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I read Little Women for my 2015 reading challenge, specifically #21: a book your mother loves.

Of course, I’ve been hearing great things about Little Women for literally as long as I can remember.  So, of course, when I finally decided to give it a try, I was… kind of disappointed, actually.  Sure, I can see why it’s a classic.  The writing is good and the themes are pretty much universal.  But I found the characters boring, and I just couldn’t buy into the super-virtuous plot.

Maybe if I’d read this book as a child, it would have been different.  Or, maybe if I didn’t go into it knowing it’s a much-beloved classic. Maybe then I would have liked it more.  But, honestly, Little Women just fell short for me.

Sorry, mom.

Final rating: 


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Room 702 is the story of Emma, a Spanish accountant, who has somewhat of a one night stand with John Davies, a famous British actor.  Not usually one to swoon at the sight of a celebrity, Emma is surprised when she not only feels attracted to John, but also feels that the two of them share an instant connection.  She can’t stop thinking about him after their night together, but it’s hard to build a lasting relationship with someone whose work keeps him away for months at a time.

Honestly, this is an enjoyable book, but it’s nothing new.  Every conversation, every plot line, every character quirk has been done to death.  The entire book is cliche after cliche – which isn’t automatically a bad thing.  The writing was lively enough to keep me going, but I still had the whole book figured out by approximately page 30.

The biggest thing for me was probably the characters and the strong dislike that I felt for most of them.  Nobody was particularly likable, including the two main characters.  Emma’s incessant whining, complaining, and clinginess was exhausting.  John was a jerk, regardless of his charismatic jokes or generous gifts.  Emma’s friends were offensive and annoying, and Emma’s mother was obviously written to be hated – only tolerable in the presence of small children.  The only character I found remotely likable (and even he had to grow on me) was Leo, a mutual friend of Emma and John.

But even though I disliked the characters and could predict literally everything that happened, I still more or less enjoyed this book.  I feel that the quality of the translation was a big reason for this.  As someone with a degree in both Spanish and Linguistics, who has done translations for fun and for grades, I have to give this translator a big pat on the back for avoiding all the telltale signs of a translated work.

Final rating: somewhere between 2.5 and 3 stars

Room 702 is currently available to Read Now on Netgalley.  Goodreads also has 20 copies available in a giveaway that closes on August 18.

For my 2015 reading challenge, I’m crossing off #44: a book that was originally written in another language.

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As a child and young teen, Judy Blume’s books were some of my favorites. Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret totally defined my childhood. I read and re-read it until it literally fell apart. Her other books – the Fudge series, Freckle Juice, Blubber, and Then Again, Maybe I Won’t, to name just a few – sat on my grandma’s bookshelf waiting for me whenever I visited. So when I saw that she’d written a new book (finally! after all these years!) and it was available for request on Goodreads, I jumped at the chance. Imagine my excitement when I actually won! I ran through the halls of my office telling everyone I’d just won a free advance copy of Judy Blume’s new book. (Nobody knew who she was, but that’s a sad story for another day.)

I have to admit, it took me awhile to get into in this one. There are an awful lot of characters, and there’s an awful lot going on. We start with a plane crash in Elizabeth, NJ. A horrible event, but not one that’s likely repeated, right? Wrong – it happens twice more in the same town over the next few months. Three plane crashes, all changing the characters in different ways.

In the midst of it all, we have Miri’s coming of age story. This is where the book shines, as expected, since this is what Judy Blume is known for. Out of all the characters, Miri stands out as the best developed, the most interesting, and the most relatable. Even while dealing with the aftermath of three local plane crashes, Miri also has to navigate her first love, her best friend’s mental health issues, and her single mother jumping back into the dating pool.

Although it takes awhile to gain momentum, it’s worth it to slog through the first few chapters for another glimpse into Judy Blume’s mind. After all, the book is based on true events from her childhood. Knowing that there’s probably a lot of Judy Blume’s own experiences in Miri makes the book that much more touching.

I’d highly recommend In the Unlikely Event, because even after all these years, Judy Blume’s still got it. 

Final rating: ★★★★☆

For my 2015 reading challenge, I’m crossing off #19: a book based on a true story.

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I received a free copy of Let’s Just Say It Wasn’t Pretty at a meeting I went to for work last year. Why, at a meeting for medical administrators, about Ebola, no less, did they bestow upon us autographed copies of Diane Keaton’s memoir? It’s a complete mystery. Anyway, the book sat in the closet at work for about eight months before I finally decided to suck it up and read it. And, ugh, it was just as horrible as I’d heard.

I knew I would have a problem with this book when, in the first few pages, Ms. Keaton refers to a wall filled with photographs of famous men as her “prisoners.” That was my first inkling that something was going to be a bit… off about this book. It only gets worse as, throughout the next several chapters, she rambles about her thinning hair, her dislike of the bump on her nose, how she’s never liked the slant of her eyes, and how she would never, ever think about having work done. Not that she’d shame another woman for it, but, wait, maybe she would.

The book is completely disjointed, with certain themes repeating over and over again – her thinning hair, for one, is mentioned frequently, as are her frequent trips to the dermatologist to get her precancers frozen, her skin cancers removed, and her prescription for Solaraze. I’d reference this book at my job – celebrities get skin cancers, too! But I’d feel so bad making the patients struggle through it. There’s nothing to tie the chapters together, so it just comes across as a laundry list of things Ms. Keaton doesn’t like about herself.

While much of the book was odd, I felt, in particular, that the chapter on her daughter’s first trip to Victoria’s Secret was completely inappropriate. A detailed debate of her then fifteen-year-old daughter’s bra size – 32B vs. 34C – culminates in her buying $200 worth of bras and underwear, and don’t worry – there’s a detailed description of her choices, too. I’m sure this was put in to make Ms. Keaton more relatable to the average mother, but it came across as attention-grabby, and I couldn’t help but feel sorry for poor Dexter, who now has her lingerie choices on display for the world.

I can’t for the life of me figure out why this was published. There’s no flow – in fact, there are sections of the book where Ms. Keaton literally just lists every cliche phrase she can think of relating to the topic at hand. There are sections where she analyzes her dreams. Sections where she just quotes lyrics from songs her daughter likes. It’s a mess.

Do yourself a favor, and don’t waste the two hours it takes to read this book.

Final rating: ★☆☆☆☆

For my 2015 reading challenge, I’m crossing off #26: a memoir.

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I feel like I can’t rave enough about what an amazing book Beauty Queens is.  Immediately after finishing it, I had all these garbled thought about how great it was, and everything that it represents.  If I’d written my review then, it probably would have gone something along the lines of, “All teenage girls should read this book!  All teenagers in general should read this book!  EVERYBODY SHOULD READ THIS BOOK!”  I will try to be a little more professional in this review.

I think I actually rolled my eyes at the premise of this book.  A bunch of beautiful teenage girls are on their way to a beauty competition when their plane crashes on a remote tropical island.  Armed with only what they were wearing when the plane went down and whatever didn’t catch on fire in the crash, they have to find a way to survive the elements until help comes.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should probably say that I absolutely adore Libba Bray.  A Great and Terrible Beauty was one of my favorite book series in high school, and The Diviners was one of my top reads of 2013.  (I’m also sitting here, quite impatiently, waiting for Lair of Dreams.)  But for some reason, I just didn’t think I’d like this one.  I was so, so wrong.

The first thing you should understand about this book is that it’s satire.  And the satire is on point.  The book is unapologetic in its satire of our obsession with reality television, our obsession with our appearances, our obsession with being the best.  The author includes the most hilarious footnotes throughout the book, supposedly from The Corporation, in which they recommend various products that would assist the characters in their current dilemma.  The thing is, these absolutely ridiculous products actually seem like something you might find in a department store.

The second thing is the representation, which is so important.  Yes, these girls are all beautiful.  They are all beauty queens, after all.  But they don’t fit a cookie cutter mold of what a beauty queen “should” be.  Among the girls who survive the crash are:

  • an Indian-American girl
  • a pre-pre-med girl
  • a deaf girl
  • a trans girl
  • a girl who loves comics, and even makes her own
  • an unapologetically super girly girl
  • girls of every sexuality imaginable
  • even a girl who wants to dismantle the pageant system from the inside!

And initially, these girls don’t get along.  It’s hard for the girl who’s so focused on the misogyny that’s so inherent in the pageant system to understand that it’s okay for the other girls to really like wearing cute clothes and doing their makeup.  It’s hard for the religious girls to understand that some people are trans, and that’s okay.  But the really, really great thing about this book is that the girls come to the realization that they need to support each other, and it doesn’t matter what their backgrounds are, they’re all working toward the same goal and it does no good to tear each other down.  The really feminist message of this book is that all girls are important, regardless of how they like to spend their free time, who they date, or whether they’re more interested in politics or interior design.

There are frank discussions of how it’s okay for boys to get mad, but when a girl shows any negative emotions, suddenly she’s “hysterical” or “on her period.”  They discuss how girls always feel the need to apologize for everything from having emotions to actually getting hurt.  And, personally, I loved it when they looked inside to find what they’re really good at and could contribute to the group.  These girls, who’ve spent their whole lives being told that they’re of value just because they’re pretty, find that they’re actually talented at building huts, or developing a system to store rainwater, or tending to injuries, or keeping everybody fed.  And they find out that being able to do all these things doesn’t make them any better or worse of a female than they were before, but it does give them a great sense of purpose.

I just can’t say enough great things about this book.  If not for my 2015 reading challenge, I don’t think I ever would have read it.  The relatively low average rating combined with me not thinking I’d really enjoy a book about pageant girls meant that it was sitting at the very bottom of my TBR list, there only because I love Libba Bray.  But my reading challenge told me that I had to read the book at the bottom of my TBR list, so I did.  And I’m so grateful, because this is literally one of the best books I’ve ever read.  It’s 400 pages, but I devoured it in just a few hours.  That’s how good it is.

Pick it up.  You won’t be disappointed.

Final rating: ★★★★★  

For my 2015 reading challenge, I’m crossing off #20: a book at the bottom of your to-read list.