book review, fiction

Review: Eligible

She might even have felt that self-congratulatory pride that heterosexual white people are known to experience due to proximate diversity.

-Eligible, Curtis Sittenfield

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FORMAT: audiobook

RATING: 4.5/5 stars

SUMMARY: A modern Pride and Prejudice retelling in which Elizabeth Bennet is a writer for a progressive, feminist magazine based in New York City, Jane Bennet is a yoga teacher, and Chip Bingley is the newest doctor in town, fresh off the reality television show Eligible (think The Bachelor). Mary, Kitty, and Lydia still live at home, unemployed and unmarried. In fact, none of the Bennet girls are married, although their mother desperately wants them to be due to their dire financial situation. Lizzie must deal with the reality of impending financial instability, family dynamics, AND the stuck-up doctor in town named William Darcy, which makes for many interesting potential romances.

THOUGHTS: This book is utterly delectable. If you enjoy retellings and Jane Austen, this book is definitely for you. For those of us that have read Pride and Prejudice, I’ll give you a few juicy tidbits- Catherine de Bourgh as a second-wave feminist icon (think Gloria Steinem-type), Lydia and Kitty as cross-fitters, and Collins as a Silicon Valley figure.

Curtis Sittenfeld managed to capture each of these characters magnificently and translated them to the modern atmosphere flawlessly. I had my serious doubts going into this adaptation, especially since The Lizzie Bennet Diaries was so brilliant, but I was pleasantly surprised by Eligible.

Just as the original Pride and Prejudice did, Eligible combined character development with plot progression in an ideal ratio. And of course, the cast of characters could not be crazier, nor could they be more lovable and relatable. Would highly recommend for anyone who enjoys a good Austen narrative!

 

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book review, nonfiction

Review: Hamilton: The Revolution

History is entirely created by the person who tells the story

Hamilton: The Revolution, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Jeremy McCarter

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AUTHOR: Lin-Manuel Miranda, Jeremy McCarter

GENRE: Non-Fiction

FORMAT: audiobook

RATING: 5/5 stars

BACKGROUND: In hindsight, it seems that most revolutions are inevitable. This applies to both the American Revolution and the revolution that Hamilton, the musical, has made in both musical theatre and rap. However, when you are in the midst of completing a revolution, nothing seems inevitable. This book tells of the process that shaped Hamilton from a mixtape, a concept album, to one of the best musicals of our generation- from the first performance that Lin did at the White House to the opening night on Broadway. It also includes the annotations to the libretto of the musical.

THOUGHTS: Okay if you have not listened to Hamilton or seen the show, this is maybe not the book for you. It will be so much more meaningful if you are familiar with the show in any capacity. So, if you have not but are intending to listen to this show, maybe consider not finishing this review.

Another disclaimer: I have been a fan of Lin-Manuel Miranda for the longest time so I enjoyed this book more than the casual fan of Hamilton would.

I absolutely adored every moment of listening to Hamilton: The Revolution. Being as big of a fan of the show as I am, there were plenty little tidbits included in the book that were news to me, which was quite enjoyable. Getting to know exactly what it takes to pull off such a phenomenon, and exactly how risky it was, is much more enjoyable to know now that the musical is indescribably popular.

The emotional moments of creating the musical, especially since there are so many elements of overcoming racial disadvantages and marrying modern music with musical theatre, are a joy to read. There are quite a few times during the audiobook in which I shamelessly teared up, or straight up cried. The fact that the cast of Hamilton tends to come from immigrant parents and very diverse backgrounds make the story of how this family came together very touching. The story of Anthony Ramos in particular broke and mended my heart in a turn of a sentence.

The inevitable intermingling of this story with the story of American history AND contemporary American politics also adds to the complexity of the story. The story of the American revolution and in particular, Alexander Hamilton, embodies so much of what we would now call the American spirit. Any patriot, any person who is proud of the multiracial, diverse, and yet united America will feel immense pride in how perfectly Hamilton seems to usher us into a new cultural, political, and social age– even though it is set in our deep past. You need to see it (or read it) to believe it.

If you are a fan of the musical, or a hip hop geek, or a musical theatre geek, or a history buff, you will definitely enjoy the annotations that Lin have provided on the libretto. I pinky promise.

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book review, fiction

Review: Attachments

Every woman wants a man who’ll fall in love with her soul as well as her body.

– Attachments, Rainbow Rowell

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AUTHOR: Rainbow Rowell

GENRE: Fiction/Light Romance

FORMAT: paperback

RATING: 4/5 stars

SUMMARY: Think a 90s romantic comedy. It is currently the precipice of the new millennium, and that means the introduction of the Internet and the phenomenon of e-mail. A newspaper hires a thirty-year-old computer specialist named Lincoln to sit in a room at night and read through flagged emails sent by its employees for bad behavior. Lincoln finds himself constantly reading the email chains exchanged between Jennifer and Beth, which are flagged for innocuous reasons. In the process of reading these emails, he finds himself falling more and more for Beth, a girl he has never seen but knows the most intimate details about. Beth is similarly infatuated with a guy who hangs around the office late at night, but who she actually knows nothing about. How will they extract themselves from this seemingly intractable situation?

THOUGHTS: Again, this book was loaned to me by my friend who apparently likes to feed my newborn Rainbow Rowell addiction. Unlike the other books that I have read by Rowell, like Fangirl and Eleanor and Park, this is NOT teen fiction. That means it touches on subjects like pregnancy, and what it really means to grow up and separate from your parents. As someone who is only a year away from graduation, there are many moments in the book that I was more keen to: the decision of Lincoln to move out of his mother’s home, his debate over whether he should continue working or go back to school, his search for when and where his life is supposed to start. Of course, I haven’t gone through these steps yet, but it gives me a nice glance into what the rest of my 20’s will look like.

Lincoln’s introspective and inner struggles to achieve true adulthood are what struck me the most. And of course, there is the cute romantic-comedy element of the book that kept me coming back for more (and didn’t make me as depressed about adulthood). The friendship between Beth and Jennifer is enviable, and both are incredibly smart and witty. The issues that they go through in their respective relationships portray that there’s a lot more to adulthood than career and just finding a partner- there’s all the things that come after too. The possibility of marriage? The possibility of children? And how can you even approach these topics when you are not sure if you want either?

Luckily, the creepy-guy-reading-emails-and-being-ethically-dubious is addressed as well, as it is a very self-aware novel. If it wasn’t, I probably wouldn’t have enjoyed it as much. I never take issue with authors attacking problematic issues and topics as long as they acknowledge that its problematic, but in case you’re the kind of person who can’t get around that sort of thing, then maybe this book isn’t for you. I don’t know if Rowell wanted to address implications of new technology, and how surveillance in an information age could shape the nature of modern relationships, but I would say that a small part of that is at play in this novel as well.

All in all, this is a cute and thought-provoking read. Would definitely recommend.

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book tag

Top Ten Tuesday: Bookish Resolutions / Goals

I am now going to be joining the delightful bookish meme: Top Ten Tuesday! It is currently being hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl, so go check her and it out! This week’s theme is Bookish Resolutions for the new year.

  • Read 50 Books (or more)

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Last year, I shot low and easily surpassed reading my initial goal of 25 books by 10. This year, I am aiming towards 50, which I feel like I can achieve easily. That comes to about one book a week, and I already have a great start:

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  • Read War and Peace

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The longest book that I read last year was Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Kareninawhich I thoroughly enjoyed. The reason that I decided to read this book was to see if I could get through War and Peace, the logic being that if I can get through and enjoy Karenina, then I will like War and Peace. I’ll probably hold off on this book until the summer though.

  • Read more physical books

Because I am a political science major, it can be difficult for me to pick up a book in between classes or for leisure because I am already reading up to 300 pages of text each week for school. I have gotten around this fact by listening to more audiobooks, but I am going to try and incorporate more physical books into my school schedule since I have so many!! But if I can’t, or if my mental health can’t take it, then I’m not going to push it. Reading is enjoyable, and I strive to keep it that way!

  • Read more non-fiction!

This is a BIG resolution for me. I only read 9/35 nonfiction books last year, and I would really like to increase the percentage. Fiction is a fun escape, but non-fiction books have so much to offer as well. I recently got a copy of The Art of War and I am still trying to read What Happened, so I definitely have good options for this section.

  • Read more diverse authors

This goal is mostly aimed at reading more authors of color. I am guilty of reading in a very Eurocentric manner, and given that I am an Asian-American woman, I especially would like to read more books by people that look like and have had similar experiences to me.

  • Finish a series

Hopefully I can finally finish the rest of the Percy Jackson books that I’ve been putting off, or even the Jojo Moyes series, and take those books off my TBR.

  • Check off some of those DNF books

We’re all guilty of this, aren’t we? I just want to finish one or two of those DNF books.

  • Read over 20,000 pages

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I don’t just want to read a certain numerical amount of books, especially as I often read plays, which are significantly shorter than novels. I read around 12,500 pages last year, so I hope reading 20,000 pages across 50+ books is reasonable!

  • Get through 20% of my TBR list

Oh, my TBR list. It’s so long, and I have not been great about adhering to it strictly because of the availability of books or the release of new books. I have only read 11/127 of the books on that list, which comes to around 8%. I would really like to read through 20% of that list AT LEAST this year, so that means around 26 books. 26-11 comes to 15, which is pretty reasonable.

  • Read more classics

Especially, especailly Jane Austen. and Shakespeare. I especially want to finish all of Jane Austen’s novels.

What are your bookish resolutions?

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book review, fiction, young adult

Review: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

And being alone made me want to talk to someone my own age. Someone who understood that using the “f” word wasn’t a measure of my lack of imagination. Sometimes using that word just made me feel free.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, Benjamin Alire Saenz

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AUTHOR: Benjamin Alire Saenz

GENRE: Young Adult Fiction

FORMAT: audiobook

RATING: 4/5 stars

BACKGROUND: Aristotle is a troubled, young teenager who desperately wants to have more communication and/or knowledge about his brother, as well as a more open relationship with his father. Dante is a shy, bright teenager who is extremely close with his own parents. Dante and Aristotle do not have much in common, but their friendship proves to be one for the ages. They come together to really understand many of the mysteries of transforming from a child into an adult, as well as the secrets of the universe.

THOUGHTS: Aristotle, or Ari, was a completely relatable character. I know the trope of the angsty teenage boy who is angry at the world is overdone, and personally, I got bored of it when I first ran across it in The Catcher in the Rye. However, I found a breath fresh of it in the character of Ari, who is not only deeply troubled by the lack of understanding from his parents, but also profoundly sad. He has the kind of sadness that is perfectly poetic, and perfectly understandable to those of us who have harbored it.

Dante is that wiry, smart-ass, bright kid that cares too much that makes you want to root for him from the very beginning. He is also unapologetically honest, which is not uncommon for teenage boys. He and Ari make for an unusual pair, but one that fits. Their chemistry throughout the book was unbelievable, both as friends and as what they end up in the end.

There is the beautiful element of Mexican culture intertwined throughout the book, and also relevant cultural issues that come up. This includes traditional Mexican views on homosexuality, crime, family, and masculinity. The idea of being a partial Mexican or half Mexican due to the possession of certain character traits does surface, and it makes for an important point about what culture should and should not have a lasting impact on.

I believe the prose was written completely beautifully, but a couple of plot points kept it from the full five-star rating for me. I found that the timing of the novel was not exactly to my liking; I felt that the end was very rushed. I also thought that it was strange that, for a coming-of-age story that beautifully depicts family relationships and friendly relationships, the main discovery that the protagonist makes about himself practically had to be force-fed to him by adult authorities. However, this was a small complaint on my part and was really a non-issue for the majority of the book.

Also, if you are into audiobooks, Lin Manuel-Miranda reads this particular audiobook, which is a joy because his voice is capable of so much. There are also two instances into the audiobook where you hear Lin express disinterest in Alexander Hamilton, which is just the most beautiful irony ever.

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book review, memoirs/biographies, reading recommendations

Review: Persepolis part one

The revolution is like a bicycle. When the wheels don’t turn, it falls.

Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi

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Click image to purchase on Amazon. 

Okay, I don’t read graphic novels. Like, ever. But when I was required to read this book for English class, I basically fell in love. I am not saying that I will continue to read graphic novels in the future, but I might make an exception for Persepolis’ sequel.

AUTHOR: Marjane Satrapi

GENRE: Coming-of-Age, Autobiography, Graphic Novel

WHERE DID I GET THIS BOOK: Amazon

RATING: 5/5

THOUGHTS: So Persepolis is a novel about Marjane Satrapi’s early life growing up in Iran; this is an autobiography, but it is written from the perspective of someone who is both Western-educated but also deeply familiar with the culture of Iran. When Marjane, or as she is referred to in the book, Marji, encounters the Islamic Revolution during her childhood, she is forced to reconcile some adult themes with her young and inexperienced age. Marji’s parents are quite liberal and quietly stand up against the Revolution in their own way. Marji herself takes after her parents, reading radical doctrines such as Marx’s Dialectical Materialism and staging government coups in her backyard with her friends.

However, Marji also encounters the horrors of war and revolution in her daily life. She loses friends, whether to distance or to death, she watches family friends get arrested, tortured, and sometimes killed, etc. She tries to grasp a lot of it but often the events around her become filtered through her childlike worldview. Persepolis is ultimately a deeply moving, honest, and enlightening look at what a typical Iranian’s life might have looked like during the Revolution, and perhaps what it would look like now.

Satrapi does an excellent job of making this book accessible to a Western audience by incorporating Western motifs such as citing Michael Jackson and jean jackets. She also destroys many Western stereotypical assumptions about Iranians, which is quite useful especially when relations between the West and Iran are tense.

As much as the plot and the dialogue are skillful, what is more important to me is the way that Satrapi’s art can evoke emotion and move a story along so that sometimes no words are needed. She draws minimally, so as not to overwhelm the reader, and she draws with purpose. Most of her illustrations are beautiful, and those that lean to the abstract side and are probably of the same caliber as your run-of-the-mill metaphors and similes are some of my personal favorites. The layout is aesthetically pleasing as well.

Maybe the best part about this book is that it can be accessible at any age and isn’t necessarily directed towards one audience; adults and children alike can devour Persepolis, momentarily step into a world that is not their own, and leave with a better understanding of Iranians, Iranian culture, and the Iranian revolution. I would highly recommend this book.

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book review, fiction, young adult

Review: Eleanor and Park

“You can be Han Solo,” he said, kissing her throat. “And I’ll be Boba Fett. I’ll cross the sky for you.”

Eleanor and Park, Rainbow Rowell

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GENRE: Young Adult

WHAT FORMAT: paperback

RATING: 5/5 stars

SUMMARY: Eleanor and Park are two high school strangers turned into almost, but not quite, star-crossed lovers. They meet because they don’t have anywhere else to sit on the bus, crammed with crappy, judgmental high school kids. They soon bond over comic books, good music, and odd fashion choices. However, other people always worm their way into the relationship and test it- this ranges from unwanted, abusive step-parents, loving parents, high school bullies, or personal insecurities. It all makes for a tragedy of two kids in love for the ages.

THOUGHTS: My friend quite seriously told me that if I didn’t like this book, then she would have to reconsider our friendship. This is her favorite book of all time, and after reading it, I can understand why. I sped through this book in a couple of hours, unable to put it down.

I have read Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell before, and to be honest, I did not love it. I was surprised by the tone that Rowell had in Eleanor and Park because it was completely different from Fangirl– in a good way, of course. I really enjoyed the contrasting voices of both Eleanor and Park. Beyond the stylistic elements of it, the dual narration also advanced the story quite well since neither Eleanor nor Park offer up intimate information easily.

Rowell’s romantic timing was also superb and perfect. This can be such a fickle thing but the way in which Eleanor and Park come together feels so natural, and there is not one part of their relationship that feels forced. Rowell captures exactly what it is like to be young and in love- it’s awkward, it’s dampened by a lack of communication, it’s passionate, and it’s like nothing else you’ll experience in the rest of your life.

The relationships that Eleanor and Park have with their families are so important as well- the slightly dysfunctional family that only seems perfect on the outside is there, and the absolutely messed-up family that is barely holding together. I love the focus on family because it takes up so much of a young adult’s life and has the power to determine what happens in a young adult’s relationships. It reminded me of just how little control teenagers can have over their own lives, and how frustrating it can be.

Honestly, the only thing that I found fault with in this book is Park’s name. It felt too stereotypical for a Korean American character, maybe bordering on ignorant.

Other than that, this book is everything- it’s cute, it’s angsty, it’s emotional, and it will most likely (definitely) wreck you at the end. It’s really the closest thing we’ll get to the twenty-first version of Romeo and Juliet, in that you know what will happen with these two intense, perfect lovers but it will take you by surprise anyway. So what are you waiting for? Go read this book!!

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