Tag Archives: fiction

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.

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Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan

manhattanbeachI was eager to read the next novel by Jennifer Egan after loving A Visit from the Goon Squad, which was intriguingly constructed and unique. That story spun from character to character and wove a beautiful, interconnected web. To her credit, Egan tried to establish a similar web with Manhattan Beach, but it mostly fell flat for me. In contrast to the other, the reader spends their time reading the perspectives of three characters instead of a wider multitude and the character spins aren’t as great. While Egan clearly excelled at writing some of the characters, not all of them seemed fully developed. 
Manhattan Beach mostly takes place during the 1940s, but weaves to times before then occasionally, and the war is perpetually on the horizon. A theme of water moves throughout the entire novel with our three main characters all meeting at the beach for the first time, two of the characters diving together to find clues about a third, and one working on a ship.
The main characters are Eddie, the patriarch of an Irish family in Brooklyn who eventually becomes involved with the shadow world aka organized crime, Eddie’s daughter Anna who we follow from youth to her early 20s where she aspires to be a civilian diver at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, and Dexter Styles, a prominent figure within New York’s shadow world who employs Eddie. In addition to our three central characters, so many characters are mentioned in passing (particularly those related to Dexter Styles) that it was hard to keep track of who they are, why they matter, and what their relevant traits are when they’re reintroduced. 
I liked all of the bits from Eddie’s perspective the best and if we had followed him throughout the entire novel instead, this book very well could have garnered 5 stars from me. There’s a moving scene with Eddie on a raft that will stay with me for weeks. Aside from Eddie’s bits, the novel trudges along slowly and picks up in the last 100 pages (though it seems like other reviewers disagree with me and felt like the first 100 pages were the most engaging).
Overall, the novel was well written, but the story arcs and setting just weren’t for me. I haven’t been a fan of historical fiction in over a decade (remember that Dear America diary series? *swoon*) and this book didn’t incite me to switch back into the historical fiction appreciation camp. When I was more interested in this genre, I was partial to historical pieces that aren’t based in America so it’s very possible I could’ve liked something like this had it been situated elsewhere, but I simply didn’t find this story all that interesting. If you’re an Egan fan with a hunkering for some NYC historical fiction, this will be great. If you’re not… well, you’re not. 
My favorite quote from the novel is, of course from one of Eddie’s bits, when he is reflecting on his relationship with his daughter Anna:
“It was as if being his daughter had blinded her uniquely, as if anyone else — everyone — had seen and known him in a way she could not.”
Manhattan Beach will be released at physical and digital U.S. bookstores on October 3, 2017! 
Disclaimer: I was provided with a digital copy of this book for free from Scribner via NetGalley. All opinions expressed in the review are my own and have not been influenced by Scribner or NetGalley.

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. 

Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami

norwegianwoodOof — I wanted to love my first time reading Murakami, an author beloved by many of my friends, but Norwegian Wood simply didn’t stand up to my expectations. Initially, I really enjoyed the story and writing style until I hit the 70 page mark and my affection took a nosedive, likely because of the introduction of a character (Midori) that I couldn’t stand at all.

Norwegian Wood follows about a year in the life of a college student, Toru, in Japan, as he weaves through the tangled web of love, sex, and adolescence. I’ve read and enjoyed many similar stories before and didn’t think I would mind reading another iteration, but I couldn’t jive with this. The entire novel was wrought with symbolism, which I’m guessing is true to Murakami’s style and also something that I might be able to better stomach for a storyline I appreciated more. Instead, so many of the pages were dominated by my least favorite character in the novel, Midori, trying hard to be a sensitive dream girl with #DeepFeelings, when it actuality it appears like a costume that most readers will probably see through. I’ve liked unlikable characters in other novels that I’ve read, but I found Midori so grating and rolled my eyes each time she was involved in a dialogue exchange. Midori isn’t actually a manic pixie dream girl, but she reads like someone who desperately wants to fulfill that role for a lover, becoming the sad, one-dimensional, but still cute girlfriend with #feelings and #emotions. Can you tell I use #hashtags when I’m mocking something? It’s almost become my way of conveying ~sarcasm via the internet~.

The story did manage to suck me back in once Midori disappeared, but I found myself rolling my eyes as soon as she was reintroduced around page 220. I did really like the other characters (Toru, Naoko, and Reiko), but I just couldn’t get over hating Midori to be able to enjoy the book. If you can, power to you, but the inclusion of Midori made my entire view of Norwegian Wood be reduced to a superficial attempt at depicting sadness, depression, and the ~deep feelings~ associated with them. 

All of that considered, I might give Murakami another shot, if someone can convince me to read another of his books that isn’t the massive tome that is 1Q84.

Not Quite a Genius by Nate Dern

notquiteageniusNate Dern, a comedian who has spent time at UCB and Funny or Die, wrote this compilation that is a blend of memoir and fictional, sometimes absurdist, pieces. I’m not gonna lie, it took me a while to warm up to this collection, in the same way it takes an audience member to warm up to a stand up comedian spewing jokes on a stage. Before stumbling across this book, I had never heard of Nate Dern and wasn’t familiar with any of his comedy bits. This also meant that his humor wasn’t easy for me to access initially because I was completely unfamiliar with his style. Reading Not Quite a Genius was the opposite of my experience reading Simon Rich’s The Last Girlfriend on Earth, a collection that is somewhat similar in style, but from a writer I was familiar with and thus was more easily able to dive into his kookier bits that may have been inaccessible otherwise. In the same way that an audience member must be warmed up at a comedy gig, it took me a few chapters to habituate to the writer’s humor and style, but once I did, I laughed to myself multiple times.  

For me, the collection picked up about a third of the way through… or that was how many pages it took to successfully warm me up to Dern’s humor. I thought the funniest bits were when Dern shifted more into humorous memoir territory (the first chapter is brilliant as he details his gawky young adult years). While the fictional bits were less my speed, I giggled several times while reading the “Bruce Lee Novelty Plate” and “How Many Farts Measure a Life” chapters.

That said, some of the funny bits just didn’t come across for me in print at all. In my head, I could imagine the fictional scenarios having more ~umph~ if I were hearing them performed live, but I experienced a disconnect while I was reading (specifically the chapter “I Like All Types of Music and My Sense of Humor Is So Random”). That’s the thing about these types of compilations: while this chapter was a swing and a miss in print for me, it might be a grand slam for a different reader. For any reader seeking a comedic collection, there will be a piece in Not Quite a Genius that is a grand slam for you. If you’re already a fan of Dern’s comedy, you’ll probably witness several grand slams. 

Not Quite a Genius will be released at physical and digital U.S. bookstores on August 8, 2017! 

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

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)

Mini Review: Landline by Rainbow Rowell

Screen Shot 2017-07-18 at 4.34.17 PMLandline, which is not the material that the new movie featuring Jenny Slate is based upon, felt like a romantic comedy film in book form. The storyline revolves around a landline that permits the main character to communicate with her spouse in a slightly mystical way that isn’t feasible otherwise. She communicates about her problems with her life, her relationship, and her general aura of lostness at her current point in life (mom, two kids, married, successful television writing career). The novel was sugary sweet and I found it to be a tad superficial with the problems of the main characters (in comparison to the other books I tend to gravitate toward anyway), almost like it skims the top of the feelings/emotions/situations I wish were explored more. However, this dosage is probably before for a lot of people — I’m just not the perfect patron.

That said, would I pick up one of Rowell’s novels when I was seeking a book that wouldn’t make me dive too deep into my own head or feel too many things? Probably. My boyfriend is convinced I’ll enjoy Fangirl, so that’ll probably be the one I give a shot next.