What’s Ashley Reading?: The Shadows Between Us

The Shadows Between Us by Tricia Levenseller

First line: They’ve never found the body of the first and only boy who broke my heart.

Summary: Alessandra is the youngest daughter of an earl. She has spent her life sequestered from the world until her sister marries but she has a plan to gain ultimate power for herself. First she is going to get the attention of the Shadow King. Second she will make him fall in love with her and marry her. And finally she is going to kill the king and take over his kingdom.

My Thoughts: Ever since reading Tricia Levenseller’s first book, Daughter of the Pirate King, I have been hooked. It was a fast read and lots of fun! Each book since has been the same. I highly anticipate each new release. When I saw that Netgalley had an ARC of The Shadows Between Us I requested it immediately.

This is my favorite book of her so far. This is being called a Slytherin romance and that 100% describes it. I loved each of the main characters. They were both not good people but they are unashamed of it too. They know it and do not apologize for their faults. From the very first page the story takes off. Alessandra is wickedly charming and cunning. Kallias is dark, moody and brutal. But there are characters with lighter sides that add a little fluff which is refreshing too.

I loved the whole premise of the Shadow King. The magic and the way it works is brilliant. This author has a wonderful imagination and can bring her worlds to life. I could easily picture Kallias and his shadows. The details of the outfits were stunning. I wish I could read this again for the first time. I am so sad I have to wait another year for a new book by Levenseller.

FYI: This is a standalone young adult novel.

From Reader to Writer: Tips from a Master of Suspense

In my constant and nearly obsessive pursuit to understand the craft of creative writing, I’ve given the Masterclass platform a try. I’ve had mixed feelings on the classes, finding that the advice tends to be more vague and open-ended rather than hard concepts and techniques. I started out with James Patterson’s lessons then meandered between both Judy Blume’s and Neil Gaiman’s lectures before finally connecting with a class from suspense master, Dan Brown, author of The DaVinci Code.

I’ll admit to you right now that I’m not aiming to be the next Agatha Christie. When it comes to novels, I don’t write suspense, thrillers, or mysteries (I’ll save that kind of writing for our interactive mystery night events at the library). But in terms of both resonating and applicable advice, Dan Brown threw out some real gems.

Here are a few tips that might help you in your creative process without having to shell out the subscription fees.

Be Tough on Process, Gentle on Output

By this Dan Brown talked about how the process and practicality of writing is more important than the actual writing itself. With any kind of creative endeavor, it’s so easy to be tough on oneself about the quality, the content, or the tiny details, but Dan says to focus that tough-coach energy on getting to your desk every day and being firm about the practical goals of when and how often you will work. Gentleness and forgiveness with oneself needs to be applied to what happens when you’re actually there. If you got to your laptop or notebook today to work, you’ve done your job. What actually happened on the page isn’t nearly as important.

Give Crazy Ideas a Chance

In other words, write the wrong thing in order to write the right thing. This is definitely where I’m at with my work. Writing requires a lot of decision-making. Everything from how a character develops to how the story unfolds is entirely up to the writer. I tend to get stuck on what the “right” decision is for the story, but Dan Brown recommends giving crazy ideas a chance, especially in the early stages of a project. Writing the weirdest or wackiest ideas first without worry of someone’s judgement is the best way to get to those answers that feel the most beneficial for your story.

“Write like no one is watching…because no one is watching ”

Dan Brown

Set the Table for Breakfast

Whether you plan to be creative in the morning, afternoon, or evening, Dan recommends “setting the table” for the next session’s work. This means if you’re wrapping your day’s work by finishing a chapter, go ahead and start the paragraph of the next chapter. Give yourself something to pick up from when you sit down the next day so you aren’t just staring at a blank page or need to go back and re-read everything to remember where you left off. Give yourself as much of an upper hand for tomorrow’s work, and even if the work you added ends up in the trash bin, you’ve at least provided a spring board to start for the next day.

The subjectivity of writing can be both a gift and a curse. Unlike dancing or singing which has a defined and regimented technique, writing can be interpreted in so many ways, and the techniques that work for one writer don’t always work for another. However, I’ve found that the best way to figure out what methods or advice work for you is to listen and try them. Go forth, creator, and be both tough and gentle, crazy with new ideas, and prepared for the work that’s waiting for you.

What’s Ashley Reading?: The Borgia Confessions

The Borgia Confessions by Alyssa Palombo

First line: The day I learned of my father’s plans for me, I was but nine years old.

Summary: In the summer of 1492 in Rome Cesare Borgia sees his father rise to the become the newest pope. Cesare has been forced to follow his father into the church but he knows that he is destined for something more. He has a strong military mind and passion to rule. However, his father is blinded by his ambitions to consider what Cesare wants.

Maddalena Moretti has come from the country to work in the Vatican. As a servant she sees into the world of powerful men who rule Europe. When she catches the eye of the handsome cardinal, Cesare Borgia, their lives become entwined as Rome and the rest of Italy fight the changes that are coming for them all.

My Thoughts: I love Alyssa Palombo. She is such a talented writer. She brings her stories to life and makes the characters believable. Even though many of the characters in this story are not likeable she does a fantastic job of getting the reader to at least understand them. I have been fascinated by the Borgia’s since picking up The Borgia Bride by Jeanne Kalogridis. I was very excited when I saw that Alyssa Palombo’s newest book would be centered on this notorious family.

I love the intrigue and drama of the Borgia family. They were people who schemed for everything they got but were at the center of religious power in Europe. I am very familiar with their story so there was not much that surprised me in the narrative but I loved the naughty bits which were more prominent in this novel compared to her other ones. I liked seeing the world from the eyes of a servant. At the end the author discussed how she wanted to look at the events from someone of power and someone without power. I agree it makes it much more interesting to see both sides.

FYI: Perfect for fans of Philippa Gregory and Alison Weir.

What’s Ashley Reading?: The Sun Down Motel

The Sun Down Motel by Simone St. James

First line: The night it all ended, Vivian was alone.

Summary: In 1982 Viv Delaney is hitchhiking through New York when she is dropped off at the Sun Down Motel. That night she is offered the job of the night clerk for the motel. On her first nights she learns that not everything is as it seems at the Sun Down. The strong smell of cigarettes, doors opening and closing on their own and ghostly voices around every corner. Then one night in November Viv disappears without a trace.

Flash forward to 2017, Carly Kirk travels to the town of Fell, New York to find out what really happened to her aunt who disappeared from the Sun Down Motel in 1982.

My Thoughts: This was so much fun!! I read it in just 2 days. I loved the old motel, the people and the mystery. I always drive by old motels and wonder who actually stops there. This answered it for me. St. James’ descriptions of the place are just eerie. It is a place stuck in a time bubble. I can easily imagine the smell of the old smoke, the dirty carpets and the old bedspreads. Add to the creepy hotel a few ghosts and you have the recipe for a perfect story. The first time that Viv sees the woman it gave me chills.

FYI: If you love a good ghost story than this is for you!

I Take My Books How I Take My Coffee…

Admit it, we all have a type. Some of us prefer the dark and seductive. Some prefer the sickeningly sweet. Others still prefer the strong and straightforward choice. There are many options. Most (if not all) are enticing, but still our vice calls to us.

My vice is coffee. I’ll take it any way I can get it, but a lady does have her preferences. Maybe you’ll find your preferences connect from book to beverage as well.

Tea (earl grey): Beverages :: Literature : Novels

Refined is the theme here. These pages, and leaves, have stood the test of time. Extras are not required. Austen, Shakespeare, Bronte, Melville, Wilde, Lee, Tolstoy, Elliot, Dickens… what more could a reader require? Once each of the classics have been read, though that is a lofty goal, one might move from here into the modern classics or contemporary novels. Who says you cannot read a book more than once, though? Certainly not us.

Prepackaged : Beverages :: Graphics & Comics : Novels

Do you regularly sit in front of a screen into the wee hours of the morning? Is a controller glued to your hand? Is there a checkered board in front of you? Is that a cheeto in your hand? Graphic Novels and Comics might be your preferred choice of literature. Yes, I do mean literature. Have you read “V for Vendetta”, or, like, any comic? They are all so political it’d be hard to miss the theme. It’s just presented in a different format. Just like those drinks in the cooler at the gas station: its still coffee… it just has a few preservatives in it. Drink with caution. They’re addicting.

Hot Chocolate : Beverages :: Chapter books: Novels

There’s something so comforting about a good hot chocolate. I don’t know about you, but it takes me back to childhood Christmases. Just because those days have passed (for me), doesn’t mean I don’t still enjoy the beverage, though. Same goes for the books. Just because the main characters are young, doesn’t mean the novels are any lesser. Read with pride my people. Harry Potter and The Giver do not lessen with time.

Frapuccino : Beverages :: Young Adult Books: Novels

Ah, to be young and not worried about the amount of sugar sure to go to your hips, or tummy, or that annoying double chin I got at twenty-five. Truth is, we all know we’re going to drink it anyway. It’s too good to pass up! It’s just a natural an unconcerned pick for many teens. In the same notion, we all know that new YA book. We all want to read it. We all feel awkward as we traipse the YA shelves of the local library. It’s a worthwhile endeavor, though. A little indulgent, perhaps, but worth the calories.

*Iced Coffee : Beverages :: Young Adult: Novels

**A slightly more adult version of those YA novels. It’s still iced, but a bit less sweet. It’s a bit more to the point– sharper. Watered Milked down a bit, sure, but one cannot be expected to go cold turkey!

Black Coffee: Beverages :: Nonfiction : Novels

“Just the facts, ma’am.”

Actually, I find this beverage also fits the Hard Science Fiction Reader as well. Sometimes High Fantasy draws in the black coffee drinkers as well. It’s science driven. It’s an epic journey, magic driven but more serious than flouncy. These extra genres require no sweetness.

Flat White: Beverages :: Genre Fiction : Novels

So, you enjoy your coffee but you won’t turn down a bit of milk or sugar? It’s not watered down, its plot padding!

Affogato: Beverages :: Specific Genre Fiction(s): Novels

Indulgent. A specialty, many have never considered this option. Once you’ve tried it, it’s hard to go back though. Keep a pint of ice cream in the freezer, just in case you come across one of those nights you need a little something extra.

Chai Latte: Beverages :: Realistic: Novels

Can’t pick between coffee and tea, can you? You own a high brow library (all read and enjoyed), but keep eying that new book at the library. You know, the low brow one you’d never tell your friends about. Rest easy, my friends. We can meet in the middle at a realistic choice.

Pumpkin Spiced Latte : Beverages :: Bestsellers : Novels

Basic. If so many enjoy it, why can’t you. Well, I’m here to tell you: you can, Becky. You can do it! Any kind of reading, is good reading… and any kind of coffee, is good coffee. Why force yourself to drink something different? That PSL calls to you! The barista even knows your name! Why go with some random book you’ve barely heard of, when Patterson, Evanovich, and Grisham know exactly what you like? Ignore the haters, Becky. I got you.

White Chocolate Mocha Latte : Beverages :: Contemporary Romance : Novels

It’s so sweet. From the whipped top, to the white chocolate syrup, it’s designed to hit that sweet tooth with everything it’s got. It’s almost too much, but not quite enough to deter you.

Dulce de leche : Beverages :: Erotic Romance : Novels

Ingredients: kahlua, dulce de leche, coffee, chocolate, heavy cream, sugar

Adult readers only! You must be 21 or older to buy this beverage. With heaps of chocolate, Kahlua (or any liquor of your choice, really), and a heavy dose of heavy cream… this drink is positively sinful. You may feel a bit guilty about this kind of indulgence, even. Ain’t no shame in the game though, honey. As long as you’re legal buying age, everyone deserves a bit of adult relaxation.

I hope if these aren’t your go to genres now, that maybe you’ll consider reading them in the future. Perhaps the reverse as well, try a new beverage! It might be the best one yet.

Happy Reading my friends — Chelsea

What’s Ashley Reading?: Not much…

This week’s blog post is a little different. I have been sick and not really feeling like reading. Sleeping has been a priority for me in the last few days but I have some books that I am really excited about starting.

In December our staff participated in a murder mystery instead of having a traditional Christmas party. Everything was designed by our amazingly talented teen coordinator, Alyssa. She designed everything around a secret society whose goal is to protect and preserve literary works. Over several weeks we were emailed clues then asked to put everything together and reveal the murderer, why they were committing the crime and what the important document was all about. Let me tell you, it was HARD! I truly do not know how Miss Alyssa’s mind holds all of this.

After weeks of pouring over the clues I found out that I had won the grand prize! A $100 gift card to Watermark Books & Cafe! My next free weekend was spent browsing their shelves looking for just the right books. I picked out seven books and an enamel pin. Trust me it was not easy to decide but I did it.

List of books I bought:

So hopefully I will be feeling better by the weekend so I can start on some of these books. If you are interested in winning a gift card to Watermark Books then enter our For the Love of Reading challenge on Beanstack. It runs from February 2-14, 2020. You still have time to log books. The more you read the more chances you have to win!

Random Reading Thoughts: How do you feel about the classics?

I recently ran across a blog post that ranked the classics based on Goodreads user ratings. The post is titled “The Most Loved and Hated Classic Novels According to Goodreads Users.” Most loved and hated? I was completely intrigued!

Like many people, I was assigned to read many books that carry the label “classic” while I was in high school. Among them were The Scarlet Letter, A Tale of Two Cities, Tom Sawyer, and Pride and Prejudice. I learned quickly that I don’t like anything by Charles Dickens and I love Mark Twain. I never read The Scarlet Letter, and still haven’t to this day. And I’m pretty sure my English teacher was completely aware of that.

So, it was with these and many other reading — and non-reading — experiences with classic novels, that I read the blog post. I was not particularly surprised that To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee made the top of the most-loved list (it’s one of my favorites). But I was surprised to see The Godfather by Mario Puzo on the list at all. But once I looked at the parameters the post author used to define “classic novel” it made sense. Other top-rated titles that I read (or was supposed to read and didn’t) in high school include Pride and Prejudice and The Brothers Karamazov.

Bottom of the list? The aforementioned The Scarlet Letter. In the interest of full disclosure, it still rates an average 3.4 stars from readers, and several of my friends have given it 5-star ratings. So I feel like the term “Most Hated” is a little bit of a misnomer when you look at it that way. Other titles that join Nathaniel Hawthorne’s classic at the bottom of the list include Moby Dick by Herman Melville and Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. Two more titles I’ve never read, and don’t plan to.

Even with the apparent issues in making a list such as this, it’s compelling to consider what elements a book needs to include to qualify as a piece of “classic literature.” For instance, I surely don’t consider The Great Gatsby the Great American Novel. I thought it was a horrible book. But I do love Jane Austen and John Steinbeck (yes, I love The Grapes of Wrath, but I didn’t have to read it in high school).

So tell us in the comments, do you have classics that you love or love to hate? Were there classics you had to read in school that you ended up loving? Have you approached classics later in your life and had different reactions to them? Share your favorite classic novel, or the worst one you’ve ever read. We want to know!