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:
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 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.
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.
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!
Have you ever looked back on your childhood, feeling that pang of nostalgia hit you square in the chest as you think back fondly of those simpler times? Did you, like me, love hitting up the library and checking out as many book as you can at a time so you could consume them voraciously the moment you got home?
I firmly believe my passion for writing stems from my love for books.
Countless hours were spent delving into the magical wizarding school of Hogwarts, of holding my breath in anticipation of the Baudelaire siblings’ attempts to escape Count Olaf’s evil clutches, of cooing over heartfelt young-love and fantasizing that one day I would find my own.
These stories shaped me as a person, both in terms of my writing and otherwise.
As a child, they say it’s hard to distinguish the line between reality and fantasy. I think that is the beauty of innocence; of not being exposed to what life really is, not just yet, but having that period of time, as brief as it may be, to simply float around and exist in a world that is entirely your own.
Below are a select few of my favorite books from an era long past. Maybe one of these days, I’ll revisit these novels. For now and forever, they will hold a special place in my heart.
Flipped is a romance told in two voices. The first time Juli Baker saw Bryce Loski, she flipped. The first time Bryce saw Juli, he ran. That’s pretty much the pattern for these two neighbors until the eighth grade, when, just as Juli is realizing Bryce isn’t as wonderful as she thought, Bryce is starting to see that Juli is pretty amazing. How these two teens manage to see beyond the surface of things and come together makes for a comic and poignant romance.
Bea-Factor: This book is so very dear to my heart (so dear that I was gifted a signed copy from the author addressed to me and it still is one of the best gifts I have ever received). I do not view Flipped as a romance though. Although the love story makes me crumble to pieces each time I read it, it is the values of family and trials of growing up are what really got to me, especially at that particular age. Read it and have your heart feel fuzzy again.
Six unforgettable kids — with no families, no homes — are running for their lives. Max Ride and her best friends have the ability to fly. And that’s just the beginning of their amazing powers. But they don’t know where they come from, who’s hunting them, why they are different from all other humans… and if they’re meant to save mankind — or destroy it.
Bea-Factor: This series is what started me off on my journey into the world of sci-fi. I loved the mash-up of teens with crazy superpowers that they gained through experiments they were subjected to. The first book got me hooked to the premise and thus my journey into sci-fi began.
Julie’s best friend, Ashleigh, is an enthusiast. Julie never knows what new obsession will catch Ashleigh’s fancy, but she does know she’s likely to be drawn into the madness. Ashleigh’s latest craze is Julie’s own passion, Pride and Prejudice. But Ashleigh can’t just appreciate it as a great read; she insists on emulating the novel’s heroines, in speech, dress, and the most important element of all—finding True Love. And so Julie finds herself with Ashleigh, dressed in vintage frocks, sneaking into a dance at the local all-boys prep school, where they discover some likely candidates. The problem with Ashleigh’s craze this time, however, is that there is only one Mr. Darcy. So when the girls get a part in the boys’ school musical, what follows is naturally equal parts comedy and romance, as a series of misinterpreted—and missed—signals, dating mishaps, and awkward incidents make Julie wonder if she has the heart for True Love.
Bea-Factor: I’m a sucker for romance, especially light, fluffy novels. This one is abundant with references to Jane Austen and the book that introduced me to her works at a young age. Enthusiasm set the tone for the world of love for me. I highly recommend it for anyone looking for a heartwarming, funny read.
At birth, Ella is inadvertently cursed by an imprudent young fairy named Lucinda, who bestows on her the “gift” of obedience. Anything anyone tells her to do, Ella must obey. Another girl might have been cowed by this affliction, but not feisty Ella. When her beloved mother dies, leaving her in the care of a mostly absent and avaricious father, and later, a loathsome stepmother and two treacherous stepsisters, Ella’s life and well-being seem to be in grave peril. But her intelligence and saucy nature keep her in good stead as she sets out on a quest for freedom and self-discovery as she tries to track down Lucinda to undo the curse, fending off ogres, befriending elves, and falling in love with a prince along the way. Yes, there is a pumpkin coach, a glass slipper, and a happily ever after, but this is the most remarkable, delightful, and profound version of Cinderella you’ll ever read.
Bea-Factor: I was never big on the fairytale genre but this one knocked me off my feet. Some call it a retelling of Cinderella with a lot of twists but I never once associated it in that way. With a message for young girls on how to be strong, independent and self-aware women, Ella Enchanted stands on its own two feet.
Leo Borlock follows the unspoken rule at Mica Area High School: don’t stand out–under any circumstances! Then Stargirl arrives at Mica High and everything changes–for Leo and for the entire school. After 15 years of home schooling, Stargirl bursts into tenth grade in an explosion of color and a clatter of ukulele music, enchanting the Mica student body. But the delicate scales of popularity suddenly shift, and Stargirl is shunned for everything that makes her different. Somewhere in the midst of Stargirl’s arrival and rise and fall, normal Leo Borlock has tumbled into love with her. In a celebration of nonconformity, Jerry Spinelli weaves a tense, emotional tale about the fleeting, cruel nature of popularity–and the thrill and inspiration of first love.
Bea-Factor: Stargirl is a young-adult classic. Timeless, poignant and beautiful; it taught me the importance of being true to yourself and not giving into conformity, even if it means toughing it out. Never sell yourself to be part of the in-crowd. Always be you.
When twins Lindy and Kris find a ventriloquist’s dummy in a Dumpster, Lindy decides to “rescue” it, and she names it Slappy. But Kris is green with envy. It’s not fair. Why does Lindy get to have all the fun and all the attention? Kris decides to get a dummy of her own. She’ll show Lindy. Then weird things begin to happen. Nasty things. Evil things. It can’t be the dummy causing all the trouble, Can it?
Bea-Factor: The Stephen King for children; R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps series was the grand influence behind my nightmares for a good chunk of my childhood. The Dummies books, in particular, led to my aversion toward toys and stuffed animals. I mean, can you blame me (Chucky, anyone)?
The series tells an unhappy tale about three very unlucky children. Even though they are charming and clever, the Baudelaire siblings lead lives filled with misery and woe. From the very first page when the children are at the beach and receive terrible news, continuing on through the entire story, disaster lurks at their heels. One might say they are magnets for misfortune. In the first book alone, the three youngsters encounter a greedy and repulsive villain, itchy clothing, a disastrous fire, a plot to steal their fortune, and cold porridge for breakfast.
Bea-Factor: Boy, I was obsessed with Lemony Snicket’s legendary series the same way most teens were with the Harry Potter series when I was first introduced to it in the third grade. So much so that I begged my parents to buy entirety of it for me (a whopping thirteen books). Never regretted it.
The summer Opal and her father, the preacher, move to Naomi, Florida, Opal goes into the Winn-Dixie supermarket—and comes out with a dog. A big, ugly, suffering dog with a sterling sense of humor. A dog she dubs Winn-Dixie. Because of Winn-Dixie, the preacher tells Opal ten things about her absent mother, one for each year Opal has been alive. Winn-Dixie is better at making friends than anyone Opal has ever known, and together they meet the local librarian, Miss Franny Block, who once fought off a bear with a copy of WAR AND PEACE. They meet Gloria Dump, who is nearly blind but sees with her heart, and Otis, an ex-con who sets the animals in his pet shop loose after hours, then lulls them with his guitar. Opal spends all that sweet summer collecting stories about her new friends and thinking about her mother. But because of Winn-Dixie or perhaps because she has grown, Opal learns to let go, just a little, and that friendship—and forgiveness—can sneak up on you like a sudden summer storm.
Bea-Factor: I love dogs and this book just increased my love for them leaps and bounds. Read the book, watch the movie and bask in the beauty of companionship between man and the best friend he could ask for. This book swept up a whole lot of awards for a reason: it’s simply enchanting.
Calvin and Hobbes follows the adventures of Calvin, a rambunctious 6-year-old boy, and his stuffed tiger, Hobbes, who comes charmingly to life.
Bea-Factor: That description does not do justice for the wondrous adventure that each comic strip provides for us of these two wacky characters. Before Garfield, TinTin and the Asterix series, Calvin and Hobbes is what drew me into the world of comics. I still read them from time to time when I’m in search of some biting snark, light humor and a reminder of the smaller (but a great deal more significant) things in life.
A family with an ancient curse… And the girl who will change their lives forever… Tohru Honda was an orphan with no place to go until the mysterious Sohma family offered her a place to call home. Now her ordinary high school life is turned upside down as she’s introduced to the Sohma’s world of magical curses and family secrets.
Bea-Factor: The first manga that I committed to finishing completely was Fruits Basket. I loved the concept of the zodiac curse and the bright, optimism of Tohru, a girl who’s been through so much but refuses to let the trials of life take her down. And of course, cue all the nosebleeds from the number of attractive male characters. I should have known hotheaded badboys would be the death of me (Kyo-sama!)
What are some of your favorite childhood books? Did you see any familiar ones on my list? I’d love to hear yours in the comments!
After all, I may just revisit some of these reads sometime soon. A walk down memory lane is long overdue.
The Writer by J.C. Maetis – Schindler’s List meets The Tattooist of Auschwitz – a gripping tale of love, survival and redemption against the backdrop of one of the darkest periods in recent history.
Two Writers. One lives to write. The other writes to live…
Disclaimer: I was given a copy of this book for free, for an honest and unbiased review.
I admit, when I first received a request to review this novel, I was a little skeptical upon reading the blurb and after my experience with the novel The Tattooist of Auschwitz. However, the premise of The Writer was intriguing so I decided to give it a shot and boy, am I glad I did.
The Writer follows the lives of Mathias Kraemer, Johannes Namal and Josef Weber, three different individuals with varying backgrounds whose lives and paths are tied together by the tragedies surrounding Nazi Germany. Through these characters, the book does a wonderful job of examining the circumstances and impact of Anschluss and the cruel, merciless regime of Hitler on three different communities: the Jews, half-Jews and Austrian-Catholics.
I was surprised to encounter a historical fiction novel on the Holocaust that effortlessly combined elements of various genres together. The Writer is a thriller, romance and drama all in one.
My heart raced and had me turning the pages out of concern for these characters that I fell in love with, anxious for them as they faced the harrowing possibilities of execution and being sent to concentration camps. The unlikely love story of Inspector Josef Weber and Romani-gypsy Deya Reynes adds a different light to the plot and kept me grounded in the horrors faced by non-Jewish couples as well in this very dark period of history.
This is, in my opinion, the strongest element in the novel.
Maetis does an incredible job in bringing to life the struggles of not just the Jews, but other communities as well such as Mischlings (the term used by the Nazi regime to refer to individuals of mixed Aryan and Jewish ancestry), the Gypsy community and those who refused to go without a fight that were branded as ‘dissidents’.
We don’t get a simple, black-and-white portrayal here of good and bad, of the right and wrong choices. Instead, the author gives us a full-fledged illustration of a world that we can count ourselves lucky to have not experienced, but in the process brings us one step closer to empathizing and learning from the horrors of it.
That being said, The Writer may be a gripping historical thriller but what struck me most was the humanity of the story itself. As mentioned in the blurb, a great part of the story revolves around two writers. One who grips to his own life on account of his profession as a writer, and the other that attempts to save others through his words.
Being a writer myself, this struck a chord in me: how words, how the art of writing itself can slice through the darkness and provide rays of light, provide hope and illuminate a path to redemption.
I cannot wait to see this book published and wholeheartedly recommend it to everyone when it is. Kudos to the author for managing the sensitivities surrounding the period of time in which his novel is set with the elements of love, suspense and drama that he weaves into the plot.
Do you want a page-turning thriller? Or do you want a Holocaust novel written so vividly it plays out like a movie in your head? Or even a love story with two very real, very raw characters that you can root for from the start?
Look no further. The Writer has something beautiful to offer you that will make the experience of reading it your own.
The Writer is pending release. In the mean time, you can check out the author’s other works here!
“The Tattooist of Auschwitz” by Heather Morris ★★★☆☆
One day in July 1942, Lale, prisoner 32407, comforts a trembling young woman waiting in line to have the number 34902 tattooed onto her arm. Her name is Gita, and in that first encounter, Lale vows to somehow survive the camp and marry her.
A vivid, harrowing, and ultimately hopeful re-creation of Lale Sokolov’s experiences as the man who tattooed the arms of thousands of prisoners with what would become one of the most potent symbols of the Holocaust, The Tattooist of Auschwitz is also a testament to the endurance of love and humanity under the darkest possible conditions.
I hate to be that person, who reads a book of hope and love set during one of the darkest times of history, who goes, “meh, I’ll give it a 2.5/3 star rating”. A love story set during the Holocaust – that’s exactly what we need to remind us that love can trump all and prevail, even in the darkest of times. But, in this case, I just could not find myself consumed by the novel. It’s not that I don’t appreciate the true story of the two individuals (Lale and Gita) on who this book is based on. It’s the execution that I have a problem with.
Let me explain. It all boils down to one thing really: bad writing.
It isn’t great. It isn’t horrible, but it isn’t good either. It’s that awkward attempt at trying to do justice to a true story but failing to tick all the boxes, resulting in a novel that’s both here and there.
I love dialogue but when there’s too much of it, it creates a block in the reading experience. The simple rule of ‘show, don’t tell’ can also be applied to leveraging dialogue to keep the story moving forward. With the lack of prose, much of the story is stifled and contained to the interactions and conversations between the characters without exploring the spectrum of their emotions. It gives away too much of the story, in a way that leveraging descriptive prose and imagery [especially of the setting i.e. the Auschwitz concentration camp] would have done better.
Secondly, the pacing. I didn’t feel the urge to frantically turn from one page to the next, anxiously waiting to discover what befalls the characters next. Again, the use of so much dialogue could factor in here but moreso, the actual progression of the novel. There was no ‘rising action’ or tension that drew me in as a reader. That being said, I in no way am commenting on the true events or the nature of the subject matter in itself, merely on the writing style.
It was very choppy – with quick changes in the scenery, abrupt flashbacks that acted as an attempt to provide more depth to the characters but fell flat.
Speaking of which, the character development was disappointing. I finished the book, still feeling a disconnect to Lale and Gita whose story, though beautiful, just didn’t touch me in the right way. And this is coming from someone who gets sad at the idea of a bee stinging me and dying.
Lale is a charming young man that manages to slip in and out of tricky situations, literally translating to do-or-die scenarios. Fate leads him to Gita and the entire story has us believing that they were destined to be together. The storytelling, in itself, however has much left to be desired. The sense of detachment I felt from the book afterward was not what I’d expected to take away from the read.
That being said, the book acts as a testament to a true account of love and survival in one of the most harrowing periods of history. The world needs stories like this to be shared, people whose love has withstood the trials of time and reality to inspire those who feel there is less beauty in this world worth living for.
I would recommend this book to those of you who’d like to experience that on some level. Maybe this book didn’t touch me on a sentimental scale but you might feel differently.
“Pride and Prejudice and Mistletoe” by Melissa de la Cruz
Pride and Prejudice and Mistletoe, from New York Times bestselling author, Melissa de la Cruz, is a sweet, sexy and hilarious gender-swapping, genre-satisfying re-telling, set in contemporary America and featuring one snooty Miss Darcy.
Pride and Prejudice and Mistletoe? More like Pride and Prejudice and (a Complete and Total)Injustice.
My habit of starting a book and not being able to put it down till I get to the very last word has nearly always proven a blessing. I can never leave a book unfinished. It’s practically a cardinal sin to me. But the more I read this novel, the more I felt an overwhelming necessity to chuck these principles.
I cannot begin to comprehend what the author was trying to achieve with this book. Whether or not you’ve read the original Jane Austen masterpiece, this book was just a complete and utter mess. Sure, gender-swapping the roles was an interesting move and the tributes to the original characters and setting by retaining some of the names was evident but in no way redeeming of the utter displeasure the book brought me.
I see not a single way in which this story is worth being branded as a ‘re-telling’ at all. It’s a shame because the idea had a lot of potential and with the right execution, could have actually turned out worlds better than the disappointment it ended up being.
I’m not asking for re-tellings of classic novels to be spot-on. In fact, the more innovative the spark they bring in, the more fun they are. The entire purpose of a re-telling is to have a throwback to the magic of the original while still standing on its own as a memorable read. But nothing – and I truly mean nothing – was worth this re-hash.
The characters were total dillholes. Darcy (a female in this rendition) is a successful, uber-rich hedge fund manager making it big on her own having cut off ties from her family and pursuing a career on Wall Street. I am totally in for ambitious, career-powered women but oh-my-Austen-stars, her character is intolerable. She certainly did not act, in any way, with the maturity you would expect from a self-made woman. Instead, we see the unravelings of an utterly petty, totally awkward, not to mention, very cringeworthy character.
(Also, author – in this day and age, I doubt a 29 year old single American woman would face as much pressure to get married as Darcy did in the book. It isn’t 1813, anymore.)
And don’t even get me started on Luke Bennet. The character progression, if I can even call it that, was a wreck and I fail to understand what even happened there. No, really. I’m not even going to bother expanding on this point because it isn’t worth it.
One of my favorite things about the original is the beauty of the writing style. Jane Austen weaves stardust into her words, bringing to life a story for the ages about people that are not only flawed and human, but relatable.
Kathleen Kelly from You’ve Got Mail says it right – the language is pretty flipping amazing. Of course, classics carry a charm that no modern-day rendition could capture in terms of writing style but by the Gods of Literature, at least try to make it readable.
I doubt this book was run by an editor. I spotted quite a few and very small editing mistakes – both in terms of grammar and actual plot loopholes. I’ve read fanfiction by kids that possessed a certain style in their storytelling, that although worked off the ideas of established novels, still made it their own. I just could not bring myself to be okay with the writing style the author employed here. To quote Chandler Bing, it was ‘a big dull, dud’.
This book is the exact example of one of the biggest reasons to stick to the ‘show, don’t tell’ rule when writing. Endless and boring dialogue consumed most of the pages with the characters verbally explaining their back-stories for the reader to hear. Brand names are dropped here and there to have us learn the wealthy lifestyle Darcy leads in New York. Plot arcs are forced down the readers throats simply to have there be this weak connection to the original Pride and Prejudice. It was like the writer was trying to prove a point on an English-Lit paper she had to turn in.
I’ve never, ever written a review as scathing as this one but that’s also because I never read a book so bad as this. Maybe the strong reaction roots from my undying love for the original work of art but honestly, I’m saddened because this was such a waste.
If you’re going to re-write a legend, please don’t half-ass it and pleaseGodplease, do not think you’ll get away with comparing it to the original if you do. Just – no. Now, excuse me while I step away to go read a Jane Austen original.