The beginning part of the book is told from the perspective of Violet, our evil queen counterpart. You learn about her difficult childhood and the effect that the discovery of her magical ability has on her personality and her looks. The second half of the book is told from the point of view of Celine, Violet's stepdaughter, and the modern equivalent of Snow White. She has friends and beauty, but suffers at the jealous hands of Violet. This also wouldn't be a fairytale retelling without a bit of romance thrown in too.

As a whole, I thought that this was a pretty average book. I think I might have to start coming to terms with the fact that maybe I've outgrown ya books like this. Had I read the story 4 or 5 years ago I think I would have loved it. Now the characters just feel a little bit flat and cliche.
  • Soundless by Richelle Mead

Oh Richelle Mead, you've never steered me wrong before. What happened?! I was incredibly excited to read this book because it was advertised as being steeped in Chinese folklore and I was ready for something different from the usual bland love triangle dystopias released like clockwork. Sadly, the only aspect about this novel that is Chinese in any way are the characters' names. Other than that this is your usual love triangle dystopia. Our main character Fei lives in a village where everyone is deaf. They receive shipments of food from a mysterious source in exchange for everything they gather from the mines. The main conflict in this book seems to be the fact that the village's livelihood is at stake now that people are staring to go blind too.

Sadly this book follows all of the ya cliches and Fei becomes our chosen one. One day she wakes up and discovers that she can hear again. Once the shipments of food start to dwindle, Fei decides to travel down the mountain in search of answers. There is a love interest, but he is so bland and unmemorable that it isn't worth the effort to look up his name (since I've forgotten it already). There also isn't too much world building to ground the story, so...yeah. I wasn't really a fan. Next!   
  • Their Fractured Light by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner

Ah, yes. The last book in the Starbound series. This was probably the least interesting book that I read this month. I was hoping that this book would redeem the lackluster second book in the series, but it didn't. As the concluding book it just felt sort of meh. The two main characters/ love interests are Gideon and Sofia. Gideon is a notorious hacker and Sofia, well she's motivated by her desire to get revenge on LaRoux Industries. Out of all of the books this one spends the least amount of time on the romance. It felt like these two were slapped together and you were expected to just accept their insta-love. I also felt like the world building plateaued and the climax of the story was not nearly as exciting as I'd hoped it would be.

  • Proposal by Meg Cabot (Mediator #6.5)

That's right! One of my favorite Meg Cabot series, which I was obsessed with in middle school, is back!! I never knew how much I missed these characters until now. Proposal is the novella Meg Cabot decided to release before giving us the full sequel we have been waiting for. Jesse and Suze are back as their usual, but slightly grown up selves. Suze is in college and Jesse is on his way to becoming a doctor. The plot takes place around Valentine's Day where Suze struggles to subdue a Non-Compliant Deceased Person as per usual. The title and cover basically give the story away, which kind of sucks, but I enjoyed the story nevertheless.

  • Winter by Marissa Meyer

AHH FINALLY!! A finale book that doesn't disappoint. I needed this book in my life and it was what made my January so much better. Winter is the fourth book in the Lunar Chronicles Series, which is an awesome ya sci-fi fantasy series that blends together a futuristic space society with fairytale retellings. By far these are the best fairytale retellings that I've ever read. As you can tell from the title and the cover, this book introduces our Snow White charater, Winter, the Lunar Princess who is struggling with mental illness because she refuses to use her Lunar gift. Her romance is with Jacin, a royal guard who made his appearance in the previous book, Cress.  If I'm going to be honest this book really wasn't about Winter. It was about our whole cast of characters traveling to the Lunar kingdom, attempting to overthrow Levana, and becoming badass in the process.

This book perfectly wrapped up the whole story and despite its long length, every moment was captivating and action packed. I was on the edge of my seat the entire time. I was so intrigued by the story that I read it during my breaks at work and ignored all human interaction. Not that I need an excuse to do that. Anyway, This book also felt so different from the rest of the chosen one dystopias out there. Cinder may be the rightful heir to Luna's throne, but she doesn't accomplish the revolution alone or in the span of a couple of hours. She has to have help and the support of the people. The end of the book also gives a great nod to the first book in the series and you really get the sense that the story has come full circle.

All I can say is you have no excuse for not reading the Lunar Chronicles. It is probably one of the best series I have ever read.
  • Me Before You by Jojo Moyes


Me Before You seems to be the "it" book of the romance genre right now, particularly since there is an upcoming movie adaption staring the ever handsome Sam Claflin. The protagonist is your usual bland female character that everybody seems to love, Lou, and Will, a quadriplegic who's haunted by the life he used to live. Lou is hired to be Will's caregiver and you already know where this is going. This book tries to distinguish itself by mixing a current medical debate (which I won't share because that would be very spoilery) with the romance. I can basically sum this book up with one sentence: Me Before You is just a slightly better written Nicholas Sparks book. There you go.

  • Serafina and the Black Cloak by Robert Beatty

When I saw that Serafina and the Black Cloak topped the Goodreads Best of 2015 nominations for middle grade novels, I had the strongest urge to read it. Every once in awhile I'm down to read a middle grade novel. As a whole, I wasn't blown away by the story, but I did find it interesting enough to stick around until the end. Serafina lives with her father under Biltmore Estate where she is kept a secret from everyone upstairs. She is brought out of hiding when she has an encounter with a man in a black cloak who consumes children. The premise of the story sounds great and it has a nice mixture of magical mystery. I just thought that the story took way too long to develop and when it did, the book was almost over.

Those are all of the books that I read in January. Right now I'm hard at work trying to make February a more productive reading month and as you already know from my TBR post, I've set aside some really great books to read. Not it's just a matter of finding the time to read them. Don't forget to stick around for my next post!

Sunday, February 7, 2016

February 2016 TBR

Hello readers!! Sorry for the radio silence. Moving again really takes a lot out of you. Not to mention I didn't get a whole lot of time to read either. I'm hoping that February brings me all of the free time that I have been looking for. With that being said, I think it's time to look forward to the month and share with you all of the books that I'm hoping to read.

  • The Flight of Gemma Hardy by Margot Livesey

This book has been on my TBR list on Goodreads for the longest time and for whatever reason I never got around to buying it. One day I stopped into Barnes and Noble and picked it up. Normally, I would go into a quick summary of the book, but this is actually a retelling of Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. I don't know what sort of angle this retelling will take, but I'm excited to read it.

  • Ginger: My Story by Ginger Rogers

This month is the month that I want to get back into a bit of nonfiction and I figured Ginger Rogers' autobiography would do the trick. Ginger Rogers is one of my favorite actresses and I want to know more about her actual life. Maybe reading about her will inspire me to binge watch some of my favorite movies with her in them.

  • Library of Souls (Miss Peregrine's Peculiar Children #3) by Ransom Riggs

I've had this book sitting in my TBR pile for ages and I don't know why I haven't read it. This is the final book in the Miss Peregrine's series and Jacob is tasked with trying to save all of his peculiar friends. As always this book is unique because it features weird black and white photographs that correspond to the story. I can't wait to find out how Riggs wraps-up this series.

  • The Epic of Gilgamesh

That's right! The classic pick of the month is back and I'm excited to get all of these classic books of mine read. For some reason it seems like everybody reads Gilgamesh in either high school or your first year of college. I did neither and I feel like I missed an important part of literary history because of it. I have this awesome Norton Critical Edition that was given to me by one of my professors and it's time to get to reading.

Even though this is quite the modest list, I'm looking forward to reading all of these books...maybe even more. I know the suspense must be killing you about January, so stick around and I'll have my January Wrap-Up posted soon. This woman has to find spots to put all of her books in the meantime!