Don’t you dare tell me you’re not a reader

I’m coming to you this week as the host for an awesome group of people writing for #BookishBloggersUnite. If you haven’t checked out the rest of these lovelies, what are you waiting for?! From Texas to Australia, we’re talking some recent reads that have really had an impact on how we think, how we feel, or how we view ourselves.

It’s not a newsflash that I read a lot. Currently sitting at 95 books for the year actually (believe it or not I know several people who have blown past that already this year). I read them for all sorts of reasons. Sometimes I’m just bored and there’s nothing on tv that sounds better. Sometimes it’s just habit. Then there are those times where something grabs you by the heart and you forget that the story isn’t real. That’s not true though, is it? Fictional stories can be just as real as anything. Even before there was written word, there were stories that explained the universe. They explained the human condition and how we are who we are and where we came from. The impact of those stories are just as real as any true story you may ever hear. That connection is real. Do the people exist? No. Do they need to? No.  So, then why have stories always been used in this way? I don’t have the answer for that. What I do know, is that a story can connect directly to someone’s heart in a way that many people often can not.

Sure, there are silly stories that make us laugh, or complex stories that make us think, or kissing stories that make us glad someone’s getting their happily ever after. But sometimes? Sometimes there are stories that just melt your heart in places you didn’t know could liquefy. Sometimes there are stories that make you just want to call someone up and say “I see you”.  Sometimes those stories just feel like arms wrapped around your soul.  Maybe that sounds crazy to you, but if it does you just haven’t found the right stories yet. I think that’s the biggest part of why I am so determined to be a writer. and yet so terrified to actually do it. I want someone to read my words and feel like I see them. I want to put a smile on someone’s face and make them fall in love. I want to give them a reason to block out all the noise, even for just a few hours.

There have been a couple of books that have really made me think lately in that ‘sucker punch to the heart when I wasn’t looking’ kind of way. The Lost for Words Bookshop by Stephanie Butland and Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

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I went into this book with the recommendation that it was “If Eleanor Oliphant worked in a bookshop and had tattoos, and was slightly less problematic” or something similar. It’s a story of Loveday, a bibliophile who has worked in a bookstore since she was 15. Her childhood is parceled out in small snips here and there as she is confronted with certain things in her life. An ex boyfriend is kind of, sort of stalking her. Books that should never have been around start showing up and forcing her to confront her past. A lost book introduces her to someone who she can’t quite figure out how to be with. He is patient, kind, and a poet. She is, she thinks, just too damaged. Her tattoos are first lines of books that meant something to her. They remind her of parts of her life that have shaped her into who she is. It’s not as big of a twist as Oliphant has and I think that’s a good thing. Even being able to predict how this was going to end didn’t lessen the impact when it was over. There are a few poems sprinkled throughout that help the characters express what they are feeling and it’s an incredibly effective device. It says something really powerful about communication and self trust. Before reading this book I have never considered getting a tattoo. They’re just not for me is all. When I was done with this story though, my brain immediately asked “which line would you get” and for me, that’s a mark of a great story. It pushes you to consider something about yourself. Even if it’s something as simple as getting a tattoo.

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I’m not even sure I can put into words how I felt about this book. I originally picked it up because the audiobook is narrated by Lin-Manuel Miranda. If there is anything that rivals my love of reading, it is my admiration for LMM (Don’t challenge me to a Hamilton lyric based conversation. Been there, won that my friend). I’d heard a few good things about this book, but I wasn’t prepared for it in any way. Honestly? This may be the most beautiful story I’ve ever read. Don’t get me wrong. It’s a tough read (trigger warnings for violence). Two teenagers in the 80s are learning how to grow up and figure out who they are. They’re best friends. One is gay. One is lost. All they really have for sure is each other. Once I turned it on though, I couldn’t bring myself to turn it off. I was cheering for them and refusing to look at how much time was left because I didn’t want it to end. And when it did, I just sat there. Silent. Exhausted. Heartbroken, but Happy. In love with the beauty of a story that needs to be told because there are so many people that will read it and say “I see me. That’s me” and I hope they feel seen. I hope they feel loved. And then I hope that they know I see them too.

So maybe these stories aren’t for you. Maybe you don’t want something that feels quite so heavy, quite so loaded. That doesn’t mean you’re just not a reader. Don’t you dare tell me you’re not a reader. In fact, that’s probably the worst thing you can say to me. I will search day and night until I find that book that you can’t put down. The one that sticks with you, niggling at the back of your brain. The one that wraps you like a warm blanket, or makes you smile like an ice cream cone in the middle of summer. Or even, the one that leaves you sobbing on the couch, hugging a book to your chest because what you needed most in the world at that moment was to just cry and let all that weariness flow away. Trust me, it’s out there.

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Witches, and Vamps, and Daemons oh my!

The yellow plague is here, aka pollen season. Being my only allergy, it is a little like feeling you’re slowly dying for a few weeks. Breathing is a bit essential so it’s miserable. Thankfully I can still get some quality reading time in as well as keeping up with my bookish friends. Speaking of, there are several out in the blogosphere that have been doing link-up posts about various topics under #BookishBloggersUnite This week is Favorite Side Characters. I’ve thought about this for a few days, but I couldn’t settle on one. Initially, I looked at this as sidekicks. For instance Dr. Watson. He is a great side character, but it wasn’t quite what I was looking for. I wanted someone who stood out, someone who really stole the show. It needed to be someone who grew with the story and really evolved as it went in unexpected and brilliant ways.

As of today, I think I have finally found that side character. I finally started reading A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness a few weeks ago. It’s the first book in the All Souls Trilogy. Diana Bishop is a history professor visiting at Oxford who specializes in the history of alchemy. She stumbles across a magical book that starts to bring out her own suppressed magic that she has fought her entire life. She also stumbles upon Matthew de Clermont. A vampire who can brood with the best of them. What follows is a love story, a war, and hope for a new world. I got sucked in from the very beginning! The cast of characters expands to include several other vampires, witches, and daemons (I’m looking at you Kit Marlowe). Daemons here are the incredibly creative and sometimes a bit unruly, not the evil, glowing-eyed monsters many think of.  Vampires meld into society largely unnoticed but live by their own very strict set of rules and loyalties. Then there are the witches. Some power hungry, some genial, all powerful to some degree. And the book? It could very well hold the answers to where they all came from…and how to get rid of them. It appears to have chosen Diana, but unfortunately, EVERYONE wants to get their hands on it.

The world that Harkness creates is so rich in history and characters, that it’s hard to pick just one favorite. Phillipe, the patriarch of the de Clermonts has been writing history the way he wants for as long as anyone can remember. Gallowglass is a sweet vamp whose protectiveness makes him a valuable asset. Chris, a human scientist and Diana’s best friend, doesn’t come into play until Book 3 but he isn’t afraid to put Matthew in his place and keep him in line. Any of the 16th century School Night players, Christopher Marlow/Walter Raleigh/Lord Northumberland and their brotherhood of sorts. They all play such a crucial role along the journey, but as I finished book 3 today, one character stood out as so beautifully fleshed out and spirited I knew I had found my answer.

Ysabeau.

Ysabeau if Matthew’s creator-mother and matriarch of the de Clermont family. She is stubborn, wily, loving, and clever. All along the way, she grows from a cold, hard, witch hating vampire you wouldn’t want to cross in an alley to the number one person you want with you were you to cross her in an alley. She evolves so much over all three books that you can’t help but grow to love her. At one point Matthew tries to explain to Diana that people always knew Phillipe was in charge but that Phillipe always knew it was actually Ysabeau who ran the show. He wasn’t kidding. There’s a scene late in the story when they need to get past a vamp guard. She walks right up and says “meet your grandmother” before she stabs a dagger into his heart. At the same time, she loves more fiercely than anyone else when it comes to her family despite her personal views. My heart broke for her time and again but her strength comes across on the page as clearly as if she walked into your living room.

Conveniently, she may be doing that soon. It appears it will be a tv show this fall. Matthew will be played by Matthew Goode, and if that isn’t enough to convince you to check it out, you may need your head checked. He’s a perfect choice! Why do the Brits get all the good television?! I digress. Trust me, if you want to feel allllll the feels, go check out A Discovery of Witches and hold on for the ride.

“Don’t move” – Moriarty

Hello out there! March has almost come and gone. Can you believe it? I certainly can’t. Time is flying by this year, and let’s face it, when is it not? Life moves at a never-ending pace it seems. Kiddo birthday parties and snaps of cold weather are filling the days lately. Speaking of kiddos, Greatest Showman is still their obsession for those of you keeping score. Yes, the movie that came out in December. They still beg for it daily. It could be worse I suppose. Working from home two days a week now has been a treat. Well, “Mori”arty seems to think so at least:

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On the writing front, February was so crazy we hit a stall, but we’re meeting up this week to kick back into gear. I’m about 90% sure I’ve figured out where I want a new character to go but we’ll see if she agrees or not.

In the clearly attainable goals dept, I’m up to 44 of the 75 books in my Goodreads challenge for the year. Perhaps I should bite the bullet and up the goal seeing as it’s only March. I know the year only gets crazier from here so we’ll see.

Speaking of good reads (see what I did there *insert eyebrow wiggle*) I’ve read a few good ones lately. I was a little disappointed by the new Sophie Kinsella. I love her books for quirky characters as you’ve all probably figured out by now, but this wife was so desperate I just felt sorry for her. I’d highly recommend SK’s other books for a fun read but Suprise Me fell a little short for me.

The Music Shop by Rachel Joyce was a little slow to start but by the time it was over, I was really touched. It was lovely! I was finishing it up while family was over and I had to put it down because I was starting to cry. If you like music at all (especially if you love a good vinyl) check it out.

For book club, we’re reading Drama High by Michael Sokolove before Rise starts on NBC. It’s their new show about how music theater transforms a high school. I can’t count how many times I stopped reading it and thought “wait, it wasn’t like this for everyone?”. So THANK YOU to my amazing drama teacher and friends whom I still love very much to this day. Sorry if I didn’t realize how special we had it back then.

Lastly, I just wrapped up The Boyfriend Swap by Meredith Schorr and boy was it delightful! It’s exactly what you think. Two women swap bf’s at Christmas so their parents will be appeased and/or get off their backs. It ends about exactly as you think it will and it’s adorable!!

 

 

A month of love-liness!

What a start to a year! It seems like life has been nonstop since I last checked in, and here we are, almost to March already! Time flies when you’re having fun I guess. Some BIG NEWS, some fun news, and some life as usual:

BIG NEWS: I know I’ve mentioned writing before (don’t judge me on the quality of the writing here haha). I’ve been kicking around a story since NaNoWriMo 2012 that was “finished” but not revised. No matter what I do, I keep coming back to that story. I normally don’t do New Year’s Resolutions, but I decided to just rip the band-aid off. I’m going to get this story actually done this year. I’ve found a local editor that I know and trust and we’re working slowly but surely to get it to a version I can submit. It has been a difficult process to hand over something I’ve lived with for so long and trust that their feedback comes from a positive place. Yes, I kicked my feet at several of her suggestions but ultimately came to the conclusion that she made more sense than I did. I’ve had to let go of a character I’m particularly partial to, but I get to create a whole new one that makes so much more sense for the story I’m trying to tell. While it feels like a major rewrite of practically everything, I’m happy with where it’s going. Fingers crossed!

FUN NEWS: Y’all know how much I read, and I may have mentioned Book Riot a couple hundred times. They provide some cool perks to monthly contributors that range from exclusive newsletters, a new release index, up to a private Slack for the top tier. Due to the Slack population being restricted, I’ve been waiting for the chance to get in for awhile. Lo and behold, I finally got in recently and it is either the best thing ever or the worst thing ever, depending on whether you want to actually judge the amount of time I’ve spent on there. Y’all. I have never found so many helpful, funny, like-minded people in one place before. Anything ranging from what we’re reading, to interview help, to live chatting our Olympic love, I have fallen in love with this community all over again. I highly recommend supporting your passions and finding others that share your interests. It definitely leads to a more fulfilling day amidst all the crap we can sometimes have to deal with.

LIFE AS USUAL: So far, I’ve hit 27 books on the year so I’m ahead of my Goodreads challenge. I’ll be glad for that later in the year I bet. I’ve read some good ones and some really, really bad ones. Seems to be par for the course. I’ve been pretty good about tracking what kind and where I’m getting books so far and am finding the results interesting already. It’s still the month of love, so a few reads of love-liness lately to keep things light, breezy, and happy:

The Heir and the Spare by Emily Albright. This was such a cute story about an American who goes to Oxford to fulfill a posthumous request from her mother to discover her family roots. While there she finds Edmund who turns out to be a prince, and a connection she’s not quite sure she even wants. I am big fan of royal fiction and loved The Royal We. This story reminded me of TRW, and I smiled so much while reading this. There are several instances you need to suspend disbelief (I mean come on, who doesn’t recognize a Prince of England while in England) but overall, I’d recommend this for someone looking for a light or beach read.

The Upside of Falling Down by Rebekah Crane. I’ve read 2 other books by Rebekah and this one doesn’t disappoint. I did a longer review over on Goodreads with a bit more detail, but this YA love story is about “Jane” who is the sole survivor of a plane crash in Ireland, but has absolutely no memory of anything when she wakes up. She convinces a stranger to help her escape the hospital in a (misguided?) attempt to regain her memories so she can reclaim her life without all the pressures of being told what that life is. It’s a sweet story of searching for answers and finding more than you bargained for along the way. The characters are fun. The scenery is lovely. Would also recommend for a quick read about falling in love and finding yourself.

My Not So Perfect Life by Sophie Kinsella. Sophie always delivers fun, quirky characters that make me laugh and this is no exception. Katie works for an advertising firm and has the boss from hell. Well she thinks so anyway. Having her dream of living in London crushed by losing even the menial job she had sends her back home to a father and step-mother who want to start what is essentially a campground. Using what she learned about branding, she helps them get the idea off the ground and success comes quickly. So does her former boss and her former crush. There are misconceptions, clever insights, and a little bit of soul-searching thrown in for good measure. I laughed out loud several times. The story does such an interesting take on how our perceptions are so easily crafted by either/both advertisers and our own experiences, drawing the parallels between product promotion and life outlook before you realize it. If you want a pick me up to blaze through over the weekend, this (or several others of Sophie’s books) is a good place to start.

Last minute (book) shopping advice!

So many “Best of” lists are coming out now that we’re roughly halfway through December. This means I’m having a very hard time not letting my TBR pile get out of hand (I know, good luck with that). It’s getting harder to not just order new ones instead of waiting to see which ones make it under the tree. Speaking of, books make great gifts for anyone! Looking over all the books I’ve read this year, both backlist and new, I think there are a few that may help you finish out those last minute shopping needs.

These are listed in no particular order with a brief description:

YA for any age

  • Letters to the Lost by Brigid Kemmerer – a tragic You’ve Got Mail YA about two high school teens that suffer loss and console each other through letters left at a graveside. This story is so tender and sweet, great for anyone who wants a book with ‘all the feels’.
  • The Casquette Girls by Alys Arden (and Romeo Catchers by Alys Arden) – Books 1 & 2 in this YA trilogy about coming back to New Orleans in a post ‘Katrina’ and discovering a vampire nest.
  • When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon – super fun Contemp YA Romance about an Indian daughter who just wants to go to college and have a career and the very traditional Indian boy her parents have secretly arranged for her to marry. Their first introduction ends with a drink in his face because he is totally on board and thinks she is too, except SPOILER ALERT, she doesn’t know anything about it. Set at a Stanford tech camp the summer after HS graduation.
  • Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell – speaking of all the feels, this YA story is about first love, surviving a truly horrible home life and can there be hope after all? I just wanted to hug this story when it was done.
  • Caraval by Stephanie Garber – (I’m not in agreement that this should technically be YA) described as “one part amusement park, one part Venice, and one part game show, painted in all the colors of a gothic circus”, this is a great fantasy story about an exclusive escape to a carnival where you know nothing is as it seems, but is it too real? Lots of intrigue and magical fun. (If you liked The Night Circus, you’ll like this one! If you haven’t read NC, add that to this list too!)

 

Fiction

  • A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Bachman – this is a lovely story about a retiree who has recently lost his wife and decided that there isn’t any left for him in life, but life has other plans. (bonus: this is already a movie and Tom Hanks is doing an American remake of it)
  • The Bookshop on the Corner by Jenny Colgan – sweet story about a librarian who decides to open a bookstore in a van after her library is closed, set in a beautiful Scotland
  • Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman – o.m.g. this is just so fantastic. You follow Eleanor through her life during good days, bad days and worst days. She is so unusual and awkward that you can’t help but stayed glued to her as she navigates a crush and loss and then you get slammed with a jaw dropping bomb.
  • The Royal We by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan – for all fans of all things royal, this story reads like a look directly into what I imagine the courtship and marriage of Prince William and Duchess Catherine should have been. You’ll forget this story is totally fiction and that they’re not really your friends.
  • Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier – classic gothic thriller surrounding the de Winters at Manderlay and full of psychological suspense.

Non-fiction

  • Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah – Host of the Daily Show, Trevor was born in South Africa during apartheid when being biracial was actually a crime. His memoir is a fascinating look at growing up in apartheid and what it meant to be white or black and the consequences of having the ability to choose.
  • As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of the Princess Bride by Cary Elwes – If they loved The Princess Bride (let’s be honest, any other view is inconceivable. You’re welcome) then they need this book. It’s such a celebration of the film full of funny anecdotes from all the actors and insights into the process that brought all of the beloved characters to life.
  • The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot – nonfiction, this tells the story of the HeLa cell, the first immortalized cell line and one of the most important cell lines in medical research in a time before HIPAA and the question of where do you draw the line when it’s for the greater good? This is a fascinating look at how medical research has changed over time
  • No Matter the Wreckage by Sarah Kay – my favorite poetry collection by a spoken word poet. Kay is just so fantastic and her views are fun, and potent, and worth the read over and over again.
  • Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America by Erik Larson – (or anything by Erik Larson for that matter. Dead Wake is awesome too!) for the history buff about the Chicago’s World’s Fair and H.H. Holmes

 

Just for you bonus : Delphi Effect and Delphi Resistance by Rysa Walker – YA scifi about a secret government program that induces paranormal powers in kids. The main character picks up hitchhiking ghosts in her mind and they’re on the run from those who want to cover up the program’s existence. This one is free on Kindle Unlimited with narration for those of you having to travel