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.

Hello Fall

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Hello Fall, it’s nice to see you again. As someone who mostly grew up on the West Coast, I still get excited about the definitive shift into autumn. Even though I’ve been out of school for a few years now, fall still feels like a fresh start. For me, one of the best parts of going back to school was picking my first day of school outfit. Of course, you wanted to look great on the first day of school and make a great first impression. I remember wanting to look trendy, but not like I tried too hard, and to still feel comfortable.

One trend that I’ve seen popping up frequently are longline sweaters and coats. I love the cyclical nature of fashion- I remember when these where really popular back in middle school. The duster sweaters in middle school were more ‘grandma chic.’ The current options are sleeker and more modern, which I like.

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I wanted to try out this trend, so I picked up a simple knit version from Asos. I went with one of my favorite colors to wear (black) that way I know it will fit in well with other pieces in my closet. I’m stepping out of my comfort zone a bit with this longer silhouette, but wearing it in black made me feel more confident about my look. Also, when the trend dies down, I feel like it’s something I’ll still want to wear because it’s not too wild.

I was in an experimental mood when I was putting together this outfit, so I decided to tuck up my dress and wear it as a top. This Old Navy dress is one of my favorite purchases from the summer and I’ve gotten a ton of wear out of it. I’m pleased that I’ve found another way to continue to wear it into fall. I finished off the outfit with my trusty Chelsea boots. Altogether, I really like this look and if I were going back to school this fall, this could have been my first day of school outfit!

What do you think of these longline pieces? Would you wear them?

Outfit Details: Vila long line cardi c/o Asos (shop more longline clothing here), Old Navy patterned cocoon v-neck dress, American Eagle black hi-rise jeggings, Topshop chelsea boots, Fossil Erin Satchel, Forever 21 necklace | Lips- NARS Audacious Lipstick in Charlotte | photos- my friend Ben

Book Reviews: September 2015

you review, the raven boys review, sorcerer to the crown review, a window opens review

A-Window-Opens I think this was my favorite book of the month. It struck just the right balance of charm and good storytelling. The main character, Alice, lives in NJ with her husband and kids, and works as the books editor of a women’s magazine. When her husband decides to open his own law firm and her family’s financial situation changes, she pursues a new job at a cool literary start-up called Scroll. In addition to trying to succeed at a new job, Alice is dealing with her father’s failing health.

This book is about work/life balance and the struggle to “have it all.” Between her husband, her kids, her job, and her family, Alice is pulled in many different directions and is just trying to do her best. Alice is a book lover, so she automatically gets brownie points from me, and the way she was written felt very real and normal. I sympathized with the challenges she faced and I thought we could be friends in real life. Alice begins to realize she can only stretch herself so far and decides to focus on the things that matter the most to her. The author makes a great point that your version of “having it all” might not be the same as somebody else’s, so it’s better to let go of that notion and focus on your own personal, attainable goals. This book was light, but not empty, and definitely fun to read. I’d recommend it!

The-Raven-Boys Last month I picked up this book based on a recommendation from a booktube friend. The Raven Boys are rich, privileged young men who attend a private boy’s school and Blue wants nothing to do with them. Blue’s family is rather special. They’re all clairvoyant…well, all of them except Blue. She has no powers of her own, but she does enhance other people’s abilities if she’s nearby. Thanks to a series of events, Blue crosses paths with four particular Raven Boys- Gansey, Adam, Noah and Ronan. A quest for a long-lost king draws this unlikely group of friends together and leads them to make some interesting discoveries.

I really liked this book. It has adventure, a bit of romance, class struggles, magic- all very interesting elements. The best part of this book was definitely the characters and I enjoyed learning more about each one. I also love the idea that on paper, these five wouldn’t be friends, but when they are brought together they find they have a lot more in common than they think. It’s also set in a rural town in Virgina, which I think works very well as a setting. What is it about small towns in Virginia being full of strange magical occurrences (I’m thinking of Mystic Falls from The Vampire Diaries)?

The-Dream-Thieves I enjoyed The Raven Boys, so I was looking forward to reading the second book in the series. There’s not too much I can say about the plot without spoilers, but I will say that the main plot of the first novel takes a backseat here and it’s much more focused on one character- Ronan.

I did not know that when I started the book; I assumed it would pick up right where the first one left off. This left me a bit disappointed and I really missed the interactions of the group as a whole. We are introduced to a few new characters, but really I would have liked more focus on the original characters. Don’t get me wrong- this was still a good read. I just had certain expectations and the focus of this book wasn’t really what drew me in to the story in the first place.

Sorcerer-to-the-Crown Here’s another book that was good, but also slightly disappointing. I first heard about it on Book Riot a few weeks before it was published and I immediately placed a hold at my local library. In this book, Zacharias is the Sorcerer Royal, the highest level of sorcerer in all of England. Although he has great magical abilities, he is frequently disrespected because of the color of his skin (he’s black). There’s a lack of magic throughout England, which of course is a problem. Zacharias travels to the border of Fairyland, the source of magic, to investigate the magical deficiency, and along the way he stops at a school for girls to give a speech. In this society, practicing magic is for males only; females are considered too weak to handle magic (grrrrrrrrrrrrr). When Zacharias visits the school and observes how the girls are taught to suppress their magical abilities, which can cause them great harm, he is horrified. He decides to campaign to completely reform restrictions on females and practicing magic.

Ok, there are a lot of great themes going on in this book. First of all, there’s a main character who’s a person of color and a powerful magician. Awesome! There’s another main character, Prunella, who’s a female person of color and also a powerful magicienne. Super awesome! There’s a lot of discussion of race and class in this novel, which is very interesting. Even though Zacharias has achieved the highest level of sorcery through skill alone, there are people who constantly doubt him and seek his downfall. Prunella also has to deal with assumptions about her character, simply because she’s of mixed heritage. Another theme that’s explored is feminism- in this case it’s the idea that females should have the same magical rights as males. It’s thought that females are not strong enough to practice magic, or if they are, that they’ll only use it for frivolous domestic tasks. The magical society in England refuses to recognize that there are females with great abilities too.

I thought the world the author created was well done and that she tackled some very interesting themes. There was still something holding me back from loving this book though. Perhaps it was the writing style, which was old-fashioned and put some distance between myself and the characters. Perhaps it was a bit too long, and some less interesting sections could have been cut. Overall, I liked it and I would read the next book in the series.

You I’d heard a lot of interesting things about this book and it was on my TBR for a while. One booktube friend in particular told me that I had to listen to the audiobook version. You guys know that I don’t generally listen to a lot of audiobooks, but I trusted her opinion and decided to borrow it from the library.

Right away I was uncomfortable and a little embarrassed. I thought, “I hope no one can overhear this right now!” You is your classic boy-meets-girl story, except the boy is a crazy-obsessed stalker. Beck walks into the bookstore where Joe works and it’s love obsession at first sight. He googles her, finds her Twitter, figures out where she goes to school, figures out where she lives, and basically begins to full-on stalk her.

The novel is written from Joe’s point of view and it’s unsettling to be in the mind of someone so twisted. He sees nothing wrong with his actions and he takes the smallest interaction with Beck and blows it far out of proportion. This book contains a lot of graphic and explicit language, so I’d give this a pass if that’s not your jam. I do have to say that the audiobook of this was very well done. The narrator did an amazing job of capturing Joe’s different moods. One minute he’s ecstatic because Beck has agreed to go on a date with him, the next he’s enraged because she’s still talking to her ex-boyfriend. It’s shockingly easy for Joe to find personal information about Beck on the internet and it makes you think twice about what you put out there.

Joe does all kinds of terrible things, and honestly, Beck isn’t a really great person either. She’s self-absorbed and makes a habit of using people. This book gets points for being a page-turner, although towards the end, I was ready for it to be over. If you like thrillers with completely twisted narrators and don’t mind the explicit content, you might like this.