Category Archives: Books

Romances with Unconventional Endings.

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I usually try to avoid generalizations but oh well. Everyone enjoys a good romance now and again. I’ve found that while the chick lit genre is great for what it is, I am more intrigued when a love story doesn’t end the way I expect it to, the way I predict it will. I think it’s tough as a writer to avoid giving your characters a happily ever after. That isn’t to say these books do not include happily ever afters but they aren’t exactly the kind you would find in a Chick Flick. Real life is messy and so is real love. And I suppose that is one more reason that I am drawn to books like these.

Of course, remember. Real life can be serious and tragic and it can also be light and funny. These books fall into both categories. Just because it isn’t the typical happily ever after does not mean it is sad. Maybe she ends up with someone unexpected. Maybe things are just more complicated. Regardless, these are worth a read.

I could have picked plenty of others but I tried to give you a plethora of genres. Romances aren’t just romances. They can take place in thrillers, mysteries, young adult, historical fiction, and on we go. (By the way, you can click the purple links to purchase the books. The blog does receive a few cents–literally–for your purchase but it comes out of Amazon’s pocket, not yours. Thanks for helping me to support this space!)

Romances with Unconventional Endings:romances1Laura Dave’s Eight Hundred Grapes

If you like Chick Lit, you’ll like Eight Hundred Grapes. Georgia is all set to marry the man of her dreams at her family’s winery in Northern California (the local attracted me too) when suddenly, a week before the wedding she runs home, sure she is going to call it off. Once there, she finds out a lot of family secrets that will also affect her life. In the meantime, her fiancé follows her to fix the problem he caused. But can it be fixed? And meanwhile, there is a developer trying to get his attractive hands on the family’s winery. She hates him. Right?

Tana French’s Faithful Place

This is a part of Tana French’s Dublin Murder Squad Series. The series is set up so that it is not necessary really at all to have read the previous books since the character in each book is on the very peripheral of the previous books. Hope that makes sense. Anyway, this is a divine crime drama (I cannot wait for her next book). At 19, in 1985, Frank made plans to run away and marry Rosie but she never met him. He was devastated. Now he’s a lot older without having ever gotten over it, with a kid, and an ex wife. He’s also a pretty cynical detective when, 22 years after they were supposed to meet, someone finds Rosie’s suitcase in an old house. How can this be considered a romance? It just can.

P.S. I rarely if ever listen to audio books but I happened to listen to this on audio and the Irishman who did it was just so good. So good.
romance4Ian McEwan’s Sweet Tooth

Ian McEwan is king but this is a lot lighter than his amazing AtonementIt’s the 70’s in Britain, in the thick of the cold war, and Serena is recruited for MI5. Imagine a female James Bond who is younger, not as suave, and not nearly as worldly. Her job is to infiltrate a literary circle and she falls for a writer and falls hard. But who’s spying on who?

Peter Nichols’s The Rocks

It starts rather explosively with the deaths of two people who were once lovers, now passed their prime, hating one another, dying together with a secret between them. The book then works backwards, telling the story of two young people connected to the first couple with their own secrets, mistakes, and pain. Did I mention that one is the daughter of the old man from the first pages and the other is the son of the woman from the beginning (they are not related)? Farther and farther back it goes until we reach the secret and the misunderstanding of that original couple and realize how it has shaped not only their lives but the lives of generations. It’s good, guys.
romance3A.S. Byatt’s Possession

This is one of my favorite books. In fact, I always tell people, if they like books, or majored in English, they will love this book. It tells two stories–two romances. The first takes place in modern day and is about two academics trying to find out the truth about the relationship between two literary figures. The second story tells the love story of those two Victorian poets. It’s so complicated, so epic, so romantic. And so unexpected. I never wanted it to end.

Megan McCafferty’s Sloppy Firsts

If you like Young Adult novels and have not read this series then, I just don’t know what to tell you. Jessica Darling is as dramatic and sassy as she is naive and when her friend moves away her life seemingly falls apart. She also is drawn to Marcus Flutie, the bad boy. I wish I could tell you this book ends the way you want it to but it doesn’t. If you read it (you must!) you will read the next book and the next (there are five). Maybe you’ll find the ending you want by then…But part of the fun is the journey right?
romancesMary Kubica’s The Good Girl

This story has been put in the same category as Girl on a Train and Gone, Girl (everyone wants not only to write the next Gone, Girl but read it!). And in many ways it is. Half of it takes place in Chicago and if you have any familiarity with the city and the surrounding areas, you will recognize it. The book is an unconventional romance for simply being on the list since it tells the story of Mia being kidnapped. Who does Mia fall in love with? Why was she kidnapped? And the steadfast cop on the case and Mia’s mother are drawn together even as Mia’s father pushes her away. When Mia returns pregnant and alone, there are a lot of questions.

Joanne Harris’s Blackberry Wine

Written by the same author as Chocolat, in this book, Jay’s life is kind of falling apart. His wife left him. His last book was a best seller, telling the stories of the magical stories of his youth. But nothing has been a hit since. So, what does a person do? He goes to France and buys a house, trying to recapture that magic from his youth. Someone there, a woman, a recluse, somehow reminds him of the magic of those summers. This book definitely falls into the category of magical realism but in a way that is truly charming. It also made me want to try blackberry wine.

Honorable mentions go to mostly all Jojo Moyes’s books, specifically Me Before You and its sequel, After You. I’ve just written about them here before…

Happy Reading!

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The Life Changing Magic of Tiding Up Books.

I have put off reading The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up for awhile now…probably because I knew it would change my life. When it first came out, a woman I respect beyond measure posted about it and so I knew I would read it. It’s just taken me a long time. And yes, this book will change your life. It is changing my life as we speak.

Marie Kondo makes two major points at the beginning that got my attention. She talks about why being tidy and organized is hard for people and why people relapse constantly (none of her clients who followed this method have ever relapsed).

She also talks about people like me (and most people are like this, whether they admit it or not, according to her). Even though we live messy lives, it gives us such anxiety (and yet we cannot stay organized). But the anxiety that comes from our living space and the amount of stuff we own is actually a cover, a safe place. If you clear it all a way, you actually have a clearer view over what you are really worried about and the life you really want to live. This “untidiness” can keep us from living the lives we want to live…which is a big statement to make. But by the end of the book, I was a believer.

Basically, this isn’t just a book about tidying up. It promises to change your life overall and frankly, though I was skeptical, I am not anymore.tidyingupbookspin

(before I started)
Anyway, I promised myself I would follow the rules to the letter. Except she asks you to start with clothing and I am in this weird nomad’s land because I am slowly losing weight for health reasons (if I went through stuff now, I would have to go through stuff again and one major point of the book is that you only have to do this once). So I went to the next area which was books.

My books are my babies. In fact, I didn’t really consider San Francisco home until my books arrived and were on a shelf. It was as if once I sent for them, I was really making a commitment to that city. I am glad I did.

Now, in Chicago, after a lifetime of reading everything I can get my hands on, generally reading very quickly, the effects (or should I say artifacts) that come with being an English/Creative Writing major, and being the type of girl with likeminded friends (I mean, we would call each other up to go spend an entire Saturday at the bookstore), I have a lot of books. In fact, the last part of that sentence is an understatement.

I love books. But thank goodness for the Kindle app because after living in two studio apartments in a row, digitally storing books was a necessity. In my current place, I have the most book storage I’ve ever enjoyed–two huge book cases and yes, every inch beneath my full size bed is covered with stacks of books.

Here are Kodo’s steps for tidying up your book situation:

1. Put all your books on the floor, off the shelves, out from under the bed, in one place (why? read the book but it makes great sense).

2. Sort in silence–no distractions from the most important question. See number five for that question.tidyingbooks3

3. For unread books, if you say you’ll read it sometime…you will read it never. (She talks about the timing of books…if you buy a book plan to read it and follow through on reading it right away…Do not keep a list of books-to-be read on your shelves or…ya know, under your bed

4. Are you actually someone who rereads books? (Most people aren’t. I happen to be a weirdo who does).

5. The most important question, when you pick up the book, is this: Does this bring me joy/pleasure?

So that’s what I did. She says the more you can do in one sitting the better (better yet, you should do it one sitting). I adapted this slightly because of health issues while maintaining the heart of it. Kodo is the expert after all. Anyway, bending and carrying a lot of books and taking them off shelves was done late in the day on Saturday. tidyingbooks2When I woke up on Sunday (she says it is best to do it early in the day when your mind is blank), I sorted and discarded everything. Putting everything away, again for health reasons, will have to wait until tomorrow (which is actually today). In my mind, I did follow her rulse and it is important. If I would have quit halfway through and gone back, I know I would not have been able to judge the next round of books with the same criteria. I need to be brutal. You need to be brutal. I can’t wait until everything is cleaned out (she also asks that you get rid of everything from all the categories before you begin to tidy and find places for everything…again, it makes sense) and my space matches the life I want to lead which Kodo suggested I write down, which I did.tidyingbooks1

(at this point, I know what I am keeping and I am starting to reshelve…tomorrow–which is actually today–I will finish reshelving, pack into boxes the books I am sending people upon request–see below. In a few days, once everyone has claimed what shall be claimed, I will load everything up which needs to leave the premises and I can cross books off my list of things to tidy up–which is a major area for me!)

Have you read this book? If you have, have you followed through? How did it go? And if you haven’t read it, has it sparked your interest, this idea that you can do this thing once and then never again?

P.S. After I finished sorting, I posted this on instagram and a ton of people were interested. Which is crazy but also makes me happy because I want my babies to have good homes! If you are interested, read the comments for more info and shoot me an email. I am not making money off this…just the price of shipping.

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Erin Go Bragh: Books if You Love Ireland.

booksifyouloveirelandThe truth is, one of my favorite writers, or perhaps my favorite writer is a contemporary Irish Author: Anne Enright. I love her prose, her stories, and her growth from book to book (I’m giving away one of her books here too). This past year I also fell in love with a Irish crime/mystery series that I think you’ll love. I doubt I’ll be doing a round the world book series but I had to share some of my faves. I’ve never been Ireland but it’s definitely on the top of my list. There is something about the Irish way of storytelling that I really respond to and I think you may as well.

I’ve put together a list of Books if You Love Ireland or Books if You Love Irish Storytelling.

1. Anne Enright’s The Gathering

The Gathering won the Man Booker Prize the year it came out (a very prestigious award) and her most recent book (which I am giving away), The Green Road, has been long listed for that same award this year. Whenever I hear she has a book coming out, I do a countdown. She is also Ireland’s first Fiction Laureate. So, she is kind of a big deal…especially to me.

The Gathering tells the story of Veronica piecing together bits of her brother’s life and her own after a tragedy. It’s an intense story but the writing…It’s some of the most beautiful writing I’ve ever read and I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve read it.

2. Tana French’s Dublin Murder Squad Series

I stumbled upon the first book In the Woods accidentally because the premise just punched me in the gut in the airport: “When the police arrive, they find only one of the children. He is gripping a tree trunk in terror, wearing blood-filled sneakers and unable to recall a single detail of the previous hours” and now that child, Rob, is an adult Detective investigating a crime in that same area.

What I love about French’s writing is each book is part of the Dublin Murder Squad Series and some characters overlap at times, each book is a story unto itself. So the second book, The Likeness, is told from Rob’s partner, Cassie’s point of view (but much has changed).

The third, Faithful Place, is my favorite and told from the point of view of Cassie’s mentor, Frank: “…in 1985, Frank Mackey was nineteen, growing up poor in Dublin’s inner city, and living crammed into a small flat with his family on Faithful Place. He and Rosie Daly were all ready to run away to London together, get married, get good jobs, break away from factory work and poverty and their old lives. But on the winter night when they were supposed to leave, Rosie didn’t show. Frank took it for granted that she’d dumped him-probably because of his alcoholic father, nutcase mother, and generally dysfunctional family. He never went home again…” but now there may be answers about where Rosie went and it’s a lot more complicated as another tragedy (crime?) takes place in his old neighborhood.

Then there is Broken Harbor and The Secret Place. You don’t have to read them in order but of course, if you do, there are certain Easter Eggs that are worth it…plus they just get better.

I’m waiting on bated breath for the next book (all I know is that it is a female protagonist…I’m dying to know who…I think I have a guess…). French does a fantastic job of truly finding the character’s voice in each book so they feel and sound very different.

3. Colm Tóibín’s Brooklyn

The reason I read this book was because I watched this preview:

and instantly wanted to see the movie (it’s not out yet) and I like to read a book first anyway. There is romance and adventure and a part of me could relate (in a less intense way) to Eilis Lacey moving from Ireland to America without really knowing a soul (I moved across the country to California which I admit is a much smaller scale!). Plus, there is a great Italian character named, Tony. The pull of the new and the exciting against family, the familiar, what you know, and duty is so well done here. It has everything: adventure, family, coming-of-age, romance, and more. I felt the ache in the best way reading this book.

I know I usually give you five separate authors but there’s a lot of books here. Have you read any of them? Meanwhile, this is just a small giveaway (since I accidentally ordered two) of Anne Enright’s The Green Road. greenroadgiveaway

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US only and I will verify entries… So is there a book here that strikes your fancy?

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Books if You Love Brits.

biooksifyoulovebritsThis theme started when I read the first one on this list recently. I had to share it with you guys so I went to my huge bookshelves and under my bed (what? you didn’t know that there are books under the entirety of my full sized bed?) and on my kindle app to find other books about the British. There were a lot of options but I narrowed it down to five. Guys, I think I have a problem but in the meantime, I give you books if you love Brits.

1. Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgans’ The Royal We

Okay, if you follow Will and Kate and their family, you’ll want to read it (it’s still definitely fiction). If you like British Chick Lit, you’ll want to read this. Yes, there was romance but there was an equal amount of laughter. This is so perfect for the beach, I cannot even explain how much you will enjoy it under the sun. This was one of my most recent reads and I flew through it though it isn’t short. It isn’t the exact story of Will and Kate. The “Kate” in this story is an American. But if you know anything about that royal romance, they went to uni together (I’m so British right now) met and fell in love, broke up, got back together and engaged so it’s kind of like this wonderful saga.

2. Chris Cleave’s Little Bee

This book is complicated, as it should be. I recommend it to many people because of the current political landscape and Cleave’s ability to take that and turn that into real people with real feelings. Maybe you have an opinion about immigration. Maybe it’s just easier not to have one. But everything falls away when it seems like you are looking another person in the face. This is the story of two women: Little Bee is Nigerian Refugee that has been in a detention center in Britain for quite a long time and when she is released she finds the only English person she knows, Sarah. They met in Nigeria years before under horrible, traumatic circumstances. And when Bee knocks on Sarah’s door this time, there are different horrible, traumatic circumstances. Read this. It’s an incredible story.

2. Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones’ Diary

Okay, you’ve seen the movie because…Colin Firth and High Grant. C’mon. But have you read the book? I had to read it in this class I took in college about feminism in British literature from the beginning. We read Tess of the D’ubervilles and A Room with a View and Mrs. Dalloway and more. We ended the semester with Bridget Jones’s Diary looking at it through a certain perspective. Try it. Especially if you have only seen the movie. There are also sequels: Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason and About a Boy (I have not read the third book).

3. Jojo Moyes’ The Girl You Left Behind

This book actually goes back and forth between France, during WWI, where Sophie doesn’t know if her husband is still alive, the Germans have taken over their town, and she is trying to keep her family safe. And then there is present day widow Liv, trying to deal with her young husband’s sudden death. Like most of Moyes’ books (Everyone loved Me before You and did you know a sequel is coming to that story? It’s called After You) it’s great and I couldn’t put it down. There is an item that connects these two women and they both will have to give so much up in order to keep it, if they can keep it at all.

4. Ian Fleming’s Casino Royale

Again, you’ve probably seen the movie because hey, Daniel Craig (and in my opinion it was one of the best Bond films in awhile and also fun fact, this movie makes my top ten list…I can’t even tell you why). Considering this is the book that started the James Bond phenomena, give it a read. It’s short and quick too.

5. Ian McEwan’s Atonement

Really any of McEwan’s books are truly a writer’s dream. His prose and stories definitely inspire me. Now, if you have not seen the movie, read this first. The twists and turns are incredible, almost as incredible as the writing. If you saw the movie (Hugh Dancy!) but haven’t read the book, still read the book. The movie was extremely well done (see Kiera Knightley in the emerald dress) but nothing can truly capture McEwan’s writing. Also, you’ll cry but in a therapeutic way. Any other book lovers know what I mean?

I also have to add all the books from my Books for Downton Abbey Fans.Books for Downton Abbey Fans

Also, obviously, if you know me, Harry Potter? This set is beautiful or check out the books in the Hogwarts trunk try them in Kindle form. Again, Pride and Prejudice (Kindle is free). Check out this beautiful Austen set too!

There are so many more I can add but I held back. Haha. What would you add? Have you read any of these?

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This is Not a Recap: The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

hpnotarecapYou read that correctly. I crossed something off my Bucket List and yet I am not recapping it. I mean, I am including pictures and feelings but for me to outline the day with two equally Harry Potter loving girls (Bex and Liz), wouldn’t be fair. It was magical (pun intended) and kind of a dream come true. And anything I write here with a step by step recap would make it less so. Instead, I want to share why and how I so badly wanted to go (and also why I love HP). I recognize this is nerdy. But…for once in my life, I just don’t care. I reread the books every single year and I probably always will. So there’s that. Here we go.

This is not a Recap: The Wizarding World of Harry Potter….

“The last shop was narrow and shabby. Peeling gold letters over the door read Ollivanders: makers of Fine Wands since 382 B.C. A single wand lay on a faded purple cushion in the dusty window…Harry felt strangely as though he had entered a very strict library; he swallowed a lot of new questions that had just occurred to him and looked instead at the thousands of narrow boxes pled neatly right up to the ceiling. For some reason, the back of his neck prickled. The very dust and silence in here seemed to tingle with some secret magic.

“Good afternoon,” said a soft voice…An old man was standing before them, his wide, pale eyes shining like moons through the gloom of the shop…”Well now–Mr. Potter. Let me see.” He pulled a long tape measure with silver markings out of his pocket. “Which is your wand arm?”

hpwand“Er–well, I’m right-handed,” said Harry.

“Hold out your arm. That’s it.” he measured Harry from shoulder to finger, then wrist to elbow, shoulder to floor, knee to armpit and round his head. As he measured, he said, “Every Ollivander wand has a core of powerful magical substance, Mr. Potter. We use unicorn hairs, phoenix tail feathers, and the heartstrings of dragons. No two Ollivander wands are the same, just as no two unicorns, dragons, or phoenixes are quite the same. And of course, you will never get such good results with another wizard’s wand.”

… “The wand chooses the Wizard, remember…” ” (J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, 82, 83, 85).

 It was dim and dark, the walls filled to the brim with wand boxes. We were ushered into a room with the Wandmaker where he picked one of us from random (unfortunately, it wasn’t any of us but a little girl just a few years younger than Harry when the wand chose him). She walked to his desk, all alone, as my friends and I held hands and tried not to squeal. There the Wandmaker measured her just as Harry was measured. He asked her which was her wand hand and she showed him. Just like in the books, he handed her several wands and asked her to make the bell ring or raise it to the sky. The reactions did not please the Wandmaker until he found the perfect wand for her. When she held it, it was like a choir singing a beautiful song. The wand had chosen the wizard…excuse me, witch.

I held my breath the whole time.

The little girl was young enough to believe the whole thing real, just like little girls believe they are really meeting the Disney Princesses. If that isn’t magic, I don’t know what is.

I felt like I fell into the books–the ones I read every single year. And the day began.12grimmauldplacePeople are into Harry Potter for different reasons. A world of magic is enticing for some. For me, I love it as a writer, that someone could create a whole new world, write seven books knowing from the first page how it would all fit together and end. But when Harry Potter came out, I loved it for the story. I loved it because my mom read it aloud to my brother and I because we both wanted to hear and my parents (fairly) wouldn’t buy two books. The fact that my brother cared about a book was a big deal. She read to us through the fourth book. I will always remember her voice reading me the end of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, everyone crying, her voice breaking.

It was a chaotic and difficult time for my family. In a way, it was a time when I felt as if I was losing what I knew. I could feel Harry’s loss. And there was my mom’s voice, reading in the car, my brother and I on either side of her, reading in the dark before bed, reading…a constant.

Every time I do my annual reread in August, I feel something different. Last year, my Papa was dying and I cried harder and more often than I ever had before. As Harry Potter’s parent’s tombstone reads: “The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.

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I know there are Christians who think Harry Potter is demonic (or something?). But I don’t think they’ve read it. How could they? It’s an allegory for the Christian Faith, much like Narnia. For me, it points me to Christ. When I read things Jo Rowling has said or written, I  believe she has done what Madeleine L’Engle talks about in “Walking on Water”–truly connecting art and faith.

I could give you a recap of the Park but I’m not going to. It was the only hardcore thing listed on my Bucket List until recently and it’s because walking into the world where Harry Potter’s story lived and breathed was too much to imagine. People have critiqued this place. It’s been recapped. Everyone has an opinion. All I will say is that J.K. Rowling approved everything and it’s so obvious. This place is incredibly authentic and detailed. I’m reading the the books early this year because The Wizarding World of Harry Potter lit a fire under me.

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I realize this makes me a bit of a nerd. But that’s okay. As I said, every year, the full story means something different to me. We’ll see what this year holds. (Photos by Bex)

Are you a fan of HP? Has a story ever taken a grip on you, held tight through every season of life?

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