My First Love

By Austin Malberg

Editor’s Note: This article is the winning submission to the Textbook Nova 2019 Scholarship.

In the last few leisurely days of August, before the start of my first year of high school, I had a desire to pick up a new book before classes started. I decided on a book based on the outburst of reviews it had received from my peers. Milk and Honey, by Rupi Kaur, was the first poetry book I ever read. I finished it in under an hour and then I read it again that very same day. I fell in love with the way the words danced on the page to create melodies, seemingly crafted for my ears alone. 

I tore out page sixty-two and hung it on my wall, but not before highlighting, 

“what drives you crazy / what keeps you up at night / i tell him i write” (6-8).

I spent more time on this page than I did reading the book to its entirety. I was caught off guard because when I read those lines, I was reminded of a time when I used to feel the same. A time when my heartbeat raced when given the chance to expose myself. When my breathing quicken at the very idea of fashioning my thoughts on a page in order to make sense of them. A time when I was in love with the art of writing. 

I tried to place a finger on when the passion had evaded me, leaving agony in place of adoration. I found myself blaming the classrooms I grew up in. I remembered back to my elementary school years, when I was always proud of that fact that writing was my favorite time of the day. But as I grew, I realized they stripped me of the childish whims that used to inspire me. Where as I grew, it became less and less acceptable to speak my mind and act boldly with my words. I was taught to forget my voice and rely solely on the structure they provided. The classroom stole my passion from me, took away the first thing I loved, and I resented it for that. 

I wish my education would’ve been fueled by the fragments of knowledge I gained from the people I met and allowed me to show how perspectives I encountered had shaped me. I wish I would’ve been told to take risks and learn as I go, instead of being told what my voice should sound like. With every generic five paragraph essay I was asked to complete, I became more frustrated. However, I wrote them because it became about appeasing the teachers and being found traditionally successful. Writing what they wanted to see, in order to get a grade I was satisfied with. 

My frustration lead me to rebel outside the boundaries of typical school writing and I was amazed when the feedback came back positive. It was the first time I realized that my teachers were waiting for me to forget the rules of a five paragraph essay and give them something that shocked them. The five paragraph wouldn’t get me a bad grade, but a creative approach would get me a better one along with eagerness from my teachers for more.  After that, I noticed myself getting excited for papers that were assigned because I was always looking for the next way I was going to leave people with something unexpected. 

With the spark of my new found curiosity,  I took advantage of a creative writing workshop offered at a university and forced myself to write at a time when I was unsure if I could ever love it again. Still however, I did everything in my power to respark my passion. I channeled my grief and heartache and poured it into poetry for the first time. I showcased my interpretation of love and life in stories that I wrote throughout the stretching hours of the night. I took as many risks as possible throughout each essay, no longer letting structure hold me back. I reconstructed the foundation of what writing meant to me. 

Now, as a first year undergraduate student at Hamline University, I currently have around fourteen thousand words of poetry, along with an assortment of short stories, personal narratives, screenplays, and creative essays. I am loading my schedule full of different writing classes with the intention to get my Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree in Creative Writing. I am planning to perform at our campus’ monthly poetry slams. I own more books of poetry than what can be found stocked in bookstores. And I finally remembered why I loved it all to begin with. I have never found myself more, than in the times I’ve let my pen hit the page.

Page sixty-two, the ripped out page from Milk and Honey, by Rupi Kaur, now hangs pinned to my desk in Osborn Hall at Hamline. Every morning, I reglance over the page and am thankful that I came across it so many years ago. I strongly believe that if I never would have read Milk and Honey that I would not be planning to major in creative writing, and maybe wouldn’t even be attending Hamline University. Milk and Honey had the largest impact on my life by giving me back my first love, inspiring me to carry that love with me into my future aspirations. 

I won’t ever be done spilling my words on a page and seeking new experiences that let me share my voice with others. I won’t ever give up on my dream of publication. I want to travel, to let the cultures I’m immersed in bleed into me and shape new perspectives and stories into my work and to let those experiences fuel my writing. I want to be bold with my education by writing for myself, even when others tell me it’s a foolish plan to mold my education around an art. To prove to everyone that asked what my “back-up plan” is, that a “back-up plan” is not necessary for my success. To stick with my passion because my heart and soul fuel my work, to allow myself to expose myself in script. 

Study Tips For College Students

Looking for study tips to help you buckle down for an upcoming exam? Read about the best study tips to help you improve your focus and concentration while hitting the books.

Everybody always tells you how great of a decision it is to go to college. But nobody ever really talks about the grueling hours you’ll need to spend cracking down and studying. 

Especially if you’re trying to balance school with a full-time job or any type of family responsibilities, it can often feel like you’ll never find the time to be able to sit down and study. 

That’s why it’s important to make the most of your time while you’re in school. And I’m not going to sugar coat it, it’s going to take a lot of self-discipline, focus, and concentration. 

But that doesn’t mean that studying needs to be a nightmare. 

Maybe you’ve already found your own study routine, but if you’re looking for some new ways to ramp up your studies, check out the following list of easy and actionable study tips for college students. 

Unplug and Focus Your Mind – Study Tips

The very best study tip we can give you is to unplug yourself from the digital world. 

This means turning off your email notifications, logging out of social media, powering down your smartphone, tablet, or laptop, and focusing your mind on hitting the books. 

If you find yourself struggling to stay away from your electronics, you might even try storing them in another room while you’re studying. Or better yet, leave them at home and take your books over to your local library or cafe to study in a nice, quiet environment. 

By removing yourself from the easy temptation to check your electronics, you’ll be able to enhance your ability to focus and work more efficiently at learning and retaining information. 

Study Tips

Find Your Auditory Space

Everybody is different, but we all have our own preferences when it comes down to an optimal environment to study in. 

For example, some students prefer to study while listening to calm, instrumental music. While others prefer to listen to loud, heavy rock and roll music to be able to focus and concentrate. It’s the same as how some people find droning news radio in the background to be perfect background noise for concentration and study, while others need complete silence in order to focus. 

By finding your perfect auditory space, you’ll be able to better avoid your environmental distractions and focus more on your studies. 

Feed Your Brain – Study Tips

Did you know that our brains are our bodies’ most energy-demanding organs? And that during a single day, the brain can use up to nearly half of the body’s total sugar energy?

According to the Harvard Mahoney Neuroscience Institute, brain function is very closely linked to the body’s glucose levels, as well as how efficiently the brain is able to process information. 

So without the right kind of sugars, your brain won’t be able to produce neurotransmitters efficiently, leading to a breakdown in communication between your neurons. In turn, this makes tasks such as focus and concentration much harder to achieve. 

Also, studies have shown that when your blood glucose levels are too low, your brain’s cognitive functioning can be significantly impaired. Just like being drunk or being over-exhausted.

With that said, another extremely important study tip is to stay nourished and properly hydrated. 

And try to avoid sugary snacks and junk foods. These unhealthy snacks do provide bursts of sugar and energy. But their effects are short-lived, and when your body crashes afterward, concentration can be next to impossible. 

Tune Into Your Circadian Rhythm.

Again, we’re all different. So it’s important to tune into your own circadian rhythm and find out when your most focused times of the day are. 

For example, you might be an early-riser who functions best first thing after their morning coffee. 

Or maybe, you’re the type of person who doesn’t feel focused until it’s dark out and everybody has gone to sleep. 

Regardless, it’s important to learn when your brain functions its best, and build your study routine around your unique energy pattern. 

This way, when you do actually sit down to hit the books, no matter what time of day it is, your mind will be at its freshest and most alert. 

Create A Study Schedule

Successful students find it extremely helpful to create a study schedule and to stick with it consistently throughout the year. 

That means creating a daily, weekly, or monthly routine that works with your home and family life. 

Just make sure to block out time for attending your classes, studying for tests and exams, writing papers, and simply reading up on any new course material. 

And don’t forget to block out a bit of time for rest and relaxation as well. You won’t be able to study effectively if your brain and body are already exhausted. 

Study Tips

Keep Your Books With You – Study Tips

Another super simple study tip is to always bring your reading materials or notebooks with you when you head out of the house. 

You never know when you might find yourself with an extra twenty or thirty minutes to kill. 

And by having your books with you, if you do find yourself needing to kill some time, you can make the most of it by whipping out your textbooks and brushing up on your studies. 

Making the most of every chance you get to study is a sure-fire way to ensure you have what it takes to succeed in your course. 

Making The Most Of Your Studies

If you find it hard to find time for your studies, you’re not alone. There are hundreds of thousands of students all across the country that find it hard to find time to sit down and hit the books. 

But that doesn’t mean that studying has to be a nightmare. 

By following these 6 awesome study tips, you’ll be able to better manage your study time and make the most of every chance you do get to hit the books. 

Budgeting Tips For Students

Looking for student budgeting tips? Then, you’ve come to the right place.

Whether you’re in college or university, it’s high time that you learn how to start budgeting your finances. 

It’s no secret that first-year students are prone overspending on books, take-out and study supplies. 

But by creating and maintaining a budget throughout the year, you’ll be much better able to manage your expenses and set yourself up for financial success in the long run. 

Budgeting Tips

Better Budgeting Tips

While you’re in school, it’s a good idea to keep a detailed logbook of your weekly or monthly expenses. Keep track of this by writing it down every time you spend any money. 

Then, you’ll be able to subtract these expenses from your income to see whether you’re spending within your means. 

Don’t be too alarmed if you come up with a negative balance. It’s important to use this information to help you review your spending and see where you can cut back on your spending.

For example, you might notice that you’re spending an awful lot of take-out food. 

Or, you might even realize that no amount of cutting back is going to help and that you need to earn more money. In that case, a part-time job might be the best solution. 

Having a part-time job can help you better afford your expenses. And part-time jobs are also much likelier to offer a flexible schedule to fit around your classes.  

Learn more budgeting tips here.

Budgeting Tips

Learn About Student Lines Of Credit

Not all credit is created the same. While it’s best to avoid paying your bills with a credit card, using a student line of credit is often a good choice for students struggling to make ends meet. 

Obtaining a student line of credit allows you to access a pre-established amount of cash every year while in school. You’ll still be required to make regular payments on the interest. But you’ll be able to wait until after you graduate to pay back the principal in full. 

And again, it’s best to avoid using credit cards at all costs. They have much higher interest rates and charge hefty cash advance fees, making it much harder to pay off your balance.   

Negotiate Better Rates

We often overlook the cost of our cable and cellphone bills when dealing with our monthly expenses. But the truth is that these services often represent a significant portion of our monthly spending. 

So with that said, it might be worth it to try and call your cable or cell service provider to see if you can negotiate better rates. If not, you might want to see about dropping a service or two to help lower your monthly bill. 

After all, do you really need that extra gig of data? 

Avoid Eating Out – Budgeting Tips

When you’re in school, especially if you’re juggling a part or full-time job at the same time, it can often feel like it’s impossible to take the time to cook a meal from scratch. 

But restaurants and take-out food are expensive, and it’s easy to spend an entire month’s grocery budget by eating out just a few times.  

So instead, try your best to do groceries and pack lunches instead of grabbing food on the go. 

It might also be a good idea to create a separate grocery budget by figuring out what foods you’ll need for the month. Then, create a list of what to buy before heading out to the store and stick to it at all costs. 

Read more student budgeting tips here: https://www.gobankingrates.com/saving-money/budgeting/budgeting-tips-college-students/

Think Before You Spend

Impulse purchases can be extremely tempting. But they’re also the purchases that we tend to regret almost as soon as we’ve made them. 

That’s why we suggest waiting at least 24 hours before making any major purchases. 

If the item is something that you truly need, you’ll stick likely still want to make the purchase after waiting a day. 

But giving yourself a day to think about the purchase will allow you to decide whether it is something you truly need, or if it’s only something that you want. 

It might be hard to deny buying yourself something new, but at the end of the month, when your spending is still within your means, you’ll thank yourself for it. 

Buy Used or Digital Textbooks

It’s no secret that textbooks are often one of a student’s biggest expenses. 

That’s why it’s a good idea to either buy used textbooks or do away with hardcopies completely and go digital. 

There are many places where students can go to look for pre-used, afforable textbooks and there is also an increasing number of schools that are offering digital copies of textbooks. 

Not only will you be saving yourself money, but you’ll also be helping to reduce your impact on the environment. 

Best Study Tips

Put Money Aside – Budgeting Tips

The next item on our list of budgeting tips is to put some money aside and save it.

You never know when you’re going to run into hard times. 

And this is exactly why we recommend trying to put aside at least 10% of your monthly income and not touch it unless absolutely necessary. 

Think about it as an emergency fund. 

So whether your car unexpectedly breaks down one day or you simply need help coming up with your share of the rent next month, you won’t have to go calling mom or dad to beg for a handout. 

Struggling With Student Debt?

If you’re struggling with debt or need budgeting advice, don’t wait to find help. 

If you’re facing any type of financial difficulties, it’s important that you speak to a school or financial counselor as soon as possible. They’ll be able to advise you on any issues you may be having and point you in the right direction to help you get back on track. 

3 Easy Ways to Save Money in College

We’re sure you’re well aware of all the buzz surrounding college tuition. With an average price tag of $20,000 for four years of school, it goes without saying that higher education is expensive. 

However, this doesn’t mean that you can’t cut costs in some areas of school. Today, we’re going to show you a few tips on how to save money in college (wherever possible). Let’s cover three proven tips that’ll help you get your degree without spending more money than you have to. 

1. Avoid Paying Full Price for Textbooks

College students spend an average of $655 per year on textbooks, according to the National Association of College Stores. That totals to about $2,620 in 4 years. Could you think of something better to spend that money on?

I bet you can.

So what’s the alternative to buying brand new textbooks from your college’s bookstore? Here are a few solutions:

Sometimes there is no way to get around this like a physical workbook that you need to write in and turn in, or online content that is registered to your student ID.

Sometimes you just can’t get around the new edition of a textbook. Maybe there’s a physical workbook you need for assignments, or the increasing trend of online materials that come with your textbooks. No matter what you decide to do, just make sure that buying brand new textbooks is always your last resort. It could save you thousands of dollars in the long run. 

We offer one of the largest databases online for searching for textbooks and academic media at the lowest price—browse our textbook search engine at Textbook Nova.

2. Get as Much Free Money as You Can!

Start saving money early by applying for as many grants and scholarships as you can. It might seem like scholarships are only available to straight A students, but you’d be surprised to learn that are thousands of ways to qualify for rewards.

You can begin by searching for…

  • Federal grants 
  • State grants
  • Employer scholarships (this is a hidden gold mine!)
  • Volunteer grants
  • Institutional grants (churches, temples, organizations)
  • Academic scholarships 
  • Skill-based scholarships
  • Hobbies or club scholarships
  • Local awards
  • And much more…

Scholarships and grants don’t have to be paid off and can go towards your college education.  So apply for them as early as possible. And leave no stone unturned! Trust us, when it’s 10 years down the road and you’re trying to pay off your education… every dollar adds up.

Likewise, you can get help from your financial aid counselor. They’ll happily walk you through the grant application process to see what you qualify for. 

Want to avoid the hours spent on online searching? Check out The Ultimate Scholarship Book 2020. Not only will you find the details on over 1.5 million scholarships and grants—including how to apply for each one—but you’ll also discover tips on how to best search for awards, writing a remarkable application, and how to avoid scams.  

Find your copy of The Ultimate Scholarship Book 2020 here:

3. Let Your Advisor Lead the Way

It’s reported that the average graduate of a four-year college takes the equivalent of a full extra semester of classes, meaning an extra 12 to 15 credits.

In a time where the cost of college tuition is only rising, it’s crucial to make sure that you’re not wasting money (or your time) on classes that you don’t need in the long run. The sooner you graduate, the sooner you can launch your career.

And this is where your college advisor comes in.

Talk to them about creating a pathway that highlights the classes that are actually necessary for your degree. It’s common for students to get lost in a sea of information during their first two years of school. We can 100% relate. However, this lack of proper guidance can lead to making costly decisions. 

If you go straight to your advisor early on, you might be able to avoid the same mistakes. Their advice could save you hundreds or even thousands in the long run. 

It’s inevitable that your finances will take a hit from college. 

But if you take the initiative, you might find yourself in a minority of students. These students avoid spending hundreds, if not thousands, in unnecessary expenses. Do you have other tips on setting aside some extra cash during school?

4 Fictional Book Characters You’d Want to Be Best Friends With (And The Ones to Avoid)

If you could be best pals with a fictional character, who would it be?

We love exploring the world of the fiction books. And if you’re a fellow bookworm, you know what it’s like to get attached to your favorite characters.

Naturally, we’re drawn to the characters we can relate to the most. Their stories comfort us. We get a glimpse into their innermost thoughts—which is something we could only dream of in real life.

Today, we’re sharing the fictional characters you’d want to be best friends with (plus, one group of people you’d definitely want to avoid). Let’s dig in.

Circle of Friends by Maeve Blinchy

Benny Hogan from Circle of Friends is our favorite fictional bestie. Circle of Friends begins with Benny and Eve’s friendship as schoolgirls, and follows them through university.

Through new friends, first love and family tragedy, the two remain devoted to each other—cracking each other up under pressure. Honestly, certain parts of the novel are slightly dated now because it’s set in 1950’s Ireland. For example, teenage Benny is courted by her father’s sketchy, much-older apprentice. And while he’s definitely meant to be a creep in the book, a grown man planning to marry a teenage girl is gross on another level (sixty years later).

Still, lasting, supportive friendship is never dated. The movie version is a pretty pale imitation of the novel, but we’d still be friends with film Benny too.


Other People’s Houses by Abbi Waxman

Other People’s Houses by Abbi Waxman tells the story of large and small dramas in a tiny neighborhood of interlocking families and friends. There are a lot of awesome friendships in this ensemble novel, but Frances Bloom is the one we’d choose for our bestie.

Calm without ever being unsupportive, reliable, and so comfortable in herself, Frances would be a perfect friend. We would absolutely invite ourselves over for tea with Frances. (But we’d ring the bell and wait to be invited in… we learned that much from reading the book.)

The Ship of Brides by Jojo Moyes

Author Jojo Moyes is most famous for Me Before You… but her earlier novel, The Ship of Brides is a hidden gem. At the end of World War II, Australian brides are being shipped to the UK where their new British husbands await them. Four very different girls are assigned to share a room on an aircraft carrier-turned-women-carrier, and most of the novel takes place on their
journey.

And let’s be honest, it’s not even really Maggie’s story. Her roommates Avis, Jo, and Frances have much wilder arcs and much more shocking reversals than staid Mags. An Outback girl, Maggie struggles to adjust to the separation from everything she’s known, limited quarters after open spaces, and the new constraints of her growing pregnancy.

Still, Maggie’s the one we want to befriend. With her good humor and hard work, we just know she’s going to manage post-war rationing and new British in-laws just fine.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Elizabeth Bennett from Jane Austen’s classic Pride and Prejudice would definitely make an A+ pal. Jane is just too nice, right? It would be nearly impossible to be friends with someone so determined to see the good in everyone and everything.

But one thing’s for sure—sensible and snarky Lizzie would keep us entertained at boring events. Not to mention, we’re pretty sure she’d be great at deconstructing the evening in carriage home too. Lizzie doesn’t use her wit cruelly, even if she could definitely say some things about Charlotte’s choice of husband. Or Lydia’s disaster romance.

The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley

Finally, the fictional characters we’d NEVER want to be friends with: literally any of the college pals from Lucy Foley’s mystery novel The Hunting Party.

This crowd of former friends should limit their interactions to the occasional Facebook like, not pretend they’re still super-close and take trips to the deserted highlands together. Okay, fine, so this is a murder mystery… but let’s not let that one person’s murderous impulses distract from the fact that all of these “friends” are awful humans.

What do you think? Which fictional characters would you want to hang out with?

6 New Fiction Releases for Character-Driven Readers in 2019

Image of girl reading book outside: 13 New Fiction Releases for Character-Driven Readers

If you love character-driven fiction as much as we do, this is a great time for new releases! Here are some of our favorite new books in 2019.

The Swallows by Lisa Lutz

Cover of The Swallows: 6 New Fiction Releases for Character-Driven Readers

The Swallows, by Lisa Lutz, takes place at an elite academy, where in between college apps, varsity sports and SAT prep, the prep school boys keep a secret list, ranking their female classmates sexually.

The secret list and the Dulcinea Award for the girl with the best, uh, special skills, has been going on for years, but at long last, the girls begin to seek their revenge. This story of teachers, staff, and students at the prep school is raw and vicious by turns.

(Without revealing the ending, I’ll admit to gasping aloud when I discovered one of the masterminds behind the Dulcinea Award!)

 

The Farm by Joanne Ramos

Abstract Cover for The Farm: 6 New Fiction Releases for Character-Driven Readers
In Joanne Ramos’ new novel, The Farm, dozens of beautiful, healthy, young women are
surrogates for women who want to be mothers. The pregnant surrogates are well-paid, provided with meals, housing, and top-class medical care, but forbidden from leaving the Golden Oaks medical retreat (known as The Farm to residents).

The surrogacy payments are life-changing for  the girls, who are willing to sign over their most basic privacy rights for them. Meanwhile, the mothers have paid top dollar for their new babies, because they’re unable or unwilling to carry their own children.

What makes this story compelling, readable fiction? The topics explored include race, class, and the meaning of motherhood, without ever losing touch with the characters or storyline.

 

Mistress of The Ritz by Melanie Benjamin

Image of Book Cover: Woman Standing in Front of the Eiffel Tower - 6 New Fiction Releases for Character-Driven Readers
Mistress of The Ritz is about sticking it to the Nazis, while wearing gorgeous clothes and drinking cocktails. Blanche Auzello, American wife of the French director of the Ritz hotel, finds herself hosting Nazi officers at the famous hotel.

While she and her husband pretend to perform the Ritz’ famous hospitality, Blanche finds that being so close to the Nazi higher-ups, with access to their conversations and knowledge of their daily habits, gives her a unique advantage for the French Resistance.

The result is a thrilling novel, full of suspense and intrigue. But be prepared for tragedy as well, because this is based on historical events.

 

American Princess by Stephanie Marie

Image of Book Cover: Car Rides off with a Scarf Trailing - 6 New Fiction Releases for Character-Driven Readers

Another recent historical novel, American Princess, tells the story of the outrageous First Daughter Alice Roosevelt. Novelist Stephanie Marie Thornton describes Alice’s adventures and romances in this page-turning novel.

Although some of Alice’s antics, like driving a car or going out unchaperoned, may seem tame now, there’s a wonderful contrast between Alice and the Washingtonian establishment around her. Readers can’t help but be drawn in by the force of her rebellious, hedonistic personality, and root for her when she’s down. (I particularly enjoyed Alice’s remarks on her dowdy do-gooder cousin Eleanor.)

 

Park Avenue Summer by Helen Gurley Brown

Image of Book Cover: Woman in New York City -6 New Fiction Releases for Character-Driven Readers

In Park Avenue Summer, Midwestern transplant Alice lands an assistant job at Cosmo, under the famous author and editor Helen Gurley Brown. Helen is trying to revamp the magazine, despite all the obstacles thrown in her path, and Alice is caught in office conflicts, between the forceful personality of her new boss and the forces that want the female editor-in-chief to fail disastrously.

Alice’s goals in photography and independence make her a compelling protagonist, even when her Midwestern naivety seems a bit much at times.

 

A Hundred Suns by Karin Tanabe

Image of Book Cover: Close of Woman Wearing Hat - 6 New Fiction Releases for Character-Driven Readers

If history is your thing, get ready for this one. A brand new story with intense and developed characters will be out next year. Karin Tanabe’s upcoming novel, A Hundred Suns, reveals secrets upon secrets among expats and citizens in French Indochina, into the 1930s.

5 Must-Read Fiction Book Series for Adults

Girl Reading Book: 5 Must-Read Fiction Series

If you’re a dedicated reader, you already know the pain of finishing a great novel.

And when you’re not quite ready to say goodbye to your favorite characters or leave your favorite world, a series might ease the pain. Want to dive deep into an epic series of novels?

Keep reading on to find out our must-read fiction book series (for adults).

A Song of Ice and Fire by George R R Martin

5 Must-Read Fiction Book Series for Adults: A Game of Thrones Set

If you haven’t read the Game of Thrones novel series, A Song of Ice and Fire, you’re missing out!

If you’re already a fan of the show, keep in mind the books have diverged from the show. (Or has the show diverged from the books?) So it’s not the same story in every way.

But the central conflict, strong characters, and shifting allegiances are still there. If you love the backstabbing and reversals of Sunday night GoT, you need to check out the novels. There are five books out now and two more in the works—although George R R Martin has pushed back the release date a few times already—but his series will keep you busy for awhile.

 

The Lady of the Rivers by Phillippa Gregory

5 Must-Read Fiction Book Series for Adults: The Lady in the River book cover

Do you enjoy geeking out on fantasy novels or historical fiction? This series is for you.

Phillippa Gregory’s historical novels about royal women begin with The Lady of the Rivers, where we meet young Jacquetta of Bedford. They live in the time of the War of the Roses.

(Fantasy fans take note: Parts of the story of the Starks and Lannisters were inspired by a historical rivalry between the Yorks and Lancasters in the War of the Rose.)

Jacquetta will eventually become the mother of Elizabeth Woodville, and the grandmother to the king of England. Gregory’s series of novels continues through Henry VIII, with novels about his wives, and finally Elizabeth I. She always focuses on women near the throne and the constant struggle for power.

This is a particularly solid series. How so? Because each one can be read as a standalone novel, but reading them in historical order adds tons of depth to the characters and shows how closely related these political rivals were.

 

One Word Kill by Mark Lawrence

5 Must-Read Fiction Book Series for Adults

We’re currently two books into the Impossible Times trilogy by Mark Lawrence… and anxiously waiting for the third book to be released!

These compelling sci-fi stories focus on the friendships in a tabletop gaming party. Not only that, Laurence throws in a dash of time travel and pairs it with the realization that our small choices could affect the entire universe.

Also, there’s a teen romance that won’t make you cringe! Impossible Times is a trilogy, not a long series, so the upcoming third book should resolve everything left unfinished.

 

A Lady’s Guide to Etiquette and Murder by Dianne Freeman

5 Must-Read Fiction Book Series: A Lady's Guide to Etiquette book cover

Dianne Freeman’s new series, A Lady’s Guide to Etiquette and Murder, blends a manners novel with a mystery.

Frances, the recently widowed Countess of Harleigh, is one of the dollar princesses. She’s an American heiress married to an impoverished British title—a bit like Lady Jennie Jerome Churchill, or Lady Cora on Downton Abbey.

Frances’ first mystery to solve is getting her own resources back from greedy in-laws, but that soon gives way to a more dramatic mystery. The blend of formalized manners and dangerous investigation makes a great series.

The second one, A Lady’s Guide to Gossip and Murder, develops the secondary characters, and sets up a strong possibility of recurring mysteries for Frances and her friends to solve.

 

Ovid (Marcus Corvinus Book 1) by David Wishart

5 Must-Read Fiction Book Series for Adults: Ovid Novel Cover

David Wishart’s Marcus Corvinus series of Roman historical mysteries leads us through some of the dramatic historical events of the early Empire. Beginning with Ovid, accidental detective Marcus Corvinus finds himself doing a small favor that turns into a huge investigation.

You’ll notice this pattern repeats in the following novels, until Marcus gives up and just accepts that he’s a criminal investigator now. The Julio-Claudians and other historical figures appear as minor characters, but it’s the slacker/detective Marcus Corvinus himself who really pulls you in.

The author shows Roman social classes by having the Roman patricians speak like they attended Eton, while the plebs all sound like they’re from council flats in the East End. The author has also written another novel set in ancient Rome, called I,Virgil.

This isn’t a mystery and doesn’t star Marcus Corvinus, but offers the same well-researched historical setting as the mystery series.

Now it’s your turn. What series are you reading? What books are you anxiously awaiting?

8 Funny Books That Are Guaranteed to Make You Smile

Of course, we have room for sweeping epics and heart-wrenching dramas. But we also love books that just make us smile. Need a laugh? Keep reading to discover some of our favorite funny books:

1. Dear Mrs. Bird by AJ Pearce

Books to Make You Smile: Yellow Cover of Dear Mrs. Bird with a Retro Lady Walking

In A J Pearce’s novel, Dear Mrs. Bird, the plot gets rolling with a goofy misunderstanding. Young Emmy Lake tries to become a war correspondent in WWII London, but ends up getting a job assisting on an advice column.

Assisting Mrs. Bird means opening her mail, and throwing away anything with “inappropriate” content. This ensues that only the blandest, mildest queries are read by Mrs. Bird and publicly answered in the women’s magazine. As Emmy starts to read–and secretly answer some of the rejected letters–warm laughs will follow.

 

The Epic Crush of Genie Lo by FC Yee

Book to Make You Smile: Blue Cover of The Epic Crush of Genie Lo

In the Chinese-American YA adventure, The Epic Crush of Genie Lo, author FC Yee blends college prep, teen angst, overbearing relatives, and mythological battles for a rollicking adventure.

High-school student Genie and her annoying new classmate Quentin find themselves with surprising alternate identities. Suddenly, they’re battling ancient supernatural enemies. The blend of myth and high school makes for a funny, entertaining read.

 

A Short History of Drunkenness by Mark Forsyth

Book to Make You Smile: A Short History of Drunkenness book cover

Want a non-fiction laugh? This one’s for you. A Short History of Drunkenness will take readers through alcohol enjoyment, use, and overuse in different civilizations throughout the world.

Not only will you connect with drinkers from all walks of life… you’ll get a kick out of the history behind many drinking customs in this readable, hilarious drunken history.

 

My Not-So-Perfect Life by Sophie Kinsella

Books to Make You Smile: Green Cover of My Not-so-Perfect Life

For likeable heroines falling into and out of ridiculous situations, try a Sophie Kinsella novel. Everyone knows the Shopaholic series, but have you tried My Not-So-Perfect Life?

In this novel, our protagonist Emily’s main hobby is cleverly faking Instagram photos to seem more successful and stylish online. And in Twenties Girl, our heroine finds herself hearing from the spirit of her great-aunt, who gives fashion advice and makes ghostly demands.

Surprise Me, a newer novel about a long-married couple trying to inject more passion and spontaneity into their lives, has plenty of silly situations. Sure, the road to the neat happily-ever-afters can feel a bit predictable, but sometimes an uplifting ending can be another reason to smile.

 

Other People’s Houses by Abbi Waxman

Abbi Waxman’s ensemble novel Other People’s Houses tells the story of four interconnected neighboring families. Blending big and small secrets with daily family life, the story gets moving when an affair (and the accidental, ridiculous discovery of that affair) causes ripples through the neighborhood.

With laugh-inducing interior monologues, silly situations, and messy relationships–there are plenty of giggles. But there are also moving moments of friendship and family.

 

Evergreen Tidings From The Baumgarnters by Gretchen Anthony

It may be a bit early for the Christmas themes in Evergreen Tidings From The Baumgarnters, but there are some real laughs in this family drama about keeping up appearances in a decidedly imperfect family.

Self-important, appearance-obsessed, well-meaning meddler Violet Baumgartner is a hilarious character, and at times it’s hard to tell if we’re laughing at or laughing with her.

What about you? What books always make you laugh? Let us know, we’d love to hear from you.

7 Best Summer Beach Reads to Take on Your Next Vacation

Man reading a book in water: 6 Best Summer Beach Reads to Take on Your Next Vacation

It’s time for a break, right?

Summer is finally here. Whether you’re headed to the beach, relaxing by the poolside, or hanging out in your background—nothing beats relaxing with a captivating beach read.

Stay tuned to find your next beach read, as we share our favorite summer fiction novels of 2019!

Honolulu by Alan Brennert

A wild adventure or engrossing family saga is just what we want in a summer read, isn’t it? Alan Brennert’s Honolulu blends both with the story of Korean picture-bride Jin’s life in Hawaii.

The ups and down of her years in Hawaii—combined with the lush setting of old Honolulu—make this novel perfect escapism for your summer reading list. Plus, if your summer vacation is more kiddie pool than tropical island? You’ll enjoy the scenes of Hawaiian life.

 

Firefly Lane by Kristin Hannah

Kristin Hannah’s absorbing tales of female friendship are perfect for relaxing summer days. Firefly Lane spans years of friendship between Tully and Kate, and shows how their friendship evolves as they take very different paths.

Between Sisters is another engrossing, character driven story from this author. Both novels invite readers to meet realistic and complex characters.

And the best part?

They deliver satisfying conclusions to make them solid beach reads.

 

Mrs. Everything by Jennifer Weiner

Jennifer Weiner’s latest novel, Mrs. Everything, introduces two very different sisters and develops both of them as full, complex characters.

The story follows Bethie and Jo from when they’re teenagers in Detroit in the fifties through grandchildren today. It’s almost a family saga, with scenes showing the sisters’ mom and grandmother, and setting the girls on their paths.

But it’s also a slice-of-life novel, covering decades. Experience another time with these vibrant, multi-faceted characters.

 

Sarong Party Girls by Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan

The girls in Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan’s Sarong Party Girls make plans to land rich, foreign husbands, before they’re on the shelf by their late twenties.

Narrator Jazeline will pull you in with her Singlish banter as she describes nights out, friendships, and schemes… but she also reveals the a darker side of life for Singaporean women.

This novel is great fun, with a distant, lively setting and an unforgettable heroine, but also points to dark systems of privilege and entitlement. You’ll think about Jazzy and her friends long after finishing the book!

 

Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams

Another memorable heroine for your summer reading list is Queenie, by Candice Carty-Williams.

When we first meet her, Jamaican-British Queenie is facing a breakup, work stress, an overbearing (but well meaning) family. Not to mention, the depressing gentrification of the old neighborhood.

The novel pops with clever—but realistic—dialogue, including some scenes of group texts (which usually feel like lazy writing, but work so well here to develop relationships and advance the storyline).

Carty-Williams brings readers to care for Queenie even when she does self-destructive things, and we can’t help but cheer her on.

The Lying Game by Ruth Ware

Sometimes a chilling suspense novel pairs well with summer sun. So, try Ruth Ware’s The Lying Game. In this novel, old school friends revisit decades-old secrets, with layers of lies, half-truths and suspicions.

We know The Woman In Cabin 10 is getting more spotlight, but personally thought The Lying Game had the same brilliant suspense. Not only that, The Lying Game had more developed characters, fuller interpersonal relationships, and an even twistier story.

What Newly Released Books Are Trending in 2019? Don’t Miss This Must-Read Novel!

Lining up your next summer read? Lisa See’s newest novel, The Island of Sea Women, is a sweeping saga of friendship and family loyalty. Not to mention, it’s one of our favorite new releases.

So what’s it all about?

If you’re familiar with the bestselling New York Times author, See’s previous novels take place in China or in Chinese communities in the US. But The Island of Sea Women is set on Korea’s Jeju Island.

Like her other novels, though, See explores complex connections and loyalties between friends—and the bond between mothers and daughters.

On Jeju Island, women divers, called haenyeo, were their families’ primary earners. Older haenyeo teach the young girls to freedive, harvest shellfish, catch sealife, and survive in the changeable ocean.

The imaginative setting here is completely engaging. As a reader, you’ll be introduced to a unique Jeju lifestyle of specific skills and customs… and a dangerously appealing undersea world. The haenyeo survive in difficult times by relying on their community, their skills, and the sea’s resources.

Throughout the book, we return to this theme of hardworking women, gaining personal agency, and family security in challenging times.

Let’s talk about the characters. When the story begins, Young-sook, and her friend Mi-ja, are some of the youngest trainees. Beyond that, the story follows their relationship for decades.

Young-sook is the daughter of a skilled diver. When her mother agrees to take Mi-Ja into their collective and train her as well, it seems like they’ll work side-by-side. Just as previous generations of Jeju women have done.

But the Japanese occupation of Korea disrupts their lives and relationships on Jeju. As Japanese-Korean relationships twist and turn, having family connections to the occupiers is alternately a blessing and a curse.

The novel shows how Mi-ja tries to navigate her family background and then her husband’s background in a shifting political situation.

Without giving any spoilers, the novel tells of historically accurate, but brutal exploitation.

What’s more, you’ll learn about a horrific conflict between Japanese soldiers and starving Korean civilians. The war changes the patterns of Korean life—for both women—long after the conflict is over.

As always, Lisa See introduces vibrant, complex characters, with ties of loyalty and friends. What makes this novel such a page-turner is how See’s story introduces them into situations without clear solutions.

All in all, readers will enjoy seeing Mi-ja and Young-sook evolve over decades and generations. Click here to check out the book!