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Is it dark in here? | THE DEAD HOUSE MIRROR TOUR

It’s getting creepy on Rather Be Reading Blog today. I don’t know about you but I’m the kind of person who doesn’t necessarily like to be scared but doesn’t stop me at all from reading, watching, or obsessing over frightening things. (I’m a mystery even to myself.) This leads me to THE DEAD HOUSE by Dawn Kurtagitch which will be releasing on September 15 from Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. The plot sounds exactly like a news story I would be completely obsessed with in real life. Here it is:

Over two decades have passed since the fire at Elmbridge High, an inferno that took the lives of three teenagers. Not much was known about the events leading up to the tragedy – only that one student, Carly Johnson, vanished without a trace…

…until a diary is found hidden in the ruins.

But the diary, badly scorched, does not belong to Carly Johnson. It belongs to Kaitlyn Johnson, a girl who shouldn’t exist Who was Kaitlyn? Why did she come out only at night? What is her connection to Carly?

The case has been reopened. Police records are being reexamined: psychiatric reports, video footage, text messages, e-mails. And the diary.

To get into the mood of the back and forth in this story, The Overflowing Library will be sharing a sneak peek of something from Carly’s POV and we’re sharing a bit from Kaitlyn’s. The theme is: Truth or Dare. Enjoy!

The Dead House by Dawn Kurtagich




Dare: I dare you to phone the last person you messaged and tell them you love them.

I can’t. They are gone forever. But if I were to phone them, I don’t know that I could tell them I loved them. There’s a lot I don’t remember. A lot I do, too. And that complicates things. My favorite movie growing up was The Crow. I remember the scene where Eric saves Darla from herself. He takes her arms, and squeezes them,  and all the heroine she had taken came draining out.

“Mother is the name for God on the lips and hearts of all children.

My mother was never that to me. But, for Carly’s sake, I’ll tell you this:

She tried. And that’s all anyone can do, I guess.

Want to know more about THE DEAD HOUSE?

Be sure to check out NOVL’s landing page & follow #TheDeadHouse.

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If You Only Knew (and you will — this Tuesday)

Kristan Higgins goes down as one of my top reading discoveries I’ve experienced through working on Rather Be Reading Blog. She’s a romance writer, yes, but it’s the the way she infuses family and comedy into her work that makes Kristan a standout to me. That being said, I was so excited she was trying something a little bit different with her next release, IF YOU ONLY KNEW (HQN Books/August 25). Think Emily Giffin, Jane Green, and maybe a little bit of Marisa de los Santos in this tale centered on sisterhood. Jenny is moving back to her small New York town to open a wedding dress boutique, and her sister, Rachel, is the attentive mom and wife but can’t figure out what to do when she finds sexy texts on her husband’s cell phone. Both are at a crossroads, and struggling with unexpected complications weighing them down. I loved how close these sisters were (yet they weren’t afraid to disagree), how grief affects everyone differently, and how it’s never too late to try something new. I’ll warn you though: clear your schedule for this one. You won’t want to anything to interrupt your time with IF YOU ONLY KNEW. It’s captivating, complicated, and oh-so good.

Today I’m so thrilled to share an excerpt from chapter 1 of IF YOU ONLY KNEW — which is out on shelves tomorrow!

If Only You Knew by Kristan Higgins

Jenny: Today is one of those days when I realize that staying friends with my ex- husband was a huge mistake.

I’m at the baby shower for Ana-Sofia, Owen’s wife and my replacement. Indeed, I’m sitting next to her, a place of honor in this circle of beaming well- wishers, and I’m probably beaming just as hard as everyone else. Harder, even, my Gosh, isn’t it wonderful, she’s so radiant smile that I give at work quite often, especially as my brides get bitchier or their mothers get more critical or their maids of honor get more jealous. But this smile, the baby shower smile…this is superhuman, really.

I know that coming today is incredibly pathetic, don’t worry. It’s just that I didn’t want to seem bitter by not showing up (though I’m pretty sure I am bitter, at least a little). After all, I’m the one who always wanted kids. Every time I brought it up, though, Owen said he wasn’t sure the time was right, and he loved our life the way it was.

Yeah. So. That turned out not to be quite true, but we did stay friends. Coming today, though…pathetic.

However, I woke up this morning utterly starving, and I knew the food would be amazing at the shower. Ana-Sofia inspires people. Plus, I’m moving out of the city, so for the past three weeks, I’ve been trying to eat or give away every morsel of food in my apartment. Let’s also mention that I couldn’t figure out an excuse that people would buy. Better to be an oddity here than Poor Jenny at home, scrounging through a box of Wheat-Thins of indeterminate age.

Ana-Sofia opens my gift, which is wrapped in Christmas paper, despite it being April. Liza, my host, glowers; the red and green cocoa-swilling Santas are an affront to the party vibe, which Liza noted on the invitations. In an effort to create a beautiful and harmonious environment for Ana-Sofia, please adhere to the apricot and sage color scheme in your clothing and gift-wrapping choices. Only in Manhattan, folks. I’m wearing a purple dress as a middle finger to Liza, who used to be my friend but now posts daily on FB that she’s LOL-ing with her BFF, Ana-Sofia.

“Oh! This is so lovely! Thank you, Jenny! Everyone, look at this! It’s beautiful!” Ana-Sofia holds up my gift, and there are gasps and murmurs and exclamations and a few glares that I have the best present here. I cock an eyebrow at the haters. Suck  it up, bitches. My gift was actually dashed off last night, as I kind of forgot to buy a present, but they don’t have to know that.

It’s a white satin baby blanket with leaves and trees and birds stitched into it. Hey. It only took me two hours. Nothing was hand-stitched. It wasn’t that big a deal.

I sew for a living. A wedding dress designer. The irony is not lost on me, don’t worry. “Couldn’t you have just bought a stuffed animal like a normal person?”

murmurs the person on my left. Andreas (born Andrew), my assistant, and the only man here. Gay, of course—do straight men work in designer bridal wear? Also, he hates and fears children, which makes him the perfect date for me under the circumstances. I needed an ally.

Have I mentioned that the shower is held in the apartment I once shared with Owen? Where, so far as I could tell, he and I were extremely happy? Yes. Liza is hosting, but the power went out in her apartment, thanks to the ham-fisted construction crew installing her new glass countertops (granite being so very last decade), and so we’re here instead. Liza is sweaty and loud, rightfully worried about being judged on her prowess as hostess. This is the Upper East Side, after all. We’re all about judgment here.

The gifts (including mine) border on the ridiculous. The shower invitation (engraved from Crane’s) asked, at the behest of the parents, for donations to the clean-well-water charity Ana-Sofia founded—Gushing.Org, the name of which brings to mind a particularly bad menstrual period, but which raises funds for wells in Africa. Yeah. Therefore, everyone donated fat checks and tried to outdo themselves with gifts. There’s a Calder mobile. A 1918 edition of Mother Goose stories. A mohair Steiff teddy bear that costs about as much as the rent on my soon-to-be former apartment in the Village.

My gaze drifts across the now-tastefully furnished apartment. When I lived here, it was cozier and Bo-Ho—fat, comfortable furniture, dozens of pictures of my three nieces, the occasional wall hanging from Target, that bastion of color and joy for the middle class. Now, the décor is incredibly tasteful, with African masks on the wall to remind us what Ana-Sofia does, and original paintings from around the globe. The walls are painted those boring, neutral colors with sexy names—October Fog, Birmingham Cream, Icicle.

There’s their wedding photo. They eloped, so thank God I didn’t have to go to that (or, God forbid, make her gown, which I would’ve done if asked, because I’m still pretty pitiful where Owen is concerned and can’t figure out how to divorce him out of my heart). Though the photo was taken by the justice of the peace in Maine, it’s perfect. Both bride and groom are laughing, slightly turned away from the camera, Ana’s hair blowing in the sea breeze. The New York Times featured the photo in the Sunday Vows section.

They really are the perfect couple. Once, it was Owen and me, and while I didn’t expect perfection, I thought we were pretty great. We never fought. My mom felt that since Owen is half Japanese, he was a better bet than “those simpletons” I dated (all of whom I hoped to marry at one point or another, starting with Nico Stephanopolous in eighth grade). “The Japanese don’t believe in divorce,” Mom said the first time I introduced her. “Right, Owen?”

He agreed, and I can still see his omnipresent, sweet smile, the Dr. Perfect Smile, as I called it. It’s his resting expression. Very reassuring to his patients, I’m sure. Owen is a plastic surgeon, the kind who fixes cleft palates and birthmarks and changes the lives of his patients. Ana-Sofia, who is from Peru and speaks five languages, met Owen eleven weeks after our divorce when he was doing his annual stint with Doctors Without Borders in the Sudan and she was digging wells.

And I make wedding dresses, as I believe I’ve already said. Listen. It’s not as shallow as it sounds. I make women look like they dreamed they would on one of the happiest days of their lives. I make them cry at their own reflections, I give them the dress they’ve spent years thinking about, the dress they’ll be wearing when they pledge their hearts, the dress they’ll pass onto their own daughters someday, the dress that signifies all their hopes and dreams for a happy, sparkling future.

But compared with what Owen and his second wife do, yeah, it’s incredibly shallow.

In theory, I should hate them both. No, he didn’t cheat with her. He’s far too decent for that.

He loves her, though. Ostensibly, I could hate him for loving her and not me. Make no mistake. I was heartbroken. But I can’t hate Owen, or Ana-Sofia. They’re too damn nice, which is incredibly inconsiderate of them.

And being Owen’s friend is better than being without Owen entirely.

The quilt has made the rounds of admiration and is passed back to Ana. She strokes it tenderly, then looks at me with tears in her eyes. “I don’t have the words to tell you how much this means.”

Oh, shut up, I want to say. I forgot to buy you a gift and dashed this off last night with some leftover Duchess satin. It’s no big deal.

“Hey, no worries,” I say. I’m often glib and stupid around Ana-Sofia. Andreas hands me another cream puff. I may have to give him a raise.

“I’m so excited about your new shop,” Ana says. “Owen and I were talking about how talented you are just last night.”

Andreas gives me a significant look and rolls his eyes. He has no problem hating Ana-Sofia and Owen, which I appreciate. I smile and take another sip of my mimosa, which is made with blood oranges and really good champagne.

If I’m ever pregnant, though the chances of that are plummeting by the hour, I imagine I’ll have the unenviable “I sat on an air hose” look that my sister had when she was percolating the triplets. There was no glow. There was acne. Stretch marks that made her look as if she’d been mauled by a Bengal tiger. She gnashed on Tums and burped constantly, but in true Rachel fashion, my sister never complained.

Ana-Sofia glows. Her perfect olive skin is without a blemish or, indeed, a visible pore. Her boobs look fantastic, and though she is eight and a half months pregnant, her baby bump is modest and perfectly round. She has no cankles. Life is so unfair.

“We just found out that our daughter’s classmate is her half-brother,” says the taller woman in Lesbian Couple #1. One of them just became a partner in Owen’s practice, but I don’t remember her name. “Imagine if we hadn’t known that! She could’ve ended up dating her half-brother! Marrying him! The fertility clinic gave  out fourteen samples of that donor’s sperm. We’re filing a lawsuit.”

“It’s better than adopting,” says another woman. “My sister? She and her husband had to give back their son the fourth time he set fire to the living room.”

“That’s not so bad. My cousin adopted, and then the birth mother came out of rehab and the judge gave her custody of the baby. After two years, mind you.”

On the other side of the circle, there seems to be a heated debate over whose labor and delivery was most grueling. “I almost died,” one woman says proudly. “I looked at my husband and told him I loved him, and the next thing I knew, the crash cart was there…”

“I was in labor for three days,” another states. “I was like a wild animal, clawing at the sheets.”

“Emergency cesarean eight weeks early, no anesthesia,” someone else says proudly. “My daughter weighed two pounds. NICU, fifty-seven days.”

And we have a winner! The other mothers shoot her resentful looks. Talk turns to food allergies, vaccines, family beds and the sad dearth of gifted and talented programs for preschoolers.

“This is fun,” I murmur to Ana-Sofia.

“Oh, yes,” she says. Irony is not one of her skills. “I’m so glad you are here, Jenny. Thank you for giving up your afternoon! You must be very busy with the move.”

“You’re moving?” one of her extremely beautiful and well-educated friends asks. “Where?”

“Cambry-on-Hudson,” I answer. “I grew up there. My sister and her family are—“

“Oh, my God, you’re leaving Manhattan? Will you have to get a car? Are there any restaurants there? I couldn’t live without Zenyasa Yoga.”

“You still go to Zenyasa?” someone says. “I’ve moved on. It’s Bikram Hot for I saw Neil Patrick Harris there last week.”

“I don’t do yoga anymore,” a blond woman says, studying a raspberry. “I joined a trampoline studio over on Amsterdam. Sarah Jessica Parker told me about it.”

“What about brunch?” someone asks me, her brow wrinkling in concern. “What will you do for brunch if you leave the city?”

“I think brunch is illegal outside Manhattan,” I answer gravely. No one laughs. They may think I’m telling the truth.

Now granted, I love Manhattan. To paraphrase the song, if you make it here,  the rest of the world is a cake walk. And I have made it here. I’ve worked for the best—even Vera Wang, as a matter of fact. My work is sold at Kleinfeld’s and has supported me for fifteen years. I was named one of the Designers of the Year when I was at Parson’s. I’ve been to not one but two parties at Tim Gunn’s place. He greeted me by name (and yes, he’s as nice as he seems).

But while I love the city, its roar, its buildings and smells, its subways and skyline, in my heart of hearts, I want a yard. I want to see my nieces more often. I want the happily ever after that my sister nailed, that’s unfolding for my ex-husband and his too-nice wife.

I hope I’m running to something, not away. The truth is, work has felt a little flat lately.

Cambry-on-Hudson is a lovely little city about an hour north of Manhattan. It has several excellent restaurants (some even serve brunch, shockingly). The downtown has a movie theater, flowering trees, a park and a Williams-Sonoma. It’s hardly a third-world country, no matter what these women think. And the latest shop is Bliss. Custom-made wedding gowns. My baby, in lieu of the human kind.

My phone beeps softly with a text. It’s from Andreas, who has put in his ear buds in order to drown out the stories of blocked milk ducts and bleeding nipples. Check out the nose on the great-aunt. I hope the baby inherits that. I smile at him gratefully.

“Did you hear about the obstetrician who fathered fifty-nine babies?” someone asks.

“That was an episode on Law & Order.”

“Ripped from the headlines,” someone else murmurs. “Someone in my building was one of his patients.”

“Oh. Oh, dear,” Ana-Sofia says.

I turn to her. She looks a bit startled. “It’s probably not true,” I tell her. “No…I think…it appears my water has broken.”

There is a silence, followed by a collective roar.

I’ll spare you the details. Suffice it to say that, despite there being a dozen women who’ve given birth all jockeying for position, my hand is the one Ana-Sofia clutches. “Oh, Jenny, it’s happening,” she says, and her beautiful brown eyes are wide and terrified, and then I’m easing her onto the floor and crouched between her still- slim thighs (she’s maintained her bikini wax, FYI). Off with the thong (really, it’s like she’s showing off), and holy Mother of God, I can see the head.

I fumble in my purse for the travel-size Purell (if you ride the subways on a daily basis, you carry Purell). Slap some on my hands. “Get some towels and quiet down!” I bark at the other shower guests. I’m kind of good in emergencies. Liza hands me a stack of towels (very soft and about to be ruined by whatever comes out of a woman during childbirth).

“Let me help,” Liza whines. Indeed, this would make a great Facebook post.

Just delivered my BFF’s baby, LOL! –with Ana-Sofia Marquez-Takahashi.

“I need to push,” Ana pants, and she does, once, twice, a third time, and a face appears (a baby! there’s a baby coming into my hands!). One more push, and I’m holding it, slimy and covered in white gunk and a little blood and incredibly beautiful.

Dark hair, huge eyes. A miracle.

I ease her out all the way and put her on Ana’s chest. “It’s a girl,” I say, covering the baby with a towel.

Then FDNY clomps in, and I entertain a quick and deeply satisfying fantasy—

The head firefighter is filled with admiration for my cleverness, checks me out and asks me to dinner in the cutest Brooklyn accent the world has ever heard. His biceps flex hypnotically, and at the end of the date, yes, he does pick me up to demonstrate just how easy it would be for him to save my life, and a few years later, we have three strong sons and twin daughters on the way. And a Dalmatian.

But no, their attention is quite taken with Ana-Sofia (as it should be, I guess, though it would be nice if just one of them checked me out). Someone cuts the cord, and Ana is weeping beautifully over her daughter, and Liza holds her phone to Ana’s ear so my ex-husband can sob his love and admiration for his wife, who just set the land-speed record for labor and delivery.

From down the hall, I can hear Andreas dry-heaving in the tastefully decorated powder room over the murmurs of admiration from the shower guests and the brawny firefighters as they tell Ana how amazing she is, how beautiful her daughter is.

Seems like I’m leaving the city in the very nick of time.

Add IF YOU ONLY KNEW on Goodreads | Buy on B&N | Buy on Amazon

Kristan Higgins on the web & her recent piece on defending the romance genre (so good!)

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I Saw the Sign | Pub Date

Pub Date Header

I’m not going to be the person to ask you what your sign is, but something about horoscopes really fascinates me. I’m sitting here reading about Aquarius (who said Pub Date wasn’t educational), and I’m wondering how people decide which advice to trust, which traits really fall under the umbrella of this horoscope. I read something today that said Aquarians were near geniuses and another that said we were always searching for the meaning of life. I don’t think I’m anything close to a near genius but I am an over thinker, I like to understand things. But the real holy shit moment was this:

To Aquarius, compassion is not an emotion, but a conclusion. You have ideals and you cherish them, because you know they lead to a better world for all. Therefore, Aquarius tends to be altruistic even at great personal costs. Others admire that, but to Aquarius it’s self-explanatory: We must be benevolent to our fellow human beings for the benefit of all of us. That makes sense.


Now that my mind is blown, I’ll share my beer. As the ‘water bearer’, I went for Heavy Seas Smooth Sail Summer Ale (the website rightfully calls it a ‘pool beer’). I’m hanging on to the last few weeks of summer, and this is the perfect accomplice. It’s light, comes in a can, and goes down so easy. (Unfortunately, you might have to put this on your wish list for next year because if your grocery store is anything like mine, it’s full of pumpkin beer already.)

I’m not sure if my book relates to the beer at all. In fact, I think it relates more to Aquarius and how we like to understand even the most difficult things in life. The Last Leaves Falling by Sarah Benwell about a high school student named Sora dealing with an ALS diagnosis. He can’t go back to school (he loves literature and dreams of being a professor) and he’s slowly losing his motor skills. Throughout the book (which is so quietly written), he’s trying to come to terms with death and what happens after. It’s a beautiful (though heartbreaking) book with a wonderful mom, surprising new friends (from the internet!), and lovely grandparents. I completely loved it. I hope you’ll check it out.

Smooth Sail Summer and The Last Leaves Falling

That’s it for me, and this #PubDate. Hope you have a great month, and some wonderful brews and books! xoxo

Pass it on: Brittany @ Book Addict’s Guide | Andi @ Andi ABCs | Maggie @ Just a Couple More

August 26, 2015 - 8:01 am

This Love Bug | Romance Short List - […] after vacation, accompanied me on a beer crawl, and kept me company on a “me night” (along with this beer). I always will equate romance novels with relaxation and a whole lot of fun. Thanks to these for […]

August 21, 2015 - 2:23 pm

Alexa S. - I think horoscopes and zodiac signs can be utterly fascinating! I honestly don’t know how much stock I can put in them, but I do like reading up on them every now and again. I like the bit you put in for Aquarius – that’s such a powerful description!

August 21, 2015 - 11:36 am

Brittany @ The Book Addict's Guide - Wow, that book sounds utterly amazing and moving. I’ll have to put it on my list!
That beer sounds delicious too. I’ll have to look for it next year! I’m already getting texts from my sister about pumpkin beer so I agree, we may have moved into fall territory already… (Although I had a watermelon beer in the hopes to cling to that part of summer just a bit longer. Even though I love fall I can’t rush it!)

August 21, 2015 - 10:27 am

Rebecca @ Reading Wishes - I am SO happy to hear you loved The Last Leaves Falling! YAY. *flails*

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A Moment with Michelle Levy & Not After Everything

You know an author did their job when you want to protect a character from all the evils of their world, right? Tyler in NOT AFTER EVERYTHING — a debut from Michelle Levy — is one of those characters who I connected with immediately — his voice was so vivid — and I so badly want to save from his grief and awful home life. His life is pretty bleak, friends. But there are bright spots — his loyal pup, an old friend, and an after school job that brings him all kinds of light. I was so engaged with Tyler’s story throughout and since I finished, he’s been on my mind. This is why I’m so happy to chat with Michelle about her writing, musicals, and more about Tyler. Enjoy!

Author Michelle LevyMichelle, thanks SO much for answering these questions for Rather Be Reading. I was hooked on Not After Everything from the very first page and I’m so excited to be talking to you about your debut novel today.

Thank you!

Suicide, abuse, etc. There are so many tough circumstances throughout Not After Everything. I wanted to kidnap Tyler and take him far, far away from his pain. What was more difficult to write about, and how did you cope whenever you had to step away from the story?

MichelleThe abuse scenes and the scenes where Tyler’s depression is getting the better of him were definitely the hardest scenes to write. I sort of become the character while I’m writing, like how a method actor becomes the character, so those scenes really got to me. But unlike a method actor, at the end of the day, I can shut it off. I allowed myself to feel all the things Tyler was feeling as I typed, but I was able let it go the second I stepped away from the computer. And then I tried to watch something fun just to make sure those feelings didn’t creep back in. I find that CW and MTV shows are most helpful with these things.

I love the makeshift family Tyler finds with Jordyn and her family. And the safe place of the photography studio. I adored his relationship with Jordyn’s stepdad most because all this kid desperately needed was someone to be nice to him and there it was. What was your favorite part about writing these supporting characters?

MichelleI love Henry and Dr. Dave the most! I knew Tyler needed a positive adult figure in his life or he was going to go down a very dark path. I always knew Dr. Dave would be this for Tyler, but I didn’t expect Henry. I also knew Jordyn and Tyler would have to work together, but, again, I never expected that Jordyn’s stepdad would be the boss. Henry was a very happy surprise for me. And those happy surprises are the best. It’s almost like the characters are writing the story and I’m just along for the ride.

More Than Anything by Michelle LevyI recently read Jessica Verdi’s What You Left Behind (which was a fantastic yet difficult book about Ryder, a senior in high school who is a young father) and reading them so closely together, I wished he and Tyler were friends. I think they could have really helped each other through the shitty times without hiding behind this “everything is going to be okay” facade. Are there any other characters from other books that you think would have made a good friend for Tyler?

MichelleOoh, great question! First things first . . . *adds What You Left Behind to TBR pile* Okay, now what was the question? Oh, right. I think Tyler could be friends with Ezra Faulkner from The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider. They have quite a bit in common. And probably Adam from Gayle Forman’s Where She Went. I could see them hanging out.

From your website I noticed you are a musical theater fan (me too!!), which musical/song, songs, etc. do you think sum up Not After Everything?

Michelle: OMG I love this question!!! “No One is Alone” from Into the Woods!

I mean:

Sometimes people leave you,
Halfway through the wood.
Others may deceive you.
You decide what’s good.
You decide alone.
But no one is alone.


Without getting spoilery (although I wish we could), did you always know how you were going to end Tyler’s story?

MichelleAlways. I knew it absolutely had to end that way or it wouldn’t feel right.

Eee! Are you intrigued yet? Please read this one; I want to discuss it with someone pronto!

Add NOT AFTER EVERYTHING on Goodreads | Buy on Amazon | Buy at B&N

Great news: The lovely people at Penguin/Dial have offered up a finished copy of MORE THAN ANYTHING by the wonderful Michelle Levy for one of you. This giveaway is open to those in the United States and Canada. Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

August 24, 2015 - 12:07 pm

NOT AFTER EVERYTHING BLOG TOUR (et al) - Michelle Levy - […] 9th Stop: I did an interview on Rather be Reading. Check it out here. […]

August 21, 2015 - 9:57 am

Alexa S. - What a wonderful interview! I liked getting to know a little bit more about Not After Everything. It sounds like such a powerful story!

August 17, 2015 - 12:21 pm

Shannon P. - haha totally missed the part about the last great male character I met in a book. That would be Jason from Magonia. He is such a loyal friend and too smart for his own good.

August 17, 2015 - 12:13 pm

Shannon P. - Big contemporary fan so I’ve had my eye on Not After Everything. Heard a few bloggers talk about how moving it is. Likely going to make me cry. Thanks for the giveaway.

August 15, 2015 - 1:59 pm

Summer - The last great male character I read is probably the little boy in The Summer of Chasing Mermaids by Sarah Ockler, I just loved how Sebastian wasn’t afraid to be himself.

August 14, 2015 - 1:23 pm

Amber - Oh gosh, okay, the last great male character I read in a book was Oliver from Emmy & Oliver which interestingly enough, Not After Everything reminds me of. 😀 Musical theatre fans<3 Love that. No One Is Alone<3 Great interview!

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Friends Who Write Diversely… | Dive Into Diversity

Dive Into Diversity Reading Challenge

Can someone please tell me how we are in the second week of August? Already? I’m not sure how this is happening. Is this real life? Either way, we are here for the eighth check-in for our #DiversityDive challenge. How’s it going? Read anything great lately? (I’m highly recommending: What You Left Behind by Jessica Verdi — how often do we see a single teenage dad in a book — and also Not After Everything by Michelle Levy — which is so heartbreaking but also has a character dealing with some economic diversity, in addition to many other challenges.) Now on to today’s post…

Big thanks to authors/bloggers/Twitter goddesses Dahlia Adler (Under the Lights) and Katherine Locke (Second Position) for being so game for today’s post. Rather Be Reading is rooted in a great friendship story, and, of course, books, so these two ladies cover both those topics as they chat about their own friendship (they met at BEA for the first time in 2014 and have hung out twice IRL), reading each other’s books, diversity, and, unsurprisingly, kissing. (Their characters, not each other… although Dahlia admitted to working on this in a hotel bed wearing underwear so this is pretty up-close and personal stuff.) There’s nothing I like more than candid and smart talk between two ladies who obviously have a lot of respect for each other and each other’s own work. I hope you enjoy their banter, their thoughtfulness, and their dedication to honesty in their books.

on internet & friendships:

Dahlia Adler: I feel like there are layers to internet friends, because there are some you really talk to 98% publicly and only on the rarest of occasions maybe via DM and then there are those you talk to at least as much as you would anyone in person, thanks to gchat and texting.

Katherine Locke: And then the ones that you switch to text when they leave their computers so they can’t gchat. haha exactly. Yeah, there are definitely layers.

Dahlia: Yes, those 😉

Katherine: And also, like, we talk about things other than publishing and books. Most of my internet friendships stay in the same sphere where I met the person (fandom/animal rescue/publishing), but then there are a few that just become *friendships* without the modifier of “my editor friend” or “my animal rescue friend”.

Dahlia: Ohhh that is insightful! Very true. I love talking books/publishing and there are definitely people with whom that’s the only conversation we ever have.Which is great! But far rarer is the friend you meet on the internet who supersedes that original commonality.

Katherine: Exactly. and honestly, I think those are the ones that last too.

Dahlia: Ditto. Especially if/when you burn out on your common issue, like, then what?

Katherine: The friendship fizzles too. So yes, it doesn’t always happen but when it does, it’s awesome.

on authoring & characters & a splash of diversity:

Katherine: You were more worried about me reading Under the Lights than I was. And then I got sidelined and didn’t read it for a few weeks and you thought I hated it but actually I loved it. Hashtag oops.

Dahlia: Oh GOD, yes, I was so nervous about that one, but more because I thought it was a You book so being wrong about that would’ve been doubly bad.

Katherine: You’re usually right when you say a book is a Katie book so. yeah. but it’s strange and terrifying to have friends reading your books? Like strangers are much easier. Strangers I don’t mind if they don’t like it. But friends.

Dahlia: Exactly. But it was the BEST thing how much I loved Second Position. Like, it encompassed stuff I knew you were passionate about, obviously, but still wasn’t quite what I thought it would be.

It didn’t strike me until I was reading it how rare character-driven NA is, so I think just seeing that at all was such a big deal. Hahaha yes, THANK YOU.

Katherine: YOU’RE WELCOME.

Dahlia: Like, your name on it or not, the character-driven aspect would’ve been surprising to see in NA. But it makes such a world of difference in a book where you’re talking about neurodiversity and physical disability.

Katherine: This is strange we’re talking about me too much I don’t know what to do… When people ask me what my process is, I say it’s a lot of listening. And I think SP reflects that?

Dahlia: I feel like therapy and trauma are so often so halfass in NA – and I say this as someone who often gets about LWaT that Lizzie wasn’t sad enough, so I’m not excepting myself from this – so it was very cool to see not only therapy done really well but done well in a story where the characters and how their brains work is the center.

Katherine: Yes, that was really important. And one of Aly’s sessions with her therapist in Finding Center kind of touched on that again, that sometimes it’s hard to feel better when you’ve suffered a mental illness? That mental illness itself causes a trauma and that affects you.

When you wrote UtL, did that factor in? Because it felt like it did…that Van denying herself to herself for so long had affected all these other parts of her life, that the ripple effect of closeting touched ALL of her life, not just her work, not just her relationship. It’s one of the things I liked about the handling of that. Because I feel like sometimes in books where a character struggles with how or if to come out, they only think about it when they’re with their significant other, or when they’re wondering how their friends will handle it. You don’t see the exhaustion, the fear, the worry, the secrets affecting job performance and life and their ability to hold onto their image etc.

Dahlia: Definitely – a big part of UtL is Vanessa’s using Hollywood as a way to confuse her emotions so she doesn’t have to deal with them. Like, oh, it’s Hollywood, of course I find women beautiful – I find everyone beautiful! Of course they fake relationships are fine – everything we do is about manufacturing connections and putting on a show! And she doesn’t let herself see how it hurts her, or what she isn’t letting herself think. That’s why I found the idea of writing about Hollywood teens so compelling – I can’t imagine being a teen and not feeling EVERYTHING in an organic way. But it’s their job not to.

Katherine: Exactly. And then everything doesn’t feel real. Which is why I think she and Josh do so well together because his ‘real’ is actually his ‘fake’, just like hers. P.S. I’m pretty sure you still owe me fanfic btw. Pls do not forget. My birthday is in February. Okay.

Dahlia: Yup. It’s funny because I get a lot of reviews that say they don’t think the dual-POV worked, and don’t think Josh and Van should’ve shared a book, and that is a total valid opinion I was very prepared for and had myself often when I was writing it. But the more I’ve thought about the book since, the more I personally disagree with it and think of all the ways I think it was important to show their parallel experiences.

Katherine: Yes yes yes. I will forever crow about the awesomeness of that friendship. It was fantastic. I loved it.

Dahlia: It’s like, as a reader, reading strictly for entertainment, I totally see it. But as someone who used these books to view and discuss Hollywood and representation in media across different genders, sexual orientations, and races? I am so, so happy both POVs are there.

on diversity & (of course) sex… 

Dahlia: Do you feel like people “got” the way you were presenting diversity aspects in your books?

Katherine: I really WANTED to show positive therapy. So even though those chapters didn’t work for some people, it was important. Hmm, most people were 100% with Aly and her mental health issues. But Zed gets coded as non-white, which is really interesting? and awkward.

Dahlia: Oh, right! I’ve seen you mention that. I’m so curious why that happens.

Katherine: Because a) then yes, I have to be like “yeahhhh I wrote a super white cast” and b) I think it’s interesting to notice who is coding him as Black, and why. And largely they’re doing it because he grew up religious, poor, and his name. Which is some internalized stereotyping I didn’t expect to happen but I had a slew of messages right after release demanding to know why it was a white character on the cover if Zed was Black and I had to be like “uhhh he’s not?”

Dahlia: That’s so interesting, especially considering the really high-profile ways we’ve seen it work in the other direction, e.g. Rue.

Katherine: It really is! I’ve been wanting to write about it but then I’m kind of scared of the backlash so *whistles*

Dahlia: (Meanwhile, I have also gotten the “Why are both girls on your cover white if Van is Korean?” I still never know how to answer that, because Van’s face is from an Asian model; it’s just photoshopped onto a white girl because diverse stock photo options are horrible.)


Katherine: I guess we’re friends because you write really good kissing scenes.

Dahlia: Hahahahaha if that’s not the literal best reason for friendship I don’t even know what is. Do you have a favorite kissing or sex scene from your books?

Katherine Locke: New criteria for friendship. Please email 1 kissing scene for consideration. haha, uh, chapter 2 of Finding Center.

Dahlia: Uhhhhhhhhhhhh good choice.

Katherine: That one had me blushing when I was writing it and I write in Starbucks soooo.

Dahlia: That makes me so happy. Man, Finding Center had soooo much more sex.

Katherine: I am sorrynotsorry about that?

Dahlia: So would you say you’ve come to enjoy writing sex?

Katherine: hahaha I don’t know if I’d go that far? It’s easier to write now. But I still dread editing it. The only thing worse than writing sex is editing a sex scene. I have to bribe myself to scroll down to my editor’s comments. It’s painful.

Dahlia: Hahaha I wouldn’t mind viewing that, personally.

Katherine: Of course you wouldn’t.

Dahlia: Well I never. Oh I think we’re supposed to be talking about diversity more than banging. So, diversity! Do you feel like you want to continually focus on the neurodiversity and disability aspects – like, those will be your Thing – or do you see yourself integrating other areas into your writing?

on diversity and reader’s reactions and tough stuff:

Katherine: Good question re: diversity. I think that neurodiversity and disability are comfortable areas for me because I have personal experience with some of those. But I’m challenging myself so the next two NAs I’m drafting both have POC main characters, and every YA I’ve written has a POC MC (and thus has been beta read by someone from that respective ethnicity/race). And you? You’ve written two female POC characters now. What’s that like? What’s the response been?

Dahlia: Ooh, very cool! I love how different all your books sound. You’re very multifaceted in this way I am so very not.

Katherine: My brain is a dark and terrible place.

Dahlia: The response has been mostly really good from readers! More for Van than for Lizzie, I think partly because there are no Filipina MCs in American NA so some readers really loved her portrayal but some wanted a lot more from it and wanted to see more of the Philippines in it.

With Van, I’ve only seen positive response, 100%, and I definitely attribute that in large part to my Korean-American beta, who picked out little cultural things I think make a big difference.

Katherine: Right, I remember that. I think there’s sometimes (always?) a higher standard for books with diversity? because there’s only ONE book with this particular thing in it, it has to do all these things for all these different types of people, which is a lot of weight and expectation.

Dahlia: But also, it’s a book discussing race and lack of representation, so in UtL it dominates the story, whereas in LWaT it’s much more incidental. Yes, exactly, and that’s something I didn’t think enough about when I wrote LWaT for sure.

Katherine: It’s REALLY awesome when a reader does connect to your diverse characters though? it makes it worth it, all the doubt you had along the way.

Dahlia: YES, that part is really awesome. Getting letters about it, or seeing someone say it felt like solid representation they were glad to see – that means the world. Especially when a queer Asian woman says it about UtL, that is the best thing.

Katherine: Yeah, I had an amputee reader reach out (and she ended up beta reading certain important parts of FC for me) and another reader whose spouse is an alcoholic and she was SO WORRIED that Zed would relapse in SP? And when he didn’t, she realized how badly she needed to read that, that they could be OK too.

Dahlia: Ohhh that is awesome. It really is fascinating how fiction can provide a confirmation of sorts that things are possible.

Katherine: There’s a queer Asian girl out there who wants to be an actress who is reading Van and going “me too!”

Dahlia: Relapsing is not a given and tragedy in your coming out is not a given and sometimes it seems like there aren’t enough sources making that clear.

Katherine: Exactly. Or that things can go wrong, and you can still be OK. It’s not clear sailing OR tragedy. There’s a middle ground and most of us live there, and hey, we made it. Look at me. Being optimistic.

Dahlia: Yup. I think that’s part of why contemporary is sort of always “in,” even when trends go in waves – because there are certain stories people always need to see happening as realistically as possible.

Katherine: It’s also why I think contemporary is harder. You have to stay closer to people’s real experiences and emotions haha

Dahlia: Yeah, it’s scary, but if you can make characters feel real, I think you’re effectively creating a genuine and possible experience.

Katherine: That’s the goal!

Ah, so so fun. Thanks for letting us eavesdrop on your conversation, ladies. Can’t wait for your new work! (Katherine releases FINDING CENTER on August 17th while we have to be a bit patient for Dahlia’s JUST VISITING — out in November.) Be sure to be following @MissDahlElama & @Bibliogato on Twitter so you never miss anything they say. (Seriously, it’s good stuff.)

Until next month… diversify your bookshelf and reading list, will ya? #DiversityDive

August 21, 2015 - 1:45 am

Rebecca @ Reading Wishes - Interesting conversation between two authors dedicated to writing diversely! I’m already familiar with Dahlia’s work, but still need to get round to Second Position. Great post!

August 13, 2015 - 2:59 pm

Alexa S. - These two ladies are so vocal on my Twitter timeline, and I enjoy it. They get me thinking about SO many important things, and I appreciate that! Loved reading their convo here.

August 11, 2015 - 6:35 pm

Emma - Love this post. I don’t really read NA and I just haven’t picked up either author’s YA yet but now I really want to. It was so great to see their perspectives on different things. I’ve been thinking a lot about online vs not-online friends lately so that part was especially interesting to me.

August 11, 2015 - 5:14 pm

Jamie - OMG LOVE. I love these ladies and this convo made me love them harder. YAY FRIENDS.

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Now What, Baby? | What You Left Behind by Jessica Verdi

How did Ryder’s senior year shift from dreaming of soccer scholarships to deciphering the cries of a newborn baby — his newborn baby? In her latest, What You Left Behind, Jessica Verdi shows no mercy when she blows the Ryder’s world way open — a baby on his hip, the love-of-his-life girlfriend dead, disappearing friends, and a whole lot of guilt on his shoulders. Pretty outrageous, right? But Verdi tells this story with thoughtfulness and thoroughness, making me forget time and time again just how much shit Ryder was thrown at the same time. He may be a struggling single dad, obsessed with answers Meg may have left in her journals, but he’s also a guy working at Whole Foods, trying to make it to soccer practice on time, and finding a new friend in the vivacious Joni. It’s the introduction of the mundane and Ryder’s hope he can reclaim his old self that nicely counterbalances all the heavy stuff and made this book practically impossible to put down.

What You Left Behind by Jessica Verdi

WHAT YOU LEFT BEHIND by Jessica Verdi is about a single teenager father and what happens next. Sourcebooks; 8/4/15; 320 Pages.

There’s so much to love in this book but Ryder’s relationship with his mother was the absolute soul of this story. His mom had him young too so maybe this made her more understanding and supportive but I’d like to think any person would take her stance. She also doesn’t let him forget that his life can’t just settle back in the plan he’s had for years. Hope must be his main priority. What I respected so much was how she never forced any realizations on him. She gave Ryder space to breathe and mess up, and I’m convinced this is why he is able to grow so much as a character throughout the novel. (Verdi also taps into Baby Hope’s senses too. Her unsettledness with Ryder was so reflected in her behavior.)

The struggle to bridge his expectations with reality leads Ryder pretty astray at times. He finds solace in his new friendship with Joni but doesn’t necessarily let her know that he has a bouncing baby at home. This is one of the spots where Verdi really challenges her readers. We’re all waiting for the next shoe to drop; it’s inevitable and we have to patiently wait for Ryder to get there. The other part is Meg. Because we only know her from Ryder’s memories of them together and her journal entries, it seems like a no-brainer that we would feel sad for her. She died before she could graduate high school, before she could meet her daughter. But Verdi doesn’t make that emotion so cut and dry, especially as Ryder, Meg’s sister, and her best friend make discoveries of their own. All of them have so much to come to terms with. (They make a great little team too; I liked that this was the start of a new friendship for all of them.)

Compelling and heartbreaking, What You Left Behind is the reading experience dreams are made of. I was invested, completely wrapped up in this character’s voice, and holding my breath as all the pieces slowly and smartly began to gel together. Uncovering secrets, understanding sacrifice, and granting yourself permission to move forward? It’s all here, it’s so discussion worthy, and it’s good. Really, really good.

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This title was provided early by the publisher for review.

P.S. I read Not After Everything by Michelle Levy a few books after this one, and I can’t help but think Tyler and Ryder are kindred spirits. In some secret literary world, I hope they are pals.

August 11, 2015 - 8:01 am

Friends Who Write Diversely... | Dive Into Diversity, Magan - […] challenge. How’s it going? Read anything great lately? (I’m highly recommending: What You Left Behind by Jessica Verdi — how often do we see a single teenage dad in a book — and also Not […]

August 9, 2015 - 1:38 pm

Megan - I just read this book based on your review. I loved it even as I wanted to smack Ryden around a few times. His mom wa the best (and the same age as I am!). Their relationship really made the book.

August 6, 2015 - 11:11 am

Alexa S. - I haven’t heard all that much about What You Left Behind, so thanks for putting it on my radar! Ryder sounds like an incredible character, and I’d like the chance to read his story for sure. Adding to my consideration shelf!

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