ARC Review: Would You Rather? A Memoir of Growing Up and Coming Out by Katie Heaney

ratherRelease date: March 6, 2018

Publisher: Ballantine Books

Genre: Memoir

Premise: A collection of poignant, relatable essays from the author of Never Have I Ever about coming out in her late twenties, entering into her first relationship, and figuring out what it means to be an adult.

When Katie Heaney published her first book of essays chronicling her singledom up to age 25, she was still waiting to meet the right guy. Three years later, a lot changed. For one thing, she met the right girl.

Here, for the first time, Katie opens up about realizing that she is gay. She tackles everything from the trials of dating in New York City to the growing pains of her first relationship, from obsessing over Harry Styles (because, actually, he does look a bit like a lesbian) to learning to accept herself all over again. Exploring love and sexuality with her neurotic wit and endearing intimacy, Katie shares the message that it’s never too late to find love–or yourself.

Thoughts + Feelings:  I had never heard of Katie Hearney before I stumbled upon her book on NetGalley. I thought it was awesome that she had written a memoir at such a young age because it’s not something that’s done very often, unless you are already famous.

I have read very few books that are a) written by LGBTQ+ authors or b) books about the LGBTQ+ community, so I was interested to read about Katie’s life leading up to and after she had come out.

I found a lot of Heaney’s writing to be redundant and whiny. Katie seemed to retell the same stories over + over again in her memoir. It seemed like she was trying to show the stories from different perspectives, but they were all of her same stories… from her perspective. I also hate using the word ‘whiny’ to describe her writing style because I don’t want you (my readers) to confuse my idea of her whiny writing style with me thinking that she is whining about her coming out story. I have always been in heterosexual relationships, so I do not have experience with needing to come out – but from trying to understand it from the larger picture and conversations that I’ve had with people who have come out, I have an understanding of how challenging it is for a person. I just feel like there is a way to do it without whining in your writing.

“I cannot change anything about the trajectory of my past, and if I were given the opportunity, I am not sure that I would.”

In Heaney’s life thus far, she has learned a lot about herself and the person that she wants to be. That is something that I truly admire. To go from writing a book about never  dating to the slow-time realization that you are queer is a big shocker to the system. Just because I didn’t love her writing style, doesn’t mean that I don’t appreciate her story.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐

Recommend? LGBTQ+ friendly. If you know someone struggling with their feelings towards men/women, this could be a good book to help them feel like they’re not alone. If you’re looking for a memoir to better understand a segment of the LGBTQ+ community, this book is also for you!

Summer Reading List

The season of spring has come and gone. It’s June 21st which means its officially summer!

On March 20th I posted a list of books that were on my spring to be read list. I read 5/10 of the books which is pretty lame. I feel like I should leave those remaining books on the Summer TBR list primarily because the remaining books need to be read for my Around the Year in 52 Books Challenge! (How have a not prioritized them?!) But alas, I find myself making a new summer TBR list.

  1. Providence by Caroline Kepnes
  2. From the Corner of the Oval by Beck Dorey-Stein

  3. Outrun the Wind by Elizabeth Tammi
  4. One Plus One by Jojo Moyes
  5. A Man Called Over by Fredrick Backman
  6. Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
  7. Into the Water by Paula Hawkins
  8. Trespassing by Brandi Reeds
  9. The Thinnest Air by Minka Kent
  10. Those Who Save Us by Jenna Blum

Have you read any of the books on my summer TBR? I’m really excited and hope I can tackle more of these than my spring TBR!

23: The Year of Patience

Going through and editing this piece, I know I seem angry at a lot of things. But I’m not. I’m honestly really happy and have enjoyed the adventure of the last year. It was exhausting, annoying and painful, but I am thankful the experiences.

Earlier this month I celebrated the big 24. I’ve been thinking about this post for a while, but never quite knew where to start. While most people jokingly call the year that they are 23 their “Jordan” year, mine was far from being the best. Instead 23 was the year I deemed “The Year of Patience.” Now let me clear up any worrying by saying that my last year was not bad by any means; it was just a year that I grew up a lot and learned how to ‘adult’ and function as a member of society.

To rewind a little bit farther, I was offered a job in December 2016. This job takes a long time to process, but I was excited because I was still in graduate school and figured by September, the job would be mine. I would have one last summer – enjoy the sunshine, go on fun weekend trips, and work to pay my rent before the real job started. On May 19, 2017 (before I even turned 23) I graduated from Georgetown University with my Masters of Science in Biohazardous Threat Agents and Emerging Infectious Diseases. I turned 23 in June. I spent the summer working at GU as an Assistant in the Office of Admissions, being a bartender and hot dog server outside Nationals Park, working random catering events and setting up for weddings. I even (very) briefly worked as a librarian assistant. I was working 70+ hours a week to make money to live/pay rent/etc.

September came and went. So did October, November, and December. January, February, March and April passed on by. At this point I was also working at Paper Source to make more money to pay my bills. Some weeks I was working a 40 hours a week, but with scattered hours throughout the days and into the evenings. Other weeks I was working 50, 60, 70 hours a week. My days started early in the morning and often ended after 10:00pm. I rarely saw my friends or had a social life.

I am not complaining about the work that I had to do to live in the city (or technically right outside D.C.). I made the choice to stay where I was while I waited for the big girl job. I could’ve chosen to move back home, but I wanted to work hard and prove to myself that I could do it. I was also lucky that I loved each of my jobs. I loved the people, the environment, the skills that I was learning. But I was still waiting – and consistently being asked when the other job was going to start.

That was the most frustrating part of being twenty-three. “So Alexis, when is this super amazing wonderful job going to start? lol” was a question I was being bombarded with several times a week from a variety of people. I made a rule with my family to please not ask me about it, and the moment I knew anything I would let them know. I was frustrated and mad, and there was absolutely nothing I could do but wait.

The dream job was completely out of my control – It still is completely out of my control. I’m still waiting. But at the beginning of May, another opportunity arose and I found myself having to make a choice. A new full-time position was opening up in the office I was already working in at GU. Full time. More responsibility. Regular hours. And the ability to only have to work one job. So I cried a lot. And questioned a lot of my decisions and the path that I wanted to go on. Did I waste an entire year working an obscene amount of hours to just decide not to wait on the dream job any longer? Or did I give them enough time of my life waiting for them to decide that they wanted me?

It was the hardest decision that I’ve had to make in my life.

So I made a decision and the Year of Patience came full circle. I learned a lot in the year after graduate school. The more I learned about myself, the more I learned about other people. In a lot of my ‘thoughts + feelings’ sections of my book reviews, I talk about how actions impact others and how we should treat members of our community and the world. What I learned more than anything this year is that in this harsh world, it’s important to be kind. It’s one of the most important things you can do. Be kind. Listen to your peers. Be patient with others.

I tried really hard to not let everyone know how frustrated I was with the last year. I didn’t want my circumstances to change who I was as a person or how people spoke to me. I wasn’t walking on eggshells or pissed off at individual people. But I was so tired. I was tired of living paycheck to paycheck when I had a masters degree. I was tired of being judged for working 3-4 jobs by my peers. I was tired of being asked ‘why don’t you just find a real job?’

Well here’s the thing – I was working a real job. In fact, I was working several real jobs. I made the choice to continue working a slew of jobs because I didn’t want to start a full-time with benefits job to then leave two months into it because the dream job called. That seemed wrong and unethical to me. So instead I learned patience. I learned to take care of myself, and my cat. I learned to keep my head above water even when things got pretty tough. I was thankful for the support of my family/friends, even when I was frustrated by their questions. I pushed through the challenges. I conquered my fear of working as a salesgirl/food server. I made new friends and worked my butt off to make ends meet. I’m proud of what I accomplished last year. I learned to take a deep breathe and let life happen.

23 was a tough year. 24 may not be as challenging, but it will be a new adventure with all new experiences.

Top Ten Tuesday: Books That Awaken the Travel Bug In Me

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl

I’ve always been a big traveler. I have loved seeing the United States, as well as countries around the world. I was fortunate enough to be able to study abroad in college. I spent six weeks in Israel, where I also had the opportunity to travel to Greece and Jordan. On a school trip in high school, I visited England, France and Spain. And just a few months ago, I had the privilege of traveling to Paris, France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Ireland. I love seeing different parts of the world; the people, the languages and the culture.

But in the last couple years, I’ve only really read two books that have sparked the adventure bug inside my soul.

Wild by Cheryl Strayed

Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

Whether its heading out to our beautiful National Parks or heading across the ocean to visit foreign countries, the world of books can provide a guiding step in making a choice as to where to go. At the beginning of this year, I started to keep track of countries that my books took me too. Not surprising at all to me, my books pretty much left me in the United States. So for my last eight choices, I’ve decided to list books set in other countries that I hope will awaken the travel bug in me. I’ll admit all of these books came from the World Book Day on Amazon where I downloaded them all for free! They are all anxiously waiting to be read on my kindle app.

Ten Women by Marcela Serrano (Chile)

Last Train to Istanbul by Ayse Kulin (Turkey)

The Gray House by Mariam Petrosyan (Russia)

House by the River by Mariam Petrosyan (Greece)

A River of Darkness: One Man’s Escape from North Korea by Masaji Ishikawa (North Korea)

The Question of Red by Laksmi Pamuntjak (Indonesia)

The Light of the Fireflies by Paul Pen (Spain)

The Great Passage by Shion Miura (Japan)

It’s Monday! What are you reading? #10

The last couple weeks I’ve been reading less, which seems discouraging to me. I’m finishing only about a book a week (which is incredible) but still makes me sad when I was finishing two books a week earlier this year. June has been a crazy month so far – Crazy seems to be a recurring theme in my life right now. It’s all good craziness though. I celebrated a birthday, started a new job. I’m beginning to pack for my move at the end of the month. But all in all, I’m still finding time for reading.

I re-read my first book ever last week. You can check out the review by clicking the title below. I really enjoyed Looking for Alaska for the second time. My expectations were very high for the second read and it didn’t quite reach that level, but I am very glad that I finished it. This week I’m going to focus on finishing the other two books that I started.

I hope you all have a lovely week!

WHAT I READ LAST WEEK:

Looking for Alaska by John Green

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WHAT I PLAN ON (Finishing) READING THIS WEEK:

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer
Thanks, Obama : My Hopey Changey White House Years by David Litt

CHALLENGE UPDATES:

Goodreads Challenge: 35/52 books completed (67%) –>  13 books ahead schedule

Around the Year in 52 Books: 20/52 books completed (38%) –>  2 books behind schedule

A-Z: 13/26 books completed (50%)

Book Review: Looking for Alaska by John Green

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Release date: March 3, 2005

Publisher: Speak

Genre: Fiction / Young Adult


Premise: 
Before. Miles “Pudge” Halter is done with his safe life at home. His whole life has been one big non-event, and his obsession with famous last words has only made him crave “the Great Perhaps” even more (Francois Rabelais, poet). He heads off to the sometimes crazy and anything-but-boring world of Culver Creek Boarding School, and his life becomes the opposite of safe. Because down the hall is Alaska Young. The gorgeous, clever, funny, sexy, self-destructive, screwed up, and utterly fascinating Alaska Young. She is an event unto herself. She pulls Pudge into her world, launches him into the Great Perhaps, and steals his heart. Then. . . .
After.  Nothing is ever the same.


Thoughts + Feelings: My first ever re-read. The first time I read Looking For Alaska must have been in the middle of high school before I stopped reading for fun. When I started it last week, I had no real memory of what it was about – All I knew was that for some reason it stuck in my heart that I loved this book. Fast forward to now… It could be the difference of reading this Young Adult novel as a 16 year old vs reading it as a 24 year old, but I didn’t love it as much as I remembered.

Pudge Halter isn’t a great guy; neither is his roommate the Colonel or Alaska Young, the main interest of the book. As I’ve mentioned before, I drawn in by influential quotes. I have a feeling that I loved the same quotes today as I did 8+ years ago. The biggest difference is that now I look for more in a book than a good, solid quote.

Looking for Alaska, while not as incredible as I remembered, will continue to be one of my favorite books. I appreciated it’s discussion of grief and how different people treat grief in different ways. In a tight-knit community like Culver Creek you are going to know all of your classmates. Even if you do not live on campus all semester long (i.e. the weekday warriors), you are going to know the people you go to school with. Pudge experiences grief differently than the Colonel or Lara or the weekday warriors – and that’s something that resonates into every day life. I like to read books that impact my daily life and how I look at the world. This is a book that I can learn from and help to teach others how to tolerate the behaviors of those in our communities. Not everyone is the same. We look different, feel different and may speak differently, but these characteristics do not take away from who we are as human beings.

There is also the discussion of the labyrinth. The quotes about the labyrinth have always been my favorite. Especially the one below.

“You spend your whole life stuck in the labyrinth, thinking about how you’ll escape one day, and how awesome it will be, and imagining that future keeps you going, but you never do it. You just use the future to escape the present.”

I am sometimes a guilty party in trying to imagine ways to escape the present. Sometimes my imagination gets the best of me and I waste entire days pretending that the tasks in front of me don’t exist (hellllllo procrastination). I think most of us are somewhat guilty of this action. But I think this says something about being in the present – let’s forget our phones and the social media; how about we make eye contact with our friends at dinner and not focus on our little screens.

Looking for Alaska is a book full of mystery, and I am thankful to John Green for creating this little world. The book is broken down into Before and After, but nowhere can you really figure out what “before” he is talking about. Before is included in each of the section headings and you wonder what are we counting down to; what could be so important that we need to know all of these days before. And then it hits you in the gut. You may shed a few tears and curse John Green for breaking your heart, but then you learn about grief through the characters’ development and you learn how to feel your feelings in a constructive way.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Recommend? Read it + love it. It’s as simple as that. If you love it the first time, don’t re-read it because you don’t want any of that love to slip away. I developed a new appreciation in reading Looking for Alaska a second time. I’m looking forward to reading Paper Towns, The Fault in Our Stars, and An Abundance of Katherines again.

I want to leave you all with this question: What is the best way to go about being a person? What are the rules of this game, and how might we best play it? How are you going to escape the labyrinth?

ARC Review: The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell by Robert Dugoni

Thank you to NetGalley, Robert Dugoni and Lake Union Publishing for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

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Release date: April 24, 2018

Publisher: Lake Union Publishing

Genre: Fiction / Historical Fiction


Premise: Sam Hill always saw the world through different eyes. Born with red pupils, he was called “Devil Boy” by his classmates; “God’s will” is what his mother called his ocular albinism. Her words were of little comfort, but Sam persevered, buoyed by his mother’s devout faith, his father’s practical wisdom, and his two other misfit friends.

Sam believed it was God who sent Ernie Cantwell, the only African American kid in his class, to be the friend he so desperately needed. And that it was God’s idea for Mickie Kennedy to storm into Our Lady of Mercy like a tornado, uprooting every rule Sam had been taught about boys and girls.

Forty years later, Sam, a small-town eye doctor, is no longer certain anything was by design—especially not the tragedy that caused him to turn his back on his friends, his hometown, and the life he’d always known. Running from the pain, eyes closed, served little purpose. Now, as he looks back on his life, Sam embarks on a journey that will take him halfway around the world. This time, his eyes are wide open—bringing into clear view what changed him, defined him, and made him so afraid, until he can finally see what truly matters. 


Thoughts + Feelings: The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell was a book that was on the verge of being extraordinary for me. I was immediately pulled into the story of young Sam and how his genetic abnormality caused immense turmoil in his life.

The novel travels back and forward in time: school and high school years, where Sam makes two great friends, Ernie, the only black boy in the neighborhood, and Mickie, a tomboy, outspoken girl. The three of them are very tight. They experience the formative years together – through high school sports, relationships and family trauma. They become their own special kind of family.

I knew when I saw this book on NetGalley that it was going to hold a special place in my heart. I love a feel-good story where the character learns about himself and about society. “We realize it is in these quiet moments that each of us has the ability to make our life extraordinary.” Sam’s mother always told him that he was extraordinary – although he never understood what she meant. Sam knows that he’s different and special, but it takes a lifetime of experiences and trials to truly understand the extraordinary life that he has lived.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Recommend? The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell was a good, average book. It will speak to everyone differently, based off of your own life experiences. I really enjoyed the book because I remember being made fun of as a child because I was different and I know I’ve witnessed other’s being made fun of for reasons out of their control. While this isn’t one of those books that teaches you a lot of life lessons, you may feel a pull to think more about being a by-stander in difficult situations.

Top Ten Tuesday: 2 DNF Books + 8 Books that I Pushed My Way Through

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl

I am a book-finisher. I hate starting a book and not seeing it through until the end, which is why I almost always suck it up and finish the book. I hate the idea of a book looming over my head – Why couldn’t I finish it? Was it me or was it the book? (Honestly, I laugh at that questions. It wasn’t you… it was me). There are only two books that I haven’t finished and quite honestly, one day I will go back to them because they are Classics and most (some) people really like them.

The two books that I never finished are Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving. Am I really missing out if I don’t finish them? Probably not. But I hate not finishing books! For this reason, this week my Top Ten Tuesday is going to be a little bit different.

Top Eight Books that I almost didn’t finish, but I pushed through just to check them off my list.

**This doesn’t mean that I liked the books. I’m just hardheaded and had to finish them to say I finished them.

  1. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Steig Larsson
    OKAY I LIED, I LOVED THIS BOOK. The beginning was SO slow, but it built up and oh boy did it deliver. I DNF The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo a couple years ago (x2) but I came back and loved it.
  2. The Diary of Anne Frank by Anne Frank
    I just didn’t enjoy reading this. It was painful and heartbreaking. I finished it because it seems like most people on the Earth have read it and I had FOMO.
  3. The Space Between the Stars by Anne Corlett
    I read this in a Goodreads Giveaway and I felt like I needed to read it because I won it. It was a struggle to get through because I didn’t love the premise of the story.
  4. Common Sense by Thomas Paine
    I don’t think this really needs an explanation. Old English and Alexis do not mix well. It was unpleasant.
  5. The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
    Just nope. I also didn’t like the movie after. This book was just weird to me. There is no good reason why. I just couldn’t power through until the day before it was due back at the library. Maybe procrastination is key.
  6. A World Lit Only by Fire: The Medieval Mind and the Renaissance: Portrait of an Age by William Manchester
    I had to read this back in high school for AP European History. It took me three months of my summer to read this book and it’s not that I have nightmares about this little paperback that sits on my bookshelf.
  7. Inferno by Dante Alighieri
    Another book read in high school, but this one I actually liked – only looking back at it though. I was fascinated by the circles of Hell and what they all represented. I hated reading it for class, but I loved the concepts.
  8. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling
    Please don’t get me wrong, I love all things Harry Potter. I’ve read all of the books and I loved them. I love the universe and everything about the series. BUT when I read this book back in fourth grade, it took me FOREVER and I didn’t think I would ever finish it. I am always glad that I did, but it’s probably the most beat up paperback on my bookshelf because I had to carry it around with me for such a long time.

Are there any other die-hard book finishers that can’t stand to DNF a book?

It’s Monday! What are you reading? #9

Hello bookworms. Happy June!

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? which is a weekly post to share what you recently finished reading, what you’re currently reading, and what you plan on reading this week. It’s hosted by Kathryn at Bookdate.

It took me until early into Sunday morning to finish my first book of the week. Last week wasn’t too chaotic, but I just couldn’t find much time to read. I am also finding it challenging to balance physical books vs ebooks that can be read via the kindle app vs ebooks only available on my physical tablet. For the last couple months I’ve been trying to get caught up on my backlog of NetGalley books. The reason for it being so challenging for me to focus solely on reading them is because I like having the ability to read on my computer (mainly) and my tablet/phone. Currently I can only read them on my tablet/phone which isn’t always the most convenient way for me to read. Oh well. I’m slowly making my way through them.

What I Read Last Week:

The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell by Robert Dugoni

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What I Plan on Reading this Week:

Looking for Alaska by John Green (re-read)
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer
Thanks, Obama : My Hopey Changey White House Years by David Litt

 

This week I also plan on introducing some bookish discussions to my blog to delve further into the minds of you and me about different topics in the book world and the every day world.

CHALLENGE UPDATES:

Goodreads Challenge: 33/52 books completed (65%) –>  13 books ahead schedule

Around the Year in 52 Books: 19/52 books completed (37%) –>  2 books behind schedule

A-Z: 13/26 books completed (50%)

I hope you all have a wonderful first week of June!

Book Review: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

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Release date: 2005

Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf

Genre: Historical Fiction

Premise: Trying to make sense of the horrors of World War II, Death relates the story of Liesel–a young German girl whose book-stealing and story-telling talents help sustain her family and the Jewish man they are hiding, as well as their neighbors. 

Thoughts + Feelings:  This seems like a rather unpopular opinion, but I didn’t love The Book Thief. Everyone that I spoke to raved about how magnificent the book was and how much they cried. Maybe I’m becoming heartless?! But I wasn’t that distraught when I finished. Don’t get me wrong… there were some heartbreaking moments in the end of the book (and the beginning… and the middle), but I was looking for something more. I’ve never seen the movie, so I know that’s not having an impact. I just thought it was a decent average book.  Since I finished earlier this afternoon, I’ve taken to looking at other people’s reviews to see where I might have missed the mark on falling in love with The Book Thief. It seems possible that my love may develop for it as I think about it more. It doesn’t appear to have an immediate need to be loved for people to finish it.

It took me a little bit of time to get into The Book Thief. I chose this title for one of the topics of the Around the Year in 52 Books Challenge: A book with an unique format/writing structure. The story is told about Liesel’s life on Himmel Street, but told from Death’s point of view. (Excuse me??) Death is the narrator in this novel. You know, death and war go hand in hand so it only makes sense that death narrates this haunting story.

The Book Thief is broken down into several parts. Without going into too much detail because I don’t want to give the story away, death follows Liesel through many years of her adolescence. You feel sympathetic for Liesel because you see her lose her young brother and then be left with an adoptive family a few short days later. It leaves you wondering how different her life would’ve been if her mother hadn’t left her.

My biggest unresolved question from this novel was whether or not Liesel was Jewish. She remembers hearing about communism and then she has no father. Her mother is transporting her and her brother to a foster family, but for what reason? She feels a connection to her Jewish basement friend, Max. And she’s never gung-ho about the Führer. I was thinking the whole time that there was going to be some huge twist in the end where Death was going to tell us that she was Jewish. IMAGINE THAT PLOT TWIST.

“It’s pathetic – how a man can stand by and do nothing as a whole nation cleans out the garbage and makes itself great.”

Does this seem peculiar to you? Although it was published in 2005, I got the Donald Trump vibes from this statement. I felt like it mirrored life in the United States today with the inaction of bystanders who won’t stand up for those in need. It doesn’t fit perfectly, but we seem to be a part of society who focuses on ‘Making America Great Again’ by persecuting those in the LGBTQ+ community, African Americans, Hispanics, etc. What are we going to do about this so we don’t have another Holocaust on our hands? What are you going to do about it?

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐

Recommend? As I mentioned before, I didn’t hate or love this book. I want it to simmer in my soul a little bit longer. The writing was beautiful and powerful, but the story itself left me feeling unfulfilled. I had many people recommend this to me, I’m going to continue recommending it too. It’s purpose is too great to let my weird feelings about it stand in the way.