Top 5 Bookish Habits

Hey guys! Sooo… Let’s just ignore the fact that I haven’t posted in a week or so, and that I’m doing a Top 5 Tuesday post on a Friday… Whoops? *coughs* This week has been CRAZY! I had a couple of deadlines for grad class and a research proposal, and on top of that I’ve been trying to hit four runs a week to prep for my 21K in April, which I squeeze in after my 9:00PM grad classes. It’s been brutal, and by the time I get home I just want to pass out for a week.

But! I’m alive now, writing this post. Better late than never, as they say.

Once again, this one’s hosted by the wonderful Shanah @ Bionic Book Worm. This was a pretty fun prompt, so I’ll get right to it!


1. I plastic-cover all of my books – yes, even hardbacks.

dog rolling

It’s pretty humid here in the Philippines, so my books don’t survive long if I don’t plastic-cover them. Plus, I tend to lend my books out a lot (or rather I unabashedly recommend books to my friends and press them into their reluctant hands), but I don’t want them coming back to me with suspicious, new-looking creases on the corners, so wrapping them in plastic cover helps me protect my precious books AND be magnanimous in loaning them out at the same time. A win-win, I’d say.

2. I usually read at home. I can’t seem to concentrate reading anywhere else.

reading hatefully

Much to my consternation, I can never live out my rather mundane fantasy of reading books in public places, like my favorite cafe, or a public park, or the library – or even in places like the dentist’s office or the subway or the airport. Believe me, I’ve tried. But I just can’t seem to concentrate when there are people around.

I mean, I do read a little when I’m not at home, but my brain seems incapable of shutting up when I’m outside, so reading isn’t as immersive as I want it to be. (Wow, that’s the fifth time they called this Kenneth person – does he not want his vanilla sweet cream cold brew? How do I even know the name of that drink, anyway? Hey, I never noticed they decorated for Valentines’! …and so on.)

The place where I can really enjoy reading and forget the world is at home, where I’m so used to the surroundings that nothing catches my brain’s interest. So you can just imagine my relief at the end of a long day or week and I can finally relax with a book. It’s literally my favorite feeling ever.

3. I keep a running Notes document for all the striking words or phrases I encounter while reading.

this is good

Because I’m a nerd, I collect pretty or clever words and phrases like other people collect Pokemon or baseball cards. I’m not very systematic about it, though – I just dump everything in a single document on my iPhone’s Notes app. Actually, this isn’t limited to just books; it extends to everything I read. Whether it’s from a journal article or a tweet, if it strikes me as interesting, it gets added to the note (properly cited, of course). Sometimes I just scroll through it and pick up a word that tickled me and that I felt like using for my blog or my research paper. I guess it’s also my way of trying to improve my writing and experimenting with different styles, inspired by the authors I’ve admired.

4. When reading hardbacks, I usually pause reading around the middle or end of a book signature.

For those who aren’t quite familiar with the anatomy of a book, book signatures are distinct sections of pages in hardbacks:

book signatures

When you take it apart, they look like little filler notebooks:

signature2

It just drives me nuts if I have to place my bookmark in a section that isn’t neatly bisected by the middle or end of a signature, so I usually read with one finger already marking the end of the signature to get a feel for when I’ll be pausing. Sometimes I wonder if it means I have some weird form of OCD, but since it’s not destroying my life or anything, I’m chalking it up to just another bookish quirk.

5. I never dog-ear my books. Just… no.

dog ears
I laughed way too hard when I saw this.

I use bookmarks like a normal person. If I don’t have one on hand, I use receipts. In dire circumstances, I use my school ID. But I never, EVER dog-ear.


Topics for Top 5 Tuesdays this February


That’s it for this post! How about you, what are your bookish habits? Let me know in the comments!

Top 5 Books that Exceeded Expectations

I’m back for another Top 5 Tuesday post! Once again, this one’s hosted by Shanah @ Bionic Book Worm. This week’s prompt was a bit challenging because I couldn’t think of just five books, so I whittled it down by choosing the five books that exceeded expectations and the ones I loved so much that I plan to reread them. Here they are, in no particular order:


The Hating Game by Sally Thorne (2016)

The Hating Game

My bar for contemporary romance isn’t even high in the first place, but WOW did this exceed expectations I didn’t know I had! It has all the romance tropes I love – enemies to lovers, witty banter, a quirky heroine and a straight-laced hero, bed-sharing, and the game motif – and it did everything right. It made me laugh, it made me sigh, it made me giddy, and it made me believe in the contemporary romance genre again. I hold any book in the genre now to this standard.


Possession by A. S. Byatt (1990)

Possession

Whenever I read literary books, there’s a tiny part of me that still feels like I’m “obliged” to do it – obliged to be more understanding of it, more deferential, more patient with the author’s formal experiments and meandering prose – so that at the end of it all, I can feel proud that I’ve conquered another literary work, even if I hadn’t exactly enjoyed it.

Not so with Possession. Possession is one of those literary works that’s also a romance and a thriller – if you can imagine a thriller set in academia, with two scholars of two dead Romantic poets as the protagonists. Plus, this is also a book-within-a-book, where we have the main narrative alternating with the trail of letters and documents left behind by the dead poets that our protagonists follow in order to unravel the real nature of their relationship. This book was magical and transporting, compulsively readable, and intellectually rewarding to read.


The Secret History by Donna Tartt (2004)

the secret history

Yes, this is the second book on this list set in the academe, and yes, I’m nuts for books set in the academe, especially if they promise dark undercurrents. This was one of those books that just hit the right notes for me – the discussion on the classics (even if I didn’t understand any of the Greek stuff), the group of brilliant misfits, the exploration of the repercussions of good and evil. This was also a startlingly insightful character study: Tartt’s characters are unlikeable and many times unsympathetic, but I was helplessly drawn into their orbit anyway, seduced, like the narrator, by the group’s air of brilliance and exclusivity. I was morbidly fascinated and invested in these characters until the bitter end, even when all their relationships with each other turned poisonous. This was another addictive page-turner that I’d recommend to anyone who’d appreciate its darkness.


The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert

The signature

Like I mentioned in my review on City of GirlsI honestly wasn’t expecting a lot from Gilbert in the first place, so I was genuinely surprised by how much I loved this one. The Signature of All Things is a historical saga spanning most of the 18th and 19th centuries, and it vividly portrays American society and the world caught in a whirlwind of change. It touches on the issues of women in science and of being an unattractive and intelligent woman; it explores the wider issues of colonialism and scientific discovery. Breathtaking in scope without sacrificing intimacy of detail, reading The Signature of All Things was a transcendent experience.


A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki (2013)

A Tale for the Time Being

This is a very dear book. In A Tale for the Time Being, Ruth, in present-day Vancouver, discovers a lunch box with some letters and a diary written by a certain 16-year-old Nao from Japan. I was more invested in Nao’s story, to be honest, but I remember finishing this book feeling like I had a lot to think about – especially about our existence in space and time. In the story, the author had also experimented with the notion of novelistic time by introducing the idea of parallel universes. It fell a little short in execution for me, but it’s definitely still worth the read.


Topics for Top 5 Tuesdays this February


Have you read any of these books? What books have exceeded your expectations? Let me know in the comments!

Book Review: Three Daughters of Eve by Elif Shafak

Three Daughters of Eve
Three Daughters of Eve by Elif Shafak (Published by Bloomsbury USA in 2017)

My Rating: ★★★★☆

Three Daughters of Eve is an ambitious and multilayered novel that explores the feeling of being caught in between the tensions that plague the modern era – between traditionalism and modernity, between religiosity and secularism, between East and West – and the consequences of being ideologically unmoored in a polarized world. While Three Daughters of Eve succeeds in scaling down these lofty ideas into the ways they shape the everyday life of the protagonist, it also uses the rest of its characters as caricatures of these ideas, turning moments of potentially genuine connection into staged battlegrounds where the clash between dichotomies can play out. The result is the reinforcement of such dichotomies rather than their dismantling. Despite that, I enjoyed the novel for the author’s skill in evoking time and place, and her depiction of the modern existential crisis.

The novel opens in modern-day Istanbul, where our thirty-five-year-old protagonist, Peri, is sitting in traffic with her daughter, on their way to a dinner party. Her handbag is stolen by a beggar, and in an uncharacteristic moment, Peri, who’s been “a fine wife, a fine mother, . . . a fine modern Muslim” all her life, impulsively leaves her car on a curb and runs off after the tramp. Later on, when she finds him, he’s rifling through her wallet and an old photo from her university days – one of her charismatic divinity professor and her two friends – falls out. This photo catapults her back into a time that she both cherishes and wishes to forget.

From here, story alternates between Peri’s past and present, with the past encompassing her childhood and university days, and the present stretching over the course of a single dinner party. The present scenes were set up to provide a sort of reverse-foreshadowing of the past, where her feelings about the photo generate interest in what had happened. At the same time, the appearance of the photo at the dinner party sets in motion a series of events that would make Peri’s past and present to converge.

What I initially found to be a contrived set-up gave way to admiration for the seamless transition between past and present. It also helped that Shafak also explores similar themes across time – namely, how the rigid binaries of the past morph into different forms in the present, their co-existence no longer incendiary but still uneasy and disjointed. When in the past, for example, her devoutly religious mother and her secular and liberal father would be continuously at loggerheads with each other, in the present day:

Religion . . . had been a collage of sorts. It had not been that uncommon to consume alcohol all year round and repent on the Night of Qadr, when one’s sins – so long as one was genuinely remorseful – were erased wholesale. There were plenty of people who fasted during Ramadan both to renew faith and to lose weight. The sacred dovetailed with the profane. (p. 91)

What really won me over, though, was the nuanced exploration of Peri’s character. From both the present-day narrative and the past one, we learn that Peri is introverted, highly observant, and a little strange, but also sensitive to conflict of any kind, so that she erases her strangeness in favor of harmony. This begins from an early age, since she’s born into a household with parents with deeply incompatible political and religious views who try to win their children over to their respective sides. Peri, the third and youngest child, was often put in the awkward position of having to settle the score. “Surrounded by warriors who rebelled against one another,” the narrator writes, “she settled on compulsory complaisance, forcing herself into docility. Without anyone knowing, she quenched the fire in her, turning it into ashes” (p. 21). She would go on to realize that “while some people were passionate believers and others passionate non-believers, she would always remain stuck in between” (p. 39).

Later in Oxford, this same dynamic would play out between her two friends, the women in the photo: between the adventurous and extroverted Shirin, and the devoutly religious Mona. Once again, Peri would sit on the fence, her perceptiveness allowing her to understand both sides but her aversion to conflict preventing her from choosing one.

While Peri may be passive in a sense that she chooses not to act, she’s not without passion: she’s deeply invested in matters of religion, and she yearns for a language about God that doesn’t resort to blind faith or strident atheism. On Shirin’s insistence, she takes the class of Professor Azur, a charismatic and unorthodox divinity teacher who doesn’t teach religion but rather “God”. Eventually, though, Azur’s belief in his own brilliance and his penchant for playing God, along with Peri’s passivity, become his downfall, and 14 years later, Peri is still dealing with the guilt from the fallout.

There were two things, however, that diminished my overall enjoyment of the story. The first is how the rest of the characters are portrayed. Aside from Peri, everyone else seemed to exist solely to be mouthpieces for Ideas. Although vividly presented, they were also entirely predictable, as stereotypes are, and most of their dialogue was dedicated not to building friendships but to spouting their beliefs at each other.

The second is the uneven plotting. The event that the entire narrative of the past led up to just wasn’t dire enough to warrant all that build-up, and an unnecessary plot twist at the end distracted readers from the resolution that Peri was trying to reach while she was reckoning with her past. There were loose ends that kept niggling at me even after I’d finished the book, and I think it might have benefitted from a few more chapters.

Despite that, I still found it to be a worthwhile read overall, and I’d recommend it to anyone who’s interested in Shafak’s works, or who, like me, is looking make sense out of the experience of believing in God but not in religion.

Find me on Goodreads | Read from January 16 - February 8, 2020

#Februwitchy Readathon TBR!

I’m late to the party, but I just stumbled on Asha’s delightful #Februwitchy Readathon and I couldn’t resist! Here are the basic mechanics of this readathon:

Read witchy books!

The aim is super simple: read books about witches for all of February. There are no prompts, but any books with ‘witch’ in the title, or where the main character is a witch, will count – and to be specific, that’s where the main character is explicitly referred to as a witch on page, not just a book with a magical heroine. Non-fiction about witches is also welcome!

I grew to love reading through fantasy and romance books, so there’s nothing that spells ‘comfort read’ to me as much as a book with both. And also, who doesn’t love witches? There’s just something about this dark and powerful female archetype that really calls to me.

Here’s my TBR for this month. I won’t be reading exclusively witchy books for the month and I might not even be able to finish everything here, but in any case, I feel like I’m really going to have fun with this.


Sea Witch by Sarah Henning

Sea Witch

This isn’t only about a witch; it’s also a fairytale retelling. I hear it’s basically a witchy retelling “The Little Mermaid”, and it sounds to be right up my alley. Also, it’s been on my TBR for awhile, so I guess it’s time to finally pick this up!


Truthwitch by Susan Dennard

Truthwitch

Two witches on the run, a richly imagined fantasy world, and an imminent war – count me in! Among everything on my list this sounds to be the one with the most plot and adventure, so I’m hoping it’ll be a wild ride.


Serpent & Dove by Shelby Mahurin

Serpent & Dove

Okay, I have such high hopes for this one because it uses one of my favorite tropes of all time – the enemies-to-lovers trope! (Not sure about the arranged/forced marriage, though, but I like the former more than I dislike the latter.) Also, it seems to be a witch x witch-hunter sort of romance, which makes it extra delicious for me because there’s bound to be a change of heart on both ends that would lead to major Character Growth. I’m expecting a fast-paced plot with a slow burn romance replete with steamy build-up and banter, and I’m fervently hoping I won’t be disappointed.


The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman

The Rules of Magic

I haven’t read the first book, Practical Magic, but I saw this on sale and I couldn’t resist the pretty cover. Also, a family of witches coming of age in 1950s New York – what’s not to love?


That’s it for my TBR! Are any of these on yours, too? Any witchy books that you read and loved? Let me know in the comments!

Top 5 Books that Weren’t What I Expected

Hey guys! Every Tuesday this February, I’ll be doing Top 5 Tuesdays, hosted by the wonderful Shanah @ Bionic Book Worm. Today’s topic is the top 5 books that weren’t what I expected. The way I see it, this can go two ways: a book wasn’t what I expected in a good way or in a not-so-good way.

In the case of the former, I was happily misled by the synopsis through the author’s use of an ingenious plot twist; but in the case of the latter, I was misled by the synopsis in a way that made me want to demand my money back. (Luckily, there’s just one of that on this list.) Regardless, I did my best to make my write-ups as spoiler-free as possible, since the pleasure in reading these books is precisely the feeling of surprise.

Anyway, let’s get to it!


Authority (Southern Reach #2) by Jeff VanderMeer (2014)

Authority

This is the only book on this list that was unexpected in a not-so-good way, and the only book that’s a sequel. I had such high hopes going into this, too, since the first book, Annihilation, was easily a 5-star read for me. In Annihilation, an expedition is sent to the mysterious and unpeopled Area X, a geographical location that has been cut off from the world for decades. The catch? None of the previous expeditions came back alive – or if they did, they were never the same.

I can’t rave about Annihilation enough. It was page-turning, adrenaline-pumping, skin-crawling, and hallucinogenic; every single scene worked to forward the plot, and so was packed with action or suspense. The only downside to it was that it ended on a cliffhanger (understandable, I guess), so I couldn’t wait to read Authority. 

I was expecting this to pick up where Annihilation left off – as the sequels do, and as the synopsis alluded at. I expected that we’d finally know more about Area X, and what happened to the scientists who went on the expedition. But instead, Authority was basically a rehash of Annihilation from the point of view of a new character that I could really care less about. Instead, Authority consisted of people filing a ton of paperwork and making dead-end guesses. It had not a single iota of the action, suspense, and lush landscapes of the first book. Even when I finally found a semblance of plot in the last thirty or so pages, it still wasn’t worth slogging through 300 pages to get there. It was a complete letdown that discouraged me from even finishing the series.


How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy by Jenny Odell (2019)

How to Do Nothing

I’ve seen a number of people giving this two stars or less because they expected it to be a self-help book. Originally, even I was expecting it to be self-help-y – the title does place it among the ranks of Soojung-Kim Pang’s Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less or Eyal and Li’s Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life. I was expecting an informal tone, a couple of lists, and a couple of fallacious causal claims about how doing nothing can actually increase your productivity.

Turns out that this book is nothing like that. Odell’s writing here is accessible but dense – closer to a slightly dumbed-down academic essay than a blog post – and instead of advocating hacks to productivity, she actually questions the very imperative to be productive in the first place. She draws from an astonishing variety of examples and disciplines to make her points – art, psychology, ecology, and women’s and labor rights – and articulates possible modes of resistance against the current capitalist ethos by reclaiming spaces for thinking, reflecting, and ‘doing nothing’. This was a tough but ultimately rewarding read. It’s not for everyone, but if you’re looking for critique of the ‘down with capitalism’ variety, then I can’t recommend this enough.


What Was She Thinking? [Notes on a Scandal] by Zoë Heller (2004)

What Was She Thinking?

What Was She Thinking? [Notes on a Scandal] is told from the perspective of schoolteacher Barbara Covett. Barbara intends her notes to be a defense for her colleague Sheba, whose affair with an underage male student had just been uncovered by the media. The frame had led me to believe that this was a story about how Sheba’s affair had been exposed, but further into the story, I realized how it really was about Barbara’s relationship with Sheba – and how it becomes more and more insidious the more she reveals more about Sheba’s affair with the student. This was a chilling read that I couldn’t put down until the very end.


Gillespie and I by Jane Harris (2011)

Gillespie and I

Gillespie and I is told from the point of view of the elderly Harriet Baxter, who is writing a memoir about her acquaintance with the talented artist Ned Gillespie and his family. The bulk of the story is set in the late 1800s, so it has a bit of a Jane Austen feel. I can’t say more without giving too much away, but there was an unexpected twist halfway through the novel that upended everything I knew about the first half and recast all the events thus far in a new light.

This novel also hit all the right spots for me – it had both vividly-painted characters and a very tight and clever plot that made it as compulsively readable as a thriller. I usually stay up late reading, but this was one of the novels I remember reading until the sky lightened. A really fun page-turner that I’d recommend to anyone who enjoys good writing and being surprised by a story.


We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler (2013)

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves

I saved this for last because this novel is very close to my heart. I don’t usually cry while reading but I was moved to tears while reading this one. We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves is told from the perspective of Rosemary, who has progressively transformed from a talkative child to a silent and reticent young adult after her sister, and then her older brother, vanish one after the other. Again, I can’t say much without giving it away, but it’s been hinted in the synopsis that there’s something special about her sister Fern, and the surprise consists in finding out what this is and what became of Rosemary’s once happy and boisterous family. This was a heart-rending novel about family and the power of love to transcend all kinds of divides.


Topics for Top 5 Tuesdays this February


Have you read any of these books? What book have you read that wasn’t what you expected? Let me know in the comments!

January 2020 Wrap-up | Part 3: Nonfiction

Monthly wrap-up

Part 1: Overview | ◀️ Part 2: January 2020 Fiction Wrap-up

Hi guys! Here’s my nonfiction wrap-up for this January. I read 8 nonfiction books this month:

2020-01 Nonfiction

Here’s a quick rundown of my thoughts on them.


1. When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi – ★★☆☆☆ – This is a memoir by a budding neurosurgeon who was diagnosed with cancer at a young age. Sadly, while it’s beloved by a lot of people, it just didn’t resonate with me. Full review here.

2. The Now Habit: A Strategic Program for Overcoming Procrastination and Enjoying Guilt-Free Play by Neil Fiore – ★★★☆☆ Like a true procrastinator, I read this while procrastinating on something else. Surprisingly, this was way more helpful than the “just do it” advice I usually encounter, as it focuses more on the emotional regulation aspect of procrastination – on addressing negative self-talk and the fear of failure, among others. A quick and helpful read.

3. I’d Rather Be Reading: The Delights and Dilemmas of the Reading Life by Anne Bogel ★★★★☆ – This was a delightfully relatable read about joys and the dilemmas of bookworms everywhere. Read my mini-review here.

4. Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen by Christopher McDougall ★★★★☆ – A fun and inspiring read with a colorful cast of characters. Born to Run tells the story of the Tarahumara, a reclusive tribe in Mexico known also as “the running people”, and the quest of a handful of adventurous Americans who wanted to pit their endurance skills against theirs. Many times while reading it, I had to fight against the urge to lace up my shoes and hit the pavement – it was that inspiring. Read my mini-review here.

5. Love’s Executioner and Other Tales of Psychotherapy by Irvin Yalom ★★★★☆ – A fascinating read from one of the greatest psychotherapists of contemporary times. Personally, as a psychologist, I found it useful for the author’s brutal honesty in describing his own feelings during the therapeutic encounter. At times it could be brutally honest, though – he describes in detail his own visceral and unexamined bias against ‘fat women’, which struck me as misogynistic – but overall still very instructive.

6. Appetites: Why Women Want by Caroline Knapp ★★★★★ – Part psychological exploration, feminist critique, and memoir, Appetites explores the way that society curbs women’s desires – whether it be for food, love, or sex – and how that manifests in particular pathologies. This was a powerful invective that nevertheless ended on the hopeful note of women accepting and claiming their desires in a healthy manner. Full review to come.

7. How Fiction Works by James Wood ★★★★★ – Here, the renowned critic James Wood turns his attention to a particular element of fiction – narrator, consciousness, metaphor, character – and, like a craftsman, breaks it down to its simplest components to make readers see why it worked (and, in a few cases, why it didn’t). A nuanced and lucidly-written analysis of fiction that transported me back to my favorite lit-crit class in college, and made me more aware of the fact that the little details do matter. Read my mini-review here.

8. How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy by Jenny Odell ★★★★★ – In this book, Odell criticizes the imperative to be productive and the ways it’s currently being addressed by tech gurus and productivity experts. She also offers a way of resisting that doesn’t pander to capitalist agenda, instead requiring widespread changes in community planning and environmental policy. A tough but ultimately rewarding read. Full review to come.


🌟 Favorite Nonfiction of the Month 🌟

 


What were your favourite nonfiction reads for January? I’d love to hear about it in the comments! 👇

Part 1: Overview | ◀️ Part 2: January 2020 Fiction Wrap-up

Find me on Goodreads!

January 2020 Wrap-up | Part 2: Fiction

Monthly wrap-up

◀️ Part 1: Overview | Part 3: January 2020 Nonfiction Wrap-up ▶️

Hi guys! I’m back with my fiction wrap-up for this month. I read 11 fiction books this January, and I’m pretty glad that I turned out enjoying nearly all of them. Here they are:

2020-01 Fiction

Now for a quick rundown of my thoughts on them, grouped according to genre.


Mystery/Thriller

1. The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware – ★★★☆☆ (2.5)A nanny receives a job offer that seems too good to be true, from a family that’s too perfect to be real. Creepy and atmospheric, this book excels in portraying the gothic and the uncanny, but fails in its execution as a thriller. Read my full review here.

2. The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie (Hercule Poirot #1) – ★★★☆☆ – Poirot and Captain Hastings investigate the poisoning of an ostensibly benevolent yet controlling family matriarch in her bedroom, and all her family members are suspect. This work is a diamond-in-the-rough, containing all of the familiar elements that we’ve come to recognize as Christie’s style, but without the polished plotting and the genre-defying twists that she’s really known for. Read my mini-review here.

3. Evil under the Sun by Agatha Christie (Hercule Poirot #24) – ★★★☆☆ – A famous actress is murdered on the seaside resort where Poirot is taking his vacation. Whereas in The Mysterious Affair at Styles everyone seemed to have motive, in Evil under the Sun, not many seem to have motive enough. This book was more bloated than usual with inconsequential characters and a gimmicky murder set-up. Read my mini-review here.

4. The A.B.C. Murders by Agatha Christie (Hercule Poirot #13) – ★★★★☆ – A serial killer sets Poirot up as his enemy and taunts him to figure out his identity before he chooses his next victim. Deservedly called one of Christie’s masterpieces, this work showcases not only Christie’s genius with mystery conventions but also her ability to capture both amusing and profound insights about human behaviour in one or two deftly-written sentences.

5. Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz (Susan Ryeland #1) – ★★★★★ (4.5) Editor Susan Ryeland thinks she’s in for another normal day at work when their most famous author’s latest manuscript for a murder mystery lands on her desk. But the deeper she gets in the story, the more she realizes that the manuscript holds the clues to a real-life murder. This was a gripping, tightly plotted book-within-a-book that pays homage to Agatha Christie while at the same time changing up the conventions of the genre. Read my mini-review here.


Romance

6. What Happened at Midnight by Courtney Milan – ★★★★☆ – I love reading Milan because she portrays her heroines as both strong, passionate, and reasonable – a combination that isn’t as common as you might think. In this novella, John hunts down his ex-fiancée who flees after her father was found to have embezzled thousands of pounds from their business. But when he finds her, he realizes that her situation is not what it seems. Short, sweet, and steamy, and great as a quick read before going to bed.

7. A Wallflower Christmas by Lisa Kleypas (Wallflowers #4.5) – ★★★★☆ – I stumbled on this courtesy of Erin’s review at The Smut Report (thanks guys!). I find that I always have reservations after I read a Kleypas novel, especially about her heroes, but at the same time I can’t seem to stop reading them. In this novella, an irreverent, nouveau-rich American rake falls for a proper yet dowry-less English miss (who, we learn from the subtext, is ‘not like other girls’). As usual, I find such setups highly implausible in real life, but then again, I’m not here for the reality. A cozy read that hit all the right notes.

8. What I Did for a Duke by Julie Ann Long (Pennyroyal Green #5) – ★★★★★ – This was a reread, and I’m happy to find that it was even better than the first time. What begins as a ploy to seduce the little sister of the man who wronged him turns into something more. I loved the banter, and I loved that the plot grew organically from the personalities of the characters rather than being tacked to get the romance moving. The result is a refreshing historical romance with real character growth, surprisingly meaningful fluff, and just the right amount of angst. One of my favorite HRs of all time.


Others

9. [YA Fantasy] A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula Le Guin (Earthsea Cycle #1) – ★★★★☆ – A talented young wizard overestimates his abilities and unleashes an evil beyond his control. Written with a cadence and rhythm more similar to lyrical ballads rather than contemporary YA, A Wizard of Earthsea was a slow immersion into a vividly imagined world where magic is both life-giving and dangerous, and each magical act ladened with a consequences commensurate to the power unleashed. Read my full review here.

10. [Classics] Gigi and The Cat by Colette – ★★★★☆ – This book consists of two novellas in one. Gigi is the story of a courtesan who defies her family’s expectations of her, and The Cat features comical a love triangle between a young man, his new wife, and his cat. Both are charming comedies of manners written in gorgeous prose that explore how women test the limits of their independence and self-expression in a society that restricts their freedom.

11. [Contemporary] Nothing to See Here by Kevin Wilson – ★★★★☆ – In this novel, Lillian, a woman in her mid-thirties in a dead-end career, is tasked to babysit twins who can spontaneously combust. This ostensibly gimmicky novel turns out to be nothing but: it dwells only briefly on the absurd premise before going on to explore the bonds of friendship and family between its characters and the way that love can grow between the most unlikely of people. A surprisingly heartwarming novel with an offbeat narrator and characters you grow to love, Nothing to See Here has a lot to offer, and will appeal to all kinds of readers. Full review to come.


🌟 Favorite Fiction of the Month 🌟


What were your favourite fiction reads for January? What genre, character, storyline, or even book cover did you find yourself drawn to this month, and why? I’d love to hear about it in the comments! 👇

◀️ Part 1: Overview | Part 3: January 2020 Nonfiction Wrap-up ▶️

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