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!