November 2016 Wrap Up

November was a crazy month for me, for a lot of different reasons. I read the books I planned to read halfway through the month, then, I discovered Netflix.

I DNF’d two books and returned library books I originally wanted to read but I lost interest in them. The stress of the Goodreads Reading Challenge got to me and I debated ending it when I only had ten books left to read.

The end of the month made me reconsider the idea of monthly TBRs. I realized I never read all the books I plan on. I have become very much of a mood reader the past year. Regardless, November was not a terrible month of reading; I still read good books. Some of them were library books that I loved so much I had to buy them.

 

The Gilded Cage by Lucinda Gray (library book)

2 stars

If you read my November TBR post earlier this month, you might remember I said The Gilded Cage by Lucinda Gray was not only the first book I planned to read, but also one of the ones I was most excited about. Unfortunately, this book was a let down.

I don’t want to say it was a bad book. There is a misconception about giving a book on Goodreads a 2 star rating. It does not necessarily mean the reader disliked the book. My overall reading experience of The Gilded Cage was actually quite good.

While the writing was very good and the historical elements were realistic of 1800s England, the summary was misleading. It promised a Gothic horror/mystery story. Only the Gothic element does not come into play until the end, and then only briefly. The mystery plotline was lackluster. It was obvious, to me anyway, who the perpetrator was halfway through the book. The length of the whole book itself was too short. In my opinion, it could have done better with more build up with at least 100 more pages.

On the flip side, my favorite part of this novel was the protagonist, Katherine. She was spunky and had no problem showing off her Virginia roots to the uptight English society. She had two love interests, although one was used as more of a plot device than an actual character. I did like the man she ended up with, yet I felt their relationship was borderline “insta-lovey.”

My expectations for this book were admittedly too high. As a whole, it was an OK book for me. If you like young adult historical romance, you might enjoy The Gilded Cage by Lucinda Gray.

 

Melody’s Key by Dallas Coryell (review digital book)

2.75 stars

I have a full review of Melody’s Key up on my blog and it is the first book I have received for review from the author. Overall, despite the low rating, I enjoyed this book. I liked the main characters and their bonding through music. I liked the strong family presence, something you don’t see a lot of in new adult or young adult literature. However, I personally do not gravitate told novels heavy in romance and the Grammar Nazi in me had issues with the writing style. If you want to know all my thoughts on Melody’s Key, go read the review.

Georgia Peaches and Other Forbidden Fruit by Jaye Robin Brown

4 stars

Definitely one of my favorite books I read this month and it met my expectations. For the first half of the book, I thought I would end up giving it a 3.5 star rating, mostly for the witty writing style. By the time I got to the halfway point, it was bumped up to a full 4.

Georgia Peaches and Other Forbidden Fruit is one of the few books I have read with a gay protagonist, named Jo Gordon. She was my favorite part of this novel. She had great values and a great sense of humor. She made mistakes, but she owned up to them. Aside from romance, there was also a strong element of friendship and family present. Jo’s dad was wrong to ask her what he did, but they have a great relationship regardless, and his new wife, Elizabeth, is not a Wicked Stepmother you see in contemporary YA novels. Jo’s friend Dana is also a great support system for her, as well as her friendship with another classmate with two moms. The characters are what made this book so great.

 

Stalking Jack the Ripper by Kerri Maniscalco

5 stars

My favorite book I read this month. I have a full review up on this book where all I am doing is gushing about it. The writing and the story were both wonderful. The setting of Victorian London was dark, scary, and realistic. The author did not shy away from the gore, which I deeply appreciated. I was enthralled from the first page and could think of nothing else when I was reading it, as well as when I wasn’t reading it.

Audrey Rose Wadsworth, the protagonist, has earned herself a spot on my list of favorite heroines. She is smart, feisty, and independent. She totally rejects London’s high society’s expectations of her gender and is not squeamish about sticking her hands into corpses, but she also enjoys girly things like pretty dresses. The other characters themselves were interesting. I thought Stalking Jack the Ripper was a stand-alone novel, but it’s the first of the series. I can’t begin to explain how excited I am for the upcoming books.

 

Empire of Storms by Sarah J. Maas

4 stars

I will be honest: this was not my favorite book in the Throne of Glass series by Sarah J. Maas. It took me a total of two months to read this book. That is unusual for me as of late.

The writing was great and the ending set up for what I expect to be an epic finale. Manon Blackbeak is easily my new favorite character in the whole series. I was surprised how much I liked seeing her with Dorian, who I liked in previous books but I adore him now. He’s grown so much since the first book. I missed Chaol Westfall, I know a lot of people did, and I am in need of his novella. Elide and Lorcan’s storyline was my favorite in the book. Aedion and Lysandra are my favorite new couple.

However, I must admit, I prefer Aelin back when she was Celeana. She has become reckless and I found myself agreeing with one of her political enemies that she is not fit to rule a kingdom. She still has a lot to learn. Also, I’m not sure how I feel about her relationship with Rowan. Don’t get me wrong: I actually really like Rowan as a character. Only I feel his relationship with Aelin is forced, like it came out of nowhere. There were also some problems with world-building and I’m curious to see how this whole story with the magic and Wyrdkeys wraps up in the last book.

 

Miss Mayhem by Rachel Hawkins

3.5 stars

After I finished Empire of Storms, I needed something light, fluffy, and fun before I thought about picking up something like A Court of Mist and Fury. I read Rebel Belle, the first book in the trilogy, last summer and really enjoyed it. I bought Miss Mayhem and Lady Renegades, books 2 and 3, with the intent of finishing the trilogy this year.

While Miss Mayhem had the same witty writing and fast-paced story as Rebel Belle, I found it ultimately to be lackluster. It was enough to make me want to keep reading, but I was starting to understand why most people did not enjoy Miss Mayhem as much as they did its predecessor. Harper is a fun main character and her boyfriend, Oracle David Stark, is an underrated YA guy. Only there was too much teenaged angst and not enough kick-butt action or magic as I would have liked.

 

What was your favorite book you read in November?

Monthly TBRs: Pros & Cons

When I first started getting active in the bookstagram/book blogging community and watching BookTube videos, I was all about the monthly “to be read” piles. I liked to feel the pride I did when I completed my goal of books I wanted to read in a month. However, recently, I lost interest. And I think I know why.

I have become very much a “mood reader.” Meaning, I read whatever I am craving at a particular moment. At the start of the month, I could have a TBR predominantly fantasy, then end up reading mostly contemporary because I suddenly disliked the idea of reading any more books about fairies. Some books I said I wanted to read in a month I lost interest in a few weeks later.

If you watch YouTubers’ monthly TBR videos and their wrap-ups, you will have noticed that the two do not always have the same books. Many admit that they rarely stick to the TBRs they set every month. As for myself, there have been times where I did not always pick up the books I planned to at the beginning of the month. Normally, I wouldn’t make a big deal out of it. But now, as the end of 2016 approaches, there are still books I wanted to read this year that I never got around to.

For example: I do not know why I have not read Passenger by Alexandra Bracken, which came out January 2016. The book is about a teenaged violinist traveling through time searching for her missing mother, also a time traveller, and joins forces with an 18th century pirate to find a magical artifact before an evil family does. I remember being really excited when I got this book.

I liked Alexandra Bracken’s other series, The Darkest Minds trilogy, so I did not see any reason to make me think I would not like Passenger. I had planned to read it this spring, then, somehow, that never happened. Maybe it is because I know I will like Passenger that I keep putting it off for a time when I will really need a good book to read.

As I mentioned earlier, setting monthly TBRs and then completing them gave me a sense of pride when I read all the books I planned on. It meant my to be read pile was shrinking. On the flip side to that, I sometimes felt like I couldn’t read whatever I wanted when I wanted to. Such as, if there was a book calling to me from my bookshelves that I had not planned on reading that month, I would think I couldn’t read it.

The whole notion is ridiculous, but you get the idea.

Monthly TBRs have lost their appeal. I like the idea of not being restricted to certain books. My plan for 2017 is only to do wrap-ups, but stay away from the TBRs. My last one will be for December 2016, except more of a “books I want to read by the end of the year” kind of post.

What about you? Does anyone else not do monthly TBRs? What do you think of TBRs in general?

 

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

 

 

Review of Stalking Jack the Ripper by Kerri Maniscalco (Spoiler Free)

Since starting this blog, I finally have the chance to write a review on a book I loved. One that I found little flaw in and simply need someone to gush about it to.

Stalking Jack the Ripper is a mystery and historical fiction young adult novel set in Victorian London that focuses on the crimes of infamous serial killer Jack the Ripper. Seventeen-year-old Audrey Rose Wadsworth, the daughter of a high-ranking lord born into privilege, defies society’s expectations of her gender by studying forensic medicine under her uncle, eccentric medical examiner Dr. Jonathon Wadsworth. Then, Jack the Ripper’s first victim lands on her uncle’s autopsy table and Audrey pursues the killer, only to be led right back to her own world of Victorian high society.

The writing in this book is what made me rank Stalking Jack the Ripper a 5 star read. From the first sentence, Kerri Maniscalco, the author, draws you in to the story. The descriptions are accurate and so is the depiction of the people and places of Victorian London. She did not shy away from the gore either. The characters all have great dialogue and the scientific aspects of the story were explained in a way a person with basic knowledge could understand. The pacing was not too fast or too slow; the whole book takes place over the course of a month and a half. Given the lack of technology and advanced scientific knowledge of the era, it made sense.

When I was not reading Stalking Jack the Ripper, I was thinking about when I would get the chance to read more. I looked at all the men Audrey interacted with most and doubt was shrouded on all of them, including her love interest Thomas Cresswell (but more on him in a minute). The author did a really good job there. She kept the reader guessing on who Jack the Ripper could be. Fact was perfectly mixed with fiction. Kerri Maniscalco was a true to history as she could be, but she added her own twist to it. Making the story a lot more fun, exciting, and gruesome.

The best part of the novel, in my opinion, was Audrey Rose herself. She was feisty, smart, and driven. She was flawed, but her motivations were always good. She was guarded, but she loved her family. She fought for what was right. She wanted to see the good in all people. Most importantly, she did not look down at the women Jack the Ripper killed, the ones that were seen as lesser beings in society because they turned to the oldest profession to make a living. While Audrey was aware of what people thought of her, she did not care. Her mother, whose death triggered the desire to study science, encouraged her to be a strong woman. That is exactly what Audrey is.

The other characters in Stalking Jack the Ripper were all interesting, too. Thomas Cresswell, Dr. Wadsworth’s apprentice, is charming, mysterious, intelligent, and so, so sexy. He gets under Audrey’s skin, yet he acknowledges her intelligence and is very protective of her, even when she does not want him to be.

Put it this way: if you loved William Herondale from the Infernal Devices trilogy by Cassandra Clare, you will definitely fall for Thomas Cresswell. I adored him, but there were times you had to wonder….

Another character I liked was Audrey’s uncle, Dr. Jonathon Wadsworth. Though he still practices what was considered “polite” of his era—i.e. not saying the word “prostitute” in front of women—he does not deny that his niece can do forensic medicine as well as any man. Which is why he takes up training her himself, even letting her stand in for him at crime scenes and discussing the nature of the murders with her. Uncle is definitely Audrey’s champion and they have a very good relationship.

I expected this book to be a stand-alone story. Then, the ending happened and I saw on Goodreads there will be at least two more books in the Stalking Jack the Ripper series. Admittedly, I would prefer for Stalking Jack the Ripper to be a lone story. But if it means I get to spend more time with Audrey Rose and Thomas, then by all means, I’m for it.

I gave Stalking Jack the Ripper by Kerri Maniscalco 5 stars. If you like young adult mysteries or historical fiction, and/or looking for a young adult novel with a strong female protagonist, I highly recommend you check this book out.

Classic Novels I Want to Read

After so many years of school, my brain connects the classic novels with fall and winter. But I was an English major because I love literature. Most people stop picking up classics after they are done with school—some stop reading entirely—but there are still books from the past I want to read. Classics are made that way for a reason.

 

The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton

This is the one book on this particular TBR pile I’m honestly surprised I have not read yet. I loved Edith Wharton when I was in high school. I read two of her books, Ethan Frome and The Age of Innocence. I bought The House of Mirth for Christmas two years ago with a Barnes & Noble gift card.

The House of Mirth follows Lily Bart, is a beautiful socialite with expensive tastes. Like Edith Wharton’s other books, it covers the New York high society of era and women’s place in it, as well as marriage in the upper classes. The only way Lily can get back to the wealth and status she lost is through marriage. But how can you marry someone you cannot love?

 

The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux

I already know the story of The Phantom of the Opera from watching Wishbone as a child. Of course, it was likely molded for children to understand. Still, I’ve wanted to read the original story for a while now. Particularly since this novel has the essence of Gothic horror.

Christine is a beautiful opera singer whose rise to fame is thanks to Erik, a jealous “ghost” in a mask that gives her secret music lessons. Erik becomes infatuated with Christine. Then, her childhood friend Raoul returns to Paris and sees her perform on stage, presenting Erik a competitor for Christine’s affections. Which is why the Phantom of the Opera kidnaps the younger singer.

I might end up reading this one first. After I change my mind six more times.

 

The Monogram Murders by Agatha Christie

Agatha Christie, the founder of modern mystery, is an author I’ve wanted to read for so long. The Monogram Murders was ghostwritten by Sophie Hannah as part of a new Hercule Poirot series commissioned by Christie’s descendants. Since I’ve never read anything by Agatha Christie before, I don’t know if this novel will be up to par with her other works.

A young woman approaches detective Hercule Poirot in a coffeehouse, telling him she is about to be murdered. Strangely enough, she does not want him to investigate, insisting justice will be given after her death. Then, three people are found dead in a hotel, with a cufflink shoved in one of the victim’s mouths.

The novel is set in London and possibly in the 1920s or 30s. One of my favorite novel settings and one of my favorite time periods. If there is any book I really need to read, it is The Monogram Murders. (But I’ve said that already for every book so far.)

 

The Beautiful and Damned by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Like almost everyone else, I read F. Scott Fitzgerald’s infamous novel The Great Gatsby in high school and loved it. I found a beautiful softcover edition of The Beautiful and Damned, another of his books, in a lovely little bookshop in Salem, Massachusetts. The cover alone literally wants to make me read the book because it’s so pretty.

The story is set in 1922, when the novel was published, and follows Anthony and Gloria, a greedy young couple eyeing Anthony’s wealthy grandfather’s money. Despite Anthony’s Harvard education, he succumbs to alcohol and his marriage to Gloria is on the rocks. Given what I know about Fitzgerald and his view of society, it is likely this story is not going to end well.

 

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

I think I read an excerpt of Little Women when I was in elementary school or watched the film, but I can’t remember it. Not that I would have appreciated it that young.

All I know about Little Women is that it follows four sisters facing adolescence while their father serves in the Civil War. One sister in particular, Jo, is an aspiring author trying to step out of the gender roles society has set for her. My favorite kind of protagonist—plus, I own the Puffin edition of Little Women. How can I not read a book that pretty?

 

For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway

I have a love/hate relationship with Hemingway. I liked The Sun Also Rises but was bored reading A Farewell to Arms. I appreciate his realism and how he does not shy away from the harshness of war. He never glamourizes what he went through as a solider and what it was like serving in World War I in Europe. Except, his writing style is so boring.

According to Goodreads, For Whom the Bell Tolls is better than The Sun Also Rises and A Farewell to Arms. It follows an American reporter covering the Spanish Civil War in 1937. After reading other novels set during the Spanish Civil War, I’m curious in learning more about the subject. Considering Ernest Hemingway himself was a reporter during that time and had covered the events of the war in Spain, I’m interested in seeing the war from someone who actually lived it.

 

Anne of Avonlea by L.M. Montgomery

Anne of the Island by L.M. Montgomery

Anne of Windy Poplars by L.M. Montgomery

I read the first book, Anne of Green Gables, a LONG time ago. I own books 2, 3, and 4, yet I never picked them up. Or maybe I did, but can’t remember reading them. Anyway, I loved these books as a child and Anne of Green Gables is one of my favorite classics. I expect to feel all the feels from childhood. Because Anne is an amazing heroine and Gilbert Blythe is…you know, handsome, wonderful, totally in love with Anne, Gilbert Blythe.

 

Antony and Cleopatra by William Shakespeare

Yes, I read Shakespeare for fun.

I have read a few of Shakespeare’s plays, except only tragedies and comedies. I think I read an excerpt of Julius Caesar in high school, but I don’t count that.

Cleopatra is one of my favorite female figures in history, yet I know very little about her marriage to Mark Antony. Antony and Cleopatra, from my understanding, is their love story as told by Shakespeare and what he knew of them at the time. But given it’s Shakespeare, I already expect too much of this play.

 

Love Story by Erich Segal

Along with Antony and Cleopatra, my roommate gave me Love Story from her Literature of Love class that she couldn’t sell back to the school bookstore. Up until then, I had never heard of it.

As the title suggests, the novel details the story of two kids—Oliver, a jock from a wealthy family and Jenny, a girl from a working-class family studying music—who defy society by falling in love. Of course, it’s probably tragic; otherwise it wouldn’t be a classic.

Small confession: Love Story was one of the books lowest on my TBR. Then, it was mentioned on Dark Shadows, my favorite Johnny Depp movie. Now, it’s been bumped up just a little higher.

 

Bluebeard by Kurt Vonnegut

I was helping my parents clear out the bookshelf in their room and I found Bluebeard hiding among the books, taking it for myself. The only book I have read by Vonnegut was Slaughterhouse-Five…and it was one of the weirdest books I have ever read in my life. But I enjoyed it.

Bluebeard is the fictional autobiography of a 71-year-old hermit on Long Island with secrets he wants to keep buried. When a pretty young widow convinces him to tell his tale, he reveals a life devoted to creating what he loved…even sometimes destroying it.

 

The House of Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne

Nathaniel Hawthorne of The Scarlet Letter fame is up there as one of my favorite classical authors. I read a few of his short stories in school, but The Scarlet Letter is the only book of his that I have read. I found The House of Seven Gables in the same cute Salem bookshop last year but I have not read it. Like some of the other books on this list, that surprises me…yet it doesn’t.

The House of Seven Gables is the story of a greedy colonial that builds his estate on stolen ground and his family is cursed for generations. Then, a descendant and a boarder he has taken in move into the house, hoping to finally end the family’s suffering. I love haunted house novels and books about family curses and secrets. Given it is Nathaniel Hawthorne, I expect The House of Seven Gables to be the one to finally scare my pants off.

 

What classic novels are on your TBR? Leave a comment!

Historical Fiction Novels I Want to Read

Historical fiction is one of my favorite types of genres to read in the fall and winter. They tend to be longer, with beautiful writing and dramatic storylines. For this post, I’m sticking to the ones I already own. But, of course, the actual list is longer than this.

 

Here is my historical fiction to be read pile:

 

The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman

The Light Between Oceans is set in Australia post World War I. After serving in the war, Tom Sherbourne is offered a job as a lighthouse keeper and moves to the island with his wife, Isabel. For years, the couple struggles to conceive and fail. Then, a dead man and a live infant wash up on their shores in a wrecked boat.

I had heard of this book before, but the recent release of the movie is what urged me to pick it up. My copy has the slightly cheesy movie cover, but it was cheap at CVS and I was too impatient to go on the waiting list at the library (clearly I was in no rush to read it anyway). Aside from it being set in Australia, the story is all about love and family, and what it means doing the right thing, even if it breaks your heart. I am trying to keep my expectations low, so I don’t be disappointed, only I can’t help it.

 

The Virgin’s Lover by Philippa Gregory

Better known for her book The Other Boleyn Girl, Philippa Gregory is one of the most prominent and respected authors of historical fiction. The Virgin’s Lover is the story of Queen Elizabeth I, who has just ascended to the throne of England following the death of her sister Queen Mary. It also follows her childhood friend, as well as suspected lover, Robert Dudley and his wife Amy.

It was no secret that Robert had been in love with Elizabeth, who swore off marriage as a young woman, and desires to rule England with her. Except there is one problem: Amy. Then, Amy dies under suspicious circumstances, throwing Elizabeth’s court, as well as her relationship with Robert, into turmoil.

Elizabeth I is my favorite monarch in history. She is said to be a vain and conniving person, but she was a brilliant ruler and set an example for women. I was obsessed with her when I was younger, so I was already familiar with her alleged forbidden romance with Robert Dudley. Back then, the stories I read about her were written for a young adult audience. It would be interesting to read another version of her story through a mature lens, particularly from someone who is more of an expert in history.

 

Traitor Angels by Anne Blankman

I don’t know about you, but I rarely see any fictional stories regarding John Milton, who is right up there with Shakespeare as a great literary mind. Traitor Angels is set in England just as King Charles II comes into power after 16 years of Puritan monarchy. It follows Milton’s daughter, Elizabeth. I learned in my college class, Major British Writers, that Milton had lost his eyesight and employed his four daughters to help him writer Paradise Lost. Anne Blankman also added something extra: Elizabeth was learning sword fighting from her father.

When her father is arrested, Elizabeth and her father’s houseguest, Antonio, an Italian scientist, must crack the code hidden within Paradise Lost to save Milton. Only doing so could bring society as they know it crashing to the ground.

Not surprisingly, I preordered Traitor Angels when it was released. Why have I not read this yet? I need to read this. I have not heard much about it, but the story speaks to me.

 

The Poe Shadow by Matthew Pearl

Another historical fiction novel about another famous literary figure, Edgar Allan Poe, on this TBR pile: anyone seeing a theme here?

Quentin Clark, a young Baltimore lawyer and a fan of Edgar Allan Poe, takes it upon himself to investigate his idol’s mysterious death when the police don’t seem to care. The investigation puts his life in danger, but it also sends him deep into the darker sides of the city, into the slave trade, and he crosses paths with a female assassin.

This is another book I keep forgetting I own. Which is a shame, because I was so excited when I bought it. Like some others on this list, I have high expectations for it. Yet, somehow, I keep putting them off. Only with this one, I’m saving it for when I am in the mood for a really good historical fiction to blow my mind and keep my blood running warm in the colder months.

 

The Secret Life of Violet Grant by Beatriz Williams

The Secret Life of Violet Grant is set in two time periods. The first is in 1964, where Vivian Schuyler, a New York City socialite that rejects her family’s expectations of her to become a reporter. Only the editor at the magazine doesn’t take her seriously—until she uncovers a story that could send her career skyrocketing.

That leads to the other narrator: Vivian’s mysterious late aunt, Violet Schuyler Grant, who moves to Europe to study physics in 1912. Though married to another scientist, Violet is drawn to a British army captain, who leads her into a plot that could end her life. And no one knows what really happened to Violet after that.

Since I enjoyed books like Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay, The Muse by Jessie Burton, and The Girl You Left Behind by Jojo Moyes, I hope I should like The Secret Life of Violet Grant. Historical fiction novels told in dual perspectives, especially if one of those perspectives in told in a more modern time, really interest me. It’s fun trying to figure out how the main character’s stories connect. Plus, the writers are very careful about avoiding plot holes. The Secret Life of Violet Grant is one of the books I plan on reading this winter, along with the others.

 

What historical fiction novels are on your TBR? If you have any recommendations for me, leave them in the comments!

Goodreads Yearly Reading Challenge: Pros & Cons

As the end of 2016 creeps up on me, I start to admire the aesthetic of my 2016 Goodreads Challenge. Surprising, considering at the beginning of the year, I had no intention of starting one.

Despite successfully beating my set goals in 2014 and 2015, I told myself I was not going to do another reading challenge for 2016. It was my final semester of college. I needed to focus on school, graduation, finding at least a part-time job, and my friends. For the first half of January, I was on winter break and had nothing else to do at home but read. After a while, I caved in.

I initially set a goal of 50 books to read in 2016. Then, by March, I was at 30 books. I changed it to 80. I changed the goal again in October, when I was five books short of reaching the 80 books read and I decided to challenge myself a little further by making it 95.

Though I do enjoy looking back on my bookish aesthetics from each year and remembering what fun I had certain months reading, there were problems I found in doing a Goodreads challenge.

First, there is an unnecessary pressure to read. For the past few years of doing reading challenges, I was in college. In addition to homework, class projects, and responsibilities at work, I also had a social life. And, sometimes—gasp—I just did not feel like reading. Then, checking on my Goodreads challenge, I would feel guilty when I started to fall behind. Even if I was still on track, the annoying little voice scolded me for choosing to watch YouTube videos over reading.

On the flip side, doing the challenges actually reminded me to keep reading. My parents were readers once—albeit not as serious as I am—but they lost the patience for the hobby as the stress of adulthood took over. I love reading: it has become essential to me as breathing. I made mandatory time to read every day. Usually night, in the hours before bed, when my homework was done for the day and I could relax.

Another issue I encountered with the Goodreads yearly reading challenge is that is does not count books you reread. Of course, you could simply change the dates on which you read the book to make it count. Only we are all honest people here right?

While it encourages you to pick up books you have not already read, it takes away the fun of reading Harry Potter for the fifth time. I used to reread books all the time, back when I did not have money to spend on books. And I always had as much fun rereading the stories as I did my first time around.

Then again, doing reading challenges I have discovered books I otherwise might not head read on my own if not for Goodreads or other bookish social media. Last year, I was falling a little behind on reading during midterms. At the time, I was seeing the graphic novel series Saga virtually everywhere on BookTube. I was looking for something to break me out of my comfort zone. So, I went to Newbury Comics and bought the first volume of Saga.

Less than a week later, I finished it. And, on my next paycheck, I went back to Newbury comics and bought Saga volumes 2 through 5, as well as Sex Criminals Vol. 1 and Wytches Vol. 1, two other graphic novels I had heard of.

Because I was falling a little behind on my reading challenge, I picked up graphic novels to help me catch up. More than that, I enjoyed them. They provided a whole new reading experience for me and introduced me to a whole new genre I never thought I would like.

Some people have said that setting large reading goals prevent them from picking up longer books. They worry that the larger books will make them fall behind. For me, personally, this was not really a problem. I tend to read at least two books at a time. I have found that reading shorter books while reading longer ones tend to make the latter go by faster. Most books over 500 pages tend to lag in the middle. To avoid getting bored, I would pick up a smaller book, usually an average of 300 pages, and read that in between the chapters of the 500-page book.

Although, like I said before, falling behind on the Goodreads challenge adds unnecessary pressure to read. If you start to get competitive, you might only stick to short books and ignore the big ones sitting in your likely massive TBR pile.

The thing I have come to appreciate most about doing a Goodreads challenge is I can push my limits reading. Every year, I have proven that I doubt my reading skills. In 2014, I set a goal of 50 books and read 55. In 2015, I set a goal for 100 books and read 108. This year, I was already beating my set goal before 2016 was even over. If you are someone who likes reading but have a hard time sticking to it, a Goodreads challenge might be a good option for you. Setting a goal for yourself and completing it will make you feel accomplished, as well as build on a healthy habit of reading.

As of now, I am still on the fence of setting any reading goals for 2017. I still have books piling up on my to be read pile at home, but I also have books that I have not picked up in years that I want to read again. Reading more than one book at a time to keep up is starting to be tiresome. I’m starting to feel the pressure to keep reading when what I really want is to start watching The Vampire Diaries on my new Netflix account and not feel bad about it.

Regardless of what I choose, I will never run out of books to read.

Who is else thinking of doing a reading challenge on Goodreads for 2017?

Review of Melody’s Key by Dallas Coryell (Spoiler Free)

I received Melody’s Key from the author in exchange for a full and honest review. This is my first one ever, so I want to make the most of it.

The story follows Tegan Lockwood, a musically talented young woman whose family runs a failing hotel service in the English countryside. Though she was accepted to Columbia University to study music, she gave all that up after learning of her family’s troubling financial situation. Tegan decided to stay home to help them run the hotel.

When the novel opens up, the Lockwood hotel’s summer season is about to begin. They receive an unexpected guest: Mason Keane, a handsome, popular American rock star. To get away from bad publicity back home, he is spending the summer on the Lockwood estate, unknown to the other guests.

While the rest of the family is thrilled, Tegan is not the least bit pleased at the prospect of having to service a primadonna all summer. Then, she meets Mason, who is more than what he appears to be.

First of all, Melody’s Key saved me from a potential reading slump. It’s a quick book and the plot is not complicated. I accepted this book on the pretense of reading something out of my comfort zone. I tend to not pick up books where a developing romantic relationship is the primary focus, but I am glad I did for this particular reason.

As characters, I liked Tegan and Mason individually, as well as a couple. I admired Tegan’s sense of duty to her family and I understood her shyness of showing her music or artwork to anyone. At first, I was annoyed with her unnecessary outbursts at Mason as well as her ill-fated mistrust in him. Then, I learned about what happened to her later on. Her behavior proved to be realistic given its origin. It was also nice to see a protagonist in a contemporary novel have a healthy relationship with their family.

What really irked me about Tegan’s character was the trope “she’s beautiful but has no idea she’s beautiful.” Nothing against writers making their protagonists attractive. I’m just annoyed with the trope, particularly since you want to imply Mason fell in love with Tegan because of who she is and not her looks.

When Mason first came on the scene, I expected him to be the kind of love interest who is totally mean to the heroine but “has a good reason for it.” Only while he is rude to Tegan when they first meet, he later shows his polite, warmhearted nature. Though I do think he was a good person underneath, Mason had too many serious issues that he needed therapy for, not a girlfriend.

Regarding Mason and Tegan’s romance, I enjoyed their cute, slightly corny banter and how they bonded through music. On the flip side, I am not quite sure how I feel about the pacing of their relationship. It felt a little too fast for me, especially considering the emotional walls Tegan put up. And, regardless of what the movies want us to believe, their relationship itself is not realistic. Mason could genuinely be interested in Tegan, except a publicist would quickly dash any possibility of it happening before it had a chance to start.

Another thing I did not like about this novel were the one-dimensional side characters. I liked Tegan’s relationships with her sister Ryleigh and her best friend Simon, both playing significant roles in the story. However, their characters were not as fleshed-out as I would have liked. The story’s primary focus was Tegan and Mason, leaving the other characters by the wayside.

I think the story could have benefited from being told through the eyes of other characters. We only have Tegan’s perspective from a third-person narrative. I would have liked to read Mason’s thoughts on their relationship or see Tegan through the eyes of her sister and Simon.

The writing itself was not terrible, but the Grammar Nazi in me was not impressed with the long descriptions and using all-caps in place of italics when I character is exasperated or excited. Some of the characters had good one-liners, so there is humor, even if a little rusty. Dallas has potential of becoming a better writer, as long as he keeps working at it.

Overall, I gave Melody’s Key by Dallas Coryell 2.75 stars. I enjoyed it, but plots heavy in romance tend to not be my thing. I do think this story would translate well as a film: the storyline of a sexy rock star falling in love with an ordinary girl could definitely win audiences over. I would certainly recommend this book to anyone else that loves new adult contemporary romances.

My November 2016 TBR

As the end of the year creeps up, it becomes plain to me that there are books I want/need to read before 2016 is over. Granted, I already own the books. Still, the guilt is annoying. But I figure this: once it gets too cold and snowy for me to walk over to my library, I will still have books at home I can read.

Yes, I overthink everything. Anyway, on to my November 2016 TBR pile.

 

Library Books

 The Gilded Cage by Lucinda Gray

I originally checked The Gilded Cage out of the library in October, but I was not able to get to it before it was due back. So, I renewed this along with Georgia Peaches and Other Forbidden Fruit online.

The Gilded Cage is a historical fiction novel set in England during the 1820s. An American teenaged girl moves to England from Virginia to an extravagant mansion and her brother suspiciously drowns. There seems to be an element of gothic horror, too, with mentions of a frightening creature lurking around the estate. This is likely one of the first books I will be reading this month.

 

Georgia Peaches and Other Forbidden Fruit by Jaye Robin Brown

After reading As I Descended, I wanted to read another book with LGTBQ elements in it. Georgia Peaches and Other Forbidden Fruit is more contemporary than fantasy. Joanna, the daughter of a radio show Evangelist moving on to his third marriage, is a lesbian completely out of the closet. But when her dad asks her to go back into the closet when they move in with their new family in a conservative Georgia town, she reluctantly agrees. Then, as you can imagine, she meets a girl she likes who might like her back and things get a whole lot of complicated.

 

The Tale of Raw Head and Bloody Bones by Jack Wolf

I mentioned The Tale of Raw Head and Bloody Bones in my Scary TBR post I wrote up at the end of October. Someone recommended it to me in a previous blog post, and then I saw it at my local library. This was the book on that list I was most excited to read.

The story is set during the Enlightenment period following a young psychopath in medical school. The protagonist, Tristan Hart, knows his desire to conflict pain contradicts his desire to heal. So, he turns to logic and reason to find answers in his childhood to why he is the way he is now.

 

The Mysterious Death of Miss Jane Austen by Lindsay Ashford

The Mysterious Death of Miss Jane Austen caught my eye when I went to the library to pick up The Tale of Raw Head and Bloody Bones. I had never heard of this book, but I love anything Jane Austen.

Anne, a governess to Edward Austen, Jane’s brother, suspects her friend’s death was not of natural causes. After 20 years, she still has a lock of Jane’s hair she hopes progressive medical science can lead them to the truth of what really happened to the brilliant writer.

Supposedly, the author is exploring the conspiracy surrounding Jane Austen’s death. Given her level of success, which was unusual for a woman of the time, and how outspoken she was about women’s rights in her novels, that is a possibility. It will be interesting to see where Lindsay Ashford goes with this.

 

A Shadow Bright and Burning by Jessica Cluess

A Shadow Bright and Burning follows Henrietta, a teenaged sorceress in Victorian London who hides her powers until she is forced to use them to save a friend. Instead of being executed, she is praised as the Chosen One and declared the first female sorcerer in centuries, the one who will save their world from evil demons. Except Henrietta is not the Chosen One.

I’ve heard this book throws “the Chosen One” trope on its head. I don’t know about you, but I’m really getting bored with that one.

 

Stalking Jack the Ripper by Kerri Maniscalco

Stalking Jack the Ripper is right up my alley. Audrey, the protagonist, is a strong, smart teenaged girl that rejects society’s expectations of her gender to pursue what she is most passionate about. It’s a mystery historical fiction novel, set during the Victorian period where everything was dark and gritty. A young female budding forensic scientist in Victorian London hunting Jack the Ripper…seriously cannot wait to start reading this book.

 

Books I Own

 The Rose & the Dagger by Renee Ahdieh

I got The Wrath & the Dawn out of the library a few months ago and loved it. So much that I said “screw you” to my bank account and bought my own copy, along with its sequel, The Rose & the Dagger…and a few other books.

The Rose & the Dagger is the final book in the duology and I’m excited to read it. The world building and the characters of this series are phenomenal. Since The Wrath & the Dawn ended on such a cliffhanger, I’m cautious about starting this book. I want to take it all in before I eat it too fast and regret it later.

 

A Torch Against the Night by Sabaa Tahir

A Torch Against the Night is a similar situation to The Rose & the Dagger. This is another sequel I want to take my time with and not read in one sitting. Because I know the world Elias and Laia live in will become much more complicated than it was in the first book. Plus, if I read it too quickly, there is a chance I will want more. I do not want to risk losing my sanity before the next book comes out.

 

Half Lost by Sally Green

I meant to read Half Lost right after finishing Half Wild. I was torn between wanting to find out what happens to Nathan with his new powers and not wanting to finish the trilogy. Because that would mean the story was over. I will definitely read Half Lost in November. The Half Bad trilogy is one of the series I aim to finish before the end of the year. I don’t think I could last that long without knowing the ending, anyway.

 

A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas

Empire of Storms by Sarah J. Maas

I am a die-hard Sarah J. Maas fan and I have yet to read A Court of Mist and Fury, the book that is not only one of her most popular ones to date, but also the sequel to A Court of Thorns and Roses, my favorite book of 2015.

Truth to be told, I’m terrified of reading this book. I know something happens to Tamlin, my #1 book boyfriend, and I have seen enough spoilers that scare me away from picking this book up. If you have been Team Chaol or even Team Dorian from the Throne of Glass series, then you know that Maas is the supreme destroyer of ships. I’m not totally closed off to the possibility I might like Rhysand, but I still have not warmed up to Rowan Whitethorn yet, so I’m doubtful.

But as a writer, I cannot help but respect Maas. She is a good writer and the worlds she creates are spectacular. Chances are, she will only get better as she publishes more books. And if I want to be the best writer, I need to learn from the best.

As for Empire of Storms, I started this in late September and got through partially of it in October, but I kept putting it down. My own fault I watched spoiler-filled reviews on YouTube to emotionally prepare myself for it. By no means do I dislike Empire of Storms. I’m joining the Manon bandwagon and I want to be a Blackbeak witch instead of a Fae.

I liked Dorian in the previous books, only he’s grown so much that I can’t help but adore him now. I hope I will get on the Dorian/Manon train like everyone else, but I am still a little heartbroken about the relationship that failed in Heir of Fire (if you read it, you know what I’m talking about). I still like Aelin, but she gets on my nerves. Rowan is OK, yet I stand by my opinion that their relationship is totally forced.

I know many of you don’t like him—and I honestly understand why—but I need my baby Chaol. When am I going to see Chaol again?

 

Will I read all these books in November? I hope so!