When Katie Met Casside

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Review #43: Fiction

First to Read #2

When Katie Met Cassidy by Camille Perri

WKMC

This was, for the most part, a really fun read. It’s a classic meetcute style romance, told from both Katie’s and Cassidy’s perspectives, adding some much needed LGBTQ+ voices and stories to the genre.

I loved Cassidy as a character. She’s really fleshed out and I felt like I knew her and really related to her, maybe a bit more than Katie. Katie is a well-rounded character, with a lot of relatable qualities, and I’m sure many readers are able to see themselves or someone they know in Katie, which goes a long way for character development and audience engagement. However, I felt like Katie was a bit generic, very cookie-cutter in some ways. She’s a pretty, blonde, blue eyed southern belle that moved to New York for a taste of the big city and success. Though Perri does try to set her apart, giving her a real job that takes real brains and ambition and we’re told that Katie isn’t like the typical southern girl…she still feels like it. But because of Cassidy, and her character’s depth and layers, Katie is held up in the relationship and the story. Together, Cassidy and Katie work in a way Katie alone would not. Their love story is a fun one to read and watch unfold, to root for, and to worry about when the inevitable turbulence comes.

My only grievance with this book is Katie’s back story. At the start of the book, she has just been dumped by her fiancé for another woman. Very, very recently — only a weekend before meeting Cassidy in a meeting between her company and Cassidy’s. Obviously until this point, Katie is a straight woman, and meeting Cassidy after her break up makes her question that, and eventually she and Cassidy get together. Katie never really confirms she is a lesbian, but simply says that she doesn’t know if she likes women, but she likes Cassidy. This confusion is actually understandable and one of the more real aspects of Katie as a character. My irritation comes from Katie having been wronged by a man, VERY recently, and then meeting a woman and starting a lesbian relationship.

On the surface this isn’t so bad, but it tends to feel like Katie’s story perpetuates the concept that lesbians hate men, are just women who have been hurt by men, and therefore, in response to a man forsaking them, swear off men forever. It’s as if, had a man not burned Katie, she would never have “become” a lesbian. She also reexamines the female friendships in her life, wondering why she felt so possessive of them, why she loved them so much, and decides that maybe she had romantically loved them subconsciously and was then jealous of them when they entered relationships with men. This, again, perpetuates a negative stereotype of gay women, promoting the idea that gay women cannot have platonic relationships with women — they must be in love with them, want them sexually, they cannot be just friends.

Katie, a women in her late 20s, is also completely clueless about sex, and not just sex between two women. She is written as a wholesome, innocent, southern woman, but it’s mind boggling that a women in her late 20s, who has been in New York for years, and was engaged to be married, was completely blindsided by sex toys and books with sex tips, and, honestly, had no inkling of what might go on in the bedroom between two women. She had no understanding of her own wants, or needs, or sexual desires, her likes or dislikes. For a book written in present day, maybe I’m being optimistic, but I don’t find a nearly 30-year-old woman with no sexual knowledge whatsoever to be believable.

Cassidy, on the other hand, is brilliantly written. I wanted to be her, I wanted to be with her, I wanted to know her. She’s so relatable, so real. I feel like I know several Cassidy’s and that Cassidy is part me. Her struggle with settling down, her confusion about being with a “straight” girl, her walls and defense mechanisms, and her backstory explaining it all is pure perfection in character development. More so than Katie, Cassidy grows as a person through this story. She truly knows herself and makes positive changes because Katie enters her life. She recognizes her faults, she addresses her insecurities, she peels off her layers and lets love in, and I was cheering for her start to finish. Cassidy embodies the idea of loving the skin you’re in, being unapologetically yourself, for you and for no one else. She was who she was, you like it or you don’t. She has not hidden agenda, she just knows who she is and in the end, could not be more proud.

Even with my few issues with Katie as a character, the love story that Perri writes for her and Cassidy is cute, playful, turbulent, and in the general sense, real. It was so refreshing to see an LGBTQ+ love story that showcases a character questioning her sexuality and finding herself and highlights different ideas of femininity and masculinity.

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

I received access to an e-copy of this book for this review.

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The Pisces

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Review #42: Fiction

First to Read #1

The Pisces by Melissa Broder

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If you haven’t read Melissa Broder before, you may be shocked (pleasantly or not) by the blunt, crass, in-your-face honesty of her writing. If you’re familiar, you will recognize her voice in The Pisces instantly. Broder is a master at telling it like it is and throwing two middle fingers up at sugarcoating. Just as she has done with her non-fiction writing, Broder leaps into fiction with a reality that is both uncomfortable and refreshing. She refrains from polishing the harsh edges of the world, of people, and doesn’t give in to the fantastical – even in a story involving a merman.

The Pisces, as it turns out, is not about a woman who meets a merman and falls in love. It is instead about a woman who is severely addicted to love and sex and has very destructive intimacy issues. Lucy loses herself in the company of men, she runs from commitment when boredom sets in, then becomes nearly suicidal without a romantic partner. She’s completely self-destructive, feels almost no guilt when her actions negatively affect others, and is constantly using love to rationalize her bad behavior. Lucy enters therapy after a bad break up, while watching her sister’s house and dog in California. Though mostly Lucy silently judges the other women in her group therapy, there are moments when she sees herself in them, and for brief periods of time, realizes she is a mess and actually in need of help. Though another man will come into the picture, or an old one will pop back up, and eventually Lucy loses control and spirals, leaving nothing but ruin in her wake. It is no different when the man is a merman.

One of Broder’s biggest accomplishments with her writing is that she has this ability to make it seem as if she reached inside your head and pulled the words out. It feels so intimate that you want to turn away, give the characters their privacy, but like a car crash, you can’t help but stare. It feels as if Broder has created her characters with pieces of you. Each woman in Lucy’s group therapy, Lucy included, could be you, a version of you. There are fragments of relatability in them. The hard part is that they are not good fragments. It is the hard truths about ourselves that we see in these women, in Lucy, and just like Lucy, we subconsciously judge them for the very things we dislike about ourselves.

Claire and Lucy are arguably the two most destructive and problematic characters, and I found relatable ideas and behaviors in both of them. Ironically, it was these same ideas and behaviors I disliked them for. Lucy and Claire seem to dislike each other for these things as well. Lucy spends a lot of time thinking about how messed up Claire is, but also how she feels as if she is judging herself when judging Claire, and so avoids it. She feels Claire does the same thing. By encouraging and not demonizing Lucy’s behavior, Claire is allowing herself to be just as bad if not worse. They see themselves in each other, just as we see ourselves in them. Broder uses her characters as mirrors, of each other, and of her readers, and probably, herself.

Though the characters are wonderfully crafted and painfully, brilliantly, flawed, the story itself doesn’t feel complete. Lucy fluctuates between destructive behavior and determination to change. She goes from man to man trying to feel better. She slips into states of depression and euphoria. Other women in her group therapy do the exact same; each woman has a break through then a setback then a break through then a setback. Though this is very much how therapy and recovery actually is, perhaps this isn’t the best for the book. The merman is merely another man in the story, another escape for Lucy, another excuse to do unspeakably terrible things. When the book comes to a close, it seems like Lucy may have finally broken her pattern and will turn things around, but we never know. The book ends before we actually see any real progress. And in the end, her (possibly) final straw in letting go of toxic men and toxic routines is caused when Lucy doesn’t feel special enough. She finds out her relationship with the merman is one he’s had with other women before her, and she cannot handle not being special. It’s selfish and childish, and though she leaves that situation claiming to have finally realized she needs to get her life together and has a few ideas about how she can move on, none of it comes to fruition in the book. We have no reason to believe Lucy has really changed. In fact, since Lucy is the only source we have concerning the merman, there’s even the chance he never existed, and Lucy is far sicker than we know.

Broder’s voice is unique and clear and unmistakable in The Pisces. She delivers the kind of uncomfortable characters and situations that reality is made up of. The Pisces feels like an extension of author and reader. However, the story falls flat, it’s very static, slightly predictable, and seems a little like the 200+ page equivalent to walking in place.

My rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

I received access to an e-copy of this book for this review.

I Had a Nice Time and Other Lies…

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Review #39: Non-Fiction

I Had a Nice Time and Other Lies… by The Betches

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I love The Betches. I follow them everywhere; I like, retweet, regram, etc. This was not a terrible book, but it was not a great one. I think, perhaps, even just two years can make a difference with subject matter like this. Many sections came across as a bit tone-deaf in relation to the social climate today.

I found myself cringing several times throughout. The authors routinely speak to finding love based on your level of attraction, and using your looks to catch a decent bro. They split no hairs making it known that being attractive means thin and conventionally pretty. They give advice in the same vein as dudes cat-calling on the street: if you’re not pretty, smile more, so people don’t notice how not pretty you. If you’re overweight, LOVE YOURSELF AT ANY SIZE, but also if you don’t like being fat, go to the gym and get thin and therefore pretty. Also, don’t get old. Getting old is ugly and your man will leave you. A general theme is basically be pretty and stay pretty. I understand these are jokes, I just don’t think they hold up well.

There is a male voice (The Head Pro) included in every chapter, side notes and insights, even responses to letters from people looking for advice. I like the idea of various points of view, a “guy’s opinion” if you will. Some of the commentary is fun and funny and interesting. Some is eye-roll worthy. Insights about how playing hard to get might mean different things to men and women – interesting. Dealbreakers that including being too short – eye-roll. The Head Pro calls out a lot of double standards between men and women. But then also asks you to just keep buying into and living them. Though he says it’s shitty that men are affording more leeway to be crass and vulgar and loud in public, women should definitely still tone it down or there’s a good chance it’s a dealbreaker for your bro. Though it’s stupid that men are seen as macho and breadwinners and protectors, women should maybe think about “appealing to male sensibilities” and let them drive/navigate on road trips. There’s also a section on how to keep your man from feeling “trapped” in your marriage. Eye-roll. This male insight misses the mark.

All advice is also completely heteronormative. Not that this is a real demerit to the book. It’d be impossible to include every scenario of romantic connection that exists today. Just a simple acknowledgement of that fact would have been nice.

The best thing about this book is that it’s almost an anti-relationship book. Yes, the main advice that lies within is to help you get out of your own way and find a romantic partner (and not just any partner, but one that treats you well and respects you and basically isn’t trash), but The Betches consistently hate on relationships in general throughout. They come back time and again to the idea that real Betches don’t need a man, and they can do bad all by themselves. And that’s, honestly, the best advice any woman can get.

Obviously, if you know The Betches – if you, too, follow them everywhere, or have read their other book – you know their humor and you know to take pretty much everything they say with a grain of salt. I Had a Nice Time and Other Lies… is not a typical self-help book. It’s humor. I laughed out loud a ton and shouted “YAAAASSSS!” into my living room. So if that’s all you’re looking for here, it’s a good read. It has nuggets of wisdom and some powerful and empowering moments, but mainly, it’s entertainment and that needs to be taken into consideration in the end.

3.5 out of 5 stars

*Cover image from Amazon

 

The Little Paris Bookshop

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Review #26: Fiction

Blogging for Books #7

The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George

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This novel is a love letter, an ode, to the beautiful, magical, healing power of books.

The story follows a man, Monsieur Jean Perdu, who, as a self-proclaimed literary apothecary, uses his wealth of knowledge of books and how they comfort people to help them while suppressing his own pain surrounding the love he lost nearly two decades prior. Monsieur Perdu owns a bookshop boat on the Seine. He refuses to sell books to buyers unless the book is the one he feels they need – he can read their souls and know what they need to read in that moment to find comfort. However, to find comfort himself, he needs to do more than read the right book.

When he reads a letter his former lover left when she disappeared 20 years prior, Perdu finally knows the tragic truth behind her departure, and to truly move on and find peace and new love, he must embark on a journey that takes him across France. On a whim, he packs up and sets sail with his floating bookshop to find closure. With a wonderful cast of characters he meets along the way, Perdu not only reaches the end of his journey, but finds a family, and himself, along the way.

In The Little Paris Bookshop, we are taken on an expedition of love, loss, and literature through the beautiful French countryside. With the various tales of heartbreak, lovesickness, and hope from the supporting characters, Perdu finally finds his comfort, while any reader surely finds theirs in these pages. The Little Paris Bookshop describes the beauty of a book, the solace one finds in literature, while expertly providing that service itself.

Several passages throughout have stuck with me; it is a book that I found exactly when I needed it, which is precisely the kind of literary happenstance that drives Perdu’s life’s work.

And if all of that wasn’t enough, there are little extra surprises at the end of the book – a few recipes for some of the delicious meals that are prepared through Perdu’s trip across France, and also a selection of book recommendations and the people/situations they are best suited for from the Book Doctor himself.

The Little Paris Bookshop is a delightful book, with a beautifully tragic, heartbreaking, hopeful, and heartfelt story. I am sure those who need this story will find it.

My rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars.

*I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Spinster

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Review #25: Non-Fiction

Blogging for Books #6

Spinster: Making a Life of One’s Own by Kate Bolick

9780385347136

I was pretty excited to read this book; I’d heard some good things about it, friends had highly recommended it, and having recently ended my own engagement, it seemed like a fitting read as far as timing goes.

I didn’t, however, find what I was expecting. I thought it would be funnier, for starters. Though there are definitely tidbits here and there that forced a smile, a giggle, and in one case, an all-out head-thrown-back laugh, it is a mostly very serious book. This doesn’t make it bad, per se, but it did turn me off a little. There are things in life that humor helps ease, and coming to terms with the realities of human relationships and romance is, in my opinion, one of them.

Bolick give us a ton of information about her “awakeners” (the women who inspire or have influenced her “spinster” lifestyle) in this book. She has absolutely done her research and really brings these women to life through her own commentary about them, as well as their own writing and other secondary sources describing them in detail. Part of me loves all these details and inclusions, and part of me feels it was too much. At one point I felt like staying, “Alright already. If I wanted to know this much about this woman, I would read her biography and her life’s work myself.” I was left knowing a lot about Bolick’s “awakeners” but wanting for how they really influenced Bolick –what I was ultimately hoping for from this book.

It also felt extremely dated. Many of the women Bolick writes about span all the way back to the 1800s and the majority of their lives and decisions play out in the early 1900s. Bolick herself is writing about her life mostly in the 1990s and early 2000s. I had never heard of many of the women and other influencers Bolick mentions, and felt their lives and choices really couldn’t be related to the lives of women today. I definitely didn’t feel like I could really relate to Bolick well – in some ways, of course, but the world has changed so drastically from even the 1990s that these anecdotes fell rather flat.

Bolick’s life, arguable much more recent, felt distant from life for women (especially women writers in New York City today.) Many of the opportunities Bolick and others she writes had about just don’t exist in NY today. The publishing industry just isn’t the same, and Bolick’s opportunities and successes in NY offered her greater options in her personal life than many would be offered today. This is wonderful for her, don’t get me wrong (I’m admittedly jealous of what she was able to accomplish and the relationships she was able to experience), but I was unable to really connect to the writing knowing how these experiences probably couldn’t exist today.

Overall, the book started slowly, picked up in the middle but eventually became distant from the reader. Though there are a few grains of wisdom and valuable insight sprinkled throughout, it is by no means a must read.

My rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars.

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Modern Romance

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Review #24: Non-Fiction

Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari

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This book is phenomenal. The subject matter and the writing are extremely approachable; it’s filled with Aziz Ansari’s typical humor, as well as being truly engaging and informative.

This is not, however, a comedy book. Ansari partnered with real sociologists, conducted real interviews and studies in cities around the world over the course of a few years to make this book what it is. This is a collection of real information and research about real people and real relationship changes and trends.

Ansari really opens the curtain on the differences in relationships, love, marriage, break-ups, and life between generations and through technological changes over the years. The information age has truly turned romance and personal relationships on their head, and Ansari’s book documents this transformation with intriguing facts, figures, and charts.

In addition to the fascinating data Modern Romance presents, it is brilliantly peppered with Ansari’s signature wit through clever asides, footnotes, anecdotes and laugh-out-loud funny photos.

With the information and the humor of this book, I could not put it down. It is a fast-paced and easy read that presents real, fresh data in the style of a friendly conversation. If you’re interested in romantic relationships or how people connect to each other in today’s day and age at all, pick this book up immediately. But also pick it up if you’re simply after a quick chuckle.
My rating: 5 out of 5 stars.

*Cover photo from Amazon.com