The Line-Up: Alyssa

Artist: Jessica Roux

Jessica Roux is a Nashville-based freelance illustrator and artist who specializes in animal and plant subjects. Her work has this colorful yet vintage style that plays with duality. It’s warm, but jarring. It’s gentle, but terrifying. Jessica will include a beautiful bouquet of flowers in vibrant paint next to an ivory skull or slithering serpent.

An Instagram post introduced me to her work. The post advertised her new oracle deck, Woodland Wardens, and from the moment I saw the drawings, I was enchanted. Unlike a tarot deck with its traditional cards and meanings, an oracle deck is entirely unique to the creator, and Jessica’s cards use the wisdom of both plants and animals to guide the user. I bought the deck at Barnes and Noble a few days after its release, and I have spent so much time staring at these cards and their art.

Jessica Roux also illustrates book covers, and one of her projects actually led to my next recommendation!

Book: A Game of Fox and Squirrels by Jenn Reese

I picked this book up because the cover art and illustrations were done by Jessica Roux, but the story itself is just as phenomenal as the drawings. This middle grade novel is about Sam who moves with her older sister to rural Oregon after experiencing domestic violence at the hands of her father. Sam’s aunt gives her a card game called Fox and Squirrels, and the cards summon a mythical fox with a dapper suit and a charming proposition. The Fox promises Sam that he will grant her a wish if she can locate the Golden Acorn, but the only way to find this wish-giving item is to give the manipulative Fox whatever he wants.

This book is so merciful in its representation of a child who has experienced domestic violence. It covers traits of PTSD and survivor’s guilt and building trust in other adults when one’s primary caregivers have betrayed them. It’s also written in beautiful prose that encapsulates the elegant forests of Oregon. The relationships between the characters is believable, especially in demonstrating how secrecy and shame become embedded in a family driven by emotional abuse. These characters are full, rich, and human in a relatable way. As someone who has gone through similar situations as Sam, I found this book to be profoundly validating, and I would recommend it to either children currently in this situation or adults who still live with those memories and scars to this day.

Music: Out Walking by Abby Gundersen

While I love loud, aggressive music to pump me up for a workout or rhythmic, R&B beats to dance to, sometimes gentle piano music is what the soul needs. Abby Gundersen is a composer from Washington who has been collaborating with her brother, Noah, and other musicians for years on multiple projects. Most often Abby works on other people’s tracks, playing piano, violin, or fiddle in the background, but every few years she’ll release a collection of solo instrumentals.

Out Walking is her newest EP. It features six songs, all piano tracks, and explores the feelings one has when walking around a neighborhood, garden, lighthouse, or just heading north. It’s a delicate album, and each song has this way of making whatever you are looking at or doing seem beautiful and profound. I listen to this album when driving and suddenly I feel like I’m in a movie where seemingly mundane things, like kids riding their bikes or construction workers tearing up a road, are existential and poignant.

I love the sounds you can hear on this album too. I believe Abby recorded on an older piano in some kind of attic because you can hear her hitting the piano pedals and the keys striking the base. It’s a palpable album, both soothing and emotional.

I recommend starting with The Neighborhood or Lighthouse, and the entire album is available on Spotify or iTunes.

TV Show: Netflix’s The Lost Pirate Kingdom

Netflix is a hot-spot for interesting documentaries, and The Lost Pirate Kingdom is an adventure into the Golden Age of Piracy. I’ve always been fascinated by the visage of the pirate; a rebellious sea-sailing warrior armed with freedom and pretty jewels, but the truth of the pirate is much more brutal. I wanted to understand what led individuals to such a chaotic and dangerous life.

The Lost Pirate Kingdom is part documentary/part dramatization. Shakespearean actor Sir Derek Jacobi narrates a six-episode series into the beginnings and endings of famous pirates like Benjamin Hornigold, Edward Teach a.k.a. Blackbeard, Sam Bellamy, and Anne Bonny. Combined with interviews from historians, the series features actors performing these roles aboard actual ships and playing out scenes that rival the cinematography of the Pirates of the Caribbean series. It’s a succinct, entertaining, and honest account of how these men and women took autonomy over their own lives by going against the tyranny of a monarch and its repressive values.

If you are curious about the timelines, actual events, and motivations behind these brackish buccaneers, check out this trailer and give The Lost Pirate Kingdom a try!

The Lineup: Xochitl

Xochitl’s Lineup

Book: Did You Ever Have a Family? by Bill Clegg

A terrible accident kills a daughter, her father, her mother’s boyfriend, and her fiancé the night before the wedding. Since it’s a small town, rumors fly and having a space to grieve is difficult for the few family members left. So difficult that one of them goes across the country for a clear mind. The book is told in no particular order from many people’s points of view, all leading to a true resolution. This was a super emotional read. Going through multiple points of view during different times and nothing in order, I came into it thinking I would be confused and wouldn’t enjoy it. I’m glad I was proven wrong. Despite timelines seeming like they’re going all over the place, it was pretty easy to grasp the story early on, and I felt the flow of the story was better this way than it could’ve been from just one point of view and sequentially. Bill Clegg tells the story of grief and broken families with imperfect people. There weren’t any main characters, but I would say that the mothers really drove this story. This is definitely a depressing book, but I felt like the book ended in the best way that it could, with comfort and resolution.

I read it on our Libby app but we also have physical copies in our catalog.

TV Show: Succession

I am finally catching up with the rest of the world and have started watching Succession. It is brilliantly funny. Succession takes a look into the lives of a family that has built its massive wealth by managing the news, media, and theme parks from all over the world. The family is messy and two-faced, with the main siblings fighting for power amongst one another and doing anything they can to get it. No one is likeable in this series, and I think that’s why I’m obsessed with it. Also, the soundtrack is killer, as well as the acting. It doesn’t seem like a comedy from this description, but I think it’s because it is actually dark humor in the true sense. The stuff that happens to this family and the stuff that they do is just so surreal that you just have to laugh. It’s hard for me to take breaks while watching Succession. I am almost done with the latest season.

There are a lot of adult themes and scenes, so I would refrain from watching if you’re underage or not comfortable with watching that.

You can find it on HBOMax and we do have the first two seasons on DVD at the Derby Public Library.

Music/Album: Wasteland, Baby! By Hozier

The album that has been on constant rotation these past few months has been Hozier’s Wasteland, Baby! This genre is one I do not listen to much of. My Spotify statistics can verify that I mainly listen to R&B, but this album has a lot of influences from gospel, soul, and blues artists—the beginnings of my favorite genre. Hozier is a powerful singer and a remarkable lyricist. His debut album caught my attention for the first time back in November, and I had it on constant repeat. Naturally, I found myself listening to his second one, and it became an instant favorite, moreso than his debut. Themes of activism and love found throughout this album resonate with me, and the blend of folk with different genres is done so well. My favorite songs on the album are “No Plan” and “Dinner & Diatribes.”

We have the album available to checkout at the Derby Public Library or you can stream it on any music streaming service you use.

Hobby: Lego (Batman Car)

Following the theme of “stuff I usually don’t do,” I have accidentally found myself creating a LEGO collection. I did not grow up with LEGOs and never saw the appeal of them as I got older. Last month I built a set meant for someone else, and thus my newest and most expensive hobby was born.

I mainly started off with smaller sets of franchises I liked, then worked towards more difficult sets with lots of pieces. Admittedly, I love doing puzzles, so it’s not that farfetched that I got into LEGO building. My newest build was a Technic set of Batman’s car in the latest movie, and it was a beast. I loved every minute of it and can’t wait to pick out my next LEGO set.

Movie: Sabrina (1995 version)

I adored the 1954 version of Sabrina, starring Audrey Hepburn, so I was pretty excited to see how the 1995 version would hold up. It was just as comedic and romantic as the original. Sabrina’s actress was phenomenal in the role, and I especially liked her solo parts. Harrison Ford’s character was also entertaining, and certainly different from the majority of the roles he does. My favorite difference between this version and the older one is that the Paris scenes are actually filmed in Paris. It made the film look more authentic and helped with the growth of Sabrina’s character on screen. Maybe because I usually find romantic endings to be cheesy, my favorite part of the movie was Sabrina’s time in Paris. I think if you’re looking for something familiar and sweet, I would give this movie a watch if you haven’t.

We have the DVD to check out in the library catalog.

The Lineup: Monica

Monica’s Lineup

TV Series: Gilmore Girls

Lorelai Gilmore and her daughter, Rory, live in the small town of Stars Hollow. Their life is full of drama, life changes, and small-town relationships. My mom and I first watched this when I started high school, and every year since then, we have watched it. Somehow, it has become our cozy series to watch during the holiday season. All of the actors and actresses in the show are talented and well-known today. Despite the series being released in 2000, it is a timeless coming of age story that is enjoyable for all audiences.

Available for checkout through the Derby Public Library

Podcast: Dark History hosted by Bailey Sarian

Bailey Sarian is the host of the Dark History podcast, which I listen to on Spotify. She started the podcast to talk about topics that are a little too dark or theory-based to cover in history class. I first found Bailey on YouTube with her Murder, Mystery, and Makeup series, where she does a full face of makeup while explaining a true murder story. She has a talent for researching and retelling stories with such dark topics. She is loose with her language and is a little sarcastic. Although in my opinion, that adds to the story. Most podcast episodes are pretty short and fun, and I enjoy listening to them in my free time.

Available on Spotify, Youtube, or whatever you listen to your podcasts.

Book: An Edited Life by Anna Newton

Organizing and reorganizing are two of my favorite things to do. Last year, I aimed to adopt a capsule wardrobe. If you are unfamiliar with this idea, essentially, you own just enough clothes that you will regularly wear and nothing more. I first found the author, Anna Newton, on YouTube as The Anna Edit. On her channel, she has videos explaining her wardrobe. She explains what she looks for when purchasing new items, quality over quantity.

Her book, An Edited Life, describes living a semi-minimalist lifestyle. It gives the basics of how to start decluttering your mental and physical space. Anna Newton uses comedic writing and colorful language in this book. It makes it feel like she is just a friend chatting with you about living a simple life.

Available for checkout through the Derby Public Library

Audiobook: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

I listened to Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell on Libby. This is a young adult book about a college freshman, Cath. Her twin sister, Wren, has committed to the college girl lifestyle and leaves Cath on her own. Cath is a writer of Simon Snow fan fiction. She has spent years editing the fictional world of her favorite story in order to escape her reality. Throughout the story, Cath is falling in love with a real guy, not a fictional character, and it was fun to hear her inner dialogue as she tries to navigate her priorities and emotions. I enjoyed how easy this book was to listen to, and that it was a simple boy meets girl kind of story.

Audiobook available for checkout through the Sunflower eLibrary or the Libby app, book available for checkout through the Derby Library

Music: Surface Sounds by Kaleo

I love all kinds of music, but lately, this album by Kaleo is the only thing I play. I am a fan of their album A/B which they released in 2016. So, when Surface Sounds came out in 2021, I was more than ready to hear it. Kaleo is an “Icelandic blues-rock” band, and their style checks all the boxes for what I think makes music enjoyable. My favorite songs on this album are Skinny and Backbone. Plus, this CD is available for checkout at the Derby Public Library!

The Lineup: Alyssa

Alyssa’s Lineup

Music: El Mal Querer by Rosalia

Fun fact about me; I love Latin and Hispanic culture. I grew up in Houston, Texas where I listened to Selena’s live concert from the Astrodome on repeat and ate as many tacos and sopapillas as I could get my little hands on. That love has now manifested into a Frida Kahlo tattoo and an obsession with authors like Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and Isabel Allende.

When I discovered Rosalia early this year, I knew she would be the soundtrack of my 2021. This Spanish album is phenomenal. Rosalia is a musician from Spain who incorporates traditional flamenco with urban rhythms to create a unique sound. The album is inspired by a 13th century novel about a woman who overcomes an abusive marriage. Even if you can’t understand a word that Rosalia sings, both her vocals and the production will pull you in.

I recommend starting with “Malamente,” “Que No Salga La Luna” and “De Aqui No Sales” 

Book: Cece Rios and the Desert of Souls by Kaela Rivera

On the topic of Latin and Hispanic culture, this middle grade novel is a fantastical journey into the world of Mexican mythology. Having been raised in neighborhoods where local women would warn me of the ghostly La Llorona, I’ve always been fascinated by the mythos of Mesoamerica, and this book captures just that.

Cece Rios lives in Tierra del Sol, a desert plagued by vengeful spirits or criaturas. While Cece’s town try to scare off the criaturas, Cece feels they might not be as dangerous as others think. But when her sister is kidnapped by El Sombreron, she teams up with the legendary Coyote to enter a dark and dangerous world.

The characters, writing, and plot are all exceptional, and I was so immersed in the supernatural world. Also, if you are looking for the same vibe in TV form, check out Victor and Valentino here at the library or on Cartoon Network or HBO Max!

TV: Dopesick

This eight-part miniseries on Hulu about Oxycotin is addictive. If you are into court dramas, mental health/health care, stories of addiction, or the insanity that is the pharmaceutical industry, I highly recommend this show, inspired by the non-fiction novel of the same name. It’s not easy to watch at times, but it’s told with such high production and performance quality and with a sincere reverence to those impacted by OxyContin in the early 2000s.

The series gives you all perspectives; members of the pharm company, a sales rep, a doctor, a patient, a DEA agent, and the lawyers who brought a case against the drug. Michael Keaton, Rosario Dawson, and Peter Sarsgaard have lead roles.

Interestingly, my mother worked as a hospital phlebotomist around the time of the drug’s release when I was about ten years old, and I remember her having pens and notepads with its logo. Never would I have imagined the scandal and deception behind it.

Company: Les Mills

Fitness has been a consistent part of my life for nearly four years. I box with Evolution Fitness Studios in Wichita (which I highly recommend), but when COVID hit last year, I had to find something else to keep both my physical and mental health intact. I stumbled upon this video on YouTube and fell in love with the New Zealand-based company called Les Mills.

I use Les Mills Plus, an on-demand subscription where I follow along with videos taught by instructors from all over the world. Les Mills has so many different programs including weight training (Body Pump), HIIT (Grit), shadowboxing (Body Combat), dance (Sh’Bam), cycling (RPM) and more.

I follow Body Pump and Grit Cardio to supplement my boxing work.

The workouts can be tough, but they’ve pushed my fitness level in a whole new way. The instructors are motivating and helpful too. If you are hesitant to get into a gym or you are looking for something new, I recommend giving Les Mills a try.

The Lineup: Chelsea

Chelsea’s Lineup

Music: Spotify playlist: ConfiDANCE (Song spotlight: Not 20 Anymore by Bebe Rexha; Okay Okay by Alessia Cara)

We all have our struggles. Two at the top of my list are mornings, and confidence. In an attempt to kill two birds with one stone, I created a Spotify playlist to start my mornings with a little pep. As soon as I turn off my alarm in the morning, I try to queue up this playlist, and keep it playing during my morning routine & trip to drop my oldest off at school. I sought out about half of the songs, knowing they already help me improve my mood on bad days. The other half Spotify suggested to me! A couple of my *new* favorites include Not 20 Anymore by Bebe Rexha, and Okay Okay by Alessia Cara.

  • Available on Spotify

Movies: He’s All That

I suppose I’m a shameless millennial. I was scrolling through the Netflix “coming soon” tab when I found this. She’s All That was one of my favorite movies for the years after it came out. I mean, Paul Walker you guys. Even as the jerk bad guy, he’s dreamy. Anyhow, it gave me all the teenage angst lovey-dovey vibes that I wanted. I had such high hopes for this movie. I watched it the day it launched onto Netflix. A little overzealous, I know. Anyway, they did a great job of giving the story line an update and making it current to today’s youth. The characters have the same personalities and attributes of attraction that the original actors did. Matthew Lillard and Rachel Leigh Cook even make an appearance! It didn’t live up to the original’s hype, for me, unfortunately. Perhaps that is just because those were my people, and I suppose that makes these ones my kids’ people. Whatever. Worth the watch—but maybe just once.

  • Available on Netflix

Television Show: Curious Creations of Christine McConnell

Some might say I’m a bit of an oddball. I would say I just really love Halloween, and spooky stuff, and all things weird. This Netflix series is all of those things and more. Christine is kind of a Martha Stewart of the…spooky variety. She shows the audience how to make beautifully creepy creations like cakes, tea services, and edible tree ornaments. She also has a host of strange Jim Henson-like creature friends who are always getting into mischief while she tries to teach us about her creations. It’s a strange show, but I suppose I’m a strange person.

  • Available on Netflix

Kid’s Television Show: Dug Days

My son is two, and I stay home with him during the daytime. It’s a fun age riding the line between constantly having to tell him, “no”, and staring at him with a big goofy grin on my face because he’s just SO wonderful. Watching him watch Dug Days does that second one to me. He just loves Dug. I’m not sure what it is—he’s not very verbal just yet—but the grin on his face when I turn it on just melts my heart. There’s only five or six shorts in the series, and they are short, but they are adorable and definitely worth the watch.

  • Available on Disney+

Audiobook: A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas, narrated by Amanda Leigh Cobb

I read this series a couple of years ago and truly enjoyed it. I must have talked about it quite a bit, because when my husband decided to start an audiobook series (and the book he was hoping to read was checked out), he started listening to this series. I became very excited to enjoy the story with him—a tiny book club for two. The story was just as good the second time around! I’m not a huge fan of the narration of this series, but I am glad they got the same narrator for all of the books (so far); it made it a consistent read. I’m a sucker for a few specific things in stories, and this series seems to check all of those boxes.*sigh*

Apps: Chirp Books

Are you a fan of free and inexpensive? I am a fan of free and inexpensive. Chirp is an audiobook application I learned about through their sister (e-book) company Bookbub (which you should also check out if you haven’t heard of them). After creating your account, you can select favorite genres, authors, and narrators. Based on these favorites, you will receive a daily e-mail with a list of books you can purchase at discounted prices! The only disadvantage is you have to listen to it through their app. It’s a free app and subscription, though, so I’d call that a win! All books suggested to me so far are $5 or less. You can also put audiobooks on a wish list, and the app will alert you if they ever go on sale! I, um, I’ve purchased more $5 audiobooks than I care to admit so far.

Hobbies: Spare Room Remodel

*NOT* my office but what it aspires to become

About two years ago we moved into a new place to make room for a new little addition to our family. It had everything we were searching for, if it was a little higher in the price range than we were hoping for. Anyhow, the basement was unfinished. This might be daunting for some (read me), but the benefit was worth it. I aspire to write– and when I’m not writing, I’m usually reading—so, one of the unfinished rooms in the basement has been reserved as an office/writing space for me sometime in the distant future. I guess I decided I wanted less distance, because I moved all my books back into storage and started working.

Man I underestimated the work that goes into a project like this. I was excited to paint, but forgot about the dry walling and mudding that had to occur first. I did a decent amount before deciding a garage sale to fund a professional to finish the work was probably the best idea. Now that is done, and I’m in the painting process. I love the gothic library look I’ve chosen, and I’m excited to decorate now. Again, I forgot how much work has to occur before that step can be taken, though. Baseboards, crown molding, door trim, window trim, carpeting, and installation of shelves ALL have to occur before I can decorate. Picking those items out is enjoyable, and the installation isn’t unenjoyable—but the bill that accompanies it? That’s is for the birds. So, my project is somewhere in the in-between now. Not exactly the distant future anymore, but further away from the now I was eager for. These things take time, I suppose.

ON MY RADAR: books on my “TBR” shelf, movies and television shows on my “Queue”, podcasts I’ve been eyeing but haven’t had the time to listen to yet. Things I haven’t bit the bullet and purchased, but really hope to sometime soon.

  • Books: Writing Picture Books by Ann Whitford Paul
  • Podcasts: The GIST of it; Ologies
  • TV Shows: Sexy Beasts; Tattoo Redo
  • Movies: The Fundamentals of Caring