The Inheritance Games by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

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Sorry for the extremely long hiatus, but I’ve been feeling extra overwhelmed lately. I’m stressed, tired, and constantly grumpy. All in all, I’m never in the mood to pick up a book. And, again, I don’t want to get into the habit of reading for the sake of posting. I don’t give books a fair shot when I’m in a horrible mood. Plus, I genuinely love reading and never want it to feel like a chore. 

Sadly, life’s just been a lot lately. I’m always finding myself more ready to go to bed than to pick up a book. Even the idea of turning a page seems like too much some days. The coronavirus lockdown is finally starting to wear me down and, given the recent uptick in cases in the United States, I’m not sure those feelings will go away. I live in New York and it seems like Governor Cuomo is getting ready to shut us back down. I understand why, but it’s not really making it any easier to deal with. It feels like the holidays might be very, very difficult for everyone. We’ll all get through it, but it’s hard to think about right now. 

But, at least for the day, I wanted to get back to normal. 

When I finally got to the last page of Catching Fire oh-so long ago, I started exploring the Amazon Kindle store for new reads. I knew I wanted a short break from The Hunger Games universe – even as short as a day or two. Even though that small break turned into a much longer one, I started it off right with an absolutely amazing book: The Inheritance Games by Jennifer Lynn Barnes. 

And, yes, to be honest, I chose the book because I knew that, at the very least, the title being so similar to The Hunger Games would be super amusing. I live for small jokes. But even now, a little under a month after finishing The Inheritance Games, I’m surprised by how much I enjoyed the book. The characters were well done and entertaining, the storyline was easy to follow, and it was just a really, really good book. Even if you don’t read the rest of this review, you should immediately go purchase a copy of this book and stick your nose in it. It’s that good! 

Back of the Book ( Amazon | Goodreads )

A Cinderella story with deadly stakes and thrilling twists, perfect for fans of One of Us is Lying and Knives Out.

Avery Grambs has a plan for a better future: survive high school, win a scholarship, and get out. But her fortunes change in an instant when billionaire Tobias Hawthorne dies and leaves Avery virtually his entire fortune. The catch? Avery has no idea why–or even who Tobias Hawthorne is. To receive her inheritance, Avery must move into sprawling, secret passage-filled Hawthorne House, where every room bears the old man’s touch–and his love of puzzles, riddles, and codes.

Unfortunately for Avery, Hawthorne House is also occupied by the family that Tobias Hawthorne just dispossessed. This includes the four Hawthorne grandsons: dangerous, magnetic, brilliant boys who grew up with every expectation that one day, they would inherit billions. Heir apparent Grayson Hawthorne is convinced that Avery must be a con-woman, and he’s determined to take her down. His brother, Jameson, views her as their grandfather’s last hurrah: a twisted riddle, a puzzle to be solved. Caught in a world of wealth and privilege, with danger around every turn, Avery will have to play the game herself just to survive. 

MY TAKE ON IT

From the very first page of The Inheritance Games to the very last, I was hooked. I blame most of that feeling on Barne’s creation of a dynamic main character, Avery Grambs. Starting off the story with a description on how Avery lost her mother at a too-young age, the book quickly segwayed into a summary of Avery’s day to day life after the fact. From using chess games and parking lot poker winnings as a way to feed a homeless man in the park to a confrontation with her principal over suspiciously high chess scores, I was dying to get to know more about this character Barnes had created. How could Avery be so strong after everything she had lost? How did she ace the hardest exam in the school’s history not once, but twice? What was going on with this girl?

Avery was obviously a natural survivor and was extraordinarily intelligent. Anyone could see that from first glance. Her carefully calculated and seemingly constant assessments of risk appealed to me. Her strange combination of character traits made the idea of getting to know her practically irresistible. I didn’t want this book down until I understood Avery completely and the first one hundred pages flew by with barely a blink on my side of things. The idea of such a well-developed and engaging character blending into the background in her normal life befuddled me, but her lack of close connections made her all the more interesting to read about. 

All in all, Avery is a very, very well written main character. Perhaps one of the best I’ve ever read.

Combining the interest Avery held for me with the intrigue of the Hawthorne family fortune created a potent combination perfect for a good book. Why would the richest man in Texas leave everything to a complete and total stranger who lived states, and worlds, away? Considering that Avery spent most of her time living out of her car, it never seemed like the two would have the chance to cross paths. What about her caught the recently deceased Tobias Hawthorne’s eye? What games was he playing at? Did he even know her? Was this something she caused to occur? Was Avery up to something? Even as a reader privy to her every thought, I couldn’t be sure. 

Something about all of this made me feel The Inheritance Games would be a lot like the game ‘Clue.’ This feeling was furthered by Avery’s arrival at the Hawthorne Home, an enormous mansion with plenty of room for strange and unexpected murders to take place. Some part of me still wonders if the game is what inspired Barnes to write the book. 

And yet, within the first few chapters in, I was mostly disabused of this notion. The actual Hawthorne family themselves seemed as if they enjoyed secrets, but were practically incapable of keeping them. I expected them to be cool and detached, and they were to a certain degree. Yet, they seemed unable to stop themselves from oversharing with Avery. They might be good at riddles, but they weren’t exactly tight lipped. I had a hard time imagining them being capable of hiding murder weapons for very long.

I was also surprised at how close the entire family was. Because of the large amounts of money involved, I found myself picturing a very distanced and professional family. I was picturing their life as more of a business arrangement than a familial one. Grayson, the “heir apparent,” seemed the closest to professional, but still came across as slightly too far from that goal. He may have had the natural Hawthorne desire to bribe, threaten, and buy people out, but didn’t necessarily seem mature enough to outplay anyone. At least from first glance. 

However, these sentiments weren’t exactly to the book’s detriment. I wasn’t disappointed or upset by them, just surprised. It shook me to think that I was so very wrong about this family. It made me feel like every presumption I made should be thrown out the window and I absolutely loved that. 

Plus, I grew to admire almost every character in this book. None of them were entirely what I expected. They kept surprising me in small and big ways. You never knew what to think or who to trust. For the first half of the book, I had a hard time even trusting Avery as a reliable narrator. I’ve read too many books where the main character ends up being the bad guy to ever trust a main character blindly again! 

All in all, I just fell in love with each twist and turn in this book. At times, my predictions were correct, but I was wrong often enough to keep my interest. I loved the main characters and I loved the fact that I trusted absolutely no one to be reliable even more. I love a story that keeps me guessing more than you’d think. 

And, again, I one hundred percent recommend that you IMMEDIATELY go buy a copy of this book NOW if you haven’t read. It was so good! 

Otherworld (Last Reality Book 1) by Jason Segel and Kirsten Miller

Is it read-worth? Otherworld first came across as a balancing act gone wrong. The authors didn’t seem to be focusing on anything in particular. This cyberthriller had a boy with a Kishka criminal family, wealthy distant parents, a hard-to-contact best friend with an abusive family, and an obsession for a new video game being released… Throw in a deep, dark conspiracy theory and it was just too much for me at first. It came across as ridiculous. I couldn’t focus on anything in particular.

But, then, something happened and the pieces all started to come together. The storyline captured me and held my interest. I got to know more about Simon, the main character, and his determination to find and rescue Kat got me super invested in him as a character. I wanted him to succeed. I wanted him to be happy. Some of the action-packed fight scenes were so vivid to me that it felt like I was the one stuck in a video game. Blending the lines between virtual reality and reality-reality always interests me and this game was no exception.

And, yet, Otherworld didn’t always do what I expected it to. Certain aspects of the games evolved in ways that were entirely unexpected and even more interesting. Although this first book detailed the risks of such an intense virtual reality, I still wanted to be a part of that world. I still want to learn more about it.

In my opinion, this was the perfect start to a hopefully wonderful series about virtual reality. I loved the characters. I loved the storyline. I’m going to love reading more. 

Midnight Sun by Stephanie Meyer: THE TENSION (Ch. 21 – 22)

Is it read-worth? I’ve been really surprised by how much I’ve been enjoying these past few chapters. While Stephanie Meyer will never be my favorite author, they’re not bad! I find a lot of the new information included recently to be super interesting and it makes me think about the Twilight universe is really like.

SPOILER ALERT

Let’s start from the beginning of this section of chapters: I’ve never fully understood the purpose of Billy Black’s visit to Charlie that day. What was he really going to say to him? That Edward Cullen is a bloodsucking vampire and Charlie’s daughter should avoid him? I can only imagine that that would go brilliantly for him. Charlie definitely wouldn’t think that Billy had lost his mind. 

Or was he just coming to warn Bella? It seemed like they knew each other quite well, but not really that well. After all, Bella had only rarely visited her father growing up. She preferred the warmth of Phoenix over Forks. Could he really be that close to her? 

I just don’t particularly understand Billy. I wonder if he showed up at Charlie’s wanting to do something to make sure Bella was okay without any real game plan in mind. Bringing Charlie some fried fish was obviously just an excuse to stop by. 

Of course, it is rather sweet that Billy wanted to protect Bella. It probably scared the heck out of him to imagine her spending time with a vampire. Wanting to protect her from a creature he views as highly dangerous is entirely admirable, especially considering his limited ability to protect himself from vampires. 

Plus, it is easy to understand his sense of revulsion towards the Cullens. Who in their right mind would want to date a bloodsucker? Vampires are violent creatures that kill humans. In his eyes, there could be nothing worse.

But I did enjoy the fact that, after he realized the extent of Bella’s knowledge, he knew there was nothing he could say to change her mind. As a father, Billy probably had a lot of experience with stubborn teenage girls. You can’t convince them of anything; they’re always right. I know this because I was one. Admitting that he would have to wait until later on to do something about Bella’s relationship with Edward showed a lot of self control. 

I do also wonder how Billy Black really felt when he received Carlisle’s call. I wonder how many nights the poor man lay awake worrying about what the return of vampires would mean for his people. How could he protect everyone without the werewolves around? How could he prevent the Cullens from drinking blood? How could he trust vampires? Billy probably had no idea how to make the Cullens adhere to the specifics of their treaty. 

More than that, the poor man almost definitely didn’t even think that their legends were all true. It had apparently been hundreds of years since werewolves had walked their woods. Similarly to Jacob, Billy probably thought the stories about them were fictitious and possibly even ridiculous. Everyone knows vampires don’t exist! The horror of finding out that the horror stories from his people’s past were one hundred percent true probably bothered him. I can’t imagine finding out that my family’s folklore is all true. 

I hate the way Edward reacts to Billy’s thought processes and emotions. For someone who is always talking about how much he hates vampires and thinks that they’re terrible monsters, it’s absolutely laughable that Billy’s reaction to them would aggravate him. What a hypocrite! It’s unbelievable that Edward feels justified in hating his own species, but Billy’s not allowed to for the very same reasons. His description of the Quileute Tribe being Billy’s “cronies” also felt reductive. The Tribe deserves better than that. Edward needs to check himself. 

And shouldn’t he find Billy’s desire to protect Bella endearing? Edward is constantly going on and on about how fragile Bella is. He is worried about her literally all the time. Why wouldn’t he want all the help he can get? 

Well, the answer to that is simple: because if Billy protects Bella from him then Bella would be out of his control. Everything Edward does in regards to Bella is about controlling her. He doesn’t let her make her own decisions ever. Even when she has ideas later in the chapter on how to prevent disaster, his word is the last say. He really drives me up the wall. 

I have very little to say about events leading up to the baseball game. Of course, I found some scenes minutely interesting. Small details like Charlie’s instinctual reaction to meeting Edward, Rosalie tearing her hand away from Esme, and Alice’s excitement in running towards Bella were all perfectly nice details to include. But there was nothing in them that’s super interesting to think about. I guess the most interesting thing about those scenes is that Bella is completely missing a gut reaction to vampires. She has no sense of self preservation! 

It starts to pick up again soon thereafter though. When Alice has her initial vision about the vampire coven changing their direction to head towards the baseball game, that’s when you know things are about to get good. 

Seeing this scene develop from Edward’s perspective was actually more interesting than I expected. In the original Twilight book, I never really thought that they actually considered having Edward escape with Bella on their back. I thought it was just a momentary consideration, not something Alice envisioned potentially going wrong. I loved the tension in these scenes. It made me more interested in what was to come.

I was very excited to begin chapter two. In the beginning, I really enjoyed the fact that the newcomers were not fully capable of appreciating the true size of the Cullen family. They assumed that they were made up of two or three friendly covens meeting for a game, not one large group of vampires. It felt exciting to be in on the secret! 

Laurent’s initial attraction towards Rosalie was also funny. Of course he wondered if she was mated already! She’s gorgeous. I wonder how Emmett would have reacted had he known about Laurent’s thought process. 

Victoria’s internal dialogue was fascinating as well. I had never imagined her as having such a nervous energy about her. In the movies in particular she had always come across as extraordinarily confident. Her sense of self preservation was everything I had been missing in Bella, funnily enough. They were obviously made to be foils of each other.

Realizing the true extent to Jasper’s skill completely absorbed all of my attention after that though. The fact that he can camouflage himself with his skill is very cool. He is covered with battle scars on every potion of his body. He is a warrior, even more threatening than Emmett. The fact that they don’t notice him is remarkable. Making anyone who gazes at him unbearably bored with him is extremely impressive and such a useful thing for their group. It is even more impressive that he can extend this level of protection to Esme, Alice, and Bella at the same time. If a fight broke out, the three encroaching vampires would have no idea what they were up against. 

James, as a character, has more depth to him than I thought. His sense of excitement over the challenge of hunting Bella is almost childlike in nature. I find his high level of emotions intoxicating compared to the monotony we usually encounter in the Twilight series. He is completely present in the moment, ready to fully feel every emotion that passes through him. He is easily provoked and volatile. Based on his description, I want to know more about him. Why does the hunt bring him so much pleasure? What was his past like? What was he like as a mortal? What makes a tracker a tracker? 

I love the concept of vampire trackers after reading how James feels about tracking. It made me so more curious about the Twilight series than I was. I mean I always wanted to know more about Alistair in the original series, but learning more about James has only made me more curious. I couldn’t comprehend the extent of James’ excitement and I wonder how it extends to Alistair’s ability as a tracker. Alistair comes across as so serious that I wonder if he feels the same glee while tracking. Probably not, but it would be kind of funny if he did. 

 Alice’s visions for the options moving forward did suggest that there was one way for them to avoid having James hunt them. I do wonder why Edward didn’t consider the option of turning Bella for even a second, but I am not surprised. He is such a control freak that he would never have even given her the option. His religious beliefs would prevent him from letting her turn into a vampire. I find it annoying. It should be Bella’s choice if that’s the route she wants to take. 

I feel like these past few chapters have been very interesting compared to the tedious beginning of this book. It’s still not my favorite book in the world, but I love being able to feel some level of excitement to keep reading. It’s been so rare that I don’t have to drag myself back to this book! I’m genuinely looking forward to seeing what happens next, particularly if it’s all new scenes of what Edward did while separated from Bella.

Rich People Problems by Kevin Kwan (Crazy Rich Asians #3)

Is it read-worth? I loved this book. It was the perfect way to wrap up the series. But I do have a lot of unanswered questions… maybe another book would help? I personally would not mind at all!

Summary (Spoiler Free)

When Nicholas’s grandmother, Su Yi, is on her deathbed – the entire Shang-Young clan rushes to be by her bedside. In part, because some of the family members do genuinely love her. But many of them are fantasizing about getting the keys to Tyersall Park and are hoping that being by her side will put them in her will. Nicholas is even blocked from entering the park to make sure he can’t visit Su Yi! 

At the same time this is all happening, Astrid is caught in the center of a whole lot of drama. She’s desperately in love with Charlie Wu, but they’re being relentlessly tormented by his ex-wife and her soon-to-be ex-husband. Her reputation and her romance with Charlie are on the line. 

Meanwhile, Kitty Pong has married Jack Bing, Colette from last book’s father. She’s trying to rise to the top of society, but is encountering block after block after block due to her past behavior and Colette’s popularity in certain circles.

My Take Is…

I loved it! Kwan really hit his stride last book and I absolutely loved the way he finished this book.

Astrid, as always, was my darling. I loved her part of the story and I felt so BAD FOR HER with how often Michael and Isabella were treating her like garbage. I couldn’t imagine facing the attacks she had to!

And I really did love getting to know Su Yi. She was such a strong, powerful woman for her time and seeing her character really shine in this book was my favorite part. 

All in all, I’d give the series as a whole a four. The last two books really saved the first one and made it worth the read. And, on an even brighter note, I am so excited to see the movie!

But I Do Have Some Unanswered Questions… (Spoiler Alert)

Yet, there were some things Kwan just failed to address. Maybe you guys can help me with my unanswered questions?

  • What is up with Nick’s parents? I didn’t understand the point of the flashbacks to their fights and problems unless they were going to be explained (I know that it showed how Nick and Su Yi have a good relationship.) Did Eleanor cheat on Philip? Did they get a divorce or separate for a while? Is Nick truly Philip’s son or is it the man Eleanor cheated with?
  • How did no one know that they weren’t inheriting money? 
  • What happened with Fiona and Eddie in the bedroom? Did she hit him or did he just a mental breakdown? Their relationship was so confusing in general. Eddie was such a jerk the entire series.

Midnight Sun by Stephanie Meyer: Edward’s Perception of Bella (Ch. 2 – 5)

Is it read-worth? So far, it’s still a definite no. I have too many problems with Edward and Bella’ relationship and somehow they’re all worse in Midnight Sun than they were in the original series. I’m just really not enjoying it so far. I wish that Meyer had used her platform in a better way, not to promote such unhealthy versions of teenage relationships, romantic and otherwise.

Photo: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers sourced on the Den of Geek Blog

SPOILER ALERT: I find it curious that Edward is so condescending towards Mike’s perception of Bella when his own perception of her is equally as delusional. He spends these few chapters I’ve just read agonizing over his own relationship with Bella, trying to avoid her, and, then, listening in to her interactions with the people around her, primarily people who are romantically interested in her. Is his obsession with her because of Alice’s vision? Perhaps he knows he will love her one day so he can’t help but pay attention. Or is it because he wants to have more material to punish himself with every time the smell of her blood makes him want to kill her?

I feel like I’ve made my own perspective on Edward’s relationship with Bella very apparent these past few blog posts. I’m just not super impressed with as a role model relationship for the young women who read these books. It’s creepy and weird. I think the only real reason that Edward is so deeply attracted to her is because he wants to punish himself for being a vampire. He wants to feel like a monster. He wants to hate himself. He wants to continue this cycle of self pity and self hatred that he has experienced throughout the last century of his existence. He wants to obsess over her, even love her, to the detriment of himself.

If Stephanie Meyer played up on that, I’d probably like these books better. If she played up the storyline of a creepy, obsessive, self-hating vampire stalker that follows a human girl around, it would be an extremely interesting series. It would be a totally different series. But she doesn’t. Instead, she makes it sound like this is the epitome of romance. It’s not. I don’t love it. I don’t want women to enter relationships that look like this and think that their partner’s less than savory behavior is because they’re in love with them. Romance should not involve obsession. It should not involve listening in to every conversation you have. It should not involve stalking.

Anyways, I find Edward’s perspective to be extremely hypocritical throughout these chapters of Midnight Sun. He mocks Mike for not noticing the little things he notices about Bella, such as her going out of her way to avoid confrontation or trying to help people who are experiencing awkward social interactions. He laughs that Mike is trying to make Bella into something she’s not, something more like himself.

Meanwhile, Edward totally misses the point that he’s doing the same exact thing. His view of Bella is through similar rosepainted glasses. Edward wants to see a girl who is so perfect and undeserving of death that he can further perpetuate his cycle of self hate with their image. He wants a girl who smells so good that he wants to kill her, but who is kind and caring and selfless and generous. He wants perfection to accentuate his own imperfections. If he was ever with her, he could continue hating himself for delaying the life of someone so perfect. As he does throughout the original books. He could also never stop hating himself for wanting to kill her. If he changes her, he would never stop hating himself, at least in part, for that. The perfect person for Edward is the one that makes him feel unworthy, like a monster.

I wouldn’t mind any of that if not for the fact that it feels like Meyer, the author, doesn’t see the hypocrisy in his behavior. She makes it feel like Edward’s unique perspective of Bella is the real one. I think she genuinely believes that Bella is perfectly selfish, unique, and so much different than other teenage girls. The fact that she isn’t that different from anyone else, and that Edward is so condescending towards others perceptions of her, is really what bothers me about that scenario. The entire book belittles normal people, calling attention to and complimenting people who strive to be different than the average person. Bella is better than her friends because she is so much more mature, quiet, and kind to others. Edward is better than others because he doesn’t have such mundane, teenage thoughts.

And this is neither here nor there, but I’m really getting sick and tired of this whole “I’m not like other girls” perspective that books like Twilight and Midnight Sun spread throughout young female readers. People try to act like it’s a compliment to girls to not be like other girls. When I was young, hearing phrases like these made me feel special. I felt like I was better than the people around me. I am unique because I’m not like them. They’re all the same. I’m not

But I wasn’t better than the people around me and those thoughts I was having, which were being encourage by popular media, were actually extremely destructive for myself and for the women around me. It’s okay, even fantastic, to be like other girls. You should not have to be different from them to be amazing. They’re amazing too.

Having thousands of girls strive to adopt a unique persona that separates them from each other is socially destructive. It’s harder for girls to form real relationships with each other. It’s hard on their self esteem to be constantly questioning what they themselves actually like. It’s hard for them to believe in themselves and others when they’re constantly looking down on their own femininity and trying to avoid being similar to other women. By creating and spreading the idea that women have to be “not like other girls,” you’re impacting their ability to just be themselves. 

You are also creating deeply ingrained ideas of misogyny and internalized hatred towards women and femininity. Essentially, by encouraging this unhealthy mindset throughout almost all of the Twilight series, Meyers is helping create misogynists who don’t even know they’re misogynistic. I wish that she had avoided doing so, particularly when it comes to the characters that surround Bella.

Jessica, as a character, is perhaps the worst example of this. Throughout these chapters and the couple of opening ones, Edward discusses her thoughts only in negative ways. Jessica is only mean, jealous, and selfish. She only has mean, jealous, and selfish thoughts. She is a stereotypical mean girl with no depth of character. It would have been well-received to see someone who is only described as terrible have at least one kind thought. Even the meanest of girls are not always mean. It would have been well-received for one moment where she acted out of character at least to detract from this idea that only girls who are different from the norm have value.

That idea also comes into play throughout Edward’s interactions with Rosalie these past few chapters. Meyer’s description of Rosalie only makes her out to be a callous, self-centered individual with deeply shallow thoughts. Rosalie may be mean to the people around her at times, but she is worth so much more than such a lacking personality. She is a survivor of violent assault. She is deeply wounded by her inability to be a mother. She loves Emmett and her family very much. She is not just a “shallow pool of water.” She is so much more and deserves so much more from Edward and the author.

What also annoyed me about these chapters was that, after rejecting Mike’s perspective of Bella as a person, Edward then went on to feel annoyance at Mike’s own feelings of possessiveness towards Bella. I understand that possessive men are annoying, trust me, but coming from Edward? It’s ridiculous. Mike’s version of possessiveness towards Bella is a hundred times healthier than Edward’s. Edward literally goes on to stalk Bella. He follows her around. He analyses her interactions with people. He sneaks into her bedroom to watch her sleep. He’s a freaking creep. None of this is romantic.

For a book whose target market is young women, I don’t feel like these past few chapters were healthy reads. They spread horribly misogynistic ideas. They describe a relationship characterized by stalking and the dismissal of the people around them. They are cruel to average people, particularly teen girls. I really didn’t enjoy them. But on to the next ones! 

Picture Perfect by Jodi Picoult

Is it read-worth? This book was beautiful and I could not put it down. I felt Cassie’s love. I felt her sorrow. I felt her pain. And I’ve never been more proud of a character for changing her life in such a simple way. Yet, this book, so beautiful because of the complex and abusive relationship at the center of it, was made lacking because of the moments where Jodi Picoult tried to “spice up” that central story line. Cassie and Alex’s relationship should have remained at the center of it all. Stereotypical views of modern Native American culture seemed trite in the face of their relationship. With that, Picoult completely missed the mark. 

A Little Bit of Background (Spoiler Alert!!)

In the beginning of Picture Perfect, Cassie is found by an L.A. police officer, William Flying Horse, near a local graveyard. She is suffering from amnesia, cannot remember her own name, and is completely lost. 

Needless to say she’s surprised to find that she’s an extremely successful anthropologist married to the one and only, Hollywood beloved actor – Alex Rivers. 

Alex Rivers is a hollywood legend. Everyone loves him. His coworkers, his fans, and his wife. Everyone seems to be obsessed with him and because of their unending love, he gives them what he thinks they want: A perfect man with a perfect wife and a perfect job. He has everything he could ever want.

And when Cassie is reunited with him she’s shocked by it all. The gorgeous, sprawling mansion with a staff. She’s shocked by their famous friends. She has such a hard time taking it in to the point where it almost feels fake. 

In part, that’s because it is. 

Cassie and Alex were both raised by abusive, neglectful parents. Their childhood was shaped by alcohol and low self esteem. Alex was left feeling unloved and develops an overall sense of self-loathing. Cassie’s family left her feeling alone, even in the face of the death of her best friend Connor who seems to haunt her thoughts throughout the book. They both need love at any and all costs, but neither really know what love looks like. 

Alex Rivers beats his wife. Cassie blames herself for it. 

She hides from public eyes, constantly makes excuses for his bad behavior, and neglects her own needs and wants in favor of his. Cassie always forgives Alex and, more than that, she’s always there for him. Even when he’s never there for her. 

Cassie remembers that she left Alex in order to protect the pregnancy and was beaten half to death as a result, resulting in her unfortunately timed amnesia. Once she remembers, she doesn’t know what to do. 

Alex turning violent again makes her decision for her and she decides she must, once again, leave him. Cassie flees from Alex to take refuge on a Native American reservation. She hides from her husband for months and slowly falls in love with the land and the people she stays with. 

But, eventually, all things come to an end and she returns home with her newly born child, Connor. They hold a press-conference announcing the birth and dismissing any fears over her lack of public appearances.

To the press, they seem like the picture perfect family. 

But that’s all it is. It’s just a picture. 

All too soon, Alex turns violent once more- unable to maintain his facade in the face of a newborn child, rebuilding his career after accusations over his wife’s disappearance leave him shackled and his last movie’s failure, and an unwillingness to get help for his problems. 

He beats her with the baby in the room next to them. 

But this time she makes a commitment. The normal quiet, devoted Cassie makes an announcement in front of the media that her husband of three years, the beloved Hollywood star, beats her. She shows the world her bruises and makes no excuses for his behavior.

And the entire time, Alex is standing in the crowd looking at her with complete understanding in his eyes. 

What Makes the Book (Spoilers!)

This book is made by that last scene where Cassie pulls up her shift in front of a crowd of people, shows them the bruises that frame her ribcage, and almost begs them to understand that she’s been abused. Her love for Alex and her love for her child are the most prevalent in this one closing scene and it’s what makes the book so completely powerful.

She says it herself: she can’t make herself not love Alex, but she must make him hate her. Turning the press against him, possibly ruining his career in the process, is her only path forward and the fact that she commits to it so completely is awe-inspiring. 

It gives me, and hopefully other survivors of abuse, hope. 

She is an abuse victim who manages to de-victimize herself and take action against those who would continue to hurt her. She changes her own life without asking anyone for permission. This is the only part of the book where she is not running and hiding from her problems, but confronting them head on. 

And it’s beautiful. 

I also love the fact that this book included such a complex viewpoint of abusive relationships. The nature of the emotions can be so puzzling to get through and Jodi Picoult navigates them beautiful. 

She shows the classic enabler in Cassie. Someone who is willing to make excuses for another’s behavior and even blame themselves for the abuse. And she also shows the typical actions of an abusive partner. Alex Rivers may beat his wife, but, in the moments afterwards, he is so completely filled with regret. He cries, he buys her lavish gifts, he professes his love, and he gives her the grandest moments. 

Picoult shows the ups and downs of an abusive relationship so well. 

And, yet, she makes this example easier (emotionally) to read. How? Because this story, while so similar to so many people, is still so different. Alex is a star in Hollywood and his cycles of abuse are directly related to the roles he plays. This gives the book an interesting twist to a classic story and, somehow, makes the scenes of abuse a little less gruesome. They’re great ways to relate to an experience or overcome similar experiences you’ve had, but, at the same time, the chances of them being your exact experience are slim. It is clear to the reader that they are not Cassie and that their partner is not Alex. It makes the scenes less scary, but without compromising the necessary realism found within them. 

But, to be perfectly honest, it’s that complex relationship that is the ONLY thing I value in this book. 

What I Could Do Without (Spoilers!)

And, yet, while all of those parts of the book are beautiful- some parts of the storyline feel unnecessary, stereotypical, and just miss the mark for me.

Including the Native American culture as Cassie’s saving point was the primary example of that. In no way do I mean to devalue that unique culture, but the way Picoult includes pieces of it does just that. 

I don’t feel like I get to know anything beyond stereotypes. One Native American man dies because of alcohol abuse, another is obsessed with a white woman, a savage ritual of self-harm was performed, and the legends included are simultaneously over discussed and under-utilized. 

If Cassie was supposed to learn something from the Native Americans, I completely missed the point. It just seemed like Picoult was reaching for a more interesting place for her to escape to and decided to choose a culture most readers don’t directly experience without reason. I would love her to write a better book where Native American culture is further discussed, she is fully capable of doing so, but this book did the culture no justice and it just felt misplaced. 

And I also found myself disappointed in the way Alex and Cassie fell in love. They knew each other for such a short period of time, had such little emotional connection in the beginning, and set unrealistic expectations for similar whirlwind romances. For him, I could blame it on him acting the part of his character. (They fell in love when he was performing in a movie as an archaeologist and she just happened to be nearby.) But her love for him confused me? In the beginning, Cassie seemed so strong. She didn’t take his crap. She didn’t encourage strong behavior. And, yet, she fully accepted early on that he was going to abuse her and she was going to take it. 

While I love the complex view of a complex problem of abuse, I don’t know if their emotional ties were truly strong enough to justify her staying to begin with. The view of the abuse was eye-opening, but the fact that Cassie so completely fell in love with Alex in such a short period of time before the abuse started that she wouldn’t have left him for it left me confused. 

Overall Review

Overall, I’d still recommend reading this book. I love Picoult’s style of writing and I love looking deeper into serious problems in our society. Being given an inspirational moment where an abused woman escapes her abuser is magical. But I’d keep in mind that some of the side stories are misplaced and shouldn’t have been included.

My 3 Most Recently Read Books

I’ve been reading a lot lately, probably 1-3 books a day for the past few weeks. And I’ve had the good fortune of reading a lot of very good books! Below is the list of my 3 most recently read books and whether or not they’re worth looking into. I will warn you though – I’ve been reading a lot of dystopian fiction lately.

  1. The Program by Suzanne Young – Yes! This book is part of a larger series and is worth checking out if you enjoy young adult dystopian fiction. Its take on our pressure cooker society and how it impacts suicide among young adults is very interesting. Of course, these problems are exacerbated by “The Program” in the book that wipes the memories of suicidal teenagers and therefore “cures” their mental illnesses. However, I would note that this first book is way better than the second book in the series. Like many other dystopian novels, the story-line tends to get more far fetched the more you read. I would have rather focused more on mental illness and the lasting impacts of suicide than on what appears to be the standard rebellion / love triangle template many dystopian fictions follow. I haven’t read beyond the second book so far, but hopefully will soon.
  2. The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa and translated by Stephen Snyder – 100% yes. I recently reread this book and was struck once again by how beautiful it is. Another piece of dystopian fiction, The Memory Police is well written and the ideas behind the piece stick with you long after you put the book down. It explores how the things around you impact your sense of self and your ability to interact in the world. As the story progresses, the main character loses everything around her from rose petals to calendars. As this happens, she loses pieces of herself. The prose itself is exceedingly elegant, especially considering it is a translated work. This book is simultaneously very informative and descriptive, and yet vague enough to remain mysterious from beginning to end. However, if you enjoy books with clean endings and explicit explanations for the events that take place, this may not be the piece for you. It contains a lot of symbolism and does not leave with you a lot of explanations. The Memory Police leaves you with the sense that you gazed too long at a piece of art and are still musing on what it means.
  3. All Rights Reserved by Gregory Scott Katsoulis – This book starts off so well and finishes in the just okay section of the world. The concept of paying for the words you speak and the gestures you use as a result of strict patenting laws is a terrifying one. Communication is next to impossible. For the main character, Speth Jime, it is impossible. This book makes you really think about how often you speak and the words you use. However, the faults come in when it departs from the difficulties of Speth’s journey in non-communication and segways into an action-packed story of rebellion. The consequence? It loses its charm and most of my interest. I would still check it out, but only for the large amount of interest I have in its overall concept.

A Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

Is it read-worth? Maybe it’s because a lot of old-school writers prioritize big words over big moments, but I just couldn’t relate to the characters in this book and that was one of the most important parts of being able to understand the concepts it presents. The complexity, the horror, the total abandonment of most modern morals… This book is a mental exercise in understanding the dangers presented by technology and by the very human desire for happiness. Do I recommend it? Yes, absolutely. It’s not the most readable book out there, but I still somehow loved it. And more than that I absolutely love talking about this book.

This following review does not contain any spoilers (rare for me).

My Summary of the Book

It’s really hard to summarize a book that has so many complex ideas running throughout it so, instead of summarizing the book itself, I’m going to summarize the ideas at the heart of it. 

The Brave New World is our world in the future where science is used to guarantee that everyone in every part of the world is happy all the time. Pleasure is the number one commodity, above all else, and progress is meaningless unless it is only intended for promoting pleasure.

But the only way to make sure everyone is happy all the time is to control everything. 

The Brave New World, as a result, looks more like a dystopic totalitarian society than something any of us would want to live in. Test tube babies are mass-produced so that as many people as possible look identical to one another and then genetically and physically manipulated to fill certain positions in society. Babies are given electric shocks and even poison to reinforce certain ideas or prevent them from any brain development past a certain point. Hypnotism reinforces this caste system and creates a world of Alphas, Betas, Gammas, Deltas, and Epsilons that love their lives and hate the idea of being anything else, anything more.

Being alone is discouraged. Love is forbidden. And any problems you have can be solved with a drug that gives you the sense of fulfillment and contentment you may be lacking. 

Everyone is the same and “everyone belongs to everyone else.” Drugs and forced promiscuity are what keeps everyone content. But this at the cost of free will, personal responsibility, and societal growth.

Why I Recommend It

To be honest, I completely and totally want to go more in-depth about this book, and I probably will. But there’s too much to cover to talk about it all here so I’ll probably write a couple posts about the more complex topics found in a Brave New World later on. Right now, all I’m going to explain is why it’s a good book and definitely one you should read. 

And the answer is simple: it’s still such a realistic future for our society.

Yes, yes- I know we aren’t going to be mass-producing babies, or promoting promiscuity, or start taking drugs that take years off of our lives every time we put them in our mouth just for the sake of our happiness… But we could be and, in some ways, many people already do. 

This is a great book to read if you want to have in-depth conversations about the problems that face our society. Big businesses, pleasure-seeking, the declination of old morals, suicide, and drug abuse are all very real, very modern problems. 

I know a lot of parents don’t want their children to read this, and many have even worked really hard to keep this book out of schools, but I think they may want to reconsider. Even though I don’t personally appreciate the complex language used as far as readability goes, it may be the biggest help in making these topics approachable to young adults. Nothing about this book seems sexy. It’s not something that kids will get excited about or think that they want to replicate. The language used makes the scenes in them seem horrifying, not appealing, but still make these hard-to-discuss topics approachable.  The book is not without fright, but it is a very good way to start a discussion with your students or child about the topics it brings up.

And, if you’re an adult who hasn’t read this book, I recommend that you do. It gives you very real lessons on the danger of technologies and, more than that, the dangers presented by mindless pleasure-seeking. This is a book that will make you think and everyone needs to read it.

The Good + The Bad: The Twilight Series

Is it read-worth? To be perfectly honest, I don’t know a single person my age (22) who hasn’t read The Twilight Series. Was it worth the acclaim it got? Not really. Was it an okay series? Yeah, probably.

Let’s begin with this: I honestly don’t hate the Twilight series. 

I know a lot of avid readers find the writing to be lacking and the scenarios to be cliche (and they’re not wrong), but I’ve never thought they were the worst books in the world. In fact, I used to read New Moon once every couple of months when I ran out of new books to read. I thought Jacob was one of the few realistic and entertaining characters – no offense Edward fans!

They books are simple, a lot of bit cliche, and they’re all very, very readable. The Twilight series is designed to be a series of page-turners and Stephanie Meyers collects all the features of a good page turner. The books are dramatic, relatable at times, and there’s death, drama, romance, and some pretty interesting side stories going on. 

But, with that being said, I don’t think Bella Swan or her relationship with Edward are examples we should be setting for high school students falling in love. This book targets that age ground between 13 and 20 and, especially for younger girls, they’re not the best example. 

The book may be a good, easy read with a (sometimes) compelling storyline, especially at first glance, but it also has a lot of downsides that I’m not sure can be reconciled.

The Good and the Bad

It’s confusing to say I don’t hate this book, but that I do hate the main characters and the relationship that they have. 

Stephanie Meyers just isn’t a bad writer in my opinion. Her book, The Host, is one of my all-time-favorite books and I like her simplistic style. Many people she over describes at some points, but I don’t mind that either. Sometimes I want a book that over describes things to me.  I particularly enjoy world building.

And there’s a lot of attention-catching scenes in the Twilight series. The things that happen to Bella Swan, the almost deaths and accidents that target her, keep your attention throughout the book and make it easy to read. The only problem with those scenes is that Bella herself is a super boring, lackluster character who is only really defined by her own lack of self esteem and her obsession with Edward. 

Even when she almost dies, like at least once every book, it’s all about Edward. 

I’d honestly cry a river if I could. Anyone who’s so focused on their boyfriend while they’re getting brutally murdered needs to get professional help, not be turned into an eighteen year old vampire who will spend all of eternity obsessing over said boyfriend to the storyline’s detriment. 

But, anyways, back to the good: I do like all the other characters. Unlike Bella and Edward, characters like Alice, Jacob, Jasper, Dr. Cullen, and Rosalie all have interesting stories, attitudes, personalities. They’re realistic human beings who aren’t stuck in a little bubble. Even Jessica, who is a total teenage stereotype, has more personality than the stale piece of toast that is Bella Cullen. 

And I love them for their personalities and, more than that, I love a lot of the characters because they’ve turned themselves into survivors and not victims. 

Dr. Cullen found a way to survive without drinking human blood when he was turned and didn’t spend years whining about what a bad person he is like Edward does constantly. 

Jasper was in a violent vampire war (okay, a little bit of an ugh here) and was one of the most vicious vampires on Earth until he realized he couldn’t handle being a monster and became a better person. He searched out a better life for himself and found it. 

Rosalie Hale survived rape and assault at the hands of her own fiance before being turned into a vampire and, yet, was still capable of finding love. Her personality is abrasive and unforgiving. She feels real.

All of these characters are more intricate and just better written than Bella and Edward. They aren’t as completely self centered and have extremely interesting backgrounds. Maybe they’re just better overall because they aren’t so singularly focused on their own relationship to the exclusion of all else. 

In any case, they’re what makes the story fun to read. These books would be nothing without some interesting characters. 

Unhealthy Relationships

But, like I said before, Bella and Edward aren’t those interesting characters we need or want in a book. 

Bella Swan is a weak girl and, because of her own lack of self esteem, she is absolutely obsessed with being in love with Edward to the exclusion of all other people. She doesn’t maintain great relationships with her friends and, at the end of the series, she’s even okay with letting her parents spend the rest of their lives thinking she died than live without Edward.

In a nutshell, she’s that girl you tried to be friends with in school who always said no when you asked her to hangout because she has plans with her boyfriend.  And, while at times I literally was that girl, I don’t necessarily think that girl should be used as an example of real love.

Yet, it would still be fine with me if her relationship with Edward was anything to be impressed by.

Which it’s obviously not. 

Why? Because their relationship, to me, doesn’t come off as beautiful.  It’s not amazing. It’s not something to envy at all.

And it didn’t deserve to be made into a movie that made millions of girls go “wow I wish that was me.” 

I know for some people Edward and Bella have some beautiful star crossed lover/Romeo & Juliet appeal, but for me their relationship just seems unhealthy, sad, pathetic, abusive, dismal. 

Even weak obsessive Bella Swan is unhealthy for Edward, a guy who seems to get off on hating himself for being a vampire. She is clingy, obsessive, and he literally wants to kill her 24/7. 

For a man who is hell bent on hating himself for being a vampire, she is the perfect punishment for being one.

He doesn’t want to kill humans, she puts him a situation where it’s almost impossible to resist and where he can’t even tell how she’s reacting to him, he decides to fall in love with her, and he is in pain almost every second he manages not to kill her. 

Does he really love her or does he just love having another excuse to think he’s a monster? 

Honestly I’m really not sure because even in the end, when she became a vampire, he didn’t genuinely want her to become one. He thought it would take her soul away and destroy her chances of going to Heaven – one of the main reasons he hates himself so much. For over one hundred years, Edward thought this and Bella seems to think a quick redirection on her side will change a belief system he’s held for more than most humans are alive. 

Does Edward change Bella into a vampire because he genuinely loves her (lacking) personality or is he just coming up with a more long-term reason to continue with the self-hate and brooding his personality is defined by?

Romance at its finest or just messed up? I think my opinion is pretty obvious. 

And, then, we look at the other side and why Edward shouldn’t be what girls go looking for. 

His “love” for Bella is just as obsessive as her love for him, but is a million times creepier and more abusive.  He’s a stalker.

Message to all girls: an over-controlling guy who has to actively keep himself from murdering you probably isn’t the best boyfriend material. Neither is someone who thinks he’s always right and acts super condescending towards you.

And he does this on multiple occasions. He secludes her from her father and friends, forbids her from seeing Jacob, and at one point he even wrecks her car so she can’t be around other people. He even mentally checks in on the people she talks to so, when she’s not around him directly, he stills knows exactly what she’s doing, exactly who she’s with, and exactly what they think about her. 

Other than that controlling behavior he shows directly, you may also want to consider leaving someone who causes you to be attacked and almost die multiple times.

Dying isn’t romantic. 

Murder shouldn’t be romanticized. 

Abusive relationships where a man tries to control your every action is NOT romantic. 

Bella is delusional to think that dying because of love, especially recent love where you’ve known your boyfriend for less than a year, is something that is desirable and telling other young girls that this is a good option for them is crazy. 

Plus, sneaking into someone’s house to watch them sleep is also NOT romantic. 

It’s creepy and weird. If someone sneaks into your house and watches you sleep, you should not end up marrying them. You should probably break up with them, call the cops, and maybe even move out of the area. (All jokes aside, make police officers aware of a situation similar to this. Their hands are usually tied, but you want situations similar to Edward’s relationship with Bella on public record.)

And, beyond all of the mental abuse, Edward is physically abusive. 

He hauls Bella around when he think she can’t handle something, shoves her so hard in a scene with Jasper to the point where she needs stitches, and breaks a headboard and seriously injures every inch of Bella’s body during sex. 

Edward is incapable of controlling his actions and physically wounds Bella during multiple scenes and yet… it’s all justified… as him being a vampire? 

That sounds like an excuse from someone who is in an abusive relationship, not like a real reason. And, even if that is the real reason, that vampires genuinely can’t control their own violence, why would Bella blindly accept that? 

Just because you love someone doesn’t mean you should allow them to hurt you. Even if someone can’t help but hurt you, they are still hurting you, you are still at risk, and you should still leave them. Your life has value. Your pain has value. Do not let someone devalue you because you love them. That is not healthy.

Stalkerish, abusive behavior should NOT be romanticized throughout this book. There’s no character that completely calls out this behavior and Bella never stops a second to think about what she’s doing with her life. Jacob tries to, but even his reasons are more grounded in being in love with Bella than calling her and Edward out on their weird-as-hell In fact, at eighteen years old, she even decides to die for the chance to be with Edward.

How It Should Have Ended…

Reading the book is one thing, but idolizing it is another. Stephanie Meyer should have made it more clear that behavior like this in real life isn’t cute. Or maybe the movies based on this book shouldn’t have continued the romanticization of unhealthy relationships. 

In my opinion, this series should have ended when Edward realized he was unhealthy for Bella and left her. This was probably the only moment where he was doing the right thing. 

We could have focused on Bella getting better by herself and becoming a stronger person as a result. This series could have been a metaphor for how hard it can be to get out of unhealthy relationships, but how rewarding the final results can be for you. We need books that tell us that, even if we love someone, sometimes we just have to move on because it’s better for us.  No matter how romantic the story may have seemed, it needed to draw a line for its primarily young readers about the types of behavior and attitudes they should accept in their own relationships.

Instead it’s just a sad story where a lonely high school student decides she’d rather die than live without Edward, would rather ruin the rest of her parents lives than live without Edward, and would rather continue to be spineless than grow a backbone that allows her to be her own independent person instead of a shadow of Edward’s self-hate. 

Maybe if the author had called out how inappropriate, abusive, and almost pathetic this relationship is even once, I’d be able to say that the storyline isn’t so completely absurd and, instead of just liking this book as an easy read with compelling side characters, I’d actually say this a truly good book.  Her only attempts at doing so were Jacob’s negative comments and all of them were dismissed as jealousy.

That being said, the books are what they are and I still enjoy reading them. I just don’t think they should have been made into what they are. Young girls shouldn’t be left thinking that this is what love should look like. 

Love is being with someone who makes you want to be better than yourself. Edward and Bella’s unhealthy, abusive, creepy, interdependent relationship isn’t a good example of that. It isn’t healthy. It isn’t something that should be encouraged. 

And, in large part, it hurt the series. 

Plus what was up with the fact that the big battle of Breaking Dawn never actually happened? Lame. 

This is How It Always Is: A Novel by Laurie Frankel

Is it read-worth? Yes, yes, 100 times yes. It is extremely rare for me to read a book that changes me as a person and this book had a profound impact on me. This book really opened my eyes and made me want to explore all sides of a complex topic that we as a society need to consider simplifying. Everyone deserves to live the life they want to live.

Back of the book:

“This is how a family keeps a secret…and how that secret ends up keeping them.

This is how a family lives happily ever after…until happily ever after becomes complicated.

This is how children change…and then change the world.

This is Claude. He’s five years old, the youngest of five brothers, and loves peanut butter sandwiches. He also loves wearing a dress, and dreams of being a princess.

When he grows up, Claude says, he wants to be a girl.

Rosie and Penn want Claude to be whoever Claude wants to be. They’re just not sure they’re ready to share that with the world. Soon the entire family is keeping Claude’s secret. Until one day it explodes.

This Is How It Always Is is a novel about revelations, transformations, fairy tales, and family. And it’s about the ways this is how it always is: Change is always hard and miraculous and hard again, parenting is always a leap into the unknown with crossed fingers and full hearts, children grow but not always according to plan. And families with secrets don’t get to keep them forever.”

What’s my take on it?

I wasn’t raised in a family that would read this book and want to open their eyes. Most of them wouldn’t even be able to. My family prefers to keep the topic of transgenderism in the closet, prefers to either pretend transgender individuals don’t exist or that they very much so shouldn’t exist. And, while I’ve never been that vehement towards anyone who makes the decision to live their life the way they want to (why should I have that right?), the topic has always made me uncomfortable because of my family’s open discomfort and (to be honest) hatred. This book helped me feel more comfortable with a topic that has always been taboo in my household- even though it definitely shouldn’t be. It also helped me better understand people who are transgender. The world is changing for the better and every person on earth, as long as they’re not causing harm to others, should be able to live the life they want to live without judgement from others. This book is beautiful in the way that it makes Claude/Poppy’s struggle seem like a fairy-tale that everyone can relate to without forgetting the fact that many readers will have preconceived notions about the issues it discusses. I think it’s the perfect book for opening the eyes of people who have never really considered or understood how complex gender can be.

However, I feel like the book fails to incorporate a very serious problem: a lot of parents aren’t supportive of their child. Poppy is placed in a loving family that wants her to be happy at all costs. Most families would rather their child conform and wouldn’t bother to set up a safe, caring environment where Poppy could be herself (or move across the country when they encounter blatant homophobia.) Yet, that is completely forgivable. The book isn’t meant to apply to every case – just this one – and it gives parents who are struggling to deal with their own children’s changes (whatever they may be) a place to go for inspiration. And, again, that overall sense of positivity and support does lend itself quite well to the fairy-tale vibes of the story at large. It isn’t meant to cover every issue that transgender people face, but instead feels like the beginning of a larger discussion we all need to be having.