On Loving the Book but Hating the Cover

I spent years reading the praises of Elena Ferrante. I remember fantastic reviews of the early books in her Neopalitan series. I remember words like addicting and immersive. I was fully interested. 

And then I saw the cover to the first book in the series. You see, My Brilliant Friends cover reminds me of a really dull 1970’s family drama. To me it indicates a story that is outdated but not currently relevant, characters that will have no depth, and pages of dull prose. The covers for the rest of the series, to me, feel the same. They feel old but not relevant, dusty with little breaks from boredom, like something I would be embarrassed to have to carry in my bag. 

I wound up buying a copy of My Brilliant Friend while I was visiting an indie bookstore in Nashville. I wanted to buy lots of books and one of the booksellers was very persuasive. Luckily this was right before Michigan’s Stay at Home order, and I quickly needed new books to read. 

I was sold by Ferrante’s first page. I tried to get my book club excited about these now realized modern classics. I heard crickets. The cover had the same effect on than them it did on me. 

This isn’t my first experience with unwarranted cover judgement. I’m a huge fan of the Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater. I love everything about the books – except the covers, and some of the titles. Five years ago I found myself doing the exact same thing – begging friends to read amazing books – please ignore the cover. Fortunately then I succeeded. I have a small group of Cabeswater fans who still joke about the less than ideal cover art for such an amazing series. 

Lately I also find myself weary of trends in cover trends in fantasy and historical fiction. Women’s turned backs, backlit buildings with a brightly lit background, the same font over and over. 

I know we aren’t supposed to judge books by their cover but hell, humans are visual creatures. I’ve read absolute shit novels with covers that could hang in museums. There is power in that image. Sometimes that power is enough to get me through a book but not through the first 50 pages. Sometimes I’ll push through, hoping the book lives up to its cover only to find myself angry at my wasted reading time. 

I have also clearly found gems with covers I find less than desirable, sometimes even embarrassing. Clearly I need to get out of my cover judgement comfort zone more often. Luckily with the prevalence of eBooks I find it easier to pick a book just on description alone and not worry about looking at a cover I find unengaging for days at a time. 

How do you feel about covers? Are you as judgey as me or are you happy to read anything no matter how it looks packaged up at your library/bookstore/online retailer?

Review: Wayward Son by Rainbow Rowell

Five years ago I was in grad school. My social circle had kind of imploded as everyone went from carefree young twenty something to real adults needing to make real life choices. While I kept my very boring day job and started my program in library science I rekindled a love of reading. I found myself drawn more and more to Young Adult novels for comfort. I found myself in love with Rainbow Rowell’s writing. 

Over the years I kept up with her work. I even reviewed her new graphic novel the week it was released last year. 

But I put off reading Wayward Son. I didn’t remember much of  Carry On, just that I found it engrossing and fun. I didn’t feel like revisiting a fantasy land that required studying up on characters I could barely remember. Last fall my life was so busy I couldn’t imagine doing the extra work to refresh my memory of the first Simon Snow book to even think about starting the sequel. Holiday’s happened. Life went on. 

And then the world paused. 

I spent time looking at my unread books. I had friends doing the same. And suddenly Carry On and Wayward Son were back on my radar. Needless to say I found the time to refresh my memory about Simon, Baz, Penelope, and Agatha. 

For those of you not familiar with Rainbow Rowell’s work. Wayward Son is the sequel to Carry On. Fanfiction about Carry On’s fictional series is included in her novel Fangirl It is all super meta and very good. Wayward Son Picks up after a great battle (think Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows level steaks) with the main character picking up the pieces of their lives. That involves a Road Trip, some hard conversations, and a lot of vampire and wizard(ish) brooding stares. 

I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to fall into the Simon Snow’s universe the same way I did years ago. I was so far removed from the person I was when I first enjoyed Rowell’s work. I was pleasantly surprised to find that Simon and Company (Baz. Mostly Baz) are great at any time. 

Wayward Son reads very much as a middle book in a trilogy. Nothing about it eels like a stand alone book. Characters are coping with the events of Carry On. There is some real PTSD happening with everyone. Relationships are established and complicated. Nothing about this road trip makes sense on its own. And that is okay. Just please don’t jump in thinking this is a good entry to the universe of  Simon Snow. 

There is, of course, a sudden emergency that needs attention, a few new fun characters for exposition, and a cliffhanger to ensure readers come back for more. 

Overall I was pleased with Wayward Son. It had action, brooding, vampires, and witches. It made me miss roadtrips and has me waiting for the final book in the Carry On trilogy.

Review: To Have and to Hoax by Martha Waters

I live for a good regency era romance. 

Okay, I really live for Jane Austen retellings, Jane Austen novels, and novels based on side characters in Jane Austen novels that also have super romantic plot lines. 

It’s my comfort zone. I have no shame. 

So when I heard about To Have and To Hoax I was immediately drawn in. Debut author. Regency romance. Husband and Wife in a love/hate relationship hellbent on tricking the other into respecting them again?

Sign me up. And then sign me up for the reread, the book club discussion, the blog post, and the general fangirling. 

Needless to say I bought To Have and To Hoax for my kindle immediately. And then I spent a week immersed in the absolutely crazy schemes of Violet and James Audley.

And that is basically all To Have and to Hoax is about. Violet and James have fought. They haven’t spoken meaningfully in 4 years. Now both have plans to get the other to crack. 

Waters does a fantastic job of creating and writing comedy. Nothing about her first novel feels serious. The occasional trope is discovered and canceled out by more cunning (or ridiculous plans.) The dialogue between Violet and James is perfect. Witty banter is the star of the show. 

I will say some of the scheming is a bit over the top, but it fits in perfectly with the tone of the story. 

If you’re looking for a quick, fun read from a new author please check out To Have to Hoax. It will fill the Jane Austen void in your life and give you some great laughs.

On Rekindling my Love of Physical Books

One of my earliest posts to this blog was about my love of audiobooks. It is a topic I retouch on often. Same with ebooks. Book format over the last several years hasn’t mattered much to me. I find audiobooks are great for listening to while I work, cook, clean, and take long meandering walks in my neighborhood. Learning to love audiobooks gave me a new way to explore my reading, and gave me a way to fit in reading time during time I considered lost, like my morning commute. 

I have a similar relationship to ebooks. I’ve had a kindle for years. I’ve love how easy it is to carry around several books with just a light device. It is amazing I can sync the kindle app on my phone with my physical kindle, so even if I have left my kindle at home I can continue a story. I love that I can read my Paper White in bed with the lights off. I’m not a great sleeper and regularly find myself up around 3am while my boyfriend snores. The low light lets me read without waking him up or leaving the comfort of my pillows and blankets. 

But the last few weeks I have had a hard time getting into any book on my kindle. I’ve started several audiobooks just to let them languish half finished. I began to worry that the lack of focus I had back in march

Except, I’m still reading. I still enjoy falling into a story. I just need it to be with a physical book. 

I’ve spent a significant amount of time this past week talking with my cowokers about how they are balancing the work-from-home life with normal home life. We were not readily able to work from home before our shut down, so everything about the last two months has been new. That includes creating offices out of kitchen tables, dogs as coworkers, and more screen time than ever. 

It seems like now my world is mostly screens. I have nothing but virtual meetings, which are exhausting on a social and physical level. I am in several group chats with friends and family, and have a few friends that I know I need to check in on as they quarantine alone. This means I’m on my phone more often. Plus any music, podcast, or audiobook is accessed through my phone. All of my news comes from push notifications or twitter scrolling. 

Oh, and of course the TV is almost always on in the evenings. In fact the boyfriend and I are watching MASH. We’re watching a lot of MASH. The sole benefit to having so much TV time right now is that we find watching Hawkeye and company is engrossing enough, and late enough in the evening that our phones aren’t buzzing and we don’t feel compelled to check them. 

This is all to say that when I really need to decompress, I need to do it with something that isn’t backlit. I still want to spend time wrapped up in a good book, but I am finding I have to revert back to the early 2000’s, to when ebooks and audiobooks weren’t my main form of book consumption and reading time was sacred, planned, and an escape. 

So I am still reading. In fact I’m reading more than I have in years, but I am doing it almost exclusively with physical books. I can see my own personal library growing and my shelves sinking under the book orders I have made. I may not have a lot of space but I know these books will represent another shift in my reading habits, and will always leave a mark on my library as quarantine reads.

Review: The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary

Remember when we could all go out to bars, into our offices, and when nursing homes didn’t seem like the frontlines of a warzone?

Just had to check in, because so much of The Flatshare reads as something that can only happen in the years before Pandemic.

Mostly because, well, would you be willing to share a bed with a stranger right now?

Exactly. 

The Flatshare is the story of Tiffy and Leon. Both are in rough patches. Leon needs money to help out his imprisoned brother. Tiffy has just broken up with her boyfriend *again* and needs a new place to stay. So when Tiffy sees an ad to share Leon’s one bedroom flat she is skeptical, but the price is right. There will be rules. Leon works nights, Tiffy works days. They split time in the flat down the middle. They should never meet. But what happens when they do?

The Flatshare surprised me. I expected a cotton candy style romance with little substance, but really the character growth of Tiffy and Leon is leaps and bounds more present than anticipated. Leon has his own goals, his own demons, and is razor focused. Tiffy is a bit of a mess, post break up, but she reads as true, as if she is trying to get over the situation and put herself back together. Add in the realization that her ex was emotionally manipulative, and that Leon is just coasting through life and you have two characters that have worthy stories in their own right. 

And then Tiffy and Leon start leaving each other notes. I’m a sucker for written communication in books. Give me all the text exchanges, emails, and letters. Notes left on kitchen counters? Yes, please! Tiffy and Leon’s voices come across so strongly during these exchanges, and they are less a plot device as more insight into their characters. 

Of course, this is a contemporary romance, and it doesn’t fall flat. There is a slow burn, and the actual scene where Tiffy and Leon inevitably meet is a bit of a letdown, but their chemistry is real. Their relationship has all of the classic twists, turns, and cute scenes and is exactly as sweet as it is billed. 

Overall the Flatshare hit the spot. More complete than just a romance novel but with enough meet cute energy to make the coldest heart see stars. Check it out if you’re looking for a good read that is just heavy enough, with a side of swooning.

On Missing My Libraries

I’m getting a little annoyed. 

As a librarian working from home life is weird. I’m no longer helping patrons do reacher, but instead working on producing digital content, managing my collection from home, and generally working on administrative tasks that aren’t fun on a good day. 

But I still have a job. I am grateful for that. 

But I am still annoyed. My special collection doesn’t keep an ebook collection. We don’t need one. It would be cost prohibitive. I helped write the policy. 

But my public library does keep ebooks. They just aren’t buying very many.  I find myself checking every day for books that have been out for weeks. I’m clearly not the only one. I’ve been waiting to get my hands on the new Sue Monk Kidd book since its release. Unfortunately on the day it showed up on Libby I was too late. I’ll be able to read it sometime in October if the app’s predictions hold true. 

I love to keep up with new releases. I’m an early adopter and like to be part of the first wave to love books.  My library used to help with this. Being able to pull from a large library system was really a treat. Having a physical copy in my hand held me accountable. But now I am left at the mercy of the library budget that doesn’t seem able to keep up with a new way of life.

Professional I understand.

Personally, I am pissed. 

New books are very expensive. Even more so now that I am trying to exclusively support the independent bookstores in my community. 

So I need my local library to step up. 

Please?

On Guilt: With Books and Snacks

I’ve been fairly lucky. Aside from a weed in early March where I couldn’t focus on anything for more than five minutes my reading habits have never been stronger. I’m sure in the next week I’ll recap my 2 full months of the Michigan Stay at Home order with all of the books I’ve finished. 

I know many people have not been as lucky. Earlier in the pandemic I wrote about the grief I’m experiencing as the world changes. Early days were not great for my coping. 

But now I have more of a routine, my book clubs are meeting more regularly than they did when we all needed to find a day to actually go to someone’s house. I’m doing more buddy reads and speeding through new releases and TBR backlog almost faster than goodreads can log. 

So why do I feel so guilty? As a person with eclectic book tastes I find that while I am reading more, my tastes are a bit…stagenent. Instead of picking up difficult classics or long reads I’m reaching for love stories, YA adventures, and historical fiction that doesn’t challenge my understanding of the world. 

As a rational person with a completely rational brain I know I’m being too hard on myself. The fact that I haven’t used the last eight weeks to finish Don Quixote is not a personal flaw.  I don’t need to be running a 5k every day, cooking all meals from scratch all while keeping up with the news and learning Italian. I don’t. But I feel like I should be doing all of those things, including reading all of the long stodgy books on my TBR. 

But the truth is I’m enjoying love stories. I’m having fun traveling to different countries and experiencing them with fanciful stories. Literary fiction is great but so is the whole enemies to lovers trope. 

Life is about balance. I listened to Beowulf a few weeks ago so now I get to read about vampire  boyfriends and road trips. It is the rules. At least it is my rule.

I’m taking this rule to other parts of my life too. As a rule I try not to snack. We don’t keep a lot of sweets in the house because no one here can see a cookie and not eat it. Chocolate doesn’t last a day. Cake? No way. I love to bake but in general I don’t keep sweets at home. I’m not the cleanest of eaters but I try.

But now I can’t run to a bakery after a bad day at work. I can’t go on an impromptu date to the ice cream parlor. I can’t treat myself with a burger and fries at my favorite bar for completing a goal, or eat my favorite mac and cheese at trivia with my friends. All of the small treats that used to make weeks bearable are gone. 

So are my restrictions for treats at home.

I keep ice cream in the house now. I make banana bread because I want it, not to give it away. I cover popcorn in chocolate and toss in some marshmallows for good measure. I make grilled cheese as a snack instead of a guilty carb filled meal.

I bought oreos. 

And flowers. 

Life is too short and times are uncertain. It should include sweets, tots, and frozen treats. I don’t want to wake up one day to find that I’ve been chasing a smaller pant size while I could have enjoyed a big buttery bowl of popcorn with my boyfriend on movie night. 

So if anyone else is beating themselves up over their lack of serious reading, their snacking habits or really anything else. We’re still grieving. We’re living through a historic event. 

Eat the damn brownie.