Thursday, June 30, 2016

Book Review: The Girls by Emma Cline

Release date: June 14th, 2016
Author links: Goodreads - Website
Publisher: Random House
Pages: 368
Purchase links: Amazon - Amazon UK - Amazon CA - B&N - Book Depository - IndieBound - iTunes - Google Books - Adriblis - Audible

Description (from Goodreads):

Girls—their vulnerability, strength, and passion to belong—are at the heart of this stunning first novel for readers of Jeffrey Eugenides’s The Virgin Suicides and Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad.

Northern California, during the violent end of the 1960s. At the start of summer, a lonely and thoughtful teenager, Evie Boyd, sees a group of girls in the park, and is immediately caught by their freedom, their careless dress, their dangerous aura of abandon. Soon, Evie is in thrall to Suzanne, a mesmerizing older girl, and is drawn into the circle of a soon-to-be infamous cult and the man who is its charismatic leader. Hidden in the hills, their sprawling ranch is eerie and run down, but to Evie, it is exotic, thrilling, charged—a place where she feels desperate to be accepted. As she spends more time away from her mother and the rhythms of her daily life, and as her obsession with Suzanne intensifies, Evie does not realize she is coming closer and closer to unthinkable violence, and to that moment in a girl’s life when everything can go horribly wrong.

Emma Cline’s remarkable debut novel is gorgeously written and spellbinding, with razor-sharp precision and startling psychological insight. The Girls is a brilliant work of fiction—and an indelible portrait of girls, and of the women they become.

I was so excited to read this one. It was hyped EVERYWHERE prior to its publication and it earned a $2 million advance to Cline from Random House. I have always been interested in stories set in communities or cults and the fact that this tends to be connected to the Manson Family instantly sparked my interest - I listened to the brilliant podcast series by Manson (You Must Remember This) last year and since then I have been garnering more knowledge about Manson and the people that are often labelled as his family.

The Girls is set in Sonoma, California (Cline's hometown) in the summer of 1969, but there are occasional flashes to the present day when the main character of the novel, Evie is 14 years old, on her summer holiday and immensely lonely. Her parents are divorced, her mother is going through a phase of trying to find herself and her father is living with another woman in another city. When Evie gets into a fight with her best friend she starts spending her days on her own, wandering around her hometown. When she meets Suzanne, a 19 year old wild child, she is instantly interested. Through Suzanne, she is introduced to the people at "The Ranch". including Russell Hadron. Very quickly, her innocence starts slipping away and without realizing it she finds herself from a situation she might not be able to escape from.

There are several parallels to be found between Russell and Manson. Similarly to Manson, Russell has dreams of becoming a recording artist, but while he is able to mesmerize the people at the Ranch with his music, actual producers and other musicians are not interested. Like Manson, Russell wants revenge when he is not acknowledged. Also, like Manson's family, also Russell's cult includes a sexual aspect, a certain freedom of sexual acts - taking nude photos, engaging in multiple sexual acts, etc. While the image of Manson has been replicated by popular culture again and again which in result has turned into a demonic entity (which he probably very much was) and almost like a caricature of all evil, Cline keeps a certain distance to Russell as a result of which her story is more about those surrounding Russell, like Evie and Suzanne, rather than Russell himself.

If you know anything about the Manson family, you will probably all the time have an idea where this book is going to. There were no surprises in the narrative. Enjoyment was to be found not from suspense, but from seeing how Cline borrows different aspects of a story already known to me. While I quickly realized that there probably would not be any massive twists and turns here, I kept hoping for a some sort of surprise element. It feels like Cline holds her protagonist Evie so near and dear to her heart that there is not even a chance of her finding herself in any sort of problem. The present chapters very quickly reveal Evie's involvement in the events of the summer of 1969 and not much is left for surprise. 

Evie is an interesting character in her own right, but as mentioned, the way Cline writes about her, constantly protecting her, manages to make her uninteresting at moments where tension could have been created to the narrative. The way Evie lives - drinking Martinis as a 14-year-old, spending days alone etc - feels very distant and strange to me. Of course, the time was different back in 1969, but this novel made me realize quite how different it was for some. The relationship between Suzanne and Evie has a lot of potential, but unfortunately Cline keeps it quite vague. This serves a certain kind of purpose within the novel, but at the same time I kept hoping it would be the factor that would would create some more narrative tension to the story. 

Surprisingly, this novel was far less disturbing that I expected it to be. There are a few scenes with explicit sexual content or violence, but other than that, it is more of a discovery of being a young woman/girl and finding our place in life rather than a story about violence or sex. Cline writes beautifully, but at times her prose feels like TOO MUCH - there are moments when the story drags and it feels like Cline has tried to substitute these moments with prose that just does not make sense. 

I really wanted to like this book, but unfortunately the moment I finished with it, I just felt "meh". If I had known less about the Manson Family I feel like I might have liked this more, but with the previous knowledge I had, this book ended up being very predictable for me. Cline has a lot of potential and her writing is occasionally beautiful, which makes me willing to see what she comes up with next. 


"As an adult, I wonder at the pure volume of time I wasted. The feast and famine we were taught to expect from the world, the countdowns in magazines that urged us to prepare thirty days in advance for the first day of school."

"I waited to be told what was good about me. I wondered later if this was why there were so many more women than men at the ranch. All that time I had spent readying myself, the articles that taught me like was really just a waiting room until someone noticed you - the boys had spent that time becoming themselves."

"I was an average girl, and that was the biggest disappointment of all - there was no shine of greatness on me."

""Asshole", she muttered, but she wasn't really mad. That was part of being a girl - you were resigned to whatever feedback you'd get. If you got mad, you were crazy, and if you didn't react, you were a bitch. The only thing you could do was smile from the corner they'd backed you into. Implicate yourself in the joke even when the joke was always on you."

"I was already starting to understand that other people's admiration asked something of you. That you had to shape yourself around it."

"They didn't have very far to fall - I knew just being a girl in the world handicapped your ability to believe yourself."

I am not really The Beatles fan nor do I listen to their music very often, but Helter Skelter, for obvious reasons, is a song that came to my mind while thinking about this book and the Manson family. In case you are not familiar with Manson's connection to Helter Skelter, here is a quick summary. 

Prior to the Manson murders, Charles Manson talked to his "family" about "Helter Skelter", a war rising from the racial tensions between the black and white Americans. He believed there were messages of war to be found from the lyrics of the Beatles's White Album and was interested in creating an album with his "family" that would do something similar to what he believed The White Album did. According to reports, "Healter Skelter" (notice mistake in spelling) was written in blood to the fridge at the LaBianca estate. 

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Best of far (#6): Podcasts

My final "Best of far" post will focus on podcasts. There are only a few that I've actively listened to this year, but I think in this case quality triumphs quantity.

Though I didn't find season 2 of Serial quite as interesting as the first season, mostly because true crime stories are more of my thing, season 2 of Serial was well-researched, intriguing and excellently put together. Can't wait to see what season 3 focuses on.

Speaking of Serial... I listened to Undisclosed early this year to get more into the case of Adnan Syed and the different investigative and legal steps that have been taken to prove Adnan's innocence. Though the podcast is not purely pro-Adnan, it is definitely more on his side (one of the attorneys narrating the podcast is a family friend of Adnan's). Undisclosed covers what Serial talked about and dives deeper into the issues, evidence, etc.

Someone Knows Something is a podcast by CBC radio which focuses on the disappearance of a five-year-old Adrien McNaughton in 1972 through interviews of Adrien's family and investigation into aspects of the missing person's case that were not taken during the original investigation in the 1970s.

I am still in season 2 of Gilmore Guys, most because I like to listen to it only when I am rewatching Gilmore Girls, but I do love this podcast and want to keep listening to it. The episodes are quite long, so it always takes me a while to get through them (I only listen to podcasts while biking/walking and usually these episodes are too long for my bike ride to school).

I loved the Manson episodes of You Must Remember This and I've been listening to it on and off since then. This podcast is a must-listen for all classical Hollywood fans!

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Top Ten Tuesday (#68) - Ten Backlist YA Contemporary Novels I Want To Read

Keeping up with the flood of new releases often means that I don't have time to read backlist titles, meaning older books available to different publishers. Since there are quite a few backlist titles on my Goodreads to-read list as well as on my Kindle and iPad, I thought I would make a list of YA contemporary titles I would like to get to at some point this year, hopefully already this summer.

I have liked everything I've read by Courtney Summers and I hope that before she publishes something new, I am able to catch up with her backlist titles - Fall for Anything would be a good starting point for that. 

Sign Language sounds like it is about families, friendships, falling in love and grief. Those kind of books always destroy me (the grief up), but for some reason I always keep navigating towards them. 

I read Sarah Ockler's The Summer of Chasing Mermaids when it was published, and now I want to read something else by her - The Book of Broken Hearts is one that has been recommended to me multiple times, so maybe it would be time to finally pick it up. 

I LOVE story lines where best friends fall in love, and Better off Friends by Elizabeth Eulberg seems to fit the bill. 

Faking Normal sounds like it could be a perfect blend of more serious subjects and romance. I have heard good things!

I am weirdly obsessed with books that deal with cults, which is why I am surprised I haven't read The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly yet. 

Rites of Passage sounds like my kind of book - military academy setting, kickass female protagonist and a secret/forbidden relationship. 

I saw someone on Goodreads recommending The Things You Kiss Goodbye to fans of Courtney Summers which instantly caught my interest. 

The Summer of Letting Go seems to deal with grief, romance and more, and the title alone says that it should be read during the summer. 

These Gentle Wounds sounds tragic and beautiful. Also, Queen Emery Lord gave it a five star review on Goodreads which means I HAVE TO READ IT!

Monday, June 27, 2016

Best of far (#5): Bloggers

I love sharing my love for other bloggers because the book blogging community is so freaking awesome! Today I am going to share a few bloggers I've come across for the first time during the first month of 2016. If you have a new blog or if you think I've never visited yours, please leave me a link so I can come and share some love!

Chelsea blogs at Sparkles & Scribbles and her blog is about books, beauty and more. I came across Chelsea's blog after stumbling to her Twitter page and I love checking out her "Monthly Scribbles" wrap ups where she shares her favorite books, beauty products, tv shows, podcasts and so on (these are always filled with great recommendations!)

I have chatted with Ely on Twitter and from her Twitter profile I found my way to Tea & Titles which is run by Ely and her co-blogger Michelle. Tea & Titles is updated actively and in addition to reviewing books they participate in different weekly memes, share lists of things (like what they have on their Netflix queues) and so on.

I fell in love with Stephanie's blog design at Chasm of Books and I have been going back for her reviews and discussion posts (like this one on why you should try audiobooks!) Chasm of Books is specially dedicated to science fiction and fantasy, which are not typically my go-to genres, but when I am in the mood for something that isn't contemporary, I often check Stephanie's blog for recommendations.

Tika's blog Fangirl Confessions is not only visually gorgeous but also features awesome reviews for books from a lot of different genres. Tika is also very active on Twitter which is something I love since I am also bit obsessed with Twitter at the moment.

I also want to bring up a two awesome young readers/writers from Twitter: 

Michael is a writer himself as well as a reader of YA fiction. He also contributes to @BNTeens and @MTV and I think he has a lot of great things to say. In his Twitter profile he describes himself as a "Lucille Bluth enthusiast" which made me instantly hit the "follow" button since, as some of you might now, Arrested Development gives me life (so much so that I am doing my master's degree on that show). One of my favorite pieces by Michael is I Might Be Gay, But Please Don't Call Me Your 'Gay Best Friend' from You can find more about Michael from his website.

When Camryn is doing big things in Hollywood or in the publishing circuit (OR BOTH!) I am going to be one of those really pretentious people telling that I followed her on Twitter when she was still in the process of reaching world domination. Camryn is so wonderful with words and she has got me thinking about race, white privilege, intersectional feminism and so on. This girl is going to be doing big things one day and I can't wait! (MTV named her as one of 8 inspiring teens using social media to change the world!)

As I said, if you want me to check out your new blog or if you think I haven't been over to your blog in a while, leave me a comment and I will come over and share some bookish love!

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Best of far (#4): Television

Yesterday I shared with you some of my favorite books from the first half of 2016. Now it is time to talk about television. Like with films, I will only count shows that I have started watching this year since if I were to list shows that I have continued watching in 2016 this list would be VERY long. So new-to-me shows only.

I started watching Six Feet Under just a few weeks ago, but I am listing it here as a favorite because I know that by the time I finish with it, it will most likely be one of my favorite shows ever! The cast, the way it is written and the drama of it all work so well together! No wonder this show is considered to be a classic and referenced SO OFTEN in television studies academia.

Okay, Grandfathered was no masterpiece, but I found it really entertaining and I'm sad it's not coming back in the fall. John Stamos is such a babe and the cast around him worked really well together. As I said, not a comedic masterpiece, but one that was fun to watch. If you are looking for a comedy to binge on, give this one a go!

OKAY, THIS SHOW IS FREAKING PERFECTION! I saw everyone talking about this on Twitter and finally caved in and started watching it. I wasn't able to stop until I reached the end. They better make more of this because I need to see how the relationship between Phryne and Jack develops. If you are looking at one of those shows that teases a perfect romance in EVERY SINGLE EPISODE, watch this. The chemistry is SIZZLING.

I still have about a season to watch of this, but like with Six Feet Under, I already know this one will be one of my all-time favorites. I love Kristen Bell and even though I never expected I would fall for Logan after seeing the first few episodes, it happened.

I am a massive Full House fan so obviously I was very excited about the Netflix "reboot" Fuller House. According to critics Fuller House was a massive failure, but I think the fans (like me) loved it because they are doing season 2 now. Full House has always been one of those shows which I can just put on and feel happy, and Fuller House was exactly like that for me as well.

You're the Worst is described as "not your typical romantic comedy" and I think that description fits pretty well with the show. It is about a young couple who are not ready for the cliche love-story despite the fact that they are clearly so into each other. The way this one tackled depression was done, in my opinion, very well and I can't wait to see how this continues!

This show is a freaking national treasure! Humor, romance and some of the best songs I've ever heard all in one! Also, a bisexual male character who is given an actual storyline and a happy relationship. I am in awe of this show and cannot wait for season 2 to start.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Best of far (#3): Books

Now that I have shared with you some of my favorite documentaries and films from 2016... so far, I will take a break from the visual stuff and list to you some of my favorite books from the first half of 2016.

Jeff Zentner's The Serpent King broke my heart into tiny little pieces, but managed to put it back together in the end! This book was so well-written and filled with interesting characters and character relationships. Once I started reading it, I had a very difficult time putting it down, even when tears were running down from my eyes to the screen of my Kindle. Truly a beautiful piece of literature for everyone, not just fans of young adult literature.

I FINALLY read Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar and it instantly became one of my favorite books ever! Plath writes so beautifully and the story is extremely interesting and one I was able to relate with on many different levels. If you are like me and have been hesitating to pick this up, please do it now! It is so worth it!

I have never seen the film adaptation of this one, but after seeing videos from the Broadway production, I thought it would finally be time to read this one! Alice Walker's The Color Purple covers a great span of time in a relationship of two sisters. It deals with issues of feminism (the role of women in the society), sexuality, marriage and so much more. Extremely touching and interesting and after reading it, I definitely want to see the film at some point too.

I haven't been a super enthusiastic short story reader, but this one definitely made me want to look for more short stories. The stories featured in Jhumpa Lahiri's The Interpreter of Maladies are extremely interesting, touching and entertaining. Some are set in India, some in United States. They introduce characters from all walks of life and discuss many things from identity to family relationships and so on. If you are interested in the short story format, I recommend starting with this one!

This beautiful novel by Wendy Mills will be published in August and I have a feeling it will be making waves in the bookish community. It is focused on stories of two different young women. One of them is Aila who gets stuck in one of the twin towers on September 11, 2011. The other is Jesse, whose brother died as a result of the 9/11 attacks. This was extremely sad, but also filled with bravery, kindness and second chances.

I have had a copy of George Orwell's  1984 on my shelf since 2014 and I finally picked it up while I was in the mood to read and annotate something. While reading this I made annotations to the pages, underlined my favorite lines and so. Though I have been one of those people who never wants to make markings to a book, I enjoyed the annotation process so much that I am planning on doing it with other classics as well. I probably got much more out of this book by annotating it that I would have gotten if I would have read it "normally".

I think Shannon M. Parker's The Girl Who Fell was the very first book I read in 2016 and it certainly has left an impression on me. The story is extremely intense, the characters are interesting and not quite what they first seem and as a cherry on top, there are hockey players there (hockey players make EVERYTHING better!).

Which books have you loved so far in 2016?

Friday, June 24, 2016

Best of far (#2): Films

My first Best of far post focused on the best documentaries I've seen so far in 2016 and I thought it would be fun to continue with visuals and share with you some of the best films I've seen so far in 2016. So without further ado, here we go... (I am only counting new-to-me films in order to keep this list fairly short!)

In Jocelyn Moorhouse's The Dressmaker Kate Winslet plays a glamorous woman who returns to her small Australia hometown to take care of her elderly mother. She left home when she was young as a result of rumors that turned her into a criminal, and pretty soon after her homecoming she starts to make waves with her confidence and glamorous wardrobe.

I have never been a fan of Liam Hemsworth, but in this one he is a TOTAL BABE! If you like kickass ladies who take revenge on those who have hurt them, WATCH THIS ONE!

I have watched Skins for four times already this year because it is just do damn good! My postcolonial theory and my ethnicity in North American cinema classes introduced me to Native American cinema, which is something that I had never really been that familiar with before this year. I had seen Chris Eyre's Smoke Signals before, but I think I like this one even more!

Now and Then lowkey changed my life this year and now I question my choices of not watching it before because I know I would have loved this as a child/teenager. I have a friend group similar to the group depicted in this film, and this really made me want to call my friends and tell them how much I love and adore them. I most definitely identify with both child and adult Sam the most!

After seeing a film like Sandra Nettelbeck's Mostly Martha I question my choice of not to watch more foreign cinema (by foreign I mean non-English speaking productions). Mostly Martha is so funny, occasionally tragic, and also super romantic at times! American rom com fans out there might be familiar with No Reservations starring Catherine Zeta-Jones and Aaron Eckhart, which is a remake of this one! THE ORIGINAL IS SO MUCH BETTER! Even if you didn't like No Reservations, you definitely should watch this one because it is so different!

I will forever love my postcolonial theory class for introducing me to Ousmane Sembene's Moolaadé, which tackles issues of genital mutilation and the role of women in a small community. No special effects, no fancy cinematography, but interesting plot and characters and a look into a culture very different from what I am used to! If you are interested, you can find this from Youtube!

Gina Prince-Bythewood's Love & Basketball is honestly one of the best romantic dramas I've ever seen... And I have seen a lot of them, so that statement should be considered to be a BIG DEAL. It has an amazing cast, romance, funny scenes and just so much to love! If you like new adult novels that center around sports, you definitely should watch this one!

Beyond the Lights is also directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood and it is also almost two hours of perfection! The cast is amazing (the female lead is played by Gugu Mbatha-Raw who's also in Belle and the male lead is played by Nate Parker who is a total BABE!) and the story it tells feels very current and important (the struggles of instant fame and certain expectations set for celebrity women, etc). It is also extremely romantic and the chemistry between the leads is INSANE!

I didn't end up seeing Carol in 2015 and waited for the release of the DVD to watch it. Though it would have been awesome to see this one on the big screen, I liked the intimacy of watching it alone and really getting swept up to the feelings and emotions of it. Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara are amazing and I guess I should mention as one merit of this film the fact that IT REALLY TAKES TALENT TO MAKE ME THINK THAT KYLE CHANDLER IS AN ASSHOLE.

Emily Ting's Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong might not be the most perfect film, but it felt pretty perfect for me. I am a huge fan of films that rely on dialogue and this one truly is a film like that - a Chinese American woman visiting Hong Kong meets an American expat, they walk around and talk to each other. Both are in a relationship, but there is a spark there that cannot be denied. The ending might be disappointing to some, but it made me very excited because MORE FILMS SHOULD WRAP UP LIKE THIS!

Which are some of the best films you've seen so far in 2016?