Today, I find myself at the start of the week that proved to be my Dad’s last. Only it’s six years since he passed away. Most of the time I’m okay: while I miss him every day, the time since we last met sits easier around the memory and the pain. But this week creeps up on me every year and floors me every time.
Grief is a tricky bastard.
We don’t talk about it generally: too embarrassed when loss is new and raw, too reticent to mention it as the years slowly pass. We definitely don’t talk about moments like this: when grief slips quietly between everyday things to rear up in your face. But it happens. And it’s devastating.
So this year I’m talking about it.
Loss isn’t a thing that ‘heals’ with time. It just fits between the rhythms of life as we carry on. When it chooses to make itself known, it snatches the carpet from beneath our feet, steals our breath, stabs our heart. It reminds us it exists – and when it does, nothing we do can push it away.
I used to worry about this week. As if it was proof I hadn’t fully processed losing Dad. I used to try to hide how I felt, pretend everything was fine. Because so many people I love who loved Dad seemed to be coping better. But that’s the lie grief tells you when it wants all your attention to itself. People who don’t know what to say to you about loss often say nothing at all – not out of spite or cruelty but because they don’t want to make you hurt. Grief takes their silence and holds it up to you as proof you should suffer alone.
This year, I’m not going to believe the lies grief tells me.
This year, I’m going to recognise this week as a necessary passage, a route I must pass and will pass again.
It’s okay to be sad, to ache with loss for someone you love. There is no shame in it. My love for my Dad didn’t die when he did. It lives on, like the memories that return when I least expect them – both joyful and barbed. To feel deeply is proof I loved Dad. It’s nothing to be ashamed of.
As I travel these seven days again, remembering everything he was and everything he meant, I’m talking the hand of my grief and walking with purpose and pride. Or maybe I’ll curl up gently around the pain on the days when the memory of my loss is too much to carry. I won’t pretend it doesn’t hurt. I won’t hide it, either.
If you are facing a week, or a day, or however long your own walk needs to be, know that you are not alone. You have the right to feel however you want to feel. Be kind to your heart and go well. Love and light will remain when grief slips back into the shadows again.
All year, I have shared my favourite books on the Books of the Week segment of my weekly Facebook Live show, Fab Night In Chatty Thing. 2021 has been a brilliant year for awesome books and I’ve discovered so many fantastic authors.
Here are the 16 books I have chosen for MY BOOKS OF THE YEAR 2021…
My Top Three Books of the Year are:
You, Me & The Sea by Elizabeth Haynes – quite simply, one of the most beautiful books I have ever read. Hope, redemption, community, finding your place in the world, love and the wild beauty of a Scottish island in this beguiling, affecting, completely uplifting story. It’s a book I will return to often.
Black Drop by Leonora Nattrass – intrigue, thrills and a cracking whodunnit set against the backdrop of 1794 London, when fears of revolution fuelled by events in France and America create an atmosphere of suspicion and fear. I loved the setting, the characters and the thrill-ride of this story, so gorgeously captured by the author’s vivid storytelling.
The Dying Squad by Adam Simcox – a total joy of a thriller with one of the best hooks I’ve seen in crime fiction. DI Joe Lazarus discovers he is dead, meets a superbly cool spirit guide Daisy May, and is tasked with solving his own murder to escape an eternity in purgatory. I adored this complete romp of a thriller, its breathtaking characterisation, devlishly devious twists and utter delight of the author skipping through every line.
I also loved these books…
The Fair Botanists by Sara Sheridan – an evocative, richly imagined historical delight, following the lives of two very different women and their love of Edinburgh’s Botanical Garden that brings them together. I adored the cinematic breadth of the world Sara Sheridan creates – and the vivid opening chapter is one of the best I’ve ever read.
I Know What You’ve Done by Dorothy Koomson – a breathless, supremely twisty thriller that is as brilliantly conceived as it is devious, weaving the secrets and lies of a neighbourhood into a tense, page-turning thrill-ride of a story. I love Dorothy’s books and this is her best yet.
Asking for a Friend by Andi Osho – I loved this warm, wise and hilarious story of three women who decide to approach dating differently. It’s a celebration of life, love and female friendship, with three irresistible main characters and their fantastically observed worlds.
The Night Hawks by Elly Griffiths – a tense, masterfully woven crime thriller that places forensic archaeologist Dr Ruth Galloway at the centre of a trail of bodies, Bronze Age burials and local superstition. From its wonderful cast of characters to its supremely spooky backdrop and stunning sense of danger and foreboding, this was a perfect thriller from one of my favourite authors.
The Single Dad’s Handbook by Lynsey James – a tender, heartbreaking, uplifting story of love after loss, as single dad Evan follows the advice of his late wife Claire through a book of letters she left for him to help him move on for his own sake and that of their five-year-old daughter Violet. I loved the gentle humour, wry observation and beautifully drawn relationship between Evan and Violet. A very special book.
Ariadne by Jennifer Saint – 2021 was the year of classical tales reimagined and this gorgeously crafted novel was the best I read. Reimagining the Greek myth of Theseus and the Minotaur from the perspective of Ariadne, Princess of Crete, this is a story of love, sacrifice and the unique viewpoint of women from a time where society perceived them to have little power. What I loved most was the book’s lyrical beauty, a gorgeously written, hugely imaginative story quite unlike anything else I read this year.
One Ordinary Day at a Time by Sarah J. Harris – I adore stories about ordinary people daring to wish for extraordinary things and this story of burger restaurant worker Simon and single mum Jodie stole my heart. Moving, hugely uplifting and written with such warmth and humanity, this story is one to savour, treasure and return to when you want to be reminded that life can be wonderful.
Home by Penny Parkes – I read this later in the year after seeing so many readers falling in love with it and from the opening chapters I knew it was going to be a special book. Housesitter Anna’s longing to belong in a world where she gets to experience other people’s lives is a compelling hook for a story packed with wisdom, life and light. I loved this book so much!
The Fire Court by Andrew Taylor – the second novel in Andrew Taylor’s gorgeous James Marwood and Cat Lovett series of historical crime thrillers set in Restoration era London (and the series that made me fall in love with historical fiction). The cast of characters, the evocative depiction of London in 1667 and the twists of political intrigue and devious plots are all wonderful, while the refreshingly contemporary, unlikely friendship of Marwood and Lovett sparkles from every page. I adored it!
I Know What I Saw by Imran Mahmood – I think I forgot to breathe for large sections of this thoroughly gripping thriller! A fantastic set-up with a crime witnessed by a man nobody wants to believe set against the harsh realities of life at the fringes of society and how our preconceptions can blind us to the real story. The writing is breathtaking and the deep questions raised by the story stayed with me. I read both the physical book and the audiobook and found both compelling and completely immersive.
Bad Apples by Will Dean – the fourth book in Will Dean’s fantastic Tuva Moodyson series of scandi-thrillers was the best yet, claustrophobic, supremely scary with fabulously weird settings. The tension in this book is off the chart and I haven’t yet recovered from the final, shattering conclusion! I read this book with a mixture of delight and total awe, rationing pages towards the end because I was so engrossed in the story. LOVED it!
The Heron’s Cry by Ann Cleeves – I fell in love with Ann Cleeves’ new Two Rivers series of crime thrillers starring Detective Matthew Venn with The Long Call, so couldn’t wait to read the second in the series. It is a rare thing – a breakneck-paced thriller that allows you time to be fully immersed in the world in which it is set. I love the character of Matthew Venn, so markedly different to any other crime thriller protagonist with the warmth and security of his home life and innate sense of justice set against the world he finds himself in. In this book, the things he loves the most are on the line as he investigates gruesome murders in a community of artists – it’s a heart-in-mouth, breath stealing gift of a book and I loved every page.
The House of Ashes by Stuart Neville – this is the kind of story I would normally shy away from reading, being as I am a self-confessed utter wuss when it comes to anything scary. But I adore Stuart Neville’s brilliant writing and that was enough to pull me into this haunting, terrifying book. I am so glad I dared to read it! One of the most profoundly affecting, compelling and viscerally emotive books I have read, it follows the story of a house with a terrible secret and the women whose lives become inextricably linked with it. It’s past ghost story, part horror, but also a story of belonging, life and identity – a total triumph of a book.
So there you go, my favourite reads of this year! Which books did you love in 2021? Join me when Fab Night In Chatty Thingresumes in the New Year, starting on Wednesday 5th January at 8pm on my Facebook Author page to find out which books will light up 2022! You can watch all this year’s shows here. Merry Christmas and see you all next year!
As part of my weekly Facebook Live show, Fab Night In Chatty Thing, I am writing and sharing chapters of my third New York/Kowalski’s novel, In A New York Minute. This week I had to cancel the show because I’ve lost my voice, but I promised to share the latest chapter I’ve written.
In A New York Minute follows the eldest Steinmann brother, Daniel (we met middle brother Ed in Fairytale of New York and youngest brother Jake in I’ll Take New York and readers always ask me what Daniel Steinmann’s story is). On the day he sells his successful psychiatry practice in Manhattan, he chickens out of going to the formal sale meeting (leaving his lawyer to complete it), flees into New York’s Upper West Side, gets caught in a rainstorm and takes shelter in the closest store – a tiny cupcake bakery a few blocks away from a certain magical New York florists, Kowalski’s. Here he meets Maya Christie, working in her sister’s business, wandering when her life is going to start… They become friends and agree to help one another find whatever it is they want the next season of their lives to be.
So, here is the latest chapter: Maya has promised to take Daniel to ‘the best place in New York City’ – and Daniel is about to discover a Big Apple delight you may not find in any guide book…
THE BEST PLACE IN NEW YORK CITY – by Miranda Dickinson
‘This is the best place in New York?’
Beside me, Maya nods.
Until now, I haven’t once questioned anything Maya Christie has told me. But now, standing in the doorway of this small, unassuming space somewhere in the depths of West Village, I’m suddenly on shaky ground.
‘But it’s a—’ I pause, not sure how to express aloud what my eyes are still not certain they’re seeing. ‘—a hair salon.’
I look over from the three overhead hair dryers that look like they landed from space somewhere around 1964, to the next section of the store. ‘And a shoe repairers…’
‘Yup. Best one in the West Village.’
The enormous guy behind the counter grins in our direction and goes back to fixing a heel on a scuffed pair of brogues.
‘And a… what is that at the back?’ There’s another counter there that, like everything else in this place, looks as if it’s been hiding here for decades. Three faded green vinyl stools line the counter, the shine that once graced the chrome of their bases a long distant memory. Beyond the stools and the dusty wood lie shelves of boxes, reaching almost to the ceiling.
‘Well now, that,’ she throws me a happy smile and skips away from the entrance towards the mystery counter, ‘is the absolute best bit!’
She’s halfway across the peach and grey check linoleum when she turns to beckon me. Bewildered, I follow.
A lady under the middle drier scans my progress beneath her row of pink curlers. The shoe repairer pretends he isn’t watching either.
Clearly, I’m missing something. And now I feel like I’m intruding on a gathering of time-frozen ghosts of Manhattan as I scurry after Maya through the dimly lit store. Even the place smells old, like the homes of ancient relatives my dad always farmed me, Ed and Jake out to during the summer break. Sandalwood, floral bleach, old lavender and dust.
When Maya had promised the first stop on our adventure would be the best place in New York, I’d imagined the New York Public Library, Grand Central Station with its star-strewn ceiling, or one of the rooftop viewing platforms scattered across the city. I’d considered it might be a special diner or bookstore or park Maya had grown up loving – I was hoping for that, in fact, to give me a glimpse into the girl I haven’t been able to get out of my head for days. I know what she’s told me. I know what my trained eye as a former psychiatrist suggests – much as I’m trying to ignore the signs now I’m no longer in that profession. But there’s so much more I want to know about Maya.
Is that what this is? It makes literally no sense to me whatsoever, but does this kooky triple-threat store hold a key to who Maya is?
We’ve reached the far counter now and Maya has already hopped onto a stool, patting the frayed seat of the one next to her as she invites me to sit. She looks utterly at ease here, I think. Not like I’ve seen her anywhere else; not even her workplace or the park where we met by chance a few days ago when I rescued her sister’s dog.
I’m fascinated. And I need to know more.
Obediently, I take my seat on the stool next to hers. ‘The best bit, huh?’
‘The very best bit.’ She leans across the counter and taps a brass bell with all the thrill of a kid being allowed to ring it.
As if from nowhere, a middle-aged guy pops up. He’s wearing a striped green and white apron, white open-necked shirt and black jeans and is sporting the most impressive moustache, which could almost have been bequeathed to him by a famous circus showman. Behind his left ear the stub of a yellow pencil nestles against the shock of silver at his temples. He smiles at me and then, when he turns to Maya, he lets out a squeal of delight and leans across the counter to hug her.
‘Bambina! You’re here!’
Maya giggles from somewhere between his arms and his chest. ‘I was missing you, Ciro.’
‘I should hope you were,’ Ciro grins, his eyes sliding to me as he lets Maya breathe again. ‘And you brought someone.’
‘Ciro, this is my good friend Dan Steinmann.’
‘Dan, welcome.’ His handshake is warm as he greets me. ‘I expect Maya’s told you…’
‘I haven’t yet,’ she interrupts.
For a moment I wonder if they’ve done this for other good friends – if I’m just the latest in a line of waifs and strays Maya Christie has rescued from the streets of Manhattan. But then I check myself: clearly this place means something to her. She could have chosen the New York Public Library, or Central Park, or any one of countless wonders New York offers everyone, but she chose this place.
‘What’s the secret?’ I ask, pushing my doubts away.
Maya leans across the counter and pulls a dark green cover off a vertical object shrouded on the counter end nearest the back wall.
My breath catches in my throat.
‘A soda fountain,’ I breathe, taking in the elaborate decoration, the nineteenth century elegance of its design. ‘Is that original?’
Ciro beams. ‘My great-grandfather installed it in 1902, when this place was a neighbourhood drugstore. It’s been serving us here ever since.’
‘Can we get two strawberry and peach sodas?’ Maya asks, turning to me when Ciro sets to work. ‘Welcome to the best place in the New York City.’
‘How did you find it?’
She beams, the thrill of surprising me lighting her from the inside out. ‘My mom rented that middle chair.’
I follow her pointed finger to the three hair salon chairs with sixties’ dryers. ‘She was a hair stylist?’
Maya nods. ‘All the years we were at school. Lucy and I would come in to help her set up in the morning, then come straight back here after school to do homework and help out.’
‘And drink sodas?’
‘That too.’ She laughs. ‘But the sodas aren’t all that make this place special.’
‘Nope. This is where I discovered stories.’ She takes a breath as if breathing a scent from her childhood, savouring it for a moment before she continues. ‘Mom was the only person not related to the Bianchis– everyone else was and is part of one enormous, happy, loud, opinionated family. They couldn’t afford to have their own separate premises for their individual businesses, so they put them all in here. And somehow, despite New York changing the moment you blink, it’s survived.’
Ciro slides two perfect pastel-coloured sodas across to us. Each one has a striped red, white and green straw, a crown of cream and a glossy maraschino cherry, the chill of the drink frosting the sides of the traditional glass.
It’s magical. And, also, crazy. But sipping my soda, exchanging identically gleeful grins with Maya Christie, I can’t imagine anywhere else in New York I’d rather be.
‘So, why are we staring our journey here?’ I ask.
Maya smiles. ‘Because this is the place so many people have figured out what it is they really want. Most of them Bianchi’s, but I think it can help you, too.’
‘Us,’ I say, quickly.
A patter of pink dances across her cheekbones. ‘Us.’
Watch the Friday Night Special edition of my weekly FB Live show, Fab Night In Chatty Thing!
This week, three amazing Books of the Week you can win, plus an exclusive new chapter of In A New York Minute – my third New York-set Kowalski’s novel. If you loved Fairytale Of New Yorkand I’ll Take New York, you’ll love this!
This video has closed captions embedded into it. To turn them on, select the Settings logo (cog) on the control bar of the player.
As of today the main place people follow me online has decided to ban direct links to certain other places which effectively means my weekly show, Fab Night In Chatty Thing, can’t be linked to from my posts on there. Or most of my other social media links.
Honestly, it’s exhausting. And scary as a creator.
So, here are all the places you can follow me and find videos, photos, my podcast, my music, exclusive content and my newsletter. I’ll add details of new places here as they arrive.
Most people know me today as an author, both of contemporary novels as Miranda Dickinson, and most recently as a debut crime novelist, writing as MJ White. But there is another great love in my life that has been around longer than the words: my music.
I grew up with a pair of folk singers as parents. Consequently my early years were spent being taken to Mum and Dad’s gigs across the West Midlands, in village halls and W.I. meetings, harvest festivals and church events, singing with them and playing guitar for my ‘turns’. From there I joined bands in my teens, singing with the band at my church and then doing vocals for friends’ bands. I joined the band RAiN in the late 1990s, first as a songwriter and then as lead vocalist, and we recorded two EPs as well as touring across the UK.
I’ve performed with bands of all shapes and sizes, from duos to nine-piece event bands, and recorded with local, national and international producers including Chris Smith, Reuben Halsey and Chris Eaton. Until the pandemic hit, I sang with events band The Peppermints and did regular session singing work, in addition to writing my own music. I recorded my self-funded debut solo album, About Time in 2010, and in 2011 wrote and recorded a book soundtrack EP for my third novel, It Started With a Kiss, with The Peppermints (aka The Pinstripes in the book). My music has been heard as far afield as Australia, Africa, the USA and even on cruise ships! (no idea how that happened!)
Below are some images from my gigs around the UK…
TAKE A LITTLE TOUR THROUGH MY TUNES!
Below are some of my songs for you to enjoy. Scroll down to see them and some videos, too.
About Time also featured two of the songs I co-wrote with internationally renowned chill-out composer and producer Reuben Halsey. Here’s Running Home – the first song we worked on together. Roo wrote the music and I wrote the melody and lyrics. All of the vocals you can hear are me!
If you’ve ever watched any of my vlogs, you will have heard the title track from my album, About Time – it’s the story of my life in 1 minute and 24 seconds!
Years after all those folk gigs with Mum and Dad, I’ve found a new love for folk music. This video was recorded on Porthmeor Beach in Cornwall, when the sea fog rolled in and I had the beach to myself!
And finally, here is the film about the making of the It Started With a Kiss book soundtrack – including my band and, right at the end, the song my protagonist Romily writes with her bandmate and studio owner Jack, in the book…
When the pandemic hit, all of my gigs and session work ended. During the last two years, I’ve been writing a lot of new songs and my hope is to get to record them. I’d also love to start gigging again – nothing beats playing live and I miss it so much. I’m going to try to find more session singing work and pursue my music more. It’s been neglected for too long…
If you enjoyed this, let me know in the comments! x
Are you a writer? Have you been writing for a long time, or are you just starting out? Or is this the year you want to start your writing adventure? I am proud to announce a brand new initiative from WriteFoxy that’s for ALL writers, completely FREE.
INTRODUCING: WRITEFOXY 2021!
I want to support writers this year with encouragement, inspiration and advice to get the best out of your writing and help you fall back in love with your words.
Writing anything right now is a challenge. We’re hard enough on ourselves at the best of times, but under the pressures we currently face, we have never needed positivity and encouragement like we need it today.
So this year, I’m offering a free service to all writers: FOXY NOTES!
How It Works
Three times a week, you will receive a little nugget of foxiness from me in your inbox:
Monday – INSPIRATION: ideas, encouragement and a bit of a boost to start your writing week.
Wednesday – TIPS & TRICKS: practical advice for all aspects of writing, from overcoming blocks to building character, pace and plot into your story, editing tips and more.
Friday – DREAM DEN: inspiration to get you thinking of the bigger picture, be kind to your mind and give you a great big cheer to celebrate everything you’ve achieved during the week.
Each email will only be a few paragraphs, just a little woo-hoo to spur you on!
But here’s the best bit: if you’re stuck, if there’s a specific problem you’re wrangling or if you’d just like to say hello, you can reply to any of the Foxy Notes emails and it comes straight to me – I will get back to you as soon as I can. I can’t read manuscripts or do long consultations (I offer paid services to cover these) but if you need a bit of advice or a friendly reply, I’m happy to do that for you.
AND IT’S FREE!
When I started writing my first novel, Fairytale of New York, I couldn’t afford to go on any writing courses or sign up for writing weekends and conferences. I knew no other writers and keeping going with nobody to advise me or encourage me was really tough. I want WriteFoxy 2021 to be available to anyone, anywhere, regardless of how long you’ve been writing and what you can and can’t afford. I believe there are awesome stories that will come out of this strange time in our lives and I want to support writers to find them. If you fancy buying me a coffee at ko-fi, there’ll be a link included in all the Foxy Notes, but this is not expected at all. WriteFoxy 2021 Foxy Notes are and always will be free.
I’m launching WriteFoxy 2021 Foxy Notes on Monday 25th January – whenever you join, you’ll get the latest one and go from there. You can unsubscribe any time using the link at the bottom of each email and this sign-up is ONLY for FoxyNotes – I will never send you anything else or pass your details on to anybody else.
So, are you ready to get some foxiness in your 2021? Sign up below!
Happy Halloween! Whether you’re relishing the prospect of a spooky night or (like me) a total wuss who’d much prefer treats to tricks, I have something to make you smile…
Here’s a free short story with not very scary ghouls, monsters and a very lovely zombie wench, a sprinkling of magic and a sparkle of romance – welcome to Halloween Café!
It‘s Halloweenat Tony & Frank’s, a fading Fifties’ themed diner on the outskirts of Dudley and the poor overworked staff face a day dressed in ‘spooktacular’ costumes, thanks to an unwelcome memo from Head Office. Lonely waiter Jon is secretly in lovewith new waitress Lily, but in their awful costumes and with his own shyness, how will he ever let her know?
But Jon is about to get a Halloween treat – because way above their heads, two unseen observers are watching and hatching a plan to help him. Will the magic work before the end of the spookiest shift of the year?
I’m often asked who you should write for. Is it for a market, for yourself, for an audience? It’s taken me a long time to find the right answer because of course you should write for yourself and keep readers in mind, too. But I think I’ve finally worked out who I’m writing for: it’s all about this tiny photo I keep on my desk:
It’s a very blurry photo of me, taken around 1990 when I was seventeen. I was at sixth-form college in Stourbridge studying for my English, History and Theatre Studies A-levels – and evenings and weekends at home I was working on my very first book.
I hadn’t told anyone I wrote. My family knew I was doing something because I was writing on a travel typewriter I’d been given for Christmas (remember those?) – the kind that became a rather heavy mini-suitcase when you closed the lid. They didn’t know the story I was writing, only the noise it made.
I loved drama and wanted to be an actress. I had a vision of myself as a confident woman one day, striding off into the world chasing after her dreams. On stage I was confident: in person I apologised, worried, played down my own achievements. I thought I was fat. (I wasn’t fat). I had a strong voice but whispered in choir because I’d been told it stood out too much. (It did stand out, that’s what made it awesome). But when I wrote, I could believe anything was possible – even if the many splodges of Tipp-Ex on the pages told a different story.
And then I decided to tell the guy I had a crush on that I wrote.
(You know a story that begins like this isn’t going to end well…)
He was the leading light in my Theatre Studies class and in the amateur theatre group I performed with on Saturdays. I was a T-Bird to his Danny Zuko, the Ugly Sister to his Prince Charming. He agreed to partner with me for a duologue piece as part of our course – the Inspector from J. B. Priestley’s An Inspector Calls grilling Sheila Birling over her mistreatment of Eva Smith. While we were rehearsing alone one lunchtime in the drama studio, I seized my chance.
‘I’m writing a book, actually.’
What I imagined would happen next proves I’m both a writer to my core and a hopeless romantic: I imagined him taking my hand, my hair blowing around my shoulders, the London Philharmonic Orchestra wheeling into the background to accompany my confession with suitably sweeping strings. He would gaze into my eyes, murmuring, ‘I’ve waited my whole life for a woman who writes…’
What he actually said was a little different.
‘You write stories? Shouldn’t you have given that up at primary school?’
And that was when I quit as a writer.
I went home, binned the many sheets of my book, shelved my typewriter and sobbed into my duvet. I didn’t write another story for ten years.
I write for her.
I write for the teenager who believed one idiot instead of following her heart. I write for the young woman setting out into her life longing for adventure who came home and cowered instead. I write for her – because every chapter I write, every draft I finish, every book I edit and see through to publication, is proof she was right. It was possible. It is possible. It’s happening now.
She’s on my desk (flanked by the Tenth Doctor because she’s awesome and deserves it) and I see her every time I sit down to write. I want her to know that she gets to write books for a living. Books that have gone around the world, translated into fifteen languages, read by over a million people. I want her to believe in herself and stop hiding.
The story I started to write after the ten-year hiatus went on to become Fairytale of New York, after years of secret writing. I’m currently writing my twelfth novel and my eleventh, Our Story, publishes on 3rd September. It’s about two people chasing their dream of writing. And the male protagonist is called Joe – which is the name seventeen-year-old me chose for her very first male lead in the book she was dreaming about.