What’s On My Nightstand? (A Random Smattering Of Book Reviews)

I’ve written some posts here in the past that touched on different books that I’ve read and the impacts they’ve had on me. I thought it might be fun to examine what’s currently on my nightstand—some of them finished, some of them started, some of them just staring me in resentment at night when I choose a different volume over them (book guilt is a real thing and I defy anyone with a bookshelf to say otherwise).


Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan. I knew literally nothing about this book before I picked it up at a local bookstore—I thought the cover was intriguing and the mysterious bookstore setting sounded promising, and it delivered intrigue and mystery in spades. But it’s more than just a mystery—it’s also funny and smart, and part of the plot involves data visualization and learning different coding languages, and much more. Verdict: go out and read it, folks!

Currently Reading

Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay. Oh my goodness, Roxane Gay is fantastic. I’m not even halfway through this collection of essays, but I’m already adding her novel, An Untamed State, to my reading list. Her topics range from feminism to Scrabble to the Sweet Valley High book series, and that’s just the first couple of essays. I can’t wait to see what else is in store.

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. I know, everyone has read this already, but I have not! And I figured it would be a good choice given the holiday season. I’m not far into it yet, but I have a feeling it’s going to be creepy, and it’s been a while since I’ve read something spooky (Bonus: it’s been adapted into a YouTube series a la the Lizzie Bennet Diaries!).

The Innocents Abroad by Mark Twain. What can I say, I love me some Samuel Clemens. Again, only partially through this one but I’m already finding myself chuckling at his descriptions of the fellow passengers and European scenery.

I Give Up

Dr. Zhivago by Boris Pasternak. I tried. Believe me, I really, really tried. And I’ve read (and enjoyed!) other Russian literature in the past, but this one is just not working for me. I can’t keep up with the names/nicknames/alternate spellings of names, and I don’t know enough about communism to keep up with the speeches. I do not admit defeat with books often, but I cannot do this.

Yet To Be Read

An Untamed State by Roxane Gay
A Visit From The Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
Great Expectations: Sons and Daughters of Charles Dickens by Robert Gottlieb

So, that’s my nightstand. What’s on yours?

Matilida Reading


Noelle is an email copywriter (yes, that is a thing) and occasional freelance writer. When she’s not typing or running, she can be found eating, sleeping, quoting a movie, or curled up in an easy chair with her nose stuck in a book. Sometimes she tweets too.

On Finding Time

I have too many hobbies. I know this. I’ve been told, many times, that I need to stop spreading myself so thin and freaking focus.

It’s a problem—a real problem. There are too many things that interest me. Let’s talk about a few: I write novels, poetry, and short stories, and I want to someday make this my living. I love to cook delicious food and bake new recipes. I love and am very passionate about tea and how it relates to culture and society. I adore the French language. I really want to garden. I READ. I want to do more yoga. I’m super interested in herbs and natural remedies. I love craft beer.

Now, let’s talk about the things I have to do: work a 40 hour work week, make time for Jacob (and friends), freelance (2 – 5 hours a week doesn’t sound like much, but it is), and write book reviews (for sfbook.com).

This does not include the much needed time to relax, scroll through Tumblr, and maybe watch a few (or 10) episodes of Buffy.

I have a lot of interests that I really wish I had the time to delve into more deeply.

So, how on earth do I find time to do what I do?


It’s pretty simple, really. Prioritize. I obviously have to work, so I work. But in the mornings, if I have time (and I do about 3x a week), I write a 10 minute writing prompt. I make editing and writing and reading a priority. I freelance. I cook. I get to see/talk to friends a few times a week.

I don’t do much else. So many people say, “I don’t know how you do it! You do so much!” I mean, sure, I do a lot. But I spread it out.

That’s the thing—I want to focus a lot of my time all of particular things, but I just don’t have the energy or time. By spreading myself out (and making sure not to spread myself too thin), I am able to find time to enjoy all of my favorite things.

Still not sure how I find time? Let me break it down. My main hobbies include writing/reading, cooking/baking, tea, yoga. Here’s how I fit them into my life (as an example).

Monday: writing/reading & cooking
Because it’s the first day back at work, Monday is usually no-freelance day. I come home, cook myself dinner, scroll through Tumblr, and then I write. I write and I edit. I catch up on bills. I usually stay at my computer. Sometimes I watch 2 – 4 episodes of Buffy before crawling into bed.

Tuesday: cooking & yoga & tea
I do yoga IMMEDIATELY when I get home (or else I lose motivation). After yoga, I cook, and then once I’ve eaten I make myself a cup of tea. I usually get a lot of freelance work done.

Wednesday: craft beer & writing/reading
I pick up my CSA (community supported agriculture) at The Community Tap, a local beer store. Sometimes, my old roomie is working and I will try a new beer, sit down with my journal, and do some writing or read.

Thursday: yoga & friends & reading
Yoga right when I get back from work, unless I am meeting a friend—in that case, probably no yoga. But definitely some reading before bed (or Netflix…). Freelance work, of course.

Friday: writing & writing & writing
Because of writing group, Friday is usually ALL about the writing. Plus it’s the weekend, so I go to writing group, work hard, come home and watch Netflix. Or else go out with some friends. Depends on my mood, of course.

Saturday: what am I lacking?
Saturday is usually a “what did I not do this week that I really want to do?” Let’s be real, sometimes the answer to that is DRINK. Sometimes it’s read, sometimes I really want to meet up with some friends. Sometimes Jacob and I go out for bike rides, sometimes we try a new restaurant (or an old fav). Saturday is my DO WHAT YOU WISH day.


Sunday: food & reading
Ahhh, grocery shopping day. We like to hit up Whole Foods to feed my inner foodie. I love it. We buy little fancy cheeses, gourmet hummus, delicious macadamia nuts. Lemme tell you—this is when I really get my fix. That and preparing much of the food throughout the week. In the evening, there’s a lot of prepping food for the week to come.

So, there you have it. I am not miraculous. I am not amazing at getting a million things done. I prioritize. It all comes down to being organized and to knowing what I need and want to get done. Sometimes I take it moment by moment—what do I really want to do right now(could be Netflix, could be writing, could be those dishes I want to get done)? Sometimes I look at my whole week—will I have time to freelance tomorrow? If not, I better get it done today. Will I be able to write tomorrow? No? Work on some stuff today.

As I get older, I get better at knowing myself and accepting myself. I am better at predicting my moods (I rarely freelance on Monday because it is MONDAY). I accept that I do not need to force myself into doing anything—I do what I crave when I have free time. I read when I am dying to finish a book. I sleep when I want a nap. I make myself a cup of tea when I am feeling sad.

The more I know myself, the more I can do and the happier I am. Funny how that works, huh?

So—do tell. How do you find time for your hobbies? What are your hobbies? Any gems to share?


Vanessa is a digital media coordinator by day and a writer, novelist, and badass cook by night. She loves used bookstores, is way too serious about tea, and doesn’t give a damn if she wears the same outfit 2 days in a row. She totally wants to be your friend, so you should follow her on twitter & maybe check out her writing blog.

Hey Adults, You Can (And Should) Read Whatever You Want

I recently came across an article on Slate about YA (Young Adult) books. Perhaps you came across it as well.

I thought the author made some interesting points, but I would like to say that I respectfully disagree with her opinion.

Yes, there has been a recent surge in YA popularity — The Twilight series, Divergent, Hunger Games, and the recent box-office smash TFIOS — and yes, there are some that say these books aren’t well written, that they’re catering to teenagers, and that it’s degrading/embarrassing for adults to be seen reading/enjoying them.

I have mentioned in other posts that I am a major bookworm. I am the type of person who will have anywhere from four to five books started at once. I know that not everyone is like that. For some, it’s a challenge to even read one book at a time — and I don’t mean that as a slight or as an insult, because reading is great, not matter what pace you’re doing it.

Basically, who are we to judge someone else for what they’re reading, especially if it’s not hurting anyone? Who am I to deny someone access to a wonderful story because it’s advertised as a book for kids?

The author of that Slate piece also said something about how YA books are replacing classic literature. Once again, I respectfully disagree.

While I am still in my 20’s and only a few years out of college, I would classify myself as an adult. I work full-time and I pay my bills/support myself almost entirely without assistance from others. I would also say that I am an adult who has read TFIOS and The Hunger Games series, along with The Giver (which is also part of a series), The Book Thief, and numerous other authors whose work is considered suitable for a “YA” audience. I’d also like to point out that one of the biggest Harry Potter fans I’ve ever met in my life is my own mother — she binge-read all seven books over the course of one summer.

In fact, I think part of the appeal of “YA books” for “adults” comes largely from parents reading the same things as their kids. And why not? If it helps families find a common interest (especially one that encourages reading), I don’t think it should be shamed — it should be encouraged.

Furthermore, I do not see so-called “YA books” replacing my interest in literary fiction or any other genre. I would instead argue that reading a wide variety of materials allows you to expose yourself to numerous ideas and themes, most of which are encased in interesting word choices and story lines. Plus, reading (or even rereading) “YA books” at an older age gives you a chance to find other layers and depth that you might not have noticed or fully understood as an adolescent. I don’t delve into a story and think “Hmm, that’s a nicely written book for 13-year-olds,” — I am enjoying the author’s choice of words to create a scene or set the mood.

In short, if you want to read something, don’t let a marketing tactic by a publisher (because really, that is what the label “YA” is), or the so-called “shame” of reading something targeted toward a younger demographic stop you. You might miss some amazing stories otherwise.


Noelle is an email copywriter (yes, that is a thing) and occasional freelance writer. When she’s not typing or running, she can be found eating, sleeping, quoting a movie, or curled up in an easy chair with her nose stuck in a book. Sometimes she tweets too.

826 Michigan (And the Importance Of Reading (and Writing) At A Young Age)

Ladies. Gents. Whoever it is reading this post.

You need to know about 826michigan. Er, well, 826 National is the actual organization name, but for the sake of geography and familiarity, I’ll be talking about 826michigan.

This organization is basically a dream come true for a girl who was once told by a guy she liked in middle school that she “read too much” (said boy’s appeal diminished quickly after that).

My love affair with 826 began last summer with a chance encounter and a robot. Namely, a robot that was part of an adorable display window for an adorable store — Robot Supply & Repair — on Liberty Street, just a hop skip and a jump away from Ann Arbor’s Main Street shopping area.

Robot Store

Who wouldn’t be intrigued by this display window?

Now, being a lover of all things adorable, quirky, and occasionally robot-related, I decided to take a look. The result was initially disappointing (they sell robot-related products, not actual robots), but ultimately mind-blowing. This was no ordinary store. It was a front for a non-profit devoted to tutoring children ages 6 to 18, particularly in reading and writing.

Most importantly, they publish their kids’ writings. Into actual books. And. Sell. Them.

I immediately flashed back to age eight, when my second grade teacher (whom I consider a saint to this day), told us we’d be writing our own stories, and then we’d “publish” them into little paperback books. I can barely remember what the story was about, but I’ll never forget how I felt when I saw my story as a “book” (I use quotation marks because it was really just a bunch of paper stapled together with a laminated piece of construction paper). It was sheer joy.

Returning to the not so distant past of last summer, I stood there in that robot store and knew that I had to be a part of it somehow. This past January, I finally got my act together and signed up to be a volunteer. I now spend a couple of hours every Wednesday evening working with 6-8 year-olds on simple writing exercises. It’s not much, but the idea that I could be fostering a love of reading and writing to kids who are roughly how old I was when I first realized I loved to write — that means more to me than anything else.

I encourage anyone and everyone to check this organization out. The main chapter in Michigan is based in Ann Arbor but also reaches as far as Detroit. You can also find it in a few other cities across the U.S., and even if you don’t have time to volunteer, try checking out their stores, picking up one of their story anthologies, or you know, just spreading the word about how awesome they are.

Noelle is an email copywriter (yes, that is a thing) and occasional freelance writer. When she’s not typing or running, she can be found eating, sleeping, quoting a movie, or curled up in an easy chair with her nose stuck in a book. Sometimes she tweets too.