November Road by Lou Berney

November Road by Lou Berney

Hello, World.

My first semester of 3L is flying by, but I’ve managed to keep up with Book of the Month picks! Two picks I finished and I enjoyed were Goodbye, Paris and The Silence of the Girls. Due to my schedule, I won’t be doing full reviews of those, but if you want to see my quick thoughts on books I don’t write full reviews for, follow along on Instagram! I usually post a mini-review via Instagram stories. Continue reading “November Road by Lou Berney”

Kristin Hannah’s The Great Alone

ACS_0375Hello, World.

I recently finished reading Kristin Hannah’s The Great Alone and I loved it! I will admit that I had a very slow start to reading this book. I had just finished Little Fires Everywhere, and I think I had a residual book hangover and picked up this read a bit too soon. However, I always give a book until page 150 before I decide whether to stick it out or not. Right around page 100, this book really picked up speed for me. Initially, this is one of those books that when I started reading, I was hooked and engrossed in the story, but starting wasn’t always at the top of my priority list. However, right around page 100, I was hooked and thinking about this book nonstop. I found myself getting to work early, reading outside of Starbucks before heading to the office, and then hurrying home after work to read a few more chapters before bed.

Similar to Little Fires Everywhere, this book was highly recommended and read by a lot of readers I admire. What I love about this story is that it’s epic. It’s epically tragic, epically forgiving, epically real, epically raw, and just epic. Every aspect is large and proud and in your face, but it’s all sewn together so seamlessly and the closure you get at the end gives you chills. As per usual, I wanted to share the description of this book that is on the book because I think it’s important to see how the book sells itself, and then discuss whether that description is accurate. The dust jacket reads:

Alaska, 1974.
Unpredictable. Unforgiving. Untamed.
For a family in crisis, the ultimate test of survival.

Ernt Allbright, a former POW, comes home from the Vietnam war a changed and volatile man. When he loses yet another job, he makes an impulsive decision: he will move his family north, to Alaska, where they will live off the grid in America’s last true frontier.

Thirteen-year-old Leni, a girl coming of age in a tumultuous time, caught in the riptide of her parents’ passionate, stormy relationship, dares to hope that a new land will lead to a better future for her family. She is desperate for a place to belong. Her mother, Cora, will do anything and go anywhere for the man she loves, even if means following him into the unknown.

At first, Alaska seems to be the answer to their prayers. In a wild, remote corner of the state, they find a fiercely independent community of strong men and even stronger women. The long, sunlit days and the generosity of the locals make up for the Allbrights’ lack of preparation and dwindling resources.

But as winter approaches and darkness descends on Alaska, Ernt’s fragile mental state deteriorates and the family begins to fracture. Soon the perils outside pale in comparison to threats from within. In their small cabin, covered in snow, blanketed in eighteen hours of night, Leni and her mother learn the terrible truth: they are on their own. In the wild, there is no one to save them but themselves.

In this unforgettable portrait of human frailty and resilience, Kristin Hannah reveals the indomitable character of the modern American pioneer and the spirit of a vanishing Alaska—a place of incomparable beauty and danger. The Great Alone is a daring, beautiful, stay-up-all-night story about love and loss, the fight for survival, and the wildness that lives in both man and nature.

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As the niece of a Vietnam War veteran, I was hesitant to read about the PTSD that resulted in so many vets (from every war), but particularly following Vietnam. However, this book made me want to know more and more and more about the 70s, the political climate, and what caused the war. I’ve spoken to my uncle a few times about his experience, but, understandably, it’s hard for him to discuss. However, this book was so interesting in how it handled PTSD and the War. For one, I do feel that Ernt would have been abusive (this is a spoiler, but honestly it’s so apparent in the first few chapters, you won’t lose much knowing ahead of reading that abuse is present), regardless of the war. I think, however, he was suffering badly from undiagnosed PTSD. I will note, however, that sometimes it felt like his experience was the sole reason he was abusive, and that bothered me slightly. Maybe I’m being too harsh or idealistic, but I just felt that his experience as a POW would not lead him to be severely abusive to his loved ones. In many ways, the details and treatment of the abuse imply that the abusive side of the father was always there, if only dormant before his war experience. Still, this debate would make an entire essay in an English class.

The other thing I will say about the abuse is that when I first started this book the abuse sometimes felt a little like a trope or too “textbook” domestic violence. The signs too clear. That probably sounds wildly insensitive and I do not mean for it to. What I mean is that oftentimes abuse is layered and complicated and not boiled down to “he didn’t mean it,” “I egged him on,” or “he loves us too much, that’s why he hurts me.” HOWEVER, (and I shout this because it’s very important), it is important to remember that this book is set in the 70s, when domestic violence was not as recognized and prevented and the law did not serve victims justice. Further, I loved Leni’s story arc in relation to the abuse. She transforms from a young, naive child who is told what to believe into an independent, strong, won’t-take-the-unhealthy-behavior shit from anyone. I will say, the abusive scenes were hard to read and I had to set the book down a few times just to calm myself.

While this book is being touted by many as predominantly about abuse, I felt it was much more about love and survival and the power we find within ourselves to go after what we want, stand up for ourselves against all odds, and the sacrifices we make to keep those we love safe. It’s a story about motherhood and the responsibility that both daughters and mothers feel toward each other. Also, I just adore Matthew and Leni’s relationship. I don’t want to spoil anything about them because their storyline gave so much and was so fun to read and watch develop! But… I will say, I love them. Their love story is both endearing and heart-wrenching. It’s a bit of Romeo and Juliet if Romeo and Juliet lived in a wild, unforgiving landscape. There is a bit at the end where some things are left unclear, and we get a handful of chapters before we ever get closure. While reading that handful of chapters, I was so annoyed. I just wanted to know what happened. However, once you know, you feel the epicness of a love that shouldn’t survive but does, in whatever form it takes.

Finally, I loved how Alaska was its own character, but also served, in many ways, as a representation of Leni’s home life and her parents’ marriage. The land, much like her parents, could be beautiful and loving and enchanting, but also wild and dangerous and unpredictable. The similarities between tip-toeing around the cabin so as to not upset Ernt and tip-toeing over frozen-over bodies of water left an uneasiness as I was reading. The tension, when relieved in the home, was often still present in the landscape.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book and am very glad I read it. It isn’t a book I’d ordinarily pick up, but I’m thankful I listened to the recommendations!

Next up, The Female Persuasion. What are you reading?

Truly,
Callie leigh

Book Recommendation

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Hello, World.

I love when you read a book that is so good you just cannot put it down. For me, the most recent read in this category was Amy Poeppel’s Small Admissions. Light, but also grounded in real adulthood issues, this read had me so intrigued I basically read it in two days. I started it, but it took me a little while to get into because I just wasn’t in the mood to read. Honestly, it was nothing against the book, I just felt tired after work so worked on other things. However, on Friday after work, I sat down to read a bit before bed. Then I found myself doing the inevitable “just one more chapter…just one more page” shenanigans until it was 1 a.m. and I could barely stay awake. When I woke up on Saturday I just read until it was finished.

To summarize, the novel focuses on Kate, a young woman who suffers a terrible heartbreak before the novel begins. The breakup affects various relationships in her life – her sister, her best friends, etc. Going from an ambitious graduate student to semi-permanently parked on the couch, her family is desperate to get her out of the house. When she takes a job, after somehow landing it despite a disastrous interview, things start looking up.

What I found most enjoyable about the novel was the cast of characters. Since Kate becomes an assistant admissions director at a prep school in New York (for middle schoolers), Poeppel creates robust, self-involved, nauseating, overbearing parents who had me laughing out loud. The depiction of those pageant parents for prep school admissions was so hilarious and, given Poeppel’s experience in admissions, pretty accurate. I’ve always been so intrigued by what actually goes on in admissions departments and it was fun to get a glimpse, even if it was for middle school, which I never applied to, thankfully.

I’ve seen some reviews of this novel that critique it for being too light. A review on goodreads.com said that though the novel addresses many issues, it never really penetrates beneath the surface. I disagree. While a lot of the issues aren’t explored super in depth, I think it would be inappropriate given the book. The book has so many characters and alternates point of view, so I appreciated that Poeppel gave enough character backstory that she was able to give each character closure by the end. I loathe when storylines develop, but then they become too complex and the writer doesn’t leave enough time to really tie up all loose ends. However, with this novel, I felt like each storyline and each person got their proper ending without it feeling rushed or incomplete.

In terms of characters, I felt Kate was super annoying and overreacting initially. However, I realized that part of her unsteady, desperate behavior was the result of heartbreak and the other part was not knowing who she was, which would explain why she was so awkward and acted like nothing in her life really fit. I loved the confidence she gained as the novel moved forward. Given the timeline of the novel, I also understand why some people felt Kate’s development moved a little too quickly at one point. However, I appreciated the arc, and probably wouldn’t have liked pages and pages of Kate lamenting her breakup. My least favorite character was Vicki. She was so obnoxious and definitely didn’t have her friends’ best interest at heart. Actually, my favorite part about her was when she owned how selfish she is.

I liked how witty this novel was and am eager to read more by Poeppel! If you’re looking for an end of summer, quick read, this is it!

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

What I’m Reading

Hello, World.

I wanted to take a few minutes to share with you what I’ve been reading. As you may know, this semester I have 37 books on my reading list for class, honors projects, and book club. I can’t share all the books I’ve read so far, partly because it’d take forever, and partly because I don’t feel compelled to write about some of them! But I would like to share two of the books I’ve read this semester because I liked them a lot. If you want to know what else I’ve read, check out my goodreads page!

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Gone Girl is an absolutely insane novel, but also really well-written, captivating, and intriguing. Though the ending wasn’t exactly how I would have written it, I thought it was original and unique. I read this book for book club, which is a class in which I read the novel and watch the film, and then compare the two. I thought this was a good adaption, especially since the author of the novel wrote the screenplay for the film. It was fun to discuss how the author made changes to her own work, and her possible motivations behind them. The thriller aspect was new for me, and I really enjoyed it. I enjoy taking classes that constantly force me to step out of my comfort zone, and try a new genre! This was by far one of my favorite reads of the semester.
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The second novel I will be sharing here is Passing by Nella Larsen. I”m reading this for African American Literature, and my honors contract. It’s about racial passing, and the consequences and positives associated with that. I’d never read Larsen before, but I really enjoyed this novel. Though it’s definitely more academic than Gone Girl, I liked reading it because I think it sheds light on some major issues. Part of the reason I don’t mind having 37 books this semester, is because most of what I’m reading is actually really fascinating and great. I’m learning so much, and it’s amazing!

Other highlights: Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck, Beloved by Toni Morrison, and Richard III by William Shakespeare.

What’re you reading right now?

Truly,
Callie leigh

What I’m Reading

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Hello, World.

I recently finished reading Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, and thought I would share my experience with reading this well-known, widely read classic. Prior to reading this novel, I had only read his short stories (“A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,” anyone?), and I was a little hesitant to read an entire novel because sometimes when I really enjoy a writer’s short stories, I end up disliking their extended works. However, I actually enjoyed The Sun Also Rises all the way through. Reading the novel took me a little longer than I anticipated because I haven’t really been in a super reading mode lately considering all the stress I’ve been under, but this novel got me back into reading mode once I hit page 100. The story follows Jake Barnes and Lady Brett Ashley on their journey through France and Spain in the 1920s. There is a tortured quality to their relationship, and it’s as if Brett, a strong and independent woman, only reaches out to Jake when she is at her most vulnerable. Throughout the novel, I was rooting for Jake and Brett to finally end up together, but since don’t want to ruin the novel for you, I suppose you will have to read the novel to find out if that happens.

A majority of the novel takes place in cafes and hotels, which envelops the story in a romantic light. I liked Hemingway’s quick dialogue, and found the story to be entertaining. He chooses his words carefully, and only gives details that you absolutely need to understand the story, which I appreciate. He’s definitely not one of those writers that fill pages with fluff, which is probably why he’s so renowned. I hope you might take a little time to read this book because the writing is truly beautiful. The ending made me tear up, which is highly unusual for me (unless I’m reading John Green, that is a completely different story). But the ending of this novel has some great last words. So, grab some shoes, go to your bookstore, and check it out!  

Some quotes I found to be especially beautiful were:

“You can’t get away from yourself by moving from one place to another.”

“I am always in love.”

“I did not care what it was all about. All I wanted to know was how to live in it. Maybe if you found out how to live in it you learned from that what is was all about.”

“Everyone behaves badly–given the chance.”

At the risk of sounding oxymoronic, I would recommend this novel to people looking for an easy-read classic.

Truly,

Callie Leigh