The Answers: A Novel by Catherine Lacey

The Answers: A Novel: Lacey, Catherine: 9780374100261: Amazon.com: Books

The Answers, a novel by Catherine Lacey, is a profound memoir of an ordinary/not-so-ordinary young woman’s forays into an ordinary/not-so-ordinary love.

Mary has been in pain her whole life- the result of an undiagnosed illness that has left her with crippling symptoms and a massive medical-bill debt. When she discovers a shady, New-Age alternative therapy called PAK-ing, that gives her the only relief from her sickness that she’s ever had, she’s determined to find any way she can to pay for it.

Which is where things get strange.

Mary finds a job listing that’s offered to pay her everything she needs and more- with a few caveats. The position involves being one of the many girlfriends of reclusive actor Kurt Sky, who is running an experiment to find what qualities actually lead to lasting romantic connections- in other words, to find what creates love. Each ‘girlfriend’ is given complicated directives in order to complete the experiment. However, the position may not be as innocent as it seems- Mary finds herself drawn deeper and deeper into something she’s not sure she understands.

I was completely hooked by this book. Once I picked it up, I just couldn’t put it down until I had finished it. It’s definitely a very liminal, intellectual novel- but if you’re a fan of those, like me, you’ll really love this book. What I enjoyed most was Lacey’s ease and mastery at writing morally-grey characters. Every person in this book is one- but Lacey so closely and excellently interweaves it with the real human experience that it doesn’t feel like you’re reading a book, but that you’re in a hazy dream- watching this unfold in front of you. The novel is chock-full of nearly infinite new perspectives- a great read I’d recommend to anyone!

This novel contains some descriptions of sexual violence that may not be suitable for all audiences.

-Vaidehi B.

The Rose That Grew from Concrete by Tupac Shakur

SHAKUR,TUPAC & VARIOUS ARTISTS - The Rose That Grew From Concrete -  Amazon.com Music

Released three years after Tupac’s murder in 1996, The Rose That Grew from Concrete is his writings from the time he was nineteen to just a few months before his passing. The poems are simple and concise, written in rhyme and Tupac’s loving shorthand.

Again, I tend to shy away from celebrity poetry and posthumous collections/albums- both of those labels usually hint at money grabs. However, I decided to make an exception for Tupac- and I’m very glad I did.

Tupac is an almost mythical character in the American psyche. He was a pioneer of hip-hop, of rap, of social justice in a way that is often downplayed. He knew it too- his writings hint that he always knew he was destined for great things. Still, these poems serve to humanize Tupac in a way that has never been presented before. Although the poems are a little clunky at times, they speak of a person– of a human being who fell in love, fell out of it, wanted better for himself, had hopes, had dreams. The poems being presented in his handwriting, as written, only adds to this. They prove that, at the end of the day, Tupac was just as human as the rest of us- just as pained and angry and lovelorn and real as anyone else. And this is the true essence of this book- far beyond the words on the page.

-Vaidehi B.

Women Are Some Kind of Magic by Amanda Lovelace

Women are Some Kind of Magic – A Queendom of Books

Women Are Some Kind of Magic is a poetry and prose series by Amanda Lovelace, dealing with themes of toxic relationships and self-love. The series consists of the princess saves herself in this one, the witch doesn’t burn in this one, the mermaid’s voice returns in this one, break your glass slippers, and shine your icy crown.

Amazon.com: break your glass slippers (You Are Your Own Fairy Tale) eBook :  Lovelace, Amanda, ladybookmad: Kindle Store

Lovelace writes about common themes in many women’s everyday lives with a tone that mirrors the simple advice of a best friend. Her writing is empowering in a way I haven’t really seen before- the poems are short, and the illustrations are succinct, but the confidence and self-assuredness she possesses really shine through.

shine your icy crown by Amanda Lovelace, ladybookmad, Paperback | Barnes &  Noble®

I just recently finished the last book in the series. The books don’t have to be read in order- you can read them as stand-alones, but I personally preferred them in series format. These books are simple and easy reads- you can finish one in just about a day. I originally intended to use the books as ‘palate cleansers’ between some heavier reading material, but I was actually pleasantly surprised! It is typical run-of-the-mill, feel-good prose, but Lovelace has a style of writing that makes even simple phrases and writing seem profound. I would definitely recommend this book to any woman feeling down- it really helped me 🙂

-Vaidehi B.

Book Review: Deaf Republic by Ilya Kaminsky

Deaf Republic by Ilya Kaminsky review: how to defy a ...

Deaf Republic by Ilya Kaminsky is set in a time of political unrest in an occupied country. Sequenced as multiple short poems, the story is told from the perspective of three characters: Alfonso Barabinski, his wife Sonya, and later Momma Galya Armolinskaya.

I really, really enjoyed this book. I don’t want to give away too much of the plot (I was quite surprised it even had one in the first place, considering it’s a book of poems). I really enjoyed Kaminsky’s use of the townspeople’s deafness as a metaphor. However, what I most enjoyed about this book was its relevance to modern times. Kaminsky himself grew up in post-Soviet Ukraine, and while reading the book (even though it was released many years before today’s events in Ukraine), I saw chilling parallels to not only the current wars in the Middle East and Ukraine, but also to the attitudes of many in the United States.

This book is definitely not for the weak of heart; the content is extraordinarily emotional. However, I’d definitely recommend it to anyone looking for a new perspective regarding current and past world events. It’s quite a short read with easily digestible language. There was one particular line that will stick with me forever:

“At the trial of God, we will ask: why did you allow all this? / And the answer will be an echo: why did you allow all this?”

-Vaidehi B.

Deaf Republic by Ilya Kaminsky is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.

I Would Leave Me if I Could by Halsey

I Would Leave Me If I Could.: A Collection of Poetry: Halsey:  9781982135607: Amazon.com: Books

As a rule of thumb, I usually stay away from books like this one- I’m of the firm opinion that most celebrities have no business releasing mediocre poetry books for huge success and profits while real writers struggle. However, I made an exception for this book on a whim, and I was pleasantly surprised. Halsey’s prowess as a master songwriter and lyricist really shines through here- not only has she managed to create an entire book of poems in perfect rhyme and meter, she has sagaciously sidestepped the usual cumbersome nature of such poetry.

Her near-perfect use of tempo and rhythm, honed during her twenty-odd years as a musician, is delicate and nimble- a refreshing read. Featuring lines from some of her more recent song releases, her writing, rather than being mediocre and hard to digest, is a raw and beautiful excavation into the deepest parts of herself and her psyche- and really, we’re just along for the ride. I would recommend this book to anyone looking for a slam-poetry-type read with some deep and heavy undertones, delivered in a fun (dare I say funky) way 🙂

-Vaidehi B.

This book contains implicit sexual content that may not be suitable for all readers.

Late in the Day by Ursula Le Guin

Ursula K. Le Guin on Twitter: ""One way to stop seeing trees, or rivers, or  hills, only as 'natural resources,' is to class them as fellow  beings—kinfolk. I guess I'm trying to

Late in the Day by Ursula Le Guin is a poetry and prose book, encompassing Guin’s writings towards the end of her life. The book is based on nature- on subjects as vast and meaningful as the sea, to as simple as a Canada lynx walking through a forest. However, in each small poem, Guin cleanly delineates each small, but significant lesson that the natural world can teach us.

I really enjoyed this book. I haven’t read poetry and prose for quite a while, and was a little apprehensive about a book as simplistic as this one, but I was completely surprised by the implicit depth and complexity of Guin’s writing. What I found unique about Guin’s writing is not her syntax or the breadth of her expression (both of which were, by the way, incredible), but her ability to use mundane, everyday situations, common to us all, and weave them into a detailed tapestry on every subject, from society to love to life itself.

Le Guin herself passed in October of 2018, but her writing is timeless, and as meaningful (arguably more so) to our world today as it was seven years ago. The necessity of interconnectivity and harmony with the natural world becomes more pressing day by day- and Le Guin’s writing masterfully explains why and how.

-Vaidehi B.

The City We Became by N.K. Jemisin

In 'The City We Became', New York is born - Books - The Jakarta Post

The City We Became, by N.K. Jemisin, is a sci-fi fantasy novel around themes of hope and belonging.

Have you ever walked through a city at night and felt that it was… alive in some way? Turns out- it might have been. In Jemisin’s carefully crafted (and scientifically accurate!) universe, when cities accumulate enough people and enough culture, they are able to sever themselves from the tether of our universe and be “born” as multidimensional entities- living, breathing organisms. However, the odds are always against it- because the Enemy, obsessed with preserving the spacetime continuum, is always watching and waiting. Each city chooses avatars to protect it- will the avatars of New York City, Earth’s newest birth, rise to the challenge?

This was one of the best fantasy books I’ve read in a long time. Jemisin writes in an easily understandable, prose-y, but uniquely engaging style that I absolutely loved. The plot was incredible too- I love slightly nerdier sci-fi type fantasy plots, and this was perfect! Another one of my favorite aspects of this book was the representation. It didn’t feel heavy-handed or overdone- but the diversity of the characters, whether in ethnicity or in sexuality, really added to the depth of the storytelling in the book through each of their unique struggles. For example, the representation of Padmini, an Indian undocumented immigrant, in Queens, or Bronca, a Lenape art curator in the Bronx, were completely different than what I’ve seen in other books like this- and very much appreciated. I also personally related to the experience of Aislyn, the primary morally-gray (and just masterfully written) character in the book.

This book is part of the Great Cities trilogy, the second book of which (sadly) won’t be released until November 2022. That being said, I would highly, highly recommend this book to anyone!

-Vaidehi B.

The City We Became by N. K. Jemisin is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It is also available to download for free from Libby.

Hello, Habits by Fumio Sasaki

Hello, Habits: A Minimalist's Guide to a Better Life: Sasaki, Fumio:  9781324005582: Amazon.com: Books

I purchased this book on a whim while in Powell’s Books, Portland, with my family- I needed something to read on the plane ride back, and the cover had caught my eye. I don’t usually read self-help type books, but I was pleasantly surprised by this one. 50 steps seemed excessive and even scary at the time, but when I started reading, I found that each one was small, simple, and easy to implement. The addition of stories, anecdotes, and illustrations throughout the chapters kept me engaged and interested as well. After applying some concepts found in the book, I can definitively say that I’ve improved my life.

I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who (like me) has issues with procrastination, laziness, and otherwise bad habits. You won’t regret it! In addition, it’s a great book to help you get started on all those New Year’s resolutions 🙂

-Vaidehi B.

Hello, Habits by Fumio Sasaki is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

The Great Gatsby - Wikipedia

Nick Carraway, an intrepid young man from the West, moves east after World War I. Expecting a quiet and comfortable life, he instead finds himself caught up in the fast-paced, dangerous world of highballers such as his cousin, Daisy Buchanan, her husband Tom, the haughty and beautiful Jordan Baker, and the most mysterious man of them all- Jay Gatsby. As lies and betrayal pile onto each other, Nick is left starkly in the middle of a massive cultural and class divide that will leave him forever changed.

I wasn’t expecting to enjoy this book as much as I did, but I really found it riveting- after the first few chapters, it was nearly impossible to put down. The book is rife with symbolism, which gives it incredible depth- and many of the symbols and themes discussed in it are still very relevant to our world today. It’s one of America’s most quintessential and classic novels, and for good reason- even though the novel will turn ninety-six next July, The Great Gatsby will forever offer us an invaluable window into times past and present.

-Vaidehi B.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

The Scarlet Letter: Hawthorne, Nathaniel: 9781512090567: Amazon.com: Books

The story is set in the early 1700s and centers around the intrepid Hester Prynne, who has had a baby, named Pearl, by a man other than her husband. She faces public humiliation and ostracization from her strict Puritan town, and is forced into exile into the forest at the edge of town. Her husband, Roger Chillingworth, is determined to seek revenge against the father of the child- who Hester stubbornly keeps a secret. As the entire town grows rife with rumors, it becomes clear that everyone in this story has something to hide.

I liked the book- Nathaniel Hawthorne described a very tantalizing story of love, guilt, and betrayal. Even though it was fairly easy to deduce just from the first few chapters who the father was, it was still an okay read. I would definitely recommend a simplified version to anyone younger than high school- the archaic English becomes very thick and complicated in many places throughout the story. Still, as a cornerstone of classic American literature, I would recommend that everyone read it at least once.

-Vaidehi B.

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthrone is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive.