A Monday Breakfast: October 16, 2017

Good morning!

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Here is my book: The Wangs vs. the World by Jade Chang

Here is my breakfast: Maple bacon biscuit (c/o Huckleberry cookbook) and coffee

It’s been an awfully long time since I’ve done one of these, and today I’m coming forward with a special Monday edition.

I’ve had an ARC of The Wangs vs. the World for a while now, but hadn’t cracked it. After getting sucked into Crazy Rich Asians, though, I decided I needed more in the same vein. The cover of the ARC and hardcover (the paperback cover is different) long perplexed me; I couldn’t figure out what it was supposed to represent, and I always believe that a cover should give you some indication of the story. I was about 20 pages in when the realization hit me–the Wangs made (and lost) their money manufacturing cosmetics; the dots on the cover represent lipstick swatches. I only wish I had known that from the outset! I would have thought it was terribly clever.

Now that fall submissions season is slowing down, I hope to get back to my regularly scheduled programming (reading recreationally) and posting here. In the meantime, you can follow some of my reads on Instagram. 

An (Overdue) BookExpo TBR

BookExpo happened two months ago, but it’s still fresh in my mind thanks to my recent reading choices. For those who don’t follow New York publishing as closely as some people track, say, baseball stats or college football rankings, BookExpo has become the industry’s de facto trade show. It highlights fall books, the publication season for many publishing heavyweights–particularly in literary fiction–and buzzworthy debuts.

BookExpo (and I struggle here not to use its old abbreviation, BEA) has become something of a phenomenon, particularly since the addition of BookCon, a consumer-facing weekend for fans. Bloggers, media professionals, and publishing professionals now compete alongside librarians, booksellers, and distributors for advance editions of coveted fall titles. It’s become, well, something of a circus.

Last year, BookExpo occurred in Chicago, and I missed the opportunity to go. But I made it to Javits the previous two years to attend for a few limited hours. This year I had my own badge, and so I decided to take advantage of it.

BookExpo is best experienced with a plan. If your goal is to accumulate books, you need to find out when signings and giveaways will occur, some of which can be found online in the days leading up to the show (I had located some dates/times for giveaways from sources like Publishers Weekly, then found a helpful Google doc a couple days before the show). I mapped out a game plan the night before the show started. I printed out a list of giveaways and signings, highlighted the ones I was interested in, found dates and times, and arranged them all in a color-coded Google doc. Since many happened at the same times, I bolded my priority titles.

This year, I decided, I would only get books I really wanted to read. It didn’t exactly work out that way, but I managed to snag copies of almost every ARC I set out to get.

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A peek at some of my ARCs on Instagram @breakfastatkaits

Here’s what I’m looking forward to reading (asterisks denote that I’ve already read):

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng*

I loved Everything I Never Told You, so I had high hopes for this one. It did not disappoint. Celeste Ng is a master of complicated mother/daughter dynamics. (Side note: my signed copy was swiped from our editor-in-chiefs desk, and I am devastated.)

Forest Dark by Nicole Krauss*

If anyone else has read this yet, I’m eager to discuss!

Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan*

Fine, I didn’t actually acquire this one at BookExpo, but I’m obsessed. I don’t think anyone else can construct a narrative like Jennifer Egan, and my investment in some of these characters caught me off guard. I admire the risks she takes with every book–especially her fearlessness in taking on something new, like historical fiction.

Sourdough by Robin Sloan*

This has all the hallmarks of his debut novel Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore: quirky characters, futuristic technology, cult-like groups of those with narrow interest. Set again in the tech scene of San Francisco, Sourdough was a delightful read that had me constantly Googling the latest in food tech. Also, it’s inspired me to find a San Francisco-worthy sourdough loaf in New York.

The Misfortune of Marion Palm by Emily Culliton*

I just finished this today, so still processing my thoughts about it, but this is a perfect read for people who loved Where’d You Go, Bernadette.

The Last Mrs. Parrish by Liv Constantine

Code Girls by Liza Mundy

The Girls in the Picture by Melanie Benjamin

The Twelve-Mile Straight by Eleanor Henderson

Buzz Books:

The Buzz Panel, which usually occurs Wednesday afternoon for adult fiction, has become something of a tastemaker. Every year, six books–usually a mix of fiction and non-fiction, although all fiction this year–are selected as buzzworthy titles. They are presented by their editors. The only requirement is that the author not be well-known, which means that many are debuts. They often include some of the year’s biggest breakouts (Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven or Ruth Ware’s In a Dark, Dark Wood, for instance). At the end of the Buzz Panel presentation, attendees can grab advance copies (if you can fight your way through the sea of people). I managed to get all six books this year.

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Buzz Panel books on Instagram @breakfastatkaits

Unravelling Oliver by Liz Nugent

Stay With Me by Ayobami Adebayo

The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent

The World of Tomorrow by Brendan Matthews

The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn

If you want to read/are reading/have read any of these, please let me know!

On Keeping a Quote Book

Maybe it’s just my milieu, but just about everyone I know has read Joan Didion’s iconic essay “On Keeping a Notebook.” I keep many notebooks, which means they all have a different purpose, all spend much of their lives half-filled, and all fight for space in my (very heavy) purse or my (very crowded) shelves.

But of all of these, my quote book is my favorite.

It started as a Word document on my computer nearly a decade ago, a collection of lines I loved from the books I read for English class. The first entry came from The Sorrows of Young Werther. Later, full passages from Sense and Sensibility, The Virgin Suicides, and The History of Love. Movie quotes began to sneak their way onto the (figurative) page. I tucked these phrases away like a squirrel with an acorn, storing them for when I needed them most.

But as I added and reviewed and reread my Word document over and over again, it began to feel like I hadn’t taken all the care these words deserved. And so I started a quote book, painstakingly copying the lines I had collected over the years into a somewhat standard notebook I owned. I used colored pens, a different color for each source, my cursive loopy.

I am both careful and impulsive with my entries. I have added lines from movies, musicals, articles, even Tumblr I cannot get out of my head. I have included every phrase I’ve highlighted from a particular book read on my Kindle, even if I can’t remember why I called it out in the first place. There are months where I make a dozen entries; there are many months where I make none.

But I always feel better after copying those words down. Some of the quotes have begun to feel like old friends.

Sometimes, my quote book feels like an extension of my diary, an odd charting of my moods and ages, my successes and disappointments. Reading over some of my favorite passages take me right back to where I first read them; I recall my emotional response to them as much as the words themselves.

There’s a line from Almost Famous (which, conveniently I copied into my quote book):

“I always tell the girls never take it seriously, if you never take it seriously you never get hurt, if you never get hurt you always have fun, and if you ever get lonely just go to the record store and visit your friends.”

I feel that way about my quote book.

Reading is, in my ways, a radical act of empathy. For a successful reading experience, you have to step outside your self and connect with someone else. Writing, too, requires the same effort. You never know what could resonate.

On a Kindle, you can see the phrases people highlight most often, which is sometimes fascinating and sometimes annoying. In either case, the underlining draws your attention. In a few cases, I wonder why anyone would mark that portion. Other times, I’m grateful other readers have pointed out a beautiful line I might have otherwise missed. It feels like cheating, like I am just going along with public opinion.

Mostly, though, I love that my quote book feels sometimes like a scrapbook of my life, all these past version of me accumulating into a whole. The lines I loved 10 years ago aren’t necessarily the lines I love now. I can see myself change, see myself grow, within these pages. I make sense of the world in words, and sometimes the only way I can work through a problem is by repeating the words of someone else. These lines are like a magnifying mirror, something that reflects your image in a way you might not have seen it before.

There’s something beautiful about having a physical manifestation of the things you loved, the people you were, the ideas to bolster you as you move on to other things. I have lines I can recite from memory and lines I can’t remember copying. Every so often, I’ll reread a book and find new phrases that knock me out. So I’ll grab my pen and write them down in the same color as the original.

I’m a big believer in everyone having a quote book. Not just because I am a person who loves to remember, not just because I have an odd fascination with the subject of permanence, but because I believe that words provide comfort, and I like to see how that translates and transforms as the years go by. I may not be sixteen any more, but I can flip to the front of my quote book and remember exactly what that feels like.

Top 10 Favorite Moments from Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

 

I’ve written already about my love of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. Now that we’re in between seasons, I need to both occupy my time and get my fix, so I’ve made a list of my Top 10 moments of the show so far. In truth, making a “Top 10 Favorite Songs from Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” would have been a tall order, so this was damn near impossible. The writing/music/choreography/etc. on this show is just so sharp. I’m sure next month I’d be able to update this with an entirely new set of scenes/images/lines.

Without further ado:

10. Paula and the ice cube tray. Girl, we’ve all been there.

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9. Darryl: I like women – I like sleeping with women! I like the way they smell, I like the way that they – the feel of their skin, I like their… bird-like voices. I mean, does that sound gay?
White Josh: Nope. Sounds like a serial killer, but a straight one for sure.

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I’m guaranteed to like pretty much any scene White Josh appears in. He’s the voice of reason of this show.

8. These costumes.

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So I’m not the biggest Jebecca (Joshbecca?) fan, but I really dig these groovy outfits.

7. #humbleandblessed

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We’ve reached the hashtag portion of this list. This comes from “I’m a Good Person,” and I repeat it in conversation often. Honestly, why isn’t this used all the time?

6. #gurlgroup4evah

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Look, I always love Rebecca and Paula, but one of the great joys this season was seeing Rebecca explore other friendships with some unlikely allies. Heather has been one of my favorite characters since Season 1. She started out as Rebecca’s unenthused neighbor; it took a while for her to find her place in the show’s universe, but she–like White Josh–is one of the show’s best secondary characters. I can’t wait to see where this girl group goes in Season 3.

5. “You’re pretty, and you’re smart, and you’re ignoring me, so you’re obviously my type.” This is the line I knew I’d be rooting for Greg.

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4. This moment. I don’t know how the show got around S&P to air “We Tapped That Ass,” but I’m so glad it did.

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3. Paula: Honey, be yourself.

Rebecca: What?! Who? No! Ew. Ugh. Who wants to be that?

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2. The lyrics “For some reason you’re now on the top of my to-do list/let’s get this over with/so I can focus on other tasks.”

I know exactly what it says about me that this is the sexiest thing I have ever heard. Also, Scott Michael Foster is scrumptious in every frame of this video. The entire Santa Ana wind episode should be a national treasure.

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1. This song.

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If you’ve even been a high-achieving woman, I think you know how this feels.

 

4 Quick Tips to Improve Your Writing

In my day job, I spend a lot of time getting into the nitty gritty of a writer’s prose. Here are habits I see all the time that can be easily avoided to strengthen your writing.

1.Prune adverbs

This is advice novice writers always hear. It’s sometimes mistaken for “use no adverbs,” which is not what this suggests. Take a look at your adverb usage and look for places where adverbs compensate for weak writing. For example, “she said softly” could become “she whispered” or “she murmured.” Make sure that the adverbs you use are necessary to your meaning. The same advice goes for adjectives.

2. Take a closer look at was + ing

The was + ing (was walking, was talking, was writing, etc.) can often be replaced with a past participle. Unless it’s vital to the understanding of a timeline, this should be rendered in past tense. Many ongoing and continuing actions can be understood in past tense. For example, “he was looking at her throughout the night” can become “he looked at her throughout the night” with little loss to the meaning.

3. Keep an eye out for stage directions

When writing, authors like to visualize a scene in their head, parsing it out step by step. But sometimes those steps aren’t eliminated in the revision stage. A reader rarely needs all the detail about a character that strides to the door, places her hand on the doorknob, turns the knob to the right, pushes open the door, steps into the room, swings the door back, and shuts the door. Use only what’s necessary for the story.

4. Make sure you know whose head you’re in

If you’re narrating in close third person, don’t slip into another tense or POV without reason. I see many authors writing in close third person switch into first person italics without considering the perspective. If we are in a character’s thoughts, we don’t need tags like “she thought.” In the same vein, “I heard someone knock at the door” is not as strong as “someone knocked at the door.”

What I’m Watching: An Appreciation of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

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My favorite screenshot from Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.

I’ve talked extensively on my previous blog and in real life about the increase in my television consumption once I started working in publishing. Since I read all day, sometimes I want to relax with another storytelling medium.

My TV shows have ebbed and flowed over the years. In college, my friends and I watched 30 Rock, then Parks & Rec. We committed to old episodes of Daria and Summer Heights High. But those shows have gone since then, and I had little to take their place.

For many years, I loved The Mindy Project, which I watched every week, but I stopped this seasons; the show lost some of its spark without Danny, and I felt like I kept watching Mindy in the same situations as she had been in earlier seasons. None of the characters seemed to be growing or maturing; the ones that did moved on (Peter, for instance).

Two of my favorite shows at the moment hail from the CW: Jane the Virgin and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. Apparently, hour-long comedies are now my thing. Jane the Virgin is pure fun: mystery, love, family, novel writing. I love the way it alludes to, pokes fun at, and upends the telenovela formula. And although a certain update this season was heartbreaking, it’s really reinvigorated the story. The three-year jump has been particularly effective, and reminds me of the last season of Parks & Rec, where it also worked so well.

But my favorite TV show–by far–is Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. I haven’t loved a show as much as this in I don’t know how long. There is not enough time for me to detail everything I admire about the show. I want to be smart when talking about television, but I’m not, so I’ll point you to this fabulous piece by Emily Nussbaum, which is what convinced me to give Crazy Ex-Girlfriend a shot.

Since I’ve become obsessed with the show (I watched the first five episodes over Winter Storm Jonas weekend in January 2015), I’ve made it my mission to proselytize. The title, coupled with the key art from the first season, had made it difficult for me to give the show a shot. It wasn’t clear that the show was mocking the term “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.” The show opens with Rebecca Bunch, a successful and miserable attorney with mental health issues, who has a breakdown the day she’s offered the position of partner at her law firm. She runs into her camp boyfriend, Josh Chan, in the throes of this. He mentions he’s moving home to West Covina, California. Rebecca thinks that it sounds like a place where she could be happy. So she quits her job and moves there, much to the astonishment of everyone who knows her. At her new law firm, paralegal Paula suspects that Rebecca’s not being truthful about why she moved to town, and finds that Rebecca is obsessed with a guy named Josh Chan. Rebecca has been hoping to run into him, and meets his friend Greg at the bar where Josh had been sitting minutes before. Greg likes Rebecca; cue the love triangle. By the end of the pilot, Paula vows to help Rebecca get Josh, becoming her best friend.

But what really makes Crazy Ex-Girlfriend unusual is the fact that it’s a musical comedy. I always bury the lede on that point (for a former singer, I have an astonishing number of friends who dislike musicals). Rachel Bloom, who stars and co-created the series with Aline Brosh McKenna, is a writer and comedian. The songs cover (and sometimes skewer) everything from women getting ready to go out to female friendship to guilting mothers. If you’re unfamiliar, “The Sexy Getting Ready Song” from the pilot is probably a good place to start. The songs can be crass and sometimes hit a little too close to home. But I love that the show is unapologetic about showing how difficult it can be to be a young woman in our society, particularly one dealing with mental illness. The show has evolved over two seasons in a fascinating way, and the season 2 finale had me frantically texting everyone I know who watches (which is now a large number; perhaps I should consider becoming a missionary?). I cannot wait to see where the show is going in Season 3. It’s only getting more brilliant.

If you’re a Crazy Ex-Girlfriend fan, please let me know! I always love finding more people to talk about it.

250 Words a Day, One Year

In October, I wrote about my goal of writing 250 words every day for the entire year. It had come up as a project of mine for my “25 at 25” list, a manageable daily goal with big returns (91,000 words) by the end of the year.

A few weeks ago, I made my 26 at 26 list, and that 250 words per day goal is still there.

The problem is, I’ve hardly even started on my 26 at 26 list. The perils of creating your yearly list of goals on vacation. So far my word count has been minimal.

But to back up for a second to the first year of 250 words per day.

I didn’t manage 250 words every day. I strived for it, which made a difference. If I knew I had limited time one evening, I tried to make it up the next day. The goal did get me in a pattern of writing more often. As with anything that requires habit and practice, it got easier the more I did it.  By August, I’d written a 91,000 word novel, which fulfilled my yearly word count goal.

And then I kind of took a break. I edited the novel, which counted for something. But I got busy and fell out of the habit. I think I should feel guiltier than I do about it.

So I’m trying 250 words again this year. I’m not going to beat myself up if I skip a day or week, but it’s reassuring to have the goal there; to know that a little bit each day translates to big rewards by the end of the year.

Books and Breakfast: Sunday, March 26

Good morning!

It’s been a long time since I’ve done one of these.

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Here are my books: The Guineveres by Sarah Domet and Bleaker House by Nell Stevens

Here is my breakfast: homemade hash brows and sausage; coffee (obviously)

This blog is like my journal in a lot of ways: I always say I’m going to write in it, then I don’t. I come up with ideas I forget to jot down. And then I’m always surprised that it’s been so long.

Instead of New Year’s resolutions, I come up with birthday resolutions. I’m on my (gulp) 26 at 26. And one of the major items on that list is to come up with a more consistent posting strategy for this blog. So hopefully you’ll see me hanging out here a bit more.

I’m working my way through two books right now (see above). Bleaker House is mostly a memoir of a young woman who spends several months on Bleaker Island in the Falklands to work on a novel. The memoir is interspersed with short stories and excerpts from the aforementioned novel, which I really enjoy in context. A coworker and I had both received books in the mail on Wednesday and swapped. At first I was a little miffed because Bleaker Island is about 700 miles from Antarctica, and I have a longstanding semi-joke that I’m going to find a publisher for a memoir about moving to a French base in Antarctica (to be funded with the advance). But the writing is beautiful and the characters are vivid, and now I just want to go visit the Falklands.

I first read part of The Guineveres on submission, and I’m excited to read the full novel in its final form. The book follows four girls named Guinevere at a convent. I’m not far into it, but it’s drawn comparisons The Virgin Suicides (one of my favorite books), and the cover is gorgeous. You can’t tell here, but the strands of hair are embossed, and I keep running my fingers over the jacket.

Happy Sunday!

 

The Joys of a Bookstore

New year, new posts!

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The Last Bookstore, Los Angeles

After a rather lackluster few months, I’m back. And excited to share what I’ve been reading.

I’ve been in a bit of a book slump. Nothing was holding my attention. It’s not that I wasn’t reading– I was doing plenty of that for work– it’s that I couldn’t work up the enthusiasm I usually have for recreational reading.

Because I believe very strongly in recreational reading. I chose to work in publishing because I love to read and share books. If I’m not doing that, then what’s the point? (Because the pay certainly isn’t.)

In early December, I was rooting around for some comp titles for an acquisition, and I kept coming back to two books: Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore and The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry. I hadn’t read either, but after scouring online descriptions, reviews, and those first chapter previews on Amazon, they seemed like the right fit. So I added them to the list. On a trip to L.A.’s The Last Bookstore the next week, I spotted both on the shelves and purchased them.

Turns out, they were just what I needed.

I’m going to be writing about both novels later, but the two books have reminded me of the joy of bookstores and the power of finding exactly the right book at the right time. I know that serendipity has changed my life. The influence of the right book at the right time remains a constant for me, but as I’ve noticed over the past few years, bookstores have changed for me.

I have loved bookstores all my life. Hours spent at Bookstar in Studio City, at Vroman’s in Pasadena, at the late Portrait of a Bookstore tucked into Aroma, at Bart’s Books in Ojai. Lately, it’s been McNally Jackson, Shakespeare & Company, and The Last Bookstore.

Bookstores represented the thrill of discovery. I will never forget waiting in line for the next Harry Potter book, wondering what would happen next. I still remember exactly where I was standing when I picked up Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian (the Barnes & Noble at San Francisco’s Union Square). I can still tell you about the shelf talkers at Vroman’s.

I love bookstores for the opportunity to discover something new. But lately, that something new has become more elusive. I work with books every day, I flip through Publishers Weekly every Monday, I read Shelf Awareness on an almost daily basis. As a result, I know of most books– especially the books most likely to capture my attention– before they even come out. When I go to a bookstore, I see the same books that have been circling my mind for months.

There are some bookstores that reliably turn up something novel (pun intended). McNally Jackson does an exquisite job of mixing popular reads with gems from smaller presses. I remain impressed by their fiction organization by country and region, which gives greater voice to underrepresented works in translation. I know I won’t see the same 50 books face-out that I always do there.

I get my thrill of discovery these days somewhere else: my inbox. It’s hard to begrudge that. Nothing makes me happier than reading a submission and getting that feeling– a flutter in my chest, a tapping in my feet. I call it “getting hoppy.” I get so excited I (literally) bounce through the office, and I pop into people’s offices because I just have to tell someone about what I’m reading.

And sometimes, if I’m lucky, I get to see finished copies in a bookstore– the kind where I did and still do browse. Because even in a digital world, bookstores are still magic. The right ones lead you to the right book; sometimes one you didn’t know you needed.

And in 2017, we need that more than ever.

Two Great Books, One Bad Reading Month

The Disappearing Spoon and Attachments

I managed to read two recreational books in October. Which is both tough to admit and deserving of some slack. Ask me how many pages I read for work in that same period! It was a lot.

In short, The Disappearing Spoon took me about three weeks to finish. Attachments took me one day. Welcome to my reading life.

The books couldn’t be more different.

I read Sam Kean’s excellent The Violinist’s Thumb a few years ago. Genetics is a pet interest of mine, and I found the book delightful and engaging. It took me a couple years to get to The Disappearing Spoon. I had a bad experience with chemistry in high school, which squelched any possible affinity for the subject. But The Disappearing Spoon made chemistry interesting. Kean has a great way of drawing out personalities and making them fit together into a coherent narrative. The book is full of surprising anecdotes, and he explains science in a way that makes it accessible to the layperson (i.e., me). I’m by no means an expert, but I feel like I’ve made up at least a little of my embarrassing lack of chemistry knowledge.

A couple weeks ago, I was hanging out in a coworker’s office on a Friday afternoon and spotted a copy of Attachments on her shelf. I asked if I could borrow it. I’ve read most of Rainbow Rowell’s books– Eleanor & Park, Fangirl, and Landline— but I hadn’t yet made it to her debut adult novel, Attachments.

I read it in one gulp on Saturday. A lot of novels dealing with multiple forms of media and formal techniques (in this case, emails) get bogged down in replicating the exact format. (To; From; Time Sent; Subject; from latest to first message) Attachments did away with that. In fact, the conversations appeared more like instant messages more than emails. Despite taking place around Y2K, it feels remarkably fresh.

The story revolves around Lincoln, the IT guy assigned to read the emails of reporters at a local newspaper. Beth, a movie critic, and Jennifer, a copyeditor, send a lot of personal emails to one another, which get caught in the company filters. Lincoln is supposed to send them a warning, but he doesn’t. Instead, he finds himself looking forward to reading their notes to one another and realizes he’s developing feelings for Beth.

My dad once asked me what the equivalent of a “rom-com” was in books; well, this is it. I loved every second of it.

At times, Lincoln seems a little too good to be true; but so do all of Rainbow Rowell’s male leads. But if you follow her on Twitter (which I recommend) and have seen the incredible creations (culinary, craft, horological) of her husband, can you really blame her?