Famous In A Small Town

Image result for famous in a small townFirst Lines: Brit had been fired from the Yum Yum Shoppe, which came as a  shock to approximately no one.

So I’ve read only one other book by Emma Mills and I liked it.  But this, for as good as the jacket sounded, I just had a hard time finding motivation to read it.  Part of it was definitely the cover, which I still don’t understand even after reading the book.  It literally makes no sense.

For Sophie, her tiny hometown of Acadia, Illinois, is both a blessing and a curse.  She’s known her four best friends her entire life and Sophie has always known this town as home.  But when everyone knows everyone…well, yeah.  When her high school band is chosen to perform at the Rose Parade, raising enough money in this small town to make it there seems impossible until Sophie gets the idea to have country star Megan Pleasant play a fundraiser.  Megan, an Acadia native, would be perfect…except Megan’s publicly sworn never to return to Acadia.  Ever.  As Sophie digs for answers, she’ll unravel years-old mysteries and find herself a new fifth best friend…who makes her heart race and has secrets of his own.

This was really good! Sophie is a sweetheart with gutter humor, a combination I found delightful. After discovering the band fundraisers may not make enough for them to go to the Rose Parade, Sophie’s determined to get hometown-legend-turned-country-megastar Megan Pleasant to perform and the proceeds help the band. But as you might expect, it’s not that easy for her.  But her attitude about the whole thing was great.

The characters are fascinating, every one of them. There’s the enigmatic August, who is definitely hiding something. And you’ve got Sophie’s lifelong friends Brit, Flora, Terrance, and Dash, who are all quirky in their own ways. On top of that, there are some of Sophie’s neighbors and the little girls she babysits that are absolutely adorable. So I loved that.

And the plot is actually way more involved than it sounds. There are a lot of little things going on the whole time to keep you interested, overlapping plot lines. There were many times I had difficulties putting the book down to go to bed or work.

It was a lot of fun to read this book. I need to stop underestimating Emma Mills just because her covers are awful.

Shadowsong (Wintersong, #2)

Image result for shadowsongFirst Lines: My dearest Sepperl, They say it rained on the day Mozart died.

I read Wintersong back in the…spring?…and, being a duology, I wanted to finish off this series.  It was gonna be easy, you know?  Two books, done.  And I’d have one more series I could cross off my list.  If I was actually keeping a list, which I’m not.

*Potential Series Spoilers Ahead*

It’s been six months since Liesl came back from the Underground.  She’s determined to live her life and grow her music career, but her second chance at life is so much harder than she ever thought.  Her brother, Josef, is cold and distant from her.  And Liesl can’t stop thinking about the man she left behind.  When signs begin to show that the barrier between the Underground and the world above is failing, Liesl knows she needs to do something.  But how far will she be willing to go?  How much is too much to sacrifice?

I had really enjoyed the first book in this series, though I admittedly found it weird at times. But I liked its play on German culture, its delve into the Goblin underworld, and its ties to music.

Pretty much, still what I liked about this one.

I will say that it started off sloooooow. It took me a long time before I felt like I was really getting anywhere. Part of that might have been because I didn’t have time to sit down and sink into it the way I like to. I was reading a chapter at breakfast and maybe another couple before bed. (Normally, I like to sink at least an hour into reading a day, but I’ve been on a writing kick lately.) But part of it, I think too, was that we not only had to set up the currently world Liesl was living in, six months after the end of the previous story, but also her new, manic mindset.

I did really like that this book took a look at mental illness, particularly relating to bipolar disorder and depression, without calling them by name. You see a couple of the characters spiraling, but they don’t have the vocabulary (due to the time period) to really explain what they’re feeling. But we know. We see it. And I liked seeing some of that from the inside, to better understand it.

What I missed from most of this was the Goblin world. Even though that was the crux of the previous book, it wasn’t very present in this book at all. And unfortunately, that’s what I really enjoyed before. And Der Erlkonig really wasn’t in the story much either.

The reason I gave this a four instead of three is because the last 150 pages or so were pretty extraordinary. I don’t want to say there were big plot twists, necessarily, but it was really well-written. Madness, depression, and yes, a few twists made it quite an emotional ending. I liked that.

Why You Should Take Chances: An Essay

Hey everyone!  I’m writing this because I learned a valuable lesson over the last few days and it has done wonders for my confidence.

Let me back up to about February to start this story.

I’ve been working with my school’s show choir for three years.  I was crew chief, in charge of staging and making sure everything got on and off stage and loaded onto the bus when we were done.  But I was getting tired of the gig because my passion has always been what happens on stage, not back stage.

Our choreographer the last two years has been a self-centered, demanding man-child.  I could list all the awful things he’s done, but basically he thought he was the director, not any of us who actually were the directors.  My director was thinking of getting rid of him because of all the horrible things he was doing and saying, but he didn’t know where he could find another choreographer.

I volunteered to lend my talents.

I did show choir myself for five years and dancing has been really my only form of exercise since then.  I love dancing and feeling music move me.  So I wasn’t completely out of my depths.

But I was more than a little out of my depths.

Since I’d never done it before, I said I would do two of the five dance numbers.  It would be enough to get a taste for it and decide whether or not I could actually do it.  I spent the summer working on them, an hour here, an hour there, watching my own old show choir tapes for ideas.

I struggled a lot.  It was a huge challenge, made harder in part because I can’t really read music.  But I do know how to dance and I know my kiddos, so I was trying to do my best for them.  I knew a number of them were excited that I would be doing this.

Then we had show choir camp.

Image result for show choir gif

Show choir camp, for us, is three days of the kids learning choreography and getting to know each other.  We start around 8:30, warm up, learn choreography, play some team building games, eat lunch, sing, and learn more choreography before going home at 2.  These are middle schoolers, so it was about as much as they could handle.

The first day of camp, our other choreographer taught part of his song.  I was so nervous about having to teach mine the next day that I was watching him closely to see how he taught but also how difficult his moves were.  Were mine too easy?  Would mine look good mashed up against his?  I mean, this guy had been doing this since 1993, when I was two years old.  If I could emulate him, surely I’d be fine.

And as I watched him, I became a little more confident in myself.  His moves weren’t all that different from mine.  The styles were similar.  And when he taught, he just tried to keep it simple.  (He’s also an elementary school music teacher, so he knew how to handle the kids.)

I went home that night and immediately made some changes to what I’d done.  Nothing big, but I wanted to review my choreography so I wouldn’t look like a complete idiot in front of them.  And I wanted to step up a few of the moves that were maybe a little too easy or didn’t make sense in sequence.

The next day, it was my turn.

I was nervous and everyone who was my friend knew it.  I made no secret of telling everyone I thought this would kind of crash and burn.  Everyone kept telling me I’m already a teacher, I would be a natural.  And yes, there was that, but I haven’t danced in front of anyone like that in 10 years.  My moves aren’t tight and precise, and I knew they’d ask questions about foot position or hands that I hadn’t thought of yet.

So when I got up in front of them, I told the kids that.  I was honest and upfront: this was my first time doing this and if they had a question about something that I didn’t have an answer to, we’d work together to come up with it.  Most of the kids already knew me (at least a little) from the last few years, so it wasn’t like I had to teach it to kids I didn’t know.  If a kid acted up, I knew his/her name and how to handle them.

Anyway, I started teaching and worked my way through it.  Sure, I made mistakes.  I forgot the moves I had literally just taught the kids.  I didn’t always explain the footwork as well as I should have.  I didn’t always know what they needed.

But the kids were quick to help me.  I’d just ask if they wanted to run through it again or if they were ready to try it to music.  I’d ask if they needed anything clarified and then I’d go back through that hard footwork.  Sometimes the 8th graders gave me suggestions.  I’d try to give them weird names to go along with a move so they’d remember it.  (“Dolphin arms!”  “Step and punch!”  “Ok, now we’re boxing!”)  More than once, I made them laugh and we just generally had a good time.

And you know what?  By the end of the day, they were begging me to run the song over and over again without my help.  They loved my choreography.  I had no idea how anything would look on stage, but apparently my instincts were pretty good because there were a couple of really awesome moves that looked so good in the mirror when 40 kids did it at the same time that I couldn’t stop giggling.

The best part was how adults walking in and out were reacting.  My principal came in a few times to talk with the director and saw me.  My principal and I have been at odds for most of the time I’ve worked here because he thinks I need to come out of my shell more, not understanding what it means to be an introvert and a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP).  But for him to see me in front of the group, teaching choreography, it was awesome.

My director said my principal came in and went, “Is that Holly?” and the director went, “This is all her.  She did all of this.”  So my principal watched for a while and allegedly said, “Woah,” when we got to the super impressive move that the kids love.

The kids were saying good things, too.  At the end of the day they gave me a round of applause.  A few made comments to me like how one girl said, “I was nervous when I heard an English teacher was going to be doing our choreography, but you’re actually really good.”

My best friend at school came down to see how they were doing in the afternoon and my director immediately went up to them and started bragging about me.  He was saying, “This is all her.  She did all of this.  It’s a whole new side of Holly.”  She said he couldn’t stop saying nice things.

The ironic thing is that what they saw was the side of me that I feel like I am most of the time when I’m just being me, not the professional persona I wear at school.  I was just trying to have fun with the kids.  There was no room for being self-conscious.  The kids didn’t care and we didn’t have time for that.

On my second day teaching and the final day of camp, I started seeing how it was all paying off.  The newest members who didn’t know me before were seeking me out for extra help or to say something random, just to be talking to me.  The older members (also the ones who are usually too cool to talk to the teacher) were more willing to ask me questions if the director was unavailable.

And during water games, they were all dead-set on drenching me.  In years past, for something like that, they wouldn’t have messed with me because they wouldn’t have known how I would react well enough to want to do that.  This year?  No problem.

Unfortunately, that meant my sneakers were soaked.  I hadn’t brought extra shoes.

I spent the rest of camp in my (thankfully dry) socks, teaching the end of the dance.  Once, when I was demonstrating a move, I slipped and did the splits.  You could hear the kids gasp, but I just laughed.  I just turned to them and said, “Ok, we’re not doing the splits here.  That’s not the move.”  And it was fine.  I wasn’t hurt and it was just a funny moment.

It was when I was thinking about that later I realized how much I had changed in just two days.

Before, I used to be really hesitant with the kids.  I wouldn’t feel like it was my place to make certain comments.  I’d feel like I wasn’t part of the group because I only really started showing up in January, when they had already gone through so much without me present.

But now, these kids are acting so much different than I expected.  The fact that I’ll have about 10 of them in class this year has really started to show too.  Some of them, I think, are really looking forward to it.  Instead of me going, “I have you in class this year,” they’re coming to me saying, “I have you fifth period this year!”

Internally, I’m feeling these changes.  I finally feel like I can be more myself.  I think a big part of that has been living alone this summer, spending most of my time doing what I want without caring what anyone thought.  If I wanted to sing at the top of my lungs, I could.  If I wanted to dance through my house or bake cookies or do a puzzle or not do my dishes for a couple days, no one cared.  It’s been really liberating and I think that’s starting to show elsewhere.

The point of all this is to say that I was super nervous going into this because I’d never doing anything remotely close to choreography before.  I’d almost never been the center of attention with that group before, especially not for that length of time.

But everyone had such nice things to say, even when I did make mistakes.  The kids were so encouraging and so was the director.

This year is going to be different.  I can already feel it.

The Vinyl Princess

Image result for the vinyl princessFirst Lines: (Um, apparently there isn’t an ebook of this and I returned the book without getting the first lines so…yeah, sorry about that.)

Ok, if you ever go to my Goodreads page, the first 20 books on my to-read list are semi-randomly selected from my 500+ unread books.  This had been on that top 20 spot for years.  It’s been on my to-read list for the last decade.  God, I feel old saying that.  So it was about time I actually read it.

Allie is a self-professed music lover and expert of all things vinyl.  At 16, she’s scored the best job ever working at Bob & Bob’s Records, where she gets to listen to music and sell vinyls all day.  It’s also the perfect place to work on her alter-ego The Vinyl Princess, her identity on her new blog.  Life seems pretty good from behind the counter at the store.  But beyond that, things are a little weird.  Her mom’s getting dates, there are a string of robberies in town, and business at the store is dangerously slow…but at least Allie’s getting more followers on her blog all the time.

In the end, I thought it was ok. This is going to probably sound a little weird, but its writing it kind of dated. The structure of the story, the things Allie does, there were a few times I just kind of had to look at the book and ask it what it was doing. It’s not that the writing is bad, but its plotting was just odd.  It’s hard to explain unless you’ve also read a YA book from the early 2000s recently.  Stories have evolved since then.

There just wasn’t anything about this that makes it memorable afterward. Everything was pretty average. I hate saying that, but even while I was reading it, I was thinking about what book I was going to read next. I didn’t know the music Allie was referencing, so it wasn’t even like that could keep my interest.

I did think it was kind of cool seeing someone start a blog from the ground up in a book.  I thought some of her process (and success) was unrealistic given my own experiences, but it was still cool to see what I do as a hobby represented in literature.

I thought it was a cool subject for the story and the plot wasn’t bad (it definitely took a couple of surprising turns), but execution lacked the emotional connection. I didn’t connect with the characters and that hurt it.

I wanted to like it more.

You’d Be Mine

Image result for you'd be mineFirst Lines: If I die, it’s Trina Hamilton’s fault.  She’s hard to miss; statuesque blonde with angry eyes and tiny nostrils wearing top-of-the-line Tony Lamas so she can kick my ass at a moment’s notice.

I put this on my to-read list when I realized it was about country music.  Even though I lived in the ‘burbs growing up, it was a lot more rural than my new house.  Anyway, the point of that is to say that I grew up on George Strait, Toby Keith, Faith Hill, and Shania Twain.  I read all the magazines and had their pictures on my walls.  So this book really appealed to my sensibilities.

Annie Mathers knows how dangerous fame can be.  The daughter of two country mega-stars, she’s seen the dark side.  Which is unfortunate for country bad-boy Clay Coolidge, who needs to convince Annie to join his summer tour to salvage his reputation and his music contract.  All Annie’s done since her parents’ tragic death is post YouTube videos of her band, but Clay’s label sees promise and they want her.  Swayed by Clay’s good looks, Annie joins.  And from the very beginning, fans want something more to be between Clay and Annie.  But with a front-row view to her parents’ destructive celebrity love story, Annie’s more than a little hesitant.  Could her feelings for Clay be real?  And if so…is it worth it?

This was cute.  I appreciated the country references and the details about how the industry works.  It was interesting and I found it hard to put down.

The story doesn’t shy away from the dark side of fame, though, and that was darker than I was anticipating when I started this book. Annie and Clay are young and both still early in their careers. But both have seen the worst in life and fame is only making their weaknesses worse. This wasn’t a downside for the book–in fact, I loved that it highlighted all this. It truly was a look at mental health in a way that we’re not used to seeing and I liked that.

And the romance was cute in its own way. It doesn’t necessarily go the way you expect it to, but again, because it was different I respected it all the more. I always knew what I hoped would happen next but I didn’t always get what I wanted.

This was a book I had in my bag for a couple of days, just looking for a moment to read it again, even if it was just for 2 minutes at a time. It was so engrossing and I fell in love with the characters for their flaws as much as for their strengths.

Jesse’s Girl (Hundred Oaks)

Image result for jesse's girl miranda kenneallyFirst Lines: Backstage, there’s so much security, you’d think it was the White House.  I’ve been to plenty of concerts, but I’ve never had a backstage pass, so I follow Dr. Salter’s lead and keep flashing my all-access badge over and over.

I keep working my way (slowly) through the Hundred Oaks series.  They’ve typically been cute, moving, and with a whole host of different types of girls.  No two stories feel the same at all and that’s so awesome you guys.  I’ve seen myself in many of the girls but all for different reasons.  And I had high hopes for a story about a country singer, since that was my dream job at 13.

At Hundred Oaks High, career day is a joke.  You want to be a famous chef? Shadow a small baker for the day.  You want to be president? Follow this lawyer for a day.  So when Maya Henry said she wanted to be a rock star, she figured she’d get a crappy job too.  It’s a shock when she ends up with the Jesse Scott, teenage country heartthrob.  But spending the day with Jesse doesn’t go the way Maya thought it would.  She’s constantly reminded of how much she’s lost: her band, her boyfriend, any chance to make the music she loves.  It doesn’t help that Jesse is pushy and opinionated–and he thinks Maya’s playing backup to other people.  Can Maya strike out on her own and finally own the spotlight?

Ok, so this was adorable. As I knew it would be.

In this book, we meet Maya (the younger sister of Catching Jordan‘s Sam Henry). She’s spunky, cool, driven, and an 80s tribute singer. She loves Queen and aspires to be a performer in her own right. So when her school sets her up to shadow Jesse Scott, the hottest thing in country music, she’s torn; it’s great to shadow a real star, but did it have to be a country singer? But Jesse’s not what she expected.

The story pulled me in very quickly. Part of it is because of my love of music. I’m a solid combo of Maya and Jesse, with a definite 80s throwback to myself (even though I wasn’t born in the 80s) but I grew up on country music and appreciate it as well. And at one point in my life, I thought about trying to be a singer. So it was kind of an interesting “what if?”

Jesse and Maya are both interesting characters with their own quirks. But the thing that kept me entertained is that they’re funny. Jesse is willing to say just about anything out loud for a reaction and Maya has a more sarcastic sense of humor. I loved both of them. And both of them showed their vulnerable side through the book and I thought that was great.

The plot isn’t very even in terms of the timeline, mostly because about half the book is devoted to the one-day career shadowing expedition. But it wasn’t bad. I mean, I barely realized it was taking so long until I stopped once and saw I was about halfway through the book. The timeline after that was better paced, but I was never bored.

This was super cute and I can’t wait to read the next one.

Wildflower (Wildflower, #1)

img_0251First Lines: “Bird!” Jacob whispers urgently over the music.

This was on my to-read list for a long time before I finally snagged it from a Scholastic book order.  (Ah, it’s almost that season again!  Can’t wait!)  So as this summer has been winding down for me, I’ve been trying to also work through the ever-growing stack of books I’ve bought but wanted to read before I took them to school.  This was high on that list.

For nearly half of her life, Bird Barrett has been on the road with her family’s bluegrass band, singing backup and playing fiddle.  And she loves it, spending time with her brothers and her parents.  So it’s a huge surprise when one night, filling in as lead singer for her ill father, Bird gets noticed by a scout and offers Bird the chance to have the spotlight for herself.  Soon, Bird is living the dream in songwriting session, music video shoots, and recording sessions.  Her first song is a hit and suddenly fans and paparazzi are everywhere.  She’s even caught the eye of her long-time crush, Adam Dean.  But with the quick rise of Bird’s star, other parts of her life start falling apart.  Can Bird keep her priorities in order while still being the star she never dreamed she could be?

I was drawn to this book for its country angle.  I love country music.  I grew up on all the same songs and artists Bird mentions in this book–Vince Gill, Garth Brooks, Tim McGraw, Carrie Underwood.  So it was really cool for me to read about a girl with the same musical influences as me.  I feel like that rarely happens because country gets a bad reputation.

This story is essentially the story of Taylor Swift, but with some differences.  (You’ll see the similarities in a moment.)  Bird, a tall blonde bombshell, is a killer songwriter who writes a lot of autobiographical songs about boys she likes and struggles in her life.  (Now you see it?)  From the moment her first song takes off, she’s become basically an overnight sensation.

I adored Bird.  She’s an awkward owl, but her heart’s in the right place.  She adores her family and loves playing with them, but she’s also totally enjoying her moment in the spotlight.  Like you would expect from a 16 year old, she makes mistakes and sometimes mopes, whines, and gets caught up in the moment.  I have a feeling that if I were in her shoes, I would be making a lot of the same mistakes right along with her and I have almost 10 years on her.  But I really liked her personality and her drive.

I also really liked her family too.  Bird is the little sis, so her older brothers act like any normal brothers would–protective teasing lovable jerks.  And her parents are the right mix of supportive and grounded.  It was really sweet how close they all were.

But what I truly loved was the portrayal of the music industry.  Some of it was a little magical, some of it seedy and shady.  We got to see all of that–the good and the bad–and how Bird deals with those challenges and perks.

I thought it was a cute book.  Very cool look at what it takes to be a star with a few truly touching moments.  I’m excited to see what happens in the next book, when Bird goes on tour for the first time.