9781408834671Title: State of Wonder
Author: Ann Patchett
Pages: 384
Year: 2011
Publisher: Harper Perennial
Time taken to read: 10 days
Rating: 5/5

Goodreads synopsis: In a narrative replete with poison arrows, devouring snakes, scientific miracles, and spiritual transformations, “State of Wonder” presents a world of stunning surprise and danger, rich in emotional resonance and moral complexity. As Dr. Marina Singh embarks upon an uncertain odyssey into the insect-infested Amazon, she will be forced to surrender herself to the lush but forbidding world that awaits within the jungle. Charged with finding her former mentor Dr. Annick Swenson, a researcher who has disappeared while working on a valuable new drug, she will have to confront her own memories of tragedy and sacrifice as she journeys into the unforgiving heart of darkness. Stirring and luminous, “State of Wonder” is a world unto itself, where unlikely beauty stands beside unimaginable loss beneath the rain forest’s jeweled canopy.

I started out giving this four stars, but after a day to reflect, I am bumping it up to five stars. I never expected to like this at all. Adult fiction just isn’t my thing. Adults are boring. From my 22-year-old perspective, adults are lucky because they already have their lives figured out, so I don’t care about their stories. But the agent I work for absolutely loves Ann Patchett, and this one had the coolest cover and title, so I went for it, and I’ll tell you, State of Wonder was really incredible.

All the characters had me feeling so many emotions. I was surprised by how much I related to Marina despite the fact that we have pretty much nothing in common besides being human females. I think it was mostly her anxiety and the way her last surgery haunted her. I felt her embarrassment, her shame, her guilt. I felt it through every little time I’ve let someone down. And of course there was Easter–he melted my heart over and over. And even Anders, who was absent for about 99% of the book. The things he left behind affected me, all his letters and everything, and the remnants of his time with Easter, the notebooks with the words written out. I was also really fascinated by the science. As far as I can tell the Lakashi tribe is completely made up, and I don’t know if there are any tribes that can be pregnant well into old age, but I felt the intrigue and the need for answers right alongside Marina. And I felt Dr. Swenson’s urgency and passion. I think the book started off slow, but it becomes clear that it’s worth it pretty soon, and by the time you get to the end, it’s like you’re being punched in the face with emotions and hugged by the writing. I felt devastated when it was over–I wanted to stay in the jungle with Marina and the Lakashi forever. I just never felt like I was reading a book while I was reading this. It was always more like I was being swallowed by it.

Yeesh, these are hard to write after a full day of writing similar reviews of terrible/average manuscripts. My reviews have been slowing down anyway since I have manuscripts to read all the time now. Hash tag lit life.

16131489Title: The Last Star
Author: Rick Yancey
Pages: 338
Year: 2016
Publisher: G. P. Putman’s Sons for Young Readers (Penguin)
Time taken to read: 4 days
Rating: 4/5

Goodreads synopsis: The enemy is Other. The enemy is us. They’re down here, they’re up there, they’re nowhere. They want the Earth, they want us to have it. They came to wipe us out, they came to save us. But beneath these riddles lies one truth: Cassie has been betrayed. So has Ringer. Zombie. Nugget. And all 7.5 billion people who used to live on our planet. Betrayed first by the Others, and now by ourselves. In these last days, Earth’s remaining survivors will need to decide what’s more important: saving themselves…or saving what makes us human.

I think I had the same problem with this book that I did with the last one, The Infinite Sea, where I don’t think I fully understand what happened. It sounded to me like the aliens put false memories in humans to make the humans think that they were members of this alien race and that their alien consciousnesses were put into these humans to wake up at a certain point in time to begin the Waves, but the actual aliens were long gone by this point. Either that or the aliens were watching from the big Manhattan-sized spaceship that Cassie ends up at. I had really lost track at this point of what the green light around people’s heads were supposed to be and whether it was good or bad if a person had a green light around them, and whether it was aliens or trained alien fighters who were trying to take out people without green lights. And I definitely did not follow the steps of their plan where Ringer pretends to be dead and breathes through a hose. Why couldn’t she just hide around the corner? I don’t really know what happens with Ben in the caverns either.

But despite all these things that I didn’t understand, I still really enjoyed reading this. (Spoilers ahead.) I didn’t hate Ringer as much this time around, probably due to the fact that she was pregnant!! I must have read that spoiler somewhere online because I knew that going in, but I forget how, and I wished I hadn’t because I wonder how long it would have taken me to figure it out. Sorry if I just ruined it for you, but I said there would be spoilers, and you’ve had six months to read this anyway. I loved Cassie and all her human flaws as always, which was why the ending made me REALLY SAD. I really wanted her to make it. Everyone else could have died for all I cared, but Cassie deserved life. Still, I was proud of her for the way she sacrificed herself for the rest of humanity. What an angel. I really liked Megan too. I liked how stubborn she was, and the way their military hierarchy was complete garbage to her. She was gonna do what she wanted to do, regardless of who thought they had some kind of authority, and she was so young. I really wish Yancey would have given us some chapters from her perspective! She had a lot of potential that Yancey missed out on.

This series is really impressive. The characters, the voices, the plot, the descriptions, it’s all done well. Not every book got five stars from me (just The 5th Wave did actually), but it is so far ahead of all the other major YA series that are popular right now, like The Hunger Games and Divergent. The next step for me is to check out the movie! I’ve always pictured Cassie as Clarke from The 100, so it’ll be interesting to see this portrayal of her.

15745753Title: Eleanor & Park
Author: Rainbow Rowell
Pages: 320
Year: 2013
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Time taken to read: 8 days
Rating: 3/5

Goodreads synopsis: Eleanor… Red hair, wrong clothes. Standing behind him until he turns his head. Lying beside him until he wakes up. Making everyone else seem drabber and flatter and never good enough…Eleanor. Park… He knows she’ll love a song before he plays it for her. He laughs at her jokes before she ever gets to the punch line. There’s a place on his chest, just below his throat, that makes her want to keep promises…Park. Set over the course of one school year, this is the story of two star-crossed sixteen-year-olds—smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but brave and desperate enough to try.

This book reminded me why I don’t like romance/love stories, and the reason is that I just don’t. I really cared very deeply about Eleanor and all her siblings and her mom, and I was very interested in what was going to happen to them all. And I liked Park well enough, and I really liked his mom in particular. I just don’t enjoy pages and pages of these kids describing how cute they think the other is. I don’t care. I was really happy for the two of them, but their relationship was not interesting. I liked the diversity that appeared not only through race but also in size: Eleanor is heavy. And I don’t think Park even mentions that fact once, which is pretty cool, I think. I can imagine a lot of teen girls reading this and feeling like they can finally relate, and that’s what YA is all about.

I think it’s notable that I didn’t hate the alternating perspectives. I liked getting to listen to them both worrying about what the other one is thinking. It was sweet. And they both felt very realistic to me, in their thoughts and their actions. I think Rowell can really put herself in the teenage mindset. And I was satisfied with the ending, I think. Spoiler: I thought it was odd that she took so long to write to him. And I would have liked her to have tried harder to help her siblings as well. My littlest sister is eight, and I thought of her whenever Maisie entered the scene. I just can’t help but feel like if I had been Eleanor, I never would have left that child alone in that house. It shouldn’t have been Eleanor’s job to protect her, but it sort of was, at that point. And it seemed like the kids were safe in terms of their lives at least, but…I don’t know. I would have done more. But the focus was supposed to be the love story, and that’s why I don’t like love stories.

Anyway, I hope you all have a wonderful Halloween! I will be closing at B&N tonight dressed (roughly) as my princess twin Merida. Happy reading!

18473997Title: Dept. of Speculation
Author: Jenny Offill
Pages: 180
Year: 2014
Publisher: Vintage (Penguin)
Time taken to read: 3 days
Rating: 4/5

Goodreads synopsis: Dept. of Speculation is a portrait of a marriage. It is also a beguiling rumination on the mysteries of intimacy, trust, faith, knowledge, and the condition of universal shipwreck that unites us all. Jenny Offill’s heroine, referred to in these pages as simply “the wife,” once exchanged love letters with her husband postmarked Dept. of Speculation, their code name for all the uncertainty that inheres in life and in the strangely fluid confines of a long relationship. As they confront an array of common catastrophes—a colicky baby, a faltering marriage, stalled ambitions—the wife analyzes her predicament, invoking everything from Keats and Kafka to the thought experiments of the Stoics to the lessons of doomed Russian cosmonauts. She muses on the consuming, capacious experience of maternal love, and the near total destruction of the self that ensues from it as she confronts the friction between domestic life and the seductions and demands of art.

I borrowed this book from my office–yes, I have an office now! Well, I am rather sort of a guest in an office. I have been an intern at Union Literary in Soho for two weeks now, and it is amazing (despite the fact that it pays $0.00 an hour). I love 1. not having to talk to anyone pretty much all day (customer service is exhausting) and 2. when I do talk to someone, we’re hashing out ideas about a manuscript and trying to figure out what to do with it, so it’s like my reviews here, except it actually matters. And even though I’ve only been there two weeks, my opinion is valued, and that feels indescribable. And it’s really cool that this book, which is such a big hit, came from my office.

When I read the back cover, I honestly thought it wasn’t going to be that interesting. It’s a husband and wife and their baby and their marriage is falling apart, blah blah. Why should I care? What about this story is different? Truthfully, nothing. It’s the words. This is no typical narrative. One Goodreads reviewer described it as a “mosaic,” which I think is the perfect word for it. The poetic style is really cool to me because while I like the concept of poetry, I just don’t really get it most of the time, and I like the rules of the English language, which poetry often discards. So this was like poetry with proper grammar and syntax, which I love. The hard part was that there were parts of the story that I didn’t understand because it was so poetic. (That’s also what I don’t like about most poetry: just say the thing you mean! It doesn’t have to be so cryptic!) Especially with the ending, I just didn’t understand what was happening and why, what the conclusion was supposed to be, and what was supposed to be implied for their future.

But overall, I enjoyed reading it, and there were so many great lines that I wanted to write down. I only ended up writing down one: “But now it seems possible that the truth about getting older is that there are fewer and fewer things to make fun of until finally there is nothing you are sure you will never be” (114). Isn’t that just so real? I also loved when she talked about the “Little Theater of Hurt Feelings,” and I thought that might have even been a better title for the book. My favorite part, though, was when she started describing a scene of her life as though one of her students had written it as fiction and she was critiquing it. That was really something special. I suggest you give this one a go!

5107Title: The Catcher in the Rye
Author: J. D. Salinger
Pages: 277
Year: 1951
Publisher: Back Bay Books (Little, Brown; Hachette)
Time taken to read: 3 days
Rating: 3/5

Goodreads synopsis: Since his debut in 1951 as The Catcher in the Rye, Holden Caulfield has been synonymous with “cynical adolescent.” Holden narrates the story of a couple of days in his sixteen-year-old life, just after he’s been expelled from prep school, in a slang that sounds edgy even today and keeps this novel on banned book lists. […] His constant wry observations about what he encounters, from teachers to phonies (the two of course are not mutually exclusive) capture the essence of the eternal teenage experience of alienation.

Yes, I have an English degree, and I only just read this book for the first time. People were always baffled when I told them I hadn’t read this one, but now I have, so I guess I’m a normal person now. What pushed me to read it was my interview with Writers House. The director of the program told me it’s his favorite book, and I ended up being selected as an “alternate,” but that’s a different story. I wish I had read it in high school, because I would love to know how my teenage self would have responded to it. Unfortunately, all I can discuss is now.

I think I really liked the stream of consciousness style, and I liked that there wasn’t much of a plot. There was a problem, and there was a character solving the problem, but it wasn’t a plot in the usual sense. I say I think I liked it because I’m not totally sure, but the more I think about it, the more I feel sure that I liked it. I know that a lot of people think Holden is a whiny emo bitch, and I see that. Whenever he complained about people who like movies, I wanted to smack him. But the reason I can’t say I like this book overall is his attitude towards women and girls. I do not care what time period this was written in, let me make that clear. I do not care. I don’t care if it’s the year 2000 B.C., you cannot talk about girls the way Holden does. He constantly talks about how “most girls” are stupid and “phony” (as apparently everyone is in Holden’s world) and blah blah, and I won’t have it.  And he even starts talking about how whenever he tries to have sex with girls, they want him to stop, and he does, but he talks about how he shouldn’t stop, and he wishes he wouldn’t, but he does anyway. He really makes it out to be a negative thing that he isn’t constantly sexually assaulting girls, and it’s horrific. Sure, it’s good that he’s not doing it, but everything about his mindset is wrong.

Another thing that’s rather infuriating is something I’ve found in some reviews on Goodreads. By the second half of the book, I had picked up on the fact that Holden clearly suffers from Borderline Personality Disorder. I’ve talked about this illness a lot because I was given my diagnosis this March, although I’ve known I have it since I was eighteen. I’m not the only one who’s figured this out. It’s clear in the way that he professes his love for Sally and a paragraph later he hates her, and he does this with multiple characters. (It’s called “splitting”.) It’s clear in his impulsive behavior, like when he suddenly decides to leave Pencey, and later on when he suddenly decides to hitchhike out west and then suddenly decides to not do that, and he’s constantly having suicidal thoughts. A little thing I picked up on too is when he hangs out with this guy who he mentions says the word “certainly” a lot, and after that, Holden uses that word with increasing frequency. Because of a Borderline’s unstable sense of self, they tend to mirror the people that they’ve most recently spent time with. What infuriated me in the reviews is that people are swearing up and down that he can’t have BPD because he loves his sister, and Borderlines have no empathy. Excuse me?? Let me introduce you to someone. This is my baby sister:

Her name is Jane, and she’s turning eight years old next week. She is technically my half-sister, but she is basically my own child, and she has been the light of my life since the day she was born when I was fourteen. I do not know what kind of life I would be living if I didn’t have her. I don’t know if I would be living at all. Everything I do, I do for her, and it will always be that way. So I don’t want to hear for one second that Borderlines can’t love or can’t feel empathy. The whole thing about being a Borderline is that you feel EVERYTHING and you feel it hard, and while that can be mostly sadness and anger and guilt and fear, it is also love and happiness. I get to love Jane as fiercely as I do because I am a Borderline. I just really hate people who act like they know everything about mental illnesses when they actually know nothing.

Back to the actual book: I think I would be giving this a much higher rating if the whole girls/sex thing hadn’t really ruined it for me. You couldn’t have just cut that one paragraph, Salinger? Disappointing. But like I said, I liked the style, and I’m glad that I read it so at least now I can say that I have. Happy reading, friends! (Also, guess who liked my last review? Hint: it’s the author of the book!)

28374007Title: Three Dark Crowns
Author: Kendare Blake
Pages: 398
Year: 2016
Publisher: HarperTeen
Time taken to read: 9 days
Rating: 5/5

Goodreads synopsis: In every generation on the island of Fennbirn, a set of triplets is born—three queens, all equal heirs to the crown and each possessor of a coveted magic. Mirabella is a fierce elemental, able to spark hungry flames or vicious storms at the snap of her fingers. Katharine is a poisoner, one who can ingest the deadliest poisons without so much as a stomachache. Arsinoe, a naturalist, is said to have the ability to bloom the reddest rose and control the fiercest of lions. But becoming the Queen Crowned isn’t solely a matter of royal birth. Each sister has to fight for it. And it’s not just a game of win or lose…it’s life or death. The night the sisters turn sixteen, the battle begins. The last queen standing gets the crown. 

I read an excerpt from this in Buzz Books 2016 YA fall/winter edition, and it was one of the best excerpts in the book. I was very excited when this came out last month, but I started reading some reviews on Goodreads and a lot of them were pretty negative. I typically don’t read reviews until I read the book, but I was so hyped about it while I was waiting for it to arrive at my library that I couldn’t help myself. Anyway, in my opinion, those people were all wrong, and this is a great book. I will say that when I read the excerpt, I thought it was going to be full of really stupid names like “Pietyr” which is obviously just Peter, but that ended up being the only really stupid one. The name Arsinoe is obviously weird, but I kind of like it. I was also really irritated by the fact that the first chapter spends a lot of time talking about how skinny and sickly Katharine is, and her caretakers obviously don’t like how she looks, but I think that fantasy novels especially do this thing a lot where they describe the bones jutting out and hollow cheeks and things like that, and they try to put it in a negative light, but then they talk about how she’s so hauntingly beautiful and blah blah, and it just creates an environment where eating disorder thoughts can easily grow.

That’s probably my biggest criticism of the book, though, and after that first chapter it’s definitely toned down, so it didn’t affect my rating. I guess the book started off a little slow, as many Goodreads reviewers said, but I think that’s only in comparison to the fact that the second half of the book had me reading like mad. I was absolutely desperate to get to the end, and then I was almost there and I remembered this book is just the first in a series, and now I almost wish I had just waited until they had all come out because I will absolutely die waiting for the next one! I also read a lot in the reviews about “the twist at the end,” so I will just mention that, because it got me super excited to get to it: it was amazing, and I never once suspected it. And now that I think about it, I’m like, wow, should that have been super obvious? But I didn’t see it coming at all, so good on Kendare Blake for that. I’m not really that big of a fantasy reader, so if you’re not either, I’d still definitely recommend this one. Even if you think it’s going slow in the beginning, keep going. This story is wild.

23492671Title: The Rosie Effect
Author: Graeme Simsion
Pages: 352
Year: 2015
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Time taken to read: 5 days
Rating: 5/5

Goodreads synopsisThe Wife Project is complete, and Don and Rosie are happily married and living in New York. But they’re about to face a new challenge. Rosie is pregnant. Don sets about learning the protocols of becoming a father, but his unusual research style gets him into trouble with the law. Fortunately his best friend Gene is on hand to offer advice: he’s left Claudia and moved in with Don and Rosie. As Don tries to schedule time for pregnancy research, getting Gene and Claudia back together, servicing the industrial refrigeration unit that occupies half his apartment, helping Dave the Baseball Fan save his business and staying on the right side of Lydia the social worker, he almost misses the biggest problem of all: he might lose Rosie when she needs him most.

I didn’t tear through this book quite as fast as I did its predecessor, The Rosie Project, but I still loved every second of it. I didn’t expect to love this quite one as much, but every main character and secondary character is so incredible, so alive, and once again I am really impressed with Simsion’s writing.I think this one started out a little slow compared to The Rosie Project, but once it picked up, it had me on the edge of my seat while laughing hysterically. Like I said in my last review, I have a bit of a bias because I sort of have my own Don Tillman, but I really believe that these books are amazing separate from my personal connection to them. My Don is actually reading The Rosie Project now, and he is loving it so far, which I honestly didn’t expect, because this is so not his style. However, he makes himself laugh all day long, so it stands to reason that Don would make him laugh too. Anyway, I was telling him how much I love being in the world of this book, and he pointed out that that makes no sense because The Rosie Effect takes place on Earth in the present time with no sci-fi or fantasy elements, so I already do live in that world. So I revised my statement: I love being in Don Tillman’s mind. He is so freaking genuine it melts my heart, and something about him feels comfortable and safe. I never ever EVER buy books, but I’ve been considering buying these because I feel certain I will read them again. This is really an emotional one for me–seriously, as I got to the last hundred pages, I was tearing up on the subway. I really cared about these characters, and they are making me look at my own life in a different light. Thank you, Mr. Simsion, from the bottom of my heart, for telling Don and Rosie’s story.