Posted in Entertainment

How to Make a Lauren: A Personality Recipe

A couple days ago, I chose protagonist Emi to represent my entire personality.

I’d identified closely with Harry Potter in the past, but those days were over…

…right?

Continue reading “How to Make a Lauren: A Personality Recipe”

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Posted in Books

Lauren’s Go-To Reads: Old Standbys

“So,” the interviewer starts, holding his iPhone near my face. “What books have most influenced your writing?”

“Yes, tell us,” says Adam Grant, my research hero. I haven’t figured out yet why he’s here. “Which authors acted as mentors in your youth?”

“Interesting question, Adam.” I grab the iPhone and speak directly into it “Follow-up question: Will I be mentioned in your next book?”

Adam smiles enigmatically but doesn’t answer the question.

Feeling left out, the nameless interviewer clears his throat.

“All right, chill. As it happens, I made a list of books that have influenced me.”

Fascinating.” Adam scribbles something on his notepad. From here, it looks like, “Scrap interview – call Malcolm G,” but I’ve never been good at reading upside-down.

“This seems like a long intro to a post,” the interviewer grumbles.

“NO ONE ASKED YOU.” Continue reading “Lauren’s Go-To Reads: Old Standbys”

Posted in Books

Summer Reading List

I’ve rejoiced my parents’ last day of school. I’ve purchased aloe for a terrible sunburn. I’ve broken out the baby powder for 80-degree days.

Summer is upon us.

That means it’s time to read. A lot.

If you’re looking for suggestions, I have TRILLIONS. I even organized them from fluffy to thought-provoking, with ample gray area for darker reads.

Here they are in list form. I’ll start with the fluffiest and get progressively more…mature? Serious? Literary? Whatever.

Key:
YA: Young Adult
CR: Currently Reading
TBR: To Be Read

  1. The Princess Diaries by Meg Cabot (YA)
    A 14-year-old Manhattanite finds out she’s actually a European princess. I will never not recommend this book.
  2. When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon (YA, TBR)
    Two teens with clashing personliaties meet and presumably fall in love at computer camp. I will note that I bought this for $3 at a book sale solely because of the iced coffee on the book jacket.
  3. My Lady’s Choosing: An Interactive Romance Novel by Kitty Curran and Larissa Zageris
    An absolutely insane choose-your-own-adventure romance. Your choices include a sharp-tongued aristocrat, a half-dressed Scotsman, an intrepid explorer, and several fantastical creatures of dubious sanity. Rated NC-17. No, I’m not kidding.
  4. Bad Kitty by Michele Jaffe (YA)
    Forensics fanatic Jasmine Callihan, along with her colorful group of friends, tries to solve a mystery involving a cat, a severed thumb, and Kermit underpants. Hilarity ensues. This is the funniest book I’ve ever read, hands down, and the biggest influence on my writing style. Show some RESPECT.
  5. The Selection series by Kiera Cass (YA)
    Published in the wake of The Hunger Games, these books ask an important question, namely: What if the monarchy participated in a “Bachelor”-style reality show to pick the new queen? THESE BOOKS ARE SO DUMB…but I own the entire series, including the spin-offs, which have made me weep REAL TEARS.
  6. The Good Girl’s Guide to Getting Lost: A Memoir of Three Continents, Two Friends, and One Unexpected Adventure by Rachel Friedman (TBR)
    Good girl Rachel Friedman shocks everyone by buying a ticket to Ireland on a whim. I keep buying travelogues with mixed results, so we’ll see how this goes.
  7. Something New: Tales From a Makeshift Bride by Lucy Knisley
    An artist’s tale of her DIY wedding in comic book format. Includes recipes, photos, practical wedding tips, and pages soaked with my tears.
  8. Less by Andrew Sean Greer (TBR)
    Author books whirlwind speaking tour to cope with ex’s wedding. I’m guessing he Finds Love and Learns About Himself…but the book won the Pulitzer prize, so it has to be good,
  9. The Theory of Everything by Kari Luna (YA, CR)
    Sophie Sophia, like her father before her, has an active imagination. JUST KIDDING! She HALLUCINATES! Or does she…? A thoughtful look at mental illness in hot pink packaging.
  10. Lunch in Paris: A Love Story with Recipes by Elizabeth Bard
    Follows a New York writer as she falls in love with French cuisine. Includes many recipes I will never attempt and one for profiteroles I might.
  11. Dramarama by E. Lockhart (YA)
    Small-town girl and her gay best friend navigate theater camp politics. Come for the amateur musicals. Stay for the smart handling of sexuality, race, and identity.
  12. Ship It by Britta Lundin (YA)
    A slash shipper and an inexperienced actor go on tour following a PR slip-up. I thought it would be silly romp about shipping culture, but its deep dive into representation and belonging broke my stupid heart.
  13. The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee (YA)
    Bisexual bad boy Lord Henry “Monty” Montague takes a trip with sister Felicity and secret crush Percy that turns into a piratical adventure full of…frank discussions about race and sexuality? WHAT?
  14. If I Stay by Gayle Forman (YA)
    Girl hospitalized following a car accident ponders whether she wants to keep living. This was THE book in 2009 and it made everyone cry. Think The Notebook for teens, only interesting and well-written.
  15. The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart (YA)
    Private school girl infiltrates all-male secret society. Alternate title: A Young Girl’s Guide to Smashing the Patriarchy.
  16. The Graceling Realm series by Kristin Cashore (YA)
    Fast-paced, female-led fantasy novels with a feminist bent. Though all three books are excellent, Fire is my favorite.
  17. Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor (YA)
    “Once upon a time, an angel and a devil fell in love. It did not end well.” That first line was all the context I had going into this book. I’ve read lots of fantastical forbidden love stories in my day; I don’t often get to read one this well-written. Also, winner of the award for MOST TRAUMATIZING DEATH SCENE. I READ THIS AT WORK. I WAS UNPREPARED.
  18. The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer (YA)
    Grimm’s Fairy Tales…IN SPACE. Series highlights: Scarlet falling for a terse streetfighter in Scarlet and all the characters joining forces to abduct royalty in Cress.
  19. Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo (YA)
    Six teenage criminals pull off an impossible heist. Don’t let the book’s thickness fool you – the plot moves fast. Contains multiple romances and a gunslinger(!).
  20. The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater (YA)
    Pyschic-adjacent Blue meets a band of prep school boys with an unnatural interest in Welsh kings. Home to THE GREATEST YA HERO in recent memory. The Raven Cycle? More like the RONAN Cycle.
  21. Turtles All the Way Down by John Green (YA)
    Anxious teenager Asa Holmes joins her exuberant best friend in a money-making scheme that results in Asa confronting her issues with intimacy, as well as her waning mental health. Contains incredibly-accurate and validating depiction of anxiety.
  22. Jane Unlimited by Kristin Cashore (YA)
    On orders from her deceased aunt, Jane travels to the mysterious mansion Tu Reviens, where things get weird as hell. That’s all I’ve got.
  23. The Big Lie by Julie Mayhew
    Alternate history exploring a modern-day Third Reich. Picked this up at a Blind Date with a Book giveaway. No regrets.
  24. Am I There Yet? The Loop-de-Loop, Zigzagging Journey to Adulthood by Mari Andrew
    Illustrator Mari Andrew reassures “unsuccessful” millennials with her own journey through early adulthood. Buy this for your sad 20-something friends.
  25. The Happiness Project, Or, Why I  Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun by Gretchen Rubin
    Chronicles Gretchen Rubin’s attempt to increase her happiness in 12 months with charts and research. Eat, Pray, Love for the left-brained set.
  26. Mothering Sunday by Graham Swift
    Follows the life of a maid having an affair with a wealthy lord in the 1920s. It’s deeper than you would expect.
  27. You Can’t Touch my Hair: And Other Things I Still Have to Explain by Phoebe Robinson
    Humorous and thoughtful take on race relations in America. Contains one of my favorite passages on sidewalk rage ever printed.
  28. Would You Rather by Katie Heaney
    Writer Katie Heaney comes out as gay after 28 years believing herself straight. This book came out in May; I’ve already read it four times. Will appeal to anyone who has moved to a big city, struggled with anxiety, or  watched “The L Word.”
  29. Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay
    Gay’s essays deconstruct “perfect” feminism, popular television, rape culture, and use of the word “girl.” Now available in pink!
  30. Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church by Rachel Held Evans
    Evans ties modern church pitfalls with her own experiences using the seven sacraments. Perfect for depressives dealing with a crisis of faith. (Meaning ME. IT’S PERFECT FOR ME.)
  31. Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill/Chemistry by Weike Wang
    Two stream-of-consciousness novels about women battling mental breakdowns. These books are weirdly similar, but I love them both.
  32. The Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obreht
    After her grandfather dies unexpectedly, a young woman traces his origins to a village that once harbored an escaped tiger. That sound you hear is my stupid heart breaking all over the pages.
  33. The Underground Railroad by Coulson Whitehead (TBR)
    A novel about the Underground Railroad…except, in this story, it’s a literal railroad. Also a Pulitzer Prize winner, AND I’ve heard the author namedropped by my two favorite podcasters.
  34. Hild by Nicola Griffith (CR)
    A novelist’s take on medieval warrior princess St. Hilda of Whitby. Called “one of the best novels ever.” So far my experience fits that description.
Posted in Books

Book Betrayals: A List of Past Hurts, pt. 3

(Catch up on part 1 and part 2.)

Good ol’ genre fiction. The stories I love tend to be more plot- than character-oriented, promising a fun ride. My favorite genres include chick lit, mystery, romance, and adventure.

Meet the biggest offender for each of the above genres.

Kale, My Ex, and Other Things to Toss in a Blender by Lisa Greenwald

Most Confusing Moral of 2017

In my defense, I was going through a breakup when I bought this book.

I LOVE breakup lit. And revenge stories. And, again, I was in a bad place.

Image result for kale my ex and other things to toss in a blender
Hello, rebound.

I bought this book during the summer, the perfect season for fun, fluffy literature. Not only did I find the title hilarious, I loved the idea of two girls creating their own smoothie business as part of an elaborate scheme to destroy an ex.

I was so ready.

I ended up finishing this, partly fueled by rage. The writing offended me. Completing this book become a test of will: could I finish a novel this awful?

Listen, if you’re going to sell me a fresh plot, you better deliver. Don’t promise me a smoothie stand if all you’ll give me is gross teenage romance and friend fights. I don’t care about these characters. YOU don’t care about these characters. Why develop them at all?

Both protagonists find love in this book, which…okay, one of them just went through a break-up, but you know what? Go for it.

Both romances were disgusting. The author amped up the awkwardness of teenage boys by a thousand. Normally cringeworthy lines became unbearable. “Quirky” behaviors multiplied like rabbits. One of the guys used flashcards as his “in.”

AND NO ONE CALLED THEM ON IT. Neither protagonist said, “Huh, that was kind of gross,” or “Is he hitting on me using trivia?”

Instead, both girls found the weird pick-up lines, moves, and excuses “kind of sexy.”

I now understand asexuality.

The VERY worst part of this book (and this is a spoiler): the girls blow all their hard-earned smoothie money on a helicopter ride to school. Now everyone will know who they are!

WAS THAT THE MESSAGE THIS WHOLE TIME?

WAS THAT WHAT WE WERE SUPPOSED TO LEARN???

All that time getting revenge on the ex, hooking up with gross boys, and rewriting your friendship dynamic…the real goal was showing up the jerks at your high school!?!?

I can’t. I can’t anymore. I’m done.

 

Dancing in Red Shoes Will Kill You by Dorian Cirrone

Best False Advertising of 2005

Looking at this book as an adult, I can see where I went wrong.

Image result for dancing in red shoes will kill you
This is why I judge books by their covers.

I love a good mystery; give me plot twists and whodunnits and thrills. Tipped off by the symbolic pumpkins, I realize now the author never intended the mystery to be the main focus.

I missed that detail as a 14-year-old.

After one or two mentions, the promised ballerinacide gave way to:

  • the [teenaged] protagonist considering breast reduction surgery to further her ballet career
  • the protagonist’s sister fighting for the right to draw realistic penises
  • a censorship march with a chant that rhymed “rude” with “drop your pants, dude.”
  • (my favorite plot point and a huge spoiler) the love interest’s expulsion for writing the threatening note (“It was a metaphor! I was quoting a poem!”)

As a former completionist, I read the whole thing (it was a dark time.)

I remember best the disappointment. In my view, Dorian Cirrone LIED to me: if you wanted to write about censorship and body image, why didn’t you just tell me??

Can we mark this as the official moment where I lost my innocence? That seems healthy. Let’s do it.

 

The Weight of Feathers by Anna-Marie McLemore

2015 World Record Holder for Fastest Romance

I’ve noticed book reviews use the word “lyrical” when they have nothing nice to say about the story.

Everything I read about this book continued in that vein: the prose was “lush,” the love story “magical,” the world “fantastic,” all very impressive descriptions for a debut novel. From all appearances, this looked to be a whimsical romantic journey.

Image result for weight of feathers
…I just noticed the comparison to The Night Circus. I’m an idiot.

None of the reviews mentioned how harsh this book is.

I will put up with a lot if like a story enough, but I draw the line at abuse.

This book isn’t very long, only about 300 pages, and yet unnecessary acts of violence comprise most of the plot: the chemical rain that burns the protagonists; the physical deformity Cluck received from a family member; Cluck’s older brother stabbing his sibling’s hands with a needle.

The promised romance covered 40 pages. In those pages, the leads went from enemies to lovers to back to enemies. The author packed too much relationship into too few pages.

After the aforementioned needle stabbing, I couldn’t continue.

I’m torn – McLemore also wrote a trans romance that sounds great, but after this? I expect 200 pages of physical violence capped by a single kiss between the leads.

Not worth it.

 

The Girl From Everywhere by Heidi Heilig

Winner of the Medal for Worst Execution

Image result for girl from everywhere heidi heilig
My copy did NOT look this cool.

Squandering solid ideas infuriates me.

Sometimes I feel like coming up with ideas is the hardest part of writing. Even if something excites me, I wonder, “Is it strong enough to fuel an entire story?” If it’s an idea with a lot of required research or moving parts, I wonder, “Am I motivated to complete this?”

I’d like to be a great little cheerleader who supports other writers and their attempts to create, no matter the quality.

Instead, I’m the slackjawed critic made sick by wasted potential.

If someone publishes a unique idea – an unusual setting, a specific historical retelling, an unlikely perspective, a speculative bent – that idea is now timestamped with their name on it. Others can be inspired by this idea or use similar elements to make their own stories, but they can’t use that idea without someone crying foul. The original, amazing idea belongs to whichever author thought of it first.

How does this relate to my rant?

Before I answer, I have a letter to write:

Dear Heidi Heilig,

WHAT WERE YOU THINKING?

Let’s take an inventory:

  • Diverse pirate crew: YES. Have I mentioned pirates at all – AT ALL – this entire rant? No? Well, I love ’em. I only read historical fiction if it has pirates.
  • Promised love story: I’m here for it. I LOVE love stories. Drinks all around!
  • Time travel: This?? This is GENIUS. And not just time travel – the pirates can travel to any time period and location, real or imagined, so long as they have an accurate map. That’s AMAZING. What a clever twist.
  • Natural father-daughter conflict: I must be getting better, because a few years ago, I couldn’t handle father-daughter conflict of any kind. This book took an interesting tack, too, with the fight involving protagonist Nix’s fate. In short: the father wanted to return to the place and time where he met his babymama so he could rewrite their tragic relationship. Doing so, however, would write Nix out of existence.

Look at all these DELICIOUS ingredients. SURELY all these separate parts would yield a wonderful recipe. Just let that tension simmer…

No? You’re not even going to turn on the heat? I mean…okay, Heidi, it’s your story.

The pirates…the pirates aren’t even gonna pirate anything? Just talk about it? Geez, hope the father-daughter conflict is better than this…

WHAT DO YOU MEAN THERE’S NO CONFLICT? Why is the protagonist RESIGNED to her fate? WHY IS SHE HELPING HIM?

At least we’ve got that love interest kicking around. Surely… Oh, he doesn’t care about her. RAD. Wait, Heidi, are you trying to push a race angle with him? Stick to sucking the tension out of your story.

Okay, we’re switching locations!! It’s time for some action!

…OR the protagonist can go shopping. That’s cool, too.

Ew, who’s that freckled kid? WHO’S THAT FRECKLED KID? HEIDI! ARE YOU THROWING A ROMANTIC FALSE LEAD AT ME RIGHT NOW? HEIDI! ANSWER ME! I’M NOT STUPID, HEIDI. DON’T TRY TO DISTRACT FROM YOUR THIN PLOT! HEIDI! GET BACK HERE!

I gave up after 80 pages. Once Freckle McPonytail showed up, I knew Heidi didn’t have anything interesting planned. With the plot at a dead halt and the characterization barely present, I couldn’t see anything promising on the horizon.

So I abandoned this book with all my hopes and dreams.

I hear you wrote a sequel, Heidi. I hear you duologied this garbage.

I wish I could go back in time to the moment I bought this book as a depressed, unemployed recent graduate. I would MOVE BACK TO BREMERTON if it meant I could ERASE THIS BOOK FROM MY MEMORY.

You betrayed me and I don’t care anymore.

Deepest regrets,

Lauren

Posted in Books

TERRIBLE PROSE TUESDAY: 50 Shades of Red

I was the type of teenager who read nothing but corny chick lit and snickered all the while. Feel free to call me a hypocrite.

Today’s Terrible Prose Tuesday features another letter from a YA book called “Love Undercover” by Jo Edwards. The book is about–I kid you not–a girl named Kaitlyn who falls in love with a guy in the Witness Protection Program. I’m pretty sure the climax involves her rescuing him from an assassination attempt at the school dance. It’s awesome.

So since the Witness Protection Program CLEARLY failed to protect this poor guy, they give him yet another new identity and place him with a different family. Hearbroken, Kaitlyn writes him a letter about her true feelings because she “wanted [him] to know.”

Truth be told, this letter might not actually be that terrible. Okay, it’s pretty terrible. There are some surprisingly good lines (the “karate chop you to oblivion” line comes to mind.)

HOWEVER:
Kaitlyn forgets that when you write a letter, you have the power to edit said letter. You DO NOT have to admit to blushing “50 shades of red.” You DO NOT have to say things that embarrass you. You DO NOT have to talk about things that make you uncomfortable.

…or you could do all those things and send the unedited product to the boy of your dreams, like Kaitlyn did.

I shouldn’t complain; it worked out fine for her. Rats, that’s probably a spoiler.