Book Review

Check Me Out by Becca Wilhite

Publisher: Shadow Mountain, 2018
Genre: Proper Romance
Pages: 358
Format: Paperback
Buy Local
My Rating: 4.5/5 stars

Summary

Greta’s best friend Will promises that he always delivers on her birthday presents, and this year he out-does himself, fulfilling her wish for a perfect boyfriend. While Greta is shelving books at her job as an assistant librarian, Will arranges for her to meet his cousin, Mac, who is single, incredibly attractive, and even seems obviously interested in Greta, based on his adorably poetic texts.

Greta falls for Mac quickly, enjoying the free hot chocolate at the cafe where he works and his clear interest in her, but she can’t help but wonder why he is always so much better at expressing himself in texts. Busy with research and planning various events to save her beloved library from impending foreclosure, Greta has to recognize what she really wants and whether she is willing to go far enough to get it.

Thoughts

Honestly, I was afraid this book was going to be too cliché, but it surprised me in a great way. I ended up reading it all in one sitting, not even just to see how Greta’s relationship would end up, but also because her character arc was so compelling.

In Check Me Out, Becca Wilhite crafts a charming world where Greta takes the reader between the library and the cafe with increasingly more dramatic stakes and powerful recognitions. The romance is not as uncomplicated as it seems from Greta and Mac’s immediate mutual attractions in the first chapter, and Greta’s purposeful choices provide a sense of more weighty thematic elements than just “and they lived happily ever after.”

Greta has poignant interactions with her mother and the library neighbor Mr. Greenwood, and her friend Marigold is simply delightful in her memorable appearances on the page. In the end, the only aspect that felt too cliché was Mac’s relatively flat character, though I fully acknowledge that that was part of the point of his presentation in the novel. Even with that minor wish for more depth, I still really enjoyed this book! You should all go check it out!


I would recommend this book to anyone who likes a good, clean romance, especially all those who can see themselves as readers who are dedicated enough to do anything to save their town’s library.


Literary Event: ‘Meet Your Literary Community’

Head out to Phoenix Public Market on Saturday, October 5th for the incredible event: Meet Your Literary Community.

Taking place annually, this event brings readings, workshops, talks, and more from over 50 local authors, publishers, and others involved in the Arizona literary community.

This event is a great opportunity to make connections, meet local authors, and interact with other lovers of all things literary.

Want more information? Click here.

Location: Phoenix Public Market, 721 N. Central Avenue, Phoenix

Date: Saturday, October 5th, 2019

Time: 8 a.m.-12 p.m.

Author Interview

Interview with Author & Photographer Anna Jean Ouellette

Meet Anna Jean Oulette, a local author and photographer from sunny Arizona! Anna is the author of the Raz series, Soft Soul, and 46 Miles. She is currently working on her sixth book.

1. You’ve already published five books in the past six years, which is certainly a very fast pace! How were you able to keep up this writing speed and motivation? Do you have a regular writing routine?

My writing routine has changed a lot throughout the years. In high school I used to wake up at four o’clock in the morning to walk to the nearest coffee shop and write my stories. Since I was such a morning person, this was a regular routine for me and not a difficult one either. However, when I started college, I no longer had the motivation to wake up at four in the morning, and my writing routine began to slack a lot.

Now, I work full time at a daycare for some extra money, so when my two year olds nap each day, I use that opportunity to write. Even though that is only an hour a day, versus the two to three hours that I used to commit, sometimes even more, words still get on a page, and my creative outlet continues to thrive. Writer’s block is definitely something that has existed, especially when writing 46 Miles. However, I usually overcome it by skipping whatever scene I am working on and writing a future chapter, which excites me enough to continue my current scene.

2. You began writing at a very young age, with your first novel, Raz, published at age 14. Now, six years later, have you noticed any changes in your approach to or relationship with writing?

I unfortunately write considerably less now than I did when I was fourteen. I used to sit in my room all day, challenging myself to test how many words I could write in a single day, one time reaching 20,000 as I was writing Izz. Now, I typically only write 1,000 words a week, but I definitely have a lot more in my life to balance now with two full time jobs, my family, planning a wedding, and writing. I wish I still had as much free time to spend writing, but I definitely take what I can get and make the best of it.

3. How did writing your first book compare to writing your subsequent novels? Did the writing process get easier or did you face any unique challenges with your later writing?

One challenge that presents itself when writing each new book is the need to grow. Each new book needs to be better than the book before, but I think my stories have definitely improved since Raz. There was slightly less pressure when writing my first book both because of that reason and because now people are waiting for the next book to be published. It has been a year and a half since 46 Miles was published, and the pressure of having to finish my next book before people forget about that one sometimes outweighs how much enjoyment I get out of writing. It’s definitely different to write with other people’s opinions in mind, rather than just writing for the sake of the story.

4. Your first book was the product of a NaNoWriMo project, which is a writing challenge to complete a novel of 50,000+ words during November, or National Novel Writing Month. Some writers criticize this challenge, arguing that the process doesn’t encourage enough reflection time. Yet, other writers praise NaNoWriMo, saying that it gives them the motivation they need to devote their time to a single creative project. In fact, several amazing published works started as NaNoWriMo’s, including Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus and—of course—your very first novel! What are your thoughts on the NaNoWriMo process? Do you think the challenge helped your writing endeavors? 

I absolutely love NaNoWriMo! I have always been very competitive, so the challenge to write 50,000 words in a month definitely stuck out to me! I did it with some friends, so my competitive side made sure I was always ahead of them and on track to finish. I got trifold boards and planned out all my characters and a basic plot line during October and then actually began the writing process on November 1st. I think having some aspects planned out ahead of time helped a fair amount. This challenge definitely helped me write Raz, and then I made my own personal goals for Izz and Adz. I wrote Izz in a month, as well, and Adz in three weeks. I spent a much longer time revising the second two books, however. 

5. In addition to being a published author, you are also the photographer behind AJ Photography, where you capture headshots, senior portraits, wedding events, maternity photography, as well as photos for couples, newborns, families, models, and more. Do you notice any connections between your creative work as an author and as a photographer?

I brainstorm creative ideas in the same way for photo shoots as I do for my books. I get my inspiration from dreams, things other people say, and ideas that I randomly get and pick apart, until they become an entirely different idea. I am constantly daydreaming, and these daydreams are what turn into my stories and photo concepts.

6.  Although most of your photography is professional work, one of the photo collections that stuck out to me most was your creative project—the Invisible Illness Project—which portrayed eight different mental illnesses in an attempt to defy our modern misconceptions. Can you share a little bit about your creative process in this work? How did you decide the ways you wanted to depict these illnesses?

I definitely got a lot of help from both friends and the internet when brainstorming for this idea. I chose models who have struggled with (or known someone who has struggled with) one or more of the mental illnesses that I chose. The models were then able to help better the ideas that I already had and bring them to life. When I displayed these pieces of art in the RAW Phoenix Gallery, I received enormous appreciation for my work, and many people said that they were able to relate to each piece.

7. And, finally, we like to ask all of our featured authors to share their current read. Are you reading anything exciting at the moment?

My latest read is Different by Janet McLaughlin. It’s definitely an easier read, good for younger ages, but is about a girl with Tourette Syndrome, something I struggle with personally and that very few people write about in books. This author is amazing because she is helping spread awareness and overcome misconceptions of Tourette’s. I think that is why this book speaks to me so profoundly, even though it is written for a younger audience. 


Learn more about Ouellette’s books here. You can also view her photography website here.


Top 5 Tear Jerkin’ Novels

Sometimes, we all just need a good cry—and what better way to achieve that than reading a book that gives your heartstrings a nice tug? Although I know exactly how each of these books end, I still go through a box of tissues each time I read them. They’re just that good. So, grab some chocolate, get cozy, and get ready to shed some tears.


The Best of Me – Nicholas Sparks. Let’s be real, any Nicholas Sparks novel would fit well into this category, but, The Best of Me is my go-to. It follows the story of previous high school sweethearts, Dawson and Amanda, who haven’t seen each other in 20 years since they split. Luckily for us, we find them as they reunite for the first time. The story bounces between the present and past as we learn about their very different family dynamics and, ultimately, why they broke up in the first place. The end comes with a surprising ‘Sparks Style’ twist—one that left me sobbing the first time I read it. This is the perfect read for any fans of star crossed lovers, and I can promise it delivers in the tear department. (Fun fact: they added an alternate ending in the movie version because it’s that heart wrenching).


The Perks of Being a Wallflower – Stephen Chbosky. This book holds a special place in my heart, probably because it’s one of the first books I ever truly cried over. The story begins as the main character, Charlie, enters his freshman year of high school. Following the death of his best (and only) friend, Charlie is lost and not sure what to expect. While suffering from this trauma, he is also still coming to terms with the death of his aunt who passed on his 7th birthday. Shy and insecure, he is befriended by step-siblings Patrick and Sam, who begin to help him open up to the world. We read his story through letters that he writes to a “friend”; though we never learn the name of this friend, and they never write back. This format gives us an intimate connection with Charlie as we are taken on a wild journey through the ups and downs that come with growing up. Skillfully crafted, this story never fails to leave me with me tears running down my face. 10/10 would recommend.


A Dog’s Purpose – W. Bruce Cameron. This one is for all my dog lovers out there. It’s a heart-warming story about a golden retriever named Bailey and his owner Ethan, who grows up with Bailey by his side. We follow the story through Bailey’s point of view as he is reincarnated multiple times, each time as a different breed. The unique perspective lets us live all of his experiences as he ends up in various homes throughout the book. Heartfelt ending aside, this book had me sobbing the entire time. I’m the type of person who cries whenever a dog dies in books, movies, real life, all of it. Apparently, I wasn’t consciously aware that in order for the pup to be reincarnated, he had to die each time first. So yes, I cried about 15 times reading this book, but, it was totally worth it. This story reminds us that even though our dogs are just a short part of our life, we’re their entire life. A Dog’s Purpose is great for when you want something lighter, but still tear-worthy.


The Sea of Tranquility – Katja Millay. Naturally, I had to include at least one book without a movie adaptation. I didn’t know much about this book when I first picked it up, but, a friend told me it was a must read—and, boy, was she right. The story follows Nastya Kashnikov, a former piano protégée, as she starts school in a new town. We don’t know much about her in the beginning except that she had been in a horrific accident and has decided to isolate herself from the rest of the world. She hasn’t touched a piano since the accident and she speaks to no one. That is, no one except for Josh Bennett, who has his own tragic past. Their story is full of raw, human emotion that is truly difficult to come by in this medium. This book wrecked me in the best and most unexpected way. It is definitely a must read for anyone looking for a solid cry session.


The Fault in Our Stars – John Green. No tear-rendering book list would be complete without this masterpiece. 16-year-old Hazel Lancaster was diagnosed with thyroid cancer when she was 13 and since then, it has spread to her lungs. The experimental trial she is on keeps her alive for the time being, but, (as she so kindly reminds us) she is dying, a fact that she is more or less okay with. She meets Augustus Waters (Gus) in support group and despite her attempts to fight it, finds herself falling in love with him. This beautifully written novel follows their love story, and, no matter how many times I read it, I am a sniffling mess at the end. Towards the end of the story, Hazel says that she can’t talk about their love story without turning into a puddle of tears. Well Hazel, neither can I. If you have yet to read this book, I suggest you go out and get it right now. Yes, it’s that good.


Book Review

The Land of Dreams by Vidar Sundstøl

Translated by Tiina Nunnally

Publisher: University of Minnesota Press
Genre: Mystery
Pages: 296
Format: Paperback
Series: Minnesota Trilogy
My Rating: 4.5/5 stars

Summary

The first of Sundstøl’s Minnesota Trilogy, The Land of Dreams takes place along Minnesota’s northern shore of Lake Superior. When local policeman and genealogist Lance Hansen encounters a brutal murder of a Norwegian tourist, Georg Loftus, the surrounding towns are equally horrified and in awe—as they believe it to be the first murder ever recorded on the North Shore.

However, as Hansen begins to unearth more about the North Shore’s past, he begins to wonder if it is in fact the first murder. Regardless, he soon discovers an unbreakable tie that links him to Georg Loftus’s murder, leaving Lance to question everything he once knew to be moral—and more importantly, how the ties of loyalty shape his morality.

Thoughts

As luck would have it, I came upon this book while wandering through an old used-bookstore along the North Shore of Minnesota. Having lived in Duluth for almost two years, and in that time explored much of the North Shore, I had the privilege of knowing exactly where Sundstøl set his story—right down to the beloved pizza shop in Grand Marais called “Sven and Ole’s.”

For me, it was so fun and very special to be able to read a book and be able to follow along with the characters so acutely, bringing my own personal experiences with the Shore into the reading.

I thought Sundstøl did an exceptional job of capturing the spirit of small North Shore towns like Grand Marais, Grand Portage, and Tofte. But that is just the beginning of his wonderful work. I thoroughly enjoyed the story Sundstøl wove. Complicated as it was, I never once found myself confused or muddled in the stories or characters. It made to be a riveting read, and I cannot wait to pick up the second book in the trilogy.

Sundstøl lived on the North Shore, so he is very knowledgeable of the area, and, at times, his book can feel a bit academic. His ability to explain the history is incredible and interesting. That being said, there were a few paragraphs I simply scanned because I wanted to move on with the story. Send me off to literary jail!

Nevertheless, the history Sundstøl provides is not only interesting, but very important to the story, and I am so grateful he included it in the work. I only suggest that readers have a bit of patience when it comes to a dense part in the novel, as the outcome is extremely worth it.

Due to some graphic descriptions and delicate subject matter, I would suggest this book be read at a high school level or above.

If you’re looking for a great mystery that will also teach you more about one of America’s most beautiful regions, I cannot recommend Vidar Sundstøl’s The Land of Dreams highly enough.

6 Ways Literature Has Inspired Composers

In honor of National Classical Music Month, we’d like to share some beautiful instrumental songs that were inspired by gorgeous books! We’ve even prepared a Spotify playlist for you that is the perfect length for a long commute to and from school or work. We hope you enjoy reading and listening along to some beautiful literary tunes.


Musicals

Perhaps one of the most exciting ways books influence and inspire composers is in the creation of musicals. Take for example, how the composers of Les Miserables, Ragtime, and The Hunchback of Notre Dame each captured the raw emotion of their respective fictional characters. Whether you’re listening (or singing along to) Éponine’s tears over Marius, Tateh’s excitement about his new home in America, or the gorgeous choral singers at Notre Dame, musicals have a special sort of literary magic that is distinct from other genres of music.


Orchestral Works

As a former orchestra member (Do I have any fellow violists out there?), I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to talk about how literature has been an integral part of classical music. The first influential story that comes to mind is William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Tchaikovsky’s “Fantasy Overture” is an absolute masterpiece and my personal favorite musical take on Shakespeare’s writing. Hungarian composer Franz Liszt’s “Faust Symphony” is equally as fascinating. In this work, Liszt creates three character sketches from Goethe’s Faust: Faust, Gretchen, and Mephistopheles. Instead of recreating the drama’s plot, as many other composers do when inspired by a work of literature, Liszt writes musical portraits that explore the three unique fictional characters.


Operas

Operas lend themselves well to literary inspiration, needing dramatic narrative and compelling, emotional characters. Verdi adored Macbeth so much that he composed a four act opera that begins with an appropriately dramatic overture. Henry Purcell used opera to capture the betrayal of Aeneas to Dido from The Aeneid. What better way to musically express the stormy drama in these works than elaborate operatic arias?


Ballets

Combining both music and dance, ballet is another beautiful art form that can benefit from literary motivation. For example, Charles Perrault’s Sleeping Beauty inspired Tchaikovsky to compose the famous waltz in his “Sleeping Beauty.” (Also, can we take a moment to appreciate how well-read Tchaikovsky must have been to make all of his literary references?) Prokofiev tackles the classic Romeo and Juliet in his ballet, which he ended up using to build three orchestral suites and a solo piano piece later on in his life. I have to say, my favorite part of Prokofiev’s work is the scene where Tybalt recognizes Romeo. That particularly catchy song has definitely been stuck in my head a couple times!


Plays

What’s a play without a little musical accompaniment? Shakespeare is once again an influential force in the musical arena. Several of his plays are accompanied by well-composed music. In fact, Robert Johnson, an English composer and lutenist, is well-known for working directly for Shakespeare to provide music, like “Galliard” and “Full Fathom Five,” for his plays. Mendelssohn is another Shakespeare-admirer known for his music composed to accompany Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.


Film Scores

Last, but certainly not least, literature has been instrumental (pardon the pun) in the “book-to-movie” film scores we listen to today. This just might be my favorite form of literary influence on music; it’s always so exciting to see a movie recreation of one of your favorite books complete with costuming, scenery, and a beautiful soundtrack. To name just a few books that have inspired recent film scores, theres’ the Harry Potter series, The Hunger Games, Pride and Prejudice, The Handmaid’s Tale, Alan Turing: The Enigma, The Hobbit, and Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption.


The artwork featured on our blog was
provided by local artist Kelly Seifert.


You can find a Spotify playlist with the songs mentioned in 
our post below. We hope you enjoy the music collection!

Book Review

Destroy All Monsters by Sam J. Miller

Publisher: Harper Tee
Genre: Young Adult
Pages: 394
Format: Hardcover
My Rating: 5/5

Summary

Destroy All Monsters, by Sam J. Miller, is a book with its feet in two worlds. In one world, Ash is as normal as any other teenager fighting to protect her homeless best friend, Solomon, who is on the verge of being swallowed up by the system. In the other world, Solomon rides on an allosaurus and believes Ash to be a princess in hiding with dormant magical powers that can save the world. While their perception of reality is vastly different, there is something that their worlds have in common—they are plagued by a secretive group spreading hate and divisive attitudes through vandalism, targeting those who are already marginalized. All the while, the story is driven by a mystery—what happened between Solomon and Ash when they were twelve that put them on their present course?

Thoughts

This book is incredibly imaginative and ambitious in its form. It is told from both Ash and Solomon’s perspective, though each of them view the world very differently. Subsequently, scenes are revisited and replayed, however, the result is anything but repetitive. Reading this book is like listening to a concept album that continuously finds ways to integrate a thematic melody in fresh and exciting ways! It has a memory of its own, and it comes alive to create a nearly interactive experience for the reader. 

While I would not describe reading this book as anything less than fun, it also finds a way to deal with some pretty heavy issues. Chief among them is the way that it addresses the relationship between trauma and mental health, and the way that it explores the spectrum of homelessness in a way that goes beyond static perceptions of the community. Most importantly, at least in my opinion, it also lays out a blueprint for unifying communities against the divisive rhetoric  that has become so prevalent as of late.  

Destroy All Monsters is a book of immense power and imagination. In its pages there is an adventure to be seized, mysteries to be solved, and worlds to immerse yourself in; but, there is also an examination of community and our responsibility to take care of one another. For these reasons, I cannot recommend this book enough. 

Literary Event

Never-Before-Released Dr. Seuss’s “Horse Museum”

Breaking news: there’s another Dr. Seuss book, and yes, it has never been released before! Too good to be true? Not a chance.

Join Barnes & Noble at Tempe Marketplace for a storytime with the hidden Dr. Seuss treasure, “Horse Museum”—a book about art and how we can create it.

If that in itself isn’t enough, Barnes & Noble will also be giving out free crayons, as well as samples from their Café. Don’t miss out on this incredible event! Be sure to bring your younger siblings or children to this book celebration.

Read more information here.

(P.S. The book is available now!)

Location: Barnes & Noble, 2000 E. Rio Salado Parkway #1032, Tempe

Date: Saturday, September 7th

Time: 11 a.m.

Cost: Free

ASU Book Group

Join fellow ASU students and faculty for a book discussion at the Piper Writers House. This month, the ASU Book Group will be reading and discussing By the Forces of Gravity: A Memoir by Rebecca Fish Ewan.

This illustrated coming-of-age book shares Ewan’s childhood friendship that was cut short by tragedy as well as her adventures searching for love, acceptance, and truth alongside her cohorts.

Professor Ewan teaches landscape architecture in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts at ASU.

Be sure to pick up the book and bring a friend for this book discussion! A no-host luncheon will follow the meeting in the University Club next-door.


Location: Piper Writers House, 450 E. Tyler Mall, Tempe

Date: Wednesday, September 18

Time: Noon to 1 p.m.

For more information, click here.