Braving the Wilderness by Brené Brown

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I contemplated back and forth for the past few days if I want to write a review for this for the simple reason that it is a controversial book, and this blog is for fun, not for debates and tension. But in the spirit of Brené Brown and the book itself, I am choosing to write a review. Let’s be honest: people get touchy over any and every book. It doesn’t matter if it’s actually controversial. Somebody will make it that way. (Take the Grisha series, for example… Yikes.) So let’s get into it!

I rarely read book recommendations unless they’re from my sister, but I was told about this book while having a discussion with a friend who has a totally different political ideology than me. That’s the first thing that makes Braving the Wilderness such a standout book. While it is certainly politically pertinent, it holds the kind of pertinence that can be agreed upon by two people across the aisle. Notice I didn’t say, all people on either side of the aisle. But two of us in the world definitely feel this way.

Also, as a quick note before we continue, I’m not particularly far one way or another on the political spectrum, but I am strong in my beliefs.

The overarching idea behind this book is that we have to find the strength, peace, confidence, and care in and for ourselves that we are able to be honest about our beliefs. It’s a beautiful sentiment, to be honest. If you would have said this to me five years ago, I probably would have laughed. But I’ve grown from the person I was at 13, at 15, at 17, (heck, even last year at 21) and I think a big part of growth for me has been working to understand why other people think the way they do. It doesn’t mean I think they’re smart or right. It means I am being my best respectful, empathetic self, and that feels good to me. (Brené mentions at one point in the text that there are boundaries though, so don’t take this as “treat people however, because they have to take it.” I, along with a whole lot of the world, will not in fact take it.)

The short one-or-two-page-long stories she included within many of the chapters really stood out to me. A person can preach to me as much as they want, but nothing speaks as loud as the retelling of an experience they’ve had. In the chapter discussing the importance of experiencing collective joy and pain, I remember her speaking about a Harry Potter opening night showing she attended. And yes, this is the point where this nonfiction book review turns into a Harry Potter experience.

During the showing, when (gigantic spoiler alert if the series has somehow evaded your grasp thus far) Dumbledore dies, the teachers and students at Hogwarts raise their wands to the sky. The viewers then proceeded to raise their hands (and some of them, wands) to the theater ceiling. Brené points out that this is not because the audience actually believes in Harry Potter. What they do believe in is the light. She then suggests we consider turning the film viewing into some sort of political arena. Those people would likely have turned on each other, split themselves up, and chosen sides. Instead, they felt together in that moment, in the collective experience of it all, in the fact that we are all bound together as humans.

She points out that collective events, experienced in person, are incredibly important to remind us we are together; we are one; and we are more connected than we like to think when we read through the angry drivel fed to us by social media.

All in all, I liked the book, and I liked most of the ideas in it. Of course, I’m not going to think it’s all good and dandy. That’s the thing about opinions; we’re not always going to have the same ones. In fact, we often are not, but that doesn’t mean we are doomed, and that doesn’t mean we have to become monsters to one another. This is basically a How To Stay Nice When We Wonder If It’s Possible Anymore guide. Pretty cool, if you ask me.

Podcast Update #1

Good afternoon! I finished my fall semester today, meaning I am officially on break until spring semester starts in January. This means that I am getting a little time to catch up on everything, and when I say everything, I mean: writing, reading, podcasting, everything books!

I am currently at the 42,000 word mark for my new WIP, a young adult thriller novel. I’m staying in the same genre as The Half Theft and Better Luck This Time, but this story is taking a brand new, low fantasy/science fiction turn. I can’t wait to share more details with you as I finish up my first draft and move onto the first edit. I am super excited about this story. I feel my writing has grown over time, and I am even prouder of what I am producing today than what I was a year ago, though I’m obviously ecstatic about all my own stories or I suppose I wouldn’t write them at all (haha)!

On the topic of podcasts, I just put out a new one today for the book You by Caroline Kepnes. It is a little deeper of a dig into my thoughts on the book (and show)! You can listen to it here on Spotify, and here on Anchor. I have a lot of fun rambling about the books I read, and I deeply appreciate those of you who give it a listen and support me. Truly, thank you. More will come very soon.

And you can choose from any of my past episodes (with the book covers to check out for the aesthetic) by clicking here!

You Are Not Alone by Hendricks & Pekkanen

I listened to the You Are Not Alone audiobook, and wow, am I impressed. A couple months back, I happened to pick up a copy of The Wife Between Us, penned by the same two women, and absolutely adored it. Truthfully, this one is even better.

I am generally a big fan of the gigantic sector of thrillers surrounding thirty-something-year-old women getting caught up in creepy situations they have to dig their way out of. I used to read them a lot, but I took a break and now I’m back. Though it’s a huge segment of the genre, I tend to shy away from the books that follow the story of an eternally drunk MC. Barf. That might be one of the reasons why I like this story so much. Shay, our rather delightful MC, goes through this entirely crazy storyline without being bombed at all times.

Which leads me into something else I adored about our MC. She actually made me like her, right off the bat. I genuinely cared for Shay and her well being, and as you may know if you have read my reviews in the past, developing feelings for at least some of the characters in the story is vital to my enjoyment of a book. But nothing compares to having a well-written main character. That is almost an instant good rating from me, and this story is no exception.

I sympathized with Shay on so many levels: her quest to fill her life with trustworthy people; her happiness after meeting her new friends, the Moore sisters; her digging just a tiny bit too deep into a person’s story that interests her. But let’s be honest… We’ve all engaged in a bit of social media stalking at one point or another. Hopefully not to the level the You Are Not Alone characters did. Not scary level. Just a bit.

Then, there is the lack of romance in the plot, a massive win for me. Couples are cute and all, but every once in a while what I can really use is a convoluted stalker-murder mystery. Which brings me to my next point: everybody’s least favorite book boyfriend. Joe Goldberg.

Deep down, You Are Not Alone certainly has a bit of You vibe, what with all the over-the-top following, stalking, and intermittent deaths. If you want to see those aspects of You played out with a female-filled cast, then definitely go for this book. But please be advised, you’re not going to get any romantic side of the story like with You.

It’s every bit as creepy though, just in a different way. I had chills until the very end and then some. The resolution is truly something to behold. I never would have guessed it, yet it’s not an absolutely crazy leap in logic. It makes perfect sense, and it blew my mind. Happy Tuesday and happy reading!

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Rating: 5 out of 5.

What. A. Book.

I am legitimately impressed, and I do not say this lightly. The Great Gatsby is the type of book that makes me want to tackle everyone I meet to ensure they have read it, and if not, acquire a copy to shove into their hands. It really is that good.

The strange thing is, I’m not even sure what it is about the story that draws me to it so much. Symbolism and meaningful prose typically have little to no effect on me. I prefer a straightforward story with little to no extra fluff. But this book. Dang.

While I was in high school, and now in college, I have never been assigned The Great Gatsby, which I think takes most everyone I meet by surprise, especially considering I am such a big reader. To be truthful, when I began reading the book myself the other week, I was a bit disappointed that I had never gotten to it before I reached 22 years old. However, now that I’ve finished it and gotten a chance to truly appreciate the writing, the story, the meaning behind it all, I think I’m grateful to have only just now read it by choice.

There is something about deciding to read a classic on your own that makes it exponentially more special than being forced to rush through it for a class. It’s a more meaningful, enriching experience, if only for the fact that I didn’t have to complete some Godforsaken busy work alongside it.

I got to read The Great Gatsby as it should be read. Or perhaps a better word for it: experienced.

My very first reaction to the book? I love Daisy. Did anybody else just fall in love with her instantly? She’s so strange and oddly alluring.

Something I found really interesting about The Great Gatsby was the connection I felt with the characters. With many books, particularly more dated ones and those considered “classics,” I truly couldn’t care about the individual stories of each character within the book. But I had a really different feeling here.

There was so much more to this book than just a story with bland, one-dimensional characters. I found myself instantly caring about the well being of Nick, Gatsby, and Daisy, and as I learned more about each of them throughout the book, I only found myself more and more connected to them.

This is especially surprising to me, since The Great Gatsby is a relatively short book. (I was able to finish it in just a couple nights. Crazy, right? For as much of a reader as I am, I never do that!) But the bottom line being, F. Scott Fitzgerald knew what he was doing, and was far ahead of his time even, when it came to character writing and development.

In short:

So, is this review essentially just me pushing a book on you that you’ve probably already read? Absolutely.

And if you have read it, I encourage you to revisit it, perhaps look at it in a new light now that you’re older and you don’t have to read it for school (since that seems to be when most people I know read it). Who knows? You might find something you didn’t think of before. You might see it in a new light.

Or maybe it’ll just remind you how incredible a writer Fitzgerald was. Either way, that’s a win in my book.

Thanks for stopping by my blog and giving my review a read! Have a fantastic rest of your week (for real, please do so).

You by Caroline Kepnes

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

In all seriousness, this book is probably going to put me back several years in the world of dating. I mean, seriously, I can’t remember the last time a piece of fiction has had me this paranoid, and had me going this many times over every interaction I’ve ever had with a man.

And that is the magic of Caroline Kepnes’ You.

I really, truly enjoyed large parts of this book. It was insane, totally unlike anything I’ve read before, and a definite page turner. Joe’s character was particularly interesting to me (obviously) because I loved getting to see his jumping between relatively sane thoughts and total lunatic behavior. He contradicted himself, in his words, his reasoning, his actions, his thoughts.

I paid particular attention to the way he described Beck. When comparing her to Karen, he said that Beck would never repeat something she said like Karen did. Yet Beck does repeat herself, a lot, particularly when we get to the full-psycho-Joe end scene. I noticed him do this a lot surrounding Beck’s actions and character traits; he was completely wrong about her multiple times, but he either insisted on thinking of her a certain way, or he changed his mindset and said whatever she did was okay with him.

Now, none of his misconceptions would have been a problem had he not been positively frightening. But I think we’re all in agreement on that much.

Except maybe for the people who claim they are attracted to Joe after watching the Netflix series. (But maybe the show is really different from the books and portrays him in a new light? I wouldn’t know.) Regardless, whoever wants him can have him. Believe me, I’m not trying to steal him for myself. Please, take Joe and stay far, far away from me.

Another aspect of You that I only now realized, as I’m writing this post, might be the scariest of all. At the end (not the full-psycho-Joe scene, but the end-end), Joe sees Amy again and decides she will be his next girlfriend. That’s creepy in general, of course, because Joe’s a pretty scary dude. But beyond that, I spent the whole book thinking there was something wildly unique about Beck that drew Joe to her. The ending proves this wasn’t the case. There isn’t something super special about Beck or Candace. Joe would stalk and steal from and murder any girl who happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Which means any of us could meet a Joe Goldberg. Goodbye to my next few nights of sleep and my next few years of dating.

All of this, I devoured. What an enthralling story and a wild ride.

The only little, tiny thing I didn’t like about the book (tiny, really) was the fact that I can’t remember one page that didn’t make a sexual reference. Like, a descriptive, completely-overdoing-it reference. In moderation, it’s okay. But every single page? Woah. It was honestly a lot, and by the second half of the book, I’ll be honest, I was lagging a bit. I started to get bored. I understand that the characters are hypersexualized–partially on their own, and partially through Joe’s eyes. But seriously, it just got a little boring to me after a while. And I can only be bored for so long before docking some stars. (I’m sorry, I didn’t want to.)

For this reason, I’m going with a 3.5/5 on a pure vibes basis only. That’s the only way to rate books if you ask me. If I feel it, I feel it. If I don’t, I don’t. And if, like You, I feel it but I also don’t, it lands here, in the 3.5 star category. I’m satisfied, but I could certainly be more satisfied, you know?

A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas

This is the most fun I’ve had reading a fantasy book in a while. Heck, it might be the most fun I’ve had reading any book in a hot minute. The characters, the writing, the story, the everything is so utterly unique compared to books I’ve read in the past.

While ACOTAR is not without flaws, it puts its best foot forward in almost every aspect of compelling storywriting. One place I really found it to shine is in its character structure and development—particularly with my favorites, Lucien, Rhys, and Feyre.

Character arcs are oftentimes my favorite part of a story, though a really good one can be difficult to find. Maas was able to take each of her characters, including those that are going unlisted, and form them into something special and completely their own. She even made me love the main character, a feat completed successfully by very few writers, sometimes not even by myself.

Also—does anybody else get a strong Loki vibe from Rhys, or is that just me?

I decided to make a short podcast review to go along with the written version, where I go more in-depth with my thoughts on the characters, story, and writing of one of the most popular young adult books today. Tune in and let me know your thoughts on the ACOTAR book/series!

The Selection by Kiera Cass

Good morning and happy Sunday!

I want to start off by saying a quick thank you to everyone who has supported me in my writing endeavors, especially those of you who have picked up a copy of my books. I am very happy with how my Better Luck This Time release went, and I have you to thank for that.

In other news, I have decided to pick back up with my podcast, We Talk Books. I recently finished reading The Selection, a surprisingly lovable book in my opinion, and thought: what better way to start my second season?

My Second Book Release!

I am so happy to announce the release of my second young adult suspense novel and sequel to The Half Theft, Better Luck This Time. I’ve spent more than a little time stressing over whether it is the perfect book and whether I am ready to hand it over to the eyes of the world. I think I finally am.

I can’t ever say thank you enough times for any of you to understand how much your support means to me. To those of you who visit my blog posts, to those of you who read The Half Theft, to those of you who leave reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, and say you can’t wait for the premiere of Better Luck This Time: thank you. I love you guys endlessly.

Please consider picking up a copy of Better Luck This Time (or The Half Theft, if you haven’t yet had the opportunity to experience the killer city of Collinswood for yourself.)

ICYMI

The Half Theft follows the journey of my main character, Charlie Riverson, as he sets out to find his missing best friend, Elle Vikander, and solve a crime committed under his nose, all while combating the city’s most infamous criminal family, the Ducartes (who may or may not hold some very valuable information regarding Elle). As Charlie digs his way deeper into the family’s schemes, he builds something of a team, determined to get to the bottom of things and recover the person he loves most in the world.

Better Luck This Time picks up the same night its predecessor leaves off and follows the team’s journey to protect Charlie and save the city from a threat greater than they ever could have imagined.

Who might be interested in these books?

Anyone with a love for:

  • Morally gray characters
  • Friends to lovers
  • Cats (not the musical, but rather appearances by an actual animal)
  • A story to keep you on your toes
  • Young adult and suspense genres (obviously, haha!)

Where can I buy your books?

Girls Don’t Want Boys, Girls Want Malina

Just a couple days ago, I finished reading Ruin and Rising. The reason it took me until now to post a review is only because I needed a minute to process what I just read. Also, I was busy crying. Many times. So let’s start where it makes sense. It’s a five-starrer.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

If you saw my reviews for Shadow and Bone or Siege and Storm, you already know I’m a fan of these books. But this one was simply ridiculous, in the best way possible. It’s been a long time since a book has ripped my heart out of my chest, crushed it, then put it back in place and made me so happy I can’t stop thinking about it. That is the power of Leigh Bardugo.

Ruin and Rising so exceeded my expectations I can hardly put it into words. Nevertheless, I’m going to give it a fair try.

I’ve never been one for love triangles (or whatever was happening with poor Alina) or much for romance in books at all. I loved Wylan and Jesper in Crooked Kingdom, along with a select few couples I’ve read about throughout the years. But Mal and Alina are it. I have no better way to describe it; they are just it.

For a book boy to actually outdo Nikolai in the making-me-love-them-endlessly department is quite a feat, considering he is practically the perfect character. But that’s exactly what Mal did. And I’m really quite confused over all the reviews from people saying they hate Book Mal. Granted, I haven’t watched the show yet, and Show Mal might be even better. But even in the books, he’s a solid 10 for me. Are we sure we read the same story?

Then, there’s the Darkling. He really put his all into being not only a villain but also a generally horrible individual. He’s easily one of the best bad guys I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading about. I truly hated him from start to finish, which is exactly the point, right? Aleksander carried his weight, for sure.

I know I’ve already doted on her in previous reviews, but Alina is just such a compelling character, I think it’s worth mentioning yet again. Needless to say, Leigh Bardugo has a way with character writing that I’ve seen among very few authors. I instantly develop strong feelings toward almost everyone—at least everyone who’s important. No room for blasé MCs around here.

In favor of complete honesty, I will admit Ruin and Rising took a long time to pick up for me. The beginning, with the Apparat and all the underground living, was so boring I found it hard continuing the book. It felt like it was never going to end. I let the poor thing sit on a shelf collecting dust for I don’t know how long contemplating whether I really needed to read it, and if it would end up ruining the two great books that came before it by being painfully dull.

Fortunately, I did pick it back up, and it more than redeemed itself, earning a five-star rating I give out about twice a year to a very special book or two. And I owe my praise almost exclusively to Mal and Alina. Who would have thought?

Childhood FOMO Made Me Read Goosebumps

Everybody loves a good old FOMO sesh every once in a while, right? Just a gripping, sudden fear of missing out on anything and everything people have done and experienced that you haven’t yet?

Well, that’s exactly what led me to the Goosebumps series. Perpetually frightened child I was, horror books never particularly struck a chord with me when I was little. Even now, I tend to stray from them in favor of anything mysterious or thrillerish.

That being said, I have been catching up on some of the books I missed out on as a kid in the past few years. (The Chronicles of Narnia and A Series of Unfortunate Events are two of my particular favorites, but the amount of guilt I feel knowing I could have grown up with those books instead of reading them at the age of 20 or 21… Perpetual anger, I tell you.) Bottled up rage aside, or perhaps because of it, I gave the Goosebumps series a chance. And let me tell you, I was not disappointed.

For starters, it turns out R.L. Stine is a fantastic author. Goosebumps are kids’ stories, and that much is clear as soon as you start reading, but they’re written in such a way that they’re entirely readable, and not at all annoying, from the perspective of an adult. Though I tend to use the term adult very loosely when speaking of myself.

Beyond the writing, I have to say I really liked the story structure and the way it was written in such a way as to keep it lighthearted enough to not scare the daylights out of children, but spooky enough to actually give you a minor case of the creeps.

Don’t quote me on this because it was a while ago, but I remember watching an interview with R.L. Stine where he described how, as a child, he was afraid of literally everything. I think that comes across really well in this aspect of the books, where he is able to play to both the scary and fun aspect of a children’s horror series.

One part, in particular, I couldn’t get over was the excessive use of the word excellent by the children in the books. It’s absurdly funny to me to picture 10 year olds running around, yelling the word excellent to one another. But honestly, it just dates the series back to the 90s, which makes me love it even more.

I’ve only read a tiny portion of the series so far, but a few I would definitely recommend are: One Day at Horrorland, Stay Out of the Basement, and Night of the Living Dummy. And allow me to say, Mr. Wood is an absolute legend. The best and most offensive roaster of all time. 10/10 would walk out of a conversation with him with lowered self-esteem.

To sum it up, I don’t care about your age. Goosebumps is a must read. Need I say more?

P.S. Better Luck This Time is getting even closer! Ahh! Meet my sequel to The Half Theft on October 1st.