Happy 2nd Birthday 52 Letters!

AHHHHHH I can’t believe it! My second blogoversary was yesterday! 52 Letters in the Alphabet has officially existed for two years!

This is crazy for me. When I started this blog, it was on a whim. I had no idea that I was joining one of the most special communities on the Internet or that I’d have as much fun blogging as I do. I never thought that blogging would become a daily source of excitement and joy, or that I’d have formed so many friendships in the blogging community.

I never thought that I’d grow to love the random orange theme that I picked on day one, or that I’d carry that color scheme with me when I redesigned my blog. (Let’s be honest, getting me to like the color orange is one of the biggest effects this blog has had on my life…sort of.)

I never thought that you could get me to join Twitter or any type of social media. I didn’t even know that things like blog awards or book tags existed.

I certainly never thought that my blog would have nearly 450 followers or that I would have had 390 posts on this blog.

I’d like to take a moment to thank every single one of you who has read, liked, or commented on any of my posts. It means the world to me to see that the words I randomly throw out into the Internet matter to other people. And to every one of my amazing followers, thank you so much for sticking around to hear what I have to say every time I decide to fangirl about a book or share some of my writing with you.

I’m really excited to start another year of blogging with all of you guys! I hope that you continue to enjoy my posts and that I can get to know each of you more as time goes on.

Thanks for 400 Followers + a Giveaway!

GUYS! I hit 400 followers on WordPress yesterday! Thank you all for the support that has kept this blog going! Thank you for every like, comment, and follow—they all mean so much to me.

When I started this blog one and a half years ago, I never thought that I’d love being a book blogger as much as I do now. I never thought my blog would get this much attention from strangers! And I certainly I never thought I’d get to know so many amazing people! Thank you all for everything!

To say thanks, I’m hosting a giveaway!


giveaway this one 400
Click here to enter the giveaway!

The books you could win:

Rose Under Fire

The heart-wrenching companion to one of my favorite novels ever, Code Name Verity. RUF tells the story of a female WWII pilot who is sent to a Nazi concentration camp and the horrors she experiences there.

The Wrath and the Dawn

A retelling of A Thousand and One Nights, TWATD tells the story of Shazi, the stubborn and fierce girl who risks her life to marry the man who murdered her best friend. Powerfully romantic, TWATD is a must read.

Lola and the Boy Next Door

Lola is the second book in the Anna and the French Kiss series by Stephanie Perkins. Quirky and romantic, this book’s plot can standalone, though readers of the whole series will appreciate Anna’s cameo appearance.

Freaks Like Us

This is the emotional story of a Jason, a schizophrenic boy who suffers when his best friend suddenly goes missing. Uniquely written, FLU gives Jason a powerful voice as he investigates his friend’s disappearance–and as the rest of the town suspects him. Susan Vaught is one of my favorite authors, and this book is something you’ll never forget.

Dance of Shadows

A paranormal mystery set in the New York Ballet Academy, DOS follows Vanessa as she tries to figure out what happened three years ago, when her sister disappeared from the exact same school without a trace. A leading role and mystical occurrences raise the stakes as Vanessa realizes something at the school is incredibly wrong.

A Thank You to Books

I know it basically goes without saying that everyone in the bookish community is thankful for books. A lot of us had some sort of thankfulness post around Thanksgiving, talking about how books have influenced our lives for the better by giving us different lives to live and teaching us about the world around us.

This post is slightly different.

I got my December SAT scores today, and well, I’m very happy with them. I hadn’t really prepped, and this was the first time taking the SAT, and while actually taking the test was one of the most tiring experiences of my life, I walked out feeling better than I expected. After seeing my score, I know that I have books to thank.

Without reading, I am certain that the SAT would have been brutal for me. But I’ve been reading since elementary school, and reading a lot. Every author I’ve ever read has exposed me to a slightly different approach to the English language; they’ve taught me different turns of phrases and different ways to use punctuation. Every book I’ve ever read has helped me understand the English language more than I did before I read it.

Of course, I’ve been taught grammar in school, but there is a difference between knowing the rules on paper and being able to instantly know which way a sentence should be written. When I was taking the SAT, I wasn’t thinking about the grammar lessons I had in elementary school, I was trying to decide which sentence felt like something I’d read before. I used one of my recent reads in my essay.

The books I had read were a safety net, keeping me from freaking out. I could draw on examples from all of them when I needed to, and that was something that I have to thank authors for.

Just to be clear, I know that I started off at an advantage for the English language sections of the SAT. I’ve grown up in a household that doesn’t just speak English, they use intentionally complicated words. That sucked (a bit) when I was younger, but it also drove me to figure out wtf the words meant. I’ve been encouraged to read; I’ve never been told that a book was too old for me or too hard for me to try. I know that most of my peers can’t say the same things, so I should also say thank you to the people who made my reading possible: my family.

I think that people usually look to the emotional and psychological benefits of books when they reflect on how reading has affected their lives. I just wanted to take a few minutes and highlight the strictly educational value of books as well, because I’m feeling really thankful right now.

Giving Thanks

I wasn’t sure if I was actually going to write this post. I haven’t been in a very thankful mood recently. I’m tired and annoyed most of the time, and I can’t seem to snap out of it. If you asked me what I’m thankful for, my knee-jerk reaction would be “nothing.”

And then I realized that that is really screwed up and set off to find something that I’m thankful for. I also want to discuss the general culture around Thanksgiving that left me with my reaction in the first place.

I’ve always hated the version of Thanksgiving they give us in elementary school. No, not the pilgrims and Indians partying together. Not that part. That part is universally recognized as BS, but until we have honest conversations about the Trail of Tears and the skeletons in America’s closet, I can’t get myself worked up about a cheery story we tell kids. There are larger, systematic problems to worry about.

No, I’ve always hated the way they tell us to write down what we are thankful for, and everyone writes canned responses: family, love, food, God, et cetera, et cetera. And parents see the cute crafts and smile and hang it on the fridge and no one ever asks, “Really? You couldn’t get more specific? It’s a holiday devoted to being thankful. Think you can come up with something that you can’t find on a Hallmark card?”

For the record, when I was in first grade, I wrote on a school project that I was thankful that my mom read me bloody stories (I was really obsessed with Egyptian and Greek mythology). It was hung on the wall for everyone to see. When people started laughing at “how cute” it was, I felt like absolute shit, but at least I wasn’t the kid who couldn’t think of something better than putting cranberry sauce on turkey.

It’s not that I think being thankful for family is bad. I think it’s fantastic actually. However, I feel like it negates the point of the holiday. We just write down a stereotypical noun and that’s it–let’s eat turkey. Yeah, yeah, I’ve been thankful–see! I love my family.

But do we realize how amazing it is to be able to honestly say “I love my family”? There are people who I know who honestly can’t, and it is destroying them, absolutely and completely, and there is nothing I can to do help. There are people all over the world who don’t have families to love. Depending on what day it is, I can’t always say that statement as a fact. I hate this. All of it.

Anyone who can be thankful for having a loving family should shout it from the rooftops. Every day. It should be a constant blessing. It should be a daily thought. And Thanksgiving should be a time to examine that love more closely, and reward it.

This is not just for family, either. All of us have something that makes us happy, hopefully. Today, we should figure out what it is and honor it. Maybe it is as simple as a song or slightly burnt toast with butter. Maybe it is as monumental as faith in a higher power or a supportive family or getting to follow your passions in life. Who am I to judge you for what you are thankful for? One isn’t better than the other.

I think my frustration with the cheesiness of Thanksgiving, the shallow thanks we are told is enough, has made me very cynical about the holiday. This, coupled with exhaustion and pent up anger, has left me decidedly not in the holiday spirit.

But here’s the thing. I’m happy.

Tired? Hell yes. Angry at society? Totally.

But I’m happy. I’m content. And if I’m not that, I am at least not miserable (most of the time).

I want to honor the things that make this possible. Some of these things will be typical, some of them might make no sense. Some of them may make you think I am shallow and stupid and privileged–and you might be right.  All I ask is that my list prompts you to create your own list, filled with words you wouldn’t find in a greeting card.

(In no particular order)

  • Friends. You guys are what makes my life bearable, what makes school so much fun. I couldn’t do it without you, and I hope I can give you guys back even a tenth of the support you send my way.
  • Family. Thank you for listening to me. Thank you for letting me vent. Thank you for putting up with me. Thank you for letting me become who I am.
  • My mom’s brownies. Wheat germ totally makes them better.
  • My mom. You have the answers for everything. You know what setting to wash my bras on. You know the definitions of basically every word I don’t. You know history and correct punctuation and way more biology than any human should be forced to know. You know how to make the aforementioned brownies. You buy me fruit. You read me bloody stories. You rock.
  • My laptop. I do my best writing on it. It has all my favorite music on it. My favorite sites are bookmarked. I made every scratch and dropped every crumb on the keyboard. It’s mine, and I love it.
  • Books. I always have one with me. I read between classes, in class, after school. I read no matter what mood I’m in. Books have carried me through life and I know they will never drop me.
  • Inside jokes. These are the marks of friendship. They are the marks of time. They are proof that we happened. And they make me laugh.
  • Fencing. Speech and Debate. This blog. I started all of these things in the last few years. All of them have helped me grow into some part of myself I didn’t know was there before. Of course, they stress me out sometimes–but they are also the ultimate stress relievers. I’ve made friends, learned new things, and joined larger communities.
  • Death Valley. This is definitely my favorite place I’ve ever been. I can’t put into words the way it makes me feel. I love climbing the rocks and taking crazy pictures and listening to my grandparents’ geology lectures. I love the wildness, the way human history feels paused. I love the way I don’t have cell phone service and I get to escape the world while I’m there. Thanks Grammy and Grandad for showing me it.
  • My twin sister. We are in this together. We would be partners in crime if we had any time after homework. You help me study. You are my extra brain. You are my support group. We listen tothe same music (thank God). Twinikensis all the way.
  • Anyone who helped me be who I am today. Maybe you encouraged me. Maybe you pissed me off. Maybe you got me to like Taylor Swift or took me to a bookstore. You are all part of who I am today, even if you don’t know it.
  • Who I am today.  I’m thankful that I like myself. I’m thankful that I can look in the mirror and smile. I’m thankful that I have grown up into a smart, driven, kind young woman, and a lot of it was all me. If I met myself, I think I would like her. I’m proud of myself, of what I’ve accomplished, and I’m ready to do more.

Book Review: Nina and the Magical Carnival by Madhvi Ramani

This review is a bit different than usual.

Madhvi Ramani contacted me earlier this week, requesting that I review her upcoming children’s book, Nina and the Magical Carnival. It’s definitely not what I usually read, but I was honored that she wanted to know what I thought about it, and to be honest, it was really nice to read a younger book. I seriously enjoyed reading this story, and I’m not just saying that to be nice. I felt that this book was refreshingly unique.

By the way, it is the third in a series (but I was fine not having read the first two books) and will be available at the end of November on Amazon.

One of my little sisters is just growing out of this age range, and the other is just getting ready to read this type of book, so I read this book both from my perspective as a teen and as also an older sister, thinking about how this book would affect my little sisters.

I give it 4/5 stars.

I don’t really have a synopsis, but here is my take on it:

Nina’s aunt has a travelling spice shed. In this book, she travels to Brazil during the famous Carnival in Rio, searching for her magical fantasia de cabeca that will help her shine in the up-coming talent show.

You can read about the rest of the Nina series from someone who actually knows what they are talking about here.

This book is adorable. I haven’t read a book this young in years, and I loved coming back to it. My English class really got into Grapes of Wrath this week, and I’m not going to lie, it was really nice having an easier read to fall back on after hours of annotating, on top of other homework (can you tell this week was really intense? It was.). The friendly characters, the exciting but perfectly ridiculous plot–they were exactly what I needed in my life.

Even though it was a kids book, I found myself caught up in the story. The jokes were funny, and there were some great gems thrown in for the parents (or big sisters) reading over their child’s shoulder. (Aunt Nishi is awesome.) The characters were definitely cast from a children’s-book mold, but they didn’t feel overly cliche. Nina’s character, a girl who would rather do homework than think of something to preform in the talent show, was relatable. It as nice to see a more timid (though she is brave when the time comes) main character, as I feel like most kids books focus on the same up-for-anything, bubbly character. I definitely wasn’t that kind of kid, and I enjoyed seeing my own type of girl cast in a leading role for once.

On a random note, Madhvi Ramani is British. I don’t think I’ve ever read a British kids book, and the novelty was amusing.

Madhvi introduced the premise of the series to me as Nina going to a different country in each book, and learning something about and from the culture she experiences there. This book, with its Indian characters and Brazilian setting, lives up to her description. It didn’t go overboard with life lessons, but sprinkled in facts about Brazil and the Carnival in Rio throughout the story.

The involvement of Nina’s Aunt Nishi, who (semi-willingly) brings Nina with her to Brazil was unique. From what I remember of books I read as a kid (and what I’ve seen my little sister reading), most stories involve kids keeping something like a traveling spice shed secret from their parents, and going on kids-only adventures (I’m looking at you, Magic Tree House books). Though Nina is separated from her aunt (tiny spoiler, sorry), she does feel obligated to keep her word to her aunt, and return on time, which I thought was cool, without being heavy-handed with a OBEY YOUR ELDERS message.

I really liked reading this book, and I can’t thank Madhvi Ramani enough for letting me read it.

The Liebster Award

A tremendous thank you goes to The Life of a Bookworm for nominating me for the Liebster Award. I’m so excited!

Liebster award

I’m going off of the rules she has posted, though it’s my understanding that this award (think of it like an email chain, sort of) has morphed as it is passed on, and there are a lot of variations on these rules.

1. Link to and thank the blogger who nominated you
2. Answer the 11 questions your nominator gives you
3. Tag 11 other bloggers who have 200 or less followers
4. Ask the 11 bloggers you nominated 11 questions and let them know you nominated them!

Part two:

How long does it take you to finish a great book? Depends on how much I have going on in my life with school and whatnot, but if the book is truly amazing, I’ll find the time to finish it in a day (or two).

What do you think makes a wonderful book? I fall in love with characters. I want them to be real and relatable and make me think about my own life, whether I’m thinking about the people I love or the people I hate.

What is your favorite book series and why? The Queen’s Thief series by Megan Whalen Turner, because holy bleep–so much work went into this series. The characterization and plot development are so well done and crazily intricate. Every time I reread them (and I’ve reread the third book at least a dozen times) I find something new hidden in the pages, and I love it.

How did you come to love reading? I’ve just always read. I don’t remember a time when I didn’t have my nose in a book. In elementary school, I read a few books a week and, yes, I was the brunt of some jokes for my habit of pulling a new book out of my backpack every day, but it was worth it. I love how reading is both an escape from your life, and forces you to examine your life closer than you ever have before, through the lens of another.

What inspired you to create your book blog? To be honest? My twin sister started a sewing blog, and I wanted in on the action. I don’t sew, but I read and write, so as soon as I came up with a catchy domain name, I created 52 Letters in the Alphabet.

What is your least favorite book and why? Oooh, tough one. We Were Liars frustrates me because there was so much hype surrounding it, and then it was just horrible (in my opinion). Then again, I’ve hated a lot of books that I’ve read in English class, from a combination of antiquated writing styles and the tedium of textual analysis (though I can enjoy that, if I’m in the right mood). It might be a tie between The Pearl by John Steinbeck and Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka.

Favorite childhood book? The Best Book of Mummies. It’s nonfiction, so not really the usual childhood book, but I was a weird kid. I spent my entire elementary school career OBSESSED with ancient Egypt. This was one of the first books I ever received about Egypt, and it is the first book I have a memory of “reading” (though I’d really just memorized the words on the first pages).

Which fictional character would be your best friend? I’d love to be friends with Blue from The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater. Also, being a Gallagher Girl (series by Ally Carter) would be the greatest thing ever–I can’t choose between Cammie, Liz, Bex, and Macy. (Don’t make me!!)

Where do you love to read? I have this awesome chair in my living room that I can literally curl up in. I basically lived in it this summer.

Do you read one book at a time or several? One book that I chose at a time,  plus whatever I’m reading in English class.

Do you like to keep your books clean or are they destroyed by the time you’ve finished reading it? I don’t think I destroy books, but I don’t really try to keep them in pristine condition. I will break a lot of bindings, and there will be microwave-popcorn-butter fingerprints on a lot of my books. However, I always read hardcover books without their dust jackets, A) because I hate holding dust jackets, and B) because I want to keep the dust jacket in good condition for when I put the book on my book shelf.

Part three:

I nominate (in no particular order):

1. Words We Heart

2. Bookmark For Your Dreams

3. Hyper about Books

4. What Kara Reads

5. Pointe Taken

6. Sophie the Bookworm

7. Stephanie’s Book Reviews

8. Reviews from a Self Proclaimed Bibliophile

9. Musings of a Reading Mind

10. the bibliomaniac book blog

11. The Musings of Writesy

Part four:

Here are my questions for you:

1. Can you read in loud places or only when it is quiet?

2. Do you prefer to read stand alone books or series?

3. Who is your favorite author and why?

4. Do you organize your bookshelves in any particular way?

5. What fictional character would you date?

6. What is book that has made you angry (for any reason)?

7. What genre do you never read?

8. What is the best book you’ve read this year?

9. Do you prefer paperbacks, hardcovers, or e-books?

10. What is one book you wish everyone would read?

11. What book has influenced your life the most?