An Ode to ‘For Better or For Worse’

School is a steady constant in most suburban children’s lives, but my experience was particularly steady for my first ten years of education. I went to a Catholic grammar school from preschool to eighth grade, seeing several new students arrive each year but essentially growing up alongside the same 40-ish faces for a decade. My entire world was within those brick walls, and now with a whole other decade of life under my belt, it’s mind-blowing to remember how confined everything was.

My morning routines before school were almost as predictable as the way I knew my mother would always pack my latest lunch craving (consistently a turkey sandwich by middle school) and how we could expect the rare father or two volunteering on Pizza Day to stack empty boxes as high as they could (“More, more, more!” the student mobs would chant). Each morning, I’d wake, dress in my uniform, and pick at a breakfast bar, frozen mini pancakes, or cereal as I flipped through our local paper. It didn’t occur to me until I was much older that waking to the sounds of your parents listening to the news on the kitchen radio and subsequently reading the paper as a kid sounded a little strange to others.

As with anything print nowadays, the paper’s current state pales in comparison to my favorite section back then: the comics. Like clockwork, I’d skip stories of Long Island political battles and car accidents to skim the celebrity section, packed with Lohan family news and tracking which local reality star was cut from their TV competition that week (JP Rosenbaum, an eventual Bachelorette husband, is still our crowning glory in my eyes). Then, the piece de resistance: the familiar, simple stories the comics told. As I pored over the quickly resolved, otherworldly strips — Stone Soup, Baby Blues, Blondie — one comic always stuck out as proudly different.

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December 2018 Reads

Happy New Year! This marks the final monthly post tracking 2018’s reading, and I’m actually proud that I “reviewed” every book I read in regular posts. This will definitely continue into 2019, which I kicked off by finishing such an enjoyable YA book (I know, a little off brand for me!).

You’ll hear about that read next month, but for now, here is what I managed to read amidst the holiday craze in December!

Marilla of Green Gables, by Sarah McCoy (★★★☆☆) 

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I would rate this a 3.5 star read. McCoy took on the challenge of writing about what exactly happened to Marilla Cuthbert and her romance with John Blythe long before Anne Shirley came to Green Gables. I didn’t manage my annual reread of Anne of the Island in 2018, and thanks to its impressively similar tone to L.M. Montgomery’s work, Marilla of Green Gables made me want to pick up the original series again ASAP. The book begins when Marilla is quite young, continues throughout her teens, and then jumps to a little more than a decade before the start of Anne of Green Gables. In addition to Marilla’s romance, it focuses on Canadian politics, abolitionism, and Marilla’s intensely loyal bond with her family, particularly her brother Matthew.

While this was such a sweet story that definitely melded well with Montgomery’s canon, it felt a little rushed the older Marilla got, and the ending felt particularly speedy. Marilla basically disappears from the original books after Anne gets married, and it would’ve been nice to see McCoy present her version of Marilla later in life. I think being in such a familiar world with different or much younger characters might’ve thrown me off, but I would still recommend this to any Anne fans!

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My Favorite Books of 2018

News flash: reading when you’re no longer a student is the best. When I was in college, I always had my Kindle with me, but I felt guilty whenever I tried to read for pleasure. There was homework to do! Applications to fill! People to see! Now that I’m more than a year into my “adult” routine, I still manage to get a lot of reading done even when I think I’m devoting little time to it. Plus, I just get to read what I want to, and I’ve become totally comfortable with deserting books if I’m not loving them.

I feel so passionately about my favorite reads of the year (check out the posts for my picks in 2014, 2015, 2016, and 2017). Honestly, if I had to pick a few books that sum up my interests and personality at this time of my life, the six titles below are probably the most accurate representatives. It’s just the best feeling ever when you find books that feel so specifically catered to you, and I feel lucky to have found these along the way in 2018!

Disclaimer: these are books I read for the first time in 2018, not necessarily ones published this year (although, I believe the majority of them actually were!).

1) Until the Last Star Fades, by Jacquelyn Middleton

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“Big dreams are never silly. They help soothe a bad day and give us something to reach for.”

Jacquelyn Middleton won my eternal love when she wrote two amazing contemporary books set in London and featuring an American’s perspective. Her standalone third book, taking place in New York City, was just as wonderful. If you’re looking for books about characters in their early 20s as opposed to being teenagers or older adults, Until the Last Star Fades is a perfect new adult mix of independent people who are still trying to figure it all out. Middleton’s first two books excelled in pop culture references and creating a world that already felt so familiar to me, and and she pulled off the same in Until the Last Star Fades. Someone tell me where I can find boys like her Ben and Mark, okay?

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5 of My Favorite Podcasts

I first talked about some of my favorite podcasts in July 2017, but since then, I’ve become such a podcast fan that I organize all of the ones I follow by the day new episodes are posted. I work from home and really rely on podcasts to keep me engaged in my work. I know some people can’t focus on tasks with unrelated audio playing, but I’ve found I’m usually fine with some background noise.

The following are podcasts I’ve really grown to love in the past year. I used to only listen to podcasts during work, but I’ve started playing some of these while cooking or doing any other menial task. I prefer interview series and pop culture discussions over true crime or political podcasts, so if you like lighter fare in your podcast lineup, I’d highly recommend any of the picks below!

1) Desert Island Discs

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This is actually a long-running radio show on the UK’s BBC Radio 4, having first aired in 1942. I either listen to it in full form on the BBC’s website, where more recent episodes usually stream easily, or in shortened podcast form on Stitcher or Mixcloud, which both have older interviews that won’t play for me on the BBC site. Featuring both British and foreign guests from various professional industries, each episode asks for its subject to select eight songs they’d wish to have access to as a castaway on a desert island. In between each musical snippet, they discuss their lives, careers, and why these songs stand out to them. For starters, I recommend trying out Tom Hanks and James Corden‘s episodes, and if you’re open to listening to an interview with someone you may not know, Miranda Hart’s is great. I usually veer toward the interviews with film and TV figures, but the podcast’s endless archive includes episodes with politicians, authors, musicians, and more.

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November 2018 Reads

My holiday plans never require me to go too far from home. Our extended family is both minimal and local, so on days like Thanksgiving, my family and I are usually back in our PJs by 8 p.m. and delving into movies or books for the rest of the night. My low-key holiday break last month meant I had plenty of reading time, and after a stint of feeling very meh about the books I finished, November finally delivered with some fantastic reads!

I had some of the books below pre-ordered or on hold for what felt like forever, but they were well worth the wait. You can expect to see one of these appear in an upcoming post on my favorite books of the year!

Kate: The Future Queen, by Katie Nicholl (★★★★☆)

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I downloaded this in a moment of impatience when my library holds seemed perpetually stuck on the #1 spot. I’ve read another Kate Middleton biography in the past, but this one is by Katie Nicholl, a very reputable royals reporter. Following Kate’s life right up to after she gave birth to Prince George, the book is definitely the most comprehensive take on her that I’ve read. It included details about her family and her relationship with Prince William that I never heard before, and you’d be hard-pressed to find some royal dirt that I haven’t come across.

I finished this before all of the recent stories about Kate and Meghan Markle feuding emerged (I think the reports are exaggerated and come from a slightly misogynistic media perspective). Given that news, thinking about the royals has stressed me out lately, but Kate: The Future Queen was the perfect definition of easy, breezy reading. Yes, I know what’s going to happen, but it’s nice to just jump into a non-fiction story that has a happy ending.

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Even More ‘If These Books Were Movies’

I can never go too long without making one of these posts! For me, actors that encapsulate characters usually come to mind moments after a book introduces someone new. I’m then unable to really separate the story from these faces, and playing casting director always feel like a secret reading bonus. Below are some of my recent dream-casting choices for if these books ever became movies!

1) Leighton Meester and Michael Zegen as Ruby and Andrew (Girls on the Line, by Aimie K. Runyan)

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“I refuse to marry a man who spends his life in a dark room, longing for the sun but lacking the backbone to stand and open a window.”

I’m that weird 20-something who has never seen Gossip Girl and doesn’t really have any desire to, but I’m loving Leighton Meester in Single Parents. She appeared quite quickly as the resilient, determined Ruby, a Philadelphia society woman who answers the Army Signal Corps’ call for female phone operators during World War I. As a working-class son of Irish and Italian immigrants, Andrew immediately reminded me of Michael Zegen from The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. While his character is a bit of a dope, Zegen strikes me as an old New York type who will always step in to help you at a dire time, which fits Andrew perfectly.

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October 2018 Reads

Happy November! This is my favorite time of year — the weather has finally realized it’s autumn, Oscar bait movies are hitting the theaters, and the general merriment and chaos of the holiday season is in the air. While I have several contemporary reads coming up on my library holds list, I mostly read historical fiction in October. Four of these books were NetGalley ARCs, but two of them have since been published and are receiving some well-deserved praise!

Although the ratings of this lineup suggest the books were fairly average, the majority of them had special elements that really stood out to me and kept me invested.

One Day in December, by Josie Silver (★★★★☆)

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In her early twenties near the Christmas holidays, Laurie spots a man waiting on the street below from the top deck of a London bus. They make eye contact and have an inexplicably strong connection. Laurie and her best friend Sarah spend the next year searching London for the mystery man. She finds him the following Christmas when Sarah introduces him as Jack, her boyfriend. The rest of the book follows Laurie and Jack over the next several years, becoming close friends while avoiding the fact that they once shared that special moment.

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Yep, Even More Book Quotes

I’ve come to the later half of my notebook of quotes from stories, picking excerpts for this post that are from my last year or so of reading. I’ve even almost reached the end of the physical notebook that I started writing in right before my junior year of high school. Only a few blank pages remain, and soon a collection seven years in the making will be complete. I’ll definitely be on the hunt for a book from the same company so the next edition will last just as long. Still, thinking about that girl who began the notebook and where she was in life is bittersweet.

This particular post is also special because it includes an quote that sums up why I scribble down the pieces of writing that stick out to me. I love when a book perfectly explains the way I feel about something, and the list below are just a few that have really captured the phase of life I’ve experienced during the past year.

“The next time she tried a stage door, she wouldn’t place her trust in someone else. It was always the same old story. You can only rely on yourself.”

London Belongs to Me, Jacquelyn Middleton 

While I don’t like the extremity of this thinking, this quote’s special to me because it’s a lesson I came to terms with in London. Although I ended up loving the people in my study abroad program, specifically my four flatmates, it took me time to adjust and warm up to so many new people. In the meantime, I learned that you should never rely on others to ensure a good experience — trust yourself to pull that off! I went on so many solo excursions that semester, seeking out the exact opportunities I wanted to and leaving London with a strong sense of independence I didn’t have before.

“Brute, raw masculinity contrasted with gentleness is the most attractive thing on earth.”

The Hating Game, Sally Thorne

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September 2018 Reads

September started out as a slow reading month. I hadn’t found a book I absolutely loved in forever, but after starting a Netgalley account toward the end of the month, my slump definitely improved. I’m still having some trouble with reading consistently, but I think the more the fall season progresses, the more books I can get through. Colder weather means more of an excuse to stay inside and read!

Part of what initially delayed my book count this month was attempting to read The Kiss Quotient and The Wedding Date. These two books have gotten so much hype in the blogging community, and initially, it looked like they would live up to those high standards. I loved that they both had unique heroines and, particularly in the case of The Kiss Quotient, provided insight into the minds of people who are rarely highlighted in fiction. But other than focusing on underrepresented perspectives, the overall stories weren’t very remarkable or investing to me. I couldn’t get on board with either author’s writing style, basically confirming to me that lately I crave stronger writing in order to really enjoy a book. I ended up abandoning both books about halfway through. I wanted to like them so badly, but they just weren’t for me.

Luckily, my September reading material drastically improved after I left the books behind. Life is too short to read books you’re not enjoying!

Good Luck With That, by Kristan Higgins (★★★☆☆) 

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Count this as more of a 3.5-star read. Authors never come to bookshops near me, so when I found out Kristan Higgins was making an appearance to promote this book at a new indie bookstore 15 minutes away, there was no way I was going to pass up the opportunity to see her. Good Luck With That follows Marley and Georgia after their longtime friend from weight loss camp, Emerson, passes away from complications with obesity. Her death inspires the two women to achieve the simple goals they all listed as teens and assumed were only attainable if they were skinny.

The conversation about this book online and at the signing was definitely multifaceted and opinionated. Addressing weight and body image in a way that helps people relate to book characters rather than feel isolated from them is complicated, and you can’t please everyone. While I’ve never had problems with my weight, I’ve always had on-and-off struggles with my self image and liking the way I look. Georgia and Marley definitely expressed some of my own feelings about self-esteem, but overall, this wasn’t my favorite Higgins book. The writing, setting, and family relationships didn’t stick out to me as much as past reads have, but the book’s focus is definitely a good conversation starter.

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