Thursday, October 8, 2020

Celebrating my 24th birthday in Salem, MA

In February 1692, two young girls from Salem Village started acting bizarre. After a local doctor diagnosed them as being bewitched and other girls in the village also started acting strangely, the original girls accused their slave and two other women of being witches. And thus began the Salem Witch Trials. From February 1962 to May 1963, over two hundred people were accused of witchcraft, and thirty were found guilty. 
Today, Salem is sometimes called the Witch City, and the month of October is usually filled with events and people walking around dressed up as witches and other scary characters. If you've seen the movie Hocus Pocus: it took place and was partly filmed in Salem. Due to COVID, most of the festivities were canceled this year, but there is still plenty to see and do.

My friend, Erin, and I talked a few weeks ago, and she brought up how none of us have ever visited Salem at Halloweentime. I looked into it and decided that for my birthday, I wanted to spend a day in Salem with Erin and our two friends Megan and Carli. So we organized our schedules and spent the day wandering around the city. 

The first thing we did was make our way into a shop called Witch City Wicks, where I (obviously) bought a candle called "Sleepy Hollow," since that was the short story I wrote my Senior Thesis on in college.
We then ate a morning snack at Gulu Gulu Cafe. I can't think of a better way to start the day then Mimosas, French75s (for Gin lovers a.k.a. not me), a soft pretzel, and a charcuterie board. Can you? It was delicious, and it was the first time in a while since the four of us had all been together to talk instead of just texting. 
When we had first arrived in Salem, I said to my friends that I had spent the morning talking myself out of buying a witches hat because I simply did not need one. Famous last words, right? While we were sitting at the Cafe, I saw a woman walk by wearing a cute, subtle witches hat and new I wanted it. So we found them at Coon's Card & Gift Shop and it's actually called "Modern Witch Hat." I'm in love with it, even if it's only practical one month a year. I bought the gray one, and Megan, whose birthday is also in October, bought the red.
We were in and out of plenty of stores, all located in one area, so it's not like we were wasting time walking all over the place. At one point, Erin pointed out that the Hotel Salem has a Rooftop Bar, so we made our way up there. We all ended up getting specialty cocktails because 'tis the season. Erin got the Cramble, Carli the Autumn Mule, Megan the Orange Blossom Rita, and I had the Maple Smash. We also had to order nachos because of the new COVID guidelines that don't allow people to get drinks without food, but there were zero complaints all around.
From The Roof, we slightly rushed to make our appointment for the Witch House. Formerly the home of Judge Jonathan Corwin (1640–1718), the Witch House is the only structure you can visit in Salem with direct ties to the Salem witch trials of 1692. It was a quick, self-guided tour that let us learn about how the Corwin family lived and their involvement in the Witch Trials.
We left Salem after the tour, but not without ticking off some Hocus Pocus boxes. Unfortunately, the Sanderson Sister's house isn't real, although I like to believe that if Disney had known how big that movie would be, they would have built an actual structure in Salem. However, Allison's house is the real-life Rope's Mansion, which we walked through the gardens of, and Max Dennison's house is someone's actual home.
I could have spent more time in Salem, but I had to get back to Carli and Megan's apartment to jump on a Google Meet call. When I was done, we ordered pizza, and my friends sang Happy Birthday to me. While picking up the pizza, they also stopped and grabbed some Hostess Cupcakes to put candles in. The funniest part was that they didn't have a 4 candle, so it was 22 + 2. 
It's crazy that I am officially in my mid-twenties. My 23rd year was pretty crazy: going from living in Edinburgh to spending most of my time with my dog. Plus the whole start-of-a-worldwide-pandemic thing. Nonetheless, it was a pretty great year, and I can't wait to see what 24 brings!


Tuesday, September 29, 2020


Title: Stand-In Saturday
Series: Love for Days
Author: Kirsty Moseley
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Release Date: September 28, 2020

Two broken hearts. One fake dating agreement. What could go wrong? 
Lucie thought she had it all—a loving fiancé, a nice apartment, and a job she was great at. But that all changed the day she walked in on her perfect fiancé screwing his personal trainer on her newly purchased dream sofa. Three months later, she’s bunking with her best friend and scrambling to make sense of her life sans cheating ex. 
Theo is about to jet off for a long weekend in picturesque Scotland to be the best man at his brother’s wedding. With stunning views and nothing but free food and drinking ahead, he should be more excited than he is. If only he didn’t have feelings for the damn bride.
When fate throws Lucie and Theo together under unlikely circumstances, they bond over doughnuts and their mutually disastrous love lives … and it seems like they might be able to help each other out. As long as they both stick to the rules, there’s nothing that can go wrong. 
Contract in place? Check. 
Hot, fake dates? Check.
Sexual chemistry steamy enough to scorch sheets? Double ch—
Wait, what? 
That wasn’t in the agreement … 

A standalone romcom. Book 2 in the Love For Days series. Please note: Although this book can be read as a standalone, it is set after Man Crush Monday (Book 1 in the series) so will contain spoilers.

My Review (There are spoilers):
And I thought Amy and Jared were a match made in heaven... I fully believe Lucie and Theo were fated to meet. I mean what are the chances that they get stuck in an elevator together? This novel had quite a bit of self-realization for the main characters, which I really enjoyed. 

We learned in Man Crush Monday that Theo is lighthearted and go with the flow, but Lucie takes a big step out of her comfort zone to agree to go to his twin brother's wedding in exchange for bringing him to her parent's house in order to make her ex jealous. An ex she had known for her entire life and whom she just broke off an engagement with, no less. 

Lucie wasn't a surprise to the wedding because everyone knew Theo was bringing a last-minute date, which I liked. I was happy Theo didn't try to pull off the "we've been dating for a while" shtick. Plus, it wouldn't have worked since he's with Amy and Jared all the time. The wedding proved their immediate chemistry for one another and how well Lucie fit in with Theo's family. The Fancy Dress fiasco was extra funny to me because I had never heard a costume party called that before, so a mistake like that never would have happened to me, but I am wicked happy it happened to them. And they just rolled with it, which made it even better! It could have been because Lucie was in a room of strangers she never expected to see again but I think it had more to do with the fact that Theo truly let Lucie relax and be herself, even if she was embarrassed. 

All it took was a weekend for Theo to fall hard, and Lucie definitely had strong feelings for him too, but she convinced herself they were just helping each other out. She was also under the impression that Theo was still in love with Amy. However, Theo realized that he didn't want Amy, but his own version of her. He loved seeing her and his brother happy together and wanted that for himself.     

The dinner party is where we finally get to meet Lucas, the ex. Throughout the novel, you learn that he cheated on Lucie, but she can't imagine a life without him. However, this isn't the romantic version, but rather the 'he's super controlling and has Lucie brainwashed into believing that she can't be anything without him" type. It's something that the readers and Lucie's friend, and even Theo a little bit, picked up on, but the party is where it comes to a head and Lucie finally figures out what she deserves. There's even a nice fight between Theo and Lucas when Lucas puts his hands on Lucie - I loved every second of it. 

Praise for Stand-In Saturday:
Ann (Literary Lust) - "OH. MY. GOODNESS. This is one story that you honestly must not miss!!"

Goodreads Review - "Moseley does it again. Yet another fantastic story."

A Book Lover's Emporium Book Blog - "I absolutely adored this book. My face was aching because I smiled and laughed so much, plus I shed some very happy tears too."

Kirsty Moseley has always been a passionate reader since she was a little girl, devouring books overnight, barely sleeping and paying for it at school the next day. Writing has come similarly to her and once she discovered Wattpad, she finally plucked up the courage to post one of her stories. Seven million reads later, she self-published her debut novel THE BOY WHO SNEAKS IN MY BEDROOM WINDOW, which later became one of 10 Finalists for the 2012 Goodreads' Choice Awards, Best YA Fiction. Shocked and overwhelmed by the response, she published her second novel ALWAYS YOU a few months later and hasn’t looked back. 
If she had to sum herself up in one word, it would probably be 'daydreamer' - but unlike most of her school teachers, she doesn't necessarily view that as a bad thing. After all, she read somewhere once that books are like waking dreams...
She lives in Norfolk, England with her husband and son.



Monday, September 7, 2020

Stand-In Saturday (#2 Love for Days Series) | Cover Reveal

Title: Stand-In Saturday
Series: Love for Days
Author: Kirsty Moseley
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Release Date: September 28, 2020
Cover Design: Outlined With Love Designs
Two broken hearts. One fake dating agreement. What could go wrong? 

Lucie thought she had it all—a loving fiancé, a nice apartment, and a job she was great at. But that all changed the day she walked in on her perfect fiancé screwing his personal trainer on her newly purchased dream sofa. Three months later, she’s bunking with her best friend and scrambling to make sense of her life sans cheating ex. 

Theo is about to jet off for a long weekend in picturesque Scotland to be the best man at his brother’s wedding. With stunning views and nothing but free food and drinking ahead, he should be more excited than he is. If only he didn’t have feelings for the damn bride.

When fate throws Lucie and Theo together under unlikely circumstances, they bond over doughnuts and their mutually disastrous love lives … and it seems like they might be able to help each other out. As long as they both stick to the rules, there’s nothing that can go wrong. 

Contract in place? Check. 
Hot, fake dates? Check.
Sexual chemistry steamy enough to scorch sheets? Double che—
Wait, what? 

That wasn’t in the agreement … 

A standalone rom-com. Book 2 in the Love For Days series. Please note: Although this book can be read as a standalone, it is set after Man Crush Monday (Book 1 in the series) so will contain spoilers.
Preorder HERE:
Kirsty Moseley has always been a passionate reader since she was a little girl, devouring books overnight, barely sleeping and paying for it at school the next day. Writing has come similarly to her and once she discovered Wattpad, she finally plucked up the courage to post one of her stories. Seven million reads later, she self-published her debut novel The Boy Who Sneaks in my Bedroom Window which later became one of 10 Finalists for the 2012 Goodreads' Choice Awards, Best YA Fiction. Shocked and overwhelmed by the response, she published her second novel Always You a few months later and hasn’t looked back.

If she had to sum herself up in one word, it would probably be 'daydreamer' - but unlike most of her school teachers, she doesn't necessarily view that as a bad thing. After all, she read somewhere once that books are like waking dreams...

She lives in Norfolk, England with her husband and son.


Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Books I Read in July & August

Summer reading is upon us! This summer feels a little different than most because of lockdown, but no matter - it's not like we need a specific season to read, right?

One Month Forever by Kate J. Blake
The conclusion to Ricardo and Angie's story. I really liked how it resolved. They have to reconfigure their relationship to be something they both flourish in, which took some time, but they were able to do. I don't have a whole lot to say about this one because, for me, it was a quick, happy read that wrapped up the story, but I did enjoy it. There is a small part of me that thinks all three of the One Month books could have been combined into one, but that's just me.

Spoiler Alert: My favorite scene is when Ricardo tries to sneakly give Angie a new car by getting her dad to offer it to her. She gets upset because she already had a discussion with him about buying her unnecessary gifts. Then he tries to propose to her and she wants nothing to do with it. I loved it when she pointed out that he didn't have the ring on him because that wasn't how he wanted to propose and he was basically grasping at straws to keep her from getting upset. It wasn't that the two of them didn't want to be together forever, it was that Ricardo was going about the situation all wrong. I found this scene to really show Angie's growth. Ricardo isn't in her life because she needs him there, he's there because she wants him there, but she's strong enough to walk away if he fails to grow with her (no matter how badly it would hurt).
One to Watch by Kate Stayman-London
This was one of my Book of the Month choices, which I chose because I was intrigued by the premise of getting a behind the scenes look of a dating show. I'm not a huge Bachelor(ette) fan, but I have watched a few seasons with friends, and thanks to social media I can usually figure out what's going on.

I really liked Bea's character and the fact that she challenges the norm of dating show contestants. I think that's a really prevalent issue, especially when compared to the Bachelor franchise because pretty much everyone looks the same on that show, and it simply isn't what normal people look like.  

To be honest, this book was a little slow for me. I felt like I was reading for hours, but I was only 50 pages further than when I started. A lot of this had to do with the blog posts and email chains that broke up the book. I really wish they were used to show more than what they did. One of the most frustrating things for viewers is when the boys act differently at the house then they do with the Bachelorette, which causes her to think the boy is amazing but the rest of the world knows he's terrible. I wish that's what those extra bits showed us, instead of rehashing what readers already get to see from Bea's point of view.

Also, something really weird about my version of the book was that one of the pages had a ton of mistakes on it. I have no idea if this is a random mistake or it was in all of the book editions, but when Bea is at her house and there's a transcript of her parents being interviewed by the producers, there were so many mistakes that I couldn't even figure out what it was supposed to say. I got the gist, but it was so bizarre to see so many mistakes only on one page.
Head Over Heels by Hannah Orenstein
Gymnasts fascinate me. Two of my best friends were gymnasts and as someone who could never properly complete a cartwheel, I am just awed by the ability of gymnasts. That alone made me excited for this novel, but I also watched "Athlete A" a little while ago so I was ready to get mad at coaches and cheer for the athletes. 

I'm obsessed with Avery and Ryan. I liked how they both very clearly liked each other, but were like, "We're co-coaches, we can't" and then continued to find themselves kissing. I just thought it was cute how it was more the question of "when", instead of "if."

Obviously, I hated Dmitri. And I got very upset when Ryan was more focused on the chance to work with a great coach instead of listening to one of his past athletes who didn't agree with his teachings. As frustrating as it was, I kind of liked that Ryan had to see Dmitri's gym/coaching style for himself before admitting Avery was right. Because Ryan was such a good guy, that this instance showed that he wasn't perfect, that he could get distracted by the idea of someone and what they could do to further his own career, and made him more realistic. Especially after seeing how guilty he was for sending Jasmine to the Doctor who ended up being a pedophile, you don't fully understand how he doesn't listen to Avery's concerns about Dmitri. But I personally think that's life. You hear someone did something terrible and immediately hate them, but when someone you idolize is accused of something bad you want to make excuses because you don't want to have to rebuild them in your mind.

I liked how this book covered very serious topics without being too graphic and including some lighthearted storylines that exemplify that people are more than their bad experiences.
Always Never Yours by Emily Wibberley and Austin Siegemund-Broka
I struggled to relate to Megan. The flirt who loves having a boyfriend is so far from who I am that half the time I was rolling my eyes and wondering how she was surprised there relationships didn't work out. And it's not that there's anything wrong with that personality - I know and love girls with this personality - but it's not me. Owen on the other hand I was like, "Okay, yup. I get you." However, I was able to sympathize with Megan. It was sad that she felt like an outsider in her own family, and that she got cheated on twice, the first time involving her best friend. 

I liked how her relationship with Owen played out as well. They started off without pretense because he had a girlfriend and she wanted to date his friend. It allowed them to bypass the awkwardness a little bit and really get to know each other. Of course, that led to more and more feelings that eventually made things complicated between the two of them, but they were able to figure it all out pretty gracefully. In a lot of books I read, the couple breaks up over some type of miscommunication, but that didn't happen in this novel. Sure, Megan and Owen fight and don't talk for a little while, but once they commit themselves to each other they're in it 100%. There's even a moment when you think a rumor is going to mess with them, but Owen clears everything up quickly.

The one thing I did notice was that Owen tells Megan he broke up with his girlfriend directly after they kiss in his room, but at the open mic, he's late because he was face timing her. That's never really explained, so I don't know if it's just a continuity error in the plot, or if there was another reason he was facetiming his ex.    
Capturing the Devil by Kerri Maniscalco
The only thing I didn't like about this novel was that it was the last one in the series. I'm so sad to say goodbye to the Ripper series, but I already have Kingdom of the Wicked preordered and I'm excited about that.

In this novel, Audrey Rose and Thomas are rehunting Jack the Ripper while also fighting for their future together. After discovering that her brother wasn't the Ripper, but instead his partner, Audrey Rose finds herself digging through Nathaniel's journals for hints about who was the true mastermind behind so many deaths. While Thomas reads through the journals quickly and methodically, Audrey Rose struggles to read her brother's descriptions of the horrendous deeds he was a part of. Their search leads them out of New York City and into Chicago where things get even crazier for the duo. They reconnect with a friend they met in Romania and spend time admiring the world fair, but murders continue. After Thomas and her Uncle are poisoned, Audrey Rose figures out who the killer is and, as independent as ever, decides to confront him alone. The decision nearly gets her killed, but this is Audrey Rose we're talking about. Even with a limp, the girl is able to fight with the best of them. Of course, it was helpful that Thomas designed her cane to hold a secret dagger. 

Throughout this whole investigation, Audrey and Thomas are also struggling to regain their future. During what should have been their wedding, a woman informed the church that she was Thomas' true intended and if he didn't marry her, he and his sister would lose everything. Even though Thomas knows his father made the betrothal promise with a signed piece of paper leftover in Thomas' bedroom, he feels helpless. His refusal of marriage means that his father will out his sister and her girlfriend. Meanwhile, Audrey Rose refuses to become a mistress out of fear for what that would do to her cousin's reputation. They know that they want each other and even though they don't care what happens to them, they don't want to take their loved ones out with them. Thankfully, Audrey Rose's grandmother has connections that Thomas' father could only dream of, who doesn't mind helping them out.

I love the Ripper series, not only because Audrey Rose and Thomas are amazing, but because I also learn quite a bit about life in the late 19th century. Maniscalco does a lot of research for her novels and is able to weave that knowledge into an incredible story. It interesting to read about two characters who are outliers of their day, but still have to abide by societal rules to some degree.
Well Met by Jen DeLuca
Boyfriend dumps you after you quit school to help him through Law school? Sister gets in a car crash that leaves her immobile and unable to care for her teenage daughter for a few months? The simple solution would be to move in with your sister while she heals and you figure out your next steps. Get in, do your job, get out. Easy. Or so Emily thought.

I loved this. A summer Renaissance Faire that brings the whole town together. Amazing. But I also loved that this novel brought you behind the scenes to who is actually apart of things like this. While plenty of people volunteer because they enjoy the fun of the faire. Emily and Simon, although they also enjoy the faire, are mostly there because they have to be. Since her niece is underage, Emily is forced to volunteer as her guardian. Simon's older brother started the faire and ever since he lost his battle with cancer, it's been up to Simon to keep it going in his memory. But when Emily, the newcomer in town, is able to look at Simon without knowing his brother, she notices that Simon takes on more than he needs to when it comes to the faire. Simon doesn't really know how to handle Emily and ends up being seemingly cruel to her. Of course, this leads to a great "enemies to lovers" storyline. However, when it gets harder to differentiate between their faire personas and their true identities, their relationship crumbles until Simon learns to delegate responsibilities.

Monday, July 6, 2020

Books I read in May and June

I didn't read much in the past two months. Between working on my dissertation and packing to come back to the USA, there just wasn't a lot of time for reading.  But I was able to get through a few books, so I wanted to share them with you.
The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides
Here we go, a murder mystery about a psychotherapist trying to figure out why his patient killed her husband. The set up alone is intriguing enough, but the actual novel is WILD. I don't want to give any spoilers away, so I'll just say: some things I saw coming, some I didn't. But most of the things I guessed didn't become clear to me until the last fifty pages. The book was coming to an end, and I kept thinking, How is everything going to wrap up? Will there be a cliffhanger ending?

Most of the book is told from the first-person point of view of psychotherapist Theo Faber. However, there are also diary entries from Alicia Berenson from the days leading up to her husband's murder.

By chapter two, Theo makes it very clear that he is telling this story to the reader, breaking the fourth wall so to speak that many novels don't. How he tells this story is very important. It becomes clear that he and Alicia have quite a few things in common, which makes you wonder if his past makes her case too personal for him. As much as I want to continue this paragraph, that's about as much as I can say without getting fully into spoilers.

If you enjoy murder mystery novels, I highly recommend this one. After I finished it, I texted a bunch of my friends and told them to read it, which I don't typically do. I usually wait for my friends to ask me for book recommendations, but this one was too crazy not to share. This novel keeps you wondering what really happened the whole. And even though everything makes sense in the end, it's still hard to believe.

Before She Knew Him by Peter Swanson
Another murder story! Except this one isn't a mystery, which makes it even more interesting. Matthew admits to being a serial killer pretty quickly, and while he first tries to keep Hen from finding out, he eventually tells her everything. Of course, the only reason he does this is that he knows no one will believe her and he has alibis for everything. Hen had a mental break when she was in college and accused a classmate of planning to murder her. Now, she comes off as the girl who cries wolf and although her husband and the police want to believe her, they take everything she says with a grain of salt.

It was super cool to watch the friendship between Hen and Matthew develop. Hen didn't condone or understand Matthew's desire to kill, even when he gave his reasons for doing so, but she was still able to form a bond with him that was honest and sincere. Matthew doesn't realize how much he needs someone to confide in until he essentially traps Hen into being that person.

As the story continues, Hen still tries to get justice for Matthew's victims and he starts to feel the pressure of the police and his brother (no spoiler) that ultimately leads to an ending with a plot twist.

Ink by Alice Broadway
I'm not going to talk about this book for too long because I didn't enjoy it. This book is a YA novel, which I usually love, but this one ended up being too young for me. My main issue was that I didn't like the main character.  She was very naive and very quick to pass judgment.  At the beginning of the novel, she finds out that her dad has been marked as a "forgotten" but she doesn't really think it's fair because she knew her dad as an awesome person.  The second she discovers why her dad marked she writes him off.  In this process, she is also betrayed by someone she thought was helping her hind her dad's mark. It was crazy t me that she had zero questions for the boy who betrayed her. And then, like two days later, she decides that her dad was great and marks herself. Her thought process was very confusing to me and I couldn't enjoy the novel.
The Honey-Don't List by Christina Lauren
I waited so long to read this book. I preordered it while I was in Scotland, so reading it was one of the first things I did when I got home. At this point, I pretty much know what I'm getting when I start a Christina Lauren novel, but I still love every page. I loved the dynamic between Carey and James. All Carey knows is life as an assistant, while James is in a role he doesn't want to be in. Also, since he has fresh eyes on the situation, James is able to see that Carey deserves more than what she's been given. Especially considering how much work she's doing behind the scenes. Mix all that in with a dysfunctional couple whose entire career depends on them being in love and life as assistants can get pretty crazy.

Christina Lauren writes love stories, so like I said before, I know what I'm getting even before I start reading.  However, they still always find a way to include serious situations. Besides having worked the Tripps for so long that they feel like family, Caret needs the job for the health insurance it gives her. Meanwhile, James desperately needs it as a boost on his resume, so quitting too soon isn't an option. Working in a job you've outgrown or don't really like for an outside reason is something most people can relate to. Mix in the romance and humor and this book is a perfect balance of serious and fun.
Beach Read by Emily Henry
This was another novel I was excited to get home and read. As someone currently writing a creative writing dissertation, a book about two authors with writer's block hit very close to home. January is used to looking at Augustus as a rival, but when she creates a challenge that forces them to write in each other's genre, the time they spend together grows their relationship. However, both of them have scars from their pasts that make it hard to fully open their hearts to each other. Plus, the main reason January is in town is to sell her father's house, and once it's gone she might be too.

I loved this novel. Both characters are in the middle of "what comes next?" moments in their lives that allow them to try things they wouldn't have considered before. Mainly, the bet to write a novel in a new genre as a way to get their creativity flowing. My favorite thing about the bet is that although they agree to it, they're both able to stay true to themselves as they write. But also, through the bet and spending time together, they allow themselves to grow and move on from some of their past experiences. As the title says, this novel is a perfect beach read, while also sprinkling in a few "more serious" topics.


Monday, June 29, 2020

The Graduate School Experience I Couldn't Plan For

I knew there would be differences when I completed my time at Saint Anselm College and went to the University of Edinburgh for my master's degree. 

I went from a school less than a two-hour drive from my front door to a school that was founded before The Thirteen Colonies and has a grading system where a 60 is good. The time would also be much shorter as my MSc Creative Writing program only goes from September 2019 to August 2020 with a graduation ceremony in November 2020. After having four years at St. As to build relationships and experience traditions, a year didn't feel like it would be able to offer many extracurricular activities.

Thankfully I was able to prepare for these things before I even applied for my Tier IV Student Visa.

What I wasn't able to prepare for were strikes that would take five weeks away from being in a classroom or a global pandemic that stole another two weeks and made the 3000-mile difference between my home and me feel even further.
The first UCU Strike ended my first semester early, while the second, fourteen-day strike was in the middle of the second semester.  They were undoubtedly inconvenient, but my classmates and I supported our professors by meeting up off-campus and trying to do coursework without an instructor present. The weather during these times was dark and dreary anyway, so not having to walk to class in the rain was a silver lining. We assumed there would be plenty of time in the spring and summer to see each other and explore.

The last day of the strike was Friday, March 13: the same day we got a school-wide email explaining that the remainder of the semester would move online. My classmates and I were devastated. Of course, we knew the coronavirus was spreading, but we hoped it would stay out of Scotland a little bit longer. We only had two weeks left of classroom time.

One class moved to online forums, another had one Zoom call, but canceled the last class, and my workshop met over Zoom without an instructor. Conferences and festivals were canceled. Summer travels became airline vouchers and refunds. My favorite cafes to write in closed indefinitely or switched to takeaway orders only. Instead of my idealized summer of exploring and fiction writing, I got the most out of my monthly rent payments by spending the majority of time in my bedroom.

Thankfully, Edinburgh is beautiful, and I'm not one to waste the opportunity of living abroad. Walks through parks and hills allowed me to practice some of the skills I learned in my Digital Photography class from senior year at St. As. There may not be any available tour guides to give background information at the moment, but there is still plenty to see.
My proudest lockdown accomplishment has to be the anthology publication of From Arthur's Seat Volume V, a tradition for the MSc Creative Writing students to produce. We started the process in the fall and refused to let a global pandemic hold us back. Unable to have a launch party at the local Blackwell's Bookshop, we took advantage of technology and figured out how to host YouTube Livestreams through Zoom.  Although not being able to celebrate together in one room was a disappointment, the Livestreams allowed for family and friends who wouldn't have been in Scotland anyway to hear us read our pieces.

I'm a planner; I always have been, and I expect to remain one.  However, for the past year and a half, I've had to remind myself of the mantra, "Make plans, God laughs." 

During Christmas break of my senior year, I was applying for full-time jobs, and graduate school was a thing other people did. By March, I had an application submitted to the University of Edinburgh, and by Easter, I had accepted my placement. One year later, I was in graduate school, but the world was in lockdown.  
This wasn't the year I anticipated. Nobody did. But as strange as it may seem, given the chance, I wouldn't take it back or redo it. 

I've met amazing people and been able to live in a beautiful city. The time I did spend in a classroom was beneficial and introduced me to a community of writers that I would never have met otherwise. I've discovered a love for Pub Trivia, even if my greatest strength throughout it is coming up with the team name. Terms like "team player" and "adaptable" moved from vague resume boosters I hoped were applicable to me, to skills that shined through when situations called for them.

My graduate school experience came with less classroom time than I predicted, but the year was still full of learning opportunities. After all, I'm leaving here with a Creative Writing degree; any craziness results in more material.


Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Books I Read in March and April

Mouthful by C.R. Grissom*
You can find my review HERE

Havoc by S.S. Richards*
You can find my review HERE

The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern
This novel is layered with stories. First, it's broken into six books with an afterward.  It also has the "main story" as I thought of it, which followed Zachary. However, that story was broken up with chapters from multiple other books and diaries. Everything is related and important and comes together at the end, but it was a little confusing for me at the beginning. I also started this novel and then put it down for a while, which made it a little harder to come back to.

I had to get through Book 1 and 2 before I got to the "Oh my god I don't want to put this book down" phase. And that's not to say Book 1 and 2 were bad, I just had to use them to get used to the layout and, as I said, I had put the book down for a while and it took me a while to get back into it. Once I made it to Book 3 I was fully invested. I was drawing connections between the "main story" and inserted chapters. I was starting to learn everyone's motives. By Book 4 I was falling in love with Zachary and Dorian, which I didn't initially expect.

As a huge fan of The Night Circus, I went into this novel knowing Erin Morgenstern's ability to transport her readers into new worlds. And I slightly guessed that it would be similar in relation to a few storylines overlapping and coming together. However, this is a complete novel, two storybooks, and two diaries. It would be close to impossible to try and give an overarching summary for this novel to anyone who hasn't read it because there would be so many tangents. But as a reader, this novel is amazing. Even if you don't like it, you have to appreciate the effort it took to put it together.

At the end of the novel, I expected all of the storylines to wrap up nicely, because a large aspect is that stories have to eventually end. However, none of them really do. They wrap up, but they also left me wanting a little bit more, which as much as I wanted, I was okay with their endings. The biggest "What happens next" is for Kat. Her character is introduced in the beginning but doesn't really make an impact until the end. I was left wanting her spinoff novel to see what's to come for her. But I actually loved it because it emphasizes that stories continue and when one ends another begins.
One Month Only by Kate J. Blake*
I really enjoyed this novel, except for how it ended. It ends on a cliffhanger, which is usually fine by me, but this novel ends in the middle of the story. In my reading experience, a few things will happen and get resolved and then the cliffhanger will come. Nothing is resolved by the end of this novel.

I assumed the "fake" relationship between Ricardo and Angie would be a larger part of the story, but it hasn't started yet by the ending of this book. Angie agrees to do it, but they have yet to face their families and pretend to date, which was a little disappointing to me.

The reason Angie agrees to fake date is that Ricardo is helping her save her family's business, but no progress is made towards that. Angie is starting to learn what she needs to do, but the hopefulness of whether or not their company is going under is pretty much at the same level by the end.

I really like these characters and the storyline they're setting up, but the ending was right at one of the climaxes of the novel.  It felt like someone ripped it in half and I was left wondering where the second half was. I know a sequel is coming that will probably have everything I'm looking for, but I would have rather had a longer work with more resolution. This novel is also pretty short, so I'm confused as to why the author chose to stop where she did.

The Lucky Ones by Liz Lawson*
BIG topics covered in this novel. The repercussions of a school shooting and how decisions made by parents have a direct effect on their children.

I felt like all of the characters were very real. May is suffering from survivors guilt and the fact that her relationship with her brother wasn't great when he died. They had a completely standard sibling fight, but they were never able to make up, which made it so heartbreaking. May was angry, because of everything that happened but she softened around her friends.

I really liked the scene where Lucy accuses May of not letting other people grieve, because I was kind of thinking that too. However, I also liked that May didn't immediately apologize. It took her a little bit longer to realize her mistakes, but she does.

Something that May and Zach have in common is that their parents aren't there for them. May's parents made her feel like the "spare" since she was little, so when her brother is killed and she is left alive she can't help but feel like her parents wish it was the opposite. Their grief process includes ignoring her, which encourages May to think they don't care about her as much as her brother.  Zach's mom decided to defend the school shooter, making everyone in school turn on him. He goes from being a pretty popular kid to someone who just wants to blend into the background. And his dad's mid-life crisis forces Zach to become the only adult figure for his sister.

May and Zach have to deal with their own lives, which look completely different than they did a year ago, and the realization that their parents are people too, and they're not always right or reliable.

I think this book is really important. It covers very serious topics, some more relatable to readers to others, but all include something you can learn from. School shootings are something most people see on the news for a day and then move on from. This novel reminds us that terrible events like that don't last a day and that the people who survive them and are deemed "lucky" end up suffering for much longer.
You're Not Special: A (Sort-of) Memoir by Meghan Rienks*
I've followed Meghan Rienks on social media for years, so I was very intrigued when I found out she was writing a memoir. Because Meghan is an internet personality and has been for a long time, she has already shared a lot about her life and struggles with anxiety and depression with the world. However, this memoir seemed to give her the chance to share stories she never has before and say "See? You're not special. I've survived that too." She focused mainly on the relationships she's had over the years between herself and friends, family, and boyfriends.

The setup of this book was very appealing to me. The book was broken into sections and she started each chapter with a personal story relating to the section. Then, at the end of each chapter, she would take whatever lesson or coping mechanism she learned from her experience and share her insights. These lessons were all relatable to readers dealing with a spectrum of relationship drama, but by starting with a personal story she was able to prove where her advice was coming from.

I haven't followed Meghan since the beginning of her YouTube journey, but this memoir would certainly be interesting to someone who has. In general, I think being able to realize that while she was posting a hairstyle video or whatever, a friendship was simultaneously imploding off-screen is an important reminder that just because people share part of their lives online doesn't mean they're sharing everything.

I will say that there were a few grammatical errors that I found while reading, but I'm assuming that's because my version was an ARC.

The Redwood Con by Reagan Keeter*
This one is going to be hard to talk about because I don't want to give anything away. Liam finds his girlfriend dead in her apartment, and after the evidence points to him he takes it upon himself to find her killer. In the process, he discovers a spiderweb of secrets that all come together at the last possible moment.

I love the TV show Criminal Minds, and one of the reasons is that I love trying to see how quickly I can guess who the killer is. Since it's a TV show, no character is there by accident. That's how I feel about mystery novels as well, so that's the approach I took to this novel. And to an extent that was true: every detail in this novel counts. However, I wasn't able to guess the ending until I was reading it. That's what I loved about it. This novel was unpredictable. And even if I started to make a guess, I would never be more than half correct. It was amazing seeing everything come together at the end.

One Month More by Kate J. Blake*
And here is the needed sequel to One More Only, although I see it more as the second half. This contains resolutions to the cliffhanger from the first book and how their business relationship works. I find the relationship between Ricardo and Angie really interesting, and obviously, I'm rooting for them.

Ricardo is wicked generous when it comes to Angie, almost to a fault. As the novel goes on, she starts to wonder why. Sure, they care about each other, but he shouldn't feel compelled to buy her love. Angie's sister calls her out on this, and I was glad she did. It seems like his generosity could backfire on Angie if he ever expects her to move to London with him. I also didn't love that he was accidentally taking over her job. There's a scene where he buys new machines, even though Angie was going to. I don't think even he notices, but he's putting Angie in a position to be very dependent on him, which I don't think is something she would ever want. This was starting to come to head by the end of the book, but it ends on a cliffhanger.

There are two things about this novel that confuse me, and I will admit that they're a little nitpicky. One is the title. Ricardo was supposed to be in Tuscany for a month and asked Angie to be his fake girlfriend for that time, however, I'm pretty sure this story is happening within that one month time period. They haven't had to deal with the long-distance relationship yet. The second thing is the fake relationship. They make the deal, but then start real dating before faking it in front of anyone. The subplot seems unnecessary because it's set up to make readers think it's going to be important when in reality it doesn't matter at all.

*These novels were gifted to me, but opinions are my own

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