Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn

image1 (18)I’m not typically a fan of thrillers, mostly because I don’t need an excuse to be anxious about more things, but I scooped up Sharp Objects to prepare me for watching HBO’s television adaptation. I did the same before I watched Gone Girl (also by author Gillian Flynn) and it made watching the movie much less nerve wracking because I knew exactly what to expect.

I picked up Sharp Objects for the same experience and while it was definitely a page turner that I read incredibly quickly, the entire time I was reading, I just wanted the whole story to be over. I probably wouldn’t have pushed through the novel if I wasn’t planning on watching the TV series, but I am… so I did.

Sharp Objects is a thriller mystery that revolves around a Chicago journalist returning to her hometown after two similar murders are committed (the victims are young girls). The journalist has to return to her toxic home that she had distanced herself away from in adulthood and finds herself reverting to her previous mindset and habits along the way, whilst trying to gather details about the unsolved murder cases. While I loved the details put into the main character and her depth, I would’ve preferred reading about her within another story that didn’t completely creep me out the entire time I was reading it.

Publication Date: 26 September 2006 by Broadway BooksFormat: Paperback.

Author: Gillian Flynn web/@facebook/@twitter/@instagram

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P.S. I Still Love You by Jenny Han

image1 (17)Okay, okay, I know I didn’t really like To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, but as I said in that review, I knew I would eventually end up picking up the sequel. Why? I need fluff sometimes, others I care about wanted to talk more about this series, and who didn’t fall a little in love with Peter Kavinsky in the film version of the movie and desperately want to read more moments about this fictional beau?

In this book, teen protagonist Lara Jean picks up where she left off with her high school, fake boyfriend Peter Kavinsky… on the path of becoming her real boyfriend because ~feelings emerged~. The plot mostly revolves around drama with his previous girlfriend and with a boy, John Ambrose McClaren, from Lara Jean’s past re-entering the picture. There’s some typical high school drama, crushes spinning every which way for all of the characters, until finally the main couple in the series must decide how and if to move forward together (though to be honestly while Peter Kavinsky is an adorable soft jock who seems fantastic for Lara Jean in the film version, John Ambrose McClaren’s compatibility with Lara Jean fair outshines Peter in the books).

Overall, I found P.S. I Still Love You to be more enjoyable than its predecessor. A lot of the bits that annoyed me with the first novel (Kitty being grating, Peter not being that desirable and actively being someone I would not want to have a crush on) were smoothed over with the sequel… or I have rose colored lenses from watching the movie-version of the characters and was more forgiving of their book counterparts. I honestly can’t tell you which of those it actually is.

I expect to pick up the third novel (Always and Forever, Lara Jean) when I need a break from the dense, academic reads I’m returning to as the school year picks up again.

Publication Date: 26 May 2015 by Simon & SchusterFormat: E-book.

Author: Jenny Han web/@twitter/@instagram

Am I There Yet? by Mari Andrew

image1 (16)Mari Andrew is best known for her adorable, insightful Instagram illustrations. Most of Andrew’s illustrations on Instagram and within her debut book, Am I There Yet?portray finding yourself and/or creating yourself as the person you want to be, and all of the mishaps and misfortunes that happen along the way. 

While I love peeping at Andrew’s illustrations on Instagram and gaining bite size perspective, her book is situated into different chapters (such as heart break) and Andrew typically prefaces each chapter by contextualizing different events that have influenced her perspective on the theme. The contexts were helpful because they illuminated how Andrew experienced a huge perspective shift in her 20s that changed how she approached subsequent problems and her life.

If you enjoy Andrew’s beautiful watercolor depictions on Instagram, you’ll probably enjoy flipping through this collection of illustrations and their back stories. I found it to be a very quick weekend read that left my heart feeling cozy. 

Publication Date: 27 March 2018 by Clarkson Potter PublishersFormat: Hardcover.

Author & Illustrator: Mari Andrew web/@instagram

This is How You Lose Her by Junot Díaz

IMG_8894I read my first Junot Díaz book seven years ago and wasn’t feeling it in the same way that others seemed to, so I took a while for me to find my way to This is How You Lose Her. This book is broken into separate short stories that mostly follow the life of Yunior and sometimes follows those in his orbit. The stories mostly revolve around Yunior’s own and his older brother’s escapades with women, including hairy details. 

I think Díaz is a talented writer and I found “The Pura Principle” to be a 5 star short story all on its own. However, I didn’t jive with all of the short stories and often found myself annoyed at the tales, curious about when the narrator alone had misogynist views about women and when the narrator was really articulating how the author valued (or didn’t rather) women in their own life. That said, I read This is How You Lose Her after allegations against Díaz were revealed, and while I know some internal investigations have found insubstantial evidence and Díaz himself has discussed his own experiences of sexual assault and how that affected his subsequent sexual relations, I found it impossible to objectively read this, knowing what I knew, and wondering how much of these stories revealed real beliefs and how much were purely fiction. 

Publication Date: 11 September 2012 by Riverhead BooksFormat: Hardcover.

Author: Junot Díaz web

The Financial Diaries by Jonathan Morduch and Rachel Schneider

image1 (15)The Financial Diaries details a study conducted by a research team directed by Jonathan Morduch and Rachel Schneider that investigates how families receive and spend income within a single year. I picked this up per the suggestion of a colleague that it would be helpful background reading for a project I’m embarking upon soon and I’m so happy that I did.

This book dives into the fact that we typically think of and analyze income in a way that is not compatible with how most families interact with money on a regular basis. Their study uncovers many essential pieces of family spending that we are missing when we think about income in more traditional ways.

When we think about a family’s annual income, we are often missing the spikes and dips of income that occur for families with inconsistent, and even sometimes, consistent income. For example, receiving a large tax refund might make a family’s income spike in a predictable way that they count on, through putting off paying certain debts or making large purchases until they receive their refund check. Families with inconsistent income, such as those with work that is seasonally influenced or is related to regional events, often have to plan ahead and put large chunks of their money aside to cushion their income during months where their paycheck is lighter. There are many reasons why this is difficult for families to surmount and this book does an excellent job of portraying these spending realities.

My big takeaway from this book is that (somewhat obviously, but something I hadn’t been able to articulately describe before) a lot of families are “sometimes poor.” The idea here is that families who appear to have middle income and possess the assets to be “stable” when you look at their family’s annual income actually have moments of being sometimes poor, where their income is dramatically lower than it is at other times of the year. Families confront this by trying to prepare for these dips in income, but also devote a lot of their income spikes to paying for purchases that were necessary during income dips. For these families, it becomes almost impossible to save for the future when they’re constantly catching up.

This was a very nuanced, necessary reframing of spending and saving within American families. I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants a better understanding of income instability in America.

Publication Date: 4 April 2017 by Princeton University PressFormat: Hardcover.

Authors: Jonathan Morduch web & Rachel Schneider @twitter

Wild by Cheryl Strayed

Screen Shot 2018-09-19 at 8.00.09 PMI snatched up Wild at a resell shop after loving every word of Strayed’s Tiny Beautiful Things, a compilation of bits of her advice column for Dear Sugar. I love the way that Strayed weaves a sentence and a feeling, so I knew that I would probably greatly enjoy her famous memoir about a very specific period of her life.

At 26, Strayed is newly divorced, reeling and grieving from the sudden death of her mother a few years ago, and feeling unattached to anything in the world. She sets forth to hike the Pacific Crest Trail, or PCT as it more regularly called, alone and entirely unprepared. What follows are her musings of her life up until 26 and all of the moving pieces that came together for her to feel compelled to tackle an incredibly difficult hike, despite lacking any hiking experience or training. Strayed felt like she had mountains to climb, both physical and mental, and that she needed to be alone to do it.

I found Wild to be entirely captivating, as I read through someone recounting the mistakes they made, acknowledging the harm they caused others, and descriptions of wading through grief. All by happenstance of when I stumbled upon this book, I ended up taking Wild to four different state parks in California which felt perfect and majestic and left me thinking that maybe I, too, could trek across the PCT. (Spoiler: I can’t and I won’t because Strayed is extremely lucky nothing very terrible happened to her on her hike; and because I quite enjoyed driving to the parks, getting lost in nature for a few hours, then piling back into a car and driving back to my quiet, air conditioning lodging).

Beyond inciting a need to place myself into nature, Wild moved me in other ways. Every time I read a piece from Strayed about losing her mother (see here for a post I share nearly every Mother’s Day), I feel suddenly seen, in a way that is striking and comfortable simultaneously. These were the parts of her memoir that bubbled within my chest for several days at a time. I loved reading about Strayed’s journey and all of the messy bits along the way. I hope to keep reading her words for years to come.

Publication Date: 20 March 2012 by KnopfFormat: Paperback.

Author: Cheryl Strayed web/twitter/instagram/facebook

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han

Screen Shot 2018-09-07 at 12.35.07 PMI watched the trailer for the adorable Netflix film To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before and decided I needed to read the novel that it was based upon before actually viewing the movie. I lucked out and scooped up a used copy at a cute bookstore in Los Angeles (The Last Bookstore) the same weekend the movie was released.

The book was a super fast read and full of fluff. While there’s a time and a place and a reader for that, I enjoyed the story much more in movie-form than its original state. In the movie, certain details about the characters and plot points were changed in a way that made me like the overall story better. 

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before revolves around teenager Lara Jean who writes letters to her crushes in an attempt to squash her crushes and then stows the letters away in a box in her closet. Suddenly, the letters are released into the world and into the hands of the boys that she’s ~loved before~. Whilst this is going on, Lara Jean is also experiencing some big changes at home: her older sister who served as the family’s matriarch departed for college in another country, leaving Lara Jean to try to fill in the hole she’s vacated and help take care of her (very annoying in the book version) little sister Kitty. Family bits and bobs dominate b-plots of the story, but the main arcs revolve around Lara Jean trying to convince one boy (who received a letter) she no longer likes him by fake dating another boy (who also received a letter).

All in all, the story is pretty entertaining and fluffy for a YA tale, but I enjoyed the execution of it (and changed details) of the film version more than the novel. The biggest deviation that I enjoyed most was Lara Jean’s fake boyfriend, Peter Kavinsky. He is much more likable in the movie and seems to be someone actually crushworthy, whereas the novel version of Kavinsky had me physically cringing at the idea that this boy was supposed to be someone “desirable.” Additionally Lara Jean and her younger sister Kitty also had some cute, bonding moments in the movie, whereas they seemed perpetually at odds with no good balancing bits in the book to ice over the negative pieces.

So what’s my recommendation? Watch the movie if you haven’t already! And skip the book… unless you want to find out what happens next for Lara Jean in the trilogy or if your friends really want you to read it so they can talk about the details (i.e. what is probably going to happen to me).

Publication Date: 15 September 2014 by Simon & SchusterFormat: Paperback.

Author: Jenny Han  web/@twitter/@instagram