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Bookish

Finding the Lessons in Author Memoirs & Biographies

My memoir and biography shelves have been growing. Since we moved into our house, I’ve gone from maybe half a shelf in my built-in bookcase to almost two shelves, and they don’t even include the books still boxed up in my parents’ basement. I don’t seem to have a certain topic that stands out on those shelves, with a mixture of feminist, nerdy, and self-improvement books (and some combinations of those), but as a writer, I’d call the ones by authors my favorite, the ones in which we learn about their writing lives and processes.

I’ve always had an interest in the lives of writers. It began with Sylvia Plath’s story and the autobiographical aspects of The Bell Jar and advanced to include Stephen King’s On Writing and Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. My interests seemed to branch out from just biography to biography with a good helping of how-to. Most recently, I ordered books by and about Joyce Carol Oates and David Foster Wallace. I had downloaded Oates’ essay colleciton, The Lost Landscape: A Writer’s Coming of Age, in the fall and quickly realized that it was one I’d both love and need to own to devote my full attention to it. When I found it on Book Outlet in early January, I also did a quick search for David Foster Wallace’s essay collections and found Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip with David Foster Wallace. I knew I needed both.The thing I love about these kinds of books, the kind that give you some insight into a person (a writer), isn’t just the overt lessons they can teach–like in On Writing and Bird by Bird–but also the things we learn just by hearing their stories. They teach us how the writer dealt with some kind of adversity in their life and their field, whether it was lack of support from others or confidence in themselves, or the pace at which they managed to reach their point of success (if at all). To me, they’re not only resonant on a human level, but also on a writer level. In so many biographies we read about a person’s struggles and how they pushed through; we know they did because we already see how the story ends–in this case, in publication. But it’s the journey that we can learn from and, in some cases, emulate in our own trials.

Often the answers and actions can feel obvious–ask for help, just keep writing (drawing, working, etc.)–but so much of what makes a difference is seeing someone else experience those struggles, those negative feelings that we get, too, and succeed. It’s the very definition of inspiration. You can hear the message repeated by those around you, even those who love you, but it’s when you finally hear it through the right voice that it sticks. The right voice, for me, is other writers because I know they’ve been here.

While some of my favorite role models are my own peers and friends, the ones who sit beside me in real time, and real life, and who will hold hands with me through our challenges, it can be nothing less than inspiring to read and learn from those who have already succeeded, whatever that looks like in their eyes and mine. Maybe it’s writing their memoir. Maybe it’s writing a whole bookstore display of works. Whatever that benchmark, they’ve reached a point where they believe, even a little, that their story is necessary to tell–necessary to themselves, and necessary to others.

February 20, 2017
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Origins of an Agent: Devil’s Advocate by Jonathan Maberry

I started watching The X-Files in middle school, toward the end of the series. At the time, I was in love with everything on the Sci Fi channel (now Syfy). TV was doing an excellent job of fueling my obsession with the paranormal and unexplained, so when I saw reruns of The X-Files showing, I gave them a shot. I was hooked. It became one of the shows I would choose any time I saw it on the TV guide listing, even if an episode had already started, even if I was watching them out of order–which I was.

Fifteen years later, and it’s still one of my favorite TV series, so when I stumbled upon The X-Files Origins: Devil’s Advocate by Jonathan Maberry in the teen section of our local library, I snatched it right up. I didn’t even read the synopsis until I got home; I couldn’t resist the bold, glaring X on the cover.

Devil’s Advocate is a story about fifteen-year-old Dana Scully and her life as she’s thrust into a murder mystery involving schoolmates, angels, and mysterious men in black. The story finds Dana beginning to question her own sanity as she searches for help and answers before anyone else can get hurt. With the guidance of the local new age shop owner and employees, along with her own sister, Dana faces the dangers that will only continue to follow her as she grows up: murder, mayhem, and that which she cannot explain.

What I loved about this book was the way it made reference to characters The X-Files fans already know, and it afforded us another opportunity to interact with them via young Dana Scully. The two most prominent relationships are those between Dana and her sister, Melissa, and Dana and her father. They’re portrayed in ways that we already know as fans of the series–Dana’s skepticism making an appearance opposite Melissa’s unwavering belief; her already strained relationship with her military father–but they do so without alienating newcomers at the same time. Particularly of note was the way the story showed the lead up to Dana and Melissa’s divergence of beliefs, giving that backstory to fans both old and new.

Maberry also manages to do a skillful job of keeping readers on their toes, trying to figure out who the killer of the story is. A mystery/thriller can be disappointing if readers figure out the answers too early on, but Maberry makes it possible for a number of people to be suspects, or at the very least untrustworthy in some way that readers suspect but can’t put a finger on. I found myself jumping around with suspicions as I read, even at times when I knew Dana might be wrong, or at the very least reacting quicker than she should in a situation (even if her instincts were right). I couldn’t help growing just as emotional as she was, even if I knew better. Maberry has an excellent way of making readers feel for Dana and feel with her as she seems to struggle against everyone around her.

Some of the novel’s opening came off rather clunky, most noticeably when Maberry is describing Dana and Melissa’s ages in relation to one another, but overall, Devil’s Advocate is a fun read that gives a new depth to a story that some already know and others haven’t had the pleasure of diving into yet. If you like fan fiction but are looking for something more believably linked to the source material, as we all know fan fiction can take some serious liberties at times, I would highly recommend giving this book a shot. I know I’ll be searching my library for Mulder’s story, by Kami Garcia, on my next trip.

February 17, 2017
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Timeline of an American Tragedy: Columbine by Dave Cullen

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I had just turned eight only a month before. On April 20, 1999, I came home from school, like so many of us would, to see endless news coverage of the breaking story.  I didn’t understand quite what was going on, but the incident, the image of terror out on the lawn of a high school, is not something I’ve forgotten over the years, especially with the way history keeps repeating.

At its occurrence, Columbine was the worst school shooting in history and remained so for years. While it’s been surpassed in the time since, its shadow lingers. People are still fascinated and confused by what happened. Dave Cullen’s Columbine sheds a light on the story that I, and I’m sure plenty of others, can use to navigate just what happened that morning.

Cullen’s work is written in a way that keeps readers’ attention, taking us through the timeline in a well-crafted, non-linear way. Between chapters on the shooting and its years of aftermath, we’re shown the events leading up to the disaster and the factors in Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold’s lives that contributed. It’s an excellent back and forth, keeping the story from becoming weighed down by traditional narrative structure.

Maybe it’s a result of my age at the time, but there were so many details that I’d never known before, from the bombs the two boys attempted to use to the truth that they were not, as the media would repeat, bullied loners exacting revenge on their (jock) tormentors. Their attack was indiscriminate. It was fueled by Eric’s unrepentant hatred for humanity and Dylan’s devastating struggle with depression. It’s a story we think we know from the echoes of nearly two decades, and these flawed beliefs are still prevalent. Columbine teaches readers a necessary lesson otherwise.

This book is so thorough and immersive, without being an overwhelming dump of facts, that unless you were there, I’m willing to be it’ll teach you something new. I’d also wager that these revelations will leave you even more upset over the ordeal than anticipated. Cullen covers the lives of victims, the police response, and the affected families, including those of Dylan and Eric. Each story is enraging and heartbreaking, but also riveting and necessary.

In the revised/expanded edition of 2016, Cullen added “more scans of the killers’ writing and sample pages from the Columbine Teachers’ Guide [he] created.” The book does not include graphic photos; the descriptions of the horror are likely enough for the average reader. (Nonetheless, I will admit to looking up news footage online while reading one night; I ended up with nightmares.) These added materials, however, add another layer to what Cullen has to tell about Dylan and Eric. To read excerpts in the clean text of a professionally bound book is good. To read their hatred and frustrations in their own hand is a whole other experience that can send chills just as easily as a photo might.

You don’t need to be a true crime addict to experience this book, though it won’t hurt. Rather than being dry and laden with facts, this book is crafted to be accessible, educational, and illuminating. Dave Cullen paints such a picture of the entire tragedy that is clearer than anything I’ve experienced on the topic before (including high school assemblies and the Bowling for Columbine documentary), and if you have any desire to learn about the event, let this be your first resource.

 

February 10, 2017
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Dear Stephen: A Love Letter to a Horror Master

Dear Stephen,

Carrie White was my first. I met her midway through high school, when I was also an awkward, angry teenager. She intrigued me with her pitiful self, her inability to stick up for herself against the mean girls and mean boys and abusive mother—but I also felt a deep sympathy and anger at the way those around her let her down. My tolerance for bullying is nonexistent, and every time I reread, I have to talk myself down from a rage cliff. There may be an element of the supernatural within the novel, but of all the books of yours I’ve read thus far, Carrie feels the most real.

I’ve been an avid fan ever since—though not quite to the Annie Wilkes level, thank goodness—even if I’m not the fastest. Sure, they’re not perfect novels (is there even such a thing?), but they’re damn fine entertainment.

Pennywise is my most recent.

I was, for the first time in these past nine years, driven to actual fear by one of your books: It. I spent a portion of the summer alone in my house, and in my own infinite wisdom I read the book most nights before bed, with only my fat oaf of a dog as protection, so as I’d shut the lights off and snuggle into the blankets, it was easy for my imagination to run wild. I couldn’t count the number of nights I would get up to double and triple check the locks on the doors.

It appeals to my coming-of-age cravings, the constant need I have to dive into the lives of adolescents, which I can only assume is a result of my total anxiety over my own adulthood. It takes me deep into that summer of 1958 when the Losers Club lived to tell their tell—but never did, and rightly so; who would believe this rag-tag group of pals? “They’re only telling tales and having fun,” the adults would say. And I would fear for every one of them as they drew closer to the answers and to It.

It’s masterful, that crafting of a character most commonly known only as It throughout the book. Most people, fan or not, would recognize Pennywise, but few—including myself—realize that he’s only one face of the fearsome creation lurking throughout the novel. It’s clever and even somewhat amusing to give something as grand and terrifying a name so simple. It’s exactly what you could expect from a group of eleven year olds.

My Stephen King collection is small in relation to your lengthy resume, but I can only hope it will keep growing with each year. Maybe someday I’ll even catch up.

Your Constant Reader,
Sonya

February 6, 2017
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Witches! Ghosts! Curses!: How to Hang a Witch by Adriana Mather

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A good ghost story leaves you spooked, reconsidering a nighttime bathroom trip in the dark. A good drama has you gripping your seat and turning page after page–maybe skipping that bathroom break again. As I read my way through Adriana Mather’s How to Hang a Witch, I felt the pleasant mingling of both–and I really needed to pee.

A descendant of influential player to the Salem Witch Trials Cotton Mather, the author uses her family history, personal experience from a trip to Salem, Massachusetts, and the greater culture of high school bullying as the bases for her novel.

With her father in a coma, Samantha Mather–also of relation to Cotton–and her stepmother move to Sam’s grandmother’s house in Salem. Before even sitting down in her homeroom on the first day of school, Sam finds herself shunned and scorned by her peers. For years, she’s believed she was cursed, with a string of bad luck affecting those who dare to get close to her, but these suspicions and experiences come to a head for her when townspeople of Salem begin dying. Sam soon finds herself as the prime suspect, named both a murderer–and a witch.

The novel dives into the world of high school and being an outsider, with a thrilling tinge of ghost story and witchcraft added into the pot. Mather does a fantastic job of making both Sam and the reader second guess the people around her. Throughout the novel, I found myself carefully eyeing a number of characters after certain suspect circumstances arose, wondering, Who had betrayed Sam? Who was the real murderer? It often feels like I can guess the answer to a whodunit early in most novels (an experience I had while reading In a Dark, Dark Wood several months ago), but with How to Hang a Witch, I was almost surprised by the reveal, guessing the answer only at the last minute.

Even after the true antagonist is revealed, the story doesn’t slow down, with a spectacular fight sequence I never expected from the description on the book jacket. In fact, it felt like much of the book wasn’t what I expected and managed to exceed my original assumptions. While I was excited at the prospect of the novel, the inclusion of a ghost in the plot made me suspicious; for the most part, paranormal romances have gotten stale in the young adult genre, and I was anticipating getting stuck with that kind of mess. Mather, however, manages to keep the novel interesting without dipping far into the trope of will they/won’t they between teenage girl and (insert monster of your choice here).

To be honest, my only remote complaints would be the occasional simplicity of the writing style, with an abundance of “I ____” sentences that at times made reading feel abrupt and interrupted; and the boy-girl-boy love triangle, a trope that, much like girl/monster romance, wore me out by the end of the first Twilight novel when I read it many moons ago. For a long time I’ve been of the firm belief that there can be excitement, drama, and even romance without the need for a love triangle. However, Mather’s was nicely wrapped up and well-handled overall, so I have no interest in holding it against her.

This was a novel I found myself eagerly awaiting when I learned about it because I just had to give its premise a chance, and it’s one that did not disappoint. Adriana Mather handled her story well enough that I look forward to more ghost stories in my young adult reads, as well as seeing what else she has in store for us in the future.

January 23, 2017
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Top 8 Books Read in 2016

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I’ve been watching Criminal Minds the past few weeks, and I couldn’t help but laugh at Garcia’s mention of her “Top 8” in one episode, so I thought this year’s reading recap could be a little throwback to that era of my life.

Here’s a summary of my top 8 favorite books of 2016.

It by Stephen King. / I have a sneaking suspicion that any time I read a Stephen King novel, it’s going to end up on my end of the year list. There alway’s so much character detail to his stories, and they’re often the only ones that have the potential to scare me, not because the monsters are terrifying, but because the people are. This book has its problems that I’m not going to rehash because, especially with the new adaptation coming up (!!!), they’re easy to find talk of all over the internet. But this was by far one of my favorites of 2016, even if it took me a whole month to get through it.

Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy. / I am so glad that I kept a list of all the books I’ve read this year, otherwise Dumplin’ might have gotten lost in the fray. I read this book way back in January, and I remember spending the better part of a day on an air mattress in the living room gobbling it up. Dolly Parton? Beauty pageants? Talking about body image? Yes, please! Julie Murphy’s novel was so entertaining and emotional. I very much look forward to reading more of her work soon.

The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner. / Ugh, Jeff. *collapses* This one had me up at two a.m. and sobbing, which of course I both loved and hated. It’s such a well-written book about fascinating teenagers living in a place I have almost no knowledge about. Honestly, the most I really know about Tennessee is how much I want to go to Dollywood (see above). The strain in the character’s relationships and the struggles they each dealt with, separately and together, were so heartbreaking at times, but it’s a book I absolutely can’t help but love. The Serpent King definitely earned its own review earlier this year, so be sure to check that out to get the full gist of just how much you should read this.

The Raven Cycle Series by Maggie Stiefvater. / THIS. SERIES. It’s so good that I’m counting all four books as one entry here, okay? It’s not often that I read urban fantasy–for some reason everything recommended to me is more high fantasy end of the spectrum–but at the suggestion of a couple of friends, and probably 85% of Tumblr, I picked up this series when I found the first two books at Barnes & Noble and had some cash to burn. It about killed me when I realized that the series was so damn good that I couldn’t wait to buy the last novel, but I didn’t want to get it in hardcover and have my set mismatched. Enter our old standby, the library. I read the final novel, The Raven King, in about two days, loving the way that everyone’s stories came together in the end, even if it totally ripped out my heart, as per usual with the YA genre.

Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay. / Towards the end of the year I started reading a number of nonfiction essay/memoir genre books, and I think this is the one that really kicked it off. Two essays in and I became a total convert to Roxane. She’s got such humor and honesty to what she writes without feeling like a comedian–it’s more of a wry, everyday humor that your best friend might use, and that made this an enjoyable book for me. In fact, I began following Roxane on Twitter as I was reading, and after a couple of clicks through her website I found out she’ll be talking at Mount Holyoke in February. You can be sure I’ll be attending!

The Martian by Andy Weir. / This was my first book of the year, but still one of my favorites. I really don’t read enough science fiction, but when it’s coupled with such sarcasm as Mark Watney’s narration, I truly love it. As with many cases, I saw the movie first, and the veracity of the adaptation was pleasantly surprising given Hollywood’s track record. Considering Watney is the only character on an entire planet through much of the novel, Andy Weir does a great job giving him such a vibrant personality. I’m sure you’ve heard from others, but this novel truly had me laughing out loud as I read it. I’m thankful to have started the year with such a strong book.

Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. / Along with The Art of Asking, Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic quickly found its way onto my list of “books to reread when I need a kick in the pants.” I’m already thinking about when I’ll read it again, putting sticky notes next to the passages I like the best and want to find easily in the future. I feel like this book was especially poignant for me because it came from the perspective of a writer, just as I read it from the perspective of one. It’s not impossible to apply to other types of work, but being on the same wave as Gilbert probably helped. There was also a balance between being grounded and being mystical in its approaches to creative endeavors that struck a chord with me.

Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future by A.S. King. / I impulse bought this book at one of my favorite local bookshops this year, and I cannot tell you how glad I am to have chosen it. The story is thoughtful and heartbreaking, and it’s one of my favorite contemporary YA novels I’ve read in a long time. I said in my full review that A.S. King’s writing style isn’t your typical YA fare, lending the novel a literary tinge, and I stand by that. I can’t wait to reading more of her novels in the future.

What were some of your favorite books to read in 2016?

January 2, 2017
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Here’s to Never Growing Up: Being an Adult Fan of Contemporary YA

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If there’s one genre I read more than any other, it’s young adult (or, in a few cases, new adult), and to be more specific, contemporary YA. I’m predictable in that way, and not only in books, but also in my choice of movies. Dan and I can be browsing Netflix and he’ll say, “That looks like a movie you would watch,” and it’ll have some coming-of-age description, and we laugh, because he’s right. A few times it’s happened, and I just blush and tell him that, well, it’s actually one I’ve already added to my queue, so he’s right.

High school was not fun. I was good at school, but looking back, I didn’t always feel that close to my friends, no matter how regularly we would hang out or how much I would spill my guts to them; oftentimes I wouldn’t get that same honesty back, and part of me thought I was just too concerned with myself, but I don’t think that’s it, given that I’m not even friends with my “best friend” anymore, and not for lack of trying. High school was lonely and most of my time was spent hanging out with my dad watching Jeopardy!, watching movies until 2am with my cat, or chatting on VampireFreaks (something I still miss, just like LiveJournal, but which feels foreign to me nowadays). Even now, my friends are more virtual than not, so I tend to live vicariously through all the contemporary YA lining my bookshelves and filling the small teen section of my local library.

To be honest, I still don’t feel like an adult most days. (Does anyone ever really feel like one?) I might do adult things, like pay my own bills and go to work and plan a wedding, but where’s the fun in that? Well, okay, the wedding bit is fun. But in general, it’s so much more exciting to dream about driving around with friends listening to music or going to the mall, adventuring someplace new or having a good chat. There’s a certain romantic nature to these stories for me, and while they’re fiction, there’s a truth to them that I feel like my adolescence was sorely lacking most days. It hurts to think about at times, and while I have no wish to go back to high school, I do wish I had that connection you see between best friends in a good YA novel. Friendship is different as an adult, something you have to fit in between work and distance and, maybe someday, children. For now, I’m just drifting through it all, but contemporary YA serves as a kind of anchor for me in this listless existence of mine.

I know YA (and it often seems contemporary YA in particular) can be a polarizing genre, and I can understand why. I’ve heard myriad reasons for why people don’t like it, and they’re perfectly respectable–for the most part–but there’s something about it that I can’t escape. Maybe I’m immature. Maybe I’m living in a dream. But so many of the books I read tug at my heart and resonate with me in ways that other genres don’t most of the time. I am, of course, open to reading any book that sounds like it will interest me or someone suggests I give a chance, but I feel like I’m always going to be biased towards young adult novels more than any other, and in fact it’s what I most like to write myself, alongside poetry.

I’m sure I’m rose tinting things, making them out to be better than they are or would be in real life, but a girl can dream–and I do, every time I open another book.

What are your thoughts on YA? What are your favorites, if you have any?

July 19, 2016
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Reviewed: The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner

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the serpent king by jeff zentner

I received Jeff Zentner’s The Serpent King way back in March in my first OwlCrate, and it piqued my interest not only because it was a contemporary YA, which I’m a big fan of, but because it didn’t sound like a book I would have picked up of my own accord. That’s a great thing about book subscription boxes: You get surprised with something new to read that you might not have had the chance to enjoy otherwise, and I can honestly say that I did enjoy this book, even if there was a point when I had to stop reading and just sob for a while.

From the description, I thought the book was going to focus almost solely on Dill Early, the son of a pastor who was already getting a lot of side eye from many people in town for his, shall we say, enthusiastic inclusion of snakes in spreading God’s word and has now fallen from grace. But in fact we get such a great distribution of story between Dill and his best friends, Travis and Lydia. I felt like I got to know each character well enough to form an opinion of each and get a good idea of who they were, what they were going through, and how they relied on one another to get through it all. Each character is so different from the other, yet they connect with each other through being outcasts and Zentner does a great job of making them diverse but still believable in their friendship, flaws and all.

My personal favorite was Travis, who has an amazing fondness for high fantasy novels and no shame about it. Each character is relatively likable, though, which I enjoyed because sometimes it can be emotionally draining to read a novel about a character you don’t even like but are still kind of supposed to root for. In general, I rooted for all of them, even if they did things that would piss me off–much like a real person.

I do wish Lydia had been forced to deal with more aside from the most devastating part of the book, because while Travis and Dill had their own personal troubles at home, Lydia seemed to coast through life without too many bumps in her road. Which is not to say that she has it easy, but she has a much easier time of life than the boys, and it was almost tiresome reading about how well everything was going for her.

Overall, though, I liked all of these characters. All I wanted was for all of them to be happy and to stay friends forever, despite their looming graduation date. While Dill and Travis plan to stay in town, Lydia looks forward to life in New York with her fashionable, wealthy roommates. Of course, things don’t go as planned, but I can tell you that it truly was a shocking twist that threw a wrench in the plans. I did not see it coming until maybe a page before, and, well, I don’t want to say too much but I cried. #noshame

To be honest, it can feel a little standard for YA–there’s some romance, some teen angst, plus it’s a contemporary–but I still loved it (but I’m particularly fond of contemporary YA, so I may be biased). However, I don’t think that makes it bad, and it does have its standout points: alternating POV narration, which I don’t think we see often in YA and “hard-hitting” topics, which can sometimes be overlooked for the more common romance arc.

I’m so glad I got this in my first OwlCrate; it gives me so much faith in the next time I decide to order one.

Are you interested in The Serpent King at all? Have you already read it? Tell me your thoughts!

July 11, 2016
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Reviewed: Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future by A.S. King

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glory o'brien's history of the future by a.s. king
I bought this, I think, two months ago now, and as I was struggling through my reading slump the last few weeks, I picked it off my shelf on a whim, much like how I bought it in the first place. I had no idea if it could help get me out, and maybe it didn’t pull as strongly as my On Writing reread has, at least not at first, but the striking cover was enough to get me try when I was beginning to feel desperate.

Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future (oh my gosh, that title alone) is the story of recently-graduated Glory O’Brien and the arrival of her psychic powers. What she sees for the future is both confusing and terrifying, and oftentimes the question arises of whether or not they are even real.

This book turned out to be so much more than I anticipated. I was expecting a rather straightforward novel about a teenage girl who’s clairvoyant and the adventures and struggles that ensue, but the novel is a sad and scary, sweet and beautiful work that maintains its YA entertainment value while also touching on a literary tone with the perfect level of abstract mixed in. I was slow diving into it, though I consider that more a result of the slump than the actual novel, because once I managed to sit and read it, I didn’t want to stop, which I think we can all agree is a good sign. I was even reading it in the car, disappointed when I had to digest my food after breakfast out this morning before continuing on with the book because I knew I’d get carsick if I tried.

And here I am, writing a review of it at most an hour after finishing because I had to share. I just had to share.

A.S. King’s story of Glory and her struggle to understand the mother she no longer has, the best friend she’s not sure she wants, and the dad who’s not quite  the same anymore is an impressive story of a single week that feels like so much more. We learn about who Glory is and becomes, and we see her starting to discover her own potential through her visions. She’s not a weak character, per se, when the novel starts, but her personality isn’t one I would call strong, either; she keeps to herself and, for the most part, that’s how she likes it. However, as she goes on through the week, we see her emotions grow and she becomes more sure of them, following the repeated mantra of the novel: Free yourself. Have the courage. She starts asking questions and taking action, and I could not be more happy for her.

Given Glory’s visions and the horrifying future she sees, you would think the novel might struggle to end on a positive note, but I had hope that one was there as I finished. So much changes for Glory and her dad by the end of the book, and I can’t help but see at least some brightness to their future, whatever it may hold.

July 2, 2016
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Reviewed: How to Build a Girl by Caitlin Moran

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how to build a girl by caitlin moran
Firstly, I’d just like to share that I picked up this book for about four dollars from bookoutlet.com, and after a few orders, I cannot recommend the site highly enough. If you’re looking for a fix on some new books, I suggest checking them out first. (And I am totally not getting paid to say that; I genuinely spent about $80 there in one month because they have such good deals.)

All right, onward to the review.

Caitlin Moran’s How to Build a Girl is about Johanna Morrigan, big-time nerd in a small-time English town. After reaching new heights of embarassment on local television, Johanna decides to reinvent herself into Lady Sex Adventurer/music writer Dolly Wilde. (Side note: Love the name.) I guess that probably could have clued me into just how much of a focus there was going to be on Johanna’s sexuality within the novel, but I guess I was just naive going into it.

Overall, I enjoyed the book and its depiction of Johanna trying to achieve a certain level of cool,” much like I’ve been attempting for the past twelve or so years. It was captivating to see how she developed, how she interacted with those around her, but how she also still maintained her innate self, whether she meant to or not. To be quite honest, the only parts I found boring were the repeated discussions of her masturbating, not because I think it’s wrong or anything, but because they were so frequent and didn’t feel as though they added much to the story most of the time, especially when that’s the opening scene. Even as I started reading, I had to wonder if that was meant more for shock value than substance, and I still haven’t settled one way or the other on it, so maybe it’s a bit of both, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The problem is if it is for shock, it goes away quickly with so many mentions.

Nonetheless, Johanna’s Adventures, both in and out of bed, make for a wonderful story. At times she can be slow on the uptake in situations, allowing herself to be manipulated or belittled by those (often men) around her. In the end, however, she shows so much development that I kind of ended up liking her. Compared to Eilis, in my previous review of Brooklyn, Johanna is a vastly more interesting and well-developed protagonist to follow. It felt like things were actually happening, and not just to her but at times because of her. She took action. Sometimes it was the wrong action, but sometimes not.

I’d give a big ol’ recommendation to this one if you like weird girls and music and coming of age stories. (I, for one, love all of these things, so maybe I’m a bit of a sucker.) Just make sure you’re not afraid of a little lot of sex talk.

May 30, 2016
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