Saints and Misfits, SK Ali

Tuesday Reviews Day: Saints and Misfits, S.K. Ali

I’m addicted to books. I think everyone knows that by now, and I’m sure many of you can relate. The more books I can get my hands on, the better. I’m on my 3rd book box subscription (no, not all at the same time) and I think I might have landed on one I’m really going to love, but the jury’s going to stay out at least until I get Box #02, if not even Box #03.

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Tuesday Reviews Day: Everything Leads to You by Nina LaCour

Tuesday Reviews Day returns for 2016! I’m ahead of the game this year and I’m hoping to keep it that way. Look forward to some more YA reviews, plus a roundup in March of my No-SWCM Authors reading challenge. I’ll link you to all the reviews I wrote from March 2015 through March 2016, and hopefully have a few additional recommendations for my TBR pile and yours.

We’re kicking off 2016’s year of reviews with Everything Leads to You by Nina LaCour.

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High school seniors and BFFs Emi and Charlotte are navigating the final months before graduation and college, juggling exams, crushes, breakups and jobs designing sets at a film studio. Emi’s brother leaves the girls his apartment while he’s traveling on business, but only if they do something “epic” with it.

When the girls get the chance to shop at a famous actor’s estate sale with their boss, they stumble upon a letter the late actor had written to his child no one knew existed. Emi and Charlotte seek out the woman to deliver the letter and fulfill the actor’s final wishes, but they learn she’s passed away, leaving behind a small child in the care of her best friend. The journey to find the lost granddaughter and set things right ends up changing more than the girls thought it would.

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How I found it: Book Riot YA box #03
Genre: Young adult; LGBT romance; bildungsroman
Does it pass the Bechdel test? Yes
Is it a standalone? Yes
So what worked? I liked the diverse cast of characters that managed to not make a huge deal out of its diversity; the character development was believable and even relatable at times. The writing style was beautiful, fittingly cinematic, and easy to get lost in, like a daydream. The ending wasn’t perfect, but when are they ever? It fit the story and it was a GOOD ending.
What didn’t work? While it wasn’t the most amazing book I’ve ever read, it was a really nice read. I don’t recall any part of it that I would have liked to see changed, no matter how much I hated Emi’s ex… [angry face here]

Overall: Someone I recommended the book to said that she liked it but it wouldn’t change her life. I can see that. It’s a romance, after all, and in my reading experience romances kind of are what they are. But for me, this book felt like a refreshing swim or a brisk walk in the woods. It was calm, relaxing, quiet. It was excellent for getting me back in the reading spirit, especially since the book I read immediately before it was pretty disappointing. The writing itself was beautiful, and it ran the gamut of emotions without feeling forced or rushed. This seems like the type of book that almost everyone will enjoy.

New year, new plans

For the last couple of years, I’ve made some resolutions that have been a little outside the box, I suppose you could say. For 2014, I resolved to become the person I used to be. Yes, to some that sounds a bit odd, I’m sure, but somehow after college I started morphing into this quiet hermit of a person who wasn’t intrusive, wasn’t offensive, wasn’t obnoxious. Wasn’t anything, really.

But, you say, isn’t it good not to be offensive?

Of course! I don’t mean storming around shouting swear words in church or racial slurs in crowds or anything like that. I mean, I started going out of my way never to hurt anyone’s feelings in the slightest, even when that meant withholding necessary truths or even allowing myself to be hurt. I wanted to be the person I used to be, because I used to be someone who was outgoing, confident, funny, adventurous… but I suddenly realized I’d become the opposite of all those things. I don’t know when it started or why, but I knew I hated it and wanted to change.

So in 2014 I decided to start identifying places in my life where I’d allowed myself to become a doormat again, and either change my own behavior or start cutting out the people who abused my silence.

I got a tattoo.

In 2015, I made a more concrete resolution: Stop giving other people so much control of my thoughts and actions.

It’s good, to an extent, to care about what others think of you. Really, isn’t that what stops us from doing a lot of things we really want to do but shouldn’t? Like finishing that box of donuts by yourself or texting your ex or fill-in-the-blank. It helps us keep the reputation we want. I don’t want people to think I’m a cruel and heartless person, but I also don’t want them to think I’m easily manipulated, waiting to be used for their purposes.

I forced myself to sit down and think about the areas of my life where other people’s opinions didn’t and shouldn’t matter:

  • My appearance
  • My career goals
  • My educational goals
  • My writing
  • Our family planning decisions

It’s stupid, I know, but I was letting worry over what people thought of me and my choices dictate almost everything I did. I didn’t get another tattoo in 2015 (I wanted to) but we did buy a new house and a new car and make plans for me to go back to school, plans I’ll be acting on very soon.

I got two new piercings. (Just my ears, piercings are the worst)

I dyed my hair every color I could think of, sometimes changing it multiple times a month. It’s now a point of conversation when I see someone at work that I’ve not run into in a few weeks.

So for 2016, I’m continuing in the same theme. This year, I’m going to stop coddling everyone around me at my own expense. I’m not going to cause needless drama or seek out confrontation, but I’ve spent the last several years bowing my head and biting my tongue and hiding my tears when what I really should have done was say what needed to be said, no matter how difficult or uncomfortable. The truth really does hurt, even when you choose not to expose it. I could go in depth about what brought me to this decision, but it was a hard one to make, so I’ve spent enough time already trying to parse it.

Women's Do No Harm Shirt

My mantra for 2016. Buy the shirt here.

I feel I’m making the right choice. It’s time to stop putting myself last just so everyone else feels safe and happy no matter what. It’s time to stop excusing every offense with phrases like “that’s just the way s/he is” and “it’s okay, I don’t mind” or “things will be different next time.” But what’s right isn’t always easy, so I know this year’s resolution may be more difficult than last year’s. But I think there are better and brighter things ahead, and I’m excited to see them arrive.

‘Tis the Season…

…to be sick, apparently. I even had a book review post outlined and ready to post, but the plague descended on our house like an unwanted fruitcake (that’s probably redundant), and I’ve only just started feeling back to 100% in the last few days.

I’ll do my best to get back on schedule. At least I’ve got that review lined up! Right now I’m reading Chasing Shadows by Swati Avasthi. So far it’s an excellent read, but it’s also really emotionally heavy, especially on the heels of the last book I read, which was a light and airy teen romance. Not my usual style, I know, but I’m really glad I read it. That’s the book featured in my upcoming review, which will hopefully go live tonight, so you’ll hear more about it later.

In the meantime, we have managed to decorate the house for Christmas. Despite feeling like a pile of garbage, I was still able to get the tree up.

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This year, some friends gave us some great decorations, including an artificial tree. I put that one upstairs since I have room for two trees now (you have no idea how happy this makes me; I’m a huge nerd for Christmas).

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And we actually got to decorate the porch! Ugh, this is the best Christmas ever, already. I love Christmas. Yes, I know I still have pumpkins out. But they’re so cute! Maybe I’ll put little bows on them. And no, I don’t leave my poinsettia outside. It was only there for the picture.

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At any rate, regular content should resume soon, now that I don’t feel the heavy cloud of death and head colds hovering over me.

Stages of Grief, or Stages of Writing?

This morning I read this post by Chuck Wendig. Of course it made me laugh, but it also made me realize something about my own writing process: I think I may be stuck in the “Depression” phase. And that makes sense, sort of, in the grand scheme of the things that are my life and personality.

I’m prone to depression. Notice I didn’t say I “have” depression. I think that may be because a large part of my family still harbors some of society’s stigmas toward depression. I’m not sure why that is, but I know it’s affected me and the way I talk about myself and my emotional and mental struggles.

I get depressed over the strangest things. You may have noticed, for example, that my posts fell completely off with no warning and no reasoning. I made a very brief attempt at weekly review posts rather than biweekly ones, and it proved more stressful than I thought. I like reading at a slow pace and giving myself time to process what I’m reading; otherwise I find myself reading just to be reading, and I don’t retain anything at all. Months later I may even entirely forget I’ve read a book if I read it that way.

When I realized that weekly posts were probably going to be too strenuous, it hit me hard. Harder than it probably should have. Instead of telling myself, “that’s fine, just adjust the schedule again. People will understand,” I told myself I was a failure, a horrible writer, and no one followed my blog anyway so what difference did it make. Of course, these are horrible things to tell yourself, and I know that, logically. But that doesn’t stop Scumbag Brain from being a scumbag.

So of course the conclusion Scumbag Brain reached was to just. Stop. Blogging. And somehow, I was mostly okay with this. I would get a twinge of guilt here or there, or really miss writing, or have a great idea, and yet somehow I’d dismiss it all with some lame excuse or self-deprecation.

But then I read Chuck’s post. And I get that it wasn’t specifically talking about my situation, but it seemed so relevant. It really struck me that this is what I’ve been doing with my writing for years; I get started, somehow get discouraged, and I get out. I put it down and never go back to it.

I’ve decided in recent days that I want to change all that and let myself be the person I want to be. I need to get out of my own way, basically. So I signed up for Habitica — which is already making a difference in the way I think about my free time and my priorities. I did some research on online graduate schools and got some input from some of my career mentors. And most terrifying of all: I signed up for NaNoWriMo. I’ve signed up for it before, but this time, I mean it. I work at my alma mater, so I enlisted the English department chair to help keep me accountable, and I added daily writing to my Habitica tasks. Plus, last fall I was able to attend an excellent character-writing workshop with Mary Robinette Kowal, and I’ll be drawing heavily from what I learned there, not to mention using the completed excerpt I ended up with as a basis for my concept.

I’m really excited about what’s in store. I’m just hoping that I can hold on to this momentum, because life isn’t always a stroll down a sunny lane. Recently, husband and I moved into a brand new home and, while of course it’s exciting and wonderful, it’s also very stressful and a little scary. Part of me wants to stay home all day in my pajamas and enjoy it to the fullest, and part of me wants to be ten years old again so I can stay at the home I grew up in in my pajamas and not have anything to worry about, apart from which flavor of Ramen I’ll eat for lunch and whether I can sneak a second soda.

Chibird's penguin encouragement :)

Chibird’s penguin encouragement 🙂

But that won’t do either. It’s time for the Acceptance phase.

I can do this.

So now I’m going to go do it.

©Jessica Hoffman

A Much Needed Break

So, recently I told you that my World Book Day post had to be backdated because of other things I’d tell you about later. Wow, that sounded ominous, didn’t it? It wasn’t anything bad; quite the opposite, really.

Kris and I celebrated our fifth anniversary this year, and thanks to all the time and money we’ve been pouring into the house, we weren’t able to do anything huge. But we decided not to swap gifts and instead take a whirlwind, twenty-four-hour trip to a city we haven’t been to in at least a decade, and never together: Savannah, Georgia. If you’ve never been to Savannah, start making plans now. Well, after you read my post. And maybe also share it. I don’t know. Let’s not talk about all the time I spent completely panicking because I thought we weren’t going to be able to find any available rooms and have to stay home for our first milestone anniversary.

I crawled the city’s CVB site looking for cute places to stay and found this utterly adorable B&B in Savannah’s historic Old Town called Zeigler House Inn. The owner is a positively delightful woman named Jackie, who greeted us with a map of the city and proceeded to plot out dinner recommendations, sightseeing points, and weekend activities.

©Jessica Hoffman

Zeigler House Inn

She explained that we could use the house’s parlor, porches, and library at our leisure, and we should help ourselves to the cream sherry and fresh-baked cookies, fudge, and cupcakes in the dining room. There were movies to borrow and books to read, umbrellas in case it rained, and a single-cup coffee maker. In our room a closet had been converted to a small kitchen complete with mini-fridge and a full set of silverware and china. Jackie had baked giant muffins (they were to die for), strawberry turnovers, and ham-and-cheese turnovers for breakfast. The bathroom was amazing, the bed was ultra squishy, and the whole room was just so relaxing and plush and perfect.

©Jessica Hoffman

Our cute room!

We tossed our bags down and headed to a restaurant really close by called Crystal Beer Parlor. We got nachos topped with pulled pork and jalapenos and sampled some of their beers. Kris had a bison burger that he loved, with sweet potato fries, while I stuck to local shrimp (they were enormous!) and tried-and-true hand-cut french fries. We didn’t do anything else that night; we’d driven there after working all day, so it was pretty late once we left the restaurant.

©Jessica Hoffman

Delicious dinner!

 

Friday morning — our 5th anniversary, yay! — we got up late, lounged around and chit-chatted with Jackie before paying for the room (an excellently affordable price, all things considered) and heading out to face the day. We had talked about doing a trolley tour, but we ended up finding a parking garage and spending literally the entire day walking around and getting lost. It was amazing.

We found art galleries by the dozens, with pieces by local artists that were stunning. There were so many adorable and amazing places, and we soon ended up in touristville, a.k.a. River Street. We watched an employee at Savannah’s Candy Kitchen make saltwater taffy on a 100-year-old taffy puller; bought pralines at another shop; and ate a delicious lunch at Fiddler’s Crab House overlooking the water. We also found Savannah Bee Company, where I nearly had a heart attack because one of their employees sounded exactly like one of my college best friends, whom I haven’t seen in several months. I spent far too much money there. Honey is delicious.

©Jessica Hoffman

Making saltwater taffy

Also on River Street was a craft fair, which was pleasantly empty thanks to unusually cold and wet weather. We met a wonderful couple of musicians named Glen and Joyce who create jewelry from used guitar strings. Proceeds go toward their nonprofit they founded to help mental illness survivors and their families. We turned out to have a lot in common, and we talked for a long time about oddly personal things. It was a beautiful and healing experience that I think I’ll hold on to for a long time. I got their card and bought a beautiful ring Joyce had made moments before I walked in their tent.

©Jessica Hoffman

River Street

We walked around more, and found hilarious little stores, quirky — and occasionally creepy — bars and live music venues, ran into a St. Patrick’s Day themed 5k, and found the most fantastic interior design store called 24e. Kris wanted to go in but I didn’t; their window display alone was intimidating. But Kris is fascinated by art and design and I have a serious love for interior design, so in we went. Yes, it was pricey. But almost everything in the store is one-off, and a lot of it is reclaimed or created by local artisans. They even had a table made from a bowling alley lane, so of course Kris wanted one. We’d have to take out a small loan to pay for it, but hey, who knows; our next house may very well have one. I’d love to make that happen for him — he does so much for me. ❤

©Jessica Hoffman

It actually made a beautiful table, surprisingly

We got a grand tour of the store by one of the designers and took his card home. Even if we don’t get that insane(ly awesome) table, we’ll certainly be picking up a few things from them.

We wandered a while longer, not quite sure where to stop and not really wanting to anyway. But we were starting to get hungry so we made our way back to food, stopping to take pictures of an historic African-American church and a beautiful monument to African-American soldiers in the Revolutionary War.

©Jessica Hoffman

The story of the drummer boy was my favorite.

After that, we finally found our way to Jazz’d, an underground tapas and jazz bar, I guess? There’s a delicious tapas restaurant in our home turf so we were looking forward to it, but this was like nothing I’ve ever experienced. We ordered their Tapas for Two, which got us two appetizers, two tapas each, and two desserts. It was a ton. of. food. And every bite of it was amazing. She-crab soup, orange-glazed pulled pork with red cabbage, seared tuna tacos, barbecue shrimp-and-grits, lamb lollipops, creme brulee and a chocolate torte so good we just had to bring home the leftovers. Service was so fast we could hardly keep up, and the atmosphere was a comfortable mix of after-work and nightlife crowds; not too dressy, not too casual.

We went straight home after dinner and ate that torte for breakfast.

All in all, I have to admit – it was probably one of my favorite vacations so far, and I can’t wait for our next anniversary. It’s really great being married to your best friend.

©Jessica Hoffman

But first, lemme take a selfie