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!
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?
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!
In the hopeful 1950s, Frank and April Wheeler appear to be a model American couple: bright, beautiful, talented, with two young children and a starter home in the suburbs. Perhaps they married too young and started a family too early. Maybe Frank’s job is dull. And April never saw herself as a housewife. Yet they have always lived on the assumption that greatness is only just around the corner. But now that certainty is now about to crumble. With heartbreaking compassion and remorseless clarity, Richard Yates shows how Frank and April mortgage their spiritual birthright, betraying not only each other, but their best selves.
It’s a disease. Nobody thinks or feels or cares any more; nobody gets excited or believes in anything except their own comfortable little God damn mediocrity
What. A. Novel.
Revolutionary Road had been on my to-read list for the longest time but I had repeatedly put it off, hearing from friends and acquaintances that the subject matter was ‘dreary and depressing’. Not that I have anything against heart-wrenching novels but in my mind, the prospect of reading about a failing marriage for a couple who deluded themselves into chasing the grand illusion of the ‘American Dream’ could wait.
And if you’re putting it off too: stop. Wait no longer. Grab your copy of Richard Yates’ brilliant masterpiece and devour it. Afterward, watch the feature movie starring none other than the marvellous Leonardo DiCaprio and captivating Kate Winslet. That’s what I did and boy, was that an emotional ride.
You’re painfully alive in a drugged and dying culture.
April and Frank Wheeler are the textbook definition of that adventurous, explorative couple that blindly believe they are better than the rest of the world; a world confined to a dull existence that goes hand in hand with conformity in suburban America. Or at least, they try to be.
Yates’ does a fine job of examining the 1950s as a time driven by conformity in exchange for the promise of economic and social security. The writing is, no doubt, wonderful. I found myself turning the page as each line connected effortlessly to the next, painting vivid pictures in my head as if I, too, were in the same race for meaning and beauty out of life as the characters are.
However, that’s where the satirical elements come in. I couldn’t help but laugh and snort derisively through April and Frank’s (multiple) heated arguments. They say communication is key in a relationship and I couldn’t agree more but the two, as much as they talk (with Frank doing the majority of the talking) fail to grasp each other’s feelings. Communication is dead if there is no attempt made to truly understand and relate to what the other is going through or trying to express. And that’s where Frank and April fall short, amidst several other things.
The two entertain a shared illusion of superiority, characterised by their arrogance in running after the ‘American Dream’ while belittling those around them. However, they refuse to confront their own shortcomings and this is where the real tragedy lies – not in being trapped to a dull routine-based life but in their inability to face their own demons, instead choosing to find excuses for their dissatisfaction in other things.
Although I heavily disliked the characters themselves, I couldn’t help but amaze over the beautiful way in which they are etched out throughout the novel by Yates. Frank Wheeler, to put it into today’s colorful lingo, is full of bullshit. I do not wish to dwell too much into the details of his persona, nor the (slightly) favorable character development once the ghosts of his past are revealed, but Frank is poison to April as much as she is to him.
Here are two lonely souls that strive so hard to be this ‘perfect couple’ that the neighborhood views them as, but beyond the facade of their effortless partnership lies the wistfulness of having rushed and projected the promise of happiness and perfection onto the wrong person. Yates illustrates the dangers of romanticizing irrational dreams into theatrical possibilities, in place of accepting one’s limitations in a society driven by conformity.
The character spotlight extends beyond Frank and April Wheeler, with one particular favorite being John Givings. John’s character represents exactly what Frank and April strive to be but tragically fail at. He is a symbol of rebellion against the routine and conventional societal values of the 1950s. Described and no doubt viewed by the two as a “nut case” for having been wheeled off to an insane asylum, he’s probably the one person in the novel that calls things out for what they are and sees through the troubled couple.
Now you’ve said it. The hopeless emptiness. Hell, plenty of people are on to the emptiness part; out where I used to work, on the Coast, that’s all we ever talked about. We’d sit around talking about emptiness all night. Nobody ever said ‘hopeless,’ though; that’s where we’d chicken out. Because maybe it does take a certain amount of guts to see the emptiness, but it takes a whole hell of a lot more to see the hopelessness. And I guess when you do see the hopelessness, that’s when there’s nothing to do but take off.
The novel is a must-read. There’s something for everyone to take away. We might not be living in 1950s America but there is truthto this story. Yates covers various important themes such as feminism (in specific, through the lack of choice and April’s need for liberation), the cost of freedom and the tragedy of unrealized dreams in a world where they were considered foolish. Yates shows us the bitter truth of mediocrity and the startling reality that may unfold in one’s search for perfection: a prison of one’s own making.