Memoir/Autobiography

I Hate Everyone, Except You by Clinton Kelly

I watched more hours of What Not to Wear as a teen than I care to admit. One of my middle school friends was so obsessed, she went to the salon Clinton & Stacy used to get her hair cut. Despite the fact that I was a epic example of what definitely not to wear, it was my coping mechanism when everything else was going to crap. So, when looking for a new audiobook, I found Clinton Kelly’s on my library Overdrive app, I’d figured I’d give it a chance.

Synopsis

Clinton Kelly is probably best known for teaching women how to make their butts look smaller. But in I Hate Everyone, Except You, he reveals some heretofore-unknown secrets about himself, like that he’s a finicky connoisseur of 1980s pornography, a disillusioned critic of New Jersey’s premier water parks, and perhaps the world’s least enthused high-school commencement speaker.Whether he’s throwing his baby sister in the air to jumpstart her cheerleading career or heroically rescuing his best friend from death by mud bath, Clinton leaps life’s social hurdles with aplomb. With his signature wit and relatable voice, he shares his unique ability to navigate the stickiest of situations, like find true love in a crowded gay bar or deciding whether it’s acceptable to eat chicken wings with a fork on live television (spoiler: it’s not). Clinton delves into all these outrageous topics–and many more–in this thoroughly unabashedly frank and uproarious collection.

Review

Meh. I really thought I would enjoy this a lot. I grew up listening to Clinton, I enjoy watching The Chew when I have the opportunity and I really like their cookbooks. I like the drinks he suggests. I think he’s funny and I generally agree what he has to say. Therefore, I should like I Hate Everyone, Except You. Except not.

I don’t know what exactly I was expecting of Clinton, but this was not it. My overall reaction was of blase, noncommittal feelings of meh. Just meh. In continuing my listening to celebrity books as read by celebrities (up next is Drew Barrymore), I can say that from an audiobook standpoint, Clinton does a very good job reading his own work. I think the problem for me came from absolutely not carrying about the subject of each chapter and I found myself actively liking him less and less.

I would think, as a celebrity writing a book, you would want to accomplish at least two things: a, give the reader an insight into your everyday life, and b, relate to people and (hopefully) come across as a down to earth human being. Clinton Kelly definitely gives the reader the former but really falls flat on the latter – quite often, he just comes across as pompous and entitled. Maybe, in reading more closely into the title, that was the point? What I don’t know, as I often reflect on when listening to a book, is if the reading of it affected my perception of the content. Are books meant strictly to be read? Is the interpretation one gets from reading the real one and is automatically distorted when translated into audio? This is the question I’ve asked myself repeatedly this year, and one that I may never have a straight answer to.

Overall, I could do without this book. There were moments of brevity which I appreciated, none of his stories dragged on as other celebrity memoirs seem to do, and there were moments when I smiled, but overall, I feel like it was a dud.

Rating: 6 out of 10 stars

Edition: Paperback • $16.00 • 9781476776941 • 240 pages • originally published January 2017, this edition published June 2017 by Gallery Books • average Goodreads rating 3.5 out of 5 stars • read in March 2018

Clinton Kelly’s Website

I Hate Everyone, Except You on Goodreads

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Essays, Memoir/Autobiography, Non-Fiction

Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling

I can’t say I’ve ever seen an episode of The Office and I’ve probably only seen 3 or 4 episodes of The Mindy Project. I can’t even really say that I’m a fan of Mindy Kaling. But I can say that my sister, Laura, is and that on her recommendation, I decided to read one of Mindy’s books.

Synopsis

In Why Not Me?, Kaling shares her ongoing journey to find contentment and excitement in her adult life, whether it’s falling in love at work, seeking new friendships in lonely places, attempting to be the first person in history to lose weight without any behavior modification whatsoever, or most important, believe that you have a place in Hollywood when you’re constantly reminded that no one looks like you.

Mindy turns the anxieties, the glamour, and the celebrations of her second coming-of-age into a laugh-out-loud funny collection of essays that anyone who’s ever been at a turning point in their life or career can relate to. And those who’ve never been at a turning point can skip to the parts where she talks about meeting Bradley Cooper.

Review

I didn’t laugh at all while reading Why Not Me? and I was expecting to. But I did enjoy it which I think proves that Mindy Kaling’s strength is in her writing, more so than her acting. When I first decided to listen to the audiobook I figured she would read it – most television/movie personalities read their own book, like Anthony Bourdain and Neil deGrasse Tyson. And I had reservations – I find that the register of her voice and my personal listening tastes are not always compatible. But in this case, they learned how to play nicely together.

I love the fact that my library participates with Overdrive – free audiobooks! As I approach what I hope will be a career related life change, I find myself becoming more and more anxious, fueling my insomnia, leading me to find something to listen to each night to fall asleep to. And that’s where Mindy Kaling comes in. And I realize the audiobooks I actually like, I start playing over the next day when I’m trying to stay awake, something I was surprised I did with Why Not Me?

Kaling’s essays are witty and insightful, so long as you understand that they are not serious suggestions or ruminations. There are a few deeper moments folded into the lighthearted content, but for the most part, even if it doesn’t make you laugh, it will still bring a smile to your face. Along with Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, I have a feeling Why Not Me? will be my summer read staff pick at the store this year.

Rating: 7 out of 10 stars

Edition: Paperback • $16.00 • 9780804138161 • 240 pages • first published September 2015, this edition published September 2016 by Three Rivers Press • average Goodreads rating 3.9 out of 5 stars • read March 2018

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Memoir/Autobiography, Middle Grades, Non-Fiction

Four Perfect Pebbles by Lila Perl & Marion Blumenthal Lazan

One of my grandmothers grew up in Germany in the 1930s and 1940s, specifically in Nürnberg and the surrounding countryside. She doesn’t talk about it. As such, I have spent my entire life fascinated by the stories of German children between 1933 and 1945. I don’t remember the first book I read that fit the bill for learning more about that time and people’s experiences, but Four Perfect Pebbles was a book that quickly caught my attention. And when I found out that Marion would be coming to the bookstore I work at, I knew it was going to be a moving moment.

Marion Blumenthal Lazan (r) & I (l)

Marion Lazan

Synopsis

Marion Blumenthal Lazan’s unforgettable and acclaimed memoir recalls the devastating years that shaped her childhood. Following Hitler’s rise to power, the Blumenthal family – father, mother, Marion, and her brother, Albert – were trapped in Nazi Germany. They managed eventually to get to Holland, but soon thereafter it was occupied by the Nazis. For the next six and a half years the Blumenthals were forced to live in refugee, transit, and prison camps, including Westerbork in Holland and Bergen-Belsen in Germany, before finally making it to the United States. Their story is one of horror and hardship, but it is also a story of courage, hope, and the will to survive.

Review

Marion describes her story as the one that Anne Frank might have told had she survived past March 1945. Both Anne and Marion spent time in Westerbork and later Bergen-Belsen. Of the 120,000 Jews detained in Westerbork, 102,000 perished before the end of World War II, 18,000 survived. Anne fell into the former group, Marion, the latter. While Anne’s story is typically read by pre-teens and early teenagers in the world today, Marion’s serves as an introduction for those who are just starting to ask their parents and teachers how people can be so mean and intolerant of one another.

In a society that is quickly becoming more divided and more intolerant, Marion’s message of hope, faith, and family strength, is even more important than it was when she first started discussing her experiences a couple decades ago. While most may brush off the striking similarities to the current president’s rise to power and the Nazis, it is hard for those who truly know their history to ignore. It is even harder for those who know that atrocities of WWII still ring loud in their older generation’s ears, and yet their younger generations engage in racist and destructive behavior.

Marion’s story is one of compassion and hope during one of the world’s worst times. My only reason for giving a less than superb rating is that brevity of the book. While written with young children (9-11 years old) in mind, there is only so much that one can remember about those years themselves, particularly 50 years later, as was the case when Marion & Lila wrote Four Perfect Pebbles and Marion recounted her childhood to Lila. Everyone always wants more from a good book, but at 160 pages, Four Perfect Pebbles is incredible concise.

Rating: 7 out of 10 stars

Edition: Paperback • $6.99 • 9780062489968 • 160 pages • originally published March 1996, this edition published October 2016 by Greenwillow Books • average Goodreads rating 3.92 out of 5 • re-read March 2018

Four Perfect Pebbles Website

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133-Four Perfect Pebbles

Contemporary, Fiction, New Adult, Young Adult

Bunheads by Sophie Flack

When I was a little girl, I took many ballet classes and I loved it! Unfortunately, I wasn’t very good. In fact, I was incredibly clumsy, and as such, I never really managed to finish a recital or class without causing bodily harm to myself or someone else and therefore, I had to give it up. Then, after binge watching the entire mini season of Bunheads (created by Gilmore Girls genius Amy Sherman-Palladino!), I was on a dance kick and needed to read this book to further explore the lives of young ballerinas!

Synopsis

Until now, nineteen-year old dancer Hannah Ward has followed the Manhattan Ballet company’s unofficial mantra, “Don’t think, just dance.” But when she meets Jacob, a spontaneous musician, Hannah’s universe begins to change. With her eyes newly opened to the world beyond the theater, she must decide whether to compete against the other “bunheads” for a star soloist spot or to strike out on her own.

Review

I love when authors write about what they know as it tends to be the most realistic way to learn about a topic. Sophie Flack is particularly qualified to write this book and it would not be nearly as realistic if the author did not have Sophie’s ballet background. While the complaint of many reviews I read was that the book was littered with too many French, dance-specific terms, to the extent that it detracted from the story, I disagree – this is an exceptional and unique look into the lives of young professional dancers.

Hannah reminds me a great deal of one of my own protagonists, Natalie, my goalie girl. Hannah debates the merits of dedicating her life to ballet, a career that will last a decade, if she’s lucky, or following the path of most nineteen-year-olds in New York City and enrolling in college. My character, Natalie, debates following the seemingly impossible dream of becoming a professional goalie or going to college like most girls her age. In addition, the themes of Bunheads are marvelously true to life – so true that I found myself often wondering if Bunheads is semi-autobiographical. Hannah’s relationship with Jacob is completely recognizable as it is filled with confusion and muddled emotions and feelings – common identifying aspects of most relationships of actual young adults.

There’s a thought that crosses most young adults’ minds more than once during their college years, “Did I make the right choices so far in my life or is it time for a change?” While I found Bunheads in the young adult section of Barnes and Noble, it really embodies the new “New Adult” genre and fuels my dream to see more books about actual young adults and college-age girls trying to figure their lives out on the book shelves of my local book store.

Rating: 8 stars

Edition: Paperback • $10.99 • 9780316126540 • 320 pages • first published October 2011, this edition published October 2012 by Poppy Books • average Goodreads rating 3.73 out of 5 stars • read in June 2013

Sophie Flack’s Website

Bunheads on Goodreads

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Bunheads

Contemporary, Fiction, New Adult

Jessica Darling quintet by Megan McCafferty

Jessica Darling helped me survive high school. I was first introduced to the delightfully snarky, sarcastic and spunky teen heroine of Sloppy Firsts when I was a freshman in speech and debate practice after school one autumn afternoon back in 2003. A frenemy of mine was testing out an excerpt from Second Helpings for a speech competition and it was certainly effective: I remember nothing else of the speech and debate season but hearing about Jessica handle the popular girls in a Jersey mini-mall still resonates in my head a decade plus later.

The series consists of five books and originally Megan McCafferty only intended to write the first two and they stand alone very well. I also read Second Helpings before Sloppy Firsts and while slightly confusing, I think it just made me love Marcus even more. I also had the great pleasure of meeting Megan McCafferty my junior year at Pitt and she has now started a Jessica Darling in middle school series which is quite wonderful as well, even though it differs from the originally established timeline.

Sloppy Firsts Synopsis

When her best friend, Hope Weaver, moves away from Pineville, New Jersey, hyperobservant sixteen-year-old Jessica Darling is devastated. A fish out of water at school and a stranger at home, Jessica feels more lost than ever now that the only person with whom she could really communicate has gone. How is she supposed to deal with the boy- and shopping-crazy girls at school, her dad’s obsession with her track meets, her mother salivating over big sister Bethany’s lavish wedding, and her nonexistent love life?

Sloppy Firsts looks at Jessica’s predicament as she embarks on another year of teenage torment – from the dark days of Hope’s departure through her months as a type-A personality turned insomniac to her completely mixed-up feelings about Marcus Flutie, the intelligent and mysterious “dreg” who works his way into her heart.

Series Review

There are, thus far, 8 books about Jessica Darling. Therefore, understandably, my review cannot simply be contained to one book, each reading changes and effects how I view the books so it may be a bit garbled and I’ll try to review book by book without any spoilers, but bear with me!

Sloppy Firsts I have read only once and I did so after reading Second Helpings, the stronger of the pair, writing wise. I was introduced to Jessica after Marcus, after her sister’s wedding, and after she’s met, and discovered the truth about, Hyacinth Anastasia Wallace. All of these things take place in Sloppy Firsts but I didn’t know the full story. At the start of Sloppy Firsts, Jessica is broken, though she does her best to hide it. Her best friend Hope has moved away and while Hope does not actually physically enter the story until the end of Second Helpings, I had already met her. But her influence on Jessica’s life is profound – she is her best friend, her confidant. For a young girl to have such a strong friendship is an incredible thing to behold and when that friendship is no longer as present, depression can quickly ensue. Throughout Sloppy Firsts, Jessica must handle changing feelings, embarking on a friendship she fears Hope would disapprove of, and betrayal of her trust by a new friend. The waters of high school are choppy and Jessica must learn how to cross them safely without her navigator and first mate, Hope.

Second Helpings: My copy of Second Helpings is thoroughly beat up. I love the book, I’ve read it over and over and over again whenever I have been in need of inspiration for my own writing, or when I just want to read about characters that I love dearly. So who came up with it first, JK Rowling or Megan McCafferty? Both have a character known as “he who shall not be named” and Jessica is horribly mad at the one who walks around her high school’s halls. Her feelings have been hurt, irrevocably, she claims, and she swears to never forgive the sinner. Second Helpings is set during Jessica’s senior year and from the very start, it seems as if all hell will be breaking loose. She must deal with national tragedy (9/11), personal tragedy when a beloved family member is lost, and coming to grips with her own moral quandaries and whether or not a friendship is still a friendship if secrets are kept.

Charmed ThirdsFourth Comings: In which Jessica follows her heart and goes to her dream college and lands what she believes to be her dream job. Charmed Thirds & Fourth Comings are my two least favorite books and for the longest time I would not read them. Laura had started them and was unimpressed. However, when I met Megan McCafferty, I needed a book for her to sign and so I picked up a copy of the new edition of Charmed Thirds. I will cherish it always as it bears McCafferty’s lovely looping signature and I got to meet her with some of my best college friends. However, Jessica, is just not Jessica in these two books. While Sloppy Firsts & Second Helpings cover roughly a year and a half between them, Charmed Thirds & Fourth Comings span almost 8 years and everything feels so rushed.

Perfect Fifths: When I went to hear Megan McCafferty speak, she read aloud from the recently released Perfect Fifths and I was hooked. It was the first time we the readers get Marcus’ point of view and WOOHOO!!! I powered through Charmed Thirds & Fourth Comings just to get to the part Megan McCafferty read in the dimly lit auditorium of Frick on my beloved Pitt’s campus. As the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series did years later, the fifth book takes place when the main characters are in their late twenties. And it is pure literary gold. It’s an ending, without being final but also without fully answering all the questions that have so far gone un-answered. But it is perfect, perfect for you, yes, you to enjoy.

Jessica Darling is a relatable girl for those who grew up feeling pressure in high school, fearing being misunderstood, missing their best friend, wondering when their lives would really begin and if their relationships with others were/are meaningful. Jessica, Marcus, Hope, Bridget, Percy, Bethany and even Mr. and Mrs. Darling make up an unforgettable cast of characters. As is the case with all series, there high points and low points, both within the story and the story telling but all-in-all, Jessica is a character to depend on and a role model for those who don’t quite fit in, feel a little lost or who simply want a shoulder to cry on. She’s your girl.

Series Rating: 7 out of 10 stars

Sloppy Firsts Edition: Paperback • $13.99 • 9780609807903 • 304 pages • published August 2001 by Broadway Books • average Goodreads rating 3.94 out of 5 • series finished April 2010

Megan McCafferty’s Website

Sloppy Firsts on Goodreads

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Jessica Darling

Contemporary, Fiction

Someday, Someday, Maybe by Lauren Graham

As a young woman who desperately wanted to be one of the Gilmore Girls, I knew as soon as I found out that Lauren Graham had written a novel, I would be reading it.

Synopsis

It’s January 1995, and Franny Banks has just six months left on the three-year deadline she set for herself when she came to New York, dreaming of Broadway and doing “important” work. But all he has to show for her efforts is a part in an ad for ugly Christmas sweaters, and a gig waiting tables at a comedy club. Her roommates – her best friend, Jane, and Dan, an aspiring writer – are supportive, yet Franny knows a two-person fan club doesn’t exactly count as success. Everything is riding on the upcoming showcase for her acting class, where she’ll have a chance to perform for people who could hire her. And she can’t let herself be distracted by James Franklin, a notorious flirt, and the most successful actor in her class. Meanwhile, her bank account is dwindling, her father wants her home, and her agent doesn’t return her calls. But for some reason, she keeps believing that she just might get what she came for.

Review

I developed a very strong love-hate relationship with this book. First, Columbia must encourage all their budding writers to write in the über-annoying present-continuous tense (I think that’s what it is – for being a Language Arts teacher, I’m not very good at identifying my tenses) as opposed to most novels, which are written in the past or present perfect tense. Basically, everything is written from Franny’s current point of view – no one knows what will happen next and it’s not reflective in any way. Second, I just didn’t find it funny. After finishing Someday, Someday, Maybe, I realized that Lauren Graham recorded the audiobook – this one probably should have been put into the listening list. And third, it’s incredibly difficult to get into a perfectly decent book when you have what could quite possibly be your new favorite book waiting in the wings (The Opposite of Loneliness by Marina Keegan).

However, those three things aside, Someday, Someday, Maybe really is a delightful book, but it took me a good 200 pages (2/3 of it) to really realize it’s potential, like how it took Franny, our protagonist, the same amount of time to realize her own potential (the correlation was not lost on me). Lauren Graham is in a unique position to offer a very realistic perspective on the struggles of an up and coming actor in New York in the 1990s for the very simple fact that she was one. “They” always say “write what you know” and Graham clearly knows her subject matter and her protagonist inside and out. She knows her so well, that I asked myself more than once while reading if it wasn’t a touch autobiographical in nature.

I had fears starting out – “Franny” isn’t a name I often associate with characters I like (thank you GREEK) and I think so highly of Lauren Graham as an actress that I was afraid her writing might not measure up to the ridiculous high standard to which I hold her creative endeavors. She is one of my inspirations, one of my idols, and I didn’t want to expose myself to anything that may, even slightly, refute my opinion that she should be up on a marble pedestal. And what if I didn’t find it funny? What if I thought it just fell flat? For the first, I had to remind myself that Lauren Graham is a person and therefore potentially flawed – her book wouldn’t be perfect, but I can still respect her highly. For the second, I didn’t laugh aloud. Not once. And that was a bit disappointing. I didn’t find Franny annoying as I feared I might, but I didn’t find her as funny as everyone else in the book seemed to. I don’t know if this was intentional on Graham’s part or not, but personally I was hoping for a few more laughs.

I would read Someday, Someday, Maybe on the beach or on vacation. I would read it at a time when I’m not continually trying to understand the nature of the universe or sort out my own life and choices. I would read Someday, Someday, Maybe on a day when I didn’t have to care or worry about much else than simply enjoying a delightful book by an enthusiastic author/actress.

Rating: 5 out of 10 stars

Edition: Paperback • $16.00 • 9780345532763 • 358 pages • first published April 2013, this edition published March 2014 by Ballantine Books • average Goodreads rating 3.49 out of 5 • read in April 2015

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Someday, Someday, Maybe

Fantasy, Fiction

The Magicians trilogy by Lev Grossman

Happy Halloween! Since I don’t read a lot of horror, I figured a fantasy series was the next best pick for Halloween.

The Magicians Synopsis

Intellectually precocious high school senior Quentin Coldwater escapes the boredom of his daily life by reading and rereading a series of beloved fantasy novels set in an enchanted land called Fillory. Like everybody else, he assumes that magic isn’t real – until he finds himself unexpectedly admitted to a very secret, very exclusive college of magic in upstate New York.

After stumbling through a Brooklyn alley in winter, Quentin finds himself on the grounds of the idyllic Brakebills College for Magical Pedagogy in late summer. There, after passing a gruesomely difficult entrance examination, he begins a thorough and rigorous education in the craft of modern sorcery, while also discovering the joys of college: friendship, love, sex, and alcohol. But something is missing. Even though Quentin learns to cast spells and transform into animals, and gains power he never dreamed of, magic doesn’t bring him the happiness and adventure he thought it would. After graduation, he and his friends embark on an aimless, hedonistic life in Manhattan, struggling with the existential crises that plague pampered and idle young sorcerers. Until they make a stunning discovery that propels them on a remarkable journey, one that promises to finally fulfill Quentin’s yearning. But their journey turns out to be darker and more dangerous than Quentin could have imagined. His childhood dream is a nightmare with a shocking truth at its heart.

Series Review

Oh Quentin. My bloody brilliant Quentin. I both adore and despise you. This might be less of a review and more of a Quentin Coldwater character analysis…

Never have I had such a love-hate relationship with a primary character in a book. I abandoned The Magicians halfway through the first time I started reading it back when I was a 20-year-old junior in college because I hated Quentin. I couldn’t stand him. He embodied everything that I hated about the stereotypical college boys but at the same time, like my dear, beloved, favorite character Alice (she rivals my Hermione love like no other), I was inexplicably drawn to him. I just didn’t want to read about him.

Fast forward five years and I found myself one day just staring at the cover of The Magician’s Land and, surprising longing for Quentin’s world of Brakebills College of Magic. So, continuing on my quest of “reading” the books already on my shelves by listening to the audiobook, I rented The Magicians from the library as I find it best to return to the beginning and not to trust my loathsome memory to remember all the details (and especially why I found Alice so awesome) required to start in the middle of The Magicians half a decade after my initial foray into reading about Quentin and his motley crew.

Is Q still terribly annoying more than 75% of the time? Yes. Does it matter anymore? No. Because I realized that Quentin is simply the mouthpiece for the larger story and by the time The Magician King rolls around, he is not the only point of view character (yay!). Quentin isn’t even the hero of his own story half the time (which leads to his melancholy and delight for me!) and he really messes up – like royally screws things up and skewers his own happiness by trying to be happy. Crazy, I know, but true. But this happens to nearly every twenty-something – invariably we wind up making something we care about worse by trying to make it better, but trying to fix something that isn’t broken to begin with.

The trilogy covers roughly 13 years of Quentin’s life and over that time he grows from a scrawny, gangly asshole at 17 to a semi-distinguished (albeit fired) professor at 30. But what I really love about The Magicians trilogy is that isn’t not just the Quentin show 24/7, but all the other supporting characters, particularly classmate and eventual love interest Alice, are whole. They are complete, and they are independent, and they are certainly not defined by their relationship to Quentin, hero though he insists on being. And if Quentin pisses them off, so be it. They move on with their lives and things aren’t magically righted or fixed just because he eventually finds it in himself to say sorry (even when it’s 7 years later).

Point being, Quentin can suck, a lot. But, and it’s a big but, you don’t have to care about Quentin to enjoy the story, you just must tolerate him and his role that he plays in the big scheme of things. And eventually, he grows on you. You might have to give him 600 pages and hours and hours of your life, but eventually, you’ll be routing for him (and Alice) too.

Series Rating: 7 out of 10 stars

The Magicians Edition: Paperback • $16.00 • 9780452296299 • 402 pages • originally published August 2009, this edition published May 2010 by Plume Books • average Goodreads rating 3.47 • read in June 2015

Lev Grossman’s Website

The Magicians on Goodreads

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Magicians

Fiction, Science Fiction, Young Adult

Warcross by Marie Lu

Marie Lu is officially now the most reviewed author on this site! This may be due in large part to a very exciting event that took place at the bookstore I work at two weeks ago when I had the great of fortune of moderating a discussion between the lovely Marie Lu and her friend and fellow author, Alex London. 

Marie Lu

It was an absolutely delight to discuss everything from diversity in books to fan art with Marie, and I am happy to report that she is a genuine kind and compassionate human being. And while I wanted to record the interview and post the transcript here, in all my excitement I completely forgot to do so! So please settle for my review of her newest book, Warcross!

Synopsis

The obsession started ten years ago and its fan base now spans the globe, some eager to escape from reality and others hoping to make a profit. Struggling to make ends meet, teenage hacker Emika Chen works as a bounty hunter, tracking down Warcross players who bet on the game illegally. But the bounty-hunting world is a competitive one, and survival has not been easy. To make some quick cash, Emika takes a risk and hacks into the opening game of the international Warcross Championships – only to accidentally glitch herself into the action and become an overnight success.

Convinced she’s going to be arrested, Emika is shocked when instead she gets a call from the game’s creator, the elusive young billionaire, Hideo Tanaka, with an irresistible offer. He needs a spy on the inside of this year’s tournament in order to uncover a security problem… and he wants Emika for the job. With no time to lose, Emika’s whisked off to Tokyo and thrust into a world of fame and fortune that she’s only dreamed of. But soon her investigation will uncover a sinister plot, with major consequences for the entire Warcross empire.

Review

This is my favorite of each of Marie Lu’s books and I almost didn’t read it. First, it was pitched to us by the publisher as being a middle grades novel (definitely not the case), and second, as my husband often says, I didn’t have a “real childhood” because I never once played a video game. The gaming aspect didn’t appeal to me. For those who might hesitate to pick this up because you think it’s a gaming novel, let me put your mind at ease. Virtual reality is a closer description of Warcross and it is part of the plot, but most of the book does not take place in the world of Warcross, most of it takes place in the “real world,” in Tokyo.

For the number of books I read each year, I’m always amazed a, that I remember any of them, and b, I can still be wholeheartedly surprised to love a book that I didn’t expect to. Don’t get me wrong, I knew I would certainly like Warcross, but I didn’t expect to love it on a level close to that which I love the works of my favorite author, Sarah J. Maas. Emika is now one of my all-time favorite leading ladies, and she is, like her creator, quite the magnificent lady. She is brave, she is compassionate, she is driven to do what is right. And unfortunately, there are those in the story who would like to take advantage of those qualities. Well, not quite unfortunate because without other character’s motivations, there would be no story!

I don’t want to go into too much detail because I feel like just about anything I might say would lead into spoiler territory, suffice to say that if you have read Legend or The Young Elites, you will recognize Warcross as another book in Marie Lu’s catalog that is witty and enjoyable with just the right mix of adventure and a little romance. But it’s way better than Legend and The Young Elites and I enjoyed both of those very much.

Rating: 9 out of 10 stars

Edition: Hardcover • $18.99 • 9780399547966 • 368 pages • published September 2017 by G. P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers • average Goodreads rating 4.35 out of 5 • read in September 2017

Warcross Website

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Warcross

Fiction, Science Fiction

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

I had wanted to read Station Eleven for quite a while, since I first saw it sitting on a table in a bookstore. I picked it up regularly in stores and contemplated purchasing it before finally doing so two years ago. And then it sat in my to-be-read pile for far too long. So when I decided to start my book club, The Modern Readers, I thought it would be the perfect first book! In starting a book club, I hoped that if I picked the books, I would really want to read them and it wouldn’t feel like required reading… but, confession time, alas, it sort of did feel like required reading – I was flying through most of the second half of the book while half-awake early in the morning a few hours before our first meeting.

1 - October 2015 - Station Eleven

Synopsis

Kirsten Raymonde will never forget the night Arthur Leander, the famous Hollywood actor, had a heart attack onstage during a production of King Lear. That was also the night when a devastating flu pandemic arrived in the city, and within weeks, civilization as we know it came to an end.

Twenty years later, Kirsten moves between the settlements of the altered world with a small troupe of actors and musicians. They call themselves the Traveling Symphony, and they have dedicated themselves to keeping the remnants of art and humanity alive. But when they arrive in St. Deborah by the Water, they encounter a violent prophet who will threaten the tiny band’s existence. And as they story takes off, moving back and forth in time, and vividly depicting life before and after the pandemic, the strange twist of fate that connects them all will be revealed.

Review

Station Eleven was a book I desperately wanted to love. As the first pick for the Modern Readers, I was hoping it would just knock my socks off. Unfortunately, I was disappointed to find that I was struggling just to finish it, let alone enjoy it.

I don’t know what exactly was so disappointing about Station Eleven, other than to say all of my fellow book club members seemed to feel similarly. Our overall consensus was that the idea was completely intriguing – a disease decimates most of the population and those who survived must figure out how to survive in this new and unfamiliar world. My problem, specifically, was in the characters. They really just existed in the world and their connections and relationships to each other all felt a bit forced and contrived and didn’t really add to the reader’s understanding of the characters.

There was one big exception to this – Clark, the British friend of the man who started everything, Arthur, the great actor. While Clark is absent for the vast majority of the story, when he does come back into play, his presence is not meant to only draw other story lines together, but we really get some insight into who Clark is as a character – the first and only time we really get any character motivation injected into the story.

Other than a perceived lack of character development, we collectively agreed as a book club that we would have loved to see some of the drawings and pieces of the graphic novel mentioned throughout the story that lends the book it’s title, Station Eleven.

Rating: 7 out of 10 stars

Edition: Paperback • $16.00 • 9780804172448 • 352 pages • first published September 2014, this edition published June 2015 by Vintage • average Goodreads rating 4.02 out of 5 • read in November 2015

Emily St. John Mandel’s Website

Station Eleven on Goodreads

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Station Eleven

Essays, Memoir/Autobiography, Non-Fiction

Medium Raw by Anthony Bourdain

Seven years ago I made a remarkable discovery – Anthony Bourdain. I was, by America’s standards, ten years late to the Bourdain party, but at least I got there eventually. I have now obsessively watched just about every episode of No ReservationsThe Layover, and Parts Unknown and most of them repeatedly. In circumstances in which my sister and I would watch MK&A movies about a locale before visiting, we now watch Anthony Bourdain. So needless to say when I wanted something new and different for my vacation last week, I turned to my favorite celeb chef for inspiration.

Synopsis

In the ten years since Anthony Bourdain’s classic Kitchen Confidential first alerted us to the idiosyncrasies and lurking perils of eating out, much has changed for the subculture of chefs and cooks, for the restaurant business – and for Anthony Bourdain.

Medium Raw tracks Bourdain’s unexpected voyage from journeyman cook to globe-traveling professional eater and drinker, and even to father hood, in a series of take-no-prisoners confessions, rants, investigations, and interrogations of some of the most controversial figures in food.

Beginning with a secret, highly illegal after-hours gathering of powerful chefs that he compares to a mafia summit, Bourdain pulls back the curtain – but never pulls punches – on the modern gastronomical revolution. Cutting right to the bone, Bourdain sets his sights on some of the biggest names in the foodie world, including David Chang, the young superstar chef; the revered Alice Waters; the Top Chef contestants; and many more.

Review

First things first, if you are new to the Cult of Bourdain, I strongly suggest watching an episode of one of his many television programs before committing to reading Medium Raw or any of his other books.

Moving on. When I am considering reading a book that is more than two or three years old (which admittedly doesn’t happen often), I, like most readers, investigate the reviews on Goodreads and other blogs, and then choose whether to listen to, or disregard, their sentiments. I also hope that is what you, dear readers, do with my book review entries here – please don’t take what I have to say be the end-all-be-all of your decision whether or not to read a book. That being said, I am always surprised when reviews or reviewers write a review that seems to indicate they had absolutely no background knowledge of the book or author they are reviewing.

It amazed me how many people gave Medium Raw less than stellar reviews because it somehow wasn’t what they were expecting. Medium Raw is exactly what I expected – 110% Anthony Bourdain, but you are also now knowingly reading a review by an avid Bourdainite. If you’ve ever listened to the man for five minutes, you would know exactly what he writes about, and the synopsis is fair warning enough if you are not familiar with his extensive body of television and written work. The man behind the writing and in front of the camera swears like a sailor, is occasionally crude, and is absolutely hysterical.

The collection of essays in Medium Raw runs the gamut from rant to informal interview and his admiration for the chefs he respects is very evident. He will be the first to point out how lucky he is to be living the life he now lives, and also to admit that he wouldn’t be able to make the cut in the great kitchens of American today. His arguments against particular eaters (vegetarians) and other chefs are well reasoned, and definitely well seasoned. While I agree with him most readily on just about every position he takes, I can only hope that those who disagree don’t write off his opinions without taking a moment to thoroughly understand them.

While he may be crass and admittedly, a bit harsh on certain others in the food world, he is a talented writer and his prose reads like he speaks – I even heard his voice in my head while reading and realized that I might as well listen to the audiobook for the last few essays, which he reads himself. I highly recommend both book and audiobook, and I hope that if you do decide to read his work, you’ll take it all with a pinch of salt.

Rating: 8 out of 10 stars

Edition: Paperback • $15.99 • 9780061718953 • 281 pages • first published in June 2010, this edition published May 2011 by Ecco Press • average Goodreads rating 3.73 out of 5 • read in August 2017

Parts Unknown Website

Medium Raw on Goodreads

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