Tag Archives: books

Catalina and the King’s Wall by Patty Costello

catalinaCatalina and the King’s Wall is full of BEAUTIFUL illustrations that you and a child can look at for several minutes to point out all of the amazing intricacies. While I did enjoy this book overall, I thought the second half of the book felt stronger and more ready for a young reader. The first half of the picture book introduced many baking terms without illustrations modeling the verbs, which might be difficult for a young reader to comprehend. The tale includes a message against building a wall to separate two lands and potential family members, but could have spent a little more space highlighting why this is cruel to clarify the message for a young reader. However, I can also understand why a message like this might be intentionally vague. All that considered, I don’t have kids, so maybe I’m a little out of touch.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a digital copy of this book for free from the author (Patty Costello) via email. All opinions expressed in the review are my own and have not been influenced by the author.

Publication Date: 5 May 2018 by Eifrig PublishlingFormat: Ebook.

Author: Patty Costello web/@twitter/@instagram

Illustrator: Diana Cojocaru

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Call Me by Your Name by André Aciman

IMG_8489I wanted to love this book, I really did, but it wasn’t a match for me. I recognized the book and I were not jiving about 30 pages in, but I kept pushing through anyway (does anyone have tips for putting a book down when you know it’s not for you?? Please share with me!!). This book is full of pages and pages and pages of teenage longing from afar. Maybe it’s because I’m passed the point in my life of finding familiarity in these feelings, but I found the longing to be extremely boring.

In the novel, teenager Elio spends most of his time longing for young adult Oliver, a visiting scholar working on his manuscript while visiting Elio’s academic family in Italy. About three-quarters into the novel, the plot picks up when Oliver and Elio tentatively verbalize their perceived connection to each other and begin exploring it further. While I preferred this slightly to the prior pieces of the novel, it wasn’t enough to counteract my boring impression of the novel. The standout piece of the novel is when Elio goes to visit Oliver several years after their summer together and reflects on the many ways their lives could have been different, thinking of the ways lovers do and do not shape our lives even when they are no longer physically present. But was this one beautiful bit enough? Unfortunately no.

Altogether, Call Me by Your Name was simply too slow of a book for me. I didn’t like the characters enough to be satisfied with the slow pace and overall lack of plot for most of the novel. Maybe if I had seen the film version of this book, I would have been more forgiving.

Publication Date: 23 January 2007 by PicadorFormat: Paperback.

Author: André Aciman @twitter

I Can’t Date Jesus: Love, Sex, Family, Race, and Other Reasons I’ve Put My Faith in Beyoncé by Michael Arceneaux

image1 (9)I really thought I was going to go through all of 2018 only reading books written by women, but Michael Arcenaux’s debut I Can’t Date Jesus sounded too intriguing to ignore. Despite not reading any of Arceneaux’s work before, I really enjoyed reading his memoir essays. He’s a big shot in the journalism world, particularly known for writing from the gay and black POV, but you don’t need to know his previous work to dive into this! Arceneaux brilliantly writes about the tensions between his family, religion, sexuality, professional goals, Beyoncé, and beyond. I dug all of the Texas references (some of my favorites were deep cuts that people outside of Texas might not understand… but people read that kind of stuff all of the time about NYC, so don’t let that dissuade you) and enjoyed reading about his reflections upon how his experiences, both during youth and more recently, have greatly shaped the man Arceneaux is today.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a digital copy of this book for free from Atria Books via NetGalley. All opinions expressed in the review are my own and have not been influenced by Atria Books or NetGalley.

Publication Date: 24 July 2018 by Atria BooksFormat: ARC e-book.

Author: Michael Arceneaux web/@twitter/@instagram

Chemistry by Weike Wang

image1 (4)As someone currently stumbling through a PhD program, I was delighted to read a book about a character tripping, falling, and removing themselves from similar circumstances. PhD programs are super weird and demanding in different ways that are hard to explain to people who haven’t pursued one so I gobble up opportunities to hear about experiences, even fictional, navigating the strange world of PhDs. 

Chemistry by Weike Wang is almost like a diary/stream of consciousness of the main, unnamed character. She’s in a Chemistry PhD program, which are known to be notoriously demanding because of time required to be physically present in a lab to run experiments, and she’s completely flailing. Some of the “chapters” are simply written with thoughts that sometimes seem half-formed, as if they are the real thoughts of someone who is feeling quite a bit lost and not sure of where to turn next. 

The main character has Chinese parents who are no longer in the U.S. and their extreme expectations for the main character highlight her struggle between the “American dream” and her parents’ evaluation of what it means to succeed in America. This is juxtaposed with her white, American boyfriend’s comparatively easy experience of success because he isn’t simultaneously struggling to barely meet his parents’ expectations of all of the things they perceive he should also be accomplishing.  Most of the struggle in this book is related to the main character’s  parents’ expectations and demands not aligning with what would ultimately help her reach personal and professional happiness and the juxtaposition of the ease of her boyfriend to excel through the same program. 

Some readers may wish that this had more depth, but I enjoyed the brevity! There are some beautiful little bits (the deer metaphor was my favorite!) that are sandwiched in here that would be easy to miss if you were speed reading. I suspect that enjoyment of this book might be limited to those familiar with PhD programs or those interested in the family dynamics. If either of those sound like stories you want to read, scoop this up!

Publication Date: 23 May 2017 by Knopf PublishingFormat: Hardcover.

Author: Weike Wang bio

One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter by Scaachi Koul

IMG_8187I received Scaachi Koul’s debut in my great Christmas book haul of 2017 and I adored it! Koul is a news reporter at Buzzfeed and wrote an excellent essay about A Series of Unfortunate Events that put her on my radar (please read it here or this magnificent piece about Sufjan Stevens that I only found today if you want to get a taste of her style and the things that interest her). The point of view that shines through in her Buzzfeed essays is cranked up to 1000 in One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter, a memoir of personal essays about the experiences she’s had so far. She sprinkles in some stories about growing up in Canada with Indian parents, going back to India and being othered because she’s “western”, but also not exactly fitting in within all western contexts either, a few college stories, and a gloss over adulthood and relationships. It was a quick read and gives a reader a glimpse into lots of different territories without wading in any of them too long. My favorite essay is titled “Aus-piss-ee-ous” and covers attending a cousin’s wedding ceremony in India and feeling out of place with the traditions and realizing that even her Indian relatives aren’t quite comfortable with the traditions either, but go along with it anyway. Koul’s book is excellent, very entertaining, and tonally felt like catching up with a friend over beers. I recommend!

Publication Date: 7 March 2017 by Picador. Format: Paperback.

Author: Scaachi Koul @twitter/@instagram/facebook

beyond belief: my secret life inside scientology and my harrowing escape by jenna miscavige hill and lisa pulitzer

beyondbeliefEver since I was a little kid, I’ve always been interested in different religious practices and the rituals associated with holding certain beliefs. I grew up (and still continue) going to my friends’ places of worship and observing how everyone chooses to practice. It’s always nice to see how openly people display and explain their religious practices when you tell them that you’re curious about their faith. There was one belief system that I knew absolutely nothing about, partly because I don’t think I have any friends who practice it, but mostly because information about the religion is heavily shielded on the internet. Scientology, ever alluring and mysterious as the “religion of members of Hollywood’s elite,” is the latest religion to intrigue me and thus when I learned of Beyond Belief, I immediately requested it from my library.

This memoir, written by Jenna Miscavige Hill and co-written by Lisa Pulitzer, details Miscavige Hill’s experiences being raised within the Church of Scientology. Miscavige Hill’s parents met while they were teenagers in the Church of Scientology and chose to raise their children within the church. Scientologist children are frequently separated from their families for long periods of time and Miscavige Hill details that she was often required to work grueling hours, frequently perform manual labor when she was very young, and act as doctor to all sick children when she was also a child. Miscavige Hill was prevented from seeing her family on a regular basis, initially because her parents were sent on missions that kept them away from the family home and then eventually because her parents left the Church of Scientology when their daughter was a teenager and Miscavige Hill chose to continue being a member of the church. Because of the strict rules related to excommunication of former members, Miscavige Hill didn’t see her family members who had left the church for years. Miscavige Hill, while still a member of the church, was in contact with her aunt, Michele Miscavige, and uncle, David Miscavige, who is the current leader of the Church of Scientology, and this makes Miscavige Hill’s shared insight even more intriguing.

Overall, Beyond Belief is likely a good representation of what it was like to grow up within the Church of Scientology at the time that Miscavige Hill did so. The church seems to be constantly making changes regarding their treatment of children (at one point, Miscavige Hill says that the church discouraged all church members from reproducing) so I’m not certain how generalizable Miscavige Hill’s experiences are to the experiences of the greater Scientology community. Miscavige Hill also states that her experiences differ dramatically from celebrity members of the church as they are treated like royalty, as most celebrities generally are by the public. If you are interested in learning more about Scientology, this first person account places the rules and beliefs of Scientology into a context that I wasn’t able to find from reading extensive articles about the religion online. However, if you’re not curious, this book likely isn’t for you.

Publication Date: 5 February 2013 by William Morrow. Format: Digital Audiobook from HarperAudio.

Author: Jenna Miscavige Hill blog/@twitter/instagram/web

Narrator: Sandy Rustin web/@twitter

Off the Page Event presented by Random House

I just returned from Random House’s Off the Page Event that took place today in New York’s Hudson Valley. A few weeks ago, I won tickets to the event for me + a friend through an Instagram contest which was very exciting! Enter those digital book contests — one day you might be the lucky winner!

I had never been to upstate New York before so I was very excited to visit the rolling hills of Hudson Valley and to escape the hubbub of the city life for a weekend. Sam, one of my college friends, was game to go with me and I’m so happy she agreed! We made our way up to Hudson on Friday night and stayed with some of her family friends before departing for the event bright and early on Saturday morning.

The morning started off with a conversation between Dana Bowen, the editor of Every Day with Rachel Ray, and Ruth Reichl, the author of many fantastic food memoirs and cookbooks.

Dana Bowen, left, interviews Ruth Reichl, right, at Random House's Off the Page Event

Dana Bowen, left, interviews Ruth Reichl, right, at Random House’s Off the Page Event

The conversation was quite lovely and Ms. Reichl was extremely charming as she discussed the creation of her upcoming cookbook to be released this fall. Reichl moved to Hudson after falling upon some hard times in the city and cooked her way back to happiness, all the while tweeting about her experiences along the way. The book covers the foods that helped her find her happiness again.

After listening to that exciting conversation, Sam and I attended some of the classes they offered as part of the event. We learned different ways to brew coffee from Toby’s Estate and how to make flower arrangements! We also tried savory yogurt, courtesy of Blue Hill Yogurt, which we’d never done before! Fun photos of all of these things are at the end of the post.

We were also given a swag bag that included a summer issue of Every Day with Rachel RayTop Secret Twenty-One by Janet Evanovich, The One that Got Away by Bethany Chase, and Lucky Us by Amy Bloom.

Off the Page Swag

Off the Page Swag

Thanks for the fun event, Random House! Here’s to hoping I can win tickets to more cool events in the future! Click through for more photos from the day!

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