November Reading Wrap-Up

One of the things I miss most about regularly making YouTube videos is monthly wrap-ups. It was a nice way to look back at the end of the month and reflect on what I liked and what I didn’t like. So I thought, why not do it on here? Without further ado, here’s what I read over the course of November.

 

1. History of Wolves — Emily Fridlund

I picked up this book after it was shortlisted for the Man Booker, and I’m not gonna lie, it took me a while to get through such a short book. Once I started reading, it was easy to keep going, but I would go days without any motivation to pick it up. It was good — the language was literally and poetic and the atmosphere was dark and chilling — but the narrative was pretty jumbled and the chronology could’ve been more consistent. My thoughts are 50/50 on this, but I’m looking forward to see what Emily Fridlund writes next.

2. The Golden Compass (Northern Lights) — Philip Pullman

There’s been a lot of hype surrounding the recent release of Pullman’s Book of Dust, and I was starting to feel like the only one who didn’t read these as a child. I listened to about 80% of this on audiobook and finished up the last hundred pages or so with my physical copy. I’m not gonna lie, some of the themes this book tackles seem way too advanced for a young audience, but it’s also a fun adventure story about magic and friendship, so that’s something. I enjoyed this — the Christian undertones were a little preachy at times, but Lyra was a spunky, mischievous little thing and I loved her. I’m not hurrying to pick up The Subtle Knife, but maybe later this month.

3. Manhattan Beach — Jennifer Egan

I had very high expectations for this, since Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad is one of my favorites. This one? Not so much. The first half was good — fast-paced, great character development, wartime intrigue. Then it just got pretty dull. To be honest, I don’t think I could even give a plot summary because a lot of it was just pretty forgettable. Egan’s writing is still intelligent and detail-oriented, but it lacks the cast of unique characters that made me fall in love with Goon Squad. If you’re into World War I novels and don’t mind a lot of build-up, this might be one to check out. Not bad, just not profound.

4. Bonfire — Krysten Ritter

Like Manhattan Beach, this was also a Book of the Month pick. (Not sponsored, I just freaking love Book of the Month.) Krysten Ritter, of course, is the star of Marvel’s Jessica Jones, and this is her debut novel. It’s a fun, fast-paced thriller that’s perfect for a lazy Saturday when you’re ready to immerse yourself in a story from start to finish. That being said, it took a little while for me to get into it, but the setting was well-established and the characters were quirky and believable, and I think it just took some time to set that up. This definitely read like a debut novel, with a lot of unnecessary explanation where she could’ve just let the plot speak for itself. However, it was a great small-town, high-stakes thriller and I would definitely watch a movie adaptation.

5. The Nightingale — Kristin Hannah

Ugh. This. Book. I don’t even know how to talk about it without just virtually shoving it into all of your outstretched arms and forcing you to start reading and never stop. This is a lengthy, World War II-era, slam dunk of a book. The two main characters, sisters named Isabelle and Vianne, are flawed, very different women who take opposite paths in an attempt to survive Nazi-occupied France. Seriously, I cannot recommend this book enough. It’s long, but I sped through it and found myself wanting to briefly extend my lunch breaks just to sit in my car and read for a few more minutes. Just read this book, okay?

6. Star Wars: Han Solo — Marjorie Liu, Mark Brooks

After finishing the emotional monstrosity that was The Nightingale, I needed to dial it down a little with a few fun, low-stakes graphic novels. Plus, with The Last Jedi coming out in a few weeks, I’ve been in a big Star Wars mood. Han Solo is my favorite character, and I think this comic does his sarcastic sense of humor justice. It’s a quick, fun, fast-paced post-A New Hope adventure featuring a few familiar faces and a bunch of new ones. If you’re a Star Wars fan, these Marvel comics are worth checking out. I’m planning on getting to a few more of these in December, especially as the new movie gets closer.

7. Alex & Ada, Volumes 1, 2, and 3 — Jonathan Luna and Sarah Vaughn

Alex. And. Ada. I know I’ve said this a lot in this blog, but seriously, just read these. All you need to know is that these beautiful graphic novels take place in a future where artificial intelligence is real (which is probably just our real future, let’s be honest.) Not only can androids help you with your household chores, they can also…be your companions, if you know what I mean. This series tackles a lot in three volumes — love, friendship, technology, law, and the way society treats those who are different. Seriously, it’s a whirlwind and I would 10/10 recommend this to anyone. I don’t know why it took me so long to pick these up, but now I’m just sad they’re over.

And that’s it! I got through a lot of books this month, and a decent variety, too! What was the best book you read in November?

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Books for Those Cold, Winter Days

My last post was “Books for October,” so why not continue the trend with “Books for December?” (I guess November doesn’t exist. Sorry, Thanksgiving fans.)

December is one of my favorite months for reading, even though all months are the perfect month for reading and anyone who says otherwise is wrong. December, of course, is still full of work and stress and, to top it all off, cold. But despite it all, I can still curl up at night with my flannel snowflake sheets, cabin socks, a cup of peppermint tea, and a book my body is ready to devour.

Obviously, there is no designated winter genre, but here are a few books I’d reread the hell out of in front of a fire.

The first one is a book I read in November, back when it was just starting to get chilly. (Just kidding — I live in the Northeast, where we went from sweltering heat to frostbite in, like, twelve hours.) The book is History of Wolves and it’s by Emily Fridlund. If this sounds familiar, it might be because this book was shortlisted for the Man Booker this year. Or, you know, it might be because you’ve already read it.

I don’t really like when people use blanket terms like “atmospheric” to describe a book because that doesn’t really tell me anything, but I also feel like that’s a good way to describe this book. It’s poetic, it’s mysterious, and even when the fictional weather is warm, it still feels ice cold.

The start of the book alludes to a crime, and you spend most of the story following a young girl named Linda as she recounts what happened and how she got caught up in the foretold mess. You learn about communes, cold winters, Christian science, and, I guess, wolves. Personally, I thought the narrative was scattered and the big reveal came to early, but hey, if this were my debut novel, I’d probably brag about it. If you’re looking for a cozy, snowy read, this might be one to pick up.

Next on my list is a short, hard-hitting young adult book. I don’t read a lot of YA anymore, but We are Okay by Nina Lacour was one I heard so much about that I eventually just had to pick up. And what better book to pick up in December than one set smack dab in the middle of a snowstorm? This book reminded me a lot of E. Lockhart’s We Were Liars — you’re thrown into a story that’s haunted by past events, and slowly you’re given clues about what happened. Now that I think about it, it’s pretty similar to History of Wolves, too.

This book tackles love, loss, friendship, grief, family, loneliness, college, and a lot more, all in a brief couple hundred pages. Plus, it has a really nice cover, which is helpful for your Instagram aesthetic.

My next recommendation is to pick up a dense, lengthy, 19th-century brick of a novel. An obvious choice is Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, but I’m also partial to The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot, Hard Times by Charles Dickens, and Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert. Okay, most of these aren’t exactly bricks, but every Dickens paragraph seems like it has the capacity to hold a door open, right? Anyway, a cold, winter weekend is the perfect time to lock yourself inside and tackle that intimidating Victorian novel you were supposed to read in college. This year, I’m thinking of going with one of the Jane Austen novels I haven’t read yet.

This last category isn’t necessarily a recommendation, since I don’t have many suggestions; it’s more like my own personal to-do list. I’ve managed to accumulate quite a few epic fantasies, most of which are firsts in series, and I really need to buckle down and get reading. The ones I’m most eager to pick up are The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss, The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch, and Assassin’s Apprentice by Robin Hobb. By the same token, I should probably finish up A Song of Ice and Fire, His Dark Materials, and the Mistborn trilogy while I’m at it, too. Oh, and The Lord of the Rings.

Which of these books have you read? And if you’re a 19th-century European lit or epic fantasy aficionado, what would you recommend?

Happy reading, and stay warm!

Books for October

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I know, I know. October is halfway over. But I’ve been reading more than I have in months, and thus the blog post I’ve been planning for weeks took a backseat. But here it is!

Fall is one of my favorite times for reading. When I was younger, I liked coming home from field hockey practice, pumping out some homework, and then curling up in flannel pants with a good book.

The best part about fall, and especially October, is that every genre seems like the perfect genre. Horror, classic lit, dystopian…they all seem like the “perfect fall read.” So if you’re like me and don’t want to be anywhere near a haunted corn maze during Halloween month, here are some books to make you feel like you’re still celebrating the holiday you might begrudgingly love.

1. The first one is an obvious one, but it’s one of my favorite classics. I first read Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein in high school, but didn’t really gain full appreciation for it until college. You probably know this by now, but Frankenstein isn’t a monster, and it’s nothing like those black-and-white movies. But it’s eerie, it’s well written, and it’s perfect for fall. If you haven’t picked this one up, do it. I promise you won’t regret it.

2. I’ll admit — I’m not the most avid reader of horror, thriller, suspense, etc. and am therefore probably not the best recommender of such genres. I’m currently reading my first Stephen King novel and I had to take a hiatus because I had my house to myself for the weekend and wanted to be able to sleep. However, I recently chose Final Girls by Riley Sager as my Book of the Month pick and devoured it in a few days. It feels like a slasher, but modern. Refreshingly modern. It uses technology, like smartphones and social media, in a way that I feel like not enough contemporary books do. It was creepy, but not nightmare creepy…at least not for me. It’s central characters are young women who survived mass murders, and obviously, they find out they’re not in the clear just yet. That’s all you need to know, because it’s a thriller, and what fun is a thriller if you already know half the story?

3. Is there anything scarier than a fictional novel that feels like it could just become reality? Of course I’m talking about The Handmaid’s Tale. Margaret Atwood’s famous dystopian story about a future where a totalitarian regime takes away women’s rights and independence (hmm, sounds familiar) just screams spooky October reading. After you read the book, check out the Hulu series — I’ll even give you my password. (Just kidding.) But seriously, as creepy and chilling as this book is, it’s also an absolute masterpiece. I ordered, like, three more Margaret Atwood books on Amazon Prime right after I finished it.

4. The next one is another recent read of mine — The Enchanted by Rene Denfeld. All I knew before going into this book was that it was about death row. That caught my attention enough to buy the book, but the first few pages really entranced me in a way I can’t describe. It’s mystical and enchanting (am I allowed to use the title to describe the book?) in a way that makes you question what’s real and what’s not. But at the other end of that is a raw, very realistic look into society, the prison system, mental health, and what makes people do the things they do. It follows a vast array of eclectic characters through a first person, but also strangely omniscient, narrator. It’s a quick read, but it says a lot.

5. I’m cheating on this last one, okay? But it needs to be said. Because if you’re not reading a Harry Potter book in the fall, are you even fall-ing? I’m making my way through the illustrated edition of Chamber of Secrets right now and seriously, it’s like I’m falling in love with these damned books all over again. Will they ever get old? Will ever an autumn pass during which I don’t devour one of these books for the millionth time? Stay tuned.

So what do you think? Have you read these? Do you have an October reading recommendation? Let me know, and happy spooky reading!

YA Boys Usually Suck.

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Okay, I have a fatal flaw. A hamartia, some might say. My problem is that I read books. I have a lot of thoughts on them. (Positive and negative, but usually more of the latter.) And then I wait too long to write them down and I forget them.

So, to compromise for my fatal flaw, instead of writing long, thought-out, enticing book reviews that really demonstrate why I graduated summa cum laude with a degree in English, I will give you a few short, less detailed mini reviews of books I’ve read recently. Think tweets, but slightly longer.

 

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before; P.S. I Still Love You; and Always and Forever, Lara Jean — all by Jenny Han

The subtitle to this mini review is: Peter Kavinsky sucks. If you missed out on my thrilling Goodreads reviews of these three books, they can be summed up by the phrases “Peter Kavinsky sucks,” “Peter Kavinsky still sucks,” and “Decent ending. Peter Kavinsky still sucks.” And that’s all I have to say on the matter.

Just kidding, it’s not. But seriously, despite the other potential “love” interests in this series being incredibly dull (I put the term “love” in quotations because, come on…), at least they weren’t arrogant, territorial, emotional abusive assholes like Peter Kavinsky.

Other than that, this series was alright. I found Lara Jean to be very immature and just kind of annoying, but I guess I was also immature and probably very annoying in high school. The family dynamic was cool — I think the Song girls’ story developed in a realistic way. Kitty started out as a sort of Tiny Tim, impossible child stereotype, but I think she progressed and grew up gradually and believably.

Anyway, I think as far as young adult trilogies go, this was a pretty good one. I like Jenny Han’s style, but I’d like to see what she could do with a stand-alone. In fact, I think this would have made a better stand-alone.

Once and For All – by Sarah Dessen

Okay, apparently this is the summer of YA, because I rarely read YA these days. But Sarah Dessen is another story. I will continue to read her books when I am 80 years old (assuming human life expectancy has progressed drastically by then and she’s still writing books.)

This one? Eh. Not my favorite. Surprise, surprise, the romantic interest sucked. I’m sick of the spoiled, immature, kind-of-an-asshole, womanizer, rich kid trope. I really am. And that’s exactly what this book was. And while I’m on the topic of tropes I hate, can we please, please, please stop with the “main character is low key and introverted but her best friend is wild and boy crazy and constantly trying to get her to come out of her shell” trope. I get it, some relationships are like that. But not all of them have to be. I know it isn’t generally the author’s intention, but it begs the belief that being shy and introverted is good and being outgoing and liking to go to parties and on dates is bad. Both are fine within reason, so let’s stop inflicting otherwise on teenage girls.

And, in an effort to stop ranting, I do need to mention the big issue I had with this book, which was the way it dealt with trauma and mental health. I don’t think this is a spoiler because it’s revealed early on, but a character in the book loses someone they love in a school shooting. First of all, just because this is unfortunately “culturally relevant” doesn’t mean it has a right to be used as a one-dimensional plot line. This character lost someone, and there is no mention of therapy or counseling or grieving. Instead, the main “conflict” that’s addressed is “how am I going to put myself out there and find love again?” This is a possible concern, yes. But this is not everything. Honestly, if you’re going to use a very sensitive, very tragic subject as a plot device, it needs to have a message. I’m sorry, it just does.

So, despite all that ranting, this book had some redeeming qualities. The main character was likable. Her job working for her mother’s wedding planning business, her relationship with her mother and her mother’s business partner…all well done. But it’s more fun to hear about the stuff I didn’t like, right?

 

Alright, there were supposed to be a few more books in here, but I think this has gone on long enough, so I’ll make this post exclusive to YA and do another review soon. That means you can look forward to hearing my thoughts on The Handmaid’s Tale and The Sisters Chase in the very near future!

If you’ve ready any or all of these books, let me know your thoughts. If you disagree with mine, please (respectfully) tell me that, too.

5 Songs to Fall Asleep To

I have to say, I don’t actually fall asleep to music very often. I’ve tried, but for some reason I’d rather fall asleep to a podcast or an audiobook. Maybe it’s because they’re longer; I don’t have to worry about changing the song every 3 minutes if something I don’t want to listen to comes on. Or maybe it’s because podcasts and audiobooks require concentration; they don’t allow my thoughts to wander and the worrisome thoughts to set in. 

In the rare event that I do use music to help me sleep, though, this is what I listen to. 

1. “Hundred Ways” – Joseph

First of all, I should mention that pretty much any Joseph song is a good nighttime song. “Sweet Dreams” is an obvious choice, but “Hundred Ways” is my personal favorite. These three sisters from Portland form one of the most talented groups I’ve ever listened to, and I would recommend them to literally anyone ever. Seriously, go listen to them now. You don’t have a choice. 

2. “Scars” – James Bay

I would let James Bay sing me to sleep any day, just saying. This song is sad but hopeful and also peaceful and chill and raw and it’s just great, okay? If you’ve been avoiding James Bay because you think he’s just like every other whiny white dude with a guitar and tight pants, I feel you. But just give him a chance. 

3. “Down in the Valley” – The Head and the Heart

I discovered this song years ago thanks to one of those Starbucks free download cards they have by the pick-up counter. These are a hit or miss, usually a miss, but this one happened to be pretty freaking great. This is a mellow song, but when the pace picks up towards the end, I get chills every single time. Plus, it’s a song about home, and who can resist a good home song?

4. “Blue Jeans” – Lana Del Rey

Lana’s entire Born to Die album reminds me of Amsterdam. When I was abroad, I took a weekend bus trip to Amsterdam, and I have these weird vivid memories of being curled up on a coach bus late at night, driving through the city streets late at night on the way back to my hotel, listening to “Blue Jeans.” Traveling makes me anxious, but in this moment I was so at ease, so I relate this song to that feeling. 

5. “Strong” – London Grammar

This is another one that brings back memories. Similar memories as “Blue Jeans,” actually. Apparently I really vibe with relaxing late at night on coach buses, because I remember listening to this song over and over on the way back from a Red Sox game, and I also listened to it pretty continuously in London when I was a scared college student in a foreign country trying to fall asleep and beat that dreaded jet lag. Hannah Reid’s voice is chilling and solemn and pretty damn flawless. Seriously, I hope this woman either has kids or is planning on having them, because she’ll have no trouble singing them to sleep in a heartbeat. 

Alright, now that I’ve written this and listened to these songs, I think it’s time for bed. 

To check out my Five Songs on Friday Spotify playlist, click here. 

To Reread, or Not to Reread?

I used to be a chronic rereader. There was this book — The Canada Geese Quilt, by Natalie Kinsey-Warnock. The author visited my elementary school every year, so my book was signed. It was my first autographed book, so it was a big deal…even though she signed everyone else’s book, too. But in my mind, this book was mine. Not only was it my first signed book, it was also the first book I read in one sitting. (But certainly not the last — I was an English major, after all. And a master procrastinator.)

I don’t remember much about that book. A girl learns how to make quilts, possibly from her grandmother. Actually, now that I think about it, I’m pretty sure the grandma dies. Spoiler alert. I learned that they’re called “Canada geese,” not “Canadian geese.” Other than that, I literally remember nothing, but for some reason that book stuck with me. I reread it once a month, I’m not even kidding.

Starting with The Canada Geese Quilt and up until now, I guess, rereading has been a source of comfort for me. This comfort generally came in the form of one of the seven Harry Potter books. The good thing about loving a series so intensely is that each book makes me feel something different. Based on my mood and where my mind is at in that moment, I know which of the seven is bound to bring me the most joy.

From a less emotional, more intellectual standpoint, I found real value in rereading books in college. Like I said, I was an English major. Rereading was part of the deal. I’d take classes and have to reread books I’d read in high school, or even books I’d read the previous semester. But for the most part, this wasn’t exhausting. It was enlightening. There were books I got little or nothing out of the first time I read them. Camus’ The Stranger was one. Bronte’s Jane Eyre was a surprising second. Then, I read each of them over again for different classes and had completely different experiences. Maybe it was the professor. Maybe it was the details brought up in class discussions. Or maybe I’m just constantly growing as a reader and sometimes all it takes is a new, more experienced perspective. Listen, college is a wonderful place, okay?

That being said, my rereading experience hasn’t been devoid of heartbreak. I’m terrified to reread Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four because it’s one of my favorite books of all time and I’ve only read it once. What if, years later, it doesn’t hold up? What if it isn’t as profound as sixteen-year-old me thought it was? This has happened to me before, of course. I’m slowly making my way through all thirteen A Series of Unfortunate Events audiobooks because they were my favorite non-Harry Potter books when I was younger. But the reason it’s taking me so long is because I’m bored. I grow frustrated with the repetitive storylines and the lack of character development and have to stop listening for days, even weeks or months, at a time.

So yeah, rereading can be fun, but at what cost? Is it worth rereading my childhood and adolescent favorites now I’m clearly outside the target audience, only to find them annoying and below my intelligence level? Or is it better to keep them engrained in my memory as they were back then? Or, in the case of the books I once despised, do I give them another chance?

Or am I overthinking this whole process? Maybe the real joy of having access to physical books is that they’re timeless — you can keep them on your shelf and go back to them when, or if, you desire.

Maybe part of growing older and learning more and experiencing more is accepting that your opinions on these things will change. Maybe I need to accept that my experience rereading A Series of Unfortunate Events as a 24-year-old college-educated adult will be different than my experience as an eight-year-old book lover and, more importantly, that both experiences are valuable.

Rereading can be a source of comfort or disappointment, but it can also show you how much you’ve grown as a reader, a thinker, and a person.

So for now, I’ll just keep rereading Order of the Phoenix until it gets old. Which is a funny joke, because it’ll never get old.

Five Songs on Friday (12 May 2017)

I’m back with another five songs on the best day of the week. This week’s theme is “the last five songs I looked up on Shazam.” Is “Shazamed” a word? It is now. (Plus this is 2017, so probably.) So here we go, here are the last five songs I Shazamed.

 

1. It Ain’t Me – Kygo and Selena Gomez

I Shazamed this song at a bowling alley during “Midnight Bowl” (which I hate because I can’t see where the ball is going with all the flashing disco lights.) Anyway, I Shazamed this because the verses were super catchy and it sounded like a Sia song. Conclusion: I don’t think Selena is the best vocalist, but every song she releases or is featured on is a hit. 

2. Cleopatra – The Lumineers

I was out with my boyfriend and he was convinced that there was someone performing live music. I Shazamed this to prove that the Lumineers were not, in fact, performing a free live concert win the middle of a food court in Upstate New York. I get where he was coming from, though, because this song has a very raw sound. I dig it.

3. Wherever You Will Go – The Calling

I heard this at a restaurant and couldn’t remember which broody early-2000s rock band it was. Not gonna lie, this song doesn’t hold up in 2017. It sounds like every other early-2000s mellow rock song. This was for sure on a “Now That’s What I Call Music” CD, right?

4. You Don’t Know Me – Jax Jones feat. RAYE

This was another Midnight Bowl song. I heard it and thought “this would be a great song to run to.” Update: it is.

5. The Great Longing – Lost Under Heaven

This song ended the first episode of 13 Reasons Why on Netflix, which had a killer soundtrack overall. It’s one of those songs that I know I’ve heard before but can’t place. In any event, it’s a good song.

 

To find all these songs plus the songs from last week’s FSoF, check out my Spotify playlist here.

What’s the last song you Shazamed?