Currently, 10.05.17

I just saw Jaime's Currently post and apparently these posts are a thing now...Oh and in case anyone was wondering where I've been - nowhere in particular, just lurking about!

 

 

 

Wednesdays are a time for taking note here on the blog, focusing on the ‘Currently’, a mid-week check-in. Currently Reading, Listening, etc. It’s all part of my current status.

 

Currently reading: Shelter by Jung Yun, To All the Boys I've Loved Before by Jenny Han

I pulled out of my slump last month and have been back to my usual life of obsessive reading. I'm still about a dozen books behind on my Goodreads challenge, but I'm not bothered. I'm not a very good book blogger and don't care about all the things I'm supposed to care about. The first chapter of Shelter has me hooked on this book. It's not my usual type of read, but after reading Sarah J. Maas and Cassandra Clare back to back I think I just needed something as far away from pop-fantasy as possible. 

Currently listening to: my spring playlist!

 

It's a doozy - I combined my April and May playlists and have been listening nonstop. I even added some songs that I've heard on the radio recently. Yes, that's right I listen to actual pop music sometimes. Don't tell me that Lady Gaga track isn't catchy. I have less of an excuse for the Ed Sheeran and Harry Stiles songs...but I like what I like and sometimes it's regular old pop songs. 

I also rediscovered my CD collection from high school so I broke out the boombox (yes, really) a few weeks ago...it's been about as amazing as you can imagine. I've been listening to a lot of my old mix CDs and reliving the early aughts indie music scene.  

 

Also, currently listening to: Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince audiobook

I've noticed that my audiobook listening has slowed to a small trickle since moving back to the States. I used to listen to audiobooks on my evening commute through London, but these days I'm working from home and don't have a commute. I still listen to podcasts and NPR during the day, in the morning with my coffee and when I'm working on something that doesn't need my full critical attention (emails, blog, Twitter, etc.), but I don't have that extra time for audiobooks except at night when I'm getting ready for bed. I've really enjoyed ending the day with Jim Dale's voice reading me Harry Potter, so I'm happy with the new routine. 

Currently waiting on: Once and for All by Sarah Dessen

I will never stop loving Sarah Dessen. Whenever she has a book out I will always be excited. Her upcoming release sounds like a great Dessen, fun and romantic and full of real characters and real feelings. The story centres around wedding planning, which is not something I'm particularly interested in but I have faith in Sarah Dessen. I love everything she writes and if there's ever a time for a book about weddings, it's the month of June. 

Currently watching: lots of TV

Including, but not limited to Grey's Anatomy, The Handmaid's Tale, The White Princess, Veep, The 100, Doctor Who, and Friends. This makes it sound like I'm sitting in front of the TV all day - I'm not, but these are the shows on my current watchlist.

Currently thinking: about fandom and academia

I was just browsing through some academic journals this afternoon (as you do) and found some really intriguing articles that have set off a lot of ideas in my head. After reading about some recent academic studies on children's literature and popular culture, I'm itching to talk about how fandom and internet culture intersects with academia. There's this weird divide between readers in fandom cultures and readers in academic cultures, but the truth is both kinds of readers love books whole-heartedly. I've been thinking about the work of people such as Hannah McGregor and Marcelle Kosman of Witch, Please, blending the personal enthusiasm of fandom and the critical rigour of academia in their reading of beloved texts (in this case, relating to the Harry Potter books). This is exactly the kind of work I love to do. So maybe I'll start sharing more of that work here on the blog. No promises. Just maybe.  

What are you currently reading/watching/

When reading just isn't working

Every night before bed I stare at my TBR pile. It's a mix of old and new - books I've been excited about for months, childhood favourites, books that caught my eye in the library. I don't even bother picking up my Kindle because that will just present another disheartening struggle - dozens of books I want to read, I know I want to read all these books...but I just can't. Reading has always felt like heart-work. It's a process of falling in love, feeling my heart fill up with new characters and new stories. It's not just my imagination that I feel light up when I read. It's my heart and maybe even my 'soul', if that's not too cheesy to admit (it is too cheesy...I'll be cringing eternally for that). 

And yet when I'm staring at all the books I've chosen for my TBR, my heart feels flat. I find myself filled with a strange, unfamiliar kind of anxiety. My ritual of reading before bed is my most sacred time of self-care. It's a kind of therapy - even after the longest, most stressful or emotionally distressing days, I can vacate myself and my own feelings for a few moments; I take the final few moments of my day to give attention to stories as a way to remember that the world is larger, imaginary worlds astoundingly so. Sometimes I find my life and my feelings drift away and I can find them again in my dreams or when I'm rested, renewed for a new day. Other times I find that what I'm feeling is bleeding into the story and I can explore some of the difficult parts of life with the safe-distancing effect of fiction. 

I have spent the past three years learning the degree to which certain life circumstances can affect my writing and my mental work. The existence of this blog is testament to the constancy of fiction's power to rise above the personal, temporal realm of everyday life. In fact the revitalisation of this blog in 2015 was during the period of most acute personal-struggle-meets-intellectual-alienation. Since then, I've experienced loss in my family, uncertainty in my personal life, and career stumbles. My family and my life has transformed over these years, and it's still transforming. Life is change. Reading, however, has always been constant.

Why now is there this faltering, stuttering, stop? 

A 'reading slump' is the preferred term online. The bookish community has always accepted this as a part of the reading life - sometimes you just burn out on reading and you just have to wait it out, hope that it will get better with time. It's a terrifying uncertainty, an mysterious phenomenon. What if whatever it is that is burned out or broken in a reader doesn't heal itself over time? It's the same fear that strikes writers when we experience writer's block. It hits us at the very core of our identity. If I'm not reading, if I'm not a reader, then what is left? Who am I? It's an existential crisis.

A crisis isn't born of nothing or nowhere. I've been thinking a lot about how all mental work - reading, writing, or the variety of analysis found in other careers - is connected to something at the very core of ourselves. This is where 'burn out' can be a faulty concept. Working to the point of exhaustion, or stressing to the point of burn out, is not an easy thing. There's something that should be renewing this energy inside of me - the energy to care about stories, which is intertwined with my writing and my academic work and which reaches directly to my core (my 'heart centre' to quote my yoga instructor).

I can't help but feel that this reading slump, like writer's block and burn out, is not something to be ignored. It's a reminder that there's still internal, emotional work to be done. 

Can you tell I'm missing my therapist in London? 

I don't have any sage words of advice for anyone else struggling with a reading slump or writer's block. Well, except this - go talk to your therapist. That's what I'll be doing. 

For now I'm still reading. I'm not giving up. I still pick a book and read a chapter before bed every night. And one of these days (well, nights) I know I'll start to feel that old magic at work again.

TGIF: What's making me happy this week (& life update!)

It's Friday, which means we made it through the week. Fridays are for happy things and so, inspired by Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast, here's what's making me happy this week! 


I am writing this from the Dublin airport - I have a seat right by the window and am watching the planes come and go. I've been awake since 4am so I can't be certain of any of these words actually forming coherent thoughts. I still have over thirteen hours to go in this travel day, which makes me want to cry when I think about it.  

So what's making me happy today is nothing more than the act of being on the move. Also, coffee.

But what, you ask, has been making me happy the rest of the week when I was more of a functioning human being? Well, first, thank you for thinking that I am ever a properly functioning human. You flatter me. As for what's been making me happy this week - that's a complicated question, but there are several things that come to mind.

 

The 100

While packing away my life last weekend, I stormed through a rewatch of The 100. Man, the second season is intense - Mount Weather and Lexa and violence and feels. There's something cathartic about watching a show about the actual end of the world these days. Look, at least it's not so bad as The 100 yet. That's something.

 

Music 

My latest playlist has several happy-making songs, to balance out my tendency to collect songs in minor keys. Flo Morrissey and Matthew E. White's version of 'Look At What the Light Did Now' has definitely put a pep in my step on some of the grey, winter days. 

As always, you can follow me on Spotify to keep up with my musical life. I also have a master playlist of all of the music I share on the blog - so if you ever want to listen to 22 hours of music, I have you covered!

 

Books

I do still read book, guys - I know it's hard to believe isn't it?

In my bookish life, Susan Dennard's Witchland series has been making me happy this week - I read Truthwitch and Windwitch over the past fortnight and I've fallen head over heels for these characters! I'm now returning to a series I fell head over heels in love with last year, but never finished. I've picked up Cress as my travel book this week.

Yes, they were just as delicious as they are adorable!

Yes, they were just as delicious as they are adorable!

 

And, of course, if you follow me on the Internet you know how much I love Rebel of the Sands, so I was over the moon to be able to celebrate the launch of Traitor to the Throne with Alwyn at Waterstones Piccadilly on Wednesday. I can't wait to fall back in love with Amani and to be awed by Alwyn's writing again - how am I allowed to be friends with such a shining star?

 

Life

As for being on the move, that's a complicated happy-maker. If I've said it once, I've said it a thousand times - life is complicated. And now it's time for a little update, to consolidate some of that complicated life-stuff into something that makes sense when people ask what I'm up to these days.

First off, I'm heading to San Francisco. My life is packed away in suitcases and I'm boarding a plane to take me away from the life I know, off into something new. Officially I'm taking a sabbatical, a leave of absence from the trappings of my regular life to focus on research and writing and life. I'm excited to have this time to just reset my creative and intellectual life. And I've left these months open-ended and flexible, so I can go wherever I want and experience new versions of life along the way. So, I'll be spending time in San Francisco with Hugh. I'll also be getting some time in on the east coast, D.C. and Baltimore to do some research and see family. And I'm going to try out the New York life as well, which is mildly terrifying - even though I've become quite a city-girl in London, there's something about New York that feels much more intimidating.

I know I'm immensely privileged to be able to do this. I've been lucky enough to be able to travel back and forth between England and America quite a bit during my tenure abroad. I know this year it seems like I've been in the US more than in London, but I think that's really just evidence of what kind of pull my home country has on my heart. I've felt out of sorts this past year and I think it's due in large part to feeling not just homesick but really pulled to America. For whatever reason, after six years my heart is telling me that I need to be in America right now. So I've taken my marching orders and I'm off to see what America has to offer me after all these years.

Yes, America is going through some difficult times...but I think that's all the more reason for me to be there, just as I would rush to a friend's side if she were hurting. 

 

I'm off to board my flight! I hope you all have something to be happy about today and everyday.

As always, I'd love to know what's making you happy this week!

Top Ten Tuesday: Beyond the Hype

 

 

 

Top Ten Tuesday is a blog series created and hosted by The Broke & the Bookish. Stop by their blog if you want to participate or follow along!


This week's topic made me realise that I read too many overhyped books. Since I've started paying attention to the book community online, my reading has become driven much more by hype. If I were to make resolutions for this year, I would definitely say that I want try to change that this year. My criteria for non-hyped books is wholly unscientific - it's not books that have no hype, but merely books that I haven't seen hyped recently. Maybe there was plenty of hype around these books and I just completely missed it. These are the books that just felt less hyped than my other reads last year.

 

Ten Books I Read Without Hearing Any Hype

 

The His Fair Assassin series by Robin LaFevers

These books are fairly well beloved but have fallen out of the hype in the past few years. I absolutely adored them, though, and probably all the more so because I received a really impassioned personal recommendation as opposed to just hearing general hype online. Medieval assassin nuns are exactly my kind of thing. If I could go back in time and be a Medieval assassin nun I probably would...well, maybe not because I like the internet too much. Anyway, it was announced recently that there will be another book following some of these characters and I couldn't be more excited. 

Jackaby by William Ritter

This was a book club pick and so I wasn't aware of any hype around it. I don't always love my book club picks and this one wasn't universally loved at our meeting, but it was such an enjoyable read. I love the experience of picking up a book you know nothing about and probably wouldn't pick up on your own and being pleasantly surprised by how much you like it. 

Saint Maybe by Anne Tyler

Ok, Anne Tyler has plenty of hype to spare for her books but Saint Maybe is one of her older, under the radar novels. It's classic Anne Tyler - a Baltimore family, close-knit but fraught with complicated feelings. There's no gimmick here. It's just a good book.

 

Midnight Never Come (Onyx Court #1) by Marie Brennan

I genuinely don't think I've heard any hype about this series, but I love it. I've also picked up Marie Brennan's more popular series The Memoirs of Lady Trent which is about a lady dragon naturalist (I know!), but the Onyx Court books are so unique and right up my alley. Early modern London + magic + faeries = perfect recipe for getting me to read a book. 

The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage by Sydney Padua

This is a graphic novel, so already that's a departure for me. I developed a weird love for Ada Lovelace over this past year, so when I saw this in Foyles I bought it without giving any thought to hype or anything else. It's so much fun! 

 
ada and lovelace suddenly you.jpg
 

Suddenly You by Lisa Kleypas

Looking back on reading last year I saw a lot of Lisa Kleypas, which comes with a lot of hype and very well-deserved. But this standalone novel is one of her little known gems. (How does it have less than 800 reviews on Goodreads?) This romance has an unmarried, 'spinster' novelist as a heroine and a rough around the edges businessman (who happens to also be an estranged son of a nobleman of course) fall in love...sounds fairly typical but there's a ridiculous twist -  the mistaken identity meet-cute is arranged by a madame when the Regency spinster hires a prostitute to celebrate her 30th birthday. 


Have you read any great un-hyped books lately? How do you avoid the hype?

[Doorways Vol. 4] January Blues


Doorways is new series for the new year - every day for the month of January I will be practicing life writing here on the blog. That means posts will be about life, which may or may not include writing about books. This is a writing project, a challenge to myself to start off 2017 by focusing on my creative life.


January is a month for resolutions and To Do Lists, organisation and making plans. All this to distract from the fact that it's cold and grey and too far removed from brighter days. This year, for personal and not so personal reasons, January is feeling especially bleak. I've done my best with optimism, starting new projects and looking to the year ahead with as much hope as I can muster, but it's hard to shake the January blues. 

These blues, the persistent drag on motivation, is the enemy of creativity. All weekend I've been thinking about what to write for today's post and whatever well usually supplies my writing ideas feels as though it's run dry. So instead of choosing one topic and writing a long post, I'm going to list all of the ideas I thought of but dismissed...because why not? This is how writing works. For every good idea there are a dozen bad ones. And even once you have a good idea, it doesn't always live up to expectations or changes in the execution. But you just keep writing and over time the ideas come more easily and more of them hit the right notes. 

 

Discarded Writing Ideas

  1. 2017 Resolutions. The ultimate crutch for January writing. I could come up with a list of ways to reimagine my life this year, but it would really only serve to create more expectations for my life. And if 2016 taught me anything it's that trying to live according to expectations can lead to a mess of heartache and self-doubt.
  2. Looking back on Gym Meet. In high school, January meant it was time to start planning Gym Meet, a school tradition that's main purpose was to boost morale during the winter months and foster sisterly spirit among classmates. I could write about how effective it was in the fight against January blues, to have a completely innocuous project to work on and to feel a part of something bigger than yourself. But it's not very interesting to write about weird high school traditions ten years later.
  3. Self-Care strategies. I do like the idea of self-care, even though as a grouchy miser I generally disdain buzzwords. It's a good reminder to spend time focusing attention on myself and my physical needs. But I'm not very good at self-care, so I'm not in any position to offer advice.
  4. Politics. This is always a topic that asks to be written about. I never feel as informed as I need to be in order to step up to the podium. I do want to get over this fear someday - I do care and I put a lot of effort into being informed and now is the time to be speaking up. 
  5. Imposter Syndrome. This is a doozy of a topic and I do want to write about it. I will write about it, I think I need to, but I'm not quite ready. And yes, it's ironic how I want to write about imposter syndrome but feel unprepared.
 

Maybe next time I'll have a bit more inspiration for my writing ideas. I still showed up with pen in hand to write and that's worth something. 

What are some of your discarded writing ideas? 

TGIF: What's making me happy this week

It's Friday, which means we made it through the week. Fridays are for happy things and so, inspired by Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast, here's what's making me happy this week! 


The obvious choice would be one of the romantic-dramadies I've been enjoying this week in TV: namely, Love on Netflix and Please Like Me on Amazon Prime. Both of those shows made me happy this week, but I don't have much to say beyond that.

Obviously I cried quite a bit this week: President Obama's Farewell speech and at the presentation of the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Vice President Biden. But it wasn't happy tears. It was more devastated, emotionally distraught tears for the end of an era of acceptance and progress. So that's what's not making me happy this week.

Anyway, a consistent source of happiness...well happiness is a strong word whilst I am wallowing in the January blues - but when I'm scrolling through Twitter (which I do every spare moment I have during the day) I have been most consistently smiling at tweets from NYT Minus Context 

It's hard to explain the real appeal of this account as it's best experienced when you're scrolling idly through Twitter, sitting on the bus after a long day at work, and you com across the little gems from NYT Minus Context.

I would do anything for a good poo story. And I really do need some hints on how to do the things people do. 


And, you know what else is making me happy this week and every week? Poetry!

 

Poem of the Week

Elegy

by Aracelis Girmay

            What to do with this knowledge
             that our living is not guaranteed?

Perhaps one day you touch the young branch
of something beautiful. & it grows & grows
despite your birthdays & the death certificate, 
& it one day shades the heads of something beautiful
or makes itself useful to the nest. Walk out
of your house, then, believing in this. 
Nothing else matters.

All above us is the touching
of strangers & parrots, 
some of them human, 
some of them not human.

Listen to me. I am telling you
a true thing. This is the only kingdom.
The kingdom of touching;
the touches of the disappearing, things.
 


Yes, sometimes an elegy can make you happy because it's poetry and poetry always makes me happy even when it makes me sad. 

What's making you happy this week, friends? TTFN!

Currently, 11.01.17

In The Leaves.jpg

 

 

 

Wednesdays are a time for taking note here on the blog, focusing on the ‘Currently’, a mid-week check-in. Currently Reading, Listening, etc. It’s all part of my current status.


Currently: Reading

Why God Is a Woman by Nin Andrews

This is a prose poetry sequence that reads like a novel. In the world of these poems, women rule their island and men are second-class citizens. It's uncomfortable at times, viewing this world that reflects our own so harshly. There are times I cringe at the inequality and cruelty, before realising that it is illustrating what is a reality for women in our patriarchal society. It's unlike anything I've read before in the best way. 

 

Other Reads: Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare, Harry Potter & the Goblet of Fire by J. K. Rowling, Truthwitch by Susan Dennard 

 

Currently: Listening

I've been listening nonstop to news radio and podcasts lately, but I wanted to put together a playlist for the start of the new year. I was lucky enough to receive a new pair of headphones and some new speakers for Christmas so I'm very happily putting the to use in the best way - music sounds so much nicer through nice equipment. I especially like the Glass Animals track this week, it just snuck into my head and stole the whole show. Several of these tracks were stolen from my writing playlist for NaNoWriMo and there are even a few holdovers from my summer playlist that I never got to share here. 


What are you reading and listening to this week?

Top Ten Tuesday: 2016 Releases I Still Need to Read

 

 

Top Ten Tuesday is a blog series created and hosted by The Broke & the Bookish. Stop by their blog if you want to participate or follow along!

 

I'll admit it - I'm in the middle of a reading slump of monumental proportions. Looking back on my reading life for the last quarter of 2016, I've been struggling to finish books for months now. To give you an idea of the extent of this reading slump - until the summer I was 8 books ahead of schedule for my Goodreads challenge...and yet by the end of the year I couldn't even meet my goal of 100 books. There were so many books I didn't get to last year, partially because of the extreme change in my reading habits. I'm hoping one of these books will be the one to break me out of this slump - I have a truly alarming TBR pile by my bed, all the books I've picked up and not finished, or bought recently and haven't started. 

 

Top Ten 2016 Releases Still Waiting on My TBR

 

Truthwitch (The Witchlands) by Susan Dennard

I'm reading this one now, a whole year late. The second book was just released and I'm so intrigued by this series. Fingers crossed this isn't another book I start and never finish.

A Torch Against the Night (An Ember in the Ashes) by Sabaa Tahir

I am so bad at reading sequels. This is just one of many that I let slip by this year. Not that I haven't tried - I've checked it out from the library several times this year (while I'm waiting to see if they release an edition that will match my copy of An Ember in the Ashes - the UK paperback for Torch is inexplicably taller and I'm not messing with that).

Lady Midnight (The Dark Artifices) by Cassandra Clare

This is another one I've had out on loan from the library several times, for the same reason - the UK edition of this is ridiculously oversized. I want to buy this book, why can't they just release an edition that is a normal size?

truthwitch torch lady midnight.jpg

Swing Time by Zadie Smith

How did I not even manage to read the new Zadie Smith? That's how I know this is a real reading slump. It came out before Christmas when I was saving my book budget for gifts so I didn't want to spend money on a hardback for myself. Still, I'm going to blame the library - I've been on the waitlist for a copy at the library since before it was released. That's ridiculous. 

The Love That Split the World by Emily Henry

Started this one months and months ago - so long ago I'm probably going to have to start over from the beginning when I pick it up again, which will hopefully be sooner rather than later. Magical realism is always a good springtime genre, so I may wait a few weeks to give this another go.

The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry

This is another one I've started and it's sitting next to my bed. I like it so far, but there are weeks-long gaps in between visits with this one. Also, I bought the normal edition of this before Waterstones released their special edition with the silver foil embellishments, so I'm a bit sour about that.

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

Yep, you guessed it, I've also started this one - and I've checked it out of the library several times. This is quite a shameful list. Why couldn't I finish any of these books? I don't think I made it past the first chapter. It was a lovely first chapter, too. Every time I hear someone gushing about this book get so excited about it...it's definitely on the TBR for the next few weeks.

Patience by Daniel Clowes

I bought this as a Christmas gift for my brother-in-law and I was so excited to steal a quick read before giving it away...then Amazon decided next day Prime shipping didn't apply to this book, so it didn't arrive until after Christmas (I gave Eric the complete edition of Bone by Jeff Smith, which is a very impressive book at 1300 pages!). Now this is just sitting there looking pretty and colourful and waiting to be read.

Gemina (The Illuminae Files) by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

I bought this on release day, made a special trip to the bookshop so I could start reading it immediately. I took it on several trips as well...still no luck breaking my reading slump. This one does demand to be read in one sitting, though, so it's hard to set aside that time. I like the new characters and am very excited to get back into it soon.

The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

Nicola Yoon's debut was one of my surprise favourites of 2015 - I loved it. I'm a bit worried now that I have actual expectation for this book, I won't get to enjoy the same joy as I did with Everything, Everything. It's not a rational fear, but I'm such an anxious mess that I can even find a reason to be anxious about a book I'm excited to read. 


Well that was a hard list to write...Maybe I'm just a a real nutjob, but I feel like I've let down the books. They just wanted to be read and I did nothing but tease them and make false promises. Ok, don't look at me like that. I know I sound crazy. Books don't have feelings...

Have you read any of these books? Please guilt/berate me so I know which ones to feel most embarrassed about.

 

 

 

[Doorways Vol. 3] Tube Strike, Invisibility


Doorways is new series for the new year - every day for the month of January I will be practicing life writing here on the blog. That means posts will be about life, which may or may not include writing about books. This is a writing project, a challenge to myself to start off 2017 by focusing on my creative life.


Part One: The Tube & Belonging

Are you a real Londoner if you don't complain about the Tube? This is the question I am pondering this morning. Today the reason to complain is the Tube strike. Except I don't have anything to complain about. I'm a bus girl - purely for convenience. There's a bus stop by my flat that is well-connected and the Tube is 15 minutes away. So I take the bus, I sit on the top deck and enjoy cell signal on my commute.  But if I'm not complaining about the Tube strike today, am I even a Londoner?

I've really only begun to feel like a Londoner in the past year. I didn't feel like I belonged in London when I first moved here for my MA, so I left. I came back - everyone was moving to London and so I thought it was time to give it another shot. Now, I finally feel like a Londoner, even when I'm not complaining about the Tube. I complain about the bus enough and the rain and life in general. I think I've earned my stripes as a Londoner. But, I'm leaving soon. People are starting to leave London now. This is what it means to be grown up. I've had different lives in the same city. And I'm now old enough to see people leaving the city for new lives, too. We've been here long enough to use up a life - the 20-something grad life in London

 

Part Two: Invisible Things

I keep a lot of things hidden, but hiding something doesn't make it invisible. And yet there are some things that are actually invisible. In Catholic school we were taught that everyone is carrying their own cross, even if those crosses are invisible to us when we're passing strangers on the street.  I've always thought that's a pretty good metaphor for living with an invisible illness - mental illnesses count here and certainly my anxiety and depression makes it feel like I'm lugging around a pretty heavy cross every day. But those things are often visible in some way. Sad eyes with bags under them are a tell-tale sign. I once had a psychologist tell me that the first time she saw me in her waiting room, she could see the depression written on my face. Whenever I'm waiting in the doctor's office to see my specialist for my long-undiagnosed chronic pain disorder, I feel the real invisibility of suffering, though. I'm always the only person in the waiting room under the age of 60 - I look so out of place, everyone looks at me and wonders what I could possibly be in for, maybe waiting for my grandma. 

It took 3 years to get a diagnosis for my pain partially because I don't look like the kind of patient doctors expect to have this disorder.  Part of the reason it was so hard to diagnose my chronic illness was because there's not very much known about it, not enough research. Pain disorders are hard to study, partially because of their invisibility. It's disheartening to know that even though this illness has had a very real affect on my daily life - not just pain, also embarrassment and inconveniences that can ruin plans as well as self-esteem - still there's not been enough research into the cause or treatments. There aren't many answers. Maybe it's just a really, really tricky illness. Maybe I just got a real good one.

I had a procedure last year to look more closely at what's going on inside my body, invisible to the outside world. The doctors found physical evidence of the illness and that's something at least. The doctors saw it and I know it's there, even though it wears a cloak of invisibility. 


P.S.

This is the time when I cringe and wonder how anyone could ever write a memoir. It takes guts to write about something personal, if only because you're daring to say that your story is worth writing about. Maybe I'll have more guts by the end of this month. 

TGIF: What's making me happy this week

I want Friday posts to be a bit of fun here on the blog and so I was inspired by the NPR Politics and the Pop Culture Happy Hour podcasts to share a segment at the end of the week about something that's making me happy/something I can't let go. 

This week: The Millions' Great 2017 Book Preview!

There are so many great books on this list - if you're ever at a loss for new books to read this year, just come back to this list and there'll be something to get excited about. It's been a dreary week, but a big list of new books to read this year is always sure to cheer me up. Now, it's The Millions so the only books they suggest are the critical, literary darlings. Don't worry I have a whole other list of most anticipated YA and SFF books for 2017 - I really wanted Wayfarer  (the second book in the Passenger duology) to be my first 2017 new release read, but since I ordered the US hardback edition it's estimated delivery is in February. Fingers crossed the estimate is overly conservative because that is much too long to wait.  

Anyway, here are a few of my favourites from The Millions list:

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

I am such a big fan of George Saunders. I'm interested to see how he does in the novel format. It's an Abraham Lincoln novel, which is quite an ambitious choice and not one I would usually be excited about...but it's George Saunders so I'm in.

Universal Harvester by John Darnielle

I wasn't a big fan on John Darnielle's first novel, it never drew me in even after several attempts (I might give it another go). But I love his lyrics and this sounds more in the style of his music - 1990s Iowan video clerk is a voice I can hear in his music quite easily. 

The Idiot by Elif Batuman

This is exactly why I love this list every year - I always find titles and writers I've never heard of that sound interesting.

The Book of Joan by Lidia Yuknavitch

I am all in for a Joan of Arc retelling, especially a dystopian and vaguely sci-fi retelling. Yes, please, to all books about female saints - some of history's important, if sometimes overlooked, women. 

The Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen

Yes, it's they hypiest of hype books, but it sounds like these stories are going to be important to read, given world events and the challenges we're facing this year.

What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky by Lesley Nneka Arimah

I'm definitely here for short stories with magical realism. I'm getting a Helen Oyeyemi feeling from the blurb, so that has me intrigued but I'm also just interested in a new literary voice for short stories

Sour Heart by Jenny Zhang

I love Jenny Zhang's poetry. This will be her first collection of short stories and I'm curious to see how she takes her irreverent and incisive observations to prose. Though I do take some of the more 'cool/hip' writers with a grain of salt.


Ok, here's to a week of good books and good coffee!

[Doorways Vol. 2] Winter Sun

Doorways is new series for the new year - every day for the month of January I will be practicing life writing here on the blog. That means posts will be about life, which may or may not include writing about books. This is a writing project, a challenge to myself to start off 2017 by focusing on my creative life.


There's something so hopeful about winter sunshine. January needs hope, especially this year - and I don't think I'm the only one feeling this way. London doesn't enjoy very much crisp, wintery sunshine. It's hard to explain to someone in London why winter is my favourite time of year because of this. But when I think of my favourite winter days, I think of waking up to a blindingly bright morning, sunlight reflecting off a quiet, perfectly white coat of snow. Or I think of driving along the lake by my parents' house, the water a frosted blue and the landscape's seeming solemnity in its stillness. 
Today London's winter sun is streaming into the cafe I'm writing in - I purposefully chose the cafe with a skylight for precisely this reason (also for the cinnamon buns). Instead of a peaceful hopefulness the sun is shining down a warm nostalgia. Everything about London these days is making me feel nostalgic. It's funny how a place can accumulate feelings over time. I'm used to the nostalgia of my childhood home - the memories of snowy mornings and frosty drives around the lake are perfect examples. Feeling nostalgic for London as it's still my home is one of those things that reminds me why I'm a writer. There are hundreds of memorable moments dispersed across this city, and even more everyday moments from my life. Going through the motions of my daily routine, I'm so often in autopilot but sometimes - like today - I slow down and let myself indulge in the memories of this place as I brush past.
Maybe it's the winter sun making me a bit too nostalgic. 

This writing project is quite an experiment...how do memoirists and other people who write about their lives avoid sounding overly sappy and emotional? That's a goal for this month - write more close life observations, less general feelings.

Also, my old schedule is still in place. Top Ten Tuesdays will be back next week, my 'Currently' updates, still figuring out what Friday posts will be but I like keeping 3 days a week to a specific format so stay tuned to see the new Friday posts.

[Doorways Vol. 1] Hello, Goodbye

Doorways is a series I am launching right now - every day for the month of January I will be practicing life writing here on the blog. That means posts will be about life, which may or may not include writing about books. This is a writing project, a challenge to myself to start off 2017 by focusing on my creative life.


I'm not going to be writing about books today. It's time for me to sit down and write about life. This month I'm going to be focusing on putting my life into words, even if it's just a few meandering thoughts each day. Life writing is one of those terms I've adopted from the academic world, encompassing all kinds of writing and recording a life - diaries, memoirs, letters, meditations, work logs, autobiography, etc. My first instinct when it comes to writing is for fiction, but lately there's been a certain pull toward something grounded in my own personal experience. As a writing exercise, this month will be an intriguing challenge.

Today's entry comes in 4 parts.

1 Hello

As an intensely private person, I am never comfortable talking about myself - even on my own blog, heck even in my therapy sessions. But maybe that's a sign that I need to open up a bit more, put myself out there. Challenging myself is especially important now as I'm attempting, somehow, to reconfigure my life. It just so happens that this period I've set aside for personal growth coincides with the start of the new year. This timing wasn't planned, in fact I'm upending my life precisely because living by the plan wasn't working out so well, but it is quite fortuitous.

2 Hi

I much prefer an offhand 'hi' - the kind of greeting for a rainy day, when you've shuffled into the coffee shop ten minutes late to meet an old friend, and you're umbrella is only broken spokes and floppy vinyl wholly ineffective at shielding you from the sheets of icy rain, wet and cold and flustered you nod across the room at your friend with a smile, 'Hi', and awkwardly you try to signal silently that you're going up to the counter to order a coffee, desperate for something warm, but you're self-conscious about pointing as you can hear your mother's voice chastising you 'It's rude to point fingers', and your friend understands because even though you haven't seen each other in several months she knows you need a few moments to recover from the unpleasantness of running late in the rain with a broken umbrella and the wrong shoes. So, hi. Sorry I'm a bit late getting here and I'm a mess, but thanks for waiting. It's good to see you, how've you been? You had better go first, because if you want to know how I've been, the story will take a while.

3 Goodbye

 In order to welcome this new year, full of changes and challenges and new experiences, I need to close the door on 2016, on what wasn't working in my life. I've spent my 20s saying goodbye a lot - living abroad means constantly leaving loved ones, getting used to saying goodbye, though usually it's accompanied by 'until next time'. It's harder to say goodbye to myself, not that I haven't tried. In the past when I've tried to leave behind a version of myself, it's been for all the wrong reasons. The cliché 'running from myself' comes to mind when I think back on those hasty attempts to fly away from an 'old life'. This is something different, or at least I hope it is.

4 Farewell

It should be 'farewell' as that's all I can hope for, to fare well. I'm not really saying goodbye to an old self this time around, I'm not even going to reinvent myself. I'm not going to self-destruct, even though I want to slam the door on 2016 and run off into the wilderness. There's that little voice inside whispering - now that I have the chance, maybe I should give up my life and live as a hermit in the woods. But it's not good just running out on life. Yes, I'm marching out the door but there I am on the other side - wherever you go, there you are and all that, though more pertinent is the properly profound Confucius quote used in many a graduation message, 'Wherever you go, go with all your heart'. So I'm not really saying goodbye at all, except symbolically as a ritual for putting the past behind me as I move on to strange, new things. Rituals are important.


It's funny what comes out when you sit down to write. Mainly a bunch of run-on sentences.

[Book Review] In the leaves of: Wink Poppy Midnight by April Genevieve Tucholke

Wink Poppy Midnight by April Genevieve Tucholke

Published: March 2016 by Dial Books

Every story needs a hero.
Every story needs a villain.
Every story needs a secret.

Wink is the odd, mysterious neighbor girl, wild red hair and freckles. Poppy is the blond bully and the beautiful, manipulative high school queen bee. Midnight is the sweet, uncertain boy caught between them. Wink. Poppy. Midnight. Two girls. One boy. Three voices that burst onto the page in short, sharp, bewitching chapters, and spiral swiftly and inexorably toward something terrible or tricky or tremendous.

What really happened?
Someone knows.
Someone is lying.


First Thoughts

With characters named Wink, Poppy, and Midnight I knew this story was not going to be ordinary.  It wasn't wholly new or unlike anything I had read before, but it was woven with a captivating tone and feeling. It's something more often found outside mainstream YA literature and it felt nicely refreshing. It's an October, autumnal read so I think I read it at just the right time. The intrigues are small and personal, the sense of the eerie is the kind that lives inside all of us. Not everyone will enjoy the writing style, and at times I found it a bit too precocious, but in the end I was entranced by the mythical mystery of three ordinary teenagers.


A Brief Note on the Lack of Stars: I have decided not to use star ratings for book reviews. I found them to be wholly arbitrary. I was only giving three or four stars. I just don't tend to review something I really hated and I only give 5 stars to an all-time favourite, which doesn't come around all that often. Not particularly helpful. If I do find a new favourite, I'll just make it clear as I rave in the review. Hopefully my reviews show a good idea of how much I enjoyed a book, but more interesting to me is getting into the nuts and bolts of a novel to see how it works at a textual level, what questions it brings up and how successfully it explores various different themes. So those are the things I discuss in my book reviews. Stars don't add much to that discussion.

This is very likely to be a love or hate book for many people. For me, I landed in the middle. It was one of those books that had me furrowing my brow in several places, sighing in exasperation, but still turning the pages. And I was also pausing in several places to appreciate the beautiful words and the strangely captivating atmosphere.

This story relies on several tropes that I have some mixed feelings for - Midnight as the sensitive, artistic teenage boy having a personal awakening through his relationship with a mysterious girl; Poppy as the anti-manic pixie dream girl who is cruel but beautiful; Wink as the waifish, weird girl from the free-spirited family with too many children. These are overdone tropes, but I have a bit of a soft-spot for them.

Ultimately I could tell that Tucholke wanted to comment on the tropes, to give a new reading to the clichés. She was at least partially successful as the ending and the fairy tale setting twisted the tropes around enough that I came away from the story without feeling sick of any of the precociousness. There were times when hipster-ness of the town was just laugh out loud funny, and it worked very well to blur the lines of fantasy and reality, normality and the ideal. The idea of an overly-hipster town as a modern setting for a dark fairy tale is perfect. The 'hipster' lifestyle ultimately exploits nostalgia and affected aesthetics. This kind of overly curated lifestyle borders the stylised magical-realism that allows fairy tales to feel both of our world and fantastical. 

This is the novel's biggest strength. The plot itself is fairly unremarkable, but that in and of itself is not a weakness given the way Tucholke weaves these themes of fantasy and idealisation with darkly human emotions. The twisty human emotions mixed with the hints at the supernatural places the story within the realm of gothic literature. There is a feeling woven throughout the story of something eerie and ominous, something rotten in this picture-perfect world of precious quirkiness.

In the end this story is all about atmosphere and genre. If you're looking for a compelling plot or close character study, this might not be the book for you. I found the story to be intriguing, all the more so because of the stylisation. I'm curious to read Tucholke's Between the Devil and the Dark Blue Sea novels to see how well she can direct her beautiful words to a more plot-driven gothic horror story.

I can definitely recommend Wink Poppy Midnight for anyone looking for a unique autumnal read. It's perfect for an evening in need of a one-sitting read to go along with a cup of tea, perhaps when its rainy and cold outside and you're ready to appreciate an eerie atmosphere.

 

Have you read Wink Poppy Midnight? What do you think?

Top Ten Tuesday: Bad Guys & Villains

 

 

 

Top Ten Tuesday is a blog series created and hosted by The Broke & the Bookish. Stop by their blog if you want to participate or follow along!

 

It's back to the blogging grind, so you know what Tuesday is for! This week's topic is a juicy one. Every good story needs an antagonist and the best kind of antagonist is an evil villain. Ok, some great novels use internal or abstract antagonism...but sometimes you just need a bad guy.

 

Top Ten Bad Guys & Villains 

 
Imelda Staunton as Dolores Umbridge in Harry Potter & the Order of the Phoenix (2007). Perfectly sugary and sinister.

Imelda Staunton as Dolores Umbridge in Harry Potter & the Order of the Phoenix (2007). Perfectly sugary and sinister.

Dolores Umbridge

If you listen to Oh Witch Please podcast you know all about why Umbridge is a particularly interesting portrayal of feminised authority. In the Harry Potter universe (and our society) over-the-top femininity is uncomfortable and thus easily demonised. Is Umbridge entirely despicable? Yes, but she's also presented as the foil to Dumbledore's Old White Guy wisdom and benevolence. There's nothing better for English majors/academics than a problematic portrayal of good and evil.

Nicole Kidman literally glittering as Mrs Coulter in The Golden Compass (2007).

Nicole Kidman literally glittering as Mrs Coulter in The Golden Compass (2007).

Mrs Coulter

Continuing the trend of feminine authority figures portrayed as duplicitous is Mrs Coulter. There are quite a lot of similarities between Coulter and Umbridge, but Philip Pullman gives Mrs Coulter a bit more complexity and humanity. His Dark Materials is one of my all-time favourite series and one of the reasons I love it so much is how well it threads literary history and theology into the story. You can't read Mrs Coulter and Lyra independent of each other and they are both linked in different ways to Biblical representations of women, i.e. some of the most potent figures in all of the western canon.

Ellen Terry as Lady Macbeth by John Singer Sargent 1889

Ellen Terry as Lady Macbeth by John Singer Sargent 1889

 

 

Lady Macbeth

To round off the examples of female villainy*, I have to mention Lady Macbeth. She is a contrast to the overly feminised figures of Coulter and Umbridge--cold, conniving, and ambitious without any soft edges. Lady Macbeth is a cultural reference forever-rooted in our dialogues about women in power and their influence on men in power. I think this year in particular brings the misogynistic readings of Lady Macbeth into sharp relief...but we won't get political here. I think Lady Macbeth is most interesting as a figure of remorse and guilt. 'Out, damned spot!' is one of the most iconic lines spoken by a villain and a woman on stage. 

 

 

The Darkling

There are bad men in fiction as well, but they're usually not so interesting for feminist literary criticism. Still, I do have a totally cliched love for bad guys. The Darkling is definitely one of those bad guys that I don't even love to hate...I'm just wholly enamoured. He's an awful person, manipulative and ruthless. But as with many an evil overlord, he is also disconcertingly alluring.

 
Nicholas Croucher as youg Martin Chatwin in the SyFy adaptation of The Magicians. Topnotch side-eye.

Nicholas Croucher as youg Martin Chatwin in the SyFy adaptation of The Magicians. Topnotch side-eye.

Martin Chatwin, i.e. The Beast

I do love how The Magicians takes all of the inoffensive sincerity from The Chronicles of Narnia and twists it into something weird and disturbing. That's exactly what becomes of Martin Chatwin, the Chatwin sibling who didn't want to leave Fillory. He sells his humanity in order to stay in the magical land as a king. As the Beast, he is yet another evil overloud. But what makes him a really great villain is the fact that as Martin, he is a more complicated figure with a tragic past. 

 
illuminae.jpg

AIDAN

I imagine a villain like AIDAN, the out of control super-computer AI in Illuminae, is bound to become more and more frightening as our technology moves closer to making this sci-fi cliche into a possible reality. AIDAN's growing consciousness is able to misinterpret its programming into a heartless attack on the people it is meant to protect, all for the greater good...and eventually, when it becomes self-aware enough, it attacks for its own self-preservation. As a villain the lack of any humanity is an ominous threat. And yet AIDAN is too complex to fit into the simplistic man vs computer story...because maybe AIDAN isn't so inhuman after all. And that's a possibility that crosses over from evil to uncanny.

 
Is Alan Rickman the only valid reason for loving Severus Snape?

Is Alan Rickman the only valid reason for loving Severus Snape?

Severus Snape

*mild spoilers ahead*

Problematic villain or problematic here? You never can be too sure when it comes to Severus Snape. He's an awful teacher, abusive to his students, and his redemption is based on an obsessive love. In the early Harry Potter novels, Snape is the archetype of the evil adult authority figure (think Mrs Trunchbull). Ingrained in children's stories is an illustration of good authority vs bad authority and Rowling subtly subverts this dichotomy with Snape's ambiguous villainy. We are not meant to like Snape, but we are meant to trust him. He is not a bad authority figure or a good one, but an imperfect person who has sadistic tendencies. 

 
Jeremy Irons in Adrian Lyne's 1997 Lolita

Jeremy Irons in Adrian Lyne's 1997 Lolita

Humbert Humbert

Humbert embodies one of the most disturbing kinds of perversion and yet reading about him is an astounding literary experience. In the novel, Humbert is the hero and he even defeats the villain Mr Quilty, but this depiction of a vile character as a story's hero is a masterful subversion of narrative structure. The form of a novel is one that requires no morality of its hero or villain. It  merely require a struggle between two forces, one of which is presented as sympathetic no matter how narrative bias warps the perspective. 

 

 

Naughty John

I was properly spooked when reading this book. I am not a fan of ghosts and demons. This 'villain' is really the stuff of nightmares, genuinely scary. The gothic, horror genre of The Diviners allows for a more purely evil antagonist than the other examples on this list. I can handle murder, but there's something about an evil demon serial killer that is more chilling than any human depravity.   

 
Gustave Doré, c 1866

Gustave Doré, c 1866

 

Milton's Satan

The ultimate villain...or really, the ultimate antihero. Milton's Satan is one of the most complex, iconic characters in all of western literature. It almost feels wrong to put him on a list of villains as he is literally the embodiment of evil in Christian theology. But in Paradise Lost, there's more to Satan than malevolence. He is power-hungry, arrogant, cunning, deeply flawed, zealous, persuasive, and ultimately immoral - all human traits. 

 

I don't know about you but now my mind is reeling from the complexity and moral ambiguity of literary villainy. Good thing I love thinking about thorny literary questions.

What are your favourite villains in literature?


*And I've just started planning a blog post discussing female villainy in YA within the larger context of traditional representations of chaotic women in literature...I'm such a nerd.

TBR Trends: Autumnal Reads

In my return to blogging I noted how I had a summer season of fantasy in my reading life. It’s hard not to fall back on my favourite genre over and over again, but I have to remind myself of all the great other great stories out there—without the fantastical elements to sweep up my imagination in magic and flashy adventure, the stories of quiet beauty and ordinary, everyday charm. I do still remember all the books I read back in my days as a ‘literature snob’ that had not even the barest trace of magic or fantasy. I know I enjoy non-magical books, but it’s easy to get lazy in my ready choices. So this autumn I’m going to make the extra push to pick up more of a variety of genres. It’s hard to do when all of the lovely fantasy novels are beckoning to me from my TBR, but I have too many wonderful contemporary and literary fiction waiting on my shelves to go on in my fantasy reading binge. It doesn’t help that autumn is the season of the gothic, another one of my favourite genres. 

I know I’m not going to be able to forego all magic, but perhaps I can lean more into the paranormal/gothic side of the spectrum. I also know better than to force myself into reading anything I’m just not in the mood for, so I’ll be trying to go with the flow, attempting to find a balance while also diversifying. To that end, I’ve made a massive autumn TBR and I’m only going to allow myself to read from this list for the next few weeks…well I'm going to try. As with all of my plans, it will be tentative.

Can I get through all these in one season? Nope...unless I suddenly forfeit all semblance of a life in favour of books (which is pretty tempting). But I will make a valiant effort. I have a new reading nook and I mean to put it to good use. It's also worth remembering that I have 24 more books to reach my 100 book reading goal for the year. I doubt my progress with this list will be enough to get me to that goal, but it's a good start. And, as always, I can look forward to a few weeks of holiday reading at Christmas to make the final push on my reading goals.

For now it's time for some ghosts, maybe a zombie, a few serious classics, a touch of dark magic, and of course some Man Book nominees. Hopefully there are enough different kinds of books on here to keep me from falling back into old habits. No rereading Harry Potter until Christmas and no binging on any new fantasy series. I also have time limits for some of these books, which will help—a few library books, a book I bought to give as a gift to H (but I’m going to read it first bc sharing is caring and I'm not going to be seeing him for a few weeks so why not take advantage?), a few books borrowed from a friend months and months ago. I will get through some of these books. Really. 

And so, enough rambling, onto the list!


All stocked up on all your favourite autumnal teas? Have a snuggly jumper? It's time for some autumn reads. 

 
  • Ghostly: a collection of ghost stories collected & introduced by Audrey Niffeneger
Halloween reading! I probably won't be reading this one before bed.
  • Something Strange and Deadly by Susan Dennard
A historical gothic YA with zombies set in Philadelphia? This one has been on my TBR for ages & it's definitely an October read.
  • Wink Poppy Midnight by April Genevieve Tucholke
I'm getting Virgin Suicides and We Were Liars vibes from this one. Beautiful writing.
  • And I Darken by Kiersten White
Look at how fierce Lado looks on the UK cover? And how often do you get to read about the Ottoman Empire? If you're me, not that often, so I'm keen to try something totally new.
  • The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton
I fell in love with Jessie Burton's writing with The Muse, so I'm anxious to try her debut. And a an early modernist, I'm always excited to see books set in the seventeenth century.
  • The Quick by Lauren Owen
A gothic set in Victorian England is a must for every autumn reading list, complete with crumbling country estate and secret gentleman's club and featuring London's seedy underbelly.
  • Ada, or Ardor by Vladimir Nabokov 
I love Nabokov's writing and this is one I've been picking up and putting down for years now. Time for another try I think.
  • Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien
This is the Man Booker shortlist novel that I'm most interested in. Bonus points for getting me to rediscover my love for Beethoven. Little known fact about me: I studiend classical piano for 12 years...I wasn't amazingly talented, but I do love it.
  • Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake
Fantasy, I know. But I have a vested interest in keeping appraised of novels featuring sisters with special powers (may or may not be relevant to my current WIP).
  • The Past Tessa Hadley
I love Tessa Hadley's writing and I love family sagas, so this is one I know I'm going to love. I just have to sit down and read.find the time to savour it.
  • Burial Rites Hannah Kent
Another dark historical fiction choice and it's set in Iceland so the stark setting is definitely a good feel for autumn reading.
  • His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet
This isn't my kind of book on the surface, but it's a Man Booker shortlist novel and I picked it up for H (who loves bloody murder stuff) so I thought I'd give it a try. Curious more than anything else.

 

  • Middlemarch by George Eliot
This is part of a close reading project of mine that I haven't brought to this blog yet. Watch this space of the next few months to learn more!
  • The Graces by Laure Eve
Another fantasy pick, but I can't not read a book about witches during Halloween season! Also the cover is just so beautiful I just have to keep it on the bedside table for eyecandy.
  • The Guineveres by Sarah Domet
Another library pick that sounds intriguing. I don't know much about it, but I have a soft spot for stories about children raised in convents...it's a weird interest I know.
  • Villette by Charlotte Brontë
A reread, but I need to be reminded why this has always been classified as one of my favourite Brontë novels.
  • Lair of Dreams by Libba Bray
I can't not read this now that I've finally finished The Diviners and fell in love with the story. I just have to keep reading.
  • Cleopatra’s Shadows by Emily Holleman
A library find and something quite different for me. When I browse the library I always try to pick one unlikely choice and often they turn out to be favourites, so fingers crossed for this one.
  • This Monstrous Thing by Mackenzie Lee
Yes, I know this was on last year's autumn TBR. Better late than never. I also have Frankenstein on standby for a companion reread. 
  • The Gap of Time by Jeanette Winterson
A Shakespeare retelling by Jeanette Winterson...obviously I have to read this. I've already dipped into this one and I'm really enjoying it.
  • Gemina by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
Sci-Fi isn't my usual genre, and this format took a bit of getting used to in the first book, but I'm sufficiently hooked. Space is cool!

 

Back to Blogging Book Report

It’s been quite a while and I know that 'summer revamp' never got off the ground. But life happens and sometimes it just keeps happening and happening. In between my last post and this one I have made some life changes, but of course I'm still reading and I still want to write about books on the Internet. It’s the start of a new year and there’s a lot of ‘new’ stuff in my life, so why not start a new phase on this blog? I don’t know what exactly this new phase will bring, in life or on this blog, but autumn is a nice time to start fresh regardless of a lack of actual plans. Today is not the day for a personal post, though. Today, like most days on this blog, is about books.

Last year I shared a summer book report as a way to kick of a new year here on the blog, so I’ve decided to keep up with the tradition. Instead of a ‘Back to School’ Book Report, it’s a Back to Blogging Book Report. Summer is officially gone away, in the blink of an eye as always. It’s time to swap exciting books of adventure and romance and heady feelings for darker tales of intrigue and drama and twisted feelings. But first let’s look back at the books I read over the long summer hiatus.

I read 16 books this summer, though the number could be more or less depending on when you mark the start of summer. It wasn’t the best summer of reading, but it was still perfectly respectable. Of those, 6 were read on holiday in Mykonos and although I did read during my other travels, those books read in Mykonos made up myonly true holiday reading experience of the summer. Nothing can compare to reading in the sunshine on an island holiday. I even prefer it to beach reading on the Cape, usually my most prolific reading holiday—though this year, I had to skip our Cape Cod trip so I don’t have reading stats to compare to Mykonos.

Of the books I read over the past few months, the ones that stand out as worth of writing about here on the blog were all read on holiday/while travelling. This may have something to do with how hectic my life has been—I’ve only been able to really immerse myself in a book when I can escape from the stresses of my every day life. Adulthood is distracting.

Looking at the list of my summer reading, one thing is clear—this was a summer of fantasy. Twelve of my summer books were fantasy or magical realism. I do love magic in stories, but I think this autumn I should make more of an effort to diversify. I also need to move away from re-reading and focus on reading new books, preferably new releases even. With the whole summer leading up to Cursed Child, I did want to add some extra Harry Potter into my life but I also need to step away from those books this autumn as this summer was the second time I read books 1-3 since January—though I am still working on the blog series on Harry Potter, so re-reading wasn’t wholly self-indulgent.


Summer Reading 2016

Some of the summer's most amazing heroines - Cress, Agnieszka, & Nix.

Some of the summer's most amazing heroines - Cress, Agnieszka, & Nix.

The Muse by Jessie Burton

If I had to choose a favourite read from the summer, it is probably The Muse. I read it in a single day in the sunshine in Mykonos and it lent itself well to that very specific reading experience—the hot, island sun allowing an easy transport into a story of passion and art partially set in a summer of heavy, heady heat. It is a novel about art, both artistic inspiration and artistic identity.  Told in two separate storylines, with some mysterious intertwining, The Muse follows first a Trinidadian immigrant and poet in London, 1967 who works at an art gallery as a typist. When an entrancing and mysterious painting is brought to the gallery, Odelle and her mentor Marjorie Quick are keen to discover the story behind it. This investigation into the painting introduces the second and larger storyline following the creation of the painting itself during the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War. That story follows Olive Schloss, the daughter of a renowned art criticwho paints in secret, and the Schloss family’s involvement with a revolutionary young man, Isaac Robles, and his half-sister Teresa. The political tensions meld with the artistic tensions as Olive finds inspiration in her first love affair tangled up in Spain’s political turmoil. Burton weaves the tale of passion and intrigue and art with a light touch that effortlessly glances at the melodrama and the artistic sensibility in well-measured juxtaposition. It wasn’t a book that left me in awe of great questions or puzzling too long over the intrigue, but it was a quietly enjoyable read all the same. 

 
Faeries in early modern England - LOVE. Manson-esque cult of young, waifish girls - overhyped, showy and hollow prose. Kaz, Inej, Jesper, Nina, Matthias, & Wylan - my darling, darling criminals.

Faeries in early modern England - LOVE. Manson-esque cult of young, waifish girls - overhyped, showy and hollow prose. Kaz, Inej, Jesper, Nina, Matthias, & Wylan - my darling, darling criminals.

All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders

This is a weird book, but it’s charming and captivating in its weirdness. It’s a great thing to read something so wholly unlike anything else you’ve come across before. The story is about magic and science, nature and technology. It follows Patricia, a witch, and Laurence, a scientist, who become unlikely friends as teenagers. The first half of the book reads like a YA novel, two misfits trying desperately to belong to each other but never quite succeeding. After Patricia and Laurence face off against forces that disapprove of their different-ness (which include some more ominous foes they don’t know anything about yet), they go their separate ways to grow up into extraordinary adults. As much as I enjoyed this book, I was left a bit unsatisfied by the time jumps and flashback devices—I wanted more of the story, also better backstory. When Patricia and Laurence are thrown together again, this time in near-future San Francisco, the story is now one about the end of the earth, how science and magic can come together to save the word. The book is not without flaws, but I enjoyed it from start to finish. Unnecessary mentions of various San Francisco vegan coffee shops, cringe-y sex scene, a few messy plot points, somewhat strained meditation on ethics - but it’s just one of those books that is original and oddly charming. 

 
A return to the early Harry Potter years, reading my original copies on my parents' farm and basking in the magic of nostalgia.

A return to the early Harry Potter years, reading my original copies on my parents' farm and basking in the magic of nostalgia.

This Must Be the Place by Maggie O'Farrell

Maggie O’Farrell is a talented writer. I am always impressed by her stories, characters, and words. This story, especially on the surface, is her least relatable, but it did have a good grip once I allowed myself to not like the main character. I don’t usually need to like characters to like a book, but something about Daniel Sullivan, the American linguist married to an enigmatic and reclusive film star, left me somewhat resistant to attempts to imagine his experience deeply and complexly. I overcame this personal setback, though, and found that I was rewarded with an intricate tapestry of intertwining relationships explored with O’Farrell’s impressive psychological sensitivity and beautiful writing. This isn’t my favourite O’Farrell, but I found myself thinking deeply about family and love, and the varied levels of understanding that complicate different kinds of relationships. O’Farrell’s delicate hand elevated what I found to be a somewhat unappealing story to a wonderfully compelling novel, ultimately made more powerful, I think, by my aversion to the central character. She writes some great sentences, cut through with truth and feeling: ‘We must pursue what’s in front of us, not what we can’t have or what we have lost. We must grasp what we can reach and hold on, fast.’

 
A book club pick with a Sherlock Holmes inspiration. Another instalment of Sarah J. Maas' addictive fantasy. THE PLAY that inspired so many thoughts and feelings.

A book club pick with a Sherlock Holmes inspiration. Another instalment of Sarah J. Maas' addictive fantasy. THE PLAY that inspired so many thoughts and feelings.

The Diviners by Libba Bray

I initially started this book when it was released several years ago but set it aside after it spooked me on a lonely night when I was just not up for ghosts and murders. It took me a while to return to it, but I knew I would—Libba Bray’s Gemma Doyle series is one of my favourites and I was definitely intrigued by how atmospheric the 1920s New York setting felt upon that first reading. Bray’s flair for magical realism with gothic overtones fits this setting and story perfectly. At the heart of the novel is a chilling murder mystery, with a ghostly twist. But the story’s greatest strength lies in Evie, sent to New York to live with her eccentric uncle after causing trouble back home in Ohio. She is a wonderfully flawed, charmingly exuberant despite her naiveté…and she has a special talent that could help solve the string of mysterious murders. There is a lot going on in this book, and at times it felt like a bit too much, too many characters to care about, but I’m excited to continue on with the second instalment (I’ve already started reading because I was so engrossed I was in this story I had to keep reading).


As you can see, even when I appear to have vanished from the Internet - you can still expect to find me in the leaves of a book. Tomorrow I'll be back with an ambitious autumn TBR so there will be more books and more reading. I can never stay away from the books.

Until next time, friends. TTFN! 

Summer Revamp

Something about summer still fools me into believing that there are endless possibilities for improvement. Hence the new blog design. Well, if you can call it a 'design' when it's really just a header. I'm such a sucker for summer. And everyone knows that summer is a time for reinvention - in high school there were always a few people who arrived on the first day of school as a completely new person. Three months of freedom to find the new you. Of course, I don't really have the same kind of summer. I certainly don't have a three month break. But I am invigorated with the spirit of summer to revamp my online life at least. So far this has involved a new header for the blog. It's the blog's new summer haircut. 

In other news, you'll notice that I've added a helpful tagline for the site - In The Leaves, a book blog. So just in case you ever forget, it's right there at the top of the page. So now it's official - I will be talking about books.

So, what will summer bring? 

 

Summer Goals & Plans

Life Plans

I am so happy to be moving to London full-time. Over the past two years, I've spent 3-4 days each week in York, but the cross-country, 2-city lifestyle is finally coming to an end.  I'm moving out of my York house at the end of June. I am particularly excited to have a proper London summer. Despite living in London for 18 months before my PhD, and despite living part-time in London these past few years, I have yet to have a real London summertime. Hopefully this year I won't be locked away in the library and I know I won't be escaping to the countryside, so I'm going to make the most of the summer city, when I'm not travelling that is. 

 

Travel Plans

You can definitely look out for some travel reading lists because I will be travelling quite a bit this summer. In July I will be going on a detox holiday to Mykonos - I have plans to unplug completely for a whole week. Then, I'm returning to Maryland for my cousins wedding at the end of July and staying on the farm for a few weeks. I'll also be visiting San Francisco in August, maybe Cape Cod as well. So, actually when all is said and done my London summer will be quite brief. 

 

Reading/Blogging Plans and Goals

This summer, I will be taking on a few reading challenges and sharing a lot of my summer reading here on the blog. 

At the end of the summer I'll be seeing Harry Potter & the Cursed Child, the new play on the West End, & you know I love any excuse to re-read the original Harry Potter books. I usually listen to the Jim Dale audiobooks (see my post extolling my love for Jim Dale's reading here), but summer is always a great time to sit down and read the series. I have such great memories reading the series on my parents back porch when I was younger. Summer is always in my mind as a Harry Potter season because of all the happy memories I have leading up to the new releases. For this re-read, I'm planning to share the journey with the blog so keep an eye out for Potter posts.

I am also tackling a few big 'classics' this summer. I generally dislike the term 'classics' as it's confusing given the traditional use of the term to refer to classical texts (i.e. ancient Greek and Roman). But that's neither here nor there. There is something about summer that makes me excited to read famous, long novels. This year I'm hoping to spend some time with Tolstoy and Proust and maybe George Eliot. It's daunting, but I love a challenge.

A project that will be stretching on beyond the summer is a refresh of my Spanish language skills. Part of this is going to be reading Don Quijote in the original. I've read parts of the book in Spanish before and I've read parts of it in English, but I've never read the whole thing cover to cover in either language. This is going to be a doozy of a challenge, but I'm really excited about it. And maybe next year I can do the same with my French language skills and read Proust in the original. 

And of course I will be doing quite a lot of holiday/travel reading so I'll be sharing those experiences as well!


It's going to be an exciting summer for my reading life and I'm hoping to share all of the fun here on the blog. You may have noticed that my style is a little more casual and conversational and that's something I have been really enjoying, a more laid-back style. When I'm stressed, this blog is often the first thing on the chopping block for my daily schedule (hence the massive hiatuses), but with a more relaxed format I think it'll be easier for me to just stop by and ramble a bit about books, even when I'm busy. Anyway, I hope you're ready for some bookish rambling. And please do stick around if you want to celebrate a summer of reading with me! 

 

Do you have any summer reading challenges this year? What are you most looking forward to this summer?

 

Currently {2}

Wednesdays are a time for taking note here on the blog, focusing on the ‘Currently’, a mid-week check-in. The book community is often focused only on reviews, the final, completed thoughts. I’d like to reclaim some of the journey of reading, the in-between time. To focus on the experience along the way. Of course I’ll still be sharing my Currently Listening as well—I love creating playlists each week, setting the tone for that week’s specific feelings and experiences. It’s all part of my current status.


Currently: Reading

I’ve despaired on Twitter about my current state of reading—I recently moved all of the books I own that are on my imminent TBR (as opposed to the long-term TBR of life) to a shelf in my bedroom…which has resulted in a complete overload. I’m like a little kid in a candy shop when it comes to choosing a book to read before bedtime. During the day I just carry around my Kindle and read whatever I have on loan from the library, but my bedtime reading is usually a time to really get into a book. But there are just so many now, right next to my bed, calling out to be read. I’ve started 7 different books on the bedroom TBR…now I just wish I had a day of reading to devote to each one. 

My main read this week has been my Kindle book, which I’ve ben reading on breaks throughout the working day. 

The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

 

  • I haven’t read any Southern Gothic in a while, but it used to be a favourite genre of mine so I’m really enjoying the gothic, old Virginia/Appalachia vibes.
  • I know this series is beloved, but I still don’t know much about the story. I’ve been loving magical realism lately and this seems to fit the bill, at least in the opening chapters.
  • I’m going home to Maryland next week and I’ll have two weeks with limited Internet (and lots of reading time) so I’m quite hopeful that I’ll fall in love with the series so I can binge all four books.

Currently: Waiting On

Waiting on Wednesday is a series hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spines, be sure to stop by her blog to follow along!

Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler

Why did no one tell me that Anne Tyler had a new book out this year? New Anne Tyler books in consecutive years is just too much for my little bookworm heart. Her upcoming release is part of the Hogarth Shakespeare series, which includes literary retellings of some of Shakespeare’s iconic plays, reinterpreted into novel form and modern settings. Others in the series include Jeanette Winterson’s The Gap of Time and Howard Jacobson’s Shylock Is My Name. I’ve been meaning to read this series for ages—I can’t believe I let a new Jeanette Winterson novel pass my by for this long. Anne Tyler is tackling The Taming of the Shrew…which is not my favourite Shakespeare play. But if anyone can make me appreciate the story better, I’m sure it will be Anne Tyler.


Currently: Listening

You can always follow me on Spotify to see what I'm listening to. All of my weekly playlists are also collected into a big master playlist, here

After featuring one of my favourite songs last week—When My Time Comes by Dawes—I was inspired to go back and revisit one of my favourite, often overlooked albums. Cut to the weekend—I was working 12 hour days and all throughout I was listening to North Hills by Dawes, on repeat. In my personal music history, there are two or three albums that I’ve listened to nonstop throughout my young adulthood. Then there’s an album like North Hills, home to several songs that have seen me through difficult times, but as a whole I haven’t listened to the album very often since its release (in 2009—how the heck did 7 years pass by?!). Well, it caught me this weekend and I’ve fallen back in love not just with my favourite songs but also all the gems that I had forgotten about. That Western Skyline is another song that has kept me company through some difficult travels. God Rest My Soul, Take Me Out of the City, and Peace in the Valley hit so much closer to my heart now than when I was eighteen and just discovering the album.  

Once I stopped listening to North Hills on repeat, I returned to my usual musical landscape. My playlist this week is a bit of a hodgepodge, but what else is new? Thanks to Beyoncé and Ezra Koenig's weird 'collaboration' across media, I was reminded of one of my favourite songs from the early aughts (Maps by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, which eventually became my Guitar Hero showpiece). What a strange world we live in. Six years ago Ezra Koenig tweeted a riff on a Karen O lyric from '03, and in 2016 Beyoncé is inspired for her own song 'Hold Up'. Anyway, special mention goes to Paul Simon’s, Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes. Who doesn’t love this song? Every year I can’t help but listen to this song when the weather gets sunny and warm. It’s just one of those tracks that makes me happy, no matter what. 

 

What are you currently reading and listening to?

Top Ten Tuesdays: Teen Characters I Want To Know As Adults

 

 

TTT, or Top Ten Tuesday, is a blog series created and hosted by The Broke & the Bookish. Stop by their blog if you want to participate or follow along!

 

Characters from the books I read in childhood or in my teenage years have always stuck with me. So many of them feel like my friends, often some of my oldest and dearest friends even. But as much as I love returning to my old friends through re-reading, I have never been a fan of continuing series that just go on too long. Except Grey’s Anatomy of course. I don’t necessarily want to know a character’s whole life trajectory. I appreciate a story with an ending, even if it’s just a small snapshot from a life. But this topic was a really fun one for me, imagining where some of my favourite characters would be if we were to meet now as adults (in this fantasy we’re all in our mid-20s). There are quite a few characters I would really love to check up on, to see what they’ve grown into. If only we could have a literary school reunion—seeing old friends who for so long were just stuck in time in memories and discovering how they’ve changed and grown. 


Characters I’d Love to Check In On 

 

Lyra, His Dark Materials

I love the ending of His Dark Materials. It’s heart wrenching, but I’ve always loved that Lyra sets off on a new path, especially one that includes higher education (I suppose that’s a very mild spoiler - Lyra plans to go on to study at the end of the series). She’s such a bright and bold character, and I really hope that she found a way to use both her mind and her passion to tackle the important issues she’s feels so strongly about. 

 

The Pevensies, The Chronicles of Narnia

One of my favourite things about The Chronicles of Narnia is how it comments on the fantasy of childhood innocence, but I have always wondered how the Pevensies faired in the real world. The Magicians series by Lev Grossma explores the complexity of childhood fantasy bleeding into adult life very well—and it’s just an amazing series in its own right, fascinating take on what it is to love a story as well as the ways fantasy can consume more than just the imagination. I would wish the Pevensies to have happy experiences in the real world, but I do worry about how they acclimated to post-war England. 

 

Luna, Harry Potter

Now, of course, I am looking forward to seeing the Cursed Child this summer and revisiting the Trio, but after Harry, Ron, and Hermione the next character I want to know as an adult is Luna. She’s so unique and fiercely herself. We know of course that she marries Newt Scamander’s grandson, but I’d just love to know what she’s up to and hear about all the impressive things she’s done in her life.

 
lyra pevensies luna.jpg
 

Maddy, Everything, Everything

I love when YA contemporary is done so well that I feel like I really know the protagonist and want to be her friend. This is definitely true for Maddy—she really comes alive in her story and she just thoroughly charmed me. I loved seeing Maddy come into her own and I have such bright hopes for her. I hope she really is living life extraordinarily. 

 

Vivi, When We Collided

Another new friend. Vivi is one of those characters that just caught my heart and I still just thinking about how I want her to have a great life. Vivi is one of the characters that is messy and bright and strong and I was in love with her immediately. I love that she has such unique aspirations to be a costume designer and I really hope she is living in New York, maybe London or Paris (although I suppose she’d likely live in LA in order to work on movies), with a gorgeous wardrobe and designing amazing costumes. 

 

Eleanor, Eleanor & Park

I am just so fond of my favourite teens from contemporary YA. I have high hopes for Eleanor. She's an amazing young woman and I really hope she was able to leave the midwest and find adventure in New York or California...

 
maddy vivi eleanor.jpg
 

Remy & Dexter, This Lullaby

Fans of Sarah Dessen can catch a glimpse of Remy and Dexter in Just Listen, but they are only a few years removed from their own story. I would love to catch up with them later on. I know not many relationships from the summer after high school last, but I do have such a soft spot for these two so I am stubbornly believing that they are out there on the road together with the band.

 

Cassandra,  I Capture the Castle

I want to read all of Cassandra's novels because surely she realises her dream and becomes a great writer. And I just want to make sure she's happy and has explored the world beyond the castle.

 

Franny & Zooey, Franny & Zooey

Some people probably have no interest in knowing about any of the Glass family, but I have always had a great affection for Franny and Zooey. I hope they have happy lives, free from self-consciousness and intellectual angst. I related so much to Franny and Zooey when I first met them in my own college years, so I want to check in with them to see how they're doing. Hopefully they found happiness.

 
remy cassandra franny.jpg
 

Do you have any favourite characters you'd like to check in on after their stories end?

Recommended: Lisa Kleypas, Tessa Dare, & Sarah Maclean

Maybe you're surprised to see a Recommended post for romance novels. Well, I hope you can get over your shock and keep an open mind for this post. I feel no need to write a think-piece on reading romance novels, though. There's a lot of stigma related to the genre, just as there's a lot of stigma attached to anything relating to female pleasure, or female fantasy, or female-centred stories in general. But I'm not going to be the one to tackle that issue, except to say that it’s idiotic and sexist. 

My philosophy when it comes to reading is to read anything and everything. Yes, sometimes I need to be challenged by literature. But sometimes I just want to indulge in something sweet and fun. Lately, I've been choosing the fun, fluffy reads over the serious ones, specifically historical romance novels. I sometimes cringe at describing a book as 'fluffy' or 'frivolous' - it's not my place to make sweeping judgments on the merits of different reading material or genre; it's all down to personal preference, and different readers find different things in their reading. Who's to say what's 'deep' or 'serious'? That said, for me, romance novels are definitely fun reads.

And anyway, just because a book is fun to read doesn't mean there's not something worthwhile to discover in the reading experience. As you may have guessed from my absence from blogging, 2016 has been busy and stressful. Reading romance novels hasn't just been a fun escape, it's also been a therapeutic experience when I’ve needed it. Romance stories are stories of love, yes, but the stories are also ones of courage in the face of vulnerability and characters discovering their agency in their relationships. And while the stories are addictive and formulaic, I’ve also found that they're filled with some real stuff, real feelings. I think the clichés of the genre are pretty great, too. The swoony bits, the ridiculous drama - kidnapping, fire, crazed ex-lovers and nemeses. I love it all.

Romance novels aren't for everyone, of course. I'm not going to go on too long trying to convince you to read them, but if you've been thinking that maybe you'd like to give a good historical romance a try - I am here to help! 

Also, for any of my fellow writers out there, if you've ever been a little lost when it comes to creating romantic tension between your characters, reading romance novels has really helped me with this. I've learned the clichés to avoid, which is definitely worth the research. But I've also learned how the best writers of romance create that exciting, irresistible feeling of attraction and tension. So many writers just push two characters together and hope the readers just believe that they like each other without spending any time developing any real attraction and heat in the relationship. Even if romance isn't the focus of a story, it can be really impressive when done well, especially as it's often a great tool for character development. 


So. Are you looking for a fun, swoony, devilishly good historical romance read?

 

First things first - Lisa Kleypas

These are the books that first grabbed me and I quickly fell under the spell of Kleypas’s storytelling. Her characters are wonderfully drawn, especially the friendships and family relationships. Lisa is particularly creative in throwing some drama in before the HEA (happily ever after in romance lingo). Kidnappings are quite common, but I won’t spoil some of her more exciting disasters. I love the drama—you know, my favourite episodes of Grey’s Anatomy are the annual tragedies/disasters. In the romance world, Lisa Kleypas novels are seen as good intro reading. The heroes are dashing, often troubled, and the feels are very real. The swoony bits are just steamy enough, but not too racy or distracting. I also love how the stories often feature self-made heroes and families from outside the ton (Regency-speak for the aristocracy/upper-crust). I will be sharing my favourite Lisa Kleypas characters and couples in a separate post because that’s how much I love her books. For now, I highly recommend both her Wallflowers and Hathaways series. Like many historical romance writers, Lisa Kleypas has created a large cast of characters that populates the world of her books so you’ll usually see familiar faces in the different books. If you want to start at the beginning, to make sure you’re introduced to all the characters before spotting them in later appearances, start with the first Wallflower book Secrets of a Summer Night. I started with the Hathaways series (first book Mine Till Midnight), though, and I don’t think it spoiled anything to see some of the Wallflower characters before I read their books. And although I love both series, the Hathaways definitely stole my heart. I love to see sibling relationships represented, especially in big families, and the Hathaways are my favourite family in 19th-century England by far.

 

Recommended

 
 

Tessa Dare

My very first romance novel ever was by Tessa Dare, one of her Spindle Cove series. I didn’t return to her books and become a proper fan until I picked up When a Scot Ties the Knot, though. Now, I’m going back and reading all of her other books because how did I miss out on them?! Tessa Dare’s books are all just so utterly charming. Her heroines are witty and headstrong and just my kind of gals. As much as I appreciate some good drama and heart-ache, I also really appreciate Tessa Dare’s humour. Her books always put a silly smile on my face. The banter is top-notch, people. When a Scot Ties the Knot is definitely the place to start, especially if you’re fond of the trend for swoony Highlanders…apparently that’s a thing? I can get behind the trend if all the romantic Scots are like Logan MacKenzie (the cover is quite classic - not sure why that Scot is shirtless, but that sash definitely isn't going to keep him warm in Scotland). 

 

Recommended

 
 

Sarah Maclean

I am in the midst of a read through of Sarah Maclean right now. So far I can say with certainty that her Love By Numbers series is one of my new favourites. I’m reading her second series The Rules of Scoundrels and it’s really darn good. I love when a scoundrel falls in love, perhaps even more than when rogues fall in love. Side note: how great are scoundrels and rogues? If only modern-day scoundrels and rogues weren’t actually just unbearable jerks (that said, I would never actually recommend anyone to have a romantic relationship in real life with anyone even remotely similar to most of my favourite romance heroes). Anyway, Sarah Maclean’s books are perfect for those of us who like our heroes to be properly tortured and brooding. Her heroines are also gems and it’s great to see some representation beyond the usual 21 year old beauty—30 year olds can fall in love, even in Regency England and even if they’re tall or curvy or plain. I’m especially fond of Eleven Scandals to Start, but I admit some bias for Italian heroines given my own family background. 

 

Recommended

 
a rogue by any other name.jpg
 

These three writers make a great historical romance starter pack. If you’ve ever wondered what the heck is so great about romance novels, just check out these books. And if an English PhD says romance novels are good reads, I hope you can take her word for it.