Sunday, April 24, 2016

Penny's Music Recommendations: April 2016 (Special Edition)

Welcome back you particular demographic that enjoys both quirky indie music recommendations as well as snarky reviews of books. You're probably wondering why this post is late. In fact, you might have entertained the thought that there were no April recommendations. You were almost right. For whatever reason, there weren't a significant number of songs this month that caught my attention. It was either cobble together a list of songs I liked, but didn't actually listen to this month or just skip the post all together. 

Then I got a rather awesome, last minute, dare I say, narcissistic idea. Since April is the month that I was born, why not share with you a list of songs that have some special meaning to me. They mark some particularly great moments in my life or they conjure up happy memories. Why not present this mishmash of songs and share why I like them so much. Sound good? Good!

  • Chevaliers de Sangreal by Hans Zimmer

Didn't think the list would start out quite like this did you? Hans Zimmer and his compositions signaled one of the more important periods in the development of my music taste. While watching The Da Vinci Code with rapt attention (because I had to know how the movie compared to the book), I heard Chevaliers de Sangreal and I came to the realization that instrumental music can be just as interesting and addictive as the pop rock music I was listening to at that time. I started to pay attention to movie soundtracks, which in turn became the soundtrack to many a bus ride to school and study sessions. This very first song, and Hans Zimmer in general, taught me that music has the power to evoke a great deal of emotion. Now a pretty substantial part of my music library includes movie soundtracks, with Hans of course featured prominently.

  • Ready To Go (Get Me Out Of My Mind) by Panic! At The Disco


There you go. Back in the realm of the expected. Out of all of the Panic! At The Disco songs that I love, and there are quite a few, this one is associated with some of my best memories. As part of our advanced spanish class in high school, one of the incentives for completing the course was a trip to New York City near the end of the year. Despite living in New York State my whole life, up until that time, I'd never been to the city. We had to get up at the crack of dawn to get on a bus on a Saturday morning. The ride was long, there weren't enough food and bathroom breaks, but it was worth it as soon as you saw the skyline. This was the song that was playing on my mp3 player when we arrived. Now I associate this song with new experiences and traveling to exciting places I've never been. After that, I listened to it on my senior trip as well as on my way to academic conferences in college. It will continue to be one of my road trip staples.

  • Can't Take That Away From Me by Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers


I've mentioned a couple of times on this blog that I'm a huge fan of classic movies and this song reminds me of that summer in high school when I first decided to watch a couple of classic movies on TCM. Astaire and Rogers were my first classic movie loves and this is one of my favorite songs from their movies. As a general rule, I hate love songs and anything too sappy, but this song is the one exception. It's romantic in a simple way and we have the Gershwin's to thank for that.

  • A Little Less Sixteen Candles, A Little More Touch Me by Fall Out Boy


Yep, there was no way we were going through this list without at least one Fall Out Boy song. Prepare yourself. Think back to the early 2000s. It was a weird time my friends. Pop punk was all the rage and yours truly was on the cusp of discovering and loving all of the emo music of the time. This is what started it all for me. During the summer, in between reading books faster than I could buy them and get them from the library, I used to watch a show on tv (whose name escapes me) that just played music videos. Those half hour slots introduced me to a lot of great music, including my first favorite band: Fall Out Boy. Now that I look back on this video, it's so corny in all of it's guyliner glory, but I loved it and still do. 

  • Lifting the Sea by The Hunts 

This is one of my more recent music picks. Whenever I listen to The Hunts, particularly Lifting the Sea, it reminds me of my last term of college. The song is tinged with the sort of finality I felt at that time, but it also reminds me of all the happy memories I made on the day The Hunts came to our college and played during our May Days celebration. It was just a lazy day full of hanging out with my friends and eating a ton of greasy and sugary food.

  • Headfirst Slide Into Cooperstown On A Bad Bet by Fall Out Boy


The last song on this list is of course another Fall Out Boy song. Whenever I listen to it, I'm reminded of Fall Out Boy's Believers Never Die Tour. For my sixteenth birthday, I got tickets to go see one of their shows with my best friend. It also happened to be my first concert. I remember the excitement at seeing my favorite band live, singing along to their songs, and being drenched in sweat from all the dancing and jumping around I was doing. This concert took place on a Sunday night and the exhaustion I felt on Monday at school was completely worth it. 
That's it! Now you've read a couple of snapshots of my life and the music that accompanied all of those great moments. Give it a thought. I bet some of your most cherished memories are associated with favorite songs.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

March 2016 Wrap-Up

Well dear readers, you can take the girl out of college, but you can't remove the college procrastination mentality out of the girl. I've been putting this post off, partly because of work exhaustion and partly because I read so many books in March. This month, work was kind of crazy and I used every bit of spare time there escaping into the worlds of books just to maintain my sanity. So basically this means you should grab yourself a drink, a snack, and get ready for one long wrap-up post.
  • Remembrance by Meg Cabot

This book was middle school Penny's dream and in all honesty, it didn't let me down. For those that don't know, Remembrance is the newest and last book in Meg Cabot's Mediator series, which follows Suze, a woman who can see ghosts and basically helps them with their unfinished business. This book deals with Suze's engagement to her boyfriend/ex-ghost, Jesse, her new position at her old school, and the return of an old enemy. Then throw in the powerful ghost of a child and you have yourself an action packed story. Remembrance has all of the elements from the ya series that I love, but it's written for a more adult audience. I liked returning to old characters and I kind of wish there were more books to the series.

  • Gigi, Julie de Carneilhan, and Chance Acquaintances: Three Short Novels by Colette

Now on to the classic book of the month or shall I say novellas of the month. Ever since I watched the movie, Gigi, starring Leslie Caron, I wanted to read the source material. I think this must be a problem of all book lovers who also like to watch movies. As expected, I really enjoyed Gigi and it felt like the plot of the movie faithfully reflected the story. The other two novellas just fell flat for me and they dealt with essentially the same story. Each center around women whose lives are unbalanced by their husbands. In the end, the two stories were just kind of boring.

  • Born of Deception (Born of Illusion #2) by Teri Brown

Born of Deception is the second book in a series that stars Anna Van Housen, a magician with actual powers. After the events of the previous book, Anna has a headlining spot in a vaudeville tour and moves to London. There she can be near her romantic interest, Cole, and investigate a society of people who have powers like herself. Of course all of that is ruined by murders.

All in all, I thought this story was an ok follow-up to the first book. Anna's conflict with her mother is nonexistent in this book, so course the gap is filled with the classic ya cliche: a love triangle. It took up way too much of the story and bogged everything down. It made what could have been a decent book, just average.

  • A Gathering of Shadows (Shades of Magic #2) by V.E. Schwab

Victoria Schwab is slowly becoming one of my favorite authors and A Gathering of Shadows might just push my decision over the edge. This book is the second in a series that takes place in a world with multiple London's, most of which are cut off from magic. Kell is one of the few Antaris aka magicians that can travel between the different versions of London. In the second book, Kell has to deal with the repercussions of a decision he made to save his brother/the prince. Not to mention he runs into Delilah Bard during a magical tournament know as the Essen Tasch.

All I have to say is that this series improved just like I hoped it would when I read the first book. In my review of the first book, my one criticism was that it was heavy on the world building and lacked a good deal of character development. Let's just say that the second book remedied that. Here Kell and Lila's characters are really developed and they have some great interactions with each other. Combine that with the already well established world and you have the perfect recipe for a great book. All I can say is that I'm disappointed that I have to wait for the next book in the series.  

  • The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh

The Wrath and the Dawn is a retelling of One Thousand and One Nights with the usual ya romance twist. I'm going to be honest here and say that this book wins the guilty pleasure read of the year award and the year isn't even half over yet. I mean the logical part of me should hate this book.

The story centers on the king, Khalid, who marries women and has them executed on their wedding night. Everything changes when one of those women is Shahrzad's best friend.  Shahrzad decides to seek revenge and volunteers herself to be the king's next bride. Our protagonist gains extra special snowflake points because she tells a story to the king and withholds the ending to convince him to let her live another night. Of course the story develops into a romance and touches on the reason why the king murdered all of those women. It's gushy, it's sappy, and you should not be supporting a romance between an essentially helpless woman and a powerful man with a reputation for murder. I hate the premise and yet I read the book all the way through and I might just read the sequel. I'm hoping the second book will really develop Shahrzad's character. Until then...
  • The Moth and the Flame (The Wrath and the Dawn #0.25) by Renee Ahdieh

Once I finished The Wrath and the Dawn, I decided to read this novella/prequel, which expands upon the romance between the handmaiden, Despina, and the captain of the guard, Jalal, both of which are secondary characters in the first book. This really didn't add much to the first book. My advice is if you liked the first book, you will enjoy this. If you thought the first book was ok, you could easily skip this novella.

  • In Real Life by Jessica Love

About halfway through the month, I felt the slump starting to set in...the dreaded reading slump. The only way to combat that state of mind is reading the fluffiest ya contemporary romance and that's exactly what In Real Life happens to be. This book isn't original, in fact, it's so riddled with cliches I'm convinced I could have written this book in one finals week, caffeine fueled night.

The story is basic: Hannah and Nick have been online friends for a long time, until Hannah decides that maybe Nick could be something more. She takes a road trip with her sister and best friend to surprise Nick, but GASP has he kept one whopping secret from her. Wanna guess what that secret is? I bet you already know if you're at all familiar with romantic cliches. In Real Life: All Fluff, No Complexity.

  • The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma

The Walls Around Us is one of those books that just sort of flew under my radar until one of my favorite booktubers mentioned it in a recent video. I'm glad that I decided to check it out. Suma's book is one of those rare genre bending stories. It's a young adult story with a little bit of mystery, horror, and the paranormal.

The narrative is told from the perspective of two girls, one in the past and one in the present. Violet is a ballerina dancer about ready to start her life at a prestigious performing arts college and is giving her last performance before getting ready to leave. The second girl, Amber,  lives in the Aurora Hills juvenile detention center and shares the day to day lives of the girls that live there. Both girls are connected to each other by Orianna, Violet's friend and Amber's roommate. The story just sort of unfolds as you read it all with its many genre elements. This has to be one of the better stand-alone novels I've read this year.

  • Kindred Spirits by Rainbow Rowell

When I found out that Rainbow Rowell wrote a novella for World Book Day, I knew I had to read it immediately. I still wanted to read it even after I learned it had to do with Star Wars and I'm about as far from a Star Wars fan as you can possibly imagine. The best part about this book is that you don't have to be a fan to get some enjoyment out of the reading experience.

The story is basically about Elena, who decides to join the line in front of her local theater to see the new Star Wars movie. The story follows her and the other people in the line. Of course there is the hint of a burgeoning romance between her and one of the guys in the line. The whole story is humorous, sweet, and leaves you wishing this were the start of a full length novel.

  • Every Day by David Levithan

I'm going to be a little honest and say that I was kind of hesitant to read this book despite its interesting premise. When I read Will Grayson, Will Grayson, which Levithan wrote with John Green I didn't really like the bits written by Levithan. I wasn't a huge fan of his writing style. I took a chance with this book and I'm not quite sure if it payed off.

The summary of this story is simple: A, our protagonist, wakes up in the body of a different person each day. Everything changes when he occupies the body of Rhiannon's boyfriend and falls in love with her. When I say "falls in love," what I mean is insta-love. He spends one day with her and then spends the rest of the book creepily stalking her and misuses the bodies and lives he overtakes to do so. I felt like this premise could have gone somewhere awesome, but sadly gets bogged down by the childishness of the romance.
  • A Million Suns (Across the Universe #2) by Beth Revis

Sometime this past month, I was scrolling through my Goodreads profile and found this book on my TBR list. I remember reading the first book, Across the Universe, in high school. This book was released just as the big boom in ya sci-fi dystopian started. At that time, I read it, enjoyed it, and then promptly forgot about the series in college. Well, I decided to pick it up again and I'm not sure that was the best decision.

A Million Suns is the second book in the series set in a futuristic world where a group of people from Earth were sent on the ship, Godspeed, to find another Earth-like planet and colonize it. Our two main characters are Amy, an Earth girl who was cryogenically frozen with her family, but unfrozen before the ship reached the new planet, and Elder, the ship's current leader.

What sucks about this book is that is has a really fantastic premise that is completely spoiled by the main characters. I mean the world deals with the dynamics of forming a self sustaining society on a spaceship and all the difficulties and manipulations that occur as a result. The only problem is the main characters, Amy and Elder, are so flat and so boring. Their romance clogs the story and diverts attention away from what could have been a cool sci-fi series.
  • Shades of Earth (Across the Universe #3) by Beth Revis

I decided to finish the series out of morbid curiosity. I wanted to see how Beth Revis would expand upon the world she already created. I have to say that again it seemed like a great story ruined by the two main characters.

In Shades of Earth, members from the ship, Godspeed, decide to finally leave the safety of the ship in order to discover all the new Earth-like planet has to offer. They unfreeze everyone chosen from Earth and embark on discovering the new planet. Conflicts between the ship born and Earth born arise, which are only complicated by the fact that people are starting to mysteriously disappear and show up again murdered. A story about the possible caveats of a technologically advanced society and the influence of powerful corporations is diluted with the immature ya romance. I say Amy and Elder should have been the first two characters to go.   
  • Free Four: Tobias Tells the Divergent Knife-Throwing Scene (Divergent #1.5) by Veronica Roth

Again near the end of the month I decided to let morbid curiosity get the better of me. When I was grocery shopping, I saw the extra book Veronica Roth released, Four, which is a collection of the novellas attached to the Divergent series, most of which narrated by Four. I decided to read one of those novellas just to see if I would at all be interested in reading the whole book. Turns out, I wasn't. This novella, as you can tell from the title, tells the knife throwing scene from Four's perspective. For being the romantic interest in a trilogy, Four has a pretty bland narration. You don't learn anything new that you didn't already know when you read the scene in Divergent. 

Whoa was that quite the wrap-up or what?! I do have to say that all of that reading was worth it. I wish I could keep up this pace. I mean at that rate, I wouldn't even have a TBR. A reader can dream, right? Well I hope this long list influenced your next reading choice. Now I should probably get back to reading or April will look pitiful in comparison to March.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

April 2016 TBR

Another month gone dear readers and what a month it has been. It's actually felt like one of the longer months in the year, but I think the stress at work had more to do with that than anything. Anyway, April is upon us even though it just snowed where I live and I'm ready to move on to another crop of books. My hope is that my reading this month will be just as great as the last.

  • A Madness So Discreet by Mindy McGinnis

 I started reading this book in March, but for whatever reason the story didn't seem to grab me and I set it aside. I decided why not give it another try to see if I can finish it. A Madness So Discreet centers on Grace, a woman locked away in an asylum to hide the shame her pregnancy would bring to her family. Her life is transformed when she agrees to assist a doctor as his crime scene assistant. I'm curious to see how the story takes off considering the plot has been quite tame so far.

  • Gameboard of the Gods by Richelle Mead
Gameboard of the Gods is the one Richelle Mead book/series that I haven't read. I'm not quite sure why either, but I figure it's about time to remedy that. This book is set in a dystopian future where our two main characters are thrown together to solve a couple of ritualistic murders. I'm just hoping the story doesn't fall into the usual ya dystopian cliches.

  • A Thousand Pieces of You by Claudia Grey

This book is a ya science fiction book in a world with multiple dimensions. Marguerite's parents create the device that allows people to travel across dimensions. Conflict starts when her parent's assistant kills her father. Now she has to chase the murderer across those dimensions. This sounds like it has the potential to be an action packed read and I'm looking forward to it.

  • To Have and Have Not by Ernest Hemingway
Now on to the classic pick of the month. As a general rule, people who know me know that I'm not a huge fan of classic American Lit. It's just not my favorite genre. They also know that I'm not a fan of macho manly man writers. Also as a general rule, I'm not a fan of Hemingway. I read The Old Man and the Sea in high school and hated it. In college, I read a couple of his short stories and didn't really mind them as much.

Before I graduated, I mentioned my distaste for Hemingway offhand to one of my college professors and he insisted that I give the author another chance. Then he gave me his annotated copies of a couple of Hemingway's novels. I decided it was finally time to take his advice, so here I am. I don't know anything about this book and I want to keep it that way. I need to do as little as possible to discourage myself from reading it. All I can say is I'm ready to take on this new literary adventure.

I've decided to keep this list short again because aside from these books, I'm not sure what I want to read. I'm in the mood to read whatever strikes me in the moment. Now I think it's time to get to reviewing all of the books I read in March, that is if I can avoid the allure of another Gilmore Girls episode. I don't think that will happen though. Let's be honest.