Book Review: Things Jolie Needs To Do Before She Bites It

I think any book lover worth their salt has a large To Be Read pile waiting to be tackled. Over the last year or so, I’ve been trying to work my way through mine, which encompasses an entire bookcase–I may have gone overboard. The book I’ll be reviewing today was acquired on the book convention circuit, picking up free ARCs. I never got to this book before it came out officially, and I, sadly, never even read the description before grabbing it up because the cover looked pretty. I know, I’m bad. I know, I should be more selective. But I’m a very eclectic reader. So I dove in.

Things Jolie Needs To Do Before She Bites It is a YA Romantic Comedy with a gorgeous cover.

Book Summary:

Jolie’s a lot of things, but she knows that pretty isn’t one of them.

She has mandibular prognathism, which is the medical term for underbite. Chewing is a pain, headaches are a common occurrence, and she’s never been kissed. She’s months out from having a procedure to correct her underbite, and she cannot wait to be fixed.

Jolie becomes paralyzed with the fear that she could die under the knife. She and her best friends, Evelyn and Derek, decide to make a “Things Jolie Needs to Do Before She Bites It (Which Is Super Unlikely, but Still, It Could Happen)” list. Things like: eat every appetizer on the Applebee’s menu and kiss her crush Noah Reed.

But since when did everything ever go exactly to plan?

What I Enjoyed:

The funny thing about Things Jolie Needs To Do Before She Bites It, by Kerry Winfrey, is that its concept strongly resembles the plot of a short story I wrote years ago, “One Percent.” “One Percent” was about a young teen who discovers she needs to have spinal surgery to repair her scoliosis and panics, her anxiety feeding the idea that she would be part of the small percentage of surgeries that failed. Things Jolie Needs To Do Before She Bites It starts in a very similar way but becomes so much more as the story evolves from its basic concept (and quickly becomes nothing like my short story.

This book hit all of my happy notes. Each character, even the oddball side characters, felt like a person, each with wants, needs, desires–and nobody was a bad guy. This wasn’t that kind of novel. Jolie is actually her very own antagonist, in a very real way. As Jolie struggles with the very idea of what it means to be beautiful–inside or out–she struggles to create new relationships, and salvage the ones she needs to keep.

Her relationships with her family are well drawn, and we get to see a YA book with a family that acts like a real family. Sure, there’s drama, but the characters are loving and warm to each other, and they are not the bad guys in Jolie’s life. Jolie’s best friends, Evelyn and Derek, are uniqueand come with real problems that aren’t really even the point of the story, but are interesting side stories that become important to us because of how important they are to Jolie.

The romance here is a spoiler, but it’s so well done, and it doesn’t go anywhere you would think it was going to go based on the book blurb.

One of my favorite things about this book was that there weren’t enemies–there were competitors, and there were people who cause trouble obliviously, and there are people getting in their own way. But there aren’t bullies and an arch nemesis. Just life, in all the way that it is difficult, and in the ways it becomes more difficult when you have a physical deformity, a struggle I tangled with as a teen myself, as I coped with scoliosis.

What I’d Avoid: I honestly don’t have anything for this section. This book had a strong plot, strong characterizations, strong theme, humor and was just plain lovable. I’ve got no complaints.

Would I Recommend It: Absolutely! Hell, my nine-year-old son wants to read it and I told him to go for it (it’s always a miracle to hear him ask for something he actually wants to read, versus being forced to read). It’s a sweet story and a sweet romance, with only two small detours into subject matter that may be questionable, although when I say that, I mean it skirts the edge of what you’d probably see on your average prime time television show.

What Can I Learn From It: It’s rare to see a book where all of the characters were well-rounded, and not in any way the bad guy. I mean, we’re not even speaking about characters that are the bad guy, but have redeeming qualities. We’re speaking about characters that simply get in their own way, as we as people are wont to do. And not having a clear villain does nothing to damage the conflict of the story–it’s there and it’s strong. I’m eager to try something similar in a different setting, just to see if I can accomplish it.

All in all, Things Jolie Needs To Do Before She Bites It was a fun, well-told story I would recommend to anyone who is looking for a book that is about real life–ups, downs, quirks, and insecurities.

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Habitually Yours

A Justine in her natural writing habitat.

When I was a kid, I had the wonderfully gross habit of chewing things. I was like a little rat. I chewed on pencils and pens until they would splinter. I would chew on bizarre things. I wouldn’t find out until way later that it was actually sensory seeking behavior—the product of a Sensory Processing Disorder I had, and have since inadvertently passed to my son (that’s the only way it even got diagnosed).

It’s a strange thing. I broke that chewing habit somehow long before I ever thought of having Logan, and yet somehow, he picked up the same habit. We’re struggling to break him from it now.

Habits, as it turns out, are strange and unpredictable things. Some are in our blood, our DNA, like my weird chewing habit. Some form accidentally, like the way you go to the store across the street for lunch, once, twice, and before you know it, we’re regulars. Some habits, the best habits, are the ones we form on purpose.

They say it takes twenty-one days for a habit to form. That kind of habit is a different brand. It starts with a commitment. You decide you’re going to create a habit and then you do it. That’s the intention of programs like NaNoWriMo. You write as much as you can for as many days in a row, and eventually you form a habit.

I used to have a fairly consistent writing habit. I wrote once a day, at least something. Lately, I have allowed that to drop. Life has been perpetually getting in the way of things, our editing business is keeping me in editing jobs (no complaints there), and I just haven’t been carving out the time to write.

That is about to change. For months, I’ve been agonizing about how to get myself started again. I have a few projects in mind, but none of them are jumping out more to me than the others. They all have their benefits, but I need to find which one is my next big project.

Last week, I received my second Scribbler box and it had a journal in it. It contained 300 Writing Prompts. It isn’t the first one I’ve had. The last time I used one it helped me get a handle on character. So, I’ve decided to restart my writing habit. As of this month, I will be writing at least a prompt a day. Each will be written in the voice of one of the characters I’ve been playing with. If I like them, I will post them here. If I don’t, it was worth the attempt.

And by the end of March, I hope to have figured out which voice I want to explore the most. Wish me luck, you guys. By April and Camp NaNoWriMo, I’m hoping to be back in the writing habit.

Scribbler!

I’ve been itching to try the Scribbler subscription box for writers since it was first released. But alas, there’s the issue of budget that never allowed me to sign up. May I take a moment to say “Yay Christmas Bonuses!” Because I get to share my very first Scribbler box with you!

So I intended to take pictures if each item, and my Logan knew it. Hence, we get pictures like this.

The first thing I spotted when I opened my Scribbler box was a near magnetized dry erase board. I used it immediately to write a love letter.

The author of the month this month was YA fantasy author Evelyn Skye, who had a short story in the Sucker Literary anthology I was promoting around here a few years ago. The book that accompanies this box is Circle of Shadows. It is her third book, an epic fantasy. The book includes a signed bookplate.

Not only is the book included, but there is also a separate pamphlet that offers an inside look at the editing process. She shows us a scene from Circle of Shadows that was cut in edits, and walks us through everything that has changed since, including a whole storyline that was cut.

Evelyn also wrote up a great collection of tips and tricks for writing fantasy—mainly focusing on building magic systems and how it figures into and impacts world building.

This sticker gives me life.

An invitation to an exclusive chat with Kristin Rens, Executive Editor at Balzer + Bray, was also included, but, as is always my luck, it lands on the day and (believe it or not) exact time of a seriously important doctor’s appointment, so I won’t be able to attend. 😦

There was a great little notebook with a sturdy cover, built for the kind of writer that writes on the go. You can work on the writing prompt they sent in that adorable little notebook.

And lastly, this warm scribbler beanie, perfect for the snowy weather I’ve been trudging through–as modeled by Logan.

So, what did I think of my first Scribbler box? I loved it! Just having a bunch of cute things that relate to my life as a writer, while also relating to my life loving YA novels is just perfect. I do wish the writing chat was something I could attend—for instance, not in the middle of a normal workday—but other than that, every single piece included is going to get a lot of use from me.

I can’t afford to do this every month, but I think there are more of these in my future.

To sign up for a Scribbler box, go here!

Resolving to Write

This weekend on CraftQuest’s monthly video, we discussed all the best tools and changes you can make to invest in your writing life in 2019. We call it our writing resolution. You can find our archived livestream below.

I had a lot to say about this topic. I couldn’t seem to shut up. 😉

The Meaning of Success

Recently, I’ve found myself saying things like “when I’m successful,” or “when I get where I need to be,” without thinking about what that actually means to me. The dawn of a new year is always good for making you take a step back from your life and forcing you to question those things that just seem like a given when we don’t evaluate them. One day, I’ll be successful. Except what does that even mean? To be successful? Turning it around in my head led me to understand that there is no real definition.

Success is self-defined. Only we can decide our own version of success and there are often many layers to be found there. So I decided to map out a few versions of what I considered to be my own personal meaning of success.

  1. The Semi-Successful Happy Place–In this version of what I consider to be success, I sell a few books for moderate deals. I continue to work my day job as a legal assistant, but the money from the books sales help me have something extra to spend on fun things to do. My son is happy, my husband is happy. Life is relatively the same, but people enjoy my books and I feel a sense of accomplishment. Logan grows up well and I continue to nurture the wonderful relationships I’ve built. I don’t have everything I want, but that’s okay. More to write about. And life keeps on trucking.
  2. All The Dreams–In this version, I sell a lot of books and I’m a prolific writer. I also get a load of editing business, and between the two incomes, it’s enough for me to leave my day job. I get to work from home with my writing and editing, and it gives me the freedom to be more involved in my son’s school life. I can participate in events at his school and be a more hands-on parent than my current arrangement allows me to be. I still continue to maintain the wonderful relationships I’ve built as well as new professional relationships that feed my soul. I get to travel some more and it feeds my writing material. Life is beautiful, but busy. And the beat goes on.
  3. The Best Case Scenario–Not only do I sell books, but I get super successful. There’s fanfiction about my books and weird merchandise and I’m almost a household name, at least among YA readers. I run a successful editing business because I love to help other writers, and money is no longer even remotely tight. My family lives comfortably, we get to travel, and we buy a house on a lake, with one next door for my best friend to live in. I have enough property for a couple of dogs (can’t do that in my apartment because of my allergies), and everyone I love is well taken care of. I make a good living doing what I absolutely love. Things really couldn’t be better.

I would honestly love every one of these scenarios. Hell, just part of some of these would make me feel successful. It’s not about achieving all of your goals, although that would be wonderful. It’s about hitting a landmark. Feeling like you’ve accomplished something.

Success is different for every person. You define it. As large or as small as you want to go.

So what does success means to you?

Storytime with Boogie Down Books

I recently had the wonderful experience of reading to children during Boogie Down Books’ Storytime, and it was an amazing experience. As soon as I arrived at Mottley Kitchen on Saturday Morning, December 15th, I knew I had to chronicle this experience for my blog and let everyone know about the delightful time I had and all about the wonderful bookstore without walls.

I met Boogie Down Books owner Rebekah Shoaf at The Bronx Book Fair in May and immediately took a liking to her. She was unbelievably friendly and energetic and immediately put me, who attended as both a networking author and a mother looking for new books for her son, at ease. She told me all about her company, and I immediately signed up for the newsletter, grateful to discover such an interesting new Bronx program.

Rebekah called Boogie Down Books a bookstore without walls. Instead of a brick and mortar shop, she organizes pop-up shops at events and schools around the borough. She even organized a pop-up shop in Mottley Kitchen, a cafe in the South Bronx, where she organizes  weekly Storytimes for young children and a monthly book club for teens and adults.

After reading through their newsletter, I decided to volunteer to read a book for children at Storytime, and was selected to read Windows by Julia Denos. I was very excited and didn’t really know what to expect.

Now, hearing about all of this and experiencing it are two very different things. In theory, it seemed like a nice idea. In practice, it was warm, welcoming, and engaging. Rebekah greeted me and my husband and son, Logan, near the pop-up bookshop set-up, every bit as open and cheerful as she had the first time I met her. She chatted with Logan for a while and when he asked if he could help her, she promised they’d discuss it when he was older. Logan felt included and happy, and I was exceedingly grateful.

After showing me around and explaining my role, Rebekah left us to grab some buttery croissants, filling granola bars, and piping hot English Breakfast Tea (for my wonderful sore throat) from the staff at The Mottley Kitchen (we also bought books, of course), and we settled in until people started to arrive.

Once we had a good group gathered together, Rebekah called everyone together. I sat in a chair in the center of the reading nook and the children gathered around me. Rebekah led the group in a breathing exercise and then a welcome song. It was clear that the large majority of the children were regulars, and Rebekah knew them by name. The welcome song referred to each child by name, including Logan, whom she had just met.

Rebekah had asked me to read The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats in addition to Windows, as the books held many similarities. I agreed, eager to read even more to these adorable children. So, I read, and asked questions, and interacted, and for a wonderful half hour, I got to hang out with children, which really is the best thing.

Photo by Rebekah Shoaf

Then, it was time for the kids to do their book related craft, and I got to mix and mingle with the lovely parents. By the time it was time to go, I was reluctant to leave. I had felt so welcome, and so comfortable amongst this group–I imagine that’s what the kids who come to attend storytime feel like every weekend.

And just like that, I decided I was definitely going to do this again. Maybe not for a little bit, since my schedule is packed, particularly on Saturday, but I would be back. It was such an uplifting experience. In the Bronx, where it’s been a struggle to get one brick and mortar bookstore open, where the overwhelming need for literacy programs are left to very few people to lead the charge, I decided I needed to be a part of it.

If you’re in the NYC area, you should absolutely support Boogie Down Books. Come out for a Storytime or a Book Club. If you’re not, and you can afford it, buy a book or two from their website. Little pleasures like this one are few and far between. We should try, however we can, to keep them alive.