Pick Me Up Monday: The Starless Sea


Zachary Ezra Rawlins is a graduate student in Vermont when he discovers a mysterious book hidden in the stacks. As he turns the pages, entranced by tales of lovelorn prisoners, key collectors, and nameless acolytes, he reads something strange: a story from his own childhood.

Bewildered by this inexplicable book and desperate to make sense of how his own life came to be recorded, Zachary uncovers a series of clues—a bee, a key, and a sword—that lead him to a masquerade party in New York, to a secret club, and through a doorway to an ancient library hidden far below the surface of the earth.

What Zachary finds in this curious place is more than just a buried home for books and their guardians—it is a place of lost cities and seas, lovers who pass notes under doors and across time, and of stories whispered by the dead. Zachary learns of those who have sacrificed much to protect this realm, relinquishing their sight and their tongues to preserve this archive, and also of those who are intent on its destruction.

Together with Mirabel, a fierce, pink-haired protector of the place, and Dorian, a handsome, barefoot man with shifting alliances, Zachary travels the twisting tunnels, darkened stairwells, crowded ballrooms, and sweetly soaked shores of this magical world, discovering his purpose—in both the mysterious book and in his own life.


This book.


I was thoroughly enthralled with Morgenstern’s The Night Circus, swept away on a dizzying, swirling, spinning display of carnival magic. How do you follow that? How do you conjure that kaleidoscope of glorious enchantment for Project #2?

Ever since then, I’ve been waiting. Patiently and not-so-patiently in equal measure. Masterpieces cannot be rushed. But at long last!!!! It’s time to be swept away on Morgenstern’s tidal wave of illusions once more, bewitched by her prose and the images she weaves together like brightly colored ribbons.

What whimsical read are you looking forward to for the dreary winter months? Let me know in the comments!

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Librarian’s Bookshelf: Gunslinger Girl

The wide open plains of the desert and a girl with her guns. Gunslinger Girl is a wild romp of an adventure with plenty of western swagger and girls you don’t want to mess with.


Serendipity is on the run. Her father is an angry, violent man and the world affords no mercy either, especially for a female. In a futuristic, apocalyptic West, her hometown is a harsh and unforgiving place. Every capable body is needed to bear children and keep the community running, leaving Serendipity with a target on her back.

So, she makes a break for it, to the den of iniquity known as Cessation. She’s been warned about it all her life, what a hellish place it is. A “good girl” would never set foot there. And that makes it the perfect place for Serendipity to disappear, to cover her tracks in case her father comes after her and decides to drag her back home, wedding her to the first man who glances her way.

When Serendipity reaches Cessation, it’s a bittersweet revelation – she has more freedom and more opportunities, especially with the pretty pair of guns at her hips, but there are some ugly happenings behind the curtain. Maybe her father was right all along. Has she simply traded one hellscape for another?

What I liked about this book:

Girls don’t mess around

A decent portion of the cast is female and none of them pull their punches.

Serendipity is proficient with the six-shooters her mother gave her.

The Big Boss of Cessation, Miss Selene, is notorious for her merciless, no nonsense business manner. She rules Cessation with an iron grip and anyone who wrongs her faces the firing squad. Literally.

These are women who grit their teeth and draw blood. They don’t hesitate to kick, bite, shoot, or kill. Whatever it takes to be the one left standing.

Action, Action, Action

From the first page, the pace stays fairly upbeat and keeps you on the edge of your seat. The shows Serendipity took part in could get a tad long-winded. Otherwise, there were twists and turns that left you wondering who was biding their time to stab you in the back and who was the good guy – if they even exist in this dog-eat-dog world.

Rated: PG-13 for violence and discussions of sex

Are you a fan of westerns? Are you a traditional western fan? Or are you willing to dabble in the spin off genres, i.e. sci-fi? Let me know in the comments!

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Pick Me Up Monday: Winterwood


Be careful of the dark, dark wood . . .

Especially the woods surrounding the town of Fir Haven. Some say these woods are magical. Haunted, even.

Rumored to be a witch, only Nora Walker knows the truth. She and the Walker women before her have always shared a special connection with the woods. And it’s this special connection that leads Nora to Oliver Huntsman—the same boy who disappeared from the Camp for Wayward Boys weeks ago—and in the middle of the worst snowstorm in years. He should be dead, but here he is alive, and left in the woods with no memory of the time he’d been missing.

But Nora can feel an uneasy shift in the woods at Oliver’s presence. And it’s not too long after that Nora realizes she has no choice but to unearth the truth behind how the boy she has come to care so deeply about survived his time in the forest, and what led him there in the first place. What Nora doesn’t know, though, is that Oliver has secrets of his own—secrets he’ll do anything to keep buried, because as it turns out, he wasn’t the only one to have gone missing on that fateful night all those weeks ago.


Halloween might be over but there will always be room on the shelf for another witchy read! What atmospheric, spine-tingling books have you read this year? Let me know in the comments!

Note: this post contains Amazon Affiliate links

National Novel Writing Month

Also known as NaNoWriMo, this is a month in November when authors of all shapes and sizes go haywire.

“Why are you sleep deprived?” you ask.

Oh, you sweet summer child. How naive you are. How innocent.

Your author friend gives you a wild-eyed, harried look and blurts out a number.

“…I’m sorry?” you reply, bewildered. “I don’t understand.”

“Thirty days. Fifty thousand words. No time for sleep. Haven’t bathed since October. My blood is vibrating. I can hear voices.”

If you’re smart, take a step back. Leave an offering of caffeine and snacks. Then run for your life.

National Novel Writing Month is pure insanity at its finest. During the month of November, authors attempt to reach 50,000 words – the average word count of a novel. Why do this, you ask? Because it’s a major procrastination buster for some authors. The looming deadline combined with a fear of failure can motivate even the laziest of writers (*raises hand* that’s me).

For some authors, the tight deadline can paralyze them. For still other authors, they need a looser schedule to write, edit, rewrite, and not focus on the word count, which is okay. But you never know until you try.

NaNoWriMo F.A.Q.

Do I HAVE to write 50k?

Nope. You can dive into the chaos with your own personal word goal. One author I know set a goal of 1 million words (AND SHE MADE IT). Other authors shoot for 25k. Or just editing another project.

If you want a winner sticker on your NaNoWriMo profile though, you’ll have to pass that 50k finish line.

Do I need to start with a brand new project?

The website suggests a clean slate is a good idea. It allows for maximum flailing and messy writing so you don’t stress about all the nonsense you’re spewing into your manuscript at 2am, cramming leftover Halloween candy into your mouth, bleary-eyed and mush-brained.


Some authors work on their second draft. Other authors work on a compilation of projects.

The RULES of NaNoWriMo aren’t the key. It’s the productivity, feeding off of other writers to motivate and inspire you to put your butt in that chair and write.

What does it cost to do this?

Nada. Zippo. Zilch. Entirely, 100% free. All you gotta do is cough up your sanity and a whole lot of sleep.

Can anyone actually SEE my project?

Not unless you want them to. When you upload your novel via cut-n-paste, it’s only for word count purposes. Your novel doesn’t get submitted anywhere.

Why can’t I just cheat?

You sure can. The system relies on honesty. There are plenty of opportunities to cheat and say you finished 50k in like…an hour. But the only person who gets cheated is yourself.

And I’m not just saying that full of threat and bluster. It’s true. The point of NaNoWriMo is to work on your novel. Yes, you’re joining other authors in the writing process, but ultimately, it’s just you and your novel when NaNoWriMo is over.

If you cheat, eventually you will have to explain to your novel why you didn’t write it when you had the chance. And if your novel is anything like my projects, they can give a pretty mean stink-eye. Lots of guilt. If looks could kill, I’d be murdered by a book that isn’t even finished yet.

What do I get when I win?

  • Major bragging rights, like holy cow, you just wrote 50,000 words in 30 days!
  • Treat yourself in the swag shop. Smother yourself in NaNoWriMo merch, proudly proclaiming to the world that you are nuts.
  • Several sponsors have provided generous discounts on writing-related products for not only winners but also participants, i.e. 50% of Scrivener for winners, 20% off for participants.
  • Also, you finished that novel you keep procrastinating on for months…years…like, a really, really long time.

Extra stuff

NaNoWriMo also has a special Young Writers’ Program for those budding authors still in school, looking to learn the art of writing a novel.

Before NaNoWriMo begins, they provide free Prep 101 to arm yourself for battle.

Above all else, my favorite part of NaNoWriMo is the Pep Talks. These are short, inspirational messages from some of the top authors in the business. Some of them are even NaNo participants themselves! A few names you might recognize are:

  • Holly Black
  • Brandon Sanderson
  • Jenny Han
  • Lemony Snickett
  • Malinda Lo
  • Marie Lu

Many of these pep talks are archived and free for your reading pleasure, without a NaNo account here. But you will get even more pep talks straight to your inbox if you sign up.

Have you jumped into the NaNoWriMo fray before? What was your experience like? Did you enjoy it or hate it? Tell me all about it in the comments!

PSST! Want a NaNo buddy? Send me a request @runningfree

Librarian’s Bookshelf: Hocus Pocus and The All New Sequel

Witches, spell books, and black magic, oh my! Hocus Pocus and The All New Sequel by A. W. Jantha is a wild broomstick ride from start to finish.

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Shortly after moving from California to Salem, Massachusetts, Max Dennison finds himself in hot water when he accidentally releases a coven of witches, the Sanderson sisters, from the afterlife. Max, his sister, and his new friends (human and otherwise) must find a way to stop the witches from carrying out their evil plan and remaining on earth to torment Salem for all eternity.

Twenty-five years later, Max and Allison’s seventeen-year-old daughter, Poppy, finds herself face-to-face with the Sanderson sisters in all their sinister glory. When Halloween celebrations don’t quite go as planned, it’s a race against time as Poppy and her friends fight to save her family and all of Salem from the witches’ latest death-defying scheme.


As movie novelizations go, Hocus Pocus is pretty standard fare. What I’m looking for in a novelization is a glimpse into the characters’ brains that I wouldn’t otherwise have in the movie. It adds an extra dimension to what I’ve seen and pulls me a little deeper into the world that I enjoyed enough, I wanted to re-visit in book form.

Hocus Pocus details the adventures of five kids – three modern, two from the past – as they face the infamous Sanderson sisters. These three witches are eager for a bite of child stew and there are plenty pint-sized humans to choose from, running around on Halloween night. But that child chili isn’t just to appease the witches’ hunger. Munch on enough children and the Sandersons would be young and beautiful forever!

The witches’ plans are foiled.

Or so it seems.

In book two, we enter the present day. The Sandersons haven’t been seen in decades. The same kids who defeated the witches before – Max, Dani, and Allison – are grown up, with kids of their own.

And they do NOT speak of witches, especially witches with the name Sanderson.

As you can imagine, their kids are the first to encounter the reincarnation of the Sandersons when they arise on Halloween in Salem, Massachusetts.

I have mixed feelings on the sequel. Maybe it was the first person, present tense style. I have trouble reading that perspective comfortably. Maybe it was the roundabout way that the story went on and on.

There were callbacks to the original Hocus Pocus though which were entertaining to spot, i.e. the witches struggling to adjust to technology. But it certainly had a different flavor than the original. Perhaps it needed a dash more eye of newt to the child stew.

What I liked about this book:

Cozy Halloween goodness

Halloween around every corner! Candy and costumes, parties and superstitions, graveyards and ghosts. Hocus Pocus and its sequel provide a heady rush of sweet Halloween traditions to binge on.

Witches, witches and more witches

Both books are chock full of witches. Not just the Sanderson sisters either. In the sequel, we meet the rest of the Sanderson family, both the Pure of Heart witches and the Extra Wicked witches. Winifred Sanderson meets her match when her mother breaks through the veil and confronts her. If you’re craving witches this Halloween season, you can’t go wrong with this book.

Do you have any cult classic Halloween reads or movies you enjoy? Let me know in the comments!