Book – 30 Before 30: How I Made a Mess of my 20s, and You Can Too by Marina Shifrin is a fantastic read. Marina details her journey attempting to and succeeding in achieving 30 goals before turning 30 years old. Some goals were bigger: “Getting a Dog”, “Visit Russia”, and “Live in a Different Country”, while others were easier to accomplish: “Eating a Meal Alone” and “Take a City Bus Tour.” For any millennial working through their mid 20s, or for any age seeking to create their own bucket list, this book is a fun beacon of light in all the stresses adulthood can bring.
I was so inspired by Marina’s list that I decided to create my own! I will admit I stole some of her goals, specifically “Getting a Dog”, “Eating a Meal Alone”, but some of my other goals include: “Baking an Obscene amount of French Macarons” (Because why not?) and “Taking a Roadtrip Through the 6 States Most Abundant in Cacti” (and of course buying a ton of new houseplants along the way). Because of the format of the book, it was easy to browse for chapters that were most relatable to me, but I still found myself reading through each section. Marina’s humor is a great addition to this memoir, and I really enjoyed her writing style. Her parents emigrated from Russia and it was interesting to see how that heritage has influenced Marina in her life and partaking of the 30 before 30 project, especially in her goal to travel to Russia. An easy but fun read for anyone!
TV Series – It seems to me that the TV series Girls has become an obsession in the world of millennials, and just in general. It’s one of the most realistic portrayals of mid-twenties life that I’ve seen in a television show. Sure, certain aspects are clearly dramatized, as in any popular series, but it just feels real.
Lena Dunham stars as the main character, Hanna, but is also an executive producer, which is pretty impressive. The series follows a group of budding adults: our starring character, Hanna, her best friend, Marnie, the bubbling Shoshana, and eccentric Jessa. They each have such distinctive personalities; it’s fascinating to see how they change and grow as the seasons progress. They’re in that phase of their lives where they’re cut off from their parents, struggling to pay rent, while also trying to maintain friendships, romantic relationships, and holding down jobs to support themselves. The experiences can be crude, disturbing, and intensely sexual, but it’s also though-provoking and something good to reflect on. It deals with difficult topics including: mental illness, drug use, sexuality and the daily struggles of life.
I turn to The Office when I need some comedic relief after watching Girls, which often makes me think too much about my own 20’s life. It presents characters that feel like people I might know and provides a good example of how relationships change after college. I really enjoy this series as a whole. As an added bonus, Adam Driver stars in the show, albeit as Adam, an often disturbed/disturbing love interest. I adore Adam Driver as the angsty Kylo Ren, so it’s always a pleasure to see him on screen.
Book – Girls in White Dressesfollows the lives of three friends: Isabella, Mary, and Lauren. It seems like everyone around them is getting married, and they are constantly taking on roles as bridesmaids. The madness is never-ending! Each weekend passes by with bridal showers, oh’s-and-ah’s over pretty gifts, and dresses in every shade of pastel. Honstely, they are getting a little sick of all this love and wedding business. Told from three points of view, this novel delves into the terrifying world of adulthood, relationships, and just life in general.
The chapters switch between the different lives of the three main women, sewn in with their own struggles, drama, and relationships. With the different storylines, at times it was easy to get the characters mixed up and forget where the book was going. You get a little taste of a memory/themed chapter from one girl’s point of view, and then whoooosh!, the story swerves to a new theme and narrator. However, I really enjoyed these very specific glimpses into the lives of the characters, and learning more about their individual encounters and experiences The characters were relatable, funny, and quirky—-a great read for any chick lit enthusiast.
Book–Becky Bloomwood is a reluctant financial journalist with a dirty secret: she can’t stop spending money. Despite harassment from creditors, Becky cannot resist the siren song of shiny new things, particularly clothes, to the point where she invents a dying aunt to justify borrowing money to buy a new scarf. She tries spending less money (and fails), tries making more money (and fails), and even tries marrying rich. The fun of this novel comes from watching Becky squirm; she has a knack for getting herself into sticky, embarrassing situations reminiscent of Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones and is a delightfully flawed character who with a distinctive and strong narrative voice. As long as you don’t take it too seriously, Confessions of a Shopaholicis chick lit at its light, airy, and compulsively readable best.
Book – Eleanor Oliphant is an awkward young woman who doesn’t have any friends. She works as an administrator in a design firm and spends her weekends drinking enough vodka so that she is neither drunk nor sober. Her only contact with people outside of work are shopkeepers, utility men and weekly phone conversations with her institutionalized mother. Then, Eleanor wins a set of tickets to a concert and develops a crush on one of the singers. Eleanor decides she must improve herself to win his love and changes (and hilarity) ensue. Eleanor’s observations about people’s habits and pop culture and her attitude about life are entertaining, but also also give a glimpse of what she has endured. I loved reading about Eleanor’s transformation and her eccentric new friends. If you liked The Rosie Project or Britt-Marie Was Here, you’ll enjoy this book.
Book – Grace Holland lives with her husband, Gene, and their two young children in a small home on the coast of Maine. She doesn’t drive, receives an allowance from Gene and spends her days caring for her children, managing the house and visiting with her best friend, Rosie. Her marriage is complacent and somewhat dull. Grace wonders why she has never experienced the “god-awful joy” when making love to Gene that Rosie once mentioned. In the Fall of 1947, the town suffers a severe drought and fires begin to break out along the coast. Gene leaves to help fight the blazes and is still gone when the devastating flames reach the town. With most of the houses destroyed, and her husband missing, Grace is forced to take matters in her own hands. As she searches for a means to make money and build a new life for herself and for her children, she is also forced to confront situations more difficult then she could ever have imagined. I admired Grace’s resiliency and pragmatism. She asked for help and accepted it, but she was determined to find a way to be independent. Shreve also wrote The Weight of Water, The Pilot’s Wife and other popular novels.
Book–In the port town of Malacca in Malaya in the 19th century (modern-day Malaysia), Li Lan is the daughter of a impoverished-but-genteel opium addict. Though of marriageable age, Li Lan receives no suitors but one: the prestigious Lim family wants her for their only son’s bride. There’s a catch, however. Lim Tian Ching, heir to the Lim family fortune, has recently died under mysterious circumstances and is demanding a bride from beyond the grave. Ghost marriage, an ancient but rarely practiced custom, is used to soothe an angry spirit, and guarantees the bride’s place in her groom’s house for the rest of her life.
Before Li Lan has even accepted the proposal, Lim Tian Ching begins to haunt her, and she is drawn into lifelike nightmares that sap away her energy. Li Lan is torn between the waking world and the shadowy ghost world where, if she’s not careful, she may remain forever.
The gorgeous, strange setting of turn of the century Malaya and the dreamlike ghost world draw the reader in, stealing the show from the somewhat milquetoast Li Lan and her trite love triangle between new Lim heir Tian Bai and mysterious spirit Er Lang. The Ghost Bride will appeal to those who enjoyed the movie Spirited Away, which has a similar beautiful, nightmarish, dream-logic setting and characters drawn with a light hand.
Book–Based on some 200 cases of ‘fasting girls’ in the US and Great Britain throughout the 19th century, The Wonder follows Lib Wright, a no-nonsense nurse who trained under Florence Nightingale in the Crimean War, who is contracted to determine the veracity of the titular Wonder, a young Irish girl named Anna O’Donnell whose family claims she, of her own volition, has not eaten since her birthday several months ago. Together with taciturn nun Sister Michael, the two women watch Anna in shifts, Lib hoping to expose the O’Donnell family as frauds and secure her own reputation back home. Lib begins to realize, though, as she gets closer to Anna, that their watch is rather cruel. If, up until their watch, Anna has been fed in some covert way and their watch has put an end to it, they are complicit in starving Anna. As Anna begins to grow weak with undernourishment, Lib must decide if she will watch Anna’s slow death, as the village seems to wish her to do, or put a stop to it.
Set just after the Great Famine, the reader can easily see how Anna and her family have made a virtue of not eating. A child who claimed to be full quickly would be a source of relief to her struggling parents. The unique setting, religious faith, and a web of irresponsible adults and family secrets conspire to keep Anna trapped in her fasting and it is difficult to read. The reader feels culpable for Anna’s abuse just as Lib does. This intense read combines the richly detailed, thoroughly researched historical fiction that Donoghue is known for with the pulse-pounding immediacy of her 2010 breakthrough hit Room.
Film List – I have a confession; I am wannabe fashionista. My addiction to fashion-themed romantic comedies knows no bounds and is ever growing. Here are a few recommendations for a rainy night in:
The Devil Wears Prada
Andrea dreams of being a journalist, and having just graduated from Northwestern University, she is finally ready to start her writing career. But her dream never involved working as the assistant to demanding Miranda Priestly, Editor-in-Chief of a famed high fashion magazine. Andrea soon finds herself in way over her head. How will this young woman survive the deadly world of fashion. It’s normal girl transforms into fashion goddess; one of my all-time favorite films. And to top it off the film has a killer cast with the incredible Meryl Streep, Anne Hathaway, Stanley Tucci, and Emily Blunt.
Confessions of a Shopaholic
Rebecca Bloomwood is a shopaholic; she dreams of writing for a fashion magazine and sharing her addiction with the world. But Rebecca is in some serious credit card debt from all her shopping escapades and needs a job fast. She manages to land a job at a financial magazine. Now Rebecca has to write about personal finances and saving money while battling her inner shopaholic.
Though more eccentric-depressing drama than comedy, I still think this film is worth a nibble. Kate Winslet portrays fashion designer Tilly Dunnage, who’s had an exciting life traveling the world. When Tilly returns to her childhood home, she is an outcast, even to her eccentric mother, Molly. In spite of her efforts, Tilly falls for the childhood friend turned handsome flirt. To gain the approval of the local townswomen, Tilly begins designing custom apparel for them, but a dark secret from her past threatens to destroy everything. Is it too later to start over and move on from the past?
Book–Abby and Gretchen have been best friends since Abby’s E.T.-themed birthday in the fourth grade, where Gretchen was the only girl who showed up. Their friendship has been the most significant relationship in both girls’ lives, despite class differences between Abby’s and Gretchen’s families and the vagaries of school friendships. The book is set in Abby and Gretchen’s sophomore year, where they have climbed up to popularity at their selective high school. Trouble starts, though, at a house party at their friend’s lake house, where the girls decide to try LSD. Gretchen has a bad reaction and disappears into the nearby forest for the night. When she reappears, she is…different.
She ceases bathing, wears the same clothes everyday, scribbles listlessly in a notebook, and, most damningly, ignores her nightly telephone date with Abby. Naturally, when your friend takes a turn for the crazy, your first thought is not that she is possessed by a demon, but eventually it becomes clear that there is more wrong with Gretchen than one bad night can explain. I won’t spoil any of the gratuitous-but-fun demonic evil here, but all of the hallmarks of demonic possession are present and accounted for. Abby must decide whether saving Gretchen’s life is worth risking her own; not only her life, but her precarious standing as a poor scholarship student and all of the success that she has fought so hard for. My Best Friend’s Exorcism is part tongue-in-cheek love letter to the 1980s, part touching best friend story, and part gut-curdling horror, but all fun. Hendrix has mastered the tiny niche genre of injecting over-the-top horror into really unlikely and banal scenarios.