Book Reviews: November 2015

November Book Reviews, fates and furies review, heidi review

fates-and-furies-review This was my favorite read of the month. My library hold finally came in last month, but I wasn’t able to finish it before it expired, so I ended up purchasing the book. In this novel, we get to see both sides of a story. Lotto and Mathilde are the golden couple. They are happily married and together they can face any obstacle. The question is though, can you ever truly know someone? The first half of the book is told from Lotto’s perspective, and then we read Mathilde’s perspective.

With a buzzy book, there’s always the risk that the book is not actually worth the hype, but I really enjoyed this one. Groff’s writing style is so interesting and expertly done. She often addresses the reader in brackets and I liked these asides because it made it seem a bit like an oral history. It also recalled instructions and insights that you might see in a play, which is a clever nod to one of the character’s profession.

It’s hard to choose which part I preferred. Lotto’s section sets the stage nicely, but by the end I was desperate to learn more about Mathilde because she’s so enigmatic in the first half. Her section surprised me- it was not what I was expecting.

Fates and Furies is an amazing character study. The author explores the life of an artist; the need to create and be recognized for your creation. We also read about the walls that people build and the outward personas that they present. I think that Mathilde was my favorite character because she was the most complicated. Through Mathilde, Groff shows us that sometimes we only see what we want to see. I’d definitely be curious to hear what you thought if you’ve read this one!

heidi-review This year, for my birthday, I treated myself to a few more Puffin in Bloom editions in order to complete my set. I’ve seen the Shirley Temple movie adaptation of Heidi, but this was my first time reading the book. Heidi is orphaned at a young age and is cared for by her aunt. When her aunt receives an opportunity to work in Frankfurt, she decides to leave Heidi with her grandfather. Due to circumstances in the past, Heidi’s grandfather has become something of a hermit and the villagers are worried that he won’t be a suitable guardian for Heidi. However, Heidi is just the right person to show her grandfather that life is worth living and people aren’t so bad after all.

This book was very sweet. The story is somewhat as I remember, although I think the movie adaptation that I’ve seen varies a bit. Heidi has such a positive attitude. She faces several difficult situations as a child, but in each case, she tries to make the best of it and be a positive influence on the lives around her. In one section of the book, Heidi is very homesick and she just wants to return home; I think we’ve all felt that at some point. There some religious overtones, which I don’t mind, I just prefer that they be more subtle (although this is a children’s novel, so I suppose the author wanted to make sure she got her point across). This was a feel-good read and it’s just what I was in mood for at the time.

Weird-Things-Customers-Say-in-Bookstores-Review I follow Jen Campbell’s youtube channel and the videos that she makes about books are just fantastic. I picked up my copy of this book earlier this year at the Brooklyn Book Festival. Jen has worked in a bookstore for several years and during that time has had many interesting interactions with customers. She started to document the weird things that people say on her blog, and that later evolved into this book. The book features quotes from Jen, and also other booksellers around the world (including one from my local bookstore in CA!). This is a super fast read and I thought it was hilarious. I can’t believe people actually said some of these things. This book was delightful and would make a great gift for any book lover.

Blue-Lily,-Lily-Blue-Review Towards the end of the month, I wanted to read something fast and engaging and then I remembered that I hadn’t yet read the third book in the Raven Cycle series (there’s one more book, which comes out next year). I was a bit disappointed after I finished the second book. I really liked the first book and felt that the second one was a bit of a deviation from that. Happily, my complaints about the second book are fixed in the third book. We’re back to following the characters as they continue their quest together. We also get more of Blue and her family, who I missed in book 2. I think the magical elements of this story have become even more interesting because we’ve seen the characters develop and learn more about themselves throughout the previous two novels. Also, I have to mention again that I enjoy the author’s writing. She’s really able to capture certain feelings; in particular, there was a description of grief that I just felt was spot on. I’m really glad the third book was more like the first one and I can’t wait to read the next installment.

Giving Thanks

DIY-Thanksgiving-Table

Today I’m thankful for…

– the family that’s let me crash their Thanksgiving for the last 8 years.

– two full days off work (insert hands in the air emoji here).

– all of the apple pies.

– a plane ticket home to CA next month (even if it cost me an arm and a leg).

– shopping in my PJs. I’m trying to check names off my Christmas list!

– twinkle lights that give me holiday cheer.

– the Christmas songs I’m going to play on repeat for the next month.

– family (six Ns, always and forever).

Happy Thanksgiving! What are you thankful for?

(image via)

Book Reviews: October 2015

book reviews, the clasp review, bad feminist review, early one morning review

bad-feminist This book has been on my TBR list for over a year and I’m so glad I finally picked it up. It’s a collection of essays that Gay wrote about pop culture, politics, race, gender, and feminism, among other topics. The first few essays are more personal, so that you can get to know the author a little bit, and the rest are divided by subject matter.

I love Roxane Gay’s writing style. She’s open, honest, and not afraid to be vulnerable. She shines a spotlight on things that are problematic in ways that I hadn’t really considered before. Gay has labeled herself as a “bad feminist,” meaning that she doesn’t fall into the stereotype of what a feminist is and she isn’t a perfect feminist all the time (and really, who is?).

Similarly to how I felt about We Should All Be Feminists, I don’t think there’s anything revolutionary here, but I think she makes her points in a manner that’s easy to understand and that may cause you to rethink your position on certain topics. In a few cases, I thought that some of the essays felt a bit short, and I wanted her to keep exploring the topic she was discussing.

Some of my favorites were “Not Here to Make Friends,” about likability, “The Careless Language of Sexual Violence,” about how people talk about rape, and “Beyond the Measures of Men,” about the importance of women in publishing. I’d definitely recommend this book. I really dig Roxane Gay’s particular style of real talk and I want to read all of her work.

the-clasp Kezia, Nathaniel and Victor were really good friends in college, but then they graduated, moved to different cities and started to drift apart. Many years later, they’re reunited at the wedding of another college friend. At this wedding, Victor accidentally falls asleep in the groom’s mother’s bedroom. When he comes to, the groom’s mother has discovered him; the two of them start conversing and she reveals a family secret, telling him a story about a long-lost necklace. Victor decides to try and find this necklace and the story takes off from there.

There’s another interesting layer to this novel, and that’s the author’s inclusion of the short story “The Necklace” by Guy de Maupassant. This story served as inspiration for this book and is also incorporated into the plot. I really enjoyed this blend of history with the present and it made me want to sit down and read the short story (which I still need to do!).

I liked Crosley’s writing- it’s clever in a subtle and cheeky way. I also think she did a great job developing the characters. They felt like fully-formed people to me. Crosley explores the theme of friendship in a set of characters that are still on the path to “adulthood.” With older friends, it’s interesting to consider if you would befriend the person they are today (if you weren’t already friends with them). Naturally, people change, for better or worse, and the person you first became friends with may not really exist years later.

Although the plot did become rather outlandish, I enjoyed this novel and the questions it raised. I’m curious if I’d enjoy her nonfiction works (I Was Told There’d Be Cake and How Did You Get This Number?) more or less than her first novel.

Frankenstein It was my first time reading this classic gothic novel. What I loved about the book versus the pop culture portrayal of Frankenstein were the various layers. The creature recounts his story to Victor Frankenstein, who’s telling it to the captain of the ship, who’s relaying it all to his sister via letter. There’s just so much more depth in the book. It raises interesting questions about man vs. other and how man is automatically distrustful of anything that is different. It’s a struggle between two deeply flawed characters: Victor Frankenstein (who thinks he’s done nothing wrong, ha!) and the creature (who is so desperate for human connection that he commits terrible crimes). The writing is excellent, particularly with the descriptions of the setting. I felt like I was truly in Switzerland. It was deliciously dark and the perfect book to read around Halloween.

early-one-morning This novel explores how a split-second decision can impact the rest of your life. It’s set in Italy during World War II. The year is 1943 and the main character, Chiara, decides to flee Rome for safer territory. On the morning that she plans to leave, she’s passing through the Jewish ghetto and sees some people being rounded up. She makes eye contact with one of the women in line, who has a young son. In an instant, the woman pushes her son towards Chiara and Chiara pretends that the boy is her nephew. In doing so, she saves the boy from being taken to a camp with the rest of his family.

The story takes place in both the present and the past, in the moments following Chiara’s decision to save the boy, and years later when she’s much older. The first two chapters are clearly labeled to let you know what year it is, but the remaining chapters aren’t. I don’t mind a nonlinear plot, but I found this one a bit confusing at points.

Another element I wanted was more of Daniele, the little boy in the story. The book is written from Chiara’s perspective, and also Maria’s perspective, a young woman we’re introduced to a little ways into the story. Daniele plays such a huge role in Chiara’s life, but I felt that I didn’t really know much about him as a person. As a young boy, he’s quiet, stubborn, and understandably devastated by the loss of his family. As he grows up, he continues to have problems, but all the details we know about him are one-sided. I think it would have been great to have even a couple chapters from Daniele’s perspective, or allow the reader to get to know him better in some other way.

I would have also liked further insight into why Chiara decided to take the boy in the that moment. Chiara has a younger sister with epilepsy that she’s taken care of since she was diagnosed, so perhaps the reason is that Chiara likes to take care of people? I don’t know. It wasn’t clear to me and it kept pestering my thoughts as I was reading.

I loved the setting and thought the author did a great job evoking daily life in Rome. It made me want to hop on a plane to Italy ASAP. When I visited Rome briefly several years ago, I remember thinking there’s so much history and a rich culture, and I had a similar feeling while reading this book. There were some points that I’d like to change about the novel, but in the end I did like it and was interested enough to keep reading.

Disclaimer: Early One Morning was sent to me by the publisher for review purposes, but these are my honest thoughts and opinions. 

Chicago Photo Diary

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A couple weeks ago, I reunited with six of my college friends in Chicago. My friend Zoe has been going to grad school in Chicago since we graduated, and my friend Adanna recently moved there to go to business school. It wasn’t really planned at first- Audrey picked a weekend in October to visit, then Babe and Ariel bought tickets, then Emily did, and then I decided to join in on the fun!

I haven’t been to Chicago since I was about 11, so I was excited for my first visit as an adult. All I remember from previous trips to Chicago was visiting Shedd Aquarium and seeing my family that lived out in the suburbs. On this trip we had a great mix of going out to see the sights and chilling at my friend’s spacious apartment. I saw the Bean for the first time, we popped by a nice farmer’s market, had drinks at The Hancock (what a view), visited Myopic Books, went out for sushi, and walked around Promontory Point, among other things.

It was really nice to get away for the weekend and spend time with good friends. Chicago, you were pretty cool. I’d definitely like to go back!

Places Visited

Stans Donuts: My friends took me to two donut places while I was visiting (they know me so well). These donuts were really good, but I actually think I preferred the next place.

Glazed & Infused: In Wicker Park, these are located right across the street from each other, so it was easy to sample both. My favorite was the maple and bacon donut- it was freakin’ delicious.

Myopic Books: Of course I’d love this place- there are shelves and shelves of used books. They also carry some new books as well.

Chicago History Museum: Originally we popped in here to get out of the rain, but I’m glad we did. There was a cool interactive space where you could sit and read books about Chicago, or write on postcards provided by the museum. I also saw a sign advertising a silent reading party. Sounds like something I’d be into!

The Bean: It’s a landmark and I’m glad I finally got to see it!

Green City Market: This was a nice farmer’s market and it looked like there were lots of good food options. I also got to sample some tasty apple cider donuts and if I hadn’t been so full at that point, I would have definitely bought a full bag.

The Signature Lounge: We had drinks here one night. The drinks were good, but really it’s all about the amazing view of Chicago (and check out the view from the women’s bathroom too)!

Trenchermen: We had brunch here and I loved the setting. The restaurant is located in an old bathhouse and the building is so cool. The food was great here, except for the roasted cauliflower, which wasn’t really roasted.

Big Star: Yummy yummy tacos. Zoe said that this place is consistently busy, so we decided to eat lunch at a random time so that we wouldn’t have to wait for hours. It worked and we were seated right away. I ordered the taco al pastor and the taco de pollo pibil and I was very happy with both of my choices.