A Somewhat Bookish Update

If you’ve been listening to my podcast — and if you haven’t, you should be because it’s sensational and witty and so raunchy — you know most of my bookish energy has been channeled there.

But I still like having this blog to brain dump some stuff, so I’m going to. Here you go. A navel-gazing life update disguised as a book recommendation post to encourage you to continue to stay inside as much as possible, while still holding on to your sense of reality.

A Book to Escape the Existential Dread

Meg and I talked about Red, White and Royal Blue in our first episode. It continues to be a book I think about often that challenges my cynicism and reminds me that Zoloft has not completely inhibited my tear ducts.

Casey McQuiston proved that the romance genre isn’t formulaic. She successfully subverted so many genre conventions by writing this book in third-person present tense from the perspective of just one of the heroes. She had more than one low point in the love story, creating so much chaos for the characters yet still proving they’re ultimately right for each other. And she filled this book with so many pop culture references, which is a big risk because it makes the book instantly dated. But that’s almost a plus. This book was written for this moment in time, and it’s perfect.

I would put her writing next to that of any high brow literary fiction writer. If you want to escape into beautiful words and an epic love story set in a political alternate universe that’s so much better than ours, you’ll want to read this.

A Book to Lean Into Spooky Season

Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo came out almost a year ago. I’ve probably recommended it to a thousand people since then. That is not hyperbole.

I don’t read much in the horror/dark fantasy/thriller categories, but what I have read seems to focus a lot on class and power. That makes a lot of sense for the social issues we’re trying to address. But Bardugo literalized the advantages granted by wealth and privilege by imagining that the powerful really do have a leg up on us — a magical one.

Set at Yale University — which Bardugo attended — in the world of secret societies — of which Bardugo was a member — Ninth House follows Alex Stern, a young woman who has seen ghosts her entire life. Alex fell hard into drug use because it repressed her power. She’s the sole survivor of a gruesome murder, and is immediately offered a full ride at Yale. What’s the catch? She has to join Lethe, the secret society that oversees the other eight secret societies at the university that use occult rituals to keep the 1% comfy-cozy and influence global affairs. Imagine giving a bunch of rich college kids supernatural powers. Bet you aren’t surprised to learn this leads to murder, conspiracy, a missing persons case, entanglements with entities not of this world, and all sorts of other dark delights.

A Book Even More Bizarre Than Real Life

My friend Erin recommended the Welcome to Night Vale podcast to me years ago. It took me years to get around to listening to it, and I got very obsessed with it right before COVID got to the U.S. Because there are so many episodes in the archive, I listened to a few and then listened to the audiobook by the same name as the show, and it was one of the most enjoyable listening experiences of my life.

Night Vale is a town where every conspiracy theory is true. The laws of physics and historical facts don’t seem to apply in this desert town, and all its strange happenings are chronicled by the community radio host. It’s hard to describe the podcast. That’s another reason the book is an excellent starting point. (By the way, I say “great” a lot, or at least I did before the Fanta Fascist took office and ruined the word “great” for me. Probably for the best. I’m a writer, and overusing words isn’t cute.) It’s a self-contained story made richer if you listen to the show, but it can stand alone. It’s the story of two women with nothing in common brought together by a supernatural mystery. It’s full of adventure, weirdness and so much heart.

A Book Series for When You Wish You Could Literally Leave Earth

I have said so much to so many people about the Ice Planet Barbarians series by Ruby Dixon. Honestly, you need to just listen to my podcast episode about it. I could write several posts about it and not even begin to scratch the surface.

Books for When You’re Back On That Bruja Shit

I keep seeing this meme on Instagram that says, “Every girl you knew who watched Matilda and tried to move things with her mind reads tarot cards now.” Facts. I’ve read tarot on and off for more than a decade, and recently got back into it in a serious way. Being confined to my 1,300 square feet for the past six months paradoxically gave me the space to explore things about my spirituality that I always knew intuitively, but could never name. I’ve always been drawn to the esoteric, the occult, the woo. Now I’ve given myself to explore that with sincerity, instead of writing it off as, well, woo.

So I’ve been reading about all things pagan and witchy. For tarot, I’ve always been a fan of Theresa Reed, also known as The Tarot Lady. In 2016 and early 2017 (also known as the time I was unemployed and going through a dark night of the soul for many reasons), I was lucky enough to get several tarot readings from her. She is such a grounded and genuine person, devoid of artifice and pretentiousness, and she has this way of bringing tarot down to earth that I resonate with. Her daily Tarot, Transits and Tangents videos on Instagram bring me so much joy.

Currently, I’m reading her new book, Tarot: No Questions Asked. The book is about learning how to read tarot intuitively so you connect to the cards at a level in which you no longer need to reference a book. But it does give card meanings, too, plus practical real-world examples of situations each card could apply to. It’s excellent.

For a broad overview of the different traditions under the pagan umbrella, as well as great topics for self-reflection to figure out what you believe, I recommend Paganism: An Introduction to Earth-Centered Religions by Joyce and River Higginbotham.

If like most Americans you were raised Christian, Jesus Through Pagan Eyes is a fascinating book of essays and interviews put together by an Anglican minister who became a Druid. The book truly reveals how varied spirituality can be from person to person, even when discussing the same person/deity/cosmic force. I feel like I learned more about Jesus than I EVER did inside a church, in a way that feels so much more loving and liberated than the Christianity that can justify voting for a moldy orange with dictatorial aspirations.

One more for this category that I’d be remiss to exclude is Honoring Your Ancestors by Mallory Vaudoise. My Afro-Caribbean ancestry has been something I’ve wanted to connect through during this exploration. So of course, that got me thinking of all the people who came before me. The first person I thought about was my grandfather.

My grandfather was my whole world when I was little. He was a wonderful, loving man. He made me feel so special and important. I remember going to the bakery with him and getting meringues. I blame him for my sweet tooth. He was SO diabetic, and he shouldn’t have been eating that stuff in the first place.

Every day, he wore a white T-shirt tucked neatly into his pants, and sat in the same chair with his cane, his coffee and his cigarettes, watching TV. I remember him whacking my dumbass little cousin with his cane. I remember him reading the coffee grounds at the bottom of cups for people. He wouldn’t read for me because I was too young, but when I insisted (I have never not been a pushy bitch), he would pretend to read for me and make stuff up about me getting new toys or some such silliness.

When he got really sick, I didn’t know how to deal with it. I disassociated completely from the situation. I started seeing my beloved grandfather as a burden. I started being afraid and upset but all the sadness from everyone regarding him. When he went to the hospital, I didn’t visit him. I don’t think I was ever given that option, but that’s not the point. When he died, I was so numb that I just asked my mom if I was still going to school that day. She looked at me like I’d grown another head and said no. He was buried in the Dominican Republic, so I didn’t get to go to his funeral.

It wasn’t until years later that I realized that I never grieved him properly. I shut that down so hard. I feel so much guilt and shame about it. If I could go back, I wouldn’t have wasted one second of my time with him being afraid of death or disgusted by his decline. I would have loved him the way he loved me. My mom and I talked about that. I told her all this, and because she’s so unceasingly compassionate toward me, she said I was just a kid and that I didn’t know how handle it. She said my grandfather absolutely knew how much I loved him.

But... just in case he didn’t, if there’s any chance I can let him know now, I want to.

Wow. I did not mean to get that personal just now. But the book. The book is beautiful. It talks about how to connect to ancestral wisdom, heal trauma in your lineage, and why you would even want to start an ancestor veneration practice. It also talks about different types of ancestors and honored dead, including those who aren’t related to you by blood, or who you may just feel connected to because you share the same passions they did.

I know some of my ancestors must have experienced the worst of humanity. These are times during which I need to remember their strength is my birthright.

Phew. That took such a turn. ANYWAY. Read books. Register to vote. Buy stamps. Don’t be a dick. Call your mom. Email old friends. Water your fucking plants but don’t overwater them — put your finger in the soil 1 to 2 inches deep and see if it’s dry first. Stretch before you try the WAP dance. Watch my stupid TikTok because of course I made a TikTok.

I’ll be back here at some point with more books, etc.


Introducing Make Out Already: A Romance Novel Podcast

Remember when I said I might start a podcast?

I started a podcast.

My good friend and I sit down (in our separate quarantine bunkers, for now) and recap contemporary romance novels and movies. It's called Make Out Already, and you can find it in the podcatcher of your choice. To see it in Apple Podcasts and subscribe, head over here.

This is a labor of love and we're having a blast producing the show. I would love if you gave it a listen.


More updates

1. I got new glasses. I was overdue for an eye exam. My astigmatism has worsened. My style has remained sharp.  

2. Spring is already in my bones. In my aching back and my restlessness, in my readiness to cry and be vulnerable. The trees in my neighborhood are already flowering. There are bright purple flowers blooming in my front yard, flowers I never planted. Hyacinths. 

3. I am more freaked out by the freakout about coronavirus than I am about the coronavirus as far as me getting sick. I don’t thrive with these apocalyptic vibes. I went to a birthday dinner recently and we could not stop talking about it. I’m an empath, and the vibes are oppressive right now. I have the urge to call or email people I haven’t talked to in years, this global panic now connecting us. Does this count as a fireball hurtling toward the Earth?

4. I am starting a book podcast. Stay tuned. 

5. There was one other thing ... what was it? 

Oh yeah. I finished my rough draft. 81,158 words. It was like... two weeks ago? I’m waiting a bit to revise, to go deeper. To refine my messy passion project and get it closer to being out in the world. So long as there is a world, my book exists in it. Finally. 


Still Here: A Navel-Gazing Update

The last few months have been real weird. November 28th marked three years since I left my newspaper job, ending a deeply complicated phase of my life and starting another complicated, but different, set of phases. In the weeks leading up to that date, I kept trying to write something meaningful about how I’ve changed as a human being in that time, but it all felt so dramatic and I never posted it.

So I’ll post this instead.

I was in a bad way when I left that job, and someone told me that my life would have more than darkness, that it wouldn’t always be this way.

I was ... unconvinced.

Between then and now, I spent a lot of time alternating between staring at the abyss and going through the motions of being a person but not really feeling like one. Until one day, and don’t ask me to pinpoint the date because I don’t know, the abyss didn’t feel so abysmal and I didn’t feel completely disconnected from the motions. I mean, I still think life in general is total bullshit, still dark and twisty, so I wouldn’t concede that person was right. But to very poorly paraphrase Eloquent Rage, maybe I’m just more comfortable now fucking with the grays.

The me from three years ago wouldn’t have been able to imagine waking up at 5 a.m. to go to the gym and do pull-ups, or being the life of the party with nothing but LaCroix in my cup, or banging out a chapter before breakfast. But here I am. The last bit is what I’m most proud of. I’m finally a writer, instead of a writer who doesn’t write. The next hurdle is finishing. Every weekend I think I’m going to write the last few chapters of my first draft and be able to put it away for a few weeks before revising, but the closer I get to writing “the end,” the harder it is to make words happen at all. The idea of being done feels unthinkable — after all this time, settling for done but flawed is scary, because what if I go back during revision and think none of it can be salvaged, let alone improved? I am definitely outlining Book 2 and banging it out in six months, instead of pantsing and dragging out a draft for literal YEARS. I am becoming a woman who learns.

I’m also regressing. But in a good way. I lost some of myself for a bit, and I’m slowly starting to show up in the world like a version of my brash, charming former self who is a little more mature and a little tougher. I remember the first few months after I left the paper, feeling convinced that I should diminish myself because the problem at the root of all my problems was that I was “too much.” I failed miserably at being dainty and demure. I am meant to be the loudest bitch in the room, if I’m in the mood to be.

Three years ago I was jobless, sad and binge-watching DCTV shows in my pajamas. Now I am a person with a job where other people look to me for guidance, I am less sad, and I am still binge-watching DCTV shows but I’m doing it in a house that I own, after never in my life having the same address more than two years in a row. Still in my pajamas, though.

To end this super gross bit of introspection, I’ll leave you with this. The biggest takeaway from the last few years is the reminder that I am someone who creates, not just someone who often wrecks things. And I’ve learned that I can do a lot more than I thought I could when I have the right tools. The same girl drew both of these. Look at me go.

Also, I have been reading a ton of books. Maybe I’ll, like, review one sometime.


My Podcast Debut Talking All Things Romance

I think I can say that I have reached my next form in my Pokemon evolution, because ya girl was on a podcast.

I had the absolute joy of being a guest on The Pretty Good Podcast by Crabicurious.com, spreading the good word about romance novels. We had a blast talking about tropes, misconceptions, covers, and we even came up with a fantastic romance plot on the fly. Give it a listen below or on Apple Podcasts here.

And if you enjoy the sound of my voice in particular or you just generally enjoy the word "like" and giggling, you can listen to my second appearance on the show (which aired before the romance episode), in which I reviewed Spider-Man: Far From Home. Apple link is right over here.


Love is a game: “Level Up” by Cathy Yardley

I’m an original cover truther. It’s too wholesome and adorable!

I guess this one is fine. Whatever. 

A friends-to-lovers romance with a geeky Latina heroine who is a Whovian to boot. "So, you bought and read that the second you heard about it, right?" you may ask. And you'd only be half right, because after I bought Level Up, it sat on my Kindle for at least a year. Sometimes I do things that don't make sense. I'm unpredictable like that. It keeps people on their toes.

Deciding that my long list of owned, unread books and continuing trips to Barnes & Noble on my way home reflect poorly on me as a person, I have made it a point to work through my TBR. Level Up reads quick. It might even be short enough to fall in novella territory.

Tessa Rodriguez is terrified of social interaction. That, and love, aren't priorities for her, because her sole focus is getting promoted to game engineer at the male-dominated gaming company where she works with her roommate, Adam London, a project manager. Adam, as she is at least sort of aware, is a total smoke show, and as her roomie/landlord, totally off limits.

To his credit, Adam has never made a pass at Tessa. To his discredit, he is still butthurt about his ambitious ex who left him for a job opportunity, so that same ambition in Tessa is a red flag for him.

Early in the book, Tessa is forced out of her introvert bubble and befriends some very cool fellow fangirls who own a struggling bookstore. Tessa gets the wild idea that creating a fandom-based video game for a contest a few weeks away will get them some publicity to save the store. She's a skilled coder, but that fast turnaround means she'll have to enlist (and try to impress) the tech bros at her job who underestimate her.

As she and Adam spend more time together, their budding sexual tension is exacerbated by bets, arrogant jerks, and winter power outages. Never did I think anything about a snowstorm would appeal to me, but this cutie patootie, sexy romp of a book surprised me at every turn.

The highlight of this book was Tessa. She was full of realistic contradictions, like being painfully shy and awkward, yet blossoming with assertion if she felt strongly about something. I kept picturing her as Cierra Ramirez, because shades of her and her workplace reminded me of the show Good Trouble. Particularly, dealing with tech bros, though this group is less vile than the crew on Good Trouble.

This book was a delight, and if I weren't playing catch-up with my shelf, I'd be binging the rest of the Fandom Hearts series. Read this if you want a fun, lighthearted rom-com that still has depth and relatable stakes.

Level Up, by Cathy Yardley

P.S. I recently got an iPad and an Apple Pencil, which have transformed my writing. I can work on my book anywhere, in longhand, which I feel helps my ideas flow better (and makes me feel like a very old- fashioned, Serious Writer). I use handwriting recognition to convert to text. However, it can struggle with my sloppy handwriting sometimes, so when I use it to write reviews, you'll have to pardon some weird errors and spaces between words when I'm too lazy to proofread. I welcome flawed tech. If it gets too smart, the robots WILL take over. Stay woke, yinz!


Oh the humanity: “Maybe You Should Talk to Someone” by Lori Gottlieb

One of the perks of having my own office is being able to close my door and cry when I'm listening to a very emotional audiobook.

This book destroyed me. When I heard about it, it sounded like the spiritual successor to the excellent Love's Executioner by Irvin Yalom. I was psyched to read another therapist memoir. Margaret Atwood said, "We all have unlived lives." I was a psychology major for two seconds (I changed it before my first day of college), and when I was in career transition, I thought of going back to school to become a counselor (then I decided I'm better off continuing to write fictional therapists and give real ones my HSA dollars).

What makes this particular therapist memoir interesting is that it's not just about a therapist and her clients. It's about a therapist and her therapist. After the man she thought she'd marry dumps her because he decided he didn't want to be tied down to raising her young son, therapist and writer Lori Gottlieb decides to seek some support. But in the grand tradition of Seeing A Therapist, Gottlieb learns to dig deeper than what she thinks is her only problem.

As Gottlieb's therapist helps her unravel her BS, she tells us about her winding path to her career, her journey to single motherhood, her relationship, and her clients.

The stories of her clients' therapy journeys were my favorite part of the book. Gottlieb captured the beautiful, hideous, complicated humanity of her clients. The arrogant TV writer who can't stop looking at his phone. The hot mess who drinks too much and flirts with the guy in the therapy waiting room. The newlywed fighting cancer. The lonely older woman contemplating suicide. Gottlieb brings empathy and compassion to their stories. She doesn't shy away from the messiness of it all. Or the fact that personal development can sometimes be a comedy of errors.

The sentimentality doesn't feel exploitative or maudlin. And while there's plenty of joy and progress for some of the clients, Gottlieb doesn't pretend all their problems are magically fixed forever because of their work.

I was so filled with love reading this. It made me want to dig deeper in my own life and look for meaning and purpose, and it made me feel more connected to the people around me.

Read this if you want to feel delighted and inspired. Just make sure you've got a box of tissues.