Book Review: The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

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My Rating: 4.5 stars

Title: The Year of Magical Thinking

Author: Joan Didion

Pub Date: February 13, 2007

Pages: 227

For People Who Like: Poetic Writing, Self-Reflection, and Nonfiction

Bri’s Thoughts

This was a beautifully written self-reflection on how Joan Didion processed the death of her husband and then her daughter. It is hard for a person who has never had to deal with the type of grief that Didion went through to try to comprehend how someone could possibly cope with it. However, with this book, the reader can get that kind of insight.

I wasn’t sure that I wanted to read this book at first because of how sad I knew it would make me feel (it did). Nonetheless, I picked this up for a class that I was going to take in the fall. Even though I am no longer planning on taking that class, I am still glad that I read this. I feel like knowing more about the thought processes going on behind someone who is in mourning can help others have more empathy and know how to better handle the healing process.

This is also a good book to pick up if you are currently or ever have been in mourning. Didion’s analytical thought processes behind how to handle her losses were such an interesting way to look at life.

Overall, a rare look at something that nobody wishes to go through.

Synopsis

‘An act of consummate literary bravery, a writer known for her clarity allowing us to watch her mind as it becomes clouded with grief.’

From one of America’s iconic writers, a stunning book of electric honesty and passion. Joan Didion explores an intensely personal yet universal experience: a portrait of a marriage–and a life, in good times and bad–that will speak to anyone who has ever loved a husband or wife or child.

Several days before Christmas 2003, John Gregory Dunne and Joan Didion saw their only daughter, Quintana, fall ill with what seemed at first flu, then pneumonia, then complete septic shock. She was put into an induced coma and placed on life support. Days later–the night before New Year’s Eve–the Dunnes were just sitting down to dinner after visiting the hospital when John Gregory Dunne suffered a massive and fatal coronary. In a second, this close, symbiotic partnership of forty years was over. Four weeks later, their daughter pulled through. Two months after that, arriving at LAX, she collapsed and underwent six hours of brain surgery at UCLA Medical Center to relieve a massive hematoma.

This powerful book is Didion’s attempt to make sense of the “weeks and then months that cut loose any fixed idea I ever had about death, about illness . . . about marriage and children and memory . . . about the shallowness of sanity, about life itself.”

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Book Review: Red Clocks by Leni Zumas

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My Rating: 3

Title: Red Clocks

Author: Leni Zumas

Pub Date: January 16, 2018

Pages: 356

For People Who Like: Feminist Dystopia, Alternating Perspectives, Creative Writing Styles

Bri’s Thoughts:

I finished this book a while ago and it took me such a long time to finally write a review of it because I still feel a little conflicted on how I liked it. On one hand, it was a very creatively written book that had a writing style which kept me engaged and wanting to keep turning the page. However, on the other hand, I don’t feel like I learned much from it or came away with anything substantial.

Each chapter of the book follows 4 different women and their lifestyles during a dystopian America where abortion is illegal. I found all four women’s perspectives to be interesting and odd (I never got bored). This made me want to continue reading and get to the part when their stories would lead to some sort of cohesive idea, but that never happened. I think the author was trying to prove a point through their stories, but was just a bit too vague.

I went into this book hoping to gain some new insight into the controversy over abortion and was fairly excited seeing as I haven’t read many feminist dystopian novels that seem to be popular right now. However, I came away feeling a bit lacking on the insight. I would have liked to have had the novel be from the perspectives of a more diverse group of characters. This would have helped me better understand the issue through the eyes of minority populations, different socioeconomic statuses, different religions, different ethnicities, etc. and not just from a white population in Oregon.

Nonetheless, I gave it 3 stars because it was very creative and did keep me engaged. The writing style was unique and I never thought about not finishing it. I can appreciate this book for how it was written, even if I didn’t walk away with much from it.

Synopsis:

Five women. One question. What is a woman for?

In this ferociously imaginative novel, abortion is once again illegal in America, in-vitro fertilization is banned, and the Personhood Amendment grants rights of life, liberty, and property to every embryo. In a small Oregon fishing town, five very different women navigate these new barriers alongside age-old questions surrounding motherhood, identity, and freedom.

Ro, a single high-school teacher, is trying to have a baby on her own, while also writing a biography of Eivør, a little-known 19th-century female polar explorer. Susan is a frustrated mother of two, trapped in a crumbling marriage. Mattie is the adopted daughter of doting parents and one of Ro’s best students, who finds herself pregnant with nowhere to turn. And Gin is the gifted, forest-dwelling homeopath, or “mender,” who brings all their fates together when she’s arrested and put on trial in a frenzied modern-day witch hunt.

Book Review: Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

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My Rating: 5 Stars

Title: Six of Crows

Author: Leigh Bardugo

Pub Date: September 29, 2015

Pages: 462

For People Who Like: Heists, Action Packed Adventure, Morally Complicated Characters, and/or Cassandra Clare books

Bri’s Thoughts:

I knew going into this that there was already a lot of hype for this book. I mean, it’s pretty hard not to have seen it everywhere if you are a booklover. Nevertheless, I still went into it expecting to love it and I’m glad to say that it lived up to its expectations!

This was one of those books where I had no doubt that the author knew everything about the world and still knows more about it than she has told. The Grisha world is so unique and the story has fantastic world building. The heist is so well thought out and is almost like a puzzle for the reader to try to solve. For me personally, I don’t enjoy having to think too hard or remember too many rules when trying to understand a fantasy world and this book didn’t make me do that. For someone who has never read Leigh’s other series, The Shadow and Bone Trilogy, you can definitely go into Six of Crows without any previous knowlege of the world. I also loved how the beginning of this book doesn’t bombard you with all of the rules and facts right away. Rather, it slowly reveals new tidbits of information throughout the story as necessary. This made it so much easier to immerse myself in the world and characters.

Speaking of the characters, they are the second piece to the puzzle that makes this book so lovable. They are all criminals and bad guys who have intricate and dark pasts (the best type of book characters). Honestly, I was so impressed by how much thought was put into their motives and decision making. There was never a decision made by one of these characters that was cliche or exactly what you would expect. Each time that one of the six crows were forced to make a life changing decision, Leigh brought us back to their past and showed us why they were influenced to make the decision that they did. Because of this, I always felt like they were justified and that I could empathize with them. Not to mention the fact, that all the different relationships that they had among one another were so complex and fun to read about.

If you are a fantasy lover or are just into YA in general, you should definitely pick this one up. When I was younger and read The Infernal Devices by Cassandra Clare for the first time, I thought I had found a rare gem in the YA genre. After reading Six of Crows, I feel that same excitement again and can’t wait to pick up the second book in this duology, Crooked Kingdom.

Synopsis:

Ketterdam: a bustling hub of international trade where anything can be had for the right price–and no one knows that better than criminal prodigy Kaz Brekker. Kaz is offered a chance at a deadly heist that could make him rich beyond his wildest dreams. But he can’t pull it off alone…

A convict with a thirst for revenge.

A sharpshooter who can’t walk away from a wager.

A runaway with a privileged past.

A spy known as the Wraith.

A Heartrender using her magic to survive the slums.

A thief with a gift for unlikely escapes.

Six dangerous outcasts. One impossible heist. Kaz’s crew is the only thing that might stand between the world and destruction—if they don’t kill each other first.

 

Book Review: The Hamilton Affair by Elizabeth Cobbs

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My Rating: 3.5 stars

Title: The Hamilton Affair

Author: Elizabeth Cobbs

Pub Date: August 2, 2016

Length: 408 pages

For People Who Like: Historical Fiction, Romance, Hamilton the broadway musical

Bri’s Thoughts:

Well, I now finally know a little about who in the world Hamilton is, so that’s good. I’m not kidding you when I say that I had no idea about anything Hamilton before reading this book. I realize that the broadway musical is such a big hit that this doesn’t sound possible, but it was.

Nonetheless, I can definitely see where all the craze is coming from– Hamilton had a crazy interesting life. He is the ultimate witty and noble protagonist that readers look for and he was a real life person.

This book alternates perspectives between Hamilton and Eliza, which is what makes this book special. We are able to see both points of view on the relationship and get the full story.

The reason this book got 3.5 stars from me (still a pretty good rating) largely had to do with the middle portion of the book. It seemed to drag on for me and I just kept waiting to get to the actual affair. The beginning and ending were the strong parts of this book as the beginning pulls you into the incredible lives of these characters and the ending leaves you shook (maybe more so for me because I genuinely didn’t know how things ended).

I really enjoyed reading The Hamilton Affair and would recommend it to anyone caught in the Hamilton craze. It felt like the author, Elizabeth Cobbs, tried to stay very true to historical facts while still making the story a fun historical fiction read. I can’t lie, this book was oozing with wit from the two humorous protagonists and it was impossible not to love Alex and Eliza. After reading this, I just wanted to go see the musical in person, but for now the soundtrack will have to do.

Synopsis:

Set against the dramatic backdrop of the American Revolution, and featuring a cast of iconic characters such as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and the Marquis de Lafayette, The Hamilton Affair tells the sweeping, tumultuous, true love story of Alexander Hamilton and Elizabeth Schuyler, from tremulous beginning to bittersweet ending—his at a dueling ground on the shores of the Hudson River, hers more than half a century later after a brave, successful life.

Hamilton was a bastard son, raised on the Caribbean island of St. Croix. He went to America to pursue his education. Along the way he became one of the American Revolution’s most dashing—and unlikely—heroes. Adored by Washington, hated by Jefferson, Hamilton was a lightning rod: the most controversial leader of the American Revolution.

She was the well-to-do daughter of one of New York’s most exalted families—feisty, adventurous, and loyal to a fault. When she met Alexander, she fell head over heels. She pursued him despite his illegitimacy, and loved him despite his infidelity. In 1816 (two centuries ago), she shamed Congress into supporting his seven orphaned children. Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton started New York’s first orphanage. The only “founding mother” to truly embrace public service, she raised 160 children in addition to her own.

June TBR

Am I in a reading slump? YES

Am I still going to make a very ambitious June TBR? YUP

To be honest, I have a very big feeling that I won’t be getting to all of these in the month of June thanks to my reading slump and summer job. However, I think it’s nice to have a list of all of the possible books that I could pick up this month.

There are a lot of books I have been seeing lately that have gotten me really excited and here they are 🙂 — not in any particular order

Feel free to let me know if you have read or want to read any of these!

Six of Crows

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I am currently reading this and I really like it! I definitely see where the hype comes from with such interesting characters. Once I finish (I’m over halfway), I’ll post a review with all of my thoughts.

Description: 

Ketterdam: a bustling hub of international trade where anything can be had for the right price–and no one knows that better than criminal prodigy Kaz Brekker. Kaz is offered a chance at a deadly heist that could make him rich beyond his wildest dreams. But he can’t pull it off alone…

A convict with a thirst for revenge.

A sharpshooter who can’t walk away from a wager.

A runaway with a privileged past.

A spy known as the Wraith.

A Heartrender using her magic to survive the slums.

A thief with a gift for unlikely escapes.

Six dangerous outcasts. One impossible heist. Kaz’s crew is the only thing that might stand between the world and destruction—if they don’t kill each other first.

Red Clocks

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I got this in my Book of the Month awhile ago and still haven’t picked it up. It seems super interesting though and look at that cover!

Description:

In this ferociously imaginative novel, abortion is once again illegal in America, in-vitro fertilization is banned, and the Personhood Amendment grants rights of life, liberty, and property to every embryo. In a small Oregon fishing town, five very different women navigate these new barriers alongside age-old questions surrounding motherhood, identity, and freedom.

Ro, a single high-school teacher, is trying to have a baby on her own, while also writing a biography of Eivør, a little-known 19th-century female polar explorer. Susan is a frustrated mother of two, trapped in a crumbling marriage. Mattie is the adopted daughter of doting parents and one of Ro’s best students, who finds herself pregnant with nowhere to turn. And Gin is the gifted, forest-dwelling homeopath, or “mender,” who brings all their fates together when she’s arrested and put on trial in a frenzied modern-day witch hunt.

The Year of Magical Thinking

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There’s a class that I’m debating on taking next semester called “Literature and Medicine” and this is one of the required readings. I’m thinking about picking it up to get a head start and to see whether or not I would feel good about taking the class. Plus I’ve never read anything by Joan Didion before. I am a little nervous that I’m not going to be in the mood for something as heavy as I’m expecting this to be, but we’ll see….

Description: 

Several days before Christmas 2003, John Gregory Dunne and Joan Didion saw their only daughter, Quintana, fall ill with what seemed at first flu, then pneumonia, then complete septic shock. She was put into an induced coma and placed on life support. Days later–the night before New Year’s Eve–the Dunnes were just sitting down to dinner after visiting the hospital when John Gregory Dunne suffered a massive and fatal coronary. In a second, this close, symbiotic partnership of forty years was over. Four weeks later, their daughter pulled through. Two months after that, arriving at LAX, she collapsed and underwent six hours of brain surgery at UCLA Medical Center to relieve a massive hematoma.

This powerful book is Didion’s attempt to make sense of the “weeks and then months that cut loose any fixed idea I ever had about death, about illness . . . about marriage and children and memory . . . about the shallowness of sanity, about life itself.”

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine

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This has been on my tbr for quite some time now and the description has me really intrigued. I’ve heard good things, so hopefully, I’ll be able to give it a go this month.

Description:

No one’s ever told Eleanor that life should be better than fine.

Meet Eleanor Oliphant: She struggles with appropriate social skills and tends to say exactly what she’s thinking. Nothing is missing in her carefully timetabled life of avoiding social interactions, where weekends are punctuated by frozen pizza, vodka, and phone chats with Mummy.

But everything changes when Eleanor meets Raymond, the bumbling and deeply unhygienic IT guy from her office. When she and Raymond together save Sammy, an elderly gentleman who has fallen on the sidewalk, the three become the kinds of friends who rescue one another from the lives of isolation they have each been living. And it is Raymond’s big heart that will ultimately help Eleanor find the way to repair her own profoundly damaged one.

 

Book Review: Dark Matter by Blake Crouch

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My Rating: 5 Stars

Title: Dark Matter

Author: Blake Crouch

Pub Date: July 26, 2016

Length: 342 pages

For People Who Like: Science Fiction, Thrillers, Fast Paced Reads, Dystopian-esque novels

Bri’s Thoughts:

This book was an intense science fiction thrill ride and was without a doubt a 5 star read for me. I did go into this book expecting to enjoy it (I had heard only good things), but I did not expect to be as amazed as I was. Everything in this book was so well thought out and realistic that it had my mind spinning with ideas and questions about the universe that only a physicist like Jason, the main character, can answer.

I don’t usually read science fiction and was originally quite wary about the fact that a lot of the technical stuff would go right over my head, but thankfully, this was not the case. Crouch managed to write this story in a way that almost anyone can comprehend. This is even more impressive due to the fact that Jason is traveling through different time dimensions- meaning that it could be easy to confuse the reader- yet at no point in the story did I ever have to go back and try to figure out what was going on. It was a smooth read that keeps you hooked and trying to figure out how Jason’s situation could possibly be resolved.

Overall, the thing that really sets this book apart and makes it so compelling is the way that it keeps you emotionally invested. While we are on the journey through the dimensions with Jason, we are able to feel his worry, anxiety, and loss of his wife and son. He begins to realize all the complexities of life and just how slim the odds were for his happy life and family. This is something that everyone can relate to and the book leaves the reader with a feeling of gratitude for the good in the everyday.

Goodreads Synopsis:

“Are you happy with your life?”

Those are the last words Jason Dessen hears before the masked abductor knocks him unconscious.

Before he awakens to find himself strapped to a gurney, surrounded by strangers in hazmat suits.

Before a man Jason’s never met smiles down at him and says, “Welcome back, my friend.”

In this world he’s woken up to, Jason’s life is not the one he knows. His wife is not his wife. His son was never born. And Jason is not an ordinary college physics professor, but a celebrated genius who has achieved something remarkable. Something impossible.

Is it this world or the other that’s the dream? And even if the home he remembers is real, how can Jason possibly make it back to the family he loves? The answers lie in a journey more wondrous and horrifying than anything he could’ve imagined—one that will force him to confront the darkest parts of himself even as he battles a terrifying, seemingly unbeatable foe.

From the author of the bestselling Wayward Pines trilogy, Dark Matter is a brilliantly plotted tale that is at once sweeping and intimate, mind-bendingly strange and profoundly human—a relentlessly surprising science-fiction thriller about choices, paths not taken, and how far we’ll go to claim the lives we dream of.

 

5 Podcasts You Should Listen To Right Now

Over winter break, I ended up having to commute an hour every day for a class I was taking and that left me with a lot of time spent in the car. In order to fill some of this time, I began listening to podcasts for the first time ever. I have begun to really enjoy them and I think they are fun to listen to if you are looking for something to do.

Here are some of the podcasts that I ended up listening to and enjoying. No matter if you are just getting into podcasts or have been listening to them for awhile, these are some great ones to check out:

1. “Hurry Slowly”

Hurry Slowly logo from podcasts on iPhone

This is a podcast series talking about different ways that you can learn to slow down in your life and actually increase your productivity and creativity. Sounds perfect—who wouldn’t want that? If you are interested in self-help type stuff, then this is a good one for you. Some recent titles include, “Walking Is The Best Way to Go Slow,” “Prioritizing Rest and Reflection” and “The Science of Sleep.”

2. “What Should I Read Next?”

What Should I Read Next logo from podcasts on itunes

This would be a great podcast for you if you a giant book nerd like me. It basically talks about all things reading-related and is pretty laid back. Some recent titles include, “Your Best Reading Year Yet”, “Reading Slumps Are The Worst”, and “The Anatomy of an Excellent Reading Experience.”

3. “The Heart of It” with Estee Lalonde

The Heart of It logo from podcasts on the iPhone

This is a podcast series that explores a different subject with a special guest for each episode. The topics of season one include travel, identity, mothers, strength, feminism, makeup, tattoos, and protests. I found this series to be very enlightening, but also very calming to listen to. There should be a season two coming out sometime soon in 2018.

4. “Happier” with Gretchen Rubin

Happier logo from podcasts on the iPhone

This is another self-help type podcast that deals with topics related to your happiness. The topics are very diverse, but all very interesting and thought-provoking. Some recent titles include, “Don’t Know What Will Happen in the Future? Try to Understand Now,” “Keep a Running List of Your Favorite Things,” “Introduce a Note of Whimsy.”

5. “The Daily”

The Daily logo from podcasts on the iPhone

This is a podcast put on by the New York Times that gives a news update in twenty minutes for five days of the week. This is a good one to listen to if you are like me and don’t have much time in college to watch the news, but still, want to keep up-to-date on things that are going on.