Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen | Book Review

saint anything Let me start by saying that I will follow Sarah Dessen to the end of the world and back. I’ve been reading her books since I was in junior high and I think she provides the YA community with some of the most accurate representations of women coming of age. Therefore, saying that a book is “not my favorite Sarah Dessen book” does not at all mean that I didn’t enjoy it. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever read a SD book that I didn’t wholeheartedly like.

Saint Anything certainly wasn’t my favorite Sarah Dessen book, but it still had all the warm and fuzzy qualities that make reading one of her books feel like coming home to an old friend. I tend to prefer the books that take place in Colby, Dessen’s fictional beach town where, let’s face it, we all want to spend our summers, and was therefore a little bit disappointed when Colby was only mentioned in passing. However, everything else I was hoping for was still present: an intelligent, witty teenage protagonist, an ever-present family with its own share of complicated issues, and a local business complete with a new set of funky, multi-dimensional secondary characters. Oh, and of course, an absolute dreamboat of a male lead.

So let’s break this down a little. First of all, I loved Sydney, the book’s protagonist, but that didn’t surprise me since I don’t think I’ve ever disliked one of Dessen’s leading ladies. I liked that Sydney was honest with herself, which I find is pretty rare with any sort of narrator, YA or otherwise. I liked that she had a realistic relationship with her family – she grew angry with her parents’ strict set of rules but also recognized that they had a logical purpose and came from a place of love. The irritating YA trend of the “absent parents” never seems to be an issue with Dessen’s books; the family dynamic is part of what makes her books so relatable. However, I definitely would’ve liked to see more of a resolution between Sydney and her mom.

Another of the book’s qualities with which I was so on board was the relationship between Sydney and Layla. Again, it’s no secret that the YA genre has a severe lack of woman-on-woman friendships (Bechdel test, anyone?). However, Sydney’s relationship with Layla was far more complex and intriguing than her relationship with Mac, the love interest, and I found that to be perfectly acceptable. Frankly, I found Sydney/Mac to be kind of boring, but Sydney/Layla kept me reading, mainly because I saw so many similarities between their friendship and some of my own friendships. For example, being neglected by a best friend as soon as they find a new boyfriend or girlfriend is something I (and probably most of you) can absolutely, 100% relate to. There were a number of points in the book where I just wanted to jump through the pages, give Sydney or Layla a giant hug, and say, “it’ll be okay, I promise”.

However, as I mentioned, this wasn’t my favorite of Sarah Dessen’s books, and there are a few reasons why. For one, as I said, I found Sydney and Mac’s relationship pretty…eh. I was on board in the beginning when they were still figuring out their feelings for each other, but once they were “official” their story kind of fell flat and I just didn’t care anymore.

Luckily, there was enough other stuff going on at the same time, but even this wasn’t ideal for me. In a sense, I thought there was too much going on. I’m all for subplots, but not when they seem excessive. For example, I understand the need for interesting side characters, but I really could’ve done without the constant emphasis on Mac’s band and its quest for edgy, metaphorical genius. Similarly, I thought Mrs. Chatham had the potential to be a really dynamic addition to the story, but her words of wisdom and struggle with MS seemed like more of a plot device than something I should actually care about.

In fact, a lot of the book’s secondary characters ended up being nothing more than plot devices. While Sydney’s mother was realistic and dimensional, her father was nothing more than a reiteration of his wife’s ideals meant to further emphasize Sydney’s struggle with being invisible. When Sydney meets Layla and Mac, she is quickly inducted into their group of friends, but aside from the Chatham siblings, no one really struck a chord with me. Eric was a typical, narcissistic “hipster” in whose mind everything had to have a deeper, unintelligible meaning, and I honestly don’t know what the hell the point of Irv’s character was (other than to provide diversity to an otherwise all-white cast of characters).

Perhaps my biggest problem and the one thing I really just can’t figure out is the character of Ames, Sydney’s brother Peyton’s best friend from rehab. To say the least, his character and his contribution to the story was unrealistic and borderline absurd. At first I thought the Ames subplot could go somewhere interesting, since his creepy, pedophilic aura was clear to me early on. However, I was really confused by the climax of that story, and even more confused when it had no resolution or consequence. So yes, I know he was meant to creep me out, and he certainly did his job well, but I still don’t understand why.

Okay, so despite my very clear criticisms, I swear I liked this book. I flew through it as I do all of Sarah Dessen’s books, and if you’re a fan, I don’t think this story will disappoint. However, I’m a critical book reader, and I consider it my duty to be brutally honest, even when it comes to my favorite authors.

If you’ve read Saint Anything, let me know what you thought!

P.S. I know I didn’t provide a summary, so if you so desire, check it out on Goodreads!

Let’s Talk About Reading Slumps.

tbrAs a book lover who obviously follows other book bloggers and vloggers on Twitter, one of the most common tweets I see is something along the lines of, “Help! I’m in a reading slump!” And of course, I completely understand. We’re the type of people who tend to devote every spare moment we have to reading. Hell, we even take time out of our lives to plan, film, and edit videos of ourselves alone in a room talking about books. So when we’re faced with those moments when no book can keep our interest, it’s can feel kind of horrible. In fact, I personally find myself getting legitimately anxious if I go a few days without reading; I feel like I’m letting down some almighty literary force driving my intense interest in books.

For these past couple weeks, I’ve been in the worst reading slump I can remember, and I’m sure there’s a lot that’s contributing to it. 1. I just can’t seem to find a book I want to read. 2. I’ve had a lot of school projects that demand a lot of focus. And 3. In about two weeks, I’m graduating from college.

So instead of getting in bed after a long day and reading until I fall asleep, I’ve been shutting off the lights and laying there for at least an hour, worrying about life and about my future. And the added pressure of knowing I’ll soon have to film an April wrap-up after only finishing two books doesn’t make me feel much better. In other words, it sucks.

But then the other night, amidst all this worrying, I started thinking about the dreaded “reading slump”, which is essentially a phrase coined by people who talk about books on the internet. Meanwhile, in the greater realm of society, taking a couple weeks off from reading probably isn’t a big deal. In fact, it’s something I’m guessing most people don’t even consciously think about. So why, then, does it stress me out so much when I don’t feel like reading?

At the end of the day, reading is a hobby. It’s something I love to do. With the exception of school-assigned reading, it’s not something that should ever stress me out; it’s something that should do exactly the opposite.

So while I understand why people use the term “reading slump” (and, obviously, I’m guilty of using it myself), I don’t like how it is most often followed by some sort of excuse, like “I’ve had a lot of work to do” or “I’ve been out socializing instead”. Both of those are perfectly acceptable reasons. In fact, any reason is perfectly acceptable. Even as BookTubers and book bloggers, it’s entirely our decision what we read and when we read it. We shouldn’t feel any sense of obligation to our viewers, our readers, or even ourselves, because if we start forcing ourselves to read, eventually it’ll stop being fun.

So from now on, I’m going to make an active effort to stop using the term “reading slump”. Instead, I’ll try to remind myself that there’s nothing wrong with going a couple days, a couple weeks, or maybe even a couple months without avidly reading. Reading is entirely personal and psychological, and no one, not even yourself, should make you feel guilty about your reading habits (or lack thereof).

Share your thoughts in the comments!

Ali

20 Days To Go: Thoughts from an About-To-Be College Graduate

For the past few weeks, I’ve found myself unable to read any of the five books of which I’m in the middle, write any blog posts, or even watch any TV shows (besides Game of Thrones because I’m too afraid of being spoiled on Twitter). In fact, I haven’t been doing much of anything besides schoolwork, unsuccessfully searching for jobs, and worrying about what happens after May 10th. For those of you just tuning in, May 10th is the day I graduate from college and begin my life in the real world I thought I entered four years ago when I graduated high school. Spoiler alert: I didn’t.

Throughout the past four years, whenever I’ve said anything about college being difficult, I’ve been hit with the ever-present “just wait until you graduate and have to go out and be a real adult” response. Of course, as a college student, I was confident that this was the real world. Now, I’m quickly coming to terms with the sheltered bubble that is college life and realizing exactly how much I would give for just one more semester to sort out my life.

Because now I’m starting to reconsider my choice in degrees.

Because all those people who told me “you can’t do anything with an English degree” are starting to make a lot more sense.

Because I don’t think I’m smart enough or assertive enough to put my political science minor to use.

Because I keep telling myself “I should probably move somewhere like New York or Boston or even freaking London” even though I can’t even process how overwhelming it would be to move to a major city without the comfort of a college campus to come home to.

Because the idea of going to real job interviews terrifies me.

Because the idea of trying to convince anyone other than myself that I’m a good writer seems laughable.

Because I’m under the impression that all my friends have definitive plans even though I know that isn’t the case.

Basically, to sum it up: last night I was laying in bed after being completely exhausted all day and suddenly I was wide-awake. I thought about my time abroad in London last semester and how much I loved everything about it, and the only thing I could think was, “I should’ve done an internship” even though I knew 100% that I wanted to immerse myself in a university setting. I thought about this semester and how much I got involved on- and off-campus: I juggled a full course load, an internship, a part-time job, and an editor position on my school paper. However, all I could think was, “I should’ve done more”.

I know, I know. There’s only so much you can do in one semester. Loads of people leave college without knowing what they want to do. Not everyone has a job lined up before they graduate. Things will come together eventually. These are the things I keep telling myself, but it doesn’t make it any easier. I know I’m being pessimistic. I know it could be a lot worse. I know that if I have to, I can stay at my part-time job a little bit longer while I find something more permanent.

But naturally, it wouldn’t be like me not to worry. I guess what surprises me is that less than two weeks ago I was totally fine. This all started to hit me really recently and has consumed my thoughts to the extent that I completely forgot that this Friday is my 22nd birthday. I love birthdays, but my thought process has become, “how can I have fun and celebrate when I still don’t have my life together?”

As a disclaimer, I didn’t write this to stress you out. I didn’t write this because I think I have it any harder than any other soon-to-be college grad. I wrote this because this is prominently a book blog and this is what has been diverting my attention away from thinking and talking about books.

That being said, I think I’m going to make this a series. This is my “20 Days To Go” edition, and I’ll try to post an update every couple days on what I’m thinking.

And of course, if you have any advice, I would absolutely appreciate it. Stay strong, fellow grads!

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins | Book Review

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The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

Published by Riverhead Books, January 13, 2015

Genre: Psychological thriller

Pages: 336

So first of all, I think it’s worth noting that I read this book in one day. Well, I read the first 40 pages on Saturday night and the rest throughout Sunday. So basically one day. In other words, either it was really good or I just really didn’t want to do my homework. Maybe a little bit of both.

I’ve been hearing about this book all over the place – it’s topping bestselling lists everywhere, it’s being called “the next Gone Girl”, and my mom read it within a couple days and told me I would like it. So finally, after I’d just finished a hefty 500+ page epic fantasy the day before, I thought I’d give The Girl on the Train a shot.

To give you a short synopsis in case you’re not already familiar, The Girl on the Train follows three women, Rachel, Megan, and Anna, who are brought together (although not always consciously) by ex-husbands, commuter trains into London, and illegal activity. The timeline jumps between present and past as the three women’s stories intertwine and a mystery unravels. That’s really all I want to say without giving anything away; I would recommend going into this book without knowing much more.

I’ve heard a lot of people say they were disappointed because they went in expecting the next Gone Girl and got something completely different. However, I think it’s important to recognize that no book is really “the next” anything. Unless you count Fifty Shades of Grey, which was based off of Twilight fanfiction and was therefore pretty accurately “the next Twilight” upon its release. Basically, what I’m trying to say is that The Girl on the Train was completely different from Gone Girl or any other psychological thriller I’ve read, but I totally get why the two are being compared. The Girl on the Train deals with rocky marriages, unreliable narrators, and apparent mental illness in a way that so far I’ve only seen matched in Gillian Flynn’s work.

The characters, in this case, were more believable for me than those in Gone Girl (and I promise I’ll stop comparing this to Gone Girl now). All five of the central characters arguably suffer from some sort of mental illness, and I think Hawkins grasps this in such an authentic way. When a character was anxious or manic, I felt my pulse race and my reading speed up. When a character was depressed, the reading got slower and I found myself inwardly channeling written emotions. Also, the way Hawkins wrote the thoughts of a character suffering from alcohol addiction felt so incredibly real to me, despite never having suffered from addiction, myself. None of the characters were particularly likeable; they all had their inner demons, but I found myself relating to them all at one point or another.

This book doesn’t have a particularly dense plot; sometimes I would read 40 or 50 pages and discover that nothing of value had really happened. While this would normally frustrate me, I found that it really didn’t in this case. Even though actual things weren’t taking place, the characters’ inner dialogues and stress over uncovering the truth kept me intrigued throughout.

I really need to mention the setting of this novel, because it felt so incredibly real. This might be because I spent three months living in London and could therefore picture exactly what a community on the city’s outskirts would look like. I could also relate to Rachel’s obsession with “Jason and Jess” during her morning and evening commutes because I often found myself picking out the same houses again and again during the over ground legs of my journeys. I actually got chills once in a while when I would recognize the names of train stations or supermarkets. Also, I kept getting pretty strong Broadchurch vibes, for obvious reasons if you’re familiar with the show.

Basically, this was just a really cool book. Not very literary, but definitely thought provoking. It puts you inside the minds of people you may not normally associate with and make them seem more human than they might have otherwise.

Needless to say, while this book is not Gone Girl, if you’re a fan of Gillian Flynn or simply of psychological thrillers, I would definitely recommend this.

Check out The Girl on the Train on Goodreads!

Cinderella (2015) | Film Review

cinderella-2015-movie-posterLast Sunday, I went to see Cinderella with a few family friends, including my friend’s four-year-old cousin, who insisted we all wear tiaras to the theater. In other words, I got to channel my inner Mia Thermopolis for a couple hours. I was happy to see the long-anticipated Frozen short before the movie (which was really cute aside from Kristoff awkwardly professing his love to Anna – just so everyone knew they were still a thing), but I was really just way too excited for Cinderella to start.

Okay, first of all, I’m really, really glad they reproduced the Disney animated film instead of playing off the original Grimm Brothers’ tale, because let’s be honest, it’s super creepy and definitely not for children, and the film was definitely advertised as being child-friendly. So I’m sure there are people who had an issue with that, but I was perfectly fine just watching everything end happily ever after.

Second, the scenery and the sets were absolutely gorgeous. There was one outdoor scene in particular that took place outside the king’s palace that had the most stunning view overlooking the water. From what I could find, it looks like that place might be Black Park in Buckinghamshire, so it really just made me want to phone up my friend who lives there and tell her I’m coming to visit ASAP. They also filmed at Windsor Castle in Berkshire and the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich; I assume both locations were used as sets from the palace, and holy crap, they were amazing. If I wasn’t already having Princess Diaries vibes, that definitely did the trick.

Okay, now let’s talk about the cast, because it’s probably the thing I was most excited about before seeing the movie. First of all, let me make it known that any film involving Helena Bonham Carter is an automatic must-see for me, since she is my queen and I love her in every possible way. Also, any project involving Kenneth Branagh in any way, shape, or form is solid gold. (Gilderoy Lockhart, anyone?) Also, I’ve never really followed Cate Blanchett’s filmography before, but I might have to change that because she gave me legitimate chills as Cinderella’s evil stepmother. And of course, as an honorable mention, I’d only ever seen Richard Madden in Game of Thrones before this, but I would follow those bright, blue eyes to the end of the world and back. In fact, I could probably dedicate an entire blog post to Richard Madden’s eyes, but for the sake of boring you, I’ll move on.

Overall, the film had a really whimsical, daze-like feel to it, which in some cases I find really weird and awkward but in this case I found it kind of awesome. Of course, there were some parts that seemed a little bit off to me, particularly when Prince Charming (aka “Kit”) excitedly leads Cinderella into his secret garden that he’s “never shown anyone before” and proceeds to push her on a giant swing for approximately two seconds before she realizes it’s midnight and runs off. Also, I just couldn’t get on board with the insanely creepy lizards-turned-footmen in the carriage scene, but the carriage itself was gorgeous, so I just put up with it.

So basically, I’d highly recommend this movie. I’m pretty sure once it comes out on DVD it’ll quickly become one of my go-to feel-good movies, since it was just majestic and lovely and, oh yeah, did I mention Richard Madden’s eyes?

CINDERELLA

International Women’s Day | Favorite Books Written by Women

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Today, March 8th, 2015, is International Women’s Day, a day to raise awareness about women’s equality and celebrate the many accomplishments of intelligent, talented, strong women around the world. On average, I tend to read more books written by women than men, so I thought it would be fun and festive to share some of my favorite books by women. Of course, this isn’t even close to being an exhaustive list, but let’s be honest: there are just too many…it would take all day.

  1. The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling. We’ll start off with the most obvious. By now, it’s pretty common knowledge that Jo Rowling is, in fact, a woman. However, the cold, hard truth is that if the front of the books read “Joanne Rowling”, they might not be as beloved as they are today. Even now, more than 10 years after her first book was published, Jo still hasn’t published a book as “Joanne Rowling”. Taking after women like George Eliot and the Bronte sisters, she knew she wouldn’t be taken as seriously writing as a woman. However, above all else, Queen Rowling has proven that it doesn’t take a man to write about a man. Or, in this case, a boy who becomes a man.
  1. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. Be honest: Frankenstein is the perfect example of what society would consider a “man’s book”. It’s horrific, grotesque, and quite accurately describes a man’s descent into madness and a monster’s quest for revenge against the man who demonized him. It is also considered a defining work of Gothic fiction, a genre that is vastly dominated by men. It is also, in my opinion, one of the greatest classic works of literature ever written. And to believe, it was written by a woman!
  1. The Round House by Louise Erdrich. When I read this book for a class called Literature and the Law, I had only previously read Erdrich’s Love Medicine, a collection of short stories with which I was only moderately impressed. The Round House, however, is the winner of the 2012 National Book Award for Fiction, and I totally understand why. It’s the story of a North Dakota Native American reservation, a woman’s rape, and how she and her family deal with the consequences of an assault case in such a small, close-knit community. Moreover, the story is told mainly from the perspective of the victimized woman’s young son, Joe, who cannot comprehend why his mother has grown distant and uninterested. The intense setting combined with the brutally honest perspective of a child made it by far one of my favorite reads of 2013.
  1. Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri. Okay, I’ll be honest; I haven’t completely finished reading this book. I read four out of its eight stories for a short story course last year, including the three final stories, collectively referred to as the “Hema and Kaushik” stories. The individual stories are called “Once in a Lifetime”, “Year’s End”, and “Going Ashore”, and follow a man named Kaushik and a woman named Hema. They start out as children, brought together by their families’ friendship, and progress into adulthood over the course of the stories, their lives intertwining on a few distinct occasions. I’m someone who is usually left underwhelmed by short stories, so the progression of the same familiar characters over this series really appealed to me. I found it more beneficial to read all three together, but they can also be read individually. I’ve never become so attached to characters in such a short period of time, and because of that, Jhumpa Lahiri is a true queen.
  1. Yes Please by Amy Poehler. Of course, a list celebrating women wouldn’t be complete without an ode to my favorite leading-lady-turned-author, Miss Amy Poehler. I got to know her through Saturday Night Live, fell in love with her as Leslie Knope in Parks and Recreation, and secured my passion by reading Yes Please, Amy’s memoir, which was published in late 2014. I really can’t say enough good things about this book; it’s funny, it’s sad, it’s inspiring, and it’s so incredibly relatable. Of course, there’s a fair bit of Hollywood name-dropping, which is inevitable with celebrity memoirs, but when you have friends like Tina Fey and Maya Rudolph, who can blame you? Basically, whether you love Amy or have never heard of her in your life, read this book. I promise you won’t regret it.

Down in the comments, let me know some of your favorite books written by women. Also, for more Women’s Day fun, check out my last post, where I talk about some kickass women in literature.

Happy International Women’s Day!

Ali

Kickass Literary Ladies, Part One

hermioneOkay, so since this is my blog and, you know, feminism, I thought I’d give a special shoutout to my favorite bookish women. However, let’s be real, there are so many of them. I don’t think it would be fair to limit myself to a short list, so I’ve decided to make this a series. Every once in a while, I’ll talk about five of my favorite women in literature from a variety of genres. This week, I thought I’d start with a few obvious ones and a few that might stir some debate.

1. Hermione Granger (from the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling) I mean, how else would I start this list? I first read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone when I was six or seven, and I used to bring it to school disguised as a textbook because I was embarrassed for people to find out that I liked to read. In time I grew to embrace my reading habits, and this was due in no small part to Ms. Granger. Hermione taught me that knowledge is cool, that being brave doesn’t mean you aren’t allowed to be scared, and that having frizzy hair isn’t the end of the world.

2. Jane Eyre (from Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë) Again, this one might be pretty obvious, since Jane Eyre is often considered an early example of a feminist text, but I thought she was too important not to include. To be honest, the first time I read this book, I didn’t care for Jane…I found her annoying and didn’t really get what she saw in Mr. Rochester. (I still don’t, really.) And, to top it all off (SPOILER ALERT), she ends up going against her values and freaking marrying the guy anyway. Needless to say, as an English major, I’ve studied Jane quite a bit since then, and considering the fact that she only marries Rochester once she knows they can exist as equals, I’ve come to realize that she’s actually pretty awesome.

3. Celaena Sardothien (from Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas) Don’t hate me, but I’ve only read the first book in this series so far. Even though some things really irked me, (cough, love triangle, cough) I was still constantly rooting for Celaena. I liked learning about her past and seeing that despite her identity as the world’s most infamous assassin, below the surface there’s a lot more going on. I also admired her ability to be strong and sarcastic and fearless even when she was completely freaking out inside her head. I’m not in the biggest hurry to read the next book, but I’m excited to eventually see where Celaena’s newfound role takes her.

4. Catelyn Stark (from A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin) Okay, so I know this might be an unpopular opinion, and you’re probably thinking “BUT WHAT ABOUT ALL THE OTHER AWESOME LADIES IN WESTEROS?” However, even though I’m up-to-date with the TV show, I’ve still only finished the first book in the series. So yes, while there are a lot of awesome women in Game of Thrones, I really grew to love Catelyn in the first book. Of course, I don’t always agree with her, especially when it comes to her treatment of a certain broody bastard named after the weather condition currently taking place outside my window. However, I have to say, the scene where Catelyn enlists help to take Tyrion Lannister into custody is one of the most badass, triumph-inducing moments I’ve ever witnessed in literature. Four for you, Lady Stark.

5. Brett Ashley (from The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway) TSAR is, in my opinion, one of the most brilliant books ever written, but I can’t help but be frustrated with all the hate its female protagonist receives. In fact, I wrote an entire research paper dispelling the “Brett the Bitch” school of thought. Basically, being indecisive about which man to date and liking to partake in casual sex does not, in any way, make Brett Ashley a bitch. In fact, let’s just stop using the word “bitch” as a way of degrading women altogether. Instead, how about we recognize that Brett is a complex, rather realistic representation of a woman who is struggling to come to terms with what she wants out of life.

Hope you enjoyed! Let me know some of your favorite literary ladies in the comments!

Ali