Monday, July 22, 2024

Music Monday (293): Tame Impala, flowersovlove


  • Music Monday is a weekly meme hosted by Lauren Stoolfire at Always Me that asks you to share one or two songs that you've recently enjoyed. For the rules, visit the page HERE 
Breana: I've been listening to Tame Impala's album, The Slow Rush, again. It's still one of my favorites! So my pick this week is: Breathe Deeper.

Adri: Last week, I was listening to breaking news by flowersovlove. I love this song, and I want to listen to more of her music.

What are you listening to this week?

Friday, July 19, 2024

I Listened to Brat by Charli XCX

I’ve listened to Charli XCX’s music since the True Romance days in 2013. So, I was moderately looking forward to her sixth studio album, Brat, which was released on the seventh of June. And then on the tenth of the month, a deluxe version—Brat and It’s the Same But There’s Three More Songs So It’s Not—was released under a very ironic title. And with that, welcome back to the music minded corner of Our Thoughts Precisely!

Brat was bold, loud, and full of hyper and electronic pop club friendly beats—for example Von Dutch, 360, Apple, and Club Classics, among others. Those aspects of the album were fun and, essentially, the kind of music you can move to. They also showcased the inspiration behind the album, which I’d read previously was pulling from “London rave.” While songs like I Might Say Something Stupid and So I slowed it down by a notch, and they were among some of the most vulnerable tracks on Brat. 365 closes the initial album with lyrics and a beat recycled from 360, but remixes it enough so while it was a full circle moment, the track still stood on its own.

On the other hand, Brat and It’s the Same But There’s Three More Songs So It’s Not adds Hello Goodbye, Guess, and Spring Breakers to the original track list. The three songs were fine, and complemented the album.

All in all, Brat was a pretty solid album for me.

Wednesday, July 17, 2024

I Watched The Invitation (2022)

One of the movies I’ve wanted to watch for a while now was The Invitation, a horror thriller written by Blair Butler and directed by Jessica M. Thompson. Released in 2022, it stars Thomas Doherty and Nathalie Emmanuel. Honestly, I was sold on the film by the trailer, because around the time it was released, I was reading more gothic inspired fiction than I am now. Even so, it took me a while to come back to The Invitation. But I’m glad I did, because this movie was fun and campy, which on occasion is exactly what I’m looking for.

The Invitation starts off relatively benign with Nathalie Emmanuel’s character, Evelyn (Evie) Jackson, working a catering gig where she received a DNA test, as a party favor, from a goodie bag. Which, you know, was kind of random, but it jumpstarted the story with the entry of long-lost family and an impromptu trip to England, for a wedding. The Invitation had a number of gothic fiction hallmarks—secrets, a strange mansion, a heroine who starts out naïve—particularly with a focus on the paranormal kind. So while the setup seemed ordinary, as Evelyn arrived at the manor with wedding guests and a strangely unwelcoming household, it didn’t take long for odd things to start happening. And with a situation like that there was only one way to go from there, and it was downhill for her.

For a large part of its runtime, Evelyn’s experience was almost contemporaneous to its modern time period, except for the hints pointing toward the uncanny and supernatural nature of the traditions that actually dictated the area’s social structure, down to the way of life for the locals. It was insular and the other characters—even those who only appeared in passing—had loyalties, which often clashed with Evelyn’s drive to survive the situation.

Some of the most thrilling parts of The Invitation happened close to the end of the film, when the reveals started happening, and it turned into to a game of cat and mouse. The villains were menacing and effective at creating a daunting challenge for Evelyn to navigate.

Overall, while The Invitation wasn’t a profound film, it didn’t have to be to be good at what it had to offer. And, ultimately, I had a great time watching it.

Monday, July 15, 2024

Music Monday (292): Charli XCX, The Spiritual Machines


  • Music Monday is a weekly meme hosted by Lauren Stoolfire at Always Me that asks you to share one or two songs that you've recently enjoyed. For the rules, visit the page HERE 
Breana: I've been listening to Charli XCX's new album, Brat. One of my favorite songs is 360.

Adri: Unfortunately, I haven't been keeping up with music releases from my favorite artists. That's how I missed the release of The Mirror and the Dancer by The Spiritual Machines. It quickly became one of my favorite songs.

What are you listening to this week?

Friday, July 12, 2024

I Listened to Born in the Wild by Tems

Tems has steadily released music since 2018, including work with other artists and two extended plays—For Broken Ears (2020) and If Orange Was a Place (2021). And while I’m not as familiar with her discography as some of the other artists I’ve mentioned for this segment on Our Thoughts Precisely, I was still looking forward to her 2024 album after I watched the livestream of her performance at this year’s Coachella. Titled Born in the Wild, Tems’ debut was released on June seventh with eighteen songs, including the singles Love Me Je Je and Me & U. And with that, welcome back to the music minded corner of Our Thoughts Precisely!

I’ve loved a number of the R&B albums being released this year, and Born in the Wild is one of the best I’ve listened to so far in 2024. It sits solidly in its genre, but the quality and creativity of the lyrics and production made for an engrossing listening experience. And I have to praise Tems’ vocal performance. She has a very distinct voice, and the delivery across the track list was consistent. Born in the Wild also had two features, from the artists J. Cole and Asake, on Free Fall and Get It Right respectively.

At the end of the day, Born in the Wild was stylish and lyrically complex, and a great body of work showcasing Tems’ talent.

Friday, July 5, 2024

Quarterly Recap: April-June

It’s the beginning of July. I can’t believe I already had to write that sentence, but here we are. And because it’s the seventh month of 2024, it means it’s time for another quarterly recap, where I take a look back at the blog post from the past three months as well as a brief look at what’s coming up. As always I’m starting with reviews.
April, May, and June Reviews...
Other April, May, and June Blog Posts....
Looking ahead this month, I have a couple of music related posts as well as reviews for some books releasing this month. So keep an eye out for that content.

Up next, I have a good selection of ARCs to read, including one of my most anticipated releases of the year from one of my favorite authors.

And in terms of gaming, the last Nintendo Direct brought some surprises and slightly expanded the list of games I’m looking forward to in the last half of 2024. Tales of the Shire (the Lord of the Rings farming sim), and The Legend of Zelda Echoes of Wisdom, the new 2D game set in Hyrule, where you get to play as Zelda, according to the trailer.

Wednesday, July 3, 2024

Masquerade by O.O. Sangoyomi

Title: Masquerade
Series: n/a
Author: O.O. Sangoyomi
Source/Format: Bookish First/Publisher; Paperback ARC
More Details: Loose Retelling; Historical Fiction
Publisher/Publication Date: Forge Books; July 2, 2024

Goodreads     Amazon     Barnes & Noble

Synopsis from Goodreads...
Set in a wonderfully reimagined 15th century West Africa, Masquerade is a dazzling, lyrical tale exploring the true cost of one woman’s fight for freedom and self-discovery, and the lengths she’ll go to secure her future.

Òdòdó’s hometown of Timbuktu has been conquered by the the warrior king of Yorùbáland. Already shunned as social pariahs, living conditions for Òdòdó and the other women in her blacksmith guild grow even worse under Yorùbá rule. Then Òdòdó is abducted. She is whisked across the Sahara to the capital city of Ṣàngótẹ̀, where she is shocked to discover that her kidnapper is none other than the vagrant who had visited her guild just days prior. But now that he is swathed in riches rather than rags, Òdòdó realizes he is not a vagrant at all; he is the warrior king, and he has chosen her to be his wife. In a sudden change of fortune, Òdòdó soars to the very heights of society. But after a lifetime of subjugation, the power that saturates this world of battle and political savvy becomes too enticing to resist. As tensions with rival states grow, revealing elaborate schemes and enemies hidden in plain sight, Òdòdó must defy the cruel king she has been forced to wed by re-forging the shaky loyalties of the court in her favor, or risk losing everything—including her life.

Loosely based on the myth of Persephone, O.O. Sangoyomi’s Masquerade takes you on a journey of epic power struggles and political intrigue that turn an entire region on its head.

I originally read an excerpt of this book on Bookish First. I was sold on the concept laid out in the synopsis as well as intrigued by it being a loose retelling of the myth of Persephone, but set in a fictional version of fifteenth century West Africa. Having read the whole story, I have a new favorite book. And between Katherine Arden’s The Warm Hands of Ghosts, Leigh Bardugo’s The Familiar, and now O.O. Sangoyomi’s Masquerade, historical fiction is having quite a year.

Òdòdó, a blacksmith from Timbuktu—which carried its own connotations (and stigma) in the context of the story—finds herself whisked away by the king of Yorùbáland after an act of naïve kindness, to be his bride. It's in the early beginnings of Masquerade where some of the strongest aspects related to the myth could be found. It wasn’t on the nose either, and instead Masquerade was sprinkled with subtle nods.

The story was wonderfully detailed and steeped in the rich history, traditions, and folklore of its setting. It also meant superstition and often strict societal norms, and one of the most interesting parts of the book was seeing how Òdòdó would learn to navigate the sudden change in her environment, between Timbuktu and Sàngótè.

The king’s characterization was done so well. He was portrayed as a capable leader as well as the kind of person who has never been told no. I was expecting it, since even the synopsis makes mention of his cruelty. And he was ambitious and entitled, even to have Òdòdó become his wife. I could almost say he was arrogant in that regard, and he wasn’t careful with how he spoke to or treated—or even acknowledged the ambition and the suffering—of his supposed soon-to-be wife.

Being at the whim of a fickle king who Òdòdó’s power—and the favor bestowed to her by his people—depended on, was a heavy a burden. There was a power imbalance, especially between the king and his bride, which wasn’t helped by the superstition (and suspicion) surrounding the blacksmith guilds and the woman who worked there.

Nevertheless, I enjoyed Òdòdó’s journey. It was a costly one in a politically tense environment, but her quest was one of self-discovery, power, and influence. She wanted more and more, which was often the crux driving the story forward: escape from the life as a blacksmith, her desire for power and status, and the lengths she was willing to go to not only obtain it but to keep it as well. It was perilous and dark, and no one was left unscathed by the end.
Masquerade had a lot going for it. As a loose retelling, it worked. And as historical fiction, it had everything I was looking for. If you like richly detailed world building and political intrigue, then I highly recommend Masquerade.

About the author....
O.O. Sangoyomi is a Nigerian American author with a penchant for African mythology and history. During a childhood of constantly moving around, she found an anchored home in the fictional worlds of books. She is a recent graduate of Princeton University, where she studied literature. Her debut novel, Masquerade, will be published by Macmillan/Forge in July 2024.

Disclaimer: this copy of the book was provided by the publisher (Forge Books) via Bookish First in exchange for an honest review, thank you! 

Monday, July 1, 2024

Music Monday (291): Tems, Jelly Roll


  • Music Monday is a weekly meme hosted by Lauren Stoolfire at Always Me that asks you to share one or two songs that you've recently enjoyed. For the rules, visit the page HERE 
Breana: I've been enjoying Tems' new album, Born in the Wild. She recently did a Tiny Desk concert, where she performed a mixture of songs including older releases as well as her latest. This is one of my favorites from this channel to-date. Give it a listen! 

Andrea: Hi all! This week I'm listening to I Am Not Okay by Jelly Roll. Have an amazing week!

What are you listening to this week?

Saturday, June 29, 2024

Short Stories I Read in May

It’s June twenty-ninth. So it’s time to write about the short stories, miscellaneous posts, and podcast episodes I read or listened to in May.

And the Dreams That You Dare to Dream by Marissa Lingen (Lightspeed Magazine; May 2024; Issue 168)

The first story I checked out in May was Marissa Lingen’s And the Dreams That You Dare to Dream. Pretty standard portal fantasy/fantasy land setting, which reminded me of Seanan McGuire’s Wayward Children’s series. Where this story shines is in the character, Gemma’s, POV. She wants to go to a fantasy land, and she doesn’t want to come back—and she’s very logical/deadpan about her approach. It's one of the aspects I liked best about her characterization. Besides that, the story has a very frank style to the way it was written, which suited it perfectly. All-in-all, I liked this one.

Done Deal by Rory Harper (Lightspeed Magazine; May 2024; Issue 168)

While I was still on Lightspeed Magazine’s website, I read two other stories. The first was: Done Deal by Rory Harper. In speculative fiction, deals with the devil—Faustian bargains, errant wishes—those can be pretty common. However, they are among my favorite kind of story conventions, because the possibilities are endless. In Done Deal, a famous, at the top of the world musician named Jack Malagan, is suspected to have made a deal. Much of the story has a blasé feel to it, as it recounted Jack’s meteoric rise, and a pivotal conversation that revealed his backstory and the consequences of the titular “Done Deal.” As the story progressed, however, the tension increased, which gradually built toward the final twist at the end. Done Deal was a great story!

Exit Interview by Ben Peek (Lightspeed Magazine; May 2024; Issue 168)

And the second was Ben Peek’s Exit Interview. It’s the exact kind of story I like: magic hidden right alongside the normal every day, a sense (and atmosphere) of danger and darkness, and a secretive organization with questionable recruitment tactics. All of that was great. At the heart of Exit Interview, though, was a mother whose life fell apart after the disappearance of her daughter, the places her work for “The Ministry of Saturn” took her to, the people she met, the answers she found, and the actions she took. Sprinkled throughout was the titular exit interview, which added another layer of detail to the story. This was a truly engrossing read.

From around the web…

Monday, June 24, 2024

Music Monday (290): Tems, Asake, Beyoncé, Walter Williams of The O'Jays


  • Music Monday is a weekly meme hosted by Lauren Stoolfire at Always Me that asks you to share one or two songs that you've recently enjoyed. For the rules, visit the page HERE 
Breana: I'm currently listening to and enjoying Tems' recent release, Born in the Wild. I love the whole album, which made it hard to pick one song for today. Checkout one of my favorites: Get it Right featuring Asake!

Andrea: Hi all! This week I'm listening to He Still Loves Me by Beyoncé and Walter Williams of The O'Jays. Have an amazing week!

What are you listening to this week?

Wednesday, June 19, 2024

The Familiar by Leigh Bardugo

Title: The Familiar
Series: n/a
Author: Leigh Bardugo
Source/Format: Purchased; Hardcover
More Details: Fantasy; Historical Fiction
Publisher/Publication Date: Flatiorn Books; April 9, 2024

Synopsis from Goodreads...
From the New York Times bestselling author of Ninth House, Hell Bent, and creator of the Grishaverse series comes a highly anticipated historical fantasy set during the Spanish Golden Age

In a shabby house, on a shabby street, in the new capital of Madrid, Luzia Cotado uses scraps of magic to get through her days of endless toil as a scullion. But when her scheming mistress discovers the lump of a servant cowering in the kitchen is actually hiding a talent for little miracles, she demands Luzia use those gifts to better the family's social position. What begins as simple amusement for the bored nobility takes a perilous turn when Luzia garners the notice of Antonio Pérez, the disgraced secretary to Spain's king. Still reeling from the defeat of his armada, the king is desperate for any advantage in the war against England's heretic queen—and Pérez will stop at nothing to regain the king's favor. Determined to seize this one chance to better her fortunes, Luzia plunges into a world of seers and alchemists, holy men and hucksters, where the line between magic, science, and fraud is never certain. But as her notoriety grows, so does the danger that her Jewish blood will doom her to the Inquisition's wrath. She will have to use every bit of her wit and will to survive—even if that means enlisting the help of Guillén Santangel, an embittered immortal familiar whose own secrets could prove deadly for them both.

It’s no secret: I love a good standalone. And one of my most highly anticipated book releases of the year was Leigh Bargugo’s new historical fantasy novel, The Familiar. Set in Madrid during the “Spanish Golden Age,” this was a story of curses, magic, and ambition; part tragedy and part romance. And I loved every second of it.

Luzia Cotado was ambitious and hungry and wanted more than her life as a scullion: the ability to freely express her intelligence, and most of all comforts and ease unlike what her life had been to that point. While Luzia would admit that her position made her a good actress—able to hide her true self behind a façade—she was kind of resentful toward it. The family she worked for, the Ordõnos, didn’t help with her pessimism, particularly (and especially in the beginning of the novel) Doña Valentina’s habit of taking out her discontent—with her married life and with her social prospects—on the people who worked for her. As the first sentence of chapter one states: “If the bread hadn’t burned, this would be a very different story.” But I’m so glad it wasn’t, because without the circumstances, there would’ve been no story. And without (even the tragic aspects later on) there would’ve been no romance and none of the the interpersonal dramas happening alongside the high stakes schemes. And those were among the most notable highlights of The Familiar.

If you can’t tell, I adored the characters.

Luzia could be witty, but she was also in a situation involving political machinations, which left her as a fish-out-of-water, if not right out trapped and (again) subservient. Some of what occurred was due to her ambition, though. She wanted to win to change her life, regardless of the consequences. Her “little miracles” were dangerous to perform; she lived in a time of strong adherence to religion as well as under the threat of attracting the notice of the Inquisition.

Guillén Santángel was brooding, enigmatic, and dangerous. He was the familiar the title referred to and was compelled to do the bidding of an ambitious, cunning, arrogant, and cruel man. He and Luzia were a little alike, in that they desired freedom from their circumstances.

The question was what had to be given up to achieve those aims.

Valentina was the most surprising for me. I didn’t expect to like her character as much as I did. She was an instigator, but she was also sympathetic. She, like Luzia and Santángel, hungered for more. And a pivotal part of her story was discovering if what she always insisted she wanted would still hold true by the end of The Familiar.

The tournament was fairly standard and involved some intrigue, particularly between the competitors and their patrons. There was genuine talent and fraud mixed together, and alliances were murky and never what they first appeared to be. And with the large personalities of the characters, it made it interesting.  

All in all, The Familiar was everything I was hoping it would be, and it’s easily one of my favorite books of 2024 so far.

Monday, June 17, 2024

Music Monday (289): Billie Eilish, Avant, & Angela Bofill, Lion Babe


  • Music Monday is a weekly meme hosted by Lauren Stoolfire at Always Me that asks you to share one or two songs that you've recently enjoyed. For the rules, visit the page HERE 
Breana: I'm still listening to Hit Me Hard and Soft, and another one of my favorite songs is: The Diner.

Adri: Lion Babe has been releasing so many house songs and I'm thrilled. This week I'm listening to Better Late Than Never.

Andrea: Hi all! This week I'm listening to You & I by Avant featuring Ke Ke Wyatt and Too Tough by Angela Bofill. Have an amazing week!

What are you listening to this week?

Friday, June 14, 2024

The Manicurist's Daughter by Susan Lieu

Title: The Manicurist's Daughter
Series: n/a
Author: Susan Lieu
Format: Celadon; Paperback ARC
More Details: Memoire
Publisher/ Publication Date: Celadon; March 12 2024

Goodreads    Celadon (Book Page)

Synopsis From Celadon
An emotionally raw memoir about the crumbling of the American Dream and a daughter of refugees who searches for answers after her mother dies during plastic surgery.

Susan Lieu has long been searching for answers. About her family’s past and about her own future. Refugees from the Vietnam War, Susan’s family escaped to California in the 1980s after five failed attempts. Upon arrival, Susan’s mother was their savvy, charismatic North Star, setting up two successful nail salons and orchestrating every success—until Susan was eleven. That year, her mother died from a botched tummy tuck. After the funeral, no one was ever allowed to talk about her or what had happened.

For the next twenty years, Susan navigated a series of cascading questions alone—why did the most perfect person in her life want to change her body? Why would no one tell her about her mother’s life in Vietnam? And how did this surgeon, who preyed on Vietnamese immigrants, go on operating after her mother’s death? Sifting through depositions, tracking down the surgeon’s family, and enlisting the help of spirit channelers, Susan uncovers the painful truth of her mother, herself, and the impossible ideal of beauty.

The Manicurist’s Daughter is much more than a memoir about grief, trauma, and body image. It is a story of fierce determination, strength in shared culture, and finding your place in the world.

I tend to like memoirs anyway, but I really liked The Manicurists Daughter by Susan Lieu. From the prologue (which I later realized was an excellent summary), to the writing that drew me in, I found this memoir to be an enjoyable read.

It's essentially Lieu's journey to get answers about her mother. And I want emphasize journey. For every vague lead, there seemed to be even more questions that needed to be addressed. Intertwined with this was also her process of eventually creating performances inspired by her quest. When she finally did get some answers, and things began falling in place, I could see how and where each chapter's contents connected. This not only led up to her performance of 140 LBS: How Beauty Killed My Mother, but also the memoir's end. Which I might add, ends on a confident, understanding, and hopeful note.  There's probably a lot more I could mention but I think the synopsis does a well enough job showing what The Manicurist's Daughter is all about.

As for the writing, I found myself on the typical rollercoaster of emotions. There were times that were heart wrenching and sad, to happy and joyful. Along with the inclusion of Vietnamese, the descriptions were lively and vivid. Overall, it was a rather nice pace. 

Like I said, I found my read enjoyable and I really liked it. I don't have much to say unfortunately. But that's only because, for me, The Manicurist's Daughter is of those memoirs that you just have to start reading, get into it, and see for yourself.

Disclaimer: I received an ARC copy of this book from Celadon for this review. Thanks for reading!

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