House of Insanity

Radium Rollercoaster

Shimmer and Burn Review

“My mother tried to kill me the night the guards arrested her.”*

As far as opening lines go, Mary Taranta hooks the reader into her debut YA fantasy the way Faris’ mother attempts to kill her at the age of six: with a knife to the heart. After stealing gold from their homeland of Brindaigel, Faris’ mother tries to sacrifice her daughter before her capture and execution. Then, at the age of sixteen, Faris’ lover is killed and her sister is taken away from her for trying to escape. Now hardened, Faris is willing to sacrifice everything to protect her younger sister, Cadence. After being magically bound to the princess, Bryn, Faris travels with her to find a king in nearby Avinea, despite the rumors that it is desolated by corrupt magic. On her journey, she learns the real history of her mother and of Brindaigel itself. In Shimmer and Burn, I found myself shaken by each plot twist and engaged by every fight or negotiation scene. Taranta’s biggests strengths as an author is her ability to layer plots; the function of magic and political history make this book satisfying at every turn.

Taranta has built a complex, cruel world. Inside of Brindaigel, children are killed or magically enslaved as population control disguised as punishment for their family’s crimes; magic shadow rats, birds and golems patrol the streets to spy on the people; those who try to escape are strung up as examples. In this kingdom there is no future; it is isolated in mountains and their king claims that it is unsafe to leave, year after year. But Princess Bryn, seventh in line to the throne, is determined to be queen. Using Cadence as leverage, Bryn convinces Faris to accompany her outside to Avinea, where magic is like opium; it is addictive and poisonous and spreading across the land. People trade it in blood and flesh and teeth, and the only other thing more valuable than magic is knowledge. Taranta constantly reminds us that the stakes are high and the consequences are deadly. Continue reading “Shimmer and Burn Review”

Love, Simon Review

Dear Blue, it doesn’t seem fair that only gay people have to come out. Why is straight the default?”

          As the credits rolled on Love, Simon, I looked over to my younger sister with a shocking revelation.

          “I’m nineteen,” I told her, “and I’ve never watched a movie about a gay lead.” Not for the first time during the film, I think I started crying. I’ve never really had to come out. I never told my parents that I liked girls, just that I wanted to date one. I was never afraid of not being accepted, only of losing sleepover privileges. But I never felt like I could talk about the crushes I had on friends, and even now it feels like it’s too late to have a second, proper coming out. Simon might disagree with me. Love, Simon captured an authentic story in the cheesy teenage romance that so many closeted people might not get to experience, and I couldn’t be more thankful.

Highlights of the movie (not necessarily in order):

  • Greg Berlanti
    • The director of Love, Simon is part of the community, which is something a lot of people complained about in relation to Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda. So that was exciting.
  • The people that caused Simon’s “sexual awakening.” No spoilers here, but it’s great.
  • Simon’s room design! I loved looking at all the music posters, pictures, and small figures that he had.
  • The soundtrack that ranged from “Add It Up” by the Violent Femmes, to “Love Me” by The 1975, to “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” by Whitney Houston
  • Simon’s sister calling her father out for his inappropriate jokes
  • Simon’s father crying and reconciling with him, which was an important step away from toxic masculinity.
  • The moment when Simon confronts Martin about losing his choice to come out and drops the only PG-13 sanctioned “fuck” of the movie.
  • When Abby admits that while she didn’t know, she also wasn’t surprised by Simon’s confession.
  • Not a “highlight,” but during Simon’s darkest moments, I felt intensely connected to him. When he fell back onto his bed, hitting the mattress and throwing pillows, I felt the sickness that came with holding back such terrible sobbing.

          The truth is, many real-life queer stories aren’t free of danger yet, but it was a breath of relief that Simon was never faced with a physical threat. This movie drives home the point that homophobia is not just assault; it is verbal and emotional abuse, and that’s bad enough. I’ll tell you now, there’s a happy ending. A real happy one.

          There were boys in the audience that had gone to school with me. My sister, beside me. My neighbors, who are upwards of sixty years old, went and saw it. I can’t help but think about how many lives this movie could change. No, it’s not the first queer movie ever made. No, we still don’t have enough representation for women or people of color (although Love, Simon gives us some of the latter). And no, it’s not the story most disillusioned gay people might want, but it’s lighthearted and funny and it might just be what you need in your life.



Kristen Ciccarelli’s The Last Namsara

“Once there was a girl who was drawn to wicked things.

Things like forbidden, ancient stories.”

When I asked Kendare Blake, the author of Three Dark Crowns, for a fresh YA fantasy recommendation, she immediately suggested Kristen Ciccarelli’s The Last Namsara.

“Do you like dragons?” She asked, as if that was explanation enough, but this fantasy has so much more to it than just dragons. In short, I fell deeply in love with this book for its complexity and its heart.

Asha is the Iskari, a title created by her father, the king, after she was burned by the oldest dragon in the land. It is the name of the second child of The Old One, made “out of blood and moonlight,” a cursed name. It is the name that strikes fear into the people. Asha is a dragon hunter, scarred and hardened by dragonfire. She has spent the last eight years trying to atone for the mistake that brought destruction to her city, but when an unwanted engagement threatens to take away her independence, she becomes desperate. Her father makes her a deal: kill the First Dragon that burned her as a child and be freed from the betrothal.

Firgaard, Asha’s home, is a kingdom that has abandoned its old religion and the stories that accompanied it, but The Old One is not done with it. In this world, those stories are so powerful they become deadly, luring dragons out of hiding, invoking the wrath of the king and poisoning the storyteller. With the help of her brother and a slave belonging to her would-be husband, Asha begins to realize that she has been lied to, and Ciccarelli begins to work her magic. Continue reading “Kristen Ciccarelli’s The Last Namsara”

The Verge Interview

August 15th, 2017

The Verge and I are piled up onto a couch in one of Exit/In’s back rooms, which is lined on one side with a mirror, and my voice recorder is on the table in the middle of us. The first thing I notice about them as a group is how comfortable they are with each other; Nick has purposefully knocked Rachael’s water bottle over at least four times since I walked into the venue and there is always something to laugh about. The second thing I notice is how comfortable they make me feel. I talk easily to them, which is surprising since I have only seen them once before in May. But just like during that performance, their energy is infectious and they continue to draw my interest.



This is The Verge:

Verge 2
(Not my photo!)

Rachael Horner – lead vocals and Harry Potter buff

Nick Lampers – lead guitar and definitely not a hipster

Jake Lunn – bass player and newlywed

Bobby Newman – guitar, vocals, and pizza whore

Garrett Mcneil – drums and new guy

They are playing Nashville Undiscovered that night, and I ask if they feel “undiscovered.” It’s a quick and unanimous yes. They consider themselves part of the punk scene of Nashville that doesn’t get enough attention, and that means they are still under the radar. But they want people to know that they’re a serious band whose only goal is to make it work by doing what they love. Their current lineup is less than a year old, but Garrett tells me he feels confident about the group. Everyone laughs, since he joined in April.

Continue reading “The Verge Interview”

Avanti Interview

Earlier this year, when I was following The Nearly Deads, I saw a band called Avanti (which means ‘forward’) perform in Newport. Everything about this band surprised me, and out of two weeks of travel I didn’t see a better local band on the road. I fell in love with them immediately – they get bonus points for being so friendly too! I would say that it’s hard to find really talented bands in the post-hardcore / metalcore genre, and the fact that they were female fronted was a game changer for me as a listener.

I reached out to talk to their lead singer, Jasmyne about the band and what they’re up to!

If you’re in the Cincinnati area, I suggest you keep an eye out!

Recommended song: “Better Off Without”

What are everyone’s day jobs?

Our bassist (Kerry Brooks) and rhythm guitarist (Delilah Witt) both work at Amazon as warehouse associates in different buildings. Everyone in Avanti (except our lead guitarist) has worked at Amazon at some point. Our drummer (Cody Baxter) works third shift at a place called Senior Star. He is ground security and does maintenance when needed. Our lead guitarist (Cameron Gulley) works at P&G as a plastics engineer and gets to travel to places like Germany, Paris, Brazil, Mexico, etc. I, the lead singer (Jasmyne England) am a tattoo artist and work at a shop called Doll Star Tattoo.

Continue reading “Avanti Interview”

Pride Month Ends, The Proud Don’t

As Pride Month comes to a close, I’ve been reflecting on the last month of rainbows and history and coming out stories. June is considered LGBT+ Pride Month because of the riots at the Stonewall Inn in 1969, but I’ve began to wonder if the month is still really for us. I know many people in the community have felt stifled by corporations that have hypocritically adopted the pride flag this month for advertisements, by the presence of cops at festivals, and by arguments about intersectionality and inclusivity. June has become a month about education and “acceptance,” but I know I’m not the only one that has just been left tired from all of this.
Garnet is the literal embodiment of love between two girls gems

Here is the crux for me: I’m queer all the time, all day, every day. I am always having to explain to people different labels, why it’s not okay to misgender someone just because they are disrespectful, why a lesbian seeking trans boyfriends is transphobic, why we need more representation in media, et cetera, ad nauseum. That means that I’ve just been bombarded for the last few weeks, sometimes with the positivity of friends coming out for the first time or reaffirming their identity, but also sometimes with negativity and questioning and the suspiciously sweet supportive posts from allies. It’s my regular life, except increasingly more colorful and exhausting. Most people enjoy Pride month because of the celebrations, but I didn’t get to go, and I’m not even sure I could handle that many people in one place. I’m ready to go back to regular ol’ “straight people months” so I can be proud on my own terms.  Continue reading “Pride Month Ends, The Proud Don’t”

On Tour: The Nearly Deads


Last month, I started an article about The Nearly Deads’ Revenge album, exploring the EP’s individual tracks and the apocalyptic style that makes the band so fun. It was the product of a Pledgemusic campaign that barely made the quota, but the payback for fans was worth it. The sound was evolved and the production level impressed me; TJ’s powerhouse vocals had no trouble keeping up with the music. But I realized something after 800 words of (well-earned) praise and half-hearted objectivity.

It’s no secret that I’ve been an avid follower of The Nearly Deads since 2012, and to pretend that my feelings are because I think their music alone is superior is ridiculous. I love them because I was a fourteen year old looking for the Marianas Trench merch booth and instead I ran across a group of people that were genuinely friendly and accepting. I love them because the only line I could actually understand that day was “The audience has no idea” and I thought that was the most brilliant irony of my life. I love them because I was an awkward teenager who thought she could break into music journalism and they let me try. I love them because they’ve talked to venues about working with underage fans so my parents could get me in. I love them because once TJ wrote “Worlds Hottest Mom” on my mom’s t-shirt. I also love them because they’re skilled, hard working musicians. Continue reading “On Tour: The Nearly Deads”

Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake

My first encounter with Kendare Blake’s writing was Antigoddess, a story about contemporary Greek gods and goddesses, which had just the right blend of fantasy, action, and character. Three Dark Crowns finds a good in-between from that novel and her popular series Anna Dressed in Blood, which follows her love of horror.

Set on the island of Fennbirn, this story is about three triplets who are all in the running to be the Queen. Each has been given a gift by the Goddess, and when they turn 16, one of them has to kill the others, and then she’ll be crowned the one true queen. It’s like The Hunger Games meets the Stardust movie…but better.

The triplets:

Arsinoe – the naturalist (growing plants and controlling animals) who has no familiar and wants to escape instead of fight

Katherine – the poisoner (mixing toxins and being invulnerable to them) who still gets sick from poisons, and doesn’t know how to socialize with anyone

Mirabella – the elementalist (controlling the elements, of course) who is the only triplet to remember being children with her sisters Continue reading “Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake”

On Writing

Or, knowing you want to write from a young age

Yesterday, I went and saw Aimee Nezhukumatathil speak at my college, and she told a story about reading a prose poem that changed her life, and helped her decide she wanted to be an English major, not a Chemistry major, in her junior year of college.

Something about these kinds of stories are inspiring, but inevitably alien to me. My decision to be a writer (or rather, my lack of decision) seems less miraculous and destined. I’ve been writing since I was very young, I’ve been an avid reader since before that. Something about the idea that I could have legitimately been anything else is off-putting. I realize that I’ve always wanted this, even when I thought I wanted something else. My favorite book, Inkheart is literally a fantasy about the power of words and stories. There was never a moment where I thought, “This is something I could do.” It was something that, for much of my earlier life, I simply did.

Continue reading “On Writing”

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