Review – Scream All Night by Derek Milman

Last month, I received an email asking me to consider reading and reviewing a new book, Scream All Night by Derek Milman. I love getting these emails, I’m not ashamed to admit. I love them so much, that I almost always say yes without even reading about the book or doing any research or even checking my schedule to see if I actually have time to read these books.

So, like the accept-first-think-later person I am, I said yes. And then I read the jacket copy.

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DARIO HEYWARD KNOWS ONE THING: He’s never going back to Moldavia Studios,the iconic castle that served as the set, studio,and home to the cast and crew of dozens of cult classic B-horror movies. It’s been three years since Dario’s even seen the place, after getting legally emancipated from his father,the infamous director of Moldavia’s creature features.

But then Dario’s estranged brother invites him home to a mysterious, shocking ceremony involving his father and a tribute to his first film — The Curse of the Mummy’s Tongue.

Dario swears his homecoming will be a onetime visit. A way for him to get closure on his past — and reunite with Hayley, his first love and the costar of Zombie Children of the HarvestSun, a Moldavia production fraught with real-life tragedy — and then say good-bye for good.

But then the unthinkable happens — Dario gets sucked back into the twisted world of Moldavia and the horrors, both real and imagined, he’s left there.

With only months to rescue the sinking studio, and everyone who has built their lives there, Dario must confront the demons of his past — and the uncertainties of his future. But can he escape the place that’s haunted him his whole life?

Honestly, if I’d read this in a bookstore, I’m not sure this book would have made it into my shopping cart. Not that it sounds like a bad book, just not typically my style of book. It sounds dramatic and a little on the horror side of things and just not really my kind of book.

Lucky for me, though, I didn’t do any research and I blindly said I would be happy to read and review Scream All Night. And I’m so, so glad I did.

Scream All Night is well written with characters you want to love and want to understand. I fell in love with Dario and my heart ached for him from the very beginning.

When the story opens, we find Dario living in a halfway house/orphan home. Interestingly, though, he gets a phone call from his brother to return for a tribute to his father, things get very blurred. Soon we learn that Dario has been emancipated from his family, and with that, the complications of the story start to unfold.

That’s when I first learned that with beauty comes a little bit of terror.

Dario grew up in a beautiful castle with sprawling fields, Moldavia. But within the beauty of Moldavia were terrible, dark secrets. For readers with triggers, this book should come attached with a trigger warning for child abuse. Dario’s relationship with his father is strained and at times very hard to read. There’s a lot of anger and hatred and pain.

But this book isn’t just sad and painful. Scream All Night is about a broken family trying to become whole again. It’s about people finding their places in the world. It’s about redemption and renewal.

In a house full of broken people, the things you keep close to your heart better be broken too.

Honestly, this book started out slow for me. The dialogue was a bit stilted in the beginning. But by the third chapter, I was hooked and couldn’t put it down. I wanted to know more about Hayley and her parents, Aida and Hugo. I wanted to know why things were so strained between Dario and his brother, what happened to Dario’s mother. I wanted to know everything.

Something unique and fresh to Scream All Night was the whole monster movie feel. References to monster movies are sprinkled throughout this book, and with each one, I can see the movie playing out in my head. Milman, the author, is an accomplished actor. His knowledge of filming and acting makes the writing authentic and natural. The fact that they’re B-horror movies adds to the charm. There are references that bring to mind Elvira, Mistress of the Night. For me, it evokes images of my favorite cartoons from my childhood. I was reminded of shows like A Pup Named Scooby Doo and Tiny Toons. Both of these shows made their own jabs at B-horror movies, werewolf films, monster movies.

Though this book was totally unique and fresh, there was a sense of nostalgia about it that kept me wanting more.

When that moment comes, you’ll know you’ve made it through all the darkness God drew for you, and come out into the light.

So much of this book is about healing and redemption and renewal. This is one of the rare books that didn’t make me cry, but that I still loved. I love when a book makes me cry, but not crying in this book did not mean that I wasn’t emotionally connected to it. It was just much more subtle. And considering the subject matter, I’m glad it was more subtle. It was a bearable ache that I could endure all in one sitting.

The bad stuff leaves the scars

Scream All Night is a family story, more than anything else. It teaches us that families are more than just the people you’re related to. Families reach far and encompass so many people. Families are drawn together and need each other to survive.

Some people are pulled into orbit with one another–a planet and its moon.

Families are like that. Entwined with each other and pulled into each other’s orbit.

I am absolutely delighted that I was asked to read and review Scream All Night by Derek Milman. It was a wonderful read and one that will find its home on my shelf when it comes out.

Scream All Night will be released on July 24, 2018 and will be available where all great books can book found.

Plucky’s rating? 4.5/5 stars

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You Can Always Trust Someone with Blue Hair

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For the past month, I’ve had blue hair. And I’ve loved every minute of it

Growing up, we weren’t allowed to dye our hair. And after I was an adult, I’ve always had a job that didn’t allow me to have crazy-colored hair. Even in the summers, when teachers allegedly have loads of freedom. (I’ll let you know when I have one of those free summers with nothing to do that’s just two months of a paid vacation.)

But this summer, I’ve taken actual time to myself and I let loose. I dyed my hair blue. Okay, that’s the extent of my wildness because I don’t do so well at wild.

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When I first got my hair done, my stylist, Alexis, told me, “everybody’s going to be looking at you now.”

I both believed her and did not believe her. For one, I’m a BIG personality. It’s rare for me not to be the center of attention, because I demand attention. Admittedly, it’s a defense mechanism. If I control everybody’s attention, then I control the way they perceive and think about me. It stops them from being free to form their own opinions. I’m in control of people’s perceptions.

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But I didn’t believe that people would begin to notice me without my permission. I thought I was always in control.

Turns out that’s not the case. Apparently, people do notice you when you walk into a room with blue hair. People notice things like you only wear the color blue (guilty) and that you’re tall (apparently), and they feel obligated to comment on the things they’ve noticed. It’s one thing when it’s a kid. Kids are allowed to acknowledge their observations. But the amount of adults who share their opinions is surprising.

Remarkably, feedback on my blue hair has been really positive. People say it suits me. People say they’re jealous of it. It’s been a great conversation starter. Everybody who has ever dyed their hair has shared with me their experiences. And I love that. I love collecting people’s stories. I love how people feel instantly comfortable with me.

And my blue hair has only increased that. So what is it about blue hair that makes a difference? Maybe it’s because you’re not inconspicuous. It’s hard to hide in a crowd when you’re over 6 foot tall and have blue hair. You’re easily recognizable.

Maybe it’s because it’s a sign of individuality. People see your blue hair and think you are totally confident and secure and confident in yourself. You don’t listen to the crowd. You don’t follow the norms. You’re confident in who you are.

Maybe it’s because I just have a kind smile or something. At this point, I can’t really tell you why people have been more attracted to my blue hair thatI expected. What I can tell you is people have been.

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What I can tell you is recently, my wife and I went to a sunflower festival, where I was able to snap these beautiful photos. While we were there, I was asked to take pictures for people. One family asked if they could borrow the scissors I’d bought, because guests were welcome to harvest sunflowers to take home.

My wife and our friend who came with us overheard a woman say, “you can always trust someone with blue hair.” While I’m not sure of the truth or origin of this adage, it’s made me laugh. Whether it’s my blue hair or my smile or the confidence I’ve developed in myself since I dyed my hair blue, people trust me. And I guess there are far worse things in life than that.

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A Plucky Vacation

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Last week, my wife and I took a much-needed vacation to Hot Springs, Arkansas. We stayed at a beautiful cabin on the lake, spent some time in the water, wandered the streets of downtown Hot Springs, and disconnected from technology and the world for a few days.

I cannot tell you how amazing that was. I cannot even begin to describe what it was like to not be concerned with social media, with phone calls, with text messages. I didn’t ignore everybody; I was just choosey about whom I communicated with.

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I sat on the dock of the lake house and read as much as I possibly could (review coming soon for A Place For Us.) I basked in the warmth and the comfort of summer.

As I mentioned earlier, I’m happier in the sunlight. Even when it’s roughly three billion degrees outside, I enjoy the sunlight. I, in fact, really love to smell like sunscreen because it means I’ve been in the sun. (Now if I could just figure out how to enjoy sweating.)

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I encourage you, dear reader, to sit back and unplug sometime. Take a day to turn off your phone and turn your attention to a book or to your partner or to your best friend or to your dog. Take a few hours without the hassle of notifications and popups and emails. There was a time before social media and cell phones and even blogs. There was a time when we weren’t accessible 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Treating myself to that kind of day has only made me crave me. I know it’s not realistic in today’s society of fast-paced immediacy to disconnect for more than a couple of days at a time. But wouldn’t it be nice? Imagine how much more reading you’d get done.

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Take time to explore. Smell the roses. Read the historical plaques. See the world as it is. Today is the only day this world will look as it does. Tomorrow it will be different and we’ll have missed what today held for us.

I’m as guilty as everybody else. But at least for a few glorious days, I saw the water and the wind and the breath of the world as it was meant to be seen. And for those few days of wonder, I will always be grateful.

(Channeling that feeling of wonder now as I deal with a broken air conditioner in Louisiana. Send help. Or ice!)

Yours,
The Plucky Reader

A Much-Needed Vacation

I apologize for my absence, as of late. I have been taking a much-needed break.

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I am currently on vacation, enjoying some creative time on a dock on a lake with a cold drink in my hand and fully-loaded Kindle. I will be back to posting on a regular schedule next week.

I hope you are all living your best reading lives!

Yours,
The Plucky Reader

Cool June Morning Musings

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It’s a cool and breezy morning as I sit to write this post. The temperature has been in the low- to mid-90’s this week, so sitting outside has not been on the top of my to-do list. But for whatever blessed reason, today it’s in the mid-80’s and breezy And I’ll take that any day.

I’m enjoying the weather and I’ve brought with me my colored pencils (teachers love fun school supplies) and my highlighters to work on the first novel I’m teaching next school year. I’ve brought my Kindle to read some ARCs to review here. I’ve brought my headphones and my smile. It’s the perfect morning.

Now that this school year is over and I’ve had time to reflect and look back at my blog, I see that I am happiest when I am outside in the beautiful weather with a book in my hand. The problem is I’ve been working basically two full-time jobs since 2011. There hasn’t been nearly enough time for my to sit outside in the sunshine and read books.

That’s my goal for next school year. To dial it back. Read more books. Work fewer hours. I’m dropping out of some of the symphonies in which I play. As nice as the money is at Christmastime, I’m turning down some Christmas gigs. It will take some budgetary adjustments, but sometimes caring for your family is about more than just making money.

Money is the thing I struggle with the most. I will always feel I don’t have enough money. I will always fight with the fact that I became a teacher, when there are other jobs that make loads more money. (I wouldn’t happy at a single one of them, but that won’t stop me from being hard on myself about it.)

Realistically, I know I have nothing to worry about.

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life[a]?

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This verse has been quoted to me more often than I’d care to admit. But it’s only through recent prayer, reflection, and study that it’s become a message to me. I’m a slow learner sometimes, especially when it comes to self-reflection. I spend so much of my life concerned with others that I forget that I have to focus on myself from time to time

It feels selfish, doesn’t it? To take a step away from everybody and look at yourself. There’s so much pain in the world. There’s so much need and hurt and ache. And I want to fix it all. Every once in a while, though, I need that not-so-subtle reminder that if I don’t take care of myself a little bit, then I won’t be able to care for anybody else. And showing people love is one of my favorite things.

So I’m shifting my focus. Not entirely to myself, but to rediscovering the things that are most important. Taking time for my family. Taking time for myself. Spending time in The Bible and listening to the songs of nature. Returning to my roots. And focusing on being the best teacher I can possibly be. Not because success in my career is the most important thing, but because I’ve been given the amazing opportunity to teach amazing kids.

Sometimes–okay, almost always–change is good. It just doesn’t always look that way at first. Change is scary. We’re control freaks by nature. (Or maybe that’s just me?) Change means giving up some of that control to unknown factors. Things such as changing jobs give you the opportunity to reflect and react and reshape and rebuild. And today, in this cool breeze, at this shady table–sitting next to the big cardinal who just landed nearby–I’m grateful for change and for the opportunity to grow and recreate myself.

Who knew the first day of June could mean the first day of something new and exciting for me? I can’t wait to see what comes next. I’ve got great books to read, I’m 13 books ahead on my reading challenge for the year, and I’ve got two months of freedom before the next school year. That’s a recipe for opportunity if I’ve ever seen one!

Here’s what I read in May:

The Library at the Edge of the World by Felicity Hayes-McCoy
Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mulally Hunt
The Seventh Most Important Thing by Shelley Persall
The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller
The Handsome Girl & Her Beautiful Boy by B. T. Gottfried (review here)
Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan (a re-read for book club)
Just Under the Clouds by Melissa Sarno (review here)

How was your May? Was it as productive? What did you read that you loved? Send me yout book recommendations! I want them all.

Also attached is my June reading playlist. This is what I’m listening to as a I read and blog.

Yours,
The Plucky Reader

 

Review – Just Under the Clouds by Melissa Sarno

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This weekend, I had the immense pleasure of reading a soon-to-be-released book. One of my favorite things about book blogging is getting to read amazing books before they come out, and Sarno’s Just Under the Clouds is exactly that.

Always think in threes and you’ll never fall, Cora’s father told her when she was a little girl. Two feet, one hand. Two hands, one foot. That was all Cora needed to know to climb the trees of Brooklyn.

But now Cora is a middle schooler, a big sister, and homeless. Her mother is trying to hold the family together after her father’s death, and Cora must look after her sister, Adare, who’s just different, their mother insists. Quick to smile, Adare hates wearing shoes, rarely speaks, and appears untroubled by the question Cora can’t help but ask: How will she find a place to call home?

After their room at the shelter is ransacked, Cora’s mother looks to an old friend for help, and Cora finally finds what she has been looking for: Ailanthus altissima, the “tree of heaven,” which can grow in even the worst conditions. It sets her on a path to discover a deeper truth about where she really belongs.

Just Under the Clouds will take root in your heart and blossom long after you’ve turned the last page.

Just Under the Clouds is middle-grade fiction, which I don’t usually read, but as I’m switching out of the music room and into the English classroom, I’m making a concerted effort to fix that. And something I’ve realized as I’m making that effort? A good book is a good book–regardless of its intended audience–is a good book.

Just Under the Clouds intrigued me from the start. Cora’s voice is authentic. It feels real and it feels like the voice of a young teenager/preteen.  So often in fiction, children speak too much like adults. I’m guilty of this in my own writing, as well. But as someone who spends several hours a day with teenagers, I know how teens should talk. I know the thoughts that young teens have every day. I know how they function. And it’s clear that Sarno does, as well. (Or she has a really good editor. But I’m going to give Sarno the credit here.)

Cora’s story is sad. From the opening of the book it’s sad and heavy and there is little hope. Cora finds the beautiful things in life and in nature, but at the end of the day, it’s apparent that Cora and her family are returning home to a shelter, to temporary housing. Cora is still mourning the death of her father. Cora isn’t doing well in school. And she is forced to play surrogate parent to her younger sister with an unstated mental exceptionality. (I assume she is on the autism spectrum, but it’s never explicitly stated.) It was tough to read, even as an adult. But it was important.

Something I really love about Just Under the Clouds is that it’s a story that needs to be told. It’s important to be told. Sarno has given a voice to people who don’t typically have a voice in fiction. And she’s done it masterfully. She’s done it artfully. And she’s done it in such a way that the readers are able to put themselves in Cora’s shoes. The reader is able to feel empathy—not pity—for Cora and her family.

“Home is more than a place. It is a feeling. Of warmth and security. Of love and stability. That no matter what we face out there, in here, we will always be looked after.”

The opening letter of this book—written by Julia Maguire, an editor at Knopf—tells the reader from the beginning that this book is about finding home. And that home is about a lot more than just having somewhere to sleep at night. This, alone, is an important lesson for anybody to learn. As a teacher, I know many, many students who do not feel at home in their own houses. Safety, security, and stability are just as important as having a roof over your head.

Just Under the Clouds opens in the middle of Cora’s story, which is something I really love. I love when the book opens and the reader is thrown into the fray of day-to-day life. I don’t like exposition. I don’t like back story. Eventually I want it, but not at once. I want to love the characters before I learn why they’re the people that they are.

Cora starts the book in a tree, watching her little sister, Adare. When her mother calls, she quickly descends and prepares to meet her mom, with Adare in tow. Except Adare is holding her breath and refuses to let it out. From Cora’s commentary, it appears that this is a regular occurrence. And this is a theme that runs throughout the book. The breath holding is important and it matters.

Another thing I love about Sarno’s writing is how everything matters. Everything in this story is important and returns later. She’s very much like J.K. Rowling that way. She’s a very smart storyteller.

As the story unfolds, we see Cora fail math. This is not uncommon in students—even brilliant students—whose needs aren’t being met. Maslow theorized that students had to have their needs of food and security and stability met before any learning could take place. And after seven years in the classroom, I believe he was onto something.

We also see Cora make her first true friend, a drifter of a very different nature named Sabina. Sabina grew up on a houseboat, floating from port to port, existing in her family unit and never attending public school. Her life is very unlike Cora’s. Her life is very like Cora’s.

Just Under the Clouds is peppered with little hints of the issues that come with homelessness, issues that don’t occur to most people. In the middle of the story, Adare and Cora are enjoying an after-school snack. When Adare doesn’t finish her peanut better, Cora feels obligated to eat it, merely so it won’t go to waste. This very subtle detail hit me hard. This is real life. And this is real life every day for students I come into contact with daily.

This is daily life for hundreds of thousands of people worldwide. It’s heartbreaking.

But stories like this offer hope.

I’m excited to stock this book in my classroom library. Many of my students have never considered what life is like on “the other side.” Most of the students I teach have never been homeless or had want for anything. They’ve never missed a meal or spent a night in temporary housing. And that’s okay. But because they’ve never had these experiences, chances are they’ve never reflected on experiences like this. It’s their privilege.

Before anybody gets their feathers ruffled: yes, I believe in privilege. I believe I’m privileged. I believe that everybody has varying degrees of privilege. And I think it’s important to understand and identify our innate privilege. Everybody’s is different. Everybody’s brings something unique and special to our society.

But it’s there. It’s real. It’s a thing that has to be acknowledged. It’s so well-written; it will make a great read for any middle grade reader, or a fantastic read aloud to younger readers. Take this opportunity to educate yourself and your children about the issues that others face.

I’m excited to share this book with you and with my students. I think Sarno has told a story that’s important.

Just Under the Clouds by Melissa Sarno will be available June 5, 2018 at all major book retailers. Pick yourself up a copy ASAP.

Plucky’s rating?

4 out of 5 stars.

A Letter to My Replacement

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Dear you,

I hope you know how lucky you are to work with these amazing kids everyday. I hope that even when you’re stressed and tired and angry that you will remember these are the best kids you’ll ever meet. Take a step back and remember that when times get tough.

I hope you know that the music room is a safe place, open to all hearts. Students come here to feel safe, regardless of their sexuality, their social status, the amount of money their parents have. Students find a safe haven regardless of their gender, their weight, the color of their skin. This is a hideaway from the world where people are just people; all special and unique and beautiful.

I hope you know that this is a place for second chances. The sins of yesterday are forgiven and grudges are dissolved. Every morning presents a new opportunity for something amazing; each day is full of promise and wonder and magic.

I hope you know that this room has been a world of new beginnings for so many. People have found passions and success and teamwork and friends in ways they never have before, within these four walls. People have found their voice and their drive and their strength in this very room, the room where you are so fortunate to teach.

I hope you know that these students do not love unconditionally, but when you have won their hearts, they love hard and with an unmatched ferocity. When they have become vulnerable enough with you to love you, they will defend you against all odds. They don’t love easy, but they love hard and they love big.

I hope you know that you are teaching more than music. You’re teaching children. You’re teaching them about the world and life and the things that very few other teachers have the privilege of teaching. You get to teach them the things they want to know, and you get to help them become the people they are to become. You get to polish away something rough and reveal the beautiful human being that the world can’t wait to meet.

I hope you know that this isn’t a job; it’s a calling. You’re about to become a teacher, parent, cheerleader, and coach. You’re going to be their support system and their guide. You’re going to teach them so much, and they learn everything. So make sure what you’re learning is worthwhile and special and something only you can offer.

And most importantly, I hope you know you’re about to become a student. These kids have the world to teach you; they’ll teach you more than you’ll ever have to teach them. You’ll learn about relationships and drama and gossip. And you’ll learn about wins and losses, victories, successes, and failures. You’re going to learn how to comfort every person in your room. You’re going to learn who needs you to be stern and who needs you to be soft. You’re going to learn what matters to each person, and you’re going to learn that it’s different. You’re going to learn more than you ever realized there was to learn. You’ll learn who they are, and you’ll learn who you are, and you’ll learn why it’s important to know both.

You have a huge task ahead of you, and I know you’ll be excellent at it. It’s not easy to say goodbye to this world that has been mine. It’s not easy to say goodbye to these students who have been mine for three years. I love them. I love this room, this safe haven that I’ve built. And I hope and pray that it becomes your safe haven, as well.

And to all the students who have touched my life in the seven years that I’ve taught music, I cannot thank you enough. I am who I am because of you. Today, the world lies before us, rife with possibilities and successes, waiting for us to take them for ourselves.

I will love you always.

Big Thoughts in a Small Town

This past weekend, I played a concert in El Dorado, Arkansas. It’s one of my favorite symphonies to perform in. The town is charming, the symphony is talented, and the coffee shop is adorable. There’s even an independent bookstore. Seriously, what more could a guy like me want in life?

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Saturday morning, I woke up early and decided to visit downtown while it was still cool and beautiful.

I had the best time! It was lovely. People were already out walking and jogging and spending time as a family. Birds were chirping. Flowers were standing proudly. It was idyllic. Seriously. The perfect start to the morning.

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It’s freeing to have a Saturday morning to do nothing, don’t you think? It’s rare for me. I tend to schedule my life minute-by-minute, and never leave free time for walking around downtown, eating a pastry from a coffee shop, and stopping to smell the flowers. And the flowers want to be smelled. Look at them! They’re beautiful!

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This dog was so happy to have his picture taken. He posed for the camera and smiled big. He was adorable. He made me miss my puppies and realize that I never take them anywhere. I think they’d like to go visit downtown or to Starbucks to drink a puppicino with me. I think I’ll schedule some time to drive one of my puppies around like the royalty they are.

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Something I love about El Dorado is they way the community appreciates the arts. In the past year, El Dorado has seen the opening of several new musical performance venues and is awaiting the opening of an art gallery.

The Murphy Arts District is gorgeous! There’s an amphitheater (where I played a concert with Smokey Robinson) situated right in the heart of downtown. There’s the Griffin Music Hall for indoor concerts (where I played this amazing Beatles tribute show). They’ve recently remodeled the municipal auditorium into a stunning concert hall where the symphony plays most of its performances.

The historic Rialto theater is also being renovated and will reopen in the future.

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Being in El Dorado reminds me of all the reasons I love a small town. Everybody is friendly. Everybody knows each other. I love that I’m always greeted with smiles when I’m out and about in El Dorado. I love that the people at the coffee shop are always willing to stop and chat. I love that time is kind of frozen in El Dorado; it’s still-fashioned.

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I know it’s a running theme in my life because I overbook myself, but taking the time to wander around El Dorado reminded me to slow down and take time for self-care. Strolling along the streets in the early morning brought me so much joy and peace. Time with myself to just reflect and refresh myself. It was exactly what the doctor ordered.

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I passed the most adorable little Farmers’ Market with six stalls. It was crowded. I was impressed at how many people came to this tiny little market. On the lawn beside the farmers’ market was a field where families were playing. Seriously, it was like something out of a TV show. It was like Stars Hollow. I was in love with it all.

After I’d walked around for a while, and worked up a good sweat, I finished the morning with a nice, cold Coke in a glass bottle. There’s nothing like it. It was the perfect morning. It was a nice way to chill out before a long day of rehearsing and performing.

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So, in the end, take time for yourself. Self care is important and necessary. Take the time to stroll around, smell the flowers, drink a Coke, and slow down.

It’s worth it. You’re worth it.

Yours,
The Plucky Reader

Review – The Handsome Girl & Her Beautiful Boy by B.T. Gottfred

Everyone assumes that Zee is a lesbian. Her classmates, her gym buddies, even her so-called best friend. Even Zee is starting to wonder. Could they be onto something?

Everyone assumes that Art is gay. They take one look at his nice clothes and his pretty face and think: well, obviously.

But there’s more to Zee and Art than anyone realizes. What develops is a powerful connection between two people who are beautiful in all the ways they’ve been told are strange. As they explore their own complex relationships to gender, sexuality, and identity, they fall for the complexities they find in each other. With his trademark frankness, B. T. Gottfred delves inside both characters’ heads in this story about love and living authentically.

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Over the past couple of days, I had the opportunity to preview The Handsome Girl and Her Beautiful Boy by B.T. Gottfred. If you’ve read any of my book reviews to this point, then you know that the description of this book immediately grabbed my attention. And if they didn’t win me over, alone, the dedication definitely sold me on reading this book.

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dedicated to everyone who has embraced their own unique, magical mix of feminine & masculine (and olux and xulo) and then embraced everyone else’s in return.

And then the book was wonderful. I twas consuming. It swallowed me and kept me turning page after page. I was absorbed by Zee and Art. And I identified with them closely. Especially Art. He’s hilarious. He’s sensitive. He’s a good dresser. (I was not a good dresser at 17, like he is. But I am, now.)

I liked how nontraditional they are. Zee is perceived as masculine because she is strong and athletic and androgynous. She love Crossfit. She dresses in a t-shirt and cargo shorts. She’s not fussed about her appearance, and her best friend is a guy. All signs point to lesbian, right?

Conversely, Art is beautiful. He’s concerned about skincare, he dresses well, he’s sensitive. His best friend is gay and he’s artistic and not at all interested in sports. Apparently, these things equate to femininity, and thus, Art is clearly gay.

But as The Handsome Girl & Her Beautiful Boy unfolds, we learn as readers that there is more to sexuality than that. Things are more complicated. And it’s a message people should be told. Because it’s true. I am a smart dresser, I am effeminate. I am artistic. I’m a schoolteacher, for crying out loud. So the assumption made about me in school was always that I was gay.

I really identified with Art throughout this book.

But as the characters evolve, we learn about their intricacies and the complications of their life. Zee’s mother is very sick as the book opens, and dies within the first chapter. Art’s parents are awful and distant. Art’s family is awful.

Zee is in love with her best friend, Cam. Art’s best friend, Bryan, is in love with him.

It’s all very complicated.

Now’s the time I point out that one of the things you must keep in mind when you read YA is about intensity. The emotions are intense and amplified. The circumstances are unrealistic and complicated. Everything is very big. Very loud. Very fast. That’s just part of the genre.

And, so, The Handsome Girl and Her Beautiful Boy is big and intense and loud and complicated and emotional. The relationship that develops between Art and Zee is big and intense and loud and complicated and emotional. Starting out, I loved every part of this book.

It was complex. It was inspired.

And then… it wasn’t.

For 75% of the book, I was in love. I was involved. I was sold on every aspect of the book.

And then the last quarter of the book went off the tracks for me. It’s not even that it was bad. It was just not the trajectory of this book. There were extra complications. There were extra characters who just appeared solely to complicate things. There were extra plot points that weren’t necessary.

And 100% maybe this was just me. Maybe this book just didn’t jive with me, which doesn’t mean it won’t jive with someone else. It just wasn’t my style of book. Which was so disappointing, because I really, truly loved everything about this book until then.

Plucky’s rating?

1.5/5 stars

Yours,
The Plucky Reader

As a pick me up after this sad review, here’s the link to my May reading playlist. At least I had good music as I read.

Life Lessons from Ponies

This weekend, I drove to my parents’ house to see my family and to play with my ponies. Let me tell you; there is no stress reliever like playing with a pony. Maybe it’s just the country boy in me, but being out in the sunlight and in the green pastures is so relaxing.

My horse, Daisy.
Daisy is the most beautiful horse in the world. It’s undeniable.

My horse, Daisy, has been my buddy for thirteen years. She is beautiful, and she knows it. She’s a world-champion show horse who has filled my life with more joy than I can even begin to describe. I’ve spoken about Daisy in the past. But she deserves several fangirl posts about how amazing and beautiful she is. And she’d happily accept all praise; she knows exactly how amazing she is. Daisy helps me to remember to be proud of myself and my accomplishments. She knows exactly who she is and she is not afraid to let other horses knows how great she is.

I wish I had an ounce of her confidence. But I try everyday to be as secure in myself–if not as aggressive about it–as my beautiful baby girl.

Daisy grazing
Daisy even grazes like a model

Life is about more than horses. And life is about more than books. But spending time with my horses and spending time with my books reminds me of this. I’m reminded every time I play with my horses just how beautiful and awe-inspiring nature is. I’m reminded that the world exists outside of my bubble of stress and rushing and racing and spinning. I’m reminded that my life doesn’t have to be consumed with woe and worry and hassle and hustle. I’m reminded how important it is to stop and smell the roses and absorb the world around me.

Mini horses grazing
The miniature horses are so cute in their field of flowers

The miniature horses remind me that the world is a big place, and that even my small part is important. My mother’s miniature horses are therapy animals. They spend almost every Friday at nursing homes providing therapy services to the patients there. They are funny and precious and serious about their work. They are curious and sweet and love to snuggle. They’re gifts. They’re full of spirit and energy and have love to share.

When I spend time with the miniatures, I can’t help but laugh. They’re goofy. Their little legs incite laughter. They work so hard to be as big and as impressive as Daisy (who is an unusually large horse). They are impressive in their own way. And they’re perfect.

Corey, the solid-brown paint horse
Corey walking the pasture

Corey reminds me that sometimes things don’t go as planned, and that’s okay. Corey’s parents are both paint horses, which means they have white on their bodies, as well as another color (for reference: Daisy is a paint horse.) Corey was expected to be a paint horse, as well. He has all the genes to be. He had perfect breeding. But, somehow he came out solid brown, save for that small spot on his forehead.

Even though Corey didn’t come out at planned, we still love him. He’s still beautiful. He’s still perfect. He’s sweet. He loves kisses. And has the softest nose of any horse I’ve ever met. When he was a baby, his nose felt like velvet. It was so soft; I had trouble stopping once I’d started petting his nose. Corey’s a lovely reminder that the best things come in unexpected packages.

Lola, the mini horse
Lola spotted me taking pictures of her and began charging me right after this picture

Lola reminds me that we are as big and important as we make ourselves to be. Lola is the smallest horse I have ever seen. She’s hardly two feet tall at the withers. She’s beautiful and she’s ferocious. She has no concept of how tiny she is and she keeps us all entertained with just how bossy she is. She runs the pasture. She is the queen and she knows it.

Yesterday, I laid on the ground to take pictures of her from a good angle, and she charged me. It was important for her that I knew I was in her domain and under her dominion. She doesn’t let anything happen in her pasture without her permission. Because she is as big as she gives herself permission to be.

Mary the donkey stands under a tree
Mary the Donkey enjoys the cool shade

Mary the Donkey reminds me that friends come in the most unlikely people, sometimes. When Mary joined the herd, she was the odd man out. Donkeys behave differently than horses. Donkeys smell differently than horses. Donkeys make different sounds than horses. In every way, she was an outcast from the pack.

But slowly, she and Teddy (who appears later in this post) bonded and are now inseparable. They’re the most unlikely of friends, but somehow have found company in each other. It’s fun to watch them play together.

(It’s even more fun when I hear stories of Mary bellowing beside my parents’ window to wake them up in the morning.)

Mary and Teddy standing at the fence
The inseparable Mary and Teddy

Even Teddy, who I’m very angry at right now, has taught me much in life. Teddy reminds me that even though I’m grown, I still have much to learn. Teddy is technically an adult, as horses go. But he’s still hard-headed and stubborn. He’s still immature in his decision-making. He’s grown, but he’s got a long way to go. He’s hard-headed and clumsy and a daily reminder that we’re never done growing and improving.

Daisy getting a kiss on the snout

There is something about the outside of a horse that’s good for the inside of a man
-Winston Churchill

Churchill was onto something when he commented on the power of horses. They’re amazing creatures who have taught me more more about life than any person I’ve ever met. They’re amazing, wonderful creatures. Sometimes I’m convinced that quality time with my horses is the closest I’ll ever get to heaven on earth.

Yours,
The Plucky Reader