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Choke by vacation MODEVictor Mancini, a medical-school dropout, is an antihero for our deranged times. Needing to pay elder care for his mother, Victor has devised an ingenious scam: he pretends to choke on pieces of food while dining in upscale restaurants. He then allows himself to be “saved” by fellow patrons who, feeling responsible for Victor’s life, go on to send checks to support him. When he’s not pulling this stunt, Victor cruises sexual addiction recovery workshops for action, visits his addled mom, and spends his days working at a colonial theme park.

I scored Choke for a great deal in my favorite LA bookstore.  This was my introduction to Chuck Palahniuk’s work, though I’ve definitely heard of him before – like any other member of my generation, I’ve seen the Fight Club movie approximately one billion times.  While I know it’s not kablamo to judge an author’s work by a film adaptation; I perceived a lot of thematic similarities between that film and this book.  Anarchism, sex, apathy/disgust for commercialism and society, and an anithero protagonist who, underneath everything, just wants to be loved…you feel me. Continue reading

BOOK REVIEW // Dragonfly in Amber

The Vacation Mode Dragonfly in Amber

For twenty years Claire Randall has kept her secrets. But now she is returning with her grown daughter to Scotland’s majestic mist-shrouded hills. Here Claire plans to reveal a truth as stunning as the events that gave it birth: about the mystery of an ancient circle of standing stones … about a love that transcends the boundaries of time … and about James Fraser, a Scottish warrior whose gallantry once drew a young Claire from the security of her century to the dangers of his….

Now a legacy of blood and desire will test her beautiful copper-haired daughter, Brianna, as Claire’s spellbinding journey of self-discovery continues in the intrigue-ridden Paris court of Charles Stuart … in a race to thwart a doomed Highlands uprising … and in a desperate fight to save both the child and the man she loves.

Well, I did it.  I really did it – I made it through Dragonfly in Amber.  I don’t know why this book was such a challenge to finish (the “break” I took to binge-read The Selection Series might have had something to do with it) but all in all, it was really good.

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In true binge-reading fashion, I ordered The One overnight upon finishing The Elite and finished it in two days.  And in true …me (?) fashion, I feel the same way about it that I did about the previous two books in The Selection series (reviews here and here).  It was not, by any means, the most groundbreaking literature I’ll ever read, but was definitely entertaining, even addictively so.

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BOOK REVIEW // The Elite

I’m having a tough time recapping the plot of The Elite in my own words…I feel like the second book in a series always contains lots of plot progression and deepening intrigue that’s a bit challenging to pin down.  Like, a lot HAPPENS, but even more gets saved for the author’s show-stopping third or fourth (or seventh, in JK Rowling’s case) (or neverth, or in George RR Martin’s case) finale.  So for the sake of efficiency, here’s the summary from Goodreads:

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BOOK REVIEW // The Selection

FullSizeRenderIf you happen to follow me on Instagram, you might know that I’ve been in Mexico for the past week (conjuring up MUCHO new content to post soon).  Since I’ve been on real vacation (not just vacation MODE, haaaa) – what better time to indulge in some guilty pleasures?  Which brings me to The Selection.

I think I spotted this book for the first time in a bookstore about a year ago and the whimsical nerd in me was immediately drawn to the princess-y, YA-screaming cover.  You may have heard that we’re not supposed to judge books by their covers, but I don’t think it’s a bad thing if the thing you are judging is pretty and frilly and intrigues you to no end.  It’s been on my TBR list ever since and in honor of my vacay, I thought I’d give myself a little break from life (and from Dragonfly in Amber) and see what all the fuss was about.

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BOOK REVIEW // The Other Boleyn Girl


There’s no rhyme or reason behind how I determine what to read next – I’ll explore or revisit classics, pepper in some fantasy/sci-fi, indulge guiltily in the occasional YA bestsellers…kind of schizo. At any given time I’ll have a deep reserve of titles to choose from at random, amassed through various bookstore or Amazon perusals. I picked up a used copy of The Other Boleyn Girl during a daytrip to Ojai in the fall; when we stumbled upon the amazing Bart’s Books and I knew I needed a token to commemorate the occasion. This book caught my eye, probably in memory of that (awful? It was pretty bad right?) Natalie Portman movie that I think I feel asleep to years ago. I’ve been drawn to a lot of historical fiction lately – it’s rewarding to feel like you might be learning a little without the sensation of facts and dates getting shoved down your throat. Continue reading

BOOK REVIEW // The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

51gMlxY5-mLIn case you, one of my two followers (hi Mom!) were anxiously concerned about the lag between posts, allow me a moment to explain myself. You see, I have trouble with not finishing books. Even if instinctually I’m not really down with what’s going on, if I’m not feeling a connection or a vibe, even if I’m kinda bored, even if every time someone asks me about it I begin with an “ughhh” before tumbling into a litany of explanations why I WANT to like it and am trying to give it an honest chance (but we both know I’m lying)…I will force myself through it. Even if it takes months, because I have a real problem not finishing something once I’ve started. At times it ultimately ends up being a rewarding experience, but other times I finish the last page, close the book, think “meh” and move on with my life. Books I don’t like are my Everest. You just can’t give up once you’ve made it to a certain point (or do people give up on Everest a lot?). Especially the critically-acclaimed ones that win Pulitzer prizes for being “genius”, “giddily glorious” and “a joy to read” (ref). Knowing this praise to be theoretically true but still not being able to muster up the same enthusiasm, I end up feeling like that girl at the dinner party that missed the punchline of the highbrow joke (and nods on approvingly anyways).

Enter The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. This book is about a boy whose initially promising life is inexplicably fraught with tragedy that evolves a magnetic child into a tragic, virginal, overweight nerd. This downfall is attributed to a Dominican curse, or fukú, that has haunted his family for generations. The narrative spans across nations and decades – from Oscar’s grandfather’s time during the height of the Trujillo dictatorship in the mid-1940s Santo Domingo, RD to its manifestation throughout Oscar’s daily life in modern-day Paterson, New Jersey, and back again. I’ll just break it down as simply as I can (for a very difficult-to-review book):


You learn a LOT about Dominican Republic history and culture, and its trickle down into the States through diaspora. A lot of these tidbits are explained through (at times exhaustingly) long footnotes, and the other half was garnered through the act of reading with the book in one hand and my iPhone’s Wikipedia app in the other. (Leaving no hands left for wine – I know.) Anyways, I feel more informed about a culture I previously had very little knowledge.

Second pro is the presence of strong, dynamic female characters. They’re fiery, usually super hot, and full of unwavering resolve. Unfortunately most (if not all) of them are cheated on, abandoned, subjected to physical and sexual abuse, or at the very least, widowed by the men of the story. The male characters factor into two categories: pathetically romantic/tragic martyrs (Oscar) or machismo womanizers and often woman-abusers (pretty much everyone else).

And the highlight for me was the many, MANY Lord of the Rings references, which as a not-so-closet nerd, I appreciated immensely and through with found my deepest personal connection to the author (Junot Diaz). They’re alluded to so subtly at times that I was able to redeem myself at my imaginary dinner party and bring something new to the table.


Meandering, uncategorizable plot. There’s bits and pieces of haunting realism mixed in with supernatural allusions. The first part lags, and while part two luckily warms up – it then feels like a sprint to the finish line (which I felt was a wholly anticlimactic ending).

Depressing. Everyone is kind of just fucked for the whole story. I’m not ruining it for you – the title alone describes the hopelessness of Oscar’s situation. You spend most of the novel just feeling bad for half the characters and pissed off at the other half, for a myriad of reasons, and not in a redeeming way.

So, soooo much Spanish. Not in the kind of intriguing, ethnic authenticity way but in the needed-Google-translate-to-get-through-half-the-dialogue way. And sometimes I was too fatigued to look up the translations and would end up skipping over full sentences. This is probably the main reason why I likely didn’t get as much out of this story as a native Spanish speaker might. Who knows, there might be some magical hidden element that flew right over my head.

In conclusion…if you’re really into Dominican Republic history and culture, if you speak fluent Spanish slang, if you like strong female characters who are constantly getting the short end of the stick by either disappointing or tragic males, if you like mildly bumming yourself out over hopeless fictional situations, this is the book for you. For me, I’ll stick with my “meh” and move on.

BOOK REVIEW // Gone Girl

gone-girl-book-coverAs if I wasn’t already leery, this book makes me completely horrified of getting married.  I mean, it’s terrifying.  Not just in the murder-mystery sense – but also in its very realistic depiction of how two seemingly happy and well-matched partners can fall out of love and slide effortlessly into resentment and, eventually, hate.

Gone Girl is a novel about an intriguing woman, Amy Dunne, who disappears from her house under ominous circumstances the day of her 5-year wedding anniversary.  As the reader, you are carried through events beginning with her disappearance from the point of view of her husband, Nick, as well as back through time via entries from Amy’s diary.  You learn from both characters about how they met and fell deeply in love – and also how that love gradually soured (as it so often tends to do AMIRITE?).  It’s equal parts suspenseful, mysterious thriller and depressing (/at times hilarious) commentary on the state of present-day marriage.  It’s difficult to review this story without giving too much away…but suffice to say it’s a definite page-turner.  At times a little scary in the literally-scary way, but mostly scary in Flynn’s heartbreaking accuracy of how good love can go dangerously bad.

It’s fascinating to hear the same situations told from two glaringly different perspectives, and made me ruminate on the way that disparity is often exhibited in real-life couples.  I found myself sympathizing with both characters; having trouble knowing what to believe, or how to feel (I’m a Libra, ok).  Is Nick a psychotic villain who did away with his wife or is he a proportionately-flawed human guy in a really shitty situation?  Who is to blame for the slow decline of their happiness?  And is it ever any one person’s fault?  Well-paced and riveting, this story is so carefully crafted that even though Nick’s narrative is told first person – literally from inside his head – I STILL found myself wondering what he’s really thinking.  How does (author) Gillian Flynn do that?  So damn clever.

Anyone who’s fallen in love and then watched, in apparent helplessness, as all the things that you used to adore about the other person eventually become reasons to loathe them…it definitely hits home.  Uncomfortably so.  And as for the ending – well – suffice to say I honestly STILL don’t know how to feel…nor do I know how to talk about it without spoiling it for you.  Ok I really need to stop now but don’t take my word for it; have a read for yourself and let me know what you think (/feel – so I can copy you).


(Side note – I actually went to see the film this weekend too and while I thought it was really well-executed – (visually on-point, perfectly cast, great pacing and direction), it was difficult to watch without constantly comparing it to the novel.  To the point where it was distracting.  If you haven’t seen the movie and also want to read the book, I would give yourself some time between the experiences to be able to truly appreciate both.)

BOOK REVIEW // Outlander

outlander-book-coverI recently purchased Outlander on an errand run with my mom during an obligatory parental-hang visit.  Given the selection available in the Santa Cruz Costco’s book department (hint: lacking), this title stood out and I was intrigued enough to take it home (ok, my mom paid.  Yes, I’m a functioning adult).  I’m a newbie to both the series and the author; however, from the cover/blurb I was able to surmise that there would be not only some grand sweeping romantic narrative but also some sci-fi/fantasy sprinklings (generally a winning combo as far as I’m concerned).  I also learned in my expert judging-by-cover evaluation process that it was recently made into a TV series.  For me, that kind of endorsement is basically tantamount to a Pulitzer, so I put my faith in the content programming producers over at Starz and don’t entirely regret the decision.

Outlander is a book about a woman from the mid 20th century, Claire Randall, who through an inexplicable encounter with a standing stone circle on a hill, finds herself thrust upon the Scottish highlands on the cusp of the 18th century Jacobite Rising.  The story combines interesting historical references with political intrigue, gratuitous romance, and a touch of the supernatural for an all-in-all amusing read.  If you can grit your teeth and bear with slightly irritating issues in pacing, uninspired vocabulary, and general character/reference inconsistencies (as well as the run-of-the mill softcore porn sexual references), then the larger story is pleasantly enjoyable.  While I was pretty annoyed with the aforementioned concerns pretty much the entire time, I found myself simultaneously really wanting to know what would happen next.

Ultimately I’d say that while Outlander didn’t change my life, I was entertained and intrigued enough to order the second novel in the series (Dragonfly in Amber) before reaching the final pages.  I’ll hold off on absolute judgment on whether to commit to the full series until the end of Book 2, but in the meantime, this was perfect for a week of evenings on the couch at home with the parents, bottle glass in hand.