If I threw together some kind of performance resume, my experience pretty much peaked in elementary school. After participating in choir, dance classes, and school plays (I once played Mary and felt so nauseous the entire time, I held baby Jesus by his foot), I realized I just wasn’t that… good. I liked to read (and play softball!) for god’s sakes!
But it didn’t mean I didn’t appreciate other people who could sing and dance and entertain a crowd.
Fast forward a bunch of years and I am now a person who would rather spend money to see a play or a musical, than go to a concert or see a movie in the theaters. If you had asked me in high school if this would be true, I probably would have laughed in your face. I didn’t think I would be the girl who searches Spotify (not that that existed yet) for a Stephen Sondheim musical mentioned in a book just because I knew it would supplement my reading experience.
So while I will never be a Devan (an awesome singer, actress, and dancer), part of my enjoyment of The Reece Malcolm List by Amy Spalding was seeing theater references in the text. Like Devan and her friends, I can be a bit of a theatre geek… even if I’m more of a bystander than a participator. For these characters, though, it seems like this part of them was apparent since birth. That wasn’t exactly the case for me, and I couldn’t help but remember how and why I started loving theatre so much.
I thought, who knows, maybe someone will feel the same way.
Even though I lived within 10 miles of New York City and Broadway’s big lights, I didn’t go to my first official Broadway show until a marching band trip was organized. Even so, it (Blast!) was less of a show with a story than a series of musical selections with awesome movement.
A few months later though, right after 9/11, my friends and I went to New York City to see Rent. (I know, I know. Of COURSE we saw Rent.) It was pretty much a life-changing moment, and an experience that will stay with me forever. You can’t sit next to someone’s mom and watch “Contact” on stage without remembering that forever.
This was about the time I started to obsess over Adam Pascal (who was mentioned in The Reece Malcolm List). He was an original cast remember in Rent (I didn’t get to see him in it) but before I went to college, I did have the opportunity to see him live and in person in Aida. (Later, I even dated someone who looks a whole lot like him… so strange.)
Despite the fact that my friends and I were still singing Rent songs until we threw our caps in the air… my theater bug really hit in…
Part of it may be because I dated a guilty boyfriend who bought me VERY expensive seats to shows but more than likely it’s because I ditched math my first semester and took a Theatre 101 course. With the scariest yet most inspiring professor on the planet. I didn’t know anything. Anything. (I even got made fun of for taking notes.) This professor also introduced me to Stephen Sondheim for the first time and, funnily enough, my now-husband/then-rival assigned me to cover the fall musical Company for the campus newspaper.
Guys, Sondheim is tough and I legit had no idea what was happening.
In between semesters, though, my professor organized a 3-day trip in NYC where we would see five shows in 3 days and this… well, this pretty much changed my life. By this point, I was following Playbill.com like my life depended on it and my anticipation of seeing Wicked for the first time (with Idina Menzel and Kristen Chenoweth) was built to such heights, I basically cried during the entire show.
My sister visiting my dorm room my sophomore year. Check out the posters behind me.
When I had to switch schools after my sophomore year (my original college closed because it was in debt… sigh), I was like LET’S GO TO NEW YORK CITY and start learning about the foundations of theatre! But my school was too cool for that and only offered experimental theater classes… so I dropped those and tried to do my own thing. One of my favorite experiences was sitting all night with two of my friends from high school outside of the Rent theatre on its 10th anniversary. I interviewed people online and wrote an article about it for a journalism class.
(I also got zero sleep for class and took my sister to see another show for her birthday the following night. Insane.)
Also: major sadness. I did not like the Rent movie. It was really… a heartbreak.
People think it’s dangerous to work in NYC. But probably for other reasons than I’m about to tell you. My poor little wallet. One of my best girlfriends and I would see shows probably twice a month. (She was crazier because she would drive up from South Jersey to accompany me.) But let me tell you: In the Heights (totally worth it) and paying a billion dollars to watch Adam Pascal sing “Maria” (from West Side Story).
I did wean myself off shows while I was planning a wedding and moving into a house (it was tough) and then fell back into it. I somehow managed to stay silent during a Stephen Sondheim talk last winter. I saw Once the Musical with Magan when she visited last March and loved it so much that I took my sister to see it a few days later. (I cried my eyes out both times.) My husband and I played lotto (where they pick out a few names before a certain time, and you pay cheaply for tickets) in the spring and saw Newsies (Jeremy Jordan! who is now on Smash) and Peter and the Starcatcher.
Fun fact: I take partial credit for discovering Jeremy Jordan because I got to see him at the dress rehearsal for the pre-Broadway tryout of Newsies in New Jersey and I kept saying “WHO IS THAT GUY?”. Swoon. (Then I bought tickets to see him in Bonnie and Clyde when I had zero interest in the show. Um, I fell in love with that show. Such amazing music and so underrated.)
A major highlight from last year was the tour of the New Amsterdam Theatre in NYC:
The closest I will ever get to a real Broadway stage.
One of the things I miss the most from my walks to work (now that I take a subway from Queens) is seeing the new marquees getting set up and watching them set up equipment in the theaters. And while I don’t miss much from our old stomping grounds, I do miss reviewing local shows around our neighborhood because, gee, in the depths of Long Island, there is some crazy talent waiting to be discovered and it was such a joy to see it happen.
I’m also too old to be obsessed with High School Musical, but I still am. (Another Reece reference.)
But to return to grown up land, my husband and I did use lyrics from “Being Alive” from that pesky show from early in my college career: Company. (This popped up in Reece too.)
Somebody, hold me too close,
Somebody, hurt me too deep,
Somebody, sit in my chair
And ruin my sleep
And make me aware
Of being alive
And just like all of that, theatre has somehow become a huge part of my life. And not because I have any aspiration of standing up on a stage. I love to be reeled into a show by someone’s voice or their moves. I love the stories that come to life, night after night, an audience never seeing the same performance twice. It’s art, alive and flourishing, and it inspires me so much.
You have no idea how at peace I felt reading The Reece Malcolm List, sipping some coffee, and playing a Sondheim musical in the background. It was true perfection.
Now before you leave me today, I did make a Spotify playlist featuring songs mentioned in The Reece Malcolm List, in addition to a few other bonus tracks I thought you might want to hear. (Don’t be scared to try this out… I tried to pick mostly mainstream tracks so those not used to listening to musicals might like it too.)
And for you other theatre nerds out there, here are a some other YA picks that might fit the bill:
Revenge of the Girl with the Great Personality by Elizabeth Eulberg ( web | tweet )
Publication Date: March 1, 2013
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: divorced parents, siblings, beauty pageants
Format read: ARC from Publisher via NetGalley (Thanks!)
Summary: With her younger sister constantly competing in beauty pagaents, high schooler Lexi is used to being in the shadows. She’s Mac’s seamstress, her mom’s gopher, and, always always, the girl with the great personality. She’s losing patience as she watches her mom’s health decline, the bills pile up, and how the guy she has always crushed on will never see her as more than a friend. When one of her best friends challenges her to spend a little more time on her appearance and come out of her shell, will Lexi enjoy life in the limelight too?
My awesome baby-sitting skills have become sort of a running joke in my family. My sister even mentioned them in her maid of honor speech at my wedding. My name is Estelle and I used to tie my sister to a chair in front of the television. For the record, it wasn’t because she was a snot to me. She just would not sit still. And hey, she turned out okay? So really, this was not traumatic at all.
A few pages into Elizabeth Eulberg’s new book and let me tell you, my sister was a saint compared to Mac. While my sister and I are five years apart, Lexi and Mac have a staggering 9 years between them and their upbringing couldn’t be more different. Even though Lexi’s parents fought a ton, she was brought up with two parents. Upon Mac’s arrival, Dad peaces out and Mom decides to bond with her youngest by signing her up for beauty pageants. And, hence, Mac the brat is born.
So not only is Lexi reeling from her parent’s divorce (still), she is forced into assisting with all the details of Mac’s pageants too. It’s not often that we have a character who is cast in the shadow of her younger sibling, and I liked this change. The age gap between the two is so apparent, especially when Lexi sees that their mom is spending ALL their money on this obsession (even after Mac can’t win back their entry fee many times). But Lexi’s mom doesn’t want to hear it. I was appalled (APPALLED) by how she dismissed Lexi’s worries and continually accused her of being jealous of Mac.
Luckily, Lexi has some great best friends to turn to. (The kind of friends that always make me miss high school.) Cam and Benny are very supportive, awesome people and I love that Benny convinces Lexi to show the world what she is made of. They both challenge each other to dive into something new: Benny is going to ask out a boy he likes (he’s gay but not completely “out”) and Lexi is going to primp and polish her appearance and see herself as beautiful for once.
In some ways, this plan soars and, in others, it backfires. Mac sees Lexi as competition, and becomes even more of a whiny brat (if possible). But, on the other hand, Lexi starts to be more social with her peers and even gets to go on her first date with the adorable Taylor. (Even though she can’t stop thinking about Logan, who has a girlfriend and never looks at her like that.) While I know a makeover is not the answer to esteem issues, I do like the way it helped Lexi build her confidence and figure out how she wanted to present herself to the world.
But, at the heart of this book are some deep, intense family issues and I applaud Eulberg for giving a lot more depth to her storylines and characters this time around. (This was one of my reservations with Take a Bow.) Lexi and Mac’s mom was so resistant to her daughters’ pleas to change their life for the better. Their mom was severely obese, and goes to some disgusting lows to keep the appearance of their “beauty pageant” life going. In the end, though, this storyline seemed to suffer with a quick ending and not enough resolution. I’m not sure their mom was capable of being a good mom. She was emotionally and physically unhealthy, unwilling to see her family for what it really was, and used the pageants as a distraction from reality. I finished the book still worrying about the well-being of both girls. (Especially for Mac, who wasn’t lucky enough to have college to escape to.)
While The Lonely Hearts Club still holds my heart as far as Eulberg’s work goes, I was really pleased to see growth in both plot and characterization in Revenge of the Girl with the Great Personality. The author brings up some great points when it comes to appearance and the strength it takes to be honest (especially when others don’t want to hear it). While Lexi has a few more opportunities than the average person to tell it like it is in a public forum, I respected her for her patience, honesty, logic, and willingness to try new things.
Goodreads | Amazon
As you guys are probably aware, Estelle + I were together this past weekend in Washington, DC. We had such a great time hanging out and discussing books, life, and seeing as much of the city as we could together. Never before have we been able to do a Shelve It (or any other vlog for that matter) together. We each brought along a few books to swap in person so we sat down for a while together and recorded the vlog below. Warning: we laugh a lot and are pretty giddy to just be hanging out. Some of you may have already watched the vlog because we tweeted it and shared it on Facebook, but our hang out isn’t official until it was shared on the blog, right?
+ The Book of Broken Hearts by Sarah Ockler from Simon & Schuster — Jude’s father is sick. She spends the summer with him repairing his old 1961 motorcycle that causes his eyes to light up and for Jude to hope this will fix him. The only catch is they need a Vargas brother’s help repairing the bike — and Jude’s older sisters made her take a blood oath she’d stay away from all Vargas boys.
+ Golden by Jessi Kirby from Simon & Schuster — Parker has always done what she’s been told and never taken a risk. When the journal of a girl who died ten years ago lands in her lap, Parker uncharacteristically takes it and begins to read Julianna’s entries. P becomes fascinated with what happened to her and tries to solve the puzzle of what really happened to Julianna and Shane.
+ Wild Awake by Hilary T. Smith — Estelle skipped everything on her reading list to begin this one last week. Before she even finished the book, she pre-ordered a finished copy for herself. It’s going down as one of her 2013 favorites so far, and I am so looking forward to reading it. I’ve heard nothing but good things so far, and E compares it to books written by Australian authors.
+ The Reece Malcolm List by Amy Spading — Estelle reviewed this awesome book on the blog yesterday, singing its praises! Tara of Fiction Folio sent E a finished copy for her birthday and E is graciously lending it to me. Yippie! I love a book that dives into family issues and I’m excited E felt this book was so authentic.
<<< DC Re-cap >>>
Estelle woke up super duper early to fly to DC from NYC (4:30AM — I’m not sure my clock knows those numbers exist). I was already in DC with my husband, Dustyn, his parents, and my mom. We were there just to visit and tour the city. My mom and I had never been and while I’m not the biggest history buff, I really wanted to see some of our country’s most fascinating historical landmarks. It worked out perfectly that I got to see E this past weekend because for the first time I was able to give her the birthday present I brought along in person!
Even though JetBlue tried to keep us apart with delays and hydraulics problems, E made it to the city! We jumped right into the site-seeing and went to the Newseum, a really awesome new museum that takes you through some important milestones in our history. Our favorite parts were the Pulitzer Prize photography area where the walls were covered in photos and they were playing a film with some of the photographers discussing why they took the photographs. (I cried. Some of these photos were so gut-wrenching.) They also have a 9/11 area with the twisted antenna on display from one of the towers and a short film of interviews with the news teams who bravely covered the news that day. It still doesn’t seem real — that this happened, ya know?
After the Newseum, we hung out at the house we were renting and made plans to have dinner with the adorable Sasha of Sash & Em. Guys, we love this girl. LOVE HER. She’s adorable and sweet and we love discussing books with her. Two and a half hours just flew by and we were so, so sad to part ways.
When we got home, we made the silly Shelve It vlog you saw above + had an awesome time with Ginger at GReads! in a Google+ hangout. So fun to relax and laugh and talk books with one of our favorite ladies. We were having some silly technical difficulties and G+ wouldn’t let us talk to our friend Elena at Novel Sounds. That was a major bummer, but we’re determined it will happen in the near future.
The next morning was really bittersweet as we had breakfast together at the cutest little restaurant/book store there ever was: Busboys and Poets. We really just couldn’t get over how ideal this place was — delicious food, amazing atmosphere, and a great book section where we found a very eclectic YA section. It was made for us!
We had to (very, very sadly) go our separate ways after breakfast. E took the train back to NYC and I continued to tour the city with the family. We sent countless pouty texts to one another about how sad we were. Guys, it feels like a break-up when we have to leave each other. Ugh.
There are lots more photos of us together, but since I just got home, I haven’t taken them off my camera yet (all of the above were shot with our phones). Those are coming soon, I promise.
Our little weekend hangout is over, but ahhh, it was the best weekend. Very much looking forward to our next reunion, which is hopefully much sooner than our last one in NYC (see our dinner with Alexa video here and read the NYC re-cap here).
Blaze (or Love in the Time of Supervillains) by Laurie Boyle Crompton (web | tweet)
Publication Date: February 1, 2013
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Target audience: Young Adult
Keywords: superheroes, sexting, comic books, divorced parents
Format read: ARC from NetGalley (Thank you!)
Summary: Blaze retaliates against the boy, Mark, who uses her for sex by drawing and publishing a comic about their brief entanglement. Mark leaks a photo of Blaze in lingerie that ruins her reputation and causes her classmates to bully her.
Once upon a time, I was mere high school freshman. I had a crush on an older boy (Travis). My brother played pee-wee football on a team with Travis’ younger brother (whose name I cannot remember — odd, I know). I attended every practice and football game I could once this good-looking boy with perfect pearly white teeth, dimples, and a great laugh was introduced into my life. We talked. We flirted.
Fantasies looped through my mind about this gorgeous boy becoming my boyfriend. I thought about how I’d tell my friends when we started dating, what it would be like to kiss him, and my parents would tease me about my sudden interest in football.
Guys, I asked this boy to a dance. (Unfortunately, he was going with someone else by the time I struck up the nerve to ask. Can you say devastated? This was probably the first and last bold boy-move I ever made.)
Travis consumed my life…much like Blaze’s fascination with her younger brother’s soccer coach, Mark, who is a classmate of hers. Blaze is the offical chauffeur to and from practices and games for her brother and his best friends. Her mom is incredibly busy working long hours since their father skipped town to chase after a career as an actor. For a teenager, Blaze carries a ton of responsibility and often doubles as a secondary mother-figure. She doesn’t really mind sitting at the games because she works on her comics and admires Mark from behind her mirrored sunglasses.
She, too, makes up fantasies about this boy and wonders what it would be like to date him. (Reading this snapped me back to all my Travis fantasy days and oddly enough, I ran into his mother in the grocery store.) Blaze’s daydreams tended to be a bit more crude and sexually-charged than mine ever were — at one point pondering what Mark’s boy parts were like as she sees him running across the field. While I thought she would be a relatable character for me, there were a handful of these times that I really couldn’t connect with her. She is most definitely not a girly-girl — her interests lie in geeking out over superheroes and comics, both by creating/drawing her own and being a connoisseur of all things Marvel. She’s a bit nerdy and has a small social sphere.
When Blaze catches Mark’s attention, her obsession reaches a whole new level. She mentally inflates their relationship to be more than it is and things progress rapidly. Without so much as a real date, Blaze finds herself in the back of her minivan with Mark. (Which is where I must mention I was extremely put-off. While I know unprotected sex happens, I feel Crompton could have used this platform to address Mark’s “reputation” and the possibility of pregnancy and STDs when he is coaxing Blaze into having sex without a condom. Blaze was more concerned with him fondling her boobs.)
After their minivan tango, Mark refuses to reply to her texts, IMs, and barely makes eye contact with her. Blaze is forced to realize she’s been used, just as she’d been warned by her little brother. She seeks revenge by publishing a comic in which she outs Mark the Shark. In reply, Mark leaks a photo that goes viral of Blaze in barely-there pink lingerie. The story shifted gears here. There was bullying and how the kids at school were responding to the photo, a side story about her father, a spontaneous road trip, Blaze’s two best friends who were pretty crappy after the photo went public, and a new boy at the comic book store. There was so much to wrap up in such a short amount of time.
Ultimately, Blaze handled the whole bullying situation with a lot of grace; she said some things at the end that made me really proud. But, I needed more resolution with Mark and the viral photograph when unnecessary emphasis was placed on her father. Throughout the story, there were definite times I found Blaze’s character refreshing and she made me laugh out loud, but overall I wish there had been a bit more balance that undoubtedly would have made me feel more invested in her well-being and all the intermingled story lines.
Goodreads | Amazon
<<< Extra, Extra>>>
For those of you who may love comics, you’ll be excited to see some original artwork by Anne Cain within the pages of Blaze! Below is a gorgeous example of some of the Blazing Goddess sketches you’ll see!
Thank you to Sourcebooks for sharing Anne’s amazing sketches with us!
The Reece Malcolm List by Amy Spalding ( web | tweet )
Publication Date: February 5, 2013
Publisher: Entangled Teen
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: California, family, theatre, moving, starting over
Format read: ARC from NetGalley via Publisher (thanks!)
Summary: When Devan’s father dies in a car accident, she is shipped off to Los Angeles to live with Reece Malcolm, the mother she never knew and the best-selling author that she has carefully collected facts about over time. Getting used to living with her mom is one thing, there’s also fitting into her new performing arts high school (she’s a singer and actress), making new friends, and crushing on a guy that continues to puzzle her.
Honestly, I couldn’t have asked for a better book to be released on my birthday.
A main character who is an extreme theater geek (I was dying over all the references from classic Broadway to Troy Bolton a.k.a. Zac Efron), and a story that did an amazing job of balancing the lighthearted moments with the more serious ones?
Devan grew up in a house with a father who didn’t understand her interests or really talk to her and a stepmother who wouldn’t give her the time of day. When she discovered her mom was bestselling author, Reece Malcolm, she began compiling a list of facts about the woman who said very little to the media. So when Devan’s dad dies suddenly and she is sent off to live with Reece in Los Angeles, she’s not exactly sure what to expect. Can things really be worse than the way they were before?
But she does know what she wants. She wants a warm mother who is going to wrap her in her arms and hold her, let her cry about her dad, and apologize as much as she can about never contacting her once in her sixteen years. Instead, Devan gets someone very standoffish, who clearly knows nothing about kids, and who is not going to easily indulge why she’s been so absent or what exactly happened between her and her father all those years ago.
Reece may make fun of Devan and openly admit that it weirds her out how much her boyfriend (Brad) wants to do “family things” with her yet she, no questions asked, gets Reece an audition at a great performing arts high school, takes her on shopping sprees (Devan loves fashion), and is pretty laidback when Devan starts to make plans with new friends. I really liked how atypical their relationship was. Because, gee, there is nothing normal about their situation or their relationship, and I’m glad no one was putting on airs about what their shared DNA should mean.
So on top of this new shiny (and frustrating) home life, Devan is also thrown into a new school. She’s mega-talented and takes this talent really seriously, and while not everyone is very supportive at first, Devan does get folded into a circle of friends (who have layered storylines as well) pretty immediately. (So unlike her last school.) I really liked her weighing how suddenly she should trust new people and let them in. She still had so, much to figure out in her personal life… it wasn’t like she could just confide in anyone immediately. Even with boy situations, the author makes nothing black and white and that was so entirely REAL high school for me.
Amy Spalding writes The Reece Malcolm List in an incredibly intelligent way with flawed characters, intricate details, and a true love for theater. At 16, Devan may not have known everything about life — in fact, she often wavered between incredulous actions and wise observations about the world. Life isn’t always the happy song that musicals portray, not everything falls perfectly into place. And it takes time for people to let their guard down and to understand who they truly are. It’s like this ongoing journey, even for an adult like Reece who is hard to love and hard to get close to.
Goodreads | Buy on Amazon
Here Comes Trouble by Erin Kern ( web | tweet )
Publication Date: January 8, 2013
Publisher: Forever Yours (Part of Hachette/Grand Central Publishing)
Target audience: adult
Keywords: romance, Wyoming, restaurant, art, old friends
Format read: ARC via Publisher on NetGalley. (Thanks!)
Summary: After a difficult childhood and bad luck coming from all directions, Lacy doesn’t make it easy for anyone to break down her walls. Not even Chase, the guy she has known since she was a kid and has always had a crush on. When more drama knocks on both their doors, Chase and Lacy take their friendship to the next level. Can they keep it casual or will they finally let their guards down?
I can’t be the only one who has ever picked up a book because there’s a cowboy on the cover. Right?
Well, Chase is just as gorgeous as I thought he was going to be (wait until you hear about his tattoos) but is also a pretty nice guy, even if he likes to “bed many woman” (as the book reminded me many times). He is the general manager of his family-owned restaurant where Lacy, our leading lady, also works. Lacy, who has known Chase since they were kids and is not his type at all. But, gee, does he love to banter with her.
Lacy has had a laundry list of drama in her life: her mother abandoned her, her dad has spent more time in jail than raising her, her loving (yet fiscally irresponsible) grandfather died from lung cancer, and she lost her art scholarship because she was working so hard to survive… she didn’t keep up her GPA. A job jumper, she’s actually worked at McDermott’s for the past two years while trying to figure out exactly what she wants to do with her life.
When another shoe drops in the form of a sister she never knew she had… she’s just about ready to lose it.
Enter Chase who offers her support and then some. Like some (many!) hot times that made it a little hard for me to get up from my cute seat at the coffee shop and walk back to work. My knees were shaking a bit.
I was a little apprehensive at how quickly Chase and Lacy formed an “arrangement” with one another, and I feared that would slow down the rest of the novel for me. (“How will she keep this interesting?!” I wondered to myself.) But Kern does concentrate a ton on Lacy’s personal life and also a small mystery taking place at Chase’s restaurant. A miniscule moment (that just seems to emphasize Lacy’s own insecurities) changes the course of the book, and the push + pull between Chase and Lacy from earlier is reinstated into some terrific tension.
Here Comes Trouble was the perfect book to cleanse my palette after a string of young adult reading. Sure, there’s a lot going on but Kern did an impressive job of not overlapping too much at once and putting a stop to certain storylines at appropriate times. It’s a quick read that is sure to leave you more than a little bit flustered.
Goodreads | Amazon