Book Review: Between You and Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

I have to thank my mentor for sending me this book as a Christmas gift, because she clearly knows me well. As an avid reader and former English tutor, I've had a reputation as a Grammar Nazi for most of my life, but Between You and Me showed me that "Comma Queen" is a much better label.

This memoir/writing style guide was written by Mary Norris, who has worked in the copy department at the New Yorker since 1978. She details her professional experiences of what it has been like to work at this major publication for decades, watching as English spelling and grammar changed before her very eyes.

At the practical level, this book is an excellent refresher of those lessons you may have forgotten since your school days. She explains how to use commas and when to use who vs. whom. English majors will love all the literary references, such as Emily Dickinson's penchant for hyphens in her poetry. However, these lessons become more frequent as the book goes on, and I felt that Norris could have included more confessions instead.

Case in point: my favorite parts of the story were those that added a personal touch. I enjoyed her adorkable obsessions with pencil sharpeners, which eventually led to her visiting a whole museum full of them. I also appreciated that she explained the societal need for gender-neutral pronouns by revealing that her sister is transgender:

“Nothing makes it clearer how intimately and deeply pronouns are embedded in our lives than having to alter them to refer to someone you’ve known all your life.”

So, yes, while this book can get a bit pedantic at times, Norris has a wonderful sense of humor and is not nearly as judgmental about copyediting as you might think. Experience and wisdom has softened her, and she continually recognizes even her own ignorance.

“Nobody knows everything—one of the pleasures of language is that there is always something new to learn—and everybody makes mistakes.”

Although I wished that Between You and Me contained more anecdotes, I thought it was an amusing look into one copyeditor's point of view. Everyone knows a Comma Queen, so treat them to this book like I was!

Audiobook Review: The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

On Wednesday, the real-life Book Club Babes met to discuss our latest selection: The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin. None of us had heard of this novel or its author before, but with over 96,000 ratings and 15,000 reviews on Goodreads, it was clear that this book had some major buzz.

The protagonist A.J. Fikry begins the story as a curmudgeonly middle-aged man, grieving the loss of his wife and dealing with the challenges of running his failing bookstore on a small island off the east coast. He doesn't particularly like Amelia, the sales rep from Knightley Press, or the annoying tourists, or anyone for that matter.

Then a two-year-old named Maya is abandoned on his store's doorstep, and A.J. must learn how to embrace life once again. This book felt like a coming-of-middle-age novel, because over the course of a decade, the reader sees how A.J.'s character evolves to become more empathetic and optimistic. I'm not that fond of stories about parenthood, given my lack of desire in parenting myself, but it's heartwarming to watch how Maya changes A.J.'s life for the better.

My book club agreed that this book was cute and charming, and we were all pleasantly surprised to learn that it featured characters of color. According to the author, "A.J. and Maya are both mixed-raced, as am I! A.J. is half-Indian and half-Caucasian, and Maya is half-African American and half-Caucasian." This book demonstrated that characters can be diverse without race relations dominating the conversation, because skin color doesn't make a family.

If you're looking for a book that makes you smile and enjoy the love of reading even more, then check out The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry. It's short and sweet, clocking in at only seven hours on audio, which is perfect for readers with busy schedules. As the Book Club Babes declared, this novel may not be an unforgettable masterpiece, but it puts you in a good mood, and that's what stories are supposed to do.

Movie Review: "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies"

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Happy Valentine's Day everybody! What better way to celebrate the holiday of love than watching an adaptation of a Jane Austen classic with the walking dead thrown in?

Last Wednesday, a small group of ladies from my book club joined me to watch "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies," which was directed and written by Burr Steers. I was feeling optimistic going into the theater, because I had skimmed several positive reviews and thought the casting was great.

The actors did not disappoint. Lily James made an excellent, feisty Elizabeth Bennet, Sam Riley played a brooding and badass Mr. Darcy, and Douglas Booth provided major eye candy as Mr. Bingley.

What surprised me the most, however, was how much was changed from Seth Grahame-Smith's parody novel. I don't want to spoil either the book or the film, but there were certain characters who were supposed to transform into zombies and never did, as well as vice versa. The movie also added the element of "vegetarian zombies," ones that could eat animal brains to slow down the progression of the sickness.

Despite the leaps of faith you have to make with this plot, I was certainly entertained. There were elements that I missed from the book, including Elizabeth eating the hearts of ninjas and kicking the ass of Lady Catherine de Bourgh, but it was clever and female-empowered. Matt Smith played a hilariously flamboyant Mr. Collins who had just as much of a crush on Mr. Darcy as the women in the audience.

"Pride and Prejudice and Zombies" isn't Oscar-worthy, but nobody who sees it will be expecting that high of quality. Critically speaking, it's currently rated 6.4/10 on IMDb and a 5.5/10 on Rotten Tomatoes, but it's still great fun.

I don't know any other movie where you'll both swoon over a love story and scream at jump-scares. If you're a Jane Austen fan and are looking for a passionate film for Valentine's Day that the man in your life will actually enjoy, I recommend "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies." As the tagline promises, it's "bloody lovely!"

Book Review: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

Rating: 3 out of 5

Usually it doesn't take me an entire month to complete a novel, but life has been keeping me more than busy lately. If it wasn't for my book club acting as my group of accountability partners, I'd be concerned about getting any reading done right now!

Today the film adaptation for Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is released, and the real-life Book Club Babes will be taking a field trip to see it on Wednesday. This week we had tons of fun sharing what we thought of Seth Grahame-Smith's parody of the Jane Austen classic.

Only a couple women in the group had read the original Pride and Prejudice, and I had to admit that I never finished it. I have always felt that the novel was lacking, from its tittering dialogue to its lack of passion. I much prefer the gothic romance of the Bronte sisters, arguing that Wuthering Heights is the superior story of love vs. money.

That being said, I definitely felt that zombies improved this tale dramatically. My only complaint was that there weren't enough of them! According to Amazon, about 85% of the original text is preserved, and the remaining 15% includes references and scenes of the walking dead. Popular demand for more zombies even contributed to the release of an "ultraviolent" edition, which I'm bummed was not the version I borrowed from the library.

These sporadic additions are hilarious. I find it amusing how there's no real explanation as to why zombies have been ravaging England for decades, but the Bennet sisters do a kickass job of keeping them at bay. Mr. Bennet is more concerned with their abilities as warriors, while Mrs. Bennet just wants to see them married.

It's very clear that a man wrote this adaptation, given the over-the-top fight scenes complete with Elizabeth ripping hearts out of ninjas and eating them. I also look forward to watching her roundhouse kick Darcy into the fireplace when I see the film. Our book club agreed that Jane Austen would be pleased with this uber-feminist portrayal of her protagonist.

Another minor issue that I had with this book was its unnecessary Orientalism by fetishizing China and Japan as places to train zombie fighters. It also references that the zombie plague originated in the east, so it inherently positions the region as both the problem and the solution. Jane Austen's work has already been critiqued by English literature scholars for postcolonial themes, so Grahame-Smith does her a disservice by making Pride and Prejudice sound more racist than intended.

Other than that, if you love Pride and Prejudice, you probably don't need an excuse to read it again with zombies added. And if you're like me and never liked this novel...well, at least it's more entertaining now!

Book Review: Beautiful You

NOTE: Please understand that this book is extremely sexually graphic and is only intended to be read by mature readers. As such, consider my review R-rated! You've been warned!

Rating: 2 out of 5

I think one of the women in my book club summed up Beautiful You the best with these three words:

"Flying. Flaming. Dildos."

If I was still in college, I could spend hours writing essay after essay about this novel, but for the sake of time, let me give you all a brief synopsis: protagonist Penny Harrigan is working at a law firm in Manhattan when she catches the attention of C. Linus Maxwell (aka "Climax-Well"), a tech billionaire with plans to release a line of sex toys for women. After a few ultra-fancy dates, Penny becomes Maxwell's girlfriend/test subject, experiencing pleasure like never before.

The reader clearly learns that this orgasmic bliss wears off, since the very first scene of the story begins at the end, with Penny being sexually assaulted in a courtroom while everyone merely gawks at her, offering no defense whatsoever. As shocking as the scene is, you're immediately hooked into wanting to learn the details of Penny's rise and fall as the co-creator of Maxwell's Beautiful You products.

I can't say much else without giving away the entire plot, but its controversial subject matter made it an excellent choice for our book club. How would a dozen ladies view a book about women addicted to their vibrators that was written by a gay man?

We all agreed that this novel was downright strange. Although we found it similar to the poor girl/rich man power struggle of Fifty Shades of Grey, no one thought it was sexy. The actual sex scenes were clinical and sterile, with Maxwell as mere observer to Penny, his science experiment.

Another comparison I made was to Davey Havok's Pop Kids, which was equally pornographic in nature without any real romance. Both stories played up the satire: Pop Kids was a response to the obsession with celebrity, whereas Beautiful You addresses the economic and political effects of advertising in a capitalist society.

I'd be the first to sing the praises of Fight Club for its anti-capitalistic message. This was the phenomenal novel that brought us gems like this:

Straight, cisgender men have been seduced by scantily-clad women in advertisements for decades. One only has to look to the likes of AXE body spray and Carl's Jr. for evidence. It seemed that Palahniuk was trying to flip feminism on its head by imagining a world in which women, as the primary controllers of household spending, were sold sex--literally. How would society fare if half its population was rendered incapacitated by its hedonistic urges?

Unfortunately, like Pop Kids, the satire in Beautiful You fell flat for me. Palahniuk probably thought he was being oh-so-clever with this sexual world domination story, and pissing off hordes of feminists like myself was likely icing on his cake. As much as I loved Fight Club, I fear that Palahniuk may be resorting to shock value simply because he can take all the risks he wants and every publisher on the planet would still want to represent him.

My book club is more forgiving than me, rating Beautiful You 3 out of 5 stars, but I'm curious to hear what you think as well! Is Chuck Palahniuk a literary genius or just phoning it in? Share your thoughts in the comments!

Book Review: Library of Souls

Rating: 4 out of 5

And another series comes to an end with Library of Souls, the finale to Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs. I would have never jumped on this bandwagon without the recommendation of a good friend of mine, but I'm so glad I did!

Following the story of the last sequel, Hollow City, Jacob and Emma must put their lives at risk in order to save their fellow peculiar friends, Miss Peregrine, and the rest of the ymbrynes, who have been captured by the sadistic wights.

As the plot thickens, it becomes a battle between siblings as Miss Peregrine must confront the betrayals of her brothers, Bentham and Caul, who have been experimenting with the souls of peculiar children for their own gain.

Jacob also must find inner strength to harness his ability to control the menacing tentacled monsters known as hollowgast. When he learns of the addictive substance of ambrosia, will he succumb to the temptation to use it to fuel his own powers?I can't say too much without giving away this story, but it's a wonderful tale of supernatural suspense. As always, Riggs sprinkles in his creepy, cool vintage photographs to amplify the spooky mood.

When I recommend this series, I explain that it's like X-Men, but with young children, and this description still rings true. The war between mutants and humans in that comic book series is similar to the one between peculiars and normals in this tale. It's entertaining to read about people who can manipulate fire or levitate, but it's more intriguing to watch whether they use their abilities for good or for evil.

My only complaint with Library of Souls was its treatment of the hollowgast. Despite their dangerous nature, I sympathized with the creatures as Jacob honed his power over them. I wished that Riggs would have offered a more happy ending to Jacob's first hollowgast, because the Holocaust-esque experiment that it was subjected to broke my heart.

Other than that, Library of Souls was the gripping conclusion to this series that I was hoping for, and I'm so looking forward to Tim Burton's adaptation, starring Asa Butterfield as Jacob and Eva Green as Miss Peregrine. It is scheduled for release on Christmas of next year.

This ends my reading journey of 2015 with a total of 23 books completed! Be on the lookout for my review of Beautiful You by Chuck Palahniuk in the new year--I'm saving it until after my book club next week, because I have WAY too much to discuss!

Happy New Year, everybody!

Book Review: God's Debris

Rating: 3 out of 5

Every now and then, I get recommendations from people who love certain books so much that they let me borrow their copies just to hear what I thought. Even in my own book club, it seems that my passion for reading makes me such an influential force in their book selections that it causes me to wonder if I should add the title, "Book Matchmaking Expert" on my business card.

This time, I was given God's Debris: A Thought Experiment, written by Dilbert creator Scott Adams. Published in 2004, it's only 132 pages, so if you have some free time during the holidays, you can finish it in a few hours.

This story is structured like a Socratic dialogue: The protagonist is a package deliveryman who spends a day blowing off work by debating philosophy with an elderly man on his route.

This tale starts off strong with a lot of questions regarding the meaning of life and the existence of a god. The main character is forced to re-evaluate his preconceived notions about science and religion, which opens his mind and encourages freethought.

However, there's a reason why I would have never chosen this book myself, and that's because Scott Adams is a known misogynist. As amusing as I find the comic Dilbert, it's saddening to read that Adams supports men's rights activism by discounting the existence of the gender wage gap and perpetuating rape culture.

Why is this relevant? I was nodding along to this book up until the philosopher starts making stereotypical claims about gender roles, specifically that women can only feel loved if men continually make sacrifices for them, and men are only interested in women as long as they prove useful to them:

Women define themselves by their relationships and men define themselves by whom they are helping. Women believe value is created by sacrifice. If you are willing to give up your favorite activities to be with her, she will trust you. If being with her is too easy for you, she will not trust you.

Men believe value is created by accomplishment, and they have objectives for the women in their lives. If a woman meets the objectives, he assumes she loves him. If she fails to meet the objectives, he will assume she does not love him. The man assumes that if the woman loved him she would have tried harder and he always believes his objectives for her are reasonable.

This heteronormative baloney undermines Adams' own theme of self-awareness: what began as a "thought experiment" devolves into one blowhard's opinion.

The ending also turns lackluster by proclaiming that humanity is divided into different groups, ranging from ignorant sheep to the enlightened. I came away disappointed, because it's very clear that Adams believes that he's more intelligent than everyone around him, and his smugness leaves a bad taste in your mouth.

That said, if you can gloss over Adams' trolling, this is an amusing bite-size exercise in stretching your brain. To accomplish this without dealing with the author's ego, I would just suggest that you cut out the middle man and study Socrates instead. I highly recommend Plato's Symposium to learn about the origin of the universe and the meaning of love. Sure, everyone couldn't stand being around Socrates either, but at least he was hell of a lot smarter than this comic writer.

Movie Review: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Pt. 2

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Well...where do I start? Ever since I finished reading The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins, I can't say that I've been looking forward to seeing Mockingjay on screen. My initial enthusiasm for this bandwagon has unfortunately faded into begrudging acceptance of the end.

My disappointment has nothing to do with the film's production. I've enjoyed "The Hunger Games" cast, especially Woody Harrelson as Haymitch and Elizabeth Banks as Effie, both of whom did not have near enough screen time in this finale. Instead, all the attention is turned towards Katniss and her crew's mission to assassinate President Snow.

Collins' magic was in the arenas, and without them, all that's left is a sub-par dystopian tale in which no one really learns their lesson. I wrote a major rant about this book, so naturally I went into the theater with low expectations.

On the plus side, the film was very well done, and I enjoyed the trek to the Capitol as the rebels dodged all the various booby traps. One of the aspects that frustrated me about the novel is that Katniss' point-of-view is very limited. However, once you're out of her head, you can be more engaged with the other characters and the action-packed plot in front of them.

Despite the thrills and suspense, I felt pretty meh about this movie. Not surprising to the fans of the books, the ending of this film was depressing as hell. Beloved characters were lost, gone in the blink of an eye. Although the bad guys get their just desserts, you don't walk away feeling accomplished. And just like in the novel, the story's epilogue seemed artificial and forced.

I'm glad to put this series behind me, and I can only hope that Hollywood has had its fill of dystopias, at least for a while. Of course, this is doubtful, given the vast fortune that's at stake. Lionsgate entertainment vice chairman Michael Burns revealed that he's interested in making Hunger Games prequels featuring previous years in the arena. As much as I'd like to see a young Haymitch become a victor, I agree with Forbes:

If Lionsgate is indeed determined to give the fans what they want, what they risk doing is basically turning the franchise into an annual (or bi-annual) fictionalized version of the Hunger Games for multiplex consumption. They will have turned the franchise into a fictionalized “to the death” version of American Gladiators, which would basically complete the transformation from “explicit critique of bread-and-circuses” to “prime example of bread-and-circuses.”

As a fan who went from excitement to disillusionment, I just want to put this story to bed and move on with my life. Instead, I'll have to submit to watching this cash cow get turned into one of Collins' mutts: a zombie-like, demented version of itself.

Book Review: Popular

Rating: 3 out of 5

Lauren Urasek hit the jackpot by being at the right place at the right time: She was dubbed by New York magazine the "most popular woman in NYC." At the time of publication, she was receiving 35+ messages a day and 15,000+ four and five-star ratings on OkCupid.

The 20-something heavily tattooed makeup artist discusses her online dating experiences in her recently published book, Popular. Between the chapters describing her dates, she adds screenshots of creepy messages she's been sent from her blog, theyreallysaidthis.com.

At only 224 pages, this was a very light read, which I finished in just a few days. Other than the amusing anecdotes, I felt that there was little substance. Some chapters felt unnecessary, such the stories from other women and the makeup advice explaining foundation vs. BB cream. Even the do's and don'ts of online dating that I was looking forward to reading were sparse. If you don't know the differences between eHarmony, Match, and Tinder by now, this book is not going to help you whatsoever in catching up to speed.

However, I felt that Urasek was relatable and enjoyed living vicariously through her horror stories. I admit that I expected her to be a typical "popular girl:" gorgeous, not particularly intellectual, and unscathed from childhood bullying. But I was pleasantly surprised to find her down-to-earth. Her love of astronomy and former cleft lip only made her more endearing.

It was interesting to read Popular right after Aziz Ansari's Modern Romance, because it exemplified one woman's part in the evolution of dating. And although Urasek ended her tale still single, both she and Ansari remained optimistic. True love may just be a numbers game, but after all the frogs Urasek has kissed, I'm confident that it's only a matter of time before she finds her Prince Charming.

Book Review: Modern Romance

Rating: 4 out of 5

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a smartphone will send dick pics to women on Tinder.

I kid, but only slightly. It's safe to say that online dating is pretty much the worst for the straight female population: men who ignore age preferences, messages that have been clearly copy-and-pasted, and sexual harassment at every turn. And don't even get me started on all the spelling and grammar errors! 

Women commiserate with each other all the time over these awful experiences, but it's nice to see sympathy from the few good men left. Comedian Aziz Ansari is one of those guys who just gets it--thanks to his awesome feminist girlfriend, Courtney McBroom.

My book club selected Ansari's Modern Romance to read in October, and I anticipate it inciting a lively discussion about how dating has changed from generation to generation and how it has fared for the better and worse in the digital age.

Ansari teams up with sociologists, psychologists, and other researchers to analyze historical trends in love and marriage, as well as compares dating in the U.S. to the scenes in international metros like Paris and Tokyo.

There are a ton of interesting statistics, so here's a sample:

“Between 2005 and 2012 more than one third of couples who got married in the United States met through an online dating site. Online dating was the single biggest way people met their spouses. Bigger than work, friends, and school combined."

“Another poll, from Gallup, found that infidelity is more universally disapproved of than polygamy, animal cloning, and suicide. So if there were two guys at a bar, one cheating on his wife and another with a cloned pig named Bootsie, it would be the cheater, not Bootsie the pig, getting more disapproving looks.”

“The most popular time to sext is Tuesday between 10:00 A.M. and noon. Yes, we looked this up twice. Strange!”

At first I thought that this would be a memoir primarily based on Ansari's dating life, but it's actually more of a research study on dating with some comedy thrown in. His material plays off many of the jokes in his standup, like why you shouldn't look for your soulmate at a bar.

I love Aziz Ansari's humor and found this book insightful and entertaining. It's obvious that he's been influenced by wonderful women, and listening to his jokes gives me hope that more men can become feminist allies--and thus, better romantic partners. Let's keep our fingers crossed, ladies! At the very least, may all your messages be dick pic-free!

Audiobook Review: Why Not Me?

 Review: 4 out of 5

When I heard that actress Mindy Kaling was writing another memoir, I didn't think twice about buying it. I had enjoyed her first book, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?, but had hoped for less childhood stories and more gossip about her celebrity life. Why Not Me? is a great sequel that divulges more of these details.

Kaling focuses on the ups and downs of fame and how exhausting it can be as a role model to curvy women of color. She has a refreshingly honest perspective on living in Hollywood: she looks good because she has a horde of people to make her attractive, and she puts on a smile even when she's having a bad day, because there's nothing that pisses off the masses like an extremely wealthy person with an awful attitude.

Even though she's the creator of her own show with her own name in its title, at the heart of it all, she's another 30-something woman who just wants to make friends and fall in love. I admit that I don't follow her closely on television since I gave up watching "The Office" and have never seen an episode of "The Mindy Project."

However, the reason why I like her memoirs is that she's relatable, hilarious, and the kind of woman I'd like to go shopping and grab frozen yogurt with. Spending extra money on the audiobook version is worth it, because it further enhances the feeling that you're listening to a good friend.

And perhaps if I were one of her besties, then she would give me the real scoop on her relationship with B.J. Novak. Because as adorable as her "soup snakes" versus soul mates metaphor was, I just want to hear the hookup stories. Kaling reveals that she loves doing sex scenes on camera, but won't spill about what goes on behind the scenes? Talk about disappointing!

As much as I love to read about drunken escapades and one-night stands a la Chelsea Handler, that's not who Kaling is. She's a theater nerd/sorority dropout/hopeless romantic, and that's what makes her endearing. I wish her show the best of luck on Hulu and hope to read more of her memoirs in the future!

Book Review: The Blind Assassin

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Tomorrow I have the opportunity of a lifetime to meet Margaret Atwood, renowned author of The Handmaid's Tale and The Blind Assassin, which was my book club's selection for September.

There's so much to unpack in this novel, but I believe what makes it so successful is its structure. With quite possibly the best first line in literature, "Ten days after the war ended, my sister Laura drove a car off a bridge," the story of sisters Iris and Laura Chase is given an immediate sense of intrigue.

Set during the Great Depression and WWII, an elderly Iris recounts her life, describing her tumultuous relationships with her family: her allegedly mentally disturbed younger sister Laura, her alcoholic father, her wealthy but emotionally detached husband, her drug-addicted daughter, and estranged granddaughter.

As if the plot wasn't already crammed enough, Atwood alternates these narrations with a novel within a novel. "The Blind Assassin" is not only reflective of the enigmatic symbolism, it's also the title of a science fiction story created by two unnamed lovers on the run. It's up to the reader to figure out who is the real author of this book, a feat which lends to the larger climax of Atwood's novel.

I will admit that the pacing of this book starts off very slow, and the science fiction chapters do not seem well integrated with Iris's chapters. I'm not surprised that a couple people in my book club gave up after 50-100 pages, because Atwood's style is all about character development and delayed gratification. If you can stick it out, you're rewarded with a phenomenal story. I finished reading the last 200 pages in just three days and thoroughly enjoyed how the pacing accelerated into its dramatic conclusion.

I don't want to give away too much, because this is a beautifully written book where every detail is a clue to understanding this puzzle, from the interspersed newspaper clippings right down to each article of clothing that is worn. It's no wonder why The Blind Assassin won the Booker Prize and TIME's Best Novel of 2000: Atwood has a wit that is unmatched, and this book is exactly what literary fiction should be.

Book Review: When in Doubt, Add Butter

Rating: 3 out of 5

As the summer comes to a close, I like to soak up the sun with some good chick-lit: something cheerful, funny, and easy to read while laying by the pool.

Beth Harbison writes good chick-lit. I've already read Shoe Addicts Anonymous and Secrets of a Shoe Addict, so when I saw When in Doubt, Add Butter on sale, I picked it up without a thought.

This 2012 novel stars private chef Gemma Craig (no relation to Jenny Craig), who is struggling to make ends meet in Washington, D.C., while cooking for a different client each weekday. She works for an eclectic group of people, including a Russian psychic, a morbidly obese online poker player, and the uppity Van Houghtens who are 'allergic' to everything.

Then there's the elusive Mr. Tuesday, nicknamed that by Gemma who has never actually seen the workaholic lawyer, but finds herself inexplicably attracted to him. What will happen when their paths finally cross--in the most surprising of ways?

I'll admit that while I enjoyed this book, I could have been content if it remained a story about love and cooking. Unfortunately, Harbison throws in a few plot details that cost her a couple stars in my opinion.

One thing that I really don't like is a bait-and-switch. When Gemma reveals that she became pregnant as a teenager and gave the baby up for adoption, I was immediately turned off. This is something that I believe should have been included in the book summary, especially since it's mentioned so early in the story.

My blog followers should be well aware by now that I'm not a fan of kids. I'm childfree in life, and I prefer my reading to be as well. I love reading about love, but there's nothing that makes me roll my eyes harder than when a romance novel ends with marriage and a baby carriage. It's cliche as hell, and it promotes the stereotype that all women are dying to get hitched and knocked up.

Now don't get me wrong--I'm not insulting the women who do value these things. There are more than enough books out there to support this domestic vision. But I'm also not going to hide the fact that I actively avoid chick-lit or romance novels with main characters dealing with issues related to having or raising children. Personal preferences are exactly that--personal.

My point is that I would have appreciated a heads up that I was getting into a book filled with guilt and angst over giving a child up for adoption (not to mention, another kid-related plot twist further into the novel).

There's absolutely nothing wrong with adoption--or abortion or raising a child as a single mom, for that matter. But if you're going to write about any of them, include them in the book summary, for goodness' sake! Plenty of people will still read your book, just not me. This failure to divulge soured an otherwise lighthearted tale about bonding over butter, which is all I ever wanted.

For those who are looking for great chick-lit/romance without all the baby mama drama, check out the stand-alone novels of Sophie Kinsella and the U.S. Attorney series by Julie James. 

Book Review: The Husband's Secret

Rating: 4 out of 5

On Thursday evening, my book club will discuss The Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty. This bestselling 2013 novel intrigued us due to its promise of scandal, and it certainly delivered--just not in the way I expected.

Set in Australia (which is interesting in itself, since it was the first time I read about Easter during autumn), the story features three women, each dealing with serious family drama.

Cecilia discovers a letter from her husband meant to be read by her after his death--except he's very much alive. Tess is also faced with spousal conflict after learning that her husband is having an affair with her cousin. Lastly, Rachel is still grieving the loss of her teenage daughter decades after her unexplained murder.

I thought that The Husband's Secret would be about a big reveal, but surprisingly, it's not difficult to connect the dots of how these families are intertwined. That said, it's still entertaining to watch the plot progress. The characters are not likable at all times, but they're realistic and multi-dimensional. Moriarty does an apt job putting the reader in their shoes; even the tough subject of homicide is transformed from something that you think you'd never experience to just another dirty little secret of suburbia.

Naturally, I can't give away too many details since I don't want to spoil the book, but I will say that if you're a scaredy cat like me, you don't have to worry. Moriarty is no Gillian Flynn writing super suspenseful thrillers; instead, her strength is demonstrating how mundane the controversy can be. Events unfold, and life goes on. You can torture yourself with what could have or should have happened, or you can embrace the butterfly effect of chaos.

My favorite part about having a book club is reading stories outside of my comfort zone. The Husband's Secret is not a total 180 from my typical picks, but it was a nice change from the novels I normally add to my to-read list. I'm looking forward to hearing what the other members thought of this book!

Book Review: China Rich Girlfriend

Rating: 4 out of 5

I find it tragic that people of color are not better depicted in mass media, whether in movies, music, or fiction.

Asians particularly suffer from inequality in the entertainment industry, considering how many stories either whitewash history (*cough*The Last Samurai*cough*) or resort to straight-up yellowface (remember Breakfast at Tiffany's?)

The lack of Asian representation is a great disservice to the world, which is why I'm so happy for Kevin Kwan's breakthrough success as a writer.

After gobbling up his debut novel Crazy Rich Asians, I have been counting down the days until the release of its sequel China Rich Girlfriend. And I was not disappointed!

China Rich Girlfriend is a fantastic summer read, as it follows the lives of newlyweds Nick and Rachel along with their cuckoo relatives. Rachel is briefly reunited with her long-lost father, only to have him disappear on her again thanks to his controlling wife's meddling.

The extended honeymoon she planned in China to get to know her family becomes a jet-setting distraction orchestrated by her half-brother Carlton and his girlfriend Colette. If Rachel thought that her husband's family in Singapore was crazy rich, she's in for a world of surprise when she learns about the billionaires of Shanghai and Hong Kong.

Readers should be forewarned that although Nick and Rachel play major roles in this sequel, they do not take center stage. Significant subplots are dedicated to Nick's cousin Astrid's tumultuous marriage and the personal rebranding of soap opera star Kitty Pong as she attempts to climb the social ladder as Mrs. Bernard Tai.

They're certainly welcome storylines, however, as my only complaint was that the book had too many characters and not enough time to give them all enough of the spotlight! It's so easy to get immersed in this dazzling universe of fine art, afternoon tea, and sports car racing, that I can see many more books in this series.

China Rich Girlfriend simultaneously spies on the lavish lifestyles of the Asian rich and famous while reminding the audience that 'Mo' Money, Mo' Problems' is not just a rap song. Rachel has a strong head on her shoulders, and it's refreshing to watch her pity high society than get swept away by it. After all, what's the point of all that wealth if you're never content enough to enjoy it?

Get on this hilariously unique bandwagon before the movies hit theaters, because I believe it will be big. And if Hollywood whitewashes the films, you can be sure that I will have a meltdown of China-rich proportions!

Book Review: P.S. I Still Love You

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

When I read a book like P.S. I Still Love You, I'm reminded of why I feel conflicted about reading YA that is not wrapped in the dystopian or supernatural. With no layer of escapism, all that you're left with is teenage drama--and let's just say that I had enough of that to last a lifetime.

For those like me who were nerdy and unpopular, who valued good grades and good books over football games and house parties, high school was definitely not 'the best four years of your life.' In fact, if anyone does happen to spew that nonsense at me, I immediately distrust them. Someone could build a time machine and offer me $100 million to relive my high school experience, and I would still laugh in his face without a millisecond of hesitation.

So when Jenny Han's sequel to To All the Boys I've Loved Before opens with the aftermath of Lara Jean Song's class ski trip, in which someone secretly filmed her steamy hot tub make-out session with her boyfriend Peter Kavinsky and then put it online for all to see, it struck a nerve, and I felt a deep empathy for her.

I can't imagine how difficult it must be to suffer through your teenage years in the digital age. My generation was the last to know what the world was like pre-social media, considering that Myspace and Facebook had only started gaining popularity when I was in high school. I was bullied mercilessly without the assistance of cyberspace, so I'm filled with horror when I think about just how much worse the torment can be nowadays.

It is extremely difficult for me to set aside my biases and review this book objectively. Every step of the way, I see myself in Lara Jean's shoes. I give Han credit for making Lara Jean seem so young; there were many times that I felt that her character was way too naive, but I realize that I can only sense this after years of disillusionment. I have to remind myself that I too was equally sheltered and gullible, until my horrible peers shredded my innocence and my ability to believe the good in others.

My less-than-enjoyable high school years also made me despise Peter with the fire of a thousand suns. His decision to emotionally support his ex-girlfriend instead of Lara Jean, thereby making her look like an utter fool to the entire school, eerily mirrored my own relationship drama and left a bitter taste in my mouth. Boys who care so much about making everyone happy and not picking sides are cowards who will not stand by you when you need it the most. In other words, Switzerlands don't win wars.

That being said, this book is wonderfully written and kept me turning the pages. I thought it cute to incorporate Lara Jean's volunteering at a nursing home, and I'm still a fan of the Song family dynamics, which have now extended into the dad's dating life. I also really loved the reunion between Lara Jean and John Ambrose, who is a shining light among the sea of loser guys who go to this school.

I'm sure that I'm not the only one who was woefully disappointed in Lara Jean's choice at the end of the book, and I hope that Han writes another sequel just so her protagonist can grow up and learn from her god-awful relationship mistakes. I'm happy to read more about Lara Jean's teenage years, even if it means coming to terms with my own in the process.