Tag Archives: Penguin First to Read

Take Me with You by Andrea Gibson

takemewithyouBefore receiving an ARC of this book from Penguin‘s First to Read program, I was unfamiliar with poet and activist Andrea Gibson. This was the perfect little collection of poems to read while I was visiting family (and their related tensions) over the holiday season.

The collection is broken into three main sections (1: On Love, 2: On the World; and 3: On Becoming) and I found that most of the poems that resonated with me were in the second section (On the World), which is likely partially influenced by the fact that I spent the holidays in a house helmed by a conservative patriarch.

A lot of the poems in the first section (On Love) will probably be enjoyed by those that adore the Instagram poems about love — some were a little too gooey for me personally, but will probably also be the ones that are recreated with pretty lettering on Tumblr and Instagram. The third section (On Becoming) discusses coming out experiences in different ways (coming out of certain religious ideologies, not strongly identifying with the strict confines of gender, and who Gibson becomes romantically entangled with) and I can imagine they will be beautiful, reassuring messages to read when navigating similar experiences.

Some of the poems struck me more as mantras and calls to action than poems, but because this collection is written by an activist, they didn’t feel too out of place when included here.

The poems are all untitled so it’s hard for me list which poems I enjoyed the most, but I’ve included my two favorites below.

“They want you thinking you’re
bad at being a girl instead of
thinking you’re good at being
yourself. They want you to buy
your blush from a store instead
of letting it bloom from your 
butterflies. They’re telling you
to blend in, like you’ve never
seen how a blender works. like
they think you’ve
never seen the mess
from the blade.” (p. 96)

“Promise that who we
weep and fight and
tear down the sun
for will not only
be our own faces in 
the mirror.” (p. 87)

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

Publication Date: 23 January 2018 by Plume Books. Format: E-book ARC.

Poet: Andrea Gibson web/@twitter/@instagram/tumblr


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.

Chuck Klosterman X by Chuck Klosterman

xI haven’t read any of Chuck Klosterman’s collections before, despite them hanging on my TBR list for years. When I received an email indicating I could review his soon to be released work, I thought it would be the perfect time to explore Klosterman’s writings. Aside from a GQ profile here and there, I didn’t know much about Klosterman’s favorite topic areas or style. Before reading this, I had no idea that he was also a prolific sports writer or a general culture critic since I had only read his music pieces. This collection is a mix of all of those flavors and because of that, I didn’t feel compelled to read each and every piece, but I did read most – even those that I wouldn’t have initially if I had known the topic area without context.

But the contextualizations work and drew me into reading about things that I would have dismissed otherwise. For most of the essays, Klosterman introduced them and describes the time, place, and subject that is captured in the essay. I read each of these introductions and used them to help me determine if I wanted to read a piece even if I thought I wouldn’t have (like the first chapter on an obscure and mostly forgotten junior college basketball game, the piece on Noel Gallagher, the profile of Jonathan Franzen, or an article about attending both Creed and Nickleback concerts in a single evening). Not every piece has this introduction though, which caused me to skip out of the essay if I wasn’t ensnared by the first paragraph.

My favorite standalone piece was “Everybody’s Happy When The Wizards Walk By (Or Maybe Not? Maybe They Hate It? Hard To Say, Really,” which is about actively choosing to not engage with a piece of media that is dominating culture (Harry Potter) and the ramifications this may cause, especially for a culture writer. It was also hilarious to read someone discussing Harry Potter, and what they believe the franchise to be, without having read the novels since Harry Potter was a big piece of my life (and my body – shout out to my predictable Harry Potter tattoo).

One of my favorite lines in the whole collection was, “Here’s something I wrote in Europe in 2008, when I was pretend depressed” and I can’t even remember which essay that introduced now. The collection closes with a piece on collective mourning over celebrity deaths (specifically the loss of David Bowie and Prince in 2016) and ends with the line “I could not psychologically compete. I could not compete with the collective unreal, so I decided to think about something else.” This seems like a profound statement to end a collection of cultural commentary – like maybe Klosterman is finding himself more disengaged with popular culture than he used to be and feels like it’s time to transition to a new topic, just as he moved from covering death to culture. Because I haven’t read most of his work, I’m not sure if this is on point or not, but it seemed very intentional. We’ll see what’s to come from his future works and you can count me in as a regular reader.

Chapters I Skipped:
1) The Light Who Has Lighted the World (Tim Tebow), 2) Liquid Food (Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin), 3) C’mon Dave, Gimme a Break (Eddie Van Halen of Van Halen), 4) The (Unenthusiastic) Return of the Thin White Duke (Stephen Malkmus of Pavement), 5) User Your Illusion (But Don’t Bench Ginóbli), 6) The Drugs Don’t Work (Actually, They Work Great, 7) Brown Would Be the Color (If I Had a Heart) (Cleveland Browns), 8) Democracy Now! (Guns N’ Roses’ Chinese Democracy album), 9) Metal Machine “Music” (Lou Reed-Metallica Lulu album), 10) Advertising Worked on Me (KISS).

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.

don’t fail me now by una lamarche

dontfailmenowDon’t Fail Me Now by Una LaMarche was absolutely fantastic! Add this book to your TBR list immediately!! I’ve been reading my fair share of YA books this season and hadn’t really enjoyed any of them to the point that I was beginning to think that I’d gotten too old and jaded to connect with the storylines. However, Don’t Fail Me Now proved my hypothesis completely wrong! This book is going to be a lot of things for a lot of people, but I’ll settle with explaining what this book meant to me.

The book’s protagonist is Michelle, the 17-year-old eldest child of a temporarily incarcerated mother and a father who deserted her family when Michelle was young. Due to her absentee parents, Michelle is tasked with raising her two younger siblings, a 13-year-old sister who is struggling with being 13 amidst all of her family’s issues and a 6-year-old brother. For the duration of the novel, Michelle’s siblings are dependent on her minimum wage income from her part-time job at Taco Bell. Those circumstances alone would be enough to give Michelle a very complicated life, but the book continues to delve deeper.

The action starts when Michelle is approached by her sibling’s stepbrother… of a different sibling than the two that I’ve already described. When Michelle’s father left Michelle’s family, he shacked up with a new partner and had another daughter who is 13, the same age as the younger sister that lives with Michelle. Sound complicated, yet? The stepbrother explains that Michelle’s father is dying and wants to see her before he passes. After some grumblings, the group of five minors decides to trek across the country to see their shared, dying father. The struggles they encounter as they drive across the country and realize the differences that exist amongst the siblings are what makes this novel so spectacular.

The book also lightly brushes upon what it’s like to be mixed-race and the struggle of encountering peers who don’t check their privilege. Some reviewers have pointed out that they wanted the book to explore these issues more deeply, but I felt like they were detailed enough for their points to be made and I know they’ll likely serve as an entry point to understanding those issues for some readers. If LaMarche had stressed these points further, I think the book may have come off as too preachy to some readers.

I loved this book when I read it as a person in my early 20s, but I needed this book as a young teenager. As someone who had a similarly complicated life to Michelle that involved living paycheck-to-paycheck, doing more for my sibling than any eldest sibling should be asked to do, and having “secret” family members, I would have loved to have read a story that depicted a situation similar to mine. When I was growing up, I felt like my own story was so crazy that there was no way that any of my peers could ever relate. If I had been able to read a book like Don’t Fail Me Now, I would have known that, while my experience is still probably rare-ish, it’s not completely isolated and is a life that many have shared. I hope this book manages to fall into the hands of kids who have similar stories to mine and the protagonist’s and provides them the comfort and shared story that I felt was lacking from most of the books I read as a teen.

Since I so clearly adored this book, I’ve already acquired another book written by LaMarche! I was halfway through reading my e-galley of Don’t Fail Me Now when I attended the Bright Lines book launch event at Greenlight Bookstore. While I was waiting for the event to begin, I noticed Unabrow, Una LaMarche’s memoir, on the table in front of me. Because I was already enjoying my first LaMarche read so much, I decided to impulse buy LaMarche’s memoir and I’ll be reading it soon! If you’ve read Unabrow, let me know what you thought of it in the comments!

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.

Expected Publication Date: 1 September 2015 by Razorbill. Format: Format: Ebook from Penguin First to Read.

Author: Una LaMarche web/@twitter/instagram/facebook/youtube/blog

june round up

Hi folks! This June Round Up is coming to your computer screen a little late (though I may be starting a trend here…) because a lot of summer traveling has been occupying my attention. In the past few weeks, my high school best friend, my boo, and one of my college best friends all came to stay with me on separate occasions. As I’m writing this, I’ve just returned from a July 4th trip to Washington, D.C., to visit another one of my college best friends and it’s the first time I’ve been in front of a computer in days. In fact, I originally hand wrote this blog note on the train from D. C. because I was taking a break from “screen time” all weekend.

My traveling isn’t going to stop anytime soon because this coming weekend, I’m heading up to Hudson, NY for Random House’s Off the Page event. I won two tickets to the event through an Instagram contest and am very excited about the event and visiting upstate New York! Hudson is allegedly adorable and very picturesque so I’ll be spending an extra day exploring the quaint town. You can expect a post all about the event sometime in the next week… as long as I manage to post it before I depart to Chicago for Pitchfork Music Festival… I’m a busy bee who can’t be in one place for long it seems!

In the meantime, check out the following book reviews published in June and let me know what you think:

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time Forgotten Country by Catherine Chung Fresh Off the Boat by Eddie Huang

stardust undocumented by dan-el padilla peralta Where'd You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple

My June Book Haul includes:

beyondbelief brightlines thecircle euphoria funhome theinterestings themartian meandearlandthedyinggirl modern romance

  • Beyond Belief: My Secret Life Inside Scientology and My Harrowing Escape by Jenna Miscavige Hill with Lisa Pulitzer
  • Bright Lines by Tanwi Nandini Islam (ARC from Penguin’s First to Read program)
  • The Circle by Dave Eggers
  • Euphoria by Lily King
  • Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel
  • The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer
  • The Martian by Andy Weir
  • Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews
  • Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari

I also finished a few of the books above in June that I haven’t been able to blog about yet due to the abundance of traveling and friend fun that I’ve been indulging in. You can expect reviews of finished June reads Beyond BeliefThe Circle, and The Interestings coming to the blog soon!

As summer continues to progress, I’ll strive to stay on top of my book reviews, but it’s so difficult when I’m also trying to enjoy the outdoors and spend less time hunched over my many digital screens! As soon as the boringness and limited sunlight of fall settles in, I’m sure I’ll return to being on my book review A-game.

I hope you’re also enjoying your summer as much as I am! Adventure on!

undocumented: a dominican boy’s odyssey from a homeless shelter to the ivy league by dan-el padilla peralta

undocumented by dan-el padilla peraltaUndocumented is a fantastic memoir that depicts one person’s journey as an undocumented person living in America. When Dan-El Padilla Peralta is a young child, he moved to New York from the Dominican Republic with his family. His family didn’t acquire US citizen documentation and soon their travel papers expired and he and his mother were eventually living in America illegally. Dan-El beautifully articulates the struggles that he encounters because he doesn’t have documentation – his mother isn’t able to legally work so they had to move into a shelter when Dan-El is young and move frequently until they are able to find a more stable home thanks to public housing; he isn’t able to “officially” work (on paper at least) when he is offered a mentorship job when he’s in high school; he has no idea how to apply to college and if he will even be allowed to attend; and more struggles that are too numerous to list (and would also spoil some of his life story if I included them here).

It is so, so important that stories like Padilla’s are captured and made available to the public. Moving to the US and overstaying your initial papers and eventually living in America illegally is more common than a lot of people think. You may even have someone in your life who is undocumented and you have no idea. With Padilla’s story of his life, he’s able to share his experience with those who may not be aware of the realities that face being undocumented in the US, and also provide comfort to others who have lived those experiences. I talked about this book with my friend who was undocumented for most of his youth and he said that it would have been incredibly reassuring to know a book like Undocumented existed because for a long time, he didn’t know anyone else outside of his family who was undocumented. He told me that if he had been able to read about someone who shared his experience in some way, he wouldn’t have felt so isolated about his status and his situation.

That said, Padilla is quick to remind readers that he doesn’t have the answers for someone in similar situations to him. He was able to acquire a lot of well-placed connections and a valuable support system based on his specific circumstances, which may not be widely available to everyone. His book isn’t about teaching others specifically how to navigate their own situation, but purely serves to detail his own life experiences.

After the acknowledgments section of the book, there is a glossary of Spanish terms used throughout the text. Since I had an e-galley of this book, I didn’t notice this until I had finished reading. There are hardly ever full sentences in Spanish within the book, and most of the Spanish terms are sprinkled into the text occasionally in a way that isn’t distracting if you don’t know Spanish. Thus, a glossary wasn’t necessary to me, but some could find it helpful.

The only thing I would have changed about the memoir is the epilogue – it felt awkward to read and seemed as if it was hastily strung together. It’s very vague about how many years had lapsed between the epilogue and the last chapter of the book and if there had been any development with one of the major plot lines of the book. I also wish there had been a greater call to action at the end of the book; Padilla speaks extensively about the DREAM Act and I felt like the epilogue could have included a request for readers to contact their local representatives about this bill or listed activism groups that they could either directly be involved with or contribute to if they desired. However, if you couldn’t tell from the rest of this glowing review, I definitely recommend reading this book. It’s well written and represents a perspective that I haven’t read before. If you’ve read books that cover similar territory, please recommend them to me!

If you somehow stumbled across this review because you’re in high school and are wondering how you can ever go to college if you’re undocumented, my friend, who was in a similar situation to you, applied to universities via QuestBridge, which is a service dedicated to helping low-income students apply to college. You do not have to report a Social Security number if you apply to college this way. Good luck as you navigate this very complicated process!

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.

There’s currently a giveaway for this book for readers residing in the US on GoodReads through June 22, 2015.

Expected Publication Date: 28 July 2015 by Penguin Press.

Author: Dan-El Padilla Peralta Publisher Page

local girls by caroline zancan

Local GirlsIf I had read Local Girls during winter, I probably would have given it 3 stars and I’m not sure how to articulate why, as I feel the warm rays of sunshine on my back as I type this, I’m more inclined to give it 4 stars because the mood matches the season.

This book follows the stories of four nineteen year old girls and interweaves the stories of their individual and shared lives with the events that take place on one summer evening when they’re hanging out at their usual dive bar and someone (a celebrity) unexpectedly joins them. The way each vignette, peering into each of their character’s lives, are strung together is reminiscent of how a person would tell you their own life story, stopping and pausing along the way to fill in gaps that they accidentally made earlier as they were trying to tell you the most complete story possible. The following quote, something one of the girls says toward the end of the book, also adequately summarizes the method of vignette-style storytelling that occurs within the novel,

“the kind of thing that stuck with you and drifted back up in the middle of other, unrelated thoughts and conversations long after you heard it, sometimes for no reason that you could think of when you tried.”

For anyone who has grown up with our celebrity-obsessed culture, I’m sure you’ve daydreamed about a celebrity seamlessly joining in on your fun one night, which is exactly what happens to this group of friends. They all, for the most part, try to play it cool, just as you imagine yourself doing if a celebrity were to infiltrate your friend group on a night out on the town. This is the main event that counters the vignettes of the past.

Some reviewers have criticized Local Girls because they found it difficult to tell the characters apart – I think the similarity of the characters is partly intentional because most of the friend groups I knew in high school were largely indistinguishable to outsiders from the individuals who made them up… and sometimes even indistinguishable even to those who were in them. This book takes place as the girls are figuring out that they aren’t as in sync as they used to believe they were and they’re on the verge of going their separate ways to “discover” themselves. However, the majority of them don’t go to college to discover themselves as most YA books depict and maybe that’s why this novel feels odd to some readers. The natural untangling of the friend group is very slow-paced, as it normally is when these things happen in real life, and as happened to my own high school friend group after we graduated. This novel is definitely a slow burn, but it perfectly captured some very real moments that I experienced with my own friends as we went our separate ways that I haven’t seen in other contemporary novels lately. The plot mostly revolves around their, for the most part, very normal lives, which may not be for everyone, especially if you’re trying to mentally depart to an exotic place with a summer read.

Side note: One of the characters in Local Girls mentioned A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf in a beautiful way which caused me to instantly add it to me TBR pile as I’ve never read any of her works. Are there other Virginia Woolf related things I should read soon?

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.

If you live in Canada, you can enter to win a copy of Local Girls by Caroline Zancan on Goodreads until 30 May 2015! If we’re not friends on Goodreads yet, add me 🙂 I’d love to get updates on what you’re reading!

Expected Publication Date: 30 June 2015 by Riverhead Books. Format: Ebook from Penguin First to Read.

Author: Caroline Zancan @twitter