Catalina by Liska Jacobs

I kind of went into this book without knowing what it was going to be about. The whole time, I couldn’t stop thinking about the title and how there’s this famous line from the comedy Step Brothers. It goes:

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And maybe this gif can explain exactly how I feel about this book and the events that took place. Perhaps it will do the same for you.

33257651Elsa Fisher is headed for rock bottom. At least, that’s her plan. She has just been fired from MoMA on the heels of an affair with her married boss, and she retreats to Los Angeles to blow her severance package on whatever it takes to numb the pain. Her abandoned crew of college friends (childhood friend Charlotte and her wayward husband, Jared; and Elsa’s ex-husband, Robby) receive her with open arms, and, thinking she’s on vacation, a plan to celebrate their reunion on a booze-soaked sailing trip to Catalina Island.

But Elsa doesn’t want to celebrate. She is lost, lonely, and full of rage, and only wants to sink as low as the drugs and alcohol will take her. On Catalina, her determined unraveling and recklessness expose painful memories and dark desires, putting everyone in the group at risk.

At only 240 pages, I was worried this was going to be another one of those books where a young girl comes to New York with a lot of promise and only finds drugs and sex are what help her cope with her quarter-life crisis. I’m honestly so tired of stories that have people moving to New York and becoming drug-addled without a hint of trying to do anything for the big dream. However, this is completely opposite of that.

In fact, she was doing what she set out to do. She was working for the place of her dreams before she started having an affair with her boss. She then loses her job and travels back to California. While I never had an affair with my boss, I know the kind of upset you feel when you had a job one day and then it’s all completely taken away from you. There’s a small amount of depression that sets in and for Elsa, it comes with a nice sidecar of pain killers.

I kind of put this on the same level as Bridesmaids or any of those female groups that get together after a long time. They learn that they’re different or they learn that they’ve grown apart. I can imagine someone like Amy Schumer or Kristin Wiig playing Elsa if they adapted this to a movie. I can imagine her fiddling with pill bottles in the bottom of her purse wearing her best sequined dress and giant black sunglasses. I can see her waking up next to a random stranger hoping that they didn’t take it too far. I can see her even modeling bathing suits to the underage bellhop in the hotel she’s staying in. Like all those female friendship movies, there’s always someone that doesn’t care enough or only cares about themselves. I think that’s the perfect analogy to explain Elsa.

However, unlike those movies, Elsa doesn’t really learn anything other than the fact that she’s not her friends. She doesn’t want the same things in life and she doesn’t care about getting back to reality. She’s also deeply depressed. While you’re reading the story, Elsa goes back and rehashes on the events leading up to her affair, her job in New York. She talks about the relationship she has with her friends, with her ex-husband, and even her mom. I think it’s interesting how “rock bottom” can feel like the catalyst for change and sometimes it can feel like a good time to break open a bottle of booze. For Elsa, it’s the latter.

Even as she finds her best friend no longer cares about her and she has no one to looked to, she finds a way to be self-destructive. She doesn’t speak to anyone about what happened to her in New York and she doesn’t look for help. All she wants is to do is find those drugs to help her fall darker into her own pit.

To me, this didn’t read like a depressing story of a young woman on the verge of a breakdown. In actuality, all the characters in this story have something going on in their lives they’re not talking about. Since the story takes place in Elsa’s point of view, that’s all that you’re getting. However, the characters are super well-developed and you care more about them than you do about Elsa.

Speaking of writing, I thought this was eloquent and easy. The characters felt natural and almost real. I think the only thing I could comment on was how unfeeling and cold Elsa was. I guess that’s what the author was trying to do here. She was trying to make you feel for everyone and feel a little bit for Elsa, but in the end, you won’t really care for her very much. It’s obvious even with the way Liska Jacobs ended the book. She didn’t care for her friends and she clearly doesn’t care about herself, so why would the reader want to care about her too?

I received a copy of this book from NetGalley for free in exchange for an honest review. My opinions have not been influenced by the publisher or the author.

  • E-galley: 240 pages
  • Publisher: FSG Original
  • Rating: 4/5 stars
  • Buy Catalina on Amazon

Simone and Her Books is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. This in no way affects my opinion of the above book.

My 2017 Bookish Wrap Up

Wow, 2017 felt like a whirlwind. I hit a ton of different milestones, came to some interesting decisions, and will be starting my new year with a different career path. While the world was in shambles, 2017 treated me pretty well and I’m thankful to be starting off 2018 with some great plans.

It was a great year for books (well, every year is a great year for books) and I’m so excited to share with you what I’ve read, what I’ve learned, and a little on what I will be reading next year.

First, let’s get to the numbers.

  • # of books I wanted to read: 25
  • # of books read: 43
  • # of books that were diverse reads: 18

My favorite books of the year

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It was tough to dwindle this list down and I had a tough time to get it to these eleven. I restrained myself and thought about what really captivated me about them. Here’s my favorites:

  • Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
  • Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan
  • Stay With Me by Ayobami Adebayo
  • A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
  • Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
  • Turtles All the Way Down by John Green
  • Artistotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saez
  • Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance by Ruth Emmie Lang
  • Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward
  • Emma in the Night by Wendy Walker
  • Warcross by Marie Lu
  • Cinder by Marissa Meyer

Isn’t it kind of funny that by the end of the year, you remember most of the books you read during this half rather than the early half. I feel like the books I read in the early half of the year don’t really represent the repertoire of reading I picked up in the second half. I think I’m going to try and keep my reading pretty even across the months.

Some interesting insights

I read some really interesting books this year. Books I didn’t think I would read because it just wouldn’t be available to me in the methods that I chose. I also received so many books from various different publishing companies and I couldn’t be more grateful of that.

I think my favorite books will have to be the ones I ordered from Book of the Month Club. I don’t want to gush or advertise for them, but the judges have wonderful taste and I always found every book I read to be intriguing and interesting. I would strongly recommend especially if you’re a bestselling books reader. You’ll be the first to read the best sellers!

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I realized that thrillers and mystery aren’t my favorite thing. I think I have a few that I will try and read but mostly because I heard good things. I don’t think I’m going to actively search for any more thrillers, but maybe horror will be in there? I don’t want to poop my pants while I read.

I also revived my love for Science Fiction and Fantasy novels, which also ties into my love of Young Adult novels. I’m so excited to continue reading more of these stories in the future.

My future plans

I’ve accumulated a fairly large pile of books. While my book buying ban will continue to go through 2018, I want to focus on reading what I already have. Being surrounded by books all the time is quite comforting, but sometimes it can be a real eyesore and a nuisance. I can’t justify buying any more books not only because I’m trying to save money, but because there’s already enough for me to read.

I also haven’t read ANY non-fiction. I love non-fiction every once in a while and I somehow just skipped over all of that this year. I do have some non-fiction in my TBR so I hope to read those and get some more stories that aren’t just based in the mind of the author. I think I already know where to start.

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I’m also going to focus on reading more books written and about POC. While I did read 18 diverse reads this year, this was still less than half of my reading. I am pretty proud that the majority of my reads were from female authors, I still feel like there’s more diverse books to read and share with people. I especially want to read books by Middle Eastern/South Asian authors and characters. I also want to read way more Latinx and Hispanic authors and characters. I feel like both of these areas have been really neglected by me and other readers and they should also get some of the spotlight.

The final resolution (can we call these that?) is to really share more with you all. I’ve been pretty busy all this year with work and other obligations, but I want to double up my efforts with my blog and share a lot more with you all. You know where to find me on the social media universe, so I’ll be sharing on all those platforms.

Happy New Year, bookish peeps! I can definitely see 2018 as a big book year for all of us!

 

 

November 2017 Wrap Up

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November seemed to go quickly, but also jam packed with news, articles, and great reads. I had a blast this November and here are some of the highlights.

Thanksgiving at my in laws

I’ve never had Thanksgiving at anyone else’s house before. I’ve always had it with my family with the same meal and the same sides to be expected. The same guests too! But this year, I got to explore what other people observe for their Thanksgiving.

If you ask my friends, I always bring up how Thanksgiving is one of those meals that is the same for everyone but different as well. We all have the turkey and stuffing and mashed potatoes. Coming from an immigrant family, many of my Thanksgiving included things like kimchi and rice and even a little lasagna.

I have this great pic from a feast like this many years ago and there, right in the middle of the table, is a pan of lasagna. I’m not sure who brought the lasagna, but it really isn’t Thanksgiving without it on the table.

So this Thanksgiving, I was thankful to have a place to go and share a meal with my other family. The food was slightly different than what I would see, but there were some subtle differences. Like my family never watches football…ever. Also, we don’t have the adults fighting over the desserts. Most of the adults passed over dessert making room for a cup of hot tea.

It was fun to hear family stories and laugh with people who welcomed me into their home. I think it was the most American Thanksgiving I’ve ever seen!

Alright, enough chit chat, let’s hit the books.

Books I read

Links from the Internet

This is probably my favorite part about the entire post! I get to share the articles and essays I found this month and LOVED! Make sure to definitely check these out when you have a chance!

I found this really great article from 1995 about what Little Women was really about. I was doing some research on an article about women and literature and I was just enamored by this detailed article about Little Women. Definitely check it out!

My favorite thing this month was reading this article about Colin Kaepernick and how GQ found him his own team while he still is banned from playing in the NFL. It must be really difficult to follow your dreams only to be thrown out from your dreams because of what you believe in. How do you manage to do both? Are they mutually exclusive? I don’t know, but this article was great to read!

This is a reminder for myself that I need to pick up I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika Sanchez because this interview really blew it up for me!

I feel like I should mention this, but I’m super sad that The Mindy Project is done. However, I found this wonderful article about how great the show was and how it really appreciated the romantic comedy genre.

Continuing my work to become a better writer, I found this wonderful essay in NY Review of Books about writing memoirs especially after a family member has died.

I’m such a nerd because Mara Wilson aka Matilda wrote this article for Elle magazine about young female actresses and how they’re sexualized at way too young an age. It also dives into Millie Bobbi Brown and the controversy she didn’t mean to cause, but did because she’s 13 and yeah, that makes sense (eye roll).

I couldn’t be more happy for my friend, Maggie, @mugandnook for opening up and sharing her personal story about being a human with a disability. Thank you so much for sharing, Maggie!

I am so happy that people are seeing Lena Dunham for what she truly is and writers like Zizi Clemmons are taking a stand against her backhanded, racist comments. Take a look at the official statement in this article.

I love me some great essays lately and this one from TheMillions.com talks about how we shouldn’t forget that a walk in the woods in a book shouldn’t replace a real walk in the woods. This was a pretty interesting read!

I love Sophie from Main St. and Maple and how candid she is about her struggles to find work in a very male-dominated career. Good luck! I know that something will find its way to you and don’t give up! Come out to the coasts where women are totally wanted to help break down those barriers!

This was one literary piece from Electric Lit about how women turn themselves into trees when approached by unwanted desire. It’s moving and poetic and makes you want to tear the years of bark growing over you.

That’s it! Thanks for reading my blubber about the Internet. Honestly, I love sharing these articles with you!

Until next time!

How do readers become writers?

As the saying goes "imitation is the highest form of flattery."

There's a lot of readers out there. A lot. Not every one of them is posting pics on Instagram or forming lifestyle choices around their reads. Some people just read.

And we all know that writers read. Reading for writers is as essential as a pen and paper. You can't be a writer if you're not a reader and if you are, please email me so I can read you work.

However, how do you make a reader into a writer?

I'm not talking about legendary tomes of literature or spending years creating the perfect fantasy universe. I'm talking about those average day readers who enjoy what they read. Do you know how it's done? It's what I'm doing now and what you're reading.

When readers read, sometimes it's followed by thoughts and opinions and things that need to be said in some shape or another. That's where the writing comes in.

A friend of mine from a long time ago first introduced me to writing about books after he said he wasn't fully done reading until he wrote about it. I never understood that. I thought you read a book and you pat yourself on the back for reading and move on.

Yeah I would have lingering thoughts going through my head and I'd make some casual notes in my notebook, but it wasn't until I was expressly writing about books that I realized that he was right.

Books were made to make you think or understand or believe in something. Good or bad. Right or wrong. There was always something to make you feel. And feelings sometimes feel good to be said out loud. For me, I write them.

Sometimes I'm lazy about it or the book didn't hand me that spark. Other times I'm so inspired that I could write dissertations on a single scene or glance or shade of blue the character wore.

Sometimes I'm impassioned where I need to reach out to someone to debrief or vent.

Can you imagine all these emotions can be derived from one book?

And so I write. And so we write and we write well. We write and feel and love and inspire by the characters and stories we read. There are tons of blogs and booktubers and bookstagrammers that can't help but to share what they read. Some people even go off to write books themselves perpetuating the lifecycle of a book reader turning into a writer.

Perhaps they're all not writing, but they're all reading and they're all believing.

The 2017 Sabbatical Reading List

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Ok, so here’s the deal; I’m taking a six-week paid sabbatical from work and it starts TODAY.

I work for a pretty awesome company that allows their long-standing employees to take a six-week paid vacation after five years of service. Well, I’ve been there for seven years so here’s my reward.

You must be wondering what I’ll be doing during that time. Well, guess what. I’m going to read. I’ve got a TBR the size of Mount Everest and I want to cut it down by half by the end of my sabbatical. It’s really ambitious, for sure, but when you’re adult and all your responsibilities are taken away from you and there’s tons of time to do nothing, then you get ambitious.

I’m super excited to start and I’ve already put together a list of some of the books I’ll be reading. Here’s my official/unofficial list. Please note that these are in no particular order:

Ok, you know that I’m going to try and stick to this list as best as possible, but there may be times I will journey off the list to read, say, the Throne of Glass series? Or finish all of The Raven Boys? There’s a lot of variables.

So, is there some truth in this list? Maybe. But I would still take it with a grain of salt.

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

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I’m letting you know now that this is going to be a long one. I put a little “recommendation” as a “tl;dr,” but I got a lot on my chest that I need to say.22822858

Synopsis (from Goodreads.com)

When four classmates from a small Massachusetts college move to New York to make their way, they’re broke, adrift, and buoyed only by their friendship and ambition. There is kind, handsome Willem, an aspiring actor; JB, a quick-witted, sometimes cruel Brooklyn-born painter seeking entry to the art world; Malcolm, a frustrated architect at a prominent firm; and withdrawn, brilliant, enigmatic Jude, who serves as their center of gravity. Over the decades, their relationships deepen and darken, tinged by addiction, success, and pride. Yet their greatest challenge, each comes to realize, is Jude himself, by midlife a terrifyingly talented litigator yet an increasingly broken man, his mind and body scarred by an unspeakable childhood, and haunted by what he fears is a degree of trauma that he’ll not only be unable to overcome—but that will define his life forever.

Rating: 4/5 stars

Recommendation: Highly recommended, but just be aware of the emotional triggers (suicide, self-harm, sexual and verbal abuse, physical abuse). Also give yourself a fun book to read afterwards because this will stick in your brain like a piece of kale stuck in your teeth. You try and try to get it out, but it just embeds itself further into your gums.

My thoughts

I’m going to try and keep this as short as I possibly can. I don’t know how since this book has been leaving its footprints on my mind for the past few days.

I’m not the type of person to get really pounded down by serious stories. I’ve read many books about drug abuse, physical and sexual abuse, self-harm, and suicide. They’ve never phased me, but this book somehow was able to encapsulate all of those difficult and serious topics and place them into one character: Jude.

Jude is the culmination of every single emotionally deteriorated person in the world. Being a person who will admittedly lived a pretty charmed life, I can’t believe that someone like Jude could exist in the world. A high functioning lawyer with a huge bank load and a swank apartment in the West Village, but he self-mutilates, contemplates suicide, lived his childhood in the system, and was emotionally and sexually abused as a kid? Not to mention the additional emotionally draining episodes of his life that left him sad and alone? Honestly, he’s a contender for the “why does all this stuff happen in my life?” award next to Harry Potter (remember, almost every adult figure in his life somehow dies).

As I was reading the book, I kept asking myself, does a person like this exist? Could I stumble across some high powered corporate exec and also find out that he’s had the most tragic life hidden below all of that suit? Was it purposeful for Hanya Yanagihara to make one person suffer the most?

In all honestly, it felt like every single character suffered in some way. They’ve lost loved ones. They’ve dealt with substance abuse. They’ve been faced with the question of their sexuality. While in this world there’s a certain level of tragedy in everyone, at the same time I can’t imagine one person just being the universe’s personal punching bag.

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And yet Hanya Yanagihara writes this in an exquisite way. While the prose is pretty heavy and in some parts too descriptive, it’s almost poetic. Making poetry from personal tragedy is considered the fuel for art. People weren’t kidding when they said that the writing is so enticing it keeps you reading. It’s beautiful and not in that post-graduated-read-too-much-Hemmingway style, but almost simplistic. It was the difference of a $500 bottle of wine vs. the two-buck Chuck. While it’s not some fancy brand, it’s still delectable.

The Wangs vs. The World by Jade Chang – Book Review

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I think the last time I read a book by an Asian woman it was Amy Tan. When you’re growing up in the 90s in America, there’s not a lot of stories that feature Asian characters. All I had was The Joy Luck Club and that was pretty much it.

Nowadays, you can read so many stories of so many people and feel that sense of connection you need when you’re a young minority growing up in America. I think The Wangs vs. The World could be that kind of book; a benchmark for younger people to remember where they’re from, who they are, and most importantly how their families arrived here.

28114515 Synopsis (from Goodreads.com) – Charles Wang is mad at America. A brash, lovable immigrant businessman who built a cosmetics empire and made a fortune, he’s just been ruined by the financial crisis. Now all Charles wants is to get his kids safely stowed away so that he can go to China and attempt to reclaim his family’s ancestral lands—and his pride.

Charles pulls Andrew, his aspiring comedian son, and Grace, his style-obsessed daughter, out of schools he can no longer afford. Together with their stepmother, Barbra, they embark on a cross-country road trip from their foreclosed Bel-Air home to the upstate New York hideout of the eldest daughter, disgraced art world it-girl Saina. But with his son waylaid by a temptress in New Orleans, his wife ready to defect for a set of 1,000-thread-count sheets, and an epic smash-up in North Carolina, Charles may have to choose between the old world and the new, between keeping his family intact and finally fulfilling his dream of starting anew in China.

Outrageously funny and full of charm, The Wangs vs. the World is an entirely fresh look at what it means to belong in America—and how going from glorious riches to (still name-brand) rags brings one family together in a way money never could.

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

My thoughts – I struggled a little bit with deciding on a rating for this book. On some levels, this book really didn’t capture me as well as I thought it would. On another level, it was amazing and relatable as a 2nd generation-er in America.

As  I mentioned before that this could possibly be the kind of book that new generations growing up in America would want to read. However, it’s not every author’s intention to write a book to hit one minority in this country. The story is also relatable to anyone who’s ever had family strife.

I was lucky enough to be in a family that’s worked hard to build their fortune and have a couple of finer things . It’s always nice to live in comfort and my parents worked hard to give that to us. However, losing your entire fortune could happen to anyone. A dad so determined to piece their family back together can definitely happen to anyone. Disconnected siblings that find solace in each other one day will always happen over and over again.

This family isn’t just about being Asian American, but also about the struggle of life. While not everyone dad is off to another country to claim some land he inherited as a kid, but every family can relate with the strain and turmoil it takes on to stay together. And especially so when you’re not from around here.