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. She obsessively records what she reads and what she wants to read on GoodReads.

Bookstagram, Publishing, and the Castrati: We Chat with YA Author Jennifer Bardsley

Readers, I have a special treat for you today! As the library ramps up in preparation for her March 4th (2pm!) visit to the downtown library as part of the Everett Reads! community reading series, I caught up with local YA author and Everett Herald columnist Jennifer Bardsley to talk about everything bookish! For a primer on her incredibly addicting Blank Slate series, check out my review of book 1, Genesis Girl.

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First, tell me about you! What’s your background, and how did you get into writing?

In 2007 I was a stay-at-home mom who wrote a blog called Teachingmybabytoread.com as a way to keep my skills as a former elementary school teacher fresh. I loved blogging since it was a way to connect with people all over the world. I also enjoyed reading my local newspaper, The Edmonds Beacon, but noticed that none of the columnists represented the “mom demographic.” My limited success as a blogger gave me the idea to pitch The Edmonds Beacon with a column idea about what it was like to be a modern mom. I wrote up five sample columns and an introductory email, pitched them my concept and waited. And waited. And waited. They never emailed me back. Crushed, I filed those columns away in a drawer.

A month or two later, I saw a copy of The Weekly Herald and decided to brave it. I gathered up my courage to submit my idea to them instead. That’s how my column “I Brake for Moms” was born. After four months in The Weekly Herald, “I Brake for Moms” moved to The Everett Daily Herald where it has been for almost five years.

In the middle of all that column writing, I also wrote fiction. In 2013 my manuscript landed me my agent, Liza Fleissig of the Liza Royce Agency, and in 2014 Genesis Girl sold to Georgia McBride of Month9Books in a two-book deal.

genesis girl jennifer bardsleyHow did you get the idea for Blanca, a character who has never used the internet nor had her image ever posted online?

Prepare to be grossed out. I based the concept of Blanca and her Vestal Brethren on the castrati from opera’s shady past. In the seventeen and eighteen hundreds, some young boys in Italy were castrated in the hopes that they would become famous opera stars who could sing the highest notes. They were sent away to special schools where they lived and breathed music. Most of the castrati did not become famous. They were sent home in disgrace, scarred for life. But the castrati who succeeded were superstars. 

Yikes!  Even aside from that, the whole Blank Slate world is so eerie! I can see this becoming a distant reality.

I know, right? From computers to car phones, to cell phones, to smartphones; it’s only a matter of time before there is a technology advancement that is user-friendly in a way we can’t yet imagine. Maybe it will be like finger chips, maybe not, but it will be cool.

What books or authors would you recommend for readers like me who enjoyed reading Genesis Girl and Damaged Goods?

A classic SciFi book that I love is The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. There’s a new television show based on it coming to Hulu that I’m excited about too. A SciFi series I enjoyed that came out recently is Survival Colony 9 by Joshua David Bellin. It’s cli-fi, meaning climate change meets science fiction.

damaged goods jennifer bardsleyI’ve always wondered about something. Is it more difficult to write the first book in a series or the second?

Damaged Goods was way easier to write than Genesis Girl because I had already done the hard work developing the characters. I wrote out an outline, turned on my computer, and banged the book out in four months. Then I spent the next year revising it.

What sort of advice would you offer a writer aspiring to make the leap to becoming a published author?

If you are writing fiction and you want to be traditionally published, you need to write the entire book first before you query agents to represent you. Agents then take the book on submission to publishing houses. If a house buys your book, it takes two to three years for your manuscript to be published.

However, with nonfiction it’s entirely different. You write a thirty to fifty-page outline and marketing plan for your proposal, and send that directly to publishers.

The quick way to bypass all of those steps is to self-publish. There are lots of indie authors who earn a ton of money because agility helps them capture hungry markets. Instead of guessing what topic will be popular with readers in three years, indie authors can write and publish books that are hot at that moment.

Bookstagramming is a big part of your presence online, one that I really enjoy following. How do you get your ideas for your beautiful layouts?

I love your account too! Instagram is a great way to meet new friends.

I keep a box of random knickknacks in my library that made it easy to style photos. Winter is tricky, but once the weather warms up I cut foliage from my garden to use in photos. My friend Jenn Eagan of @jennegan26 gave me good advice. “On bookstagram, more is more. If you think there are enough objects in your photo, add a few more just in case.”

Do you have different approaches for writing your column and your novels? Or does the process tend to be about the same?

Having a newspaper column has taught me a lot about discipline because I have a due date every week. I keep a notebook in my purse to jot down ideas if I get inspired, but generally I have a topic rattling around in my mind for a few weeks before I write it out on paper. Then a few days later, I revise it.

With fiction, I spend months and even years coming up with a concept first, before I start writing a book. The traditional publishing market is so competitive, that unless you have a killer idea, it feels like you are doomed.

I’m so curious about your writing environment! Do you have a dedicated office or workspace?

I used to have a dedicated writing space in our home library, but then my poodle Merlin took over that room and now it smells like dog. Luckily it’s the only room in the house that smells poodly, but it’s no longer my preferred place to write. These days I am much more likely to type on the computer in the niche next to our kitchen.

Do you have any other upcoming projects? You know I’m eagerly anticipating more Blank Slate novels!

Damaged Goods has a conclusive end, with just enough wiggle room to write a third book if my publisher is interested. It all depends on how this second book does. Stress!

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What can our readers expect when you come to the library on March 4th?

I have a game prepared that involves dice, fake money, information about the path to publication, and some inside secrets about what it’s like to be an author. I’ll follow up with questions from the audience.

Thank you so much, Jennifer, for taking the time to chat with me! I can’t wait for your visit March 4th at the main library!

Jennifer: Thank you so much for having me!

Reading for Self-Care

I’m having a difficult time right now coping with some new realities in my life. Work is high-pressure this time of year because there is a ginormous wave of new books coming through the door every day (thanks, new book budget!). My personal life is crazy as I work on a new creative endeavor that is pushing the bounds of my sanity. I mean, how much energy do I really have after dealing with those tidal waves of books all day? Politically I am ready for action and contemplating how things may change over the next couple of years.

All this adds up to some serious stress levels and a general feeling of helplessness. What can I do to alleviate the stress and maybe turn some of this negative energy into action? As with most crises in my life, I turn to books. Here’s a list of books I’m utilizing as a form of self-care in this uncertain time.

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The Stress Test: How Pressure Can Make You Stronger by Ian Robertson
More than anything right now I really want to find a way to take negative pressures, like stress, and turn it around with a positive result. The Stress Test looks like it can do just that. Backed by over forty years of research, cognitive neuroscientist and clinical psychologist Robertson is going to teach me how to change my reaction to pressure, getting a better response that will help my overall health and well-being. I’d honestly hate to lose all stress in my life, because challenges keep me on my toes and, I think, make me a better person. Thankfully it looks like The Stress Test is a scientific approach that walks the line between too much and too little stress, which is just what I need right now.

100 Things You Can Do to Stay Fit and Healthy by Scott Douglas
It might go without saying that all this stress is adding up in a negative way. I can feel the impact it’s having on my health. That’s why I’m so looking forward to this short book. Early reviews say there are some common sense things we’ve all heard before–but I think that’s just what I need right now. Show me simple changes I can make to improve my day-to-day well-being and I’ll be set to tackle the bigger issues I care about.

The Trump Survival Guide by Gene Stone
I usually avoid talking politics on the internet because, let’s face it, as a group we humans can be overly nasty to each other online and I’m not looking for a fight. However, I don’t mind telling you how I’ve felt overwhelmed with uncertainty with the new administration and each Cabinet member’s stances on the issues that are vital to my well-being. Gene Stone’s book breaks down each issue, giving historical background, how President Obama strengthened or otherwise created change, and what President Trump is likely to do based on his history with each issue. Don’t get too bogged down in those sections, however; the best is at the end of each chapter, where Stone lists several things I can do to take action now to support each issue or cause, to strengthen it, and to give voice to the marginalized. Getting involved in national organizations, donating time to local causes, and even donating money can all help.

The Dictionary
Based on the first White House press conference, I’m certain to start keeping a dictionary by my side. I still use physical dictionaries and other reference books, as I find it easier to flip back and forth to relevant sections (especially important when trying to find the right word to embody your thoughts). But now more than ever I want to be able to define words that seem to not mean what press releases and politicians are telling me they mean. Whether or not you’re inclined to keep a giant book of words nearby, I highly recommend following Merriam-Webster on Twitter. They post a word of the day with a brief definition and often tie in these educational tweets to what’s happening in the news.

Simply Brilliant: Powerful Techniques to Unlock Your Creativity and Spark New Ideas by Bernhard Schroeder
Now more than ever I want to be creative, both in my solutions to life’s everyday problems as well as in my spare time creating something wonderful. Simply Brilliant promises to not just provide ways for me to harness my creativity, but also to explain why creativity even matters in the first place. When the going gets tough often the first thing to be eliminated is the creative, awesome thing that gives me joy. I am determined not to let this happen and I’m hoping this book will give me not just creative tactics, but the motivation to keep reminding myself, “This matters.”

The Inefficiency Assassin: Time Management Tactics for Working Smarter, Not Longer by Helene Segura
Based on the demands for my time and energies I’m definitely going to need this book to keep everything juggled and balanced–or at least as well as I can. While there are many books published each year about how you too can achieve that work-life balance, the title of this one instantly drew me in. I definitely want to kill inefficiencies! And while it may just be a book marketing tactic, I am willing to believe it. If I want to get everything done, especially going home to a massive creative project at the end of a long day at work, I’m going to need an action plan and practical ways to battle inefficiency so I can slam through necessary evils like housework and still have time to focus on my creative pursuits.

What books would you add to the list? Reading for self-care is the best decision I’ve made so far this year and hope you’ll join me in tackling our negative emotions and turning them into positive impacts.

All I Wanted for Christmas was Time to Read!

Time, that precious and fleeting commodity. Like sand through the hourglass indeed, time just seems to slip right through my fingers. As soon as I get some it’s already gone. Etc. Etc. I know you know what I mean! As you read this I’m enjoying a break from the library, spending time with family and reading next to a crackling fire while snow blankets the flat-yet-somehow-rolling hills of Southern Illinois. I decided to treat myself this year and set aside time to read. Here are some of the books I’ve taken 2,200 miles away with me.

relishRelish by Lucy Knisley
Did you read Hot Dog Taste Test by Lisa Hanawalt? I’m hoping this will be similar, a graphic memoir about food and the people who love it. In Lucy Knisley’s case she takes actual episodes from her life and frames them by what she was eating at the time. There are recipes in every chapter and I’m hoping to find one I can make with family on my trip. Even if I strike out I’m sure I’ll love reading about all the food. ALL THE FOOD! *grabby hands*

 

 

9781925321548Lady Cop Makes Trouble by Amy Stewart
Um, so reading Girl Waits With Gun set me down a winding, happy road of reading books solely based on someone else’s recommendation. In the case of GWWG it was intrepid librarian and awesome colleague Joyce Hansen who was discussing it as part of the library’s monthly book discussion group. Lady Cop Makes Trouble is the sequel to GWWG and I can’t wait to jump back in time nearly 100 years to the world of Constance Kopp and her determined sisters.

 

 

before-i-fallBefore I Fall by Lauren Oliver
I have a fantastic hair stylist. Not only does she give me amazing hair, she also loves to swap book recommendations with me. The last time I was in she was raving about the book she had just finished and thought I would love it, too. I confess for a minute I thought she was recommending Before the Fall by Noah Hawley, which was a breakout hit of the summer but definitely a very different book than this! Before I Fall (what, do you find this confusing or something?!) is about a teen reliving the last day of her life over and over again after she dies. I am a sucker for the “I woke up dead, now what?” type of books so of course this sounds right up my alley. Before the Fall, bee-tee-dubs, is about a regional plane crash, the two survivors, and the backstories of those who perished. I’ll probably read that one at some point, but definitely not while traveling on a plane myself!

relentlessRelentless by Cherry Adair
Oh, Cherry! I had read a few of her books years ago but here’s what’s getting me back into her work: Cherry herself. I was lucky to have been on the planning committee for a library conference back in October and she was one of our keynote speakers (we also had authors Lauren Dane and Susan Mallery, and the Romantic Times Librarian of the Year Robin Bradford of Timberland Regional Library, who are all incredibly awesome human beings and I really hope to hang with them all again). Cherry was a hoot, always cracking me up and getting me involved in what was going on inside her head. Impossibly tall and drop-dead gorgeous shoes lined up in her custom closet? Check. What sorts of shenanigans go on at the Romantic Times convention? Check. Then she got up in front of 120+ amazing professionals and proceeded to act out a raunchy scene from a book that inspired one of her own. Oh my word, that woman is amazing and I want to get back into her books like, now!

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The chilly, nasty winter weather just makes me want to curl up and get lost in a good book and there’s never been a better time than right now. And maybe later. And definitely on the plane ride home. Oh! And on the commute there’s that audiobook I’d like to try…

Best of 2016 Redux

It’ll probably come as no surprise to you that those of us who work in libraries tend to be voracious readers. We consume information, words, articles, books, and series as fast as we can manage. Part of it is a personal interest and part of it is professional: we can do a better job recommending things to you if we’ve read a variety of things ourselves. That’s a very long-winded way of saying we had more recommendations for 2016 than we could fit in our previous posts. So without further ado I present to you everything else we loved to bits this year.

Adult Fiction
adult-fiction

A Doubter’s Almanac by Ethan Canin
Summary: Milo Andret, a strange but uniquely talented loner who develops into a brilliant mathematician, is plagued by alternating feelings of grandiosity and utter failure. Milo’s son Hans, similarly brilliant and troubled, tells the second half of Milo’s story.
Why Elizabeth liked it: This book opened my eyes to the intensely grueling, emotionally devastating world of academic competition. Milo’s self-destructive tendencies are painful indeed, but what lingers is amazement at the transformative power of family.

The Man Without a Shadow by Joyce Carol Oates
Summary: After a life threatening brain infection robbed Elihu Hoopes of his short term memory he endures decades of testing at the hands of neuroscientists. Margot Sharpe develops her whole career from these studies but also develops feelings for her subject.
Why Elizabeth liked it: If you like psychology, brain science, bizarre human relationships, and hints of a dark and mysterious past, you will eat this up! Oates exposes the ruthless nature of scientific study in this suspenseful and disturbing tale.

The Nest by Cynthia D’aprix Sweeney
Summary: The Plumb siblings have always expected a large inheritance as soon as the youngest, Melody, turned 40. That day is nearing when Beatrice, Jack and Melody are devastated to discover that Leo’s wild ways have resulted in a loss of most of the Nest.
Why Elizabeth liked it: Dysfunctional family drama galore! The siblings are flawed, funny, and (mostly) financially doomed. I found myself thinking why is this so entertaining? Because the writing, the family, the setting (NYC) all add up to a really engrossing page turner.

All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders
Summary: Two middle school friends learn of their special powers.  Laurence is able to tweak the time continuum, and Patricia has the ability to talk to animals.  Earth is doomed, and their relationship may restore humanity, or their opposing views may collide.
Why Sarah liked it: This is a quirky fantasy, sci-fi, dystopian romance, with superb technological innovations, and lots of spunk.

Georgia by Dawn Tripp
Summary: Georgia O’Keeffe‘s artistic focus and determination was helped and sometimes hurt by her decades-long relationship with photographer Alfred Stieglitz. While this is fiction, Tripp’s research and skill at imagining Georgia’s thoughts give it the ring of truth.
Why Elizabeth liked it: I have really enjoyed the handful of historical fiction books about artists that I have read, and this one may be the best yet. At the end I was newly, and greatly, impressed with O’Keeffe and had to seek out books about her art.

LaRose by Louise Erdrich
Summary: Imagine you accidentally shot your best friend’s son, and the custom forced you to give your own child to the bereaved family? LaRose, one of many with that name in his family of healers, is the child who is given away.
Why Elizabeth liked it: The incredibly richly imagined cast of characters makes for a very engrossing read. Since this is the 15th of Erdrich’s North Dakota Cycle I am looking forward to reading a lot more about this community.

Young Adult Fiction
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I Woke Up Dead at the Mall by Judy Sheehan
Summary: Sixteen-year-old Sarah wakes up dead at the Mall of America only to find she was murdered, and she must work with a group of dead teenagers to finish up the unresolved business of their former lives while preventing her murderer from killing again.
Why Carol liked it: Despite the serious subject matter of, ya know, waking up dead and knowing someone killed you, this book was quirky good fun! I really wanted a sequel, but I think this book will stand alone.

These Vicious Masks by Tarun Shanker and Kelly Zekas
Summary: In 1882 England when her sister Rose vanishes, Evelyn, bored with society and its expectations, embarks on a search for Rose, encountering the reclusive Sebastian Braddock, who is also looking for Rose and claiming that both sisters have healing powers.
Why Carol liked it: I read this in April and my memory is struggling with specifics here in December. So here’s my Goodreads review from April: Witty as hell and so fast-paced my neck almost snapped. Can’t wait for book 2!

Adult Nonfiction
adult-nonfiction

French Country Cooking: Meals and Moments from a Village in the Vineyards by Mimi Thorisson
Summary: A captivating journey to off-the-beaten-path French wine country with 100 simple yet exquisite recipes, 150 sumptuous photographs, and stories inspired by life in a small village.
Why Leslie liked it: This beautiful cookbook has approachable recipes, especially the “staff meals.” I love the vichyssoise! So simple and good.

The Aleppo Cookbook: Celebrating the Legendary Cuisine of Syria by Marlene Matar
Summary: Wonderful full-color photographs of the food, people, and markets of Aleppo make this a stunning cookbook and fitting tribute to a beautiful city and the suffering its people continue to endure.
Why Pat liked it: Tempting recipes, culturally informative text, great illustrations, and a message of hope of rebuilding this ancient city yet one more time– everything you can want in a cookbook and more–a beautiful, meaningful book.

Superbetter by Jane McGonigal
Summary: Self-help with a twist! McGonigal studies game theory so this method of getting better from illness, depression or other situations is full of quests, power ups, superhero identities, etc. By making your life “gameful” you can battle your “bad guys” and win.
Why Elizabeth liked it: I am not much of a self-help reader but the methods in this book feel like they would actually work while being fun rather than tedious. It could make a real difference in helping people develop resilience, and improve mental health and happiness.

Graphic Novels for Kids
graphic-novels-for-kids

Dog Man by Dav Pilkey
Summary: George and Harold, protagonists from the Captain Underpants series, create a new comic called Dog Man. It’s just as silly and irreverent as you would expect Dav Pilkey to be.
Why Emily liked it: For fans of Wimpy Kid, Big Nate, Captain Underpants, Bad Kitty, and other humorous, illustrated fiction.

Poptropica 1: Mystery of the Map by Jack Chabert
Summary: Oliver, Mya, and Jorge take a ride in a hot-air balloon, only to crash-land on an unknown island filled with extinct animals and a horde of angry Vikings.
Why Andrea liked it: This graphic novel is a great introduction to the worlds of Poptropica (a gaming website for children 6 to 10 years old). It is filled with exciting chase scenes, hilarious dodo birds, and a daring prison break.

Modern Cat Lady: 2016 Edition

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Another year, another litter of cat books!

Not so long ago I decided to fully embrace the cat lady stereotype, but with a twist. I wasn’t going to have too many cats to count, or think of my cats as my children, or come to work every day covered in cat hair. Or dress like the amazing Julie did for Halloween this year.

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No, I was going to Instagram on Caturdays, wear adorable kitty-print clothes and accessories, and generally keep my claws in but my spots visible. Did that make any sense? That’s okay. I’m defining the modern cat lady stereotype as I go, so chances are I may change it again tomorrow. But one thing that stays the same is the fact that there are just certain books that appeal to cat ladies (and gents) like me. Here are a few of my favorite feline-friendly books published this year.

Cat-egory: Picture Books
Year after year, there is no shortage of picture books featuring felines frolicking. This year, though, we got a couple of standouts. On the surface, Cat Knit by Jacob Grant is a book about a cute cat who loves yarn and is dismayed when that yarn is taken away, only to be returned as an itchy sweater the cat is now expected to wear. But dig a little deeper and you get a wonderful story of friendship, and how change doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing. When it comes to They All Saw a Cat by Brendan Wenzel the name of the game is perspective. A cat walks through the world (breaking my #1 rule of cat ownership: never let your cat outside!–more on this later) and every creature it passes recognizes it as a cat. But the cat’s size, shape, and even colors change depending on whether the viewer is a flea (that cat is HUGE and all fur) or a bird (tiny, fluffy little dude). It’s a fun way to challenge young kids to think about how they might see things differently than someone else.

Cat-egory: Art
There’s definitely more than a little overlapping appeal between picture books and art books. Take for example Pounce by Seth Casteel. Imagine a kitten. It’s adorable, right? And totally spastic? Imagine dozens of them leaping around from page to page, living that sweet fuzzy kitten life. These pages of macro photographs by the genius behind Underwater Puppies never fails to put a smile on my face and a spring in my step. I mean, are you kitten me?! And then there’s Shop Cats of New York, written by Tamar Arslanian and photographed by Andrew Marttila. It would be easy to dismiss this as a rip-off of the popular Humans of New York. If you look at it as a case study of cats living in workplaces it’s absolutely fascinating. I’ve always wondered what it would be like to work in a place that had its own cat (or cats!) and how employers would deal with allergies and potential liabilities. But if I concentrate really hard I can block that part of my brain and just get sucked into the ultimate modern cat lady fantasy.

Cat-eory: Health & Wellness
Every great modern cat lady wants to be sure her cat companions live long, healthy, happy lives, right? The mechanics of keeping cats are pretty straightforward: give them food, water, space, something to play with, and attention (on their terms, of course). But what about weird behavior that might start suddenly and throw you for a loop? What’s a girl to do? Pick up CatWise by Pam Johnson-Bennett. Pam is a certified Cat Behavior Consultant. Yes, really! And while that might sound a little silly to you, consider that Pam offers advice on topics ranging from getting your cat and dog to get along to picky eating and everything in between. You can pick through the Qs & As to get to your specific issue(s) or just read it cover-to-cover and realize how “normal” your cats really are!

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Cat-egory: Philosophy 
If you find your life lessons and worldly quotes go down easier with a healthy dose of mind-blowingly adorable cat photos, you’ll want to pick up a copy of Life Works Itself Out (And Then You Nap) by Keiya Mizuno & Naoki Naganuma. I’m kind of floored by the depth of the text here in a book I mistook as humor. Advice is paired with stories and quotes from inspirational (and sometimes surprising) figures. For example, don’t fear conflict shares a story from Steve Jobs about how he was persistent and insisted that the engineers find a way to shave off boot time on the Macintosh computers. He didn’t take “no” for an answer, and sometimes that is the absolutely correct thing to do. Even if it’s difficult and causes conflict where it would otherwise be easier to coast and not deal with said conflict. There are dozens of other tidbits that might give your life a boost. Your soul will definitely feel lighter just seeing all those cuddly little cats page after page.

Cat-egory: Nature 
So here’s the serious section. As Adam Conover of Adam Ruins Everything so clearly illustrates in this except from the episode on animals, we should never, ever let our cats outside. When you adopt a cat from a rescue organization like Purrfect Pals (which is where I found all my cats) you promise that yours will be a forever home and that you will keep your cat 100% indoors. While it’s true cats live longer, healthier lives when kept indoors it’s also true that letting them roam around contributes to species overpopulation (and those cats born feral live short, terrible lives BTW) as well as species extinction (think: birds). Cat Wars: the Devastating Consequences of a Cuddly Killer by Peter P. Marra and Chris Santella dives into these important topics and more in the book Jonathan Franzen calls, “Important reading for anyone who cares about nature.” Do you care? Time to read up!

Cat-egory: Humor
Okay, we made it through the heavy section so here’s your reward! For a funny look at some real-life kitties you’ll want to check out All Black Cats Are Not Alike by Amy Goldwasser and Peter Arkle. Set up like an identification guide, each cat gets a page of text and an adorably illustrated portrait. I have a soft spot for black cats, as they are so difficult to get adopted out and my black furball, Tonks, is pretty much the happiest cat ever. For poems with a sense of humor you’ll want to open up I Could Pee on This, Too by Francesco Marciuliano, which pairs photos of different cats with hilarious poems like this one:

The Box
The box is a toy
The box is a bed
The box is a hiding space
The box is a home
The box didn’t mean a damn thing to me
Until the other cat claimed it
The box is now my fortress
That I will defend to the bitter end

So that wraps another year of publishing aimed at modern cat ladies like me. Until next year, please enjoy these photos of my furry little goofballs without whom my life would definitely be less chaotic and happy.

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NaNoReMo

November is National Novel Writing Month, aka NaNoWriMo. Write-ins are happening all over the place, including the library. And some people even go a step further: they become published authors as a result of their hard work and dedication to the craft of writing. How cool is that? One year my husband and I decided that we would each write a novel during NaNoWriMo. While we would be writing vastly different stories and not exactly collaborating, we wrote side-by-side in the same room and bounced ideas and grammar conundrums off of each other. Neither one of us finished our novels, but we had a lot of fun and learned more about each other as a result. Which, let me tell you, after being together for almost half your lives is something special indeed!

But this isn’t a post about NaNoWriMo. This is about a new moniker I am giving November: NaNoReMo, which stands for National Novel Reading Month. Reading books out loud together is something my husband and I have done on multiple occasions. Sharing an experience with someone can definitely bring you closer together, and sharing the experience and enjoyment of a book together is one of my top things for us to do as a couple. It’s free, doesn’t take much time, and can sometimes even be done while doing otherwise mundane or boring tasks. I’m going to share with you a few of our favorite books that we have read together, which will hopefully spark your own imagination and enthusiasm!

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The time we read to each other: Dad is Fat by Jim Gaffigan
One of the best things about reading a Jim Gaffigan book is when you can get your hands on an audio recording of it and hear him read it to you. As huge fans of Jimbo, we were tempted to go that route. But instead we decided it would be fun to try reading each other alternating chapters. You read chapter 1, I’ll read chapter 2. One of the best things about this method was sometimes one or the other of us would be sleepy and not be up for reading that night. That’s okay; the other person was ready with the bedtime story. I might be sharing too much of myself here, but there is nothing I love hearing more than the sound of my husband’s voice. When he would read to me, I could feel the stress of the day melt away and if I was awake enough I’d be laughing right along with him as he read. I don’t know if he feels the same way about my voice, but I definitely returned the favor. It was a great balance and the fact that the book’s content was about an experience we haven’t yet shared, parenthood, made the experience educational as well.

2-ready-player-oneThe time we listened to an audiobook instead of watching TV: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
When Ready Player One first came out it didn’t even become a tiny blip on my radar. It’s the worst-kept secret that I detest dystopian novels, and this promised to fit the bill. But then the library acquired the audiobook and I saw that it was read by Wil Wheaton. After a quick fangirl dance of joy I promptly checked it out. On the drive home from work that night I listened to the beginning of the story, and over the next couple of weeks I finished the first few discs on my commute. It was a great way to pass the time while fighting rush hour traffic, but I had a better idea. I knew this story would appeal to my husband, so that night I brought the whole set into the house, set up some equipment, and started from the beginning. We were both riveted, and over the next several days we skipped the usual evening television programming in favor of listening to Wesley Crusher relate the story of Wade Watts and his journey into the OASIS system in search of James Halliday’s three keys and, hopefully, his ticket out of poverty.

3-the-martianThe time we read the same book back-to-back: The Martian by Andy Weir
This was another not-on-my-radar book that I almost missed. A few months before the Matt Damon movie was to be released in theaters, my husband read a story about the movie and knew he wanted to see the movie but read the book first. He devoured the book. I mean, he’s a quick reader anyway compared to my reading speed, but in this case he actually lost sleep in favor of finding out if astronaut Mark Watney, who was stranded on Mars for several years, ever made it back to Earth or not. He then began his campaign to get me to read it, too. Our reading tastes don’t often overlap so we aren’t in the habit of pestering each other to read a book we enjoyed. But this was different. He warned me about some technical jargon and heavy use of math (what does that say about me, that I need a math trigger warning?) but said the humor and writing style would win me over, and the suspense would keep me up as well. While I admit that I started reading the book in a thinly-veiled attempt to shut him up, the joke was on me. I absolutely loved it, and consider myself fortunate to have read the book before seeing the movie. Through no real effort my brain read the book in Matt Damon‘s voice.

4-romeo-and-or-julietThe time we will take turns choosing how the book goes: Romeo and/or Juliet by Ryan North
So I don’t know about you, but my Octobers are always super-busy, very stressful, and as a result I always get sick. This year was no exception. It was such a struggle to get through the month that November has so far been a kind of recuperation period. That’s all ending this Veterans Day when both my husband and I will finally have some quality time together. We’ve planned to read this book by Ryan North, aka one of the funniest guys in comics today, aka the crazy mad awesome genius behind The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl series for Marvel. He has reworked Shakespeare so that the reader gets to choose the ending. That’s right; it’s a choose your own adventure for adults, and it has been sitting on our shelf at home for months collecting dust, waiting for its turn in the TBR. Our plan is for one of us to read while the other one drives; that is to say if I’m reading, he’s telling me which choice he wants as we go along. I really can’t wait for this one, as it’s another new type of book that is sure to help rejuvenate our spirits before we plan to travel back home for the holidays (stress x 1000).

So there you have it. Whether you’ve been married for decades or just swiped right, I urge you to file this one away in your relationship database. Let’s make America read again!

Reading Trendy: Collected Biographies of Women

Hypercolor T-shirts. Scrunchies. Slap bracelets. Spandex bodysuits. Mood rings. Tight-rolled acid-wash jeans. Trends come and go, and not just in the fashion world. The literary world has its fair share of trends as well. Right now we’re experiencing one I can only call wondrous, as collected biographies of trailblazing women are gracing our shelves and checking out at the speed of light. Without further ado I am pleased to introduce you to some rad women.

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Fight Like a Girl: 50 Feminists Who Changed the World by Laura Barcella
Even if it might not have seemed like it at the time, these women have helped repave the path for women in the world, whether they be gay, straight, political, artistic, or the first woman in space (looking at you, Sally Ride). Each biography contains the basics, like birth/death years and a brief overview of her life. But we get to dive in even deeper with personal quotes, notes on each woman’s legacy, and illustrations. This book is aimed at teens, which is great so that kids today have some positive role models outside the Kardashian family. I would have loved a book like this when I was growing up. But don’t let the targeted age group sway you: this book is still entertaining and empowering enough for adults too.

Headstrong: 52 Women Who Changed Science–and the World by Rachel Swaby
This was the book that started it all. I’d owned a copy for nearly a year before I finally started reading it this summer. Friends, I tell you I learned more useful information reading Headstrong than I think I did in all of high school. Sorry Mrs. Klaus, it’s true! You’ve probably heard that silver screen legend Hedy Lamarr was an inventor whose radio guidance system helped lay the groundwork for wifi and Bluetooth. But have you heard of Lise Meitner (nuclear fission), Marie Tharp (created the first scientific map of the ocean floor), or Marguerite Perey (discovered the element francium)? What about Alice Ball? She was from Seattle and developed a groundbreaking treatment for leprosy. This book is designed so that you could read one chapter each week and end up with a year of scientific geniuses dancing through your subconscious.

Remarkable Minds: 17 More Pioneering Women in Science & Medicine by Pendred E. Noyce
Sad but true: this book looks like a textbook and that could let it slip under your radar. But what it lacks in outward appearance it makes up for in substance. Each chapter focuses on a different woman, but it goes deep into her life providing photos (or paintings, if our lady lived pre-photography), diagrams relating to her field of work, and a timeline of major world events alongside her personal achievements to give everything context. Out of all the books mentioned here, this is by far the most detailed.

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Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World by Rachel Ignotofsky
This book is beyond gorgeous. It’s truly a work of art and author/illustrator Rachel Ignotofsky clearly has immense talent. We all judge books by their covers even if we try not to. There’s something so appealing about a colorful, intricately decorated book that makes me sit up and take notice and I know I’m not the only one. So if your goal is to get kids interested in a book about women scientists, this is absolutely the way to do it. Even the endpapers are breathtaking! Since it’s aimed at children the passages are brief and more of a general overview of each woman, but wow, what design! Definitely don’t miss this one.

Wonder Women: 25 Innovators, Inventors, and Trailblazers Who Changed History by Sam Maggs
The beloved (at least by me!) author of The Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy is back with something completely different. Here Sam Maggs introduces us to the rad ladies of science that history sometimes has a tendency to overlook. I can’t say too much about this since it’s a book we still have on order. It was originally set to publish mid-October but the publishers have since moved it up to…this past Tuesday! Once our copies are in you can believe they will be flying off the shelves faster than you can say STEM!

It’s reassuring to realize that when you check out one of these books you’re only going to have to read one book, but you’ll read dozens of biographies of some truly incredible women. This is one trend I hope never ends.