Category Archives: Books

Finding Inspiration Through the Tears

So, I am a little in love with the book, The Fault in Our Stars. Are you shocked? Probably not. The movie adaptation was released last week, and I finally got to see it. Before going to see the movie I discussed it with…just about everybody, and, so far, the general consensus is that TFiOS broke their hearts.

As my friend and I left the theater, she mentioned how depressing she found the film, but I disagree.  Maybe the second consumption of the story lends itself to a little more introspection and a little less reaction.  Don’t get me wrong, I cried buckets.  I’m grateful she thought to grab tissues (although I’m not sure an entire box would have been enough to mop up all the emotion).  However, even as I dried my tears and tried to pull myself together enough to at least remember where I parked the car (not an easy feat on a day in which I haven’t been emotionally compromised by a John Green tale), I realized that I don’t find this story depressing.

Hazel, Augustus and Isaac broke my heart again, and once again, they’ve mended it a little.  The story of the “cancer kids” who meet in “the literal heart of Jesus” inspires me. I had to work my way through the emotion to find the inspiration, and, as I said, the second consumption helped to find the positivity inherent in every novel of Green’s I’ve read.

There’s hope and life in this story. I’m inspired to take advantage of every day, to cherish the people in my life, to take chances despite (or even because of) the risk, and to never dismiss love.  My stubbornly independent self is even inspired to admit (occasionally) that it is okay if you can’t carry everything by your self all of the time, and leaning on the people who love you every once in the while isn’t a bad thing.  Sometimes you need a boost to achieve your dreams.

Don’t be intimidated by the tears! Go see this movie.

 

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Neil Gaiman Talks: What ifs, Why fors, and Hows

Have I mentioned lately that I love Twitter?  Well, I do.  I find some of the greatest stuff there!  For example, today I haven’t even been on Twitter, but I got an email from them with tweets I may be interested in.  (You know the one I’m talking about).  Typically, I just delete the email and move on.  Really, I get too many emails (especially since I started applying for jobs online, 30 emails a day with results from job searches!).  This time the title Neil Gaiman Follows the Guiding Light of Instinct caught my attention, and I opened it up.  My mom may read this and see a bit of inspiration from him in the story I just gave her to edit (it is based on something her sister told her that scared her when she was little.  Oh yeah, she’s thrilled to be my editor on this one). Seriously though, I love reading his stuff.  The Ocean at the End of the LaneFragile ThingsStardust, Smoke & Mirrors…really, I haven’t found anything I didn’t enjoy.

This New York Times article delves into a bit of why we like to be scared by horror and frightening stories, they discuss his Carnegie Hall performance that is coming up the end of June, and his creative process.  His thought process as a kid reminds me a lot of myself.  I was always thinking of “what-if” scenarios…then torturing my sister with them.  When I asked if she thought I could scare someone in 2,000 words or less she didn’t even pause.  She interrupted me with a resounding “Yes, definitely!”.  If anyone would know, she would.  I practiced on her for our entire childhood…maybe I still use her as a guinea pig.  (Sometimes, I wonder why my family puts up with me.  I just gave my mom her childhood boogeyman to edit for me…hmm…best not ponder this one too much.)

TheTruthIsACaveInTheBlackMountainsThe Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains has been released in a special edition with the Eddie Campbell artwork, and, for those of you lucky enough to attend the Carnegie Hall performance, you’ll get to hear him read this to music by FourPlay string quartet and see the artwork.  You can purchase an edition of the book with illustrations by Eddie Campbell as well.  (Since not all of us can score tickets to Carnegie Hall…)  If you are attending this show, please email me or comment to tell me about it!

Did you ever play the “what if” game?  You know, making up terrible scenarios and stuff?

‘Til next time,

Jessica


I Don’t Want To Sound Thankless: A Book Review

Thankless in DeathThankless in Death, the most recent installment of J.D. Robb’s “In Death” series (or at least the newest one I’ve read) sees one of my favorite characters, Eve Dallas, chasing a killer (as a homicide detective, this is something she does quite often).  Thankless in Death is the 37th book in this series, and Dallas has come a long way since that first book, Naked In Death.  As always, I enjoyed the well written characters, witty banter, creepy villain, and got caught up in the story right away.

Eve Dallas’s character has evolved from the woman who doesn’t have anything in her life except her job to a woman whose job is still who she is, but, to her bafflement, it is no longer the only thing she is.  The novels have become less about the cases, the villains and justice for the dead and more about the rest of Dallas’s live.  Her husband, her friends, and her determination to find a balance between the personal and professional (who doesn’t struggle with that?).

Thankless is a good book, an easy read, and fun.  However, I miss the focus on cases.  I want that thrill that I used to feel when I read this series, the discovery of the killer and his/her motivations, the struggle to find them or find proof of their wrongdoing, the danger Dallas so often flings herself headlong into.  Usually, I have a hard time putting books in this series down.  Typically, I get them read in a day, maybe two.  I took a week and a half to finish this book.  It was easy to walk away from.  I didn’t struggle to keep my eyes open just so I could read one more chapter this time.

J.D. Robb is a pseudonym for Nora Roberts, and with good reason.  The “In Death” series didn’t resemble a typical Nora Roberts book.  Sure, Dallas’s love interest is a handsome-as-sin Irishman with long dark hair, striking blue eyes, and a body that makes Eve’s mouth water.  Yes, there is a compelling love story, and the main character is a strong, intelligent, wittily sarcastic woman.  All of these are pretty typical in Roberts’s novels.  However, this was different, a police drama with a futuristic setting in which the romance took a back seat.

My disappointment in Thankless in Death comes not from the plot, the characters, the settings or descriptions, but in that the lines between J. D. Robb and Nora Roberts have become blurred.  This read more like a Roberts novel than what I’ve come to expect from books in the “In Death” series.  My sincerest hope is that the author returns to the case centric plots that had me on the edge of my seat, unwilling to put the book down for even a moment, and villains who often left me with a chill.

Thankless in Death was a good choice for vacation reading.  Good escapism is never a bad decision when you’re already escaping from real life on vacation.  A good book that you don’t mind putting down to go do vacation-y things, but won’t hesitate to pick back up again when you have a little down time, is pretty much perfect.  I was just hoping for the lip gnawing and desire to skip ahead to find out what happens next that I’d come to expect.

First Lines:

He was sick of her nagging.

Bitch and complain, bitch and complain, and nag, nag, nag, every time she opened her damn mouth.

‘Til next time,

Jessica


The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-TImeMark Haddon’s novel, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is one of the few books that I would put on a “must read” list for everyone.  Honestly, it moved me to tears, and I had to put it down in places because I got a little overwhelmed.

This first person narrative, told by Christopher John Francis Boone doesn’t only explore the narrator’s deep desire to uncover the culprit in the mysterious death of a neighbor’s dog, it explores the mind of a 15-year-old boy who knows every prime number up to 7,057, doesn’t understand human emotions but relates well to animals (especially his pet rat Toby), hates to be touched, and despises the color yellow with a passion I reserve for…really, I don’t think I detest anything with the verve Christopher despises yellow.  Christopher struggles with the world because he sees everything, and when you see everything I can imagine the world feels too big, too much, and definitely too busy.  He likes small places, dreams of being an astronaut for the quiet stillness of space, and expounds on mathematical theory that, quite frankly, I’m not sure I really understood.

One of my favorite things, that didn’t really hit me until I finished the book, was the insight the reader has of the people who are part of Christopher’s life.  Although Christopher doesn’t understand what expressions of human emotion mean, he sees them and passes them on to the reader.  Through him, we grasp what the narrator doesn’t, Christopher’s parents’ struggle with a child who can’t stand more than the most minor touches.  You get a clear sense of their heartache when they desperately want to give their son the physical comfort that so many of us take for granted,  but Christopher cannot bear.  The reader understands the strength, courage, patience and amazing love that raising a child with these challenges takes.

All of this makes it sound like this is a dour novel, but it isn’t.  The emotion, that Christopher wouldn’t understand at all, is neatly balanced with humor and brilliance.  Christopher’s honesty and other characters reactions…most of us aren’t used to unflinching, uncompromising honesty, and the reactions he gets when he just tells the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, are beyond humorous.  It also gives the reader a real look at how often we aren’t completely honest.  The details we leave out to prevent embarrassment, the white lies we tell to avoid an uncomfortable situation, the conversations we skip to prevent us from dealing with confrontation.  These things aren’t necessarily dishonest, but for someone like Christopher who doesn’t understand how to lie, these every day ‘courtesies’ look like lies and dishonesty.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time offers the reader insights into humanity, emotion, and the strengths and failings of people all through the eyes of someone who is unable to process most of those things.  Christopher’s journey through the mystery of Wellington’s death and the truth it reveals about his neighbors, his family and himself is poignant and beautiful.  You get to see the impact he makes on those who surround him.  His uncomfortable truths push them into growth they probably wouldn’t have found otherwise.  Christopher’s awkward questions oftentimes push people into recognizing pieces of themselves that they’ve never had to think about before.  The supporting cast in this novel finds what’s really important to them, the devastation that can arise from the most well-intentioned white lies, that just because you don’t understand the way someone else cares it doesn’t mean that they don’t, and Christopher, well, he learns the most important lesson.  The one that anyone who has ever been told they aren’t enough needs to know.  Christopher learns that he can do anything.  The novel’s final paragraph tugged on my heart, but the ending….it’s….better than good.  It is inspiring.

First Lines

It was 7 minutes after midnight.  The dog was lying on the grass in the middle of the lawn in front of Mrs. Shears’s house.  Its eyes were closed.  It looked as if it was running on its side, the way dogs run when they think they are chasing a cat in a dream.  But the dog was not running or asleep.  The dog was dead.

‘Til next time,

Jessica


12 Years A Slave

12 Years A SlaveStunning, gut wrenching, heart tugging, beautiful…I find all of these tumbling from my lips as I practically trip over myself to recommend 12 Years A Slave to … everyone I know.   After sitting in my inbox at home for nearly a week and a half, I finally carved time out of my weekend to watch the film that took home so many awards this year.  I get it.  I really do.  This movie left me speechless. (No, really.  It does happen…rarely.)  I sat in silence and used the time the credits were rolling just to think.

Based on a true story, Solomon Northrup, wrote 12 Years A Slave based on his experience as a free black man, kidnapped and sold into slavery in pre-civil war America.  In the 21st century, Steve McQueen directed the award-winning film, and with the help of an incredible cast took home Oscars for Best Motion Picture of the Year, Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role, and Best Writing: Adapted Screenplay.  The film was nominated for many more Best Leading Actor, Best Supporting Actor, Best Costume Design, Best Directed, Best Film Editing, Best Production Design…and those are just the Oscars.  Check out their IMDB awards page for the complete list…I know.  You’re still scrolling aren’t you.

The performances are stunning.   Chitwel Ejiofor, Lupita Nyong’o, Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch, Brad Pitt, Sarah Paulson…a lot of familiar faces graced the screen in this film, and if I wasn’t already a fan…I certainly am now.

Being the geek that I am, I’ve seen a lot of these performers in other roles (Except, Lupita Nyong’o.  12 Years A Slave is her début film, and she won an Oscar.)  Serenity, X-Men, Sherlock, 12 Monkeys, 300 and American Horror Story are all listed on my never-ending “favorites” list. (Well, American Horror Story scares the crap out of me… in the way that means that I stay up all night with the lights on …just in case.)  Even if I leave their considerable work on the shelf, these performers are ones the internet is fascinated with, and whether it is a photo, GIF, article, interview, or trailer, there is no escaping.  Yet, not once did I see Fassbender as Epps and think of Magneto, Benedict Cumberbatch and think of Sherlock, or Ejiofor and think of The Operator.

 

The subject matter…heart breaking, on so many levels.  This isn’t an easy film to watch.  Unlike some films about slavery, not all slave owners are portrayed as bad men, and that makes it both more believable and harder to accept.  Cumberbatch’s character, Ford, comes across as a decent guy, who wants to do the right thing by keeping families together, treating people decently, and trying to keep Solomon safe.  Yet…he owns people.  (No matter how many times I study pre-civil war America, read about slavery or watch movies such as this, I have a hard time wrapping my head, and my heart, around the idea anyone ever thought this was okay.)  On the flip side, Epps, played by Fassbender, is known as a person who breaks his slaves, and yet we see brief flashes of caring and regret.

It is easy to turn these characters into a type.  The type to buy and sell people.  McQueen does an excellent job of humanizing them.  I haven’t had a chance to read Solomon Northrup’s book to see how he writes about these people, but the directorial excellence shines through in the film.  As actors in the role of a slave owner, I think it would be easier for me to play a ruthless villain rather than a multi-faceted individual shaped by sociological and societal expectations.  Someone who does what’s expected rather than what they believe is right, a person who uses deep-seated religious belief and scripture to justify the way he treats his slaves.  Yet, these actors do an amazing job portraying these characters.

Although the film does not dwell on the violence perpetrated against slaves, it also doesn’t shy away from it.  The scenes in which violence is used are visceral, and each one reveals vital aspects of the characters involved.  Whether they are exposed as greedy, manipulative people, careless plantation owners who perceive these actions as their right, or as punishment for being exposed as men who harbor softer emotions.  For me, each moment carried more impact because of this.  Too often, I feel modern films fall back on violence and gore for shock value rather than as essential parts of the storytelling process.  Although there is cruelty implicit in these actions, in 12 Years A Slave McQueen uses the beatings and whippings as a tool to develop character.  I found more degradation and true cruelty comes from the casual disregard of these individuals as nothing more than work animals or marionettes, and exposes Solomon’s story, as well as all those bought and sold in slavery, as even more tragic.

That this story is set against a backdrop lush beautiful landscapes, gorgeous mansions, music, dance and outward gentility makes the juxtaposition of the circumstances of Solomon, Patsey, and others all the more striking.  The visual choices reinforce the story.  A reminder of the difference in circumstances.  A reminder that some people, no matter their situation, will still take pleasure in the small things, like sitting in a field of flowers making dolls out of corn husks.  A reminder that the exterior of a person, or of a society, is not an indication of what lies within.

Have you seen it?  What did you think?  Agree?  Disagree?

‘Til next time,

Jessica

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The Things I Discover On Twitter

English: Syfy Logo

English: Syfy Logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Twitter (@ilovegeekology) is great.  I get to explore some great stuff via Twitter.  Today, I read a tweet from Wil Wheaton (@wilw) about SyFy Developing ‘Pax Romana’ Miniseries, ‘The Magicians’ Series, so of course I had to follow the link to see if it was the same series I’m reading now.  It is!

Cover of "The Magicians: A Novel"

Cover of The Magicians: A Novel

Ah!  I posted earlier today about how I’m reading The Magician King, the sequel to Lev Grossman’s The Magician.  Two things about this.

First, I’m excited to see what they do with this series.  I’m really loving Lev Grossman’s world in these novels, and I see a lot of potential for a television series here.  Second, I would say this is an awesome coincidence, but all Sherlock fans know “the universe is rarely so lazy”.  Actually, this probably is just a coincidence, because I have no idea what else it could possibly mean…I just got excited.  Sorry?

‘Til next time,

Jessica

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Guess Who’s on Time Magazine’s Top 100 List?

There are so many amazing people on this list, but I’m only going to discuss a couple of my favorites.

First, have I mentioned how awesome John Greene is?  Like here and here and here and here and here and here and here?  Well, it turns out I’m not the only one who thinks so.  This month Time magazine named John as one of the top 100 influential people in the world.

In his bio written by Shailene Woodly (she stars in the film adaptation of The Fault In Our Stars, out June 6, 2014), she mentions a few of the awesome things John does, like best-selling author, vlogbrothers YouTube channel, VidCon, but there really is a lot more.  I could write about the reasons I think this guy is cool, for…a long time.  However, I’m going to let you see for yourself…as he talks about other people who should have made this list instead.

Another is Pharrell Williams.  Isn’t that the guy from that video you post incessantly?  Yes, yes he is.  Justin Timberlake wrote his bio and tells the world how Williams made him “fearless” after helping him with his first album.  Then he writes about Pharrell’s own music.

That’s what Pharrell does. He injects that vibrant energy into the music in a way that you can feel. Whether it’s the chord changes that remind you of another time or the melody that instantly grabs you, you are transported to another place. You smile, you dance, you clap along. His music actually does make you happy.  – Justin Timberlake, Time Magazine Top 100 Influential People in the World

I have to say Justin’s got it right.  I adore Pharrell’s music because it really does make me happy.

Malala Yousafzai is another on the list, and she is someone who inspires me to stand for what I believe.  She has amazing courage, heart and dedication.  As an advocate for girls’ education in Pakistan, Malala drew the attention of the Taliban.  Even knowing that her life was in danger, she continued in her cause. In 2012 a man came on to her school bus, asked for her by name shot her in the head at point-blank range.  She was 15.  Yousafzai didn’t let that stop her.  Since her recovery she’s gone on to speak at the United Nations and released a book last year.  At 16 she was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.

Okay, so that’s only three out of 100.  A lot of interesting people made the list this year, and I definitely recommend you take a peek.  I’m still going through the list and all the bios myself, and it just gets more and more interesting.  Most of the people on this list inspire me to be more, to embrace life, to take chances, to do what’s right, and to be mindful of the impact my actions have on others.  I can’t say I like everyone on the list.  Some, I can’t say that I’ve heard of before, but I’ll not forget them now.  Who inspires or influences you?

‘Til next time,

Jessica

P.S. There is a distinct possibility of another post coming.  Make sure you look for it…or beware…I’m not sure which.

 

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The Trilogy Ends: Allegiant Book Review

9780062024060_p0_v6_s260x420

Allegiant

by Veronica Roth

Apparently, my rush to finish Gone Girl has led to a reading frenzy to finish other books that I’d abandoned.  Tonight, I finally finished Allegiant by Veronica Roth.  Just as with Divergent and Insurgent, once I got going, I didn’t want to put the book down.  This is how I found myself forgetting to eat dinner, and leaving all of my household chores for tomorrow.

During the past few months, I’ve read a lot about how much the finale to the trilogy sucked, and, no doubt, that made it easier and easier to delay finishing it.  I was careful not to read too much , because I didn’t want to know what made people think it was so terrible.  I’m glad I didn’t read further, because I may not have ever finished it.  This doesn’t mean I agree with them, in fact, the opposite is true. This was a great ending to the trilogy.  The resolution is there, the story wrapped up in a satisfying, truthful, if idealistic, way.  Most of the time when something ends it hurts a bit, and expecting a series like this to go out without a bang and a little pain would have just been wishful thinking.

The characters, for the most part, stay true to their development in the first two novels, but they do slip from time to time.  Occasionally, they make choices that definitely move the plot in the right direction, but don’t feel authentic to the individuals we’ve gotten to know.  There’s nothing overt about it, just slightly…easy.  It is almost as if you can see the characters clamoring to have their way, and Roth forcing them to comply with the story arc to keep everything on track.  Without a couple of those less than perfect scenes, we could have ended up with an entirely different book.  One that leaves room for a fourth and fifth and sixth.

Although, I would be happy to revisit this world and see events unfold from Evelyn’s viewpoint or Christina’s or even Peter’s, a continuation would be a bit of a stretch, and I’m okay with that.  Sometimes you need to finish a series, and know that it isn’t going any further.

Would I say that I’m “happy” with the ending, well, no.  However, I can’t fault her choices there.  Tris’s decision was true to character, and it was a resolution of its own.  Any other action on her part would have been another character forced into an inauthentic action, all plot and no substance.  That kind of ending would have been disappointing.  Instead, Tris and Tobias both get what they needed…in a round about kind of way, but they still get what they needed.

First Lines: “I pace in our cell in Erudite headquarters, her words echoing in my mind: My name will be Edith Prior, and there is much I am happy to forget.”

Now, there’s been a lot of talk about how much people like the Divergent movie, but I haven’t talked to anyone who has both read the whole book and seen the film.  I think I really want to go see it before it leaves theaters, but I’m a bit hesitant after my disappointment in the Mortal Instruments:City of Bones movie.  Anybody out there who has both read the book and seen them movie?  Hit the comments below to tell me what you think.  Also, if you just want to talk about the stinking book, and the emotional aftermath, do that too. (One day, I’m going to get someone who actually reads these books around the same time I do.  This waiting business sucks!)

’Til next time,

Jessica


The Book That Continued to Eat My Brain After I Finished It

9780307588364_p0_v1_s260x420Gone Girl

By Gillian Flynn

Last night (or early this morning, if you want to be technical), I finally finished Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn.  Flynn weaves a well-crafted, engaging, and stupefying tale of two people who are…Messed.  Up. The recommendation to read this book came down the line through a couple of people, but what finally pulled me in was a comment made to a co-worker about the novel.  That referral went something like this “this woman is so evil you almost end up rooting for her by the end of the book.”  Okay, who could resist that?  Also, he wasn’t wrong.

The story follows Nick Dunne and Amy Elliot Dunne, and begins on their fifth wedding anniversary, the day Amy disappears.  Flynn does a great job of switching points of view with each chapter.  You hear both sides of the story, but is either side telling the truth?

Especially in the beginning, it is hard to determine who to trust.  Nick initially gets center stage for the simple fact that his point of view is immediate, and the reader is left with Amy’s diary entries to provide insight into her character.  Even going into this novel with the knowledge that this woman is “evil”, I found myself wondering, waffling…who is the “bad guy” really?

Nick and Amy are believable characters, for all of their dysfunction, but I wouldn’t call either one of them a reliable narrator.  They’ve filled their lives with lies…to everyone, including themselves, and sifting the truth from the lies is like panning for gold in a played out mine.  Just because it shines, doesn’t mean it’s worth anything.  By the end, I wondered if they were too damaged to even see the truth for themselves.

When you read this, find a buddy who has finished it (and won’t spoil it for you).  I needed to discuss this book as I went along.  Fortunately, I have some great co-workers who not only understand my craving for new fiction (and are willing suppliers) but had also read Gone Girl before me.  They gave me the freedom to storm their offices the every time I thought I’d made a revelation with an exposition on what I thought was going to happen next.  “Did Amy really….”, “I bet you that Nick is going to…”, and today “Seriously, these people are messed up.”

Would I recommend this book?  Oh yeah, baby.  It is definitely captivating and worth a read.  This is a novel that will stick with you.  I cannot stop thinking about these characters.  Questions keep spinning through my mind.  How did these people got to the place they ended up?  What must their childhoods have been like?  What kind of parents did they have…really?  All interspersed with, seriously, these people are messed up.  The only cure I can think of for this condition is another good novel…immediately.  Fortunately I have a stack of those at home.

First Lines: “When I think of my wife, I always think of her head.  The shape of it to begin with.  The very first time I saw her, it was the back of her head I saw, and there was something lovely about it, the angles of it.”

Now, Gone Girl has been adapted for the screen.  The film will star Ben Affleck as Nick Dunne and Rosamund Pike as Amy Elliot Dunne.  Rosamund Pike may look familiar from movies such as,Jack Reacher, Pride & Prejudice,  Die Another Day and An Education (funny, I just watched that one a couple of weeks ago), and Affleck has starred in films like Good Will Hunting, Pearl Harbor  and won an Oscar for Argo, which he also directed.

 

With the screenplay also written by author, Gillian Flynn, I have no doubts the movie is going to be a great representation of the novel.  However, I have heard rumors that the ending has been changed.  As much as it pains me to say it, this may be one you want to read the book before the movie is released in October 2014.

‘Til next time, Jessica

P.S. Messed. Up.

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Great Song For A Good Cause

Troye Sivan came to my attention through John Green’s Facebook page. Has a great song, titled “The Fault in Our Stars”, and it’s inspired by Green’s The Fault in Our Stars. If you haven’t read this book, go do it! It is a fantastic book, and the song is pretty amazing too. Here’s the best part though, Troye is donating all the proceeds from his song to his local hospital’s oncology department. How cool is that?

When I did my Random Acts of Kindness 2013 project, the response was great.  The part that still surprises me is that people think that others are not out there doing the same kinds of things every day.  They are, we just aren’t looking. Don’t get me wrong, we can all do more good things for people.  Troye’s inspired me to do something good for someone today.  I don’t know what it will be yet, but I’ll come up with something before the clock ticks over to Saturday.

What about you?  What good things do you see people doing?

Buy the song on Bandcamp – 100% of proceeds go to the PMHF:
http://www.troyesivan.bandcamp.com

‘Til next time,
Jessica

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