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.

March Hopefuls

It’s March … Wait a minute, again?

Hasn’t it been March 2020 all this time?

Jokes aside, I am looking forward to reading more books this month. I have been planning out my reading list each month this year and I’ve stuck to them. Typically, I am a mood reader, but with COVID-19 and all of its uncertainty, I decided to add some structure to my reading to keep me in check.

Last month, I read a lot of fantasy, so I decided to keep to my buddy reads but also add in some fiction, romance, historical fiction and a thriller. Super excited.

Here’s what I’m hoping to read this month:

Siege and Storm by Leigh Bardugo (The Shadow and Bone Trilogy)

Siege and Storm (The Shadow and Bone Trilogy, #2)

The synopsis spoils the first book, but I am already halfway through this one (they are super fast, engaging reads), and I can’t get enough. I just want to say one thing: Nikolai. OK. That’s all.

Us Against You by Fredrik Backman (Beartown #2)

Us Against You (Beartown, #2)

Another sequel, and I know I am going to love it. I look forward to revisiting Beartown and learning more about these beloved characters. Also, I know. It looks like a book about hockey, but it’s so much more than that! Check out my review of Beartown to see what I mean.

Act Your Age, Eve Brown by Talia Hibbert (The Brown Sisters #3)

Act Your Age, Eve Brown (The Brown Sisters, #3)

More sequels?! What can I say, I love me a good series. I have really enjoyed Hibbert’s romances focusing on the Brown sisters (Dani Brown was my personal favorite out of the two). This one comes out March 9 and I was pumped to get an advanced listeners copy (ALC) from Libro.fm. I really look forward to learning more about Eve’s story.

Tower of Dawn by Sarah J. Maas

Tower of Dawn (Throne of Glass, #6)

I am almost done with the Throne of Glass series (happy face/sad face). This one focuses on Chaol and Nesryn’s story and I heard it has so many great, new characters in it. I am super excited to pick this one up.

Sunflower Sisters by Martha Hall Kelly (Lilac Girls # 3)

Sunflower Sisters (Lilac Girls, #3)

… Pretend you didn’t see that series reference. First of all, Martha Hall Kelly is a delight. Second, Lilac Girls is a MUST READ. It has Connecticut ties, so of course I jumped at the chance to read it when it came out. I was fortunate to receive an advanced readers copy (ARC) of Sunflower Sisters from NetGalley and can’t wait to read it. This book comes out March 30.

The Last Flight by Julie Clark

The Last Flight

Hey, look. This isn’t part of a series! Now this one just sounds cool. I usually read tons of thrillers in the summer, but I decided to add one to my list this month! Even looking at the cover gives me heart palpitations. Can’t wait to dive in.

What are you reading this month?

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!

How to control the unknown: Journaling during the pandemic

Recently, I rediscovered my love for journaling. I currently have two journals: a bullet journal where I track my bookish creative needs, and another journal where I focus on mental check-ins before bed and other writing.

With the recent pandemic sweeping the globe, I noticed my journaling habits dwindling. I have been glued to my phone, scrolling through Twitter and Facebook to try to make sense of it all. I couldn’t believe what I read, but seeing that everyone was facing the same issues somehow made me feel less alone. The issue with this, of course, is that people don’t always post the most encouraging or factual things on social media, so those notions of connectivity also brought panic, uncertainty, and a lot of anxiety that I could not curb.

I decided to unplug — to only focus on the positive things — and pay more attention to books (more than I already do). I am working to exercise daily, eat healthily, and be mindful of what I can control. I slowly started journaling again, readying myself to write down what I was feeling. I realized that I was avoiding journaling because it was easier to harbor anxiety and fear rather than see it on paper. It’s been a few days now, and I am enjoying the process and act of journaling. It has helped to record my thoughts and activities during this time and work through them rather than avoid them.

I found myself this Sunday morning scribbling in my journal, feeling much like Jo March when she has a moment of inspiration and needs to get it down. I wrote six pages of free prose, mostly detailing what is happening, how I feel, and how my husband and I are coping during these troubling times. I wanted to share some of it with my readers, for I feel like this is how we might all feel. I also want to start sharing more of my writing with others, which takes a lot of courage.

Here are my favorite snippets:

As a homebody, this is certainly a lifestyle that I am used to, but I find myself gripping to my humanity more and more as we encounter outside individuals on our walks or in the grocery stores. As someone who is so introverted, I find myself craving extroversion. Technology is keeping “us” connected through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat…Google Hangout, FaceTime and Zoom and “we” are having virtual Happy Hours and game nights. Families are joining each other for dinner in their respective living rooms. Why haven’t we done this before? Last week, my friends and I got together for a virtual chat. We laughed and caught up. One friend said: “We should have been doing this all the time anyway!” It’s true. Why wouldn’t my friends and I schedule regular time to do this? When we can’t get together physically, why don’t “we” embrace technology and still be together socially?

I hope that we all appreciate the simplicities of greetings: a smile, a handshake, or a “hello, how are you?” as we pass each other on the street. Why did we lose that in the first place? Ian and I went for a walk the other day, and every person looked at us and said “hi,” as if they were also craving that social interaction. Before, we wouldn’t get a glance from half of the people we crossed paths with. Where did humanity go? Does it take us to all be locked in our homes to strive for politeness when someone passes by?

I hope we learn to appreciate each other more — that we continue to take better care of one another and of ourselves. What about our planet? What about appreciating those on the front lines all of the time? Or asking those “what about them?” questions when things go wrong? I hope we don’t lose sight of that — taking care of each other.

After this is over, I hope that we continue to pick up more books, appreciate the small things like getting an iced coffee or an ice cream cone. I hope more people browse bookstores or work to support small businesses. I hope that we call our friends more, FaceTime with our grandparents regularly. I hope that we exercise and crave to go outdoors and take care of it. These things were always options, but now it’s something that we want to do and share.

I hope that we rediscover hobbies during this time- our love of books, favorite movies, playing or creating music. I hope that we are creative – that we paint, write, draw. I hope we are OK if we do none of those things but take time to look within ourselves and know that we are resilient … that we are strong and we can regain control and maintain that control when the world seems to have lost it. I hope we can just “be” and know that if we do anything, it is good enough. Enough with comparing ourselves on social media, thinking that we are not good enough. Enough with the drive for money and the greed to be successful. Can we continue to check in with one another? Can celebrities and musicians continue to share their talents?

I hope we act silly; that we dance. That we come out of this stronger than ever.

I am so excited to see all the creative work that comes from this. I can’t wait to see all the art, read all of the prose, and listen to new music. I hope to create my own work, academic and personal, during this time. I hope to learn how to be OK with my work, breathe slowly and be patient with my craft — to continue being diligent as a writer. I want to be loud; I want to praise others for their talents and help others feel safe and not alone. It’s time to be there for each other.

Goodbye, 2010s: The 20 books that made my decade

It’s hard to believe that we will be saying goodbye to another decade next week, but here we are!

As I sit here thinking back to the books that changed me, my brain did some kind of ping…or boink! I’ve read so many books of all genres and fell more in love with literature (if that was possible!).

In 2014, I earned a Bachelor’s degree in journalism and English, and since 2017, I’ve been working towards earning a Master’s in English, currently spending my “spare time” writing my master’s thesis. The final countdown, or so they say!

I’ve read a lot of books during my academic career—from memoirs to fiction to scholarly articles and theory, I’ve achieved a higher level of awareness about the impact that literature makes on society, and I’m excited to share my work with the world in the future.

Anyways, to the fun part. I wanted to share books that shaped me, made me feel all the feels.

Here they are, in no particular order.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
This book changed my perception of race, class, and justice at a very young age. It’s a book I’ve read three times since high school and will continue to press as a book that everyone should read.

Coraline by Neil Gaiman
Oh, Coraline. Need I say more? Coraline, despite being a dark, spooky book, has helped me when I am in dark moments. Her bravery and cunning strength have inspired me since I was a little girl. She almost made it into my thesis, but I know we will meet again in the academic realm real soon.

The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton
This is one of those books that I read a few years ago that really made an impact. I love the blend of historical fiction with the fantastic. It was a magical book that made me smile and cry and there’s really nothing else to it!

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
Mental health, and specifically, how women who struggle with mental illness are treated, has been a topic of fascination to me for some time. I read The Bell Jar for the second time in college, and I’m glad I did and was able to appreciate it more. This book was phenomenal, and I’m glad I get to study it more as I work on a scholarly article this winter.

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
This is an important book to fully understand pre- and post-colonialism, cultural difference, masculinity, tradition, and much more. This book is insightful and offered so much opportunity to learn about a world that is entirely different from our own. Perspective, people. Perspective.

The Handmaids Tale by Margaret Atwood
Speaking of perspective. This book, as the kids say, “shook me.” As a person who never got into the TV show, Atwood’s dystopian novel offers insight into a world that no one ever wants to see. The book explores a totalitarian world where women are subjugated, but they resist and work to establish independence. I actually need to reread this one this year.

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
For those who know me outside of the blogosphere, I have trouble shutting up about Little Women. This is my favorite book of all time. Jo March is my favorite literary woman of all time. She also makes an appearance in my thesis as the OG tomboy, the one who really set the standards for a young girl to achieve her dreams. This story is beautiful. I love it so much.

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
Not a favorite of all time, but what made this book significant is that it is the book that my now-husband and I connected on. In 2010, I was reading this book over winter break and posted a status on Facebook about it. A boy who I thought was super cute commented on my post saying that it was a good read, and then we started talking over IM and text. The rest is history.

Don’t get me wrong—the book is also really good!

Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult
This book is thought-provoking, tragic, riveting, you name it. It made me sick to my stomach and cry but it also presented beautiful moments of love and hope. Read this book.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling
I’ve read the Harry Potter series five or six times in the past decade, and I always find myself enjoying the third book of the series the most. I love the Marauders and wish that Rowling would write an entire series about them. I also love Sirius Black so much it hurts.

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
Bilbo Baggins is one of the best literary characters ever. Don’t @ me. But seriously, this book has it all. Adventure, courage, fantastic elements, humor, poetry and song. It’s really a masterpiece. And…that’s all I have to say about that (Forrest Gump voice).

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
Yes, I’m THAT person who gets mad if you pronounce her name wrong. I read this book for a college course in my undergrad and really enjoyed it. I enjoyed the romance, the heartbreak, the emotions that Anna experienced throughout her journey and her sad train ride. It’s one of those classics that you have to read. Warning: You will lose track of names. It’s inevitable.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
I clapped when I finished this one. Angelou’s books and poetry always overwhelmed me by its poignancy and beauty. What a life she lived. I am in awe of her strength and appreciate her sharing her story. This book helped me understand trauma and how to overcome it and shed light on racism and its history.

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
In my latest post, Katniss plays a large role (perhaps a larger role than the other heroines I examine) in my thesis. Katniss and I have always had a strong bond. I’ve loved her since the beginning; her strength and resiliency, and her dedication to her family and friends. I read the entire series in three days instead of wrapping up my finals during my junior year of college. I didn’t regret it then. Still don’t. I am excited to write about her and to even present on her this upcoming March at a national conference in Boston. Lit nerds, unite!

Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult
I was just discussing this book with another bookworm on Instagram. We were talking about how lucky we are to have books like this one, for it offers a wealth of knowledge about medicine, race, class, and other social issues. This book left a profound mark; it’s a book about injustice and justice. It’s truly fantastic and one of my favorites from Picoult.

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid
This book was everything I wanted: romance, iconic Hollywood, struggle, triumph, heartbreak, control, and other contemporary issues—it had everything in there. It was one of those books you didn’t want to finish. I discovered Taylor Jenkins Reid this year and I will read all of her books.

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
This book. Where do I begin? It’s truly a masterpiece. Another young girl that I can relate to in so many ways. Kya is sensitive, intelligent, and resilient. There were twists and turns along with romance and murder. It is one of the best books I’ve ever read.

Educated by Tara Westover
Speaking of one of the best books I’ve ever read. This. Memoir. I even got Ian to read it, and he devoured it in two sittings. This book made me think about my circle of home, and what it could mean to break out of it. Tara’s story is beautifully told, and you wonder how she became the person she is today. There’s no debate. Read it.

The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah
Much like Crawdads, I found myself identifying with Leni and aspects of her childhood. I feel like these two books were similar but profound and impactful in different ways. It’s another book about the journey through adolescence with its own twists and turmoil. Leni is one heck of a fighter, and one heck of a good person.

Daisy Jones and The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid
Y’all saw this coming. I feel like this book was written for me. Historical fiction. 70s rock n roll. Fleetwood Mac. Stardom. Music. Podcast-like dreamy Audible experience? It was truly fantastic. I heard some people struggle with the print version. Pop in those earbuds and turn on the audiobook; you can thank me later.

Did any of my books make your list? Share in the comments!

‘Mastering’ the thesis: A student’s journey

For those who don’t know, I am currently earning my master’s in English—a very rewarding and fulfilling area of study for me. It’s been a whirlwind these past two years; working full time and switching jobs all while going to school full time can be stressful!

My project has many layers, but to simplify it, it focuses on the female heroine in fantasy literature. The fantastic as a genre offers readers the opportunity to explore the impossible, and because of this, authors of this genre are able to introduce readers to worlds beyond our imagination.

The genre itself also opens up doors for protagonists to do what might not be as easy to do in reality. A heroine establishing their autonomy and fighting solely to save the world they live in has unfortunately not been a storyline commonly produced by authors from other genres throughout the centuries. That’s what I ultimately argue; the genre and its elements allow these heroines to be who they truly are.

Since I was a child, I’ve been drawn to fantasy simply because of its availability of heroines. From Lucy and Susan Pevensie to Coraline alike, I have always admired them and been inspired by their valor. Growing up and entering academia, it’s easy to say that feminist theory has been the foundation of my research and a number of research papers at the end of each semester.

So, I spent the summer reading the fantastic (doesn’t that sound awful? ;)). Here’s what I read:

-Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass (reread) – Lewis Caroll

-The Princess and the Goblin -George MacDonald

-The Chronicles of Narnia – C.S. Lewis

-A Wrinkle in Time -Madeleine L’Engle

-His Dark Materials -Phillip Pullman

-The Hunger Games (reread) -Suzanne Collins

-The Harry Potter series (reread, focusing on the development of Hermione Granger) -J.K. Rowling

-Coraline (reread) -Neil Gaiman

After reading all of these books (and a billion pages of scholarly articles), I found something inspiring about the heroines depicted in these stories: they all control their narratives (except Meg from A Wrinkle in Time…did anyone like that series?).

I found, overall, that each heroine works to control their narrative in their story and rebel against forces working against them.

I immediately decided that this was my project, but I couldn’t write about every single heroine (at least not yet).

I decided to take a contemporary approach and focus on three beloved heroines: Lyra from His Dark Materials, Hermione from Harry Potter, and Katniss Everdeen from the Hunger Games.

After more research, I began to dive deeper. I soon discovered that these three heroines not only establish their autonomy in their stories, but they also bend their gender.

I then studied the topic of tomboys and concluded that each Lyra, Hermione, and Katniss display different tomboyish characteristics, therefore separating them from the regular heroine: Katniss, the hunter, and Lyra, the rascal, and Hermione, the bookish and unkempt.

Further, they all own their identities, and even if they sometimes represent femininity in their stories (Lyra being dressed up by her mother, Katniss being dressed up for the Games, or Hermione dressing up for the Yule Ball), they do it as a choice and perform femininity without losing their core, tomboyish essence. They remain in control throughout their stories.

The fantastic offers endless opportunity, and because of the genre, authors can bring these heroines to the forefront; these lovely, amazing, gender-bending, rebellious heroines that we all love so much.

I am now in the final stretch: writing my master’s thesis. This past month, I submitted my first chapter for review.

IMG_4620Right now, I am focusing on my Katniss chapter. I am very excited to write more about one of my favorite heroines (and arguably, one of society’s favorites). And, I’m even more excited to present my project on Katniss at a national conference in Boston this March.

I bet you’re wondering how a person working full time has the time to write a master’s thesis? She doesn’t, folks. She just doesn’t.

It’s been a really tough process. Lots of tears, lots of therapy sessions. It’s hard to leave work and keep that creative energy to last beyond after-work gym sessions or making dinner/spending time with my husband.

It’s hard to say no to plans, to move plans around, or cancel plans to write or research. Heck, it’s hard to sit down and write. But, I wanted to be honest with those who are wondering, and an ally to those who might be going through the same thing as me.

This is what I love to do, and I’m excited to share my love of writing and the topic and genre I love so much with the world.

Thanks for reading! Has anyone taken on a project this large? Any advice? Want to just rant about it to a safe, open space/person? Feel free to comment below!

 

Top 20 books of 2019

As 2019 winds down, I can’t help but be super excited about all the amazing books that I read this year. It was January of this year when I decided to focus more on sharing my love of reading, and what started with me tracking the books I read on my Instagram stories resulted in my “regular” Instagram turning into a Bookstagram account.

Since the summer, I’ve grown over 800 followers by posting engaging and aesthetically pleasing book content. I’ve posted current reads, to-be-reads (TBR), and book reviews, showcasing my love for literature. I’ve met amazing people on this platform—some who have become close friends beyond the screen.

It’s now time for me to reflect on my favorite reads of 2019, and since I’ve read close to 70 books this year, I’m having trouble narrowing it down. From audiobooks to print books, I’ve developed a very extensive bookshelf, and have read from historical fiction and memoirs to fiction and thrillers. I’ve loved them all. Even if I did not enjoy one book as much as the others, I appreciate literature and the escapism that it offers bibliophiles from the noisy world that we live in. Reading has always brought me solace, and I am forever grateful to writers for sharing their talents with the world.

Now it’s time for the fun part: my top books of the year (in somewhat order. I’d say my top two are legitimate) The breakdown will be book and author, stars, and a brief explanation of why I loved the book. Here goes!

 

 

 

Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid
Stars: 5/5
This was the book I wouldn’t shut up about this year (last year was Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens), so this must be my top book. I did the full audiobook for this one and then bought the physical copy. I did not read the print version, but the audiobook is one of the best audiobooks I have ever listened to. It sounds like an actual podcast, and the performers were outstanding. I love the rock n’ roll era and history of the 70s. I love this story. I love the characters and the story about a band’s journey to stardom. It’s truly a remarkable book.

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid
Stars: 5/5
I discovered TJR this year (thanks, Reese!) and I’m so glad I did. This book brings Hollywood and glamour to heartache and trauma in a beautifully-wrapped package. It’s about ruthless ambition, the devastation of stardom, and lifelong romance. It is truly a beautiful story about resilience. Evelyn Hugo is a kickass woman who is beautiful, frustrating, and loveable all at once. I did half audio half print, and I plan on rereading in 2020.

The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna by Juliet Grames
Stars: 4.5/5
I stumbled upon this book when I met the author at a book event at a quaint bookstore in my state. Juliet was warm and kind and spoke about her grandmother, who inspires this story. I read this book for a buddy read and gobbled it up in three days. What I loved about this book were the women. Despite being under the patriarchal grasp of their husbands, these women were powerhouses and did what they could to establish autonomy in their lives and their households. This is truly a feminist novel about the emigration to America, the American Dream, and Italian culture. If you want a book that will shake you to your core, pick this one up.

Lock Every Door by Riley Sager
Stars: 5/5
I was new to the Riley Sager train, and now I’m obsessed. I read this book for a buddy read and I’m pretty sure I finished it in a day. There’s no way you can’t. I was on a big thriller/mystery kick this year, and this book didn’t disappoint. It had its twists, ones that I saw coming, but then Sager knocked you right on your you-know-what with an ultimate, creepy one. I’m not going to give anything away, but if you want an engaging page-turner set in a creepy, beautiful apartment building in New York City where everyone goes missing, read this heart-pounding thriller.

The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah
Stars: 5/5
I read a lot of new authors this year, and Kristin Hannah did not disappoint. I heard this one was a lot like Where the Crawdads Sing, and it was, which is why I loved it so much. It’s about a girl entering and exiting adolescence who experiences turmoil and comes out resilient despite all the odds…in the dark, dangerous middle-of-nowhere Alaska. If you lived Crawdads, you’ll love this one. I did half audio, half print. I love Julia Whalen, and she did a great job narrating. I loved it so much that I bought the print version and finished it in one evening!

The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman
Stars: 5/5
Witches. I picked up this beautiful read this October and fell in love with the older Owens sisters. A lover of the movie Practical Magic, this was a highly anticipated read. I did full audiobook for this one and was enamored by the story that Hoffman created. It has magic, romance, drama, and heartbreak. Hoffman’s prose shone throughout the book, with lines about the smells of the city (chocolate or newly brewed tea) and growing up with the Owens family was like getting a front row seat to a special secret. I never wanted it to end.

Circe by Madeline Miller
Stars: 4/5
That was my first reaction reading this book. I had a little trouble with the writing style in the beginning of the book, but once it got going, I adjusted and read this book quickly. It was an amazing story about Circe, a feared and beautiful Goddess of witchcraft, and I found myself spellbound by the author’s amazing storytelling and writing at the end. This book was suspenseful, beautiful, and triumphant.

The Alice Network by Kate Quinn
Stars: 5/5
I am a sucker for historical fiction novels; I think that they are fascinating and offer readers a “fun” way to learn about history. What I love more: Stories about amazing women during WWI and WWII. This story is about courage, redemption, and resilience. While I didn’t entirely love the story of Charlie, Eve Gardiner’s story made this book earn five stars. Eve is fearless. Even months after reading this book, I still find myself thinking of Eve and her strength during times of strife. I love books like that.

Educated by Tara Westover
Stars: 5/5
This is another book that my husband and I cannot stop talking about. I listened to the audiobook version (because Julia Whalen), and I was in awe of Tara’s story. I was, and continue to be, inspired by her story. This is one of the few books this year that left me speechless. My only advice is that everyone should read this memoir. It is written like a fictional story, but it is so far from fiction. Get this book now.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
Stars: 5/5
Oh, Eleanor. Sweet, sweet Eleanor. I love her. This was a laugh out loud read for me. Her quirks; her sass. I loved everything about this book. This is one of those books that leave you changed. You find yourself connecting deeply with the protagonist; you’re laughing with her one minute, and angry at her the next, but you can’t help but love her either way. Get ready for an amazing story about family, friendship, struggles, the whole gamut. And yes, Eleanor is COMPLETELY fine.

The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides
Stars: 5/5
WOO! Talk about a debut novel. This book was intense, exciting, and messed with your head. I was exhausted after reading this book (not just because of the content; I finished it in one day). It was one of those books that you had to keep reading—you didn’t want to miss anything, and you couldn’t think of anything else other than this book and what happened to Alicia. Grab yourself a glass of wine (and lock your doors) and dive into this amazing book.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
Stars: 5/5
Want a book that terrifies you but entrances you with its beautiful prose? Without giving too much away, this book makes you think about the world that we live in and what would happen if a pandemic hit. How would we cope? What I loved the most about this book was its appreciation for the arts and literature. Though I still had some questions (I always do at the end of books), I loved this one.

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
Stars: 5/5
I will read anything written by Madeline Miller—down to her grocery lists. This book was one of the most beautiful stories I have ever read. Miller has such a talent for reconstructing Greek myths into modern fiction. This is one of the steamiest love stories I have ever read! I loved it from beginning to end.

The Institute by Stephen King
Stars: 4/5
After much anticipation, I immediately downloaded the audio version of King’s newest novel (I call them epics because they are so long) and got ready for an adventure. This was so different from other novels I’ve read from King, and I really enjoyed it. Though I felt there was some disconnect between one of the main characters and the main story, it made my top books of 2019. It’s King, after all. It had sci-fi, fantasy, horror, and mystery all in one. It was a detailed, scary as all hell, and one I would recommend.

His Dark Materials by Phillip Pullman (Trilogy)
Stars: 5/5
I had to bring some fantasy in here. Everyone needs to read this series and fall in love with Lyra as I did. Lyra, an inspiration for my Master’s thesis, is one amazing heroine. She owns her narrative and does not let anyone control her. It’s so mature for a children’s fantasy, and Pullman created an incredible world. I know I’ll be rereading this series for a long time.

Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brené Brown
Stars: 5/5
Brené changed my life. Simply put. I listened to this book (read by the author) at a time where I felt weak, scared, and hopeless. After reading this book, I felt hopeful, confident, and learned how to understand and embrace vulnerability. This book was powerful and helped me in my career, marriage, and my own self. I am forever grateful for this book. I recommend this book (and all her books) to everyone.

This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel
Stars: 3.75/5
This book. This story. It is beautiful and raw and heartbreaking. We need more stories like this this one. I read this in a few days and loved it—with a few small setbacks. I felt that this story was unrealistic in many ways (supportive parents, the travel, etc), but it offers a wonderful story about family, triumph, and unconditional love. This is definitely worth a read (so we can discuss!!)

 

What were your favorite reads of 2019? Please share in the comments!

The best of mystery: Ruth Ware

Greetings, Bookworms!

As an adult, my taste in genres has broadened, and I find myself reaching for mystery novels more and more. Lately, my wish list and Goodreads account have consisted of Agatha Christie, the queen of murder and mystery. I also gravitate toward female novelists who are making strides in the genre and write about strong, female protagonists, like Gillian Flynn, Paula Hawkins, Kate Morton, and one of my favorites, Ruth Ware. All of these women have kept me up at night and I couldn’t be any more thankful!

I consumed Ruth Ware’s latest novel, The Death of Mrs. Westaway, in less than four days. I closed it wanting more and yearning to revisit her books. When it comes to Ruth Ware’s books, I follow the same ritual: I’d get the novel, open the book, and be entranced finishing them in days rather than weeks, loving every minute of the story.

Because I wanted to revisit her novels, I thought it would be fun to rank her novels and give a few reasons why I love them (without giving away too many spoilers). I have never done anything like this before! Excited!

OK, here goes:

 

westaway

 

Left to fend for herself after her mother passes away, twenty-one-year-old Hal Westaway receives a mysterious letter detailing her grandmother’s death and that she is receiving a substantial inheritance. But there’s a mistake: Hester Westaway is not Hal’s grandmother. Broke and desperate, Hal decides to visit the house anyway and deceive the family and claim the money. Hal then journeys to the house, a sprawling, beautiful English estate, and soon discovers that there is something very wrong about the family…and the inheritance.

What I love about this book:

  • The TAROT: After her mother dies, Hal takes over her tarot reading kiosk on the pier. Weaving tarot into the story creates such a magical and spellbinding element, making it even more mysterious and intriguing.
  • The setting: Trepassen House is old and filled with secrets. The sprawling fields, overgrown maze, rickety boathouse, and creepy, unkept qualities add so much to the story. I found myself wishing Hal explored it more—especially the maze!
  • The sisterhood: There are many moments of sisterhood in this novel. From the love between a mother and daughter to the love between two best friends, this novel is about the importance of love and sacrifice. You’ll see!

 

lying game

When remains of a body are found on a beach in a coastal village, Isla receives a group text message from her high school best friend that she needs help. When her two other friends respond “I’m coming,” she finds herself on a train to help Kate. Once inseparable, the four friends—Kate, Fatima, Thea, and Isla, discover that their well-kept secret isn’t as concealed as they thought. The four close friends must take out a page of their old book, and the Lying Game makes a comeback.

What I love about this book:

  • The nostalgia: Although I do not know the characters, what I love about this book is how relatable the nostalgia can be. Have you ever seen a friend from high school or early college years and relived those memories with them, looking back at the old times? That’s what this book is like—although, their past is a little darker than mine.
  • The unreliable narrator. The unreliable everyone: I used to hate the unreliable narrator…until this book. I loved not knowing what was true and even the uncertainty of the truth. You realize, as the reader, that you are part of the Lying Game. Even when you close the book, you still don’t fully know the truth.
  • The outcome: Oh, you just don’t see it coming. The ending of this book is tremendous, filled with action and lots of heartbreak.

 

dark dark wood

Ware’s debut novel, In a Dark, Dark Wood, follows the story of Lenora, a reclusive writer who finds herself attending her old best friend’s weekend getaway in a creepy glass house. When Nora wakes up in a hospital bed and learns that she might be responsible for a murder, she tries to put the pieces together, revisiting her dark past and trying to find out the truth.

What I love about this book:

  • Again, that idea of the unreliable narrator: Nora, whose memory is altered after the incident, does not know what is real. As she lies in the hospital and eventually revisits the glass house, Nora puts the pieces together and discovers the truth.
  • The Agatha Christie-esque collection of characters. It reminded me a lot of And Then There Were None or Murder on the Orient Express. All of the characters had their own suspicious qualities about them, and you find yourself unable to trust any of them.
  • The planchette: The characters, drunk and wanting to have fun, use a planchette to “break the ice” among the group, and while it’s all fun and games, some characters find what the planchette writes out is a little too close to the truth. So creepy!

 

cabin 10

In The Woman in Cabin 10, Lo, a writer for a travel magazine, boards a luxury cruise with only a handful of cabins. One night, Lo wakes up to a loud noise and splash. When she looks outside, she notices blood smeared on the glass of cabin 10’s veranda. There was a murder on the boat, and no one believes her. It becomes her mission, then, to discover who is missing from the boat, and boy, does she get in trouble.

What I love about this book:

  • From the minute you open the book, you’re on edge: A life-changing, dangerous incident happens in Lo’s life that sets the tone for the rest of the novel. The thrill is there right from the start!
  • The most suspenseful and unnerving action happens in this novel: Lo certainly goes through a lot to solve this puzzle. Ware definitely tried something new with what happens to Lo—and she succeeds in that hair-on-the-back-of-your-neck-standing-up thing.
  • The odd sense of sisterhood: Lo finds herself making a strong connection with the most unlikely of characters, and you end the novel feeling a little sympathetic towards that character and happy with the outcome.

 

This was fun!

Readers: Have you read any of Ruth Ware’s books? How would you rank them?

And Readers: If you haven’t read any of Ware’s novels, what are you waiting for?

 

 

 

 

 

Happy birthday, J.R.R. Tolkien!

Today is the birthday of J.R.R. Tolkien! Admittedly, I read The Hobbit when I was in sixth grade, and loved the book, but did not pick up the Lord of the Rings series until after I was introduced to the movies and found myself obsessed. Since then, I have read the series thrice and have watched the films countless times. In fact, Bilbo Baggins remains to be one of my favorite literary characters of all time (I don’t think that will ever change).

Back in September, we celebrated “Hobbit Day” where I shared some of my favorite quotes from The Hobbit. Today, I thought it might be fun to share my favorite quotes from the Lord of the Rings series:

“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.” 

“I don’t know half of you half as well as I should like; and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve.” 

“It’s the job that’s never started as takes longest to finish, as my old gaffer used to say.” 

“Moonlight drowns out all but the brightest stars.” 

“If that’s being queer, then we could do with a bit more queerness in these parts.” 

“Don’t adventures ever have an end? I suppose not. Someone else always has to carry on the story.” 

“Often does hatred hurt itself!” 

“Even the smallest person can change the course of the future.” 

 

Happy 126th birthday, J.R.R. Tolkien!