Whiskey When We’re Dry by John Larison

I am doing the Book Riot 2018 Read Harder Challenge this year and one of the requirements was to read a western.  I am not a big western reader (I am incredibly squeamish and don’t handle blood and violence very well) so I was daunted by this one.  That was, until our Penguin rep, Brian, came into the store and said, “I have a book I need you to read.  It’s a Western.”  I jumped on the opportunity.

What I got was Whiskey When We’re Dry, a western that focuses on Jessilyn, a 17 year-old girl who finds herself alone in the world following the death of her father.  What I really enjoyed about this book is that nothing came easily to Jessilyn.  She doesn’t just happen to magically be the best sharpshooter.  She doesn’t just happen to survive shootouts.  She doesn’t succeed because of happenstance, which is the feeling I’ve gotten from other genre fiction like westerns (including westerns).  This book felt very realistic while still telling the story of an awesome kickass girl who involves herself in a world that is actively against her.  I am so glad there is a character like Jessilyn out there.  We need more of her.


Heart Spring Mountain by Robin MacArthur

I wanted to like this book.  It’s a gritty, dysfunctional family drama, which is usually my cup of tea.  But this book just didn’t work for me.  It wasn’t bad, it wasn’t great, it just didn’t work for me.

I think part of that has to do with the fact that I listened to the audiobook.  Parts of this book felt very overwritten and the narrator of the audiobook read in a very histrionic way, making things feel more dramatic than they needed to be.  The combination made for some eye-rolling on my part.  Yes, I understand that this is a rough time the main character is going through but it doesn’t need to be this dramatic.

The book jumps through a variety of perspectives and I did actually really enjoy that aspect.  MacArthur jumps through time and does a good job of dropping lines that get picked up and pulled into other perspectives.  I liked the story and the way the plot was crafted.  My problem mostly came from the writing itself.  If you don’t mind overwriting, which I know not everyone minds, then definitely check this book out.  Otherwise, don’t worry about it.


Enigma Variations by Andre Aciman

I loved Call Me By Your Name and so I knew that I needed to check out Andre Aciman’s other work.  I decided to read his most recent book, Enigma Variations, in which he tells the story of Paul, a man who tries to discover himself at different points in his life.  The story is broken up into five different periods of time.  I loved being able to see Aciman use his deep and amazing understanding of the human experience to follow one person over a lifetime, especially since he focused on such a short period of time in Call Me By Your Name.

Aciman is a poet.  His writing is lyrical and beautiful while still being gritty, raw, and incredibly honest.  He doesn’t hold back on any topic, making you absolutely love Paul at some points and making you hate him at others.  He is an author I will definitely be tracking, waiting for what he has for us next.


American Panda by Gloria Chao

Don’t let the cover fool you.  This is not a light, fluffy read that will make you feel like you are smiling and drinking a hot chocolate.  American Panda tells the story of Mei, a 17 year-old who finds herself as a freshman at MIT.  As well as starting at a new school, she is dealing with the fact that her brother has been kicked out of the family due to the woman he has decided to marry.  On top of all that, Mei finds herself confronted with her culture and her parents who want her to go to school, marry a nice Taiwanese boy, and become a doctor.  But Mei doesn’t want any part of that life.  She wants to dance and avoid germs.  She wants to date the cute boy she sees around campus.

This book is so out of my realm of experience but it was fascinating to get to read it and enter this world for a while.  I have met Gloria and she writes from a very real place.  This book walks through a lot of things she dealt with growing up and she allows Mei to say the things she was never able to.  (She was a dentist, y’all.)

Gloria’s writing is wonderful and she has really created a three dimensional world that I enjoyed climbing into.  Each character has a full range of emotions and a backstory.  When she wants to be funny, she’s hilarious, and when she wants you to feel emotions, she makes you cry.   So grab a hot chocolate and curl up with this book.


The Philosopher’s Flight by Tom Miller

Shout-out to Pam Parker for telling me to read this one!  This book completely blew me away.  The cover blurb made me nervous.  Magic and science in one book?  That probably isn’t a book I would enjoy.  But boy was I wrong.

Miller has created a fascinating story placed in the midst of the very real history of WWI.  He calls out the gender issues that were in place by turning the tables.  Sure, women weren’t allowed to do things at the time but that is because they were women and it was the turn of the century!  Instead of going with this view, he flips it, following a male character who isn’t allowed to help out with the war efforts due to the fact that women are the only one with the magical abilities to do so.  And this isn’t just a book that sets out to prove a point.  It is a well-written, fascinating story that I didn’t want to leave.  I was actually shocked to find myself at the end of the novel.  I didn’t want to let these characters go.


#ChiYAFest2018- Stephanie Strohm

Stephanie was one of my first ever author friends and I am so lucky to have gotten to know her and read all of her awesome books!  She is one of the biggest nerds I know and never fails to make me smile.  And her newest novel, Prince in Disguise, is the cutest, most Stephanie book ever.  I love it so much.  So of course I had to get her to answer my silly questions!  Also, she has been doing our social media for the Chicago Young Adult Book Festival and will be talking romance and all things YA on Saturday!

Somehow Stephanie and I haven’t taken a photo together (which is CRAZY) so here she is with my roommate Abi and King Duckan

Q: What attracts you to the YA genre?

A: There are SO MANY REASONS, but probably the main one is that my favorite thing about writing love stories is all of those wonderful moments of firsts – first meeting, first kiss, the first time you see someone in a new light, and YA really lends itself well to firsts. I’m also really proud to write for teens because I have met so many incredible, awe-inspiring teens. It really bothers me when people underestimate, devalue or dismiss teens and their opinions – but I’m hopeful that’s starting to change.

Q: What is your pump-up song?

A:  Well, it’s kind of weird, but “The Night that Goldman Spoke at Union Square” from the musical Ragtime. I guess I find early 20th century anarchists extremely motivating.

Q: What is your favorite procrastination technique?

A: Walk the dog! Or cuddle the dog. Or smoosh the dog’s face. Basically, I just bother my dog. Lorelei is extremely integral to my writing process.

Q: If you were a shoe, what shoe would you be and why?

A: If I were a shoe, I would be a pink sneaker with sprinkles on it, like these bad boys: https://www.modcloth.com/shop/shoes/loly-in-the-sky-pastry-royalty-sneaker/157876.html

Q: What is your favorite guilty pleasure TV show?

A: Most of my favorite TV shows – like Jane the Virgin, Outlander, Riverdale – are categorized as guilty pleasures, but I don’t feel guilty watching them. The only thing I really feel guilty about watching is The Bachelor/ette/Bachelor in Paradise etc. If you are a feminist with complicated thoughts about certain reality TV shows, I suggest you read Bachelor Nation by Amy Kaufman – it’s a fantastic book!

Tangerine by Christine Mangan

It starts out as a nice story. A woman moves to Tangier with her new husband. Suddenly a friend from her past appears, and the perfect exotic-ness of Morocco begins to fall apart. In her debut, Christine Mangan has created a thrilling, page-turning read. Her characters are rich and she takes an interesting look at the psychology of friendship. This book leads you to believe that it is just going to be a traditional piece of historical fiction, from the opening chapter to the cover design.  But boy does it take a turn and become so much more than that.  This book is straight up terrifying at times.  (Not like spooky monster terrifying but a reminder of how messed up people can be.)  I look forward to what Mangan has in store for us next.


#ChiYAFest2018- Crystal Cestari

Have you ever been lucky enough to meet a princess unicorn human?  Because I have and that person is the absolutely amazing Crystal Cestari.  She writes hilarious mysteries that reference Buffy and Veronica Mars.  She’s so magical.  And she was kind enough to answer my weird questions!


Q: What attracts you to the YA genre?

A: I love the hope in YA. Something about that time of life, when doors are opening and possibilities are endless, is very inspiring to me. I love the idea that your life could change at any moment, and the different sub genres within YA really take that potential and explore it in so many creative, challenging ways. 

Q: If you could be any character from any of your books, what character would you be and why?

A: People have told me that Amber’s personality is basically me, but being able to see people’s true loves all the time would drive me crazy. Being a siren like Ivy would definitely make life easier, but I’d promise to use that magic for good (wink wink).  

Q: What is your pump-up song?

A: I have to give it up to Kelly Clarkson, because “Since U Been Gone” has been my go-to jam since it was first released. I do a live performance of this song at least once a week (in my car).  

Q: What is your favorite procrastination technique?

A: I check Instagram way more than is necessary… seriously Crystal, no one has posted in the last 5 seconds, you don’t need to check again. 

Q: If you were a shoe, what shoe would you be and why?

A: I have a pair of gold flats that are my absolute favorites; they bring sparkle and shimmer to all my outfits, and that’s what I aspire to do in life! 

Q: What is your favorite guilty pleasure TV show?

A: I recently binged watched Nailed It on Netflix and laughed so hard… I am not skilled in the kitchen at all so it’s comforting to know I’m not alone in my ineptitude. 

Come meet Crystal and hang out with me at the Chicago Young Adult Book Festival on Saturday!

#ChiYAFest2018- Lauren Emily Whalen

Interview #2!  Same questions, totally different person!

Lauren Emily Whalen has been a regular at the bookstore for a while and I have looked forward to seeing her smiling face at all sort of different events.  So I was so incredibly excited for her when I learned that she had her debut novel coming out.  Satellite is a beautiful exploration of friendship and self discovery.  I can’t wait for her to join us at the Chicago Young Adult Book Festival on Friday!


Q: What attracts you to the YA genre?

A: I love how YA and its authors are willing to take risks. Both YA and romance (which I also write) are way ahead of the game when it comes to representation and real issues, but its authors also have a sense of humor and fun. It’s the perfect balance!

Q: If you could be any character from any of your books, what character would you be and why?

A: Probably Sara, the ballet mistress in SATELLITE. I’d love to be in the (toe) shoes of a professional dancer and someone who has the inside story on that crazy, beautiful world. Also I admire Sara’s toughness!

Q: What is your pump-up song?

A: I have so many! Right now I’m loving “Mr. Jones” by Counting Crows, which is also my go-to karaoke song, and “Life is a Highway” (both the original Tom Cochrane and the Rascal Flatts cover are so much fun!).

Q: What is your favorite procrastination technique?

A: Bingeing Netflix and Hulu. I’m currently on a “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” kick.

Q: If you were a shoe, what shoe would you be and why?

A: My absolute best Christmas present this past year: flowered Doc Martens. The kind of shoes I’ve wanted since I was sixteen and now they are MINE. I’d be those flowered Docs!

Q: What is your favorite guilty pleasure TV show?

A:I’m a faithful Fuller House viewer, because my sister and I LOVED Full House when we were kids and can still recite whole episodes. I also love Archer, because I want to be as no-nonsense and witty as Malory.

Check out Satellite and join us at the festival on Saturday to pick up a copy and get it signed by Lauren!

#ChiYAFest2018- Amelia Brunskill!

I am so thrilled to be helping organize the Chicago Young Adult Book Festival for the 3rd time!  This year is going to be the biggest one yet and we have a lot of awesome authors lined up.  In preparation for the event, I have asked some of the authors some goofy and not so goofy questions.

The first author up is Amelia Brunskill!  Her amazing debut YA thriller The Window came out today.  It’s awesome.  Check it out.  I was so shocked by it.  She is such a smiley, lovely person yet she has managed to write an incredibly dark and creepy book.

Amelia was nice enough to stop by and sign books today!

Here are her answers to my weird questions!

Q: What attracts you to the YA genre?

A: I feel like so much happens during people’s teenage years—so many firsts, and so much figuring out about themselves and who they want to be. It’s just a fascinating time of life to explore in a novel. Also, I really like the immediacy of YA, and the emphasis on voice and plot.

Q: If you could be any character from any of your books, what character would you be and why?

A: Definitely Sarah. I like Sarah a lot. I feel like she knows who she is and what she wants, and she’s also a really good friend.

Q: What is your pump-up song?

A: Right now, it’s “Save the World” by Swedish House Mafia.

Q: What is your favorite procrastination technique?

A: Obsessive phone fiddling. I don’t even know what I do on it, but it sucks me in and then when I look back up, hours have passed. 

Q: If you were a shoe, what shoe would you be and why?

A: Probably a hiking boot. Sturdy, functional, unobtrusive. Maybe a pair with slightly wacky laces though, because I have a kind of goofy sense of humor.

Q: What is your favorite guilty pleasure TV show?

A: I haven’t watched it in a little while, but I used to binge watch Top Model. I really loved the makeover episodes in particular. Also, I would have very strong opinions about who should win.

If you are in Chicago, make sure to come to The Book Cellar on Friday night (April 6th) at 7pm for Amelia’s launch party!  There will be cake!  And join us at the Chicago Young Adult Book Festival on April 14th!  More information here!

The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang

Words cannot explain how much I love this book!  When I saw it was about a prince who secretly puts on dresses, I was hooked.  Jen Wang has created a beautiful and powerful story.  It is a story of friendship, of acceptance, and of bravery.  This book has been a hit with everyone I have given it to.  This book made me cry so many different kinds of tears throughout the course of reading it.  Don’t even think about skipping this one.


Putnam Cocktails

Almost two weeks ago, I was lucky enough to attend Putnam cocktails where Putnam brings 3 authors to Chicago to talk about their new books.  This was such an awesome event and I am so glad I got to take part in it.


The three authors they brought this year were Sarah Winman (Tin Man), Elisabeth Hyde (Go Ask Fanny), and Leah Stewart (What You Don’t Know About Charlie Outlaw).  I have some reading I need to do now!  Each of these women are remarkable.  Just from reading snippets of each book I know that they have each written works of art.  (Full reviews to come once I finish reading them all.)  In addition to these wonderful authors, I would like to extend a big thanks for the Putnam staff who were all amazing and open to talking to each and every one of us.  I swear that I fall more in love with this industry each and every day.

Every event I go to, I say that I am going to take pictures but I end up getting incredibly distracted and get home with nothing but books to show for being there.  I promise I will work on getting better at this!