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Book Review: You Have a Match by Emma Lord

It feels like something’s opened up to me—not only landscapes and sweeping views, but the future. It’s not clear, but it’s wider than I ever remember it feeling, full of possibility, of places I can go someday.

You  have a matchSome YA books read, to me, like books anyone might read. Others feel like they have gotten right to the heart of their intended audience, which is teenagers, not nearly-50-year-old women. You Have a Match by Emma Lord reads like the latter for me. It tells the story of Abby, who decides to take a DNA test to support her friend Leo, who wants to find out more about his biological family. When the results come back, Leo doesn’t have any matches—but Abby does. Turns out she has a sister, Savvy, and the rest of the book is about them figuring out their relationship and their family secrets.

I am drawn to books about adoption, and this one also includes a bit of hiking, and it’s set in the Pacific Northwest (a place I would like to be more familiar with), plus it’s about sisters (all those being topics I like in books), so I was always going to read this, even before it Reese Witherspoon picked it as a title in her YA book club. I started reading it in the car after Kendell picked up my holds for me, and it was just the escape I needed. (Is that weird? Sometimes I need an escape from a book I’m reading and loving but am also finding dark, which is currently How Much of These Hills is Gold; I intend on picking it back up today but I needed a break from the sadness.) For me (acknowledging that I’m hardly the target audience) it read as a somewhat fluffy, somewhat earnest story that teenagers will love.

OK: that is a chunky, clunky paragraph and I’m finding this review hard to write! I liked this book. I read it really quickly and even stayed up late last night finishing it. But I also found the writing style…well, also clunky. (Maybe it wore off on me?) There were several times the transitions between conversations were actually missing, and the plot points felt like bullets in an outline: first this happened, and then this, and then this, but they didn’t feel vital, if that makes sense. So I’d fall into the stream of the story but then get yanked back out again by the way the story was written. (All the while reading as quickly as I could to find out what the secrets were, and how Abby and Savvy came to be raised by different parents.) Also…the ending. The ending was so neat. Way too tidy and happy-ending for me.

Which of course brings me to my original point: this was a fun book that teenagers will love. Perfect for its intended audience. But as I am not that audience, it fell a little bit flat.

That said, there is a concept I want to remember from the story. Abby’s other friend, Connie, helps her make decisions by making a Connie list. A twist on the usual pros/cons idea, the question is: what would happen if I didn’t do this thing I’m struggling to decide? What would I lose out from not taking this chance? As I am struggling to make some life-altering (or keep-my-life-the-same) choices right now, I am intrigued by this idea.

Glad I read it, glad it helped me escape, glad to have been introduced to that way of thinking through decisions, but not a book I will savor and cherish.

Thoughts on My Wedding Day, Twenty Nine Years Later

Not two years before I got married, I was a wild child. Driving my crappy but fast car as dangerously as I could, roaming around the valley with my friends at night, drinking, flirting with boys. Sluffing school. I was miserable in some ways but so wildly alive in others.

Then, a whole bunch of things happened that kind of scared me straight (or maybe they shamed me straight, I’m still working that out), and I went “back to church.”

I abandoned almost all of my wild friends, or they abandoned me, and there I was. Doing my best to be a “good person” via the definitions of the LDS church.

And part of the way I could prove my goodness was to get married in the temple.

If you aren’t a Mormon, this is hard to explain. If you are LDS, you get it: married in the temple is the “right” way. It means you didn’t have sex before you got married. It means you were following all the rules and paying your tithing. It means you are dedicated to the process of having an eternal family. If you are not LDS, I don’t know if it makes any sense, because unless you have the Perfect Mormon Family ™, you give up quite a bit to have a temple marriage. But it’s still the highest goal.

Also, you don’t just marry anybody in the temple. Not if you want to win that “very good girl” badge. You must marry a returned missionary in the temple.

And that’s exactly what I did.

Now that I am here, on the other side of my religion where I feel like I am deconstructing all of it, exploring its underpinnings, assumptions, abuses, its unspoken rules and cultural demands, how it wounded me, the scars it left. I am discovering (or maybe I am writing) my own definition of what it means to be a good person. I am left knowing that while I love my husband and the life we have made together, we might never have even interacted if I weren’t so determined to be good. Maybe, 29 years later, it doesn’t really matter, because here we are, still together. But I think about it a lot. In a sense, my marriage is my last real tie to the LDS faith, and what does that mean?

Which is a longer and more personal idea than I am willing to explore in a blog post.

Wedding day black and whiteBut, this weekend was our 29th wedding anniversary, and I found myself thinking not as much about our marriage but about our wedding.

The winter we got married was remarkably like this winter, brown and dry and warm. (My least favorite type of winter.) On the day of our wedding, it snowed for the first time that year, a wet and warm snow that was only a few degrees away from rain. (The exact same snow fell this year on February 13.)

Because my dad had not been through the temple yet, he couldn’t actually come to my wedding. (One of the things I gave up: my dad seeing me getting married.) So our plan had been that my mom and I would drive up to Salt Lake City together, and he would come later, to see me come out of the temple. (Because of course watching his daughter exit the temple in her wedding dress is enough for any dad.) But somehow at the very last minute, he changed his mind and wanted to drive to Salt Lake with us. But he hadn’t showered yet, and then the traffic was awful because of the snow, and yes: I was almost late to my own wedding.

When I got to the temple, I rushed inside. The matrons rushed me into the bride’s room, where by tradition you’re supposed to have a sweet, loving moment with your mom, as you put on your dress, fix your makeup, adjust your hair, have a last conversation which might include some advice for the wedding night. A tender hug, a few tears.

Instead, I rushed to put my dress on and then scampered down some halls until I found myself in a room with Kendell.

And then we were married by a temple worker whose name I never heard.

I don’t remember what he said during our temple ceremony. I barely remember looking at Kendell. I do remember the contrast, Kendell’s side of the room (clearly the truly “good” side) filled with his family, his grandma and aunts and uncles and cousins and his siblings and their spouses and his mission friends) and my side of the room with my mom and a few ladies from the ward and a couple of aunts and maybe a cousin.

It was all so rushed and I was in such a panic (having only been to the temple once before that day, an event that filled me both with fear that anything I did wrong there would cement my eternal damnation and a potent shame+confusion combination after the temple matron told me that I should be ashamed of myself for getting married so young) and I was so out of my element as the center of attention in my itchy, heavy dress.

I was turned off, turned to autopilot. I smiled for pictures, I laughed as Kendell carried me so my shoes wouldn’t get wet in the snow. I changed into my purple dress for the wedding breakfast (which my husband’s family insisted be held at the Chuck-a-Rama, because that was good enough) and then back into my wedding dress for the reception. I shook my parents’ friends’ hands. My body was there; my real self really wasn’t.

I performed.

I got married the Acceptable Mormon Way.

And I was a miserable quaking mess that day.

Not because I didn’t love Kendell. I did and I do. Not because my mom didn’t try to give me a beautiful reception. She and my sisters worked SO HARD to make my reception beautiful and delicious. (Say what you will about our family’s dysfunctions: we do food really, really well.) We had little cherry cheesecakes, crab and chicken petit fours, slushy raspberry punch, veggies and dip and cheese and strawberries. Not because my friends didn’t support me—most of them did, although several didn’t come to our reception because there was a Jazz basketball game that night, or because it was snowing.

I was miserable because I was so young.

And because I was fulfilling all of the a-Utah-County-wedding-looks-like-this rules without ever having stopped to think: what did I want it to look like?

And because of the look on my dad’s face when I came out of the temple, crestfallen and lonely. My sisters’, too, and my best friend. (My sisters. My best friend. My dad. None of them saw me get married.)

And because it was February, and sloppy and cold, and because if I ever wanted anything from a wedding, for my own wedding, it was to have it in the spring when the flowers were blooming, daffodils and tulips and hyacinths, and a blue sky and a warm breeze. But everyone told us, after we got engaged in November, that we needed to hurry. Hurry and get married, don’t wait because you don’t want to slip up. The knife edge we walked between desire and goodness, and certainly I, as a wanton temptress who used to be “bad” and so really never could be “good” again no matter how much I performed my goodness, could definitely not be counted on to remain good.

And because while in theory I loved my wedding dress, it also gave me that same shame+confusion feeling: I wanted it to be more elegant than it was, and the matron had also told me, in my rushed dressing in the bride’s room at the temple, that it was cut “far too low” and threatened to make me wear a dickey for the ceremony. (My mom, God bless her, rejected this outright.)

And because I just looked like me, same hair, same clumsy makeup, not beautiful or special, just my usual self in a glittery white dress with poufy shoulders. Because I didn’t feel anything other than awkward and fake.

And because being The Bride—being the center of attention for an entire day—was deeply uncomfortable to me.

When I attend weddings now—any time I have attended weddings since I got married—my heart fills with a specific, dark weight. I leave the wedding or the reception and I need to cry away the weight, cry away the darkness. If you asked I wouldn’t tell you why I was crying. Or maybe I would say:  because time moves too fast, because I knew them when they were babies, because my friend looked so beautiful.

Really, though. I’d be crying for myself.

Because of all those reasons I was miserable on my wedding day, my heart beating hard, my pulse fluttering, my eyes just barely keeping the tears back.

Because I did it the “right” way and I didn’t know that I could do it my way and still be a good person.

Because I needed to perform my goodness.

Because my wedding wasn’t really about celebrating me and the person I loved or about celebrating the start of a life together, but because it was me proving I could be good, I could do things the right way, I was worthy of not being shamed.

Because when I look back on my wedding day, I don’t brim with happy memories. I have almost no memories of it at all, honestly. Because I have never hung up a single wedding photo in my house. Because I wasn’t beautiful or elegant.

Because I wasn’t myself.

I wish I had loved my wedding day. I wish we had waited until the spring, until after my birthday so at least I was twenty. Or what if we just had sex? What if we didn’t wait and do it the “right” way, the “good” way. What if we had sex and then waited to get married until I had another year, until I had lived on my own, had my own space, begun to learn who I really was?

Three decades. I’ve mostly just ignored my feelings about my wedding day for many years. (Except when I went to other people’s weddings and they welled up, uncontrollable for a few hours.) It’s like the fact that I didn’t go to prom and I didn’t walk with my graduating high school class. Just another part of me: I had a wedding day, but I didn’t love it.

Last week, a few days before our anniversary, Nathan texted me a photo he’d taken of a photo at his aunt’s house, from our wedding day.

I looked at it. I zoomed in close as I could to my face. That Amy. That very young person. That child bride.


I turned so many of my choices over to a higher authority. To white men who told me how my wedding day should go (and so many other things). I wish I could change it for her.

I wish for her a wedding in May on a perfect blue day with a few white clouds in the sky and the grass so green it’s like a gemstone. I wish for her an unhurried hour to get ready, when someone does her hair and someone does her make-up and she feels beautifully like herself. I wish for her an outdoor wedding with a mountain behind her. I wish for her a pale violet wedding dress, simple but elegant, with her shoulders kissed by sun and the unwrinkled skin of her chest beautiful and unashamed. I wish for her a bouquet with lilacs. I wish for her to turn and see her dad holding hands with her mom, to smile at her sisters, her best friend. I wish for her a delicious meal with friends, and laughter, and conversation. I wish for her a calm heart and an even pulse and no terror. No threatening tears.

No one grieves every day for the things they didn’t have. It’s been so long since I’ve been to any sort of wedding, and longer still since I’ve attended a temple wedding. Until I looked at that photo, I hadn’t thought of this for a long time. Maybe since my anniversary last year. But I remembered, looking at that snapshot. I remembered, and I wanted to write it down, both what it was and what I wish it had been.

My Year in Books: The 2020 Edition

One of my yearly goals is to write something about every book I finish. (Sometimes I also write about the books I didn’t finish, but not often.) I’ve mostly accomplished this for the past five years, but 2020 was an exception. I’m not really sure why I dropped the ball, as I read some books that I loved, but there you go. It was 2020 after all! (Also the fewest books I’ve read in a year.)

So this is obviously out of chronological order (I usually post this in the first week of January), and fairly incomplete with links to what I actually thought about each book, but still it is useful to me. I like being able to come to an organized list rather than having to search my blog (which, let’s be honest: almost never finds what I need it to find, after 15+ years of blogging and an apparently not-very-developed search algorithm, thanks Typepad) when I want to know something about a book I’ve read.

No more waiting, here’s my list of books I read in 2020:

Audio Books:

Gather the Daughters by Jennie Melmud.  A society of fundamentalist Christians living on an island after a supposed devastation has destroyed most of the world. I enjoyed it until the end, which thoroughly annoyed me.

The Library of Lost and Found by Phaedra Patrick. An assistant librarian in a small town in England turns her life upside down when someone leaves a book of fairy tales for her to find—one clearly written by her grandmother, who is supposed to be dead. This book falls squarely into the “up lit” genre, which I am just beginning to explore.

Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson. A generational novel about two Black families who are connected by an unexpected teenage pregnancy. I loved this book so much. I think I need to read the print version and then I will write about it. 

Scars like Wings by Erin Stewart. This young adult novel tells the story of Ava Lee, whose family was killed in a fire she barely escaped from. When she must go back to school, she starts coming to terms with her scars, both the physical and emotional ones.

Young Adult Books:

Agnes at the End of the World by Kelly McWilliams. I’m sad I didn’t write anything about this book because I LOVED it. Agnes and her sister try to escape from the fundamentalist cult they’ve grown up in, only to discover that the world outside is suffering from a virus that might kill all of humanity. Which sounds like a lot but wow, the author did a great job with this story.

Break the Fall by Jennifer Iacopelli. Gymnasts vying for the Olympics. How could I not read this?

The Feminist Agenda of Jemima Kincaid by Kate Hattemer. This one is right on the border…a little bit too sexy to be firmly in the YA category, it’s more on the “new adult” side, but still shelvable in YA. (I discussed this with two of my coworkers just to be sure.) It’s the story of Jemima Kincaid figuring out her last days of high school while she navigates what it really means to be a feminist. 

Love and Gelato by Jana Evans Welch. After her mother dies, Lina spends a summer in Tuscany with the father she never knew. I’m a sucker for most things set in Italy so this was fun.

Historical Fiction:

Magic Lessons by Alice Hoffman. I read this prequel in the continuing story of the Owens family of witches in October and it was perfect. It tells the origin story of the Owens’ family’s magic. I loved it! The last book in this series, The Book of Magic, comes out next October and I will definitely be spending my time with the Owens women again.

This Tender Land by William Kent Kruger. Odie, Albert, Mose, and Emmy run away from the orphanage where they are being abused and travel across the American Midwest by foot, through the landscape impacted by the Great Depression. I still think quite often about Odie’s evolving relationship with God.

General Fiction:

Girl by Edna O’Brien. Tells the story of a teenage girl who is kidnapped by Boko Harem and then later escapes. “Good” in the sense of moving, powerful, unforgettable, and so well-written. But a devastating story.

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. I think I read Little Women at least ten times as a kid, so this was clearly a reread. Undertaken with a little bit of trepidation as what if I couldn’t love it anymore? And there were definitely some annoyances that my 10-year-old self never saw, but I’m glad I reread it. (I also realized, upon revisiting that post, that I meant to write another one.)

Speculative Fiction:

After the Flood by Kassandra Montag. A woman and her daughter travel across the world that is transformed after global warming has caused the seas to rise.

The Kingdom of Little Wounds by Susann Cokal. Explores the impact of syphilis on a royal family. I enjoyed this book but am not sure I could recommend it to just any reader. You have to be willing to enjoy a book that almost never lets up on darkness and despair. I loved the ending. But it was a hard book to get through, even for me.

The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix Harrow. I love love loved this book about finding doorways to other worlds.

The Dark Tower Series:
This was my main reading this year. It kept me company during the pandemic and was the perfect way to distract myself from worrying about imminent death.

The Gunslinger

The Drawing of the Three

The Wastelands

Wizard and Glass

The Wind through the Keyhole

Wolves of the Calla

Song of Susannah

The Dark Tower

Book Review: The House in the Cerulean Sea by T. J. Klune

We are who we are not because of our birthright, but because of what we choose to do in this life. It cannot be boiled down to black and whit. Not when there is so much in between. You cannot say something is moral or immoral without understanding the nuances behind it.

House in the ceruliean seaThe House in the Cerulean Sea tells the story of Linus Baker, who is a caseworker for DICOMY: the Department in Charge of Magical Youth. He visits orphanages, where said “magical youth” live, to make sure the children are being taken care of properly, and he sits and a tiny desk with hundreds of other caseworkers, doing paperwork. At work, he is a consummate rule follower, never deviating from the RULES AND REGULATIONS. After work he goes home to his small house on Hermes Way to make dinner, maybe listen to some records, and hang out with his grumpy cat.

One day he is called away from his tiny desk by Extremely Upper Management and is given a special case. He is to travel to an island that houses a very unusual orphanage. Instead of a few days, he is to stay there for a month. And he is definitely not supposed to deviate from the RULES AND REGULATIONS. In fact, it is his very dedication to them that earned him this opportunity.

And thus does Linus begin to actually experience the world, by way of a handful of magical children. Talia is a gnome child who grows a beautiful garden on the island, never letting her long beard get in the way. Phee is a sprite who is learning how to make trees grow and forests flourish. Theodore is a wyvern who loves collecting shiny things, especially buttons. Chauncey is a blob with tentacles, origin unknown, who wants to grow up to be a bellhop. Sal is kind of like a werewolf, only he transforms into a little dog and only when he is afraid (and he is afraid often). And Lucy is the son of the devil and thus possibly the antichrist. Plus there is Arthur Parnassus, who runs this orphanage, and Zoe, the adult sprite who the island belongs to.

This is a story of love, acceptance of differences, figuring out your place in the world, being brave, standing up to racist assholes, and change and possibility and breaking rules. Everyone I know who’s read it has loved it. Adored it. Swooned over it.

Dare I confess?

I didn’t love it.

Don’t get me wrong. I didn’t hate it. And it did a remarkable thing for me: it made me laugh. Don’t get all jealous of this amazing personality trait of mine, but not many things are funny to me, even the things that everyone thinks are funny. I am totally a stick in the mud. So for a book to make me laugh out loud…that is rare and sweet and precious to me.

I’ve taken a few days to write this review because I wasn’t really sure if I could explain why I didn’t love it. After thinking, I have come upon this realization. It has everything to do with my stick-in-the-mudness. It has everything to do with “it’s not you, it’s not me.” The book is perfectly lovely and sweet and well-written and funny and insightful.

I just don’t really love whimsy. And it is definitely whimsical. And magical. I’m glad I read it, but my dry-and-bitter heart might just not be the audience for it.

Have you read this one? Did you love it?

Bright Blue Moment

I was reading somewhere on Facebook yesterday about a writer. Someone had recommended this writer’s memoir to the commenter, and she read it and loved it, and then did some research about the writer and discovered that he keeps a blog that he writes in every day. I overdid it yesterday and was kind of in a shell of throbbing misery so I can’t tell you for sure who the writer is or what the book was or even where on Facebook I read all of that, but this morning when I woke up (gratefully out of pain) I was still thinking about it.

Remember blogging? Remember when all of your friends had blogs, and you made other friends by following and reading your friends’ friends’ blogs? When blogging was about just sharing random stuff. It wasn’t about your Brand, or trying to sell stuff. It was just…sharing. Thoughts, ideas, experiences.

I miss that.

Am I coloring that time with wistful nostalgia? Maybe. If I had developed A Brand back then, would I have been a more successful blogger? Maybe. Is it easier to find like-minded people through social media? Sure. Do I have a tendency to resist change and to want things to stay the same? When it comes to technology…kind of. (I do still use my very old copy of WordPerfect for my personal writing, you know.) Is it kind of…weird, I guess, that back then (a decade ago) we just read random stuff about people’s lives? I guess.

The arguing voices in my head pointing out how ridiculous I am aside, I still do miss the heyday of blogging.

Because back then, I would’ve just written what I want to write today, instead of writing a long explanation of why I’m going to write the following. Because, if I’m honest, for me, blogging has always been about writing. About having a platform for my random words to be out in the world somewhere, and for the process of crafting something with words. So, like whatever writer that was being discussed on that random Facebook thread, I’m just going to write this because of the desire to put the experience into words.

On Sunday morning, my next-door neighbor, who goes on a walk early every morning, sent me a text letting me know that Kendell’s truck (which he parks on the street) had been egged. Which is how I found myself standing in the gritty pavement at the carwash, while Kendell vacuumed the truck after getting it washed.

When I got out of the truck (on my crutches, mind you), I gasped. The air was so clean after the storms we’d had over the past few days, and the mountains were perfectly coated with snow. It doesn’t last long, that smooth coating; the wind eats at it, and avalanches crumple the layers, so when it is like that—like frosting, almost, applied thickly with a flat knife—I try to appreciate it. And the sky! The sky was so blue.

White mountains, blue sky, clean, cold air. Even in a kind-of gross carwash vacuuming lot. Even on crutches. Even while I wished I could put on my running shoes, a pair of capris and a tank and hit the road and even while I compromised by crutching around the lot instead…even then. I am grateful for beauty and revision, for the world made clean, for breath in my lungs.

Audio Book Review: The Daughter of Smoke and Bone Trilogy by Laini Taylor

Be your own place of safety, she told herself, straightening. No crossbar in the world could protect her from what lay ahead, and neither could a tiny knife ticked in her boot - though there her tiny knife would most certainly remain - and neither could a man, not even Akiva. She had to be her own strength, complete unto herself.

Daughter of smoke and boneIn December, when I started wrapping Christmas presents, I decided I wanted to listen to an audio book. Something I’d read before, so if I didn’t pay exact attention I wouldn’t be totally lost. As I had just received my Illumicrate edition of Laini Taylor’s novel Daughter of Smoke and Bone AND as it was available on my Overdrive app, I decided to listen to it.

She’s one of my favorite authors, so of course I’ve read these books before. The first one twice, in fact. (Alas, I only wrote a book note about the last one, Dreams of Gods and Monsters.) It’s also a series I love recommending to many different kinds of readers at the library. Ours is shelved in the YA section, but I think this reads just as well for adults. It’s intensely romantic without being overtly sexual in its descriptions, so it’s a good recommend for my conservative community’s preferences for their daughters. And, honestly, even though the main character is a girl, it also has such great male characters that boys will like it too. (Nathan has read it, and I’m pretty sure Jake has too.

One thing I am hesitant with as far as audio books go is the reader’s voice. It takes me about, oh…a minute of listening to know if I like it or not, if it fits well with how I tink I’ll “hear” the story in my head (or if I’ve read the book, how I did hear it), and if it doesn’t I won’t keep listening. (My least-favorite narrator was for the novel Swamplandia!, which was entirely too young. My favorite match of a narrator was for the novel The Postmistress, as she had the perfect east-coast accent. I also think that was the first audio book I finished all the way through.) The narrator of this series, Khristine Hvam, was exactly right for telling Karou and Akiva’s tale.

Listening to these audio books reminded me of remembering a dream. That feeling you have when something at, say, 2:25 in the afternoon, triggers your memory of what you had dreamed (but kind-of forgotten) the night before. I remembered the vague outlines of the story, rather than the details, but just before a part of the story was told, I’d start to remember it. This was a kind of pleasure, the voice triggering the memory and the way the images came into my mind before I heard the words describing them.

I listened to about half of the first book in the trilogy while doing Christmas prep (wrapping and the Christmas-eve baking) but then let it go until my surgery, when I picked it back up. (Glad it was still available!) And I have to say, this trilogy has been the perfect companion to my recuperation. It’s taken my mind off my desire to be outside moving my body, kept me entertained when I wasn’t reading, and just…Karou, Akiva, Zusannah et al became sort of my companions. Which sounds a little bit cheesy but is also true.

What I love about this trilogy (and her other books) is that it doesn’t feel derivative of anything else. It has elements of other fantasies, angels and fantastical beasts and connections between worlds, but she creates something entirely new with them. I also like Taylor’s writing style, which is lyrical without being overwrought. Prague is a place I want to visit simply because of how it is described in this series. And I appreciate that she doesn’t stop her characters from suffering. They have painful experiences, some of them their own faults, and so they grow and change over the books.

One thing that kind of made me laugh is that I remembered the ending almost entirely wrong. In my head, it ended with a group of seven characters leaving through a portal to go out into the layered universe to fight the Nephilim. And it was nothing like that at all, but even better, because in my memory Karou and Akiva never got to be together, but, in the end, they do.

I’m glad I chose this to listen to over the past month!