On Sunday, I had the pleasure and privilege of volunteering at the annual LA Times Festival of Books. I am ashamed to say that I had never even been to the festival before, but I don’t think I will be missing it ever again because it was so awesome. When I arrived for my volunteer check-in, I was assigned to book signings, and since I was there early, I got to choose which area I wanted to work in. I obviously chose the Young Adult signings booth, which was luckily right next to the YA Stage. During my four hour shift, I got to listen to three different panel discussions with some of the top YA authors, including Melissa de la Cruz, Morgan Matson, and Shannon Hale.
After each discussion, the authors came over for book signings, and I was literally standing right behind them the entire time. Listening to the conversations the authors got to have with their fans was so inspiring. I teared up several times throughout the day (seriously, I don’t know how the authors kept it together) hearing these teens talk about how much books mean to them. I don’t know if I can actually put into words the effect the whole experience had on me as an aspiring YA author.
After my shift ended, I headed over to one of the lecture halls on USC’s campus for a panel discussion with four of the top YA authors: Jennifer Niven, Nicola Yoon, Angie Thomas, and Nina LaCour. I reviewed Niven’s first YA book, All the Bright Places, here on the blog, and I also absolutely loved Yoon’s The Sun is Also a Star. I have books from the other authors on my TBR list. It was incredible to hear four amazing female authors talk about everything from their writing process to their inspiration and research to the craziest thing they did as teenagers. The panel was absolutely awe-inspiring and I am so glad that I was able to attend.
I of course focused on the YA booths and event happening at the festival, but every genre of book was well-represented. There was a great kids section, along with horror, romance, mystery, basically everything you could ever want from a book festival. If you are in the LA area, I would highly recommend attending the LA Times Festival of Books if you can because it was an amazing and inspiring day!
Several months ago, an event popped up in my Facebook feed, advertising a Star Wars themed pop up bar in Hollywood called the Scum and Villainy Cantina. I immediately went online and bought tickets and then promptly forgot about it until a few weeks ago when reservations for the bar opened up. Matt and I decided to go to SVC during his spring break, so we chose a Wednesday evening at 6:00. Each ticket came with two drink tokens, a souvenir glass and a souvenir coin, along with access to the bar for two hours (which was plenty of time).
We arrived to the “secret” (not so much anymore) location about a half an hour before our reservation, and found a parking spot on Cahuenga immediately. If you have ever tried to park in Hollywood, you know how next to impossible that is. We were the second group in line, so we could have gotten there later and been fine, but I always prefer to be early. About fifteen minutes before our entrance time, we were checked in and given our two drink tokens. We were let into the bar right at 6:00.
Inside was dark and foggy (and terrible for taking pictures). There wasn’t a ton of decoration, per se, it was really more like we had actually walked into a bar in space. The music was eclectic and nerdy–I mean, they played the Flash Gordon theme song by Queen so I had no complaints about that. In general, I thought they captured the atmosphere of a space cantina pretty well. We grabbed two seats at the bar and cashed in our first tokens. Tokens were only good for specialty cocktails or beer, but they did also have a full bar. First I tried the Big Bang. All of the cocktails came with a glowstick in them.
With my second token I tried the Dark Side of the Moon. Both of the cocktails were fine. Neither was so amazing that I would order them again, but they were both tasty and seemed to have a decent amount of alcohol.
The best part about being at SVC was the people watching. A lot of people (most, really) came in costume and everyone was willing to pose for pictures, which was fun for us since we didn’t dress up. We saw some really cool outfits.
Matt totally photo bombed my Stormtrooper selfie.
About a half an hour before our time was over, the big guy came out. It was fun to see the Stormtroopers (who were guests at the bar) immediately flock to his side and flank him as he walked around the bar.
Matt and I had a really fun time hanging out at the Scum and Villainy Cantina. We didn’t try any of the food since it all seemed pretty generic (we hit up In N Out on the way home, which is really the only way to do it), but we enjoyed the drinks. The prices for the other drinks at the bar seemed pretty on par with most of Hollywood, and while tickets for the bar were a little steep (I think we paid $50 per ticket), I found the whole experience to be worth what we paid.
As far as I know, there are no more reservations available for SVC, but they do have some walk up spots available. I would check their website and/or social media channels for the latest updates on accommodating walk ups. If you are a Star Wars fan in the So Cal area, I would 100% recommend checking out the experience. It was definitely a fun and nerdtastic experience!
Since so much of my life has been consumed with books these days–reading, writing, reviewing, Instagramming–it’s only fitting that I become obsessed with bookmarks. When I was younger and had a significantly better memory, I never used bookmarks because I could just remember what chapter or page I left off on (seriously, how was that a thing I could do?). But now I am old. And I have one or two billion other things on my mind. And I refuse to fold down the pages of my books. So bookmarks it is! I’ve started quite a collection, and while some of my favorites are the free ones from bookstores, I have also been buying some cute ones on Etsy. Which of course, led me to the idea to make some for myself. And I found out how easy it is to make some super cute bookmarks with just a few supplies. I love how they turned out and I can’t wait to make more!
First, I printed out some designs on white cardstock. When I do this project again, I will use paper that is thicker than standard cardstock so the bookmarks have a little more weight. These were super easy to design in Word, I just made a text box the size I wanted and then typed in some fun book-themed phrases. I suck at cutting a straight line so I used my paper cutter, but you could just cut out the rectangles with scissors if you are cool like that.
I let the printer ink dry for a little while to make sure it didn’t smear. In the meantime I set up my watercolors. I used a simple Crayola set that had all the colors I wanted. I had some extra brushes ready but I really only used the one that came with the set. I also had some mini cups of water ready and paper towels on hand for clean up and brush wiping.
I waited about an hour after printing the bookmarks from my computer before I started the painting, which was plenty of time. I chose to do a couple of different color combos and kept two of the bookmarks one color. I have to say that the rainbow one is probably my favorite.
I let the bookmarks dry overnight and then I took a black Sharpie and went over some of the lettering that had faded from the paint. I also put them under some hardback books for a few hours so they flattened out a little since the paint made the edges curl up a bit. This is the final product…
I love how these came out and I will definitely be making some more in the future. What book quotes or phrases do you like? Give me some idea so I have some for my next round! And make sure you follow my bookstagram account, @coffeebookswinerepeat!
So the 2017 Food and Wine Festival is quickly coming to an end (sob!) and I am so sad to see it go! I have tried lots of yummy food and drinks at the festival this year, and I kind of wish we had access to all this yumminess all year long. But alas, these goodies will be leaving us shortly (April 16th) and then it will be time to countdown until next year’s festival. I made a lot of progress on my food and drink checklist in the past two weeks so of course I have to share all the goodness with all of you. If you missed part one of the highlight reel, you might want to check that out first. Get ready to get hungry!
Okay, so this is the real highlight for me: the French Onion Mac and Cheese from the Onion Lair. OMG. Probably one of the best mac and cheese dishes I have ever tasted. So flavorful and cheesy and amazing. Also from the Onion Lair is the Chocolate and Raspberry Feuillete Tart. It was a tasty pastry, but it wasn’t anything super fantastic. It kind of tasted like a fancy Pop Tart.
On my one trip to the festival sans Squirt, I took full advantage of being childless for the day and imbibed in all the wine. On the left is the Mimosa Flight from Uncork CA. I liked all of the different flavors, but my favorite was the apricot. It was a surprising choice, but it was yummy. I wish they had included a berry flavored mimosa to balance out the flavors, but the ones they included were all good. On the right is the Sangria Flight, and again, they were all tasty. I loved the peach, but the white sangria was also super good.
These are two items that were on the menu last year, and were definitely highlights of the festival. The Maple Bacon Whoopie Pie was just as delicious this year as it was last year, and I’m glad I got it again. The Smoked Bacon Mac and Cheese was good, but it wasn’t as good as the French Onion Mac. It needed salt and maybe some variation in the cheese flavors in order to make it awesome.
I didn’t actually eat this Garlic Rosemary Ice Cream, but my Disney bestie Brianna did. I did sample a bite, and it was not my thing, but Brianna really liked it. I want my ice cream to be sweet, not savory, so this is not an item I would order on my own. Glad I tried it though, because it was definitely interesting!
At the Paradise Garden Grill, we ordered the Pretzel with Beer Mustard and the Beer Braised Pork Tacos. The pretzel tasted like a pretty average pretzel, and while I liked the mustard, I prefer my pretzels with cheese. If it had come with beer cheese, it would have been bomb!
The tacos were amazing. The pork was really tender and the apple slaw on top was the perfect complement. I had been craving good tacos for a couple days when I had these and they really hit the spot.
I have a couple more items on my list that I really want to try before the festival is over, but if I don’t get the chance, I am overall really pleased with everything I sampled this year. There wasn’t anything I ate or drank that I just straight up didn’t like. There were definitely some items I loved more than others (woot woot mac and cheese), but everything was good and I would eat most of the items again if I could.
Have you been to the Food and Wine Festival this year? What was your favorite food or drink item?
So last week I published my very first book. It honestly feels weird to even write that sentence. But I did it, I can check an item off my bucket list. Something I wrote is out there in the world (and not just on a blog). And I wasn’t going to tell y’all about it for numerous reasons that I am going to bore you with in this post. You know, before I tell you to go buy my book and leave me five star reviews. But first, some history…
I wrote my first “novel” when I was eleven. It was handwritten in one of those 350 page multi-subject spiral notebooks. It was a junior high love story with a heroine who bore an extremely close resemblance to me and a love interest who may or may not have been solely based off of Jonathan Taylor Thomas. I think it goes without saying that it was not good. But I mean, I filled a 350 page notebook at the age of eleven, so there’s that.
I wrote on and off throughout my junior high and high school years. In high school I wrote for the school newspaper, and my favorite English teacher was my creative writing teacher, Mr. O’Brien. He kind of ruined me for creative writing teachers in the future because he understood my point of view and my voice without me having to explain it. See, even though my writing style has (hopefully) matured over the years, my subject matter really hasn’t. I still love to write about love. My ebook can only be described as contemporary women’s fiction. And while the genre is quite popular and can be extremely lucrative, it is one that (in my opinion) is looked down upon by those who consider themselves to be “serious” writers.
In college, I was an English major. In my junior year, I had to pick a specialty. I knew at that point I was likely going to end up teaching, but I chose to major in Creative Writing instead of English for Educators. The main thing you do in creative writing classes is workshop your writing. So you bring in twenty copies of your short story, the whole class reads and critiques it, then you revise it and turn it in for notes from the professor. My work was consistently disregarded (on the nice end of the spectrum) and ridiculed as brainless fluff (on the harsh end). It wasn’t until my senior seminar (aka the last class I had to take as a creative writing major) that I had a professor get it. This is what he wrote on my main story I submitted to him: “This is great for what it is.” Did I write some ground-breaking, award-winning, super deep and intellectual, thought-provoking piece? Nope. I wrote something fun and light, think classic summer beach read. And for the first time in college, someone was able to see it for what it was, and not think about it in light of everything it was not. The fact that it took that long for someone to get it, and the fact that I had ONE professor in four (okay, six) years of college willing to see my writing for what it was, put a huge damper on my desire to write. For most of my “career” as a writer, I felt like I was not good enough, maybe even not a real writer, because I was writing commercial stories instead of artistic stories (and yes, there are those writers out there that are commercial and artistic. I’m not one of them. At least not yet.).
A couple of months ago, I started writing again. Probably because I felt a resurgence in my desire to create after separating myself from the brain suck that was my job last year. I set out to finish a novel. Not because I plan to make money, not because I plan to make this a career. More to prove to myself that I could do it. I mean, I’ve had the dream since I was eleven. And I read a lot of contemporary women’s fiction, and while a lot of it is great, some of it I read and think I could do better. So I figured why not throw my hat in the ring. And let me just be clear here, I love this genre, I love the story I wrote, and I had FUN writing this book. And if no one reads it, or if everyone who reads it hates it, I’m okay with that. Because I did it. And I’m proud of myself for that.
So why would I not share it with all of you fine folks? Well, about halfway through writing this novel (titled Casting Call, btw) I came up with an idea for a young adult series. And once I fleshed out the idea, I realized that I NEED to write this series. It is a concept that I completely love, and it is a story that I have to tell. And it is the type of series that could potentially land me an agent and possibly even a real publisher (making me a “serious” writer). But I also couldn’t just set aside Casting Call and jump into a new project. Part of the reason I wanted to write Casting Call in the first place was to show myself I could finish it. So it needed to be finished. For a while I started writing the series while still working on Casting Call, but then I decided to put the series on hold and finish what I started.
I finished the writing of Casting Call a couple of weeks ago, and spent the following weeks editing and formatting. I didn’t hire an editor because this was not a project I intended to invest money in (#selfemployed). Luckily, I have done a lot of editing and proofreading in my time so I felt comfortable doing it on my own (and yeah, I’m sure there are typos and mistakes, please feel free to point them out ;o)). And while I do plan on looking for an agent to represent my YA series, for Casting Call, and any subsequent novels I write in this genre, I decided to self publish only as an ebook on Amazon. While I wouldn’t call the process easy by any means (formatting is a bitch), it was way easier than going the “traditional” route. And it allowed me to publish a book I love on my own terms.
Work on my series is going to continue soon (I sent out a rough rough rough rough draft to some of my amazing librarian friends (shout out to Becky and Kristen!) for some notes). It is so different from anything I have ever written before that I am finding it is taking a lot more time and effort than what I am used to when writing. But it is also an extremely gratifying piece to work on and I hope that I can do the concept justice.
I think this is the point where I introduce you to Casting Call, and ask you to throw a few dollars my way ;o) Casting Call is a fun and light-hearted novel about a young actress named Emily who is making her professional theater debut. Things get dicey when she finds herself falling for her leading man–a guy who is off limits for multiple reasons. She has to decide what’s more important, her career or love. I loved being able to travel back to my theater roots as I wrote this novel, and I really ended up falling in love with both of my main characters. I would love to turn this novel into a series as well, assuming I can find the time to balance it with my YA series.
If you have made it this far, thank you for reading this totally rambly and personal post. I really debated whether or not I should even share this on the blog (because anything on my blog automatically gets thrown out into the social media world), but this experience of writing and publishing has meant a lot to me, and it wouldn’t have felt right to not share it at all (God forbid we have any emotions these days that don’t get shared!). If you are a fan of contemporary women’s fiction, or you want something fun and light to read, please check out Casting Call. And if you love it, please leave me a review. If you don’t love it, you can leave a review too, but just be nice about it :oP And if this is totally not your kind of read, please don’t feel like you have to read it! Reading books that aren’t your thing is rarely fun, and reading should always be fun.
Also, you might have noticed that I used a pen name for this novel. Since I am planning on writing another series in a totally different genre, I wanted to separate the two. So this book has my pen name for romance, Michele Matthews (which if you know me, you can figure out where that comes from), and my other series will have my real name (assuming it makes it to publication of course!).
I would love to hear your thoughts on writing, whether they are about my experiences or your own. I would also love to build a writing tribe sometime soon, so please reach out if that is something you might be interested in! Thanks friends, for reading this and for allowing me to always express whatever it is that is on my mind. You’re the best!
So because I spent much of March in bed feeling like poo, I knocked out SEVEN books last month. Hells to the yes. And I actually read a lot of fun stuff that I would love to share with you!
Empire of Dust by Eleanor Herman: I read the first book in this series in February and enjoyed it, so I went ahead and picked up the second book. I am enjoying the series, and will continue to read it, but they are not anything earth-shattering. The books follow a young Alexander the Great, along with a cast of interesting supporting characters. If you are into mythology at all, you will enjoy the series. The bad news is that the third book isn’t out yet and I could see myself losing interest in the series by the time it is released. But I also hate leaving a series unresolved, so we’ll see how I feel when it comes out.
The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarity: Moriarity is quickly becoming one of my favorite writers. I read Big Little Lies (also watched and loved the show on HBO) in two days and did the same with The Husband’s Secret. I found this book to be just as intriguing as Big Little Lies. I love the combination of interesting female characters and mysterious story lines that constantly keep me guessing. I have another of her books on my TBR for this month and I have high expectations.
There’s Always More to Say by Lynda Young Spiro: I was sent a free copy of this book in exchange for my review. This was an interesting (and really fast) read. I finished the book in one sitting and was honestly left a little perplexed at the end because I couldn’t really figure out if I liked the book or not. It is written in a very poetic style, with lots of fragments and tons of repetition. Normally that’s not my thing, but I liked it in this book. What was hard for me is that there is very little plot in this story, not much happens. And the characters are hard to connect with because they are both kept gender neutral, and we don’t ever even learn their names. So this book was missing the normal elements that would attract me to a piece of literature, but it was written in such an interesting style that I was able to kind of be okay with it.
Gray Places by Julia Byrd: This is another book I was sent in exchange for my review. If you are a fan of the classics, think Austen and the Brontes, then you will really like this book. The main character is a young woman who is on a mission to finish her father’s book after his death, which is a big deal in the 18th century. Her research takes her to a strange new town, and an even stranger man. The two of course end up falling in love during her stay. There is not a ton of plot action in the book and there is a lot of description of architecture (the subject of the character’s book) that I could have done without. I also felt the characters were a bit underdeveloped and kind of boring. I am not a fan of the classics so this was not my favorite in terms of interesting reads, but if you are into that style of prose, then you will probably like Gray Places.
Caraval by Stephanie Garber: I LOVED this book! Caraval was in the February Owl Crate (which was an awesome box all around) and I knew I was going to love it from the first chapter. The concept is very similar to Night Circus, but it is a YA take on it, and the journey the main characters go through is totally unique. While I loved the story and the characters, my favorite part was the descriptions Garber uses. She uses colors as descriptions, and her writing is absolutely brilliant. I can’t wait to see more from her, and I can’t wait to see the inevitable movie version of Caraval.
Carve the Mark by Veronica Roth: Ugh. So many mixed feelings on this one. First, I must come right out and say how much I HATED Allegiant. I thought it was one of the worst novels in YA I have ever read, and it was such a disappointment considering how much I liked Divergent. I was not the only one who felt that way about Allegiant, it was ripped apart by pretty much anyone who read it and likes books. So I am kind of baffled by the release of Carve the Mark, because while it has some strengths, it also has a lot of problems. And after the travesty that was Allegiant, I would think Roth wouldn’t have put something new out that wasn’t perfect. The strength of Carve the Mark lies in its two main characters, who are well-developed, interesting, likeable, and relateable. I connected with both of them and they were definitely the highlight of the book. The problems lie in the relentless unnecessary descriptions of details that have nothing to do with the main point of the book. And the random and unneeded details make it hard to pick up and focus on the details that do matter, so lots of times I was confused. I also don’t know why this is set up to have a sequel. She could have very well cut the fat and made this one really good book. I am still undecided as to whether or not I will pick up the second book, which doesn’t speak too highly of this one. We’ll see. But honestly, I kind of feel like Roth has had multiple chances and blew them all. So I might be done with her.
A Thousand Pieces of You by Claudia Gray: Not going to lie, definitely bought this book because the cover is so cool looking. I don’t even think I read the summary before I bought it, so when I saw that it was about multi-dimensional travel, I was kind of bummed. Not my thing. But I ended up really enjoying this book, way more than I would have thought. I am always impressed when an author can present me with a love triangle that doesn’t have a clear winner. Like if I want the main gal to end up with her different guys equally, that is a skill that not many writers have. I found myself rooting for both of Marguerite’s love interests at different points in the book. I liked this one so much I have already finished the sequel (which you can read about in my April reading recap) and ordered the final book. Even if you aren’t particularly into sci-fi, this series is worth giving a shot.
Overall, March was a great month of reading. I have some really good books on my TBR for this month that I am already excited to share with you. If you pick up any of my March reads, make sure you let me know what you think!
It’s time for a look at the most recent Owl Crate subscription box, and once again, I am running late! I am entering my crazy busy time of wedding season and between that and (still) recovering from being so sick, well, blogging is taking a backseat. Oh and we also started potty training this week. #funtimes But despite all that, I gotta share the Owl Crate love, even if it is late love, so let’s take a peek at the contents of the March box, Sailors, Ships, and Seas.
The novel included in this month’s box was Daughter of the Pirate King by Tricia Levenseller. I haven’t started it yet because my TBR is out of control this month, but it looks really interesting. Pirates of the Caribbean was always one of my favorite rides as a kid so I have a special place in my heart for pirate lore. I’m hoping to read the book next month if I have enough time.
I am in love with this mermaid washi tape from Simply Gilded. Washi tape is one of my favorite office/craft supplies and this pattern reminds me of Ariel, so I was automatically a fan. I am also a notepad hoarder (as you probably know by now if you’ve read any of my other box reviews) so this octopus notepad from Boygirlparty will definitely be put to good use. This ship themed tea towel from Kitch Studios was my least fave of this month, mostly because it doesn’t fit in with my decor at home so it probably won’t get used, though I do love the quote.
This necklace from The Geeky Cauldron was my favorite piece this month. I love that is has two different sides (see the featured image at the top of the post for the flip side), but this side is definitely the one I love the most. This is a piece I will definitely be rocking in the future.
I am really excited for next month’s (actually this month’s) box because the theme is Head Over Heels. I am expecting some cute stuff and a fun read! If you are interested in trying Owl Crate for yourself (and you definitely should!) please use this link right here and help me out!