Sounds Like Me: My Life (So Far) in Song

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In early 2008, I was in the music room at my high school waiting for musical practice to start. A classmate of mine sat down at the piano and started playing a song with a catchy riff.

“What song is that?” I asked.

It was “Love Song,” by Sara Bareilles, though I didn’t know it at the time.

A couple of mornings later, I was getting ready for school when the same song came on my alarm clock radio. I immediately recognized the tune, soon learned its name and came to like it and Sara Bareilles a lot. Being a piano player myself, it wasn’t often that piano-driven songs became radio hits. “Love Song” is actually one of the first pop songs that I learned on piano, and I would even make a YouTube video tutorial of its riff. 

Sounds Like Me: My Life So Far In Song is a memoir of Sara Bareilles’ life from childhood to present time (the year 2015, when the book was released.) Each chapter is based around a certain song she wrote, hence the title. The songs are: “Once Upon Another Time,” “Gravity,” “Love Song,” “Beautiful Girl,” “Red,” “Many the Miles,” “Brave,” and “She Used to be Mine.”

A Northern California native, Sara had a pretty typical childhood. Her passion for the arts began with performing with her two older sisters, and she did community and high school theatre. Music also became a passion, and she learned to play piano and write her own songs. At age 18, she moved to Los Angeles to study communications at UCLA while continuing to write and perform on the side. I found this part of her story to be the most interesting. Unlike some other artists that start early, have famous family or are on a television show, Sara started small and worked her way up to the top. I’m not saying that those artists aren’t talented, but it was refreshing to read about a musician who had the full experiences of high school and college, as Sara was in her mid-20s when “Love Song” came to prominence.

The chapter I related to the most focused on her song “Red.” (And no, not the Taylor Swift song, though I admit I briefly thought about it.) This chapter is about her junior year of college, which was spent studying abroad in Bologna, Italy. She talks about eating too much food, visiting European cities and meeting people from all over the U.S. and country, experiences I immediately connected with. But Sara goes more into depth about what her inner feeling were like during that time, writing “I could only express a fraction of what my brain was thinking or feeling, and it felt like I was projecting a dulled sense of my own personality.” I loved how honest she was, because I feel like that’s something that everyone has gone through. She further elaborates on the “temporary” life of studying abroad, saying “I was living in a strange limbo world, not totally connecting with what was immediately around me, but still incredibly far from what I would be going home to.” I didn’t necessarily feel the same way during my studying abroad experience (which was only three months), but it definitely describes my feelings during the final few months of college. The time when all your years of schooling is really coming to end and realizing that all the connections you made might not endure.

This is the kind of memoir that I think everyone would enjoy because of its mix of candor, humor and seriousness and how it can translate into music.

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Did I Mention I Love You? (DIMILY #1)

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While surfing the net one day, I came across a series written by Scottish author Estelle Maskame. The hook, she’s only 20 years old and has already written five books. Having liked The Duff, whose author wrote the novel when she was 17, I decided to check out Did I Mention I Love You?, the first book in the trilogy.

The protagonist is Eden Munro, 16 years old, who hails from Portland, Oregon. She lives with her mother; her dad walked out on them three years ago and moved to Los Angeles. When her dad invites her to the spend the summer in L.A., Eden decides to go, not necessarily to see him, but to get the chance to see what she knows as “the greatest city in the world.”

Once there, Eden meets her stepmother, Ella, and her three stepbrothers, Tyler, Chase and Jamie. Tyler, who’s her age, initially comes across as arrogant and unlikable. But something about Tyler’s attitude intrigues Eden, and she soon discovers there’s more to his story. The two soon deal with a growing attraction to each other, even though they are stepsiblings and Tyler is dating Tiffani. Throughout the summer, Eden makes new friends with Meghan and Rachael and explores the various neighborhoods of Los Angeles.

At first, I wasn’t sure what to expect from a writer that was so young. Estelle wrote the series when she was only 13 years old and finished it by 16, which means she was writing about characters a year or two older than herself. The ability to capture the voice of someone chronologically older than you can be challenging since the maturity level and experiences of the character might be something you haven’t yet experienced personally.

I found Eden to be a pretty realistic character. I liked how Estelle went against the common cliche of a character immediately disliking her new stepfamily. Eden is unhappy toward her father for walking out on her and her mother, but gives Ella and her stepbrothers a chance. She’s nervous about meeting new people, but is open to forming friendships and experiencing new things. Her open-mindedness was refreshing. Tyler’s character might come across as the cliche bad boy, but his story has so many layers that it was hard to stop reading about it. I also found it interesting that Estelle had never been to Los Angeles and did all of her research about the city online.

There are a few parts of the story that I found a little unrealistic. Eden, Tyler and their friend group’s activities mostly consist of going to parties and shopping. I wish there had been more about what their other interests are, because it would have added some character development. We do see Eden’s hobby of running and Dean being a fan of a local band, but that’s about it. In addition, Eden and Tyler lie a lot throughout the novel about their whereabouts. It’s definitely not unusual for teenagers to be dishonest, but Eden’s dad and Tyler’s mom don’t seem to punish them that much. I know for a fact my family would be furious at me for lying so much, but that could just be my personal opinion.

The story of how the book came to be is an interesting story in its own. Estelle wrote the stories chapter by chapter and posted it on the online website Wattpad as a hobby, and it eventually turned into an internet sensation and earned her a publishing deal.

In conclusion, I recommend Did I Mention I Love You? because of the unconventional storyline and layered characters. I’m looking forward to see more of Estelle Maskame’s work.

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Image courtesy of Goodreads.com

Stalking Susan

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“Write what you know.” is a quote I thought was from Stephen King, but is actually from Mark Twain. Basically, write about a subject that you’re interested in, passionate about or something like that. News producer-turned-novelist Julie Kramer wrote a book about a broadcast journalist following a mystery in her debut novel of Stalking Susan. 

Riley Spartz works as a reporter for Channel 3, an affiliate station in the St. Paul, Minnesota area. Bored with her assignments and still coping with the recent death of her husband, that all changes when a source of hers drops a cold case file in her lap. The case involves a serial killer who has murdered women named Susan over the course of several years. Riley works to piece together the cases and find the common link between them.

Since Kramer is herself a news producer, her inside knowledge of the business helped her write Riley as a realistic character. She (Riley) describes working with her photographer, assignment editor, news director and the CEO of the station. Having interned at a news station myself, I could easily visualize the characters. I liked how Kramer took the time to describe the people who are essential to the news business. All viewers usually see are the anchors and reporters, but it takes an army of people to successfully create a television broadcast. Terminology used in the news business is also mentioned.

I would classify the story as a whodunit mystery from the perspective of broadcast journalism. In a way, reporters are like detectives when they investigate stories and get to the bottom of a lead. Riley works to solve the mystery by making profile boards, doing research and so on, similar to a detective. As some who’s obsessed with Law & Order, reading a mystery from the perspective of a civilian was different, although Riley does consult her cop friend for some help.

There is more to the story than the mystery though. Riley is also navigating life as a young widow after the untimely death of her husband. The memories she has sometimes affects her actions. This added depth to her character, and shows that there can be a whole story and person behind the reporter and anchors you see on the television news. Their lives are not flawless.

I recommend this novel to anyone who wants a fresh take on the mystery genre.

Open Book (Original Poetry by Me)

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I’m an open book

Ask me anything

Tell me anything

I have nothing to hide

If this is going to work out

We should know each other

I’m not going to judge

I have a past

Everyone does

But it’s what makes a person a person

Life is life

Communication is key

That’s why I’m an open book

This Adventure Ends

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Having read Emma Mills’ debut novel First & Then last year, I decided to check out her second novel, entitled This Adventure Ends.

Sloane Finch has just moved to Florida from New York for her junior year of high school. Moving to a new place isn’t easy as a teenager, and she doesn’t expect to make friends that easily. That all changes when she meets Vera, a charismatic teen who’s a social media star. Sloane falls into their eclectic group of friends which includes Vera’s twin brother Gabe, quiet and intelligent Remy, his ex-girlfriend Aubrey and popular party host Frank. Through her experiences during the school year, Sloane learns important lessons about friendships, which in turn teaches her more about relationships in general.

This is one of the few novels I’ve read recently that focuses on friendship as one of their major plot points. Sloane’s bond with Vera’s group is entirely new to her and I found this dynamic refreshing and new. The commonplace of most books is a protagonist with a lifelong best friend. Sloane goes against this archetype by admitting that she’s never had a best friend before, despite being about seventeen. it addresses the question of whether or not it’s easier to have friends or not.

Another subplot is Sloane trying to find a painting that Vera and Gabe’s late mother did.  I did find this part of the novel to not be that believable, considering that Sloane has only known the twins for a short of time and seems to be going out of the way to do a big favor for them. That’s just my opinion.

I recommend this novel to people who like reading stories about friendships.

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Broke Millennial

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Living in the nation’s capital doesn’t come cheap. I currently live in one of the most expensive neighborhoods in the city, where rent is basically one whole paycheck. I moved into my own place last summer, and wanting to fine tune my financial skills, I turned to Broke Millennial: Stop Scraping By and Get Your Financial Life in Order by Erin Lowry. Lowry runs the website BrokeMillennial.com and graduated from the same university that I did. (Shout out to St. Bonaventure University!)

My first experience with finance began at 15 1/2 when I got my first real job working in the dining room of the local retirement home. I only worked about 10 hours a week at making the then minimum wage of $7.15, but earning my own money felt great.  I learned about depositing money, what a debit card is, and why teenagers are too young to get credit cards.

Now, 10 years later and in the real world, I earn a real salary and deal with credit card bills, student loan payments, and 401Ks, all topics that are covered in Lowry’s book. Although it may sound like a bunch of generic information, it’s written in a way that makes it easy and fun to read. She includes vignettes about her personal experiences and the experiences of her friends, which made the book very relatable. Interlaced with the advice are humorous references, an example being on page 65 in the credit report chapter, “Your goal should be to join the ranks of the 700+ Club- not to be confused with the oddball evangelical talk show.” Some chapters even cover more personal topics, such as buying a house, splitting the dinner bill with friends, and even how to discuss finances in a relationship. Each chapter ends with a checklist or summary of the material from it. I found her advice about affording life in the big city helpful, as spending in D.C. is a much different story than life in Western New York State.

I’ve already started to incorporate advice from her book into my own life. I used to buy lunch every day, but now that I have my own apartment with my own kitchen, I can make my own lunch and save a ton of money. Another way I’ve been able to save is trying to walk to work more (depending on the weather.) This saves on bus fare, which costs $2 per way, so that’s an extra $4 I can save everyday for weekend excursions. I also freelance write as a side hustle for some extra money. Buying a house isn’t in my plans anytime soon, but I could use the advice for the future.

I definitely recommend Broke Millennial as a way to figure out your finances, especially since money can sometimes be a taboo subject to discuss.

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Words in Deep Blue

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The modern technology age has changed just about everything in the consumer market- music, shopping, and more. Bookstores fall into this category as well.  There was a time where there were several national book chains, now Barnes and Noble remain the sole one. However, independent bookstores still exist in just about every city and town. This is where the events unfold in Australian author Cath Crowley’s novel Words in Deep Blue.

For the past twenty years, Henry Jones’ family has run a secondhand bookstore in Gracetown, a suburb of Melbourne, Australia. Henry, the oldest child who lives above the shop with his parents and younger sister, lives and breathes books. The store is famous for its “Letter Library,” a section of books where people are free to write in or leave notes between the pages.  One of many notes that were left there was a love letter to Henry from his best friend Rachel Sweetie, who left three years earlier.

Rachel should be looking forward to being 18 and her future. Instead, she is overcome with the drowning of her younger brother Cal ten months earlier. Having dropped out of school and needing a distraction, she returns to Gracetown to live with her aunt Rose and find a job. She ends up working at the bookstore with Henry, and they begin to reconnect through a series of letter to each other and experiences with old friends.

While this may sound like the classic unrequited best friend love story, this is far from it. Instead, it is the story about grief, friendship and life choices. Rachel initially decides not to tell anyone about Cal, thinking that it will get better. Meanwhile, Henry struggles to figure out his future, wrestling with feelings for his ex-girlfriend and his family’s decision on possibly having to sell the bookstore.

The story is told through alternative first-person perspectives. Rachel’s chapters are filled with her inner thoughts about her brother. Henry’s chapters describe his confusion about Rachel’s mood. This made the story very realistic, because in real life people don’t know what’s going on in another’s head. The rest of the cast of characters are quite real as well, reminding me of people I’ve known in real life.

Henry does eventually find out about Cal, and his reaction is honest. ” ‘I don’t know how to talk to you about this,” Henry says,” because I’ve never been where you are.’ ” (page 190.)

Interspersed within the chapters are letters and notes written on the pages of certain books, paying tribute to the practice of letter writing. My favorite quote from the novel is:

“Words matter, in fact. They’re not pointless, as you’ve suggested. If they were pointless, then they couldn’t start revolutions and they wouldn’t change history. If they were just words, we wouldn’t write songs or listen to them. We wouldn’t beg to be read to as kids. If they were just words, then stories wouldn’t have been around since before we could write. We wouldn’t have learned to write. If they were just words, people wouldn’t fall in love because of them, felt bad because of them, ache because of them, and stop aching because of them.” (page 210.)

I highly recommend this novel because of its beautiful tribute to words and books, and its realistic depiction of how grief can affect one’s life.

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