All in I Love

Historical Fiction Done Right - A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly

I've been doing a lot of reading lately that doesn't really feel necessitates a formal review. This is partially because I intentionally don't read all books with reviewing in mine. When I plan on reviewing a book, I stop, take notes, highlight, all that stuff. At the pace I read, that's overwhelming to do that for each and every book.

However, sometimes I still want to share my thoughts on ​some of these books.

That's the long way of my saying that this isn't a "review" of Jennifer Donnelly's A Northern Light. Instead, it's more a few impressions of why this historical novel worked for me when so many others have not. 

The crux of the story set in 1906 upstate New York (around Utica and Cortland, in the Adirondacks) and centers around two converging stories. The first is 16-year old Mattie's life on a farm, where her aspirations of a bookish life and college in New York City collide with the economic realities of caring for her sisters and helping her father on the farm, as well as the expectations for a girl her age to marry and establish a household. The second story is a mystery around the death of young woman staying at the hotel where Mattie works who's body is found in ​the lake. (This is drawn from real events, and also inspired the Book An American Tragedy and the film A Place in the Sun.)

A number of things distinguished A Northern Light for me, but the aspect that stands out the most is the approach to placing the novel in its historical context.

Verse Week: I <3... Lisa Schroeder

Not long after the experience of reading Love and Leftovers by Sarah Tregay, I frantically hunted down as many verse novels as I could. Apparently, a lot of other people in the Fort Vancouver Regional Library system felt the same way, because none of them were available, thereby forcing me to add them to my library hold list in what felt like a holy test of my (notorious lack of) patience. And add to my list I did. Juvenile, YA, Middle Grade, whatever. Like a drug addict desperately in search of a fix, I was willing to read any category, any genre -- as long as it was a novel-in-verse.

The first book to become available was Far From You by Lisa Schroeder. Everything about it looked promising, from the snowflakes on the cover (since I love snow) to the jacket bio informing me that Lisa Schroeder is a local author, both of which would have been ample reasons for me to award bonus stars to my final book rating.

Turns out I didn’t need them.

So engrossed was I by Far From You that I finished the book in one frantic sitting, when I had originally intended to sneak in just a few pages while my SHO showered and got ready for our outing to the local Farmer’s Market.

So captivated was I by Lisa Schroeder’s verse that I gobbled up the rest of her then-published YA novels, all of which were in verse, within three months.

So enthralled I am with Lisa Schroeder’s storytelling that I (a lazy person who does not enjoy leaving the house or driving) drove to a Barnes and Noble 25 miles away from my house to snag a copy of her most recent book, a prose novel with strong poetic elements, when I found out it had been released into the wild at that particular bookstore a few days before the official release date.

And so obsessed I am with Lisa Schroeder’s books that when it comes to her novels, I simply cannot adhere to my policy of keeping one book by a treasured author unread as an emergency reserve for those times when I desperately need to read a book I know I will love.

To ease the hardship of not knowing when I will get to read another new Lisa Schroeder book, and in celebration of our Novels-in-Verse week here at CEFS, I decided to pull all of her books off of my shelves (oh yes, I have hard copies of them all) and reflect on just why I heart Lisa Schroeder.

I Love... Book Blogs

In honor of Valentines Day I thought I'd write about something I really love: a good book blog.


One of the main arguments against book blogs is the variable quality of their writing. Traditionally published reviews generally get a more thorough editing and a news-outlet's stamp of approval, while blogs can be more hit or miss, without any editors at all. This system can make for inconsistent quality, but to dismiss the entire idea because of a few typos (or cheerleader-y reviews) would be foolish. Honing in on good-quality blogs that hold themselves to high standards (like Clear Eyes, Full Shelves *ahem*) means getting the quality writing while taking advantage of all the benefits of a blog.

One of the reasons I prefer book reviews on blogs to those in newspapers/magazines/trade publications/etcetera is the community available online.

I can start a conversation about an online review, share my own feedback, or ask questions of the reviewer. Basically, blogs provide us with communities and the chance to interact with other readers. Book reviews transform from individual opinion pieces into ongoing conversations with multiple perspectives.

I Love... Tiger Eyes by Judy Blume

Everyone has a first love.

Book love, that is. 

You know what I mean. It's that book that you had to buy a second copy of because you wore out your original. The one with passages you can still recite by heart. The one that makes you squeal like a crazy person when you find someone else who loves it just as much as you do. It's the one that shatters your soul when you see anything but rave reviews for it on Goodreads.

For me, that first book love was Judy Blume's Tiger Eyes.

Tiger Eyes is the single most influential book of my life. I first picked up a raged copy for--and I remember this as clearly as if it were yesterday--50 cents at Powell's Books at the old Beaverton location. It was the summer between by freshman and sophomore years of high school.

I'd read most of the typical Judy Blume books a few years previously, but not this one, which I managed to overlook at my public library. (It's possible that my conservative hometown's library didn't even have this oft-banned book, or that it was shelved in the adult fiction so sixth-grade Sarah didn't have a chance to discover it along with Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret.)

Tiger Eyes set the stage for my lifelong love affair with quiet, character-driven contemporary fiction.

I Love... Book Club

Dear Portland “FYA” Book Club,

I <3 you.

Our meetings are my favorite event every month. I’m not exaggerating one bit. If I only got to see my husband and cat/Kindle stand once a month, you might have some competition, but since I see them every day, there’s no contest. 

I know it seems like perhaps you are not a priority since I have a tendency to begin reading the monthly selection only four hours before the meeting is scheduled to begin. But truly, there is nothing else on my calendar each month that I prioritize more. 

I love that every time we meet, we have avid, enlightening exchanges about anything and everything having to do with reading culture, including all sorts of books that Sarah generously keeps track of in her ever-handy notebook, publishing, and book stores, along with banter on Very Important topics such as Justin Timberlake and The Vampire Diaries. 

I love that our gatherings run so long and late that those of us who are married often feel compelled to bring home dinner, chocolate bourbon hazelnut pie, and/or a Dairy Queen blizzard for our wonderful, understanding husbands.

I love that when Sarah and I decided to subvert our FYA overlords due to their political selection of unappealing books, you were all on board with our coup.

I love that no one considered not meeting during the craziness of the holiday season, which was a possibility that I actually stressed out about beforehand due to my overly anxious tendencies.

Most of all, I love that all y’all seem to love book club as much as I do.

I Love... YA

One of the titles on my profile is “YA Evangelist.” A few (ok, maybe none) of you might wonder what that means.

The thing is, couple of years ago, I found myself in a bit of a reading funk. I’d been an avid fantasy fan for years because I loved being immersed in these other worlds and cultures, and they made me consider my own world and culture and how they came to be. (Hey, I’ve always claimed to be a nerd, ok?) But I found myself burned out on their tendency to turn into Never Ending Series.

I was also over my pretentious phase that most people go through during college involving meta books by authors such as Richard Bach and James Redfield. And Very Serious Literature, the kind of books I was supposed to be thoughtfully reading as a 30 year old…bored and depressed the freakin’ hell out of me. I settled for random books that I found on my library’s staff recommendation table that spanned all genres, but there was no denying that the volume of my reading had decreased immensely. Instead of reading at least 50 books a year, I was down to 15-20 (of which I liked/loved maybe 5). Which for me was sad and unacceptable.

Around the same time, I joined twitter to see what the whole “social media” craze that I had thus far avoided was all about (I still refuse to join the facebook). I soon found myself following fellow Blazers fan Sarah, due to a hilarious tweet regarding the semantics of the “melodramatic” (see what I did there, basketball fans?) trade that sent superstar Carmelo Anthony to the New York Knicks. Eventually, I noticed a frequent tendency of others to ask Sarah for book recommendations. I was all,

“Hey. I can’t seem to find books I like on my own. I may as well read something that a fellow Blazers fan suggests. Since Blazers fans are so well known for their rationality and savvy and all.”

So, against my better judgment upon hearing the weird title, I picked up The Hunger Games at the library. After reading, oh, a chapter or so, I went online and put the other two books in the trilogy on hold.

I Love... YA - On Clear Eyes, Full Shelves

So, I then began scouring Sarah’s timeline for other recs whenever I finished a book. Eventually, I stopped my silly covert searches in favor of proper stalking by actually tweeting her for a personalized list. On that list was Melina Marchetta’s The Piper’s Son, which I adored. A few months later came Maggie Stiefvater’s The Scorpio Races, which made me—ME!—late for work. Twice.

I Love... Poetry

The beauty of words weaving themselves into verse, into poetry, has always been a treasure in my life, an essential part of who I am.

There’s good reason for this. The wonder of language formed around me naturally, an essential part of growing up. The following are my memories how how the joy of poetry eased its way into my my life.

Robert Burns 'Holy Willie's Prayer' - Pages 1 & 2

Evening wrapped itself around our campsite, the fire crackled and the s’mores dripped like warm icicles from our fingers. A day of leaping about the sand dunes and the folding of ocean waves one upon another settled upon my cousins, my sister and myself. It was at the perfect moment, orchestrated by the ambiance surrounding us that my aunt would begin to speak.

The words rolled from her heart to her lips weaving its magical spell.

There are strange things done in the midnight sun

    By the men who moil for gold;

The  Arctic trails have their secret tales

    That would make your blood run cold:

The Northern Lights have seen queer sights,

    But the queerest they ever did see

Was the night on the marge of Lake Lebarge

    I cremated Sam McGee.

We five young children huddled about the fire hearing crickets chirping in the background with the sound of the Pacific and the heat of the summer sun upon still us, listened to the tale in rapt silence. Ah, The Cremation of Sam McGee, the chill of the Arctic and then to the final words of the verse.

List-O-Rama: Authors I Heart, Romance Specialists Edition

For the next installment in the series about my favorite authors, I thought I’d write about some of my favorite Romance writers.

These three authors all have specialties, ranging from novels set in Australia to books about spies. They’re not unlike Ocean’s Eleven, each with an expertise in something unique. I picture them dressed in black with Batman-style utility belts, prepared for anything.

Karina Bliss

Karina Bliss

Her expression shut faster than a poked clam. “I’ll just get a cardigan.”

He might not be a hellraiser anymore but Devin valued his reputation. “Haven’t you got anything sexy?”

“Yes,” said Rachel, “my mind.”

I  own every single Karina Bliss book. I have shelled out for them all. As I’ve mentioned before, I  will continue to do so until one of us dies—this commitment is that serious. That pretty much sums it up.

Bliss specializes in contemporary category  romance set in her native New Zealand and Australia. Her books  are consistently engaging and- dare I say it- heartwarming. I’ve already  mentioned Bring Him Home and What the Librarian Did (here and here)  but next up would probably be Mr. Unforgettable. The plot centers around Liz, the mayor of a small beach community, and Luke, a retired Olympic swimmer. Liz is slowly recovering from the death of her late husband, trying to redefine her identity. She’s thrown into contact with Luke in his attempt to found a camp for underprivileged kids. Their journeys from difficult childhoods to happiness become inextricably intertwined.

Note: those of you who  understandably dislike Alpha Male Syndrome should probably avoid Like Father, Like Son.

List-O-Rama: Authors I Heart, YA Edition

Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of posts from our Official Romance Correspondent, Rebeca aka Renegade, who’s shining a light on her favorite authors.

There are a few authors I am completely, unwaveringly, loyal to. They have earned my trust with a slew of wonderful books, becoming beloved in their own right.

No one’s perfect, but I’ve found something to enjoy in most, if not all, of their books. I’ve written up a few of my favorite YA (and Middle Readers and Children’s) authors to start things off.  These are important names, so I’ll show you mine if you show me yours, okay?

Sarah Dessen 

I knew, in the silence that followed, that anything could happen here.  It might be too late: again, I might have missed my chance. But I would  at least know I tried, that I took my heart and extended my hand,  whatever the outcome.

I Love... Bittersweet by Sarah Ockler

A few weeks after I had joined Goodreads last December, Sarah began evangelizing some book that everyone else described as being about cupcakes by some author named Sarah Ockler that I had never heard of.

I thought, 

Eh… She probably just likes this author because they have the same first name. Whatevs. I’ll get to reading it eventually.

(This was before CEFS, before Sarah and I realized that we are SSBDs, and therefore before I automatically began reading anything she recommended the nanosecond she recommended it.)

Then Maggie’s status updates as she read Bittersweet started invading my feed. First came a gif from one of my favorite movies ever, The Cutting Edge.

“Eh?” I thought, my interest thoroughly piqued, “Figure skating and hockey? Methinks I need to read this sooner rather than later.”

But at the time, I was in the midst of reading the Tomorrow, When the War Began series, as well as the Ruby Oliver quartet. This cupcake/figure skating/hockey book was just going to have to wait.

Maggie’s next status update was from the 2nd installment of one of my all-time favorite movie franchises, the incomparable Mighty Ducks.

“Eh!” I declared, “I will read this as soon as I’m done with Ruby and Ellie!”

10 minutes later…

“EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEH!!!!!!!” I squealed “A cupcake/figure skating/hockey/winter book set in my hometown! I must read this NOW!”

Obviously, I began reading Bittersweet immediately.


I accidentally read my first novel-in-verse on February 29th, 2012. 

Sarah and I are book doppelgangers, so when she strongly recommended the book Love and Leftovers by Sarah Tregay, I blindly hit the one-click purchase button on Amazon and downloaded it to my Kindle without bothering to read the description.

By the time I realized that the book lacked any sort of prose, I was already mesmerized by the verse form. I was late to work that day because I sat in my car figuring out how to use the highlighting function on my Kindle for the first time.

Later, I almost forgot to pay for my lunch because I had finally figured out how to use the highlighting function on my Kindle and was frantically trying to highlight the entire book before the end of my lunch hour.

And THEN, I was fiendishly delighted that my SHO had to work late that evening because it allowed me to devour the rest of the book after I got home from work without interruption.

Now, of course you must be thinking (because you all know me so well and all),

But Laura! Of course you love novels-in-verse! You’re a piano player! And a singer! That means you love poetry! And novels-in-Verse are TOTALLY poetry!

Um. No.

Actually, I don’t “get” poetry. The word “poetry” has traditionally evoked a strong negative reaction from me.

Sometimes, you read a book and it fills you with this weird evangelical zeal, and you become convinced that the shattered world will never be put back together unless and until all living humans read the book. 

People have written really amazing and thorough reviews of John Green’s latest, The Fault in Stars, because it’s really, really wonderful and readable and gut-wrenching

I, however, have been left unable to form a coherent thought about this book—nearly two months after finishing reading it. But nevertheless, I feel like I need to say something about it, because the book (as well as attending the Tour de Nerdfighting) really hit me and actually changed my thinking.

For real.

Anyway, like I said, since everyone’s reviewed it, I thought I’d just share a few of my reflections on this special novel. I mean, there’s a big blobby tear stain in my book. And I kind of think I’m too old to be crying over books, because, you know, I have to deal with real life and all that stuff, but geez… I guess I’ll never stop crying over books. The Fault in Our Stars also made me laugh out loud. Especially the thing about the Swedish rap. Which is why it’s so good, because any book that can combine all those things is so, you know, “wow.” 

Why I ♥ The Fault in Our Stars

Editor’s Note: This is a special guest post from my mom. Sandra is a retired high school English teacher with a lot of opinions and a newfound love of YA literature and urban fantasy—she’s a longtime fan of horror, campy mysteries and police procedurals. As a kid, her goal was to grow up to be Nancy Drew, so much so that she carried around a notebook to report on her neighbors’ potential criminal activities.

In my little Pacific Northwest town of the fifties, women stayed home, took care of the house and centered their lives on their families and husbands. Nancy Drew, the brilliant and virtuous sleuth, gave preteen girls a glimpse of another world, of what could be.

Independent and clever, she drove her blue roadster into mysteries that never quit evolving, into places where atmosphere cloaked young girls in other worlds and thrilling tales.

I loved Nancy.

And, I’ve found a new love.

I recently texted my friend,

“I’m in love with a fictional character.”


 He responded,

“Matthew Crawley?”


I said,

“Please. Is there a Downton Abbey of Doom?? I think not.”


“WTF are you talking about?!”


This is what happens after you read Shannon Stacey’s Kowalski Family series.

First comes love,

Then comes mass texts to friends,

Then comes the delusional break from reality in a Kowalski carriage!

It’s awesome, even as it ruins other fictional men for you.

Editor’s Note: I reviewed this novel on Goodreads last year, and refreshed it for Clear Eyes, Full Shelves—because Raw Blue is such an important book. This is a hard book to acquire, but if you love high quality, contemporary fiction that tackles tough issues, it will be well worth your while. I left in the off-handed comment from my original review about starting a book blog for the laughs (I believe I made the same comment in my Goodreads review of Freefall, mentioned early in this review). This is the first in an ongoing series entitled “I Love,” in which we profess our love and devotion for books, authors, themes or anything else bookish we love.

I’m not even sure how to begin a review of this Raw Blue—this is the kind of novel that makes me feel like I should start a book blog to tell the world about the amazing books* they’re missing.

Given that it was a tremendous pain in the ass to acquire this book, the bar had been set pretty pretty high—and it certainly met those standards, and will be permanently filed under “True Book Love.” 

Why I ♥ Kirtsty Eagar’s Raw Blue.