Posted in Book Review Tuesday

Book Review Tuesday (2/7/23) – The Midnight Library

Happy Tuesday, bibliophiles!

I’ve had this book on my radar for a few years now, but I wanted to read it after the ocean of hype died down. I forgot about it for a while, and I found a copy at my college’s library, and figured that it might be worth a try—I read The Humans, also by Matt Haig, and thought it was decent, so I decided to take a stab. I lowered my expectations to average from all of the hype, but The Midnight Library ended up being even worse than I thought—insultingly un-nuanced and a wholly frustrating read.

Enjoy this week’s review!

The Midnight Library – Matt Haig

Nora Seed has reached what seems to be a dead end in her life. All of her childhood dreams never came to fruition, and now she’s stuck in her thirties with nowhere to go. But after she attempts to take her own life, Nora finds herself in the Midnight Library, where every book on the endless shelves contains an alternate life—lives where she pursued different dreams, different boyfriends, and every other imaginable outcome. As she travels through a multitude of alternate realities, Nora must come to terms with herself and how she wants to live her life—full of regrets, or full of hope?

TW/CW: suicide/suicidal ideations, animal attack, loss of a loved one, depression, panic attacks, animal death, substance abuse, cancer

A recurring thought that came to me while reading The Midnight Library was that it was like if you sucked every ounce of nuance and complexity out of Everything, Everywhere, All At Once. I know full well that Everything came out two years after this novel, but my point still stands. In the abstract, the message of The Midnight Library was good, but it had all the subtlety of a sledgehammer to the face, which made for an exceedingly unpleasant reading experience.

The Midnight Library is a case study in the effect of good or bad execution of a story idea. If you have a good idea but don’t execute it well, the idea itself gets bogged down in all of the structural flaws of the writing itself. The message that Matt Haig tried to get across was a good one—focusing on living your life, not getting bogged down with regrets, and giving yourself a chance to change—but it was so ham-handed in its delivery that all of the nuance (of which there was SO much potential) was erased entirely. It was so clear that The Midnight Library was trying to say something, but without any complexity, it ended up spitting out nothing that we haven’t heard before.

For instance, in one life, Nora Seed is a world-famous rockstar selling out arena shows all around the world. However, as Nora progresses through this alternate timeline, she realizes that this alternate self is feeling empty inside, and that fame has left her a barren shell of what she once was. That’s all well and good, and it’s a good message that fame does not automatically equal happiness. But at the end of the chapter, this message was digestibly packaged into a short platitude, right above Nora’s hypothetical follower count on social media. It was almost insulting how it was delivered—what was the point of that when Haig showed it through his writing just a page before? Even if you’re not a writer, if you’re ever taught about writing in school, “show, don’t tell” is one of the first principles that you’re taught. As a reader, it feels insulting to one’s intelligence: I got the message just fine, why be that redundant and blatantly obvious?

Furthermore, a lot of the potential lives, even though they were neatly and obviously packaged to the reader to teach them a lesson, ended up contributing nothing to the plot. When they did contribute, the message was reiterated by the all-knowing librarian, as if I’m watching a children’s show, each episode ending with an “and what did we learn today, kids?” kind of message. The Midnight Library isn’t all that long of a book, but a good quarter of the misadventures through Nora’s alternate lives didn’t serve any purpose, even though that was the obvious intent.

Lastly—Matt Haig isn’t at fault for this first part, but dear lord, do not let the synopsis fool you. This is not a feel-good book. The inciting incident for The Midnight Library is Nora attempting suicide, and that got glossed over so much in the marketing of the book. For the first part of the book, I feel like Nora’s mental health issues, although they aren’t explicitly named, were dealt with respectfully, but once it got to the end of the book, it took a turn for the worse. As if by magic, Nora’s depression is cured, and she now has the will to live again, after glimpsing all of her alternate lives. It really felt harmful—yes, this is a sci-fi/fantasy book, but depression and other mental health issues don’t magically disappear after a romp through alternate realities. Downplaying something as serious as depression and suicide really didn’t sit right with me, and it felt like the ending of the book erased something that should have been acknowledged far more in this book.

All in all, a disappointing book that decided to take its well-intentioned message and knock you over the head with it, thereby erasing all attempts at nuance and complexity. 2 stars.

The Midnight Library is a standalone, but Matt Haig is also the author of The Humans, How to Stop Time, The Radleys, and several other books.

Today’s song:

I like this one even more than Panopticom—I can’t wait to see what else this album brings!!

That’s it for this week’s Book Review Tuesday! Have a wonderful rest of your day, and take care of yourselves!

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Posted in Music, Sunday Songs

Sunday Songs: 2/5/23

Happy Sunday, everyone!

It’s February now, and what better way to start the month off than with an excess of Super Furry Animals? I hereby claim no responsibility for any damages caused by any bipedal, masked, bear-like demon-creatures that may cross your path. They’re best deterred by repeated screaming, if you want my advice. And look out for the chupacabras while you’re at it.

Enjoy this week’s songs!

SUNDAY SONGS: 2/5/23

“The International Language of Screaming” – Super Furry Animals

I finally listened to all of Radiator (which I seriously think boasts one of my favorite album covers…ever, really. You really won with this one, Pete Fowler.) earlier in the week, and it just felt like pure fun all the way through. I know how vague of a description that is, but listening to almost every track (save for the downer “Download”) gives me the sense that Gruff Rhys and company had a blast recording every single song. Knowing that this comes an album or two before the masterpiece that is Rings Around the World, Radiator feels like the band keeping the cheerful, carefree spirit that they’ve always maintained, but just starting to get weird with it—they haven’t quite gotten into the flat-out experimental territory of Rings just yet, but you can see it peering through the cracks just as well. My only criticism that I can think of for Radiator is that some of the songs blend together a bit, but it’s not a complaint if they all sound almost as good as this one. “The International Language of Screaming” is a clear standout—it’s a concentrated shot of Britpop fun straight to the heart, pure and simple. Maybe it isn’t as weird as some of my other SFA favorites, but I can’t help but nodding my head to every “la la la la” and ecstatic “WOO!” every time it comes around on shuffle. It’s joy with a side of popping colors and punchy guitars.

“By the Sea” – Wendy & Bonnie

Apologies for the whiplash from going straight from “The International Language of Screaming” to this eeriness. But, as with far too much with this post, there’s an inevitable Super Furry Animals connection.

I first found out that this song existed because of “Hello Sunshine”; I distinctly remembered a part at the beginning that creeped me out as a kid, so, naturally, I set out to find it. Sure enough, it was a sample of this song (0:00-0:47 in the video), and the rest of the song is…just as creepy. Recorded when Wendy and Bonnie Flowers were 17 and 13, respectively, it’s a chilling, atmospheric song that feels just as gray as a cold, churning sea crashing against a rocky shore. Punctuated by seemingly random fills of soft drums and out-of-sync guitar strums, there’s a strange discordance about it. It’s clear that the vocals were intended to be the main attraction here, their lilting harmonies shining through the cloudy fog of the rest of the song. It’s a great listen, but at the same time, it’s strangely comforting to think that I’m still creeped out now by the same thing that I was creeped out at when I was 5. I still don’t get why I was freaked out by some random clip from Baby Einstein, but this is understandable. There’s really something about Wendy & Bonnie, huh?

“Everyday Sunshine” – Fishbone

“Everyday Sunshine” takes on a whole new meaning when you wake up on Monday morning and see that it’s -6° outside. Anybody else sick of winter? No? Just me?

Aaaaaaaand another whiplash-inducing left turn, but we’re back to happy songs, don’t worry! We’re back to what’s close to the epitome of happy songs, as a matter of fact. I found this one courtesy of my amazing mom, and I haven’t stopped nodding my head ever since. If Super Furry Animals tried to embody joy, this is inches away from the pinnacle of the feeling itself. Just like the colorful murals and fields of blue and orange wildflowers in the music video, “Everyday Sunshine” is a sunburst (no pun intended) of carefree ska happiness. Every note from the brass section and every drumbeat brings armfuls of hope, and you can’t help but look out at the cloudy skies and try and find that tiny sliver of sunshine poking through. It’s the perfect bandaid for every mood: happy? Play this song. Neutral? Play this song. Sad? Play it and dance by yourself until your troubles are but motes of pollen drifting away from the aforementioned field of wildflowers. Again, a big thank you to my mom for this one. ☀️

“True Blue” – boygenius

With that, we’re…back on the sadgirl train, but…this one’s at least not nearly as heartbreaking as “Emily I’m Sorry,” so…

The harmonies of Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers, and Lucy Dacus obviously fit together like it was written in the stars, but even so, you can see whose songs are whose—and this is Lucy’s song, without question, even if the handwritten in the lyric video didn’t give it away. It has their signature melancholy written all over it, but somehow, it feels more on the tender side, like learning to love somebody after you’ve only just started to heal yourself. Dacus’ voice is a soft but pushing force, gently letting the song form itself around her as it swirls into the night sky, while the higher harmonies of Baker and Bridgers seamlessly flow through to the chorus and the bridge—I particularly love how Baker’s high notes come through on the bridge—”Because it doesn’t matter anymore/Who won the fight?/I’m not keeping score.” Songs like this really display the two sides of boygenius—it’s a song where one member takes the lead, but they still come together as a single, cohesive force of nature.

“The Man Don’t Give a Fuck” – Super Furry Animals

“Out of focus ideology/Keep the masses from majority/Head space brainwashed, tumble dried/Left to bleed whilst vultures glide…”

…oh, so they just went and gave the GOP their own theme song, huh? On second thought…no. The GOP doesn’t deserve such a monumental banger.

I hate to double up here, but the Super Furry Animals train has left the station, and it’ll be an eternity before it reaches its destination. This song has quickly risen to become one of my favorites of theirs; it may not be as weird or experimental as some of my other favorites, but it’s a tight, four-minute burst of head-banging. From the deceptively slow build of the first minute, the music cascades into pure fuzz and drumbeats, and though the music drops out for short intervals, it never once loses its unstoppable momentum. It’s easy to see why this was one of their most popular songs: even though the chorus dominates almost the entire song, you can’t help but get up on your feet the minute the drums kick in. The slow creep of the vocals and jingle bells that starts at around the 2:30 mark builds suspense with a gradual layering of harmonies, building to a raucous screams that pushes right back into the ecstasy of the chorus. Almost 5 minutes of the same line (“you know they don’t give a fuck about anybody else”), and it never gets tiring—on the contrary, it’s already my second-most played song of the year, according to Apple Music. That’s an earworm for you.

Since this post consists entirely of songs, consider all of them to be today’s song.

That’s it for this week’s Sunday Songs! Have a wonderful rest of your day, and take care of yourselves!

Posted in Books

YA & Adult Reads for Black History Month (2023 Edition)

Happy Friday, bibliophiles!

February has just rolled around, and in the U.S., the month of February is Black History Month! Ever since I’ve started interacting more with the book blogging community, I’ve been working on reading more diversely, and making posts like these to encourage others to do the same—reading from a single, homogenous perspective is effectively reading in a bubble, when part of what makes reading so special is its ability to give you an easily accessible insight into the perspectives of others.

But this year, the theme of Black History Month is Black Resistance. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how that relates to YA; a good portion YA literature is inherently tied to resistance and anti-authority sentiments. And yes, part of that may be teenagers rebelling against their parents, but it also instills so much power into its impressionable teen audience: even though you’re young, you have the power to change the world. Now that YA has become more diverse in recent years, it has shown that resistance is even more tangible. That tyrannical, dystopian government that the protagonist must defeat can be translated into real-word terms: systemic racism, police brutality, and so much more. Teaching teenagers (and everybody else, for that matter) that they have that power to change the world is such an important thing, because they will grow up knowing that they can enact the same changes as the characters they read about.

That being said, I have been shifting to read more adult books in the past few years, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk about some of the amazing books by adult Black authors as well. I’m too lazy to change the graphic, but I’m also going to include some adult-oriented books in here as well.

So with that, here are some of the YA and adult books by Black authors I’ve read in the past year. If you’d like to see my posts from previous years, click below:

Let’s begin, shall we?

YA & ADULT BOOKS FOR BLACK HISTORY MONTH (2023 EDITION)

White Smoke, Tiffany D. Jackson

GENRES: YA, horror, thriller, fiction

MY RATING: ⭐️⭐️⭐️.5

Tiffany D. Jackson has a talent for building suspense, but this is the first time I’ve seen her do a full-blown horror novel—and it was exceptionally chilling!

Noor, Nnedi Okorafor

GENRES: Adult, science fiction, Afrofuturism

MY RATING: ⭐️⭐️⭐️.75, rounded up to ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

A wildly imaginative piece of Afrofuturism with a disabled protagonist!

Skin of the Sea, Natasha Bowen

GENRES: YA, fantasy, retellings

MY RATING: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

YA mermaid novels have historically been disappointing for me, but Skin of the Sea gave me hope that a good one is possible—and there can be so many creative twists and perspectives put on it!

Blackout, Dhonielle Clayton et. al. (anthology)

GENRES: YA, fiction, romance, short stories (anthology)

MY RATING: ⭐️⭐️⭐️

A collection of short stories about different romances during a blackout in New York City!

The Final Strife (Ending Fire, #1), Saara El-Arifi

GENRES: Adult, fantasy, romance, LGBTQ+

MY RATING: ⭐️⭐️⭐️.5

A fantasy with exceptional worldbuilding, an unlikely chosen one, and a sapphic romance!

Vinyl Moon, Mahogany L. Browne

GENRES: YA, realistic fiction, novels in verse

MY RATING: ⭐️⭐️⭐️.5

Half prose and half novel-in-verse, Vinyl Moon is a beautiful story of healing and friendship.

Binti (Binti, #1), Nnedi Okorafor

GENRES: Adult, science fiction, space opera

MY RATING: ⭐️⭐️⭐️.5

Normally, I wouldn’t double up on authors, but Nnedi Okorafor really deserves it here—I still need to finish this series, but it’s so charming and inventive!

TELL ME WHAT YOU THINK! What are some of your favorite books by Black authors that you’ve read recently? Tell me in the comments!

Today’s song:

somehow I didn’t know that this song existed until a few days ago, and I haven’t been able to stop listening to it since

That’s it for this year’s list of Black History Month recommendations! Have a wonderful rest of your day, and take care of yourselves!

Posted in Book Review Tuesday

Book Review Tuesday (1/31/23) – A Million to One

Happy Tuesday, bibliophiles!

I hate to end the month on a negative note review-wise, but I just wasn’t a fan of this novel. I’ve been following Adiba Jaigidar’s books for a little while, and for the most part (still don’t see why Hani and Ishu still gets that much hype), she does well with writing diverse YA romances. I was excited to see her take on a different genre, but to my disappointment, A Million to One read as a half-baked, flimsy excuse for a heist.

For my review of Hani and Ishu’s Guide to Fake Dating, click here!

Enjoy this week’s review!

A Million to One – Adiba Jaigirdar

Josefa, Emilie, Hinnah, and Violeta: four girls from radically different backgrounds, thrown together on the RMS Titanic. Their mission: to steal a copy of the Rubaiyat, embedded with jewels and worth a fortune. With all of their skills combined, the girls are confident that they can swipe the priceless book once and for all. But the Titanic is filled with distractions, romance, and all sorts of obstacles, and the job may be easier said than done. Add in the recent revelation that the Titanic is sinking, and the four realize that they may be in over their heads…

TW/CW: drowning, mentions of parental abuse, loss of loved ones, abandonment

Yikes. I think I’m gonna have to break up with Adiba Jaigirdar after this one. I loved The Henna Wars, Hani and Ishu’s Guide to Fake Dating was decent but nothing earth-shattering, and now A Million to One was just plain disappointing. Her books have just gotten progressively worse for me? I really appreciate that she’s branching out from romance, but it really seems like she bit off more than she could chew.

Before I get to all my gripes, I will say that I loved, as with all of Jaigirdar’s novels, the amount of diversity. It’s historical fiction, but we have Black, Pakistani, and Croatian characters, a sapphic romance, and all but one of the main characters are immigrants, which is always fantastic to see. The thing about A Million to One was that everything came down to the execution, and the execution failed miserably.

If I had to sum up A Million to One in brief terms, it feels like Jaigirdar was watching your garden-variety heist movie, fell asleep half an hour in, and then tried to write a book from that memory as soon as she woke up. All of the beats of a typical heist were technically there, but they all but stood around and did nothing. Everything that should have been interesting about this novel—getting the gang together, the Titanic setting, carrying out the heist, the romance—was glossed over in favor of a good 100 pages of dithering in between each major plot point. It was the skeleton of a heist, lacking all of the meat and muscle that would have made it substantial.

For instance: the first few chapters of the novel. These were dedicated to Josefa assembling her crew, which is the kind of beat that I really enjoy in any kind of heist plot. However, all it consisted of was Josefa randomly going up to the rest of the characters with seemingly no explanation and offering them the job, and them either agreeing to it immediately (???), or, if we were lucky, having a paragraph of deliberation before agreeing to it. This could have been a perfect opportunity to develop the characters (especially since they weren’t developed much at all throughout the novel anyway) and introduce their personalities/roles in the heist, but we got absolutely none of that. It wasn’t like A Million to One was so long that this part of the plot needed to be cut down for time—it’s barely over 300 pages. There was no excuse for that.

And for the amount of opportunities that Jaigirdar had to develop these four characters, most of them were shockingly underdeveloped. Other than some insight on the motivations of Violeta and Emilie, all four characters had nearly indistinguishable voices, personalities, and no reason for being on the mission other than a vague role. We got a bit of a tragic backstory for Hinnah, at least, but a tragic backstory with nothing else to go off of does not a well-developed character make. In addition, we only got a vague idea of what the characters’ roles were—the actress, the thief, the acrobat, and the forger—often with no context. For instance: Violeta was supposed to be an actress, but we got no idea of her background, her training, and how she got to be so good. For a novel that seemed to market the diversity and individuality of the crew, it would’ve been leagues better if I had been able to tell who was who without the chapter titles.

The majority of the novel ended up being a bunch of meaningless dithering about on the Titanic, which was intended to…build up the suspense, I supposed, but it felt like far too many pages of The Gang running around the ship, chatting with a boy or two, trying to throw the guards off their trail, and making no progress whatsoever. There was supposed to be a romance somewhere hidden in there, but it ended up being my problem with Hani and Ishu, amplified: two characters just got thrown together with zero prior chemistry, insinuation, or anything that would suggest love. It got to the point where any movement in the novel was indistinguishable, and by the time I finally got around to the actual heist, any semblance of suspense or action had vanished. The only thing that managed to partially grab my attention was the fact that the Titanic had started to sink, but by then, the only aspect that somewhat grabbed my attention was that half of the main cast died. If major character deaths are the only thing that are keeping your reader interested, then something is very wrong with your plot.

All in all, a break from form for Adiba Jaigirdar, but one that ended in a half-baked, borderline boring disaster. 2 stars.

A Million to One is a standalone, but Adiba Jaigirdar is also the author of The Henna Wars, Hani and Ishu’s Guide to Fake Dating, and the forthcoming The Dos and Donuts of Love.

I’ve already posted once today, but have another song anyway:

such a lovely cover 😭

That’s it for this week’s Book Review Tuesday! Have a wonderful rest of your day, and take care of yourselves!

Posted in Monthly Wrap-Ups

January 2023 Wrap-Up ⛄️

Happy Tuesday, bibliophiles!

Already a month into 2023! I hope you’ve all been doing well and staying safe. I could do without how freezing it’s been, but it’s been

GENERAL THOUGHTS:

Happy new year! January is usually my least favorite month in general; now that all of the fun of the holidays are over, all of the snow just makes everything look all sad and sludgy. And it’s been a freezing January—as I’m writing this, it’s a balmy 3° outside. We had our first snow day of the year on the second day of school, even though we really didn’t get all that much snow. Not that I’m complaining. It would’ve sucked to walk in all that. Needless to say, I wore my pajamas all day that day.

Winter break lasted blissfully long, and I got to catch up with one of my best friends for coffee, which was wonderful. As far as college goes, I think I’m in for an easier semester—no math or science credits this semester, and it’s still all English/humanities classes. Again, another reason why I’m enjoying this part of college—I’m taking another class where the reading is all comics, a Science Fiction class, and a class on LGBT studies (specifically focusing on Black/African diaspora)! I’m enjoying all of them so far.

I’ve had a fairly decent reading month, I’d say; break gave me some much-needed time to read after finals, and a family friend very generously gave some of his comics to me, so I’ve been slowly making my way through those as well. My reading’s slowed down a tad bit just from getting back into the rhythm of school, but it’s a lot better than the first semester in terms of how much I’m reading. Not complaining that I’m re-reading Slaughterhouse-Five for my intro to fiction class.

Other than that, I’ve just been drawing, playing guitar, trying to write a bit more (gonna need to for class, anyway…), blowing through all three seasons of Derry Girls (we love Clare in this house), and doing my best to stay warm. Fingers crossed that February will be more merciful on the weather front.

Also, you can’t really tell because I’m wearing a beanie in the new pfp, but I shaved my head on New Year’s Eve. Feels lovely, gotta say.

READING AND BLOGGING:

I read 21 books this month! I had a few brief slumps, but overall, I’d say it was a fairly even mix this month; I’ve already had a DNF, but I had two 4.5 star reads as well, so I think that cancels out.

1 – 1.75 stars:

You Truly Assumed

2 – 2.75 stars:

The Keeper of Night

3 – 3.75 stars:

The Heartbreak Bakery

4 – 4.75 stars:

The Sirens of Mars: Searching for Life on Another World

FAVORITE BOOK OF THE MONTH: Little Thieves4.5 stars

Little Thieves

POSTS I’M PROUD OF:

POSTS FROM OTHER WONDERFUL PEOPLE THAT I ENJOYED:

SONGS/ALBUMS THAT I ENJOYED:

this has been on repeat in my library for eternity
a find from The Heartstopper Yearbook
if I had a nickel for every Gorillaz song that I haven’t been able to stop listening to this month, I’d have two nickels. which isn’t that much, but it’s weird that it happened twice.
a perfect, wintry album for January
NEW BOYGENIUS ALBUM NEW BOYGENIUS ALBUM THIS IS NOT A DRILL Y’ALL
and as if on cue, I’m on a huge Super Furry Animals kick again

Today’s song:

fantastic album!! just finished listening yesterday

That’s it for this month in blogging! Have a wonderful rest of your day, and take care of yourselves!

Posted in Music, Sunday Songs

Sunday Songs: 1/29/23

Happy Sunday, bibliophiles! I hope this week has treated you well.

We’re reaching the end of the month now, and it’s shaping up to be another great year for music already! Also, we’re not even a month into this year and I’m already on another relentless Super Furry Animals kick, so…do with that what you will. It’s fine. Bring on the (Welsh) Britpop craziness.

Enjoy this week’s songs!

SUNDAY SONGS: 1/29/23

“$20” – boygenius

Just to check in…gays, are we all okay after this? Are you okay? Are you sure? Take a deep breath.

Breathe in…

…breathe out. This is really happening. Finally.

the glorious Rolling Stone cover, an homage to an older cover featuring Nirvana
PINS PINS PINS!!

To the elation of the girls and the gays (and to the dismay of a bunch of butthurt boomers in the comments of Rolling Stone’s instagram account, apparently), boygenius are back, and they’re already coming out swinging with three fantastic singles. Although all three showcase the joint talents of Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers, and Lucy Dacus, “$20” is the true powerhouse of the trio. Baker’s vocals, from most of her solo work, tend to be restrained at worst, but she lets loose on this single, filled with punchy guitars and equally punchy lyrics. It never slows down, feeling more like riding a wave, thinking that you’re safe in the current, and then getting hit with a powerful mouthful of saltwater with what may be the best Phoebe Bridgers scream yet. More than ever, the harmonies of Baker, Bridgers, and Dacus fit each other like chiseled puzzle pieces, as though they were always destined to work together in near-perfect unison. Needless to say, I doubt I’ll come down from the boygenius high for a while here. I KNOW YOU’VE GOT $20.

“Ice Hockey Hair” – Super Furry Animals

If you described the bare elements of “Ice Hockey Hair” to me—nearly 7 minutes long, heavy on autotune, a minute-long outro with almost nothing but random beep-boops strung together—I doubt I’d be immediately sold. But that’s the magic of Super Furry Animals; they can take any number of weird, outlandish elements and string them into something that’s not only cohesive, but an instant earworm at that. Laden with heavy guitars and drums and backed by a consistent fuzz and an effortless vocal harmony, “Ice Hockey Hair” never makes me lose interest through all 7 minutes, going above just keeping a steady pace and making for the perfect, prolonged Britpop song. I barely ever like autotune, but what sells me about the way that Super Furry Animals use it is that they just embrace the weirdness of it—it’s not to make their voices sound better, it’s just to make it sound weirder, to make it blend into all the screeching static and beeping faintly humming in the background. They’re masters of making their voices into instruments, and not just that, but making them into something just as weird as what’s going on in the rest of the song.

“Laughing With A Mouth Of Blood” – St. Vincent

Added bonus: the gloriously awkward Portlandia music video (“I could stick around for another song if you guys want” “no ❤️”)

Along with Super Furry Animals, I’ve stumbled into another St. Vincent kick as of late, and although I’ve always loved her work, I’m reminded of how rarely she misses (we don’t talk about MASSEDUCTION) in any aspect of her artistry. Actor is only her second album, and already, she’s showcasing her clear virtuosity—lyrically and musically. Even before her rightfully famous electric guitar shredding became an essential part of her music, Annie Clark’s complex, acoustic guitar pickings create an atmosphere that always feels alive, and with the added brass and driving drums, “Laughing With A Mouth of Blood” is a poignant landscape of a song that you can’t help but lose yourself in. St. Vincent’s music never loses its quality with the passage of time, and every listen feels like the wonder and joy of listening to it for the first time.

“Burning Airlines Give You So Much More” – Brian Eno

I was so used to seeing the album cover of Taking Tiger Mountain By Strategy (now that’s a title) from really far away, so…am I the only one who thought that Brian Eno was wearing a beret, and it wasn’t just his hand patting him on the head? Is the hand about to give him the Gary Oldman cheek stroke, or is it just to cover up the pseudo-Riff Raff haircut?

…okay, I really shouldn’t be roasting the guy. He’s just doing his wonderful art-pop thing, and I love him for it. So much. Songs like “Cindy Tells Me” have further convinced me that I should listen to more Brian Eno, and this one I like almost as much (though it’s hard, considering how long I had the former on repeat back in October). For a song loosely written about one of the deadliest plane crashes of all time, it’s strangely laid-back, meandering along with bright, jangly guitars and synths in the similar tone. It’s a song to gently sway your head to, one to revel in the multi-layered composition of it as the guitars slowly climb up and down the scale. Brian Eno’s just doing his Brian Eno thing, and I’m so glad he’s doing it.

“Purple Haze” (Jimi Hendrix cover) – The Cure

It’s hard to take a cover and put a spin on it that feels completely new—especially if it’s Jimi Hendrix that you’re covering. But Robert Smith and company make it look easy, putting their signature goth touch on a rock n’ roll classic. Smith pulls the meaning of “haze” to an entirely different direction, layering the song with an eerie, synth-laden atmosphere and distorted vocals. It really does give the song the feel of a haze, like some kind of cloud or curtain that you’re walking through to try and find the heart of the song.Different pieces of instrumentation fade in and out, as though you’re losing consciousness. The guitars are understated, but I think it’s rightfully so—you really can’t touch Jimi Hendrix in that regard, for one, but it’s the fog of distortion and synths that make this cover so memorable. It’s a cover that wouldn’t be out of place at some kind of shady Halloween party (as most of the Cure fits anyway), a musical fog machine that transports you to another realm where you can’t seem to differentiate which way is up or down.

Since this post is all songs, consider this post to be today’s song.

That’s it for this week’s Sunday Songs! Have a wonderful rest of your day, and take care of yourselves!

Posted in Book Review Tuesday

Book Review Tuesday (1/24/22) – The Last Cuentista

Happy Tuesday, bibliophiles!

I’ve had The Last Cuentista on my TBR for a fair amount of time, but I’d forgotten about it until I saw a copy at my college’s library, so I ended up picking it up. I remembered almost nothing about the synopsis or why I wanted to pick it up in the first place, but what I found was a beautiful tale of the power of storytelling.

Enjoy this week’s review!

The Last Cuentista – Donna Barba Higuera

Petra Peña loves nothing more than listening to the stories of her abuelita, and dreams of someday being a storyteller like her. But when Earth is put in danger by a comet, she must abandon her abuelita and travel with her parents and younger brother to planet Sagan, where humanity can start over. But on the centuries-long journey, the ship is infiltrated by the Collective, a shady organization who aims to erase the crimes of humanity’s past by wiping the memories of all the passengers. When Petra wakes up, she realizes that she is the only one who remembers Earth—and the only one who can save what remains of the human species from forgetting itself altogether.

TW/CW: loss of loved ones, descriptions of injury, fear, descriptions of sleep paralysis

Good middle-grade sci-fi is hard to come by, but The Last Cuentista was nothing short of wonderful. With a story as beautiful as its cover, it’s a shining testament to the power of storytelling and a poignant reminder to never forget where you came from.

I know I opened with specifically saying that The Last Cuentista is middle-grade, but I’d say it toes the line right between middle grade and YA. Petra is 13 years old, and there’s certainly some more middle-grade aspects to how the themes are dealt with and some of the character interactions, but it borders on hardcore, nail-biting sci-fi in other places. Think of every piece of sci-fi media that deals with cryosleep for several centuries, and think of all of the potential, existential obstacles that come along with it: chances are, they do end up appearing in this book. It’s a weird place to navigate reading-wise when you’re that age (I certainly remember wishing that there was an in-between place for middle grade and YA), but The Last Cuentista retains a middle-grade sensibility without downplaying the integrity of its themes and world simply because it’s aimed at a younger audience.

One of the strongest aspects of The Last Cuentista was Donna Barba Higuera’s fantastic writing. She especially excels at sensory details; in a particularly nail-biting scene when Petra is still awake while her pod is preparing for cryosleep (AAAAAAAAAAAAAA), Higuera filled her prose with all kinds of sensory details that really sold the crushing fear of the moment. Her descriptions of the bizarre flora and fauna of Sagan are just as lush, painting a picture of an alien planet just as well as Petra’s abuelita paints stories. Higuera’s ability to create suspense and her ability to spin beautiful prose went hand in hand, making for a novel that had me invested the whole time.

The Last Cuentista also had some beautiful themes; Petra’s quest to keep the history of humanity alive through storytelling serves to remind us that we should never forget who we are, despite having a history wracked with war and darkness. The Collective was a perfect, sinister dystopia to set this theme against, and they also added to the suspense that Higuera consistently built throughout the novel. Petra’s journey to return humanity to its roots was poignantly written and so wonderfully timely, and I have no doubt that The Last Cuentista will be a book that stands the test of time. In the end, we are all united by the stories that bind us together. Never underestimate the power of a storyteller.

My only gripe with this novel were some of the characters. Other than Petra and her family, most of the side characters felt interchangeable. A few of them had a few base traits to go off of, but other than that, I often found myself getting them mixed up. The switch from the Greek letter/number designations to nicknames didn’t necessarily help, although it was clearly important thematically. I wish we’d gotten as much development out of at least some of them as we got with Petra and maybe Voxy—the story was powerful by itself, but it would have been more so if some of the other characters were more fleshed out.

All in all, a beautiful piece of sci-fi that reminds us that stories have the power to do anything—change us, teach us, and above all, unite us. 4 stars!

The Last Cuentista is a standalone, but Donna Barba Higuera is also the author of Lupe Wong Won’t Dance, as well as the picture books El Cucuy is Scared, Too! and the upcoming The Yellow Handkerchief.

Today’s song:

shuffle decided to hit me right in the 6th grade feels today, I see

That’s it for this week’s Book Review Tuesday! Have a wonderful rest of your day, and take care of yourselves!

Posted in Sunday Songs

Sunday Songs: 1/22/23

Happy Sunday, everyone! I hope this week has treated you well.

1/22/23? The month and the day add up to the year? You would think that would be somewhat auspicious. I wouldn’t know. I also saw a bunny on my walk to the dining hall this morning, so hopefully that should be some kind of Year of the Rabbit good luck. Happy Lunar New Year to all those who celebrate.

I’m back at school, and this week, I’ve already experienced a snow day on the second day of school and one of my professors saying that the whole class kinda “looked like the Mitski fan demographic” whenever somebody mentioned her and we all freaked out. He’s not wrong. Hello, LGBTQ community…

Anyways, we’re breaking away from the maroonish color scheme to bring you something more wintry this week. Fitting for the way-too-cold-for-my-liking temperatures we’re having over here.

Enjoy this week’s songs!

SUNDAY SONGS: 1/22/23

“Undo” – Björk

Vespertine is undoubtedly a winter album. Not in the “it’s January and everything looks dead” kind of way (which is entirely fair in this weather, honestly), but more in a way that recalls a cozy night in a warm house, snuggled up to the fireplace while watching a blizzard come down outside your window, knowing that your windows will be coated with frost by the time morning comes. There’s a resonant warmth that comes through with every track—which should be expected, with how much this album deals with the tender side of love. “Undo” seems to wrap you in an electronic embrace, combining an airy string section and a choir with skittering synths that recall a more hopeful “Kid A.” (puts said playlist transition in my metaphorical back pocket) At her very best, Björk can sweep me off my feet in an instant (see “Bachelorette”), but “Undo” is more of a gentle embrace, the slow wrapping of a scarf around your shoulders as you venture out into the cold.

“Grot” – St. Vincent

And speaking of songs that sweep me off my feet…

I’ve already talked about how much I appreciate different elements of a song coming together to form a seamless final product, but sometimes, the opposite can be just as powerful. “Grot” is all soft curves and razor-sharp edges with no in-between; the song open’s with a loop of Annie Clark’s delicate harmonizations, and by the next measure, industrial noise makes the song explode. Against the backdrop of her once light vocals, Annie Clark’s voice becomes commanding, biting in both its quality and lyricism—”Power doesn’t care what you want/power just wants to watch.” But just as quickly, the noise gradually fades away, the original loop circling back into focus as a string section gives it a more gentle backdrop, until all that’s left is the beginning of the song. “Grot” is proof of Annie Clark’s sheer power as a musician, and although she’s been my musical hero for years, this song makes me long for some future where she embraces the noisiness more. Not to say that everything else (excluding the utter betrayal that was MASSEDUCTION) that she’s done is near-flawless, but I want to see this side of her more.

“Really Really Light” – The New Pornographers

never forget the time The New Pornographers made kid’s merch

The news broke not long ago that The New Pornographers will be releasing a new album, Continue as a Guest (if there was ever a more New Pornographers-y name) at the end of March, with this song as the lead single. It feels like a welcome return to soul and form after their last album; In the Morse Code of Brake Lights was enjoyable, but ultimately, not exactly memorable. “Really Really Light,” however, glides along much like the ice skater in the music video, featherlike and brimming with brightness. It almost bubbles at the edges, the harmonies of A.C. Newman and Neko Case weaving together to make a song that feels lighter than air. Hopefully the rest of Continue as a Guest won’t disappoint—if it’s anything like this song, I think it’ll be a great album. I’ll hold out hope.

“Nobody” – Black Belt Eagle Scout

Another album coming out soon, this time from an artists with what’s absolutely one of the best band names of all time. After the sleepy, restrained melodies of Katherine Paul’s sophomore album, At the Party With My Brown Friends, the past few singles off of the upcoming The Land, The Water, The Sky have been a partial return to form—one that I’m absolutely excited for. The three singles off of the album thus far—“Don’t Give Up,” “My Blood Runs Through This Land,” and this—have reintroduced some fantastic guitars, making for a driving, uplifting sound that gives her sound all of the power it deserves. “Nobody” in particular is a nearly 5-minute chunk of alternative greatness, filled with soaring guitars and Paul’s voice, simultaneously airy and full of power and purpose. Lyrically, it deals with Paul’s relationship with Native American representation, especially in the music industry, making the chorus all the more powerful. “Nobody sang it for me/Like I wanna sing it to you.” Amen.

“(Joe Gets Kicked Out of School for Using) Drugs With Friends [But Says This Isn’t a Problem]” – Car Seat Headrest

This title: hilarious in concept, cumbersome when you’re trying to squeeze increasingly tiny text into a small box. Thanks a bunch, Will. What a guy.

“Drugs With Friends” was an unexpected blast from the past on my shuffle not too long ago, and I am all the better for it. Teens of Denial remains one of my favorite albums of all time, and the second this song started playing, I was transported back to the summer before high school, painting teal over the hot pink walls of my room and devouring Heart of Iron in a hotel room on vacation in Chicago. I often end up overlooking this song just because of how earthshatteringly wonderful tracks like “Cosmic Hero,” “Fill In the Blank,” and “Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales” are, but it boasts just as much merit as any other song on the album. Leave it to Will Toledo to turn a tale of feeling monumentally miserable at a party (and making a series of questionable, acid-induced decisions all the while) into an instantly catchy indie song that would be impossible not to jump up and down to at a concert. Even in more irreverent songs like this, Toledo’s voice has a healing quality to it (and no, I’m not saying that because I had a massive crush on him in 8th grade…okay, maybe I am), moving like honey through the cacophony of guitars and noise. What an album, really.

Anyways, I really hope Will Toledo’s doing okay these days. Long COVID is no joke. I miss Car Seat Headrest.

Since this whole post consists of all songs, consider all 5 to be today’s song.

That’s it for this week’s Sunday Songs! Have a wonderful rest of your day, and take care of yourselves!

Posted in Book Review Tuesday

Book Review Tuesday (1/16/23) – Little Thieves

Happy Tuesday, bibliophiles!

I forget exactly where I first heard about Little Thieves, but I think it may have been from seeing other people’s reviews here in the blogosphere. Now that I’ve read it, let me just say this: whoever’s review it was that inspired me to pick up this book, thank you so much. YA fantasy has started to become formulaic for me at worst, but Little Thieves was filled with charm, humor, and refreshing spins on the subgenre as a whole. Enjoy this week’s review!

Little Thieves (Little Thieves, #1) – Margaret Owen

Vanja Schmidt is the thirteenth daughter of a thirteenth daughter. Her mother knew how bad her luck would be, so when she was a child, she surrendered her daughter to be raised by the goddesses of Death and Fortune. But as Vanja grows older, she doesn’t seek to follow the paths of her surrogate parents and runs off on her own, making a living swindling and picking pockets. Vanja’s swindling gets as far as the royal palace, and with the theft of a charmed necklace of pearls, she assumes the identity of Princess Gisele.

But Vanja’s life of crime has attracted unwanted attention. When a Low God curses her body to turn to jewels at the full moon, Vanja must retrace her steps and right her past wrongs. Her trail of thievery will reach into the heart of a conspiracy that leads to Princess Gisele’s betrothed, and soon, Vanja realizes that she’s in for more than she bargained for.

some of the beautiful illustrations from Little Thieves, done by Margaret Owen herself!

TW/CW: child abuse, animal death, blood, descriptions of injury, sexual harassment

Barely halfway through the first month of the year, and I’m already running into books this good? SUCH a relief after the brief slump I was just in…

YA fantasies—fairytale retellings in particular—are books that I’ve started to steer away from slightly; over the years, they’ve gotten blatantly formulaic for me, and it’s rare that any have an impact on me anymore. It feels sad saying that, but after a while, I just got sick of all the secret royalty and love triangles and the lack of good worldbuilding. But Little Thieves showed me that there’s still faith in a sputtering subgenre and treated me to an exceptionally fun time!

It’s been a while since I’ve read a fairytale retelling—after a while, there are only so many Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast retellings one can take. But Little Thieves retold a fairytale that I hadn’t even heard of before—The Goose Girl, written by the Brothers Grimm. It also puts a spin on the fairytale’s antagonist, making her the main character and giving her more nuance and motives. From the first page, Little Thieves felt like a breath of fresh air into a tired genre, and I am all the better for it.

Owen’s vibrant characters seemed to leap off the page, and each and every one of the main cast won my heart in record time. They were all so distinct: Vanja with her determination and sass, Emeric’s delightfully uptight and sensitive demeanor, and the absolute chaos that was Ragne; I got attached to most of the main cast fairly quickly, which is certainly a rare occurrence for me. Little Thieves is also one of the only YA books I can think of that actually gets a morally gray protagonist right. “Morally gray” characters have almost become a buzzword after the success of books like Six of Crows, but most of the time, they just end up being characters that Do Crimes™️ but they have a Tragic Backstory™️ so they’re a Complex Character™️. Vanja, however, actually felt morally gray—her way of life, however shady her dealings and actions were—was her way of survival and defiance. Maybe that’s what happens when you’re raised by two surrogate moms that also happen to be the goddesses of Death and Fortune, but either way, it was refreshingly well-executed.

For the most part, I was also a fan of the writing style! It reminded me a lot of Ashley Poston—it was very cheeky and filled with humor, which matched Vanja’s voice perfectly, but it was also capable of plenty of nuance and depth, resulting in some spectacular bits of prose. Some of the humor bordered on meme-y at times, which was more than a little jarring, but in comparison to the rest of the book, I can let it slide. It’s the kind of charming writing that made me laugh, smile, and swoon, and it suited Owens’ story wonderfully.

The worldbuilding was also excellent, and I loved exploring the pseudo-German, medieval setting! It’s clear that Owens spent lots of time and energy into not only making a fleshed-out world with the appropriate amount of history and constraints, but also trying to stay faithful to German folklore and the original Brothers Grimm tale. All of the gods, shapeshifters, and other creatures were a delight—another reason why I’m a little bored with most YA fantasy is because they often shy away from having lots of mythical creatures (in place of just slapping a magic system onto a vaguely European setting), so, like so many other aspects of Little Thieves, this was such a breath of fresh air. I know I sound like a broken record every time I say that, but that’s seriously how reading all 500+ pages of this book felt.

Going off of that, I loved the casual queerness in Little Thieves! With a lot of fantasy settings where queerness is present, homophobia is still present because there’s a misconception that an ancient/older setting automatically equals homophobia/transphobia. I get the purpose of that on some level if the book is trying to share a message or theme about homophobia or transphobia, but on the other hand, if you can have a complex magic system and dragons, the concept of homophobia not being a thing in your fantasy world isn’t that strenuous of a stretch to make. Owens once again bashes all of these fantasy tropes and integrates queerness into her worldbuilding as something normal, and it made my heart so happy. Although no labels are specifically used in the book, Vanja and Emeric are both implied to be somewhere on the demisexual/asexual spectrum, Gisele is implied to be a lesbian (and later is in a relationship with Ragne), and there are several nonbinary and gender nonconforming side characters! More queer fantasy like this, please! (Also, I just loved Emeric and Vanja together. Just Love Them So Much)

All in all, a rare YA fairytale retelling that subverts all of the tropes of the genre and dazzles with its nuance and charm. 4.5 stars!

Little Thieves is the first in the trilogy, followed by Painted Devils (slated for release later this year) and an untitled third book. Margaret Owens is also the author of the Merciful Crow series, which consists of The Merciful Crow and The Faithless Hawk.

Today’s song:

just listened to this whole album today, perfect for winter!! this one almost sounds like Kid A

That’s it for this week’s Book Review Tuesday! Have a wonderful rest of your day, and take care of yourselves!

Posted in Sunday Songs

Sunday Songs: 1/15/23

Happy Sunday, everyone! I hope you all had a wonderful week.

Winter break is over for me, but I’m assuming that the first week back to college will be low-key (ish? probably lots of syllabuses…syllabi?), so I should be able to keep up the schedule for a little while. In the meantime, here’s another mishmash of my music. Still sort of in the maroon/burgundy colored aesthetic for the second week running, I guess. Whoops.

Enjoy this week’s Sunday Songs!

SUNDAY SONGS: 1/15/23

“Angel” – Gavin Friday

I’d consider this song to be one of many mainstays of my childhood; if I think of being in my dad’s car at night, watching the moon pass by my window and wondering why it seemed to follow me, or even just pulling up to the bank parking lot, chances are, I’ll find this song lurking there. Even if it hadn’t been there for most of my life, “Angel” would be a memorable song either way. I’ve only heard a handful of Gavin Friday’s songs (and half of the ones I can think of are covers), but I can safely say that he has one of the most unique singing voices that I’ve ever heard; he can switch from a breathy, ethereal hum to a thick wail in a matter of seconds, and it dips down to a raspy whisper in the quiet moments in between. (“Shag Tobacco” comes to mind for the latter.) The musical range in just 6 minutes perfectly matches his mercurial voice, from the twinkling, starlike notes at the beginning to the humming synth undercurrent. It’s a musical patchwork quilt, but one so seamless that you couldn’t see the stitches in between each scrap of fabric. Beautiful.

“She’s My Collar (feat. Kali Uchis)” – Gorillaz

I tried. I tried not to double up on Gorillaz after “Left Hand Suzuki Method” last week. They’re just so good………guys……………..guys….

From what I know of the general opinions around Gorillaz, the fandom seems to direct a fair amount of ire towards this album, Humanz; most of the criticism seems to have come from the excess of collaboration that the band is now known for. My question is how that wasn’t applied to the hit-or-miss Song Machine Season 1, an album that heavily relied on…the exact same thing? Okay?? And yet, every single song I’ve heard off of Humanz has had me in a vice grip at some point or another—I haven’t listened to the whole album yet (soon, I swear), but songs like “Momentz (feat. De La Soul)” and “Charger (feat. Grace Jones)” feel like Gorillaz embracing the infectious, instantly danceable fun that makes their music almost never fail. “She’s My Collar” is another prime example—pushed along by a driving drumbeat that makes it impossible not to nod your head, Damon Albarn’s breathy vocals make for a song with the power to instantly cheer you up. My only minor nitpick is Kali Uchis; I don’t know a whole about her, granted, but her verse did feel slightly weak and almost off-key in places. Luckily, when her voice fades into the synths with a ghostlike quality, making itself as much an instrument as anything else in the background, it brings the song back to its cohesive, catchy glory. It’s been…three days now, I think, and I’ve barely been able to listen to anything else.

“Buses Splash With Rain” – Frankie Cosmos

It’s the classic sadgirl setup: “I’m the kind of girl/Buses splash with rain.” But like the Zentropy album cover, with its crusty white dog wearing a knitted hat and “Frankie Cosmos” written in bright, neon colors, Greta Kline juxtaposes her self-deprecating lyricism with her characteristic musical whimsy and brightness. Frankie Cosmos songs can be deceptive that way; although I haven’t listened to Zentropy in full, their songs often pair melancholy with the kind of instrumentation that brings to mind cartoon doodles of frogs and suns drawn on the corner of the page with little squiggly lines for the rays. Although this is only their first album, it’s easy to see from “Buses Splash With Rain” that Greta Kline and company had already begun to master what has become their signature style—short, bright indie pop songs that seem to radiate pastel colors amidst lyrical boredom or melancholy. The only downside to their music is that, because they’re so short, they sometimes blend together, but this one is certainly memorable enough to stand out from the barely two minute long crowd.

“Panopticom (Bright Side Mix)” – Peter Gabriel

Peter Gabriel’s releasing a song from his new album every full moon this year? Are us Peter Gabriel fans just werewolves now? Not that I’m complaining. Lycanthropy sounds fun. Maybe.

The news broke recently that Peter Gabriel would be releasing his first album in over 20 years this year, and what else should I have expected than for him to come straight out of the gates, bouzouki in hand, with relentless creativity at the ready? It’s been a week since “Panopticom” came out, and it’s taken a little while to grow on me—to be fair, with how much of a chokehold songs like “Come Talk to Me” and “Not One Of Us” have had on me, he’s inevitably got big shoes to fill. But once it sunk in, Gabriel’s musical powers became all the more evident. The concept itself stands out as an antithesis to the concept of the panopticon, rather a means of us observing the theoretical Big Brother figure instead of the other way around. Surrounding it is an unexpected collage of music, beginning with lighter synths and descending into driving guitars that recall his earlier works. It’s songs like these that make me want to be somebody like Peter Gabriel once I’ve reached his age, continuing to be creative when I’m much, much older. You go, dude. We’re all waiting until the next full moon very anxiously…

“I Can’t Stand the Rain” – Ann Peebles

Two songs with ‘rain’ in the title? In one week? It’s more likely than you think.

After realizing last week that this is the sample from Missy Elliott’s “The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly),” I have NOT been able to stop listening to it. Once the famous sampled section at the beginning starts to fade is where it kicks in—right at 0:18, with its chorus of steady drums and slowly rising brass. It’s an instant head-nodder that makes it impossible to move at least some of your body while you’re listening the second that the band invites itself in. Peebles’ crooning voice soars all the way through, selling every feathery waver as she calls to mind the pitter-patter of rain against a windowpane as she remembers an ex-lover. The only song that this song commits is being so short, but maybe that’s how it’s meant to be—a perfect, short-and-sweet classic. Without knowing much else about Ann Peebles, it’s easy to see how this became her biggest hit—it’s consistently catchy and pleasing to the ears in every way. Given how short it is, I won’t be surprised if this comes up in my apple replay once it starts up…this and “She’s My Collar” are gonna be WAY up there, I can’t stop listening to either of them…

Since this post consists of all songs, consider all of them to be today’s song.

That’s it for this week’s Sunday Songs! Have a wonderful rest of your day, and take care of yourselves!