May Discussion: A Darker Shade of Magic

young-adulters-book-club-a-darker-shade-of-magicOh, guys. Guys, guys, guys. I have failed as your leader again. I could not finish this book. I promised myself a long time ago that I would not waste my time with books I wasn’t enjoying, but I tried. I tried so hard. I just…didn’t care. Couldn’t care. In the slightest. I’d read five pages and just stare at it, thinking, But why is nothing happening? 

Some of my thoughts:

  • I was deeply disappointed by my inability to get into this book because the premise is so good. Four Londons, all stacked on top of each other, all with a vastly different relationship with magic that plays out in myriad, unpredictable ways? Fascinating! A pair of magical individuals, night and day of each other, but with the same abilities and the same goal? Compelling! But in execution, it just left so much to be desired. By page 170, which is nearly halfway through the book, nothing had happened. NOTHING.
  • I wish I could have connected with Lila as a character. Intrepid, brazen, convention-breaking female? Everything I love. But she just felt so flat to me. Like, she wanted to get out. But that was it. What else did she want? I couldn’t get a read on her, I didn’t feel that blazing, burning, wanting from her. All of the characters felt like cardboard cutouts to me, actually. Except for, funny enough. Rhy, who was barely in the book (at least the part that I read) at all. He seemed real to me. Genuine. Like I could reach out and touch him. But he was the only one.
  • There wasn’t enough information about Black London for me to feel interested in their journey there. There was a vague sense of foreboding, but that was about it. Oh, boy, there’s a stone and we have to take it back. ….Oh…kay?
  • It got a little bit more interesting once Lila and Kell had gone from Grey London to Red London. Particularly the bits where Lila was lost and alone, trying to find her way in this strange new place, with no idea at all of the ways and customs of the place that she had stumbled into. Still. It wasn’t enough to hold my attention.

I am, however, looking forward to hearing your thoughts! Perhaps there will be something in them to convince me to continue and finish the book. Is anyone going to go ahead and read the second one? Let the discussion begin in the comments below!

Also, make sure you vote for June’s book selection here.

May Discussion: A Darker Shade of Magic

the hard day plan

Creative Commons 2014 © Matt Deavenport
Creative Commons 2014 © Matt Deavenport

The walls shimmer with shifting blue shadows. The lapping sounds echo off the tile floor. The smell of salt water fills my nose.

I plunge into the cool water without hesitation, letting it envelop me completely, closing over my head, caressing my face, pulling me under, but not against my will. I open my eyes to observe the wavy blue depths I now inhabit.

My feet push off the bottom, my arms propel me, clumsy but somehow still elegant, through the uneven waves. Under here, I hear nothing but the rhythmic workings of the system that keeps the pool full and clean, and, occasionally, when I tune in, the beating of my own heart. My head breaks the surface momentarily so I can suck down a deep lungful of air – the silent, perfect world broken – and then I am under again.

I don’t know what it is about water. Pool water, lake water, ocean water. Bath water, even. It cleanses me, somehow. Washes away my anxieties and fears, the squicky lies my depression tells me, and the tendency I have to ruminate on issues beyond my control. It brings me back to a more primal, more present, me.

Maybe it’s a womb thing. Maybe it’s a childhood thing. Maybe it’s a vestige of some primordial something or other. Whatever the reason, water makes me feel reborn. It is a physical reset that tells me, “Yes. You can do this. You can survive.” Nothing can touch me in the water.


When I met with Blake to be photographed and interviewed for her project, We All Believe In You, I didn’t know what I was going to say. For a long time, I have been quite open about my struggles with depression, but suddenly, it seemed like my story was too small. It didn’t compare to the tales of immense struggle and pain that other people had been telling. I don’t self-harm and I have never attempted suicide, and it seemed like that meant my pain and my experience of mental illness were less than.

Blake did away with those fears immediately, asserting, quite forcefully, that everyone’s story is relevant and everyone’s experiences are important. We talked briefly, about when my depression started, about how it has affected my life, about how I have dealt with it. She asked me what advice I had for other people who may be experiencing similar difficulties, and I told her, “Have a plan in place before the hard days come.”

I forget this advice all the time. In the middle of a depressive episode, it is really easy to forget all of the things that I have previously done to make myself well again. So I have posted a list on my wall, entitled, helpfully, Self-Care Cheat Sheet. It lists 12 things I can do to make myself feel a little bit more okay when I feel depression tapping me on the shoulder.

Recently, I finished reading Jes Baker‘s book, Things No One Will Tell Fat Girls. (It is a revelation. Read it.) She has a whole chapter dedicated to mental health, which made me do a kind of happy dance. Then, as I read it, I stumbled upon something awesome:

Her main piece of advice for those of us who struggle with hard days – so, everyone – is to have a plan in place ahead of time.


So that was pretty cool. And it also gave me a bit of a push to revamp my Self-Care Cheat Sheet. Now, instead of 12 items, it lists 53. It’s tucked away inside my journal right now but I fully intend on making a poster out of it for myself, bright and colorful and pretty, so I can put it somewhere where it is very easily accessible. (When those hard days come, they come fast, and I don’t always have time to remember where my list has been stashed before I am curled in bed, unwilling and unable to drag myself out of it, come hell or high water.)

Some of my items:

  • Pet an animal. Visit the SPCA if possible.
  • Sing along to Taylor Swift. Loudly.
  • Light a candle in the dark and watch it dance.
  • Have a bubble bath.
  • Take 5 deep breaths. Then another 5.
  • Wash the sheets and roll around on them while they are still warm and smell amazing.
  • Go to the movies alone.
  • Make tea.
  • Snuggle a baby.
  • Indulge in some (controlled) retail therapy.
  • Swim.
  • Smile. Fake it til you make it.


My skin felt too tight, my limbs twitching with barely contained energy that zipped through my veins like tourists in the treetops of Costa Rica. I wanted to crawl out of myself for a while. I could feel my teeth gritting, trying to tamp down on increasing anxiety and restlessness.

I went into the bedroom, changed as quickly as possible, and headed into the hallway. I tapped my foot impatiently as I waited an interminably long time for the damn elevator to arrive. Didn’t it know I was on the verge of collapse?! Finally, it dinged and the doors slid open. I wedged myself in between two other passengers and watched as the numbers rapidly descended. The doors opened once more, spilling us all out into the foyer, and I hurried around the corner, swiping my key fob, and pushing open the door.

The shifting blue shadows. The lapping waves. The smell of salt water.

My whole body relaxed.


Do you have a hard day plan? What does it consist of? Feel free to share the things that make you feel more human in the comments. <3

the hard day plan

April Discussion: These Shallow Graves


That was something a little different! I really relished the murder mystery and the experience of Jo breaking out of the confines of her restrictive society. The juxtaposition of the high society life she had and the life she began to lead with Eddie was startling and really underlined how few options women had in those days. I know I’m way more grateful for the freedoms that I have now!

  • I totally thought it was Theakston who murdered her father. I mean, isn’t it always the butler?
  • The romance between Jo and Eddie was very realistically rendered. And Jo was such a typical teenage girl! “I saw him with another girl, instead of asking him about it, I’m going to get engaged to another man in a fit of pique. Whoops, that girl was his sister and now I feel like a fool.”
  • I loved all the gritty details of New York life in the late 19th century. Donnelly’s descriptions were so vivid, I felt like I was there.
  • The Tailor, though not a huge character, was certainly a convincingly drawn villain. The scenes with him made me quite anxious!
  • As Jo was telling her uncle about everything that she had discovered, I was quite concerned that she was going to end up in Darkbriar herself. And, lo and behold, I was right. There was no way that her uncle was going to just BELIEVE her (especially because WHOA he was the murderer). Donnelly did such a great job, too, of making me question everything up until that point: had Jo just made it up in the middle of a nervous breakdown? Why would Eddie and Oscar have said they never met her? Just to protect her, right? But maybe not! 
  • I love that Jo did her damndest to save herself. And that, when it came time, it wasn’t Eddie or Oscar or Bram or another man who saved her when her wits and wiles proved to be not quite enough. It was Fay. And then it was Jo herself who made the decision to come forward with the truth, to tear down her entire life, and start over. Freedom. It is the best thing.

What did you guys think? Did you guys enjoy this book as much as I did? It is my favorite that we have read so far, for sure. By far!

What should we read next month? 

April Discussion: These Shallow Graves

Freedom is Deleting All of My TBR Books

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Yesterday, I did something that felt crazy: I went onto Goodreads and I deleted from my To-Read shelf. It went from To Read (1655) to To Read (0). It took nearly an hour and the first few times I hit delete a huge part of me was screaming, “WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!!” As the number whittled down, though, it became easier and easier to breathe.

No regrets. It has been a long time since my reading life has felt this free.

A few months ago, we were at our friend Thomas’s house and I was perusing his shelf of books. I found several that I wanted to read and took them home with me that night. I added them to my pile of books to be read; that I’ve borrowed, that I own, and that I’ve taken out of the library. I immediately felt a pang of anxiety: there were just so many of them. It seemed like an impossibility that I would ever get through all of them.

Let me say that again: I felt anxiety while looking at a pile of books to read, when reading is my favorite way to spend my time.

Clearly, I was doing something wrong.

I can’t remember the last time I went to the library and spent any time actually browsing. Picking up books that caught my eye because of their title or their cover or the book jacket description. For months, I’ve pushed through the crowd of smokers outside the front door, bee-lined straight for the holds shelf, picked up the 3-10 holds waiting for me, slid them through the self check-out and power-walked right back out of there.

Well. Those are joyful trips. I never even wanted to look at the shelves because I could see that huge number, 1655, flashing behind my eyes every time I did. I didn’t want to add more books to it! It was already too huge for me to tackle over the next ten years, let alone if I kept adding to it! I walked around with book blinders and hoped I never saw a book that I wanted to read.

The other day, I’d had enough. I’d had enough of sucking the joy out of something that I love. I had read a post about culling down a to-be-read list and I spent a couple of hours going through my shelf, reading descriptions, checking out exerpts, deciding which books would stay and which would go. After almost three hours, I’d looked at nearly 800 books and gotten down from 1655 to 1542. That was a lot of progress, but there was still so far to go.

And then a crazy idea struck.

What if I just…deleted them all?

Immediately, the idea wrapped itself around my brain and would not let go. I had to do it. I was hypnotized by the image of a completely empty shelf that would never fill up again. Of being able to wander aimlessly through the library and pick out a new book to read that I’d never heard of before and not experience a single pang of anxiety when I decided to take it home. Of once again stumbling upon things instead of planning out every second of my reading life.

Sure, I will miss out on a lot of those books that were on my to-read shelf. There’s no way that I could remember even a fraction of them. I am sure that a lot of them are really great books. Some of them are probably even exceptional. But will I miss them?

Definitely not.

I can’t say that I will never add another book to my to-read shelf again. But going forward I will definitely be far more selective about what makes the cut. And if I have to? I’ll delete them all again.

Freedom is Deleting All of My TBR Books

March Discussion: Across the Universe


Well! That turned out to be a pleasant surprise. For the first, oh, three quarters of the book, I was banging my head against a wall, wondering why I was wasting my time. But then, around page 300, things started to pick up, and I raced through the last 100 pages quite happily.

There are so many things to talk about with this one! Let’s get started. Obviously, here by spoilers, so if you haven’t finished the book and you care about that sort of thing, maybe come back later.

  • I felt so bad for Amy when she realized that she was not going to see her parents again. On top of knowing that she would never see earth again. That is just cruel! Talk about leaving your entire life behind.
  • What do you think about the ethics of what Eldest did? The ethics of treating a whole population as though they were animals, keeping them as domesticated and docile as possible, even controlling their reproduction. The whole idea was so skeevy to me. (Also, I’m no prude, but the whole Season made me vastly uncomfortable.) And that they were called Feeders?! That is some next level creepy stuff. But do you think that there was some merit to Eldest’s methods? Elder seems to think so, and I am not sure that I entirely disagree. Their situation is a strange and precarious one: a population stuck on a ship, nowhere to go, no ending in sight. That’s tough. But I also wonder what would have happened if they didn’t know about Sol-Earth OR Centauri-Earth. If they just knew that this was their lives and that was that. Would that have been better?
  • Not to brag or anything, but I totally called that Orion was the previous Elder (just ask my mama!). I did think the cloning aspect was a bit much, but it does bring up some interesting questions about cloning and whether or not it is possible for a situation like that to arise, where three people with the exact same DNA turn out to be so different. I don’t know enough about DNA to even begin to make a hypothesis about it, but I am interested.
  • Harley. Broke my heart. That is all.
  • I actually think I might read the rest of the series! The me of even yesterday would be shocked, but there you have it. Across the Universe actually turned out to be as good as I was expecting, despite a really lackluster beginning.

AND NOW! Over to you guys. What are your thoughts?

(Also, vote for next month’s book selection here. Remember, if you don’t vote, you can’t complain about what we read!)

March Discussion: Across the Universe

one poem and three haikus

i. I am/not my body

it is me and I am it

but I am more

and less.

I am flesh and bone

and blood


heart and soul

and mind.

I think,

therefore I am,

I breathe,

therefore I think,


I think,

therefore I breathe.

I am hips

and breasts

and thighs

and labia.

I am loves

and hopes

and hatred

and fear.

I am

but I am not.

I am





I am/not my body;

I am so much more.



my mind is a cage

of monkeys, rattling

against my skull.


winter snaps in half,

parting to make way for

the stems of spring.


night ticks around me,

still but for the relentless

passage of time.





Which is your favorite? I think mine is #2.

one poem and three haikus

How Not to Be a Writer


  1. Never write. Anything. Ever. But if you do happen to break this first and most integral rule, make sure that you at least follow the next four without fail.
  2. Remember that whatever you write absolutely must be perfect. And brilliant. And stunningly original. It must make everyone who even glimpses the title weep over the emotional resonance of it. It also must make you millions, and very, VERY famous.
  3. Care, deeply and desperately, about what every single person in the world thinks about you and your writing. It is essential to your self-worth.
  4. Never try to be published. That’s so gauche. You must be discovered by accident, preferably by someone stumbling upon one of your throwaway, scribbled poems on a paper napkin. No name, of course, but they were so enchanted by your unusual way with words that they spent six months and a small fortune tracking you down.
  5. Give in to fear. Fear knows best. And whatever you do, never ever try anything new, for God’s sake.
  6. And play it again, kids, once more with feeling: the Golden Rule of How to Not be a Writer is never ever write. 
How Not to Be a Writer