High Five / 17

Hi friends!

Long time, no see! How are you? How are things? Though my semester has been off to a wonderful start, I’m nevertheless grateful to be home until Wednesday for the long weekend. I’m even more thankful that this break allows me some time to blog. I’ve missed sharing here on Ciao Bella, but what better way to ease back into blogging than a new High Five?!

Before I share the highlights of my week, however, a moment: it would be remiss not to mention the devastating school shooting in Parkland, Florida. I’m grieving for the students, educators, and families impacted by the incident, I’m angry that this is no longer a shock to those in the U.S., and I’m frustrated, if inspired, that teens are able to take more action than those in the government (I’ve also been thinking a lot about how I consume news, how I react to news, and how privilege is intertwined in both, but that’s a conversation for another day).  If you, like me, are looking for tangible ways to help, I found this link to be useful. Change can only happen if we act now.

High Five 17[1] To start, can we chat about my latest television obsession, Netflix’s American Vandal? A hilarious play on true-crime breakouts like Serial and Making a Murderer, the eight-episode series follows aspiring documentarian and high school sophomore Peter as he investigates the innocence of classmate – and class clown – Dylan Maxwell. The crime in question? Vandalizing the cars of twenty-seven teachers with phallic images as a supposed prank. I was skeptical at first (what should one expect from a show with the tagline, “Who drew the dicks?”), but its sharp storytelling and authentic portrayal of high school life quickly won me over. The profanity is aplenty, but if you’re in need of an engrossing and humorous example of satire, I can think of no better show to try (and then you’ll be ready for Season Two, due out later this year!). Have you watched American Vandal or any other Netflix series as of late?

[2] As I mentioned in my last post, I study and work best when I have music playing in the background. With the semester fully underway, you can thus imagine how much my Spotify account has been put to use. One of the albums I’ve enjoyed most was actually just released: folk group I’m With Her’s See You Around, which came out on Friday. I’ve been eagerly counting down the days since I stumbled upon their music in the summer, but the wait was entirely worth it – I can’t get enough of all twelve tracks! Like The Staves, another musical trio I adore, artists Sara Watkins, Sarah Jarosz, and Aoife O’Donovan share impeccable harmonies and warm voices (you would never believe they’ve only been singing together since 2014). My favorite songs are “Game to Lose” and “Ryland (Under the Apple Tree),” but listen to any of their music and I know they’ll make you a fan.

[3] February has been moving so quickly that Valentine’s Day snuck right up on me! While I recognize that much of the holiday is based on the commercial sales of cards and chocolates, I still love that there’s a day devoted to expressing appreciation to the people who matter to you most. I suppose it’s then fitting that my current read is Rookie on Love, which I received from my mom as a sweet Valentine’s Day present. Any longtime reader of Ciao Bella knows how much I admire Tavi Gevinson and her work – all four Rookie yearbooks hold a coveted spot on my bookshelf – so it’s little surprise that I’m digging this anthology, a love-themed, love-centered collection of poems, essays, and stories from a diverse set of authors. YA fans, in particular, would do well to check it out. (On a similar note, this recent interview with Tavi is also a fun read).

[4] When I wasn’t shopping classes or catching up with friends over these past few weeks, chances are you’d find me in rehearsal for Julius Caesar: Femmes, Romans, Countrymen, an all-femme rendition of Shakespeare’s play. Working on this show was my first opportunity to stage manage in college, and I couldn’t be happier to have been a member of the technical team; it was one of the most thoughtful, loving, and creative productions I’ve had the pleasure of working on. We had a bittersweet close to the process on Monday, but the entire cast and crew is committed to staying in touch, even as our schedules part in separate ways. Fortunately, on my end, Brown theatre keeps me busy – I’ve already started work as the general manager for a production of Heathers in April! If you’d like a taste of the show, a Facebook live stream is available HERE. Have you seen or been a part of any productions recently?

[5] Finally, I was fortunate to snag tickets to a presentation by Tarana Burke, the #MeToo founder and activist, last week. She gave a wonderful, thought-provoking talk and was so engrossing in conversation with Brown professor Emily Owens. I appreciate her sharing her experiences, as I left the presentation even more determined to do my part in the ever-growing movement. To that end, it felt fitting to attend after reading the accounts of sexual assault in the kidlit community collected by author Anne Ursu. How and when the change in publishing will occur, I’m not certain, but I do know, as Burke said herself, we “have to be drivers of this conversation.”

And with that, I wish you the most wonderful Sunday.
B

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Current Playlist, Part Two

Hi all!

How are you? How has your week been? Mine has been relatively quiet, save for rehearsal, but that changes today as I kick off the new semester. I can’t say I’m ready for the onslaught of assignments, but I am excited about my course options and, of course, the chance to reconnect with friends.

As I enter into “school mode,” I have my playlists at the ready. Like so many, I love to work and write to music – especially when the artist is new to me! I shared a few of my favorite albums back in the summer and had such a fun time writing the post that I wanted to do a second round. That in mind, here’s a sample of what I’ve been listening to as of late. Any recommendations of your own?

Jade BirdFirst, have you heard of British singer Jade Bird? I can’t get enough of her recent EP, Something American, and I’m clearly not the only one. NPR writes that it’s a “heartfelt blend of intimate songs;” at Pitchfork, the songs “could be plucked straight from the American heartland.” She’s been labeled a country singer, but I think that’s a disservice to the blend of blues, Americana, and folk that she so effortlessly delivers. Do check her out.

favorite tracks: Good Woman, Cathedral (Acoustic)

The Wild ReedsIn a similar vein is indie folk group The Wild Reeds. Relatively new to the music scene, they released their second album, The World We Built, just last year. I only stumbled upon their music earlier in the fall semester, but I’ve had it playing non-stop ever since. Their harmonies are something to admire. (Related: watch their NPR Tiny Desk Concert for a mid-week pick-me-up!).

favorite tracks: Fall To Sleep, Everything Looks Better (In Hindsight)

Earl St ClairI’m convinced I could listen to R&B artist Earl St. Clair – with his distinctive raspy voice – for days. He combines that signature wail with an infectious old-school energy on his debut album, My Name is Earl. The seven tracks have been my go-to workout music as of late, but it could easily transition to early morning playlists. One listen, and I’m sure you’ll draw the same conclusion: he’s an artist to watch.

favorite tracks: Criminal, Feeling Alive

Greta IssacLike so many of the artists I’ve enjoyed over the past year, Welsh singer Greta Issac is an emerging voice. She has only a few singles, but each and every one is constructed with care. Don’t be thrown by the genre of electronic pop; her work is refreshing (and incredibly catchy). All that said, I’m eagerly awaiting the release of a full-length album, but in the meantime, you can find me playing “You” on repeat.

favorite tracks: You, Tied

ALA.NIListening to ALA.NI’s EP, You & I, is like a trip back in time. It’s an album that asks you to pause, listen, and give it your undivided attention. Why this is exactly is hard to pinpoint. Is her trademark 1930s microphone that she uses while recording and on tour? Is it the parallels between her work and that of classic icons like Billie Holiday and Judy Holiday? Whatever the reason, all I can say is that I’m a huge fan.

favorite tracks: Woo Woo, Roses & Wine

Pale HoneyI’ll admit: I first looked into Pale Honey because of the duo’s name (What can I say? I was curious!). After listening to their two albums, however, it became clear that their music was right up my alley. Devotion, which came out earlier this fall, is true to the Swedish band’s “minimalist rock” style. It’s not only compelling, it’s packed with punches of raw emotion, thanks to singer Tuva Lodmark’s stand-out voice. I dig it.

favorite tracks: Get These Things Out of My Head, Real Thing

IbeyiIf an Adele endorsement isn’t enough to grab your attention, it will only take a  listen to the first minute of Ibeyi’s single, “Deathless,” before you too are a fan of twin sisters Lisa-Kaindé and Naomi Diaz. They’re a talented pair: blending Yoruba, French, and Afro-Cuban styles, they’ve created a sound that is wholly unique (and mesmerizing to listen to). I can’t wait to see what they make next.

favorite tracks: Deathless, No Man is Big Enough for My Arms

The Band's VisitIt wouldn’t be a Ciao Bella music post without a bit of Broadway! My current favorite is The Band’s Visit, a musical inspired by the film of the same name. While I would love to one day see the production, for now, I’ve settled for listening to the cast album while I bake or get ready in the morning. Star Katrina Lenk has a voice like no other, and composer David Yazbek should be praised for his beautiful music and lyrics. Excellent stuff.

favorite tracks: Welcome to Nowhere, Papi Hears the Ocean

Aldous HardingHow does one sum up the music of New Zealand singer Aldous Harding? Melancholic, dreamy, and stunning, Harding’s sophomore album is a well-drawn story; she finds sadness in celebration and growth in heartbreak. One reporter even writes that her songs will “put a spell on you.” (They’re right). To be short? I absolutely adore her songs, and I think (hope!) you will too.

favorite tracks: Party, Imagining My Man

Harry StylesFinally, Harry Styles’ solo album is old news at this point, but given how many times I play it throughout the week (i.e. a LOT), I figure it’s worth a shout-out. I was never a One Direction superfan, but give me Styles’ rock-pop mix, lovestruck lyrics, and stylistic croon, and I’m all ears. As seems to be the theme of this post, if you haven’t listened to it, it could be worth a try by the end of the week.

favorite tracks: Woman, From the Dining Table

Have a lovely Wednesday!
B

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Recent Reads / 03

Hello!

Happy Tuesday! How is your week coming along? I had a wonderful and restful long weekend with my family—it was just what I needed, especially now that my winter break has come to a close! I move back to Brown today for the new semester; classes start next week, but over the next few days, I’ll be in non-stop rehearsals for my next stage management project: an all-femme production of Julius Caesar in February.

I’m excited for the coming months, but I admittedly wish I didn’t have to swap my young adult novels for course textbooks. I may not be able to read as much as I did on break, but I can at least share a few reviews that have been sitting in my drafts! I did a similar format back in the summer, and I loved how it allowed me to highlight a few favorites from my recent reading pile. What books have you read (and would recommend!) as of late?

Recent Reads 03[1] To start, anyone in the literary world would have to be living under a rock not to have heard about Angie Thomas’ stellar debut, The Hate U Give, at this point. It has been on my feeds since it was published last February, it continues to dominate the NY Times Bestsellers list, and filming for its big picture adaptation has already begun! Such praise is wholly deserved. While I felt it was a touch too long, the areas that plod – and there are few – are readily made up with dialogue that immerses you in every scene, an authentic and touching family dynamic, and a plot that speaks to the injustice of police brutality. This is a book that the YA community needed years ago. I’m only glad it’s found such a large following now.

[2] For middle-grade readers, let me recommend Greenglass House, a wintery, adventure-filled mystery from author Kate Milford. It was the first book I read this year, and I can’t think of a better note on which to start. It’s modern, yet timeless, charming, yet distinct, existing in a world where winter storms are reason to share stories around the fireplace, inn guests are not who they always claim to be, and attics hold trinkets and decades-old secrets (If you couldn’t guess, Milford has a way with atmosphere). You can be sure that my next snow day will be devoted solely to reading the newly released sequel, if only because I’m anxious to return to main character Milo’s story.

[3] Have you read anything by Emma Mills yet? If you haven’t, can we remedy that? I myself waited until this past Christmas to read a book from the well-established YA author, and I’m kicking myself that I didn’t check out one of her novels sooner. Foolish Hearts, her latest work, is nothing less than pitch-perfect contemporary. Following narrator and high school senior Claudia as she works on a school production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, it has a plot that had me grinning from beginning to end and characters that I want as my very own friends. If that all isn’t enough to convince you, grab it simply for the stunning cover. In short: love, love, love.

[4] Finally, another book I read on my winter break was Being Mortal, a thoughtful and sobering meditation on modern aging from surgeon Atul Gawande. In just under three hundred pages, he deftly switches from an explanation of nursing homes and current elderly care practices to recounts of his experience with patients nearing the end of life to finally, a reflection on his own father’s passing. At times, it felt intense, but that’s less a fault of Gawande’s skillful prose than a result of a culture that so rarely discusses death. If the subject piques your interest, I think you’d do well to read it alongside When Breath Becomes Air and What Makes Olga Run?. 

Have a terrific Tuesday!
Bella

Psst. In December, The Hate U Give was banned from school shelves in Katy, Texas. Fortunately, as I write this post, it’s back for students to read, but it nevertheless highlights how stories can be taken from and made inaccessible to the very readers who need them most. That in mind, and if budget allows, consider donating a copy to the campaign above and/or to your own local Little Free Library. It’s a book that deserves to be in the hands of high schoolers.