book review, reading recommendations, short story sunday

Short Story Sunday: A Good Man is Hard to Find

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 story comes from the brilliant writer who is a masterful commentator on American life: Flannery O’Connor.

SUMMARY: The narrator of this story comes in the form of a Southern grandmother who would rather vacation in Tennessee, rather than in Florida, where her daughter and her grandson are dragging her along to. This is the kind of woman who is stuck in the past, and stuck in the idea that she was part of a Southern aristocracy, and stuck in an idealized American past that no longer exists in a modern world. She points out an article concerning “The Misfit”, or a serial killer who is out on the road. She finds herself at odds with her family, and she has antiquated values, but this story is still a thriller and the plot twist at the end may have revealed that this grandmother was right about something that she may or may not live to regret.

REVIEW: I was introduced to this chilling story in school, and I am eternally grateful for this introduction because it prompted me to pick up Flannery O’Connor’s collection Everything that Rises Must Converge which I absolutely adored.

O’Connor is great at capturing the feelings of those who are stuck in a different kind of American South, where the wealthy, white plantation owners reigned supreme and in which all of society catered to them. This story proves no exception, and O’Connor manages to concurrently validate those stuck-in-the-past feelings as well as satirizing them.

I also loved the plot and the twist it has at the end, and how it was treated. Yes, it is not the happiest of endings, but that’s O’Connor for you- her stories will leave you somewhat terrified and somewhat in awe. The characterization in this story is particularly some of O’Connor’s best as well; even though you do not know a lot about these characters, they are easily identifiable to any reader. Even the one character in the restaurant that is only briefly mentioned is fleshed out enough for the reader to have an idea of who he is. Additionally, the diction and symbolism is simply enthralling.

If you like a story with excitement, suspension, and an ending that will leave you feeling queasy, (as well with some colorful insights into American generation gaps and American psyches), this story is for you.

RATING: 4.5/5 stars

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book review, fiction, reading recommendations

Review: Leaving Time

Just because you leave someone doesn’t mean you let them go.

Leaving Time, Jodi Picoult

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Click on the image above to purchase the book on Amazon.

This was my introduction to Jodi Picoult, who many acclaim, and I must say that it was far from a disappointment.

AUTHOR: Jodi Picoult

GENRE: Fiction

WHERE DID I GET THIS BOOK: local library

RATING: 4/5 stars

SUMMARY: Jenna Metcalf is a thirteen-year-old girl whose every waking moment is consumed by missing and searching for her mother who has been missing for over a decade, Alice Metcalf. Her father, a patient in a psychiatric ward, proves unhelpful. The missing persons case for Alice Metcalf was never reported either. Jenna enlists the help of a washed-up psychic, Serenity, and the detective that was originally assigned to her mother’s case, Virgil, in the search for her mother. As these three form the pseudo-family that Jenna never really had, details about the case reveal themselves and raises more confusion. However, Jenna is not about to give up, not after ten years of missing her mom.

THOUGHTS: I adored this story- it has everything an avid reader could want: paranormal beings, a psychic who is faking it, an angsty, witty teenage girl, an alcoholic detective, a missing person, and elephants. I am the kind that loves to read nonfiction and especially about animal emotions and the depth to which they feel it- so I really enjoyed the elephants aspect of this story. There is a lot of research about elephants in this book, so if that is not the kind of thing that will pique your interest, then this book may not be for you.

I like the characterization overall in this novel- the main characters, Jenna and Alice, are beautifully written. They are both complicated, and Jenna’s teenage voice is clear and realistic and relatable. Alice is just as complex, and she is not romanticized at all by Picoult- she has some angry moments, some bossy moments, and some mean moments. But she is still a sympathetic character, and one that you root for- it just she comes closer to real women in real life- she’s dark, she’s complex, and she’s emotional, unapologetically. Additionally, Serenity and Vergil, though most of us would classify them as losers or outsiders, are not entirely lovable, but just relatable enough so that you can relate to the issues that they are facing and the questions they have to answer. Also, the relationships that they develop with Jenna are nicely arced and anything but linear, which I feel is important for parent-child like relationships.

The plot twist at the end was something that I bought and enjoyed, even though many of the book reviews that I read on Goodreads did not. The main criticism I drew from reading those reviews is that it is a far cry from what Jodi Picoult usually does, but this was my introduction to the author, so I am able to speak on the plot twist without being influenced by Picoult’s other works. I thought it was a well-timed twist, believable, and made the story that much more enriching and challenging to my own world view.

If you enjoy realistic fiction with plenty of drama, suspense, and some of the paranormal, then this is a book for you!

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to be read

TBR jar / TBR masterpost

So, I’d seen the idea of a TBR jar floating around on another book blog…so I decided, why not? I barely have any room for the books that I have and my separate TBR lists are amazingly long, so I decided to compile the lists into one masterlist.

Well, that might have been a mistake. I counted all of the tiles that I have written down…and there are 127 titles. 127 you guys! Because I am interested in so many genres and try to read diversely…well…let’s just say I will be committing to this TBR jar for a while.

The way the TBR jar will work is that I have written each title on my TBR list and the names of the books that I own that are unread on separate slips of paper. I will fold them up, mix them in a Mason jar, and pick out a couple to read each month.

So as of now- I am hereby banning myself from buying any more books/adding to this TBR list until I can get it to a more manageable size. (It’s obvious to pretty much everyone except me that I have a huge problem).

I’m gonna keep track of what I’m reading and when, and I will do so on this post:

  1. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian
  2. Alex and Eliza
  3. Alexander Hamilton
  4. America (The Book): A Citizen’s Guide to Democracy Inaction

  5. Angel
  6. Angels in America (#1)
  7. Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl
  8. Anton Chekhov: The Complete Short Novels
  9. Anton Chekhov: Stories
  10. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe
  11. As I Descended
  12. The Awakening
  13. A Bad Feminist
  14. The Bell Jar
  15. Between Shades of Gray
  16. The Bluest Eye
  17. The Boy in Striped Pajamas
  18. Boy Meets Boy
  19. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
  20. Catch-22
  21. Casual Vacancy
  22. A Circle of Quiet
  23. City of Bones
  24. The Collected Stories- Pushkin
  25. Collected Tales of Nikolai Gogol
  26. The Color Purple
  27. The Complete Plays: Christopher Marlowe
  28. Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister
  29. Crazy Rich Asians
  30. Difficult Women
  31. Dreamology
  32. Dreams from My Father (Finished September 2017)
  33. Elbow Room
  34. Eleanor and Park
  35. Eligible
  36. Every Heart a Doorway
  37. Extras
  38. The Eyre Affair
  39. Fangirl  (Finished August 2017)
  40. The Fault in Our Stars
  41. Fire
  42. Flame in the Mist
  43. From the Silence of the Tao House
  44. The Fountainhead
  45. Fun Home
  46. The Geek Feminist Revolution
  47. Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue
  48. Girl, Interrupted
  49. The Girl on the Train
  50. The Girls of Atomic City
  51. Give us the Ballot
  52. The Glass Castle
  53. The Goldfinch
  54. Gone Girl
  55. Good Wives (Little Women #2)
  56. The Handmaid’s Tale
  57. The Hate You Give
  58. The Help
  59. History is All You Left Me
  60. The Hobbit
  61. How to Make a Wish
  62. The Iceman Cometh
  63. If I was Your Girl (Finished September 2017)
  64. I’ll Give You the Sun
  65. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (Finished September 2017)
  66. It Takes a Village
  67. The Jane Austen Book Club
  68. The Jungle
  69. Larger than Life
  70. The Life of Pi
  71. Lowlands
  72. The Luster of Lost Things
  73. Mark of Athena
  74. Memoirs of a Geisha
  75. The Melody of You and Me
  76. Mom & Me & Mom
  77. More Happy than Not
  78. Mourning Becomes Electra
  79. My Antonia
  80. My Sister’s Keeper
  81. Nevermore
  82. The Nightingale
  83. Not Otherwise Specified
  84. Notorious RBG
  85. Of Fire and Stars
  86. One Hundred Years of Solitude
  87. The Opposite of Loneliness
  88. The Outsiders
  89. Paper Towns
  90. The Perks of Being a Wallflower
  91. Persepolis 2
  92. The Picture of Dorian Gray
  93. The Price
  94. The Princess Bride
  95. Queens of Geek
  96. Ramona Blue
  97. Red Fire
  98. Room
  99. Sara Bareilles: Sounds Like Me (finished August 2017)
  100. The Secret Life of Bees
  101. Seven Ways We Lie
  102. The Shell Collection
  103. Shiver
  104. A Short History of Nearly Everything
  105. Sightseeing
  106. Simon and the Homo Sapiens Agenda
  107. Story of the Trapp Family Singers
  108. A Streetcar Named Desire
  109. The Sun is Also A Star
  110. Tales from Watership Down
  111. Tash Hearts Tolstoy
  112. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall
  113. Tender is the Night
  114. A Thousand Splendid Suns
  115. To All the Boys I Loved Before
  116. Two Boys Kissing (Finished August 2017)
  117. The Virgin Suicides
  118. Walden
  119. We are Okay
  120. When Breath Becomes Air
  121. When We Collided
  122. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
  123. Wild
  124. Wild Swans
  125. Wuthering Heights
  126. The Year of the Runaways
  127. The Zoo Story

This started out as a cute idea, but now it has turned into something that I’ve probably needed to do for a looong time.

Progress: Read- 6/127

Bolded Books are those in my possession.

 

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book review, nonfiction, reading recommendations

Review: Hidden Figures

Their dark skin, their gender, their economic status–none of those were acceptable excuses for not giving the fullest rein to their imaginations and ambitions.

Hidden Figures, Margot Lee Shetterly

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Click on the image above to purchase on Amazon.

So as soon as I saw that this audiobook was available to loan with no wait from my local library, I immediately borrowed it because I loved the movie!

AUTHOR: Margot Lee Shetterly

GENRE: Nonfiction

WHERE DID I GET THIS BOOK: local library

RATING: 5/5 stars

SUMMARY: Hidden Figures follows the journey of mostly black women (some white women and black men and their struggles are also touched on) that worked as those who specialized in math and/or science for NASA or NACA, as it was named before the space race. The women in this book include Dorothy Vaughn, Katherine Johnson, Christine Darden, and Mary Jackson, among other amazing black, female minds that are also mentioned. The story does discuss the racial or gender based barriers that the women face when trying to advance themselves and their careers at Langley Institute on the Virginian Peninsula, but more importantly, it details the achievements of these women that would otherwise have been lost to history, and how these women tie into and contributed to American history, as well as the American narrative.

THOUGHTS: I gave this book the highest rating possible because I cannot honestly think of something I would change about it. The writing was clear and precise, and the author did a good job of navigating the material- she neither underplayed nor overplayed the role of racism or discrimination in the story, but she also did not idolize the women described nor did she downplay their characteristics or achievements. Instead, she did what a good nonfiction writer does- stick to the facts, but also adding humanizing elements to the story because it is a story with a uniquely humanistic value.

The story of success against all odds, of how hard work and dedication and ingenuity can lead to achievement otherwise impossible for black females to even dream about, is a story that I’m sure all Americans with a belief in the ideals of this country and the American Dream can enjoy and sympathize with. However, the recognition that the racial discrimination of the 1950s and the 1960s is only in the near past and the acknowledgement that black women still have a gigantic hill to climb are important aspects of this story to, and more importantly, Shetterly knows this keenly and tells her readers as well.

I am sure some people will be disappointed that this is not the same story that was eloquently fictionalized in the film, but I believe that the film took the necessary creative license to dramatize the work and to embody the same message and sentiment as the book. However, if you are not the kind that enjoys nonfiction persay, but would prefer a clear-cut story, then this book is probably not for you. (Go watch the movie instead! It’s still amazing and inspiring and Shetterly was very involved in its production.)

Ultimately, I am grateful that this book exists to enrich the minds of both Americans and international readers- the achievements of Dorothy Vaughn, Katherine Johnson, Mary Jackson, and Christine Darden are a reminder of what is possible in America, despite someone’s gender or despite someone’s skin tone, as well as a reminder of how far we still need to go as an American society. The bits about how black men fared at Langely Institute are also important and of the also-forgotten white, female mathematicians that worked at Langely reveal that black women were not the only “hidden figures” in this story. (Quick note: the subplots of white and black female friendships are SUBLIME). Therefore, this story is not just one about race, or about gender…it’s about the fact that only those of a certain, preferred demographic are sometimes the only ones that get noticed and how all of us could best help everyone reach their full potential, so that there are no more hidden figures.

 

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book review, play

Review: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

To suffer is as human to breathe.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Jack Throne and John Tiffany

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Click the above image to purchase the book on Amazon.

I know I am way past the trend, and to be fair, I did try and read this when it first came out. I just never really engaged in it enough last year, but I have finally made my way through it.

AUTHOR: Jack Throne and John Tiffany; based off of J.K. Rowling’s work

GENRE: Drama, Fantasy

WHERE DID I GET THIS BOOK: Amazon

RATING: 2.5/5 stars.

SUMMARY: Albus Severus Potter, the middle child of Harry Potter and Ginny Weasley, struggles with fitting in at Hogwarts. He becomes somewhat of a social outcast because he was a Potter that was sorted into the Slytherin House. He quickly befriends Scorpius Malfoy, who is also a social outcast because there are rumors that he is not really Draco’s son but rather the heir of Voldemort. Albus is unsettled, and hates Hogwarts, and hates being Harry Potter’s son. When Albus meets a woman that claims to be the cousin of Cedric Diggory, he and Scorpius are pulled into an opportunity to prove themselves to their fathers and to their peers at Hogwarts. However, they are really entering into a complex situation that may alter the course of wizarding history.

THOUGHTS: Okay, so, I did not hate this play as much as a lot of other people. However, I found it to be written as more of a fanfiction than an official installment in the Harry Potter series. My issue with the book is not that it wasn’t written by J.K. Rowling, nor was it the fact that there were less “magic” tricks in the book. It’s just that I didn’t find the story believable.

I don’t know if I buy Albus’ motivations; I get that he wanted to fix one of his father’s mistakes and somehow differentiate himself from the legacy that he had inherited, but I do not know if those are sufficient for him to buy the whims of a girl that he barely knows. There are other aspects of the plot that I will not go into (cause spoilers) that I didn’t find believable: there were genuinely nice characters that got turned into Death Eaters because of humiliation (there has to be a darker reason within someone to join the Dark Side…right?), there were endgame romances split apart because of simple changes, and somehow Hermoine was the Minister for Magic- an amazingly brilliant character who I adore but has never been that charismatic nor great with people as a politician? What?

Additionally, I think there is a lot more value in the character of Ronald Weasley than just as the comic relief. I wish the play had done him more justice.

But enough- I am not here to bash the book completely, but nor am I here to lie and sing its praises. I am aware that this is only a script that I have read, and that watching the play must be a different experience, and I am sure it is more enjoyable as a show. There are genuine parts of the script that I enjoyed, such as Harry struggling with parenting techniques, the angsty teen emotions that always populated the world of Harry Potter, the genuine moments of despair as the adult characters have to come to terms with their actions- past and present. There are the same kinds of soaring inspiration and life lessons that always permeated the Wizarding World present in the script. The play beckons the same kind of humanity that the Harry Potter series has always strived to present, and I believe that alone is the play’s redeeming quality.

It is also a nice reminder that just because Voldemort had vanished from the world of Harry Potter, it did not mean that there was no more dark magic to be fought, and no more life struggles to be had.

Although there are a lot of things I question about this script, nevertheless it was nice to sink back into a world that I had grown up with and is so familiar to me. It was nice to see adult Harry as the same, troubled person he had always been. It was a nice escape, and I think all Harry Potter fans should give this book a chance and develop their own opinions about it, while keeping in mind that when it comes to Harry Potter, J.K. Rowling will always reign supreme.

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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

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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

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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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