About Carol

Carol likes to read for fun. Her reading material tends to be fluffy, funny, and/or frivolous. If she were stranded on an island with only one author's books she would take Dave Barry. Lately she's doing that thing she said she'd never do: reading teen fiction! Authors like Libba Bray, Lauren Morrill, and Gail Carriger keep her coming back for more. She obsessively records what she reads and what she wants to read on GoodReads.

Looking for Love (In All the Right Places)

I have exciting news—August is Read a Romance Month! As a confessed romance reader, I am thrilled to discover that there’s a whole month dedicated to the genre that has been my favorite for more than two decades.

Fawkes and Codex from The Guild demonstrate the traditional romance cover technique

Fawkes and Codex from The Guild demonstrate the traditional romance cover technique

Why read romance? As with any genre, each reader has his or her own reasons for choosing to read a romantic novel:

  • It’s fun!
  • Pure escapism at its best.
  • Happy endings abound.
  • Drama: either in love triangles, star-crossed lovers, or fighting the forces of evil side-by-side.
  • Rom-coms: they’re not just for movies, who doesn’t want to laugh?

For me, it’s always the promise of a happy ending that draws me in. I’m especially fond of characters who start out, for whatever reason, disliking each other and eventually make it to a happy life together. It always warms my heart when two unhappy people can find someone who understands them and together they find a way to make life happy once again.

I’m sure I already know what you’re picturing: a total bodice-ripper, maybe even complete with a shirtless Fabio in a torrid—or even sordid—embrace with a scantily-clad woman with long, flowing hair and ecstasy between them. If you’re like me and enjoy romances with the couple rounding third base on the cover but don’t want to announce it to the world, you can always download the eBook and read it in privacy on your e-reading device. While there are still many of these types of book scattered throughout publishing, today’s romance novels aren’t always so obvious.

MaddyFor example, I just finished reading The Haunting of Maddy Clare, by Simone St. James, which won RITA awards this summer for Best Novel with Strong Romantic Elements & Best First Book. It doesn’t look like a romance novel, does it? While the core of the book is a creepy ghost story, there are definitely romantic overtones throughout.

Sarah Piper is employed by a temp agency in 1920s London. Times are tough, and her existence is bleak. She can’t say no when the agency assigns her to assist author and ghost hunter Alistair Gellis. Alistair has always searched for evidence of ghosts: not just do they exist, he insists they do, but trying to answer questions like are they sentient or just bursts of energy. When he learns of the ghost of Maddy Clare (who is haunting the barn where she hanged herself one year ago) he can’t pass up the opportunity to gather potential evidence that could prove once and for all the existence of ghosts. His regular assistant is away, so he hires Sarah to accompany him to the English countryside.

Sarah soon learns her real role: Alistair wants her to commune with Maddy’s ghost. Sarah discovers that in life Maddy hated men and will not allow any to come near her inside the barn. Sarah isn’t brave—she’s desperate to make ends meet. So she enters the barn, knowing nothing will ever be the same.

Are you thinking she and Alistair will hook up? That would be a little obvious. And while I’m not opposed to obvious, there’s something to be said for patience. After Sarah makes contact with Maddy, Alistair’s original assistant arrives to reprise his role. Matthew Ryder served with Alistair in the Great War, and they are as close as brothers. Matthew is at first angry that Alistair wouldn’t wait for him to return before setting out to investigate Maddy. But soon they discover just how much influence Maddy has over them all. It’s going to take a lot of fortitude, and some good old-fashioned detective work, to fully understand Maddy’s story.

Author Anne Stuart, who herself writes romances, described this book as, “Compelling…a wonderful blend of romance, mystery, and pure creepiness.” With a description like that, how can you pass it up?

page 45This is just one of millions of tales where romance plays a key part in the story—even if it’s not the entire story. So what if there isn’t an embracing couple on the cover? Have no doubt you may indeed find love—and a happy ending—even in a grim and, yes, creepy book like this one.

Still not convinced? Recently I put it to our Facebook fans to play along with a little game. It’s a quick, easy, and fun way to participate in Read a Romance Month:

Take a chance. Read a romance. You just might fall in love with reading all over again.

Carol

I’d Love for You to Read This

Love is in the air—and on the page. It’s time once again to announce the winners of the summer’s hottest awards: the Romance Writers of America’s RITAs. The RITAs are named after RWA’s very first president, Rita Clay Estrada, and have been awarded every year since 1982. It’s not simply an honorary but an actual award—a golden statuette of a woman, whom I assume to be none other than Rita herself, reading a book. According to RWA’s website, it “has become the symbol for excellence in published romance fiction.”

I’ll say!

Past recipients include Nora Roberts, LaVyrle Spencer, Francine Rivers, Diana Gabaldon, Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Robin Lee Hatcher, Tess Gerritsen, Debbie Macomber, Julia Quinn, Jill Shalvis, Tessa Dare, and my new favorite author, Darynda Jones.

I know I’ve said this before but I’ll say it again: as one of the few admitted romance readers on staff, I feel it’s my duty, right, and pleasure to present this list to you, dear reader. And I’m not even vying for a nomination for Librarian of the Year. Mainly because I’m not a librarian, but also because I’m ever-so-humble. Wink wink.

I’m including links to the catalog so you can easily find a copy now, because you know these holds queues are going to blow up as word starts to gets out.

Best Contemporary Single Title Romance:
The Way Back Home by Barbara Freethy

Best Historical Romance:
A Rogue by Any Other Name by Sarah MacLean

Best Romantic Suspense:
Scorched by Laura Griffin

Best Inspirational Romance:
Against the Tide by Elizabeth Camden

Best Short Contemporary Series Romance:
A Night of No Return by Sarah Morgan

Best Long Contemporary Series Romance:
A Gift for All Seasons by Karen Templeton

Best Novel with Strong Romantic Elements & Best First Book:
The Haunting of Maddy Clare by Simone St. James

Best Paranormal Romance:
Shadow’s Claim by Kresley Cole

Best Young Adult Romance:
The Farm by Emily McKay

Best Romance Novella:
Seduced by a Pirate by Eloisa James

You’ll notice I didn’t include a link for every title. That’s because the library hasn’t yet purchased all of them. If you’re interested, feel free to talk to a librarian. Let them know it’s now an award winner and that Carol sent ya.

At the same time they announced the RITA winners, RWA also announced the Golden Heart Winners. What’s a Golden Heart? The short version: it’s an award given to outstanding unpublished manuscripts. The final round of the contest is judged by romance editors. Many winners go on to enjoy a career as a published romance novelist. Recipients are awarded an actual golden heart pendant. Gotta love literal literary prizes!

Perhaps you’d like to submit your own manuscript for next year’s Golden Heart competition. Maybe you’ve always dreamed of putting pen to paper (or keys to screen) and want to begin writing, but you don’t know where to start. We’ve got some excellent writing resources sitting in the stacks waiting to help guide you through the process of writing a romantic novel–including how to write those steamy love scenes.

Another valuable resource is Romantic Times. Each issue is packed with well-written reviews for everything from contemporary to paranormal, inspirational to erotica. I used to subscribe at home but I’ve since let my subscription lapse, since I can get each issue for free from the library. It’s also a great way to get a feel for what’s popular in romance publishing right now. You may notice themes or topics not currently trending–maybe this is the direction in which you’re meant to go.

Imagine your future as a literary trendsetter. It’s a good future, yes? Now go grab a RITA winner and get to work “researching.”

Carol

Reading Every Day, In Every Way: a Bibliovore’s Dilemma

I have a problem. No, it’s not one you can help me with. If I went to a psychiatrist, they wouldn’t know what to do with me either. Book club? Maybe that’s the ticket—though I have to admit to an avoidance of assigned reading ever since Animal Farm in high school. Regardless of the solution, my problem is this: at any given time I have too many books I want to read. 

I also have too many varying reasons for wanting to read in the first place. Sites like GoodReads are amazingly great for reading and sharing book reviews, as well as discovering new and emerging authors. But sometimes I think maybe as a reading resource it’s almost too good. I also have a cataloging job in a public library. This means that there are days I am literally pulling myself away from my work in order to get it all done.

Me: THIS BOOK SOUNDS AMAZING!
Book: Um, I’m on hold for someone else right now.
Me: Oh.
Book: Yeah, you need to get it together, girl. You don’t have time for this.

Up until now I’ve never been one to read more than one book at once. I have friends who do this, and I would be completely baffled by their behavior. I’d harass them: Won’t you get confused? What if you get the characters mixed up? Who reads a cookbook cover-to-cover anyway? Does your husband (and father of your children) realize how obsessed you are with true crime, the gorier the better?

These ponderings almost landed me on the doorstep of a closed friendship door. Reading, be it method or content, is an innately private matter. But I’m going to take you book by book into my new-found obsession with reading multiple books at once. Why? I’m hoping you won’t make the same mistakes I’ve made: both in not getting through my TBR stack quicker, and in hounding my friends for answers where there are no good responses outside of, “Mind your own business!”

Bad motherFirst up is Bad Mother: a Chronicle of Maternal Crimes, Minor Calamities, and Occasional Moments of Grace by Ayelet Waldman. This is a particularly difficult book for me to read, mainly because I am not a mother so it can be tricky at times to relate to the material. It covers aspects of parenthood and feminism, and includes autobiographical passages to help tie it all together. However, the over-arching point of the book isn’t something you need to be a mother to appreciate. Mothers have been judged, often unfairly, by strangers since the dawn of time. But it’s like anything else really: a stranger observes part of an interaction and makes a snap judgement about the people involved based solely on what they saw (or think they saw).

This is a book I pick up and put down every month or so, due to the deep intellectual aspect of the content. I own the e-book, so it’s pretty easy to find where I left off. This is good, because I can only take so much heavy reading material in one sitting. I really need to be in the right mood to take it all in, ponder the facts and anecdotes, and feel like I’m actually getting something out of the experience.

InvisibilityI’m also reading Invisibility by Andrea Cremer and David Levithan. This is a compelling YA novel about Stephen, a boy who was born invisible—and the one person to ever see him, his new neighbor Elizabeth. Love, magic, friendship and adventure await me every time I crack the spine. I thought I would devour this book exclusively when I checked it out. But it turns out I am becoming a slave to many stories at once, so this one I save for bedtime reading. If nothing else, it makes for very bizarre dreams—one more added bonus of reading such impossible stories.

Dad is FatMany months ago, my favorite comedian Jim Gaffigan announced he was releasing his first-ever book, called Dad is Fat. His publisher announced a pre-order special: if you pre-ordered the book by a certain date, not only would you be guaranteed to receive it on release day, but you would also receive many extra perks, including a signed letter from Jim himself. My husband and I have been huge fans of his for almost a decade, so we were thrilled to hook ourselves up with all of these extras.

Later, I realized that the library was purchasing the audiobook on CD, read by the author. What?! Jim Gaffigan reading Jim Gaffigan? It would be like getting to hear an as-yet-unreleased standup show. The book came out in early May, and after a month of waiting for the CD and a stellar review from Alan, we decided to just take turns reading it out loud to each other. The book, a humorous look at parenting his 5 small children in New York City, is proving to keep us busy in the evenings, laughing our way through it. Sharing the experience is part of the fun. Of course, when the CD comes in, we will undoubtedly listen to it. We know the author will do a better job of reading it than we have. And no one does voices quite like Mr. Gaffigan.

Tao of MarthaTwo days before writing this, I received the audiobook CD for The Tao of Martha: My Year of LIVING; or, Why I’m Never Getting All That Glitter Off of the Dog, read by the author Jen Lancaster. I have read many of her autobiographical—and humorous—books, most fondly Pretty in Plaid, a story of growing up in the 70s and 80s in New Jersey. I’ve even met her in person and had a great time. While her stories always made me laugh, I found myself not really identifying with her experiences in a compelling way: they were just a little off the mark from my own experiences. So I’d laugh, but not have the satisfaction of laughing at myself.

This book changed all of that–I feel like she is describing my disorganized home life! The Tao of Martha is all about Jen making a conscious decision to make her New Year into a great year by actually doing something to bring about the change she wanted. How did she do this? By immersing herself in the words and deeds of one Martha Stewart (you may have heard of her). The hope is that she’ll become organized and crafty, and thereby happier than she had been the previous year. I’m only about halfway through the first disc, but I have high hopes for Jen and her quest for happiness via Martha.

I know that if I sat down and focused on just one book at a time I may be able to finish one book quicker. But my moods are always changing, and I’m discovering that I like keeping my options open. And this way, I’m kind of killing 4 birds with one stone. Take that, TBR stack!

Carol

When Is an Umbrella Not an Umbrella?

Bum-ber-shoot. Noun.
(1)    Another name for an umbrella.
(2)    An incredible music & arts festival held every Labor Day weekend at Seattle Center.

I have lived in Washington for nearly a decade. In that time, I have attended exactly one day of one Bumbershoot. It was back in 2009, but the memories still live in my soul. I had friends visiting from the Midwest. I left the tickets at home and had to ride the Monorail and two buses home & back, cringing the whole way. We saw Katy Perry, All-American Rejects, Iglu & Hartly, and the Old 97’s. We left when Sheryl Crow came on, partly because she’s from where we’re from and we were inundated with her music ever since she hit it big in 1993. But mostly we left because we were utterly exhausted and didn’t want to miss the late bus back to Snohomish County.

BumberGroup

The author and her fellow concertgoers.

The amount of crazy energy that charges everyone at a music festival is different, to me, than that of just a regular concert. It takes your breath away, keeps fatigue at bay, and gets you excited about almost anything. C’mon! We saw Katy Perry for crying out loud. If we could get excited about her, we knew no one that day could disappoint us.

When Bumbershoot recently announced this year’s music lineup, I knew it was time to hang up my Old Fart Cardigan and put on my Young Punk Tee. I know it’s impossible to see all the acts you want to see at a festival. I know that the comedy tickets (lineup will be announced later this summer) are nearly impossible to score. And I know that before the weekend is over I will be worn out and feeling older than my age suggests I should feel. But it’s so worth it to see, sometimes in very intimate venues, bands that I love and/or respect.

All American RejectsOld 97s

If you’d like to try some bands before the big day(s), here’s a set of tunes from Bumbershoot 2013 artists that you can listen to, for FREE, courtesy of your library.

Are you going? Who are you most excited to see? And the most important question: are we there yet?

Carol

Oh UPS Man, My UPS Man

I can’t remember the last time I sat down with a book of poems, a hot mug of deliciousness, and delved into the world of poetry. That would be because I hate poetry with the fiery hot passion of a thousand suns. It’s usually either completely esoteric or so aloof that I just cannot relate to it, no matter how hard I try.

All that changed last year when staff were asked to read their favorite poems and have them recorded and posted to YouTube. Ever the narcissist, I was eager to participate but hadn’t a clue as to what I could read. After countless misdirects and let-downs (no, you can’t read your mom’s cousin’s poems—they have to be in the library) I finally discovered Good Poems: American Places, selected and introduced by Garrison Keillor. Now, GK may be a very polarizing personality (love him or hate him, there is no in between, am I right?) but I was hopeful because he’s humorous. Even if I don’t always get or want his humor, he’s funny and so I thought maybe these poems would be funny, too.

Some are. Some aren’t. But in its pages I found this little gem that spoke to me:

Why I Have a Crush on You, UPS Man by Alice N. Persons

you bring me all the things I order
are never in a bad mood
always have a jaunty wave as you drive away
look good in your brown shorts
we have an ideal uncomplicated relationship
you’re like a cute boyfriend with great legs
who always brings the perfect present
(why, it’s just what I’ve always wanted!)
and then is considerate enough to go away
oh, UPS Man, let’s hop in your clean brown truck and elope!
ditch your job, I’ll ditch mine
let’s hit the road for Brownsville
and tempt each other
with all the luscious brown foods—
roast beef, dark chocolate,
brownies, Guinness, homemade pumpernickel, molasses cookies
I’ll make you my mama’s bourbon pecan pie
we’ll give all the packages to kind looking strangers
live in a cozy wood cabin
with a brown dog or two
and a black and brown tabby
I’m serious, UPS Man. Let’s do it.
Where do I sign?

The BEST UPS ManOur UPS Man is a great guy. His name is Monty and he always has a smile on his face and a quip ready to roll. He and his colleagues in the package delivery industry work hard, are highly accurate and stay personable–that’s my definition of good customer service. They are unsung heroes, and as someone who works in an “invisible” public service department (cataloging) I know he probably never hears accolades or has his praises sung. He and his fellow drivers deserve a poem. They deserve this poem.

So I hereby dedicate this poem to Monty and all his counterparts around the world. But don’t read too much into my dedication. It would never work out between Monty and me. I’m happily married and so is he—to different people. We don’t need love to make our relationship work, however. He knows my shopping tastes and I know how adorable his little boy is. We have a working relationship that is professional while at the same time fun. And that’s enough for me.

Carol

My Love of Pandora

Pandora. Most may recognize this name from Greek mythology:

Pandora’s box is an artifact in Greek mythology, taken from the myth of Pandora’s creation in Hesiod’s Works and Days. The “box” was actually a large jar (pithos) given to Pandora (“all-gifted”, “all-giving”), which contained all the evils of the world. Today, the phrase “to open Pandora’s box” means to perform an action that may seem small or innocuous, but that turns out to have severe and far-reaching consequences.

Thanks Wikipedia!

Today, dear reader, I’m going to refer a lot to Pandora, but I’ll actually be talking about the streaming Internet radio service. Just like its mythological roots, this Pandora can open a whole new world of listening possibilities. Over time, as you indicate which songs you love (and hate) you can actually cultivate a personalized radio station tailored just to you.

Walk the MoonMy favorite method for discovering new music is to build a station around my current musical obsession. Recently I discovered Walk the Moon. This Cincinnati group has taken my world by storm. I love everything about their music: the energy, the lyrics, and just the way the songs make me feel when I listen to them. The music is upbeat and cheers me up, and the lyrics are so catchy I can’t stop singing. Songs like “Jenny” and “I Can Lift a Car” can be heard at any given moment in my home. But “Shiver, Shiver” has risen to epic status in my mind. Play it any time and I’m guaranteed to dance. Although I’m not nearly as good as the friend-of-the-band who gets his groove on in the music video, I can’t possibly give him a run for his money.

So I created a Walk the Moon station on Pandora and came up with some great new favorites, as well as re-discovering some old ones. Pandora has some sort of mystical algorithm (aka magic) that selects music based on the similar characteristics of the group or style you started out with. Without further ado, here are some of the best artists I’ve discovered (or re-discovered) as a result of my Pandoric adventures.

EmpireDiscoveryTemperTrap

Empire of the Sun: These guys from Australia have exactly one album we can get our hands on here in the States. From 2008, Walking on a Dream feels like a total throwback to 80s era new wave synth. And it is. But it’s also highly addicting. The album title is appropriately named: if I had to choose a soundtrack for my dreams, it would be this. If you get a chance to listen to this album, take a moment (not while driving, please) to close your eyes and see where your imagination takes you–you won’t be disappointed. Unless you were driving, in which case I wash my hands of you.

Discovery: This is another group I’d never heard of before Pandora. Granted, I cataloged their album LP back in 2009, but I didn’t need to listen to it. Finding out that your library owns the entire album of the incredible song you just heard on Pandora is comparable to how Charlie felt when he found the golden ticket that would open the door to Willy Wonka’s factory. The two guys who make up Discovery, Rostam from Vampire Weekend and Wes from Ra Ra Riot, had already captured my heart through their more well-known bands. This little side project of theirs has me humming throughout the day.

Temper Trap: I kinda sorta had heard a song of theirs on AltNation (SirusXM satellite radio channel 36 for those not in-the-know). I also kinda-sorta took advantage of the fact that I work for the library to beg and plead for the music selector to purchase their older stuff, which I actually think is more fun than the newer songs. It worked, and I have been spreading the word about Temper Trap ever since. Temper Trap is another Australian group that is informing the whole sound of indie rock worldwide. While their eponymous 2012 album features an emotionally satisfying “Trembling Hands,” 2009′s Conditions sizzles with hits like “Sweet Disposition,” “Love Lost,” and my personal favorite, “Fader.” In fact, I say if you give “Fader” a listen you’ll become a fan.

FosterThePeopleFoster the People: Like most people, I first heard about this LA group a couple of years back when they started receiving big name music award nominations from the likes of Billboard, Grammy, and MTV. “Pumped Up Kicks” has got to be their most well-known song. Me being me, however, I am hooked on the lesser-known “Call It What You Want” and “Houdini.” It’s super-difficult to classify these guys as just one style of music. “Call It What You Want,” for instance, has many elements found in disco, of all things. But Foster the People know what they’re doing and so I am content to sit back and let them take me on a musical journey.

The Postal Service / Death Cab for Cutie / Ben Gibbard: Ben Gibbard is a musical genius. If you listen to any of his projects, including his solo effort, you’ll probably not notice anything too outstanding or obviously revolutionary. But that’s why he’s so good. He and his various band mates create songs that are a bit subliminal in their genius. The melodies and lyrics enter through your ears and into the ear canal. Before you know what’s hit you they’ve entered your soul and you’re forever changed. I know a lot of people will disagree with me, but sometimes the most incredible artists of all just keep it on the down-low. And that’s fine by me.

PostalServiceDeathCabGibbard

So there you have it. Yet another reason why you should definitely pay attention when the world changes around you. Had Pandora passed me by, I would never have gotten such a wealth of new music infused into my life.

Thanks, Pandora!

Carol

Wrong Question, Right Book

Who Could That Be at This Hour

What happened to his parents?
Where is that screaming coming from?
Is it too late?
This book contains these and other wrong questions.

Thus begins the dust jacket for “Who Could That Be at This Hour?” by Lemony Snicket. I, however, didn’t see this description initially. When I experienced book one in the All the Wrong Questions series, I was listening to the story on CD. Liam Aiken, who played Klaus in the movie adaptation of Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, performed the audio version. Between his cadence and Snicket’s prose I was hooked.

Our story begins at the Hemlock Tearoom and Stationery Shop where twelve-year-old Lemony Snicket is about to have tea with his parents. Having just graduated, he is soon to board a train for a new life, a new adventure. But then he receives this note, and all his carefully laid plans go up in smoke:

Climb out the window in the bathroom and meet me in the alley behind the shop. I will be waiting in the green roadster. You have five minutes.          –S

The adventure begins! Soon Snicket is off with a stranger, a one S. Theodora Markson. He is now her apprentice and she is now his chaperon. They set off for a small coastal town called Stain’d-by-the Sea, where his training is to commence. It’s not an ordinary town, however. The ocean has been somewhat drained. There are large machines extracting octopus ink from those living in the remaining waters. Octopus ink is very dark and the reason the town got its odd name. There’s also the Clusterous Forest, which was once under the sea but is now home to seaweed that learned to grow on dry land. Never, ever, under any circumstances should you enter the Clusterous Forest.

Lemony and S. Theodora’s first client is Stain’d-by-the-Sea’s elderly matriarch, Mrs. Murphy Sallis. A priceless item, a frightening statue of something called the Bombinating Beast, has been stolen from Mrs. Sallis. It’s up to our fearless heroes to solve the case and return the beast to its rightful owner.

But, as in real life, not everything is just as it seems. The town, once thriving on the ink exports, has died off. The newspaper has closed and many of the shops are closed as well. In fact, the only places that still appear to be open are the inn, the coffee shop, and the library. Those who would appear to be knowledgeable, or even trustworthy, may in fact be deceitful or, quite frankly, stupid.

As the plot unravels and secrets are exposed, things get very dangerous for young Mr. Snicket. Will he be able to recover the Bombinating Beast? Will he even survive his apprenticeship?

Fans of Lemony Snicket will adore this tome. This is my first foray into his work and I am happy to say I am hooked. While the story of the Bombinating Beast is resolved at the end of the book, the overarching storyline that is Lemony Snicket’s apprenticeship continues on.

Book two in the All the Wrong Questions series won’t be out until October. While this distresses me, as someone who really wants to ask more wrong questions right along with Mr. Snicket, I am appeased by knowing that I can make this series last and savor it like a chewy caramel with my cup of tea. But definitely not tea from the Hemlock.

Carol

Meant to Read

If you’re a regular A Reading Life reader, you’ll remember my post last month regarding Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and my desire to finally read it.

Well, I made it to England, but it wasn’t in the pages of Pride and Prejudice.

MTBInstead, I recently spent a very blissful afternoon reading Meant to Be by Lauren Morrill. Julia was raised with parents who had a perfect relationship. Her parents always talked about how they were meant to be together, that fate threw them at each other and they never looked back. Knowing how lucky her parents were to have found each other, how deeply they loved each other, and how wonderful their marriage was right up until her dad got sick and died, Julia will settle for nothing less in her own life.

When she was growing up, her neighbor Mark started showing signs that he was her MTB—that’s what Julia and her best friend Phoebe call “meant to be.” Mark and Julia would spend a lot of time playing together. One Christmas he gave her a whole bag of yellow Starburst, knowing that those were her favorite flavor. They even got fake married in her backyard when they were just six years old. He was her first crush, her first kiss, and first love.

Tragically, Mark’s family moved away when they were still young, and over time Julia’s MTB became a fond memory but an unrealistic pursuit. So she moves on with life, dating other guys but always wondering about Mark. Then, suddenly his family moves back to Boston and Julia starts to get that feeling again. Mark is her MTB once again—but why doesn’t he even give her the time of day?

Determined to bide her time and love him from afar (for now) Julia reluctantly packs her bags for a ten day English class trip to London. None of her friends are going, but she knows the trip won’t be dull when her nemesis, class clown Jason, spends the whole flight from Boston to London cracking immature jokes, flirting with the flight attendants, and accidentally starting a rumor that Julia joined him in the lavatory for an induction into the mile high club.

Oh, how mortifying! Why can’t he grow up, already, and act like a normal human being?! This is just like that time in ninth grade when a red pen exploded on her pants and Jason filled her locker with tampons—successfully becoming Julia’s life-long nemesis and mortal enemy.

Things go from bad to worse when their teacher, Mrs. Tennison, assigns the traveling students a “trip buddy,” and of course she decides to assign them in alphabetical order. Jason becomes her partner, and now she has to spend a lot of time with him.

Julia has never been one to break the rules, but now she soon finds herself breaking them at every turn just to keep up with Jason. Jason can’t believe Julia’s so stiff and regulated—they’re teenagers on the trip of a lifetime. Why can’t she relax and have some fun?

Confusion and tension build as Jason & Julia travel to famous English landmarks like Stratford-Upon-Avon (birthplace of Shakespeare) and the Tower of London (the landmark once infamous for torture is now famous for housing the crown jewels).

This is a fast-paced, totally addicting read that will leave you laughing out loud and maybe shedding a few tears along the way. I really loved the ways that both lead characters start to learn from each other, and how the definition of MTB morphs and becomes more fluid as the pages fly by.

Two points struck home for me:

  1. I have a personal dislike for books written in the present tense. I saw the fabulousness of this book clearly when I didn’t realize it was written in the present tense until deep into chapter 2.
  2. This book kept nudging me to read Pride and Prejudice, as Julia carries a copy with her everywhere she goes and references it frequently.

Stay tuned, dear reader. I may finally meet Mr. Darcy with my next read.

Carol

Carol’s Killer List of Awesome Books: Pride and Prejudice Part 1

I have one, you have one. Everybody has one. It’s the Never-Ending Way-Too-Long Bucket List of reading lists. Someone recommends a book, an author, or a series, and it sounds terrific. However, I usually let my mood dictate what I want to read next. And I only ever read one book at a time. So that sterling recommendation goes onto the ever-growing list of books I’d like to read—someday.

PrideWould it surprise you to learn that even though I’ve enjoyed countless books set in the Regency era, I’ve never actually read any Jane Austen? Pride and Prejudice has been at the top of my Must Read Before I Die List since I was a teenager. My best friend has read it. My mother has read it countless times. I have purchased a hardcopy and downloaded the eBook. But I’ve never even read the first page. I haven’t had any motivation to do so.

Until now.

Starting this year I’m finally going to begin reading books from my Killer List of Awesome Books. And I thought the best way to start is with Pride and Prejudice, a tale told and retold through countless mediums and re-imaginings. To motivate myself to read this incredible book, I have pinned an adorable Pride and Prejudice button to my collar. I will wear it every day until I have actually read the book.Pin

So keep a lookout for me in the stacks, in the office, on the street. And if you see me wearing the pin, be sure to give me a hard time! Tell me how great the book is, what your favorite scene is, who your favorite characters are. Keep me in line and, who knows? Maybe I’ll actually read it.

But golly gee, I hope the book lives up to the hype!

Carol

All I Want for Christmas is My Sense of Humor

Tis the season for crazy sweaters, spiked eggnog, and blackmail photos. If you’re following the library on Facebook you’ll know we’re not above poking fun at ourselves around the holidays.

Crazy Sweaters

But if you’re like me, this time of year is so crazy-busy you really try to find the humor in whatever new holiday-related predicament you find yourself in. Let me lead you through my holiday routine and you’ll see why I believe there’s no place like the library for the holidays.

awkwardfamilyphotos.comWhen my waistline is somewhat back to normal post-Thanksgiving and my calendar is now screaming DECEMBER at me, I will usually gather up my husband and our cats and attempt to pose us into some semblance of order. We aim for cute. What we usually end up with are semi-strangled pets and harried looking adults grimacing in what is sure to be the 30th attempt, one that will “have to do” because no one wants to do this anymore. The Awkward Family Photo books have similar photos to show you what I’m dealing with on an annual basis.

People of WalmartOnce the photo has been taken, it’s off to get the prints made. Usually I can send the photo over the Internet to be printed at my local pharmacy. But if you’re unlucky enough to need to wade through the hordes of holiday bargain-hunters and actually set up your photo card in person, you will be sure to find some truly bizarre individuals completely oblivious to social norms. The People of Wal-Mart books have just a few samplings of folks who haven’t paid any attention to their attire—or in some cases paid entirely too much attention to what they’re wearing, to a horrifying degree.

sketchy-santasIf you have children, or feel like a child yourself, the next stop will probably be the North Pole, aka your local mall Santa. These days you can even take your pets to visit Santa, though I suspect my cats would be truly horrified should we ever attempt that with them. While there you may find yourself face-to-face with what can only be called a Sketchy Santa.

Who’s that excessively jolly fellow with the fake beard, shifty eyes, sweaty hands, and boozy breath? Why, it’s not just Santa but sketchy Santa!

crap at my parents house

Eventually we will arrive at the big day: holiday celebrations with the family! I was lucky to have grown up celebrating Christmas Day at my Grandma’s house, a home which was tastefully decorated and yet still inviting for the sticky-fingered, running, screaming grandkids. However, occasionally I would visit friends’ houses during Christmastime and inevitably stumble across something that could have come straight out of Crap at my Parents’ House: creepy ceramics, giant Santa figures that could easily be mistaken for a Sketchy Santa, and hundreds of Precious Moments dolls crammed into one tiny hutch.

my kids ruinedAfter the holidays come to an end, there’s always something else to look forward to. Yes, there will be another holiday season to anticipate next year. But really I’m talking about the time when that gift you loved getting is inevitably ruined by someone you love and thought you could trust. Sh*t My Kids Ruined features some prime examples. Toys shoved in the VCR, diplomas graffitied with ink pens, and countless pets massacred with everything from condiments to vomit are sure to leave you clutching your loved ones close but your prized possessions closer.

This holiday season, I am fortunate to be able to travel back home to Illinois, where my story began. Spending so much time with my family I can guarantee I will laugh, I will cry, and I will be thankful for the life I have and for the possessions that haven’t yet been destroyed.

Carol