Cover Me: The Stories Behind the Greatest Cover Songs of All Time by Ray Padgett

Book – The phrase ‘book of essays’ always suggests to me something stodgy, solemn and old-fashioned–until I remember that every Buzzfeed article is an essay by another name. Cover Me actually started as a series of posts on the author’s blog, and that pedigree shows, in a good way.  It’s a compilation of nineteen bite-sized nuggets of popular music history, exactly the kind of irresistible stories that can keep a reader clicking through to the next page until the small hours of the morning.

Author Padgett is a music producer as well as a writer, and his industry knowledge informs and enriches these impeccably-written essays.  Even after many years of blogging on the subject of cover songs (songs re-recorded by a different artist than the original) he was hesitant to delve into the subject in book form, because cover songs are not exactly a unifying theme.  They belong to no one particular era, genre or movement–but that fact in itself makes them an ideal vehicle for a macro-view of popular music as a whole, at least the past 65-ish years of English-language popular songs.  “Every major change in the music industry since the advent of rock and roll finds some expression in the world of cover songs,” Padgett writes, and he does an admirable job of delving into those larger connections and significances to make each song tell a larger story.  Moreover, he writes history the way it should be written: as a series of human stories, emotional and compelling as well as informative.

As a casual music history fan, I was nervous that Cover Me would be a music snob’s book for experts only, but was pleasantly surprised.  I already not only knew, but knew the words to, almost every song discussed, including all-time greats like Aretha Franklin’s “Respect,” Jimi Hendrix’s “All Along the Watchtower” and the Beatles’ “Twist and Shout.”  This is definitely a book to enjoy with YouTube on hand, to listen (or, in the case of Johnny Cash’s “Hurt” and the accompanying music video, watch) along to every variation of the featured songs.  Revisiting classics in this rich new way was a genuine joy, and I would recommend it to every teen and adult reader with even a slight interest in popular music or music history.

The Stray (2017)

Movie – “Pluto” appeared out of nowhere and made his home with the Davis family. Dad works way too many hours, mom is exhausted dealing with the three kids, and the kids are having a hard time fitting in with kids their own age. What can be done to fix all these problems- nothing but adopting the stray dog of course. After the youngest daughter walks away from her family- as they are too busy with other kids or work, the family decides its time to make a drastic change to their lifestyle. They move from LA to Colorado. In an effort to better fit in with kids as well as gain a new prospective on their lives, the dad takes his oldest son, and 2 other neighborhood kids on an epic camping trip. A frightful night will leave this group of guys forever altered, including the dog “Pluto.”

I found this movie to be much deeper than originally thought based on the cover and synopsis on the back. I was thinking something lighter along the lines of Homeward Bound or Milo and Otis. This movie in my opinion is so much more than just a cute tale with a fluffy dog. It also has a bit of a “churchy” vibe, which isn’t for me, but does help tie the movie together I suppose. If you are looking to unload a whole bunch of emotions in 1.5 hours – this is the movie for you.

The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee

Book–Henry “Monty” Montague, bisexual teenager and soon-to-be British lord, is a drunk disappointment to his abusive father. His last hurrah before descending into the doldrums of running the estate at his father’s side is his grand tour, the trip around the European continent that many young male aristocrats take to shore up overseas alliances and soak up some culture. Monty is not interested in alliances or culture; he’s interested in (read: has a massive crush on) his traveling companion, his biracial best friend Percy, and in getting drunk and laid as much as possible. Monty’s tour gets hijacked by his father sending along his sharp-tongued little sister Felicity and, even worse, a chaperone to keep Monty on a strict itinerary. However, when Monty swipes a MacGuffin from one of his father’s allies and highwaymen ransack their carriage to get it back, their tour takes a sharp turn toward adventure, complete with alchemy, pirates, and even true love.

The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue is so darn much fun. Monty, Percy, and Felicity are all such well-drawn characters with great dialog and relationships with each other. While each of the characters has some darkness and secrets in them, the overall tone is optimistic. If I had any complaint about this book, it’s that it felt too modern. Monty’s coolness with his bisexuality (and conception of it as such) among other things seems anachronistic and is not entirely explained away by the Author’s Note at the end. If you enjoy this one, you might also like the Doctrine of Labyrinths series by Sarah Monette for a darker, more complex take on an adventuring and queer romance story or Simon Vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda if you were into it for the character dynamics and romance, but not the adventure.

Noteworthy by Riley Redgate

Book— At scholarship student Jordan Sun’s elite, arts-focused boarding high school, getting cast in the school musical isn’t just a fun diversion–it’s a make-or-break-your-career proposition. After she gets passed over for the musical the third year running, Jordan gets some hard advice. For an alto 2 like Jordan, the deepest register for female voices, there just are not many parts, leading or otherwise, in musical theater. Shortly after, Jordan hears that there is an open spot in the Sharpshooters, the most prestigious a capella octet on campus, and decides to audition. The only catch? The Sharpshooters is an all-male group. Can alto 2 Jordan be just the tenor the Sharpshooters need?

Redgate’s characters, especially the Sharpshooters, are a diverse, tight-knit bunch and it’s a pleasure to see Jordan become a member of their little family. I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to enjoy this story because I know next to nothing about music and even less about a capella, but I needn’t have worried. Noteworthy should appeal equally to music neophytes and music buffs. If you like realistic, well-drawn characters, high school stories with a dash of romance, and stories exploring gender, you’ll definitely want to read this book. If you enjoy this one, you might also enjoy the manga series Ouran High School Host Club, which has a fairly similar premise (girl cross-dresses and gets in with a popular club of boys at a prestigious school) but a sillier tone.

I Believe in a Thing Called Love by Maurene Goo

Book–High school senior Desi Lee likes to have her life under control. With perfect SAT scores, high school popularity, and a great relationship with her goofy, Korean-drama-obsessed widower dad, Desi’s drive and methodical determination have gotten her almost everything she wants in life. The only thing she’s missing is a boyfriend. When she feels an instant connection with impossibly cool and handsome new student Luca Drakos, she decides to apply her scholarly single-mindedness to the project of snagging Luca. Using her father’s Korean drama formulaic romances as a template, she devises a step-by-step plan to win Luca over. Staged near-death experiences and contrived K-drama hijinks ensue.

I had mixed feelings about this book; Desi’s plans cause real harm to real (well, fictional-real) people and she is upfront about how bonkers her plans get. I found that this book was immensely fun if I didn’t take it too seriously, sort of like Korean dramas themselves, in fact. Desi is a charming, strong-willed protagonist with an out-of-whack moral compass who, without spoiling anything, gets off a bit too easy for some of the dangerous stunts she pulls. If you enjoy I Believe in a Thing Called Love, I recommend books by Jenny Han and Sarah Dessen.

The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli

Book— Despite 26 crushes, Molly Peskin-Suso has never had a kiss or a  boyfriend. Her twin sister Cassie gets a girlfriend, her friends have boyfriends, even her two moms are getting married, but Molly has no one and obsesses about it, feeling awkward and left behind. Molly decides to do something revolutionary–rather than just crushing silently, she chooses to risk rejection and go after the boy she wants. The trouble is deciding which one. Will she go after Will, the cute, hipster-cool best friend of Cassie’s girlfriend, or Reid, the nerdy, so-uncool-it’s-almost-cool boy at her summer job?

While Molly is sometimes so boy-crazy that it’s suffocating to read about, she is a witty, engaging narrator who feels like a real teenager, complete with a Pinterest obsession and dialogue laden with tumblrspeak. Molly is chubby and suffers from anxiety for which she takes medication, situations which Albertalli portrays realistically and sensitively. This is a light, fun book with lots of diverse representation that’s perfect for summertime. The Upside of Unrequited will appeal to readers of John Green and Rainbow Rowell as well as those who enjoyed Albertalli’s Lincoln-nominated first book, Simon Vs. The Homo-Sapiens Agenda.

Beast by Brie Spangler

Book--Ever since the 6th grade, Dylan has been larger than other boys. Now at over 6 ft. tall, improbably hairy, and still growing, 15-year-old Dylan (called Beast by his peers) hides his face under hats and feels trapped in a body that doesn’t match his insides. When his school bans hats, Dylan walks off the edge of the school building and breaks his leg. He claims it was an accident. His orthopedist and his mother don’t agree. They send him to counseling for teenagers with self-harming tendencies, where he meets Jamie. Jamie is beautiful, smart, and funny, just the kind of girl that would impress Dylan’s friends. Because this is a Beauty and the Beast retelling, Dylan starts to shed some of his shallowness and misogyny as he falls in love with her, and begins to let go of his anger at the world. However, when Dylan learns that Jamie is transgender (a fact that she told him when they first met, had he been listening), he freaks out and pulls away from her. Will Dylan be able to get over his knee-jerk transphobia and apologize to Jamie? Will she be able to forgive him? Will they get back together?

Of course they will. But reading about how is the whole fun of it. I really enjoyed reading about Dylan’s journey from crass and callow teenage boy to sensitive young man. Despite being a fairy tale retelling, Beast stands on its own. If you enjoy this one, you may also enjoy other LBGT classic story retellings aimed at young adults (yes, this is a whole genre) such as Ash by Malinda Lo (retells Cinderella), Great by Sara Benincasa (retells The Great Gatsby), and As I Descended (retells Macbeth).

As I Descended by Robin Talley

imagesBook–Roommates (and secret couple) Maria and Lily are students at the elite boarding school Acheron Academy. The girls excel at academics, extra-curricular activities, and popularity contests, especially Maria. The only problem, from their perspective, is that they are not the very best. Fellow student Delilah Dufrey holds this honor: she is valedictorian, captain of their soccer team, and a shoo-in for homecoming queen. Delilah is also at the top of the list to win the coveted Cawdor Kingsley prize, a full college ride and two years of free grad school to the winner. While none of the girls actually need the money, they all crave the status, and Maria wants to ensure that she gets into Stanford with Lily.

To ensure the prize goes to Maria and to stay together, Lily is willing to do anything, even exploit Maria’s belief in ghosts and the supernatural to convince her that getting the prize is foreordained. What follows is a a full-on, ghost-laden, Shakespearean tragedy that neither girl could have predicted where bad decisions pile on top of each other and lies beget more lies. Like The Tragedy of Macbeth that it’s based on, As I Descended is an exploration of the lengths that the desire for power can drive people to.

Ten Count Volume 1 by Rihito Takarai

51XhBns8y1L._SX349_BO1,204,203,200_Book— Corporate secretary Shirotani suffers from misophobia, an irrational fear of dirt and contamination. He manages to get by wearing gloves and avoiding situations that trigger his phobia until he crosses paths with Kurose, who immediately notices his phobia and gives him his card. Kurose turns out to be a therapist. Rather than taking Shirotani on as a client, Kurose claims to want to be Shirotani’s friend and offers to meet him weekly at a cafe for free to help him with his phobia. Kurose has Shirotani make a list of ten things that would be hard or impossible with his misophobia, which Kurose will help him confront. Shirotani begins to make quick progress, but how much of it is tied to his budding feelings for Kurose?

This manga was a fun, fast read with beautiful artwork, but would have been so much more interesting for me if it were grounded in reality. In the real world, Kurose’s behavior is grossly unprofessional for a therapist and the blurring of boundaries between professional, friendly, and romantic relationships is in no way beneficial for Shirotani’s mental health. I will be eager to see if future installments of Ten Count explore the repercussions of Kurose’s nonprofessional behavior or if the story will continue along in the la-la land of pretty men falling in love.

The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo

51323qF2glL._SX330_BO1,204,203,200_Book–In the port town of Malacca in Malaya in the 19th century (modern-day Malaysia), Li Lan is the daughter of a impoverished-but-genteel opium addict. Though of marriageable age, Li Lan receives no suitors but one: the prestigious Lim family wants her for their only son’s bride. There’s a catch, however. Lim Tian Ching, heir to the Lim family fortune, has recently died under mysterious circumstances and is demanding a bride from beyond the grave. Ghost marriage, an ancient but rarely practiced custom, is used to soothe an angry spirit, and guarantees the bride’s place in her groom’s house for the rest of her life.

Before Li Lan has even accepted the proposal, Lim Tian Ching begins to haunt her, and she is drawn into lifelike nightmares that sap away her energy. Li Lan is torn between the waking world and the shadowy ghost world where, if she’s not careful, she may remain forever.

The gorgeous, strange setting of turn of the century Malaya and the dreamlike ghost world draw the reader in, stealing the show from the somewhat milquetoast Li Lan and her trite love triangle between new Lim heir Tian Bai and mysterious spirit Er Lang. The Ghost Bride will appeal to those who enjoyed the movie Spirited Away, which has a similar beautiful, nightmarish, dream-logic setting and characters drawn with a light hand.