Mid-Year Book Freak Out (2020)

I’m surprised each year how fast time flies. I’ve read a total 14 books thus far, so not as many as I was originally hoping because of unforeseen consequences with this pandemic. Plus the anxiety of the whole political atmosphere surrounding the pandemic just made it difficult to focus on reading whenever I had time to spare. But now I’m finally coming out of my reading slump. So without further ado, here are the books that made me excited this year. *The Mid-Year Book Freak Out Tag was created by Ely from Earl Grey Books and Chami.

1. Best book I’ve read so far this year has got to be The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett. The plot follows these twin sisters, one who chooses to live a black existence while the other one chooses to leave her family behind to live as a white woman. Both twins are light colored and from a small town in Louisiana where the whole population is light colored people. The distaste between light colored and dark colored people was portrayed in a very realistic way. In addition to seeing both sisters’ perspectives, we also get to follow the perspectives of each of their daughters. Their daughters happen across each other by chance when Desiree’s daughter moves to LA to attend UCLA, while Stella’s daughter attends UCLA’s rival school (Stella ends up in LA with her husband and daughter). The whole time I was reading I felt like I was gaining more of an understanding of each of these characters as their lives unfolded. I was invested in learning more about this estranged family that still had similarities as well as differences despite Stella running off to create a new white identity, even lying to her husband and later daughter. I particularly enjoyed how Brit Bennett dealt with the sociological elements embedded throughout the story.

2. Best sequel I’ve read this year will have to be The Dragon Republic by R. F. Kuang. Rin ends up growing a lot. It was also great to see more of certain characters as they re-enter Rin’s life. There was also more depth in the politics of this Chinese-inspired world as the author tackled more political issues. I thought the whole world and atmosphere was believable and I thoroughly enjoyed the reading experience.

3. A new release that I haven’t read it, but want to is the final book in the Daveabad trilogy titled The Empire of Gold by Chakraborty. This book comes out at the end of this month and I have already pre-ordered it. I’ve been waiting a little over a year since finishing the second book, which ended on a cliffhanger, and I’m itching to have it in my hands at long last to read how it all ends. I am not ready for it to end, yet I need to know what is going to happen and how the characters work out everything that happened at the end.

4. A new release that is coming out in the last half of the year that I’m excited for is final book in the Poppy Wars trilogy, The Burning God by R. F. Kuang. Sad to see it end, but stoked to get my hands on it in November to finally see how it all concludes in what I’m sure will be a spectacular ending.

5. The biggest disappointment is In the Night Wood by Dale Bailey, though that may just be because I listened to the audiobook. In fact, I believe I would feel differently had I physically read this book. There was just too much to process to be able to pay attention.

6. Biggest surprise goes to Beartown by Fredrik Backman. I ended up listening to the audiobook and enjoying this immensely. It was a great family drama to listen to on the way to and from work. I was engaged throughout and it really made me feel for the characters, especially at the end.

7. Favorite new to me author so far this year is Brit Bennett. I am definitely planning on checking out her debut novel Mothers. I really like her writing style and characterizations.

8. Newest fictional crush definitely goes to Nikon from The Poppy Wars trilogy, particularly in The Dragon Republic. We get to see more character development of Nikon as he re-enters Rin’s life and the two become close friends. There is just so much depth to him. I fell for him, no doubt. I immensely enjoyed the parts with him.

9. Newest favorite character will have to be Gavin from The Black Prism by Brent Weeks. I’ve started the second book (The Blinding Knife), however needed to take a break from fantasy so I’m reading literary fiction / thrillers. I’m looking forward to continuing my reading of the Lightbringer series just to learn more about Gavin (his past, present, and future). He’s a fascinating character with so much depth in the decisions he has made in his life.

10. The book that made me cry goes to Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman. I didn’t read many books that made me flat out cry, though there were a couple others that caused me to tear up (Love from A-Z, Beartown, A Dog’s Way Home, and The Vanishing Half). Challenger Deep really cut deep, especially the way it described how Caden struggled with his mental illness through symbolism and imagery.

11. The book that made me happy this year goes to Love from A-Z by S. K. Ali. The romance was sweet, innocent, and made me smile. It gave me that sugar rush feeling after you eat candy.

12. Most beautiful book I’ve bought so far this year will have to go to The Empire of Gold by Chakraborty. I pre-ordered it, but it’ll arrive in the mail later this month. I really love the cover and have a feeling it’s even better in real life.

13. Honestly, I don’t have any books that I have to read by the end of the year. I just read what I want when I want. Very much a mood reader, especially since I read from such a variety of genres.

14. Favorite book community member is definitely Ely at Earl Grey Books (on wordpress and YouTube). I’ve been following her for years, and before that we met on a Harry Potter fandom forum. Other book community members I have been enjoying watching on YouTube are: Books and LaLa, Peruse Project, Lindsey Rey (recently made a comeback, yay), Merphy Napier, Gabby reads, pickleheartsbooks, and Thoughts on Tomes.

Try a Chapter Challenge

I decided to make a comeback to book blogging with a fun challenge to amp up my excitement to share my love of reading with others again. I pulled a selection of books from my To-Be-Read (TBR) book cart and from my saved list on scribd.com to read the first chapter of each to determine my next read. Now without further ado, let’s dive into my initial thoughts on these first chapters!

The Guest List by Lucy Foley instantly pulled me in and hooked me after a very short first chapter (3 pages!) as it has left me wondering what happened and what else is going to happen before the guests are collected from the island.

Their Eyes Were Watching Me by Zora Neale Hurston was difficult for me to fall into a comfortable rhythm reading the dialect that this story is told. I will be reading this in June because this is what my book club has chosen, however I am in the mood for a page-turner that will put me on the edge of my seat for my next read.

We Are the Ants by Shaun David Hutchinson reads like an internal monologue speaking within my brain. It also has the same readability for me as a John Green or Rainbow Rowell novel, which gets me immediately hooked to read. The dark humor setting the tone for the story also reminds me of the style The Martian is written in. This is definitely a contender for me to read soon.

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid is another that intrigues me enough to continue reading beyond the first chapter. However I can’t say that it has me hooked yet. I’ll definitely read it this summer, maybe even listen to it since the audiobook is on scribd.com. If I listen to it, then I’ll be able to get to it sooner.

A Curse So Dark and Lonely by Brigid Kemmerer intrigues me. I ended up reading the first two chapters since it is told from two different perspectives with alternating chapters. We get a glimpse of the curse Prince Rhen is under, then see how Harper is transported to his world. There is enough action to pull me in and I can already tell that this will be a page-turner. This is a Beauty and the Beast retelling.

So I will be reading…. *drum roll* The Guest List because I am in the mood for a good thriller since it’s summer time. However, I will definitely still be reading the other books too.

Book Review | The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

I received an eARC of The Bear and the Nightingale from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. I am not being compensating for this review. The publisher contacted me via netgalley since they saw that I had enjoyed and reviewed Uprooted by Naomi Novak.

The Bear and the Nightingale is the perfect wintry tale to read over winter. It’s filled with such magic that is unique to the storyline. It’s a fantasy retelling of Russian folklore, which I’m not familiar with, but was still able to get into the further in I read. It only took me a few chapters before I was hooked.

Vasya, the main character, is such a strong and uniquely original heroine. She’s not attractive, nor is she the strongest. She’s so well flawed, yet she still overcomes and triumphs against the odds. Though, the sacrifice at the end is a complete plot twist and heart-wrenching. Vasya only manages to survive her fight with the Bear from this sacrifice that just comes out of nowhere. Yet it’s not at all unrealistic. It’s concluded on such a note that left me satisfied as a stand-alone fantasy.

I didn’t know much going into this novel and I think that was the best way to approach it. It made the reading experience that much more worthwhile.

I highly recommend this novel for anyone who loves fantasy retellings or the Brothers’ Grimm stories. Also, if you liked Uprooted, then it’s a pretty safe bet that you’ll enjoy The Bear and the Nightingale. I’ll copy and paste the synopsis and a couple quotes:

“At the edge of the Russian wilderness, winter lasts most of the year and the snowdrifts grow taller than houses. But Vasilisa doesn’t mind—she spends the winter nights huddled around the embers of a fire with her beloved siblings, listening to her nurse’s fairy tales. Above all, she loves the chilling story of Frost, the blue-eyed winter demon, who appears in the frigid night to claim unwary souls. Wise Russians fear him, her nurse says, and honor the spirits of house and yard and forest that protect their homes from evil.

After Vasilisa’s mother dies, her father goes to Moscow and brings home a new wife. Fiercely devout, city-bred, Vasilisa’s new stepmother forbids her family from honoring the household spirits. The family acquiesces, but Vasilisa is frightened, sensing that more hinges upon their rituals than anyone knows.

And indeed, crops begin to fail, evil creatures of the forest creep nearer, and misfortune stalks the village. All the while, Vasilisa’s stepmother grows ever harsher in her determination to groom her rebellious stepdaughter for either marriage or confinement in a convent.

As danger circles, Vasilisa must defy even the people she loves and call on dangerous gifts she has long concealed—this, in order to protect her family from a threat that seems to have stepped from her nurse’s most frightening tales.”

“Will you bear me to the ends of the earth, if the road will take us so far?

Anywhere, Vasya. The world is wide, and the road will take us anywhere.”

“Life must pay for life …

bring me one and I’ll bring you yours.”

Book Review: Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult

I’ve been a fan of Jodi Picoult since I was in high school, so a decade now, and this is by far the best novel I’ve read by her. She really painted racism out for the readers in such a way that makes you realize that even one small act can be the wrong thing. There are no rose tinted glasses. Not only does Picoult show that people of color are treated differently, but that white people who don’t think of themselves as racists sometimes don’t see how priviledged they are because of their skin color.

It was such a classy way of opening up a discussion of how racism is viewed today by showing the readers the small things that occur in different areas. There was one section toward the end that Kennedy goes to a lower-income part of town that is mostly populated by people of color. Suddenly she found herself feeling like a trespasser as the locals were wary of her whilst giving her a wide berth. It’s intriguing how different atmospheres have different interactions despite the stigma placed on people of color by conservatives. White people are made to fear people of color, yet in this scene Kennedy finds that people of color fear her just as much while she’s walking by them in their own neighborhood.

Once more my eyes have been opened even wider by a Picoult novel. If you’re liberal and open-minded, like I am, then I highly recommend this novel. If you’re conservative, then I still urge you to crack open this book. You won’t be disappointed either way. All of the characters come to life, leaping off of the pages. I especially enjoyed reading Ruth’s and Kennedy’s perspectives, and how their relationship evolved into an understanding for each other and they ended up becoming friends after the trial had ended in its verdict.

Goodreads rating: 5/5 stars

Book Review: Claiming Noah by Amanda Ortlepp

Claiming Noah was written by Australian author, Amanda Ortlepp, and is a Women’s Fictional novel with a dash of suspense about two married couples who can’t conceive naturally. The first couple goes through IVF and after their first implant miscarries, they agree to try one more time and donate the third embryo for another couple to adopt. The third embryo is adopted and implanted only a month after the consent papers were signed, instead of the recommended 3-month cooling off period. Thus, the babies are only a month apart in age, and the first couple’s son passes away from SIDS at 3 months while his mother is at a clinic recovering from postpartum depression; the father is under a lot of stress from his wife being away for 3-weeks and then the loss of their son, which result in him doing something completely wrong that he probably wouldn’t have done if he hadn’t be encouraged to do so from a friend that doesn’t have the best track record in his fragile mindset.

That said, the adopted baby (who was kidnapped in a department store) ends up with his biological parents for 21-months until the investigating detective finally tracks down the kidnapper due to irregular medical paperwork on the child when the mother, who didn’t even know her son had passed while she was in the clinic, took him to the doctor for blood work. The blood type didn’t match with the blood that had already been taken from her son, which tipped the detective off. Thus starts a saga of the father being arrested for the kidnapping and the mother filing for custody after the child is taken from her and returned to his legal parents.

I hadn’t read women’s fiction in over a year and I’m fairly picky when it comes to contemporary fiction, so I wasn’t sure whether I would be able to get into it. But I thoroughly enjoyed this. It was nice to read a drama-familial novel, especially one set in Australia when most of the contemporary novels I read are set in the U.S; it gave me a fresh outlook.

Also, it ended on a happy note. A bit cliche, though it was still something that could actually happen and the way it was written in was done in such a way that didn’t make it appear ostentatious. I saw the ending coming a few chapters from the end, but only because I pay attention to even the slightest details while reading. It was a little thing that you had to remember from one of the earlier chapters that was slipped into a later chapter that gave away the twist at the end for me. Both women end up becoming close friends, too.

I recommend this to fans of Jodi Picoult and Kristen Hannah. Goodreads rating: 5 stars

Book Review: Girl Number One by Jane Holland

Girl Number One is a thriller with an unreliable narrator that is the sole witness of her mother’s murder when she’s six-years-old. Flash forward 18 years later and she discovers a dead woman in the same spot her mother was murdered on a morning run through the woods in memory of the anniversary of her mother’s murder with a number 3 written on her forehead.

The story starts off running, in every sense of the word, and you can’t help but keep reading because you know as little as Ellie, the unreliable narrator, knows. The serial killer ends up being one of Ellie’s friends… also a relation of her mother’s murderer, who had died of cancer a handful of years ago. But this relation decided to finish what the murderer had started and targeted Ellie as his number 1.

I recommend this story for those who love a good sensational thriller. Fans of Girl on the Train may enjoy this read. My rating on goodreads: 3.5 – 4 stars

Book Review | Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Coast Trail by Cheryl Strayed

This memoir definitely fed the wanderlust feeling that has really started pulling at me for the past couple months. I want so bad to just drop everything and go on a solo adventure for a an extended vacation, then return back with a broader perspective. It’s also been a dream of mine for quite some time to go on an extended hiking journey like this, except it’s been the Appalachian trail from Georgia to Maine. I also would love to backpack around Europe. The thought of living out of a backpack for an extended period of time whilst experiencing life around you as you travel through different states, countries, cities, etc., has always appealed to me. I’ve always been the type of person to immerse myself in new experiences in different places despite being introverted; I never let being an introvert interfere with throwing myself in new experiences that at first made me anxious, but once I was actually experiencing it, my anxiety would roll away.

The whole time I was reading this, I kept thinking that I should totally take the whole summer to hike the Appalachian, like I’ve always wanted. I can totally do it, especially since I’m in shape from all the running I do. I need to stop pushing back traveling adventures that I’ve thought of in the past and start really considering the preparations to explore new places.

Cheryl Strayed did an excellent job of explaining all of the trials and tribulations that she went through on her grueling, yet rewarding, journey of the PCT. I felt like I was with her as she trekked, trudging along despite any of the hardships that were thrown at her. She persevered and didn’t let anything hold her back, even when her feet were swollen, blistered, and beaten she kept up a steady trek. Never once stopping and allowing the PCT to defeat her. It also helped her overcome some of the issues she had been struggling with in her real life. She hadn’t truly gotten the closure of her mom passing away of cancer, or even of her divorce despite her behaviors and infidelities being the reason for the separation in the first place. By the time she reached the end of her journey, having trekked over 1100 miles, she had finally resolved everything negative she had experienced that had left her empty. By the end, Strayed was no longer empty, but instead she was fuller than she had been since before her mom had passed. I highly recommend this to anyone who enjoys memoirs, or anyone who is looking to escape somewhere for the summer despite being stuck indoors.

Book Review – We Should Hang Out Sometime by Josh Sundquist

The prose in this memoir was extremely relatable and laugh-out-loud funny. The reality that sprang from the pages was refreshing. Personally, I like reading memoirs about other people’s awkward dating past. It’s refreshing to see through another person’s eyes that it’s not just you that experience the awkwardest of dates, but also others, too. Everyone has dates that they feel uncomfortable and awkward while on them that send them running in the opposite direction once the date is actually over. I’ve been on my fair share of awkward dates. No fun. But they’re fun to laugh at after the fact, when you’re writing about them in your journal.

What was refreshing about this from the other dating memoir that I’ve read was that Josh actually looked up the girls the had ‘hanged with’ and thought he was dating to get their take on why they had never actually gone past the friend zone. He ended up figuring out that it had been him holding back from making a move despite the girl he was with at any time waiting for him to make the first move. A bit old fashioned. There’s nothing wrong with a girl making the first move, though personally I’m a bit old fashioned myself. Nothing wrong with wanting a guy to pursue you. Except the nice guys are usually painfully shy and awkward at the best of times.

Overall: I rated it 4 stars. The narrative was light and it made for an excellent fast and enjoyable read. I enjoyed it a lot. I was in the mood to read a memoir since it had been a while and this quenched my mind.

Movie Review – Zootopia

Pixar has done it again, and then some. Definitely going up near the top of my all time favorite pixar movies. I even wouldn’t mind going to see it again before it leaves theaters. It’s that good. It has everything for both kids and adults; you don’t have to be a kid to love this film.

The plot was well developed and kept you on the edge of your seat, while the comedy kept you laughing every other scene. Also, the characters were well-rounded, and stood out from the next. The whole predator vs prey kept the plot going until the ironic ending. I don’t want to say anything more, which is why I’m keeping this review as vague as I am, but just go see it. You’ll love it. If you don’t love it, well then there’s something wrong with your sense of humor and taste in films.

It really is a film for hope, dreams, and change for a better and brighter future. It will teach anyone, especially kids, that you should never give up on your dreams no matter what the nay-sayers tell them.

I rate this film at an A+ because it was one of the best pixar films I’ve seen in a while.

March Book Haul | 2016

I’ve accumulated a stack of books in the past couple months that I should share. I won’t include the ebooks I bought because let’s just say there have been quite a few ebook deals that I just couldn’t pass over, especially since I had a b&n gift card to use from Christmas. I like using b&n gift cards on ebook deals because I can get more books out of it. But here are the books I bought.

  • Off the Page by Jodi Picoult and Samantha Van Leer – A companion to the mother-daughter duo’s first YA novel. I’m more of a fan of Jodi Picoult’s Adult Literary fiction novels, but the illustrations in the first novel were gorgeous and I’m hoping the illustrations in this companion doesn’t disappoint. I like pretty books. Also, should note that I didn’t buy this book… it was a gift from my #otspsecretsister for this round.
  • The Island of Dr. Moreau by H. G. Wells – Bought the Signet Classic edition half off at Chamberlains Book Mine. I actually haven’t read this one, and I love H. G. Wells, but that’ll be changing.
  • The Fall of the House of Usher and Other Tales by Edgar Allan Poe – One of my favorite poets and I couldn’t pass up this Signet Classic edition I bought at Chamberlains Book Mine.
  • Fools Assassin by Robin Hobb (Book 1 in The Fitz and the Fool Trilogy) – I’ve heard so much good things about this trilogy that I can’t wait to dive in.
  • Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris – This was a bargain find at Books-a-Million (I love their bargain section, especially of adult fiction and memoirs, because there are so many bargain priced books, even hardcovers). I already started this one and am loving it.
  • Common Threads by S. F. Herrin – A self-published paperback for a Georgia author that my mom bought for me when she went on a train trip with some of her friends recently. I’m usually hesitant to dive into self-published novels because I haven’t had the best of luck at finding well written self-pubs.
  • The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith (aka J. K. Rowling) – The sequel that follows The Cuckoo’s Calling. I’m hoping I enjoy this one more than I did the first, though I did like The Cuckoo’s Calling. It just wasn’t what I was expecting… I’m picky when it comes to detective/mystery novels. I am a bit peeved because I bought the paperback new at Chamberlains Book Mine the day before I saw the hardcover was on sale for $7 in Books-a-Million, but it is what it is, I suppose. *shrugs off disappointment*
  • Night Film by Marisha Pessl – Found this gem in the bargain bin at b&n (and it was the hardcover!). I bought this for my sister last year and I’ve been on the look out for when it would land in the bargain section for myself because I love novels written in different formats and this one is written using different forms of mixed media. I just like uniquely written novels.

That’s eight books I’ve bought in the last couple months… I’m embarrassed, yet shameless. I love books and I love adding to my ever-expanding collection. That’s not going to change anytime soon. Though I think I may just focus on reading some of these books before I buy anymore. I say this, but just watch me buy more books. I can’t pass up a good bargain book sale. It’s just impossible. Just like it’s impossible to stay out of a bookstore for longer than a week.