Book Club

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Ever since I first learned how to read, I have always loved reading.
It all started with the Mr Men and Little Miss series written by British author Roger Hargreaves back in Kindergarten at Logos school where I was enrolled alongside my older siblings who attended highschool there. You might remember Mr Men and Little Miss t-shirts trending about a decade or so ago. Those t-shirts were inspired by those very same books that I read as a child. After the Mr Men series, I was introduced to the Peter and Jane series. Although less engaging, the beautiful vintage illustrations inspired me to come up with my own stories (I had a vivid imagination even back then). A year later, I was enrolled in another school back in my home country of Kuwait but because it was so last minute, the principle of the school interviewed me personally and to my dismay, privately, as my family was asked to wait outside the principle’s office. He placed an open textbook in front of me and asked me to read out loud and just like that I was placed in second grade, skipping first grade all-together. Thankfully, the syllabus was more up to date in my new school as opposed to the vintage albeit entertaining one in my old school insofar as much that I finished reading the entire Reading and Comprehension textbook from hardcover to hardcover during the first week alone. I should have waited for the rest of the class to catch up but I couldn’t help myself. I loved to read!

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At my new school, I was exposed to so much (book-wise). The more I read, the more I learned, and the more my vocabulary grew. I was friendly with everyone and in return everyone was friendly right back. However, there was a particular boy who was bullied for being overly… flamboyant (read: gay). My new friends warned me to stay away from him because he wasn’t “cool” so of course I became his friend. I credit my father who taught me to be not just tolerant but also accepting of all people. In return, my new friend showed me my first Archie comic book ever, and for that, I will always be grateful to him. We sat side-by-side on a bench taking turns reading aloud from the comic like the little nerds that we were, foregoing our lunch break (i.e. playtime). I still hung out with other friends playing foursquares and such with them during our lunch break but I never left him out and always stood up for him when he was being bullied (just for being different) until slowly but surely he was accepted into the circle.

dorie

During second grade, I remember dressing up as the Queen of Hearts (from Alice in Wonderland) on Halloween courtesy of a ready-made costume from Fantasy World. The school gym was completely transformed for the occasion. Papier-mâché bats, cobwebs made out of cotton, pumpkin paraphernalia and such decorated every corner of the gym. Somehow we’d even gotten a smoke machine. Best of all was all the candy corn (I suspect it was purchased from Sultan Center) which was awarded to kids for winning the Halloween-themed contests. It was so much fun parading around the school and seeing everyone else all decked out in full-on costumed glory. It was all fun and games! I’d never experienced anything like this before. Understandably, after that I was somewhat enamored with Halloween (or at least what I perceived it to be). By then I had already seen “The Exorcist” (because…Kuwait) which had already scarred me for life so I actively sought out the movie “Witches” and “Hocus Pocus” to watch because I’m a glutton for punishment. Those scared/scarred me as well (consistent nightmares) and yet I was obsessed. On an impromptu trip to somewhere in the region with my mother there was a street peddler selling Anime (dubbed into Arabic) in VHS form. I’d already been exposed to Anime or Manga as we referred to it back then but it was almost always in Arabic. I picked out one at random that had a picture of a girl on it (so I could relate) and my mom purchased it for me. Turns out the anime was about a supernatural family (werewolf mother, vampire father, main protagonist was a shapeshifter while her younger brother’s powers had yet to manifest) living among humans. I was ecstatic with my purchase! The only thing that would make it better was if the anime was in English rather than dubbed into Arabic. In the third grade, we were introduced to the school library where we could officially check out books from the elementary section and take them home with us to read and return. That’s when I discovered Dorrie (picture shown above). I also found another book about witches called “The Worst Witch“. I loved reading (or watching shows) about witches, ghosts, vampires, werewolves, etc… anything related to Halloween and the paranormal. For Halloween, I dressed up as a witch to match my obsession.

Goosebumps-2

After that, I was hooked on reading. Since I was a hardcore fan of Anime or Manga as it was called back then, I enjoyed reading their novel counterparts for example Sally (which was dubbed into arabic) was a lovely if not depressing anime based on A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett. I never outgrew my obsession with the paranormal and funnily enough discovered the Goosebumps series soon after to satisfy it but I also read The Babysitter’s Club, Indian in the Cupboard, The Boxcar Children, Encyclopedia Brown, Bad News Ballet, Anne of Green Gables, as well as some stand-alone children’s books. I was always sad when I finished reading a book and yet I could never put it down once I started reading it counting the minutes until I could return to it. I’d stay up way past my curfew (8pm lol) just to read under the covers with a flashlight (cliche, I’m well aware) until said flashlight was confiscated by the ‘rents. I had seen “The Exorcist” when I was much younger so I was understandably afraid of the dark (to this day lol) which is why my bedroom door was never completely shut until I had fallen asleep. Using the light that seeped in from the hallway outside my bedroom, I continued to read Little Women. My parents found out about my reading in the dark and warned me that I’d ruin my eyesight over time. My dad sat me down and explained to me that if I ruined my eyesight, I wouldn’t be able to read at all which scared me straight.

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Every year during our Christmas vacation, my parents would travel with my younger brother and me in tow but because Summer vacation was strictly reserved for farther destinations in Europe we visited places that were closer like Lebanon and Dubai and such. My first time in Dubai, I barely even glanced at the behemoth that was the Christmas Tree in the main lobby of our hotel. I barely noticed all the other Christmas-y decorations. All I saw was the tiny little convenience store in the lobby that possibly sold books. As it turns out, they sold Archie comics so naturally I spent all my pocket money on them. As far as I was concerned, my entire year was made. Sadly, back in Kuwait, I could never find Archie comics to buy. Hawally bookstores mostly sold notebooks, coloring books, and other stationary. Everything else was in Arabic which I wasn’t as interested in. Apparently, The Family Bookshop in Old Salmiya sold Archie comics but I only found out much much later. I was always on the hunt for new Archie comics to read and since I couldn’t find any to purchase in Kuwait, I had to resort to borrowing from other students, offering my small collection to trade with in return. While every other kid my age was all about collecting stickers and pogs, I was all about Archies and by extension Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Jose and The Pussycats, Cheryl Blossom, and all the other cross-overs. It frustrated me to no end that I could never find a constant supply of new Archies to read. It occured to me that if I was living in a more “evolved” country, this wouldn’t be a problem.

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My school introduced us to The Scholastic Book Club which was an event where a classroom was emptied out and reserved for displaying children’s books that were available for purchase. The event took place once a year and the prices were absurd (because…Kuwait) but I was happy because I’d already gone through the majority of the more interesting books in the school library. I’m not quite sure why but I believe The Book Fair was eventually phased out and replaced with what was essentially a flimsy brochure with pictures of book covers and descriptions underneath and on the back was a list of all the titles of each book with an empty box next to them. Basically, you just placed a tick next to the title of the book you wanted to purchase (prices were still ridiculously high) and handed it back to your teacher along with the money. A few months later, your books would arrive. I purchased some more from Goosebumps and The Babysitter’s Club and such. As long as the cover art had a kid on it (so I could relate) I was interested. Anything that came with these books (plushies, figurines, children’s jewelry, stationary, stickers, etc…) was confiscated for some reason. Since the books came from the United States, this was the pre-internet method of “ordering online”, in a manner of speaking.

fathom

As we grew older, we were then introduced to the “other area” of the library which was a whole other room triple the size of the previous one, strictly reserved for the older kids. Seeing as how I’d gone through most of the books from the children’s section, and always returned them on time, and never lost a book, the librarians had snuck me in there before even though I wasn’t allowed to officially check out any books from that section just yet, but now I could, so I did. I was obsessed! I loved the Fantasy books as well the Science Fiction books. I also loved coming of age stories. I was always a huge fan of Anime (Japanese animation) ever since I could remember so these genres played into my anime obsession. I greedily devoured every book I came across, checking out four books (the maximum amount allowed) at a time. The bookstore at my local cooperative started selling Archie comics as well as a handful of others (Catwoman, X-men, etc…). Right around that time, the internet became a “thing” and since I was obsessed with a certain anime called “Fushigi Yuugi” I actually read through Fushigi Yuugi fanfiction which led me to websites dedicated to non-anime related original short stories. On a family trip to the United Kingdom, I came across a legitimate bookstore that sold several Anne Rice books, Manga comics as well as other Graphic Novels. When “Interview with the Vampire” was released, I was well on my way to a full-blown obsession with vampires. I watched it over and over again as it was a much more glamorous take on vampires then Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” which just scared me as a child. Having a star-studded cast that included Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise, Kirsten Dunst, and Antonio Banderas (and Christian Slater but I don’t like him) also helped to further cement the obsession. Seeing as how Anne Rice wrote “Interview with the Vampire” I was super excited when I found an an entire section of Anne Rice books in that bookstore. A graphic novel called Fathom (see photo above) caught my eye because of the gorgeous artwork and I purchased it assuming it would be about mermaids. Ever since Disney’s “The Little Mermaid” animated movie had come out when I was in Kindergarten, I’d searched high and low for anything (books, movies, anime, cartoons, videogames, stickers, anything) about mermaids all to no avail so I was so happy when I came across Fathom. At the very same bookshop, I even purchased several Blade of the Immortal mangas, and a handful of Anne Rice books, as well as a set of tarot cards.

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After mom redecorated our home (for the millionth time), I found so many good books back at home belonging to my family members. I was obsessed with The Chronicles of Narnia after I found the entire series (probably belonging to my older brother remnants of his school years). I also found a handful of classic fairytales (with the original dark endings not the Disney-fied version). The true ending of The Little Mermaid’s story was heartbreaking. My father’s books alone were a treasure trove of hidden gems. He had so many, many, many books on anything and everything. He had classics, fiction and nonfiction, boring books on business, interesting books on meditation, fascinating books on eastern medicine, self-help, even banned books like Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses, books by Sidney Sheldon, books by Agatha Christie, even a paperback version of The Exorcist (which of course I had to read to refresh my nightmares) and most noteworthy of all (at least in my humble opinion) The Teachings of Don Juan by Carlos Casteneda. He even had a whole set of huge hardcover Almanacs. One of the books called Saudi gave me some serious perspective as I’d never read a book that mentioned or even hinted at Arabs. Out of all my dad’s books, my favorite was one called “The Nostradamus Inheritance“. Between the paperback books I purchased abroad from convenience stores during summer vacation, the books I purchased from airports, the books I checked out from the school library, the books I purchased from school, the websites I found online, and my dad’s personal library, I was on cloud nine! I had access to so many big, fat, beautiful books! I could not be happier!

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On an outing with my school friends, we visited Muthana Complex (due to my insistence) so I could check out the bookstore. I had to bribe them with ice-cream from Baskin Robin’s which was directly across the bookstore. That’s when the four of us discovered YM magazine. We had never been exposed to girly magazines before. I honestly have no recollection of even flipping through a magazine before then. YM was super-girly, so cute, easy to read, and best of all, it was in English. This opened up a whole new world for us. We started wearing Bonnebell lipbalm to school as a result. One of my friends was obsessed with JTT and everything Tim Allen so she quickly became obsessed with Tiger Beat too. As for the rest, we grew from there and started buying Seventeen regularly. Eventually, my friends switched over to Arabic publications but I stuck with Seventeen. I also started purchasing magazines dedicated to Videogames since I was really into gaming. During summer vacations in Europe with the family, not only would I buy paperbacks to read but my interest now included girly magazines as well. The British versions were frankly more candid and therefore more entertaining. They also included “real life” stories. Sometimes, the magazine would actually come with a paperback novel attached to it, or a nail polish, or even a mini-bronzer. Like I said, in Kuwait, all that got confiscated. It didn’t help that my older brother had returned from highschool in the United States and thought that these magazines were a bad influence on me, so he confiscated them. Add to that the fact that in Kuwait, sometimes they censor certain pictures (any semblance of cleavage and such) with a big black marker, sometimes opting to tear out the entire page instead. It frustrated me to no end because I’d read an article I was interested in, only to find out that the rest of it was torn out, leaving me wondering about the conclusion of the article. They never censored articles (at least not on purpose) no matter how risque. It was only the pictures that were deemed offensive (bare arms, hints of cleavage, bare midriff, etc…) that got torn out which consequentially censored the article that happened to be on the opposite side of the same page. Then they slapped on a sticker price that’s triple the actual price (because…Kuwait). It felt like the whole world was conspiring to keep me away from magazines. Again, it occurred to me that if I was living in a more “evolved” country, I wouldn’t have had these grievances.

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At some point I even purchased Jackie Chan’s Autobiography I Am Jackie Chan because I absolutely adore that human being. I grew up watching his movies (Twinkle Twinkle My Lucky Stars, Wheels on Meals, Armor of God II: Operation Condor, Project A, etc…). My favorites, by far, were the ones where the whole crew was together Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung, and Yuen Biao. I was quite smug with myself for purchasing my first “grown-up” book because all the books I’ve read up to that point usually had some element of fantasy to them, or involved little girls (so I could relate) and this had neither. The book offered some wonderful insight on how Jackie grew up and why he studied martial arts and what got him into acting. It really did captivate me and I found myself tearing up at several points in the book. I had also picked up Blink years ago from Virgin in Lebanon but forgot to include it.

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I entered highschool and returned to my beloved magazines with a vengeance. I purchased every single magazine from Marie Claire, Elle, Glamour, Vogue, Teen Vogue, Cosmopolitan, and CosmoGirl, Lucky, to Nylon, in addition to Seventeen and a handful of gaming magazines. Abroad, I purchased the UK versions of those magazines or at least the ones that were available. In Vienna, I came across a delightful bookshop right across the hotel I was staying at which was where I found the first installment in Gossip Girl. I had been reading reviews of it in almost all of my magazines and was highly intrigued. In Lebanon, I came across a bookstore that sold manga, except it was in French. In Germany, there was a huge bookstore that sold everything including manga. Alas, the manga was in Dutch. Pretty soon, in Kuwait, both UK and US versions of all those magazines such as Elle and Maire Claire and the like, were available for purchase. They arrived about a month too late, still got censored and still triple the actual price but beggars can’t be choosers. I even found the cutest magazines which were Philippine’s version of Seventeen I’m assuming so I really got into those as well for awhile. Finally, Archie comics were sold almost everywhere in Kuwait but after years and years of desperately searching for them, I had outgrown them and was no longer interested. I wanted to read manga and magazines as opposed to Archies.

voyager

During my senior year of high-school, I came across Voyager by Diana Gabaldon. It was a really thick book so I checked it out and tossed it in my backpack, deciding to skim through it during Arabic class (which was essentially a joke) because I couldn’t wait to sink my teeth in it. It was a deliciously well-written masterpiece of a book. Unfortunately, this was not the first installment in the series and I could not find any that came before or after. When my younger brother came home with one of the Harry Potter books as a reading assignment from school, I snatched it up and greedily devoured it before handing it back to him. I realized that although this was my first Harry Potter book, this was not the first installment in the series either. That really bothered me. I was invested. I wanted to know what happened to these characters that I had grown to love. I also wanted to know what happened to Anne from Anne of Green Gables. What about the kids from the Circle of Magic? The same with Gossip Girl, I wanted to know what happened next. As my high-school years were coming to an end and I was preparing for college, I realized that this system was just not working out for me. I wanted to be able to read my books in chronological order, not purchase them randomly as I came across them.

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So during my college years, I turned to Amazon.com and BarnesandNobles.com both of which had a vast selection of books. I purchased series in their entirety from Anne of Green Gables to The Circle of Magic that came in boxed sets. My obsession with the paranormal was rekindled so I purchased everything by Anne Rice. I even purchased all the Hardcover Editions of all the Outlander books that were available at the time. I regularly purchased each book that came out for Gossip Girl,A-list, and Shopaholic. I also collected a vast amount of manga (Japanese Graphic Novels) which Amazon had a better and more up to date selection of which is why I stuck with them instead BarnesandNobles. I even started getting into Award Winning novels like Bel Canto. I enjoyed self-help (or self-improvement or whatever the pc term is nowadays) books like Why Men Love B****es, Why Men Marry B****es, He’s Just Not That Into You, and most of Steve Harvey‘s books along those lines.

I loved the entire process of ordering online. I loved browsing for hours at a time, pin-pointing the exact genre I was interested in. I loved the fact that I could read reviews from others as well as leave my own. I also loved the related to or similarly searched for feature when I was on the hunt for something new to read. I even loved the wait, checking and rechecking my order status every other day until the FedEx van would stop by my home with usually two very big boxes. Unfortunately, my hobby grew to became an expensive one. Now that I was working, I actually noticed these things. Unlike other more civilized countries where reading is actually encouraged, and you get a discount for ordering in bulk, the shipping charges in Kuwait started adding up. It was something around KD3 for every 1 Kilogram which is about $10 for every half a pound. It wasn’t practical of me to order books, even if they were only paperback. I still ordered Anime and Manga as well as other books and DVDS but I felt guilty about it and that took away from my enjoyment.

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On a business trip in Germany, I was browsing one of the bookstores in town for something something to read before falling asleep. As I’ve mentioned before, I can’t sleep unless I’ve read for a bit, since I’ve always been an insomniac (it’s only gotten worse with time). I purchased P.S. I Love You thinking it would be an easy read along with a handful of magazines. The cover looked so unassuming that I was completely caught off guard. It was such a beautiful story! I couldn’t wait for the day to be over so I could get back to my hotel room, shower, and crawl into bed to finish reading P.S. I Love You. I cried and cried through-out the entire thing. No book save for the Outlander series had ever moved me this much! I was sorely disappointed when Hilary Swank was cast to play the main protagonist in the movie but I was ecstatic that two gorgeous men (Gerard Butler and Jeffrey Dean Morgan) were going to be in it as well. After watching the movie, I was pleasantly surprised to see Lisa Kudrow (who will always hold a special place in my heart as Phoebe from Friends), Dean Winters (whom I fell in love with on OZ) and Harry Connick Jr. (who is just so darn like-able). The movie was equally as heart-wrenching as the book. I forgot about my distaste towards Hilary Swank during the first five minutes and cried and cried throughout the entire movie.

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Then Twilight became a thing so I had to order that because it was nowhere to be found in Kuwait. Based on Twilight‘s success, so many books about vampires and the paranormal started popping up which made me happy because like I said, I was always obsessed with that genre. Some were good and some were not so good. The guilt of spending so much money on shipping eventually got to me (after several years…) so I stopped ordering books online. However, sites and apps dedicated to manga scans and streaming anime were abundant. I could watch anime online or read manga comics online for free, I just didn’t want to anymore. I will always love discovering new books but so much drama was going in my life and I found myself having trouble concentrating on reading a book. Y’know where you keep having to read the same line over and over again. So I just stopped reading books in general.

magz

Then Aramex came to Kuwait and I subscribed to each and every magazine thinking I’d be saving so much in the long run as opposed to paying the Kuwaiti price. Unfortunately, the magazines shipped at different times and each shipment came with a separate shipping fee. Needless to say, it was a very costly mistake. I tried to cancel my subscriptions several times but couldn’t. I got so overwhelmed with the magazines and the drama in my life was getting crazier by the second that the magazines started piling up. I was trying to get rid of them (to whomever was willing to take them of my hands like friends and cousins) as soon as they arrived, without even reading them. I gave stacks and stacks away to the salons I frequented at the time. It was even worse when I’d come back from traveling abroad for work to find piles and piles of magazines waiting for me (I’ve inserted a picture that I found randomly on google so you can get an idea of what I was dealing with). That killed it for me. I lost interest in all magazines after that. They would have been so welcome when I was younger but just like Archie comics, it was a little too late for me. I no longer had the time nor interest to leisurely flip through Vogue or Cosmo anymore.

hunger-games-book-covers

Years later, I rediscovered Jareer in Hawally. The last time I’d been there was to purchase an ipod mini years ago. The selection of books they had was not the greatest by any means but it would suffice as I had to have something to read in bed before falling asleep. Every book I purchased seemed bland and boring to the extent that for the first time in my life I started giving up on a book half-way through. Around February 2011 I purchased all three books in The Hunger Games series. I finished reading the whole thing a few weeks later. Although it seemed exactly like a Japanese movie I’d seen called “Battle Royale”, it still was a fantastic read. It had been awhile since a book had engaged me that much. I raved about it to all my friends and family and offered to lend it them. Then the movie came out. It garnered so much success that every other book that popped up had a dystopian theme. Just like with Twilight, there were so many copy-cats. Again, I didn’t mind because my love of Anime has actually conditioned me to truly appreciate the dystopian theme so I welcomed it. My younger self was practically floating with happiness. This was the kind of book I would have loved to read as a teen! During my honeymoon in Thailand, I came across a bookshop right next to the entrance to the mall in Phuket where I purchased the Divergent series. It tided me over for the duration of my honeymoon but it wasn’t as good as The Hunger Games.

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Back in Kuwait, I placed my final book order on Amazon.com which consisted of an Outlander Graphic Novel (I die!), Tina Fey’s Bossypants, and a few fiction books including the entire Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy (because I needed to know what the fuss was all about). I tried reading Fifty Shades of Grey but couldn’t get past the first book because it seemed… trite so I gave up on that too. The movie was somehow even more atrocious than the book. On the other hand, I found Divergent much more enjoyable as a movie. Bossypants was easy to read but not quite what I expected from the always hilarious Tina Fey whom I adore on “30 Rock”. After about a little over three years of marriage, I did not come to this decision lightly, but I decided to call it quits. I wish him all the best and I’m sure he wishes the same for me. Maybe I’ll do a whole post on that… maybe not. We’ll see.

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When my birthday rolled around, I got a Kindle Fire as a birthday gift from my younger brother. After that, I was a changed woman. First of all, there was a significant difference in pricing of actual physical books, and the Kindle version of the very same books. Second, I no longer had to anxiously wait for my books to be delivered. They would download instantly (depending on your wi-fi). I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned this before but the MOI randomly confiscates packages… just because. That’s one game I was never fond of playing and I’m glad I no longer have to. Also, because I was no longer ordering physical copies of books, I no longer had to pay the exorbitant shipping charges which meant I could now purchase books in bulk without ever feeling guilty about it. I also didn’t have to worry about where to store my massive, ever-growing collection of books. I’ve always dreamt of having my own minimalistic-themed apartment and books aside from being clutter-y, do not fit the image in my head of what I want my home to be. Don’t get me wrong. I love books, like, actual physical copies of books, and I always will. I love the way they look. I love the way they feel. I love the way smell. In fact, I believe there’s a certain romance in putting pen to paper, but just like typing out a story on your laptop/computer is more practical, using a Kindle is much more efficient. Honestly, they both have their pros and cons but more on my Kindle in an upcoming post.

enclave-series

I’ve read so many books on my Kindle so far. Some of them are repurchased (books I already own in physical form) and some of them were free (Amazon Prime) and some just because they were recommended to me based on my past purchases but most because of the little synapses. Out of all of these books, one that particularly stood out to me was called Enclave. I’ve developed somewhat of a complex based on never being able to find and purchase what I wanted to read at a certain time. It happened with Archie comics, and then Manga comics, and then again with my trilogies and series. That in turn led me to develop a habit of purchasing series in their entirety. Sometimes, like the Hunger Games triology, it payed off and sometimes it didn’t (meaning the books were awful). In this case, the trilogy was called the Razorland Trilogy and it payed off. I could not wait get into bed and go back to reading my Enclave. It was dystopian-themed. It was engaging. It was a page-turner. I loved it so much that I wanted to write a review on it on my blog. That’s why I immediately (lol it was in Novemeber 2015) banged out this post and have been revising it ever since so it would make sense to people when I actually published it. Since then, I’ve read a handful of other books but nothing worth note aside from these two; Ready Player One (which was absolutely delightful) and Moonwalking with Einstein (which I’m still reading). I plan on purchasing A song of Ice and Fire but I find Game of Thrones confusing enough as is so maybe not just yet.

I’m sure I’ve left out several books (be they physical copies or kindle versions) that I’ve read over the years or even recently but I do not have it in me to revise this post any longer. Let’s consider this an introduction into “Book Club” on LuLu Luvs Makeup so that the next installment can be an actual review of a book. It goes without saying but if you enjoy reading, or if you recommend a certain book, please feel free to leave a comment mentioning the title of the book or at very least the author.

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