Saturday, July 28, 2018

Crazy Eight, Part Two: My Eighth Bloggoversary Haul

Like I mentioned in my previous post, I recently celebrated a pretty significant milestone: I've officially been blogging for eight years! 

While that "crazy eight" number proves to be a pretty big mental hurdle to get over, I knew I was going to be honoring my blogging birthday in my annual fashion: with a big ol' book haul. So, I headed out to go pick up the goods, from two of my favorite places...

barnes and noble haul

It's become a piece of time-worn tradition, that on my bloggoversary, I set out for the blissful summer air conditioning of Barnes and Noble first, and select some new - very new - reading material. Five titles total, to be exact!

Whereas other parts of the year, I remain pretty tight-fisted on how much I spend on brand-new books - usually preferring to buy secondhand, like from Powell's in Portland, or more recently, from Book Outlet, or better yet, lending prodigious amounts of more expensive new releases from the library - my bloggoversary is one of the few times of the year I truly let loose, which is why I almost always walk away with more than one hardcover copy. Or, in the case of this year, three!

This year's choices display some pretty interesting trends in the kinds of books I regularly pick out for myself. I think as time goes on, I only get more invested in Fantasy... and that I know I place a lot of trust in authors I love (hey there, Jennifer Egan). And, as it turns out, in the New York Times Bestseller List, as four of these books have authors who have been there before!

So, from a new YA release from an author I've read before, to a classic Fantasy tale I didn't realize was a book first until a few months ago, here's the lineup of literature I bought to celebrate my eighth anniversary!

Circe, Madeline Miller
The Song of Achilles was not only a moving and enthralling YA retelling of the Achilles mythos (from Homer's The Illiad) - told from Patrocles' point of view - but it remains one of my fave LGBT+ picks for that age bracket. That book made me cry... so now that this one covers one of my favorite overlooked characters from the Greek myths, that of Circe (from The Odyssey), I'm truly looking forward to crying again.

Kill the Farm Boy, Delilah Dawson and Kevin Hearne
Never has a book title and tagline - "Once. A pun. A time." - made my brother and I laugh so much. Whether it's the promise of gleefully riffing on the standards of Chosen Ones, or the marketing point "for fans of Monty Python," I feel like this will make for a great vacation read this August.

Spinning Silver, Naomi Novik
Novik's Uprooted was a Fantasy favorite for me when I first read it, back in 2016. While I think it's interesting that Novik chose to wrote a companion novel, rather than a continuation in the series, I'm excited to meet her new characters... and I'm pretty stoked that the covers of the two books pair together so perfectly, too!

Manhattan Beach, Jennifer Egan
Egan is one of my favorite authors of all time. Not only do I love her to bits, but I've foisted my enjoyment of her on plenty of others, too. However, Manhattan Beach marks a bit of a departure from her regularly post-modern works, choosing instead to write a linear piece of historical fiction, and I'm excited to see what that looks like.

The Last Unicorn, Peter S. Beagle
I've somewhat annoyingly preached the glories of the 1982 animated masterpiece The Last Unicorn for over a decade, without ever knowing that the Mia Farrow / Jeff Bridges / Christopher Lee / Angela Lansbury- helmed work of art was based off a book. WHAT?! Clearly, it's high time I fixed this grievous error, and read the darn thing!

library haul

Naturally, one does not just visit the bookstore when searching for new reading material... especially not when you have four holds come in all on the same day! After I had wrapped things up at Barnes and Noble, I headed over to do a little celebrating at my local library.

In Other Lands, Sarah Rees Brennan
One of my surprise favorites from the last year, this YA Fantasy standout has been on my mind for a reread recently, just because summer is such a Fantasy-friendly time, in my opinion. However, I might have to wait a little while for that, as my little brother quickly expressed interest... and so far, he's loving it!

Almost Adulting: All You Need to Know to Get It Together (Sort Of), Arden Rose
As as self-help fanatic and somewhat floundering college graduate, I can honestly say I have a significant weakness for books about "Adulting." The ideal of a singular tome you can purchase that will somehow grant you the keys to becoming a functioning, impressive human person, is the Holy Grail I choose to pursue.

How Not to Die, Michael Greger, M. D.
Having a younger sibling go vegan for the better part of a year, is more than enough to make you start rethinking your own eating choices. This popular and attention-grabbing title is a favorite among the healthy-eating community, and I'm trying to get to it soon (mainly because it's so thick, I don't think it would make too much sense as a vacation read!).

Proud: Living My American Dream [Young Readers Edition], Ibtihaj Muhammad
Fun fact about me: I took fencing lessons for about a year, when I was 13 years old. While the hobby fell by the wayside, the appreciation for the physically demanding and fast-paced sport has never truly waned, and certain not in regards to this particular fencer, USA gold medal earner Ibtihaj Muhammad. Not only the first American Olympian to wear a hijab, she has also achieved one of the highest honors I hold dear (having a 2018 Barbie in the "Shero" collection made in her image!).

in total

Well, not in dollars, I mean. I meant "in total" more like "in summary"... and the idea of proudly proclaiming how much money I hemorraged in purposefully purchasing three separate hardcovers makes me want to hurl. At least I sure got my money's worth at the library, right? 

In summary, I picked up nine books. From Fantasy faves, to new nonfiction, I think I really ran the gamut when it comes to celebrating my big milestone with some new material. But, like I said, I sure spent a lot of money on this particular venture this year. If only there was some way I could give those kinds of resources back to my community... ;) 

Guess you're going to have to wait for the third and final installment in this celebratory series to find out! 

What books would you have picked up for your celebration haul? Which of the ones I chose should I read first? Let me know, in the comments below!

Friday, July 27, 2018

Crazy Eight: Reflecting On My Eight Years of Blogging

My very first post, on July 24th, 2010! 
It's official: I've been blogging for eight years. 

It's almost hard to quantify... this blog has been one of the greatest long-term pursuits of my life, and something I've contributed to more regularly than almost anything else (besides my extensive journal collection, of course). This blog can be measured as longer than the time I spent in both high school and university level classes. It's one of the most valuable resources I have in my continued personal growth as a writer, and it's something I've made almost completely on my own. The skills I've gained throughout the publication of it has taken me places I had never thought before.

Like in the past year, for example. Taking a leaf from the books of a few of my friends - as well as the greater bookish community - I started social media account linked to this blog, for the first time. My Instagram handle - @playinginthepages - might be the same, but the content is different in a way that frees me up to engage with other book fans in new and meaningful ways that don't always come across when you write pretty strictly in short-form reviews and essays. #Bookstagram is a wild, weird, and welcoming place, and I've already made new friends that I would never have been able to reach out to otherwise, including some who, surprisingly enough, live barely a stone's throw away from me.

Another change, for me, has been giving myself room when it comes to writing about my other passions alongside reading. There's so much more I care about in life, and I've finally started to make more room in my blog to reflect that. The rise of the "Tastee-Reads" series was a welcome surprise to myself, that allowed for the integration of my passion for cookbooks as a favored reading material into my regular posting schedule. I love cooking, and I love the aesthetic value that comes with doing so (you eat with your eyes first, after all). Turns out, there's a way to talk about all of that, and books, too!

I've also tried to stop being so embarrassed about the ways I read. In high school - and college, come to think of it - I was constantly on the alert about protecting this narrow image of myself that I had only just learned to adopt: if I was going to be known as a reader and writer as primary personality traits, then I needed to reinforce those with as rigid and easily defensible material as possible. While I still wish I read more of the classics, I've stopped shying away from the kinds of books that turned me so far away before, leading to rereads of Stephanie Meyer's Twilight, as well as this summer's "Reading Romance" challenge.

Those things have resulted in some of the great blogging highs of the past year, because not only am I reading material that is fun and unique, but I'm still managing to do so in a way that is rigorous and academically curious. I love picking up books that have been tossed by the wayside, and finding a new favorite, or embracing the "New" shelf in the YA section of our local library with disregard to the fact that I'll be turning 25 this Fall. Readers are happiest when they are reading, full stop. Picking books that are fun for you will better ensure that you stay that way, more than slogging your way through a tome with someone else's stamp of approval on the front cover.

I'm so thankful for this blog o' mine, as well as the fan base that peruses it from time to time. My Dad hasn't ever missed a post, and reads them the day they go up, and my younger siblings can sometimes be trusted to look at the pictures and skim over the bolded parts. The people and friends who leave comments never fail to make my day, especially when it's on a "Top Ten Tuesday" post. Thank you so much for this platform, as well, for giving me a safe sandbox to play in, and a soapbox to stand on.

I greatly look forward to continuing to grow here.

(And, naturally, I didn't just celebrate my bloggoversary with a sappy blog post. Stay tuned soon for all the other shenanigans I got up to on this milestone, including a very large book haul, and a recap of a special charitable bookish adventure!).

Wow, I can't believe it's been EIGHT YEARS. Thank you for reading with me!

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Top Ten Tuesday: Books with Sensory Reading Memories

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

This week's "Top Ten Tuesday" theme - "Books with Sensory Reading Memories" - kind of stumped me at first. What do you mean, sensory memories? I don't listen to anything while I read, because it distracts me, so that strikes out audible memories, and I eat way too much while reading, so there's too much information there to make anything meaningful out of taste memories.

It was only when I freed up my brain a little bit, and started thinking from the opposite angle, that I finally started to get somewhere.

For instance, what books made me think of summer? Instantly, Tamora Pierce comes to mind, as she's always been the first pick for vacation reading, starting when I was in middle school. Then, there's summer reading, completed frantically while staring out the window at the sunshine outside. Then, there was the old classic, the one I read every summer.

So, it seems that I do have some sensory reading memories, after all. It's just not the experiences that shaped my readings of the books... but the books that shaped the experiences!

Image result for harry potter and the sorcerer's stone goodreads1. Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone, J. K. Rowling
My Dad was a prodigious nighttime reader, when it came to my sister and I. It's how all three of us first read the first two Harry Potter books: together. I can still remember when my younger sister and I shared a room, the two of us tucked under our matching bedspreads while my Dad read to us. Most notably, he pronounced the name "Hermione" disastrously wrong, but we wouldn't figure that out until the story hit the big screen.

2. The Phantom Tollbooth, Norton Juster
This children's classic will always and forever remind me of my Dad, because he might just be its greatest champion. Not only is this another from among the bedtime reading collection, but something he felt so strongly about, that each of us kids has our own collectible hardcover copy to fill out our own libraries. It has a full cast of characters taking part in the action, and for each one, my Dad gave it a voice in such a memorable way, that that's probably how I'll read them forever.

Image result for trickster's choice goodreads3. Trickster's Choice (Trickster duology), Tamora Pierce
This is exactly what I mean, when I said that Tamora Pierce's books remind me of summer. Older fans might sigh, because I read all of her works completely out of order... starting with the Trickster series, the summer after the 8th grade, while I was on vacation in Oregon. I had never read Fantasy like this before, and could frequently be found tucked up in the hammock swinging outside of our cabin, soaking up the words in every bit of sunlight I could find.

4. First Test (Protector of the Small series), Tamora Pierce 
Immediately after finishing the two Trickster books on that vacation, I needed more. Hence, why I could frequently be found reading Keladry's books underneath my desk in Geometry class, once I'd made my way to freshman year of high school. Thankfully, I had a fairly understanding desk partner, who would always make sure I was paying attention when it was important.

Image result for adventures of tom sawyer goodreads5. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Mark Twain
The classic answer for bookish memory-related questions will always be this one, because of how much there is to pull from: I've read this book every summer since I was about 8 years old, and there are so many experiences that run flush with what I remember of that particular season growing up. From sitting in Summer School quiet-time every afternoon in elementary, to laying outside by the kiddy pool with our nanny, Lindsay, to reading it while curled up in my bed, under the shade of a gloomy Washington June, there are just about as many memories associated with this book, as there are stains on the inner covers, or tears along its spine.

6. Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte
The first of the two assigned summer reading memories I've mentioned, Wuthering Heights is notable for two reasons: I absolutely hated reading this book, and I finished both it, and the corresponding course material, within three days while on vacation in Sunriver, only days before my Junior year of high school would start. Frantically filling in notes sections on my Word document, and trying to skim over whole pages, only to realize I missed something and had to go back... this novel was an absolute nightmare, compared to the sunny weather I was watching outside.
Image result for into the wild
7. Into the Wild, Jon Krakauer
Yet another summer reading gig, but the one from the year before, when I actually was prodded by my mother into finishing the assignment ahead of time. In my tween-and-teen bedroom, one I no longer shared with my sister, I had a large set of bay windows that faced the afternoon sun, and a desk turned against it, so by the time we hit July, I was roasting with the sun at my back when I tried to work... so most of this book was consumed, while sitting on the white carpeted floor, away from the sun's gaze.

8. The Big Book of Pasta: Your Complete Guide to Cooking Perfect Pasta Every Time
This serves as a stand-in for every other book I read while puttering around the kitchen, opening cabinets and stacking ingredients, while making sure not to accidentally move the page as I move around. I cook for my family quite frequently, but due to the rise of Pinterest (all hail), that usually takes the form of me peeking at my computer screen now, than it does the pages of a book (all of which are usually library copies). This one, however, is the counterpoint, as evidenced by its numerous tomato stains, and the battered spine, broken to the exact page for my sister's favorite Spaghetti Bolognese.

Image result for the spiderwick chronicles goodreads9. The Spiderwick Chronicles, Holly Black and Tony DiTerlizzi 
Funny enough, I can't remember the first time I read this batch of small, hardcover books, about children who discover the magical (and dangerous) creatures living around the forest-bound house that their uncle lived in. However, I do remember the second: sitting in quietest part of the school library, enjoying my last chance to read books before Thanksgiving Break, when they'd be doing an inventory of all the books that needed to be retired.

10. Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen
Yet another repeat read that comes with a whole host of various memories to pull from, the most notable part of this book, for me, was that we read it in my senior year of high school. While that year was one of the most significant of all of mine so far, for a few very important reasons, my English class that year was a star standout. I can strongly remember reading this book for the first time, during class itself, as our teacher had us read various parts out loud to the class, but I sped ahead. Thankfully, I had friends there to nudge me when it was my time to read... especially when our teacher selected me to playact as Lizzie during the first proposal scene (I crushed it, in case you were wondering).

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

Monday, July 23, 2018

Bits of Books: More YouTuber Memoirs!

We're midway through summer, and the days are flying by... as are the books on my Goodreads Challenge! In the interest of speeding things up a little bit, I decided to compress two recent reads down into one review... because really, how many blog posts do I need to make about YouTubers?

Here are two memoirs, based on the lives of two very different Internet personalities: LGBT advocate and teen magnet Tyler Oakley, and beauty guru from across the Pond, Estee Lalonde!

bloom: navigating life and style, estee lalonde

29336778Estee Lalonde has been one of my consistent YouTube subscriptions, since my early college years. Her conversational style and life advice is down-to-earth and very chill, which is somewhat at odds as to the current status of a fashion and beauty influencer, and her life is highly affected by the fact that she lives in what I personally think is one of the most interesting cities in the world (London!).

Her book, Bloom, showcases a lot of her signature, laid-back and stream-of-conciousness thinking. It's very conversational and accessible, and despite the physical book's relative thickness, pretty short. Organized into bite-sized portions like "Life," "Home," "Fashion," and "Food," she breezes through each with various degrees of personal inflection, touching on things like her anxiety and depression, disordered eating, and the emotional toll of moving to a new country, without allowing the writing itself to get overly affected or dark.

The style of the book's formatting and layout was just as much of a factor in its construction as the actual word content, and I think it's actually one of my favorite parts of it. It is filled with photographs that are carefully stylized, without losing any sense of personal belonging or intimacy, and they illustrate Estee's sense of organization and colorful personality perfectly.

The fact that the composition of the book itself was so stylized, was both an asset and a detraction. It highlighted Estee's style and fit with her brand, but also felt somewhat disconnected from the highly personal stories she was telling. It was almost as if she was letting the reader get closer to her life, but not that close, holding them at an arm's length away courtesy of colorful blocking, text changes, and perfectly aligned photos.

It also didn't help that her life has changed considerably after the publication of this book last year: while she talks quite a bit about her boyfriend - the Internet best friend, who eventually wooed her to move across to England from Canada in the first place, and who she has been with since the launch of her channel - it stings somewhat, due to the fact that they have recently broken up, and are no longer together.

Regardless, I enjoyed reading it, though I can't say that it was one of my favorite YouTuber memoirs. I wish more attention had been paid to the words, as much as the formatting, and that Estee had gone a little deeper than just surface level attributes. I can listen to her talk for hours at a time on YouTube and on her podcasts; I wish that she had spent as much attention to her storytelling here.

binge, tyler oakley

Image result for binge tyler oakley goodreads
YouTuber Tyler Oakley is highly notable in his particular job market, due to his compassion and activism, high energy, outrageous sense of humor, and equally boisterous laugh. In a realm packed to bursting with big personalities, he has proven himself as a force to be reckoned with, after parlaying his fame into not just greater career opportunities, but significant ways to give back, which is why I'm such a fan.

Binge is a collection of bits and pieces of Tyler's life, likes, and history. Scattershot and short, he discusses more serious topics - like exploring his sexuality, his experiences with homophobia and heartbreak, and a childhood eating disorder - alongside the kind of topics he gleefully dishes on best, like details of late night partying gone awry, tales of hookups past, and his experiences in the fangirl lifestyle. The tones are disparate, but evenly weighed throughout the book, giving both the highs and the lows equal measure, each balanced out with his irreverent, conversational tone.

I do think there are elements of it that surprised me; namely, how raunchy it can get in various sections, especially due to the fact that I consider his fanbase to be rather young. I checked my thinking of, "Is he really okay with kids reading this?" when I put myself in their shoes, and realized that it was exactly the kind of thing I would have loved to read when I was younger (even though my parents would definitely not have approved).

Beyond the somewhat inappropriate nature of quite a few of the stories, there was enough heart to go along with it to recognize that Tyler wasn't blowing these stories up to exaggerate or hyperbolize his life, but because he is a storyteller at heart, who wants to share both the best and worst parts of his life with his fans.

While I think it started to lose a little steam towards the end, that deliberate sense of sharing was something that really set the tone for the book, and makes me think that no matter the medium, Tyler Oakley excels when he has a great story to tell.

What are some of your recent reads this past summer? Have you read any YouTuber books? Let me know, in the comments below!

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Top Ten Tuesday: Favorite Novellas and Short Stories

I read today's topic for Top Ten Tuesday, and actually groaned out loud. "Top Ten Favorite Novellas and Short Stories"? Have I even read ten?

As a rule, I never typically involved myself with short stories, mainly choosing to ignore it as a format until I started writing it on my own. Novellas always struck me as a bit of a strange form of measurement and questionable personal preference: why not just add in another b-plot, and stretch it out until it's a longer novel?

Still, the more I thought about it, yes, I have read some really good short form fiction writing within the past couple of years. Maybe this means I'm growing as a reader! Or maybe it's that when it comes to a great plot, engaging characters, and solid writing, I've figured out that it truly doesn't matter.

short stories

180075331. One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories, B J Novak
These hilarious short stories from the Office alum writer never fail to crack me up, as there are a few I have dog-eared in my personal copy that I return to time and again when I need a good laugh.

2. . Skeleton Crew, Stephen King
After a long battle deciding between Nightmares and Dreamscapes, Everything is Eventual, and this collection, I finally caved, and went with the first one I ever read. (You know, the one that has "The Mist.")

3. Slasher Girls and Monster Boys, edited by April Tucholke
What continues to be not only one of my favorite books of horror shorts, but one of my favorite horror books of all time! This collection of scary YA shorts inspired by various other books, movies, music, and more are some of the coolest I've read, and I'm planning for a reread in the Fall.

4. Edith Hamilton's Mythology... and D'Aulaires Book of Greek Myths 
I don't care if they fit, I'm counting them! I've been a fan of Greek mythology since I was a kid, and the stories within these two editions are told the best.

5. Hans Christian Andersen's Fairy Tales 
Ditto as to the above! When it comes to picking and choosing your favorite fairy tale tellers, no one was more innovative or interesting than Andersen. Which I say, because he actually wrote his own material... something we can't say for other fairy tale authors. *casts a hard and venomous side-eye at the Brothers Grimm*

6. Beyond: the Queer Sci-Fi and Fantasy Comic Anthology, Sfe R. Monster
Once again, unsure if this truly fits the category, but because of how much I truly enjoyed the book, I'm sliding this one in! This compendium of short form comics, starring LGBT+ heroes and heroines at the helm in various science fiction and fantasy backgrounds, was a happy surprise that I wasn't expecting the first time I read it.

7. The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Because sometimes, you just want to rip through a handful of really great mysteries in a row. To be honest, this is here kind of as a placeholder for all of the really great mystery short stories I've read over my many years with the genre... and shoutout to Encyclopedia Brown for laying the groundwork for that particular hobby!


255262968. Every Heart a Doorway, Seanan McGuire
The series with the most gorgeous covers, also has some of the shortest material. Which is absolutely regrettable, because the quicker I finish these brilliant and unique fantasy stories, the less I get to proudly display them on my coffee table.

9. The Assasin's Blade novellas, S. J. Maas
While saying that I am woefully behind in the Throne of Glass series would be an absolute understatement - I haven't read them since Book 2! - I do remember really enjoying the novellas that kicked off the series, reading all four within the space of one week on my Kindle, during Sorority Recruitment 2013.

10. Jonathan Livingston Seagull, Richard Bach 
Interesting fact about me: I won a memorial scholarship during my senior year of high school, made in the honor of someone whose favorite book was Jonathan Livingston Seagull. I finally got around to reading it once I had graduated college... and despite the fact that it's not a sad book, cried a lot over it.

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

Friday, July 6, 2018

Reading Romance, Part Two: Vintage Romance

When I labeled this series as a beginner's guide, I meant it. As it came time to fulfill my challenge for the month of June, and choose a vintage romance novel to review, I found I had no background knowledge as to where to start!

how to choose?

I looked up various lists - courtesy of  Goodreads - to try and find some common titles, but nothing seemed like exactly what I was looking for.

Even a cursory glance at Google's recommended yielded too many classics: yes, Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre, and their kind are technically romance novels... but then again, so is Madame Bovary. I needed something printed in mass market paperback, with a flourishy title, large-printed author name, and insane amount of hair on the cover.

I even looked into what it would take to buy a box of Harlequins off of the Internet... and you'd be surprised at the kinds of wonders eBay can work on the regular! However, no matter how good the price was, I knew I didn't exactly want a ton of those books sitting around, because they'd most likely go right back into our donation pile.

Instead, I went thrift shopping!

i'm gonna pop some tags 

The truth is, if I wanted to read like a romance novel fan, then I needed to read the kinds of books that romance fans have read before me. No matter what Goodwill, Value Village, or Bargain World that you look into, the place is sure to have bookshelves stocked with these kinds of novels! Their spines are broken, their covers are tattered, but the people on the front illustration are having just way too much fun to care.

At first, nothing was biting: everything my sister and I grabbed was either too recent (as in, within the past twenty years), outside of my comfort or interest zones (everything from pregnant heroines surviving domestic abuse, to stories centered around things like baseball and airplanes). A great population had, regrettably, seemed to be donated by the same person, all with the words "cowboy," "rancher," or "rodeo" in the title, which I uniformly rejected.

After a rigorous elimination of titles, we walked away with four books that seemed to hit all of the requisite marks. Ranging in years between 1990 to 1998, they were all over twenty years old, had completely ridiculous names and covers, and had the kinds of plots that I was actually looking forward to reading. We figured that I'd do a little more research into each, then from that point, make an executive decision... and we felt fine springing for the four of them, as each was less than two dollars!

what we found

  • Bobbi Smith's Rapture's Rage, published in 1983 by LoveSpell Books, but reprinted in 1997, which is the version I picked up. A brooding widower still scarred by his wife's death is drawn to the innocent woman everyone can't help but seek after.
  • Bertrice Small's The Spitfire, published in 1990 by Ballantine Books. In the year 1483, Lady Arabella Gray is whisked off on her wedding night by the vengeful Travis Stewart.
  • Jane Feather's The Hostage Bride, published in 1998 by Bantam Books. Out of all of the novels, this was the only one Google auto-filled the title for me, which was explained by its Goodreads rating of 3.61 out of 1,253 ratings. Portia, the unwanted bastard ward of a powerful family is mistakenly abducted in place of the marquis' daughter by a ruthless outlaw.
  • Susan Krinard's Twice A Hero, published in 1997 by Bantam Books. Y'all, I can't with this tagline: "She's finally met the man of her dreams... 113 years in the past." Apparently, while undertaking an expedition to Mayan ruins, our heroine falls back in time.

what I read 

Twice a Hero, Susan Krinard

Mac is tasked by her dying grandfather to return a broken necklace - the remnants of a Mayan expedition gone wrong - to the place it was found, and clear the name of an ancestor accused of killing his best friend. At the temple, however, she stumbles back in time, and straight into the arms of the man who was supposed to be dead. (And, gasp, he's hot!) Now Mac must complete her quest, and find her way back to the future... without messing up too much of the past!

It's my first impression of the romance genre, and I came away with a clear and distinct feeling: this was really, really fun.

  • Tropes bananza! Bookish heroine, nude swimming scene, emotional walk along the beach, masquerade ball...
  • Didn't spend as much time in the jungle, but instead, changed up locations halfway through to bring our main characters to San Francisco. I definitely missed the Indiana Jones vibes, the attention to historical detail made for decently interesting backstories for both our love interest, and the background characters. 
  • A vigilante subplot involving the freeing of exploited Chinese immigrants was something I was definitely not expecting; but, surprisingly, I didn't hate it. It gave greater depth to the otherwise kind of boorish love interest, and tied into his backstory in a poignant way. 
  • There were words that I didn't know! Like actual, more-than-SAT-worthy words! I had to Google them! That's awesome! Is all romance diction this low-key impressive? 

The Hostage Bride, Jane Feather

Portia, a willful and wild young girl raised under the wide gaze of an alcoholic father, is suddenly thrust into the middle of a conflict between Court and Parliament, during the English Civil War. After her father dies, she is entrusted to the care of Cato, marquis of Granville, and sworn enemy of local outlaw, Rufus Decatur. After a case of mistaken identity finds Portia captured not once, but twice, she finds herself spending a lot less time trying to escape, and a lot more trying to see Decatur's side in the 30-year-old feud. When her loyalty is called into question, threatening the lives of those she loves most, which side will she choose?

  • Holy cradle robber, Batman! Not sure if it was attention to historical detail that made our author decide to make 17-year-old Portia the perfect leading lady for mid-30-something Rufus, but it was incredibly discomfiting to read. 
  • Lots of ladies breaking out of traditional clothing roles and choosing to wear pants, so far occurring so far in each of the books I've read. It was in keeping with both characters, so I don't mind it too much... and I appreciate the fact that even when reflecting backwards through the nostalgic gaze of history, we can all agree that layered dressing, especially in gowns, is a pain. 
  • Portia is one among three young women, around whom this particular romance trilogy is set. Unfortunately, all are given distinctive attributes that serve to infantalize them in some manner: Portia is a tomboyish prankster and desperate for female friendship, Phoebe is prone to accidental spills and is constantly dirty, and Olivia is not only incredibly shy, but speaks with a slight impediment. All of these character traits only serve to emphasize the already uncomfortable differences in age between them and any potential suitors. 

Takeaways from both novels: 

  • lots of tropes (but that's not a bad thing!)
  • kind of mean or standoffish main love interest, with some kind of shot at redemption
  • kind of nerdy or shy heroine, who maintains an independent streak
  • once you get a couple nicknames, you just kind of stick with them for the rest of the book
  • a young and innocent girl set up as a foil against less-likely-to-bend-to-convention leading lady
In terms of which I preferred, the further I got into Hostage Bride, the more I realized I liked Twice a Hero. It's not that Hostage Bride is bad, because it's not - I liked it! - but it's that Twice a Hero was a lot more of an example to me of what I had thought reading romance would be like. Whereas that choice was more fun, more outlandish, more lighthearted and compelling, Hostage Bride was just bogged down by a few more problematic behaviors, historical details, and questionable writing choices that made the entire thing lose that sense of buoyancy that Twice a Hero had.

where to next? 

As detailed in my plan, the next step in my journey is into the realm of recently written historical romance. I have a couple novels from Tessa Dare already downloaded onto my Kindle, and a few Julia Quinns already coming my way courtesy of a recent book order (Keep your eyes out for a new haul soon!), so I'm pretty ready to get started. 

Besides, I have a cousin getting married this weekend, so I get the feeling I'm going to be in a pretty romance-friendly mood! 

Have you read any vintage romance novels? Which of the ones I listed do you think you'd want to pick up? Let me know, in the comments below!

Monday, July 2, 2018

Review: The Happiness of Pursuit

I'm not exactly the boldest crayon in the box, when it comes to standing out on my own. However, one of my favorite self-help authors happens to be an expert in that kind of independence... as well as using that self-drive for forces bigger than yourself! 

I became a fan of Chris Guillebeau's unconventional advice and conversational writing style earlier this year, when I picked up a copy of his first book, The Art of Non-Conformity, in which he explained how he achieves his particular travel-oriented, self-owned lifestyle, by acting outside of social rulebooks. Not only was it interesting and a lot of fun, but it ended up so marked over by my annotations, that I don't even feel like I can lend it to anyone else... so I choose to just recommend everyone else buy it instead!

Or, you could just go my route, and rent it out from the library, like I did with this copy of The Happiness of Pursuit: Finding the Quest that Will Bring Purpose to Your Life.

As someone who grew up loving mythology and fairy tales, and still currently finds themselves regularly consuming copious amounts of fantasy and science fiction, I've always loved the idea of going off on a quest of my own. In this non-fiction account of not only Guillebeau's own travel bug, but of other grand quests and the people that followed them around the globe - across a country, into the tallest trees, on foot, by bicycle, by sailboat, by kitchen plate, and more - you'll quickly find yourself inspired to go chasing one of your own.

It's not enough to just blindly follow your own whimsy (though, by all means, lead the way). As he explains, it's something that has to make sense for you, something you are personally invested in and made passionate by, something you'd be willing to sacrifice your old and comfortable ways of life for. For Chris, that was traveling to every country on the globe. For others, it was donating $10 every day to charity for a year, walking from one side of the United States to the other by foot, breaking into Apple offices in order to develop a graphing calculator, or going completely silent for over a decade.

Each of these courses of action goes under Chris' examination, in order to dissect them for common themes, productive actions, and similar forms of quest types. What he finds isn't just that people are interested in the same things, but that they are propelled by the same sense of adventure and spirit, one that is accessible to anyone else willing to make the sacrifices to take the journey. He takes down some of the predominant arguments against not following your own grail - from supposed expenses, to traditional social values, and more - in order to help convince you to lead your life just as fully, without regrets. Even quests that end poorly, or aren't fulfilled, have something worth learning from them.

While I'm still searching for that particular challenge that will drive me to journey around the world or unrelentingly towards a singular goal, I truly enjoyed reading about other peoples', at least for the time being.

Final Verdict: For those looking to get inspired for a new life goal, or thinking about striking out on their own journey, this book is an inspirational and motivational perspective on those who strive to achieve the unachievable.

What's your life goal? Have you ever considered undertaking a difficult journey? Let me know, in the comments below!