As a self-identified dectuple-booker (someone who reads ten books at once,) there is always something new on my reading list. This usually happens when I go to Barnes and Noble to pick out one new book, but I realize there are about 7,569 books I’d ideally like to read as well. So I add them to my mental list, and slowly but surely, I get through all of them. Currently, these are the five books I’ve got my eyes set on reading right now.
American Street | Ibi Zoboi
I was really pleased to see that Barnes and Noble dedicated an entire section to Black young adult authors, and while I wish I could have bought all of those books on the shelf, I decided to settle for just one in my budget. This book stood out to me the most because I think it has a perfect combination of elements: education, strong story-telling, and page-turning emotion. The book has almost five stars on every site I’ve visited, and it was even nominated as a National Book Award Finalist! I am super excited to crack open this one and get started on it.
The All-Night Sun | Diane Zinna
I actually picked up this book on the same Barnes & Noble trip as the last book I mentioned. I always judge a book by the inside blurb, and as soon as I opened this one and read it, I was immediately dying to know more about what happens. I love a book with a good twist, and this story sounds like it has some juicy ones! I’ve never heard of this author before, but I’m looking forward to checking out some of her other work if I end up liking this novel! I’ll be sure to let you know what I think.
Gingerbread | Helen Oyeyemi
I’ve read books by Helen Oyeyemi before, and I really think she is such a phenomenal, unique author. Her writing style is so fresh and the characters are so memorable, they stick with me for years after reading. I’ve actually been pushing Nathaniel to read Mr. Fox by Oyeyemi, which is one of my favorites. Gingerbread sounds like such a sweet book to me, especially considering the name, and it’s definitely going to be the next book I purchase at Barnes and Noble.
Second Chance Summer | Morgan Matson
This is actually a book I’ve read a few times before, but I didn’t actually own it until yesterday, when I picked it up at Barnes and Noble. The first time I read it was in high school, and I cried so hard, I didn’t even know what to do with myself after I finished it. I read it again a couple of years later, and it was another round of the waterworks, so I’m fully expecting to cry a third time! I think the reason I get so emotional from this book is because it focuses around the complicated relationship between a father and his daughter, and that really hits home for me. I’m glad it’s finally officially in my collection, and I can’t wait to read it again. And probably cry.
The Likeness | Tana French
Slowly but surely, I am indulging myself by eating up every Tana French title available. I just simply love her mystery novels, and every few months, I make a point of picking up a new one. Her plots are so singular and complex, I can’t even imagine having so much creativity and organization to pen these stories! Each one is so different as well, but they all share similar themes: deceit, nostalgia, secrets unearthed, and chilling plot twists. If you’re a fan of mystery/thrillers, Tana French’s work is a MUST. My favorite thus far is In the Woods, so I’d recommend checking out that one first.
That’s everything I’m currently looking forward to reading right now! As you can see, I already own a few of them, but I’d like to finish up some of the other books I’m reading before I start more. I’ll be sure to update you guys in a few months on my progress with these!
Hi friends! This is actually an interview I conducted and posted on Analog about two weeks ago, but I wanted to post it here as well for my personal following to read as well. Feel free to like and share. And thank you Wendelin for your time and thoughtful answers!
Often in life, there are books you discover in your childhood that stick with you forever. For me personally, that was the case with the Sammy Keyes mystery series, penned by award-winning author Wendelin Van Draanen. The series follows a junior high school girl, Sammy, and her journey through both finding herself and solving the mysteries of the world around her. It’s humorous, witty, creative, and filled with loads of fantastic characters.
Wendelin Van Draanen has written more than thirty books for young adults and teens, but her two shining stars are, of course, Sammy Keyes, and the novel Flipped, which was transformed into a beautiful movie, directed by Rob Reiner. She’s an incredibly talented writer, and as I’m sure you can tell, her work has had a large impact on my young adult life. For that reason, I was so honored when Wendelin agreed to be interviewed by my publication. She had much to say about her spunky heroine, Sammy, but she also gave me loads of invaluable advice on how to navigate the world as a creative person and a writer.
Analog Magazine: What was your upbringing like, and how did reading and writing lend itself to you in your formative years?
Wendelin Van Draanen: My parents were Dutch immigrants, and we lived the immigrant lifestyle in which we were frugal. My parents were working towards their American Dream, and they were very much about, “You come to a new country and you become part of the fabric of that new country”, so they wanted to raise their kids as Americans. We were kind of insulated (not necessarily isolated,) but we were different from the neighbors in that [my parents] had an accent and they approached life in a very vigorous way and there was a lot of work to be done. We were always working on something, so there were no idle hands. When my siblings and I did get free from the chores, we would go out and just be wild in the neighborhood, to counterbalance the restrictive nature of home. We had lots of wild adventures that my parents would not have approved of. Books were a big part of growing up because we could go to the library, so every other week or so we would go get a haul of books, bring them home, and take them back. I was one of those flashlight-under-the-covers kind of readers, because we had a bedtime and we stuck to it. Then I could escape with my flashlight and my book and meet up with my friends under the covers.
AM: What were your favorite subjects in school and what did you excel at as a student? What were your challenges?
WVD: My favorite subject for all levels of school was math, because math was the only subject that totally made sense. If you understood the concept and the building blocks for math, it made sense and it was easy. My least favorite subject was language arts. Those English teachers, man- you just could not please them! No matter what you did, you were going to get back your essay and there were going to be little problems with it here and there and then you’d have to redo it. Ugh, it was so frustrating. As you can probably tell from my upbringing, we were encouraged to excel, so a B+ was a very frustrating grade to get. With math, if you knew what you were doing, you were good. I feel like people who don’t like math are missing one of the building blocks. When I was a teacher, the subject I taught was math. And people say, “How do you go from being a math teacher to writing mysteries?”, and that is kind of weird until you think about it. Because a math problem is just a puzzle, and I love puzzles. I think it’s my mind just trying to make sense of something and find a solution for it. So I’m very attracted to mysteries, because I want to put those pieces together in a way that makes sense.
AM: What different careers have you had along your journey to becoming a full-time writer?
WVD: Ramping up to become a full-time teacher, I did a lot of odds and ends. I drove a forklift…I did a lot of different things. But my career-job was becoming a math/computer programming teacher, and then it was while I was working as a teacher that I was influenced by the kids in my class and inspired to try writing a story.
AM: What inspired you to create the character of Sammy Keyes and flesh out her story into such an extensive, vibrant, staple of young adult literature?
WVD: I think it was being a teacher and seeing that students were still reading Nancy Drew, and that my students had very little in common with Nancy Drew. I just thought it would be cool to take someone who represented the kids who I saw every day in the classroom, and put them into situations where they would stumble their way through right and wrong. I think when you’re an adult and you can see the behaviors of people and recognize the mistakes that you yourself have made… there’s not a big reception on a teen’s part from an adult, you know? Their peers are very important to them, and so I wanted -more important than the adults- to create a peer who would have these experiences and think about things, and about right and wrong, and the steps to take given dangerous or stressful or emotional situations. I wanted to have her make the mistakes a normal teen would make, but then have her draw conclusions that she would then apply to the next time she was faced with a similar situation. I think that those factors are what drove me to write about Sammy. Growing up is hard- it’s much harder than calculus!
AM: The first Sammy Keyes book was written in the late 90s, and the last book was finished 18 years later. However, in the Sammy Keyes universe, only 2-3 years passes. Was it difficult for you to develop with modern technology while trying to keep up with the timeline of the story?
WVD: Technology, man. It is a beast and it keeps messing with you. Being a writer and including technology in your writing is a dangerous thing, because it may completely change in six months. Having a series that spanned 18 years which only spanned 2-3 in Sammy world was challenging. She doesn’t have a cell phone; how do you explain that none of her friends are texting? How do you make it relevant to kids now when all the technology makes the world such a different place? So, when they went and redid the covers recently, I asked if I could go through the entire series and emphasize little references to technology. When’s the last time you’ve seen a payphone? Sammy has a payphone! It’s like, “Okay, kids don’t even know how to use a payphone anymore.” But how do you change the series so that it is still relevant to today’s kids? And so, I went through and I would add a little word or I would subtract a little word, so that it would kind of mold to technology. Instead of flipping open your phone, you would tap on your phone. So I would change “flip” to “tap.” And I couldn’t get rid of the payphone- it was a big thing- so I would add the word “ancient” in front of it. So she goes to this ancient payphone. Just the technology and updating it across the series, and especially at the very beginning, there were some challenges. When we get to the end, Heather’s got a cellphone and technology’s referred to, but I had to get rid of CD players. There were things that were already outdated, like in Psycho Kitty Queen she had a CD player. I think with all the experience of writing over the years, I’ve become a better writer, but not applying my improved skills to Hotel Thief and Skeleton Man and Sisters of Mercy and other early books, I had to tell myself, “You’re just here for technology. That’s all you’re here for.”
AM: The Sammy Keyes series is full of several diverse, unique, well-developed characters. Are any of the characters inspired by real people from your life?
WVD: That’s interesting, because the answer to that is pretty much no- Sammy’s a hybrid of the characteristics that I liked in the students I saw everyday. I would say that if there were, it would be an amalgamation of people. The ones who are the bad guys- they are more a person who has become a character than a character who was just a character. I usually start from a place with the bad guys, I start from a place of annoyance about a person, and then over time, they become the character. I usually hold onto who they were to begin with. You have people who are mean to you in life, and sometimes you can’t do anything about it. But if you do something about it on a page…it’s very satisfying.
AM: One of the most notable aspects of the Sammy Keyes series is the undertones of real-life social and human issues, such as gang culture in Snake Eyes and environmental awareness in Wild Things. Did you purposefully add in these elements to introduce young readers to these topics in an accessible, creative way?
WVD: Absolutely. I always have a theme that I work with, and I have something that I want to say, but my approach to saying it is usually the backdoor as opposed to coming at you with a message. Mostly, I just want to present a situation and I want my readers to come away thinking about it, discussing it or expanding their view of it. In Wild Things, the whole thing about Sammy is that she thinks, “Why would anybody want to save a condor? It’s stinky and eats dead stuff, it’s ugly, what’s the big deal about saving a condor?” And then, by the end, she understands. But I think a lot of kids would relate to Sammy thinking, “Oh, well, it’s a bird who eats dead stuff. Who cares.” It’s like a game of basketball as opposed to running laps. You get to play a game, you get a little competition, you’re jumping and you’re running…as opposed to “Here’s the whistle, you’ve got to go around the track.” I’d way rather have my readers play a game of basketball than feel like I’m marching them around a track.
AM: Was it difficult for you to ultimately end the series after eighteen books, or did you feel relieved by the sense of closure to Sammy’s story?
WVD: Oh my gosh, it was so hard and emotional for me. She was like the daughter I didn’t have. First she was my peer, and then time went by, and she didn’t get any older and I did. I had two sons, so I didn’t have a girl. The eighteenth book came out about the time my son turned eighteen, so he was leaving home, and there were all these things ending at the same time. I was so emotional, and just the thought that I’d been with this girl and I’d lived in her world for all these years, and I’d think about her all the time. To create a story, you need to have a character and their world in your head, and I had her in my head all the time. And then, all of the sudden, it’s like I’m reaching the end and this was the last one. I do feel like a series should have what I call a “swan dive”: you should go out big and strong. You shouldn’t fizzle away. Anyway, I reached my goal, she had survived middle school (barely), but it was time, and it was really hard. People have asked me if I’ve planned to write a YA version of Sammy, and I just don’t. I think she belongs where she is; there’s a reason that she exists where she does. I think middle school years are the hardest years, and if you have a friend like Sammy to help you through those, I think you’re going to be alright.
AM: Do you have a proudest series that you’ve written so far, or would that be like picking a favorite child for you?
“I guess that it seems from the outside, I have everything, and I realize that is, in fact, partly true. But there’s been a lot in the past that could easily have taken me down, and I’ve battled really hard not to let that happen.”
WVD: I have two short series for younger readers, and I have Sammy Keyes. If we’re talking proudest series, that would have to be Sam. It took such a big part of my life to create. Picking a favorite title of any kind is not something I want to try to do, because they’re all special in their own way.
AM: What is something that you wish more people knew about you?
WVD: Wow. I’ve always tried to keep myself secret. I think that I have an initial impression that is not in keeping with what is actually me. I have blonde hair, I’m tall, I’m thin… but I’m not that person. I am someone who struggles with her ups and downs. I run a lot because it helps to stabilize my mood, and I get cloudy- let’s put it that way. I get cloudy and I feel misunderstood. I think it’s partly my own fault because I’m blonde (and I can’t help the tall), but this is just my structure. I think it projects an image which is not in keeping with who I am and my soul. You would hope that people would judge you on your work and the way you conducted your life, but in our society, we’re very snap-judgmenty. And so, I withdraw. I tend to withdraw as opposed to fighting a battle that I feel one couldn’t possibly understand. I guess that it seems from the outside, I have everything, and I realize that is, in fact, partly true. But there’s been a lot in the past that could easily have taken me down, and I’ve battled really hard not to let that happen. And so, just the notion that “You’ve got all that” doesn’t reflect what it took. Anyway, that got a little heavy.
AM: What are your other hobbies besides writing?
WVD: Reading, running, and rock ‘n’ roll. There is nothing more freeing than rock ‘n’ roll. My husband’s a drummer, and he’s also a young adult book writer. He and I, and our two sons once they became teenagers, started a band together. I have trouble sitting still, so rock ‘n’ roll is very physical for me. It’s just a fun release, and doing it with my family is so cool. Reading is what I do because I love to read, and running is for my health, my cardiovascular system, and mostly, my sanity.
AM: How do you think social media has lent itself to you as a writer and a creator? Do you feel like it has created a more personable relationship with your audience?
WVD: Yeah! I would say that for the positives, that’s true. I would also say that it helps me still feel connected to my career of being a teacher. Teachers on Twitter are very positive people. Twitter has a lot of negative people, but the teachers put forth support, they share ideas, they’re very forward-thinking, and I love feeling like I still have exposure to that community. That to me has been the best part of social media- the teacher presence.
AM: Lastly, what advice would you give to other young writers and readers?
WVD: To be a writer, you need to be a reader. I really firmly believe that. Read read read, and then to be a writer, you have to write. And writing, actually, is work. You have to sit down and do it. I have a lot of people in my life who have always said they always wanted to write a book. Maybe they got to chapter one, and then they discovered that it’s work. If you really want to be a writer, you have to read a lot, and then you have to write a lot. Like anything else, you only get better at it when you do it. ★
You can keep up with Wendelin by checking out her website or by following her on instagram @wendelinvand
If you clicked onto this article thinking reading four books was a lot, I have news for you: I’m actually reading twelve books. These are just the new additions to the other eight I was already reading.
I’ve always been someone who loved to read multiple books at once, and every time I find a new title I love, I’ll just throw it into the mix! Two of these books were sent to me from my favorite author, Wendelin Van Draanen, and the other two are books Nathaniel lent to me. I won’t bother going through the over handful of books I’m reading, because I already summarized them in another article.
Hope in the Mail | Wendelin Van Draanen | Reference work, young-adult nonfiction
Like I mentioned before, Wendelin Van Draanen is my favorite young adult author, and she very graciously offered to send me some of her books after I interviewed her a couple of weeks ago. I was so happily surprised, especially when I discovered that she had autographed the books for me. Wendelin, if you’re reading this, thanks so much! Hope in the Mail is an autobiographical reference book for young readers who love writing. As a writer myself who has always wanted to publish my very own book, I have found Hope in the Mail to be so sweet and inspirational. Wendelin has a very strong voice in her writing, and reading this book feels like having a conversation with a friend. I’m planning to write a more in-depth review of the book after I finish it, so keep an eye out for that!
Road Rash | Mark Parsons | Young adult fiction
This was another title sent to me from WVD, but this book was actually written by her husband, Mark Parsons. She sent it to me because we discovered that Nathaniel is a drummer who loves to write, just like Mark, and she thought Nathaniel and I could have a cute little book club together. So Nathaniel has his copy, and I have mine. It’s not a book I would normally walk into a store and pick up for myself, but that actually makes me love it more. I’m really excited to see where this story goes, and I’m looking forward to hearing Nathaniel’s thoughts on the book as well.
Cat’s Cradle | Kurt Vonnegut | Satirical postmodern
Speaking of Nathaniel, the next couple of books are ones that he has kindly lent out to me. He had previously given me Slaughterhouse Five to read, and I enjoyed it so much, he decided to follow it up with Cat’s Cradle to continue the Vonnegut streak. I never thought I would like Vonnegut, to be honest: I struggle with media and literature that is dark and bleak, but there’s something about this author that I (and so many others) love. He’s dark and bleak for sure, but Kurt Vonnegut also has an irresistible sense of humor that draws you in and leaves you wondering which direction the story will turn next. Slaughterhouse Five destroyed me in the best way possible, so I have high hopes for this novel as well.
Lou Reed: A Life | Anthony DeCurtis | Biography
Last but not least, this is another novel from the Library of Nathaniel. As some of you probably know, I’m a huge fan of The Velvet Underground, and I’m particularly very fascinated by Lou Reed. Nathaniel dug this out of his closet for me a few days ago and I immediately started reading. He’s definitely the stereotype of a classic rockstar: damaged, entitled, and wild, but he’s also such a true artist with an incredible life story. I haven’t picked up a biography in a while, so this will be a nice expansion from my usual preferred genres.
Anywho, those are all the new additions to my bookshelf this month! It’ll probably take me a few months to get through all of these, but that’s okay; I have all the time in the world to read. Let me know what books you guys are currently reading in the comments below!
As a follow-up to my article posted on Tuesday, today I’d like to share with you my usual nighttime routine! As with my morning routine, it tends to differ slightly depending on the day, but this is my usual groove for a weekday night.
The time I decide to get ready for bed differs on a nightly basis, but it’s usually some time between 10pm and 11pm. The first thing I like to do is remove all of my makeup, if I happen to be wearing any that day. I know my makeup probably looks grueling to remove every night, but it’s actually a pretty painless process. I use this cloth called ‘the makeup eraser,’ and it wipes off almost all of my makeup in one swipe. Even my mascara and false eyelash glue comes off pretty easily, and with very minimal scrubbing. I also like this cloth a lot because it’s a low-waste alternative to buying disposable makeup wipes, which saves me money in the long run.
After I remove all my makeup, I’ll usually brush my teeth and do my nightly skincare routine. As I mentioned in Tuesday’s article, I’ve been using Soap & Glory products lately in both the morning and at night. My usual line of action is cleansing, toning, and moisturizing, and occasionally I will exfoliate as well, depending on the condition of my skin. I have incredibly oily skin, so it’s really important to me that I go to bed with the cleanest, freshest skin possible.
This is kind of a weird, random facet of my nighttime routine, but before I get into bed, I ALWAYS go into my kitchen and make sure things are tidy. If there are dirty dishes, crumbs on the counter, etc, I have to take care of all of that before I go to sleep. I guess it’s just the way my mom raised me- you should never go to bed with a dirty kitchen or dishes in the sink! It’s a pretty good habit to get into, in my opinion, and it makes mornings just a bit more manageable knowing I don’t have to empty the dishwasher or clean pots and pans.
The very last thing I do before getting physically into bed is removing my contact lenses. I try to keep them in as long as I possibly can, because once they’re out, I’m pretty much as blind as a bat. I do own glasses, but the prescription is not up-to-date and I can’t see very well in those, either. Once my contacts are out for the night, I’m pretty much visually useless and I can’t really see anything farther than two feet away.
About 60 minutes or so before I want to actually fall asleep, I will take all of my medications and vitamins. I always take my medications around the same time every night to ensure that they’re working as properly as possible, particularly my birth control and escitalopram. The other medications are not as critical as those two, but they’re still important: calcium supplements, THC tincture, immune-boosting gummies, and 10mg of melatonin. I’m happy to say I’ve finally weaned off of Unisom, which I had been relying on for sleep for about five months. Now, just a single dose of melatonin is enough to get me sleepy and (usually) prevent me from waking up throughout the night. Remember last fall when I was having those horrendous sleep problems? Yeah, that was no fun. The good news is, I seem to have more or less recovered from that.
While I’m waiting for my melatonin to kick in, I’ll finish off the night by attempting to do something relaxing, such as reading, knitting, or listening to a podcast/Vsauce video. I’m reading a ton of books right now, and my boyfriend recently gave me a few more he thought I’d like, so I’m never short of novels to dive into before bed. If you saw my ‘What I’m Reading Right Now” article, you probably saw that I’m currently loving Memoirs of a Geisha, Anne of Avonlea, and In a Dark, Dark Wood. I’ve also just started reading Venus in Furs and some T.S. Elliot poetry, which I like quite a lot, and I’d like to delve into Cat’s Cradle by Vonnegut, Selected Works by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (Faust, Italian Journey), and The Basic Writings of Sigmund Freud as well. With Freudian writings, I’m particularly interested in reading Psychopathology of Everyday Life, The Interpretation of Dreams, and The Theory of Sex.
Alright, that was a lot. Realistically, I usually read for around 60-90 minutes a day, or a chapter of 3-5 books each. After I start to get really sleepy, which is usually around an hour after melatonin, I switch over to YouTube and put on a Vsauce playlist to fall asleep to. I’m not quite sure why I love listening to his videos so much, but they are very relaxing for me and they help me to fall asleep within minutes.
Anyway, that’s my entire nighttime routine while working from home and self-quarantining! Like I said, it differs slightly depending on the day, and on weekend nights, I can sometimes skip steps altogether (except for kitchen tidying and medications- I NEVER miss those.) However, like anyone, sometimes there are just days when I don’t want to do my skincare routine. Or I would just rather binge watch Women Behind Bars than sit down with a stack of 19th-century novels and pretend I am a highly intelligent Victorian lady doting over high-culture literature. Whatever the night entails, I always try to aim for between 7-10 hours of sleep, so that I can start my day feeling bright and productive. Take care of yourselves, everyone! Beauty sleep is important. And stay safe, too!
With the current circumstances, I’ve had a lot of time to crack down and get some much-needed reading done. I’m the kind of person who loves to re-read books, so if some of these titles look familiar, that’s why! However, there are several new books that I’m super excited to dive into right now. I hope you find this article helpful and informative, and maybe, it will encourage you to pick up some new novels as well. *Side note: these are not all of the books I’m reading, just about two thirds of them! Altogether, I’m currently reading about sixteen books.*
Memoirs of a Geisha | Arthur Golden | Historical Fiction
This is probably my fifth time reading Memoirs of a Geisha, and I can assure you it will not be the last. I LOVE this book. I remember the first time I read it was for a school project in high school, and though I dreaded the idea of a book assignment at first, it didn’t take long for me to fall in love with the story and devour the entire novel. I think one of the reasons I love this book so much is because of how much I identify with Sayuri’s sensitivity and empathy. It’s truly a beautiful, fluid, elegant recount of Japanese history, and I get a great deal of peace and clarity from reading these pages.
Slaughterhouse Five | Kurt Vonnegut | Satire, War Novel, Science Fiction
I’d always heard of Slaughterhouse Five, but I’d never read it before now or even knew what it was about. However, about three weeks ago or so, I was in my boyfriend’s dorm room and noticed a copy of the book under his bed. He assured me I would love it and gave me the copy to borrow, and goodness was he right. It’s not a difficult book to read grammatically, but the subject matter and the themes are really deep and sometimes quite difficult to stomach. I laughed a few times throughout the book, but to be honest, I mostly cried. I’ve been touched so much by this unique, unexpected story, and I almost don’t want it to end. Highly recommended by me if you haven’t read it already!
Disappearing Earth | Julia Phillips | Mystery, Psychological Thriller
I actually just finished reading this book a couple of days ago, and since then, I’ve been scouring the internet for forums, threads, and discussions about this incredible book. It’s a perfect combination of mystery thriller with soft, elegant storytelling, and unlike many mystery novels, it’s not gory or graphic at all. The story can seem a bit fragmented at times, but trust me when I say it all comes together beautifully at the end. The final chapter of the book absolutely shocked me, and I’ve been thinking about it (and searching the internet for discussions) ever since. I would recommend this book to all book lovers, crime junkies or not.
The Tale of Genji | Murasaki Shikibu | Novel, Fiction
I tend to be drawn to big books, so it’s no surprise I had to buy this giant 1300 page piece of beauty. Fun fact about this book; it’s believed to be one of the first (or even THE first) novels ever written. I’ll be upfront now and say this book isn’t for light readers- it’s translated from ancient Japanese, and it’s LONG AF, but I personally think the story is very interesting and beautiful. Considering the history of the novel and the amount of times it’s been translated, I actually find the writing to be very fluid and elegant to read. Essentially, the novel centers around a man named Genji and his intense mommy issues (and how that manifests in his love affairs.) So far, I’m a fan. Only about 1200 pages left.
Anne of Avonlea | L.M. Montgomery | Novel, Fiction
Although many people don’t know this, Anne of Green Gables is actually a part of an eight-book series that details Anne’s entire adult life, and even the lives of her children. Anne of Avonlea is the second book in the series, so it picks up right after Anne and Gilbert rekindle their friendship and become teachers. I love reading about the adventures and mishaps of our hero, Anne Shirley, so of course I am always excited to see where her story continues and flourishes. If I am correct, this is my third time reading the story, and I am just as interested now as I was the first time I ever picked up Anne of Green Gables. It’s a perfect, classic story, and I think everyone should read it at least once in their life.
Sisters in Law | Linda Hirshman | Biography
This book is a little bit different than the other ones I’m reading, because it’s a nonfiction, biographical account rather than a whimsical story. I’m actually very interested in history and nonfiction pieces, particularly those centered around women, so I was really excited to pick up this book. I really enjoy a review on the back of the book that describes it as “gossipy,” because that’s exactly how the book feels. I love kicking my feet up on the couch and cracking open this book to see what Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sandra Day O’Connor are up to, and I especially love the cultural and historical insight this book gives me as a woman. It’s truly a remarkable recount.
The Tubman Command | Elizabeth Cobbs | Historical Fiction
It’s a little known fact that I am a huge Harriet Tubman stan, as I have been since I read all about her in second grade. It probably goes without saying that I was absolutely thrilled when I came across this book over winter break in a local bookstore, and I had to buy it on the spot. I love that this story is historically accurate in several ways, but also adds a sense of whimsical and magical adventure. If you love historical fiction and strong female leads, I highly recommend picking up this book.
In A Dark, Dark Wood | Ruth Ware | Psychological Fiction
This is yet another book I’ve read before, but I loved it so much, I had to pick it up again. I’m really drawn to mystery novels and psychological thrillers, and this book in particular really pulled me and left me feeling amazed by the last chapter. I also loved the setting of the novel: a bachelorette party in the middle of the woods? Of course it’s bound to be a wild story. It’s not as creepy as some of the other mystery stories, but it’s still a great story that I enjoy getting sucked into.
America: The Last Best Hope | William J. Bennett | American History
Like I said before, I’m really interested in history and nonfiction, so I’ve been slowly but surely getting through this giant recollection of American history. I have to say, I’m not a huge fan of William J. Bennett himself, but this is an interesting book and I’m finding the content to be very informative. I feel like it’s really important to have an understanding of where you come from and what has shaped the modern times, and that’s exactly why I’m reading this collection. I’m especially looking forward to reading about World War II, which comes in the second volume.
All The Light We Cannot See | Anthony Doerr | Historical Fiction
Admittedly, I bought this Pulitzer-prize winning book ages ago and just haven’t stuck with it (and then I forget what happened, so I start over!) However, I am determined to get through the book this time. It’s a beautiful, elegant, almost poetic fictitious story of two paths crossed during World War II, and I absolutely love the writing style. Interestingly, the short yet impactful lines actually remind me quite a bit of Kurt Vonnegut’s writing style. If you liked Memoirs of a Geisha, I guarantee you’ll like this story as well. They’re both gorgeous, fluid retellings of true history, with a storytelling twist.
I hope you found this article helpful and informative! Maybe it will even inspire you to pick up a few new reads yourself during this awkward period of quarantine. Have you read any of these books before? Let me know in the comments!
As I’m sure most of you know by now, reading is one of my absolute favorite hobbies. 80% of the time, I have a novel in my bag with bent-down pages stashed between school assignments. It’s a great way for me to focus my energy, relax, and take a break from the regular strife from life.
Today I want to take a chance to reflect on some of my favorite books that I enjoyed in middle school, high school, and even college. No matter what your age is, I’m sure you’ll love some (if not all) of these books!
Matched Trilogy | Ally Condie | Dystopian Fiction
When I first started writing this article, the Matched Trilogy was the first book series to pop into my mind. I first read this novel when I was in sixth grade, which was around the same time I began to think more critically about the dystopian reflections and problems in our own society. This book in particular was a spectacular wake up call to these issues, while still remaining intertwined with a beautiful life story. To sum it up, this book has a little of everything: romance, dystopian drama, and even a little hint of mystery. Even though it’s been a few years since I’ve read the book, I’m sure I’d love it just as much today as I did when I was younger.
Sammy Keyes | Wendelin Van Draanen | Mystery
Without a doubt, the Sammy Keyes mystery series was my absolute favorite treasure in middle school and high school. Even as a senior in college, I think these books are phenomenal and such a joy to read. Sammy is quirky, brash, and extremely smart- three traits that I believe make her a great role model for young girls (and all readers in general). Take note that there are eighteen books in the series, so you’re an adamant reader, this is the series for you. Even just writing this, I’m already welling up with nostalgia and thinking about starting up the series again. It’s an action-packed, deliciously well-written collection of tales, and I truly think there’s a place in everybody’s heart of Sammy Keyes.
Little Women | Louisa May Alcott | Fiction
I’m a big fan of the classics, particularly novels that center around strong (yet sensitive) female leads. Additionally, the release of the Little Women movie this past year, the story is getting even more attention and love than usual. Although a fictional story about four young women in the mid-1800s may not sound too exciting, it’s actually extremely interesting and endearing. As an ambitious young writer myself, I felt a particular love and appreciation for the feisty Jo March.
Anne of Green Gables | L.M. Montgomery | Fiction
Similarly to Little Women, Anne of Green Gables is considered a classic example of literature, particularly with feminist notes. I truly believe that everyone should read this book at some point in their lives, regardless of age and gender. Anne Shirley is a spunky, strong, and entertaining female lead, and I immediately felt inspired by her after reading the series (yes, there are seven more subsequent books!). I would also recommend checking out Anne with an E on Netflix, if reading just isn’t quite your thing. The story is amazing in both print and on the screen.
Where the Crawdads Sing | Delia Owens | Mystery
Where the Crawdads Sing is actually a book I read last year in a book club, but the story has always stuck around with me. This novel is a breathtaking example of a true coming-of-age story, and I enjoy that it curates both a male and female perspective. Although a large portion of the book is the mystery aspect, it also incorporates elements of romance, family, and even environmentalism. Although it’s heartbreaking at times, it’s a fantastic read and I highly recommend it to everybody who loves books.
Memoirs of a Geisha | Arthur Golden | Historical Fiction
Lastly but certainly not least, I have a very special place in my heart for this book. The first time I read it, I was in high school, and it absolutely changed my life. Have you ever read a book that destroyed you in the most beautiful way possible? That’s precisely how I feel about Arthur Golden’s gorgeous writing and fictional recount of Nitta Sayuri. Sayuri is a celebration of highly sensitive people, of beauty and grace, and notably, the celebration of womanity. It’s truly a vibrant look into a fascinating chapter of Japanese history, told through the voice of a genius storyteller.
Hi everyone, I hope you’re all having a great week! I’m doing great, and I’m enjoying spending my time pouring over novels and sleeping in late. I know I work hard, so I don’t feel bad about taking time off to unwind from school. Right now, I’m taking a bubble bath (I’m writing this on my phone), and about to crack open one of my favorite books. If you’re a fan of thrillers or mysteries, I highly suggest checking out Tana French or Julia Phillips. Both of them are superb writers!
I’ve also been practicing driving a lot with my mom, because I’d like to take my road test again in June or July. I’m definitely over the hump of feeling nervous when I drive; at this point, it’s almost second nature to me, so I’m sure the road test will go smoothly. Nonetheless, I’m very much jittery about the thought of it. Four very big things are going to be happening all around the same time: I’m going to graduate from college, get a full-time job, get my license, and get my first apartment all within about two months of each other. It’s extremely exciting, but also scary to take such big steps. I can’t wait to bring you guys along with me on the journey!
Thursday, January 9
It’s about ten pm right now, and I’m wrapping up my night by working on The Diplomat’s Digest and some new content for Analog (per usual). There are going to be some lovely features coming to that site this month, including a profile about a rapper and an interview with a drag queen. I’m so fascinated with people, especially artistic ones. And I gain so much wisdom from hearing other peoples’ life experiences and philosophies. One of my favorite questions to ask people is, “Do you think you’re living a meaningful life?” So far, everyone has answered yes, in their own unique way.
Tomorrow is going to be a great day; I’m seeing Eli after the first time in six days because he was on a trip in New York City. Afterwards, I’m going to be linking up with a new friend, and then I’m going to facetime my head design consultant to go over some work for Analog. I forgot to mention we’re also producing an article called “A Conversation with a Bisexual Homoromantic and a Biromantic Homosexual.” A mouthful, I know. Keep your eyes out for that in the future!
Saturday, January 11
Today has been a quiet day, and a nice contrast from the chaos of yesterday. Yesterday was actually perfectly lovely, I went on a date (?) with a girl I’d been talking to for the past few weeks, and then she slept over at my apartment. In retrospect, it’s pretty obvious it wasn’t a date and she only wanted one thing. So I probably don’t need to say more about that, but I am feeling a little bit crushed. It’s difficult being a relationship-oriented queer person because I feel like everyone is just seeking casual dating. What’s a girl gotta do to find a cute girlfriend to take on dates and spoil?
So I’m feeling a bit off today, but I think that’s just because I haven’t had much “introvert recharge time” and I had a hard time falling asleep last night. I’m feeling a bit better now that it’s evening time and I’ve had enough time to unpack everything. Yesterday and this morning, however, I sort of had that feeling like when you wake up from a dream and you feel super disoriented and outside yourself. You know? It’s a tricky feeling to describe. Nonetheless, I’m feeling much more centered now, and I think I’m going to get started on my next feature article for Analog. Have a lovely weekend, everyone!
All the Light We Cannot See | Anthony Doerr | Historical Fiction/War Novel
All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr is my absolute favorite novel at the moment. I’m reading it for my book club, and can safely say it’s one of my favorite books to date. One of my favorite things about the book is how effortlessly Doerr sets the scenery for readers- it’s so easy to visualize this book, and that’s important for me when I’m trying to stay engaged with a book. I suppose this book could also be categorized as a love story, but the true romance of the book is the romance of humanity. In the midst of World War II, in Paris, love and tragedy go hand in hand in this impeccable story. I would recommend this book to anyone who loves to read, and especially history buffs or friends with romantic personalities. Although the book is detailed and vibrant, it’s also easy to read and comprehend. I’m so excited that a multi-part television series is coming out in the future based on this book; a review will definitely have to ensue!
For the Anti-Book Friend
Hand to Mouth: Living in Bootstrap America | Linda Tirado | Nonfiction, Poverty
This is a book I was required to read for my multi-disciplinary poverty class last year, and it has still stuck with me in my mind. Similarly to All the Light We Cannot See, this book is easy to read and fast to get through. However, it’s certainly not a dreamy novel- it details a real woman’s story growing up in unbearable poverty in the United States. I recommend this book to everybody, especially my friends who don’t like to read so much. In a lot of ways, it’s more so a collection of essays instead of a book with a beginning, middle, and end. This is a book that requires you to think critically, and really sparks insight over the broken class system in the USA. You may agree or disagree with that, but nonetheless, I believe everyone will have a strong takeaway from Linda Tirado’s story. If anything, I believe reading this book will make anyone a more empathetic person.
For the Science Buff
Rocket Boys / October Sky | Homer H. Hickam, Jr | Memoir, Biography
Before I read the book, I watched the movie October Sky in my 7th-grade class. I remember this movie having such a strong, lasting impact on me, hence why I subsequently decided to read the book. To this day, the book (and the movie) is my favorite comfort story. Rocket Boys, sometimes printed as October Sky in later additions, details Homer Hickam Jr.’s unique upbringing in a small mining town in the 1950s. Although the odds were stacked against him, Homer relentlessly pursued amateur rocketry with the hopes of getting out of Coalwood and going to college. Not only did he get to go to college, he even went on to become a NASA engineer, training astronauts for space. While rocketry and science does play a large role in the book, Homer Hickam has the soul of a storyteller and winds a vibrant, poetic memoir. Even if you’re not into rocketry, I promise you’ll adore this book. And if you are, all the better!
For the Creative Friend
The Me Journal | Shane Windham | Self-questionnaire
I guess this could also be considered a great gift for the anti-book friend, because it’s not really a novel- it’s the story of you. The Me Journal is a self-questionnaire that asks extremely deep, thoughtful questions- many of which I never thought to ask before. It’s also a great conversation starter for meeting new people; I love to flip open to a random page and ask my friends the questions. Interestingly, I’ve never actually filled it out because I know my answers are subject to change over time. I’d rather leave it blank and answer it in my head, than permanently put down a temporary answer, you know? Nonetheless, this is a great book for friends who hate to read, or friends who have an interesting story to tell. Or, it can just be an awesome gift for yourself.
For the Friend Who Loves Politics
Sisters in Law | Linda Hirshman | Biography
In case you couldn’t tell, I’ve been really into historical nonfiction lately. I love to read about American history, because I feel like the best way to change the world is to understand it. I want to have a detailed, thorough, objective understanding of what my country is built on -the good and the bad- so that I may be better informed in how to pave a better future. Sisters in Law is a beautiful biography of two diverse women, Sandra Day O’Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Sandra was a republican Christian, Ruth a democratic Jew, but together, they stormed the Supreme Court and worked together as a team to demand equality. Even to this day, their impact is visible in society; these two women helped pave the way of justice for abortion, sexual harassment, and discrimination. It’s a fascinating read, and offers a powerful woman’s viewpoint of American politics. 10/10!
Coming up next: Reviewing the Fall 2019 Fab Fit Fun Box: My HONEST Thoughts
I don’t think I have officially announced this on my blog yet, but since March, I have been hosting my own book club with some of my friends and family. Joining a book club is something I’ve always wanted to do, so being able to moderate one myself is a dream come true!
The first couple of books we chose to read in my book club were selected through a Facebook poll, and the last two were hand-picked by other members in my club. I have absolutely loved every book I’ve read so far, and am looking forward to telling you about the other books we cover in the future!
The first book we read in April was The Joy Luck Club, a timeless novel by Amy Tan. The Joy Luck Club is a fantastic, tear-jerking novel centered around themes of family, love, and loss. Four Chinese daughters reflect on their relationships with their individual mothers, and how the somehow strict upbringings they endured shaped them into the women they became. This book also has a movie adaption, which is even more of a tear-jerker than the book. This novel deals with difficult themes of death and loss, as I said, so keep that in mind if those topics are sensitive to you. All in all, this is an absolutely incredible novel, and I would recommend it to all book lovers.
Where the Crawdads Sing is the second book selected in our club, and to date, it’s actually one of my favorite novels of all time. This book was actually picked up by Reese Witherspoon for her book club, and currently, she is helping with the production of the movie adaption. This book is an exciting combination of romance, murder mystery, and adventure, and I also love it because the storyline has a heavy emphasis on nature and wildlife. I love stories that center around a strong female lead, and Kya is certainly no exception. In regards to awards, Where the Crawdads Sing topped The New York Times Fiction Bestsellers List of 2019 for 18 non-consecutive weeks, and has sold 1.5 million copies worldwide.
The Glass Castle was the most recent book we completed in my book club, and if you haven’t already heard of it, I highly recommend it. Based on a true story, The Glass Castle centers around a young woman named Jeannette Walls and her dysfunctional, singular upbringing in poverty. Jeannette’s parents made me furious at some points, especially her father, but the unique he has for his children is undeniable. This book was exciting, rich, and raw, and I was glued to it from beginning to end. There is also a movie adaption starring Brie Larson and Naomi Watts, and I’m highly looking forward to checking that out too!
The current book we are reading is A Dog’s Purpose by W. Bruce Cameron, and it was actually my mother who selected this book for us. You probably know by now that I absolutely adore animals, especially dogs, so this book is going to be perfect for me. The novel essentially follows a dog named Toby and his journeys through reincarnation, all while looking for his purpose as a dog. This kind of content makes me super mushy, so I can already guarantee I’m going to cry at least five times while reading it. This book also has amazing reviews, and was a New York Times bestseller for forty-nine weeks!
I have a hard time justifying why anybody would need a subscription box, including me, but that doesn’t change the fact that they’re fun in theory. I myself have never even had a subscription box to anything, so I’m basing all if these assumptions on what I’ve seen and heard online. For my birthday one year, I did get a one-time Stitch Fix box, but I never signed up for an actual subscription. I guess that makes me slightly more informed about this subscription box than the other ones, so I’ll happily give you all my thoughts about the experience.
If you’re someone who struggles with finding a direction in fashion (especially if you hate shopping for clothes), Stitch Fix just may be your new favorite thing. The first step of Stitch Fix is filling out a style profile, which includes your preferences, sizes, and price range you’d like to stick in. You are assigned a personal stylist, who will then put together a box of clothes/accessories and mail it directly to you! You can try on everything and see how you like it, and if you decide you don’t want something, you just mail it back. In short, you only have to pay for the things you want to keep. That being said, there is a $20 styling fee if you decide not to keep anything, but the good news is shipping and returns are free! Like I said, I’ve only received one box from Stitch Fix, but I was pleasantly surprised by how spot-on the stylist was, and how easy the entire process was.
The rest of these subscriptions are things I’ve never tried before, but love the concept of in theory. The Curiosity Box is on the complete other side of the spectrum, because it contains a variety of collectibles, math puzzles, science toys. You might recognize the creator of The Curiosity Box- Michael Stevens, a.k.a the man behind VSauce and Mind Field. All of the contents of the box come with directions from Michael, and even better, a portion of all the proceeds are donated to fund Alzheimer’s research. Each box also comes with a book, usually covering subjects that Michael himself would talk about in a YouTube video. Can we send humans to Mars? Why is glass transparent? Michael actually even states on the website that he uses some of these books for his research, so as far as I’m concerned, they’re all fantastic reads.
Lunarly is one of the first subscription boxes I ever familiarized myself with, and honestly, I would totally sign up for it if I had the disposable income. It combines everything I love- self care, tea, crystals, candles, and plants. Let me repeat that last part: they send you a FREAKING PLANT. Each monthly box is centered around the New Moon, which influences what the contents of that month’s box will be. Last month’s box, for example, was titled the “Sap Moon” and represents the unfolding of the world as winter begins to melt away. I really love the hand-picked quality of the box, and how much emphasis is placed on self-care and loving the gifts of Mother Nature. I myself am really interested in moon cycles and learning more about them, and Lunarly seems like a great place to start. I’ll let you guys know if I ever give this box a try in the future, because I really do like the mission of the company.
You all know by now that I am a slut for a good book. And if you didn’t know that, hi, my name is Sarah Desroche, and I am a slut for a good book. I love to read multiple books at a time, including audio books, and I also host my own monthly book club. Unless I have a set schedule of reading, I can quickly fall behind, so I love the idea of committing to monthly books that I have to finish in a given amount of time. Book of the Month will search through hundreds of books to hand-pick five that they think you’ll love, and then you choose the one you want to read. I’m interested in reading a variety of different genres, so I love the idea that I can choose from different books and decide the one I want to dedicate myself too. I haven’t been able to find pricing for Book of the Month, but I believe it is run on a system of credits. If you don’t want to read a book for a particular month, you can just roll over your credits!
Those are the top four subscription boxes that have caught my eye in 2019. I’d love to know if you’ve tried any of these in the past, and what your thoughts and feelings are! What are your personal favorite subscription boxes? Let me know in the comments.