One of the proudest days of my academic career was being placed in the “advanced” group after a reading assessment in first grade. As such, I was permitted to read books marked with a daunting “5.” The most challenging books set aside for young, aspiring readers – the first small steps on the way to much larger feats, like The Lord of the Rings and To Kill A Mockingbird.

But before I would be able to tackle hobbits and other, more advanced literature, I had to grapple with a purple horse named Lucille.


In retrospect, it’s very clear to me that 5-year-old Allie picked Lucille by Arnold Lobel because it was about a horse, and I’ve been an animal lover my whole life. But 5-year-old Allie should not have picked this book – she should have run far, far away, and made a different selection. And why is that?

Because I couldn’t pronounce “Lucille.”

You would think I’d pick a book with a title I could pronounce with my limited child vocabulary, but nooooooo, that would make too much sense. I’m half-sure I didn’t even look at the title when I chose it, I just saw a purple horse and was like, “YES, THIS ONE.” Kids are so impulsive. And stupid.

It was only after I got home, yanked the book out of my backpack, and scanned the front, that I realized I couldn’t read the title. And my stomach sank, because I knew at the end of the week I was going to have to read the book aloud to the teacher, and being able to read the title is a pretty big part of that. I was terrified I’d get demoted out of the advanced reading group, forever scorned by my classmates, mocked for my lack of knowledge. I’d never be able to look at horses the same way again.

I suppose I probably hoped that it was just the title, and the name didn’t pop up too much in the actual book… but that was not to be. And it’s not like I could just bloop over it, like they teach you at that age to do with words you can’t pronounce. It was like, 50% of the book. Should have watched all those reruns of I Love Lucy on TV Land when I was younger, but I was more of a Brady Bunch person.

So, what did I do? Did I ask my mom for help, which would have been the most logical thing to do? No, no. Stubborn Child-Allie had far too much pride, and that careless hubris was her downfall.

Instead of asking for help, I guessed. To be fair, I used the typically tried-and-true method of “sound it out,” and I was 100% certain that I got it right, so I didn’t bother double-checking with anyone who could, you know… actually read.

Therefore, I called the horse “Luckily.” Which, at least, is a real word. The rest of the book, after that minor snafu, was a total breeze. “Luckily” the horse has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it? It’s completely wrong, but not way out in left field. More like… on the third base line. Or in foul territory.

So, I went into my next reading assessment super confident that I was going to nail it… until I sat down in an uncomfortable plastic chair in front of my first grade teacher, Lucille in hand, and the doubts began to swoop in. My certainty wavered, then snapped like a brittle twig. So when she told me to begin, I just sat there, staring at that damn purple horse, and I said nothing for a long time.

Until I finally admitted, “Um… I don’t know how to say this.”

“It’s Lucille,” my teacher explained, pronouncing it perfectly.

And then I read the book through, cover to cover, and didn’t mess up once. No damage to my reading reputation was done by the gaffe, by admitting my weakness. I wasn’t placed in a lower reading level, I continued to foster an intense love of reading and literature, and in the following years, I moved on to bigger books about worlds in wardrobes, dashing heroes, clever young detectives, and a troupe of creative babysitters.

Sometimes, it’s okay to ask for help, or to mess up a bit on an initial attempt. It’s okay to not know everything, especially if you’re five/six years old and only just learning to read proper books. You don’t need to hit a homerun your first turn at bat or score a goal your first time on the field. I might have struggled a bit with a purple horse named Lucille, but luckily, I learned from the experience – and to this day, I’m not afraid to admit when I don’t know how to pronounce a word, or can’t puzzle out a definition.



Looking for a new read? Like books that involve car chases, fire juggling, infiltrating a masquerade, a dash of the paranormal, and an exploration on the bonds of love and family? I’m hosting an Amazon Giveaway for kindle copies of my YA novel, I’m With You!

20 copies are up for grabs, and the giveaway ends February 9th, 2018. No cost or special requirement to enter!

If you’d like to enter for a chance to win, here is the LINK! (Amazon)

book cover

I’m With You is the story of fifteen year old Ciarán Morrigan and his little sister Remiel, who must flee their home and wealthy lifestyle in Kelvar City to escape their mentally unstable father. Along the way, they meet a band of misfits, including a fire juggler and a disowned heir to a car-manufacturing empire, who help Ciarán and Remiel evade the hired hands sent to track them down. But the path ahead is full of danger, and when Remiel’s darkest secret is revealed, will their new friends abandon them, or will the Morrigan siblings find the freedom and peace that they dream of?

Favorite Books and Films 2017 Edition!

Favorite books! (In no particular order!)

1.) Age of Heroes Trilogy – Kelley Armstrong
I got so engrossed in this series that I plowed through the last book in one sitting, even though I had to be up early for work the next day. I loved how different the two heroines (sisters Ashyn and Moria) are from one another and the contrast in their story-lines and perspectives is presented in a way that keeps the reader invested in both of their journeys. I loved all the characters, the romance, and the unique world-building, and I can’t wait to get into some of Armstrong’s other books.

2.) The Goose GirlShannon Hale
This book was just so adorable and sweet and I absolutely loved it. The romance is probably my favorite that I read this year because it was presented in such a genuine, earnest way, and Ani is one of my favorite protagonists of all the books I read this year for her bravery, generosity, and relatable disposition. Based on the German fairy-tale of the same name, this is a more lighthearted, yet captivating tale with a protagonist who can speak to birds, and I highly recommend if you’re look for a cute, quick dive into a well-developed fantasy world.

3.) His Dark Materials TrilogyPhilip Pullman
I know, I know… I am way late to this party. But better late than never! I actually saw the film version of The Golden Compass back in 2007 and was unimpressed, which is part of the reason why I put off reading this series for so long. Now, I see what all the fuss is about; the books are phenomenal, and Pullman created a vivid and spectacular fantasy world and characters who feel real. He doesn’t shy away from controversial opinions or views (especially on religion) and the books are all the more stunning for it. Polar Bear king Iorek Byrnison (one of few things I did like in the film) shall forever be one of my favorite literary figures of all time. I think it’s better that I read this series as an adult, because some of the messages and themes hit me harder now than they would have back when these books were first published.

4.) The Great Hunt and The Great Pursuit Wendy Higgins
I was absorbed by both of these books and ended up reading The Great Pursuit all in one day, more or less in one sitting. I’m a sucker for a good fantasy, even those with familiar story-lines, and these books have enough twists and engaging characters (Aerity in particular is stellar) to keep readers enthralled through both volumes. I also really enjoyed the romance in this duology – it’s so easy to get sick of seeing the same romantic subplots over and over again, but familiar scenarios feel fresh in these books. Also, I’m glad this wasn’t stretched out over three books, as it worked very well as a duology and might have been too thin for three volumes.

5.) EntwinedHeather Dixon
This twist on the fairy-tale The Twelve Dancing Princesses (which I was unfamiliar with prior to this book) is a quick, fun read and Azalea was a wonderful heroine to read about – the sort that is “girly” without being too much of a “damsel,” and is capable of saving herself. It’s a fairly straightforward story about dancing and danger, family relationships, love, and sisters, and it manages to adhere to the familiar fairy-tale format while adding twists and turns to keep the reader on their toes.

6.) The Jessica Darling SeriesMegan McCafferty
I cannot believe I missed out on the series when it was being released – this series is a hilarious, poignant, and occasionally daring look at growing up, high school drama, deciding your place in this world, and falling in and out of love, as told through the eyes and observations of the outrageously witty Jessica Darling. I wasn’t really crazy about the last book, but the entire series works together to form an arc that captures the turbulence and the emotional journey of stepping into young adulthood, and Jessica’s voice changes accordingly in each book, which made for a pleasant reading experience.

7.) The Girl Who Chased the MoonSarah Addison Allen
A simple little read about a small town, a girl trying to find her place in this world, a woman trying to do the same, and a family that cannot go out at night, I did not expect to be so engrossed in this book, but the characters are all so realistic and well-written that it was impossible not to be drawn in. Plus, there’s a tiny bit of paranormal in it, which is just the right amount for me.

8.)  Glass Faerie, Shadow Faerie, and Rebel Faerie by Rachel Morgan
I absolutely love the Creepy Hollow books (I read Violet’s saga in a matter of like, 2 days back in 2015) and was so happy that the story continued with Emerson’s POV in Glass Faerie, with new characters and old favorites alike. With a unique perspective on the ideas of faeries and magic, compelling characters and relationships, and an engaging story-line, the latest trilogy brings the Creepy Hollow series to a fitting and satisfying end. I look forward to rereading all 9 from the start!

9.) The Girl from Mars – Brenda Hiatt
Hiatt’s Starstruck series is not a collection I expected to resonate with me, but they did on a level I didn’t expect, so I’m glad the story has continued through the eyes of a new heroine. These stories feel very genuine and are super cute, wholesome, and fun, and Kira, the titular girl from Mars, has a believable and relatable mindset that is easy to follow. I also like the world-building in this series, especially the society on Mars and the ties to Irish culture. It adds a unique twist to familiar scifi tropes, and I hope there’s another novel to follow!

10.) Walk on Earth a StrangerRae Carson
This book took me back to the good ol’ days of playing Oregon Trail in computer class back in elementary school. Set during the gold rush and following the protagonist Leah Westfall across the country as she tries to escape those who seek to use her unique “gift” to sense gold, the story is engrossing and Leah’s voice is both charming and easy to read. She is a wonderful protagonist, the plot and all the characters are intriguing, and though I haven’t picked up the next book in this series, I look forward to continuing it.

Favorite Films! (In order!)

*I am not going to include Moonlight and La La Land on this list, since they came out in 2016 and I saw them so early into 2017. Just know that I loved them both. Also, this list is just my favorites. The list of “BEST” films would be different.

10.) Lady Bird
Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut is a stunner that encapsulates what it’s like for a teenage girl to grow up and go through adolescence/young adulthood in post-9/11 America. The conflict between “Lady Bird” (Saorise Ronan) and her mother (Laura Metcalfe) is mesmerizing, and each member of the ensemble case delivers layered, nuanced performances. Plus, I think everybody who grew up in the 90’s/early 2000’s knew a Kyle, am I right?

9.) Wind River
A film I did not expect to stick with me the way that it has, Wind River is a poignant look into the state of Native American affairs in the U.S. and how Native Americans are treated in terms of the law/justice. Also, this is my favorite Jeremy Renner performance, thus far – he and Olson make a great team, and Gil Birmingham is fantastic in a supporting role, as is the rest of the cast.

8.) Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2
“I’M MARY POPPINS, Y’ALL!” Enough said.

7.) Logan
Not gonna lie… I have about a 0% investment in the current X-men films. Actually, after the total abomination that was Last Stand, I have about a 0% investment in the past films, too. But Logan really turned it around for me, with it’s gritty portrayal of the world and the way mutants are treated, coupled with the cynical, dark, gruff, and emotionally broken version of Wolverine. Jackman’s swan song as the titular character is a fitting one, and is easily his best performance as the character overall. I usually hate excessive violence and swearing in films, but in Logan, I didn’t even mind – the film packs enough of an emotional wallop, I didn’t mind all the physical ones.

6.) Dunkirk
Admittedly, I am a Chris Nolan fangirl and thus inclined to like anything he puts out. Dunkirk is not a film I’ll watch over and over (and may never watch again) but the unique narrative structure (three viewpoints out-of-sync with one another until they converge) lack of dialogue and gripping music created a remarkable cinematic experience and atmosphere during which I was so tense I forgot to eat my Reeses Pieces. The ensemble cast turns out excellent performances all around and the cinematography is stellar. If you are a fan of war films, you should definitely check it out; though the experience in cinemas, with the sound and the massive IMAX screen, will likely be difficult to recapture in a living room on a television.

5.) Thor: Ragnarok
While I love Marvel movies, I was never much for the Thor films… especially The Dark World. But the third installment in the Thor series totally makes up for the lackluster middle film. Ragnarok amps up the humor, packs on the action, features an amazing cast, and segues nicely into the next major installment in the franchise, the upcoming Infinity War. This film is comedic gold, and features so many quotable lines and memorable scenes that I’m giggling at my computer now just remembering Mark Ruffalo dive-bombing onto Bifrost.

4.) Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
I have never hated, loved, hated, then kind of maybe liked, then definitely liked a character more than Sam Rockwell’s character Dixon in this film. This black comedy about a woman who buys three billboards to criticize the police over the unsolved murder of her daughter is carried by an all-star cast and a plot that is original, occasionally hilarious, and full of unexpected moments that literally made my jaw drop more than once.

3.) Beauty and the Beast
Was this film needed? No. Did I love it anyway? YES.
Also, I LOVE DAN STEVENS. The end.

2.) Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Despite the massive divide in the fandom over this film, I loved The Last Jedi and thought it was an apt continuation of the series. Following directly after The Force Awakens, our new hero Rey continues to search for her place in this world, Finn teams up with a new friend to try and save the Resistance, and Poe learns a valuable lesson about what it means to truly be in command and be a leader. Packed with action, shades of the previous films, and a whole lot of new and unexpected twists, TLJ is an undeniable spectacle, no mater which side of the fandom you fall on. Mark Hamill is outstanding in his return as conflicted Jedi Master Luke Skywalker, and a particular moment between him and another character was powerful enough to reduce me to tears. Adam Driver’s evocative performance as the internally-conflicted Kylo Ren/Ben Solo has already made him the most convincing villain in the franchise, and the tension between Kylo and Rey is a major highlight of the film. You can actually feel the struggle while watching it unfold onscreen. For all the issues folks have with the film, I found it to be one of the strongest across the entire series, an “awakening” of sorts, and though I had some issues with it (Canto Bight, how criminally underused Phasma is, Snoke’s treatment, a couple of other nitpicks) it still made me all the more excited for episode IX and the conclusion of the sequel trilogy.

1.) Wonder Woman
Not only was the Patty Jenkins-directed Wonder Woman my favorite cinematic experience of 2017, the “No Man’s Land” sequence is actually my favorite film scene overall of 2017. This film is not just a great superhero film helmed by a woman and starring a woman; it’s a great comic book film overall, easily one of the best super hero origin stories, and I definitely rank it as the best superhero film of the year. Plus, it’s 10000% the best DC film thus far, no contest. Gal Gadot nails the role of Wonder Woman, the music is fantastic, the chemistry between the leads is stellar, and it’s probably the first DC film that has more than a couple of genuinely funny moments, and a lot of emotional impact to boot. It didn’t try too hard to be an amazing film or outdo similar films – and it is a badass film all on its own.




I know making resolutions for the new year is horrendously cliche, and about 90% of them are doomed to failure, but I’m going to do it anyway, and hope I have enough resolve in me to keep them. Nothing that will change the world, but will hopefully change me.

Firstly, I need to fix my posture. Because GOOD LORD, I am a real sloucher these days. It’s terrible. This includes less “lay down on the couch” writing time and more “sitting in a good chair” writing time.

Next, I need to get out more. Just in general. Even if it’s just a solo trip to the coffee shop.

I will also be making an effort to be more organized. I’m actually not that bad with it, but I have a nasty habit of letting mail sit around for too long, so it piles up and then becomes a real chore to file/shred. I’m actually sitting next to a pile of unsorted mail right now!

But more than anything, I want to get another book out. 2017 was a less-than-stellar writing year for me, as I didn’t produce anything of substance except for a manuscript I’ve been trimming and editing for over a year. Now that it’s finally taken a more complete shape, the fiddling and messing around with it will soon stop, and I have angled my hopes to set sail for 2018. No more fear, no more doubt holding me back. I want to have a much more productive writing year in 2018, and it’s all on me to make it happen.

I also want to see at least 30 films in theaters (no repeats!) and read 110 books.

2017 was a rough year for me, though I know it was even rougher for far more people. I don’t intend to change the world in 2018, or make miracles happen or anything too dramatic. These are just small personal changes that I look to make as the rough edges of 2017 fade into the distance, but if I can accomplish them all, I hope it will mean that I can look back on 2018 with pride.

Happy New Year, all – and if you’ve made a resolution for 2018, I hope you have the resolve to stick to it.



The Woodpecker

I have always had a complicated relationship with birds.

I actually think birds are pretty awesome; I mean, they come in so many shapes and sizes! Penguins are the bomb, owls are rad, falcons are fierce, and hummingbirds are adorable. I especially LOVE pigeons; whenever I travel to different cities, I make sure to take several pictures of the local pigeons. I think I have 100+ photos of pigeons from England/France alone. The bird population could maybe take it easy on my car, though; I get a bit tired of seeing white splotches and streaks all over the exterior of my beloved Nissan, especially after I have literally just gone through the car wash.

However, there is one bird that I consider to be my eternal nemesis. A bird that will never, ever earn my admiration. My feud with this particular avian menace began in the spring of my final year of college. It was a cool morning, just shy of 6AM, and I was sleeping soundly, likely dreaming of finals and finally earning my degree after 3 arduous years…

…and then I was awoken by the sound of a jackhammer on my roof.

At least, that’s what it sounded like. A relentless drilling, so loud it echoed throughout the entire second floor of my house, preventing me from slumber. The source of this noise was not immediately apparent, and after about twenty minutes or so, it stopped. Sadly, I was now too awake to fall back to sleep, so I just roused myself out of bed and watched Spongebob reruns for 2 hours until I had to go to class.

However, the sound returned the following morning, and the morning after that. Same general time frame. Same obnoxious, head-ache inducing frequency. After the third day, I managed to puzzle out what was causing the sound, and it was not, in fact, a tiny man with a jackhammer terrorizing my roof.

It was a woodpecker.

Now, I have absolutely no evidence of this, because I never actually saw the woodpecker, except for the flutter of wings as it retreated to the refuge of the forest behind my house. It was drilling in a part of my roof that I couldn’t see properly without a ladder or rocket boots, though it sounded like it was slamming its beak directly into my brain.

But I don’t know what else it could have been if not a woodpecker, so I’m assuming my Sherlockian deduction was correct. I also didn’t know how to make it stop. After doing a bit of googling and research on woodpeckers, I settled on a method for dealing with this problem: doing literally nothing while hoping it would just go away. Sadly, this method did not work, as the woodpecker continued its assault on my roof for many mornings to come.

This rage-inducing situation – of being awoken every morning by the presence of a woodpecker – began to take a toll on my mental state, shortening my temper and limiting my patience in other areas of my life. I vented about my woodpecker dilemma to friends and coworkers at my university’s writing center, which they found very humorous. Admittedly, if I hadn’t been the one suffering, I probably would have thought it was hilarious, too.

But I was not laughing. The sleep-deprived days and groggy mornings continued to accumulate, until, one morning, I finally snapped.

While this was going on, I tried not to structure my schedule around the inevitable woodpecker wake-up call every morning, as it wasn’t always feasible to go to bed early. On this particular morning, I’d been up late the previous night working on a draft for a project since I didn’t have an early class to wake up for. A certain avian demon did not get this memo and promptly began its morning routine of hammering its beak into my roof, this time at half past 6 in the morning.

This time, I retaliated. Or, rather… I tried to. I didn’t so much breathe fire as I blew a lot of a smoke.

Determined to make the feathery fiend stop, I stormed downstairs, stomped into the kitchen, threw open the back door, and flew down the steps into my backyard, trying to get a glimpse of the creature. With little restraint, I unleashed my fury.


Alas, this verbal assault happened to occur when two of my neighbors were outside with their dog. Dressed in my Batman PJ pants and a “Yankees Suck” T-shirt, I met their inquisitive/bewildered gaze across the fence, then offered them a sheepish smile. Even the dog looked a little spooked by my behavior. To explain, I pointed to the area of my roof where the woodpecker had decided to wreak its ungodly havoc, and informed them, “It’s a woodpecker.”

They just nodded, offered uncertain smiles, looked at me like I had sprouted an extra limb from my head, then went back into their house. I never interacted much with these neighbors; in fact, that might have been the only time I ever actually spoke to them in my 3 years of living there. If so, I can only imagine what their ultimate impression of me was. “Crazy Woodpecker Girl,” no doubt.

So, with my tirade completed, I slipped back into my house, brewed my morning coffee and poured my morning cereal, and calmed down. The woodpecker had ceased its torment, and I went about my day. I think yelling at the bird was cathartic, in a way; I felt much calmer after the confrontation. Perhaps all I needed was to scream a little and let out my frustration. Not always the healthiest method for approaching a problem, but in this case, it seemed to help.

And the next morning? I was effectively woodpecker free after two weeks of agony and I never heard from it again. I know the timing of my freedom was probably coincidental, and the woodpecker was not frightened off by me shrieking at it – but still, I like to think it was. And this experience (plus some hindsight) showed me a few things; sometimes, endurance and adaptation are the keys to weathering a tough situation. Or sometimes you just need to yell a bit. Either way, the storm will pass, even if the downpour seems too heavy and the lightning just won’t cease. Just have patience, and learn to evolve in order to properly deal with the cards you are dealt.


The Kindle Edition of I’m With You is currently FREE! 1/14-1/16

My YA novel, I’m With You, is currently FREE in Kindle format for a limited run, from 1/14 through 1/16! If you like YA adventure/fantasy fiction with a vaguely steampunk feel, a dash of romance, and a pinch of supernatural, then please give I’m With You a shot!

It’s FREE, so you have nothing to lose! Here is the link: Amazon


Synopsis: When fifteen-year-old Ciarán Morrigan eavesdrops on a conversation between his father and two mysterious strangers, his life–and the life of his little sister, Remiel–is changed forever. After their father makes a startling decision, the Morrigan siblings are forced to flee the only life they’ve ever known and embark on a dangerous adventure across the nation of Empirya. With the help of a disinherited vagabond, a cynical violinist, a fire-juggler with a fierce temper, an aspiring mechanic, and a cheerful librarian, Ciarán and Remiel must fight to escape those who have been hired to hunt them. But will Remiel’s dark secret prevent the Morrigan children from finding a place they can truly call home?

Top 10 Books and Films 2016 Edition!

After 113 books, 28,731 pages, and 30 trips to the movie theater for 26 films this past year, it is difficult to narrow down my favorites. But, after some careful consideration and introspection, I have pared the lists to my top 10 favorites in each category, and here they are! For the full list of books and films I consumed over the course of 2016, click HERE.

1.) Girl of Fire and Thorns SeriesRae Carson
I’ll admit, I initially figured that I’d be able to predict what happens in this series pretty easily, and ended up staying up til 2AM one night to finish the last book in this series because I couldn’t wait to see what happened next. Elisa was a different sort of heroine; I found her voice and experiences to be refreshing and enjoyed seeing her grow and change over the course of the novels. This series features a unique fantasy world, intriguing characters/relationships, a fair amount of action and surprises, and it presents interesting thoughts on faith/service/religion. All in all, I found it to be a solid trilogy.

2.) RookSharon Cameron
The thing that stood out to me the most from this book was the unconventional setting/plot, largely for how unique/intriguing they were, but also due to how the story unfolded so naturally and smoothly without the use of excessive exposition and massive amounts of backstory in order to make sense of things. It provided a new type of “dystopian” future, so to speak. Plus, the characters were outstanding; Rene might be my favorite male lead of the year, and I appreciate finding a love triangle in YA that isn’t really  a triangle in the typical sense, and avoids falling on overused tropes.

3.) Front LinesMichael Grant
The idea of this novel – presenting an alternate reality where girls/women were drafted into WWII the same as boys/men – drew me in right from the beginning, and the cast of characters kept me engaged. I enjoyed all of the perspectives of the various characters, though Rainy’s might have been my favorite. Definitely a standout for a unique concept and compelling, interwoven stories. The sequel is coming out soon (this month, I believe,) and I look forward to seeing how the story continues to unfold.

4.) This Dark EndeavorKenneth Oppel
I mentioned this in a previous post, but I was a HUGE fan of Oppel’s Silverwing series when I was younger, and read through it several times, so when I stumbled across this title in the Nook shop, I decided to give it a go. And now, I have been charmed once more by his sort of spinoff to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, which explores Victor’s teenage years and delves deeper into his personal history and mindset. I haven’t bought the sequel yet, but I look forward to reading it as well.

5.) RuinedAmy Tintera
I have read a lot of fantasy, but this one stood out to me because although it uses familiar concepts that are somewhat “traditional” or common in the genre, this book does them well, and also adds in a lot of nuances and differences that make it stand out from the norm. It throws you into the action straight away, not relying on lots of exposition and narration to explain, and the characters reveal their personalities and motivations in a very organic way. I liked both Em and Cas’s perspectives, and look forward to seeing their adventures unfold in the following installments.

6.) Thirteen Little Blue Envelopes and The Last Little Blue EnvelopeMaureen Johnson
As someone who spent a small portion of my late teens traveling throughout England, these two books really resonated with me. It was a realistic story that hit on a lot of touching and emotional notes, and I enjoyed following the lead character, Ginny, on her journey of self-discovery across Europe, inspired by a challenge delivered from her deceased aunt. The characters – mainly Ginny, but also the supporting cast – are so well-written to the point where they feel like real characters, and I think this is one of a handful of books/series I read this year where I enjoyed the sequel just a tad bit more than the first, as I loved seeing the characters grow and change across the two stories, or, in some cases, not change much at all.

7.) Life As We Knew ItSusan Beth Pfeffer
This is one of those books that caught me by surprise. The premise intrigued me – it’s told in a journal style, and follows the life and perspective of a girl named Miranda after the moon is struck by an asteroid and knocked closer to Earth, resulting in dramatic changes to the entire world. At first, it sounded absurd to me… but I found the writing enchanting and engaging and the characters felt very real, especially the protagonist. It’s certainly a bleak story, at times, but never really loses charm or sense of hope, even as the situations of the character(s) shift along with the condition of the world.

8.) The Scorpio RacesMaggie Stiefvater
While I was never a “Horse Girl” (I knew several, however) this book captivated me from start to finish. The novel follows a unique concept (about what is essentially a life-or-death annual horse race) and features an interesting cast… both human and equine. It’s a well-paced story and it’s easy to feel invested in the lives and actions of the characters, to the point where I didn’t even know who I wanted to win the race in the end.

9.) Confessions of Georgia Nicolson SeriesLouise Rennison
This series was absolutely hilarious, with one of the most unique narrators/voices I’ve encountered in a long while. It took me about a book and a half to really get into this series, but they’re quick reads, and extremely entertaining. I think I plowed through the entire series in about a week. Georgia is a character/narrator who is easy to hate or get frustrated with at times, but it’s also pretty easy to relate to her and laugh at the antics of her and her friends. I mean, there’s viking hats, a cat the size of a Labrador, and consistent references to nunga-nungas… it’s definitely a wild ride.

10.) RemembranceMeg Cabot
I read the entirety of Cabot’s Mediator series last year because I was late to the Meg Cabot party, so I had much less time to wait for her final installment than those who read the books at their original publication. Of all of Meg Cabot’s series/books, I might like this series the most, and I think this book was a solid conclusion to the story of Suze and Jesse and their friends/family. It’s definitely more mature than the other installments plot-wise, but not distressingly so… the characters feel as though they’ve grown and changed naturally from teens to adults (or, in Jesse’s case, ghost to human) and the story reflects that. Despite a few differences, they’re the same voices and characters and retain the same charm and quirks from the previous novels. I am so glad Cabot decided to add this story to the series.


1.) Kubo and the Two Strings
This film better be nominated for Best Animated Feature at the Oscars; it might be the best animated film I’ve seen in the last couple of years. I loved Laika’s previous work on ParaNorman, but felt that Kubo took their style and film-making to new heights. The character designs were stellar, the voice cast was great, the stop-motion and puppetry was superb, and it told an engaging, unique story, laced with touching themes about love and family with elements of Japanese mythology/folklore. I almost enjoyed watching behind-the-scenes videos as much as the film itself, and definitely recommend that anyone who is interested in these movies to take a look at how much work and effort goes into these projects, because it is truly mind-blowing.

2.) Hello, My Name is Doris
My tiny Pennsylvania town occasionally gets limited release films at one of our two local theaters, so luckily, my mom and I were able to see this movie early in the year. Sally Field was brilliant in her role as quirky office-worker Doris, who fantasizes about a relationship with a younger coworker and attempts to completely alter her lifestyle in order to win him over. It’s a small, intimate film, and I found myself really feeling for and sympathizing with Doris, even though I found some of her actions frustrating; a testament to a well-written and well-acted protagonist. The supporting cast is excellent, as well.

3.) Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice
HEAR ME OUT, OKAY? I in no way believe this to be a great film. But for all it’s flaws, it’s still visually stunning, the action was fantastic, Batfleck was BRILLIANT, and it was an overall intense experience, especially in IMAX. I also personally like Cavill/Snyder’s interpretation of Superman, which I know is a contentious point for some… though for a movie that is technically about him, he should have had more screen-time. The introduction of Wonder Woman was handled well and her scenes stole the show, along with Bruce Wayne/Batman. The plot was definitely bloated; it felt like they were cramming a 4 hour movie into 2.5 hours. However, I also don’t think it was as awful as several critics claimed it was. The Ultimate Edition of the film is significantly better, but I don’t think the theatrical edition should be crucified. I had a good time, and I’ll be watching it again.

4.) Doctor Strange
…That said, I think both Marvel offerings from this year were superior superhero films. I enjoyed Doctor Strange far more than I thought I would, since I was mostly unfamiliar with the material beforehand. This film manages to stay true to the MCU, adhering to familiar tropes, humor, and plot, but there are some significant differences, especially in the climax of the film, which I thought was a very unique and dynamic change. Also, the visual effects were unlike anything I’ve seen from Marvel thus far. The cast was wonderful, and it was nice to see a non-hero female lead (Rachel McAdams) who isn’t completely dependent on the hero saving her life, and I’m also predicting a Best Supporting Actor nod for the brilliant performance of the Cloak of Levitation. I easily consider this one of my favorite installments in the MCU thus far, and I look forward to seeing the snark of Steven Strange in future films. If he meets the Avengers, as it seems he will, his interactions with Iron Man should be very, very interesting.

5.) Captain America: Civil War
I won’t drone on about what I loved in this film, but for the record, I certainly could. For a movie that easily could have been an absolute mess, with so many characters/personalities and an intricate plot, the execution was stellar. It’s a standard Marvel film, but it also breaks new ground because it is adding more and more without losing the qualities that fans come to expect of these movies, which are growing bigger and bigger by the year. Even though it’s meant to be a primarily Captain America film, I think the highlights for me were the introduction of Black Panther, Ant-Man meeting the crew, Falcon and Bucky’s hostile bromance, and the amazing airport fight sequence. Now that “phase 3” of the MCU has begun, the upcoming films have a strong legacy to continue and to live up to.

6.) The Lady in the Van
Maggie Smith is one of those actresses who, in my eyes, can do (almost) no wrong. This movie is worth seeing just for her, to be honest, but it fires on all cylinders. The film, based on the true story of Mary Shepherd, a woman who spent a considerable amount of time “living” in a van on the property of writer Alan Bennet, is charming and touching, with excellent characters and writing. Bennet’s narration, provided by actor Alex Jennings, is the heart of the film. It’s hilarious one second and deeply emotional the next, but with seamless transitions and a natural flow. One of the last scenes in the film is so strange and unexpected that I burst out laughing at the absurdity, and yet, it still seemed to fit.

7.) The Jungle Book
The animated version is not one of my favorites (though I love the music) but I thoroughly enjoyed the live-action version. The visuals were astounding, and I thought it built well on the original Disney-fied story; staying somewhat true to the animated version while still making changes. I loved hearing snippets of “The Bear Necessities” and Christopher Walken’s version of “I Wanna Be Like You,” and thought the voices were done extremely well. In particular, Ben Kingsley absolutely killed it as Bagheera and Bill Murray was a wonderful Baloo. Newcomer Neel Sethi was also the perfect Mowgli – I can’t imagine having to act against so much green/blue screen and CGI as the only “real” character in the film, and still manage to give a convincing performance.

8.) Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
I’m a Harry Potter fan through and through, having read all the original books and seen all the movies, but I must admit… I may have liked Fantastic Beasts more than I liked the Potter films. I fell off the Hogwarts Express before The Cursed Child, so I’m unfamiliar with some of the new material and books and such, but this film has made me excited for new installments in this side of the franchise. I liked seeing a new side of the Wizarding World, with fresh, interesting characters, a well thought-out story and a captivating new setting, and I can’t wait to see how it expands in the future.

9.) Manchester by the Sea
*cries forever* This movie is wrenching. Heart-wrenching, soul-wrenching, gut-wrenching. Brilliant cast, astounding cinematography, and beautiful writing. Definitely not a movie you want to see if you need a cheerful boost, or if you’re looking for something action-packed and fast-paced. It’s a movie that feels very, very real, and the emotions seem so raw. Throughout the entire thing I just wanted someone to give Casey Affleck a hug. Some might consider it a bit slow at times, but it certainly deserves the acclaim and recognition it’s been getting as the award season starts to pick up traction, and I hope to see it get some statues in the future.

10.) Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Since I loved TFA enough to see it three times in theaters, I went into this film with high expectations, and even though I had some idea of what was going to happen (given the start and some of the content from A New Hope) I still anticipated some surprises from the first of these “standalone,” anthology films. Rogue One is easily the darkest and grittiest film in the franchise, but also features some of the best action/space fight scenes the films have offered thus far and a litany of unique settings and characters. It really puts the “war” in Star Wars, so to speak, and with no Jedi in the film (technically) it shows a new side of the rebellion that we’ve not really seen before. My main gripe is that the characters could have all been fleshed out more, including the two “leads,” but I only say that because I found them so intriguing and I loved what I did see of them, so it made me wish they had more depth than what we were given in the constraints of a 2+ hour film. The performances were all great, however – and I suppose the lack of “knowing” them contributes to their unsung hero quality. However, as far as characterization goes, a brilliant scene near the end of this film will reinforce the idea that one should be very, very afraid of Darth Vader. Absolutely badass. And, not to spoil anything, the film connects to A New Hope in a very poignant way – it was great to see how the two stories eventually collide to kick off the much beloved and lauded original trilogy. From now on, when things get tough, I will remember… I am one with the force, and the force is with me.

Top Shows of 2016:
Game of Thrones (HBO)
Westworld (HBO)
American Horror Story: Roanoke (FX)

*Minor Spoilers Ahead*
I’m not much of a TV watcher these days, but Game of Thrones is a consistent favorite of mine, and this past season was no exception. It’s been a long wait for the next book, but the show is so brilliant it makes the wait easier. Standout episodes were The Door (I CRIED LIKE AN INFANT), Battle of the Bastards, and The Winds of Winter, all of which received well-deserved Emmy nods. I still think Season 4 is the best thus far, but with the hype-meter climbing ever-higher with each season, the show continues to deliver episodes that pluck at your heartstrings while simultaneously making you feel like you’ve been stabbed in the gut. The cast is stellar, as always, with particularly amazing performances this year from Kristian Nairn (still crying, btw), Sophie Turner, Kit Harington, Maisie Williams, Lena Headey, Liam Cunningham, Natalie Dormer… the list goes on, and on. The Winds of Winter might be the best 69 minutes of television I’ve seen, so far. I look forward to the new season (even though it’s shorter AND delayed) and I can’t wait to go to the Game of Thrones Concert Experience in March!

It’s new sister show, Westworld, is also fantastic and had probably one of the best seasons I’ve ever seen for a freshman show. I started watching because the trailer snagged my attention and I needed something to make the wait for new Thrones easier, and I’m glad I gave it a go, because I was hooked from episode 1. When Dolores smacks the fly at the end of the first episode, I audibly gasped and said “Holy shit.” The entire season kept me guessing, but none of the twists and turns (and there are plenty) felt gimmicky or forced; proof of how well the show is written and all the intricate planning that must have gone into it. The cast was stellar, too – each character was distinct and there were way too many standout performances to list. I am sad that we have to wait for 2018 for the next season, but if that means they’re putting in their best efforts to deliver a new season that will live up to the first, then that’s fine by me.

This might be an unpopular opinion, but I enjoyed the latest season of American Horror Story. That said, I started watching in season 4 (loved it) and thought season 5 was lukewarm, so I can’t compare the latest installment, Roanoke, to the first three. In truth I think Roanoke really killed it during the ‘documentary’ style portion of the season, which lasted for the first 5-6 episodes, but the latter half of the season was a bit too gory. In fact, blood, violence, torture, and gore seemed to take the place of actual plot at some points, which made it drag a little. But still, I  found the premise exciting and unique, the acting was great, and it made me look forward to next season to see what AHS has planned for the future.