About two years ago, I worked briefly with a music company where I wrote single, album, and music video reviews, and occasionally other fun articles. One such article was called “Growing Pains Playlist”, where I noted some songs and artists that truly shaped me and made me who I am. It was a really introspective article and allowed me to really look back and examine the music that formed me.

A few days ago, I saw someone write an article about the books that had shaped them, and it made me think of the Growing Pains Playlist that I wrote a few years back. I suddenly felt inspired to write one of my own here, and I hope that you all might do the same if you haven’t already!

1.) The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner

I owe this series for stoking my love for reading at such a young age. My first grade teacher read this book to our class, and I remember being so invested in the lives of Henry, Jessie, Violet and Benny. Seeing how smart and resourceful they were in the eve of their parent’s deaths really inspired me as a child, and I longed for a boxcar of my own to live and cook and sleep and hide away in. I read these books well into my middle school years, and even though I don’t read them anymore, my love and admiration for these mystery-solving kids has never died.


2.) Inkheart by Cornelia Funke

In 2009, I watched the Inkheart film and fell in love. Watching the movie caused me to want to read the book, which I loved even more. For about three years, Inkheart was my favorite book, sporting a beautiful fantastical world, likable, interesting characters and two more books full of the same. It was such an enjoyable series, and it was possibly my first time reading something besides children’s and middle grade novels. This book was sort of my graduation into YA, which makes it so much more important to me.


3.) Percy Jackson & the Olympians by Rick Riordan

These books are so much fun, and certainly¬†not meant for just middle grade readers. Percy Jackson can be enjoyed by all ages in my opinion, with it’s lovable, hilarious characters, action-packed plot, and even some learning moments, teaching about Greek mythology and giving it an interesting twist. I consider Percy Jackson to be a hallmark of my middle school reading days, which is why these books earn a place in my Growing Pains Booklist.


4.) Christy Miller series by Robin Jones Gunn

This series came at a perfect time in my life. I was about 13-14, going through puberty and struggling in my faith in God. The Christy Miller series is about a girl much like many other teenage girls. She faces the same problems with boys, school, family, etc, but the series also has a special focus on Christianity and faith, and it’s always been such an encouraging and inspiring read for me. I’ve never related to a character like I have with dear Christy Miller, and I almost feel as if I’ve grown up with her: she was in high school while I was, making decisions about life after graduation when I was, and she was getting married around the same time as myself. Robin Jones Gunn is still releasing Christy Miller books, her most recent about Christy and her husband’s struggles with pregnancy and children. These books have had a huge impact on my life and I’m thankful for each new adventure I get to experience with Christy.


5.) To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

This is my favorite book of all time. I have loved this book with all my heart ever since I read it in my freshman year of high school. I care for the characters in this story like they’re my own family; a book has never moved me in the same way that this one has. In fact, this is the first book I ever read to make me feel such intense feelings. I can’t speak highly enough about this book, and every time I read it, I feel like it makes me a more insightful, fuller person.


6.) Divergent by Veronica Roth

This may come as a surprise to you. Divergent isn’t particularly profound or moving, although I must say that Tris is incredibly inspiring as a woman and just as a person in general: so good and pure and beautiful. However, the reason this book makes it onto this particular booklist is because it spurred on my love for reading when I was stuck reading the same things over and over. There’s not necessarily anything wrong with this; rereading beloved books is no problem. However, I was in some sort of loop for about 3 years where I wasn’t reading anything except the same 10 books on my shelves. A friend recommended Divergent to me, and I bought it on a whim. I have never read a book the way I devoured that one. I stayed up all night, eyes wide with surprise and intrigue and suspense. At the time, this book was one of my favorites, and it began my unhealthy book-buying habit which I am still trying to break to this day. Now, there are definitely things that I find problematic about this story and the logistics of it, but I still have nothing but admiration and adoration for Tris, one of my favorite female characters of all time. (PS – I will never forgive Veronica Roth for Allegiant. That is all.)

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This concludes my Growing Pains Booklist! Let me know what you think in the comments: whether you share any of my childhood favorites or if any of these titles were important to you and your personal growth. Message or email me if you’d like to be featured on my blog with your own Growing Pains Booklist. Mahalo!

BOOK REVIEW: Stephanie Garber “Caraval”

22054476_1813503155346434_757001693_nTitle: Caraval

Author: Stephanie Garber

Genre: Fantasy

My Rating: 5/5 stars


This book took me by surprise. I knew of the hype surrounding Stephanie Garber’s debut novel; however I knew very little about the actual story. When I finally started it, I was still blind, which is why it’s so difficult for me to write any sort of synopsis for you here: I want you to be as surprised as I was.

Caraval is beautifully written, and almost immediately, you’re swept into the beautiful world that Garber has created. In her story, we follow the main character Scarlett Dragna, who lives a very sad, dismal life with her cruel father and darling sister, Donatella, who she would do anything to protect. After years of dreaming and hoping, Scarlett and her sister suddenly have the opportunity to go to Caraval, a magical performance and game where the audience participates and the winner is awarded with one wish. Once there, however, Donatella is promptly kidnapped, and it soon becomes evident that it’s all a part of the performance. With the stakes much higher, Scarlett must solve a series of clues and riddles if she wants to win the game and find her sister, preferably alive.

This book was such a wild ride. It’s been such a long time since a book has made me audibly gasp, both with fear and surprise. It’s been so long since a book has left me both frustrated and enchanted. The story is out-of-this-world amazing, and I’m so glad that I read it and I can jump on the bandwagon.

Scarlett is a wonderful character, but I didn’t always feel this way. In the beginning, she was skittish, hesitant and fearful, and while she had dreamed of going to Caraval as a child, as an adult she was much more concerned with safety and survival. This makes sense considering her horrible home life, where her father beat and terrorized the poor sisters. However, as the story progresses, you see Scarlett transform and develop into this intelligent, strong woman and I am just here for it.

I loved the mystery that surrounded this whole story, particularly around the creator of Caraval, Legend. We hear about his tragic history and how he obtained his magic; he’s a curious character with strange motivations. He leaves notes and clues that seem to be specifically meant for Scarlett, and you get the sense that there’s more to the game, and that the Dragna sisters were invited to Caraval for a reason. I spent the entire book trying to guess who Legend might be in case we had met him already while he was in disguise. I was so intrigued by his character and loved the darkness he brought to the story.

Scarlett’s mysterious companion throughout was Julian, a young sailor that Donatella had befriended at the beginning of the story but of course, left him with Scarlett when she was kidnapped. I was constantly trying to figure this guy out. Can he be trusted? Or is he an inside man, trying to mess Scarlett up? What’s his deal? I went back and forth with him throughout the entire book, and I still hadn’t decided when it was finally revealed.

I adored everything about Caraval. The plot, the characters, the fantastical elements, the whimsy, the mystery, the plot twists; I was here for all of it. This was by far my favorite read of 2017 so far and has also earned a place in my list of all-time favorites. I highly recommend this read and hope that you will enjoy it as much as I did.


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