Thursday, December 31, 2015

2015 Wrap Up

I can't believe 2015 is already over. I have to admit this was a difficult reading year for me. I had a hard time keeping focused and making the time to read. I have much higher hopes for 2016. 

The one bookish resolution that I had for the year was to not buy any books. Having moved this year, I was well reminded of all the books I have that still need to be read so I hoped I would be able to get through the two moving boxes full. I read a few, I got rid of some I was never really going to read, but I didn't make the dent in it I wish I had done. Instead, I borrowed a lot more from the library and I read a lot galleys on my Kindle. The only book I purchased was The Scorpion Rules at Texas Book Festival, which I really consider more of a souvenir, and so I feel entitled to claim the year as a success. I'm not sure yet of the resolutions I'll make for 2016, but I'm working on it. 

I read a few books this past year that I didn't really like, but I also read some that were really good. Here are my top five six (oops!):

This book surprised me with its depth and heart. It was so much more that I thought it would be and it is firmly on my To Be Reread list (because my to be read list isn't long enough).

Oh, this book cuts right to the bone on the topic of mental illness in young adults and I think it is one book that should be required reading.

This book brought science, innovation and imagination to the forefront of conversation. Add to that fact that it made me laugh so hard people looked at me funny and it was a complete win.

Imagine waking up and having lost ten years of your memory. I recently also listened to the audio version and it was wonderful as well.

Erin Bow says everyone tells her they love Talis and I am no exception. I can't wait for the rest of this series.

What a wonderful book about body acceptance and Dolly Parton love. This is another book that I recently listened to the audio version and it is one of the best I've heard. 

So how was the 2015 reading year for you?

The Beautiful Daughters by Nicole Baart

Adrienne and Harper were unlikely best friends all through college. The were also part of what they called The Five: a group consisting of the two girls, Adrienne's twin brother Will, his friend Jackson, and David, the boy Adrienne has loved from a distance nearly all her life. But that was years ago and Adrienne and Harper have both run in opposite directions as fast as they can from the tragedy that took the life of one of The Five. Adrienne is now a nurse in a small village in West Africa and Harper, well Harper has gone so far from where and whom she used to be that she hardly recognizes herself. When the death of a family friend calls Adrienne back home she is finally forced to face the memories she has tried so hard to escape.

This book was a slow start and I was frustrated with all the hinting of something big that had happened with no real explanation. While I know this is a writing technique used to add drama, it kind of just annoys me. The author wants to keep the reader in the dark, but sometimes it goes on too long and the risk is that the reader will lose interest. I nearly did. I was 25% of the way through this book before it really grabbed me and that's too long. However, it did get interesting and I was glad I had stuck with it.

This book was unexpectedly a thriller. There was a bit of a mystery and some of the other story elements were very exciting. I really can't tell you more because it would ruin it for you, but I can tell you that it kept me up late at night reading. If you can just get through the first quarter of the book I think you'll really like it.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

The Shift by Theresa Brown, RN

I love listening to NPR and I was very interested when I heard this interview with nurse Theresa Brown about her newest book The Shift. The first thing that caught my attention was that Brown has a PhD in English and had been a professor at Tufts University when she suddenly made a career change to nursing. I am fascinated with the paths people take to their careers, especially when it leads them to what they feel is their life's work. I also really enjoyed the narrative way that she spoke about her experiences working as a nurse and thought I might enjoy reading her book. I reserved it from the library and when it came in, I honestly thought I might skim through it and just return it mostly unread. I was wrong. I sat down just to read the first few pages yesterday and was immediately drawn in to her words. This book reads with exactly the same conversational description as her spoken interview. It is rare that I find a work of nonfiction that I can't put down, but this was one of those.

Brown begins the book with her 6am alarm waking her for her day. I knew I was going to like her when she described her bike ride to work. I am a cyclist myself and it was great reading about her short commute by bicycle. She then walks us through an entire twelve-hour shift as she experiences it. There is a brief disclaimer at the very beginning explaining that the identities of some of the patients have been changed and that some are even composites, but it reads as a very real day. She begins the day with three patients, but a fourth comes in later in the day. They are each very different in need and in personality and Brown doesn't insult the reader with the idea that a nurse has lovely feelings for all of her patients. She also doesn't refrain from showing her feelings of compassion for her patients, either, and this make her tale ring true. 

While there is medical terminology and some explanation of  illness included, it never overwhelms the reader. In fact, I finally understand a little more about those blood pressure numbers that always mystify me at the doctor's office.We also learn about the frustration many nurse's feel about the state of health care as it affects their patients. A computer system in which they enter data about each patient makes her "sometimes wonder if sadists designed our software." As she says, "It should not be easier to order a sweater from Lands End than to chart on my patients, but it is." And while wishing she could provide more care for her patients, she says, "I wish we could occasionally slow down, but the pace won't change unless caring becomes as lucrative for hospitals as tests and procedures."

I was under a library return deadline to read this book so quickly, but even if I hadn't been, it still would have captured and kept my attention. I am anxious to read Brown's first book about nursing, Critical Care.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

A Step Toward Falling by Cammie McGovern

And another book I learned about at Texas Book Festival is A Step Toward Falling by Cammie McGovern. In this novel, a young woman with a developmental disability, Belinda, is attacked at a high school football game. Lucas and Emily both witness the attack, but, frozen with confusion, fear and weakness, they do nothing to help her. The punishment for their failure to act is community service helping people very like Belinda. As they both spend time with these people who are a little different from them, they learn much about this group and about themselves.

This was a very sweet book that makes clear that just because someone has a disability doesn't mean they don't have a lot to teach the rest of us. I can read messages in this book that speak to the students that need a little extra help, the students who could be doing the helping, the young women who may think an attack is her own fault, the school staff who may need to be reminded of the rights of all students, and anyone entering into a new relationship. This is not just a book about a young woman with a disability. It is a book that has value for all of us. I would highly recommend this as a book to be added to that "Required Reading for all Teenagers" list I keep intending to create. Compassion, courage and acceptance are lessons we all need to remember.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

After You, by Jojo Moyes

In After You, Jojo Moyes allows us to see what happens to her characters following the heartbreaking events detailed in her bestselling novel Me Before You. I hate spoilers, so if you haven't read Me Before You, you might want to stop reading now. And if you do stop reading now, I must insist you pick up Me Before You instead. Really, it's one of those books you just should read. And considering the film version is scheduled for release in the spring, you may want to get to know these characters soon. The actors starring in it only add to the excitement.

And if you have read it, you will most certainly want to know how things turned out for Louisa Clark. As you can imagine, it has been a difficult two years for Louisa. Though she has traveled some and attempted to live the life Will hoped she would live, she once again finds herself in a dead-end job that she hates and floundering more than a bit. When an unexpected teenager (aren't they all?) pushes into Louisa's life, she begins to feel she may finally have a purpose. Of course, the drama and difficulty that accompany said teenager add upset to Louisa's already troubled waters, but it also teaches her so much about herself.

I liked this book and revisiting loved characters is always a treat. It didn't quite have the heart that the first book had, but it was still very good. The theme that I most appreciate in both of these novels is the necessity for each of us to really live our lives. When Louisa is visiting Will's father, they have this conversation:

"My son was all about living, Louisa. I don't need to tell you that."
"That's the thing, though, isn't it?"
He waited.
"He was just better at it than the rest of us."
"You'll get there, Louisa. We all get there. In our own ways."

And much later, in a discussion with a new friend, he tells her:

"You think I don't know how that feels? There's only one response, and I can tell you this because I see it every day. You live. And you throw yourself into every thing and try not to think about the bruises."

These may be words we've heard a hundred times and a hundred different ways, but it bears repeating that we need to really live our lives and not just wait for the living to begin some day in the distant future. How much of our time do we spend just filling the hours, killing time? Sometimes it takes hearing from someone who is running out of time to shift our perspective just a bit.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Dumplin' by Julie Murphy

In Dumplin' by Julie Murphy, Willowdean Dickson is happy. She has a best friend she loves and she is comfortable in her own skin, even if other people wouldn't be. She describes herself as "cashier, Dolly Parton enthusiast, and resident fat girl." She doesn't mind it and she doesn't worry if other people do. Well, most of the time. There are times we all feel insecure about ourselves and Will is no exception, but she tries not to let it get the best of her. 

What about having huge, bumpy thighs means that I need to apologize?

In the small town where Will lives, the annual beauty pageant is the center of the universe for six months out of the year. And it's the near center of Will's universe as her mother is the one who runs it. Will has never considered entering until she comes across a years-old blank registration form that her beloved recently deceased aunt had hidden away in a drawer. It breaks Will's heart to think that her Aunt Lucy wanted to enter, but didn't, and somehow it gives Will the courage to try for it herself.

Julie Murphy is from Texas and oh, does it show in her writing. She gets all the little traditions and bits of the landscape that other writers miss: the sweet tea, the manners, the traditions. There were bits in this book that felt like direct quotes from people I know.

A southern lady always puts up a fight when anyone else volunteers to do the cleaning.

I love that Murphy is able to bring all this flavor to her book without it feeling like a parody. She just gets it and it's so refreshing to read that. This may be the best quote in that vein:

There is no higher achievement for a southern woman that the ability to eat barbecue and walk away stain free.

Perhaps someday I'll be able to claim that achievement.

In addition to all the fantastic Texasness in this book is the way it speaks up for any young woman who feel insecure about herself. And really, isn't that every young woman? And not-so-young woman? It's important that we find out who we are, that we admit and understand our mistakes and that we become someone we want to be.

I've spent and entire day being so myself. Not a daughter, or a niece, or a token fat girl. Just Willowdean....But I'm tired of other people making me feel this way. I'm ready to make myself feel this way.

And when it came time for the swimwear competition, just as we've all experienced at the pool or on the beach or in the ghastly lighting of a dressing room while swimsuit shopping, Will has to face who she is and find away to be happy about it.

I may be uncomfortable, but I refuse to be ashamed.

That, I think, is my favorite quote of the year. Really.

Finally, I'll leave you with the epigraph Murphy chose to start us on Will's journey. It is truly sage advice:

Find out who you are and do it on purpose.
--Dolly Parton

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Kissing in America by Margo Rabb

Another book I heard about at Texas Book Festival is Kissing in America by Margo Rabb. Eva is a super smart sophomore in high school who is carrying a lot of grief around with her since the sudden death of her father two years ago. She is also falling in love for the first time and learning that it isn't exactly like the love in the 118 romance novels she has read. Actually she is obsessed with romance novels, particularly the historicals, even though everyone around her gives her a hard time about it, especially her resolutely feminist mother. When the boy that Eva loves moves from where she lives in Brooklyn to Los Angeles, she devises the most elaborate road trip so that she can see him. Joining her is Annie, her even smarter best friend, who is focused only on winning The Smartest Girl in America, a new game show, and getting in to MIT, but who also has a guilty pleasure of absorbing all the trashy celebrity and reality TV gossip she can.

(She liked to read about "Stars--They're Just Like Us!" and molecular biology simultaneously.)

I like road trip books quite a lot because I enjoy the idea of seeing the country, or even the world, and learning about oneself at the same time. The first thing someone says to the girls on the first leg of their trip is how they have to try the chili in Cleveland, served over spaghetti. They think this sounds disgusting, but then the person says :

"Most people you know, they want to stay in their little house and not change nothing. But when you hit the road....Everything you ever thought about the world is wrong. That's why you gotta travel. I'm telling you this cause you're young. You got time. You gonna eat chili on spaghetti, right? You gonna see the world, right?"

This is good advice for anyone, road trip or not. We become so accustomed to our own lives that we forget there is a whole world out there we've never seen, so many things we've never known.

I was especially thrilled when the route took the girls through Tucson. We lived in Tucson for nine years and I can't tell you how much we loved it. When people ask if we'd ever go back, I always answer with, "In a heartbeat." Eva loves it as well.

I'd liked Texas's giant dome of a sky, it's rolling hills and endless endless endlessness; I'd liked Cleveland and Tennessee and the swirling scenery of every state we rode through-- but I fell in love with Tucson.

I know exactly what she means. Reading her describe it made my heart swell and it was so fun reading about all the landmarks she visits. It's how I imagine people who live or have lived in New York feel reading all the countless books set in New York. 

My favorite part of road trip novels is watching the characters grow and change as they near the end of their trip. Eva learns to stand up for herself and she decides to stop being embarrassed by her romance novels. She sees the people she knows in deeper dimensions and reaches deeper within herself as well. Particular to this book is the growth Eva makes in dealing with her grief. She is devastated by the loss of her father, but she finds new ways to deal with her pain. This was a cute book, but it also has practical applications that could be very useful to its readers.
Read it and start planning your next road trip. May I recommend Tucson?

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Side Effects May Vary by Juile Murphy

Side Effects May Vary by Julie Murphy is not another teenage cancer book. Well, it kind of is, but not like you think. Our main character, Alice, is sixteen (a teenager) when she is diagnosed with cancer (cancer book), but that is just the beginning of the story. Told in alternating viewpoints, Alice and her friend Harvey, as well as alternating time lines (when she is first diagnosed and also the present), we watch Alice's swift decline into illness, but we also watch as her illness takes a turn no one expects. Alice goes into remission. Don't worry- this isn't really a spoiler, it's a plot point. When Alice is sure she is dying, she makes a list of all the things she wants to do before it's too late. When she discovers she'll live, she realizes she will also have to live with the consequences of the things on her list.

I knew how to die. It was the living that scared me.

People love to give the advice to live as if you were dying, but that's not practical or reasonable. If I knew I were going to die next week, you bet I'd drain my savings, pull everything out of the retirement accounts and max out my credit cards to go on the most amazing vacation. But what would happen if I didn't die? I would have a mountain of debt and my savings would be gone. These are just the financial consequences. Alice has a little less travel and a lot more revenge on her list. Begrudgingly helping Alice with her list is Harvey. They have been friends since they were children and he just can't say no to her, especially because he has spent the last few years in love with Alice. Alice has accepted that she will die, but when life is back on the table, the world turns upside down for her.

One interesting thing about reading this not-another-teenage-cancer-book is that Alice is not always nice. She isn't the sweet, long-suffering, always-happy cancer patient that is so often presented in fiction. Alice, like most people, has a mean, ugly side, she gets angry about her cancer and with the people around her. She is also really amazing, adding good deeds to her list along with the not-so-good. We watch as she works through the same emotions any other girl her age would feel in addition to the cancer. This book raised some interesting points that would make for good discussion. Of course, what I really want to know is what would you do if you knew your time was coming to an end and would you worry about the consequences or let the cards fall where they may?

Saturday, October 24, 2015

The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow

Last weekend, I had a wonderful time at the Texas Book Festival in Austin, TX. One of the most enjoyable authors I heard speak was Erin Bow, author of The Scorpion Rules. Her reading of the prologue was so captivating that I immediately rushed to the book tent to purchase the book and have her sign it. Really- I heard a lot of authors read sections of their books last weekend, and Erin Bow was by far the most most intriguing, most emotive reader of them all. You know how a good audiobook sounds- well, that was Erin Bow. And she couldn't have picked a better way to introduce her book to new readers than through the voice of Talis, the AI overlord that now rules the world.

The Scorpion Rules takes place many generations in the future, after climate change has eliminated the ice caps and disease has ravaged whole populations. When widespread war breaks out, (of course people started shooting, because that's what passes for problem-solving among humans. See, guys, this is why you can't have nice things...) Talis puts a stop to our impending extinction by implementing a system of mutually assured destruction. Then he takes hostages: one beloved child from every leader of every nation.

As he says, Talis's first rule of stopping wars: make it personal.

And so he does. He creates compounds around the globe with the children of all the world leaders. When those leaders fail to peacefully solve their disputes and declare war, their children are killed, the idea being that it is a price they aren't willing to pay. For four hundred years this system has been in place when we meet Greta and her friends, the Children of Peace. When a new general is chosen in part of what used to be the United States, a new hostage is delivered. This is when we begin to see all the dirtier bits of what is required to maintain world peace. 

This book was wonderful. It has a strong message about the evils of war and our human (perhaps) inability to maintain peace.

There is a sense in which war is nothing but ritual: the magical change of blood into gold or oil or water. 

I love that statement. She goes on to discuss the "morality of altitude" and how bombs dropped from planes allow those dropping them to ignore the loss of life. Talis insists on making it personal. He says, 

If you want blood, then I want it all over your hands.

Later he says:

"Back in the day, it was always the children of the poor who fought the wars, always the Nobodies that died when the Somebodies decided that a scrap was worth snarling over. It changed things when the Somebodies got a little skin in the game."

The idea that casualties of war are just numbers on a ticker rather than real lives is barbaric and Talis intends to put a stop to that. While Greta is the main character of this novel, it is Talis's voice that I loved. He is terrible and awful, but also the one who saves us from ourselves. And in a dark, morbid way, he's really funny. Erin Bow does a wonderful job of drawing the reader in and then making that reader completely unsure of right or wrong, up or down.

I really liked this book, but this is why I hate getting in on the beginning of a series. This book was only just released a month ago. Who knows how long I will have to wait for the next installment to find out what happens next. I prefer to wait to the end of a series and then read it all at once. Unfortunately for me, I just couldn't make myself wait. And I really don't think you should wait either.

I'll leave you with the quote that begins the book and explains the title:

"We may be likened to two scorpions in a
bottle, each capable of killing the other, but
only at the risk of his own life."
--J. Robert Oppenheimer,
the scientific director of the Manhattan Project,
which developed the atomic bomb

Monday, October 19, 2015

Texas Book Festival 2015

I am still recovering from a fabulous weekend down in Austin, Texas, at the Texas Book Festival. My sister and I drove down and had a wonderful time hearing authors speak, buying books and getting our books signed by the authors. It won't surprise you to hear that I added a TON of books to my TBR list, which is a little unfortunate considering my last post about how I have two boxes full of books I need to read. However, this festival gave me back the spark for reading I've been missing over the last few months and has motivated me further to get rid of books I don't really want to read. There are just too many good books out there to waste time on something I feel like I should read. No more of that for me. As we wandered through the ginormous Barnes & Nobel book tent, I couldn't help but feel like I just want to sit and read them all.

So let me share with you a few highlights of the weekend. First of all, the festival was excellently organized. We had no trouble finding where we needed to be. If I have any complaint it's that I couldn't be in two (or three, or four) places at once. There were so many interesting panels and I think really something for everyone. The Festival even had its own app and it was very useful. The only thing they could have added was the author signing schedule.

I was able to hear so many interesting authors speak about their work and about their love of writing. Some of these authors I knew and was excited to hear, some were new to me and sparked a lot of additions to my Goodreads Want to Read list. I can't wait to read A School for Unusual GirlsA Step Toward FallingKissing in AmericaThe Great Good SummerWish Girl, and Famous in Love. Erin Bow did a reading of her book The Scorpion Rules and I ran right out to buy it and have her sign it for me. I'm starting it TODAY! I also really enjoyed Nova Ren Suma's reading of her book The Walls Around Us and Peter Kujawinski's reading of his book Nightfall. It didn't hurt things at all that those last two scary stories were read to us in the dark at the Texas State Cemetery Saturday night. Creepy and awesome! I loved hearing Jessica Day George and Michael Buckley and it was fun seeing Emory Lord again. Lauren Oliver was very high on our must-see list and my sister was completely star-struck by Marie Lu. I have heard such amazing things about Julie Murphy's book Dumplin' and hearing her panel was a great way to end the weekend.

And I have to tell you about the amazing dinner we had Saturday night. A friend suggested Gourdough's Donuts. I was really confused because I had no idea you could have dinner at a donut place. Oh, how much I had to learn. We went to the Downtown location and it was unbelievable. Donut burgers, entrees served over a hot donut, salads served with a garlic donut.

My sister had the Ron Burgundy burger:
Angus beef, lettuce, tomato, guacamole, bacon and a fried egg. She said it was delicious!

And I had the Mother Clucker:

It was two fried chicken breasts served on a hot donut, drizzled with a honey butter sauce. It was delicious, but it could have used a side salad, as silly as that may sound.

And of course, there was dessert. I ordered The Carney:

It was a hot donut with cream cheese icing, caramel, peanuts and grilled apples. I loved the caramel and cream cheese, but I flicked the apples and peanuts off to the side after a bite or two. I can't recommend this place enough and I would definitely go again. There are so many things I wanted to try!

It was a very busy, very fun weekend. We will most definitely be back!

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict by Laurie Viera Rigler

We are book lovers. We read because we love books and when we love books, we tend to be book hoarders collectors. I have been trying to work my way through two boxes of books that came to my attention as unread in our last move. You know how that is- you're at a bookstore or, even better, a book sale and somehow you end up with a stack of books larger than you can really carry. Then you take them all home, put them on a shelf and start making your way through them. The only problem is that there is always another book sale (yea!) and before you know it, you are over your head in TBR.

I have recently been trying to work my way through those two boxes of TBR and Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict by Laurie Viera Rigler was up next. Who knows how long ago I picked it up, but it has a very appealing premise. Courtney is a recently unengaged young woman nearing thirty whose obsession with Jane Austen provides her with her only comfort in a world that isn't exactly going the way she'd like. When she wakes one morning to find herself in the room, life and body of a young regency-era woman named Jane, she is utterly baffled. When she tries to explain to the people around her that she isn't who they think she is, they threaten to send her to a mental asylum. Knowing that is something she wants to avoid at all costs, Courtney assumes Jane's identity as best she can.

This was a cute book, a quick read and it sparked some compelling thoughts. Courtney retains her twenty-first century mind so it is interesting to see her reactions to eighteenth century health care and hygiene. This is the first book in a series so there are still so many questions, but I'm not sure that I'll get to the other books. They would be fun to read, but as stated above, I'm a little over my head as it is. Have you read this series? Should I continue? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

I'll leave you with this lovely bit of advice from a fortune teller that Courtney/ Jane meets:

"You, like everyone else, have a destiny to fulfill. You must stop resisting your destiny. Be where you are right now. Live your life. ...That is the only way to get where you're supposed to go."

Monday, September 28, 2015

The Royal We by Heather Cocks & Jessica Morgan

One review I read called The Royal We by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan "pure Kate Middleton fanfiction" and I totally agree, but why not? Kate is a modern-day fairy tale, at least as we know the story. The Royal We follows Rebecca (Bex) Porter as she spends a semester abroad at Oxford and happens to meet Prince Nicholas (Nick). She becomes fast friends with the prince and his close knit group of friends. As their relationship develops into something more, Bex must face that the Nick she knows has a side to him that comes with huge responsibilities and complications. With the press constantly on alert, Nick's father pushing for more appropriate young ladies and trying to keep everyone happy at once, Nick and Bex hit more than a few speed bumps.

This was a fun, engaging read, but I just hate it when a good book is ruined by a bad ending. It seemed to be going so well until an unnecessary plot twist throws a wrench into everything and then is somehow wrapped up nicely at the end. Except that it wasn't. The ending stopped short of an actual conclusion. Perhaps the authors intend to write a sequel or perhaps they just meant to leave it open to reader interpretation. It really only needed an epilogue, but this reader was out of luck.

There were so many moments in this book where I laughed right out loud or had to go back and reread because it was such a great section. The characters are mostly likable, expect for those we are meant to dislike. I am well aware that my opinion of this book may be skewed by my irrational need for a fully written happily ever after, so you may feel completely differently than I do. If you're in the mood for a silly, fun reimagining of the romance of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, definitely give this one a look. And feel free to tell me how wrong I am, if you so choose.

Friday, September 25, 2015

The Rosie Effect by Graeme Simsion

The wonderful characters from The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion are back in this fun sequel. 

**Of course, this being a sequel, there are bound to be spoilers in this review to the first book. Please proceed with caution.**


The Rosie Effect follows Professor Don Tillman and Rosie as they move to New York and begin their first year as husband and wife. Huge changes are ahead for the couple and just looking at the book cover should give you some clue about how enormous these changes will be. The first year of marriage is challenging to most people, but Don and Rosie have a few extra challenges that are unique to them, namely Don and Rosie. Though Rosie can give the impression that she is the "normal" one, she has just as much difficulty communicating as he does. While she is finishing her psychology doctorate dissertation, she is also beginning medical school. Why anyone would embark upon both of these things at the same time is beyond me, but combining those two things with moving to the other side of the world, settling into  marriage and the new event in her life makes things stressful and difficult. Don tries so hard to understand how to care for her and make her happy, but as we know from the first book, Don isn't very well equipped. He does his best to seek the advice of friends and professionals, but that doesn't always work out in his favor.

This book was just as much fun as The Rosie Project, even if I did find it a bit more frustrating. Every time Don would take bad advice or would misinterpret an important piece of information, I would get a little irritated. Having read that first book, however, helped me hang on and wait for the conclusion. I still adore Don. He's weird and if I met him in person, I might be a little creeped-out, but hearing his thought process makes him endearing. Saying things like this make me laugh:

She put her arms around me and kissed me in passionate mode rather than greetings mode.

His mind just works differently than most people's minds do. Except that this sounded a little familiar:

My love for Rosie was so powerful that it had caused my brain to make a grammatical error.

And the reader cannot help but feel sympathetic when reading the conversation that he has with Gene's young daughter Eugenie:

"You're probably not a genius. Excellent."
This of course confused Eugenie, but then he goes on to explain that being smart is good, but that being a genius can make life difficult. Being smart is just easier. He then hints about some of the difficulties he had growing up a genius and how he doesn't really want the same thing for his young friend.  

These characters are lovely. I have no idea if Simsion will write another Don Tillman book, but I'd love to see the next phase in his life. I have been thrilled to read that a movie based on The Rosie Project is in pre-production, especially since Jennifer Lawrence is attached. If you haven't read these books yet, I hope I haven't spoiled them for you and that you'll give them a read. Let me know what you think!

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty

She'd been so cozy in the cocoon of their relationship. She assumed she got to stay there forever.

I love a fun, flip-the-pages, don't-want-to-put-it-down novel, especially in the summer. What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty is perfect for that. Alice opens her eyes to a world as foreign to her as if she were suddenly on the other side of the world. She has fallen off of her bike in spin class (what in the world is she doing in a spin class), hit her head very hard and thinks that it is ten years ago. She believes she is pregnant with her first child and that everything in her life and marriage are just as they were. She is shocked to realize that it is 2008, she has three children and her marriage is in the late stages of a very nasty divorce. She can't imagine how this could have happened and she just wants her life back as it was. Unfortunately for Alice, the people around her all know it is 2008 and have no desire to go back in time. They know Alice as she is now and her relationships have all changed. It is very confusing for Alice and no one seems to want to fill her in on all the important points of the last ten years, most notably the status of her marriage. 

The progress of this book moves slowly allowing the reader to experience each confusing moment with Alice as she tries to figure out her life and the strange glimpses of memory that is all she has of the last ten years. I did find myself getting a little annoyed that Alice didn't seem to want to take her head injury seriously. If it were me, I would never have let a doctor walk away with out being assured that the next medical professional I saw would be a neurologist. Perhaps Alice is in denial about all that is happening to her and hopes that she can close her eyes and make it all go away. I also grew extremely irritated with Alice's family and friends who would skirt around the questions she asked. Something as simple and important as "Why are we getting divorced?" seems like a question that people should just answer for someone suffering from acute memory loss. And honestly, if Alice's mother said one more time "oh, but surely you remember that! You can't have forgotten that!" I would have jumped into the pages of this book and choked her. If a woman can forget the births of her three children it is safe to say she doesn't remember so-and-so's wedding several years before. Clearly this was meant to allow the reader to share Alice's frustrations and for me it worked.

I did enjoy the various perspectives we were able to explore through the narration shifts between Alice, her sister Elisabeth and their grandmother Frannie. Elisabeth's story is heartbreaking and to hear her discuss her struggles with infertility as well as how it was affecting her marriage and the rest of her life was enlightening. Frannie is elderly and living in a retirement community, but she still writes regularly to a man she has loved for decades. I loved how we were able to see that each of these women were more than they appeared on the surface and the truth is, aren't we all? This was no great piece of literature, but it was a fun read and will spark interesting conversations between friends, sisters and spouses. If you read it, please let me know what you thought!

Monday, August 10, 2015

We Never Asked for Wings by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

My goodness! This summer has really thrown a wrench in my reading and posting. School starts in only two weeks, so hopefully I'll be back on track soon. Recently I finished We Never Asked for Wings by Vanessa Diffenbaugh and it was really not what I was expecting. Letty is a young mother who hasn't done much mothering at all to her 15-year-old son Alex and 6-year-old daughter Luna. She hasn't had to- her mother has borne the brunt of the child-raising while Letty has worked up to three jobs to support the children, her mother and father and herself. This wasn't what she intended, but doubting her parenting ability, she allowed it to happen. Suddenly Letty's whole world is turned upside down: her parents have moved back to Mexico with no notice and left her to finally figure things out on her own. She has to gain the trust of her children and somehow take care of her new, smaller family.

This book touched on many different interesting themes: Letty's young motherhood, the mother-daughter relationship that Letty has with her own mother, poverty, illegal immigration and a its many consequences, young love, survival and the desperation to protect one's children. These are all interesting topics to be explored, and for the most part Diffenbaugh dug in deep and found something commendable, but as the story progressed I felt it lost steam. There was one conflict in particular that didn't have enough meat for me and it seemed to be added simply to satisfy the need for another chasm for the characters to cross. The final climax seemed to come very late and the resolution felt rushed to me. This is one of those books I really liked in the beginning, but felt unsatisfied in finishing. I have heard wonderful things about her previous novel, The Language of Flowers, but I've not read it. If you read this one, and find I've missed something, please let me know. Some books just need to be discussed.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

The Perfect Comeback of Caroline Jacobs by Matthew Dicks

Who among us hasn't wanted to just stand up and tell someone off in a totally inappropriate way? Oh, come on now... you know you've sat in a work meeting or in a class and just really wanted to yell out how stupid or mean or ridiculous someone else is being. I won't even mention sitting in traffic because that is such a given (seriously, why do people think their blinker gives them permission to just cut RIGHT IN FRONT OF ME??) (oops, look what I did there... and I'm not even writing this in my car). We have all had those moments but, for the most part, we are able to keep these things to ourselves or at least phrase them a little more politely.

In The Perfect Comeback of Caroline Jacobs by Matthew Dicks, that is not how Caroline Jacobs handles herself when the PTO President begins aggressively/ passive-aggressively admonishing another parent for not volunteering enough. Caroline, usually the most conflict-averse person anyone else knows, yells the most PTO parent shocking of all four- letter words at the PTO President herself. This is just the beginning of a series of events that bring Caroline back to her hometown to confront her childhood best friend turned bully and to come to terms with the long- ago death of someone very special to her. Along for the journey is Caroline's fifteen-year-old daughter from whom she has felt an ever increasing distance over the last year or so. This is a mother/daughter story, a sister story, a wife/husband story, and a best friend story.

This book is written by the author of Memoirs of and Imaginary Friend, which I really loved, so I had high expectations for this book. Dicks does a wonderful job of developing characters and weaving tiny tales into the larger story. There were bits in this book that I really wanted to read further. Caroline is a photographer at the Sears Portrait Studio, but in her spare time she takes fine art nature photos that she is too afraid to allow anyone to see. I wanted to hear more about her work, both in and out of the studio. There is a scene in the studio where Caroline is helping one client, a mother and her physically-challenged daughter, when another client begins to just be nasty. I love the way it is handled and I just wanted a little more- not because there wasn't enough, but because it was just so good.

Caroline's daughter, Polly, is rotten and hilarious. She is probably smarter than most of the adults around her, or at least smarter than they expect her to be, and she certainly seems to know it. I adored the description of her I'M NOT WITH STUPID ANYMORE T-shirt. It made me laugh out loud and think of all the women I know that would love to have that very shirt. She also regularly quotes Monty Python, so you know she's pretty great. Caroline is just beginning to see her daughter, not as the little girl she once was, but as the young woman she is becoming and also as the woman she might like to be a little more like herself.

This book further goes on discuss how the events of high school can stick with us for years, even decades. Caroline admits that the way she was treated by her "friends" twenty-five years ago shouldn't still affect her, but she can see how it changed the trajectory of her life, in small ways that became larger. We want to let go of those hurts, but when they happen during such a foundational time in our lives, they can change us. When Caroline has the opportunity to finally speak up for herself, can she take it or will she once again let it go?

I really liked this book, though it wasn't quite as good as Memoirs. This is another book that I think would make for a great book group discussion. We all have high school baggage and certainly we've all dealt with it differently. So, dare I ask, what is your baggage?

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Those Secrets We Keep by Emily Liebert

Sometimes I read books that aren't my typical genre just to reach out and maybe find something fun that I would have missed otherwise. I am always so pleased when this works out in my favor. In the case of Those Secrets We Keep by Emily Liebert, I can't really call it a success. Sloane has a great life, some people might even think it is perfect. She is married to her gorgeous high school sweetheart who adores her and she has a wonderful daughter whom she adores. The problem is that over the last year or so Sloane has felt that something in her life is missing, she feels unsettled and unhappy and she doesn't even really know why. When her aunt offers to let her use her vacation house for three weeks, Sloane is thrilled with the idea. "Enter broken. Leave fixed." These are the words her aunt gives her as a promise and as a mandate. Sloane takes her friend Hillary with her and they set off for a much-needed rest, only that rest is interrupted when Sloane's best friend from college, Georgina, crashes the party. Georgina is anything but restful and Sloane is still angry with her for leaving her in her time of need a year before. Of course, as the title makes clear, there are plenty of secrets between the three women and eventually they all come pouring out of them. 

I don't usually like chick lit and this is it to the core. It's about women and friendships, and it would be a perfect beach read for someone who enjoys this genre, but it really didn't appeal to me very much. Sloane is unhappy in her marriage, but rather than take the time to work on it, she runs off and pretends the problems don't exist. Georgina and Hillary are also both running from their own secrets and don't appear to put much work into making things better until the very end. In the author's note at the end, she suggests there may be a sequel so that may be why the end felt abrupt. I can't say I found any of these women particularly likable which also made this a difficult read for me. Of course I am well aware that there is a great following of this genre and as far as I can tell this book would certainly be enjoyed by its fans. If this is your kind of thing, pick it up and hopefully you'll see something I missed.

Monday, June 22, 2015

The Martian by Andy Weir

It is so exciting as a reader to find a book like The Martian by Andy Weir. This is one of those books that will hook its readers from the very first page, make its readers laugh out loud (no matter how strangely other people may look at her) and keep its readers turning the pages as quickly as possible. Mark Watney is an astronaut and is currently on a mission to Mars. The first five days were great- and then day six happened. Well, Sol Six, since "days" are calculated differently on Mars. On Sol six, a catastrophic event left Watney all alone on the red planet and now he has to figure out how to survive.

This book was suspenseful and exciting and it made me laugh really hard in some places. It was technical enough to make me feel smart for reading it, but the technical bits were never overwhelming. The science factor of this book was so interesting and compelling that I am planning to let my eleven-year-old read it, despite the fact that it isn't exactly a children's book. There is quite a bit of cursing in the book, as one might imagine would happen in such an insane situation, but seeing as he's starting middle school in the fall, I'm thinking there won't be anything he hasn't already heard.

Mark Watney seems like just the kind of great guy everyone would love and in this book everyone does. One of my favorite things about this book is that there is no enemy, no character to hate. The antagonist is Mars herself and Mark does everything he can to defeat her while still maintaining his sense of humor and, somehow, his sanity. He is sarcastic and completely irreverent of his situation, but he's also a total genius. As a botanist and a mechanical engineer, he uses every ounce of his knowledge to get from one Sol to the next.

I suppose I'll think of something. Or die.

...there'll be nothing left but the "Mark Watney Memorial Crater"...

It's a terrible thing to have my life depend on my half-assed handiwork.

He takes great pleasure in laughing about the fact that he is the only man on the planet.

...I'm about 100 kilometers from Pathfinder. Technically it's "Carl Sagan Memorial Station." But with all due respect to Carl, I can call it whatever the hell I want. I'm the King of Mars.

While Mark is attempting to piece together some way to not die, back on Earth he is getting quite a lot of attention. And in addition to loving Mark, the characters we meet that work for NASA are just as wonderful. This book is written in such a way that the reader cannot help but become invested in the characters. I cheered for their successes and worried along with them with things went wrong. And at one point, I had to put the book down and walk away because I was freaking out so badly over one section. Seriously, it was so crazy and so so good.

The way Weir imagines the mission is fascinating. It is obviously set in the future, but there is no indication of how near or far this future could be which makes it fun to imagine watching such a mission in my lifetime. And it isn't totally removed from reality. At one point, the mission commander says this:

"Uncle Sam paid a hundred thousand dollars for every second we'll be here."

Wow. And I really don't think that's far fetched at all. I also really appreciated the way Weir wrote in the perspective transitions. The story never sits too long on one perspective or moves on too quickly. The timing is just about perfect and that is a difficult balance to find.

This was a fantastic book and I highly recommend it. The movie version is set for release at the beginning of October and it is starring Matt Damon. First a disclaimer: I LOVE MATT DAMON! However, despite that fact, I can't imagine a better actor to play Mark Watney. The whole time I was reading this book, I could totally hear Matt Damon's voice saying Watney's words. Here is the official trailer so that you can see for yourself how good this looks. I enjoyed this book so much that I bought a copy of it for my husband and another for my dad for Father's Day. I really think they'll like it and so will you. Even if this isn't the kind of book you typically read, give it a try. You'll be so glad you did.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

The Boldly Bookish Tour

What a fun night! I was invited to an author reception for the Boldly Bookish Tour hosted by Bloomsbury Children's and it was such a great time. We met at Buca di Beppo and had some delicious appetizers and pizza and over an hour of great chat time with the authors and other book lovers. I really enjoyed talking with these lovely ladies and hearing about their writing and all the fun things they've done while on this tour and because I love you, Smart Girls, I'll share a bit of what I learned.

Trish Doller is the author of The Devil You Know, an exciting book that I can't wait to read. It was described last night as a feminist thriller that is terrifying, but in the best way possible. I was sitting a bit away from her, so I didn't get to hear as much as I would have liked, but I did hear her say how much this tour has meant to her. She didn't share details, but she said that one night a young woman came up to her and told her how much her book had influenced her and that it had prompted her to make some real changes in her life. Trish said it really got to her and "isn't that why we do this in the first place?". It was very moving to see an author so touched by a fan's response to her work.

I was intensely happy to have been seated so closely to A. C. Gaughen. She said we could call her Annie and that the best way she has to help people pronounce her last name goes back to a high school election in which her campaign slogan was "Use your noggin, vote for Gaughen!" The slogan and the election were both successes. Annie is the author of the Scarlet series, historical novels based on the tale of Robin Hood and rewriting the character of Will Scarlet as a woman named Scarlet. I so enjoyed the conversation we were able to have. Annie helped found Boston Glow, an organization aimed at helping girls and women become leaders in their communities and use their voices for change. Previous to the event, I had found Annie's Ted Talk and I gushed to her about how wonderful I thought it was. We talked about the need for art in education (she is a teaching fellow at Harvard focusing on that very subject) and also her desire to encourage more girls in the STEM fields. Seriously, if you ever get the chance to sit next to Annie at talk for a while (or longer if you're lucky), TAKE IT!

Near the end of the table sat Emery Lord, author of The Start of Me and You, which I loved! Emery is funny and a little goofy and a vegetarian. She is obsessed with RuPaul's Drag Race and she told a hilarious story about taking the other tour ladies out to an appearance of some of the participants of the show. Tiffany found a rainbow colored sequined dress that Annie convinced her to wear and then the two of them challenged Emery to find something equally appropriate for meeting her drag queen heroines. Tiffany had to twist her arm a bit, but Emery spent the evening in a lace jumpsuit and she was rewarded by the firm approval of one of the queens. It was a riot listening to the whole group get in on telling this story.

Finally, I was so happy to be able to sit across from the lovely Tiffany Schmidt. She is the author of Hold Me Like a Breath and I am also really looking forward to reading this retelling of The Princess and the Pea set within a human-organ black market trading crime family. Really- how can anyone resist that premise? Tiffany was very sweet and friendly and she told me about her twin four-year-olds that she was missing while on tour. She also told me that her next novel is set in Texas so the trip yesterday was a good start on her research. She also spoke about her writing process and how her editor continues to push her to "write from her edges". If she is comfortable with what she is writing, she needs to push herself a little further. I thought this was wonderful advice for all writers, actually for everyone. Don't we all want to push ourselves beyond our comfort zones to see what we can accomplish?

It was a lovely evening and I am so grateful to Barnes and Nobel and Bloomsbury Children's for hosting and inviting me. I highly recommend you look for book events in your local area. I have had the most wonderful time meeting these ladies and hearing them speak, not to mention all the other amazing book lovers and Smart Girls!

Thursday, June 11, 2015

The Start of Me and You by Emery Lord

I just finished reading The Start of Me and You by Emery Lord. It was the perfect summer read- quick and hard to put down. Paige Hancock is just beginning her junior year of high school and she is ready for a change. The past year has been a difficult one- her boyfriend, Aaron, died- and while she is still sad about Aaron, she is ready to move on from all the pitying looks she gets from everyone in their small town. She is ready to embrace life again and she has made the perfect plan to begin again. 

The characters in this book are wonderful. I love that Paige is nerdy and awkward without being a caricature of nerdy and awkward. She is extraordinarily Type A (she picks out each days outfit at the beginning of the week and really doesn't like it when her sister messes with it), she is nicknamed Grammar Girl, and she chooses to join the QuizBowl team in an effort to be more involved at school. I love the way she feels about school and isn't ashamed of it. On the first day back from summer, she is glad to be there:

Did you just intentionally inhale the scent of high school?" Kayleigh asked, laughing.
I shrugged. "I know it's not a good smell, but it smells like...possibility."
"Possibility has a smell?", Morgan asked, teasing me. "What else does? Happiness?"
"Sure," I said, giving her a defiant look. "Birthday candle smoke. Movie theater popcorn. A fresh Christmas tree."

I also love her group of friends and that they love her just as she is. I like that her best friend Tessa seems to already know who she is and cares very little about the opinions of her peers. And I love how supportive they all are of one another.

Morgan insisted on painting my nails every weekend while we marathoned TV shows. It seemed so silly, so pointless. Until I looked down at my mint-green or petal-pink nails in class: one beautiful. glossy thing in my life. My friends added the first colors to my black-and-white world.

These are friends worth having. And they are the kind of friends we should all strive to be.

I love that Paige's family is such a part of the story. So many times authors leave out these other relationships and it seems so obvious that these are the people who make the main characters who they are. Her divorced parents confuse her, her grandmother is her truest confidant with whom she shares things she could tell no one else. She even grows to see her sister in a new way, "so nearly a peer." And through these relationships, Paige is able to grow and learn. Some relationships work out, others don't. A bad relationship can be ended and a bad boyfriend isn't better than no boyfriend at all.

I also really loved all the nerdy things that Lord wove throughout the book. The summer reading assignment in their Honors English class was Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. I loved reading that in high school and even thinking about it still makes me laugh. I loved the bit when Tessa and Paige agree to watch a Firefly marathon with Max, but I really laughed when Ryan came in and said this:

"Okay, what is happening here?"
"Sci-fi education at its finest," Max said.
"Oh my God," Ryan said, his gaze moving between me and Tessa. "Are you being held here against your will? Blink twice if you're hostages."

I love the nerd-poking and the fact that no one is embarrassed by their nerdiness. 

Finally, my favorite thing about this book was that it Paige wasn't the typical whiney-girl-who-has-to-get-the-boy-or-life-is-over kind of person. She makes herself. She takes her grandmother's advice to "live her life" and that is just such a good thing. "Live your life and everything else will fall into place." "Love extra, even if it means you hurt extra, too. That's how we honor them." Man, I loved Paige's grandmother. And I loved that Paige was smart enough to take her advice.

I used to think it took me so long because, on some level, I wasn't quite ready to be with [spoiler]. But now I think I wasn't quite ready to be me. I needed to relearn myself.. to venture into new friendships and nerdy after-school activities and my own mind. I needed to realize that I was one-fourth of a family that is not normal and that no family is normal. I needed to paddle... I needed to let go of my unknowns...

The Fangirl's Guide to the Galaxy by Sam Maggs

"It's never been a better time to be a geek girl." So says the description of The Fangirl's Guide to the Galaxy by Sam Maggs. It is subtitled "A Handbook for Girl Geeks" and so I was immediately drawn to it. I don't know that I qualify as a "geek girl", but I at least make camp on the fringes.  I am a proudly self-proclaimed nerd, whether it be of the book or any other variety and there are certainly things I geek out about, therefore a book aimed at similar girls must be read. Sam Maggs wrote this book to reach out to all the Girl Geeks whom she felt were being overlooked and marginalized by "the often male-dominated world of geekdom."

Maggs' book gives permission (not that we need it) to all the girls out there who feel like they are being told they aren't allowed to like something, or like it as passionately as they do, because they are girls. This is a fabulous feminist manual for teaching us that we should like what we like and not care what anyone says. It embraces all the wonderful things out there that maybe we used to think were just for the boys: video games, comics, anime, Star Wars, Comic-Con, or anything else out there that makes us geek out.

She begins her book by lauding all geekiness.

My geekiness has made me friends all over the world, women who continue to be the most intelligent, well-spoken, and wonderful people I know.... What's more, regardless of their particular fandom, geek girls are devoted to supporting women in media., constantly pushing an agenda of acceptance, diversity, and fair representation.

This book is a primer for anyone curious about any aspect of the "geekdom". She breaks down some of the most populated fandoms by their defining characteristics, key accessories, tips on how to join in on the fun and details the unending debates among those that are members. I was surprised at how many of these she listed while also knowing there are thousands more. She talks about Potterheads, SuperWhoLockians, Ringers, Otaku, Trekkies, Star Warriors, Batgirls, YA Book Nerds, Whedonites, Girls Who Game, and lots more. She is also clear to point out that everyone is different and even within the fandoms, there are distinctions. And while I definitely nerd out to a lot of things, I only identified with a few she listed, but it's always fun to learn about someone else's passion. She also gives excellent advice for anyone wanting to attend her first convention. From the ginormous Comic-Con in San Diego to several smaller conventions around the U.S. and Canada, Maggs will help you get there and have a great time.

The feminist in me loves the feminist in Maggs. She brings a strong sense of girl power into her love of the geeks. I especially appreciate her drawing attention to the concept of the Bechdel Test. This is a test created by Alison Bechdel used to call out gender bias in films, television and other forms of entertainment. Simply answer three easy questions:
1. Are there two female characters with names?
2. Do they talk to each other?
3. Do they talk about something other than a man?

This may seem silly, but it is shocking how many things fail this once you put them to the test.

Finally, I love the list of resources at the end of the book for anyone wanting to expand her geekiness or find other like-minded ladies. I've marked them all and I'm making my way through one website at a time. And I have to love someone who says this:

"I'm nobody's sidekick, love interest, or token female. I'm driving this ship. I'm a fangirl, a feminist, and a force to be reckoned with."

Thursday, June 4, 2015

The Distant Hours by Kate Morton

Imagine a letter carrier's bag has been lost in an attic somewhere for fifty years and in it are letters never delivered. These days, it's likely that most of that would be junk mail or bills, but in 1942 when this particular bag was misplaced,back when people still wrote letters, the contents were much more personal. This is the beginning of The Distant Hours by Kate Morton. When Edie's mother is the recipient of one of these lost letters, and when Edie sees her mother's reaction, it sends Edie to uncover the truth of her mother's past.

What an intriguing premise, isn't it? That is precisely what drew me to this book. Unfortunately for me, it was a very long, slow read that alternated narrators and timelines in an almost jarring manner. When the letter leads Edie to a castle in the countryside, we meet the three elderly sisters who live there and we listen as their secrets are slowly, SLOWLY, teased out of them. This book was beautifully written, but perhaps I wasn't in the right frame of mind to have the patience for it. This was just one of those books that would sit on my bedside table and would not call out to me. Once the story began to reveal itself, I was more drawn in, but I was nearly three-quarters of the way through it before I felt any pull to read it. Normally, I would have walked away much sooner, but so many people speak so highly of Ms. Morton's work that I really wanted to like it and so I continued. And, while it seemed to be taking forever, I really did want to know about the grand mystery at the heart of the story.

I won't say I don't recommend this book, but I think it would be wise to save it for a time that you can give it your full attention. Oh, and I think the fall or winter would be a better season to read it. Some books just seem to require colder, wetter weather and to me, this is one. If I've totally gotten this wrong, I'd love to hear what I missed. I'm always happy to hear your opinions!

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

A Signing Event with Deborah Harkness

I had the BEST TIME last night! As much as I love books and the authors who write them, I have never been to a book signing event and last night I was able to rectify that. Deborah Harkness, the author of the All Souls Trilogy came to the Barnes and Noble in the town where I live. I have been so excited for months waiting for today, but I had begun to worry that it might not live up to my expectations. Luckily for me, it did. Last week, I stopped in at B&N to get a wristband for the event so when I showed up tonight I had a reserved seat in the third row. I arrived about forty-five minutes early anyway and it was wonderful chatting with the people around me. I met a few members of a very active All Souls Discussion Group from Facebook and the woman sitting next to me was just lovely. We had a great time getting to know one another. Her name is Kristen and she is about to launch her own book blog which I cannot wait to read. She also told me about an amazing-sounding day camp in Austin called Camp Half-Blood run by Book People, the largest independent bookstore in Texas. We talked about how much we love books and how, when we meet new people, we always try to pick out the "book nerds" like us. Needless to say, this was a book nerd- infested event and we loved it!

While we waited for Ms. Harkness to arrive, the B&N employees kept us well entertained and even gave away a few prizes. The young woman who appeared to be in charge of the event even hand-crafted these fun little necklaces, one of which I was so excited to win. How cool is that?!

When Ms. Harkness joined us, a whisper immediately swept over the crowd to alert us all that "She's here!" and "Look! It's her!" After a little trouble with the microphone, of which she very amiably joked, she launched right in by asking if any one of us had not yet completed reading The Book of Life, the book she was currently promoting. A few people raised their hands and Ms. Harkness was considerate enough of them to ask the rest of us to carefully meter our questions during the Q&A portion of the evening to avoid the lion's share of the spoilers. I was a little worried about how this might hamper the discussion, but she handled it seamlessly. She then read two sections from the early part of the book and gave us further information about them. One of my favorite things I learned tonight was that Ashmole 782 is an actual manuscript that belongs to the Bodleian Library in Oxford and that it is, in fact, missing. She told us of how, in 1982 while there on a research trip she had attempted to call Ashmole 782 for her historical research at the time, but the slip returned to her informing her that the manuscript was missing. She even joked about how greatly the calls for it have increased over the last few years.

I was also lucky enough to be one of the six people chosen to ask a question. I asked about how difficult it is to allow a character in a book to die and if she had made that decision or if she had always know it must happen that way. She told of how she had been watching so much of the news at the time about all the service men and women in Iraq and Afghanistan who were being killed and how she knew that not everyone can survive a war. She said she knew it had to be one of two characters that would die, but each time she attempted to write it one way, that character would not be killed. I love the way she discussed each of her characters as if they each have their own will. I was also rather pleased that she ended her answer by saying it was a good question - and then I realized she said that to everyone and that it was very nice of her and I'll hold on to my tiny bit of praise anyway.

She ended with telling us about how she is in the development stage of bringing the All Souls Trilogy to BBC in a miniseries and we were all very happy to hear that those plans are still moving forward. She also said that she has much yet to write and compared the stories in her head to wriggling puppies- she gets hold of one and it gets away from her- but she assured us that she would begin her next project soon. I cannot wait to read what she writes next. I envy all her students at USC and I can't help but imagine myself in one of her lecture halls.

It was a fantastic evening and I'm so glad I was able to attend. I loved meeting other book nerds like myself and hearing them speak as passionately about books as I do. Thank you to Barnes & Noble for hosting and a very special thank you to Ms. Harkness for putting us on her tour schedule. It was wonderful.