In this post, you’ll find an Again, but Better book review, plus all of the fiction and non-fiction books I read in January 2021.
One of the majestic qualities of art is its ability to connect humans and make us feel understood. Good storytellers have a way of making you feel like you are a part of the narrative, even if the characters and situations are wildly different from yours.
But once in a while, you read a book that has you looking over your shoulder with suspicion. You feel like the author knows you in a way that only your best friend would. You get goosebumps because you feel so connected.
My (somewhat biased) Again, but Better Book Review
This is how I felt when I read Again, but Better, like the author, Christina Riccio, wrote it specifically for me. Because of that, my Again, but Better book review may sound a bit biased. This book isn’t for everyone— but that’s what makes it special.
There is a lesson here. Take note(s). You, too, have the power to create this kind of magic and to make the consumers of your art feel like you’ve made something just for them.
Books about college and being true to yourself
I first came across Again, but Better when I was looking for stories comparable to the one that I wrote last year. There aren’t many books that take place in college. Why is that? Either way, this one rose to the surface quite quickly.
Like my novel, Again, but Better explores the theme of being true to yourself. The story follows a late bloomer name Shane, who enrolls in a London-based study abroad program, armed with a list of goals: securing an internship, making real friends, kissing a boy, finding adventure, and writing a novel.
The description led me to think that this would be just another shy-girl who steps into her own kind of story. Which isn’t a bad thing. I can’t get enough of those! But as I approached the halfway point, I wondered where things were going. It seemed like the story was coming to a close. What came next was totally unexpected and completely delightful.
The best stories are grounded in truth
While this was a fictional story, Riccio makes it no secret that it was inspired by her own experiences. I think this made me feel connected to the story— it was rooted in truth and her vulnerabilities.
Like Riccio, and her protagonist Shane, I am an introverted dreamer who hasn’t always had the confidence to go after the things I want. But it wasn’t just the angsty bits that I loved. The book is peppered with specific pop culture references (like naming her laptop Sawyer and its replacement, Sayid), which made my reading experience feel like hanging out with someone who gets me.
In the way that your best friend has unique characteristics that appeal to you, books are deeply personal. I do not think that Again, but Better is for everyone. It’s not the best thing I’ve ever read, and it probably won’t win the Nobel prize. But when you love something, and it brings you joy, do accolades matter?
Creative lessons from Again, but Better
Don’t be afraid to create something that feels indulgent or specific to you. People will benefit from hearing your message, but they will only hear it if you’re willing to put yourself out there. Not everyone will get us. Not everyone will like us. But those who do will feel that connection and become the superfan you need to help spread your message to more of your people.
We let others’ expectations drive our decisions far too often— a behavior pattern that is damaging to us and ripples to negatively affect the people in our lives. Again, but Better touches on a familiar trope: your parents want you to do one thing, but your heart is pulling you in a different direction. We can ignore that inner voice, but it never stops trying to get our attention. The more we follow those instincts, the better we will be at executing our calling.
Do look back. We can’t go back, but we can go forward in a different direction. I’ve often fantasized about what it would be like to return to specific moments in my life, armed with the confidence and knowledge I hold as an adult. While we can’t actually time travel, I think it is healthy to reflect and celebrate how we’ve changed for the better. It also helps us to be mindful of the scarcity of time. If we can’t gain it back, what will we do with what we have left? And what regrets might we avoid by taking action, here and now?
If you enjoyed this Again, but Better book review, click here to check out or search for it in your local library!
What is your Again, but Better book review?
What book(s) have you read that made you feel connected in the way that I did with Again, but Better? Come and say hi on Instagram to let me know. Speaking of Instagram, it was there that I deemed this month “Slow January.” Even in Florida, it was cold, and I slipped into hibernation mode, spending much of it under a blanket with a book in hand.
Here’s the list of everything else I read in January 2021 (listed in the order I read them):
Majesty, by Katharine McGee (Fiction)
American Royals was one of my favorite books from last year, but I think that I love its sequel even more. In Majesty, author, Katharine McGee weaves a strong cast of characters into another story about “what if” the United States had a monarchy.
I adore McGee’s storytelling style, and I especially appreciate how in this book, she took one of the central love stories in an unexpected direction. Fingers crossed that this becomes a television series and that there will be more books to come!
Sometimes I Lie, by Alice Feeney (Fiction)
When you start and finish a book in a single day, it automatically earns a “page-turner” classification from me.
This novel alternates between two timelines: the present (in which the protagonist, Amber, is in a coma), and the past (the week that leads up to the event that put her in a coma). Journal entries from the time when Amber was a child, are also spliced into the narrative. The plot takes a few good twists and kept me engaged from beginning to end.
It loses a star (or two) because it left me feeling confused. I can appreciate an ending that’s left up to interpretation, but in this case, it seemed like there wasn’t an option for a plausible conclusion— which I should have been wise to when I picked up the book. With a title like “Sometimes I Lie,” you’re never going to be sure of anything.
Infinite Possibilities: The Art of Living Your Dreams, by Mike Dooley (Non-Fiction)
This book was exactly what I needed to start the year off right. Through his positive delivery, author Mike Dooley reminds us that everything we want is ours for the taking.
His message centers around the law of attraction, which states, “what you seek is seeking you.” It’s a challenging concept to accept in totality when we live in a world that is so cynical, but I’ve found that every time I read a book like this, I’m motivated to make strides in all areas of my life.
Infinite Possibilities is a great reminder that we may not be able to change the world, but that we always have the power to alter our perception of it, and easily attract the things and people that make us happiest.
If you’re open to looking at life through a different lens, reading this book will change you for the better.
Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine, by Gail Honeyman (Fiction)
A charming story about a socially-awkward young woman who comes into her own as she engages in a new friendship with the unkempt but benevolent, IT guy from work. After the two of them come to the aid of an elderly man who has fallen in the street, and remain present through his recovery, Eleanor’s eyes are opened to the concepts of love, family, and companionship.
There were parts of this story that made me incredibly sad, but author Gail Honeyman does a fantastic job balancing the story with hilarious inner and outward dialogue. In the end, the book left my heart warmed, but also had me wishing that there was a sequel so that I could spend more time with these delightful characters.
This was my second favorite book I read this month!
Everything Beautiful in Its Time: Seasons of Love and Loss, by Jenna Bush Hager (Non-Fiction)
This book isn’t a linear story but heartwarming series of memories, letters, and hopes. Jenna Bush Hager lost three of her grandparents within a year— two of whom were American icons and the other a legend in her own way.
Through her raw and honest voice, Jenna recounts family stories that have most impacted her, which are now rippling into the lives of her young children. Although she’s the daughter of a President, I found her stories relatable, especially those centered around their family home in Maine, which sounded remarkably like summer memories with my family in Cape Cod (minus the secret service agents).
This book is a beautiful reminder that humans are complex and that perceptions are not always accurate. Also that there is often more to discover about one another, even after we pass on.
If I had known how much I would cry while reading Everything Beautiful in its Time, I would not have picked it up, but I’m glad that I did. If you enjoy stories about family, legacy, and the impact we have on one another, this one is worth a read.
The Cousins, by Karen M. McManus (Fiction)
This book is much less of a thriller than the cover leads you to believe. But for me, that was a good thing!
The story follows three estranged cousins to Gulf Cove Island, a fictitious beach community, where their grandmother unofficially runs the entire island. While the three kids are there, they seek to uncover the reason why their grandmother disinherited their parents, and why, after all of this time— they’ve been summoned to meet her.
I loved that The Cousins had a bit of everything: mystery, love, friendship, and family drama. It was an easy, enjoyable read, and left me seeking to find similar titles from this not-so-scary-thriller genre.
Brag Better, by Meredith Fineman (Non-Fiction)
I added this book to my Audible queue awhile ago, hesitating to start it because I thought I might be judged for reading something with “Brag” in the title. Therein lay my problem.
This book was a much-needed pep talk for someone like me, who author Meredith Fineman refers to as “The Qualified Quiet.” Through her encouragement, examples, and instructions, this book empowered me to see my voice in a new light.
I imagine that I’ll return to Brag Better to implement its methodology, but I’ve already experienced instant results, including securing a speaking engagement, purely from being inspired by Fineman’s message.
Creating positive change in our world hinges on our ability to communicate effectively. And you don’t need to be a brand or a personality to make an impact. If you are open to growing and are willing to answer your personal calling, this book is for you.
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