My Favorite Scary Stories

My Favorite Scary Stories | Writing Between Pauses

Danny and I always say there is a shortage of good, horror novels. There are some out there in the world, but really good horror novels (that are on-par quality and writing wise with other novels) are so hard to find. As I was writing notes for this post, I kept asking him: have we read anything really scary in the last year?

Neither of us could think of anything that was really, really good. Or October-y. Or spooky.

But we did put together a list of novels that were straight up scary the first time we read them—while also being really well written. I wanted to share that list because these are the spookiest books I could think of to read this month.

1. It by Stephen King

I know! I know! This one’s easy, right? But It is one of my favorite books of all time (minus that one weird scene and you all know what I’m talking about). I’m generally not actually a huge Stephen King fan. I know that’s borderline sacrilegious, but I honestly just don’t like his writing style. Also, he has the bad habit of writing very badly about women like, 65% of the time. Case in point: the way child Beverly is described in this book is one of the most problematic parts of it, and that doesn’t include the infamous scene in the sewers. She’s 11? 12? Dude, calm down.

But problems aside, It is a good book: it’s good at building slow dread and describing the way fear permeates a town. It’s a massive book, and can be slightly slow, but god, it’s worth it.

2. Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll

This is one of the best books I read in 2017 and I stand by this: it’s scary as all hell. Luckiest Girl Alive is about a girl who went to a boarding school, survived a school shooting, and grows up to be a magazine columnist. Except, there’s more to the story. It is a harrowing story and the description of the shooting itself is one of the hardest chapters of a book I’ve ever read. The main character is simultaneously relatable (her obsession with her weight, her hard exterior, her desire to climb socially), but extremely unlikeable (for all the same reasons and more). The way she grows as a person throughout the story—both when she was younger and when she’s older—is great. It’s a fascinating, scary, well-written book. I actually just ordered a physical copy so I could read it again and make up the margins.

3. All the Missing Girls by Megan Miranda

I read All the Missing Girls in the Spring and loved it. I immediately thought, I’ll come back to this later. It’s a perfect murder mystery to read in the Fall. The way it’s written is probably the best part: it starts at the end and works its way backwards, then moves to the end again. I love a good small town murder mystery and this one is a great read. Twists, turns, small towns, repressed memories… it has it all.

4. I Am Watching You by Teresa Driscoll

This was another book I read in early 2018, I think, that I absolutely loved. It’s the story of a woman who overhears two girls on a train meeting two boys and agreeing to go party. When a few days later, one of the girls is reported missing, she tells what she knows to the police. Then, things begin to spiral. It’s a great, creepy store that, again, revolves around a mystery. This is another book I need to reread!

Tell me your favorite scary stories! Do you have a book that scared the pants off of you? A short story I need to read immediately?

Monthly Wrap Up & Empties: September 2018

Monthly Wrap Up & Empties: September 2018 | Writing Between Pauses

Originally, I planned to do an Inspiration Sunday post for Blogtober today. But then I realized I had September empties to discuss and it felt more important to do this post. Well, maybe important isn’t the right word… rather, it just seemed to fit better!

September was a big month for us: we were super busy with back to school, Forrest’s birthday, and lots of stuff. And that trend isn’t letting up in October. I have Blogtober, of course, and my birthday on the 20th. Forrest and I are on a mommy-son trip this weekend (I’m writing this in advance, don’t worry!). Next weekend, we have Danny’s parents visiting. Then the last weekend of October will be our Halloween weekend. Then suddenly it will be November. Whew!

I have a lot to talk about for this wrap up, so let’s get started!

Empties: Everything I Used Up

Empties 1

1. OGX Coconut Miracle Oil Shampoo: I reviewed this shampoo here. I love this shampoo and it’s my current favorite. Of all the shampoos I’ve used, it’s the only one that really soothes my scalp and leaves my hair feeling nice. At this point, that’s all I ask!

2. Love Beauty & Planet Murumuru Butter & Rose Magic Masque: I used this mask to help repair my hair after a disastrous PR shampoo I received. (I’m not even reviewing it, it’s that bad!) But I loved this mask! It smells lightly of roses and was so thick and lovely. It immediately helped my damaged, dry hair. You can buy it here.

3. Bliss Drench & Quench Moisturizer: I reviewed this moisturizer here. It’s not my favorite moisturizer ever, but it wasn’t awful. It was mostly just very expensive! This little tub lasted about 6 weeks and cost $20. It’s not a repurchase, that’s for sure.

4. Rosehips Oil: I recently added rosehips oil to my routine to help my dehydrated skin. As you probably know, I sing the praises of jojoba oil for removing makeup and helping improve my skin. However, jojoba as a moisturizer can give me a lot of texture. So I added rosehips oil as a sealant after my moisturizer to help my skin absorb a bit more. It has helped a lot, but I don’t love this one; I suspect the orange oil it’s mixed with hasn’t been helping my skin much!

5. Coty Flawless Complexion Tinted SPF Moisturizer: I discussed this SPF moisturizer in my Ipsy bag review here. I love this SPF, which sucks because it was such a teeny tiny tube! But it is absolutely lovely, hasn’t made me break out, and wears great under make up.

What I’ve Been Up To

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Yes, that is the very rarely featured Remus. If you didn’t know (and most probably don’t), I have a beloved chocolate lab named Remus (as in Remus Lupin, the greatest werewolf). Despite playing second fiddle to Forrest, Remus remains my biggest baby. I don’t have any reason for this photo other than I took it while I was doing product photos for my Ipsy bag in September, Remus looked cute, and I can’t resist his big, golden eyes.

Anyway, I thought I’d share a few things I enjoyed from September here for your enjoyment!

1. Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger: I impulsively borrowed this book from the library because the jacket contained the words “Highgate Cemetery” and “Victorian.” For whatever reason, when I started it, I thought it would be set in Victorian times. It is absolutely not; it’s set in the early 2000s, which leads to some truly hilarious ensembles worn by the main characters (remember white denim skirts!?). That being said, I still really enjoyed it. Highly recommend! How’s that for a tiny review?

2. Dr. Death: I started listening to this podcast after it was recommended on My Favorite Murder. This was a tough podcast for me to get into, because as I’ve written before, my grandfather was paralyzed by a neck surgery. The center of this podcast is a neurosurgeon who performs bad, irresponsible, and devastating neck and spinal surgeries; he paralyzes multiple people and kills a few. That being said, I really enjoyed it.

3. Summer Wives by Beatriz Williams: I have been waiting for this book on digital hold from the library for weeks and finally, I got it! I was so excited to read it. It’s set on a fictional island off the coast of New York where wealthy families summer for years on end. It was so good and kept me captivated the entire time.

4. Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson: Another book I had waited for weeks on hold! I keep doing this thing where I put holds on books, they take ages, and by the time I get them, I’m not “in the mood” to read them. I had to force myself to read Truly Devious about 4 days before it was due and I am SO glad I did! It was excellent and I found myself so disappointed that the sequel isn’t out yet. If you like mysteries and murder podcasts (which play a surprisingly pivotal role!), you’ll love this book.

Oh yes, Fall is finally here! Gosh, it feels like time goes by so fast! I hope you’re having a great October and you’ve been loving all the cozy Blogtober content around lately.

My Top 5 Books of 2017 (So Far)

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We're almost halfway through 2017. Considering I've shared a few book reviews recently instead of, you know, my normal content, I thought I'd share my favorite books of 2017 so far. 

I've been trying to get lots of reading in during the evenings. I've been working out regularly and to fill those long 45 minutes on the stair stepper, I find reading to be the thing that takes my mind away. So without further ado, here are my top 5 books I've read in 2017 so far.  Also, here's to being almost exactly 50% through my 2017 goal! 

1. The Lauras, by Sara Taylor. 

This is just a lovely book. If you're looking for a book with a diverse main character, an enigmatic, interesting, multifaceted mother, and a fun road trip based plot... this really is the one for you. I loved this book intensely and was just thinking of rereading it. 

2. The Night She Died, by Dorothy Simpson

When I first started reading this book, I felt very eye-rolly about it. I didn't think I would like it, but I was totally wrong. It's brilliant. It's just a fun mystery! I like that it seems realistic to police investigations. And of course, being set in the 1970s, it's quite fun. You can read my review on Goodreads here

3. If the Creek Don't Rise, by Leah Weiss

Another beautiful book. I love books set in Appalachia; I think it is both an underserved population and also an underrepresented part of the United States in literature. It has a diverse population, which we don't necessarily see in this book, but nothing is perfect, right? This book is beautiful to read. Pure and simple, it's just a beautiful book. 

4. The Fall of Lisa Bellow, by Susan Perabo 

Another gorgeous book. I've been very into crime-based novels the past few months (replacing my Scottish romance obsession in the winter) and this one is no exception. It's a book that is written in such a way that is so peculiar, but also so interesting; also, it's 100% how a 13-year-old girl would react to trauma. I do wish the ending was better, but the writing really makes up for it. 

5. No Slam Dancing, No Stage Diving, No Spikes: An Oral History of the Legendary City Gardens, by Amy Yates Wuelfing and Steven DiLodovico

This is my only read nerd moment. This book feels so esoteric because, while City Gardens is famous (TONS of bands have played there), ultimately this book is the recollection of, like, friends about being friends at a place they all went to as late teenagers in the late 1970s and early 1980s. It's in New Jersey; I know none of these people; I have never even been to New Jersey. And yet, I read this book because music culture in the late 1970s and early 1980s in New Jersey is a weird little fascination of mine. Anyway, it's a great book, if you like oral historical accounts of music (just like in Please Kill Me, that ultimate punk book). 

Book Review: All the Dead Girls, by Rita Herron


Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book via NetGalley. You can read my disclosure policy here. As a warning, this review does contain significant spoilers. 

Uuuuuuuuugh, where do I start with this book?

As I posted on Instagram recently, I... wanted to like it. I feel like it had a lot of good things going for it. Unfortunately, it suffered from a few flaws. But a few, I mean quite a few. By quite a few, I mean, ok, a lot. I'm trying to be nice here. 

Here's a brief synopsis: Beth, formerly JJ, was abducted, alongside her best friend, Sunny, 15 years before. In the small town of Graveyard Falls, after a tornado devastates the the area, a massive graveyard full of the bodies of adolescent girls is discovered. Beth, now an FBI agent, teams up with her former high school crush-turned-sheriff (Ian, who ditched her the night she was abducted and whose stepfather was arrested for her abduction and Sunny's disappearance) to investigate the crime. 

Firstly, we are introduced to FAR too many characters throughout the book. The point of view switches too many times. First we have JJ, then Beth, who is JJ, then Ian, then Prissy, then the murderer, then the Reverend, then Vanessa. It's. Just. Too. Many. It's back and forth, back and forth. I'm a firm believer in keeping point of view as simple as possible to avoid tense confusion. (I'm terrible with tense in the first place in my own writer. Don't confuse me while I'm reading too!) 

I think my biggest issue with all this is the way that plot moves forward. Too much happens, but none of it makes sense or is logical. We as readers as asked to suspend disbelief too many times. Within any novel, you are suspending disbelief because novels don't necessarily represent reality, but rather an artistic representation of the world. But sometimes, it's just too much.  

Firstly, Beth would not be allowed to work on a case where a girl she was kidnapped with was found. This is her case. She is investigating a serial killer that targeted her specifically. I mean, that's really the biggest suspension of disbelief: the FBI would never allow a victim to work on the case as in the capacity of an agent. There is just no way for her to remain partial regarding the case. The same goes for the main male character, Ian, whose father was arrested for Beth's abduction when they were teenagers. Guess what? He's working the case too! Two people who would never be allowed to work on a case in reality are solving it as partners. That makes absolutely no sense. The FBI would never compromise themselves or a case this way. These storylines don't stand up on shows like Bones or Criminal Minds, let alone in novels. 

So, that's a shaky, rough start. One funny part at the beginning was when the "boneyard" (groan) is found. At least a dozen girls buried in a remote patch of woods. Ian, when gazing out over this field, notes that one skeleton is less deteriorated than the others. Throughout the novels, these are referred to as bones, suggesting that all of bodies have decomposed; however, they also talk about a girl who was murdered like a few weeks before. There is no way she would have been completely skeletonized at that point. Then I realized it: Rita Herron is uncomfortable writing about the actual appearance of these bodies, so she just refers to them as skeletons and the skeletons decomposing. It's so bizarre. 

I also took serious issue with the introduction of Prissy: we sympathize with her, we see the unsub return to her again and again and again throughout the novel, we hope for her survival... and then she's just dead. And then, it switches and it's Vanessa! Listen, Herron, a word of advice, one writer to another: if you introduce a character like this, in jeopardy, the reader is attached. It is a bad idea to 1) kill that character, but also 2) kill that character and then have the unsub abduct ANOTHER character right after. Like, c'mon. I feel like it was only done to add time, but I feel like so much could have been cut (the constant spoon-feeding of how "broken" and "victimized" Beth was... please, gag me, the mushy romance that was just super gross at times, Ian's worries about his mom which only bother him when the book needs a little filler) to actually save Prissy and keep that tension. We spend too much time at Prissy's house, learning about her, following her, and then she's just gone... and so is the tension of the book. It falls flat on its face before the story is even resolved. 

Ok, so, everyone take a seat. It's time to talk about Cocoa. The minute Cocoa was introduced (alongside her restaurant Cocoa's Cafe), I thought, "she better not be black." Guess what, guys? This book is not only operating on the assumption that the FBI would ever let a kidnapping victim investigate her own case, but it's also racist. Fun! 

Hey, Rita Herron, FYI: This is racist as all hell. DO NOT compare a person of color's skin to food in your novel. And then, do not name your only POC character after that color! GOOD GOD. And then the constant, "Cocoa is the heart of this community! She takes care of everybody! She gives away food!" And yet all the kids in town are racist as hell towards her granddaughter? 

Don't play that game, Rita Herron. The town you created is racist as hell and Cocoa would not be running a successful restaurant. If the kids are being racist to the granddaughter, it's because the parents are racist and while they might go to Cocoa's Cafe, they sure as hell wouldn't treat Cocoa much better. (God, I hate typing the name Cocoa.) I have trouble putting into words how inappropriate the character of Cocoa (and by extension, Cocoa's husband Deon and the granddaughter Vanessa) are, but if I'm offended and weirded out by these characters, I cannot imagine how a POC actually reading this book would react. This is the most problematic part of this book and it's because it feels so gross and so racist. 

Ok, we've covered the blatant racism. Now, let's talk about how everything is spoon-fed to us. 

Over and over again, Beth mulls (and mulls and mulls) over how victimized she is. How she experienced amnesia. How she needs to just remember. She just tells us these things. We aren't ever shown these things. Occasionally, Beth blanks out and freaks out over something, like the Deathscape game or a picture. This is not only super unprofessional, but it makes me think: How would Beth EVER pass the FBI psych test? (Hint: she probably wouldn't. Sorry, Beth/JJ/whatever.) It's all so blatantly spoon-fed to us and as a reader, it feels like pandering. I don't want Beth to tell me over and over that she's been victimized, but she's ok, but she's scared, but she's fine, really, but she's freaking out at a blood donation van. Like, ok, maybe just show me these things and let me draw the conclusion on my own? As a reader? Which is the job of the reader? 

The same goes for everything with Ian. We are spoon-fed everything about Ian, but my only takeaway regarding Ian is that he is super inappropriate with his female coworkers and he needs to calm down. Dude, don't be nasty. We're supposed to feel bad for him because his (step)father was arrested for Beth's abduction, but all the evidence pointed to his stepfather and I can't actually find any point where Ian shows genuine emotion for his stepfather. We're just told he does, but that's not the same as actually seeing. As every creative writing teacher has ever said ever: show, don't tell, stupid.  

Let's talk about how terrible at his job Ian is. In the first 25% of the book, right after Ian knows to look for someone obsessed with religious symbols and lives in the remote mountains around town, Cocoa herself tells him that a guy who lives in the mountains (ding) is painting religious paintings (ding) for an auction for the town. IAN, GET THAT GUY'S NAME. Cocoa just did at least 50% of your job. Why are you so bad at your job?? Multiple people mention this guy to Ian and he just ignores it. But when I first read it, I was like, "it was that guy." Guess what? It's not. But they DO arrest that guy near the end of the book. We could have literally skipped half of this terrible novel if Ian would just listen to the poor woman. 

Also, I refuse to believe that there are THIS MANY DUDES in a tiny town with only one restaurant obsessed with punishing 14-year-old girls, bloodletting, and religious symbology. It's another suspension of disbelief because, prior to this novel, two separate serial killers were found in this small town. So in this novel alone they arrest the actual serial killer plus a guy who was punishing girls and performing exorcisms with bloodletting plus a guy who paints religious symbology in blood. That's just too much in one small town. The serial killer aspect is fine, but the larger narrative of this religious cult that is obsessed with punishing 14-year-old girls for being "sinners" requires me to believe that men are just absolute scum and feminism teaches me otherwise. No thank you.  

Another big glaring FBI issue: when the director tells Beth she's off the case and she disobeys him. He says she's too close to the case (which he would have never allowed her onto in the first place, but whatever) and tells her she's on a break. She doesn't and Ian doesn't care. She would be fired immediately. ASAP. The FBI don't give a hoot. Also, when she shoots the coach? Yeah, her gun would IMMEDIATELY be confiscated as evidence, no exceptions. The director wouldn't "let her keep it because she needs to protect herself." No. It's evidence. She shot someone! This isn't how investigations work! She had also been kicked off the case at that point, so technically she's a rogue agent who just shot a civilian. She would be in handcuffs. I can't. It's so unrealistic. 

When I originally wrote my review on Goodreads, I forgot to include the dumbest part: at the end of the novel, Ian tracks Beth down in Knoxville (so... ugh, romantic?) and proposes. They've been friends for about 2 weeks at this point. Beth shot his dad. And he proposes? Ok, sure, that's how romantic relationships work. It's so gross. It feels like Beth is just like, "ok, I'm healed now! I went through some stuff and wasn't ok, but now I'm ok because I have a man!" And I just... I would like Beth to go to therapy and really think about if she likes Ian or not. Because Ian's gross. 

There's so much more I could talk about. I wanted to like this novel because the serial killer aspect is so good and the crime is actually really convincing. I like Beth as a character when we aren't being spoonifed every single aspect of her personality. There are just so many issues that detract from what sounds like a good prompt. I wish it was better. But it's not. 

To read my original view on Goodreads (and follow my reviews!), click here. If you like the content here on Writing Between Pauses, I'd love if you'd take a second to subscribe to my newsletter

My Readings List [+ Where to Get Free Books!]

I love to read. Between October and December 31, I read 53 books. You read that right: 53 books in 3 months--that's about 17 books a month, that's 4 books a week. If a book sits still long enough, I'll probably read it, even if I have no interest in it. I'm just that kind of person. I'm just that kind of reader. 

On my iPhone, I keep a Note with a list of the books I'm due to read: books I've downloaded from Amazon, books I've bought, or books I plan to review. I thought I'd share my reading list because it will keep me accountable (I really need to stop downloading more books...) and because I'm always a little nosy about what other people are reading. 

Here's my list: 

  • A Magical Highland Solstice, by Mary Morgan
  • Highland Spy, by Madeline Martin
  • All the Dead Girls,  by Rita Herron
  • Highland Vixen, by Mary Wine
  • The Weatherhouse, by Nan Shepherd
  • Meet Me at Willoughby Close, by Kate Hewitt
  • The Sheriff's Mail Order Bride, by Ann B. Harrison
  • The Montana Bride, by Jeannie Watt
  • The Trail of Ted Bundy, by Kevin Sullivan
  • The Other One, by Jiffy Kate
  • The Intuitive Eating Workbook, by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch
  • The Goblin Child, by Michael Forester

In case you were wondering: yes, that is quite a lot of books and yes, I am a bit overwhelmed as I've fallen desperately behind on my reading list! 

I'm always on the hunt for affordable (or even free) books to read while I'm between books. If you're like me and you can read a book in a day easily, then you can end up spending a lot of money on books--or just going without, which isn't the ideal situation! I can't afford to buy 53 books in 3 months, that's for sure. Here are my favorite ways to get affordable, or even free, books. 

1. The Library, of course (or library loan programs!)

If you use an ereader (like me) and have a library card (which I don't because I live outside city limits), you can often borrow library ebooks for free through your library's website. If you need help, you can ask a librarian and they can explain it all. (Also, ask for their recommendations because librarians have the best taste in books!)  

2. NetGalley

NetGalley is a website where you can sign up and receive ebooks (via your Kindle or just as a PDF download) to read in exchange for a review. You can review them on NetGalley, on your blog, or on Goodreads (preferably all three). Since signing up a few weeks ago, I've read tons of books and written lots of reviews; some of them are great, some of them are not-so-great, but it's a good opportunities for those looking to start reviewing. Or who just love to read and review books! 

3. Amazon Prime Reading

If you have Amazon Prime, they now have a program called Prime Reading, where you can download books for free to read. I love this program because I've found some new authors that I love (like Emma Prince) and fully plan to buy all their books! 

4. Kindle Unlimited

If you don't have Amazon Prime, but do have a Kindle reader, I highly recommend Kindle Unlimited. I've read some amazing series through Kindle Unlimited. It's $10.99 per month and you can borrow up to 10 books at a time. Kindle Unlimited has helped me discover some books that I absolutely love, as well as some authors that I cannot get enough of. When I find a book I like, I always buy the next book in the series, even if it's on Kindle Unlimited. 

How the Kindle Changed My Reading Habits

I was a book purist for the longest time. "I only read paper books,"I sneered to coworkers, friends, and family. I hoarded my thousands and thousands of books (taking up a stupid number of bookshelves in my house) and prided myself on their covers, their contents. In 2012, I started an endeavor to reread every book I owned -- which I successfully did, thankyouverymuch -- and found myself, well, bored.

I bought more books to read, but that got expensive. I started going to Goodwill to buy books for cheap -- somedays, they offered buy one, get one free or for 50 cents days, which is irresistible to book lovers. But in a small town, the book selection was slim. They had, easily, about 20 copies of all three Shades of Grey books and hundreds of Stephen King novels, as well as a surprising number of Harry Potter books, but that was about it alongside a multitude of cookbooks from the early 1990s and self-help books featuring women with shag haircuts on the front.

Occasionally, I would find well-worn copies of great books I'd always wanted to read -- like Possession by A.S. Byatt or Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver. Usually, I walked out empty-handed, wondering if I would need to reread Harry Potter for the 72nd time. 

Then, in November, I got a Kindle. It's not a fancy kind -- it only downloads and stores books, not movies or anything else. It's black and white only. Simple. I expected to use it occasionally. 

I did not expect to use my Kindle as much as I do -- which is nearly every day. I've ready over 20 books on my Kindle since I received it, a truly insane amount. I now read every night for at least an hour. 

Mostly, I find myself reading books I normally wouldn't read. When I buy physical copies of books, I'm often buying paperbacks of books I've always wanted to read. On my Kindle, I read books I can't find in stores, old books I've wanted to read forever, and new releases for less than the copy of a hardcover. The variety of books I read is greater, which makes reading much more fun. 

I'm not 100% sold by the Kindle though. It's definitely improved my reading habits, making it easier for me to read on the go or at the gym. But there is still something about opening a physical book, the feeling of the spine, the pages. I like writing in books, underlining and highlighting and taking notes. The cover art and font choice lends to the book; it's a piece of physical art to hold a beautiful book in your hands. So what about a Kindle? 

Using a Kindle isn't as much as physical experience as a physical book. But a Kindle lets most people read more books easily -- and when it comes to reading, more is always more, you know? 

The Best Book I Read in January: "Life After Life," by Kate Atkinson


When I first wrote my list of 100 books I wanted to read in 2015, I included a few books I'd been wanting to read for months. One of those books was Kate Atkinson's Life After Life

I'd repeatedly carried Life After Life around book stores, put it in my Amazon shopping cart, and read reviews. I'd thought about reading it a lot, but something always stopped me. To be completely honest, I think I was put off by the cover: there is something overly sappy about it, as if it will be a bad romance novel. I'm not a huge fan of novels that are epic, sweeping romance dramas. I just find them a bit boring. I want more from my novels. 

This past weekend, I found myself looking at a few blissful hours of alone time. Danny was sick and had homework to do; I'd cleaned the house, done the laundry, washed the bedding. With so many hours, I didn't want to just sit and watch TV. I spent a way-too-stressful hour looking at my book list and reading reviews on Amazon. 

Twice, I settled on Life After Life and changed my mind. Finally, I bit the bullet and bought the book, sending it to my Kindle. 

I had read reviews, sure, but I wasn't 100% aware of the big plot point until I started reading the book.  I'll get to that in a second though. 

I read Life After Life in two days. That in itself is not an endorsement: I can read most books in two days, one day if I really dedicate myself to it. However, I found myself talking about Life After Life constantly. The first thing I said to Danny about the book was: "I wish I'd thought of it." What did I say after I read Tony Doerr's All the Light We Cannot See? "I wish I'd thought of that title, it is killer. Also I wish I could steal his ability to use similes." 

My ringing endorsement is usually the sentiment of "I wish I'd written this; I'm mad that I didn't." 

Life After Life is built around the premise that Ursula Todd is stuck in a time loop: every time she dies, she starts over again. Sometimes, things are different from the very start; in most versions, her mother gives birth alone, her father searching France for her runaway aunt, Izzie. In one version, her father makes it back in time and they raise Izzie's son, Roland, as their own. In a few versions, Ursula dies at birth, or is born dead, or is suffocated by a cat named Queenie (an old wives' tale come to life). Either way, Ursula gets a lot of chances, but the reader is unsure if Ursula is ever 100% aware of her past experiences. 

There are a few events that suggest Ursula is able to tell change what happened. In one version of her life, Ursula drowns as a child while on vacation; the next go around, she becomes terrified to go near the water and her sister pulls her along anyway. She is saved by a man sitting on the beach painting. 

In another version, Ursula's horrible brother, Maurice, throughs her doll out the window; she dies falling off the roof trying to retrieve it. The next time around, her sister, Pamela, uses a stick to pull the doll inside. 

In these small instances, Ursula was filled with dread when approaching the situation: the doll on the ledge, the water's edge. She doesn't really remember, but she knows something is about to happen. As she gets older, if she does get older in that life, she identifies feelings of extreme deja vu, as if she's lived everything before (which, if you buy that she really is living life after life, she has). 

There are other instances where you wonder how aware Ursula is of her past lives. In one life, she is assaulted by one of her brother's friends, Howie; she gets pregnant, has an illegal abortion, and almost dies. The black sheep of the family, she ends up marrying an abusive man and is ultimately beaten to death. In her next life, she doesn't seem aware of Howie's future behavior, but at their first meeting, she promptly punches him in the face. 

In some versions of history, her next door neighbor, Nancy, is murdered while out looking for leaves for a scrapbook; Ursula usually takes another route home, or a detour, in order to intercept Nancy and save her. We don't know how much she knows she's doing this. She just... does it. However, in one version, Ursula is distracted by her crush and Nancy is murdered. Chance didn't work out in that version, I guess. 

The most interesting part of the story is this: Ursula never marries in any of her lives, except two. In one, she marries the man who ultimately beats her to death. In the other, she goes to Germany on a world tour and ends up staying in Germany, marrying a man, and having her daughter, Frieda. In other versions of her life, she never has children. But when she has Frieda, she ends up having to kill her daughter and herself and start over again; she never stays in Germany again, never meets her husband again. It is almost as if Ursula purposefully chooses to never have a child, because she knows in that version of history, her child always dies. 

It might sound boring to read the same life over and over again -- and there are definitely parts where it becomes a little too hint-hint, nudge-nudge -- but it is also incredibly engrossing. Ursula's panic and confusion over her moments of deja vu, her sense of knowing what will happen before it actually does, her grappling with reality is intense. Beyond that, the book paints the idea that sometimes the most important connections in life aren't romantic: Ursula's love stories are few and far between. Instead, the relationship between siblings is examined and poked: the things we do to save our siblings, to make them happy, to keep them from pain. 

In several versions of history, the Todd family maid, Bridget, attend Armistice Day celebrations in London and brings the Spanish Flu back to the Todd home, killing Ursula; in another version, Ursula manages to stay away from Bridget, only for her little brother, Edward, to get sick and die. Over and over again, Ursula struggles to find a way to not just save herself, but to save her siblings; and, it is interesting to note, she is never once concerned with saving Bridget's life. Her ultimate solution is to push Bridget down the stairs, breaking her arm, and, in later versions, to tell Bridget that she'd seen her boyfriend cheating on her. Both work to save the family. 

It makes me wonder what moments would stand out in my life if I were to live it over and over again. What things would I change? What would I do differently? The best kind of novel is one that makes you think deeply about your life and your choices -- and Life After Life does just that.

Why We Need to Talk about Zoella's Ghostwriter

Hey Zoella, here's the cold, hard truth. 

Hey Zoella, here's the cold, hard truth. 

Zoe Sugg is a "YouTuber" (as I typed this, I literally had to close my eyes and take ten deep breaths, all while reminding myself of Myspace and Livejournal celebrities when I was a teenager). Most people know her as "Zoella", a name that is somehow more unwieldy than her given name.

For months, she's been talking on her channel about her first book. You see, it was a dream of her's to have a book published. She talked about how hard she was working, about writing, about creating this book with her own two hands. She's a vlogger, guys; her job consists of making perhaps one 10-minute video per day. And for that she makes more than I do in a year. Ha! Wow! That's so cool! (Silent seething.) 

Except, after her book was released and started to sell lots and lots of copies, it was revealed that, um, Zoella didn't write it. Ok, yeah, everyone says she "thought up the characters and ideas," but they said that about Kendall and Kylie Jenner's book, too. I'm sure Zoella (and Kendal & Kylie) sat in a meeting about the book and "thought up characters" -- but I don't think for a second she had anymore input than that. 

The sad part is that in the video announcing her novel, Zoella talked about how excited she was and expressed a love of writing. If she loved writing so much, why was the book ghostwritten? Her publisher has said explicitly that it was not written by Zoella -- but even a word. In fact, the ghostwriter has actually stepped forward to talk about the lack of transparency when it comes to celebrity ghostwriters.

You might wonder: Michelle, what's the big deal? She's a celebrity, a "YouTuber." Surely no one expected her to write a novel? 

Sure, yeah. However, like I said, Zoella has said she "wrote" the novel several times and has expressed a love of writing. As someone who is famous on YouTube for being, er, famous on YouTube (can you tell I do not understand this YouTuber fame trend?), her brand is based entirely on authenticity. She's famous for being her, not for having any kind of specific talent. That sounds like a total burn, but I don't mean it like that. Her fame is based on the fact that she's just a normal person filming videos (and making obscene amounts of money for it...). 

This article does a great job in pointing out that yes, Zoella, there are major issues with using a ghostwriter, specifically for your book. It might be standard practice in publishing, but with a new medium like YouTube, the results are not the same for others. YouTubers base their fame on authenticity and using a ghostwriter is the opposite of that. It undermines the brand that Zoella has established. 

That being said, I don't really think any of this is Zoella's fault. Do I think Zoella was naive about how the publishing industry worked? Yes. I believe she was probably told that ghostwriting was the standard for the industry and that if she wanted the book to get finished and be successful, it was the way to go. If she'd known more, she would have put her foot down and demanded to write the book herself -- but she didn't. We know that. She let a ghostwriter do it.

So yes, Zoella is naive, but being ignorant isn't a crime. 

Now, if only she would stop tweeting about quitting the internet and people "twisting her words" and actually show that she's learned from this experience -- she might actually build on that brand that's been hurt by this whole ghostwriting debacle. Because really, the people she lied to were the fans who bought her book in the thousands. People bought that book thinking Zoella had written it because she'd told them she had -- and to find out she hadn't? That's a major break in trust. 

The real issue here is the greater implication this has for publishing as a whole. People are becoming more aware of ghostwriting -- and more aware of issues facing the publishing world. Remember James Fry's A Million Little Pieces? After his book was revealed to be, uh, wildly elaborated, a slew of other autobiographies were revealed to be largely works of fiction. Which was kind of embarrassing for a lot of people, but it had been happening for a long time. 

Does Zoella's use of a ghostwriter -- and the public's reaction to it -- mean that more books will be shunned because of their use of ghostwriters? It is entirely possible and personally, I think it will be a good thing.