The Bookish Side of Etsy

Hey guys! So look, we all have done things in this pandemic we’re not proud of. Maybe for some of you, it was getting on Zoom calls in your underwear. Maybe you ate way too much cookie dough one day. I don’t know what you did. But I know what I’ve done.

I’ve developed a weakness for bookish Etsy.

It started off pretty innocently. I was bored, looking for something to do. So I started looking for interesting t-shirts. That morphed into candles, then bracelets, then decorations, then useless crap I definitely don’t need (as if this stuff doesn’t fit into that category as well sometimes).

But considering how much time I’ve spent searching through it all, I figured I’d point out some of the more interesting shops/items to you guys, if you’re looking for a way to support small businesses and get some pretty cool stuff. I’m getting nothing for doing this, I just thought I’d share with you guys some neat stuff.

I’ve actually personally bought stuff from these stores and can attest to their quality.

KeenBeeStudio

Once Upon a Time a Girl Who Loved Books Librarian Reading White

Keen Bee Studio makes t-shirts out of Texas for librarians, teachers, and others in that vein. The stuff is adorable. The t-shirts are well designed, cute, and comfy–which is a big deal for me. They’re Bella + Canvas shirts, which are super soft. Seriously, I don’t buy shirts on Etsy if they aren’t Bella + Canvas. I got two or three shirts from here a few months back, including this one, pictured here. It says, “Once upon a time there was a girl who loved books. That girl was me. The end.” I love it. Mine is this dark forest green with white ink, so she can definitely make it look however you want it to. I thought costs were fairly reasonable, about $22-25 depending on the shirt. Yeah, it’s a little pricier than a t-shirt at a department store, but they’re great quality and will last you a long time.

BriarWick

Stars Eternal Candle A Court of Thorns & Roses Inspired Soy image 0

To completely shift gears, BriarWick is a shop that makes handmade soy candles in California. (I got hooked on candles over the pandemic…) But these candles are…interesting. My mom likes to say that these are unconventional scents, which is true. They sometimes mash together scents you wouldn’t think would go together, with occasionally mixed reviews. I’m getting off track. These candles are book themed! Harry Potter, ACOTAR, Throne of Glass, fairy tales, Six of Crows, Raven Boys, Cruel Prince, and more. Each candle has the option of a 4 oz. tin ($8.50) or an 8 oz. glass jar ($16). You also have the ability to get them in wax melts if you’re willing to buy them in a mix & match set of your choices ($20 for 4 melt packs). I like the Wadsworth candle (strawberries, vanilla, and roses) based on Stalking Jack the Ripper series, the Stars Eternal candle (champagne, white wine, and pears) based on ACOTAR, and the Faerie Wine candle (red wine, elderberry, and blackberries). The scents are STRONG at first, but they tend to mellow out after the first burn. I’m still trying out a number of them, but I can definitely keep you posted. In my opinion, I like getting the 4 oz. tins as my personal “sample packs” and seeing which scents I like enough to purchase again in 8 oz. jars.

CamCanvasCo

Hand-Painted Laminated Watercolor Quote Bookmarks image 2

I’d be totally remiss if I didn’t mention CamCanvasCo. Mostly, I think, she does a lot of canvas work, watercolors, decorations, etc., but I really liked her calligraphy and her bookmarks. I’m very picky about my bookmarks. See, I like them laminated to protect them against whatever I get into. I also like them to be pretty and reflective of my personality in some way. Cam has a collection of 51 bookmarks she’s painted (minus a few styles that have sold out) that come with these cute little tassels. They’re simple but cute and I’ve been using mine for a few weeks now–definitely durable. It gets banged around in my teacher bag and the corners show no signs of denting. These came super fast with free shipping, and are $4.90 a piece. (I bought 3.) I think she picked some cute quotes/sayings for her bookmarks and when I need a new batch, I’ll definitely be returning to her store.

Of course, there are SO MANY ETSY STORES I could talk about. There are dozens of shops that have book-related candles. Dozens more that do bookmarks and even more with book t-shirts. Just about anything you can think of, you can probably find it on Etsy. But I thought I’d share my latest loves with you guys!

If you know of any great Etsy shops for this kind of things, I’d love to hear about it!!

Classroom Novels: What Reading Novels Looks Like in My Classroom

Hey guys! I know this maybe sounds a little too teacher-y for some of you, but I promise this is going to be less about how I teach and more about what my students think of the novels they chose.

See, when we do our Holocaust novels, they have options. We have over a dozen books for them to choose from (though I limited my classroom to 12, for simplicity and to keep from overwhelming them). As most of us know, when we can pick our books, we’re more engaged.

Most of my kids are not “readers” like you or me. At roughly 14 years old, most of them have read less than 20 books in their entire lives. (This still hurts me.) Some brag about never having finished a book.

Knowing all of this, I try to spice up my Holocaust novels, which are already high-interest just due to the content.

The Choosing Process

In order to choose their books, I have a PowerPoint with the book jacket synopsis on the screen along with the cover and the number of pages in the book. (That matters to them a lot.) I talk through what the book is about as well as what I thought of the book when I read it, since I’ve read all of them at some point.

This year, they wrote down their top 3 choices on an index card and gave it back to me so I could get them one of those books. Most of the time, I was able to go with the first choice, though I sometimes had to go all the way down to the 3rd choice due to availability of certain novels.

Immediately, even before handing the books out, I had some students who have rarely ever talked to me coming up to ask me if I was able to give them their first choice or not.

Reading

After handing the books out, I gave students multiple class days to just read, knowing that a number of them wouldn’t read outside of class. Besides, reading in class meant I could answer any questions they had. And some kids weren’t happy with their choices and wanted to change to something else, especially after hearing some of their friends rave about certain books.

I’m not kidding, you guys, my classroom is usually so quiet you can hear a pin drop. They’re excited to read. I’ve been sprinkling in “history days” to talk about stuff related to their stories (background on Auschwitz, how Hitler rose to power, etc.) and they clearly want me to stop talking so they can read. It’s actually really funny for me.

But they are so engaged. When I did my latest history day, they were making connections back to their novels. Some are coming back to me to read a second or third novel from my collection because they’re so interested. Even more amazing, they aren’t losing their books as often. Normally I’m constantly finding forgotten novels all over the school, but this isn’t the case this time.

So What Do They Like?

On a recent homework assignment, I asked students to tell me if they liked their book or not and to be honest–they weren’t going to hurt my feelings. I use this for research, but I think it’s worth pointing out to you guys which books are favored.

  • Prisoner of Night and Fog by Anne Blankman–TONS of kids wanted to read this book because Hitler is a character in the book and they enjoy mysteries. I only had 3 copies, but those that are reading it seem to be enjoying it. One girl really got into it but the other two seem a bit more ambivalent.
  • The Boy at the Top of the Mountain by John Boyne–this was another that tons of kids wanted because, again, Hitler is a character. I liked this book, but the kids reading it don’t seem overly impressed. They think the beginning is slow, which is true. But it’s hurting their enjoyment.
  • The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne–I hate this book, but most of the kids reading this one seem to like it fine. They mostly know the movie, so it’s sort of a comparison situation, but they also like Bruno’s friendship with Smuel. They are struggling to understand some of Bruno’s mishearings, though.
  • Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys–while not the Holocaust, it’s similar enough we group it with this. And this one is a big hit. I have boys and girls reading this and they all love it. It’s different and interesting and suspenseful. I’ve had multiple girls asking if there’s a sequel. I was delighted to tell them about Salt to the Sea. One girl LIT UP.
  • Night by Elie Wiesel–one of three nonfiction options, this is a big hit because it’s the shortest book. Reviews are mixed. Some kids love it because it doesn’t sugarcoat history and it feels real to them. Others find it too horrifying or just really slow and aimless.
  • Girl in the Blue Coat by Monica Hesse–this is my first year offering this one, but the girls reading it seem to be enjoying it. They like the mystery and the danger of it.
  • The Book Thief by Markus Zusak–a favorite of mine, I was really excited for some of my devoted readers to read this. Most of them really enjoyed this. They’ve commented about how well they remember it, despite finishing it over a week ago in some cases. Only one boy thinks this story is really slow and he can’t get into it.
  • Paper Hearts by Meg Wiviott–this story in verse is a HUGE HIT with the girls who chose it. They got really into the story and they talked about how they aren’t normally readers but this was great. One specifically talked about how happy she was to have chosen this one.
  • The Devil’s Arithmetic by Jane Yolen–this time travel story is hit and miss. No one seems to all-out hate it, but no one seems to be absolutely loving it either. Some are enjoying how she knows what their futures hold, but some are bored by the slow start. Still, they all seem to be interested in the plot.
  • Prisoner B-3087 by Alan Gratz–Most of my students are familiar with Alan Gratz, so some chose this because they liked his other books. Most reading this are very into the action and seeing how Yanek survives 10 concentration camps.
  • I Have Lived a Thousand Years by Livia Bitton-Jackson–this nonfiction book maybe isn’t a favorite with the few reading it, but a couple have mentioned that they learned a lot from it. A lot of these kids like seeing a nonfiction story on this topic, so it worked for them.

(Some of you may have noticed there are only 11 books here. That’s because no one chose the 12th option.)

The Competition

I have two boys in my classes who are competing to read all twelve books in 2 weeks. (I lovingly refer to them as dorks because…well, that’s what they are in this moment.) They have created a Google spreadsheet in order to track their progress and constantly see which of them is in the lead. One boy has a slight edge at the moment because he was able to get a book from me after school once. Almost every day, they come up to me wanting to borrow one or two books to try to outdo the other one. A few books, they have to get from the library.

But this is ridiculously funny to me. They come up to me at least once a day and tell me that they finished another book. They also let me have access to their spreadsheet so I can see their progress. Their competitive spirit is fierce. And they both are actually reading the books–one boy had to assure me today that he wasn’t skimming the books, that he actually absorbed the information.

*****

This unit is so much fun for me, seeing this kind of engagement. Students frequently tell me they aren’t readers but they couldn’t put their book down. It makes my heart happy to hear things like this.

THANK YOU For Supporting Romance Month!

You guys, back in January when I came up with this idea, it seemed hare-brained. I’d felt so much like my Brand was YA and YA only. I wasn’t sure what would happen if I stepped out of that and shared with you my love of Romance.

But you all have been so amazing! I’ve gotten responses from people about how they also love these books and people who have picked up one of the books I’ve recommended to try. This gives me all the warm fuzzies. ❤

When I started this month, I had a pretty detailed plan for posts for about a week and after that…I was mostly just winging it. My goal, though, was to post something every day. I’d gotten away from posting for a while (sometimes getting a MONTH behind in reviews!) and I needed something to recenter myself here. This reminded me so much of why I’ve stuck with blogging here for a WHOLE FREAKING DECADE.

I’ve got a few take-aways from this month. I think it would be really cool to keep doing Author Spotlights (though much less frequently than 2-3 a week or I’ll run out before long). I feel more confident about posting reviews for all kinds of books I read–nonfiction, adult fantasy, romance, etc. Maybe not everything outside of YA, but I’m more comfortable with the reception now from all of you. Turns out, you all read more than just YA too! Who knew?

If there’s anything we did this month that you really enjoyed (Spotlights, posts where I talk about entire series, etc.), please let me know! I’d love to know what you want to see more of!

Again, THANK YOU so much for sticking with me through this little project/experiment. It’s meant a lot to me.

Also, please excuse me if I now disappear for a week or so to take a break from coming up with posts every single day.

~Holly

Spotlight: Katie McGarry

For my last author spotlight, I decided we desperately need to talk about Katie McGarry. For anyone who has read her books, you understand why I said “desperately.”

Katie McGarry

Most Popular Titles: Pushing the Limits, Dare You To, Crash Into You

Debut Novel: Pushing the Limits (2012)

Most Recent Release: Echoes Between Us (2020)

Katie McGarry writes some of the most interesting YA contemporary romance I’ve ever read. She focuses on characters who seem a bit…unconventional. Dangerous, even. But that means her stories have deeper, darker themes. And I kind of like that.

McGarry’s most popular series is the Pushing the Limits series, which is set in Kentucky and follows a variety of characters with dark backstories. Drugs, deadbeat parents, poverty, and even darker subjects are covered here–but it’s done in a way that makes you sympathize with the characters. You understand why they get into the kind of trouble they do. It doesn’t make it right, but at least you get it. And you see that they want a better life beyond it.

Despite it being the less well-known series, I personally prefer the Thunder Road series, about a biker gang (they call it “motorcycle club” but I feel biker gang is more accurate). Trust me, when I looked at it, I was like, “There’s no way I’m going to like this. This is the exact opposite of what my life is and I don’t think I’ll like it.” But I loved it. The first book, Nowhere But Here, is about Emily, a girl who has grown up not really having a relationship with her dad (he was in prison for a chunk of her life and then her mom moved them to Florida). When she returns to Kentucky reluctantly, she ends up caught in the middle of gang business. Seeing Emily and Oz–a club prospect tasked with keeping Emily safe–together, it was just magical. I swear.

My First McGarry Read: Pushing the Limits. I was really blown away by it at the time, but I would be willing to guess if I went back and reread it, I’d still prefer Thunder Road. I think McGarry’s writing has gotten better over time. Still, she’s a gutsy writer and she covers a wide variety of topics I couldn’t personally relate to but loved all the same.

Her Complete Collection:

  • Pushing the Limits (Pushing the Limits, #1) (2012)
  • Dare You To (Pushing the Limits, #2) (2013)
  • Crash Into You (Pushing the Limits, #3) (2013)
  • Take Me On (Pushing the Limits, #4) (2014)
  • Nowhere But Here (Thunder Road, #1) (2015)
  • Walk the Edge (Thunder Road, #2) (2016)
  • Chasing Impossible (Pushing the Limits, #5) (2016)
  • Long Way Home (Thunder Road, #3) (2017)
  • Say You’ll Remember Me (2018)
  • Only a Breath Apart (2019)
  • Echoes Between Us (2020)

That’s it for today! If you’re just discovering Katie McGarry for the first time (or if you just haven’t read any of her books yet), I’d love to know which one(s) you’re adding to your TBR!

Why I Love Love Stories

Is that title redundant? Or is it just right? Whatever, I like it.

ANYWAY, I thought I’d take this time to talk about what’s so awesome about love stories, no matter what genre, age level, or kind of relationship the characters have! I mean, it’s a month of romance and I don’t really know that I’ve talked about all that in one single place. Most of my posts have elements I love in them, but it hasn’t been compiled.

It’s Part of the Human Experience

We all want to be loved. And love comes in many shapes and forms. Family, friends, romantic relationships, pets, etc. (Yes, I did throw pets onto that list. Pets are awesome and feel love too.) It makes sense that we’d be so drawn to a book about an experience that we’ve all had or want to have.

When I was a young teenager reading stories with a love angle, I was reading it to try to figure out what love felt like, what it looked like, and when it wasn’t right. It was a teaching moment. Sure, every love is different and every person feels it differently, but I think there are broad things you can learn from everyone’s individual story. It helped to see that love could be amazing–but it could also be painful. I felt more prepared for every possibility I might encounter.

As an adult, reading YA or reading romance is all about experiencing those feelings again. The excitement of a first love. The sorrow of heartbreak, followed by the hope of a new love. It doesn’t matter where you are in your love story, someone else out there is feeling it too. And it helps when your heart is breaking to feel less alone that way.

Character Development

There’s a quote I really like that is attributed to Carl Jung that says, “The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances; if there is any reaction, both are transformed.” I feel like this sums up love on the page and off the page. It’s just a lot easier to talk about when it’s characters and plot.

I’ve always been a sucker for amazing character development. I love seeing a character start as one thing (a rake, a jerk, a naive debutante, a normal teenager, a basket case, a jock, whatever) and transform into something else by the end. When people are trying to impress someone else, they change. When people are trying to feel worthy or be better for someone, they change. When they experience new things with someone, they change. There are so many different reasons people change, sometimes intentionally, sometimes unintentionally. Either way, it makes for a great story.

And it happens in real life too. We pick up the habits, speech, and mannerisms of people we’re around all the time. I have habits I developed almost a decade ago dating one guy in college. Or my family has specific words we use that aren’t…conventional. (It’s a “cheese toastie,” not a “grilled cheese.” Ever.) We all have those little things we pick up from people we admire and spend time with, so it makes sense that our favorite characters would do the same as they fall in love.

Love Is Only Part of the Story

Behind every good love story, there’s an even better plot. Look, I’m all for romance, but I’ll be the first to tell you that if love is all there is in the story, it’s not going to be enough. There needs to be a bigger motivation or drive for the characters besides just finding someone to love. Love may not be entirely accidental, but neither is it the main goal of the characters.

Let’s take Regency romances for instance. Even when the novels are ostensibly about debutantes finding a good husband to settle down with, the stories are also about so much more, especially in books written in the last 5-10 years. These women have goals to travel the world, experience what men experience in their very sexist society, start a career, protect their families or friends, etc. There is more that they desire than marriage. It makes them more well-rounded characters and it also introduces new–and better–themes to the stories.

The same can be said about YA. Earlier this month, we focused on Sarah Dessen. Her stories are well known for having a love story, but neither is it the entire plot. The Rest of the Story deals with class issues. Lock and Key deals with broken families. What Happened to Goodbye deals with identity. So they have bigger themes, issues the characters are working through as they fall for someone else.

Honestly, as I write this, I’m thinking this is great advice for my own life.

It’s Emotional

What I like about love stories is that it’s very rare for me not to feel something. Happy, excited, heartbroken, angry, and everything in between. When I get connected to characters, I feel for them. If I’m having a particularly bad week and want to feel happy or I feel like I need a good cry, I can turn to romances for comfort.

Emotions are the crux of romance, in any shape or form. Or, frankly, any story worth its salt. It’s why we have characters we love and hate. It’s why we feel chills when we read a particularly moving scene, or why we know we need to have a box of tissues handy when reading books by certain authors. (*cough* Gayle Forman *cough*) And it’s why we keep coming back to stories over and over again. Y’all cannot tell me you didn’t feel anything as you read literally any of the ACOTAR books. They are popular for a reason.

I love stories that I have deep, visceral reactions to, no matter how many times I reread them. I know I will still be surprised by the characters in Mortal Heart, no matter how many times I read it. I will still hate Dolores Umbridge with everything I have every time I see her name. I will still ugly cry every time I read Dragonfly in Amber. Emotions are part of that human experience I talked about earlier, and I find it really cathartic sometimes just to experience the emotions that maybe I haven’t let myself feel lately.

****

So what are some reasons you love love stories? I’d love to hear! We’re going to be wrapping up Romance Month here very soon, so let’s go out with a bang!

Spotlight: Tessa Dare

And we’re back for another Romance spotlight! Now that we’re almost at the end of the month, I’m suddenly discovering ALL THESE AUTHORS I want to make sure you guys know about! It’s awesome, but there are just too many to realistically cover them all. Sigh.

Tessa Dare

Most Popular Titles: The Duchess Deal, Romancing the Duke, A Week to be Wicked

Debut Novel: How to Catch a Wild Viscount (2009) [this actually appears to be a novella, but it was what she published first]

Most Recent Release: The Wallflower Wager (2019), but she’s either published or about to publish a few novellas since.

I found Tessa Dare years and years ago. She was one of my first forays into the historical romance genre. What I really liked about her books was that they were funny and cute while having completely fierce (in their own ways!) female leads. The male and female leads are usually good complements to each other, even if they don’t initially know it at the beginning.

One of her most famous series, the Spindle Cove series, is about a little village on the coast of England where spinsters flock to just to be themselves for a change. Because of this, many people refer to Spindle Cove as Spinster Cove. These women (who also range from aristocrats to working class girls), know how to fire weapons, make scientific discoveries, own businesses, write bestselling pamphlets, and more. For most of these girls, marriage really isn’t a goal anymore. But, of course, when they stumble upon the guy who is perfect for them, they change their minds. Of all of her work, this is probably my favorite.

What’s also pretty cool about her writing is that it tends to have a lot of emotion. This can be for good things or for bad. I have laughed out loud at some of the antics of the characters and I have also cried or felt like I couldn’t put the book down, depending on what has happened. I love that the whole journey feels so real and has such interesting (and quirky) characters.

My First Dare Read: A Night to Surrender. It’s the first of the Spindle Cove books, and probably explains why I like that series the best. Though, having read a number of Dare books since, from different series, I still think this is one of the better examples of her writing.

Her Complete Collection:

  • How to Catch a Wild Viscount (2009) *novella
  • Goddess of the Hunt (The Wanton Dairymaid Trilogy, #1) (2009)
  • Surrender of a Siren (The Wanton Dairymaid Trilogy, #2) (2009)
  • A Lady of Persuasion (The Wanton Dairymaid Trilogy, #3) (2009)
  • One Dance with a Duke (Stud Club, #1) (2010)
  • Twice Tempted by a Rogue (Stud Club, #2) (2010)
  • Three Nights with a Scoundrel (Stud Club, #3) (2010)
  • A Night to Surrender (Spindle Cove, #1) (2011)
  • Once Upon a Winter’s Eve (Spindle Cove, #1.5) (2011) *novella
  • A Week to be Wicked (Spindle Cove, #2) (2012)
  • A Lady by Midnight (Spindle Cove, #3) (2012)
  • The Scandalous, Dissolute, No-Good Mr. Wright (2012) *novella
  • Beauty and the Blacksmith (Spindle Cove, #3.5) (2013) *novella
  • Any Duchess Will Do (Spindle Cove, #4) (2013)
  • Romancing the Duke (Castles Ever After, #1) (2014)
  • Say Yes to the Marquess (Castles Ever After, #2) (2014)
  • When a Scot Ties the Knot (Castles Ever After, #3) (2015)
  • Lord Dashwood Missed Out (Spindle Cove, #4.5) (2015) *novella
  • Do You Want to Start a Scandal (Spindle Cove, #5; Castles Ever After, #4) (2016)
  • The Duchess Deal (Girl Meets Duke, #1) (2017)
  • His Bride for the Taking (2018) *novella
  • The Governess Game (Girl Meets Duke, #2) (2018)
  • The Wallflower Wager (Girl Meets Duke, #3) (2019)
  • When She Was Naughty (2020) *Christmas novella
  • Love Letters from a Lord (Spindle Cove, #5.5) *novella, coming July 2021