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Book Review No. 4

Happy Friday! I'm finally rolling out this book review much later than planned; I decided to add Crazy Rich Asians at the last minute which held me up a tad. I'm pretty excited about this round-up since so many of these books are popular picks.

If you're new to my book reviews, welcome! I give a short plot synopsis without giving away too much, followed by my impressions of the novel. I'm honest in my opinions and experiences of each read, sharing why I connected to the book...or why I didn't. I also give a final grade if you want to rank them.

So here goes! Let's dive in with one of the best, most thought-provoking books I've read in awhile.

All my parents out there: how many times have you hoped and prayed your kids won't get into the same wild/crazy/stupid shenanigans that you did once upon a time? Or fretted over the all the ways the Internet and social media makes raising a kid -- much less being one -- so GD scary these days?

This book explores these treacherous waters, following a cast of characters in the wake of a teenage boy texting out a mildly explicit photo of a teenage girl without her knowledge or consent. And that's really packing it in a nutshell. It's a story of the haves vs. the have nots. Nature vs. nurture, in a sense. Instilling character in your children and teaching them the sky has no limits...while also teaching them limits. Understanding that no material possession on Earth is more valuable than your self-respect; a difficult lesson to instill in competitive, hormonal teenagers in an Instagram world.

Each chapter rotates among the various characters, sharing their points of view on the situation as it unfolds. It made the story so much more gray than black and white, which is the point. I understood points on each "side" so to speak because I identify with all the characters: the concerned parents; and, the smart-but-naive teenagers. I would burn cities to the ground (figuratively speaking) if anyone treated my daughter the way this girl gets treated in the story. Yet I remember being that age and thinking I had it all under control, that my decisions were normal and not just socially acceptable but necessary for any modicum of a social life.

When does a good kid decide to push the boundaries? How do you know as a parent when to tighten the reigns or loosen the leash? Too tight and they'll push you away, too loose and they'll test their boundaries. Why do we know that's what'll happen? Because we did it ourselves.

So much to unpack and think about in this page turner. So glad I read it.

Grade: A


I didn't even know how much I missed the Emily Charlton character from The Devil Wears Prada until I picked up this beachy read and tore through it! Emily is now married, living in LA, and working as an image consultant when her career starts tanking and she takes a timeout to go visit a friend in Greenwich, CT. From there you meet the two other primary characters, one of whom needs Emily's help to resuscitate her image after her slime ball politician of a husband wrecks it. While all three women come from different backgrounds and have very different personalities, they're all in need of support as they figure out their next phase of life.

But let's not get too deep about it: this book is pure fun and even though I could never tolerate a person like Emily in real life I sure as hell love reading about her! Her snobbish sass is so savage. With her sailor mouth and cigarette habit she's the perfect foil to the plastic perfection of the Greenwich housewives. If real women live like they do then I want a TV show about it -- pure entertainment!

Read this for fun, read this for vacay, read this to take a break from headier or darker books, read this to escape from daily stress. You'll have a great time!

Grade: A


This current best seller tells the story of the minor Greek goddess Circe from her point of view. You may remember her from The Odyssey as the vengeful deity who turned men into pigs. Circe offers context to that whole situation...and so much more, from her childhood growing up around Titans to living in exile on an island.

If you love either A) mythology or B) journeys of self-discovery then you'll like this book. Miller's interpretation of pagan deities, both major and minor, certainly tickles the fancy of anyone who loves classical studies or the movie Hercules. Circe is a tale of self-realization and self-acceptance. How we often look to others for validation. How we struggle with self-awareness and self-love. Imagine being immortal and experiencing this your whole "life." Which is actually *hint hint* relevant to the quasi-cliffhanger ending of the book.

Circe's pacing is slow, I'll admit. I think Miller's imagery is vived but verbose. I often lost the story's thread just wading through her words. But buried underneath the loquacious narrative is a truly beautiful story that I'm happy to have read. I walked away learning a great deal more about mythology than any class -- or tween book series (shoutout to Percy Jackson!) -- ever imparted on me.

Grade: B


If you read my review on Circe above, this book confirms Miller loves a slow burn of a story. Her debut novel, The Song of Achilles, recounts the tale of the famous Greek warrior from the POV of Patroclus, his ward, friend...and lover. That's no spoiler -- it's the center around which the story orbits -- and you can see where their relationship is going fairly early on. But my, does the story plod along for the first half. I remember telling Mike "well, the Trojan war just started so things should finally pick up."

I can't overlook how the book shuffles along; it's only fair to tell you. But you also need to know this is one of the greatest love stories I've ever read.

Miller, an Ivy-educated scholar of both Latin and Greek, which she now teaches, uses her extensive education of classical studies to add depth to the character of Achilles. His infamous heel and its origin story are nowhere to be found; apparently that particular myth wasn't part of Homer's Iliadic narrative on Achilles but contrived later. Instead, you get a young demi-God trying to make sense of his nature, abilities, and destiny. A prophecy comes down from the Fates but there's a catch: Achilles finds out early enough to make a choice. Travel one road and live a long life in obscurity. Travel another and find fame and glory...but meet a tragic end.

It's no spoiler which one he chooses. But it is captivating to follow along as he and Patroclus attempt to thwart Achilles' fate. And totally heart wrenching when death finally rips them apart. The final third of the book made me cry both tears of sorrow and tears of joy. From the slow start to the emotional end, I ultimately loved this book and recommend it to the lover of mythology...or the lover of a good romance.

Grade: B+


When a novel is as ubiquitous as this one you have to read it in my book. (*Bah doom tiss.*) I quickly found out that, though I haven't read many books centered around Asian culture (something I should remedy), this story truly revolves around the classic theme of a "stranger in a village."

In a nutshell, the plot follows Rachel Chu as she travels with her boyfriend to his home country of Singapore, completely unaware of how unfathomably rich he is and what a coveted catch he is within the social elite. At almost every turn Rachel is snubbed, ridiculed, and even hazed for not being "one of them." There is no attempt to evaluate Rachel on her own merits or any attempt to get to know her. She's American-born Chinese, not wealthy, and without an Asian aristocratic pedigree. That's all her boyfriend Nicholas's family needs to know.

I went through peaks and valleys with this TBH. There are plenty of juicy parts, and ultimately I needed to know what Nicholas would do to stand up to his family. But I got SO turned off by the tasteless materialism, consumerism, and narcissism. If I had to read one more paragraph detailing gaudy opulence, name-dropping luxury brands, I thought I might heave.

Not only does Crazy Rich Asians adhere to a "stranger in a village" premise, it also reiterates two classic idioms: money can't buy happiness, and money can't buy class. Despite all the differences in culture, some truths remain universal no matter where you're from.

I may eventually finish the trilogy but it's not high on my list. I do still want to see the movie though! I'm very interested to see how accurately they adapted the story to the big screen.

Grade: B


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