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Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body

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In her phenomenally popular essays and long-running Tumblr blog, Roxane Gay has written with intimacy and sensitivity about food and body, using her own emotional and psychological struggles as a means of exploring our shared anxieties over pleasure, consumption, appearance, and health. As a woman who describes her own body as “wildly undisciplined,” Roxane understands the tension between desire and denial, between self-comfort and self-care. In Hunger, she explores her own past—including the devastating act of violence that acted as a turning point in her young life—and brings readers along on her journey to understand and ultimately save herself.

With the bracing candor, vulnerability, and power that have made her one of the most admired writers of her generation, Roxane explores what it means to learn to take care of yourself: how to feed your hungers for delicious and satisfying food, a smaller and safer body, and a body that can love and be loved—in a time when the bigger you are, the smaller your world becomes.

Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay

Publication Date: June 13, 2017 by HarperCollins

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My Thoughts:

The story of my life is wanting, hungering, for what I cannot have or, perhaps, wanting what I dare not allow myself to have.

Roxane Gay may insist throughout her memoir that she is not courageous or brave, but I would beg to differ. In Hunger, Gay has chosen to lay bare the darkest parts of her life to open up a dialogue about how things like gender roles and sexual violence can have such a long-lasting impact on a person’s life in ways many of us can’t even begin to imagine.

This is what most girls are taught-that we should be slender and small. We should not take up space. We should be seen and not heard, and if we are seen, we should be pleasing to men, acceptable to society. And most women know this, that we are supposed to disappear, but it’s something that needs to be said, loudly, over and over again, so that we can resist surrendering to what is expected of us.

Roxane Gay opens up about the brutal gang rape she experienced when she was barely a teenager and how food and the act of eating became therapeutic in dealing with the trauma. It’s stunning and also heartbreaking to learn that she did not allow anyone else to know what happened to her for so many years. And yet, it’s also not surprising since we live in a culture where victims of rape are often blamed and rapists protected.

I am weary of all our sad stories – not hearing them, but that we have these stories to tell, that there are so many.

There were entire chapters in Hunger that resonated so strongly with me and my own life experience. I may not have much in common with Roxane Gay, but yet at the same time, I do – because we are both women and face so many of the same societal struggles. Gay’s more universal message combined with excerpts of her own personal life experiences makes for an extremely powerful book that I only wish everyone would read and learn from.

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo

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Evelyn Hugo is finally ready to tell the truth about her glamorous and scandalous life. But when she chooses unknown magazine reporter Monique Grant for the job, no one in the journalism community is more astounded than Monique herself. Why her? Why now?

Monique is not exactly on top of the world. Her husband, David, has left her, and her career has stagnated. Regardless of why Evelyn has chosen her to write her biography, Monique is determined to use this opportunity to jumpstart her career.

Summoned to Evelyn’s Upper East Side apartment, Monique listens as Evelyn unfurls her story: from making her way to Los Angeles in the 1950s to her decision to leave show business in the late 80s, and, of course, the seven husbands along the way. As Evelyn’s life unfolds through the decades—revealing a ruthless ambition, an unexpected friendship, and a great forbidden love—Monique begins to feel a very a real connection to the actress. But as Evelyn’s story catches up with the present, it becomes clear that her life intersects with Monique’s own in tragic and irreversible ways.

Filled with emotional insight and written with Reid’s signature talent, this is a fascinating journey through the splendor of Old Hollywood into the harsh realities of the present day as two women struggle with what it means—and what it takes—to face the truth.

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Publication Date: June 13, 2017 by Atria Books

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Beer Pairing: New Belgium Brewery – Citradelic IPA


My Thoughts:

This is a stunning book – both in appearance and depth. I’ll admit that when I began reading The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo that I anticipated a “light” read, but was pleasantly surprised to find that Jenkins Reid tackles quite a few serious topics (identity being the frontrunner) in a way that made me want to stand up and applaud her by the last page.

Evelyn looks at me with purpose. “Do you understand what I’m telling you? When you’re given an opportunity to change your life, be ready to do whatever it takes to make it happen. The world doesn’t give things, you take things. If you learn one thing from me, it should probably be that.”

Evelyn is a fascinating woman and it is clear from the very beginning that there are a lot of layers to her personality. As she begins to share intimate details from her life and her complicated relationships with men, those layers begin to unfold and the narrator is given a firsthand look at how issues of gender, sexuality, and identity (just to name a few) impacted her life and the choices she made along the way.

It’s always exciting when a book is able to speak to you on a personal level and without giving away details that spoil the element of surprise in this story, I can adamantly say that Reid’s story resonated with some of my own personal experiences in a way that I haven’t really encountered yet in other novels. While there are definitely layers of sadness to Evelyn’s biography, there is also a sense of empowerment by the end of the novel that proved the strongest message of all.

I would recommend this novel to anyone who is looking for a book that deals with strong, complicated female characters. The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo is such a necessary book for our current society and to essentially repeat what Jenkins Reid states in her dedication page, a reminder that it’s time to smash the patriarchy once and for all.

Lost Boy

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There is one version of my story that everyone knows. And then there is the truth. This is how it happened. How I went from being Peter Pan’s first—and favorite—lost boy to his greatest enemy.

Peter brought me to his island because there were no rules and no grownups to make us mind. He brought boys from the Other Place to join in the fun, but Peter’s idea of fun is sharper than a pirate’s sword. Because it’s never been all fun and games on the island. Our neighbors are pirates and monsters. Our toys are knife and stick and rock—the kinds of playthings that bite.

Peter promised we would all be young and happy forever.

Lost Boy by Christina Henry

Publication Date: July 14, 2017 by Berkley Books

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My Thoughts:

I actually tend to stay aware from retellings of my favorite stories (just like with movie adaptations, they’re NEVER as good as the original), but Christina Henry did such an amazing job with Alice that I couldn’t wait to see what spin she would put on Peter Pan.

Needless to say, I LOVED this book! Just like with Alice, Henry does a stunning job of staying true to the original story while also making the novel uniquely her own. What’s so refreshing about her work is that she adds new elements to create a completely new storyline that makes you question the lightheartedness of these popular children’s books. Henry’s interpretations are definitely much darker, but they’re also believable – a perfect balance of the original Peter Pan and Henry’s creativity!

Long Black Veil

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Long Black Veil is the story of Judith Carrigan, whose past is dredged up when the body of her college friend Wailer is discovered 20 years after her disappearance in Philadelphia’s notorious and abandoned Eastern State Penitentiary. Judith is the only witness who can testify to the innocence of her friend Casey, who had married Wailer only days before her death.

The only problem is that on that fateful night at the prison, Judith was a very different person from the woman she is today. In order to defend her old friend and uncover the truth of Wailer’s death, Judith must confront long-held and hard-won secrets that could cause her to lose the idyllic life she’s built for herself and her family.

Long Black Veil by Jennifer Finney Boylan

Publication Date: April 11, 2017 by Crown

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My Thoughts:

Long Black Veil holds a lot of promise, but it tries to be too many things. I initially picked this up expecting it to be a bit more plot-driven based on the synopsis, but it turned out to be more of a character study. This is NOT similar to Donna Tartt’s The Secret History by any means and I’m baffled by the comparisons that have been drawn between the two books.

While I could have accepted that and still enjoyed the novel, the characters really fell flat for me. There was something awkward and comical about the dialogue and their interactions often felt a bit cartoonish in nature. I also found it a bit strange how Casey’s obesity was constantly brought up (often in a derogative manner by not only Casey himself, but every other character in the book as well) and this clashed with the lack of physical description of everyone else. I wasn’t quite sure why this was a detail that needed to be highlighted almost every time Casey was discussed.

Judith’s story was the most effective part of Long Black Veil and I think the novel as a whole would have had more of an impact if it had focused more on her instead of being derailed by other characters. While I understand that the murder was the starting point to understanding Quentin’s transformation into becoming Judith, the transition back onto the other characters and their involvement in that night at the penitentiary really took away from Judith’s story for me.

Ultimately, this was a disappointing read for me. Considering that the novel was a character study, I would have liked to see stronger dialogue and character development in order to feel more engaged with the writing.

I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for my honest review.

Marlena

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Everything about fifteen-year-old Cat’s new town in rural Michigan is lonely and off-kilter, until she meets her neighbor, the manic, beautiful, pill-popping Marlena. Cat, inexperienced and desperate for connection, is quickly lured into Marlena’s orbit by little more than an arched eyebrow and a shake of white-blond hair. As the two girls turn the untamed landscape of their desolate small town into a kind of playground, Cat catalogues a litany of firsts—first drink, first cigarette, first kiss—while Marlena’s habits harden and calcify. Within the year, Marlena is dead, drowned in six inches of icy water in the woods nearby. Now, decades later, when a ghost from that pivotal year surfaces unexpectedly, Cat must try to forgive herself and move on, even as the memory of Marlena keeps her tangled in the past.

Marlena by Julie Buntin

Publication Date: April 4, 2017 by Henry Holt and Co.

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My Thoughts:

Books that examine the relationships of teenage girls have always interested me despite being a bit removed now from adolescent experiences myself. Marlena stands out in particular because while Buntin focuses the majority of attention on teenage Cat, the reader also gets a view into the life of adult Cat as well and how her friendship with Marlena has left an indelible mark on her.

Marlena called me naive, but what I really think she meant is privileged, a world people use like an insult in New York, but that I’ve always taken to mean safe. Privilege is something to be aware of, to fight to see beyond, but ultimately to be grateful for. It’s like a bulletproof vest; it makes you harder to kill.

One of the aspects I enjoyed the most about Marlena is the narrative style. With Cat’s narration, we not only get the experience of reflecting on her friendship with Marlena, but we also get a better picture of who both of these two girls are. It makes the experience of reading the novel much more personal and emotional. I ultimately felt so connected to the book that despite knowing part of the outcome, the last chapter brought tears to my eyes – a surprisingly rare occurrence and a positive reflection on Buntin as a writer!

While I initially picked this book up because the storyline sounded right up my alley, I found myself drawn in even further because of Buntin’s beautiful prose. Marlena is all the more haunting because of Buntin’s writing style. Knowing that this is her debut, I am anxious to see what she writes next!

 

The Rules Do Not Apply

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When thirty-eight-year-old New Yorker writer Ariel Levy left for a reporting trip to Mongolia in 2012, she was pregnant, married, financially secure, and successful on her own terms. A month later, none of that was true.

Levy picks you up and hurls you through the story of how she built an unconventional life and then watched it fall apart with astonishing speed. Like much of her generation, she was raised to resist traditional rules–about work, about love, and about womanhood.

“I wanted what we all want: everything. We want a mate who feels like family and a lover who is exotic, surprising. We want to be youthful adventurers and middle-aged mothers. We want intimacy and autonomy, safety and stimulation, reassurance and novelty, coziness and thrills. But we can’t have it all.”

In this memoir, Levy chronicles the adventure and heartbreak of being “a woman who is free to do whatever she chooses.” Her own story of resilience becomes an unforgettable portrait of the shifting forces in our culture, of what has changed–and of what is eternal.

The Rules Do Not Apply by Ariel Levy

Publication Date: March 14, 2017 by Random House

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My Thoughts:

Daring to think that the rules do not apply is the mark of a visionary. It’s also a symptom of narcissism.

This quote essentially sums up my reading experience of Levy’s memoir. While I enjoyed her writing style, I was baffled by her immense lack of self-awareness and the fact that the idea of her privilege seems to be entirely overlooked.

It’s hard to be critical of the book because I don’t see how it’s fair to judge someone else’s experiences (and yes, she has had some immense losses in her life), but The Rules Do Not Apply was not relatable in the sense that I continued to feel disconnected from Levy’s inability to understand that her experiences are not the experiences of ALL women. Her use of “we” to discuss many of the choices she made in life frustrated me – it wasn’t being female that allowed her these experiences, but rather her privilege. That’s not to say her losses are not to be empathized with, but her discussion of those aspects of her life just felt very limited and self-absorbed.

The Book of Joan

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In the near future, world wars have transformed the earth into a battleground. Fleeing the unending violence and the planet’s now-radioactive surface, humans have regrouped to a mysterious platform known as CIEL, hovering over their erstwhile home. The changed world has turned evolution on its head: the surviving humans have become sexless, hairless pale-white creatures floating in isolation, inscribing stories upon their skin.

Out of the ranks of the endless wars rises Jean de Men, a charismatic and bloodthirsty cult leader who turns CIEL into a quasi-corporate police state. A group of rebels unite to dismantle his iron rule—galvanized by the heroic song of Joan, a child-warrior who possesses a mysterious force that lives within her and communes with the earth. When de Men and his armies turn Joan into a martyr, the consequences are astonishing. And no one—not the rebels, Jean de Men, or even Joan herself—can foresee the way her story and unique gift will forge the destiny of an entire world for generations.

A riveting tale of destruction and love found in direst of places—even at the extreme end of post-human experience—Lidia Yuknavitch’s The Book of Joan raises questions about what it means to be human, the fluidity of sex and gender, and the role of art as means for survival.

The Book of Joan by Lidia Yuknavitch

Publication Date: April 18, 2017 by Harper

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My Thoughts:

I loved the idea of this novel much more than the execution. The Book of Joan is at times chilling and unique in its portrayal of a post-apocalyptic earth, but I found the story became too convoluted as it progressed. I know a major part of the novel was meant to be commentary on the importance of the arts in maintaining true humanity and in our current political nightmare, this was a rather fitting aspect of a frightening future. Unfortunately, Yuknavitch’s hints of Shakespearean dramatic comedy just felt out of sync with the overall novel. Trinculo (yes – the jester) was uncomfortably comical and the final chapters of the book were a bit baffling to me.

I had such high hopes for this book so I’m upset that it didn’t live up to my expectations. For those looking for novels with a similar theme, but with a clearer plot I would recommend seeking out Margaret Atwood’s MaddAdam trilogy instead.