Thursday, May 17, 2018

Book Review: 'History Is All You Left Me' by Adam Silvera

"People are complicated puzzles, always trying to piece together a complete picture, but sometimes we get it wrong and sometimes we’re left unfinished. Sometimes that’s for the best. Some pieces can’t be forced into a puzzle, or at least they shouldn’t be, because they won’t make sense."

Oh so many feelings I have about History Is All You Left Me.

I had wanted to read this book practically since before it came out, when it first popped up on Goodreads (which was in, uh, December 2016). I waited for my library to get it, since they had the author's first book, but they never got it, and I was really apprehensive about buying it because people on my Goodreads feed were giving it mostly 2 or 3 stars. Even if I really like a book's premise, I still think it's important to be choosy about which books one spends money on...because it can always go either way. When I found the paperback for a decent price about a month ago, I figured it was time to give it a shot.

History Is All You Left Me is told throughout two different periods of time, the present ("Today") and the past ("History"). In the past, Griffin begins dating his best friend Theo, who he has known since he was young. In the present, Griffin is grieving Theo, who has died in a drowning accident after moving away to California for school where he began dating Jackson, who Griffin is now meeting and connecting with. We soon learn that there is a complex web of relationships at play here, as we are introduced to Jackson and the third member of their friendship group, Wade. Theo was the group's anchor and they all find themselves confused and helpless without him - Griffin is especially torn between his dislike for Jackson and the feeling that he can relate to him most of all. Griffin also suffers from obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and we see his compulsions develop throughout the different periods of time. As a result, the story is sad almost immediately because not only are you reading an adorably cute saga of two boys falling in love for the first time, but you also know that they break up at one point and then he moves away, starts dating someone else and then dies, so y'know, it's a little depressing. For the first 100 pages, it felt like my heart was being torn from my chest with every chapter but I couldn't stop reading (thank you for that, Adam Silvera). The author manages to rip your heart out without seeming like he ever tries to. It's in the little ways he reveals that past relationships are not quite over, not really. It's in the inexplicable sadness of moving on. It's in all the things the characters don't say. It's in the pretending you're fine when you're not; you're really not.

I do have story details to nitpick, but I must commend a list of things first. For starters, History Is All You Left Me is the perfect LGBT book for people who are sick of gay books that are horror stories of homophobia and difficult coming-out tales. Griffin's parents are literally the most supportive parents I've ever seen; the fact that their son is dating a boy is literally not even a thought or an afterthought. They treat him no different than if he was dating a girl. Especially his father. I cannot get enough of how much his father cares about Griffin and his well-being, without any toxic masculinity thrown in there like most father-son relationships in YA books (and pretty much everything, basically). There's even a scene where Griffin and Theo run into his dad while buying condoms and any father in real-life would have been so uncomfortable - not only because there son is buying condoms, but buying condoms to use with his boyfriend (even the most of accepting fathers would have been uncomfortable, trust me) - but his dad treated it like any other awkward situation, said something supportive, and everyone soldiered through. If anything, this book is not a coming-out story. It's a story of first love and loss among four boys. However, I must point out that History Is All You Left Me is so accepting of being gay that it almost feels...not gay, at times. For example, Griffin, Theo and their friend Wade all use language like "dude" and "bro" with each other, even after Griffin and Theo start dating, which I find just a *little* hard to believe. I get that we shouldn't stereotype, but I do not know any gay guys who use words like bro and dude with each other, unless it's sarcasm or mimicry. I'm sure there are gay guys who could use such language with each other...but I just don't buy it. Also, I would've loved to have seen the gay characters watching RuPaul's Drag Race with each other instead of talking about superhero movies. Just saying. That would have made my gay soul a little happier. But at the same time, it's full of supportive parents and friends; positive representation of gay AND bisexual boys, so that's a positive...but that part still rubs me a bit the wrong way.

Aside from nitpicking smaller details, my main issue with History Is All You Left Me is that Griffin becomes a bit melodramatic towards the end and brings most of his issues on himself through his destructive choices. Also, the book is pretty liberal when it comes to the guys having sex, which was nice to see at first since it was without shame and with protection (you also can't really enforce heteronormative taboos about premarital sex on two guys, either), but by the end, it felt like all the gay characters were just banging each other like characters on a soap opera. After some thought, I have chosen to see this as the author showing gay characters having sex relentlessly just like straight characters do, because how many narratives have we suffered through with straight characters banging everything with a pulse, like on a soap opera? Too many. So I'm okay with that. But Griffin was just so unreasonable by the end - spoiler alert: he's the one who broke up with Theo when he was moving away, to make it easier on them both, but still felt like he was tied to Theo as "endgame" or some eye-roll worthy bullshit like that. They still spoke regularly after Theo left, even after they had broken up, and Griffin was hurt when he heard Theo referring to him as only a friend. He was even more hurt when he started dating Jackson, which I get, but it got out of hand. He used his grief to do stupid things, all because of his first love. And I get it. Losing your first love, especially when you're gay, before the age of 20 is some serious shit. But Griffin, darling, knock it off. Stuff like this is never easy, but we all have to learn how to move on...and he does in his own unique way.

As a whole, History Is All You Left Me is still a compelling narrative about gay characters grappling with first love and loss, and despite being heart-wrenchingly depressing for awhile there, it was still a smart and emotional read. It was even sadder because there was no judgment; no homophobia, no struggling-to-comes-to-terms-with-who-I-am depression. It is a tale of falling in love for the first time, and then having to learn how to move on when it all goes wrong. Griffin's OCD was also not exaggerated or just thrown in there for a little something extra - it was pretty well written. If you like LGBT books, I recommend. I definitely understand why some didn't like it and could only rate it 2 or 3 stars, but I still think it's worth the read. 4/5 stars.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Book Reviews: 'What's Eating Gilbert Grape' by Peter Hedges and 'Mary Poppins Opens the Door' + 'Mary Poppins In the Park' by P.L. Travers

What's Eating Gilbert Grape, by Peter Hedges:
My interest in What's Eating Gilbert Grape was first peaked last summer when I found out the movie with Johnny Depp and Leonardo DiCaprio was in fact based off a book (like most movies tend to be). I'd never seen the movie nor did I really know what the story was about, so I decided to check out the book. What's Eating Gilbert Grape is about 24-year-old Gilbert Grape, a grocery store clerk in the small, dead end town of Endora, Iowa. He lives with his family, which includes his older sister Amy and younger brother and sister Arnie and Ellen, as well as their mother, who has become morbidly obese in the years following her husband's suicide, having not left their house in 7 years. Arnie, who is mentally challenged (or "retarded" as they say derogatorily in the book, *sigh* it was the 90s), is about to turn 18, when his doctor said he would be lucky to live past 10 and now he could "pass any day" (I don't really get this? I think it's just something doctors used to say to families of mentally challenged children because there weren't the resources to care for them that there are today? IDK. Anyway, Arnie doesn't die. This is unimportant.) Gilbert dreams only of leaving - the only somewhat thrill he has in life is his affair with Betty Carver, a desperate housewife in town. That all changes when Becky rides into town, and things for Gilbert Grape might be turning around. In all honesty? I enjoyed the movie more than the book. I know all bookworms are supposed to pledge allegiance to the rule that "the book is always better" but sometimes a movie can say what a book cannot. In the case of What's Eating Gilbert Grape, the book is more Gilbert's narrative about his struggle - his life that's headed nowhere in Endora, and his shitty family. The movie, however, feels more of a compelling saga about the Grape family. It focuses just as much on Gilbert as the book, but if you asked me I wouldn't necessarily describe him as the main character - the movie elaborates more on the family and specifically in regards to Arnie, who is brought to life remarkably by Leonardo DiCaprio, who most certainly should have won the Oscar he was nominated for. The movie made me appreciate the story much more, because the book started to feel excessively like an oh poor me narrative about Gilbert Grape because he's stuck in a dead end town in Iowa with a fat mother and isn't getting any action with girls like cry me a river, please. Anyway. If you are interested, I recommend the movie over the book. The book was just okay. 3.5/5 stars.

2. Mary Poppins Opens the Door + Mary Poppins In the Park, by P.L. Travers:
I read the first two books in the Mary Poppins series last year, Mary Poppins and Mary Poppins Comes Back (joint review here), because the movie is my all-time favorite and I also really love the movie about Disney getting the film rights from the author, Saving Mr. Banks, so I thought I should check out the book series. I was really taken aback at first in the first two books at how grumpy, arrogant and bitter Mary Poppins is in the books, which is a common complaint among readers of the book who fell in love with the movie first, and I actually learned to appreciate the character's personality in the books more in the third and fourth installments, Mary Poppins Opens the Door and Mary Poppins In the Park. Both contain extremely imaginative adventures that Mary Poppins and the children go on, and by this point in the series, you are typically used to the characters and their ways, so I had grown to accept that Mary Poppins' grumpy and often rude personality contributes to her mysterious nature - after all, we really don't know all that much about Mary Poppins, where she comes from or who sent her in the books. So I grew to accept her as she is. Mary Poppins Opens the Door also contains chapters with imaginative and strange fairy tales that she tells the children, which were interesting to read. The title comes from Mary Poppins' answer to the children asking her if she will ever leave them again (she tends to arrive and leave with no notice, angering Mr. and Mrs. Banks), where she says that she will leave when the door opens. The ending occurs in a rather fantastical setting where she opens a door and leaves, which reminded me a little of  A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle. Mary Poppins In the Park is said to take place during any of Mary Poppins' previous visits, as explained by the author in a disclaimer at the beginning, because it would be unrealistic for her to constantly arrive and depart, and it is just as imaginative as the other books. There is a new Mary Poppins movie coming out from Disney later this year, Mary Poppins Returns, which is said to draw from adventures in the later books in the series. I'm more interested to see if the other Banks children will be in the new movie - in the books, Jane and Michael Banks are not the only children. There's also John and Barbara, who are twins, and Annabel. So I'm intrigued to see how that will play out, but I'm sure I will enjoy it nonetheless. 4/5 stars to both.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

25 Timelessly Catchy Songs That You Should Know

You know those songs that are just so catchy that they will always be good songs, whether in 2007 or today? I'm not talking about those songs that you loved in 2007 and now you laugh when you hear them. I'm talking about the songs that you hear and think DAMN, I should be listening to this all the time because they will always be good. And so should the rest of the world. So consider this to be part a list of recommendations and part me teaching you a lesson.
1. “Get Outta My Way” – Kylie Minogue

A flawless song. It literally beckons to be blasted as loud as humanly possible.
2. “Shut Up and Dance” – Victoria Duffield

Do you ever listen to a song from a certain amount of years ago and think to yourself, wow, this is still THAT song? “Shut Up and Dance” is still THAT song. (While you're here, also check out Victoria Duffield
s new songs "WOW" and "Get Me High.")
3. “Dancing On My Own” – Robyn

Who the hell needs someone to dance with to a catchy tune? Certainly not Robyn.
4. “Is Your Love Enough?” – Little Mix

Name a song that’s catchier and more amazing than this one. That’s right. You can’t. (Well, we’ve still got 21 other catchy songs to go through, but this one is still pretty hard to top.)
5. “Into You” – Ariana Grande

Find me one person who thinks this song is bad and get me their contact information. I want to yell at them.
6. “Sparks” – Hilary Duff

Please donate to my new social media campaign, #JusticeForSparks. Large contributions preferred.
7. “Learn to Let Go” – Kesha

Will I EVER be sick of this song? Or Kesha? The answer is NO.
8. “Touch” – Little Mix

Just a touch of this song is enough to knock me off my feet all week.
9. “Replay” – Zendaya

Zendaya was right when she sang “wanna put this song on replay, wanna listen to it all day” because that’s all I wanna do when I hear this song.
10. “Glamazon” – RuPaul

I want to live in a world that appreciates RuPaul’s discography.
11. “Sledgehammer” – Fifth Harmony

Those problematic girls were right when they said if you could take my pulse right now it would feel just like a sledgehammer, because this song always knows how to pick up any mood.
12. “It’s Alright, It’s OK” – Ashley Tisdale

While you have your check book out, why don’t you also donate to my other campaign, Justice for Ashley Tisdale’s Music Career.
13. “Battlefield” – Jordin Sparks

This is one of those songs for me where I can hear only a split second of it and it brings me right back to when it first came out—2009, y’know, the last time Jordin Sparks was popular. That girl is talented. She deserved a massive superstar pop career. I blame RCA for shafting her.
14. “Blow Your Mind (Mwah)” – Dua Lipa

All hail our lord and savior, Dua Lipa (her entire debut album is pretty damn catchy, actually. You should listen to it if you haven’t and familiarize yourself with the future pop goddess.)
15. “Want to Want Me” – Jason Derulo

I actually periodically forget that Jason Derulo had any songs after 2009 until “Want to Want Me” comes on shuffle and I start dancing on public transit until I am asked to leave.
16. “Kiss N Tell” – Kesha

One of the only good things about dollar-sign Kesha was her slut-shaming guys in her songs, which, as Ursula the Sea Witch would say, is what I live for.
17. “Into the Blue” – Kylie Minogue

If you look up ‘anthem’ in the dictionary, you should find this song.
18. “Let Me Go” – Hailee Steinfeld & Alesso feat. Florida Georgia Line & Watt

If you honestly don’t like this song, honestly, we can’t be friends. Because I’m making plans and you’re making problems.
19. “Dying to Know” – Tegan and Sara

These underrated LGBTQ queens have their fair share of bops – you just gotta seek ‘em out.
20. “Higher” – Carly Rae Jepsen

Does anyone else have momentary twinges of frustration that Carly Rae Jepsen could have made Emotion: Side B into a full-length album with “Cut to the Feeling” as the lead single? No? Just me? Okay. Cool.
21. “One Step at a Time” – Jordin Sparks

Yes, I still listen to hits from 2007 regularly and sing along to every damn word—IT REMINDS ME OF A SIMPLER TIME, OKAY?
22. “Over You” – Daughtry

I went through an alternative rock phase and Daughtry was (and still is) one of my favorites. It was my pre-adolescent attempt at listening to more “masculine” music but it didn’t really work because everyone just associated Chris Daughtry as that guy from American Idol which I guess is a joke in itself but he’s actually super talented and this song is a masterpiece so JOKE’S ON YOU GUYS.
23. “How to Be a Heartbreaker” – Marina and the Diamonds

You know Dua Lipa’s “New Rules”? This is the original.
24. “High Horse” – Kacey Musgraves

Flip on your cowgirl hat because you’re going to know every word to this song after only one listen.
25. “My My My!” – Troye Sivan

Troye Sivan—AKA the most adorable human to walk the planet—released quite possibly the best pop song of 2018 eleven days into the year and we are eternally grateful. In the words of Shawn Mendes, “Where’s the album, Troye?”
And, for your listening pleasure, you can listen to this entire playlist on Spotify. Enjoy!

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Getting Personal! // Books, Movies and Songs That Ease Anxiety

Lovely blog readers! I know you're there somewhere. I can see how many people read my posts after I publish them, so I do know people read what I post. And I thank you for that!

It's been almost 5 years since I started this blog (jeez, 5 years) and the things I've written about have varied widely over the years. It used to be solely about TV, and most of that was me babbling on about the daytime soap I watch, The Young and the Restless, which I eventually stopped writing about after about 2 years because I just didn't think I had much more to say there. In 2016, after being at a loss of inspiration of what to post on here, I started writing reviews of books I read and I feel like that was one of the best decisions I've ever made blog-wise, because I have much more articulate and passionate feelings towards books and the written word more than pretty much anything else. You might have also noticed that, more recently, I've introduced music to the blog, with reviews of new albums and playlists of songs, as well as some more ambitious opinion pieces over the last few months. Those posts were things I wrote for The Kelly Alexander Show, which is a podcast and entertainment show/website where I have done social media work since 2015 and have since started blogging for their site, so it has led me to have a vehicle and outlet to share my sometimes bold opinions with a perhaps wider audience. I hope you have enjoyed those posts, and that you check out KAS (we also have an email newsletter that I created and write and I would love for you to subscribe to it; it is a monthly newsletter, no strings attached, just with updates of the goings-on at The Kelly Alexander Show, including my blog posts.)

As much as I enjoy having this blog as a place to talk about the things I love and share them with whomever chooses to read them, Living on Guilty Pleasures (and its previous name and URL, which I believe was Teevee Wizard; feel free to cringe, I was young) has never been a place where I have written about me and my life; it has been about my life in regard to the things I love, which are books, music, TV and movies. But sometimes it's nice to have a place to just to share things about your life in general, too, so I thought I would share a bit of the journey and struggle I've been on with anxiety. I began therapy with a psychologist about 2 years ago, which is when I really felt my anxiety was something I could no longer control or manage by myself. I know now that I have always been an anxious person; I recognize traits and behaviors from when I was young that I realize now are aspects of anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder, but I was a kid whose was soon reassured by an adult, and I never felt the need to address those feelings further. Once I grew older and became an adult myself, I realized that it was going to become harder and it has since hit me like a tidal wave. Having anxiety is an ongoing process; some days are good, some days are bad and you can't always explain why, and that is okay. I'm not on medication for anxiety or OCD and I recognize that there are people who actually require medication whereas I do not, so I acknowledge that others have it much worse than me, but it's also important to acknowledge that my struggles with anxiety are no less valid or worth addressing than those who require medication. This winter, I started university for the first time (as a major in English literature; told you I liked books) and while I had been in therapy for a year and a half prior, it has been very triggering for me anxiety-wise. I realize that I would never had been able to cope now if I hadn't started therapy almost 2 years ago, but I've also realized in the last year how much of an ongoing process anxiety is and that in itself is an obstacle, one that can be overcome with time. The semester is almost done now; I have one more exam before I'm finished and I can already feel the pressure lifting, and can also recognize better what I was feeling the last few months.

You may notice I have shared my love for an album by Kesha called Rainbow in various blog posts over the last few months; I named it the best pop album of 2017. This album means a lot to me in general but especially in terms of anxiety; songs like "Learn to Let Go" and "Rainbow" are now some of my all-time favorites. And whenever things get really bad and I don't know how to bring myself to go on, I always think back to what Kesha says in the song "Rainbow" about forgetting how to daydream, still being a child deep down, realizing in the dark that life is too short, and not being able to lose hope even when she really wanted to. One part goes:

And I know that I'm still fucked up
But aren't we all, my love? 
Darling, our scars make us who we are, are
So when the winds are howling strong
And you think you can't go on, hold tight, sweetheart
You'll find a rainbow, rainbow, baby 
Trust me, I know life is scary
But just put those colors on, girl
Come and play along with me tonight
You gotta learn to let go, put the past behind you
Trust me, I know, the ghosts will try to find you
But just put those colors on, girl

Come and paint the world with me tonight

Even before I started university and another chapter of my anxiety was upon me, this song still spoke to me in huge ways just in terms of anxiety in general, and also in regards to coming to terms with adulthood. I think university has emphasized just another stage of adulthood for me and sometimes I just feel like a child in an adult costume who's bound to fail. But then I listen to Kesha telling me that I'll find a rainbow (and I have, and I know I'll find more), that trust me, she knows life is scary, but just put those colors on and try the best you can. It sounds cheesy, but when something like anxiety takes everything from you some days, you have to find something to cling to. The one movie that always manages to make me feel better when I'm feeling crazy or like a failure is Girl, Interrupted. It's about girls in a mental institution in the 1960s and it deals with some themes that feel so close to my relationship with anxiety and adulthood that I can almost touch them. If you're looking for a good movie to understand you, I recommend Girl, Interrupted. I once saw it on a BuzzFeed list of movies that are good when you "want to escape the real world" (I'd already fallen in love with it by that point) and the person who submitted that movie wrote something to the effect of, "Sometimes you just have to cry things out." And that is the perfect description for it.

My issues with anxiety and lack of free time this winter also prevented me from reviewing some books I'd read; some I enjoyed, others I didn't. I felt like I was looking for a book to draw me out of my anxiety and make me feel better (which I do all the time) and normally I find one, or one finds me, and it works. For example, 2 years ago, a few months before I surrendered and started seeing a psychologist, I read Wildflower by Drew Barrymore. Last summer, during a time where every day I felt overwhelmed and wanted to cry, I read A Lotus Grows in the Mud by Goldie Hawn. I don't know what it is about memoirs or real-life story collections by celebrities, but they always manage to make me feel better when I'm in a particularly rough time with anxiety. Wildflower was so calmly to me while I read it, and I actually just started rereading it last night, in hopes of it bringing me some of the same comfort it brought me the first time around. A Lotus Grows in the Mud was so sweet and genuine and I recommend both books. This time around with anxiety, however, I never really found a book that drew me out of my issues and made me feel better, which can also be the universe yelling, "HEY! Maybe look inside yourself and figure out what's going on instead of trying to find a book to ease your mind?" I know it's good to allow yourself an escape, but when you can't find one, you just have to ask yourself what's going on. And it's so HARD, universe, stop yelling at me! There was one book I read, when things were pretty bad, that didn't exactly ease my mind but more was just a really damn good book: A List of Cages by Robin Roe. I can't remember the last time I read a book so gripping, compelling, and emotional.

Looking ahead into the few months off I have from school, I'm looking forward to a break where I can recharge with myself, and do the one thing I know will always stay the same: figure out how to keep going. Because that's all we can ask of ourselves in life. I saw a post on Tumblr the other day where someone recounted what their professor told them and it went something like this: "You all have a little bit of 'I want to save the world' in you, that's why you're here, in college. I want you to know that it's okay if you only save one person, and it's okay if that person is you." That's really all we can ask of ourselves in life. If we want to give to others along the way, by all means, do it. But self-care is important and it's not selfish. Kesha herself wrote an essay last Christmas about surviving the holidays with a mental illness and one particular quote continues to stick with me: "It's not your responsibility to make the whole world happy. Especially since it's not that easy to make yourself happy, either." Helping others will always be important, but helping yourself always has to come first (within reason; don't apply this to every area of life). If you've made it to the end of my first (and hopefully last) personal and emotional blog post, you're a trooper and I thank you for reading all of this. I will leave you with some other lyrics that have spoken to me a lot in the last few years from a song called "Skyscraper" by one of my favorite artists, Demi Lovato, as well as a list of some songs and movies that ease anxiety. See you soon! XOXO Gossip Jeffrey

All my windows still are broken
But I'm standing on my feet
You can take everything I have
You can break everything I am
Like I'm made of glass
Like I'm made of paper
Go on and try to tear me down
I will be rising from the ground

Like a skyscraper

Songs That Ease Anxiety:
(Bare in mind that what works for me may not work for you. Everyone is different, but it's still nice to share coping techniques.)
1) So Yesterday - Hilary Duff
2) Rainbow - Kesha
3) Learn to Let Go - Kesha
4) Skyscraper - Demi Lovato
5) Warrior - Demi Lovato
6) My Love is Like a Star - Demi Lovato
7) Shouldn't Come Back - Demi Lovato
8) I'm Alright - Shania Twain
9) Poor Me - Shania Twain
10) Human - Christina Perri
11) Jar of Hearts - Christina Perri
12) Arms - Christina Perri
13) Distance - Christina Perri feat. Jason Mraz
14) A Little Work - Fergie
15) Don't Panic - Ellie Goulding
16) Brightest Morning Star - Britney Spears
17) Complicated - Avril Lavigne
18) Fragile - Prince Fox feat. Hailee Steinfeld
19) At My Best - Machine Gun Kelly feat. Hailee Steinfeld
20) Brave Enough - Lindsey Stirling feat. Christina Perri
21) All Too Well - Taylor Swift
22) Begin Again - Taylor Swift

Movies That Ease Anxiety:
1) Girl, Interrupted
2) Juno
3) Easy A
4) Boys on the Side
5) Hello, My Name is Doris
6) The Edge of Seventeen
7) Kiki's Delivery Service
8) Beauty and the Beast (2017 live action version) 

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Book Reviews: 'The Woman in the Window' by A.J. Finn and 'Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl' by Carrie Brownstein

1. The Woman in the Window, by A.J. Finn
Holy Mother of TWISTS! This is one of those thriller books where you look at the quotes from critics on the back cover who say "such a thrill ride" and "non-stop twists" and you think "mhmm yeah sure Brenda from Publishers Weekly," but The Woman in the Window is actually pretty twisty. I wasn't completely blown away by it, though. It's about Anna Fox, an agoraphobic psychologist who has become a recluse in her New York City home, watching old movies and drinking too much wine, who ends up meeting her new neighbors and witnessing something she shouldn't have. It is very character-driven, which I commend and love very much in these kind of psychological thriller books, and I enjoyed the protagonist's love of movies and the author's use of film imagery throughout. But, ultimately, I found it very slow-moving (which wasn't really a bad thing for the first 150 pages, because it felt like we were building up to get somewhere more fast-paced) and then the story started to drag a bit in the middle, which you kind of want to avoid in a psychological thriller. I also couldn't bring myself to be completely blown away by the book in general, because it seems very much like a redux of The Girl on the Train. And there isn't something necessarily wrong with that; The Girl on the Train is a damn good thriller and people should be modelling off of its success. But it just felt bland at times in comparison; the ending felt pretty rushed, for example, but the final twist was good in itself. Overall I enjoyed it and I know others will too, so it was good for what it was. 4/5 stars.

2. Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl, by Carrie Brownstein:
I didn't enjoy this as much as I would have liked to...and it's pretty much my own fault. I first heard of Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl either last year or the year before that (I can't remember which) when Emma Watson chose it as a title for her book club on Goodreads, Our Shared Shelf. But, since I'm very bad with online book clubs, I will usually add a title they've picked to my TBR and then never get to it because I just suck like that. I've added more titles picked by Emma Roberts' book club (which I love), Belletrist (The famous Emma's like their books, it seems), and I haven't gotten to any of them. I'm literally the worst. Anyway. I decided to pick up Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl from the library because I was in need of a good memoir and because Emma Watson liked it, so it must be at least a little good. And it was. I just don't have any prior knowledge of Carrie Brownstein whatsoever and I probably would have enjoyed her memoir more if I had. Brownstein rose to fame as a member of the indie punk rock band Sleater-Kinney in the 1990s, who apparently were revolutionary for challenging notions of gender in rock, so for that reason I felt like I could enjoy Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl regardless of whether or not I was familiar with the author or her band, because it sounded like it might address more than just her own experiences with music and notions of gender in music. I was wrong. This book is for people who know Carrie Brownstein and Sleater-Kinney, and I won't begrudge it that. I can't stand people who pick up memoirs from people they don't know or enjoy and then go on Goodreads, give it 2 stars and write, "This is really a book for Carrie Brownstein fans." I get that some celebrities write their memoirs with their fans in mind which makes them difficult to enjoy for people who aren't obsessed with them, but as a whole, I think people who are gonna read a celebrity's memoir are at least a fan of that person in some capacity. So when you say this is a book for Carrie Brownstein fans and then rate it 2 stars, maybe don't read it if you don't like Carrie Brownstein? I'm gonna practice what I preach and try not to read memoirs from people I'm not overly familiar with. Maybe. Probably not. I like a good memoir, so I'm always going to try. 3/5 stars.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Album Review: Kylie Minogue - 'Golden'

When a pop singer decides to experiment with country music, a lot people usually grimace and try to justify that it’ll be bad without even listening to it because it’s “country music” (to this day people claim that Lady Gaga’s Joanne is a country album because she’s wearing a cowboy hat on the cover? Did you listen to the album or just look at the cover, kids?) But when someone like Kylie Minogue announces a new album that is heavily influenced by country—move over Dolly Parton, there’s a new cowgirl in town.

When I first heard “Dancing,” the lead single from Kylie’s fourteenth studio album Golden that dropped in January, I was taken aback: not only by the obvious country influences, a quality seen nowhere else in Minogue’s previous work, but by the simple yet catchy quality of her voice on the track. Kylie has prided herself on being a nu-disco artist for most of her career and has proven herself worthy of that genre, but on “Dancing,” she somehow combined elements of Dolly Parton jukebox country pop with that catchy disco Kylie quality we’ve loved for 30 years. Needless to say—I was hooked and counted the days from there until Golden would be released. The second single, “Stop Me From Falling,” was even better and only increased the anticipation burning within.

Is Golden an album where every track is excellent and a certified bop? I’m going to say no, but that doesn’t mean the album as a whole isn’t impressive. When Kylie said she had found new inspiration recording music in Nashville and her new album would experiment with country, she wasn’t kidding. The majority of Golden is Minogue’s foray into country, experimenting with the true country sounds that you would hear in Nashville. Some came across a bit dull during the first listen—“Sincerely Yours,” “A Lifetime to Repair,” and “Shelby ’68,” maybe—but perhaps I just found them dull because I’m not an avid country listener. These tracks and more are pure country tunes, and Minogue shows her ability to try her hand at a different genre more than 30 years into her career as a recording artist, which in itself I find impressive. But don’t be fooled—Golden is still tied together with the electro-disco-dance-pop that you would expect from a Kylie album; after a few duller tracks in the middle, we’re treated to some catchy as all hell electro-country-dance tunes that make you thankful we have an artist like her in our lives. “Raining Glitter” is one of the most Kylie of all Kylie Minogue songs I’ve ever heard, reminiscent of her nu-disco sound from 2010’s Aphrodite, not to mention the authentically Kylie tracks that she blends effortlessly with country pop in the bonus tracks included on the deluxe edition: “Lost Without You,” “Every Little Part of Me,” and “Rollin’.”

But one moment on a particular track strikes me the most. As anybody who knows anything about Kylie Minogue can recall, she has spent most of her career being compared to Madonna (I’ve even referred to her as the Australian Madonna before). Pete Waterman, her producer during her early years, recalled that she outselling Madonna in the early ‘90s, but what struck him as remarkable that Kylie still wanted to be like Madonna. Kathy McCabe for The Telegraph noted that Minogue and Madonna follow similar styles in music and fashion but ultimately observed: “Simply, Madonna is the dark force; Kylie is the light force
.” But perhaps the most famous of the Madonna vs. Kylie comparisons came from Rufus Wainwright, who in 2006 referred to Minogue as the “anti-Madonna.” In Observer Music Monthly, he said: “Madonna subverts everything for her own gain. I went to see her London show and it was all so dour and humourless. She surpasses even Joan Crawford in terms of megalomania. Which in itself makes her a kind of dark, gay icon […] I love Kylie, she’s the anti-Madonna. Self-knowledge is a truly beautiful thing and Kylie knows herself inside out. She is what she is and there is no attempt to make quasi-intellectual statements to substantiate it. She is the gay shorthand for joy.” These comments even speak truer today, when Madonna continues to be well-loved for pushing boundaries but also catches shit from feminists for not allowing herself to age; she still has to prove to everyone that she doesn’t have anything to prove anymore. While she does continually speak out against ageism in pop music, instead of identifying with other female pop stars in the over 40 set, like Jennifer Lopez, Shania Twain or even Cher, Madonna chooses to perhaps continue “trying too hard” by identifying herself alongside younger pop stars like Ariana Grande and Nicki Minaj.

On the Golden bonus track “Rollin’,” Kylie sings, “Oh I tried / to keep up with the times / I’m too busy thinking / stop the ship from sinking / but oh, I tried / so maybe I’ll just sing at the top of my lungs / it’s not the things you wasted but it’s what you’ve done / hear all the right answers, you’ve been wrong / so keep on ro-oh-oh-oh-llin’.” These lyrics immediately reminded me of Rufus Wainwright famously calling Minogue the “anti-Madonna” in that she has now thrown caution to the wind and is singing at the top of her lungs, to perhaps end the Madonna vs. Kylie comparisons once and for all. Of course, this isn’t to say that Kylie is better than Madonna or vice versa; Kylie hasn’t been credited with changing pop music forever and have the pressure of ageism in pop music while continuing to want to push boundaries. At this stage in her career, Kylie has exempted herself from the necessity to push boundaries or proving herself worthy in the industry: after all, Golden is her fourteenth album. She’s flipped on her cowgirl hat and boots for a little something new, all while still delivering great Kylie-esque bops that we will continue to dance to for the foreseeable future.

Jeffrey’s favorite tracks from Golden: “Dancing,” “Stop Me From Falling,” “Live A Little,” “Lost Without You,” “Every Little Part of Me,” and “Rollin’”

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

10 Hit Songs That Were Almost Sung By Someone Else

Did you know that a lot of your favorite pop songs were almost sung by another artist? It’s true: these 10 hit songs were almost sung by someone else—and I’m pretty sure the world would be a different place if they were.
1. “We Found Love” – Rihanna feat. Calvin Harris

Rejected By: Nicole Scherzinger
Before the Rihanna’s catchy collaboration with Calvin Harris would hit number one (and become the longest-running number one song of 2011), the single was originally offered to former Pussycat Dolls lead vocalist Nicole Scherzinger. She claimed a few years later that they sent her the demo but she was too busy at the time, and was also looking to get away from mainstream dance tracks at the time. Scherzinger also claims she was offered “Just Dance,” Lady Gaga’s debut single, but she turned that down too.
2. “How Will I Know” – Whitney Houston

Rejected By: Janet Jackson

It turns out one of Whitney’s best known hits was first offered to the one and only Miss-Jackson-If-You’re-Nasty. Janet’s management passed on the song, feeling it was too weak in comparison to her other singles.
3. “Don’t Cha” – The Pussycat Dolls feat. Busta Rhymes

Rejected By: Paris Hilton

Quite possibly the Pussycat Dolls’ breakout hit was originally offered to Hilton heiress and socialite-turned-singer Paris Hilton and she declined, but said later that she had heard a demo version of the song—not the version the world fell in love with—and didn’t find it had enough substance for it to record it. She was wrong.
4. “Umbrella” – Rihanna feat. Jay-Z

Rejected By: Britney Spears

Rihanna’s smash hit from 2007 was actually written with Britney in mind but her management turned it down, as it was not the musical direction the Pop Princess was going for at the time—Spears released Blackout later that year, which continues to be hailed as her magnum opus. Her loss was Rihanna’s gain, as “Umbrella” would propel her to significant mainstream success thereafter.
5. “Since U Been Gone” – Kelly Clarkson

Rejected By: P!nk & Hilary Duff

Dr. Luke and Max Martin originally penned the future chart-topper with P!nk in mind in 2004, who was in an awkward in-between stage following the commercial underperformance of her third studio album Try This, but she turned it down (she would return back and better than ever in 2006 with I’m Not Dead). They offered the song to Hilary Duff next, but she too turned it down as she felt she wouldn’t be able to hit the high notes properly. It was Clive Davis who convinced the pair to give the song to Kelly Clarkson despite their reluctance, because they wanted to produce rock songs and felt Clarkson was too pop for the job. But once they heard the rest of Breakaway—her second studio album from which the song in question would later become the lead single—they knew she had a pop rock edge to her and was just the woman they were looking for.

6. “Toxic” – Britney Spears

Rejected By: Kylie Minogue

Perhaps the most shocking on this list is the thought that Britney Spears’ most loved hit (and also for which she won her first and only Grammy) was almost recorded by Australian pop queen Kylie Minogue. The song was first offered to Minogue for her ninth studio album Body Language (2003), but she turned it down. She has since stated that she does regret rejecting the future smash hit but doesn’t harbor a grudge against Spears: “I wasn’t at all angry when it worked for her. It’s like the fish that got away. You just have to accept it.”
7. “Come & Get It” – Selena Gomez

Rejected By: Rihanna

Selena Gomez’s breakout solo hit from 2013 was originally intended for Rihanna’s sixth studio album Talk That Talk (2011), but she thought it wasn’t right for her. I wouldn’t say “Come & Get It” was exactly the best sound for Gomez, either, but commercial success trumped the critics. While we’re talking about songs Rihanna has rejected, legend has it that she also turned down Miley Cyrus’ “We Can’t Stop,” Sia’s “Chandelier” and “Cheap Thrills” (I guess she likes low-maintenance lamps and expensive thrills instead) and—hold onto your hats—Ed Sheeran’s “Shape of You.”
8. “Telephone” – Lady Gaga feat. Beyoncé

Rejected By: Britney Spears

Lady Gaga wrote “Telephone” with Britney in mind for her sixth studio album Circus (2008), but after recording a demo, Brit and her management didn’t think it was the right song for her, so Gaga kept it for herself and later got Beyoncé to do it with her. Gaga initially invited Spears to be the guest vocalist, but she turned that job down too. Britney’s demo version was leaked in 2010 and is less than stellar—she was right, it just wasn’t the song for her—so Gaga made the right choice in keeping the future hit for herself. There’s also a version of the song done by Gaga and Britney together which is a horribly auto-tuned mess, but still somehow entertaining.
9. “All About That Bass” – Meghan Trainor

Rejected By: Adele & Beyoncé 

I am truly struggling to not gag as I write this, but Meghan Trainor’s (terrible) breakout single was also offered to Adele. Trainor explained that the song was offered to a large amount of artists before her, including Beyoncé, but they all turned it down. The singer also said that the producers thought Adele was the only one other than Trainor who could pull it off, but she wasn’t into sassy pop songs with swearing in them. Really? Adele isn’t into horrible bubblegum pop songs about boys liking them curves? I’m shocked. Also a little disgusting since I’m sure the producers considered the fact that Adele isn’t a size zero rather than her voice and style of music in that thought process.
10. “I’m a Slave 4 U” – Britney Spears

Rejected By: Janet Jackson
It turns out Janet rejected a lot of early 2000s pop songs that were later given to The Legendary Miss Britney Spears, most namely “I’m a Slave 4 U,” the song that singlehandedly established Spears with an infamous girl-next-door image. Brit’s song “Boys” was also intended for Janet and she reportedly recorded demos of both songs before turning them down, neither of which have been leaked.