Waiting on the Call

Writers know waiting. That breath-held feeling of waiting for The Call. It doesn’t matter what the call will be: the first feedback on a new book, an agent, a book deal, an award, the latest bestseller list. What matters is that you can’t write the blog post of “your story” until it comes.

waiting for call

I woke up that morning, you will write, and I was miserable. I had weathered dozens–nay, hundreds–of rejections and I was starting to wonder if it was all worth it. And then The Call came.

I worked as hard as I could work, wrote and revised thirty-three manuscripts, and the call never came. At that point, I realized it was never meant to be, and in the resultant soul searching, I made the decision to marry my high school principle and move to New Guinea to farm beets. I have never been happier.

In the meantime, you devour stories about The Call. They’re a small thrill of a vicariously ringing phone, and each one seems to give you a peek at what the holy grail should look like.


If you can just make it to that zen-peaceful state, the phone will ring. If you can just wring yourself out wholly dry and wear holes in your keyboard and dents in your fingerbones, the phone will ring. You try meditation. Yoga. You revise your old book. You write a new one. You workshop, network, conference. God help you, you network in a conference workshop. You pray. You give up religion. You give up religion and take up jogging. You give up jogging and take up whiskey.

Personally, the day I found myself copying inspirational quotes onto sticky notes and posting them around my desk, I knew I was dancing on the sharp edge of a breakdown. I knew that whatever that mystical pre-call mental state was, I wasn’t there.

The funny thing is, I’ve already gotten The Call several times in my life. Twice, I was working on writing at home. Once, I was working on a construction site in the middle of a godforsaken desert. Another time, I was at a rodeo in Canada. Another, when I was eating BBQ in New Orleans, listening to somebody jackhammer an old sidewalk to pieces. I mention this because none of those calls kept me from spending the better part of this year with my blood pressure hard-wired to my phone ringer.

Everyone who owns a Bic will tell you that it’s about the writing, not the accolades, whatever they may be. They are right. I’ve read very smart advice about this from very smart people, like:

Buddha: “All desire and hope leads to suffering.”

Anne Lamott: “Publication is not going to change your life or solve your problems. Publication will not make you more confident, or more beautiful and it will probably not make you any richer. Publication is not all it is cracked to be. But writing is.”

Writer personalities will do their thing with any level of success. I know this. I know this like I know if I ram my face into a piece of concrete, it won’t be the concrete that cries about it. I understand there is no such thing as having “made it” in writing. I fully realize I would be happier if I didn’t care about making it.

Here’s the problem.

I care. I give so many fucks about my writing, I have acres of fuck farms sprouting new bundles of fucks every second. I give so many fucks about my writing that I can’t write this sentence without thinking, “How much profanity is too much? Is that repetition or an effective motif? Should I delete that last ‘that’?”

So stand up and confess with me, folks, because my name is Michelle, and I don’t know how to stop giving a fuck about succeeding at writing.

I know somewhere, there are people bolted into Microsoft Word, their coffee going cold at their elbow, not even checking their email as they hammer out work they care about. The whole time letting go of the idea that it has to make money, or win awards, or be seen by anyone. I love those people. I admire them. And let’s be honest, I’m never going to invite them over for tea on a day when I feel like biting the face off Life.

Still, the day I sat there next to my silent phone, scribbling inspirational quotes on sticky notes reinforced with Scotch tape, I realized one thing. This is my story.

What do I mean by that?

We all do it: narrating our lives like there’s a great voice-over in our heads (and sometimes, a soundtrack). More often than I’d like to admit, I start my day by thinking, “What if today is the day?” What would my story look like then? What would the conclusion be? Anybody who has ever heard a story told badly knows the ending can make or break the entire thing.

Let’s be honest, there have been times when I’ve hit that dark moment where I think, “It would be so much easier to just give up.” Inevitably, as I’m thinking through what it would look like, my mind drifts and I start brainstorming ways to use that feeling of despair in a new story. I’m pretty sure that means I’m screwed.

I am a writer, and no one can take that from me–even though many days, I wish they would. If you can be something else, for the love of God, do it! You’ll make more money as a lawyer, and you’ll find a more reliable source of happiness in Netflix-binging. But if you’re like me, you’re stuck with writing in all its ecstasies and sorrows. That means I will always be writing, and I will always be waiting on the next The Call.

What I don’t have to do is wait for the Unicorn of Fate to come and take a rainbow-colored shit in my lap before I start living my life.

Unicorn poo

Today is the day. Will The Call come? Probably not. Would it fix all my problems if it did? Gods, no. Do I know enough of my story to write a blog post about it? Definitely.

Here’s my advice to you, friends. It’s not sunscreen, and it’s not meditation, though neither of those ever hurt. Decide what you want your ending to be, and make it be so.

Write it like a eulogy: James R. Bumgartener never gave up, and he did whatever the hell he wanted. The end. Patty M. McQueen followed her passion, and wrote 12 books about basil fertilizer that she loved more than her children—but please, don’t tell the children. The end. Raoul P. Hatnauster decided this publishing shit was for the birds, and instead of banging his head against the ever-growing wall of The Establishment, he took up eating brownies and wrote half a million words of brilliant Star Wars fanfiction to the accolades of delighted fans from Paraguay to Ohio. The end.

Decide who you want to be, and today, be that.

Look, I know this blog post won’t fix everything. I’ve fought back the urge to check my email for evidence of The Call three times—and given in a shameful once—since starting to write this. All I’m saying is, don’t wait for the call to tell you the end of your story.

You’re a writer. Write your own damn story.


**Update: Two days after I wrote the rough draft of this post, The Call I’ve been most recently waiting for came in. After that, I shrieked into the phone to my CP, ran sixteen laps around the apartment, then came back and read this post again to decide if it changed anything about the advice I had to share. It didn’t.**


Bibliography (AKA: Things To Read When You’re Reaching For the Whiskey)

Dear Polly: Should I give up on my writing? –The most honest letter I’ve ever read about the joys and sorrows of a person in mid-career as a professional writer

Bird By Bird by Anne Lamott – A freaking hilarious book on writing and a writer’s life. If you don’t want to hug this girl and buy every book she’s ever written by the end of Chapter 3, you’re not even human.

F*ck that: a guided Meditation — a helpful video 😉   [Thank you, @cbhalverson]

Also read: Anything but your own ms for the 100th time. Seriously. I know the power of self-discipline and writing every day and that one last revision that turns out to be magic. Still, sometimes, you’ve just got to watch South Park. For me, it’s horseback riding. It’s the one time I forget about my characters and my career and my giant to-do list of edits and short stories and novels and things to edit for my CPs and read for my betas and I just ride. Find something like that. Writing lends itself to obsessing, and that’s not a healthy lifestyle.

If you’d like to be notified of new posts, enter your email below.

Leave a comment

New Adult: Too New for Its Own Good?

In my last post, I talked about how YA is overtaking the adult fiction market. Books for 13-17-year-olds are gaining ground even faster than adult books are losing it.

So what are we supposed to do when we love the immediate, beautiful voices in YA books, but we’re ready to get rid of the parents and head for edgier themes? What about twenty-somethings struggling through student debt, trying to find their place in a world and an economy that all of a sudden seems to have no place for them. Where are books for them? What if (God forbid) our stories are partially told through sex?

couple kissing

I’m absolutely one of this demographic: I moved to YA books because I was tired of gratuitous sex scenes in adult romance novels, and the stilted third person voice so prevalent in that genre. It never really sounded like a real person to me.

Let’s take a moment and compare a line from Pearl Moon by Katherine Stone (one of my old faves in the adult romance genre):

“For a wondrous moment, Eve’s haunted blue eyes bid adieu to all their ghosts and hope–and gratitude–fairly shimmered.”

With a line from Swap Out by Katie Golding, a great sample of the down-to-earth, colloquial style exemplified by New Adult.

“I am Home Depot’s bitch.

The purveyor of hardware and the wielder of hammers, the hauler of tables and builder of beds.

But mostly, I am a grunt.”

Can you see the difference? I–and many other people–are dying for books that actually sound like us! The way we really talk. And one day, POOF! The publishing Gods smiled upon me and created New Adult.

Easy cover Maybe Someday coverHierarchy cover

It’s for ages 18-24 and it deals with so many of the problems I’ve faced myself: the reality of how to turn your dreams into reality in a world where most people’s dreams are creative pursuits and most paying jobs are NOT in creative pursuits. NA also deals with heavier issues like disability, rape, college, leaving home, having to move back home, starting careers, etc.

It is categorized by the honest, immediate voices we all love in YA, and it can tell stories that sometimes take place through sex. It makes perfect sense that now is the time for NA. Books used to be categorized as for Children or Adults. YA came about when we realized that adolescence is its own time in life, with challenges specific to the age.

But the world, folks, it is a’changing, and the early twenties look very different now than they used to. More people are going to college and even more are finding that they need a master’s degree or even more to go after the careers they want. College is a very specific environment, with dorms and apartments, flexible class schedules and frat parties. Even after college, the changes in the economy are changing lives for people in their twenties. They’re overqualified for so many jobs, and underqualified for many more, and in most cases, end up underemployed. Many are finding it difficult to find jobs equal to their student loan payments, and some folks are being forced to move back home with their parents.

The early 20’s are an all-new adolescence, as validated by books like “The Quarter-Life Crisis.” and “Twenty-Something, Twenty-Everything: A Quarter-life Woman’s Guide to Balance and Direction.” We can no longer think that the experience of a 22-year-old and a 60-year-old are the same and should be categorized only as “adult.” Just as we once drew the line between fiction for nine-year-olds and fourteen-year-olds.

“Yes!” I can hear you all saying. “That’s what we want! Sign me up!” But before you run out to your local Barnes and Noble to raid the NA shelf, stop. It isn’t there. As a society, we’re there. We know the 20’s are their own special period of development, AND adults are buying the heck out of YA books, even the ones that are really adult in disguise. Or like Rainbow Rowell’s amazing “Fangirl” which takes place in college and is a perfect example of NA but is sold as YA. In 2013, we were starting to see articles from big papers like USA TODAY and The New York Times about how NA was the next big thing. More people are writing it: NA is showing up as a genre in many Twitter pitch contests, and some mid-level publishing houses, like the very successful Entangled, are snatching it up.

But even trendy independent bookstores like Powell’s Books don’t have a section for it yet, much less the giant bookseller Barnes and Noble. Worse, some publishing houses and agents are starting to turn NA away because they’re finding it a hard sell, such as Mandy Hubbard’s new agency, Emerald City Literary, who will now only accept NA if they can change it to third person and sell it as adult. The popular website, NA Alley even changed its name to Next Lit: Coming of Age Fiction for the New Generation, and began to encompass YA as well as NA.

So wait, you might ask. Is this blog just wrong? (Pshaw, the blog says in response). Is there truly no demand for the new age category of NA?

The one place that has a shelf for NA (you guessed it, Amazon.com) has hopeful news: NA is selling! The top-selling NA book on Amazon right this moment is #8 on Amazon’s bestseller list as a whole, nipping at the heels of the top-selling YA book, which is #7. However, most of the NA out there is self-published and a lot of it is…how shall we say this delicately? A quick peek at the covers in the top 20 reveals a lot of what my CP calls “Man Torso” books. A representative example from the top 10:

NA cover

These sorts of books don’t deal with issues specific to NA so much as they’re just another facet of the growing erotica market. (No offense to my example book. I haven’t read it, but a whole lot of someone elses have). But hey, I guess at least we know that there are plenty of people looking for racier storylines than YA allows.

So is NA just YA with sex? Do we really need a category for that, when we already have one helpfully titled, Erotica?

To me, the truest answer of that can only come from the intended audience, and over the past year I’ve talked to many 18-24-year-olds about what they’re reading. I didn’t hear anyone say, “Ah, I tried NA but to be honest, I still like YA better.”

In fact, what I heard over and over and over again was, “What is NA?”

And to me, that’s the truest answer to the question of where the genre is at right this second. Is it the next big thing, or just the fad of the moment that will fade into the background? Only time will tell.


In the meantime, if you’re looking for some amazing NA books to try out, I recommend the following:

Maybe, Someday by Colleen Hoover: a deaf musician learning the maturity to deal with disability, love and infidelity. Also, this book has its own soundtrack of the music “written” by the two main characters. If you don’t realize that that is the coolest innovation in publishing history, I don’t even know what’s wrong with you.

Easy by Tammara Webber: a college student dealing with rape on campus and how Greek culture, the police, and peer pressure only make things worse. This has one of my all time favorite book boyfriends, the tattooed artist/engineering student Lucas.

Lost in Oblivion series by Cari Quinn and Taryn Elliot: This is a story of a bunch of musicians trying to put a band together and make it in the competitive music industry, similar to my own work in progress. This has a bit too much sex for my taste, but it’s well-written sex and others might feel differently. I ADORE the camaraderie of the band members.

Trust the Focus by Megan Erickson: This is a superb, heart-tugging road-tripping M/M romance of a MC searching for his own identity and the courage to come out after college graduation.

Full Measures by Rebecca Yarros: This is a story of a college-aged girl suddenly responsible for most of her family after her father dies in combat. Meanwhile, she’s falling for a soldier and she wants nothing to do with the life of an army wife. Ouch.

Order Up by Katie Golding: This is the cute and funny story of a pizza delivery guy who falls in love with a dancer who is younger than him. They have to surmount disapproving parents, a long distance relationship when she goes to college, and he has to confront his own lack of ambition and feelings of being lost to finally find the career that’s right for him. Finally, a romance that’s not about a billionaire!

Hierarchy of Needs by Rebecca Grace Allen: This is a perfect example of New Adult. It’s a girl who wanted to be a fashion designer who ends up back in her parent’s basement and teaching swimming instead. Her love interest wanted to be a photographer and ended up running his parents’ mechanics shop instead. I love the unvarnished truth of this book, how she takes a hard look at economic realities and lost dreams, and gives her characters the hope and courage to go after a middle ground that still pays the bills but doesn’t taste so much like giving up.

If you’d like to be notified of new posts, enter your email below.





Leave a comment

Teen Takeover: Why is YA overtaking Adult fiction?

Right now, YA is the blonde cheerleader of the publishing world. We all hate her a little bit for being so popular, even though we don’t want to admit we love her just as much as everyone else.

The evidence is clear: The Young Adult shelves in our local bookstore growing from one stand, to two, to an entire aisle. The movie theaters are full of lovely 20-something actors pretending to be in the first acne-flush of puberty.

There are some incredible, standout stories in the category, but wait? Who decided that teens, who frequently communicate in language like: OMW, gr8, tfnt, u, and <3 would drive the literature market? We don’t think they’re mature enough to choose to drink, join the military, get married, get a tattoo, or pay their own bills, but we ABSOLUTELY think they have the right idea about what to read. How did that happen?


First, let’s look at the numbers. YA wasn’t always a thing.

In 1997, The Atlantic reported that only 3,000 YA books were published. By 2009, that had added an important zero to jump to 30,000. By 2014, that trend had only gained strength and started to eat into every other major category. In 2014, Publisher’s Weekly reported that Adult fiction had lost 8% of its market share in the last year while Juvenile fiction had gained 12%. Adult is still selling more units overall, but YA is closing that gap fast, as is evidenced by what is being turned out by not-yet-published authors. The popular Twitter pitch contest #PitchWars was 47% YA entries in 2015, compared to only 23% adult entries.

What did I just say? Fiction for a single demographic of ages 13-17 might soon sell more than for all people aged 18 to 100? How on earth is that even numerically possible?

Turns out, what we thought looked like this:

YA readers

Looks a whole lot more like this:

Adult reading Hunger Games

That’s right. 55% of YA books are bought by people older than 18, and the vast majority report they aren’t exactly buying for Junior.

Which brings me to my main question: what draws us about YA?

Are the kiddos just doing a lot more interesting things than those of us who have to fit laundry, diapers, or a 9 to 5 into our daily to-do list? Do we like the idea of stepping out of our responsibilities and into a simpler life, when we just had to worry about doing well on our history final and if Jimmy thought our training bra was attractively padded enough?

I would argue no, since the fastest growing segment of YA is sci-fi and fantasy.  Hard-hitting, fast paced stories like Hunger Games, Divergent, and the brand new Illuminae, where responsibility for saving hundreds of lives or the entire world rests on some very young shoulders. Most argue that the YA trend started with some big names that attracted more attention to the genre, especially now that they’re all getting movie deals.

But now that YA is well-established, we’re stuck trying to decide between these two things:

chicken and egg

Do we love YA on its own merit, or do we love YA because that’s where great authors are writing if they want to get publishing deals?

YA differs from adult in some major thematic ways: it tends toward fast-paced, immediate narratives, often told in first person present tense. It takes place in a time in life where EVERYTHING is new. The characters are just discovering romance, drugs, their own identities. That kind of novelty is fun to experience all over again through books, and everything is brighter the first time vs. the thirteenth.

However, I’ve also noticed that some of the incredible writing in YA isn’t YA at all. The lyrically written, epic-in-scope Daughter of Smoke and Bone Trilogy by Laini Taylor is about an angel who fell in love with a devil, and how the fate of the entire world ended up hanging in the balance. Of course, the MC is 17 and going to a special art school that she never really has to attend. There’s not a parent in sight, she has her own chic apartment in Prague where she can have boys stay the night and throw other boys through the window with impunity.

Maggie Stiefvater’s superlative Raven Cycle has similar issues. The plot is so gripping I’d read it until I went blind, and the writing is so good I wish my Kindle had the ability to double-highlight. But it’s about a bunch of teenagers who live together in this gorgeous, hipster old Warehouse. One character has parents, it’s true, but they’re a bunch of psychics who don’t exactly give her a curfew. High school is mentioned, so I suppose there’s that. But they’re off looking for ley lines and a lost Welsh king’s grave, a plotline more suited to a paranormal researcher or an archaeologist than a motivation for a teenager.

Which begs the question: are we all reading YA now because publishers are aiming their best authors toward a category they already know will sell? I read a YA ms the other day where the chapter opened on the character drinking cynically in a dive bar. That’s not YA. I don’t care how many times you type the number 17. And this kind of fudging isn’t all the publisher’s fault: they’re just guessing at what might sell a year from now when they make their contracts. Nobody wants to see great writing lost in a category no one is going to look at.

So what are those of us supposed to do when we love the gorgeous, immediate, honest style of YA, but we want to get out of high school and deal with some of the bigger issues that we adults ACTUALLY face? Turns out, there might just be an answer. Stick around for my next post to find out more.


If you’d like to be notified of new posts, enter your email below.





1 Comment

DESPERATE LOVE featured as a Standout Title!

Oh, so fun to see your favorite characters get some love! My book, Desperate Love, was featured by Kindle Worlds’ blog as one of the standout titles in the Vampire Diaries World.


Almost better than the accolades was the company: the other two books featured were by LJ Smith (the actual author of the original Vampire Diaries books) and the incomparable C.L. Marlene, who happens to be both an incredible writer and my critique partner! I admit to being a little swoony at being included in such an illustrious list. Head on over to the blog and check it out for yourself!



Leave a comment

The Martian: Book vs. Movie

The Martian is a runaway bestseller about a guy stuck on Mars who spends his time being a smartass and trying to get back to earth by “sciencing the shit” out of the problem. Using a lot of tape. And radioactivity. And potatoes.

The Martian book

This book is from a debut novelist who really knows his shit: both the chemical jury rig for creating water out of jet fuel, and the way to make you turn pages so fast they rip a little, the paper spotted with blood from your overly-gnawed fingernails.

I discovered the novel during my spring field season as a wildlife biologist, reading by headlamp in the camper shell of my truck. I sacrificed way too many precious hours of sleep to finding out OH, GOD, WHAT WILL HAPPEN to Mark Watney, the disco-hating astronaut whose favorite pastime is telling NASA bigwigs to go fornicate with themselves.

I was delighted to find that Ridley Scott had made a movie of the story, but before we go there, let’s discuss everything that was right about the book, starting with STAKES. Every page has a new problem that threatens to kill Watney in bizarrely interesting ways. Most of these are solved with math, so well written that I forgot to breathe while my eyes raced along to see if there would be enough hydrogen atoms to go around, or whatever new nerdy thing Watney needed. I loved the hero’s out-of-the-box problem solving, and the way he still wasn’t too good to glue his hand to his spacesuit when doing repairs. Or to blow himself up when—oops, can’t go there. Too spoilery.

And now on to the movie, whose strengths really compliment the book.

The Martian movieHollywood had to skip over a lot of the problems Watney faced (let’s be fair, there were a lot of them) but what remains is much easier for the non-scientific viewer to follow. This makes me both happy and sad, because it was necessary, but I loved how the author made technical details of spacetravel interesting, even when I only understood about 80% of the specifics. I also thought the movie did a better job than the book of making Watney appear frightened (and therefore less bulletproof and more human). NASA’s involvement looked more balanced in the movie, rather than the afterthought it seemed to be in the book.

Most of all, I was relieved to see that the book’s sense of humor was alive and well onscreen. Who knew a movie about space could be choke-on-your-popcorn funny? Matt Damon did a bang-up (all puns intended) job as Mark Watney, embodying the can-do, dry-witted spirit of the original as he farms, lights things on fire, and makes fun of the suits at NASA.

Controversy side note: The Martian has apparently been accused of “whitewashing”. See article here. I was a little confused about this, because I felt that that this movie did a better job than any I’ve seen in a while of including diversity. Women were portrayed in many top positions, though in real life, we’re still seeing a dearth of women getting ahead in the math and science professions. There were African-Americans, Indians, Asians, and even European Caucasians as well as just American Caucasians. So I was surprised to hear that the movie had been accused of “whitewashing”. Reading the article, it seems that one person who was Asian in the book had been changed to Caucasian (though many other Asian actors/actresses were included, including a female heading up the Chinese space program, which I thought was impressively ahead of its time), and one character who had been Indian was instead portrayed by a Nigerian actor. Huh. Alert the press.

I have to say, in my personal opinion The Martian did a lovely job of portraying diversity, which was more optimistically science fictional than the plot considering that NASA’s workforce is 64.7% male and 73.7% white.

The Verdict

Dead-even tie, because the movie and the book were both fantastic. The tie-breaker depends on who you are. If you like science or edge-of-your-seat suspense, go for the book. If you want a quick thrill with lots of beautiful space footage and great acting, head for the movie theatre instead. Just avoid the concession stand, and if you end up snorting soda through your nose or flinching and spilling popcorn all over your date, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

If you’d like to be notified of new posts, enter your email below.


Leave a comment

If I Stay: Book vs. Movie

If I Stay image

If I Stay by Gayle Forman, is a teen cello-addict whose whole family gets wiped out by a car crash in the first scene.

*All readers click the X button on this blog *

To be fair, that was my first response too. Despite many people recommending this one to me, I don’t like sad books. Therefore, it took me a while to give this one a chance, especially since it is written from the POV of a girl in a coma (wow, game for a challenge much, Gayle? That’s hardcore). The book is really about the girl (Mia) deciding if she wants to live. I was pumping the pom poms from the start, because she has a super hot boyfriend (Adam, oh Adam…) who sings in a rock band, plays the guitar like a true panty-dropper, and is sweet as holy hell to boot.


The book screams with tension despite the constant switching between the main character’s past and flipping to her (bleak, hospital-bound) present. I wanted to know what would happen next RIGHT NOW in BOTH TIMELINES, which yes, I know that’s physically impossible. Trust me, my fingers were doing some serious gymnastics on those pages, and I think I went a couple of days without blinking. *Sends apology card to my optometrist*

If I Stay cover

In the movie, all that tension was replaced with a lot of Girl Running Frantically Through Hospital shots. It got to the point where I was more interested in the actress’s cardio training regime than the storyline. And yet at the same points in the book, I could feel the author leaving her fingernail marks in my heart, she had it gripped so tightly. I can’t really say it was the acting—Mia’s family was just as quirky and lovable as they were in the book, though in type it translated better. Adam was perfect in both, but again, I felt more deeply for him in the movie. Mia felt deeper and more passionate as a person, a musician, and a family member in the book version. In the book, I had no idea what her decision might be. In the movie, I would have called it from the first scene. I just never had the faith in the directors that I had in the book’s original author.

The death knell was that I watched this movie with my sister-in-law, and the whole time I felt like apologizing for bringing her to such a melodramatic festival of teen hormones. Not the feeling I want to pay $10 to have.

The Verdict:

Obviously, the book. So much the book. I cringe to say it, but I’d actually recommend true fans avoid this film version.

If you’d like to be notified of new posts, enter your email below.

[yks-mailchimp-list id="c28c3a8dbb" submit_text="Submit"]


Leave a comment

The Five Best Books Ever Written

First, the name of this post is not a drill. These are not my favorite books, they’re the best ones ever written in the English language. Probably all the other ones, too. Except Italian, because everything you say in Italian sounds post-orgasmic.

1. The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson

The Sky is Everywhere pic

This book wraps you in another kind of air, like music, like dance, like the first touch from a boy you’ve had a crush on forever.

I have no idea why Nelson isn’t 50 Shades of Grey famous. She should be signing books and tossing them down from her private plane, while getting footrubs from men with beautiful abdominal muscles and even more beautiful Ph.D’s. This is a debut novel from a seasoned literary agent, and I can only assume she’s been saving up all of her talent to spend on this one, perfect book. It’s worth it, Jandy. Thanks for waiting.

This story is about a teen girl who is falling in love for the first time while coming apart at the seams about the death of her sister. The marks of her grief smudge her entire world: in the poems she leaves on garbage, in the (nearly unforgivable) self-destructive things she does to forget, in the leaves of her plant doppelganger nurtured by her hilarious Uncle Big and her bizarre Gran, and in the kisses she shares with Joe, the owner of the most beautiful eyelashes in the lower 48. I don’t imagine there are many people who could pull off this premise, much less make it excruciating: in its joy, in its pain, in both at once. This book is everything salvageable about the human race.

Best for: people who want to feel, or who like the kind of weird that is also funny. Bonus points for music lovers.

Why it’s weird that I like it: I hate books with sad stuff, and I really hate poetry. The poetry in this book works, though, because the main character has no idea the impact she’s having on the world around her. She just flings her influence about the way she flings her poetry, and in the end, you see all the pieces of her that were gathered up—and cherished—by others when she at first thought they were worthless.

You can see more about it HERE.

You can see my original review HERE.


2. The Sea of Tranquility by Katja Millay

Sea of Tranquility book cover


Like #1 on the list, this is a crazy outlier by a debut author. It’s a love story about two teens with Real Shitty Lives. To be honest, I didn’t love the voice of the protagonist for the first few chapters. She sounded like a sarcastic, semi-entitled teenager and I wasn’t interested. I might have even put it down if the author wouldn’t have impressed me with a little bait and switch (small spoiler!) when she notes that the character doesn’t talk. What? I didn’t notice for like three chapters that the MC doesn’t TALK? *cue furious page-flipping and my grudging grunt of acknowledgment*

What really sold me on this book was Josh. He barely talks, everyone in school is afraid of him, and he’s the King of Shop Class. I admit, I swoon for a guy in work boots. Josh spends most of his time quietly making furniture in his garage and I could LIVE in the golden glow of that place. When Nastya, the bitter but mute MC, shows up, you would expect that he heals her with his gentleness, and he’s the only one that understands her, right? WRONG. They’re mean as shit to each other, but she’s as addicted to his garage as I am and after a while, they forge an alliance of misfits. She doesn’t talk and he doesn’t want to answer any question because he’s got a past that’s a notch past dramatic and into cringe-worthy territory. It seems that Nastya has the same, but that trope finds new life and tension in this narrative until it’s as impossible to ignore as a car wreck. Almost against my will, I was drawn into caring what happened to her, and I couldn’t look away, even when it became clear that it was impossible for her to heal. Even when she walked away from Josh and broke my heart. And no, I’m not going to spoiler the end for you. It’s brave. It’s honest. Read it.

Best for: Angst lovers.

Why it’s weird that I like it: It’s totally not. I’m a sucker for quiet carpenter guys and haunted characters, though I normally avoid things that are this sooty level of dark.

You can see more about it HERE

You can read my original review HERE

3. The Fault In Our Stars by John Green

TFiOS bookcover pic

I’m pained that this one is on here, because it’s so trendy, and because it’s about two cancer kids falling in love in a support group. I didn’t want to like it! I just couldn’t help myself.

Green suckered me in with the laugh-out-loud Night of Broken Trophies and The Literal Heart of Jesus (because really, support groups are for terribly earnest people, aren’t they?). He hooked me with the plot twist (WHAT? THAT WAS NOT SUPPOSED TO HAPPEN, JOHN. WHAT IS YOUR EXPLANATION FOR THIS?). He beguiled me with his sidewalk-gritty metaphors about life and death and meaning, and then he LAID ME OUT with the ending. I sobbed like a child, nearly as often as I marveled at the conclusions he came to.

Green used to be a pastor in a children’s hospital, and he writes more insightfully on the experience of death and fate and meaningful randomness than the rest of us will ever do. Take advantage of all his smartness. Read this book. It’s not a dang cancer book. It’s not a cheap tearjerker (I’m looking at you Lurlene McDaniel). It’s one of the best books you’ll ever read in your life.

Best for: Those interested in the meaning of life and that old favorite, Why Bad Things Happen To Good People.

Why it’s weird that I like it: Cancer books. I don’t read ‘em. I lost my dad to cancer, and seriously, why would I relive that in my leisure time?

You can see more about it HERE

You can see my original review HERE

You can read my comparison between the book and the movie HERE

4. The Night of Cake and Puppets by Laini Taylor

Cake and Puppets book cover pic

What the hell, you’re probably saying at this point. What’s with all these tissue-mopping books, Michelle? I thought you liked fun. I thought you liked pranks and witty banter and kissing. I mean, didn’t you actually write a book called Happily Ever After?

So here you go, patient readers, here is the ROFLMAO gemstone that makes up for all those soul-wreckers I just recommended. I laughed out loud three times on the first page, and highlighted so many great phrases that most of the book is grayed out now. I laughed so obnoxiously loudly that my husband started reading over my shoulder, and he’s more interested in toenail clippings than romance novels.

This story is cute, quirkily romantic, and makes your heart swell like the brass section in the soundtrack of an American movie. It is about a diminutive puppet-builder in Prague who is trying to win the love of her life, who happens to be a violinist. That’s right, SHE is trying to win HIS heart. Don’t be so sexist, people. Also, she does this with a scavenger hunt. Great strategy.

This book increases the overall amount of happiness in the universe. You should read it because doing so will make your life better. The end.

Best for: Everyone. If you don’t like this book, you are probably not a person. You’re probably a golem created from powdered cubicle walls, wheat germ, and puppies’ tears.

Why I like it: I admit to a soft spot for this one because the main character might as well be me. She’s tiny, fierce, and just as likely to kill a rapist with an axe as she is to swoon helplessly over the romance of a perfectly presented snowball.

You can see more about it HERE

You can see my original review HERE


5. The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

Name of the Wind pic


Remember when you were a kid and you’d get swept up in a story? You’d be half-daydreaming, wriggling your bare toes in the grass as you pictured the action while the hero fought his way through adventure after adventure… That’s the Name of the Wind. But instead of the shiny legend of the hero, this book is the true story behind the rumor, with all the gritty details and mistakes; the funny moments where the hero screwed up and then pretended like he totally meant to do that. It’s a little Harry Potter, but more down to earth. A little Lord of the Rings, but with better pacing. It’s a heck of a tale, all suspense and romance and heroism all wrapped up in stunningly clean, beautiful language.

I’ve said for years that this book had the best first page I’ve ever read, and once when hiking in the desert, I ran into two other people who agreed with me. The three of us ended up reciting the entire prologue from memory in turns: me, a Swedish rabbit researcher, and an Alaskan fisherman. When you can write a page so good that three people can all recall it nearly word for word, years later? Well, now that’s a page.

Best for: Anyone who likes a good story, or good writing.

Why it’s weird that I like it: I don’t care for fantasy. I just couldn’t resist the writing in this one, and then the story sucked me in.

You can see more about it HERE

You can see my original review HERE


And in a happy little postscript, as just recently ALL of these books have been optioned for movies or TV (congrats Jandy Nelson!) or have already been made into movies (see my earlier post on The Fault In Our Stars movie). *happy sigh* I’m so happy with Hollywood right now.

So there you have it, the five best books of all time. If you think we might have similar taste, come find me HERE on Goodreads! I’d love to have more people’s reviews to follow on that site.

Runner Up List: Anything by Maggie Stiefvater. Because she writes about man-eating horses and faerie assassins and is totally going to slaughter John Green at street racing this year.

Shatter Me, by Tahereh Mafi– All other language walks, while hers pirouettes. I haven’t seen prose this creative since Charles Dickens.

Maybe Someday, by Colleen Hoover. I admit it, I admit it, the deaf musician and the fact that this book has a soundtrack left me with a bit of a literary crush.


If you’d like to be notified of new posts, enter your email below.






The Fault In Our Stars: Book vs Movie?

In case you’ve missed this cultural phenomenon entirely, The Fault in Our Stars by John Green is a book where two kids meet and fall in love in a cancer survivor support group. Trust me, I know. Just keep reading.

Fault_in_our_stars movie pic

Ahhhh! *gnashes teeth* This is a terribly hard one for me. The Fault in Our Stars has held firm (for years) to one of the hotly contested spots in my Top Five Favorite Books list.* And deservedly so. It’s tears-in-your-eyes funny, soggy-pile-of-tissues sad, and stare-in-jealousy-at-John-Green wise. This coming from a girl who refuses to read cancer books, and avoids sad books at all costs.

Of course that means I expected the movie to be terrible. Even if it wasn’t terrible, I certainly wouldn’t notice, because I would be busy snootily insisting that the book was Better, Prettier, Smarter, Bigger Busted and generally preferable in every way. I was well on the way to being vindicated when I heard about the casting. Ansel Elgort and Shailene Woodley? What? Weren’t they brother and sister in that Divergent movie? Ick! How are they supposed to be cancer kids in love? Especially since Elgort was about as interesting as a chunk of manure-clumped mud in Divergent. Don’t take my word for it. Let’s have a look at the evidence.

First Shailene Woodley in Divergent. A little vulnerable, but patently a badass:

Shailene in Divergent pic

And now, Ansel Elgort, her screen brother in Divergent.

Ansel Elgort in Divergent pic

I believe the word you’re looking for here is “Meh.”

So with that kind of chemistry to look forward to, you can see why I was hesitant to get excited. However, I didn’t give the proper amount of credit to the actors involved.

In the first scene, I ate all my words (and my husband ate most of my popcorn, because I was too enthralled to mount a proper defense). Ansel Elgort WAS Gus. He was charismatic, and flippant, and just way too damn charming for his own good. Then, the ballbusting Woodley dialed it back to an out-of-breath but still sarcastic teenager without an extra eyelash flutter of effort. Just LOOK at them together:

The Fault in Our Stars pic

So cute, right? This is the only example I’ve ever seen in a movie where romantic chemistry wasn’t a fact of nature, it was actually an artifact of Good Acting. Not the easiest thing to pull off.

So the love story was a total win onscreen. And another point for the movie: the Holland scenes were better. They were kind of long and weird in the book. I mean, come on, did Holland sponsor the making of this novel or something? Oh, what’s that you say? There was a fellowship involved, so kind of a little bit yes they did…Hmm, that makes lots of sense. Green’s amazing metaphors about life and death were clearer in the shorter form of a film, though they seemed even more wise when contained in the silent offering of typed words.

The movie did lose a point for me in its sense of humor. It was good, but the same jokes in the book were oddly not as funny on the silver screen. And my favorite scene in the book (The Night of the Broken Trophies! *All TFiOS fans stop to “Awwww” for a second*) was just not as good in the visual medium. Overall though, these were small details and I thought the movie stayed very true to the page. But then AGHHHH! The ending!

The ending left me shaking my fist and whispering furiously to my husband, because OF COURSE THEY BUTCHERED THE END! That’s what movies do, right? Somewhere at a conference table in Hollywood there are a ton of movie producers, doing the evil tappy fingers, drinking champagne, and dreaming up mediocre movie endings. I assure you, their hands impugned this (otherwise great) movie. Until the ending, it followed the book! It had fantastic acting! It gave us the horrific visuals of the truly sick! And then SLAPINTHEFACE they get to the ending speech, and it sucks. I went home and read the original ending—twice—and swore. And emailed my friends. Thus…

The Verdict…

Book. All the way. The movie was a great translation, way better than expected, but you should pause it three minutes from the end and go read the one in the book. It’s only fair.


Up next on Book vs Movie: The Hunger Games. Just kidding, I love all the Hunger Games movies. So there’s no point in doing a cage match there, unless you really really want one. Feel free to vote in the comments. Actually, I think I’ll do “If I Stay” by Gayle Forman, because it was a sneak-attack SOFREAKINGGOOD kind of book. But first, I think I will take a break to do a different kind of post…a SECRET kind of post.

*If you want to know WHAT those top five favorite books of mine are, stay tuned. I might be giving out a hint or two soon.

If you’d like to be notified of new posts, enter your email below.


1 Comment

Insurgent: Book vs. Movie

Oooh… *rubs hands together* We might draw some blood on this one, because both book and movie were enjoyable, and both had significant drawbacks.

For newbies, Insurgent is the second installment of the Divergent Trilogy, an action-filled dystopian trilogy that’s inspired a lot of love (and a lot of outraged shrieking) from its fans. It’s a post-apocalyptic world where the survivors are separated by values: honesty, bravery, etc. etc. Personally I thought “Ability to grow a potato” should have featured more prominently, alongside “Willingness to mate in a world without Clearasil” but hey! No one asked me.

Insurgent pic

On the page, Insurgent suffers from a near-terminal case of Mopey Girl Doing Nothing. It’s a disease that runs rampant in the genre, much like pink eye through a daycare. It afflicted the later books of Hunger Games in a similar fashion, but I’m happy to report like HG, the Insurgent movie producers left all that moping time in shreds on the cutting room floor.

I almost didn’t see Insurgent at all, because the preview was such a CGI extravaganza, and I’m not interested in watching two hours of green screen nonsense. Fortunately, that wasn’t what I got. The film version was a nearly mathematically perfect balance of romance, action and plot. The fight scenes were taut and enjoyable, and I only rarely rolled my eyes in that “This is a simulation, so why should I care?” kind of way.

In the book, there was a bit more emotional depth to the war and the stakes attached to it. In the movie, there was too much focus on opening this random magic box by passing what seemed like insanely easy simulations to show if Tris displayed the required qualities of Candor, Abnegation, Dauntless, Erudite, and…that other one. The nicey-nice hippie farm people one (not surprisingly, the hardest test for Tris. Apparently she needs a little more fair trade green tea before she can blend with the locals).

The Verdict:

Movie. I liked both, I loved neither, but the movie kept my attention longer.

Up Next on Book vs. Movie: The Fault in Our Stars (Ahh, I loved this book so much! I’m unworthy, I’m unworthy!)


If you’d like to be notified of new posts, enter your email below.

1 Comment

Paper Towns: Book or Movie?

I love movies. Just not…the movies they have been making. For about the last ten looong years. Which means I was squealingly excited when they started making all my favorite books into movies. The latest of those, a whip-smart John Green classic, is Paper Towns.

Paper Towns pic

Paper Towns is about this crazy chick who does lots of cool stuff, and the nerdy guy who loves her, and then learns a lesson about how harmful it is to oversimplify someone into a fantasy image.

The book was a triumph of charisma and nerdiness, leaving me giggling and flipping pages for the next clue. The movie, as it turns out, is a fantastic translation of everything that made the movie great. The book starts out with HELLO! Crazy Ninja girl coming in through a window! Who is this chick? In the film, Cara Delevingne manages to hang on to every bit of that charisma and mystery, while Nat Wolff perfectly captures Q’s slump-shouldered sweetness. John Green’s funniest lines translate better to film in this than in the otherwise beautiful “The Fault In Our Stars” film. This movie, like most of Green’s books, makes us nostalgic for being normal teenagers again—if teenagers were two notches smarter and one notch wittier than we ever were.

My favorite character in the whole movie was Ben, a painfully average looking chap who spends most of his time making up imaginary girlfriends from summer camp, his visit to his aunt’s house, the last time he went to the grocery store…pretty much every time he’s out of his friends’ sight for long enough to qualify for A Plausible Encounter with a Fantasy Girl. The actor has a gut-busting talent for looking like your cousin Melvin while deadpanning the word “honeybunnies.”

My one complaint was that the pacing was a touch off. In the book you get to really sink into the adventures of the roadtrip and the Night O’ Pranks. In the movie, they come off a little abbreviated.

The Verdict

The book wins, but in a photo finish. Overall, this was an absolute pleasure, one that makes me look forward to the upcoming cinematic version of “Looking For Alaska.”

Next up for my Book to Movie reviews: Insurgent (2nd installment in the Divergent Trilogy).


If you’d like to be notified of new posts, enter your email below.

Comments Off on Paper Towns: Book or Movie?