How to Host a Successful Book Club: Lessons Learned From Five Years in the Trenches

Anyone can start a book club. The challenge lies in keeping it going.

This month, the book club my friend Kariana Reyes started turned five years old. I’m OG member and I think I’ve been at every meeting and finished every book except for a handful! I’ve made new friendships through the book club and read books I never in a million years would have picked for myself. Despite all the change I’ve personally been through in the last five years, the book club has been a constant.

So to celebrate this milestone, I thought I’d interview Kariana about what motivated her to start the book club, how she tries to keep it fun, and why she thinks this book club has endured for so long.

Note: We recorded our conversation in September, prior to our anniversary book club meeting.

Shannon Fox (SF): Our book club turns five years old on October 3rd. And  So a lot of people obviously do the book club thing and it’s fun and all that. But having a book club with longevity is something special. That’s why I want to talk to you about it because I think it’d be super interesting. So I guess the first question I want to ask you is, what motivated you to want to start this book club and how did you go about organizing it?

Kariana Reyes (KR): I studied writing at UCSD and once I graduated I wanted to make sure that I was continuing to read and so I started the book club. I tend to be a little more of an old fashioned girl. So I sent out invitations in the mail to anyone I thought would be interested and I had fun with that. I chose an envelope I thought it was cute so it would be a fun surprise in the mailbox. And I also sent emails for those who are more prone to checking their email.

SF: I always appreciate that you send me stuff in the mail. You’re like the only person who does it just because and it’s fun, you know, because it’s special that way.

KR: It just feels to me a more intentional way of inviting someone rather than so many invitations that are just open to anyone. You don’t even put much thought into who you’re sending it to when you send an email or an evite. So I really wanted the people to know that I was very intentional with selecting and inviting them.

SF: I know some people have stayed on from the original group, which I guess is just me and your mom actually haha. But you invited some other people and it didn’t stick for one reason or another. Was there a particular thought process about who you were selecting to invite to the initial bookclub? Was there anything behind that?

KR: Just people who I know that love to read. I think that’s getting rare these days to find people who have the time to sit and enjoy a good book. I invited people (and still invite people) who love to read, but also who would fit in with the culture of our book club. Our culture is very laid back. We’re very supportive. We choose each time which book we’re going to read as a group. So it is a democracy, definitely. I’m not the book tyrant.

And as you mentioned, my mother’s in the book club and she actually is where I got my love of reading from. And because of having her, we have a book club that’s multigenerational. There are ladies in their twenties and thirties all the way up through probably seventies or eighties. We don’t exactly ask how old everyone is haha.

It’s nice getting perspectives from different generations. I feel like we’ve learned a lot. A lot of our reading has been historical fiction, which has been kind of the genre that all of us fell in love with in book club. I don’t think most of us knew we loved reading it until we started reading all these historical fictions. But the greatest thing has been hearing perspectives from different generations. I feel like you and I, as some of the younger gals in the group, we’ve learned a lot from the other women and I do think that they learn a lot from us as well when we kind of have a more millennial, modern perspective on things.

SF: Yeah, I think that’s true. Obviously our book club has really stayed around a long time. A lot of people try to start book clubs and they kind of fall flat or people lose interest. Like the fact that we’ve been doing it for five years, consistently every other month, what do you think have been the contributing factors behind that?

KR: Honestly, I think one of the main contributing factors is that we meet every other month. We don’t meet every month. A few of us are working professionals and even those who are retired, they’re spending a lot of time with their grandchildren and a lot of them have other jobs too. Like they do work a little bit or spend time volunteering.

And even though most of the time we love the book that we’re reading, what I like about having it every other month is that I always plan during the other month to choose a book I don’t think the group would read. Like for example, Christian fiction. It’s not a Bible study or Christian group, so I’ll read those kind of books in the months in between. I think that there’s just like not as much pressure. If you’re meeting frequently, even when you know that, months fly by so quickly, it can be hard to squeeze in the reading. And I think when people don’t finish the reading, that’s when they get discouraged. They don’t want to attend book club if they’ve only read a quarter of the book. Even when they know they’re still welcome to.

Another thing I think that’s made it successful is that we just do our best to have fun too. So we eat together. We make sure we have time that we’re socializing and just kind of connecting as a group. I mean, what book club do you find now that doesn’t drink wine haha? But I also have done my best if there’s a theme in the book to try to incorporate that into our meals, into our desserts, which is super cool.

SF: And I think we all really love that and appreciate it, especially cause you’ve kind of taken that on. So it’s like a fun surprise each time. Even though you’re not the book tyrant, you’re still very much the hostess with the mostess and it’s always fun to see what you’re serving up or how you’ve incorporated the theme.

KR: So I have a couple of examples, I guess one of them being actually just last month when we read your book Shannon, which was so much fun. It was really exciting for the group to have an in-house author and you know I asked you before I had read the book, are there any meals in your novel?

And you had said, well at that time period, meals were very plain, so it’d be kind of a chicken breast and pie sort of meal. So that night I served a meal that was actually in the book and along with the meal I had a quote from your book listing the exact food items.

Our book club read a copy of my book for our August meeting

SF: And that was super cool. I mean it was fun to see my meal on the table. I think the other thing was we talked about how I said, oh I think they eat kind of plain food. And when I said plain and simple, I mostly meant foods that are really like pure because obviously they’re not packaged. They are pretty much like, you know, you’re eating chicken and it’s just got herbs on it. You’re eating potatoes and they’re just there and like the bread, you know, doesn’t have preservatives in it.

KR: We all forgot about the fact that I got that chicken from Costco.

SF: Yes. The rotisserie chicken. But we used our imagination haha. Everyone commented on how good it was. I think that was really fun. And I think that also speaks to when we do this, it’s a fun way to connect with the book and to experience them through food. Like, obviously we’ve done books that had French influences a couple times, which is fun cause we both went through French class and then you lived there for a year. But we read Jade Dragon Mountain and had Chinese food. And this isn’t food related, but when we read The Language of Flowers, you incorporated flowers into the evening.

KR: I like to do things that are creative so that’s why I’ve taken on this role and I really enjoy it. But in The Language of Flowers, the author, Vanessa Diffenbaugh, she goes over the flowers, the names, and the meanings behind the flowers. You know, if a flower stood for purity or if it stood for laughter or sympathy. In the back of book it had a list of flowers and their meanings. So I went to the florist and picked out a flower for each of the ladies that reminded me of them.

SF: Personally, I really liked that touch. Another book club, someone brought like a gift that related to the book. It was also very personalized like that. So I think also maybe that’s just like why when we go to book club, it’s not just about talking about the books, it’s very experiential. You’re spending time with other women. And then also having this experience of the food and whatever Kariana’s creativity has cooked up.

KR: A couple movie nights too. We’ve read a lot of books not knowing that they were or would soon become movies.

Another memorable one I think was A Gentleman in Moscow. That was the one we did for Christmas. We had tea at Marlene’s Tea and Cakes, talked about the book, and exchanged Christmas gifts. And when we read Roses, we went to the Aubrey Rose tea room. It was a more romantic novel which went well with that tea room’s decor. It was sweet how at the the tea room, they put up a sign that said Roses Book Club. And  we all got to wear our hats and it was fun.

Oh earlier, I also wanted to mention another reason I think people have stayed, which is just a joke, but our book club is made up entirely of Js. Like if you follow Myers Briggs, they are all J. So I think that that has a little something to do with it, not that I want to offend anyone, but Js are reliable. So if you want a book club to keep going, make sure you include some Js in there!

SF: Yes. You can have the Ps, but got to have a core of Js to keep it going.

KR: Js are more of the planners and yeah, we never need to reschedule haha. And like now that we’ve got our core group, almost everyone shows up every month regardless if they read the book or not. And it’s just very regular, like clockwork.

SF: So I think it’d be fun to talk about the books. Like your favorites, my favorites, some of the books you’ve read that you didn’t think you’d like or genres that you discovered. I think there are a few genres we haven’t done, but we’ve pretty much done them all. Even nonfiction.

KR: Yeah, we did a memoir. At least one, right?

SF: Yeah, Educated. Oh, we did two. We did I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.

KR: I guess one of the challenges I thought we would face initially is that we do have such different taste in books. We have a couple of the ladies who typically are drawn to more romantic novels.

SF: And a couple who will want to steer away from them, like me. A couple that are really into science fiction or fantasy or crime/ thrillers.

KR: Exactly. I really like all of those and classics. I always throw out Anne of Green Gables every meeting haha – something old school. So it’s been really good that we are a democracy. We do listen to people’s suggestions and all kind of decide what we are going to read. But as I mentioned earlier, it’s been really fun. I mean it’s a safe place that people can say if they don’t like a novel, there’s no offense. So that’s one thing I’ve loved. Especially you and Joan, I like your honesty. If you hated it or didn’t like the characters. But it’s like, you’ve read it and you’ve learned something from it.

So I like to think that we all come from a place of having very honest opinions. And we have good support for why we don’t like things. We’ll say, I wish the author had not done this or I found this was inconsistent. Which I would think is good for you as a writer.

SF: Yeah you can hear it. Things that other people don’t like and what they do like. But I think we do look at the books from a critical perspective. So it’s maybe a step above what sometimes happens in book clubs where we’re talking about the book and defending our reasoning, which is fun because sometimes then the other people will be like, yeah, I kind of agree with that. You make them consider something they didn’t necessarily think about and you can kind of take them in a new direction.

KR: So we’ll go back to your question, but here’s a little secret. Because we’ve discussed that we’re all really busy, me included, even if I do a creative touch, it usually doesn’t take a lot of planning. As you have mentioned. It’s usually like, okay, there’s a meal in the book and I’ll just run with it and that’s going to be the meal for the night. And we’re not making it from scratch, we’re picking it up or getting the Trader Joe’s frozen versions which are always great.

SF: Yeah. And everyone loves it. A couple of times we didn’t have a clear theme for the book, so we’ve done potlucks. Like we’ve done kind of a summer thing or like a taco thing.

KR: One thing that I love about the group is that none of us are really picky. We kind of like all different things, but aside from food, one of the great things about the internet is that for almost every book out there, there are discussion questions already online. So I will Google, “Educated memoir discussion questions” and they’ll come up. Sometimes they’re even in the back of the book which is great. So that has not taken me a lot of work. And we ask standard questions like, did you like the book? What’d you think of the title?

SF: Yeah. Or like if someone particularly suggested we should read this book, then it’ll be that person who leads the discussion.

KR: We try and have everyone come to meetings with suggestions about books they’ve seen or read that we can do next. Like we always do a Christmas book or at least a winter theme book.

SF: Cause I kind of felt like we went through all the decent Christmas books, of which there are not many in my opinion. So I’m always kind of on the lookout for Christmas books that we could read because that’s one thing we always do.

KR: Yeah, exactly. And then even after Christmas, I know we’ve done a couple heavy books for winter and lighter in the summer. Beach reads when you know people tend to be traveling more. So, okay favorite. What’s been one of your favorites?

SF: I mean there are some that I really liked. Some I’ve also recommended that we read that I knew I would like. But my absolute favorite, which I didn’t know that I would necessarily like because as I’ve kind of documented on my blog, I have sort of a hang up about World War II books. Like if someone says, let’s read a World War II book, inside I go, Let’s read something else. Nothing against World War II, I just feel like there’s so many of those books out there that I get a little burned out. But I think actually all of our World War II books, except for one I’ve really liked. And even that one wasn’t so bad. But I loved All the Light We Cannot See which is one of my favorite books right now and I wouldn’t have read that except for my book club picking it. Even though it won the Pulitzer and other things, I probably wouldn’t have picked it because it was a World War II book.

Obviously A Gentleman is Moscow is another favorite. That one I knew going in that I probably would like it because there are few people in my life that had recommended it to me and I know generally when I get a book recommendation from them, I will like it. So that one I knew that I probably would. That is probably my favorite next to All the Light We Cannot See.

KR: I’m going to be honest, I actually was surprised how much I liked it. I thought it was going to be a much heavier read, a lot more focused on communism and just kind of thought it would bring you down a little bit. But it was a very sweet novel. It was very pleasant to read.

SF: Yeah it had a good tone to it. There’s another book I really liked a lot that I actually did suggest just cause I thought it sounded interesting and that was Jade Dragon Mountain. I have another book from the author and I know she’s written some more, so I’m really excited to keep going with that series. She was a new author I found from book club. Actually, all of the authors I just named were new to me at  book club. I liked The Book Thief and I was really surprised that I like that at first.

KR: That was our first book.

SF: Yeah. And Where’d You Go Bernadette? was a fun read and another fun surprise. Another one was A Man Called Ove. That was one that a couple people had recommended to me and I knew I was gonna like that.

KR: So that was good. Really funny. I was also going to say it was really fun when we read Jane Eyre together. We watched the movie and we had also read Wuthering Heights and I actually reconnected with a previous instructor who actually had written a book on the Brontes. So that was really fun just connecting with her and asking, Hey, would you mind coming to our book club and talking to us about the Brontes a little bit?

That was a very kind of enriching experience that helped us connect more to the books as well.

Also I thought it was interesting that you had seen that woman Marjorie Hart who wrote Summer at Tiffany. You had seen her speak at a conference and I thought that was a really cool book that you had found. Especially since it’s a memoir of life in the forties in New York right at the end of World War II. So decades before we were born, but very close to when some of the ladies in book club were born. So I think it was very sweet for them to read something that’s kind of from their peer.

SF: And it was fun cause I could tell what I had heard her talk about when I saw her at the conference. So just another sort of enriching experience.

Educated was a great one and I would say the discussion was very rich for that.

KR: And then, you know, another thing we did too is we look up stuff about the book. That one being a memoir the author had conducted a lot of interviews. So even when we met that time at Panera Bread, we just pulled up some of her interviews and watched it. And we looked up photos of her family. So that was kind of fun and just continuing to enrich our reading experience.

I will say that I personally, do have a few kinds of books that I won’t read. We do stay away from horrors because that’s something that not everyone likes. We don’t read crime really. We’ll read books that have crime in them or violence, but we don’t actually go out and look for a crime novel. We’ve also never read a western.

SF: Yeah. I don’t know if anyone’s still writing westerns, but we’ve never read one of those. And I don’t think we’ve actually read like a true fantasy. We’ve read a true true sci-fiction, but not fantasy like something with dragons and magic.

KR: We still have more genres to explore. Yeah. And we’ve never done la biography. I don’t know if anyone will be into a biography, but we’ve never done that. We haven’t done poetry necessarily. I don’t know if we will. That might be kind of hard.

I also want to mention that libraries are great. A few of the ladies, they just have so many books. As readers we tend to collect books. And so really they’re finding their books at the library. And sometimes we share books. Like, if someone gets a book from the library, we’ll share it with someone else in that group. So then they’re not trying to find a copy, which can be kind of hard or like, you know, we usually go with books that are easy to find, not like obscure.

SF: Right. So you can find one on Amazon that’s not too expensive if you’re just going to go ahead and buy it.

Any thoughts on the future of our book club? Anything you’d like to try? Just want to see how long we can keep it going?

KR: I think just seeing how long we can keep it going would be great. I think that the size we’re at right now is good. Personally I think that if you start to have too many people, you lose a little bit of the intimacy.

SF: Oh yeah. I think that’s good. Cause we have six. We had five for awhile.

KR: And now we have six and that’s a good number. We usually have either five or six every time. We also live not that far from each other. So it’s not like cumbersome for someone to meet. It’s like we’re all in the same general area.

I like that we have different taste and that someone usually will come with a suggestion of a book.

You and I are kind of the researchers. We’ve realized too that a lot of reviews and a lot of stars doesn’t always mean a good, well-written novel.

SF: So we often worry about what people are saying about it and I think we tend to bring books that someone else has recommended to us or several someones. And then we share it with the group and then we’ll talk about what people are saying about the book as well. So not necessarily like just going off star reviews. I think we’ve done that with Christmas books and like in my opinion, that’s where more of the books have fallen flat.

KR: Right. Where they’ve just come from like a general random search versus like, Oh someone I know read this.

SF: Okay so I guess that’s it?

KR: That’s it for now. Still figuring out the cake for next book club. I want to do something really special!

SF: And I’m sure you will! Can’t wait to see it!

 

On October 3rd, we celebrated our book club five years to the day we started. Our first meeting was on October 3rd, 2014. We met to discuss The Book Thief. And on October 3rd, 2019, we discussed The Rules of Civility and enjoyed this wonderful cake that Kariana and her mom made. As evidence of Kariana’s creativity, she made flags for each of the books we’ve read over the last five years (even mine!) and stuck them in the cake.

 

Stalking Jack the Ripper

Stalking Jack the Ripper by Kerri Maniscalco

Seventeen-year-old Audrey Rose Wadsworth was born a lord’s daughter, with a life of wealth and privilege stretched out before her. But between the social teas and silk dress fittings, she leads a forbidden secret life.

Against her stern father’s wishes and society’s expectations, Audrey often slips away to her uncle’s laboratory to study the gruesome practice of forensic medicine. When her work on a string of savagely killed corpses drags Audrey into the investigation of a serial murderer, her search for answers brings her close to her own sheltered world.

I’ve seen a lot of talk about Stalking Jack the Ripper since it came out. But now with the release of the fourth book in the series, I finally decided to pick it up and give it a read.

After being on the fence for a long time if I’d actually like this book, I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed it. I was supposed to be reading a different book for book club, but often found myself picking this one up to read a chapter or two before bed instead. It’s told in a breezy, yet period-appropriate style that keeps the pages turning. I probably could have read this in one sitting if I had that much time (which I don’t these days).

I haven’t read many fictional takes on the infamous Jack the Ripper murders (the only one I can think of that I’ve read is The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson), but I really enjoyed Maniscalco’s vision for who the Ripper really was. Yes, in this book we do get an answer about who the killer was!

While I enjoyed this book quite a bit, I’m even more excited to see where the series goes from here! I know there are three more books out and with names like Hunting Prince DraculaEscaping from Houdini, and Capturing the Devil, I can only image what exciting adventures await Audrey Rose Wadsworth and Thomas Cresswell as they presumably cross paths with Dracula, Houdini, and…the devil?! Speaking of Audrey Rose and Thomas – while I was surprised at how forward the romance was (I was expecting more of a enemies-turned-best-friends-turned-lovers slow build), the chemistry between the two crackles off the page from their first conversation and I’m looking forward to watching it progress over the next few books!

Stalking Jack the Ripper is the perfect atmospheric, spooky Halloween read that’s not too scary. Pick it up before the month’s over!

9 Books to Get You in the Mood for Halloween

With Halloween right around the corner, I thought it would be fun to round up some of the spooky (and not-so-spooky) books I’ve read and reviewed. Books are ranked from least to most creepy! Bonus: many of these books and series have become films and tv shows since they were published!

The Gates by John Connolly

Young Samuel Johnson and his dachshund, Boswell, are trying to show initiative by trick-or-treating a full three days before Halloween, which is how they come to witness strange goings-on at 666 Crowley Road. The Abernathys don’t mean any harm by their flirtation with the underworld, but when they unknowingly call forth Satan himself, they create a gap in the universe, a gap through which a pair of enormous gates is visible. The gates to Hell. And there are some pretty terrifying beings just itching to get out…

Can one small boy defeat evil? Can he harness the power of science, faith, and love to save the world as we know it?

Apparently I don’t have a true review of The Gates by itself on the blog, but I absolutely love, love, love this three book series from author John Connolly. Such a fun, cute story that’s perfect for those who like their Halloween fare on the sweeter side.

Click here to read my mini-review of The Gates 

 

Ghost Bully by Brian Corley

Roommates can be hell.

Like when they’re late with the rent, late on bills, or constantly trying to kill you.

Jonah Preston thought he knew what he was getting into after signing the paperwork to buy his new home: yard work, a leaky pipe here and there, maybe the occasional squirrel in the attic.

He just didn’t expect to share that new home with a ghost.

Before all the boxes are unpacked, Jonah learns the previous owner, Willard Hensch, committed suicide in one of the bedrooms. It’s bad news, but Jonah and his (corporeal) roommate, Max, take it in stride. Jonah’s just happy to own a home and begin this new chapter in his adult life.

Unfortunately, it’s an incredibly short chapter.

Unhappy with his new roommates, the resident ghost quickly makes his presence known. Like, really known. When Jonah wakes up dead, he knows exactly who’s behind it.

Willard. Effing. Hensch.

For the newly deceased Jonah, that’s where his new chapter truly begins. He will befriend angels, fight demons, and take on a ghostly army in this comic-paranormal thrill ride through the freakish underworld of Austin, Texas. 

If you like your ghosts at the speed of The Haunted Mansion, you will love this book. Follow along with Jonah as he hilariously navigates the afterlife and discovers a whole new side of Austin, Texas. I’m lucky enough to be friends with the author so I can tell you the sequel to Ghost Bully is going to be just as fun – so make sure you pick up a copy of this book and get caught up!

Click here to check out my review of the book plus an exclusive interview with the author

 

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

A mysterious island.

 An abandoned orphanage.

 A strange collection of very curious photographs.
 It all waits to be discovered in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, an unforgettable novel that mixes fiction and photography in a thrilling reading experience. As our story opens, a horrific family tragedy sets sixteen-year-old Jacob journeying to a remote island off the coast of Wales, where he discovers the crumbling ruins of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. As Jacob explores its abandoned bedrooms and hallways, it becomes clear that the children were more than just peculiar. They may have been dangerous. They may have been quarantined on a deserted island for good reason. And somehow—impossible though it seems—they may still be alive.

This book and the subsequent series are primarily on this list because the found photography that is sprinkled throughout the pages of the book is more than a little creepy. I found the first book a little spooky in places, but overall I wouldn’t classify it as a scary read. Perfect for those who want to be just a little spooked for Halloween!

Click here to check out my review of the first book in the series

 

Stalking Jack the Ripper by Kerri Maniscalco

Seventeen-year-old Audrey Rose Wadsworth was born a lord’s daughter, with a life of wealth and privilege stretched out before her. But between the social teas and silk dress fittings, she leads a forbidden secret life.

Against her stern father’s wishes and society’s expectations, Audrey often slips away to her uncle’s laboratory to study the gruesome practice of forensic medicine. When her work on a string of savagely killed corpses drags Audrey into the investigation of a serial murderer, her search for answers brings her close to her own sheltered world.

I’m actually still reading this one, but it’s the perfect spooky read for Halloween.  Stalking Jack the Ripper presents an interesting spin on the historic serial killer’s story. Not too scary though! If you like the show Mind Hunter, you’ll enjoy this YA take on a famous criminal case.

Book review coming soon!

 

Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury

A carnival rolls in sometime after the midnight hour on a chill Midwestern October eve, ushering in Halloween a week before its time. A calliope’s shrill siren song beckons to all with a seductive promise of dreams and youth regained. In this season of dying, Cooger & Dark’s Pandemonium Shadow Show has come to Green Town, Illinois, to destroy every life touched by its strange and sinister mystery. And two inquisitive boys standing precariously on the brink of adulthood will soon discover the secret of the satanic raree-show’s smoke, mazes, and mirrors, as they learn all too well the heavy cost of wishes – and the stuff of nightmare.

This book didn’t scare me too much, but it IS pretty much the perfect Halloween read. Atmospheric and utterly enchanting, this is a short read about a circus of nightmares that preys upon a small Midwestern town.

Click here to check out my review

 

The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey

After the 1st wave, only darkness remains. After the 2nd, only the lucky escape. And after the 3rd, only the unlucky survive. After the 4th wave, only one rule applies: trust no one.

Now, it’s the dawn of the 5th wave, and on a lonely stretch of highway, Cassie runs from Them. The beings who only look human, who roam the countryside killing anyone they see. Who have scattered Earth’s last survivors. To stay alone is to stay alive, Cassie believes, until she meets Evan Walker. Beguiling and mysterious, Evan Walker may be Cassie’s only hope for rescuing her brother-or even saving herself. But Cassie must choose: between trust and despair, between defiance and surrender, between life and death. To give up or to get up.

I remember this series starting out more than a little creepy, but my fears subsided after awhile so that’s why it’s not ranked higher on the list. So not as tame as the books that have come before it, but not all-out scary. This is a great series about the end of the world, aliens, and the teenagers who are fighting to survive.

Click here to check out my review of the first book in the series

 

The Passage by Justin Cronin

An epic and gripping tale of catastrophe and survival, The Passage is the story of Amy – abandoned by her mother at the age of six, pursued and then imprisoned by the shadowy figures behind a government experiment of apocalyptic proportions. But Special Agent Brad Wolgast, the lawman sent to track her down, is disarmed by the curiously quiet girl and risks everything to save her. As the experiment goes nightmarishly wrong, Wolgast secures her escape – but he can’t stop society’s collapse. And as Amy walks alone, across miles and decades, into a future dark with violence and despair, she is filled with the mysterious and terrifying knowledge that only she has the power to save the ruined world. 

Apparently I’ve never reviewed the first book in this series of my blog – WHAT! I recommend this series all the time so this is a travesty. Guess it just means I’ll need to do a re-read for you guys. I do have reviews for the subsequent two books in the series The Twelve and The City of Mirrors, but you do need to start with The Passage. This series about a vampire apocalypse is definitely creepy – I read this book while camping in Joshua Tree which, oddly enough, is one of the settings in the later part of the book. 10/10 do NOT recommend that experience, but 12/10 do recommend starting this series.

 

The Strain by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan

A Boeing 777 arrives at JFK and is on its way across the tarmac, when it suddenly stops dead. All window shades are pulled down. All lights are out. All communication channels have gone quiet. Crews on the ground are lost for answers, but an alert goes out to the CDC. Dr. Ephraim “Eph” Goodweather, head of their Canary project, a rapid-response team that investigates biological threats, gets the call and boards the plane. What he finds makes his blood run cold.

In a pawnshop in Spanish Harlem, a former professor and survivor of the Holocaust named Abraham Setrakian knows something is happening. And he knows the time has come, that a war is brewing.

So begins a battle of mammoth proportions as the vampiric virus that has infected New York begins to spill out into the streets. Eph, who is joined by Setrakian and a motley crew of fighters, must now find a way to stop the contagion and save his city – a city that includes his wife and son – before it is too late.

Guillermo del Toro is one of authors – I mean, do you need me to tell you this is scary?! It’s freakin’ scary. But good. So, so good. The Strain is the first book in another trilogy about the vampire apocalypse told by one of the masters of the horror genre.

Click here to check out my review of the series

 

Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer

Area X has been cut off from the rest of the world for decades. Nature has reclaimed the last vestiges of human civilization. The first expedition returned with reports of a pristine, Edenic landscape; the second expedition ended in mass suicide, the third in a hail of gunfire as its members turned on one another. The members of the eleventh expedition returned as shadows of their former selves, and within weeks, all had died of cancer. In Annihilation, the first volume of Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach Trilogy, we join the twelfth expedition.

The group is made up of four women: an anthropologist; a surveyor; a psychologist, the de facto leader; and our narrator, a biologist. Their mission is to map the terrain, record all observations of their surroundings and of one another, and, above all, avoid being contaminated by Area X itself.

They arrive expecting the unexpected, and Area X delivers—but it’s the surprises that came across the border with them and the secrets the expedition members are keeping from one another that change everything.

This series is INTENSE. So CREEPY. I mean, I almost couldn’t handle it and I wasn’t home alone. But I also couldn’t put it down. If you like being intensely unnerved and riveted by a story, give this series a try.

Click here to check out my review of the first book in the series

 

Bonus:

Cursed Collectibles: An Anthology

Spend an afternoon antiquing and it’s not hard to figure out why picking has become one of America’s fondest pastimes. It’s treasure hunting while connecting with history. But what if those treasures hunt us back?

From old books, to vinyl records, antique mirrors, vintage figurines, or a Bob’s Big Boy piggy bank, curses have no limits.

With twenty-three spooky stories in this anthology, you’re sure to find the perfect one to put you in the mood for Halloween. From the not-so-scary to the downright frightening, pick up your copy of Cursed Collectibles today. Click here to buy!

 

What’s your favorite Halloween read? Leave me a comment below!

Writing Updates: Sitting, Waiting, Wishing

After last month’s writing update, I officially started the process of querying agents. And I forgot how much the querying process SUCKS. You basically send out a letter to decide the fate of your baby to someone you’ve never met and then spend literally weeks and months waiting around for the response to drop like a thunderbolt from the sky to either ruin or make your day. Not fun.

So far I have one rejection with the other agents yet to reply. To quote Jack Johnson, just sitting, waiting, wishing.

This will probably be the end of the updates about Shadow for a long while as everything will move glacially from here on out. So to tide you over I put the playlist of songs I wrote the book to up on Spotify. Enjoy!

As I mentioned in this post, Cursed Collectibles: An Anthology is out now! The paperback and Kindle versions are available, with the audio book to come. If you haven’t picked up your copy yet, click here to buy. Also if you’d like me to sign a copy for you, I would love that! You may even get cute pictures like these with your request:

One of my barn buddies asked me to sign some copies for her to give as gifts so of course I had to get Pia and Escobar in on the action. As you can see, Escobar thought about eating the book and Pia was completely unenthused. And in the name of authenticity on the internet, I hope you appreciate the raw, realness of these pictures. No makeup, hair in disarray, one leg inexplicably dirtier than the other. Definitely not an IG riding model posting my #ROTD.

I also officially have an Amazon author page! Feelin’ legit now. Click here to check it out in all its glory.

This month I wrote and submitted a new short story to a contest. Fingers crossed on that one. I challenged myself a little bit with the writing so I’m hoping it pays off.

I also found a few more places to shop around a story I’ve been trying to find a home for so I’m waiting to hear back on that, too. So much sitting, waiting, wishing going on around here!

Finally, if you haven’t signed up for my email list, you’ll want to do that here! I have a surprise I’ll be sending out in the next month or so to all of my subscribers!

Cursed Collectibles: An Anthology is Available Now

It’s officially Spooktober and what better way to celebrate than with a new collection of spooky stories?!

Cursed Collectibles is officially available through Amazon! The Kindle version is available now, with print and audiobook versions to come in the next couple weeks.

Click here to purchase Cursed Collectibles: An Anthology for Kindle 

Cursed-Collectibles-Anthology-Shannon-Fox-The-Garden-Party2

Spend an afternoon antiquing and it’s not hard to figure out why picking has become one of America’s fondest pastimes. It’s treasure hunting while connecting with history. But what if those treasures hunt us back?

From old books, to vinyl records, antique mirrors, vintage figurines, or a Bob’s Big Boy piggy bank, curses have no limits.

Featuring stories from D.J. Butler, Joy Auburn, Martin L. Shoemaker, Jessica Guernsey, John D. Payne, Jen Bair, Karen Pellett, Steve Ruskin, Tanya Hales, Lauren Lang, Frank Morin, Mike Jack Stoumbous, Kelly Lynn Colby, Jace Killan, Jo Schneider, Gama Ray Martinez, Martin Greening, Chris Abela, A.J. Mayall, Heidi A. Wilde, Shannon Fox, Lauryn Christopher, and Mark Leslie.

Edited by Angela Eschler

Cover art by Novae Caelum

And audiobook narrated by Shaun Smith and Hillary Andrus Straga

All proceeds from the sale of this anthology go to benefit the Don Hodge Scholarship fund. This scholarship helps aspiring authors attend Superstars Writing Seminars. Click here to learn more about the scholarship.

 

My Picks: 5 New Release Books for Fall 2019

A new season means new books! After browsing through several lists of fall 2019 releases, I picked the five new books for fall 2019 I’m most excited about:

Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo

Galaxy “Alex” Stern is the most unlikely member of Yale’s freshman class. Raised in the Los Angeles hinterlands by a hippie mom, Alex dropped out of school early and into a world of shady drug-dealer boyfriends, dead-end jobs, and much, much worse. In fact, by age twenty, she is the sole survivor of a horrific, unsolved multiple homicide. Some might say she’s thrown her life away. But at her hospital bed, Alex is offered a second chance: to attend one of the world’s most prestigious universities on a full ride. What’s the catch, and why her?

Still searching for answers, Alex arrives in New Haven tasked by her mysterious benefactors with monitoring the activities of Yale’s secret societies. Their eight windowless “tombs” are the well-known haunts of the rich and powerful, from high-ranking politicos to Wall Street’s biggest players. But their occult activities are more sinister and more extraordinary than any paranoid imagination might conceive. They tamper with forbidden magic. They raise the dead. And, sometimes, they prey on the living.

Release Date: October 8th, 2019

I’ve been excited about this book since news of its publication broke. I follow Leigh Bardugo on Instagram so I’ve been hyped for this book for months. As it’s an adult novel and blurbed by Stephen King, I’m a little bit worried this book might be too scary for me – but not worried enough to be deterred by it. I just might not want to be home alone for awhile.

 

Serpent & Dove by Shelby Mahurin

Two years ago, Louise le Blanc fled her coven and took shelter in the city of Cesarine, forsaking all magic and living off whatever she could steal. There, witches like Lou are hunted. They are feared. And they are burned.

Sworn to the Church as a Chasseur, Reid Diggory has lived his life by one principle: thou shalt not suffer a witch to live. His path was never meant to cross with Lou’s, but a wicked stunt forces them into an impossible union—holy matrimony.

The war between witches and Church is an ancient one, and Lou’s most dangerous enemies bring a fate worse than fire. Unable to ignore her growing feelings, yet powerless to change what she is, a choice must be made.

And love makes fools of us all.

Release Date: September 3rd, 2019

I already talked about this book here when I named it my debut author pick for September. But I recently acquired a copy of the book AND got to meet the author during the Epic Reads book tour and let’s just say I’m even more stoked to dig into this one than I was before.

 

The Testaments by Margaret Atwood

More than fifteen years after the events of The Handmaid’s Tale, the theocratic regime of the Republic of Gilead maintains its grip on power, but there are signs it is beginning to rot from within. At this crucial moment, the lives of three radically different women converge, with potentially explosive results.
 
Two have grown up as part of the first generation to come of age in the new order. The testimonies of these two young women are joined by a third voice: a woman who wields power through the ruthless accumulation and deployment of secrets.
 
As Atwood unfolds The Testaments, she opens up the innermost workings of Gilead as each woman is forced to come to terms with who she is, and how far she will go for what she believes.

Release Date: September 10th, 2019

It’s been so long since I’ve read The Handmaid’s Tale, I’ll definitely need to read it again before digging into this one. But as a fan of Margaret Atwood and her dystopian futures, I’m excited to see how the story evolves in this sequel. I’m sure it will be every bit as haunting, chilling, and too-relevant as The Handmaid’s Tale. I haven’t yet watched the tv series yet – if you’ve watched it, leave me a comment below with what you think about it!

There Will Come a Darkness by Katy Rose Pool

The Age of Darkness approaches.
Five lives stand in its way.
Who will stop it . . . or unleash it?

For generations, the Seven Prophets guided humanity. Using their visions of the future, they ended wars and united nations―until the day, one hundred years ago, when the Prophets disappeared.

All they left behind was one final, secret prophecy, foretelling an Age of Darkness and the birth of a new Prophet who could be the world’s salvation . . . or the cause of its destruction. With chaos on the horizon, five souls are set on a collision course:

A prince exiled from his kingdom.
A ruthless killer known as the Pale Hand.
A once-faithful leader torn between his duty and his heart.
A reckless gambler with the power to find anything or anyone.
And a dying girl on the verge of giving up.

One of them―or all of them―could break the world. Will they be savior or destroyer?

Release Date: September 3rd, 2019

Okay can we just talk about how epic the title is for a second? So awesome! And that description! The comp titles! I’m very excited about this one!

 

The Institute by Stephen King

In the middle of the night, in a house on a quiet street in suburban Minneapolis, intruders silently murder Luke Ellis’s parents and load him into a black SUV. The operation takes less than two minutes. Luke will wake up at The Institute, in a room that looks just like his own, except there’s no window. And outside his door are other doors, behind which are other kids with special talents—telekinesis and telepathy—who got to this place the same way Luke did: Kalisha, Nick, George, Iris, and ten-year-old Avery Dixon. They are all in Front Half. Others, Luke learns, graduated to Back Half, “like the roach motel,” Kalisha says. “You check in, but you don’t check out.”

In this most sinister of institutions, the director, Mrs. Sigsby, and her staff are ruthlessly dedicated to extracting from these children the force of their extranormal gifts. There are no scruples here. If you go along, you get tokens for the vending machines. If you don’t, punishment is brutal. As each new victim disappears to Back Half, Luke becomes more and more desperate to get out and get help. But no one has ever escaped from the Institute.

Release Date: September 10th, 2019

This one sounds so good so I hope it veers towards the less scary end of Stephen King books like The Dark Tower series.

What new release book are you excited to dig into this fall?

Saved as Draft

Saved as Draft by N.D. Chan

Born in Chinatown, New York, Chan was sent to China after her father was murdered in a random street shooting. She lived with her grandparents in Guangzhou, until her mother sent for them after marrying a dentist and becoming a wealthy and successful businesswoman. Life should have been happy in the privileged enclave of Long Island, but with a distant mother and a feeling that she no longer belonged, Chan began to look for acceptance elsewhere—the relationships she shared with her family, her friends, her lovers.

Saved as Draft is that search for a sense of “rightness” and a place called home.

(A copy of this book was provided by the publicist in exchange for an honest review)

For those of you who don’t know, I went to UC-San Diego and majored in Literature-Writing which was a DREAM. I really enjoyed the program and my time at UCSD. One of the things I ended up really liking about the program (though I didn’t know this at all when I applied to UCSD) is that their program offered a lot of instruction around experimental writing. Basically, the kind of writing you won’t see at Barnes & Noble because rather than guiding the reader through a carefully orchestrated plot, experimental writers are pushing the boundaries of language, writing, and story-telling, charging you with the task of connecting with the story and pulling your own meaning out of it rather than telling you what to feel.

Saved as Draft instantly brought me back to those days at UCSD, where I was reading things that exploded what I knew about telling stories and challenged me to think differently. Saved as Draft is a memoir constructed of short notes and poetry, the kinds of things you would “save as draft” in an email or as a note on your phone. Unlike other memoirs that have a clear progression from Point A to Point B, Saved as Draft invites you to sift through the author’s pile of thoughts to extract meaning from her journey of self-discovery as a Chinese-American girl who doesn’t quite fit in. It explores issues of identity, parental abandonment, the death of a parent, and the author’s awakening sexuality as a queer woman.

I thoroughly enjoyed this and only wish it was much longer!