Monday, July 6, 2020

Books I read in May and June

I didn't read much in the past two months. Between working on my dissertation and packing to come back to the USA, there just wasn't a lot of time for reading.  But I was able to get through a few books, so I wanted to share them with you.
The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides
Here we go, a murder mystery about a psychotherapist trying to figure out why his patient killed her husband. The set up alone is intriguing enough, but the actual novel is WILD. I don't want to give any spoilers away, so I'll just say: some things I saw coming, some I didn't. But most of the things I guessed didn't become clear to me until the last fifty pages. The book was coming to an end, and I kept thinking, How is everything going to wrap up? Will there be a cliffhanger ending?

Most of the book is told from the first-person point of view of psychotherapist Theo Faber. However, there are also diary entries from Alicia Berenson from the days leading up to her husband's murder.

By chapter two, Theo makes it very clear that he is telling this story to the reader, breaking the fourth wall so to speak that many novels don't. How he tells this story is very important. It becomes clear that he and Alicia have quite a few things in common, which makes you wonder if his past makes her case too personal for him. As much as I want to continue this paragraph, that's about as much as I can say without getting fully into spoilers.

If you enjoy murder mystery novels, I highly recommend this one. After I finished it, I texted a bunch of my friends and told them to read it, which I don't typically do. I usually wait for my friends to ask me for book recommendations, but this one was too crazy not to share. This novel keeps you wondering what really happened the whole. And even though everything makes sense in the end, it's still hard to believe.

Before She Knew Him by Peter Swanson
Another murder story! Except this one isn't a mystery, which makes it even more interesting. Matthew admits to being a serial killer pretty quickly, and while he first tries to keep Hen from finding out, he eventually tells her everything. Of course, the only reason he does this is that he knows no one will believe her and he has alibis for everything. Hen had a mental break when she was in college and accused a classmate of planning to murder her. Now, she comes off as the girl who cries wolf and although her husband and the police want to believe her, they take everything she says with a grain of salt.

It was super cool to watch the friendship between Hen and Matthew develop. Hen didn't condone or understand Matthew's desire to kill, even when he gave his reasons for doing so, but she was still able to form a bond with him that was honest and sincere. Matthew doesn't realize how much he needs someone to confide in until he essentially traps Hen into being that person.

As the story continues, Hen still tries to get justice for Matthew's victims and he starts to feel the pressure of the police and his brother (no spoiler) that ultimately leads to an ending with a plot twist.

Ink by Alice Broadway
I'm not going to talk about this book for too long because I didn't enjoy it. This book is a YA novel, which I usually love, but this one ended up being too young for me. My main issue was that I didn't like the main character.  She was very naive and very quick to pass judgment.  At the beginning of the novel, she finds out that her dad has been marked as a "forgotten" but she doesn't really think it's fair because she knew her dad as an awesome person.  The second she discovers why her dad marked she writes him off.  In this process, she is also betrayed by someone she thought was helping her hind her dad's mark. It was crazy t me that she had zero questions for the boy who betrayed her. And then, like two days later, she decides that her dad was great and marks herself. Her thought process was very confusing to me and I couldn't enjoy the novel.
The Honey-Don't List by Christina Lauren
I waited so long to read this book. I preordered it while I was in Scotland, so reading it was one of the first things I did when I got home. At this point, I pretty much know what I'm getting when I start a Christina Lauren novel, but I still love every page. I loved the dynamic between Carey and James. All Carey knows is life as an assistant, while James is in a role he doesn't want to be in. Also, since he has fresh eyes on the situation, James is able to see that Carey deserves more than what she's been given. Especially considering how much work she's doing behind the scenes. Mix all that in with a dysfunctional couple whose entire career depends on them being in love and life as assistants can get pretty crazy.

Christina Lauren writes love stories, so like I said before, I know what I'm getting even before I start reading.  However, they still always find a way to include serious situations. Besides having worked the Tripps for so long that they feel like family, Caret needs the job for the health insurance it gives her. Meanwhile, James desperately needs it as a boost on his resume, so quitting too soon isn't an option. Working in a job you've outgrown or don't really like for an outside reason is something most people can relate to. Mix in the romance and humor and this book is a perfect balance of serious and fun.
Beach Read by Emily Henry
This was another novel I was excited to get home and read. As someone currently writing a creative writing dissertation, a book about two authors with writer's block hit very close to home. January is used to looking at Augustus as a rival, but when she creates a challenge that forces them to write in each other's genre, the time they spend together grows their relationship. However, both of them have scars from their pasts that make it hard to fully open their hearts to each other. Plus, the main reason January is in town is to sell her father's house, and once it's gone she might be too.

I loved this novel. Both characters are in the middle of "what comes next?" moments in their lives that allow them to try things they wouldn't have considered before. Mainly, the bet to write a novel in a new genre as a way to get their creativity flowing. My favorite thing about the bet is that although they agree to it, they're both able to stay true to themselves as they write. But also, through the bet and spending time together, they allow themselves to grow and move on from some of their past experiences. As the title says, this novel is a perfect beach read, while also sprinkling in a few "more serious" topics.


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Monday, June 29, 2020

The Graduate School Experience I Couldn't Plan For

I knew there would be differences when I completed my time at Saint Anselm College and went to the University of Edinburgh for my master's degree. 

I went from a school less than a two-hour drive from my front door to a school that was founded before The Thirteen Colonies and has a grading system where a 60 is good. The time would also be much shorter as my MSc Creative Writing program only goes from September 2019 to August 2020 with a graduation ceremony in November 2020. After having four years at St. As to build relationships and experience traditions, a year didn't feel like it would be able to offer many extracurricular activities.

Thankfully I was able to prepare for these things before I even applied for my Tier IV Student Visa.

What I wasn't able to prepare for were strikes that would take five weeks away from being in a classroom or a global pandemic that stole another two weeks and made the 3000-mile difference between my home and me feel even further.
The first UCU Strike ended my first semester early, while the second, fourteen-day strike was in the middle of the second semester.  They were undoubtedly inconvenient, but my classmates and I supported our professors by meeting up off-campus and trying to do coursework without an instructor present. The weather during these times was dark and dreary anyway, so not having to walk to class in the rain was a silver lining. We assumed there would be plenty of time in the spring and summer to see each other and explore.

The last day of the strike was Friday, March 13: the same day we got a school-wide email explaining that the remainder of the semester would move online. My classmates and I were devastated. Of course, we knew the coronavirus was spreading, but we hoped it would stay out of Scotland a little bit longer. We only had two weeks left of classroom time.

One class moved to online forums, another had one Zoom call, but canceled the last class, and my workshop met over Zoom without an instructor. Conferences and festivals were canceled. Summer travels became airline vouchers and refunds. My favorite cafes to write in closed indefinitely or switched to takeaway orders only. Instead of my idealized summer of exploring and fiction writing, I got the most out of my monthly rent payments by spending the majority of time in my bedroom.

Thankfully, Edinburgh is beautiful, and I'm not one to waste the opportunity of living abroad. Walks through parks and hills allowed me to practice some of the skills I learned in my Digital Photography class from senior year at St. As. There may not be any available tour guides to give background information at the moment, but there is still plenty to see.
My proudest lockdown accomplishment has to be the anthology publication of From Arthur's Seat Volume V, a tradition for the MSc Creative Writing students to produce. We started the process in the fall and refused to let a global pandemic hold us back. Unable to have a launch party at the local Blackwell's Bookshop, we took advantage of technology and figured out how to host YouTube Livestreams through Zoom.  Although not being able to celebrate together in one room was a disappointment, the Livestreams allowed for family and friends who wouldn't have been in Scotland anyway to hear us read our pieces.

I'm a planner; I always have been, and I expect to remain one.  However, for the past year and a half, I've had to remind myself of the mantra, "Make plans, God laughs." 

During Christmas break of my senior year, I was applying for full-time jobs, and graduate school was a thing other people did. By March, I had an application submitted to the University of Edinburgh, and by Easter, I had accepted my placement. One year later, I was in graduate school, but the world was in lockdown.  
This wasn't the year I anticipated. Nobody did. But as strange as it may seem, given the chance, I wouldn't take it back or redo it. 

I've met amazing people and been able to live in a beautiful city. The time I did spend in a classroom was beneficial and introduced me to a community of writers that I would never have met otherwise. I've discovered a love for Pub Trivia, even if my greatest strength throughout it is coming up with the team name. Terms like "team player" and "adaptable" moved from vague resume boosters I hoped were applicable to me, to skills that shined through when situations called for them.

My graduate school experience came with less classroom time than I predicted, but the year was still full of learning opportunities. After all, I'm leaving here with a Creative Writing degree; any craziness results in more material.

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Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Books I Read in March and April


Mouthful by C.R. Grissom*
You can find my review HERE

Havoc by S.S. Richards*
You can find my review HERE

The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern
This novel is layered with stories. First, it's broken into six books with an afterward.  It also has the "main story" as I thought of it, which followed Zachary. However, that story was broken up with chapters from multiple other books and diaries. Everything is related and important and comes together at the end, but it was a little confusing for me at the beginning. I also started this novel and then put it down for a while, which made it a little harder to come back to.

I had to get through Book 1 and 2 before I got to the "Oh my god I don't want to put this book down" phase. And that's not to say Book 1 and 2 were bad, I just had to use them to get used to the layout and, as I said, I had put the book down for a while and it took me a while to get back into it. Once I made it to Book 3 I was fully invested. I was drawing connections between the "main story" and inserted chapters. I was starting to learn everyone's motives. By Book 4 I was falling in love with Zachary and Dorian, which I didn't initially expect.

As a huge fan of The Night Circus, I went into this novel knowing Erin Morgenstern's ability to transport her readers into new worlds. And I slightly guessed that it would be similar in relation to a few storylines overlapping and coming together. However, this is a complete novel, two storybooks, and two diaries. It would be close to impossible to try and give an overarching summary for this novel to anyone who hasn't read it because there would be so many tangents. But as a reader, this novel is amazing. Even if you don't like it, you have to appreciate the effort it took to put it together.

At the end of the novel, I expected all of the storylines to wrap up nicely, because a large aspect is that stories have to eventually end. However, none of them really do. They wrap up, but they also left me wanting a little bit more, which as much as I wanted, I was okay with their endings. The biggest "What happens next" is for Kat. Her character is introduced in the beginning but doesn't really make an impact until the end. I was left wanting her spinoff novel to see what's to come for her. But I actually loved it because it emphasizes that stories continue and when one ends another begins.
One Month Only by Kate J. Blake*
I really enjoyed this novel, except for how it ended. It ends on a cliffhanger, which is usually fine by me, but this novel ends in the middle of the story. In my reading experience, a few things will happen and get resolved and then the cliffhanger will come. Nothing is resolved by the end of this novel.

I assumed the "fake" relationship between Ricardo and Angie would be a larger part of the story, but it hasn't started yet by the ending of this book. Angie agrees to do it, but they have yet to face their families and pretend to date, which was a little disappointing to me.

The reason Angie agrees to fake date is that Ricardo is helping her save her family's business, but no progress is made towards that. Angie is starting to learn what she needs to do, but the hopefulness of whether or not their company is going under is pretty much at the same level by the end.

I really like these characters and the storyline they're setting up, but the ending was right at one of the climaxes of the novel.  It felt like someone ripped it in half and I was left wondering where the second half was. I know a sequel is coming that will probably have everything I'm looking for, but I would have rather had a longer work with more resolution. This novel is also pretty short, so I'm confused as to why the author chose to stop where she did.

The Lucky Ones by Liz Lawson*
BIG topics covered in this novel. The repercussions of a school shooting and how decisions made by parents have a direct effect on their children.

I felt like all of the characters were very real. May is suffering from survivors guilt and the fact that her relationship with her brother wasn't great when he died. They had a completely standard sibling fight, but they were never able to make up, which made it so heartbreaking. May was angry, because of everything that happened but she softened around her friends.

I really liked the scene where Lucy accuses May of not letting other people grieve, because I was kind of thinking that too. However, I also liked that May didn't immediately apologize. It took her a little bit longer to realize her mistakes, but she does.

Something that May and Zach have in common is that their parents aren't there for them. May's parents made her feel like the "spare" since she was little, so when her brother is killed and she is left alive she can't help but feel like her parents wish it was the opposite. Their grief process includes ignoring her, which encourages May to think they don't care about her as much as her brother.  Zach's mom decided to defend the school shooter, making everyone in school turn on him. He goes from being a pretty popular kid to someone who just wants to blend into the background. And his dad's mid-life crisis forces Zach to become the only adult figure for his sister.

May and Zach have to deal with their own lives, which look completely different than they did a year ago, and the realization that their parents are people too, and they're not always right or reliable.

I think this book is really important. It covers very serious topics, some more relatable to readers to others, but all include something you can learn from. School shootings are something most people see on the news for a day and then move on from. This novel reminds us that terrible events like that don't last a day and that the people who survive them and are deemed "lucky" end up suffering for much longer.
You're Not Special: A (Sort-of) Memoir by Meghan Rienks*
I've followed Meghan Rienks on social media for years, so I was very intrigued when I found out she was writing a memoir. Because Meghan is an internet personality and has been for a long time, she has already shared a lot about her life and struggles with anxiety and depression with the world. However, this memoir seemed to give her the chance to share stories she never has before and say "See? You're not special. I've survived that too." She focused mainly on the relationships she's had over the years between herself and friends, family, and boyfriends.

The setup of this book was very appealing to me. The book was broken into sections and she started each chapter with a personal story relating to the section. Then, at the end of each chapter, she would take whatever lesson or coping mechanism she learned from her experience and share her insights. These lessons were all relatable to readers dealing with a spectrum of relationship drama, but by starting with a personal story she was able to prove where her advice was coming from.

I haven't followed Meghan since the beginning of her YouTube journey, but this memoir would certainly be interesting to someone who has. In general, I think being able to realize that while she was posting a hairstyle video or whatever, a friendship was simultaneously imploding off-screen is an important reminder that just because people share part of their lives online doesn't mean they're sharing everything.

I will say that there were a few grammatical errors that I found while reading, but I'm assuming that's because my version was an ARC.

The Redwood Con by Reagan Keeter*
This one is going to be hard to talk about because I don't want to give anything away. Liam finds his girlfriend dead in her apartment, and after the evidence points to him he takes it upon himself to find her killer. In the process, he discovers a spiderweb of secrets that all come together at the last possible moment.

I love the TV show Criminal Minds, and one of the reasons is that I love trying to see how quickly I can guess who the killer is. Since it's a TV show, no character is there by accident. That's how I feel about mystery novels as well, so that's the approach I took to this novel. And to an extent that was true: every detail in this novel counts. However, I wasn't able to guess the ending until I was reading it. That's what I loved about it. This novel was unpredictable. And even if I started to make a guess, I would never be more than half correct. It was amazing seeing everything come together at the end.

One Month More by Kate J. Blake*
And here is the needed sequel to One More Only, although I see it more as the second half. This contains resolutions to the cliffhanger from the first book and how their business relationship works. I find the relationship between Ricardo and Angie really interesting, and obviously, I'm rooting for them.

Ricardo is wicked generous when it comes to Angie, almost to a fault. As the novel goes on, she starts to wonder why. Sure, they care about each other, but he shouldn't feel compelled to buy her love. Angie's sister calls her out on this, and I was glad she did. It seems like his generosity could backfire on Angie if he ever expects her to move to London with him. I also didn't love that he was accidentally taking over her job. There's a scene where he buys new machines, even though Angie was going to. I don't think even he notices, but he's putting Angie in a position to be very dependent on him, which I don't think is something she would ever want. This was starting to come to head by the end of the book, but it ends on a cliffhanger.

There are two things about this novel that confuse me, and I will admit that they're a little nitpicky. One is the title. Ricardo was supposed to be in Tuscany for a month and asked Angie to be his fake girlfriend for that time, however, I'm pretty sure this story is happening within that one month time period. They haven't had to deal with the long-distance relationship yet. The second thing is the fake relationship. They make the deal, but then start real dating before faking it in front of anyone. The subplot seems unnecessary because it's set up to make readers think it's going to be important when in reality it doesn't matter at all.


*These novels were gifted to me, but opinions are my own

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Thursday, April 16, 2020

Havoc by S.S. Richards | Book Review*


Havoc by S.S. Richards is a companion novel to At His Mercy and His to Keep. Although Maksim and Elena make a quick appearance in this novel, the main focus is on Daniel and his runaway bride, Eva. Their marriage was more of a business deal and, although Eva knew Daniel throughout her childhood, she never wanted to be committed to him. Daniel refused to be humiliated by having his wife run away, so he does everything he can to find her, and once he does, he wants to make sure she regrets her decision. However, now that they're together again, memories of the past are becoming clarified, which causes interesting realizations. As much as these two want the other to suffer, they can't help but begin to understand each other and, with understanding, threatens love. Daniel and Eva both have agendas, and I liked how this novel brought the reader on a rollercoaster of whether or not you want them together. The two have to decide if they better off growing together or apart.
I changed my name and my identity. I swore he’d never find me. 
I thought I had planned it well.
Until he showed up in the middle of the day – tall, handsome, and powerful.
It took me three years to build myself up from scratch, cut everybody off, and build a life that has nothing to do with my past. 
And it took him one day to destroy everything I’d built.
My disappearance caused the people of my town to come up with their own stories about me. But most importantly, it caused Daniel to wreak havoc. 

This is a full length standalone dark romantic suspense. Available today.
Purchase Links
Amazon US / UK / CA / AU
Free in Kindle Unlimited
As a young teenager, S.S. Richards started creating imaginary friends and could invent a story in her head within a matter of seconds. A gift that led her into believing she may be “super talented” after all. One day she decided to open her laptop and start feeding words into it, and that’s where it all began. She decided to make a career out of writing.

She also loves to hear from readers. Feel free to email her at s.srichardsbooks@gmail.com

*This novel was gifted to me, but the opinions are my own
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One Boston Day 2020

Yesterday was One Boston Day, a day that celebrates acts of kindness in remembrance of the Boston Marathon Bombings in 2013. However, instead of remembering the hurt and scariness of that day, One Boston Day promotes selflessness and love. For more information and stories, check out their website HERE
Due to the current pandemic, I decided to focus a little more on self-kindness this year. A few days ago, I decided the best thing I could do for myself is have a day that is super productive, so that's what I did. I woke up really early and hiked Arthur's Seat with my roommate to see the sunrise. Later I went to the grocery store and bought some tulips because my trip to Amsterdam to see the tulip fields is currently canceled. I spent a few hours outlining my dissertation that I have a facetime meeting for tomorrow. I also did some meal prep and updated my scrapbook and journal that I've had since arriving in Edinburgh. The early morning and productive day did eventually catch up with me and I was asleep by 8:45pm, but I felt very accomplished.
For small acts of kindness, I cleaned up the kitchen in my flat, which I share with multiple girls. However, my main thing was emailing a bunch of people (family, classmates, past and current professors, past internship supervisors, etc) and just telling them that I'm thinking of them and the things that they taught me over the years. I think days like One Boston Day/Randon Acts of Kindness Day are nice excuses to reopen lines of communication or say things we think all the time but may feel a little awkward bringing up randomly. Everyone likes to know that they're thought of in a positive light.
The world is very bizarre right now and no one is certain when "normal" will return. Some of us are frustrated, stressed, extremely bored, the list goes on...but it's important to remember to be kind. To ourselves and others. One Boston Day reminds us of how resilient and strong we can be. This won't last forever, but we have to stay patient. 
What's an Act of Kindness you've performed recently?

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Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Havoc by S.S. Richards | Cover Reveal

I changed my name and my identity. I swore he’d never find me. 
I thought I had planned it well.
Until he showed up in the middle of the day – tall, handsome and powerful.
It took me three years to build myself up from scratch, cut everybody off and build a life that has nothing to do with my past. 
And it took him one day to destroy everything I’d built.
My disappearance caused the people of my town to come up with their own stories about me. But most importantly, it caused Daniel to wreak havoc. 
This is a full length standalone dark romantic suspense. Available April 16
Preorder Links
Amazon US / UK / CA / AU
As a young teenager, S.S. Richards started creating imaginary friends and could invent a story in her head within a matter of seconds. A gift that led her into believing she may be “super talented” after all. One day she decided to open her laptop and start feeding words into it, and that’s where it all began. She decided to make a career out of writing.

She also loves to hear from readers. Feel free to email her: s.srichardsbooks@gmail.com
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Monday, March 16, 2020

Mouthful by C.R. Grissom | Book Review*

Life after high school still blows 
Between a judgmental beauty advice columnist mom who sends clothes several sizes too small, and social media sex-shaming her senior year of high school, Faith Lacerna needs a self-confidence boost. Being a freshman at Fortis University in Silicon Valley will be fine, as long as she doesn’t attract attention. Except wearing oversized hoodies in sunny California isn’t the best choice for blending in.

When football jock Caleb St. John shows interest, she recommits to studying anything but the hot tight end. Caleb wants to lose himself in football, avoid his unfaithful ex-girlfriend, and – unlike his cheating dad – live his life with integrity. He knows there’s more to Faith than baggy clothes. Her humor and audacity spark more than Caleb’s competitive nature.

Faith doesn’t want to be interested, but Caleb’s kindness and sense of adventure has her hooked. She soon realizes she needs to confront her hurts and fears if she wants to embrace a relationship with Caleb and not let the past intercept her future.


Mouthful tackles online/in real-life bullying and family drama. Faith is ready to start college on the other side of the country and move far away from the classmates who shared an intimate photo of her online. However, it doesn't take long for her to meet Caleb and build a relationship with him. As they get closer, she realizes that having her worst memory a simple internet name search away can be tricky, and she has to decide whether or not to confide in him. Caleb wants nothing more than to be considered trustworthy. After writing off his dad for being unfaithful, he's willing to do whatever it takes to prove to Faith that he cares about her. I liked the dynamic between these two characters. As Faith finally feels like she's getting over a rough patch in her life, Caleb's is just getting started. They're trying to help each other with different experiences, but sometimes that's good. This book is also nice because of the strong presence that Faith and Caleb's respective friends play. It's not just Caleb and Faith against the world, but rather a whole team of people fighting for (and sometimes against) each other. Outside perspectives allow Caleb and Faith to start to come to terms with things from their pasts. However, when everything seems to catch up with them, they're relationship is tested, and they have to decide if the other's understanding of what they're each going through is enough. This novel does an excellent job of showing readers that sometimes things happen in life that can never be fully resolved, but we have to be able to find a way to move on. To recreate a "new normal" and learn to be happy.

Buy the ebook here:

C.R. Grissom lives in San Jose, California—smack dab in the middle of Silicon Valley. She works for a high-tech company by day, and at night writes contemporary sports romance featuring young adults as they transition to college. Winner of the 2018 RWA® Golden Heart® Award in young adult romance for her debut novel: Mouthful.
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