BOOK REVIEW | Her Body and Other Parties

From the moment I first heard of Her Body and Other Parties, a collection of short stories by Carmen Maria Machado, I wanted to read it. Reading novels written by women and about women is really important to me, and this one in particular called out my name because it had elements of horror, one of my favorite genres of anything, incorporated into each of its short stories.

The collection of short stories in this novel focus on the violence put on women’s bodies, whether by society, other people, or the women themselves. Machado’s other-worldly and slightly unsettling writing fits perfectly with the topics of her stories, making each and every one all the more engrossing.

To be honest, some of the stories worked better for me than others, but I enjoyed reading all of them, something that I can’t say for every short story collection. And while there is the overarching theme of violence on women’s bodies, each story is very distinct, from a re-telling of the story of the girl with the ribbon around her neck, to a paranormal re-imagining of every Law & Order: SVU episode, to a woman’s recollection of all her sexual encounters as the world ends around her.

The stories in this book are unlike any others, and I look forward to reading more of Machado’s beautiful writing and evocative, creative stories. Her Body and Other Parties is also being developed into an anthology TV series, and hopefully, we’ll be seeing that on TV soon!

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BOOK REVIEW | Sharp Objects

As I’ve mentioned before, I love crime/thriller/mystery novels, and Gillian Flynn is one of my favorite authors when it comes to this genre. I had already read her other two books, Gone Girl and Dark Places, and finally got around to reading Sharp Objects this past month.

Sharp Objects follows Camille Preaker, a journalist at a lesser known Chicago paper, who returns to her hometown of Windy Gap, Missouri after eight years to investigate the murder of a young girl and the disappearance of another. While there, she also has to face her mother, Adora, who has never shown any affection for her, and her thirteen-year-old half-sister, Amma, who is a perfect little doll to be coddled by Adora at home, but a mean girl around the town.

Like most thriller/crime novels, this one was pretty easy to read. It was also relatively short, so it’s definitely something you could finish in a couple of sittings if you wanted to.  Gillian Flynn’s writing is very proficient and engaging, so you’re never bored as you go through the novel. I’ve mentioned that I’m not a fan of first person writing, but Flynn does it in a way that it’s not unbearable to read.

The material, however, is definitely very dark and is probably too disturbing for some people to read. If you’re triggered by cutting, abuse, sexualization of preteen girls, and graphic descriptions of violence, I’d say definitely pass on this. It is by no means a comfortable book, even compared to other books of the same genre.

Although I guessed a good portion of what would happen early on in the novel, the twist at the end still came as a bit of a surprise to me. Unfortunately, I think Flynn could’ve done a better job with that twist. Rather than write about it as if Camille was experiencing things in real time like the rest of the book, the twist was revealed in the form of Camille recapping it for the readers. It also felt very abrupt – Flynn built up the story very well until the end, when suddenly it seemed as if there were a rush to end the book.

Overall, I’d highly recommend this novel if you’re a fan of Gillian Flynn and/or crime/thriller novels. I’m really hoping Flynn will come out with a new novel soon…

 

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BOOK REVIEW | The Psychopath Test

 

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The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry, by Jon Ronson, is, to put it simply, a nonfiction book that explores psychopathy, the psychiatric/psychological world, and more. With just that one sentence, it would seem that this book is boring. However, it is anything but.

Ronson takes the readers on a journey, starting with a baffling puzzle sent out to top neurologists in the world. From there, he starts his journey through the titular madness industry, which takes him from prisons to the church of Scientology to conspiracy theorists to the (also titular) psychopath test.

I’m very picky about nonfiction books, not because I’m a snobby reader or anything, but because I get easily bored if the information isn’t presented in a way that’s entertaining to me. I initially picked up this book because I’m very into crime and true crime, and the topic of psychopathy is in that vein. I wasn’t expecting much, but Ronson weaves all of these varying bits of information and anecdotes from his own research for this book that really made The Psychopath Test an easy and enjoyable read.

That being said, this isn’t a book I’d recommend if you’re actually trying to learn about psychopathy – it’s definitely more of a book where, as a reader, you’re just along for the ride as Ronson himself delves into this world, though it does still include a lot of history and facts about psychopathy, mental illnesses, and the madness industry. Ronson really did his research.

Regardless, I highly recommend this book, and I want to look into reading his other books as well.

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BOOK REVIEW | Everything I Never Told You

Everything I Never Told You, by Celeste Ng, is a fiction novel about a mixed-race family living in 1970s small-town Ohio. The story starts with the disappearance and death of the middle child, sixteen-year-old Lydia, and from there, explores how each member of the family deals with the grief while also delving into each character and their relationship with the other members of the family.

This is a type of book that I normally would not have much interest in reading, but with my desire to support an Asian-American author and the book’s appearance on multiple must-read lists when it was first released, I felt like it was a no-brainer for me to give this book a try.

(Minor spoilers ahead)

First of all, I was actually pleasantly surprised to find out quite quickly that the book was about a mixed-race family. The book is marketed as about a Chinese-American family, and while that is still true, I appreciate that the book also has a focus on the struggle of being a mixed-race family in the 1970s.

Otherwise, to be honest, I had mixed feelings about the book. It started off strong, when it focused on how each of the family members dealt with their grief and each character’s struggles throughout their life. I felt deeply with the characters, each instance of sexism or racism each of them experiencing cutting deeply as they reminded me of some of my own experiences growing up as an Asian-American woman. I felt the weight each child had on their shoulders, whether from their parents’ expectations or from the pressure they put on themselves to succeed. At one point, the characters’ experiences became all too real to me that I actually considered putting the book down and never picking it back up. In the end, I managed to push myself to finish the book.

The book is a beautifully written one that is pretty easy to read, so it didn’t take much for me to breeze through it after a couple weeks’ break so that the sadness in the book wouldn’t weigh on me. As I read more though, I found myself also breezing through it so I could be done with it once and for all. While the themes that I previously mentioned continued throughout the book very wonderfully, the book also became a melodrama. The mother’s wordless disappearance from the family and the father’s infidelity with his graduate assistant are just two of examples of what I think are absurd plot points in relation to the novel. It just felt that anything dramatic introduced into the plot was done so solely to make the story seem more dramatic, not necessarily to value to the story. There’s also a frustrating lack in communication between all of the family members, to the point where I wanted to  give up on the book because it was that ludicrous.

Overall, I would’ve enjoyed this book much more had it not contained the melodramatics. This is, of course, my own opinion, which may be heavily influenced by the fact that I’m just normally not a fan of this type of book. That being said, I still would recommend this book to people, just with the caveat that you have to be ready for some soap opera type drama.

Have you read this book before? If so, let me know what you thought of it!

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BOOK REVIEW | Stillhouse Lake

Reading crime/thriller novels is my guilty pleasure. When I’m in the mood to read but don’t really want to use my brain, I love diving into these novels, where the most I have to think about is whether the protagonist is going to survive or who is the killer. These are especially nice to read when I’m traveling, and, on my most recent trip, Stillhouse Lake by Rachel Caine was the book of choice.

(No spoilers ahead, because it’s that type of book 🙂 )

The premise really drew me in because it was pretty different. Rather than the usual protagonists in these novels, like a law enforcement agent or victim, Stillhouse Lake about the ex-wife of a serial killer, hiding away from those that felt like she deserved punishment for her ex-husband’s crimes.

The prologue is in third person point of view, but the rest of the novel is in the first person point of view of Gwen Proctor, or Gina Royal, as she was previously known. I generally do not like novels that are in first person, but the author worked well with it. Gwen was a well written character too, so the first person point of view wasn’t too irritating to read. Also, seeing how far she had come, from an easily manipulated, ignorant housewife, to a warrior mom fiercely determined to protect her children at all costs, I really became invested in her survival.

Overall, this was a very entertaining novel. The only criticism I have of it is the cliffhanger at the end (not really a spoiler, because there’s a sequel coming out). It felt pretty evident that Gwen’s ex-husband breaking out of prison was purely to introduce a whole second novel, and this story, at least to me, definitely is a lot better as a standalone story.

Regardless, if you’re looking for some mindless reading, I’d definitely recommend this book!

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BOOK REVIEW | Sphinx

I first heard about Sphinx, by Anne Garréta, a while back when Jenn Im on Youtube talked about it in her favorites. The premise intrigued me – it was a romance between the narrator and their lover, A***, and the author didn’t use gender markers for either character throughout the book. I was curious how the author accomplished this linguistic feat, so I purchased almost immediately. However, my reading had been slow in the last few months, so it wasn’t until just last week that I finished this book.

(This review will not include spoilers.)

From the first pages of the book, I already felt that it was extremely well written and translated. The narrator’s attitude was also established very early in the book; you can tell from early pages that they are in a state of ennui, aimlessly wandering and seemingly without purpose.

However, as I read on, I felt myself being unimpressed with how the author kept the gender of the protagonists unknown. In the English translation, this linguistic challenge was fixed by using more names than pronouns: often times, you’ll see “A***” multiple times on one page because there wasn’t really any other way around gendered pronouns before singular they became more acceptable in modern English.

As such, I increasingly began to think of this novel as any other beautifully written yet lackluster romance. By halfway through the novel, all I wanted to do was rush through it so I could move onto the next book. When I finally finished, I even felt relieved, since, typically, I don’t like reading romances at all. Before closing the book, I saw the translator’s note at the very end and decided to give it a quick scan. I’m glad I did, because the translator’s note completely changed how I looked at the book.

Emma Ramadan, the translator, does a deep dive into the specifics of the French language that make this book so revolutionary. French is a very gendered language, and the linguistic decisions that Garréta made affected the very characters of the book. For example, she used more passive voice to avoid revealing gender, which in turn helped shape the narrator into an aimless wanderer with no purpose. Essentially, the linguistic restraints that she put on her own writing directly affected the characters, their relationship, and the story as a whole.

I would definitely recommend this book – it’s a short read at only 120 pages, and you get to experience the product of a massive linguistic accomplishment. If you understand French, I would recommend that you get that instead of the English, so that you can experience this book in its full glory.

Have you read this book before? Do you know any other books that accomplish some linguistic feat? Let me know in the comments!

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BOOK REVIEW | Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget

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Ironically enough, I’m finishing up a glass of red zinfindel as I write a review of this book, Blackout: The Things I Drank to Forget, which is about the author Sarah Hepola’s her alcoholism and her road to recovery.

Generally, I don’t veer towards memoirs, but the title of this book really caught my eye, and when there was a Kindle eBook sale on this book, I thought “why not?” and decided to give it a go. I’m glad I did, because it was a great read, and a book I would recommend to all of my friends.

(Spoilers ahead)

The book is a pretty easy read. If you wanted to, you could probably read it in one sitting. It helps that the author’s writing is very entertaining. She imbues humor, openness, and honesty into her anecdotes and thoughts, and most importantly, I felt a sense of camaraderie while I read through her life story and her struggles.

Throughout the novel, Hepola mentions a few times that one reason she loved alcohol was the courage it gave her – the courage to be who she wanted to be, a person without inhibitions, who said and did whatever she wanted. As someone who was shy and socially awkward growing up, I related so much to her. In college, there were definitely times when I would drink to become a more outgoing person that would be able to befriend people more easily. She reminisces about how she would try to match her male friends drink for drink, as if that would win over their hearts and make her seem like the Ultimate Cool Girl in their eyes. College me, and I’m sure many other girls, have had that mentality at some point in their lives.

Hepola also brings up a few ideas throughout her novel of why she, and other women like her, drink so much nowadays, and they reminded me of a couple of articles I read a few months ago, one from Quartz and one from Vice. In both her novel and these two articles, it’s highlighted that women are drinking more nowadays due to the stress of unrealistic expectations – we’re expected to be both an amazing mother and a kickass professional, both pretty and intelligent, always happy, always down for anything. So, while Hepola’s story of alcoholism is her own, it’s also a window into the life and struggles of the twenty-first century woman.

There’s so much more I could say about why this book is so great, but I think you guys should pick up this book and experience it for yourselves 🙂 I wouldn’t say it’s life changing, but it’s definitely a fun, poignant read and great look into the life of the author.

If you’ve read this book before, let me know what you thought in the comments below!

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