I Know What You Did Last Summer by Lois Duncan

51r+aANH+dLNow I’m going to admit that I’ve never watched the 1997 slasher film adaptation of this novel. I’m too much of a scaredy cat to ever subject myself to watching any sort of horror film that is likely to have jump scares and unnecessary gore. However, I am an avid fan of horror, thriller, and suspense novels, so when I saw a copy of this book for $0.50 at my local Friends of the Library bookstore, I jumped at the chance to pick it up.

Going into this novel, I had no idea what to expect. I only knew that this novel had spawned a cult classic that has helped to shape and define the slasher film genre to this day. But as it turns out, the film probably strayed far from the book’s plot, as I didn’t find myself gripped by fear or on the edge of my seat while reading this novel. There’s no gore nor hook-handed killer on the loose whatsoever as the film cover of this book may suggest. To be completely honest, this book read more like a Nancy Drew mystery to me and I would probably categorize it as more of a mystery novel and less as a horror or thriller novel. Now don’t get me wrong. Just because I’m comparing it to Nancy Drew does not mean I hated this book in the least. Truthfully speaking, I enjoyed the plot and, in particular, the ending and resolution of the novel. I feel that Duncan is an apt writer and her descriptive imagery and ability to develop the plot and her characters sets her apart from Carolyn Keene’s Nancy Drew series. (Also I like the Nancy Drew mystery series, so there’s that). I was captivated by this book in a way that had me wishing more popular ’90s teen slasher films had originated as novels. Let’s be real, how cool would it be to read Halloween or Scream as a book?

This book was published in 1973, and while it definitely read very dated, I sort of enjoyed that about it. The dialogue in particular emphasized that dated feel and while that may be something that fans of the film may be bothered by, I found it rather endearing. It felt like such a time capsule and I had a fun time imagining these characters in a 1970s setting similar to the Halloween slasher film. But what I didn’t like about the fact that this book is dated were the views on gender and the strongly structured gender roles placed upon the characters. The idea that women are much more willing than men to settle down, start a family, and run a household was tiring to read about and often times I felt that women were reduced to their appearances. There are several moments in the book that insinuated women didn’t and wouldn’t know anything about more “masculine” interests such as fixing cars. There was also casual objectification of women throughout the book that really rubbed me the wrong way. While none of it was necessarily vulgar, it was still uncomfortable to read through. There constantly felt like an underlying theme of “this is how men and women should act and be” put in place throughout the book and it did mar my enjoyment of the novel.

I did find this book interesting in the way characters developed over time. In fact, I was quite annoyed with the way that the characters were portrayed in the beginning and how Duncan seemed to equate beauty with goodness and success & ugliness with evil heartedness and jealousy. However, as the plot moves forward, you begin to gain a better understanding of the characters and why they act the way they do. You begin to see the characters more clearly for who they are and notice both their good and bad traits. While a majority of the characters are unlikeable, you are able to empathize with them simply because there is that extra depth to their characters. Their imperfections make them realistic, and therefore, relatable. I was surprised at how Duncan was able to turn these characters around and elaborate so fully on each one of them within the allotted 200 pages while also providing a compelling plot.

Lastly, I want to say there was a part of this book that really surprised me in a good way. After all the stereotypical portrayals of gender and the much eye-rolling I did throughout, it was definitely a breath of fresh air to read a positive discussion regarding being disabled. I really enjoyed how it was argued by one of the characters that those who are disabled can be just as capable and able of leading fulfilling and successful lives as able-bodied people are. I’m not sure if this was due to the this book being written during the Vietnam war, but the inclusion of those statements made me really happy. Any sort of positive representation for marginalized individuals within literature is something I appreciate and I only wish that Duncan had done the same regarding the female gender.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book as it was a fairly quick read that kept me intrigued despite lack of terror and suspense. In addition to the social aspects discussed above, I also found a few aspects of the book silly and a bit over the top. For instance, one of the main characters had purple eyes and another main character’s mom had premonitory feelings. Do either of those things exist in real life? But for a fun YA novel that was written in the 1970s, I thought it was pretty entertaining. If you’re looking for an easy albeit somewhat cheesy read, I think this would definitely be a pleaser!

Troublemaker: Surviving Hollywood and Scientology by Leah Remini

rs_634x966-151102135713-634.Leah-Remini-Troublemaker.ms.110215I have waited so long to read this book and I finally got the opportunity to do so when I found this book at a used bookstore for $1. Ever since it was announced that Leah Remini was coming out with a book that, as marketing claimed, was an exposé on the Church of Scientology, I wanted in. Every time I entered a Barnes & Noble, I would look longingly at this book on the shelf and tell it that one day I would come back for it, having found something else more valuable in the store that I could spend my 15% off coupon on. I wanted to know every bizarro detail regarding the church and, I’ll admit, on Tom Cruise. However after finishing this book, it’s clear that this book is 100% a memoir which, as the title suggests, is equal parts about Remini’s life as an actress and as a scientologist.

As Remini was indoctrinated into Scientology as a child, it was fascinating to see how Scientologists treated children (and even babies) the same way they treated adults. The fact that they have children perform manual labor, paid at $15/week, and using tough-love methods for training is certainly in child abuse territory. I can’t even begin to explain the backwardness of some of their regulations and policies and they way they treat humans and fellow Scientologists like cash cows and use gaslighting, manipulation, and guilt as a means of getting away with their behavior. As for the Tom Cruise sections of the book, I felt as if the inner workings of the Church of Scientology is as eerily close to any sort of Illuminati group that may be among us. The behaviors allowed of the higher-ups within the church was spine-chilling, particularly in regards to the disappearance of Shelley Miscavige, the wife of Scientology leader David Miscavige.

Despite all of Remini’s qualms and condemnations regarding Scientology, it’s interesting (yet understandable) that she still finds value within their teachings. It’s made her who she is today and has also made her a better person in some regards. She acknowledges the toxic and intense behaviors within the church but also understands the allure it has to those who are curious and interested. It says a lot about her that as a Scientologist, she was reluctant to pull friends into the church because of the religion’s intensity. In spite of being a committed Scientologist, Remini proves herself to be a empathic and loyal human being. However, this is ironically what constantly gets her in trouble with the church in the first place: her inability to turn the other cheek when she sees injustice and unkindness.

As for her career related sections, I was intrigued to learn that Remini’s family started off in extreme poverty. The way she managed to work her way up in Hollywood despite let-down after let-down is certainly admirable, and something I can relate to. I am only familiar with Remini’s work on King of Queens, as it was one of the shows that I regularly watched after school when I was in middle and high school. But I do find her likable and have always admired the way that she carries herself on the show. It may not have been my favorite show, but it was entertaining and a big part of the reason why I watched it was because Remini was on it. I always wondered why she was never more famous than she is but it is clear that, again, her inability to look the other way when she is treated unfairly is part of the reason. She won’t just bowl over even if her job is on the line. She’s headstrong, says what’s on her mind, and isn’t afraid to stand up for what she believes in.

I feel like I’ve gained some insight regarding the television industry through reading Remini’s experiences and I really admire her for sticking to her guns and not compromising to appease others. We definitely need more people like her out there in the television and film industry. Although her strong personality will probably prove too much for me if we ever met in real life, I can confidently say that in some ways, she inspires me to be less afraid of vocalizing my opinions and to speak out in times of injustice. She encourages me to be more fiercely loyal to those around me and to protect myself from those to seek to use my weaknesses against me. While this book may not have been what I expected when I began reading, I’m glad that I was finally able to pick this book up.

This book is a good starting point to learn a bit on Scientology and the the television industry works. For those who are interested in Scientology but not familiar with Remini’s work, I would still encourage you to pick this book up. There is a decent amount that deals with her life outside of Scientology but I think she gives a good account of how Scientology permeates all aspects of her life. However, there may be other books focusing mostly on Scientology that may be of more interest to you, such as Beyond Belief: My Secret Life Inside Scientology and My Harrow Escape written by Jenna Miscavige Hill, the niece of the present leader of Scientology. All I can say is that I, personally, feel as if I’ve learned a lot and will definitely be reading more on this “religion” in the future.

The Sky Is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson

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Before I continue with my review of this book, I want to note that I am someone who is generally very hard to please when it comes to reading Young Adult contemporary literature. In the last 6 months, I have rarely came across one that I absolutely enjoyed due to YA tropes and lack of realism. However, with this book, I was definitely surprised by at its complexity and the realness of the characters and their environment. This book is definitely sold primarily as a love triangle romance based on the synopsis but in reality, this book is so much more than that.

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Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews

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As someone who doesn’t often read YA contemporaries, I decided to pick this up due to the release of the film adaptation that dropped in theaters mid-June. In choosing which edition to buy, I was aware that the publishers had redesigned the covers in anticipation to the film release, but still felt that the original cover served to provide a good introduction to the characters, particularly in reference to the main character, Greg’s, film-making hobby. I am also partial to the movie tie-in edition and had a bit of trouble deciding which edition to purchase. However, it turns out the original cover (above) is out of print in hardcover format, and my dislike the blurbs and award images on the front cover won me over and I decided to pay a little more to obtain the original cover. In terms of content, I found this book refreshing as it tended away from typical YA tropes, specifically the “absent parent” trope and the romanticism of a serious illness. This book surprised me in how self aware it was relating to classism and privilege by showing the contrast between Greg and his “business partner”, Earl.

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Fylling’s Illustrated Guide to Pacific Coast Tide Pools

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This is wonderfully beautiful and informative field guide to Pacific tidal pools. As a South Bay resident of California, I have had contact with tidal pools and many aquariums in my life time. During my time as an undergraduate at UCSC, I had taken a marine biology course out of pure interest as was even treated to a field trip to the local tide pools at Natural Bridges. This book provides the basic information regarding the environment and habitants of tide pools along the Pacific coast and will likely be able to aid newcomers interested in observing nature to understand and distinguish the animals and plants within this diverse ecosystem.

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Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer

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This is one of those books that everyone raves about having been a childhood favorite. I bought the first two books through Scholastic book orders when I was in elementary school but never ended up reading them. The reason why was due to the fact that I thought both Artemis Fowl and Eoin Colfer were female. But upon picking the first book up and reading the first couple of sentences, I discovered that Artemis was indeed a boy. And while that is a silly reason to change my mind about reading so quickly, I was 9 years old at the time. I put the book down, and never thought about picking it up again. Until now. My boyfriend, who is not so much an avid reader, told me that he had always wanted to read this book so I dug it out from my garage and gladly loaned it him. And lo and behold, he flew through it. He told me he enjoyed it a great deal and I thought to myself: “Could it be that great?” so I decided to give it a go and try one more time to read this book.

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Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden

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I have a terrible track record of reading books that I buy because a movie adaptation is coming out. This is one of the many. I bought this book back in 2005 before the movie came out and vowed to finish it before I watched the adaptation. That never ended up happening and I lost the motivation to read it after seeing the film. The ambiance and story was so mesmerizing I was worried the book wouldn’t have the same affect. I’ve also never been one for reading historical fiction and I didn’t really feel that I could go out of my way to force myself to read something I didn’t have interest in. This book has sat on my shelf for 10 years and I have finally go around to reading it and am immensely glad I did.

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