Meg Says Read This: The Hopefuls

5166bezbkhl-_sx334_bo1204203200_ A few weeks ago it felt like the beautiful cover of The Hopefuls by Jennifer Close was popping up all over social media. Then it appeared on the New Releases page of my public library’s website. (Don’t knock – we’ve already established my level of nerdiness here!) With cover imagery like that, it was impossible to ignore so I jumped in line and put a hold on it. Even with the Rio 2016 Olympic Coverage devouring my free time in the past few weeks, I still found myself completely immersed in this story. Close has a way of writing where it feels like you have such an intimate look into the character’s lives. It has the easy flow of blog entries, but the personal details delve so much further.

The Hopefuls tells the story of Beth and Matt who’s relationship started after a fateful meeting in NYC. The beginning clues us in that Matt worked on the Obama campaign in 2008 and was absolutely captivated by the magic energy of being involved. (I’ll admit I was amused from the first page – in a totally good way.) While Beth doesn’t echo the same sentiments, she definitely understands that it’s Matt’s passion. Eventually the young newlyweds found themselves right smack dab in the hub bub of Washington D.C. Matt with dreams of running for office, and Beth having left everything she knew behind in NYC, (only after losing her job at Vanity Fair.) Matt instantly warms to the city of politics, while Beth takes much longer to find a comfortable place there. A blossoming friendship with another couple in a similar position, having moved from Texas – Ashley and Jimmy bring a sense of belonging and ease to the niche they’ve created in D.C. Basically the story follows Matt’s slow climb up the ladder (not always up, sometimes just lateral much to his frustration.) And Beth’s struggle to pinpoint her true aspirations and goals in life, in both her career and her ideas about a future family. It follows their transitions geographically and emotionally.

I know this might not sound like the most exciting story right off hand, but let me tell you: the way Jennifer Close writes, it feels like you’re on the couch and your best friend is just spilling her guts about the mess of everything going on in her life and in her head. That’s how close you feel to all the anguish, and roller coaster of emotions and events Beth is experiencing on their journey. I also think this is one of the most honest depictions of a relationship I’ve ever read about. Even beautiful relationships still come with their own struggles, and Beth notices them even when she can’t pin point the source. While she supports Matt, she also knows even in his disappoints she still deserves to be treated with respect and as a teammate in their marriage. That sacrifice goes both ways. That one person can’t put in all the effort to make a relationship work. It was almost painful at times to read about their struggles, but I think they’re also relatable and in a way, readers can find comfort in that.

Some books get so much buzz when they first come out, that by the time I read them I’m disappointed they don’t live up to the hype. This isn’t one of them. If you haven’t gotten your hands on a copy of Jennifer Close’s The Hopefuls I suggest you get on that now!

Meg Says Watch This: Aly & Simone Interview 

So, I’ve refrained from posting every day on here about The Olympics, but if you know me…well, let’s just say you know I’ve been zoned in for the past week in a half on this coverage of Rio 2016. Gymnastics and swimming are my favorite, and man have there been some awesome stories. (Especially now as track and field are under way and we see great shows of sportsmanship and kindness that just make my heart explode.) All that pressure, and high level competition intensity aside – after the final individual event for women’s gymnastics yesterday, Bob Costas had this incredible interview with Simone Biles and Aly Raisman. It honestly might be my favorite interview ever. Anytime I need to laugh I’m going to have go back and rematch it. The girls are just so deliriously happy, the candidness is amazing. The genuine friendship, laughter, and spunky attitudes – you couldn’t make that up if you tried. Happy Hump Day – watch the interview and put a smile on your face!

(I haven’t found a video that will embed in this post yet, so you can watch it directly on the NBC Olympics page here.)

 

Meg Says Read This: Extraordinary Means

23149128Robyn Schneider has done it again. She finds this beautiful way of telling a story that involves grief, love, friendship and the roller coaster of life and adolescence all rolled into one. I was blown away a few years ago when I read The Beginning of Everything (so of course when I spotted it on a shelf in a visit to Powell’s last year I broke my own rule of  not buying anymore books to add it to my collection.) I was absolutely thrilled when I saw she’d come out with a new novel, Extraordinary Means – I may have even been the first person to check it out from the library.

So more about what Extraordinary Means is actually about. Seventeen year old Lane has been sent to special school, kind of like a boarding school, kind of like a summer camp – except here there is one link that bonds all the students together, and it’s not s’mores and kumbaya. All the kids at Latham have TB, albeit different strains so different levels of the way this diagnosis takes its toll on their bodies. On their good days the students might seem like normal teenagers, but whether it’s a fitful night of coughing that results in bloody pillowcases, or just the lack of energy and dark circles around their eyes – these kids are no longer able to lead something similar to their pre-TB lives. Away from their family and friends, sports and activities with no cure in sight their futures are uncertain.

Although what they considered “normal” lives are disrupted, and they can’t even continue a regular study path of school work – Lane and his new found friends have found a way to make the most of their time, and add some fun to their days. Who would have thought he’d find a familiar face at Latham? But why does this person seem to be so cold towards him? Even with a rocky start Lane will soon have new relationships develop, friendships evolve, and a spark of romance. The scary thing is no one ever knows how much time they have left – but Lane and his friends are cramming a lot of life in their days. Extraordinary Means is a heartwarming story that’s a reminder of the frailty of life, and the power of friendships in any circumstance in life. Schneider has shown us once again what a gift she has to leave such an impressionable story on the hearts of her readers.

(Image from Goodreads.)

 

Meg Says Listen to This: “My Girl”

 

Thanks to Shazaam my insatiable desire to immediately know whatever song is playing on the radio (or during TV commercials, or movie trailers for that  matter) is instantly satisfied. I’ve been listening to an “independent” country radio station lately, and a few times a week on my drive home from work I hear them plugging this song that just makes me feel giddy. Dylan Scott’s “My Girl” is such a sweet song, but even more than the heart warming lyrics – that deep voice of his. The second he opens his mouth, it’s rather surprising. I love that gravely sound, and near the end when he switches from singing to talking? Oh my. I’m such a sucker. I know I’ve been heavy on the country music suggestions lately, but hopefully you guys haven’t grown tired of it yet because this song is really worth the listen. “My Girl” is on Dylan Scott’s recently released self-titled debut, and I can’t wait to hear what else is in store for him!  The official music video from his YouTube video is plugged above. Don’t just put it on in the background on your computer because the scenery is too beautiful to be missed!

Meg Says Listen to This: “Setting the World on Fire”

On Friday I was driving over to Panama City to meet up with some friends, and I had the radio on and the second I heard this song I was hooked. (I know, it sounds like I say that a lot…) Kenny Chesney’s latest, featuring Pink, “Setting the World on Fire.” I was already thinking about the way somehow it was already the last weekend in July. Summer is flying by before us, and here I am trying to soak up every minute of the sun drenched days (and the ones with humid storms rolling through.) This song just encompasses that fleeting electric energy of summer and that split moment where you feel invincible. If you haven’t heard it yet – give it a listen!

Up all night and we were feelin’ so good
Yeah, we got a little higher than we probably should
We were in a hotel singin’ in the hallway lights
We were strikin’ the matches right down to the ashes
Setting the world on fire, setting the world on fire

Meg Says Watch This: Stranger Things

Two words: STRANGER THINGS.

Netflix new original series brought to you by the twin brother duo Matt and Ross Duffer has such an amazing story packed into eight episodes. I’ll admit, I’m a scaredy cat – I’m annoying to watch thrillers with because I hide under blankets or peek through my hands, but for whatever reason syfy is a different story. I’m so fascinated by anything paranormal. I had an unhealthy teenage obsession with Roswell and conspiracy theories. The kids are so brilliantly cast in this show (well, all the characters) that I was hooked immediately. It’s set in the 80’s and everything about it was done right – the house decor, the muted outfits, the music, the old corded phones.

I don’t want to spoil any of the mystery of the show, so I’ll tell you this. A group of friends are playing a heated game of Dungeons and Dragons and it’s time to head home for the night. Three boys set out on their bikes, and only two end up making it home. The episodes cover the span of a week while Will is missing. But there is so much more to the story. (Isn’t there always?)

It’s a fantastically crafted piece of work with a beautiful nod to the likes of E.T. and the Goonies, but with it’s own unique appeal. I started it last week after a girlfriend recommended it, and now I can’t stop telling people to watch it. I personally didn’t find the show scary, just sufficiently suspenseful. But I like to think of it as an innocent suspense that plays on imagination.

I love that it’s 2016 and this is the kind of project that people are creating. The technology of our time is amazing, but it’s cool to see a little rewind.

(If you’ve already watched it: I was reading an interview with the Duffer bros from Variety the other day, and they said they have a 30 page document about Upside Down. Thirty pages! I just love the depth of the story here. ALSO, a Season Two has been confirmed!)

Meg Says Listen to This: “Vice”

Damn, Miranda. That’s the first thing that came to mind following my first listen of Miranda Lambert’s latest song, “Vice.” I saw Shane Mcanally’s Instagram post last night before I’d even heard it (and after I saw the teasers on Facebook). Reading the words just sent a shiver down my spine:

shanemcanally No matter what your taste in music is, you gotta respect when an artist is willing to put their soul out on the table. @joshosbornesongwriter & I were lucky enough to be sitting in the room when @mirandalambert came in with this song on her heart. Everything about this is bold and heartbreaking and honest and even a little hard to listen to….this is the kind of song I set out to write when I came to Nashville. I am so blessed to write with people who take these kind of chances.

Seriously…is that not moving or what? Then you go and listen to the song. Miranda Lambert hasn’t put out any new music in quite some time, and for this to be the first? It’s raw and real, and it cuts deep. It feels so transparent, and edgy, and relatable. It makes my heart sting when I hear it because it’s a sucky place to be, the depth of where that emotion comes from but then I think about just how many of us have probably found ourselves there. That’s the beauty in it – how realistic it is about life. One of the things I appreciate about her as an artist is she never sugar coats anything. Here is some sharp true emotion, in song, laid right out on the table.

Do yourself a favor, and listen now. I’ve got it on repeat over here. If this is a taste of what’s to come, big things are in store.

Read This: Jenny Han’s Summer Trilogy

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Once upon a time, several years ago in one of my routine hangouts at the public library in Tallahassee I stumbled across Jenny Han’s The Summer I Turned Pretty. Lucky for me, I was late to the party and didn’t have to play the waiting game to read the novels to follow. This Instagram  post Real Simple put up a few weeks ago, really highlights why I felt so connected to Han’s stories, as a reader. She really really gets it. I’ve mentioned it here before but anytime there’s a character in YA novels who has this relentless ability to hold out hope, and just plain hold on – I see myself in them. That’s been me, the character in my own life since preschool. Also, I’m a summer girl through and through. Summer me is my favorite version of myself, and all year round I try and bring the magic that graces summer days into other seasons. Belly was also in that same predicament. There were several similarities I found while reading this trilogy, and so many things that just opened up a well of emotion. The way Han describes dealing with terminal illness in a loved one, and then the process of grief, and that path that just seems impossible to navigate – she just nails all of it. Love and friendship and the confusion of life. The way things don’t necessarily get easier as we grow older, just our scope of experience has evolved.

Basically this is less of a review and more of a reminder of some seriously amazing books that I’ve gushed over in the past. When I saw that quote I was instantly overwhelmed remembering my appreciation for Jenny Han’s way with words. Seeing as we’re only halfway through July you still have plenty of time to throw these books in a beach bag, and read them were they deserve to be devoured – in the sand somewhere, or in the still of a summer night. Either way, wherever you are, just read them.

Meg Says Listen to This: Dashboard Confessional throwbacks

A few weeks ago I went to see the Taste of Chaos tour with some friends. That night brought on an onslaught of memories to my days and nights of teenage angst. Dashboard Confessional headlined. It’s not the first time I’d seen Chris Carabba preform, but I have to say he is really on his game these days. He transitioned from one song to the next and fit so many in, I was shocked. I loved that he went back to his first albums, and really got into the old stuff. The little emo kid inside of me was having a time warp party.
The lawn was closed, so we were all upgraded to seats. Our gang took over a center row, and while we waited for the show to start we reminisced about our younger years listening to these bands. I don’t think I quite realized, up until that moment, how utterly connected everyone sitting in that amphitheater was – in an invisible way. As we shared stories I found so many of us were those emotionally sensitive kids, going through a really hard time in our teenage years. These songs were the soundtracks to each of us holed up in our rooms, or awake in the middle of the night thinking about someone across town. I remember how desperately sad I was at some of my lowest points – the kind that’s hard to see around, the kind that makes you doubt there’s a time ahead of you where you won’t feel like that. As I looked around me at all the people singing their hearts out along to these songs. Lyrics we hadn’t sang in years, readily available in our minds- I realized something that gave me a shiver. All of us who’d hit those low points, who knows what happened over the last 15 years but we’d made it. Here we were, in a different spiral of days. And I smiled because I should always remember the present moment isn’t all we have left. Emotions are ephemeral (an old favorite vocab word), life keeps evolving and changing. Even with all that nostalgia swirling around, it was impossible not to love every minute. I’ll admit though, there were a few moments where I could feel myself slipping into the feelings associated when I hear these songs. “Ender Will Save Us” and “Best Deceptions” were two of those songs for me. They  just hit just the right spot in my tender heart, and I had to laugh before I cried. If your teenage days lacked the joy of DC as a soundtrack, here’s a listen now:

Meg Says Listen To This: “Jolene”

This is another not new tune, but seeing as it pops up on Pandora a few times a week, and it hits me right in the gut every listen, I think it’s time for a share. There’s a cover out there by Zac Brown Band, too. Both are great, but this one’s the Ray LaMontagne version because why not? So soulful, so heart-wrenching. There’s loss, and yearning, and trouble all stumbling through this one. And even though you can hear the ache in the chords, there’s also something equally beautiful about it. Isn’t that what great music is anyways?