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Friday, May 27, 2016

Finding Fraser by KC Dyer

*This review was originally posted on Teenreads.com*

As an Outlander fan, I really wanted to love KC Dyer's Finding Fraser. The concept was absolutely brilliant: Emma Sheridan—a 29-year old woman reeling from the loss of her job and recent divorce—travels to Scotland in order to not only find true love, but seek out her very own, real-life Jamie Fraser from the Outlander series. Unfortunately, this brilliant concept was not executed as well as I might have hoped. Just because a book is based off a series you love, there are no guarantees that the book will be your next favorite read.

Finding Fraser started out great. I was immediately pulled in by Emma’s hilarious and original voice as she writes about her decision to chase after a fictional character on her blog. These blog posts are scattered throughout the book in between scenes, and really helped propel the narrative. Unfortunately, I found myself confused and occasionally annoyed at how unrealistic the story was. I was also underwhelmed by the author introducing a variety of quirky characters throughout Emma’s journey who could have ended up being interesting, but were never fully developed, as they only appeared in the span of four to five pages.

Despite her fun, quirky voice, Emma was, at times, unbelievable and even irritable. Emma grew up in Chicago, and, like all major cities, Chicago requires its inhabitants to be aware of their surroundings at all times. However, Emma is constantly too trusting to—midway through the book, she meets a friend whom she spills her entire life story to, and who ends up robbing her of all her money and possessions. I so admired Emma’s will to give up everything to find Jamie Fraser—and maybe even find herself—during her journey in Scotland, but I was disappointed that she never managed to figure out who she was. Perhaps acquiring self-awareness was never an essential goal of Emma’s, but I have a hard time believing that a person who travels halfway across the world does not learn at least some valuable life lessons about herself. I enjoyed Emma's voice so much that it would have been nice to see her reach her true potential.

Emma does end up finding her Jamie. The only problem is that she is so focused on finding a man who matches Jamie’s physical appearance—red hair, sexy accent, bulky frame—that she ends up failing to notice the perfect Jamie Fraser right in front of her. I found it unrealistic that a 29-year-old could be so focused on the physical details of a fictional character she loves that she could disregard his personality entirely. And it is not just Emma whose age does not fit her character: Emma’s younger sister Sophia, who is supposed to be 27, acts as though she is Emma’s guardian. Throughout the novel, she continues to beg Emma to come home via blog comments and occasional phone calls. The dissonance between character and age was another reason why I had a hard time believing this story.

The book had great potential to be a fresh, witty and endearing read, but it fell short in many ways. There was minor character development, especially on the part of the protagonist. Many aspects of this book were unrealistic (I never understood how Emma’s blog went from 0 comments to 60+ in just a week. How does one end up with a large following in a such a short period of time? Someone please give me advice…) which is understandable for what is supposed to be a fun, chick-lit about travel. However, I just kept expecting growth from Emma and never got it. In spite of all that, this was not a bad story, and I enjoyed the romance aspect of the book. I was constantly cheering Emma on during her quest to find Jamie Fraser, and was thoroughly satisfied once she got him in the end. Although this is not necessarily a believable tale, it will certainly make for a fun beach read, especially for Outlander fans.

Rating 3/5

Monday, May 23, 2016

Summer Break Update - Finally!

I know—it's been way too long since I've written a blog post. I have done an absolutely terrible job at keeping up MM this semester, that's for sure. But good news, it's finally summer, which means I'll have more opportunities to be inspired and more free time to blog. Unfortunately for MM, I've been investing most of my energy in school and work these past few months, and haven't left much space for creativity. I had two end-of-the-semester choir concerts, five final essays, one final exam and far too many late nights spent procrastinating studying. Just last week, I moved out of my dorm and into a new apartment, which I basically furnished with books that I snagged from work (there are far too many books on my to-read list and I can't wait to get started on them this summer!) The apartment itself is in a really cozy residential area, surrounded by trees and nature—definitely unlike my old room back in Union Square. The change of scenery will hopefully help me get over this bout of writer's block. 

My dad paid a visit to NYC a few days ago for business, and he treated me to lunch around Columbus Circle. It was honestly the best meal I've had in...three weeks, four? (the amount of instant ramen I consumed during finals is—to put it simply—disgusting.) We went to a restaurant in midtown called Jean-Georges, which combines French, American and Asian influences. Pictured below is their tuna and foie gras appetizers, wild hake entrĂ©e and finally, grapefruit sorbet dessert. 

Lately, the weather in NYC has been so weird. I swear to god, only in New York is it 70 degrees one day and 54 the next, in May. This week though, it's going to get up to the mid-80's—perfect for lunch breaks in Central Park and weekend trips to Coney Island. This week also marks my last few days working in-person at The Book Report Network. I had a really wonderful time interning there (and shopping among the various bookshelves!), but I'm looking forward to a summer filled with reading and reviewing manuscripts at my next internship. More to come! 

(Photos taken in Manhattan, NYC)

Friday, April 22, 2016

Who is Taylor Swift?

*This piece was originally written for an NYU class and turned in as part of my personal schoolwork.*

The first image that comes to mind when I think of Taylor Swift is either a band of skinny twenty-something pop stars and supermodels flaunting machine guns, decked out in shiny black leather, or a bleach blonde, straight-haired girl screeching sad and unoriginal breakup lyrics in pink lingerie at a Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show. Although I do appreciate some of her older songs, I’ve never called myself a “Swiftie”—in other words, a Taylor mega-fan. In Taylor’s popular 2006 single that pushed her into the spotlight, “Teardrops on my Guitar,” she croons about a boy named Drew whom she has a crush on. Apparently he is in love with another girl, and this leads to heartbreak and more than a couple teardrops on her guitar. I remember the first time I heard this song and watched the music video. I thought to myself, “Ugh, country-pop. This is the worst. Look at her fake hair, fancy dress and overdone makeup. And is she caressing her guitar?? This girl cannot sing, or act. Ugh.” It is safe to say that I did not have a great first impression of Taylor Swift.

However, when her second album—Fearless—came out, my opinion of Taylor drastically changed for the better. The middle school, preteen girl in me absolutely worshipped songs like, “Fifteen,” “You Belong With Me,” “Love Story” and “The Way I Loved You.” As most young girls do, I loved all things love-related, especially Taylor Swift’s acoustic songs. Yet, my view of Taylor changed again when she released the album Red in 2012. Suddenly, girly Taylor ditched the fancy dresses for skinny jeans and dark makeup. What became of Taylor? What was with that random, bass-heavy dubstep break in the middle of “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together?” What happened to her soft, slow acoustic guitar-playing? Why did her new songs sound more like a Skrillex remix than a Taylor Swift ballad?? Her music style continued to change throughout the years, and even now, fans have critiqued Taylor for her drastic physical and stylistic changes. Taylor Swift was once a genuine, relatable musician. But to many of us now, she’s known as that teenage country singer-turned-ringleader of the famous T-Swift “squad.”

Now let’s talk about her Queen Bee status. Taylor Swift not only altered her entire appearance—dumping the curly hair for straight hair, switching out the sparkly dresses for leather holsters—but she’s also the woman who inspired the term, #SquadGoals. Taylor and her crew of models, actresses and singers are redefining the definition of female friendship. In 2015, Taylor swaggered into the MTV VMA awards with nine friends from her squad—celebrities like Lorde, Hailee Steinfield, Selena Gomez, Karlie Kloss—parading their girl power and proving to us that yes, women can actually come together and empower one another.

However, critics of Taylor claim that her feminist theatrics were for the sake of racking up those Instagram likes and enhancing popularity. Some have even compared Taylor’s sisterhood to a “Stepford Wives-style cult,” arguing that squads create exclusivity. In an interview, actress Rowan Blanchard states that “Feminism is so multilayered and complex that it can be frustrating when the media and the celebrities involved in it make feminism and ’squads’ feel like this very happy, exclusive, perfect thing.” Simply wanting to be Taylor’s friend is not enough; one must possess enough money, popularity and social media followers to contribute something to Taylor’s image in return, whether that be through posing in Instagram pictures or making appearances in her “Bad Blood” music video. So who is Taylor Swift? Is she the fame-obsessed, fake person we think she is? Or are these just assumptions we make about Taylor based on what we’ve seen on the media?

Although Taylor’s image is almost always the talk of the town, most never discuss Taylor’s personality and her philanthropic efforts. In December 2015, DoSomething.org named Taylor Swift the most charitable celebrity in the world. In addition to supporting various foundations and charities such as Broadway Cares and Equity fights AIDS, Taylor also gives directly to her fans. She has donated over $100,000 to families in need. Some of these include Naomi, an 11-year-old fan battling Acute Myeloid Leukemia and the family of a Texas firefighter Aaron VanRiper, after they were injured in a car accident. In February of 2015, she gave $50,000 to NYC public schools, and in a performance over the summer, Taylor sang “Ronan,” a song dedicated to a three-year-old boy who died in 2011 from Neuroblastoma.

And Taylor is not just charitable. When it comes to her personality, many celebrities have stood up for Taylor, saying only great things about her character. According to an interview with People, Martha Hunt explained that Taylor “has such an infectious personality. Everyone just wants to be around her at all times. She really brings out the best in everybody.” And is Taylor’s squad really so bad? America seems to love watching women tear each other down, as we’ve seen from shows like “The Bachelor” and “Real Housewives.” In contrast, T-Swift’s friend group—which includes women of various ages, gender expression and ethnicities—makes headlines for supporting one another.

We are always so quick to judge without really educating ourselves on the matter. My assumptions about Taylor Swift’s image, character and music are a reflection of yet another female playing into the endless cycle of women hating on other women. Maybe it’s time we stop asking, “Who is Taylor Swift?” and instead ask ourselves, “Why the f*** do we care so much?”

Photo sources: 1 / 2 / 3 / 45 / 6 / 7 / 8

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Spring Break in Wine Country

Napa is a truly romantic city and the great place to vacation with your significant other, or better yet, have a mother-daughter date! My mom and I drove up to Napa on Wednesday morning and spent the last couple of days tasting delicious wine, devouring Italian food and enjoying the beautiful, 70-degree weather. Because my brothers are still in school and have jazz concerts, tae kwon do events and other extracurricular activities, we had to rush home before the end of the week. Our stay was short, but we were still able to see some wineries, walk around downtown Napa and spend some precious mother-daughter time together.

A friend of mine recommended Darioush, a Persepolis-inspired winery with incredible architecture and a rich history. When my mom and I were in the visitor's center in downtown Napa, we were asked the question, "What kind of winery are you looking for?" Since neither of us really know much about wine (embarrassingly), my mom answered almost immediately, "One with beautiful architecture!" So this was the perfect winery for us to explore. I definitely recommend it to anyone who plans on visiting Napa soon!

(Photos taken in Napa, CA)

In the evening, we dined at the famous Bistro Don Giovanni, which brought back so many Florence memories... We ordered Carpaccio, grilled octopus and shared a Margherita pizza, which to our surprise, was pretty freaking tasty. The crust was perfectly crisp and there was just enough basil to balance, and not overpower the cheese. It might have even been better than any Margherita pizza we tasted in Italy (Absolutely, 100% serious). After a satisfying meal, we headed home to our cute airbnb and spent the rest of the night in. Our vacation in Napa was short, but it was a nice, much-needed break from reality. See you all back in New York!

More travel posts

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Keeping Busy & Being Happy

It's so unbelievably good to be back in sunny California. I've been in desperate need of a change of scenery and some down time to just write all day and night. Originally, this article was going to document my first day back home, but somehow it took a turn and transformed into a piece about keeping busy and being happy. I guess I've been annoyed at myself for doing a poor job at blogging this semester. It's been so hectic this semester and I'm juggling quite a few things: school, work, chorus, Her Campus, voice lessons, Kappa, and on top of that, I've been working on a short story all semester (which to be honest, is where I've been focusing all my creative energy). And really, this is not a situation that is unique to me. Many of us these days are busy, multitasking, rushing from home to work to school, then doing it all over again the next day. For students living in the city, keeping busy is just the typical lifestyle of a college student. 

Keeping busy has been physically and mentally exhausting. I'm always tired during the week and honestly, I'd rather nap than find the motivation to post on MM. Sometimes, I feel like life is never going to slow down; I'll be on the same track forever, running to make meetings, running to meet deadlines and running to make ends meet. But as I sit in this Peet's Coffee on a sunny, California day, relaxing and thinking back on all that I've accomplished these past few months, I've come to realize that keeping busy has also been overwhelmingly, wonderfully satisfying. 

Sometimes, I seek out the adrenaline rush from running around the city, constantly on a mission to check off yet another task on my daily planner. I often anticipate going to work, where I'm surrounded by books and creative individuals who are passionate about reading and writing. I'm actually enjoying the multitude of literature classes I'm taking this semester: Fiction Writing, Writing About Music, East Asian Literature and Medieval Literature. Although chorus and voice lessons are extra classes for little credit, making music brings me joy and relaxation after a long day of learning and commuting. Perhaps I've been too busy to think about it, but I'm actually happy with where I am in life. Although this is the most work I've ever juggled in a semester, I'm doing what I love. I wake up every morning at 7:30am and get home around 9:30 or 10pm at night, but by the end of the week, I collapse on my bed truly feeling like superwoman. 

(Photos taken in Walnut Creek, CA)

Life can be overwhelming. You might feel as if school and/or work is slowly draining all your energy and maybe even your sanity. You can't seem to find time for yourself, let alone keep up your social life and keep up with current events. But this is all part of growing up, finding out what makes you happy and figuring out what you want to do. At 20 years old, you should be taking risks, trying out different things and seeking opportunities... You might be busy, but you'll be discovering what life has to offer.