What’s On My Nightstand? (A Random Smattering Of Book Reviews)

I’ve written some posts here in the past that touched on different books that I’ve read and the impacts they’ve had on me. I thought it might be fun to examine what’s currently on my nightstand—some of them finished, some of them started, some of them just staring me in resentment at night when I choose a different volume over them (book guilt is a real thing and I defy anyone with a bookshelf to say otherwise).


Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan. I knew literally nothing about this book before I picked it up at a local bookstore—I thought the cover was intriguing and the mysterious bookstore setting sounded promising, and it delivered intrigue and mystery in spades. But it’s more than just a mystery—it’s also funny and smart, and part of the plot involves data visualization and learning different coding languages, and much more. Verdict: go out and read it, folks!

Currently Reading

Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay. Oh my goodness, Roxane Gay is fantastic. I’m not even halfway through this collection of essays, but I’m already adding her novel, An Untamed State, to my reading list. Her topics range from feminism to Scrabble to the Sweet Valley High book series, and that’s just the first couple of essays. I can’t wait to see what else is in store.

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. I know, everyone has read this already, but I have not! And I figured it would be a good choice given the holiday season. I’m not far into it yet, but I have a feeling it’s going to be creepy, and it’s been a while since I’ve read something spooky (Bonus: it’s been adapted into a YouTube series a la the Lizzie Bennet Diaries!).

The Innocents Abroad by Mark Twain. What can I say, I love me some Samuel Clemens. Again, only partially through this one but I’m already finding myself chuckling at his descriptions of the fellow passengers and European scenery.

I Give Up

Dr. Zhivago by Boris Pasternak. I tried. Believe me, I really, really tried. And I’ve read (and enjoyed!) other Russian literature in the past, but this one is just not working for me. I can’t keep up with the names/nicknames/alternate spellings of names, and I don’t know enough about communism to keep up with the speeches. I do not admit defeat with books often, but I cannot do this.

Yet To Be Read

An Untamed State by Roxane Gay
A Visit From The Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
Great Expectations: Sons and Daughters of Charles Dickens by Robert Gottlieb

So, that’s my nightstand. What’s on yours?

Matilida Reading


Noelle is an email copywriter (yes, that is a thing) and occasional freelance writer. When she’s not typing or running, she can be found eating, sleeping, quoting a movie, or curled up in an easy chair with her nose stuck in a book. Sometimes she tweets too.

What I’ve Learned From Reviewing Books

If you know anything about me at all (and if you don’t, that’s cool too, you’re about to learn), you know that I’m a writer. Poems and short stories, yes, but also novels. I someday want to sell these novels and, if I am very lucky, make a living off of that.

So I write. I attend a writing group. I have a personal blog. I participate in NaNoWriMo. And I also write book reviews. And, as it turns out, writing book reviews has been great for more than just getting my name out there. My writing is improving, I’m reading self-published works and books I wouldn’t pick up on my own, and I’m storing away valuable information for future use.

Future and current novelists will, at some point, have to email people and ask them to kindly review their book in exchange for a copy of the book. There are  ways to find people to review your books (users on Goodreads, reviewers on specific websites, etc., I’ll let you do the research). Users find me because I’m listed as a reviewer on SFBook.com.

Here are some things to take note of when asking someone to review your book:

Be Personable But Quick
Take the time to craft me a personal email. Say, “Hi Vanessa.” Tell me your name and what you want. Don’t ramble and tell me too many personal facts about yourself, don’t put yourself down (“I am but a humble self-publisher…”). I want you to get straight to the point. I have a lot of these emails to go through, and I would rather you didn’t waste my time.

Watch Your Grammar
If you have grammar mistakes in your email, you likely will in your book. I’m not interested in reading your novel if I’m stumbling through your email.

Include Synopsis and Information in the Email
I really don’t want to download the synopsis you’ve attached in a Word doc. I don’t want to have to search Goodreads to find your novel. Give me links. Include the synopsis right there. The more work I have to do, the less inclined I am to do it.

Don’t Bug Me
If I politely say no thank you to your novel, do not ask again. Do not say, “Are you sure? I’d really appreciate it.” I will delete your email and never respond to you again because you’ve clearly disrespected my response (and annoyed the crap out of me). However, if I say “no thanks” to your email, there’s no harm in responding and thanking me for my time. A rejection doesn’t mean I’m not open to future requests, just that I can’t review the novel at this time or it isn’t my kind of book.

Your First Chapter Best Be Good Great
I can read the first chapter of most books on Amazon. If your email piques my interest enough, I’m heading to Amazon. If I read the first chapter and I am sufficiently intrigued and your writing is good, I might write a review. The first chapter of your book needs to make me want to read more. It needs to have a solid concept, interesting and realistic characters, and writing that is neither cliché nor redundant.

Here’s an example (details ommitted) of a book I recently decided to review:

Hi! My name is John Doe, and I’m the author of A Really Cool Book, a fantasy novel recently released by Publisher. I would very much like to send you a copy to review for SF Book Reviews, if you’re interested.


Any other information you wish to include here. Some include links to Goodreads/Amazon (helpful), others include a link to the book’s page on their publisher’s website, and others include a note about the content (whether it is violent, contains profanity, etc.).

Please let me know if you are interested in getting a review copy or if there’s any more information I can provide.

Thank you for your time!

Any other questions? Leave me a comment, I’m happy to chat.

Vanessa is a digital media coordinator by day and a writer, novelist, and badass cook by night. In her spare time she haunts used bookstores, gets serious about tea, and loves a good stout (Russian Imperial, please). Follow her on twitter and instagram if you wanna be buddies, and maybe check out her writing blog.

Hey Adults, You Can (And Should) Read Whatever You Want

I recently came across an article on Slate about YA (Young Adult) books. Perhaps you came across it as well.

I thought the author made some interesting points, but I would like to say that I respectfully disagree with her opinion.

Yes, there has been a recent surge in YA popularity — The Twilight series, Divergent, Hunger Games, and the recent box-office smash TFIOS — and yes, there are some that say these books aren’t well written, that they’re catering to teenagers, and that it’s degrading/embarrassing for adults to be seen reading/enjoying them.

I have mentioned in other posts that I am a major bookworm. I am the type of person who will have anywhere from four to five books started at once. I know that not everyone is like that. For some, it’s a challenge to even read one book at a time — and I don’t mean that as a slight or as an insult, because reading is great, not matter what pace you’re doing it.

Basically, who are we to judge someone else for what they’re reading, especially if it’s not hurting anyone? Who am I to deny someone access to a wonderful story because it’s advertised as a book for kids?

The author of that Slate piece also said something about how YA books are replacing classic literature. Once again, I respectfully disagree.

While I am still in my 20’s and only a few years out of college, I would classify myself as an adult. I work full-time and I pay my bills/support myself almost entirely without assistance from others. I would also say that I am an adult who has read TFIOS and The Hunger Games series, along with The Giver (which is also part of a series), The Book Thief, and numerous other authors whose work is considered suitable for a “YA” audience. I’d also like to point out that one of the biggest Harry Potter fans I’ve ever met in my life is my own mother — she binge-read all seven books over the course of one summer.

In fact, I think part of the appeal of “YA books” for “adults” comes largely from parents reading the same things as their kids. And why not? If it helps families find a common interest (especially one that encourages reading), I don’t think it should be shamed — it should be encouraged.

Furthermore, I do not see so-called “YA books” replacing my interest in literary fiction or any other genre. I would instead argue that reading a wide variety of materials allows you to expose yourself to numerous ideas and themes, most of which are encased in interesting word choices and story lines. Plus, reading (or even rereading) “YA books” at an older age gives you a chance to find other layers and depth that you might not have noticed or fully understood as an adolescent. I don’t delve into a story and think “Hmm, that’s a nicely written book for 13-year-olds,” — I am enjoying the author’s choice of words to create a scene or set the mood.

In short, if you want to read something, don’t let a marketing tactic by a publisher (because really, that is what the label “YA” is), or the so-called “shame” of reading something targeted toward a younger demographic stop you. You might miss some amazing stories otherwise.


Noelle is an email copywriter (yes, that is a thing) and occasional freelance writer. When she’s not typing or running, she can be found eating, sleeping, quoting a movie, or curled up in an easy chair with her nose stuck in a book. Sometimes she tweets too.