Lifetime Reading List Review, Part 1 – 2020

When I started the Amazon/Goodreads 100 Must-Read Books in a Lifetime list in January of this year, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Skimming the titles, I recognized several, either because I’d already read them or they were the commonly-used books in films about high school or college—you know, the “coincidental” book the protagonist is reading in their literature class that just so happens to teach them something about the primary conflict in their story?

Originally, I set out to read 25 titles this year—I wanted the whole 100 books to be read within four years, finishing in December of 2024. But this is 2020, and in addition to the global exhaustion we all experienced this year as a result of COVID-19 and, in the U.S., the nightmare of our current politics, the justified protests begging The Man to understand that Black lives do, in fact, matter, and many ups and downs in my personal life, I made my last post here regarding the list on The Pensive Bookworm in September. Partially, I stepped away for the last quarter of the year due to the presidential election (by the way, Biden won), but also because I was just plain exhausted. Even reading for pleasure wasn’t giving me a reprieve—how could I write and analyze what I was reading, too? Nonetheless, I’ll be back to my trek through the list come January.

For now, though, I’ve compiled a quick summary of the 16 books I did manage to read from that list this year. (In the header of each section, I’ve hyperlinked my analysis of the book, whereas the review for each is linked on the “Quick Review” portion.)

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

Quick Review: 5/5 stars

Would I read it again? Yes

Favorite line: “It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.”

Reason it belongs: Reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone is a reminder that magic does exist—that’s the power of love and friendship.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban J.K. Rowling

Quick Review: 4/5 stars

Would I read it again? Of course—it’s Harry Potter!

Favorite line: “You think the dead we loved ever truly leave us? You think that we don’t recall them more clearly than ever in times of great trouble?”

Reason it belongs: This is a book about survival by perhaps unconventional methods, and it’s a story that shows readers of all ages that, regardless of your story, you can survive what you may have once considered insurmountable.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Quick Review: 5/5 stars

Would I read it again? Yes

Favorite line: It’s a close tie between two lines.

  1. “I wasn’t actually in love, but I felt a sort of tender curiosity.”
  2. “Let us learn to show our friendship for a man when he is alive and not after he is dead.”

Reason it belongs: The Great Gatsby is a beautiful, bittersweet reminder for us to pursue the things in life we truly want, rather than the things we’ve been taught by society that we first “need” to acquire before we concern ourselves with happiness or love.

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Quick Review: 5/5 stars

Would I read it again? Yes.

Favorite line: “If you hide your ignorance, no one will hit you and you’ll never learn.”

Reason it belongs: It’s a cautionary tale, exploring the dangers of ignorance—especially when ignorance is the result of determined effort in denial, rather than exploration.

Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White

Quick Review: 5/5 stars

Would I read it again? Yes! I can’t wait to read this with my kids when they’re a little older.

Favorite line: “‘You have been my friend,’” replied Charlotte. “‘That in itself is a tremendous thing.’”

Reason it belongs: The friendship between Charlotte and Wilbur is innocent, pure, and sacrificial; this book contains a tale of unconditional love.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Quick Review: 3/5 stars

Would I read it again? Yes! As I was compiling this list, I actually wondered when I’d find the time to read it again soon!

Favorite line: “People generally see what they look for, and hear what they listen for.”

Reason it belongs: Atticus Finch is like a literary fortune cookie—full of wisdom, but contained in something trifling that is fleetingly enjoyable. (I might have a different opinion of this book if I’d had a more innocent and carefree childhood; alas, this is who I am.)

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Quick Review: 3/5 stars

Would I read it again? Maybe in several years, when my kids are old enough to read it.

Favorite line: “You don’t forget the face of the person who was your last hope.”

Reason it belongs: The Hunger Games reminds us how easily a society may be desensitized to violence if allowing it to occur ensures their survival.

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

Quick Review: 5/5 stars

Would I read it again? Definitely. This is my favorite installment of the Hunger Games trilogy.

Favorite line: “At some point, you have to stop running and turn around and face whoever wants you dead. The hard thing is finding the courage to do it.”

Reason it belongs: This book is an incredible “f— you” to President Snow and the Capitol, and because of that, it’s an inspirational tale and a reminder that if one person has the courage to say “I’ve had enough,” many others may follow—sometimes we just need that first voice to give us “permission” to speak.

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

Quick Review: 4/5 stars

Would I read it again? Yes, but only because if I read Catching Fire again, I’d feel weird if I didn’t read the whole trilogy.

Favorite line: “They’ll either want to kill you, kiss you, or be you.”

Reason it belongs: Mockingjay explores the different ways people respond to war and tragedy, pain and suffering, loss and love—the characters are vivid and realistic and encourage the reader to identify with one or another, giving the reader insight into how they might respond if the world as they know it implodes.

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

Quick Review: 4/5 stars

Would I read it again? Yeah, I feel like I missed some of the story because I was so shocked by the concepts and the world in which I read it (hey there, 2020!). I think I need to read it again, especially if I ever watch the series (which, from what I understand, is quite different from the book).

Favorite line: “When we think of the past it’s the beautiful things we pick out. We want to believe it was all like that.”

Reason it belongs: In the United States, I whole-heartedly believe The Handmaid’s Tale is a must read to remind us all exactly why a separate of church and state is essential, that even if you believe your religion is the “correct” religion, you shouldn’t force it on people who aren’t ready to accept it or in the same spiritual place you are.

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

Quick Review: 5/5 stars

Would I read it again? Absolutely. The characters were so bold!

Favorite line: “I’d cry, if only I had the time to do it.”

Reason it belongs: Through the stories of the maids and the ways in which their struggles open Skeeter’s eyes, this book shows that suffering and ignorance both come in many forms.

Macbeth by William Shakespeare

Quick Review: 2/5 stars

Would I read it again? No, but I would like to see it performed.

Favorite line: “…Who could refrain/That had a heart to love, and in that heart/Courage to make love known?”

Reason it doesn’t belong: It’s a play. Plays are meant to be performed.

Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare

Quick Review: 5/5 stars

Would I read it again? Probably not. I’d rather see it performed.

Favorite line: “Don’t waste your love on somebody/who doesn’t value it.”

Reason it doesn’t belong: It’s a play. Plays are meant to be performed.

Hamlet by William Shakespeare

Quick Review: 3/5

Would I read it again? Probably not. I might see it live…maybe.

Favorite line: “Listen to many, speak to a few.”

Reason it doesn’t belong: It’s a play. Plays are meant to be performed.

1984 by George Orwell

Quick Review: I couldn’t bring myself to finish it.

Would I read it again? Nope. (And I’m already dreading Animal Farm, which is also on this 100 Books in a Lifetime list.)

Favorite line: None. I couldn’t stand this book and kept wondering what nonsense I was reading. I think Orwell had an excellent point, but he failed to make it well.

Reason it doesn’t belong: The writing is difficult to follow. I think The Handmaid’s Tale is a better cautionary tale about a state having excessive power. Having survived Donald Trump’s time in the White House, I think that’s an experience that teaches us more about misinformation and state-controlled media in the twenty-first century.

The Princess Bride by William Goldman

Quick Review: I couldn’t bring myself to finish this one.

Would I read it again? Oh no. Nope. Zero chance.

Favorite line: None. Nothing about this book amused me.

Reason it doesn’t belong: This book is terrible.

Of the 16 books I read this year, at least 5 don’t belong (in my opinion). Three of those (Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, and Macbeth) are simply because they’re plays, not books, and the same way most people wouldn’t read a film script and expect equal entertainment value, these works should be enjoyed by performance, rather than in print. The other two—1984 and The Princess Bride—were books that I absolutely could not bring myself to finish. You’ll just have to trust me when I say that it’s exceptionally rare for me to not finish a book, but in the case of 1984 and The Princess Bride, I just couldn’t, and you can see my reasons for that in my analyses and reviews of each.

Looking ahead, whenever I do manage to finish all 100 books, I’ll make some suggestions of titles that could replace the books I don’t believe belong on a “must-read” list. As always, I welcome discussion about these books and civil debate in the comments below. 😊

In the meantime, here’s to a happy, healthier, healing new year.

Book Review: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling

As I said in September’s Lifetime Reading List post regarding Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling, I’ve often had mixed opinions about this book. The primary villain—Lord Voldemort—only appears in name. If such a book were released today, I can already imagine the ways in which the Writing Community on Twitter would rip the author up one side and down the other. And if I let this modern, insufferable-know-it-all attitude of the illustrious Random Writers of the Internet win out, I’m tempted to rank this installment poorly.

However, I’m looking at this third installment of the Harry Potter series through a different filter: Does Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban positively contribute to Harry’s story and the Wizarding Universe?

My answer is yes, so I’m awarding this book five stars. (And if you’ve been following my reviews for long, you’ll know that rather than posting a summary of the book, I prefer to share a single aspect that I think merits a substantial portion of the rating I’ve chosen.)

The bonds of friendship between Harry, Ron, and Hermione are tested to their limits in this book as—for the first time—all three friends face mortal peril together. (I know an argument could be made for the challenges on the way to reaching the Stone in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, but a Transfigured chess board will always seem less dangerous than the bloody Whomping Willow and a werewolf to me!)

As the three young friends venture to find the truth about the night Harry’s parents died (or part of it), they’re faced with more challenges in one night than many adult wizards or witches would face in a lifetime, and they overcome them all relatively unscathed. This aspect of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban speaks to the survivalist nature of each primary character. While Harry is inclined to charge headfirst into battle, Ron tends to remain hesitant, though he will ultimately follow his best friend. Lastly, Hermione often surveys the situation and uses logic to deduce the best plan of action. Together, these three characters represent three sides of being a survivor, and I think this topic is worthy of much discussion.

For example, as the “Harry type” of survivor, a person might charge into the fray with little or no consideration for their personal safety, focusing instead on finding the truth or saving as many other people as possible. The “Ron type,” however, only tends to face their foe when someone they love is at risk—he represents the timeless “I did it for you” type of person who sacrifices greatly of themselves at all time. And of course, the “Hermione type” represents the survivor who prefers to calculate and arm him-/herself with knowledge before diving into danger. Each character survives in his or her own way, and shows the reader that regardless of your physical or mental build, all that matters is the determination to do the right thing—which isn’t always the safe thing.

As time has told, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling is incredibly well-written and worthy of the base four stars. However, it’s this theme of survival exhibited by Harry, Ron, and Hermione (and Sirius Black, but more on him later!) that adds that fifth star for me. I love seeing stories of (as Dumbledore once put it) “moral fiber” and grit, especially in Middle Grade/Young Adult books. By showing our youth that, yes, kids can accomplish incredible feats, we empower them…and that’s exactly what this book does.

Other Harry Potter posts on The Pensive Bookworm:

Lifetime Reading List: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

As I’ve said before, anytime I re-read a Harry Potter book, I wonder what new aspect of the story I’ll enjoy. When I set out to re-read Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban yet again, I was struck by the amount of emotion J.K. Rowling was able to evoke from me, particularly regarding Remus Lupin and Sirius Black.

Friends since boyhood, Remus and Sirius were torn apart by the circumstances surrounding the death of James Potter, betrayed by the fourth member of their group, Peter Pettigrew. However, Sirius alone knows of Peter’s betrayal, and after more than a decade in prison, he’s determined to finally correct the record.

Unbeknownst to Harry Potter, this quest sets the events of his third year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry into motion. While Remus becomes the Defense Against the Dark Arts professor and Sirius hides throughout the grounds of Hogwarts and neighboring village of Hogsmeade, the pair remain foes until the penultimate scene in which Harry and his two best friends learn the truth alongside their professor.

This plot contains a vital—yet often forgotten—lesson. Things are not always as they seem. Remus Lupin, who’d been one of the closest friends of both James and Sirius, was not privy to the information that changed the fate of the entire Wizarding World and allowed Peter to betray them all. Remus readily believed the story put forth by the Ministry of Magic explaining the events surrounding the murder of the Potters, quickly assuming Sirius had double-crossed their friend, never giving a second thought to Peter, who was renowned for his rat-like nature.

As the truth is revealed to Harry, Ron, and Hermione alongside Professor Lupin, a great deal of fraternal love is also apparent. The same way Harry’s father was sure his friends would be with him until the end, the allegiances Harry shares with Ron and Hermione are emboldened, drawing some excellent parallels between father and son. In many ways, Rowling exemplifies how shared experiences can bond a rag-tag group for life, creating connections that run much deeper than they may appear to others, or even those of one’s family.

Although I’ve been known to say that Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is one book that I feel could easily be removed from the series (primarily because Voldemort, the antagonist of the series, only appears in name), I do appreciate how the weight of Harry’s adventures in this third installment impacts the remainder of the story.

I’m reminded of the adage “The blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb.” In other words, the bonds we choose are stronger than those with which we are born. For the way the friendships of Harry’s father influence Harry’s story (and the lessons therein which, I believe, readers should seek in their lives), I agree with the placement of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban on the Lifetime Reading List. Additionally, now that I’ve read the first three books of this series with said list in mind, I understand why Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets was omitted…but more on that later. 😊

I’ll post my review of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban next Friday, but for now, check out my other posts about Harry Potter here:

Lifetime Reading List: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

Book Review: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

Book Review: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Book Review: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling

Ever since I did my undergraduate thesis on the entire Harry Potter book series, I wonder what new thing I’m going to pick up each time I read the books. I spent six months studying these books in-depth—my outline for the thesis alone was nearly 100 pages! How could there possibly be anything new to find?

But when I read Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets last week, all I could think about was how incredibly sassy the teachers at Hogwarts are! Of course, I noticed a few other enjoyable aspects about the book, but the most memorable was the way in which the professors bonded over the ineptitude of Professor Gilderoy Lockhart. For that matter, the way Ron Weasley responds to Lockhart—even before he’s introduced to the reader—thoroughly captures the general reaction of the Wizarding World and Muggles alike. (And while I don’t like to get too political here, a case could be made for the similarities between Lockhart as an educator and Trump as a politician.)

In regard to Ron, the brotherly affection between he and Harry (and that Fred and George have for Harry as their younger brother’s best friend) is also a noteworthy point in the story. After Ron and Harry’s adventures in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, it’s only natural the pair would have bonded. However, their bond is much deeper than is directly addressed. While we know Harry is a kind, compassionate, daring young boy, the resolution he displays after he and Ron have been separated in the Chamber of Secrets as well as his willingness to risk his life to rescue his best friend’s sister is striking. In my life, I can only think of a few people who I suppose would be willing to risk themselves like that for someone I love. The dynamic of friendship between these two twelve-year-old boys is something we need to discuss more—it’s another way our youths should look up to and try to imitate the behavior of J.K. Rowling’s famed protagonists.

I’ll never forget the first time I watched Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002) and saw Hermione Granger in the Hospital Wing, having been petrified. When I read the same scene in the book, I had an even more emotional reaction. This cunning and determined young girl was wise enough to protect herself, moments after solving the great mystery of the monster within the Chamber of Secrets, a query that had baffled some of the greatest professors and historians in Wizarding World history. To posses such wherewithal under duress is not something that should be taken lightly; furthermore, that she noted how the basilisk was moving through the school on the paper is another aspect to discuss. Did she make that note for herself (we know she’s an avid reader and talented scholar), or did she write it down in case something did happen to her, that way Ron and Harry would have the answer to the question she knew her friends would ask? I choose to believe the latter (that’s what I’d do).

Finally, I appreciate the insight we receive into Draco Malfoy’s bully nature. From the first time we meet Lucius Malfoy, his father, we understand that the senior Malfoy is also a bully. As an adult, I’m able to see that Draco is simply behaving the way he knows best, the way that has been shown to him his entire life. And at twelve-years-old, I can’t blame Draco for not realizing quite yet that he could rise above and be better than his father. I can’t blame Draco for perpetuating a cycle of abuse toward all who are different from him. The way in which Draco uses the slur “Mudblood” reminds me so readily of the manner in which many children/teenagers will call someone an unkind name, merely repeating things they’ve heard their parents say. It’s tragic, and I’m thankful Rowling gave us yet another fictional version of our reality in which we can discuss such matters with young people, hopefully steering them toward a kinder, more understanding path.

My favorite aspect of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets is exactly that: Rowling provides many magical talking points which hearken to the real world. This is what makes an exceptional book; it aggravates me when zealous folks condemn the Harry Potter series “because there’s witchcraft!” without considering the wisdom within each chapter. Like many who have come before me and many who I’m sure will follow, I give Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets five stars.

You can see my review of Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone here as well as my evaluation of its placement on the Amazon/Goodreads Lifetime Reading List here.

Upcoming Release: Dark Rooms by Jen Lassalle, Author Interview

Over the past several months, I’ve had the honor of working with Jen Lassalle on her debut paranormal romance novel Dark Rooms, both as an editor and beta reader. Each time I’ve read this book, I have been completely captivated, so it was only natural for me to want to help promote it as much as possible.

Last week, Jen Lassalle was kind enough to take some time to answer some questions about her book and writing process. Take a look at my interview with this talented author below, then head on over to Amazon to pre-order Dark Rooms!

When did you first begin creative writing?

I was about ten when I wrote my first story (if I’m being honest, when I started it – I still haven’t finished that one). I had this fun idea about a dog who could talk and the woman who saved him from an animal shelter. It opened with her describing him as if he was the love of her life “from the moment our eyes met, I knew he was the one” etc. Even then, I loved to flip scripts and let a reader think they were headed down one road, then take a sharp turn and travel somewhere else. I’ve always wanted to tell stories and be a writer, even though I waited a long time to say it publicly.

Tell us a little bit about Dark Rooms! What about this novel makes you excited?

I’m so proud of the way Dark Rooms evolved! Dark Rooms started with one scene, a scene I can’t totally talk about for spoiler reasons, with Eve on a cliff. Even now, it’s one of my favorite parts of the book – where Eve sits on the cusp of a major decision, and weighs the odds of staying still vs. moving on. It’s such a real moment that we’ve all experienced, and it felt so relatable. But I flipped the script again in that scene and played with family roles.

Here’s a quick summary of Dark Rooms:

Dark Rooms tells the story of Eve and Nate, who meet years after a mysterious tragedy, and discover they have more in common than just physical attraction. When we meet Eve, she has placed a wall around her life and the magical abilities that couldn’t protect her family.

But her daughter Lina’s intense friendship with Parker, a boy with abilities of his own, brings his brooding father Nate into Eve’s world. Nate has scars too, and their connection fizzles the careful barriers Eve created. As their relationship deepens, a dark presence returns who wants more than just their lives. He wants her power. To defeat him, Eve must set aside her guilt, accept who she is, and trust her new family, while Nate struggles to embrace his new role in her life. Together they either face their past or risk losing all they hold dear in the present… including each other.

Dark Rooms uses magic and chaos to weave the complicated relationships of a found family around the difficulties of starting over in life. It embraces our struggles to identify ourselves in the now, rather than living with our past choices, and finding the people who will face those battles with you.

Dark Rooms is your debut paranormal romance novel. What inspired you to write this story?

Eve has been on my mind for a long time. The idea of a woman with healing powers intrigued me and I kept asking myself what I would do if I had such an ability. I knew I couldn’t be a doctor (I hate blood and have a terrible memory), but I’d want to come into contact with as many people as possible. I loved toying with the idea of whether I’d be able to stop myself from helping others, what price I’d be willing to pay, and how others would respond. Would people want to steal it from me, would it have any limits, etc. It’s such a fun concept. I also loved the idea of writing a main character who is mysterious and guarded, and unraveling her character either because of external circumstances or her own choices, until you think as much about her as you do the plot.

Eve is motivated by her love for her daughter. How did your experiences as a mother influence writing this character?

Lina reflects my daughter in a myriad of ways, but most importantly in how Eve evolves. As a mother, I’m constantly surprised by how much my daughter saves me and teaches me. You find reserves of strength you don’t expect, and adding that level of vulnerability and courage to Eve made her even more powerful.

One of the prominent themes in your book is new beginnings and the relationships that often accompany starting over. Your Twitter bio states that you’re a big fan of major life transitions. When did you discover such a wondrous zest for life?

I was born with it! My father was in the Air Force, so growing up we moved a lot. I was constantly making major life changes – new houses, new towns, new schools, new friends. I’m naturally outgoing and curious, so when I was younger those moves had a positive impact on me. I thought big transitions were fun adventures! Ironically, I struggle more with stability now that I’m an “adult.” Thank goodness I have stories to escape into or I would wind up a nomad with only a backpack full of belongings. Or massive debt as I obtained a new degree every time I wanted to switch careers.

Dark Rooms is set in New Orleans, and according to Twitter, that’s where you live. How did living in the setting for your story play a role in its world development?

Placing the story in New Orleans became an afterthought for me, when I realized that early drafts needed more richness to them. As I was giving the scenes more life, I started detailing surroundings from my own world. The blue house on Oak Street in the prologue is my best friend’s home. Nate’s house looks a lot like my in-laws’ (with some Sims-like design adjustments for story progression). From there I took some of the rich history from the French Quarter and surrounding areas, and sprinkled in some of the beautiful culture of my favorite city. In the end, I can’t imagine the book existing in any other city; New Orleans did what it does best – became a character itself. The bakery is completely my creation, but if I owned a bakery that is how it would look, feel and operate. I just have to finish writing and get through baking school….

When writing this book, what would you say was the most challenging aspect of plot/character development?

I grew up reading very traditional romances, but Nate and Eve’s story is anything but. It was challenging for me, in the best way possible, to create relationships that are not often found in cut-and-dry kissing books. Weaving my way through Eve and Sarah’s friendship, without casting Sarah as a typical ex-wife or Eve as a “homewrecker” was a lot of fun, but required a sensitive touch. I had to give my main character imperfections I hadn’t thought about when I first met her.

I also struggled to find the right balance with Parker, Nate and Sarah’s son, who has special needs. I wanted him to be a seamless part of the story, and for him to be surrounded by family and friends who accepted him outright, without blatantly calling attention to his condition.

If you don’t mind sharing, what brought you to the decision to self-publish?

I went back and forth over this decision for a long time, and ultimately a few factors tipped the scales toward self-publishing. The first is that my story is technically a “short novel” at 55,000 words, and I knew I would have trouble finding representation at that length. When I researched both options, I was shocked at how easy it is to self-publish, and I liked the idea of controlling my work, how and when it’s published, and maximizing my profit. Finally, I took a long look at what my goals were as a writer, i.e., what I wanted my career to look like, and I realized that self-publishing matched better to my vision of my own future as an author. I want to publish a book a year, then forget about it and move on. That’s a lot harder to do with a publishing house.

Do you have any advice for fellow self-publish authors as they move from the editing stage to the publishing stage?

Do your homework. Take time to understand every step of the process before you pull the ripcord. There are some things that have more of a price tag because they are worth it (like finding the right editor – hey, Liv – and book covers). Develop a plan that matches to your vision as a writer, and make sure you understand how to maximize your return. Set realistic goals, and let those goals guide every publishing and marketing decision you make. Finally, find a tribe of fellow writers, beta readers, editors and friends who will support your endeavors.

Who is your favorite author if you have one? Favorite book?

My favorite book ever is In the Beauty of the Lillies by John Updike. It’s so lyrical and cool to read. I love the way he takes one small incident that happens within the first few pages, then grows an entire world based on it. It’s such a simple idea – that our actions have repercussions that affect future generations. How he weaves that into our history and culture is fascinating.

My favorite author varies based on genre! I adore Nora Roberts – her Circle and Key trilogies inspired me to write fantastical romance. He’s controversial but I’m also a big fan of Bret Easton Ellis because he was the first author to truly “shock” me. I deeply admire David Sedaris and his ability to make me laugh and cry in a single scene – sometimes in one sentence! Finally, my friend Sandy Williams writes some truly awesome and inventive books that I love reading. I just love a great book, and a really great story I can get lost in.


Dark Rooms by Jen Lassalle is currently available for pre-order on Amazon with a release date of April 9, 2020. Check it out here on Amazon.

Follow Jen on Twitter at @JenLassalle.

Lifetime Reading List: The Princess Bride by William Goldman

If I find something to be stupid, I vow to give that something another try a few years later.

The night before my husband and I started dating in September of 2014, he quoted the film The Princess Bride. I totally didn’t get the quote, and a few weeks later, we watched the movie. All I kept thinking was that there were about eight thousand other things I’d rather be doing than sitting through it, but hey, new relationship, good guy, his favorite movie—I sat through it.

Now, as a part of my Lifetime Reading List Challenge, I’ve spent the past ten days attempting to make it through the first hundred pages. I’m currently on page 110 (and the story didn’t even begin until page 32 because somebody wanted to blather on about something) and I literally want to throw the book at the wall I dislike it so much.

This book is on the freaking 100 Must-Read Books in a Lifetime by Amazon and Goodreads list, and all I keep thinking is “Why am I supposed to like this?”

There is no part of Goldman’s writing style that I find enjoyable, like when he mentions something and then says “this was well after ___ came to be”. It makes for a choppy read, and I am aware these are supposed to be punch lines, but honestly, my only thought is “No shit its after hair dressers, otherwise there wouldn’t be a role to fill called ‘hairdresser’, you ninny” and I just don’t like the person I’m turning into as a I read this book, and I’m not going to finish it.

The level of suck of The Princess Bride is inconceivable. My only response to anyone who finds it to be a classic is simply that I don’t think that means what you think it means.

I’m going to try to finish it. Maybe. Someday.

If they ever legalize weed in Indiana and I’ve run out of nachos and Pink Floyd.


Book Review: Buried Embers by H.M. Sandlin

After finishing Guarded Skies by H.M. Sandlin, I was already quite excited to start Buried Embers, Book Three of the Elemental Seekers Series. My excited was merited, and Buried Embers does not disappoint!

Action-packed from the very beginning, Buried Embers follows the adventures of Sally and her friends as the wicked council, seemingly led by Mr. Mitchel, take over their school and further split the good elementals from the Pulhu and even-more-sinister factions of dark magic users. The prophecy leads Sally and her friends to Mount Etna, where they must find the true fire elementals, who have been missing from the magical world for centuries without an explanation. While in the true fire elementals’ kingdom, Sally and her friends find themselves rescuing far more than the king and queen—but you’ll have to read more to find out whom!

A true page-turner from its first, Buried Embers brought me so much joy to read. From the series’ first book, Lost Tides (see review here), to its second, Guarded Skies (see review here), and finally, Buried Embers, Sandlin has grown so much as an author. As I read Lost Tides, I knew Sandlin had a tremendous gift of imagination, but Sandlin’s craft has truly evolved from notable to must-read with Buried Embers. And now that I know the story behind Sandlin’s series, I love it even more…stay tuned for that interview and backstory next month.

Buried Embers is available on Amazon Kindle and Kindle Unlimited.

Book Review: Guarded Skies by H.M. Sandlin

I always try to open (flip into?) sequels with a wide-open mind. I’ve read some sequels that I liked even more than the first installment (The Girl on Legare Street by Karen White, for example, review here; and I LOVED its predecessor, The House on Tradd Street, review here) and others that disappointed me so much that I wanted to cry.

Within a few pages of Guarded Skies by H.M. Sandlin, I was bouncing up and down in the shower (yes, I take my phone in the shower to read—mom life!). From the first chapter, I was immersed once again in Sally’s danger-and-adventure-wrought world, surrounded by her friends.

Guarded Skies is a wonderful sequel to Lost Tides, diving further into Sandlin’s world and connecting the reader more intimately with her characters. Throughout this book, I felt a stronger bond with each character, especially Sally’s friend Abby, who struggles with self-confidence as a result of what appears to be narcissistic/gaslighting abuse. By tackling such a prevalent issue and showing the beautiful healing of Abby’s friendship with Sally, Sandlin has truly set Guarded Skies apart by making it not only fantastical but also relatable.

The pacing of this book is certainly an improvement from Lost Tides (see my review here), and I want to take a moment to discuss that. As an editor, I love seeing such tremendous growth on the part of the author between books, and I already thought Lost Tides was very well thought-out. However, Guarded Skies truly astounded me as I saw Sandlin’s confidence and developmental finesse improve tremendously. As soon as I finish this review, I’ll be starting Buried Embers (due for release tomorrow, February 27, 2020!) as a part of the launch team and I absolutely cannot wait!

All in all, Guarded Skies certainly earned each of the five stars I’m awarding it. Although I still saw some technical issues that a proofreader would’ve caught, they were very few, and I’ve seen worse in traditionally-published international best sellers. Thus, Guarded Skies absolutely deserves all five stars for its enticing plot, phenomenal character development, and engaging ending that has me racing to start the next installment!

Guarded Skies by H.M. Sandlin is available on Amazon Kindle and Kindle Unlimited.

Book Review: Lost Tides by H.M. Sandlin

I discovered Lost Tides by H.M. Sandlin a few weeks ago when I was searching on Twitter for late winter book releases. I thoroughly enjoy being a part of launch teams and reading ARCs to help promote indie authors, and as a lifelong fan of the fantasy of elemental magic, I had a feeling I’d enjoy Sandlin’s Elemental Seekers series.

Lost Tides follows the story of Sally, a young girl who injures herself in the park and heals by the time she’s arrived at a facility to receive medical care. The doctor suspects that Sally might possess powers as yet unknown, and sends her to see a specialist. With her supportive mother by her side, Sally learns she is indeed magical—how magical, though, remains to be seen.

When Sally arrives at a school to help magical folks enhance their elemental power, she begins to learn of the Pulhu, a Dark Magic organization who are determined to rule the world, humans and magicians alike. The Pulhu discover that Sally is much more powerful than an ordinary teenage girl with a water element (the story she and her peers have purported), and a battle of factions begins, with one side determined to protect Sally and the other determined to capture her.

Meanwhile, Sally’s kind heart repeatedly leads her to become involved in various rescue and assistance missions, the paramount of which is the rescue of Adam, a friendly gentleman’s grandson who disappeared several months ago. Accompanied by her friends Abby, Richard, and the spirited Tider, Sally embarks to rescue Adam and discovers a much greater plot is unfolding quite literally beneath the surface of their world, one that could change life as magicians and humans alike have known it for hundreds of years.

Lost Tides by H.M. Sandlin is incredibly imaginative. Of course, you may know that I am in my mid-twenties and a mother of two, and I couldn’t help but see the bits of Sandlin’s personality and dreams for her own children between the lines of Sally’s character and those of her friends. Lost Tides is a modern fairytale in perhaps its greatest form—an ordinary girl has greatness thrust upon her, and her determination and gentle heart will be her most beneficial assets. Surrounded by friends (and a magical side kick, a water sprite), Sally is on a journey to maturity as she realizes the world is much more complicated than a child can comprehend, and there will be many growing pains along the way. The most memorable element (pun intended?) of Lost Tides is simply the affection Sally maintains for her loved ones, and her selfless nature, even in the face of mortal peril.

Admittedly, it took me about 60% of the book to really be immersed in the storyline, but that isn’t necessarily significant—there have been many renowned books (classics and modern pop culture alike!) that I wasn’t instantly hooked on, and it’s worth noting that once I was hooked on Lost Tides, I found myself reading on my Kindle until my eyes were dry and I was fighting Mama Exhaustion to read late into the night!

Enthusiastically, I recommend Lost Tides for younger readers (it’s the sort of book I would’ve adored in middle school, perhaps age 10-14) who are fans of Harry Potter as a result of the boarding-school-style learning environment as well as warring factions of good and evil as well as fans of The Last Airbender (the good cartoon one from the early 2000s!) because of the way the elemental magic in this book is described and utilized. (Thanks, Nick, for the second suggestion!)

I’ll be reading the second book in H.M. Sandlin’s Elemental Seekers Series later today, Guarded Skies. Make sure to check back Wednesday, February 26, 2020 for my review then!

Lost Tides is available on Amazon Kindle and in paperback.