The Bell Jar

It’s been around a month since I finished this novel and I still don’t know exactly how to say how I feel about it. This articulate, funny, intimate, and authentic novel is about the depression and breakdown of Esther Greenwood. But through that, it’s about the inescapable confines the expectations of being a woman in Post-modern Western society.

Esther is a studious and successful nineteen year-old. She’s in New York for wining a writing contest and is enrolled in an advanced English program where she can devise her own curriculum. She constantly feels he pressure of her future. She doesn’t know what she’s gong to do after college except get married and have children, like all of the other women around her. She also feels the fruitlessness of her degree. It seems like just something to do until she can perform her feminine duties.

I chose this novel for our book club. I didn’t realize that it was going to hit home for all of the women in our group- albeit in different ways. We all took different parts of this novel very personally and identified with it. We all felt like this was a novel women in our situations should read.

I loved this novel. I feel like I read it for the first time at the perfect moment. I’m sure I’ll reread it in a few years and I’ll get something else out of it. It may not be technically flawless, but it affected me deeply.

5/5

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Dark Matter

This book by Blake Crouch is a combination of literary fiction and science fiction. It is about Jason Dessen, a physics professor at a small university. The novel opens with him and his family enjoying a family dinner. Jason and his wife, Daniella, reflect on how neither one of them had the professional success that they wanted. But they both agree that they are happy and satisfied with their lives.

On that night, Jason is kidnapped by a stranger and wakes up in an unfamiliar place. He doesn’t recognize anyone, but they all call him by name and respect him. He tries to navigate his disorientation and figure out how to get back to his wife and family.

This book is classified as a science fiction because it deals with quantum mechanics. But it also has elements of a typical thriller and is clear in its themes. This novel is about family and what is more important in life- success in work or with raising a loving family. Crouch is unambiguous in his opinion on which of these are paramount for a happy life.

I really liked this novel. It was an easy read that wasn’t too bogged down with the science. It also didn’t feel too pedantic in its themes and how Crouch addressed them. I would read other books he has published, like his Wayward Pines series.

3/5

Strangers on a Train

This classic thriller by Patricia Highsmith is the basis for one of my favorite Alfred Hitchcock films by the same name. In essence, the title mostly describes the plot of the book- it is about two strangers who meet on a train. But that’s also where they discuss murdering people in their lives. Bruno wants to kill his father and Guy his wife. This one-time encounter means that they can both have solid alibis for committing the other’s murder and never be a real suspect.

Guy is a normal man currently going through a divorce- because his wife cheated on him. He fantasizes about killing her, but not in a serious way. Bruno is obsessed with killing his father. But as the novel goes on, that obsession is redirected towards Guy. Bruno stalks him and inserts himself constantly into Guy’s life and mind.

I thought this novel was going to be about the murders and the plotting. It was, but it was more about the psychology of a killer and what circumstances have to arise for a typical man to commit a murder. Especially a murder for someone else.

This novel wasn’t exactly what I thought it was going to be. But I still enjoyed listening to it. I would want to read more of Highsmith’s work, especially The Price of Salt.

3/5

Difficult Women

This collection of fictional short stories by Roxanne Gay centers on a variety of women that have suffered hardships. When I first started the collection, I thought that it was non-fiction and I was horrified that Gay went through that situation. Then I started the second story and I realized that these must be fictional stories about different women. But none of them are dramatized, and similar, if not exact replicas of these situations, happen every day.

While I wouldn’t call any of these stories ‘happy’, some of them did have hope. My favorite was “North Country”. This is one of the longer stories in the book and follows a woman who teaches engineering at a college in the Midwest. Due to the dark color of her skin, people assume time and time again that she is from Detroit. Like most of the stories in this collection, the plot revolves around a traumatic event that occurred in this woman’s life. But unlike most of the other stories, this one ends with a hopeful tone. She is able to find love again and is part of a healthy relationship.

My biggest problem with Difficult Women was that every story had the same themes and tone. There was a variety in plot, but Gay centered on the same themes of trauma and the crimes against women. These are extremely important topics, but it was difficult to read stories about them over and over again. But Gay is a fantastic writer and I moved through these swiftly. I can’t wait to read her novel, now that I’ve finally finished one of her works.

4/5

NOS4A2

This horror/thriller was my first time reading Joe Hill. While I thought that certain sections of the book could have been condensed, I liked it overall. I especially enjoyed listening to the audio book for this title because the narrator, Kate Mulgrew, was awesome.

This novel is the story of Victoria “Vic” McQueen, a woman with a special talent- she can find lost things. Opposing her is Charlie Manx, a man who steals children and takes them to Christmasland, a place where they can always be young and never have any responsibilities. Both of them are able to do this because of their imaginations and the strength of their interior worlds. This concept was one of my favorite things about the novel.

There are some scenes in this novel that are truly terrifying. To me, the scariest character in the novel was Bing Partridge, Manx’s helper. He’s just a sick and twisted man who likes killing and sexually abusing women, even after they’re dead. Those were the parts that made my stomach turn.

Overall, I enjoyed listening to this novel. Mulgrew is a talented narrator reading Hill’s great story. It was a little longer than it had to be, but I enjoyed all of it.

3/5

Into the Water

This newest novel by The Girl on the Train author Paula Hawkins is about a river where women have died for centuries. When a teenage girl and a woman die there mere months apart, it resurfaces many of the past deaths and the mysteries surrounding them. Especially because the recently deceased woman, Nel Abbott, was working on a book about the river’s history. Told through many different perspectives, this book not only tries to solve the history of Nel’s death, but the mysteries of the other women who have died there.

The book mainly follows Jules Abbott, Nel’s estranged sister. Due to a childhood trauma, Jules does not speak to Nel, even when she tries to call her repeatedly. When Nel dies, Jules is placed in charge of Lena, Nel’s “hot girl” daughter. Lena was also best friends with Katie, the teenager who died. These two characters are the main hubs between all of the other characters.

One of my favorite parts of this book is the structure. At first the multitude of characters and points of view was overwhelming. But it allowed Hawkins to unravel this small town and its secrets a little at a time. A picturesque town with a dark history slowly falls apart as we learn more.

Overall, I really enjoyed this novel. This one was more to my taste than The Girl on the Train, but that’s personal preferences. I can’t wait to read whatever she publishes next.

4/5

First & Then

I’ve been meaning to read this debut novel for a few years. Its author is Emma Mills, or Elmify on YouTube. During college, I watched her videos religiously. Now that she is a published author, I couldn’t wait to read her work.

When I first started this novel, I was disappointed. It started like every other contemporary YA novel. There’s a girl who likes a boy, but he doesn’t like her back. Then there is this other boy that annoys her and also Jane Austen is involved. But this novel didn’t only focus on romance. The platonic relationships that arise are my favorite part of the novel.

Devon is a perfectly average high school student who is just trying to figure out if she even wants to go to college. She hasn’t even started thinking about where she wants to go and how she’s going to get in. Then her parents decide to take in Foster, her cousin whose mother isn’t taking care of him after his father passed away. He starts at Devon’s high school and she is thoroughly annoyed by his enthusiasm and dorkiness.

This novel could have easily been 300 pages of pining and whining. But instead it was about the relationships the grow between Devon, Foster, and Ezra (the boy that annoys her). The three of them help each other through high school drama and more.

This novel ended up being so much more than I thought it would be. Mills is a talented writer with a gift for realistic characters and relationships. I can’t wait to read her other novels.

4/5