Christmas, circuses, and magic...
Hello, friends! First some news: in January I’m bringing back the “Meet the Author” series, and I’m super pumped about it! (honestly, I think I came up with the “Meet the Author” series just so I’d have an excuse to talk to talk to cool authors). I’ve also been working (more slowly than I’d like) on some short stories adjacent to You Again.
Second, Happy December! Are you in full-on Christmas mode? Are you welcoming the coming of winter? Are you doing your best to ignore the holiday hustle? Are you a seasonal or retail worker (or UPS driver like my brother-in-law) and counting down the days until you get to take a deep breath? Wherever you are today, I hope your treats and books are plentiful and you have as many naps as you desire.
What I’m reading...
Ocean at the End of the Lane, Neil Gaiman
I sometimes forget how much I love good magical realism, or books that straddle the line between magical realism and fantasy. The Ocean at the End of the Lane feels like a modern fairy tale or folk tale, but the kind that harkens back to the darkness of original fairy tales. It’s a lovely and weird story is about a child navigating some difficult changes in his family life, and who accidentally discovers that the world is not as cut and dried as he thought. There are mistakes that prove to be deadly, and you can feel the boy’s terror at what’s unfolding. Yet somehow, Gaiman gives just enough of a hint that it’s all going to turn out alright in the end. Good will triumph, although it may come at a cost. And ultimately, it’s about a young boy losing some of his innocence, but finding courage in the process.
In a Book Club Far Away, Tif Marcelo
I picked this book up on impulse at my local library. I love books about books, and liked the idea of reading a book with friendship at the heart of the story (are there just too few books about friendship? Or am I just not reading them?). The three main characters meet and become friends through a book club for military spouses. I liked seeing how this unique and often stressful situation (being a spouse to someone in the military) creates a unique and very strong bond between the women. While each woman had their own personal journey to go on in the book, the central story revolved around their friendship, a painful misunderstanding and rift, and the attempts of one of the trio to force the other two to repair their relationship. I wouldn’t say the book is a favorite (there was a little too much going on in some parts, and not enough in others), but it was a pleasant read.
Unmarriageable: A Novel, Soniah Kamal
Unmarriageable is a very faithful Pride and Prejudice retelling set in modern Pakistan, and also a spontaneous library find. I have to confess that Pride and Prejudice is one of my least favorite Jane Austen novels (the Bennett family is just SO ANNOYING), but I loved seeing the story as it relates to Pakistani culture. Much like Jane Austen’s novels make subtle (or not so subtle) commentary on class, family, women’s equality, and other social issues, Unmarriageable also deftly addresses socio-economic norms, family dynamics, feminism, the affects of colonialism, and education in a society that still maintains that a woman’s primary aim should be marriage and children. And the food! The descriptions of the food and clothes had me doing internet searches like crazy. There’s an Indo-Pakistani restaurant near me, and just thinking about the food in this book makes me want to go eat there right now.
Innkeeper series (numbers 2-4). Ilona Andrews
I mentioned the first book in this series (Clean Sweep) in my last newsletter, and subsequently blew through the next three books (for the record: I think my favorite to date is actually Sweep of the Blade, because there’s something about the somewhat magical human charming and disarming a feudal Vampire culture that just hit a sweet spot, I guess). Anyway, these books are fast, fun, action-packed, and have such creative world building. I was thrilled to discover the series isn’t over, but a little sad to see that there’s not currently a release date on the next one. (That’s not a complaint! This husband-and-wife writing duo are very prolific, it was just a teeny bit of a bummer).
Fabulous Freaks of Monsieur Beaumont, Kelli Stuart
This a story about outsiders, misfits, and learning to find value and worth in what’s on the inside. The setting is the sideshow of “freaks” in a circus in the late 19th century. Stuart paints a vivid picture in this novel, immersing the reader in the world of the traveling circus. There’s sadness and hope, villains and heroes, compelling characters, and a very satisfying ending.
What I’m listening to…
Hold Still (album) Taylor Leonhardt
This album hits all my singer-songwriter buttons. It’s beautiful, layered, and poignant. I’m listening to it on repeat even mixed in with my Christmas music.
Yasmin Williams (esp. Urban Driftwood)
If you ever enjoy listening to instrumental folk or acoustic guitar music, you have to give Yasmin Williams a try. It’s soothing and energizing at the same time. I like to listen to it when I’m writing, or when I’m cooking, or when I want to set a chill mood, or when I need some music but am full up on listening to words. Five stars.
Reading the Bible Responsibly, Josh Kingcade (podcast)
This is a really cool, short-form podcast in which the host takes less than ten minutes to break down something about the Bible. The idea is to challenge assumptions and take a closer look at the ways we read and interpret the Bible. I haven’t listened to all of the episodes, but those I have listened to have been really well done, and if nothing else provides some food for thought. (For context: the host comes from a fairly conservative Christian background and that definitely informs his interpretations, but his tone is open and curious).
Something I’m grateful for…
The stretch of the year between Thanksgiving and the New Year always makes me thankful for any time I get to spend with family and friends. I know I am blessed all the time, and more than I can say by the relationships in my life. It’s something I try to pause and really acknowledge during this season.
And in a different vein…I am really grateful for music. I know not everyone enjoys or connects with music, but I think my life would be so dull without music. So tell me: what’s in your ears right now? What are you playing on repeat and singing along to?
“The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift his countenance upon you and give you peace.” ~Numbers 6:24-26
I laughed a little when you mentioned the food in Unmarriageable because I remember it making me hungry! My family lived in India for a few years before I was born, so I'm sort of raised on Indian food and the dishes mentioned in the book kept making my mouth water 😂
When it comes to music I'm in a bit of a slump right now so thanks for the recommendations!