The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo

REVIEW: The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Publication information: June 17th, 2017 by Atria Books

Description (from Goodreads):

Ageing and reclusive Hollywood movie icon Evelyn Hugo is finally ready to tell the truth about her glamorous and scandalous life.

When she chooses unknown magazine reporter Monique Grant for the job, no one in the journalism community is more astounded than Monique herself. Why her? Why now? Monique is not exactly on top of the world. Her husband, David, has left her, and her career has stagnated. Regardless of why Evelyn has chosen her to write her biography, Monique is determined to use this opportunity to jumpstart her career.

Summoned to Evelyn’s Upper East Side apartment, Monique listens as Evelyn unfurls her story: from making her way to Los Angeles in the 1950s to her decision to leave show business in the late 80s, and, of course, the seven husbands along the way. As Evelyn’s life unfolds—revealing a ruthless ambition, an unexpected friendship, and a great forbidden love—Monique begins to feel a very a real connection to the actress. But as Evelyn’s story catches up with the present, it becomes clear that her life intersects with Monique’s own in tragic and irreversible ways.


Two sentence review: Stupid Milka, you should have just believed the hype on this one! The fact that Evelyn Hugo is not a real person is astounding – she comes alive on the pages of the book is such a way that you cannot stop yourself from caring about her, despite her mistakes.


For me, Evelyn Hugo is such a perfectly written, realistically flawed character. Yes, she is a glamorous movie star with a lot of stories to tell, but underneath all that glitz and glam is a woman trying her best to simultaneously protect those she love and climb up the ladder in Hollywood. Unfortunately in a world morbidly curious about the lives of celebrities doing both of those things simultaneously is not as easy as it might first seem, as Evelyn learns that despite all her money and beauty there are just some things that the society of the time would not find acceptable.

I went into this book expecting a certain kind of love story and got something completely different. Something I did not even know that I needed. What is considered “acceptable” and “forbidden” in the world about which Evelyn tells Monique, a journalist she scouts to write her biography, blurs and while Taylor Jenkins Reid introduces us to the mores of the time of Evelyn’s youth, the way she writes about Evelyn’s so-called forbidden love is done in a way that it is easy for you to be on Evelyn’s side, to feel sad that she was in the limelight in a society that could not embrace Evelyn as she truly was, not just the bombshell Evelyn that men obsessed over and women were jealous of.

While Evelyn and her life are the highlight of this book, reading about Monique and the growth of her confidence as she spends more time with Evelyn was also extremely interesting and rewarding and as the story goes on, Evelyn and Monique’s lives start to intertwine in unexpected ways. Taylor Jenkins Reid uses hindsight in interesting ways, allowing Evelyn of the present day to reflect on her past and some of the more questionable decisions she had made. What was extremely memorable for me, though, was the fact that while Evelyn has made mistakes, she never really wallows in how things could have been. Rather, she admits the missteps and proudly accepts the ways in which her life has unfurled – there have been highest of highs and lowest of lows. But I guess that is what live is to everyone, whether you are a movie star or not.


STAR RATING

Rating: 5 out of 5.

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REVIEW: Felix Ever After by Kacen Callander

Publication information: May 5th, 2020 by Balzer + Bray

Description (from Goodreads):

From Stonewall and Lambda Award-winning author Kacen Callender comes a revelatory YA novel about a transgender teen grappling with identity and self-discovery while falling in love for the first time.

Felix Love has never been in love—and, yes, he’s painfully aware of the irony. He desperately wants to know what it’s like and why it seems so easy for everyone but him to find someone. What’s worse is that, even though he is proud of his identity, Felix also secretly fears that he’s one marginalization too many—Black, queer, and transgender—to ever get his own happily-ever-after.

When an anonymous student begins sending him transphobic messages—after publicly posting Felix’s deadname alongside images of him before he transitioned—Felix comes up with a plan for revenge. What he didn’t count on: his catfish scenario landing him in a quasi–love triangle….

But as he navigates his complicated feelings, Felix begins a journey of questioning and self-discovery that helps redefine his most important relationship: how he feels about himself.

Felix Ever After is an honest and layered story about identity, falling in love, and recognizing the love you deserve.


Two sentence review: A diverse, well-written and structured story about Felix, a transgender teen, trying to understand his identity amidst friendships, possible romances, and cyber bullying. Important, thought-provoking story with an interesting cast of characters.


It has been a while since I’ve read YA contemporary novels and very early on into Felix Ever After by Karen Callander I was reminded why I once used to read YA contemporary so much – at its best, books within that categorization can be heartwarming, thought provoking, and entertaining all in equal measure. Felix Ever After is all that. And as a bonus, I feel like I really learned something new.

Felix is Black, queer, and trans. While those are characteristics he himself likes and is proud of, he realizes that he lives in a shitty society in which those aspects of himself are seen as something to point out, something to examine, something to question, something to ridicule. When someone at his high school puts up a gallery featuring pictures of him before his transition and in the process deadnames his, Felix is justifiably upset. But he is also also determined to execute his revenge…

Since it has been a while from my last experience with a young adult novel it took me a while to get back to the mindset of teenagers. I will go right away and say that this book was not written for me and thus it is not my right to start to judge whether the characters act realistically or whether the things they do are logical or not. It has been a while since I was teenager, but I do remember the times during which things were felt so intensively and every word and action of someone you are already suspicious of is analyzed with care. Because of that, Felix’s determination about the guilt of one specific person that he is already suspicious of makes total sense; he feels like he has been hurt and judged by that person previously and it makes sense that this person would be willing to take the hurting to the next level.

Obviously, as we all know, things are not always what they seem and as Felix continues with his revenge plot he starts to learn new things about the people around him – things he might not have wanted to know as well as things that first take him by surprise, things that eventually lead to unexpected realizations.

There are things that I especially loved about Felix Ever After: (1) the flawed, sometimes messy, yet very realistic characters and relationships and (2) the process Felix himself goes through in order to define his identity more clearly. Felix Ever After‘s pages are inhabited by characters who are smart and accepting yet also tend to reach certain conclusions without giving them a second though. We all act like that sometimes, but especially as teenagers I feel like jumping into conclusions is quite common especially when it comes to issues related to budding relationships and ones status within the high school hierarchy. I communicate with young people through my job and I am continually amazed by how tolerant and capable of critical thinking many are and felt like that really also came through in this book – while reading this I kept thinking that we will be okay if people like Felix and some of his friends are given a voice and a power to make decisions in the future.

“You weren’t happy and now you are and that is all that matters.”

The relationship between Felix and his father is an interesting one and develops throughout the book subtly but powerfully. As Felix becomes more comfortable with himself I feel like he is able to more clearly voice what he needs from his father. While Felix starts the book with wanting to be in love, the process of him finding himself and learning how to love himself is the absolute highlight of this book.


STAR RATING

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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Top Ten Tuesday (#1): Reasons Why I Love True Crime

Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish in June of 2010 and was moved to That Artsy Reader Girl in January of 2018. It was born out of a love of lists, a love of books, and a desire to bring bookish friends together.


This Tuesday’s topic is: Reasons Why I Love [insert your favorite book title, genre, author, etc. here]


The wonderful communities I’ve become a part of.

Once upon a time there was girl (that’s me!) looking for a new podcast to listen to. She stumbled upon something called My Favorite Murder and without realizing it, became hooked. She identified herself as a murderino and since she wasn’t able to find any likeminded people from her close proximity, she went online. AND SHE FOUND SO MANY NEW FRIENDS.

True crime might be a weird interest to explain to someone who does not even know what it is and thus finding people who are into the same things, who spend hours upon hours on Reddit reading through threads about disappeared people and forensic science felt like coming home. I am a member of so many Murderino groups on Facebook I cannot even remember them all by name. My favorites are My Favorite Mukduk, a murderino group for the fans of The Office and The MFM Book Club 2.0, which is an AMAZING resource for book lovers.

I am always learning something new.

I am a curious person by nature and love to learn new things. I am also a very scholarly person and always looking for scientific knowledge and peer reviewed research – perhaps that is why I am currently working on a PhD.

Sometimes I wish I could go back in time like 15 years and focus on different things at school so I could be a forensic scientist but since I do not yet own a time machine I do my crime related learning after spending the days learning about something completely different.

I have learned so much through true crime and can’t wait to see what I’ll learn next.

Intelligent, interesting people who do their research well.

I love spending time listening to or reading texts by interesting people who know what they are talking about. And I think the true crime work is filled with a lot of people like that. Since my interests match so well with many of these podcasters and true crime authors I often feel like I am hanging out with people I know. Especially during the COVID-19 as I have spent a lot of time at home it has been nice to put on a podcast and listen to it while cooking, cleaning etc.

Some of my favorites are Paul Holes (#HotForHoles) and Billy Jensen from The Murder Squad; Jac Vanek, Alexis Linkletter and Billy Jensen from The First Degree, and David Ridgen from Someone Knows Something.

True crime, when done well, gives a voice to those touched by horrible events.

True crime can be sensational and hurtful (as can be pretty much anything), but when done well, true crime in its many forms can give a voice to those touched by crime. Think, for instance, CBC’s brilliant podcast Someone Knows Something and its six seasons on which people chose to the cases covered are truly given a voice and perhaps a chance to talk about the cases for the first time ever in a way in which they really become heard.

Justice for wrongdoings.

The growing popularity of true crime has not only resulted in the unearthing of cases that have been pushed to the back-burner years ago but it has also brought to attention the failures of the justice system. Obviously, this new attention towards the justice system can be a double-edged sword, as I briefly discussed in my review of Savage Appetites by Rachel Monroe and make us believe that what we see on TV is the reality of the justice system BUT there is no denying that issues related to racism, faulty scientific methods, and so on have been brought to attention in a way that has made people more aware of the workings of the system.

Mystery aspect – something you want to solve.

There definitely is that mystery aspect there and the desire to find something to solve. For me, this applies especially to disappearance cases – I can’t even count how many hours I have spent browsing through Reddit reading about the disappearance of Maura Murray, for instance. There often is a surprise aspect, a cliffhanger of sorts, in these stories too – that one piece of evidence that changes everything, that one unearthed text message or call that turns the case upside down.

Insight to the human psyche.

If you spend a lot of time online you have probably come across fan pages for serial killers and other criminals – there used to be prominent especially on Tumblr. Let me make this clear – sites like this should not exist! But there is no denying that one aspect that makes true crime so interesting is understanding what makes people tick, what kind of decisions and actions lead to events that end horribly. No idolization here for these criminals.

I think it is also interesting to learn what makes journalists, authors and podcasters interested in particular cases and why, for instance, a journalist like Billy Jensen is willing to spend his time and money solving cold cases (read more about this on his brilliant book Chase Darkness with Me). Honestly, more than wanting to understand the offenders I am interested in the people who immerse themselves in this world of true crime.

Perhaps the most important aspect is the ability to give a voice to the victims themselves, even if they are not here to tell their stories anymore. Good examples in which the victims are given a voice are, for instance, the podcast COLD featuring Susan Powell’s diary entries and recordings.

Feeling more knowledgeable and protected.

People close to me often tell me that I have been listening to too much true crime because I am so careful, but honestly, I feel like that is needed in this world, especially as a woman living alone. I can say without a doubt that through listening to these podcasts I have gotten myself out of some sketchy situations without harming myself.

It is not all dark and gloomy.

This point is kind of hard to explain to people who do not consume true crime, but take for instance a podcast like My Favorite Murder or The Murder Squad and you quickly realize that it is not all dark and gloomy. My Favorite Murder is hosted by comedians, so it kind of makes sense that they take this sort of dark humor/black humor approach to some issues. Including humor does not mean that they are disrespectful – rather, humor is a one way of dealing with difficult things. The Murder Squad features a wonderful segment called Weekly Distractions which is always fun to listen to – basically, Billy and Paul list things that have helped them distract themselves from the true crime world.

Recommending my favorites to you, so here you go!

Finally, I felt like I cannot post this without recommending some of my favorites for you, so here we go!

PODCASTS

Someone Knows Something

The Murder Squad

The First Degree

S-Town

BOOKS

I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

American Predator by Maureen Callahan

Chase Darkness with Me by Billy Jensen


Please leave a link to your Top Ten Tuesday post to the comments!

Savage Appetites by Rachel Monroe

REVIEW: Savage Appetites by Rachel Monroe

Publication information: August 20th, 2019 by Scribner

Description (from Goodreads):

A provocative and original investigation of our cultural fascination with crime, linking four archetypes—Detective, Victim, Attorney, Killer—to four true stories about women driven by obsession.

In this illuminating exploration of women, violence, and obsession, Rachel Monroe interrogates the appeal of true crime through four narratives of fixation. In the 1940s, a bored heiress began creating dollhouse crime scenes depicting murders, suicides, and accidental deaths. Known as the “Mother of Forensic Science,” she revolutionized the field of what was then called legal medicine. In the aftermath of the Manson Family murders, a young woman moved into Sharon Tate’s guesthouse and, over the next two decades, entwined herself with the Tate family. In the mid-nineties, a landscape architect in Brooklyn fell in love with a convicted murderer, the supposed ringleader of the West Memphis Three, through an intense series of letters. After they married, she devoted her life to getting him freed from death row. And in 2015, a teenager deeply involved in the online fandom for the Columbine killers planned a mass shooting of her own.

Each woman, Monroe argues, represents and identifies with a particular archetype that provides an entryway into true crime. Through these four cases, she traces the history of American crime through the growth of forensic science, the evolving role of victims, the Satanic Panic, the rise of online detectives, and the long shadow of the Columbine shooting. In a combination of personal narrative, reportage, and a sociological examination of violence and media in the twentieth and twenty-first century, Savage Appetites scrupulously explores empathy, justice, and the persistent appeal of violence. 


Two sentence review: Slightly confusing and jumbled take on women and true crime presented through a focus on four different women that have taken different roles in relation to crime – detective, victim, attorney and killer. Features references to some well-known cases but it remained unclear to me who the intended audience of this book is and what Monroe is exactly attempting to argue.


If I were to summarize my thoughts about this book to two words, those words would be “too” and “messy”.

Maybe I am just not perceptive enough or wasn’t the intended audience, but I never really got what Monroe was trying to do with this book. Did she aim to write about her own relationship with true crime? Is this about her passion cases or cases that have somehow shaped her? Or is this a critique of the true crime phenomenon and especially women interest in it? I guess one single book could do all, but this does not do it. I constantly just kept feeling like “pick a lane”.

Though using the word “fan” or “enthusiast” feels somewhat wrong in connection to true crime, I do consume a lot of it in different forms and consider myself a “follower” of certain figures involved in the true crime world – podcasters as well as these “archetypal” detectives Monroe quite cattily writes about. If the intended audience of the book is people like me, I think Monroe doesn’t do very well, because I constantly kept finding things I would want to argue about.

Yes, true crime can be extremely problematic. After all, murder and crime are problematic. There definitely are dark corners on the internet where crimes and criminals are idolized and romanticized BUT I would argue that the growing popularity of true crime has also been a positive phenomenon. Through its growing popularity and demand attention has been brought for long-forgotten cases, some of which have even been solved at least partly due to podcasters and podcast listeners – take for example the case of Tara Grinstead covered on the first season of Up and Vanished.

Another thing this growing true crime phenomenon has given is a platform for the victims’ families to tell their stories in their own way. Take for example the phenomenal Canadian podcast Someone Knows Something and its several seasons that really give the families a voice and an opportunity to speak about the cases that have touched them in life-changing ways.

And let’s not forget the fact that by learning about these cases many, especially women, find themselves more prepared to defend themselves or to stay away from situations that could prove to be dangerous.

Turning the criminal justice system into entertainment of sorts and often featuring cases where the criminal justice system has failed to work in a desirable way obviously has as effect on how people form opinions about the system. Very little research can be found about how true crime shapes peoples’ perceptions about the criminal justice system, but it is true, as Monroe points out on Savage Appetites that shows like CSI have really transformed the ways in which many perceive the work of detectives, forensic scientists, lawyers, and so on. Rather than feeding into this CSI phenomenon, though, I would argue that many true crime shows try to debunk that, especially through the involvement of detectives, forensic scientists, and so on, who clearly voice the difficulties involved with, for example, acquiring DNA evidence or navigating through the complicated justice system.

As Monroe argues, growing media coverage also makes it often seem like there is more crime going on than there actually is, which might lead to certain politicians getting more attention with their hard of crime policies and so on. I do not argue that this is not a real thing, because it definitely is, but at the same time I feel like pointing something like this out in a book that feels like it is written for people who are already into true crime is not really necessary as I do think that everyone who consumes true crime actively, and is likely thus interested in picking up a book like this, already knows that.

Though I do not want to generalize, I would argue that active true crime consumers are very aware of the fact that true crime in any form does not tell the whole story – that is exactly why there are these massive databases of information online put together by people who want to see beyond the picture that is presented in books, documentaries, tv shows and podcasts.

I don’t think things are as black and white as Monroe portrays them on Savage Appetites and found it difficult to navigate through the messy structure of the book. Thus, as said before, I am still unclear on what Monroe was actually attempting to argue with this one. The first portion, the section titled the detective was interesting enough and I did order a book about the person focused on that section, Frances Gressner Lee, who was influential in developing forensic science in the United States. Unfortunately, the other sections focused on so well-known cases so I did not even get the “joy” of discovering a new case to read about. Basically, Monroe is mostly just repeating what has been said before by others.

Also, I thought it would be worth pointing out that I found a quite problematic account about the author and her treatment of one of the persons’ involved in one of the sections of the book from Goodreads. Not sure how accurate this is since the author has not been involved in those discussions, but I thought it would be worth pointing out. You can find the whole discussion from here. This is indeed very problematic if true!

So, all in all, Savage Appetites was a disappointment, which I kind of thought would be a possibility due to the very mixed reviews of it I had come across before. With more structure and clearer arguments there could have been something here but unfortunately as it is, Savage Appetites wasn’t for me. You have to make your own decisions about whether to give this one a chance, but if you do recognize sharing similar thoughts as I have shared on this review, maybe leave this one to the bookstore and pick up something else.


STAR RATING

Rating: 2 out of 5.

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Beach Read by Emily Henry

REVIEW: Beach Read by Emily Henry

Publication information: May 19th, 2020 by Berkley

Description (from Goodreads):

A romance writer who no longer believes in love and a literary writer stuck in a rut engage in a summer-long challenge that may just upend everything they believe about happily ever afters.

Augustus Everett is an acclaimed author of literary fiction. January Andrews writes bestselling romance. When she pens a happily ever after, he kills off his entire cast.

They’re polar opposites.

In fact, the only thing they have in common is that for the next three months, they’re living in neighboring beach houses, broke, and bogged down with writer’s block.

Until, one hazy evening, one thing leads to another and they strike a deal designed to force them out of their creative ruts: Augustus will spend the summer writing something happy, and January will pen the next Great American Novel. She’ll take him on field trips worthy of any rom-com montage, and he’ll take her to interview surviving members of a backwoods death cult (obviously). Everyone will finish a book and no one will fall in love. Really.


Two sentence review: A surprisingly touching, oh so romantic novel perfect for the upcoming summer days. If you are looking for sparking chemistry and fully developed characters, this unputdownable gem is a stellar choice!


January and Augustus are polar opposites. Or so it at least seems on paper. January is a romance writer and for most of her life has believed in soul mates, meet cutes, and all that jazz. Augustus, on the other hand, is one of those brooding literary fiction types who likes to write about the darker side of life. They knew each other in college and since they both became published authors January has, in her mind, placed Augustus into the position of a rival. When their paths cross, their facades start to unravel and they come to realize that maybe they are not that different, after all.

While the premise of Emily Henry’s adult debut is nothing new, Beach Read was like a refreshing breath of air that managed to drag me out of my months long reading slump. January and Augustus feel like real people with real struggles and as I read more about them I became convinced that having either them as a friend would be freaking awesome. I love reading about characters like them – they are multidimensional, extremely well developed, and capable to making mistakes. January is more than just the eternally optimistic romantic kind or the woman whose only mission in life is to find love while Augustus is more than just a broody hero hiding his feelings deep down. Both are vulnerable as a result of surprising events in their personal lives, but both are also open for something new, even if they don’t perhaps admit to it for themselves.

I read Emily Henry’s young adult debut, The Love That Split the World, years ago but still remember the beautiful way in which she describes the characters she writes about and the mastery with which she slowly, sometimes even agonizingly, builds the kind of slow-burn relationships we all love so much. Another thing I also fell in love with while reading her debut, and which repeats here, is the way Henry writes about families and familial relationships. Yes, Beach Read is a love story between January and Augustus, but in addition to that it is a story about a woman forced to encounter family secrets that drastically change the way in which she remembers her childhood and about a man dealing with trauma from his past and realizing how that influences the ways in which he approaches relationships and trust in the present.


STAR RATING

Rating: 5 out of 5.

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(note: review copy from Netgalley)


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Welcome to A Voracious Reader

Dear reader,

Welcome to A Voracious Reader. This blog has been on the drawing board for a long time and it is finally time to reveal it to the world.

I have been a passionate reader since I can remember and this is not my first time tipping my toe to the world of book blogging. For years, I ran a blog called Read Read Read on blogger – maybe some of you may even remember me from those days. That blog has been inactive for a while now as I have moved from the world of blogging to bookstagram.

While I do adore bookstagram (you can find me from @avoraciousreader), for a long time I have felt like the platform does not really give me a chance to share book reviews in a way I would like to. After all, Instagram is all about pictures and often the captions themselves might drown into the sea of beautiful bookish photos.

That is why I decided to make my comeback to the book blogging world.

When I started Read Read Read over 10 years ago I didn’t really have the funds to pay for a domain name nor the knowledge of things really worked in the blogging world. For this new beginning, I decided to make the investment of buying a domain name that matches with my Instagram handle. That investment wasn’t big in monetary terms, but just making the investment alone makes me take this more seriously.

The moment this post went live I hid Read Read Read from the world. It has not been garnering much attention anyway, but now that I have a new platform to use there is no reason to keep it visible to others.

But….

As you can probably imagine, in over 10 years I managed to write numerous reviews that could still be valuable resources to some. Because of that, I have decided to go through my old reviews and pick out the ones I am most proud of. So once in a while you will see reviews that I have written years ago, reviews that I still feel like are worth sharing with the world. Through these reviews I also hope to bring into your radar backlist titles (books that have been on sale for more than a year) you might not even have heard of before if you mostly consume new releases…might be that you have missed out some real gems.

I am so excited to be back in the world of blogging and look forward to sharing my love for books with you both here on this blog as well as on my other social media channels. You can find the links for where to find me from below.