Billet Doux - An Introduction

{Billet Doux: a love letter}

It feels comfortable to write to you from behind my screen, like singing into a hairbrush in my room. Filming myself on Youtube, however, is another ball game. It has it’s advantages. I love fangirling over books and movies in real time, intelligently, but with just enough fooling around to make it fun. But there’s also the challenge of dolling yourself up, hoping that you’ve captured yourself in the best light, on your best side, because who know’s who’ll decide to click on to your video, right? The other challenge is content. In Booktube, and I’m guessing in any other vlogging genre, it can be easy to stay on the conveyor belt of book hauls, tags, and other quick and easy prompts. As I pondered how I might set my channel a part, Billet - Doux came to be.

I wanted an outlet where I could merge writing and ponderings on all kinds of topics with short little vignettes of my life. A vlog that would be more than just me video taping myself at Starbucks, at the bus stop, at Barnes & Noble. And let me tell you, it’s pretty much just that on most days of the week! BORING! The youtube adaptation of Jane Eyre and DaphneM’s Letters to Spring series inspired me. With Jane, I felt inspired watching how the actress so believably captured Jane’s highs and lows in a way that felt like she was a real person somewhere doing the best she could with a camera and a desire to come out of her shell. One particular episode where Jane and Rochester are having a little adventure actually compelled me to pick up my camera. The way she captures small moments with Amarante’s The Manic felt like a sensory journal entry. With Daphne’s “Letters…” I loved their poetic feel as she overlayed tracks of her wonderful ponderings about life.

I posted my introduction to Billet - Doux about a week ago, and I’ve had 21 watches and 3 thumbs up, which is humble, but really surprising to me. I received a lovely message from someone on tumblr telling me to keep vlogging, and complimenting my writing ability, at a time I really needed that message. If you’ve taken the time, or will take the time to watch my personal vlogs, I thank you, in advance! I hope that they will be a little happy spark in your day!

Supper Hall Book Club: The School for Good and Evil by Soman Chainani

 photo SchoolforGood-pb-c_zpsr33zj0pi.jpg The New York Times bestselling The School for Good and Evil, the first book in the series, is an epic journey into a dazzling new world, where the only way out of a fairy tale is to live through one. This paperback edition features an Extras section, giving readers a chance to see which school they'd be in and a Q&A with the author, Soman Chainani. With her glass slippers and devotion to good deeds, Sophie knows she'll earn top marks at the School for Good and join the ranks of past students like Cinderella, Rapunzel, and Snow White. Meanwhile, Agatha, with her shapeless black frocks and wicked black cat, seems a natural fit for the villains in the School for Evil. The two girls soon find their fortunes reversed—Sophie's dumped in the School for Evil to take Uglification, Death Curses, and Henchmen Training, while Agatha finds herself in the School for Good, thrust among handsome princes and fair maidens for classes in Princess Etiquette and Animal Communication. But what if the mistake is actually the first clue to discovering who Sophie and Agatha really are?

After months of sinking into literary novels, I wanted a nice imaginative vacation of sorts, and stumbled into a cinematic treasure trove of princessy goodness!

The School for Good and Evil by Soman Chainani centers around Sophie and Agatha in the town of Gavaldon, where two children are kidnapped every year and taken to the School for Good and Evil where they are swept into an epic fairytale with the enormous task of tipping the scales for Good or Evil. Sophie is one of the most beautiful girls in Gavaldon, and has her sights set on a life Ever After with her Prince at the School for Good. Meanwhile, Agatha is a loner, who lives on a graveyard, seeking to hide from townspeople who have all but labeled her a witch, and has but one treasure, her unlikely friendship with Sophie. Agatha often mocks Sophie’s obsession with becoming a princess, fairytales, and the enigmatic school that she is so certain will choose her for Good. However, they both receive a rude awakening when they’re kidnapped, Agatha for Good, Sophie for Evil.

I haven’t read a Middle Grade Adventure in a long while, but when I saw this in beautiful hardcover a few years ago, it looked to have that special something that would draw you in. It has not dissapointed. Soman Chainani has done a wonderful job of creating a fairytale that both harkens back to folklore that we know and love, whilst also placing his own special signature on it. School for Good and Evil has everything we love about fairytales: castles, glamorous Princesses, magic, fiendish villains, even, Tedros, a handsome prince (the son of King Arthur and Guinevere) who is self assured and soft hearted. Agatha’s encounters with the Evers at the School for Good, and Sophie’s encounters with the Nevers at the School for Evil are classic. So funny, and full of witty discourse that made the ride such a pleasure, whilst tugging at your heart as they create solid friendships with unlikely players.

What’s truly special about this novel is Chainani’s attention to friendships and self worth. Whilst Sophie spends much of the novel taking Agatha’s friendship for granted, in light of her dreams for a Prince, Agatha’s journey is priceless, as she fights to save her friendship, and discovers her purpose as Princess in this grand fairytale. Sophie’s dissent into Evil is also engrossing, and made all the more realistic by subtle nuances that make her the perfect villaness to love and hate. Pitting Agatha and Sophie as mortal enemies in the grand scheme of their destiny, however, is priceless. How intriguing is it to explore the journey of best friends who will eventually keep the other from experiencing their happy ending? Awesome!

I truly enjoyed my journey into this witty and imaginative fairytale! It has a timeless quality that will delight readers of any age. I most appreciated the care Chainani has taken to explore the power of self worth. There were moments in the novel where Agatha’s struggle to love herself, and appreciate what she has to offer the world mirrored my own struggles, especially as a young girl. I wish I had read this novel when I was in Grade School, as I know I would have taken something so beautiful from it.
If you’re a fan of Disney or Once Upon A Time, this will be the perfect series to jump into during the seasons’ (OUAT) hiatus.

In a short sidebar, I was privileged to attend BEA this year, and fortunately had the opportunity to meet Soman Chainani in person. In the quickest exchange known to man, I was able inform him , not so subtly, that he rocks, as he autographed a beautiful print spotlighting the glorious finale to the SGE series, The Last Ever After arriving in stores on July 21st. Whilst reading I discovered that it will also become a film very soon, but before I could get really nervous, I discovered that Chainani’s written the script. Finally! We don’t have to fear that a film will be so far from the book that it’s incredulous to even call it an adaptation. As you can probably tell, I’m super excited.

Happy Reading!


***Supper Hall Book Club was inspired by a chapter of the same name in SGE: A World Without Princes, where one of my favorite Nevers, Dot, creates a book club of the same name. Thought it would be the perfect name for the bookish section on my channel and here on Novel Days. All credit goes to Soman Chainani and if there is any copyright infringement involved, I will gladly change the name :-).

Tea Time: Creme Maurice

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After church one Sunday four years ago, I tasted my first cup of tea. The first cup that resonated with me. I remember it being a chilly day tucked into my warmest sweater as far away from home as Mount Snowden is from the Empire State Building. Even though by that time I had been away from home for months, my heart was still foraging for the warmth and comfort contained in my father's boyish antics or my mother's gleaming brown eyes when she's proud of me. That smoky morning after church, instead of racing back to my dorm, I thought I would stay for tea, tickled that they actually served Twinings in proper cups and saucers (because lets face it, New Yorkers don't really have the time to get out the china). After one sip, I thought of all the other cups of tea I've tasted throughout my life, normally whilst fighting a cold with a splash of lemon, and it this one cup tasting of home cooked breakfasts, and toast, and your comfiest sweater all at once that did it for me. I didn't think it was possible for tea to taste so wonderful, to be honest, and that one sip, along with countless amounts of tea after every meal since then, caused a bit of an obsession that my cabinets are taking the brunt of.

I've been collecting teas for a while now, and I thought I would share and review my findings. Note, that I am no expert, I just love a good cup of tea everyday.

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"You can never get a cup of tea large enough, or a book long enough to suit me."
-C.S. Lewis

Every Fall my family and I make a day trip to Sleepy Hollow for a nice day of warm cider, and racing away from Headless, of course. During my last visit to the small village, I discovered that they had a tea house called Silver Tips Tea. It was so adorable with its quaint tables covered with tiered trays of tea sandwiches and scones. That day I came home with a lovely floral tea pot, and a bag of Creme Maurice Tea, which I believe is one of their signatures. Creme Maurice is a strong black tea with a creamy vanilla base that has become my absolute favorite. Steep it for 5 to 7 minutes. Pour into your favorite cup and inch or two from the rim, and add milk filling the space. Its creamy base is further enhanced by the amount of milk you use.

Keep In Mind
Creme Maurice is quite strong. One of Silver Tips Tea's sales representatives expressed that it's the coffee drinkers tea, and though I don't believe it bears a close resemblance to coffee tastewise, it is highly caffeinated. Although I can drink lattes and other iced coffee drinks, there's something about a hot cup of coffee that makes me nervous and jittery. I might call this tea the coffee drinkers tea for people who don't or can't drink coffee.

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Creme Maurice is a beautiful tea with a decadent elegance that reminds me of Marie Antoinette.

"Where are there towns but no houses, roads but no cars, forests but no trees? Answer: A Map."

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On one of the most pleasant days of the year, I found myself strolling through stacks at Barnes & Noble, Union Square, sipping an Iced Caramel from Panera, happy to see sunlight after so many Friday's spent taking on overtime. My target: The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells by Andrew Sean Greer.

From the critically acclaimed author of the New York Times bestseller The Confessions of Max Tivoli comes The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells, a rapturously romantic story of a woman who finds herself transported to the “other lives” she might have lived. After the death of her beloved twin brother and the abandonment of her long-time lover, Greta Wells undergoes electroshock therapy. Over the course of the treatment, Greta finds herself repeatedly sent to 1918, 1941, and back to the present. Whisked from the gas-lit streets and horse-drawn carriages of the West Village to a martini-fueled lunch at the Oak Room, in these other worlds, Greta finds her brother alive and well—though fearfully masking his true personality. And her former lover is now her devoted husband…but will he be unfaithful to her in this life as well? Greta Wells is fascinated by her alter egos: in 1941, she is a devoted mother; in 1918, she is a bohemian adulteress. In this spellbinding novel by Andrew Sean Greer, each reality has its own losses, its own rewards; each extracts a different price. Which life will she choose as she wrestles with the unpredictability of love and the consequences of even her most carefully considered choices?-Amazon

I've signed up with Bookperks, who send me daily links of kindle editions that are on sale, and yesterday, Greta Wells was one of them. I loved the premise of a woman traveling back in time, and experiencing numerous eras...vintage connoisseur that I am. But what serves to shift the balance a bit are the more harrowing themes of depression and what one seems to be willing to do to alleviate pain. That being said, Andrew Sean Greer seems to be offering Greta Wells a miraculous opportunity at happiness, and judging from reviews I've seen, I'm in for a magical ride. With blurbs from wonderful writers such as Paula McLain praising its wonderful writing, I can't wait. McClain calls it a love letter to Greenwich Village, and I jump at every opportunity for inspiration to drive me deeper into New York City. (Also, Andrew Greer's pretty I right?)

After a day of being dumped—twice—and accidentally killing a goose, a young woman yearns for a tropical vacation far from the chaos of her life. Instead, her plans are wrecked by her best friend’s four-year-old deaf-mute son, thrust into her reluctant care. But when the boy chooses the winning numbers for a lottery ticket, the two of them set off on a road trip across Iceland with a glove compartment stuffed full of their jackpot earnings. Along the way, they encounter black sand beaches, cucumber farms, lava fields, flocks of sheep, an Estonian choir, a falconer, a hitchhiker, and both of her exes desperate for another chance. What begins as a spontaneous adventure will unexpectedly and profoundly change the way she views her past and charts her future. Butterflies in November is a blackly comic, charming, and uplifting tale of friends and lovers, motherhood, and self-discovery.-Amazon

The wonderful thing about B&N Union Square, is (one) its gargantuan size...Four floors of awesomeness, and (two) tables full of intriguing titles slightly under the radar. Aside from its beautiful title, Butterflies in November, the authors name first captured my attention: Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir. I've wanted to read writers from all over the world, and Iceland is a place that fascinates me. A novel that promises a whimsical Icelandic road trip full of zany characters with a thirtysomething in need of a direction shift and a 4 year old deaf-mute boy who has won the lottery...classic. I'm looking forward to this optimistic dream road trip for sure! Not to mention, it's wonderful to experience a European road trip outside of our normal London, Paris, and Amsterdam.

In this mysterious and chilling novel, girls, mostly Native, are vanishing from the sides of a notorious highway in the isolated Pacific Northwest. Leo Kreutzer and his friends are barely touched by these disappearances—until a series of enigmatic strangers arrive in their remote mountain town, beguiling and bewitching them. It seems as if the devil himself has appeared among them. The intoxicatingly lush debut novel by the acclaimed author of The King of Limbo, A Man Came Out of a Door in the Mountain is an unsettling portrait of life in a dead-end town, as seductive and beautifully written as the devil’s dark arts are wielded. - Amazon 
A Man Came Out Of A Door In The Mountain seems the most ominous of all of my discoveries. I've grown into quite the sucker for Southern Noir, and though this Adrianne Harun novel is set in rural British Columbia, the premise reminded me of my Ron Rash short story collections. I love the blending of reality and folklore that seems to permeate literature spotlighting rural towns, and the unspoken "rules of survival" that we outsider readers come to learn as we follow. The premise of aboriginal girls disappearing and the appearance of peculiar strangers that cause frightening outcomes is intriguing...but I also get this image of the horror film The my continued read depends on how fixated on evil the narrative becomes.

What new bookish discoveries have you chanced upon?

Happy Reading Bluestockings!

Tabi no Tame.

Let us be lovers, We'll marry our fortunes together...

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{Now Playing: Tracks in the Snow by The Civil Wars}
I have loved you with an everlasting love...
Jeremiah 31:3a

Snowflakes float blissfully outside of my window. Isn’t it beautiful, the peace that snow carries just on the outside of glass windows, surrounded by family and comforts (mine being a V-Day themed cup full of piping hot English Breakfast, a knitting project in progress with the most luxurious bulky yarn imaginable, My Last Day Without You to watch later on, and reruns with Mom).

Last Thursday, whilst meandering through Barnes & Noble during my lunch hour, I discovered a book called The Dress Shop of Dreams by Menna Van Praag. There’s nothing better than a magical, lighthearted romance to read with tea, and a blanket on the day of love (and let me tell you, I’m on chapter 4 and it is lovely!). On the bus ride home, I was struck by this quote: “When a woman needs courage, for example, life might throw a few things at her to draw it out. When a woman needs to love herself, she might be lonely while life leaves her without external hearts to hide in.” It’s not the loneliness that resonates with me, after all, the absence of a relationship does not mean loneliness because if we really think about it, we’re surrounded by love everyday. But what resonated with me is the beauty that God will, many times, leave you without the thing you believe tethers you to the earth. The distraction that, one, keeps you from your most important romance with Him, and two, your next great romance with yourself.

It hurts sometimes to think of having to part with the things that provide an ephemeral hiding place from fully accepting myself. I’ve relied on these things for so long, and the thought of just being in a room with my own breath sounding in the silence, and the still and jarring Words of Jesus scares me a little. But I’m also a bit relieved that I have the wonderful opportunity with every year, to finally discover more about myself, and to  allow the Lord to secure me so that I no longer rely so heavily on the distractions. I think everyone dreams of being loved by someone who can see them with unflorished eyes, and love them, and now I’m thinking instead of wishing that somoene else might come in and help you see yourself in a new way, it’s up to us to see what’s delightful about us before anyone else will see it. There’s a very thin line between standing strong, and falling prey to the ebbs and flows of another’s moods and opinions of you.

That’s my hope for you today. That you would take a step back and think of what makes you absolutely awesome. And if you don’t feel it, that’s okay...that’s just the start. Love on yourself today. Treat yourself to flowers, or you-time, or a dinner, or something else that makes you happy. Affirm yourself with God’s Word, and allow yourself to start believing that you are royalty, you are brave, you can accomplish anything through Him, and most importantly you are loved. 

Let this love that’s only found in Him radiate through your heart onto someone else, and pass the beauty of self love around. 

And for a little romantic break:
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tabi no tame

State of the Address: Homage to Aging

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"I'm feeling twenty-niiiiiine..." I'd croon on the way to work...once Taylor Swift turns twenty-nine that is. 

It's funny that when you're fifteen, eying your future like a statuesque beauty you hope to emulate one day, turning twenty one seems like the very best thing to happen to you since midnight walks under the stars with your true love. Once I turned 25, I watched desires shift to a ride on a time machine, doing everything you can to appear younger. It seems as if more women celebrate each birthday after quarter life with the shrug worthy undertone of discontent. One of my very best friends turned thirty this year, and instead of welcoming a new decade with excitement, she found herself weighed down with thoughts of all she had yet to accomplish, or what society says must occur before thirty. Telling a group of younger women my age resulted in a monotoned "Wow", as if I had revealed harrowing news about my future. Admittedly, I deal with many of the same concerns, my knees threatening to buckle beneath the weight of what I haven't achieved yet. 

Magazines showcase women over thirty with the subheading, "Why Thirty is the new Twenty". My pondering today: Why does Thirty have to be the new Twenty?

Our culture seems a well coiffed 'frenemy' that will ply you with gold embellished compliments and tips whilst pitying you behind your back. I've decided to shuck off the cultural 'frenemy' who reminds me tirelessly that I'm almost thirty and should have accomplished A, B, or C, or that I'm getting too old to A, B, or C, or that I've missed out on A, B, or C. God has made all of our journeys vast; filled with marvelous adventures and even better hopes than any of us have minds to conceive. Perhaps society has formed double negatives about aging, but I seek to defiantly prove them wrong.

My Twenty-Ninth year will be spent, God-Willing, cultivating a heart of thanksgiving to the Lord for being alive to even form my mouth to complain about new lines surfacing on my face. Learning to be content in my own skin and in who He has created me to be. Of course, there will be moments of discouragement,  but I'd like to age gracefully, shunning all limitations that this world, and magazines, and surgeons knives would like us to believe about ourselves. Every year comes a milky way galaxy's worth of blessings, romance for passion, strength to be faithful, challenges for wisdom, and thrilling new people to help us understand each other better. Thirty (or any other age) is the commencement of an all new adventure that you haven't experienced before. It comes with so many new events that there's no need to hope it's like being any other age than what it is. Maybe you'll experience motherhood for the first time, or start a new life with your love, or decide to backpack the Appalachian trail, or become the CEO of your own business, or are promoted in your job, or in my case, snatch the bandaid off and finally finish my novel/screenplay.

To all of you lovelies experiencing a transition regardless of your age, let the world believe what it wants, but defy them by making the impossible possible through God. 

The perks about getting older: More confidence because you know yourself, Less patience for Mean Girl mind games, Grace, Elegance and Strength because you've seen more of the world.

tabi no tame
for the journey.

"People disappear all the time."

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Claire Randall is leading a double life. She has a husband in one century, and a lover in another...

In 1945, Claire Randall, a former combat nurse, is back from the war and reunited with her husband on a second honeymoon—when she innocently touches a boulder in one of the ancient stone circles that dot the British Isles. Suddenly she is a Sassenach—an "outlander"—in a Scotland torn by war and raiding border clans in the year of our Lord...1743.
Hurled back in time by forces she cannot understand, Claire's destiny in soon inextricably intertwined with Clan MacKenzie and the forbidden Castle Leoch. She is catapulted without warning into the intrigues of lairds and spies that may threaten her life ...and shatter her heart. For here, James Fraser, a gallant young Scots warrior, shows her a passion so fierce and a love so absolute that Claire becomes a woman torn between fidelity and desire...and between two vastly different men in two irreconcilable lives. - Amazon

About a month ago, I had no idea what Sassenach meant, and now it’s clearly defined as and outsider within the Scottish Highlands, or an English person... or a most knee weakening pet name when spoken by the devastating James (Alexander Malcolm Mackenzie) Fraser. I couldn’t have imagined how much Outlander would have turned my literary life upside down with over six hundred pages of Scottish enchantment.

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon is the historical time travel adventure of a woman named Claire Beauchamp, who during a ‘second honeymoon’ with her husband Frank in Scotland, finds herself transported from 1945 to the 18th century. There she meets James Fraser and the lot of Clan Mackenzie in a world weighted beneath revolution and civil conflict with the English, and more specifically, Black Jack Randall, a treacherous English Captain consumed with eradicating traitors.

Diana Gabaldon is a wondrous writer. I read somewhere that she wrote Outlander as a study to learn to write novels, thus allowing her imagination to flood the pages that have multiplied countless times over. One of the things that I found truly compelling was Gabaldon’s extraordinary eye for detail in her development of Clan Mackenzie, it’s various people, and the Scottish cultural folklore that saturates the entire novel. The task of realistically depicting, not only a historical time period, but one involving gaelic and Scottish dialects of English seems daunting at best. But Gabaldon commands her  historical and cultural knowledge of Scotland so beautifully.

Claire Beauchamp is such a dream protagonist who devoted her time to nursing soldiers back to health during World War II, has a keen mind for botany, and refuses to take on the role of a demure woman. Her boldness is all the more stark once she is transported back to the 18th century, giving Jamie and the Clan Mackenzie a run for their money. It’s not often I’ve experienced a historical female protagonist who is celebrated for their intelligence and strength. What I found compelling was Claire’s process of adapting to an entirely different time that is both the antithesis of who she is, yet also compliments her a bit better than the 1940s.

Jamie Fraser *cue cheesy grin* is one of the most adorable male protagonists I’ve read in a long while. He is incredibly courageous, moral, and stands strong with such integrity. Paired with his strength is his vulnerability that shines through in most of his interactions with Claire. They have such a wonderful relationship because it is forged from friendship and mutual respect. It’s really beautiful to watch them fall for each other over the course of the novel. Unlike her marriage to Frank Randall, which seems to have simmered to a routine, she and Jamie have this incredible push pull relationship capable of growth because they teach each other a plethora of lessons about themselves.

Although, Outlander is very romantic, it doesn't shy away from savage realities of the time period such as its treatment of women, or the brutality of one cultural view versus another. Frankly, I was pretty surprised at the boundaries Diana Gabaldon crosses, especially by the end. I'm not sure anything could have prepared me for Jamie's experiences, in particular, but it makes me admire Gabaldon all the more that she did not merely write a romance, but one telling a very grand human story.

Bare in mind: Outlander by Diana Gabaldon contains sexual content, profanity, violence, and disturbing scenarios.

So much can be said of this novel. That it is a beautiful romance, a homage to Scotland and the magic that grazes their scenic landscapes and waxes lyrical in spoken Gaelic, or that the waterhorse exists, or that it allows us to take in the possibility of what can happen when one woman is transported back in time to aid a man and his clan.  It is a monolith of a book that has its mundane moments, but not enough to overshadow its brilliance.

All I can really say now is that I totally understand why this saga has captured so many hearts.  I can't wait to have a Scottish Adventure all my own one day. Once again the United Kingdom calls.