Book Reviews: July 2015

book reviews, what i read, to kill a mockingbird review, go set a watchman review, i capture the castle review

First of all, I have to say thank you for all of your amazing comments on my last post. All of your heartfelt condolences and kind thoughts are truly helping me. As I mentioned, reading continues to be a much-needed escape for me, so I wanted to go through the books that I finished in July.

I-Capture I’d wanted to read this book for a while because I’ve heard so many people say good things about it. Cassandra is a young teenager living in a run-down castle in the countryside. Her family is rather eccentric and Cassandra wants to be a writer, so this novel is her “capturing” her daily life in her journal. I really enjoyed Cassandra as a character and narrator. She has excellent observational skills and her witty commentary made me chuckle more than once. I didn’t love the book as much as other people do, but I think it’s a good read and I’m glad I finally picked it up.

To-Kill Once I heard about Go Set a Watchman, I knew that I wanted to reread To Kill a Mockingbird. I hadn’t read it since 8th grade, so I was definitely due for a reread before picking up the new book. This was just as good as I remembered. Scout is a young girl growing up in the South in the 1930s. It’s a coming-of-tale and throughout the novel Scout begins to learn important lessons about race and humanity. Scout as a narrator is A+. I love how she refuses to conform into the mold of a typical young Southern lady. With rereads I often wonder if the book will hold up to my previous memories and this one definitely did.

Harry-Potter-6 I continued my quest to read the entire Harry Potter series from beginning to end. I finished book 6 last month and I also started book 7 (but didn’t finish until August). There’s not too much I can say about the plot, in case that there are people like me who haven’t read the series yet. I will say that I knew about the thing that happens at the end, but I was a bit surprised because I thought it happened in the final book (can I be any more cryptic?).

Go-Set Go Set a Watchman is only the second book I’ve ever preordered (the first was Yes Please). I was very curious about this one. It was written before TKAM, but takes place afterward. Scout is about 26 in this novel and goes back to visit her family in Maycomb, Alabama. Not much has changed in the town, but the characters aren’t entirely as we remember them. My feelings are pretty meh about this book. For me, it just wasn’t up to par with TKAM (granted, that’s a pretty high bar to reach). The writing wasn’t nearly as good and you could see that this was a draft. The story is rather jumbled and I wasn’t too pleased with the direction she took the characters in. Still, I’m glad I read this because I wanted to form my own opinion. It also doesn’t change my feelings about TKAM and perhaps if I hadn’t reread it right before picking up GSAM, there wouldn’t have been such a stark contrast.

If you ever want to know what I’m reading at the moment, I’m pretty good about updating my Goodreads. Do you use Goodreads too? What’s been your favorite read so far this summer?

Book Reviews: June 2015

the knockoff review, the buried pyramid review

knockoff I picked this up because it looked like a good summer read. I think I read about it in a magazine before it was published, then I placed a hold at my library so that I could borrow it as soon as it came out. Isn’t it cool that you can do that?

In this novel, Imogen Tate is the Editor-in-Chief of a popular women’s magazine titled Glossy. When the book begins, Imogen has recently taken a leave of absence due to health issues. When she returns to work, she finds that things have completely changed as her magazine tries to compete in the digital age. What’s most surprising to Imogen is that her former assistant Eve is now calling the shots (has anyone seen All About Eve?). Will Imogen adapt to the new regime, or will she become extinct?

Clearly this is very of the moment, as several print magazines are shuttering or scaling back. Lucky Magazine recently announced that it would no longer have a print component and Women’s Wear Daily moved to weekly issues. I’ve always loved fashion magazines, so I appreciate that the authors wanted to comment on a current phenomenon. Naturally, I loved all of the fashion bits, from the descriptions of the clothes characters were wearing, to the somewhat exaggerated portrayal of what it’s like to work at a magazine. I even heard that one of the characters was based on Eva Chen, who I absolutely adore and stalk on all forms of social media.

Overall, I enjoyed the subject matter and felt that this was an entertaining read. I do wish that the characters had been a bit more developed. I found it a little hard to believe that Imogen could be 100% clueless when it comes to technology in the year 2015, but perhaps that’s a function of the fact that I grew up with computers. I guess I wanted more from this book, but I did like reading it. It’s light and easy and would be a good beach read pick for those who are interested in fashion.

buried-pyramid Adventure novels are so perfect for summertime, right? This book follows a cast of characters as they cross the Egyptian desert in search of a long-lost tomb. I picked up this novel because one of my booktube friends was hosting a read-a-long last month.

I like reading books set in far away lands- it makes me feel like I’m seeing the world, even though I haven’t actually traveled anywhere. This book started off a little slow for me, but then it did pick up. My favorite character was Jenny, the niece of the archaeologist who leads the expedition. She grew up in the American frontier, so she’s plucky, skilled with a gun, and unafraid to speak her mind. I love spunky female characters! In this book, there’s travel, codes/riddles, archaeology and adventure- all good things. I will say that the last third of the book took an unexpected turn, which I didn’t enjoy as much. I thought it was a bit weird, confusing, and philosophical. However, the parts I enjoyed outweighed the parts I didn’t like as much. Now I want to go on an expedition in Egypt and have an adventure!

Book Reviews: May 2015

book reviews, we were liars review, we should all be feminists, the royal we review, crazy rich asians, the fug girls

we-should-all-be-feminists You’ve probably heard of author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED talk by now (yep, it’s the one that Beyonce sampled in her song “***Flawless”). This slim little volume is her talk adapted into essay form. There’s not too much to say about this one, except that her message is fantastic and I 100% agree with what she says. What she writes is not groundbreaking, but it does boil down the argument for feminism in a way that’s really clear and logical. I also enjoyed the brief anecdotes peppered throughout on what feminism means to her personally. I highly recommend that you watch the talk if you haven’t seen it already, and this essay version is great as well.

Crazy-Rich-Asians You need to take a look at the hardcover version of this book. Talk about eye-catching/blinding! I was intrigued by this book when it was first published, but honestly I didn’t want that crazy gold cover. I was pleased to find the paperback edition at Housing Works Bookstore Café on Independent Bookstore Day. This is the story of Rachel, who’s getting pretty serious with her boyfriend Nick. Together they decide that it’s time for her to meet his family, so they fly over to Singapore to spend the summer there. Rachel has no idea that Nick’s family is crazy rich and she’s totally unprepared for the extravagant lifestyles led by Singapore’s high society families.

Oh boy, was this book over the top. I believe it’s meant to be that way and in general, I did enjoy reading it, but it was a bit much to stomach at some points. I found myself thinking, “Do people actually live this way?” and apparently the answer is yes. The writing and plot in general was fine- nothing spectacular. I did feel that the ending was a bit rushed and abrupt, but that could very well be due to the fact that he wrote a sequel, which comes out later this month. This book is light and fun. If you’re a fan of the Real Housewives series, this read might be right up your alley.

the-storied-life-of-aj-fikry Once you say “book about a book lover,” I’m in. A.J. Fikry owns a bookshop on a small island off the East Coast. When the book begins, his wife is recently deceased and he is pretty miserable. However, everything changes one night when he finds a small child in his bookstore. Sadly, the mother of this child has committed suicide. In a surprising move to the other townspeople, A.J. forms a bond with the little girl named Maya, and decides to raise her as his own.

This basic premise of this story is sweet and of course I thoroughly enjoyed all of the bookish bits. Each chapter begins with a book recommendation written by A.J. for Maya, which is a lovely idea. However, I had a problem with the pacing of this novel. The first third or so is pretty steady and then suddenly it feels like we’re skyrocketing through these character’s lives. Major events will happen or details will be revealed, but I didn’t feel like I had time to absorb them because then it’s on to the next thing. Overall, I did like this book, but I wish the story had gone a bit deeper.

we-were-liars Now let’s talk about a book that I didn’t like- We Were Liars. There was so much hype surrounding this book when it was released last summer, but I’d heard pretty mixed reviews. Finally I decided to pick it up this month to form my own opinion. I thought it was strange. The book is narrated by Cadence, who belongs to a wealthy, entitled family. The family spends their summers on their own private island and one summer, something happens. That’s about all I can tell you without spoiling it, but really I don’t think there’s much to spoil. Let’s just say that when that thing happens, I was not impressed by the turn of events.

Another aspect that I didn’t enjoy was the writing style. Sometimes sentences are broken out so that each word is on a separate line- I haven’t yet figured out what the author was trying to achieve with that style. The narrator is also very hyperbolic, so she’ll say something like, “My feelings were hurt and my eyes started bleeding,” (not an actual quote). It took me a little while to realize that what she said was not actually true and I just found it confusing. I didn’t really think that the narrator, or the story itself, was compelling. It’s safe to say that this one did not live up to the hype for me.

murder-on-the-orient-express After a not-so-great reading experience with We Were Liars, I wanted to pick up something solid and dependable, so I turned to Agatha Christie. When I was in junior high (I think), I went on a huge Agatha Christie kick and read a bunch of her books. I can’t remember whether or not I’d read this novel before, but either way, I didn’t remember the mystery. As the title says, there is a murder on the Orient Express and detective Hercule Poirot is charged with discovering the murderer. This was another great Agatha Christie mystery and I’m so impressed by her attention to detail. Clues are uncovered throughout the novel and when the sequence of events is revealed at the end, it all makes perfect sense. I know exactly what I’m getting when I pick up one of her mysteries and I certainly wasn’t disappointed.

the-royal-we I’m recommending this book as the perfect, summer read. It’s light, funny, and fun to read and I thought it was quite well done. It’s a story inspired by Kate Middleton. In the book, the main character named Rebecca (“Bex” for short), travels to London to study abroad at Oxford. There she meets Nick and doesn’t realize at first that he’s the future Prince of Wales. The two of them fall in love and have to face the challenges of having a relationship under the public eye.

I really liked the cast of characters in this book- not just Bex and Nick, but also their group of friends. I feel like I got a good sense of who they were and there were little details about each character that made me smile. I think it was really interesting to imagine what it would be like to go from being a regular civilian, to  becoming a part of the most important family in England. This was just really enjoyable and I’d definitely recommend it if you’re looking for a beach read.

Book Reviews: April 2015

a little life, hanya yanagihara, a little life new york times, a little life ny times, april book review

I only read one book last month, but I’ve got quite a lot to say about it.

A-Little-Life Let me just begin by saying that I absolutely loved this book and there’s no way this little review of mine will do it justice. I’m going to attempt to explain how I feel about this book anyway. I will admit that right now it’s too precious to me and I cannot highlight any flaws, but what review is objective?

A Little Life is the story of four friends: Jude, the intelligent lawyer with a past that constantly threatens his present; Willem, an aspiring actor with a kindness that knows no bounds; Malcolm, who builds tiny houses and likes the control and creativity that architecture requires; and finally JB, the artist with a personality that dominates any room. The book generally takes place in New York City. When it begins, our main characters have recently graduated college and are struggling to make their way in the world. For the rest of the novel we follow their lives over the next 30+ years. We observe friendships strengthen and weaken, romantic relationships begin and end, and the trajectory of their professional careers. This book is about their lives and as you read it, you feel like you’re experiencing your own little life.

It’s been nearly a week since I finished this book and I still feel so close to it and to the characters. I cannot remember the last time a book had such a huge emotional impact on me. The characters are masterfully written and completely engrossing. I truly felt like these characters were living, breathing people (and even at this moment, I almost think that they’re somewhere out there in the city now, walking around and living their lives). I felt like they were my friends. I was so completely and totally invested in their lives that every triumph and tragedy in this book hit me hard. I thought that Yanagihara’s writing was simple and elegant and that the entire story was utterly powerful. She has a skill for putting things plainly and perfectly, so that a mere sentence can feel like a sucker punch to the gut.

Also, I must mention that this book deals with very difficult subjects, including emotional, physical, and sexual abuse. Some incidents are described in more detail than others, but if any of those topics are triggers for you, then this may not be the book for you. This book is about what it means to be human and about the evolution of friendships and relationships It’s also about what it means to belong, and how we find our place in the world. It asks, “What is a life and what makes it worth living?”

Throughout the novel, characters are stretched past the limits of what they believe they can endure, and I felt a bit like that as I was reading. By the time I finished, I was physically and mentally spent and I marveled that a book had made me feel that way. I’m sure you’ve heard that this book is overwhelmingly sad, and that’s true, but where there is darkness, there is also light.

I’m just in awe of this book. I cried tears of happiness and tears of despair, and on more than one occasion, I cried myself to sleep. I think what Hanya Yanagihara was able to achieve with this book is a testament to literature. This experience reminded me why reading will always be an important and necessary part of my life.

Have you (or would you) read this book?

Further reading:

How I Wrote My Novel: Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life

The Subversive Brilliance of “A Little Life”

Hanya Yanagihara’s ‘A Little Life’

– Also, there’s an A Little Life instagram account where they post pictures inspired by quotes from the book, and it’s so good.