She Regrets Nothing by Andrea Dunlop

ACS_0061.JPG

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

Advertisements

Little Fires Everywhere

Hello, World.

A few posts ago, I listed out my May to-be-read, which included Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng. I’ve been dying to read this novel for months, so when I finally had some down time I immediately reached for it. I finished it today and wow. I loved it for so many reasons, which I want to share without giving too much away.

ACS_0276.jpg

When I first read the dust jacket flap, I wasn’t sure how all the various storylines would develop and intersect. In truth, I was a bit skeptical. It seemed like Ng was attempting to cover a lot of ground and I was worried character development might suffer. The summary is as follows:

In Shaker Heights, a placid, progressive suburb of Cleveland, everything is meticulously planned – from the layout of the winding roads to the colors of the houses to the successful lives its residents will go on to lead. And no one embodies this spirit more than Elena Richardson, whose guiding principle is playing by the rules.

Enter Mia Warren – an enigmatic artist and single mother – who arrives in this idyllic bubble with her teenage daughter Pearl, and rents a house from the Richardsons. Soon Mia and Pearl become more than just tenants: all four Richardson children are drawn to the alluring mother-daughter pair. But Mia carries with her a mysterious past and a disregard for the rules that threatens to upend this carefully ordered community.

When the Richardsons’ friends attempt to adopt a Chinese-American baby, a custody battle erupts that dramatically divides the town and puts Mia and Mrs. Richardson on opposing sides. Suspicious of Mia and her motives, Mrs. Richardson becomes determined to uncover the secrets in Mia’s past. But her obsession will come at unexpected and devastating costs to her own family – and Mia’s.

Little Fires Everywhere explores the weight of long-held secrets and the ferocious pull of motherhood-and the danger of believing that planning and following the rules can avert disaster or heartbreak.

Now that I finished the novel, I can say that the characters were developed in subtle, but poignant ways. I saw a few reviews that said the characters felt one-dimensional, but I feel like if people felt like that they missed the subtlety that was operating within the story that was continually moving characters forward. Each of the children developed as much as appropriate for the overarching story, which is ultimately a story of motherhood and what it means to be a mother. The novel poses a question: is motherhood love, biology, or an unexplainable mixture of moving parts? By the end of the novel, what motherhood isn’t answered by Ng, but I think the readers’ reactions to the major plot points in the work can answer this question implicitly.

My biggest critique of most books I’ve read recently is pacing. The book either gives too much backstory upfront to the point of feeling gratuitous or falls short of having an actual plot (sometimes it feels like you read 300 pages only to find nothing really happened — for example, The Nest, which took me so long and left me wanting). The pacing of this novel felt just right. Certain information came when it seemed most appropriate, we went back in time to understand how much the past informed the present, and we looked forward, to see the enduring fallout of the events in the story we gained access to in this novel. I also liked that the first chapter opened with the burning of the Richardson home because I was immediately hooked and I feel like the characters’ reactions to the fire felt so accurate, but in a retroactive way. For example, some comments felt a little unconventional in that first chapter, but by the novel’s close you can’t help but think “but of course that’s how Lexie or Moody or Trip reacted.”  Ng isn’t frivolous with characters. She takes on each person and explores their motivations, their pasts, and how they came to be where they are in 1997 when the novel takes place. In fact, I liked that Ng rooted a lot of character development in characters’ past decisions. This felt so authentic because, in many ways, our futures are defined by the decisions we make, the lives we choose, the reactions we have to formative events, and the times we left things behind, never to look back but always to wonder what could have been different if we chose differently.

While I thoroughly enjoyed the exploration of motherhood within the novel, something that most struck me was the perfectionism and how judgments we make about others can be turned on their head by our own mistakes. I think the juxtaposition of Mia to Mrs. Richardson is so interesting because they parent so differently, and yet they both just want to love their children and give them opportunities and good lives. I also love how certain characters are quick to judge others’ actions until they’re put in a position that forces them to look those judgments in the eye and level with them, perhaps responding to the situation in the exact way that, if they were a third party outsider, they would judge very unforgivingly. There are some cringe-worthy moments when people are so judgmental, but in all honesty, they are things I think people often say behind closed doors, and that should have a little light shined on if only to make us pause and think, “is that what I would say?”

I will say I was a bit sad about one aspect of the ending, but it’s hard to explain why without giving away too much. So, I will just say I wish I had a bit more closure with some characters, but I still really enjoyed this read and I definitely recommend it!

Up next, I’ll be reading The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah!

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.

ACS_0264.jpg

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

What I’m Reading

Hello, World.

I’m currently on Jan Term break, which is the week my college gets off in between January Term and Spring semester. I love this week off. I always feel SO motivated during this week because Jan Term is usually pretty chill, and I always get this weird reading bug when I get home. Halfway through Jan Term, my friend, Steven, came to visit and we went to this quaint little used bookstore near our college. I bought four books, and planned to read at least two over this break. I’m currently about a 100 pages into the first one, Me Before You by Jojo Moyes. People, this books is SO good. Honestly, I haven’t been this into a book in a while. I started it at about 9pm last night, and read until about 12am. Then I had a morning with my sister, then read for a couple hours. While my reading has slowed a bit, I have the hardest time putting the book down.

IMG_5648I’ve seen this book everywhere recently, and a lot of people who have great taste in books have recommended it. I was hesitant to jump on the bandwagon, and I wasn’t sure the storyline was one I could really get into. But then I found it in the used bookstore for a few bucks, and decided to give it a try. I’m SO glad I did!

The novel follows Lou Clark, a 26-year-old woman desperate to find a new job after losing her job at a local cafe. Out of acute desperation, she takes a job as a bit of a “social caregiver” to a young quadriplegic. Lou is rather inexperienced, and hasn’t ever gone too far outside her comfort zone. Since I haven’t finished the novel, I’m not sure exactly where it goes, though I have a few guesses. Honestly, this book is making me think hard. It’s making me think about life–quality of life, especially. What I like about this novel is takes a person whose had all his opportunities stripped from him, and juxtaposes him to a young women filled with potential who is letting her life just pass on by. I’m excited to see where this goes. I recommend you pick up a copy of this novel next time you’re at the bookstore.

I’m going to go read more!

Truly,
Callie leigh

App Mania: Goodreads

IMG_2278

Hello, World.

Let’s talk about apps. I’ve done a few posts on apps before, like the best apps for college students, and the apps I use to edit my photos to post on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter. I’m kind of ridiculous when it comes to apps. I love them, but I also don’t have tons on my phone. I’m not really into game-style apps, but I have tons of photo editing apps, and blog apps, and pretty much every form of social media in app form on my phone. I love apps, and I figured most of the world does too, at least the tech-savvy population. My phone is organized into little folders, and under social media, the top apps I use include Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and others. One of my favorite apps for social media that people probably wouldn’t think of as social media, unless they are bibliophile.

IMG_2279
Goodreads is an app for book nerds that allows you to track not only what you’re currently reading, what you’ve read, and what you want to read, but also the same details about your friends! This is great, especially for college students, because while you’re away from your fellow book nerds you can still monitor what they’re reading, and maybe discover some future reads!
IMG_2284
The Goodreads app is set up so that it’s super easy to navigate. The ‘updates’ section is where you can find what your friends are up to. In other words, where you can see their book lists, what they’re wanting to read, how far they are in the book they are reading, as well as what groups they are part of within the app. The ‘my books’ section is where you find all your reading lists. My reading lists are currently “to-read,” “read,” “currently reading,” and “summer 2014.” The “scan” option is probably one of my absolute favorite things about this app. With this, you simply scan the barcode on the back or inside flap of a novel, and then can shelve it to whichever list you want. This way you always remember the books you find in bookstores that you want to read, but don’t necessarily want to buy right away. No more pesky paper lists that you stuff into your bag, and then have them disappear a week later. The ‘progress’ department is pretty self explanatory. This section allows you to post a general status update about which page of a book you are on, which is great if your reading a book as part of a book club or something where your progress is especially important. The ‘explore’ section is where you can peruse books and top lists and most downloaded books just as you would if you were in a bookstore. The ‘groups’ sections is for connecting with people or just following reading circles you enjoy. I’m part of two groups: The Rory Gilmore Book Club and the Banned Books group. ‘Challenge’ is a personal challenge regarding how many books you want to read in a year. “Recommended’ books are books that the app feels you would like based on what you want to read or read previously. ‘Friends’ is pretty self explanatory.
IMG_2280
The other sections include your personal profile, where all your info is synthesized in one place, the ‘events section,’ which lists all literary events either online or near you, and the ‘eBooks’ section allows you to have mobile versions of books on your phone. I really love this because there are some situations where I really don’t feel like taking a physical copy of the book with me, and having it on my phone makes sure I can continue reading.
IMG_2282
I usually have a really hard time mixing technology and reading. I tried to use a Nook when they first came out because I thought it seemed like an awesome tool, but I felt like it was way too impersonal, so I switched back to physical copies of books instead. I like feeling like I’ve accomplished something when I finish a book, and I feel like I feel more accomplished when I can see each page I read compiled into a single book. I’m also a huge advocate of the coffee stained novels piled up next to your bed…there’s something comforting in them.

BUT, this app feels like a perfect blend of technology and reading! Do you use Goodreads? If so, add me today, and share what you’re reading!

Truly,
Callie leigh

Jonathan Tropper’s This Is Where I Leave You

IMG_2098
Hello, World.

I wanted to share with you a book I just read. Since I posted my summer reading list on here, I thought it would be a good idea to review/share my thoughts about a given book once I finish it. When I got home from summer, I read The One and Only by Emily Giffin because I read her Something Borrowed, and really enjoyed it. While this wasn’t on my reading list, I just had to read it. After I finished that novel, I moved on to my reading list. I chose to read This Is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper first for a couple of reasons. First, the storyline really jumped out to me because I totally relate to the hesitation of being stuck with your family for seven days and nights after being separated for a while. I was also drawn to the fact that Tropper’s is recommended for fans of John Green.

So, the storyline follows Judd Foxman, a man in his thirties whose father passes away prior to the novels opening. His father’s last dying wish is that his family sits shiva, a religious ritual that last seven days. Foxman has a uniquely detached family that holds a lot of anger between siblings. The death of Judd’s father is compounded by the fact that his marriage of ten years crumbled to ruins in a matter of moments. Judd chronicles how he found out his college sweetheart cheated with his radio boss and misogynist, and the account is rather heartbreaking.

There were so many things in this book I could relate to. The difficulty that comes with talking to family about being hurt in a way that’s already next to impossible to explain. It’s interesting because one of the biggest critiques of this novel was the focus on Judd’s obsession with sex and women. One review even commented that the narrator read more like a 14-year–old boy than a 30 something man. I disagree with this point because I felt like his obsession and his focusing on women in the novel was showing how utterly ruined he was from his broken marriage. He stared, he commented, and he looked at women, but all of this illuminates that Judd is damaged and suffering and indignant. His wife of nine years cheated on him, and no matter who he looks at or what he does…all roads lead back to her. The raw emotion he feels as he explores their relationship from start to finish is really devastating, but in a good way. He continues to try to find where he went wrong, and that’s something I enjoyed because I think we can all relate that when life doesn’t go as planned, we go over events time and time again to try to distinguish why our plan failed.

One thing I will critique, however, was the lack of dealing with his father’s death. I felt that this area of the novel was a little covered up by his failed marriage and the sibling issues. I’ve witnessed people lose parents, and I felt like the death was a little diminished by other areas of the book. There seemed to be a lack of genuine grief or at least growth toward a healthier attitude to the death. It just seemed a like a bit of a side note in comparison to other parts. There was also a sense of resentment for even having to attend the shiva, despite the father requesting it from his family. It’s a weird sensation, really, but it may have just felt odd to me because I am so close to my immediate family.

This was one of the first books I’ve ever read strictly from a male perspective that wasn’t for school. I was happy with the voice, and I was happy with the novel. I thought it was good, and I thought it was strongly written. It’s being made into a movie starring Jason Bateman and Tina Fey. I watched the trailer, but felt it seemed too comedic compared to the voice in the novel. As the say, “the book is always better.” Anyway, I wanted to share some of my favorite quotes:

“That’s love in real life: messy and corrupt and completely unreliable.”

“That’s the thing about life; everything feels so permanent, but you can disappear in an instant.”

“Sometimes, contentment is a matter of will. You have to look at what you have right in front of you, at what it could be, and stop measuring it against what you’ve lost.”

“I am still perfecting the art of hating her, and until I’ve got it down, I don’t feel ready to engage.”

“We all nod, the way you would at a self-indulgent museum tour guide, taking the path of least resistance to get to the snack bar.”

“His cologne fills the room like bad news.”

“Penny’s honesty has always been like nudity in an action movie; gratuitous, but no less welcome for it.”

This book was really good because it stayed with me. I enjoyed the writing style, and I liked the raw emotion. I liked the sense of gut wrenching heartbreak that seemed still hopeful. I would definitely recommend this book, though it was a little graphic in areas.

Truly,

Callie Leigh

These Days.

Hello, World.

What have I been doing lately? Here’s an idea:

Drinking: Black peppermint tea, and enjoying some chocolate. Something about tea and chocolate really gets me in the writing mood. Kind of odd, yes, but productive nonetheless. Besides, I hardly eat sugar anymore so the few pieces of chocolate are rather delicious.

Weather: warm, sunny, with a hint of mountain breeze. I’m at my family’s cabin this weekend, and it smells like pine trees, summer, and lake water. I’m feeling rather serene, and although I usually prefer wintertime to summertime, the warmth is welcomed.

Writing: a new novel idea in my notebook, creating characters I wouldn’t mind learning more about. I’ve been considering a few ideas for a few months now, and I think I’ve figured out just the story I would like to tell. A lot of people think writers choose what to write about, but I disagree. I think that you can attempt to choose, but usually the story chooses you, and demands that you tell it to others.

Thinking About: all the things I have yet to complete this summer that I want to. This includes my scrapbook, a novel (although I’m making progress), twelve novels, and hiking. Summer is so hard because it seems endless, but then there are days where I can feel time passing around me, things slowly changing, and days going by with each feeling the same. But, summer isn’t endless, and I have to remind myself that if I want to complete all these things, I need to take control of time, and use it productively.

Excited About: a few things. First, I’m excited about my story idea. Second, I’m excited to hangout with my best friend, Lindy, who just got back into town from UC Santa Cruz!

Missing: School. All the people who are associated with school. Trips to Peets to do homework, procrastinate, and talk with my friends about life, academics, and the most random things.

Addicted to: instagram. Seriously, I love instagram. It’s so fun to see little snapshots of people’s lives, especially the people I don’t see very often anymore. Also, I’ve become a little more ridiculous about it since I decided to advertise my blog on instagram. But hey, I have to get readers somehow. I also have a slight (read: large) chai latte addiction whether they are hot, iced, blended, whatever. I have to have one a day, which is more latte than I’ve ever drank. College does things to people when it comes to caffeinated beverages!

Truly,

Callie Leigh