Book Review: “Dear Edward” by Ann Napolitano

FYI: This review contains references to family tragedy.

Dear Edward” was somewhat of an unusual Book of the Month choice for me, mostly because its premise isn’t the happiest. While I don’t go out of my way to choose “cheery” books, I rarely select ones I know are going to be heavily based on tragic themes (simply because my emotions are so fragile).

So what is Ann Napolitano‘s book about? The story focuses on Edward Adler, a 12-year-old kid who’s the sole survivor of a plane crash that kills not only his mother, father, and older brother, but 183 other passengers (plus the plane’s crew). Despite the main plot point being a national tragedy, I chose to read the book because I was curious how the author would develop Edward’s story.

What would it be like to survive a plane crash? What would it be like to be the only person to survive a crash? How would you live your life after such an event?

Luckily, not many of us will ever have to personally find out those answers. However, the book did trigger a Google search on my part about sole survivors. When publicly discussing the book, Napolitano mentioned she was inspired by the true story of a young boy who survived an Afriqiyah Airways crash in 2010. There have been other instances of similar situations as well, so the book’s concept isn’t quite as far-fetched as you might think.

Like the real-life story, the fictional Edward (known as “Eddie” before the plane crash), lives with his aunt and uncle after his immediate family dies. “Dear Edward” is an otherwise fictional account, describing Edward’s own struggle to find a sense of normalcy in the aftermath of tragedy.

Rather unexpectedly, the most compelling parts of the story don’t focus on the crash itself. In fact, Napolitano leaves the actual moment of the crash (mostly) out. Instead, she focuses on the hours before the plane goes down. As she switches chapters, she alternates between the plane ride and Edward’s post-crash life.

Overall, this structure works well for tying the story together, although I did find it hard to keep all the passengers and their backstories straight. While each of their stories were interesting, it seemed like each time they were brought up again, I had forgotten their name and had to look back to remember who was who.

The strongest sections of the book are the ones that capture Edward’s alienation from the surrounding world. He is living a lonely life, haunted by an ordeal only a handful of people have experienced. This emotional isolation contrasts with the world’s reception of the tragedy. Viewed as a miracle child, Edward finds himself constantly in the public eye. Strangers even visit his school, hoping to catch a glimpse of the “chosen” one. It seems like the more famous he becomes, the lonelier he feels.

Edward’s one friend is Shay, a neighbor his age that shies away from social expectations. She compares Edward’s tragedy to that of Harry Potter and is one of the only people he can confide in. Shay’s character strikes me as especially believable, trying to support her friend while struggling to keep him aware of his place in the present world. In a way, she embodies the outside world crossing into Edward’s small, inner circle of trusted people.

“Dear Edward” makes for a good read if emotionally heavy themes don’t bother you. the story is also a fitting choice for people who enjoy reading a book that includes multiple characters’ viewpoints.

I rate the book an overall 3 out of 5 crows.

Have you read “Dear Edward”? Do you have recommendations for other books by Ann Napolitano? Leave your thoughts in the comments section!

Book Review: “A Lack of Temperance” by Anna Loan-Wilsey

Today’s book review is for A Lack of Temperance, a delightfully cozy mystery by Anna Loan-Wilsey. As I mentioned in a previous post, I bought this story a few weeks ago during an impromptu buying spree at our local used bookstore, Books at a Steal. The store is appropriately named, considering the book was an exceptionally reasonable price of just a dollar or two. Yet another reason that buying used is good for the soul!

During the pandemic, I’ve gravitated towards everything related to coziness, quiet, and above all, a sense of escape from the day. The cozy mystery genre is the perfect combination of these traits in book-form. Curl up on the couch with a velvet blanket and a strong cup of coffee, and you can enjoy a peaceful night reading about a plucky narrator solving mysteries that involve only minimal bloodshed. Bad things happen, but the good people always win. Sigh.

(Side Note: In March, I stumbled across an article that informed me I’m not actually the only person that seems to have turned to the cozy mystery genre this past year. In fact, booksellers are reporting an increase in these books’ sales. In case you’re interested, here’s the link to the post by Tamara Lush of the Associated Press).

Going along with the year’s theme of coziness, today’s book review is being written from one of the coziest places I know, from atop my dear little folding desk on the back porch. Our foster dog, Pippa, is snuggled on my left and the ever-faithful Queso stands guard to my right.

Seeing as we’re all cozy, let’s dive into the review!

A Lack of Temperance is the first story in Loan-Wilsey’s Hattie Davish mystery series. After debuting in 2012, the series currently has a total of five books featuring the talented Ms. Davish:

A Lack of Temperance is set in 1892 and takes place in an actual Arkansas town (Eureka Springs) famous for its supposed “miraculous” springs. Narrator Hattie Davish, a secretary by profession, is sent to Eureka Springs by her employer, Sir Arthur Windom-Greene. The assignment is vague, and she only knows she is meant to assist a Mrs. Trevelyan by providing secretarial services.

Upon her arrival to Eureka Springs, Hattie is startled to discover her temporary employer leads the local chapter of the American Women’s Temperance Coalition. These women are encouraging citizens to help make alcohol sales illegal in the midst of the presidential election, citing a long list of problems including substance abuse, drunk husbands, and a general disapproval by God himself.

Some of the group’s members are willing to resort to violence to support this cause. In fact, Hattie’s very first sighting of the elderly Mrs. Trevelyan is watching her swing a hatchet while setting fire to a local saloon in town in the name of the temperance movement. (And you thought your employer had a temper. . .)

When Mrs. Trevelyan vanishes and her body is later found, Hattie gets to work piecing together the clues to find out what really happened to her employer. With some friendly side characters and a little romance sprinkled in, the story makes for a compelling read.

My favorite parts of the book include:

  • The Main Character: I love Hattie’s character! While she is necessarily persistent (crimes don’t get solved by lazybones, after all) her personality isn’t over the top in the way female detectives are typically portrayed. I especially adore that Loan-Wilsey chose to make her a secretary, a realistic job for a woman in the time period. She uses this role to her advantage, uncovering vital information and eventually, revealing the murderer’s identity. She’s also described as in her late 20s or early 30s, which is a refreshing change from teenage and senior detectives.
  • The Setting: The description of Eureka Springs is detailed, and I think the author does a lovely job conveying a newcomer’s impressions of the mountainous town. I actually want to plan a trip to Eureka Springs now, since it isn’t too far from North Carolina! Hattie’s plant-collecting hobby is an ideal source of information about the area, as well.
  • The Writing Style: Loan-Wilsey does an amazing job setting up the book as the first in a series. Details about how Hattie started working for Sir Arthur are naturally sprinkled throughout (rather than the reader getting the dreaded “info dump” at the beginning of the story). The author also includes a few references to Hattie’s past that I imagine are fleshed out in the later books, creating an extra layer of mystery.

I would have enjoyed getting to know the side characters a little more, as I didn’t have much attachment to any of them except the maid, Mary, who made frequent appearances, and Walter, the town doctor. I also didn’t find myself overly surprised by many of the plot points, but the writing style itself was so clear and uncluttered that I didn’t mind.

This book is a great choice for anyone wanting some light reading while on vacation in the mountains or simply an evening imagining you’re not stuck inside during the pandemic.

I rate the book 3 out of 5 crows (and plan to read the next in the series)!

Have you read this book? Do you also have a love of cozy mysteries or want to leave some book recommendations? I’d love to hear from you in the comments section!

Book Review: “The Star-Crossed Sisters of Tuscany” by Lori Nelson Spielman

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, the Book of the Month program has been helping me pass the time during the pandemic. I received my eighth box (for March) last week. Four more boxes, and I reach their “BFF” status. This level means I get an extra free book for my birthday and another free one at the end of the year (Quick calculation: 14 new hardback books each year for approximately $12.86 each, with no shipping costs necessary. Nice. Can you tell I’m a big fan of BOTM?)

Receiving my March choice (Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano) reminded me that now would be the perfect time to write a review for last month’s choice, The Star-Crossed Sisters of Tuscany by Lori Nelson Spielman.

I initially chose this book because of its Book of the Month description. The site promoted it with the sentence:

“Escape to the Italian countryside in this hopeful family drama about love, a curse, and second chances.”

I figured, I love curses. And I love other people’s family drama (to get a break from my own). And who doesn’t like second chances? When I selected the book, I honestly thought it was going to have a bit more of a supernatural element. It turns out that was not the case, but that ended up being A-okay.

The Star-Crossed Sisters of Tuscany could be described as a “coming-of-age” story, although the protagonist, Emilia Fontana, is actually in her late 20s. Emilia lives to please her family, giving into her older sister’s every whim while living in fear of displeasing Nonna, her grandmother. She lives a quiet life, content to dress as plainly as possible and avoid any romantic endeavors.

Overshadowing her adulthood is the fact that Emilia is a second-born Fontana daughter. According to family legend, all second-born daughters are doomed to never find love. Approaching her 30s (Side note: Being 30+ years old in real life is AMAZING), the legend has become somewhat more meaningful.

When Nonna’s sister, the peppy and eccentric Aunt Poppy, contacts Emilia out-of-the-blue to invite her along on a generous vacation to Italy, Emilia’s life becomes upended. This chaos is due to a decades long feud between her grandmother and great-aunt, which threatens to break apart even more family relationships.

The book follows Emilia and her younger cousin Lucy (also a second-born Fontana), as they join the aging Aunt Poppy on her seemingly inane quest to meet a lost love in Italy.

My favorite parts of the book are the intrigue of the curse and the role it plays for the women, even if they choose not to believe in it. I also appreciate how Spielman crafts the Fontana family and their interactions with one another. Their emotions were believable, and I didn’t feel like the characters were always making predictable choices.

If you are looking for a quick read that whisks you away to the warm Italian sun for a while, definitely check this one out!

I rate this book 3.5 out of 5 crows.

Staying Motivated While Working from Home

For several weeks now, North Carolina has been rainy. When I say “rainy,” I mean flash floods, overflowing lakes, and dense-fog-obscuring-your-backyard kind of rainy. Much of the country (like Texas) has had worse weather of course, but we’ve been significantly homebound in North Carolina, even by pandemic measures.

I’ve subsequently been feeling very listless due to the weather, mixed with a combination of other factors. I love working from home, but not being able to go outside these past few weeks, or sit in a coffeeshop, visit friends, etc. have all been taking a toll on my mental health.

And surprise! A lack of creativity and motivation makes sitting down at the computer to write more difficult than normal.

When Alex and I saw the weather forecast for this past Wednesday, we were ecstatic. 73 degrees and sunny. We were so excited that we arranged for a day of camping to enjoy some Vitamin D and GET. OUT. OF. THE. HOUSE.

We spent a night at Jordan Lake, which is an expansive, manmade lake about 30 minutes from our home. We bought some bundles of firewood, set up the tent, and basically just sat around the campfire and relaxed.

I delved into reading a used copy of a cozy mystery (A Lack of Temperance by Anna Loan-Wilsey) that I bought earlier in the week from Books at a Steal (a local used bookstore). Alex listened to the Hurricanes game on our portable radio. I think we both needed a break from staring at screens for at least one day.

Queso, on the other hand, is a bit of a diva, and begrudgingly warmed himself by the fire while silently cursing us for taking him away from his beloved couch.

It was helpful getting some fresh air after being glued to my computer, phone, and TV for so many weeks. With this realization, I’m being proactive about finding ways to stay motivated. This strategy includes coming up with things to do that don’t include work.

In my paradoxical way, I somehow get more work done when I have less time to do it. I am mentally nourished by creativity, social interaction, and learning, which in turn, supply me the motivation and determination to work.

Some of the strategies that are helping me stay motivated are:

Spanish Tutoring

A fellow writer on Twitter connected me with her partner, who is now helping me improve my Spanish speaking skills. Although we are using WhatsApp to communicate (over a screen, of course), our sessions are conversation-focused. Being comfortable speaking in Spanish has been a goal of mine since high school, and I am happy to be improving both my confidence and my Spanish.

Yoga Sessions

A friend in Romania and I have been doing yoga each Friday for the past month or two. I’ve also recently started sessions with my friends from Albuquerque on Thursdays. Another friend and I are doing a third weekly session on Tuesdays going forward.

I honestly have to credit yoga for being the only regular exercise I’ve gotten over the past few months. It is a huge stress-reliever for me, so its benefits have been double for me.

Reading Books in Spanish

I have never read an entire novel in Spanish, and I’ve started reading La Sombra del Viento (The Shadow of the Wind) by Carlos Luis Zafón on Kindle. Kindle’s translation features (just click on a word for a quick translation) make it so much easier than constantly searching for the English meaning in a browser or dictionary.

I highlight phrases/words I need to practice so I can remember to go back to them. I also mark parts that are difficult for me to understand so I can clarify their meaning with my tutor.

Improving a skill has always been one of my go-to strategies for staying motivated and alleviating boredom. Who knows, maybe one day I will be able to write and edit well enough in Spanish to expand my freelance services.

According to the app’s estimate, I “only” have 55 hours of reading to go!

Getting Crafty

With the downtime at home, I’ve been trying to find ways to make more homemade products to reduce my levels of consumer waste (and just for fun!). I’ve experimented with making:

  • Soap (with essential oils and eucalyptus leaves)
  • Conditioner (with castor oil, coconut oil, and essential oils)
  • Hair Volumizer (including ingredients like fresh aloe vera)
  • Face Scrub (made from honey, milk, and granulated sugar)

A friend and I are also planning a candle-making venture this upcoming weekend. I’ve been saving store-bought candle containers after I’ve used all the wax out of them, and we want to refill them with our own wax candle recipes.

While not every experiment has been successful (I think I’m still getting the castor oil conditioner out of my hair two weeks later), spending time on money-saving and minimal waste projects has been a good distraction.

Planning Our Garden

I wasn’t sure the time would ever come, but it’s the season for planning spring gardens. Alex and I have done a square-foot garden for the last few years, but this year, we want to branch out into row gardening. I’ve started my pepper plants indoors, and we bought a variety of other vegetable seeds to start in the next few weeks.

I’ve also started a few herbs, catnip, and cat grass to keep indoors. (And yes, those are former containers for Ranch dressing under the thyme and basil pots. Southern recycling 😏).

Even more motivating than all of these strategies is the fact that COVID numbers are dropping substantially in North Carolina. Perhaps sometime in the near future, I’ll be writing posts from coffee shops again!

How are you staying motivated while working from home? Keep the rest of us in the loop and leave a comment!

Writing Exercise: Last Martian Standing

This post was written as part of a 30-day flash fiction challenge created by Eva Deverell. Here is the full link for her flash fiction prompts.

Prompt: “An impulse buy leading to intergalactic warfare.”

It was morning when she noticed the first beam of light. Just a single, thin green ray that flashed across the horizon, a hue barely distinguishable from the blue haze of sunrise. For a moment, she wasn’t sure she’d even seen it. She’d been bent over, turning the soil for the potatoes, only catching a glimpse of the maybe-light out of the corner of her eye.

Her age had started catching up with her recently, too, and her eyes weren’t as good as they used to be. She couldn’t be sure of anything she saw these days.

Still, she paused, waiting for the light to reappear.

There it was again, accompanied by a second beam. Yes, she was sure of what she was seeing. She sighed and stabbed the shovel deep into the dust. It stood up straight, like a flag pole among the crops. So the time had finally come, after all these years.

She watched the twin lights bounce off the uneven surface of the volcanoes in the distance, revealing crevices and rocks that no one besides her had seen for decades. Every detail of the landscape that the lights revealed made her flinch. She felt her existence exposed further and more thoroughly with each sweep of the beams.

The lights seemed brutish, pushing their way closer to the valley, eager to slice the land into piece after piece. Ready to seize and consume the valley she called home, the same valley her family had called home generations before her. That seed of anger that had been growing in her chest since the Land Acquisitions blossomed into rage.

She saw the fingers of light reach forward, towards her house, ready to grab everything they could. She knew “They” were waiting breathlessly to carve out these bits of land once again. Them – the powerful ones – who greedily devoured whatever land fell in their path. Surely these ones went by a different name, but their intent would be just the same.

What did they plan to do with this forgotten corner of Mars? she wondered, barely suppressing a bitter laugh.

All the prime land holdings within a thousand kilometers had been snatched up long ago during the Acquisitions, when the Stalcons gouged every gram of copper and iron they possibly could from deep within the Martian terrain. Not before sending out scantily-paid test groups to terraform the land, of course, which is how her family had arrived all those years ago.

Those test families had been deceived into using their labor to profit the Stalcons and were then forced to abandon their homes, when the leaders “coincidentally” discovered a wealth of ore beneath the land. Those few families who refused to leave had paid a heavy price.

The woman often wondered if that’s why the skies turned red in the day time on Mars. All the bloody memories of the past came rushing out of the night at once, every day a reminder of the intergalactic greed so prevalent in the universe around her.

These new surveyors were getting closer. It’d only be a matter of minutes before their beams hit her fortipod’s exterior and discovered that she remained. A rush of adrenaline led her back inside her home, into the kitchen where the breakfast dishes were still on the table. She pulled a chair over to the cabinets and stood on it, running her hand along the top of the cabinets until she found the box.

Opening the box, she saw it was still in there. The shining, freeze-blade she’d kept tucked away since the last time. This time wouldn’t end the same way. She slipped the freeze-blade into her skirt pocket.

“You just come on ahead,” she said, her words unheard past the home’s walls. “I’ll show you my plans for this land.”

Where to Submit Your Writing in February 2021 (and Why You Should)

If you’re reading this blog post, there’s a good chance you’re a writer. And if you’re a writer, then there’s a really good chance that you want to be published one day.

Unless you plan on self-publishing, getting published means that you have to submit your writing to someone, somewhere.

I know. Scary, right?

For a lot of us, the idea of someone actually reading our work is a terrifying thought. We wonder things like: What if people laugh at my writing? What if they think it’s terrible? What if they tell me I’m no good?

Getting over the initial fear of someone reading our work is a requirement for getting published. Starting small and submitting to literary magazines and journals can help you work through that fear and become an even better writer.

  • You gain practice writing an entire, finished piece. I am the queen of starting one story, getting stuck, and then moving on to another work until I get stuck again. A lot of writers make this a habit, with the cycle continuing so that we never finish anything. Submitting even one completed writing piece, no matter how short, is like taking a breath of fresh air. You finished something! You’re done!
  • You grow a thick(er) skin. Take it from the lady with major (diagnosed) anxiety. I still remember typos I’ve made in Tweets, e-mails, and blog posts that happened YEARS ago. When you commit to just keeping the writing flowing as you submit pieces regularly, you learn to survive typos that seemingly appear out of thin air. You brush rejections off in the same nonchalant manner you brush those Flaming Hot Cheetos crumbs off your t-shirt on a quiet Friday night in front of the TV.
  • You might get paid. Getting paid for your first piece of writing is a magical feeling. My first piece earned me a grand total of $40, but you can bet that small amount of money held more value than any 40-hour paycheck I’d ever earned. While in a poetic sense “money shouldn’t matter” since writing is your creative passion, let’s be real. Getting paid for writing is amazing, and it’s a symbol of the investment someone’s willing to make in your craft.
  • A submission deadline can move your writing forward. A deadline can help give you the push you need to finish your piece. Knowing you have to finish by midnight on a certain day can motivate you to wrap up the last few pages of that short story, or dust off an old draft you’ve been avoiding since 2012.

To motivate myself and hopefully some of you lovely readers, I’ve compiled a list of publications accepting submissions this February. These deadlines all fall at the end of a different week in February, so you can use them to pace yourself to submit once a week if you like.

All of these publications require writing to be submitted via Submittable. I previously wrote a post about what to expect with using this writing submission platform a while back, in case that’s helpful.

As always, when submitting your work, be sure to familiarize yourself with the publication’s existing content to make sure your piece would be a good fit for their overall style. Doing this will help save you (and editors) time. Also check for specific formatting requirements to know what font, spacing, and page numbering system the publication requires, if any.

Fatal Flaw Magazine

Deadline: February 5, 2021

Genres: Fiction & Nonfiction

Word Count: 1,000 – 7,000 words

Theme: (Un)Confined

Fee: $3.00 (USD)

Submission Link:

Notes: On their website, Fatal Flaw states that their selection committee is partial to “absurdism, surrealism, satire, and experimental writing.” So have fun, and get creative!

Multiplicity Literary Magazine

Deadline: February 12, 2021

Genre: Nonfiction

Word Count: 500 – 5,000 words

Theme: Starting Over

Fee: $3.00 (USD)

Submission Link:

Santa Clara Review

Deadline: February 20, 2021

Genres: Fiction & Nonfiction

Word Count: up to 5,000 they prefer 2,000 – 4,000

Theme: N/A

Fee: None (hooray!)

Submission Link:

After Happy Hour: A Journal of Literature and Art

Deadline: February 28, 2021

Genres: Fiction & Nonfiction

Word Count:

  • Fiction: Up to 5,000 words
  • Nonfiction: Up to 6,000 words

Theme: None

Fee: None (woohoo!)

Submission Link:

Do you plan on submitting your writing anywhere next month? Do you have more suggestions for great venues? Leave a comment, and share the word!

My Creative Writing Must-Haves: The Intangibles

If you’re a writer, there’s a good chance you have equipment you just can’t live without. Whether it’s the amazing 0.8 mm fine-point Sharpie pen that I discovered in recent years or the chic Moleskine notebooks Hemingway swore by, there are materials out there that have proven time and again (anecdotally) to help our creativity and writing process.

What surprised me to learn, however, was that even more important to my writing productivity than my “Happy Planner” notebook with the wonderfully removeable (and replaceable! Sigh.) pages are a series of must-have intangibles that I can’t write without.

These “must-haves” are just that: Essential. I must have them if I want to be serious about my writing. While, yes, I have managed to write with several ballpoint Bic pens over the year (shudder), there are some things related to my mental and physical health that I need to be productive.

A Focused Mind

While I can journal when my mind is all over the place, trying to create something structured is nearly impossible when my mind is not at ease. For some reason, it took me years before I realized the correlation between my state of mind and my writing output.

When I sit down for a writing session these days, I make sure that:

  • I’m not hungry. My American brain is constantly on the prowl for snacks. The minute hunger (and Vlasic Zesty Pickles) cross my mind, forget about it. Fueling up with quality food before a writing session helps me stay focused longer.
  • I’m not too tired. Writing is almost exclusively a sedentary activity. If I’m at all tired when I sit down to write, chances are, I am going to be fading within the hour. Even if I power through the sleepiness, when I re-read my work with a set of fresh (i.e., rested) eyes, I catch large amounts of repetition and typos. I end up having to redo lots of the work.
  • My emotions are in check. Surely writers are supposed to be angrily typing away, composing the next global bestseller? Or weeping, distraught by their influx of creativity while writing their Booker Prize-winning story. Yeah, when I’m emotional, I’m a wreck. I can hardly sit in a chair, let alone form a structured text. Addressing my emotions first – by going for a walk, chatting with a friend, or just having a solid, ugly crying session – and then focusing on writing is the way to go for me.

Support of Family and Friends

I have to go on record to say I have the most amazing network of support. My friends and family have gone above and beyond to support my writing dreams throughout the years, and without them, transitioning into a writing career would have been just about impossible.

  • My Writing Group: I use the term “writing group” very collectively. I have writing friends all over the country. My friend, Kindra, in Albuquerque has inspired me endlessly with her devotion to her poetry. My friends Tim, Jenn, and Jessie in Asheville are dedicated writers in my writing network based in Western North Carolina. In the central NC area, Hannah, a fellow writer and editor, has given me so much invaluable writing advice and support since I moved to the area.
  • My Fiancé: Alex, from Day 1 of our relationship, has supported me 100% in my writing ventures. More recently, he encouraged me to make the leap into full-time freelancing. He’s never doubted I would be successful or would give up. Without a supportive partner like him, I don’t know that I could have made such a bold move at this stage in my career.
  • My Family: While I think my grandfather still worries I’m not going to survive with my writing income, he has always been supportive of my transition. No one in my family has tried to talk me out of my career or insinuate that I’m making a bad decision. That extra support and mental relief go a long way.

Quality Free Time

Even the best of us multi-taskers have our limits. In general, I’m a huge fan of working efficiently. I read Cheaper by the Dozen when I was younger, and it influenced the way I think about work and efficiency. The book’s an autobiography of two children (of a total of 12) raised by efficiency experts Frank Bunker Gilbreth and Lillian Moller Gilbreth. The parents, especially the father, found ways to cut time out of mundane chores (like washing dishes) to focus more on education and family time.

I still try to save as much time as possible on household chores. I do things like load the dishwasher while I cook, so the kitchen is already clean when I sit down to dinner. At the same time, I have a load of laundry already running so it’s done when I’m finished eating.

When it comes to writing, though, I need good quality free time to focus on a single task: Writing.

That means time to sit down and write without jumping up every few minutes to answer a phone call or send an e-mail. “Good quality” also means not being so exhausted from a full-time job that I can hardly string two sentences together.

Acknowledge What Helps You Write

These examples of intangibles above are what help my personal writing process. Everybody’s ideal writing environment is going to look different, of course. For instance, I cannot listen to music with words, TV, podcasts, or pretty much anything except instrumental music or white noise while working. Some people I know require a lot of noise (talking, music, general café sounds) while they write, and something like white noise would be a writing barrier.

I suggest taking note of the days that you accomplish your daily writing goals, and try to determine what intangibles created that productive situation. Hopefully, by doing so, you’ll discover what makes your own writing process flow!

As always, thanks for stopping by! In the comments section, feel free to share your own “intangibles” that help you focus on your writing!

What I’ve Learned About Reading Over the Years

I don’t have any distinct memories of first learning to read. The earliest ones are fuzzy recollections of beginning phonics flip books with mind-numbing sentences like:

Peg runs. Peg runs to Bug. Bug runs to Peg. Run, Bug, Run.

But even at five years old, I recall thinking something along the lines of, “I’m gonna need material that speaks to me just a little bit more.” Give the kids some texts about Fun-Dip or Tic-Tac-Toe. There are distinct syllables in those words, too, and the topics are a little more relatable to a kid than a woman named “Peg.”

Over my 25+ years of reading, a lot has changed about the way I read and why I read. A big part of reading as a kid is doing it because you have to. Teachers assign you books as part of a curriculum, and it’s your job to understand their “merit.”

As the years passed, I realized that I am in control of assigning my own merit to literature. Some of the choices I was assigned in school I agree with, while others, I didn’t care about then and still don’t (I’m looking at you and your Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel).

None of this is intended to say one book is “better” than another. I truly believe most books offer something good to someone somewhere, and that’s a wonderful thing. I’ve simply learned several things about my own particular reading process that has enlightened my book choices and habits.

Who Are You Trying to Impress?

Another reading-related memory I have is one from middle school. The principal was coming into class for an observation lesson during our free reading time, and my English teacher didn’t want one of her students (me) to be seen reading something below her reading level.

Before the principal came into the classroom, the teacher swapped out my book (one which would now be dubbed a “cozy mystery” for kids) and replaced it with a comically large, oversized science compendium that better suited a 40-year-old’s coffee table rather than a middle school desk. I was essentially told the book I’d chosen was “beneath” me.

That moment was the first instance during which I became aware people may judge you on what you’re reading. This concept often comes up even in adulthood, and I find it strange.

At 31 years old, who am I trying to impress?

Even if I’m capable of reading something more complex, every now and then, it’s wonderful to relax with the equivalent of a Hallmark movie in book form. Sometimes I like to push the boundaries of my imagination with a clever sci-fi story. Other times, I want to learn all about the logic of survival situations. And sometimes, I just want to sip a cup of tea and see what town mysteries a 20th century, Irish, female detective solves in Brooklyn.

Independent Publishing is Great

Another thing about reading that I’ve learned over the years is that the publishing industry controls what many people read, how they read it, and sometimes even why they read it. 2020 saw the rise of #PublishingPaidMe, a hashtag started by YA author L.L. McKinney which sought to bring to light discrimination in the publishing world.

Many authors are choosing to publish independently to sidestep barriers of all kinds when it comes to cutting into the traditional publishing market. Previously, self-publishing had a negative reputation, but I now see the many merits of it. I try to be vocal about encouraging other readers to purchase stories by self-published authors because they have more control over their sales.

Opening myself up to the world of independently published books on platforms like Kindle and Wattpad has given me access to works by so many writers who haven’t wanted to jump through the countless hoops that traditional publishing entails. I never would have seen their work otherwise, unless years down the road, they did secure a publishing deal.

Reading is Tied to Many Factors

Another big revelation I’ve had about reading over the years is that my ability to concentrate is directly tied to my overall state of being. In my early 20s, I went through a period (which lasted several years) not understanding why I couldn’t sit and concentrate on books like I used to. I went so far as to wondermif I had an attention disorder because my mind wandered constantly.

I eventually learned that my mental state played a huge factor in being able to sit and read. It wasn’t ADD that was the problem; it was my anxiety. When I was experiencing periods of intense anxiety, there was no way I could sit and finish a book. My mind was racing, turning over at least a dozen topics at a time. Once I addressed my anxiety problem, it was like a magic spell. I could relax. I could enjoy reading again.

I am forever grateful for my ability to read. With it, I have access to other people’s thoughts and creativity, presented in a very intentional format, just as the author wants. I know much of our society is frightened about what will happen to writing and reading with all the technology changes the 21st century has seen, but I am actually excited.

I have no doubts at all that people will continue to use technology and our current social environment to keep finding ways to write their thoughts, and people like myself will continue reading them.

What have you learned about your own reading habits over the years? Have there been any people who’ve influenced your reading for better or worse? Leave a comment, and let me know!

Book Review: “Home Before Dark” by Riley Sager

I rate this book 3.5 out of 5 crows.

Ghosts and spooky houses – my old friends! I’ve loved a good ghost story for as long as I can remember. When I was a kid, every time I went to the library, I made a beeline for works by the big names in scary middle grade/YA books.

You remember them. The books you couldn’t get your hands on until that other weird kid in class finally finished them. Books by:

For whatever reason, I loved devouring stories about the paranormal. As an adult, this tendency has not changed. I still love reading about witches, magic, spirits, zombies, curses, the undead, you name it. Anything weird and offbeat piques my interest, as I love the idea of events occurring without logical explanations.

When I had the chance to read Home Before Dark by Riley Sager, I jumped on the opportunity. The book jacket’s description alludes to ghosts hiding out in wardrobes and bells ringing throughout a sprawling house – essentially, the types of creepy things I love, without gore and over-the-top violence.

Home Before Dark tells two interconnected stories at once. One of the stories is set in the past (25 years ago) when a married couple, Ewan and Jess, move their five-year-old daughter, Maggie, into an old Victorian home named Baneberry Hall. The massive house is being sold at a much lower-than-normal price, which we all know is never a good sign for any future homeowner. Ewan, a writer, is intrigued by the house’s gruesome history, learning that it was the site of not just one, but multiple murders.

The second story takes place in present day, from the perspective of the adult Maggie, as she revisits Baneberry Hall for the first time since she was a child. She has no memories at all of the 20 days her family stayed there. We do, however, learn she’s lived in the shadow of a book her father wrote about her family’s stay at Baneberry Hall.

In his book, Ewan claims that Baneberry Hall is haunted and after a series of increasingly dangerous paranormal events, the family was forced to abruptly leave all those years ago. From that time on, it was understood that he’d sold the house, but upon his death in present day, Maggie learns he still owned the house and has left it to her. She sets out to get answers about what actually happened two and a half decades before.

Home Before Dark starts out as a classic, jump-scare story that sets the scene for a series of spooky events. For the first two-thirds of it, I was hooked. I wanted to find out more about Maggie. I wanted to learn whether the house was actually haunted or if the father had written the book just for money.

Sager did a phenomenal job transitioning between the two simultaneous stories. I usually get lost when authors choose this format, but I had no problem keeping the events straight. I thought he alternated between them seamlessly, and I took note of the way he subtly told us one thing happened in the past and incorporated its result into the second (present) story. I think that ability is so rare in authors, and I admire his craft.

In the last third of the book, though, Sager lost me. I don’t want to give too many spoilers away, but I felt like the last portion of the book became a bizarre series of false endings that spiraled into a confusing conglomeration of “twists” that had little logic. For the last couple of chapters, it seemed like every time I turned the page, there was a new “surprise,” so much that it started to feel like a soap opera.

I know some people will love the out-of-nowhere and quickly escalating ending, but it didn’t suit my personal preference. I was enjoying the book so much initially and had already invested a couple hundred of pages, that I was frustrated when I came to the ending.

Overall, though, I enjoyed the book a lot and would still recommend it to a reader looking for a (mostly) ghost story, but I would have enjoyed it more if the author had stuck to possibly just one twist or so.

I rate this book 3.5 out of 5 crows.

Why I’m Saying “No” to Resolutions this Year

I’ve spent the last week or two thinking about goals for the new year. Usually, I have a list of them ready to go for January 1st, but this year, I’ve had difficulty developing them.

I think I’ve faced this block for a variety of reasons, including the fact that 2020 was so off-the-wall and unpredictable. I couldn’t have begun to imagine on January 1, 2020 the twists that life would take later that year. What makes me think I can imagine what will occur in 2021?

With COVID overshadowing so much of our lives, I’ve reminded myself that 2020 had a positive impact on my life, as well. It’s important for me to recognize and acknowledge that some good changes did occur last year, even in the midst of so much heartache:

  • I got engaged to the love of my life
  • I transitioned to writing full-time
  • I grew closer with friends and family

In a mood of reflection, I spent some time journaling last night, hoping to gain clarity on what I wanted for 2021. What did I want to improve on? What did I need to change? Where did I want life to take me in the new year?

That’s when it dawned on me. By focusing so much on coming up with goals, resolutions, visions – however you wish to label them – I was automatically starting from a point of deficit-thinking. I was under the assumption that something needs to change.

I remembered a TEDx talk by Susan Henkels I listed to once, on the evening drive home from my old job.

What if there’s nothing wrong with you? she suggests. She doesn’t say there’s nothing wrong with you. She doesn’t say there is something wrong with you. She just asks that we let ourselves be open to the possibility that perhaps we are just fine at this moment.

Could I, for just a moment, consider the fact that maybe my career is on a positive trajectory? Perhaps my love life is in a wonderful and perfect place? Maybe I have caring and healthy relationships with people around me?

The fear of stagnancy in life is one that affects many of us, and I’ve always been frightened that standing in place means weakness, boredom, failure. For years, I’ve neglected to realize that you can stand in place but still grow your knowledge and your perspective.

Standing still provides the opportunity to look downward and truly understand where you are, where your roots have grown, what parts of your life are your sunshine and your rain. Standing still lets you look upward and see what’s left ahead, what you still have to hope for in the days going forward.

And too, in a time of stillness, you can allow yourself to be perfectly content standing on the ground where you are, to be in the moment you’re experiencing, and that feeling is as good as any goal on any list.

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