The Late Bloomer’s Club by Louise Miller

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Hello, World!

I recently got a notification from Goodreads that I met my year-long reading goal, which was to read 12 books. So far this summer, I’ve read nine books. That’s more than I’ve ever read during summer and more than I’ve read for fun in a long time. When I realized Louise Miller had a new book coming out so soon after her first book, I was so excited. I read The City Baker’s Guide to Country Living last December and fell in love with it. I loved Guthrie, Vermont, the cast of characters, and the writing. It felt cozy and warm and happy.

So, when her new book came out I went and bought it immediately and added it to my August TBR. I was not disappointed. While I like her first novel a little better, I still really enjoyed this story. Following Nora Huckleberry, the owner of the Miss Guthrie Diner, this is a book about sisters, finding yourself late in life, and loving again after a failed marriage. It was hard for me to fully relate to Nora, as we don’t have similar experiences, but I still really loved her character and wanted her to succeed. I loved that she was strong and independent and compassionate and loving. What I liked about this story was it had themes of starting over and loss, but also loving again and not being afraid to venture out into the world again. So many of us get comfortable being alone, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t lonely.

Bon Appetit said that Miller’s first novel was, essentially, Gilmore Girls. This may explain my deep appreciation and love for her stories. As my longtime readers know, Gilmore Girls is my favorite show of all time. I adore Guthrie, with its cozy vibes and eccentric but deeply connected community. I love Miller’s metaphors and similes. The way she compares experiences is so honest and accurate. When reading her stories, I find I have trouble putting them down. Her novels are, in my opinion, more character driven. There is always a plot and a good plot that works itself out in an authentic way, but its the characters that keep me turning the page. I’m desperate to know what happens to them and where their stories are going.

If you want the coziest summer read, I highly recommend this book! I also will, once again, recommend Miller’s first novel. Both are seriously the coziest reads I’ve ever read. It’s almost like a Hallmark holiday movie but one thousand times less cheesy and more real. Until now, I’ve read books where I liked the setting, but the way Miller describes Guthrie makes you feel like you’re there, enjoying the beauty of rural Vermont. It makes you crave a slower, calmer life that is simple but so full.

What are you reading?

Truly,

Callie leigh

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Ghosted by Rosie Walsh

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Hello, World.

I recently finished my first August book, which was Ghosted by Rosie Walsh. I’d heard really great things about this book, and loved the episode of “No Thanks We’re Booked” where Katie and Mollie interviewed Walsh. I recently joined Book of the Month club, and I’m so excited. I wanted to join for roughly a year and I never thought I’d be able to read enough to justify the subscription, but after reading so much this summer, I want to make reading for fun a bigger part of my daily life. If that means waking up a bit earlier, so be it. I decided to sign up when there was a special where you got a bonus credit, so I got two books for the price of the subscription. I also love that you can skip months (which is partially why I ended up going with this subscription). Anyway, Ghosted was my pick and The Summer Wives was my bonus book.

Ghosted was so cute! The perfect light, summer read that starts out addressing the ghosting trend in modern dating that turns into a romance (a complicated one, but a romance). It’s hard to discuss this book without giving away spoilers, so my review probably won’t be as in-depth as it usually is! When I started this book, I immediately liked the characters, but it did feel a bit slow for a portion of the beginning. However, once I hit the fifty-page mark, it was such a page-turner. I appreciated this book because all the plot-twists actually felt like twists. Usually, I can predict where a book is going, but with this one as soon as I thought I knew, it went somewhere else that still felt true to the story. I don’t like twists that seem really out of left field but I also don’t love when I already guessed what was happening. So, know that if you read Ghosted, and think you know what’s coming, you most likely don’t! This makes the reading experience far more fun.

Something I enjoyed about this book was the protagonist is older, and successful, and intelligent, and still does some crazy stuff when she’s ghosted. I think Walsh addresses really well the panic and self-doubt that comes with being ghosted and how hard it can be with how much social media stalking someone can do. We can get answers so easily, but usually, the information we find just makes things worse. Still, even when it’s perfectly obvious our date didn’t’ die, lose his phone, or fall off a cliff on his way home, we can convince ourselves something must have happened, something other than he just didn’t pick up the phone. Dating is rough and it’s even harder when we can check whether the person is alive and well and just choosing not to reach out. Also, having so much access sometimes sends even the most rational, confident people in a downward spiral. I really enjoyed how this book highlighted dating and ghosting and self-doubt, and how they intersect and interact.

This being my first BOTM pick, I was very happy and looking forward to the months ahead! I also recommend Ghosted if you like romances and want to read a thoughtful book.

Truly,

Callie leigh

 

She Regrets Nothing by Andrea Dunlop

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Hello, World.

I am so excited about this review because this book was a bit lighter than some of the previous reading I’ve done this summer. She Regrets Nothing is Andrea Dunlop’s second novel, and now I’m hoping to pick up a copy of her first soon. Her writing is captivating and fun and kept me turning pages so quickly. Usually I’m a slow reader, I like to absorb a story slowly, really enjoy the words, but this book kept me guessing I wanted so badly to know where the story was headed, that I blew through 20 or 40 pages during my morning reading session and 60 or 80 pages during my after work reading session.

I was seeing this book all over the Bookstagram corner of Instagram in February and March, but I was still on a book-buying freeze. Then, however, Alyssa of @sweptawaybybooks announced that she was giving away a signed copy of the novel. I entered, thinking I probably wouldn’t win and moved on. Then I got a DM that I’d won! Two days before I left for my DC summer, the book arrived at my home, signed with a little note from Dunlop. I had already purchased some other summer books, so decided to get through them first (1, 2, 3, 4, 5) before starting this one. Once I picked this novel up, I couldn’t put it down.

If you’re wondering what it’s about, the synopsis is as follows:

When Laila Lawrence becomes an orphan at twenty-three, the sudden loss unexpectedly introduces her to three glamorous cousins from New York who show up unannounced at her mother’s funeral. The three siblings are scions of the wealthy family from which Laila’s father had been estranged long before his own untimely demise ten years before.

Two years later, Laila has left behind her quiet life in Grosse Point, Michigan to move to New York City, landing her smack in the middle of her cousins’ decadent world. As the truth about why Laila’s parents became estranged from the family patriarch becomes clear, Laila grows ever more resolved to claim what’s rightfully hers. Caught between longing for the love of her family and her relentless pursuit of the lifestyle she feels she was unfairly denied, Laila finds herself reawakening a long dead family scandal—not to mention setting off several new ones—as she becomes further enmeshed in the lives and love affairs of her cousins. But will Laila ever, truly, belong in their world? Sly and sexy, She Regrets Nothing is a sharply observed and utterly seductive tale about family, fortune, and fate—and the dark side of wealth.

In my words, it’s about a Laila Lawrence, a twenty-three year old who will do just about anything for security, belonging, and comfort. She strikes me as a more mature Jenny Humphrey (in season one of Gossip Girl, not the seasons when she lost it). Once the full cast of characters was introduced, I had so much fun with the story. I kept waiting to see who could be trusted, who was merely there to serve plot, and who was there to stand in for a stereotype. Though I really didn’t like Laila, she’s pretty cold-hearted, I found myself wanting her to redeem herself with her family and have some semblance of home. My favorite character, the one I found to be the most genuine, was Liberty, Laila’s older, literary agent cousin. Some characters made me roll my eyes and others made me want to yell “get over yourself!” but overall, the group was a fun one to follow.

Ultimately this is a story of ambition, sex, and upper-class wealth in New York City. While a lot of people are, for good reason, comparing this book to Gossip Girl, I was getting major Revenge vibes while reading. Laila has a card to play, but she soon realizes the table at which she’s playing is a bit big for her, a bit out of reach, and just slightly too secluded for her to really find her footing on her chair. She orchestrates her life around the fact that she knows a secret and wants to get to the bottom of why she was denied a life she thinks she should have had. In that way, it reminded me of Revenge.

This book is the perfect combination of light and fun while also discussing some really real issues. For example, the book discusses, in pretty good detail, the double standards for men and women and the age gap in relationships and who should hold what role. I liked Cameron and Liberty’s relationship because it felt so much like how this would actually go (up to a point). Liberty’s ambition and drive is what draws Cameron in, but later is what he expects her to tone down so as to not outshine him. This, and so many other moments, highlight that regardless of class the role women are expected to play is often one of the ambitious but willing-to-comprise woman.

This read was so much fun in that it felt like Gossip Girl for grown-ups with a heavy dose of Revenge. I kept wanting to find out people’s motivations and who, ultimately, was keeping the largest secret. I will say, some people had massive issues with the Act Three twist in this novel. While I was kind of like, “hmm seems random,” I didn’t feel it was completely out of left field. Given the already high stakes in the book, it seemed to fit. However, I will say the last few chapters kind of felt a bit disconnected as they shifted focus. I’d been concerned about Laila and her story for most the book, and suddenly I found myself hearing from one of the, previously seeming, lesser characters. I would have liked to experience the ending through Laila, but I understand why the last few chapters focused on a different character. Still, despite this twist, I loved the read and would recommend it!

Truly,
Callie leigh

July TBR

 

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Hello, World.

I’m here to share my July to-be-read list! Below are the three novels I hope to tackle this month.

She Regrets Nothing by Andrea Dunlop | What happens when you’re at a relatives funeral and family members you’ve never heard of, much less met, show up? Dazzled by the glittering relatives hailing from NYC and the intrigue associated with them, Laila Lawrence goes to NYC to uncover the world she’s never known in the wealthy family she’s been deprived of throughout her life. A story of family dynamics, long-held secrets, and self-discovery, this book is Gossip Girl for the early twenties woman.

I’m so excited to read this! I actually won my copy of this in a Giveaway from @sweptawaybybooks Instagram account. So, thank you to Alyssa, who runs the account, and Dunlop, who sent me my signed copy! This book seems to have all the elements that usually make me reach for a book, so I’m so ready to start it. Also, I’ve read a lot of heavy books this summer, so this one seems like the light, dramatic one I need.

Euphoria by Lily King | Recommended by Stephanie Danler, author of Sweetbitter, I wasn’t sure I would pick this up immediately but made a mental note to read it. I originally planned to read Harvard Square by Andre Aciman this month, but because I have no mailing address this summer, I must rely on bookstores to purchase books. There is an Amazon Books in Georgetown (so cool!), so I popped in to pick up Harvard Square and The Lost Vintage. However, I could only find one. I then spotted Euphoria, which seemed like a fairly quick read. So, I added it to my July TBR. Set in 1933, it follows a love triangle among three anthropologists studying together in New Guinea. I’m very curious to read this, as I know Danler thoroughly enjoyed it!

The Lost Vintage by Ann Mah | After seeing this on the Instagram account @butthechildrenlovebooks, I was intrigued. I’ve been on this wanderlust kick lately where I watch all my favorite movies about American abroad (Under the Tuscan SunThe HolidayEat Pray Love, etc.). I love any story about family, coming-of-age, wine, and Tuscany. So, this sounds like the perfect blend (pun intended). Sweetbitter is one of my favorite novels, so when I saw it compared to that novel, I knew I had to pick it up, The Goodreads blurb describes the book as:

Sweetbitter meets The Nightingale in this page-turning novel about a woman who returns to her family’s ancestral vineyard in Burgundy and unexpectedly uncovers a lost diary, an unknown relative, and a secret her family has been keeping since World War II.”

For those who remember I promised not to buy new books, I received an Amazon gift card that I used to purchase Euphoria and The Lost Vintage! I’m so looking forward to reading some more “fun” reads! I’ve been on a reading kick and loving all the books I chose this summer, so I’m hoping to continue that.

I’m currently a bit behind on my June TBR, so I hope to finish An American Marriage this weekend and then start the next slate of reads! My second to last week in June was a marathon, which hindered my ability to read as much as previous weeks, which is why I’m behind on An American Marriage, but from what I can tell, if I have a few hours, I’ll blow through it.

Looking forward, I will probably try to get through four to five books in August, as I’ll be done working and home with my family. I tend to read a ton when home because my family goes to bed early and there are days by the pool! For July, the month already looks a bit hectic, so I know I’ll want to be realistic about how much time I will have to read. I also want to soak up my time in D.C.

What’re you reading?

Truly,

Callie leigh

The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer

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Hello, World.

When deciding what to read this summer, I looked for books that were popular among readers whose opinions I admire. This worked well for the first two novels I read this summer (Little Fires Everywhere & The Great Alone), so I hoped I’d continue to have luck with my next pick: the highly anticipated The Female Persuasion, Meg Wolitzer’s 11th novel. Hailed as the “#MeToo novel” that we all need, I expected a female-centric, feminist expose of sorts in novel form. What I got, however, was a bit different. I’m going to preface this review by saying I really enjoyed this book. The writing kept me engaged and I honestly expected it to take me a long time (it’s 454 pages!), but it took me just over a week. I liked Greer, the protagonist, and related to her in many ways. I, too, was once the shy, self-doubting young woman who entered young adulthood as one person and became much more empowered during my college years, and began finding “my outside voice,” as Greer would say, in recent years.

Now, what I also want to start with is the fact that I disagree with the notion this is the “#MeToo” novel. In fact, I don’t really feel any single novel can be the Me Too novel because each experience is legitimate and different and personal. No two experiences are identical, so how can one voice speak for them all? While the novel opens with an incident involving shy, unassuming Greer and a belligerent fraternity brother touching her boob, the novel does not tackle sexual assault in a fleshed-out way. In fact, the incident serves much more as a catalyst for Greer to find her voice and invest in a cause and care more about feminism and the female experience than she had ever even thought about. The incident sets up Greer’s future endeavors and is the foundation upon which the awe and admiration grows for Faith Frank, an old wave feminist who comes to speak at Greer’s college following the encounter with frat guy who believed he had license over Greer’s body. The real focus of the novel, in that sense, is not about sexual assault or the Me Too movement, but rather about female relationships, mentorship, and what causes us to admire certain people, to hold them in such esteem we forbid ourselves from recognizing their faults until their faults smack us in the face almost as palpably as unwanted caresses from men as we navigate the roads of being female in this world. So, while I don’t think this book is the next great american novel on sexual misconduct, sexual assault, and holding men in power and men in general accountable for inappropriate and damaging actions, I do think it says a lot about where we are with feminism.

And by where we are, I mean the muddled, unclear definition of feminism that attaches to so many encounters and choices and lives. I will say, this novel is marketed as having tackled feminism with a capital F, but I don’t think it does that and that by not tackling Feminism as a whole, it is actually a better read. This story is much more personal than feminism with a capital F. It’s about Greer’s relationship with feminism, and Greer only begins to explore what feminism is and get involved with the feminist movement after being assaulted at the frat house in college. That’s what made this book work: it’s one person’s experience with feminism and her discovering what kind of feminist she wants to be. I’ve read some reviews that chastise the story for being too much “privileged white girl” feminism. I think that’s a fair assessment in some ways. Did it annoy me when Greer complained about going to a “sub par” college when some women do not have the opportunity or access to attend college at all? Yes. Did I hope that women of color would be better represented? Yes. But I think part of my disappointments with the shortcomings I sometimes felt while reading were rooted firmly in the marketing of this book. I was expecting the expose on feminism, modern feminism specifically, and I expected the novel to tackle all that feminism encompasses. However, had I gone into this book expecting it to be more about mentorship, finding your voice, and young womanhood, I would have been satisfied and not as critical at points.

I will say, discussing feminism can be a bit daunting. You don’t want to say the wrong thing or inadvertently imply something that’s incorrect. That’s why I appreciated that this novel showed that feminism and the methods through which to achieve equality for women is a personal journey and the reasons that women become more assertive about female issues are unique to each woman. Further, female-ness and femininity is also personal. Also, with the stigma about feminists being man-haters, I think this book begins to address how a woman asserting herself more forcefully and demanding to be heard can affect her relationships with men. In one story, however, the affect is more internal to Greer and she ends up isolating herself. Cory, Greer’s high school boyfriend, suffers a terrible tragedy that sends him home to assume traditionally feminine roles. Greer, a now self-proclaimed feminist seems to believe that in doing so Cory has swerved severely off-track and lost his way and is no longer “good enough.” Though this isn’t explicit, it’s heavily implied. What I liked about this was that it shows that even women who hail themselves a feminist sometimes miss the mark. If equality is what we want, we should not be baffled by men who assume traditionally feminine roles just like we should not be baffled when women occupy traditionally masculine roles. I wanted a bit more from male-female dynamics in this book, but I was still content with what I got.

I would prefer to classify this book as a coming-of-age story that uses various relationships to illustrate Greer’s journey into womanhood and NOT the “Me Too Movement book of the year.” Another important note that I learned about myself as a reader is that I often reach for dialogue driven books. I like to learn about characters through their actions, their words, etc. This book is written much more as a decade-spanning story that is being told through the eyes of a third person narrator. So, it almost feels as if you’re sitting down with a strong woman, say your grandmother or female mentor, and she’s recounting people’s lives to you. There is minimal dialogue and you are told how the characters are much more than you are shown. This bothered me a bit, but honestly the writing kept me so engaged that I just kept reading. I rarely reach for a pen to underline the fiction I read (surprising for an English major? maybe, but I prefer to keep my books pristine when reading for pleasure). However, with this novel, I felt like a few lines just had to be underlined, and I kept saying “yessss!” to myself about certain observations made.

For those who want to pick up this book, I would say go into with no more expectations than you do for other novels. Do not assume this book holds all the answers about feminism because it doesn’t. The book itself doesn’t end with an answer about what we do with feminism, but rather ends by merely observing there is more work to be done to achieve true equality. And that seems appropriate, as there is always more work to be done.

I do recommend this read and I’d love to have a discussion with any of you who have read it! It gave me a lot to consider, and I need to discuss!

Truly,
Callie leigh

June To-Be-Read (TBR) (and why there’s overlap with May)

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Hello, World.

May was not the best reading month. What I read was great, but how much I read was less than I wanted or expected. I think in the chaos of ending finals and trying to move to DC and then start working I just wasn’t in the mood to read all the time. I also, admittedly, was spending a lot of time binge-watching Riverdale, which is so addicting. So, I only got through Little Fires Everywhere and The Great Alone. Had I chosen a smaller second book I may have gotten further on my list, but I wanted to tackle the clunkier books first, so as to get them out of the way early. I don’t mean to imply they are lesser or not as good. The Great Alone was a great read (review is here), but at 430-ish pages, it’s a bit heftier than the other books. Right now I’m working through The Female Persuasion and it’s addicting. I find myself needing to read as much as possible because I love everything in it and I’m enjoying the style of writing. This is another monster book, however, at 450-ish pages. Still, I’m 100 pages in after about 2 days of reading, so hopefully, I find some good reading time soon.

Because my June TBR is more realistic than my May TBR, the list is essentially the books I didn’t get to in May. July and August will hopefully have 3-4 books each. I figure if I can get through a book a week, then it’s manageable. I want to read more and I’m loving the reading I chose for myself. Last summer I tackled a very long novel that was a slow read, so I didn’t read as many books as I would have liked. I want reading novels to be an active part of my life and so I’m trying to watch less TV and read more. I figure binge-watching shows are easier when I’m in school, so I should use the summer downtime to read rather than watch shows.

So, in case you missed my May TBR, June will consist of the leftovers:
The Female Persuasion
An American Marriage
Educated

Truly,
Callie leigh

May To Be Read List

Hello, World.

My favorite part of summer is reading. This summer I’m hoping to get a lot of reading done because I sincerely miss reading for pleasure, and I rarely have time to read for pleasure while in school. Over the last few months, I started following some bookish Instagrams and YouTube channels in an attempt to stay up on popular literature and find books I to read once I finished school. It may seem dorky, and maybe it is, but I feel so removed from the world of books during the academic year because I just have such little time to read. So, I love how many bookish accounts are popping up on Instagram and how many YouTubers are embracing their bookish habits and that they’re sharing them with the online world.

So, without further ado here are the books I plan to read this May, which are all books that have popped up on my Instagram feed and in YouTube videos for months.

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The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer — This book was so heavily anticipated in the literary world. I saw it popping up constantly and got really excited about it. A Beautiful Mess used to do a book club (I think they’ve stopped, as I haven’t seen it advertised or discussed on their blog for a long time), and one pick was Wolitzer’s The Interestings. I will say sometimes I’m hesitant to take advice from others because I’ve read books that were recommended that I found so boring or uninteresting. However, the end of the blurb Amazonzon reads, “At its heart, The Female Persuasion is about the spark we all believe is flickering inside of us, waiting to be seen and fanned by the right person at the right time. It’s a story about the people who guide and the people who follow (and how those roles evolve over time) and the desire within all of us to be pulled into the light.” That little bit of information was enough to hook my interest, so I snagged this book from my local Barnes and Noble and am so excited to start it!

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones — This book is another that I’ve seen over and over again. My favorite bloggers, Instagram accounts, and YouTubers all are reading it and all the people who finished it loved it. The novel follows a young newlywed couple who are ripped apart shortly after marrying as the husband is sentenced to twelve years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. A heavy, emotional storyline that, according to those who have read it, leaves you feeling heartbroken, I think this is such a relevant, interesting read and I cannot wait to dive in. Also, if my thoughts aren’t enough, this was an Oprah Book Club pick!

Educated by Tara Westover — Hailed as a cross between Wild and Hillbilly Elegy, this memoir immediately caught my attention. I try to read a decent amount of nonfiction, but truth be told I am much more of a fiction reader. Still, a compelling story and complicated family dynamics are always a pull for me. This story is about how Westover’s upbringing in a survivalist family and the fact that she did not receive formal education until the age of seventeen. Honestly, so excited to read this. Ali Edwards and others have loved it, and so I can only imagine I will too.

Little Fire Everywhere by Celeste Ng — This is the book I’ve seen the most and had recommended the most times. This is the first book I’m picking up from my to-be-read list, and I’m about five chapters in and already know it’s going to be insanely good. This book juxtaposes the Richardson family, a Brady Bunch-esque family in a small town outside of Cleveland, Ohio. Enter Mia and Pearl, a mother-daughter duo that is unconventional, free-spirited, and very different than anyone the town produces. I’ve heard people LOVE this book AND it’s being adapted for the screen by Reese Witherspoon and Kerry Washington is involved, so definitely a timely read.

The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah — This is another family dynamic-focused novel… I’m sensing a theme here. from the author of The Nightingale, another super popular read a few years ago, the novel takes place in Alaska in 1974. The novel focuses on a family that has an abusive father, a young girl coming to terms with her place in the world, and a mother who will do anything for the love of her life. I’ve heard the setting places a huge role in the story and that Alaska becomes its own character. I’ve heard so many great things about this read, so I’m looking forward to this.

I’m trying to read so much this summer. I used to read so much, and then law school came and I just lost the ability to read for pleasure. I was always stressed and a little too worn out to want to read. So, here’s to new literary beginnings and reading a lot of dense, timely novels!

Truly,

Callie leigh

Winter Reads: Two Books I Read Recently

Hello, World.

I’m sorry for my hiatus toward the end of last semester. I had a terrible finals schedule, which meant I was studying from about November 4th until I went home for the holidays. The holiday season flew by, and before I knew it I was back in Williamsburg for the spring semester. Honestly, I had so many blog posts planned for November and December and they just didn’t happen. As most of my planned posts dealt with the holiday season or were more relevant in the past months, I’ve decided to start fresh with a new slew of posts in the new year.

First and foremost, I wanted to share two books I read while I was home in California over the holiday break. One book I picked up with the intention of reading post-finals and the other I had on my shelf for a while before picking it up. One of my goals for myself this year is spending less money, and that includes not purchasing new books. I have quite a few books on my shelves I haven’t picked up, so I’m hoping that if I’m not buying new books it will force me to reach for books I own but haven’t read.

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Anyway, onto the books I read recently. First up is The City Baker’s Guide to Country Living by Lousie Miller. I picked this novel up after seeing it on Carly the Prepster’s Instagram stories. I was also sold by the Bon Appetit review on the cover that reads: “Ok, it’s Gilmore Girls.” Anything with Gilmore Girls on it is something I will purchase! So, I ordered the novel from Penguin and allowed it to gather dust on my shelf until finals were finally over and I packed it in my tote bag to head to the airport. Once I started the novel, I loved it. For reference, the book’s summary is as follows:

When Olivia Rawlings—baker extraordinaire for an exclusive Boston dinner club—sets not just her flambéed dessert but the entire building alight, she takes a much-needed weekend break in the idyllic leafy town of Guthrie, Vermont. A weekend soon turns into something more permanent when Margaret Hurley, the cantankerous, sweater-set-wearing owner of the Sugar Maple Inn, needs to recruit a new baker who can help her reclaim the inn’s blue ribbon status at the annual county fair apple pie contest. On paper, at least, Livvy seems to be just who she was looking for.

Livvy’s love life’s a mess and so she does what she does best: relocate. Along with Salty, her gigantic, uber-enthusuastic dog with almost too much personality, Livvy, as the Sugar Maple’s new baker, brings her mouthwatering desserts to the residents of Guthrie, home of Bag Balm, the country’s longest-running contra dance, and her best friend, Hannah. And when Olivia meets Martin McCracken, the Guthrie native who has returned from New York to nurse his ailing father, Livvy comes to understand that she may not be as alone in this world as she once thought. With the joys of a warm, fragrant kitchen, the sound of banjos and fiddles being tuned in a barn, and the crisp scent of the orchard just outside the front door, Olivia Rawlings may finally find that the life you want may not be the one you expected—it could be even better.”

I loved the storytelling and cozy vibes that leaped from the page. While it may not have been the most well-written book I’ve read, I appreciated the pacing and development of the story. I adored the cast of characters, and I had a hankering to uproot to small-town Vermont by the book’s close! This was the first book in a while that I thoroughly enjoyed cover to cover. While there was a plot twist that took me by surprise, I ended up appreciating the decision. I highly recommend this read to anyone who needs a cozy story with great characters.

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Second, I read Commonwealth by Ann Patchett. This book sat on my shelf for a while before I finally picked it up. I think I bought it last summer because it was showing up everywhere on my Instagram feed. I love a good family drama, and I was excited to start this. Though I wish some of the storylines lasted a bit longer or were delved into a bit deeper, I enjoyed the book. The writing was very good and it was easy to keep the characters straight because they were written so distinctly. I would recommend this book to people who like family dramas, who are interested in how family dynamics change and impact our lives, or to someone who just loves a well-written novel that makes us reflect on our own lives.

For reference, the inside flap for this novel is as follows:

“One Sunday afternoon in Southern California, Bert Cousins shows up at Franny Keating’s christening party uninvited. Before evening falls, he has kissed Franny’s mother, Beverly – thus setting in motion the dissolution of their marriages and the joining of two families.

Spanning five decades, Commonwealth explores how this chance encounter reverberates through the lives of the four parents and six children involved. Spending summers together in Virginia, the Keating and Cousins children forge a lasting bond that is based on a shared disillusionment with their parents and the strange and genuine affection that grows up between them.

When, in her twenties, Franny begins an affair with the legendary author Leon Posen and tells him about her family, the story of her siblings is no longer hers to control. Their childhood becomes the basis for his wildly successful book, ultimately forcing them to come to terms with their losses, their guilt, and the deeply loyal connection they feel for one another.

Told with equal measures of humor and heartbreak, Commonwealth is a meditation on inspiration, interpretation, and the ownership of stories. It is a brilliant and tender tale of the far-reaching ties of love and responsibility that bind us together.”

So, what have you read lately? Any books I should add to my to-be-read list?

Truly,
Callie Coker

Why You NEED to Watch The Handmaid’s Tale If You Haven’t Already

Hello, World.

In high school, I had to do a project called an “extended reading.” They were sort of the worst things ever, but alas, I was in AP English and they were required. Extended readings were used to make sure we knew a broad range of literature that we could write about/needed to know about for the AP exam come April. So, each student in my class would choose a book to read and then give a spoiler-ridden presentation on to the class. The presentation was supposed to offer an in-depth summary of the work, themes, motifs, character biographies, etc. Basically, people should felt that they actually read the book by the end of your presentation. I hated public speaking in high school, so I got hives everytime I stood at the front of the room to give my presentation. So, what does this trip down memory lane have to do with Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale? Well, my senior year of high school, my AP English teacher recommended I read it and present it to my class.

So, I read the novel. It was one of the first books, besides maybe To Kill A Mockingbird, that I read for class that I loved. Honestly, I loved the way it was written, I found the storyline fascinating, and I just could not put the novel down. I built a reading schedule, but quickly surpassed all of my goals and finished the novel in a matter of days. When Hulu decided to come out with a TV version of the book, I was hesitant. I was scared it wouldn’t live up to my impression of the book and would fail to capture the essence of the Atwood’s words.
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In September, I finally sat down to watch the show. I was hesitant but had been told several times it was amazing. The show also won a ton of Emmys, so I decided maybe it was worth watching. I sat down in bed to watch one episode and was hooked. I ended up watching three in a row. I finished the show within a week but re-watched portions a second time, just as I had re-read portions of the book years before. The show tweaked some aspects of the book, but I felt most tweaks were appropriate and didn’t detract from the overarching message and themes of the book.

Elisabeth Moss did an incredible, incredible job playing Offred/June. Honestly, I think she brought emotion and rawness to the character that was even better than the book. Due to the clinical nature of the world created by Atwood, sometimes emotions didn’t come through as well in written form, but the acting of the Hulu cast was powerful. The subtle emotions, the complete outbursts, the debilitating fear an uneasiness…the cast portrayed that well. I heard someone complain the acting was too mechanical. Ironically, it’s supposed to be mechanical. It’s supposed to feel cold and detached while highlighting small moments of hope and integrity and resistance.

I particularly enjoyed seeing the build-up to how Gilead formed. I think when I read the book, as a somewhat naive seventeen-year-old girl, I thought, “Oh this could never happen.” Today, I’m not so sure. Quiet movements led by enraged, blame-focused groups seem real. The stripping of women’s rights doesn’t seem far off as we, women, have yet to receive all the rights we should. I think watching people walk through the beginning of Gilead thinking, “oh, it’s fine. They’ll never get their way,” and then watching those same people struggle with the fallout, the rights-stripping, and the dehumanizing behavior of Gilead leadership is uncomfortable in the best way. At the end of the day, “that would never happen,” is the wrong mentality to have when you think someone problematic is gaining traction. “That would never happen” is essentially a call for the unimaginable, the seemingly impossible to make itself realized. I think if the TV Handmaid’s Tale gives us anything its the message that passivity is detrimental. We shouldn’t need our world to become Gilead to push change or resistance to problematic movements and ideologies.

Offred is strong as hell and though she’s inherently feminine –  seeing as her driving force is getting her daughter back, which is maternal – she pushes boundaries, she questions her Commander, she pushes back in the slightest ways that seem insignificant at the moment, but provide hope to those of us clinging to the edge of the book or sitting tense on our couches watching Elisabeth Moss say, “is this bullshit life enough for you?” Because it’s not enough for her. Though Offred is in the worst situation, she convinces herself that Gilead is temporary… that the wrongs of the leadership will be corrected, overthrown, people will gain their rights back. However, this is important insofar as it reminds us that all of this was absent when Gilead leadership bulldozed the country into submission.

I don’t want to spoil the show, as I think it’s a must-see, but I will say there were moments that made my stomach turn. There were moments when I wanted to scream at characters (specifically Serena Joy, who helped create the society that then stripped her dignity and belittled her intellect). I think shows like this, however, are uncommon, and I think the writing is just as powerful as Atwood’s novel is. So, if you haven’t watched The Handmaid’s Tale… I encourage you to do so!

Truly,
Callie leigh

What I’m Reading

Hello, World.

Summer is going so quickly (insert very panicked, on-the-verge-of–hyperventilating face). One of my goals for this summer was to get in a decent amount of “for pleasure” reading. While in law school, I read constantly. All the time. But, I read dense case-law related material, which is I also enjoy, but sometimes it’s nice to just get back into reading a book for fun, falling into someone else’s story or life and getting swept up in it. So, I wanted to share what I’ve read so far. The second book took me a little too long. I partly blame it on my mindless Netflix sessions and also on the lack of desire to read after work. However, on Thursday, I decided I was going to finish it before the weekend was over. And I did! You’ll probably notice both books have to do with Paris. Well, I’ve always wanted to go, and I think lately my wanderlust is getting the best of me. I inadvertently, perhaps subconsciously bought four (that’s right, more to come) books that have to do with Paris in some way. Now… let’s get to my reviews of the first two books.

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The first book I read this summer I picked up in Williamsburg before I flew home. My original plan was to read on my flights home. However, I quickly realized that was an ambitious plan. After finals and the joint journal competition (more on that to come), I was a wee bit tired and did not have the brain power to read a new book. So, instead, I watched movies and chatted with the woman sitting next to me, who is getting her Ph.D. in Florida, but was flying to CA to help her fiancé move to Switzerland (so so fascinating).

Lunch In Paris is the memoir of Elizabeth Bard’s swift and romantic love affair with a Frenchman. It’s the American girl goes abroad and doesn’t come home because she finds love kind of book. I loved it. I was very selective about what book I read first because I was so looking forward to reading something non-legal. I read the excerpt on Amazon and knew immediately I loved Bard’s style. It was conversational but intoxicating. It was to the point but romanticized. I am not typically a non-fiction guru, but I ate up the story of finding yourself someone new and trying to make the most of it even if it feels like an off balance tap dance for the first stretch.

While at some points I felt like Bard came off a bit condescending or superior… the minute I felt this, she was self-aware and vulnerable, speaking her truth of being a size 10, food-loving American in petite, food-savoring France. I laughed frequently but also related quite strongly to the feeling Bard shares of feeling like she has to ground herself in something in order to establish herself in her new home. For Bard, it is the French markets that lend her refuge. Bard also pays homage to said markets by including recipes at the close of each chapter, recipes rooted discoveries of new produce, new flavor mixtures, and new twists on old, American favorites.

I would give this book four out of five stars simply because it lagged in areas. However, I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys travel (it is the romance-based version of Under the Tuscan Sun or Eat, Pray, Love) or who feels or has felt uncertain in a new place. My final thought is this: I admired how Bard illustrated the relationship between herself and her lover. The areas of life they inherently understood about each other, the areas where cultural difference caused friction, and the areas where cultural difference caused growth. I enjoyed Bard’s exploration into preconceived notions and how they are dealt with while balancing the serious topics with light-hearted trip-ups on both [her and her lover] their parts. 9B1CD9EF-1B2B-441B-8EBC-286C1673BDAE.jpg

To be blunt, I bought this book for two main reasons: I loved the cover and the author went to William and Mary. A bit vain, I know. However, I’ll See You in Paris by Michelle Gable took me about three weeks. It’s a bit long and a bit slow, to be honest. Upfront, I want to say if you are someone who prefers gripping, quick-reads, this may not be the book for you. While the last 50 or so pages made me glad I stuck it out and finished the story, I wanted to stop about 200 pages in. I sort of guessed where the story was headed around page 60, and then had to get through 250 pages-ish of the groundwork for the story to get to its final pathway to the end. I guessed all but one plot twist that came at the end. That’s not typically a good thing while reading. I like to be kept guessing, and I certainly don’t want to guess what’s going to happen well before the writer fully lays the foundation.

However, it was rooted in historical tales, so I understand Gable wanting to give the reader a very thorough outline of the story. The other aspect to this novel I struggled with a bit was that it switched between 1973 and 2001. So, while Annie (one of the protagonists) was hearing the 1973 story in 2001, the reader was taken back to 1973 and hearing a more fleshed out version through the eyes of the participants. The problem with this was I often cared way more about the story occurring in 2001 and didn’t really want to know every detail of the 1973 story. Obviously, when stories track each other in this manner, they are meant to intercept, and they do, which made all the switches in time worth the reading. Still, I think the tale could be a little more abbreviated. It just lagged a bit too much in the middle that I was having trouble keeping it all straight and wanting to continue.

My opinion may be making you think this book sucked and isn’t worth picking up. I don’t want that opinion to come across because I did enjoy the ending enough that it made up for the lag. So, if you pick up this book, just know that when it gets slow, you just have to power through and you should enjoy the ending as I did. Recommending books can be difficult because people have different tastes! This book got so many reviews that said “I couldn’t put it down!!” whereas I felt like I couldn’t pick it back up at times. I will also say do not expect a journey through Paris. Paris is very much part of the story and important to the underlying story, but not until much later than expected. A majority of the novel takes place in Banbury, England, and the States.

Interestingly, once I finished the novel, I looked at Gable’s other two novels. I wanted to read more of her. So, though I struggled with aspects of the story and the length, I enjoyed Gable’s writing enough that I wanted more of it in my library.

What are you currently reading?

Truly,
Callie leigh