Contributor Book Review of ‘Annihilation’

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Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer
Review by: Noelle Simonson

Warning: This review contains spoilers. Read at your own risk.

Annihilation is truly that: annihilating. But in a good way. It blew me out of the water. After watching the movie, which is usually a no-no for me as I like to read the books first, I decided that I absolutely had to read it. After waiting for three months, due to extremely long waits at the library, I finally got the book. Or rather, the audiobook. Listening to this story was unbelievably enthralling. Catherine McCormack, the narrator, did a better job at narrating than I could have ever imagined. Her voice helped carry the biologist’s story. Though the book was definitely very different from the movie, I find myself looking at them as two separate entities. I usually like the movie to follow the book to the detail but this was so different that it can hardly be seen as the same story and I actually didn’t mind this time. Both stories were strong in their own right and both had complicated characters that I enjoyed learning about and following. The biologist in the book was much more complicated than Natalie Portman’s version of her. She was almost inhuman. She had so many qualities about her that were cold and distant, which made for an unreliable narrator. Those are, of course, my favorite kinds of narrators. Because she hardly knew what was going on inside of Area X, that means we hardly knew. We learned with her. We speculated with her. We tried to sympathize and understand her thoughts and actions no matter what she did. The biologist is a character that I would like to dissect. Her many different facets are what make her so unique to any other character I’ve seen. I can’t imagine how hard it was to create her.

Though the biologist is one of the main reasons I enjoyed Annihilation so much, I was also entranced by the writing itself. Because I was mostly listening to the words and not reading them, they were just powerful enough to keep my attention. I’m usually not great at listening to audiobooks because I get distracted but this was such an animated and interesting read that I didn’t want to stop listening even when I had to. There are so many phrases that shook me to my core because of the beauty of the words themselves. For example, “The effect of this cannot be understood without being there. The beauty of it cannot be understood, either, and when you see beauty in desolation it changes something inside you. Desolation tries to colonize you.” Desolation colonizes you! I’ve never heard such a beautiful and destructive phrase all at once.

To anyone on the edge, wondering if they should spend their time reading this, the answer is yes. Annihilation will sink its teeth into you and not let go until you’ve read every last word. You won’t regret it.

You can purchase Jeff VanderMeer’s Annihilation here.

My Thoughts on Season 2 of 13 Reasons Why

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A little over a year ago, I read Jay Asher’s novel, Thirteen Reasons Why. I hadn’t heard of the book until the news that it would be made into a Netflix original series. So, I read it in time to watch season one right when it released and there were areas I was happy with and others that felt dangerous. If you’ve seen or heard about the show, you are likely aware of the controversy that it brings with its existence.

The book is about a teenage girl who commits suicide. She leaves behind a series of cassette tapes, which hold recordings of the thirteen reasons why she felt driven to take her own life. The T.V. adaptation is astronomically different than the book, as so many other details and events are added in. With the tremendous popularity the show has received, there has been high praise in addition to contrasting warnings to avoid the show entirely. Before you begin watching, you need to know that this show is explicit and can be triggering. There are graphic scenes of sexual assault and suicide that you need to be aware of before making the decision to push play. Some viewers that have experienced depression, self-harm, and attempts at suicide have been caught off guard and triggered back to their old ways of thinking. This is not the intention behind the show but has been a result of its release. I feel that the first season of the show does a solid job of offering insight into what suicidal thoughts, bullying, slut-shaming, rape, and suicide look like in today’s society. However, there wasn’t enough of a focus on mental illness or an accurate portrayal of depression, which is what leads people to suicide. Many argue that this is an irresponsible, inaccurate look at a suicidal individual and glamorizes suicide, as a result. I’m glad that the show changed the way that Hannah Baker kills herself in the show, as I think the way she did it in the book would be less painful to watch and therefore more glorified to vulnerable viewers.

As for the rape scenes, I completely understand why they were triggering.  I think the graphic hot tub scene was necessary because it shows young men an example of rape that isn’t the woman screaming “no” or struggling. Often times, women feel frozen in the fear of the moment and they can’t consent, as a result. If your partner does not give you a clear, verbal “yes”, they are not consenting. Too many young men are failing to realize this, so I am glad that this highly popular show used their platform to clearly show such an important message to their adolescent male audience. I hope that season one of this show positively affected young men in that way. Maybe a male viewer wasn’t clear on consent, as many teens aren’t, and future rapes were avoided by changing his viewpoint. I’m not a teen boy and cannot attest to that, but I can’t help but hope that at least one man will better understand consent thanks to this show. Women aren’t the issue in our country’s despicable rapist culture–men are. We shouldn’t be given rape whistles and told to travel in pairs and to dress modestly. Men need to be held accountable and be the focus on how to stop raping, rather than telling the victims how to avoid being raped.

Rape isn’t always a strange man jumping out of the bushes and assaulting a woman. In fact, a friend or acquaintance is far more likely to be the perpetrator of sexual assault. 93% of victims already knew their rapist. From a study found on RAINN’s website, 59% were acquaintances and 34% were family members. Also, according to RAINN, 94% of women who are raped experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms during the two weeks following their assault. For 30% of women, these PTSD symptoms are still very present 9 months afterward. 33% of women who have experienced rape contemplate suicide and 13% attempt suicide. With this being said, these statistics are not and will never be accurate because these are only from those who have reported their rapes and their experiences following their rapes. More people who are raped don’t report their incidences than those who do. If you need help after being sexually assaulted, call RAINN at 1-800-656-4673. They are a very helpful resource.

I do not think that what Hannah did was the right choice and, while the bullying and assault that she faced filled me with anger, I don’t blame any of the thirteen for her death, directly. While I understand why Hannah felt the way she did, she made the worst choice that a person can make. She could have survived, fought against the injustice, and gone on to live an incredible life. I’ve seen online opinions that feel some of Hannah’s reasons for committing suicide were “petty,” but I don’t think anyone should be able to decide whether another person should feel hurt by something that wouldn’t hurt us. Hannah was in dire need of mental health support, which she did not receive in any form and was not mentioned in the first season of the show.

Suicide is the second leading cause of death for teens, with over 5,000 attempts each day in the U.S., this subject needed to be discussed. The author of the book, Jay Asher, said, “Suicide is an uncomfortable thing to talk about, but it happens, and so we have to talk about it.”

Now onto Season 2. The new season dropped just two days ago, on May 18th. I binged this new season even more quickly than I did the first time around. There were things that I felt they did an excellent job with, but other things that I am appalled by and disgusted with. If you haven’t yet finished this season, feel free to bookmark this blog post for later and read on. Proceed with caution. SPOILERS AHEAD!
Continue reading “My Thoughts on Season 2 of 13 Reasons Why”

February 2018: Current Reads and My Favorite Book of the Year (So Far)

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Thus far into 2018, I’ve read six (almost eight–finishing up two more right now) books. In the past month and a half, I have read the fourth installment of the Runaways comic series, helium by Rudy Francisco, Peluda by Melissa Lozada-Oliva, We Slept Here by Sierra DeMulder, Glass, Irony, and God by Anne Carson, and Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng.  I am currently reading Still Me by Jojo Moyes, What We Lose by Zinzi Clemmons, Drums of Autumn by Diana Gabaldon, Autobiography of Red by Anne Carson, and Apathy and Paying Rent by Zach VandeZande. I recently posted a video on YouTube that covers my most anticipated reads of 2018, which you can watch here:

Though I haven’t yet read much so far this year, my favorite, at this point, is Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng. In fact, it quickly became one of my favorite books I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading. Here is the synopsis from the back of the book:

“From the bestselling author of Everything I Never Told You, a riveting novel that traces the intertwined fates of the picture-perfect Richardson family and the enigmatic mother and daughter who upend their lives.

In Shaker Heights, a placid, progressive suburb of Cleveland, everything is planned – from the layout of the winding roads, to the colors of the houses, to the successful lives its residents will go on to lead. And no one embodies this spirit more than Elena Richardson, whose guiding principle is playing by the rules.

Enter Mia Warren – an enigmatic artist and single mother – who arrives in this idyllic bubble with her teenaged daughter Pearl, and rents a house from the Richardsons. Soon Mia and Pearl become more than tenants: all four Richardson children are drawn to the mother-daughter pair. But Mia carries with her a mysterious past and a disregard for the status quo that threatens to upend this carefully ordered community.

When old family friends of the Richardsons attempt to adopt a Chinese-American baby, a custody battle erupts that dramatically divides the town–and puts Mia and Elena on opposing sides.  Suspicious of Mia and her motives, Elena is determined to uncover the secrets in Mia’s past. But her obsession will come at unexpected and devastating costs.

Little Fires Everywhere explores the weight of secrets, the nature of art and identity, and the ferocious pull of motherhood – and the danger of believing that following the rules can avert disaster.”

This book has received a ton of praise and it is well deserved, in my opinion. It will be pretty tough for a book to top this one as my favorite read of 2018. You can purchase Little Fires Everywhere here. I’ll keep you all updated on what I’m reading this year with recommendations and reviews, so stay tuned!

Have any of you read Little Fires Everywhere? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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My Top 20 Favorite Reads of 2017

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Last year, I read some incredible books and I wanted to take the time to share some of my favorites with all of you. In 2017, I read 88 books. The previous year, I read 41 books and in 2015, I only read 29, so it’s safe to say that I am making steady progress. Though many of those 88 changed my life, I’ve decided to narrow it down to my top 20 favorites, in no particular order. Without further adieu, here they are:

  • The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
  • The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith
  • Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty
  • My Only Wife by Zhock Zhimpse
  • Self-Help by Lorrie Moore
  • Before a Million Universes by T.W.R. Shelton
  • Fondly by Colin Winnette
  • The Mothers by Brit Bennett
  • The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson
  • The Peacock Door by Wanda Kay Knight
  • Girls Like Me by Nina Packebush
  • Play it as it Lays by Joan Didion
  • Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café by Fannie Flagg
  • You Can’t Touch My Hair and Other Things I Still Have to Say by Phoebe Robinson
  • Depression and Other Magic Tricks by Sabrina Benaim
  • The Girls by Emma Cline
  • Mom & Me & Mom by Maya Angelou
  • New American Best Friend by Olivia Gatwood
  • Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn
  • Alchemy for Cells & Other Beasts by Maya Jewell Zeller and Carrie DeBacker

    It was a great year of reading and I’m eager to share what I’ve been reading so far in 2018. I highly suggest you all get your hands on these 20 books. Feel free to check out my “read” list on my Goodreads to see the other 68 titles I read last year.

    Which of these have you read? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Book Review: ‘The Peacock Door’ by Wanda Kay Knight

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Credit: Read, Sav, Read. 

The Peacock Door by Wanda Kay Knight

Warning: This review contains spoilers. Read at your own risk.
Continue reading “Book Review: ‘The Peacock Door’ by Wanda Kay Knight”

10 Holiday Gift Ideas for the Bookworm in Your Life

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The holidays are just around the corner, which means now is the time to purchase gifts for your loved ones. While I may not be the person to tell you what your tech-y brother or your garden-loving aunt have on their wish lists, if you have a book lover in your life, this list should help ease your gift buying trepidations.

Readers Gonna Read Enamel Pin

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Help the bookworm in your life promote their book-obsessed lifestyle with this adorable enamel pin.

“Books Turn Muggles into Wizards” Socks 

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Every bookworm knows that books turn muggles into wizards, so now they’ll have some adorable socks to prove it.

Gift Card(s)

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If you don’t know which books the bookworm you’re shopping for is longing for, a gift card to Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Half Priced Books, Book Outlet, or Thrift Books are an excellent alternative!

Frostbeard Candle

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Bookworms love candles, so bookish candles will surely be a hit. Frostbeard has a multitude of different scents that come in different forms and sizes.

Edgar Allen Poe Socks

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The bookworm in your life’s feet will be cold nevermore.

“When In Doubt, Go To the Library” Shirt

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Because you can’t go wrong with a Hermione Granger quote t-shirt.

“Please Go Away I’m Reading” Throw Pillow

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Finally, a throw pillow that says what your bookworm really wants to say.

Book Page Holder

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Now, the bookworm in your life can keep those pesky pages in check.

Book Beau (Protective Book Sleeve)

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Book lovers always keep their current reads on hand, which typically means they’re either being tossed into a purse or backpack (and getting bent) or being held (and getting rained on or risking being dropped). This book sleeve from Book Beau will solve all of their problems, while also being their most stylish bookish accessory. The Book Beau comes in many different patterns and sizes.

Book Beau Bean (Lap Pillow for Reading)

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The Book Beau Bean makes reading more comfortable! Give your bookworm the gift of relaxing reading this holiday season.

Do you have more bookworm gift ideas that you want to share? Leave some links in the comments section below. Share this post to drop not-so-subtle bookish gift hints to your Facebook friends. Happy holidays, bookworms!

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Book Review: ‘Girls Like Me’ by Nina Packebush

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Credit: Read, Sav, Read. 

Girls Like Me by Nina Packebush

I just finished reading this book and am at a loss for words. This book is revolutionary! Here is the synopsis included on the back of the book:

“Sixteen-year-old queer-identified Banjo Logan wakes up groggy in a juvenile mental ward. She soon realizes that the clueless therapist and shiny psychiatrist can’t help her come to terms with her genderqueer boy/girlfriend’s suicide, the fetus that’s growing inside her, or answers the question of why she cuts.

She’s befriended by two fellow patients–a strange and slightly manic queer Ethiopian girl and a shy, gay boy disowned by his born-again Christian parents. Girls Like Me is a powerful coming of age story of a pregnant gay teenager who realizes that friends may make the best medicine.”

Being a queer teen mom, reading this book was moving, to say the least. It’s a struggle to be different–to be an outcast. When you fall on the outskirts of society’s pressured norms, you end up feeling really alone. I am a major bookworm and find it really special when I can relate to a story in a way that makes me feel less alone in my experiences. With that being said, this is the first book that has applied to that particular area of my life. I so, so wish that I could have gotten my hands on a copy of this book four years ago when I was pregnant. However, I am overjoyed that queer teens and teen moms and queer teen moms will have this book to comfort them. Girls Like Me was diverse, in terms of race, gender, sexual orientation, mental health, social class, and so much more. I appreciate Nina Packebush for telling a story that has desperately needed to be told.

This is a book that I couldn’t stand to put down and I highly recommend that you all buy and read it as soon as possible! You can purchase your own copy of Nina Packebush’s Girls Like Me here.

Hooray for diversity and representation. Leave your thoughts in the comments section below!