BOOKSTAGRAMMER HIGHLIGHT: @ANDKELLYREADS

Today’s bookstagrammer highlight features one of my favorite ladies, Kelly, who makes me “LOL” on bookstagram on the daily. Learn more about Kelly and her awesomeness below!

Why did you start a bookstagram?

I actually didn’t set out to start one! Gradually, my posts on my personal Instagram just became more and more book centric (because that’s basically all I do? Read, I suppose?) until one day a fellow Baltimore bookstagrammer found me and invited me to join the local group chat! From that point on I changed my username and switched completely over to Booksta with a dash of personal here and there. 

Who are three people you would want to have dinner with?

Oh man, real or fictional?! I’m guessing real so let’s go with Taylor Swift, Alexis Hall, and Dylan O’Brien. 

Do you have any childhood books that you have kept all of these years? What about favorite editions? Can you share a photo if possible?

I don’t have a lot of copies of books from my childhood! My mom still has my entire collection of Dear America books (which helped me get into reading and I ADORED them) so I think the only other set of books I have from when I was younger is the A Great and Terrible Beauty trilogy by Libba Bray that I refuse to ever part with. Gemma Doyle is a favorite heroine of mine and while those books are from when I was in high school (although I guess that was a long time ago since I am ancient) they’ll always be incredibly special to me. Honestly, I’m also glad I have the editions I do because they’ve changed the covers in the past few years and, not to be biased, but I think the ones I have are far superior. 

If you could eat only one thing for the rest of your life, what would it be?

TOUGH. Probably Chili’s Cajun Chicken Pasta, as long as I can wash it down with a margarita.  

You walk into a coffee shop. What’s your order?

Iced peppermint mocha with coconut milk

What is your go-to genre and why?

I have two. The first one is definitely romance. I love everything about the romance genre, from the empowerment through storytelling to the fact that it’s a genre dominated by female authors, and I will never stop supporting it. It’s also a comfort genre for me. One of the best things about romance is that you get a happily ever after every time, and while the journey always changes, the certainty that everything will be okay is always incredibly reassuring and calms my anxiety in a unique way.

The other genre would be fantasy! I really love getting lost in fantasy novels, and appreciate the hell out of those authors. The world building, the ideas behind the stories and the the plot, the character development, and even the maps and languages; fantasy novels are an excellent way to escape everyday life and while they do often send my heart pitter-pattering, they’re fantastic to get lost in.

Both of these genres are incredibly special to me, and the inclusivity I’ve been seeing in both of them, from YA to adult, is incredibly moving and often educational, and I will continue to support them both as long as authors keep writing them.  

Tell me one trend that you just can’t get behind. 

Middle parts. I have a widows peak and I just cannot do it so I refuse. 

Tell me something about yourself that a lot of people don’t know about. 

I can’t whistle? That’s kind of boring, so let’s try again. I have a Masters in Art History and Museum Studies! I’m not using it but I loved every step involved in getting that degree. 

What makes a book a 5-star read?

Ugh this is tricky because I am a fickle creature. I wish people didn’t care so much about star ratings because they’re so subjective and I much prefer reading someone’s actual thoughts on a book BUT when it comes to my own ratings, I consider a 5-star read to be one that stays with me. It’s a story that I find myself thinking about weeks or months after I’ve finished it, or I think about the characters and something they did and actually miss them. Or I find myself tabbing (or highlighting if it’s on my kindle) over half the book so I can go back and revisit favorite moments or sections that stuck out to me.

5-star reads are books that make me think, they make me feel, and I genuinely get lost in them and barely come up for air. I don’t encounter them often, but when I do I’m incredibly grateful, and those are the books I keep on my shelf. I don’t really keep books that I’ve read, largely because I don’t have the shelf space, but also because it makes me sad to think of them sitting there collecting dust never to really be read again. 5-star books are ones I won’t part with because I think about them enough that I pick them up off the shelf and spend a little more time with them.  

What are your other hobbies or passions?

Does cuddling my cat count? If not, how about crossword puzzles? Is that super dorky? I really love crossword puzzles and word searches, but I also really enjoy baking (which is a different art from cooking and I stand by that) and my boyfriend and I love going to baseball games together. Aside from that I’m very boring and spend most of my time either reading or binge-watching beloved sitcoms.  

Follow the hilarious Kelly on Instagram.

Want to be featured on my blog? You don’t have to be a bookstagrammer! If you have a small business, podcast, or something creative that you want to share, please email me at kass.readsbooks@gmail.com!

Bookstagrammer Highlight: @_hodpatchreads_

This next highlight features the wonderful Holly, who is known as @_hodpatchreads_ on Instagram. Holly and I became friends this past year and let me tell ya – she’s one of the good ones. Learn more about Holly below!

Why did you start a book blog?

I am an avid reader who needs more of me in my life! I love connecting with new people and getting new book ideas. My TBR will never end at this point! HA! 

What is your go-to genre?

Historical fiction is where it’s at for me. Lilac Girls is *chefs kiss*

If you could interview any author, who would it be?

Stephen King. I would love to get inside that man’s head. The ideas he has are just truly terrifying and amazing at the same time. And I want to know where he comes up with all of it.

What is your favorite thing about the book community?

The people! Connecting with people is one of the best things about this place. I have made so many amazing friendships through this community.

Tell me one trend that you just can’t get behind. 

Reels. Too much like TikTok for me. And if I want to make those, I’ll just make a Book Tok. Which I won’t.

What are 5 books on your TBR?

Oh man, where do I start? Grown by Tiffany D Jackson, The Lost Queen by Signe Pike, The Things We Cannot Say by Kelly Rimmer, The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones, and Chosen Ones by Veronica Roth.

Tell me something about yourself that a lot of people don’t know about. 

In addition to reading like a fiend, I also am a HUGE World of Warcraft nerd. I have been playing since 2007 and can’t imagine not playing this game. 

If you could choose 3 characters to have over for dinner and drinks, who would you choose, and why?

Rachel Morgan because she is absolutely amazing. Benji from Beartown cause how could you not? Jack Torrance because why not? Let’s make this interesting.

What makes a 5-star read?

The ones that I can’t put down. The ones that hit me right in the feels. The ones that make me contemplate what I just read. The ones that make me think about it long after I have finished. Those are the 5 stars for me.

Can you list any movies that are better than the book?

Not better but I think Crazy Rich Asians was just as good as the book! 

Follow Holly on Instagram!

Want the opportunity to be featured on my blog? You don’t have to be a bookstagrammer. If you have a small business, podcast, or something creative that you want to share, please email me at kass.readsbooks@gmail.com!

Book Blogger Highlight: @AllieMikennaReads

Hello!

Welcome to the inaugural “highlight” series, where I will feature bookstagrammers, influencers, and just really cool people who are doing cool things.

If there’s anything I’ve learned about myself in the past year, it’s that I love to meet new people and learn about them. It must be the journalism major in me. I am interested in people and their stories — why they do what they do and why they love what they do!

I joined Bookstagram in July 2019, and it was the best decision I have ever made. I have read so many incredible books and met some awesome people.

Including Allie!

Allie was one of my first friends on Bookstagram, and she is also a budding blogger building her brand (alliteration!). You can learn more about Allie below and through this link to her “Meet the Bookstagrammer” post!

Why did you start a book blog?

I started my bookstagram back in August of 2019 because I had been mostly posting books to my personal Instagram for a while. I had been following a few bookstagrammers and I just felt very drawn to the book community and realized it was the section of Instagram that brought me the most joy. Then I met some amazing bookstagrammers in my local community and made the switch to a book account for good. I have always been a writer and I used to write for an online magazine. I stepped back for personal reasons a few years ago, but I was missing that outlet for writing about lifestyle-type content. So, at the start of 2020, I built out my blog and decided to give a blog of my own a whirl! It’s still very much in the early stages but I’m excited to dedicate more time to it this year. 

What is your go-to genre when you pick up a book to read?

If you’d asked me this two years ago, I’d have said young adult fiction. But lately, I’ve been really drawn to contemporary romance and young adult fantasy. 

Do you have any childhood books that you have kept all of these years? What about favorite editions? Can you share a photo if possible?

I’m a very sentimental person, so I do read a lot of books from my childhood, but sadly, I didn’t have the foresight to keep my original copies. I did hunt down a copy of my favorite picture book, Two Cool Cows. I also collect editions of Alice in Wonderland and have since high school. This post has the spines of my favorite copies! 

If you could choose 3 characters to have over for dinner and drinks, who would you choose, and why?

Ooh, this is a tough question for me. Rhysand from A Court of Mist and Fury mostly so I could look at him, but I would prefer to be invited to his place for dinner because Velaris sounds so stunning. I’d also say Alex and Henry from Red, White, and Royal Blue because I loved their banter in that book, and I think they’d make for really fun dinner party guests. 

What can people expect when they visit your page?

On my blog, they’ll find a mix of book reviews, book-themed gift guides, bookstagram tips, and assorted lifestyle content — hiking, crafting, and more. On Instagram, I try to keep a bright, clean feed but I like my photos to still look pretty real life. I take them all on my phone, and I do a little minor editing, but don’t really use filters or presets that drastically change the look. Although some of my favorite accounts have more themed aesthetics! I post about current reads, reviews, and usually host a few fun book photo challenges with friends throughout the year. 

What is your favorite thing about the book community?

Honestly, the friendships! I have met so many cool people, thanks to bookstagram. The book community helped me reconnect with an elementary school friend I hadn’t talked to much since moving away when I was 13, which was so neat. I found a lot of other Iowa bookstagrammers when I first decided to switch to a book-only account. I really connected with a group of them, and that group has become some of my closest in-real-life friends over the last year. We used to meet up in person pre-COVID, but we’ve stayed connected through virtual book club chats.  They’re all some of the most genuine, nice, and supportive people and of course, I love having people in my life who share my love of books. 

Tell me one trend that you just can’t get behind.

So I enjoy watching Tik Toks, but you will not find me appearing in one. I am trying to learn to embrace Reels this year, but I don’t love showing my face or talking on camera, so I am definitely very late to the party and still figuring out what will work for me. Maybe that means I’m officially not “hip with the teens” (I don’t know that I ever was though). 

Tell me something about yourself that a lot of people don’t know about. 

I have two different colored eyebrows and always have – one is brown and the other is very blonde/ has no pigment. Once you notice you can’t unsee it! I’m too lazy to pencil it in ever so I just embrace it. I also enjoy writing in my spare time but don’t talk a lot about it on Bookstagram. I used to write a lot of poetry and have a couple published poems in small/ local publications. I also have planned out a romance novel that I’m currently neglecting writing. 

What makes a book a 5-star read?

I’m a pretty generous reviewer — I give most books I read 3-5 stars, but that’s also because I know what I like and don’t really spend time reading books I don’t think I will enjoy unless it’s a book club pick. And even then, I’m notorious for not finishing the ones that aren’t working for me. I usually save five stars for books that I think will be “forever favorites” of mine. These are typically books I’ll read again in the future and would recommend to most readers. 

What are your other hobbies or passions?

This year, I have recently discovered a love of a new hobby – making miniatures! I bought a kit to make a miniature model house. It brings me so much joy to make all these tiny books and plants and accessories. It’s also been a great stress relief during the pandemic this year. As soon as I finish, I’m branching out to redo a dollhouse from scratch. I’m also making a miniature model bookshelf and, as I finish books this year, making miniature versions of them. I think that may be cool to see at the end of the year! I may have to add a mini-book cart too if my reading pace keeps up!

Follow Allie on her blog and Instagram!

Interview with Juliet Grames, author of ‘Stella Fortuna’

In November, I met Juliet Grames, author of her debut novel, The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna. We met at an event held in my home state where she talked about her novel and her family. I even had dinner with her! It was an unforgettable experience, further deepening my love for literature and becoming an author.

I read her novel last month and was deeply moved by it. From immigration to feminism, this book has every topic that can interest a reader. There is so much history, and as a Connecticut native, like Juliet, I was interested to learn more about my own family’s emigration to the United States.

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Book synopsis

From Calabria to Connecticut: A sweeping family saga about sisterhood, secrets, Italian immigration, the American dream, and one woman’s tenacious fight against her own fate.

For Stella Fortuna, death has always been a part of life. Stella’s childhood is full of strange, life-threatening incidents—moments where ordinary situations like cooking eggplant or feeding the pigs inexplicably take lethal turns. Even Stella’s own mother is convinced that her daughter is cursed or haunted.

In her rugged Italian village, Stella is considered an oddity—beautiful and smart, insolent and cold. Stella uses her peculiar toughness to protect her slower, plainer baby sister Tina from life’s harshest realities. But she also provokes the ire of her father Antonio: a man who demands subservience from women and whose greatest gift to his family in his absence.

When the Fortunas emigrate to America on the cusp of World War II, Stella and Tina must come of age side-by-side in a hostile new world with strict expectations for each of them. Soon Stella learns that her survival is worthless without the one thing her family will deny her at any cost: her independence.

In present-day Connecticut, one family member tells this heartrending story, determined to understand the persisting rift between the now-elderly Stella and Tina. A richly told debut, The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna is a tale of family transgressions as ancient and twisted as the olive branch that could heal them.

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The interview

How long was this book in the making?
A long time–you could say since 2011, when I first wrote down Stella Fortuna’s name and earnestly started research and note-taking. Or you could say since 1988, when I was five years old and realized I was already haunted by what I didn’t know about my grandmother’s life story. I spent the thirty years in between then and now trying to learn more about her, about the faraway world she came from, and about other immigrant women in her generation, trying to fill in the blanks. In the end, I couldn’t fill them in, so I wrote a novel about a fictional Italian immigrant woman, instead.

Can you talk about your literary pilgrimage to Italy? I know you did a lot of research for this book—how did it change the book itself, and how did it change you?
Yes, I did a lot of research in many different formats, but one of the most important pieces of the puzzle was the month I spent in Ievoli, Calabria, the village where my grandmother was born a hundred years ago. I showed up in Ievoli knowing no one, only with an overwhelming feeling of crazed, high-pressure joy, terrified that my Italian wasn’t good enough, that I would disappoint my grandmother’s legacy, that I’d never be able to reconstruct her life from what she’d left behind so long ago. My terror was unjustified on all counts. I was welcomed with open arms. Total strangers (who turned out to be third cousins, of course–it’s a small village) insisted I live in their home, fed me and drove me around to their favorite sights and introduced me to anyone they could think of who might have helpful information for me. I spent a transformative month absorbing everything I could about their mountaintop lifestyle, their food and folksongs and proverbs and superstitions, and realizing how much of it was already familiar to me, cultural residue of my time with my grandmother. I left knowing so much more about her, and so much more about myself–and knowing I would go back.

Your book is about your family and their struggles. Can you tell me about your experience writing about something so personal?
Although my inspiration for beginning this book was my grandmother–and just as much her sister, my great aunt–it is, in the end, a work of fiction. Because my grandmother was lobotomized when I was five years old, I never felt I understood who she really was as a person before her brain injury, despite the many hundreds of hours I spent with her (she lived to be 98 years old). I tried to write a biography of her many times, but I could never wrap my head around her motives or choices. In the end, I only felt free to write and finish a book inspired by her by inventing a fictional woman to write about instead.

Not only does your book shed light on Italian culture, but it also puts a spotlight on immigration and the struggle that those who emigrated faced (in America and the families back at home). What did you hope to get across writing about this topic?
We are at a pivotal and violent moment in American history. I am especially grieved by the vitriol toward immigrants in the press and among politicians, especially considering the very vast majority of Americans are descendants of immigrants who would not have been allowed legally into the United States under current restrictions. I would dearly love to see us rehumanize the conversation around immigration by remembering our immigrant grandparents and imagining how their–and our–lives would have been altered if they had faced the immigration conditions in place today.

This book is truly a feminist novel. What do you hope readers take away after reading Stella Fortuna about women, specifically women from that era?
Thank you. It would make me happy to know that a reader of my novel was inspired to reappraise their own foremothers–grandmothers, mother, aunts. For those (many) of us with a grandmother who has been written off in family history as mean, boring, aloof, short-tempered, drunk, stingy, or a difficult woman of any specific adjective, I hope the book inspires the question but why? Why was she a difficult woman? Usually, there is a very, very good reason–an untold story of what she went through to survive or protect a loved one.

What was your hardest scene to write?
If you’ve read the book, I bet you can guess. It was so difficult to write that I knew it would be difficult to read, and I struggled mightily over whether to keep it in the text. But the whole reason I wanted to write this book in the first place was to acknowledge the traumas of our foremothers, which are so often buried in order to protect the legacies of our forefathers.

What’s your favorite underappreciated novel?
Oh no, this question is the hardest one here, since when you really love a novel no amount of public appreciation is enough! I’m going to choose The Last Nude by Ellis Avery, set in 1920s Paris, a fictional reimagining of the life of the young American woman who ended up becoming the model for painter Tamara de Lempicka (as well as her lover). It came out in 2011 and I loved it so much I was eagerly awaiting the author’s follow-up–only to find out last spring that she passed away at age 46 of cancer. She was such a powerful and sensitive writer that I hope many others will discover her and feel compelled to spread the word.

What are common traps for aspiring writers?
I think the most fatal flaw among aspiring writers is getting so caught up in the idea of publishing that they drive themselves into despair, when in fact writing should be an art practice that brings them joy. Publishing and everything to do with it is almost entirely out of a writer’s control–it’s a classic situation of not pinning one’s happiness on third parties. Of course, it took me 15 years of working in publishing to feel this zen about it, but I know intimately how the sausage is made. Whatever else is happening in the world, a writer should need to come back to the page and keep striving to attain their highest artistic ability, whether anyone else ever reads it or not. That’s the real goal of writing.

What’s next on the horizon?
I’m working on a novel set in 1960 in Italy, a crime novel about a naive young woman who travels to an isolated village on a charity mission only to realize that she has vastly underestimated the complexities of the locals’ struggles–ranging from emigration to political corruption to the legacy of World War II on a tiny community–and that she’s being pulled into their drama as a sort of amateur detective.

A giant thank-you to Juliet for the interview. You can learn more about her book (and purchase it) here.

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