Riley Heruska
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Texas might not exactly look like a glistening winter wonderland right now, but that doesn't mean we can't curl up indoors with some cozy books when we have the chance. Thanksgiving break is coming, which means long days of hanging with family and doing nothing. Picking up an addictive novel is one of the best ways to pass the time and truly soak up some relaxation. Not ready to fully embrace the holiday season? Here are a few books that will have you decking the halls and spreading cheer as soon as you crack their spines. 

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

This one might seem a little on the nose, but it's impossible to craft a holiday reading list without including this quintessential story. You may have seen several movie adaptations of Ebenezer Scrooge's redemption, but you probably haven't delved into Dickens' original text and experienced the true essence of his story. The novel is a masterpiece of imagination, and its emphasis on charity and goodwill make it the perfect holiday companion. A perennial favorite that has delighted readers for more than 170 years, A Christmas Carol arguably embodies the most poignant definition of Christmas spirit you can find. 

The Christmas Wish
 by Richard Siddoway

This inspiring mystery follows Will Martin, a man who was raised by his grandparents after the death of his parents when he was young. He returns to help run his family's real estate business after his grandfather passes away, but he soon learns secrets about his beloved grandfather's past that leave him shattered and confused. His grandmother tells Will that she found out her husband was having an affair every Christmas Eve, so Will sets out to uncover this other woman. What he finds is a powerful lesson in forgiveness, kindness, and the importance of caring for others. Siddoway's tale is a holiday favorite, and you'll easily see why so many recommend it. 

Letters from Father Christmas
 by J.R.R. Tolkien

There are no elves or orcs in this 1976 Tolkien tale, but there are enchanting tales that come straight from the hand of jolly big man himself. Centered around the letters from "Father Christmas" that Tolkien handed to his children every year, the compilation is a charming addition to any holiday story collection. Readers will love Tolkien's inventive scenarios, which range from polar bears falling through roofs to escaped reindeer that accidentally leave scattered presents in their wake. 

The Greatest Gift by Philip Van Doren Stern

You've probably seen the classic film It's a Wonderful Life more than a few times, but you might not have read the book that inspired the tale. This short story was originally printed as a private Christmas card for the author's friends, but it eventually sparked the idea for a timeless Christmas film. Revisit the world of George Bailey as he realizes that his life is a gift that touches many. It's a heartwarming tale with themes that ring true across all generations. 

The Christmas List by Richard Paul Evans

This beloved tale of hope and redemption has become a bit of a literary Christmas staple. Richard Paul Evans takes the classic story of Scrooge and gives it a modern twist that is perfectly executed and entirely heartwrenching. James Kier, a ruthless businessman in today's society, cares only about making money until he stumbles across his own obituary in the newspaper. The shocking sight leaves him reevaluating his lifestyle, as well as his actions towards others. The Christmas List might not be as superbly-told as Dickens' A Christmas Carol, but it does lend the story a fresh face that is touching and thought-provoking. 

There's Something about Christmas 
by Debbie Macomber 

Best-selling author Debbie Macomber has enchanted thousands of fans with this story of wisdom and love. Her character Emma Collins is flying around Washington to interview various fruitcake recipe creators as the holidays approach, and during the process, she meets a man who bears a striking resemblance to Scrooge with his sour temper. However, she soon realizes that there is might be more to this man than meets the eye, as well as the women she's been interviewing. Full of fun personalities and humor, this lighthearted read is an ideal companion to settle in with after a heavy Thanksgiving meal. 

The Gift of the Magi and Other Short Stories
 by O. Henry

Packed with sixteen different tales, this colorful compilation contains various works by the talented author O. Henry. Perhaps the most famous of these short stories is The Gift of the Magi, which is about a young couple who can't afford Christmas gifts for one another. Henry's remarkable writing style will snag your attention immediately, and his diverse themes about giving and living are the perfect accompaniment to the holiday season. 

The Christmas Box
 by Richard Paul Evans

Evans' 1996 novel is one of the most popular holiday reads on the market. In it, he records the touching story of a widow and the family that moves in with her as they discover the true meaning of Christmas. Heartfelt and wonderfully-told, the timeless tale has won the hearts of countless readers and established itself as a true seasonal classic. 

The Snow Child
 by Eowyn Ivey

Winter in Alaska is no joking matter. High levels of snowfall, freezing temperatures, and the isolation of certain areas make survival difficult. Ivey's characters, Jack and Mable, have an especially difficult time dealing the challenging season after they move to the area during the 1920s. Their marriage is falling apart and their daily work is exhausting. In a brief moment of light-hearted fun, they design a snow child in their yard. The next morning, their creation is gone, but they glimpse a blonde-haired little girl dashing through the woods. The couple struggles to understand this fairytale-like child in a story that becomes both beautiful and transformative. 

The Angel of Forest Hill by Cindy Woodsmall 

Ever read an Amish holiday romance? Probably not, but if you'd like to, this is your chance. Woodsmall tells the story of Rose Krutz, a traditional Amish woman who is asked to leave her home to help a man named Joel after tragedy strikes his family. She agrees to stay with Joel and his children to help them through the difficult time by marrying into the family. Rose and Joel face strife and deep pain together as Christmas approaches, and it seems like their marriage might crumble. Give the novel a shot to see if the couple can make their partnership stand strong as the cold winds blow. 

What are your favorite books to read during the holiday season? Leave any recommendations in the comments! 

Riley Heruska
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Whether you're dining out of state for Thanksgiving or visiting faraway relatives for Christmas, the airport can be a toxic mess when the holidays roll around. Standstill highway traffic, nerve-wracking long security lines, confusing airport terminals, and luggage that is this close to being too heavy for the flight's policy can leave you dreading your trip. 

Fortunately, the airport doesn't have to ruin your magical holiday season. By preparing in advance and heeding some of the following tips, you can feel prepared and even have time to grab a calming hot chocolate at the terminal. 

If Possible, Fly Earlier or Later Than the Crowds 

This is probably easier said than done, but if you can purchase flights that leave a little before or after the peak times, you'll most likely avoid long lines and stupidly high prices. Generally speaking, try not to fly out on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, which is a notoriously hectic day for airports. Late night or super early morning flights also tend to be less pricey and popular, if you're willing to sacrifice a few hours of precious sleep. 

Overestimate How Long It Will Take You to Reach Your Terminal 

At first glance, it looks like it will take you 45 minutes to reach the airport and less than half an hour to get through security, so leaving your house an hour and a half before your flight is fine, right? Well, not exactly. Never assume that traffic, security lines, or other obstacles won't hold you up. In fact, while traveling at this time of year, you should assume that something will set you back. 

Therefore, it's generally safe to assume that you should arrive at the airport at least two hours in advance and double the amount of time you think it'll take you to reach the airport. I know, it sounds ridiculously time-consuming to overbudget like that, but you'll thank yourself when there's a huge accident on the highway or TSA decides to make you repack your entire suitcase on the spot. 

Sign Up for TSA PreCheck in Advance

Speaking of TSA, have you heard of their fabulous new program? According to their website, 97% of people who have signed up for TSA PreCheck wait less than five minutes to get through security. Plus, you don't have to remove your shoes, laptops, liquids, jackets, or belts! Not only does the service save you precious minutes, but it also makes the security process less of a drag. To sign up, you'll need to apply online, head to the airport for a background check once, and pay an $85 fee that will cover you for the next five years. Those steps might sound annoying, but most participants will say that the price is totally worth the benefits. 

Don't Travel With Wrapped Gifts in Your Carry-On

Did you know that TSA officials can open any presents you might have in your bag, even if they're already beautifully wrapped? It probably won't happen, but just to be on the safe side, plan to wrap your gifts once you reach your final destination. If you absolutely must travel with a wrapped gift, pack it in your checked luggage where it's less likely to be disturbed, but be aware that checked luggage is more likely to end up lost in transit. 

Weigh Your Luggage the Night Before the Flight 

If your airline company has weight limits on carry-ons or checked bags, don't play the guessing game. Purchase a small luggage scale on Amazon and make sure that your piece is within the acceptable range. There's nothing worse than paying the overweight surcharge at the last minute, or heaven forbid, unpacking your suitcase in front of everyone to make it work. Give yourself some peace of mind by keeping your bag well under the required weight. 

Dress in Comfortable Layers 

While in flight, airplanes are often uncomfortably cold, especially if you're trying to catch a few zzz's. Make sure to bring a cozy shawl or jacket to cover up with while in the air, but don't bundle up too much or shedding layers for the TSA will be a real pain. Keep it warm but simple. Also, remember to wear socks; no one likes to tread barefoot in the security area. 

Prepare for the Worst With a Charged Battery Pack and Headphones 

Your nightmare has come true: there isn't one available outlet at your terminal, and your phone is already at 25 percent. Plus, there's a screaming baby waiting to get on the plane, and chances are, it'll be seated right next to you. Avoid falling into this trap by toting around a fully-charged battery pack and a trusty pair of noise-canceling headphones. You won't have to barter with someone for space at the airport charging station and you'll be able to tune out any loud noises during your flight without worrying about your battery. Hallelujah. 

Have other recommendations for fellow BubbleLife travelers? Leave them in the comments! 

Riley Heruska
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Can you believe the temps in Texas have actually been dropping below 60 degrees occasionally? Embrace this chilly weather while we have it because you never know when the heat will sporadically return to our southern state. Time for all of us to over-bundle in our barely used parkas and whip up some hot meals to serve after the sun goes down. 

Slow cooker meals are hands-down the simplest way to impress diners with minimal effort on a cold fall evening. Just plop a bunch of ingredients in the pot, set the temperature as the recipe indicates, and then let everything simmer until it becomes a mouthwatering meal a couple of hours later. You can make everything from tender meats to traditional soups in a crockpot without racing around like an overworked chef after a long day at the office.

Not sure what to try making? Here are a few cozy recipes that are sure to wow even the pickiest eaters. 

Crockpot Chicken and Dumplings 

What says "comfort food" more than juicy chicken breasts and shortcut dumplings drenched in a creamy sauce? Holly at Spend With Pennies posted a recipe that makes this meal almost effortless. You'll just need the ingredients for the sauce, chicken breasts, and some premade biscuits. Add them to your cooker in the order she dictates (which should only take a couple of minutes), then be amazed by the steaming hot results roughly five hours later. 

Slow Cooker Pot Roast 

Admit it: the thought of perfectly-cooked beef roasting with an assortment of yummy vegetables and soups makes your mouth water. Tiffany at Don't Waste the Crumbs can show you how to chuck some meat, veggies, and other ingredients into the cooker in just the right order. It'll take you no time at all to prep the meal, although you will have to let it all stew together for approximately eight to ten hours, so plan in advance for this tasty dish. 

Loaded Baked Potato Slow Cooker Soup 

April at Mama Loves Food concocted the ideal blend of cream cheese, fresh potatoes, seasoning, and chicken broth. Pop it all in one pot and let it simmer for a little over six hours until it's wonderfully creamy and flavorful without feeling too heavy. April recommends garnishing the finished soup with some crumbled bacon, shredded cheese, and green onions for a little extra pizzazz. 

Crock Pot Beef Stew 

After spending a day out in the brisk weather, coming home to a steaming hot cup of stew is the best way to recuperate. For a no-fuss beef stew recipe, turn to Savory Nothings. The step-by-step instructions will help you prevent the veggies from overcooking while the meat becomes deliciously tender. The thick dish has a delightfully rustic flair, and you can cook it in just four hours if you turn your crockpot to high heat. 

Slow Cooker Chili 

Visit Cooking Classy for a chili recipe that's both delicious and a breeze to create. With just a little bit of spice and tons of tasty ingredients, this dish will impress anyone, and it only takes about fifteen minutes to prepare. Cook it on low heat for between five and six hours, then serve with pride. The recipe also recommends that you pair the finished result with cheese and sour cream for extra flavor. 

Slow Cooker Chicken Tortellini Soup 

Chicken soup is truly the epitome of all things cozy and winter. Nothing warms your bones up more than some chicken broth and noodles. Alyssa at The Recipe Critic stepped up her chicken soup game by including cheesy tortellini and tons of tasty veggies. Quickly combine all of the ingredients (excluding the tortellini), then leave the cooker alone for six hours on a low setting. Dump the tortellini in about fifteen minutes before the rest is done, then serve with salt and pepper to taste. 

Slow Cooker BBQ Beef Brisket 

We Texans can't resist our barbecue, even when summer nights and pool parties are long gone. Don't feel like heading outside to grill in the cold? Cook up some tender brisket without leaving the comfort of your kitchen. Although the meat will take roughly twelve hours or more to become extra tender in a slow cooker, it only takes ten minutes to get the meat going. Leave it to cook while you go about your daily tasks, then dine on the smoky brisket in the evening. Pair with some fresh bread and the sides of your choice.  

Do you have a favorite slow cooker recipe to use in the fall/winter? Let us know in the comments! Also, don't forget to contribute your best Thanksgiving recipes to our survey so we can include them in our DFW roundup. 

Riley Heruska
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I know we're all anxious to bust out the holiday decorations and start playing Elf on repeat, but let's not overlook the wonderful aspects of Thanksgiving: a delicious meal, time with family, and of course, hours of vegging out in front of the television after inhaling enough food to feed a small army. Although many people will turn on the football game, not everyone is a sports fan, so here are a few classics that are perfect for enjoying on November 23. 

A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving 

Admit it: you can hear this film's uplifting score playing in your head as you read this. People of all ages love this classic children's film, and even though it's more than forty years old, Charlie's unique Thanksgiving dinner is an experience that has stood the test of time.

Garfield's Thanksgiving (1989)

Although it's not nearly as popular as Charlie Brown, this animated television special is still worth watching. Kids will get a kick out of Garfield's panicked reaction when a veterinarian puts him on a special diet. The famous cat grumpily makes his way through Thanksgiving Day while dreaming about juicy turkey, mouthwatering sweet potatoes, and of course, a traditional dessert of pumpkin pie. 

Planes, Trains and Automobiles (1987)

This movie is such a Thanksgiving classic that some theaters offer select showings of the film as the holiday approaches. Arguably the best holiday-themed movie on this list, Planes, Trains and Automobiles follows Neal Page (Steve Martin) as he joins forces with an odd stranger (Jon Griffith) in an effort to get home in time to celebrate Thanksgiving with his wife and children. Hilarious and timeless, this is truly a classic holiday film. 

You've Got Mail (1998) 

In this romantic comedy, Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks find love in a series of humorous coincidences. Although meeting romantic partners online is no big deal nowadays, this movie set the bar for Internet romance before it was cool. You've Got Mail might not strike you as a Thanksgiving classic, but watch the film and you'll see why it's on this list. 

Home for the Holidays

When mother Claudia Larson travels to her childhood home for Thanksgiving after her teenage daughter decides to spend the holiday with her boyfriend, she's not sure what to expect from her dysfunctional family. However, when she meets her brother's handsome friend, things start to get a little more interesting. By the end of the film, Claudia has a new perspective on life, but not before several humorous incidents with her wacky relatives. It's lighthearted, fun, and definitely a great film to get you in the Thanksgiving mood. 

The Big Chill 

When a close group of former college friends gathers for a reunion in South Carolina, things aren't exactly as "chill" as the gang thought they would be. Over the course of the weekend, the friends confront personal truths and face their harsh realities. Sounds like kind of a bummer, I know, but it's got heartwarming themes such as the importance of friendship and support. 


The Blind Side (2009) 

Well, it's not exactly a "classic" per say since it's less than nine years old, but many believe The Blind Side perfectly embodies the feel of the Thanksgiving holiday, and it's becoming a bit of a holiday-viewing staple for some. Sandra Bullock won an Oscar for her performance as Leigh Anne Tuohy, a mother who takes in a homeless black teen. The film touchingly portrays the transformation of the Tuohy family and the value of caring for others. You might want to bring a few tissues if you decide to watch this one. 


Which Thanksgiving movies do you love to turn on every year? Leave other recommendations in the comments! 

Riley Heruska
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The holiday season is always a busy time of year. There are parties to plan, school plays to attend, charity events to volunteer at, and so much more. Here at BubbleLife, we want you to share your holiday events with the rest of your community. By submitting information to your community now, either in the form of an article or an event, you can help spread awareness with your neighbors before the holidays are in full swing. 

Interested in sharing your local news with one of our Houston communities for free? Here's how you can become involved! 

1. Click here for a full list of all our BubbleLife News Websites. 

2. Once on the news website of your choice, click the yellow button on the top right-hand side of the page that says “Share News, Events, & Classifieds." 

3. If you already have an account with BubbleLife, you can log in with that email. If you do not, the system will guide you through the sign-up process. 

4. Fill out your event, article, or classified ad, then hit "submit." 

5. After that, an editor will place your submission in the appropriate location and topic category and send it out to our local readers. 

You can also check out this step-by-step video for additional assistance. If you have any questions at all, please feel free to visit our help page or shoot us an email.

We look forward to hearing about all of the great holiday activities taking place in the Houston area. As always, thanks for using BubbleLife and helping us build strong communities! 

Riley Heruska
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This past Sunday, the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs became the tragic site of a horrific event. The church was devastated by a rifle-wielding shooter who entered the sanctuary and began killing, leaving 26 people dead and 20 more injured. Many of the victims were children, and the remaining survivors are now struggling to move past what has now been deemed the worst mass shooting in Texas history. 

If you are looking to help the families and friends of victims, as well as those who are recovering from their injuries, there are several sites that are accepting donations. Should you decide to contribute, your funds will help the local church support their parishioners and can also cover some medical bills. Every dollar can help during this time of crisis. 

GoFundMe Pages: This one is raising money for the church in hopes that the parish can benefit from the support. Another one is donating directly to the families impacted by the heartbreaking event. Both have been certified by GoFundMe, so you can be sure that they are legitimate places to give your support. There is also a GoFundMe page for the Holcombe family, who lost eight family members during the shooting. The Ward family is also accepting donations for the remaining members. 

The Hospitals: At least five adults and four children who were present at the massacre are being treated at the University Hospital in San Antonio. Individuals were also taken to the San Antonio Medical Center. You can donate to help cover medical bills here

The Red Cross: Sources say that the organization is currently working to provide assistance to those recovering in Sutherland Springs. They are always willing to accept donations

Commere Bank: A bank account has been set up to accept donations on behalf of the victims' families. You can visit the homepage of the bank to donate or you can visit the First Baptist Church website

If you know of other places accepting donations for victims, please leave names and links in the comments below. 

Riley Heruska
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I know, I know, it's too early to be talking about holiday shopping, right? I mean, Halloween just ended. Let's not just skip past Thanksgiving and launch straight into the holidays. However, many savvy shoppers say that now is the time to start planning your budget, and if you can save some money on presents by thinking in advance, then isn't it worth it? 

Here are a few tips and tricks that will help you hand out the perfect gifts without breaking the bank. 

Come Up With a List of Spending Goals

Before you start forking over your hard-earned money, figure out who you need to shop for and how much each present will set you back. It always helps to have an idea of how much you spend on all your gifts so that you don't end up overspending on one person's and underspending on another's. Plus, if you have a number in mind, you can work to save that amount over the course of the next month or so. 

Set Up a Holiday Savings Account or Use a Budgeting App 

Once you determine how much moola you'll need to accomplish your holiday shopping, make sure it's set in stone. Open a savings account that is specifically for gifts so you can see how quickly you're going through your budget. If you don't want to open another savings account, sites like Mint can help you create a "goal" and keep track of how much you're saving and spending. 

Keep Up With Coupon and Daily Deal Sites  

GrouponKinja Deals, and many other websites are already talking about the best holiday deals you can find. The more you pay attention to sites like these, the more likely you are to stumble across a great sale on the perfect gift. They update you on the best deals across the web every day, so you'll never miss out on a sale again. 

Try to Shop Online Instead of in Stores

As much as we all love heading to the mall and browsing for the ideal present, it can actually be more expensive to shop in-person. By shopping virtually, you can often find more coupon codes, compare prices with other vendors, and avoid overcrowded stores with sold-out merchandise. 

Stock Up on Giftcards 

You know that dust-covered gift card to The Gap that's been sitting in your wallet for eight months? Well, now is the perfect time to finally redeem it. If you receive other gift cards over the course of the next month, squirrel them away for when you need to purchase a last-minute holiday present. Some stores like Target will give you gift cards if you spend a certain amount in their store on groceries or cosmetics, so take advantage and earn some bonus store credit while you do your regular shopping. If you work at it, you'll be surprised how much money your collection of gift cards can save you. 

Research DIY Gifts Now, Not the Night Before 

Everyone loves the concept of whipping up some homemade gifts, but be warned, Pinterest can be deceiving. If you decide to go the DIY route, make sure that you plan plenty in advance so that you can avoid dashing out for a last-minute (probably expensive) gift if your creation is a bust. While deciding on what homemade gift to give, try to pick something that's versatile and fairly simple to avoid spending extra money on craft supplies or other necessities. 

Do you have any advice for saving money on holiday expenses? Leave suggestions in the comments! 

Riley Heruska
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The costumes have been shed and the sugar highs have finally died down. Now, you're just left with Jack-o-lantern buckets filled to the brim with tempting sweets. Not in the mood to tell your kids they can't eat candy for dinner a million times? Then the next step is to find a way to use up your assortment of chocolate bars and sour gummies. Thankfully, there are dozens of fun recipes out there that will allow you to enjoy your extra candy without leaving it out on the kitchen counter for the next few weeks. Which one will you try making? 

Crazy Halloween Blondies 

These bars are a delicious mashup of pecans, M&M's, candy corn, pretzels, chocolate chips, butterscotch chips, and caramel toppings. An equal mixture of sweet and salty, Nancy Heishman's blondies will impress dessert lovers of all ages. Just grab the necessary candy and add it to her blondie bar batter. Pop it all in the oven for 20 minutes and presto! It's like Halloween magic. 

Harvest Snack Mix 

Who doesn't love a great festive popcorn recipe? Marlene Harguth concocted the perfect snack for any fall movie night, and it calls for some of your extra candy corn and chocolate. Combine pretzels, nuts, sunflower kernels, butter, cinnamon, and cloves, then bake it in your oven for about fifteen minutes. Once it's done, add your remaining ingredients and toss to combine before enjoying an irresistible movie snack. 

Trash Bark  

If you've got some chocolate, peanut butter, potato chips, pretzels, and M&M's, then you've got everything you need to whip up a batch up this crunchy treat. Lauren can show you how to prep the dish in under ten minutes over at Delish. Be careful, though: this bark is pretty difficult to stop nibbling on once you start. 

Halloween Candy Cake 

This might be one of the most time-consuming desserts on this list, but it's also one of the most impressive. You can easily wow guests with this funky creation by Cookies and Cups, and it'll use up a good portion of your leftover sweets. Plus, it looks more complicated than it is. You can use a boxed cake mix, then top the whole thing with orange frosting (storebought or homemade) and decorate with your favorite candies. Make sure to snap a photo of your masterpiece before you dig in! 

Candy Brownie Trifle 

I know I said that the Halloween Candy Cake was impressive, but let's not overlook this bad boy. Any trifle looks amazing, but this candy-packed trifle is downright gorgeous. You'll need whipping cream, white sugar, a brownie mix, and at least three cups of chopped chocolate bars. The entire dessert can feed up to sixteen people according to its creator, Karlynn at The Kitchen Magpie, so make sure to share with plenty of people. 

Remember, if you decide not to bake one of these scrumptious desserts, you can always donate your candy to others! Operation Gratitude sends care packages of candy to soldiers overseas and the Ronald McDonald House gives unopened candy to families with severely ill children. 

Whatever you do, don't just toss the candy. Make sure someone enjoys it! 

Riley Heruska
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With hundreds of books hitting the shelves every month, it can be difficult to sift through new releases for the best finds. There are only so many hours in a day, and you want to spend your evenings curled up with a book that's worth your time. That’s why we’ve done the heavy lifting for you! Here are ten of the most popular novels that were published in October. 

Turtles All the Way Down by John Green 

In this triumphant return to the world of literature, award-winning author John Green tells the shattering story of Aza, a sixteen-year-old girl who struggles through adolescence while dealing with the pressures and horrors of OCD. Unflinching and utterly brilliant, his novel embodies the power of true friendship and the resilience of teenagers. If you enjoyed his other acclaimed novels like The Fault in Our Stars or Looking for Alaska, then you'll fall head-over-heels for the newest addition to his impressive list of published works. Turtles All the Way Down might not be a lengthy read, but believe me, it packs a real punch. 

“Astonishing…. So surprising and moving and true that I became completely unstrung.” - The New York Times

La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman

After seventeen years, New York Times bestseller Philip Pullman returns to the world of his popular series, His Dark Materials. Set ten years before the original books, La Belle Sauvage tells the tale of eleven-year-old Malcolm and his daemon as they attempt to keep infant Lyra alive. Malcolm falls deeper and deeper into a world of secret messages and dangerous substances, and he finds that there are many suspicious characters searching for young Lyra. The young boy then decides he will brave any danger to bring the child to safety. Wonderfully-told and thrilling, this latest Pullman novel won't disappoint. 

"Too few things in our world are worth a seventeen-year wait: The Book of Dust is one of them." - The Washington Post
the sun and her flowers by Rupi Kaur 

The bestselling author of milk and honey recently released her second collection of poetry, and Kaur didn't let her fans down. Divided into five chapters and illustrated by the poet herself, the sun and her flowers is a gorgeous celebration of love, struggles, and growth. Her raw writing style and poignant portrayal of life will have you coming back for more of her poetry, time and time again. You might have stumbled across her work on Instagram occasionally, but in order to really appreciate her work, I'd recommend picking up one of her published books. 

"Those who pressed Milk & Honey into the hands of their friends will exult in The Sun and Her Flowers, and Kaur’s expanded wisdom and scope should reel in new readers who will find much that resonates. - Adrian Liang, The Amazon Book Review

The Stolen Marriage by Diane Chamberlain 

In 1944, young Tess DeMello decides to abruptly end her engagement to the love of her life and moves to North Carolina with a new, mysterious husband. Their town, Hickory, is fraught with racial tension and still reeling from the aftermath of World War II. As Tess adjusts to her strange life, she realizes that her marriage isn't what she hoped it would be. She is also treated as an outsider by the townspeople, but when a sudden polio epidemic attacks the people, Tess relies on her nursing degree to help those around her. Unfortunately, her husband doesn't seem to approve, and she must decide between pleasing her spouse or saving the lives of her near-death patients. If you're a lover of historical fiction, then you'll devour this inspirational trip into the '40s. 

"Readers will be sucked in just can't go wrong with a book with [Chamberlain's] name on the cover." - Southern Pines Pilot

I Am Watching You by Teresa Driscoll 

In the mood for some psychological suspense? Then bestseller Driscoll's newest work might be just for you. Ella Longfield overhears two attractive young men flirting with some teenage girls on a train, and at the time, she thinks nothing of it. When she realizes that the men were recently released from prison, she pays a little more attention but decides not to intervene. The next day, she wakes up to shocking news: one of the girls on the train has gone missing, and Ella is absolutely wracked with guilt. Driscoll's story follows Ella as she unearths the missing girl's secrets and attempts to track her down. An expertly-told mystery, I Am Watching You will have you turning pages deep into the night. 

The Naturalist by Andrew Mayne

Professor Theo Cray is adept at recognizing patterns, and when grotesquely mutilated bodies start showing up in the Montana woods, he sees clues that the cops seem to miss. Something unnatural is going on, and as a biologist, Theo realizes he can't let this mystery lie. Before long, a field trip lands him in the middle of a bloody investigation, and Theo must use his skills and intelligence to stay ahead of the police, and more importantly, the killer. Completely addictive and fascinating, The Naturalist will suck you in and spit you out. Should you choose to give this one a shot, prepare for one wild, suspenseful ride. 

“Mayne is a natural storyteller, and once you start this one, you may find yourself staying up late to finish it…It employs everything that makes good thrillers really good…The creep factor is high, and the killer, once revealed, will make your skin crawl.” 
- Criminal Element

The Forest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie C. Dao 

Dao combines East Asian fantasy and the timeless Evil Queen legend in this spectacular young adult publication. Eighteen-year-old Xifeng has always been beautiful, and the stars have always told her that she is destined to rule as Empress of Feng Lu... if she can embrace the darkness hidden inside of her. She grew up as a peasant in a small village where a cruel witch promised her a majestic future if she was willing to make sacrifices. As Xifeng begins her journey to the throne, she must spurn love and call on the dark sorcery that resides within her - and her magic comes at a bloody price. Will she pay it, or is the price of glory too steep? You may have heard tales of evil queens and battles for thrones, but you've never read a story quite like this one. 

"Rich in detail and full of gore and blood, this dark novel will satisfy Game of Thrones fans."- School Library Journal

Dear Martin by Nic Stone 

Justyce McAllister has worked hard throughout high school and plans on attending an Ivy League school, but after he is arrested by the police, he realizes that not everyone cares about that. He might have left the rough neighborhood of his past behind, but he continues to face judgment from peers and adults alike. Searching for guidance, Justyce turns to the teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and begins a journal addressed to the historical figure. When he and a friend have a deadly encounter with a white cop, Justyce is left to deal with the media, his friends and family, and most importantly, his own doubts. Powerful and honest, Dear Martin paints a vivid picture of an African American student's struggle in a predominantly white area. 

"This hard-hitting book delivers a visceral portrait of a young man reckoning with the ugly, persistent violence of social injustice." - Publishers Weekly 

Wild Beauty by Anna-Marie McLemore 

The Nomeolvides women have tended the grounds of La Pradera for nearly a hundred years and are blessed with supernatural abilities. They can conjure flowers and channel their magic into the nature around them. However, they know better than to fall in love with anything or they will have to suffer the consequences. When a strange boy named Fel appears the gardens, he remembers nothing about who he is or how he came to the garden. A Nomeolvides girl, Estrella, finds him and helps him piece together his past, but she soon realizes that they might be in more danger than they ever knew. McLemore beautifully explores love and loss in this vibrant, magical tale for adolescents. 

"With luminous prose infused with Latino folklore and magical realism, this mixes fairy-tale ingredients with the elegance of a love story, with all of it rooted in a deeply real sense of humanity. Lovely, necessary, and true." - Booklist, starred review

Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado 

This provocative book embodies a wide variety of topics, from horrific violence to sensuality and beauty. Carmen Maria Machado has been compared to Karen Russell and Kelly Link, but make no mistake: her voice is all her own in this narrative. In an unforgettable manner, Machado maps the realities of several women's lives. She weaves stories of pain, sex, depression, comedy, and so much more as she stretches the boundaries of contemporary fiction. People are calling Machado one of the most gifted writers of our age, and if you pick up Her Body and Other Parties, you might start to understand why. 

“Thrilling and page-turning, smart and fearless, and very likely the best book of the year.”Jezebel

Riley Heruska
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Last Friday, Netflix's incredibly popular series Stranger Things returned with its highly-anticipated second season, and it's probably all you've heard about lately. Viewers have been desperate for the show's newest episodes ever since the mind-blowing finale premiered last year, and based on the first wave of reviews, the second season has only increased the series' ever-growing fan base. 

Haven't given this show a shot yet? Well, here are a few reasons to settle in for a lengthy binge-watching session of Netflix's biggest hit. 

Witness Winona Ryder's Triumphant Return

This 90's heartthrob had several memorable performances in movies like Edward Scissorhands (1990) and Girl, Interrupted (1999). However, her work in the 2000s has been inconsistent, and many have forgotten just how talented Ryder is. Her role as Joyce Byers in Stranger Things is truly a masterpiece, and you'll soon remember why you had so many posters of her tacked up in your teenage bedroom. She impressively portrays an anxious mother who will do anything to get her son back, including facing an invisible monster and inexplicable occurrences. Before you know it, you'll be cheering her on as you hit "play the next episode" again and again. 

Enjoy the Eerie but Impressive Synth Soundtrack 

Even a true horror-film junkie can admit that this show's music will make your skin creep and crawl. A Texas band called "S U R V I V E" created the electronic instrumental score, which sounds like an impressive mix between '80s synth soundtracks and a subtle yet dramatic orchestra. Not only will the sounds drag you back into the mid-1980s, but it will also have you gripping the edge of your seat as characters face life and death situations. There's a reason Spotify has a Stranger Things playlist: the songs and score are as addicting as the unsettling storyline. 

Embrace the Ever-Present '80s Nostalgia 

Every detail of the show's atmosphere is meticulously crafted, from the preppy costumes to the old-fashioned cars and homes. As the crew of children and teenagers ride their bicycles around town, play Dungeons and Dragons, and live without modern-day technology, you'll see just how well the creators captured the past. Many viewers claim that the episodes transport them straight into the '80s of their childhood, complete with Walkmans and bad hair. Even for those of us who weren't born before or during the decade, the show embodies a nostalgic feel that any audience member can recognize and enjoy. It's somewhat ironic that such a creepy story can embody such as a warm, fuzzy feeling. 

Finally Figure Out What All of This "Eleven" Fuss Is About 

You've seen the people dressing up for Halloween in a little pink dress and blonde wig while toting around a box of Eggo waffles, and you've probably heard the name "Eleven" spoken about a gazzilion times in the past week. Well, there's a good reason: the little girl is your next favorite character. How often do you stumble across a film or television series where the innocent-looking young girl is the true hero of the tale? Millie Bobby Brown's portrayal of Eleven will knock your socks off, and before you know it, you'll be talking about Eggo waffles and shaved heads, just like the rest of us. 

Laugh and Shudder While You Race Through All 17 Episodes 

Does the idea of completely catching up on an already-popular series overwhelm you? Well, no worries: Each season has less than ten episodes, so this is one series that you can truly binge-watch without stopping. Unlike Game of Thrones and other hit shows, you can catch up over the course of one week or so. Trust me, once you get started, you'll fly through the episodes faster than you can say "Where's Will?!" The dialogue is humorous, the monsters are terrifying, and the characters are lovable. What more could you want?

Have you given this addictive show a try? Leave your opinions in the comments below!