Uncategorized, Writing

New Skin

Last Friday, my seven-year-old son was hospitalized with a serious skin infection known as Scalded Skin Syndrome (SSS). It’s a rare kind of staph infection that causes the skin to be red and tender, and eventually to blister and pop. This disease mainly affects children, many of whom end up in hospital burn units. Before we knew what was going on, we thought he was scratching his face in his sleep. Then the lesions got bigger. I would put him to bed at night, and the next morning, he would have a new lesion on his face. I took him to the doctor on Thursday and they diagnosed him with strep throat and said strep could cause a similar rash. They started him on amoxycillin. However, the next morning, he stopped moving his arms and had trouble walking because any rubbing of skin caused him extreme pain. So we took him straight to the emergency room.

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When we got to the hospital, we discovered a new blister on his back. The skin actually peeled off as they removed his shirt. Our first night at the children’s hospital was a nightmare. He was in so much pain. He couldn’t sleep. He kept sobbing and screaming, “Itchy! Itchy!” He begged me to press the nurse call button to get him help, and I did, but there was nothing anyone could do for him. The worst part was that I couldn’t hold him. If I touched his skin, it was so sensitive that he would scream in pain. At one point, we were both crying . . . and then I started to pray. Soon afterwards, the itching stopped and he was able to fall asleep for a few hours. I thanked God for that brief respite from pain. But I knew it wouldn’t last. And it didn’t. He had two more horrible “attacks” of itchiness the next morning. I made a desperate Facebook post to my friends begging for prayer . . . and it worked. Less than 30 minutes after I made the post, he started making jokes and asked to walk around the hospital. For a kid who could barely move the night before, that sudden change was nothing short of miraculous.

He truly turned the corner later that afternoon. A new doctor came on shift and got the itching under control using medication. The antibiotics kicked in and new blisters stopped forming. At one point, he rubbed his face because it itched and an entire layer of skin peeled away from his nose and cheeks. The nurse washed his face (which removed more skin) and applied Aquaphor to protect the sensitive new skin. Even after he was released from the hospital, he continued to deal with itchy, peeling skin. However, with each bit of skin he sheds, there is more hope. And healing.

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Scalded Skin Syndrome is caused by a bacteria that infiltrates the entire body and decimates its largest organ. It can usually be cured with antibiotics, but the bacteria is not content to go quietly. Even though I didn’t want to hear it, the doctors cautioned us that our son would face more suffering before things got better. Before it dies, the bacteria releases toxins that cause even more pain and itching. The skin would continue to bubble and pop. Dehydration is a very real risk. But this is a necessary step in ridding the body of illness. After the blisters go away, the skin dries up and dies. Eventually, the old skin falls away, revealing skin that is new and healthy and beautiful.

A new creation . . . born from death.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this particular disease and what a fitting metaphor it is for life as a Christian. Before we know Christ, we are completely consumed by sin (BACTERIA). We are at its mercy. We have no hope. Christ is the only cure (ANTIBIOTICS). But inviting Christ into our lives does not guarantee us freedom from suffering or heartache. Things will get worse before they get better. Satan is always present, especially when we first start taking our medicine. He tries to break us down and devastate us (TOXINS). He throws everything he has at us, because he knows his time is limited.

The battle has already been won. 

With Christ as our cure, we continue to improve. There will be setbacks along the way, but each day is a little easier than the last. As we allow Christ into our lives, the person we once were disappears. We shed our old dead skin and replace it with new skin that is fragile and beautiful.

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I’m so thankful today. I’m thankful that we have medicine to cure so many horrible diseases. I’m thankful for the doctors and nurses and support staff who did so much to help my son. I’m thankful that my son was able to bless people and share his faith during his time in the hospital. And I’m especially thankful to my family and friends for the prayers and visits and messages of support.

But most of all, I’m thankful to God for healing my son.

And for offering him (and all of us) a new skin.

 

books, Uncategorized, Writing

The Dreaded Red Pen – A Publishing Update

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I haven’t posted in a few months, but I wanted to update those of you who are following my publishing journey. I said back in July that I planned to self-publish Stoker’s Mill, my first novel. Since then, however, I’ve really felt God leading me to publish my second novel, Subversive. Subversive is the first book in a dystopian trilogy that I’ve been working on for a few years. I’ll be honest–this was a difficult book to write, and I’m much more nervous about publishing it than Stoker’s Mill for a variety of reasons. But I’m moving forward with it because I feel God leading me in that direction. I’m working on the sequel now (and dreaming up ideas for the third–and final–book).

I just started working with a professional editor. Yes, that’s right. I have an editor! She’s going to do a comprehensive edit of my manuscript and power it up as much as possible. A few days ago, she sent me her corrections of the first three pages (see the picture above). Look how marked up it is! It’s like AP English all over again. But I was amazed (and thrilled!) at how much stronger her changes made the opening scene. And she doesn’t just edit–she teaches her writers as she edits. My degree is in Criminal Justice, not English. I’m entirely self-taught as a writer, so I need all the help I can get. With my editor’s help, I’m learning about subjective clauses and dangling modifiers and all sorts of fun things! I really am enjoying the process and can’t wait to show you the finished product.

I plan on posting more regularly and keeping you updated throughout the entire process. Not only because I hope you’ll find it interesting, but because I’m going to need you along the way. There will be decisions to make (which cover do you prefer? which font looks the best?), and I’ll be asking for your help!

Since we’re talking about Subversive, here is the “back cover blurb.” Some version of this will end up on the back cover of the published book. I’m including it here so you can get an idea of what it’s about:

In an abandoned coal mine, a group of fugitives huddle four-hundred feet beneath the surface of the earth. To the world, and to the Federal Task Force who have been commissioned to hunt them down, they are known as subversives. Dangerous religious zealots who must be captured and imprisoned before their extremism can infect anyone else. Since the night of her parent’s arrest, Gemma Alcott has been in hiding as a subversive. She’s found a home—and someone to love—but she’s never forgotten the love she left behind. 

Taylor, a young Task Force officer, believes wholeheartedly in his mission and in the danger posed by subversives. He believes in the mission so much that he detained and imprisoned his own father. But when his first love, Gemma, is captured by a rogue Task Force unit, his loyalties are put to the test. Facing interrogation and possible death, Gemma must summon the strength—and faith—to protect her friends at all costs. And Taylor must decide if he’s fighting against evil . . . or for it. 

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Has anyone ever been to the Pioneer Tunnel Coal Mine in Ashland, Pennsylvania? We go there every summer (the boys LOVE it) and that was the inspiration for my fugitive group’s hideout in this book. I took notes each time we went (how deep it is, the average temperature, the gross orange stuff clinging to the walls) and included those details in the book.

I’m hoping to publish Subversive next spring or early summer. It all depends on how quickly I can find a cover designer. The really good designers–the ones used by the major publishing houses–are expensive. Like . . . very expensive. And they have long waiting lists. But the cover is the reader’s first impression of a book. Think about it. When you are looking at books, the cover is the first thing you notice. If it grabs your attention, you flip the book over and read the back cover. Then, if you’re still interested, you might peruse the first few pages to see if you like the writer’s style. The cover is so important. I have a dream designer in mind but I have no idea if I could afford her or if this is even a project she would agree to take on. But I’ve emailed her and I’m waiting to hear back. If you would, please pray that I find the right cover designer for these books.

If you took the time to read this far, thank you for joining me on my long journey down this yellow brick road. The hardest part of being a writer is putting your work into the world for others to read (And judge. And criticize). Especially for an introvert like me! But having my work edited by a professional in the industry is a good first step. When I’m anxious about it, I think of the writers I love and admire. I think about the characters they created in their minds and brought to life on paper. What if they had kept those stories for themselves? I know that God will give me the strength to endure anything the world throws at me. And maybe–just maybe–my stories and characters will have an impact on someone’s life. Maybe my work will be a blessing to someone else, as so many stories and characters have been a blessing to me over the years.

“Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight. –Proverbs 3: 5-6

 

books, reading, Uncategorized, Writing

God Knocked Me Off My High Horse: My Long (and Rocky) Publishing Journey

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When I finished my first novel in 2012, I sent the manuscript to a professional editor who also coordinated a yearly writer’s conference that I planned on attending. After she completed her initial read-through of the book, she emailed me back and said, “Wow! You’ve kept me up turning pages (well, scrolling through pages on my laptop). Honestly, you are an AMAZING writer. This is going to be a best-seller, and I don’t think I’ve ever told anyone that. I think any of the agents coming to the conference would snatch this right up.”

As you can imagine, I spent the next few days walking on air, imagining book tours and evenings spent sipping whiskey with fellow authors, and pondering which actors would star in the movie version of my novel. Sidenote: At the time, I imagined Chris Pine as Nick and Claire Danes as Kate. Now, I see Colin O’Donoghue as Nick (without the Irish accent, of course) and Jennifer Morrison as Kate, but that could have something to do with my obsession with the television show, Once Upon a Time.

Anyway, back to my big break. A star is born . . . and all that.

So, a month after receiving the glowing email from my editor, I attended the above-mentioned writer’s conference. On the first day, I walked onto the building with my nose in the air, feeling very much above the fray. I mean, did these people even realize how lucky they were to have a chance with me? The only question in my mind was which agent would most effectively woo me with promises of large advances, royalties, and movie deals. I literally thought, “Which agent’s life am I about to change?”

Fast-forward to my first pitch appointment. These appointments are when you sit down with an agent or an acquisitions editor for a publishing house and “pitch” your project. It’s your opportunity to sell your manuscript (but mostly yourself) to them. So, I sauntered into the room, pushing past other lesser authors, and took my seat across the table from the first agent I’d ever met, hereafter referred to as The Meanest Agent who Ever Lived.

After introducing myself, I launched into my well-rehearsed pitch, practically giddy with excitement as I wowed her with my description of the next great American novel, Pleasant Mills. 

So, what did The Meanest Agent who Ever Lived think of my pitch?

(Yawning) “So, what’s the deal with the title? Pleasant Mills? It sounds like a happy book about a happy town. I thought you said this was scary. You really need to change the title.”

“Umm . . . (another yawn), so, I’m seeing a lot of passive voice on the first few pages. Like, a ridiculous amount. You really need to fix that.”

(Sliding my manuscript back to me with the tips of her fingers, as if afraid she might catch something from it) “So, do you have any other books? Or are you just another one-hit wonder? You really need to write more books before pitching anything at a conference.”

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Ugh.

Thankfully, these appointments only last fifteen minutes. I took my beating from The Meanest Agent who Ever Lived with my eyes on the clock. As soon as she finished shredding me with her claws, I slid my manuscript back into my bag, tucked my tail firmly between my legs, and ran to the ladies room where I literally sobbed in a bathroom stall until it was time to redo my makeup for my next appointment.

For the record, she was by far the meanest agent I’ve ever pitched to. I’ve pitched to dozens of industry professionals since that day, and none of them acted like her. The rest were all very nice people. Most of them listened politely and made a few suggestions. Then they either explained that the project wasn’t right for them, or they handed me their business card and said they would be interested in taking another look at it after I changed X, Y, and Z.

I don’t think it’s any coincidence that my very first appointment at my very first writer’s conference went so horribly. I believe God saw me sitting atop my high horse, and He used The Meanest Agent who Ever Lived to knock me back into the mud where I belonged.

And, because of her, I changed the title from Pleasant Mills to Stoker’s Mill, which I think we can all agree is a much creepier title.

I’ve grown personally and spiritually since that day. My writing has evolved. I’ve become a voracious reader (which has made me a much better writer) and I’ve devoted myself to mastering the craft. In an effort to build my online “platform,” I’ve established social media pages and Bookstagram accounts. And, yes, I’ll admit that my intent initially was to gain followers who might eventually purchase my book. But this is another way God has opened my eyes and changed me. These “followers” I’ve worked so hard for aren’t just numbers and potential customers. They are real people–and they have become my friends. God used my own selfishness to introduce me to wonderful community of fellow bookish people who love to read and help authors succeed.  And through these amazing people, I’ve discovered tools that will enable me to better market my book in the future.

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So, where do I go from here? Well, back in January, I sent a fiction proposal for my new manuscript, Subversive, to a wonderful agent who has been so helpful to me over the past six years. He passed on Stoker’s Mill back in 2013 but told me my writing was strong and that I should keep him in mind for future projects. Back in June, he passed on Subversive, explaining that he’s having more success right now in the nonfiction market. He suggested that I run it past one of the other agents in his office, because she focuses more on edgy fiction. However, she passed because it’s a dystopian novel, and she doesn’t represent dystopian fiction. Yet another rejection to add to my ever-growing pile. On the same day I got her rejection, I sent my proposal to a publishing house that focuses on speculative fiction, but I haven’t heard back from them yet.

So, as I await the fate of Subversive, I decided to pull Stoker’s Mill out of my drawer, dust it off, and move forward with self-publishing. Why? Well, initially, it felt like self-publishing was admitting defeat. After all, if I can’t land an agent or a publisher, doesn’t that mean I suck as a writer? Shouldn’t that be a clue that it’s time to throw in the towel? But I don’t have it in me to do anything else. Writing was my first love. Aside from reading, it’s the only thing I’ve done consistently since I was a child. So, I’m going to self-publish but I’m going to do it the right way. I’m hiring a content editor to make sure it’s perfect. I’m sending it out to beta readers prior to publication (ANY VOLUNTEERS?). I’m working with a graphic designer on the cover. It will be another long process but I’m going to make sure the finished product looks professional.

This book will be as successful–or unsuccessful–as God wants it to be. And I’m okay with that. Because this is a journey, and I’m a lot closer to the finish line than I was seven years ago. 

There’s a scene in the movie, Walk the Line, where a then-unknown Johnny Cash and his band are pitching their songs to a record producer. After they finish playing their first (unoriginal) song, the bored-looking producer says the following:

“If you was hit by a truck and you was lying out there in that gutter dying, and you had one time to sing one song. Huh? One song that people would remember before you’re dirt. One song that would let God know how you felt about your time here on Earth. One song that would sum you up. You tellin’ me that’s the song you’d sing? That same Jimmy Davis tune we hear on the radio all day, about your peace within, and how it’s real, and how you’re gonna shout it? Or… would you sing somethin’ different. Somethin’ real. Somethin’ you felt. Cause I’m telling you right now, that’s the kind of song that truly saves people.”

That scene really spoke to me, because that’s exactly what I hope to do.

Write the kind of book that truly saves people.

 

books, reading, Uncategorized

BOOK REVIEW: THE CHAIN BY ADRIAN MCKINTY

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Title: THE CHAIN

Author: ADRIAN MCKINTY

Genre: Thriller / Suspense

Publication Date: July 9, 2019 by Mulholland Books

The Premise:

A young girl, Kylie, is kidnapped while waiting for her school bus. Her mother, Rachel, receives a phone call soon afterwards. The kidnappers are parents whose own child has been kidnapped and is currently being held for ransom. In order to get her child back, Rachel must pay a $25,000 ransom AND kidnap someone else’s child. If she does not complete these two tasks, her child will be killed and they will find another child. If she involves the police, her child will be killed and they will find another child. Kylie will only be released when the next set of parents (after Rachel) kidnap a child of their own and pay a ransom. And the chain continues . . .

Confused yet?

My Thoughts:

(A few light spoilers, nothing that will ruin the book or give much away)

The Concept: Okay, so The Chain is one of those books where you need to suspend reality for a few hours and just enjoy the story. The idea that a kidnapping for ransom scheme perpetrated by the parents themselves could go on for several years without the police or government becoming involved is pretty slim. At one point in the story, it is revealed that a parent tried to “break” the chain in the past, and the ramifications extended back seven children. It’s never quite revealed what that means, but it’s implied that the people behind The Chain will return and kill the children of anyone who defects. So we’re to believe that seven children were killed in the same geographic area in the past few years, and the police never became involved?

However, if you put that aside, it’s very easy to lose yourself in the story. What would you do if your child was kidnapped and the people holding your child were psycholgically unhinged by the kidnapping of their own child? What are they capable of? There is no greater love than a parent’s love for their child. Making the parents the kidnappers is a brilliant new twist on the old kidnapping-for-ransom theme and really raises the stakes for the reader.

The Characters: The main character, Rachel, is a relatable heroine, as is her daughter, Kylie. It says something about the author’s ability to write a complex female character when we find ourselves rooting for a kidnapper. Assisting her along the way is her ex-brother-in-law, Pete, a flawed veteran who struggles to contain his opiate addiction long enough to find his niece. Her ex-husband, Marty is quite possibly the nicest ex-husband on the planet. The story’s antagonists could’ve been fleshed out a little more. They weren’t frightening enough as villains, especially considering the kind of havoc they’ve been wreaking for several years via The Chain.

Morality: Light cursing. Light sexuality. Light violence. Nothing gory or over the top.

Complaints: There’s a lot of head-hopping, which threw me off. And the villains weren’t all that villain-y. There were a few unanswered questions (ex/ How much did the villain’s grandfather know about the scheme?) and some things that just don’t make sense, like how the entire scheme went undetected by law enforcement for so long.

Would I Recommend?: Absolutely. Suspend your disbelief and just have fun. The Chain puts a new spin on the old kidnapping-for-ransom theme by making the parents the perpetrators of the crime. Even the heroine of the book is forced to become a villain to get her own child back. Fans of suspense/thrillers will love this one!

4.0 / 5 Stars

**Thank you to NetGalley and Mulholland Books for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.

books, reading

Book Review: The Escape Room by Megan Goldin

Something wonderful just happened in my life. I discovered that I could receive ARC’s (Advance Reading Copy) of books PRIOR to their publication. Sometimes months in advance! The best part . . . they’re completely FREE! If I’m interested in reading a particular book, I send a request to the publisher, and if I’m selected, they send me a digital copy of the book (again . . . for FREE) in exchange for posting reviews on my various social media platforms.

When an ARC arrives on my Kindle, it looks like this:

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Seriously! What’s better than reading a book before everyone else and not even having to pay for it? In my world, not much. Except maybe getting paid to do it. But I haven’t figured out that particular hustle yet! 🙂  Plus, for those of you following my writing journey,  this is just another way to get my name out there AND increase readership to my social media platforms. As we all know, when it comes to landing an agent and/or publisher, it’s all about PLATFORM, PLATFORM, PLATFORM.

Okay, without further ado, my first ARC review!

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Title: THE ESCAPE ROOM

Author: Megan Goldin

Genre: Thriller / Suspense

Publication Date: July 30, 2019 by St. Martin’s Press

The Premise:

Four Wall Street investment bankers—Vincent, Jules, Sam, and Sylvie—arrive at a high-rise for what they think is a team-building escape room challenge. They soon find themselves trapped inside an elevator, trying to solve a series of clues to free themselves. But solving the clues gets them no closer to escape. As the minutes turn to hours, and the hours turn to days, the elevator grows hotter and more uncomfortable by the minute, and the true natures of the characters are revealed as they begin to turn on each other.

The story alternates between telling the story of the characters trapped in the elevator, and telling the story of a young banker named Sara Hall who used to work with them.

My Thoughts:

(A few light spoilers, nothing that will ruin the book or give much away)

Overall, I loved The Escape Room and couldn’t put it down. I had to know what happened next. I thought about the book when I wasn’t reading it. That rarely happens to me, but when it does, it’s a magical thing.

The Concept: Although the escape room craze has been going on for a few years now,  I’ve yet to read a fiction book based on characters completing an escape room. To me, it was a new and interesting concept that I could easily see being suspenseful. After all, the whole idea behind an escape room is that you either solve the clues and get yourself out, or you don’t solve the clues and you get released after an hour. But what if the hour ends and the door doesn’t open? Now imagine throwing four ruthless Wall Street bankers into the mix and gradually turning up the head (both literally and figuratively).

The Characters: Typically, when I read a book, I want to fall in love with the characters. If I love them, I’ll be invested in their lives and care what happens to them. In this book, I didn’t fall in love with any of them, and I didn’t particularly care what happened to them. But was the author’s intent. I wasn’t supposed to like the characters. With the exception of our protagonist, Sara Hall, the characters are all battle-hardened investment bankers with absolutely no redeeming qualities.

Morality: Again, most of the characters are financially well-off but morally bankrupt. There is some cursing but not so much that it really jumped out at me (which it usually does when done excessively). Some light sexuality, a scene of implied molestation, and several instances of violence, but nothing gory or over-the-top.

Complaints: All of the head-hopping between characters in the elevator scenes really threw me off at first. As a writer, it’s beaten into our heads that you MUST choose a character and stay in their head during a given chapter or section. If you want to be inside the head of a different character, you have to start a new chapter or section. But, in the elevator scenes, we’re in Vincent’s head in one paragraph, and in Sylvie’s head in the very next paragraph. However, I soon realized why the author made this particular choice. Once I got used to it, I barely noticed it.

My only other complaint is that there were a few loose ends (one of them rather big) that I would’ve preferred to see tied up.

Would I Recommend?: A resounding YES! The Escape Room was a fast, suspenseful read, an interesting concept, and it held my attention. I highly recommend it to thriller/suspense fans and I would definitely read more books by this author!

4.5 / 5 Stars

**Thank you to NetGalley and St. Martin’s Press for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.

 

Uncategorized, Writing

Jesus Loves Me, This I Know . . .

Guest Blog by Joseph Mott, Pastor of Foundations Bible Church in Freeburg, Pennsylvania.

I love the story of “Jesus Loves Me”. It is one of my favorites. Anna and Susan Warner lived in a Revolutionary Era home in disrepair due to the economic struggles of the day. It was right across the Hudson river from West Point. To help with the financial struggles of the family, they both started writing poems and stories for publication. Between them, they wrote 106 published works.

One of their most successful stories was one that was co-authored. It was called “Say and Seal”. A story about a little boy that was dying and his Sunday School teacher, John Linden, comforts him by taking him in his arms, rocking him, and making up a little song: “Jesus loves me, this I know; for the Bible tells me so.”

It was a best seller.

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When hymnwriter Willaim Bardbury read the words, he composed a simple tune to go along with them, and “Jesus Loves Me” was born. The best known children’s hymn on the face of the earth.

Oh… and by the way… Anna and Susan conducted bible studies for the cadets at West Point for over forty years and were both buried with full military honors. They are the only civilians buried at the military cemetery at West Point. The home is a museum to their honor.

“The eyes of all wait upon thee; and you give them their meat in due season. You open your hand, and satisfies the desire of every living thing.”
(Psalm 145:15,16)

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books, reading, Uncategorized, Writing

My 10 Favorite Reads (Fiction)

Yes. It was hard to pick only ten books. How did I choose? Well, I almost never read a book more than once because life is too short. There are so many awesome authors/books out there that it’s silly to waste time reading anything more than once. However, the stories listed below are unique in that the characters didn’t vanish from my mind the moment I put the book down (like so many others do). These characters and their stories stuck with me, their author’s inspire my own writing, and I hope to one day write something that makes people feel the way these books made me feel.

Here are the books I love enough to read again . . and again . . . and again.

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1. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline: In 2045, the world is a bleak place. Wade Watts, the book’s teenage protagonist, spends the majority of his time in the OASIS, a virtual reality simulation. Wade uses his extensive knowledge of 80’s pop culture to search for an Easter egg hidden somewhere within the OASIS by the game’s designer shortly before his death. The first player to find the egg wins full control of the OASIS. Yon’t have to be a gamer to love this book. Superb writing, a protagonist you can root for, and a unique story that hasn’t been done before. As an added bonus, if you grew up in the 80’s, you’ll love all the pop culture, video game, and movie references!

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2. 11/22/63 by Stephen King: With the possible exception of The Stand, this is King’s best, most ambitious work. It’s certainly his best novel in recent memory. Jake, a high school English teacher in Maine, accesses a portal in the storeroom of a greasy spoon that instantly transports him back to a sunny day in 1958. Once he discovers the portal, he resolves to stop the Kennedy assassination. There’s so much history in this book, and King obviously spent a great deal of time researching Lee Harvey Oswald and making him a central character and the antagonist of the story. Jake’s love for a fellow teacher, Sadie, adds a whole other element to the story. This is a book I reread every few years. If you don’t like King because of his propensity toward horror, give this book a chance. You won’t regret it.

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3. Passage by Connie Willis: Joanna, a psychologist, partners with a neurologist to explain near-death experiences by using a psychoactive drug to replicate them. She goes under herself, and as she explores a little farther each time and sees more, her sense of dread increases. The author grows the tension in slow but effective ways, including beginning each chapter with the haunting final words of people like Joan of Arc and the captain of the Hindenburg.

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4. Summer of Night by Dan Simmons: “Something ancient and evil is stirring within the century-old walls of Old Central School and friends Mike, Dwayne, Dale, Harlen, and Kevin have to stop it before it destroys not only their last summer of childhood…but their lives.” Dan Simmons is an incredible writer. Whenever I read one of his books, I find my own writing improves. Yes, this book is Simmons’ version of Stephen King’s It and I *personally* think it’s a much better book. This book’s sequel, A Winter Haunting, is also amazing.

 

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5. The Martian by Andy Weir: Stranded on Mars, with no way of communicating with his crew or with Earth, Astronaut Mark Watney must figure out how to survive for a year (or more) on the desolate, inhospitable planet. This includes learning how to grow food in Martian soil (potatoes, potatoes, potatoes), make water without blowing himself up, and establish communications with Earth. Watney is a lovable science-nerd hero with a deep hatred for Disco music, which is, of course, the only music available to him on Mars. You feel as if you’re stranded right there with him, trying to figure things out, and holding your breath when something goes wrong. There’s tons of tension and suspense, some parts are laugh out loud funny, and you feel smarter when you’re finished reading it.

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6: The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold: “My name was Salmon, like the fish; first name Susie. I was fourteen when I was murdered on December 6, 1973.” Featuring one of the most haunting first lines ever written, The Lovely Bones is unlike any other book you’ll ever read. I discovered it for the first time in college, and I remember carrying it with me to class and devoting every spare minute to finishing it. Written from the perspective of a child watching from heaven as her family falls apart and her murderer remains free (and plans to murder again), Susie Salmon’s story manages to be terrible and tragic and beautiful, all at the same time.

 

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7. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern: “The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not.” Such a beautifully-written book. Morgenstern’s gift for poetic description shines through as she paints a vivid picture of the mysterious Le Cirque des Reves, and its assortment of unforgettable characters. And the fierce competition and love story between the two young magicians, Celia and Marco, is oh-so-swoonworthy.

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8. Me Before You by Jojo Moyes: Louisa Clark takes a job working as a helper for Will Trainer, a man left paralyzed from the neck down following an accident. At first, Will is a total jerk to Lou, but she refuses to abandon him to his own self-pity as so many others have, and they soon develop a bond. From her aversion to exercise to her bumblebee tights, Lou is as quirky and loveable a protagonist as they come. And despite his surly demeanor, it’s impossible not to fall in love with Will Traynor. To be fair, while I loved the book, I hated the ending. Absolutely hated it. I almost didn’t include this book in this list–even thought I knew it had earned a spot–solely because of the ending. But this book is proof that you don’t have to love the ending to appreciate a really good love story.

 

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9. The Princess Bride by William Goldman: The movie is a favorite of mine so it’s no surprise that it’s also one of my favorite books. In some ways, the book is even funnier than the movie, thanks mainly to the dozens of author’s notes and asides scattered throughout the chapters. (Ex. “There have only been 11 perfect complexions in all of India since accurate accounting began.”) The characters you love are all there–swashbuckling Westley, revenge-seeking Inigo, gentle giant Fezzik, and the princess bride herself, Buttercup–but these lovable characters are developed in a way a movie could never achieve. My final thoughts on the book? Wuv. True Wuv.

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10. Caraval by Stephanie Garber: “Remember, it’s only a game.” Sisters Scarlett and Tella receive a coveted invitation to participate in Caraval, a once-a-year magical performance put on by a mysterious man named Legend. However, as soon as they arrive at Caraval, Tella is kidnapped and Scarlett discovers that, to win the game, she must find her sister. This book has everything: magic, mystery, and romance. With its vivid descriptions and unforgettable characters, it reminds me a lot of The Night Circus. My favorite part? Scarlett’s magic dress. Because every girl needs a dress that automatically changes colors based on her moods.