September TBR

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September is here! And with a new month, I have a new TBR list, which you can read about below!

If you are interested in any of these books, had strong feelings about any of them, or could recommend other books that I should add to my TBR list, I’d love to hear from you in the comments!

Here’s to you, friend. Do what you love.


The Family Fang | Kevin Wilson

Amazon | Audible | HarperCollins

Mr. and Mrs. Fang called it art.

Their children called it mischief.

Performance artists Caleb and Camille Fang dedicated themselves to making great art. But when an artist’s work lies in subverting normality, it can be difficult to raise well-adjusted children. Just ask Buster and Annie Fang. For as long as they can remember, they starred (unwillingly) in their parents’ madcap pieces. But now that they are grown up, the chaos of their childhood has made it difficult to cope with life outside the fishbowl of their parents’ strange world.

When the lives they’ve built come crashing down, brother and sister have nowhere to go but home, where they discover that Caleb and Camille are planning one last performance–their magnum opus–whether the kids agree to participate or not. Soon, ambition breeds conflict, bringing the Fangs to face the difficult decision about what’s ultimately more important: their family or their art.

Filled with Kevin Wilson’s endless creativity, vibrant prose, sharp humor, and keen sense of the complex performances that unfold in the relationships of people who love one another, The Family Fang is a masterfully executed tale that is as bizarre as it is touching.


The Book of Speculation | Erika Swyler

Amazon | Audible | Macmillan

Simon Watson, a young librarian, lives alone in a house that is slowly crumbling toward the Long Island Sound. His parents are long dead. His mother, a circus mermaid who made her living by holding her breath, drowned in the very water his house overlooks. His younger sister, Enola, ran off six years ago and now reads tarot cards for a traveling carnival.

One June day, an old book arrives on Simon’s doorstep, sent by an antiquarian bookseller who purchased it on speculation. Fragile and water damaged, the book is a log from the owner of a traveling carnival in the 1700s, who reports strange and magical things, including the drowning death of a circus mermaid. Since then, generations of “mermaids” in Simon’s family have drowned–always on July 24, which is only weeks away.

As his friend Alice looks on with alarm, Simon becomes increasingly worried about his sister. Could there be a curse on Simon’s family? What does it have to do with the book, and can he get to the heart of the mystery in time to save Enola?

In the tradition of Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants, Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus, and Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian, The Book of Speculation–with two-color illustrations by the author–is Erika Swyler’s moving debut novel about the power of books, family, and magic.


The Regional Office is Under Attack! | Manuel Gonzales

Amazon | Audible | Penguin Random House

In a world beset by amassing forces of darkness, one organization—the Regional Office—and its coterie of super-powered female assassins protects the globe from annihilation. At its helm, the mysterious Oyemi and her oracles seek out new recruits and root out evil plots. Then a prophecy suggests that someone from inside might bring about its downfall. And now, the Regional Office is under attack.

Recruited by a defector from within, Rose is a young assassin leading the attack, eager to stretch into her powers and prove herself on her first mission. Defending the Regional Office is Sarah—who may or may not have a mechanical arm—fiercely devoted to the organization that took her in as a young woman in the wake of her mother’s sudden disappearance. On the day that the Regional Office is attacked, Rose’s and Sarah’s stories will overlap, their lives will collide, and the world as they know it just might end.

Weaving in a brilliantly conceived mythology, fantastical magical powers, teenage crushes, and kinetic fight scenes, The Regional Office Is Under Attack! is a seismically entertaining debut novel about revenge and allegiance and love.


A Gathering of Shadows | V.E. Schwab

(Shades of Magic Series, Book 2)

Amazon | Audible | Tor (Excerpt Only)

Four months have passed since the shadow stone fell into Kell’s possession. Four months since his path crossed with Delilah Bard. Four months since Rhy was wounded and the Dane twins fell, and the stone was cast with Holland’s dying body through the rift, and into Black London.

In many ways, things have almost returned to normal, though Rhy is more sober, and Kell is now plagued by his guilt. Restless, and having given up smuggling, Kell is visited by dreams of ominous magical events, waking only to think of Lila, who disappeared from the docks like she always meant to do. As Red London finalizes preparations for the Element Games—an extravagent international competition of magic, meant to entertain and keep healthy the ties between neighboring countries—a certain pirate ship draws closer, carrying old friends back into port.

But while Red London is caught up in the pageantry and thrills of the Games, another London is coming back to life, and those who were thought to be forever gone have returned. After all, a shadow that was gone in the night reappears in the morning, and so it seems Black London has risen again—and so to keep magic’s balance, another London must fall.


Uprooted | Naomi Novik

Amazon | Audible | Penguin Random House

“Our Dragon doesn’t eat the girls he takes, no matter what stories they tell outside our valley. We hear them sometimes, from travelers passing through. They talk as though we were doing human sacrifice, and he were a real dragon. Of course that’s not true: he may be a wizard and immortal, but he’s still a man, and our fathers would band together and kill him if he wanted to eat one of us every ten years. He protects us against the Wood, and we’re grateful, but not that grateful.”

Agnieszka loves her valley home, her quiet village, the forests and the bright shining river. But the corrupted Wood stands on the border, full of malevolent power, and its shadow lies over her life.

Her people rely on the cold, driven wizard known only as the Dragon to keep its powers at bay. But he demands a terrible price for his help: one young woman handed over to serve him for ten years, a fate almost as terrible as falling to the Wood.

The next choosing is fast approaching, and Agnieszka is afraid. She knows—everyone knows—that the Dragon will take Kasia: beautiful, graceful, brave Kasia, all the things Agnieszka isn’t, and her dearest friend in the world. And there is no way to save her.

But Agnieszka fears the wrong things. For when the Dragon comes, it is not Kasia he will choose.


Vicious | V.E. Schwab

Amazon | Audible | Macmillan

A masterful tale of ambition, jealousy, desire, and superpowers.

Victor and Eli started out as college roommates—brilliant, arrogant, lonely boys who recognized the same sharpness and ambition in each other. In their senior year, a shared research interest in adrenaline, near-death experiences, and seemingly supernatural events reveals an intriguing possibility: that under the right conditions, someone could develop extraordinary abilities. But when their thesis moves from the academic to the experimental, things go horribly wrong.

Ten years later, Victor breaks out of prison, determined to catch up to his old friend (now foe), aided by a young girl whose reserved nature obscures a stunning ability. Meanwhile, Eli is on a mission to eradicate every other super-powered person that he can find—aside from his sidekick, an enigmatic woman with an unbreakable will. Armed with terrible power on both sides, driven by the memory of betrayal and loss, the archnemeses have set a course for revenge—but who will be left alive at the end?

In Vicious, V. E. Schwab brings to life a gritty comic-book-style world in vivid prose: a world where gaining superpowers doesn’t automatically lead to heroism, and a time when allegiances are called into question.

Creativity (noun)

Creativity (n): the use of the imagination or original ideas, especially in the production of an artistic work.

Recently, I have been listening to Elizabeth’s Gilbert’s Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear on audiobook. Because of this, I’ve been considering “the cult of artistic martyrdom.” I believe that with this phrase, Gilbert perfectly summarizes this phenomenon of how current culture views artists and their craft. Seemingly, all artist must suffer so that they may create good art. I, along with Gilbert, think this is neither an accurate nor healthy outlook to have on the creative life, especially since I want so desperately to live one.

But what does the creative life look like?

I believe that it is not any one thing, because it is by nature creative. This life looks different from person to person. Except for this fact: each and every creative person is doing what they love.

And Gilbert goes one step further to suggest that the creative person’s work loves them as much as they love it. And I love that thought.

Gilbert supports her theory with this reasoning:

“I have chosen to believe that a desire to be creative was encoded into my DNA for reasons I will never know, and that creativity will not go away from me unless I forcibly kick it away or poison it dead. … If destiny didn’t want me to be a writer, I figure, then it shouldn’t have made me one.

My DNA is unalterably encoded so that I must write and read voraciously. If I am not doing either, then I am not entirely happy. Now, I’m not saying that my happiness depends solely on these activities. Rather, I am saying that I am not absolutely myself if I do not read or write for at least a few minutes every day. If I stop either of these activities, I can feel the difference in my daily disposition.

Gilbert terms this daily choice to be a creative individual as “stubborn gladness.” No matter what comes – the good, the bad, and the ugly – she chooses to move forward with stubborn gladness. Which is to say, no matter what, Liz Gilbert is thankful to do what she loves.

I find that to be inspiring. I too want to write daily with stubborn gladness, come what may. I may never write a bestselling novel. I may never even be a published author. But I shall always be a creative individual who loves to write.

So let me end with the words that inspired me, with hopes that they’ll inspire you too.

“I don’t ever choose to believe that I’ve been completely abandoned in the creative wilderness or that there’s reason for me to panic about my writing. I choose to trust that inspiration is always near by, the whole time I’m working, trying its damnedest to impart assistance. It’s just that inspiration comes from another world, you see, and it speaks a language entirely unlike my own, so sometimes we have trouble understanding each other. But inspiration is still sitting right there beside me and it is trying, inspiration is trying, to send me message in every form it can.

Here’s to you, friend. Do what you love.

Dealing with Writer’s Block

Block (n): an obstacle to the normal progress or functioning of something.

What happens when you’re stuck with writer’s block? If you spend any time reading or listening to published authors give advice to aspiring authors, then you’ve encountered the phrase “just keep writing,” which to me translates to “every author should write even when they don’t feel like it.”

Even though I’ve repeatedly heard this advice, I have never understood it. It didn’t make sense to me that you should push on when you didn’t have anything to write. I have heard it compared to exercising a muscle in this way: If you don’t exercise your writing muscles, then they gradually decrease in strength. As a former athlete, the muscle analogy made sense to me. Sadly, I only understood it in the sport sense. I still did not understand it in the writing sense of the advice.

In my head, it didn’t compute that forcing yourself to put words on a page was going to help develop your style or help complete a project. It didn’t make sense to me simply because I could never get anywhere using that method. Whenever I struggled and tried to force myself to write, I stayed mired in my funk and couldn’t get much (if anything) onto the page.

This post is an example. I started attempting to write something last week… But I didn’t have an idea, and since I didn’t have an idea, I spent way too much time staring at my computer, wishing I had something to say.

Finally, I had the small thought to write about writer’s block, since I was struggling so much.  And that’s how this post came into being. I’ve spent a long time on it. I wasn’t sure how to explain my thoughts, but I decided to “exercise my muscles” and try anyways.

During this process, I thought about a line I read in Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell and I finally understood why “just writing” actually made a little bit of sense.

“This wasn’t good, but it was something. Cath could always change it later. That was the beauty of stacking up words. They became cheaper the more you had of them. It would feel good to come back and cut this part out when she had worked her way to something new.

For me, writing will always be a struggle. Sometimes even when I have an idea, I can’t get my thoughts to translate to something I can write down. Sometimes my mind just has a block.

However, I’m beginning to understand that I can get around the block simply by writing something, even if it’s insignificant, because I can eventually work my way to something new. The more I write, the better I will become. Writing may never get truly easier, but I can become a better scribbler.

Maybe what I’m getting at here is that we have to struggle with something at one point or another. Sometimes, all we need to do is make an attempt. It won’t necessarily get easier, but we can become better humans in the meantime.

Here’s to you, friend. Do what you love.

Perfect (noun)

Perfect (n): having all the required or desirable elements, qualities, or characteristics; free from any flaw or defect in condition or quality; faultless.

Some days, I wish I was a unicorn. Not because I wish to be a four-legged creature with a horn in the middle of my forehead. Rather, my wish is to have the mythical perfection that the unicorn possesses.

I have a tendency to be a perfectionist. The problem with that tendency is that I can never be perfect.

I will never to be able to do all the tasks in a day that I aspire to accomplish.

I will never be faultless in any of my actions.

I will never know how to flawlessly communicate with other human beings.

I will never be perfect in anything I do, no matter how much I wish to be.

It’s simply not in the human capacity to be perfect, and I am most definitely human. But you know what I love about humans? They are perfectly imperfect. Often, a person’s flaws can lead to their greatest strengths.

For example, what I believe to be my biggest flaw is my reading and writing ability, or lack thereof. I am dyslexic, and that fact is inescapable. However, for some unknown reason, I have chosen to develop my reading and writing skill set.

A learning disability affects social ability as well, even if it’s only to a small degree. Sometimes, it takes me a long time to process what someone else has said to me in the midst of a conversation, and I stand there looking like a fool because I’m not sure what has been said until several seconds later. This happens embarrassingly often. Other times, I struggle with remembering what word I was planning on speaking next, and I stand there struggling silently with my mouth opening and closing like a fish out of water. However, for some equally unknown reason I have chosen to develop my communication skill set.

Strangely, because of my choices, reading, writing, and communication have become three of my greatest talents.

Have you ever read Percy Jackson? If you haven’t, then you’re missing out on a great piece of YA lit. If you have, then you may already know where I’m going with this. In the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, the topic of fatal flaws is mentioned frequently. The following quote comes from The Titan’s Curse.

“The most dangerous flaws are those which are good in moderation.”

Ever since I read the series, I have taken this idea and dwelled on it until I developed my own understanding of this concept. I believe that our greatest strengths and abilities can also be our greatest struggles.

I struggle the most with the written word. The written word is also my greatest strength.

In the past, I have quested for perfection. Now, I am beginning to realize that my greatest imperfections lead to my greatest abilities. Because of my struggles with dyslexia, I developed my reading, writing, and social skills. Now, I consider those three things to be what I do best. Even though I’m not perfect.

I cannot be the mythical unicorn that is perfect. However, I can be me, and I can learn even through my imperfections. To me, that’s more beautiful.

Here’s to you, friend. Do what you love.

space (noun)

Space (n): the freedom and scope to live, think, and develop in a way that suits one.

When I looked up the various definitions for the word space, I was pleasantly surprised to find the definition above. I wasn’t expecting to find such a perfect description for my thoughts in a dictionary.

I’ve been struggling lately (and by lately I mean for months on end) to find physical space and headspace where I am so totally at ease that I can relax and create. It’s like I have a mental wall to protect myself from outside forces, which sadly also smothers my imagination. Seemingly, my mental defenses are on high alert and they will not let me vacate the safety bunker until the “all clear” signal has sounded.

For example, today I did everything I could to keep busy, so I could prevent my own self from sitting down and writing this post. I listened to my audio book, drank my coffee (slowly), paid bills, and checked on the laundry at least three times (knowing full well the clothes weren’t dry yet).

Even as I sit at my desk typing these words, I am fidgeting and my thoughts are telling me that this is terrible and I should just stop now before I end up posting this and then crying from embarrassment.

Creating is hard. Developing and growing a personal, unique voice is not safe. Critique and ridicule are terrifying but inevitable if the final product is placed where other humans can consume it.

As you’re reading these words, I am obsessively thinking about them and about your interpretation of them, hoping your reaction is positive.

You see, I am made to write, and my deepest wish is to write in a way that reaches others on a personal, positive level. I cannot do that if my readers don’t like what I write, so I struggle with the fear that I won’t be good enough. My mind repeats my fears internally in a self-destructive cycle.

That is why I am struggling with headspace. I want space to think and develop my writing voice. I cannot do this without turning off the depressive and critical thoughts.

Since my thoughts follow me wherever I go, then by default no space feels safe either. My internal criticisms seem to leak out and expand into whatever space I am filling at the time.

I am tired of it. I am tired of being scared of my biggest dreams and greatest calling. I am tired of being afraid of my own creative mind. I am tired of being at war with my own self – wanting so desperately to write, but being so terribly afraid of what I will create and how it will be received.

So, today I’m done. I am done letting my fear rule my life. Today is the day I start letting go. It will take time, but I am determined to make it happen. It may take months or years, but I vow now to be in this for the long haul.

I vow to fight my own demons.

I vow to share my creations – to let them, instead of the fear, inhabit the space in and around me.

In the future, it is my vow to write more and worry less.

And you, dear reader, are my witness to this vow.

And maybe, hopefully, you can make a vow of your own. I know I’m not the only one plagued by my own fears. Maybe it’s time you thought about what you’re afraid of doing. I’m not encouraging any rash decisions, but I am encouraging you to get to know your own mind and figure out how it thinks.

When the time comes, I encourage you to start fighting your own fears.

Here’s to you, friend. Do what you love.