Monday, January 18, 2021

I Have a Lot to Say About Romance Novels

Buckle up, kids. It's going to be a long post, and I'm going to use the word "sex" a bunch of times, so prepare yourselves. I think that, despite how small this blog's audience is, your views on the topic of Romance novels are quite varied, and I want you to know that I respect that. 

I grew up thinking a certain type of way about Romance novels, and now I'd like to, more or less, defend the genre to anyone who thinks like my younger self. That is, holds a strongly negative opinion not based on reality, but on a mishmash of assumptions, misconceptions, and poorly vetted thoughts from other people. 

If your view of Romance novels is based on actual facts and research and experience, my intention is not to change your mind. At all. If your view is decidedly negative, and you'd rather skip this post, I'm not offended. But if you'd like to read and chat with me at the other end, I'd really love that. 

Okay, I'm just going to tackle the things I used to believe about Romance novels one by one. 

1. Romance novels are basically pornography. 

The interesting thing about this teaching, that I heard over and over again from Christian sources, is that it's not about the questionable covers or the sex. Here's the argument: pornography presents male and female bodies, as well as sexual acts, in unattainably perfect ways. The models work full-time to keep their bodies looking perfect and all the angles, lighting, scripting, and airbrushing lift them to a plane that no mere mortal can reach. Pornography is unfair to both you and your partner because it gives you standards and expectations that you and you partner will never be able to hit, and you will always be disappointed. 

The sermons and Christian Living books I imbibed argued that Romance novels were functionally the same: that they set unattainably perfect standards for men, women, and relationships such that neither you nor your partner would ever be able to compete, and that those standards and expectations would destroy your relationships and marriages in the same way that pornography does. 

There's a lot to unpack there. First of all, I think the above is AN argument against pornography but not a complete one. Second of all, this isn't a post about the evils of pornography, and I don't want it to be. Third, no. I don't think Romance novels set unrealistic expectations for relationships. Yes, many Romance novels have really awkward covers and yes, many contain explicit sex scenes, but that is, I think, a separate issue. 

Now I'm not here to promise you that every Romance novel by every author forever presents sufficiently flawed characters and sufficiently flawed relationships, but most do. I have not found, at any point in the past couple years, that Romance novels have given me unfair expectations for my marriage or created any discontentment with Jon and our life together, at all. 

2. Romance novels have sex in them. 

Yes, they usually do. Not all. But most. Different authors write different content, and sometimes the cover will give you an indication of that content and sometimes it won't. The genre is a spectrum, and wherever your line is, there is a solid selection of books that won't cross it. As a starting point assume that if the people on the cover are in a state of undress, the characters are not going to just kiss.

And by now you might be thinking: I'll just stay on the safe side and read Christian Romance novels. I don't recommend it. Nothing I'm going to say in this entire post applies to my experience with Christian Romance novels. If you like Christian Romance novels, I'd love to hear from you about how wrong I am, but in my opinion, they do, unlike the rest of the genre, set unrealistic and unattainable expectations for men, women, and relationships, and they don't do well on any of the other points I'm about to discuss either. They just don't have sex. Great. If you want to read a couple really old posts by my sister demolishing the Christian Romance subgenre, here's the first and here's the second

But you Can find books outside of Christian Romance that don't go farther than kissing. You can also find books that always fade to black before a sex scene or just heavily imply without giving any details (the way most PG-13 movies of any genre do). You can find books where the characters get married first (usually Historical Romance or, oddly enough, the Mafia Romance subsubgenre). You can find books that give a few details, and you can find books that give a lot of details. You can also find books that veer into Fifty Shades of Grey (light BDSM) territory and beyond, but I don't. That's where my line is, surprise surprise. 

While I don't feel the need to defend my personal boundaries to the general public, I do want to offer my reasoning for the curious. This is going to be a little extra personal, so if you don't feel comfortable, I'll mark the section so it'll be easy to skip. 

*** As a homeschooled, Christian young lady, I received a very, very basic sex education. Basically: "The thing goes there, it'll hurt the first time, have fun!" So for me, detailed sex scenes in Romance novels have been super informative and helpful both scientifically and emotionally (making me more confident and less insecure). Much better than googling, watching a porno, or trying to yank detailed advice out of a Christian friend or family member. In my opinion, At Least once you're married, you're allowed to think about sex, and hear about sex, consider it in the context of a story, and research ways to get better at it. As far as the marital status of the characters in the book, I don't think it really matters. If you're married, you can't be tempted to have premarital sex anymore. If you're tempted to have sex, you can go have sex, and your husband will probably not complain. Your wife might think it's funny that you're reading Romance novels, but with the skills you'd be learning, I don't think she'd complain either. 
*** It's safe now. 

Wherever your line is, be it a moral or a personal preference one, stick to your guns. Don't let me talk you out of it. I'm planning a Squeaky Clean Romance Novels recommendation list for next week that'll be right up your alley. Mooooving on. 

3. Romance novels are poorly written. Untalented female authors who couldn't make it in other genres write Romance novels for empty-headed female audiences who don't know the difference. 

This is a surprisingly common opinion. I've been reading the genre for two years now, and I've found the ratio of good to bad authors to be about the same as any other genre. There are simply not enough truly great authors in the world to meet demand, and "just good", mediocre, and actually bad authors pick up the slack. I encourage you to not judge any genre by one book, even a highly-rated one. People's tastes are different and every genre has quite a lot of variety within it. 

One of my favorite things about the genre is that, because it usually only takes 300-400 pages to get a couple people to a happy ending, successful Romance authors tend to be prolific. They're not taking 10 years on each of their 1,000-page incredibly complex plots with multiple main characters, cultures, and magic systems. Romance authors tend to put out a book a year, loosely arranged in "series" where a supporting character you met in one book, becomes the lead in the next. All that to say, when you find an author you love, you won't have to find another for a while. 

And as far as I know, Romance authors are Romance authors because they love the genre and like writing it, not because they failed at another genre. 

4. Romance novels are all the same. Just like Hallmark movies. 

Yes and no. Romance novels tend to follow a certain structure in the same way that all stories tend to follow a certain structure and that structure naturally narrows within a genre. It would not be very interesting if two perfect people met, had a perfect relationship, minus a misunderstanding in the third act and proceeded to live happily ever after. That's why Hallmark movies are often so insipid.

The things that make a love story worth telling are the stakes and the obstacles, and unlike some genres, there are nearly infinite possibilities for these. You have two people who are attracted to each other or at least could be. You have at least one reason on both ends why they aren't together already and why they don't get together the minute they meet (usually). Those reasons are sometimes external, sometimes internal and sometimes both. 

Those reasons are generally thorny and take nuanced work on the part of the author to work out. Villains in Romance novels can't just be slain or jailed in order to resolve the conflict. The conflict has to actually be Resolved. Often there aren't any proper villains beyond the leads themselves and their personal demons.

The general structure of the story is usually this: the characters meet, or, if they have already met, some inciting incident throws them together in a way that forces them to face existing attractions/feelings. They struggle with their feelings and their obstacles for the first act, then get together. The second act generally involves the characters believing they have surmounted their obstacles or finding a way to temporarily pretend those obstacles don't exist. Then there's the breakup at the beginning of the third act when the obstacles reassert themselves that forces the characters to realize they would rather do the tough work to actually get rid of those obstacles rather than live apart. 

There's also, almost always, a subplot of some other genre, in the same way that most other genres have subplots of Romance. You have Workplace Drama Romances, you have Sports Romances, you have Mystery Romances, you have Action Romances, and so on and so forth. What I'm saying is, there is a ton of variety. Each subplot brings its own set of stakes that either run parallel to the stakes of the love story or cut against them, which can be really interesting.  

5. Romance novels are predictable. 

Yes they are. You know how it will end and you know that it will fall apart in the third act first, and you usually know, after the first act, how and why the breakup will happen. Most of the main plot (though not the subplot) is a forgone conclusion as soon as the characters and their obstacles are introduced. I love that about this genre. Romance novels are not Thrillers. Their purpose in life is not to be unpredictable. Their purpose is to get two people together. That's why we read them. To watch thorny  problems get fixed and to know, that no matter how bleak things look, that we are guaranteed a happy ending. That's what you get with a Romance novel. If you don't want that, then fine. The genre is not for you, and we can't be friends, but you're probably not a bad person. (JUST KIDDING. I have some really close friends who just don't enjoy Romance novels from a plot perspective for this very reason, and that's okay.)

But in another sense, Romance novels are not predictable for the same reason that people are not predictable, and Romance novels are, when boiled down, books about people. Every human relationship that exists in the world and all the ways those relationships can go wrong and complicated and broken gets discussed and that can be quite unpredictable, even within the confines of a very predictable genre. 

6. Romance novels are shallow. 

No. Well, some are. Like I said before, there will never be a shortage of mediocre books in the world, but no, shallowness does not define the Romance genre. I've have read a great many books that go deep into a great many topics and themes. Characters struggle through familial conflicts and generational curses. They work through trauma and abuse. They struggle with vices and character flaws, insecurities and lies they've been believing. They work through moral and social dilemmas and philosophical questions. The only thing that really separates Romance novels from Literary novels and Historical Fiction in terms of thematic potential is that Romance novels are not depressing. The happy ending is guaranteed. That doesn't, in my opinion, make the book shallow. It makes the tough topic being dealt with more palatable and the conclusion more hopeful. 

And because I was wrong about all these things, and for many more reasons than I could list or even properly articulate here, I don't just like the Romance genre, I love it, and often, I find myself choosing it over other genres. 

Okay, I could probably keep going, but I'm going to stop here. I would really appreciate your feedback on this post, readers, because there's a lot more I could say and would be happy to say if I knew you wanted to hear it. Hit me with your comments and questions. Let me know if you want recommendations, and I'll either tailor some to you individually, or do a whole post with recommendations in the category you're wanting. 

Or conversely, I can shut up about Romance altogether if this audience is entirely uninterested. Let me know!

Love you guys. 

Thanks for reading, as always. 

Coming Soon: 10 or So Squeaky Clean Romance Novels

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Abby's 2020 Book Awards

      Ladies and Gentlemen! Welcome to my living room for my 2020 book awards, the most unimportant and arbitrary awards show Ever Produced! I got the idea to do my own bookish awards from Daniel Greene, a Youtuber who puts out an awards show every year, so shout-out to him!

     I'm going to give these awards out in no particular order. The only qualification for these books is that I must have read them in 2020, though they can be published in any year, and they must not be rereads. Because that would be unfair. I'm not going to give an award in every single genre and subgenre, just the ones that really stood out. There's going to be far too many to say much about each, but you can easily find synopses of each on Goodreads or Amazon.

So without further ado....

The award for Best Fantasy goes to....

The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

Absolutely spectacular book. From the magic system to the main character, to the feel of the world, I ate it up. 

The award for Best Sci-fi goes to....

An Absolutely Remarkable Thing by Hank Green

Aliens and Social Media Theory. This book and its sequel: A Beautifully Foolish Endeavor are hilarious and incredibly thoughtful. Big conversation starters.

The awards for Best Afrofuturism and Best Cover go to

Escaping Exodus by Nicky Drayden

It's fairly rare that I read something that feels derivative of nothing. Just entirely original. This was space travel at its most quirky and imaginative. Also SUCH a beautiful cover. 

The award for Best Plague Book goes to...

Severance by Ling Ma

Plague originates in China? Zombie Apocalypse? Heavily literary? Sounds perfect.

The award for Best Classic goes to...

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

The Netflix adaptation is less good, but still good. All the feels in this story of healing from WWII and German occupation.

The award for Best Food Book goes to...

Mast Brothers Chocolate by Rick and Michael Mast

The photographs. The recipes. The CHOCOLATE. Yummy. 

The award for Best Middle Grade goes to...

The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill

This little book had HEART, adorable characters, and a really intriguing plot. 

The award for Best Nonfiction goes to... 

Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carryrou

This book was fascinating. Holy crap. 

The award for Best Series I Completed in 2020 goes to...

The Queen's Thief Series by Megan Whalen Turner

This YA Fantasy series is excellent all the way through, and Return of the Thief was a fantastic way to wrap it up. 

The award for Best Audiobook goes to...

Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell

Malcolm Gladwell is already my favorite nonfiction author, and content-wise this is my favorite of his books, but on top of that, the audiobook is produced like a podcast, read by the author, and just an audio treat.

The award for Most Immersive Book goes to...

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

I could see, hear, smell, taste and touch the events of this book. Not really. But I Felt like I could.

The award for Best YA Fantasy Book goes to...IT'S A THREE-WAY TIE

Heir of Fire by Sarah J. Maas

House of Earth and Blood by Sarah J. Maas

Clockwork Princess by Cassandra Clare

These are staples of the YA genre, that I'm just now getting around to reading.

The award for Best YA Sci-fi goes to...

Skyward by Brandon Sanderson

This was Excellent. Incredible aerial fight sequences. Intriguing plot. Top-tier. 

The award for Best YA Contemporary goes to...

Technically, You Started It by Lana Wood Johnson

This is a really cute story told entirely in text messages. I read it in one sitting and adored it. 

The award for Now I'm Most Excited to See the Movie goes to...

Dune by Frank Herbert

Between reading the book and watching the previews that have dropped, Dune is officially the movie I'm most excited for in 2021. 

The award for Most Impact On My Life goes to...

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo

The Netflix show led me to the book which got me off on a whole Tidying/Minimalist kick on Youtube, and I adore how my house looks as a result. I will write a whole blog post on this in a month or so when I can really see and quantify the results. 

The award for Best Political Book goes to...
Blackout by Candace Owens

Candace's perspective on race and race politics is unique, well-written, and well-argued.

And on that note, the award for Most Controversial Book I Read This Year goes to...

Irreversible Damage by Abigail Shrier

Whenever there's a big hubbub (and there is/was a BIG hubbub), I like to see what it's about. This is not a Conservative book or an anti-trans book. It's a well-presented perspective/set of concerns on young girls seeking transition. I don't agree with all of it, but I think it's an important part of the conversation. 

And now to lighter things! 

The award for Best Contemporary Romance goes to...

Beach Read by Emily Henry

More literary than your typical Romance novel, I couldn't put this book down. 

The award for Best Historical Romance goes to...

A Rogue of One's Own by Evie Dunmore

Evie, who has graciously provided me with ARCS (Advanced Reader Copies) of her books, produces well-researched, well-written, smart Historical Romance. Planning to reread this one soon. 

And finally the award for Best Christmas Book goes to...

The Afterlife of Holly Chase by Cynthia Hand

A modern day Christmas Carol, this one had a ton of heart and paid the sort of homage to Dickens that makes a Lit. major's heart sing. 

And that's it, everyone! Out of the 356 books I read in 2020, these are the ones that rose to the top, the ones that continue to occupy my thoughts, and the ones I'm most likely to recommend to friends and reread in the coming years. 

I hope you enjoyed! Please don't hesitate to reach out if you have questions about a book I awarded or simply want to know a little bit more. I wouldn't universally recommend some of these to everyone, so use your judgement!

Have you read any of these? If so, what did you think? What books would you have awarded? 

See you next time, friends!

Coming Soon: I Discovered I Love Reading Romance, Here's Why

Saturday, January 2, 2021

I Read More Books Than You This Year, And I'm Sorry


     In January of 2020, I went through all the titles I read in 2019 and ran all sorts of statistics. I wrote a whole blog post reviewing and evaluating my reading in 2019 based on those numbers, and today, I would very much like to revisit that and compare my numbers from this year. Alas, I accidently deleted that post only a couple weeks after it went up. SADNESS.

     I'm going to rewind. Back in 2019, before I changed my Goodreads goal to 300 books, and subsequently read that many, Jon told me about some billionaire who reads a book a day, and I said something to the affect of, "Good for him. He's rich and brilliant and probably a speed reader, but that's impossible for a normal human who works 40 hours a week." But after I actually read 300 books in a year, 365 didn't seem so far out of reach, and by the time we hit quarantine, I officially upped my goal, and then somehow managed it.

     I read 365 books in 2020, which clocked in at a little over 121,000 pages. That averages out to about 330 pages a book, which is on the short end of average as far as books go. The typical book is between 300-400 pages. I definitely chose shorter books over longer books (most of the time) in order to complete this goal. This isn't how I want my reading life to be in general, it's just a part of how I accomplished this ridiculous goal. 

     Now, I want to be clear. I did not sit down and physically read with my eyeballs 365 books. 218 of those 365 were audiobooks. That's about 60%. On top of that, I never listened to those audiobooks on normal speed. It is impossible to read aloud as quickly as you can read with your eyeballs or follow with your brain. On top of that, audiobook narrators tend to read extra slowly for clarity of pronunciation. So depending on the book, the narrator, and the day, I made a habit of speeding audiobooks up anywhere from 1.25x to 2.5x the normal speed. 

    Even sped up, I was listening to audiobooks pretty much constantly. I listened when I got ready in the morning and while I worked out and while driving my lengthy commute and for 25-75% of my workday, depending on the day and the tasks. I listened while I cooked and cleaned and while I chilled in the evening, and basically every spare second when there wasn't another human nearby to talk to and I wasn't reading a physical book. It was fairly rare for me, in 2020, to turn on music instead of an audiobook, much less work in silence. I'm not saying that was healthy, I'm just saying that's what I did.

    So with audiobooks out of the way, that leaves 146 books that I read with my eyeballs. 30 of those were graphic novels or comics or manga, which means lots of pictures and easily completed in an hour or two. If I take those out of the equation, that still leaves 116 regular, low-end-of-average-length books that I read, physically with my eyeballs in 2020, and that's still far more than what normal humans read in a year. That's still double the average Goodreads goal for 2020, and I don't know how to account for that. I know I'm a faster-than-average reader, but I do not, contrary to popular belief, read at a superhuman or even uncommon speed. I don't skim. I don't speed-read. I regular-human read. I just do it a lot. 

    Reading is a priority in my life, and I made it an extra priority this year to hit this goal. Quarantine helped. Unlike last year, I had an actual excuse to read instead of going out and having a life. I didn't watch much TV in 2020. I read a little bit every day and a lot on weekends and nights when Jon was working. Even when he was here, I read while he played videogames, which was cozy and fun. I read on walks. I read in the bath. I even stayed up all night a couple times to see how many books I could read in a 24-hour period (6).

    I just read a lot, okay. I'm sorry. I don't know why I feel the need to apologize, but I do. I'm sure there's at least 365 things you did better than me this year, but I feel embarrassed to talk about this success even though it's a goal I spent a year putting all my available effort into hitting. And I really want to talk about it just a little bit. 

     So without further ado, here are some numbers. A lot of my reads are cross-referenced to a couple different categories, so don't try to add them up, it won't work. I read...

    40 Middle Grade books of various genres. For those who don't know, Middle Grade encompasses         books written for grade-school children. A lot of these were rereads of childhood favorites, but I also     found several recently-published gems. 

    118 YA (Young Adult) novels which divided out into 25 Contemporary, 33 Sci-fi, and 60 Fantasy. 

    21 Literary Fiction/Serious Historical Fiction. I don't read much of either of these genres because the     books tend to be hard-hitting and sad and take time to digest. They're usually quite good, but not the     sort of thing you want to read constantly.

    45 Adult Sci-fi/Fantasy. One of these was Dune. I finally got around to reading Dune, and I am super     excited for the movie!

    19 Mystery/Thriller/Horror. 

    34 Nonfiction. 

    98 Romance Novels: 28 Historical and 70 Contemporary. This was a revelation this year: I don't just enjoy the Romance genre, I prefer it. It's light, it's heartfelt, it deals in pretty much the entirety of the human experience, and a happy ending is guaranteed. I'll talk about this more in a later post.

    41 Classics. 

    27 Poetry Collections/Novellas/Plays.

    29 Rereads.

    128 books by an author who was new to me. 

     My average rating out of five stars was 4.1, which was a bit surprising to me, because I felt like I read a ton of books this year that I didn't like or were just okay. Here's how it breaks out:

    164 Five Stars (Loved-Adored).

    119 Four Stars (Really Liked).

    58 Three Stars (Just Liked).

    23 Two Stars (Not a Fan).

    1 One Star (Hated).

    My one-star list would be higher, but after one at the very beginning of the year, I resolved to just put down something that was that bad. I wish I kept count of the books I DNFed (did not finish), but I didn't. I'm estimating between 5 and 10. 

    I completed 32 series, and I decided 40 times to not continue with a series I had started. I think that's the main reason why I didn't feel like this was a very successful reading year by standards other than volume. I started a lot of things I thought I would like and was willing to invest the time in that turned out to be not worth it after all. Those false starts still felt like wastes even when I rated them three stars, and they added to my total.

    To that end, I'd like to wrap this post up with several bookish resolutions for 2021:

    1. I never want to read 365 books in a year again. It was fun. I'm proud of myself, but I never feel like I need to top it or replicate it or even come close again. This year my resolution is to read less. I resolve to read ONLY 200 books in 2021. I resolve to read longer books and slower books, and give myself more space to absorb and digest and maybe try doing other things with my time. 

    2. I resolve to read fewer books under four stars. So much of what I read this year, I read on recommendation from strangers. I chose a lot of books that were hyped on Youtube, Instagram, Twitter, and more, and ended up reading more from a sense of obligation and peer pressure than from my own tastes and interests and needs. I think I know myself well enough that if I'm actually reading what I think I'll like, then I won't end up rating so many books 3 stars and below. 

    3. I started the year with 22 active book series, series I had begun but not yet completed. Over the course of the year, even though I started (and finished) several more, I made a conscious effort to shrink that number. Right now I have 10 active series, and I resolve to narrow that to 5 first thing this year, and then keep it steady there moving forward.

    4. I resolve to read less YA. I love YA, and I have since middle school, but Adult genre fiction has so much to offer that I'm missing because I'm spending so much time with YA. And besides, I'm not sixteen anymore and trying to decide which boy I like better while I lead a rebellion against the government is not really my stage of life anymore. 

    5. I resolve to explore more of the genres that I'm intimidated by: particularly Mystery/Thriller, Adult SFF, and Nonfiction. 

    6. I currently have 38 books on my To Be Read Shelf. I intend to get that shelf down to zero at some point this year, preferably in the first half. After a year like 2020, I think a hard reset would be really  nice. 

    7. I resolve to blog again. Every weekend. This year was so weird. I posted a handful of times before summer came, but eventually ran out of a desire to speak. Everyone had opinions about everything and it felt like everyone was yelling, and I realized I just wanted to take some time to be quiet and listen and learn. And now that I'm back, I'm officially dedicating this blog to bookish and bookish-adjacent lifestyle content only. No politics and no thorny Church issues. Just books.

    Okay, wow. Thank you for making it through this long, boring post. 

What about you? What do you think of a ridiculous goal like this? Any bookish resolutions for 2021? Any suggestions for blog content? Books/Authors you think I should try? 

See you next time!

Coming soon: 

My favorite books of 2020. 


Monday, May 4, 2020

Reading in Quarantine

                   woman covering her face with white book

For some, a good quarantine read is a book that contains absolutely zero hints of sickness, loneliness, or the end of the world. For others a good quarantine read is a book with so much sickness, horror, and death, that it makes the current crisis look like a walk in the park. With a gas mask.
And then there's me.
Lately, I've found myself reaching for books that deal with themes of isolation and survival, Dystopian books, and books that either deal lightly with a plague subplot or deal heavily with a plague that looks nothing like COVID-19.

Some people read to escape, some read for perspective, and others read to process. I've got book recommendations for everyone.

For those of you looking for literary escapes, I have some vivid fantasies for you. But first, here's a cozy song by Morgan Wallen about staying inside with your Love, "til someone needs medical help or the magnolias bloom."

        The Raven Boys (The Raven Cycle, #1)  Beyond the Deepwoods  (The Edge Chronicles: The Twig Saga #1)  The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern (2012-05-24)

1. The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater
The Raven Boys, book one of a four-book series, is a beautifully-written YA paranormal fantasy about the only normal girl in a family of psychics and a boy who desperately wants to find an ancient Welsh king. It's intricate and vivid with colorful characters and enchanting magic. If you're looking for something transportive and nostagically beautiful with a restful, meandering plot and lovely characters, this is a good choice. The audiobooks, narrated by Will Patton are, in my opinion, the best way to experience the story. I'm just about to embark on my third run-through, and I'd love the company.

2. The Edge Chronicles by Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell
The Edge Chronicles is an action-packed Middle Grade series set in the land of The Edge. The Edge being a fantastical world filled with all sorts of creatures and cultures, alternative sets of scientific laws, and corresponding technologies and politics. Beyond the Deepwoods is the first of the Chronicles and the first of three installments that follow Twig, an aspiring Sky Pirate. The larger series continues with further trilogies and standalones which follow members of Twig's line (father, son, etc.). The Chronicles feature impressive world-building complemented by quirky illustrations throughout. If you're looking for something to read aloud with your kids, this is the way to go. 

3. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
Two old magicians each select, mark, and train a child for a years-long magical duel between two schools of magic in this delectable historical fantasy novel. A Romance in more ways than one, this story, and the quiet duel that inexorably drives it forward, finds its stage in a traveling circus that's only open after dark. It's one of the most exquisite, vivid reading experiences I've ever had. Escape into this world, written with such real-life magic you can touch, smell, and taste it. I dare you.

If escape is what you need right now, these stories might be the way to go. But alternatively, I recommend picking up and rereading your desert island books: the books you know and love that you'd take with you to a hypothetical deserted island; the books you've read enough times to make them comfortable places to fall back on--these can be the very best soul-balms in times of crisis.

Processing Aids
If you're like me, and you try to reach for books with just the right themes and feels to help you process what you're going through, here are a few I've found helpful during this season. But first, here's a song Luke Combs just released called "Six Feet Apart."

                        The Martian The Host (The Host, #1)
                        Z for Zachariah Skyward (Skyward, #1)

1. The Martian by Andy Weir
Speaking of desert island books, here's one of mine. Most of you have probably seen the movie starring Matt Damon, which is fantastic, but the book is just on a whole other level of nerdy, science-y deliciousness. I have never read a work of speculative fiction more unapologetically technical, but it really works. Mark Watney, alone on Mars with nothing but science and his sense of humor to keep him alive is exactly what I needed during self-isolation, and you might too. 

2. The Host by Stephanie Meyer
Yes, Stephanie Meyer wrote Twilight. No, The Host is nothing like Twilight, It's adult, rather than YA, and it's easily her best work--full of lonely, desert ambiance. The Host follows Wanderer (the alien parasite) and Melanie Stryder (the host) as they navigate the complications of sharing a human body with all the emotions, memories, and family members that come with it. It's spin on both the Dystopian and Alien-Takeover subgenres that lands in a simultaneous acknowledgement of human wickedness and defense of free will even when wickedness is the most likely outcome. For me, rereading this during lockdown was the absolute right decision. 

3. Z for Zachariah by Robert C. O'Brien
This book is quietly disturbing in the very best of ways. Set in a world irradiated in the wake of nuclear war, this story features a girl, hidden away in a valley, who believes she might be the last human alive, until a man appears wearing the only existing radiation-proof suit in the world. It's isolation and survival, risk and kindness, evil and goodness when there's absolutely no one around to judge your actions. I'll be thinking about this one for a while. 

4. Skyward by Brandon Sanderson
I finished this one while writing this post and couldn't Not squeeze it in here. The first of a YA sci-fi series of which only Skyward and Starsight have yet been published, Skyward is the story of the daughter of a coward, a pariah in an underground culture fighting a losing battle on a hostile planet against a mysterious alien race. Spensa knows social isolation better than most currently-quarantined humans on this planet, and she will do anything in or out of her power to fly with the DDF. The pathos of this novel surprised me right along with the tense, intricate dogfights Sanderson writes with such dexterity. Highly recommend.


Okay, crazies, watch this quarantine music video for "Level of Concern" by Twenty-One Pilots and proceed with caution.

        Station Eleven Cinder (The Lunar Chronicles, #1) Illuminae (The Illuminae Files, #1) 

1. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
First of all, I didn't particularly like this book, but it is quite popular currently, and its narrative spins around a civilization-destroying flu. I also don't have any particular reasons for disliking it goes. Station Eleven is a unique narrative that feels like an oral history, spread across decades before and after a killer flu. It features a traveling Shakespearean troupe and explores the idea that art of all sorts will endure as long as humans do, even when nearly everything else falls, because "Survival is Insufficient." Lovers of Shakespeare, in particular, will appreciate the references and motifs present throughout this work. 

2. Cinder by Marissa Meyer
Cyborg Cinderella vs. a plague and an evil stepmother and Lunar Politics. You don't need to know any more. This YA novel is the first of a series that retools not only Cinderella but also Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, and Snow White, in that order (Cinder, Scarlet, Cress, Winter). Cinderella is a cyborg, the wolf is genetically engineered, Rapunzel is a hacker, and so on. If you're willing to face the mostly-lighthearted plague subplot, this is a family-friendly, fun ride with lots of quirky twists on the original tales. 

3. Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
Did someone say Space Opera with a psychotic AI and a killer plague? No one? Must be hearing things. "DON'T LOOK AT ME." Sorry. I just reread this, and it was better than I remembered, and now I want to make everyone read it too. Illuminae and its sequels Gemina and Obsidio are unique in the literary world. Told in a collection of files, IMs, video transcripts, AI core readings, and more, this YA novel (warning: mature content), is the first part of the case the Illuminae group brings against evil space corporation, Beitech, responsible for atrocities committed against a remote mining planet and the horrific and unlikely events that follow. Equal parts bloody(ish) action and persistent humor, I love this story and its characters for their survivor spirit and all-around badassery. Highly, highly recommend. 

         The Stand Wanderers The Plague

For those of you looking for even-harder-core plague content, I'll cautiously recommend
The Stand by Stephen King (weaponized flu), Wanderers by Chuck Wendig (sleepwalking and a plague with concerning scientific similarities to the coronavirus), and The Plague by Albert Camus (bubonic plague). Even though I haven't mustered the nerve to pick these up yet, I've heard good things from sources I trust. If plague and death is what you're looking for, I don't think you can go wrong with these titles.

Alright, I think that's enough for now. Happy reading and stay healthy, friends. 

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

I Have Some Thoughts

Hope for the best, plan for the worst.
I honestly think that's the best way to approach this pandemic.
I think we all need to keep both the hoping and the planning in healthy balance.

To those of you who erred on the side of hoping for the best:
I am very sorry if you're struggling to find supplies like toilet paper, diapers, and specific grocery items, but it doesn't help you or anyone else to go online and call all the people who stocked up irrational, panicked, and stupid--even if you're right, which, in a great many cases, you are not.
Once upon a time I took for granted that I could run to the store at any time for whatever I needed, and then I ran out of toilet paper in a snowstorm and had to shovel my driveway and then proceed to slip and slide on unsafe roads all the way to the grocery store, all while needing to pee.
I have not made that mistake since.
That to say: stocking up on supplies, whenever you are able to, is a good practice even on sunny days with smooth roads ahead. You never know when a bad storm or a virus or some other large or small disaster will keep you from getting what you need and want. I don't think it's ever a good idea to take your access to goods and services for granted. I know that might not be helpful to hear right now, but it's something to keep in mind. 
People who stocked up for impending crisis and possible quarantine are not stupid. Some went a bit overboard in their anxiety, but even they aren't stupid. Just human. 
And I think a lot of us planner-aheaders are willing to share our excesses if people would stop bashing us online long enough to ask for help. Right now, I think a lot of people who are willing to share are afraid to admit we have some excess because of the unkindness from our friends and family in our social media feeds every day.
Speaking of friends and family, I know you may not be concerned for yourself, but please be kind to those who are. The at-risk population: the elderly, the already-sick -- they're not expendable.
I have seen so much "Only the old people are dying, so I don't care," rhetoric that I want to be sick. 

I hope you wouldn't walk into your grandparents' house with the flu.
I hope you wouldn't come to work with a fever.
I hope you wash your hands multiple times a day every day of your life.

What's being asked of you, in the face of this highly infectious virus that's, to some unknown degree, more severe than the flu, is that you extend to the grandparents of strangers the same courtesy I imagine you'd extend to your own elderly loved ones. Right now, that means social distancing, and I know that's both an emotional and monetary hardship for a lot of people, but it's not forever. We might never know exactly how many lives we saved by taking these measures, but we will know exactly how many we didn't. 
Please leave your attitude at the door. Please recognize that there are very valid human fears involved in all of this. Please ask yourself whether you're healthfully hoping for the best, or just channeling your own valid fear into denial. And please, please ask for help if you need it. 

To those of you who erred on the side of planning for the worst:
I don't have too much to share with you that you don't already know. You know your anxieties are running too high. You know some of your actions could be hurting other people. You know you have more toilet paper than you can use this month. I submit to you that looking for ways to bless others with your preparedness will help you as well as them. I truly think it will bring you joy and loosen the tightness in your chest. 
If you're currently working from home and still getting paid, please consider setting aside the money you would have been spending on gas and coffee and take-out and all those events that were canceled, and sharing it with those who are out of work, not getting paid, and not sure how they're going to make rent this month. Think too of the single parents and the small businesses, tenants living on your properties, and those struggling with depression in isolation.
Please let your mind dwell on opportunities for compassion rather than fear, for your own sake as much as anyone else's.

I guess what I'm trying to say, to everyone, is let's be kind to each other. Let's help each other, get through this together, and learn as much as we can from this season.

Coming soon on my blog: Book Recommendations for Isolation.

Monday, January 27, 2020

That Time You Made Me Read Your Favorites

                     person reading book
If you're wondering what happened to my last blog post, the one you undoubtedly meant to go back and read over and over, I accidentally deleted it, and even after doing much internet research about how to get it back, I could not. Sad.

Moving on.

Back in October, many moons ago, I asked my friends on Facebook to tell me your favorite books, to nominate them in comments, and then to let the likes determine which were the top five favorites of my friend pool.

Make sense?

Probably not. Here's the post from October 4th:

"This is Your Chance to MAKE me read your favorite book!!! But wait, there’s RULES.
The Rules For Me: I must pick five titles from your recommendations and read them all in the month of November. I must take into account the number of times a book is recommended as well as the number of likes on each recommendation. I will then talk about each of these books in a blog post and shout out the recommender.
The Rules For You: Recommendations Must be Fiction, under 600 pages, and Must be something you LOVED and think I will love as well. Must not be part of a Massive Series that I will then take 12 years to complete. "

I then waited a month, selected the winners with only a Very Little Bias (I counted my own likes toward the winners, Sue me), and posted this:

"I'm here to announce the winners of the Make Abby Read Books in November Challenge otherwise known as Reading by Coercion. These titles were the nominations that received the most likes and seconds on my original post. They are as follows:

1) The Indiscretions of Archie by PG Wodehouse, recommended by Philip Bunn

2) A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, recommended by Christopher Hamilton

3) The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman, recommended by Danielle Hines

4) A Pilgrim's Regress by C.S. Lewis, recommended by Rodney Dowty

5) The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte, recommended by R.e. Stinnette

Thank you so much for these recommendations! I have committed to read these titles this month, and putting out a blog post with my thoughts whenever I finish."

False. No. I only broke 25% of my promise. I did, in fact, read every single one of these books during the month of November, and not a day later. I am, in fact, giving you a blog post about it. It's just late, a fact which Christopher Hamilton so graciously reminded me.
Not that I forgot. I would never. But I have to admit, telling anyone what I think of their very favorite books is SCARY STUFF, PEOPLE. I have been for sure procrastinating. For sure.

Not that any of the books were bad. They weren't. And most were blessedly short, so that was nice too.

*Deep Breath* Here we go.

Image result for indiscretions of archie

To The Indiscretions of Archie by PG Wodehouse, I gave five out of five stars.
This was my first taste of Wodehouse, and while his voice and style are not what I would normally reach for, I had Such a grand time with this book. I loved to hate Archie. I loved to watch him fumble, and, err, and act selfishly, and ultimately end up successful, loved, and a blessing to others despite himself. This book is ultimately, I think, about the Common Grace God gives all of us: that stuff that mitigates some of our flubs, and adds beauty and hilarity back into the world despite us.

To A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, I gave four out of five stars, and for this I am ashamed. The whole way through this post-apocalyptic story about an order of monks, this commentary on post-modernism, etc. I couldn't help but think I'd enjoy it so much more if I got it. Mostly I just wanted Dr. Mitchell or maybe Dr. Grewell there explaining the whole thing to me. My lack of enjoyment translated to my own lack of philosophical versedness. And I truly didn't Dislike it. I had a good time watching about 25% go over my head. If I hadn't seen what was going over my head, I probably would have rated this a three. Solid like.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane

To The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman, I gave five stars. I was pleasantly surprised since I didn't particularly love The Graveyard Book, which I read earlier in the year. This book is a lightly-fantastical story about a man returning to his childhood home and all the memories that come rushing back like the tide from the ocean that probably might not exist in real life at the end of his lane. Or maybe it does. Maybe it's in that bucket by the porch. Anyways. I didn't love it in that 100% way so many of my friends do, but I did think it was sad and sweet and captured so much about childhood and its magic and the way we forget it. Would recommend. Would reread. Likely to love more in a couple years.

To A Pilgrim's Regress by C. S. Lewis I gave five out of five stars, but only because he takes the opportunity in the afterward (or the forward, one of the wards at any rate) to acknowledge and comment on the weaknesses in his story. I thought that was just So self aware and so Lewis and I loved it for everything that it was: a very young man's personal reaction to A Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan and the resulting unapologetic fanfiction. This was the very first book he wrote after his conversion, and as such, I loved it. I also loved it because like Lewis, I Did Not love A Pilgrim's Progress, and I love that we have that in common. I will say, for this book to really make sense, I would recommend reading both A Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan, and Surprised by Joy by C. S. Lewis (his autobiographical conversion story) first. I do not think I would have enjoyed this without that context.

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (Oxford World's Classics)

And finally, to The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte, I gave five out of five stars.
I really loved this just as I have loved everything by every Bronte except Villette by Charlotte. I did not love Villette. I thought it read like a first, first draft of Jane Eyre. But anyway. Wildfell Hall was the one book of these five that was long, but I did not mind at all. It's about a woman who, in the Victorian Era, had the nerve to leave her wicked husband and hide in the country where rumors and unwelcome romance follow her. I was hooked on every word. All the intrigue. All the assumptions. All the scandal. Eek! So good.

And that is all. Thank you all so much if you nominated a book or voted or sat silently creeping in the corner. This was fun, and I would do it again 10/10.

What about you? Have you let friends force-feed you their favorites? How did that go? Leave a comment below, and tell me all about it.

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Why I've Been Gone So Long

                         white and red ceramic mug on books

I haven't posted since the fifth of November: Guy Fawkes Day, for those of you who know or care about British Holidays. Stay tuned for my Boxing Day Post! (Joke. Probably.)

Why have I been gone so long? I'm so glad you asked, because I have some fantastic excuses!

As I write said excuses, I am watching The Knight Before Christmas with Vanessa Hughens on Netflix. Here's a preview if you're interested, and I'll put a mini review at the end of this post.

Excuse Number One November was NaNoWriMo, the month in which I wrote 50,191 very rough words on two different story projects. So I was a little bit busy, and by the time I got done writing 2,000ish words a day, I had No Desire to blog, even though I had a whole string of fun seasonal posts planned. I'll just have to condense some of that content here. When I'm done making excuses.

Excuse Number Two I started a new job! After a good year and a half at Carefree Kitchens, I was offered the position of Development Associate at Freedom Alliance, a nonprofit organization that ministers to post-combat veterans and their families, healing the wounds of war. And can I just say, it's an honor.  I went from a job that paid the bills to some of the most meaningful work I've ever done. But it's been an exhausting emotional adjustment learning a new job and building relationships with new people. I hate change. I hate it so much. Even when it's obviously a really, really great change. I started the second day of December, and until today, I haven't had the leftover bandwidth to write anything. But as you can see, it's getting better.

Excuse Number Three I'm in a play! I've mentioned this before, but as show dates approach, more and more of my time and energy has gone into rehearsals and such. If you're interested in seeing me play a country wench in a love triangle in William Shakespeare's Love's Labour's Lost sometime between January 16th and January 19th, you can get tickets here. Early bird pricing holds through the day after Christmas! *Shameless Plug*


                       coffee cup near orange vegetable on brown wooden surface

I was going to do a post where I complained about how I can't enjoy Pumpkin Spice Lattes without being called Basic (which I really hate). I was going to do a little rant about how horrible it is that humans can't seem to just let each other enjoy the little, simple, and silly things in life without putting down each other's tastes. Why is it so fun to be a hater? Let me know what you think in the comments.

I was going to combine my Pumpkin Spice Rant with my thoughts on the Appropriate Time to Begin Listening to Christmas Music debate, but then my thoughts and theories on that developed so far beyond the Pumpkin Spice Rant realm, that I decided to do a whole separate post on that and just scrap the Pumpkin Spice thing altogether. Stay Tuned.

MOVING ON for now to the Christmas books I've read so far this season:

           10 Blind Dates   Chasing Christmas Eve (Heartbreaker Bay, #4)   Greenglass House (Greenglass House #1) 

                           One Day in December    Entwined

10 Blind Dates by Ashley Elston
Four Stars
When Sophie goes through a breakup just before Christmas, her big Italian family gathers around her and conspires to lift her spirits. They wrap her up in closeness and love and get her to agree to ten blind dates. I thought this book was adorable, funny, warm, and sweet. It's not crazy-deep, but it's exactly the light, aggressively Christmas thing I want this time of year.

Chasing Christmas Eve by Jill Shalvis
Two Stars
This is a novel about a runaway author and a rich California guy. For a book with Christmas in the title, this was the least Christmas-y Christmas book I've ever read. It happens to be a romance set around Christmas time. That's it. There are zero Christmas vibes. Zero. I could have forgiven that if the romance had been any good, but it really wasn't. I gave it two stars instead of one because I liked a few parts, and there was a cute dog.

Greenglass House by Kate Milford
Four Stars
I really liked this book. It's a middle-grade novel about adoption from the child's perspective, ghosts, role-playing games, smuggling, mystery, and magic. The whole aesthetic was unique and fascinating. This was a high four stars for me. I couldn't quite give it five, but it's right up there. I love a good children's book at Christmas time!

One Day in December by Josie Silver
Four Stars
Another Christmas romance novel, but this one had so much more depth and emotion and raw life to it. It's a star-crossed love story spanning ten years and a host of good, bad, and grey relational choices. Some parts made me laugh, some made me cry. It's heartfelt all around, thought-provoking, and troubling in places. Takeaway: love in real life can be as ugly as it is beautiful.

Entwined by Heather Dixon
Five Stars
A familial love-filled, mildly-allegorical retelling of The Twelve Dancing Princesses. I read this for the first time four years ago, and reread it again this November. It spans one year of enforced castle mourning from Christmas to Christmas and the exploits of twelve girls, who only want to dance, and have no idea what sort of magic they're getting mixed up in, as well as a sad father who'll do anything to keep them safe. Highly Recommend.

And the ones I'm currently reading:

              Frostheart   My True Love Gave to Me: Twelve Holiday Stories

Because I haven't completed these yet, I can't give them ratings, but I can tell you that all three are perfectly lovely so far.

Let it Snow: Three Holiday Romances by John Green, Maureen Johnson, and Lauren Myracle
Three novellas about three pairs of high school kids whose story threads weave together, or so I hear. It just got a Netflix adaptation, which I'm excited to watch the minute I'm done reading.

Frostheart by Jamie Littler
I've barely started this, but it's been getting just a ton of love in the bookish community, and the illustrations are adorable. It's about a little orphan boy with a big heart and a magical ability that frightens his snowy, little village. Also snow leviathans and a stoic yeti. Yes, please.

My True Love Gave to Me: Twelve Holiday Stories edited by Stephanie Perkins
I'm about halfway through this collection of short stories that cover everything from Christmas to Yule to New Years. I've been impressed with the depth of each tale and the quality of the themes being discussed. So far, highly recommend.

Alright, that's *nearly* all for now, although I did promise to give a little review of The Knight Before Christmas.
                      Image result for the knight before christmas
I'm going to judge this on the Christmas movie scale, not the movie movie scale, because on the movie movie scale it was like a two and a half out of five stars, but on the Christmas movie scale it was a four and a half. Cute. Made me smile and laugh. All the Christmas vibes. Includes accidental time travel and a knight trying to learn how to talk to Alexa. Golden.

What are your favorite Christmas books and movies? Are you a Hallmark person? Have any holiday pet peeves? Leave a comment below, and thanks for reading!