Book Review: Seven Minutes in Heaven by Eloisa James

B01FD9AZ6Q.01.LZZZZZZZWarning! Spoilers ahead.

This book has some issues. It’s a shame because I respect Eloisa James as a writer, plus the story has its moments.

For example, she’s created these two marvelously eccentric children. (And a pet rat.) It’s so easy to fall in love with these kids:

“I hope to return tomorrow with a new governess.”

“Lumpy was good-hearted,” Lizzie said, as if she were discussing a newly deceased acquaintance. It’s just that she had a tendency to overlook the big things for the small ones… She was very upset by Otis’s betting scheme, whereas she might have seen it as an example of ingenuity, or even resourcefulness.”

“Miss Lumley considered it an ethical lapse.”

“That’s the small thing. She could have looked at the bigger part of it, and seen that Otis is afraid and that’s why he’s hoarding money under his mattress.”

Then there’s the moment when the cook–friends with the recently and unhappily departed heroine–sends the hero dry chicken for his supper. And burnt cake.

The main problems stem from a saggy middle and a “blooming idiot” of a hero.

Let’s start with the saggy middle.

First and foremost, this is a story that was stretched too thin. It could have easily lost 50 to 100 pages and been the better for it. I have a feeling this was caused by an effort to reach a minimum word count. This is understandable, if lamentable.

The dip in suspense begins around p. 230. A lot of the conflict Eugenia has been dealing with is internal. She’s getting over the fear of her reputation and she is still adamant about not marrying the hero, so the fear of losing power over her business hasn’t set in yet. They’ve just had sex. She’s getting along great with the kids and the staff. All that looms is the custody battle, which is still a ways off.

Solution: I liked the progression of her letting go of Andrew and her previous marriage. It’s done in beautiful, poignant stages. For example, on p. 144:

“May I kiss you?” Ward asked.

“Yes.” Her head turned to the perfect angle for his kiss, making it clear to him, but also to herself. She was going to do this, this…

This step away from Andrew. This step away from death and into life. It was only a small step, but she knew it would change everything.

 

Another beat similar to this would have been great. Now, there’s only so much emotion you can wring out of a reader for a dead character when all they have is their loved ones’ nostalgia. We are given very few memories and no flashbacks, which are the main ways writers connect us to characters important to the book but not present. More of these could have heightened the tension and provided fodder for this extra beat.

Or maybe either the mayor chain/clergyman drama could extend a bit longer to fill in this dip in the tension. Both were very short blips on the map that did their duty to illustrate the quirkiness of the kids and the challenges in raising them. But making them somehow pull double duty would have made for a tighter story.

Now let’s turn our attention to the second problem: the willful and ridiculous blindness of the male protagonist. His main obstacle to marrying Eugenia is that he doesn’t believe her to be nobility by birth. This is in spite of the fact that she explicitly tells him this is not the case… TWICE! I can (grudgingly) find it in my heart to forgive him of the first misinterpretation, but the second one was such a blatant case of delusion that I just couldn’t swallow it.

Add to that the fact that, to win her back, he promises to not use her in his custody battle. This is a sound solution, except he turns around and does the exact opposite! Not only that, but he announces in front of the House of Lords that he intends to marry her, essentially pressuring her into accepting. When she walked out of the hall I thought she was pissed, and rightfully so! I was honestly confused how they would reach a happy ending with the number of pages remaining. When she wasn’t angry I was a bit disappointed and it undermined the beautifully done conclusion with his crumbly little cake.

I don’t have a solution for his idiocy other than to make it more a part of his character. Providing some other example of him sticking so hard to a set narrative only to be proven wrong–if cast in a sympathetic light–could perhaps make it more bearable.

Ultimately I would only recommend this book to avid Eloisa James fans. For those looking for a historical, family-oriented romance, I’d point them to the Hathaway series by Lisa Kleypas.

 

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Book Review: Cinder by Marissa Meyer (OR A Normal Conversation with Kate)

54d1ff10-fd36-0133-805f-0e31b36aeb7f(Warning: this review contains lots of spoilers.)

Once upon a time I read Cinder and loved it. Twice upon a time I reread Cinder and gave it a big, fat “meh.” By all accounts it’s exactly my brand of catnip. (Retelling of a fairy tale? Check. Romantic arc? Check.) I thought it would hold up to a second reading. And yet it was a struggle to get into the book. The first 200 pages were a slog and my interest was only consistently held after the 300 page mark.

Why?

I’ve been discussing this with my friend, the talented and ridiculously story-smart Kate. It’s been a wide-ranging conversation, but mostly focuses on characters’ goals and the inherent re-readability of any Cinderella story.

Let’s first focus on characterization.

Author Jennifer Crusie has this rule when it comes to characters: competence attracts you, while vulnerability gets you to invest. This makes sense, right? Competence is sexy. But you arguably only see the real them, the thing that makes them unique, when they are vulnerable. Because vulnerability is personal—or should be.

And the natural conduit for these things is their goals. Kate summed it up nicely: “I feel like the natural way to show both competence and vulnerability is in pursuit of a want. Vulnerability is in wanting something enough to try for it and to put yourself out there. Or after the try, when they wait to find out if they succeeded or failed. The despair if they fail, the joy if they succeed. Competence can be how they go about pursuing their goals.”

In the first 200 pages of Cinder our leads are in vulnerable situations. Cinder is a slave and Kai is forced to watch his father, the Emperor, waste away from an incurable plague. Vulnerable = invest, right?

Wrong.

Somehow their vulnerable situations aren’t personal. Do I pity them? Absolutely. Do I want them to succeed? Yeah. But this isn’t translating into interest for me. And maybe it doesn’t feel personal, maybe it feels bland, because my assumptions of how their goals will pan out are too accurate. Kai has to fail to keep the peace with Luna or there’s no story. Cinder has to survive and fix Kai’s android or there’s no story.

My interest is only piqued when something unexpected happens with their goals, revealing a new nugget of vulnerability or competency. Kai fails to get Cinder to go to the ball. He shows (consent-conscious) tenacity in asking again. And again. That’s something you wouldn’t necessarily expect from a prince who’s used to getting his way. For Cinder the moment comes when she fails to save her sister Peony.

It doesn’t help that most their goals are slow burners. A lot of them are things they just need to avoid, leading to stagnant situations. Kai needs to not marry Levana. Cinder needs to not die, to not lose her spirit. They have very limited options and spend the story either in stalemates or at the mercy of other factors. If there aren’t shorter-term goals, this becomes drudgery for the reader.

Added to that the fact that their stagnant situations provide little opportunity to demonstrate competence. Cinder is an esteemed mechanic and Kai is hinted at being a good Emperor-in-the-making (though this doesn’t get seriously tested until the final scenes.) I’d argue that Cinder is the stronger character for this being a consistent part of her characterization. But it doesn’t solve the whole problem.

Usually in stories like this, where the plot eases off, the relationship picks up, until the conclusion when they both crescendo. But their relationship doesn’t help the momentum. Sure it’s another source of tension because she’s cyborg and Lunar and he doesn’t know. (Heck, she doesn’t even know she’s Lunar for a while.) But no writer is going to reveal that before the ball. So it’s nominally tension, but you know when this time bomb is going to detonate, meaning you can put that tension aside.

Now these are all structural problems that I didn’t notice or didn’t care about the first time through. So this raises the question of whether the Cinderella fairy tale is structured in a way that is weaker upon retelling. Kate puts it like this: “How many Cinderella re-tellings do you think got the pacing perfectly right, and that you’d happily re-watch? Cinderella—more so than Beauty and the Beast, Sleeping Beauty, or many other romantic, female centered fairy-tales—has a natural lag time until the ball.If you read a storybook version, the ball enters by like the third paragraph, at the latest. But we always hold it until the third act. The Cinderellas I’ve seen either take great joy in the slow and delightful journey, or they diverge from the script quite a lot. I wonder if Cinder hewed too closely to traditional Cinder pacing for a sci-fi adventure story?”

My gut reaction is that I’d watch the Brandi version of Cinderella any day of the week, dammit. So it can be done. She raises an interesting point, though, in that the Brandi version isn’t straddling genres. But that is a different conversation for a different time.

I’m an editor at heart. As soon as I identify a story’s problem, for me the next question is automatically “well, how do we fix it?” There isn’t an easy editorial solution for this. As Kate mentioned, in a story with this much world building, something has got to be put off until later chapters. And that is a fair observation. Meyer has laid the foundation for a truly admirable nested structure. But my point is that what is lacking is robust characterization, and that’s not something that can be delayed. (A case for lazy characterization and world building is supported by the multiple claims of cultural appropriation in the use of pan-Asia as a stand-in for the exotic.) Cultural issues aside (which I am by no means dismissing—it just falls outside of the purview of this discussion), better characterization could be attained by a better balance of competence and vulnerability… meaning more/different goals for the characters and more/different opportunities to surprise the reader.

Like I said, attaining a better balance is not a simple fix. But there is one easier solution. I found that I didn’t appreciate Cinder nearly as much as I could and should have until she is compared to Cress 300+ pages in. The way Cress is self-doubting and emotional highlights Cinder’s strength and resolve. (Not that Cress isn’t those things. It’s just expressed in different ways.) I would have loved to see a comparison to a neutral party of roughly her age and description, if only to gain a better understanding of her through contrast. (Kai is the romantic interest, Iko is the quirky sidekick, and her step-sisters have their own roles. A character along the lines of Chang Sunto, someone she would casually encounter at the market, would be ideal.)

Problematic bits aside, Meyer really has built the framework for an interesting interpretation of an old classic. If these issues aren’t too aggravating or triggering for you, and you are a fan of fairy tales, it is worth the read. Just probably not a second one.

Trigger warnings: death of character, loss of autonomy, cultural appropriation, discrimination

 

Bookstour: Books of Wonder

Kicking off the Bookstour series is Books of Wonder. And let me tell you, that is an apt name. Just pop over on that link and look at the picture they have on their site. It looks like a candy store, amiright?

Now, I’m going to tell you guys how friggin’ cool this place is. And hold on, because I’m about to nerd out big time. So if you’re settled in, let’s go!

youve got mail giphy

The History:

Books of Wonder opened in 1980 with the intention of exclusively selling antique children’s books. However, short on merchandise, the store owners decided to also sell contemporary children’s books. This remains true to this day.

In the 80s, Books of Wonder joined William Morrow and Company to create an imprint. Due to various mergers, most of the books they published have been taken out of circulation, with the notable exception of L. Frank Baum’s Oz books. It is presumably because of this that there is such a heavy presence–half a wall by the cash registers–of Oz things in the current store.

Oh, and one more tiny detail: They’ve expanded five times over the years.

In the Media:

If you don’t recognize what movie the above gif comes from, I’ll forgive you. It is a bit generic. But if you haven’t seen You’ve Got Mail, I’ll only forgive you if you remedy the situation immediately.

Meg Ryan’s bookstore, The Shop Around the Corner, just so happens to be based on Books of Wonder, seeing as Nora Ephraim and her sister/co-writer were both longtime customers. What you see in the film is essentially a recreation of the store (in a different location from the current one), from dimensions to book shelving and displays.

Events:

Books of Wonder has made a name for itself as a cultural center. Over the years they’ve hosted the biggest names there are: J.K. Rowling, Madeleine L’Engle, Maurice Sendak, and more.

You have my permission to fangirl now.

Every year they also host a panel of the National Book Award finalists in Young People’s Literature. And wouldn’t you know, that was the night Libby and I sashayed through.

Our Review:

Basically, if you are at all interested in children’s or YA, you have to see this place. Even if these genres aren’t your current jam for fun reading, wandering this store will provide a special experience all the same if you have fond memories of reading from your childhood.

Libby and I probably walked around for a good three hours, unlocking earlier and earlier memories. The part I found truly special was that Books of Wonder stocked multiple editions of some books, meaning that we not only saw the books we read as children, but we saw our books exactly as they were in our memories, with the same cover art, the same packaging.

And ooooooh, the packaging. Gilded pages, embossed covers, high quality paper, gorgeous dust jackets. These books are covetable just for their aesthetics.

Seriously. Candy stores have made me drool less.

But as enchanting as the books were, it was all the extras that make this store truly magical.

Because of Books of Wonder’s status, authors are continually coming here for book launches. And that means signed copies.

IMG_2365

Those are all signed. And that’s not the entirety of them.

You know shelf talkers? Those (usually hand-written) notes booksellers tape to shelves recommending books? Yeah. Books of Wonder doesn’t have those. Their “shelf talkers” indicate signed books.

Above and beyond the book launches and panels and other super awesome events, there is a twice-weekly Story Time (also depicted in You’ve Got Mail). This place is obviously into fostering a sense of community.

In Case You Haven’t Fainted Already:

Now, because this store seemed to have a personal mission to make me pee from excitement, at the very back, encased in glass, precious as royal jewels, were the rare books. An entire wall of them.

First editions.

sully reaction gif 1

Rare autographs.

sully reaction 2

One-of-a-kind illustrations.

Sully reaction 3

You guys. I’m getting emotional just talking about it. This place exists. It is real.

The Nitty Gritty:

Okay. I’ve collected myself. More or less. (A signed “Where the Wild Things Are” with original illustrations can do that to a girl.)

Libby and I came up with a super scientific, totally numbers-ey grading scale and we debated until we ended up with one rating for each category.

Here’s how Books of Wonder fared.

Staff: 4.5 stars (Libby noted that the booksellers she talked to were friendly, knowledgeable, and obviously passionate about children’s literature.)

Atmosphere: 4.5 stars (There’s no denying that this place is gorgeous. And while they had a smooth system going for the event–large space, enough seating, and a good sound system–there was an extremely distracting squeaky floor. Not fair, I know, but them’s the breaks.)

Organization: 4.5 stars

Rewards Program: Yes (You get a Books of Wonder Dollar for every book purchased in the store and priced over $10.)

Conclusion: Go. Now.

Turning a New Leaf in the Big Apple

Why hello, my darling readers. Long time no talk. (We’re going to ignore the random book review I posted over a month ago.) I have missed you, and my blog. But changes are on their way! You may have noticed the new look. And the new title. And… the new URL.

That’s just the beginning.

I don’t know about you, but 2015 has been a doozy of a year for me. In January I was still in college. Since then, I’ve graduated with a B.A. in English, concentration in Creative Writing. I made one of my best decisions ever and attended the Publishing Institute, held every summer at the University of Denver. And then…

I moved to NYC.

Yup.

I did the insanely crazy, most likely stupid thing and decided to move to a city–the second-most expensive city in the U.S., the city that never sleeps, the antithesis-of-introverts-everywhere city–having never in my life even visited. The first time I came to NYC, I was apartment hunting (which is a whole other story).

Did I mention insanely crazy? Most likely stupid? You see why.

But I did it. And I made the choice because I want to make it in publishing. Trade publishing. Fiction. Genre. The romance genre? And really the only place for that, the only place where job opportunities pop up with any semblance of regularity, especially when trying to break into the editorial track, is NYC.

Voila.

Now that I’m here I’m familiarizing myself with the book scene… and it is hoppin’.

So, in addition to the new look, new title, etc., etc., there will be some new content.

Starting us off will be the introduction of a new series called… (wait for it)… (it’s really good, I promise)…

BOOKSTOURS!

Get it? It’s a pun. Tours of bookstores. Bookstours.

Right. Anyway, my favorite thing about NYC is the plethora of independent bookstores. They. Are. Everywhere. And each one is unique. The bookstours series will be focused on reviewing each of these hallowed places.

I won’t just be reviewing NYC bookstores, though. Nope. The idea for this series was born with the help of the super snarky, tea-loving, Tarot-card-reading, teller-of-German-fairytales-involving-hedgehogs… LIBBY! (Please ask her about the fairytale. You won’t be disappointed.)

To honor this joint mission, we will be guests on each others’ blogs as well as continuing on afterwards, reviewing bookstores wherever we shall travel.

But for now, stay tuned. Fun stuff is on the horizon.

Book Review: An Accidental Goddess by Linnea Sinclair

An Accidental Goddess is the far-future sequel to (the out of print) Wintertide. The plot is that Gillaine Davré wakes up after a battle to find herself 342 years in the future. But worse, it seems that the people living on this space station have (unwelcom51KghmrrZcL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_e to her) made her into a goddess, turning a list of her quips and sayings into guiding principles. Among her faulty followers is Admiral Makarian, a man who is tasked with keeping an outer-rim station safe… while contending with minimal resources, spies working against him, mysterious attacks, and a beautiful, increasingly-distracting surmised smuggler.

This is the first book I’ve read as part of a romance book group. I was pleasantly surprised by how robust the action and sci-fi elements were; this is definitely a book that intends to merge the two genres, as opposed to borrowing a convention or two for flavor. That being said, it would have been nice if there were one or two more intimate scenes between Gillaine and Mack (though this could be because I approached it from the romance frame of mind).

Sinclair’s world is generally well thought out and rings true, though no one would call it original. Coming into this story having read none of her other works or the prequel, it took me some time to orient myself to the situation. While I am extremely grateful that I wasn’t coddled as a reader (does anyone else hate those snippets that are obviously stuck in just to catch readers up?), there were a couple of tidbits it probably took too long for me to piece together. Namely, why was Gillaine so worried about hiding her identity? Obviously she didn’t want to be outed as a false goddess, but she also goes to great pains to mask her race. (It turns out it is because Raheirans are a more advanced race than the Khalars she is surrounded by, and their races haven’t been in contact with each other for 342 years.)

The main issues stem either from lack or clarity or not enough development.

There are two major WTF moments. (And no, there really is no other way to say that.)

The first is when Mack proposes. It comes so out of left field that I snorted. Literally. Out loud. Never a good reaction. But, it turns out, this is an easy fix. Right after the proposal, Mack (as surprised as Gillaine and the reader), retraces his thinking. This  passage not only re-establishes credibility, but is emblematic of Mack’s thinking, thus leading the reader to greater understanding and sympathy. All it would take to smooth out this hiccup would be to switch the passages; the thoughts, then the action.

The second WTF moment occurs when Gillaine, all of a sudden, with no warning, realizes that Mack is a sorcerer… and then manages to unlock his power… while simultaneously navigating a Very Large Ship through rift space… which, I’m told, is Very Hard To Do. The fix for this takes a bit more work, though is still manageable.* More build-up is a must. Two or three passages foreshadowing this development would do the trick. Then, during the scene itself, a few more lines or even a paragraph just contextualizing what is happening would help a lot. With these modifications, the plot point would feel less like an author trying to force a happy ending (and, in the process, detracting from the climax as a whole), and more like an integrated, natural… maybe even inevitable occurrence.

My final issue takes a different vein. What the heck is up with Simon? Not the character himself–his voice is great. In fact, his banter with Gillaine and his interactions with the other characters are always on point, entertaining, and snappy. (Don’t tell anyone, but I ship him and Gillaine. Ha!) No, I’m talking about his backstory. Or backstories. Because it felt like there were two. In one, Simon was this Raheiran sorcerer-turned-teacher who, in order to safeguard their culture’s knowledge of magic, exchanges his corporeal body for a more adaptable, AI-like existence. In the other, Raheirans were developing this new technology–namely the Sentient Integrated MObile Nanoessence. So his name as abbreviation indicates both newness and genericness… which is in direct contrast to his multiple-millennia existence. Do you see what I mean? What have I missed?

So, as a recap, The Accidental Goddess is worth the read if you are looking for an engaging story that is a mix of all things good from the romance and sci-fi genres, with consistent beats of humor. The pacing is solid, the characters were fleshed out, and the world is fun to explore.

3.5 STARS

*It is entirely possible that this development was hinted at and that I, having not read the prequel, was blind to foreshadowing. However, considering that the prequel is out of print, I think it’s fair to critique An Accidental Goddess as a stand-alone novel. That is how most readers will encounter it, not to mention the story lines seeming pretty autonomous.

Book Review: Mirror Sight (Green Rider #5) by Kristen Britain

Mirror Sight CoverSince I’ve finished this book, I’ve been debating with myself over how many stars to give it. It definitely deserves at least 4 stars for its technical aspects (there were a few minor issues), but as a reader who was fully invested in the characters, for all the feels I had (yes, it caused some tears–the most since I read The Fault in Our Stars two years ago), for all it manages to accomplish as far as political statements go and providing fabulous role models for young girls and instigating thought, and as someone who has looked up to Karigan and followed her endeavors since middle school (in many cases looking to her as a friend and guide through puberty and into adulthood), I desperately want to give this book 5 stars.
What I will do is give this book 4.5 stars, and the entire series 5 stars.
As the series progresses it reminds me more and more of G.R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones in that Britain doesn’t shy away from painful realities or consequences in a world on the brink of massive war. I respect her so much for that, even if it’s hell on my heart.
Concerning this book:
The pacing was, for the most part, spot on. This is no mean feat, considering how the book is 700+ pages and is told from multiple characters’ points of view. This is especially impressive to me considering that I generally do not like stories told from multiple points of view for this very reason–it screws with momentum. The key was that the other viewpoints were short enough while still being consistent enough to get the other story lines told and to not make it awkward when Karigan was unable to narrate in her own time, leaving it to one of her companions.
The characters themselves were, except for one, complex, interesting, and dynamic. The one exception, and maybe my biggest critique of this book, was that Arhys, a rather significant character, was so thoroughly a brat that I couldn’t find it in me to cheer on the other characters in their interactions with her. That plot progression would have been much stronger for a more robust character.
This new setting was just as well, if not more, drawn out. This new society provided the prime condition for Britain to comment on certain political realities we readers face, namely those concerning female agency/equality and gay rights. Actually, it wasn’t until this book, with its direct juxtaposition with Karigan’s “normal” time period, that I realized quite how awesome this commentary was and has been.
What sticks out most for me, though, are the last 100 pages or so. They are raw and heartbreaking and joyful and dramatic. I both loved and hated it so passionately at the same time and for many of the same reasons. And that, dear friends, is the mark of a good writer and story. That trumps the other technical difficulties by far.
In my estimation, the point of stories are to make you think, but also equally important, to make you feel. So while I may nitpick and notice some issues, what is ultimately the most vital thing for me was that I was emotionally engaged to an extent that profoundly affected me. In doing so, it facilitated and enhanced my thinking in ways that would not have happened otherwise, ultimately making it a book that transcends fiction and becomes a part of not only my real world, but can have implications for this communal world we all share.

13 Tricks for Reading Boring Assignments

Summer is winding down. The grass is turning brown, foreshadowing the leaves’ imminent descent. Whiffs of sunscreen are slowly being replaced by the scents of paper, new books (!), and all those suit cases that have been moldering in the attic. In other words, school is around the corner.

This semester will be the start of my senior year of college. I go to a liberal arts school and because of the way I’ve tackled the requirements, my final two semesters will consist almost entirely of classes within my major, English. In other words, the next six months will consist of thousands of pages of reading. In preparation of this, I’ve been compiling a list of 13 Tricks for Reading Boring Assignmentstips and tricks I’ve learned to help me–and just maybe all you beautiful, dear readers as well–in the coming months.

  1. Get your syllabus early and start reading over the summer. Yeah, I know. Who wants to spend their free time doing work that isn’t due for a long time? No one. But here’s the deal: it gives you a leg up. You establish a connection with the professor from the get-go and make it SO much easier on yourself in the future. Even if what you’ve read isn’t due for a long time, relearning is quicker than learning the first go round. And if you do choose to reread, I can guarantee that you will see new things, make new connections, and have more ideas for that paper due around the corner.
  2. Make your own reading assignments after the first day of class and start reading that 900 page classic that you’re hypothetically scheduled to read in a week. If it sounds like I’m speaking from experience with this one, it’s because I am. My British Victorian Literature class was supposed to read Middlemarch in a week. Yeah-no. I can assure you that this plan did not match up with reality, and it made my life miserable for a time, since I was scheduled to lead class discussion for the last section. Please, please, please make something positive come out of that experience. For me. For you. For–let’s be honest–your grade. A syllabus contains all the due dates but it’s up to you to make sure you get it done. Forward planning and your own REALISTIC and MANAGEABLE schedule makes all the difference. Having blind faith that you can get all the homework done in the day(s) between classes will lead to sticky moments.
  3. Studying in laundry rooms is awesome and here is why: you’ve got your white noise; you’ve got unique smells (which helps your brain process new material and, if you wear, say, a freshly laundered shirt at test time, the scent will call that information to the forefront again); you’re there when your laundry is done so you don’t hold everyone else’s laundry up (and prevent disgruntled students from handling and displaying your, ahem, intimates when they scoop ’em out and plop ’em on top of the washer); AND you kill two birds with one stone. Who wants to study? Who wants to do laundry? No one. Minimize the time. Double task. Reap the multitude of rewards. You can spend your free time worshipping me, and all my sage wisdom. Or, you know, binge watching Netflix. Whatever.
  4. Read in a public space. See above for an excellent suggestion of said public place. Otherwise, study lounges are great, dining halls work, the library is stupendous, or even go out to a café and study whilst drinking that sweet, sweet nectar that is coffee. The noise should ideally a) keep you awake, and b) provide white noise that is shown to help those creative and productive juices flow. This leads me to…
  5. White noise generators are your friend. My favorite is Coffitivity. It’s free. It streams, so you don’t have to download anything. You can check out their site for all the empirical evidence that shows how fabulous white noise is. Or, you can search for your own favorite generator. There are plenty.
  6. To keep yourself from falling asleep, paint your nails. So you don’t feel like going out and you’re at home, you’re reading a dry-as-dust textbook, nanoseconds away from drooling on the diagram demonstrating the differences between citation styles. There are pages to go before you can sleep. Here is my no-longer-so-super-secret, not-patent-pending trick: I paint my nails. I don’t know about you guys, but it is my goal in life, it is on my bucket list, it is my dream of dreams, to one day have my nails dry before they get messed up. To go ONE STINKIN’ DAY without bubbles or unwanted textures or chips. Part of that process means that I absolutely can NOT fall asleep with wet nails. Plus, who wants to sleep with that scent right under their nose? (Oh, and, FYI, color association works as scent association does. Wear the same color to make it easier for your brain to make connections between study time and test time.) Also, this is one activity you can do that falls in the golden study ratio of…
  7. 15 minutes on, 3 minutes off OR 30 minutes on, 6 minutes off. Last year my roommate learned this in one of her Psychology classes and it revolutionized our study habits. If you study for 15 minutes, take a 3 minute break. If you choose to study for 30 minutes, double your break to 6 minutes. I’ve found that for sleep-inducive reading, the 15/3 option is better, but the opposite is true for writing a paper. Try them out and see what works for you. Don’t know what you can do in 3 minutes? Well, painting a layer of fingernail polish works. Other options include: dancing and singing along to a song (Oppa Gangnam Style, YMCA, 80s classics, The Cha Cha Slide, and Beyoncé are some of my favorites… this is no time for dignity–have fun and get the blood moving!); stretching; drink a glass of water; do a quick tidy up of your work space; bathroom break; make your bed; or plan tomorrow’s outfit.
  8. Pace and read. Continuing the theme of moving around to stay awake, consider pacing and reading. When I was in high school I discovered that pacing while going through flash cards helped immensely with recall. It works with reading longer articles and books in a pinch.
  9. Leave gummy bears at the bottom of each page. I am not above an enticing bribe. Carrots–or gummy bears, as the case may be–can be a perfectly valid way to get you through a tough assignment.
  10. Highlight! (Or tabs, or notes.) Understanding and interacting with the text is, ultimately, the goal of the entire exercise. Facilitate that process by taking your conversation and making it visual. Highlight and write in the margin or, if the idea of that makes you squirm, stock up on tabs and sticky notes and use them! Give those books some color! Take ’em back to the 20s with a fringe skirt of paper! Buff up your notes with connections and quotes you’ve found. Write key things down to solidify the concepts.
  11. Books on tape or audio books can get the job done. Remember the Middlemarch fiasco? I pulled it off by getting the book on tape and listening to it on my drive back to school. Since then, I’ve become a fan of audio books. They allow you to be mobile and do homework at the same time. Or, you can listen while keeping your hands free to simultaneously take notes. Sometimes my head is so crowded that if I try to read, I’ll spend more time daydreaming than being productive. By listening to someone else’s voice, it can get you out of that state. It’s much harder to go back to the right spot and “re-listen” than it is to re-read, so I find myself paying closer attention when I know that I have to get the information the first time, no do-overs.
  12. Sometimes you just gotta skim. While the point of this list is to minimize this from happening, sometimes it’s unavoidable. It’s not the end of the world. Crazy weeks happen. Life intervenes. Breathe, prioritize, and plug along.
  13. Librarians can be super helpful.  This falls more under the finding stuff to read category than the how to read list that I’ve got going, but it deserves to be said. When it comes to papers requiring research, and lots of it, librarians are Da Bomb. Really, really, really. It is their job to know how to look up material, and how to teach you to look up material. USE THIS RESOURCE. My university’s library offers one-on-one sessions where a librarian will help you dig up sources. I only learned about this last semester. Let me tell you, I wish I’d known about it sooner. Check to see your school has similar, or different but equally awesome, options.

What are some other study tips you have? Thought of a good song to add to my dance break playlist? I’d love to hear from you!