4 “Brainy” Reads That You Won’t Want to Put Down

As an English major, reading classics and ultra-literary books kinda goes along with the territory — but that doesn’t mean that I was always on board with it.

In fact, there may or may not have been a rather embarrassing email encounter with the head professor of the English department my freshman year in which I tried to worm my way out of taking some of the more antiquated required courses. Of course, I ended up taking and enjoying them. I even took a course with the very professor I had emailed before, and I loved it so much that I immediately signed up for another one of his courses just on Virginia Woolf (now my favorite course ever).

Obviously, it makes no sense to disregard an entire genre of books, no matter how old and dusty they may seem. (Do beware of excessively musty books, however, as they make for an unpleasant reading experience!) You might cheat yourself out of some truly fantastic books and new perspectives if you don’t give certain books a fair shot.

So in an attempt to help us all move past book prejudices, I thought I’d share some of the “brainy” books — classics, “must reads,” and soon-to-be-classics — that I’ve found to be surprisingly readable, valuable, and pleasurable, so much so that I’ve had to change my views on classics. Enjoy!

1) Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

I know, I know, I can’t believe that it took me so long to read this one either. Is it possible for a classic to be over-hyped? It seems to be on every book list ever, so I think I just got a bit intimidated.

After seeing and enjoying the 2005 movie adaptation, I figured that I probably wouldn’t need to read the book (gasp!). But I did end up reading it later on for a class. As I was starting the book, most everything seemed similar to me; much of the dialogue and many of the famous lines are preserved in the adaptation. But the more I read, the more differences I noticed. Most of them were subtle, but by the end of the book I was re-watching movie scenes and yelling “That’s not how they did it in the book!” like a true book snob.

I still love both the book and movie, but something about the book just really submerges you in Austen’s world so deeply — I’m fairly certain I was talking like Austen’s characters near the end. Really delving into the nuances of the social forces at work in the era makes Lizzy and Darcy’s romance all the more remarkable, and Austen’s writing is whip-smart and a pleasure to read.

2) Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

I can still remember my disappointment when this was assigned for class. Another old book with the typical stock painting of a woman in a fancy dress? (My cover was not quite so fetching as this one.)

Yet Madame Bovary is anything but boring — it’s as drama-filled a classic as you’re bound to find. Affairs, sickness, scandals, and debts abound, and I was certainly glued to the pages as our tragic heroine, Emma, spirals out of control. She certainly toes the line as a character: do you hate her, feel sorry for her, or do you feel a mix of both for her? Emma is unforgettable.

Many other characters in the book are similarly fleshed out and given intriguing portraits. The entire book is filled with rich description that brings Emma’s world to life. My professor’s perspective helped me to appreciate the pioneering narrative style, as well as the intense realism Flaubert created that had all the women of France claiming to be the inspiration for Emma. I was also intrigued by the long literary tradition Madame Bovary follows in which people (especially women) fall so hard for the fantasy worlds of novels that they confuse the boundaries of life and fiction. (Ah, the classic book blogger’s dilemma).

3) Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

I’ll never be able to speak my fill about Mrs. Dalloway, but hear me out in the small space I’ve allotted myself here. I’ve read the book three times now, and I still have new revelations every time I read it. 

It’s complex in some ways, as Woolf’s flow-of-consciousness style and use of multiple POVs are challenging at first, though ultimately rewarding. But it’s also deeply relatable in the emotions of its characters, and in its portrayal of life lived day-to-day, even hour to hour (the book is set over the course of a day, interrupted by flashbacks). Woolf drops you directly into the characters’ minds, exposing their deepest fears and desires in such a way that each character is rendered painfully and endearingly human. Some of her characters are middle-aged, foreigners, or PTSD sufferers, yet each strives to be understood, and longs for connection.  

Besides the gorgeous writing and incredible characterization, Mrs. Dalloway details a bustling and changing post-WWI London quite intimately. Thanks to the book’s style, you feel like you’re walking right alongside the characters: buying flowers, gawking at the royal motorcade, bumping into old friends, riding omnibuses, and people-watching (or napping) in parks.

4) “This Morning, This Evening, So Soon” by James Baldwin

A recent professor of mine said that James Baldwin is one of her favorite writers, and I think her passion has rubbed off me. Though “This Morning, This Evening, So Soon” is only a short story, it packs quite a punch and really puts you in the mind of its unnamed narrator, the main character.

Our narrator is an outsider in so many ways: he’s a foreigner, an American expat living abroad in Paris, speaking a language of which he has no native understanding; he is a black man living in the Civil Rights era, alienated from his own country which refuses to see him as an equal. Yet his struggles are also so relatable: he is a husband, striving for a deep connection free of judgements; he is a father, wrestling with lessons of the past that he must teach his son; he is a man, trying to make his way in the world as he is divided by different loyalties spanning borders, boundaries, and time.

All in all, Baldwin’s story is an absorbing, solidly penned piece with a distinctly modern sensibility. The story’s scope is nearly epic, taking on so many human problems while also jumping in time and location, though its straightforward narration helps ground it. It’s unlikely that I’ll forget this story any time soon, and I’d love to read more of Baldwin’s work.

Share your thoughts on my list! What are some of your favorite “brainy” reads?

A Quick Update, Or, Where I’ve Been and What’s to Come

I really want to jump back into blogging, but first, an update!

It’s been a long time since my last post. Not only have I had a few technical problems with my blog in the last few months, but this past year has also been a year full of change and “firsts.” For starters, I finally got around to taking my first computer science course, and I’m hoping I can use my new skills on this blog!

Besides being occupied with classes and internships, I’ve started to come to terms with my changing reading tastes and tendencies. I only read five YA books last year; not only is my taste in YA books becoming more selective, but generally the books I’m reading during the year are all for my English major.

But I still have plenty of literary thoughts and creative ideas, and I value my blog as an outlet for sharing them. (Plus, I really miss being inspired by the book blogging community!) Most likely, I’ll be doing far less reviews and many more thoughtful posts, some of which might be less directly tied to specific books and have more to do with other things — like travel. (Travel? Travel and reading? Fabulous bookstores abroad?!) I’m going to be studying abroad in Spain this semester (!!!), and who knows what I’ll feel like blogging about?

So, if you’re still reading, thanks for sticking around! I hope to reconnect with the blogs I love to read and to connect with new bloggers and readers as well.

A virtual hug for the book blogging community

End of Semester As Told by a Book Nerd

This is Lina reporting to you LIVE from the land of the living. Yes, I repeat, from the land of the LIVING!

Finals are over, and though it was a hard slog, dead week is finally behind meBut you know what got me through? Visions of gloriously uninterrupted reading hours dancing in my head. A fifteen page paper? Torture. But when I imagined reading in my favorite spot back home as soon as I finished, getting through the paper suddenly became more worthwhile.

 So I thought I’d share the book-ish thoughts that were constantly distracting me from getting me through finals week — a book nerd’s guide to the stages of the end of the semester, if you will. Those of us who have just finished can laugh now, and I hope anyone who might still be finishing can find the strength to push through (do it for the books!!).

Also, I’m an English major attending college waaaaay out of state. This comes with a few unique challenges!

Onto the guide!

End of Semester

Step 1: Knowing the end is near when… you change your Goodreads shipping address!

You know the Goodreads giveaway contests we all enter that nearly no one has a chance of winning? Well, turns out they’re good for something besides that small spark of hope. For me at least, if I check the end date of the giveaway and see that it’s past the time finals end, I have to uncheck my school address and switch to my home address — and there’s NO better feeling!

Step 2: Daydreaming while writing a paper about ALL THE BOOKS YOU WILL DEVOUR.


Sure, I might have a lot more pages to write, but what about all the pages I’ll be reading when I finally get home?! There’s the books I had to leave at home (I’m so sorry, my pretties!) that are just waiting for me, and all those holds I’ve already placed at the library… say, will summer be long enough for all the books I want to read?

Step 3: Staring longingly at the pleasure reading books you have accumulated.

It isn’t long before I remember that I have great books in my dorm, too! Even if I’m in the middle of a paper, I will take a study break to climb on top of my desk to reach my bookshelf, if only to give my sadly neglected books a little TLC. I might longingly stroke the gorgeous preorders I absolutely needed even if didn’t have time to read them, but also the ridiculously great finds I discovered at the local bookstore that I couldn’t pass up, as well as the books others were giving away for free that I just had to give a home…

Step 4: Worrying about how all your books will f it in your suitcase.

do have quite a few books… how am I supposed to bring them all home safe and sound?! They’re really heavy, and if I put them in my soft suitcase they’ll be crushed! But they might not all fit in my hard suitcase… (As always, I finally decide to carry on as many as I can because my babies need protection.)

Step 5: Reviving your Kindle from the dead for the plane ride home.


Planning how to spend my flight home easily trumps revising my papers! Somehow I inevitably find myself digging through my stuff to find my Kindle charger, and voilà, IT LIVES!! It wouldn’t hurt to place it in my carry on bag now, just to be safe…

Step 6: Getting back in touch with the book world on social media!

The best reward for reaching my essay page count for the day is to sneak a peek at Twitter for a bit! In the finals crunch, it’s too easy to feel out of the loop book-wise, but just a few moments on Twitter is enough to remind me of all the creative, fun bookish people out there and the amazing new books coming out! (And there’s Instagram if I feel like drooling over ARCs and new releases, haha!)

Step 7: Catching up on author newsletter emails!

It kills me when I have to let author emails pile up in my inbox. If I’m snatching a quick meal before getting back to work, I love to read email newsletters while waiting for my food, always hoping I haven’t missed any awesome giveaways!

Step 8: Selling back your unneeded textbooks and getting money FOR MORE BOOKS!!

This calls for a book shimmy.

The moment finally comes when IT’S ALL OVER, and it’s time to start packing up! There’s absolutely nothing better than gathering up the textbooks I’ve used all semester and selling them back to the bookstore for — wait for it — $money$ for MORE NEW BOOKS! It’s a brilliant system, just brilliant!

How do you get through the end of the semester when all you want to do is read?!


GIVEAWAY: “27 Days to Midnight” by Kristine Kruppa!

Wow, it’s been quite a while since I posted, hasn’t it?

I never really intended to take a hiatus, but that’s what it’s tuned into. Sophomore year of college has been no joke.

But I am briefly emerging from this unplanned hiatus for a VERY good reason!

The wonderful publisher I interned with this past summer, Giant Squid Books, has a new YA steampunk novel coming out in early May!  I had a great time working with the editors, and I’ve seen firsthand how incredibly dedicated they are to supporting their authors.

Which is why I’m so excited to be hosting a GIVEAWAY of an advance copy of their upcoming book, 27 Days to Midnight, by debut author Kristine Kruppa!

“… a surprising, thrilling ride set in a vivid steampunk universe”

But first, a little bit about 27 Days to Midnight!

29413642Everyone in Dahlia’s world knows when they’re going to die. Except her.

Her father has never shown her the pocket watch counting down the days she has left to live. When he sacrifices himself to save her from her scheduled death, Dahlia abandons her comfortable home and sets off after his murderer to uncover the secrets her father died to protect…and the time research that could bring him back to life.

Then she meets Farren Reed. She should hate him. He’s an enemy soldier, a cowardly deserter, and the most insufferable man Dahlia’s ever met. Still, she needs all the help she can get, and Farren is the only chance she has to find the man who murdered her father. But Farren has only twenty-seven days left on his watch.

In that time, Dahlia must recover her father’s time research, foil a psychotic general’s plot, and learn to survive in a world that will never be the same. But the research holds secrets more dangerous than she had ever imagined. She will have to choose what is most important: revenge, Farren’s life, or her own. And time is running out.

And get to know author Kristine Kruppa as well!

Author Photo_credit Sunny Wong,

Kristine Kruppa is a mechanical engineer, writer, and world traveler. Her days are spent designing cool new car parts, but her evenings are filled with writing and cats. She has traveled solo to seventeen countries on five continents. Her other hobbies include hunting for the perfect cup of coffee, exploring used book stores, and accidentally climbing mountains. To keep up with her adventures, follow Kristine on Twitter @kskruppa.

You can enter the giveaway below! My the odds be ever in your favor.

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Review: “The Wrath and the Dawn” by Renee Ahdieh

Review: “The Wrath and the Dawn” by Renee AhdiehThe Wrath and the Dawn by Renée Ahdieh
Series: The Wrath and the Dawn #1
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult
Published by Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated on May 12th, 2015
Format: Hardcover
AmazonBarnes & Noble
One Life to One Dawn.

In a land ruled by a murderous boy-king, each dawn brings heartache to a new family. Khalid, the eighteen-year-old Caliph of Khorasan, is a monster. Each night he takes a new bride only to have a silk cord wrapped around her throat come morning. When sixteen-year-old Shahrzad's dearest friend falls victim to Khalid, Shahrzad vows vengeance and volunteers to be his next bride. Shahrzad is determined not only to stay alive, but to end the caliph's reign of terror once and for all.

Night after night, Shahrzad beguiles Khalid, weaving stories that enchant, ensuring her survival, though she knows each dawn could be her last. But something she never expected begins to happen: Khalid is nothing like what she'd imagined him to be. This monster is a boy with a tormented heart. Incredibly, Shahrzad finds herself falling in love. How is this possible? It's an unforgivable betrayal. Still, Shahrzad has come to understand all is not as it seems in this palace of marble and stone. She resolves to uncover whatever secrets lurk and, despite her love, be ready to take Khalid's life as retribution for the many lives he's stolen. Can their love survive this world of stories and secrets?

Inspired by A Thousand and One NightsThe Wrath and the Dawn is a sumptuous and enthralling read from beginning to end.

I wrote this review, and then I rewrote it. Because I wasn’t happy with the way the review turned out so much more negatively than I think I really felt about the book as a whole. And my post-reading reflection has really made me see the story in a new light (I wish I could reread it!).

I do think that perhaps the book is a bit over-hyped, because my expectations were up * HERE * (through the roof and up in the clouds!), while my experience reading it was much more mellow than I think I was expecting — what I was expecting being fiery hate turned to passionate love, breathless action and deceit hiding around every corner, and my heart being torn to bits by the romance.


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Yet this wasn’t the book I read at all; the book I read was a lot less flashy and fast-paced, but instead goes about carefully crafting a beautiful story in its own way. I don’t want to dump a bunch of metaphors on you guys, but I’ve thought of one that really represents quite well how I feel about the story and I can’t get it out of my mind. The Wrath and the Dawn is a lot like savoring an elegant, fine wine (or so I would imagine) — you take small sips as you come to distinguish the taste and are surrounded by the aroma, and it’s not until you finish the glass that you are affected by its potent, heady pull.

The rich and well-imagined setting drew me into a seductive world of intrigue, beauty and mystery. Never did I question if I was actually there in the story, because Ahdieh’s lush description and imagery surrounded me and really appealed to all my senses. You can feel the hot sun and blowing sand, smell the fragrant scent of flowers enveloping the courtyards, and taste the mouthwateringly delicious platters of food that are served. (Ohh guys, the food. THE FOOD. You will need to eat something while reading this, I guarantee it.) You will feel the silky touch of gossamer silk and the weight of the heavy mantles and jewels worn, and truly see the ornate magnificence of the palace and the beauty of the clothing.

Shahrzad (Shazi for short) is such a refreshing heroine who won all of my respect and admiration. Seriously, I would hug the girl if I could for being all that she is. I appreciate her to the moon and back for not underestimating herself like the plague of other heroines out there. She’s quite talented and very clever, and has incredible inner strength and mental fortitude. Most importantly, she believes in herself and doesn’t put herself down. Though at times she can be a bit brash and her stubbornness occasionally affects her ability to see things clearly, I had no doubts as to why the entire palace was so taken with her.

“You are not weak. You are not indecisive. You are strong. Fierce. Capable beyond measure.”

But what I really wanted to see more of from Shazi that I felt like I never truly got was her love for her friend Shiva. When I saw that she was volunteered to be the Caliph’s next bride to avenge her best friend’s murder, I was so ready for the best friend feels. I was ready for the heartbreaking Shiva flashbacks to start rolling in, to grieve alongside Shahrzad and fuel my own murderous anger towards Khalid. And I got but maybe two half-hearted memories and a few sentences of apostrophe directed towards Shiva.

Which brings me to the mighty Caliph of Khorasan, eighteen year-old boy-king Khalid. Khalid was not all all the person I was expecting, and there is much more to him than meets the eye. His horrid reputation precedes him, as he’s constantly described as a ruthless murderer, a true monster. Yet not once did I feel these things were true. Just from the synopsis alone, we are told he is incredibly different, “a boy with a tormented heart.” The prologue tells us that we should question the reason behind his “senseless” killings. He is incredibly jaded, has an exterior of stone, and a simmering temper that is fearsome when provoked. Yet it would be a mistake to think of him only as we are told (“monster”) or as he appears (cold). I think I clung to this portrayal far too long, and sometimes failed to see the truth. He has incredible depth as a character that must be unearthed bit by bit, revealed in its own due time. 

“Trust that the man you see now is a shadow of what lies beneath.”

The romance is the heart and soul of the story, and it is beautiful. Despite the adverse circumstances, the two have an instantly palpable chemistry, which initially leads to butting heads but slowly develops into captivating romance. I felt the love, and to me Khalid and Shazi seem to have an deep understanding of each other on another level, even when their secrets were like a gulf between them. Their romance is a fragile thing, intimate and dear, yet prone to destruction from so many forces. In so many ways their relationship is very serious and adult, so on my part, at least, there was no swooning or squealing. But it is still a force to behold, filled with emotion, subtlety, and intensity.

“I know love is fragile. And loving someone like you is near impossible. Like holding something shattered through a raging sandstorm. If you want her to love you, shelter her from that storm…And make certain that storm isn’t you.”

There are so many interesting side characters that I loved, though I do wish we had more from them. I liked humble and wise Omar, eccentric and caring Musa, sassy and sharp Despina, and so many more characters. I have a huuuge soft spot for Jalal, the captain of the guard who is Khalid’s cousin. His curls, his confidence and teasing, and his trust and insight wormed their way into my heart. Then there’s Tariq, Shazi’s childhood friend and first love who tries to “rescue” her. He’s misguided in so many ways, and while his sense of being entitled to having Shazi and not really listening and trusting in her nettled me to no end, I couldn’t help but feel a bit sorry for him. Shahrzad’s family, on the other hand, could’ve used more fleshing out. I felt the least connected to them by far.

The pacing is what was tough for me, because it is unique and different from what I was expecting. It takes some time to establish the setting and the characters, and for so long nothing seems to happen that isn’t described in the synopsis. I think this is what kept getting me distracted and putting down the book. Sometimes the plot seems to flounder, meander. But what I think I recognize now is that because it is the romance that is central to the story, and must be carefully developed, the plot is bound to be slow. But the end part was GREAT — so much action, and all the potential finally fulfilled! I still can’t help but wish that it didn’t all have to be withheld to the end. It’s like I saw all that Ahdieh was capable of writing, but confined only to the last part.

AND THERE IS A HEARTBREAKING CLIFFHANGER. I liked its delicious torture, though I’m actually pretty confused about things. View Spoiler »

I think my biggest complaint is that I just wanted MORE. Of a lot of things. Which isn’t entirely awful. As a matter fact, the book even started to deliver on it near the end, and I actually have a good deal of faith that book 2 WILL deliver.

Also, PSA: the very important glossary is wedged BETWEEN the end of book 1 and the sneak preview to book 2.  Oh, if only I had known!

The Wrath and the Dawn was not the book I was expecting to read, but it slowly drew me in until its ending pulled me under.

Intoxicating, beautiful, and full of secrets.