Book Review: The Lying Game

Hello Bookish Friends! It’s been a little since my last post – mostly because I am currently SO immersed in The Hearts Invisible Furies! A review should be coming pretty soon because I finally crossed the 500 page mark. But I digress…

The Lying Game by Ruth Ware was one of my most anticipated reads of the summer! When I first heard that Ruth Ware was coming out with another thriller, I added it to my Goodreads so I wouldn’t forget, texted my best reading friend, and waited patiently.

The wait for The Woman in Cabin 10 from the library was literally several MONTHS long, so I expected this to be the same situation, until I saw that Book of the Month was offering it for $9.99 with my August box! Sold!

In addition to The Woman in Cabin 10, I also read In a Dark Dark Wood by Ware, and I came to expect that a Ware thriller can be an unputdownable experience where you care deeply for the characters and truly question their survival. I set my expectations very high and I  was, honestly, disappointed.

The Lying Game is the story of four friends who witnessed a crime during their boarding school days, did not immediately realize the guilt they assumed by association, but refused to speak a word of it for the rest of their days. Until it became relevant again nearly seventeen years after they had all parted ways. 

For me, the character development fell through on this one. I felt in the dark throughout a lot of the story, without being given enough to keep me hanging on, but rather scratching my head and thinking ‘Am I missing something?’.

I felt that the plot could have been resolved easily by just saying HEY something happened when we were younger and we made some mistakes. The fact that noone in the story tried to do that, but let this lying game continue, really frustrated me.

So in the end, this was probably just a 3 Star read for me. I’ll probably read the next book Ware come out with, but I think I’ll borrow it from the library next time.

Your Turn:

Did you read this book? What did you think?

Do you think it’s hard for a writer to continue to produce great books after great books?

My mom had a saying in high school regarding high school sports, in which she said ‘It’s hard to win three times?’ Do you agree in the context of books?

Book Review: American Fire

Peeking my head up from The Secret History to bring you this review of American Fire by Monica Hesse. 🙂

LOVE IS A WEIRD ACT. An Optimistic delusion. A leap of faith and foolishness. Sometimes when it is tested, imperfections that were there from the beginning, lurking deep, can begin to work their way to the surface. Even two people who love each other deeply will always be two people, two souls. You can’t ever completely get in someone else’s head, or in someone else’s heart. It is the greatest tragedy and the greatest beauty of a relationship: that at some level, the person you are closest to will always be a total friggin’ mystery. Maybe the real mystery is why we ever do it at all. It must be something incredible.” – Monica Hesse, American Fire

I normally never start a review with a quote, but maybe I’ve been writing these wrong, because I think that quote serves as quite an intro.

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American Fire is a book I stumbled upon over the winter through a fit of boredom  – either browsing through Goodreads or Netgalley, I can’t remember, but I do remember setting a mental note for July when it would come out. So July 1st, when I saw it as a Book of the Month selection and I chose it immediately. I love when Book of the Month selects nonfiction!

The synopsis of American Fire is that two people living on the Eastern Shore of Virginia, decide to set fires to abandoned houses throughout their county, and reaked havoc on their community. Monica Hesse, the author of this book, was a journalist with (admittedly) nothing to write about and asked her boss if she could go down to Virginia to cover this story.

What Hesse brings is a compelling narrative non fiction, sprinkled with chapters that take a step back from the story and explain the context. This context ranges from the psychology behind arson, to the history of the economy of the Eastern Shore (who knew that Doritos were part of the downfall?), to different state laws which could influence the trial and sentencing for arson.

The overarching story line was told through the lives of the arsonists as well as the firefighters fighting each fire, to give you the full picture of the crime and the damage to the community.

I felt like a learned so much from the story, and enjoyed it all the while.

I find that even though I shouldn’t, I tend to compare books. The comparisons I would make for this is that it was somewhere between The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot and Deadwake (or any of the others) by Eric Larson. It reminds me of Rebecca Skloot because it truly was the story of a journalist who stumbled upon a story and invested the time and effort to develop a book, and of Eric Larson because, in my opinion, nobody writes narrative non-fiction better.

At the end of the day, I was drawn in to this story, but I was never obsessed the way I was with a Larson book. I learned so much, and those facts and feelings will stay with me – which is kind of the best that you can hope for!

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I hope you give this book a shot and let me know what you thought!

Feel Learn Wonder Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Title: American Fire
Author: Monica Hesse
Genre: Narrative Nonfiction

 

 

Book Review: Into the Water by Paula Hawkins

When a writer has one crazy successful book, do you automatically read the next one she comes out with?

I felt conflicted about picking up a copy of Into the Water by Paula Hawkins. I truly enjoyed Girl on the Train when I read it in 2015, but it wasn’t my favorite book ever. To be honest, I’d only half-heartedly recommend GotT to friends. But I knew that with all the hype around Into the Water, including already purchased movie rights, I’d feel the urge to read it at some point. Then with Book of the Month Club offering it as an add on to my box, the answer became even simpler. Add it to my Box!

Before I even opened the book, I was seeing crazy mixed reviews. Loved it, hated it, everyone had a STRONG opinion. My opinion: I really enjoyed this book, so much more than I anticipated. At the end I couldn’t put it down, and without giving too many spoilers, I read the final sentence three times. If you read my recaps, you know I hate when an ending drags on. None of that here!

In a few words – this book was eerie and engaging until the final punch. Go get a copy! Or if you live in San Diego, come be my friend and you can borrow mine! 😉

Synopsis from Goodreads:

“A single mother turns up dead at the bottom of the river that runs through town. Earlier in the summer, a vulnerable teenage girl met the same fate. They are not the first women lost to these dark waters, but their deaths disturb the river and its history, dredging up secrets long submerged.

Left behind is a lonely fifteen-year-old girl. Parentless and friendless, she now finds herself in the care of her mother’s sister, a fearful stranger who has been dragged back to the place she deliberately ran from—a place to which she vowed she’d never return.”

 

What I liked:

That Paula Hawkins writing style. I remember learning about the phrase “Dramatic Irony” in my high school English class, and realizing how much of a rush it can give the reader. (Dramatic Irony is when the reader knows more than the characters.) Paula Hawkins writes in an almost ‘elevated dramatic irony’ (totally making that phrase up). A typical trio of chapters in a Hawkins book would include:

  1. The action is building until the scene you are anticipating is about to occur;
  2. Other characters, not at the scene speculating about the action;
  3. One of the characters involved in the action recounting the scene in the aftermath.

This style is SO compelling, leads you to turning the pages to find out what happened while also feeling a sense of dramatic irony throughout. And despite feeling like the writing was slightly calculated, it truly never bothered me because it worked so well.

What I didn’t like:

To be honest with you, I had a HARD time putting the characters together at the start. This is definitely a product of how I read it, but still – I could’ve used some family trees at the start! I read the first ten pages in Pittsburgh, PA. Then then next thirty in a park in Denver, CO. And then didn’t pick it up again until I got to San Diego, CA. I forgot some characters along the way and had to do some flipping back to get caught up. Minor gripe, but I had to have one, right?

Food for Thought:

1 – It’s interesting that this book came out so close after the Netflix series,  13 Reasons Why, which experienced so much backlash for its graphic suicide scene. Many are claiming (backed by scientific research) that having that exposure to suicide would push someone considering it in to doing it.

In this book, the mother of the teenage girl who committed suicide, claims that Nel Abbott’s research of the “suicide spot”, which created a sense of hype around it, may have tipped her daughter over the edge in to going through with it.

I found it interesting to see this concept reinforced in another piece of literature, because this was not a phenomenon I had even heard of previously. It makes me wonder, while this book doesn’t glorify suicide, and I would argue neither does “13 Reasons Why”, should we all stop writing about suicide?

“Her daughter made a senseless choice, but pockets filled with stones and hands grasping flowers, the choice had context. The context was provided by Nel Abbott”

2 – More lighthearted, but does anyone else feel like it takes a solid 100 pages (almost EXACTLY) to get in to a good book? I’ve experienced this so much over the past year, to the point where I used to get my Book of the Month box, and sit down and commit to reading 100 pages straight. If I don’t boost through the first 100, I feel like the rest of the book doesn’t resonate as much with me. In this case, I read the first 100 slowly, and while I still clearly really liked it, the second I thought to myself “wow this book is really good”, I looked down and noticed I was on page 101.

That’s all from me! I hope you pick up a copy of Into the Water by Paula Hawkins and immerse yourself in this crazy world. I’m giving this one a 5/5!

 

The Perfect Nonfiction – The Killers of the Flower Moon Book Review

The perfect nonfiction is quite a claim – and I’m not sure that I’ve found it, but I (read: Book of the Month Club) sure found a good one. I wonder if there really is a perfect nonfiction out there..

I love a good nonfiction, but I always find that they are so hit or miss. Some of my favorites recently are Deadwake by Erik Larson, Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown, The Profiteers by Sally Denton, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot, and now I’m adding Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann.

As I think about what these books have in common, I’ve broken my preferences down to four main ingredients.

  • Wow factor. It has to feel like I’m really learning something new about the world – particularly the US
  • Good character development
  • A narrative story line
  • A concise ending

Killers of the Flower Moon had the first three, but in my opinion, struggled with the ending – more on that later.

But before we go any further, a synopsis from Goodreads:

“In the 1920s, the richest people per capita in the world were members of the Osage Indian Nation in Oklahoma. After oil was discovered beneath their land, the Osage rode in chauffeured automobiles, built mansions, and sent their children to study in Europe.

Then, one by one, they began to be killed off. One Osage woman, Mollie Burkhart, watched as her family was murdered. Her older sister was shot. Her mother was then slowly poisoned. And it was just the beginning, as more Osage began to die under mysterious circumstances.

In Killers of the Flower Moon, David Grann revisits a shocking series of crimes in which dozens of people were murdered in cold blood.”

I read it quickly over the course of the last week, when I probably should’ve been studying, and finished it on the plane down to Florida. It was such an amazing story, and my only qualm with it was that the ending spent way too much timing tying up loose ends!

“History is a merciless judge. It lays bare our tragic blunders and foolish missteps and exposes our most intimate secrets, wielding the power of hindsight like an arrogant detective who seems to know the end of the mystery from the outset. “

Grann’s writing reads like a well balanced mix of prose and investigative journalism. The story begins with Mollie Burkhart, an Osage Indian with a large family and a white husband. At the outset, Mollie’s sister, Anna, is missing and it is evident that she won’t be coming home alive.

As soon as you get comfortable with Mollie’s story, Grann shifts to another angle in the story – Tom White, the Bureau of Investigation (Later named the Federal Bureau of Investigation) agent put in place to figure out what was going on in Osage County.

This part was by and large my favorite. The story unraveled so smoothly that I felt like I was spotting things that didn’t seem right, right before the next revelation was unveiled.

It was a very satisfying way to work through the story and that’s largely in part to Grann’s writing style.

The final section mostly outlined Grann’s own investigative work, so maybe he wanted to make sure he included those results. Maybe (I’m 100% speculating) he wanted to tie up all loose ends, so as to be the authoritative book of the Osage Indian Reign of Terror. Either way, I felt that the story was over before the final section, and I kind of skimmed the end.

I don’t want to spoil any more so I’ll just tell you to pick up a copy of Killers of the Flower Moon! As my next move, I’m heading to theatres to see The Lost City of Z, based on another book written by David Grann. I’ll let you know what I think!

Hellooo, New York! – Startup Book Review

Is there anything better than coming in to yourself as a twenty-something grad living in New York City?

I really don’t think there is. And that’s what makes Startup such an engaging read.

I’ve been living in Manhattan for the past four years – I moved here straight out of graduate school ready to take on the world. My experience may not have been crazy enough to write a book about but I’ve definitely had several quintessential NY experiences.

I lived in a duplex apartment – 1/2 ground floor and half basement, where you could only get cell phone service upstairs or internet downstairs. Try having work calls where you’re supposed to listen and recieve an email at the same time.

I’ve had nights out at clubs dancing on tables and meeting new people. I’ve lost friends, I’ve gained friends. I’ve had amazing work experience, and I’ve had my fair share of let downs.

I’ve explored this city from Arthur Ave in the Bronx to the 104th floor of the World Trade Center tower to Coney Island in Brooklyn.

I’ve had the best of times and the worst of times – but I have certainly loved my time here. It was the best place to be from age 23 to 27.

Why am I getting in to this? I think remembering the experiences I’ve had – this wonderful trying time of finding yourself in New York city –  is the primary reason I LOVED Startup. I felt like I had been there. It reminded me of the book Sweetbitter that I read for my book club last summer. We all related to the feeling of getting to New York and being totally lost but also totally inspired.

To me, Startup is the Sweetbitter of the tech industry. If you liked Sweetbitter – check out Startup. If you kind of liked it but the restaurant industry/ all the drugs weren’t for you – check out Startup. Didn’t read Sweetbitter yet? READ EM BOTH!

“Let’s say I was born in late June of 2006 when I came over the George Washington Bridge at seven a.m. with the sun circulating and dawning, the sky full of sharp corners of light, before the exhaust rose, before the heat gridlocked in, windows unrolled, radio turned up to some impossibly hopeful pop song, open, open, open” – Sweetbitter

Before I dive in to my thoughts on Startup here’s a quick synopsis from Goodreads:

“Mack McAllister has a $600 million dollar idea. His mindfulness app, TakeOff, is already the hottest thing in tech and he’s about to launch a new and improved version that promises to bring investors running and may turn his brainchild into a $1 billion dollar business–in startup parlance, an elusive unicorn.

Katya Pasternack is hungry for a scoop that will drive traffic. An ambitious young journalist at a gossipy tech blog, Katya knows that she needs more than another PR friendly puff piece to make her the go-to byline for industry news.

Sabrina Choe Blum just wants to stay afloat. The exhausted mother of two and failed creative writer is trying to escape from her credit card debt and an inattentive husband-who also happens to be Katya’s boss-as she rejoins a work force that has gotten younger, hipper, and much more computer literate since she’s been away.

Before the ink on Mack’s latest round of funding is dry, an errant text message hints that he may be working a bit too closely for comfort with a young social media manager in his office. When Mack’s bad behavior collides with Katya’s search for a salacious post, Sabrina gets caught in the middle as TakeOff goes viral for all the wrong reasons. As the fallout from Mack’s scandal engulfs the lower Manhattan office building where all three work, it’s up to Katya and Sabrina to write the story the men in their lives would prefer remain untold.”

The story is really centered around the three people described in the synopsis – Mack, Katya, and Sabrina. The other character of note for this review is Isabel.

Isabel was ‘hooking up’ with Mack, the CEO of her start up, and when things start to go haywire, her work situation is severely compromised. There are several other supporting characters who I would love to talk about as well, but these four tell the part of the story that I want to discuss:

As I read this book, I really hated Mack.

This is not a criticism of the book, but he just really irked me. One line from early on, where whoever is narrating at the time says something along the lines of ‘startup bros are worse than lawyers and bankers because at least the latter groups admit that they’re in it for the money.  Startup bros act like the money is a biproduct of disrupting the way things are for the better.’ (Not a real quote, just a summary!) Mack was the epitome of this.

Mack gets himself in some hot water in the book, and I’ve read a few people online saying ‘he sent some sexts, who cares?!’

To me what stood out – and why we care – was the lesson that Sabrina (age 36) passed on to Isabel (age 26) as the whole dick pic scandal was playing out. The lesson is this: It doesn’t matter if its not the “definition” of sexual harassment that you heard about in school- even if your boss isn’t smacking your butt and calling you ‘sweet cheeks’ or idk any other example like that. But if it looks like sexual harassment, and it smells like sexual harassment, it is sexual harassment. If someone with the power to promote or fire you,  makes you feel uncomfortable because of unwanted advances, it’s sexual harassment.

I could go on and on, but I think what this book brought to life is that in the startup world, the bosses aren’t always 60 year old, fat, balding, outwardly creepy old men who we would associate with sexual harassment. Not that this is the case outside of the startup world either necessarily, but it’s infinitely more common to have a young twenty-something, attractive, single, and charming CEO at a startup. So while Isabel felt like she was hooking up with an attractive coworker and not a “boss”, it was her boss, and it affected her career when it ended. On the other hand, while Mack felt like he was hooking up with an attractive coworker, he was influencing the culture of his company and his credibility to investors.

It’s a new game out there in the constantly evolving tech world, and it’s important that everyone is aware of what game they’re playing.

This message was resonated throughout the book, and I thought that in a book that is so fun to read, so easy to read, so quick to read, and so seemingly  lighthearted, it’s important to draw out the message here.

I hope this doesn’t make me a downer – I totally played along and loved the funny love triangles and sexual tensions going down in this book. It’s a great read and I highly recommend it, but also WARNING – maybe don’t buy this for your mother or your pre-teen sister because it gets pretty far in to the shady side of craigslist.

I hope you enjoy the book – let me know if you’ve read it! Since I only have six more weeks of soaking up my twenties in New York (I’m moving not turning 30), this was a great way to relish in my time here 🙂

Overall: 4 Stars.

What Happened When I Invested $145 On Books – My BOTM Story

When I got back from living abroad in the start of 2016, I had recently reignited my love of reading and was also really in to subscription boxes. These two came together in the form of a spontaneous decision to join Book of the Month Club with a 12-month subscription. The membership came with one book per month – to be selected on the 1st of the month each month. Each book was selected by a judge with a personal summary/ sales pitch. I always love to read their take, both when I’m making my decision and when I finish reading the book.

What did I get from it?

Not to be cheesy but…. Book of the Month Club totally transformed my reading life. Since many of the books were available through BOTM before they were publicly released, I always knew about hot new books coming out and I stayed up to date on the book scene to know about what was coming out. My TBR grew and grew and I was never found without a book in my purse.

In concrete terms, I received 15 brand new hard cover books – this breaks down to the 12 I paid for up front + 1 free book from BOTM  just because + 2 free books because I wasn’t happy with two of my selections. I also read 9 more BOTM selections that I received from the library or borrowed from a friend.

I never paid for an ‘extra book in my box’ and I only paid for shipping once (+$1) and it was a total accident!

The perks didn’t stop with the books I received- here’s a quick list of some of the other ways BOTM influenced my reading life.

  • I bought a kindle on Amazon Prime day. While I couldnt read BOTM books on my kindle, BOTM really helped to reignite my love of reading and I decided to invest in a Kindle Paperwhite.
  • I joined the library! I love it – it’s so easy and obviously totally free 😊
  • I started to read more than I watched TV. NYPL.com is more frequently visited than Netflix.com in my browser…
  • I started listening to the All The Books podcast by Book Riot to hear about new releases every Tuesday.
  • I started to talk all of my friends ears’ off about books.
  • I commented on my first discussion thread online (On BOTM’s discussion boards).
  • I started to visit local bookstores in New York City – my favorite, Three Lives and Co. in the West Village
  • And finally, I started this blog! I couldn’t keep all my bookish thoughts in my head anymore and had to get them out.

Bookshelf

A few months ago, Book of the Month started something called a ‘Bookshelf’ that let’s you distinguish you books on to Love, Like, and Dislike shelves. I’ll share mine here and include the books I got via other means, but were still BOTM selections. Bold indicates that it was my personal selection from BOTM!

LOVED

  • Perfect Little World by Kevin Wilson – February 2017
  • The Grownup by Gillian Flynn (Short Story) – January 2017
  • The Trespasser by Tana French – November 2016
  • A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles – September 2016
  • The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware – August 2016
  • All the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood – August 2016
  • Missing, Presumed by Susie Steiner – July 2016
  • Enchanted Islands by Allison Amend – June 2016
  • The Association of Small Bombs by Karan Mahajan – May 2016
  • The Profiteers: Bechtel and the Men Who Built The World by Sally Denton – March 2016

LIKED

  • Exit West by Mohsin Hamid – March 2017
  • The Sun Is Also A Star by Nicola Yoon – December 2016
  • You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott – December 2016
  • The Couple Next Door  by Shari Lapena – September 2016
  • Siracusa by Delia Ephron – August 2016
  • The Girls by Emma Cline – July 2016
  • Before the Fall by Noah Hawley – June 2016

DISLIKED

  • Lucky You by Ericka Carter – January 2017
  • Whatever Happened to Interracial Love by Kathleen Collins – December 2016
  • Every Man A Menace by Patrick Hoffman – November 2016
  • The Mothers by Brit Bennett – October 2016

 TO BE READ

  • Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann – April 2017
  • Startup by Doree Shafrir – April 2017
  • The Veins of the Ocean – June 2016

While I decided not to renew my Book of the Month subscription, I would wholeheartedly suggest to any readers out there, that they should join. It has been a great way to jumpstart my love of reading!

Let’s Break This Down – Perfect Little World Book Review

Perfect Little World restored my faith in books.

I was going through a rough patch with books, particularly my Book of the Month books. I didn’t love my picks from November – January, but Perfect Little World was the perfect remedy to that, and I am re-in love with Book of the Month Club (post coming soon I swear).

Reading Perfect Little World made me feel like I was on a beach. Which was really bizarre, because for the most part, I was on a construction site in the middle of winter when I was reading this book. But, and I don’t mean to say that this book was at all in the YA category, the words flowed off the page like a Judy Blume I used to read on the beach on spring break in middle school –  some of my favorite reading memories. It was easy reading, it was a little bit juicy, the characters were well developed without being heavy, and the plot moved quickly. All the makings of a perfect weekend read.

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I picked  Perfect Little World because of its author, Kevin Wilson.  I read The Family  Fang in college and while that wasn’t a five star read in my opinion, I liked where he was going with this one.

Quick Synopsis:

Dr.  Preston Grind is raised by two psychologists who experiment on him with their child psychology theories. Dr. Grind grows up to be a psychologist himself and decides to  create a utopian society where eight couples and one single mom jointly raise nine children. The book follows one participant, Izzy, and Dr. Grind from the formation of the study, through the disbanding of the society.

The Experiment:

The engineer in me was of course scrutinizing the entire process, and here are my takeaways:

Set Up: The experiment was well intentioned and honestly, pretty well thought through. I know  I can be easily convinced in books – I’m one of few out there who approves of Wavy and Kellen in All the Ugly and Wonderful Things – but I didn’t feel the urge to warn Izzy of impending doom. I thought “Well, this is a good option for her and what else really would be better?” (Oh my  gosh – I am hearing myself talking about Wavy and Kellen and it’s way too similar.) I’m currently reading The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, which is all about informed consent, and this passed that test too. Set up of the study is approved by me.

Set Controls/Variables: The experiment must be controlled. Only when things are controlled can you vary one factor. This is where things went wrong. Dr. Grind spent so much time selecting his subjects, he assumed the variables would be the children. What he didn’t account for is how much the parents could be out of his control. In reading this book, the most interesting part was really in what was assumed about the parents but turned out to be wrong. So many things about then were unknown – from unstable marriages to the unexpected sexual tension. The relationships between adults were definitely an important unknown in the success of the project.

“It’s weird. I understand how our relationship works with the kids. We are all their parents. Each one of them is our child. It takes some getting used to, but I get it now. But it’s never been super clear on how it works with all of us, the adults. What are we to eachother.”

And the eternal question – was the experiment successful? I would say, yes. We all learned a lot. I think more was learned about the parents than the children, but all of the test conducted on the children show that they benefited from the arrangement. I wouldn’t recommend the study to be done in real life, but I think in the end of the fictional study, a lot was learned and most people were better off for it.

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Some External Observations:

My parents were both journalism majors and they are very very specific with word choice. I tend to overanalyze when a word is repeated throughout a book and try to understand why they repeatedly selected that word. Here are my few words from this book:

  • Dr Grind always says “That’s understandable, Izzy” Replace Izzy with the name of the person he’s talking to and you have the beginning of 90% of Dr. Grind’s conversations. I think this is to illustrate the lack of emotions from Dr. Grind because of his upbringing, but I definitely picked up on this refrain. I wanted him to react!
  • The word “special” is used repeatedly throughout the book, almost as a soothing tactic for Izzy. Izzy had a doll from her mom that she made tell her she was “special”. When Dr. Grind was trying to convince Izzy to join, he told her she was special. When Izzy was preparing the meat for the group, and being told how delicious it was, Izzy said she felt “special”. A reporter who was covering the society for an article called the society “special”. It’s a very interesting adjective to repeat so many times – no doubt this word choice was intentional.

    “It just sounds so strange in practice. But it was really wonderful to witness. You’re part of something special here.”

  • The word “cult” is not mentioned until Page 170! This society could easily be thought of as a cult, but I thought it was very interesting that for half the book, the word cult was not mentioned, and after that it was very selectively used.

    “No drugs […] This is a scientific endeavor. It’s not some hippie commune.”

  • Not a word, but a theme – self harm was a huge part of this book. Right off the bat we find out that Dr. Grind’s parents killed themselves. Then Hal kills himself. Dr. Grind cuts himself. And Izzy finds the pain of digging her fingers in to her arm soothing enough to fall asleep to. Obviously there are various levels of self harm mentioned here but the casual tone of it was surprising to me.

Final Quote (OK maybe three…):

“Everything hit at once. I need things to hit in a sequence and things just hit all at once. I don’t know how to handle myself sometimes” – Hal, but how often to we all feel like that?

“When the world fell apart around you, when the walls of your home cracked and crumbled, Izzy now had some idea of how to keep living. You held on to the person you loved, the one who would be there int he aftermath,  and you built a new home.”

“It wasn’t fate that she felt in to this moment, no sense that any of this has been ordained. […] She was, which she rarely admitted because of her own discomfort with emotion, so fucking strong. She had made this happen through sheer force of will, and she would never, ever, let it go.”

You go, Izzy.
We won’t get in to the ending here, but let me just say I loved it.

 

Book Club – All the Ugly and Wonderful Things

The Club

I’m sure most of you out there would say the same, but I love my book club!

We’ve been meeting for about 14 months now, so I’d say we’re in a pretty serious relationship.

Our book club started at the beginning of 2016 when my now-friend, Lianna, came up with the idea and ask a slew of her girlfriends join and invite anyone who they thought may be interested. I was finally coming home from living abroad, and my friend Melissa invited me!

After the first two months of reading best sellers, we quickly took a leap. One member, Brianna, suggested the book Old Souls: Compelling Evidence from Children Who Remember Past Lives. We all read the book separately and headed over to Brianna’s for a boozy-bookish-brunch to discuss.

I’m saying this without hyperbole– the conversation blew me away. Everyone in the group had so much [life experience, personal values, intelligent insights] to share and everyone in the group was so open minded. Between all the girls there, we had a range of religions and spiritualities represented and everyone was given a fair chance to contribute without judgement. I left that day slightly under the influence of mimosas and so happy that I had been invited to join this small group in the big city.

Since then we’ve met as-monthly-as-possible. I’ve loved the topics we’ve gotten in to –from addiction, to solitary confinement prison sentences, to cults (Yes, we read The Girls), to being young in your twenties in New York City.  Here’s a link to my goodreads bookshelf for our picks.

I love the books we pick and the discussions we have, and I certainly think we’re unique in the way we look at books. I hope you enjoy reading some of the recaps!

The Book – All the Ugly and Wonderful Things

Do you ever have a book that just grows and grows until you can’t believe what fortune you’ve had to sit down with this masterpiece? This was how I experienced All the Ugly and Wonderful Things.

Quick Synopsis (From Goodreads):

As the daughter of a meth dealer, Wavy knows not to trust people, not even her own parents. Struggling to raise her little brother, eight-year-old Wavy is the only responsible “adult” around. She finds peace in the starry Midwestern night sky above the fields behind her house. One night everything changes when she witnesses one of her father’s thugs, Kellen, a tattooed ex-con with a heart of gold, wreck his motorcycle. What follows is a powerful and shocking love story between two unlikely people that asks tough questions, reminding us of all the ugly and wonderful things that life has to offer

I read most of this book in one sitting and have been raving about this book ever since. At the end of our last book club, I suggested it to the group. Below are some of our Questions and Answers.

Discussion

1. Who was the dad? Was he based on someone real?

First and foremost, we were wondering how personal  the book was. Luckily, I had recently read this answer from Bryn Greenwoods BOTM interview. It turns out Wavy’s dad is a combination of a bunch of people Bryn Greenwood has known in her life.

Liam isn’t my father; he’s an ex-boyfriend, an old drug dealer of mine, a homeless guy who used to mow my lawn, and a professor I hated.

2. Did we see Kellen through rose colored glasses? It was crazy how an outside saw him vs. how wavy saw him. Should we have trusted Wavy’s view of Kellen? Did the meeting with the judge chage your mind? Can you imagine being Wavy’s roommate and going to meet him?

The members of my book club picked up on the contrast between Wavy’s section of the book –  that lets be real, had all of us under her spell – and anyone outside of the relationships. You have to consider that of course Wavy saw what she was doing as right, while all the external people – particularly the Judge who we’re supposed to understand is an impartial outsider- do not. It makes you consider if you’re getting biased information or if you the reader are really the most imformed-impartial-well reasoned participant.

3. Kellen killed people but was he a killer? Did he lack the mental capacity to understand what killing meant?

Continuing in the above discussion of “Was Kellen a good guy?” we touched on the fact that Kellen had previously killed people. None of us thought that made him a crazy killer, but it is something that a normal person wouldn’t do. Then we had to consider ‘OK.. if he doesn’t fully comprehend what he’s doing (our own conclusion), is he lacking some mental capacity? … Does that mean that he and Wavy were similar in maturity/intelligence?’ Would that  make their relationship more acceptable? Interesting questions

I know that I’m answering questions with more questions, but I thought the best part of the discussion were the questions that came up in discussion. I don’t want to post answers because WHO KNOWS? Maybe Bryn Greenwood. All we kept saying was we need Part 2!!

4. Was it pedophillia? Was it wrong? How did you feel about it? How did you feel telling other people about the book you were reading?

This book has gotten a whole bunch of 5 stars on the internet… and whole lot of 1 stars. People are divided on the topic of their relationship. As you read the book, I felt like you started to understand their relationship (see discussions above as to if this is right). By the end of the book , I didn’t feel like it was pedophilia… or wrong, but I know I’m in the minority of the internet.

The other interesting question was how did you feel telling other people about it. REALLY FREAKING WEIRD.

So does that make it a construct of societal expectations that age matters? I think if both participants can understand what they are consenting to, then it makes sense. We pointed out that someone in Wavy’s situation would have grown up so fast, being left to fend for herself so young. So maybe she was mature enough for the relationship? It’s so hard to make that decision though.

5. I had another friend who read the book and she thought the whole thing was sad. My reaction was that yes it is sad that Wavy was in this situation to begin with, but Wavy needed this person. She didn’t have anyone else. So I saw it as a positive.

Book club’s reaction was Wavy would have gotten out anyway. Then the question becomes what does “getting out mean”.  What do we think happened to Wavy? Does she graduate? I brought up the connection to Hillbilly Elegy – Hillbilly Elegy seems like the real life version of this book. The people in the Hill Country are striving for the American Dream – meaning that a generation should always be better off than the one before it. Do you agree? Do  you think Wavy would have broken the cycle with or without Kellen? (We need Part 2!)

6. Pickles!

I hosted this meeting of book club and we always try to have themed food, so this time, I tried to have a Kansas spread.I heard the big foods in Kansas were fried chicken and barbecue ribs….. So i bought chicken nuggets, barbecue chips, spicy pickles, and some standard cheese and crackers. Not to mention wine 🙂 . The spicy pickles were hands down the biggest hit. I posted my spread to instagram (follow me at feel.learn.wonder!) and while we were all talking about how delicious pickles were, I checked my instagram and saw that Bryn Greenwood herself had commented “mmm pickles”. !!!!

Bryn, if you’re reading this, we have so many questions and will have spicy pickles at our next book club so you’re 100% invited if you wanna come. We’re reading The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks and meeting on March 27th, 2017! Hope to see you then 🙂

 

I hope you enjoyed our discussions and feel free to chime in!

Overall I thought All the Ugly and Wonderful Things was a great choice for book club and I had so much fun with my book club!

We Are All Immigrants – Exit West Book Review

Wow. If there was a more timely book out there, I haven’t heard of it.

Exit West, just published last Tuesday, tells the story of two people, Saeed and Nadia,  who begin to fall in love right before their city falls to “the militants”. It is their tale of survival in their home city and beyond.

Exit West for me was split in to two sections, although it was never defined that way. The first being when N & S were in their home city, and the second being their journey across the world. I think each section carried a different but equally important important message.

Part One

When everything else fades away, love remains.  

Imagine living wherever you do now, and one day ‘as if someone had hit a switch’ you lose cell phone service. Weird, alarming, startling, but ok, we probably took that for granted anyway. Then the grocery stores run out of food because people are stocking up. Then the bank runs out of cash because everyone is withdrawing their money. Your classes are cancelled; you’re laid off because your company is shut down; you can’t go outside because you feel unsafe; you can’t give a family member a proper funeral because too many people are being killed; you can’t bury said family member because the cemetary is unsafe and there is no room; you lose power; you lose all municipal services; you lose the ability to feel safe inside your own home.

Mohsin Hamid does a great job of taking us through each loss, making each one hit harder than the last until you realize there is nothing left but family and love.

The writing of the novel was basic, in the most intentional way. I loved the short sentences, the use of commas, and sentences that must have had up to thirty short clauses. It doesn’t make for an easy read, so I’m not sure I’d suggest this as a beach read, but it certainly conveys the setting: The sentences are terse and to the point because only the fundamentals matter and there was no room for floral language in such a tense environment.

“…except that they were furious, and they were staring at her and at her badges with undisguised hostility, and the rancor of perceived betrayal, and they started to shout at her, and push her, that she felt beer, a basic, animal fear, terror, and thought that anything could happen, and then the next station came and she shoved through and off the train, and she worries that they might seize her, and stop her, and hurt her, but they didn’t, and she made it off, and she stood there after the train had departed, and she was trembling, and she thought for a while, and then she gathered he courage, and she began to walk, and not in the direction of her apartment, her lovely apartment with its view of the river, but in the other direction, the direction of the zoo, where she had been intending to go from the outside, and where she would still go, and all this happened as the sun dipped lower….”

 

Part Two

We are all migrants through time

In the second half of the book, the Nadia and Saeed are traveling from destination to destination, seeking peace and comfort – but let’s be clear, they’ll settle for food and shelter.

While they are traveling, Hamin tells short stories from seemingly random people around the globe, who are staying in one place. It took me about 220 of the 230 pages to understand their role. They intrigued me for so long, and when I figured it out, the poignancy of the book skyrocketed, to put it lightly.

I wondered for so long if those characters would come in to play later, would we see them again? There was an old man who had a chair on his balcony for his ex-wife, and years later, while he stayed in one place, the chair became to belong to a friend instead. There was an Australian woman who was sleeping in her bed as an intruder came in to the room. Each story embodied a place changing, while one person remained in one place. The point: “We are all migrants through time.” While N & S are the only people physically moving in this story, we are all migrants through time as we adjust to the changing world around us, and it would do us some good to accept those changes.

My favorite quote from the book is a reflection of that adjustment:

“The apocalypse appeared to have arrived and yet it was not apocalyptic, which is to say that while the changes were jarring they were not the end, and life went on, and people found things to do and ways to be and people to be with, and plausible desirable futures began to emerge, unimaginable previously, not unimaginable now, and the result was something not unlike relief.”

There is certainly a feeling of poignancy at the end of the novel when you watch N & S go through so much to not end up anywhere they thought they would. They began the story as normal people together in a classroom and end up far far away, both emotionally and physically.

Final Thoughts!

Even though Nadia and Saeed’s life in their home city, is stripped of all normality and comfort when they choose to leave, Hamid is clear on the struggles involved in that decision. The language is harsh and the implications are not left out of the story.

Nadia and Saeed travel through the world using “doors”. These doors reminded me of The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead, the same way that his “railroad” was a physical rendering of a system that was not so straight forward. In another book, I’d like to learn about the transit of the refugees in today’s world, but I appreciated Hamids choice to leave that part out.

I’d give Exit West a 4.5/5. It was not a page turner, not an easy read, but it was a very very well done parable that should be required reading.

Let me know what you thought!