This year, I decided to be a little more intentional about the books that I read than I have in the past. I was also hoping to avoid the scramble to find a new book that comes when I finish one book and don't have another lined up. I'd heard of the Popsugar Reading Challenge, but usually came across it halfway through the year, and then I'd try to cram books I'd already read into the categories, get frustrated, and give up. This year, though, I planned correctly and jumped in at the beginning of the year! I downloaded the list of reading prompts and joined the Popsugar Reading Challenge Group on Goodreads, which has a lot of helpful resources, like a place for each member to track our progress and discussion boards about each prompt, full of suggestions.
Some of the prompts are easy. A book I meant to read in 2018? No problem, I have a ton! A book about a person with superpowers or a book about an imaginary character? Both easy, considering the amount of YA sci-
fi and fantasy I read. But some of the prompts have been more challenging for me. I still haven't settled on my book set in Scandinavia, book that includes a wedding, or book that takes place in one day. Some prompts are deceptive in their difficulty. A book with at least one million ratings on Goodreads sounded easy, until I realized that I'd already read most of them, and I'd intentionally avoided almost all of the ones I hadn't read. There's no rule that says you can't reread books for the challenge, but I decided to try for all new-to-me books (except for the "reread of a favorite book" prompt, of course). I also wanted to leave room for books that I discover as the year goes on. I was nervous that I would feel trapped if I only read books from my list, so I'm still picking up other books that catch my eye. Plus, I have to find a book that I think should be made into a movie, and how can I decide that before I've actually read the book?
One thing I like about this challenge is that it's self-directed, so you can choose how strict you want to be about the books you read. Some people in the
Goodreads group are interpreting "book with a zodiac sign or astrology term in the title" to include any sky-related word, but I tried to find book with an actual zodiac sign in the title. (And I did!) You can also modify your list as the year goes on. So if you start a book that turns out to not be your style, swap it out for something else! Plus, so many books can fit in multiple categories that I can definitely see myself making adjustments to my list as the months go on.
You can track my reading for the challenge along with me if you're interested, and follow my reviews on Goodreads to get more info about what I think of each book. Plus if you're doing the challenge yourself, my novel Book Smarts and Tender Hearts could fit in at least two categories. . . a debut novel, a book about a family, and just maybe a book that you think should be made into a movie!
I made an author page on Instagram! Follow me for some photographic insights into my life and writing process, and probably lots of pictures of my cats. I'm starting out with the Author Life Month challenge, which is a month of themed posts for authors. My first day was something I've been wanting to post here for a while - a Shelfie! The picture above is the bookshelf I've been moving from house to house since I was a child, and it's full of all of my favorite books. I'll tell you about some of them below.
I used to go to the State Fair every year and buy a new Priscilla book from Colene Copeland. They're about pigs, and based on real pigs that Colene owned. When I bought new books from her, she would sign them "Pig out on books!"
Stir-Fry was my first Emma Donoghue book, which I bought at a library book sale. It was taken out of rotation because a dog chewed on the cover. I'd seen it reviewed in Sassy magazine, so I picked it up, and it became one of my early favorite lesbian novels.
I loved Christopher Pike in my early teens, and Remember Me was always my favorite. I remember so many little details about that story, like how the main character had such thick hair that she was always breaking hairbrushes.
Poppy Z. Brite is another favorite author that I discovered through Sassy magazine. The feelings of isolation that she described in Lost Souls really spoke to me, and I still can't hear about a muffuletta sandwich without remembering Drawing Blood. The muffuletta sandwich is only mentioned in passing, but it was the first time I'd ever heard of one. I bought both of those books new, so maybe you can tell how many times I read them. She did such an amazing job of describing first love in the stories in Second Line, and as I became less interested in horror, I really appreciated watching that love develop through the Liquor series.
The Graceling series are some of my favorite young adult books that I discovered as an adult. A feminist fantasy series full of badass women, queer side characters, magically colored animals and contraceptive herbs? Yes, please! Bitterblue is my favorite of the series, with her codebreaking and math love. Such good coming of age stories!
Annie on My Mind and Peter are two other favorite queer novels from my youth, but as you might have guessed by the flawless condition of these copies, I only recently purchased them. When I was growing up, I would just check them out from the library over and over. Peter is one that's kind of hard to find, and not many people I know have read it, but it's one of my absolute favorite books ever. I love how it shows that sexuality isn't black and white, and how sometimes it can take a while to figure things out.
A lot of these books sum up why I love YA literature. I absolutely adore the new rawness of the characters' feelings, and when I was young, finding my feelings written down in a story was one of the best feelings. As a writer, I can't think of anything better than giving someone else the experience of seeing their emotions in print. Hopefully, that's something I can accomplish with my writing.
I was so excited to be invited to participate in the Cut & Paste art show coming up at Cellar 55 in Vancouver, Washington. I’ve always loved cutting up paper and making collages for zines and mail art, but this is my first time making a collage piece for a show. I got a little bit intimidated by translating my scappy aesthetic to Fine Art, but I’m really proud of the piece that I ended up putting together.
The opening reception for Cut & Paste is this Friday, February 1 at 5:00 p.m. at Cellar 55 (1812 Washington St. in Vancouver). If you can't make it to the opening, the show will be up all month. Cellar 55 Tasting Room is open for viewing and wine tasting Tue-Thu 12-6pm, Fri 12-9pm, Sat 12-8pm, Sun 12-6pm. Other artists featured in the show include Kelly Keigwin, Sam MacKenzie, Greg Bee, Christopher Luna, Shannon Yoffe, and Lisa Laser.
I found out this weekend that my debut novel, Book Smarts and Tender Hearts, has been chosen as a finalist for the 2019 Oregon Book Award in Young Adult Literature!
When I submitted my book for the Oregon Book Award, I thought there was no way I'd be chosen as a finalist. I thought maybe I would be lucky enough to get feedback from the authors who were judging. So it just goes to show that you should try for the things you want! Even if you think there's no way, just go for it! Now my book will be read by three more authors, including Donna Freitas, whose book Gold Medal Winter (a sweet story about a teenage Olympic figure skater) I once won in a giveaway. Yay!
Suzette Smith from The Portland Mercury shared the list of finalists and said: "THERE ARE COUPLE WEIRD THINGS with this year's list of finalists. There aren't as many small press or self-published titles this year as there have been in years past." I guess that means that I'm lucky to make the cut! I'm glad that the Oregon Book Award judges are open to independently published books, and I'm super excited to be among the other finalists. I can't wait for the awards ceremony in April.
Big fat thanks to Mindi of Fat Positive Cooperative for writing this nice review of Book Smarts and Tender Hearts! Fat Positive Cooperative is an amazing website, full of resources, book and podcast recommendations, and spotlights on fat heroes.
Every new year, social media and regular media fill up with weight loss messages. It gets so exhausting, and I think it's damaging to hear over and over that bodies like ours aren't acceptable and need to be changed. I'm excited to start the year following a bunch of fat activists on social media that I've discovered through Fat Positive Cooperative.
How are you planning on loving your body in the new year??
Okay, I saved the best group of book recommendations for last – young adult, my favorite genre! As I said in my previous blog post, I didn’t read as much YA this year as I usually do. I was afraid that reading YA while working on my own YA novel would make me compare my work or inadvertently try to replicate the book I was reading. Maybe I was overthinking it. But anyway! It wasn’t an entirely YA-free year, and I did read several awesome books this year. Once again, these recommendations aren’t all books that were published in 2018, but rather my favorite books that I read during 2018. Check them out! (library pun!)
The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee (2017)
This story is delicious. It’s about Monty, a flamboyant bisexual boy who’s the son of a Lord in 1700s England, and he goes on a Grand Tour of Europe (which I guess was a Thing) with his sister and his BFF/secret crush Percy. I loved it, and especially recommend it if you like stories about boys who kiss boys, stories about teens having adventures, and/or agonizingly beautiful crush feelings. I spent most of the time I was listening with a dopey grin on my face. I loved how Monty (and the audiobook reader) calls everyone “dahhhhhling,” how he’s confident but also knows he’s a fuckup, and how he seems like he doesn’t care about anything but secretly has very tender feelings inside. It’s a great book that you can just cozy up with and get lost in.
Queens of Geek by Jen Wilde (2017)
This story is about three best friends and a whirlwind weekend at a Comic Con. I don’t participate in fandoms or do cosplay or anything, but these characters do, and it was really fun to see the weekend through their eyes. Alternating chapters are narrated by Taylor, who’s chubby and autistic and secretly in love with the one boy in the group, and Charlie, a vlogger/actress who’s recovering from a very public breakup and getting to know her crush, Alyssa. I haven’t read many books with autistic main characters, so Taylor’s chapters were probably the most eye-opening for me, but I loved Charlie’s chapters too. The story has a wonderful emphasis on friendship, as Taylor and Charlie support each other through all the feelings and drama.
Undead Girl Gang by Lily Anderson (2018)
I liked this more than I thought I would! I'm not particularly interested in zombies, but this has some fun twists on a classic zombie story. It’s about Mila, a teenage girl whose best friend Riley and two popular girls from school have all just died. Mila, who’s been practicing witchcraft with Riley, brings them all back to life and tries to figure out what happened. I liked the undead girls a lot, and how all the girls bond and realize that they like each other despite being so different.
Aru Shah and the End of Time by Roshani Chokshi (2018)
More of a middle-reader than YA, but it’s a great story! Twelve-year-old Aru has to save the world (from her own screwup) by going on an adventure through Hindu mythology. She's sassy and insecure and very realistic, and she bonds with her fellow adventurers and creates a lovely, fun friendship story.
Not If I Save You First by Ally Carter (2018)
This has a lot of classic YA features, like a quick-moving story and teens who have time during a life-threatening situation to think about crushes and kisses. It’s about Logan, the son of the President of the USA, and Maddie, the daughter of a retired Secret Service agent. To try to keep him safe, Logan’s parents send him to stay in Alaska with Maddie and her dad. It turns out to be less safe than expected, though, as some bad guys attempt to kidnap Logan almost immediately upon his arrival. There’s a lot of backstory about Logan and Maddie and their relationship, but it gets revealed throughout the book, so you don’t have to wade through it to get to the action. Maddie is the tougher, more skilled one, but she still likes pretty things. Logan is bigger and stronger but doesn’t know as much about wilderness survival, so they’re pretty well-balanced as they work to save each other. It’s not a big emotional story…there are feelings, and a few moments of big feelings, but mostly it’s a fast-paced adventure, which is just what I was looking for.
I started reading mysteries a few years ago when I was searching for adult fiction that wasn’t romance-centered. I stumbled upon cozy mysteries, which I like because they are usually pretty light stories (which seems like an odd thing to say about stories involving murder, but I stand by it). I also think mysteries are very interesting from a writing perspective, and I like to see how authors weave the storylines together, plant red herrings, and eventually lead the sleuth to solve the crime.
As far as I can tell, the key components of a cozy mystery are:
This year, I listened to a lot of mystery audiobooks to relax while working on my novel. Since my book was young adult fiction, reading other YA novels felt way too close to home, so I really dove into mysteries. I even braved the world of non-cozy mysteries a little!
I’m always on the lookout for queer cozy mysteries. I found a couple this year, but they didn’t make my best-of list. The one queer mystery that did was definitely not cozy, as you’ll see below. I’m thinking about writing a queer cozy mystery as my next writing project, but I haven’t gotten very far. If you have any suggestions of queer cozies for me to check out, please let me know!
And now I present:
Shelley’s Favorite Mystery Reads of 2018
A Magical Match by Juliet Blackwell (A Witchcraft Mystery #9) (2018)
This is my favorite cozy mystery series, and I was excited when a new book came out. This series is about Lily, a witch who owns a vintage clothing store in San Francisco. Too often, cozy sleuths are prissy, fancy ladies, and I love that Lily isn’t. She runs around town in Keds and a ponytail, and is friends with the homeless man who sleeps in her store’s doorway. She also has a talking pig for a familiar, a colleague who makes plus-size replicas of vintage dresses, and a bunch of witchy and hippie friends who pop up occasionally to help her with research or tracking down leads. The audiobooks are narrated with a sweet Texas twang by Xe Sands, who is one of my favorite narrators, and the world of this series just seems so sweet and weird and fun. Plus, I love reading about the vintage clothes.
Blanche on the Lam (Blanche White #1) by Barbara Neely (1992)
I’ve been looking for more cozy mysteries written by authors of color, which is how I found this book. The main character, Blanche, is a black woman who does domestic work in rich white families’ homes, and starts sleuthing when there’s a murder in the house she’s working in. Blanche makes a lot of observations about the experience of being a black woman working for white people, and about police treatment of white vs. black people, and how black lives are treated as though they’re disposable. I liked this book a lot, and the author did a good job injecting social commentary into a story that could otherwise be pretty quick and easy.
Maisie Dobbs (Maisie Dobbs #1) by Jacqueline Winspear (2003)
This was a really interesting story! It’s not actually a cozy, since the sleuth in this book is a professional detective, but it does have a lot of the primness of some cozies. We start in the 1930s as Maisie sets up her detective agency, then most of the story is about her younger years, and with her personal life connecting to the mystery. Maisie was a nurse in World War I, which I learned a lot about, and an ambitious, inquisitive, driven woman in a time when women were expected to be none of those things. Before reading this book, I hadn’t considered how in-the-middle-of-things the nurses were during the war. I thought author did a good job of illustrating the horrors of war and how veterans are kind of abandoned when they come back. And Maisie is smart and kind and I liked her orderly process of solving the mystery.
Blackmail, My Love: A Murder Mystery by Katie Gilmartin (2014)
My final mystery recommendation for today is a standalone and is not cozy at all, but it’s definitely queer. This story takes place in the 1950s and is about Josie, who travels to San Francisco when her brother goes missing, and explores the underground gay scene while she searches for him. She meets lots of memorable characters, tells and hears heartbreaking stories about having to hide being queer, and comments on racism and sexism as well as homophobia. It’s a touching and engaging story that breaks every cozy rule that I listed above, including the graphic sex. I can’t recommend this book highly enough if you are interested in queer history!
The year is almost over, which means it’s time for best-of lists for 2018. I love looking back over the books I’ve read each year and picking my favorites. This year, I’m splitting my recommendations into three categories – non-fiction, mysteries, and young adult fiction – and making three posts. So many books to recommend! I don’t only read brand-new books, so these are my favorite books that I read during 2018. Some are new, and some are older. I’ll include the year of publication for easy reference.
I listened to almost all of these on audiobook, but I refer to “reading” them. I try to mention when the audio version is particularly well-read, in case that influences your decision of how to ingest the book.
If you’re interested in following my book reviews on the regs, feel free to add me on Goodreads!
And while you’re over on Goodreads, don’t forget to post your thoughts about MY novel, Book Smarts and Tender Hearts!
And now, without further ado, I present: Shelley’s Favorite Non-Fiction Books of 2018
When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir by Asha Bandele and Patrisse Cullors (2018)
It’s ridiculous that saying “Black Lives Matter” is so controversial. People act like it means that black lives matter more than white lives, but where in the history of the United States has that ever been the case? Considering how differently (than white people) black and brown people are treated by teachers, police, courts and the prison system, it seems clear that the system is set up to show how little black lives do matter. This book really takes you inside that experience, and Patrisse does an amazing job of explaining how it feels to be told that you don’t matter. She describes her family and friends with such tenderness and love, showing how the movement evolved not from anger, but from deep love for her community. I never thought about Black Lives Matter developing from such a personal place, but I see now that this is because it’s not that personal for me. But Patrisse grew up with constant reminders that her life, and the lives of her black family and neighbors, didn’t matter to police or other people in power.
The memoir is very open and raw, and you get to know her family and friends and the systems of support that they’ve created because they can’t rely on support from outside. Before reading this book, I didn’t know that Patrisse is queer. This fact might make you realize how little I knew about her going in. Her sexuality is a big part of the memoir, and I really appreciated that. Her coming out story felt familiar to me, and her gender and sexuality are central parts of her identity. I love how much she prioritizes centering trans women and queers, and to making Black Lives Matter a non-patriarchal movement.
This is a beautiful and powerful book, and Patrisse’s narration of the audiobook adds to the text. I recommend it highly!
Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brené Brown (2012)
Until I finished writing my book, I didn’t realize how hard the vulnerability would be. Even admitting that I thought I had something to say that other people might find valuable felt really vulnerable. I also can’t control how other people interpret my story, what they connect with, or how their reading affects their ideas about me. All of this felt really scary. I walk a thin line between completely buying into touchy-feely-self-help talk and “this is such bullshit,” so I appreciated Brené’s talk about her own struggles with being vulnerable. I thought that was really refreshing. This book was a lot more helpful than I expected, and I’m looking forward to reading more of her work!
So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo (2018)
This is a great book! Ijeoma Oluo addresses a lot of topics, including cultural appropriation, affirmative action, intersectionality, and how to determine if something really is about race. She gives some good, concrete tips, like tying it back to larger systems of oppression when calling out racism. Instead of just saying “that’s racist” when someone says something offensive, you should instead say “that promotes a stereotype about this group that leads to them being offered fewer jobs and getting lower pay” (or whatever is relevant to the comment). She also comes back to that idea later, by giving examples in other chapters of calling things out. I liked that a lot. She says that it’s important to talk about race, but that talk isn’t the end. We need action as well. It’s a serious and dense book, but it moves quickly and doesn’t drag. It definitely gave me a lot to think about.
Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover (2018)
This book was fascinating. It’s always interesting to learn about someone else’s life when it’s so different from your own. I didn’t realize there would be so much violence. The family’s patriarchal beliefs let abuse go unchecked, and there were also a lot of major accidents which led to long-term medical issues that never got dealt with beyond Reiki, salves and herbs. I think with the title being “Educated,” I was expecting the story to stick to education, but it ended up being about escaping from a lifetime of conditioning and abuse. I was really rooting for Tara, and I loved hearing about the things she had to learn when she got to college, knowledge that most incoming college students took for granted. It was also really interesting to see her process of becoming her own person and forming her own beliefs. It’s a pretty amazing story!
Get Well Soon: History's Worst Plagues and the Heroes Who Fought Them by Jennifer Wright (2017)
“Shaming people cures nothing. Living in a state of silence cures nothing.”
This book reminded me of a Mary Roach book, but with more political rants and less grossing me out. The author explains different plagues that have hit humans throughout history, like the Bubonic Plague, Syphilis, Tuberculosis and Typhoid. It moves quickly, is funny, and I learned a lot! She focuses on how different plagues have been handled, what worked and what didn’t, and talks about trends throughout history. I didn’t realize how common it is to blame victims for becoming sick, with society treating the sickness like a moral failing and fighting against the sick people rather than against the disease itself. My day job is in HIV prevention, and I never realized that the stigma of HIV/AIDS is not a new thing. It’s the same way sick people have been treated for centuries.
I was initially disappointed when I looked at the table of contents and realized that there wasn’t a chapter about AIDS, but she addressed it in the epilogue, and explained that she was focusing on plagues that have mostly been resolved. She had so much beautifully righteous indignation toward the members of Reagan’s administration who refused to acknowledge the AIDS crisis, with quotes like: “this plague seems a perfect case-in-point of what happens when you ignore every single one of history’s lessons regarding disease.” Very true!
The bad news is that I got really sick this week and had to cancel my trip to Euzine. I'm really bummed, because I was looking forward to seeing people, picking up new zines, and experiencing Euzine for the first time. But I think I made the right decision for my health, so that's positive I guess.
In happier news, I've been wanting to share these postcards that I made for last month's Correspondence Club swap. One of my favorite parts of Correspondence Club is that every month, there's a different themed swap. Whoever wants to participate writes their name and address on a list, then we each send a piece of mail art to everyone on the list. Last month, the theme was Encrypted. I thought about those puzzles with letters representing other letters, cut up January - September in my calendar to get the little pictures, and then made a code. Like most projects, it was a lot more work than I expected, but I was pretty happy with the results! Here are a few of the postcards I sent - want to see if you can break the encryption?
Hello! Happy November! The most important thing this month is to remember to vote!! If, like me, you live in Oregon, it's too late to mail our ballots in, so please be sure to drop yours off at a library or other drop site before 8 p.m. on Tuesday! I think it's really important to vote for candidates who will oppose Donald Trump, like Kate Brown for Governor. I hope that Oregon will continue with our queer, progressive governor. I know most of my friends agree with me about this, so I think the most important thing is to make sure your ballot gets counted.
My other November news is that this coming weekend, I'm going to the Euzine Comics and Zine Fest in Eugene, Oregon. It will be my first time tabling and attending, so I'm excited. Euzine is Saturday, November 10th from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the Auditorium at the Lane Events Center. If you're in the area, stop by and say hello!
In October, I tabled at the Olympia Zine Fest. I've been to the Olympia Zine Fest a few times, and I love the friendly atmosphere and variety of zines. I was lucky enough to be seated next to my friend Sage, and it was great to talk about my book with folks, trade zines, and share my work! I also picked up a lot of creative and interesting zines, which I'm loving reading through.
I hope that Euzine will be just as fun and productive as the Olympia Zine Fest, and that the election results will bring positive change and help guide the country away from fascism. Regardless, I'm trying to fight fascism by living my life the way I want to and speaking out about what I believe. What are you doing to fight?
I like cats, feminism, queers, making things and writing, apparently.