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: The City Of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty

My Rating: download

Goodreads Description:

Nahri has never believed in magic. Certainly, she has power; on the streets of 18th century Cairo, she’s a con woman of unsurpassed talent. But she knows better than anyone that the trade she uses to get by—palm readings, zars, healings—are all tricks, sleights of hand, learned skills; a means to the delightful end of swindling Ottoman nobles. 

But when Nahri accidentally summons an equally sly, darkly mysterious djinn warrior to her side during one of her cons, she’s forced to accept that the magical world she thought only existed in childhood stories is real. For the warrior tells her a new tale: across hot, windswept sands teeming with creatures of fire, and rivers where the mythical marid sleep; past ruins of once-magnificent human metropolises, and mountains where the circling hawks are not what they seem, lies Daevabad, the legendary city of brass?a city to which Nahri is irrevocably bound. 

In that city, behind gilded brass walls laced with enchantments, behind the six gates of the six djinn tribes, old resentments are simmering. And when Nahri decides to enter this world, she learns that true power is fierce and brutal. That magic cannot shield her from the dangerous web of court politics. That even the cleverest of schemes can have deadly consequences. 

After all, there is a reason they say be careful what you wish for

My Review:

I am really surprised to say this, but this book just wasn’t for me. I went into it fully expecting to love it because of all the amazing reviews that it has, yet that just wasn’t the case. However, there were many parts that I did appreciate and I will outline those first (good before bad). Nonetheless, I couldn’t give this any more than three stars because I found myself not wanting to pick it up as I was reading it.

The good thing about this book was how much thought went into everything. It is easy to tell that Chakroborty knows every detail about the world and has managed to make it very politically complex.

The plot was really original and unlike anything that I have read before. All the characters are extremely gray (meaning they aren’t only good or bad) and the plot was filled with unexpected plot twists (especially towards the end).

Now, onto the bad. Throughout the entire book, there were so many different names of groups, people, etc. that I couldn’t keep things straight. This made my whole reading experience a bit confusing. I’m still not completely sure how to feel about most characters or things that happened in the story.

To be fair, I think a big part of the book was meant to have the reader not be sure who was on whose side or what the motives were behind things. However, I feel like the story left too much out in these aspects so that the reader is forced to go back and reread multiple passages. It’s not enjoyable for me when I end up having to do this with a book.

I found the characters to be very complex and I enjoyed reading from Ali’s perspective the most. The entire book alternates between Nahri and Ali’s narratives.

The ending made it feel like there is going to be a second book, but I don’t think I will be picking it up if there is one. This is due to the fact that I didn’t find the story riveting until about the last 200 pages of the 526-page book.

Before reading this, make sure that you are ready to think hard and expect to be confused at times. I would recommend this book to people wanting very detailed world building with complex politics and characters.

Blogger Recognition Award

Thank you so much to Abigail’s Books for nominating me for this award! Go check out her awesome blog!

The Rules:

  1. Thank the blogger who nominated you and provide a link to their blog.
  2. Write a post to show your award.
  3. Give a brief story of how your blog started.
  4. Give two pieces of advice to new bloggers.
  5. Select 15 other bloggers you want to give this award to.
  6. Comment on each blog and let them know you have nominated them & provide the link to the post you created.

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How it started:

I first started this blog in July this summer. Before I took the leap to start blogging, I had been watching booktube for a really long time (probably about 2 years). Seeing so many people excited about reading and books made me get even more into reading than I already was. I have always been a bookworm, but I definitely think that booktube started making me increase the amount that I read.

During those 2 years, I started a failed bookstagram account as a way to try to join the community without getting on camera and I also debated starting a book blog, but never did. Finally, this summer I decided to just go for it and make a book blog and bookstagram. I had a lot of time on my hands and figured that if I have been watching booktube for so long, then it was probably time I joined in on the fun.

Overall, I’m just so glad that I took a chance and created my platforms to talk about books because I have found a lot of great booklovers and I love writing posts. I feel like I have improved a lot with finding my voice in writing even though I know that I still have a long ways to go. It is honestly so cool to me that I can write my ideas down and there are people out there who care enough to read what I have to say. If that is you, then thank you so much, I really appreciate you!

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My Advice:

  1. My first piece of advice relates to how I felt when I was first debating on even making a blog. It can be very daunting to put yourself out there and express your ideas to the world through your writing. I had never thought about this before I had to actually put it into practice. The best thing that you can do if you are feeling nervous about putting yourself out there is to just be yourself and write whatever it is that you want to write. It may take awhile for you to find your voice (I am still working to improve on this), but if you continue to try to be honest in what you write, then it will gradually get easier to write exactly what you want to say/express.
  2. My second piece of advice is to be creative with what you post because that will make things more fun! If you have a crazy idea for a post that you are really excited about, then write/ post it. Don’t worry about whether or not other blogs write posts similar to it, just write it anyways. It’s important to make you blog unique to you and not a carbon copy of someone else’s. The only way that you are going to want to continue writing on your blog is if you are writing about things that you care a lot about.

I Nominate…

Books Teacup and Reviews

Read Voraciously

Steph- Lost: Purple Quill

Pace Amore Libri

Justine- I Should Read That 

Flavia the Bibliophile

Lemonade and Literature

LiteraryJo Reviews

Holly- Nut Free Nerd

Vrinda- A Bookish Human

The Wanderlust Reader

Krisha- Bookathon Blog

Marianna Reads

Bionic Book Worm

Hadeer Writes

Christy Lau

Olga’s Oddish Obsessions

Thebooknookae

 

If you are nominated, I would love to hear your answers, but please don’t feel obligated to do it if you don’t feel like it!

 

 

 

Book Review: A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle

My Goodreads Rating: 3.5 Stars

Description (Goodreads)

It was a dark and stormy night; Meg Murry, her small brother Charles Wallace, and her mother had come down to the kitchen for a midnight snack when they were upset by the arrival of a most disturbing stranger. 

“Wild nights are my glory,” the unearthly stranger told them. “I just got caught in a downdraft and blown off course. Let me be on my way. Speaking of way, by the way, there is such a thing as a tesseract”.

Meg’s father had been experimenting with this fifth dimension of time travel when he mysteriously disappeared. Now the time has come for Meg, her friend Calvin, and Charles Wallace to rescue him. But can they outwit the forces of evil they will encounter on their heart-stopping journey through space?

My Thoughts

I feel like many people read this as a child and if they did then they loved it and hold it in high regards. I definitely owned this book as a child, but for some reason I never read it. However, reading it now makes me feel like I really missed out! This is the type of book that I think I would have really liked as a kid (not saying I didn’t like it now; I’m just thinking back to childhood).

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I loved how unique the concept was and how it made me think of time and space in a very new way. Everything about this story was like nothing I have ever read before and that was very nice.

I also really liked the three main characters, Meg, Charles Wallace, and Calvin. They were all very loveable and I enjoyed reading about their journey. I wish I were part of there trio (but I guess, then it wouldn’t be a trio anymore). Nonetheless, they were all people who I would love to be friends with.

One really big thing that I loved about the book was how much it emphasized Meg’s realization that adults can’t fix everything. I thought it showed this in a really clever way. It made me feel like I came to this realization with Meg because the whole time I was thinking that the older people in the story would know what to do and everything would be ok if they took care of it. Once I realized this wasn’t the case and everyone was in very real danger, I got really worried for all the characters and thought that there was absolutely no way for everything to work out alright. You’ll just have to read the book to see if it did or not.

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The reason I didn’t give this book a higher rating was completely a personal reason. I feel like if I had read it as a kid, then I would have felt a little more connected to the story. I don’t want to make it seem like I didn’t love this book, it’s just that I read it pretty quickly and am not quite sure if I got really invested in it. I know that is a little confusing, but that’s just how I felt after finishing it.

The characters Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Which, and Mrs. Who were so fun to read. The fact that they couldn’t even describe what they were to humans made me think about how little we probably know about the universe. This was also the case when Meg got to know the creature from a different planet and she couldn’t figure out how to describe sight to something that only feels.

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One last thing…. I think there is a movie coming out based on this book and I am really excited to see it after reading the book! I know the book is usually better, but that doesn’t mean the movie adaptations aren’t fun to watch too!

Top 5 Tuesday: Top 10 Favorite Side Characters

When I saw what the topic was this week for Bionic Bookworm’s Top 5 Tuesday August Topics , I got so excited! There are so many side characters that I love and I am grateful that she decided to do 10 instead of 5 (I don’t think I could narrow it down to 5). I just know that I’m probably forgetting a lot of really good characters, but here are the ones I came up with….

Luna Lovegood–Harry Potter

I love Luna so much and she is one of my favorite characters in Harry Potter. She is so kind and thoughtful and not afraid to be herself. For someone who didn’t have a lot of friends before she met the golden trio, I think it is amazing how much she seems to understand people. She always tells Harry exactly what he needs to hear and never gets angry when people are mean to her.

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Hermione Granger–Harry Potter

I think this one is pretty self explanatory for most people. Hermione is such a great character… she is smart, determined, kind, and many more things. When I was little, Hermione made me feel like it was ok to love books as much as I did and to want to learn (I loved school and still do). She will always be one of my favorites.

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The Weasley Twins (Fred and George)– Harry Potter

I promise you that all of my characters are not going to be from Harry Potter. Harry Potter just has some of the best side characters ever and there are a lot more characters that I love from the books that I’m not even mentioning. I had to mention the Weasley twins though because they were so fun and hilarious! I love the bond they share and how they were always having fun and pulling pranks. Fred’s fate was the hardest for me to read out of all of the other people with the same fate (I’m trying not to have spoilers, but I figure most people already know this). It broke my heart that they were separated:(

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Fermin Romero de Torres–The Shadow of the Wind

There is supposed to be an accent on the “i” in his name, but I couldn’t figure out how to do that on my computer. Anyways, Fermin is from one of my favorite books of all time, The Shadow of the Wind. He has so much confidence and says the funniest things. He has no trouble saying what’s on his mind and I don’t think the book would have been quite the same without his comic relief. He is a loyal friend and would do absolutely anything to help Daniel and is one of the many reasons why you should read this book!

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Ronan Lynch–The Raven Cycle Series

I love Ronan. He is angry, tempered, and will say whatever he wants, but he would do anything to help out his friends. He is such a tortured character, especially since he has been through a lot and that is probably why I love him so much. Him and Adam together are great.

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Charlotte Branwell–The Infernal Devices Series

Charlotte runs the London Institute and deals all the time with people saying that she can’t because she is a woman. I love how much of a motherly figure she is to all of the people in the Institute. I think she is one of the most honorable characters in the series. She also does something else pretty big near the end of the books, but I won’t say because of spoilers.

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Finnick Odair–The Hunger Games

Finnick is one of those characters who you think is going to be a bad guy at first, but then realize later on in the story that he is actually one of the best. I really loved Finnick and I think he was just such a unique character. I loved his friendship with Katniss and his love for Annie.

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Dan Needham–A Prayer for Owen Meany

Dan completely breaks the stereotype of the cruel and horrible stepparent. He is always so kind to Johnny and after Johnny loses his mother, Tabitha, Dan takes the role of being Johnny’s father figure. Even though Johnny wants to find out who his biological father is, Dan will always be his real dad. Without Dan in Johnny’s life, he would only have had his grandmother as a parental figure and that could have gotten a bit crazy.

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Rudy Steiner–The Book Thief

Oh Rudy… he is so lovable. His dreams of wanting to become a sprinter like Jesse Owens in Nazi occupied Germany made me root for him so much. He was so wonderful and Liesel was lucky to have had a friend like him. It broke my heart that he would always ask Liesel for a kiss and if you have read this book, then you know what I’m talking about.

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Samwise Gamgee

This one is a special request from my mother. I have never actually seen The Lord of the Rings films or read the books. I would like to watch the films, but I’m not so sure I can get into the books. However, I read the Hobbit and loved it! Anyways, to get off of this tangent…. she says that he is a very loyal friend to Frodo and just an overall really good person. He sounds like the type of friend that anyone would be lucky to have.

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So what are your thoughts on my choices? Who would you have as your top 10 favorite side characters?

 

Book Review: Girl in Snow by Danya Kukafka

My Goodreads Rating: 3.5 Stars

Description

When a beloved high schooler named Lucinda Hayes is found murdered, no one in her sleepy Colorado suburb is untouched—not the boy who loved her too much; not the girl who wanted her perfect life; not the officer assigned to investigate her murder. In the aftermath of the tragedy, these three indelible characters—Cameron, Jade, and Russ—must each confront their darkest secrets in an effort to find solace, the truth, or both. 

Are psychological thrillers the books for me?

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I have to admit, that this is a very new genre for me. I think the only other psychological thriller novel that I have read, was The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. Well, I guess you could classify The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon as a thriller, but I wouldn’t say it’s psychological….it’s more historical fiction.

So this is is pretty new territory for me and that begs the question of whether or not I will continue on with the genre after reading this book. The answer is yes, but in small quantities and not very frequently. Now, I will try to explain why this is the case in the following paragraphs.

Creepiness Factor

I realize that the creepiness factor is kind of a necessity when it comes to thrillers….especially PSYCHOLOGICAL thrillers. Nonetheless though, I’m still debating how much of this I can take. This book was filled with characters that confused me and creeped me out.

It seemed almost like at the end of each chapter, there would be a sentence from the character’s perspective that was so incredibly out there that I would automatically think, “That’s it! They’re the killer! They must be! Only the killer would know that information! Only the killer would think something like that, right?”.

Honestly, the fact that every chapter ended this way, made me not want to put this book down. I was so engrossed in the story and could not stop turning page after page.

Therefore, I can probably sum up how I feel by saying that this book was really good and something I couldn’t put down, but at the same time, it was so creepy that I think I can only handle small doses of something like this again in the future. However, we’ll just have to wait and see…

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Not Everyone is What You Perceive Them As

I know I keep saying that a lot of the characters in this story are really creepy (and they are), but I was also able to empathize with their struggles and their longings. I think that is the sign of really good character development.

This story really tried to empathize the fact that you will never be able to fully know another person without actually being them. This is the case, no matter how close you are towards them.


“You can only see fifty-nine percent of the moon from the earth’s surface. No matter where you go, in the entire world, you’ll only ever see the same face. That fifty-nine percent.”

“Why are you telling me this?”

“I’m just saying. We know this fact, but it doesn’t stop us from staring.”


I think this lesson also played a big role in the way that I perceived the characters. There were a couple of characters who I borderline hated at the beginning, but as it got towards the end, I realized that I only hated them because of the way that I perceived them from the outside. Once I knew their motives, it changed my perspective a tad bit. I’m not saying that it made me absolutely love them, but it did make me not completely hate them. There was one character though that I did end up liking.

That’s the beauty of books and how we are able to see into a character’s thoughts. Anyways, I’m not going to say any more because you should go into the story knowing very little about the specifics of any of the people.

Beautiful Writing

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I really enjoyed the writing in this book. It was beautiful and I personally found it really easy to read. Also, there were few quotes that kept reminding me of ways that John Green usually phrases and describes things.

About halfway through this story, I was ready to classify it as a creepy/philosophical/mysterious/John Greenish type book. Seriously, this book was way more philosophical than I was expecting. If you’ve read this already and totally disagree with me, that’s ok, that is just what I kept thinking while reading it. Here are some quotes so you can see what I’m talking about….

  • “Shock is just sadness that hasn’t reached the gut”
  • “A series of plateaus. You keep sliding down, and eventually, you hit the water. You look around at the black and endless expanse, and you swim because you’ve known no other landscape. You’re sure that on the other side of the reservoir there’s another mountain waiting, with other cliffs.”
  • ” It makes you wonder, doesn’t it– how it’s possible to be a secondary character in your own story.”
  • “Pine Ridge Point was like the middle of your favorite song– between the bridge and the chorus, where you held your breath and waited for the inevitable boom of music to take you away.”

 

Book Review: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

My Goodreads Rating: 4.5 Stars

Description

Henrietta Lacks, as HeLa, is known to present-day scientists for her cells from cervical cancer. She was a poor Southern tobacco farmer who worked the same land as her slave ancestors, yet her cells were taken without her knowledge and still live decades after her death. Cells descended from her may weigh more than 50M metric tons.

HeLa cells were vital for developing the polio vaccine; uncovered secrets of cancer, viruses, and the atom bomb’s effects; helped lead to important advances like in vitro fertilization, cloning, and gene mapping; and have been bought and sold by the billions. Yet Henrietta Lacks was buried in an unmarked grave.

Overall

This book is a nonfiction book and I rarely if ever pick up nonfiction books. I would have read this book for a health sciences class that I almost took in high school, but I didn’t end up taking the class and therefore, never read it. However, I heard a lot of people raving about it and knew that I had to pick it up at some point. I finally did and I’m so  happy to report that it was such a good book! This story was fascinating and I couldn’t believe that I didn’t want to put it down. I was in a reading slump before I read this and I cannot believe that this book got me out of that slump (seriously, who would think that a nonfiction read would get me out of a reading slump??). I feel like I learned so much from this book in regards to medical ethics, cell culture in labs, and the debate over informed consent when it comes to using a person’s tissue samples for medical research. I hope to someday go into a medically related career (not sure what yet) and I think this book will really benefit me as I go on to college to study science. In fact, I feel like this book is a must read for anyone who is thinking about going into the medical field. It made me want to read more books that deal with medical topics and to learn more about current scientific issues.

The Importance of HeLa Cells

I had absolutely no idea the immense role that HeLa cells have played and have yet to play in scientific research. Some of these things include developing the first polio vaccine, helping scientists discover the 46 chromosomes in humans, helping determine that HPV causes cancer, helping to study the effects of radiation, helping develop treatments for Parkinson’s Disease/ influenza/ leukemia/ hemophilia, helping in research on what causes aging, and many other things. HeLa cells are used around the world and yet they were taken from one woman, Henrietta Lacks, who was a black woman in America. She is one of the most important people in medical history and she never knew that her cells were taken from her for research.

The Issues of Informed Consent and Compensation

I think this book showed us very well how much trouble the Lacks family went through due to Henrietta’s cells being used so widely in research. They were never compensated for their mother’s contribution to science nor were they told much of anything that was going on at all. The family went through a lot of distress from not being told much about the uses of Henrietta’s cells and it really made me feel bad for them. I learned a lot about how important informed consent is in today’s society because in the 50’s it wasn’t a thing and it caused a lot of problems. I also learned how complicated the topic of compensation is in the world of tissue/cell research. On one hand, the book shows us how hard it was on the Lacks family to not have benefitted from their mother’s cells, but on the other hand, it shows us how hard it would be to compensate every person for their contribution to tissue/cell research and still make progressive advances toward scientific discoveries. This story made me think a lot about how steps toward compensation for the use of a person’s cells in research should be handled. If you want to be in the know about this very important debate in science, then read this book.

Structure of the Story

This story is structured around the journey that the author, Rebecca Skloot, takes in gathering all of her knowledge on the subject. Some of the chapters are just the story of Henrietta’s life, while others follow Rebecca’s interviews with members of the Lacks family and other important people related to HeLa cells. I personally liked the way that this was set up because it made me feel as though I was going on the research journey with her and discovering things as she did. I also really appreciated the fact that she kept the dialogue of the characters exactly how they would speak in real life. This made it feel very authentic.

Quotes

“She’s the most important person in the world and her family living in poverty. If our mother is so important to science, why can’t we get health insurance?”

“When he asked if she was okay, her eyes welled with tears and she said, “Like I’m always telling my brothers, if you gonna go into history, you can’t do it with a hate attitude. You got to remember, times was different.”

“Black scientists and technicians, many of them women, used cells from a black woman to help save the lives of millions of Americans, most of them white. And they did so on the same campus—and at the very same time—that state officials were conducting the infamous Tuskegee syphilis studies.”

Please read this book, I highly recommend it!