The Best Books I Read This Year (2021 Edition)

Want to see my favorite books from this year?

Hello and welcome to the reading wrap-up for this year! I know in previous years I separated books by category, but this time I will simply list off all my favorites from this year. It is largely fantasy, but there are also some graphic novels, manga, and a nonfiction thrown in there.

And as always, a reminder that just because I didn’t mention a book on this list, it does not mean I didn’t enjoy it. If I listed every book I enjoyed, we’d be here for another year!

This year, I set 90 books as my Goodreads goal. I managed to sneak over that line a couple weeks ago, and then I went on a bit of a graphic novel spurt, so I have since pumped that number up to 99. I will probably get another 1 or 2 by the end of the year, based on what I have going right now, but I’m pretty happy with this number.

One final note for anyone interested in reading these books: if you are sensitive to certain kinds of content (language, sexual situations, or triggers), please do look up whether these books have it. I do not shy away from most topics, so the books I read and share may contain these elements, and I read widely and diversely.

And now, let’s get into it!

Body of Stars by Laura Maylene Walter

I found Body of Stars through a TikTok video by Ace Dad (you should be able to find him if you’re interested in following him), and I was immediately intrigued. This book uses a magic system in which women are born with patterns of freckles on their bodies that foretell their futures – and those of the men in their lives – that appears when they hit puberty. Once the patterns are there, they are permanent. So naturally a whole system of reading the patterns developed, and then there’s the element of how irresistible girls become when they develop the patterns. Which of course influences their futures. The main character takes on these systems as her own life is turned upside down. It was a really fascinating magic system (of sorts) and a great look at how women are treated based on what they can do for me and based on what happens to them during their lives. I could not put this down.

Ever After by Olivia Vieweg

This is a graphic novel I borrowed from my local library and I was honestly so absorbed by it from the first page. It begins in a small community that is fenced off from the rest of the world – where zombie-like creatures roam free to attack those who are left. The main character must confront her past and what she did in the past with an unexpected friend as they unwittingly leave their safe community together.

I like that this story had some unique elements rather than simply being a zombie story and also had a good art style I could appreciate. Underrated book, in my opinion!

Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire

This is a shorter book that begins a new series in which children (usually young girls) find doorways to alternate worlds, but are then returned to our world. The story deals with the aftermath at a school where they learn to understand what happened to them while they cope with the horrors they endured or await their chance to return. And in this first book, someone starts killing students, putting not only everyone’s lives at risk but also their ability to keep their school open. This is a highly diverse book with a large cast, including some identities that are not often used in books. And even more than that, the worlds the kids went to are all so interesting, and the world building is so complex. Can’t wait for the next one!

House of Hollow by Krystal Sutherland

This is one of those books that haunts me long after I finish reading it. It coincidentally also deals with doorways, but this one is so much more on the horror side, which I usually don’t read. But it was so captivating and the story telling was so good, I couldn’t put it down even when I was absolutely horrified by what was happening. 10/10 I would definitely read this again.

House of Salt and Sorry by Erin A. Craig

This is a fantasy gothic retelling of (I think) 12 dancing princesses. There are a whole large group of sisters who are assumed to be cursed… because one after another they keep dying.

But beyond that, there is such elaborate world building and a huge atmosphere that this is another one I read quickly – most of it in a day.

I think Erin Craig may be a new favorite author! And I already have another of hers, Small Favors, on hold at the library.

The Never Tilting World by Rin Chupeco

And speaking of favorite authors, Rin Chupeco never fails me with their fantasy worlds and story telling. This particular story I just finished late last night, and it was another that kept my attention with its world and intrigue – a world that suddenly stops spinning in an event called the breaking, throwing everything into chaos, because the goddesses who were supposed to keep everything running failed at their task twenty years ago. And for those of you interested, it has LGBT+ representation as well.

This is a duology, and I will definitely be reading the next one very soon!

Mooncakes by Wendy Xu and Suzanne Walker

This is a feel-good autumn graphic novel that really put me in the mood for Pie-Jinks! It features a young witch and her friend, who recently moved back to town and is dealing with some pretty intense magical issues.

The world is cozy and atmospheric, and it is everything I never knew I wanted. Plus, as many of my reads this year turned out to be, it is full to bursting with representation!

My Body by Emily Ratajkowski

This was a really thought-provoking collection of essays by a model made famous through the Blurred Lines music video. It was such an interesting lens through which she sees the world and it really provokes a lot of consideration of female agency and how women in model tend to be treated.

I never would have known this book existed were it not for another list of books earlier this year, but I am so glad I read it. This is a smart lady who is unapologetic about what she does for a living while still acknowledging how difficult a world it is.

Highly recommend!

Notes from My Captivity by Kathy Parks

I read this while I was on vacation over the summer, and it did not hold back from the intensity! I was on the edge of my seat reading about this expedition gone wrong, about the rumors and stories – and the truth.

It’s a survival tale, one of my favorite kinds of stories, but also works in elements of forgiveness and finding your feet and growing up. I was blown away by it.

Wandering Witch: The Journey of Elaina by Jougi Shiraishi

I found this new manga/light novel series toward the end of the year, but I’ve already devoured the first three!

This series follows Elaina, a young prodigy witch who travels around her world, meeting new people and helping those in need. I was drawn in by the story and the way the world was set up, but this series also does not shy away from the tough topics. She encounters some whimsical places and cool people, but she also finds lands consumed by darkness, people destroyed by their circumstances.

I rarely find manga with such a mix of the hopeful and whimsical with the serious. It’s very well done!

You Have a Match by Emma Lord

I was very pleasantly surprised by this YA summer camp story! Rather than the cliche love story at camp, this book goes into a different kind of relationship: sisters who just found out they had a sister.

The two girls find out behind their parents’ backs and arrange to meet at a summer camp to get to know each other better, uncovering family secrets and old, destroyed relationships.

And if they want to keep talking to each other, they need to get their parents to make up.

Seriously, this was so good!

Final Thoughts

I read a lot of stories this year, and the ones I highlighted here really immersed me in the world and kept me turning pages (or listening). I am so excited for some of the books on my list for next year, and I can’t wait to dig in!

Now it’s your turn: what did you read this year? What blew you away? Or, if you couldn’t find the right stories, what is it you hope to read next year?

Happy reading, and happy holidays!

The Story of Pie-Jinks

Just where did Selina go and what has she been doing all these months???

Hi everyone! I know it has been literally MONTHS since I posted here. I’m so sorry about that, but hopefully this small post and my plans for the next few will make up for some lost time.

The last time I posted was mid-August… just 2 weeks before the launch of the Pie-Jinks series! I probably should have kept you all more informed with those goings-on, but to be perfectly truthful and transparent, I was just so overwhelmed with things that the blog kind of fell by the wayside for a bit. It wasn’t my first choice, and I didn’t want that to happen, which is why I’m back now!

So what went on over these last few months?

Well, in my personal life, my day job was crazy. I work as a scientific writer in biology industry, and we had a major project going on that was keeping me locked in a conference room all day, every day, for about 3 months. That’s a lot of time where my brain was pumping out critical thought, writing, and critical discussion in collaboration with other people. As an introvert, that is tough, too. I loved working with the coworkers I was assigned with, and the project has so far been really rewarding, but it definitely took up a lot of mental energy.

Then of course I was working on Pie-Jinks with my spare time! So let’s take another look at that, for those of you who aren’t part of the newsletter (you can get regular updates there, in case I ever go silent on the blog again).

TL;DR version: It. Was. Amazing.

And now the long version.

Image: A fall forest background with the cover for Vanilla Bean Vampire and the words "Welcome to Cider Hollow, where the pies are magic and the people are disappearing"

Pie-Jinks was my most ambitious project ever. It was born out of that second novella I ever released, Pumpkin Spice Pie-Jinks. You know, the one inspired by Hansel & Gretel, but from the witch’s perspective?

Turns out, I loved the cozy world I’d built, my sweet and anxious, magic-mood-hair (read the books to know what I mean) pie witch, her bubbly, bubblegum BFF, and the sweet, gentlemanly love interest I’d created.

And so did A LOT of you. That novella did better than everything I ever put out. So of course, I wanted more and so did many of you.

But Pie-Jinks is at its heart a love letter to autumn, which meant I would have to release in the autumn. And I have learned by now that my previous methods were not working to find the right readers and engage them. I knew I would need to work hard and bring a nice chunk of stories pretty close together.

But this? I could do this.

So I made a plan: write the first 3 books in a 6 book series and release them during the fall. Postpone the other projects and focus solely on this project that gives me (and many others) so much joy. (Don’t worry: if you love This Curse and the Seasons of Magic, I will be concluding all of those in 2022)

I started in January. I drafted 3 novels in a row, sent them to the editors, got GORGEOUS covers by Savannah at Dragonpen Designs (as always), and completed the ebooks and paperbacks.

I hosted a launch party where I gave out some treats and we played some games.

I even gave away preorder goodies! (If you missed those, there will be more chances at the swag another time)

And you know what? I found my people. I found my niche. Pie-Jinks became what is known as cozy paranormal, a genre I found myself in love with. It filled a need in me for things that are soft and warm while still being fun and adventurous. It gave me sweet romance and close friendships to read. It brought me comfort during a crazy, stressful time in the world.

And it brought me so, so many readers who loved Reese’s tales, wanted more, and most importantly, were touched by the words I wrote. I had a bunch of readers tell me how Pie-Jinks was exactly what they needed, either to get through a personal tough time or to deal with the chaos of life in our world right now.

And that was exactly what I always wanted.

If you haven’t gotten to read these books yet, the first three are all available now in both ebook and paperback! They are definitely my favorites, and I hope they become special to you, too.

You can see the entire series on the series page here, or find more vendors using the links here!

Image: dark kitchen background with the covers for the first three Pie-Jinks books and the words "Welcome to Cider Hollow"

My 5 Favorite Books With Food

Food in books paired with snacks. Could it be better?

Hey everyone! I’ve been hard at work on the Pie-Jinks series launch, so I’ve been thinking A LOT about pie. If you haven’t read the prequel yet (Pumpkin Spice Pie-Jinks, which is currently on sale for $0.99!), basically the main character Reese bakes magical pies that are infused with emotions and feelings and memories.

So now that I’m less than 2 weeks away from the launch of the series, I figured it’s a good time to do something a little different: suggest some of my favorite books with food central to the themes and recommend something to snack on while reading!

But before that, a little bit of an update about the Pie-Jinks events:

(Image: graphic for Vanilla Bean Vampire Launch Party. Includes a picture of the cover, the words “Vanilla Bean Vampire Launch Party”, a pie picture, a background of frosty fall leaves, lots of sparkles, and a bunting in autumn colors along the top. Colors are light yellow, orange, and salmon pink.)

Okay. Now that I have THAT out of the way, let’s dive into these suggestions! I love books with food, and especially books with MAGICAL food, so let’s take a look at some great food books I’ve read. 🙂

My Favorite Food Books!

A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd

So I literally JUST read this one. It’s a sweet, magical middle grade story about a town with a curse that pulled all but a snicker of magic away. The main character returns with her wandering, free-spirit mother, desperate to finally find some roots, and falls right into the way the town operates. And one of the best parts of this book? Magical ice cream! Seriously, there’s magic food in here and sweet magic realism and some really cool plotting and world building. One of my favorite books all summer!

Recommended snacking: Ice cream… your favorite flavor! Mine are teaberry (Leiby’s brand) and chocolate marshmallow (Turkey Hill brand)

The Great Witches Baking Show by Nancy Warren

Ok, here is another one I read this year, and honestly it gave me so many warm feelings. It reminded me a lot of the Pie-Jinks books, but with a more spring/summer feel!

This book is all about a girl looking to figure out where she came from and who her family is, and to do that, she learns how to bake and gets onto a show being filmed at the location of the only clue she has to her family. But then someone starts sabotaging the contestants, there’s some weird ghosties floating around, witches hosting the show, and… MURDER!

Super cute, super cozy, all the food, all the magic. Definitely recommend! And, there’s a whole series of these, and yes, I plan to keep reading one of these days!

Recommended snacking: Cake! There is a lot of cake in here, among other baked goods like tarts. My favorite kind of cake is vanilla with chocolate icing (whipped if possible), but I also love angel food.

The Way You Make Me Feel by Maurene Goo

This one is a contemporary young adult with the enemies to friends trope. Two girls with an intense rivalry and hatred for each other take things a little too far and almost destroy their school on prom night. Their punishment? Work together on a food truck for the summer… or else.

And as these things usually go, the girls learn more about each other and that maybe they aren’t so different after all. And maybe they could actually work together and make this the best food truck ever! Cute, lots of drama, and lots of emotions!

Recommended snacking: This one makes me think of my favorite restaurant apps. So I will recommend boneless wings (I don’t like bone-in, I know, terrible), jalapeño poppers (the cream cheese ones), and blooming onions!

Hello, Sunshine by Laura Dave

First off, can I say how much I LOVE this cover?

Okay. So this is another contemporary, but adult. Women’s fiction. This book stars Sunshine, a celebrity YouTube chef who suddenly falls from grace. There’s lots of drama, cooking, celebrity life, and heartfelt plot and characters in here. It was such a good, entertaining, thought-provoking read, and the cover just makes me keep coming back to it to think about it all over again.

Recommended snacking: Obviously this one has heavy citrus vibes, so I’m going with lemonade and ambrosia!

Sourdough by Robin Sloan

I’ve mentioned this one before, and I’ll mention it again! I love this story about a tech lady who rediscovers her passions through a singing sourdough started she inherits out of the blue. It’s silly and light and a little fantasy/sci-fi, and it remains near the top of the list of my favorite books of all time!

Recommended snacking: Again this may be obvious, but… bread and butter! Maybe a little sharp cheese. My favorites are yeast rolls, warm Italian bread, and white bread. And for cheese? Cooper sharp American or wine cheese.

Final Thoughts

I love food in stories, and in particular magical food. While the books I shared here aren’t ALL magic food, they do all have elements that I love in each one. And, of course, thinking about magical food just makes me think about Pie-Jinks all over again!

I know I’ve been talking about these books a lot, but I’m just so excited to share them with everyone. During the pandemic, these books brought me joy. They’re light, fluffy, and magical. They’re exactly what I needed to escape from the darkness in our world. I had a blast writing them, and I want to share the whimsy and the deliciousness with everyone else. So I truly hope you’ll celebrate these books with me and maybe give them a chance. ♥

But even if not, I hope my list of recommendations sparks some interest in you and brings you some joy as summer winds down. Please feel free to share your favorite food stories with me in the comments… especially if there’s magic!

Until next time, happy reading! ♥

5 Beach Reads to Dive Into

Dreaming of sun and sand? Me too!

Hi everyone! I’m sorry for the delay in posting lately, but I have been so busy with preparing for the Pie-Jinks launch! Every day we get closer, and I’m getting more and more excited to share Vanilla Bean Vampire with you.

Just to give you a quick rundown before I get into this week’s book recommendations, here is all the stuff I’ve been setting up for your enjoyment:

Yeah, quite busy. As I said, I’m seriously excited for this launch, so please feel free to join in wherever you are and however you feel comfortable! Even if you can’t purchase the first book, just attending the launch event or sharing it with your friends is greatly appreciated. ♥

And now, the reason you’re here: BEACH READS!

I’m going to be visiting the beach soon, so it feels like the perfect time to share some books I’ve read that feel just perfect for a trip to the beach (and yes, there may be some mermaids in here… I can’t help myself, I love those creatures!).

Here we go!

The Mermaid’s Sister by Carrie Ann Noble (Fantasy)

Okay, so yes there is a mermaid here. But the story centers on her sister, who arrived at their adoptive family’s doorstep from a stork. One day, her sister begins transforming into a mermaid, and they must return her to the sea before she dies.

And so the adventure begins.

This tale is told in such a warm, familiar way of storytelling that it feels like you’re sitting around a campfire. Even better, to me it has the same kind of feel as Stardust… a bit of whimsy and fantasy mixed in with a road trip adventure.

I definitely recommend this fantasy for your next beach trip!

Say It’s the Sea by Kristina Mahr (Poetry)

Okay, first of all this cover!

Now that that’s out of the way, this is something a little different. It’s a book of poetry that I actually did read at the beach (I think last year), and it was honestly so fitting. Many of Mahr’s poems focus on heartbreak, but her imagery and senses in her works are so evocative and emotional.

What better place to absorb words like these then with the sounds of the ocean waves and gulls?

The Unexpected Everything by Morgan Matson (YA Contemporary)

Of course I have to include something with a touch of romance! This book occurs during summer break after the main character’s father, a political figure, is swamped by scandal. She’s home for the summer and decides to start walking dogs… and meets someone incredibly intriguing.

This feels like the perfect summer break book to me; it’s sweet and wholesome and entertaining all in one.

Sourdough by Robin Sloan (Speculative Fiction)

This is one of my all-time favorite books. It’s kind of fluffy, but it’s also very big on the self-discovery scale. This story follows a tech gal who is overwhelmed by the demands of her job and still searching for her place in the world.

And then, she is gifted a magical sourdough starter and everything begins to change.

Seriously, if you’re looking for something a little silly and a lot heartfelt, this is it.

This One Summer by Jillian & Mariko Tamaki (YA Graphic Novel)

This is a Printz award winning graphic novel, and for good reason. Like The Unexpected Everything, this book is a summer break book. But it has a lot of growing up feels and coming of age. It’s a little heartbreaking but also provides a lot of hope and may just make you reminisce about your own childhood.

Bonus: Cold Snap by Selina J. Eckert (Fantasy Novella-fairy tale retelling)

Of course I have to include this one. Cold Snap is one of my favorites… partly because I FINALLY got to write some mermaids and partly because it is one of my own coming-of-age stories. Those kinds of stories always make me think and wish and dream. They evoke so much emotion.

Plus… Snow White is a mermaid? So there’s that.

Final Thoughts

I think I end up making a post like this every year, and you know what? It’s a lot of fun! I love thinking of beach reads, especially when I’m preparing for my own trips. All of the books above were ones that I love and highly recommend.

But there are so many more! And that is why I make this post every summer.

So how about you? What are your favorite beach reads? What do you recommend? Tell me in the comments below!

5 Books to Read for Pride Month

Hello and happy June! I hope everyone is having a good summer (or winter, for the southern hemisphere).

In case you didn’t know, June is Pride Month in the US. This means that it is a month of visibility, acceptance, support, and protesting for the LGBTQIAP+ community and their rights. I know I haven’t previously shared a list like this, but I have been trying to be wider in my reading and inclusivity this year, finding books with different experiences that teach while being a great story.

If the idea of this kind of wide reading is new to you, that’s ok! I hope this post can be a jumping off point for you and that you find some new stories you love.

Without further ado, let’s get into my list!

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Each of Us a Desert by Mark Oshiro

This book is a fantasy set in (you guessed it) a desert! I don’t know what it is about desert fantasies, but I’m on quite a kick for them lately. This book follows two women – one a magical storyteller and one the daughter of a bandit terrorizing the other’s village – as they navigate a terrifying world that really wants to kill them in an effort to find themselves and follow a buried line of poetry. It’s so exciting and moving and well-written. It is a sapphic story and has strong Latin-American inspiration and weaves lots of Spanish into its telling.

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Elatsoe by Darcie Little Badger

This was one of my favorites this year! It’s written by a Lipan Apache geoscientist and author and is from the perspective of Indigenous people in a world just a little different from our own – one in which the main character, Elatsoe, can summon the ghosts of dead animals (including ancient trilobytes) and is set on a path to figure out who murdered her brother. This book features an asexual main character (a person who does not experience sexual attraction or only experiences it under specific circumstances), which is explicitly stated in the text, and is an identity that is a bit harder to find in traditionally published work.

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Hazel’s Theory of Evolution by Lisa Jenn Bigelow

This one is a middle grade that deals with SO MANY difficult things. Hazel is a girl with 2 moms, and one of them is pregnant again after suffering pretty devastating miscarriages in the past. She’s also trying to get through her last year of middle school while drifting apart from her best friend and finding new ones. It is a simple book that packs a powerful emotional punch that really had me by the heart by the time I finished reading it.

This book has a ton of representation, too: lesbian parents, a trans friend, and a main character portrayed as asexual and aromantic (someone who does not experience romantic attraction or only experiences it under specific circumstances). It’s a really wonderful array of experiences written in a heartfelt, emotional way.

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Mooncakes by Wendy Xu and Suzanne Walker

If you want a tremendously cute graphic novel with all the fall feels (in fact, I read this to put me in the mood for Pie-Jinks!), then this is it. It follows a young witch with hearing loss and her childhood crush, a werewolf named Tam, as they confront an evil together to save each other and the town. I loved the art and the story, and it really has all the cozy autumn feels to it!

The representation in this book is awesome, too. The main character, as I said, has hearing loss, and Tam is non-binary, there is a romantic relationship between them, and they are both Chinese-American characters. The young witch also lives with her two grandmas, a lesbian couple.

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Wilder Girls by Rory Power

Last but certainly not least is this body horror, nature horror, young adult sapphic book that was *chef’s kiss*. I don’t know what it was exactly: the atmosphere, the mystery, or the characters, but this book grabbed me and didn’t let go. It was another I could not put down, and it gave me ALL the feelings. It’s just a touch creepy and a touch disturbing, but I just loved every bit of it!

I hope this list has intrigued you for some new fantasy reads. I can’t stress enough how much I loved each and every one of the books I shared with you today.

And if you are hesitant to pick something like this up, I urge you even more. Books are so important for helping us understand and empathize with the people around us. They can open so many doors to so many hearts, and they can teach us how to be better, more accepting, more loving people.

To close out this week’s post, here’s my question for you:

Have you read any of these? Do you have other suggestions? Let’s chat in the comments!

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NEWS!

I haven’t posted in a couple weeks, but guys. I have 2 books up for preorder!

Seasons of Magic

The first Seasons of Magic anthology is coming at the end of July in both ebook and paperback. It includes all four of the first Seasons of Magic stories (you can see them here) PLUS the previously paperback-exclusive bonus content for Of the Clouds. It’s going to be a beauty of a paperback, and I can’t wait to share it with you!

Pie-Jinks

Next is book 1 in Pie-Jinks, a brand new series based on my novella, Pumpkin Spice Pie-Jinks. It’s not necessary to read the novella to appreciate the books, but it will definitely prepare you! The first 3 will be coming this fall, and the pre0rder for book 1 is up for August 27! These will also be in both ebook and paperback.

Preorder Seasons of Magic Volume 1 here (ebook preorder only)

Preorder Vanilla Bean Vampire (book 1 of the Pie-Jinks series) here

5 Books to Close Out Mental Health Awareness Month

Let’s talk mental health books.

Hey everyone! Happy Memorial Day weekend to my US friends, and for everyone else, happy end of May!

Today is the post I’ve been putting together for Mental Health Awareness month, and as I was reviewing the books on my list, I realized two things: 1) I have shared many of these books multiple times before, and 2) I need to read some new ones! So if you have new favorites you’d like to share with me, drop them below and I will add them to my list!

Anyway, here are 5 books I loved that deal with mental health topics (plus one of my own with mental health themes).

Valkyrie by Sophia Elaine Hansen

Sophia Elaine Hansen is one of my favorite contemporary poets. Every one of her poetry books has just gotten better, and it was her book soul like thunder that got me into reading poetry for fun!

Valkyrie, of course, does not disappoint. In my opinion, it is her best work. It deals with a lot of heavy topics, so be sure to read the content warnings if you need to, but they are such powerful, empowering words about difficult times, depression, and overcoming circumstances and past trauma. Highly, highly recommend!

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

This is one that I have shared over and over again. It’s one of those books that readers seem to either love or hate, but I connected to Cath so hard that I felt every peak and valley of the book. It’s got themes ranging from mental illness in a parent to social anxiety to coming of age, and all of them are handled masterfully, in my opinion. I will never stop loving this book!

Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia

This is another book I loved that gave me many of the same feelings as Fangirl did. It also deals with a creative person who suffers from anxiety, but it adds in a character with past trauma to be explored in the story as well. I also recently learned that the author sees Eliza as an asexual character, though not everyone agrees with the way she is presented and how it is not explicitly stated in the book.

Regardless, this is a delightful read full of emotional highs and lows, good relationships, and a solid discussion on mental health.

The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson

I’ve talked about this one before, too, as well as several other books by this author. This is, I believe, one of her best. It deals heavily with themes of PTSD and family with PTSD, and how deeply it can affect life. It was a heartfelt and intense read, and it is very much worth the time.

The Memory of Light by Francisco X. Stork

Finally, one of my favorite mental health books is this one, and not just for its gorgeous cover. This is a very real, very moving look at the aftermath of a suicide attempt and the path toward healing. It doesn’t sugarcoat it; Stork does a good job of showing how it actually is, how difficult, how painful. There is no idealizing here. But it also leaves the reader with such a sense of hope and peace at the end.

Bonus: This Cursed Flame by Selina J. Eckert

And of course I want to discuss how Cursed Flame fits into mental health awareness month. Mental health is a hugely important topic to me, very close to my heart. I’ve struggled with depression and anxiety throughout my life, and so it often makes its way into my writing.

In Cursed Flame, Janan struggles with some PTSD symptoms as well as intense anxiety that her friend, Safiyya, helps her to cope with… because Safiyya herself has been through similar. It shows how we can use our own pain and struggle to connect with and encourage other people, which is one reason I write.

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Your turn! Tell me what books you read this month with mental health themes or what books are you favorites. Did you read any of these? What did you think of them? Let’s chat in the comments!

My 5 Favorite Books About Grief

Let’s talk about grief.

Around this time last year, I released my first spring fairy tale retelling, and it was a story I didn’t really intend to tell. It centered all around a young woman who was dealing with the loss of a close friend and how it affected the relationships she had around her. It became a story of grief and rebirth, renewal and acceptance, a theme that I think was appropriate both for the season and for the state of the world.

So this year, for part of mental health awareness month, let’s talk about grief books. Next week, we’ll close out the month by talking about my favorite mental health novels.

All That Glimmers by Selina J. Eckert

Yes, I know I’m cheating with this one. But honestly, ATG is one of my favorite grief stories. It made me cry when I was writing it and editing it, it made my betas cry, and it still makes me cry when I hit a certain scene.

Plus, when a beta reader says they hope lots of people read it, not for my sake but for theirs, that means something.

The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan

I’ve mentioned this book before, and I will keep shouting about it. This is one of the best books I’ve ever read dealing with the aftermath of a close death, in this case the main character’s mother, who died by suicide (so, content warning there). It is a real and raw exploration of the people left behind and coming to terms with the world as it is after that person is gone.

I highly, highly recommend this book.

Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen

This one is grief of a different kind, and another book I absolutely love. It deals with the sister of a person who seriously injured a boy when driving drunk and her feelings of guilt around the situation. It’s grief for the change that occurred in her family following this incident – and the incarceration of her brother – and the process she took toward healing and finding herself. A truly beautiful story!

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

If you want to talk about powerful books, this is it. This book deals with a LOT of difficult topics, but it is also a story of grief and rising to do something to make the world better because of it. It can be hard to listen to at times, but grief isn’t easy. Pain isn’t easy. And this book certainly does not take the easy way out.

Wild by Cheryl Strayed

And finally, to round out the list a little (I shared a lot of young adult novels today), here is a nonfiction memoir of a hike along the Pacific Crest Trail following the death of the author’s mother. It’s a deeply introspective story of family, grief, and rebirth, and especially as a person who loves these kind of nature stories (I also loved Antarctic Tears and A Walk in the Wild…but we’ll save those for another day), this was a really fascinating and thoughtful read.

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So there you have it! I have more books I love that deal with different aspects of grief in different ways, but these are a few of the ones that moved me the most. They are all powerful stories of pain, growth, and self-discovery, and I love that about them.

But I’m interested to know your thoughts. Have you read any of these? Do you have other recommendations? Tell me your favorites in the comments!

A Tale of Ashes Book Review!

Have you seen this debut yet?

First of all, happy mental health awareness month! I will be sharing more content this month related to that, and you can also check out my Instagram for related posts.

But today I have something that is loooong overdue: a review of my friend Ann Dayleview’s debut YA fantasy book, A Tale of Ashes.

Guys, I’ve been privileged to read this a few times at various stages. I’ve fallen in love with characters and worldbuilding. And I’ve gone along on Freddie’s wild ride. It was so worth it. But because I have been so involved, I’m not going to give it a star rating. Instead, I’m just going to talk about it.

So let me tell you a little about this book.

A Tale of Ashes takes place in a modern town that is situated right on the border between the human world and Faerie, and so it sees immigration from Faerie as the magical folk are at war. But the humans aren’t all so welcoming. (Heavy themes here… immigration, racism, prejudice…)

In the middle of this setting sits Freddie, a girl with a love for journalism and a passion for justice (and a controlling ex-boyfriend who also happens to be the Faerie Prince of Summer). So when students start disappearing and the police begin blaming the Fae, she of course has to dig her nose in, where she finds nothing but trouble.

So now that you have the gist of it, let me tell you some things. Let’s start with the characters. Dayleview has built such a cast that grabs the reader and makes them fall in love, starting with the two main characters and spreading out to all the secondary and minor characters. Each of them truly feels like they have their own story.

Freddie is one of those characters who I love but who gives me intense anxiety. Like a true protagonist, she gets herself caught up in all sorts of trouble and does not let anyone tell her what to do. Cue the anxiety.

Aiden, the second point of view in the story, is a lovable, damaged cinnamon roll that I just want to hug and love forever. He does horrible things, but he doesn’t want to. And he also is adorkable, as they say.

And then there are the secondary characters: Jefferson the friendly vampire and his girlfriend (Freddie’s best friend), Ginnith the tiny but terrifying bodyguard who ex-boyfriend assigns to Freddie, and a wide range of magical and non-magical people who either make your heart swell or your skin crawl. Dayleview does that really well.

And then there’s the worldbuilding. The way Faerie overlaps with the human world is so well done and thought-provoking, and the magic system is well-developed and interesting. There’s plenty that the reader may find familiar, but this series (yes, this is the start of a series) does a good job with twisting it just enough to make it brand new.

Finally, let me talk emotions, since a good part of how much I like a book has to do with the emotions it evokes. Freddie will call for the adventurous at heart, but I connected so much to Aiden. He struggles so much to connect with Freddie and wants to do things right, and it is adorable and heartbreaking to watch his journey. There are such ups and downs throughout, from rage at certain characters and their behavior to heartbreak to those d’aww moments we all love.

So overall, do I recommend this book? Absolutely I do. It’s a fun adventure, and it made me feel things. If you love urban fantasy, Fae, and some romance, I’m sure you will enjoy this as well.

If this has intrigued you to want more, you can check it out here.

Until next time, happy reading!

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NEWS! I have finished the paperbacks for all my backlist books! I just submitted the last four today, so as long as the vendor has no issues with the files, they should be available this week. If you want to see which ones are submitted, check it out on my TikTok!

5 Romantic Reads I Fell in Love With

Some feel good reads!

Happy Valentine’s Day!

I’ve never been huge on celebrating this holiday, even now that I’m married (we exchange gifts but don’t really do anything too crazy…we’re usually at a convention, though obviously not this year).

Anyway, I know romance isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. Honestly, it’s not really mine either. That said, I do enjoy a fluffy romance now and then (of the sweet variety, NOT steamy). So today, especially since we haven’t chatted in a few weeks, I figured it was time to share some of my favorites.

So let’s chat!

1. A Chance for Sunny Skies by Eryn Scott

(Image: The cover for A Chance for Sunny Skies, featuring a girl in a red dress holding up an umbrella on a blue background)

I think the reason I liked this book so much was that it wasn’t heavily focused on the romance, like a lot of romances. A lot of it was self-discovery and growing up and finding your dreams. Also, the main character wants to be a weather forecaster on the local news station! Which I thought was kind of cool. I’ve liked everything I read by this author, though these days she seems to be more in the cozy mystery writing than she used to be, which I don’t really care for.

But I do love the books in this series and plan to finish them.

2. I Temporarily Do by Ellie Cahill

(Image: The cover for I Temporarily Do, featuring a woman in a wedding dress holding crossed fingers behind her back.)

This seems to be a trope I enjoy: fake relationships. A whole mess of circumstances leads the main character to marry a guy so she’s not homeless – a guy who, conveniently, was just dumped by his own fiance days before their wedding. It was a fun, funny story that I thoroughly enjoyed, and it’s one that I’d love to read again!

Speaking of which, perhaps it’s time to thing about that re-read…

3. Settling Up by Eryn Scott

(Image: The cover for Settling Up, featuring a woman with glasses wearing yellow on a yellow background)

This is another by Eryn Scott that I really enjoyed. A statistics professor seeking a relationship! As an academic woman myself, the main character’s profession really pulled me in, and it was definitely an exciting ride to watch her search for true love. Like the other books, this was a fun, light read.

4. Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen

(Image: Cover for Saint Anything, featuring a photo of a lit carousel against a dark blue background)

This one is young adult, but it was so well-written and emotional! It follows a main character grappling with some pretty heavy family stuff – a brother who accidentally killed someone while driving intoxicated and is now in jail. It follows her making new friends in a new place, struggling with guilt over her brother, and finding new love. Truly a deep, thought-provoking story that I absolutely loved!

5. Spice Bringer by H. L. Burke

(Image: Cover for Spice Bringer, with two hands holding a plant and a fire salamander)

I previously featured this author’s book Ashen, which also has fantastic romance, but today I want to talk about Spice Bringer. This is a fantasy with a main character who has a debilitating, possibly deadly condition and a traveling stranger. They are thrown together and must traverse a dangerous land, so, naturally, some feelings develop. And man, does this book give you feelings! Also, if you need a good cry… yeah, this is the one.

Final Thoughts

Whatever your feelings on Valentine’s day, I hope these books all give you good feelings. Do you have any go-tos for this time of year? Any you can’t stop thinking about? Any that make you really FEEL something?

Share them with me below!

And until next time, let’s keep loving those books! ❤

Gifts for Your Bookish Friends (or Yourself)

Hello, bookish friends! Sorry for such a long break last month, but I guess I needed a little vacation from posting! But not to worry, I am back with something fun for the holiday season. 🙂

I don’t know about you, but I have been absolutely DEVOURING all the gift lists lately, and I figured it would be a good time to share some of my own wish list (or already owned) bookish favorites! Because if there’s one thing all those lists are missing, its the bibliophile factor.

Just so you know, as an Amazon Associate, I earn on qualifying purchases made through the purchase links on this page. However, the things I have chosen to share either I have tried and enjoyed myself or it’s something I would buy for myself! If any of the links below are not affiliate links, I will let you know!

For Reading

Book Page Holder

Now, this is a little device I’ve seen all over the last few years. I have to admit I’ve never used one myself, but it looks like the cutest little gift for any book lover. This version is a gorgeous handmade wood piece, and it comes in various shapes and sizes based on your reader friend’s (or your) preferences.

Personal Library Kit

I’ve seen various versions of this floating around, but this version is a super cute set with cards, a stamp, and bookplates. There have definitely been times I wished I had one for my personal lending, as I tend to forget when and what I lend to people. Also, let’s be real… what book lover doesn’t want to have their own library lending system for their personal libraries???

The Book Lover’s Journal

This is the book journal I use when I’m reviewing, and I absolutely love it! It has space to write the general info about the book, a scale for rating elements like writing style, ease of reading, and many others, stars to fill in for your personal rating, space for notes, and a reminder for yourself if you want to read more by the author. Not to mention pages at the beginning and end to create TBRs based on the books you rate! It’s a really nice way to track reading, particularly if you plan to leave a detailed review.

Read Harder Reading Log

This is an alternative to the book lover’s journal, created by Book Riot. It has many of the same elements, but it helps the reader focus their next reads with challenges for topics. One day, I plan on getting this one as well, just for fun and to broaden my reading horizons! (PS, Book Riot is a great place to get bookish news, particularly if you’re into YA like I am!)

For Traveling

A Bookish Tote Bag

I have my own version from the Uppercase Book Box subscription I used to have (which I still love, though I had to cancel because I fell behind in the reading!). But a bookish tote bag is a lot of fun for a trip to the bookstore or a relative’s for the day. This particular version is Kate Spade and has some adorable folksy art of books, which I personally love!

Cosmetic Bag (also good for pencils, chargers, bookmarks…)

I love organizing my items with all sorts of cosmetic bags, and your book-loving friend may enjoy one with a book print! It’s definitely helpful for keeping small items separated for easy access while traveling, or even for simply storing things at home.

For Wearing

Bookish Circle Scarf

I’ve grown quite fond of my own circle scarves, and this one is printed with books of every color neatly arranged on a shelf. This is scarf season, after all!

Book Nerd Earrings

I don’t know about you, but I love a good pair of earrings! I have a few different bookish earrings myself, but how about a cute pair of book nerd earrings?

For Relaxing

Novel-teas

This is a set of twenty-five tea bags with literary quotes perfect for pairing with your favorite read! If tea is your… well, cup of tea, then this is the cutest gift for relaxing!

Book Page Art

I have my own version in my library/office, one of a singing bird that a friend gifted me ages ago (the same friend who owns the Compendium Boutique, which is full of lovely things you can purchase online). I love mine, and I can’t imagine any bibliophile who wouldn’t love their own book page art!

Bookish Candles

My sister-in-law and my husband have both gotten me book-scented candles. There are plenty out there, and lots I’d still love to try, but this one is a “leather” scent like the one from my husband. But feel free to look around and see what other scents may appeal to your bibliophile!

For Writing

Galen Leather Writer’s Medic Bag (not an affiliate link, I just love this!)

This is one of those items that I REALLY wish I had. It’s a gorgeous bag, finely crafted, and made to carry the notebooks and writing implements any writer would need on the go! And it’s darn gorgeous. Like, seriously. I first saw this over on K.M. Weiland’s blog, and I haven’t quite been able to stop thinking about it! It is a bit higher priced, though, which is why I don’t own it.

Writer’s Gift Set (also not an affiliate link, but super cool!)

This one is something your writer friend will love, for sure! Sold on Etsy, it contains fun items like a literary-inspired candle, writerly pencils, a wood bookmark, and a bunch of other fun goodies depending on the size of box you select. I know I would love to get this as a present, and your writer friend will, too!

Writer’s Emergency Pack Card Deck

So this is a deck of cards with prompts and games to help any writer out of a corner or past a block! My sister got them for me a couple years back, and they’re so fun! They live on my desk, and sometimes I carry them when I go on trips. Definitely a fun thing to play with!

The Writer’s Toolbox

Here’s another fun one. I don’t have this myself, but it looks like a fun way to deal with writer’s block or help plan out a new story. It’s got everything from prompt cards to spinners and even a timer to get some focused writing done!

Final Thoughts

Phew! That was fun. There are so many things on this list that either I have or made their way onto my own wish list! I hope this has given you some ideas for the book lovers in your life (or even for your own wish lists!).

If you have any other suggestions, drop them in the comments! I love building up my bookish life outside of the pages. 🙂

Until next time, happy shopping!