Tips for new BookTokers

BookTok has taken bookworms by storm – folks have discovered a reignited passion for reading, bookstores have seen huge upticks in sales, and eager creators have cultivated a special, diverse community.

It’s a uniquely warm & charming corner of the internet … but it can also be quite intimidating. When I first stumbled into BookTok, I felt lost and overwhelmed. How could I break in? How could I find people that would recommend books that aligned with my taste? How could I build my own audience?

Many months later, I’ve found real friends, read hundreds of books, and reached millions of viewers through my account. I’ve learned a lot since my first video, and I’d love to pass some knowledge along to you – future BookTok community members! Here are some tips that I wish I knew when I began.

Be specific.
The charm of BookTok lies in its micro communities. As you browse, you’ll stumble across specific hashtags for all sorts of genres and identities (such as #fantasybooktok, #queerbooktok, and so on). Explore them! You’ll find creators that exactly align with your interests. You’ll discover faces that aren’t necessarily being pushed in the algorithm otherwise (especially marginalized creators). Once you start engaging under these hashtags, you’ll get to dive deeper into their attached communities. And truly … there’s no such thing as too niche when it comes to books.

Additionally, getting specific with the recommendations that you share can help connect you with a compatible audience. For example, I’ve created series based on musicals and Criminal Minds episodes – two topics I adore. Others stumble into specialities like Shakespearean retellings, cozy fantasy books, or sapphic romances.

Yes, TikTok can be a place for fun trends and call-and-response types of memes. But if you show your originality and your specific style? You’ll really soar.

Stay consistent.
It’s the social-media-algorithm advice that nobody wants to hear. If you want to grow your account and cultivate an audience … you’ve got to post regularly! If you’re feeling ambitious, this may be multiple times a day. Many creators do their best to post daily. If you’re not able to commit to that (it’s definitely a lot of work), try uploading videos a few times a week.

There’s also another type of important consistency: engaging with the videos of other BookTok creators! You can’t ‘post and go’ and expect to be successful; your videos don’t exist in a vacuum. In order to have a voice on BookTok, you’ve got to stay in touch with other BookTokers. Which brings me to my next tip …

Support each other.
BookTok is a tight community. Do your part to keep it an encouraging place! Uplift other creators. Give credit to those who inspire you. Show gratitude to your new bookish friend who helped you discover a favorite read.

As you discover all the delightful niches within the space, you’ll learn to speak the “BookTok language.” You’ll start to grow your TBR (“to be read” list), hunger for exciting ARCs (“advanced reader copies”), and occasionally DNF (“do not finish”) a book that just isn’t up your alley. You’ll connect with other friendly nerds & discover you love unexpected genres & celebrate together when you hit your reading goals.

If you’re an author, please make sure you’re engaging authentically. A lot of authors make the mistake of treating TikTok like a giant sales opportunity. The problem with that is … we can tell! Social media is a powerful way to help your book find new readers, but if you want others to be excited for you and support you back, you’ve got to make yourself an authentic presence. Don’t exclusively talk about your book. Don’t post and ghost. If you enter BookTok with an open mind and a friendly attitude, you’ll find a community of folks authentically eager to check out your writing.

Develop a growth mindset.
When you enter BookTok, you’ll have access to voices from around the world. It’s incredible!
Challenge yourself. Diversify your reading; question what’s missing from your shelf.

It’s never been easier to find recommendations by marginalized voices shared by people from those same communities. Be open and stay humble. We all make mistakes and we all get lost in translation sometimes. Try to view stumbles as opportunities: continue to uplift diverse voices and remain excited for new ways to grow and mature.

We’re so happy to have you be part of BookTok. Grab a cup of coffee and stay a while – your TBR will never stop expanding. 😉

Author: Steph Pilavin is a content creator, actor, and head of operations for a meditation & mindfulness startup. She’s an avid reader and book reviewer … which led her to create her bookish TikTok account, starrysteph. Steph is dedicated to reading and recommending diverse literature and voices. She firmly believes that TikTok can be a platform for thoughtful discussion and community building. Steph is also a huge animal lover and loves to talk about her adorable pets, Persephone (“Percy”) her bunny and Artemis (“Artie”) her cat.

TikTok: @starrysteph


5 Queer Books for Spooky Season

Spooky season is here at last! We’re all ready to dive into creepy, scary, unsettling books, but if you’re like me, you’re always looks to diversify your reading even within subgenres. Have I got the list for you: here are a few killer books featuring queer people that are perfect for burrowing under your blankets and scaring the pants off yourself.

Just Like Home by Sarah Gailey

Each of Gailey’s books takes on a different genre, and Just Like Home is their take on a gothic thriller. The imagery in this book is chilling, and not only is it a story of creeping dread and creepy crawlies, but it also takes shots at the strange worship of serial killers in pop culture.

The Honeys by Ryan La Sala

If you’re looking for spooky but still missing summer, The Honeys is the book for you. Set at a seemingly idyllic summer camp for the children of the elite, it quickly becomes clear that more is going on there than meets the eye, and genderfluid protagonist Mars finds himself losing grip on reality as he tries to uncover what really killed his sister.

Not Good for Maidens by Tori Bovalino

Not Good for Maidens is a retelling of the tale of the goblin market featuring kidnapped women, forbidden love, and horrifying consequences for breaking the rules. Not only is this book heart-poundingly tense, it’s also an exploration of many types of love. Bonus: the two POV characters are openly asexual and bisexual, but the story doesn’t hinge on queerphobia for either of them.

Catherine House by Elisabeth Thomas

Fans of gothic tales rejoice: Catherine House is claustrophobic and suspenseful: dark academia with a sci-fi twist. Main character Ines is a fantastic disaster bisexual, ready to burn everything to the ground to find out what on earth is going on at her school.

Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado

Her Body and Other Parties is a collection of short stories that spans and mashes up a variety of genres. Most stories have some element of horror or the psychological, but there are also hilarious moments and just full-on weirdness, all of it deconstructing what it’s like to live in a woman’s body in this world.

Guest Author: Casey – Bookstagram ambassador for 2022

YA books to look forward to in 2022

As readers, we all know we have plenty of books on our shelves, but then there’s always more publishing every week! And because I know you’re already thinking of what you’ll finish off your 2021 reads with and what to look forward to in 2022, here’s a list of some of my most anticipated YA reads for the rest of the year and beyond! 

Jade Fire Gold by June C.L. Tan: I love a good standalone YA fantasy story inspired by Chinese mythology and Jade Fire Gold delivers. Not only does it promise action and romance, it also features soul stealing magic. I repeat: magic that can steal your soul. It’s a story about a quest for destiny and magic as well as for revenge and power.

Little Thieves by Margaret Owen: Do you think your family is complicated? Try being the adopted goddaughter of Death and Fortune. This YA fantasy retelling of “The Goose Girl” combines Owen’s particular brand of slightly darker and intriguing magic and of course, about fate and destiny. Retellings will always intrigue me and since I loved Owen’s Merciful Crow series, I am even more on board!

Within the Wicked Walls by Lauren Blackwood: Let’s keep the retelling train going with a YA fantasy reimagining of Jane Eyre. Because what would make Jane Eyre even better? How about a little exorcism? The original delivers some seriously spooky vibes, but Blackwood’s debut promises to ramp up the suspense and supernatural elements. Because if you had a creepy house with a sinister presence, wouldn’t you call for an exorcist?

Year of the Reaper by Makiia Lucier: Not only does Year of the Reaper feature a plague, it includes a lord’s quest for a killer and a run-in with the most intriguing character for me, Lena, a young and brilliant historian. Can we have more brainy academic heroines in YA fantasy, please? It also hints at a serious secret; one you know you shouldn’t pull at the ribbon because you aren’t sure where it’ll lead, but you do it anyway because you can’t help yourself.

You’ve Reached Sam by Dustin Thao: Thao’s contemporary YA debut is already making waves as an emotional story about grief and love. What if you could still talk to the ones you love, even after they’re gone? Julie is given a magical chance when she calls Sam’s phone after he’s passed –and Sam picks up. It’s also a magical chance that will question Julie’s knowledge about the past and the certainty of the future.

You Can Go Your Own Way by Eric Smith: This title makes me sing Fleetwood Mac every time I read it. EVERY TIME. But if that doesn’t give you enough nostalgia, the main characters in this contemporary YA story end up trapped in an arcade during a snowstorm. It promises to deliver those nostalgic feels, but also discusses who we’d be if we were cut off from the world.

The Midnight Girls bu Alicia Jasinka: This queer standalone YA fantasy story features a kingdom covered in snow, dangerous magic that could get you killed, and two enchantresses who might be falling in love while they’re competing for the heart of the prince. Awkward! Jasinska has a reputation for swoony queer story lines and dangerous odds in her previous work, The Dark Tide, so to say I’m excited for The Midnight Girls is an understatement. Can we have all love triangles end like this?

The Coldest Touch by Isabel Sterling: All I knew before writing this article about The Coldest Touch was vampires & queer girls and that’s all I really needed to know. This paranormal YA features supernatural forces come together as a girl with the magical touch to see how her loved ones die is forced to work with a vampire. Because vampires are making a comeback!

The Kindred by Alechia Dow: Let’s start 2022 off with a YA sci-fi story that mixes mind-melding, an unlikely pair, and being framed for murder. The Kindred promises spacecraft theft, assasination, and scandalous love. Don’t the best stories have all three? I’m so excited for Dow’s second book after adoring her debut, The Sound of the Stars.

The Red Palace by June Hur: June Hur is a historical fiction queen and I am so excited for this next installment of historical YA fiction set in 18th century Korea. It features a search for a murderer, a palace nurse, and deadly secrets. If you haven’t read any of Hur’s other historical fiction, like The Forest of Stolen Girls, I highly recommend checking it out before January.

From a Dust, a Flame by Rebecca Podos: Can you imagine waking up on your birthday with completely different eyes? Would you immediately embrace them or search for a cure? Well, as Hannah and her family try to piece together why her eyes are suddenly golden, they discover a past which stretches back to her grandmother’s childhood and Nazi-occupied Prague. It’s a contemporary YA story that promises curses, family secrets, and coming to terms with the past.

Extasia by Claire Legrand: Claire Legrand is quickly becoming my go-to for eerie YA ever since I read Sawkill Girls. Not only is Extasia set in a post-apocalyptic setting, its main character, Saint Amity, joins a coven to summon the devil to protect her village. From the summary I can tell you to expect: dark magic, queer relationships, and cults.

Ophelia After All by Racquel Marie: I love a hopeless romantic and you can definitely find that in Marie’s main character, Ophelia Rojas. But what happens when everything you thought you were begins to change under your feet? In Marie’s contemporary YA debut, I’m looking forward to a journey of self-discovery, bouquets of roses, and Cuban food.

A Magic Steeped in Poison by Judy I. Lin: You ever see those covers and just want them as a poster on your wall? That’s how I feel about this cover. But then you tell me that it’s the start of a YA fantasy duology about a search for the kingdom’s greatest shennong-shi – Master of Tea and the series is called “The Book of Tea?” I’d like to know where to sign up.

An Arrow to the Moon by Emily X.R. Pan: The Astonishing Color of After is one of my favorite books ever, so to say I’m excited for this one is a gross understatement. It’s described as Romeo and Juliet meets Chinese mythology, which explodes my heart. I’m so excited for Pan’s YA fantasy debut which features a smoldering romance, family feuding, and magic. 

Queen of the Tiles by Hanna Alkaf: Move over, chess and bring it on, Scrabble! Alkaf’s latest contemporary YA release combines a Scrabble competition with thrills and mystery. Because, honestly why wouldn’t there be murder and intrigue in a competition? I am beyond excited for this cutthroat Scrabble competition with a dash of M-U-R-D-E-R. 

About Lili from Utopia State of Mind: My name is Lili and I am a scholar at heart, obsessed with SFF and always carrying a book wherever I go (including to the top of a dormant volcano and mountain for Instagram photos). I am obsessed with enamel pins, discovering new tea flavors, and dabbling in makeup. I am committed to celebrating diverse books and using USOM to champion books I feel deserve more praise and attention. You can find me on my blog, Youtube, Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok.

Video games spark author’s creative passion and inspire debut novel

To celebrate National Video Game Day, Books Forward author Mark A. Alvarez II is dishing on how one popular game became the catalyst for his creative pursuits and ultimately led to the 10-year endeavor of crafting his first novel.

“Why defy your fate?”
“Is the will to live that powerful..?”

These are words from the ending of “Final Fantasy IX,” the first Final Fantasy game I ever played and the first ending to any story to make me cry. I still remember it so clearly, watching every scene, listening to the score, feeling so moved by the words that came across the screen. It mesmerized me in such a way, it’s hard to forget.

To this day, I’ve yet to come across a game that has affected me as much as “Final Fantasy IX” (which is soon to have its own animated series). Granted, I was 8 when I first played and beat this game, but the ending to this game and the story overall would impact me long after that as I became more and more obsessed with the themes it exposed to me.

I know this might seem unlikely or rather unheard of, but the day I watched that ending would shape me as a writer more than anyone could ever know. But come on … a video game? How does that even happen? What can a writer learn from a video game, especially a budding one at the tender age of 8?

Even if I didn’t know it at the time, that game would sow the seeds of inspiration I needed to explore the darkest parts of myself, the parts of my life I struggled to face alone. This story spoke to me for reasons I was oblivious but obviously drawn to. And it did so with brilliant writing, a colorfully immersive world and an amazing score — among the best of any game I’ve ever heard.

Which brings me to “Dutybound: Light Wings Epic Vol. 1,” my debut novel. In reality, I started writing this story in 2009. But the story’s conception started long before that, while I was a kid fantasizing about building my own world, my own fantasy, my own game with a story as compelling as that of my favorite role-playing game.

Originally, I imagined Light Wings as a video game, inspired by “Final Fantasy IX.” I drew storyboards. I wrote character profiles. I even fleshed out roles, abilities and weapons for each of my characters.

Little did I know this would be the foundation I would build “Dutybound” upon. Pieces of this imaginary game would become the backstory as I introduced a new generation of characters by my freshman year of high school, the year I started writing my first draft of what was then called “Light Wings: Sinful Wishes,” desiring a fresh take on the philosophies I so eagerly sought to understand.

The connections between “Final Fantasy IX” and “Dutybound” lie in the themes they present and how each applied to my distinct outlooks and philosophies of life. 

“Final Fantasy IX,” as light-hearted as it is, dealt with some of the darkest topics to be explored in a Final Fantasy game. It posed questions of life and its purpose as many of the game’s characters had to come to terms with their creation and, ultimately, the finality of a death that was inevitable.

Its ending theme, “Melodies of Life,” presents something similar: a song about grief and loss that illustrates it as something bittersweet rather than tragic and all-consuming.

As an 8-year-old, I had already faced two near-death experiences. First, as a newborn and then as an infant when I was shot in the face by my younger brother. It’s no surprise why I would be drawn to these themes. Even if I didn’t quite understand them, they resonated because in those tight moments within my childhood, when things felt the most dark and hopeless, I often wondered why I survived those experiences. I pondered whether my life held a purpose because I was born into a life that felt nothing more than a series of mistakes. My birth, potentially, being one of them.

In truth, I was born of infidelity. My mother was unfaithful to her husband and had a son, a fatherless child, who was given a name that should have not been his. My younger brother was Mark Aaron Alvarez’s true-born son. Mark Aaron Alvarez II, however; I was a bastard. Nothing more, nothing less. At least that’s what I believed at the time. Despite this, it was in not knowing that second half of myself that I found myself exploring new possibilities and seeking to define my place, my destiny, and my purpose.

“We do not want to forget this. We want your memory to live on forever… To remind us that we were not created for the wrong reason — that our life has meaning.”

As I began to construct my somber tale of light and dark, I faced these challenges within myself, seeded by the imaginative and epic game that filled me with so much inspiration. I had to come to terms with aspects of my life I could not change, while also finding meaning in these events, as unfortunate as they may seem. Not knowing my real father or lineage. Being born of infidelity. Feeling like a mistake. Surviving tragic events that in some ways made my life feel meaningless. These issues, along with everything else, is a lot for a child to process. And in hindsight, I can say “Final Fantasy IX” was my first escape. Its story was the first I ever felt truly connected to. 

The game was an accessible way for me to cope with issues I didn’t quite understand, while my writing became a medium for me to explore my own doubts and fears about living in a world where I felt I had no place. A world where I felt alone. Where I could not find answers within my favorite video game, I sought to answer on my own, within a story, world, and fantasy I created, my second escape.

“What to do when I felt lonely, that’s the only thing you couldn’t teach me. But we need to figure out the answers for ourselves.”

“Dutybound” is a unique story, but it is also a personal one. My ego played no part in writing it. I didn’t write this story because I wanted to write a best-seller or be seen as an incredible writer, or even pitch it as a video game. The Light Wings Epic was written as a personal journey of introspection, as a means to come to terms with an unpredictable and turbulent life. And it would not exist if I never played “Final Fantasy IX” or been exposed to those themes of life, death and finding a purpose.

And for that, I’m immensely grateful. Because it was in not knowing that I found myself stumbling into something incredible, discovering that life is more than the circumstances we are born into. Our lives and our light come from the inside, from our own convictions, from our own choices. We will always hold the ability to choose the way we’d like to live our lives. And our choices will always be intricately connected to the things we desire most out of life. 

“How did you survive?”

“I didn’t have a choice. I had to live. I wanted to come back to you. So… I sang your song. Our song.”

Big Books to Read on the Longest Day of the Year

Summertime is the best time to read. With the weather finally getting nicer, we’re called to our back porches, parks, and beaches to enjoy the summer heat. But us readers know that these hours spent outdoors are a perfect time to read our books. What better way to spend the longest day of the year with a super long book? If you’re looking for a big book, look no further. These eight novels might seem too long to tackle, but they’ll also keep you intrigued the entire time.

The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon – 827 pages long

The House of Berethnet has ruled Inys for a thousand years. Still unwed, Queen Sabran the Ninth must conceive a daughter to protect her realm from destruction—but assassins are getting closer to her door.

Ead Duryan is an outsider at court. Though she has risen to the position of lady-in-waiting, she is loyal to a hidden society of mages. Ead keeps a watchful eye on Sabran, secretly protecting her with forbidden magic.

Across the dark sea, Tané has trained all her life to be a dragonrider, but is forced to make a choice that could see her life unravel.

Meanwhile, the divided East and West refuse to parley, and forces of chaos are rising from their sleep.

The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson – 1007 pages long

It has been centuries since the fall of the ten consecrated orders known as the Knights Radiant, but their Shardblades and Shardplate remain: mystical swords and suits of armor that transform ordinary men into near-invincible warriors. Men trade kingdoms for Shardblades. Wars were fought for them, and won by them.

One such war rages on a ruined landscape called the Shattered Plains. There, Kaladin, who traded his medical apprenticeship for a spear to protect his little brother, has been reduced to slavery. In a war that makes no sense, where ten armies fight separately against a single foe, he struggles to save his men and to fathom the leaders who consider them expendable.

Brightlord Dalinar Kholin commands one of those other armies. Like his brother, the late king, he is fascinated by an ancient text called The Way of Kings. Troubled by over-powering visions of ancient times and the Knights Radiant, he has begun to doubt his own sanity.

Across the ocean, an untried young woman named Shallan seeks to train under an eminent scholar and notorious heretic, Dalinar’s niece, Jasnah. Though she genuinely loves learning, Shallan’s motives are less than pure. As she plans a daring theft, her research for Jasnah hints at secrets of the Knights Radiant and the true cause of the war.

A Little Life by Hanya Yanigahara – 720 pages long

Brace yourself for the most astonishing, challenging, upsetting, and profoundly moving book in many a season. An epic about love and friendship in the twenty-first century that goes into some of the darkest places fiction has ever traveled and yet somehow improbably breaks through into the light. Truly an amazement—and a great gift for its readers.

When four classmates from a small Massachusetts college move to New York to make their way, they’re broke, adrift, and buoyed only by their friendship and ambition. There is kind, handsome Willem, an aspiring actor; JB, a quick-witted, sometimes cruel Brooklyn-born painter seeking entry to the art world; Malcolm, a frustrated architect at a prominent firm; and withdrawn, brilliant, enigmatic Jude, who serves as their center of gravity.

Over the decades, their relationships deepen and darken, tinged by addiction, success, and pride. Yet their greatest challenge, each comes to realize, is Jude himself, by midlife a terrifyingly talented litigator yet an increasingly broken man, his mind and body scarred by an unspeakable childhood, and haunted by what he fears is a degree of trauma that he’ll not only be unable to overcome—but that will define his life forever.

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke – 1006 pages long

Sophisticated, witty, and ingeniously convincing, Susanna Clarke’s magisterial novel weaves magic into a flawlessly detailed vision of historical England. She has created a world so thoroughly enchanting that eight hundred pages leave readers longing for more.

English magicians were once the wonder of the known world, with fairy servants at their beck and call; they could command winds, mountains, and woods. But by the early 1800s they have long since lost the ability to perform magic. They can only write long, dull papers about it, while fairy servants are nothing but a fading memory.

But at Hurtfew Abbey in Yorkshire, the rich, reclusive Mr Norrell has assembled a wonderful library of lost and forgotten books from England’s magical past and regained some of the powers of England’s magicians. He goes to London and raises a beautiful young woman from the dead. Soon he is lending his help to the government in the war against Napoleon Bonaparte, creating ghostly fleets of rain-ships to confuse and alarm the French.

All goes well until a rival magician appears. Jonathan Strange is handsome, charming, and talkative-the very opposite of Mr Norrell. Strange thinks nothing of enduring the rigors of campaigning with Wellington’s army and doing magic on battlefields. Astonished to find another practicing magician, Mr Norrell accepts Strange as a pupil. But it soon becomes clear that their ideas of what English magic ought to be are very different. For Mr Norrell, their power is something to be cautiously controlled, while Jonathan Strange will always be attracted to the wildest, most perilous forms of magic. He becomes fascinated by the ancient, shadowy figure of the Raven King, a child taken by fairies who became king of both England and Faerie, and the most legendary magician of all. Eventually Strange’s heedless pursuit of long-forgotten magic threatens to destroy not only his partnership with Norrell, but everything that he holds dear.

Ducks, Newburyport by Lucy Ellmann – 1020 pages long

Latticing one cherry pie after another, an Ohio housewife tries to bridge the gaps between reality and the torrent of meaningless info that is the United States of America. She worries about her children, her dead parents, African elephants, the bedroom rituals of “happy couples”, Weapons of Mass Destruction, and how to hatch an abandoned wood pigeon egg. Is there some trick to surviving survivalists? School shootings? Medical debts? Franks ’n’ beans?

A scorching indictment of America’s barbarity, past and present, and a lament for the way we are sleepwalking into environmental disaster, Ducks, Newburyport is a heresy, a wonder—and a revolution in the novel.

It’s also very, very funny.

The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton – 848 pages long

It is 1866, and young Walter Moody has come to make his fortune upon the New Zealand goldfields. On the stormy night of his arrival, he stumbles across a tense gathering of twelve local men who have met in secret to discuss a series of unexplained events: A wealthy man has vanished, a prostitute has tried to end her life, and an enormous fortune has been discovered in the home of a luckless drunk. Moody is soon drawn into the mystery: a network of fates and fortunes that is as complex and exquisitely ornate as the night sky. Richly evoking a mid-nineteenth-century world of shipping, banking, and gold rush boom and bust, The Luminaries is a brilliantly constructed, fiendishly clever ghost story and a gripping page-turner.

House of Earth and Blood by Sarah J Maas – 803 pages long

Bryce Quinlan had the perfect life—working hard all day and partying all night—until a demon murdered her closest friends, leaving her bereft, wounded, and alone. When the accused is behind bars but the crimes start up again, Bryce finds herself at the heart of the investigation. She’ll do whatever it takes to avenge their deaths.

Hunt Athalar is a notorious Fallen angel, now enslaved to the Archangels he once attempted to overthrow. His brutal skills and incredible strength have been set to one purpose—to assassinate his boss’s enemies, no questions asked. But with a demon wreaking havoc in the city, he’s offered an irresistible deal: help Bryce find the murderer, and his freedom will be within reach.

As Bryce and Hunt dig deep into Crescent City’s underbelly, they discover a dark power that threatens everything and everyone they hold dear, and they find, in each other, a blazing passion—one that could set them both free, if they’d only let it.

1Q84 by Haruki Murakami – 925 pages long

Brace yourself for the most astonishing, challenging, upsetting, and profoundly moving book in many a season. An epic about love and friendship in the twenty-first century that goes into some of the darkest places fiction has ever traveled and yet somehow improbably breaks through into the light. Truly an amazement—and a great gift for its readers.

When four classmates from a small Massachusetts college move to New York to make their way, they’re broke, adrift, and buoyed only by their friendship and ambition. There is kind, handsome Willem, an aspiring actor; JB, a quick-witted, sometimes cruel Brooklyn-born painter seeking entry to the art world; Malcolm, a frustrated architect at a prominent firm; and withdrawn, brilliant, enigmatic Jude, who serves as their center of gravity.

Over the decades, their relationships deepen and darken, tinged by addiction, success, and pride. Yet their greatest challenge, each comes to realize, is Jude himself, by midlife a terrifyingly talented litigator yet an increasingly broken man, his mind and body scarred by an unspeakable childhood, and haunted by what he fears is a degree of trauma that he’ll not only be unable to overcome—but that will define his life forever.

Author: Simone Jung

Building a world based on kindness, joy, and writing

This, as we all know, has been a hell of a year. But one thing this year has brought us is the opportunity to create new systems and build the world we want. For much of my life, I’ve been trying to do just that. I even gave my world a name: LoriLand. When things in the “real” world frustrated me, I would declare, “Well, in LoriLand, teachers and artists make the most money,” or, “In LoriLand, critical thinking and empathy are part of every core curriculum.” (Sometimes I would get asked pesky questions such as, “Who makes all the judgment calls?” To which I would answer, “Me! It’s called LoriLand, after all.”)

Over the years, I’ve come to realize that kindness, happiness and the arts are some of the things I care about the most. At the end of 2017, as a way to see if anyone else was interested in a mash-up of these three things, I came up with the idea of the 30-Day Writers Happiness Challenge: 30 days of daily, five-minute happiness prompts for writers. I put up a Facebook post, added a page to my website, and waited to see what would happen. And within two weeks, with nearly zero promotion, 500 writers from around the world had signed up.

Turns out it wasn’t just me who cared about this. It was a lot of us.

With this in mind, the Writers Happiness Movement was launched earlier this year. It’s based on two unwavering beliefs: that kindness, inclusion and joy matter and that the written word is one of the most powerful ways to promote courage, empathy and ferocity of the heart. The idea of the movement is to create more happiness for each individual writer, while making the world a better place for all writers.

Here’s how it works: The Writers Happiness Movement offers a plethora of free happiness tools created specifically for writers, all open to everyone without cost. These tools are designed to help writers access more joy, more writing time, and more spaciousness for and around our writing and our lives. They include online writing retreats, online yoga/meditation/breathwork for writers, and weekly 5-minute Writers Happiness exercises. Over a thousand writers have participated in these so far! There also are microgrants, little infusions of cash meant to cheer a writer on. Two of these tiny grants, currently $25 each, go out monthly to writers nominated by a friend. The only requirements are that the nominee has to be some kind of writer and also has to be someone you think is a good person. If you want to nominate someone, you can do so here.

As the movement grows, there will be larger grants, residencies, fellowships, and — the big goal — retirement homes and co-living spaces that are free to writers, completely paid for by the Writers Happiness Movement.

How is this funded, you might ask? Well, it’s LoriLand, so it’s funded in a way that I think is healthy for humans and the planet: through an alternative, community-based, open-handed economic structure that has kindness and equity at its root. While all the happiness tools are free to everyone, if someone would like and is able to, they can become a patron of Writers Happiness at $5/month. This funds the programs that require money. Becoming a patron of Writers Happiness is similar to becoming a patron of an individual artist, except that instead of supporting one writer so that writer can keep creating, you’re supporting programs designed to build a world where all writers can keep creating.

This is meant to be both a revolution and a refuge. There’s nothing you have to do to be part of the Writers Happiness Movement, other than be who you are and write what you write (and sign up for it, of course). Because who you are and what you write are exactly what our world needs.

There are so many people right now consciously choosing kindness over fear. Choosing love over anger. Choosing to write and create even if it sometimes seems impossible. This is a home for all of us.

Let’s rewrite the world, one writer at a time.

Author Bio: Lori Snyder is the founder of the Writers Happiness Movement. She’s also a writer, a long-time yoga teacher, leader of the Splendid Mola Writing Retreats, and a great fan of all things gritty and glittery at the same time. Her debut middle grade fantasy, “The Circus at the End of the Sea” — which is her love letter to delight, the ocean, and Venice, California — is out with HarperCollins in fall 2021. You can find her, and the Writers Happiness Movement, at


Christmas Movie Matchup: All your Christmas movie favorites paired with festive books to read

by Angela (@angelareadsbooks)

It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Time for all the festive Christmas movies and books! If you are anything like me, you have Christmas movies going and a Christmas book in hand, with a cup of hot cocoa and some cozy socks! I have my list of must watch Christmas movies, and I’m sure you do too. If you are looking for read-alikes for all your favorite movies, look no further. I have you covered with a list of 10 Christmas movies and 12 books similar to those favorites. With plenty of time to spend at home, this will keep you busy all season!

The Family Stone (2005) + In A Holidaze by Christina Lauren
For many of us, our favorite part of the holiday season is the time spent with family. And all the quirks and traditions that it brings. The Stones in The Family Stone might be one of my all time favorite movie families. And one of the things truly special about this movie, for me, is their home. I always think of the Stone family home as being its own character in this movie. If you are looking for the same antics and warmness of The Family Stone, with a sweet love story try In A Holidaze by Christina Lauren. Family friends gather together in a Utah cabin each year for the holidays. You will fall in love with these families and the cabin they share together!

The Holiday (2006) + New Year’s Kiss by Lee Matthews
Wishing you could travel over the holidays? Get swept away to Evergreen Lodge in Vermont with sisters Tess and Lauren. New Year’s Kiss by Lee Matthews, though a YA romance, reminds me of The Holiday because this time of year is the perfect time to make a change and get out of our comfort zones. And these characters do just that! And who doesn’t love a story that ends with a New Year’s Kiss??

How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966) + Faking Under the Mistletoe by Ashley Shepherd
The Grinch, but make it romance! I’m a Grinch purist and only recognize the 1966 television special, a true classic. In Faking Under the Mistletoe by Ashley Shepherd, Olivia is an intern for Asher McGowan, resident grinch of the office. Through a series of events she decides they must enter a fake relationship so he can prove to his ex how happy he is now. And Asher is definitely the grinch to Olivia’s holiday cheer! Will his heart grow 3 sizes this Christmas??

Elf (2003) + A Princess for Christmas by Jenny Holiday
Who doesn’t love a fish-out-of-water romance set in New York City? Princess Marie of Eldovia might not be an elf or from the North Pole, but she’s lost in New York and needs taxi driver Leo’s assistance! She needs a personal driver, and he of course is willing to show her around town. A Princess for Christmas by Jenny Holiday is a modern fairy tale about a tough New Yorker from the other side of the tracks who falls for a princess from the other side of the world.This sweet, sexy romance will have you laughing!

Die Hard (1988) + An Alaskan Christmas by Jennifer Snow
There is a lot of debate whether or not Die Hard is a Christmas movie. (I’m team #NotAChristmasMovie). If you are looking for a book light on Christmas with a little bit of action and suspense, try An Alaskan Christmas by Jennifer Snow. Set in Alaska, this book has a little bit of Christmas and a lot of steam. Workaholic Erika takes a vacation in Alaska and ends up partnering with Reed’s search and rescue team. Your heart will be racing in more ways than one with this book, and there’s plenty of snow for all the snow-lovers!

You’ve Got Mail (1998) + Her Christmas Cowboy by Jessica Clare and Sweet on You by Carla de Guzman
So if we are counting Die Hard as a Christmas movie, I’m adding my all time favorite movie, You’ve Got Mail to the list. I chose two books for this matchup, as they each highlight different elements of this classic movie. If you are looking for a Christmas love story with rival businesses, try Sweet on You by Carla de Guzman. Sparks fly between Sari from the coffee shop and the new baker next door, Gabriel. A fun adversaries-turned-lovers Christmas romp! And if you love the secret admirer and letter writing elements of You’ve Got Mail, Her Christmas Cowboy by Jessica Clare is just what you’re looking for. Cowboy Caleb has always had feelings for school-teacher Amy. This Christmas, Caleb volunteers to be Santa to Amy’s Mrs. Claus. He’s also been leaving Amy secret admirer Christmas gifts. When she discovers who her secret admirer is, will she be swept off her feet?

Serendipity (2001) + Christmas in Vermont by Anita Hughes
Every holiday season needs a little serendipity. While Emma is selling back a bracelet from her now ex-boyfriend at a local pawn shop, she comes across the watch she gave to her college boyfriend Fletcher many years earlier. There is no such thing as coincidences, and this sends Emma on a journey to rekindle the romance with her college sweetheart. Christmas in Vermont by Anita Hughes is brimming with holiday cheer and is perfect for fans of Serendipity.

Love Actually (2003) + A Wedding in December by Sarah Morgan and Home For the Holidays Sara Richardson
Love Actually is the quintessential ensemble cast. If you are looking for similar books, I have two recommendations. A Winter in December by Sarah Morgan centers around the White family gathering in Colorado for Rosie’s wedding. With a beautiful cast of characters, this book is the perfect combination of Christmas, a family drama, and romance. Home for the Holidays by Sara Richardson is the story of the three Buchanan sisters coming home for the holidays to Aunt Sassy’s house. This Christmas each sister will discover what they truly want and need. These two books will put you in the Christmas spirit and have you cheering “love for everyone!”

The Family Man (2000) + A Christmas to Remember by Jenny Hale
Working too much got you down this Christmas? Have no fear, you can refind Christmas magic this year. The Family Man and A Christmas to Remember both center upon workaholic men that need to refind Christmas joy, and LOVE! A Christmas to Remember by Jenny Hale is a beautiful story about the magic of childhood Christmas memories, the strength of family and falling in love when you least expect it.

While You Were Sleeping (1995) + Why I Held Your Hand by Augusta Reilly
Looking for a Christmas love triangle? Look no further than Why I Held You Hand by Augusta Reilly. The mountain town of North Powell hopes to become a tourist destination, so Laura Delaney hires a marketing team to assist her. Not only does she begin a relationship with David, she also falls for his nemesis Spencer, too. With two men in Laura’s life, which one will she choose?

Hope your holiday season is filled to the brim with festive books and movies. Come and chat with me on bookstagram about your favorite book and movie matchups so I can add to my ever growing stack. You can find me at @angelareasbooks!

Spooky season approaches! Prepare with one of these atmospheric books

Guest post by Sydney from Bookpals (@bookpals)

It. Is. Spooky. Season. Raise your hand if Halloween is your absolute favourite holiday of all time? Yes. Yes spooky babies, I see you and I am here for you.

Why do we love Halloween? For me it’s a potent cocktail of pure nostalgia (grade school halloween parades yes please), inappropriate-for-my-age-horror-movie viewing (sure dad, let’s watch Alien 3, I’m only 8 years old) and an unabiding love of dressing up has been brewing and bubbling my whole life.

Young Sydney one hundred and ten percent believed in ghosts, goblins, witches and gremlins. Did I start a Ghostbusters society at my elementary school? Yes. Did I make a Witch Business at age nine with my best friend complete with business cards? Also yes. Did I borrow the same book on poltergeists over and over again from the library and bother my mother incessantly with “facts” about gremlins? Hard yes.

I was a spooky kid. I loved weird and wonderful things even though they absolutely scared the pants off of me. I don’t think I’ve grown into a particularly spooky adult, but my love of Halloween runs deep and true. Here’s some books to get you in the spooky mood (as if you would need help…)

N0S4A2 by Joe Hill
Vic McQueen is able to find lost things in a way even she doesn’t understand. One day she finds something she shouldn’t have and has a life-changing run in with terrifying Charles Manx. She manages to escape but Manx never forgets a face, especially one like Vic’s. Sure his dad is the kind of horror but Joe Hill wrote a book that genuinely creeped me right the heck out and was quite well written.

Sawkill Girls by Claire Legrand
Girls have always disappeared from the island of Sawkill Rock, but nobody talks about it. New girl Marion crosses paths with Val and Zoey and between the three of them, they’re getting to the bottom of this (no matter how little each of them wants to be involved) This reads like a very enjoyable scary movie and gave me the shivers a few times

We Ride Upon Sticks by Quan Barry
A New England girls’ field hockey team makes a deal with some dark magic to win their 1989 season. Not particularly scary but definitely spooky and absolutely worth a read (plus 10/10 for fall atmosphere)

How Long ‘til Black Future Month by N.K. Jemisin
You won’t find this short story collection in the horror section at your bookstore but trust me, some of the wild creations that come from Jemisin’s mind could easily wind up there. You meet monsters (human and non), dystopian futures and some truly scary witches.

The Sundown Motel by Simone St. James
Carly’s aunt Viv disappeared in the middle of the night in November 1982 after working the night shift at the Sundown Motel. Carly wants some answers about her aunt’s disappearance and in her search for the truth finds herself working at the Sundown, with the exact same shift as her aunt. Will Carly suffer the same fate as Viv? Fans of the supernatural and true crime will find things to like.

Sydney is one half of Bookpals, a Canadian bookstagram duo. She works full time as a midwife and loves Halloween, ’80s movies, bad dancing and her three cats.

Tips for Virtual Author Events

Want to feel terrible about yourself? Plan an event at a bookstore for your book, show up to the store in your fancy writer’s outfit, and quickly realize that nobody is there to see you except for the bookstore owner and a bored staff member the owner forces to watch your reading.

This has happened to every writer I know and, while it makes for a ruefully amusing story years later in your career, these lackluster events are terribly inconvenient for yourself and the bookstore – particularly if the store ordered copies of your book, and is dedicating an evening to you in place of someone who would have drawn a better crowd.

Of course, now that we’re in the midst of a global pandemic, writers need ways to promote their books outside of in-person events. For years, I’ve run a reading series in D.C. called “Noir at the Bar,” an event where 8-9 crime fiction writers take turns reading stories at a bar (for more about the series, including its national origins, check out this article in CrimeReads). I was recently inspired by my friend Alex Segura, who runs the Queens NY Noirs at the Bar, to move my series online and re-name it. It’s now called “D.C.’s Virtual Noir for Indie Bookstoires,” and we’ve had wonderful success since it debuted in April – media coverage, attendance in the hundreds, and the series has garnered a devoted following.

In the process, I’ve learned some important thing about putting together a virtual event:

Make It Bigger Than You

You might be tempted, particularly if you’re launching a new book this year, to have an event solely focused on your work. I get that. And it makes sense, particularly if you already have a following. If you don’t, then make sure you have a “draw” for your event. For example, ask a better-known author to join you in conversation. Or, if your book has a natural fit with an organization, reach out to them and ask if they have a virtual series you can be part of (you should already know this, to be honest, and really should be asking if you can take part in an existing series). Make sure there’s a reason people will tune in…people outside of your own circle of fans, friends, and family. 

Organizations and event planners have been scrambling these past few months for ways to keep their membership engaged. Make your event an enticing fit for them, and they’ll be excited to include and promote you.

Know the Software

Likely, everyone reading this has used Zoom for online meetings and gatherings, and it’s a terrific platform. But it’s not the only one. For “D.C.’s Virtual Noir for Indie Bookstoires,” I use Crowdcast, a site particularly suited for readings where one presenter after another takes the stage. And even though, like Zoom, the site is fairly intuitive, I still take pains to make sure that every writer’s microphone and web cam are working prior to an event.

There are always going to be glitches. Make sure you have a backup plan, and expect to be nimble. Viewers expect glitches, but there is a definite shortage of patience if these problems persist. It’s much easier, after all, to click off a site than it is to walk out of a reading.

Dare to Flair

There’s nothing more boring than an author reading their work. Most writers are famously introverted and not exactly gifted presenters. The last thing anyone wants is to go to a reading where someone is staring down at a book and muttering for an hour. BORING.

Add something fun to your event. For this D.C. series, I have musical interludes where a local jazz star (the fantastic Sara Jones) sings noir-themed songs. And a local mixologist, Chantal Tseng, puts together a custom cocktail for each event (based off one of the books) and gives a quick demonstration of how to make it. Sara and Chantal have become the stars of the series, and an added element viewers greatly look forward to. And both women have suffered the sudden halt of their livelihoods – cancelled live events and closed bars. It’s nice to do something where they have the chance to resume their craft.

Local Media Wants to Know

I mentioned that event organizers have been scrambling for content to share with their members; the same is true with your local media, especially reporters who cover local events. Nothing is happening anywhere and, if you have an interesting angle for your event, you have a wonderful chance to get some attention for it. The D.C. Virtual N@B series has received coverage from DCist, the Washington Post, and NPR – media that, traditionally, had been impossible for me to attract to the in-person events.

Work with a Bookstore

Even in good times, independent bookstores have it tough, and the current economy is leveling local businesses. Every event in my reading series is in support of a local DC/MD/VA bookstore, and the bookstores have responded warmly to this effort, with promotions and dedicated event pages. My region, in particular, is fortunate to have a strong bookstore presence, one that is enthusiastically supportive of its local writers, and this is an opportunity to do something for them.

And it doesn’t hurt, of course, for these local bookstores to be familiar with your name, and to consider you an instrumental part of the community.

You’re getting something out of this, to be sure, but you’re doing something for others at the same time. You’re bringing a sense of distraction and escape to people who desperately need it. Never forget that. It’ll give your event a sense of purpose and determination viewers will recognize and appreciate.

To learn more about D.C.’s Virtual Noir for Indie Bookstoires series, visit To learn more about E.A. Aymar and his upcoming novel, They’re Gone, written under his pseudonym E.A. Barres, visit

Books Forward author Tori Eldridge uses Asian-Pacific pride to promote representation in literature

I can’t imagine a better place to grow up as an Asian-American, Pacific Islander than Hawaii. Our island community is predominantly Asian and mixed-race, so most of the kids I went to school with had dark hair and lovely shades of brown skin. I fit in perfectly.

My mother is Chinese-Hawaiian, my father is Norwegian from North Dakota, and they met and married in Tokyo, where my sisters were born. I came along over a decade later and was born and raised in Honolulu. There weren’t many full-blooded Hawaiians, even then, so being part Hawaiian was and is a source of pride. And with over 50 percent of the population identifying as Asian, being almost half-Chinese was common.

Things were quite different when I moved to Illinois to attend Northwestern University. I didn’t see anyone who looked like me. In fact, less than 4 percent of the student population was mixed race and less than half a percent were Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander.

Fortunately, my self-image had been set in Hawaii, and I carried my Chinese, Hawaiian, Norwegian heritage proudly with me when I moved to Chicago, New York, Boston, Washington D.C., and Los Angeles, where I’ve lived for 36 years. Rather than feeling isolated by my extreme minority, I’ve felt kinship to everyone because of my mixed race.

I was able to share my heritage and mixed-race experience while writing my debut novel, “The Ninja Daughter.”

The protagonist Lily Wong is a Chinese-Norwegian modern-day ninja in Los Angeles with “Joy Luck Club” family issues. I drew heavily from my own Chinese-Norwegian culture and experience as a fifth-degree black belt in the Japanese art of the ninja to write her story. But I also drew from the experience of my Chinese-American friends and fellow ninja.

Although my character and I are undeniably close, Lily is definitely not me. She is her own powerful person, plagued by doubts and demons, defined by family, and fueled by purpose.

That said, family and heritage are also deeply important to me.

I can trace my Hawaiian roots to 1783, during the reign of King Kamehameha. The kānaka maoli — native Hawaiians — are generous, beautiful people with a culture, rich in song, dance, and storytelling. Hawaiians are our own race of people with native language, customs and ancestry. But modern Hawaii culture is an amalgamation of many, especially those from Asian countries.

My Chinese ancestors were early pioneers on the island of Maui and, along with all the other first-wave Chinese settlers, contributed to its modern culture, language and commerce. The people of modern Hawaii are a mixed plate. This is evident in our fusion of food, clothing and our Hawaiian Pigeon English. Unlike other forms of pigeon English, Hawaiian Pigeon is a legitimate creole language — fully developed and taught to many children as a primary language. Although it incorporates many words from the native Hawaiian language, they are not at all the same. Although both have their place, I am happy to see a resurgence of our beautiful aboriginal language.

In the midst of this deeply ethnic environment, my father infused me with stories and wisdom from his own North Dakota upbringing and Norwegian heritage. Naturally, I wanted to celebrate this with my protagonist, Lily Wong.

It meant the world to me that my parents lived long enough to know I was writing a novel — and now a series — that would celebrate their heritage.

Asian and Pacific Islander representation in literature and media matters. Not only is it vital to see ourselves and identify with positive role models, but it’s important for everyone of all ethnicities to expand our awareness of each other. This is how people learn to appreciate and connect with one another.

I love that Lily Wong’s mother is an immigrant from Hong Kong, that her father is Norwegian from North Dakota, and that her ninjutsu teacher was born and raised in Japan. I love that my son fell in love with a woman from Hong Kong — after I was well into writing the first draft of “The Ninja Daughter” — and has married this wonderful woman into our family. I love how my art has not only become an expression of my life but a means to delve even more deeply into my ancestry and identity. I am honored to celebrate all of this during Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month.

Tori Eldridge is the Lefty-nominated author of “The Ninja Daughter,” which was named one of the “Best Mystery Books of the Year” by The South Florida Sun Sentinel and awarded 2019 Thriller Book of the Year by Authors on the Air Global Radio Network. Her short stories appear in several anthologies, and her screenplay “The Gift” earned a semifinalist spot in the prestigious Academy Nicholl Fellowship. Before writing, Tori performed as an actress, singer and dancer on Broadway, television and film. She is of Hawaiian, Chinese, Norwegian descent and was born and raised in Honolulu, where she graduated from Punahou School with classmate Barack Obama. Tori holds a fifth-degree black belt in To-Shin Do ninjutsu and has traveled the U.S. teaching seminars on the ninja arts, weapons, and women’s self-protection.