Top Favorite Book Series

Since giving up social media last week, I have gotten bit by the reading  bug again. Although only on my second book of the summer, I plan on growing that number rapidly, as my to-read list is also expanding exponentially.

As you can tell by the title, I thought it would be fun to talk about my favorite book series! I tend to be pretty selective about what books I want to read, especially if they’re a series. Usually I don’t chance getting into a series unless I’m pretty positive I’ll love it, so I honestly can’t think of any series I’ve read that I haven’t loved. I’m more drawn to reading standalone books.

Most of these are well-known, so instead of giving full run-downs of the books, I’m going to briefly describe them and then explain why they have meant so much to me.

1. (You guessed it) Harry Potter – 7 books

Out of all pieces of entertainment, Harry Potter has impacted my life the most. My first venture into Harry’s wizarding world was at the age of 5, when I tried to pick up and read Harry Potter & The Sorcerer’s Stone, the book I had seen in all of my siblings’ hands. Although my first journey through the book lasted only a few pages, I remember being excited by the prospect of multiple books being about the same people–it was my earliest memory of encountering a book series.

Harry’s adventures have followed me over the vast majority of my life, with numerous rereads along the way (my friend and I are currently reading them aloud together, and trying to finish them before graduation). Although a common answer, Rowling has been one of my favorite authors, because she taught me the true depth of imagination and has continued to show me through Harry that despite deep grief and worldly trials, love will always come out on the winning side.

Through the ginormous phenomenon, Rowling showcased how essential children are to the literary world and how no one is too old to delve into the depths of their brain’s creativity. Childlike wonder is a valuable trait the world needs. 

2. The Hunger Games – 3 books

To me, this trilogy was one of the most unique and intriguing concepts I had ever heard of. When I first started the book, I had no idea what to expect, and was surprised and entranced by the gripping tale of a young woman thrust into a twisted national game show where she must fight other children to the death to win.

It’s no secret that I love dystopic books, and The Hunger Games series tops the ones I’ve read. The combination of politics and game shows seemed so fresh to me, and I loved the concept of a fictional world that was also plausible, by exaggerating aspects of our society. I think dystopian books can be an intriguing look into what others find as downfalls of our society, like political deceit and greed in the case of Suzanne Collins’ popular trilogy.

I think what both draws readers into dystopia and what pushes readers away from dystopia is the fact that in the midst of far-fetched tales of puzzles and violence, we can see some great and disheartening seeds of truth about the evil in our world. But that’s all the reason we root for the protagonists–because as bleak and violent as it gets, they persevere and keep fighting for what they believe is right, even if it means overthrowing a government system.

3. Percy Jackson – 5 books

Rick Riordan’s series both introduced and hooked me into Greek mythology. In middle school, pretty much everyone I knew read these books. What makes them so great is that they center upon relatable and sassy characters that attend a camp–a tangible, warming concept to most children. Riordan then pairs these unique and fun heroes with Greek stories in a fun, understandable way that also educates his audiences. I think that’s a really great example of effectively drawing children to literature and education. Personally, I haven’t read many other Greek-related works except Riordan’s, which makes his tales memorable and unique for me.

4. A Series of Unfortunate Events – 13 books

This series was another childhood, elementary-age staple. I’m also starting to realize there’s a theme in these series… education masked by imagination. Although Lemony Snicket’s writing style is quirky and much less discreet; oftentimes in his narratives he makes asides to define words for the reader within the story’s context. Some people found the writing style odd and awkward, but I thought it only enhanced the story’s voice and made readers feel closer to the lives of the three Baudelaire orphans.

I remember having to wait for a couple of these books to publish and then trying to read them as fast as I could. One friend in third grade and I read The Penultimate Peril at the same time, making it a competition to see who could read it faster. But I also know my favorite part of these books, both as a child and now, is the theme of age vs. intelligence.

For those of you who don’t know, the books center on three children who’ve lost their parents and are transferred to live with a guardian named Count Olaf, who ends up being an evil man that will do whatever it takes to get his hands on their parents’ fortune. Eventually, the adults believe that he’s evil and transfer them to another guardian, but Count Olaf continues to follow them in different disguises. The children try to convince the adults in their lives that Count Olaf is following them, but time and time again, the adults never believe them until it’s too late and he’s escaped.

Too often, adults look down on children or think they know better than others simply because of age, and I think that can cause a lot of blindness among individuals. Yet children are wiser and more valuable than we give them credit for, in mindset, attitudes, and opinions.

5. Divergent – 3 books

This is another dystopian series and one of the most controversial series out of my favorites, mostly because many people hate the ending of the last book. However, I really enjoyed this series and Allegiant was the first book I ever read that made me sob for a good five minutes. Again, the themes or plot choices in the books I like that many others tend to dislike are usually based on reality or truths we don’t like to think about. In this case, not everything is tied up in a nice bow, and that’s life really.

This is another dystopian concept I found intriguing, plus it kind of takes an idea from Harry Potter that is really interesting to me: there are different, distinctive groups/types of people. In this series, people are sorted into different factions when they turn 16, that open up certain types of societal roles for them. There is Amity (the kind), Dauntless (the brave), Erudite (the intelligent), Abnegation (the selfless), and Candor (the honest). But there are also the factionless, who either failed intiation tests into the different factions or refused to join theirs, and divergents, who can fit into multiple factions and are dangers to the society. As you can imagine, the story centers upon a girl, Tris, who is divergent and trying to hide that fact from the government.

6. A Great and Terrible Beauty – 3 books

I adored this trilogy in every way possible; it combines everything from fantasy to romance to adventure. I made quick work of these in high school. My favorite aspect of them is that it takes something very current and enjoyable, a fantasy world, and juxtaposes that in the midst of nineteenth century Britain. Mainly, I tend to enjoy a combination of two very different things in books, and I think that’s a great way for writers to come up with original ideas, especially in fantasy. It also had some hints of Indian culture, which has always been a subject of fascination for me. Definitely the least heard of series in my list, but I would recommend it to anyone who loves a dramatic fantasy adventure.

7. The Maze Runner – 3 books

I’m in the midst of the third book now (book #2 of the summer), but I already love this series. Many people dislike it for its graphic imagery, and while I tend to be a bit squirmy with violence, James Dashner’s writing really pulls me into his dystopian world. He has one of the most vivid writing styles I have ever read, and while it’s not the most complex writing, it really allows you to empathize with the protagonist, his emotions, and all of the difficult situations he has to undergo.

This series follows a boy named Thomas, who shows up in this place called the Glade, without any memories of his past, not even his name. He and the other boys living there are stuck with no escape, surrounded by an ever-shifting maze with scary creatures that come out at nighttime. Eventually Thomas is invited to take on the most prestigious role in their little Lord of the Flies-like society: Maze Runner. His job is to help find an escape to the maze, all while getting back before sundown, when the maze doors close and offer certain death. Each book has been incredibly different, so it’s really hard to predict how the series is going to end, but I’m excited (and a little scared) to find out.

8. A Future Trilogy That Shall Not Be Named

Okay, I couldn’t resist. I’ve had a trilogy on the brain for a couple years now. It was one of those lightning-struck, I-don’t-know-where-this-came-from ideas, but I have been really excited ever since the idea landed in my head. My hesitations and reservations that prevented me from getting down to business are now quashed, as I’ve taken a novel class that has presented me with the technical plan I need to tangibly reach my goals that were only abstract before. All of the aforementioned series, with their wonderful characters, are definitely huge inspirations to my own writing. But before I can get to that trilogy…

July is Camp NaNoWriMo, which is a regular part of novelist vocab, but sounds like a weird disease to other people. Essentially, November is the original NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), but July is a laidback camp variation. Normally in November, writers around the world attempt to pen 50,000 word novels in one month. But in July, writers are encouraged to work on any writing project (novels, poems, scripts, etc.) and set any kind of goal they wish (e.g. word count, page count). Writers create online “cabins” with friends or strangers, and track one another’s goal progress as a team. Community and accountability are great ways to stay motivated as a writer (and in life in general).

I’m dying to write my trilogy, but I have a standalone I need to complete first, as I’ve decided I want it to be the first glimpse readers have of my work (even though it’s completely different). Now that I already have a rough draft, my goal this July is to spend 100 hours working on revisions, which will include rewriting, revising, and researching different aspects of my story. I’m not going to lie, my characters are bursting to talk again.

So if you need me, I will be camping out at my computer, with a notebook, or with a novel in hand all month, soaking in all of the outside perspective on my story and my writing style as I can, while trying to craft a more vivid, engaging story for my future readers. When I get exhausted I just tell myself–this is for all of the petite women out there who don’t have a voice yet. Not for long.

~Annah

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OwlCrate December 2017

Over the past couple of years, subscription boxes have become extremely popular, especially among younger generations. You can order one, pay for a few months’ worth or buy a whole year’s worth, depending on the subscription options per box. There are all kinds of subscription boxes—beauty, fashion, literature, fandoms, and more—for children or adults, all at varying price ranges. The enticing part for many is that the box arrives each month with surprise contents, based on the themed box you ordered.

I’ve always wanted to try one, so for December I ordered a box from OwlCrate. This particular box is $35 per month, and they send you a recently published YA (young adult) novel, along with other literature-themed gifts, depending on the month’s unique theme. December’s theme was “Seize the Day.”

I will give you some brief snapshots (literally!) of what I received, before giving my review of the book, Foolish Hearts by Emma Mills, which I happened to read in two days!IMG_2875

I’ve never actually owned a candle before, mostly because strong scents give me headaches, and was pleasantly surprised by this candle, called “The Dreaming Tree.” It’s not too strong and contains a comforting apple scent. The blue glitter added a cute touch.

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There were a couple other reading goodies, like the OwlCrate-themed pamphlet with interviews concerning a couple of the box contributors, like Mills, as well as Mills’ autograph, her author note about the novel, a bookmark with other famous novel quotes on it, and a sneak peek into another recently published novel. I loved reading about the creators’ passions for their products and how everything included in the box was handcrafted or personalized for OwlCrate readers. I also appreciated how one box supported multiple authors, not just one.

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Other goodies included a themed pin, a novel-themed patch, a magnet, a wooden ornament, and a book planner/log for weekly or monthly reading schedules. I’ve already started using the book planner!IMG_2878

By far, my favorite inclusion was this tote bag, that’s Harry Potter-themed with a quote which reads: “Don’t let the Muggles [non-magic people] get you down.”

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Mills’ novel Foolish Hearts was a contemporary realistic fiction story that centered upon a senior named Claudia, who becomes mixed up with a new crowd through participation in her school’s play, A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Honestly, I haven’t read a high school story like this in years, so I was pretty skeptical about enjoying it at first, but I ended up loving the characters. Gideon Prewitt, the popular-yet-dorky guy ,was definitely my favorite character and many of the teenagers reminded me of former or current friends. One of the other characters is obsessed with a boy band called TION, which reminded me of my teenage years and constantly obsessing over boy bands, whether the Jonas Brothers, Allstar Weekend, One Direction, or 5 Seconds of Summer (although, if I’m honest, I’m still a fangirl). I thought TION had an uncanny resemblance to One Direction, and it turns out they were the inspiration behind the band!

I ended up giving Foolish Hearts 4 stars, because it succeeded my expectations of a teen drama/romance/contemporary story, the characters were lovable, and Mills writes dialogue in an accurate and engaging way. The characters included LGBTQ+ representation through a lesbian couple, which is an aspect of the story readers may appreciate or dislike. However, despite that topic of conflict, I think Mills’ novel is one most can identify with, whether they are currently in high school or had similar experiences when they were in high school.

The book touched upon the importance and value of relationships–not just romantically, but through friendships and family, too. I thought Mills balanced the narrative well between romance, family, and friends.

Overall, my first experience with OwlCrate was positive and I would definitely invest my money into it again in the future. The OwlCrate website features all of their previous boxes that you can browse (and buy!) for a better idea of the themes and contents. For those of you interested in subscription boxes or want to browse/know more about the concept, CrateJoy is a great resource.

I wish you all a relaxing and Merry Christmas!

~Annah

Summer 2017 Books

Nowadays, reading can be a challenge for many, because we have an internal debate that was nonexistent even a decade ago: to read or to watch Netflix? Seriously, it’s a struggle. For me, they both always sound so inviting, but one has to win out over the other. My reading patterns consist of either seasons of constant reading or seasons without reading. But whenever I begin seasons of reading I always wonder why I ever stopped. It is relaxing, it is engaging, and it is fun. I wholeheartedly believe that if you don’t like reading, you just haven’t found the right book for you yet.

My “to-read” list is probably about a mile long, but this summer I was able to take out a teeny chunk of it. I’ve been tempted to start a new section of my blog where I review all kinds of entertainment, so why not kick it off with my summer booklist? I’ve read a wide range, from self-help, to novels, to religious books this summer. So sit back, grab a refreshing drink, and see what grabs your interest.

  1. Les Misérables by: Victor Hugo (Sort of…)

I actually already read three-quarters of this book two years prior for AP English, but I finally finished that last quarter this summer! (I know, very long overdue.) Although a long time coming, this is actually my favorite novel. I’ve realized what warms my heart the most within books are redeemed characters, which Jean Valjean most certainly is. The theme of redemption provides the hope that no one has to be enslaved to a certain lifestyle or attitude, and our circumstances are always susceptible to change.

This is also one of the longest books I have ever heard of with the most intricate detail and is not for the faint of heart. But if you want to really invest yourself in a story and characters with great depth to them, if you like the musical or movie and want more detail, if you enjoy seeing a cast of characters of all kinds, then this one’s for you.

  1. The Book Thief by: Markus Zusak

Set in Germany during Hitler’s reign and narrated by Death, this book became popular a few years ago. Unfortunately I was not a part of that trend, but after blowing through it in two days and crying my eyes out, I can confidently say this is one of my new favorite books. Voice and language is what Zusak does best and are the tools that will keep this story embedded in your mind. The characters are easy to fall in love with and the narrative is a powerful page-turner. I would recommend this to everyone, regardless of your reading interests.

  1. Mary Poppins by: P.L. Travers

I grew up with this movie and absolutely loved it, which may be part of the reason that I personally was a little let down by the book. I have always been a firm believer that a movie can never be as great as a book, but have always loved both equally in their separate entities (I’m a very optimistic entertainment-retainer, you could say). This is a lovely book for children, with its imaginative series of events. However, if you’re anything like me, and love taking deep themes and messages away from stories, this book is not the best for that. Something I really enjoyed from the movie was the character development of Mr. Banks and the contrast between the fun and silliness with Mary and the kids, to the serious troubles of an adult man, which really caters to every audience and hits a deeper chord. Mr. Banks’ development was not present in the book and Mary was also a much more serious and stern character in the book (although that character change had to have been a result of Disney.) Personally, I preferred the more lighthearted version of Mary that Julie Andrews portrayed and thought a stern Mary who created imaginative events wherever she went seemed a bit odd. But if you want a light read with lots of silliness and imagination, or a good book for your children, this is a great one.

  1. The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom by: Don Miguel Ruiz

This was a different kind of book for me, but I wanted to read it because it meant a lot to a friend. I’m really thankful I did, though, because I think it’s crucial to read all kinds of viewpoints and lifestyles, not just those like your own. That’s how we learn from each other and understand each other better.

This book is perfect for those of you looking to better your life and seek personal happiness outside of the major religions. I appreciated the sentiments behind the four agreements, and as a Christian, was able to see some similarities between the two different belief systems, which was super interesting. If finding new ways to personal freedom or seeking to understand other viewpoints interests you, here’s your book.

  1. Mere Christianity by: C.S. Lewis

I’ve always been a Christian who prefers to stick with the Bible and is not interested in other Christian books, but I ended up reading not only this spiritual book, but the next two on this list, which is really different for me. (Not going to lie, during the period of reading The Four Agreements and these three, I basically had separation anxiety from novels.) Lewis is so intellectual that it blows my mind. Everything he writes is so articulate and it makes me think he came out of the womb using words like ‘obsequious’ and ‘taciturn.’ Talk about thorough though, this book is 100% thorough. It’s also dense and not a quick read, so expect to really put your thinking cap on every time you sit down to read. This is not a book to change anyone’s mind about anything, but if you really appreciate sound, structured arguments with solid examples to back them up and/or you want to reaffirm your Christian beliefs, you have exactly that within this book.

  1. Mister God, This is Anna by: Fynn

This is one of my mother’s favorites and so I thought I’d try it out. Sure enough, I opened to the first page and she had ‘Anna’ and ‘Joy’ circled, which are my first and middle names. The author is actually the main character in the book and it appears to be based on a true story, but the difference between the truth and fiction is not certain. The story centers around a wild and confident four-year-old girl named Anna who is taken home to live with a nineteen-year-old man named Fynn and his family. In the time he lives with Anna, Fynn learns about ‘Mister God,’ this important relationship in Anna’s life. This book offers unique perspectives of God that may offer a fresh viewpoint for interested Christians.

  1. Jesus > Religion by: Jefferson Bethke

Like The Book Thief, I made quick work of this one. Not only was the title intriguing, but I’ve been watching Bethke’s YouTube videos for a couple years now and knew I would love his style of writing. Compared to C.S. Lewis, Bethke is almost the opposite writing style—very simplified but straightforward, with many emotional and real-life examples to back up his points. His points don’t require a ton of concentration, but may stir up some disagreement among Christians, as he focuses on how we are living/where we’re failing as a church versus how we should be living.

  1. The Good Earth by: Pearl S. Buck

As I write this, I still have 50 pages left, so this may be “cheating,” but I’m going to give my review from what I know of most of it. This is an incredibly intriguing novel that deals with Chinese culture and Buck received the Pulitzer Prize for it back in 1932. I never read nearly enough ethnic literature, so I’ve enjoyed this excursion (added to the fact that it’s my first novel in two months). It focuses on Wang Lung and his family as they battle through multiple famines and family hardships. This is a great book to help expand your cultural knowledge (within reason, as it is still a novel) and would also be awesome for a book club—my copy even has some great discussion questions in the back!

I hope you enjoyed this review post! There were a lot of ‘firsts’ within this group of books and the eclectic mixture ended up being really cool. So I hope you all could find one you’re interested in taking the time to read and I will try my best to keep reading and reviewing books whenever I can! I definitely have a reading list that will keep me busy.

~Annah