Midnight in the Garden of Good & Evil

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Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt


Summary

This book follows New York-based writer John Berendt’s move to Savannah, Georgia in the 1980s and the unbelievable events that transpired during his time there. The book’s initial focus is on the people Berendt befriends in Savannah and the general Southern way of life. However, it later transitions into an account of a real-life murder mystery when one of Savannah’s very own residents—and John’s friend— Jim Williams, is caught up in a highly publicized trial.

Berendt’s style of writing is seamless as he explores the strange, yet charming Savannahian atmospherics and how one big trial shook up one little town.


Memorable Quotes

“The music continued in that vein, off and on, throughout the day and late into the evening. It did the same the following day and the day after that. The piano was a permanent part of the atmosphere, apparently, and so was the party—if a party was what it was,” (39).

“Joe started to play the piano in the middle of Mandy’s story. ‘In the morning,’ he said, ‘three bottles of liquor and a half dozen glasses were missing. That doesn’t sound like a burglary to me. It sounds like a party. And the only thing that annoys me about it is that we weren’t invited,” (48).

“‘Did I ever tell you about them? Well, we keep a lot of insect colonies in big glass jars out there. Some of them have been breeding for twenty five years. That’s a thousand generations. All they know about life is what goes on inside their jar. They haven’t been exposed to pesticides or pollution, so they haven’t developed immunities or evolved in any way. They stay the same, generation after generation. If we released them into the world, they’d die. I think something like that happens after seven generations in Savannah. Savannah gets to be the only place you can live. We’re like bugs in a jar,'” (75).

“Joe had nothing against convicted bank robbers—or getaway drivers either—but he felt foolish entrusting his cash register to a dedicated thief,” (92).

“‘Is everyone out?’ the fire captain asked.

‘Everyone I know about,’ said Joe.

‘You mean there might be people in your house you don’t know about?

‘Captain,’ said Joe, ‘there have been times when there were people in my bed I didn’t know about,'” (93).

“Savannahians drove fast. They also liked to carry their cocktails with them as they drove. According to the National Institute of Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse, more than 8 percent of Savannah’s adults were ‘known alcoholics,’ which may have accounted for the disturbing tendency of motorists to run up over the curb and collide with trees,” (95).

“Burt had a shiny bald head and sad eyes. ‘How you doing Chablis?’ he asked.

‘Well, I ain’t on food stamps yet,’ she said. ‘But I’m gettin’ real close. It’s a good thing y’all don’t pay me any more than you do, or I might never qualify.’ Burt did not answer,” (120).

“‘When people like that see someone like me, who’s never joined their silly pecking order and who’s taken great risks and succeeded, they loathe that person. I have felt it many times. They don’t have any say-so over me, and they don’t like that at all,'” (237).

“Joe ignored the order. ‘The best response is always no response,’ he said. ‘It buys you two or three months’ breathing time, six if you’re lucky,'” (262).


Thoughts

One of my best friends back home loaned me MGGE a couple of weeks ago telling me she fell in love with it extraordinarily quickly and couldn’t get it out of her head. It was difficult for her to identify why it had such a notable impact on her, but she wanted me to read it and see how I felt. Coincidentally, I had briefly heard of this book beforehand on a tour of Savannah as a couple of summers ago. It was my first time in Savannah and the tour fell on the hottest day of the entire summer which meant every tour guide was vehemently fanning herself as she explained the sights from our open-air bus. When our bus approached the main house mentioned in the book, the guide explained Berendt’s book was a wild success and brought a good amount of tourism to Savannah. However, I had no idea then that it would take me two years before I reached for this book. Reading Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil was a way for me to return to Savannah and understand a little bit more about the general culture there as well as reflect on how I felt when I visited.

As I touched on at the top of this review, part of the book’s beauty is the atmosphere evoked on each page. It doesn’t feel forced by any means. In fact, the way each park and house are brought to life is smooth and effortless. It’s easy to fall into and I loved that about it.

One thing I was somewhat taken aback by was the subject matter and general lack of true crime. Maybe I misunderstood what the book was about beforehand, but I was expecting much more mystique and in general something completely different than what the story actually turned out to be. Although the book is arguably more focused on the shooting in Jim Williams’ house than it is on anything else, a substantial piece of the plot (mostly the beginning of the book) explores the varying social circles within Savannah. This big plot point simply put is: Savannah doesn’t want change. Savannah welcomes outsiders, but she will have you know she is fine with the way she is and she definitely doesn’t need outsiders to tell her otherwise. This us vs. them mentality is partly owed to the fact that Berendt himself is an outsider, yet also contradicted as he is able to join the high-flying social circles of Savannah quite easily.

All in all, I enjoyed this book immensely. The writing reminded me of Erik Larson’s, Devil in the White City which made my experience that much better. It highlights Savannah’s good and bad points fairly while also shedding light on a captivating trial and even stranger people. My friend and I both repeatedly said we had to keep reminding ourselves it was non-fiction while reading because everything seemed so outrageous and unrealistic. If that’s not great non-fiction, I don’t know what is.

If you haven’t already, I would highly recommend you read this book!

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Barbie Chang

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Barbie Chang by Victoria Chang


Summary

Barbie Chang is a collection of poems written by Victoria Chang. The overall narrative revolves around several topics such as her parents’ illnesses and her exclusion from a group of moms at school she calls the “Circle”. With brilliant wordplay and stunning stanzas, Chang creates a persona named “Barbie,” who is desperately caught in-between trying to become visible and invisible simultaneously within her life. This collection of poems is very unique because it showcases Chang’s thoughts without any punctuation whatsoever, yet it still brings forth a beautiful narrative about race, death, exclusion, motherhood, and meditations about love.


Memorable Quotes

“the Circle will school her if she lets them they have something to say doves come out of their mouths that explode into splinters in the sky,” (7).

“there are hints of fingerprints on the window but no more fingers” (8).

“Chang was younger she thought the quiets before the storms would last now she knows the storms will come in any form at any time in the quiets she worries about the Circle in the storms she thinks nothing about them and their fables,” (12).

“it’s impossible to outline a beating heart,” (19).

“is a windcatcher still a windcatcher if there is no wind moving it is Barbie Chang still a woman if there is no man hunting her if she does not look in the mirror does she exist if she walks past men and they do not look at her is she still alive is a signified without a signifier really impossible,” (20).

“when you brush a child’s hair the mother can also feel the pain she heard the ice skating party was a hit little girls going in figure eights their breath coming out in clouds shapes like little white hearts,” (27).

“if Barbie Chang perches on a hill with binoculars waiting for deer and sees someone else looking for deer but watching her instead does that mean she exists or that she’s a deer,” (62).


Thoughts

I was assigned this book for my special topics “Beyond XOXO” writing class and I was initially hesitant about reading it. This is the third book we’ve had to read for this class and I haven’t enjoyed the other books, so I had a lot of doubts about diving into this one. I also am typically not a huge fan of poetry, so I dreaded the thought of drudging through an entire book dedicated to just that. However, as you can expect, all of my negative expectations were challenged after I began reading Barbie Chang.

What I liked most about these poems was the imagery. I always love the crunchiness of alliteration and word play when I read, but I enjoy beautiful images and scenes much more. I included a couple of my favorite lines above where I felt the imagery captivating me as I read them. For example, the line about the fingerprints on the window was eerily breathtaking. I kept imagining a cold window with frost and tiny fingerprints prints, but no people around to leave them. I felt colder just reading that line. It was gorgeous.

I’ve found that the poetry Chang writes functions in two different ways. She includes crunchiness with her words while also preserving the dignity of her imagery which is really intriguing. I had a writing professor last year who said some people (including herself) don’t picture a book’s plot progression like a movie on a screen, but instead they hear it as music with each line providing a note. I think this poetry is perfect for both types of readers. For the more visually focused, Chang provides evocative illustrations. For her musical readers, she composes songs with each word. In the end, it’s all hauntingly beautiful. I think the poetic structure also gives Chang a lot of room to play with diverse literary devices simply because her stanzas are so short and they aren’t very wordy. Having less room and therefore less words, forces her to carefully craft and emphasize every word to make sure it really belongs in the poem.

What I didn’t like about the poems were the vague metaphors. A lot of times they were confusing and hard to picture. However, with a little re-reading, I was able to plow along just fine. Something I also think is important to note is that this collection of poems deals with complicated and heavy/depressing topics which have the capability to turn a lot of readers off. However, because they are poems with some sort of distance from the speaker (i.e. “Barbie Chang”), the emotional tone is shifted more towards the abstract. Because of this, the emotions in the poetry come off feeling much more detached than in your face. This isn’t to say that there aren’t hard-hitting lines, but simply that their emotional impact is dulled because of the distance between author and persona/speaker.

I loved this book and I want to read another one of Victoria Chang’s poetry collections so I can further explore the genre. I would like to get a better sense of what contemporary poets are doing with their work and become more comfortable with poetry. If you’re like me and you know you usually don’t like poetry but still want to try to get into it, I would suggest you preview this collection and see what you think.

-L

Goals for this Blog + Life

How do I always manage to get to this point? Procrastination is such a beast. I think I’ve made quite a few of these life/excuse/procrastination posts on this blog which is interesting given that I only have a limited number of posts… but hey, that’s okay!

Life has been good, although it has had its rough patches. This semester my schedule is much different than it was last semester so I’ve been trying my best to adjust accordingly. In the fall, I started working at my school’s nursing department which I’ve loved. I deal with a lot of spreadsheets and paperwork for the school which is a great experience because it’s so different from the other jobs I’ve had and what I want to do in the future. I also love it because I really enjoy spending time with all of my wonderful co-workers who are just so fun to talk to. Back in September, I also worked a couple of months as a PALS* assistant which was insanely rewarding and just a great overall experience. I never realized how much I loved pre-schoolers!

This semester I have class five days a week, and I work three of those days. This in itself has been a little rough just because last semester I alternated working and school days which streamlined my week nicely. This semester I can’t do that. I also have a couple of four-hour writing workshop classes before and after other two-hour classes, so I end up having some six/twelve hour days when I factor in work and music lessons. (Do you feel bad yet? Kidding, kidding!) Other than that, I’ve been enjoying myself immensely. I’ve also been trying to get out and do fun things once in a while, cook new recipes, and of course, read.

I have to admit folks, reading has been hard. I’m taking two different writing workshop classes where we do read, but not enough to warrant material for reviews. One of my classes is a non-fiction workshop where we focus on essays and shorter pieces so there’s not a lot of review-ready material with that class. The majority of the class is actually focused on reading our peers’ original non-fiction essays which is incredible, but I can’t talk about them here as these pieces are vulnerable in their beginning stages of life.  The other is a class solely focused on the way authors write love where we do read some longer books, but not usually ones I’m interested in enough to write a review. Maybe this needs to change?

I think the problem is that by the end of the day I’m so tired of reading peoples’ essays and critiquing them that I kind of just give up and listen to a podcast. I’m going to actively find a way around this because I really do love to read, and I want this blog to flourish.

My goal is that this will be the first post of many because I miss reviewing books I have chosen to read on my own. So anyways, this long post is basically another lousy : I’m sorry for the hiatus, and I’m back again. I didn’t create this blog with other people in mind so it’s funny I’m writing as if someone is reading this, but if you are, hopefully you will be able to see some new posts in the next coming weeks.

To close out, here’s some cool pictures from the last couple of months!

*PALs is an early literacy assessment for pre-k students aimed at helping their kindergarten teachers determine literacy skills such as how they’re reading or what letters they recognize.

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What’s Next?

I realize I should probably just wait and post this tomorrow because I don’t think I’ll be finishing my current book tonight, but I’m really impatient and motivated today. This is a pretty personal post, so if you don’t mind that then feel free to read ahead. At the beginning of this summer I had my fourth knee surgery so I’ve had a lot of time on my hands. (It’s a fairly intense surgery, but since I’ve had it in the past I had good idea of what I was getting into beforehand. I’m also doing a lot better now so no it’s no biggie.)

My biggest hope has always been to express myself in some way and this blog feels like one of the only ways I can do so.  The only stipulation is I don’t post as nearly as much as I would like to. In general, one of my biggest continual goals is working on self-discipline. This goal is aimed towards every facet of my everyday life, but in general, I want to apply it to the way I read and write. One thing my writing professor said that stuck with me was the people who become writers are the ones who sit down and make themselves write every single day. The people who have self-discipline and push themselves to keep going are the ones who survive, and I intend on being one of those people. I guess I just need some sort of starting point.

But at the same time, do starting points ever reveal themselves? Maybe not. For example, I have this idea for a short story I want to write. I know exactly how I want it to feel and the atmosphere I want to create, but I haven’t really sat down to write it and I’m afraid that if I keep putting it off I’ll lose the inspiration to write it. It’s whiny, but hey, it’s true.

The same writing professor I mentioned a little bit ago marked up my short stories I turned in and wrote some great comments, but I can’t help but feel what I’ve written is pretty average. But maybe that’s the point? Maybe feeling over-critical about your own work is the best way to push forward because you know you care that much. That every syllable of every word and each sentence you write will face a certain direction and move in a specific way. There are a lot of things I’ll never be, but I’ve always wanted to be a writer. I think the first time I thought of writing as something I could be good at was in fifth grade. I had always loved reading about the Titanic* (*not because of the movie, but because the idea of being on a sinking boat in a freezing ocean horrified me) and I wrote about it for a fiction assignment. I don’t remember exactly what I wrote word-for-word, but I remember the feeling of writing it and seeing the picture of the boat I had colored in next to it. It was displayed on the wall for back to school night and it was the first piece of writing I was truly proud of.

Then came the eighth grade poetry writing assignment. I composed a portfolio of poems, each in a different style, for a class assignment. One day before lunch my teacher called me to her desk. I’m not exactly sure how she asked it, but she pulled me aside and said, “how did you come up with the ideas to write these [poems]?” I explained to her that my dad was a great writer. She then perked up and asked, “so your dad helped you?” I then replied no, he hadn’t. I had written them myself. The knack for writing had come from him.

I miss my writing class a lot. It wasn’t perfect, but every day the professor expected us to send her a daily notebook of 100 words Monday through Sunday. A lot of people hated the assignment, but I adored it. Writing at least 100 words every day kept me accountable and I loved venting to someone I knew probably wouldn’t read what I had written. The fact that my homework was something I loved to do made the class that much more exciting (although a bit soul-sucking at times). However, I was my own worst enemy last semester in a lot of ways. I closed myself off because I felt like I was protecting myself by doing so, but writing (and C of course) was my cure. This summer I hope to find the benefits of that cure once again. I’m a lot happier now, but I have my moments. I want to satisfy every version of myself—whether it be the ten-year-old me or the thirteen-year-old me. I like to do these check-ins where I imagine myself in the future and reach out to whoever that is. And then when the moment comes, I reach back to the past version of myself like some sort of weird parallel universe thing. Yes, I made it. We’re here and we’re okay. I mostly use it for high-anxiety situations, (i.e. presentations, big tests, interviews, etc.) but sometimes I use it to check-in with my goals. I think that trying to nail down aspirations is a big part of life, but I wonder if the life of a creator or artist (not sure if I am either, but I’d like to be) has to be so dramatic and unstable. I don’t want my life to feel like that, but I want to create some form of art. I want my voice to be heard, and I want to feel some shift from the world around me; some response that says what I’m doing is right and I’m heading in the right direction.

Anyways, my goal starts with this blog. We’ll see what happens. I’ve made a lot of unfulfilled promises in the past so I won’t stress myself out or self-flagellate over a couple of missed posts, but I can’t keep sitting by. I don’t think I could live with myself if I didn’t start writing. So here’s to trying to be a better version of myself.

On a lighter note, I’ve put up some lights on my new bookcase and I couldn’t be happier!

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The Winter People

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The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon


Summary

In 1908, Sara Harrison Shea and her husband Martin were found dead at the edge of the woods behind their home. This is the beginning and end of their stories.

Meanwhile in the present, Ruthie wakes up one morning and discovers her mother has disappeared without a trace. With the responsibility of an entire farm to run and two young daughters to look after, Alice’s disappearance is shocking and uncharacteristic. While Ruth and her younger sister look for their mother, we meet another woman named Katherine who is still recovering from the shock of discovering her husband, Gary, has been killed in a fatal car accident not just two months after their son’s death. As she sorts through his lasting memories and oddly enough, bank statements, she notices a bill for a meal at a restaurant hours away from her home. Immediately she senses something is wrong. As Katherine seeks the truth of Gary’s whereabouts before his death, she too, becomes woven into the fatal tapestry of Alice’s disappearance.

Set in wintry Vermont, The Winter People, jumps in time and shifts between three main narrators who separately explore the chilling prospect of life beyond death.


Memorable Quotes

“Madness is always a wonderful excuse, don’t you think? For doing terrible things to other people.”

“If snow melts down to water, does it still remember being snow?”

“She was his great adventure; his love for her had taken him places he’d never dreamed of going.”

“I think people see what they want to see… But think about it: if you’d lost someone you love, wouldn’t you give almost anything to have the chance to see them again?”

“We all do what we think is best. Sometimes we make terrible mistakes, sometimes we do the right thing. Sometimes we never know. We just have to hope.”


Thoughts

I picked this book up on a whim back in January. I haven’t read many mysteries/thrillers/horror novels, (I would think this book could fit into all three categories) so I decided to give this book a shot. Given the title and the nature of the plot, I immediately decided it would be a perfect book to read in the gray months of winter. While I wasn’t wrong, I also didn’t really finish the book until February. (It seems my lack of apt scheduling has done me in once again. And yes, this review is out of order and very late. Not quite sure what happened to my queue, but I’ll go along with it.) 

In the beginning of the book the biggest inconvenience is the constant shift between characters and it’s something I would do myself while writing. When you are just starting to read and are not quite situated into the plot, it can be difficult to keep track of who is who. I know I complained about this in my last review, so at least I’m being consistent. However, if you encounter this issue, I would encourage you to just keep reading. It may take awhile, but (if you’re like me) you will become more aware of the characters and have an easier time keeping track of what’s going on within thirty pages or so.

There were no characters in the book I was drawn to or found myself thinking about after I finished, and I think this is the book’s weakest point. However, I appreciated that the story itself was spooky, but nothing so horrifyingly awful that I couldn’t sleep at night (which is a definite plus in my book). The plot is entertaining and will keep you reading. There’s lots of suspense and twists, but there are parts that seem pretty improbable so it’s best to keep an open mind while reading. Likewise, there are still some questions that remain unanswered in the end which can be slightly disappointing for some readers. Overall, I would give this book three stars. Fairly entertaining plot, but not the best horror/thriller novel of the year.

(I cheated a little by meshing a part of my review from Goodreads with the review I wanted to write on here… sorry not sorry. To anyone reading, thank you! Hopefully I’ll have a new post up by tomorrow or the next day. I just finished a Murakami novel a couple of days ago and I’m still sorting out my feelings about it so I can finally write a review.)

Into the Water

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Into the Water by Paula Hawkins


Summary

Like any small town, Beckford has its share of strange residents and even stranger secrets. When Nel Abbott is found dead in the river that intersects the town, her estranged sister Julia returns to look after her teenage daughter and pick up the pieces following her tragic death. However, while some residents claim Nel’s death must have been a suicide given her obsession with the historic part of the river known as the “Drowning Pool,” Jules is not convinced.

Why would Nel throw away everything; her daughter, her forthcoming book about the river, her life, just to become a part of the town’s gory history of drownings? Into the Water jumps between various perspectives of Beckford’s diverse occupants to paint a picture of a town haunted by misconstrued memories and monsters hidden in plain sight.


Memorable Quotes

“To the untrained eye, it might seem you were a fan of bridges: the Golden Gate, the Nanjing Yangtze River Bridge, the Prince Edward Viaduct. But look again. It’s not about the bridges, it’s not some love of these masterworks of engineering. Look again and you see it’s not just bridges, it’s Beachy Head, Aokigahara Forest, Preikestolen. The places where hopeless people go to end it all, cathedrals of despair,” (page 15).

“Opposite the entrance, images of the Drowning Pool. Over and over and over, from every conceivable angle, every vantage point: pale and icy in winter, the cliff black and stark or sparkling in the summer, an oasis, lush and green, or dull flinty grey with storm clouds overhead, over and over and over. The images blurred into one, a dizzying assault on the eye. I felt as though I were there, in that place, as though I were standing at the top of the cliff, looking down into the water, feeling that terrible thrill, the temptation of oblivion,” (page 15).

“But appearances are deceptive, for this is a deathly place. The water, dark and glassy, hides what lies beneath: weeds to entangle you, to drag you down; jagged rocks to slice through flesh. Above looms the grey slate cliff: a dare, a provocation,” (page 41).

“She insisted there was nothing wrong, that it hadn’t been an argument at all, that it was none of my business anyway. A bravado performance, but her face was streaked with tears. I offered to see her home, but she told me to fuck off,” (47).

“‘So, two women have died in that river this year?’ I said. ‘Two women who knew each other, who were connected…’ The DI said nothing, he didn’t look at me, I wasn’t even sure he was listening.

‘How many have died there? I mean, in total?’

‘Since when?’ he asked, shaking his head again. ‘How far back would you like to go?’

Like I said, fucking weird,” (page 50).

“I wanted to touch you again, to feel your skin. I felt sure I could wake you up, I whispered your name and waited for you to quiver, for your eyes to flick open and follow me around the room,” (page 53).

“Julia stood very still, turning her head towards the window as though she were listening for something. ‘What?’ she asked, but she wasn’t looking at me. It was like she was looking at someone else or at her reflection. ‘What did you say?'” ( page 57).

“Something about that image jarred, made me feel something I hadn’t felt in a while. Shame. The dirty, secret shame of the voyeur, tinged with something else, something I couldn’t quite put my finger on and didn’t want to,” (page 65).

“I could feel it [the river] pushing against the walls, seeping into the cracks of the brickwork, rising. I could taste it, muddy and dirty in my mouth, and my skin felt damp. Somewhere in the house, I could hear someone laughing, and it sounded just like you,” (page 66).

“Something got missed though, didn’t it? Like one of those con tricks, when you take your eye off the ball for a second and the whole game changes,” (page 97).

“Seriously, how is anyone supposed to keep track of all of those bodies around here? It’s like Midsomer Murders, only with accidents and suicides and grotesque historical misogynistic drownings instead of people falling into the slurry or bashing each other over the head,” (page 129).

A/N** I have a few more quotes I could include, but I didn’t want to risk including any spoilers as this book is still fairly hot off the press.


Thoughts

I’m not exactly sure where to start, but I will say I did have high expectations for this book and I think this alone really contributed to the way I read it. If you saw my post from earlier this year, you know I reviewed Paula Hawkins previous novel The Girl on the Train and loved the psychology that went into the consideration of the characters’ thoughts and motivations. I know in a lot of ways it’s unfair to judge a book by its previously adored sibling, but I ultimately couldn’t help wistfully thinking about Hawkins’ The Girl on the Train as I read Into the Water. 

From the first batch of reactions I saw online I expected this book to be different from TGOTT, but excellent in its own way. I read reviews claiming ITW was similar in style to TGOTT but further developed in both plot and character development. After reading I can say I strongly disagree with this sentiment.

Now let me quickly say (or rather, type) I am not writing this review to bash ITW. There were a lot of things I loved about this book and will mention later, but I can’t honestly tell you that it was my favorite book to read and if nothing else, my reviews are honest. When I started reading I was still in school preparing for finals, so I didn’t have much time to spend on anything other than studying and writing essays. However, there would be brief periods of time, whether on the bus or waiting in line at the cafeteria, I would crack open this book in hopes of being sucked away to the quaint little town of Beckford. The beginning was promising. A small town, a shady cast of characters, a history of mysterious deaths. What’s not to love? But for some reason, the more I read the more disenchanted I became. After some time I pushed ITW aside to finish If We Were Villains. When I had finished IWWV, I begrudgingly turned my attention back to ITW.

My lack of interest in Into the Water was disappointing because I really wanted to love it just as much, or more than The Girl on the Train. (Not to mention I payed $30 for a hardcover copy.) But alas, I guess some things in life are meant to be. So to make what I liked and disliked about this book a bit clearer, I’ve decided to ditch my usual format and compose my thoughts into a bulleted list.

What I Disliked

  • The constant switching between narrators—Although this complaint seems a bit silly given I usually love switching into the headspace of different characters, this book has over fourteen different narrators which can be somewhat disorienting. I got used to it by the end, but in the beginning I would have much preferred learning the plot through one narrator instead of five.
  • The simplicity of the plot— There were a lot of twists scattered throughout the book, but both the writing and the plot felt rushed. I didn’t feel the book was as carefully thought out as it’s predecessor.
  •  The overall resolution— Again, felt a bit rushed and awkward.

What I Liked

  • The use of the river as a character—The imagery of the river was absolutely gorgeous. As I read I could picture myself looking down into the dark water or watching the kids swim in the summertime. Overall, the river was the most interesting character as it’s an omnipresent force that propels the story forward.
  • The plot twists— This somewhat contradicts to what I said about the plot in the dislikes section, but even thought the plot was simple there were still some good plot twists. (I think the simplicity comes from the fact I was able to guess most of them early on.)
  • The cover— Yep, I’m really going there. Judge me as the aesthetic trash I am.
  • Family histories and complexities— I think this is a strong point of the book as the plot focuses on Beckford’s dark history which influences many of the families in the story.
  • Experimentation— Despite disliking the array of narrators, I admired Hawkins’ bravery in experimenting with something a lot of readers may not like, and I hope to follow suit as I embark on my own writing process.

If you made it this far, thanks for reading! Did any of you read Into the Water? If so, I would love to hear your thoughts. Did you love it? Hate it? Feel neutral? Are you reading anything else this summer? Let me know in the comments!

-L

If We Were Villains

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If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio

“If We Were Villains is written with the intention of paying homage to William Shakespeare—who has had more than enough defamers, detractors, and deniers. (Lord, what fools these mortals be.)”


Summary

Oliver Marks is finally getting out of prison. For what, we don’t know. What we do know is that in the September of 1997 Oliver roamed the halls of Dellecher Classical Conservatory with six other thespians, friends, and fellow lovers of Shakespeare for the fourth and final year. Through intensive classes, grueling rehearsals, and long study sessions, the seven spent nearly every waking moment together. But as they prepare for their upcoming performance of Julius Caesar, something in the group’s dynamic begins to slowly shift.

Through Oliver’s captivating narration the reader follows the lives of Dellecher’s top theatre students as they navigate their roles on and offstage. But when the drama begins to follow its way offstage, the curtain call is only the beginning.


Memorable Quotes

“The number of auditions under my belt didn’t matter; the anxiety never left me,” (page 14).

“I, on the other hand, was average in every imaginable way: not especially handsome, not especially talented, not especially good at anything but just good enough at everything that I could pick up whatever slack the others left,” (page 16).

After a slightly awkward pause in which I exchanged quick baffled glances with Filippa and Alexander, Meredith said, ‘Did that just happen? For God’s sake, it’s just a play.’

‘Well.’ Frederick sighted, removed his glasses, and began to polish them on the hem of his shirt. ‘Duels have been fought over less,'” (page 52).

“There had always been small rivalries between us, but never such an open display of hostility. With a sip of tea I persuaded myself that we were all simply overreacting. Actors are by nature volatile—alchemic creatures composed of incendiary elements, emotion and ego and envy. Heat them up, stir them together, and sometimes you get gold. Sometimes disaster,” (page 53).

“Silence settled, and I was struck by the senseless idea that we and everything around us were made of glass. I was afraid to breathe, afraid to move, afraid something might break,” (page 77).

“The lake, the broad black water, lurked in the background of every scene we played after that—like a set from a play we did once shuffled to the back of the scene shop where it would have been quickly forgotten if we didn’t have to walk past it every day. Something changed irrevocably, in those few dark minutes James was submerged, as if the lack of oxygen had caused all our molecules to rearrange,” (page 79).

“Though the timeline is clear in my head, explaining it to someone else is a curious task, simple in theory but painstaking in practice, like assembling a long line of dominoes. One event inevitably leads to the next,” (page 145).

“I gaze across the lake at the top of the Tower. A large bird—a hawk, maybe—soars in long lazy circles over the trees, an elegant black boomerang against the silvery sky,” (page 147).

“She folded her arms and said, ‘I’m going to bed unless you’ve got something to say.’

I didn’t. I desperately wanted to, but my mind was blank. For someone who loved words as much as I did, it was amazing how often they failed me,” (page 211).

“‘Anything can feel like punishment if it’s taught poorly,'” (page 267).

“I shifted and my shoes squeaked on the mirror, James turned and caught my eye. But I stayed where I was, afraid to move toward him, afraid I might lose my footing on solid ground, detach from what had anchored me before and drift out into the void of space—a vagabond, wandering moon,” (page 305).


Thoughts

My boyfriend bought me this book for my anniversary and I don’t think he could have done a better job. Usually he’ll buy a book I’ve talked about, but this time he decided to find something new and I was pretty impressed by his choice. I’ve read quite a few Shakespeare plays, although I’m no expert by any means, so he figured I’d enjoy the way Rio integrates lines from various plays into the text. He was very right.

From the very beginning, I was hooked. From the way the characters use Shakespeare’s words in their everyday conversations to the fast-paced plot, I couldn’t stop reading. The characters are witty and fun to follow, but also extremely intelligent and cunning. In addition, their use of conversational Shakespeare not only helped characterize them, but it was incredibly fun to read. And again, the book overall is M.L. Rio’s tribute to Shakespeare, so expect to see lots of lines, quotes, and small easter eggs throughout the story. However, if you’re not a Shakespeare buff, don’t worry. I think as long as you’re willing to step into the minds the young actors you can catch on fairly quickly.

I appreciated the extent Rio characterizes her leading characters. There were a few I thought remained somewhat underdeveloped, but the majority of the characters are distinctly illustrated from their physicality to their innermost thoughts. The book is narrated by Oliver which only gives us a narrow perspective, but there are many ways in which we are able to get a deeper look at the other characters’ fears and motivations. Oliver himself is at times mysterious in his intentions, but overall he’s an insightful narrator as he’s the most removed from the group of friends.

This last semester I took my first fiction writing course as I’m an English major (and in the Dual-Degree Teaching Program at my university) with an emphasis on Creative Writing. The reason I mention my class is because I noticed myself reading this book through the lens of someone who wants to be a writer. My professor consistently advised us that when we read books we should search for what appeals to us and what doesn’t because it can be extremely useful when we begin writing. While I was reading If We Were Villains I couldn’t help but notice all of the beautiful metaphors. I included a couple of ones I loved in the memorable quotes section, but there were so many gorgeous lines scattered throughout the book. M.L. Rio’s writing is not only very meticulous and engaging to read, but her way of describing landscapes and characters is very three-dimensional. I could see the lake at the school and the characters seemed to jump off the page.

To sum it up, this book was a joy to read. When I thought I knew where the plot was going it twisted and kept me reading. I became invested in the characters, and I grew to love theatre even more with each page. The book hits so many marks because it’s hard to write a great plot with quality writing, but Rio checked off every box.


Extra Resources

If you’re interested in learning more about the author, I’ve included a link to her website and Goodreads page below.

https://mlrio.com/

http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/14954351.M_L_Rio

The Circle

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The Circle by Dave Eggers

(Title image credit goes to The Daily Beast.)


Summary

Mae, as many twenty-somethings do, finds herself stuck in the mechanical ebb and flow of everyday life. With each passing day, she becomes increasingly troubled by her mundane office job and the overall lot she’s been given in life. One day, an old college friend named Annie contacts Mae and advises her to apply for a job at an up-and-coming tech company known as “The Circle”.  Mae is immediately taken with the idea of fully realizing her potential and quickly applies.

The Circle is a utopia in every way Mae could have ever hoped for. With dozens of passionate employees (known as “Circlers”) and a combined drive for world peace, Mae discovers a sense of solace in this new hub of progression. The Circle represents the best technology and an even more promising and innovative future with each new program it implements. However, the longer Mae works, the more unsettling the company’s ethos becomes. With eerie mantras promoting complete transparency over personal privacy, the Circle slowly transforms from a company of promises to one filled with secrets.


Memorable Quotes

“She couldn’t stand it. Every day of that job, the eighteen months she worked there, she wondered if she could really ask Annie for a favor. She’d never been one to ask for something like that, to be rescued, to be lifted,” (page 11).

“‘I like your voice,’ he said. ‘Was it always that way?’

‘Low and scratchy?’

‘I would call it seasoned. I would call it soulful. You know Tatum O’Neal?'” (page 35).

“‘You like bowl cuts.’

‘No. Your voice. So far it’s the best thing about you.’

Mae said nothing. She felt like she’d been slapped.

‘Shit,’ he said. ‘Did that sound weird? I was trying to give you a compliment,'” (page 35).

“‘Folks, we’re at the dawn of the Second Enlightenment. And I’m not talking about a new building on campus. I’m talking about an era where we don’t allow the majority of human thought and action and achievement and learning to escape as if from a leaky bucket. We did that once before. It was called the Middle Ages, the Dark Ages. If not for the monks, everything the world had ever learned would be lost. Well, we live in a similar time, when we’re losing the vast majority of what we do and see and learn. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Not with these cameras, and not with the mission of the Circle,'” (page 68).

“‘Mae, we would finally be compelled to be our best selves. And I think that people would be relieved. There would be this global sigh of relief. Finally, finally, finally we can be good. In a world where bad choices are no longer an option, we have no choice but to be good. Can you imagine?'” (page 292)


Thoughts

Truthfully I hadn’t heard of this book until I happened to see one of the first movie trailers for its film adaptation. I figured that I hadn’t read any dystopian-leaning fiction in awhile and the plot looked fascinating, so I was immediately drawn to the book and purchased it as soon as I could. This being said, before I even picked up the book I had a sense of the material I would be working with. I figured the layout would look a little something like this: Tech company looks great at first glance, a hopelessly naïve girl applies for her dream job, aforementioned girl is lured into the jungles of the company’s promises, and then everything suddenly turns sour in a matter of chapters until the girl realizes her first mistake working for the company. The magic of this genre, primarily paved by noteworthy novels such as 1984 and Brave New World, is that the plot’s ever-present anxiety and tension is built into the very foundation of the book just as much as it is in its text. This tension is a definite strength in The Circle. Dave Eggers does a wonderful job of suspending the reader in an atmosphere feels both hostile and warmly inviting. In my mind, this juxtaposition creates a thrilling electric tension.

In addition, one of the greatest characteristics about this book is how mysterious it is about revealing the company’s true intentions. As I was reading, I felt like I was running through page after page hoping to arrive at an obvious climax, but each time I became more ensnarled in the Circle’s web. The beauty and the insanity of this book is that you’re constantly presented with unfulfilled questions despite the spiking tension. In time, this either becomes enticing or frustrating depending on the reader.

Without spoiling anything I’ll give you a quick example. Mae’s job includes many components which seem ridiculous, but no one (not even Mae herself) ever confirms how ridiculous they are or questions why she’s being put up to all of this work. She starts off with two computer screens which seems somewhat normal, but then her manager begins adding one monitor after another. After that she’s answering surveys, conducting more tests, coaching newbies, and still completing her regular workload. The company also continually harasses Mae into staying late for events and clubs and interrogates her if she doesn’t comply. But again, this is left for the reader to gauge as the Circle is only as horrifying as the reader makes it.

In totality, I think the book’s biggest weakness lies in the fact that it somewhat trivializes the social commentary it hopes to invoke with over-simplified and reused technological cliches and criticisms. The message of The Circle is one the general public has already heard time and time again, so it’s really nothing new. (I like to think of it as more of a call to action rather than a direct claim about the way technology is integrated into society for better or for worse.) Furthermore, sometimes it felt like Eggers was trying too hard to write the next 1984 so that turned me off a bit. However, on the flip side I think there is something to be said for the pacing of the plot and the overall character development (**or lack thereof). The Circle is similar to many other dystopian movies and books in content and structure, but different as its conclusion leaves multiple questions hanging and challenges the genre in an interesting way. I wouldn’t go as far as to say this book is revolutionary, but it is an interesting read nonetheless.

Lastly, I haven’t seen the movie but if my sources are correct, there are many differences between movie and book so I think it’s definitely worth reading.

Modern Romance

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Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari


Summary

Although the concept of courtship has been around for decades, for someone struggling to keep up with the times, the ways of modern romance can seem disorienting. With the rise of smartphones and cutting-edge technology, basic tasks are now easier than ever. Everything from ordering takeout to calling a cab simply require just the click of a button. However, how does this new technology influence dating?

Modern Romance attempts to answer the most pressing questions about love in the 21st century. Written by comedian Aziz Ansari with the help of NYU sociologist Eric Klinenberg, Modern Romance, covers subjects like how dating sites and apps affect singles to how different countries view infidelity.


Memorable Quotes

“As I hit thirty, I started to despise the bar scene. I had experienced every single version of those nights. I knew all the possible outcomes, and I knew the probabilities of those outcomes. When you hit that point, you realize how fruitless trying to find love by barhopping can be; you have enough data to know that statistically the smartest thing for you to do when you walk into a bar is go to the bathroom, jerk off, and leave,” (page 210).

“I also started losing single friends. One day i stood alone at a barbecue at my house and saw nothing but couples around me. It seemed like I was the only single dude in the mix. Everyone else was splitting their racks of ribs into halves and sharing. Meanwhile, I had to eat a whole rack by myself like some kind of lonely fatso. I felt like it was time for a change,” (page 210).


Thoughts

Okay, just to clarify, I know I don’t have many quotes from this book. Why? Well, it’s not that there weren’t any I didn’t like, it’s more that I was reading so quickly I barely had to time to mark down my favorites. What initially drew me to the book was its title and its author. I assumed it would be hilarious because it was written by a comedian. And as I started to read, I immediately loved the small touches of humor Ansari provided. However, if I am being honest, I did feel a bit mislead.

When I began to read this book in the bookstore, it was immediately presented as a book where Aziz would talk about his own funny dating stories and then explore the world of modern dating. However, what it actually turned out to be is a guide book to mastering modern dating. Of course, if I had read a bit more of the book from the start, I might have realized this sooner.

As I was reading I could definitely pick out Aziz’s humor, but there were also sections that were much more serious because he does try to ground his findings with facts and/or anecdotes. A good portion of the book explores social media’s impact on modern courtship and the ways it benefits or harms relationships. It’s a hard topic to tackle, but Ansari did a wonderful job of making it more manageable.

What’s Up Homies?

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Chaotically Beautiful: My Current Bookshelf Set-Up

Hello!

I am not sure if anyone is reading this, but if you are, welcome! I haven’t posted anything personal in awhile, so I thought I’d change that. I returned back to school this last Saturday, and so far I’m already fairly busy. The first day of class was January 24th and it’s been quite a whirlwind since then. I’m currently taking five classes (sounds underwhelming, but time-consuming nonetheless) in addition to trying to beef up this blog.

As you can see, I have far too many books at school. One of my favorite hobbies is to go to the local bookstore with my boyfriend and buy books (used and new) I really shouldn’t be buying. In addition to the books I brought with me from home, I have a little over thirty of my own personal books (displayed on this shelf). I find this quite amazing because during the last couple of years, I never bought books. If I was in the mood to read I would either get a digital copy or check out books from the local library. However, because there are so many wonderful independent bookstores in the city and I love to support them, I end up dedicating most of my budget to new reads.

Some pictures from my favorite bookstore:

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My Favorite Bookstore with my Favorite Person (I covered his face for the sake of maintaining his privacy)

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If you haven’t been able to tell by my recent posts, Haruki Murakami is my new favorite author. Interestingly enough, Murakami seems to be either extremely popular, or discretely unheard of. I only recently discovered his works after my best friend raved about one of his books. I really wish I had discovered him sooner, but then again, I think college is the perfect time to fall into his world purely because life can get really difficult when you’re away from a support system at home.

Luckily, I have my amazing boyfriend in my life who not only listens to my endless venerations of Haruki Murakami, but has also surprised me with multiple books. In addition, over the Christmas holiday, my dad also was able to discover the magic of Murakami! (Fun fact: I love raving about things I enjoy and then indoctrinating others into enjoying them with me! I’m basically my own cult leader!*)**

Currently I have been reading, The Winter People, by Jennifer McMahon, but I may put it on hold to start reading Murakami’s, Kafka on the Shore. 

As far as what I will be reviewing next, I am hoping to finish 2 posts by the end of this week (Or more realistically next week because I have a Saturday class again).

Here’s a sneak peak of what I will be reviewing shortly:

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If you’ve made it this far, thanks for reading! I hope you are having a fantastic 2017 thus far, and let me know what you’re reading in the comments!

 

-L


*Sarcastic remark

**Please do not report me to the authorities