Written in the Stars by Aisha Saeed (includes spoilers!)

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Here’s a link to the Goodreads page, if you’re interested.

This was another one of those books that I picked up at the library after cataloging it. It seemed interesting, if maybe a bit lighthearted from the the blurb on the back cover. The story focuses on Naila, a Pakistani-American girl who is a senior in high school. She’s about to graduate and go off the college to study medicine. However, her parents have always said that when the time comes for her to get married, they will arrange the marriage, and she isn’t allowed to date before then. So when her parents find out that she’s been dating a boy named Saif, they’re furious and decide that Naila and the family need to take a trip to Pakistan to reconnect with their roots (and keep Naila and Saif apart).

It’s not until her parents extend the trip and start being vague about future plans that Naila begins to worry. She finds out that her parents and extended family intend to arrange a marriage for her, like right now, and that she’s not going back to America. All of those friends and family members who have been coming to visit, they’re the families of her suitors. And it seems like everyone knew about it except her.

Well, Naila’s not having that. She wants to go to college to become a doctor, and she wants to be with Saif. So she tries to escape, and this is where the book gets really dark really fast. Her uncle catches her, takes her back to his house, and she’s drugged and locked in her room until her wedding can occur. And when she tries to say no, that she doesn’t agree to the wedding, she is forced to sign the marriage contract anyway. She’s quickly sent to her new husband’s home, where the family is nice to her at first, but her mother-in-law gets very upset when she finds out that the marriage hasn’t been consummated. So Naila’s new husband essentially rapes her because his mother made him, even though he seems like a nice guy in general, and is trying to make the whole situation as easy as possible for her.

She does eventually escape, with Saif and his father’s help, but not before being beaten by her husband’s family and miscarrying her husband’s child. So the ending is happy at least.

This book was such a surprise, since the blurb was a little misleading. As I said, I was expecting it to be a lot lighter. And after the first few chapters, it certainly wasn’t light. At the beginning of the book, her parents seem strict and traditional, but they don’t ever seem to treat Naila poorly. They do, however, always treat her brother better than they treat her. But as soon as Naila has broken one of their rules, everything changes. They’re not physically or verbally abusive, but they basically tell her to trust them and not question any of their decisions anymore. They take Naila’s money and passport, and they take her cellphone once they realize she has still been talking with Saif. You quickly get the sense that she is being watched everywhere that she goes, and her entire family is keeping her on a very tight leash. Part of that is traditional Pakistani culture, I think, but things go downhill so quickly once she tries to run away, and the reader realizes just how controlling her family is.

She doesn’t get much help from anyone, except Saif and his family. Her cousin tries to help her and gives her the money she uses to run away, but as another unmarried daughter, the cousin is under similar close scrutiny and control. Her husband’s family has no idea that she was forced into the marriage or was held against her will beforehand. When her husband finds out, he’s sympathetic, but does nothing to alter her situation. He basically tells her to move on and accept the situation, because things can’t change.

The reader really gets a sense of the Pakistani culture from this book, and especially from the way different people act. The women are much more willing to be nice and try to help, but only to a certain extent, because things are the way they are. And the men, although many seem nice and genial at first, quickly show how violent and controlling they can become if they are disobeyed. It was really interesting to experience, since as an American, I’m not used to that way of life at all. I think this book also shows (and the author’s note confirms this) how prevalent forced marriage is throughout the world, in Middle Eastern culture as well as others. I know that arranged marriage doesn’t necessarily coincide with forced marriage, since many people very willingly enter into arranged marriages. But this book really shows how easily the situation can become forced.

This turned out to be a really great, eye-opening book, especially in the YA genre. There are so many YA books that tend toward lighter topics or fantasy or science fiction topics that aren’t real. But I think it’s so important for anyone, but especially young adults who are learning about the world, to be exposed to things like this. Because not everyone has privilege, and not everyone is in control of their own life.

What do you think of serious topics like this one? I’d love to hear in the comments.

Happy (or maybe not so happy) reading!

Alyss

(photo courtesy of Goodreads)

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The Dunwich Horror by H.P. Lovecraft

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(photo courtesy of Sigrid Rodli Illustration. On a side note, you should go check out their illustrations. They’re really cool and creepy.)

I’ve had a couple forays into the horror genre. I read some Edgar Allen Poe in school, like everyone else, and I’ve read some more modern horror stories that include vampires and werewolves and the like. But this is the first time I’ve ever read a story by H.P. Lovecraft, who is arguably one of the masters of the horror genre.

I was introduced to H.P. Lovecraft by my husband and brother-in-law, both of whom are huge fans of Lovecraft. They’ve read the stories, and they play all of the board games and card games based off of the Lovecraft Mythos. I’ve played the games with them as well, and they’ve been encouraging me to read the stories. I was definitely intrigued by the universe that Lovecraft created, so I decided to finally give it a try.

The collection that I bought is called The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories. I picked it mostly because it has an awesome cover (pictured below), but my brother-in-law assured me that it has a good selection of Lovecraft’s stories as well. It also has an introduction detailing Lovecraft’s life and writing, which is pretty interesting.

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(photo courtesy of Goodreads)

The funny thing is, though, this collection doesn’t include The Dunwich Horror. I also checked out an audiobook collection of Lovecraft stories, and listened to this story instead. It was an interesting first story to choose, because it is a later story for him, and takes place within the more developed universe that he created during his writing career. So a lot of the details were somewhat recognizable from my experience with the board games based on his Mythos. Which probably wouldn’t have been the case had I started right from the beginning of his body of work. I think I’m going to go more that route in the future. At the very least, I’m going to read the stories in the collection I bought in order (I checked, and they are in the order in which he wrote them).

Now to talk a little about this story specifically. The Dunwich Horror focuses on the fictional town of Dunwich in Massachusetts and one family who lives there, called the Whateleys. There are rumors that the father practices “witchcraft,” and the daughter has a child out of wedlock, who turns out to be very strange. This child not only looks odd, but he grows and learns very quickly, and his grandfather is teaching him “witchcraft” as well. And they are doing strange things in their house and up on the hills near the town, which lead to some interesting happenings and a monster that terrorizes Dunwich.

I like the perspective the story takes, following the Whateleys and their strange doings as well as the other families in the town, and later a librarian who ends up investigating and trying to stop the monster. It makes for an interesting view that is both distant at times, and close at others. I really felt like I was a part of the action of the story, which made the whole thing feel a little bit more creepy and disturbing.

I definitely recommend this story and Lovecraft’s work in general for anyone who likes to read horror. I’m going to be reading more of his stories, and I’ll continue to talk about them as I do.

If you like Lovecraft, do you have a particular favorite story to recommend? Leave it in the comments!

Happy reading!

Alyss

Can you ever have too many pairs of leggings?

I came late to the cult of leggings. For the longest time, I was one of those people who swore that leggings were not pants, and should not be worn as such. I might wear a pair of leggings with a skirt or dress, but never on their own. I was just never comfortable with the idea of all of my business being on display through thin, tight fabric.

But I still like to be comfortable. I don’t like a lot of pants and jeans because they’re tight and uncomfortable and unforgiving. So for the longest time, I wore a lot of skirts, dresses, tights, and stretchy jeans, because they were the most comfortable things I could find. They were also more in line with the way that I like to dress, which is reasonably modest. I’ve never been one to show a lot of skin, and tend to favor looser clothes.

Somehow though, I started to see the upside of leggings. I don’t have to dress very professionally on a daily basis, since I work in a public library. And they go great with a long sweater, which I’m a fan of. I still don’t wear them so that my business is on display, because that makes me uncomfortable. But as long as my butt is covered, I’m definitely on board with leggings. Really, there’s no reason not to be comfortable, and they look good too.

What do you think? Are you a fan of leggings or should they be for exercise only? Let me know in the comments.

Alyss

If I was Your Girl by Meredith Russo

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As promised, I’m finally talking about the book I read most recently, called If I was Your Girl by Meredith Russo. This book is about a transgender girl who moves to live with her father in Tennessee after being assaulted. She transitioned as a teenager, and passes very well, but she is still coming to terms with being a girl and living the life she wants to live. She meets new friends in her new school, and even meets a boy that she likes, but she doesn’t tell anyone that she is transgender. She worries that if she does tell her new friends or boyfriend that they will react the way that other people she knows have reacted and she will get hurt again.

I really find stories like this interesting, and have read a couple other similar books in the past. But this one was a little bit different, in that Amanda has already fully transitioned at the start of the story. There are a few flashbacks to events during and before her transition, but the bulk of the plot takes place in the present. So the story shows her trying to make friends and fit in, to really experience what it’s like to be a girl and have friends and a boyfriend, since this is all new for her.

One thing that I thought was really cool is that this book is actually written by a transgender woman. That’s not to say that stories like this must be written by someone who has directly experienced the difficulties they write about. Writers are definitely capable of doing enough research to write competently about their subject matter. Of course, this is a very general statement, and some writers write more authoritatively than others just as some books are better written than others. But what I’m saying is that I feel like writers who have some experience with what they’re writing about can bring a really interesting perspective to stories of this nature.

However, after reading the book, I read the author’s note at the end, which changed my opinion a little bit. In the author’s note, Russo talked about how she decided to write Amanda as a transgender girl who passed very well and who was able to transition at a younger age than might realistically be possible. This gave me a little bit of pause. Not that I wanted the character to have it harder than she already did, as unfortunately tends to be the reality for many transgender people. I just expected that the story would feel more realistic since it was written by a woman who could better share the experiences of transgender women. Maybe that’s too much to ask from a YA novel, and maybe the writer just wanted to make Amanda more relatable to readers, but I was a little bit disappointed.

Despite that, I thought this was an interesting take on a transgender coming of age story. While it wasn’t the best book I’ve ever read, nor was it the best book on this subject matter that I’ve read, I think it was still worth reading. Stories like this one are important to read, since they broaden our understanding of people who aren’t like ourselves, and don’t share our experiences.

Has anyone else read this book or any other books like it? What do you think of this subject matter? Let me know in the comments.

Happy reading!

Alyss

(photo courtesy of Goodreads)

Traveling!

I apologize for not posting anything more exciting, but my husband and I are driving to Rhode Island today and tomorrow. We’re spending the week around New Years with my family, and will hopefully do some fun things that I’ll be able to write about. I’m pretty excited about it, since I haven’t really been back home or seen most of my extended family in a couple years.

I also have a book review coming soon. I read a really interesting YA fiction book about a trans girl and her experiences during and after transitioning. So look forward to the within the next couple of days.

Until then, I hope everyone is having a great holiday!

Alyss

Christmas baking, part two

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For the second installment of my Christmas baking, I decided to make Nutella cookies, because who doesn’t have enough Nutella in their lives?

This is the recipe I used, courtesy of American Heritage Cooking. I found it on Pinterest, and decided to go with this one over a couple of other Nutella cookie variations.

This one was pretty easy, although this recipe does call for a few more ingredients than the shortbread from the first installment of my baking adventure. I did cut out the chocolate chips, because I’m not a fan of dark or semi-sweet chocolate, and I thought it would be a little much on top of the Nutella. But I’m sure they would be good either way, depending on your preferences.

The one thing I will say is that these cookies seem really easy to overcook. The writer of the post mentions to be careful of over-baking, so I was being careful to watch them, but I think I still managed to cook them just a little bit too long. They were still really good, but I prefer a softer cookie, so I will definitely be even more careful next time I make them.

But even if they were a little bit harder than I liked, they still tasted amazing, so I highly recommend them to anyone who’s a fan of Nutella. Which, let’s be honest, who isn’t a fan?

Happy baking!

Alyss

(photo courtesy of American Heritage Cooking)

Christmas baking, part one

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Although you could probably consider gingerbread and gingerbread cookies to be Christmas baking, they weren’t for anything specifically Christmas-y. So I’m going to consider this to be my first Christmas baking, since I’m baking for a Christmas Eve Eve party. I decided to bake two different kinds of cookies to bring to the party, and started today with shortbread cookies.

This is the recipe I use, so you can check it out if you’re interested.

I’ve used this recipe before, and it’s really simple and easy to do. There are literally only three ingredients: flour, sugar, and butter. And you pretty much just mix them together, knead it a little bit, and then press the dough into a large cookie sheet and bake it. The cookies come out soft and crumbly and delicious every time.

While shortbread isn’t necessarily a traditional Christmas cookie (I’ve definitely made it other times of year), I’ve been making it at Christmas time for the past couple of years. So it’s become one of those cookies that I get a little bit excited for at this time of year.

So this was part one of my Christmas baking, and part two will come tomorrow when I bake another batch of cookies. I’m bringing a lot of cookies to this party.

Happy baking!

Alyss

(photo courtesy of Taste of Home)

How have I never done this??

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BookBub is one of those services that I’ve heard about from multiple people, but somehow haven’t actually managed to sign up for. For anyone who doesn’t know, BookBub is a service that you can sign up for and choose what genres you like to read. Then they show you deals for free and sale ebooks in those genres. It’s pretty great.

Now I’ve finally signed up for it, and went a little bit crazy downloading free ebooks. I think when I’d heard about this before, I was a little bit worried that the ebooks wouldn’t be very good, otherwise why would they be free, right? But looking through them, a lot of them look pretty good. Of course, there are still some cheesy ones in there too, and there aren’t too many really popular or best-selling books (which makes sense, since those are probably less likely to go on sale). However, I’m still finding some less well known books that definitely look pretty interesting. I’m really excited to have this new source to go to for ebooks.

Anyone who hasn’t heard of BookBub should go over and check it out. I’ll attach a link here.

Happy reading!

Alyss

Shopping is hard…

So, I have a bit of anxiety when it comes to crowds and really busy places. This makes going to stores at busy times a little bit difficult, especially when I’m trying to get in and get out quickly and everyone around me seems to be moving extra slowly. I try to schedule my store trips for less busy times, but that doesn’t always work out.

Especially at this time of year. Anyone who shares this anxiety or something similar can imagine how I feel when I’m trying to shop during the holidays when everyone is shopping all of the time, no matter what time you go to the store. And it’s not even just stores that you’d expect people to be buying gifts from. It’s everywhere, including the grocery store. I’m sure people have started buying food for their Christmas parties and meals and baking already.

All of this makes it very hard to go shopping, both for Christmas things and regular grocery shopping. I had to go out on Sunday and again on Tuesday, to shop for groceries, gifts, and some last minute necessities before my husband and I go out of town this weekend. Sunday was worse, I think, because I had to go multiple places and everyone else was out shopping as well. It took me close to three hours to get everything that I needed, and afterward I felt like I needed to be alone and not see or speak to anyone for the rest of the evening. I was both physically and mentally drained.

Because of that, I wasn’t looking forward to going out again yesterday, but it was going to be my last real opportunity before the weekend (and I’m definitely not going the go out shopping on Christmas Eve). I don’t think it was quite as busy as Sunday, and I did only need to go to one place, so the overall experience wasn’t quite as terrible. But I was definitely glad to go home and be alone afterwards.

The only really difficult part of the outing was that I had to ask for help, which is something that really makes me anxious. I don’t think I could have avoided it even if I didn’t need help, because this store is the kind of place where the employees wait for you to come in and then practically beg to help you find what you’re looking for. But I really did need the help, so I’m torn, because I hate having to talk to employees in stores, but I don’t think I would have found what I was looking for otherwise.

Does anyone else feel like this? I’d love to know if there’s anything that helps you feel less anxious, especially when you can’t avoid being in that kind of situation. Please let me know in the comments!

Alyss

These Shallow Graves by Jennifer Donnelly

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I heard about this book awhile ago from a booktuber who I follow (Books and Quills), bought an ebook copy, but only just got around to reading it. I’m definitely glad that I got to it eventually though, because it was a really good book.

The story is set in New York City in the 1890s, and follows Jo Montfort, a girl from a wealthy family. At the beginning of the novel, her father dies, supposedly accidentally while cleaning his gun. But the circumstances of his death don’t sit well with Jo and she finds some things in her father’s study that don’t add up. So she starts investigating covertly, lying to her mother about where’s she’s going during the day, and sneaking out of her house at night. The more she discovers though, the more things become less clear, and soon she’s trying to uncover some shady dealings that her father’s shipping company may or may not have been involved in.

She receives help along the way from a newspaper reporter named Eddie Gallagher, a medical student and coroner’s assistant named Oscar Rubin, and a pickpocket named Fay, all of whom lend their expertise in helping Jo to solve the mystery.

This book really is more of a mystery than I’m used to reading, and some of the scenes where Jo is talking through evidence with Eddie and Oscar feel very much of the mystery genre. There’s also a scene near the end of the book where the villain explains why he did everything that he did, which felt a little heavy-handed as well.

Another part of the book right at the end describes a court case that occurs after the villain is found out, and it was so different from the rest of the action of the story that it was slightly jarring to read. Most of the action of the book is shown rather than told, and we’re going along with Jo as she’s trying to figure everything out. But then this end part completely shifts to Jo looking back from months later to the events of this court case, and essentially telling us how everything played out. I understand why the author might have done it this way, to condense a portion of the story that might not have been quite as interesting to read, but they way it shifted suddenly from showing to telling was really strange. Does anyone know if this is a trope in mystery novels as well? I really don’t read enough mystery to be able to say for certain, but like I mentioned earlier, there were certain things that just screamed mystery to me, and I wondered if this was another.

However, despite the really stereotypical mystery elements, I really enjoyed the journey of this story. We get a lot of Jo’s struggle to fit into her upper-class world and still get what she wants out of life. She really wants to be a journalist, which I think is an interesting take on the historical fiction heroine who wants to break free from society. In a more traditional turn of events, there is also some tension between the society guy that Jo should marry and Eddie Gallagher, whom she feels a strong connection with. I really enjoy story lines like this, in which heroines don’t do quite what is expected of them for their time period. I also really like how the story ends up, but I won’t spoil it for anyone who’s interested in reading this book.

Has anyone else read this book? Let me know what you though of it in the comments.

Happy reading!

Alyss

(photo courtesy of Goodreads)