Book Review: Commonwealth

Book Review: Commonwealth

“Isn’t that what everyone wants, just for a moment to be unencumbered?”

As I mentioned in my August Favorites blog post, I recently finished reading Ann Patchett‘s novel Commonwealth, and thoroughly enjoyed the read. Today I am going to give you all a glance at what the story is about, and what I liked about it.

In a nutshell, Commonwealth is the story of an unconventional blended family, including six step siblings who form a lasting bond with each other through shared summer vacations spent at their parents and step parents’ homes, and their shared resentment towards their often negligent parents. For a book that follows the lives of so many characters (the six children, four parents, and other family members and significant others that appear throughout the story), each character is surprisingly well-developed. The more you read, the more you get to know each of these people and understand who they are and where they’ve been.

The story spans a total of five decades of time, jumping between the present and the past with each chapter, sometimes jumping within a single chapter. For some, these jumps in time may be a bit too much. I will admit I was confused at times, and it was difficult to keep each character and storyline straight in my mind. (“Wait, whose parent is this again? Who is this person married to?”) However, for me this made the story more interesting, and I enjoyed the challenge of keeping track of everything in my head. It was also fun to read about the characters as children, and then find out where their life went as an adult.

Commonwealth really picks up pace when one of the daughters, Franny, begins an affair with a well-known author, and tells him the stories from her childhood, which he proceeds to use as the inspiration for his newest bestselling novel which he names “Commonwealth.” Though he always claims the story is not based on Franny’s life, it’s clear it is, and the book has a negative impact on her siblings, mainly her youngest step brother, Albie, who learns painful things about his childhood through reading the novel.

Overall I thought Patchett’s book was a sharp and realistic portrayal of family ties and the struggles people face throughout life. Though the story is fairly realistic, it still has the level of drama and slight exaggeration needed to make an enjoyable read. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who enjoys strong character development and intriguing life stories, as well as books that span multiple decades of time.

Let me know in the comments if you’ve read this book, or any of Ann Patchett’s other novels. If not, what was the last book you read and loved?

Book Review: Mrs. Poe

Book Review: Mrs. Poe

“I find that the thoughts spoken between the lines are the most important parts of a poem or story.”

Welcome to my latest book review. Today I will be talking about a novel called Mrs. Poe, by Lynn Cullen. As always, I like to recommend another book review for you all to read in case you want to get another opinion on the novel. Book Riot wrote a good one, which you can check out here. But first, read on for my take on the book below.

One of the quotes on the cover reads “Vivid…Atmospheric….Don’t miss it.” I think those first two words are the perfect description of the book. Lynn Cullen does a great job of writing in a way that lets us imagine the places and people in the story, as if we are there ourselves. Set in New York City in the 1840’s, there are plenty of beautiful dresses and lavish dinner parties filling the pages, which I think would make this story into a great play or movie.

Mrs. Poe follows the life of Frances Osgood, a poet trying to make a name for herself, and her forbidden romance with one Edgar Allen Poe (maybe you’ve heard of him?) Throughout the novel you hear about other well-known writers from that era, as well as fun facts about them which was interesting to read. I felt like I learned a lot while still enjoying the story, which is difficult to accomplish in a work of fiction.

While it took some time to pick up, the plot definitely thickens towards the middle of the book when suspense and intrigue starts to build due to Poe’s wife, who appears to have caught on to the affair between Poe and Osgood. Without giving anything away, small details and coincidences start to appear which makes the reader wonder if Mrs. Poe is plotting something terrible, or just a crazy, jealous wife.

Lynn Cullen clearly did a lot of research to make sure everything that happens in this fictional story could have happened in real life, even if we have no way of knowing if any of it actually did. She combed through all of the letters and poems written by Poe and Osgood, and about them, to get inspiration and find historical facts she could use for her book. I think all of this hard work paid off, as the story feels extremely realistic while still giving us the excitement that is often lacking in true stories.

I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys period pieces, as well as stories that offer a lot of detail and descriptions with which to let your imagination run wild. I would also recommend it to any literary enthusiasts out there, as you will likely learn a thing or two about some of your favorite writers from that time.

Thanks for reading! Let me know in the comments if you’ve read this book, or what the last book you read was. I am always on the lookout for something to add to my must-read list!

 

 

 

Book Review: It Gets Worse

Book Review: It Gets Worse

“The problems you have as a kid will seem ridiculous when you get older because bigger and worse problems will come along. But you will learn to deal with them easier as you grow up.”

Welcome to another book review! It’s been a while since my last one, but I actually just joined a book club, so that should help keep me on track with reading more often. Right now we are reading I am Malala, which is quite different than the book I will be reviewing for you all today. But the one element that connects the two is that they are both non-fiction.

Shane Dawson is someone that I have been familiar with for a while from watching his YouTube videos. His humor is outrageous and extremely self-depricating, so I knew his book would at least be entertaining.

It turned out to be much more than simply entertaining. I thought he did a great job of having a good mix of humor and seriousness. He covered some heavy topics such as his past eating disorder and his grandma passing away, and somehow managed to have me laughing in one sentence and covering my mouth in horror in the next. He has an understanding of the fact that even the most serious of topics have a grain of humor buried within them, and he tactfully extracts that humor at just the right moments.

His book was also extremely inspirational, which was something I didn’t necessarily expect. In one of my favorite chapters in the book, Human Trash, Shane tells a story about making a film for his class in high school, and how his teacher freaked out and turned off the film halfway through, saying it was terrible and that he was disappointed in Shane for making something so awful. Even at that age, Shane already knew he wanted to be a filmmaker, and the teacher’s harsh words really hurt him.  However, there was someone who disagreed with the teacher’s critique. The school principal saw the movie and called Shane into his office, and he had this to say:

“Shane, throughout your life some people aren’t going to get what you do. They won’t open their eyes to see the potential you have and see all the greatness you have in that head of yours. But there will also be people who do. People that get you. And I’m one of them.”

Shane says this conversation has stuck with him ever since. I think it’s so awesome that the principal not only understood him, but took the time to make sure he got the reassurance he needed to keep reaching for his dreams.

One of my other favorite chapters was the very last one, which was written by Shane’s mother. He writes that she always wanted to be an author, but was never able to follow through on that dream since she was a busy single mother. Shane chose to give his mom the gift of officially becoming a published author by letting her write the final chapter in his book. She wrote about the first time she saw him perform in a school play, and how the audience loved him and gave him a standing ovation. She said she had a feeling that night that in the future he would be impacting millions of people, not just one theater. And he certainly has, with more than 16 million total subscribers across his YouTube channels!

Overall I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who likes a good laugh (particularly if you don’t mind crude, irreverent humor), and who enjoys reading personal, true stories. Even if you’ve never heard of Shane Dawson, you will still enjoy reading it. He is honest and hilarious, and the book is a quick read that will have you both laughing and close to tears.

Hope you enjoyed my book review! Leave a comment below if you’ve read the book, or just let me know what the last book you read was.

Book Review: An Abundance of Katherines

Book Review: An Abundance of Katherines

It’s been a while since my last book review because unfortunately I haven’t had much time for reading lately. But the past few weekends I was able to pick up this book again and finish it, so I wanted to take the time to write a quick review for you all!

An Abundance of Katherine is one of John Green’s books (the author of The Fault in our Stars, Looking for Alaska and Paper Town) and to be honest, I didn’t like it quite as much as those three. It’s not that I disliked it, I just didn’t find myself quite as captivated as I was with his other novels. Because of that, I thought it would be fun to write a pros and cons list about the book, so you can get a feel for what I did and didn’t enjoy about it.

Pros:
  1. The characters are very detailed, vivid and well thought-out. I could picture all of them clearly, and they each had their own unique style of dialogue. I definitely think that is something that John Green excels at: building strong characters that we can relate to and feel like we know personally.
  2. The book had a very unique element to it, which was that the main character was a “genius” or “child prodigy”. He had an obsession with being important and being well-known for something in life. He essentially wanted to become famous for inventing a theorem to predict the outcome of a romantic relationship. So the book had a lot of math and science in it, which I surprisingly enjoyed despite the fact that I was terrible at both of those subjects in school.
Cons:
  1. Not much happened in the plot. Now, I’m not the type of person that needs an extremely action-packed plot, but I do like for there to be some sort of adventure at some point, like when Hazel and Gus traveled to Amsterdam in TFIOS. I felt that’s one of the elements this book was lacking.
  2. Though the main characters were brilliant, as I mentioned above, I did feel that there could have been a few more supporting players in the story. There were a few minor characters, but they never felt fully flushed out to me. I think John Green could have given a bit more detail about some of them, and maybe even added in a few other characters to the mix.

I know this didn’t give a plot summary at all, and you’re probably thinking “but what is the book even about?” I just wanted to do something different with this review. If you’d like to read more about the actual story, you can check out this book review.

Leave a comment below letting me know if you’ve read this book, or any of John Green’s other books. I’d also love to hear any suggestions you have for the next book I should read! You can take a look at my past book reviews to get an idea of the kind of novels I enjoy.

Book Review: The Girl On The Train

Book Review: The Girl On The Train

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I’m back with a much-overdue book review! If you read my October Favorites blog, you’ll know the I loved the book The Girl on the Train, and have been planning on writing a review of it since, well, October. So without further adieu, let’s jump right in!

“I have lost control over everything. Even the places in my head.”

The story follows a thirty-something named Rachel, who leads a rather depressing lifestyle that is hugely made up of lying to her roommate, drinking excessively, and crossing boundaries with her ex husband, Tom, and his new wife, Anna. As a form of escape, she obsesses over watching a certain couple every morning as she passes their house on the train. She thinks they look like the perfect couple, and invents an entire backstory and life for them, complete with what their names would be and what careers they have.

This alternate reality is shattered when the woman, who turns out to be named Megan, goes missing. Rachel feels somehow drawn to the mystery and feels like she needs to find out what happened, even though in actuality she has no real tie to the couple. The book is a suspense thriller, and you are taken along for a ride as Rachel and other characters try to figure out the mystery.

The two main aspects that I enjoyed the most about this book were the changes in perspective and the changes in time. Basically the majority of the chapters were from Rachel’s perspective, but Paula Hawkins also threw in chapters from Megan and Anna’s perspectives as well, which only added to the confusion and suspense in the plot. Also, each chapter jumped around in time, making it even more difficult to decipher what was happening.

If you’re the type of person who loves books that really make you think and keep you on your toes the entire way through, then you are sure to be entertained by this book! It’s actually being made into a movie with an awesome cast, and I can’t wait to see how that turns out. I think it has great potential to be a very gripping movie if done correctly. Think Gone Girl.

If you want another opinion on the book, I really enjoyed Janet Maslin’s New York Times review. Let me know in the comments if you’ve ever read this book and what you thought, or if you’ve read another good book lately that you’d recommend! I’m always on the hunt for new books to read.

Book Review: The Circle

Book Review: The Circle

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We are not meant to know everything, Mae. Did you ever think that perhaps our minds are delicately calibrated between the known and the unknown? That our souls need the mysteries of night and the clarity of day?

I’m back with my second book review (check out my first if you haven’t already).  This time the book is a novel, and is much more serious and thrilling than Amy Poehler’s book, though there were some humorous aspects as well. The book is called The Circle, and is written by Dave Eggers. Quotes including “chilling”, “prophetic” and “powerful” adorn the cover, and I couldn’t agree more with those descriptors.

The story does not include any specific dates, but I imagine it to be set 5 to 10 years in the future. Mae is a woman in her mid-twenties, who has finally landed her dream job at the biggest and fastest growing technology company in the world: The Circle. The company has invented a completely new social networking site called Zing, which has replaced all other social sites and is basically a combination of all of them. You also only have one online persona; one username and one password for everything from banking to email. This eliminates the possibility of cyber bullying because there is no more anonymity. No more fake profiles. Sounds pretty nice, doesn’t it?

My sister Caroline (who actually read the book this summer for college and recommended I read it) put it very nicely. She said: “All of the ideas and concepts in the book make sense and are brilliant ideas, until you look more closely at them and learn more information.” This is exactly right. The plot is a bit slow at first, and you are given a lot of details that seem pointless, but towards the middle everything starts to build and suddenly you realize that this company is not at all what you thought it was. Small details jump out as red flags from the beginning, and then by the end you want to scream at Mae to wake up and realize what is happening!

So what is happening, you may be wondering? Well, in an effort to not give any major spoilers and ruin the entire book (because you really should read it) I will talk about one of the main themes in the book and how it plays out through the story, leaving out specific plot points and just talking generally. That theme is privacy. From fairly early on, it is apparent that privacy concerns as we know them today have vanished, at least at this company. The Circle seems to be a bit obsessed with being open and transparent online. Two of their slogans are: Privacy is theft! and Secrets are lies! 

We all have that friend on social media who shares way too much information, whether that is the status updates about her breakup, Instagram photos of every single meal she eats, or frequent angry tweets about her political views. By all means, share as much or as little as you’d like, but we all know that person who seems to go over the line, am I right? Anyway, imagine that instead of this being one person, it is now the majority. That’s right, everyone has drunk the cool aide and transformed into classic over-sharers. And what’s more, people seem to think it is normal. 

oversharing

The idea of over-sharing and lack of privacy translates onto the video medium as well, and although there is no YouTube anymore, it reminded me a lot of vloggers on YouTube who share intimate details of their life for millions of viewers to see. Without giving too much away, imagine that the idea of vlogging caught on to such an extent that everyone, from an average person to a Congressman, was sharing their life through video, except that they were live streams and not edited the way vlogs are today. The two slogans I mentioned become increasingly important, to the extent where people are expected to share their life with everyone else at all times, with no secrets and no privacy. Ever.

This book really made me think about how addicted we all are to social media and technology, and how realistic it actually seems for the events depicted in this novel to come true. Why is it that we feel the need to share so much with the world? And why do we love to learn so much about others? I am just as guilty as the next person. I love watching vlogs, and I can feel a sick obsession growing inside me to learn more about the people behind the camera. And I obviously like sharing stories from my own life online, because I have a blog.

However, could it be that we are robbing ourselves of fully living in the moment, if all of our days are spent thinking about the best status update or the catchiest caption for a photo? I went to ACL Music Festival this past weekend, and the whole time I could feel my hand itching to grab my phone and take a picture or send a snapchat; something to prove to the world that I had been there. But then I thought “why not just enjoy it and save the memory in my mind rather than online?” And believe it or not, I didn’t end up taking a single picture or video. I am oddly proud of my restraint.

 

Let me know what you thought of this book if you read it, or any of your thoughts on the themes of privacy, social media addiction and over-sharing! I’d love to hear your opinions. And as always, follow me if you enjoyed this blog, and connect with me on social media if you’d like! Yes, I do see the irony in this statement. 😛

Book Review: Yes Please

Book Review: Yes Please

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“I think we should stop asking people in their 20s what they ‘want to do’ and start asking them what they don’t want to do. Instead of asking students to ‘declare their major’ we should ask students to ‘list what they will do anything to avoid.’ It just makes a lot more sense.”

Hey everyone! Today’s blog post is a book review of Amy Poehler’s Yes Please. If I wasn’t already, I can now say in full confidence that I am a huge fan of Amy. And by huge fan I mean I want to become her best friend and am plotting a way to make that happen ASAP. (Please leave suggestions for how to make this happen in the comments). In order to avoid writing an entire book of my own, I have chosen three specific parts or passages to tell you all about. Hope you enjoy!

Amy begins the book by explaining how difficult it is to write a book. The first sentence of the book is: “I like hard work and I don’t like pretending things are perfect.” I loved this quote because I thought it captured the essence of what a lot of celebrities seem to lack: authenticity. Many celebrity authors make it look easy, as if they just sat down one day and hammered out the entire book while sipping on a cocktail and staring at the sunset rising over a beach. But not Amy. She flat out tells us it was hard, she wanted to give up many times, and she frequently hit road blocks. I think this first chapter really sets the scene for the book and tells the reader that what they are about to read contains 0% B.S.

One of my favorite parts is when Amy explains the difference between career and creativity, using the metaphors of a bad boyfriend and a good boyfriend, respectively. She says that you should practice the art of ambivalence when it comes to your career, and let go of wanting it so bad. “Your career won’t take care of you. It won’t call you back or introduce you to its parents. Your career will openly flirt with other people while you’re around.” In contrast, she says that creativity is: “…connected to your passions, that light inside you that drives you. That joy that comes when you do something you love.” I really liked this analogy because, as you may have seen in my last blog post, I have been putting a lot of pressure on myself to find the “perfect job.” And thanks to Amy, I have come to realize that your career is not the most important thing in life, and it will never make you truly happy the way creativity will.

The final part that I want to talk about is towards the end of the book, when Amy describes her theory about time travel. And no, it has nothing to do with Back to the Future. She believes that you can travel in time with people, places and things. You can achieve this by living in the moment and paying attention to the little things in life. She goes on to tell three stories, each one corresponding to one of the three types of time travel. She writes about a piano that was at her grandparent’s house growing up, and how it now sits in her home and is played by her two boys, reminding her of her grandparents and allowing her to travel back to the times that she played it in her grandparent’s house as a child. I loved this concept and I think that it is something we should all take the time to think about. Slow down and appreciate each moment of each day, because you never know what could end up being a precious memory when you’re older.

I know that wasn’t exactly a clear recounting of what the book was about or what to expect from it, but I hope you enjoyed hearing about some of my favorite parts. And who knows, maybe I sparked your interest enough to get you to go out and buy the book! I promise you won’t be disappointed.