29 Books that Influenced Me in Celebration of My 29th Birthday

Aging is a weird thing, you know? I mean, maybe not if you weren’t raised in the United States where Hollywood makes women over 30 seem like unicorns and certainly not like women who have lives outside of like… motherhood. But I’m determined to age gracefully and so I want to celebrate the fact that I’m turning 29 with all of you, the only way I know how… Talking about books I love! I’m very predictable that way. These are going to be books I’ve loved from the time I was very small and throughout my life until the present, but I’ll try not to drone on and on too much. But for now, let’s celebrate!

background is a birthday cake with one candle and a flower, text on top says 29 Books that Influenced Me
29 Books that Influenced Me

The Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister

This was my favorite picture book as a child and it’s only been fairly recent that I’ve realized that maybe this book is actually a little bit problematic. But, I don’t think we can blame childhood me for being entranced by the sparkly so… We’ll let it slide. If you’ve not read this book, it’s essentially about this gorgeous rainbow fish that is bullied for being different (but really the other fish are just jealous) so rainbow fish shares their scales with all the other fish and makes friends. The illustrations are really lovely, but I probably won’t be picking up a copy of this one for my nephew.

Meet Felicity by Valerie Tripp

I mean, in all honesty, I was obsessed with the American Girl doll books in general and loved essentially all of them. Finding them again the other day was the most delightful. I’m not actually sure if Josefina, Samantha, or Felicity was my favorite looking back, but Felicity had red hair so I know I was always especially loyal to her because ME TOO. I was very self-conscious about my hair color as a child. Anyway, I loved these books and I think I would actually still recommend them, which is a delightful thing to know since I realized there are many I would not recommend.

Nancy Drew: The Case of the Twin Teddy Bears by Carolyn Keene

Speaking of my love and loyalty to red headed characters, Nancy Drew was my ultimate favorite because she had strawberry blonde hair and I was obsessed with her romance with Ned. I guess I’ve always been a romance reader. Anyway, this was my absolute favorite in the series because there’s Christmas and Nancy and Ned go ice skating… A dream date, tbh.

Sandry’s Book in the Circle of Magic Quartet by Tamora Pierce

I want to say this was the first fantasy series I really got into, but I suppose I could be wrong and that was actually the books we no longer talk about. Regardless, I absolutely adored this series and the one that comes after. I loved all four books, but I think I was always partial to Sandry. This series is maybe when I imprinted on the found family concept and fell in love with the way fantasy worlds are so good at weaving together families. Not to mention, I really love the way the magic system works in this series.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

So… Somehow I went from not really being able to read at all until Christmas break of first grade to reading Pride & Prejudice in third grade and I have no real explanation for that. But I have been through at least three copies of Pride and Prejudice because I used to physically reread it constantly. I think I imprinted YOUNG on Mr. Darcy like characters and that was mayyyybe not the best thing for my romantic life. At least it wasn’t Heathcliff?

Gossip Girl by Cecily von Ziegesar

While I definitely don’t think I would recommend these books now to anyone, I was obsessed with this series in middle school. Absolutely adored them. I also loved the show, but that started when I was in high school, if I remember correctly. Anyway, I honestly think that knowing this about me makes my taste in certain books make a whole lot of sense. I have always been a sucker for escaping into the entirely too dramatic lives of the super wealthy. Nowadays I can’t think too much about the wealth aspect because it just makes me frustrated, but the messiness? I still thrive on reading about it.

The Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen

I loved this book, and still do, so incredibly much. Between this one and This Lullaby, Sarah Dessen was a staple of my life for a long time. I looked forward to her summer releases through most of law school, actually. But The Truth About Forever really stands out to me as her best book. It has Wes, who is just swoonworthy, and also this fantastic game of truth that I absolutely loved. I’ve aged out of her books and was also disappointed in her tweet about a college student wanting her college to choose a book that wasn’t hers. I got where she was coming from, of course, but like, the way she handled that situation wasn’t great.

Twilight by Stephanie Meyer

So, 29 year old me is very aware of how problematic these books are, but unfortunately, 13/14 year old me didn’t pick up on any of the problems when she read and loved Twilight. This was another layer of realizing how much I love romance in books. Also, I was always Team Edward, which I’m telling you, goes back to imprinting on Darcy when I was too young to fully understand what was happening. 29 year old me also wants you to know that Stephanie Meyer appropriated the Quileute Tribes myths and now they need our help to move their Tribe to higher ground.

I’d Tell You I Love You, but Then I’d Have to Kill You by Ally Carter

Okay, let me tell you about a series I actually still stand behind! This series is for a sort of younger YA audience, but it’s excellent and!! most importantly to me, Cammie has two separate love interests in this series!! That is crucial and so incredibly important. I’m so grateful that is included in these books because I think, especially as a romance reader, too often I would seize upon the idea of THIS person being THE person (especially in reading YA) and um, let’s just say that some high school relationships do not work out and that it’s not the end of the world even if it feels like it.

Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare

This was the series for me. It’s historical but also fantasy, which I loved, and the romance in it is absolutely magnificent. There’s a love triangle, which was not yet a trope I avoided, and although I was super Team Will, I liked Jem a lot. But Tessa was great because she was bookish and loyal and kind and I could see myself in her and so I absolutely adored it. I recently reread the series and I still loved it, so that’s exciting.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

My undergraduate years really coincided with the height of apocalyptic style books and I pretty much read and loved them all. The Hunger Games was probably my favorite though, mostly because I hate the way the Divergent series ends with every fiber of my being. Anyway, I love The Hunger Games even if Mockingjay breaks my heart into pieces. I also recently reread The Hunger Games and it holds up remarkably well.

Vision in White by Nora Roberts

I don’t exactly remember when I read this book or series, but I know it was before grad school and it came out in 2009, so apparently it was while I was in undergrad. I really loved this series and I loved the way it was connected by female friendship. I think this was one of those that I sort of imprinted on and would find that I loved more later when I actually found my way back to romance in law school for real, for real.

Fifty Shades of Grey by E. L. James

Oh boy. I’m trying to be honest with y’all here about the books that really did have a lasting impact on me and Fifty Shades of Grey is at least partially what brought me to the idea of adult romance. I was mostly still reading YA at this point but after reading Fifty Shades in my last year of undergrad and having a lot of complex feelings about it, I read the Crossfire books by Sylvia Day and a lot of free romance on iBooks. I’m grateful that even at the time I knew these books weren’t perfect and I did a lot of thinking about Christian’s trauma, but, um, I definitely would recommend starting anywhere else pretty much in one’s journey to adult romance.

Something Borrowed by Emily Giffin

I would really like someone to explain to me who I was in undergrad because I am completely baffled by my obsession with Emily Giffin looking back. Something Borrowed is a lot of stuff I shouldn’t like in a book, but for some reason, y’all… I was obsessed. She started me down this whole path of women’s fiction for a long time! My taste has evolved since then, but somehow I was really cheering for Rachel and Dex when I read this book. It’s honestly a travesty Something Blue was never made into a movie though because Darcy deserves that HEA. You know?

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

I read The Fault in Our Stars on a bus to Washington, D.C. to see my best friend to celebrate my graduation. A complete stranger fell asleep on my shoulder on that drive and I cried into her hair. It was a time. I loved John Green’s work and I loved these pretentious and over the top characters. I guess I knew, sort of, going in that the book was going to be sad, but I was still not prepared for the level of sadness.

Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas

I’m not entirely sure when I discovered this series, whether it was during grad school or my first year of law school. If I’m honest, I don’t remember reading anything for pleasure while in grad school because I really, truly thought my thesis might kill me. Well, that’s not entirely true. One of my roommates had a bookshelf in her room and we both had a policy about sharing our books, so I do remember binge reading a couple of the Matched books one weekend when I was like two seconds from a mental breakdown and my best friend was working. Anyway, moving on from that rough time, at some point I did discover Sarah J. Maas and problematic or not, I fell in love with her worlds. Between this and ACOTAR? Y’all. I’m trash for SJM. In law school, my friends and I went to Bookmarks? Bookmarked? Idk, some festival in Winston Salem to get ACOMAF signed and it was such a fun day. One of the highlights of law school for me, actually.

The Ivy Years Series by Sarina Bowen

As I just mentioned, I don’t really remember reading for pleasure during my master’s degree, which was two years of a lot more stress than I realized I was signing up for. My first year I was teaching, taking classes myself, and working a food service job (which is way more exhausting than people who have not worked food service give people credit for). My second year, I truly thought I wouldn’t survive. That thesis experience was rough. Then 1L happened and… I mean, I don’t actually remember reading much that year either. Mostly I watched Shondaland shows on Thursdays to stay sane and probably crammed as much recreational reading as possible in during winter break. At some point 2L year though, okay, specifically, Spring of 2L year, I was at my wits end. If you’re reading this and considering law school, let me give you this piece of advice now before you need it: Under no circumstances should you be doing FIVE extracurriculars. Okay? No circumstances. Do not justify it to yourself with ANY reason. There’s just no reason for you to do this to yourself. So, anyway, Spring of 2L, on the verge of a complete mental breakdown, I sat down one weekend and binged Sarina Bowen’s The Ivy Years series. All of it. I’m so grateful for these books for giving me the strength to not drop out of law school, honestly.

Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake by Sarah MacLean

You might think that after that near complete mental breakdown, I would have figured out balance or something, but you would be wrong. I really just held on by the skin of my teeth through 2L and then right around exam season, one of my friends discovered Sarah MacLean and convinced me to read one. I spent my entire summer devouring historical romances. I credit Sarah MacLean, rather than Sarina Bowen, with my return to romance because once I discovered Sarah, I truly did not stop. I went from her to Tessa Dare, to Lisa Kleypas, to Julia Quinn, and at some point, thankfully, Courtney Milan. I also used Sarah’s website to find more romance novels. Sarah really is the person behind my romance journey for the first couple of years.

Brothers Sinister series by Courtney Milan

Finding Courtney Milan was a key and incredibly important part of my reading journey mostly because I love her books so incredibly much. Also because I think finding Courtney Milan marked the shift where I finally started to realize that I kept reading really white and that I didn’t have to. There were other options and maybe it would be a good idea to find books by and about people who didn’t look like me. Anyway, I was particularly fond of, well, actually, all of them. But one of the things I was so intrigued by was the overt feminist themes that really connected with me in this series.

Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo

These were some of the first audiobooks that really worked for me and I read them either during 2L summer or 3L. As y’all may know, audiobooks really changed my reading life for the better and I am so grateful to have realized how to make them work for me. Also helpful is that I really loved these books. I think they’re wonderful heist books with a full cast of characters whom I either love or love to hate.

Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge

This is one of the first few advanced copies I received from Netgalley and I’m still so thankful for that. I started my blog just after taking the bar exam and this book came out not too long after. For me, though, this book was so remarkable because it was one of the first nonfiction books I read besides a celebrity memoir voluntarily. I learned so much from this book and it made me think even more in depth about things that were on my radar but not part of my reading life until I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race.

Hate to Want You by Alisha Rai

Y’all already know this is one of my favorite books of all time and I read it for the first time in 2017. At this point in my reading journey, I had also read my other favorite Alisha Rai, A Gentleman in the Street, but the reason this one had such an impact on me was really because of the mental health representation. Prior to this book, I don’t think that was something I’d really seen in the romances I was picking up and I loved that representation. It was so nice to feel seen.

Hunger by Roxane Gay

I went from reading pretty exclusively celebrity memoirs to reading this book. Those celebrities were mostly comedians who had a running thread through their memoirs of humor even if they would touch on heavier topics. And then I read Hunger and it ruined me. I mean, I was UPSET because this book really addresses how Gay’s brutal rape led to a lot of disordered eating habits because she thought it would keep her safe. But it also showed me what a difference it makes when someone is really honest and vulnerable. I loved this one.

Bad for the Boss by Talia Hibbert

This is the book that really introduced me to plus-size representation in romance novels where the heroine doesn’t have any desire to change her body, it’s just a part of who she is. And the hero loves her anyway. Not in spite of her body and not because of it in a creepy way, but he loves all of her curves and her dimpled thighs and I absolutely melted. This was also my first Talia Hibbert novel, which was it’s own gift in 2018.

A Duke by Default by Alyssa Cole

Y’all. Maybe I’d always loved messy heroines, but I really don’t think I knew that until I read this book. Portia is everything to me and she was absolutely vital to my own mental health as I was adjusting to a new job and feeling like a mess.

Burn for Me by Ilona Andrews

The summer of 2018 is really when I discovered paranormal romance, in the sense that it’s when I fell in love with it. It started with Burn for Me and I think I reread the original Hidden Legacy trilogy about three times in 2018. These books are my favorite comfort reads and I’m so grateful for them. If you’ve not read them yet…. You should do that.

Psy-Changeling by Nalini Singh

But the real wild event of 2018 was that I discovered Psy-Changeling and read seventeen books in a month and some change and then started over again essentially immediately. I love this series with every fiber of my being and if my house caught on fire and I could grab only two books, despite my many signed books, I think what I’d be grabbing would be Kiss of Snow and White Hot (Ilona Andrews). Anyway, this series is everything and I’m so grateful for it.

Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid

I mean… This is my favorite book of all time. I can’t explain why because I still don’t understand, but everything about this book means so much to me and I love it the most.

Hood Feminism by Mikki Kendall

Hood Feminism is easily one of the most impactful books I’ve ever read because of the way that it shifted my thinking about so many things. I like to think that I had already done a lot of the internal work of dismantling white feminist mind sets prior to reading this book, but Hood Feminism threw my entire concept of feminism out the window and rebuilt it from the ground up. The way Mikki Kendall explains concepts just works perfectly with my brain and I was just amazed and impressed and determined to do the work to try and change the world. I’m so grateful for the existence of this book and I’m trying to get literally everyone I know to read it.

And there you have it! 29 books that have had an impact on me. Please let me know some of the books that have impacted you. πŸ™‚ And if you’re in the U.S., don’t forget to double check your voter’s registration!


9 responses to “29 Books that Influenced Me in Celebration of My 29th Birthday”

  1. Jen, I love this post so much. I also realized just how scary similar our reading experience has been like. I too was completely obsessed with Something Borrowed even though it has literally every book trope that I HATE. I can’t explain it either. P&P and Twilight were also big influences in my own life. I’ve been a big reader forever, but when I read P&P & Twilight, I realized just how much I love romances. And of course, Psy-Changeling and Ilona Andrews are big parts of my reading life.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s so weird to look back at a book and be like, “wait, WHY?” Lol. When I was going through those boxes and boxes of books at my parents I came across that one and was just confused. I’m almost tempted to reread it??



    I’m so happy to see the Circle of Magic on this list. I devoured EVERYTHING by Tamora Pierce when I was a tween and this was one of the first series where I saw Black people in fantasy.

    I also haven’t read anything by Courtney Milan which sounds criminal.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Amber!!

      I’m really tempted to do a full series reread. They’re so good! I’m glad you liked them too!

      Omg, you must!!!!! She’s so talented. I love her historicals and her contemporarys, which is a hard thing to achieve.


  3. This is such a great blog post idea! It’s so fun seeing how your reading has changed throughout the years and what books shaped you, and especially how it compares to my own reading. I’m so glad you found romance! Hope you had a happy birthday!!

    Liked by 1 person

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