Monday, December 10, 2018

A Gift for You, a Gift for Me: My Winter 2018 Book Outlet Haul!


I know, I know... we're just a hop, skip, and a jump away from the holidays, and here I am, buying a whole ton of books or myself. But that's not really the case... you see, not only did I place this book order on November 9th, but I did so with the intention of buying books for other people! Sure, I may have picked up *cough* seven *cough* books for myself, but I also bought five for various family members.

Also, one of the ones I bought is to share with my brother. Also, two of them are ones I've read and loved already; I just didn't have a physical copy on my shelves. Also, I fully intend to start clearing out a few off of my shelves in the new year, because I'm super close to 500 followers on Instagram, and really want to do a giveaway soon!

Alright, alright, excuses over. The long and short of it is, at the time of my ordering, Book Outlet had a massive sale going on... the total of 12 books I got, only ended up totaling about $68! So, if you've got anyone left on your holiday shopping list, I'd definitely recommend getting a look at some of what this incredible site has on offer. (And no, this isn't a sponsored post. Though, I mean...)

Not sure what kind of books to check out? Allow me to show you some of my picks...



The Rules Do Not Apply, April Levy
This popular nonfiction pick and Goodreads nominee for Best Memoir in 2017 has been on my radar for a while, but I never picked it up. I really only added it to my cart because it was under $5, and I figured I'd get around to it eventually... but after I started leafing through the pages while I was adding it to my TBR shelf, I decided that "eventually" was going to turn out a lot more like "real, real soon."

The Fate of the Tearling (Tearling #3), Erika Johansen
Have I read the first book in the series, The Queen of the Tearling? Yes, in my senior year of college, and I loved it. Have I read the sequel, The Invasion of the Tearling? Errr... no. But I own it, and totally plan on getting around to it at sometime. And now, on a whim, and because it was under $5, I own a complete trilogy after having only read one of its installments. It's basically the Shades of Magic trilogy all over again... and come to think of it, I should probably thumb through those again soon, too!

Voracious: A Hungry Reader Cooks Her Way Through Great Books, Cara Nicoletti
This is one of those oddball library favorites, that I picked up on a whim in the cookbook section, memoir subsection, and was happily surprised when it totally checked all of my boxes. The author - a butcher, living in New York - is also a total bookworm, who sought out recipes from some of her lifelong favorite reads, and tested them out for herself. The results are present in this lovingly rendered book, including fun food illustrations. Naturally, after checking it out from the library for a third time, I figured I should probably just pick up my own copy.

Dumplin', Julie Murphy
Another library favorite, one I read over the summer in anticipation of the new Netflix movie's release. And it's a good thing I got this copy for myself: not only has the book stuck with me, leading me to think of it in odd moments, but we watched the movie adaptation the day after it came out, and I cried at least three to four times throughout the whole thing. I still have to get around to the sequel, Puddin', but I'm glad that I now have the paperback to reread when I need it (and a new Dolly Parton soundtrack to make my life so, so much better).

Sightwitch: A Witchlands Novella, Susan Dennard
My baby brother - he's seventeen - and I are called the bookends of the siblings, for two good reasons: we're the beginning and end of the kid lineup, and we're both absolute fiends for fiction. One of my favorite things is how we have various YA series in common... and after bullying him into picking up Truthwitch this past summer, Susan Dennard has become of his favorite guilty read authors. I picked up this copy as a special "welcome to Winter Break" present for later this month, but I also grabbed a copy of Windwitch at Powell's this past Fall, as well. Needless to say, the kid's going to have more homework over Break than just what his teachers assigned.

A Square Meal: A Culinary History of the Great Depression, Andrew Coe and Jane Ziegelman 
I've had this book on my radar for a really long time, as it combines my favorite period of American history, with one of my favorite nonfiction topics. Because I was able to get it on Book Outlet's crazy discounts, I finally grabbed a copy of my own, and despite the fact that its price was so reduced, it is in virtually perfect condition! Unfortunately, I have a few more books to finish up before the new year, but after reading Ann Vileisis' Kitchen Literacy, another excellent work of contemporary culinary anthropology, I know I want to make sure it's soon.

If We Were Villains, M. L. Rio
Another longtime want, this book began making the rounds of #bookstagram this past Fall, as everyone fell in love with its gorgeous, lush cover, and enthralling "scholar-gothic" Shakespearean subject matter. Supposedly for fans of Donna Tart's A Secret History - another book I own and haven't read yet, dammit - I've been dying for a copy, but couldn't find it in any of the bookstores I frequent! Naturally, I was delighted to find a copy, and at such a discount, too.

But like I said, this book haul wasn't just an exercise in wanton book-gluttony: I also bought two books for each of my sisters, and one for my mom, all of which you will be hearing about after they are delivered to their intended recipients at Christmas.

Okay, maybe a little bit of book-gluttony was involved.


What was your most recent book order? Which of these would you read first? Let me know, in the comments below! 

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Top Ten Tuesday: Favorite Cozy, Wintry Reads


The stockings are hung, the trees are lit, the bells are silver, and Elvis is blue: you know what time of year it is! Bring on the holidays and hot cocoa, because I'm fully ready to ensconce myself in my sweaters, scarves, and post-Thanksgiving blubber, and not leave home again until it's time for Christmas Eve Mass.

Then again, if I'm spending so much time tucked inside, I'm going to need something interesting to keep me entertained. And if it's going to keep raining like it usually does around this time in Washington, I'm going to need it to be as cozy as possible, to contrast with the chilly weather outside.

So, here are my Top Ten picks for warm and wintry read this December! 

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1. The Snow Child, Eowen Ivey
Sure, it seems like an obvious pick, because of the title. But the bleak Alaskan wilderness described in this work of magical realism, might just make your own winter weather feel downright balmy! You might be inspired to try your hand at building a little snow girl of your own... but be sure that you're ready for parenthood.

2. East, Edith Pattou
Again, you can't go wrong with a cover that displays a fully grown polar bear and a fur-wrapped girl traipsing through a landscape of white snow. But its that really a polar bear? And is this your average fairy tale retelling? (The answer to both questions is obviously no.)

3. the Harry Potter series, J. K. Rowling
While one might argue that these books fall more into the Fall or October-y category of reading material, I think they serve just as significant a placeholder here. The winter and Christmastime scenes served as some of the most aesthetically pleasing and plot-catalytic for the series as a whole... and yes, I'm still better I never found an Invisibility Cloak in my own pile of presents.


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4. A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens
What just might be the greatest ghost story ever told, is also my favorite Christmas story of all time. Did you know that the stereotype of spirits rattling chains - a Scooby Doo staple, honestly - derives from this book specifically? If you doubt my genre classifications, then check out the first sentence of the whole story... trust me, it doesn't exactly exude Christmas cheer like you remember, but give Scrooge time. He'll get there eventually.

5. Vicious, V. E. Schwab
Sure, it might be cold outside. But you know what else is a dish best served cold? Revenge. And murder. And superheroes. Okay, I made up those last two, but believe me: there's plenty of all three in this action-packed installment, that will keep your blood pumping so fast, you wont even need to turn the fireplace on.

6. the Great and Terrible Beauty series, Libba Bray
This series was a favorite of mine back in my middle school days - because who wouldn't be immediately invested in a boarding-school story of teenage girls with access to a magical realm, right? - but I forgot about it until recently, until my sister and I listened to about five hours of the second installment, Rebel Angels, on a drive to Portland and back. If you've got a holiday road trip to make this year, try your hand at these, in audiobook form!

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7. the Game of Thrones series, George R. R. Martin
Sure, winters are long and hard. But so are... swords. But even if you aren't the biggest fantasy fan, there's enough action, political intrigue, and... swords... in this series, to keep you entertained long after March's winds pass. Leaving you fully prepared for the final season of the hit HBO show this Spring!

8. Murder on the Orient Express, Agatha Christie
What better to distract you from the chilly landscape, than a bone-chilling murder? This work is among Christie's finest, and the grand reveal at the end, one of her most expertly crafted. Do yourself a favor, and forgo watching the Kenneth Branagh version if you haven't read it yet. That way, you can judge the movie on its own merits when you're finished... and there's a freebie snow day activity for you! Two for one!

9. the Grisha trilogy, Leigh Bardugo
Image result for narnia goodreadsNothing gets quite as snowy and dramatic as this YA Fantasy series, inspired by works of Russian folklore. Trust me, once you get into the groove of this fast-paced, masterfully-constructed series, you won't be paying attention to the rain outside.

10. the Narnia series, C. S. Lewis
One of my friends is in the process of rereading this series for a wintertime treat, and honestly, I can't think of anything cozier. Sure, barring the incredibly off-putting rosewater taste of Turkish Delight, I might be convinced to take a trip back to Narnia this winter. Provided, of course, that Prince Caspian's around.



What's in your Top Ten? Let me know, in the comments below!

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

NaNoWriMo Update #3: The Final Days, Last Links, and Putting the "No" in NaNo


And so did the heavens open up in joyful song, praise ringing throughout the land, with a heavenly host of angels proclaiming, "SHE'S HIT 50,000 WORDS!" 

Actually, it did not go like that, at all. After writing a total of more than 12,000 words in a 24 hour period, and waking up at 6 am to drive my brother to his high school in the rain, I stumbled over my 50,711 finish line at around 10 am on Monday. In case you're wondering why I didn't write this post immediately thereafter, it's because the contents of my brain had not re-congealed into anything remotely resembling intelligent life, until I woke up and had two cups of tea this morning.

In fact, you don't even want to know the amount of spelling and grammatical errors have already occurred in writing this post alone.

But despite my lack of victory dance - unless you follow my private Instagram account, anyways - the words are true: I won NaNoWriMo again this year. Now that I've bought my traditional tee shirt, made my traditional donation, and have actually entertained the idea of picking up a book to read for pleasure again, I can finally look back and reflect on my experience...

Namely, that this year was really not fun for me! 

But before we get into all that, let's do some other general recap sort of things that may need to be taken care of, first. If you'd like to hear about the idea, genre, and title I was writing in, check out my first post update from this year, first! If you'd like to learn more about how I pre-plan my writing outlines, fun links to NaNo posts from other fun people, or how I expertly use the library as a reality avoidance technique, check out my second. 

If you're waiting to hear about my process itself, as well as dealing with bad writing days, and how I eventually met the challenge, then you've certainly come to the right place. So, let's start with the positive stuff, first:



inspiration procrastination


Something that I've never really done for a writing project before, but have always been interested in creating, is a narrative-oriented Pinterest board. I always thought it seemed a little hokey: you're essentially making a fanpage for your own material... and the things you find might end up overly affecting the descriptions you use in your writing.

However, there are two points I use against those arguments:

  • first of all, you're supposed to be your own biggest fan anyways, and if you're not writing a book you can get this excited about, then why do you bother, 
  • and secondly, there are a limited amount of ways to describe things like a brownstone in Brooklyn, or the ways a rooftop garden can be organized. Don't worry about "cheating" on descriptions, because the words you use - and the ways people interpret them - will be individual, anyways. 

I used my Pinterest board to collect images of everything from Misselthwaite Manor's architecture and furnishings, to what Maria would bring to the Manor for breakfast, to the surrounding areas of Brooklyn and greater New York, to screen caps of my favorite parts of the movie adaptation.

YouTube, as always, ended up being a great help, as well. For instance, I would watch this video for inspiration of what it would be like for Mary and the other occupants of the brownstone to walk or drive around their neighborhood. Also, YouTubers like Elena Taber made it easier to imagine the vibe of a Brooklyn that my characters would conceivably occupy.



how to tell yourself "no" 

I'd won NaNoWriMo three times before, so when I say that I was coming in with a certain surplus of confidence, I'm not exaggerating. Every year, I've tried to step up my game in challenging myself, but this year, I was a little disappointed by the fact that I didn't have a whole lot else going on in my daily schedule to keep me from writing. It almost seemed too straightforward.

I've written NaNo through snowdrifts of school work and sorority life. I wrote it in double-time, after a lengthy vacation. I even wrote before and after surgery last year! But this year, the challenge that proved to be the most insurmountable... was me.

I absolutely lost my way... going days-long stretches without having opened my Word document, let alone having written anything at all, eventually falling to about 10,000 words behind schedule. Out of everything that I had planned for when it came to making sure I kept on par with my writing schedule, the one thing I didn't factor in, was how much of a roadblock your own overthinking, lack of motivation, and depressive brain days can be. 

One of the main difficulties I had to overcome, was the issue of genre and audience. My past NaNos have fallen into similar categories: thriller/satire, and horror shorts. This year was a leap of faith, with writing for a young adult, contemporary base. I kept this blogpost, from Vicky Who Reads, saved on my dash while I was writing, as a measure of being intentional, and to remember who I was writing for.

While this kind of thinking did guide some of how the narrative structure was formatted and outlined, it kept getting in the way when it came to things like writing dialogue, or description, especially with things like my character's relationships with fashion and technology. I had focused in so specifically on writing for a particular audience, that it bogged me down when it came to trying to write organically, and eventually, at all.

The mindset that cleared my path the best ended up being the most simplistic: I just had to let the self-imposed perspective-taking go. Keeping audience in mind in this way would absolutely help with guidance in editing, but it was seriously messing with my ability to just get the words out on paper. By removing those kinds of strictures from my own paradigm, it helped free up the mental space necessary to get the narrative taken care of first. Everything else can come in second drafts.




final days 



As you might imagine, by the time I was halfway through the month, I had worked myself into such a stress ball about missing out on so many writing days, that I actually thought, "I'm not going to make this deadline." It was especially painful to acknowledge to myself that this attitude was due to something as pedestrian as lack of motivation, or writer's block.

So, genre and audience wasn't the only kind of mental check that needed to be cleared away. I also had to give up this idea that every NaNoWriMo I took part in had to be some kind of huge triumph. I had already had my big wins... maybe it was time for a little one.

It was only once I let go of the perceived audience, the self-imposed expectations, and the frustrations of a rapidly approaching deadline, that I finally found myself able to write. With my head firmly back on my shoulders, I set small, but doable, frameworks in place to help get me to each new milestone, and eventually, back on track:

  • first, I broke things down. If I had to write a minimum of 2,500 words a day, that doesn't mean all at once... instead, I began to write at least 500 words in one sitting, five times a day, which made the goals a lot more attainable. 
  • second, I started focusing on non-word-related count goals. Instead of saying, "I'll write until I get to 500 pages," I started prompting myself to reach physical landmarks instead, like "I'll write until I reach the end of this page," or "until I have to move to the next bullet point in my outline." 
  • third, I paid more attention to what ways I write best. This may sound silly, but it's the way Virginia Woolf used to do it, too: it's easiest for me when sitting in my bed, propped up on pillows, with my legs serving as a table for my laptop. (Well, maybe it's not the exact way Woolf wrote.) Once I stopped trying to be a *writer* - working at the kitchen table with my outlines scattered around me, music playing, a mug of freshly brewed coffee at my side - and just let myself start being a lazy, tired, pj-wearing writer instead, it got a lot easier to just, you know, write. 



final thoughts 

And by that, I meant writing over 12,000 words over a 24 hours period, in order to cross over the finish line five days early, as I've already mentioned. Just thinking about performing that kind of a task again makes me want to leave my house completely, or at the very least, stay far, far away from my laptop.

In some ways, achieving my NaNo word count this year really is a victory: I mean, I finished after all... something I didn't think was possible only a matter of days earlier! I banished the function of editing-while-writing, and got back into the groove of writing through my voice, versus it being mediated through any other lens. I succeeded in trying out a completely new audience and genre.

At the same time, I can't dispel those feelings of disappointment, of the idea that no matter what I ended up doing, it still wasn't the kind of win I was used to. Clicking "purchase" on that winner's tee shirt almost felt like a shallow gesture... and in a weirdly self-flagellating way, I almost wish that I hadn't ended up winning at all. I wish that the Universe had taught me a lesson or something. (Isn't that a crazy way to think?)

That's why these couple of days off have been a little necessary, and why reflection on this year's NaNo challenge resulted in such a long final update. It's been a weird ride, but I made it through... now all that's left is to try and puzzle over how things can go better next time.

Regardless, thank you to everyone who helped support me this year, and especially those - namely, my little brother - who puzzled through all of the narrative translation with me! I didn't know if I'd get it done, but your expectations never faltered, so thank you for helping me pull through to the other side.




Did you participate in NaNoWriMo this year? What was your writing experience like? Let me know, in the comments below! 

Thursday, November 15, 2018

NaNoWriMo 2018, Update #2: How I Pre-planned, Fave Links, and How I've Been Using the Library


I feel like somewhere along the way, every year, I forget how hard the challenge of writing 50,000 words in a month actually is. I mean, it doesn't really help that I've won three times already, because now, it's like the expectation has been already set that I'm going to be finishing it.

That sort of attitude is exactly what gets you more than 7,000 words behind schedule at a time, by the way. Really, take it from me... and by "take it," I mean, "take away my WiFi and my library books, because I really need to concentrate on writing my NaNo novel right now."

My name is Savannah, and on this November the 15th - the day I'm writing this - I am officially more than 7,800 words away from where I really thought I would be today

As you might remember from my first NaNo update post this month - its author in cheerful ignorance of the absolutely ridiculously difficult time she would have in trying to motivate herself to continue - I talked about how much of a challenge this year's writing project would be, and I wasn't prepared for how accurate that statement was. Writing Young Adult is an audience I wasn't prepared to engage, and jumping back into a chapter-by-chapter basis, after living in the wonderfully brief, succinct world of short stories for the past year, has been a real doozy.

Not to mention that I kind of undersold how much the material I'm adapting means to me. I knew I was in deep trouble that first day, when I started rereading Frances Hodgson Burnett's The Secret Garden again for the first time since I was in high school: this book helped me get through some hard stuff, and its main character, Mary Lennox, is still someone who, as a 25-year-old, I still identify with very strongly. Revisiting it brings me right back into that head space where I see so much of her in myself, and honestly, identifying with a main character like that makes her pretty damn hard to write. 

I thought I had done a decent amount of pre-planning, but in actuality, I haven't been using much of it: I find it distracts me from really connecting with the narrative and literature, so I've been focusing more on the source material text itself than any summaries or outlines I drummed up myself. I prepared so heavily, that I didn't think about whether that kind of planning fit in line with how I work.

That being said, I did want to shout out some of the links that I have used in my planning for NaNoWriMo, that I thought were pretty cool and beneficial: 

  • Whatever Bright Things' 2018 Word Count Calendars have not only been a lifesaver, in terms of connecting with and keeping track of my daily incremental successes, but they've made my book journal and planner just a little more colorful. I'm incredibly thankful for them, despite the fact that I haven't had as many fun news to write on them as I'd thought. 
  • Soggy Musing's NaNoWriMo prep list blog post from this past year, really gave me a few good ideas that actually have helped me get into the writing mindset, even when not actually writing. For instance, making a mock-up of my novel cover has been something I've done for the past couple of years now, but creating a playlist to write to, or building a reward wish list, are things I haven't tried before this year. 
  • Amy Allen Macleod's 2016 post on practical tips for survival has really stepped up my game, too. Using your phone's dictation app, to easily record and remember book notes while on the go? An absolute game changer. 

Resources that I've been relying on for NaNo, that you can't find online? My local library branch. In the fifteen days I have been taking part in NaNoWriMo, I have visited my library a total of three times, almost none of which have served a meaningful purpose in my writing process, besides providing me with a modicum of happiness, and the promise of actual social interaction over the course of my day.

The first trip, resulted in, what? Seven library books? Only a handful of which had any bearing on my project, but all of which looked so nice and shiny that I decided I really needed them on my shelves. No, I cannot read them right now -  I never let myself read during NaNo if I'm running behind schedule - but that's beside the point.

However, afterwards, I was absorbed by guilt, and on impulse, went into the online categories, and placed holds on five books that actually did have some sort of tie to The Secret Garden. I got too impatient waiting for them, and went in again, returning one book, and coming home with two that, once again, had nothing to do with it.

Then, finally, when my books actually came in, I returned to the library for the third time. In fourteen days. If you were wondering whether my local librarians know me by name, they all do now. Because when it comes to my preferred forms of productive procrastination, going to the library really ranks high up there.

SO, that's my story of woe, both as in "woe is me, the ding dong running way behind schedule," and "woah, dude, that's a lot of library books."

If you have any sort of recommendations for someone significantly lacking in motivation or output, let me know... but you might need to wait a little while for a response from me. I'm most likely not writing, and at the library.



Are you taking part in NaNoWriMo this year? Where are you at in your writing journey? Let me know, in the comments below!

Thursday, November 1, 2018

NaNoWriMo 2018, Update #1: Let's Get It Started!



I've participated in NaNoWriMo several times in the past, and each has been its own individual experience. From writing while an active student, sorority member, and fashion website contributor in 2014, to completing the whole challenge in 17 days after a week-long vacation, and ensuing sickness, left me sidelined for the first half of the month, in 2016. Last year I won on Day 21, after having taken only two days off: one for a major surgery, and one for recovery from that surgery!

Each time I write for NaNo, I try to use it as an chance for something new. The best example of that was last year's challenge, which I took as an opportunity to tackle both a genre I had no experience writing in - Horror! - and a format that I wasn't familiar with - short stories! - in order to push my writing experience to the next level. By the end of the challenge, I had written three and a half horror shorts that I was justly proud of, and had accumulated such a slush pile of other soft ideas, that I ended up writing one and a half more stories on my own time throughout the rest of the year... as well as about fifteen full outlines for others.

But no matter how difficult or different I found that project, the time has come to choose a new one, and while I'm going back to the standard formatting of a novel, the genre and audience I'm writing for this time might be even more intimidating than last year's. 

Young Adult Contemporary. That's what I'm writing. A genre so completely outside my wheelhouse that my younger brother - and one of my favorite reading buddies - could not even muster it up as a guess when I prodded him into trying. A genre I don't even really read on my own time, at least since I was about in high school.

Not that that's stopped me before: the first two books I wrote for NaNo were both highly-satirical thrillers... something else I don't really read. And it's not like I seek out short form horror for the most part, either! So far, that writing advice of "write something you'd like to read" is a little wonky, in my case, and YA contemporary definitely fits that quota.

But its the idea I fell in love with first. It's something I haven't been able to evict from the residency it's taken up in my head, since I first spit-balled the idea during a random Top Ten Tuesday post from last year. The more I thought about it, the more I felt sure the idea was a good one, that could work, and was the sort of thing other people might want to read, too... until now, I am left with no other choice, than to pursue the whole thing myself!

And so this year's project is going to be an adaptation, which is new for me, too. I've never even written any meaningful fanfiction, and yet, here I am about to jump in on a novel that not only I love, I've never really felt prompted to focus in on, from a writing standpoint, all that much. Here I am in the past week, doing deep dives not only into historical and pop culture context, but major themes and motifs, authorial intent and personal life, but even a gosh-darned Tony-winning musical adaptation.

At this point, to decide not to pursue it, would be like acting against my own instinct. It would be denying the part of my brain that's prompted me to take part in these crazy writing challenges all along. The only way to keep developing my writing abilities, is to keep leaning in to the organic parts of the creative process... and I, like Mary Lennox, will "[become] stronger, by fighting with the wind."

And that, ladies and gentleman, is the book I am adapting to a YA contemporary audience: Frances Hodgson Burnett's The Secret Garden. The above quote also provided the inspiration for my working title, Fighting with the Wind. 

As of the moment I post this, I have not written a single word of it yet. I haven't even written a single word of the synopsis for my NaNoWriMo author's account yet, beyond the title. I just wanted to take the time to honor where I've come from through this yearly reflection, and how excited to find out what it's willing to teach me this year.

Happy National Novel Writing Month, everyone! I can't wait to see what we come up with this time.


Are you participating in NaNoWriMo this year? What is your story? Let me know, in the comments below!

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Top Ten Tuesday: Ten MORE of My Favorite Halloween Children's Reads


Three years ago, I rang in the Top Ten Tuesday Halloween blogpost by talking about the many, many children's books we pile onto our coffee table every major holiday, and sorted through my Top Ten, in order to give you a glimpse at what's there. But that was so long ago, and so much has changed since then...

That's why for today's Top Ten "Halloween Freebie," I decided to tell you about even more options for my favorite spooky-but-relatively-tame reads for kiddos! 

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1. How to Make Friends with a Ghost, Rebecca Green
Equal parts sweet and spooky, and surprisingly earnest, this adorably illustrated children's book became a recent favorite last year.

2. and 3. Disney Parks' The Haunted Mansion and Pirates of the Caribbean sing-along books
Being that I've had the words to "Grim Grinning Ghosts" and "Yo Ho (A Pirate's Life for Me)" down pat since approximately the age of 5, you'd think these additions to the family lineup wouldn't impress me too much. However, these reads - which you can only get from the Parks - are not only colorfully illustrated, with plenty of jokes included just for Disney superfans, but come complete with a CD so your little monster can listen along with the book!

4. The Dark, Lemony Snicket
A sweet, short, and charmingly-illustrated story about a boy learning how to share his house with an unexpected guest: the dark.

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5. The Adventures of the Princess and Mr. Whiffle: The Thing Beneath the Bed, Patrick Rothfuss
Fans of Fantasy juggernaut Patrick Rothfuss will surely be pleased with this simple collection of short, cliff-hanger packed stories about the Princess, and her stuffed teddy bear, Mr. Whiffle. Guaranteed there will be at least plot twist you don't see coming!

6. Frankenstein: A Monstrous Parody, Ludworst Bemonster
A riff on the family favorite Madeline series, this take on the classic "twelve little girls in two straight lines" follows the escapades of little nightmares, rather than Parisian schoolgirls. The illustrations are cute, the rhymes are simple, and these misbehaving monsters might just make for the perfect Halloween bedtime story!

7. The Wicked, Wicked Ladies in the Haunted House, by Mary Chase
This one might be geared more for middle grade readers, but the vintage copy we have - from my mom's own childhood - has been sitting on our coffee table for what feels like forever. Move aside, Roald Dahl's The Witches... this is the vision in my head as to what those foes look like.

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8. and 9. Tales from the Haunted Mansion, Volume One: The Fearsome Foursome and Volume Two: Midnight at Madame Leota's, Amicus Arcane
I was always a fan of middle grade short-form horror, and these books fall squarely in line with exactly the sort of things that would have interested me as a kid. Divided up into short stories, these tales - set inside and around the Haunted Mansion itself - have been an unexpected favorite to pick up on Disney vacations. (And apparently there's a third volume out now... guess we have to go back!)

10. The Art and Making of ParaNorman, by Jed Alger
Okay, so technically this isn't a Halloween book... mainly because I keep it out on my coffee table in my room year round! ParaNorman isn't just one of my favorite Halloween movies, but one of my favorite movies, period, and this fun and informative tome detailing aspects of its creation is obviously one, too.


What's in YOUR Top Ten? Let me know, in the comments below!

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Top Ten Tuesday: Favorite Villains

"Top Ten Tuesday" is a weekly bookish meme hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl!

Let's be real: who doesn't love a good villain? There's no story without an antagonist, and many of literature's great heroes are made all the more so, thanks to a strong offensive force. The glory of Harry Potter, the Boy Who Lived, was generated from his ties to You Know Who, and the brilliant deductive mind of Sherlock Holmes was at its best when up against Moriarty. Of course, those two sterling examples are far from the only Big Bads present in some of my favorite books.

From smooth and deadly, to angry and dangerous, be it in a solo act or as part of a larger force to be reckoned with, here are some of my favorite villains, straight from my shelves!


1. Long John Silver, Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island 
If you were to argue that my love of this character was shaped by my childhood adoration for both Tim Curry in Jim Henson's Muppet Treasure Island, as well as the cyborg space-dad from Disney's Treasure Planet, both answers would be correct.

2. The Firm, John Grisham's The Firm 
I haven't read this one since high school, but I think it's due for a reread... and what makes for a more formidable villain, than the entire company you work for, who controls every piece of your whole life?

3. Victor and Eli, Victoria Schwab's Vicious
There's nothing quite like a villain pursuing a singularly-minded goal, in a devastatingly deadly and effective way, to really get you to root for the good guy. The thing is, there isn't a good guy. The only person who's able to stop him... is another villain.

4. The House, Mark Z. Danielewski's House of Leaves
In the realm of contemporary horror, there are quite a few evil houses to choose between. From The Amityville Horror's haunted halls, American Horror Story's Murder House, to Monster House's possessed foundation, what you usually find, is a house controlled by spirits. This one's got ever-expanding walls, a darkened hallway that appears overnight, and a minotaur... or does it?

5. Frankenstein's Monster, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein
Can I be frank? (Pun intended.) We all know this guy's not really a villain. Sure, he murdered a few people, and typically, good guys aren't forced to jump ship and flee desperately across the ice after killing a dude, but Frankenstein's monster is not a villain. He's just a big, ol' murdery baby.

6. The Darkling, Leigh Bardugo's Grisha trilogy 
While my brother's love of YA means there's quite a few things in the realm of books that we share, an appreciation for this guy's sense of style is one of the first ones we had in common. (Now, Leigh Bardugo is his favorite author, and I have to read Six of Crows soon, because he's zoomed through the rest of her novels without me. Sorry, Beau!)

7. The Doldrums, Norton Juster's The Phantom Tollbooth
One of the most secretly insidious villains in children's literature. The colorless landscape that Milo finds himself trapped in shortly after the start of the book - a disorientingly gray, uninspiring place, difficult to escape on your own, filled with the cripplingly apathetic and lazy Lethargarians - became a familiar metaphor for me in middle school, when I started using it as a means of describing my depression.

8. Samuel Ratchett and The Murderer(s), Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express
No spoilers, for those who haven't read it. Then again, maybe you've seen the movie? I haven't, even though this truly jaw-dropping Christie finale is one of my favorites among her canon.

9. Insurrection and Harpies, and Literally Elliot's Own Terrible Ideas, Sarah Rees Brennan's In Other Lands
This is going to sound a little nonsensical, but here goes: I love books that actually don't have a villain. While there's something inescapably alluring about a Big Bad, there's also a lot to be gained from packing your narrative with not-so-obvious opposition forces, who are operating with justifiable motivation, in a realistic way. From the rebellion within their own ranks of the camp, to the various conversations with the murderous harpies, to Elliot grappling with his own sense of right and wrong, what makes In Other Lands such a remarkable coming-of-age novel is its commitment to the idea that becoming a mature, independent person, has a lot to do with better understanding yourself and others.

10. Catherine Earnshaw and Heathcliff, Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights
To every single person who has ever described this book to me as a sweeping, epic love story, or Heathcliff as the epitome of a brooding, sexy, bad boy love interest: better call a toy detective, because you have completely lost your marbles. Catherine and Heathcliff were terrible people, who made terrible choices, and had terrible effects on the people around them, and they are totally the villains of Wuthering Heights.



What's in your Top Ten? Let me know, in the comments below!

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

My OcTBR : My Inspo for Reading During the Spooky Season (Free Printable!)



Every major holiday, I make a countdown poster for my family, in order to keep track of how we're celebrating - especially in movie form - over the course of the season. I've made them as a part of our Christmas preparations for the past three years, but last year was the first time I made one to celebrate Halloween... and not only did it go over well, but people were so interested in it, that I figured I might do something a little different, this year, too!

Because various friends kept asking last year if I had a version to share, I decided that before I completed coloring in my 2018 Halloween Movie Countdown, I would actually use the Notes section of my iPhone, to scan it into a shareable JPG format. I upped the Brightness and Saturation levels, so that the lines would become thicker and more translucent, and boom! I had a shareable, traceable, printable of my Halloween Countdown!

On the countdown - which is themed like a spooky wall in a hallway, covered in various picture frames - there are 20 blank spaces into which you can write or draw whatever you'd like. If you don't need that many empty spaces, you can fill in the extra as you please (like I did), or, if you need more, you can add in frames in the spaces beyond... and because you're inking things in yourself, it will totally blend in! For instance, if you're not too into the movie countdown idea, you can simply add in 11 more frames, and make a countdown of days to Halloween instead!

And to accommodate everyone's different preferences, I blanked out the section in the title where I had written "Movie," in anticipation of something else I had in mind...




While my Movie Countdown is proudly displayed on the pantry door in our kitchen, I customized my little personal printable version to fit into my Book Journal, as a personal OcTBR lineup of sorts! 20 frames is a lot of books to try and tackle in one month - even if some of them are favorites pulled from the stack of themed children's books in our living room - so I'm using it as more of a source of inspiration, than an actual countdown.

Some of the titles included are old faves - like the Diviners series, from Libba Bray, which I'm trying to reread, so that I can mentally catch up with the latest installment, Before the Devil Breaks You, before I read that, too - while some are somehow even older faves (like all of R. L. Stine's Fear Street double feature re-releases I've been saving to read all summer!). Others, like Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, or Mark Z. Danielewski's House of Leaves, are some longer creepy reads that I might not want to read all the way through, but which might be worth dusting off and leafing through over the course of the month. From Washington Irving's "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow," to a favorite illustrated version of Mary Howitt's classic poem, "The Spider and the Fly," I've got quite a lot to choose from when it comes to enjoying spooky seasonal fare.

In addition, in between the frames, I wrote in various ideas I had for perfect Fall and Halloween themed #bookstagram photos, in case I need any kinds of inspiration in that category, too!

So, naturally, I want to make sure all my blogging friends can share in the fun: you can download your own version of my printable, too, and use it as either a source of bookish inspiration, use it to countdown Halloween favorites like my family, or do whatever you'd like! Just, you know, if you do, let me know about it: leave a comment down below with the deets on how you plan on using it, or tag me in any Instagram posts you make with my bookstagram profile, @playinginthepages! 



What's on your OcTBR this Halloween season? Did you download my printable? Let me know, in the comments below!

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Reading Romance, Part Four: Modern Contemporary Romance

Yes, it's nearly October, and the dog days of summer have now passed long behind us... but wouldn't you know it? I'm still not finished talking about my Summer 2018 Reading Romance Challenge. If you've been following along, you've seen me delve into the world of '80s and '90s vintage romance, expand my views with contemporary historical romance, and now, finally, we've reached the most dreaded subgenre: modern contemporary romance. 

Just to clarify: whereas August's discussion revolved around the contemporarily-published yet historically-set romance novel, this one's focused in on contemporarily-written romances set in today's day and age. If you know me well - or even a little - you know that in terms of YA fiction, this is probably my most-maligned subgenre, taking up zero space in my home shelves, and rarely warranting any form of checkout from the library. In terms of expectations as to how well this particular month of reading would go... let's just say that morale was not high.

how to choose?


The rules were as follows: these books must have been published within the last few years, or be a part of series that are still in the process of being completed. They must also be set during that time period.

Though, to be honest, I'd been juggling between whether I wanted to flex the rules in this category a little, and include YA romances as well, but in the end, I wanted to make the criteria for judging consistent. This entire challenge was formed on the basis of attempting to try something new, after all!

The difference is, you can really tell a vintage or historical romance by their cover... but the same cannot always be said for modern contemporary, whose covers often fit more in to the traditional fiction packaging. In an attempt to combat this, I tried looking for books in a slightly different fashion, turning more towards Internet recommendations and social media for my answers. Primarily, I looked for those with the typical sexy couple / male model on the cover (and found one), looked for any new and notable New Adult romance releases (and found one), and even briefly dipped my toe in romance novel YouTube to find inspiration (and found one on there, too!).


what I read



29422692Hate to Want You (Forbidden Hearts #1), Alisha Rai

It was never supposed to be about anything other than sex. For one night a year - for almost ten years - Livvy and Nicholas would put aside the pain of their shared past, for one night of pleasure. But now, Livvy has moved back home, and it's completely changed everything, for both of their influential families. Can the two undo ten years of anger, secrets, and frustration, in search of something more? Do they even want to?

  • The book is stocked with a diverse cast... as in, really diverse, with cultures that were clearly identified, and informed the relationships of our main characters with their community/family. 
  • I talked a little bit about the explicitly graphic nature of the scenes in some of the historical romance novels... so you can imagine the shenanigans these characters get up to without all those garters and petticoats in the way! As in, "cover your e-reader with your hand and turn down the brightness in public" sexy. Honestly, it was a lot. I was overwhelmed. 
  • A major way it differentiated from the other romances I've read, is its inclusion of independently successful and discrete characters, with personalized senses of self-governance and motivation when it came to their decisions. They had important ties to family and friends... but nothing that kept them from defining success on their own terms first. 
  • My favorite part? The fact that it was packed to the brim with background female characters whose choices and opinions also informed and guided the decisions of main characters. They weren't there just to provide background or necessary exposition, but they had real stakes involved in the outcome of this relationship. Not just those in the acquaintance of the female heroine, either... but for those surrounding the male love interest, too. 
  • "Society tells women that they have to be responsible for the emotional health of their relationships and then tells them they’re weak for feeling emotions. What kind of message is that?" A lot of the books I've read through this challenge that have been written in the past few years really leaned in to feminist messaging, but this one stated it the most directly and consistently across the narrative. Romances are consumed by more women than any other genre, and you never know which one of your readers is going to need to hear this message the most. I respected that a lot. 



Royally Screwed (Royally #1), Emma Chase

29991719Nicholas Pembrook - dubbed "His Royal Hotness" by the press - is in a tricky spot. His grandmother, the Queen, has just informed him of her prospective solution to the flagging patriotism and declining economics of their small nation: there needs to be a royal wedding, of course! Problem is, that he's the groom... and a noble-born bride is to be selected from the dossier sitting on his desk. But when he meets Olivia, the beautiful pie-maker at a down-on-its-luck Brooklyn coffee shop, all thoughts of rules and regulations go out the window. Can they fit the romance of a lifetime into only five months? What would Nicholas be willing to give up to stay with her?

  • First of all, the names were obnoxious. At first, when I saw the name "Genovia" mentioned as a neighboring country within the first few pages of the book, I thought it was a cute Easter egg of sorts, but when I learned the country the prince belongs to was named "Wessco" - which honestly sounds like a gas station chain - I decided the author just had a hard time coming up with what to call things. 
  • Then later, when I saw that characters were given surnames like "Littlecock" and "Titebottum" - with the latter being set up as a love interest in another novel in the series - I couldn't tell whether the author was making them this bad on purpose. 
  • Essentially, this was a Prince William self-insert fanfiction. The younger brother, party-boy prince is even named "Henry,: for goodness' sake. 
  • Definitely for fans of E!'s The Royals... but not necessarily if you're a fan of the actual royal family. 
  • I have to say, out of all of the books I've read as a part of this project so far... this was the first that filled all of the stereotypes of what I thought romance novels would be like, in a predominantly negative way. Between an under-performing plot, over-performing sexual stamina, cookie cutter characters, and presence of certain tropes that almost felt like an insult to my intelligence, I grew very frustrated with the novel, but still managed to power through.
  • Yes, I feel personally attacked by the fact this has a 4.08 on Goodreads. 



The Simple Wild, K. A. Tucker 

36373564Calla Fletcher left all thoughts of Alaska, and her estranged father, behind, when he disappointed her and her mother one too many times. But after a surprise phone call and a cancer diagnosis sends her packing, she finds herself leaving Toronto, and setting out for the birthplace she hasn't seen since her mom left with her at the age of two. There, she'll have to brave not just the uncompromising daylight and unfamiliar surroundings, but a bush pilot who just can't seem to be civil around her. But maybe there's more to rough-around-the-edges Jonah... and the small town full of people Calla can't help but love. Could one of them even be him? 
  • I know what you're thinking: this cover is definitely down at least one half-naked person. I had my doubts, too. But technically, this title is classified as a New Adult Contemporary Romance, which is how it is defined by not only the publisher, but the good people of Goodreads, so I think my choice to include it in this project stands. It might not have anyone making out or making a pouty face on the cover, but it is a story centered around a romance, and includes sexual themes and more than one explicit depiction of it, so I'm including it. 
  • Like Hate to Want You, the novel deliberately incorporates people of diverse backgrounds - both in keeping with the setting of Alaska, but also as a deliberate authorial choice and means of plot reflection - in a way that lends the story realness and relatability. 
  • Maybe it's because I read this right after Royally Screwed, but I was impressed by how this book was primarily plot-oriented, but still did so without taking away from comprehensive and unique characterizations for both the main and supporting cast
  • Out of all of the romances I've read over the course of the summer, this was the first of these books to really make me cry. As in, tears positively cascading down my face. 
  • The inclusion of sexual content doesn't hit until about 75% way through the book, which felt much more organic and less rushed than it did in the other books from this time period. Of course, after that point it was fairly no-holds-barred, but I kind of expected that. 
  • You know how I've complained about tropes before? There were tropes here, but they made such narrative sense and were so non-stereotypical, that I didn't mind. Case in point: There was bad weather. There was a small, remote cabin. There was one bed to share. I was near deliriously happy. 



some more random reading takeaways from modern contemporary

  • I'm growing desperate for these authors to stop describing outfits their characters are wearing, because more often than not, they're terrible. Especially when it comes to the sartorial choices of their main female characters, which are almost overwhelmingly disappointing, and sometimes severely inappropriate or gauche. (The one exception to this rule, was - unsurprisingly to me - the New Adult read.) 
  • It's interesting, discerning how important theming or genre is when it comes to choosing romance novels. On one hand, it's the primary thing I look for when choosing - like I referenced in my Vintage Romance post, it's not like I'm about to read novels set around things like baseball, airplanes, or cowboys if those aren't genres or topics that interest me - and yet, the greater knowledge you have about a certain topic or genre, the greater the likelihood that the novel is going to disappoint you.
  • In more than one of these picks, the ending hangs on an unresolved plot, but in a way that clearly establishes a setting and plot for other books in the series to come. I was able to recognize it every time, even before I knew there were more in the series... and I think it might be that romances these days seem to be automatically intended for continuation. 
  • Like I've mentioned, while every romance novel I've read so far has contained a semblance of feminist ideology - be it a somewhat generous classification due to claims that "a woman can do anything a man can do," or the inclusion of diverse and unique communities packed to bursting with supportive and independent women with their own motivations and principles - Modern Contemporary has, as a category, really performed that concept the best. Conversations and deliberate use of feminist language have been a pretty happy surprise in this category, and I've actually been fairly impressed by the comprehensive and specific nature of its inclusion. This will be touched on much more significantly in my next post... 


where to next?


Speaking of which, I'm already hard at work compiling some notes and reading materials for covering the next section of this series! While I didn't explicitly outline that this would warrant its own post when I first created the guidelines for this independent research, I wanted to make sure that I covered every facet of contemporary attitudes in regards to romance novels... which, naturally, means literary criticism and scholarship!

Stay tuned for a new update soon - and by that, I mean in the next couple of months - including discussions on the historical and cultural development of the mass-market paperback romance novel, what its continued popularity and modern renaissance mean for the course of its audience and genre, and explorations as to how these conversations are being held in the contemporary academic sphere.



What's been your favorite recent romance? Which of this list would you pick to read? Let me know, in the comments below!

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Top Ten Tuesday: Books on my Fall 2018 TBR


I've never really been a TBR-oriented person: sure, I have bookshelves packed double-thick with titles I've purchased but never read, and I guess that counts as a TBR... but I'm not exactly one for setting out a stack of books for the month and saying, "These are the chosen few I'm going to dedicate my time to reading."

At least, it was that way, until I found myself building a list midway through a vacation this past August, after coming to the realization that if I continued to mood-read my books willy-nilly, then there was no way that I'd be tackling all of the tomes I was hoping to read come Fall. 

So, for the first time in forever, not only have I found myself in possession of a TBR list... but I'm sharing it with you all!



Image result for order of the phoenix goodreads1. J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix and Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
My 2018 Resolution to reread all of the Harry Potter books - and rewatch all of the movies - is still well underway, but I can't help but feel like I've fallen a little behind. I'm trying to take care of numbers 5 and 6 before October is over, so that I can sneak a little Potter Party into the Halloween festivities at my house, but it's going to take some serious prioritization and snappy scheduling to fit these two into a less-than-two-month period!

2. Nick Hornby's column collections, starting with The Polysyllabic Spree
Image result for a tree grows in brooklyn betty smith goodreadsI've been waiting to read Hornby's collections of the "Stuff I've Been Reading" columns he wrote for The Believer until I had all of the copies I needed to read through them completely. I've got the last one on my birthday list for October, so hopefully that means I'll be going through them all soon!

3. Betty Smith's A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
Maybe it's the fact that my brother's copy has leaves on the cover, or that just thinking of trees kind of has me thinking of my favorite season to view them, but this one just gives the impression of gelling well with a late September afternoon.
Image result for fear street goodreads
4. R. L. Stine's Fear Street series reprints
The loudest I've ever been in a bookstore, was when I saw that they had begun issuing reprint double-feature copies of some of my favorite old Fear Street books. Now that they've not only continued churning out these old-new editions in order to make way for new Return to Fear Street material, I know I have to reread and catch up... and what better time to do so, than October?

5. Elizabeth George Speare's The Witch of Blackbird Pond
I remember reading this one in the 7th grade, and feeling a little robbed by the fact that this book, realistically, has very, very little witchcraft, and just a whole lot of Puritanical overreacting (a summary for the Salem witch trials as a whole, really). But a reflection on the book the other day had me reminiscing fondly of the East Coast setting, and I figured it might be due for a visit this Fall.
Image result for the witch of blackbird pond goodreads
6. Libba Bray's The Diviners series
It has been an endless source of annoyance to my brother, that I have had a copy of Before the Devil Breaks You (the third intsallment in this series) in my possession since last year, but have never made the time to read it, mainly due to the fact that I'd want to reread the other books in the series first. Eventually, he got tired of waiting, and read it before I did... and has been impatiently waiting for me to pick up the slack ever since. What better time to revisit spooky ghosts and paranormal powers, than October?

7. April Tucholke's Slasher Girls and Monster Boys short story collection
Image result for down among the sticks and bones goodreadsI've waxed poetic on these books at length on this blog before, and thanks to my constant hyping, my Dad actually read through the collection this past summer, as well. This staid and stalwart fan of Stephen King ended up finding a whole lot to love in the works, too, and now that he's been won over, I'm trying to prod my sister into finally picking it up.

8. Seanan McGuire's Down Among the Sticks and Bones
Image result for beyond heaving bosoms goodreadsMcGuire's novella Every Heart a Doorway was so joyously enthralling and succint, that instead of packing it for an April vacation like I was supposed to do, I sat on my bed and spent the rest of the day smiling to myself and finishing it. The sequel, exploring the Gothic fantasy world twin sisters Jack and Jill found their way into before the events of the previous installment, seems to be just dark and twisted enough for a great October evening.

9. Romance Novel Literary Criticism
My Summer of Reading Romance may be over - yes, that August update is still forthcoming - but the fun is far from flagging. I'm preventing myself from grabbing any more of these distractingly fun titles until I've completed some of the work behind building this new habit, and tackling a few more complex collections of literary criticism on the publishing genre.

10. Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way
I've been feeling a little burnt out and uninspired lately - back-to-back family vacations where you constantly have to share a room with your siblings can do that to you - and I've heard this book recommended enough times to recognize it when a creator I enjoy mentioned it in their Instagram Story. Without wasting a second, I put a hold on it at the local library, and have been leisurely perusing it, in the hopes I can create a little inspiration for myself, instead.


But of course, there are always more. In particular, my November looks like it will be including Leigh Bardugo's Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom - at the urgent behest of my impatient and eternally understanding little brother - and Frances Hodgson Burnett's The Secret Garden (which, spoiler alert, I'm pretty sure will be the basis for my NaNoWriMo challenge later this year!).



What's in your Top Ten? Let me know, in the comments below!