Tag Archives: book

Emergency Contact by Mary H. K. Choi

IMG_8396This is a book that I definitely judged by its cover, adding it to my list before a fuller blurb was even attached to the novel. I mean, just look at how beautiful the cover of Emergency Contact is! I’m happy that the cover persuaded me to fall into this lil’ book that the author, Mary H. K. Choi, described as a book where “high-key nothing happens.” But SO MUCH does happen within the pages of this YA novel that I think I’ll reread it a few times in my life.

Instead of having a linear story with a clear beginning, middle, and end with a nice resolution, this book read to me like an in depth character study of the two main narrators: Penny, a Korean teen who is desperate to escape her wannabe BFF mom when she flees to university, and Sam, a white young adult who is trying to navigate his goals and aspirations whilst having limited resources and a shoddy support system. 

A lot of this book feels like a lil’ love letter to Austin, TX, a place that is lodged fondly in my heart. For most of the book, Penny is learning how to live away from her mother, is struggling with her first writing course (this book features lots of built in lessons for aspiring writers) as she tries to determine how to weave the best science fiction tales, and learning how to make friends with her roommate and her emergency contact, Sam. Sam is mostly working in a bakery and coffee shop as he tries to get his life back on track, and figure out what that track even is, after a bit of a detour. I loved being immersed into these character’s minds as they interacted with each other and their own lives. Sometimes, pieces of the book felt like streams of consciousness, with surprising bits discovered along the way. Head’s up: Emergency Contact does feature a detailed description of a sexual assault that caught me completely off guard, mirroring the way one is typically not expecting to hear a similar story of a friend when they initially share that a similar, horrible thing has happened to them. It was moving, well-written, and a helpful text for readers to have as they shape their understanding of what sexual assault is, but if that is a topic that is difficult to read for you, it may be best to skip this book. 

All in all, if you enjoy movies where little revelations about the characters are made along the way and the journey alone is satisfying to you without having a bow-tied final scene, you’ll enjoy this book. If the idea of that makes you want to run away, skip this book.

Publication Date: 27 March 2018 by Simon and SchusterFormat: Hardcover.

Author: Mary H. K. Choi web/@twitter/@instagram

I Can’t Date Jesus: Love, Sex, Family, Race, and Other Reasons I’ve Put My Faith in Beyoncé by Michael Arceneaux

image1 (9)I really thought I was going to go through all of 2018 only reading books written by women, but Michael Arcenaux’s debut I Can’t Date Jesus sounded too intriguing to ignore. Despite not reading any of Arceneaux’s work before, I really enjoyed reading his memoir essays. He’s a big shot in the journalism world, particularly known for writing from the gay and black POV, but you don’t need to know his previous work to dive into this! Arceneaux brilliantly writes about the tensions between his family, religion, sexuality, professional goals, Beyoncé, and beyond. I dug all of the Texas references (some of my favorites were deep cuts that people outside of Texas might not understand… but people read that kind of stuff all of the time about NYC, so don’t let that dissuade you) and enjoyed reading about his reflections upon how his experiences, both during youth and more recently, have greatly shaped the man Arceneaux is today.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a digital copy of this book for free from Atria Books via NetGalley. All opinions expressed in the review are my own and have not been influenced by Atria Books or NetGalley.

Publication Date: 24 July 2018 by Atria BooksFormat: ARC e-book.

Author: Michael Arceneaux web/@twitter/@instagram

The Wedding Date by Jasmine Guillory

image1 (8)The Wedding Date, the debut novel from Jasmine Guillory, delighted me from start to finish! This snazzy book encapsulates a romcom that I kept imagining as a movie in my head (make this into a movie! I will watch in my pjs while drinking hot cocoa and listening to the rain hit my windows!!). The story switches between the two main narrators, Alexa, a powerful lawyer now working for the mayor of Berkeley, and Drew, a powerful pediatrician, who spontaneously meet in a broken elevator (Shonda — produce this as a movie! I know you love a good elevator scene!) and have instant chemistry. What follows are the twists and turns of trying to figure out the beginnings of situationship (not agreed to being a relationship at the beginning, but kinda spurred on by a random situation) and the anxieties that can play into entering an undefined repeated encounter with someone that you’re desperate for more of. The characters are cute, have funny flaws, and I loved reading their thoughts! The book also got me excited about San Francisco, where the majority of the book takes place and where I’ll be living this summer. Head’s up: this book does describe *quite* a few sex scenes, and while I might be a bit prude-ish in that I find more than one scene in a book to be gratuitous, I still had so much fun reading this book and you especially will if this is your cup of tea! You can bet that Guillory’s second book, The Proposal, is already on my To-Read list.

Publication Date: 30 January 2018 by Berkley BooksFormat: Paperback.

Author: Jasmine Guillory web/@twitter/@instagram/facebook

Chemistry by Weike Wang

image1 (4)As someone currently stumbling through a PhD program, I was delighted to read a book about a character tripping, falling, and removing themselves from similar circumstances. PhD programs are super weird and demanding in different ways that are hard to explain to people who haven’t pursued one so I gobble up opportunities to hear about experiences, even fictional, navigating the strange world of PhDs. 

Chemistry by Weike Wang is almost like a diary/stream of consciousness of the main, unnamed character. She’s in a Chemistry PhD program, which are known to be notoriously demanding because of time required to be physically present in a lab to run experiments, and she’s completely flailing. Some of the “chapters” are simply written with thoughts that sometimes seem half-formed, as if they are the real thoughts of someone who is feeling quite a bit lost and not sure of where to turn next. 

The main character has Chinese parents who are no longer in the U.S. and their extreme expectations for the main character highlight her struggle between the “American dream” and her parents’ evaluation of what it means to succeed in America. This is juxtaposed with her white, American boyfriend’s comparatively easy experience of success because he isn’t simultaneously struggling to barely meet his parents’ expectations of all of the things they perceive he should also be accomplishing.  Most of the struggle in this book is related to the main character’s  parents’ expectations and demands not aligning with what would ultimately help her reach personal and professional happiness and the juxtaposition of the ease of her boyfriend to excel through the same program. 

Some readers may wish that this had more depth, but I enjoyed the brevity! There are some beautiful little bits (the deer metaphor was my favorite!) that are sandwiched in here that would be easy to miss if you were speed reading. I suspect that enjoyment of this book might be limited to those familiar with PhD programs or those interested in the family dynamics. If either of those sound like stories you want to read, scoop this up!

Publication Date: 23 May 2017 by Knopf PublishingFormat: Hardcover.

Author: Weike Wang bio

One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter by Scaachi Koul

IMG_8187I received Scaachi Koul’s debut in my great Christmas book haul of 2017 and I adored it! Koul is a news reporter at Buzzfeed and wrote an excellent essay about A Series of Unfortunate Events that put her on my radar (please read it here or this magnificent piece about Sufjan Stevens that I only found today if you want to get a taste of her style and the things that interest her). The point of view that shines through in her Buzzfeed essays is cranked up to 1000 in One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter, a memoir of personal essays about the experiences she’s had so far. She sprinkles in some stories about growing up in Canada with Indian parents, going back to India and being othered because she’s “western”, but also not exactly fitting in within all western contexts either, a few college stories, and a gloss over adulthood and relationships. It was a quick read and gives a reader a glimpse into lots of different territories without wading in any of them too long. My favorite essay is titled “Aus-piss-ee-ous” and covers attending a cousin’s wedding ceremony in India and feeling out of place with the traditions and realizing that even her Indian relatives aren’t quite comfortable with the traditions either, but go along with it anyway. Koul’s book is excellent, very entertaining, and tonally felt like catching up with a friend over beers. I recommend!

Publication Date: 7 March 2017 by Picador. Format: Paperback.

Author: Scaachi Koul @twitter/@instagram/facebook

Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann

letthegreatworldspinThis book is a difficult one to review because it took me more than a year to read in spurts, so my memory is faded about the first half of it. A friend gave me this book to read right before I started my graduate program in 2016.

The book follows a string of characters that interact and interweave with each other in different ways (think: Love Actually, but not Christmas and not so love-y) and involves a fictionalized account of Philippe Petit’s walk between the World Trade Center buildings. I remember thinking the first 100 pages, focused on the first character we’re introduced to (Corrigan) were an absolute slog, but I pushed through nevertheless and the book picked up when the story’s perspective shifted to different characters.

Then because graduate school is sometimes the worst and I was swimming in a pool of life uncertainty, I quit reading for fun and Let the Great World Spin languished on my night stand for more than a year. I picked it back up during the holiday season of 2017, determined to move this off of “Currently Reading” list on GoodReads. This book is well-written and overall enjoyable, but because it shifts narrators so frequently, I became annoyed when the book shifted away from someone’s perspective/story that I found to be a better read than the other characters.

The book is incredibly well constructed and it is very interesting to learn how the characters are related to each other and how their small actions can lead to very big impacts on the lives of the others. I found the character Gloria to be the most enrapturing and I looked forward to underlining pieces of her sections of the book more than the other characters.

If I had been able to read this book in a reasonable chunk of time or been in a different place mentally, I likely would’ve enjoyed this book much more than I did. But unfortunately, I didn’t and I wasn’t so I’m not really sure if I recommend this book or not. If the premise and writing style sounds exciting to you, go for it! If not, pass. 

Publication Date: 23 June 2009 by Random House. Format: Paperback.

Author: Colum McCann web/facebook

5 Favorite Reads from 2016

After a seven month hiatus, I am FINALLY back!! My personal life was a bit of a whirlwind last year (i.e. 2016 the year that magically destroyed everyone in little ways) which led me to de-prioritize this blog. I fled to Europe for a month, leaving my home country for the first time ever (!!!), and visited Paris, London, Edinburgh, and Amsterdam. I moved across the country from Brooklyn to Chicago and I became a PhD student! Lots of changes happened and now that I feel more settled in Chicago, I’ve decided to try to pick up some of the things that I allowed myself to drop in 2016.

Instead of trying to add reviews for all of the books I gobbled down in 2016, I’ve compiled a list of my favorite reads from 2016. These are not ranked in any order except for the first book being my absolute 2016 favorite! Of the 32 books I read in 2016, here are my favorite five.


alittlelifeA Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara.

While I didn’t post a full review of this book on the blog, I did blog about attending a book event with the fantastic author here. I made my book club read and love this book. It was my read during a magical winter trip to Austin, TX where I escaped the winter blues in 2016. This book deserves a longer review than this, but it’s tied to too many emotions for me. I’ll leave you with the bite that I shared with people who messaged me on Tinder in 2016: it’s emotionally brutal, but beautifully written.

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coatesbetweentheworldandme

This is the only book in the list that received a full review! My university is doing an event with the author at the end of January and I hope I’m able to secure a ticket to see him speak in person. Here’s a snippet from my longer review: The book is part memoir, part current American history and is written as a letter directly to the author’s son. Coates detailed the lessons that he was forced to learn as a black man growing up in America and contrasted them from the lessons his father had to learn and the lessons his son has already learned or will have to learn in an incredibly moving way.

Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayedtinybeautifulthings

I will come back to this book again & again. I will recommend this to friends again & again. When I am hurting, I will return to this again & again. Each piece of this book made me think of different people I know who would benefit from reading each individual excerpt. All of the excerpts are deeply particular, yet universal. I’m not really a “self help” type and haven’t read something like this in ages, but this was perfect and helped me examine all of my jagged shards and choose to hold them with my bare hands anyway.

illgiveyouthesunI’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson.

This was my favorite YA read of 2016 and I love it even more because I procured it from a magical book shop in Paris. I have never read a book quite like this — there are paint splatters on pages that add depth to the stories and emphasize certain points and it’s so DAMN BEAUTIFUL. As is the story which features siblings and first loves and first mistakes and struggling with the love (or lack thereof) of a parent. It’s perfect. I loved it. Read it.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandelstationeleven

I wish someone had made me read this sooner! This is a perfect dystopian novel that feels the most realistic of any I’ve read. Reading this will make you reflect on mortality, morality, and the potential unspooling of civilization. There were quite a few excerpts that were so well worded that I came back to them again and again because of the self reflection they encouraged. This novel could have easily been much longer, but it’s a tight, well constructed story. Read it! But probably not while flying on a plane…


& that’s all, folks! In the future, you can expect slightly more condensed reviews of the books I pursue in 2017. I’m reading and writing for fun less since so much of my daily life is reading and writing for graduate school which will be reflected in the reviews I post here. What were your favorite reads of 2016?

beyond belief: my secret life inside scientology and my harrowing escape by jenna miscavige hill and lisa pulitzer

beyondbeliefEver since I was a little kid, I’ve always been interested in different religious practices and the rituals associated with holding certain beliefs. I grew up (and still continue) going to my friends’ places of worship and observing how everyone chooses to practice. It’s always nice to see how openly people display and explain their religious practices when you tell them that you’re curious about their faith. There was one belief system that I knew absolutely nothing about, partly because I don’t think I have any friends who practice it, but mostly because information about the religion is heavily shielded on the internet. Scientology, ever alluring and mysterious as the “religion of members of Hollywood’s elite,” is the latest religion to intrigue me and thus when I learned of Beyond Belief, I immediately requested it from my library.

This memoir, written by Jenna Miscavige Hill and co-written by Lisa Pulitzer, details Miscavige Hill’s experiences being raised within the Church of Scientology. Miscavige Hill’s parents met while they were teenagers in the Church of Scientology and chose to raise their children within the church. Scientologist children are frequently separated from their families for long periods of time and Miscavige Hill details that she was often required to work grueling hours, frequently perform manual labor when she was very young, and act as doctor to all sick children when she was also a child. Miscavige Hill was prevented from seeing her family on a regular basis, initially because her parents were sent on missions that kept them away from the family home and then eventually because her parents left the Church of Scientology when their daughter was a teenager and Miscavige Hill chose to continue being a member of the church. Because of the strict rules related to excommunication of former members, Miscavige Hill didn’t see her family members who had left the church for years. Miscavige Hill, while still a member of the church, was in contact with her aunt, Michele Miscavige, and uncle, David Miscavige, who is the current leader of the Church of Scientology, and this makes Miscavige Hill’s shared insight even more intriguing.

Overall, Beyond Belief is likely a good representation of what it was like to grow up within the Church of Scientology at the time that Miscavige Hill did so. The church seems to be constantly making changes regarding their treatment of children (at one point, Miscavige Hill says that the church discouraged all church members from reproducing) so I’m not certain how generalizable Miscavige Hill’s experiences are to the experiences of the greater Scientology community. Miscavige Hill also states that her experiences differ dramatically from celebrity members of the church as they are treated like royalty, as most celebrities generally are by the public. If you are interested in learning more about Scientology, this first person account places the rules and beliefs of Scientology into a context that I wasn’t able to find from reading extensive articles about the religion online. However, if you’re not curious, this book likely isn’t for you.

Publication Date: 5 February 2013 by William Morrow. Format: Digital Audiobook from HarperAudio.

Author: Jenna Miscavige Hill blog/@twitter/instagram/web

Narrator: Sandy Rustin web/@twitter

modern romance by aziz ansari and eric klinenberg

modern romanceModern Romance by Aziz Ansari departs from the typical comedian-writes-a-humorous-and-self-deprecating-memoir style that has been dominating the best seller lists as of late. While it’s not as a big of departure from the style as B. J. Novak’s fictional One More Thing: Stories and Other StoriesModern Romance tonally differs from Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? by Mindy Kaling and his Parks and Recreation co-star Amy Poehler’s Yes Please, which are both memoirs.

Ansari’s nonfiction book focuses on the current state of dating within American society. The book documents online dating culture in a way that I haven’t seen done before, which is easily the highlight of the book. He also details how dating culture has radically changed since the 1940s and beyond and made me extremely appreciative of the fact that I am a woman who is able to date in 2015 rather than courting someone who conveniently lived on my block in 1953. The book frequently integrates different sociology relationship studies in accessible ways, which pairs nicely with Ansari’s easily digestible telling of the current state of romance in America.

That said, I was very familiar with most of the studies that Ansari includes in his book. I took a lot of Sociology courses while in college and a course entirely about Interpersonal Relationships, which ranged from discussing roommate to family to romantic relationships. Because of my familiarity with the studies detailed in the book, I felt like new insight on the studies were lacking and left me wanting either more comedic spin from Ansari or for him to talk more about the actual research and limitations of each of the studies detailed. Instead, it seemed like he took the easy road of briefly detailing existing studies, which ultimately made most of the book pretty bland for me. If Eric Klinenberg, a sociologist who is credited as having a huge influence on the book and has been appearing with Ansari on his book tour, had a larger impact on the work and had woven in some of his own sociological critique of the studies, I probably would have enjoyed the book as a whole much more. However, someone who wasn’t already aware of these studies would likely read the book very differently than I did and might not be thirsting for a more polished and academic version of Modern Romance like me.

Before reading this text, I was a pretty big fan of Aziz Ansari (and I still am!)… but I feel like being a fan is actually a disservice to readers of the book. I’ve consumed all of Ansari’s stand up specials and most of his television interviews, which means that I’m pretty familiar with the jokes that he has tucked safely away in his arsenal. Most of the funniest parts of Modern Romance were jokes or quips that I had already heard from him, which left me feeling like the judges who watch Kirsten Dunst’s cheerleading squad perform the exact same routine as the previous team in Bring It On (forgive me, I just watched this movie last night with my roommate and it’s very fresh in my memory) aka not as impressed as I was the first time around.

Overall, this is a decent read if you’re wanting to learn more about the state of online dating in America, but is not for you if you want a more robust, academic read on romance in America or if you’re looking for a funny memoir in a similar vein to many other books recently published by comedians. Let me know your thoughts in the comments!

Author(s): Aziz Ansari web/@twitter/tumblr/facebook/instagram and Eric Klinenberg web/@twitter

Publication Date: 16 June 2015 by Penguin Press

undocumented: a dominican boy’s odyssey from a homeless shelter to the ivy league by dan-el padilla peralta

undocumented by dan-el padilla peraltaUndocumented is a fantastic memoir that depicts one person’s journey as an undocumented person living in America. When Dan-El Padilla Peralta is a young child, he moved to New York from the Dominican Republic with his family. His family didn’t acquire US citizen documentation and soon their travel papers expired and he and his mother were eventually living in America illegally. Dan-El beautifully articulates the struggles that he encounters because he doesn’t have documentation – his mother isn’t able to legally work so they had to move into a shelter when Dan-El is young and move frequently until they are able to find a more stable home thanks to public housing; he isn’t able to “officially” work (on paper at least) when he is offered a mentorship job when he’s in high school; he has no idea how to apply to college and if he will even be allowed to attend; and more struggles that are too numerous to list (and would also spoil some of his life story if I included them here).

It is so, so important that stories like Padilla’s are captured and made available to the public. Moving to the US and overstaying your initial papers and eventually living in America illegally is more common than a lot of people think. You may even have someone in your life who is undocumented and you have no idea. With Padilla’s story of his life, he’s able to share his experience with those who may not be aware of the realities that face being undocumented in the US, and also provide comfort to others who have lived those experiences. I talked about this book with my friend who was undocumented for most of his youth and he said that it would have been incredibly reassuring to know a book like Undocumented existed because for a long time, he didn’t know anyone else outside of his family who was undocumented. He told me that if he had been able to read about someone who shared his experience in some way, he wouldn’t have felt so isolated about his status and his situation.

That said, Padilla is quick to remind readers that he doesn’t have the answers for someone in similar situations to him. He was able to acquire a lot of well-placed connections and a valuable support system based on his specific circumstances, which may not be widely available to everyone. His book isn’t about teaching others specifically how to navigate their own situation, but purely serves to detail his own life experiences.

After the acknowledgments section of the book, there is a glossary of Spanish terms used throughout the text. Since I had an e-galley of this book, I didn’t notice this until I had finished reading. There are hardly ever full sentences in Spanish within the book, and most of the Spanish terms are sprinkled into the text occasionally in a way that isn’t distracting if you don’t know Spanish. Thus, a glossary wasn’t necessary to me, but some could find it helpful.

The only thing I would have changed about the memoir is the epilogue – it felt awkward to read and seemed as if it was hastily strung together. It’s very vague about how many years had lapsed between the epilogue and the last chapter of the book and if there had been any development with one of the major plot lines of the book. I also wish there had been a greater call to action at the end of the book; Padilla speaks extensively about the DREAM Act and I felt like the epilogue could have included a request for readers to contact their local representatives about this bill or listed activism groups that they could either directly be involved with or contribute to if they desired. However, if you couldn’t tell from the rest of this glowing review, I definitely recommend reading this book. It’s well written and represents a perspective that I haven’t read before. If you’ve read books that cover similar territory, please recommend them to me!

If you somehow stumbled across this review because you’re in high school and are wondering how you can ever go to college if you’re undocumented, my friend, who was in a similar situation to you, applied to universities via QuestBridge, which is a service dedicated to helping low-income students apply to college. You do not have to report a Social Security number if you apply to college this way. Good luck as you navigate this very complicated process!

Disclaimer: I was provided with an Advance Reader Copy of this book for free from the Penguin First to Read program. All opinions expressed in the following review are my own and have not been influenced by Penguin.

There’s currently a giveaway for this book for readers residing in the US on GoodReads through June 22, 2015.

Expected Publication Date: 28 July 2015 by Penguin Press.

Author: Dan-El Padilla Peralta Publisher Page