Waiting on Wednesday: Everybody Knows Your Name by Andrea Seigel & Brent Bradshaw

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine.  Its purpose is to spotlight eagerly-anticipated upcoming releases.

This week I’m eagerly awaiting:

Everybody Knows Your Name by Andrea Seigel & Brent Bradshaw

Expected Release Date: March 10, 2015

Meet Magnolia.

Her father’s dead, her boyfriend’s ditched her to commit himself more fully to surfing, and her mother’s depressed because she can’t get cast on The Real Housewives of Orange County. All Magnolia wants is to reinvent herself.

Meet Ford.

Half his family is in jail, the other half probably should be, he shoplifted his way into a job at a record store, and his brother pawned his 1953 Telecaster for a quick buck. All Ford wants is to reinvent himself.

Ford, meet Magnolia.

When the two teens are cast in Spotlight, a reality TV singing competition, both see it as their chance to start anew. With each episode, as they live together in a Hollywood Hills mansion and sing their hearts out, Ford and Magnolia fall in love. But how genuine can that love be when a television audience is watching their every move—and when their pasts are catching up them so much faster than they can run?

(summary via Goodreads)

I mean, this looks like totally ridiculous fluffy fun.  Right now, it’s like 3 degrees outside and all I want is to escape into a book, so this fits the bill perfectly.  It helps that I’ve loved Andera Seigel’s other works (The Kid Table and Like the Red Panda are both excellent, and I even watched–and liked–her movie Laggies), and will pretty much check out any creative work she does.  I’m generally wary of any book that has more than one author (unless we’re talking about a graphic novel or anthology, obviously), but it might work really well here with two distinct characters.

What are you waiting on this week?

Book Review: Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

A famous actor collapses onstage, and an EMT in the audience leaps up to help him.  A child actress watches this with horror in her eyes.  That same night, a terrible illness sweeps across the country and the world, decimating the population.  Fifteen years later, that same child actress travels the country with a group referred to as the Traveling Symphony.  They move around to the settlements that have formed in a world forever altered, and then they encounter a violent prophet who might be the end for them.

St. John Mandel’s sprawling novel that is part rumination on art and creative pursuits and part post-apocalyptic fiction has garnered a great deal of attention and praise since being released.  The praise and buzz aren’t surprising once a reader enters the world she’s created, as the prose is beautiful and her characters vivid.  What is surprising is how deftly St. John Mandel moves from past to present, jumping around in time and weaving multiple characters into her story completely seamlessly.  This is a remarkable novel, and readers young and old will find things to enjoy here.

Many things work in this novel, but much of why it works is because St. John Mandel has so fully imagined her characters and the world they inhabit.  Each reader might find a favorite character or location within the novel, but each of these distinct things helps make the whole that much stronger.  Sparse, beautiful language only make the story that much more compelling.  This is a hard one to put down.

At times truly harrowing and horrifying and at others simply beautiful, this is one that can’t be missed.  There’s appeal here for older teens as well as the adults it’s marketed towards, and it will likely be a popular book club book, as there’s plenty here to parse and discuss.  Haunting, excellent stuff.  Recommended, even for people who don’t like post-apocalyptic fiction.  This is as much about the creation and sustainability of art as it is about the human condition.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel.  Knopf: 2014. Library copy.

My Weekend in Pop Culture

These are the pop culture items I consumed this weekend.  Without further ado!

janevirginJane the Virgin: I’m finally caught up on episodes of Jane the Virgin, and I’m totally digging it.  I love the mix of camp and heart, and also that the show is in on the joke.  It’s a lot of fun and way more interesting than I originally thought it would be.  I still have reservations about once the baby comes, but for the time being, I’m enjoying the hell out of it.

This Charming Man by Marian Keyes: I just started this book, so it’s very early, but so far I’m really enjoying how smart, funny, and engaging it is.  It’s the perfect read when I’m feeling apathetic about most of my media consumption, and there’s something about the writing that reminds me a bit of Bridget Jones.

What pop culture did you consume this weekend?

What I’m Reading and Thinking About This Week

What a week.  Ugh.  Here are the things I’ve been reading and thinking about this time around.

How Many White People Does it Take to Ruin a Good Joke? (The New Republic)

Jazmin Hughes is pretty amazing, and this piece examining the ins and outs of comedy and race is really excellent and insightful.  In it, Hughes examines the prevalence of jokes about white people made by people of color–largely seen as a way to seek solace from the frustrations of being a marginalized person in a culture of white supremacy–being co-opted by white people themselves:

This is how the party endswith white people wanting in on the joke so badly that they create a separate category of “cool” white people who mock their own whiteness in an effort at solidarity. “White people be like ‘white people be like,’ but they be the white people that white people be like!!!!” as one Tumblr post neatly summarized.

Hughes examines the historical context of jokes like this and finds that they go back a long way.  She also talks about how the most successful comedy is always “punching up,” which means that comedians don’t make jokes at the expense of people they have more privilege than.  She points out one of the most troubling aspects of white people making jokes about white people:

But what most white-people jokes have in common is that they are not about white people per se. Instead, they are about inequalities between whites and other races. “What is the scariest thing about a white person in prison?” a comedian asks. “You know he did it.” Har har! Except you only got the punchline because you’re aware of the problem of prejudicial prosecutions. In sum: “LOL, RACISM.”

It’s a great read and not super long.  Well worth your time.

How Fifty Shades of Grey Does Money (The Billfold)

After a couple of interesting conversations with one of my long-distance friends about Fifty Shades of Grey, E.L. James being kind of an asshole, and the impact on the world of BDSM, my friend sent me this excellent, funny piece from the Billfold this week.  It is both a send-up of the controversies surrounding the franchise as well as a smart little take on marketing and capitalism:

“Okay, but that’s really unsafe,” I say. “Do you think you have a responsiblity for educating people on safe and consensual ways of exploring BDSM together?”

“I’m just a book,” Fifty Shades says. “A story. When do stories need to be responsible for anything but themselves?”

At any rate, it’s smart and funny.

All Dating Advice is as Terrible as the People Who Give it (The Guardian)

The title pretty much says it all, and I don’t have much to add here.  But it is an interesting look at the culture we live in and perpetuate where dating advice nearly always mirrors our own experiences (because validation):

Everyone has ulterior motives. There’s a good chance that anybody emitting romantic tips is a deeply insecure life-choice evangelist – that they’ve chosen some path (to marry young, or to wait, to have children, to stay single, etc) and they’re not sure it was right. Their uncertainty manifests itself as a desperate attempt to persuade you that it’s the best choice for you, too.

The article runs down the other types of advice-givers, including the ones who wish they had chosen differently, the ones who are cynical (they’re most likely to quote The Rules or whatever bullshit else there is), etc.  But the fact remains there’s no such thing as perfect advice, there is no right way to do these things, and one size does not even fit most.

The Lesbian Jewish Leftist Conspiracy Tearing Apart Reddit, Untangled (Gawker)

First of all, this:

Almost overnight, the venture-backed link-sharing behemoth has been plunged into a bizarre, wide-ranging conspiracy scare—complete with accusations of shady cabals, corruption, radical feminist infiltration, and scheming of all sorts—that makes PrisonPlanet.com look like BuzzFeed. It is one of the least sane things I have read on this internet, and I’ve spent the last day trying to untangle it.

I don’t have the energy to get into all of the politics and crazy at play here, but the basic idea is that Reddit is being infiltrated by feminist social justice warriors and the white men are clutching their metaphorical pearls (or their actual balls, because the feminist SJWs are coming for those, too, probably) over this.  What is usually relegated to the fringes of the site (although the site does have racism and sexism problems overall, and I say that as a regular user of it) is seeping into the mainstream, and that is why it is noteworthy.  It’s still batshit insane, but it is worth taking note of, because:

There was a time when the fringe truly existed on the fringes of society, where they could be insulated from the non-fringe and egg each other on into new and more brazen forms of fringedom. But today, conspiracies as manifestly deranged as this one rocket in popularity, empowered by the simple software behind sites like Reddit and 8chan. There have always and will always be right-wing lunatics who think creeping “transexual feminism” is an existential threat; but now those same people share real estate with all the rest of us. They are just one click away.

I don’t know.  I am simultaneously amused by the irrational fear of the white hegemony at Reddit, but I’m also alarmed at how pervasive and insidious this kind of thinking can be.

What got you reading and thinking this week?


Book Review: Please Remain Calm by Courtney Summers

Rhys and Sloane are on their way to a safe haven when they end up separated after a particularly bad zombie attack.  Although he’s determined to find Sloane–alive–Rhys finds another group of people, and he realizes that he might need them as much as they do him.  Determined to survive and with a newfound hope that he just might make it, Rhys continues to navigate a world where the dead are alive.

Summers’s novella takes place immediately after This is Not a Test, so reading the first book is a necessity for readers picking this one up.  But fans of the first novel will also find that Summers applies the same mastery and enormous respect for the genre here, crafting a genuinely horrifying, moving novel about the zombie apocalypse.  This is a fast read that can (and will) be devoured in one sitting.

Much of what works in this story is the same stuff that worked in the previous book: the balance between truly heart-stopping action sequences and quieter, more emotional moments.  Summers is a well-documented zombie-fan, and it shows here.  She knows her stuff, respects the greats, and still manages to create a world that is uniquely her own.  But she also loves her characters, and the detailed, fully-realized characters who inhabit this world are compelling.

This time, the story is narrated by Rhys, and though readers still get plenty of page time with Sloane, having a new narration offers a fresh perspective.  Rhys’s experiences offer a different take on what has happened and what’s to come, and his fierce devotion to Sloane is palpable.  Summers takes care to build the interpersonal relationships between the characters, which makes it all the more horrifying when they’re in dire situations.

Highly recommended.  This is an ebook only, but it’s well worth the (cheap) price.  This is a great, quick read that should work for horror fans young and old.  It will also leave them clamoring for more.

Please Remain Calm by Courtney Summers. St. Martin’s Griffin: 2015. Purchased copy.


Waiting on Wednesday: Not Otherwise Specified by Hannah Moskowitz

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine.  Its purpose is to spotlight eagerly-anticipated upcoming releases.

This week I’m eagerly awaiting:

Not Otherwise Specified by Hannah Moskowitz

Expected Release Date: March 3, 2015

Etta is tired of dealing with all of the labels and categories that seem so important to everyone else in her small Nebraska hometown.

Everywhere she turns, someone feels she’s too fringe for the fringe. Not gay enough for the Dykes, her ex-clique, thanks to a recent relationship with a boy; not tiny and white enough for ballet, her first passion; and not sick enough to look anorexic (partially thanks to recovery). Etta doesn’t fit anywhere— until she meets Bianca, the straight, white, Christian, and seriously sick girl in Etta’s therapy group. Both girls are auditioning for Brentwood, a prestigious New York theater academy that is so not Nebraska. Bianca seems like Etta’s salvation, but how can Etta be saved by a girl who needs saving herself?

(summary via Goodreads)

The early buzz on this one has been good, so I’m hopeful that it won’t disappoint.  Moskowitz is definitely a name in YA who pushes boundaries and is constantly seeking new stories to explore, and this one definitely fits the bill.  I’m looking forward to seeing how Moskowitz’s book navigates bisexuality, eating disorders, and race.

What are you waiting on this week?

Book Review: Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

Retelling the story of her childhood, author Jacqueline Woodson reminisces about her childhood in South Carolin and New York.  In a series of prose-poems, Woodson talks about living in the remnants of Jim Corw and her burgeoning awareness of the Civil Rights movement.  Woodson captures the wonder of being a child and also showcases her own growing desire to be a writer.

Read just one page from Woodson’s evocative memoir of her childhood in the 60s and 70s and you’ll understand why the book is receiving heaps of praise, including a win  from the National Book Award.  Her mesmerizing verse captures the reader’s imagination immediately, transporting them to the time and place she inhabits as a child.  Vividly remembered and painstakingly realized, this is a career-defining book with appeal for both adults and children.

Part of what makes Woodson’s story so excellent is in her craft of it.  She mentions the big names of the times, including Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks, but this story is really about her own family and their trials and tribulations.  The amount of care she has taken to adequately express the love she was surrounded by, especially with regard to her grandparents, is wholly moving.  There are brilliant details about growing up in the era, including getting her hair done on Sundays and avoiding segregated stores with her maternal grandmother, and these help flush out the story.

Woodson also navigates her childhood desire to become a writer, even while struggling with becoming a reader.  She documents  being gifted a notebook and her early attempts to tell stories and write books.  These bits should resonate with anyone who has ever wanted to be a storyteller, but there’s also broad appeal here for anyone who ever worked hard towards a goal.  It’s a love story to Woodson’s family, but it’s also a love story to the act of writing.

On the whole, this excellent, moving memoir is a can’t-be-missed.  There’s an immediacy to Woodson’s prose which makes it transcend time.  This is a must for library shelves all over.  Highly recommended.

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson.  Nancy Paulsen Books: 2014. Library copy.