Archives for posts with tag: self-discovery

Genre: Fiction

Notes:21/50

Review: This review won’t be very long, so..sorrynotsorry. This book is fine.  Shawn Goodman obviously cares deeply about the subject of juvenile detention and the vicious cycle these young girls are trying to break.  His bio in the back of the book mentions that he works as a counselor in these institutions and has based the book off of a lot of things he’s seen – from the people who genuinely want to help to the corrupt people in the system who live to break these girls.

The book sparks a little of my idealist spirit (swore I wanted to help people, but haven’t found the right niche yet.  I applied to Peace Corps and chickened out without submitting the application 3 times and get rejected from Teach For America), and it’s a very quick read.  I found it in the YA section when I was browsing my local library and picked it up on a whim.

But to be honest, this trope is tired.  It has been done with The Blind Side.  Touches on it in The Help.  Books in this vein don’t start of this way, but the end of seeming like “benevolent white person helps disadvantaged black person.” I mean, sometimes it is the nature of the situation.  Unfortunately, a lot of the youths in detention centers are disproportionately African American while most of the counselors and administrators are white.   What are you supposed to do?  Not help them?  Obviously not.  But books like these saturate the market so the power Goodman is going for and the plea that youths in juvenile detention centers deserve more falls on deaf ears.  We’ve heard it before.  We’ve seen it before.  It’s old.

Is it just me?  What does anyone else think?

Bottom Line: Not really worth reading. Unless, like me, you’re bored and have nothing else to read!

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Genre: Memoir

Notes: 20/50 books.  Slightly funny throughout with some legitimately pee your pants hilarious moments.

Review: OMIGOSH I love Jenny Lawson.  I read her blog, thebloggess, regularly and snort with laughter as she describes her love affair with taxidermied animals, her relationship with her saint of a husband, and her wild country life in the Texas hills.

I love Jenny Lawson, but I probably wouldn’t be he friend.  Reading her blog is hilarious, but he book is slightly exhausting.  It’s totally manic, neurotic, and panicky.  She openly admits she has an anxiety disorder, struggles with depression, and a whole host of other issues like rheumatoid arthritis and gets her point across – it is tough living in Jenny Lawson’s head.  And you know what? I totally get that.  I also come across much better and put together over email, blog, or text.  I can come off as witty when I have a chance to think about my response whereas in person, I mostly just say awkward things.

So, some of these chapters tend to get overwhelming, but it keeps a pretty even keel of funny moments.  However, there are some moments that are legitimately hilarious.  One of my favorite chapters/stories is from her blog: Beyonce the Metal Chicken.  I had read this about a year earlier when my friend sent me the link – I almost spit coffee all over my office computer.  And the chapter where Jenny ate wayyyy too much Ex-Lax and she thought her cat was a rapist – that sounds weird typing it, but I cried reading that chapter.  Cried in a good way.

Basically, I don’t know if Jenny Lawson should have a whole novel.  Or, maybe, she just needs a better editor.  I think all of the material is there, but I’m not sure the execution is there.  Some of the chapters are pure genius (the chapter about the shit she dealt with in HR was amazing), but most of the chapters lack direction.  She creates great moments of hilarious-ness, but lacks a narrative thread.  It is mostly musings from Jenny Lawson which is perfect for a blog but less perfect for an entire book.

The thing I liked most about the book is the Jenny finally comes to the realization that weird is good.  Weird is interesting. (which might be her narrative thread, but it gets lost)  Nerdy people rule the world, and everyone is a little bit crazy.  I like to think I’ve embraced my nerdiness and have become more myself as I’ve gotten older, and I’ve rarely ever yearned to fit in. I mostly didn’t give a shit about what anyone thought by high school and did my own thing.  Being weird is cool! I feel like I’m going to tell this to my tween when she is 12 and she’s going to punch me. Regardless, weird > not weird.

After I read this book, I was drinking beer on a rooftop deck at the beach and the wind was making the can move a little.  I put my hand around the can, not touching it, and concentrated really hard.  When the can moved because of the wind again, I felt like a magician.  I promptly told my friends that I was a magician and offered absolutely no follow up or reasons why I felt like a magician.  I’m pretty sure they thought I was drunk, but it’s really just the Jenny Lawson Effect.

Bottom Line: Read this book.  It’s worth it!

Genre: YA Dystopia

Notes: 18/50 books. So much teenage angst.

Review: Sigh. Divergent, like you can tell from my review, started off so strong. I liked the characters, I liked Tris, and I liked her relationship with Four/Tobias.  She seemed strong, independent, and didn’t seem like a silly teenage girl for the most part.

Oh, how wrong I was.  Tris is a silly teenage girl with angst oozing out of her pores.  Before I rail on Tris and the problems I had with the book, let’s start with what I liked.

First of all, I really liked this book.  It’s not the best book ever written and it’s not fair to compare it to the Hunger Games, but I like it and will definitely be reading the third.  (I’m going to guess it’s going to be named Emergent – just going with the “-urgent” theme.  Roth, I expect royalties on the title. Thanks).  We get a much better look at the factionless.  We see what motivates them, how they organize themselves, and a better idea of what life is like for the people who don’t make initiation into their faction or were kicked out due to old age (Cough Dauntless Cough.  Heartless bastards).  Plus, Roth gives us a decent look at every faction in turn – she shows their idiosyncrasies and their strengths.  However, herein lies my biggest problem with the book:

HOW AND WHY DO PEOPLE ONLY HAVE ONE ATTRIBUTE THEY FOLLOW ABOVE ALL OTHERS? Like, does not being in Erudite make you a moron?  Some of the stuff that Tris points out to the Dauntless about their plans is ridiculous.  Is she the only one who can think logically because she’s Divergent?  Like, really?  Dauntless is just a bunch of brave, screaming idiots who will rush into danger without a plan?  And the Erudite can’t not think logically?  People don’t fit into boxes and asking me to accept that in this world, people do (mostly) fit neatly into boxes is beyond absurd.  Every person should have all five of the faction traits in them – that’s the only way to be a complete human being.

In this book, Tris seems to dissolve into a teen drama queen.  She has this massive guilt trip about shooting Will (which is fair, I would too) and she’s beyond convinced that Four will leave her because she’s just that unlovable.  Barf, please.  Having some insecurities is human, but harping on them all of the time and actually driving people away is pathetic.  She battles with depression, tells herself she doesn’t want to live, but when faced with death, actually finds she loves her life.  Please.  It was like she took every annoying characteristic Katniss had when she moped around about Peeta and magnified them.  Get a grip, girl.  Don’t you see there are more important things going on?!

Bottom Line: The series is addicting, but has annoying plot holes and mediocre world building. I would still recommend it because Dystopian Literature is fantastic, but I’m still saying Hunger Games  and Katniss > Divergent and Tris.

Genre: Literary Fiction, Historical Fiction

Notes: Book 13/50. Beautifully, stunningly written.  Swooned over the writing from page one.

Review: Sigh.  This book is lovely. I’ve never been to the Ukraine. I have no family members who were a part of World War II (at least none that I know) My grandfather was too young to be drafted, but I imagine his father may have been called to service.  I don’t really know.  Genealogy isn’t really my thing and my family is pretty bad at passing our history down.  But I felt connected to the story and its characters in a way I didn’t think possible.

**UPDATE** My mother emailed me to correct the misconception my family doesn’t share our history.  Ahem: My great Uncle as well as my great-grandfather were World War II veterans. My grandfather is a Korean War veteran, her cousin is a Vietnam War veteran,  my father and my uncle served during peacetime, and my cousin just returned from his second tour in Afghanistan. I knew about the more recent ones (cousin, father, grandfather, uncle, etc) but hadn’t a clue about the World War II vets.  Yay for history!

I mean, take the opening:

“There is a Ukrainian legend that once each year, on the night of Ivana Kupala, a magical flower blooms in the heart of the forest.  Anyone who finds it will be granted their heart’s desire: the ability to hear the trees whisper and watch them dance, the power to make anyone fall in love with them, the magic to make barren lands bear fruit and barren women fruitful.  It is a single red flower with several names: tsvit paporot, liubava, chervona ruta.  The legendary bloom can grant wishes, open the doorway to the past, and awaken spirits to visit with loved ones.”

Isn’t that beautiful?

I stumbled across this book on the Kindle Owners Lending Library tab on Amazon because I was trying to find a book under $1.99. Lupescu was a semifinalist in the 2008 Amazon Breakthrough Novelist Award for this novel, and I thought I would give it a shot.  $1.99 wasn’t too much to lose if it ended up being a shitty book. As soon as I started reading, I couldn’t stop.  I turned down an invite to go out  Saturday night because I was more interested in sitting in my pajamas reading.  (This isn’t unusual – sorry I’m boring, friends)

The story follows Nadya, a sixteen year old Ukrainian girl who lives in a rural village with her family as World War II begins to make Ukraine a really awful place.  Everyone around her dies.  She sees some of the worst things humanity can do to each other (multiple rapes, soldiers burning the skin off of a young Jewish girl’s hands, and soldiers brutally beating her boyfriend while taking him away – probably to his death) but somehow survives and builds a moderately happy life for herself in Chicago.  But the only way she can survive is by burying her past.

The Silence of Trees has a magical quality – almost like a fairy tale.  The magical quality is constantly in stark contrast with the war and hopeless concentration camps, but it reminds the reader there is still beauty in the world.  Nadya explains how spirits, spirits who live in the woods, the water,  the house, and even her own dead, speak with her and guide her in her life.  They push her to keep her traditions alive and not remain silent any longer.

In some ways, this story is typical. War torn survivor, crippled by survivors guilt, leaves her country to start a new life.  Gets tired of holding everything in, feels the need to tell her story before she dies, finds a happy ending (eventually). However, what sets Lupescu’s novel apart is the emotion, power, and folkore of the Ukrainian narrator. I felt her will to survive.  I felt her loss, the wondering about the life she could have had, the yearning for a relationship between her husband that wasn’t based on comfort, but on passion.

Nadya looked for the magical flower on a midsummer’s night – never found it, but wished all of the same. She didn’t wish for love.  Or to be spared from death.  Or for protection of her loved ones.  She simply wished for a happy ending. And you know what? I think her wish came true.

Bottom Line: Yes, the story has been told but the sheer beauty of the writing make it feel new again. Recommend for people who like Historical Fiction!

Genre: Non-Fiction, Sex, Baller-Status

Notes: 10/50 books. This book is a hilarious hot mess.  In a good way.

Review: Oh. My. God.  This book had me rolling on the floor.  If you enjoy reading about sex (and who doesn’t) Stef will pretty much give you everything you can ask for.  Chasing the Jersey is based after her popular blog of the same name found here about her ridiculous sex-capades chasing athletes and the occasional B-list, puppet obsessed actor.

I hate to get all feminist and preachy on here, (Actually, that’s a complete and total lie – I love getting feminist and preachy) but there are a few points I want to bring up.  First of all, I love that a woman can write about no-holds-barred sex.  Like, legitimately shady shit just to get a good bang.  Would I go to London on a hope and a prayer after google stalking the English Premiere League team?  Probably not.  Do I enjoy reading about someone else doing this?  ABSOLUTELY. I’m sure Stef has been called every derogatory female word in the book – slut, bitch, whore, prostitute, etc. But why is it okay for Tucker Max to write about about his stupid frat parties and banging and everyone thinks he is “the man” while every girl who has sex with more than one guy is a slut?  Or a girl who just has sex for pleasure? Anything than the monogamous, virginal attitude is met with angry whispers and pointed fingers.  Fuck you and your superior attitude, society.  I can have sex with whomever I want as many times as I want.

On the other side, I will have to say one thing that troubled me.  Girls, please stop giving up your lives for your boyfriends.  It’s not cool.  Or cute.  Or even appreciated.  In fact, it’s kind of pathetic.  I’m not saying Stef is pathetic – she’s a total baller – but I’m saying I found it troubling that whenever she addressed a boyfriend in the book, she was traveling all of the earth (literally) to go see him play, to soothe his bruised ego, and basically drop everything for him.  In those chapters, there is no mention of friends, no mention of girls nights out, and no mention of a “Fuck you, don’t talk to me that way you bitch. I hope you choke on your baseball and die.” Girls Girl Girls, this idealizing our boyfriends and thinking that he is the only relationship that matters hasgotto stop.  It reminds me of everything I hate about Bella Swan.

Whatever you think of Stef Williams and her book, you can’t deny the hookups are hilarious.  It’s like Victoria’s Secret mixed with sports and lots of sex.

Bottom Line: Read it!  The book is only available on ebook from Amazon, but its only $5.99 and totally worth it.  And she sleeps with an actor who is obsessed with puppets!  (Who, I have on good authority, is Jason Segel.  Surprised?  NOPE.)

Genre: Auto-biography

Notes: Book 9/50. FOOD. PORN.

Review: Be careful what you get good at.  You might just be doing it for the rest of your life.

Gabrielle Hamilton never set out to be a chef.  She just kind of ended up being a chef to support herself after her parents’ tumultuous divorce that left the kids to fend for themselves.  She passed herself as 16 when she was 13 to get a job as a dishwasher in a local restaurant and passed herself off as 21 to work in a NYC bar.  Everything just kind of snowballed from there.  Eventually, without every working as an executive chef or sous chef in a restaurant and very little formal schooling, she opened her own restaurant in NYC called Prune which has absolutely raving reviews on Yelp.

The book itself is glorious.  Hamilton has an MFA from the University of Michigan, so she knows how to handle the written word and craft a story.  Hamilton separates the book into three sections: Blood, Bones, and Butter.  After reading fan fiction, this book felt like a cool drink of water on a hot day.  The first section, Blood – I can’t even describe.  Hamilton writes about her idyllic childhood in rural Pennsylvania so clearly I felt transported back in time.  It was nostalgia overload in a good way.  The other two sections of the book, Bones and Butter, didn’t quite deliver but they weren’t really a disappointment either.  I devoured this book ans savored the descriptions of food, her round about way of becoming a chef/owner, and her weird INS sham/ not-sham marriage.  (You married an Italian man so he could stay in the country and you’re slightly shocked it didn’t work out?  Really?)

One of the things I didn’t like about the book was her focus on her marriage.  Granted, I get marriage is a big part of a person’s life and the subsequent failure or success shapes a lot of your personality.  But the way Hamilton writes about her marriage to her M.D/Ph.D husband just oozes contempt.  And surprise about ever being married in the first place.  She began an affair with Mr. Italian (I forget his name at the moment, but most of his personality is boiled down to his Italian-ness anyway) behind her then girlfriend’s back and, when his visa runs out, she decides to marry him.  She waltzes up to the court house, some friends on tow, and marries him – all the while assuring everything this is just for the INS.  She describes it as a piece of dramatic theater she took to the finish and it never really meant anything.  I mean, my god, in the span of their three year affair, Gabrielle never introduced her lover to her friends, never really got to know him, and never really laid any sort of foundation for a marriage. And yet (!) a lot of her book talks about how she feels her marriage should be more.  That she wants the partner that marriage provides, not this name on a piece of paper or this man who is the father of her two children and little else.  They even live separately.  She says, “”Ever since I was actually married, I have hoped for it to be everything I think a real marriage should be, an intimacy of the highest order.”  But why?  You picked totally the wrong guy, picked someone you didn’t really even seen to like that much from the beginning, and tried to forge this sham of a life.  And then you brought kids into your weird marriage mix?!  WHAT WERE YOU THINKING?

Marriage rant aside, Hamilton’s rise to fame is a good one.  As far as chef authors go, she and Bourdain top my list.  Non-professional writers (although Bourdain might be more of a writer than chef these days) who can still write are a weakness of mine.  I think writing (in any profession) is essential and people who can’t compose a tight paragraph or a clear sentence make me scream.

Bottom Line: Loved it!  Don’t read on an empty stomach though – the descriptions of food alone were enough to get me salivating.

In A Nutshell

    • Genre: Romance, Contemporary, Mystery, Thriller, slight Paranormal themes
    • Notes: Less than ten years ago, this was my first Nora Roberts book and it made me want to read all of her novels. To this day it remains one of my faithful, favorite books to pull out on a beach and read.
    • Recommended For: People who enjoy a murder mystery with their romance and can handle the idea of a psychic in a contemporary reality.

A book that’s able to juggle childhood friendships, romance, psychic ability, along with murder, child abuse, and the always intricate dynamics of families . . . When I picked up this book, I was a teenager and believed that television was the best form of story telling and that books were things forced on us by teachers (I know, I know — late bloomer.) But the moment I picked up this book I saw the world in a different way. I was suddenly the best director in my own mind. As long as someone provided the screenplay, I could imagine it all miraculously in my head. That’s why, this book – for me – will always get 5 stars. But, having said that, I’ve read and reread this book a trillion times and I can see new things, both good and bad, with each reading.

The story line is as follows:

Tory Bodeen grew up in a small, rundown house where her father ruled with an iron fist and a leather belt–and where her dreams and talents had no room to flourish. But she had Hope–who lived in the big house, just a short skip away, and whose friendship allowed Tory to be something she wasn’t allowed to be at home: a child.

After young Hope’s brutal murder, unsolved to this day, Tory’s life began to fall apart. And now, as she returns to the tiny town of Progress, South Carolina, with plans to settle in and open a stylish home-design shop, she is determined to find a measure of peace and free herself from the haunting visions of that terrible night. As she forges a new bond with Cade Lavelle–Hope’s older brother and the heir to the Lavelle fortune–she isn’t sure whether the tragic loss they share will unite them or drive them apart. But she is willing to open her heart, just a little, and try.

But living so close to those unhappy memories will be more difficult and frightening than she ever expected. Because the killer of Hope is nearby as well.

To this day, I think this story line is one of Roberts’ most interesting. Not that it’s her all time best, but it shows her willingness to ride that line of reality and fantasy. As a best-selling romance novelist, most famous for her contemporary romances set in reality, it takes guts to try to sell a credible “Psychic” plot line in a gritty, gory murder mystery.

I’m a paranormal fan and love fantasy so this little touch to the book only enhances it for me, but I do remember reading it that first time and being thrown that a book so set in the harsh realities of the current day would have the touch of fancy that a psychic brings. But, obviously, it’s not something thrown in there for fun. Tory’s psychic abilities are the key to the entire plot and help shape how she’s seen by the world and how she fits in it herself.

One thing I have found different since I read it that first time is that Tory gets a little angsty from time to time. Completely understandable, considering her life and the events that shape her in the book, but there get’s to be a point or two where you want to Cher-slap her and shout, “SNAP OUTTA’ IT!” Cade helps to liven her up as well as open her up to a relationship and to let go of the trauma of the past and that adds more color to the book. But for me, the show stealer is Faith.

I always get a little peeved that they don’t mention Faith in the synopsis as she’s just as important, if not more so, to the central plot. Faith is Hope’s twin sister and the rebel of the Lavelle family. Whereas Tory is an easy protagonist to cheer for as she’s had a rough past and tries to do the right thing, Faith is a girl with a rough past that did just about every wrong thing. Tory’s commendable, Faith’s relatable. I also find her one liners and comebacks are hilarious and the real reason this book keeps tempo and has rhythm. In fact, some of my favorite scenes are the ones between Faith and Tory. Faith brings out the snark in Tory, where no one else can.

As for the romance in the book. I never find that it’s lacking in quantity, between the two main couples you get your fair share of lovin’. And I do love Cade, the goes-against-the-grain farmer who chooses to turn his back on the old ways of farming and make his farm grow organic cotton. I do notice, it’s a consistent thing for Roberts’ romances, that he falls for Tory almost immediately. I mean, I can understand needing to get that out-of-the-way when you have a murderer running around, but I sometimes think – really? Already?

As for the mystery, I found it engaging, well-developed and I honestly didn’t know who it was in the end. I don’t know if that came from me never having read a Nora Roberts’ novel or if you’ll have trouble guessing who dunnit, but I recommend you try to take a look. Also, there was a Lifetime, made for TV-Movie of this book a few years back. If you want to truly enjoy this story – read the book.  The movie should just be considered paraphernalia, like a t-shirt at a concert. For me, the real deal will always remain the book

Bottom Line: A Katie Classic. It will forever remain on my bookshelf and I completely recommend it for yours. I can bet most of you will finish it in 2 days, tops.

★★★★★