This weekend I fell in love with Erika Johansen’s The Queen of the Tearling.
I went on a browsing expedition at McKay’s—a huge used bookstore in Knoxville—and stumbled across this book in the Fantasy section. The Queen of the Tearling had an attractive red cover, the words “National Bestseller” on it, and positive blurbs written by Lauren Oliver and Jezebel, so I thought that it was worth a shot.
This. Book. Is. So. Good.
The Queen of the Tearling is the first novel in a fantasy trilogy. In the book’s opening, members of the Queen’s Guard collect 19-year-old Kelsea Raleigh from her foster parents’ home because she must be crowned Queen of the Tearling. Kelsea has been primed for queenly responsibilities, but she has also been hidden and isolated her entire life, so she is not totally prepared for the world she is entering.
Once Kelsea leaves her childhood home, she is in danger, as two formidable enemies attempt to have her killed before she can officially accept power. Sadly for Kelsea, the attempts to have her killed continue after she is crowned. Sadly for her enemies, Kelsea is an exceptional queen and she’s definitely not an easy mark.
Throughout this book Kelsea learns how to forge a path using what she learned from her foster parents, what she has learned about her mother, and what she has learned about her own strength. She comes into her own, which is a considerable feat considering the number of attacks made against her, and how most, if not all, of the males in the book underestimate her at one time or another.
Blurbs on the book frequently reference The Hunger Games, Game of Thrones, and Harry Potter. I would add another comparison, Naomi Novik’s Uprooted, which you might remember as the subject of my first blog post. Like Uprooted, The Queen of the Tearling features strong young womanhood, and suggests how these women not only defy the expectations of those around them but also learn to value themselves and what they are capable of. This book also contains supernatural and magical elements, which I loved, and the world that Johansen creates is both familiar and inventive. (Case in point: Kelsea references J. K. Rowling as an author of the past, but in the whole country of the Tearling, there are only two doctors. As Glamour notes in their blurb, “You’re in the twenty-fourth century, but also the Middle Ages? The implications made us see our world today—particularly technology and education—in a new light.”)
Unlike Uprooted, this book is part of a series, which I am deliriously happy about. There are still so many questions to be answered, and spoiler alert, I’ve already checked out the second book in the series from my library.
This is an adventurous, mesmerizing read and I loved every minute of it.
Perfect If You: want an inspiring read about how women are saving the day; are looking for a book to fill the void left when you finished the last Hunger Games/Harry Potter/Uprooted book; want to sink into a good versus evil read, with lots of gray to contemplate, too.
Not Recommended if You: Hate any/all of the books recommended in the above category; are turned off by books which contain magic (who are you?!!); are really turned off by gore
Also Check Out: See recommendations in above heading. I’m also thinking Jessica Jones, the Neflix series. Fair warning, I’ve only seen 5-6 episodes of it, but both Jessica and Kelsea, of The Queen of the Tearling, feel the weight of responsibility and a power that others may not understand.
On January 21st, 2017, my best friend Laura and I will be joining the thousands of women protesting the election of Donald Trump.
I’m protesting Donald Trump for many reasons on that day, but here’s how I would sum it up: I think that Donald Trump is morally repugnant. I think that he’s dangerous to all Americans, but especially those Americans who have been, and are still, marginalized during other arguably less volatile presidencies. And I think that if you object to Trump’s words, his actions, and perhaps most of all, his flagrant disregard for the truth, then it’s your responsibility and also obligation to speak out against him.
When I write something anti-Trump, I have the fear that someone else will hear the shrill note of the self-righteous in what I write. Or that they’ll remember the moments in which I’ve been a hypocrite, when I’ve dipped my toes into less moral waters, like when I prioritize a flip (or cutting or demeaning) “joke” or comment over what I know to be right and truthful.
And sometimes I question my motivations. Am I a “white liberal elite" or a "smug white liberal," just a mouthpiece who is talking again and again about values which I’ve read about in books, but who fails to act on them when it really counts? (Because that’s the part that I still haven’t figured out: how to be someone who acts, instead of someone who just complains. I’m good at complaining.)
And lastly, when I write about Trump, I don’t always have 100% certainty that I’m responding to his words and actions, and those of his supporters, in the “right” way. How can I navigate this post-Trump world when a large part of me feels drawn to those calls for empathy, kindness, and love, but when another large part of me, probably larger than the first, feels like now is the time to be angry and to use that anger to be a better advocate for others and myself?
That’s when I think about figures like Martin Luther King Jr., Barack Obama, Joe Biden, and many, many others (including Twitter warriors like Chrissy Teigen and Victoria Aveyard), and I think that there’s a way that we can speak from our feelings of anger/ frustration/disgust and love.
I’m marching and I’m speaking out about Trump—even if I don’t always have the right words to use—because this is one time in my life when I feel like staying silent would be the wrong thing to do. When I feel like staying silent would be more disrespectful and more detrimental to others and to myself, and when staying silent would be the wrong type of behavior to model for my son.
I’m terrified of a Donald Trump presidency in a way that I’ve never been about a national event before. I’m terrified that my son is going to grow up under a president who thinks that it’s acceptable to mock the disabled, to call immigrants “rapists and murderers,” to repeatedly insult women (and who has been accused of sexually assaulting women), to judge people based solely on where they are from, to call for a Muslim ban, to refuse to release his tax returns and to lay out specific plans which address his numerous conflicts of interest, to praise Putin and criticize our president, to encourage violence. I’m terrified that Trump thinks that it’s acceptable to repeatedly lie, even when we have Tweets and tapes and witnesses to reveal his lies. And, as my husband reminds me, it’s perhaps even scarier that his supporters aren’t equally bothered by these lies. (See Chrissy Teigen’s recent hilarious and also sad Tweet about Trump and hot dogs).
And I know, as someone* wrote, that it’s a privilege of sorts that this is one of the first times in my life that I’m terrified of the power that someone else will have over my life, my son’s life, my husband’s life, and my other family members' and best friends'. After all, I identify as a heterosexual white woman who comes from what I would call an upper middle-class background. I have had my own struggles—but besides the typical anxious feelings that a woman might get when she’s by herself out in the world, plus a few other random incidents—I don’t regularly worry about my personal safety. And I definitely don't worry about whether I might be able to stay married to the person that I love. Or whether I (or my family members) might be deported. Or whether I might lose my insurance. Or whether I’m going to be the victim of a racist act, big or small.
If I’m judged on the basis of what I look like, or who I’m married to, or what my religious faith is, or where I’m from, it’s not at all in the same way that so many other Americans are judged.
I’m sickened by the thought that Trump isn’t even President yet and it seems like things have become so untenable.
I’m tired of feeling like we’re in a game of limbo and the bar is constantly lowered, but it’s not Trump or the other people in his cabinet who are having to scrape the bottom, it’s us. They’re just the ones who are holding onto the bar.
On January 21st, I’m marching for myself, my son, my husband, my family and friends, and every other American. I’m marching for the people who are marginalized and who were targeted by Trump during the campaign and during his president-elect period. I’m marching for every person who is not a straight, white, American male, and I’m marching for the straight, white, American males, too.
I’m doing it proudly, and because I want to finally start doing something, even if it’s logging steps and carrying a sign. Please join us—in person in Lexington, Kentucky, or in your own city.
Let’s show Trump that we won’t back down and that we’re not impressed by his Tweets and his exclamation points.
This is my goal for as long as Trump is President, and I’m going to really demonstrate it on January 21st: I’m going to stand up for what I believe in--even if my voice is annoying to some (and occasionally myself)—and I’m going to be an active advocate for the people who are even more terrified than I am.
*I’m sorry that I couldn’t find this person. I'm pretty sure that I read this on Twitter.
This Christmas I really upped my lounge game. To be clear, it was pretty intense already, but thanks to my various wish lists I racked up two more robes (!), a pair of warm slippers, and cotton modal pajama bottoms. It was a really good Christmas.
So this gift guide is all about crafting the perfect lounge-time.* More deets below:
Anthropologie Faux Fur Slippers: I saw that these were recommended on a website and I immediately added them to my wish list. Who knows? Maybe my toddler would even let me wear them.
Books, coffee, winter, sofa by Eveline Mug: This mug expresses everything about my dream sedentary winter life. I also have a thing for mugs in general, so this looks perfect.
Because of Miss Bridgerton by Julia Quinn: If you think that you might possibly like romance novels but you haven't read Julia Quinn, you HAVE to read her books. I'm including her latest solo publication, Because of Miss Bridgerton, but you can't go wrong regardless of which of her books you pick up. She's famous for focusing on the Bridgerton siblings and each story is as swoon-worthy, sweet, and smile-inducing as the next. I get the warm and fuzzies just thinking about them.
Kentucky is My Land T-Shirt: A perfect shirt for all Kentucky-lovers. KyforKy offers lots of different t-shirt options but this one caught my eye. They have adorable socks, too (insert face with heart eyes emoji here).
Victoria's Secret The Dreamer Flannel Pajama: I don't have this particular pajama set from Victoria's Secret, but I do have many others, including a long, gray t-shirt that my husband Daniel says reminds him of Danny Devito's character on It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Nice, sweetheart. But these pajamas look super cozy, and I can envision myself being very comfortable reading, watching tv, and/or drinking my morning coffee in them.
iRobot Roomba 650 Robotic Vacuum Cleaner: You guys, I don't have one of these, but it's on my wish list. That seems like a very "adult" thing to have on one's wish list, you say? Yes. It is. I have a toddler and two dogs (one weighs around 75 lbs. and one weighs around 130 lbs.) and my floors get messy. It sounds amazing to wear comfy clothes, sit on my couch, and let a robot clean my floors.
Happy Endings Seasons 1-3: I love this show. So much. This was a really good show that had fantatic fans but still managed to get cancelled by ABC. Wah wah. It focuses on a group of friends living in Chicago and is perfect for millenials. So cute! (If you watch Happy Endings you'll get the reference.) The show is hilarious, quirky, and New Girlesque. It's available to stream through Hulu or you can buy the dvds (see the link).
The New York Times: I don't subscribe to any newspapers. Like most people (I would guess), I get almost all of my news online for free. But I always, always appreciate The New York Times articles that I read and I agree with the editorialists who have argued that now, more than ever, we need to support newspapers which provide legitimate and truthful news. I might be subscribing in the near future.
What's on your lounge list?
Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored post. If I've tried the item listed, I've noted that for you. I haven't tried several of the items on the list, but I've either heard or read good things about the product or purchased different items from the same company.
There is real joy in re-visiting a book that I read decade(s) earlier: it’s an experience of the familiar and treasured and the experience of the new, simultaneously. Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 has been sitting on my shelf for a couple of years now, and yesterday I decided to read it and see what it could tell me as a 32-year old.
It turns out that it could tell me quite a lot.
From the first stunning line of the book—“It was a pleasure to burn”—to the last, Fahrenheit 451 is a powerful, stomach-churning read. Guy Montag is a fireman and his job, like that of his colleagues, is to burn books. But the “pleasure” that Montag takes in burning the pages is complicated and threatened by meeting Clarisse, a teenager who asks him questions which make him start to pay more attention to the life he is living. What made firemen start setting fires when before they apparently stopped them? How did he end up married to his wife? What can he do to change this society? How can he change from the person he is to a person who understands books and is changed by them?
Montag’s general dilemma is, I think, frustratingly familiar to a lot of people. Sometimes we see that we aren’t living the lives that we should—that perhaps in some ways we aren’t living at all—but it can be terribly difficult to understand how we can change when the familiar is safer.
Fahrenheit 451 is a fascinating exploration of what happens to a society when people decide that they no longer want to read books: that they would rather consume and in turn, be consumed. Originally published in 1953, the book is exceedingly relevant today, when we get a lot of “information” from sound bytes, headlines, and even fake news stories. We’re dealing with questions today like where do we get the “truth,” how we do reach people who believe the exact opposite that we do and who are equally convicted, and how do we protect “essential” liberties and respond when they are threatened?
I would have liked to have seen a more nuanced representation of women and other minorities in Fahrenheit 451, although I suppose that goes against part of Bradbury’s message here and in his Afterword (where he says “For it is a mad world and it will get madder if we allow the minorities, be they dwarf or giant, orangutan or dolphin,…to interfere with aesthetics.)
Still, I’m left wondering what role other people—besides white men—would play in the community which Montag escapes to. I guess that, as Bradbury says in his Afterword, he left that for other writers to explore.
Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 is a slim, dense read that reminded me anew of the purposes that books serve. Of the power they (and their stories) have to anchor us, to fulfill us, and to challenge us. And I think it’s an important reminder to keep our eyes open; to remember the danger in closing our eyes to the things that frustrate, disturb, or anger us, and to refuse to disconnect from our communities and our society. What we value, matters. What we love, matters. What we tolerate and don’t tolerate, matters.
Congratulations to the wonderful Tina Jepson, winner of the Kindle eBook copy of Finally You. Tina is a work-from-home mom and freelance writer. Visit her website if you’d like to learn more about her freelance work!
It might surprise you given my description of my graduate school-related anxiety, but I actually did/do a really good job of making presentations.* You might be turned off by that kind of bragging, but I think that women in particular should try to take more ownership of the areas where we personally excel. [Case in point, I worried that my first sentence would come across as obnoxious and that I should offer an apology in the second sentence.]
The type of doubting that I just (unintentionally) illustrated for you in the first paragraph is part of a bigger network of worries related to how I conduct myself in a workplace. What’s the appropriate balance between being a leader and being abrasive/bossy? How warm should I be with others or should I be more reserved? Is my shirt too low-cut or are my pants too tight? Why is my voice trailing off at the end of every sentence? Why does my voice sound so soft/so shrill/so breathless? Did my comment make sense or did I just look like an idiot/like I don’t deserve to be here?
Maybe it’s just me, but my own experience, the experiences of my close friends, and the experiences described in magazine articles that I’ve read, suggest that women really feel the pressure when it comes to public speaking. It’s an even bigger problem when you’re also an introvert—which I am—and when you have a tendency to occasionally act socially awkward—which I do.
But I’d like to share some tips that I picked up in twenty-two years of school (?) and two and a half years in a more traditional 8-5 job. And please note, most of these tips are for occasions in which you’ll be giving a presentation, not necessarily spontaneously contributing to a discussion.
If you’re signing up for presentations, sign up for one of the first available slots. This was huge for me. In my bachelors, master's, and PhD classes, we often had to do at least one presentation per class per semester. You might recall that I wrote about how anxious I would get about making contributions in class, so I almost always signed up for one of the first presentation slots. Why? I knew that I would do well in the presentation which would boost my confidence and show me that I really did have something to offer to the conversation. Plus, if you volunteer to go first in the presentations/speeches/pitches, you look like the brave badass that you are and others will be astounded.
Practice, practice, practice. I know that most of us are short on time, and the last thing that we probably want to do is practice a presentation over and over again, but it’s worth it. When you practice, you get a better sense of the rhythm, you learn where you should pause and where you can pick up speed, you learn what kind of inflections you should use and where you can try to be a little humorous. You’ll also be able to time yourself and avoid the dreaded embarrassment of having your presentation cut off in the middle (when it’s clear that you’ve just gotten started) or of being done entirely too early (which happened to me on one occasion). Perhaps best of all, you start to learn some of your sentences, so when you’re making the actual presentation, you can smoothly look up from your notes and make eye contact with some of your listeners and then return to your page.
And going along with the previous point, you should practice aloud. I used to tell this to my composition students all the time, and I’m not sure how many of them actually went home and practiced reading their work aloud. When you read your work aloud, you’re able to hear the awkward parts, the long-winded parts, and the boring parts, in ways that you can’t often appreciate when you’re reading silently.
Use a hook to interest your audience (depending on the genre of the presentation). This is something that I really harped on as a composition instructor when it came to the opening sentences of papers, but I think that it comes up less when we’re talking about presentations. There are some cases where you might need a drier opening (depending on the genre of the talk) but in many cases, it's great to open your presentation with a pow! An interesting quote. An anecdote. A provocative question. A hypothetical situation. A historical reference. Whatever. You can tell when an audience is really invested and when they are not. If you can capture their attention from the beginning, everyone in the room will feel better.
Consider bringing in a visual or other handout, even if it’s not required. Smart, thoughtful handouts (or visual presentations like Prezi or Powerpoint) really help. What can I say? People just like a good visual. Bonus points if you print it on good paper.
Try to add humor to your presentation. This is a tough tip because it’s worked well for me in some cases, but in others, I’ve been burned. In one example from my glorious Centre College days, a professor informed me in my feedback that my sense of humor was “sophomoric.” Guys and gals, that is not a compliment. For the record, I want to say that all of my classmates laughed during my presentation and it seemed like they were paying attention. For the record again, that professor was right and that professor was one of my very favorites and I think it’s a hilarious story that I love telling. I flatter myself into thinking that I have a good sense of humor. The main reason I think that it’s effective for me to add humor is that my own jokes make me smile and relax, which will likely make my listeners relax too. Or it might make them think that I’m more annoying than they already do. But either way I’m having fun.
Admit when you don’t know the answer to a question. This was a tough lesson for me to learn. No one wants to look underprepared for a presentation or like you aren’t an expert on a topic. But in my first teaching observation my first year in my M.A. program, I made the mistake of trying to answer a student question that I very obviously didn’t know the answer to. My observer naturally noticed and chastised me, as she should have. There’s no shame in saying I don’t know the answer right now, but I’ll do some research and get back with you on x date.
Dress in a way that makes you feel tough as nails. Of course you likely want your clothing and accessory decisions to be audience-appropriate (whatever that means), but you should dress in a way that makes you feel confident.
Don’t make external validation your marker of success. Oh, this is a hard one for me. I seek out external validation like it’s my job. These validations range from occasions when I think that something is potentially wrong—do you think x will be okay? Do you think that I should have done x? How did x come across?—to occasions when I think that I did well but I just want that extra pick-me-up. This was particularly bad when it came to graduate school, which was a very friendly, but also competitive environment. When you’re in a classroom with 7ish (?) other students and everyone is really smart and some students spend time reading journal articles on the weekly and others have been published in the topic that you’re discussing and others can talk about poststructuralism like it makes sense—that can be pretty intimidating. So this is something that I’m definitely going to try to work on. Feedback from my husband/my friends/my family/my instructors/my supervisors should not 100% determine how I feel about my own performance. I also don’t have to rely on loved ones to carry the burden of validating my feelings or propping me up.
What public speaking tips do you swear by? Favorite public speaking story? Share!
*Of course I’ve bombed a few along the way, too.
Every page on my website just got a fantastic make-over, and it’s all courtesy of Mary Catherine Starr of Starr Struck Design.
I liked my “before” website because I was proud of my efforts. My previous attempts to create two different blogs a couple of years ago swiftly ended after I could not figure out how to do anything. When I was actually able to figure this Weebly thing out a month ago and start writing and posting, it felt amazing. But I always planned on revamping my website, somewhere down the road.
So when one of my BFFs, Mary Catherine Starr, a phenomenal artist who can create just about anything, generously volunteered her time and efforts to do some “tweaks” to my website, I internally screamed like Ellen’s audience members do when Ellen says they win ALL 12 Days of Christmas Giveaways.
I LOVE my new website and I’m so grateful to Mary Catherine for offering to do something so special for me when she is busy with her own work and personal demands (like her adorable 4-mo. old, Charlie Mae).
I know that I write about my BFFs Mary Catherine and Laura nearly every time I post, but it’s difficult not to talk about your best friends so much when they are incredible people who do anything to support you (whether it’s serving as beta readers for your book, re-designing your website, or stretching out your shoes that you bought in France because they wear size 10-ish shoes and you wear size 8-ish).
I’d also like to take the opportunity to invite anyone reading this to contact Mary Catherine if you need a website or a new logo. She designed my website with my personality and interests in mind, and that’s part of why I love it so much. It’s my dream website. She could design yours too.
Thanks everyone for reading a long, shameless post about how much I love my BFFs and my website.
And now, happy New Year to everyone! For you I wish beautiful hours with the ones that you love most. I know many of mine will be spent watching my son with a smile on my face, and asking anyone who’s around, “Did you see what he just did?! He figured out how to use a Kleenex to wipe his own nose!” or something to that effect. And also time enjoying the natural beauty around us (and hopefully fighting a little bit more to preserve and protect it—I’m speaking for myself here.). And finally, I hope you have at least a few solo trips to Target or the movies or the church sanctuary or volunteering or getting a pedicure or manicure. Whatever you need to do for yourself to feel like the person you want to be.
I’ll see you again tomorrow!
Give me that HEA, please.
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