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Monday, July 11, 2016

Life After Juliet


*This review was originally posted on Teenreads.com*

Life After Juliet is the companion novel to Shannon Lee Alexander’s Love and Other Unknown Variables. It’s a heartfelt young adult story about first love, stepping out of one’s comfort zone and learning to live with loss.

Ever since Charlotte passed away from cancer, Becca Hanson has been measuring time in pages. It’s been 3,718 pages since her Dad dropped her off for her first day of school. It’s been 150 pages since she stepped on the bus this morning. And it’s been 108,023 pages since Charlotte died. Grieving the death of her best and only friend, Becca spends every minute she can with her head in a book, living through fictional characters whose stories and endings have already been written. People don’t bother her and she prefers it that way. But after accidentally face-planting in her classmate Max Herrera’s lap one day, things take a turn for the better.

Suddenly, Becca finds herself doing things she’s always wanted to do, but was too afraid. She attends callbacks for the school play, "Romeo and Juliet." She finally dances on a table. She even builds a catwalk with power tools. As Becca gets to know Max better, she starts connecting with other people from school, as well. She befriends the Techies who help produce and create the set for the play, and makes a pact with the school’s drama queen and star actress, Darby. Max, the Drammies and the Techies show Becca that perhaps the real world isn’t so bad. Although life is uncontrollable, maybe certain things are worth living for. Perhaps letting people in can heal.

Alexander’s novel is a touching and delightful exploration of friendship, loss and hope. It’s about acknowledging that the grief never really goes away, but forgiving oneself for moving on. It’s about remembering how to laugh again, and that letting go is not the same as forgetting. Becca’s healing process was a journey I thoroughly enjoyed taking and reading about. With witty references and homages to major literary works such as Shakespeare, The Velveteen Rabbit and A Wrinkle in Time, this book makes for a wonderful and unforgettable read, perfect for book lovers and drama fanatics alike.

Rating: 4.5/5

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Dreamers


Fireworks, sparklers and sunsets make me think of youth. Of rooftops filled with dancing bodies, the smell of cooking meat and animated voices overpowering the sound of music blasting from speakers. Last night was an adventure. A group of us took a train into Williamsburg, Brooklyn around sunset only to be welcomed by a sudden downpour. We ran a couple of blocks, screaming and soaked from head to toe in rain, until we found a deli where we picked up four umbrellas, hopefully shielding us from our plight. When we got to the party, we made a run for the rooftop, our excitement trailing after us in the wet footsteps we left behind. A single ladder formed a bridge between two rooftops, and we made our mark on both platforms. It started to drizzle, but we lit sparklers anyway, laughing and smiling as the fire illuminated our dark faces. A few of us climbed onto the roof, surveying the area to predict which direction the fireworks would come from. 


When they finally started, we huddled together, perched onto the edge of one side as we clapped and cheered and celebrated. Lights came from every direction; some even burst into sparks above our heads, floating down like rain and scaring us back inside for a few moments before we gathered enough courage to reenter the flickering world. Last night made me think of the summer between high school and college. Of young adults with idealistic futures, our hopes and ambitions unscathed by reality. A group of dreamers packed together on one of thousands of rooftops in New York City. A fleeting moment of youth, before we replace our adult masks and wake up the next morning to go to work. 

(Photos taken in Williamsburg, Brooklyn)

I hope you all had a wonderful Fourth of July!

Monday, June 27, 2016

Julia Vanishes by Catherine Egan


*This review was originally posted on Teenreads.com*

Click here to read an exclusive interview with author, Catherine Egan!

Julia Vanishes is the first book in Catherine Egan’s Witch’s Child trilogy. Her debut is a sparkling novel filled with magic, murder, witches, thieves, good and evil and, of course, romance. This captivating read is about a city terrorized by a serial killer and a heroine like no other, perfect for fantasy lovers and fans of Sabaa Tahir’s An Ember in the Ashes and Adriana Mather’s How to Hang a Witch.

Ever since she was a child, Julia has always had a special ability: she can vanish without a trace. She is not invisible, per say, but she can disappear into another reality, one that most people cannot see. It is a useful talent for someone who is a thief and a spy. Growing up parentless in a city that has outlawed all forms of magic, Julia and her brother find themselves working for a group of thieves who steal in order to survive. Her latest task is to work undercover as a housemaid in Mrs. Och’s mansion—and to spy on the mysterious people who live in her home.

Confronted with intriguing characters including a disgraced professor and a strange aristocrat who locks himself in the basement every night, Julia becomes suspicious that the people of Mrs. Och’s grand home may be involved in something deadly—perhaps even related to the serial killer who has been leaving bodies all over the city. But as Julia comes to know the individuals she is working with, she grows increasingly conflicted over delivering the information that is required of her and returning safely back to her fellow thieves, or betraying the people she is beginning to care for. As Julia finds herself caught in a moral struggle, she is also trapped in a battle between forces more powerful than she’s ever imagined.

Although Julia Vanishes started out quite slow—despite beginning in media res—the magical world that Egan has created is certainly a fascinating one to read about. It is obvious that Egan is intrigued by religion, mythology and the history of witch cleansings, and she effectively adds her own creative touch. The witches in this world use a pen and a piece of paper to write and cast their spells, and Julia has her own unique ability to vanish, an aspect of the novel that I found intriguing and consistently wanted to know more about.

The characters in Egan’s novel are well-developed and relatable. Many of them, including Julia, deal with complex, realistic feelings such as overcoming fears, staying faithful and true to oneself and choosing whether to place duty over love. I was particularly impressed with the philosophical conversations between Julia and one of Mrs. Och’s residents, Frederick, which touched upon the topic of free will. Julia herself is a well-rounded, memorable individual who at times can be cynical and sarcastic, but remains an admirable heroine throughout the book. Her independence, intelligence and ability to stay ambitious despite hardship, make her one of the most exceptional protagonists I’ve ever encountered in a novel.

In spite of the various themes working in the story—including witchcraft, religion and philosophy—Egan successfully links together all the elements into one, intricate fantasy. The reader is left with an ambiguous ending and a number of questions for the next installment in the series. I can’t wait to read about what happens to Julia next!

Rating: 3.5/5

Monday, June 20, 2016

Matt Corby Appreciation Playlist


I'm going to go right out and say that Matt Corby is one of the most talented singer/songwriters I have ever listened to. Ever since I heard Matt's fourth EP, Into the Flame in 2014, I've been utterly captivated by his music. I even wrote a paper about one of his songs from that album, "Untitled" last semester. You might have heard his popular song, Brother on the radio, but odds are, you've never listened to any of his other songs.

Recently, I had the unbelievable pleasure of seeing Matt perform live in NYC at Terminal 5. I've seen a good amount of concerts over the past five years (Arcade Fire, Paul McCartney, Death Cab for Cutie, Vampire Weekend, Phoenix, Daughter, Kanye, Passion Pit, The Killers, Matt & Kim, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Alt-J...the list goes on and on), but—as I've been raving to friends and family—I rarely see an artist perform so passionately and woo so many listeners in one show. Listening to Matt Corby sing was like being transported to another realm. His music is food for the soul.

In honor of Matt's successful concert and my first time seeing him live, I've compiled a playlist of Matt Corby's best songs (most of these are live because they're honestly better than the recordings), starting with my favorite and a fitting first piece for the beginning of the week.

Monday



Empires Attraction



Resolution



Belly Side Up



Made of Stone



Untitled



Wrong Man



Sooth Lady Wine



Trick of the Light



Oh Oh Oh



More music posts

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Ms. Bixby's Last Day by John David Anderson


*This review was originally posted on Kidsreads.com*

Prepare your box of tissues! John David Anderson, acclaimed author of Sidekicked and Minion, brings readers Ms. Bixby's Last Day, a heartfelt novel about the one teacher you never forget, and the friends who stay by your side no matter what.

Everybody knows there are six kinds of teachers in the world. Sixth graders Topher, Steve and Brand know this better than anyone. Some of these teachers include the Zombies, the ones who have been teaching forever. There are the Caff-Adds or Zuzzers, the ones who are constantly on a caffeine-high and speak so fast that nobody understands them. There are the Dungeon Masters, your classic strict teachers who insist on absolutely no talking during break and reading time. And lastly, there are the Good Ones, the ones who simply make enduring seven hours of class slightly more bearable. Ms. Bixby is one of the good ones. So when she unexpectedly announces that she is unable to finish the class, Topher, Steve and Brand set out on a risky quest to give Ms. Bixby the last day she deserves.

Ms. Bixby's Last Day was a superb story filled with humor, lovable characters and an unforgettable storyline. I went into this expecting a quirky and fun quick read about three middle-schoolers and their teacher, but what I got from reading Anderson’s story was much, much more. Told from the alternating perspectives of Topher, Steve and Brand, the reader is able to not only grasp the distinctive personalities of each boy, but learn about their individual backstories as well. Topher is the creative geek, Steve is the intelligent nerd and Brand is the boy with the big heart. I fell in love with each character, and came to experience each moment of excitement, laughter and grief alongside Topher, Steve and Brand. Anderson allows each boy to shine in his own way, and Anderson’s exploration of these young boys adds an additional level of honesty to the novel.

Not only does Anderson bring his characters to life, but he touches on difficult issues such as loneliness, self-doubt, change, and all the confusing feelings that come with being twelve. I surprisingly found myself reminiscing about the good (and bad) times from my own childhood, while Topher, Steve and Brand provided us with flashbacks and wonderful memories of Ms. Bixby. The book was a perfect blend of nostalgia, comedy and profound emotions. Middle school is often filled with angst, and Anderson artfully captured this complicated, yet innocent time in one’s life.

You will cry, you will laugh, but most of all, you will smile. Ms. Bixby's Last Day is a truly captivating story, complete with humorous and lovable characters. Definitely a must-read for both young readers and adults alike.

Rating 4/5