My 2020 Reading Challenge

2019 was my year of redemption. I was determined to reignite my love for reading and I did! Not only did I go over and above my Goodreads reading challenge but I also managed to cross off almost every book on my reading list.

2019, the year of the reader comeback will be followed by a year of relaxed reading and exploration.

Having read a mix of genres and authors last year, I’m feeling a little refreshed and fulfilled when it comes to diversity in the written world.

Although my Goodreads reading challenge stands at a hundred books for the year, I’m not going to push myself too hard to get there this year but read as and when I can.

That being said, having joined a couple reading communities like NetGalley, Reedsy and the Online Book Club, I will be giving more preference to supporting up-and-coming debut authors in their publishing pursuits through the form of voluntary book reviews.

Being a writer myself, I can relate to the struggle of getting your book out there and building word-of-mouth for it. I would like to pitch in and help those newly publishing their novels, especially through self-publishing and independent publishing houses.

However, to keep things light and fun, I do intend to tick off the following categories in this year’s reading challenge:

  • an audiobook
  • a book from your pre-2018 TBR pile
  • a book featuring a stereotypical ‘bad boy’/’bad girl’ trope
  • a book featuring a non-conventional hero/heroine
  • a book with a color in the title
  • an epistolary book
  • a funny/humorous book
  • a memoir
  • a book with the theme of mental health
  • a Newbery winning novel
  • a book with antonyms in the title
  • a “guilty pleasure” book
  • a book set in the place where I currently live
  • a LGBTQ+ fic novel

Have any suggestions for more categories? Do let me know in the comments. This is a growing list!

I hope everyone’s reading pursuits in 2020 go splendidly well! I’m looking forward to what the literary world has to offer me in the year ahead.

• B R E A T H E •

Dear Beatrice,

You’re doing the thing again: writing a letter to yourself.

You’ve been doing that a lot this past year: reflecting, asking yourself these big scary questions and finally having some much needed introspection time.

But this letter is doubly special, you see. It’s the start of the New Year and of a new decade. *dramatic pause for that to sink in* And no, we’re not going to be making resolutions in this letter cause we already know how you feel on that matter.

How did you get here, Bea?

2019 was many things and by far the most challenging year of your life but you survived it. It’s like you’ve lived out an entire decade in the span of just one year. That’s how intense it’s been but you fought tooth and nail and you’ve come out of the battle victorious.

2019 was a year of many trials, heartaches and essentially life-changing experiences. You’ve felt ‘stuck’ for a long time now in so many ways; in your career path, in your relationships, with yourself. Like time is slipping away, the whole world is moving forward and leaving you behind.

You need to stop examining your life under such a prejudiced magnifying glass. Do not fret any longer on whether the events of 2019 were for the good or the bad. All things happen for a reason and the one thing you have control over is your attitude, your reactions and how you take life in its stride.

The decade ahead is going to be a life-changing one. You will continue to find yourself as you grow and make choices that will set the foundation for the rest of your journey. You’ve had a rough time and in no way is this an invalidation of your struggles but you should no longer allow the past or the things you cannot control to be an obstacle to you finding happiness.

That happiness you seek? It starts with you.

From the past, present and future Beatrice to the one currently reading this letter at any point in time or space: as you embark upon the grand adventures that life has in store for you, here are some things to keep in mind:

Stop being so hard on yourself.

You need to cut yourself some slack and give yourself more credit. Why are you so forgiving of everyone else but yourself? You think that being hard on yourself brings out the best in you, and it has, but it’s also chipped away, little by little, at your self-esteem and warped your sense of pride.

You don’t own your victories anymore, you just sweep them under the rug and set your sights on a taller mountain to climb when you’ve barely caught your breath from conquering the last one.

Stop. Stop giving unlimited chances to everyone while sparing none for yourself. Show yourself the kindness you reserve for the rest of the world. Believe me when I say: you are far more deserving of it.

Create your own (Bea)utiful.

You’ve taken the road less traveled by. It takes real guts and bravery to choose the path you have and stick to it. And I get it.

It’s hard and very lonely sometimes. You look around and see everyone else going about things a simpler way, having ‘fun’ and enjoying their youth. Never ever give into that thought process. You’re digging yourself a grave there, Bea.

Remember: you have real gumption. You’ve always been ahead of your years and yeah, gaining that maturity so young, so fast came with a price but look at all you’ve gained in the process. Look at the warrior you’ve become.

Creating a meaningful life for yourself and achieving your dreams means challenging not only yourself but the world. People will try to dissuade you when they see you doing something different. You’ve encountered this before and you will again: those who want to take away your special spark. Did you let them? Have you ever?

Surround yourself with positivity.

You’ll soon realize the sacrifices you’ve made by taking the road less traveled by: they’ll get you to exactly where you need to be. What you’ve dreamt of.

And you will no longer fret on giving up simpler pleasures, on trading in the fleeting and short-lived ecstasies for a life of genuine and lasting joy and meaning that you’ve created for yourself.

Celebrate everything.

You are exactly where you’re meant to be right now. Live all your moments, even the tiny ones that seem insignificant because trust me, they’re not.

There might be moments where you feel like you’ve lost yourself and you’re unsure of the things that seemed so unshakeable before. But that’s okay. That’s how life keeps you on your toes.

Believe in yourself and your path, even if it isn’t so clear. Take each day as it comes and don’t project too much onto the future. Give it some space to grow, take shape and unravel from the wonderful mystery that it is on its own.

And while life unravels, delight in every little thing it shows you: the bad and the good.

Let go.

You hold on far too long to the things that hurt you: to the people that don’t deserve your love, to the memories that were of a past you are no longer tied to and to your own self-destructive thoughts that keep you from living in the now.

You live in two worlds and in neither of them do you live for yourself. Stop bleeding yourself dry for the things that are simply not worth it.

And I know what you’ll say. It’s what you always do: you make excuses and keep hoping for a turnaround in the things you can’t control.

“It’s complicated.” “It’s not that simple.”

Except, Beatrice, it really is.

Stop doing everyone else a kindness and do one for yourself: let. fucking. go.

Have the grace to let go of the things, of the people and of the choices that are not meant for you. Not everything that crosses your path will be there forever. People come and go. Some leave lasting magic, others disappointment. Do not hold animosity against anyone but appreciate the experiences they leave you with. Learn from them.

It will be okay. At the end of the day, you’ve always been standing on your own two feet.

All you are guaranteed is yourself, never forget this.

L I V E

Life is this great, big, beautiful unknown.

You will realize, time and time again, the vulnerabilities you’ve felt in your darkness is not weakness at all in the light of a new day. Reading this letter won’t cut it. You’ll have to live the pain, live the joys, live all the little hurts that make you real.

I see you, Beatrice. Peering into the darkness and uncertainties of the path ahead of you, sporting a grin. You try to hide that your hands are shaking as you fidget to try and turn on the flashlight for illumination, for just a little clue into what you’re walking into. Here’s what I want you to do.

You take that flashlight, turn right around, face the blinding light from the past 22 years that you’ve already lived and throw it as hard as you can. Throw it into the face of certainty, throw it into the chapters of your life that are already done.

Now, turn back, take a deep, steady breath, face your future and start walking.

You don’t need that flashlight, Beatrice.

You are the light.

Beatrice Reviews “The Insiders Club” by Echo Miller

“The Insiders Club” by Echo Miller
★★★★☆

The Insiders Club

Four social misfits: an 80s-obsessed eccentric, a movie-quoting mimic, a control freak, and a scrappy loner. They share a diagnosis on the autism spectrum, but can they create a home?

Keegan Harris has one weekend to persuade three other autistic guys to move into his group home. Using an 80s movie as his guide for socialization, he’s organized a series of adventures designed to form deep connections and create lifelong friends. But each stranger has packed emotional baggage and arrived with agendas of their own. Unless Keegan can convince everyone to stick to the script, his blockbuster plan may turn companionship into chaos.

When Monday morning rolls around, will they be best buddies or will Keegan’s community close before it officially opens?


Disclaimer: I was given a copy of this book for free on the Reedsy platform, for an honest and unbiased review.

I admit, I was a little nervous getting into this book. Fiction that deals with the representation of sensitive topics such as themes dealing with mental health issues or differently abled characters can be hit-or-miss.

Some authors lack the research and can be ignorant to their portrayal of such themes, leading to ill-advised stereotypes and a black-and-white picture of the diversity of a group of people that deserve far better representation in art.

However, with the very first words of this novel, my worry started to dissipate. Echo Miller tastefully brings to life colorfully well-rounded characters on the spectrum, presenting readers with a perceptive insight of a world that they may not belong to but can start to better understand.

Miller’s writing style equips wonderful imagery together with a descriptiveness that is a pleasure to read as the story continues to unravel. We are introduced to a cast of autistic characters, many of which are on the spectrum but are not defined by their autism but their individuality. Miller’s shaping up of each and every one through their unique personalities and quirks had the effect of creating emotional connections to them that linger far beyond the end of the story.

Paying tribute to the ’80’s classic film The Breakfast Club, “The Insiders Club” is a heartfelt story, grounded in the exploration of complex and beautiful characters whose autism does not limit them, but rather allows them to go farther and feel things on a greater level than most are capable of.

Although the book is quick read and can be done in one sitting, I recommend taking the time to absorb each word and description and allow yourself to live the story slowly but meaningfully. It’s an experience that will definitely stay with me and I look forward to reading the next instalment in the series.

A story of friendship, acceptance and truth in the eyes of people who are deemed to be “different”, I recommend this novel for any and everyone. Miller shows us through the characters on these pages that often, being different is what makes us human and it’s time to not only accept that diversity but embrace it.

Beatrice Reviews “Steel Strings” by Alex Hayes

“Steel Strings” by Alex Hayes
★★★☆☆

Steel Strings

Brianna Jones is a smart, biracial teen who dreams of bringing music to the world via orchestral instruments fashioned out of recycled materials. But Brianna must keep her project secret from her half sister, whose mission in life is to destroy everything Brianna holds dear. 

Marek Lakewood is one of the few guys who sees Brianna for whom she really is and has admired her from afar for years, but he’s never been a risk-taker, not since his father was killed on a black diamond ski slope.

When a physics project lands Marek in Brianna’s sphere, he finds himself taking bigger and bigger risks, and discovers Brianna’s life and aspirations are far more complicated than he ever imagined.


Disclaimer: I was given a copy of this book for free on the Reedsy platform, for an honest and unbiased review.

This was an enjoyable and fast-paced book, perfect for those looking for a one-sitting read into a literary getaway. Alex Hayes does a wonderful job of bringing life to Brianna Jones and Marek Lakewood, the two protagonists, by employing switching first person point-of-view chapters.

Having not read Hayes’ Chameleon Effects series, I was hoping I would be able to follow along and form the same connect with the characters one would expect from a stand-alone novel. There were some scenes of hidden significance (Easter eggs) that did little to further the plot of “Steel Strings” but, I suspect, were linked to her main series. Nevertheless, this did not rob me of any enjoyment to this novel which stood on its own two feet.

Hayes’ character development shines through the dialogue and writing style, bringing out the vibes of teen romance I haven’t felt in years and also the plights of the main protagonist, Brianna, who I rooted for throughout.

However, I do feel there were certain plot points that could have been explored further to create a better connect between the characters and myself, the reader. Juggling elements of music, love and family all together, some aspects were lacking in weight to another, making the read feel a little imbalanced and the ending rather rushed.

Although good, I didn’t feel like it delivered the excitement and thrill indicated in the synopsis and I felt a little let-down toward the end on how the story had progressed. In this sense, the novel did not ‘knock my (figurative) socks off’.

However, as a light breezy read, “Steel Strings” promises to entertain and enthrall. I also believe readers of the original series would enjoy the novel a step further and encourage them to give it a read and discover the aforementioned Easter Eggs for themselves!

Beatrice Reviews “Poems to See By” by Julian Peters

“Poems to See By” by Julian Peters
★★★★☆

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This stunning anthology of favorite poems visually interpreted by comic artist Julian Peters breathes new life into some of the greatest English-language poets of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.


Disclaimer: I was given a copy of this book for free on Netgalley, for an honest and unbiased review.

I haven’t reviewed a poetry anthology before but I’m glad this is my first one off the bat. A stunning visual portrayal of works of art by the infamous Emily Dickinson, e.e. cummings and Maya Angelou (to name a few), “Poems to See By” is a beautiful experience for those artistic souls out there.

The poetry, in itself, is a vast and uplifting collection. Covering various themes and topics such as identity, hope, life and death and supplemented by various art forms ranging from ink-based to comics and manga, Peters pays tribute to these poets’ creations as well as creating his own original work, adding a new layer of depth to the poems.

Although I don’t have the technical artistic terms down, the lack of knowledge in the field of art didn’t take away from the experience. I’ve always felt that poetry, literature and any form of art (visual or not) is a highly personal affair. To see this artist bring these poems to life through a mix of monochrome panels, dominant color schemes and splashes of his artist’s muse showing through is a delight. The varied nature of the styles for each poem also goes to show Peters’ talent as an illustrator.

In a world where the people’s experience is highly shaped by visual media and senses, it surprises me that the idea of combining artwork with written forms of literature hasn’t been done before. I’m glad that this was my first experience of that sort. Peters delivers nothing short of artistic mastery and a newfound depth for poems that have shaped the world.

An original and wonderful way to experience poetry and introduce new generations to the work of classic poets and renowned names in the field, I urge any and everyone to grab their own copy of the book and allow themselves to feel the magic it provides.

Beatrice Reviews “Nine Years” by Jessica Reed

“Nine Years” by Jessica Leed
★★★★☆

Nine Years: A novel (Beneath the Clouds Book 1) by [Leed, Jessica]

You would think Sienna Henderson had the perfect life. She has a successful career, a loving family and is engaged to be married. From the outside she appears to have it all together, yet on the inside she is coming undone.

Caught inside a dysfunctional relationship and with her work environment intolerable, she finds herself slipping further from the life she has envisioned.

After reuniting with a man from her past, Sienna’s life is turned upside down in a way that has her questioning everything she has ever known.


Disclaimer: I was given a copy of this book for free on the Reedsy platform, for an honest and unbiased review.

I like to think I’m a contemporary romance ‘connoisseur’ of sorts, having read many books in this genre. I started reading “Nine Years”, not quite sure what to expect, but Jessica Leed knocked her debut novel out of the park.

A beautiful tale of romance, self-discovery and growth, “Nine Years” follows Sienna Henderson and her plight as she struggles to right the wrongs in her long-term but dysfunctional relationship while trying not to lose more of herself in the process. Things get even more complicated when a past she had let go of resurfaces, only to have her confronting parts of herself she had forgotten were still there.

I think what struck me the most about this novel is how relatable it is. Not all of us have been through the exact same struggles that Sienna faces in the novel but we can all relate, on some level, to the pain of holding onto something so dear to you, even when it starts to destroy you as an individual.

That being said, it is incredibly challenging to write a story of this nature and create people that the reader can emotionally connect to but the author does a wonderful job of crafting a well-rounded set of characters.

There is no concrete villain. There is no good or bad, right or wrong. Although we explore the story through Sienna’s eyes, all the characters are well thought-out and portrayed in a multi-dimensional way, making them more human.

I do feel the pacing of the novel could have been a little faster. Although I am not willing to comment on the necessity of certain plot points (given they might be set up to tie in with the sequel), the novel could have been a little shorter in length to increase the impact and have the story resonate even more with the reader.

All in all, a beautiful story and written in an equally evocative manner, I highly recommend “Nine Years” to fans of the contemporary romance genre. The downside? You’ll have to put in some waiting time for the sequel.

Jessica Leed does a wonderful job delivering with this book.

Relationships are challenging and through Sienna, we explore the many complexities and obstacles that can crop up in one. The question the novel poses is: how far are you willing to go to try and save your relationship? At what point do you stop and save yourself?

How to Create Authentic Characters

When was the last time you read a novel whose characters lingered with you far beyond the reaches of the pages they live on? Don’t you love the satisfaction of finishing a book yet still continuing to be emotionally invested and impacted by the stories it had to share?

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Maybe not as ‘enthusiastic’ as Pat here but you get the picture.

Compelling characters are the backbone of a good novel. They make or break the plot.

Without characters with strong arcs and development, the story loses its ‘oomph’ factor and becomes like any other mediocre read you have stowed away at the back of your bookshelf.

Now, I certainly wouldn’t wish that upon my stories and I’m guessing, neither would you! So here are some tips on how to create characters with class.

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Make Them Real

You would think that we dive into literature and fiction to get away from reality and on some level, we all do. But the characters that stay with us are quite often the ones we relate to the most, the ones that are fundamentally flawed and in being so, are human.

Whether you’re writing out a character who’s a wizard, alien or some sort of otherworldly creature, think about what you want that character to deliver to your readers. Make sure to incorporate certain human nuances to them which, trust me, will only make them stronger.

After all, you don’t want to alienate your readers into feeling this way.

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Don’t put them in this position.

Archetypes ≠ Stereotypes

Character archetypes are figures that resemble a familiar or recognizable set of traits attributable to one person. You might have heard of Jung’s archetypes which come up as a common reference among writers outlining their characters (and is also a credibly psychological analysis of universal personality patterns).

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Archetypes are a good way to classify your character and also better understand their incentives, fears and how they are perceived by the world. It forms the base to creating your character but the layers you add afterword are what sets your character archetype apart from turning into a stereotype.

You want to make sure you avoid what’s already been done for that particular character type. It’s alright to be inspired by popular portrayals in modern literature and cinema, as long as you add your own twist to the character that makes them stand out in their own way.

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Unique (and successful) examples of this trope would be Frodo from The Lord of the Rings, Neo from The Matrix and Katniss from The Hunger Games.

Know Your Creation

No one on this planet is more answerable for your characters than you are. You are their God and you should know them to their bones.

All the tiny details build essence and make them more real. Right down to the nitty-gritties such as whether they’re a shoe-shoe-sock-sock person or if they like rap music or their biggest pet peeves.

Every. Little. Detail. Counts.

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Yes, even that.

How can you expect your readers to connect to your characters if you don’t first?

A good way to do this is start with character outlines. Here’s a reference for you to check out and get you started!

Watch ’em Grow

You do not want your characters to be static throughout the novel with zero development. Even if they’re supporting characters, they can’t just be filler props to add depth to your MCs.

Every character has to have good reason to exist and should develop on some level throughout the novel. This is where the element of character relationships play an integral role.

How your characters interact with each other, play off each other’s strengths and weaknesses and navigate through these dynamics shape their role in the plot and their impact on the reader.

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Set Them Free

Often times, the plan we have set out for our characters doesn’t pan out exactly as we hoped, derailing to something surprising and perhaps, more wonderful.

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The beauty of bringing characters into existence includes giving them the power to choose their own path. So many times, I have been unable to write out a scene I planned for ages ago because my characters simply won’t allow it.

It’s almost as if they know themselves better than their own Creator. They break the fourth wall and refuse to cooperate unless I let them do what they choose to.

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The End

The novel may end but your characters don’t.

There is no end to character development.

They will continue down the path you set them and it’s important to let them experience that and try not to control 100% of their journey.

Give them space to breathe and evolve on their own, and you will see them flourish into something utterly captivating.