Category Archives: lady friendships

Vow of Celibacy by Erin Judge

vowofcelibacyThis is a very late, autumnal review of a book that I LOVED this summer. I was going through a bit of a rut with my summer reading — I felt overwhelmed by reading academic articles for work, nonfiction that detailed not always pleasant things, and fiction novels that usually featured not the sunniest of characters. Vow of Celibacy snatched me out of that funk. 

The novel opens with our main character Natalie at a little bit of a crossroads in her life, she’s not completely satisfied with what she’s doing, where her path is going, or the types of people she’s seeing, but she’s also not completely unhappy either. So she decides to take a ~Vow of Celibacy~ to eliminate one of her unsatisfying aspects of her life as she works through all of her previous relationships to try to determine if a link exists between them that perpetuates her dissatisfaction. The reader gets thrown into her previous romantic and sexual experiences with men and women, whilst bouncing back to current day Natalie, and then back again to previous experiences throughout the whole novel.

Present day Natalie is feeling a little less enchanted with her job as a fashion event planner. Through the encouragement of a new friend, she dips her toe into a new career pathway (being a plus-size model; the internal dialogue as she negotiates this career move with the negative feedback she’s gotten from her mother about her size is A+) and the new, exciting friends that come along with it. She’s also helping her college best friend, Anastaze, navigate her own relationship trysts and ideals after Anastaze decides she wants to enter sexual relationships for the first time which creates a fun contrast between the narrator.

Speaking of fun, this book is filled with it! I laughed so much while because it was exactly my sense of humor. The fact that the author is also a comedian definitely helped amp up the humor that is usually only mildly amusing in other novels. I don’t think I’ve laughed this much or had so much fun while reading a novel since Big Little Lies.

This book is so great in so many ways… down to how the pages of the book were literally the softest of any book pages I have ever felt. When I started reading, I made multiple friends touch the pages to confirm I was not somehow changing their texture in my mind simply because I loved the book so much. Another thing I loved about this book is how Judge introduces a lot of high culture items and gives definitions of what they are (through the narrator’s new perspective to also learning about them) in a way that’s not condescending to the reader and informative in a casual way. I would recommend reading Vow of Celibacy on this merit alone to people on the cusp of hanging with wealthy people, but not coming from a wealthy background themselves just for these bits of accessible high culture (food, wine, etc.).

I also found the later chapters perfectly captures the young adult who moves to New York living experience: being  inundated with bugs and ceilings collapsing, whilst garnering absolutely no remorse from your landlord. I felt worn out for Natalie because I could feel how much New York repeatedly chewed her up and spat her out despite how much she tried to make it work during her immediate post-college years. This book depicts everything so perfectly, including icky situations like New York living and failing, and I cannot recommend it enough. 

When people ask me what was the most fun read of my summer, this is the book that I recommend. As soon as I finished reading Vow of Celibacy, I looked up the author, Erin Judge, because I wanted to gobble up everything she had written. Unfortunately, this is the only book she’s written so far, but I can’t wait to see what she comes up with next.

Advertisements

Last Night in Montreal by Emily St. John Mandel

lastnightinmontrealI’m slowly making my way through reading other works by the authors who dominated the list of my 5 favorite reads of 2016: I’m currently reading an ARC of Ta-Nehisi Coates’s newest collection, We Were 8 Years in Power; I scooped up Cheryl Strayed’s memoir, Wild, in a bookshop last week; and I finally tackled Last Night in Montreal by Emily St. John Mandel despite snagging it in February.

While I absolutely adore Mandel’s writing style (she has some of the prettiest prose I’ve ever stumbled across), this book was not as breathtaking as Station Eleven. I fell in love with several sentences throughout the novel, but the story as a whole simply didn’t move me in the same way. All of that said, it was still an interesting novel that I pored through incredibly quickly and didn’t find myself bored along the way… but if I was going to recommend one of Mandel’s works to you, I would forcefully push Station Eleven into your lap and leave Last Night in Montreal on the bookshelf for you to pick up on your own when the winds call you that way.

Is this review a little harsh for me actually enjoying the book? Yes! I think I just have a hard time comparing it to Mandel’s other riveting work, but this was still good. In the same way that Station Eleven weaves around narrators and individual lives, Last Night in Montreal largely shifts between four narrators and weaves in and out of the present and when a big event happened in the lives of one of the narrators.

Our main narrator, Eli, is perturbed when his girlfriend Lilia, another one of our narrators, abruptly disappears. But disappearing has been one of the only constants in her life since she was about seven years old and abducted from her home by her father. The private investigator attempting to track Lilia’s whereabouts is one of our other narrators, as is his daughter, Michaela, who is nearly the same age as Lilia. The main portions of the tale revolve around getting us to understand the nature of Lilia’s abduction, why she can’t seem to stay in one place, Eli’s grappling with Lilia being a loose thread, yet more connected to her purpose than the stationary Eli who talks about creating great things, but never seems to actually create anything, and Michaela who is attempting to understand her father’s motivations and the dissolution of her own family system. I was able to predict one of the bigger mysteries and felt like Mandel could’ve used her beautiful words to paint a more colorful picture instead of leaving the reader with a muted, vague, somewhat empty canvas of an explanation for one of the bigger questions in the novel, but I enjoyed the ride anyway. 

We Are Okay by Nina LaCour

Screen Shot 2017-07-23 at 1.43.58 PMThis book had me feeling some type of way: I had a nightmare the first night that I started reading the book AND it was the first book to make me cry in quite some time, so maybe my liquid emotions and anxiety dreams can speak for my feelings about the book? They’ll have to do.

We Are Okay, a novel that weaves a tangle of grief/becoming an orphan, desperately wishing for familial closeness that is lacking and desiring the loving families of your closest friends, was riveting in its details of the narrator, Marin, coming to terms with her new life and losses. While the story was beautifully constructed, I marveled at how well LaCour described Marin’s basic daily life, giving space to the minute actions and emotions one does as they navigate new life circumstances. The book hit close to home for me and rattled a lot of closed doors that live inside my body. Chapters 26 and 27 wrecked me in the best way. We Are Okay was good. Would the novel be good to someone who didn’t strongly identify with its contents? I don’t know. Would it hurt as much to read for someone who didn’t strongly identify? Hopefully not.

We Are Okay was gentle and brutal and beautiful simultaneously. I hope you give it a shot.

“I wonder if there’s a secret current that connects people who have lost something. Not in the way that everyone loses something, but in the way that undoes your life, undoes your self, so that when you look at your face it isn’t yours anymore.” (p. 68)
“The most innocent things can call back the most terrible.” (p. 65)

A Million Junes by Emily Henry

amillionjunesIf you were a fan of Emily Henry’s debut, The Love that Split the World , you will love A Million Junes, a story that exists in the same magical realistic world that will likely become the thread that weaves all of Henry’s works together.

When I began this novel, I was struck by the tale as old as time: Montague vs. Capulet; Hatfield vs. McCoy; Coopers vs. Blossoms (yes, I’m Riverdale trash); two families that have hated each other for generations finds the current youthful generation having ~feelings~ for the forbidden other. While this is the basis for the love story, there is SO much more than the romance in this little novel that I adored and quickly consumed! Henry’s first novel received some critique for featuring an instalove storyline, which also occurs in this novel… but isn’t that how some teenagers, and even certain adults, feel sometimes? Henry cleverly has her narrator refer to her blooming affection as an “insta-crush”, which perhaps acknowledges and circumvents the critique from before.

While the love story is foregrounded in this novel, this is primarily a story about grief and losing someone who was instrumental in making you who you are as a being. Losing that person causes a tangible feeling of missing a piece of yourself when the loved one passes. I will always be partial to these stories since my mother died when I was young, but this book felt like a solace for my little, grief-mangled heart. I would have loved to have this book as a teen. Grief can fill your every thought mentally, but can also overtake you physically. This novel did a great job of exploring that and illuminating the many sources of support that you need to depend upon to lift yourself through your grief and the mistakes you might make and harm you might cause as you struggle with your loss. I loved it. Have I said that yet? I LOVED it.

Also full of love? The best friendship featured in this novel. The two best friends frequently worked on putting each other back together and being a major pillar of support to each other, a side of friendship that I’m not sure everyone even opens themselves up enough to experience. The best friendship here built a base of support like a pseudo family for someone who can’t depend on actual family, either by choice or necessity, for that support. My best friends have always been the ones to help put me back together and remind me who I am when I feel lost. I loved that June, the main character, turns to her best friend in especially trying, emotionally charged situations when June is trying to uncover how she really feels.

Stylistically, Henry writes so beautifully that I think I would probably be in love with how she writes a grocery list. I want to be best friends with the author and talk about life and Big Things like loss and mourning and love, whilst sipping delicious warm beverages in the coziest coffee shop. Is that too much to ask for?? Probably, but that’s how this book makes me feel.

Snatch up this book on May 16, 2017, published by Razorbill!!

Some of my favorite quotes are below:

“This is how grief works. It watches; it waits; it hollows you out, again and again.” (p. 201)

“Talking about all this has stirred up memories I do my best to leave settled on the floor of my mind.” (p. 47)

“I wanted to forget this feeling forever. The feeling of being ripped into two people: the you of before and the one you’ll always be once you know what it is to lose something.” (p. 161)

“They don’t know that, the more time passes, the more you forget, and the more you forget, the more it hurts — less often, sure, but worse. You want to dig your fingernails and teeth into the ghost that’s slipping through your fingers.” (p. 114)

“But she always said what she loved best about dad was that, to him, she wasn’t a mystery at all.” (p. 54)

“You know life’s not like this. Even when it’s good, it’s hard and terrible and you lose things you can’t ever replace.” (p. 109)

Disclaimer: I was provided with an Advance Reader Copy of this book for free from the Penguin First to Read program. All opinions expressed in the following review are my own and have not been influenced by Penguin.

Mini Review: Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

biglittleliesBig Little Lies was a delightful & quick read that I recommend for anyone interested in pop thrillers. Of the pop thrillers I’ve read (Gone Girl, The Girl on the Train), Big Little Lies is by far the best of the batch! Lots of little jokes are wormed in around the several disasters that crop up throughout the book. I was able to predict the biggest plot twist, but everyone I know who has read it wasn’t able to. Despite being able to predict the big twist, I was still extremely satisfied with how the book wrapped up, a rare feeling when figuring out a plot point before you’re meant to. There are lots of funny bits about family life in suburbia and a slew of delightful characters that made me want to constantly return to this book as a distraction from real life. Plus, there are plenty of true facts about domestic, physical, and emotional abuse woven throughout the novel that will hopefully help readers understand how these terrible things can take multiple forms and cause readers to be more aware of these very serious, but unfortunately very common issues that plague so many.

If you or someone you know may be in a situation that involves domestic violence or abuse, please visit this website for a list of resources.

my brilliant friend by elena ferrante

mybrilliantfriendI gobbled My Brilliant Friend down in a very short amount of time in order to finish it for a book club discussion only for the discussion to be moved, leading me to wish I had spent a bit more time digesting this book as I read.

Since I’ve been spending most of my reading time diving into an ebook version of Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace, I decided to download an audiobook version of My Brilliant Friend. Unfortunately, a digital audiobook download was unavailable from my library during my time crunch to complete the book, so I signed up for Downpour. Downpour is an audiobook subscription service that allows you to download one audiobook title per month for $12.99. After you purchase the title, it’s yours and won’t disappear from your library after you cancel your subscription like another popular audiobook service *cough*. I really, really liked the service and am looking forward to continuing to get a new audiobook download each month.

Unfortunately, I don’t think an audiobook version of My Brilliant Friend really did the story justice. I frequently found myself zoning out while listening to this book and felt very detached from the story. If you’re going to read this book, definitely opt for a print or ebook version. This book is the debut in the Neapolitan Novels series by the mysterious Elena Ferrante. Ferrante is the pen name of a mysterious Italian author who only communicates with her publisher and the press through letters because she believes that truly great writing doesn’t need promotion of a likable author. The aura of the mysterious author definitely contributes to the allure of the book as I was left wondering how autobiographical the tale was, which I may never learn the answer to.

The novel follows the lives of two girls, Elena (last name Greco, not Ferrante) and Lila, as they  grow up in the outskirts of Naples, Italy in the 1950s. The story begins when the girls are in primary school and follows their friendship and individual lives and ends with one of the girls getting married in her late teens. The story is told from the perspective of Elena, a girl who is enamored with her brilliant friend and is constantly balancing her jealousy of and affection for Lila. This balance felt very true to female friendship that I experienced as I came to age — wanting to possess certain aspects of your friend’s personality or lifestyle, while also feeling lucky to be surrounded by great friends. The tale of their friendship is the central point of this story that holds all of the other details together and makes me wonder what will happen in the subsequent novels after one of the two friends becomes married.

One of my favorite parts of the book is when the lives of our two central characters begins to dovetail as Elena is allowed to continue her education, while Lila, despite being incredibly smart and showing desire to continue her education, is regulated to working in the family business. The inequality in access to education and opportunities heavily influences each of their subsequent decisions and life paths.

There is a lot more going on in this story aside from brilliantly detailing a female friendship and their access to education, but I found myself zoning out when the audiobook delved into the other aspects of Lila and Elena’s world. There is a lot of violence surrounding the neighborhood where the girls grow up and there are hints of ties to the Italian mafia sprinkled in, but because of my zoning out and my lack of familiarity with Italian history during this period, I didn’t fully soak up these subtle references.

Overall, read this book if you have some time to fully imagine the world surrounding these characters and absorbing the details of their friendship. However, the book is definitely not the beach read that the American cover and surrounding press seems to be marketing it as.

Publication Date of English Translation: 25 September 2012 by Europa Editions. Format: Audiobook.

Author: Elena Ferrante web

Narrator: Hillary Huber web/@twitter

where’d you go, bernadette? by maria semple

Where'd You Go, Bernadette? by Maria SempleBefore I even delve into the actual contents of Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple, I need to rave about the audiobook narrator who blew me away. The audiobook narrator was FANTASTIC and felt oddly familiar to me, but I wasn’t quite able to place her voice while I was listening. Upon doing some research for this review and realizing the narrator was Kathleen Wilhoite – it instantly clicked for me! She’s the actress who portrays the mother of Jess in Gilmore Girls, a TV show I spent all winter streaming in entirety! While she was great in Gilmore Girls, I really think her talents are able to shine even more brightly in the narration of this novel.

I found this book extremely engaging while I was listening to it, largely due to Wilhoite’s supreme talents, but when I reflected on it a week later, I didn’t find the actual story to be very memorable. That’s not to say that the storyline wasn’t interesting, because it definitely was, but I mostly remember enjoying the novel as a whole, rather than the actual storyline or the writing style… kind of like when you watch a movie and you remember feeling really happy when you watched it, but you can’t quite remember what the film was actually about.

The novel follows the life of a family living in Seattle and surrounded by the upper-crust community that staffs the tech sector in the Pacific Northwest. The point of view of the story switches often from Bernadette, a mother who stays at home, to her 15 year old daughter Bee, to her nosy and annoying neighbor who has nothing better to do (anyone who has lived in a community with a Home Owner’s Association will recognize and despise this character; parts including her garnered the most laugh out loud moments of the book), to Bernadette’s husband’s secretary, to others in their community. Each of their points of view are conveyed via streams of consciousness, emails, faxes, memos, and newsletters, which add a little flavor to the story. The actual plot of the story, which culminates in Bernadette disappearing, hence the title, is far less interesting than the humorously delivered quirks of each of the characters.

Where’d You Go, Bernadette? would be a great selection for a vacation read (even if it’s only a mental vacation that you’re able to take!) because it’ll be plenty entertaining without requiring you to think too much or get stuck mulling over elegantly written passages. It’s a light mystery that will entangle your mind while you’re reading, but isn’t too dark to bring down your mood while you’re enjoying taking a break from your life. I especially recommend the audiobook version if you’re embarking on a road trip! I give this book 5 stars for the narration performance, but only 3 stars for the actual book.

Publication Date: 14 August 2012 by Little, Brown and Company. Format: Digital Audiobook from Hatchette Audio.

Author: Maria Semple web/facebook

Narrator: Kathleen Wilhoite web/@twitter/blog