Not that Kind of Girl | Review

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Not That Kind of Girl by Lena Dunham

Most people know Lena Dunham from her work on the HBO series Girls, which features young women in their early 20s trying to “make it” post college in New York. Even if you haven’t seen the show, you’ve probably seen – or at least heard about – her unabashed nakedness and sexuality. She is the embodiment of the millennial generation, struggling with love, sex, dieting, jobs, and her own narcissism. Dunham is either loved or hated, has a strong sense of self and feminism, and isn’t ashamed of it. Yet, she’s also insecure  and obsessed with death, and not as comfortable with sex as her portrayal of Hannah may imply.

Not That Kind of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She’s “Learned” is Dunham’s first memoir, and she speaks candidly about those insecurities, her mental health issues, and her experiences growing up with “artists” as parents. She’s privileged, wrapped up in her own petty dramas and issues, but there’s something relatable about her, for a 20-something woman, at least.

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Perhaps reading these logs would’ve been better, but as I listened to the audiobook – narrated by Dunham and the reason I chose to listen rather than read – it felt repetitive and unnecessary. The narration itself was typical Dunham – she isn’t the best narrator in the world, at times her voice can be grating and pompous – but it fits her book, and I prefer to listen to memoirs when they’re read by the author, it makes it more personal.

I loved getting her perspectives on topics like friends, sex, love, and work, and I do think it’s an important read for women in the 20s, but am not sure people outside that demographic would find it enjoyable.

3/5 stars

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You | Review

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You by Caroline Kepnes

You are a pretentious, narcissistic young woman named Guinevere Beck, Beck to all your friends, and you are the subject of affection in the novel You. You are an MFA candidate in fiction writing at Brown University and live in a shoebox of an apartment in New York. When you go to an independent book shop one day, a man, Joe, notices you, and you become his obsession.

Told in second person, as if Joe were talking to you and watching you, You is a creepy narrative which will make you, the reader, second guess your own morals and sanity while simultaneously increasing all the privacy levels on your social media.

Joe is a stalker, and very easily finds you (Beck) in real life – where you live, all your social media accounts, and even finds a way into your apartment and email. He’s a liar and a creep, but at times, you (the reader) finds sympathy with him, despite some of the horrific things he does.

IMG_6647 (1)The characters are all terrible, hoity-toity assholes that belong in a Bret Easton Ellis/Lena Dunham crossover. They think they’re better than they are, criticize the “common” person, and only find worth in things no one else likes. Beck is a writer who doesn’t write, and surrounds herself with people more effed up than she is, therefore bringing her down as well. She has daddy issues, runs from commitment, and manipulates those around her. I want to punch her.

The book is more sexual than I thought it would be; at times it is very graphic and borderline erotica, which fits with the narrator and themes, but it can also be disconcerting considering the circumstances. Also, those kind of graphic sexual scenes are not for everyone, and it’s best to be aware of them going in, especially since you’re reading from the POV of the stalker.

I thought it was interesting and horrifying to read from the stalker’s perspective; Kepnes did a great job building that character and the emotional state of him, but it’s also at times uncomfortable and hard to process.

I was hooked and wanted to know how it ended (even though I accurately predicted most of it), but didn’t enjoy the process.

2 stars

The Walled City | Review

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The Walled City by Ryan Graudin

Jin, Mei Yee, and Dai all live within the labyrinth of the towering buildings and lawless streets of The Walled City. Jin, a girl dressed as a boy, is the fastest runner and uses it to her advantage to stay alive, all the while searching for her long lost sister. Mei Yee, that very same sister, was sold at a young age and works in a brothel for the biggest druglord around. Dai is a boy with secrets of his own, secrets that could tear everything apart.

The Walled City is a story of friendship, family, survival, and learning when the survival of others is more important the survival of oneself. It’s about hope and a failure to give up, even when everything is at its bleakest.

It’s fantastic.

The three main characters are each central and integral to the story and the plot, to the development and understanding, to the themes and the unraveling. Each one brings a different personality, a different desire, a different secret. Each has their own story to tell.

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The real Kowloon Walled City 

The setting, inside the walls of the Hak Nam Walled City – a place based on the very real Kowloon Walled City that used to exist outside of Hong Kong until the late 80s when it was torn down – is unique and desperate and richly layered. It’s a place of criminals, exiles, lawlessness, and savagery, but it’s also a place people cling to and call home. Not everyone is bad, some are there just trying to make an honest living in a dishonest city.

The plot is whirlwind. The first half I had no idea where the story was going, what the secrets were or how the story would end, just that I had a lot of pages left and no morsels of information to cling to and build theories off of. Then the secrets are revealed and the plot moves. Fast. The last 100 pages move in a blur, a race against time, a page turning dash to find out what happens, how it all comes together, how it ends.

It’s refreshing to read a Young Adult novel that doesn’t focus on the romance, that doesn’t fit into a clearly defined genre, that ends after just one book. And while there is romance, it’s not cheesy, it’s not defined, and there isn’t a love triangle; it’s there as a symbol of hope and escape. It’s not historical fiction, and it’s not a dystopian or a fantasy, but it includes elements of each.

And of course, there’s a cat. I love cats, and even more so when they’re as snarky and awesome as Chma. He stole the show, and his pain hurt me more than anything else I’ve read in awhile. Chma = my heart.

Finally, the fact that this book features Asian characters is another win.

All that being said, this book is not perfect. Some may find the writing style choppy, a problem I didn’t have but can see how others would. Parts of the plot are too convenient as well, and I wish more time could’ve been spent on some of the larger issues at hand: human trafficking, dehumanization, etc.

Overall, a really great, can’t-put-it-down read!

4.5/5 stars – the 1/2 star is for Chma!

Room | Review

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Room by Emma Donoghue

Jack is five years old and his entire world is an 11×11 Room filled with Wardrobe, Bed, Table, Rug, Plant, and Ma, until one day Ma hatches up a plan to escape Outside, and Jack’s world gets a whole lot bigger.

It’s not often you read an entire novel from the perspective of a five-year-old and not have it feel tired and unrealistic, but Room succeeds in crafting a well told story with developed characters from such a young perspective. It’s also necessary to tell from Jack’s perspective, as he has no knowledge of the outside world, and it makes Room’s believability, nostalgia, and confusion work.

Spoilers below:
The first half of the novel, Jack and his mother are prisoners in Room, an 11×11 garden-shed-turned-cell, which has been soundproofed, reinforced, and hidden away. Jack, having been born in Room, knows nothing of the outside world and believes everything on TV is fake, his mother having made up lies to keep him happy.

The second half takes place after an escape plan, and Jack and his mother are now Outside, in the real world, and have to adjust to life in the expansive world. The second half was a lot harder to read, as the reader sees, through Jack’s eyes, Ma going through quite a few changes and depression, and Jack’s fear of the unknown and homesickness for Room. We see the criticism placed on Ma, the effects of growing up in Room on Jack, and just want them both to be happy and free, while knowing it will be some time before they are.

I did have some anxious moments while reading this, the thought of being confined to such a small space for so long a time making me feel claustrophobic and insane, and then the lasting damage and difficulty in returning back to normal triggered it once more.

Despite the harrowing messages and dreadful situations these characters were in, there’s something to be said about a child’s innocence and wonder, and reading from Jack’s perspective was a nice refresher of what that can be. He and the reader go on the journey together, slowly understanding the story together, and braving (scraving) the outside world.

One minor problem I had was simply the method Jack and Ma used to escape: why risk so much, why put Jack in such terrible danger, is that really the only way? Why not just brute-force the keypad or throw some boiling soup on Old Nick’s face? Surely, there are safer ways, even if it did all end up okay in the end.

Funny Girl | Review

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Funny Girl by Nick Hornby

Funny Girl is the story of Barbara from Blackpool who dreams of being a female comedian, a la Lucy from I Love Lucy. She moves to London after giving up the title of Miss Blackpool, wanting to get out and pursue her dreams. After only a few short months, her beauty lands her an agent, and she goes out on an audition for a terrible comedy, “Wedded Bliss.” Of course the men creating the show, the writers Bill and Tony, the co-star Clive, and the producer Dennis, fall immediately in love with her and rewrite the show for her. Barbara, now Sophie Straw, is the title character in the new BBC comedy, Barbara (and Jim).

barbara-titleThe book, while focused mostly on Sophie and her experience on the show, and then later, her looking back on her life while in her golden years, is really more of an ensemble piece. The story focuses on each of the core five characters from Barbara (and Jim) throughout the course of the novel, and it explores the nature of relationships, both working and non, and these characters really breathe life into the story.

The story itself is fun if you’re a fan of television, particularly ‘60s British sitcoms, and it’s enjoyable to watch some of that firsthand. It’s also a parody of not only that era of the BBC and British television, but also the musical Funny Girl, about a funny girl who isn’t that attractive and wants to be taken seriously as an actor. The writers are constantly bickering over the story becoming too “stale” and “boring,” and others complain that entertainment is taking over the world and filling it with junk rather than intellectualism.

Also, I listened to this on audiobook, and the narrator epitomizes that classy, British woman from the 60s. It definitely helped my enjoyment of this novel.

Sure, not a lot happens and much of it is predictable and happy, but it’s an enjoyable read overall.

3/5 stars

Froi of the Exiles | Review

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Froi of the Exiles by Melina Marchetta (The Lumatere Chronicles #2)

When I saw the title of the second installment of The Lumatere Chronicles and quickly realized we would be spending most of our time with Froi rather than Finnikin, I was slightly disappointed. I loved Finnikin in the first book, and wanted more of his story. But how wrong I was.

While we still get some Finnikin, and Isaboe and Trevanion and all the others from the first installment, I found myself not missing them as much as I thought I would. By the end of Finnikin, Froi had already begun the transformation from mannerless thief to someone they could trust, and by the time Froi begins, he is well positioned in the kingdom of Lumatere and has grown tremendously. As part of the King’s Guard, he’s been trained in combat and stealth, but also in how to control his rage and respect others. As a farmer, he’s learned patience and a desire to earn his living and work with his hands.

Three years have passed since the events in Finnikin and the kingdom is slowly coming together once more. In neighboring Charyn, however, things have taken a turn for the worse. The fate of one kingdom affects the others, and there are a lot of side plots regarding both the growth of Isaboe and Finnikin as leaders and the people of Lumatere and how they’re coping. Not to mention the unease and tension caused by neighboring strifes.

tumblr_m81txjrE7Y1r3ibgko1_1280Just as a curse had afflicted Lumatere in Finnikin, Froi features a curse on Charyn, one that has left the kingdom childless for 18 years, and Froi must slowly confront his own personal battle of doing what is right versus doing what he’s bound to do.

Marchetta has a way with characters, and Froi is no different. Quintana is legitimately crazy, the twins Gargarin and Arjuro are broken, mean-spirited, and brilliant, and Phaedra slowly captured my heart, along with the rest of Lumatere.

At almost 200 pages longer than Finnikin, Froi is a chunker of a book, and while most of the time I didn’t notice it, other times I had no idea where the story was going to go and was ready for it to pick up. Specifically the middle section, when there’s a lot of introducing of characters and answering of questions and not so much of a plot. Towards the end there’s quite a bit of wandering from province to province and a lot of angry teenage angst that I could’ve done without.

That being said, I love putting little pieces in the story together, and Marchetta does that so well. And the ending! It rips at me, it makes me desperate to pick up Quintana of Charyn even though I said I was going to take a break from the binge-reading of the series.

There’s a lot of mystery and hidden connections, and we get to explore the kingdom of Charyn and its inhabitants, and maybe find we don’t hate them as much as we did before.
There are multiple sides to all stories, you’re not quite sure who to believe or trust at times, and the cliffhanger at the ending is setting the finale up to question what is right and what is evil, and characters will need to make choices between blood, love, pride, duty, and honor.

American Born Chinese | Review

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American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang

American Born Chinese is a standalone graphic novel that tells three narratives: When Jin Wang’s family moves, he’s the only Chinese-American there, and he wants so desperately to fit in; the Monkey King wants nothing more than to be the most powerful being, and hide his monkey nature; Chin-Kee is how the Chinese are portrayed in the media, and even has a running “laugh track” along the bottom.

Jin-Wang-578x200All three stories are about what it means to want to be someone or something that you’re not, what it means to identify with something that you’re not, and why it’s important to accept who you are. I may not be Chinese or from a different heritage, but I was still able to relate to the themes. Everyone wants to be someone else sometimes. But the small moments of stereotypical racism immigrants and children of immigrants face on a daily basis were so wonderfully added and important for everyone to read and understand so as to prevent this kind of thing in the future.

I love how the stories came together in the end. It’s a little messy, but it works.

American Born Chinese is a wonderful story. It’s funny, poignant, and its message is strong.

 

Rat Queens Volume 2: The Far Reaching Tentacles of N’rygoth | Review

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Rat Queens Volume 2: The Far Reaching Tentacles of N’rygoth by Kurtis J Wiebe, Roc Upchurch, and Stjepan Sejic

I don’t know what happened, but Volume 2 was a major disappointment for me. I gave the first volume 4 stars, but this one, I almost didn’t finish. The only reason I did finish was because it’s a graphic novel and finishing the read would take less than an hour.

The first installment introduced spunky female characters of all types and sizes, and I loved that. I loved seeing these badass females slaying those in their paths, I loved that they were flawed and real, and inappropriately funny. But this time, it just felt tired. I didn’t even crack a smile. They weren’t as spunky as much as they were complaining, and while I enjoying reading more about their backstories (Violet is my favorite), I just… didn’t care.

I didn’t care about the main plotline at all, and since it’d been half a year since I’d read Volume 1, I’d forgotten most of the characters and story, so maybe that was part of what hindered my enjoyment, but I just didn’t feel the spark. Many of the jumps between chapters were odd and confusing, and there were a few times I had to flip back to make sure I hadn’t missed anything.

Maybe I just wasn’t in the mood for it, but Volume 2 definitely was more Rat than Queen.

2/5 stars

Finnikin of the Rock | Review

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Finnikin of the Rock (The Lumatere Chronicles #1) by Melina Marchetta

I didn’t know what to expect about Finnikin of the Rock going into it, only that I’d heard about it from other BookTubers almost a year ago, where it had promptly sat on my amazon wishlist, and then my library checkouts shelf until it was either read it or return it. So I read it. And how I wish I hadn’t waited an entire year.

When he’s just a boy, Finnikin and his friends, the Prince of Lumatere and the Prince’s cousin, make a pledge to protect their country. Soon after, the country is wrecked, the royal family assassinated, and a curse placed over the land. Ten years later, when the main story takes place, Finnikin wanders the Land, learning everything he can and recording the fates of the other exiled Lumaterans until one day a name is whispered into his ear and he finally finds the strength to fight for his home.

The characters are complex and haggard and layered and wonderful. The women are not there as foils to the men, and there are clear arcs and growth taking place. I loved both Finnikin and Evanjalin, but also Sir Topher and Trevanion and even Froi by the end.

The story begins with a confusing and mysterious prologue of the evil events that set the story in motion, and then the reader is catapulted ten years in the future. The backstory is told in snippets rather than all at once, told when needed or as a bit of foreshadowing, which I loved. Info-dumps felt natural, as did dialogue and the actions of the characters (for the most part). Additionally, there is a twist around the 3/4 mark that I should’ve predicted, but perhaps my blindness helped me relate more to Finnikin in that moment.

Wiki-backgroundThe world is rich and full and beautiful, with each nation having its own identity and characteristics. People acted as they did for a reason, and I found it to be incredibly well thought out. I did find some of the names of the countries to be similar and confusing at first, but the map in the front definitely helped me get a sense of where the characters were.

Although it’s YA, it’s high class YA. Some of the actions and emotions of Finnikin are those typical of a doubt-ridden, angsty teenage boy, but I didn’t feel like they harmed the narrative in any way, and there are so many other, more adult, themes happening that sometimes it’s nice to revel in the idiocies and naivete of our youth.

It’s a fantasy with betrayal, dreamwalking, love, fighting, blood pledges, relationships, and finding strength, faith, and hope even when there is none.

4.5/5 stars