The NY Times Book Tag

Thank you to Kirstie Ellen @ Upside-Down Books for tagging me in the NY Times Book Tag! She’s an amazing blogger and if you don’t follow her, you should!

What is on your night stand right now?

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Nevernight by Jay Kristoff. I absolutely loved Illuminae and I’m excited to see what he created on his own!

What was the last truly great book you read?

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I’m not over A Court of Mist and Fury, which I read over summer. I have read other amazing books since then, but ACOMAF takes the cake.

If you could meet any writer – dead or alive – who would it be? And what would you want to know?

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I would want to meet Libba Bray, and I would want to know how she managed to write so many completely different stories with so many completely different voices. And I would want to know what she did to write stories that bleed GIRL POWER.

What books might we be surprised to find on your shelf?

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I have an entire shelf of nonfiction books on ancient Egypt from back when I was obsessed with that history. I can’t bear to part with them, even though I haven’t opened them in years.

How do you organize your personal library?

I organize my main bookshelves by order of enjoyment. Best books ever are on the top left, then slowly get less and less great as they move right and down. That’s two of my bookshelves. Then I have genre specific shelves—one dystopian/paranormal, one contemporary romance—arranged in the same order. Then I have a random shelf that houses my TBR shelf and my big collections of books (all of the Stephanie Plum books, tons of Agatha Christie novels, the Harry Potter books, and the Series of Unfortunate events).

What book have you always meant to read and haven’t gotten around to yet?

SO MANY. Here are a few random ones: Firsts, Rose Under Fire, and Bruised. 

Disappointing, overrated, just not good: What book did you feel you were supposed to like but didn’t?

Everything, Everything and We Were Liars are the two that come to mind. Both of them sucked me in with gorgeous covers and hype…and let me down.

What kind of stories are you drawn to? Any you stay clear of?

I pretty much read either fantasy or contemporary romance books. I love stories about assassins/thieves/badasses, and I’m a sucker for hate-to-love romances.

I tend to stay clear of books that focus heavily on mental illness, books with unreliable narrators, and paranormal books that make you say “I don’t know what’s going on.” Still, I’ll pick up a few of these each year.

If you could require the President to read one book, what would it be?

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Honestly? I don’t know. I want the President to read intelligence briefings and intense nonfiction and scholarly essays. If I have to pick one, I would go with Beauty Queens by Libba Bray, mainly because you get a lot of different (and important) stories in one. And girl power to the max.

What do you plan to read next?

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I don’t know specifics, but I need to reread Heir of Fire and Queen of Shadows soon so that I can dive into Empire of Storms!

My tags

Giovanna @ Book Coma

Sam @ RiverMoose Reads

Monique @ That Wild Soul

Top Ten Songs I Listen To When Writing

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

This week’s TTT topic is an All About Audio freebie. Since I don’t listen to audio books or podcasts, I thought it would be cool to share with you guys some of the songs I listen to when writing.

I absolutely have to listen to music while writing, but it has to be songs I know really well, played really quietly. I listen to mostly quiet, melancholy music when writing, often just one song on repeat for hours. (Yeah, I’m not a lot of fun to be around when I’m writing.)

1. Here (2 a.m. version) by Alessia Cara

2. Battle Scars by Lupe Fiasco & Guy Sebastian

3. The Love Club by Lorde

4. This is What Makes Us Girls by Lana Del Rey

5. Crazy by Gnarls Barkley

6. Dog Days Are Over by Florence + The Machine

7. Sad Beautiful Tragic by Taylor Swift

8. Send My Love by Adele

9. In the Night by The Weeknd

10. Beautiful Goodbye by Maroon 5


What songs do you listen to when writing? Are these any of your favorites?

The True Meaning of 5/5 Stars: A Closer Look at My Rating System

Like basically every book blogger, when I write a book review, I include a number rating (out of 5) to indicate holistically what I thought. And like basically every book blogger that does that, I have a page on my blog that lays out just what each rating means. (Here, if you’re interested.)

And yet, lately, when I’m writing reviews, I have felt like I need to clarify my rating system. And since I’m a blogger who sucks at coming up with original post ideas, I decided that I could clarify how I choose my ratings with a discussion post.

So, what do I think you need to know about my rating system that isn’t abundantly obvious?

It comes down to this: I rate a book based on if I think it fulfilled its potential. This means that two books can both get 5/5 stars, while one can be waaaaayyy more memorable, emotional, and/or “important” than the other.

Why would I do that, you ask?

I look for different things from a fantasy novel than I do a contemporary novel. If I pick up a contemporary romance with a hilarious title and a cutesy cover, I am expecting it to cheer me up, make me laugh, and fill me with romantic butterflies. If I pick up a fantasy with a foreboding title and a dramatic cover, I am expecting it to take over my life with its gripping plot, its creative magic, and its fascinating characters.

I go into some books looking for a pick-me-up. I go into other books looking to be destroyed. Sometimes, all I want from a book is for it to change how I see the world.

Because of this, I feel that I cannot rate all books on the same scale. If I did, the only (or very nearly) books that would earn 5/5 stars would be intensely dramatic, 500-page-long fantasy novels with a dozen characters and twice as many subplots. (I’m looking at you Brandon Sanderson and Sarah J. Maas.)

That isn’t fair for me. If I go into a book looking for a cheery romantic story, and that book delivers a cheery romantic story and commented on a few of society’s flaws, then that book earned 5 stars. 

At the same time, if I go into a book expecting it to have deep characters, plots, and world-building, and it doesn’t deliver, then that book probably gets at most 3 stars, even if it was a pretty good story. 

So, how does a book earn 5 stars?

There is obviously no easy formula. My expectations, the genre, and the story itself set the criteria for the ranking. However, I would say that all books I give five stars have a few key things in common:

  • They talk about society’s flaws. 
  • Their plot is complex. Bring on the subplots.
  • The characters feel alive and realistic, and they grow over the course of the story.
  • The writing is strong and complements the series.
  • The story’s society—whether that is a make-believe world or a high school—is complex and nuanced.
  • The story evokes specific emotions in me, no matter what mood I was in before I started reading.

So what do you think? Do you rate all of your books on the same scale? Do you agree with my rating system, or do you think it is unfair? 

Book (Play) Review: Medea by Euripides

A downright creepy story about revenge, girl power, and fiery death.

5/5 stars

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synopsis for reviews 2

One of the most powerful and enduring of Greek tragedies, Medea centers on the myth of Jason, leader of the Argonauts, who has won the dragon-guarded treasure of the Golden Fleece with the help of the sorceress Medea. Having married Medea and fathered her two children, Jason abandons her for a more favorable match, never suspecting the terrible revenge she will take.
Euripides’ masterly portrayal of the motives fiercely driving Medea’s pursuit of vengeance for her husband’s insult and betrayal has held theater audiences spellbound for more than twenty centuries.

Add Rex Warner’s translation on Goodreads.

I read Robinson Jeffers’ translation in Man in Literature.

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The school year has started, and with it, reviews of books that I never would have picked up myself. But I am so glad that my English class read this play because OH MY GOD it is badass.

Medea takes the classic Greek myth of Jason and the Argonauts and focuses on the ending, where “heroic” Jason betrays Medea to marry a Greek princess. What is a brief portion of Jason’s tale in most versions of the myth is the entire plot of the two-act play: Medea getting her revenge.

Though Medea was written around 450 BCE, the story feels incredibly modern. None of the characters are entirely good or evil, and there are no definite right or wrong. Sexism and gender roles are discussed and sometimes condemned. Rather than in most “classics”—where I feel like I often have to swallow my anger and roll with the time’s sexist portray of women—Medea has a remarkably feminist slant, appealing to modern tastes.

I love Medea’s character. And by love, I mean that she is badass and sassy and scarily evil. I was drawn to Medea’s feminist side and fascinated with her consuming need for vengeance. Her dialogue was wonderful, and seeing her go head-to-head with Jason and call out his arrogance was perfection.

The plot of Medea is gripping and creepy. The play is short, taking place within the space of a day. The pacing starts slow but then picks up speed; by the end of the play, I was completely engulfed in the story and could not read fast enough. I loved watching Medea oscillate between her mad need for revenge and her more human impulses. Though the story has a fairly common focus (revenge), the plot was unexpected, in some ways defying the standard revenge arc. I was honestly shocked by the ending.

Perhaps my favorite part of Medea is the writing. (To be fair, I am not sure how much of the writing was Euripides and how much was the translator, Robinson Jeffers.) The dialogue brings each character’s voice to life in a way that once again struck me as surprisingly modern. The story builds gorgeous motifs, which I appreciate both from a literary standpoint and from the view of a student who has to write an essay about it.

I would recommend Medea to anyone who has a free hour and a desire to read a creepy but empowering story about revenge and death.

Top Ten All Time Favorite Fantasy Books

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

This week’s topic is Top Ten ALL TIME Favorite Books Of X Genre, and I knew I had to choose fantasy. It is the genre I read the most often, and the genre that has most consistently blown me away.

1. All of the Mistborn novels by Brandon Sanderson

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Do you love intricate world building, vibrant characters, and lots and lots of plot twists? Then you HAVE to read Mistborn!

2. Graceling and Fire by Kristen Cashore

These are some of the first YA fantasy books I ever read, and I have to thank them for making me fall in love with the genre. They have the perfect balance between creative fantasy elements, powerful female characters, and swoon-inducing romance.

3. Uprooted by Naomi Novik

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This book is CREEPY AF. It blurs the line between fantasy and horror, fairy tale and nightmare, and does it all while creating one of my favorite heroines and love interests ever.

4. the Throne of Glass series by Sarah J. Maas

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If you haven’t heard of this series yet, you’ve probably been living under a rock. The series doesn’t hit its stride until the third book (in my opinion), but once it does, it becomes one of the most captivating YA fantasy stories out there.

5. The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater

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I am in love with everything about this series: the characters, the world-building, the magic, and the writing style. I could read these books forever.

6. Elantris by Brandon Sanderson

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Brandon Sanderson writes fantasy like no other. This is one of the most complex, moving fantasy stories ever—and it is a standalone.

7. Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho

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I did not expect to love this book as much as I did, but it’s relentless dedication calling out sexism and racism won me over. It’s characters break the expected mold and the world building is unique even if it is not extremely complex.

8. The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

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This is one of my comfort books. The story is gorgeous, with perfectly flawed characters and a wonderful hate-to-love romance. This is a must read.

9. The Queen’s Thief series by Megan Whalen Turner

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Though the fantasy elements in this series are subtle, I still love them. This is one of my favorite series ever, and the small bits of fantasy thrown in only make it better.

10. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

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This book is MAGNIFICENT. Both the fantasy world Morgenstern creates and the way she writes about it are unique and unforgettable. If you haven’t read this book yet GO READ IT.

11. the A Court of Thorns and Roses series by Sarah J. Maas

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Finally, how could this list be complete without my current obsession, the ACOTAR series? A Court of Mist and Fury DESTROYED me, earning the title of one of the most powerful stories I have ever read.


Have you read these books? What are your favorite fantasy books? 

What Looking For Myself in Books Taught Me About the Need for Diversity

Recently, there has been a lot of talk about the need for more diversity in YA literature. I’m excited that every time I go on my Twitter feed, someone is saying something new about the importance of characters breaking the standard white/cis/hetero mold. What really helped me grasp the enormity of the change that needs to occur was reading other people’s personal stories about the effect non-diverse stories have had on their lives and their identities.

I have seen countless bloggers talk about their desire to see themselves represented in their favorite books and to read their own stories. Hearing so many different bloggers express this frustration got me thinking about whether I actually see myself in the books I read.

On one hand, the answer is an unequivocal and incredibly privileged YES. I’m a white teenage girl—quite literally the default for YA protagonists. Nearly every book I pick up has a main character whose skin I could slip into, and it is only through hearing other people talk about not being able to do this that I’ve realized how lucky I have been.

On the other hand, I’m an introvert with a deep-seated fear of standing up to authority or society. I touched on this in a post I wrote about reading YA as a girl who cries a lot, but I’m going to explore it more now. Keep in mind that this is just me rambling to myself, trying to get my thoughts in order, and if something I say rubs you the wrong way, please tell me, because the point of this is to grow as a person.

My favorite protagonists are dramatically not introverts. They are the badass women who stand up for what they believe in, defy authority, flirt with skill instead of self-consciousness, and sass everyone in their general vicinity. And honestly? I love reading about them. They are everything I am not, but they also make for amazing stories.

So when I started really thinking and realized how few main characters I relate to, I thought I didn’t care. Girls like me don’t bring kingdoms to their knees or go on spur-of-the-moment life-changing road trips, but those are the stories I wand to read. Reading is an escape, a chance to be someone I’m not…so why would I care that I don’t get to read about myself?

But then I really started thinking about it, and I realized that my favorite protagonists are the ones I can relate to. The shy girls who do brave things anyway. The quiet girls who save the world but never get over that doubting voice in the back of their head. The girls who count on extroverted best friends to get them to do crazy things, because there is no way they would do them themselves.

When I think about the characters whose stories captured me the most, the ones that truly grabbed my heart, they all have characters I can actually relate to. Of course, other stories with different protagonists capture me as well, but never in the same way.

I also realized something else. Sometimes, in stories with brash, unabashed protagonists, there are scenes that are so awkward, so painfully socially cringey, that I actually have to stop reading and remind myself that it isn’t real. That the main character is braver than I am. That the main character can deal with awkwardness better than I can.

Scenes like these are so common in literature that I don’t question them anymore; they’re just a roller coaster I have to get through to enjoy the rest of the story.

And yet…why am I willing to struggle through scenes that make every socially awkward nerve in my body scream because I assume other people find those scenes fun?

The answer, of course, is that the larger stories are worth it. Still, it was only by realizing how much I’ve shoved aside what I personally like in the name of enjoying the author’s overall story that I started to understand what it would be like if you had to do that for something as fundamental as the main character’s identity.

I have it easy. No matter how out-of-touch I feel with a protagonist, I still 99% of the time relate to them in terms of gender, sexuality, and/or race. Nevertheless, it was important for me to explore the times I didn’t relate to the protagonist to empathize with others as they beg authors to write their own stories.

It is easy as a white/cis/hetero person to see people talking about diversity and feel like you don’t have a place in (or a right to take part in) the discussion. However, I think if we all looked at ourselves closer, we would find some part of us that empathizes with the frustrations people are sharing right now. It would probably seem like a small change, but this discussion needs all the empathy it can get right now.

Book Review: A Great and Terrible Beauty (Gemma Doyle #1) by Libba Bray

This book was one of the first YA books that I ever fell in love with, and rereading it made me remember why I love this series, this author, and this genre so much.

4/5 stars

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Gemma Doyle, sixteen and proud, must leave the warmth of her childhood home in India for the rigid Spence Academy, a cold finishing school outside of London, followed by a stranger who bears puzzling warnings. Using her sharp tongue and agile mind, she navigates the stormy seas of friendship with high-born daughters and her roommate, a plain scholarship case. As Gemma discovers that her mother’s death may have an otherworldly cause, and that she herself may have innate powers, Gemma is forced to face her own frightening, yet exciting destiny . . . if only she can believe in it.

*I took this synopsis from the Random House website because I did not like the Goodreads one.*

Add it on Goodreads

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This was my fourth time reading A Great and Terrible Beauty. Even so, I hadn’t read the story since I started high school, so it was strange experience because I simultaneously remembered nothing and everything.

I absolutely loved Gemma as our protagonist. She was a perfectly imperfect main character. She tried to be a good person, but she also had jealousies and insecurities; she could be charitable and spiteful in equal measure. However, even when she did something ridiculously stupid, I always understood why she was making that choice, which for me is the most important part of writing a protagonist. She is trapped between wanting to be the perfect daughter society wants and wanting to figure out who she really is.

I also adore the setting of this book. After watching her mother be murdered inexplicably, Gemma leaves her home in India and is sent to a British finishing school to be transformed into a proper British lady. Bray’s depiction of turn-of-the-century England is gorgeous and unforgiving, capturing both it’s charms and its faults. Spence, the school Gemma is sent to, has an unmistakable atmosphere, equal parts strict discipline and eerily supernatural.

And then there are the characters Gemma meets at Spence: Ann, the shy scholarship student; Pippa, the spiteful and jealous beauty; and Felicity, the harsh and power-hungry queen bee. Each of them begins the story with a simple persona, but as Gemma gets to know each girl better, their hidden layers are revealed.

Truly, these girls are some of the most “alive” characters I have ever read. The way that their moods shift depending on small events or subtext, the way that each character has a different dynamic with each other character—they feel real in a way that other characters just don’t.

It is not a perfect friendship, or even a particularly healthy one at at times. The four girls are bound together by secrets and jealousies as much as they are by genuine affection. However, they are also intensely close with each other, craving each other’s company. This creates a group dynamic that is nothing like the cheery, all-for-one-and-one-for-all friendships I typically see in YA.

Warning time: this book totally has girl-girl hate, spitefulness, and bitchiness. If that is not your thing, I respect that…but I would ask that you do not write off this book immediately because of it. Unlike a lot of Mean Girl-type characters, every bitchy girl in this book has a reason for their actions, whether that be society’s prejudices or their own secret fears. Because of this, their hatefulness makes sense and helps develop the story and their characters instead of existing just to have an evil clique for the protagonist to conflict with. In all honesty, I 100% did not mind the girl-girl hate in this book (but if you did, I understand where you are coming from).

Finally, the supernatural side of this book. From the moment Gemma’s mother is murdered, Gemma knows that something is not right with her. She starts having over-powering and terrifying visions and ends up discovering a magical and dangerous place called the Realms.

I LOVE the paranormal side of A Great and Terrible Beauty. As the title suggests, the magic Gemma discovers is both wonderful and horrible. This book has some incredibly creepy scenes, but it also has girls turning leaves into butterflies. From this, the book—and the entire series—explores the difference between right and wrong, good and evil, in a really interesting and creative way.

There is a little bit of romance, but it does not dominate the plot at all. Most of the “romantic” parts of the book are really just Gemma discovering herself and breaking away from her society. I really appreciate that the author chose to have Gemma go through a sexual awakening without falling in love. It’s different from the standard YA mold and it makes more sense with Gemma’s character.

A Great and Terrible Beauty has at its heart the themes of rebellion and self discovery. Even though the girls were raised in an extremely conservative society, they rebel and dare to wish for forbidden things. Still, every character has a reason for their rebellion, something that makes their rebellions so much more poignant.

I would recommend A Great and Terrible Beauty to fans of historical settings and paranormal stories who also want to read about the day-to-day discoveries of Gemma and her friends as they suffer through finishing school. It is an emotional, well written story that asks the reader questions that it does not always have the answer for.