Tag Archives: classic literature

in which I recommend some books

So I have not been great at blogging lately….

….is a gross understatement.

I’d rather not talk about life things right now. Honestly I’d rather not talk about writing things either.

So let’s talk about book things!

Because over these past few months, some totally brilliant books that I love with all my heart have come out. And I want to tell you about them. And then I’m going to give one of them away. So stay tuned.

  1. Zeroboxer by Fonda Lee

I refuse to shut up about this book. Because it is about zero gravity boxing on the moon1. And if that doesn’t make you want to drop everything and run to your local independent bookstore to get a copy, I don’t think we can be friends anymore.

  1. Bones & All by Camille DeAngelis

On an ordinary night a few months ago, I sat down on the couch while dinner was in the oven2 and had the following conversation with myself:

Me: I will read one chapter of Bones and All while I make dinner.
Me: Well that was the most disturbing first chapter ever and now I have completely lost my appetite and will probably have to read another chapter.
Me: Oh look at that, I’ve read half of this book.
Me: My legs are starting to cramp because I have been on the couch for so long and because I keep curling them up to me the more horrified I get.
Me: Oh, it’s midnight and I finished this book in one sitting without even meaning to.

If you are a fan of Stephen King but with a little more emotion and a lot more feminism, this is a book for you.

  1. My Near-Death Adventures (99% True) by Alison DeCamp

If you like Diary of a Wimpy Kid, this book is for you.

If you don’t like Diary of a Wimpy Kid, this book is also for you. Because it’s way funnier than Diary of a Wimpy Kid. And also set in an 1800s lumber camp3.

  1. The Game of Love and Death by Martha Brockenbrough

So basically I wept my way through this book. Which was bad news, because I mostly read this book on public transit. The writing reads like jazz and the characters feel like people and this book is as pretty as its cover. It’s a thing you should read if you have good taste.

  1. Conviction by Kelly Loy Gilbert

So I’m cheating because this book isn’t out for a few weeks but GUH THIS BOOK.

Here is a dramatic reenactment of me reading this book in Switzerland:

Marx: Um, Mackenzi, why are you being so gloomy and sad today? And why are you curled up on the floor, wailing, with your eReader clutched to your chest?

In honor of these excellent, excellent books that I love with all of my big, stupid heart, I am giving away a signed copy of BONES & ALL! It can be yours! All you gots to do is fill out the little rafflecoptery thing below and then cross your fingers. Because trust me, you want this book in your life.

Click this thing! This is how you enter!

  1. It is also about sports and marketing and celebrity and racism and honesty and one of my all-time favorite young male protagonists.
  2. Okay fine it was in the microwave.
  3. If you want to know more about how I feel about this book, I made it my staff pick at Porter Square Books! Also this book is aggressively read aloudable, mostly because there is so much grown up appeal and ten-year-old appeal living side by side in it.
Tagged , , , ,

in which I profess my undying love for books

Today is February 14.

Absolutely nothing special happens today.

Okay, so in actuality, I’m not a bitter single person in denial on Valentine’s Day. I am single, but not bitter or in denial about that fact. I like Valentine’s Day, and I always have, in spite of spending most of them without someone to snuggle1. I have never felt particularly lonely when I’m not dating someone, and I generally use today to express my love for the other things and people around me, even if that love isn’t in a romantic capacity2.

So speaking of other things I love, let’s talk about books.

This year, I would like to write some special valentines to some very special books that I love very much. Because it’s generally my policy to replace as much human interaction as possible with reading, so why not carry that into the holiday of love?

Man I love books.

Mackenzi Lee’s Sappy, Romantic, Gushy Love Letters to Books


Dear Code Name Verity,

It’s like falling in love, discovering your favorite book.

Love, Mackenzi

 wild things

Dear Where the Wild Things Are,

I’ll eat you up I love you so.

Love, Mackenzi

virginia wolf

Dear Virginia Wolf3,

I’ll paint you a garden any day.

Love, Mackenzi

raven boys

Dear Raven Boys,

Are you Chainsaw, because you came straight out of my dreams?

Love, Mackenzi


Dear Leviathan,

Barking spiders!

…that’s all. You’re great.

Love, Mackenzi


Dear Frankenstein,

You make me feel ALIVE.

Love, Mackenzi


Dear Daughter of Smoke and Bone,

Let’s have a night of cake and puppets.

Love, Mackenzi

bloody jack

Dear Jacky Faber,

I ship4 you and me.

Love, Mackenzi

night cirucs

Dear Night Circus,

My love for you is black and white.

Love, Mackenzi


Dear Fault in Our Stars,

I fell in love with you the way you fall asleep–slowly, then all at once.

And then I cried a lot, okay?

Love, Mackenzi

Happy V-day from my bookshelf to yours.

Leave your own book valentines in comments!

  1. Unless you count my stuffed Appa, and I do.
  2. I did have grand plans to go see a matinee of The Last Five Years by myself on Valentine’s Day, like a boss, but that plan was foiled because it hasn’t come out yet. CURSES.
  3. The feel-inducing picture book, not the depressed authoress.
  4. Get it? Ship? These are pirate books, in case that wasn’t clear.
Tagged , , , ,

in which i visit an imagined place

My first night in Geneva, I was lying in a stranger’s bedroom, reading Mary Shelley on my phone, and hovering on the edges of a panic attack. Golden light from the streetlamps filtered in through the open window. Somewhere down the road, the tram bell rang.

Maybe I should explain.


First of all, in spite of how it sounds, I was not having a one-night-stand with a handsome Swiss cheesemaker. I was in a stranger’s bedroom because Marx and I were doing Switzerland cheap, so we were staying with a woman who we found on a couch surfing website. She was an environmentalist, spoke little English, and offered us a variety of extravagant teas1.

I was reading History of a Six Weeks Tour by Mary Shelley on my phone because I have so far only been able to find it online, and this was our first real wifi in a while. The book is a compilation of letters written between Mary Shelley, her husband, and their friends while the pair was living abroad, including in Geneva, which is where she wrote Frankenstein.

Which is why we were in Geneva. Oh yes, the panic. My novel—the one that comes out next year, and is a reimagining of Frankenstein, if you’re new here—is set there.


So here I was, in a stranger’s bedroom, trying to fall asleep reading, waiting for morning so I could walk through a place that had up until this moment only existed in my head.

Visiting Geneva felt like coming to an imagined place, like Narnia or Gondor, or visiting my own thoughts. Geneva was the first place I had ever written about that I hadn’t visited. Sure, I spent hours on Google maps, read books—of both the historical and the vacation-prep variety—along with every travel blog and photo essay and newspaper article about Geneva I could find.

But I hadn’t been there. And being there is something totally different.


I’m a very setting-heavy writer. The word that most frequently gets tossed around to describe my writing is atmospheric, and I am one-hundred percent okay with that. I love travel. I love place. I’ve had whole novels spring out of places I’ve visited2. But atmosphere is more than just streets and geography and place names. It’s a feeling, and that’s why I love traveling—to feel a place.


So what if I got out in Geneva and realized that I got had got that feeling wrong? As soon as I visited, there would be a right and wrong answer to what I had written. Maybe this was a terrible mistake, I thought. I almost woke Marx up right then and asked her if we could maybe just hang out at the airport for the next three days until our flight left. I’m a rational human being.

But I didn’t. The next morning, we woke up and set out to explore Geneva.

Mary Shelley did not like Geneva. When you read her letters, she goes on and on about how much she loves the countryside, and the Alps, and even the wildlife3, but when she writes about Geneva itself, she sounds sort of grumbly and unhappy. She thought the buildings were too high, too ugly. She hated that the guards at the city gates couldn’t be bribed into letting you into the city past ten pm. “There is nothing… in [Geneva],” she writes, “that can repay you for the trouble of walking over its rough stones.”


On the afternoon of our first day in the city, I left Marx by a fountain on the edge of the old town and went wandering on my own, thinking about what Mary had written, and what I had written, and the things we had both imagined happening on these streets, and mostly how much I liked Geneva. I liked the rough cobblestones and the hills. I liked the silt-colored buildings that made the streets into hallways. I liked the fountains, and the window boxes, and the wind off the lake. I liked the sound of people speaking French. I liked the Alps in the distance, and the foothills, and the vineyards that climbed up them.

Screw you, Mary Shelley. I liked Geneva.


So I walked the streets of Mary’s book, and my book–the one big thing we shared–and thought about what we didn’t share, and the filters though which we saw this city. There’s the space between us–both the time, and the distance, and places we’d come from. The experiences we’d had. Who we were and where we were and what we were doing there and why. All the things we’d done and the things we hadn’t and all the things that made this city different for the pair of us.

This city existed in both of our heads. It was both of our imagined places4.


  1. We declined.
  2. Including large parts of this novel, which came from my Christmas market trip with Magwitch two years ago.
  3. One of my favorite lines from the letters is, Did I tell you there are wolves among these mountains? Someday I plan to analyze the crap out of that line, and make it into some poetic metaphor that hipsters will Photoshop overtop of their filtered Instagram landscapes.
  4. Also we found this steampunk carousel and I loved it and it didn’t fit anywhere in the post, so I’m just going to stick it here instead. DSC_1127
Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Project: Bookshelf with Kylie Brien

Welcome to PROJECT: BOOKSHELF, a continuing series in which Mackenzi Lee tries to read every book on her bookshelf in the course of a summer while friends, writers, and readers drop in to tell us about their respective shelves. This week, we are joined by Kylie Brien, a bookseller, writer, and fangirl with a serious addiction to buying books. 

But first, let’s take a look at my reading wrap-up.

This week, from my collection of unread books on my shelf, I read…

Of Metal and Wishes by Sarah Fine

  • Genre: YA Gothic/pseudo-historical fantasy
  • Where I got it: Advanced reading copy sent to the bookstore
  • What I thought: You might not know this, but I have been praying for a Gothic, steampunk reimagining of The Phantom of the Opera with a little bit of Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle thrown in. And that is exactly what Sarah Fine delivers. I loved this book. Very creepy, very visceral, very smart retelling.

Bloody Jack by LA Meyer

  • Genre: YA historical fiction
  • Where I got it: Free books from work!
  • What I Thought: Not sure how I haven’t read this book before, because it is everything I love. Voicey historical fiction with a smart ass protagonist who does the right thing in spite of thinking herself cowardly. Also cross dressing. And sass. Did I mention the sass?

And now, meet Kylie and her bookshelves! 

Working at a bookstore became the catalyst for a book-buying problem—well, some (i.e. my coworkers, family, and friends) would say problem. I say “I just really like books” and everyone else says “but Kylie, you have like fifty that you haven’t read.” Except for my dad who gently reminds me, “Kylie, you have to pay rent.” The most important thing here is that I don’t consider the entire bookshelf of unread books a problem. I think of it as an investment.


Everything on this bookshelf is unread.

I’m building towards having my own library one day when I’m a homeowner. I’m talking like a Beauty and the Beast style library that I will present as a grand gesture of love and friendship…to myself.

Beauty and the Beast

While I’m slowly plowing through my investments, I have a shelf full of read books that hold some of my favorites.


This is my shelf of read books and textbooks.

I’ve compiled a list of books I’ve loved that have made it from the unread shelf to the read shelf in the past year:

Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern: This book is gorgeous. I want to live inside of this book. I have a grand plan to run away from home and join the Night Circus. I think I would make a good mime. I’d even help clean up after the lions or something.

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami: This is the first Murakami book I’ve ever read and from it, I learned that I love his writing. I want to read anything and everything he has ever written. I just don’t want to run. Like ever.

One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories by B.J. Novak: This book is full of smart and funny stories. Reading this collection has solidified my giant crush on B.J. Novak. (No, but really, B.J. if you’re reading this: wanna take me on a date sometime?)

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell: Someone out there gets me and every other girl who spent the better part of her teenage years writing fanfiction at a time when fanfiction was still fanfiction and not—well, I’m sure you’ve all seen the Fifty Shades of Grey trailer by now.

Matilda by Roald Dahl: This book and every adaptation of it hold a special place in my heart. To this day whenever I eat cereal, I put on Send Me On My Way and try to use my mental powers to help me eat it. (It only works sometimes.) I just really relate to the voracious reader in Matilda but also, I want magic powers.

I highly recommend all of these books. Read them. Go. Go out and buy them right now—or if you don’t have an addiction to investing in books like I do, borrow them from your library. This option is probably better if you have to pay rent.

Kylie PhotoKylie M. Brien is a writer, reader, and bookseller who lives in Boston and has great aspirations to travel to Wonderland, Oz, and Hogwarts but settle down in Neverland (most likely she’ll be a pirate). You can follow her blog. And occasionally she tweets. 

Thanks for tuning in! Join us next Friday for more Project: Bookshelf.  Can’t wait that long? Visit the Project: Bookshelf archive.

Tagged , , , , , ,

Project: Bookshelf with Anna-Marie McLemore

Welcome to PROJECT: BOOKSHELF, a continuing series in which Mackenzi Lee tries to read every book on her bookshelf in the course of a summer while friends, writers, and readers drop in to tell us about their respective shelves. This week, we are joined by Anna-Marie McLemore, whose magical debut novel, THE WEIGHT OF FEATHERS, comes out next year (and guys, you’re going to want to put this one on your “buy the moment it comes out” list. Or maybe your “will sell my soul for an ARC” list. It’s infuriatingly beautiful.) 

But first, let’s take a look at my reading wrap-up.

This week, from my collection of unread books on my shelf, I read…

The Eye of Zoltar by Jasper Fforde

  • Genre: YA urban fantasy
  • Where I got it: Let’s just say through creative connections.
  • What I thought: My love affair with the Kazam Chronicles has been no secret, and this one, the third, might actually be my favorite out of the bunch. My only complaint was that there was not nearly enough quarkbeast.

The Broken Lands by Kate Milford

  • Genre: YA historical fantasy
  • Where I got it: Free bookshelf at work. Man I love that free bookshelf
  • What I thought: I liked this one a lot. It’s very vivid, and the history and magic are both very alive and well drawn. But I just never felt it. None of the emotional connection I really wanted. I will, however, be picking up its sequel, The Boneshaker. 

Number the Stars by Lois Lowry

  • Genre: Middle grade historical fiction
  • Where I got it: So I bought myself a copy of this with the intention of having Lois sign it at the Susan Bloom Awards. But me, being a forgetful moron who was totally caught up in everything else going on, totally forgot to have her sign it. F.
  • What I thought: I had read this book before, many years when I was in elementary school, and it was one of the first books I remember really loving. Reading it as an adult, I’m even more impressed with how tight and powerful this book is. What a great story about empathy, love, and courage. Bravo, bravo Miss Lois!

And now, meet Anna-Marie and her bookshelf! 

lepetitprinceWhen Mackenzi asked me to join in on Project: Bookshelf, maybe I should have mentioned that I don’t have one.

I have a dresser that I keep a few books in. A freestanding counter in my kitchen that I store some books under. But I don’t actually have a bookshelf.

Two years ago, I was working part-time, the Boy had just gotten out of school and was looking for a job, and our apartment search was getting a little desperate. For many of the places we saw, we did not meet the income requirements. For a few, we were told in thinly veiled terms that we could apply, but they would never rent to us. I don’t think there’s anybody else like you around here. Or, You’d probably be happier somewhere else. Or, what do you mean, you’re married?

We knew what they meant. The Boy is transgender, and did not pass as a biological male.

AMbookshelfThen we found a tiny but adorable studio apartment, and with it, a property manager who didn’t seem to the mind the look of us the way so many others had. A week later, we were moved in, and it was just as well that we had no bookshelf since we didn’t have the wall space for it.

So I only unpacked a few of my books, slipped some into a free space in the cube storage unit we used as a dresser, found a place for a few in the kitchen, and tried to settle into the feeling of not knowing where our lives were going next.

A few months later, the Boy, thankfully, got a job. We might have been able to move somewhere a little bigger, somewhere with enough space that the Boy and I did not have something just short of a romantic interlude every time we wanted to get by each other at the dresser or the kitchen sink. But we’d gotten attached to our tiny but adorable apartment, our neighborhood, the sound of the chickens that lived down the block.

lovespeaksitsnameHalf my books are still in boxes. I rotate them in and out by mood, by season. Every March, I pack up my old set of The Chronicles of Narnia, like folding away a favorite winter coat. My Allende and my Saint-Exupéry come out right around the time the first crocuses are breaking up through the cold ground.

At first I saw it as an annoyance to dig through boxes every time I wanted to reread Sophie’s World or pull out the book of poetry I’d bought in Bloomsbury. But then I grew to like it, this minimalism of only having on hand the books I needed and wanted. It made it easier to take in all the power and beauty of all those words, just a few at a time.

One day, the Boy and I will have a bookshelf, a whole one. We’ll display all our books at once. But for now we’ll enjoy our little apartment, and the rhythm of putting books away and taking them out, rediscovering their pages like meeting up with old friends.

AMbookshelfbiophotoAnna-Marie McLemore writes from her Mexican-American heritage and the love for stories she learned from her family. She lives in California’s Central Valley with a boy from the other side of the Rockies. Her debut novel THE WEIGHT OF FEATHERS, a YA contemporary love story with a magical twist, will be released in 2015 from Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press. You can find her on Facebook or Twitter @laannamarie.

Thanks for tuning in! Join us next Friday for more Project: Bookshelf.  Can’t wait that long? Visit the Project: Bookshelf archive.

Tagged , , , , ,

Project: Bookshelf with Rebecca Podos

Welcome to PROJECT: BOOKSHELF, a continuing series in which Mackenzi Lee tries to read every book on her bookshelf in the course of a summer while friends, writers, and readers drop in to tell us about their respective shelves. This week I am hosting none other than my fabulous agent, Rebecca Podos, who is not only an agent to the stars but an author with her debut novel, The Mystery of Hollow Places, coming out in 2016. What’s so awesome about her library? Let’s just say it’s a little Gorey…

But first, let’s take a look at my reading wrap-up.

This week, from my collection of unread books on my shelf, I read…

Life by Committee by Corey Ann Haydu

  • Genre: YA Contemporary
  • Where I got it: Purchased for myself, since this is published by the imprint that will publish my novel and I am trying to familiarize myself with their list
  • What I thought: This book was outside my usual genre, but I really loved it. It was complicated and messy and sort of riveting. Also I loved the exploration of both online ethics and young women coming into their sexuality.

Au Revoir, Crazy European Chick by Joe Schreiber

  • Genre: YA….adventure? Spy novel? Thriller?
  • Where I got it: Snagged off the free books shelf at work
  • What I thought: This book had a little bit of Chuck, a little bit of Taken, a little bit of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, and I loved every page of it.

Into the Grey by Celine Kiernan

  • Genre: YA magical realism
  • Where I got it: ARC from the bookstore
  • What I thought: This is the YA brothers book I have been searching for! Not a YA sibling story that actually ends up being about a love interest. Not a sibling story that really doesn’t have anything to do with siblings other than two of the characters happen to be them. This book was really truly about these two twin boys, and I adored it for that alone. Plus it was so creepy and gut-wrenching and heartfelt. The plotting could have been a little tighter, but the two boys at its core and their relationship are just outstanding.

And now, meet Rebecca and her bookshelves!


This is what my library looks like from the doorway, with my back smashed up against the hallway light switch so I can photograph as much of it at once as possible. Welcome. Let us begin! Because my bookshelves are tentatively organized by genre, that shelf on the right is a sliver of my Anthologies/ YA section. Unsurprisingly, this section is the biggest – I almost never get rid of a YA book, am always collecting new ones, and spend my pennies on childhood favorites (shout out to the amazing Book Barn in Niantic, CT, where you can find a copy of Number the Stars inside a gutted vegetable stand.)


This is our Adult bookshelf. Notable pieces: an extensive Stephen King section (Bachman books too), Lots of undergrad Eggers, the copy of On the Beach I read one million billion times in high school, and my husband’s unlikely Anne Rice collection. He and I actually combined our bank accounts before we combined our libraries; my main objection was that he was going to displace so many of my books with his Anne Rice. So we got a bigger Adult bookshelf. Marriage is a compromise.


My library is the tiniest room in the house – and yet it just had to have the litter boxes in it – so there are clumps of books all over to maximize space. This is the favorite-childhood-fantasy-series-and-favorite-grownup-fantasy-series clump. They hang right next to my Bob’s Pit armchair for easy access.


Here’s the Literary Journals/ short story collections/ graphic novels section. It’s pretty slender – a weird mix of Bradbury/ King/ Gaiman/ Proulx. That empty bottom shelf is an access tunnel for the cats to get to their litter boxes, and I have to keep it that way, so I must carefully ration the collections I bring on.


This is definitely the jewel of the room, accumulated through library sales, book shows and probably e-bay. It’s the Edward Gorey section! Within two seconds of meeting me, it’s pretty obvious that Edward Gorey is my favorite illustrator (I don’t always permanently affix pictures to my skin, but when I do, they’re Edward Gorey drawings.) If I had to pick one out as the treasure among treasures, it would be The Curious Sofa: a pornographic work by Ogdred Weary. It is not pornographic, but it is suggestive:


picRebecca Podos is a graduate of the MFA Writing, Literature and Publishing program at Emerson College, whose debut YA novel THE MYSTERY OF HOLLOW PLACES will be published by Balzer & Bray in 2016. She’s also a literary agent representing Young Adult and Middle Grade at Rees Literary Agency in Boston, and is thrilled to represent books by talented clients like Mackenzi Lee!
Note from Mackenzi Lee: I did not bully her into writing that last line.
Join us next Friday for more Project: Bookshelf.  Can’t wait that long? Visit the Project: Bookshelf archive.


Tagged , , , , ,

Project: Bookshelf with Amitha Knight

Welcome to PROJECT: BOOKSHELF, a continuing series in which Mackenzi Lee tries to read every book on her bookshelf in the course of a summer while friends, writers, and readers drop in to tell us about their respective shelves. This week, we’re joined by Amitha Knight, a fellow Boston-area kidlit writer and Susan Bloom Discovery Award winner! She’s here to tell us about her bookshelves, and one special book that stands out. 

But first, let’s take a look at my reading wrap-up.

This week, from my collection of unread books on my shelf, I read…

Prince of Shadows by Rachel Caine

  • Genre: YA historical fantasy
  • Where I got it: Thieved. But I won’t tell you from where.
  • What I Thought: Oh this one started out so strong. The writing and the setting are so, so pretty, but pretty isn’t everything. It lost steam about halfway through, and the plot drags, with too much of it is packed into the last eighty pages.

Flights and Chimes and Mysterious Times by Emma Trevayne

  • Genre: Middle Grade Steampunk
  • Where I got it: ARC picked up from the bookstore
  • What I thought: I think my expectations were too high for this one, because it did absolutely nothing for me. Unobjectionable writing, but I had zero emotional investment in anything that happened. The world was underdeveloped, characters were flat, and there was none of the imaginative charm factor I was hoping for. The prettiest thing about this book is the cover.

Ruin and Rising by Leigh Bardugo

  • Genre: YA fantasy
  • Where I got it: Purchased for myself to complete the trilogy
  • What I thought: I really love this series, and while this wasn’t technically a bad ending, it just left me sort of unfulfilled. So much of what could have been done….wasn’t. Argh. I’m beginning to think there’s no such thing as a good way to end a series.

Guys, I am in such a reading slump! I am not liking anything I have picked up recently!

….And on that vaguely depressing note, meet Amitha and her bookshelf! 

We have several bookshelves in our house: my writing/research bookshelf in my office, my kids’ bookshelves in their rooms, a scifi shelf, and not to mention the growing pile of books at my bedside table. But our largest bookshelves sit in our living room, where we can see them, admire them, and be appalled at what a haphazard arrangement of books it is.


Once upon a time, our bookshelves were organized by author with a few categories separated out (my books from India that don’t have barcodes, his scifi collection, and my rapidly growing children’s literature collection), because my husband, the son of a former librarian, downloaded a program that allowed us to scan in our books and organize them. So we had all our books in order and cataloged on the computer…

…And then we moved. In our haste to unpack and feel moved in, we thought we’d just empty the books onto our shelves and then reorganize them later. That was a few years ago now and of course, “later” still hasn’t happened. Ah well.


As far as the books themselves, I go to a lot of book signings and have numerous signed books from children’s authors (Shannon Hale, Gene Luen Yang, and Neil Gaiman, to name a few of the more famous ones), but one of the books I love the most is a book I tracked down and bought used online: a copy of The Secret Garden. This book isn’t particularly valuable (and I was dismayed to discover that it is abridged), however this specific edition has a lot of sentimental value.

Secret Garden

The Secret Garden was one of my favorite novels as a child almost certainly because I fell in love with this specific book cover. I remember checking this book out from the library and thinking it was one of the most beautiful books I’d ever held. Obviously, I had to return the book, but for a few years afterward, whenever I went to a bookstore I would look for this specific edition of The Secret Garden, just to see if it was just as pretty as I’d remembered. Many years later, I tracked it down online. Interestingly, the thing that had fascinated me the most—the sundial—was actually on the back of the cover, when in my mind it had been embossed in gold and on the front of the book, instead of the girl. While the actual cover (which is still lovely) isn’t as amazing as my memory of the cover, just looking at it brings back one of my very favorite reading memories of rocking in our backyard hammock over summer vacation and being so caught up in this story that I never wanted to put it down. Little kid me would be so excited to know that I found this book. Grown up me thinks it’s pretty cool too.

broAmitha Knight is a full-timer writer, a doctor, and a mother of two. She was named a winner of the 2012 PEN New England Susan P. Bloom Children’s Book Discovery Award and received a Letter of Merit for her writing from the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators in 2011.  If you’re interested in children’s author signings, she maintains a calendar of events for the Boston area (also on Facebook). Follow her: Twitter / Google Plus /Goodreads


Tagged , , , , , , ,

Project: Bookshelf with Amy Garvey

Welcome to PROJECT: BOOKSHELF, a continuing series in which Mackenzi Lee tries to read every book on her bookshelf in the course of a summer while friends, writers, and readers drop in to tell us about their respective shelves. This week, we’re hearing from Amy Garvey, whose book, Cold Kiss, knocked my socks off and you should all read it immediately. I am so excited to have her on the blog! But prepare yourself–she has a rather tragic tale of books loved and lost. 

But first, let’s take a look at my reading wrap-up.

This week, from my collection of unread books on my shelf, I read…

Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi

  • Genre: Young adult post apocalyptic
  • Where I got it: It is on long-term loan from a friend  who rescued it from a box of homeless books
  • What I thought: This book was excellent. The landscape of the novel is unbelievably detailed and imaginative. I have not had this much world building envy since Scorpio Races. While this book definitely had its issues, they paled in comparison to how complete and real and gorgeously gritty the world of this book was. Love.

The Expeditioners and the Treasure of Drowned Man’s Cavern by S. S. Taylor

  • Genre: Middle grade adventure
  • Where I got it: Purchased when the author and illustrator did a signing at my former bookstore
  • What I thought: In spite of the fact that this might be the most beautifully designed book I own, the story itself was not as pretty as the packaging. While this was by no means a terrible book, I think I was just too old for it. Ten year old me would have loved this, but adult me could not suspend my disbelief far enough to swallow it. Also there was 100% more cursing in this book than any other middle grade I’ve ver read. So that’s something.

Jackaby by William Ritter

  • Genre: Young adult historical fantasy
  • Where I got it: Picked up from a box of ARCs at work. Sadly for you, this book doesn’t come out until September.
  • What I thought: Why did I read this book? Well it was pitched as Sherlock Holmes meets Doctor Who so……it’s elementary, really. This book was so charming, witty, and a very clever play on genre while still being it’s own thing. I really loved it. I took a bit of issue with the end, and with our narrator as the central character, and the romance (just leave it out!!!!), but in general it was so much fun. An essential read for Conan Doyle fans.

Blackwood by Gwenda Bond

  • Genre: Young adult urban fantasy
  • Where I got it: Once upon a time I read queries for a literary agent, and she sent me this book as a thank you.
  • What I thought: While the premise of this book is dynamite, I hate to say I quit after one hundred pages because I could not get over how unrealistic everyone’s reactions were. About fifty pages in, our main character’s father is brutally murdered. That night, she is giggling over this boy and almost kissing him in his driveway. Um, nope. Life’s too short to read a book you are just not buying, and I could not get over that.

And now, meet Amy and her bookshelf!

I don’t remember life without books. One of my mother’s favorite stories to tell is of me sitting on the plastic potty she used for toilet training—with a stack of picture books on the floor beside me. I don’t doubt this, although I’m glad there’s no photographic evidence. In elementary school, I was that girl, the one who came to the dinner table still reading, the one who knew exactly when the Scholastic Book Fair was scheduled, the one who volunteered in the school library during recess. I inherited a lot of my mom’s books, well-worn copies of the Nancy Drew mysteries and Black Beauty and The Five Little Peppers and Little Women, and my daughter shelves are now full of my copies of the Little House books, among lots of others.

My point is this, I guess. If someone asked me what my interior decorating style is, the best answer would probably be “books,” with a subcategory of “furniture upon which to read books.” I’ve had more than one mover look at my boxes of books with something like true despair. I’m the kind of person who likes to go to the bag sale at the library and come home with multiple bags. Being a writer has always justified the purchase of any book—one day, I could be writing about a 17th century parlor, so The Illustrated Guide to Furniture Through the Years was clearly an essential book to own, am I right?

But over the years, I have accumulated some other stuff—kids, for one, who come with their own array of paraphernalia. Suddenly making room for an entire wall of IKEA shelving takes a back seat to finding a place for said kids’ to sleep and play and store their toys (and books).  Culling became a necessity. A painful, time-consuming necessity, but a necessity nonetheless.

A few years ago we moved, and a lot of books ended up in in boxes in storage. I had chosen the absolute essential books to keep in the house—things like my Chicago Manual of Style and my childhood copy of Little Women, Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird and The Big Book of Dates—as well as books I hadn’t read yet, because I figured this was a good time to give them a little love.

And it worked! I read a whole slew of books I had bought on impulse and had never gotten around to reading, although I also bought more new and used books, because…well, because that’s what I do. I slept soundly at night knowing that the rest of my books were waiting for the day I would have the chance to display them all again.

Then I discovered that many of the boxed books had suffered water damage. Hundreds of books were moldy and swollen into monstrous Hulk versions of themselves. And I was soon a raging Hulk version of myself, frantically trying to salvage whatever I could. The survivors weren’t anywhere near as many as I wanted.

full shelf, Amy GThe bookshelf I use today is another IKEA special, a big black rectangle of cubes that holds everything but the currently-reading pile next to my bed and a collection of mass market paperback favorites that live in a hand-me-down bookcase in the hall. I don’t know if it’s the cubes or my own tendency to compartmentalize, but my shelving system is unique. I have all of my poetry (and biographies of women poets and writers) in one cube, and all of my books on writing in another or reading in another. There are two cubes for YA books (one paperback, one hardcover), a cube for graphic novels and anything oversized, and a cube Harry Potter shares with vintage children’s books. And every one of these cubes is double-shelved—that is, there are two rows of books in each, and sometimes books laid on top of the rows. I’m not even going to get into what’s on my Kindle. The cube with the wicker basket is winter gloves and hats, because I figure everyone needs a little room to grow.

One of my favorite cubes is where the books I’ve written live, and even some of those are missing—foreign editions of some of my romances, a copy of the first romance I wrote, which I published under a pseudonym, and the first volume of a YA series I wrote a long time ago through a book packager. When I’m sitting at my desk, I can turn around and seen them at eye level, more or less, and they’re an important reminder of not only what I’ve done, but of what a lifetime of reading and writing has meant to me.

my shelf, Amy GI’m learning to live without books I loved—my collection of Elizabeth George’s Inspector Lynley mysteries, for instance, which would have been perfect to loan to my mom, and a bunch of older contemporary novels that were never bestsellers were true favorites, like Summer by Lisa Grunwald and Points of Light by Linda Gray Sexton. It’s harder to deal with my mom’s copies of Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights being gone—they were oversized hardbound editions with woodcut illustrations by Fritz Eichenberg, and when I was a kid I pored over them for hours. Those are books I’d like to find again someday, simply because the books themselves were so beautiful, even though I have the text version of both books on my Kindle.

All of which is a long way of saying that time and the water damage disaster have taught me a few things about my books. One, books are, for the most part, replaceable. The text of them, anyway. Two, particular editions of specific books can sometimes mean something more, like the faded paperback copy of Linda Goodman’s Sun Signs which I’ve had since I was about twelve. I don’t really believe there’s any truth to astrology anymore, but picking up that book with its cracked spine and dog-eared pages takes me right back to junior high, when I was certain I could figure out everyone in my life if I just knew their birthdays.

Does that make it less a book and more a memento? I don’t think it matters. Some of my books are for reading and reference, and some of my books are a window into another time, when hardbound copies of Grimm’s Fairy Tales were something my mom actually used in her second-grade classroom. What I’m trying to do now is create my ideal bookshelf, even though it means buying new copies of books I loved but don’t have anymore, the ones I can’t stop thinking about. It also means giving books I’ve never read or won’t read again a new home when I can, possibly because I’ve seen Toy Story 3 too many times. No book should sit on a shelf forever unread and unloved, right?

I think one of the moments when I knew I had actually grown up (well, sort of) was when I realized that I wasn’t going to desperately adore every book that crossed my path. It makes the ones I can’t part with that much more beloved.

ImageAmy Garvey is the author of nine novels for kids and adults, including Cold Kiss from HarperTeen, as well as essays, novellas, and some bad poetry she doesn’t let anyone else read. If you run into her, she’ll probably be reading something. You can find her on Twitter, and on Tumblr.  

 Thanks for tuning in, and be sure to join us next Friday for more Project: Bookshelf! 


Tagged , , , , , ,

Project: Bookshelf with McKelle George

Welcome to PROJECT: BOOKSHELF, a continuing series in which Mackenzi Lee tries to read every book on her bookshelf in the course of a summer while friends, writers, and readers drop in to tell us about their respective shelves. This week, we’re hearing from McKelle George, a writer friend I met after we both interned at The Friend magazine. McKelle writes, among other things, dynamite Shakespeare retellings for young adults, and we have bonded over our shared love of the Bard, steampunk, and, as we learn in this week’s post, book thievery. 

But first, let’s take a look at my reading wrap-up.

This week, from my collection of unread books on my shelf, I read…

Becoming Josephine by Heather Webb

  • Genre: Adult historical fiction
  • Where I got it: Rescued from the free book box at my former bookstore
  • What I thought: Ugh. I wanted to love this because I love historical fiction. This book reminded me a lot of Z, about Zelda Ftizgerald, since they’re both books about famous guy’s wives that straddle the line between historical fiction and non-fiction. And that’s not a  good thing. There was no plot structure, and almost everything in this book was told in summary so you really couldn’t feel for any of the characters. Plus anachronisms. Ugh.

To keep up with my Project: Bookshelf reading, follow me on Goodreads

And now, meet McKelle and her bookshelves!

I like yoga and meditation and lot of my “Zen-thinking” friends are into the idea of minimalism, particularly the challenge to keep your personal and worldly possessions down to 100 Things. I would die, if I did this—naked, deprived, unhygienic, surrounded by a hundred books, and a little irritated about the ones I’d needed to sacrifice.

I’ve tried to keep my book collection under control. My parents divorced when I was 17 and each moved into separate places, shortly after which I went off to college and adulthood (one is still pending, I’ll let you guess which). In short, I’ve lived in a lot of places and had to pack up my books. Each time, I decide what books I can bear to part without. These are almost always thriller paperbacks my stepdad lent me or books that were given to me as a gift and it turned out I didn’t like it that much. And even though I downsize, I still seem to end up with more than what I have room for.

Right now, after much shuffling, my books are located in four separate locations.

The primary location, where I put my books when I shipped off to England, is at my dad’s:

Picture 1

80% are my books. My dad has squeezed in his Louis L’amour and Zane Grey collection where he can and I forgive him. He better hope I don’t pick any of them up and like them, or he might find they’ve become permanent additions.

Get a load of this bookshelf, by the way. It belonged to my Great-Grandpa Humphrey. This is no plywood decorated with wood-looking paper. This is the real deal, solid carved oak. I inherited it as a teenager by being, without question, the biggest reader in my family (nobody knows where I came from). It’s really heavy and until it relocated in my dad’s house, everyone who ever helped me move hated me and it.

The second place is at my mom’s, where I stayed briefly after my England trip while I did an internship in Salt Lake City (she lives only half an hour away):

Picture 2

I came with only three books. A copy of Jane Eyre, Great Expectations and a collection of Wordsworth’s poems. From ENGLAND so how could I resist?

I only stayed four months, but now it looks like this.

The third place is my current apartment. Again—I ARRIVED WITH ONLY TWO BOOKS. A collection of C.S. Lewis’s nonfiction works and Greenblatt’s collection of Shakespeare comedies. I had access to three different libraries within the area and I knew I’d only be staying six months (still true!) so I shouldn’t bring a box of books with me.

But THIS has happened (it’s been four months):

Picture 3

This is the stack of library books I currently have checked out:

Picture 4 (1)

And finally, last but not least I include my Kindle:

Picture 5

There are 159 books on my Kindle right now. So technically when I said I only came to my mom’s with three books and to my new apartment with only two, that was a lie. I actually have a portable library with me at all times and that’s why I can feel comfortable traveling to a new home with but a handful of books. I know many book aficionados shake their fists at the e-book, and I, too, will always, always prefer to read a book with pages I can see and touch.

I adore my grandfather’s massive bookshelf and heavy boxes of books I will inevitably have to cart somewhere, but in the meantime, it sure is nice having a library that slips neatly into my purse.

I blame my book hoarding on two things:

First: Books, to me and to many, many other readers, are like friends. I reread them. My sister never rereads a book. Once she knows what’s going to happen, it’s not as entertaining. I read Winter’s Tale every winter (usually around Christmas). I’ve read Jane Eyre and Speaker for the Dead and Howl’s Moving Castle 3 or 4 times each. I read Princess Bride every year, no exceptions. My family never owned the movie and I discovered Princess Bride in high school, tucked away in the juvenile section of my library—this beautiful maroon book, no cover jacket, just the gold embossed title. For years I totally believed William Goldman was actually just abridging a historical fairytale. I WROTE THE LETTER ASKING FOR THE REUNION SCENE. I could go on and on about each book. The point is, I love them. And I like sharing them. My family always asks, “Listen, do you have a book I can read?” and we go to my bookshelf and pick just the right one I think they’d like.

Second: I don’t admit this casually, but . . . book thievery. Not the good kind. Not the endearing Liesl Meminger kind. I mean, I flat-out, no apologies used to steal books. A few years ago, when I made the conscious decision to become a professional writer, I vowed to never steal another book because I was robbing beloved authors of their living. I have (mostly) lived up to that. But back in the day, we were poor, my family didn’t treasure books the way I did, and I lived in a small town with small security at libraries, etc. I would borrow books and “lose” them; I’d read them at libraries, at community shelves, at doctor’s offices, at stranger’s houses, and just walk out with them.

One of my favorite books I stole from a prison. Not kidding.

My dad works in a prison as a caseworker and I was waiting around in this employee hang-out room. There was one of those spinny-shelves of books, like the kind they have in gas stations. Mostly westerns and thrillers, but one had a gun and a ribbon on it (clearly a female book). I opened the cover and the author had scrawled over the title page: John—just close your eyes over the “nasty” part. Enjoy!

I was 17. Of course I grabbed that thing. It was called the Dark Angel, by Robert Kirby, and judging by the cover I thought it was going to a historical, moralistic romance thing about a bandit with a heart of gold or something. But I ended up loving it. I still love it, read it several times now. I can’t tell if it’s a really good book or I love it because of my history with it, but whatever, I love it.

Anyway, sad to say, the majority of my collection I did not pay for, but I have since mended my ways. I use libraries, or I go without food (if necessary). I’m going to shut up now, because I could literally keep talking about my books and how they’ve shaped who I am for many, many more pages. But that’s what’s great about books—and what’s great about this blog series—books are simultaneously universal and personal, they help us connect with other people, but they’re a reflection of who we really are inside.

mgeorgeMcKelle George is a senior editor at Jolly Fish Press and is an author repped by Don Congdon Associates, currently working to get her YA novelA Merry War on submission. She reads like a carnivore, loves Shakespeare and yoga, and retains an unwavering belief in the transformative brilliance of a good book. You can find her on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, or her website

Join us next week for more Project: Bookshelf. In the meantime, congrats to Katja (@katjawlockjaw) the winner of the first giveaway! 


Tagged , , , , ,

in which things come full circle

Late in the winter of my senior year of college, I wasn’t sure what I was going to do next. I was about to finish a history degree and knew I didn’t want to do what you are supposed to do with a history degree. I had a sort of inkling I maybe wanted to write things, or find some job that allowed me to read books for a living, but I wasn’t enjoying most of the adult books I was reading. I had had a similar experience when I was in high school—as soon as I hit an age where I felt I was supposed to start reading grown up books, I stopped reading. So I decided to check out the young adult section of my library to see what they had to offer. And I read enough really awesome young adult books to realize that the problem wasn’t that I didn’t like reading, the problem was that I wasn’t reading things I liked.

And that’s when I applied for my MFA in children’s literature.

One of the books that I picked up in the YA section was Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor. This book was so lovely. It helped me realize what is important to me in a book—beautiful writing, vivid setting, and an atmospheric and imaginative world. This was the last book I read before I sent in my application to Simmons.


A year ago last November, I was sitting on a mattress on the floor under bare light bulb in my very first grown up apartment in Boston. I was feeling a little overwhelmed, both by the adultness of it and by the fact that I had no furniture or things to call my own. Just a suitcase of clothes, a box of books, and a city full of strangers. So I picked up Days of Blood and Starlight, the second book in Laini Taylor’s series that had just been released, and lost myself in the story. Because books are safer than people.

Last week, the third book in the series, Dreams of Gods and Monsters, came out. Through some strange voodoo magic, the third book in this series that was such a big part of me being where I am right now ended up coming out just a few weeks before I finished the MFA it inspired me to pursue. And by some stranger bout of luck, Laini did an event last week in Brookline, where I live in that once-bare apartment, and I got to meet her and tell her thank you, because she was a large part of me being where I am, and I love being here.Image

If you’ve hung around here at all, you know that I like things to be symmetrical. I like signs and symbols and when things come full circle, it feels like confirmation that I’m doing something right. The weird symmetry of the Daughter of Smoke and Bone series with my MFA life felt like a confirmation, a nice feeling to carry with me as I head out into the real world with my degree.

Maybe I read too far into things. But that’s what grad school taught me how to do.

Tagged , , , , ,