Absurdist Fiction, Adventure, Fantasy, Pulp Fiction

Number 40: A Book With Photographs Inside

Mermaids in Paradise

Lydia Millet

While browsing the shelves of the Fiction “M” section for something to include in this challenge, I came upon this cover. Since it combined pin-ups, pop art, and mermaids, I had to take a look. I was not disappointed.

Photo by Leticia Azevedo on Pexels.com

Mermaids in Paradise was a lovely, absurd, sarcastic book about what would happen if mermaids were real. And what would happen is… not great. The book, however, is delightful!

Except for the last few pages which were… perplexing. But I think I liked it?

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Regardless, I have read a lot of mermaid fiction over the years (even wrote some!), and what I love about it is how malleable the genre is. It is a strange idea that can unfold in many directions depending on the neuroses of the author. This particular book went with hard-edged cynicism, and the oeuvre is better for it.

It kind of reminded me of lesser-known Margaret Atwood classics like the Edible Woman, which is great, and everyone should read.

Career, Financial, Personal

A Day In The Life of a Professional Proofreader

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A few years ago, I had one of my favorite jobs of all time. I was a proofreader at a publishing company, living the literary dream. I worked there three days a week in my mid-twenties, and it was an amazing learning experience. Plus, I was good at it.

It’s fun to get paid for doing something you’re good at.

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The company I worked for was unexpected. I always pictured a big, fancy, harried publishing house in a big, fancy, harried city. But you know how reality and expectations go. Instead, I worked for a mid-sized, business casual, chill publishing house in a mid-sized, business casual, chill city. They did not publish the great American novel, they published church bulletins. They were the largest distributor of Catholic church bulletins in the country, home to two full-sized printing presses, and one slightly smaller printing press (all of which I was wildly allergic to).

They usually only had one going at a time, but it was quite the noisy excitement when they were all on at once!

To this day, I have a soft spot for those bulletins and recognize them when I see them in the wild. It feels like spotting an old friend. I have since moved on to full-time work and different industries, but I will always look back fondly on that time.

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7 am: alarm goes off, feed the dogs, make myself coffee. At this point in time I had a Keurig, so my coffee was expensive and inadequate. Then I would dress in something that looked vaguely like an outfit a discount Zooey Deschanel would wear. Attempt to make it out the door by 7:30.

Slightly before 8 am: arrive, cursing Austin traffic. My caffeine levels dangerously low, I’d grab some terrible office coffee and chat with the aging hippies that made up the staff before clocking in. I expected this job to be full of the devout, but the vibe was more Berkeley in the ’60s. It suit me well.

8 am: clock in. This office was so low-tech that it still had a physical punch-clock like they had in the 90s. It was charming, but prone to malfunction, and I much prefer the digital versions I’ve used since.

Clocked in, I would settle into my cozy little desk in the proofreader’s corner and chat with my fellow part-timers. Our schedules were staggered, so we only saw each person once or twice a week and there was usually a lot to catch up on.

Photo by Oleksandr Sapaiev on Pexels.com

8:15 am: the designers would be finished with the previous day’s corrections. I would review them to see if the suggested changes were implemented correctly, and to make sure I did not miss anything the first time around. Bulletins being fairly standard from week to week, we did not have many rounds of edits. Most of them were ready to print after one or two.

But sometimes a preacher would be a rambler and use the bulletin as his personal diary. Those were rather labor-intensive to correct.

If a bulletin was finished and no longer had mistakes, it went in “To Be Printed” box, where it would be sent to the printing press in the back room. The ones that still needed corrections went back to the designer on the other side of our open floorplan office.

9 am: old corrections complete, time for new arrivals.

Around 9:30 or 10 am: the presses would start!

11:38 am: my throat would get scratchy for some inexplicable reason. It never happened when I was away from the office, but I loved those presses too much to realize they were the cause of it.

Noon: bulletins done for the day, it was time to take lunch. Since the building was located in an office park, there was nowhere fun to eat. Instead, I would have lunch in the cafeteria or at my desk. If the weather was nice, I would go for a walk. This being Texas, it usually was not.

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1 pm: back from lunch, I would begin on ad packs. This was the most important and time-consuming part of my job. Customers wanted to get what they were paying for, so each one had to be perfect. Everything from frame, to location on the sheet, to color vs b/w impacted what went into pricing, and it was the proofreader’s job to make sure it matched what was agreed upon.

Incidentally, this hair-raising task gave me ample opportunities to judge small business marketing, which came in handy when I became a copywriter (I knew what not to do).

3:30 pm: break for coffee. There was never any left (and no Starbucks in the area) so I always had to make a fresh pot. It did not taste any better when I made it.

5 pm: assuming I was at a good stopping point, I was done for the day! This was not a job that took stress home. Thinking back on it now. I am feeling quite nostalgic. It was a time in my life where I was surrounded by good people, fulfilling work, and truly harrowing coffee. What a time to be alive!

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com
Crime Fiction, Fiction, Historical Fiction

Number 4: Title Starting with the Letter “F”

The Family

Naomi Krupitsky

In a reversal of Get Rich or Lie Trying, where I read a book recommended by a YouTube video, The Family is a book that inspired me to watch a YouTube video (although without the explicit call to action, the book just reminded me of the video).

The video in question, of course, is the supremely entertaining Alice Cappelle’s explanation of why fiction is better than self-help.

The Family is better than self-help.

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This is not to say that this historical crime-family fiction novel resembles self-help in any overt way, nor does it try to achieve the same goals as self-help books. And despite the plethora of terrible entries into the genre, I do have an issue with self-help as a style. But The Family is still better.

It’s a book that shares a lot of the same themes that self-help does: self determination, autonomy, the role of our upbringing in who we become, and it does it in a nuanced way. The varying viewpoints and third-person omniscient narration allows Krupitsky to make contrasting arguments within the same story, and allows the reader to come to their own conclusions.

Fantasy, Ghost Stories, Horror

Number 8: Involving the Art World

The Castle of Los Angeles

Lisa Morton

No one has ever sounded more like a native Los Angeleno in the year 2010 than the writer of this book, set in Los Angeles and published in 2010. I think it was the narration about the freeways that cinched it. And putting “the” in front of the freeway’s number. The vocal fry pretty much adds itself.

Photo by Tima Miroshnichenko on Pexels.com

The setting felt realistic, is what I’m trying to say. Which is good, because The Castle of Los Angeles is a ghost story, so you want the world to be grounded in reality. And it was a good one, fun and unexpected, but not so long that you have to spend a bunch of nights with the lights on, jumping at every noise, until you finally finish it.

The Castle of Lost Angeles did get me thinking, if every place has a genre that resonates with it. LA would be horror. New York is rom-com (of course), Boston is heartwarming biopic, and all of the South stakes its claim to gothic romance, but California is the place for horror.

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Los Angeles is creepy, it’s hard to pinpoint, but the movie The Craft does it well. This is a different creepy from the creepiness of the sunset district in San Francisco where Patty Hearst held up a bank, or the bone-like tentacle creepiness of the trees outside of Lake Tahoe where the Donner family met their fate. The whole of California has a haunted quality, distinct by region, but connected, part of a greater disturbing whole.

Sorry to get sentimental, I must be feeling homesick.

Photo by Roberto Nickson on Pexels.com
Adventure, Fairy Tales, Fantasy, Graphic Novels

Number 14: A Character with Superhuman Abilities

Grimm Fairy Tales: Arcane Acre Volume 1

Pat Shand (writer) & Andrea Meloni (illustrator)

Graphic novels have gained quite a bit of legitimacy over recent years, so I’m not going to call them an under-rated medium. But what tends to get lost in the conversations about Alan Moore’s books is just how much fun graphic novels are!

It is the written medium that most resembles a movie, and of all the storytelling styles, I find it the easiest to get lost in. The way your eye flows from panel to panel feels more natural than paragraphs. It’s overall a more immersive medium.

Grimm Fairy Tales in particular is cute, and manages to pack a lot of world-building in a short amount of time. I enjoyed it and I’ll probably read the next in the series, but I wasn’t obsessed like I might have by an Alison Bechdel or Harley Quinn graphic novel (which clearly says more about me than the story itself).

Financial, Nonfiction, Pop Culture

Number 52: Published in 2022

Get Rich or Lie Trying: Ambition and Deceit in the New Influencer Economy

Symeon Brown

I know I was around for the rise of the influencer, yet I know nothing about them.

Their rise coincides with my young adult years, when theoretically I was paying the most attention, and yet I missed it.

Maybe my technophobia was to blame (I regarded iPhones with extreme skepticism as late as 2014), or the fact that hipster culture back then was not particularly glamorous. Our early-teen-aughts aesthetic was ironically ugly and thrifted from the worst Salvation Army’s in Ohio. We had graduated into an recession and we were angry about it.

But clearly some people were not, and they became influencers. Regardless of how or why I failed to notice them, they exist now, and they are here to stay (maybe).

So I read a book about them to catch up. All in all, I enjoyed this little treatise on the influencer. Sometimes I was depressed, sometimes I was horrified, but mostly I learned cool facts about recent history. For example, one of the founders of Black Lives Matter, Alicia Garza, has a masters degree from my alma mater. That was inspiring, unlike the rest of the book, which was more unsettling.

In conclusion, influencers are a menace to society, thank you for reading.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Ironically, I learned of this book while watching a Youtube video by influencer Jordan Theresa, who is clearly effective at her job, as she influenced me to read this book.

Reality TV, Style

Taylor Ann Green Has Won The Glasses Game

This week while watching Bravo’s second-best installment in the Southern Charm franchise, Southern Charm, I was stunned.

In a good way for once.

Someone on a reality show was wearing glasses! And in a normal day-to-day scene (as opposed to as a hungover and lying in bed look like we usually see).

I love to see it. And Taylor is nailing the glasses game. Best glasses I’ve seen on Bravo.

She looks amazing, and I hope she debuts more spectacles-centric looks.

**Both pictures are from WornonTV.net, a website that shows you where to purchase clothes from various TV shows. Regrettably, they do not show you where to buy the glasses portion of the Taylor looks, but they are a great resource in my eternal quest to dress like the cast of Selling Sunset.**

Quotes, Writing

Fangirling Over Eve Babitz Quotes

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Eve Babitz was a committed hedonist with an eye for life’s complexities. It is impossible for me to get through her books in one sitting because the writing is so lyrical, so intriguing, that I have to stop every few minutes to savor it. I want to see what she saw. But, even better than her descriptions of the events she witnesses, is her ability to turn the people she meets into characters, crafting whole story arcs in paragraphs and lovingly eviscerating them.

Here are six descriptions from her first work, Eve’s Hollywood (Number 3 on this list!), that make me want to exist in bygone Los Angeles.

Photo by Clem Onojeghuo on Pexels.com

Richard Green, the bluegrass breakneck violin player sounds the way The Girl in the convertible looks when she runs her fingers underneath her honey tresses at a light to free her hair for a moment from its own weight.

On Bluegrass
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And there was James, salty and famished-looking from the summer, standing like a raped angel with these dark blue eyes throwing southern aristocratic landscapes all across dark smelly nightclubs where we sat in front of the impossible.

On the next best thing
Photo by Ekaterina Belinskaya on Pexels.com

[He] was always a prince to me until I grew up and then he treated me the way he treated most adults which was with tantrumic impatience and nasty remarks.

On her father’s fabulous friends
Photo by AG Z on Pexels.com

Walter and I were born on consecutive days. We always understood each other perfectly and had a wonderful time pulling the wool over everyone’s eyes until he saw the dove of peace on acid, which was a drag. But anyway, we are friends. He’s an orphan, it was part of his story.

A complete story in 4 sentences
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I’ve read Proust all the way through because everyone said I’d like it, but Colette’s little sketch of Proust coming into a room after everyone had thought he’d gone and already had begun gossiping about how he was a f*g was only about three paragraphs and you could imply the other 9 million pages. Nevertheless, I liked the other nine million pages and recommend them to anyone in solitary confinement or otherwise out of commission. You can’t read Proust at the Laundromat.

On high art
20th Century Fiction, Fiction

Number 1: A Second-Person Narrative

Bright Lights, Big City

Jay McInerney

I admit, I was skeptical that a novel written in second person would be anything but a gimmick, but I was wrong. It is actually quite engaging. It is also well-suited to a navel-gazey unreliable narrator (the best kind!).

But what you are left with is a premonition of the way your life will fade behind you, like a book you have read too quickly, leaving a dwindling trail of images and emotions, until all you can remember is a name.

To all the reviewers on Goodreads who wrote their reviews in second person, I salute you. It is a temperamental style, and you are braver than I.

Biography, Nonfiction, Reviews, True Crime

Number 24: Addresses a Specific Topic

Shooting Star: The Brief Arc of Joe McCarthy

Tom Wicker

I did not know much about this era of American history when I began this book, but now that I’ve finished, I still don’t.

It is not the fault of the author, it is just that the subject is so banal, like evil. I fall asleep even thinking about it.

That’s why he was so successful.

Wait, was he successful?

It seems to me idle to argue that he was not a demagogue. If he enjoyed his success, he was not entirely sanguine about its cost in ruined lives and damaged careers.

That sounds successful to me.

Joseph R. McCarthy was a demagogue, certainly, but… he was also intelligent, energetic, audacious, personally generous… too avidly craving the affirmation of others, too recklessly seeking it in the battle he exalted, McCarthy too carelessly believed that the approval he won justified the means of its achievement… who fought desperately and with uncommon success to achieve the wrong dream.


Adventure, Dystopia, Fantasy, Pulp Fiction, Reviews, Science Fiction

Number 36: Recommended by a Favorite Author

The Heads of Cerberus: The First Alternative Worlds Novel

Francis Stevens

I admit I was not a fan of the last dystopian novel I read. So I went back in time a little to see what I could find. And lo and behold, the pioneer of the time travel genre herself, Francis Stevens!

I love science fiction for its timelessness. Despite, or because, it deals with the future, its tone has not changed much since it began. Sure, we aren’t still debating the morality of the microscope (like Margaret Cavendish’s Blazing World), but the tension between skepticism of new technology and embracing it for the creative potential it unlocks is a consistent theme.

Heads of Cerberus was written in 1919, but it still feels current. I think part of the reason for this is because she does not try to imagine the technology that might exist in Philadelphia in 2118, which might read as silly today. Technology is stalled at 1918 levels, and society is the thing that is drastically restructured.

Stylistically, it works. Pulp entertainment at its finest!

Also, I took some liberties with the category. Rather than being recommended by a favorite author, The Heads of Cerberus was actually recommended by the Monster, She Wrote audiobook I was listening to. It has introduced me to some of my new favorites.

Fantasy, Poetry

Number 45: A Book With Illustrated People on the Cover

Electric Arches

Eve L. Ewing

It must be said, I love poetry. It’s such a visceral experience. It’s much more exciting than reading a novel. Poetry absorbs you, it take you under. It’s the only writing style that gives enough credit to the form of the words themselves, and we should appreciate poetry more. Turning the pages feels like an adventure.

I saved some cornbread for you in the skillet on the stove.

I saved some cornbread for you in the skillet on the stove.

I saved some cornbread for you in the skillet on the stove.

I saved some cornbread for you in the skillet on the stove.

There is not much else to say except I loved it (which I suppose is a weird thing to say about something that covers so many heavy topics, but it made me feel, and that matters with art). Electric Arches is a great book, and I finished it all in one sitting. Also the cover is especially cool.


Go ahead, hire that beta reader!

What have you got to lose?

Writing a novel is an all-encompassing, mind-expanding affair. There is nothing like the flutter in your heart after your ideas first take shape upon the page. Your pour your heart and soul and six months of daydreaming into this world you’ve created. It is, more than anything, a labor of love.

So, first off, congratulations! The fact that it exists at all is amazing, and you made it happen. Everything that happens next is just icing on the writing-life-hustle cake. Take a moment to celebrate.

Photo by Frank Cone on Pexels.com

Writing is also exhausting, and time consuming, and tedious, which is to say nothing of the glacial pace at which publishers move, a pace designed to try the patience of a saint (and let’s be real, you are not a saint). Even when you get that first draft completed, there are so many steps before you can see your name in print. There are synopses to write, formatting to tweak, and proofreading to do. It’s superficial, and very important. You will need a polished manuscript before you can submit it to an agent or begin self-publishing, and it never hurts to hire someone to help you get it there.

You can expect to need, at the minimum, a content editor and a proofreader, possibly a line editor as well. There will be rounds of edits, restructuring, and rewrites. All of this adds up to hundreds of dollars and hours of your life. But there is a much-overlooked professional that can save you big in the long run. Of course, I’m speaking of the professional beta reader!

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Beta readers provide objective feedback on early drafts of your work so that you can fix the problems before you invest too much time into them. From plot holes to narrative inconsistencies, badly developed characters, to an over-reliance on clichés, a talented reader will alert you to your areas of weakness and provide suggestions for improvement. This will save you time at a fraction of the cost of a content editor.

So the question is: why should you pay for this service when you can probably find it for free? First off, you can absolutely find them among your friends and fellow writers, and you absolutely should. You want as many beta readers as possible, but the ideal range seems to be five to seven. Most people do not have seven people who can give them timely, concise feedback on their work, and that is where a paid beta reader comes in. Hiring a professional comes down to three main advantages: diversity, objectivity, and familiarity.

Diversity matters. When it comes to your novel you want as many different perspectives as possible to see it to avoid embarrassing errors. Professional beta readers are trained to spot areas of insensitivity toward other cultures, religions, and sexuality. What reads as unremarkable to some will read as offensive to another, and it is your job as an author to be aware of this.

Objectivity is crucial. Your friends are not objective. Fellow writers are not objective. People who know you simply aren’t objective. Your work needs objective feedback, and a professional is going to be much better at doing this. Since it is coming from a stranger, you will be more receptive to it.

And finally, familiarity with the genre pays off. Beta readers are passionate about books, and they tend to find their niche. Although theoretically a person could work with young adult to nonfiction to adult contemporary to serialized paranormal romance, there is so much amazing work out there that specialization happens naturally. As a result, they will be familiar with your genre and better able to help you develop its themes.

Photo by Suzy Hazelwood on Pexels.com

With their affordability and versatility, a professional beta reader is a great investment for your novel, and when you find a good one you won’t want to let them go! Most beta readers get jobs through referrals, so ask your fellow writers who they use. If you’re not part of a writing community you can find them through advertisements on Reddit, Upwork, Goodreads, and Fiverr. There are also professional beta reader groups on Facebook. Beta readers are an underappreciated tool in your writing arsenal, don’t let them go to waste.

Dystopia, Fantasy, Reviews, Young Adult

Number 41: Involves a Second Chance

The Program

Suzanne Young

In this book’s defense, it was going to feel dated.

After all, The Program is a dystopian young adult novel set in Oregon with an exciting premise that, predictably, fails to deliver.

To start with the good, the writing is clear, several of the characters are engaging, and the author is particularly good at depicting action. The plot moves along quickly, and I could be curious to see where the series goes.

Okay good parts over, complaining parts ahead.

To begin, wow. Just, wow, were we ever pick-mes back then. This book is that mentality in 405 easy-to-read pages. It is peak Mary Sue, peak not-like-other-girls. It’s hard to be reminded of that cultural moment. And in book form, no less! I was certain one of my complaints was going to be this book’s abject failure to pass the Bechdel test, but the first page proved me wrong.

The air in the room tastes sterile. The lingering scent of bleach is mixing with the fresh white paint on the walls, and I wish my teacher would open the window to let in a breeze. But we’re on the third floor so the pane is sealed shut- just in case anyone gets the urge to jump.

I’m still staring at the paper on my desk when Kendra Phillips turns around in her seat, looking me over with her purple contacts. “You’re not done yet?”

Like most heroines of the era, Sloane is beloved by men, inexplicably liked by women (who are underdeveloped compared to the male characters), and totally incapable of relating to anyone who is not in love with her. It is possible this was relatable to teenagers in the Obama years, but teens today are more sophisticated than that.

Like many premises of the era, The Program is underdeveloped, and insensitive by today’s standards. To state the obvious: depression as a plot device is icky. Mental healthcare in America is a travesty. Conflating suicidal ideation, depression, and self-harm as being one and the same (which this book does frequently) is lazy writing. This may have been okay in 2012, but we can do better now.

Aside from being insensitive, it is underdeveloped. We don’t really understand why suicide has become contagious, why it is an epidemic, or why it seems localized to teenagers. Although this vagueness can work for stories that are more about the character’s journey than the setting itself, this book is very much about the Program as a character, and one girl’s journey not to be changed by it. In a very real sense, the Program functions as the villain, and it is a poorly understood one.

Which is all a bummer. I like dystopian novels. It’s a pity this one was not done well.

I glance past her to make sure Mrs. Portman is distracted at the front of the room, and then I smile. “It’s far too early in the morning to properly pyschoanalyze myself,” I whisper. “I’d almost rather learn about science.”

“Maybe a coffee spiked with QuikDeath would help you focus on the pain.”

Anthology, Financial, Nonfiction

Number 44: An Anthology

Women Talk Money: Breaking the Taboo

Rebecca Walker

This is one of those books that you know from the beginning is going to get you. Anytime you have a group of diverse individuals sharing their honest feelings on one of society’s biggest taboos, at least one of them is going to hit a little too close to home and give you too many feelings. And that certainly happened with Women Talk Money. There were parts that were emotional, parts that were maddening, and a few sections that made me uncomfortably aware of aspects of my privilege I never even considered.

It was motivating, and reminded me that radical honesty about finances is necessary. The only way forward is to lift the veil of shame and secrecy until we understand how to do better.

I will definitely be looking into these writers in the future.

We tell ourselves so many stories about money; that it is the reward for our hard work, that is signals what is valuable, that it cannot buy things that will give our lives meaning, that we will never have equality until women assess their worth in the same ways men do. But none of these stories feel completely true to me.

P.S. I would be remiss not to mention that Rebecca Walker is the daughter of Alice Walker, whose essay is featured as the foreword of this book. While Alice Walker has done admirable work, her anti-Semitic views are, to say the least, problematic, and I cannot blame anyone for passing on anthology for that reason.

This world and these rooms might not have been designed for you, but you have to walk into the room and take the knowledge you need. Walk out with it. Don’t take anything else home.

Biography, Memoir, Nonfiction

Number 3: Title starting with the letter “E”

Eve’s Hollywood

Eve Babitz

Words cannot express how much I love this collection. I read it every year and I always find something new to appreciate about it. Eve Babitz is commonly compared to Joan Didion, but I never understood it. In my opinion she is much more in line with Edith Wharton and Candace Bushnell, women who wrote savagely and frivolously, like pink stilettos, which is my favorite kind of writing. The difference being that they wrote about New York, and she wrote about L.A.

In the Depression, when most of them came here, people with brains went to New York and people with faces came West.

Of all her books, Slow Days Fast Company is probably her best, the most polished and to the point, but I like the messiness of Eve’s Hollywood. It feels like being 22 and sitting by the pool with your best friend over mojitos. Although I am originally from LA county, I did not appreciate the beauty of it while I was growing up, but I did after I read this book. It makes me homesick in the best possible way.

Culturally, L.A. has always been a humid jungle alive with seething L.A. projects that I guess people from other places just can’t see. It takes a certain kind of innocence to like L.A., anyway. It requires a certain plain happiness inside to be happy in L.A., to choose it and be happy here. When people are not happy, they fight against L.A. and say it’s a ‘wasteland’ and other helpful descriptions.

Bodice Ripper, Fiction, gothic romance, Historical Romance

Number 11: A Book With Less Than 2022 Goodreads Ratings

The Demon Lover

Victoria Holt

I have a confession to make…

I could not finish this one.

I tried! After all, I take this challenge very seriously. I made a commitment. I will read two books a week until the end of 2022 if it turns my eye sockets to mush. If my apartment is on fire and my car rolls off a cliff, I will still read two books a week and report it here.

I mean, it was touch-and-go when I discovered the long-running Bravo classic Shahs of Sunset, which had nine glorious seasons to catch up on. But I am nothing if not ruthless in my binge-watching, and I am now caught up. So, I am back to the 52 Book Challenge like the book-challenge-blogger I aspire to be!

But I only read about halfway through this one because the content was… not great.

There was a lot to love about it. The setting was idyllic, the characters were sociopathic, the romantic lead was also named Kate. So far so good. After all, historical fiction is my genre, and while this was set in the regency era, it felt exactly like a time machine to the 1980s.

Tragically, the ’80s are a dated decade and nothing about them feels more dated than the way they talked about date rape.

So it was not a shock that the rape scene happened. In the context of its era, it was even rather demure. We don’t read the act itself as it was happening (thank you baby Jesus). Instead, the author mercifully treated the reader to a fade-to-black scene with all the scary bits cut out.

For that I thank her.

However, I am a finicky reader, and I have no tolerance for sexual violence. Even when it is absolutely necessary to the plot (and it’s rarely as necessary as writers seem to think), I spend the entirety of those scenes annoyed and wondering why. Why it is always so necessary to so many plots? Do we live in a world where with so many stories about people being violated?

Surely there are other forms of character development out there.

So I did not finish. Moving on!

To anyone who did manage to finish this book, send me an email. How did the whole romance turn out? Is there any way those crazy kids got a happy ending?

Celebrating Failure, Personal, Writing

I Got My First Rejection Letter! Five Things I Learned Failing to Publish a Romance Novel

Despite my attempts, I am not a serious person. I might know what a 401k is and have serious thoughts on the mpg of my hybrid car, but it’s all a facade. At my core, I am silly. I love rhinestones and tutus, I laugh at fart jokes, and I consume unhealthy quantities of bodice-ripping romance novels that I find in the Clearance section of Half-Priced Books.

Photo by Nothing Ahead on Pexels.com

So it probably won’t shock you to hear that I’ve also tried my hand at writing one of those aforementioned romance novels. It was fun, and the story was silly.

Basically I wrote a short (55k words) tale of a millionaire who turns into a merman four nights a month and the scientist who loves him. Naturally it was set in a compound in rural Alaska. As they say, create the art you wish to see in the world.

When I had written a sizeable amount, I did what anyone with a healthy amount of self-esteem (inflated ego) might do. I submitted it for publishing at a few ebook imprints. And then the waiting began.

While I haven’t had traditional success yet (no one has offered to publish it), I did receive my first rejection letter! And that’s almost as good to me!

Actual footage of writing the manuscript, aka proof that it happened

Aside from the fact that it was a fun little project to write, I learned a lot about the business of writing, and I can’t wait to try again. Look out world, there is so much more paranormal romance where that came from.

Thus, I figured I’d share some of my thoughts here in hopes that writing them will make me remember them later.

The five things I should have done better (and might in the future):

  1. Learn ALL of the genre conventions and stick to them. I read a lot, so I naturally assumed I could write without thinking. I was wrong. Art has rules that aren’t always visible to the consumer, and when those rules get messed with, the reader gets mad. Romance, in particular, is a formulaic genre, and you have to get it right. I did not. One of the rules of the genre is that the characters need to meet in the first chapter. Mine met about a quarter of the way in. This is a no-no, so I had to fix it at the last minute. This is how I wound up hastily tacking on a prologue. Needless to say,the work suffered for it .
  2. Make sure your first chapter (or prologue) is perfect. This seems obvious, but is easy to mess up. How I messed it up is avoidable: I wrote it when I was pretty much over the story. But people fail at this for the opposite reason, too. Writing gets better with practice, and your characters feel more real after you’ve been writing them for awhile, so your later chapters are naturally going to be better than your first. Clearly the beginning needs to be written later in the process than its name suggests. This brings me to…
  3. Write your synopsis while you are still excited for the novel. In my defense, I did not know this would be required. This is a bad defense, because if I knew I was thinking of submitting it, I should have checked the requirements early and often, but even better-planned people than me can get this one wrong. You don’t realize how much you will be sick of your story by the end of it. You think you will love your characters forever and never think about pushing them off a glacier while on a routing hiking trip (no one would ever know). But you might be, so plan for this. Write your synopsis when you are about two-thirds of the way done with the story, right around when you’re writing your first chapter. Your synopsis is your selling tool, it is going to create the interest in your novel. Write it while you’re still excited about the project.
  4. Know when to cut your losses. You know how that first book in a series is almost always the weakest? That’s still the one that got published. I guarantee there are worse novels that author wrote that never saw beyond the publisher’s rejection email. That’s normal. Writing is fun! If your book is never getting better, move on. I promise your next attempt will be better.
  5. Celebrate failure! Writing a novel is an accomplishment, even if it isn’t up to Harlequin Romance’s line of paranormal ebooks standards. Celebrate it! Taking a risk is its own reward and you are amazing for trying!

And, because I have no shame, I present the rejection itself to you:

The rejection letter in all its glory 😍
Biography, Nonfiction, True Crime

Number 26: Has an “Author’s Note”

The Santa Claus Man: The Rise and Fall of a Jazz Age Con Man and the Invention of Christmas in New York

Alex Palmer

The Santa Claus Man covers the same period of time that Edith Wharton skewered so brilliantly in fiction, but it’s even more disquieting because it was real, and I loved it as much as I love all Gilded Age tales. The New York this book describes is a utopia where children’s letters to Santa are always answered and Boy Scouts keep American manhood alive.

But, of course, this was a fantasy. The American experiment has always had duplicity, even in our most cherished institutions. I won’t look at Christmas the same way after reading this, but I do appreciate it more.

Fairy Tales, Fantasy, Fiction, Young Adult

Number 35: From the Villain’s Perspective

A Villains Collection (Villains #1-3)

By Serena Valentino

I realized about a third of the way into this ebook that what I borrowed was actually the first three books in a series, not a standalone novel featuring my favorite villains. Of course by that point I was emotionally invested, and too lazy to download three separate ebooks, so I powered through, and I am glad I did.

My favorite so far is the third one, Poor Unfortunate Soul, the tale of Ursula from Little Mermaid. This story is the bleakest and most nihilistic of the three, but it also seems to be the point in the trilogy where Serena Valentino found her writing groove. The hopelessness of Ursula’s pain and rage fit the tone of the original Hans Christian Andersen story better than Disney usually allows, and it is the first of the Villains novels that felt like it delivered on its promise.

I cannot wait to read more!


Number 23: Author with an X, Y, or Z in their name

Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám

Omar Khayyám, Edward FitzGerald (Translator)

I enjoyed this one so much more than I expected! Poetry can be difficult to get through, but this is a delightful little ode to coping with the fear of nihilism through sheer, unbridled hedonism. And with versus like this, how can you resist?

Ah, make the most of what we yet may spend,

Before we too into the Dust descend;

Dust into Dust, and under Dust to lie,

Sans Wine, sans Song, sans Singer, and – sans End!

It gives me chills. But it’s not all wine, gin gets a mention.

Oh Thou who didst with Pitfall and with Gin

Beset the Road I was to wander in,

Thou wilt not with Predestination round

Enmesh me, and impute my Fall to Sin?

But it’s mostly wine.

And lately, by the Tavern Door agape,

Came stealing through the Dusk an Angel Shape,

Bearing a vessel on his Shoulder; and

He bid me taste of it; and ’twas- the Grape!

I will be borrowing from it the next time I need to give a toast.

Financial, Investing, Memoir, Nonfiction

Number 10: A Book Based on A Real Person

Invest Like a Shark: How a Deaf Guy with No Job and Limited Capital Made a Fortune Investing in the Stock Market

by James DePorre

Invest Like a Shark is a book on investing that dates back to 2007. I specifically picked it for this fact because 2007 seems like a lifetime ago. Since then, there has been a recession and a pandemic, the near-domination of the tech industry, and the introduction of cryptocurrency, so I was genuinely curious how dated this book would feel.

The answer is, not very.

Since this is a story of one man’s investment strategy, it is heavy on theory, but not as heavy on the mechanics of actually trading stock. In terms of investing metaphors, it is less egregious than some I have ready, but I am not a person who does well using with heavy visual metaphors to explain abstract concepts, so my memory of the book looks something like this:

Photo by Harrison Haines on Pexels.com
Photo by adiprayogo liemena on Pexels.com
Photo by Vova Krasilnikov on Pexels.com

Also, there is a forward by Jim Cramer, so you can’t say you don’t know what you’re getting into.

Fiction, gothic romance, Historical Romance, Romance

Number 15: A Five-Syllable Title

My Cousin Rachel

By Daphne du Maurier

When I picked up this novel in the early days of 2020, my impression was “wow, this book seemed right up my alley: gothic romance, brooding heroes, moral ambiguity. What’s not to love?”

Perhaps she was two persons, torn in two, first one having way and then the other.

And love it I did, right up until March of 2020, when I was about a third of the way done. At this point in time, I was working long hours in a cubicle at my corporate job and living in a wonderfully creepy cabin down a dirt road in the country. It was a perfect setting for a slow read full of meditations on good and evil, love and betrayal.

But then the pandemic forced us into our homes for over a year, and I traded the cabin in the country for an apartment in the city, and the idea of life on a manor suddenly seemed too claustrophobic for my tastes.

So I put it down and did not pick it up again until I decided to do this challenge. To give myself a head start on reading two books a week for the next six months, I cheated a little (shhhhh), and decided to go with a book I already started.

Once again, this book did not resonate with me.

My tutor… told us once that truth was something intangible, unseen, which sometimes we stumbled upon and did not recognise…

In all likelihood, it just has not aged well. When My Cousin Rachel was written, people had longer attention spans, and the anti-hero was a less common trope. This book has phenomenal writing, but what made it unique at the time has been done countless times since then. Overall it was a good read, but it felt too familiar to be groundbreaking.


Reblog- Eight FREE Books On Kindle While The Sale Last! Quickly Now! Hurry!

This is going to be a very quick post. I just wanted to share with everyone eight books that are currently on sale for kindle for absolutely free and no Kindle Unlimited subscription required! Readers just need an amazon account and the free kindle app for their e-readers devices or phone. Yay! I’m not sure […]

Eight FREE Books On Kindle While The Sale Last! Quickly Now! Hurry!