What’s Ashley Reading?: The Sun Down Motel

The Sun Down Motel by Simone St. James

First line: The night it all ended, Vivian was alone.

Summary: In 1982 Viv Delaney is hitchhiking through New York when she is dropped off at the Sun Down Motel. That night she is offered the job of the night clerk for the motel. On her first nights she learns that not everything is as it seems at the Sun Down. The strong smell of cigarettes, doors opening and closing on their own and ghostly voices around every corner. Then one night in November Viv disappears without a trace.

Flash forward to 2017, Carly Kirk travels to the town of Fell, New York to find out what really happened to her aunt who disappeared from the Sun Down Motel in 1982.

My Thoughts: This was so much fun!! I read it in just 2 days. I loved the old motel, the people and the mystery. I always drive by old motels and wonder who actually stops there. This answered it for me. St. James’ descriptions of the place are just eerie. It is a place stuck in a time bubble. I can easily imagine the smell of the old smoke, the dirty carpets and the old bedspreads. Add to the creepy hotel a few ghosts and you have the recipe for a perfect story. The first time that Viv sees the woman it gave me chills.

FYI: If you love a good ghost story than this is for you!

I Take My Books How I Take My Coffee…

Admit it, we all have a type. Some of us prefer the dark and seductive. Some prefer the sickeningly sweet. Others still prefer the strong and straightforward choice. There are many options. Most (if not all) are enticing, but still our vice calls to us.

My vice is coffee. I’ll take it any way I can get it, but a lady does have her preferences. Maybe you’ll find your preferences connect from book to beverage as well.

Tea (earl grey): Beverages :: Literature : Novels

Refined is the theme here. These pages, and leaves, have stood the test of time. Extras are not required. Austen, Shakespeare, Bronte, Melville, Wilde, Lee, Tolstoy, Elliot, Dickens… what more could a reader require? Once each of the classics have been read, though that is a lofty goal, one might move from here into the modern classics or contemporary novels. Who says you cannot read a book more than once, though? Certainly not us.

Prepackaged : Beverages :: Graphics & Comics : Novels

Do you regularly sit in front of a screen into the wee hours of the morning? Is a controller glued to your hand? Is there a checkered board in front of you? Is that a cheeto in your hand? Graphic Novels and Comics might be your preferred choice of literature. Yes, I do mean literature. Have you read “V for Vendetta”, or, like, any comic? They are all so political it’d be hard to miss the theme. It’s just presented in a different format. Just like those drinks in the cooler at the gas station: its still coffee… it just has a few preservatives in it. Drink with caution. They’re addicting.

Hot Chocolate : Beverages :: Chapter books: Novels

There’s something so comforting about a good hot chocolate. I don’t know about you, but it takes me back to childhood Christmases. Just because those days have passed (for me), doesn’t mean I don’t still enjoy the beverage, though. Same goes for the books. Just because the main characters are young, doesn’t mean the novels are any lesser. Read with pride my people. Harry Potter and The Giver do not lessen with time.

Frapuccino : Beverages :: Young Adult Books: Novels

Ah, to be young and not worried about the amount of sugar sure to go to your hips, or tummy, or that annoying double chin I got at twenty-five. Truth is, we all know we’re going to drink it anyway. It’s too good to pass up! It’s just a natural an unconcerned pick for many teens. In the same notion, we all know that new YA book. We all want to read it. We all feel awkward as we traipse the YA shelves of the local library. It’s a worthwhile endeavor, though. A little indulgent, perhaps, but worth the calories.

*Iced Coffee : Beverages :: Young Adult: Novels

**A slightly more adult version of those YA novels. It’s still iced, but a bit less sweet. It’s a bit more to the point– sharper. Watered Milked down a bit, sure, but one cannot be expected to go cold turkey!

Black Coffee: Beverages :: Nonfiction : Novels

“Just the facts, ma’am.”

Actually, I find this beverage also fits the Hard Science Fiction Reader as well. Sometimes High Fantasy draws in the black coffee drinkers as well. It’s science driven. It’s an epic journey, magic driven but more serious than flouncy. These extra genres require no sweetness.

Flat White: Beverages :: Genre Fiction : Novels

So, you enjoy your coffee but you won’t turn down a bit of milk or sugar? It’s not watered down, its plot padding!

Affogato: Beverages :: Specific Genre Fiction(s): Novels

Indulgent. A specialty, many have never considered this option. Once you’ve tried it, it’s hard to go back though. Keep a pint of ice cream in the freezer, just in case you come across one of those nights you need a little something extra.

Chai Latte: Beverages :: Realistic: Novels

Can’t pick between coffee and tea, can you? You own a high brow library (all read and enjoyed), but keep eying that new book at the library. You know, the low brow one you’d never tell your friends about. Rest easy, my friends. We can meet in the middle at a realistic choice.

Pumpkin Spiced Latte : Beverages :: Bestsellers : Novels

Basic. If so many enjoy it, why can’t you. Well, I’m here to tell you: you can, Becky. You can do it! Any kind of reading, is good reading… and any kind of coffee, is good coffee. Why force yourself to drink something different? That PSL calls to you! The barista even knows your name! Why go with some random book you’ve barely heard of, when Patterson, Evanovich, and Grisham know exactly what you like? Ignore the haters, Becky. I got you.

White Chocolate Mocha Latte : Beverages :: Contemporary Romance : Novels

It’s so sweet. From the whipped top, to the white chocolate syrup, it’s designed to hit that sweet tooth with everything it’s got. It’s almost too much, but not quite enough to deter you.

Dulce de leche : Beverages :: Erotic Romance : Novels

Ingredients: kahlua, dulce de leche, coffee, chocolate, heavy cream, sugar

Adult readers only! You must be 21 or older to buy this beverage. With heaps of chocolate, Kahlua (or any liquor of your choice, really), and a heavy dose of heavy cream… this drink is positively sinful. You may feel a bit guilty about this kind of indulgence, even. Ain’t no shame in the game though, honey. As long as you’re legal buying age, everyone deserves a bit of adult relaxation.

I hope if these aren’t your go to genres now, that maybe you’ll consider reading them in the future. Perhaps the reverse as well, try a new beverage! It might be the best one yet.

Happy Reading my friends — Chelsea

What’s Ashley Reading?: Not much…

This week’s blog post is a little different. I have been sick and not really feeling like reading. Sleeping has been a priority for me in the last few days but I have some books that I am really excited about starting.

In December our staff participated in a murder mystery instead of having a traditional Christmas party. Everything was designed by our amazingly talented teen coordinator, Alyssa. She designed everything around a secret society whose goal is to protect and preserve literary works. Over several weeks we were emailed clues then asked to put everything together and reveal the murderer, why they were committing the crime and what the important document was all about. Let me tell you, it was HARD! I truly do not know how Miss Alyssa’s mind holds all of this.

After weeks of pouring over the clues I found out that I had won the grand prize! A $100 gift card to Watermark Books & Cafe! My next free weekend was spent browsing their shelves looking for just the right books. I picked out seven books and an enamel pin. Trust me it was not easy to decide but I did it.

List of books I bought:

So hopefully I will be feeling better by the weekend so I can start on some of these books. If you are interested in winning a gift card to Watermark Books then enter our For the Love of Reading challenge on Beanstack. It runs from February 2-14, 2020. You still have time to log books. The more you read the more chances you have to win!

Random Reading Thoughts: How do you feel about the classics?

I recently ran across a blog post that ranked the classics based on Goodreads user ratings. The post is titled “The Most Loved and Hated Classic Novels According to Goodreads Users.” Most loved and hated? I was completely intrigued!

Like many people, I was assigned to read many books that carry the label “classic” while I was in high school. Among them were The Scarlet Letter, A Tale of Two Cities, Tom Sawyer, and Pride and Prejudice. I learned quickly that I don’t like anything by Charles Dickens and I love Mark Twain. I never read The Scarlet Letter, and still haven’t to this day. And I’m pretty sure my English teacher was completely aware of that.

So, it was with these and many other reading — and non-reading — experiences with classic novels, that I read the blog post. I was not particularly surprised that To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee made the top of the most-loved list (it’s one of my favorites). But I was surprised to see The Godfather by Mario Puzo on the list at all. But once I looked at the parameters the post author used to define “classic novel” it made sense. Other top-rated titles that I read (or was supposed to read and didn’t) in high school include Pride and Prejudice and The Brothers Karamazov.

Bottom of the list? The aforementioned The Scarlet Letter. In the interest of full disclosure, it still rates an average 3.4 stars from readers, and several of my friends have given it 5-star ratings. So I feel like the term “Most Hated” is a little bit of a misnomer when you look at it that way. Other titles that join Nathaniel Hawthorne’s classic at the bottom of the list include Moby Dick by Herman Melville and Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. Two more titles I’ve never read, and don’t plan to.

Even with the apparent issues in making a list such as this, it’s compelling to consider what elements a book needs to include to qualify as a piece of “classic literature.” For instance, I surely don’t consider The Great Gatsby the Great American Novel. I thought it was a horrible book. But I do love Jane Austen and John Steinbeck (yes, I love The Grapes of Wrath, but I didn’t have to read it in high school).

So tell us in the comments, do you have classics that you love or love to hate? Were there classics you had to read in school that you ended up loving? Have you approached classics later in your life and had different reactions to them? Share your favorite classic novel, or the worst one you’ve ever read. We want to know!

What’s Ashley Reading?: The Devil in the White City

The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson

First line: How easy it was to disappear.

Summary: It is 1893. Chicago is hosting the World’s Fair. All eyes are on America. Told through intertwining narratives following the dreamers and architects of one of the largest expositions ever and the serial killer who used to fair to attract his victims.

My Thoughts: I was very excited to start this. I just read about the victims of Jack the Ripper so obviously it was time to read up on H. H. Holmes, America’s first serial killer. And I had heard great things about Erik Larson’s books. However, I was a little disappointed. I loved the chapters about Holmes and his “Murder Castle” but they were too short. More time and pages were devoted to the World’s Fair. I get that it was a very important piece of American history but it was very dry. I slugged through about two thirds of the book before I decided to skip each of these chapters and just focus on Holmes.

Herman Webster Mudgett aka
H. H. Holmes

I was astounded at how long Holmes was able to go undetected while committing his crimes. He spent years avoiding notice. Even though murder is his most notorious crime he was a mastermind at other ways to deceive. Larson always pointed out his striking blue eyes and charming demeanor. It is easy to imagine him swindling his unsuspecting victims. He used his charms to avoid debt collectors, create alias and marry several women. With these skills he was a very “successful” man. He accumulated wealth and many people liked him. It is hard to imagine that someone like that could be as cold-blooded as he was.

I have to point out that even though I gave up on the fair chapters that they were very detailed and well researched. This would be a perfect book for lovers of Chicago history and architectural history. I loved looking at pictures from the fair. It looks stunning. Truly a wonder of the modern world. Even though they had many setbacks and struggles during the construction they pulled off an amazing feat.

FYI: A great young adult historical fiction set in Holmes’ Chicago is Capturing the Devil by Kerri Maniscalco. It is the 4th book in the series and I highly recommend them all!

*This is my pick for category #12 (A book by an author slated to visit Kansas in 2020) for the ReadICT challenge.*

From Reader to Writer: Character Misbelief

One of the great joys of writing stories is creating characters. It’s so much fun to envision what someone might look like, sound like, and be like in the world of your story. Any writer familiar with pre-planning stages will be familiar with those lengthy character bios and protagonist worksheets that make you answer every question about your character from their favorite subject in school to their worst fears. But as I’ve been researching more into writing techniques, I’ve stumbled upon a fundamental question that writers don’t often ask of their characters; what does my character believe to be true despite that truth actually being a lie? In essence, what is this character’s misbelief?

The whole point of telling a story at the point which you tell it is because it’s literally the most important moment in your character’s life. This story, this sequence of events, will essentially alter their entire world. How can someone’s life be completely transformed? When they realize that something they so intensely believed is actually the furthest thing from the truth.

Think about one of your favorite stories. How does the character change from the beginning to the end? Most likely, it’s because something that they believed in heatedly is actually not what is true at all, and usually that truth is a central theme in the story.

For example, a character could start the story believing that they are unworthy, perhaps because somewhere in their backstory, an incident occurred that made them think this. Then the story launches into full form, dragging the character through experiences that alter their sense of self and towards an a-ha moment where that truth is revealed as a lie and their sense of worthiness develops. Viewing things like plot and character development in this way versus simply seeing a story as a sequence of events has really helped me dig deeper into my own writing.

If you’re interested in exploring character misbelief, I recommend reading Story Genius by Lisa Cron or checking out young adult author Abbie Emmons’ YouTube Channel. Both are great resources for writers!

What’s Ashley Reading?: The Little Book of Hygge

The Little Book of Hygge by Meik Wiking

First line: Hooga? Hhyooguh? Heurgh? It is not important how you choose to pronounce or even spell hygge. To paraphrase one of the greatest philosophers of our time—Winnie-the-Pooh—when asked how to spell a certain emotion, “You don’t spell it, you feel it.”

Summary: Meik Wiking is the CEO of the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen, Denmark. In this small book he delves into the Danish word, hygge (pronounced hoo-ga). It is a lifestyle of comfy blankets, delicious food and lots of candles.

My Thoughts: It is that dark and dreary time of year. It is cold outside. Nothing sounds better than a warm blanket and a cup of tea. This is where hygge comes in. All I want to do is hygge now. And I have been trying to achieve it since finishing this book. Each evening I snuggle with my dog and a blanket while watching a favorite TV show or reading a good book.

I love how the author breaks down what hygge is and how to do it. Even though many Danes have different ideas about what is essential to hygge they all agree that it is comfort. The illustrations were pleasant and beautiful. If you are looking for something to help you get through the cold winter months than pick this up! And let us know how you hygge.

FYI: This is the first of several books by Wiking about how to find happiness like the Danes.

*This is my pick for category #2 (A fix-it, how-to, or self-help book) for the ReadICT challenge.*

Read-Alongs aka Parental Game Changers

As a parent I sometimes struggle with balancing screen time with book time. Kids seem to naturally gravitate to the screens in their lives. So I love it when I find something that can bridge this gap! The Read-Along Collection on the Libby App solves this on-going dilemma. 

The Derby Public Library has over 400 Read-Along picture and early reader books ready for you to borrow. Each book is read aloud to your child, pages automatically turning, and the words are highlighted as they are said. Even for pre-readers, these help develop those literacy skills that will help them thrive in school.

Plus they are fun! To further entice your kiddo, some of their favorite television and movie characters can be found: Dora the Explorer, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Blaze, Paw Patrol, and more! 

To find these books:

  1.  Open the Libby App, scroll down a bit
  2.  Click on Explore
  3.  Click on Guide: Kids, scroll down some more
  4.  Click Read-Alongs

 From there employ the filters to find just the perfect title, even non-fiction is available. So for those times you can’t make it into the library to pick up new books, long road trips, or when you just need 5 whole minutes of peace, Read-Alongs are here to save the day!

What’s Ashley Reading?: When Women Ruled the World

When Women Ruled the World by Kara Cooney

The cover image is the famous bust of Nefertiti.

First line: In the fifth century B.C., thousands of years after her lifetime, the Greek historian Herodotus wrote about a certain Nitocris, a queen whose husband-brother had been murdered by conspirators.

Summary: Egyptologist Kara Cooney takes us back to Ancient Egypt and the rule of six remarkable female kings. In a time where men ruled everything these women were able to rise to the highest position in the ancient world using their own cunning. Using years of research and her own deductions we look at their rise to power, their reign and their eventual fall from grace.

My Thoughts: Before starting this book I had only heard of three of these female pharaohs: Hatshepsut, Nefertiti and Cleopatra. I was really excited to delve deeper into each of their lives and reigns but I got the extra bonus of learning about three other incredible women from Ancient Egypt. Each of them came to power in different ways. Some through marriage, others religion, and by default as well. Cooney does a fantastic job giving the background of each pharaoh’s dynasty and the events leading up to their reign.

The fact that we know so much about events from 5,000 years ago is astounding to me. The Egyptians left lots of details about the reigns of their monarchs either on monuments, temples or tombs. We are very lucky to have these records. And hopefully over time we will discover more as the search continues for more tombs. I really hope that one day we will find the tomb of Nefertiti!

It has been a dream of mine to visit Egypt and see the pyramids. The thought of walking where these god-kings once did would be awe-inspiring. I have long followed the work of Zahi Hawass, a world renowned Egyptologist, but I think I will keep an eye on Kara Cooney as well. She has another book all about Hatshesput which I hope to read soon.

My one critique is the fact that the author tried to compare current events to Egyptian culture. It did not flow well and it takes you out of the mindset of the facts. I skipped those paragraphs. Luckily they were few and far between.

FYI: If you want a historical fiction book similar to this then try Nefertiti by Michelle Moran.

*This is my pick for #8 (A book by an author who is new to you) in the ReadICT reading challenge.*

Lit Pairings – City of Thieves

City of Thieves by David Benioff

During the Nazis’ brutal siege of Leningrad, Lev Beniov is arrested for looting and thrown into the same cell as a handsome deserter named Kolya. Instead of being executed, Lev and Kolya are given a shot at saving their own lives by complying with an outrageous directive: secure a dozen eggs for a powerful Soviet colonel to use in his daughter’s wedding cake. In a city cut off from all supplies and suffering unbelievable deprivation, Lev and Kolya embark on a hunt through the dire lawlessness of Leningrad and behind enemy lines to find the impossible.

By turns insightful and funny, thrilling and terrifying, City of Thieves is a gripping, cinematic World War II adventure and an intimate coming-of-age story with an utterly contemporary feel for how boys become men.

Usually WWII books just aren’t my jam. I feel like unless you’re a history buff, once you’ve read a few books on the topic you’re good. But I found City of Thieves to be the exception. I’ve never read anything that explained how desperate things got in Leningrad during that time. It was a moving story that will forever be ingrained in my mind.

So how should I write a food related blog centered on a book about war and starvation? Probably a little like my post about The Hunger by Alma Katsu that focused on The Donner Party. Like the Donner Party, the people of Leningrad were rumored to have resorted to cannibalism, but instead of showing you another rib recipe I think we’ll go another route. In City of Thieves you were considered lucky if you could even get your hands on a onion! So, how about you hope your neighbor has a tomato stashed away, you offer up your precious onion, like it’s your first born, and together you could make Tomato Onion Stew. If things started looking up you may find some wild creature roaming the bombed streets. Do your best to catch it, and make Old Fashioned Wild Game Stew. You probably won’t have any veggies to put in it but maybe, just maybe you saved a little of your daily onion and you could drop that in? Sounds like a plan to me!

All kidding aside City of Thieves by David Benioff is a wonderful read. Give it a go and let me know what you think.