Tuesday, August 16, 2022

All the *Chef's Kiss* Books I've Read So Far

"Good morning starshine! The Earth says HELLO!" - me to my blog, as I blow off the metaphorical dust that has been piling up these past few months. 

I finally decided to sit down and put together a coherent string of words about what I've been reading this year, at a point where this year is more than halfway done. Soo, I'm just on time? Also, can someone please remind me in a few months' time that the actual writing part is fun, and not a chore as I always (falsely) lead myself to believe? Thanks. 

Instead of going through all of the books I've tacked so far and starting neverending tangents on why I think some of them just weren't it for me, I decided to keep things positive and give you my best of the best: all the *Chef's kiss* books I read in 2022 that I think everyone should read. And if you'd like to see what didn't make the final cut, head over to my Goodreads profile

"Achilles, "the best of all the Greeks," son of the cruel sea goddess Thetis and the legendary king Peleus, is strong, swift, and beautiful, irresistible to all who meet him. Patroclus is an awkward young prince, exiled from his homeland after an act of shocking violence. Brought together by chance, they forge an inseparable bond, despite risking the gods' wrath. When word comes that Helen of Sparta has been kidnapped, all the heroes of Greece are called upon to lay siege to Troy in her name. Achilles joins their cause, and torn between love and fear for his friend, Patroclus follows."

This book had been on my TBR list for literally two years, and sitting on my bookshelf for half a year. And the reason is that I was very aware of the fact that it's a much-loved book, which comes with its own territory of doubt: what if I don't like it? What if it doesn't live up to my expectations? I absolutely loved Circe by Madeline Miller and as a self-proclaimed aficionado of greek mythology, the stakes were high for this one. 

Finally, I decided to give it a go and I can gladly say that it did not disappoint. Personally, it’s not just the way Madeline Miller handled the original myth and breathed new life into it, but her poetic way with words that left me totally speechless. She would throw these deep and meaningful one-liners in places where you wouldn’t expect them, and as I’m reading this I have to pause and reread because it's just too good. And these were not even thoughts related to Achilles and Patroclus themselves, but to side stories and plots that develop alongside the central love story. I would say this book is a medium-burn story, the pace isn't fast and as eventful as Circe, but from the very first chapter, I felt like I was at home: the mythology, the way the words flow, the storytelling - everything just felt right. I think I’ll forever be in love with everything this woman writes.

"Zachary Ezra Rawlins discovers a mysterious book hidden in the stacks. As he turns the pages, entranced by tales of lovelorn prisoners, key collectors, and nameless acolytes, he reads something strange: a story from his own childhood. Zachary uncovers a series of clues that lead him through a doorway to an ancient library hidden far below the surface of the earth. What Zachary finds in this curious place is more than just a buried home for books and their guardians—it is a place of lost cities and seas, lovers who pass notes under doors and across time, and of stories whispered by the dead."

I picked this book up from the library after months of eyeing it and then deciding to put it back simply because of the length. Coming in at almost 500 pages in the paperback format, I decided to dive into The Starless Sea (pun intended) with little to no knowledge of what the book was actually about. And I think that's how everyone should approach this one. The only thing you should know is that this is a book about the power of books, and the magical portals they open (in this case, quite literally). 

The prose was simply magical, with the right amount of whimsy mixed with the occasional reality check. If you pick this up and feel a bit confused with all of the intertwining stories, just know that it all makes sense in the end, and the payoff is amazing. 

"This is the story of what it's like to grow up in high school. More intimate than a diary, Charlie's letters are singular and unique, hilarious and devastating. We may not know where he lives. We may not know to whom he is writing. All we know is the world he shares. Caught between trying to live his life and trying to run from it puts him on a strange course through uncharted territory. The world of first dates and mixed tapes, family dramas, and new friends. The world of sex, drugs, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show, when all one requires is the perfect song on that perfect drive to feel infinite."

I would’ve started this review by saying something like “how have I not read this when I was younger” but honestly I’m glad I read it in my current headspace because I can fully appreciate its beauty. I watched the film years ago, so I knew the plot, and if you did too, then you know what you're in for. But reading Charlie’s letters just felt so intimate and innocent (yes, it's an epistolary novel - my favorite!) that it added new dimensions to the movie itself, not to mention the complexity of his character. I enjoyed the writing style a lot because I think that it makes our speaker (Charlie) feel real, especially since we're basically reading his private letters - no flourished nor embellished language, no extended metaphors, no beating around the bush - just a confused 15-year-old kid who's trying to navigate high school, friendships, trauma, and everything in between. 

Everyone should read this book at least once in their lifetime because I think it’s a timeless work of art.

"In the Dream House is Carmen Maria Machado’s engrossing and wildly innovative account of a relationship gone bad, and a bold dissection of the mechanisms and cultural representations of psychological abuse. Tracing the full arc of a harrowing relationship with a charismatic but volatile woman, Machado struggles to make sense of how what happened to her shaped the person she was becoming."

Machado's work has been on my to-read list since the beginning of my reading kick back in 2020, and not just on my "oh I'd really love to read this one day" list, but on the "I NEED TO KNOW" list, which is extremely selective. I finally bit the bullet this year and picked up In the Dream House, her memoir of the years spent in an abusive same-sex relationship, which ended up exceeding my expectations.
I had a vague idea of how the format of the book would be, but nothing truly prepared me for *that* choose-your-own-adventure chapter (IYKYK). To say her narrative style is genius would be an understatement, and as a person who's never read a book in 2nd person singular (you form), I didn't even give it much thought because the words flowed so naturally. It almost felt too intrusive to read this, as if I’m in the writer’s head. Machado weaves such honest and beautiful metaphors that anything below 5 stars feels criminal.

"When it comes to the trials and triumphs of becoming an adult, journalist and former Sunday Times columnist Dolly Alderton has seen and tried it all. In her memoir, she vividly recounts falling in love, finding a job, getting drunk, getting dumped, realizing that Ivan from the corner shop might just be the only reliable man in her life, and that absolutely no one can ever compare to her best girlfriends. Everything I Know About Love is about bad dates, good friends, and—above all else— realizing that you are enough."

Brutally honest, funny, and touching, Dolly Alderton’s whimsical essays on her relationships with friends, partners and herself sound (and are) exactly like talking with a friend over drinks. We get to travel back in time to the MSN days when Dolly (and basically everyone) found out how to send subliminal messages to our crushes, then hang around her first home in London together with her best friends/roommates, and crash every party Dolly has managed to drag herself to on that specific night. Oh, and lots of juicy date stories. Some passages spoke to my soul (like the contemplations on death, being present in the moment, and appreciating friendships like they're holy), while others made me wheeze (hello there French roommate with a weird kink).

Either way, I had a blast. I really recommend reading it with the accompanying audiobook read by the author herself. And if you'd really like to immerse yourself in the Alderton-verse, then I recommend watching the TV adaptation of this book as well. It's a bit different from the book, but still a fun and quick watch. 

"Welcome to Niveus Private Academy, where money paves the hallways, and the students are never less than perfect. Until now. Because anonymous texter, Aces, is bringing two students' dark secrets to light. Talented musician Devon buries himself in rehearsals, but he can't escape the spotlight when his private photos go public. Head girl Chiamaka isn't afraid to get what she wants, but soon everyone will know the price she has paid for power."

I know that this book went Tik Tok famous for a moment, so I definitely have to give credit where credit is due. Following our protagonists, Devon and Chiamaka in this Gossip Girl type of world is a thrill, and every page uncovers a new secret. Although this is heavily fictionalized, it still draws inspiration from real-life accounts of extreme racism, which in itself provides multiple layers of interpretation and contemplation. Plot-wise, I loved how it all wrapped up, definitely a page-turner.

"It all begins with a fugitive billionaire and the promise of a cash reward. Turtles All the Way Down is about lifelong friendship, the intimacy of an unexpected reunion, Star Wars fan fiction, and tuatara. But at its heart is Aza Holmes, a young woman navigating daily existence within the ever-tightening spiral of her own thoughts."

Reading John Green again made me feel like I’m back in 2014, but dare I say, I loved this? Picked it up from the library on a whim, just because I was in the mood for something that I can fly through without exercising too much brain power. And I think I hit the nail on the head with this one. The story was easy to follow, gripping enough to keep me entertained the whole way through, and sweet enough to make me feel for all the characters and their teenager-ish innocence.

"My Body is a profoundly personal exploration of feminism, sexuality, and power, of men's treatment of women, and women's rationalizations for accepting that treatment. These essays chronicle moments from Ratajkowski’s life while investigating the culture’s fetishization of girls and female beauty, its obsession with and contempt for women’s sexuality, the perverse dynamics of the fashion and film industries, and the gray area between consent and abuse."

I’ve always found celebrity culture to be quite fascinating (probably due to the fact that I spent my formative teenage years glued to the E! Channel) but never fascinating enough for me to willingly pick up an autobiography book. They’ve never appealed to me - why would I want to read about a rich person’s life that will ultimately make me feel like I’m a failure for not getting my big break at 15 or not inventing the internet?

I am not someone who follows Emily Ratajkowski’s life/career. In fact, I mostly know of her from the hate she gets from other women on the internet. So, why I was so curious to read her collection of essays is beyond me. Yes, a part of me wanted to know what goes on beyond the scenes, or how it feels to be widely recognized for your beauty and sex appeal. But I also wanted to know how she navigated that world, and just simply what goes on inside a person’s head when their whole worth is practically dictated by their exterior.

By sharing essays comprised of fragments from her life, featuring men and women who shaped how she looked at herself and her self-worth, Emily has painted a vivid image of what her life has looked like from her own POV. Her pondering on self-image, comparison, beauty standards, power dynamics, and the modeling world made me feel both intrigued and disgusted. Now, even though I still don’t know much about Emily, I feel proud of her for writing these brutally honest essays and pushing past the self-doubt. Every woman deserves to guide her own narrative, or, as Emily puts it, to “buy herself back”.

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