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ANNOUNCEMENT: for my fellow book bloggers

I have recently created a Pinterest board for book reviews; if you would like to be added as a contributor to this board, please feel free to contact me and I will add you! It is just going to be a place where I pin all of my blog posts, and you can too, so it’s easier to circulate your posts around Pinterest and gain more traffic.

 

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book review, nonfiction, reading recommendations

Review: Freakonomics

The conventional wisdom is often wrong.

Freakonomics, Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner

freakonomics-cover

Click the image above to purchase this book on Amazon.

This book was once recommended to me by a college admissions officer for the University of Chicago, and let me tell you, I would definitely take an economics class from Steven D. Levitt, although it is outside my major.

AUTHORS: Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner

GENRE: Nonfiction

WHERE DID I GET THIS BOOK: book sale

RATING: 4.5/5 stars

BACKGROUND: It may sound odd, but there is a striking similarity between sumo wrestlers and school teachers in Chicago. Have you ever gotten the feeling that your real estate agent is trying to cheat you? Is a gun more dangerous to your child than a swimming pool? How did the Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade affect trends of violent crime? Will your name affect your future success? What are the economics at play in the Ku Klux Klan? Questions and observations like these are addressed in this book; there is no unifying theme, as admitted by the authors, except that an economist and a writer look at everyday, and unusual, situations and use data and numbers to try and challenge our own conventional wisdom and apply economics to the strangest of situations.

THOUGHTS: I am sure that, unless you are a super-nerd like me, reading a book about economics sounds like the last thing you’d want to do with your free time. However, the way that Levitt and Dubner (who is not an economist but rather a journalist) approach these topics is accessible to us laymen who have maybe left the basic properties of supply and demand back in high school. There is data and numbers involved, but it is done so sparingly, so that less economics-inclined readers can easily skip over them and read the conclusions only and so that those who like numbers can pore over them and have them supplement the conclusions drawn. Freakonomics is for everyone.

And it is far from vanilla as other economics books might be- it addresses data surrounding abortion, drug dealing, and the black-white gap. Of course, there are more whimsical chapters as well that deal with sumo wrestling and real estate agents. The point is, that it brings real-life situations under the microscope and challenges the reader to analytically examine the conclusions before them and compare it with the information that they thought was a given. If anything, this book encourages us as rational creatures to question every piece of information given to us, and to not take what the media says for granted. And in an era filled with fake news, we could all afford to be a little more skeptical of what we’re being told.

If you enjoy a read that will challenge you to step out of your comfort zone a little bit, that will engage your mind, and that will leave you rethinking some aspects of your life, then this book is for you.

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book review, fiction

Review: Magic

The event remains by invitation only, which is respected by all, and over the years it has become one of the most cherished secret occasions held in Paris.

Magic, Danielle Steel

magic

Click on the image to purchase the book on Amazon. I originally picked up this book because I found its premise to be intriguing: a “White” Dinner, where all invitees are required to dress in all white, where the location is at a secret, random, Parisian monument, and where the night is supposed to be filled with magic.

AUTHOR: Danielle Steel

GENRE: Romance, Realistic fiction

WHERE DID I GET THIS BOOK: local library

RATING: 2/5 stars

SUMMARY: Every year, the White Dinner is held at one of the Parisian monuments. It is an elegant event, where only the richest and most prestigious people from all over the world are invited. The whole event is rather secretive, as the location of the dinner, which is always at a historic monument in Paris, remains a secret until the night of. Jean-Philippe makes sure to invite nine couples each year he attends, as he is always one of the invitees, and this particular year, there is trouble brewing for more than one of the couples invited, and there is potential for new couples to be formed as well. The year after the White Dinner brings challenges, romance, and testing of relationships but ultimately, the White Dinner proves to be a point of “magic” in all of the invitees lives.

THOUGHTS: I like to think of myself as a rather generous book reviewer, but I need to be honest, as I did not enjoy this novel. The characterization fell really flat for me, each woman counterpart of each novel was characterized as the “perfect” woman with a couple of insecurities. They are all stylish, beautiful, sexy, intelligent, and a good mother if they have kids. The only thing that can really distinguish them is their partner, their job, and the situation they are in; none of these things should be the defining characteristic of any character or anyone in general, in my opinion. The men were all also gentlemen, but appropriately seductive; the only man that was not good was one rascal playboy and it was just all so boring.

The lives that the characters lead are also not recognizable nor relatable to me; one character enjoys India because she is able to take a private jet to each exotic location, another goes shopping for her daughter’s wedding dress at Dior, and they all enjoy unbridled success in their careers and enjoy the perks of being the most elite people in society. I have nothing against the culture that was being displayed in the novel, but I did have an issue with how these conditions were treated as normal and expected in the novel; it only made all of the characters come off as entitled.

The thing that got most on my nerve is that there were so many redundancies when the issues that were facing each couple surfaced in the book. The same arguments for whether or not to take a job in Beijing, for whether a relationship with a large age difference will work, etc. came up again and again and were sometimes examined from different points of view but these revisiting of the issues felt less like progress in the conflict and more just like saying the same thing over and over.

Some good things about this novel is that it was extremely readable, the prose is smooth and sometimes very simple. There are certain kinds of readers that would enjoy this book, but I unfortunately was not one of them. If you like characters that live exquisite lives and romances that face some challenges but inevitably and perfectly come back and blossom, then this book is probably for you, but I don’t think I can recommend it.

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book review, fiction, reading recommendations

Review: The Girls

Poor girls. The world fattens them on the promise of love. How badly they need it, and how little most of them will ever get.

– The Girls, Emma Cline

I had heard great things about this novel from friends and most people on Goodreads, so I picked up this audiobook and decided that I would give it a shot.
AUTHOR: Emma Cline

GENRE: Realistic fiction

RATING: 3.5/5 stars

SUMMARY: This novel is set in the late 1960s, in California. Evie is a lonely fourteen-year-old girl, who lost her best and only good friend because she was more interested in her friend’s brother than her friend. When she sees a group of girls in the park, she becomes intrigued and sets out on an effort to befriend “the girl with the black hair”, or as she is later known as, Suzanne. Evie’s friendship with Suzanne pulls her into the midst of Suzanne’s life, and Evie begins to live with Suzanne’s group, who all practically worship their caretaker Russell. In a story-arc that eerily mirrors the real life Manson Family from the 1960s, Evie grows up at “the ranch”, a place with loose morals, a lot of tension, and questionable motives.

THOUGHTS: Let me say right off the bat, that I really enjoyed Cline’s prose but it is definitely not for everyone. Her sentences are long, winding, and descriptive; her figurative language is enticing, complex, and at some instances in the book, startling. If you would rather a book just get straight to the point, then this book may not be for you.

I am not claiming that Cline was trying to convey a greater message with her work, but I disliked how the book was drearily pessimistic, especially about the role that females should and would play and how femininity can sometimes be crass and false. Maybe it is because I am more of an optimist than the main character is, or maybe it is because I am young and have a hard time relating to the narrator, which is a middle-aged Evie. Even though many of the statements made about girls or women in general were heartbreakingly true, like the quote I listed above, and even though I could relate to some of the female fears communicated by Evie and the girls at the ranch, I could not accept Evie’s conclusion that the way that girls are conditioned to want love and never receive it sets themselves up for a lifetime of disappointment. I believe there are ways in which women and females can unlearn those roles that were dictated to them, that they are able to find contentment and satisfaction and the love that they need to be whole. (Of course, I am also aware that Cline is a completely different person than Evie, and that their views may differ, but I sensed no irony that Cline was trying to convey anything other than what Evie had come to conclude in life).

Again, I loved the writing style and I believe that it really enhanced the story, especially since a lot of it is told in flashbacks. I read this book via audiobook and the dreamy voice of the narrator (Cady McClain) was brilliant for this story, and her voice acting was everything a reader could have wished for. I did not know much about the Manson Family, but reading this novel has piqued my interest. I always found the subject of cults to be somewhat grotesque but after reading this book, I had real sympathy for the girls who had nothing better to do than devote their lives and their bodies to a washed-up, middle-aged man. Their tragic stories prove how people can and will do anything to feel like they are doing something important, something different than everyone else, and something that can maybe make them feel whole again. The characterization in this story is perfectly in check.

I also enjoyed how there was a parallel between past Evie, and a fifteen-year-old girl that present Evie observed for a couple of days; this parallelism only goes to show how even with the change of time, the change of culture, etc., the main insecurities of girls stay stagnant. This is mostly because the expectations of girls and the role they play has not changed all that much through the decades.

If the male leader of the cult/ranch had been the focus of the book, I feel as though I might have lost interest. That is the story that everyone else chooses to focus on. However, Cline took the unorthodox approach and named the girls, or the followers, as the unsung heroes of her story (which, as a feminist, I am all about!). They were both victims and perpetrators, both innocent and guilty, and I enjoyed reading about that complexity and the writing style really captured it beautifully. If these sound like aspects you might enjoy in a book, then this novel is for you.

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book review, reading recommendations, short story sunday

Short Story Sunday: Dreams

For those of you who find it hard to set time aside to read, but still love the pull of a good novel, I introduce to you Short Story Sundays! Basically, I will review a short story or even an essay that I loved each Sunday (most of them will be recommendations) instead of a full length novel or play that you can easily pick up, read, and digest in the span of an hour.

This week’s short story comes from the amazing Anton Chekhov, and it can be read at American Literature, just follow this link.

SUMMARY: A nameless tramp is being escorted by two “peasant constables”, who are trying to figure out the tramp’s name. As they walk, the tramp gives details about his Orthodox Christian upbringings, saying he was the son of a nurse and grew up comfortably for he lived in their master’s home. He characterizes himself as a true gentleman on the inside though he is a peasant on the outside. He then reveals why he refuses to give up his name, and it has to do with the fact that he does not want to finish his penal service. Instead, he would rather be sent to East Siberia, where he could be part of a commune and maybe start his family. The draw of his dreams are pulling to the other peasants, but are soon forgotten as dreams often are.

REVIEW: As per usual, the most interesting aspects of Chekhov’s writing is not his plot lines, but rather his characterization. The main character in this story is everyman, neither a poor beggar nor a rich gentleman, though he fancies he is one. This man knows that there are only a few options for his life, and hypes up one of the options so that it sounds even better than real life. And as he dictates the details of his dream, the other characters are so enthralled that for a few seconds, they are won over.

I think this brief story has a lot to say about social classes, upbringings, religions, and the sort; but I’d like to focus on what it is communicating about dreams. The main character who has learned to idealize his past and his mother in order to have a clean conscience is also the one who turns a wasteland into a virtual paradise. It seems so clear and plausible that the constables, each of whom are not in the low position that the main character is in, fall for it, even just for a minute or two. These characters are all peasants, and the dream of a life far away from reality, far away from their ordinary day-to-day affairs are enough to spark something as dangerous and precious as hope.

Chekhov, once again, beautifully captures the part of the human existence that is altogether a cure and a curse; a dream with enough belief behind it might just come true, but it you put all of your stakes on that dream, it will become alive just to haunt you (The Great Gatsby, anyone?). Yes, this story is short, but it’s brevity is the only thing needed for the subject, which is fleeting dreams.

RATING: 3/5 stars

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book review, fiction, reading recommendations

Review: Me Before You

You can only actually help someone who wants to be helped.

– Me Before You, Jojo Moyes


So I have to admit, I was reluctant to read this novel. Reluctant, I say, because I was sure that it would not live up to the hype and I had heard mixed reactions to the movie. But, I am pleased to say that the novel is NOT the movie and is actually much better, but who can say that they were surprised? And anyways, romance is not my genre but I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised by this novel.

AUTHOR: Jojo Moyes

GENRE: Romance, Realistic Fiction

WHERE DID I GET THIS BOOK: local library

RATING: 3.5/5 stars

SUMMARY: Louisa, or Lou, is a small-town, twenty six year old, English girl with no big plans. She lives a comfortable life with her sister, her nephew, her parents, her grandfather, and her boyfriend. Her family’s financial situation is tight and depends on her wages, so she does not have the ability to move away nor can she pursue an education. Personal reasons and secrets also lead Lou to lead a life within a small radius, leaving her with no desire to see the world and no aspirations. Lou is a bubbly, awkward personality with a wardrobe louder than most. One fateful day, she loses her job at the cafe and instead is assigned to be the caretaker and companion Will Traynor, a quadriplegic, ex-CEO, rich man in his thirties. At first the pair does not get along, but as time proceeds, they learn to rely on each other and of course, fall for each other. However, Lou has to reconcile with a deep, dark secret of Will’s that could possibly threaten their intimacy as well as their relationship.

THOUGHTS: I think the issue with my primary reluctance with reading this novel is that it was marketed as a romance when it really is not that at all. This story is all Lou’s, the protagonist, and how a relationship she has affects the course of her life and her personal worldview. I think the main proof of this is the fact that there is a sequel to this book even though (SPOILER ALERT) the relationship comes to an end in the course of this first novel. Additionally, there was no romanticization of Will’s paralysis, and yet at the same time, a real understanding that this romance only could have occurred if Will was paralyzed, and would ever occur in some made-up, fantasy land where he fully had control of his body.

There is something to be said about the fact that I finished this book in the span of less than twenty four hours; the storyline is riveting and the dialogue is witty and refreshing. Moyes’ writing is accessible and easy to digest; however, I found it to be lacking in that it did not have a unique, identifiable style. There are bursts of brilliance, but overall, the diction was not too impressive, which is why I could not give it a higher rating.

That being said, there was no need for fancy figurative language most of the time; the storyline and exposition managed to carry itself quite well without it. Moyes’ style, while not a standout feature of the novel, suits the mood and purpose of the work well.

The management of sensitive topics in the book, such as assisted suicide, is handled with grace. I know that the way that Moyes treats these subjects may have provoked controversy, and I believe that it only makes the work that much better, because in my opinion, the purpose of the novel is not to paint moral issues in simple shades of black and white, nor is it to preach. It is simply a honest reflection of the complexities of life.

The characterization is sublime and I found both Lou and Will to be highly sympathetic characters, and Lou served as a reliable narrator. I loved the imagery associated with Lou’s personality and her wardrobe, I loved the complicated relationships she often found herself, and I loved how she managed to look at all of her character flaws and mostly take them in stride. Will was also very well-written; he was both appropriately dark and yet generous beyond belief at the same time yet very believable.

The background motifs also played nicely into the tapestry that is this novel; of course, there is the classic class struggles between two peoples who have affections for each other, the examination of what a healthy functioning relationship actually looks like, and family disfunction. They do not distract from the main plot and instead, at most times, enhance the novel.

If you are a fan of watching a beautifully arced character grow and if you are a fan of subtle complexities, this is the book for you.

 

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book review, reading recommendations, short story sunday

Short Story Sunday: When Mr. Pirzada Came to Dine

For those of you who find it hard to set time aside to read, but still love the pull of a good novel, I introduce to you Short Story Sundays! Basically, I will review a short story or even an essay that I loved each Sunday (most of them will be recommendations) instead of a full length novel or play that you can easily pick up, read, and digest in the span of an hour.

My first Short Story Sunday has to be dedicated to one of my all-time favorite short stories, which is When Mr. Pirzada Came to Dine by Jhumpa Lahiri. This short story is from her collection Interpreter of Maladies which I will review as a whole soon but for now, I will just say that I highly recommend it.

SUMMARY: When Mr. Pirzada Came to Dine is told from the viewpoint of a child named Lilia, who receives a visitor at her house one night, named Mr. Pirzada. Mr. Pirzada would come over frequently, and through him, Lilia’s whole worldview is broadened. Mr. Pirzada comes from Pakistan to America to study, and while Mr. Pirzada is at Lilia’s house, her parents and their guest sit down to watch the news about the possibility of war in Pakistan. Lilia’s parents and Mr. Pirzada came to America from the same part of the world, and this is how they were first introduced to each other and later bonded. Mr. Pirzada had left his own six daughters back in Pakistan, and it is clear that he still thinks and worries about them all the time, and this is especially apparent when he frets over Lilia going trick-or-treating with her friends. Eventually, as the war is about to begin, and Mr. Pirzada must leave to be with his family in a place far enough from the war so that they can be safe.

REVIEW: I have nothing negative to say about this short story, and as a child of immigrants often caught between two cultures, this spoke volumes to me. The most important part of the story, to me, is not that Mr. Pirzada is able to be reunited safely with his family, but rather Lilia’s sudden, piqued interest in the history of her parents’ country at such a young age, and the image of her grasping for knowledge about India and Pakistan, or wondering why no one at her school or why no other adults that she knew never mentioned what was happening in Pakistan, was captivating to me. Lilia, through meeting Mr. Pirzada, is exposed to both the history, the present, and the future of what happened and is happening to her people. She learns to separate herself from the rest of her classmates and community members because she is the only one of them who has such a dedicated interest in the matter. She realizes that all she ever learns in school is American history and that gets under her skin. She prays every night, though not a religious child, because she learned to have such empathy for Mr. Pirzada.

Though this is a short story, it is a coming-of-age story. Lilia’s maturity throughout the plot is both graceful and awkward; her horizons are being expanded while she remains in the dark about many things that she cannot possibly understand yet because she is still a child. Most importantly, this story takes the “ignorant first-generation child of immigrants” stereotype, embraces it, then slowly dismantles it which I adore. Of course, Lahiri’s clean, succinct, and imaginative writing style only add to the wonderful tapestry that is this story.

RATING: 5/5 stars, would definitely recommend as an easy, rich, deceptively simple yet concurrently complex, wonderful read.

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