September Wrap-Up

I went into this month with a really ambitious goal of reading seven books, at least. After the slump I was in during August, a change of genres felt like the right move. Many people talk about how reading something they normally wouldn't pick up helps cleanse the reading palette, which sounded exactly like what I needed.

With easy access to a library, I decided to make good use of it and borrowed six books and a graphic novel. Having only three weeks to finish my borrows also made me read faster, allowing me to squeeze in more books than I've read in previous months.

By the end of the month, I had squeezed in one last read, totaling at eight books for the month. It's the most number of books I've read in a month and I'm super proud of that.

Title: Alex & Eliza
Author: Melissa de la Cruz
Pages: 368
Genre: Historical fiction/romance
Date Finished: September 6

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Opinions: I love Hamilton. It's not a secret. Ever since I started listening to it back in November 2015, I became obsessed. It doesn't help that the movie came out on Disney+ because now I always have the soundtrack in my head. And this book also kept the soundtrack playing in my head as I was reading.

Getting into this book took awhile. With how much I love Hamilton and Lin-Manuel Miranda, it's very, very hard for me not to compare the writing in this story to Lin's work. It's unfair, but it's a struggle I constantly found myself in. By no means is the writing bad. A tad simple for my taste, also because it's historical fiction and I felt like it should have felt a little more sophisticated, but it's also YA. I will say that the simple writing style allows for Alexander and Eliza's voices to shine through, as well as their personalities.

The story itself felt like it focused more on the romance than the characters. Yes, it's setting up the great American love story that was Alexander Hamilton and Elizabeth Schuyler, but there's more to each of them than just being pieces in the romance. I felt like that was lacking in a lot of ways. I didn't get to see Alexander as the brilliant mind and soldier that he was - only as a lovesick man. Eliza felt more like what I've read and learned about her, but there was something still missing in how she was portrayed.

I definitely learned a lot more about the historically accurate timeline of Alexander and Eliza's romance in this than I did in Hamilton. I knew that Lin took a lot of creative liberties to make the music and story flow better, but it was hard wrapping my mind around this accurate timeline instead. Of course, I know that some things were probably added or changed to make the story more interesting. Getting more of the historical context behind this story made things clearer to me and I think it helped set up the premise for the sequels.

The once instance in which I laughed was about 220 pages into the book. I'm pretty sure it was a penis joke made by Angelica and it was brilliant. However, considering the jokes and the way this was written, I feel like I should have laughed more. Maybe it goes back to the writing style or maybe I was just being too critical because this isn't Lin-Manuel Miranda telling the story, but I barely laughed through the funny moments in the book.

There's a big part of me that wishes I enjoyed this more because I love Hamilton. Yet, I spent more time feeling like this was riding on the coattails of the musical's success. I know de la Cruz said in the acknowledgements that her daughter pushed her to learn more and that's why she wrote this story, but I also know her to be an author of spin-off books from whatever movie franchise is most popular in Disney right now. Not that I'm dissing her or saying that's not a valid way of making a living. Me knowing her as someone who writes mostly franchise work gives me little understanding of what she can do with original fiction. I almost wish that I hadn't known that she did franchise work because I'd probably have a different opinion then. Personally, I didn't have high expectations and I feel like I got what I expected.

Title: Love & War
Author: Melissa de la Cruz
Pages: 369
Genre: Historical fiction/romance
Date Finished: September 11

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Opinions: Going into the second book, I wasn't sure how I'd feel about the trilogy. The first book was fine but it didn't give me the things I had been hoping for - namely, the personalities of Alex and Eliza. But I was pleasantly surprised by this book and quickly knew that it would be my favorite of the trilogy.

Focusing on Alex and Eliza's marriage and his time at the end of the Revolutionary War, this book details a lot of their time apart and how they came together once the war was over. This is why I think the book excelled, both Alex and Eliza had time to be themselves and grow while being apart, then grew more when they were finally together. Arguably, Alex is rarely in the house as he fights in the war and later spends a lot of time working on building his law practice, but them being in the same city allowed me to see the strength of their relationship.

The other reason I enjoyed this book a lot is the war strategy that takes place in the first half. I'm always intrigued by how people plan battles and what they're willing to risk in order to win the war. It's one of the reasons I actually enjoyed Mockingjay when most other people found it boring. Give me a good strategy and I will glad keep reading to see how it all plays out. My brain loves seeing how other people plan for the future and how pieces of the puzzle fall into place. It almost made me a little sad when the war was over and the only strategy taking place was entirely legal.

In the second half of the book, I enjoyed seeing the domestic life that Alex and Eliza were trying to build for themselves among the rich of New York. Them struggling to put together a house is something I've experienced, moving into an apartment for the first time last year and realizing how expensive furniture can be. The fun of seeing Eliza make connections at parties and how she charmed everyone shows just how intelligent of a woman she was. Not only did she get along with the women, she knew enough about politics to stand among the men. And honestly, had she been born a man, I believe that she would have been more successful than her husband. In many ways, I think she's one of the biggest reasons Alexander Hamilton succeeded in life - he had a wife who did everything he couldn't (which was a lot).

I was interested in how the end of the book would set up for the final one. The way this ended, I think it would have made a good duology. Of course, it wouldn't be the end of either of their stories, but it was a solid ending and I enjoyed it a lot.

Title: All for One
Author: Melissa de la Cruz
Pages: 391
Genre: Historical fiction/romance
Date Finished: September 13

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Opinions: Despite getting through this book in less than 24 hours, I struggled through the story. As the final and longest book in the trilogy, I was eager to see how everything would wrap up. At this point, there were certain points of the Hamilton story that hadn't happened yet, and I was looking forward to seeing how a YA story would handle all of it.

For quite awhile, I wasn't sure that the books would take on the Maria Reynolds affair, but it did. As a YA trilogy, it's definitely wasn't going to be as explicit as the musical or history. As one of the most important pieces of the Hamilton story and legacy, I felt like it wasn't done as well as it could have been. The attraction between Maria and Alex didn't feel real or like it had genuinely been building. Yes, Alex's thoughts and being wandered toward her more and more as the book went on, but the way it was written didn't feel like he was going to her out of temptation. In fact, I didn't sense any temptation at all, not until the moments right before they slept together. I wish the whole thing had more tension to it and more of Alex's longing. And considering how important this was to the overall Hamilton story, I found most of it quite boring.

But it wasn't just Alex's character who struggled. I didn't like what Eliza's character became in this book. She didn't feel like the strong woman she had grown into in Love & War, but rather some version of her teenaged self who didn't always understand what was going on. Though she was establishing the orphanage, it didn't seem like her attention was there at all. Rather, she was playing matchmaker and spending all her efforts there instead. I know the point was to show that Eliza still had character development to go through and that she wasn't as accepting as she thought, but the way the storyline played out felt like everything that Eliza wasn't. She came across as shallow, selfish, uncaring, and oblivious. In reality, Eliza Hamilton was a brilliant mind who held her own among the male politicians and lawyers her husband worked and mixed with. Her character was a stranger to me, nothing like the person I knew she had grown into in the previous book.

By the time I got to the end, I admit that I was ready to be done with the trilogy. This book had dragged on too much for my liking and I didn't feel like I was getting anything new out of it like I had with the previous books. Without Alex and Eliza's personalities and brilliance to engage me into the story, I became quite bored. And though I do think it was a fair ending to the Hamilton story, the writing just fell too flat for me.

Title: Catwoman - Soulstealer
Author: Sarah J. Maas
Pages: 384
Genre: Fantasy
Date Finished: September 17

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

**TRIGGER WARNINGS** PTSD, domestic abuse, mentions of torture, mental illness, and racism.

Opinions: It's been a number of years since I've read a Sarah J. Maas book. In fact, the more time I spent away from her books, the more I learned about how strange some of her writing tendencies were. In the reading vlog where I read this book, I pointed out that as long as there wasn't any weird romance with velvety body parts, fascination with toes, or weird sex scenes, I'd be happy. And yes, I'm aware that half of that is because she writes fae books, but it's still a really uncomfortable way to describe romance and I've yet to muster enough strength to continue in the Throne of Glass series.

That being said, I found myself surprised at how much I ended up enjoying this book. I've always been a big fan of Catwoman/Selina Kyle, ever since I first saw Halle Berry play her in a movie (I'm aware that Halle Berry hates that movie and that role). The thought of a thief so skilled that she has cat-like reflexes isn't foreign. They call them cat burglars for a reason. But I've always enjoyed the different interpretations of how Catwoman got her origin and liked the role she played opposite Batman.

The first 100 pages were a rocky start for me, but my sister said that I would enjoy it more after that point and she was right. I had some trouble getting past some of the hissing and growling in the beginning of the story (trademarks of SJM's fae books), and there were some moments that reminded me of the early seasons of Arrow. Once I got past that, the story became a lot more fun and I enjoyed spending time with the characters.

Luke Fox is a DC character I'm entirely unfamiliar with. I can't compare him to any other versions because this is the first time I'm heard of him, but I grew to enjoy reading from his POV. I thought that the topic of PTSD was very well handled in his storyline. Though I haven't experienced it myself or known anyone who has experienced PTSD, I have read up on it a lot and seen many depictions of it. SJM did her research and wrote about it well, and for that, I think she did Luke's character a lot of justice. Having a hero with PTSD isn't easy, but it proves a desire to do right for the people who are less fortunate.

I found Selina's story compelling and I liked this version of her. She was different from the other SJM female leads I've read and heard about. Unlike the others, Selina has more of a heart and cares deeply for family. I'd also argue that she has more of an inclination toward a healthy conscious. The deep sense of responsibility she has for the people she cares about made her storyline all the more interesting because there was no limit to what she was willing to do to make things right.

Of the five SJM books I've read, I think this is easily my favorite. I do have a major soft spot for Crown of Midnight, but I think Soulstealer is the best display of her writing. Arguable, this is her least notable book, but I think more people should read it. Were SJM not primarily a fantasy writer, I would love to see her writing heist books set in the modern day.

Title: Wonder Woman - Warbringer
Author: Leigh Bardugo
Pages: 369
Genre: Fantasy
Date Finished: September 18

Rating: 5 out of 5.

**TRIGGER WARNINGS** Racism and homophobia.

Opinions: Wonder Woman has been one of my favorite heroes ever since I read a book about her back in my freshman year. When the movie came out, I became an even bigger fan because Gal Gadot's portrayal was everything I imagined. Picking this up, I knew that Leigh Bardugo would do her story justice and that I would have a lot of fun reading, and that I did.

One of the things I've always enjoyed about Wonder Woman's storyline is how much Greek mythology is entwined with it. Themyscira, the island of the Amazon women, was created by the Greek goddesses and has always been a place where women have shown their strength and intelligence to be on par, if not beyond that of men. Many of the weapons the Amazons fight with are in honor of Greek goddesses, and most of their stories are around telling the women's side of famous Greek myths. Considering my love of Percy Jackson and Rick Riordan's work, it's no surprise that I also loved this and how it taught me more about the Greek myths I'm less familiar with - particularly Helen of Troy.

Bardugo's masterful writing is vert evident as she balances two POVs - Diana and Alia. Diana, being princess of Themyscira, has obviously never been exposed to the mortal world and doesn't have much understanding of it outside of the things she's learned from her textbooks and stories. Alia, born and raised in New York as a bi-racial brown girl, has grown up rich because her parents are renown biologists. Put the two together and it's a recipe for humor. I loved seeing the differences between the two girls and how their interactions evolved as the book went on. They made for great friends because of their differences, but also their ability to push each other in their similarities. I enjoyed both of their perspectives and found it easy to tell their voices apart.

The humor in the book reminds me a lot of Six of Crows, which I read last month. It might just be how Bardugo writes friend groups or it could be how she balanced the different personalities of her characters. Either way, I found myself laughing out loud at several instances and really enjoying the way Diana was experiencing the mortal world for the first time. Her confusion at things we'd consider normal reminded me of Gadot's portrayal, which I loved. And Diana's ability to keep up with the banter made the group dynamics even more fun.

Much like her other books, Bardugo writes in a way that allows you to slowly see the greater picture unfold. She easily sprinkles in the things she wants you to see, all while building at something bigger without you realizing it until it stands before you. And for a story like this, I thought it was great. I kept waiting to see what twists and challenges would be thrown into the story next, getting more excited each time some happened. And if that's not an indication that everyone should read this, I don't know what is.

Title: 26 Kisses
Author: Anna Michals
Pages: 304
Genre: Contemporary romance
Date Finished: September 24

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Opinions: Okay, contemporary romance is not my thing. I've said that many times before and I'll continue saying it. But this was a pleasant surprise as I ended up enjoying it a lot. After getting over the initial surprise that this was YA (I'd thought for 4 years that this was an adult contemporary), I found myself really liking the characters and the premise.

Break-ups are never easy, and I've heard of plenty of ways people have gotten over them. Crying, eating copious amounts of ice creaming, sending texts and making phone calls that shouldn't happen, writing letters that never get sent, burning an ex's stuff, even the sage advice of "the best way to get over someone is to get under someone else" (this last one is not recommended). But the idea of kissing 26 guys never occurred to me. And I have to say, method made a lot of sense for most of the book.

Kissing 26 guys, one for each letter of the alphabet, to get over your ex is not a normal thing. But in this case, I think it worked out pretty well. Veda, having been in a committed relationship with her ex for 2.5 years, definitely needed to know what it was like to be around other guys. Romantic or not, it was a good experience for her.

Killian Jones from Once Upon A Time

The introduction of her love interest, Killian, was so wholesome and sweet. I liked him from the moment he appeared. Possibly because I have a major soft spot for the name (*ahem* Killian Jones from Once Upon A Time). He was a super sweet guy who loves TEDTalks and actually doesn't mind pop music, something you don't see often in YA romances. Not many guys his age are understanding or mature, making Killian a refreshing love interest to read about. Possessiveness wasn't his go-to when conflicts came up, nor were his jealous moments unwarranted. I've always liked the nice, sweet guy, and this warmed my heart in so many ways.

Even the way the romance played out between him and Veda was sweet. First born out of friendship and no expectations, I enjoyed the times they hung out before he said he liked her. And a guy who actually makes the first move in a clear manner? It's so unheard of. Especially for 17-year olds. Though their relationship had a lot of bumpy moments, I thought it was pretty mature for their age and I appreciated that.

Veda's family life was interesting. I never totally knew how I felt about it, even when the storyline was resolved. Her dad rubbed me the wrong way from the beginning and I didn't think there was enough explanation for the way he treated his children or his ex-wife. Veda's younger brother had more development near the end, but I wished there had been more moments between the siblings to make it feel like they actually had a relationship. As for Veda's mom, I loved her and felt for her so deeply.

The sprinkles of Veda's passion for debate and running were really fun to read about. I have no personal experience with debate, but I've enjoyed watching people prep for it and learn how to make arguments. Whenever Veda would rattle off a technique, I stored it away as something to use in the future. And her choice to run as a way to work through her feelings was constructive to her person. I liked reading about her running sessions and her running buddy. It all felt very wholesome to me.

The ending was quite rough, and it's the reason I took a star off. Everything that happened felt like a regression of Veda's character. She did things that were unnecessary and honestly quite unlike her. Suddenly, it wasn't about getting over her ex anymore. Things changed and her goal for the 26 kisses became so warped, I couldn't enjoy the journey she was on. And though last pages were cute and wholesome, I wished the rest of the ending had been more true to Veda's character.

Title: Anne of Green Gables
Author: Lucy Maud Montgomery
Pages: 333
Genre: Classic
Date Finished: September 29

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Opinions: I had a great time re-reading this after so many years. The numerous times I've listened to it as an audiobook made it a little hard to adjust at first, but after several chapters, I was able to read it normally.

Anne Shirley has always felt like a character close to my heart. We're so similar in many ways, and I looked up to her greatly when I was younger. I still do. There were times while reading this when I felt like I wanted to be like her when I grew up, though she's still several years younger than me at this point in the story. Something about the way she grows as a person always gave me hope that I could also grow out of my faults and turn them into charming qualities.

Before reading this, I hadn't realized how many good lessons the book teachers young girls. Strong female friendships, the value of independence and imagination, positive parental figures, and healthy romantic relationships are only a few of the valuable lessons that still stand the test of time. Anne and Diana's friendship has always been one of my favorites among literature, and I still feel the same way. Having a bosom friend, as Anne would say, is something I've been blessed with and will always cherish. And though I haven't found as many kindred spirits, I know Anne is one of mine.

Her antics have always been my favorite thing about watching her grow up. The things Anne gets herself into are unlike any other, and I love seeing what she does next. I had almost forgotten just how many weird situations she gets herself into in this book, and I can't quite remember what happens in the next books.

This book also reminded me of how much I love slow-burn romances. I had never read one until I got to this series, and the time it takes for Anne and Gilbert to even become friends, despite his clear interest in her, makes it that much better when they finally put aside their rivalry. Their relationship is so grounded in friendship born of rivalry that they know each other as well as Anne and Diana do. And I loved seeing the foundation of Anne and Gilbert's relationship and knowing that it'll only get better from here.

Overall, I still love this book as much as I did when I was younger. It's a classic that I think many people should read because it's a positive example for young girls and boys. And you never know what kindred spirits you might find.

Title: Through the Woods
Author: Emily Carroll
Pages: 208
Genre: Horror graphic novel
Date Finished: September 30

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Opinions: I have never read a horror graphic novel until now. This is one of the most popular ones out there, and I thought it would be a good place to start, seeing as "Spooky Season" is now. In general, horror isn't a genre I've explored widely because of my over-active imagination and how easily I get scared. But since this is a graphic novel, I figured it would be a good place to test the waters as I try to venture a little more into the genre.

There are five stories within this graphic novel, each longer than the last. Unfortunately, this fell along the same reaction I had to The Return, which I read in February. I didn't find myself scared or creeped out by this book, no matter how creepy the drawings were. Maybe it was because I read most of the book in daylight, but even the piece I read at 1 AM wasn't that bad. I had no trouble sleeping or getting the images out of my head. There have been WebToons that freaked me out more than this did.

My main problem was that the stories were too short. If I'm going to be freaked out by something, it has to have a great build-up or jump-scare me. And considering I've been jump-scared by WebToons, it's entirely possible while I'm reading a graphic novel. But neither of those things really happened. There was so little exposition building up what would happen or why things are the way they are, it just didn't make me feel like the stories were complete. Yes, I know the point is that we're left to our imagination at the end, but I didn't even have enough for my imagination to work with.

"Our Neighbor's House" was so short in comparison to the other stories, and I felt like the ending left too much to an imagination that hadn't been cultivated by words or images. It was a classic local legend that people would tell their younger siblings or friends visiting the area. The art was beautiful, but it didn't do anything to scare me.

"A Lady's Hands Are Cold" probably had the highest creep factor, but it ended too quickly. I was just enjoying how good it was getting before the story ended. I did love the way the text and art worked together in this story though. The sharp edges of the art contrasting the soft flow of the words made it unsettling to read, though it ultimately didn't scare me.

"His Face All Red" was my favorite. The art and the text worked together beautifully to produce the story. I probably also enjoyed this most because I liked how the story unfolded. It felt like it would be familiar, but there was enough originality that I couldn't quite predict where it was going. Again, it ended too quickly for me to feel totally satisfied.

"My Friend Janna" was a weird one for me. I have a cousin with the same name, so it was hard for me to separate the two. And while I get the premise of the story, I didn't really like it that much. It fell flat after a rather slow build-up that I didn't really care for.

And lastly, "The Nesting Place." It was the longest and creepiest story, but I just didn't feel scared. It didn't unsettle me even though the artwork was beautifully done to depict something horrifying. I just couldn't feel the creepiness.

If I were to rate the stories individually, it would be as follows:
Our Neighbor's House: 3 stars
A Lady's Hands Are Cold: 3.5 stars
His Face All Red: 4.5 stars
My Friend Janna: 2.5 stars
The Nesting Place: 3 stars

I wanted and needed more from each story in order to understand why I was supposed to be scared. Truthfully, I don't see the hype around this. The art is stunning and I love seeing how it plays with the story, but everything else fell flat for me. It's disappointing - I had such high hopes that it would set me up for the darker books I'm reading next month, but I kind of wished I read this in the middle of the month so I didn't have to end on this note.

Eight books is the most I've read all year and I think it'll be very hard to beat that. I am gonna try to read even more in October, but I'm also including a whole graphic novel series into my TBR, so it's not the same as reading 300+ page novels.

I enjoyed getting back into reading this month and was very happy with several of my choices. Soulstealer surprised me the most, and it made me start Gotham again (because I still think Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle are the superior ship) and also helped me get back into things that ended up inspiring me to write. Warbringer was just as wonderful as I thought it would be, so I'm happy that I didn't have to read something disappointing about one of my favorite DC heroes.

To end, I'll leave you with my favorite and least favorite of the month.

September Favorite: Anne of Green Gables
September Least Favorite: All for One

How many books did you read this month?

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