COUNTDOWN BOOKS: The Girl At Midnight by Melissa Grey

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I do this thing with my calendar and my months and my books. Until I was writing this review, I didn’t really call it anything, but now I call it Countdown Books. As my family can attest, I LOVE the anticipation of waiting for something good, especially books. I keep up with my circle of authors, mark their upcoming releases in my calendar, and block out my night for the New Book Routine, pictured above. A margarita of some kind, salty chips, hot salsa, good queso, and that new book smell glittery Kindle case. I kind of can’t start the book without this routine. I mean, I’m sure I could test that theory, but why would I do that to myself? Hilariously, Tuesdays are Husband’s busiest day and Tuesday is the day new books release into the wild. It works well for us.

Because I flail about books on here so often, I bet it seems like a lot of countdowns and a lot books and a lot of queso (Amen) but it’s really not. Countdown Books are actually special and mostly rare. My GoodReads tells me I’ve read 71 books in 2015 and only two of those books have been Countdown Books. (Soon, it will be three because these two release weeks were GOOD TO ME.) Plus, I buy Countdown Books immediately and that takes budgeting an ethereal rain dance of wanting and purpose done months before.

Countdown Book days were easier and harder before I had a Kindle- I had to go FIND the book and GET the queso and that took a while, so I’d sit down to read in the evening sometime on such a Tuesday. Now, Amazon delivers the book at midnight the day before and I spend the daytime just staring at my closed Kindle, willing myself to wait a little more, just a bit longer, a few more hours… Husband rightly makes fun of me for this. Oh, well. Book Nerd Problems For Life.

I’ve decided to review all Countdown Books, for sure, and the rest of my book talks can continue to appear randomly from this weird and easily distracted brain of mine.

Here ya go- April’s Countdown Book!


TGAMThe Girl At Midnight by Melissa Grey

Genre: YA Fantasy Published: April 2015

Amazon | GoodReads | BookPeople

Shan’s Stars: 4 Stars

About The Book: “Beneath the streets of New York City live the Avicen, an ancient race of people with feathers for hair and magic running through their veins. Age-old enchantments keep them hidden from humans. All but one. Echo is a runaway pickpocket who survives by selling stolen treasures on the black market, and the Avicen are the only family she’s ever known.

Echo is clever and daring, and at times she can be brash, but above all else she’s fiercely loyal. So when a centuries-old war crests on the borders of her home, she decides it’s time to act.

Legend has it that there is a way to end the conflict once and for all: find the Firebird, a mythical entity believed to possess power the likes of which the world has never seen. It will be no easy task, though if life as a thief has taught Echo anything, it’s how to hunt down what she wants . . . and how to take it. But some jobs aren’t as straightforward as they seem. And this one might just set the world on fire.”

Eventually, I will write a post about books that I hate, because I know all my book posts are so gushy and lovey and flaily. So, I promise, one of these days I will find a bad book and rant about it. (I won’t. That’s sad.)

For now though, you’ll just have to deal with the fact that I found another book that I love. SORRY NOT SORRY.

I have a book buying rule: Shannon must buy the kindle copy first before she can buy a hard copy to take up space on her bookshelf. That’s why my five-star books are ones I HAVE reread books and the four-star books are the books I WANT to reread. I only buy paper copies of books I want to reread and pass down and that I want for the gorgeousness. If my book money for April didn’t go to THIS ebook already, I would be on my way to buy the hardback right NOW.

I’ve been looking forward to this book for so long and it did not let me down, I am relieved to say. I was nervous because I read a few comments about it being compared to a series I HATE (see? There. I don’t love all books.) and a few comments saying they “loved the pop culture references.” (I hate pervasive pop culture references in books. It dates a book.)

But come on! A book about a thief who lives in a library and has a friend with peacock feathers for hair? How could I not? And it turns out that most of the pop references were actually classic literature nods. I DO like that.

I read this book after reading three really gritty, hard, complex books, so to me, this book felt very light and shiny. That’s not to say it is fluffy or un-complex- it was just a welcome change of pace. The main girl is sarcastic and irreverent (Hi.) but her story is deep and demanding. We get a really good look at who she is now in this book, but I got the sense that the rest of the series will delve deeper into her past.

Grey’s fantasy world about the Avicen (bird race) and Drakharin (dragon race) long at war, is completely fresh (unless I missed a Folklore 101 class? I may have.) And Echo, the human runaway who is trying to find out how she fits into a world full of magic she can no longer ignore, is a sly heroine and made the book that much more fun to jump into.

What I liked most about this book was the way Grey crafts her words and doesn’t hesitate to let Echo say some hard things, mic-drop style, without stopping to teach a lesson. The bits of philosophy are what they are, Grey doesn’t turn anything into an after-school special, but she does give Echo some unapologetic wisdom. I like authors who do this. You know what I mean? They find a particular thought or emotion, wrap words around it, and leave the readers  thinking “Oh, THAT’S how you say that.”

This book had a few of those moments and, to me, that always gives books a certain edge and makes me appreciate them more.

Okay. That’s all. Anymore would be spoilers, and we alllll know how I feel about that.

GOLD MINE: Echo has a thing for obscure words and words that have no equivalent in the English language. And what is going to happen now is that I am going to tell you that I ALSO have a love of words, so this was amazing, but I don’t have any COOL words right now to prove it, but we are all going to keep our mouths shut because I’m only on my first cup of coffee today. Deal? Just know that you’ll come out of this book a bit smarter about words than you were before.

GOLD MINE, PART TWO: The city hopping, but that may just be my heart. Strasbourg was one of my favourite stops when I lived in England and honestly, to this very day, my heart still hurts and I am still mad at myself for not paying better attention when I lived there. And here’s the thing- I paid SO MUCH ATTENTION. For 6 months, I was up early, out late, reading, picturing, exploring, walking, learning…. I didn’t waste a second. But there was still SO MUCH TO DO. And I didn’t document the experience like I should have. I mean, I took SO MANY PICTURES. But I didn’t write down or journal about it in as much detail as I wanted to, because I was always going going going. Okay, maybe I did it right and this feeling is just the ache to return because memories aren’t enough. ANYWAY. Did I mention that there is traveling? I loved it.

For Fans Of: crossword puzzles, trivia games, dragons, Alice in Wonderland, cosmic brownies, and Ladurée.

Happy Independent Bookstore Day! Now go support some local businesses and buy a good book!

Cheers!

-S.

BOOK TALK: New Reads, Part…One?

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Ohhhh HEY y’all! Guess what day it is?? It is the very first National Independent Bookstore Day! That makes my actual heart beat a little faster for so many reasons, but the main reason, OF COURSE, is my book heart. We are all happy today.

I have a quite a few posts actually written and lined up for the next few weeks- I KNOW, who AM I?– but because today is all about books, I am shoving these posts to the front of the line.

ALSO: I’m adding links to the independent book store that is closest to me, as there is not one in this delightful and annoying town of mine. I’m working on that.

Here are some books I’ve read lately, the good, the bad, and the…well, no, I’m not going to talk about the ugly one, because that’s just not helpful. I go back and forth about that opinion in my mind quite a bit, but that’s just another discussion for another time.

SO. Let’s talk about a good sci-fi book and two not-so-good fairy tale books for “Adults.”

(Fairy tale retellings are a thing that I LOVE, by the way. I have no idea why. I do love fairytales, but even as a kid, I had so many questions about the stories. I wanted more, I wanted answers about what happened next, I loved studying the difference between the lore and the Disney versions, I REALLY WANTED TO FIND OUT HOW TO GET THE BEAST’S LIBRARY… you know, normal kid stuff. I guess that may be why I love fairytales written for the older crowd, for teens and adults. Here’s a tip though- do NOT google “Adult Fairytales.” I did NOT think that one through completely when I was searching for more retellings and I guess some lessons need to be learned the hard way.)

I took a few days to write this review because, as I’ve said, I like to let new books simmer for a while. A book can be really FUN to read but later I think “Hmmm. That entire thing made no sense and was, in fact, terrible.”  Plus, I read the good book after three really disappointing books, so it could’ve just been that my brain was so grateful for quality that it caused bias.

Happy Independent Bookstore Day, y’all! Go support some local businesses 🙂


ATPOYA Thousand Pieces of You by Claudia Gray

Genre: SciFi Published: November 2014

Amazon | GoodReads | BookPeople

Shan’s Stars: 4 Stars

About the Book: Cloud Atlas meets Orphan Black in this dimension-bending trilogy by New York Times bestselling author Claudia Gray about a girl who must chase her father’s killer through multiple dimensions. Marguerite Caine’s physicist parents are known for their groundbreaking achievements. Their most astonishing invention, called the Firebird, allows users to jump into multiple universes—and promises to revolutionize science forever. But then Marguerite’s father is murdered, and the killer—her parent’s handsome, enigmatic assistant Paul—escapes into another dimension before the law can touch him.

Marguerite refuses to let the man who destroyed her family go free. So she races after Paul through different universes, always leaping into another version of herself. But she also meets alternate versions of the people she knows—including Paul, whose life entangles with hers in increasingly familiar ways. Before long she begins to question Paul’s guilt—as well as her own heart. And soon she discovers the truth behind her father’s death is far more sinister than she expected.

A Thousand Pieces of You, the first book in the Firebird trilogy, explores an amazingly intricate multiverse where fate is unavoidable, the truth elusive, and love the greatest mystery of all.”

I came across this book while searching for a time travel novel to add to my reading challenge and the cover was so gorgeous, I was already semi-hooked as only a book nerd can be. Book cover judging is something that I’ve already mentioned… but look how pretty!!

I may have found this book while looking for time travel stories, but this book isn’t actually about time traveling. It’s about dimension traveling. And because some dimensions developed faster or slower than the dimension the book starts in, it has the feel of time travel because of the technology available (or not available) in each dimension.

ANYWAY- too much technical talk. This book was very fun and had a depth to the story that surprised me because most stories like this are too quick to really connect with the characters. The main character, Marguerite, is an artist growing up in home all about science, so she has a wonderful, eccentric mix of traits that translated very well into her voice telling the story and learning about the other characters through her eyes.

Because I’ve read/watched/soaked up so many stories, it’s kind of difficult to shock me with twists, but I will say there were a couple plot twists in this story that I really appreciated and that took the book from three stars to four stars, for me.

For fans of: Really anyone with a penchant for time-travel will love this, but also try it if you like Doctor Who, plot-twists, actual puzzles, and philosophy pondering.

Gold Mine: Okay, this one is weird, and not literary… but I don’t care? There is a rainbow table in Meg’s family that sounds SO lovely. Her parents are hippy-ish scientists and when the sisters were tiny, they let the girls paint the family table crazy colors and kept it that way because the author says her hippy earth scientists aren’t really the type of people to care about a room’s overall design flow and scheme. I’m definitely stealing that idea. I would say “I’m so stealing that idea for when/if I have kids” but let’s be real… I’ll paint myself a crazy, rainbow table as soon as a find a suitable dining table…and have a dining room.


winterspell

Winterspell by Claire Legrand

Shan’s Stars: 2 Stars

About the book: “The clock chimes midnight, a curse breaks, and a girl meets a prince but what follows is not all sweetness and sugarplums … Inspired by The NutcrackerWinterspell is a dark, timeless fairy tale about love and war, longing and loneliness, and a girl who must learn to live without fear”

This book is a retelling of The Nutcracker, so I guess it is TECHNICALLY a fairy tale retelling, but you know what else it technically is? A gorgeous and awful hot mess. I could tell what the author very obviously WANTED the story to be, but it was kind of like… wanting to paint some walls in your house green. On one hand, you could get the paint and paint the walls OR you could stare at the walls all day, shouting, “I AM GOING TO PAINT YOU GREEN, WALLS. HEY YOU THERE, ONE DAY THESE WALLS WILL BE GREEN.”

(Is it obvious that I’m aching for some colorful additions to my house?)

So, that’s the best analogy I could think of for this book. The imagery is beautiful and the parts of the book where someone actually has a damn paintbrush in their hand are lovely, but those are rare. Plus, there was just SO MUCH TIME wasted on Clara’s gross and depressing family troubles before she gets whisked away and that time never paid off, emotionally or in word count. The outline was good, but the fleshed-out story was just….a HOT MESS, like I said.

Then again, I’ve seen a lot of positive reviews of this book, so MAYBE it’s just me and I just didn’t get it. Wouldn’t be the first time that’s happened. Don’t let me stop you from reading it if The Nutcracker is your ONE TRUE PASSION in life. If that’s the case, go for it. If not… your money/time is better spent elsewhere.


Sisters Red

Sisters Red by Jackson Pearce

Shan’s Stars: 2 Stars

About the Book: A retelling of Little Red Riding Hood, for the older crowd.

OH MAN. Another disappointment. I was SO excited for this book. The cover, the fairytale of it all, the author (who works closely with my beloved Maggie Stiefvater), the badass sisters kicking wolves and taking names. GAH I wanted it to be so good. It was not. It wasn’t nearly as irritating as Winterspell… it just wasn’t a GOOD book. It was an okay book with tons of problems and things I don’t like. It had Instant Love with no depth at all. One look, in love, the end. Yikes. Also, one of the main characters seems to have just returned from a trip and I can tell the author wanted to reveal his story slowly, yet that did not happen. It was more like OH HEY LOOK AT THIS GUY WITH A SUITCASE OKAY DON’T YOU LOVE HIM ALSO HE’S PRETTY OKAY NEXT.

I did not love him. Or care. There was also a lot of talk on the webs about the victim-blaming in this booK. I get it, it’s not oaky, don’t victim blame. But also that’s not WHAT made this book bad. It was just part of the problem. This has been bugging me ever since I noticed the drama in some reviews and articles- Hi. Hello. People are assholes. Some people victim blame. Check the news. Having a character victim blame is is not ridiculous, it’s just real life. It should NOT be real life, I agree, but there are a lot of things in the world that shouldn’t happen, and the argument of whether or not to put those things in books is just too big for right here. However, if it is your MAIN character, the one that you want your readers to care about and root for and connect with, the victim-blaming needs to be part of her arc of LEARNING and “when you know better, do better.”

That did not happen, which IS a problem, even if it was the tiniest sliver of plot. Anyway. I am hopeful because this was only the second book that this author wrote and I have a feeling that when she knew better…she did better and that the later books have more quality on all fronts.

Cheers, y’all!

-S.

BOOK TALK: Old Favourites, Part Three

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Hey, y’all… I don’t want to alarm anyone, but it is almost MAY. Did you know that? MAY. Sweet pineapples, where has the year gone?

April, May, and June are the release months of some new books I am MOST excited about in 2015. In fact, The Girl At Midnight comes out tonight…at midnight! Look how that works out. I have been YEARNING to get my grabby hands this book since I heard about it last year, and now it’s tomorrow! YAY.

(Yes. I am the girl who marks book release dates in her calendar and makes countdowns and follows an author’s works for years beforehand. Is that weird? Abnormal? I thought I’d made it clear that I am both of those things.)

Because I’ve been bouncing with anticipation all day, I thought I’d channel my book energy into another post about some books from my “All-Time Favourite” shelf.

HERE. WE. GO.


DOSABDaughter of Smoke & Bone by Laini Taylor

Genre: YA Fantasy  Published: September 2011

Amazon | GoodReads

Shan’s Stars: 5 STARS

About The Book: Around the world, black handprints are appearing on doorways, scorched there by winged strangers who have crept through a slit in the sky. In a dark and dusty shop, a devil’s supply of human teeth grown dangerously low. And in the tangled lanes of Prague, a young art student is about to be caught up in a brutal otherwordly war.

Meet Karou. She fills her sketchbooks with monsters that may or may not be real; she’s prone to disappearing on mysterious “errands”; she speaks many languages–not all of them human; and her bright blue hair actually grows out of her head that color. Who is she? That is the question that haunts her, and she’s about to find out.

When one of the strangers–beautiful, haunted Akiva–fixes his fire-colored eyes on her in an alley in Marrakesh, the result is blood and starlight, secrets unveiled, and a star-crossed love whose roots drink deep of a violent past. But will Karou live to regret learning the truth about herself?”

While writing this review, I tried to find words to pinpoint why exactly I love this book so much- it’s not just because the main character has blue hair, I swear! Though, if there was a way to make MY hair permanently blue, I would definitely do it, make no mistake.

This book is beautiful and poignant and surprising, kind of like meeting an child with an old soul, or someone who is wise beyond their years. There may be other books out there that have this specific story and flavor, but if there are, I haven’t found them yet. And after reading Daughter… I’m not sure I want to look. This book has what I need. I LOVE stories that take well-worn tropes or oft-beaten horses and turn them inside out. It’s kinda of a thing of mine.

The rules of Taylor’s world are so fresh. Maybe even unexpected? The folklore she explores and the twists she uses and the characters she writes are all so wild- all of those thrown together make for a compelling story that is difficult to read in small doses. Plan for a book hangover with this one.

Karou is lovely and smart (which I adore) and the author doesn’t shy away from EXPLAINING the fantasy world or the rules, which is also a huge plus for me. I’ve said it a million times before and I won’t stop- vagueness for the sake of looking clever drives me craaaaazy.

All in all- Daughter is the gorgeous beginning to a deep story, and while “An Angel and a Devil fell in love” may seem like a story that has been told many times over, the author found a way to make each part of her story aching and new and irresistible. Taylor leaves no character’s arc or past untouched, so this is definitely not your “run-of-the-mill” fantasy story where the reader is only supposed to care about the main character and their narrow point of view.

Gold Mine: This may not count for book one of a trilogy, but I’m saying it anyway- I am obsessed with Karou’s relationship with her best friend. It’s fun and real and kind and ridiculous. So many fantasy stories have main characters with friends and family left out of the loop or dropped from the character’s life once the story begins but not in this book. So often, we are asked to care about a character’s emotion for their people without knowing the people in the book and I think that is so boring. I though that was what was going to happen in this story, but then it didn’t and having Karou’s awesome best friend, Zuzana, be a part of the journey thrilled me to no end.

For Fans Of: folklore, magic, BLUE HAIRS, Once Upon a Time, and anyone with wanderlust in their soul.


cold tangerinesCold Tangerines by Shauna Niequist

Genre: Memoir/Inspirational Published: October 2007

Amazon | GoodReads

Shan’s Stars: 5 to Shauna, always.

About the book: “Cold Tangerines is a collection of stories that celebrate the extraordinary moments hidden in our everyday lives. It is about God, and about life, and about the thousands of daily ways in which an awareness of God changes and infuses everything. It is about spiritual life, and about all the things that we have called nonspiritual life that might be spiritual after all. It is the snapshots of a young woman making peace with herself and her life, and trying to craft a life that captures the energy and exuberance we long for in the midst of the fear and regret and envy we all carry with us. It is both a voice of challenge and song of comfort, calling us upward to the best possible life, and giving us room to breathe, to rest, to break down and break through. Cold Tangerines offers bright and varied glimpses of hope and redemption, in and among the heartbreak And boredom and broken glass.”

I can’t say much about this book without weeping or laughing or telling you too many personal stories in a row, so I’ll just leave you with a couple quotes from the book, because that is the only true way to let you feel what this book is, and also this one thing: I have been teased my entire life for being SO different and unique and crazy and unexpected… this book helped me OWN that trait and love it. I don’t shy away from the “Shannon” of it all anymore, because who I am is crazy and loud and colorful and sparkly and wild and I SO do not meet society’s criteria for “Adult” and I do not apologize for that anymore- I embrace it and dare anyone to tell me I’m wrong.

I don’t really care much or meet most of society’s criteria for “Christian” either. I am a wildly loving and inclusive Christian in a world that keeps trying to tell me to follow the RULES and how those RULES should dictate my heart. Nope, no thank you. MY rule is this: love and kindness and serving and creating a safe-haven for those who need it.

If you have a heart like that and search for beauty, daily, in an ugly world- this book is totally for you. I love it. In fact, it has been too long since I’ve read it. Lately, I’ve been weighed down with stress and bills and hard choices, so I’m off to reread it and take new inspiration from my old favourite.

From the book:

“I want a life that sizzles and pops and makes me laugh out loud. And I don’t want to get to the end, or to tomorrow, even, and realize that my life is a collection of meetings and pop cans and errands and receipts and dirty dishes. I want to eat cold tangerines and sing out loud in the car with the windows open and wear pink shoes and stay up all night laughing and paint my walls the exact color of the sky right now. I want to sleep hard on clean white sheets and throw parties and eat ripe tomatoes and read books so good they make me jump up and down, and I want my everyday to make God belly laugh, glad that he gave life to someone who loves the gift.” -Shauna Niequist, emphasis mine

“Celebration when your plan is working? Anyone can do that. But when you realize that the story of your life could be told a thousand different ways, that you could tell it over and over as a tragedy, but you choose to call it an epic, that’s when you start to learn what celebration is. When what you see in front of you is so far outside of what you dreamed, but you have the belief, the boldness, the courage to call it beautiful instead of calling it wrong, that’s celebration.” -Shauna Niequist, emphasis mine

Gold Mine: This book is beautiful because it told me, at a time when I REALLY needed to hear it, that life doesn’t have to stop being fun and crazy and spontaneous and colorful when you “grow up.” Dreams and crayons and pure joy aren’t only for children, if only we can see the loveliness and the joy to be had, daily, because such beauty is EVERYWHERE. One last quote, for the artists and creators who are stuck or needing a push:

“To all the secret writers, late-night painters, would-be singers, lapsed and scared artists of every stripe, dig out your paintbrush, or your flute, or your dancing shoes. Pull out your camera or your computer or your pottery wheel. Today, tonight, after the kids are in bed or when your homework is done, or instead of one more video game or magazine, create something, anything. Pick up a needle and thread, and stitch together something particular and honest and beautiful, because we need it. I need it.”- Shauna Niequist, emphasis mine

For Fans Of: Anne Lamott, Carry On, Warrior, soul connections, people who think real life is full of stories just waiting to be told, baking or cooking, Jen Hatmaker, and, of course, the delight of a cold and juicy tangerine.

Here is to a life full of color and joy, not because it is what you are given, but because it is what you have MADE. Cheers!

-S

And This is Real Talk

Mehhhhhh. That’s how I feel about writing this post right now.

However, I know that once this post is over and out of my head, we can return to our regularly scheduled Shananigans, so I’m just gonna DO IT.

I’ve been quiet on here lately because the past two weeks have been rough.Sucked out loud, really. Also, I think there is fine line between “personal blog” and “inappropriate online diary open to public consumption” and I KNOW which side of that line I want to be on.

But I also think being real and honest is important to connection, so I don’t want to just brush off the Hard Things like they don’t happen and have an online persona that implies my off-line life is a happy, carefree frolic in a Disney forest of books and cookies and wine glasses.

(I made sure that last weekend, my Dance It Out Weekend, was definitely all of those things.*)

*I didn’t get to put actual wine in the wine glasses because I gave up wine for Lent and I can’t have any wine until Sunday. I KNOW when Lent is over, but the first day of Lent was National Wine Day and long story short, my 40 days are up Sunday. I don’t want to hear it. I. Know.

Anyway, what with taxes and paychecks and life and snakes and goals and taxes and broken cars and the little annoyances that feel like HUGE annoyances when the day already blows and stress and oh my word taxes… the end of March was a welcome thing. (Seriously, Taxes, why are you the worst? Pretty sure Husband and I actually cried rage tears.)

The thing that really did me in for a few days, though, was not getting a job I really wanted.

It took me a while after graduating college to figure out my degree did nothing to help me get a job and then even longer to figure out I could turn hobbies and passions into vocations and then even longer than that to figure out what that might mean for a broke newlywed with a useless college degree in a strange city

Finally, finally, this year the puzzle pieces in my head started falling together and my Type A Brain started formulating a plan wherein my Free Spirit Nomad Brain could have a job and make money at a job I truly enjoyed. The whole “It’s not work if you love it” kind of thing, you know? I finally figured what I wanted so I could start working towards the Goal.

Type A Shannon LOVES putting A Plan into Action.

Our one-car family turned into a two-car family, which meant my job search was so much easier and could have a wider range. My Soul Friend wanted to move to Texas and pursue this goal with me and she was coming here for spring break to scout the town. This JOB opened up and it was the exact start Type A Shannon thought we needed to start the networking. It was all just amazing and falling into place the way Right Things often do and I was thrilled because my life doesn’t really work that way, the effortless way, but SOMETIMES it does and I was soooooo hopeful that this was one of those times.

It wasn’t. I did not get the job. So after the stress and the taxes and the job, I took a few days to be melancholy and listen to angry music and bake furious cookies. (No, I did not bake furiously. The cookies were furious on my behalf. Very thoughtful of them, really.)

The thing is, I’m not very good at staying angry and melancholy. Don’t get me wrong, I am fabulous at being melancholy. I have too many minor key/thumping bass playlists to be anything other than great at that. But I’m not good at staying that way. Once I take my space and (more than likely) cry out the rage tears, I’m spent and done and ready for the next step.

Which isn’t always what I want. After a good cry or a few hours of letting music squeeze my heart, I feel so much better, but I want to throw things all over again because I WASN’T DONE BEING ANGRY, DAMMIT.

I think I can blame my need for efficiency because days upon days of throwing things is just a waste of time, but mostly I think it is just because I’m willing to face and to feel the problem. And once you face something, name it, and embrace it, the issue is already pretty much dealt with. (Shannon’s Number One Rule.)

SO.This week, it was back to the drawing board and more job applications and new plans. Unless any of you know someone who is willing to pay me to read books and photo edit from this moment on?

Personal Book-Shopper and Photoshop Guru Who Works From Home = My Life Goals.

It IS spring, though, and some really beautiful things happened this week, too. Remember, Shannon wants Gratitude.

I’m leaving you with pretty pictures of a random hidden garden Husband and I found at the farmer’s market and my all-time favourite recipe, Fruit Pizza. I never know if this is a well-known, too obvious thing, or if it is a family thing or if it is a southern thing or a really weird oddity. I’ve encountered all reactions to my fruit pizza, so maybe it is all of the above.

However you feel about it, it was a staple in our household growing up and I’m almost positive I could exist on fruit pizza and queso alone. I really, really shouldn’t. But I COULD. Fruit pizza always cheers me up, so if you’re wanting a fun spring snack or if you love fruit as much as I do, try this. So good.

YOU NEED: 

fruit pizza 1

  • A batch of sugar cookie dough.
  • A few cups of your favourite fresh fruit: peeled, cored, cut, rinsed, whatever it needs
  • 8 oz softened cream cheese
  • 1/3 cup sugar or half a jar of marshmallow cream
  • Pay no attention to the cantaloupe. The store had a sale, so Coco and I ate cantaloupe for a week. Unless you want it on the pizza. Then whatever, dude. Stare all you want.

WHAT TO DO:

fruit pizza 2

  • Roll/flatten/place the cookie dough onto a sheet pan or pizza pan, until it’s a between a quarter-inch or a half-inch thick. It seems thick, but you’re going to put “sauce” AND fruit on it, so you want the crust to hold up.
  • Whatever dough you use, bake the dough according to the recipe instructions until the entire giant cookie is golden brown. This is not a time for soft, chewy cookies.
  • When the cookie is done, it needs to cool completely, or the cream cheese will melt.

fruit pizza 3

  • While the cookie is baking, mix together your cream cheese and sugar or fluff until it is thoroughly combined.
  • Lick the spoon. I won’t tell.
  • Cut the fruit. Or peel it. Or hull it. I rinse my fruit and kind of…pat it dry. You don’t want to put watery fruit on the pizza later, trust.

fruit pizza 4

  • Once the cookie is cool, gather all the supplies and get started assembling
  • Spread the cream cheese mixture evenly over the top.

photo 1 copy 2

  • Now, place the pieces of fruit all over the pizza in whatever geometric or wild or reckless pattern you’d like.
  • Sometimes I spell things. Sometimes I make shapes. Sometimes I shove it all in my mouth without shame. You know, whatever you like.

Once everything is on the pizza, you can either serve it immediately or let all the ingredients settle together for a couple hours. You need to store it in the refrigerator if you don’t serve it right away. It does well overnight, but after a few days in the fridge, it starts to fall apart. If you need help eating yours, call me. What?

photo 2 copy 2

I made this pizza with what I had on hand, but I didn’t have blackberries and I just can’t have fruit pizza without blackberries, so Husband brought me some later.

IMG_2678
AH! Much better.

photo 5

Final product. I wish my kitchen counters were better for photographing food, but oh well.

There are so many different way to do this. I’ve started playing around with my recipe in the past few years and every time I make this pizza, I do something different. The only fruit I use EVERY time is strawberries because they are the best, but really, you can use ANY fruit.

I would stay away from apples and bananas, though. They tend to brown so quickly and the bananas leak banana flavor onto it all and then it’s really just Banana Pizza and… gross. If banana and apples are YOUR ABSOLUTE JAM, try making the pizza and putting the fruit on each fresh piece as you serve it.

Even though my family tries to eat food without any of America’s delightful preservatives, I often use store-bought dough for this because I have yet to find a sugar cookie recipe that doesn’t end up dry and gross when baked in pizza form. If you have one such recipe, share it, please! Don’t be selfish. I’m trying to be HEALTHY here, obviously.

(NOTE: Thought I had while editing this post- I’m trying the lemon crinkle cookie as a crust next time. Oh MY that sounds good.)

Ree Drummond makes hers with marshmallow cream instead of sugar, but when I tried that, the cream cheese layer was soupy and it did not end well, even though I loved the flavour. So now, I double the cream cheese, use 1/3 cup of sugar and half a jar of marshmallow cream (if i don’t make my own) and save the extra cream cheese mixture for fruit dip* later on.

Some people put vanilla in their cream cheese mixture. I’ve tried it and don’t love it because it masks the cream cheese flavour, instead of deepening it, but you could try it!

Sometimes, instead of making a whole pizza, I make a batch of large cookies and then turn them into individual fruit pizzas. If you’re serving a crowd, that makes divvying up this snack SO SIMPLE.

(Also useful if your household people don’t like fruit pizza and you don’t want to be forced to eat a whole pizza before it goes bad. I’ve absolutely, positively, never, EVER done that in my life. Ever. But one can’t be too careful.)

Fruit + cream cheese + sugar cookies. That’s the outline you need. Go from there and explore and delight in spring and flowers and fruit and pretty things and send me fun pictures of all the fruit designs.

Flowers

Flowers

 

More flowers

More flowers

I LOVED these

I LOVED these

 

Dangerous Beauty

Dangerous Beauty

That last flower is the one that Husband basically dubbed “Shannon As A Flower” so… you know. There’s that.

Happy Spring, April, Easter, End of Tax Season, and Gratitude, y’all.

Cheers! -S.

*By “dip for later” I definitely do not mean “take a giant spoonful directly from container as a midnight snack.” Definitely don’t try that at home. Tonight.

And This Is A Weird Way To Give You Cookies

COOKIES

All right, darlings. This post semi-surprised me, too. I knew I wanted recipes on here in some fashion, but I hadn’t quite made up my mind how. These lemon cookies, though… They demanded to be shared!

I’ve got some doozies lined up, but with the timing and the busy-ness and the short trip M and I took the Dallas over the weekend (Hockey! First In’N’Out! Puppies!) and the everything that was rushed this past week, those will just have to go in the queue.

(HA. Like I actually have a QUEUE. They will continue to ferment in the dark recesses of my scary brain palace.)

So. I LOVE cooking. I LOVE baking. I love it all. I would live in my kitchen if 1) the floor wasn’t uncomfortable and 2) if my pantry was painted correctly. Alas.

I honestly can’t remember when I started cooking. Early, maybe? I feel like it was early? I was nothing if not precocious so it was probably early. I like to think that I make good food, too. I’m biased, obviously, but I’m pretty sure I remember my mom offering me ridiculous bribes, if only I’d make her one of my quesadillas.

I think something special happens in the kitchen and around the table. It’s so soothing to put something together with your own hands, to gather your people around your table and feed them and enjoy the company. Other, smarter people have said this far better than I ever will, but suffice it to say that the bonds formed in the kitchen and over the table are remarkable.

I also love good cookbooks. I read cookbooks as if they are novels, perusing all pages in one sitting, reading through each recipe and learning the tricks of each author, tucking away that knowledge for later. Loooooong before Pinterest and iPhones, those wizards that have ways to get any recipe you could ever want, I would actually read cookbooks when I needed inspiration for potlucks or bake sales or theme parties.

When I moved to college, I no longer had access to my mother’s cookbook collection and I was devastated. In the dark ages, that long, blogless wasteland that is the 20th century, finding a recipe online was a gamble, a gamble a poor college kid* hated taking. Food is money, yo. Thanks, but no.

*I’m only slightly less poor now and this still REALLY bothers me.

One summer, the father of the family I worked for wanted me to take all of his late mother’s hand-written recipes and digitize them. IT WAS THE BEST THING. We preserved the beautiful, but fragile, handmade book for sentimentality, and I created files and a book full of recipes that could withstand the splatters and flour explosions of the kitchen.

“Shan,” I thought to myself, “do this with all the things. ALL OF THEM.” 

So I DID.

Man, I’m awesome. I think the best thoughts.

That’s right, I made my own Pinterest, before Pinterest was out being all Pinteresty. While printing the recipes for my boss, I made copies for myself and then went through my mother’s recipe collection and the many (MANY MANY MANY) food magazines I had saved and stacked up, but could never fully access. I tore up the magazines, made copies of our families beloved recipes, and typed up the hand-written treasures of my family. And my friends’ families. And my friends’ friends’ families. And my…. well. You get it.

SO MANY RECIPES I GATHERED.

Magical Food Binders

Magical Food Binders

And VOILÀ!

My AMAZING recipe books… that I hardly ever use anymore because of the internet and smartphones…

Organized as... yeah. that.

Organized as… yeah. that.

WHATEVER THEY ARE STILL AMAZING. I do use them when I need a SPECIFIC family recipe that I know is reliable.

(Which family? No clue, dude. So many people pitched in their family’s old food memories for this thing. It was amazing.)

I still buy cookbooks and cuddle up to read them because that’s just never not going to be fun.

Fave cookbooks

Fave cookbooks

(Those cute, tiny English teatime books are some of my favourite things I brought back from my time at Oxford! And I found those “vintage” Southern Living cookbooks from M’s and my birth year for engagement/wedding purposes.)

I love learning and planning and making food goals, because I am…me. Not this year, but SOME year… I will master macarons. French macarons are my Everest. My white whale? My War and Peace? Whichever. I will do it it. Someday.


On to the recipes! I shall give you cookies that, sadly, are not macarons but that ARE full of delicious flavour. Are you a fan of delicious flavour?** Well then, HERE.

Last week, M had a Boy’s Night/Game Night/Get Out of The House So Shan Can Watch TVD Night, so I decided to make dessert for the boys and spent the day in the kitchen to try a new cookie recipe and make some old favourites.

(I accidentally made “cake-like” brownies. I was traumatized and M liked them and we may have to look into couples counseling for Chewing and Brownies.)

ANYWAY, SHANNON.

I tried a lemon cookie recipe, sent half with M to the boys and then the other half with him to work on Monday. (I LOVE THAT. With so many growing, hungry men around, I never need to worry about my desserts going bad or eating the whole thing myself. I can put away some fruit pizza LIKE A BOSS, but I can only do so much. I always make great desserts, eat my bit, and send the rest with Husband wherever he’s going. It’s great. Craving: solved, calories: low.)

SHANNON, SERIOUSLY.

Alright, alright. Geez.

Apparently, though I did not personally witness any of this- (SADLY, as I love compliments and happy partakers of my food. I’m like Tinkerbell. Maybe I’m an introvert that needs applause to live? Just Kidding. Not kidding. DON’T LOOK AT ME IT’S A HARD LINE TO WALK.)

APPARENTLY, everyone who tried the lemon cookies were gobsmacked by the awesomeness of this lemon cookie. Straight-up speechless. The cookies are speech-thieves?

*bows*

When speech returned, Husband told me that every single person who tried the cookie said some variant of “I don’t even LIKE lemon things but I cannot stop eating these. Cannot. Stop.”

*blushes*

His boss, his boss’ wife, his game night buddies, his friends, some random UPS dude… they all went crazy for these cookies. This is a crowd-pleasin’ cookie, y’all.

Make them. Soon.

You will not be sorry.

I could’ve just linked to the lemon recipe and/or posted a picture of my coffee cookie, I know, but I change too much in the recipes to not write down what I did. Sorry. It took me years to discover what I was doing wrong with my cookie dough, how to make both chewy and crispy cookies in one batch, but most of all, how to shake loose and use the recipe as a guide and not a rulebook.

Caveats-

  • I don’t grease my baking sheets. Sorry, again. If your cookie sticks to the pan, something went wrong long before the cookie cooled.
  • ALWAYS CHILL YOUR DOUGH. If I can, I make all doughs the day before. A refrigerator overnight is best, but in a pinch, freezing the dough for an hour or two isn’t bad.
  • I don’t sift my salt/baking powder/soda anything with my flour. My flour always explodes and I lose precious leavening that way.
  • If you’ve never made chocolate crinkle cookies… you need to. They are amazing. (But not if you’re a cake-like brownie lover *shudder*)
  • I doubled both recipes below, but I posted the single recipes because you don’t always need 100 cookies for 15 hungry men.
  • I do not like coffee dessert recipes…but I love these coffee cookies. The coffee flavour isn’t overwhelming, it’s just right.
  • Husband swears up, down, and sideways that the coffee chip cookie tastes like peanut butter chocolate cookies. I think he is crazy. You decide. Or we can all ask the Brownie Therapist.

Lemon Crinkle Cookies

Lemon Crinkle Cookies

Lemon Crinkle Cookies (Original recipe found here at Lauren’s Latest)

YOU NEED:

½ cups soft butter
1 cup granulated sugar
1 ish teaspoon vanilla extract
1 egg
1 1/2 heaping teaspoons lemon zest
1 1/2 heaping tablespoons fresh lemon juice
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon baking powder
⅛ teaspoon baking soda
1-½ scant cup flour
½ ish cups powdered sugar

Makes 28ish cookies

DIRECTIONS:

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  • Grease your pans, if you like.
  • Set aside powered sugar, somewhere that you can’t accidentally grab it, thinking it’s the flour and ruin your dough. What? That’s NEVER happened to you?? Liar.
  • Cream together butter and granulated sugar until light and fluffy. (I read somewhere that 7 minutes is the ideal time for this step of cookies. I have no idea if this is true, but it stuck with me.)
  • Add vanilla and egg, stir lightly until just combined
  • Add your lemon zest and lemon juice, combine thoroughly
  • Sift dry ingredients together, however it pleases you, then add it in batches slowly to liquid mixture
  • Stir in all dry ingredients slowly until just combined. Don’t put the powdered sugar into the bowl. I told you to set it aside, yes? Okay. Good. Your dough should be sticky, but not pourable.
  • CHILL YOUR DOUGH. NOT JOKING PEOPLE.
  • Pour powdered sugar onto a large plate. Form a heaping teaspoon of dough into a ball and coat it in powdered sugar.
  • Keep doing this until the phone rings or a song comes on your playlist that you can’t stand for KITCHEN SONGS. Flail helplessly because your fingers are coated in powered sugar and Apple’s new headphones are EXPENSIVE, FOR THE LOVE.
  • Make all the cookies you want, but might I humbly suggest pre-rolling the remains of any dough you don’t use/need and sticking those babies in the freezer for an AMAZINGLY DELIGHTFUL INSTA-COOKIE RAINY DAY??? You won’t be sorry. If you do that, don’t coat the dough in the powdered sugar. Roll your cookie balls, stick’em in a baggie and keep’em in the freezer for the best day ever.
  • Bake for 9-11 minutes or until bottoms begin to brown and the cookies are no longer shiny. (I did 9 minutes for really chewy cookies and 12 minutes for a firmer cookie)
  • Allow the cookies to cool undisturbed for about 3 minutes, then remove from pan to cool completely before storing.

*I made one my batches with cream of tarter instead of baking powder. It was perfect, a lemon cookie with the bite of a snickerdoodle, but I haven’t figured out the exact ratio for that, so I didn’t include it. It’s a good little something something extra, if you know what you’re doing. The cookie is juuuuuust as good without, though.

*Eventually, I’m getting limes, grapefruit, oranges, and blood oranges to use with this recipe (instead of or even with the lemons) I basically want to test it with any citrus I can find. YES. Lime is up first!


Coffee Chip Cookies

Coffee Chip Cookies

Coffee Chip Cookies (Old recipe I adapted from some southern cookbook that I can’t remember)

1/2 cup soft butter
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
2  heaping teaspoons vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 heaping teaspoon salt
1 ½ HEAPING teaspoons instant coffee (More or less, to your own taste. I ere on the side of more)
1 small bag of MINI chocolate chips*

* if doubling the recipe, use one normal size bag… unless you want the extra chocolate of two small bags. I don’t know your life. You do you. I use whatever amount of mini chips I have on hand, be it more or less. Whichever you choose, DO NOT USE REGULAR SIZE CHIPS. Just don’t. I beg you. It’s not even the same cookie with the normal chips.

makes 24 ish cookies

  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  • Grease your pans, if you’re a weirdo that does things normally
  • Cream the butter and sugars until light and fluffy (Seven minutes!!)
  • Add the egg and vanilla
  • Sift the dry ingredients and add to the butter mixture slowly, in batches
  • Stir in the instant coffee until thoroughly combined
  • Add the MINI chocolate chips to the bowl and stir until combined
  • CHILL YOUR DARN DOUGH
  • Roll dough into balls, a heaping tablespoon worth of dough for each one
  • The freezer option is GREAT for these, too. I crave these with my coffee occasionally, but never want a whole batch, so I started keeping pre-rolled balls in the freezer.
  • Bake for 11 minutes until very lightly browned on top
  • I do 10 minutes for amazing soft and chewy cookies when i’m making these for crowds, but when they are for me, I bake them for 12/14 minutes. Mind you, this makes the cookies CRISPY, but that way they are perfect for dunking in coffee.
  • Allow the cookies to cool undisturbed for about 3 minutes, then remove from pan to cool completely before storing.

THAT’S ALL, FOLKS. Happy St. Patrick’s Day and I hope you all look AMAZING in green!

shirts rainbow nailsM and I got ridiculous shirts to wear this year and I painted a truly messy and fun rainbow on my nails.  Cheers!

-S.

**BONUS POINTS for the person who gets this!

BOOK TALK: The First Books, Part Two

books 2

Here is PART TWO of my first official book reviews. If you missed PART ONE, go catch up! Let’s get right to it… hope you like it!


TWC

The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski 

Genre: YA Historical Fantasy Published: March 2014

Amazon | GoodReads

About the book: “As a general’s daughter in a vast empire that revels in war and enslaves those it conquers, seventeen-year-old Kestrel has two choices: she can join the military or get married. But Kestrel has other intentions.

One day, she is startled to find a kindred spirit in a young slave up for auction. Arin’s eyes seem to defy everything and everyone. Following her instinct, Kestrel buys him—with unexpected consequences. It’s not long before she has to hide her growing love for Arin. But he, too, has a secret, and Kestrel quickly learns that the price she paid for a fellow human is much higher than she ever could have imagined.

Set in a richly imagined new world, The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski is a story of deadly games where everything is at stake, and the gamble is whether you will keep your head or lose your heart”

This is first book I’ve read in 2105 that I LOVE and that I would recommend without hesitating.

With much respect to cover artists and humans in general, the cover of this book is absolutely gorgeous AND absurd for this book. I do believe in the old adage “don’t judge a book by its cover” but also? Sometimes judge a book by its cover! If I were an author, I would HATE it if my audience was saying “ignore the cover and read this book!”

That being said… ignore the cover and read this book! The back copy does the story no justice. Rutkoski built an intricate world that really has nothing to do with slavery and tween love, but everything to do with complex political ties, what strength lies in the oppressed and those that do the oppressing, how cultures bias an opinion, and what someone burdened by a star-crossed love will do for that love.

(I hate saying “star-crossed love” because of Romeo & Juliet and all that junk, but if you know that I despise Romeo & Juliet as a love story but revere it as a love satire, we should be square on what I mean by that. Because what I mean is NOT “like Romeo and Juliet.”)

This book goes so much further than a girl falling in love with a slave, which I was not expecting and very much appreciated. You know what I mean? When you read the summary of a story and you get halfway through the book and all of the summary has happened, but there is still HALF THE BOOK LEFT? Yes. That. That’s what happens in this book.

Gold Mine: Rutkoski uses her prose in conjunction with her characters’ emotions. If the character is confused, irritated, lonely, or happy, so becomes her syntax. This is a tricky maneuver to pull off and when utilized poorly it’s highly irritating. But Rutkoski is a master.

For Fans Of: Chess, espionage, dare I say… Pirates of the Caribbean? Yes, I think I shall. There are no pirates betwixt these pages (yet? maybe?) but there IS ever so much adventure and cunning. Elizabeth Swann, FTW.

**Something fortuitous: I’d completely forgotten that the sequel to this book, The Winner’s Crime, came out on Tuesday! I may have to set aside my March Graphics for a little bit to devour the rest of Kestrel’s story!


COW

Carry On, Warrior by Glennon Melton Doyle

Genre: Memoir… kind of? Published: April 2013*

Amazon | Goodreads

About the Book: “In Carry On, Warrior, Melton shares new stories and the best-loved material from Momastery.com She recounts her mistakes and triumphs with candor and humor, and gives language to our universal (yet often secret) experiences. She believes that by shedding our armor, we can stop hiding, competing, striving for the mirage of perfection, and making motherhood, marriage, and friendship harder by pretending they’re not hard. In this one woman trying to love herself and others, readers find a wise and witty friend who will inspire them to forgive their own imperfections, make the most of their gifts, and commit to small acts of love that will change the world.”

This book is very dear to my heart because I found it in a time of great need and emotional turmoil. Self-help and how-to books? No thank you. Memoirs wherein the author describes personal stories and what COULD be learned from them, universally? All in. Even before I was married, I knew that I wanted to fashion a safe haven for my future family, a strong refuge of kindness, equality, inclusion, love, and safety. The first years are HARD, but this book reminded me that creating a Family of Purpose can be done and that living a life with passion is not an impossible goal.

I come from the church and I am proud of that, but its no secret that today, religion as a whole is doing more to drive people away by warring over semantics than they are striving to create a safe community to learn and be loved and to help. Melton describes this phenomenon beautifully and sharply in her book while answering her own quest and question: how can I love simply and fanatically? How can I teach others the same? How can we, the women, the men, the world, learn and recognize that every human has GREAT WORTH even when they are messy and broken…because there is not a single human out there who is perfect and whole.

It is both inspiring and down-to-earth, because Glennon encourages every human to believe they can do great things and Hard Things, but she is the first to tell you that sometimes getting out of bed and putting on pants is the Hard Thing that day. She coined the term “brutiful” for a life that is both brutal AND beautiful and that’s what I have to say about this book. It is brutiful. It has brutiful lessons and stories, and it is how my little family has chosen to approach the world.

Gold Mine: All of it. But especially the story where Glennon teaches her son how to connect with his classmates and how to deal with bullies. That story gives me hope for the scary thing that is parenthood, should it ever descend. (For more on THAT, read the chapter where her son asks about what word Mommy says when she drops her keys…)

For Fans Of: I recommend this book to anyone and everyone, but especially to my people who have done Hard Things, who are in the middle of living Hard Things, and people whose very soul vibrates when they hear “You, too? I thought I was the only one.”**

*I should note that the paperback book was released in April of 2014, and it contains a couple new essays that the hardback/ebook version do not have.

** Paraphrasing the amazing C.S. Lewis.


More short thoughts on other 2015 books…

atuAcross the Universe Series by Beth Revis  Genre: Young Adult

I’d heard great things about this space series and it was a fun read, but ultimately, I was not impressed. The last book is the best of the series, and the tightest, plot-wise, and I’m just not sure that can be a compliment for a trilogy. Everything I said HERE that Redwine DOESN’T do? Revis does. A good chunk the books would have been rendered useless if the protagonists had used their brains or their words and stories like that just aren’t my thing. I prefer plot points that are inevitable, no matter what the characters do or say. (with or without ignorance.)


body electric

The Body Electric by Beth Revis | Genre: Young Adult

I actually read the above series to get to this companion book because it’s copy intrigued me. (And I cannot, CANNOT read stories out of order. Bless my heart, even typing that gave me some hardcore NO!Shivers.) It is set in the same universe and time (kind of) but while ATU takes place in space, Electric is about what happening on Earth. The plot was tight and the pacing was good, but everything else was structured poorly. I dislike when an author stays vague vague vague about a specific point to further confusion and tension but never delivers on the vagueness or tension. It’s one thing when that is the point or the theme, (like the ending of Inception…I guess?) ((I was not confused by the ending of Inception)) but it didn’t feel like that was the point of this book. It just felt like there were too many arcs not tied up (neatly or at all) and too many questions left unanswered.

These two review posts have been SO FUN for me. There is something different about writing out thoughts about art mediums, as opposed to just having a conversation.* Typing out the thoughts seems to make me want to find better ways to say what I really mean, and I enjoyed the heck out of that challenge.

Definitely more BOOK TALK to come, with more multi-book reviews and some singular reviews, as well, I think. Love and hugs to y’all for sticking with me. Book Talk makes my heart smile. Cheers!

-S.

*STILL. WAITING. You know who you are, fruit sister.

BOOK TALK: The First Books, Part One

(Because this original post got lengthy, I chose to break it in two. Have fun!)

UPDATE: HERE is part two.

Book Talk 1

Okay, lovelies. The people have SPOKEN and what the people said was “BE MORE SPECIFIC.” Geez, alright. I couldn’t narrow down just one book to be my first review because I’m a big ol’weirdo who can’t choose ONE book to be that important. Absolutely no one is shocked by this, my weirdness.

So, surprisingly and delightfully, my first Book Talk post sparked some really fun conversations about books within my family, and I decided to add Mom’s fave and Dad’s fave to my 2015 reading list. Yikes. Obviously, asking someone what their favourite book or movie or song is can be impossible and paralyzing. So many choices! So many genres! So many decades of art!

However, I’ve come up with a lovely way to help focus that question into a manageable choice….for my mother. My father sent me an email a few days later with a list 24 titles long. So, you know. I had varied success.

Any art lover has a favourite per genre, year, mood, season, or era of life. With that in mind, here is what I’ve asked my people when I want to get ONE book rec from them: What is the book you want people to read that maybe no one has really heard of?

You’d think that doesn’t happen nowadays but it totally does. The world and internet and information available is vast, but we all still manage to find our little corners and stay there. Even book lovers seeking book news can only retain so much.

That was for them. For me? I chose some books I know people have heard of, but my tribe is all over the place and I don’t know who pays attention to which genre. Memoirs and supernatural fiction are my thing, so I have those down easy. I also have historical fiction and cookbook recs for later on BECAUSE THAT’S ME, Y’ALL. Ridiculous. All. Over.

I don’t just throw all books at everyone. No, I tailor the choices to my darlings based on what I know of them and their likes. Banana doesn’t read contemporary YA, but I shoved Fan Girl at her eyeballs until she read it because LITERALLY MY SISTER IS CATH. L.I.T.E.R.A.L.L.Y.

The following books are great enough satisfy any reader, I think, but especially if you like quick wit, sass, plot twists, protagonists who don’t abide by the rules of society…you know. The fun stuff.

((QUICK SIDE NOTE: I’ll include the genre of any book I write about, because information is groovy, but you’ll NEVER hear me say, “It’s YA…but you’ll like it.” Nope nope nope. Not here for that. YA has good AND bad stories, just like every other genre and I’m tired of hearing YA be criticized like it’s some kindergarten level nonsense. Stop. It’s not. There are YA books with complex depths, themes, written by authors with spectacular style and talent. There are adult books that seem to have been cobbled together by a sugar-crazed toddler and edited by the sleep-deprived parents. And vice versa. All genres have bestsellers and duds. That’s the fun part, though, right? That’s the gravy. Reading ALL the books to find the pot of gold.))

Someone shut me up. Here we GO!


TRB

The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

Genre: Young Adult Fantasy Published: September 2012

Amazon | GoodReads

About the book: “Every year, Blue Sargent stands next to her clairvoyant mother as the soon-to-be dead walk past. Blue never sees them–until this year, when a boy emerges from the dark and speaks to her.

His name is Gansey, a rich student at Aglionby, the local private school. Blue has a policy of staying away from Aglionby boys. Known as Raven Boys, they can only mean trouble. But Blue is drawn to Gansey, in a way she can’t entirely explain. He is on a quest that has encompassed three other Raven Boys: Adam, the scholarship student who resents the privilege around him; Ronan, the fierce soul whose emotions range from anger to despair; and Noah, the taciturn watcher who notices many things but says very little.

For as long as she can remember, Blue has been warned that she will cause her true love to die. She doesn’t believe in true love, and never thought this would be a problem. But as her life becomes caught up in the strange and sinister world of the Raven Boys, she’s not so sure anymore.”

You guys. YOU GUYS. I really and truly CANNOT with how much I love this series. A friend whose recs I trust explicitly told me to read this immediately. So I did. I read it quickly and when it was over, I literally thought what the everloving nonsense did I just read???  And then I went back and read it again, slowly, and… and… I haven’t really stopped since?

I think Maggie does this on purpose, somehow.  She frequently mentions how she read and reread her childhood favourites, finishing the last page only to turn the book over and immediately start it again. Boys is wonderful and crazy the first time through and it only gets better each time.

One of the best things you can say about any book is that the back copy ain’t even the half of it; very, very true in this case. Here is a link* from someone who has the same problem with description that I (and the author herself!) do.

There are psychics. There are rich boys. There is talk of true love. But there are also race cars, helicopters, magic forests, punching, trees that speak Latin, and MAGICAL KINGS. Plus, when was the last time you read a book in which the author promises to kill a main character** on page one of chapter one?

READ. THIS. BOOK. And when you do? Slow down. Take your time. Listen to the lullaby of the prose and pay attention to how the author (an actual painter) paints this world for you. The biggest compliment I give this series is that I honestly think there is not a sentence, word, or punctuation mark that was not fully intentional and thoroughly planned. Read slowly and melt into the southern drawl of the tale.

And then CALL ME and TALK TO ME ABOUT IT. Sweet baby Moses on bicycle, my people are truly terrible about that.

Gold Mine: The metaphors Maggie uses to explain an emotion or a setting. She writes her characters’ reactions in a way that is shocking for its elaborate simplicity. It’s almost like she sneaks into your brain, finds the memory she needs and says, “HERE. This feeling you had, this heartache, this euphoria? This is how they feel right now, too.”

STAY OUT OF MY BRAIN, MAGGIE.

For Fans Of: sweet tea, porch swings, Salvador Dalí, and maybe The Once and Future King. Maybe. This series mirrors a lot of the Arthurian legend…. with funky funhouse mirrors.

*I link to that post with the caveat that it contains no spoilers AND with the hope that you know better than to look into the later books of the series without reading Boys first. Don’t be a spoiler person. It’s bad for the world.

**Don’t you dare Sean Bean me. I KNOW.


TOG 1

Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas 

Genre: Young Adult High Fantasy Published: August  2012

Amazon | GoodReads

About the book: “In a land without magic, where the king rules with an iron hand, an assassin is summoned to the castle. She comes not to kill the king, but to win her freedom. If she defeats twenty-three killers, thieves, and warriors in a competition, she is released from prison to serve as the king’s champion.

Her name is Celaena Sardothien. The Crown Prince will provoke her. The Captain of the Guard will protect her. But something evil dwells in the castle of glass–and it’s there to kill. When her competitors start dying one by one, Celaena’s fight for freedom becomes a fight for survival, and a desperate quest to root out the evil before it destroys her world.

I discovered this book late last year, and because I am a book snob and kind of a jerk about flash-judging books based on blurbs (see above) and covers (see part two), I really didn’t think it would be all that good. Totally happy to report that I am an idiot and this series is more than just “good.”

I like authors who are not afraid to take the time to build their narrative and world slowly. It drives me NUTS when fans demand what they want and they demand it NOW, instant gratification style. I hate that in an audience. Chill out, dudes. Let the story be a story, not a haiku.

Anyway… That doesn’t mean this book moves slowly or that it takes a long time to be interesting. Not at all. Glass is the first book in six book series. With each book, Maas deepens the stakes, reveals so many twists and pulls apart the world she created, layer by layer, to show you exactly what it contains. Each layer is lovely and interesting on its own, but Mass is definitely not showing all her cards in book one.

All that being said– yes, the first book skims the surface of her world and moved a tiny bit too quickly through the plot for me, but it is still worth reading immediately. I feel like she skimmed on purpose to take time to introduce readers to the key players. Celaena is by no means the only main character, so don’t let the cover fool you. In Glass, Maas establishes the rules before she dives in deeper to break them.

(Shannon? Party of Me?)

As a reader, if you’re trying to rebuild your fantasy universe inside my head… give me some time and give me a lot of good information. I’m here for you, authors who do this. I’ll wait while you build and slowly tell me the story.

Gold Mine:  Celaena. I love that she appreciates fashion, wears jewelry, and can still kick your ass seven different ways to Sunday. She is able to be both, to have varied skills, and she never apologizes for that. AIN’T NOBODY GOT TIME FOR ANTIQUATED GENDER NORMS. Especially Celaena.

For Fans Of: whip-smart characters, Dumbledore’s obstacle course to the Stone, GracelingAliasThe Scarlet Pimpernel, Final Jeopardy! domination, and an Alexandre Dumas book I can’t name because SPOILERS.


Finishing up… some quick thoughts on my 2015 Reading Challenge books so far: 

(I may do full reviews at some point, but maybe not. I think I’ll keep posts like these for books I think you should read IMMEDIATELY. The following books are not those, so far. I like to let a book simmer for a while in my brain before I give it my exuberant YAS GURL YAS treatment.)

defiance The Defiance Trilogy by C.J. Redwine: A series that is too on the nose but also awesome? And only on the nose because that’s how it should be but no one says it and Redwine does? I don’t know. I really can’t decide.

It’s not that her theme was too preachy, per se, it’s just that a lot of what she wanted her books to SAY, she was too heavy-handed with instead of letting the book say it softly. I prefer a subtler approach, but I enjoyed the variety of characters and Redwine’s post-apocalyptic world.

Gold Mine: The author’s refusal to use worn-out tropes to further her plot or to use forced inefficiency/stupidity for tension. Like when you’re watching a horror movie and yell, “If you think there is a murderer in your house, turn the lights on!! LIGHTS. ON. TURN THEM ON!!”  Redwine doesn’t keep any lights off in her book, if you know what I mean. I loved it. That refreshing aspect alone will probably make me recommend this series, once it has simmered a bit more in my mind.


aoyAll Our Yesterdays by Cristin Terrell: This book is for readers who don’t like too much depth. I say that nicely. I like depth and yearning and being immersed in the details.This book is clever, twisty, and fun to read, but it takes place mostly within a three day period. A story told at such a breakneck speed doesn’t leave room for much depth. If you devour time-travel books like I do, you’ll like this.

Alright. That’s enough, Shan. Cheers!

-S.