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.
Website | Facebook | Twitter | GoodreadsBookBub

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Monday, March 2, 2020

Books I Read in January & February

Twice in a Blue Moon by Christina Lauren
Second chances are tricky. I personally believe in giving people second chances, but I also understand that sometimes those chances have to be conditional. Sam and Tate meet in a movie-style fashion: On vacation. Very Lizzie McGuire. And just like Paolo, Sam ends up being not great. He sells a secret Tate trusts him with to the media and then disappears from her life. She's heartbroken, but over time she's able to use the leaked information to help further her career as an actress. Years later, she has to work with Sam and confront her past. However, when he reveals that even though he knew what he did was wrong, he had a good reason for doing it, Tate decides to give him a second chance.

My favorite part about this is that, in my opinion, what usually happens in books like this is the girl gets betrayed by a boy and then years later finally decides to trust a different boy. The fact that Tate decides to give the same boy a second chance was huge for me. Of course, some factors allowed her to do that. For one, she agreed with his reasoning for selling her out. And two, she was able to build her career off of the event. If one of those two things weren't the case I don't think she would have ever spoken to Sam again. However, when Tate becomes headline news again, she doesn't know whether or not Sam was the one to sell her out.

This novel tackles questions about who to trust, based on actions, reasons, and consequences. And of course, it always seems to be conditional, but you are capable of trusting someone who did you wrong in the past and great things can come out of it. This novel also reminds us that the people were supposed to be able to trust (in this case, family) aren't always the most reliable. Tate finds herself in a few conflicting situations, but she is constantly learning from her past to make the best decisions.

Love According to Science by Claire Kingsley*
This book is the sequel to Faking Ms. Right. Check out the review for this novel HERE. Spoiler: I loved it :)

Man Crush Monday by Kirsty Moseley*
Check out the review for this novel HERE. Spoiler: It was another good one :)
His to Keep by S.S. Richards*
This is the sequel to At His Mercy, which I reviewed in January. At the end of that novel, Elena comes back to Maksim and resolves to take down her uncle with him. In this novel, she is quickly taken captive by her uncle and is held in a secret place where he keeps all of the slaves he is training for sex trafficking. Meanwhile, Maksim is doing everything he can to find her. Although separated, the two of them use the love they have for each other as motivation to get through it. Secrets are revealed about Elena from both her and Maksim's point of view, which made it really interesting to see how they react.

Up until this point, I was fully invested in the story, but I had a few issues with Maksim after he finds Elena. He wants them to go back to the love and intimacy they found with each other by the end of the first book, but I hated how he went about it. There are a few times he grabs Elena and turns her to face him, which I did not like at all. She literally just got out of a sex trafficking prison where she was beaten and drugged. I felt like Maksim should have been more sensitive to that and been more cautious with Elena. To me, she was really struggling, and he didn't want to help her. And it wasn't even like he was trying different things and failing, he just didn't want to acknowledge what she went through. He was trying to force her back into normalcy. He does give her space at one point and finds the one person who can really help Elena, which I liked, but after that, the book quickly comes to an end. Within five minutes, Elena talks to this person and then turns to Maksim and they're immediately okay again. It felt rushed to me. I needed one or two more chapters of Elena and Maksim finding their rhythm again.

Faking Ms. Right by Claire Kingsley
I stayed up until about 2am to read this in one go. I really enjoyed it. I read the sequel first because I didn't know that this book existed, but I don't think it gave too much away. I mean, I knew Everly and Shepherd would end up together, but I kind of knew that anyway. This novel shows great family and friend dynamics, that although probably aren't totally relatable, aren't super far fetched either.

When Everly gets a phone call from her boss to meet him at a black-tie event she doesn't ask many questions. Once she arrives and discovers that he needs her to play the part of his girlfriend because his dad is dating his ex-girlfriend, Everly does so flawlessly, enjoying making make-believe for one night. However, she quickly finds herself playing the part for more than one night and even moving in with her boss to keep the charade going. However, when the line between pretend and real blurs (because how could it not?) things get complicated. Throw in a secret motive Everly had for half a second when she agreed to the whole thing and an out of state job offer, and Everly and Shepherd find themselves with big decisions to make.

I thought this book was really funny, which I always appreciate. Everly is a friendly girl who has enough dating horror stories to make her tough enough to handle anything. Pair that with quiet, private Shepherd who really hates seeing his ex-girlfriend with his dad. One of my favorite scenes is when Shepherd asks Everly out to dinner and she recommends a questionable food truck. She already has other plans but wants to mess with him Shepherd a little bit before declining. She knows he'd never want to eat there, but it's cute that he seems to about to give in because she picked it. They definitely have the opposite attract vibes going for them, but at the same time, Everly is the person who allows Shepherd to open up. And he not only opens up to her but also to his family by inviting him to see his band play. And Everly, as friendly and open as she is, proves she's trustworthy with secrets, which Shepherd clearly appreciates.
Normal People by Sally Rooney
I genuinely don't know how I felt about this novel. Part of me found it very interesting. The idea that there are "couples" out there, who aren't really in a relationship, but always seem to gravitate towards each other when they're in close proximity. I liked that. I thought there was some truth to that. I also found it interesting that Connell and Marianne have a role reversal once they leave their hometown for Uni. I also think that can happen. The person who has it all in high school realizes they're really not that cool and the misunderstood person finally finds a sense of belonging.

However, I also didn't really like either of their characters. They always came back to each other but seemed more of a familiarity/convenience thing rather than a they actually care about each other thing, which I struggled to get behind. Connell finds himself in a bad state and thankfully gets the help he needs from the school therapist, but I feel like being with Marianne doesn't help him move forward in his life. Marianne definitely could have benefitted from therapy herself. Her family was some of the worst people ever and she grew up thinking that she deserved to be treated poorly. She actually gets her feelings hurt when Connell refuses to hit her, which was just really sad to read.

At the end of the book, I craved an epilogue telling what happened after Connell gets his MFA. Do they continue this weird relationship they're in? Do they finally grow up and are able to love each other in a more mature way? Do they both finally move on from one another? I was curious, but we don't get an answer.

Odriel's Heirs by Hayley Reese Chow*
I don't naturally gravitate towards fantasy novels unless there is a ton of hype behind them. However, when the author of this novel reached out and asked me for a review, I read the synopsis and decided to give it a go. And I was not disappointed. As this is a new novel, I'm going to try to not give away any spoilers, but it might be tricky

This novel follows Kaia, a Dragon Heir (which means she can create and direct fire), as she tries to protect her home from an evil man who is trying to bring darkness to the land through his army of the undead. But she's not alone. She's with Klaus, the Shadow Heir (He can turn invisible), whom she's known forever, but has never really gotten along with - If you're like me and read a lot of love stories you know where this is going. And they're a man who has been cursed to be a cat guiding their way. As they travel throughout their land to destroy the undead, they're faced with tough decisions and sacrifices.

I (obviously, because I'm me) loved the relationship between Kaia and Klaus. They're rivals the way athletes are rivals. They both want to be the best, but they still have respect for each other. They also understand that they're fighting for the same thing so the most important thing is that they're both the best they can be. They also know that they need each other in order to be victorious in the battle...and maybe more... Their competitiveness with each other allows for some humor and pranks between the two that also reminds readers that although they're heirs, they're also seventeen-year-olds.

I also liked that there wasn't one big fight in this novel, but also a few smaller ones. The two are constantly being mentally and physically challenged. They get hurt whenever they have run-ins with the enemy and are weakened the more they are forced to use their powers. They also have to make very hard decisions very quickly and later think through their decisions. They're trying to protect their home from a dangerous being and the novel never allows the reader to forget the stakes and challenges.

Then the novel ends and things are different but okay. They just fought in a huge battle and a lot of people died. There's a new normal that has to come over the world, but it seems like it will adapt. And then there's an epilogue that makes you realize the ending has a false sense of security. This novel just doesn't stop. Now I can't wait for the sequel.


*This book was gifted to me, but the opinions are my own

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Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Casey's Five Days in Edinburgh

One of my best friends from college, Casey, is now a teacher. Her mom reached out to me a few months ago and asked if it would be okay if she bought Casey a plane ticket to visit me over February Break. That happened to be my week off as well, which worked out great. Technically, Casey was here for seven days, but the day she arrived and the day she left we didn't do anything touristy.
So after Christmas, Casey and I planned an itinerary for her trip. That itinerary quickly went out the window once she got here because we had to work around the weather. Casey definitely got the Scottish weather that people talk about. Within an hour and a half, it rained, snowed, and completely cleared up, all while being incredibly windy.  
For anyone intending to visit Edinburgh, you can hit the highlights in about three days. However, because Casey was here for five full days, we spread everything in the city out over four days and spent one day out of the city. One thing we didn't do was go into any museums. If you're interested in the Scottish history museum or fine arts museum, you might need more than three days. But Edinburgh Castle, Palace at Holyroodhouse, the Royal Mile, Princes Street, Calton Hill, and Arthur's Seat (which we didn't do) could easily be done in three days.
As I said, the weather was wild, so we would go back to my flat in order to regroup at least once a day. We also were in no rush to start our days, because it was a vacation, so we didn't leave my flat until at least 11am every day.  
As the host, I was a little stressed because although I've been here since September, I've been focusing mostly on school. I go to the same four places every week and that's about it. I made sure that Casey felt like she saw everything she wanted to before she left, which she said she did. We also learned quite a bit about Scottish history throughout our different tours and activities.
Sunday, February 16
Casey landed in Edinburgh around 11:30am and was in my flat by 1pm. I spent the morning finishing up some homework and grabbing some candy from the grocery store. I showed her around my flat and then we headed to Civerino's Slice for lunch. We spent the rest of the afternoon chatting and catching up. We ate dinner at The Pear Tree.  It was a relaxed day, especially because Casey had spent so much time traveling so we ended the night by watching John Mulaney on Netflix.
Monday, February 17
After grabbing breakfast at Black Medicine Coffee Co, Casey and I walked into the Old College so that she could see a little piece of my school. I don't spend much time at the Old College, but it's where the pictures from the brochure come from. We went on a Mountebank Comedy Walking Tour of Edinburgh which we both enjoyed. Our tour guide, Daniel, was hysterical and not only good at making the tour generally funny, but also relating it to specific people on the tour. It was also educational and allowed Casey to get an overview of the part of the city that I spend the most time in. We also booked a tour at The Scotch Whisky Experience. That was cool because you get to ride in a Whisky Barrel train type thing to learn how whisky is made. Then there were videos and the staff member, Jethro, gave a voice-over of information. At the end of the tour, we were standing amongst the world's largest Scotch Whisky collection and got to taste a sample for ourselves. Neither Casey nor I am whisky drinkers, but because whisky is such an important aspect of Scottish culture it seemed necessary to learn about it. I really enjoyed both tours and thought they were good first-day activities because they force you to dive headfirst into Scottish history and culture. We met up with my cousin, Katie, for drinks at The Piper's Rest and then grabbed food at BRGR.
Tuesday, February 18
When we woke up, it was sunny out so we decided the first activity we should do was climb Calton Hill and look at the views of the city. We grabbed a quick breakfast at Pret and made our way up the hill. As we were there, it started pouring out and we dipped into The Guildford Arms to wait it out. The sun did come back out, which allowed us to make our way down Princes Street to the Ross Fountain for some photos. Afterward, we went back to the Royal Mile, stopping in The Albanach for a Pimms before walking through a few of the gift stores. For food, we went to Civerino's restaurant in Hunter's Square. That night we decided to a comedy show at Monkey Barrel Comedy because it was free for students. I had been to comedy shows there before and really liked them, but this one wasn't very good. It was called Alternative Comedy, which Casey and I learned we don't like. But hey, you never know what you will and won't like unless you try it out.
Wednesday, February 19
We started Wednesday at Em's Kitchen eating delicious pancakes. I got bacon and maple syrup while Casey opted for banana and Nutella. We each got a hot chocolate as well. It was all amazing. We then walked down to the Palace at Holyroodhouse just to see it before walking the full length of the Royal Mile to get to the Edinburgh Castle. We went into the castle and took a quick tour before exploring on our own. I love the short overview tours that the castle has. They remind me of the Beefeater tours at the Tower of London. You don't go inside anything, but the tour guide points to a building and gives you its history and what you'll find inside. We liked the Honours of Scotland because it includes the crown. We learned that during the American Revolution some revolutionary soldiers came to Edinburgh and were held prisoner at the Edinburgh Castle. However, because they weren't technically Americans yet, they were treated as pirates/rebels of the royal crown and given fewer rations that the other prisoners of war. What is believed to be one of the first drawings of the American Flag was carved into one of the doors that the castle has on display.  That night we got dinner at McSorley's and booked a tour of St. Andrews.
Thursday, February 20
We didn't initially plan on this but decided to go on a Rabbie's day tour of St. Andrews & The Fishing Villages of Fife. The first stop was at a small fishing village in Fife. The stop was short to allow everyone to stretch their legs and we got some hot chocolate. The big stop was St. Andrews. There were two different drop-off spots, one at the golf museum and one at the cathedral. This became a bit of a joke because during the drive our tour guide, Grant, asked who was interested in golf and no one raised their hand. St. Andrews is the home of golf, so it was funny for him to have no one on the tour very interested in it. Casey and I walked through the cathedral but didn't buy tickets to the museum. Then we walked the path by the water and took pictures with the castle in the background. We walked past the castle, afterward, but again, didn't pay to explore the ruins. The University is spread throughout the city, so we pretended like we knew the exact spot William and Kate met and then went into the gift shop. We got lunch at Molly Malones before walking to the golf museum gift shop. This was also where we had to meet the bus.  We tried to find some golfing husbands in the last seventeen minutes of our trip there but were out of luck on that. The final stop of the tour was Falkland. Unfortunately the castle there doesn't open until March but we took a picture of it and then made our way back to Edinburgh. Because we had some extra time, we stopped to take a picture of the bridges as well.

Once back in Edinburgh, we met up with some of my friends for trivia at The Black Bull, which we do every Thursday. However, they changed their menu a little while ago and took off our favorite foods, so after trivia, we went to Civerino's slice for pizza and zeppole donuts.
Friday, February 21
Once again, we got Black Medicine Coffee for breakfast before starting our day. We decided to tour the Palace at Holyroodhouse. It's a nice tour, but it's a headset tour so it's very quiet. It was fun to be somewhere the queen and royal family actually spend time in when they're in Edinburgh. Then we did some final souvenir shopping for Casey. We were originally thinking of going to a rugby game at Murrayfield, but then it was so cold and rainy we said forget it.  We tried to go to The Three Sisters, but it was packed so we ended up back at The Pear Tree. We thought the rugby game might be on the TV, but it wasn't so we people watched instead, which was very entertaining. On the way back to my flat we went to BRGR for chicken nuggets and milkshakes.
Saturday, February 22
Our alarms went off at 5:15am and Casey was in a taxi on the way to the airport by 6am.
It was great getting to spend a week with someone from home. It definitely made me miss home a little bit though, but I'll be back soon enough! Check out the corresponding YouTube video to watch us make our way through Edinburgh!



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Monday, February 24, 2020

How I Chose My Study Abroad Experience

Today is #NationalStudyAbroadDay, so I wanted to share a little bit about my Study Abroad experience.

When I was touring colleges as a Junior in High School, I had no idea where I wanted to go, but I knew I wanted to study abroad in London, England. My mom eventually said something like, "Okay, that's fine, but what about the other seven semesters?"

Eventually, I did find a college to go to that I absolutely loved! But I still wanted to Study Abroad. I went to the info session at accepted student's day, during my Freshman year, and during my Sophomore year. Those meetings were where I learned an internship could be an option. The end of Sophomore year was when the fun started because that's when I had to start making choices about locations and programs.

The location was easy. I'd wanted to visit London since I was a Freshman in High School. The program took a second longer. I went to a meeting with the Study Abroad Director and expressed interest in partaking in an internship while abroad. I mentioned that Simon & Schuster had a location in London that I thought would be cool to work at.  The Director immediately handed me booklets and explained a few different programs.

One of the programs was the Arcadia London Internship Program. Arcadia University is in Pennsylvania, but it has a massive emphasis on studying abroad and requires going abroad from all of its students. Because of that, they have locations all over the world. I would live and study with Americans, but I was guaranteed an internship somewhere in the city.

The fact that I would be living and studying only with Americans was a pro and a con to the program.  For a con, it felt like there was a bit of a wall up that separated me from fully immersing in the British culture. On the other hand, I was still able to make amazing friends (that didn't live an ocean away). Also, growing up, I suffered from homesickness, so having everyone around me going through the same experience of being so far from home helped me feel more comfortable. The pros definitely outweighed the cons
*Disclaimer: I could have taken a course at a London University if I wanted to, but Arcadia offered everything I needed

As I said, by being accepted to the Arcadia London Internship Program, I was guaranteed an internship. The application asked me what my interests were, and I checked off a few things but also wrote in the comment box that I would love to be at Simon & Schuster UK specifically. In the fall of 2017, I received an email saying that there was an opening in the Marketing & Publicity department at Simon & Schuster UK. I agreed to a phone interview (which lasted about 10 minutes), and then I was offered the position.

And just like that, I was off. January 1, 2018, I boarded a plane for London and wouldn't be home again until the end of April. It was the longest I had ever been away from home. I was excited and nervous.

My abroad experience was amazing. Living in London was so cool. I went to the Warner Bros. Studio Tour of Harry Potter twice, and London was the first place I ever went into a Pret, which is one of my favorite breakfast/lunch places. I loved my internship, even though it mostly involved me in the mailroom sending out books to bloggers. Eventually, I was making press releases and show cards, but it was a lot of mailings. I met great people and I am still close to a few of them. I got to go on many adventures. My roommate and I would find a new bakery every Tuesday after class, Arcadia offered excursions that allowed me to spend the day at Windsor Castle and a long weekend in Berlin, Germany, and friends and I made trips to Edinburgh, Scotland; Dublin, Ireland; and Nice, France. My brother came over in February and we went to Brussels, Belgium and a few other family members visited at the end of my trip to move me home and we spent a day in Paris, France.
My mom has since commented a few times that my study abroad experience was when she noticed I grew up. It forced me to come out of my shell and to try new things. I gained a ton of confidence in myself by the end of my 3+ months away from home, and I think the fact that my family and friends weren't two hours away was a huge part of that. My introverted self couldn't hide behind them anymore.

Studying abroad was something that I always knew I wanted to do, and it was even better than I could have imagined. If you've ever considered studying abroad, I HIGHLY recommend you look into it. There are only so many years you're eligible to do something like that, and it would really stink to have that as something you wished you did back in college.

What questions do you have about studying abroad?

I blogged the entire time I was abroad. To see all of those posts click HERE

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