Saturday, March 4, 2017

A Little Update: Where I Have Been & What's To Come Next

Long time no see! I hope you are all doing great. Spring is slowly coming to Finland and I think it's time for me to update you a little bit about what has been going on and why this blog has been fairly inactive for the last few months.

So, as mentioned, maybe some of you have noticed that my blog has been fairly inactive for the first few months of this year. I love this blog and writing for it, but sometimes life just happens and there is not enough time for everything. While I hate the fact that I have neglected to update this blog, my reason for it is pretty good (at least I think it is)...

I am doing my final semester of my postgraduate education and soon I can add "Master of Arts" to my resume. My course load has been super light this semester, as it has mostly been dedicated to actually finishing up with my MA thesis, but the only course that I have had to take has been the most challenging course of my almost six years of higher education.

So what course is that you might ask? MY SWEDISH COURSE. Finland has two official languages, Finnish and Swedish, which means that in order for me to graduate I need to have at least some sort of knowledge of Swedish. Usually, people study Swedish in both middle school and high school, but since I went to an international high school, I was able to avoid taking compulsory Swedish. So it has taken me a lot of work to catch up with everything I missed in high school. 

The good thing is that the course is now over! I already passed the oral portion of the exam (the part that I was more nervous about!) and the written exam will take place next Thursday. I am feeling fairly okay about it at the moment. Usually. I always shoot for the highest grade, but with this one, I am honestly just happy as long as I pass. Anyway, you are graded either as having "a good knowledge of the language" or "a satisfying knowledge of the language", and as I judge my own capabilities of using Swedish I know my grasp of it is definitely more on the satisfactory than on the good side.

If I pass that exam during the first attempt (and I am determined to do it!) it means that the only thing I have left is to make edits to my thesis. I returned a full draft to my supervisor earlier this week and I will most likely get comments on it within the next couple of weeks. I am feeling very good about my thesis and I am happy I have scheduled it in a way that I have a lot of time to make those edits (I need to return it by the end of April). 

But enough about my studies.... 

While this blog has been inactive, I have actually been reading quite a bit! The reason why I haven't updated anything has to do with the fact that I have been too lazy/busy to write reviews for what I've read. 

While going back and reviewing stuff that you have read weeks or months before can be difficult, the fact that I have taken into writing a sort of reading journal will help me! I have caught up with a portion of the reviews I need to write, but there is still several titles that I need to cover. 

So... once I am done with that Swedish course, I am determined to get those reviews written so I can end the inactivity of this blog.

This means that there is a possibility that I will post something as early at the end of next week! You have no idea how much I am looking forward working on this blog again! 

So, I think that's it for now! If you want to have a look at what I have been reading, I have been active on Goodreads. Also, I am super active on Twitter and if you want to follow me there, you can find me from @milkamilka

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Hit Makers: The Science of Popularity in an Age of Distraction by Derek Thompson (Review)

Release date: February 7th, 2017
Author links: Goodreads - Twitter
Publisher: Penguin Press
Pages: 352

(copy received from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review)

Description (from Goodreads):

Atlantic senior editor Derek Thompson puts pop culture under the lens of science to investigate what every business, every artist, every person looking to promote themselves and their work is after: what makes a hit a hit.

Hit Makers is a groundbreaking investigation into the most valuable currency of the 21st century: people's attention. With incisive analysis and captivating storytelling, Atlantic Senior Editor Derek Thompson uses the tools of economics and psychology to reveal the secrets of what makes a hit a hit. 

Drawing on ancient history and modern headlines—from vampire lore and the Mickey Mouse watch to Facebook and Games of Thrones—Thompson offers practical lessons for how anybody can make a hit and become a smarter consumer of culture. In doing so, he shows how the universe of attention is connected. An investigation into the science of pop music uncovers the secrets of JFK and Obama’s speechwriters. An exclusive new history of Fifty Shades of Grey reveals why "going viral" is a myth. HIT MAKERS not only investigates the cultural phenomena that make up headlines. It reveals the desires that make us all human. Hits enchant us, but they also hold up a mirror to our nature. 

We are living through an industrial revolution in attention. We used to simply play the hits. Now the hits play us back. Film, music, and media companies are using new tools to learn what makes their consumers tick. Hit Makers pulls back the curtain on this new world order to make all of us smarter about what people want and how things catch fire.

From the dawn of Impressionist art to the future of Snapchat, from small-scale Etsy entrepreneurs to the origin of Star Wars, Derek Thompson leaves no pet rock unturned to tell the fascinating story of how culture happens—and where genius lives.

The synopsis for Derek Thompson's book instantly caught my attention -- not only does it point towards a phenomenon that I find extremely interesting (how certain books, movies, songs, etc. become popular while other just as good pieces of entertainment do not), it also is a book that deals with issues related closely to my studies. 

If you are like me, and find the idea of reading about how popularity is generated in contemporary society, and perhaps how it has been generated in the years part, Thompson's book is must-read!

"The thesis of this book is that even though many number one songs, television shows, blockbuster films, Internet memes, and ubiquitous apps seem to come out of nowhere, this cultural chaos is governed by certain rules: the psychology of why people like what they like, the social networks through which ideas spread, and the economies of cultural markets. There is a way for people to engineer hits and, equally important, a way for other people to know when popularity is being engineered" (quote from the review copy)
The thesis of Thomson's research and the way he goes through what he mentions as the influencers of popularity, such as the psychology of why people like what they like and the process of engineering hits are done in an interesting, well-researched manner.

Thompson makes use of stories, of famous events from the history, as well as some little less famous anecdotes, to highlight the critical arguments he is making. He never delves extremely deep into different media theories (which is something I would have liked to see once in a while) and this makes the book highly readable also for those who have no media studies/popular culture studies/etc. background. 

Importantly, Thompson spends quite a lot of time making arguments about consumer behavior and how certain behavioral patterns/practices have shaped the way in which producers of cultural products have acted. According to Thompson,
"Most consumers are simultaneously neophilic -- curious to discover new things -- and deeply neophobic -- afraid of anything that's too new. The best hit makers are gifted at creating moments of meaning by marrying new and old, anxiety and understanding. They are architects of familiar surprises." (quote from the review copy)
The marriage of old and new, of familiar and unfamiliar, can be seen for example in the way previously loved movies and movie franchises are being adapted to a new generation of viewers. For example, the upcoming Beauty and the Beast adaptation will include elements of the old and loved movie (the songs, the story), but will also include something new, such as the live action element and a more independent, feminist Belle. Earlier in 2016, Ghostbusters was adapted to a new set of audiences but arguably failed to some degree (at least in the eyes of male viewers) by being too unfamiliar as a result of straining too far away from the original movie.

According to Thompson, the story of how a product is distributed is just as important as a description of its features. Due to social media, the distribution of songs, images, written word, and so on, has become increasingly easier -- everyone with a computer/phone/tablet and an internet connection has a chance to start a blog and publish their thoughts online, but not everyone gains the kind of audiences that would turn those blogs popular. In fact, it is quite rare for an individual to actually become "popular".

Videos of people singing covers of famous songs are in multitude on Youtube, but once in a while, megastars like Justin Bieber are plucked out of that multitude and turned into global phenomenons. While people often tend to have quite strong, either positive or negative, feelings towards Justin Bieber, I cannot help but to find the story of how he became popular fascinating, and how Youtube and other social media platforms really helped him in getting his name out there.

I am writing my master's degree about television comedy narratives and their relationship with the evolution of television from broadcast to narrowcast and from broadcast to VOD. While Thompson does not discuss this topic extensively, it was nice to see it mentioned. The phenomenon of how television has evolved from a screen in the corner of a living room into something that people can carry with them in their pocket is extremely interesting, and one that will most likely be the topic of several books to be written in the future.

Those interested in politics might want to check out Thompson's arguments about the relationship between Donald Trump and the press. While the rise of Trump will probably be analyzed by thousands of writers and academics in the months and years to come, I thought Thompson's decision to include a brief section of the topic to this book is very timely and will probably make a lot of readers think about the relationship between politics and media. Thompson writes about Trump and media in the following manner
"The GOP candidate with the least elite support, Donald Trump, spent less than $20 million on advertising. But he still won the primary in a landslide, because his outrageous statements and improbable candidacy were such irresistible fodder for networks and publishers desperate for audiences. Through the summer of 2016, Trump had earned $3 billion in "free media", which was more than the rest of his rivals combined."
There is honestly so much in this book I could pick up and talk about in this review, but at the same time, I feel like I don't want to give too much away. Sure, this is a nonfiction book, so there are really no spoilers there, but at the same time, I would like potential readers to have the kind of interesting and exciting reading experience I had with this one. 

Due to my academic background, there was a lot here that I knew already, but I feel like that didn't really take anything away from the reading experience. After all, one of the best things about reading about something you already know is seeing how someone else presents their arguments and how some theories and so on can be understood in different ways. 


Monday, January 30, 2017

Here We Are edited by Kelly Jensen (Review)

Release date: January 24th, 2017
Publisher: Algonquin BRYR

Description (from Goodreads):

Let’s get the feminist party started!

Here We Are is a scrapbook-style teen guide to understanding what it really means to be a feminist. It’s packed with essays, lists, poems, comics, and illustrations from a diverse range of voices, including TV, film, and pop-culture celebrities and public figures such as ballet dancer Michaela DePrince and her sister Mia, politician Wendy Davis, as well as popular YA authors like Nova Ren Suma, Malinda Lo, Brandy Colbert, Courtney Summers, and many more. Altogether, the book features more than forty-four pieces, with an eight-page insert of full-color illustrations.

Here We Are is a response to lively discussions about the true meaning of feminism on social media and across popular culture and is an invitation to one of the most important, life-changing, and exciting parties around.

WHAT AN IMPORTANT, DIVERSE BOOK! If you have a teenager in your life, this makes a brilliant gift, especially at a time like this. 

Here We Are is a collection of essays, lists, illustrations, etc. all about feminism. It has been edited by Kelly Jensen and I think she has done an amazing job putting together such a diverse, intersectional set of works by writers from different walks of life. 

I can honestly say I enjoyed every single one of the pieces from this collection and I loved the way the book is organized. It is accessible and easy to read and it really managed to make me think about a lot of things. I loved the intersectional approach it offers to feminism, featuring voices by writers of different races and sexualities because after all if your feminism is not intersectional, it's not really feminism at all. 

I suck with reviewing collections like this, so I will keep this short, but want to just say that this book is a true gem, an extremely worthy collection of thoughts about self-identity, the relationship between popular culture and feminism, body image, the relationship between feminism and race as well as feminism and disability, and so much more. 

To finish with this review, here are a few of my favorite quotes:

My body is fat. I won't win any awards or lose any points for saying that. I am merely stating a fact. I am fat. - Angie Manfredi (this is a statement I can really identify with and I loved Angie's essay as a whole because it really just hit home in many different ways)

When you want to be someone else, you can never be yourself or learn who you really are. - Alida Nugent

Women are humans. Complete, complex, flawed, beautiful, worthy humans. So to expect an impossible level of perfection from ourselves is, in fact, self-oppression. It's denying ourselves the pleasure and privilege of being real. - Lily Myers


Saturday, January 28, 2017

Bad Girls Throughout History: 100 Remarkable Women Who Changed the World by Ann Shen (Review)

Release date: September 6th, 2016
Author links: Goodreads - Twitter
Publisher: Chronicle Books

Description (from Goodreads):

Aphra Behn, first female professional writer. Sojourner Truth, activist and abolitionist. Ada Lovelace, first computer programmer. Marie Curie, first woman to win the Nobel Prize. Joan Jett, godmother of punk. The 100 revolutionary women highlighted in this gorgeously illustrated book were bad in the best sense of the word: they challenged the status quo and changed the rules for all who followed. From pirates to artists, warriors, daredevils, scientists, activists, and spies, the accomplishments of these incredible women vary as much as the eras and places in which they effected change. Featuring bold watercolor portraits and illuminating essays by Ann Shen, Bad Girls Throughout History is a distinctive, gift-worthy tribute.

I picked up Bad Girls Throughout History on a whim while looking for something quick and interesting to read. Bad Girls Throughout History is not flawless, but nevertheless, it is a beautifully illustrated collection of short descriptions of lives of some pretty remarkable women. 

The sections on the different women from Lady Godiva and Catherine Great to Tina Fey and Nora Ephron are fairly short and the illustrations are to die for. While a book like this might not be the best source of research for example on someone like Jane Austen whose life has been written about so much in detail, a book like this can inspire especially younger readers to do more research on the incredible women they can read about from the pages of this book. 

While the first half of the book is more focused on women from all around the world, the book, in general, is quite focused on North America. Because of this, I was bothered to see that no First Nations/Native women were included. While reading through other reviews for this book, I noticed that this was something that quite a number of readers had noticed. Considering the history of North America, one could expect to see Native/First Nations women mentioned here.

Bad Girls Throughout History is a beautiful coffee table book that will make a great addition to any home library. I especially recommend it for those who want to give a meaningful, educational gift for the young women in their lives. 


Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Bittersweet (True North #1) by Sarina Bowen (Review)

Release date: June 14th, 2016
Author links: Goodreads - Twitter - Website
Publisher: Rennie Road Books

Description (from Goodreads):

The new series is set in Vermont. True North is populated by the tough, outdoorsy mountain men that populate the Green Mountain State. They raise cows and they grow apples. They chop a lot of wood, especially when they need to blow off steam. (Beards are optional but encouraged.)

If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the orchard.

The last person Griffin Shipley expects to find stuck in a ditch on his Vermont country road is his ex-hookup. Five years ago they’d shared a couple of steamy nights together. But that was a lifetime ago. 

At twenty-seven, Griff is now the accidental patriarch of his family farm. Even his enormous shoulders feel the strain of supporting his mother, three siblings and a dotty grandfather. He doesn’t have time for the sorority girl who’s shown up expecting to buy his harvest at half price.

Vermont was never in Audrey Kidder’s travel plans. Neither was Griff Shipley. But she needs a second chance with the restaurant conglomerate employing her. Okay—a fifth chance. And no self-righteous lumbersexual farmer will stand in her way.

They’re adversaries. They want entirely different things from life. Too bad their sexual chemistry is as hot as Audrey’s top secret enchilada sauce, and then some.

After reading a number of non-fiction books, I was looking for a fun, romantic novel to end my reading year with. Bittersweet, the first novel in Sarina Bowen's True North series was exactly what I wanted, and so much more. It has a great set of characters, romance, some sexy-times, and perhaps most importantly, a tangible chemistry between its two leads. 

After a few failed attempts to succeed in college, Audrey enrolled into a culinary school and succeeded in a way no one expected she would, least of all herself. While time at the culinary school was a success for her, life after graduation hasn't been quite what she imagined. Rather than being in the kitchen, doing what she does best, she has become an errand girl/assistant to cocky male chefs who think they can do anything better than Audrey can. 

Griff's life hasn't gone quite as he planned it to go either. When his father died unexpectedly, he had to put his own dreams on hold and move back home to help his family with their apple farm in Vermont. Now, he is an aspiring cider maker and the resident hot grumpy guy -- so damn attractive, but so damn difficult to actually approach. 

When Audrey is given the assignment to find farmers from Vermont to participate in a local produce project, Audrey and Griff come across each other for the first time since college. Both are made to question the possible feelings they might have had for each other in college, as well as the potential for a future where they are more than just a buyer and a seller. 

Audrey and Griff are the dual narrators of Bittersweet. While Bowen could have easily picked just one of them to be the sole narrator of the novel, and the story would have still worked out quite well, it is nice to read both of their perspectives to the situations they are in. I loved reading about the backgrounds of both Audrey and Griff, and the things they have gone through before the events of the novel kick into action. 

One of the highlights of Bittersweet are the family relationships, which I think Bowen writes interestingly and with care. Bowen focuses not only on biological familial relationships, but also on companionships and friendships just as close as family relationships. I especially loved the banter between Griff and his workers (the male leads of the follow-ups to this novel).

"What's your plan?" she startled me by asking.
"I just told you my five-year plan. What's yours?"
Easy question. "To get Daphne and Dylan through college."
"That's not what I mean. What's the beautiful part?"
I gathered her hair in my hand and smoothed it off her shoulder, because I couldn't stop touching her. "I'm holding her right here."

The development of the relationship between Audrey and Griff did not raise any red flags for me (no abuse, no glorification of violence, etc) and Bowen's writing was able to make me emotional a number of times. I wasn't a huge fan of the sexy times scenes and I was slightly annoyed by the continual use of the word "babe" (if you have read some of my previous new adult reviews, you might know how much I hate the word "babe"), but other than that, I had not issue with the romantic aspect of the book. 

I have a definite soft spot for grumpy yet gentle guys, so Griff definitely hit a spot for me, and Bowen writes in a manner that really made me able to imagine what he looks like (which is definitely a good thing)! I am so looking forward to reading the next book from this series at some point, probably when I am in the mood for something well-written, yet romantic and quick to read.


Saturday, December 31, 2016

2016 End of Year Book Survey

I say this every single year but... THIS YEAR HAS GONE BY SO FAST! While the quick passing of time often freaks me out, I have to admit that I could not be happier that 2016 is almost over! While it has been an okay year for me personally, I feel like so much has happened around the world that has managed to make me anxious about the future.

I am happy to say though that books have been one of the main guiding lights I have had in my life this year (this probably comes as no surprise to any reader out there) and I am so looking forward to putting this post together and reading the surveys of fellow readers.

I am using the template from Jamie's blog like I did last year because it is a fun way to share your post within a wider reading community.

Number of books read: 87
Number of re-reads: 1
Most read genre: YA Contemporary

1. Best book read in 2016: I need to cheat a little and divide this into categories. My favorite novel of 2016 is The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner (my review), which not only made me sob uncontrollably but also gave me a sense of hope and promise and so much more.

I am quite proud of myself for reading much more non-fiction this year than I have done ever before. My favorite non-fiction book of 2016 is definitely the brilliantly researched and narrated Another Day in the Death of America by Gary Younge (my review) which discusses the gun deaths of children/young adults in the United States via stories about the victims of gun violence (Younge has randomly picked out a day to focuses on all the losses of young lives due to guns on that one particular day).

2. Book I was excited about & thought I was going to love more but didn't: The Distance from A to Z by Natalie Blitt (my review). The synopsis for this one sounded like something I would love, but unfortunately I had hard time reading this one. 

3. Most surprising (in a good way or bad way) book I read: Probably The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath (my review). I had been meaning to read this book for such a long time, probably since we went through Plath's poetry in high school back in 2010 or something like that. I had no idea what to expect from this book, and I was incredibly surprised to notice how this book was able to suck me in to the story. I remember reading this past midnight to like 2 AM on a night before an early class. I was tired the next day, but it was totally worth it!

4. Book I "pushed" the most people to read: Probably The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner. I read this book as an ARC and have been telling people how awesome it is since then.

5. Best series I started in 2016. Best sequel of 2016. Best series ender of 2016: I did not read a lot of series this year, mostly because I know myself and the fact that I have a hard time keeping up with series. Just a few days before the end of the year, I read the first book in Sarina Bowen's True North series called Bitter Sweet and I definitely want to read more of the books on that series.

For best sequel, I will go with The Mistake by Elle Kennedy (my review). I did not like this one as much as I did the first book, but still thoroughly enjoyed the romance and the hot hockey playing love interests. 

6. Favorite new author I discovered: I could mention several authors here, and that is what I will do. 

I am glad I picked up The Serpent King and discovered Jeff Zentner and I am now sure whatever he writes will be added to my to-read list.

I absolutely LOVED All the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood (my review) and will definitely want to read anything else she has written/writes.

I also read my very first Alice Walker novel this year and can't wait to pick up more of her writing in the future!

7. Best book from a genre I don't typically read/a book that was out of my comfort zone: I very rarely read Finnish literature, but I read Maresi: Punaisen luostarin kronikoita (translated into English as Maresi) by Maria Turtschaninoff in late 2016 and really enjoyed it. In addition to being Finnish literature (it was originally published in Swedish, but the author is Finnish), it is also fantasy, which is definitely also out of my comfort zone.

8. Most unputdownable book of the year: All the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood. I went into this book not knowing much about it and was instantly sucked into the story that spans a number of years in the lives of interesting and intriguing characters.

9. Book I read in 2016 that I am most likely to re-read next year: I think I am likely to pick up finished copies of some of the 2017 ARCs I read in 2016, especially Becky Albertalli's upcoming The Upside of Unrequited

10. Favorite cover of a book I read in 2016: Definitely the US cover for The Smell of Other People's Houses by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock (my review)

11. Most memorable character of 2016: Wavy from All the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood. Also pretty much every single character from The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner.

12. Most beautifully written book read in 2016: The Universe of Us by Lang Leav

13. Most thought-provoking/life-changing book of 2016: I have to go with Another Day in the Death of America by Gary Younge. 

14. Book I can't believe I waited UNTIL 2016 to finally read: The Color Purple by Alice Walker.

15. Favorite passage/quote from a book I read in 2016: 

“I liked learning things. How numbers worked together to explain the stars. How molecules made the world. All the ugly and wonderful things people had done in the last two thousand years.” (All the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood)

16. Shortest & the longest book I read in 2016: The shortest book I read this year is Lumberjanes #6 by Noelle Stevenson. The longest book I read is The Unexpected Everything by Morgan Matson.

17. The book that shocked me the most: I am going with Another Day in the Death of America for this one as well because reading the stories of these people made me once again realize what a huge issue gun legislation is in America.

18. OTP of the year: Andie and Clark from The Unexpected Everything by Morgan Matson.

19. Favorite non-romantic relationship of the year: The female friendships in Maresi by Maria Turtschaninoff

20. Favorite book I read in 2016 from an author I had read previously: The Unexpected Everything by Morgan Matson.

21. Best book I read in 2016 that I read based SOLELY on a recommendation from somebody else: Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri.

22. Newest fictional crush from a book I read in 2016: Clark from The Unexpected Everything by Morgan Matson.

23. Best 2016 debut: The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner

24. Best worldbuilding/most vivid setting I read this year: The Color Purple by Alice Walker and All the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood share this spot! Both managed to build a setting so vivid and tangible that I actually felt like I was there while reading these books.

25. The book that put a smile on my face/was the most fun to read: The Only Thing Worse Than Me is You by Lily Anderson was such a fun book to read! 

26. The book that made me cry in 2016: The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner. A lot of books made me cry this year, but this is the one I remember most vividly.

27. The hidden gem of the year: I feel like a lot of people have not been talking about this, so I want to mention it here: All the Have Left by Wendy Mills.

28. Book that crushed by soul: The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner.

29. The most unique book I read in 2016: Ghostland by Colin Dickey. This one was a random pick for me, and I found it extremely interesting. I had so much fun while reading this book.

30. The book that made me the maddest: Crippled America: How To Make America Great Again by Donald Trump. I read this for a lecture series I attended and I still have a heard time believing this dumdum is going to be the President of the United States.

What were your favorite books of 2016? Let me know in the comments or let's talk about books at Twitter -- you can find me from @milkamilka!

Monday, December 19, 2016

Poetry Recommendations: The Universe of Us by Lang Leav & milk and honey by Rupi Kaur

The Universe of Us by Lang Leav

milk and honey by Rupi Kaur

Rather than doing something reminiscent of a proper poetry analysis/review, I decided to go with something a bit more laid back and just share some of my thoughts about these poetry collections alongside a couple of graphics I made using my favorite pieces from the books. 


Lang Leav and Rupi Kaur were both new finds for me that I spotted from the Best of 2016 vote from Goodreads. I had seen milk and honey circulating in Twitter conversations, and the fact that it was slated as feminist poetry instantly caught my attention. milk and honey is definitely a lot more raw than The Universe of Us , dealing with issues like loss, one's right to govern her own body, and so on. The Universe of Us is a bit more centered on relationships and all kinds of love, importantly also the importance of loving yourself. 

I read poetry quite quickly, and once I have finished with a collection, I tend to go back and read my favorites again. This definitely happened with both of these collections -- they are quick reads, but if you really want to think about what you are reading, it is possible to spend extensive amounts of time with the individual pieces of writing. 


Excerpts from The Universe of Us

Excerpts from milk and honey


Have you read either of these collections? What was your favorite piece of poetry you read in 2016?