Nov 30

Bite Size Reviews: November 2016 (And Assorted Nonsense)

Audio Books, Bite Size Reviews 9

Greetings Bookworms!

Nothing like waiting until the last possible moment in the month to post a batch of mini reviews, am I right? I have excuses.

Took a vacation...

I took a vacation! (After the whole Rock City thing we went to Disney World and Universal Studios in Orlando. Because of course we did. I now own an interactive replica of Luna Lovegood’s wand.)

I also successfully cooked a Thanksgiving feast, which is especially impressive given my track record in the kitchen.

I also successfully cooked a Thanksgiving feast, which is especially impressive given my track record in the kitchen. It was delicious, even if the stupid water bottles make the photos unseemly. Hubs is responsible for that. Tisk tisk.

And I started the Christmas decorating process. I promise more close ups of penguin tree as the season progresses.

And I started the Christmas decorating process. I promise more close ups of penguin tree as the season progresses.

Oh yeah, and Gilmore Girls happened. As far as excuses go, this month is among the best. (I’m sparing you my political outrage here, but if you’re interested in the progression of my grief and desperation this month, you’re welcome to scroll through my Twitter feed.) But you know what else I’ve been doing? READING ALL THE THINGS! We should talk about them, no?

1. A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman: This book was recommended by one of my fave blog readers, Rhian (who is not ONLY my favorite because of the Christmas card she sent me from Australia that one time, but let’s face it. That didn’t hurt.) If you need a heartwarming read for the holiday season, this is your book. It reminded me a lot of Up (you know that Pixar movie with the cranky old dude and the balloon house?) It features a very cranky old Swedish man and his curmudgeonly ways, a devastating origin story, and his eventual thawing through unexpected friendship. I laughed, I cried, I laugh-cried. Feelings. Whew.

2. A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles: I had a number of people (Julz in particular) rave to me about how amazing this book was before I got around to reading it. I had a signed copy from BEA (yet another instance where I was awkward to a brilliant writer) so I decided it was about darn time. I actually tag teamed this one, part audiobook, part eyeball read. It was very charming. A Russian Count is sentenced to house arrest in a posh hotel following his conviction for distributing seditious poetry after the Bolshevik revolution. Count Rostov is a man of impeccable wit and taste, though he manages this feat without being snobby and elitist. I wasn’t quite as swept away with the book as Julz obviously was, but I thoroughly enjoyed it.

3. Where Am I Now?: True Stories of Girlhood and Accidental Fame by Mara Wilson: Y’all remember that super cute little girl from Matilda and Mrs. Doubtfire and the Miracle On 34th Street reboot from the mid-90s? Her name is Mara Wilson. She wrote a book. It is excellent, particularly the audiobook version which she narrates. (Her voice is unexpectedly deep, but that might be partly because my frame of reference for her speaking was as a teeny tiny person.) Mara Wilson discusses her career, personal life, family life, mental illness, and all the things I never realized I wanted to know about her. Except for that one Disney Channel boyfriend she had whose name I’m fairly certain was changed to protect the guilty and I am bizarrely nosy about. Anywho. Solid read, better listen. You should check it out.bitesizereviews

4. The Wonder by Emma Donoghue: This was the only book I actually planned in advance to get a copy of from BEA. Because I love Emma Donoghue, of course. The Wonder is told from the perspective of a Florence Nightengale trained nurse who is called to a small town in Ireland to investigate the claims of an eleven year old girl who has allegedly not eaten anything in four months. The little girl is an extraordinarily pious Catholic who believes herself to be living off of manna from heaven. The book is tense and sad, masterfully drawn and ultimately hopeful. Geeze, Emma Donoghue. Are you always this awesome? (Actually she totally is. Because I’ve read most of her stuff. And it’s all amazing.)

5. Wool by Hugh Howey: I believe this post apocalyptic serial was originally self published and subsequently picked up by a traditional publisher. Perhaps that’s where I heard about it originally? I’m unsure, but it’s been on my TBR for ages, and the five part series was on sale (thanks Audible!) Wool is a post apocalyptic serialized novel based on a civilization living in an underground silo. They’re confined to said silo (and have been for generations) because the outside environment is toxic… Or so they’re told. The punishment for discussing what might exist beyond the silo is simple- the offenders are sent outside to find out for themselves. I listened to this book primarily while working out, so I must admit that I felt extremely sympathetic to the characters climbing zillions of flights of stairs as I toiled away on the elliptical. It was an interesting story. Maybe not my super favorite in the genre, but definitely an interesting take on it.

Alright, this post has gone on long enough, methinks. Whew. Making up for lost time is exhausting. So, tell me, Bookworms. What was your November like? 

*If you make a purchase through a link on this site, I will receive a small commission. Actually, if you buy anything from Amazon from either a link or the little sidebar thingie I will get a few cents. Just in case you were planning on doing some holiday shopping. Or toilet paper shopping. I’m not here to judge.*

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Nov 22

Literary Tourism: Rock City

Literary Tourism 6

Howdy Bookworms!

Guess what? I went on a vacation! Hubs and I decided that we were in dire need of a getaway for any number of reasons, and so we decided to take a road trip to Florida. I realize that after our last road trip to Florida I said I would never ever ever do that again, but I am often wrong. This time, though, we planned much more efficiently and things went very smoothly. We even snuck a little bit of literary tourism in along the way. American Gods by Neil Gaiman is one of the first books I reviewed when I started this blog, and after re-reading it a couple of months ago, I was extra jazzed when Hubs suggested that we visit Rock City on our way through Chattanooga. Hubs was motivated by YouTube videos, but I was super stoked because Rock City served as the backdrop for some pivotal scenes in American Gods. Here’s how Neil Gaiman describes it in the novel:

Who needs billboards when you can paint on barns?

Who needs billboards when you can advertise on barns?

Rock City begins as an ornamental garden on a mountainside: its visitors walk a path that takes them through rocks, over rocks, between rocks. They thrown corn into a deer enclosure, cross a hanging bridge and peer out through a quarter-a-throw binoculars at a view that promises them seven states on the rare sunny days when the air is perfectly clear. And from there, like a drop in some strange hell, the path takes the visitors, millions upon millions of them every year, down into caverns, where they stare at black-lit dolls arranged into nursery rhyme and fairy tale dioramas. When they leave, they leave bemused, uncertain of why they came, of what they have seen, of whether they had a good time or not.

Dude is not wrong. The place is equal parts stunning natural beauty and creepy roadside kitsch. Although, I can say without hesitation that I did, in fact, have a great time. I highly recommend you visit should you find yourself in the area.

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Majestic natural beauty…

Super creepy black light dioramas.

Super creepy black light dioramas.

There is one caveat, though. Rock City, being, in large part, a natural rock formation does NOT lend itself well to accessibility. There are some very tight squeezes between rocks which, in addition to being difficult for those with claustrophobia, would be inaccessible for folks of a larger stature. That’s not to mention the rickety bridges, uneven ground, and steep staircases. The good news is that the best part of Rock City, the natural splendor of the view from Lookout Mountain and Lover’s Leap, is easily accessible to all by means of a trail that is both wheelchair friendly and friendly to folks of all shapes and sizes. So while not everyone can enjoy the creepiness of those cave dioramas, the mountain view is freaking gorgeous and worth the trip.

The tight squeeze? Not exaggerating, y'all.

The tight squeeze? Not exaggerating, y’all.

Talk to me bookworms! Have you been to Rock City? Have you done any Literary Tourism of your own? I want to hear all about it!

*If you make a purchase through a link on this site, I will receive a small commission.*

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Nov 18

Faithful by Alice Hoffman

Contemporary Fiction 5

Good Day, Bookworms!

I don’t know about you, but I’ve got a list of authors whose new work I get awfully excited about. I’ve read a good number of Alice Hoffman’s books over the years and they rarely disappoint. That’s why when I saw she had a new offering, I jumped on Netgalley and made the “pretty please?” face. (Alright, it’s all electronic so no publisher actually saw the face I made when I clicked request, but the face happened and you deserved to know about it.) *I received a complimentary electronic copy of Faithful by Alice Hoffman for review consideration. I’ll still be honest, though, because that’s how I roll.*

faithfulShelby Richmond is an ordinary teenage girl growing up on Long Island until the fateful night when a car she is driving slides on ice and is involved in a horrific wreck. Shelby’s best friend’s future is taken from her, and though Shelby is physically uninjured, she hardly walks away unscathed. What follows is a story of guilt, redemption, and rebuilding.

Shelby attempts to escape her bad memories in Long Island by moving to NYC. She’s a survivor if nothing else, and along the way she inadvertently collects a little family of lost souls.

Oh, my heart. I had so many FEELINGS with this one. Shelby got all up in my psyche. I mean, a broken girl who loves Chinese food and bookstores and rescues dogs? How could I not get emotionally attached? The book started a little on slow side for me, but once I got into it, I couldn’t put it down. I stayed up waaaaaaaaaaay too late to finish it. And then I stayed up a little longer crying because FEELINGS. But that’s the reading life, right?

You want a book that gets into your guts? Faithful by Alice Hoffman will not disappoint.

Alright Bookworms. What was the last book that gut punched you in the feelings? I think I need more of this. 

*If you make a purchase through a link on this site, I will receive a small commission.*

 

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Nov 08

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

Historical Fiction 6

Howdy Bookworms!

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably heard the buzz surrounding The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead. I’d like to say it’s because the world found my anecdote about meeting and making a fool of myself in from of Colson Whitehead at BEA was the catalyst, but it’s all Oprah. That’s right. The power of Oprah even managed to push the publication date of this novel up a month. I don’t have that kind of influence. Actually, I don’t want that kind of influence, so I take it all back. Let’s stick to the book, shall we?

undergrown-railroadCora is a slave living on a southern plantation. Slavery is heartbreaking, soul-sucking, and hellish, because how could it not be? But Cora’s got it especially rough. Not only is she enslaved, but she’s been outcasted by her fellow slaves. She’s on the cusp of womanhood and things aren’t looking too bright when she’s approached by a new arrival to the plantation with a plan to escape. That’s where Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad begins to diverge from the typical narrative. He re imagines the historical Underground Railroad as an ACTUAL RAILROAD. I can’t express how much I love this particular bit of literal translation because I totally imagined the Underground Railroad as involving actual trains when I first heard about it as a kid. Who didn’t?

Cora’s journey isn’t an express train into freedom, unfortunately. She’s being tracked by a legendary slave catcher named Ridgeway. Every time she thinks she’s found a safe haven, Cora is forced to run again. The book is harrowing and intense. The blending of history and invention was so seamless I found myself googling certain elements of the story to see if they were things that actually occurred. I know it sounds a little silly, I mean, obviously I knew that the train thing wasn’t real. However, there are so many horrifying elements of slavery that simply aren’t covered in school that I’m very conscious that there’s a lot I don’t know. Which is why I kept googling stuff… Even things that seemed outlandish. Maybe that was a plus, though. Whitehead’s brilliance got me to do more research on the subject simply by fact checking. Mind = Blown.

Because my mind is all discombobulated regarding truth, fiction, and history, let’s chat. What’s the most insane historical fact that you’ve ever heard, Bookworms? 

*If you make a purchase through a link on this site, I will receive a small commission.*

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Nov 02

YA State of Mind

Young Adult Fiction 2

Greetings Bookworms!

I don’t typically read a ton of YA literature, but I’ve been on something of a kick lately. When things in life don’t go the way I’d like them to, sometimes I like to remind myself that at least I’m not in high school anymore. So, without further ado, let’s talk about some great YA fiction, shall we?

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I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson: This book is about a set of teenage twins going through some major teen drama… And then some. Half the story is told from Noah’s perspective and half from his sister Jude’s. Noah is a brilliant young artist, though isolated and grappling with his feelings as he falls in love with the boy next door. Jude is a bit of a daredevil running with the popular crowd. Though the twins are as different as can be, they’re close. Which is why it comes as something of a shock to the reader to find that three years hence, the two are barely speaking. I’ll admit to taking sides in a big way, and not just because of the conflict. I just liked Noah’s whole story line better and his circumstances rang more true to me than Jude’s. Still though, it was a good read and smacked me in the feelings in a big way.

The DUFF: (Designated Ugly Fat Friend) by Kody Keplinger: Girl meets boy. Boy calls girl the DUFF (designated ugly fat friend) of her group of friends. Girl decides to use said boy as distraction from her rapidly-going-off-the-rails home life as a frenemy with benefits. As one does. While I loved most of what the book had to say about self image and romance and intimacy and life, I’m still on the fence about our dreamy jerkface turned nice guy. Ah well. It’s not like they got married at the end or anything. That would be ridiculous for a pair of teenagers in the here and now (side eyes Edward and Bella…)

Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass by Meg Medina: Piddy Sanchez flew under the radar at her old school, but when her mother moves them from their crumbling apartment to a new place, Piddy’s new school leaves something to be desired. That something being one Yacqui Delgado, who, for reasons unbeknownst to Piddy, has chosen to harass and threaten her. Because keeping up her grades, working a part time job, and working up the courage to confront her mother about her absent father isn’t enough to deal with. SUCH A POWERFUL BOOK. GAH! Bullying is the worst.

So yeah. YA books. I’m gobbling them up at the moment. It’ll pass, I’m sure, but in the meantime I’ll enjoy being reminded that I’m not 16. Talk to me, Bookworms! What’s your favorite thing about being a grown up? (If you’re a teenager, my condolences. I am giving you the Hunger Games salute right now. You’ll make it, I promise.)

*If you make a purchase through a link on this site, I will receive a small commission.*

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Oct 31

Happy Halloween 2016

Holidays 10

Trick or Treat, Bookworms!

I just thought that y’all might enjoy seeing the ridiculousness of my costume this year. I cannot help but crack up every time I look at the thing- hopefully it has the same effect on you. BEHOLD!

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I’m a dragon, RAWR!

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No, NOT Barney. For heaven’s sake if you must make a comparison, I prefer Figment.

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I HAVE WINGS, YOU GUYS!

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Handing out candy at the neighborhood parade like a boss.

Happy Halloween!

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Oct 28

Bite Size Reviews: October 2016

Audio Books, Bite Size Reviews 11

Greetings Bookworms!

In all my Halloweening, I nearly forgot that the holiday coincides with the end of the month, and I totally owe y’all some bite size reviews. As usual, I’ve been reading more than I’ve been blogging and I’m perpetually behind schedule. I say “schedule” like anybody but me cares. I am beholden to nobody. I am the free-est of birds. Now, before you go singing all the Lynryd Skynyrd, let’s talk about some BOOKS!

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ONE: The Girl from Everywhere by Heidi Heilig- This is not a drill folks. This book is about TIME TRAVELING PIRATES! It’s a delightful romp of a YA novel, and I’ll forgive the love triangle aspect because one of the love interests has a pet beagle. I love me some beagle related shenanigans. I would recommend that if you read this, read the end with your eyeballs. Or at least, don’t try to listen to the audio version while you’re multi-tasking. Because my brain got a little tangled in the maps and the time and the back and forth. Totally looking forward to the next installment, though.

TWO: Bird Box by Josh Malerman- I chose this book for my neighborhood book club because October was my month to host and I wanted something a little creepy. I tapped into the hive mind of twitter and I can’t remember who pointed me toward this book, but THANK YOU. Because it was perfect and creepy and wonderful. Apocalypse via eyeballs. It’s intense.

THREE: Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson- Freaking gorgeous prose, which makes all the sense because Woodson is a poet. The intensity of adolescent girlhood plus oodles of 1970s atmosphere makes for a fabulous novel. Well, fabulous and gut wrenching and everything that makes a book great. You know how it is.

FOUR: The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini- Oh my heart. This book just about BROKE ME. I realize it’s been out for quite a while and I’m basically the last person to have read it but being late to the party didn’t make the book any less intense. It’s set partially in Afghanistan and partially in the US and it’s devastating in the best way. Just read it, y’all. Read it.

Alright Bookworms. That’s what I’ve been reading. But what I’m really curious about? Who is dressing up for Halloween and what are you gonna be???

*If you make a purchase through a link on this site, I will receive a small commission.*

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Oct 26

The Brazilian Husband by Rebecca Powell

Cozy Lady Fiction, Romance, Tear Jerkers 5

Olá Bookworms!

You know that thing where you do or say or think something only to realize later that it was a dumb thing to do or say or think? That’s basically my life, to be honest: I’m in a constant state of revision. But, among the dumb things I’ve done or said or thought as it pertains to this blog was that I would not accept pitches for self published books. It was snobby and shortsighted of me. I’m sure there are a lot of self published books out there in which I have zero interest, but there are a lot of traditionally published books that fall into that category too. So. I’m wrong a lot. To nobody’s surprise. All this is to say that I received a pitch from a self-published author I was completely unfamiliar with (which is totally different than reading a book written by a blogger I already love, though that has happened) and I accepted a review copy. Are you ready to hear about The Brazilian Husband by Rebecca Powell? *Full disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book for review consideration from the author. The following review reflects my honest opinions.*

brazilianhusbandDetermined to honor her husband’s final request, Judith embarks on a trip from London to Brazil with her reluctant daughter in tow. The trip turns out to be a bit more than Judith bargained for as she begins to uncover secrets to her husband’s past. She soon encounters Ricardo, the dreamboat/human rights lawyer/activist who helps Judith unravel the tangled web of her husband’s life in Brazil. All of this is set against the backdrop of Brazil’s favelas, corrupt city officials, and familial drama.

I can’t recall having read another book set in Brazil, so I was a little concerned a book about Brazil written by a British woman wouldn’t be terribly authentic. I needn’t have worried. A quick review of  Ms. Powell’s bio revealed she spent a year in Brazil working for a women’s shelter, so she knows a little something about the country. Plus, since the protagonist is a British woman visiting Brazil, it was the ultimate “write what you know” scenario. Although, I sincerely hope that the author’s story doesn’t totally mirror this book, because while it was a page turner, it was also heartbreaking.

It reminded me a little of Kate Morton’s work (The Forgotten Garden in particular), the way historical elements were revealed in snippets and the reader discovered the truth of the narrative right along side the protagonist. If you’re into family sagas with a bit of romance, a lot of secrets, and a smattering of tears, definitely give The Brazilian Husband a read. It’s a good one, I promise.

Talk to me Bookworms! I want to read more books set in Brazil. Bonus points if they’re written by Brazilian authors. Recommendations?

*If you make a purchase through a link on this site, I will receive a small commission. You’ll also be supporting an independent author, which is pretty great. Given the fact that the editing and formatting were on point, I imagine a professional editor was involved as well, so you’ll be supporting THAT person too. Just in case you needed to feel warm and fuzzy about indulging in the written word.*

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Oct 19

Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents by Octavia Butler

Dystopian, Post-Apocalyptic Fiction 12

Greetings Bookworms!

I’ve been on an Octavia Butler kick lately. After I read Fledgling (review) wherein Octavia Butler turned vampire lore upside down, I decided it was time to tackle dystopian/post apocalyptic Butler. When an author totally blows your mind in multiple genres (because Kindred too!), it only makes sense to explore their entire backlist of titles, right? Enter Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents.

parable-of-the-sowerParable of the Sower opens with a world rocked by environmental and economic crises. The US has devolved into complete social chaos wherein even gated communities cannot be guaranteed of their safety. Food prices have skyrocketed, crime runs rampant, and emergency services are available only to those who can afford to pay the fees. Lauren Olamina lives in Southern California with her family when their relatively safe existence behind walls goes down in flames. Literally. In an attempt to survive in the aftermath, she flees northward, hoping to find a safe haven in which to explore and establish her newfound faith. Parable of the Talents continues Lauren’s story as she tries to establish a community and eek out an existence in what is left of society. Her efforts at rebuilding some semblance of life are hard won, but making headway. Unfortunately, shparable-of-the-talentse must contend with slavery, human trafficking, religious fundamentalists, and nightmarish political leaders. Suffice it to say that things don’t go particularly smoothly.

I won’t sugar coat it- these books scared the ever-loving crap o
ut of me. I hadn’t had a book related nightmare in ages (and I read Joe Hill this summer!) but these novels were chilling. CHILLING. There were so many terrifying and startling parallels to current political cycle, I can’t even. DOWN TO THE CAMPAIGN SLOGAN, YOU GUYS. I can only hope Butler is simply an insightful genius and not an actual oracle, because I am fifty shades of
freaked out. I’m not saying that a certain candidate’s presidency would bring about an apocalyptic hellscape, but, I HAVE CONCERNS.

Despite the nightmares, these books were phenomenal, insightful, and generally awesome. I would recommend that all of humanity (and probably a few extra terrestrial species) read these books. I apologize in advance for your bad dreams, bookworms, but these books are SO GOOD.

What is the last book that gave YOU bad dreams? 

*If you make a purchase through a link on this site, I will receive a small commission.*

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Oct 17

Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood

Shakespearean 15

Howdy Bookworms!

Did everyone have a lovely weekend? It feels very sneaky of me to write such a thing because technically it’s Friday night even though you won’t read this until Monday morning. Weird, right? The Internet, man. What a place. Anywho, you’ll recall a while back when I told you about Vinegar Girl (review), and how it was a fun retelling of The Taming of the Shrew? I’m happy to report that the Hogarth series is still going strong and I just got my mitts on Margaret Atwood’s contribution, Hag-Seed. It’s a retelling of The Tempest and let me tell you, it’s… Weird. *I received a complimentary copy of this book for review consideration through NetGalley. Because libraries exist and I can also get free books there, you shouldn’t be too suspicious of my intentions here. No penguins exchanged hands, so.*

hag-seedThis series is kind of amazing for me personally, because I suuuuuuck at reading Shakespeare. I can’t do it, I need to see it performed or read a translated to modern vernacular version. I’ve tried to read Shakespeare on my own, but the only plays I’ve ever made it through have been those I studied in school. Nerd fail. Unfortunately, The Tempest isn’t one of the plays we covered in school, nor did it spawn any teen friendly movie versions. Thus, I really had no idea what I was getting into. But, you know. Margaret Atwood? Hard to go wrong there.

In Atwood’s version, the artistic director of a theater troupe is thwarted in his creative endeavors and finds himself living a hermetic life while teaching Shakespeare to inmates in a prison. (Prison seems to be kind of her thing lately… I mean The Heart Goes Last (review)?) Our protagonist turns the inmates into quite an inventive set of actors, directors, and costume designers. Eventually he decides to put on the play that he was working on when he was fired while simultaneously seeking revenge on those who destroyed his career. The play was, of course, The TempestWhich is also about revenge seeking. It’s a play within a play. Turtles all the way down.

My favorite Atwood has always been dystopian Atwood, but it was quite fun to see her tackle The Bard. Although I finished reading this quite a while ago (because I’m hideously behind schedule) I can’t help but giggle a little when I think of folks attempting to make Shakespeare relevant to a less than enthused audience because Lin-Manuel Miranda, our glorious national treasure, did this on SNL. If you dig Shakespeare retellings or The Tempestyou should totally read this book. And then ruminate on the parallels between Shakespeare and hip hop. And then go listen to Hamilton. Just because.

Talk to me, Bookworms! What’s your favorite Shakespeare play? And is there a movie version available with a rocking soundtrack? Asking for a friend…

*If you make a purchase through a link on this site, I will receive a small commission.*

 

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