This is a feature to showcase some of the hidden gems out there. These are all books we’ve read and loved, but these books haven’t received as much attention as we think they should. There are so many books released daily, and it’s a shame that so many good ones get lost in the shuffle. We’re making it our mission to shine the spotlight on them!
(Graphic from The Reading Escapade Book Blog)
I read this book when it was first released, and I loved it for it’s quiet beauty. This was the first book I read by this author and she impressed the hell out of me with her sweet prose, and these immensely lovable characters that she created. Art & Soul is a wonderful and unconventional love story, and I always recommend it to anyone wanting to get swept off their feet.
I had always been the invisible art student in high school.
Passed by. Glossed over. Unnoticed.
Now I was Aria Watson… that girl.
After one bad decision, and being labeled a slut, I was no longer unseen. I was the whore. The ignoramus. The tramp.
I would never be invisible again.
Particularly to Levi Myers. He was the odd boy with the beautiful soul who accepted and understood the broken girl inside me.
Falling in love wasn’t the plan. But how could I resist his promises of hope? Of forgiveness? Of a future I had stopped dreaming of?
We were shattered. We were scarred. We were something strange and beautiful.
We were two lost souls holding on to the only thing that could keep us together.
(Graphic from Four Chicks Flipping Pages)
Chapter 1 Excerpt
1 Levi, Seventeen Years Old
Mom was worrying again. Feelings of guilt began to creep in given I didn’t feel bad about her worries.
She said I was abandoning her, but I tried my best to make her see that wasn’t the case. The cell phone hung loosely to my ear as her voice filled with an unnecessary but all too familiar fear. Mom worried about everything too much, creating mountains out of molehills. My aunt, Denise, always told Mom that her thoughts were the leading cause of her failed relationships. “That’s why things didn’t work out with Kent, Hannah. You pushed him away,” she scolded. “That’s why you never go on dates, Hannah. You’re an emotional rollercoaster who fears intimacy.”
Denise had been married for two years now, so I guessed that made her a relationship guru.
“I just don’t want you to get hurt again, Levi.” Mom sighed into the receiver. She blamed herself for me being in Wisconsin, but it was my choice to come spend the year with Dad. I hadn’t seen him since I was eleven, and I had this crazy idea that if I didn’t try now for some kind of relationship with the guy, then I would never truly know my father. Plus, Mom needed her space. I needed my space.
After being homeschooled all my life, it had gotten to the point where she treated me like I was her other half. She hardly talked to anyone else except for Denise and me.
“You’re no good for my big sister, Levi Myers. I know you’re her son, but you’re no good for her,” Denise always told me.
“I’ll be fine, Mom.” She didn’t say anything else, but I imagined her nervously tapping her fingernails against the closest surface while she sipped watered down coffee. “Really, Ma.”
“Okay. Well, if he gets too bad you’ll stay with Lance, right? Or you’ll come home?” She paused. “You’ll come home if it gets too hard, okay?” We both knew that wasn’t really a choice. I was no good for her and her mental health. Hopefully I would be better for Dad. I nodded as if she could see me, and she continued talking. “So where are you now?”
“Waiting for the city bus to take me into town.”
“I guess Dad’s car isn’t working.”
A few curse words slipped from her tongue, and I smirked at her obvious distaste for the man. It was hard to imagine that at some point they might have been in love. I didn’t know much about Dad, and the things I knew, I’d learned from Mom. I used to visit him for a week during the summer up until I turned eleven. He used to send birthday and Christmas cards with money and a Post-it note with a short message. Nothing big, just a small note saying happy birthday or Merry Christmas. I still had all of them in a shoebox.
Then one year it all stopped. He told Mom it was best if I didn’t visit anymore, never really giving an explanation. My goal for this whole year with Dad was to find out the answer to why he stopped our visits and his letters cold turkey. I was going to do everything in my power to try to figure out what happened between us.
“I’m going to call Lance and have him pick you up.”
“No, Mom. He’s at work. It’s no big deal.”
Lance was my uncle, Dad’s brother, and the only reason she allowed me to come spend the school year with Dad. He’d helped me convince Mom that this visit could be good for all of us. He’d promised to keep an eye on me.
I didn’t need Lance to look out for me, though. I wasn’t a kid anymore and had seen enough chaos throughout my life with Mom to be able to survive a year with my father. I’d learned quick how to grow up and be a man when Mom and I didn’t have one around.
Leaning against the bus stop pole, I dropped my duffle bag before setting my violin case on the ground. “It’s fine. The bus is pulling up right now, anyway,” I lied. She would’ve kept me on the phone for much longer than I wanted to talk. “I’ll call you later, all right?”
“Fine. Call me later. Or I’ll call you. I’ll call you, okay? And, Levi?”
“I love you till the end.”
I echoed the words she’d been saying to me for as long as I could remember. She had a strange love for The Pogues’ song “Love You Till The End” for some reason, and all my life that one song played in our living room at least once a day.
The whole bus ride to Dad’s I wondered what kind of music played in his house.
I was betting it wasn’t The Pogues.
The closest the city bus could get me to the town Dad stayed in left me with a twenty minute walk. It was fine, really— except for the darkening clouds overhead. It started to drizzle about halfway through, so I hurried my pace, using an awkward speed walk/ slow run movement.
When I finally made it to Dad’s, I saw his car resting in his front lawn. The hood was banged up, one headlight was broken, and he hadn’t bothered to close the driver’s door. The front porch had a flickering light that hardly attracted any flies or moths. There was a lawn chair in the yard that looked like it had been sitting there since 1974 and a half eaten TV dinner was lying against the brownish grass.
The best thing that could’ve happened to his lawn was the rain falling overhead.
I stepped onto the wooden porch, which squeaked and whined every time I made the slightest movement. There was a good chance it would fall apart just from my body weight.
The black door was swung open, so I didn’t bother to knock.
There was no reply.
Stepping out of the foyer, I saw him on the living room couch. At least the house is cleaner than the front lawn. His legs were hanging over the arm of the couch, and he was sound asleep. “Dad.” He twisted against the cushions but didn’t wake. Seeing him for the first time after all of these years brought on such mixed emotions. I was happy, sad, bitter, and angry all at once. I wanted to yell at him for abandoning me, and hug him for letting me come back after all of these years.
I wanted him to say he missed me, to say sorry, and to explain himself for being so distant over the past years.
But mostly, I wanted him to wake up from his nap.
Trying my best to push those emotions away, I cleared my throat. “Dad,” I said, this time louder, pushing his leg with the sole of my blue Chucks. He grunted before rolling over to face the inside of the couch. “Are you kiddin’ me?” I muttered under my breath before taking my duffle bag and slinging it against his side. “Dad!”
He sat up, scowling. “What the hell?” The palms of his hands rubbed against his tired eyes. His fingers curved into fists, and he tilted his head up to stare at me. “You made it?”
“Yeah. I thought you would want to know I’m here.”
He scratched at his peppered gray beard before rolling back into the inner fold of the couch. “Your room’s down the hall and to the right.” It didn’t take long before he was snoring again.
“Good to see you, too.”
Heading toward my bedroom, I glanced inside to see a freshly made bed and a dresser with towels and bath supplies sitting on top of it.
At least he thought of me.
A few of my boxes that Mom had shipped over were sitting on the ground. Nothing else.
My cell phone started ringing and Lance’s name flashed across the screen. “Hello?”
“Hey, Levi! Did you make it in okay? I know Kent was going to pick you up from the airport, but I just wanted to check in.”
“Yeah, I’m here. Dad’s car isn’t working so I took the bus, but I’m here.”
“Dude, you should’ve called me, I could have picked you up.”
“No big deal, I knew you were working. It was an easy trip.”
“Well, next time you need something don’t hesitate to ask. Family before work, okay? Are you getting settled in? Is Kent treating you okay?”
“He’s actually taking a nap.”
Lance went silent for a moment. “Yeah, he’s been doing that a lot lately. Are you sure you don’t need anything? Food? Company? Food and company? I can come over and talk your ear off to death.” He laughed.
“I’m good, really. I think I’m just going to unpack my stuff.”
“Okay. But call me if you need anything, day or night.”
“Of course, buddy. I’ll see you soon.”
I hung up the phone, sat on the bed, and stared at the blank walls. It was far from a place I’d call home. It felt foreign. Mom and I lived down in Alabama and our home was a cabin in the woods. The only good thing about Dad’s place was the backyard surrounded by trees. Without those trees and the memories I had of Dad, I probably would’ve felt like I was on Pluto or something.
Opening one of my boxes, I pulled out my music collection, the most diverse thing I owned. I could’ve easily reached into the collection and pulled out a jazz CD, then reached in and pulled out Jay Z and followed it up with The Black Crowes. Mom was a musician and believed that all styles of music were worth exploring. We listened to all kinds of genres and styles of music during the day, never really having a moment when our house was silent.
Dad’s house was mute.
Another box was packed with different hard cover dictionary sets: the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary, and a two volume Oxford English Dictionary. Each day during homeschooling, Mom would have me flip through the books and find ten new words that I didn’t know and then we would use them in songs that we wrote together. The rest of my boxes included my Harry Potter collection, The Hunger Games, and The Chronicles of Narnia, every Stephen King novel, along with dozens and dozens of other books.
I lifted the Merriam-Webster dictionary and began flipping through the pages.
want | verb | \ˈwȯnt also ˈwänt & ˈwənt\ to desire or wish for (something) to need (something) to be without (something needed)
I wanted Dad to want me a little. I wanted Mom to stop wanting me so much. I wanted to be wanted, but not wanted a lot.
The kitchen freezer held a variety of TV dinners. The fridge was stocked from top to bottom with sandwich meats, fruits, leftover pizza, Dad’s beer, and root beer.
He remembered my favorite soda.
For dinner I ate nasty mashed potatoes and meatloaf, downing it all with two root beers. Dad had the same thing, but he ate it in a different room. I stayed out of his hair for the rest of the night, hanging out in the woods during the rainstorm. High in the twisted branches was the tree house he and I built when I was nine. In my mind it used to be so much bigger, but I guessed that was the thing about memories— they weren’t always exactly true.
Carved into the tree trunk were our initials above the words ‘men cave’.
My fingers rolled over each word.
I didn’t remember carving the letters.
I wondered what else I forgot about this place.
I climbed the wet rungs on the tree, which were still pretty sturdy, and I sat inside of the now tiny house, which was covered with spider webs, dead June bugs, and ancient beer cans. In the far corner was an old boom box that Dad and I used to always play our favorite CDs while goofing off and wasting time.
Without thought, I hit the power button on the boom box, but it was dead like the June bugs.
I sat in front of the window with my arms crossed, watching the rain fall. The rain always reminded me of Mom.
Maybe I was starting to miss her a little.
(Graphic from Brittainy C. Cherry)
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