Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Review: How to Build a Girl by Caitlin Moran


352 pages, Published September 23rd 2014 by Harper

Caitlin Moran's debut novel How to Build a Girl is the story of fourteen-year-old Johanna Morrigan's reinvention and simultaneous coming of age in 1990s London. After suffering a huge embarrassment on local TV and making a slip-up that might cost her family their monthly benefits, Johanna decides to make some serious changes. She begins submitting music reviews to a London journal, discovers an all-black wardrobe, and falls in love with a rock star.

By seventeen, Johanna goes by her nom de plume, Dolly Wilde, and has become the quintessential rock journalist - she's a hard-drinking, poison-pen-wielding self-proclaimed Lady Sex Adventurer. Despite her success and adventuring, Johanna isn't quite happy living as Dolly Wilde. She no longer wants to write negative reviews of bands she hates, but to be positive about those that she likes. 

How to Build a Girl by Caitlin Moran is one of those rare books that can be described in one word: hilarious. If you're like me, then you won't just be chuckling to yourself during this book, you'll be full-on laughing out loud. I expected a pretty standard coming of age story, mostly drama, some thoughtful musings. Instead I got a hilarious story told by one of the most unique protagonists I can recall. Johanna is smart, witty, and blunt. She speaks candidly about the things teenage girls deal with, like masturbation, sex, and periods. Johanna's voices makes How to Build a Girl into a refreshing take on adolescence and making one's mark on the world. My only qualm with the the novel was that Johanna's "sex adventuring" got a bit repetitive after a few anecdotes. I have no problem with mentions of sex and the stories were, of course, still funny. But after several tales of Johanna's misadventuring with men, the stories became a little more bland and ran together.

How to Build a Girl reads like a hybrid of The Bell JarAlmost Famous, and Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging. With a sharp, funny narrator, Caitlin Moran provides a story that's relatable enough for readers to reflect on their own adolescences and how they eventually "built" themselves.

Rating: 4/5

**I received a free e-galley of How to Build a Girl from Edelweiss.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Review: Dark Sparkler by Amber Tamblyn

128 pages, to be published on April 7, 2015 by HarperPerennial

Amber Tamblyn's third volume of poetry, Dark Sparkler, examines the lives of actresses who died before their time (sometimes long before their time). Tamblyn covers a wide range of actresses - from Sharon Tate to Marilyn Monroe, from Brittany Murphy to Peg Entwistle - and includes an epilogue of more personal poems about the "business." Interspersed with her poems are original pieces of artwork by the likes of Adrian Tomine, David Lynch, and Marilyn Manson.

I'm definitely a fan of poetry, but I had never read anything by Tamblyn before and I had no idea what to expect - would this be the work of a spoiled Hollywood actress trying to forge a bond with these former starlets? Simple, rhyming lines? Just plain bad? Luckily, my worries were completely unfounded. Dark Sparkler completely blew me away. Tamblyn has an immensely strong grasp of metaphor and uses it to her advantage. Her prose never stumbles and she never pulls punches in this complex and haunting collection. Each poem is a portrait of a woman's life - sometimes the portraits are expansive, sometimes they're simply a snapshot, but they are all breathtaking. This book is absolutely wonderful with artwork that perfectly matches the tone.

In the foreword to this volume, Diane di Prima suggests that readers first take in Dark Sparkler how they normally would: read it straight through, pick out poems here and there, whatever works. Then, she instructs us to follow our curiosities...look up the women whose stories we're unfamiliar with (or the ones we already know)! Read their biographies, look at their photos, find interviews, do anything that strikes our fancy. I took di Prima's advice, but only partially. I couldn't stand the thought of waiting to finish the book before I found out more about Taruni Sachdev or Rebecca Schaeffer or Bridgette Andersen. I wanted to know them the way Tamblyn seemed to in her verse. I wanted to understand these words and stories. Once I read about one of these actresses lives, then I'd reread the poem and see what new dimensions the backstory brought to the work. Of course, the poems in Dark Sparkler can stand on their own, but we don't necessarily have to leave them on their own. 

"Sharon Tate," "Peg Entwistle," "Jean Harlow," "Bridgette Andersen," "Samantha Smith"

Rating: 4.5/5

**I received a free e-galley of Dark Sparkler from Edelweiss.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Disappointments: Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

544 pages, published January 1, 2013 by Anchor

"When New Yorker Rachel Chu agrees to spend the summer in Singapore with her boyfriend, Nicholas Young, she envisions a humble family home and quality time with the man she hopes to marry. But Nick has failed to give his girlfriend a few key details. One, that his childhood home looks like a palace; two, that he grew up riding in more private planes than cars; and three, that he just happens to be the country’s most eligible bachelor.

On Nick’s arm, Rachel may as well have a target on her back the second she steps off the plane, and soon, her relaxed vacation turns into an obstacle course of old money, new money, nosy relatives, and scheming social climbers.

Description via Goodreads.

From the description here to the gorgeous paperback cover to the blurb that described Crazy Rich Asians as a "Pride and Prejudice-like send-up" I couldn't wait to dive in. But soon enough, I really, really wished I could dive back out. Here's what I found most insufferable about Crazy Rich Asians:

  • Lack of character development - The story is about Rachel and Nick's ups and downs on their vacation, but it's also about Nick's relatives and friends, and other members of the elite Singaporean circle with which the Young family runs. Some of these stories were actually interesting. At times I thought, Hey, I'd read a book about Nick's cousin Astrid and her husband! or whatever else struck me as fascinating But we were never given quite enough of these other characters' stories to make them stick. The minor characters are sickeningly snobbish and nasty and the major characters, even Nick and Rachel, aren't developed, leaving the storylines to fall very, very flat.
  • Label dropping - I don't mind reading about rich people, I really don't. But Crazy Rich Asians was so label-heavy that at times it felt like I was reading a very long catalog. Chanel this, Dior that, yadda yadda yadda. It was exhausting. It is possible to describe a wealthy person or an opulent home without 20 paragraphs about designers and extravagant adjectives, but I even started to forget that while reading this book. (ex. "
  • Awkward dialogue/bad writing in general - I mostly listened to the audiobook of Crazy Rich Asians, but read the physical book here and there. I will credit the audiobook narrator for making this much more palatable in audio form. Example: -- "Yes, I thought you were dead set against coming to the wedding," Nick said. -- "Well, I changed my mind at the last minute. Especially since Zvi has this fabulous new plane that can zip around so quickly--our flight from New York only took fifteen hours!" Cringe
  • The end story about Rachel's parents - *SPOILERS* What could have been a storyline throughout the book was thrown in at the very end for absolutely no reason. In a fit of bitchiness, Nick's mother reveals what her private investigator has learned about Rachel: her father, long thought dead, is actually alive. This information results in a confrontation with Rachel's mother who shares a very long, strange story about who Rachel's father really is. This is literally within the last 15 pages of the book, adding nothing to a story which had hardly mentioned Rachel's father at all. Once again, this could have been an interesting story; I might have even read a book about this! But the cheap twist was added at the end in an attempt to add some depth to a book that was incredibly shallow.
Rating: 1.5/5
Sigh. I actually feel better having written this down, but count me out of reading Kevin Kwan's sequel, China Rich Girlfriend, which comes out next year. 

Friday, September 5, 2014

Review: Book Riot Quarterly Box

There are several things that I REALLY love in the world: my family, my friends, my boyfriend, my dogs, books, and lastly, getting things in the mail. I also really love combining these things. Since my boyfriend probably won't send himself to me via FedEx, I usually settle for getting books in the mail - books that I order online, the rare ARCs that I win, and most recently, every three months, a Book Riot quarterly box! Now, I don't want to spoil my review but...this subscription box is probably the best thing ever. It's truly a bibliophile's dream come true.

If you're unfamiliar with the words I am saying, Book Riot is a site that covers any and all things book-related. You have your reviews, lists, links, and quizzes. THEN you have special features like "Book Fetish" (a weekly catalog of bookish jewelry, clothes, art, and more), "Literary Tourism" (each post explores a certain location - bookstores, books set there, literary history, etc.), and "Reading Pathways" (suggested three book sequences to become familiar with an author). Needless to say, this website is the bomb.

While browsing around Book Riot a few months back, I noticed a section that I had overlooked in the past: "Subscriptions." Here, you can subscribe to Book Riot podcasts and...AWESOME REAL LIVE BOOKS DELIVERED TO YOUR DOOR! You have two options here:
  1. The Riot Read - For $30 you get "a great new book in your mailbox every month, along with related articles, interviews, and explorations brought to you by the writers of Book Riot." Right now there's only one subscription available, "The Main Event," which is mostly adult fiction. But Young Adult and Non-fiction Riot Reads are coming soon!
  2. The Quarterly Box - For $50, "every 3 months, Book Riot will send you a package of books and bookish stuff." 
I should also mention that I previously subscribed to a similar service - Powell's Indiespensible. Their boxes are $40 and ship every 6 weeks, but I was usually less than impressed. I kept waiting to get better goods, but ended up cancelling after 4 deliveries. So while I was a little wary of trying a similar service, looking at the contents of the previous Quarterly Boxes quickly helped me past my trepidation. I decided to take the dive - the BIG dive - and go for the Quarterly Box rather than sniffing around the monthly Riot Read.

After several weeks of staring down the mailman, my first Quarterly Box arrived yesterday! Here are the goods.