bookish

To Voyage Through Time

Another year has passed, and more books have been read, allowing me to voyage through time. Looking back over my Goodreads list, I am reminded of the best books I read throughout 2018. Unlike 2017, I exceeded my reading goal. While I strived for 75, I completed the challenge at 114 books!

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Some stories made me laugh, others broke my heart completely, but what follows are my favorite books of 2018:

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1.) The Song of achilles by madeline miller

The battered copy of this book sat on my shelf for years. I must admit, the idea of reading this terrified me, because it was the best friend’s favorite. There was too much pressure. But I asked him so many months ago when I should finally read it, and he said, save it for the sun. So I took this worn copy on vacation. With the sound of the ocean and the too-warm breeze, I experienced the utter beauty and heartbreak that is this book. And somewhere along those many pages, this book became my favorite, too. I shared it with my other best friend, and now the three of us have collectively been ruined by this stunning story. I even received my own used copy, and I can’t wait to reread.

“And perhaps it is the greater grief, after all, to be left on earth when another is gone.”

 

2.) The Rules of Magic by alice hoffman

Since childhood, Practical Magic has been one of my favorite movies. So when I discovered Alice Hoffman had released a prequel to that beloved story set in 1960’s New York City, I knew it would be good. I had no idea it would be such an all-consuming read. It was both devastating and hopeful, filled with magic that was all-at-once practical and haunting. This is another book I can’t wait to revisit.

“When you truly love someone and they love you in return, you ruin your lives together. That is not a curse, it’s what life is, my girl. We all come to ruin, we turn to dust, but whom we love is the thing that lasts.”

 

3.) the wicked deep by shea ernshaw

The promise of a novel filled with the essence of both Practical Magic and Hocus Pocus is fulfilled by reading Shea Ernshaw's debut. Within these pages is a story filled with regret, revenge, lies, and most of all, love. And every bit of this summertime story is just as wicked and deep as the title assures. To read more about my thoughts, check out my review, “So Easily Conjured.

“Perhaps we all have some oddity, some strangeness we keep hidden along our edges, things we see that we can't explain, things we wish for, things we run from.”

 

4.) circe by madeline miller

After finishing Miller’s debut, The Song of Achilles, I was excited to read her sophomore novel. Being obsessed with Greek mythology, I couldn’t wait to start reading this. With the combination of heartbreak, fierce femininity, and witchcraft, I was in love. Now I’m left looking forward to whatever Madeline Miller writes next.

"Humbling women seems to me a chief pastime of poets. As if there can be no story unless we crawl and weep.” 

 

5.) the immortalists by chloe benjamin

As someone who enjoys the mysteries of tarot and prophecy, this novel, which begins with the Gold children discovering the day they will die was a perfect read. What follows are five decades filled with family, ambition, dysfunction, and belief. The unbelievably flawed characters within this narrative fear and follow their fate, and the result is both stunning and devastating.

“The power of words. They weaseled under door crevices and through keyholes. They hooked into invididuals and wormed through generations.” 

 

6.) my ariel by Sina Queyras

My unending love of Sylvia Plath led me to this collection of poetry. Sina Queyras explores the pull many feel to Plath’s last collection Ariel, taking inspiration from the groundbreaking text while still making it her own. After following the Plath Poetry Project myself, I recognized some of the most beautiful and horrific themes from Plath’s work, making this one of the most memorable collections I read all year.

“How can I escape the force of her narrative, how she pulls everyone and everything into her design?”

 

7.) my year of rest and relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh

Upon the recommendation of a coworker, I went into this book expecting some kind of Jane Austen story, but I suppose I was judging too heavily on the cover. What followed was one of the most unlikeable narrators I’ve read in some time, but whom I continued to enjoy page after page for that very reason. Following the year of this unnamed character as she tries to escape the resentment of her past with sleep, much of this story reminded me of The Bell Jar. As such, this book was one of the most surprising and satisfying reads all year.

“But I think I was also holding on to the loss, to the emptiness of the house itself, as though to affirm that it was better to be alone than to be stuck with people who were supposed to love you, yet couldn’t.” 

 

8.) What if it’s us by becky albertalli & adam silvera

Going into this book, I thought about how much I enjoyed Love, Simon and how devastated I was with They Both Die At the End (the title says it all, and yes, it almost made this list). While this book did make me cry, it wasn’t in the same way as the latter. As someone who loved Dear Evan Hansen, who has a fierce appreciation of musical theater, and of course, Hamilton, I absolutely devoured this book. At times adorable, heartwarming, and so honest, this was one book I can’t wait to return to when life gets rough and I need some happiness brought back into my world.

“I just think you’re meant to meet some people. I think the universe nudges them into your path.” 

 

9.) wink poppy midnight by April Genevieve Tucholke

Since its debut, I’ve wanted to read this gorgeous book. Upon reading, however, I had no idea how dark and twisted this story would be. But I loved every moment within Wink, Poppy, and Midnight’s connected lives.

“People aren't just one thing. They never, ever are.”

 

10.) dark sparkler by amber tamblyn

I wasn’t sure what I was expecting from this collection of poetry written about actresses lost before their time. But it wasn’t the haunting beauty of this book. Throughout reading, I found myself stopping to look up these tragic stories, or recalling the times I’d heard of these women before. Overall, the experience was somewhat obsessive, so I haven’t read again since, but it is a collection I continue to think about almost a year later.

“I’m told Galileo wept at how big his hands looked, how small they felt, while pointing at the stars.”

 

11.) belzhar by meg wolitzer

Another book brought into my life based on my love of Sylvia Plath, became one I so loved. This was a story I talked about at work and at home and one that truly surprised me, which as a writer, is often a difficult feat. The narrative tackles ideas of lost love, isolation, memories, and writing. With obvious connections to The Bell Jar, I found myself enthralled as these characters tried to bring themselves back to life.

“Books light the fire—whether it’s a book that’s already written, or an empty journal that needs to be filled in.”

 

12.) the night circus by erin morgenstern

Technically this book was a reread, but this time, I enjoyed the story as an audiobook. This second read reminded me why I so loved this story the first time around, and truly came to life through the audio rendering. I found myself getting lost in the circus, and wishing it were real long after the story was through.

“We lead strange lives, chasing our dreams around from place to place.”

 

13.) the bees by laline paull

As a writer obsessed with honeybees, this story told from the POV of a bee was an absolute delight. This story handled the beauty and horror of what happens in hives, culminating in a terrifying tale of Flora 717.

“You have wings and courage and a brain. Do not annoy me by asking permission."

 

14.) malagash by Joey Comeau

This strange little book found its way to me during one of my many visits to The Strand in New York City. It was one, which sat on my shelf for too long until I took it on this year’s vacation. It would’ve been difficult for even the best of books to follow The Song of Achilles, yet this story still captivated me. Told from a daughter about to lose her father, Sunday attempts to create a computer virus that will preserve her dad forever. It was a beauty and a barrage of heartbreak.

“And if words mean something to you, if an idea moves you, aren't you changed, just a little?”

 

15.) tiny beautiful things: advice on love and life from dear sugar by cheryl strayed

Narrated by Cheryl Strayed, this collection of advice columns, both dazzled and destroyed me as I listened to the audiobook. So many of the anecdotes and advice were profound examinations of humanity and how we try our best to survive. I can’t wait to own a copy of this for myself to go back and discover the beautiful writing that stuck me so completely the first time. 

“Don't surrender all your joy for an idea you used to have about yourself that isn't true anymore.” 

 

16.) grief is the thing with feathers by max porter

I purchased this book for the best friend long before reading Ted Hughes’ Crow. However, it wasn’t until after my love of Sylvia Plath led me to the aforementioned title that I found my way back to this book. It was an oddity, to say the least. But one which examined the profundity of loss and grief in the most vulnerable way. This definitely is a strange read, as Crow helps two young boys and their father work through their grief for the mother and wife they’ve lost. I think I enjoyed this a smidgen more than the best friend for having knowledge of Hughes’ work. But this stunning story is one that can be enjoyed by anyone who’s felt the echo of losing someone they love.

“Ghosts do not haunt, they regress. Just as when you need to go to sleep you think of trees or lawns, you are taking instant symbolic refuge in a ready-made iconography of early safety and satisfaction. That exact place is where ghosts go.” 

 

17.) i am not your final girl by claire c. holland

Another book purchased for the best friend, this collection reminded me of everything I loved about Amber Tamblyn’s collection. These poems follow different fictional female characters from horror films. It is a timely collection, which tackles violence, femininity, and the act of surviving.

“There is nothing else in this world like realizing you’re going to live and not being sure you can.”

18.) these are the women we write about by kayla king

This might be cheating, but if I am being truthful, this book is both my favorite read and proudest accomplishment of the year. Inspired by the women within Greek myths, my micro collection of poetry examines femininity, both past and present. I hope if you are reading this post that you might take the time to discover the women we write about, but never really know.

“I’m still too brilliant to become anything else. But I’m not sorry for what I’ve written.”

As I dive into some new books this year, I can’t wait to be transported to different worlds and to voyage through time, book after book! 

Want to know more about the books I read in 2018? Be my friend on Goodreads

All best,Kayla King.png

So Easily Conjured

The promise of a novel filled with the essence of both Practical Magic and Hocus Pocus is fulfilled by reading Shea Ernshaw's debut, The Wicked Deep. Within these pages is a story filled with regret, revenge, lies, and most of all, love. And every bit of this summertime story is just as wicked and deep as the title assures. 

From the beginning, the haunting lyricism with which Ernshaw conjures her story is enough to draw readers in, and what's more, drown them entirely in beautiful language. The style blends a contemporary narrative with historical elements given through the titled chapters spread throughout the entirety of the novel. Though the narration of these titled chapters does not follow the linear action of the novel, they are just as captivating as the world seen through Penny Talbot's eyes. Penny believes deep in her bones that the three Swan sisters who were drowned in the harbor of Sparrow, Oregon 200 years ago, do indeed return each summer to drown as many teenage boys as they can. It becomes most clear that "magic was not always so linear. It was born from odium. From love. From revenge." And what begins as a story of revenge soon becomes one filled with love. 

Throughout the story, tensions remain high, stakes fraught with the impending deaths of innocent boys. There is a ticking clock to keep readers swept up in the urgency of the story; the Swan season wanes toward the summer solstice, which marks the day the sisters were drowned after being accused of witchcraft so many centuries ago. Like the descendants of Salem, Marguerite, Aurora, and Hazel Swan were not witches. Yet, they're resurrected every summer, taking over the bodies of young girls in town before slipping from the skins back to the ocean below. It's a rather dire set of circumstances in a town that knows entirely too much of their tragic fates, best explained within the narrative:

"Murder. That's precisely what it is. Calling it a curse does not unmake the truth of what happens here each year...It's as predictable as the tide and the moon. It ebbs and flows. Death comes and goes." 

Held within those few lines is the essence of the story, that constant sway between life and death, killer and victim. And the villains of the story, those Swan sisters with the ability to lure boys to their deaths, are proven to be just as flawed and complicated as any good antagonist should be. What was most unexpected, however, was how their villainy washed away as their tragic fates were shared, making it hard not to accept their revenge.  Best explained by Penny, "Guilt slithers through me, a thousand regrets, and I wish for things I can't have: a way to undo all the deaths, to save the people who've been lost." 

The other characters within this novel are no less authentic. Everyone from Penny's grief-stricken mother to Bo, the new boy in town who hides something just as dark as the town; they all seem to hope for something better. As readers, we learn that "the truth slips between the edges of the lies." These people, like Penny, are broken. She misses her father. Her mother has been driven into darkness most maddening by the disappearance of her husband three years before, and Bo found his way to Sparrow filled with his own heartbreaks. At their core, they are all searching the shores for something. Like Bo explains:

"They're always reasons to stay. You just need to find one reason to leave." 

Shea Ernshaw's strengths within this debut do not merely lie at the bottom of an ocean filled with exquisite language, intricate history, and poignant characters, but rather imbue power into the story with elements of magical realism. The notions of curses and revenge, of momentary resurrection and ghosts might be hard to comprehend amidst the contemporary small town setting. But this is the farthest thing from a summer beach read because of the elements of magical realism woven throughout the narrative in a manner that seems so easily conjured. These details act as a juxtaposition to the haunting reality of death. From the forgetful cakes Penny's best friend's mother bakes, "intended to make you forget the worst thing that's ever happened to you--to wipe away bad memories," to the way Penny and her mother are able to divine the future by reading tea leaves; there is a hint of magic in everything. This acts as a way for the reader to better comprehend the strange events of Sparrow, Oregon, and thus, too, the characters to accept that something wicked most certainly comes from the sea.

Sparrow is a mysterious place, while Penny's home at Lumiere island acts as a protection against everything happening around her. The lighthouse is able to shine light onto the murky truths beneath the waves, and as such, the island becomes its own kind of character within the novel. Just as Penny and Bo gravitate toward the orchards and cottages, the reader, too, will feel bound to the island and the veil of safety it offers against the brutality of the risen sisters.

Reading the line, "Some places are bound in by magic. Ensnared by it," this feels like truth carefully crafted to encompass the marks we leave, even after we're gone. So too, does this truth: "Ghosts remain. But sometimes, the past is the only thing keeping a place alive...But it persists, because it must. Penance is a long, unforgiving thing. It endures, for without it, the past is forgotten." Throughout this book, there were many more lines and paragraphs, which took my breath as I drowned within them, ensnared by Ernshaw's skill to take the reader deep into her characters' lives. Lines resonate long after being read. None so much as:

"Perhaps we all have some oddity, some strangeness we keep hidden along our edges, things we see that we can't explain, things we wish for, things we run from." 

In the end, Shea Ernshaw's debut, The Wicked Deep, will leave readers under its eerie spell. Though this book is a standalone with a satisfying conclusion, it is clear that "endings are never so simple." And navigating this haunting tale to the last page will leave readers looking forward to whatever Ernshaw conjures next! 

All best,Kayla King.png

A Girl in a Coffee Shop, Or When did I Stop Reading for Fun?: A Guest Post

Contributed by Holley Long

The last semester of my senior year of college was the most stressed I have ever been, and if you know anything about college, that’s not supposed to be true. I myself had been dreaming of that last semester since my first, three years before, thinking about the filler classes I’d sign up for, like ballroom dancing and basket weaving. I’d watch every TV show on Netflix, I’d lay in the sun, I’d breathe.

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Instead, I decided to graduate early, so I had to cram my last degree requirements into the 18 hours I was allotted. I elected to write a senior thesis (creative, but still) and wrote through at least three drafts of a novella. I helped form a writing society on campus and completed a publishing internship, and between all that I tried to keep up with my own, personal writing.

Like I said: Stress.

It wasn’t anything I didn’t sign up for, and it helped my resume look a little less skimpy when I decided to apply for jobs after graduation, but it was a lot. One day, I was working in the campus coffee shop, on my third mocha and second chocolate muffin, writing furiously to finish a chapter of my thesis novella, and wondering if I should do my literature homework next or plan out a meeting for the writer’s society when I looked up, and saw a girl.

She was young, maybe a freshman, so girl seemed a fair term. She was dressed nicely, her hair and makeup neat, and carrying a small cup of whatever hot drink she’d decided to order. She hadn’t rolled out of bed that morning, throwing her hair into a hasty bun before putting on clothes from the top of her laundry hamper, having realized she had no more clean T-shirts. Her drink, more than likely her first of the day, probably didn’t have two shots of espresso because she was existing on three hours of sleep that morning. She looked the picture of stress-free living, which was completed when she reached into her bag and pulled out a book, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, and started to read from the first page. She became lost so easily in the pages, sipping her drink occasionally, like all that remained in the world was her and the story.

Eventually, I realized I was staring crazily at a complete stranger and I averted my eyes. But everything about that scene stuck with me. As a writer, all kinds of people and scenes stick with me as possible characters and settings, but this was different. For the first time, seeing someone so calm sitting just a few tables away from the madness of my own set up didn’t strike the writer in me. Instead, it struck the reader in me, someone I’d forgotten.

Being an English major (even just being a writer) meant it had been a very long time since I’d read anything for simple, pure enjoyment. With my reading lists stacked as high as they were, for classes, for my thesis, for research for whatever I was writing at the time, I just couldn’t justify sliding in anything that I could read for just…fun. In fact, the last time I could remember reading anything without hoping for some kind of gain from it was when I was reading children’s books, like Harry Potter.

When I want to sound smart, I tell people my favorite book is Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. When I’m being honest, I say my favorite book is Flipped, by Wendelin Van Draanen. If you’ve never read Flipped (a darn shame, if you ask me), then I’ll give you a quick overview: an eighth grade girl, Juli, has loved the boy next door since he moved to town when they were seven. The boy, Bryce, is not so much a fan of her affection. Though Juli can’t put her finger on what she sees in Bryce, beyond his darling blue eyes and thick dark hair, she does not relax in her endeavours to be noticed by him, until one day Bryce shows his true colors. As Juli’s feelings begin to wane, however, Bryce starts to see Juli in a new light, one more awe-inspiring than he’d originally cast on her. Thus, their situations…flip.

It’s a cute book. It’s short, and sweet, and packs a lot into its pages. I’ve read it so often I can quote lines in casual conversation, and at the end I always wish for a sequel, even though the author has explained so many times why there isn’t going to be one. Sometimes I think it might have been the book that made me decide to be a writer, but back when I read it for the first time it was just a story, filling the heart of a preteen girl.

Though Flipped left a lasting impression on me, I didn’t read it for anything more than what the story offered. The same is true for my other childhood reads: The Babysitters Club, A Series of Unfortunate Events, Nancy Drew, and, yes, Harry Potter. That’s not to say these books didn’t offer anything; on the contrary, they’ve given more than most of the “adult” books I’ve read to this date. But I didn’t want anything from them other than a good tale that made me feel less alone in the world. Back then, reading was new, and joyful, and not fuel my own creations.

When the girl left the coffee shop that day, long before I’d finished the million things on my to-do list, I wanted what she had, or at least what I perceived her to have (I’m not going to try and pretend to know what kind of life she lived; for all I knew, her life was busier than mine). I wanted to sink into a book, and not think about what it could teach me for a class or for my writing. I wanted to just be in the story, no ulterior motives.

I’m not there yet; even after graduating some few months after that day, I still choose books based on what I’m writing. I feel compelled to, as I try and build my writing career day by day. One day, though, I will search my shelves for that old favorite. I’ll pull it from its spot, running fingers over the worn cover and dog-eared pages. I’ll sit down with a cup of coffee (De-caf!), not a care in the world, and flip to page one.

 

About Holley Long

I'm Holley, and I like to write things that make readers say, "Hmmm..." I'm a graduate of the University of Alabama's English and Creative Writing program, and currently I work at a news station as a digital reporter. My blog is A Writer's Life For Me (awriterslifeforme.com), where you can read all about my trials and tribulations as an aspiring author. I have multiple works in progress, and my biggest flaw is sticking to just one. I live in the South with a cat and a handful of people who don't quite get my writing life but who are always there to cheer me on.

Thanks for sharing, Holley!

All best,Kayla King.png

These Are a Few Of My Favorite Reads

Last year around this time, I set a Goodreads goal of reading 100 books. All this time later, I can't say I achieved this goal. And maybe any other year, this would have been more of a disappointment, but in the past year I've faced more rejection and accomplishment than I ever expected. Maybe those things happened at the cost of not reading as voraciously as I have in the past, but that doesn't mean I love reading or books any less.

 

In fact the 52 books I did read, helped me appreciate the craft and writing and helped me fall in love with reading all over again! 

 

 

What follows are my favorite books from 2017:

 

1.) The Careful Undressing of Love by corey ann haydu

This was the first book I read in 2017, and it set high standards. With beautiful, lyrical writing, and heartbreaking characters, this promised a great year of reading.

 

2.) The Secret Lives of People in Love by simon van booy

I remember texting the best friend asking if he'd ever had a sentence break him, because I was breaking beneath the beauty of this short story collection.

 

3.) Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

Though this was technically a reread, I did listen to the audiobook version for the first time and Lin Manuel Miranda brought this story to life. 

 

4.)The Collected Poems: Sylvia Plath by sylvia plath

Starting the Plath Poetry Project in April, I used this collection as a road map month by month. Though there's not much left of Sylvia's last year, there are more than enough poignant poems within this collection.

 

5.) Heartless by MARISA meyer

This is one of those audiobook listens I now need to own in hard copy because I can't wait to read this again. Taking all my favorite things: Wonderland, retellings, and villain backstories; this story was one I haven't forgotten!

 

6.) We Are Okay by nina lacour

Fun fact: this is one of the comp. titles I've used for my book while out in the query trenches! Nina's work was all at once heartbreaking and reviving, and this, too, is another audiobook I *need* to own!

 

7.) Caraval by stephanie garber

Filled with fun, adventure, and illusion, I'm thrilled to know the sequel will be coming soon. This was another fantastic audiobook listen that truly took me into the world of Caraval!

 

8.) Ten Miles One Way by patrick downs

This was the first book I started after moving this year, and it was one I anticipated because I loved the freshman novel by this author (Fell of Dark). However, I finished this book beside the best friend while on the subway heading to the Cloisters in NYC. As the characters traversed a city, so did I, and I couldn't imagine reading this haunting book any other way.

 

9.) Rome: Poems by Dorothea Lasky

Though originally a birthday gift for the best friend, it is currently living on my shelf. I found within this poetry collection, a narrative voice similar to my own, and I continue to reread it now because it gets better each time.

 

10.) Like Water by rebecca podos

While reading this book, I had so many thoughts of, "just one more chapter," and then, all too soon, I was finished. It was a book that demanded to be read and felt and I haven't forgotten Vanni or her summer at Mermaid Cove.

 

11.) Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them: Illustrated edition by newt scamander/j.k. ROLLING, illustrated by Olivia Lomenech Gill

Loved the movie. Loved the audiobook. But there is something about the illustrations that really brought Newt's work to life!

 

12.) Turtles All the Way Down by john green

I must confess I was nervous to read this for fear I wouldn't like it as much as John Green's other books. But this story made it's way to the #2 spot in my John Green favorite ( 1.) Looking For Alaska, 2.) Turtles All the Way Down, 3.) Will Grayson Will Grayson, 4.) The Fault in Our Stars).

 

13.) Warcross by marie lu

Another audiobook that succeeded to transport me both with narration and storytelling. While I'm not a gamer by any means, there was still so much to enjoy from this book, as well as a nod to Lu's Legend series, which I devoured many years before.

 

14.) A History of the Unmarried by Stephen S. Mills

While I've also read this before, I'd never read it straight through, but rather read sporadically. Perhaps organizing my own poetry collection inspired me to read this the way Mills intended. Maybe not. Either way, this is another brilliant poetry collection.

 

15.) Whichwood by Tahereh Mafi

I’m embarrassed to say this is my first Tahereh Mafi book I’ve ever read, but rest assured, it will not be my last. I can’t wait to read the companion, Furthermore. Mafi brings readers into a world of the macabre with just enough humor to get through the brutality and honesty of loss and living after grief. 

 

16.) Harry Potter: A Journey Through the History of Magic by british library

One of my favorite Christmas gifts from my sister, I was most astonished by the story behind J.K. Rowling being picked up by Bloomsbury. Currently in the query trenches, Rowling's struggle resonated with me beyond the pages of this book.

 

17.) The Wicker King by K. Ancrum

Fun fact: this is the other comp. title I'm using for my book, which is currently in the query trenches. Ancrum's work is haunting, beautiful, and human. I can't wait to see more from this author in the future!

And I can't wait to see what's in store for this new year of reading! 

Want to know more about the books I read in 2017? Be my friend on Goodreads

All best,Kayla King.png

The Careful Undressing of Curses

Corey Ann Haydu's newest novel, The Careful Undressing of Love, offers an interesting premise: the girls of Devonairre Street are cursed. Any boy they love is destined to die. We are introduced to Lorna, one of the Devonairre Street girls for whom this curse is part of every day life. And to make matters in this book even more complicated and intriguing, these girls live in an alternate version of the Brooklyn we know. 

Haydu gives us a world in which Times Square was bombed in 2001, the Twin Towers still stand, and the world crumbles and rebuilds in much the same way our world has in the aftermath of 9/11. This works as a significant underlying disturbance to the other moving pieces within this novel, and is handled with the understanding that one event has the power to incite change. As someone who was young when the Twin Towers fell, I've had to live through such changes; our world is also one which exists in the after.

Instead of studying the who and the why of such events in a history book, Haydu's characters must study the history of those "Affected." This small change to the realities of our world depicts a poignant look at history, and a way to further alienate the main protagonist, Lorna, as she deals with the death of her father from the tragic bombings. She must live with the notion that she is now one of the Affected, whom people study and memorize and remember. Such is a difficult idea to live with in a world where devastation is commonplace, where lemons are used to handle grief, and where tea is to be consumed with more honey than anything else. But even those things can't keep bad things from entering the lives of those who live on Devonaire Street. After all:

 "we can't stop the world from happening."

Haydu's literary realm is an odd world that is not quite magical realism, but which exists with a touch of those elements. While the premise is enough to intrigue any reader, the world building is rich, and real enough to feel like home. Haydu's characters are flawed and flirt wth the idea of love despite the fact that any boy a Devonairre Street girl falls in love with is then fated to die. It happened to Lorna's father, and her best friend's dad, and her other friends as well. Death has taken husbands and boyfriends, etc. But the curse doesn't feel real to the girls growing up in a world of after until a local love and friend to all on Devonairre Street is killed.

The reality of the curse seems justified. 

And still Lorna doesn't believe. Lorna doesn't want to believe. She has her garden and her mother and her friends and her boyfriend who she-doesn't-love-but-maybe-sort-of-could-love. It is all complicated in the best way. And through all of the many complications within the outside forces, i.e. the curse and the bombings, there are still the complications of the human heart. Most profoundly, Haydu writes:

"Maybe you never know if you're in love or not...Maybe no one knows, and we all wander around talking about it like it's something tangible and knowable, but actually we're all full of it. Maybe even the people who say they're in love are wondering is this what they meant?"

 

While Haydu writes with this same kind of philosophical musings in her characater, Lorna, this style never feels out of place. The Careful Undressing of Love is a literary YA novel with a lyrical language, which puts many adult works of fiction to shame. There is an essence of wondering about life and the world and love that we have all felt within our youths, which, perhaps, carry into the people we become as adults. Because there is such a lush and luxurious writing style within this novel, this will appeal to both young adult audiences and those older. After all, the best books in the world have been written about death and love and this book combines both aspects of life with a devastating sense of wisdom that only comes from losing those we most love. 

And then there are the girls (and boy, they are LornaCruzCharlotteDelilahIsla), and they offer the best that an ensemble cast of characters can: variety, authenticity, and more truth than can be handled in one sitting.

While I easily could have finished this book in one night, it was the kind of novel that I wanted to savor for fear that another of its kind won't reappear any time soon.

Then there are the mothers of these girls and the mother to them all, Angelika, who keeps the rules of Devonairre Street so they may never forget the men and the love and the curse that tears both things from them in time.

There are the rules: honey cake and shared birthdays and long hair and honey in lavender tea, gardens and benches and lemon trees. Lemons for grieving and wool to keep out heartbreak and love and loss. Skeleton key necklaces provide them with literal keys when they can't seem to find the key to the curse. They can't seem to break the cyclical nature of love and death and dying and loss and mourning the love. Though they try to fill those spaces with donuts for anniversaries and red and white braided bracelets,  whiskey and wine, music and memories and pictures; all the items they must keep for fear they might forget. It is enough to make one's head spin, but which Haydu writes into perfect clarity. Of course wool must be worn to funerals, and of course lemons must be offered to those suffering a doomed and damaged heart.

Then there are lines that break hearts beyond the page:

 "There is a quietness that is quieter than other silences. There is a line between what feels crazy and what feels acceptable, and when it's blurry, the world is a scarier place. There is a time of night when you haven't slept and anything seems possible. There is a kind of sadness that feels so heavy and tight that you would do absolutely anything to not carry it anymore."

 

Much of the book is composed of soul-searing prose that is so beautiful it has the power to break the reader. And there is more to learn about Lorna and the Devonairre Street girls between the pages of Corey Ann Haydu's newest novel, The Careful Undressing of Love

Writing this review, I'm listening to Lana Del Rey's song This Is What Makes Us Girls because it puts me back into Haydu's world of curses and love and loss.

At times heartbreaking and inspiring, this brilliant novel is sure to keep readers thinking about the cursed girls of Devonairre Street long after the story is finished. 

The Edge of Something Real

Tina Sears' debut novel, The River's Edge, is the kind of story that will bring readers to the edge of something real. Following the protagonist, Chris Morgan, during the summer of 1976, this novel is at times bright with the beauty of first love, friendship, and family, while maintaining a sense of secretive danger, which is compelling. 

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While the beginning of the novel introduces young adult readers to a time they may not know, Sears has painted such a realistic picture of summer in the 70s that may juxtapose the experiences of readers. But through these differences of time and place there is still the beautiful, but untouchable mean girl (Julie), the sweet boy next door (Reds), and a cast of other characters who offer a sense of escape for Chris as the summer carries on. Stakes are set high, because Chris must hide a dangerous secret from both family and friends. 

Tina Sears brings readers to the edge of childhood innocence and takes them across the line into the brutality of sexual assault. Such is handled with tact and care. In the vein of Ellen Hopkins, this debut author tackles topics which (still) too often appear as taboo within the YA literary world. Sears is unafraid to show the monsters in real life, but does so with careful consideration for her main character, Chris. This is not the kind of book that is gratuitous by any means, yet it shows just enough of the disturbing side of family secrets and sexual assault to convince the reader that Chris's fear is justified throughout the story. 

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Life continues on even as tragedy happens, just as it does in the real world beyond these pages. Chris's parents are struggling with the idea of divorce back home, her mother on the verge of her own darkness and depression. And then there is Reds, who is such a welcomed breath of innocence in a story that loses such to the act of violence. 

Throughout this summer of dance marathons and underage drinking, falling in love, and drowning in darkness, there is the river. The unpredictable way it flows forward, waters raging, serves as a sort of metaphor within the story. Chris's life becomes unpredictable, her own self raging at the fact that something has been stolen by someone she trusts. And we learn what has been taken can't be given back.

Despite the realization of what sexual assault takes from a person, especially one so young, there is also the revelation that there is bravery in overcoming such scars:

"We all have our scars to carry with us. Scars are a sign of bravery."

Throughout the course of this stark and authentic narration told from Chris's first person point of view, the reader grows closer to the urgency and terror that she feels, which only pushes the story forward at a fast-paced speed. While the content may disturb, readers will need to know that Chris is going to be okay. 

This is the kind of novel that offers an extra element of poignancy because of the times in which it is told. Without cell phones and other such technology there is the added element of isolation that takes Chris on the path to awakening. Such seems to be understood by the author and used as a tool to bring a story of this caliber to light. 

Perfect for fans of Ellen Hopkins, this novel is one filled with sweetness and sensibility, terror, truth, and above all else, bravery, and love. Chris is the kind of character who can help victims of similar situations to feel connected, while also bringing empathy to readers who may not understand such horrors.

The River's Edge is a haunting novel, which resonates long after the last page. Tina Sears is an author to watch in the future for further works that will contribute the same catharsis to our ever-darkening world. 

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Fangirling Over Fangirl

I just finished Rainbow Rowell's young adult novel, Fangirl, and I'm so sad it's over. Reading this book was like finding a piece of sea glass on the beach when you're not looking, like wishing on a fuzzy dandelion and having your wish come true. It was completely unexpected, but so rewarding in the end. Picking up this book, I knew it would be good; I'd already madly in love with Eleanor and Park when I read it back in January.

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There was something about Cath, Wren, Reagan, and Levi, which made them seem so real despite the fact that they are just characters in a book. They are flawed, imperfect, and speak their minds honestly. And for the short time I spent with them in this fictional world, they were like my best friends. I connected with Cath as a writer and lover of a fandom, which many people often snub. But luckily, like Cath, I've found friends who support my love of all things nerdy. I have family to supports me, too, and a love for the stories I've read, and the stories in my head. 

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I can't wait to go back and read this lovely piece of YA lit. again, but I'm also saddened because I'll never have the unknowingness the next time around. There is something so perfect and magical about reading a really good book for the first time. But there's also something wonderful about reading your favorite book again and again because you never read it the same way, even if the book doesn't change. You're the one who's changed. And because you've changed, there are certain lines you pay more attention to, which make you smile a little brighter, phrases to break your heart, and scenes that still make you cry. 

I think that's the beauty of all books. Having the ability to go back and spend time with some of your favorite people in worlds you enjoy is important to stay positive, to have faith in this world when bad things happen. And for me, it's even more important because it shows words and stories are still important, making me believe my words and my stories are important. too. And I can't wait to share them with the world. But until then, I think I'm going to fall into fictional place I love!

Book Love

Today, I wanted to give some much deserved book love to Cinder by Marissa Meyer.

I absolutely loved this book! It was refreshing to see Cinderella be more than someone scrubbing floors and wearing pretty dresses; Cinder is a bad ass female! The way Meyer twists the traditional fairytale, breathes new life into Cinderella, while all at once delivering nostalgic gems hidden within the text.

There is a beautiful moment in the story: 

 "If there was one thing she knew from years as a mechanic, it was that some stains never come out." 

Though simple, this seems to encapsulate everything, which later happens within this delightful retelling. It's exciting to see that other people are just as enthralled with fairytales as I am. I can't wait to read Scarlet and Cress, the next books in the wonderfully eerie Lunar Chronicles.

A Letter To Those Who Wish To Ban Books

Dear You,

You, who try to stamp out these books, which have not grown to harm our children, but rather, have sprouted from the hands and the souls of writers who were once children, who now wish to spark a flame in the mind, and to heal a wounded heart. You who try to say these books are not important, that stories are not important,  have you ever had someone say your story is not important to this world? 

How can you say that children should not see and hear the things that are happening around them? How can you say they should keep their noses out of books, and instead, pressed to the glass of school bus windows where children sit and talk with mouths full of words we'd rather they not speak? How can you say we shouldn't talk about the things, which hurt our children, and torture our children, that come up to our children with a plastic cup filled with beer or whiskey or whatever they can find to drown out the pain? Why would you rather they taste the booze between those sweet lips instead of tasting it through a voracious literary appetite? 

Why should we let girls struggle with weight and rape and the utter pain of a broken heart, alone? Why should we let boys treat girls like they don't matter? Why should we categorize and stereotype the experiences of these young adults? And for that matter, why should we call them young adults if we do not let them behave like adults who are young? 

Why would you take away a hunger for words trailed across the page like spaghetti, wound around the mind like pasta around the tines of a fork? Why would you discourage a belief in books, in magic, in wonderful words, which broaden the mind and make the world beautiful, and true? 

You see, I just don't understand. I am a believer in books. In words. I stories. But you see, I am a writer. And I am a reader. And I was a girl who walked through school hallways with bullies and wounds that could not be bandaged over. But you see, I did not become like those girls on the news. I did not become a statistic. Books rescued me. And that's why I can't understand why you'd take a book from the hands of our children and instead replace it with a smart phone. I can't understand why you'd let these things poison them from the inside out when words could heal them.

 I guess I'll never understand because I believe in books.

Just Another Drop In the Ocean

Yesterday, I briefly touched on my views of book banning, but figured I'd wait and do an entire post about this controversial topic today. Let me preface this post by saying I believe in books, and intend to fight for them as long as there is a fight to be had. As a voracious reader, and a writer who would like to be published someday, book censorship is a topic close to my heart.

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Recently, I found that a number of books, including Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye, were being challenged at my former high school. At first, I felt outraged, but then, I just felt saddened. Much of my writing grows from these more intense emotions, and this time was no different.

You can find my response to this news in a letter I wrote here. I've thought and stewed and simmered about this since the beginning of January, but I've finally done something about it. I sent a letter to the superintendent of my former high school, and included information to help her understand why no book should ever be banned. And I included why I thought The Bluest Eye held literary and personal importance for students. Then I added a wonderful article and manifesto from 2010 about the dangers of book banning, which you can find here. This is a beautiful and powerful manifesto written by one of my favorite YA authors, Ellen Hopkins. She has certainly seen her fair share of her own books being banned because of the tough topics covered therein. But I've always thought that was what made her books so uniquely important to young adults. 

Of course, I understand why books are being challenged. Books are the most dangerous weapons we have at our disposal; all at once having the power to broaden the mind and connect people, which, can be dangerous. And of course, I understand why canonical texts are used, why they're important, and how the Common Core is changing education. But still, I don't think censoring literature is the answer. 

Why am I talking about this here?

Do I hope all of you invisible readers out there will understand how important books are? Yes, of course. But I also want you to understand that you have the power to stand up for these books, for your ideas, and for your right to read. In my quest to begin a campaign against book censorship, I found a wonderful website, which reviews banned books and explains why they are important. You can find that website here.

I passed the website along to the superintendent as well, and then reached out to R. Wolf Baldassarro, the writer and publisher of that amazing website. I wanted to share my gratitude for his site, explaining how it helped me organize my thoughts around this campaign. He very graciously emailed me back yesterday, and thanked me! And then, he emailed me again with a link to his page where he not only thanked me, but said some very poignant and beautiful things about this cause. You can find his post here

In the post, he said something remarkable:

 "We are each of us a drop of water, but together we can wash away the fear and ignorance of the world."

So I suppose, though I am just a drop in this vast ocean of people fighting against book censorship, my drop makes that ocean bigger. His post ended by saying that "the ripples have begun. In time it shall become a tidal wave." I am hoping all of us, the readers and the writers of the world, can become that tidal wave.