January Wrap-Up

I thought I would share my January wrap-up (over a month late)!

January was a very good reading month for me. It was freezing and snowy in Connecticut, so I used that opportunity to cozy up in my new reading nook and read 6 books. I enjoyed most of them!

Here’s a quick breakdown:

Beartown by Fredrik Backman

Beartown (Beartown, #1)

I will let my review speak for itself, but this was definitely one of Backman’s best books. A Man Called Ove still has my heart, but this one really touched me and has stuck with me ever since. Backman is a go-to author for me, and after hearing how much other readers loved this one, I was not disappointed.

The Listening Path: The Creative Art of Attention by Julia Cameron

The Listening Path: The Creative Art of Attention (An Artist's Way Book)

I received an advanced listeners copy (ALC) from Libro.fm, and while I enjoyed most parts, I found a lot of the meditations and tips were repetitive from other books that I’ve read before. I wished that I had something new to take away from this book, but I still enjoyed listening to get a recharge.

Winter Garden by Kristin Hannah

Winter Garden

I discovered Kristin Hannah a few years back when I read The Great Alone (a great book), and after reading The Nightingale (now one of my favorites) and Firefly Lane (another one of my favorites), I had to read Winter Garden with a buddy group on bookstagram. I really enjoyed it! I thought it was a little slow going at first but was soon captivated by the story.

Queen of Shadows by Sarah J. Maas

Queen of Shadows (Throne of Glass, #4)

I have been reading the Throne of Glass series since last year with a buddy read group and I am really loving it. I discovered Sarah J. Maas last year during the start of quarantine, and her books have literally helped me get through the pandemic. So far, Queen of Shadows is my favorite of the series (there are 7 books and a book of short stories). I finished Empire of Storms in February (loved it) and I will be starting Tower of Dawn this month!

The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern

The Starless Sea

I really, really wanted to love this book as much as everyone else. Unfortunately, I was exhausted when I finished it. Hear me out: Her writing is beautiful, but she paid too much attention to the bookish atmosphere and aesthetics than the actual plot. The stories within the story? Beautiful. The character development and plot? Not so beautiful. I was lost in the last 150 pages, feeling unsatisfied at the end. BUT — she can certainly create beautiful prose. I plan to read The Night Circus in April because people love it so much.

The Prophets by Robert Jones, Jr.

The Prophets

I listened to an advanced listener’s copy (ALC) from Libro.fm, and I found the narration to be astounding. I heard that the physical book can be hard to follow with the different chorus of voices, but listening to the audiobook and the narrator grounded me as I took in this powerful debut. This book was unique, beautiful, and heart-wrenching.

Have you read these? If you are interested in any of these books and learning about trigger warnings, please don’t hesitate to email me: kass.readsbooks@gmail.com or contact me on Instagram: @keepitkassual.

February Wrap-Up

February was another great month for reading. We had a TON of snow in New England, so I was more than happy to stay indoors and read under lots of blankets.

I read mostly fantasy in February — 4 out of the 6 books were fantasy or fantasy romance. I am still wrapping up my Throne of Glass buddy read, A Court of Silver Flames came out on Feb. 16 (which I will review in a separate post), and I was in a buddy read for From Blood and Ash. Overall, I am pleased with my book stack in February and look forward to reading more great books in March.

Here’s the breakdown and some quick reviews:

Empire of Storms by Sarah J. Maas

Empire of Storms (Throne of Glass, #5)

This series continues to captivate and amaze me. I found this one to be super action-packed and intriguing. I really loved all of the characters and enjoyed following their stories. Lysandra? Favorite. Dorian? Another favorite. Also … this cover is stunning. I plan to do a full series review when I am done in April and I will gush about why I love Throne of Glass so much.

From Blood and Ash by Jennifer L. Armentrout

From Blood and Ash (Blood and Ash, #1)

Ehhhh … well … this book proved that I might not love ALL fantasy books. First, I’d like to say that the concept behind this story is super complex and captivating, but the execution of the story and worldbuilding were lackluster. The dialogue was very watered down and cheesy (lots of eye rolling), and I just couldn’t get into the romance. I found Hunt to be super predatory and icky. I wish I loved this book, and I know that so many of my pals loved it, but it didn’t do it for me. I’m sorry, fantasy friends. Will I cave in and read the rest of the series because I need to know what happens anyway? Probably.

Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo

Shadow and Bone (The Shadow and Bone Trilogy, #1)

More fantasy? You bet. Badass heroine? Yep. Sign me up. I flew through this first book and really enjoy Bardugo’s Grishaverse. She really knows how to keep her audience captivated, and this fantasy series is so different from other fantastic texts that I’ve read. I love the Russian elements and I really am digging Alina. And, hello, Darkling (hate your name but I enjoy you). Oh … hi, Mal. Leave.

Four Hundred Souls: A Community History of African America, 1619-2019 edited by Ibram X. Kendi and Keisha N. Blain

Four Hundred Souls: A Community History of African America, 1619-2019

I received an advanced listeners copy (ALC) from Libro.fm and I am telling you all RUN don’t walk to get this one. This work of nonfiction was curated by Kendi and Blain and features a collective group of scholars, writers, historians, journalists, lawyers, poets and activists who share the history of African America. It’s poignant and powerful and everyone should read it. I bought a physical copy just so I can revisit certain parts and share this book with friends and family.

A Court of Silver Flames by Sarah J. Maas

A ​Court of Silver Flames (A Court of Thorns and Roses, #4)

This book follows the story of Nesta and Cassian and let me tell you … it gets STEAMY. I don’t even know if “steamy” covers it. Tons of blushing and clutching my pearls. I am going to post a longer review, but I will tell you what I liked: Nesta’s journey to self-love, the power of sisterhood and the bond of strong women, and the discussions of trauma. What I didn’t like? Not enough fantasy. This book was super focused on their romance and Nesta’s healing. It was a wild experience … and that final Az chapter? I have some thoughts! If you want to read this, please contact me for trigger warnings. While every SJM book focuses on trauma in some ways, this one felt a little different.

Coffee Self-Talk: 5 Minutes a Day to Start Living Your Magical Life by Kristen Helmstetter

Coffee Self-Talk: 5 Minutes a Day to Start Living Your Magical Life

I received an advanced readers copy (ARC) from NetGalley and found myself underwhelmed after reading this book. Honestly, I loved the cover … how cute is this cover!? BUT, I skimmed through a lot of it because, again, I’m finding newer self-help books are regurgitating what I’ve read before. I thought some parts were cheeky and cute, but overall, I did not get anything new out of this book.

If you want to read any of these books and are interested in learning content warnings, please email me at kass.readsbooks@gmail.com or find me on Instagram: @keepitkassual.

Book Review: Beartown

Beartown has been sitting on my shelves for a few years now. When I first picked it up, I thought the book wasn’t for me because of all of the hockey content, but I pushed forward this time and realized it was much more than that.

This book, like all of Backman’s books, is complicated. There are many characters presented within the text who are experiencing different, yet relatable struggles. Whether it is your identity or financial hardships, marital struggles, or internal strife, you find yourself in each and every one of those characters as they experience their separate grief, sadness, and fear. You find peace knowing you are not alone. Beartown is a story about being human. It’s raw and poignant to every reader.

Beartown, largely, is about how a fragile and already violent and complicit community reacts to a tragic moment. It looks at characters who make the right decisions, and characters who make the wrong ones. It is fictional, yet we see this happen all of the time, and it is frustrating.

The town, focused solely on getting its hockey team to the finals, loses sight of morality and humanity in this one important event. I read this book with shaking hands and angry tears most of the time, but Backman does not fully betray the reader. He shows that in darkness, there is light and that there are bears in this community who will fight for their cubs.

There are many “teams” in this book besides the obvious hockey one. Beartown demonstrates the power behind a good team and the strength of small teams. These teams can be husband and wife, lovers, best friends, colleagues, and mentors. Characters were constantly learning throughout this story how to be better individuals so that they can support their teams. I was moved by many of the characters and their loyalty to one another. It was a beautiful, raw, and complicated story.

A few things to wrap up my review:

Believe victims and survivors. BELIEVE THEM.

Have grit and persevere.

Knock yourself into that wall if you need to — full force. Again. Again. Again. You have strength and you have worth.

And,

“Words are not small things.”

Trigger warnings: rape, suicidal thoughts, suicide mentions, sexual assault, homophobia, guns, violence, victim blaming, child mortality (past), foul language.

My Top Books of 2020

At the beginning of 2020, I set a goal to read 50 books this year. I planned to slow down and enjoy the books I read, rather than stressing about meeting a large goal. Well, this year was unexpected as we found ourselves at home more than ever before. Despite this extra time, I still decided to read slow, but still surpassed my reading goal by 10 books this year.

Each year, I reflect on my favorite books. I like to share an array of books that reflect different genres and perspectives. While my reading list was heavily fantasy-focused this year (thanks to Sarah J. Maas), I still tried to incorporate romance, memoir, historical fiction, fiction, thriller, and young adult in my reading list. I also introduced new authors to my bookshelves, such as N.K. Jemisin, Neal Shusterman, Octavia Butler, Kristin Hannah, and T.J. Klune. I had an amazing reading year and made incredible bookish friends from around the world!

Now, here are my top 12 books of 2020.

8 pictured here. The others have been lent to friends, were read on my Kindle, or listened to as an audiobook.
  1. The House in the Cerulean Sea by T.J. Klune

I do not think there is a more perfect book out there. Fantasy, adorable children, LGBTQ representation, inclusion, humanity, self-acceptance – this book will make you cry happy tears and clutch your heart to make sure it doesn’t burst. I loved this book. I have purchased this book for about 5 people, and will continue to do so until everyone I know reads it.

2. House of Earth and Blood (Crescent City #1) by Sarah J. Maas

I discovered Sarah J. Maas in 2020, reading her ACOTAR series with a buddy read group. Out of all of the SJM books I read this year (about 10), this one was the best. The world, the writing, the characters – it was an amazing experience. Like any fantasy book, get ready for some world building, lots of details, and with SJM, lots of steam. I love Bryce and Hunt, and I could not get enough of this story! Anxiously awaiting the next release.

3. Know My Name by Chanel Miller

This memoir should be read by all. I listened to the audiobook, narrated by Miller, and my husband read the physical book this year. This memoir transformed and empowered me to stand up against injustice in its many forms. It is a poignant, important memoir that stirs crucial conversations about sexual assault and its survivors. Believe survivors. This memoir was moving, poetic, and brilliant. You will have no words reading this.

4. Kindred by Octavia Butler

This science fiction novel tells the story about a woman who travels back and forth to the Antebellum South, constantly saving a young white man who is her ancestor. This book is fascinating, horrific, and important to read. It’s a captivating story about the history of racism and slavery in the United States. I read this book in one day.

5. The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

My first Kristin Hannah book was The Great Alone in 2017, and while I really enjoyed it, The Nightingale is a book that will stick with me for a while. It is so powerful, telling the tale of sisterhood, WWII, sacrifice, women spies, and heartbreak. I cried and clasped my hand to my mouth many times throughout this book. Definitely recommend this one. I can’t stop thinking about it.

6. Magic Lessons by Alice Hoffman

I was really lucky to receive an advanced reader’s copy of this book back in the spring. I love Practical Magic (the movie) and very much loved Hoffman’s Rules of Magic. I was so excited to get this book and read about Maria Owens. I was not disappointed. A story about sisterhood and witches? Powerful women? Witchy, magical tips about herbs and spells? Even a little historical fiction crossover? Yes, please.

7. The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead

This book, though considered fiction, is based on a true, horrific reform school that operated for 111 years in the United States. It’s such a poignant, heart-wrenching book. It is enraging, captivating, and so well-written. It is a masterpiece. Read it read it read it.

8. The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin

I read The Broken Earth trilogy this summer, and was blown away by Jemisin and her work. This is some of the best, most captivating prose I have ever read. The dystopic, horrific world that Jemisin creates is just the start of why this series was so fascinating. The book features Black characters, a Black female protagonist, and has powerful conversations about race, class, individualism, gender equity, and more. Just read the entire series, OK?

9. Firefly Lane by Kristin Hannah

And yet another Kristin Hannah book that made me ugly cry. I think I sobbed for 5 minutes after reading this one. So beautiful – a story about friendship, loss, love, grief, family, coming-of-age, chasing dreams – I couldn’t get enough of it. Reminded me of Now and Then. I heard the sequel is even more gutting, so here I go!

10. We Are Not From Here by Jenny Torres Sanchez

Can I recommend that readers read this one instead of American Dirt? This is an own voices story about immigration and real and current events. This is an extremely painful, heartbreaking story. It tore my heart apart as I read this. It deserves all of the attention and praise.

11. The Year of the Witching by Alexis Henderson

Can we please talk about this terrifying feminist debut? This book was so scary, captivating, and just plain old awesome. I loved it. This book was revolutionary in many ways. It was some dark horror, and I was here for it. If you want witchy, cutesy spells, don’t read this one. If you want to have some nightmares, read this one!

12. Wandering in Strange Lands: A Daughter of the Great Migration Reclaims Her Roots by Morgan Jerkins

I was really lucky to receive an advanced listeners copy from Libro.fm. You want to read a powerful story about a woman learning about her northern and southern roots? You want to get a humbling history lesson and learn about the Great Migration and the displacement of Black people across the country – a lesson you did not learn accurately in school? Read this book. Also, Jerkins is a delight!

BONUS BOOK!

13. Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

This was one of the best gothic horror books I’ve read in a long time. Creepy, hair-raising story about a headstrong woman who encounters the imaginable. It also talks about race, colonialism, and eugenics as part of its horror. It’s just … so good. And the cover? Amazing.

What are some of your favorite books this year? Share in the comments!