Event Recap: Jeff Zentner, Susin Nielsen, and Danielle Younge-Ullman

I haven’t wanted to go to a book-related event in a while. (Kind of been enjoying the break from having to be “book blogger Michelle” all the time). But I told myself there were a handful of authors I’d 100% go see if given the chance. People I could not miss. So when Jeff Zentner was announced to come to Brampton, I marked off my calendar and started counting the days.

I arrived at my personal favourite bookstore, ordered a green tea frap, sat down near the Starbucks fireplace and cracked open Zentner’s new novel, Goodbye Days, to get ready. As people started to show up, I grabbed a seat in front of the panel table and got ready to see three amazing authors. Some context: I’ve read Susin Nielsen’s We Are All Made of Molecules and loved it. 5 stars. I’ve read Jeff Zentner’s Serpent King and it is one of my favourite books of all time. I’ve never read any of Danielle Younge-Ullman’s work, but I was very excited to purchase Everything Beautiful is Not Ruined. The three authors took the stage after greeting some familiar faces, and the panel began.

Each of the authors took their turn in front of the mic to talk a bit about their new books, and then read a small excerpt. As each author took centre stage, I could immediately feel their personality all the way from the second row. Susin, Danielle, and Jeff were all incredibly down-to-earth and were having just as much fun at the event as the people who came to see them, which made it all the more enjoyable.

Then it was time for audience questions, where each author took their turn discussing fan-prompted topics such as their writing process, how they come up with their characters, and why they all chose to write novels dealing with grief and coping with loss. It was very clear that Susin, Danielle and Jeff were answering the questions and discussing their writing as sincerely as possible. I’m not a fan of listening to authors who very obviously have answered questions so many times that they just recite answers from memory, and I was very captivated listening to this group.

Once there were no more audience questions, it was time for the book signing! When it was my turn, I first approached Susin, who asked if I was an optimist or a pessimist (a la her newest protagonist), and said that I must be an optimist if I was a blogger. (I am definitely not). (I’m an anxious little bean). (Optimists die first). Anyway! It was such a delight to talk to her.

Next I met Danielle. At the beginning of the event, she was introduced as having dabbled in the Toronto theatre scene, and for the rest of the afternoon I was trying to figure out why she looked familiar. (Some of you may recall my obsession with theatre). I’m very excited to be able to read Everything Beautiful is Not Ruined, and hopefully report back to all of you how amazing it is!

And finally, I got my chance to talk to Jeff. This was his first signing outside of the States (!!) which made it all the more exciting. He signed my books and told me he liked my “no day but today” tattoo, and I got to tell him how much I loved The Serpent King. So you can imagine, I left the bookstore feeling quite dazed.

This Chapters is the one I grew up with. It’s the bookstore my friends and I have visited regularly since I was 11 years old, going for coffee dates and browsing the shelves as wee little book addicts. And now it’s the Chapters where I got to meet three fantastic authors and have my day made. It’s an afternoon I don’t think a book event will live up to for a while.

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The Zolas @ The Opera House

The Zolas
When: March 16, 2017
Where: The Opera House – Toronto, ON
Seats: General Admission – Floor

THE COMPANY

This show was such a last minute thing. My friend Marco messaged and asked if I wanted to go with him to a concert. And I’m always up for a concert. Even if I don’t know the band – as was with this case – I know Marco and I have pretty similar taste in music, so I trust him. I listened to some Zolas before heading out, and already had a few favourite songs in mind as we headed to The Opera House.

THE PERFORMANCE

The show was fantastic! The audience was so hyped when The Zolas took the stage, and the band was able to keep the excitement rolling their entire set. There was a good mix of upbeat songs that I could bop along to, and some slower, more mellow tunes, which I always enjoy. And even during the slower songs, I was really enjoying watching the band rock out. There was never a dull moment.

I thought it was especially cool that during their last song, the lead singer came into the crowd and performed from the centre of the floor. Everyone circled around and shone their cell phone lights on him, lighting the venue. It was a really cool experience!

Side note: It’s been a month and I still frequently get “Ancient Mars” stuck in my head.

THE AUDIENCE

Shows are just significantly more enjoyable when they’re general admission shows, honestly. I don’t care if I don’t know the band – if I’m standing in a general admission area, I feel like I’m part of the crowd. Part of the show. Part of an experience. Not just watching – but a part. And that’s how I felt this entire show.

The Zolas really seemed to appreciate the fact that they filled The Opera House with so many enthusiastic fans, and you know what – they gained another one that night. I’d happily buy a ticket to see them in Toronto again.

COMPLETE SETLIST:

  1. In Heaven
  2. Molotov Girls ♥
  3. Get Dark ♥
  4. Fell In Love with New York ♥
  5. Ancient Mars ♥
  6. Cultured Man
  7. You’re Too Cool
  8. Freida on the Mountain ♥
  9. This Changes Everything
  10. Marlaina Kamikaze
  11. Cab Driver
  12. Strange Girl ♥
  13. CV Dazzle
  14. Swooner ♥

Encore:
15. Invisible ♥
16. Observatory
17. Escape Artist ♥

The Fall of Lisa Bellow by Susan Perabo: Book Review

The Fall of Lisa Bellow

Obtained: Simon & Schuster Canada, ARC
Pages: 352
Publish date: March 14, 2017
Rating: ★★★★★

SUMMARY

When eighth grader, Meredith Oliver, walks into a local sandwich shop to grab a root beer, she has no idea the next person through the door is going to be a masked man with a gun. Meredith and her nemesis, Lisa Bellow, end up face to face on the ground as the man robs the joint. Next thing Meredith knows, the man has taken Lisa and leaves her to cower on the floor alone.

The majority of the novel focuses on the reactions to this event. Lisa’s friends creating bracelets for awareness of her abduction. Lisa’s mother dealing with the loss of her daughter. Meredith being the girl that was lucky enough to get away – but not really. And Meredith’s mother, who can’t deal with the fact that her daughter isn’t as unscathed as she appears.

WHAT I LIKED

Honestly, I was not in the mood to read when I picked up this book. But I needed to read something, and Lisa Bellow was the thing I decided to read. I literally started the book on Friday morning and didn’t put it down until I was finished Sunday morning. It was so captivating.

I loved reading about Meredith and the incident that she was witness to, and how it affected her so deeply and personally. I felt like I was there with her. The characters – every single one of them – were so three-dimensional and realistic, I didn’t find myself hating any of them. I particularly liked the fact that Meredith’s mother was so flawed, and yet she wasn’t a “Terrible Mother” character. I don’t see that a lot in media, honestly, and it was sort of heart-warming to be reading about a mother who had a lot of issues but was ultimately sympathetic.

AND WHAT I DIDN’T

The chapters alternated between the perspective of Meredith and her mother, Claire, giving us a wide perspective of their family dynamic and how everyone was affected by Lisa’s abduction. I liked getting this immensely detailed portrait of the Oliver family, but I didn’t particularly like reading Claire’s chapters. I just wanted to rush through those and learn more about Meredith and what she was going through.

*SPOILERS AHEAD*

Sort of spoilers. But okay, you’ve been warned. I love when books have open endings, especially in situations such as this one. The whole, “you’ll never know because no one would ever know. People could guess what happened, or reasons why it happened, but it’ll always be a mystery”. That kind of stuff hooks me right in. But I wish there were a few more answers at the end of this novel. I had too many questions and wish that some of them had gotten resolved. But again, I guess that was the point.

RECOMMEND IF…

  • You enjoy books about characters who have undergone a trauma;
  • You like reading about young people but you want something more mature than a “young adult” book;
  • You have a large chunk of time to be reading – because you won’t want to put this one down.

The Fall of Lisa Bellow is available online at Chapters Indigo, Book Depository, and Kobo.

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Waiting Room by Diane Flacks: Play Review

Waiting Room

Obtained: Playwrights Canada Press
Pages: 128
Publish date: March 14, 2017
Rating: ★★★

SUMMARY

Chrissie and Jeremy have spent a great deal of time waiting—for news of their baby daughter’s post-operation recovery, for weekly scans to show that her tumor is gone, for forty-five-second updates from Dr. Malloy, their brilliant but arrogant pediatric neuro-oncologist. The hospital waiting room has become a second home where they constantly struggle with a series of difficult decisions.

-From Goodreads

WHAT I LIKED

Oh, how I have missed reading plays. I love that I can imagine this being acted on a stage; in a lot of ways, that makes the story even more real to me. Waiting Room is dramatic and makes me feel like I’m reading an episode of House, honestly. The play similarly addresses issues about the philosophy of medicine and how the doctors look at a patient, vs. the concerns of the patient’s loved ones.

The play sort of hit home for me, because I’ve been through a sort of similar experience recently. Sitting in a waiting room, hoping someone I loved would be okay. As much as you want to stay logical and follow the issue from the doctor’s standpoint, you’re being emotionally tortured as you sit and wait tirelessly for an answer to the nagging question. Will they be okay? Will they be okay? Will they be okay? The medical jargon doesn’t make it easier to deal with. And Flacks really captured the struggle with this family.

As a side note, I love reading Canadian content, because it feels even closer to home for me. I love being able to read about a character saying something like, “Going to Tims – do you want anything?” just because I’m pretty sure it’s a thing every Canadian has said at least once in their lives and it adds to that realism, for me.

AND WHAT I DIDN’T

I feel like it would have been better to watch this play rather than to read it. There was a lot of medical jargon and there were parts I was just sort of pushing through to get to the more emotional stuff. But I guess that’s the situation with most plays – they’re meant to be watched.

RECOMMEND IF…

  • You like watching medical dramas (like House);
  • You want to support Canadian playwrights .

Waiting Room is available online at Chapters Indigo, Book Depository, and Kobo.

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March Cosmetics Haul

March was a great cosmetics month for me! I discovered the elf website (RIP money), and I got a couple of great beauty boxes in the mail. That being said, I’ve decided to tone it down a bit, so there’ll be some changes to the sorts of things you see on here.

I purchased my first elf lipstick from Target when it was still in Canada (also, RIP), and I loved it. So upon discovering how inexpensive it is to shop from them online, I bought another two lipsticks – the one I originally got was pink, so I  tried a tan shade, and also black which is my new favourite thing ever. I also picked up another pink lipstick, and a couple of different black eyeliners that I’m excited to try!
This month’s Topbox was pretty great – on top of my four expected products, I received  a handful of Dove hair products, which was cool. Whenever I see lip products, I get excited – so the NYX Cosmetics Butter Gloss is already one of my favourites (even though it is a gloss and gets my hair sticky when I headbang at concerts). I haven’t tried the Eyeko London Eye Do Liquid Eyeliner yet, but eyeliner is something I love to experiment with, so I’ll be giving that a go soon. As for the L’Oreal Professionnel Fix Anti-Frizz, I am in love. Anything anti-frizz is super helpful to my hair. And the Cake Beauty Desserted Island Supreme Body Mousse I haven’t tried yet, but I am excited to see how it works.

Once again, my monthly ipsy glam bag was awesome. It keeps getting better and better. I already am in love with the tarte cosmetics quick dry matte lip paint. Like I’ll probably purchase it regularly now. The INT Cosmetics Eyeshadow in Goddess Gold and the Skone Cosmetics Luxe Pro Blending Brush have been happily added to my collection, with intent to try these for an event I have coming up. I’m also super excited to try the OUAI Treatment Masque because I tried their Wave Spray a couple months ago, and I love their products! When I saw the Ladykin Affinitic Snail Cream – I was so interested. I’m not typically a cream person, but this just looks too cool (and cute) not to give it a go.

As for the changes coming up – I actually unsubscribed from Topbox. Not that there was anything wrong with it, but I’m making some cutbacks and budgeting, and I chose ipsy over Topbox for a few reasons. I like the bags you get from ipsy, and I greatly prefer the bag-reviewing process. So I’ll still be posting beauty hauls, but it’ll be narrowed down to ipsy and whatever else I happen to buy that month!

See anything here that catches your eye? Are you an ipster with some preferred products in the March bag? Let me know!

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Simple Plan: Take One For the Team Tour

Simple Plan w/ Set It Off & Plain White Ts
When: March 14, 2017
Where: Air Canada Centre – Toronto, ON
Seats: Lower level, Row 4

THE COMPANY

This show was originally supposed to take place on Nov. 18th of 2016, but had to be pushed back. So I originally got the tickets because Nov. 18th is my bestie’s birthday, and Simple Plan is our thing.

But attending the concert a few months later was still super special. There’s no one I’d rather scream and dance with to songs like “I’d Do Anything” and “I’m Just a Kid”.

THE PERFORMANCE

First I have to talk about the openers. I’ve never heard of the band Set It Off before, but they were pretty entertaining. But when I saw that Plain White T’s would be there, the 14-year-old inside me wept. Their performance was so down to earth and honest. And of course, they ended with “Hey There, Delilah”, which was nothing short of nostalgic.

Then Simple Plan took the stage, and I got very excited. We had great seats, and Simple Plan never disappoints! Personally, I’m a bigger fan of their first couple of albums, so when they launched into upbeat angsty teen songs like “Jump” or “Shut Up”, I couldn’t NOT sing along. But even the songs I wasn’t as familiar with, I could still rock out to. They played quite a few slower tunes, but some of the best SP songs are better listened to acoustically (lookin’ at you, “Welcome to My Life” and “Perfect”), so I had no problem swaying with bestie and feeling the feels. It was a great night.

THE AUDIENCE

The thing I love about Simple Plan is that their audience is so diverse, especially with regards to age. There were young girls there rocking Take One for the Team t-shirts. There were men and women in their 20s who clearly grew up with this band and wanted to show their support. And there were husbands and wives in their later years who came out to enjoy the show. I just love how a band can appeal to such a wide fanbase.

Also, I don’t know if this was because the show got postponed, or because there were hazardous road conditions due to a snow storm, but the show just didn’t sell out. The people who were there were having a great time, but it was hard not to notice that half the floor looked empty, and lots of the seats, too. Honestly, I feel like it would have been better to have the show in a slightly more intimate venue, because to me, that’s what their music is anyway – something personal. Their lyrics aren’t just lyrics I sing and dance to – they’re lyrics I relate to, and feel.

COMPLETE SETLIST:

  1. Opinion Overload
  2. Jet Lag
  3. Jump (with excerpts of “I’ve Got a Feeling” by the Black Eyed Peas)
  4. I’d Do Anything ♥
  5. Boom
  6. Welcome to My Life ♥
  7. Addicted ♥
  8. Your Love is a Lie
  9. Perfectly Perfect
  10. I Don’t Wanna Go to Bed
  11. Uptown Funk/Can’t Feel My Face (Mark Ronson/The Weeknd covers)
  12. Can’t Keep My Hands Off You ♥
  13. Summer Paradise ♥
  14. Farewell
  15. Crazy
  16. I’m Just a Kid ♥

Encore:
17. Shut Up ♥
18. Perfect World
19. This Song Saved My Life
20. Perfect ♥

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Michelle Muses: March 2017

Well. This month was interesting to say the least. I’m a single lady now. Got a promotion at work that I’m super excited about. Lots of high highs and low lows. But I’m going to focus on the fun stuff, so here we go!

Paint Nite: Our last date before Luke decided to peace out of my life. But I try not to think of it that way. I had a nice time making this piece of art that is probably one of my favourite creations, so it was a win.

Tattoo: Yes! I had three goals for this year and a new tattoo was one of them. So now I can cross this off my list. The watercolour fireworks are so beautiful, I love the way it turned out!

Drinks with friends: Because that’s what you do when you need to vent about a stupid ex boy-person. My sister, my girl friends, everyone was inviting me out to get a drink and rant about boys. Which was awesome and super reassuring. I love my friends.

I guess this is a continuation of the prior point. My friends from work have been super awesome and supportive as well – getting me out of the house so I don’t have to sit and wallow. I’ve gotten a whole lot more social, and have been out with them a lot this month, meeting more people… having a good time and having them there to take care of me has been great, and does not go unappreciated.

Erika’s birthday: You guys my little sister turned 21 this month. It’s so weird to think that the girl who is perpetually 16 in my mind is in her twenties now. We went out dancing with my dad, which was a ton of fun and a great way to spend the night.

Simple Plan: This is the second time bestie and I have seen Simple Plan together. They always put on a great show, and it was so much fun to get to dance and scream along to our favourite tunes from our youth! I’ll be posting about the concert in more detail soon, so keep an eye out!

The Zolas: I’d literally never heard of this band before my friend asked me to go with him to the show, but I’m not one to say no to free shows and a night out. I had a great time getting to know the band and soaking up their music. Again, I’m going to post a more full blog post about the show later on!

St. Patrick’s Day: Guys, I’m 25 and I’ve never done anything for St. Paddy’s Day ever in my life. This was the first year I went to a party and had green Jell-O shots and did the whole thing. You can imagine how well that went. I didn’t make myself sick though, so I consider this a successful first St. Paddy’s.

You know when you start talking to someone and it’s just so easy, and you enjoy every minute with them, and you never get bored of being around them, so you just end up hanging out all the time?

Yeah.

Emo Night: Emo Night at Sneaky Dee’s in Toronto is literally my new favourite discovery (besides the Arkells. I’m still obsessed with the Arkells). But I dragged my friend out to go dancing to the tunes that have populated my iPod since 2006 and had suuuch a good time! Will definitely be going back.

Book of Mormon: My friend Rebecca and I tried our luck at the Book of Mormon lottery, and got front row centre tickets! We saw the show together the first time it was in Toronto a few years ago, and to be able to see it from the front row was so cool. We also sat right behind the conductor, so I spent like half the show watching the band, which was a new theatre experience for me.

I think I’m finally realizing that even though I’m shy, I’m actually an extrovert who thoroughly enjoys being around other people and gains my energy by socializing.

Things have been super hectic, but I love being busy and I can’t wait to do even more fun things in the months to come!

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Confessions of a High School Disaster by Emma Chastain: Book Review

Confessions of a High School Disaster: Chloe Snow's Diary

Obtained: Simon & Schuster Canada, ARC
Pages: 352
Publish date: March 7, 2017
Rating: ★★★★

SUMMARY

Chloe Snow is just starting her freshman year of high school, and is still a kissing virgin. On top of joining extracurriculars, dealing with her drifting bestie, and the fact that her mom has gone to Mexico for 4 months to “work”, Chloe has a list of boys she’d like to kiss and has made it her personal mission to do so by New Year’s Eve. Because she gets so caught up with the idea of getting kissed, Chloe starts to lose sight of the other things that are going on around her.

WHAT I LIKED

Confession of a High School Disaster was one of the best young readers books I’ve read in a while on the topic of high school dating. The plot originally sounded fairly typical, but what I loved about this book was the fact that it’s so accurate. Chloe is fourteen. When a girl is just becoming a teenager, she is naive and selfish. And the way Chastain wrote from Chloe’s perspective was perfect – everything was about Chloe getting her kiss, or winning the guy, or getting a part in the school musical, that she just didn’t see anything else that was happening in her life.

I also loved the characters. There are only a handful of books where I finish and actually get sad because I feel like I can’t hang out with my friends anymore – the characters are so relatable and real to me. I feel that connection with Confessions. Not so much towards Chloe, honestly, but Tristan was my favourite, and I really loved Chloe’s dad. (I guess I relate more to the adults now, don’t I?)

AND WHAT I DIDN’T

There honestly wasn’t anything that really turned me off about this book. If there was one criticism, I’d say I felt like the antagonists could have been more dynamic, but again, the book was written from the perspective of a girl who would have thought these people to be evil, and not given them a second thought. Girls like Sienna and Bernadette do get their moments to flourish subtextually, but I wish I’d gotten to know them a little better.

RECOMMEND IF…

  • You like stories about growing up.
  • You want an easy, fun read that is also captivating.
  • You enjoy teen books about romance where the characters aren’t ridiculously mature for their age. (Pet peeve of mine – I hate when 14-year-olds talk like they’re 25).

Confessions of a High School Disaster is available online at Chapters Indigo, Book Depository, and Kobo.

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Split

We were perfect,
But we weren’t.

We didn’t want the same things,
But I wanted you.

I loved you far more than you could reciprocate,
But I loved you.

Our lives weren’t even entangled,
But you were my life.

We were happy,
But we weren’t.