My Most Anticipated Releases of 2020

I have tried in the past to be a person who plans out my reading list for the year, but friends, that just isn’t me. Yes, I am a former English teacher who despises being on the receiving end of any kind of reading assignment, perceived or otherwise. I do, however, take great pleasure in adding books to my yearly “Want-to-Read” shelf, especially new titles by some of my favorite authors that I’ve been dying to read.

Full disclosure: my anticipated 2020 releases runs high to sequels and YA. If that’s not what you’re into, feel free to check out one of the internet’s other posts on 2020’s hottest new releases.

Alriiiight. Let’s get into it.

One of Us is Next by Karen M. McManus 

The sequel to One of Us is Lying, accurately billed as a “Pretty Little Liars meets Breakfast Club” YA thriller. I gave the original four stars out of five, and 2017 Me shared in my review that it was a “great YA mystery thriller with a well done reveal”…and nothing more. Nonetheless, I was excited to see that McManus was doing a sequel, especially after reading and enjoying her second book, Two Can Keep a Secret, last year. This one sounds a little bit like Gossip Girl meets that weird movie Nerve (you know, that one with Emma Roberts and Little Franco) and I am here for it.

The Hand on the Wall by Maureen Johnson

The Hand on the Wall is the final installment of Johnson’s Truly, Devious series, and another murder mystery thriller with the added glamour of taking place at an alternative boarding school in Vermont. Johnson loves a cliffhanger, and I can’t wait to see how she wraps up this series that I know I’ve loved (as evidenced by my 5 star reviews) but also remember very little about because #oldbrain. Thank God for the enterprising souls who run all those book recap sites—truly, the heroes we need.

The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel

This is Mandel’s first novel since her bestseller Station Eleven, which was a National Book Award Finalist and one of the few books I suggested as a monthly book club pick that I actually ended up reading. The Glass Hotel sounds quite different story-wise—it’s straight literary fiction rather than speculative dystopia for one thing—but I fully expect it to be just as thought-provoking as Station Eleven.

The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larson

I adore Erik Larson’s books—I recommend Issac’s Storm to pretty much everyone, and have devoured almost all of his other works as well. He’s a wonderfully talented storyteller and an impeccable researcher who writes microhistories that read like fiction. I always come away from one of his books with a new appreciation for history and a plethora of random facts with which to impress acquaintances. His latest oeuvre focuses on Winston Churchill and London during the Blitz.

The House of Earth and Blood by Sarah J. Maas

Y’all, I’m nervous about this one. The House of Earth and Blood, the first book in Maas’ new Crescent City series, is billed as her first “adult” novel, which is frankly terrifying. I discovered Maas five years ago when I listened to A Court of Thorn and Roses on audiobook (yes, The Noun of Noun and Noun title formula is strong with this one) and was hooked. I immediately read all of the published books in her Throne of Glass series and was, for awhile, Harry Potter-level obsessed. Unfortunately the honeymoon didn’t last: Throne of Glass, which started out as fun and frisky YA, transitioned into ever-more cringey and very adult territory, and I absolutely loathed the final installment of the ACOTAR series. I was pleasantly surprised by Maas’ entry into the DC Icons series, Catwoman: Soulstealer, in which she regained some of her OG energy that made Throne of Glass so fun (and also managed to actually be YA-appropriate), but my hopes aren’t high that she’ll reign in Trashy Romance Novelist Sarah in a book that is actually meant to be marketed to adults, sooooooo….TBD.

The Midnight Lie by Marie Rutkowski 

I’ve been DYING for Rutkowski to write another book after loving the Winner’s trilogy, so I definitely squealed when I saw that she was writing a duology set in the same world (which means I probably need to reread the original trilogy before this one comes out because, again, #oldbrain). Reviews of ARCs on Goodreads have been overwhelmingly positive, so I’m for sure looking forward to seeing if this one lives up to the hype!

The Damned by Renee Ahdieh 

This is book two in a series of (allegedly) four, breaking Ahdieh’s duology trend. The first book, The Beautiful, one had me at vampires in 19th century New Orleans; I ended up giving it 3.5 stars, proclaiming I would reserve judgement until the next installment, so we’ll have to see if my rating improves.

The Heir Affair by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan

The Royal We was one of my 2015 reads, the first year I started tracking what I read year on year in Goodreads. I remember liking it a lot (I gave it 4 stars)—this is basically Will and Kate fanfiction with name changes and enough differences to avoid legal action (Curtis Sittenfeld’s does something similar in American Wife with the Bushes). A lot has happened in the actual Royal Family in 20-5, so I’m curious to see how Cocks and Morgan translate all the drama to the page.

Well friends, I hope you had as much fun as I did today, and that you’re as excited as I am to pull on some reading socks and continue to explore my TBR with me, and that you’ll join me next time, when I recap Lee Goldberg’s awful Amazon First Reads pick, Lost Hills.

The Princess Diarist

Welcome to 2020! After seeing The Rise of Skywalker and the finale of The Mandalorian, I wasn’t ready for Star Wars season to end. Cue me redownloading Carrie Fisher’s last memoir, which I’d already started and stopped twice since buying it in January of 2018.

The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher

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Why I picked it: Based on my initial purchase date (two weeks after the release of The Last Jedi), I probably bought it for the same reason I picked it back up—an insatiable need for more Star Wars content after feeling all the feels.

I was fairly neutral about Carrie Fisher, but this was billed as a behind-the-scenes look at the making of A New Hope, and as I had thoroughly enjoyed other behind-the-scenes looks at the making of cult classics (As You Wish by Cary Elwes is fantastic reading for any fans of The Princess Bride and I highly recommend the audiobook for the cast cameos and the impressions), I decided to give this a go.

Blurb in brief: “When Carrie Fisher discovered the journals she kept during the filming of the first Star Wars movie, she was astonished to see what they had preserved–plaintive love poems, unbridled musings with youthful naivete, and a vulnerability that she barely recognized. Before her passing, her fame as an author, actress, and pop-culture icon was indisputable, but in 1977, Carrie Fisher was just a teenager with an all-consuming crush on her costar, Harrison Ford.

With these excerpts from her handwritten notebooks, The Princess Diarist is Fisher’s intimate and revealing recollection of what happened on one of the most famous film sets of all time–and what developed behind the scenes. Fisher also ponders the joys and insanity of celebrity, and the absurdity of a life spawned by Hollywood royalty, only to be surpassed by her own outer-space royalty. Laugh-out-loud hilarious and endlessly quotable, The Princess Diarist brims with the candor and introspection of a diary while offering shrewd insight into one of Hollywood’s most beloved stars.”

What I thought: This was a hard read. Initially, because I found Fisher’s storytelling in this book to be distractingly frenetic. Lord knows I love a good yarn/pithy aside, but this was sensory overload in literature form and the main reason why I’d put this book aside twice already. However, sheer stubbornness forced me through the rest of this book, though I freely admit I skimmed a good deal of it.

First of all, this is not a memoir about the making of Star Wars. If that’s what you’re here for, move along. Other than a few brief cameos by Mark Hamill, the main story is Fisher’s relationship/affair with a fourteen years-older, married Harrison Ford during the filming of the first movie. This isn’t a kiss-and-tell by any means; Fisher offers no real juicy details and adopts a “fade-to-black and fill-in-the-blanks” approach for much of her story.

As someone who was once a teenage girl who kept a journal of my angsty musings and terrible poetry about unrequited love, the excerpts from Fisher’s diaries during this time felt both familiar and heartbreakingly sad.

There are plenty of fish in the sea

And you sure look like a fish to me

As soft as a crayfish with a mouth that opens and closes

And like a fish you don’t say pretty things

And you don’t send no roses

There are plenty of fish in plenty of seas

And like a fish you don’t bring shiny diamonds

And fall to your knees

If you’d never gotten close I wouldn’t have noticed when you were far away

But you filled up my nights and then emptied my days

There are girls who can be helped and there are girls who can be had

But you helped me and then had me

And now fish I need help again I need help real bad . . .

But, like the fisherman said, there are plenty of fish in the sea

And maybe someday some sweet salmon will come and swim away with me 

The book then switches gears into a kind of melancholy look at celebrity and fame and their effect on identity.

After receiving the call to let her know that she’d gotten the part, Fisher recounts that  she ran laughing outside into the street. “It was raining. It didn’t rain in L.A. It was raining in L.A. and I was Princess Leia. I had never been Princess Leia before and now I would be her forever. I would never not be Princess Leia. I had no idea how profoundly true that was and how long forever was.”

Fisher has real affection for the iconic character that vaulted her into stardom, but a role like that clearly comes with a price. So often we think of movie stars as having it easy, but Fisher really gives the reader a sense of what it’s like to mean so much to so many who don’t actually know you at all.

My rating: 3/5 stars; Goodreads rating: 3.67/5 stars

While this book did not meet my initial expectations, I felt for Fisher. The way she paints her affair with Ford reminds me a bit of an arc on the show Bunheads in which Bailey Buntain’s character Ginny develops a crush on the mysterious and taciturn Frankie. She later ends up losing her virginity to him despite their hardly having exchanged more than a few words.

“I never know what he’s talking about and he can go hours without saying anything at all…he’s just so beautiful. Can you love someone you’ve never had a conversation with?”

All in all, this was a sad book. It made me sad for teenaged Carrie and sad for present-day Carrie, who despite her glibness, had been clearly and profoundly affected by the lifelong experience of being Princess Leia.

 

My 2019 Year in Books

After four years of successfully completing (and occasionally exceeding) a 60 book goal for my annual Goodreads Challenge, I upped my goal for 2019 to…wait for it…SIXTY-FIVE books. Dare to dream the impossible dream, amirite?

This slight increase notwithstanding, I resolved in January to try ramping up my reading rigor by improving my consistency and completing at least five books a month. In the past, my monthly reading volume has varied greatly—some months, I’d finish only a single book; other months (I’m looking at you, December ’18), I’d crush eighteen.

In addition, I decided that 2019 would be the year I got my financial ish together, so I created a line item in my budget specifically for book purchases. This meant that 1) I attempted to utilize my local library/Libby app to supplement my personal library and 2) I tried to shop my shelf a bit more.

So…how successful was I?

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NOTE: I spent entirely too much time trying to tease out these numbers, and for whatever reason, they’re not all adding up. What can I say? #EnglishMajor

Reviewing my own snazzy infographic, I’m pleasantly surprised to see that between checking out books from the library on the Libby app and reading books I already owned, almost 50% of the books I read this year were “free.” I’ve never really kept track of how much I spend on books, but I can assure you, it was a lot, so this looks like progress to me!

What strikes me as crazy is how few physical books I read in 2019—only around 15, which is honestly shocking. I used to save my Kindle reading almost exclusively for when I was traveling, and my library is one of my greatest treasures (I think I’ve got somewhere between 400-500 titles on my shelves and I was in tears when I thought they might have all been damaged during Harvey). But between checking out ebooks on the Libby app and choosing to buy the Kindle version to help myself stay within budget, this, it seems, is the result.

I didn’t include it on the infographic, but I reread ten books this year—the entire Harry Potter series on Audible, as well as Bardugo’s Six of Crows and Shadow and Bone Trilogy to try and get myself reacquainted with Ravka before I read King of Scars.

Sidebar: Trying to remember what the heck happened in the previous books in a series never ceases to be a struggle. I long for the days when I actually remembered everything I read, but alas, those days are looooong gone.

I’ve reread the HP series more times than I can count (see my post on the Books That Built Me here), but I have to say, it was a slog to finish it this year. I normally zip through them all in about three months, but it took closer to EIGHT this year. After prepping for my 2nd Annual Very Harry Christmas Party and relistening to Binge Mode: Harry Potter on top of my reread, the burnout was real. Think I may skip it for 2020…

What wasn’t shocking was that I did not end up achieving my goal to read at least 5 books a month for the whole year. I don’t know what it is, but I always seem to have at least one dip where I just don’t read very much. I honestly don’t even know what I’m doing instead. Watching hours of “Epicurious: Four Levels” videos on YouTube, most likely.

Also not shocking—I again failed to complete the Popsugar Reading Challenge. I always start with the best of intentions, but I have a mental block when it comes to any kind of reading that feels assigned. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

All in all, it was a pretty good reading year. I even managed to squish in some non-fiction at the end of the year (Parkland by Dave Cullen was one of my favorite books of the year!).

Stay tuned for my 2020 reading goals!

 

 

The Books that Built Me: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

This is the (long overdue) second installment in my “The Books that Built Me” series. Read my first post on The Things They Carried here. 

I was twelve years old, and my sister Emily had sent me an Easter present.

It was a book.

Being that I am me and this is a book blog, you might be surprised to hear my reaction was not unlike the grandson’s in The Princess Bride when he opens his grandfather’s gift:

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“A book?”

However, this had less to do with the gift being a book than that it was a book I’d seen before in the hands of the kid who had, of late, taken to roaming the halls of school in a cloak, a lighting bolt drawn on his forehead in ballpoint pen. He was also the kid who made his own armor and got up in English class to recite “Jabberwocky” from memory, in its entirety, just for fun.

In hindsight, this kid was awesome. At the time though, he was weird, and any book he liked enough to cosplay was probably weird too.

I’m not a total monster, though;  I couldn’t have a new book in my possession and NOT read it for long.

So despite my initial reticence, it was only a few hours later that I found myself stretched out on the carpet in my bedroom reading the first page of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. 

“Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.”

What a lovely beginning.

From that first line, I was utterly enchanted. I read Sorcerer’s Stone cover to cover and then went back and read it again. I remember checking out the second and third books from the library later that week (the only others out in the series at that point) and devouring those too. Over the next ten years or so, Rowling couldn’t write fast enough; I was hooked.

So what was it about this story that spoke to me at twelve and continues to speak to me, eighteen years later, at thirty?

At its most basic level, Rowling’s seven book series is a school story. Yes, Harry’s world is a fantastic setting and it’s filled with fantastic things—dragons and goblins and house elves who long for freedom and festive socks. Yes, he and Ron and Hermione go to school in a castle where they take notes with quills on parchment as they sit through classes on Potions and Transfiguration and have their mail delivered by owl.

Despite all that, at twelve, Harry’s problems were a lot like my problems: dealing with bullies and mean teachers, figuring out how to make friends, still having to do homework when you felt like your world was ending.

Sidebar: Middle school is rough, y’all.

HP

Credit: Jim Kay

But even as an adult, it continues to resonate. In Harry Potter, we find the extraordinary in ordinary moments. Some of the scenes I remember most vividly are the ones in which Harry faces off with the Mirror of Erised. Our orphaned boy, so long unloved, gazes into the mirror and sees himself united with his parents for the first time, sees himself as part of family that loves him.

It’s an intoxicating sight, and one Harry returns to again and again, staring into the mirror’s depths, until he is gently reprimanded by Albus Dumbledore: “It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live, remember that.”

The dreams on which I tend to dwell may have changed a bit since I was a tween, but the significance of Dumbledore’s message hasn’t dimmed as I’ve entered adulthood. After all, who among us hasn’t suffered a loss? Who among us can’t identify with Harry’s desire for more or with his struggles to belong? Grappled with might-have-beens and if-onlys?

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve reread the Harry Potter series over the years. My copy of Prisoner Azkaban has broken totally in half along the spine (it’s my favorite). I started a new tradition the summer of 2016 and listen to Jim Dale’s magical narration of the entire series on Audible from about May to July—all 118 hours and 38 minutes of it. Over the years, Harry and his friends have nestled into my bones and have become part of me.

I wrote about my love affair with Harry Potter in a post on another blog several years ago, right around the time the final movie was released. Here’s what twenty-four year old me had to say:

I don’t love Harry Potter just because I love to read, or because there are spells and magical creatures, or because any time a new book or movie is released, I have an excuse to play dress-up (though that is a definite plus). I love it because in those hours I spend with Harry, I find myself completely immersed in a world that is my own and not my own, with characters that have become as familiar to me as old friends. Over the past twelve years, The Boy Who Lived has taught me valuable lessons about friendship, truth and goodness; that what is right isn’t always necessarily what is easy, that it’s not about what you can do, but what you choose to do with your life that matters, and that one should make love, not horcruxes.

The act of reading itself is its own kind of magic; a peculiar kind of alchemy of words and the imaginations of both author and reader that, when combined, spark something marvelous and entirely new.

A book on a shelf is a dead thing. A book in our hands is alive. In the reading, we breathe life into paper and ink, and stories and characters become real to us in a way that never ceases to amaze me.

The Boy Who Lives lives on in us, because of us.

“No story lives unless someone wants to listen. The stories we love best do live in us forever. So whether you come back by page or by the big screen, Hogwarts will always be there to welcome you home.”

-J. K. Rowling

Whenever I return to Hogwarts, I get to spend a few hours in a world both familiar and fantastic. I can soak up the wisdom of Albus Dumbledore, travel the globe by Floo Powder, broomstick, or side-along apparition, be a hero and triumph against insurmountable odds. And isn’t that why we love stories?

A Gaines Duet

I forget during which of my sisters’ remodels that the term “shiplap” was thrown around, but when it was, I remember being utterly confused, and my family being totally bewildered in response that I’d never heard of a little show called Fixer Upper.

Sidebar: I lived without cable for many years, and even when I had it, I never really got into any of HGTV’s offerings…¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Despite their insistence that Chip was the funniest and that Joanna’s taste was unparalleled, it was only recently that I fell down the Magnolia rabbit hole.

Capital Gaines: Smart Things I Learned Doing Stupid Stuff by Chip Gaines

Why I picked it: Though I’d been reading/listening to The Last Black Unicorn for awhile, I decided I needed something a bit lighter for a road trip to Austin a couple weekends ago. Despite being able to (at the time) count on one hand the number of Fixer Upper episodes I’d seen, I spearheaded a girls’ trip to Magnolia Market this spring. This little road trip to Austin seemed like the perfect opportunity to learn a bit more about Waco’s golden couple before heading there myself.

Truthfully, I thought this was a finance book when I first saw it in Barnes & Noble. Let me put your mind at ease right now—it is not, lol.

Blurb in brief: “The funny and talented Chip Gaines is well known to millions of people as a TV star, renovation expert, bestselling author, husband to Joanna, and father of 4 in Waco, Texas. But long before the world took notice, Chip was a serial entrepreneur who was always ready for the next challenge, even if it didn’t quite work out as planned. Whether it was buying a neighborhood laundromat or talking a bank into a loan for some equipment to start a lawn-mowing service, Chip always knew that the most important thing was to take that first step.

In Capital Gaines, we walk alongside him as he relives some of his craziest antics and the lessons learned along the way. His mentors taught him to never give up and his family showed him what it meant to always have a positive attitude despite your circumstances. Throw in a natural daredevil personality and a willingness to do (or eat!) just about anything, and you have the life and daily activity of Chip Gaines.

Capital Gaines is the perfect book for anyone looking to succeed not only in business but more importantly in life.”

What I thought: Not really coming into this as a fan of the show (YET), I was pleasantly surprised by it. Chip and Joanna’s whole schtick with Fixer Upper andI’d argue, the secret to their success, is that they’re the real deal, and that authenticity shines through this whole memoir. Chip is a goofball, but he’s seriously hardworking and obviously loves his wife, his kids, and of course, Demo Day.

There is a lot of silly in this book, but there’s also a lot of heart—Chip as narrator is one part clown, one part coach—and at several moments, I found myself nodding along mouthing “Yes!” to some of his more profound rambles.

The book begins with and is structured around Ecclesiastes 3, with sections titled “A Time to Learn,” “A Time to Grow,” and “A Time to Build.” I think that framing works out so well with one of this book’s main themes: timing.

Chip Gaines has done a lot of stupid stuff (see: the title of this book), but despite that, I think he’s a man with few real regrets. He trusts in God’s timing, but he also is not a man who is afraid to act, to throw himself in wholeheartedly into any venture he thought worthy of his time and attention.

““Not one of us is getting any younger, and waiting for your ‘perfect moment’ or for the ‘most convenient time’ could very well turn into a missed opportunity.” -Chip Gaines

If you’re a fan of the show, I’d say this is a must-read, but even if you’re only passingly familiar with the Gaineses like I was, I’d still say it’s worth a look.

Total read time: 2 days on Audible

My rating: 4/5 stars; Goodreads rating: 4.09/5 stars

 

A book written by two authors: The Magnolia Story by Chip and Joanna Gaines

Why I picked it: There is no middle ground for me when it comes to pop culture; I’m either totally obsessed or uninterested. Once I drank the proverbial Kool Aid, I really had no choice but to read this book. And by read, I mean listen to.

Blurb in brief: Are you ready to see your fixer upper?

These famous words are now synonymous with the dynamic husband-and-wife team Chip and Joanna Gaines, stars of HGTV’s Fixer Upper. As this question fills the airwaves with anticipation, their legions of fans continue to multiply and ask a different series of questions, like—Who are these people? What’s the secret to their success? And is Chip actually that funny in real life? By renovating homes in Waco, Texas, and changing lives in such a winsome and engaging way, Chip and Joanna have become more than just the stars of Fixer Upper, they have become America’s new best friends.

The Magnolia Story is the first book from Chip and Joanna, offering their fans a detailed look at their life together. From the very first renovation project they ever tackled together, to the project that nearly cost them everything; from the childhood memories that shaped them, to the twists and turns that led them to the life they share on the farm today.”

“I don’t think it’s irrational or too conservative of me to think, I never want to carry my baby into the county jail ever again.
Is it?” -Joanna Gaines

 

What I thought: I just love these two. Joanna wrote and read the forward in Capital Gaines, but I really enjoyed getting to hear both of their voices throughout this one.

The story of Magnolia truly is the story of Chip and Joanna, how they met and fell in love despite their vastly different personalities, and how together they built a beautiful family and a wildly successful business. The journey there wasn’t easy, and it was inspiring to hear about the setbacks and failures they met along the way and how they were able to surmount them with a mix of faith, gumption, and a willingness to get their hands dirty.

“If I had planned my life, it never would have ended up like this. So maybe it’s kind of fun not to plan. Maybe it’s more fun just to see where life takes you.” -Joanna Gaines

Total read time: 2 days on Audible

My rating: 4/5 stars; Goodreads rating: 4.25/5 stars

Chip and Joanna will admit themselves that they prove the old saying, “opposites attract.” This is made abundantly clear in both Capital Gaines and The Magnolia Story, but it’s also clear that, because of their differences, they bring the best out in one another. I’ll admit it, I was charmed, and consequently, spent most of last weekend binging episodes of Fixer Upper. #noregrets

The Woman in the Window

To paraphrase my girl, T-Swift, it’s been a long eighteen months, friends. Since last we spoke, I’ve added another ninety or so books to my “read” shelf on Goodreads and added probably that same number to my never-ending TBR list. And that’s how you never run out of things to read.

My library and I both managed to survive Hurricane Harvey unscathed, though it was a little dicey there for a few days…I’m only slightly embarrassed by the fact I shed actual tears when I thought they might not make it. Thank God for elevated shelving and AC units which somehow continued to function while mostly submerged! #humidityisnotabooksbestfriend

My babies are safely packed away in storage while we renovate, and, in what can only be deemed a superhuman act of self-discipline, I have managed to only purchase/acquire about ten physical books in the last five months since the storm. As I find myself currently shelfless, I am attempting to practice restraint, and so have done the bulk of my reading lately either on my Kindle or via Audible.

Since it’s January (AKA the month of fresh starts), I figured I’d pick this little blog back up with what I’ve read so far in the new year. I’m not doing any sort of book challenge this go around so be prepared for my picks to be even more random than usual.

Sidebar: If you’re looking for one, the Pop Sugar challenge is always good, though I have no idea what “nordic noir” is supposed to mean.

Now, without further ado, my first read of 2018!

A book with alliteration in the title: The Woman in the Window by A. J. Finn

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Why I picked it: I think this was actually the third book I picked up this year, even though it was the first one I finished. The other two were memoirs, but that particular weekend, I was in the mood for something a bit more pulpy. Enter the latest book in the “Girl Thriller” category.

See: The Girl on the Train, The Woman in Cabin 10, The Girl Before, Gone Girl, and The Good Girl, all of which I have read over the last three years because if there’s one thing I love, it’s a theme.

Blurb in brief: “It isn’t paranoia if it’s really happening . . .

Anna Fox lives alone, a recluse in her New York City home, unable to venture outside. She spends her day drinking wine (maybe too much), watching old movies, recalling happier times . . . and spying on her neighbors.

Then the Russells move into the house across the way: a father, mother, their teenaged son. The perfect family. But when Anna, gazing out her window one night, sees something she shouldn’t, her world begins to crumble?and its shocking secrets are laid bare.

What is real? What is imagined? Who is in danger? Who is in control? In this diabolically gripping thriller, no one—and nothing—is what it seems.”

“Watching is like nature photography: You don’t interfere with the wildlife.”

What I thought: My Goodreads reviews (if I’ve bothered to write anything at all) have left much to be desired of late. My only note on this one was “A better Girl on the Train than the original,” and I stand by that assessment. While both have unreliable narrators, I actually cared about and liked Anna, while I found Rachel, the main character in Girl on the Train, utterly insufferable.

This book is basically Rear Window set in the suburbs, but with some surprising twists and interesting variations on the Hitchcockian-style thriller. Anna herself is a huge fan of the genre, and it’s easy as a reader to question how much of what’s happening is real and how much of it is a drunken fantasy borne of two bottles of merlot and one too many viewings of Rope.

Anna’s house is essentially her whole world, and I loved that it becomes a character in the story itself. Beautiful but neglected and almost a kind of mausoleum to Anna’s past, it makes for a great setting for Finn’s tale. It felt very Manderley-esque to me.

Sidebar: If you haven’t read Rebecca, do.

The book is pretty tightly plotted overall, though there are a few plot points that seemed a bit odd; however, in hindsight, they were probably meant as red herrings.

The Woman in the Window is a worthy addition to the “Girl Thriller” genre (and I’d say one of the best ones).

Total read time: 1 day on Kindle

My rating: 4/5 stars; Goodreads rating: 4.15/5 stars

**Addendum: I might kind of do the Pop Sugar Challenge, so I’ve added the category into which I shoehorned this book to the title**

The Grisha Trilogy

As I am WOEFULLY behind on this blog, I’m going to be doing some creative and some not-so-creative grouped reviews to try and catch-up with my backlog. Since this is a trilogy, it seemed natural to review it as a whole. I shall endeavor to avoid spoilers! It’s also been a month since I read these and my Goodreads reviews are more about rating my book boyfriends than any sort of serious critique of the story. For that, I apologize.

Why I picked it: Spend any time on bookstagram and you’re going to see/hear readers talking about the Darkling and how he makes them FEEL ALL THE FEELS. Intrigued, I ordered the first book off Audible and a new obsession was born. For real, this is the series that got me over my ACOMAF hangover like nothing else did. Also, Lauren Fortgang’s narration is MAGIC.

Book 1: Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo 

Blurb in brief: “Surrounded by enemies, the once-great nation of Ravka has been torn in two by the Shadow Fold, a swath of near impenetrable darkness crawling with monsters who feast on human flesh. Now its fate may rest on the shoulders of one lonely refugee.

Alina Starkov has never been good at anything. But when her regiment is attacked on the Fold and her best friend is brutally injured, Alina reveals a dormant power that saves his life—a power that could be the key to setting her war-ravaged country free. Wrenched from everything she knows, Alina is whisked away to the royal court to be trained as a member of the Grisha, the magical elite led by the mysterious Darkling.

Yet nothing in this lavish world is what it seems. With darkness looming and an entire kingdom depending on her untamed power, Alina will have to confront the secrets of the Grisha…and the secrets of her heart.”

What I thought: At it’s most basic level, this follows your average YA fantasy/dystopyish plot line: first person narrative, female protagonist who thinks she’s the definition of average, hot childhood friend, female protagonist discovers she’s actually FAR from average, a training montage commences, the battle begins, and chaos ensues.

However, this story had a villain who is as complex as he is magnetic. And there are overt (and, based on some other reviews I’ve read, not super culturally accurate) Russian overtones. Call me a philistine, but I didn’t mind it so much—I actually quite liked the Ruski flavor.

But the Darkling. Oooooh, the Darkling. I have a weird soft spot in my heart for characters who are kind of evil, but also mysterious and tortured and unhealthily obsessed with the heroine.

See: the Phantom, Littlefinger, Loki, Hannibal (from the TV show, in which he’s obsessed with our hero. Murder husbands forever!)

Yes, they are rather murdery. Yes, basically everything they do is manipulative. Yes, I understand that that the enduring fondness I feel for them despite all that probably does not speak well of me.

“Fine…Make me your villain.”

I can’t help it. The Darkling is INTERESTING. What’s his whole backstory? What event or series of events turned him into the tyrant he is today? How much was he faking it with Alina? Could Alina just drop Mal and become Dark!Alina and rule together with the Darkling for all eternity? I’m sure there’s fanfiction about this that I will probably read later and love.

Update: There is and I did.

After this first installment, I was really excited to see where Bardugo took the story and what she would reveal about her Dark Prince and his backstory.

My ratings: 5/5; Goodreads ratings: 4.07/5 

Book 2: Siege and Storm by Leigh Bardugo

Blurb in brief: “Hunted across the True Sea, haunted by the lives she took on the Fold, Alina must try to make a life with Mal in an unfamiliar land. She finds starting new is not easy while keeping her identity as the Sun Summoner a secret. She can’t outrun her past or her destiny for long.

The Darkling has emerged from the Shadow Fold with a terrifying new power and a dangerous plan that will test the very boundaries of the natural world. With the help of a notorious privateer, Alina returns to the country she abandoned, determined to fight the forces gathering against Ravka. But as her power grows, Alina slips deeper into the Darkling’s game of forbidden magic, and farther away from Mal. Somehow, she will have to choose between her country, her power, and the love she always thought would guide her—or risk losing everything to the oncoming storm.”

What I thought: SaS suffered a bit from middle-child syndrome for me. There was some good action at the start, but then things kind of slowed down a bit.

For some reason, this was the book during which my mind started making dubious connections to the Gilmore Guys (Rory’s love interests, not the podcast). I liked Mal well enough in the first book, but he began to veer into dangerous Season 2 Dean territory for me in SaS. Sturmhond was bae and his delicious chemistry and witty banter with Alina was giving me hella Logan vibes. He was definitely a delight for all the senses after Mal started being such a snit.

This will probably be the most worthless of this trilogy of reviews.

My ratings: 4/5; Goodreads ratings: 4.11/5 

Book 3: Ruin and Rising by Leigh Bardugo 

Blurb in brief: “Now the nation’s fate rests with a broken Sun Summoner, a disgraced tracker, and the shattered remnants of a once-great magical army.

Deep in an ancient network of tunnels and caverns, a weakened Alina must submit to the dubious protection of the Apparat and the zealots who worship her as a Saint. Yet her plans lie elsewhere, with the hunt for the elusive firebird and the hope that an outlaw prince still survives.

Alina will have to forge new alliances and put aside old rivalries as she and Mal race to find the last of Morozova’s amplifiers. But as she begins to unravel the Darkling’s secrets, she reveals a past that will forever alter her understanding of the bond they share and the power she wields. The firebird is the one thing that stands between Ravka and destruction—and claiming it could cost Alina the very future she’s fighting for.”

What I thought: So Siege and Storm was a little slow at times, and this book did have some places where the plot meandered a bit (it felt a little LotR/Hobbit-esque in that sense with all the questing and the planning and the side jaunts that invariably result from the questing).

Bardugo did some really great things with character development. At the end of SaS, I was definitely not Mal’s biggest fan. However, I felt that he grew up a lot in this book and I was able to appreciate him much more. Sturmhond is still bae, and the Darkling has my heart forever.

I found this last installment to be a very satisfying ending to an excellent series!

My ratings: 5/5; Goodreads ratings: 4.19/5 

 

A Court of Mist and Fury

A book that’s more than 600 pages: A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas

Why I picked it: Because I am slightly obsessed with SJM and this was one of my most highly anticipated releases of 2016, the other being the fifth book in her other series which comes out in less than 70 days because yes, I am totally counting.

Blurb in brief: “Feyre survived Amarantha’s clutches to return to the Spring Court—but at a steep cost. Though she now has the powers of the High Fae, her heart remains human, and it can’t forget the terrible deeds she performed to save Tamlin’s people.
Nor has Feyre forgotten her bargain with Rhysand, High Lord of the feared Night Court.

As Feyre navigates its dark web of politics, passion, and dazzling power, a greater evil looms—and she might be key to stopping it. But only if she can harness her harrowing gifts, heal her fractured soul, and decide how she wishes to shape her future—and the future of a world cleaved in two.”

What I thought: Oh. Em. Gee. It has been a very long time since a book has given me a book hangover like ACOMAF did. I devoured it in two nights and then was ruined for all other stories for a solid two weeks. All I could do was go back and dazedly reread SJM’s other books and curl up in the fetal position because this book made me feel ALL THE FEELS.

Backstory! I read A Court of Thorns and Roses not too long after it was released last year. I had never heard of Sarah J. Maas before (apparently I was living under a rock), but I love Beauty and the Beast retellings, so when it popped up on Audible, I downloaded it. Alas, I didn’t write an actual Goodreads review upon completing it so I don’t have a record of my thoughts at the time, but I did rate it 5*, mostly because of the second half of the book. I found the events of Under the Mountain much more interesting than the events in the Spring Court.

Full disclosure: I never loved Tamlin, who was a bit too blandly alpha male for my taste. You know who did set my heart a fluttering? Rhysand. Sexy, silver-tongued, cheeky Rhysand who stole my heart the second he appeared.

Long story short—I loved ACOMAF SO HARD it hurts. Feyre, whom I liked well enough in ACOTAR, turned into a character who rivals Celaena from Maas’ Throne of Glass series in my heart. And Rhysand! Sexy, silver-tonged, cheeky Rhysand gets all of the depth I missed with Tamlin. And bonus! We get the characters of Rhys’s badass inner circle and all of the accompanying  banter and camaraderie. Plus, THE NIGHT COURT. Starfall? Are you kidding me? Sarah, I want to live in your head for awhile.

“To the stars who listen—and the dreams that are answered.”

My rating: 5/5 ; Goodreads rating: 4.77/5

May Litcube Review

I’ve been really enjoying seeing all of these awesome nerdy book subscription boxes crop up over the last year or so. As much as I’d love to, I can’t afford to subscribe to ALL of them, so I’ve been dabbling. LitCube first came to my attention due to a stream of very excited Instagram posts about their one-time Gilmore Girls box (which has since been spun-off into a monthly Stars Hollow box!).

LitCube “strive[s] to pair hand-picked books with high quality literary themed products to bring you a magical reading experience each and every month.” Each themed box contains something readable, wearable, and snackable, plus a few additional goodies, and runs $34.95 a month with free shipping in the US. Unlike a lot of other book subscription boxes, LitCube does not feature exclusively YA titles, sending books from a wide variety of genres.

The box itself is super bright, which definitely set it apart from other boxes I’ve seen.

 

Once again, I proved that I cannot be trusted not to ruin a surprise and checked the #litcube tag to sneak a look at what was in the box.

Sidebar: Yes, I was the kid who peeled back the edges of the wrapping paper on gifts to try to see what was under the paper.

And now…here’s what was inside the May Alice in Wonderland LitCube!

What was inside:

    • A LitCube limited edition paperback copy of Alice Takes Back Wonderland by David D. Hammons—retail $19
    • An exclusive Wonderland-themed tee that says “You’re entirely bonkers, but I’ll tell you a secret: the best people are”—retail $20
    • A darling “Eat Me” cookie, baked with love by Sweets By Steph!—retail $3
    • A custom Alice in Wonderland makeup bag—retail $13
    • Through the Looking Glass compact mirror—retail $9 
    • Mad Hatter and Alice art prints and bookmark (not pictured) by Star in my Pocket—retail $13 and $3

Total value of items in box: $80

Final thoughts: I didn’t love it.To be honest, the items included in this box just aren’t my taste. Plus, I’m not a huge Alice in Wonderland fan (though I do love the Cheshire Cat), so this box was fighting an uphill battle with me.

The pros: It’s clear that this box, just like every other box I’ve tried, is lovingly put together by someone/people (I don’t actually know who’s behind LitCube) who love(s) books and reading and fandoms.

The cons: This is the most expensive box I’ve ordered, though as it does include shipping for me, the price pretty much evens out. That being said, I wouldn’t pay the listed price for any of the items in the box, so to me, it wasn’t that great of a deal.

My favorite item in the box for sure was the cookie; naturally, I ate it immediately after shooting these pictures. The book isn’t something I would have normally picked up, which is usually the case with these boxes—the ladies behind the boxes know how to push me out of my reading comfort zone!

I’m signed up for one more month, and so I’m hoping I’ll like the June “Roaring 20s Mystery” theme better. Order here now!

A Feast for Crows

A book and its prequel (Part 1): A Feast for Crows by George R. R. Martin

Why I picked it: After a misstart in 2012, I began slogging through Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series last spring at the same time I binged all four available seasons of Game of Thrones.

Sidebar: Yes, I was very late to the party on both counts.

I wrapped up the third book, A Storm of Swords, right around Christmas last year, and decided to embark on book four almost immediately afterwards instead of giving myself of break (SoS was THAT good).

Blurb in brief: “After centuries of bitter strife, the seven powers dividing the land have beaten one another into an uneasy truce. But it’s not long before the survivors, outlaws, renegades, and carrion eaters of the Seven Kingdoms gather. Now, as the human crows assemble over a banquet of ashes, daring new plots and dangerous new alliances are formed while surprising faces—some familiar, others only just appearing—emerge from an ominous twilight of past struggles and chaos to take up the challenges of the terrible times ahead. Nobles and commoners, soldiers and sorcerers, assassins and sages, are coming together to stake their fortunes…and their lives. For at a feast for crows, many are the guests—but only a few are the survivors.”

What I thought: This book took me three months to get through. THREE MONTHS. I am a fast reader. Despite Storm of Sword‘s length, I managed to finish it in two and a half weeks; I could hardly put it down.I had heard from many Feast for Crows was the least enjoyable book of the series, so perhaps my struggle to plow through TEN chapters of Book!Cersei’s poorly-thought out plotting.

Sidebar: All credit to Lena Hedley for her nuanced portrayal of Cersei on the show. She may still be a bitch, but she’s a bitch with whom I can sympathize at least.

I’ve read that GRRM intended to include a time jump between the action in ASoS and when AFfC was due to pickup, but realized that while that gap would work well for characters like Ayra and Bran, it would be less useful for other important characters like Jon Snow and those in King’s Landing because the readers couldn’t be expected to believe that nothing happened in that interim (and writing that many flashbacks was unproductive).

Then of course, he decided to break up his monster manuscript geographically instead of chronologically, which is an interesting choice, but resulted in my being separated from most of my favorite characters who found themselves outside of Westeros proper at the end of book three.

Sidebar: Tyrion! Oh, how I missed Tyrion.

So what we got was filler. A LOT of filler. Most of which I couldn’t be bothered to care much about. The Greyjoy succession plot? Meh. Pretty much everything that happens in Dorne? Bleh. I think part of the problem is that none of the POV characters in this book is particularly witty. A Song of Ice and Fire is a dense story, with a lot of violence and gore, which is why I think characters like Tyrion, Bronn, and the Queen of Thorns are fan favorites (anyone else adore Lady Olenna? She’s basically a hybrid of Lady Violet from Downton Abbey and nearly every character Judi Dench has played, which is to say: perfection)—you need a bit of sass (sometimes a LOT of sass) to balance out all of the depressing deaths and humorless characters.

GRRM’s world building does continue to be incredible. To not only create a whole mythology/history but also keep it straight in your heard when writing thousands upon thousands of pages—it boggles my mind.

So long story short: if you’re making your way through the whole of A Song of Ice and Fire, you’ve got to read this book. Perhaps you’ll find it less of a chore than I did (though if you get really annoyed you can try this reviewer’s method for cutting out the boring bits).

My ratings: 3/5; Goodreads ratings: 4.07/5