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Catherine House

Today’s book review is of Elisabeth Thomas’s debut novel Catherine House. I read this novel as an e-book, and the cover is so lovely and I liked the story so much that I am going to be buying a physical book for my collection.

I don’t care if I there isn’t enough room on my shelves for more books! It’s still not hoarding, agreed?

Elisabeth Thomas’s website says that Catherine House will “leave readers breathless”. But I felt something better: a hunger. I had a craving to keep reading this book, not necessarily because I was on the edge of my seat, but because I was rooted in place and the words were my sustenance. The weight of imagery and Ines’s almost apathetic despair and even the artistic terminology built a story that felt just right for me.

I read some reviews that said they felt like it got too slow, or that something was missing, but I guess for me, it didn’t feel that way because it felt how I feel. It was like reading about a dream I’ve had, or a memory I can’t quite place, and it was comforting.

My one-sentence review: It is a hauntingly beautiful story.

Ines is selected to attend Catherine House, an exclusive and very mysterious three-year college. At Catherine House, Ines takes typical college classes such as Intro to Philosophy or Intro to World Religions, and eventually concentration-specific classes such as Russian and Italian Futurisms (she decides to pursue art), but the school is anything but typical.

After Baby, her roommate, is sent into the tower as punishment, Ines and their friends learn that Baby has died. Baby was obsessed with/passionate about plasm, a substance that an entire concentration had been created around. Part of the book revolves around defining plasm and how it’s used, but the way it’s described as being a part of everything and tethering everything together reminded me of the moldy house in Mexican Gothic, where the mold attaches itself to people, rendering them unable to leave the premises.

Eventually, Ines is sent to the tower, and is faced with the gruesome decision to make Catherine House her permanent home.

Catherine House explores the consequences of what it’s like to be a player in a world where people want to play god.

While the story isn’t overtly sinister, it does raise a lot of moral questions, and the passages of time where Ines is either languishing or making the best of it each have a place in revealing important information. Ines’s days meld together, and I have gone through long periods of time like that, where one day doesn’t end and another begins but rather time is meaningless and you feel like you’re just going through motions and nothing matters. Sometimes it’s hard to see life getting better when you feel like you don’t deserve it or that it doesn’t matter in the end. So it spoke to me a lot in that way.

The descriptions of the school and grounds were vivid and intriguing. There was almost a magic to Catherine House that reminds me of secluded schools in other stories. It just seems dark and grand and fun, and maybe makes me miss college a little.

(Although my undergraduate degree is in hospitality management, and if I think of a way to spice that up for a gothic novel, maybe one day I’ll write it.)

Another aspect I liked about Catherine House was the way Thomas melded art and science. Elisabeth Thomas is actually an archivist at an art museum, so it’s really cool that she was able to incorporate this part of her life into the story. I do not have a lot of knowledge in the art world, but that didn’t detract from recognizing the way art is used to add depth to the story.

Have I convinced you to read Catherine House yet? Let me know in the comments!

To learn more about Elisabeth Thomas and Catherine House, visit Thomas’s website at Elisabeth Thomas (elisabeththomasbooks.com).

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Olga Dies Dreaming

About Olga Dies Dreaming
Olga Dies Dreaming by Xochitl Gonzalez is a whirlwind story centered around Olga and Prieto, the adult children of Puerto Rican visionaries whose lives are largely dictated by their parents despite their parents’ absences.

After their mother leaves them in the care of family to head a revolutionary group in Puerto Rico, they don’t see her for decades, only sporadically receiving letters from her that – to me – felt like words filled with poisoned love. When their father – an addict – dies, they are left with their grandmother, aunts and uncles, and cousins.

With memories of the past mixed with confusion about the future, Olga Dies Dreaming is a character-driven novel that demonstrates the power of choice and identity. How something looks on the outside is not always indicative of what’s going on under the surface.

Puerto Rico and Puerto Rican identity are key components of the book. Says Gonzalez in this article from Refinery29, “So far I’m just eager to start a conversation within, specifically the Puerto Rican community and, in general, amongst Latinxs and Latinas, especially, and even if they don’t like it, it’s cool to hear all the different takes on it, you know?”

The article also states, “Gonzalez’ debut speaks thoughtfully to the complicated and introspective diasporic experience, all while looking at how power structures can change a community, and the mixed feelings of pride and guilt that can come along with moving into a gentrified neighborhood.”

Characters
Olga Dies Dreaming is told from the points of view of Olga, Prieto, occasional letters from their mother, and a surprising third character, Richard, aka Dick.

Olga
Olga is a successful wedding business owner; she caters to the wealthy and finds herself in social circles that allow her to advance. She is afraid of love, thanks in part to her mother’s neglect. To be truly happy, her character undergoes quite the developmental journey

Prieto
Prieto is a politician, father, and queer man who is disinclined to reveal his true self for fear of becoming an outcast from his family, friends, and constituents. After some pivotal plot points that I will not reveal, he must decide once and for all what face he will present to the world.

An interesting point that Prieto makes is that he recognizes how his family never says anything negative about queer people, but they don’t exactly invite the concept either. From an early age, he was asked if he had any little girlfriends at school. How many adults ask kids that, but also say that talking to children about being something other than straight or cisgender is considered “sexualizing” your children? If we support something, we need to show it. We can’t assume other people will know what side we stand on.

Dick
Dick is the only white character whose point of view we read. For a time, he is Olga’s lover; eventually, his passion for her is eclipsed by his rage at not possessing her. To me, Dick is a symbol of a theme in the novel: that Puerto Rico is inhibited from standing on its own because the powers-that-be do not allow it to be so.

Blanca
Throughout the narrative, we see a glimpse into the mind of Blanca, Olga’s and Pietro’s mother, through letters she sends them. She seems quite sneaky in her attempts to belittle them. My sympathy for her is that I feel bad that she accepted a little too late that she didn’t want to be a mother. I don’t agree with her sending her family members twisted letters, all in an effort to somehow make them act out to prove themselves to her revolutionary cause.

Thoughts
When hurricanes strike Puerto Rico, people are left without water, food, medicine, power. It reminded me a lot of the feelings expressed in What Storm, What Thunder in the sense that help was supposed to be on the way, but didn’t come from the sources it was supposed to. It also speaks to the resiliency people show when community members group together to help one another.

Another thing I found interesting was the idea of having a namesake. There are two individuals named Olga, for whom Olga’s mother Blanca based the name choice on. One she sees as powerful and the other as more of a sellout. Do names and intentions have the power to shape our identities?

On a personal note, there is a section of the book that hit home for me about experiencing traumatic events and seeking help, even when you don’t feel like you’re worth it. It’s something I’m going through right now and it’s encouraging to read about. Normalize therapy!

Olga Dies Dreaming is a love story – for yourself, your family, and your identity.

A pilot has been shot for Hulu. Personally I’m hoping to see a release date sooner rather than later!

Follow Xochitl Gonzalez’s journey and learn more about her here:
Author website
Goodreads
Instagram
Olga Dies Dreaming

Trigger/content warnings for book: neglect, drug abuse/overdose, rape/assault, natural disasters/recovery, medical issues, and pregnancy-related issues

If you’re interested in learning more about PROMESA, I am not an expect but here are some links I found. I recommend you do your own search into PROMESA.
CNE
– Department of Labor Resources for Puerto Rico and Q+A
Here’s How PROMESA Aims to Tackle Puerto Rico’s Debt

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Everything’s Trash, but It’s Okay

If you appreciate quippy hashtags, you’ll like this book.

If you enjoy humor mixed in with your statistics, you’ll enjoy this book.

Everything’s Trash, but It’s Okay is Phoebe Robinson’s second essay collection (of three collections). Her first, You Can’t Touch My Hair, is more focused on what it’s like to be a black woman in America, while Everything’s Trash, but It’s Okay explores the life of an adult woman in terms of money, body image, feminism, work, and more.

Through hardships such as financial struggles and workaholism, to successes like meeting Bono and Oprah and building a podcast following, Phoebe Robinson shares stories that are relatable and humorous. There are a lot of pop culture references, and I definitely did not get a lot of them, however, for me that didn’t detract from the story.

In this post, I’ll explore a few themes from Everything’s Trash, but It’s Okay, and at the end of this blog, you’ll see a links to an excerpt from Don’t Sit on My Bed in Your Outside Clothes and to an apartment tour of Phoebe’s NYC home (because yes that is something I want to see and I think Phoebe would appreciate that).

Money and Work

In the chapters “Money Is a Trifling Heaux and Also Your BFF” and “You’re Not Curing Cancer (Unless You Are-Then Carry On, My Workaholic Son)”, Robinson talks about her financial woes and obsession with work. It’s no secret that in the United States how much money you make and what you do for a living are at the center of many conversations.

When meeting other people, one of the first things we ask is, “What do you do for a living?” Part of it is curiosity and finding something to talk about, but the other part is more subconscious – fitting your narratives together. If I’m a writer and I meet a CEO, am I supposed to feel intimidated, jealous, or awestruck? Or some other feeling altogether? Regardless of job title, many people are guilty of putting in way too many hours at work because it is part of our identity. In our system, workers contribute to society and everyone else is a burden. And things like vacations are pendulum swings – you take no vacation or one you can’t afford, no in-between. If you’re putting that vacation on a credit card, you may be hurting yourself even more. Not only do you end up working more because it’s an addiction, but you have to earn more money to pay off what you’ve spent, plus interest.

As Phoebe Robinson demonstrates, not everyone is perfect with money 100% of the time, and it made me feel better about the times I haven’t had my finances together. I never felt like I had someone I could talk to judgment-free about the things I was experiencing with money, especially after some *ish went down with my ex. It’s difficult to do, but the important part is seeking assistance and doing better in the future.

Complicity

If you read my post about What Storm, What Thunder, you may remember a section devoted to turning a blind eye to things. It comes up in Robinson’s book as well. When discussing the Women’s March, she says that those who were unable to attend could still make an impact in other ways, such as donations or being more vocal about women’s issues, “…and if you didn’t do that, then you clearly weren’t for the advancement of women. Rather you were silently complicit in keeping status quo or, worse, adamantly against women progressing.”

This notion of being silently complicit is not new. It is the same as turning a blind eye. If you aren’t actively trying to stop something, then you are okay with it happening because it’s not happening to you. We can amplify the voices of those who know what they’re talking about (instead of putting ourselves at the center of those narratives) and donate money to organizations that make an impact and live up to their claims.

Body Image

Robinson discusses her body in “I Was a Size 12 Once for Like Twenty-Seven Minutes” – a scary and taboo topic for many of us. In fact, unless we are disparaging or making jokes about our bodies, it seems like our bodies aren’t acceptable the way they are. Loving your body and showing it off is not “humble” or “proper”. Women in particular are conditioned from a young age that their bodies should be enjoyable for the male gaze. They are to be toned, tightened, curvy or small in the right places, unblemished. Basically, if you’re not always a work in progress, you’re trash.

I’m so tired of feeling like I have to tell total strangers that I just met that I’m trying to lose weight. In fact, I’m not even actively trying anymore. And it’s zero people’s business what my weight is anyway. After I separated from the military with worse body image than I joined with, I spent the last half of 2021 trying to accept my body the way it is right now regardless of what anyone wants it to, or thinks it should, look like. People disguising their hatred or disgust for someone’s body with unwanted advice or opinions to sound “helpful” is not a good disguise for said hatred and disgust.

When I was younger, I had a very slender friend who made a remark about how it’s not her fault that she can’t gain weight. And it was true – she could eat anything and it didn’t seem to matter. When Phoebe mentions how she suddenly finds herself at a size 12 after being a size 0, she recognizes that women who are usually a 12 or above may think “oh no boo hoo” – but Phoebe is totally right. It is horrifying to wake up one day and realize you don’t recognize your body. And that’s something that is not size-specific. It can strike any of us.

Robinson ends the chapter with, “Dare to do for yourself what Bridget [Jones from Bridget Jones’ Diary] couldn’t do: Look at yourself in the mirror and say, ‘I like myself just the way I am.'”

Life is too short to let people who want to dictate how you look or act be in your life and make decisions on your behalf. Or the people who want to take advantage of you, or the people who don’t want you to succeed.

And after reading this, I feel like I want to call her Pheebs. I would definitely give her a hug. I’d ask first, of course, but she seems like such a fun, warm person.

Phoebe Robinson’s latest book, Please Don’t Sit on My Bed in Your Outside Clothes, released in September 2021.

Learn more about Phoebe Robinson at these links:
Creator Website
Instagram
– Adapted essay from her 2021 book Please Don’t Sit on My Bed in Your Outside Clothes
– If you’re extra/obsessed like me, you’ll enjoy this photographic apartment tour of Phoebe’s and her S.O.’s home
– Entertainment Weekly article about Tiny Reparations Books


With micro-bites of discourse, Oak + River Books goes beyond a ratings system.



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Book Reviews

Coraline by Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman’s Coraline tells the story of a young girl named Coraline – adamantly not Caroline; people just can’t seem to get her name right!

Coraline Jones, along with her mother and father, move into an old, large house that’s been refurbished into apartments. The one next to the Jones’ apartment is empty, and the only thing connecting the two is a bricked-in doorway.

Cover of Coraline, a book by Neil Gaiman
My copy of Coraline, purchased from Thriftbooks

Discovering the doorway empty of bricks one time, Coraline goes through the passageway and enters an identical apartment on the other side – with an Other Mother with eyes of buttons waiting for her.

When the Other Mother kidnaps Coraline’s parents and Coraline finds the spirits of three children, she knows she must act, and fast.

Will Coraline be able to find the children’s souls and her parents, or will she be trapped with the Other Mother, ultimately having buttons sewn into her own eyes?

In the mist, it was a ghost-world. In danger? thought Coraline to herself. It sounded exciting. It didn’t sound like a bad thing. Not really.

The Other Mother, the beldam, is a unique and interesting beast. She craves attention and self-satisfaction – and is ruthless.

“I swear it,” said the other mother. “I swear it on my own mother’s grave.”
“Does she have a grave?” asked Coraline.
“Oh yes,” said the other mother. “I put here in there myself. And when I found her trying to crawl out, I put her back.”

As a rule, Coraline is brave not because she has no fear, but because she knows that bravery is the way to deal with fear. It doesn’t necessarily make you less afraid once you’re on the other side, but the outcome is worth the distress.

Gaiman’s descriptions of the cat throughout are also entertaining. “There was something irritatingly self-centered about the cat, Coraline decided. As if it were, in its opinion, the only thing in any world or place that could possibly be of any importance.” As a cat owner – Smokie, Kenneth, and Michael are their names – I know this to be true. But cats are always there for us when we really need them, as Gaiman deftly demonstrates.

I love the movie Coraline, as well. I have taken many naps while Coraline played in the background, and have played it at night to help me fall asleep. An unusual comfort item, perhaps, but I know I’m not alone.

Coraline resonates with a lot of people.

Neil Gaiman has mentioned in interviews that readers young and old love Coraline’s bravery. For me, more than the courage-in-face-of-fear element of the story, I love its weirdness. It makes me feel like my weirdness is okay – like that episode of Friends where Phoebe gets married and Mike, her fiancée, says that she is so “wonderfully weird”. I love anything that makes me feel like I’m loved for being wonderfully weird.

Having now read the book and seen the movie, I can say that I like the changes they made for the movie. Adding the character Wybie gave the plot an extra something, especially since they had one of the spirit kids be his grandmother’s long-lost sister.

I also loved how the secondary characters/other apartment residents – Mr. Bobo, Miss Forcible, and Miss Spink – were brought to life.

To learn more about Neil Gaiman and his works, visit his author website, and as always, check out Goodreads.

Let me know in the comments what your favorite Neil Gaiman story is!

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The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware

Can you tell I’m on a Ruth Ware kick?

The first Ruth Ware novel I read was The Death of Mrs. Westaway, then In a Dark, Dark Wood, followed by The Woman in Cabin 10, and finally The Turn of the Key.

Ware’s books present just the right amount of description without being mundane, and nowhere is that as important as it is in The Turn of the Key. If too many details are revealed, the jig is up. Coupled with the dialogues, the overall feelings of helplessness yet utter determination are intoxicating.

The Turn of the Key tells the story of Rowan, new live-in nanny to three young children. Right in the beginning of her post – literally the second day she is there – the parents, Sandra and Bill, leave town for work. When Bill is pulled away to Dubai, Sandra cannot return as early as she originally planned.

Rowan befriends the maintenance man, Jack; meanwhile the housekeeper, Jean, is quite unpleasant towards her, adding to her distress in the house.

An interesting aspect of The Turn of the Key is that the entire thing is written as letters from our main character, who is in jail awaiting trial for the murder of one of the children, to someone she hopes will be her defense attorney.

She hopes that by revealing the truth to him, she will be absolved of guilt in at least the eyes of the law, for she will never be free of the blood that is on her hands.

In her letters, she reveals that previous nannies hired by the family didn’t stay long, possibly succumbing to stories of hauntings or worse. The murderer of an 11-year-old girl died at the home in the 70s had never been brought to light; it’s possible it was a genuine accident. Throughout, our letter-writer maintains her innocence even as she sympathizes with the girl’s nanny, who quit a couple months before the incident.

What future was there for a nanny whose child had died in her care, after all? A very bleak one indeed.

As the letters progress, we learn more about the inner workings of the house – which is described as an unfortunate (and not eclectic) mix of traditional architecture and modern smart home.

There was a strange feeling of split identity too – as though the house was trying hard to be one thing, while Sandra and Bill pulled it relentlessly in the other direction, chopping off limbs, performing open-heart surgery on its dignified old bones, trying to make it into something against its own will – something it was never meant to be, modern and stylish and slick, where it wanted to be solid and self-effacing.

Sandra and Bill own an architecture company together. We read a mention of vernacular architecture, which utilizes materials from the area of construction in the building. It isn’t necessarily important to the plot as far as I can tell, but the design of the house is.

While Rowan does not have access to all the features of the smart home app, her physical realm is only limited by one locked door – and it’s in her bedroom.

After a couple nights, she can no longer bear the creaking footsteps coming from above her at night. She enlists Jack to help open the door, and although they don’t discover a secret stowaway in the attic, what they do find is a burden in itself: gruesome writing on the walls, a dead bird, and old children’s toys.

There was something… not quite powerful, but at least an illusion of control in holding the key in my own hands. That door was locked. And only I had the power to unlock it.

Will the truth be enough to set her free? You’ll have to see for yourself.

While reading, I was reminded of The Haunting of Hill House (haunted house, writing on the walls) and The Haunting of Bly Manor (nanny watches over creepy children and falls for maintenance person/groundskeeper/etc). These spooky things are quickly becoming my creature comforts.

Learn more about Ruth Ware at her website!

Until next time, friends


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The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware

Secrets and lies come together quite swimmingly in this chilling tale.

The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware is a suspenseful mystery about a woman named Lo Blacklock, a journalist who ends up with passage on a brand-new, sleek 10-cabin luxury liner called the Aurora.

Right away, Lo is thrown off when she borrows some mascara from her neighbor, the woman in cabin 10, only to later learn that the room is vacant.

When she awakes in the night to realize that someone has been thrown overboard from the balcony of cabin 10, no one believes her.

Will Lo be able to convince the other passengers before the killer strikes again?

First of all, how about that textured cover? I am a sucker for a nice cover and I won’t bother denying it.

Lo’s character is desperate to prove her mettle as a writer and move up in the journaling ranks. Even after she’s injured when her apartment is burgled, she refuses to back down.

After witnessing what she believes is a murder – a woman thrown overboard – Lo resolves to solve the mystery herself when no believes her. When a couple others learn of her recent burglary, suspicion is cast her way that she’s overreacting or it’s all in her head.

Coupled with the pre-existing dislike of small spaces, and the dimness cast by the Aurora that occasionally reminded me of the third-class and servant areas from Titanic, it’s a wonder that Lo went digging at all. She even described the flotation device in the ship’s spa as a “sealed plastic coffin full of water”. My feelings are not dissimilar…

The ominous warnings she receives telling her to stop meddling only spur her intentions to find the killer before they can strike again.

I darted back into the room, slamming the French windows behind me, and checked the cabin door was double-locked. Then I put the chain across. My heart was thumping in my chest, but I felt calm, calmer than I had in ages.
This was it. This was real danger, and I was coping.

Chapter 10, The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware

Adding to the tension is her relationship with her boyfriend, who is unable to get ahold of Lo during her trip.

The use of nature in this book is great. The Aurora is in the Black Sea, which is cold, dark, and menacing. Until they dock at a port, the passengers and crew are utterly alone.

And when you’re all alone, anything can happen.

Fans of The Woman in Cabin 10 will also enjoy The Sanatorium by Sarah Pearse! While The Sanatorium takes place at a snowed-in luxury ski hotel, these stories invoke the feelings of claustrophobia and being trapped with no way out.

To learn more about Ruth Ware, please check out the following sites:

Drop the title of your favorite suspense story in the comments!

Special Guests

A Clan of Wolves and Author Q+A

Emma Steinbrecher makes her author debut with the high fantasy duology A Clan of Wolves.

A Clan of Wolves begins the story with Ingrid – a powerful witch in hiding – alone in a destroyed house. With no friends and family, Ingrid must fend for herself.

There was no other motivation out in those woods. There was nothing to live for other than the fear of death.

a clan of wolves

When she encounters and is captured by a clan of wolves, lessons in love, life, and loss abound. After a series of events lead her and the clan leader Cason to fall for each other, Ingrid is received with mixed feelings from Cason’s crew. Together, they formulate a plan to take down a power-hungry witch – who happens to be Ingrid’s aunt.

In A House of Witches, Cason and Ingrid must deal with the aftermath of their failed attempt to assassinate Izina, an Overseer of the witch houses. Their friend Sophie makes the ultimate sacrifice by exchanging her shifting ability for assistance from the goddess Artemis. Eventually, Ingrid and Cason also team up with witches from the Dark House and the Fire House to try to finish Izina once and for all.

Above it all, Ingrid’s life is at steak no matter what. In A Clan of Wolves, Ingrid and Cason are imprisoned in Izina’s dungeon, so Ingrid makes a deal with the dead souls trapped there that she will kill Izina, but if she doesn’t before two months’ time, the souls will claim her. How do you know what choices to make when your life is on the line?

A Clan of Wolves and A House of Witches are told from a multi-POV perspective. The characters are passionate and eager, and the secondary characters’ chapters add to the world-building.

Ingrid’s memories bring depth to her character; she is in a dark place mentally and emotionally. With Cason’s support, she is able to grow into her power and make a new life for herself.

Death is the huntress that prowls under the light of the moon, seeking souls to claim and devour. Death is the whispering voices that echo through the night, begging witches to answer the call.

a house of witches

I first saw Emma Steinbrecher on a social media platform and was drawn to the duology’s book covers. After learning about the animosity between the wolf-shifters and witches, I was eager to see if the two groups could form some kind of alliance.

Full of dark undertones and women owning their power, this duology played like a movie in my head.

Read on to learn how the story got started, what Emma does in her spare time, and what we can look forward to next.

Q+A

content warning for q+a: depression

Q. What prompted you to begin writing the A Clan of Wolves duology?
A. I actually started writing A Clan of Wolves a year ago. I was driving to work sometime in the middle of December, and I thought of the idea during my commute while listening to music. Everything kind of took off from there, and the first draft was done in about a month. I was listening to the Evermore Album that Taylor Swift released, and the song Evermore was where the idea came from.

Q. Did you always know it would be a duology? 
A. I knew it would be at least two books, but I didn’t know if it would stretch beyond that. Once I had the second book, A House of Witches, planned out, I knew that would be the last one. When I first started it, I didn’t really know exactly where it was going. I will say that anything longer than a Duology intimidated me as a first-time author.

Q. Some parts of the story brought the main character, Ingrid, to a dark place, and her memories were some of my favorite parts to read. What was it like for you to write about someone who is dealing with trauma? 
A. The easy answer would be to say that I did a lot of research and tried to get into character while writing, but that wouldn’t be the honest answer. I had depression during my pregnancy with my son, and it lingered afterward as I tried to pull myself out of that hole. I work as a third-grade teacher, and people don’t realize how much of a performance teaching is. You are expected to be everything for everyone, and you have to be “on” all day. I was then coming home to my son, whom I LOVE, but I really struggled to share any of the challenges I was facing. I’m not someone who shares my innermost thoughts with others, and I’m actually very closed off. I think attaching some of the emotions I was having to a character that really wasn’t anything like me was very healing. I just multiplied the emotions by making the situations more traumatic.

Q. Are there any plans for more stories with these characters or in this world? Possibly any prequels? 
A. I have been toying around with the idea of a Kai novella. Originally, I was going to include his POV throughout the story but cut all of his chapters pretty quickly. I have a really good plan for that, but I’m not sure when I would get to it. I’m currently working on a separate trilogy, and I have a completed outline for an Epic Fantasy novel. 

Q. What were your favorite scenes and characters to write about? 
A. I had a huge heart for Lucas and his story. I was obsessed with the scenes between Lucas and Alana in the cave, and I really loved the dynamic between the two. He was originally supposed to end up with another character, but I scrapped that idea. I then changed who he would end up with about ten times before I settled on the ending. I just loved them so much. No spoilers here, but my love for them really showed in the end.

        As for just characters, Azar was by far the most fun character I have ever written. She is just so close to crazy that it was fun. I wrote a scene where she licks a knife for pretty much no reason other than intimidating people. She was just a character you could get really wild with.

Q. In your duology, witchcraft combines with ancient goddesses. Did you have to do a lot of research or are witchcraft and mythology topics you’ve always been interested in? 
A. I had to research almost everything! I actually really enjoyed this part, but I’m pretty sure whatever FBI agent watches my Google history was having a panic attack daily while I was writing. Googling the aftermath of being suffocated probably set off some alarms.

Q. What does your writing practice look like? (Do you have a special place or certain music you listen, etc) 
A. I listen to a lot of music while I write. This really helps me envision what I want the tone of the scene to be. For example, I mentioned Evermore inspiring a lot of A Clan of Wolves. The song is incredibly reflective, and I think that came across in Ingrid’s character and the way the story was told.

            I am a big planner though. I will get an idea, and write out an outline so I know how we are getting from A to B. Before I write a chapter, I will outline it with very confusing notes and a bunch of dialogue. This makes writing the actual chapter go so much faster. I also want to know the goal of the chapter before I get into it. Is the chapter serving to develop a relationship between two characters, provide more depth with a character’s back story or development, push the plot forward, or build on the world I’ve created? I need to know the purpose before I begin, or I get lost in the sauce.

         As for special location or time, I just write when I can at home. I usually write in the evenings when my son is in bed.

Q. What do you like to do when you’re not reading and writing? 
A. I love going on hikes through the forest with my son, Silas. Those long walks have been my favorite, and occasionally my husband will join us. I also enjoy painting, archery, and the occasional hyper fixation hobby (making soap, making paper, crocheting, gardening, etc.). 

Q. What is your favorite genre to read? 
A. I really enjoy epic fantasy. I actually greatly enjoy very political plotlines with a lot of scheming, blackmailing, and a sprinkle of dragons. At least that’s what I’ve been in the mood for recently. I’ll read pretty much anything.

Q. What are your reading and writing goals for 2022? 
A. I think I’m going to stick with my fifty-book reading goal this year since I was successful in 2021, and I’m all about being realistic. I’m such a mood reader that it really depends on what is going on, but I’m incredibly excited for the sequel to Fortune of Emerald and Salt by Monroe A. Wildrose, every single book K.S. Villoso has ever even considered writing, and, of course, the next Crescent City book. 

Q. And lastly, what are you currently reading?
A. I’m currently reading the seventh Zodiac Academy book. I’m really rather unhinged and am certain the ending will be brutal and painful. Caroline Peckham is somewhat sadistic in the way she ends her books. Either way, I am thoroughly enjoying myself, and I would do absolutely anything for Lance Orion. 

Many thanks to Emma Steinbrecher for being today’s special guest! You can follow her journey on:
Instagram
TikTok
Goodreads
Linktree (head here for a bonus chapter with Kai’s POV)

Content warning for duology: death, murder, captivity, depression/PTSD

If you or anyone you know is struggling or has concerns about their mental health, check out these resources listed on the National Institute of Mental Health website. An internet search of resources will also yield results specific to your local area.

Special Guests

Ricochet Day & Q+A with Noel Silvia

Everything we do, even the smallest of things, matters.”

With Ricochet Day, author Noel Silvia delivers another sweeping tale of the interconnectedness of humankind.

The stories we tell, the memories we collect, and the encounters we share with others reach farther than we can imagine.

The further you delve into Ricochet Day, the more the characters become intertwined. In this regard, it is similar to Silvia’s first novel Where Light Enters: A Novel of Hope.

Fans of Where Light Enters can look forward to another story of characters searching for optimism among less-than-ideal circumstances, and ultimately maintaining hope through it all.

How often do we think about what is coincidence and what is fate? Does it make a difference in how you treat yourself and those around you? Ricochet Day allows us to explore this through the lens of its various characters throughout a 24-hour period on a fateful San Francisco day.

Thanks in part to the flow and variety of characters, I found Ricochet Day to be a relatively quick read. I like to compare novels by the same author – what is similar, is there a new theme? (Stay tuned for my next review about two of Ruth Ware’s novels where I discuss exactly this.)

Read on for a Q+A with Noel Silvia to learn more about his writing process and new novel, Ricochet Day.

Author Links
Goodreads
Amazon

“… I’m saying that it’s all connected. Everything builds from what came before it. Everyone inspires those around them.”

Q+A

Q. As with your first novel Where Light Enters, your sophomore release has been a labor of love. What inspired you to write about this particular day?

A. After the first book, which deals with some pretty heavy themes, I wanted to write a more joyful book, and for me, San Francisco is a city that holds so many happy memories. It’s the biggest little city in the country, with so much history and culture, that it was hard for me to not fall in love with it when I moved there in the late ‘90s. 

Having grown up in California during the ‘80s, what happened on this day was one of those “Where were you when…” big events that stands out. It isn’t the event of the day that inspired me to pick this day so much as it is the people who lived there then and now. The Bay Area has seen so much tragedy throughout its history, but it is such a resilient place because of the people who make it their own. I love themes of contrast, such as light versus dark in the first book, and here, I wanted to really explore the choices people made on that day to choose hope in the face of adversity and disaster.

Q. The primary theme that everyone is connected by even the smallest actions is apparent throughout. Can you talk a little more about the secondary themes, such as truth in the chapter “Mokita”?

A. The second major theme is temptation and what we do when tempted. Do we choose the right thing or the easy thing? Do we choose the simple path or the path of honesty? This theme goes back to the old expression that there are three sides to every story: yours, mine, and the truth. The truth is so subjective, as everyone’s “story” is true from their POV. We often only see things how we want to see them, rather than how they actually are.

“Mokita” gets its title from the word in Kivila (spoken in Papua New Guinea) that roughly translates to “the truth we all know, but don’t talk about” .The closest idiom we have in English would be “the elephant in the room”. [Learn more here.] As a chapter, I wanted to explore what happens when we dance around the things we feel, and how not being honest about those things can lead to disaster. It’s easy for us to brush the truth aside, or expect others to “clean up our messes”, but at the end of the day, we need to be honest with ourselves and each other, as we never know how much time we have on this planet. “The truth will set us free”, and I tried to show that message thematically with various characters throughout the novel.

Q. You utilized hour-by-hour and person-by-person chapters while still presenting quite the cohort of secondary characters. How did the process of developing these characters compare to the characters of Where Light Enters?

A. The process was the complete opposite to Where Light Enters. In that book, I started with the characters and grew the stories out from there. I knew where I wanted them to end up, but I let their personalities lead the way. With Ricochet Day, it was a challenge because I knew that I only had a limited amount of time (a chapter or two) with each character to nail their characterizations, motivations, and unique quirks.

I started by making a list of the different themes and messages I wanted to explore in individual chapters, and from there, I thought about what types of characters would inhabit these spaces and scenes. Many of the characters are amalgamations of real-life people that I’ve known, and actual events pulled from my life, so that made it easier to give them a voice and context.

The fun part came when I got to arrange them in order, figuring out which theme best led into the other in a way that would make sense narratively and was still fun and engaging to read. There were some struggles, but once it clicked, I knew it was right and had to trust my instinct.

Q. What have you learned about the writing, publishing, and marketing processes that you’d like to share with other writers?

A. On writing – Know how to take feedback when it’s constructive, and don’t be afraid to scrap what isn’t working. Chapters like “Mokita” and “Ode to Emily” went through numerous versions (not just drafts) before I was able to settle on something that made sense.

On publishing – No matter how many times you write and review the same chapter over and over again, you’ll always miss things (comma here, quotation mark there). It’s stressful but trust that if you tell a good story, the reader will understand because it’s an independent thing and you don’t have the resources of a big publishing house. Plus, you can always re-upload corrected versions and tell those who bought the earlier version of the books with the typos that they now own a limited first-print edition!

On marketing – I’m still trying to figure this out. Going through Amazon KDP, there are avenues to explore, so do what I haven’t done yet and take the time to figure these out.

Q. It’s evident that you really enjoyed writing the chapter about Gabriela and Sprinkles. Have you given any thoughts to writing a children’s story? 

A. Absolutely. I have several ideas for children’s books, and I foresee more adventures for Gabriela, Sprinkles, Horatio, and Gregory in the future. The Feathered Council [you’ll learn what that is when you read!] has plans for the children in their futures.

Q. What are you currently reading?

A. I am currently reading Parenting Your LGBTQ+ Teen by Allan Sadac, as it is a great resource for things I never thought about when writing about non-hetero-normative individuals. My next book, Your Pretty Self, deals with themes of beauty and how it affects women. As a CIS male, it is incombant upon me to learn as much as I can about the issues surrounding this topic so that I can be as accurate and responsible as I can. It’s no different than when I was writing about the Battle of Monte Cassino; I start with research and find the stories buried in the history and issues.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

Thank you to Noel Silvia for contributing to today’s post.

Book Reviews

Fifty Words for Rain by Asha Lemmie

Fifty Words for Rain is at once achingly sad and poetically beautiful. I love a heart-wrenching plot and complex characters, and Asha Lemmie delivers in one sweep with her debut novel. Prepare to get lost in the range of emotions you’ll feel at every turn. Whether it’s friendship, siblinghood, parenthood, hope, or survival, there is a theme in Fifty Words for Rain that will speak to your heart.

Fifty Words for Rain tells the tale of a young girl named Nori who goes to live with her grandparents – only to be forced into the attic and punished for things beyond her control.

In a world where she is to be neither seen nor heard to save face for her highly esteemed family, Nori eventually finds an ally in her brother Akira.

Akira shows Nori new possibilities that Nori had previously been denied. As Nori learns more from her brother about the outside world, it becomes harder and harder to return to the isolation of the attic.

Throughout many ups and downs, Nori’s adoration for Akira blossoms into a love that transcends both of their circumstances and leads to daring and courageous acts.

After a lifetime of suffering, Nori feels like a shell of her former self. Although the siren call of death can be disguised as an endearing temptress, Nori must persevere to protect herself and her loved ones. When motherhood presents itself, Nori’s harsh reality becomes even more evident.

Throughout life we make many choices, some big and others small, but all can have lasting impacts on other people. Nori must eventually come to terms with her choices, especially when it comes to love. Will she have room in her heart for more than one person?

As a single mother, I think about this issue sometimes. One day if “true love” presents itself again, how will I balance it with the love of my child? Can’t the love of your sibling or your child or your parent also be true love, just in a different way? Love is multi-faceted.

Nori’s journey is deep and devoted. There were times when I was overcome with sadness or anger and literally had to put this book down to compose myself.

Asha Lemmie has proven herself an expert at eliciting emotion. The only thing you could regret is not reading this book!

Learn more about Asha Lemmie and Fifty Words for Rain at her website.

Book Reviews

The Midnight Library by Matt Haig

CW/TW: depression, suicide, death

Nora Seed is trapped – in the Midnight Library.

Matt Haig’s latest novel The Midnight Library tells the story of a woman named Nora, who finds herself in the ultimate position between choice and fear of the unknown.

After a series of events leaves Nora feeling despondent, unwanted, and more alone than ever, she finds herself in the Midnight Library.

This library is like limbo, the place between your physical existence and your final resting place.

Its librarian is none other than Nora’s former school librarian, Mrs. Elm. Some of Nora’s most memorable childhood moments occurred with Mrs. Elm.

I purchased The Midnight Library at the Minneapolis-St Paul airport and absolutely devoured it. This phrase is old hat but it’s true: I could not put it down!

In the Library, each book represents a different life Nora could have led. There are infinite possibilities.

All you have to do is pick one and it pulls you into the story of What Might Have Been. And you can try out more than one.

The smallest decision have deep consequences. How would you feel if you found yourself in such a library? How do you even begin to choose or guess what life would make you the happiest?

Will Nora find happiness? Will she even make it out alive? Will she pick a new life to live?

No spoilers here!

Stylistically, this book is easy to read. The language is straightforward while remaining engaging and the chapters are short. I’ve found the older I get, shorter chapters are better for keeping my attention span – they seem to keep the flow going better.

The supporting characters have unique personalities and all serve the story well.

Very importantly, The Midnight Library is emotional. Nora’s feelings of aloneness and despair are very real. My desire for Nora’s situation to improve was compounded by the fact that I so badly wanted her to feel better.

I connect easily to books that are tinged – or in some cases, saturated – with sadness. If you’re like me, you may cry at least once while reading this story.

Don’t get me wrong. This book is more than sadness.

The Midnight Library represents hope and overcoming the dark places our minds can take us. Happiness doesn’t just magically appear because we think we did everything right or everything that we were supposed to. It is cultivated. It is crafted. It is built piece by piece from all the ways that we give ourselves grace and love and extend them to others.

Have you read The Midnight Library or any of Matt Haig’s other works? Drop a comment below!

A master of inciting emotion, if the rest of Matt Haig’s books are like this one, I can’t wait to read more. Learn more about Matt and his other works at his website.

If you or anyone you know is struggling or has concerns about their mental health, check out these resources listed on the National Institute of Mental Health website. Domestic violence resources can be found at the Hotline. An internet search of resources will also yield results specific to your local area.