Five Favorite: Books I Read in 2018

Instead of focusing on the less-than-stellar reads that made up my 2018, I wanted to highlight the five that made it great––which just so happen to all be written by women. (So freaking dope!!) I also thought that I wouldn’t have ten books to fill out a Top Ten Tuesday post but that was a huge miscalculation. Lol. Winnowing down this list was so hard.

Are any of my favorite 2018 reads your favorite, too? Let me know! To see previous topics, click here.

Month in Review: December 2018

Favorite Media

Botched is one of the few shows I can stand to watch with commercials, but for some reason, I also thought it ended in 2015?? Idk. E! broadcast all of the previous episodes in preparation for season five, and I was in a happy couch-watching state for the better part of two weeks catching up on the two seasons I’d missed.

Even though I’ve never read the books (nor want to) AND watched the show since it first premiered, none of the previous Outlander seasons have been must-see TV before now. I honestly don’t know what it is that makes me choose it over other shows, but I watch enthralled for a full hour and then practically salivate until Sundays.

Stuff I Added to My Queue

I have no idea where I first heard about Anjali Sachdeva’s All the Names They Used for God, but the stories within sound just slightly off that I think I’ll dig ’em. (It also has over four stars???)

All You Can Ever Know by Nicole Chung is getting All. The. Hype. and I am Here. For. It.

Joyce Carol Oates’ latest, Hazards of Time Travel, doesn’t have the greatest reviews, but I enjoy her writing and it’s also about time travel so…. 🤷‍♀️

I feel like How to Date Men When You Hate Men by Blythe Roberson just kind of like speaks to me on a spiritual level because sometimes men are just so UGH that I can’t even deal with their bullshit. But then they’re like OMG YES and I can.

Sometimes I just want to forget that the 2016 election happened and, instead, be lulled to sleep by a 500-page oral history on the eight years Obama spent in the White House. (Brian Abrams coming in for the clutch!)

On a Sunbeam initially debuted as a webcomic, but Tillie Walden heard our prayers and let me lounge and read without having to deal with WiFi or scrolling or clicking.

Tressie McMillan Cottom’s Thick: And Other Essays is a (yet another) book that lulled me in by its cover, but I’m also pretty sure the poignant take on race and pop culture will keep me deliciously full.

On My Radar

  • The final season of Game of Thrones drops in April, and I low-key kind of want to rewatch seasons one through seven to like mentally prepare myself for the end. (But will this also make me more emotional???) I really only bring this up because if I want to do it, I need to start real soon and I am not at all ready.
  • I am trying to read for ~30 minutes per day (see my 2019 goals!), but the amount of good shows coming back in January is going to seriously test my ability to pay attention to anything textual: True DetectiveThe Magicians!! Brooklyn Nine-Nine!! UGH NOT FAIR

What were YOU up to in December? Let me know!

2019 Blogging Goals

meganfoxhelloAloha, 2019!

I love when other bloggers post their goals because I find it fun to see what they choose to prioritize (and whether I should prioritize that stuff, too!). I have tried to make yearly goals before, but I either dictate my reading life too formally (have y’all seen how I kind of fail my quarterly tbr posts yet??) or else don’t have a good plan of attack (um “read more”? what is that). For 2019, however, I have both goals and a way to reach them. I want to:

  • Read 39 books
    • focusing slightly on finishing any series I currently have in progress
    • and prioritizing past-due NetGalley titles to bump me up to 80% approval (currently at 48%)
  • Post 2-3 times per week on this blog and average 100 views per month (currently at 75)
  • Post 3 videos per month on YouTube and reach 50 subscribers by the end of the year (currently at 15)

For instance, reading at least 210 minutes per week won’t guarantee that I’ll finish 39 books by the end of 2019, but it’s a habit that I both enjoy and that will keep me reading. I also can’t guarantee that I’ll average a certain number of views or reach a certain number of subscribers, but planning ahead and sticking to a consistent posting schedule won’t hurt, either. I also plan to count statistics for the first time because I love what SocialBlade offers and want that kind of info for both WordPress and Bloglovin’. (Like, I can’t even guess at a goal for subscribers because I have no idea how many I gain per month. 👎)

So… that’s it! What are your goals for 2019?

Review: The Shadow Cipher by Laura Ruby

Title: The Shadow Cipher
Author: Laura Ruby
Rating: ★★★★
Summary: The Morningstarr twins arrived in New York with a vision for a magnificent city––towering skyscrapers, dazzling machines, and winding train lines all running on technology no one had ever seen before––but by 1855, they’d disappeared, leaving behind everything except a vast treasure hidden at the end of a puzzle laid into the city itself. In the present day, however, the Old York Cipher has never been solved, and the greatest mystery of the modern world is little more than a tourist attraction. But Tess and Theo Biedermann believe, and when a real estate developer announces that the city has agreed to sell him the five remaining Morningstarr buildings, their likely destruction means the end of a dream long-held by the people of New York. If Tess, Theo, and their neighbor Jaime want to save their home, they have to prove that the Old York Cipher is real. Which means they have to solve it.


I’ve been thinking about Laura Ruby’s The Shadow Cipher a lot since I read it almost a year ago. It’s a thick middle-grade book that I would have absolutely devoured as a tween but also hooked me as an adult who favors grown-up fiction. The cover and plot are intriguing until you start reading and realize it’s also a solidly written and smartly plotted novel. (I know I get to read it now but seriously where was this book when I was twelve.) Yet I made no notes while reading and gave it three stars once I finished. Still, The Shadow Cipher demands my attention. Why?

The plot is propelled into action when a smarmy real estate tycoon buys up the last remaining Morningstarr buildings and, given an eviction notice and the arrival of a mysterious (and conspicuously convenient) never-before-seen letter, two siblings and their neighbor decide to solve the Old York Cipher before it’s (definitely) too late to save both their home and a part of history. But the story itself is so much more than that. It’s a love letter to the very idea of New York City and how that idea can both excite and inspire people who’ve never been there (and also remind natives why they stay). It’s an attempt to make history breathlessly fun and edge-of-your-seat exciting. It’s an empowering tale of family and perseverance and how listening to young people is important; they may think differently than adults, but sometimes that stubbornness and focus is worth exploring.

Perhaps part of my enjoyment of The Shadow Cipher was the low expectations I had to begin with: I started a book with no knowledge of the plot and no commitment to sit down and review it. I could just read, urged solely by a recommendation by someone I knew. Maybe I kept reading because Ruby’s novel reminded me of both National Treasure and The Magicians: history nerds smarter than their peers following clues to a long-rumored treasure? Check. Hints of magic around the corner of a brick building, visible to only those who believe it exists? Also check. Or possibly it’s because its sequel, The Clockwork Ghostfinally has a synopsis and solid release date. (!!!)

Or maybe, simply, The Shadow Cipher was a good book, and I really liked it. Maybe you will, too.

Review: Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly

Title: Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race
Author: Margot Lee Shetterly
Rating: ★★★
Summary: Before Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, a group of professionals worked as ‘Human Computers’, calculating the flight paths that would enable these historic achievements. Among these were a coterie of bright, talented African-American women. Segregated from their white counterparts, these ‘coloured computers’ used pencil and paper to write the equations that would launch rockets and astronauts into space. Moving from World War II through NASA’s golden age, touching on the civil rights era, the Space Race, the Cold War, and the women’s rights movement, Hidden Figures interweaves a rich history of mankind’s greatest adventure with the intimate stories of five courageous women whose work forever changed the world.


Published only months prior to its theatrical film release, Hidden Figures is pretty much what its subtitle implies: a heretofore unexplored look at the numerous black female mathematicians and engineers who worked at NASA during the Space Race and beyond. I may have been spoiled from watching the movie first, but the book ends up falling flat, stretched too thin in Margot Lee Shetterly’s attempt to reference twenty years worth of history in under 300 pages. The film has a much better structure, so just knowing that a coherent story featuring three protagonists who only briefly intersect is possible makes Lee Shetterly’s narrative jumbled in comparison. There’s simply too much information and too many players at work to try and remember all of it. (And Lee Shetterly does try to reference all of it.)

I may also be judging Hidden Figures too critically. For example, Lee Shetterly writes in the the book’s epilogue:

That even Katherine Johnson’s remarkable achievements can’t quite match some of the myths that have grown up around her is a sign of the strength of the vacuum caused by the long absence of African Americans from mainstream history. For too long, history has imposed a binary condition on black citizens: either nameless or renowned, menial or exceptional, passive recipients of the forces of history or superheroes who acquire mythic status not just because of their deeds but because of their scarcity. The power of the history of NASA’s black computers is that even the Firsts weren’t the Onlies.

Maybe this book doesn’t live up to my expectations, though, because there has been nothing like it. Could Lee Shetterly have expanded her narrative in some places rather than in others? Yes—but in providing a macro focus, she allows her protagonists to become more multi-faceted; they weren’t just but also. I mean, there were numerous threads Lee Shetterly could have tugged on to satisfy my desire for a more nuanced social critique as it related to gender roles and skin color. She also could have whittled down her protagonists to the three highlighted in the film, or maybe even two or just one. (But, then again, would I have even read that book? Picked up a biography of a women I didn’t recognize?)

Part of the problem I had with Hidden Figures is that there was too much information—but this isn’t a problem Lee Shetterly should have to fix alone. The mere existence of the book is a testament to the fact that different stories need to be told by diverse authors. A different author’s take on Lee Shetterly’s subject would have been a different reading experience, but it probably wouldn’t have had the same pathos or narrative urgency. In her hands, this story becomes her story, and in telling her story, she makes us care about something no one seemed to care about before.

So here’s to more of those stories. Thanks, Margot, for being the First. (Hopefully you won’t stay the Only.)

Top Ten: Books on My Winter TBR

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted at That Artsy Reader Girl. This week’s theme was books on my winter 2018/19 TBR. These quarterly posts are my favorite to post: not only because I love to peek at what’s being published in the next few months, but also because I love the structure this kind of TBR provides. (Even though I almost never follow my own choices!)

An Absolutely Remarkable Thing by Hank Green // A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness // Here and Now and Then by Mike Chen // How the Internet Happened: From Netscape to the iPhone by Brian McCullough // In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

Mindhunter: Inside the FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit by John Douglas and Mark Olshaker // Night Film by Marisha Pessl // On a Sunbeam by Tillie Walden // The People We Hate at the Wedding by Grant Ginder // You Know You Want This: “Cat Person” and Other Stories by Kristen Roupenian

* ETA: Nasty Women by 404 Ink was replaced by In Cold Blood.

Review: Dark Matter by Blake Crouch

Title: Dark Matter
Author: Blake Crouch
Rating: ★★½
Summary: After Jason Dessen is kidnapped and knocked unconscious, he wakes up strapped to a gurney and surrounded by strangers in hazmat suits. Everything is eerily familiar—except not. His wife is not his wife, his son was never born, and he’s a celebrated scientific genius instead of a college physics professor. The choices Jason’s forced to make stem from a single, seemingly unanswerable question—has he woken up from a dream or escaped into another?—and result in a journey more wondrous and horrifying than anything he could’ve imagined. Dark Matter is a brilliantly plotted tale that is at once sweeping and intimate, a relentlessly surprising science-fiction thriller about the choices and decisions we make, and how far we’ll go to accomplish our dreams.


If I weren’t a book blogger—who very much has to force herself to review the titles I’ve read—I would have given Dark Matter a star rating and moved on. Because unfortunately, the more time that passes since I finished it, the less and less I actually feel like I enjoyed the story. On one hand, yes, it was definitely engaging, and I might have spent one evening reading for two plus hours. But then, on the other, I feel overwhelmed by the many tiny annoyances I blocked out that only now, looking back, do I feel detracted from the novel as a whole.

Dark Matter bills itself as a science-fiction thriller, but it feels more like a fast-paced thriller with technological elements—which might seem like the same thing until the action and suspense become more important than the science (which, toward the end of the novel, happened a lot). Blake Crouch tried very hard to write a story that lulled you into a must-find-out-what-happens reading experience, but some of the narrative choices he made felt over-exaggerated, a quick satiety of sweetness overshadowed by a lingering gurgle of regret. He wants us to like the protagonist, Jason, to feel sorry for him, to hope that he makes it out of his situation—and we do, kind of. But we also grow weary of his circumstance and selfishness.

It’s not that I didn’t like Dark Matter and maybe that I didn’t like it enough. Almost every point in the novel reminded me of something else—the environment of Blade Runner, the plot of All Our Wrong Todays, the disappointment of Synchronicity, the smarmy almost-villain of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom—only those things had done it better (or else I’d just gotten to them first). I sincerely enjoyed not really knowing what was happening the first time Crouch throws in third-person narration—is this an alternate reality where Jason makes it home okay? Or merely the story he tells himself to feel better about being in a foreign environment?—but then it morphed into a crutch. We guess what’s happening much earlier than Jason does, and his slow crawl toward realization feels agonizing.

I stumbled upon a paperback copy of this book over the summer and, swayed by a sale (because, honestly, who isn’t), I convinced myself to buy it. Then it turned out to be the December pick for a local book club, and I bumped it up my TBR. But in deciding against going to the meeting, perhaps I missed out on some lively discussion, something which would have swayed my opinion. Maybe Dark Matter is just one of those books you can’t read alone; left stewing in your own thoughts, everything turns sour.