The Chocolate Book Challenge!

I got tagged by Shelby From The TWP to do this fun little book challenge based off chocolates. I may or may not be eating a Toblerone as we speak. Basically each kind of chocolate has a corresponding kind of book, and people tagged tell us about a book they love that matches that category. It's a super easy way to get book recommendations from people you love!

Heads up: I'm linking to all these books on Amazon using affiliate links, so if you buy one of my recommendations after clicking on that link, I'll get a little bit of compensation.

Dark Chocolate: A book about a dark subject

Sex Education by Jenny DavisThis book is a novel, not a sex education textbook. It is a really powerful novel about two teens who get assigned a task for their sex ed class: care for someone else. David and Livvie choose to care for one of their neighbors, a lonely pregnant woman who seems to need some help. While the bond between David and Livvie grows stronger, and they learn more about what it really means to care about others and themselves, they come to realize that their assignment is a lot more complicated than they ever imagined. Their teacher is trying to teach sex ed in a way that doesn't just cover the facts and statistics about sex and its risks, but also encourages teens to explore and understand other ways to care for the people they care about, and communicate openly-- because there's a lot more to sex than just the physical act. Anyway, that's not what makes this novel dark. The story is being told by Livvie from a mental institution, as part of her therapy. She's explaining the events, beginning a year ago, that lead to her mental break. As David and Livvie attempted to complete this assignment and take care of their neighbor, they find out that not only is her husband gruff and often absent, but is actually abusive. The kids are suddenly forced to make decisions about a situation they have no easy answers to in an attempt to protect the pregnant woman and the child she intends to have. This book is so great on so many levels. It is intended for ages 12+ and it's great because it really doesn't underestimate its readers and is so beautifully written. It's about a boy and a girl falling in love and then being forced to deal with a situation way beyond what they are capable of handling. It examines sex and relationships and abuse and youth in ways that are real, honest, poignant, and moving. I highly recommend-- it's a quick read and apparently selling for only a penny on amazon!

White Chocolate: A lighthearted/funny read

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me (And Other Concerns) by Mindy Kaling - You may or may not have realized by now that I am a lot like Mindy Kaling. We both are the perpetually chubby and often hilarious offspring of hard-working immigrants. We both are mildly narcissistic (probably at the far end of healthy/normal in terms of confidence), constantly worry about whether any one-night-stand we are ever told about is actually a serial killer, are food obsessed, love shopping, and are maybe a little too prideful about things (but we're actually not, in our opinion). This book is great-- it's basically a memoir filled with hilarious lists and whatnot that explains who she is, how she got that way, and many little stories along the way. Mindy is hilarious and every page I was like, "Mindy, we are like soul sisters."

Milk Chocolate: A book with a lot of hype that you're dying to read

20-Something, 20-Everything: A Quarter-life Woman's Guide to Balance and Direction by Christine Hassler - This book is considered like, the book on handling your quarter-life crisis-- that time in your 20s when you are suddenly an adult and just don't know who you are or how to find yourself and what you mean in this big wide world. This is considered a young woman's staple, and I've yet to read it-- it's sitting in my shelf with a dozen other books on my to read list. Soon though! I'm finally done (well almost) with school and will have time for myself again!

Chocolate with caramel inside: A book that makes you feel all gooey inside

Soulless (The Parasol Protectorate) by Gail Carriger - This is the first in a steampunk fantasy series that I'm still working on called The Parasol Protectorate series. It's not an emotionally gooey mess (although it has it's moments!) but if you love great characters and a well-built world that you dig deeper and deeper into over the course of the series, this will make you weak. in. the. KNEES. It's set in a world of supernaturals (ghosts, werewolves, vampires), mortals, and preternaturals like the main character Alexia Tarabotti. Preternaturals are considered the opposite of supernaturals-- with one touch, they can exorcise a ghost and turn vampires and werewolves mortal while in contact. Alexia is looked down upon by Victorian society for her Italian-ness and her boldness and her substantial size but never the less refuses to be pushed around by the society and ultimately gets wrapped up in a complicated mystery after being forced to kill a vampire. Any respectable hive would have let a newborn out like that, and now she must join forces with the werewolf Lord Conall Maccon to solve the mystery before the social order is upended in a bloody spree! This book has got everything from romance (with Conall, whom she intensely dislikes at the beginning, of course) to steampunk scifi, a well-drawn reimagining of Victorian society with supernaturals, a fabulous gay vampire lord who is one of Alexia's best pals, and of course, comedic mystery! Definitely read this-- plus the world gets even more and more depth as the series draws on!

Wafer-free KitKat: A book that recently surprised you

Predictably Irrational, Revised and Expanded Edition: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions by Dan Ariely - This book is all about how humans are not actually the paragons of reason we like to believe we are. Most of our decisions are actually a lot dumber than we think.

Snickers: A book you are going nuts about

-Currently Untitled Thing- by Mindy Kaling and BJ Novak - I am already going nuts about a book that was only recently announced: The book Mindy Kaling and BJ Novak are writing about their relationship. As Jezebel put it: "Throughout history, only a few romances have really captured our imagination. Antony and Cleopatra. Victoria and Albert. Liz and Dick. B.J. Novak and Mindy Kaling."

Hot Chocolate with Cream and Marshmallows: a book you turn to for a comfort read

Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli - If we're talking book-books, I gotta say Stargirl. It's a novel about a girl who didn't care what anyone thought of her, but cared for everyone. It's told from the point of view of a boy who falls in love with her, but then finds himself in the situation of being too weak (psychologically, emotionally, maybe even spiritually) to be with her. Leo Borlock falls in love with this Manic Pixie Dream Girl-esque teen who arrives at his high school where people first murmur about her and then cheer for her. But when the tables turn and the whole school turns against her he finds himself pleading with her to be more normal, to dull her colors so that they can be together-- and she refuses. Leo is the person we have all once been-- maybe not cowardly, but definitely desperate with emotion and imperfect in our caring. Stargirl is the person we all hope to be-- bold, authentic, compassionate, and emotionally aware of ourselves and others. This was a deeply formative book for me.
But if we throw in comics etc. I'd have to throw in Fruits Basket-- a series of 23 manga volumes. It is classic shoujo and was a great series that I read when I was growing up. There is also an anime of it that is pretty good as well.

I'm tagging:

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Travel Vlog: Charleston, SC

Hi guys, sorry I've been so absent this week! In the past 7 days I've done a lot:
  • Graduated from The College of William & Mary with a degree in Psychology with a minor in Marketing
  • Went on a post-grad trip to Charleston with my best buddy and my (not-actual) little brother
  • Packed up my apartment in Williamsburg, Va
  • Moved back home to Fairfax, Va
I'm still in a significant state of flux since I will be moving to New York at the end of this week and I'm trying to get all my ducks in a row to make that transition painless. That said, I'm still working on some fun content for you all, including this video I cut together of my trip to SC!

You can keep up with the videos I post by subscribing to me on youtube :)

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Harper Watched: The Babadook

Harper Watched is a recurring feature on the blog where I talk about movies, TV shows, and theatrical productions I've seen and review them. Today, in honor of Mother's Day being tomorrow, I thought I'd cover a movie that centers around motherhood: the critically acclaimed Australian indie-horror flick The Babadook which is now available for streaming on Netflix!

I had been dying to see this film for months. I am one of those weird people that falls into the category of not really being a horror fan but liking creepy things. The kind of kid who grew up reading the Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark books as a kid and loved them but did not like slasher flicks. I like well-written psychological thriller stuff, but not poorly written gratuitous gore fests. The Babadook is the former, and it centers around a mother-child relationship, digging into the dynamic of a grieving single mother with a difficult child who is struggling to keep it together.

The Plot

The film centers on a woman named Amelia who is struggling with a very difficult son named Samuel. On the way to deliver Samuel seven years ago, Amelia and her husband Oskar got into a car accident, which Oskar did not survive. Since then, Samuel's birthday, and his very existence, is inexorably tied to the death of his father. Amelia is failing to deal with her grief, and under the weight of her single-motherhood and the trials of dealing with an emotionally volatile and deeply anxious child like Samuel, her grief festers into resentment. Samuel lacks emotional stability, is obsessed with the ideas of monsters, and is convinced that he needs to "protect" Amelia, his feelings of loss over a father he never knew manifesting as a frantic love and protectiveness for his mother. He doesn't have normal social attachments, in part because Amelia has never seemed to model any, preferring to isolate herself in an attempt to avoid confronting her grief.

The story starts up when Samuel finds a creepy pop-up book for bed time and Amelia begins to read it to him. It tells the tale of Mr. Babadook, a bogeyman you can't get rid of. Amelia cuts the story short, but things start turning strange as Samuel begins to become fearful of the Babadook, convinced that he is coming after him and his mother. Amelia grows frustrated, but then things start happening that makes her afraid that the Babadook is real. She begins to see and hear him. The Babadook starts to come after Amelia and Samuel.

The story works to ask the audience whether to monster is some being out in the world, or if the real monsters are inside us all along.

Getting Down To Business

I cannot speak high enough praises for this film. Motherhood is a concept that's often glamorized/romanticized and generally painted as sunny in media. There is an overwhelming amount of entertainment media pushing the idea that if you don't LOVE motherhood all the time and feel overjoyed with your life as a mother every second, then there is something wrong with you. It's the kind of thing that makes women feel guilty for experiencing post-partum depression etc. The thing is, motherhood is complicated and sometimes it's terrible and scary and terrifying and maddening. Maybe it's all worth it, but sometimes in the moment, it doesn't feel like it. And that doesn't make you a bad mom. It makes you a human person. This movie is about that.

(c/o IFC Midnight via The Mary Sue)
Both Amelia and Samuel are deeply flawed, but they are also people you empathize with. Samuel is isolated in a house with an emotionally absent mother who is more preoccupied with her loss to even attempt to help Samuel understand his. Amelia is struggling with the loss of her husband, and trying to keep her life together, to convince others that she can handle herself without confronting her grief.

The writing in this movie is fantastic, and the storytelling is not at all hindered by the low budget for effects. This movie is all about tension, and the filming is brilliant at maintaining it. It is a story about a woman's grief unravelling her life, and how she and her son worked to confront it an put her life back together. The acting is monumental, and I just want to give Essie Davis (Amelia) all the awards. Amelia is a person, first and foremost, and a mom second.

This film is more about psychological horror than gore. I love this film. I cannot recommend it enough. Maybe watch it in the day time with friends if you are worried about the frights getting to you. Honestly, the film wrapped up so satisfactorily that I slept like a baby that night. If you are a fan of creepy but not overly scary works that are just well-told stories reflecting on the human condition (like the short story The Yellow Wallpaper which is also A+) watch this movie.

Harper's Rating: 5/5

Really well-constructed storyline
Fantastic storytelling
More psychological than visually horrifying
A+ acting
Great cinematography
A wonderful statement on motherhood, trauma, grief, and love
Feminist messaging: Moms are people too, and you can't expect them to be any more than that.
Phenomenal use of tension and color
Give this movie all the awards, please
It's scary (if that's a con for you skip it)
No flashy high budget visual horror
Tame ending-- satisfying narratively and emotionally, but don't go into this looking for an epic final show down with gory monster-slaying

Happy Mother's Day! Have you seen The Babadook? What did you think?

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Girl Heroes for Graduation Giveaway!

I really enjoy having giveaways when I hit milestones, and I have a ton coming up. I'm graduating and moving to New York this month so I'm really entering a new era! As such, I thought I'd run a little giveaway of some goodies that center around cartoon heroines. Because girl heroines are some of my favorite things!!

I'm giving away 6 Disney Princess notebooks, each 5"x7",  with glitter accents on the cover. I'm giving away Aurora, Belle, Cinderella, Pocahontas, Jasmine, and Snow White! These notebooks are great gifts, and they are also a good size for purses at 64 pages apiece.

I'm also giving away a copy of the graphic novel In Real Life by Cory Doctorow and Jen Wang, which looks at the intersection of gaming and the real world where economies and justice aren't always fair. It's all about a girl finding her way into an online girl-gamer community, and the complications it introduced into her life by connecting her with another gamer living in a very different economy on the other side of the world. It's a great read and the art is really lovely.

One winner will get all of the above! If a winner does not respond in 2 days, I'll pick a new one.

Open to US only. Contest runs til May 16 (the day I graduate!).

a Rafflecopter giveaway
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