This Week in Books: All the Feels

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Not feeling well this weekend, I got a LOT of reading done. Silver linings and all that jazz.

THEN

It’s incredibly unusual these days for me to read a book in less than 48 hours. I just happened to read two such page-turners back to back this week. Denton Little’s Deathdate by Lance Rubin is delightful! With a clever premise of (most) humans knowing the day they’re going to die, we see how 17-year-old Denton Little chooses to spend his last few days. Surprisingly hilarious, I couldn’t get enough of Denton and his friends, and I can’t wait to read the sequel (yes, you read that right).

During my afternoon with Jay Asher, I knew that I’d like his newest book, What Light, but I had no idea that ALL. THE. FEELS would keep me reading it all night long. Besides being a really sweet romance and a great reminder that people are capable of change and deserve second chances, the premise of being a Christmas tree farmer and having two lives because of it (one on the farm 11 months out of the year and one in another state selling tress on a lot from Thanksgiving to Christmas) was fascinating.

NOW

A dystopian novel about a reality survival show, The Last One by Alexandra Olivia was difficult to get into at first with chapters alternating between the first-person perspective of the main character, Zoo, and an omniscient third-person narrator’s point-of-view (so that we learn about the other contestants of the reality show). Being a fan of Survivor, and reality TV in general, I’m kind of loving the premise. If the twist is what I think it is, the story is much darker than it first appears. I’m about halfway through and am looking forward to seeing where the story takes me.

NEXT

My friend Amy Carol Reeves, author of the awesome YA Ripper trilogy, invited me to Joy Callaway’s book signing on Tuesday where I picked up her hot-off-the-press historical novel, Secret Sisters, about the very first sororities. I can’t wait to dig into this rich history and learn these sisters’ secrets.

What does your week in books look like?

 

Linking up with #TWIB and Mama Kat’s Writing Workshop (Prompt 4: Book Review!)

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Mama’s Losin’ It

 

 

 

 

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An Afternoon with Jay Asher

People who know me on a surface level are always surprised to hear me say that I’m an introvert. But I am (I’ve just become adept at hiding it. Thanks, theatre!), and because of that, I’m not a fan of going to events without knowing that a friend will also be there. I have no problem eating lunch or even going to a movie or a show by myself, but I somehow always manage to talk myself out of going to hear people I really want to see – authors, politicians, etc. – because of this hangup I have. Usually my FOMO (fear of missing out) kicks in when I see others’ photos, and I ultimately regret not making myself go. That’s why I refused to talk myself out of going to see Jay Asher at our local library last month, and I am SO glad!Jay Asher gives a talk at our local library.

When 13 Reasons Why first came out, I was pretty deep in the vampire genre, so it took a few years and a lot of hype before I read it. Once I did, I was just as moved as everyone else. I immediately wished the book had been out while I was teaching high school DOP, though I know I would have had to fight tooth and nail to have taught the book. I thought of a friend who had blamed me for her suicidal thoughts when we were growing up. I thought of countless students who struggled with bullying on a daily basis. The book, and its lesson, that words matter, stayed with me for years. After reading The Future of Us a few years later, I became a self-proclaimed Jay Asher fan.

13 Reasons Why and What Light signed by Jay Asher

Surprisingly funny and incredibly humble, Jay Asher stood before a room full of people of all ages and shared the story of his journey to becoming a published author. He never set out to write serious, issue-laden books; he spent the better part of a decade trying to publish humorous children’s books. He explained that 13 Reasons Why resulted from the marriage of two experiences that happened years apart. The idea for the narrative came first when Asher took his first self-guided audio tour. It struck him that alternating between audio narration and the thoughts of the listener would be an interesting – and unique – way of telling a story. He explained that he didn’t want to use this narrative style as a gimmick and thus sat on the idea until the right story presented itself, which it did several years later when a relative of his attempted suicide. After the inspiration struck to marry these ideas and write, as he had titled the book, Baker’s Dozen (and he had the blessing of his aforementioned relative), he realized that he didn’t know what it was like to be a teenage girl. He invited his wife and a few other women over to talk about their experiences, and he was struck by the similarities of the hardships they endured and how they stuck with the women through all these years.

It took Asher three years to write the book. And it was rejected 12 times.

A young girl in the audience asked how Asher felt about the controversy surrounding his novel, and now the Netflix series. He pointed out that the only way to avoid controversy is to not write the book. He said that based on the number of emails he’s received – from teens who credit the book with saving their lives because it was the first time they realized they weren’t alone; from teens who said the book made them reach out to someone who was struggling; from teens who said they saw themselves in the antagonists and vowed to change – the positive impact trumps the controversy. Even Asher’s relative, the one who inspired him to write the book in the first place, said that she wished his book had been around when she was struggling with suicidal thoughts, but if she had to go through her experience for Asher to write the story and help so many, it was worth it.

It was this kind of feedback at an appearance that inspired part of Asher’s latest novel What Light. The male teen was moved to change after reading 13 Reasons Why, but everyone treated him like he was still his former self.

As an incredibly amateur writer myself, it was fascinating to hear how Asher’s ideas for his stories developed over time and from multiple sources of inspiration. It was also interesting to hear that he doesn’t write in a bubble: He sent a draft of 13 Reasons Why to five different people for very different types of feedback; and when he was stuck on a character’s backstory for What Light, he talked it out with a writer friend during a walk. Much in the fashion of his stories, Jay Asher provided solid advice within the narrative of his publishing journey with refreshing honesty and humor.

After the talk (that I would have gladly listened to for at least another hour), it was book signing time. When the long line dwindled and it was my turn to speak with Jay Asher and get my two books signed, I didn’t tell him about the impact 13 Reasons Why had on me. It seemed trite compared to the girl who a few minutes prior had sobbed that his book saved her life. I instead told him how much I loved The Future of Us – that being a junior in high school in 1996, when the story took place, made the book delightfully nostalgic for me to read. He said that he was in college in 1996 and remembered that his first internet search was Def Leppard. It makes me wonder what mine was…

selfie with Jay Asher

Getting to hear Jay Asher in person was a definite highlight for me. I look forward to the stories he has to offer in the future.

Reading Roundup: What I Read in May

I somehow plowed through four books this month. Four books I read in May 2017While a few sleepless nights didn’t hurt the cause,  May was full of page-turning winners! My top two reads are as follows:

The Dollhouse

By far the best book I’ve read thus far this year is The Dollhouse by Fiona Davis, the one title that was not on my TBR list. I was in a browsing mood and clicked the “Try Something Different” link on my local digital library site. The Dollhouse showed up, and I was immediately intrigued by the synopsis:

Fiona Davis’s stunning debut novel pulls readers into the lush world of New York City’s glamorous Barbizon Hotel for Women, where in the 1950s a generation of aspiring models, secretaries, and editors lived side by side while attempting to claw their way to fairy-tale success, and where a present-day journalist becomes consumed with uncovering a dark secret buried deep within the Barbizon’s glitzy past.

When she arrives at the famed Barbizon Hotel in 1952, secretarial school enrollment in hand, Darby McLaughlin is everything her modeling agency hall mates aren’t: plain, self-conscious, homesick, and utterly convinced she doesn’t belong—a notion the models do nothing to disabuse. Yet when Darby befriends Esme, a Barbizon maid, she’s introduced to an entirely new side of New York City: seedy downtown jazz clubs where the music is as addictive as the heroin that’s used there, the startling sounds of bebop, and even the possibility of romance.

Over half a century later, the Barbizon’s gone condo and most of its long-ago guests are forgotten. But rumors of Darby’s involvement in a deadly skirmish with a hotel maid back in 1952 haunt the halls of the building as surely as the melancholy music that floats from the elderly woman’s rent-controlled apartment. It’s a combination too intoxicating for journalist Rose Lewin, Darby’s upstairs neighbor, to resist—not to mention the perfect distraction from her own imploding personal life. Yet as Rose’s obsession deepens, the ethics of her investigation become increasingly murky, and neither woman will remain unchanged when the shocking truth is finally revealed. (Goodreads)

The Barbizon is not only the setting of the story, but also a character in the book. The hotel plays a central role, evolving over time as much as Darby and Rose do. Like its effect on Rose, the Barbizon would not leave me alone; and days after tearing through the book, I found myself pouring over articles about the historical building and its famous residents.

Barbizon Hotel

photo by Dmadeo

A mixture of fascinating history, rich characters, and suspenseful mystery, this is a five-star story. I can’t wait until August, when Davis’s next book is released!

The Princess Diarist

I wonder how different the experience of The Princess Diarist would have been had I read it prior to Carrie Fisher’s death, especially considering the several references she makes to her own “future” obituary. Though her stream of consciousness sometimes bordered on rambling, I found myself wanting more. More sordid behind-the-scenes tales from the filming of Star Wars. More heartfelt (and surprisingly beautiful) poetry about her feelings for Harrison Ford. More Carrie Fisher period. It’s hard to come away from this book and not want to be Carrie’s friend.

What did you read in May? Let me know in the comments – I’m always looking for the next great book!

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My Year in Books

If social media posts are any indication, most of us can agree that 2016 was a strange year. I’m not entirely sure what I accomplished besides keeping a toddler alive, which, considering my inability to keep plants alive, I consider a huge deal. But I do know that I read. A lot. Thanks to some insomnia (and aforementioned toddler), I read 37 (and a few halves) books this year!

Perhaps more impressive than the number is the diversity of books I read. While my passion for Young Adult Literature still burns, I found myself drawn to a lot of memoirs and (non-YA) suspense novels.

 

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My top ten (in no particular order) are:

Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

This series, slightly reminiscent of a soap opera, is highly entertaining with a healthy dose of voyeurism. There are so many characters, I was concerned about keeping them straight, but each one’s crazy is unique. I started reading the second book as soon as I read the last page of the first.

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

You know how you wanted to re-watch The Sixth Sense immediately after watching it the first time? Yeah, this book was like that.

I Was Here by Gayle Forman

In typical Gayle Forman fashion, this was an emotional roller coaster from beginning to end. What I didn’t expect, though, was how good – and complex – the mystery would be.

Yes, Please by Amy Poehler

I was so surprised by this book. I expected to like it, yes, because I love Amy Poehler, but I never expected to connect with it the way I did. I think had I read it when it first came out, it wouldn’t have spoken to me the way that it did now, given where I am in my career, in my life, and in my head. Her writing spoke to me much more profoundly than anticipated, while still – of course – making me laugh out loud. I enjoyed her behind-the-scenes look at Parks & Rec and got all the feels from Seth Meyers’ contribution about their friendship. Also fun was finding out the little things we shared growing up: “The scene when Sodapop comes out of the shower in The Outsiders was a very important moment in my adolescence.”

Favorites from Amy (yep, we’re totally on a first-name basis now) on the way the universe works:

“People help you time travel. People work around you and next to you and the universe waits for the perfect time to whisper in your ear, ‘Look this way.’ There is someone in your life right now who may end up being your enemy, your wife, or your boss. Lift up your head and you may notice.”

“I also found a song that I wrote when I was seven. It is a poem that has numbers written about it, so it can be played the special way on my special organ. I wrote it in the past and put it in the sacred bench so I could pull it out at just the right time. Time is just time. Time travel, y’all.”

Favorites from Amy on work:

“We did the thing. Because remember, the talking about the thing isn’t the thing. The doing of the thing is the thing.”

“Treat your career like a bad boyfriend. Here’s the thing. Your career won’t take care of you… Creativity is connected to your passion, that light inside you that drives you. That joy that comes when you do something you love… Career is different. Career is the stringing together of opportunities and jobs… Career is something that fools you into thinking you are in control and then takes pleasure in reminding you that you aren’t. Career is the thing that will not fill you up and never make you truly whole… Ambivalence is key. You have to care about your work but not about the result. You have to care about how good you are and how good you feel, but not about how good people think you are…”

Down the Rabbit Hole by Holly Madison

As a one-time fan of the show Girls Next Door about Hugh Hefner’s girlfriends, I was intrigued by this memoir. It turned out to be less of a tell-all and more of an inside look into Holly’s psyche while at the Playboy mansion. I never thought I’d find myself feeling badly for someone who seemed to have such a luxurious lifestyle that she presumably chose, but the book is a reminder: you never know what has led someone to where she is; “reality” television doesn’t show the whole story;, and getting out of a situation may not be as easy as it seems.

Before I Go to Sleep by S.J. Watson

This is a thriller I could not stop thinking about; as I sat down to dinner, I thought, “Only two more hours before I can get back to reading!” It’s like a really dark marriage between 50 First Dates, Next to Normal, and an action movie from the 90s whose title would give away a major plot twist.

Pretty Girls by Karin Slaughter

Talk about suspense! I was able to overlook the grittiness – gruesomeness, if I’m being completely honest – because I HAD to know what really happened. Just when I thought I knew what was going on, the plot twisted. A page-turner indeed!

Anatomy of a Misfit by Andrea Portes

This story received so many negative reviews, but I was too intrigued by this story to let that stop me. After reading – and loving – the book, I was surprised to find that a common reason for the negativity is the main character, Anika. She is what did it for me. I loved her snarky voice, and I loved that she acted very much like a real adolescent. There are a lot of criticisms of Anika “slut shaming” girls that aren’t even “sluts.” I recommend these people hang out with middle or high school girls for a day and get back to me on this one. Why do all of our YA protagonists have to be good role models? Who wrote that rule? Anika is an imperfect, complicated character, just like real humans are, and her story (which shockingly is based on something that really happened while the author was in high school) is a great conversation starter for numerous issues that adolescents face everyday, from bullying to violence to family relationships.

Joshua: A Brooklyn Tale by Andrew Kane

This book gave me all the feels. Centered around the Crown Heights Riots in the 90s, this story of the relations between a young black man and Hassidic Jews speaks to identity and humanity in the most heartbreaking and touching of ways.

Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan

This innocent YA story, told in alternating voices, is simply adorable, sprinkled with humor and tenderness. If you’re looking for a quickly read, feel-good holiday story, this is it!

What were your favorite reads of 2016? Let me know in the comments – my To Be Read list can never be too long!