Series Review: Beyond the Four Kingdoms by Melanie Cellier

Can you tell I have been hyper fixating on this author? This is the sequel series to The Four Kingdoms that following some of our familiar characters to explore new lands and expand relationships beyond the Four Kingdoms after a storm clears to reveal a pass into a heavily populated continent. The books are a companion series of fantasy retellings. Similar to the prequel series, we rotate through the kingdoms and young royalty as they go through their individual tale.

My Review: This series is highly magical and the fairy tales are much more quest based with romance thrown in to the stories. Still enjoyable, but a very different reading experience, especially by book 2. I think that the retellings were more inventive but I really missed how much relationship building and politics were present in the first series. This series was very romantic with high stakes. Personally, this was less my taste than the original series. On average this series was about 3.8 stars! If you have read this series, let me know what you thought!

Genre: Fantasy Romance that all focus on a general quest or curse.

The Books:

A Dance of Silver and Shadow (Twelve Dancing Princess)

A Tale of Beast and Beauty (Beauty and the Beast)

A Crown of Snow and Ice (Ice Queen)

A Dream of Ebony and White (Snow White)

A Captive of Wing and Feather (Swan Lake)

A Princess of Wind and Wave (Little Mermaid)

Favorite Retelling: One thing that I think was a bonus about this series was how inventive the retellings got. My personal favorite was Snow White or a Dream of Ebony and White. I don’t think I had ever experience a Snow White tale get this deep or political before. I liked how Snow White had to become a real political threat to the throne and a ruler in her own right. This was also the only retelling I have ever read that held the King accountable for some of the catastrophe that comes to kingdom and it was weirdly satisfying. The found family was a happy bonus.

Favorite Couple: Teddy and Isla (A Princess of Wind and Wave). This is my favorite version of a Little Mermaid couple I have experience so far. I like that they actively had to fall out of love with idea of each other and in love with the person they got to know. This was the couple that grew the most together throughout their story. Close second is Lily and Jonathan (A Dance of Silver and Shadow). They are so similar and dutiful. It lead to a fun back and forth of admiration and angst.

Favorite Kingdom: Eldon. I liked the more rigid and traditional kingdom more than I expected. Even though it ended up getting them more trapped in their curse than anything else I found the shift to be a nice change of pace.

Favorite Family: The Duchy of Marin (A Dance of Silver and Shadow). We didn’t spend as much time with them but the three sisters competed (and deserve a short story of their own) and the brother, Jonathan, is the featured love interest. The family is heavily featured as they are the ones who invited the Princesses from the Four Kingdoms to the new land. They are so sweet together and genuinely try to levy their roles as diplomat in every scene they are in.

Favorite Book: A Tale of Beast and Beauty. I think there was a great balance of the relationship and understanding the curse that was on the Kingdom of Palinar. There was a lot of misunderstanding when it came to the Beast (Dominic) and Sophie, but I loved how the relationship developed and that you got to see the type of rulers they would both be. Second place, A Dance of Silver and Shadow. I have loved Twelve Dancing Princess retellings since the Barbie Movie, but I thought the competition was a great introduction. I loved the balance between competition, getting to know a new land and new characters, and an incredibly tense romance.

Monsters at Work: Hit or Miss

The Premise: Monsters at work takes place after Monsters Inc (2001). The series follows Monsters Inc after it reopens to transition to use Laugh Energy instead. The whole company is trying to figure out it’s new place and how to work under new leadership. The new character we follow is Tylor Tuskman who was hired as a Scarer fresh out of Monster U. In the chaos no one thought to let him know the job no longer existed. When he shows up to Monsters Inc. he gets reassigned to the quirky facilities team, MIFT.

My Review:

I was really looking forward to this show as I am huge fan of the films and of the cast of this show. Unfortunately, it felt like the show knew that. I have this theory that you can figure out if a show is for you in three episodes. In my opinion, the show is rather forgettable. All the new characters are “weird” and intense, but they don’t have storylines of their own. Splitting the show with Mike, Sully, Celia, and Roz from the original series feels like it is splitting focus and doesn’t really know it’s own intentions. Mike and Sully even though it supposedly months later are figuring out for the first time how the new company should run and how to be in charge. The most heartfelt episode was episode three but it came it waves and for me too late. It feels like the show has yet to find it’s own heartbeat and direction.

How to Watch: Disney + (steaming service)

Each of Us a Desert by Mark Oshiro (Review)

Summary:

Xochital is destined to wander the desert alone, speaking her troubled village’s stories into its arid winds. Her only companions are the blessed stars above and enimagic lines of poetry magically strewn across dusty dunes.

Her one desire: to share her heart with a kindred spirit.

One night, Xo’s wish is granted—in the form of Emilia, the cold and beautiful daughter of the town’s murderous mayor. But when the two set out on a magical journey across the desert, they find their hearts could be a match… if only they can survive the nightmare-like terrors that arise when the sun goes down.

Tor Teen, Mark Oshiro

Review:

This was a really ethereal and weird read about connection, religion, and freedom. I have always found Oshiro’s writing to be very visual and visceral. The characters were flawed, confused, and doing the best they could even when it wasn’t best for everyone. It was really easy to get attached and want the best for everyone , including the characters that only briefly share their stories.

Now, I loved the back stories they made the world feel full and the culture complete. However, they were all previous stories that were just for the world and not for the current plot as outside observers (ala The Sun is Also a Star and Lalani of the Distant Sea). This sometimes lead it feeling hard to back into the plot and readjusting to the different moods back and forth.

On a personal note, as a monoglot (I only speak English) I was really intimidated by the amount of Spanish in the book when I started. I was put at ease about 20% through when I realized that everything was either common words (hola, etc.) or were translated either directly or indirectly.

I gave this book a 4/4.25 stars. If you have read it let me know what you thought or if you are thinking about picking it up.

Publication Date: September 2020

Publisher: Tor Teen

Read more reviews and content warnings here.

Read more about the author here.

Validation – I need it

Today my boss pulled me aside and told me that some of the volunteers in my committee had approached them, saying that they were denied information and were left out of an event. My body clenched. I fully was prepared to go into defense mode. Explain the history, the precedent, my communication strategy. Before I could even open my mouth, my boss told me that she was so confused how they could forget a meeting that they were at and that it was incredibly unprofessional that all the feedback was coming through communications thread but not directly. to me at any point. My muscles relaxed,

All of a sudden. I didn’t feel in defense mode. Not only had my boss been there but my boss believed me. I wasn’t over reacting or taking things personally. It wasn’t something I needed to guard against. It was something that I shouldn’t have to deal with. It was such a relief not just to know the way I was feeling or responding were valid, but that my standards were reasonable and I wasn’t just misinterpreting things.

While I think eventually it’s easy to come to the conclusion to you need to have and express the feelings you are feeling. It is another to understand that your standards are normal. The way that you are experiencing the situation should not be happening, but is.

I think especially in professional or collegial settings it can be even harder because there is a certain amount of decorum expected, especially in group settings. Being new to something and everyone having a poker face, I never know if I am misinterpreting something or that my assumed standards coming in are different than reality. You will put up with so much for a pay check and if you don’t know that you shouldn’t. Please if there is something happening that shouldn’t be and someone you work with isn’t bring it up. Bring it up. Validate their experience. They probably think it is something should be dealing with or because no one else is reacting that they are overreacting.

Anyway. Validation is lovely.

Makeshift Tuna Noodle “Casserole”

Making meals is hard and planning ahead when grocery shopping can feel really overwhelming. This a quick and easy one-pot meal that tastes delicious, costs minimal amounts while being made of mostly pantry staples, and is a relatively balanced meal. Let me know what your go to easy meal is!

Servings: 3

Ingredients:

  • One box shell noodle Mac&Cheese (store brand: $1 per box)
  • One can tuna fish (roughly $1.50)
  • 1/2 a cup of frozen peas ($1.50 per package)
  • 1-2 tbsp. Butter
  • 1-2 tbsp. Mayonnaise
  • 2 tsp Lemon Juice
  • 1/2 tsp (2/3 shakes) dried Thyme
  • Pepper

Steps:

  • Boil water for mac and cheese and cook noodles according to directions. With 5 minutes left on cooking time add the frozen peas to the pot.
  • Strain noodles and peas into colander. Pour back into to pot add butter and coat noodles and peas.
  • Add in tuna, mayo, and lemon juice and combine well.
  • Pour in cheese packet from box, thyme, and add pepper to taste.
  • Enjoy.!

Spring Wrap Up

I didn’t make it to everything from my Spring TBR (approx. 40%). My workload drastically changes plus I got COVID which sucked, and lead me down a few different roads reading wise. Specifically, I read a lot more middle grade and significantly shorter novels than I have previously leaned towards. I read 54 books this spring and enjoyed most of them! Definitely diversified my reading more than normal into different genres and was pleasantly surprised. The average rating of the season was 3.89 stars. What was your favorite book you read this spring?

Genre Breakdown:

Age Breakdown:

Age Range# of Books
Children4
Middle Grade15
Young Adult17
Adult18

Most Read Author: Mellanie Cellier (7 books across the Beyond the 4 Kingdoms series and the Return to the 4 Kingdoms series)

Standouts:

Anna K by Jenny Lee

Eva Evagreen: Semi-Magical List by Julie Abe

You’ll Never Believe What Happened to Lacey: Crazy Stories about Racism by Amber Ruffin and Lacey Lamar

Beartown by Fredrik Bachman

The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls

10 Best Movies My Dad Has Made Me Watch

So my dad hates gifts, but loves movies. He is a bit of film enthusiast/fanatic/historian and every year for his birthday and Father’s Day we watch all the movies he wants to (we basically reject them the rest of the year). As I am not with them to be subjected to this years movies I thought I would highlight the best ones from years past. Happy Fathers Day!

Arsenic and Old Lace (1944)

The Red Shoes (1948)

The Ladykillers (1955)

The Apple Dumpling Gang (1975)

Alien (1979)

Blade Runner (1982)

Blame it on the Bellhop (1992)

Good Burger (1997)

Grosse Pointe Blank (1997)

The Castle (1997)

Pride Reads – Recommendations

Happy pride month! For this month I wanted to highlight some of my favorite books and series that feature LGBTQIA+ characters and stories. Let me know what you are reading to celebrate Pride!

Fantasy

Cinderella is Dead by Kalynn Bayron

The Rules and Regulations for Mediating Myths & Magic by F.T. Lukens

Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan

The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin

Science Fiction

An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon

Pet by Awaeke Emezi

This Is How You Lose a Time War by Becky Chambers

Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone

Contemporary

Her Royal Highness by Rachel Hawkins

George by Alex Gino

I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson

History is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera

Graphic Novel

Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me by Mariko Tamaki

Check Please by Ngozi Ukazu

The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang

Nimona by Noelle Stevenson

College applications for the introverted

I have been giving a lot of college search and application advice lately and I just thought it would be a good idea to share out wider. Specifically, my advice is geared towards the introverted or those that maybe anxious during this time. But, why you should even listen to me? I am an introvert who successfully went through the college process (with many introverted friends who also went through at the same and different institutions). My parent worked in the scholarship and financial aid office and has imparted a lot of stories and advice across many years at multiple universities. I work, give advice, and write recommendations for youth going through this process. I am intimately familiar with social anxiety, depression, and selective mutism.

  • Create your common app or any application accounts early. This gives you more time to ask for any recommendations , write essays, etc. without having to put it all into the same timeframe.
  • Email the teachers, coachers, and advisors for recommendations before the school year starts. As long as your account is open they will be able to submit it. It makes less sense and is more awkward NOT to ask in person after school has started for the year and you are seeing them on a regular basis. Plus, this gives the impression you are on top of it.
  • Remember, that commitment over time, volunteerism, and any expansion of responsibilities (babysitting, work, tutoring, etc.) are all demonstration of leadership skills.
  • Look into the institutions dining programs and make sure there is always a pick-up or carry-out option. There are always going to be times, when you want eat alone, need to work, don’t want the chance run-ins, etc.
  • Don’t just look at University population, also look at the size of the departments that you would want to be in (Chemistry, English, etc.). The official website should give you a list how many professors you could be working with or stuck with. You may also be able to find how many graduate with that major. This will give you an idea of how many you would regularly be in class with or working with across your time there.

Vacation First Aid Kit

Hooray! We can slowly start doing things again (in a safe and reasonable manner). I know my partner and I love to travel and take small weekend trips, but since living together have had very little opportunities due to my work schedule and a global shutdown. Personally, we like to pack light, but I also assume disaster is waiting around every corner. So this is the basic first aid kit I pack anytime we go anywhere at least overnight that I feel covers all our bases.

  • Aloe: In case you burn
  • Melatonin: In case you can’t sleep in a new place – most people can take this and doesn’t conflict with many medications
  • Acetaminophen: For pain – I feel comfortable knowing I likely can’t take too much, but personally I also find it to be more fast acting
  • Benadryl (topical and oral): Allergies baby! I am allergic to a couple things (I do not go into full anaphylaxis it is a lot of pain and a bad situation). I can’t necessarily control how often I come into contact with them on vacation and eating out. I like to have these on hand.
  • Band-aids: For injuries of all kinds
  • Alcohol wipes:: Same as above especially when in a new place, you gotta clean it.
  • Antibiotic cream: Ditto