Normal People by Sally Rooney

Ok, yes, I finally caved to the hoards of Glossier-wearing, Man Repeller-obsessed NYC cool girls and picked up Sally Rooney’s sophomore novel, Normal People. Don’t worry, I didn’t buy it just for the gram (but I did post a picture of it, in case you’re curious), I bought it for “research,” which is code for “Dad, I really want to visit Ireland.” Plus, when an author is called “Salinger for the Snapchat generation” I feel an obligation, as a member of said generation, to give it a chance.

When Rooney’s editor called her “Salinger for the Snapchat generation” I think they were referring to the fact that reading Salinger feels like a status symbol. It says, “See? I’m cultured. I only checked SparkNotes once during 10th grade English.” I’ve only read Nine Stories and my biggest claim to fame is that he mentioned my school by name in Catcher in the Rye. I’m not any sort of literary expert, but I think calling people phonies and posting your vacation read on Instagram is pretty much the same thing.

Here’s the best part: Rooney’s characters mock this cultural charade in their very book. When discussing book readings, protagonist Connell says, “It was culture as class performance, literature fetishized for its ability to take educated people on false emotional journeys, so that they might afterwards feel superior to the uneducated people whose emotional journeys they liked to read about.” I have a feeling he and Holden would be two peas in a pod.

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The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

soaWhere do I even begin with Madeline Miller? I fell in love with Circe when I read it in January, and it seems The Song of Achilles, Miller’s 2011 debut, is just as fantastic. My one complaint is more out of sadness than disappointment. If it took Miller ten years to write this novel and seven to write Circe, will I really have to wait five or ten years to read another one of Miller’s retellings? It’s only been a few hours since I finished The Song of Achilles and the wait has already become nearly unbearable.

I think what makes Miller’s novels so incredible is her voice. Her sentences, short but heavy with imagery, give the book the same feel of classic mythology and retellings. Her descriptions are dreamy, forcing me reading slower than usual to make sure I didn’t miss a single word. And, although there are plenty of battle montages and war councils, Miller shines most when writing extremely emotional scenes, such as when Achilles kills Hector or when Patroclus confronts Thetis, Achilles’ mother, at Achilles’ grave.

“We were like gods at the dawning of the world, and our joy was so bright we could see nothing else but the other.”

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The Incendiaries by R. O. Kwon

tiAlthough R. O. Kwon’s debut is a compact novel, clocking in at just under 200 pages, it packs a powerful punch. I read The Incendiaries in a morning, only putting it down to get breakfast and use the bathroom. Everything about it feels ephemeral, like it could vanish in a blink, so it felt imperative that I read it as quick as possible.

“I’ve wondered if I’ve stopped being able to want, but maybe it’s just that what I most wish to have again is not, at this point, available.”

The Incendiaries gives readers two familiar characters; an enigmatic, damaged girl in desperate need of a therapist, not a boyfriend, and her unfortunate boyfriend, someone who’s isn’t particularly unique, but is captivated with her to the point of obsession. These two characters are Phoebe and Will. They are both new to their prestigious college and both reeling from a formative event– Phoebe, the death of her mother, and Will, his rejection of the God he had cherished for so long. Will meets Phoebe just as she begins to attend Jejah, a group led by a Korean-American religious fanatic. And although Jejah at first seems just like a weekly dinner party, in the first chapter readers are armed with the knowledge that Jejah will evenutally become a cult known for bombing abortion clinics.

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King of Scars by Leigh Bardugo

kosMy first venture into Leigh Bardugo’s fantasy “Grishaverse” happened in 2013, when I was ten. Six years later, I’ve followed her protagonists through the rough waves of the Bone Sea, trekked through snowy forests of Fjerda, weathered the cobbled streets of Novyi Zem, and even ventured into a few sketchy casinos in Ketterdam. And still, I love returning to her ever-expanding, relentlessly vivid world just as I did the first time.

In King of Scars, Bardugo returns readers to Ravka, three years after the events in her debut Grisha trilogy. There, we are welcomed by old favorites such as King Nikolai, Genya Safin, twins Tolya and Tamar, and (my personal favorite) Zoya Nazyalensky. However, our characters spend little time in the throne room, instead opting to run around Ravka, chasing saints and subduing a growingly-powerful monster.

I know I am not alone when I say my favorite part of King of Scars was the constant banter between two of the protagonists, Zoya and Nikolai. Since she appeared smirking at Alina’s love interest in the second chapter of Shadow and Bone, Zoya’s reputation has seemed to be cemented as an icy seductress there only to give Alina boy trouble. But, although she was was not treated kindly in Bardugo’s first series, Zoya is certainly not in for a redemption arc in this one. Instead, readers get to peer inside her head, where she transforms from a sexist cliché to an empowered, three-dimensional character. But, make no mistake- Zoya has not gotten nicer. She’s just as witty, and even more ruthless, but now, she’s finally, rightfully, taking control of her narrative.

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Queen of Air and Darkness by Cassandra Clare

qoaad.jpgQueen of Air and Darkness is a brick. Surpassing 900 pages if you count the bonus short story in the back, the novel is the heftiest I’ve read in a very long time. Contributing to its length are the appearances of nearly every character from Clare’s previous works, (Clary and Jace from The Mortal Instruments, Jem and Tessa from The Infernal Devices, Magnus and Alec from The Bane Chronicles, and more) who each adds to an enjoyable ensemble cast of characters.

Most of these characters, as well as the expected protagonists in The Dark Artifices, receive their own storyline, or at least their own perspective and I suspect devoted fans will be happy to see past favorites again, as I certainly was. However, some of their stories felt superfluous and like they were taking away from the storyline started in Lady Midnight and Lord of Shadows.

“People were made up of all sorts of different bits…Funny bits and romantic bits and selfish bits and brave bits. Sometimes you saw only a few of them. Maybe it was when you saw them all that you realized you knew someone really well.”

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November Wrap Up

What I’m Up To:

 I’m writing this wrap up on my way back to school, ready for the dreaded two and a half weeks between Thanksgiving break and winter break. It’s time to get some work done, but as soon as it’s over, I’ll be back in New York to celebrate Christmas with my family, where I can get some reading done.

avleof What I’m Reading Right Now:

 I’m almost finished with A Very Large Expanse of Sea, Tahereh Mafi’s realistic fiction debut (which was long-listed for the National Book Award). I was a huge fan of Mafi’s fantasy series when it came out a few years ago, but her newest is both a thematic and stylistic departure. Gone are the flowery sentences and angsty action-packed chapters, replaced by sharp wit and politically-charged narratives. A Very Large Expanse of Sea follows Shirin, a Muslim teenager grappling with her identity in a post 9/11 world.

snowflakes

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Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake

3dcBack in 2016, I read the first chapter of Three Dark Crowns and fell in love. The excerpt promised a story of three sisters, each with a claim to the throne of Fennbirn island. On their sixteenth birthday, the sisters would begin a battle to the death, only ended when one queen, the true queen, remained.

I was expecting action, intrigue, maybe a little romance. I wanted Game of Thrones. What I got was Anna and the French Kiss.

“I want revenge.” She whispers, and her fingers trail bloody streaks down Natalia’s arms. “And then I want my crown.”

Three Dark Crowns is not a prequel. It is the first book in a duology-turned-quartet. But, for eighty percent of the book, the only thing that happened was uninteresting romances and an introductions into the world of Fennbirn. Nowhere in the book do the sisters try to kill each other. In fact, they don’t even meet until the last quarter of the book!

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Summer’s Best Book to Movie Adaptations

The hottest days of summer are here- which means there’s nothing better than an air conditioned movie theater. Luckily, there are plenty of great book to movie adaptations coming out in the next month. Here are just some of my favorites!

tdmAugust 3: The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken

Protagonist of The Darkest Minds, Ruby, is played by Amandla Stenberg, a Young Adult book to movie adaptation veteran (check her out in The Hunger Games and Everything, Everything). Ruby lives in a world where teenagers have begun developing special powers- and she’s one of them. After escaping the government camp she was held in, with the help of some friends Ruby discovers a safe haven run by teens like her. In this action-packed dystopian thriller, nothing is as it seems and everyone has something to be afraid of.

August 15: Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

Kwan’s wealth-saturated debut boasts a nearly all Asian cast and $30 million dollar budget. Set in Singapore, the story follows Rachel as she’s introduced to her boyfriend Nick’s family. However, Nick’s family happens to be one of the richest families in Asia- and they’re not exactly welcoming of an outsider. A win for diverse representation and romance novel lovers alike, Crazy Rich Asians is sure to be a hit.

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Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

craThe first time I felt rich I was ten and I had just won $70 at the Del Mar Horse Races. I pocketed the cash proudly and my family and I drove directly to the bookstore, where I bought seven paperbacks, each $9.99. The rush I felt when I held that stack of books, books I bought with my money, was exhilarating.

This made picking up Kwan’s debut seem like a natural occurance. I thought I knew all about American rich- time to move onto Asian rich.

Although Crazy Rich Asians appears to be a novel about clueless Rachel Chu traveling to meet her boyfriend Nick Young’s mysterious family, Crazy Rich Asians is really a novel about dynasties. Nick’s family embodies the idea that it’s lonely at the top. The only people they let into their circle are people who have the right parents, go to the right preschools, study in the right bible groups, attend the right boarding schools, and contribute the right charities. Rachel has done none of these things. But, she loves Nick. Nick loves her. It comes down to this: what is more valuable, family or love?

Crazy Rich Asians opens at a posh hotel in London. When Nick’s family is refused service by a racist hotel clerk, his family buys the hotel. This sentiment- that money is everything and everything is accomplished through money- that sets the tone for the rest of the novel.

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