Tag Archives: book blogger

Mini Review: Caraval by Stephanie Garber

caravalHmm… this is a tough review to write because I definitely enjoyed the overall plot of Caraval, but didn’t necessarily enjoy the journey to get to the bigger plot points. For the first 270 pages or so, this read was a slog that I only trudged through because it was one of two books I brought on holiday (Side note: I found an Advance Reading Copy version of this book in a lending library so it’s possible the final published version is different from what I read). Once I hit the turning point, I quickly finished and enjoyed the remaining storylines, but nothing should take more than 200 pages to be compelling! The romance between two of the leads was a little much for me and I found myself annoyed that adolescents might read this and think this is how they should build their crushes on other people (stop describing this man’s ~perfect muscles~!!), but hopefully the t(w)weens will roll their eyes while reading those pieces too and think “not for me!” The family relationships and affiliations were better described and fuller. All that said, I’ll probably still pick up the sequel if it gets good reviews since the laborious (unnecessary) world building was established with the first novel and I enjoyed the second half much more than the first. 

Publication Date: 31 January 2017 by Flatiron Books. Format: Paperback ARC.

Author: Stephanie Garber web/facebook/@twitter

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Mini Review: Do What You Want by Ruby Tandoh and Leah Pritchard

Screen Shot 2017-05-28 at 5.15.45 PMI had to stop all of my plans the day I was reading this because this was SO GOOD, but it also made me want to collapse into a puddle of tears. Reading about other people’s mental health always makes me feel some type of way — comforted by feeling seen through shared experiences but shattered that so many people have these same experiences and feelings. That said, it was great to see a range of different types of mental health covered (in addition to the heavily talked about depression and anxiety), along with the factors that can contribute to issues developing and the aftermath that can be caused after issues emerge. This is primarily a zine (though can it technically be a zine if it has a ISBN number?) about mental health with a few recipes sprinkled throughout, contrary to my friend’s and my belief that it would be an equally balanced food and mind zine since one of the editors is Great British Bake Off‘s Ruby Tandoh.

Coffee in the photo is courtesy of Chicago’s Bang Bang Pie & Biscuits and will be included in a future coffee review post of all of the coffee beans I’ve tried for my cold brew creations.

I’m Just a Person by Tig Notaro

imjustaperson

I love Tig Notaro, which might just be because her mom died and she talks about it all of the time. It greatly influenced who she is and I relate to that. I always wonder if my obsession with my own mother’s death is because I was so young when it happened, but I don’t think that’s the case after reading Notaro’s account of losing her mother during middle adulthood. Loss of loved ones will always profoundly affect me because I love so much and I am a culmination of those I love and who love me, something that Notaro shares in her memoir about her own life. 

Notaro had a hell of a two years: she got diagnosed with a rare, potentially fatal infection, her mother died suddenly, she and her girlfriend broke up, she learned she had breast cancer, she experienced fertility issues, and so much more. This book details those experiences and expounds upon Tig’s wonderings about life, ties to family and friendship, and her place in the comedy and general world. It’s a pretty quick read, but I found myself pausing and ruminating frequently while reading. One memorable reflection was inspired by this quote,

“So my answer is no, I don’t have a need for my mother to ‘see me now.’ I just have the desire to see my mother again.” 

If you’re already a Tig Notaro fan, you won’t find much new about the life stories detailed in her memoir. The memoir is essentially written accounts of what is detailed in her stand up specials and documentary. Some readers might find this annoying and repetitive, but I didn’t mind it at all since I read I’m Just a Person about a year after watching her documentary. However, if you’re jumping into a Tig binge, I advise you to space out your consumption since it is pretty much a regurgitation of the same story in different formats. 

This was the first book that I’ve read in a long time that encouraged so many strangers to talk to me about it — someone sitting next to me on a train platform, the manager at a pie shop, any friend who saw me lugging it around. I was surprised at the great general interest in the book from passersby, but perhaps that speaks to the universal appeal of the fantastic Tig Notaro. 

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.

Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick

silverliningsplaybookMy boyfriend asked me to read this and so I did. I introduce my review this way because this is a novel that I wouldn’t have picked up on my own – I didn’t find the movie to be Academy worthy *cough* and I didn’t find the premise particularly compelling. However, the book is actually quite different from the film and presents a much more engaging story.

Pat, the book’s lead character, begins the story in a mental institution (also known as “the bad place”) and most of the book follows him trying to come to terms with his reality: he now lives at home with his parents, years having passed since he entered the “bad place” and he isn’t fully aware of exactly a) how much time has passed, b) what has changed, or c) what caused him to leave his old reality. The best parts of the book consisted of descriptions of Pat navigating his present reality and understanding that he has, and will likely always have, mental wellness dilemmas.

The love story component wasn’t that interesting and walks a thin line adjacent to the manic pixie dream girl trope. I forgave this since the narrator was so intensely focused and had a hard time practicing empathy with anyone, making me believe that storyline was intentionally written that way. Overall, Silver Linings Playbook was a very quick + breezy read, but I’m not sure I’ll remember much about the story a year from now.

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J. D. Vance

hillbillyelegyI began reading this book for fun and then found that it was relevant to some of the work I’m doing so yay — a very pleasant surprise! A lot of people have chosen to read this book to understand the “hidden right” post-election cycle. I chose to read it to see how the author’s experience lined up with my own background. Despite not growing up in Appalachia, many of the situations that the author described were extremely familiar to me. I grew up in a working-class family and spent 5 years of my childhood in a rural town, population: 800. While the author categorizes his experiences as being particular to Appalachia, I would say they also extend to rural southern living conditions, including my area of Northeast Texas.

I related a lot to Vance’s description of trying to learn how to portray himself as being of a different social class than the one he was born into — like Vance, I was the first in my immediate family to go to college, becoming upwardly mobile, and I found myself struggling to fit in when ‘everything from your old life becomes unfashionable at best or unhealthy at worst.’ (p. 207)

He also spends time detailing Christianity in Appalachia and how he (at one point) and many of the churchgoing people have (either at one time or persistently) felt like persecuted minorities by ‘elite liberals’ who some believe are making the world a scary and foreign place. His commentary on Christianity and many of the contradictions present in Appalachia were revealing in that many of the residents don’t belong to a church, but vastly report high church attendance because of perceived social pressures. His own experience emphasized that the persecuted minority feelings are salient in the churches, but less so in how individuals believe and practice faith in their own homes.

Chapters 14 (particularly) and 15 were most relevant to the work that I do, but the links from the previous chapters are needed to feel the full heft of the messages in those later chapters. These chapters discuss the traumas that working-class children regularly experience because of a myriad of factors: unreliable income, inconsistent parental support, violence in the home, etc. and the massive effect they have on child outcomes and development of mental and physical health conditions later in life. I also found the writer’s description of his limited relationship with his parents for survival purposes particularly refreshing — it’s something I have also adopted for my own self-preservation purposes, but haven’t read detailed in another work so precisely.

I’ve read many similar books that attempt to describe the plight and lives of America’s working-class through studies and home observation vignettes, but I found this memoir to be the most revealing and authentic… perhaps because it was written by someone who experienced this lifestyle rather than being written by a researcher looking in and trying to understand class and lifestyle differences. While the author doesn’t push for specific policy changes, he does admit that we collectively need to strive to make things better, particularly for working-class youth while their worlds and expectations for themselves are still malleable.

Mini Review: The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

thebelljarHow have I gotten this far through life without anyone forcing me to read this book?? I started reading a friend’s copy and instantly felt compelled to highlight meaningful bits as I moved along. I had to acquire my own copy as I knew it would become a staple that lives on my bookshelf forever. My lovely friend (thanks Gabe!) bought me a copy while I visiting Brooklyn for the holidays. I love love loved this and felt like Plath describes a specific depression experience in young adulthood well. Since I also spent a bit of a time in New York in my early 20s and felt out of place while interning whilst all of my friends loved the glam of the city, I found those bits intriguing. I don’t particularly recommend reading this during the winter gloomy season as the holidays are approaching, as that time is already dark enough without needing something to plunge yourself deeper, but I’m not sure I would’ve liked it nearly as much if I had read it during a summery time.

Selected quotes:

“Either I got better, or I fell, down, down, like a burning, then burnt-out star.” (p. 209)

“I didn’t want my pictures taken because I was going to cry. I didn’t know why I was going to cry, but I knew that if anybody spoke to me or looked at me too closely the tears would fly out of my throat and I’d cry for a week. I could feel the tears brimming and sloshing in me like water in a glass that is unsteady and too full.”(p. 100-101)

“I felt now that all the uncomfortable suspicions I had about myself were coming true, and I couldn’t hide the truth much longer. After nineteen years of running after good marks and prizes and grants of one sort and another, I was letting up, slowing down, and dropping clean out of the race.” (p. 29)

“If you expect nothing from somebody you are never disappointed.” (p. 59)