10 Anticipated YA Fantasy Books to Read in 2017!

Fellow YA enthusiasts - MARK YOUR CALENDARS!

1. Long May She Reign by Rhiannon Thomas

  • Release Date: February 21st, 2017 
  • Publisher: HarperTeen
  • Length: 432 pages
  • Summary: The Girl of Fire and Thorns meets The Queen of the Tearling in this thrilling fantasy standalone about one girl’s unexpected rise to power. Freya was never meant be queen. Twenty third in line to the throne, she never dreamed of a life in the palace, and would much rather research in her laboratory than participate in the intrigues of court. However, when an extravagant banquet turns deadly and the king and those closest to him are poisoned, Freya suddenly finds herself on the throne.

2. Wonder Woman: Warbringer by Leigh Bardugo

  • Release Date: August 29th, 2017
  • Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers
  • Length: 368 pages
  • Summary:She will become one of the world’s greatest heroes: WONDER WOMAN. But first she is Diana, Princess of the Amazons. And her fight is just beginning. . . .Diana longs to prove herself to her legendary warrior sisters. But when the opportunity finally comes, she throws away her chance at glory and breaks Amazon law—risking exile—to save a mere mortal. Even worse, Alia Keralis is no ordinary girl and with this single brave act, Diana may have doomed the world.

 


3. Flame in the Mist (Flame in the Mist #1) by Renee Adieh

  • Release Date: May 16th, 2017
  • Publisher: G.P. Putnam Sons Books
  • Length: 368 pages
  • Summary: The daughter of a prominent samurai, Mariko has long known her place—she may be an accomplished alchemist, whose cunning rivals that of her brother Kenshin, but because she is not a boy, her future has always been out of her hands. En route to the imperial city of Inako, Mariko narrowly escapes a bloody ambush by a dangerous gang of bandits known as the Black Clan, who she learns has been hired to kill her before she reaches the palace. Dressed as a peasant boy, Mariko sets out to infiltrate the ranks of the Black Clan, determined to track down the person responsible for the target on her back. As Mariko gets closer to the Black Clan, she uncovers a dark history of secrets, of betrayal and murder, which will force her to question everything she's ever known.

4. Carve the Mark (Carve the Mark #1) by Veronica Roth

  • Release Date: January 17th 2017
  • Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books
  • Length: 68 pages
  • Summary: On a planet where violence and vengeance rule, in a galaxy where some are favored by fate, everyone develops a current gift, a unique power meant to shape the future. While most benefit from their current gifts, Akos and Cyra do not—their gifts make them vulnerable to others’ control. Can they reclaim their gifts, their fates, and their lives, and reset the balance of power in this world? Fans of Star Wars and Divergent will revel in internationally bestselling author Veronica Roth’s stunning new science-fiction fantasy series.

5. Untitled (Throne of Glass #6) by Sarah J. Maas

  • Release Date: September 5th, 2017
  • Publisher: loomsbury U.S.A.
  • Length: 702 pages
  • Summary: No summary needed. If you don't know this series, we can no longer be friends. Get out.
Title and Cover coming soon

Title and Cover coming soon


6. A Court of Wings and Ruin (ACOTAR #3) by Sarah J. Maas

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  • Release Date: May 2nd, 2017
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Books
  • Length: 648 pages
  • Summary: Looming war threatens all Feyre holds dear in the third volume of the #1 New York Times bestselling A Court of Thorns and Roses series. Feyre has returned to the Spring Court, determined to gather information on Tamlin's maneuverings and the invading king threatening to bring Prythian to its knees. But to do so she must play a deadly game of deceit-and one slip may spell doom not only for Feyre, but for her world as well. As war bears down upon them all, Feyre must decide who to trust amongst the dazzling and lethal High Lords-and hunt for allies in unexpected places.

7. Strange the Dreamer (Strange the Dreamer #1) by Laini Taylor

  • Release Date: March 28th, 2017
  • Publisher: Little, Brown Books
  • Length: 544 pages
  • Summary: The dream chooses the dreamer, not the other way around—and Lazlo Strange, war orphan and junior librarian, has always feared that his dream chose poorly. Since he was five years old he's been obsessed with the mythic lost city of Weep, but it would take someone bolder than he to cross half the world in search of it. Then a stunning opportunity presents itself, in the person of a hero called the Godslayer and a band of legendary warriors, and he has to seize his chance to lose his dream forever. What happened in Weep two hundred years ago to cut it off from the rest of the world? What exactly did the Godslayer slay that went by the name of god? And what is the mysterious problem he now seeks help in solving?

8. Wintersong by S. Jae-Jones

  • Release Date: February 7th, 2017
  • Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books
  • Length: 448 pages
  • ummary: All her life, nineteen-year-old Liesl has heard tales of the beautiful, mysterious Goblin King. He is the Lord of Mischief, the Ruler Underground, and the muse around which her music is composed. Yet, as Liesl helps shoulder the burden of running her family’s inn, her dreams of composition and childish fancies about the Goblin King must be set aside in favor of more practical concerns. But when her sister Käthe is taken by the goblins, Liesl journeys to their realm to rescue her sister and return her to the world above. The Goblin King agrees to let Käthe go—for a price.

9. Caraval (Caraval #1) by Stephanie Garber

  • Release Date: January 31st 2017
  • Publisher: Flatiron Books
  • Length: 07 pages
  • Summary: Scarlett has never left the tiny island where she and her beloved sister, Tella, live with their powerful, and cruel, father. Now Scarlett’s father has arranged a marriage for her, and Scarlett thinks her dreams of seeing Caraval, the far-away, once-a-year performance where the audience participates in the show, are over.But this year, Scarlett’s long-dreamt of invitation finally arrives. With the help of a mysterious sailor, Tella whisks Scarlett away to the show.  Scarlett has been told that everything that happens during Caraval is only an elaborate performance. But she nevertheless becomes enmeshed in a game of love, heartbreak, and magic with the other players in the game. 

10. King’s Cage (Red Queen #3) by Victoria Aveyard 

  • Release Date: February 7th, 2017
  • Publisher: HarperTeen Books
  • Length: 528 pages
  • Summary: Mare Barrow is a prisoner, powerless without her lightning, tormented by her lethal mistakes. She lives at the mercy of a boy she once loved, a boy made of lies and betrayal. Now a king, Maven Calore continues weaving his dead mother's web in an attempt to maintain control over his country—and his prisoner. As Mare bears the weight of Silent Stone in the palace, her once-ragtag band of newbloods and Reds continue organizing, training, and expanding. They prepare for war, no longer able to linger in the shadows. And Cal, the exiled prince with his own claim on Mare's heart, will stop at nothing to bring her back.

Soundtracks that will CHANGE YOUR LIFE.

I’ve always had a connection with film scores.

It probably ties back to being born in the generation that was obsessed with the Disney “greats” - Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, Lion King, etc. On road trips, we had a stockpile of cassettes and CD’s standing by, ready for long hauls across the country. I’d be in the back seat, ponytail and pink sneakers bouncing in rhythm, howling “Just Around the Riverbend” and “Part of your World” over and over again until my parents probably wanted to hurl me out the window. 

Years later, I’d find myself sitting on my bed, lanky legs crossed underneath me, furiously scribbling out short stories while listening to Hans Zimmer’s Gladiator or Tan Dun’s Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon soundtracks on my beaten up blue CD player. Imagery - I discovered at the age of 13 - plays a huge part in the creative process, and when I would listen to these movie scores, my mind would wander. Not to the scenes that corresponded to the movie itself, but to other worlds. Stories all my own. 

It may seem silly, but those tracks changed my life. They opened up this hidden world where emotions could be painted using a medium other then words - and their music sang to my heart. It was like finding out you’d been speaking the wrong language, and one day - suddenly! - the words in your head just... snapped into place. 

Like breaking the surface after being underwater your entire life, not quite drowning but not quite living either.

I know what you’re thinking - “Kristin, you’re a musician. Of course you love soundtracks. Big deal." Here’s the thing - you may not be musically-inclined (mad shower karaoke skills totally count, by the way), but I bet you MONEY that you’re more invested in music then you think. Wanna know how?

Movies. 

And what do all (okay, most… *eyes Revanent soundtrack with scorn and a mild case of PTSD*) movies have? Soundtracks - scores comprised of symphonies and choruses and insanely talented artists. Want an example? LA LA LAND. Holy musical genius, Batman! If you haven’t seen this movie yet, SHAME ON YOU.

So here’s my request of you, dear readers: take a moment out of your busy day and listen. You don’t have to listen to every track. You could even pick just one. 

Happy Listening. 

1. Far from the Madding Crowd - Craig Armstrong

  • Confession time: I haven't even seen the movie. But I've listened to this score front to back so many times I've lost count. It's THAT good. 
  • Why I Love It: Violin tracks that make you sob... In a good way. *tears up* This whole album feels like someone took Regency era/Pride and Prejudice-esque music and made it a bit more rustic... Like throwing it in a corn field. Or in a stack of hay bales. Not sure if that made any sense... *shrugs*
  • Favorite Track: "Opening" or "Let No Man Steal Your Thyme" - vocals by Carrie Mulligan & Michael Sheen

1. Home Alone 25th Anniversary Edition - John Williams

  • Why I Love It: This one's a sentimental pick, guys. Every year at Christmas, this gets played on repeat in my mum's kitchen, along with the maelstrom of baking, wrapping, cooking, basting, dancing, pranking, etc. 
  • Favorite Track: "White Christmas" with Irving Berlin and The Drifters

3. La La Land - Justin Hurwitz

  • Why I Love It: Über catchy piano medleys, old-fashioned musical tunes, and a jazzy nod to Old Hollywood.
  • Favorite Track: "Mia and Sebastian's Theme"

4. (500) Days of Summer - Various Artists

  • Why I Love It: How can I NOT LOVE THIS SOUNDTRACK?!? Agh!! It has Regina Spektor *silent screaming*, Temper Trap, Carli Bruni, Simon & Garfunkel, and Zooey Deschanel herself sings on it!! It's an indie hodgepodge of awesomeness!
  • Favorite Track: "Us" by Regina Spektor. I can't believe you even had to ask. *psh*

5. Game of Thrones (Season 6) - Ramin Djawadi

  • Why I Love It: I'M OBSESSED WITH GAME OF THRONES!!!! House Stark Represent! Everything Ramin writes for this series is golden, but this season in particular has some pretty epic orchestrations.
  • Favorite Track: "Light of the Seven"

6. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone - John Williams

  • Why I Love It: I know. Another by John Williams. He's the Godfather of soundtracks, so GET OVER IT. This was a close tie with HP Deathly Hallows Part II by Alexandre Desplat (cue so many tears), but I think because we were being introduced to their magical world for the first time, there's a sense of innocence present in the music that isn't quite there in the other films.
  • Favorite Track: "Leaving Hogwarts"

7. The Village - James Newton Howard

  • Why I Love It: If you don't know who Hilary Hahn is, go check her out HERE on Spotify. She's basically the reigning American virtuoso violinist/diva/my-future-bestie (I wish). The tracks are decievingly simple, yet eerie. SO FREAKING EERIE. I'm looking at you, Hilary. 
  • Favorite Track: tie between "What Are You Asking Me?" and "The Gravel Road"

8. Garden State - Various Artists

  • Why I Love It: A bit more eclectic then the rest. This came out right on the cusp of my transition into college. So, naturally, most tracks have an angst-filled personal history for me. Handpicked by Zach Braff, the album's overall mood is very indie/folksy/chill - The Shins, Remy Fair, Zero 7, and Coldplay.
  • Favorite Track: "New Slang" by The Shins

9. The Last Samurai - Hans Zimmer

  • Why I Love It: This is a heart-wrenching soundtrack, composed with a play on traditional Japanese instruments/melodies that are both agonizing and peaceful at the same time. I play this in my office when I'm wanting to maintain zen (in other words, almost every day). 
  • Favorite Track: "A Way of Life"

2016 Highlights for the Unapologetic Nerd

Happy New Year, my lovely bloggeritas! 

Christmas with La Familia, 2016

Christmas with La Familia, 2016

After taking a month off for the holiday season to be with family and download, I feel REFRESHED! Well… as refreshed as I can be before the dreaded spring semester begins, AKA every teacher’s personal hell. But I’m rallying - coffee has been bought in droves, gym membership is ready to use (insert Legally Blonde quote about how happy people don’t kill people), and I’m working extra hard to start the new year with an altered perspective

Perspective, I’m discovering, is everything. 

It’s the reason why 2016 has been branded THE WORST YEAR EVER. 

And while this year certainly had its moments (#presidentialelection2016 #SnapeandPrincessLeiadied #whatiswrongwiththeworld?!?!) it wasn’t World War III worthy. 

It’s all about perspective. 

It’s the difference between being unhappy with where you are instead of being grateful for what you’ve accomplished. It’s the difference between thinking about how many people died in 2016 vs realizing how many of those people got to live long, fulfilling lives. Or instead of lamenting/bragging about who won the presidency, praying for our leaders & hoping for a better future for ourselves and our children.

Okay. *steps down from pulpit* Sermon over.

Here’s my perspective on 2016, and it’s a pretty damn good one! 

2016 Highlights:

  • Blog Posts Written: 29 - not too bad, considering I took a break AND rehashed my entire site from a book blog to a creative blog
  • Most Viewed Post: Definitely my 10 Things I wish I had known as a Music Major article - over 1000 views that week!! 
  • Post I'm Most Proud of: Books that Influenced how I look at Diversity Today - I really struggled to find the right words to write this one, given the tense political situation at the moment... Now when I look at it, my heart swells. I want all my work to feel like that! 
  • Post I'd like to Burn: tie breaker between Je t'aime Original Design and Waiting on Wednesday meme... The original design post was poorly written and put together at the last minute, and the "Waiting on Wednesday" meme is (in my opinion) a filler for lack of content, and I totally bought into it at first. BURN THEM NOW.
  • Monthly Readers: 3500!!! WHAT?! For me, that's huge! I did NOT start this thinking "I'm going to reach thousands of readers"... Um. But I am. Very surreal.
  • Goals: My biggest goal is to continue producing quality content - content that I can proudly stand behind, rather then quantify my blog's success. It's easy to write drabble every week that takes up alot of space and makes your blog look "busy". 2016 made me take a giant step back so I could realize I was throwing a smokescreen of "busy" over a very empty website. CONTENT IS VITAL!!

Love & Travels

Dressing fancy for anniversary dinner - #adultingwin

Dressing fancy for anniversary dinner - #adultingwin

The hubby and I celebrated our 5th Wedding Anniversary this year! 5 years married to this 6’3” Scandinavian giant, acting like complete goofballs while traveling the world together. 

In 5 years we’ve learned how to make homemade EVERYTHING (pho, alkaline pasta, beef bourguignon), produced an EP and recorded albums, traveled to 10 countries, bonded over our shared love of Game of Thrones and Harry Potter, moved across the country, nearly gotten mugged in an Austrian subway, gone sea kayaking, swam with dolphins - okay, I'm being annoying... I’ll stop… 

But he’s my lobster!!

San Diego, California

La Jolla beach with my seal babies

La Jolla beach with my seal babies

San Diego is seriously gorgeous, and these baby seals made my LIFE!! I almost smuggled one off the beach, even though it would have meant our plane ride home would've smelled like an overripe can of tuna...

 

Biking down the causeway of San Diego downtown

Biking down the causeway of San Diego downtown

Universal Studios, California 

HARRY POTTER WORLD! HARRY POTTER WORLD! HARRY FREAKING POTTER WORLD!! The minute we stepped into Hogsmeade, I started crying big fat ugly tears of joy. Yes, I got Hermione's interactive wand, and yes I elbowed little kids out of my way to try "spells" throughout the park. I'm not ashamed.

All the kiddos in the park with their wands... and then there's me.

All the kiddos in the park with their wands... and then there's me.

This raptor was getting a little too close for comfort

This raptor was getting a little too close for comfort

BookNerdigans

  • Favorite Book: Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas
  • Favorite Author: Alexandra Bracken (Passenger, The Darkest Minds trilogy)
  • Favorite Series: Harry Potter (sorry ACOTAR… JK Rowling’s Cursed Child release sealed the deal for me. Hufflepuffs UNITE!)
  • Favorite Character: Inej Ghafa - AKA The Spider, AKA my child from Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows series
  • Favorite Ship: FEYRE AND RHYSAND ALL DAY!!!!! (ACOMAF by Maas)

Makers Gonna Make

This year has been an incredible journey for me as a creative crafter! This all started as a side hobby to help with the stress of "musical season", AKA spring semester when I assist in the annual spring production at the college where I teach. Now I'm about to launch my official Etsy store with embroidery, cross-stitch, and knit products!!!

I started by slowly easing away from cross-stitch and began designing my own hand embroidery -

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I also explored crocheting again after YEARS of not touching a crochet hook, which led to loom knitting! Not to brag, but I can make a bad-ass slouchy beanie in less then 2 days. Boom. *mic drop*

Now I have a room devoted to crafting of all kinds, an amazing new sewing machine - compliments of my dear mummy! - and a gorgeous craft table built by my amazing hubby to experiment with!! I’ve already managed to make curtains to go over my kitchen sink window, and my Pinterest page is exploding with potential sewing projects. I'm one happy crafter! :-)

  • Favorite Project: 2” mini hoop ornament of Christmas Pikachu (see photo above of mini hoops)
  • Favorite Etsy seller: Dandelyne & her über adorable miniature embroidery hoops!! <3
  • Favorite Medium (right now): Knitting (loom and round)
  • # of Christmas presents made: 30… Yeah. *ices poor, swollen hands*

2016, I know you've got a bad rap. Try to keep your head high. You haven’t sucked... not really.

Can’t wait to see what this next year has in store! 

Blessings, y’all!

Learning A Foreign Language: Facts and Myths

When I was 11, I carried around a black three-ring binder in my backpack - to school, to my parent’s work, to the grocery store… wherever I went, the binder was sure to follow. Looking back, I realize now this obsessive behavior set the tone for my current neurotic insistence that my Kindle always be in my purse... Awkward silences, moments stuck in waiting rooms, long lines, and awful parties are all solvable issues when you have a Kindle by your side.

But I digress - my little black folder.

Try to imagine what most 11 year olds would keep in a binder - coloring pages? a journal? the latest game of MASH (90’s kids HUZZAH!)… All of these are valid guesses. 

Mine was filled with Egyptian hieroglyphics.

Yeah. Those.

*awkward shrug*

Heiroglyphs, hieratic, and coptic scripts, to be exact. With a few colloquial phrases in Egyptian Arabic stuffed in the back, scribbled hastily with a very rudimentary form of phonetics out beside each phrase. 

So while my mum and grandmother were scouring nurseries for orchids and boxwoods, I was sitting on a bench using a piece of scratch paper to practice the cartouche of Akhenaten. He was one of my favorites, the pharaoh of the 18th Dynasty (New Kingdom) who notably altered Egypt’s religion to monotheism, worshipping only one god - Aten, the sun god. This religious trend obviously did not last. Hatshepsut - the second confirmed female pharaoh, also 18th Dynasty - was next in my queue. 

Now before you roll your eyes and chalk all of this up to a major case of nerdiness (which is partially true), my odd obsession with a dead script seen only in museums DID HAVE an ulterior motive. You see, I had gotten it into my head that I wanted to become an archeologist of Egyptian antiquities, and to do so (according to my 11-year old research capabilities), I would have to be proficient in the three Ancient Egyptian scripts (hieroglyphs, hieratic, and coptic), as well as the modern language of the area (Egyptian Arabic). 

It made perfect sense: if I wanted to be accepted to the University of Chicago’s program for Near Middle Eastern languages, I had to get a leg up on the competition and start learning NOW. 

Naturally, I did not become an Egyptian archeologist. BUT, this goal-oriented focus - albeit, a little manic - was what made me fall in love with the art of learning languages. 

Learning a language brings a multitude of benefits to the learner - both mental and cultural. But I’ve found in my language journey that there are also an ocean of factors that inhibit many of us from crossing that chasm and make the jump from interest to application:


FACT: Learning a language can improve cognitive function

Alison Mackey, professor of linguistics at Georgetown University and Lancaster University, wrote an article for The Guardian, discussing how learning a foreign language can increase the size of your brain:

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Testing has also shown that the majority of subjects who are bilingual score better on aptitude exams, testing concentration, listening skills, ability to multitask, and processing speed. In other words, you’re giving your brain a workout when you learn a foreign language! Build those cerebral muscles!!


MYTH: If you do not learn a second language by a certain age, it will be much more difficult for you as an adult.

I admit that I bought into this one when I was taking German in college. I believed that my lack of skill was due to the lack of language diversity in my childhood… rather then the fact that I didn’t work at it and relied solely on my ear to mimic my teacher in order to get a decent grade...

Whoops.

There are many studies that show children are supposedly mini-language sponges. I’m not here to argue their validity, but rather champion those on the other side of this spectrum.  While it’s true that children process and store language differently then we do as adults, that in no way means that our internal time clock has ticked its last. What it shows us is that they approach the function of learning differently then we do. Children who are raised in bilingual homes are LIVING the language, their exposure wrapped in an organic, tangible mix of play and food and family, with perhaps some classroom work thrown in - how many adults achieve this purely from workbook exercises? It’s a mindset, not a mind-deficiency that stands in our way. 


FACT: Full immersion does not always guarantee fluency in a language

You’re welcome, fellow workaholics/cheap-travelers! :-)

While immersion IS an excellent tool to becoming language-proficient very quickly, it doesn’t always work out for some people. Why? We are all different kinds of learners. Think back to your experience in school - what helped you study best? Writing down your study notes over and over again? Quizzing you friends in a coffee shop? Listening to your lectures on a recorder? These are all different ways (kinesthetic, auditory, visual, reading/writing) to achieve the same goal. Immersion is especially helpful to auditory learners - people who pick up information quickly by processing what they hear. 

*waves* Hi, my name is Kristin, and I’m an auditory learner! 

I found this out hands-on by traveling to Europe a few summers ago. 7 countries - 5 languages - in 3 weeks. Naturally, I did my homework and had a list of phrases I had practiced over and over before arriving. But when we got to Lativa (the 1st country on our itinerary), I didn’t expect my brain to flip this very large, very apparent switch.

It felt like I was siphoning information at mach speed in a way I had never experienced. Wherever we went, whoever we talked with, I was picking up words and accents and cadences in speech that I hadn’t bothered noticing in my own language. It was like taking a drug. By the end of the week, I was trying out these newly-found skills with our Latvian friends. By the end of our trip, I was hooked. 

On the other side of this learning curve, I noticed that others did not pick up the language so quickly. And it had nothing to do with skill or intelligence or interest, but rather how they processed information. And there was the epiphany - immersion may not be the answer for some. 


MYTH: Language software/classes are too expensive - I’m looking at you, Rosetta Stone...

Okay, that last bit IS true - Rosetta Stone is wicked expensive, even with the student discount. Trust me, I know. True story: freshly married, newly-minted graduate Kristin decided that in order to further her opera career, she should become more proficient in French. After all, French is spoken in over 29 countries and the 2nd most spoken language in the European union. At the very least, it was a practical financial investment. 

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5 Levels and $250.00 later, my mother called. She found a language app she wants me to look at. I didn’t hold my breathe - language apps were notoriously horrible, and the ones that were barely passable cost an exorbitant amount of money. But I search on the App store and download it regardless, willing to try.

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Thus marked my first day on Duolingo, AKA the best language app EVER!!

My mum’s hype was not unjustified - this was an incredible app, designed with a similar curriculum map as Rosetta Stone - wait…. Hold on a minute…. I grab my laptop and open up Rosetta Stone, holding my phone next to the screen, and begin to work through the first lesson on both programs… SWEET BABY JESUS. They’re the same!!  

Well... almost the same. Rosetta Stone adheres to a near fully immersive experience, giving little to no written explanation of verb conjugations or grammatical rules, preferring to use pictures and repetition to get the job done. Duolingo, on the other hand, gives you the option to read further into the schematics of the language, with charts and tables and native speakers ready to connect with, articles from websites and newspapers ready to translate, etc. 

But the curriculum is the same. 

And Duolingo is free. 

Over 24 languages are currently available for English speakers, with many more in beta and hatchling status - including High Valyrian and Klingon. Seriously. Go check them out:

Today, my love of languages has been integrated into my music career, both as a performer and a professor. I teach Italian, German, and French diction for singers, using the International Phonetic Alphabet so that students can properly pronounce text in art songs and arias they need to move on to the next level in their music careers. 

I’m constantly discovering how exposure to language through text and music literature has affected my long-term retention - the other day I began translating a French piece that I’d never seen before. The words (common for dramatic operas - love, death, consumption, etc.), were not ones common in Duolingo or Rosetta Stone. It was my experience in opera and deeply-rooted processes for learning that bolstered confidence, giving me the ability to tackle a language that is not my own.

My motivations are much more visceral, more purpose-driven when combined with the intent of passing on knowledge and making connections with others. Which is something my 11 year old self - for all her passion and enthusiasm - could not claim.


Find your motivation. Try something new. Make mistakes - but make them boldly! And make them for the right reasons. 

- Aimons, rions, et chantons sans cesse, mon amis -

Books that Influenced how I Look at Diversity Today

The 2016 Presidential Election

Two weeks have passed since Election week. 

I purposefully avoided the political maelstrom that swept all forms of social media since Tuesday, 11/8. Even now, I'm hesitant to say anything at all, for fear it might be misconstrued by either side. This is a difficult time - for everyone.

You might have noticed that I haven't been as active on this blog in the last month or so... Given the state of current events, I felt like a hypocrite writing about crafts or books or music or ANYTHING. Trust me, I tried. I opened a blank word document three or four times, wanting to write something - ANYTHING - to release the emotional pressure that has built up over the last few weeks, only to delete my lousy attempts.

Ironically, the one thing I didn't want to write about was the election. I don't want to tell you who I voted for. And I don't want to discuss policy or partisan ideals. 

Here's why:

I 100% believe in the power of free speech. But... I also believe in respect for others. In empathy. And compassion. As an artist, musician, writer, and - most importantly - a professor, I have an ethical obligation to maintain a strict sense of professionalism in all aspects of my life. What kind of example would I set for my students if I refused to abide by the same set of principles I required in my classrooms? 

So instead... I stayed silent. Waiting until the proverbial dust had settled. Or at least enough for me to feel comfortable publishing this article.

Today's post does cover a popular topic from this year's election - but in a very nerdy, bookish way.

Which, in my opinion, is the very best way of all. ;-)

Diversity in Literature

Diversity has been a key contention in this year's presidential election, all forms of media exploiting candidates' views on gay rights, women's reproductive rights, immigration, foreign policy, religious freedoms, etc.. And as I reviewed the last few months, I realized that my opinions on these issues were surprisingly decided. I had been walking through life as a no-longer-young adult - trust me, it's still an odd feeling - with firm beliefs in race, gender, equality, etc. without really realizing how I'd gotten there. 

All of us have normal factors that shape our world views: upbringing, regional ideals, geographical location, experiential elements, religion, etc. 

But thinking back to some of the books I read as a child - and some as an adult - it became obvious that much of what I read had snippets of diversity smattered throughout - ideas on religion, gender roles, race, LGBT, socioeconomic division of class... 

So... I wanted to share this list with you!

 Hopefully you've read or heard of these titles. If so, I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Enjoy! 

1. A Time to Kill by John Grisham

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Summary: The life of a ten-year-old girl is shattered by two drunken and remorseless young men. The mostly white town reacts with shock and horror at the inhuman crime. Until her black father acquires an assault rifle and takes matters into his hands.

For ten days, as burning crosses and the crack of sniper fire spread through the streets of Clanton, the nation sits spellbound as young defense attorney Jake Brigance struggles to save his client's life...and then his own

*Adult content - caution for younger readers!


2. The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi

Summary: Set during an 1832 transatlantic crossing, Charlotte begins her trip a prim schoolgirl returning home to her American family from England. From the start, there is something wrong with the Seahawk : the families that were to serve as Charlotte's chaperones do not arrive, and the unsavory crew warns her not to make the trip. When the crew rebels, Charlotte first sides with the civilized Captain Jaggerty, but before long she realizes that he is a sadist and-- despite being the only female aboard--she joins the crew as a seaman.

*Great read for young girls - introduction of stereotypical gender roles


3. The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank

Summary: In 1942, with Nazis occupying Holland, a thirteen-year-old Jewish girl and her family fled their home in Amsterdam and went into hiding. For the next two years, until their whereabouts were betrayed to the Gestapo, they and another family lived cloistered in the "Secret Annex" of an old office building.  In her diary Anne Frank recorded vivid impressions of her experiences during this period. By turns thoughtful, moving, and amusing, her account offers a fascinating commentary on human courage and frailty and a compelling self-portrait of a sensitive and spirited young woman whose promise was tragically cut short.

*Memoir: prejudice, anti-semetic themes


4. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Summary: Set in the small Southern town of Maycomb, Alabama, during the Depression, To Kill a Mockingbird follows three years in the life of 8-year-old Scout Finch, her brother, Jem, and their father, Atticus--three years punctuated by the arrest and eventual trial of a young black man accused of raping a white woman. Though her story explores big themes, Harper Lee chooses to tell it through the eyes of a child. The result is a tough and tender novel of race, class, justice, and the pain of growing up.

*Fiction: race, socioeconomic class


5. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

Summary: Charlie is a freshman. And while's he's not the biggest geek in the school, he is by no means popular. He's a wallflower--shy and introspective, and intelligent beyond his years, if not very savvy in the social arts. We learn about Charlie through the letters he writes to someone of undisclosed name, age, and gender, a stylistic technique that adds to the heart-wrenching earnestness saturating this teen's story. Charlie encounters the same struggles that many kids face in high school--how to make friends, the intensity of a crush, family tensions, a first relationship, exploring sexuality, experimenting with drugs--but he must also deal with his best friend's recent suicide.

*Young Adult novel - read last year, themes of LGBT & gender


6. The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

Summary: The Poisonwood Bible is a story told by the wife and four daughters of Nathan Price, a fierce, evangelical Baptist who takes his family and mission to the Belgian Congo in 1959. They carry with them everything they believe they will need from home, but soon find that all of it -- from garden seeds to Scripture -- is calamitously transformed on African soil. What follows is a suspenseful epic of one family's tragic undoing and remarkable reconstruction over the course of three decades in postcolonial Africa.

*FAVORITE BOOK! Explores themes of race, cultural prejudice, politics and religious freedom


7. The Help by Kathryn Stockett

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Summary: Aibileen is a black maid in 1962 Jackson, Mississippi, who's always taken orders quietly, but lately she's unable to hold her bitterness back. Her friend Minny has never held her tongue but now must somehow keep secrets about her employer that leave her speechless. White socialite Skeeter just graduated college. She's full of ambition, but without a husband, she's considered a failure. Together, these seemingly different women join together to write a tell-all book about work as a black maid in the South, that could forever alter their destinies and the life of a small town...

*Fiction: race, gender roles, socioeconomic division of class


8. Passenger by Alexandra Bracken

Summary: In a matter of moments, Etta, a talented teenage violinist in New York City, goes from making her concert soloist debut to finding herself prisoner aboard a ship in the distant past. It turns out she is descended from one of a dwindling number of time-traveling families who manipulate history in an ongoing fight for power and influence. The captain of the ship, Nicholas Carter, was hired to retrieve Etta and bring her to the head of the most powerful family. Together they must travel across the globe and through different time periods in search of the long missing astrolabe. 

*YA novel, more recent read for me - time travel explores concepts of race and gender


9. The Bronze Bow by Elizabeth George Speare

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Summary: This novel tells the story of eighteen-year-old Daniel bar Jamin—a fierce, hotheaded young man bent on revenging his father’s death by forcing the Romans from his land of Israel. Daniel’s palpable hatred for Romans wanes only when he starts to hear the gentle lessons of the traveling carpenter, Jesus of Nazareth. A fast-paced, suspenseful, vividly wrought tale of friendship, loyalty, the idea of home, community . . . and ultimately, as Jesus says to Daniel on page 224: “Can’t you see, Daniel, it is hate that is the enemy? Not men. Hate does not die with killing. It only springs up a hundredfold. The only thing stronger than hate is love.” A powerful, relevant read in turbulent times.

*Excellent read for younger readers - religious freedom, prejudice, and social bias

My 10 Favorite Etsy Shops for Stitchers

Hey guys! So I wanted to make a compendium of all the Etsy shops I adore (translation: "stalk") most of whom have supplied me with patterns, tips, tricks, and inspiration on how to improve my stitchery efforts in the last year! If you're interested in stitching - no matter if you're a beginner or if you've been stitching for years - these stores have fantastic resources! 

Click on the store titles to be taken directly to their Etsy site. 

Some of the store owners also maintain gorgeous Instagram accounts with pics of their works-in-progress. If they have one, I’ve provided a link to their Insta accounts in their profile descriptions - give them a follow! :-)

Custom cross-stitch family portraits - designed from photos of your family! - and patterns of characters from your favorite TV shows & movies. Click Here to read my post about the pattern YouMakeMeSewHappy made for my own cross-stitch family portrait (pic below):


Modern & Contemporary hand embroidery patterns - including the treble clef sheet music pattern I bought and altered to fit the Zelda theme song (pictured below)!  


Great patterns for beginners! This is where I got my start testing my stitching chops. Patterns are easy to follow with quirky themes. Perfect for gifts! 


 

Hand embroidery art and PDF patterns, inspired by vintage florals and whimsical designs. Designed by Caitlin out of Vancouver, all her of work is timeless and clean! Instagram account  - CinderandHoney


Floral hand embroidery, available as patterns, hoop art, and hoop jewelry! Hoop necklaces have just been listed on her site, with different designs and shapes. I've got some major stitch envy with this seller!!! Her hoops are ridiculous amazing! Instagram accountNamaste_Embroidery


Modern embroidery pattern Etsy shop run by Kelly Fletcher of South Africa - she's an author, designer, and stitcher extraordinaire! Instagram account - KFNeedlework


 

I bought a kit from this seller last spring, and worked on it during my infamous Spring Break fever. Everything - from the packaging to the hand-designed stationary to the quality of materials - was meticulously selected and put together for a wonderful DIY experience! Instagram accountTamarny 

Here's a picture of the kit I received during its "WIP" stage:


Cross-stitch designer and kit seller based out of Austria (hence the hilarious German cross-stitch kit above: "I have ruined my fingers for your gift!"). Instagram accountHallodribums

 

Trending: mini embroidery hoops are HUGE right now. Well, huge in the crafting circles at least... but Dandelyne is the original seller of these tiny little beauties, and with so many sizes, functions, and kits offered on her site, this is a crafting GOLD MINE. Imagine your massive 6-8" hoop that takes forever to complete. Now condense that down into a 1-2" area of workspace. A fraction of the time, with 200% presentation! Alter your order to make your mini hoop a necklace or a brooch. Instagram account - Dandelyne


Okay. This Etsy shop is a BEHEMOTH in terms of Etsy sales - 40,852 sales since they opened in 2012, with a 5-star review average out of 10,982 reviews. WOAH. Can we just take a minute to appreciate the manpower and efficiency it must take to run this sucker. This is a great place to buy hoops in bulk in multiple sizes, as well as scissors, needles, fabric, floss... basically if you don't want to leave the house to go to Hobby Lobby and/or you need bulk supplies, this is your place. 

Well, that's it! I hope my fellow crafty bloggeritas find this list useful in getting your crafting off to a great start. A HUGE thank you to all our favorite etsy sellers - keep doing what you do!! We love you!!

~Till next time~