Book Review: The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

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5star

I expected to like this. I didn’t expect to love it. This book is special, guys.

Jeannette Walls was an NYC gossip-columnist hiding a very big secret: she grew up in extreme poverty. Despite the fact that Jeannette and her siblings grew up to be well-off, their homeless parents were living on the streets just a few blocks away from her luxury home. This is where the memoir opens.

We then follow Jeannettte through her childhood, beginning at age 3 when she almost died from severe burns she acquired while cooking hotdogs on the stove with her mother’s permission. Obviously after reading this I was prepared to hate Jeannette’s parents. But instead Ms. Walls urges her readers to see both her alcoholic father and her irresponsible, bipolar mother the way she saw them—deeply flawed but charismatic and lovable despite putting their children in extreme danger time after time after time. There was one incident in particular when I decided, this is it, I have no more sympathy left for Rex Walls. He hurt Jeannette in a way that made me have to stop reading this book and pick up some fluffy puppy story for a few minutes. (I’m a children’s librarian, surrounded by fluffy puppy books while at work.) But then towards the end when *spoiler-spoiler,* I still wept a little for Rex. Why?? Because in his life, he’d been a victim just as much as he’d been a predator.

The Glass Castle is a very personal story, obviously. It’s a fascinating insight into one, strange family. But it’ll also make you think about the criminals, addicts, and homeless people you see on TV and meet on the street everyday. Chances are you have your own preconceptions of how these people have lived and how they were raised. We all do. The Glass Castle proves that each one of those criminals, addicts, and homeless people have a unique story to tell. You as a liberal might believe that the homeless ended up homeless because the government failed them. Your conservative friend might say that the homeless have failed themselves. You could both be wrong.

There has long been a film adaptation in the works. I hope it gets made someday. For now, Brie Larson is going to play Jeannette and Rex will be portrayed by Woody Harrelson. Both are great choices…although I imagined Rex as Matthew McConaughey through the entire book. I hope when and if the film is made it’s made well. In the right hands it could be phenomenal.

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February 2016 Reading Wrap-Up

So, I didn’t read all that much in the month of February… 

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I only made it through 4 books—1 middle grade novel, 2 adult non-fictions, and 1 adult thriller. I’m not sure what happened, other than that I was occupied by Academy Award Nominated movies, Valentine’s Day, my anniversary, and being really sick. Oh well, at least I enjoyed everything I read, unlike the crap I reviewed in January

The Imaginary by A.F. Harold
4/5 Stars

22443909This is a charming middle grade tale about a boy named Rudger who was imagined by a little girl named Amanda. After Amanda hurt and forgets Rudger, the imagined boy meets other imagined creatures who want to help him find a new real friend. Rudger, however, is determined to get Amanda back.

I’ll probably forget about The Imaginary in a few years, but I did enjoy reading it. The pictures are mostly in black and white, but the splashes of color give the book some extra personality. It’s wittiness and whimiscal-realism reminded me of Roald Dahl. And although I wouldn’t say Mr. Harold is even close to Dahl’s level, he can definitely imitate him in a way that should appeal to 21st century kiddos.


Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel
5/5 Stars

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I didn’t love Are You My Mother?, which is about Bechdel’s relationship with her overbearing mother. But I’d heard much better things about Fun Home, the story of Bechdel’s coming out shortly before her closeted-homosexual father commits suicide. After its Broadway Musical adaptation won so many awards at the Tonys, I knew I had to check it out. It didn’t disappoint. I’ve loved so many graphic novel memoirs (Maus and Persepolis to name a couple); I consider the genre to be one of my favorites. Fun Home certainly ranks in my top 5 favorite graphic novel memoirs now. Alison Bechdel is so goddamn intelligent it makes me feel unworthy. I’d definitely recommend reading Fun Home before Are You My Mother?, as the later is definitely a companion piece. Fun Home sets the stage for what you need to care about Alison and her family in Are You My Mother?

The Girl Next Door by Jack Ketchum
4/5 Stars

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I started working on a long review for this book right after I finished reading it. It’s not done yet because there’s sooo much to say. The Girl Next Door is a thriller based on the real life murder of Sylvia Lichens. If you’ve never heard of Sylvia Lichens, before you look up the case I’ll warn you that accounts of her death are some of the most horrifying things you’ll ever read. A lot of people have described this book as like a darker version of The Body (aka Stand By Me). The main character is a 12-year-old boy in late 1950s suburbia who witnesses the abuse of his female friend, by both an adult he trusts and his peers. The boy struggles with how and if he should save his friend without ruining his reputation. Reading this book is a lot like reading something that takes place during the Holocaust. You’re miserable the entire time, but you come away thinking about the psychology behind what makes humans commit horrifying acts of violence. That long review will be posted soon.

The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You by Elaine N. Aron
4/5 Stars

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Check out my review for this one here. This is a modern-classic self-helpish book written by the psychiatrist who coined the term “Highly Sensitive Person,” which refers to someone who has more intense emotions than average. I’ve known that I’m highly sensitive my entire life, but it wasn’t until I discovered Dr. Aron’s website in my late teens that it occurred to me that being sensitive isn’t solely a negative trait. I had some issues with this book (as explained in my review), but overall I really liked it.

 

Book Review: The Highly Sensitive Person

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4-out-of-5-stars

Before I read this book there wasn’t a shred of doubt in my mind that I’m what Dr. Aron would call a “Highly Sensitive Person.” I’ve been labeled “sensitive” my entire life. But before I discovered Dr. Aron’s website in high school, I thought that “sensitive” was only an appropriate term for someone with strong negative reactions. When I took her “HSP Test,” which you can find on her webiste and in this book…aaand which I’m now realized sound like an STD screening… anyway, after I took the test I recognized that I have strong reactions, period. I don’t only get upset easily, I also get happy easily, scared easily, tired easily, hungry easily, cold easily. *insert your own emotion here* easily probs also. And if this sounds like you, you’re probably Highly Sensitive too. And you’d benefit from reading this book.

Yah, HSP isn’t a medical label, so you might be skeptical about buying into whatever’s written in here. But the fact is, some people are more in touch with their emotions than others. I’ve seen it in myself and in others to varying degrees. And living as a sensitive person is different from living as an “average” person, as Western culture accepts only a certain amount of controlled sensitivity. You shouldn’t need a “self-help” book to tell you that. But Dr. Aron, who identifies as Highly Sensitive herself, has some great insights on Highly Sensitive life and some awesome tips on how to come to terms with your sensitive self.

I wouldn’t say I love everything about this book, but there is quite a bit to love. It was refreshing to read a generalization about the average Highly Sensitve person’s experience and think “that is totally me.” For example, there’s a little section about how sensitive kids are often labeled gifted in elementary school, and then struggle with living up to that label for the rest of their lives. There’s also a bit on how Highly Sensitive People often get too attached in romantic relationships because they feel love more intensely than the average person and they also value close friendships more than the average person. But of course, this is a kind of “self-help” book, so it’s not as scientific or as detailed as I would have liked. There’s also a whole chapter on “spirituality” that I didn’t care for. I’m not really agains the term “spiritual,” but I don’t like it when people use it to only label people who believe in a kind of ethereal higher power despite not being religious. Yea, I would consider people like that to be spiritual, but I would also consider people who have good relationships with the natural world (really good meditators, people who love going on long hikes, y’know) and believe that science can eventually explain everything to be spiritual as well. I feel like Dr. Aron implies that all HSP believe in some kind of god, which clearly isn’t true… cuz I don’t.

But I will definitely be checking out The Highly Sensitive Person in Love and The Highly Sensitive Person’s Workbook. Everything I can do to make the transition into adulthood easier, amirite?

Thoughts on the publication of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

I threw up my dinner a few nights ago. I’m not sure if I had a virus or if something I ate didn’t agree with me, but regardless I decided to stay home from work the next day to be safe. That morning, my boyfriend woke me up and asked me if I was still sick and I replied, “Yes.” Then he said, “There’s going an 8th Harry Potter book.” “Great, now I’m even sicker,” I said.

When I found out that it’s just going to be the script of the play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, my stomach settled again. At least now I don’t have to worry about not getting a chance to ever see the play, which I’ve been excited for ever since it was announced. But at the same time, I know this is a slippery slope. It very well may lead to a second and third and fourth sequel, and I’ve always been very comfortable with the 7-book canon. I remember my high school guidance counselor saying that he’d be shocked if JK Rowling never wrote an 8th book. I told him that there was no way she’d go back on her promise that this was the end …at least not until she was like, 70. Well, guess I was wrong.

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But yah… I’m cautiously optimistic about this. All I want is for it to be well-written and to feel more like Harry Potter than freakin’ No-Majs and Illvermorny.

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January 2016 Reading Wrap-Up

(Better late than never.)

Okay, so… 2016 really needs to step up its reading game. I read 6 books in January (2 adult fiction, 1 adult non-fiction, 2 YA, and 1 middle grade), and I only gave one of them more than 3 stars. And because I’ve read so much crap recently, my desire to read has gone down significantly. Hopefully I’ll dig myself out of this rut soon. 

Cunt: A Declaration of Independence by Inga Muscio
3/5 Stars

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I wrote a very, very long review about this modern feminist classic early in January. I didn’t except it to be my 2nd favorite January read, but here we are… It’s entertaining as hell and contains a lot of wisdom about rape culture, how capitalism harms women, and where women’s art fits into our culture, just to name a few things. I’d recommend it to any feminist of any age, with the disclaimer that there’s also A LOT of pseudo-scientific BS in this book. (And if Gloria Steinem and Madeleine Albright pissed you off this week, take a breather and read Cunt when you’re not so worked up over 2nd-waver weirdness.)

Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli
4.5/5 Stars

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Easily the best book I read this month, Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda was on my to-read list of Goodreads Choice Awards Nominees. It’s an adorable YA LGBT romance sans any unnecessary sap and melodrama. So if that’s your jam, read it and also check out my review.

 

 

 

I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson
1/5 Stars

20820994I always finish books. Except, apparently, when they are as bad as I’ll Give You the Sun. Again, I wrote a very long, very snarky review on this one. Like Simon it’s a YA romance, but I’ll Give You the Sun is full of dumb YA troupes and completely lacks charm.

 

 

 

 

Out of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper
3/5 Stars

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Out of My Mind is on pretty much every list of middle grade books about children with disabilities. It’s not horrible, but I didn’t love it. Pros: I learned a lot about cerebral palsy and the sorts of accomdations people with severe CP use. There’s also a nice message about not assuming that children with cerebral palsy are stupid and don’t need friends. Cons: This message is delivered aggressively and is spoon fed to the reader, rather than allowing he/she to come to his/her own conclusions. It’s also very pessimistic. In the end, the girl with CP still doesn’t have any friends. If you’re looking for a book that shows children with disabilities in a positive light and discourages bullying, I’d recommend Wonder over this.

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
2/5 Stars

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A Little Life won the Goodreads Choice Award for Best Adult Fiction Novel and was nominated for the Man Booker Prize, but I really don’t understand the hype. This 700+ pager about the life of a man who was orphaned and abused as a child is trite, melodramatic, and weirdly elitist. I’ve heard multiple people say that it’s one of the most depressing books they’ve ever read, but it didn’t move me in the slightest. I’m going to get around to writing a proper review on this one soon.

 

 

Pretty Girls by Karin Slaughter

2/5 Stars

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Yet another horrible choice for a Goodread’s Choice Award Nominee… Almost every negative review I read of Pretty Girls said it was too gory for their taste. After reading the book I realized that what people meant was that it was too gross for their taste. (There’s a difference, trust me.) Other than being disgusting, this book gets booooring after about the half way mark. I wrote a review on this too.

 

 

Here’s to a better February…

Pretty Girls: Goodreads Choice Awards Nominee Review

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2-stars

Quick synopsis: In the early ’90s, a 19-year-old girl goes missing. 25 years later, the missing girl’s two younger sisters, who have been estranged since the younger of the two married a rich scumbag, get caught up in the case of another missing teenage girl.

Started off really liking this book. It was fast-paced and the story intrigued me, even though the characters weren’t particularly interesting. And then at a little over the half-way mark I started feeling indifferent. Partially because the plot took a bizarre, unbelievable turn.

And then at three-quarters in I’m like…

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No spoilers of course, but let me give some advice to all of you aspiring horror novel/film writers: there’s a difference between disturbing your readers and disgusting them. I like scary books and scary movies because a weird part of me likes to be disturbed. I find it interesting to look inside the minds of messed up people who commit horrible crimes. I do not, however, enjoy being grossed out. Piss, shit, and vomit fall under the later category. These things don’t shock or disturb me. They just make me lose my lunch.

And when certain characters were in peril, I didn’t give two shits about whether they lived or died. They could be chopped up into little bits for all I cared, because they were so two-dimensional and anything resembling a plot had slipped out from under them.

So yea… skip this one.

Childhood Ruined Again.

So am I sad that I never got my Ilvermorny letter?

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I asked my boyfriend if he thought the word sounded as contrived as “No-Maj” and he said, “Oh much worse.” I think I agree.

Yes, I know that JK Rowling made up everything in the Harry Potter universe and a lot of HP words sound a little ridiculous… but “Ilvermorny” looks like the word your drunk friend tried to get away with playing at the end of your Scrabble game. “It could be a word! Ju…jus look it up. It’s like a town in New England. Swear to God yo…”

I so envy my 14-year-old self’s ignorance of the extended Harry Potter universe. Maybe this is just a sign that I’m getting too old for change… but I still think JK Rowling is getting lazy.

Book Review: I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson

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hey-look-1-star

 

 

 

DNF at 55%

I haven’t abandoned a book in so long… I felt bad about breaking such a long streak of powering through shitty books. But I really didn’t want to suffer through this one any longer. I’m an adult, damnit. I have the right to stop reading something that’s boring my face off.

I was trying to find a picture or gif to describe I’ll Give You the Sun, and this is the best I could come up with:

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Like Prince, this book is so purple. And also like Prince, this book thinks it’s a lot more important than it actually is. (Sorry, Prince fans.)

I think my dislike for poetic prose is a personal taste thing. I still can’t understand why anyone would be moved by a sentence like: “The world is a wrong-sized shoe.” But whatever, to each their own. The writing style isn’t why I stopped reading this book. I stopped reading because the plot is thin and the characters are unbelievable and annoying.

The thin plot: 13-year-old fraternal twins, a guy and a girl, are both trying to get into a pretigious, fine arts high school. They’re also both crushing on boys. And then something goes down and the twins stop speaking to each other. Then there’s a tragedy. Jump forward 3 years and they’re still not really speaking to each other. Even though they live in the same house, which is totally how it would go down IRL. Neither one of them would try to make things right, nuh-uh… And yah, after about 100 pages you know exactly where the story’s going and you don’t care.

The unbelievable and annoying characters: I kind of liked Noah, even though I’m not sure if I buy that real artists think like he does. He was a little whiny, but so are all 13-year-olds. He interested me at least. I found Jude to be obnoxious. Yah, she’s been through a lot, but she’s so “I’m not like other girls” I just feel like I’ve come across her character in so many other books and I’m tired of it. No, I don’t believe that she has no friends. And no, I don’t believe that she became an entirely different person after the tragedy. Yah, that shit’s gonna change you, but not that much. And her crush on Oscar? Give me a fucking break. Borderline-statutory-rape vibes aside, the guy is so stereotypical British it’s almost offensive, and he’s a stock character damaged bad boy that is evidence of (again) lazy writing. These two are really just Edward and Bella with better vocabulary. And from what I understand [spoiler here: they get together in the end.] Which is total bullshit and should not be encouraged. I thought YA was past this crap but I guess not.

I feel bad, because a co-worker recommended this book to me as part of a “readers advisory” exercise that was supposed to help us librarians make better recommendations to our patrons. I told her that I don’t like purple writing or unrealistic romances, but I guess I didn’t explain myself well enough… I hope I enjoy her other recommendations.

2016, you better step it up. No more pretentious novels with characters named “Jude.” Please. (My angry review of A Little Life: coming soon!)

Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda: Goodreads Choice Awards Nominee Review

 

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This book is as cute as everyone says it is. It’s also funny, clever, and not the least bit sappy or emotionally manipulative. The love story between Simon and his anonymous internet friend is believable from beginning to end. Simon’s other friends and family members are also round characters, and are all likable despite their flaws.

Simon does a good job showing that coming out is scary, even for people with accepting families. Simon explains that he’s been coming out his whole life—like every time he has to remind his parents that he likes coffee, for example. And he’s tired of coming out. He’s tired of being vulnerable. I think all of us, LGBT or not, can sympathize with this feeling. But what I probably loved the most about this book were all the clever pop culture references. Simon’s sister has a dog named Bieber, who’s so named because he’s a golden retriever who always looks doped out. And Simon goes into a bit of detail about how and why his first male crush was on Daniel Radcliffe, which I easily relate to… But yah, if you’re over 40, you might not be able to appreciate the book/music/TV jokes and might not enjoy this as much as I did.

Congrats on a great first book, Ms. Albertalli. I’m looking forward to your next one.

My 10 Reading Resolutions for 2016

Here they are…

1.  Read some bigger books
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Yah, I read 60 books in 2015, but a lot of them were less than 300 pages. This is mostly the product of me working as a children’s librarian. This year, I was more in the mood for… I also had an appetite for thrillers, which tend to be on the shorter side. In 2016, I want to read more emotionally and physically heavy adult books, like A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara and The Goldfinch by Donna Tart.

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