Book Reviews

Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam

Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam is not your typical suspense novel.

The best way to describe Leave the World Behind is that it is somehow both subtle and specific.

Human nature + the unknown + what we do when we are put to the test are themes throughout.

I will not lie – while it picked up at the end, I struggled with a good chunk of this book. Leave the World Behind is certainly not an edge-of-your-seat thriller. It is at times (purposefully?) slow.

The writing style is also in stark contrast to the books I normally read. One thing specifically is that I had a hard time connecting to the characters.

After I finished reading, I watched a couple short videos of Rumaan Alam talking about Leave the World Behind and I think if I had watched them while I was having Motivation Difficulties, it would have helped – must remember this tip for future reading!

What kept me going were the overall themes and that I was intrigued by the concept itself. Plus this line specifically I really enjoyed: “if they weren’t human, in this moment, then they were nothing.”

This book was hard to read while I was reading it, but I’ve been thinking about the concepts ever since. Maybe that’s just as important, if not more so. That almost makes me want to read it again – so I can see what I missed the first time.

The mystery of the emergency in the city also compelled me to keep reading because I wanted to find out what actually happened.

In summary, I’m glad I read it. It was easy to put down but impossible to forget about so I kept coming back to it. I think it’ s important to explore texts outside of our “reading comfort zone”.

Rich and Pretty by Rumaan Alam sounds more my speed – it’s about two best friends who grow up and have to find out if they can still be best friends. That’s definitely a concept I’m familiar with. I think I’ll give that one a shot next 🙂

Read more about Rumaan Alam and his other projects here.

Successful reading, friends!

Book Reviews

Happiness Week + Buy Yourself the F*cking Lilies

Over the course of multiple weeks, I read Tara Schuster’s Buy Yourself the F*cking Lillies while working out on my treadmill.

It took some adjusting, I assure you. I’ve read on a stationary bike before but the treadmill was a new ballgame.

I would definitely recommend that you do not read this book while on the treadmill because if you – like me – like to journal or take notes, it’s really hard to do while working out. I took pictures of a couple things with my phone or saved something in the notes app, but it’s not quite the same.

Buy Yourself the F*cking Lilies will motivate you to create a life surrounded by the things you love from the inside out. Your existence will be full to the brim with reminders of the the things that make you happy. From the way you treat others to the way you respect yourself, this book will have something for you.

One thing Tara Schuster suggested in the book is writing down your wishes and putting them in a pretty place that is meaningful to you. Hers is a macaron box, mine also happens to be a macaron box. It’s a beautiful dark green with gold writing and is the perfect vessel for wishes both big and small. It had been sitting on a counter because I couldn’t bear to throw it away – destiny obviously had a plan for it. 🙂

She also shares a gratitude exercise she received as a recommendation – writing down a certain amount of things you’re grateful for every day in a journal. If you do that every day for a month, that’s 300 things to be grateful for! And if you did it for a whole year? That’s 3,650 things! You’ll likely repeat some things, but being able to recognize gratitude in even the smallest moments is important.

Her book (and some personal events) inspired me to do a “happiness challenge”. From January 20th to January 31st, I did one thing every day that made me happy, with the caveat that it be something I was doing intentionally for myself.

Doing things for your own happiness is so so so important to our wellness and self-worth. Tara Schuster reminded me that I am deserving of being treated intentionally well.

I am not an after-thought. I am not on this earth for passive consideration.

By treating myself well, I show others how I want to be treated.

This does not mean I want other people to buy me pearls and wine & dine me (don’t get me wrong, that sounds great!) This exercise helped shape my perception of treatment that I will accept from men in particular.

I have long struggled with less-than-adequate behavior from men being justified as something exceptional and noteworthy. I do not need a wealthy partner, but I do need someone who understands that the bare minimum will not fly. We all deserve to be treated in the best possible way.

This does not mean someone wealthy who can buy you things. This means someone’s intentions and actions match – if not exceed – the level of respect and care you know you deserve.

It’s been a few weeks since I finished the happiness week and a lot happened emotionally that sidelined the blog. Revisiting this post at this particular time is major because it goes to show how much I once again began to prioritize other things over my own happiness. Although, I have been able to stick with a daily journaling practice because of it – so something positive did come about.

I like to buy myself flowers every week or so to add color and freshness to my home.

My Happiness Activities

Day 1 – Got fancy at home in a dress + pearls
Day 2 – Bought myself beautiful white flowers that looked good everywhere in my house
Day 3 – Did a writing exercise (check out the blog post here)
Day 4 – Baking – almond flour chocolate chip banana bread
Day 5 – Watched some Jim Gaffigan stand-up
Day 6 – Taking photos and playing around with editing
Day 7 – Laughing with others and getting to know them
Day 8 – Running
Day 9 – Singing and listening to music I love
Day 10 – Hiking
Day 11 – Grocery shopping

I will note that on day 10, I did my activity – hiking – and did not feel happier in those moments. I fully recognized that hiking generally makes me happy and on that particular day it did not. This lesson was important for two reasons:
1. It reminded me that we are humans with various stressors going on internally and externally
2. I did the activity anyway, knowing that I wouldn’t at least feel worse for having tried.

White wine for little moments ❤

What makes you happy? What inspires you to spread joy or a lesson learned?

Check out more from Tara Schuster and learn about her book at her website.

Happy reading, friends!

Book Reviews, books, Poetry, Special Guests

Author Q+A with Alma Gray

Alma Gray is the pseudonym of Serenity Brame and the author behind Lucid Lies, a self-described collection of dark and passionate poetry. Released in 2020, Lucid Lies was a work years in the making and explores the rawest parts of ourselves.

Poetry can be used to both escape and explore reality. I like to think of poetry as the Room of Requirement in the Harry Potty series – it’s what you need it to be when you need it. One day you could read a poem and you think it means one thing, but a few years later – when you’re at a different place in life – you see it with an entirely fresh perspective.

Alma Gray’s collection Lucid Lies explores emotions that come from a deep place. Read on to learn what inspires Alma Gray, why she prefers free-verse poetry, and what we can look forward to next.

Congratulations on publishing your first poetry collection Lucid Lies! Could you tell us a little about yourself?
Thank you! My name is Serenity, I love anything and everything related to art (the darker and weirder the better). 

How did you get started as a writer?
In the first grade I had a wonderful teacher, Ms. Singley, and she was so encouraging when it came to creating art and writing stories. She had this rare ability to cultivate a sense of adventure during her lessons, and it inspired me to start painting and writing. I began writing stories, then journal entries, and eventually took a stab at poetry.

What inspired you to work on Lucid Lies and ultimately publish it?
I wrote the majority of these poems during high school. Reading and writing morbid content was my escape from reality at the time. Eventually, my feelings took shape in the form of free-verse. When I gained independence, I started to separate myself from escapism as I learned healthier alternatives. This publication was a very therapeutic experience. It sort of felt like I could finally put the past aside, move on, and step into a life I desired.

These poems are so raw and cover topics that can be very personal. Why are these topics important to you?
They’re important to me because they sort of defined my identity as a kid. I couldn’t open up to anyone in my life which is why loneliness and despair are recurrent motifs throughout this collection. I felt like an outsider because of the weight I carried in my heart, and I assumed it was an inescapable burden that I would simply have to live with. Though I’m in a much healthier place in my life, angsty poetry will have a special place in my heart forever.

One element that stands out in Lucid Lies is the imagery; the use of color specifically spoke to me in the way that it helped set the tone and evoke feeling. You also apply free-verse. Why did you choose these styles?
Descriptive imagery has always been my favorite literary device. I have a bunch of weird ideas bouncing around in my head, and both imagery and free-verse help me to express them best. 

What was your writing practice like and did it change while working on this collection?
When it comes to poetry, I typically write when I feel very strong emotions. Since I didn’t write them with the intention to publish, my writing style remained the same. 

What was the most challenging aspect of creating Lucid Lies?
The editing process was very difficult. I’m a big believer in breaking grammatical rules for the sake of poetic nuance, but I reigned it in a lot to appease the kindle publishing guidelines.

How did you choose the title Lucid Lies?
I just made a list of titles that sounded pretty to me. Some runner ups were ‘Sunkissed and Sappy’, ‘Daisies Picked to Death’, and ‘Tempered Passions’.

Is there anything specific in your life that inspires you to write?
The messy yet tender aspects of love inspires me. Movies, books, and music inspires me. Anything sad inspires me. My dreams and nightmares definitely spur a lot of creative energy. I pretty much write about anything, no matter how silly. I once wrote about a raccoon that was caught in a trap set up on the roof. I even wrote a poem about the “that’s what she said” jokes from The Office.

Do you share your works in progress or wait until they are complete?
I typically wait unless I really need a second opinion on something that will affect the entire work. 

What is one thing you want to share with readers about this collection?
I hesitated to include anything that appears to romanticize substance abuse/mental illness, and I’m hoping it doesn’t come off that way. Majority of the situations I wrote about are fictional.

Why did you decide to publish under a pseudonym? What is significant about the name Alma Gray?
I intend to publish any future novels under my real name. Since this is very different from the type of work I want to publish in the future, I felt it was better to publish it under a pseudonym. 

Do you have any other projects in the works?
Yes, I’m currently writing a YA novel about a teen who discovers she has very special abilities when she goes searching for a lost family member. I’m still writing poetry, but it’s mostly about mental wellness and self love.

What advice would you give to other writers who are new to writing poetry?
I’d say if it’s written with passion, it’s something to be proud of. I recommend trying out every form, but I love that free-verse poetry allows for unmitigated passion, redundancy, and pure mess. I hope people new to poetry abuse this style to aid in creative expression.

If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self, what would it be?
I would tell myself to start reading at a higher level. I was very interested in reading about vampires and werewolves, so I didn’t focus on advanced texts until later in high school.

Who are your favorite poets?
Kris Kidd and Sylvia Plath.

And finally, what are you currently reading?
I’m scatterbrained so I’m circling between House of Leaves, Dogs of Detroit, and Good Bones and Simple Murders. 

Many thanks to Serenity for participating in today’s Q+A! Lucid Lies is available in paperback and Kindle from Amazon. Be sure to keep an eye out for future works by author Serenity Brame.

If you or anyone you know is struggling or has concerns about their mental health, check out these resources listed on the National Institute of Mental Health website. Domestic violence resources can be found at the Hotline. An internet search of resources will also yield results specific to your local area.

Book Reviews

Discussion: Hood Feminism by Mikki Kendall

Mikki Kendall’s “Hood Feminism: Notes from the Women that a Movement Forgot” is FULL of important information.

Feminism is not just for women and is not just about women – but so much of it is about women using their voices to help.

Mikki Kendall’s essays will inspire you to think twice about your actions and what it means to serve a community.

A discussion of this book is the first video posted on my new YouTube page. Please check it out and let me know what you think!

In 2021, let’s continue to diversify our narratives and stand up to the call to action.

Have a great weekend, friends!

Book Reviews

Magic Lessons by Alice Hoffman

Magic Lessons by Alice Hoffman tells the story of Maria Owens – a young witch, afraid to fall in love, afraid to let anyone have power over her being.

I remember watching Practical Magic with my mom and my sister, thinking – obviously – how cool it would be to be able to do magic.

And did anyone else think those pancakes looked amazing??

I haven’t read Practical Magic, but I did previously read The Rules of Magic (which I also highly recommend). Honestly, I don’t know how I haven’t read PM yet… This will be my one and only 2021 new years resolution.

I digress.

Love is fickle, they say. Love is patient and kind.

I don’t know what I believe about love at this point in my life. I’m grappling with some personal things, so if I may be fully transparent, it was difficult for me to get into Magic Lessons because I did not want to think about love when I started reading it. It’s not a traditional romance novel, but the emotion of love in this story feels very strong to me. Any talk of heartbreak makes me want to bury my head in the sand, yet I persevered.

(I recently did two romance novels reviews and while I only briefly mentioned the above in one of those reviews, my sentiment holds true. It is very difficult sometimes for me to read about love. In a Holidaze was funny and The Right Swipe let me get out some of my online dating angst.)

But my favorite parts of this story would not exist without love – when Maria falls in love, when she is so tormented that she casts the now-famous (dare I say infamous?) curse on the Owens women, when her love for her daughter consumes her.

This tale takes the reader from England to Curacao and eventually Massachusetts and New York, meeting a slew of interesting characters along the way – some good, some bad.

Ultimately, this story reminds us that we must all decide to use our gifts for good or evil, for love or vengeance. Even the gifts that some people can’t see.

Alice Hoffman has written TONS of books that all look simply magical! Learn more about Alice Hoffman and her other works at her website.

Happy reading, friends!

Book Reviews

Vicious by V. E. Schwab

Vicious tells the story of Victor and Eli: college buddies, roommates, handsome and intelligent, and striving for excellence.

And it presents an ultimate question – What will you do to be a hero?

Victor and Eli are ambitious. Their experiments in near-death experiences lead them down a path of no return. Will they go beyond the brink or will it be too late to stop each other?

I like to read on the back patio while my son plays outside.

This story was a fast read. The science-made-relative aspect reminded me a little of Michael Crichton and I liked that the chapters alternated storylines so we got to learn about each of the primary characters.

This book makes you think about what it means to be a hero or an anti-hero. Good vs evil and wrong vs right have a lot of grey area. Something that starts with the best intentions can still turn sour, and the worst situations can prevent interesting opportunities.

I am not a huge “superhero” fan. I like the old Superman movies and the Batman ones with Christian Bale, but I don’t own any comic books. Vicious was still a comfortable read to dip a toe into the proverbial waters of that world.

Learn more about V. E. Schwab and her other works – including Vengeful, the sequel to Vicious – on her website.

Happy reading, friends!

Book Reviews

The Binding by Bridget Collins

Happy 2021 to friends old and new! Oak + River Books’ first post of 2021 features historical fiction-meets-low fantasy novel The Binding. The author, Bridget Collins, has over a decade of published writing under her belt. Exploring more of her work is on my 2021 list of to-dos (note: not resolutions 🙂 ).

I purchased The Binding by Bridget Collins back in October, intrigued by the bookbinder aspect (which I am unfamiliar with) and, as always, lured by a pretty cover.

So purple!

Emmett Farmer is taken to a bookbinder’s home/shop to become their apprentice. The storyline twists and turns as we meet an assortment of interesting characters. The premise of the story is that books are off limits – telling you why would be a spoiler so you’ll have to dive in to find out.

Imagine being told books are bad then suddenly being sent off to learn how to make them. How confusing that would be!

In full transparency – I felt that the beginning had a few slow moments but the plot picks up and before I knew it, I was sucked in!

One of the things I liked about Collins’ writing style was her descriptive language. This quote about the moonlight really stuck out to me.

Collins definitely did some research on the details which makes the story come to life. I appreciated that the characters had very distinguished traits and some I wanted to see more of.

Dare I say it: there is totally room for a sequel and I will not be upset if that happens! I would love to learn more about what happens to Emmett as he emerges from being a young man into full-fledged adulthood.

The Binding is Collins’ first adult novel. To learn about her young adult works, I recommend visiting her author page on Goodreads and exploring from there. Learn more about her adult works – including the upcoming novel The Betrayals (not related to The Binding) – at HarperCollins.

Happy reading, friends!

Book Reviews

In a Holidaze by Christina Lauren

Two romance reviews back-to-back? Who even am I??

In a Holidaze by the duo known as Christina Lauren was part of my December Book of the Month box. I chose it to be my Christmas day read for obvious reasons. (The holiday theme? The need for romance in 2020? You get it.)

And wow!

I tend to find every romance novel somewhat “cringe” because they make me roll my eyes. This book had a few cheesy moments but it was so not cringe – it hits the notes of nostalgia, old love, what it means to be family, and incorporating change into our lives.

In a Holidaze has all the best parts of your typical Christmas romance WITHOUT the over-the-top cheesiness.

Plus, it’s HILARIOUS! I bust out laughing multiple times.

Maelyn is stuck in a very relatable “what do I do with my life” and “universe give me a sign” mindset. Wish granted, she finds herself reliving the week of Christmas over and over.

Can Maelyn right her wrongs and break the spell? Will she learn how to be true to herself? Dear readers, please go find out!

Christina Lauren’s next novel is about a single mom – and as a single mom, I am definitely looking forward to that!

Learn more about this duo and their other works over on their website.

Happy reading, friends!

Book Reviews

The Right Swipe by Alisha Rai

Are you a fan of dating apps? Has internet dating become your bff during covid? The Right Swipe might restore your faith in the dating app scene.

The Right Swipe was in a stack of pink books I picked up at Target.

Pink and I were a vibe that day.

My love life has been less than non-existent lately and sometimes it’s hard to read romance novels because I get all in my feels but The Right Swipe I really enjoyed.

First of all, the main character, Rhiannon, is 37, proud of her success, and not afraid to wear what she wants. (Sweatshirts/hoodies? Can I get an amen!)

Second, Rai incorporates some important topics such as friendship, evolving life circumstances such as having kids, and chronic traumatic encephalopathy. (Here’s a helpful link if you are unfamiliar with CTE.)

Lastly, the intimate scenes were wooooh! It makes sense since Alisha Rai has over a dozen romance novels under her belt.

It would be remiss of me if I didn’t mention that the love interest, Samson (former pro football athlete), sounds like a total dreamboat! Like Rhiannon, I don’t know much about who the professional athletes are these days (or any days), but also like Rhiannon, I’m secretly very interested in a hunk with intuitive hands.

I wish I was more like Rhiannon in one aspect – not forgiving ghosters. It gets better as I’m getting older but always a work in progress. So when Samson ghosts her and they end up meeting again, will she forgive him?

Check out The Right Swipe and let me know what you think!

To learn more about Alisha Rai, check out her website.

Happy reading, friends!

Book Reviews

My first audiobook! Greenlights by Matthew McConaughey

I first heard of Matthew McConaughey’s memoir a few months ago and mentioned it in my post of anticipated releases of late 2020/early 2021. Looking for something different to listen to on my morning commute, I recently downloaded Audible. Greenlights was my first audiobook choice.

Audiobooks have quickly become a godsend, and Greenlights was a reminder to live my life. My life. Explore my passions and seek my truths.

One theme I enjoyed that particularly resonated with me was being involved in your success. What does this mean to me? Am I putting in enough effort? More importantly, am I putting effort into the things that actually matter the most? What does success mean to me?

McConaughey welcomes us into his life, sharing stories from all ages and imparting how to be our most authentic selves.

Have you read or listened to Greenlights? Let me know what you thought!

Learn more about McConaughey’s current role as a faculty member at The University of Texas at Austin here.

Happy reading – and listening – dear friends!