Broke Millennial

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Living in the nation’s capital doesn’t come cheap. I currently live in one of the most expensive neighborhoods in the city, where rent is basically one whole paycheck. I moved into my own place last summer, and wanting to fine tune my financial skills, I turned to Broke Millennial: Stop Scraping By and Get Your Financial Life in Order by Erin Lowry. Lowry runs the website BrokeMillennial.com and graduated from the same university that I did. (Shout out to St. Bonaventure University!)

My first experience with finance began at 15 1/2 when I got my first real job working in the dining room of the local retirement home. I only worked about 10 hours a week at making the then minimum wage of $7.15, but earning my own money felt great.  I learned about depositing money, what a debit card is, and why teenagers are too young to get credit cards.

Now, 10 years later and in the real world, I earn a real salary and deal with credit card bills, student loan payments, and 401Ks, all topics that are covered in Lowry’s book. Although it may sound like a bunch of generic information, it’s written in a way that makes it easy and fun to read. She includes vignettes about her personal experiences and the experiences of her friends, which made the book very relatable. Interlaced with the advice are humorous references, an example being on page 65 in the credit report chapter, “Your goal should be to join the ranks of the 700+ Club- not to be confused with the oddball evangelical talk show.” Some chapters even cover more personal topics, such as buying a house, splitting the dinner bill with friends, and even how to discuss finances in a relationship. Each chapter ends with a checklist or summary of the material from it. I found her advice about affording life in the big city helpful, as spending in D.C. is a much different story than life in Western New York State.

I’ve already started to incorporate advice from her book into my own life. I used to buy lunch every day, but now that I have my own apartment with my own kitchen, I can make my own lunch and save a ton of money. Another way I’ve been able to save is trying to walk to work more (depending on the weather.) This saves on bus fare, which costs $2 per way, so that’s an extra $4 I can save everyday for weekend excursions. I also freelance write as a side hustle for some extra money. Buying a house isn’t in my plans anytime soon, but I could use the advice for the future.

I definitely recommend Broke Millennial as a way to figure out your finances, especially since money can sometimes be a taboo subject to discuss.

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Words in Deep Blue

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The modern technology age has changed just about everything in the consumer market- music, shopping, and more. Bookstores fall into this category as well.  There was a time where there were several national book chains, now Barnes and Noble remain the sole one. However, independent bookstores still exist in just about every city and town. This is where the events unfold in Australian author Cath Crowley’s novel Words in Deep Blue.

For the past twenty years, Henry Jones’ family has run a secondhand bookstore in Gracetown, a suburb of Melbourne, Australia. Henry, the oldest child who lives above the shop with his parents and younger sister, lives and breathes books. The store is famous for its “Letter Library,” a section of books where people are free to write in or leave notes between the pages.  One of many notes that were left there was a love letter to Henry from his best friend Rachel Sweetie, who left three years earlier.

Rachel should be looking forward to being 18 and her future. Instead, she is overcome with the drowning of her younger brother Cal ten months earlier. Having dropped out of school and needing a distraction, she returns to Gracetown to live with her aunt Rose and find a job. She ends up working at the bookstore with Henry, and they begin to reconnect through a series of letter to each other and experiences with old friends.

While this may sound like the classic unrequited best friend love story, this is far from it. Instead, it is the story about grief, friendship and life choices. Rachel initially decides not to tell anyone about Cal, thinking that it will get better. Meanwhile, Henry struggles to figure out his future, wrestling with feelings for his ex-girlfriend and his family’s decision on possibly having to sell the bookstore.

The story is told through alternative first-person perspectives. Rachel’s chapters are filled with her inner thoughts about her brother. Henry’s chapters describe his confusion about Rachel’s mood. This made the story very realistic, because in real life people don’t know what’s going on in another’s head. The rest of the cast of characters are quite real as well, reminding me of people I’ve known in real life.

Henry does eventually find out about Cal, and his reaction is honest. ” ‘I don’t know how to talk to you about this,” Henry says,” because I’ve never been where you are.’ ” (page 190.)

Interspersed within the chapters are letters and notes written on the pages of certain books, paying tribute to the practice of letter writing. My favorite quote from the novel is:

“Words matter, in fact. They’re not pointless, as you’ve suggested. If they were pointless, then they couldn’t start revolutions and they wouldn’t change history. If they were just words, we wouldn’t write songs or listen to them. We wouldn’t beg to be read to as kids. If they were just words, then stories wouldn’t have been around since before we could write. We wouldn’t have learned to write. If they were just words, people wouldn’t fall in love because of them, felt bad because of them, ache because of them, and stop aching because of them.” (page 210.)

I highly recommend this novel because of its beautiful tribute to words and books, and its realistic depiction of how grief can affect one’s life.

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The Rooster Bar

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Happy New Year! Today I am reviewing John Grisham’s latest novel The Rooster Bar, which I received as a Christmas present and read over the course of a couple of days. (Warning: minor spoilers.)

Mark, Todd and Zola are three friends who are law students Foggy Bottom Law School in Washington, D.C. Now, with one semester left until graduation, the three realize that the school is nothing but a for-profit scheme set up by a millionaire who owns a major bank corporation. After the suicide of their best friend Gordy rattles their lives, Todd and Mark make the decision to drop out of law school. Taking on new identities, the two establish their own law firm despite not having licenses. They plan to make money to pay off their student loans by picking up clients at D.C.’s crowded courthouses. They also hope to expose the scheme involving the law school. Meanwhile, Zola deals with her Senegal-native family being deported.

The novel explores several modern themes: law school, student loans, immigrants, unruly lawyers and more. While I’m not in law school, I could definitely relate to the burden of having to pay back thousands in student loans.

The three main characters learn how to take on clients through the action of “learning by watching,” by observing the actions of the lawyers they see in court. Although it’s obviously illegal what they were doing, it made for a fascinating plot and pace. It makes me wonder if false firms like that actually exist.

I did find the characters of Mark and Todd to be a little unbelievable and annoying. They seem almost too sure that they were not going to get caught, and even when they did, repeatedly said they are not going to jail. Their attitudes just didn’t appeal to me, but characters don’t always have to be likable.

The Rooster Bar is definitely worth a read for anyone who likes legal thrillers.

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What Light

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Since it’s the holiday season, I decided to check out a YA novel set during this time of year. Written by 13 Reasons Why author Jay Asher, What Light is a love story that includes friendship, letting go of the past and Christmas trees.

Every year, 16-year-old Sierra has traveled to California from Oregon with her parents to run their seasonal Christmas tree lot during the month of December. Although she doesn’t like leaving her best friends behind for the holidays, Sierra revels in the tradition, the chance to see repeat customers and spend time with her California best friend Heather. This year, faced with the possibility of her family not returning the next year, Sierra’s Oregon best friends suggest that dating somebody might be a fun way to spend what might be her last time in California. Sierra is wary of the thought of a short-term romance, but then she meets local guy Caleb. Caleb works at a local diner and delivers Christmas trees to less fortunate families. Sierra feels a connection to Caleb’s sensitivity and humility and the two begin to form a relationship. As she bonds with Caleb, Sierra faces skepticism from Heather and her parents, but is determined to make her own decision.

I liked Asher’s different take on short-term romance, a concept usually used in stories of summertime flings. Instead, the story takes place during the holiday season, a time when most people are ready to start fresh in the new year. The presence of Christmas trees serves as a symbol of something that brings people together.

Given the heavy themes in 13 Reasons Why, I wasn’t surprised to see Asher weave in serious issues within the plot. Caleb’s backstory (which I won’t spoil) focuses on the idea of not letting someone’s past actions dictate who they are and how rumors can sway people’s opinions. These are issues that are prevalent in today’s society, especially in the age of social media. There are also themes of honesty and relationships with family and friends. I did find the ending predictable and some scenes slightly unrealistic, but this novel is worth checking out to help you get into the holiday spirit.

Happy Holidays!

My Life Next Door

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Next-door neighbors are an interesting entity. Whether you know yours or not, you get a small glimpse into the lives of other people. I grew up in a rural small town where most people knew their neighbors one way or another, but it depends on where you live. My Life Next Door by Huntley Fitzpatrick draws on the concept of next-door neighbors and combines it with romance.

From the moment the Garrett family moved in next door ten years ago, Samantha Reed has been fascinated by the family’s tumultuous lifestyle. The large family of eight kids is a complete contrast from Sam’s life, which consists of her, her older sister Tracey and their single-parent mother. With Sam’s mom running for state office and Tracey away for the summer, Sam isn’t looking forward to an exciting season. But her summer takes an interesting turn when a chance meeting with middle child Jase pulls her into the life of the Garretts and gives her a new perspective about how large family lives. She learns more about herself and how her affluence has affected the way she views life. There’s also a twist that brings up the moral dilemma of doing the right thing and how it will affect your life.

One of the major points of this novel deals with judgementalism. Jase repeatedly tells Sam about how his parents are constantly asked by strangers why they have so many kids and are offered unsolicited advice as to how to raise them. Sam’s mom’s opinion of the family was formed on the day they moved in, without attempting to get to know them more. I liked how Fitzpatrick chose to highlight a very real issue in today’s society.

I wasn’t sure how I felt about the realism of Jase’s and Sam’s relationship. It’s the classic and somewhat cliche tale of two people who come from different backgrounds and fall in love. However, there were other supporting characters that added complexity to the story. There’s Tim, the twin brother of Sam’s best friend, who is lacking motivation and dabbling in drugs and alcohol. He becomes an unexpected confidante for Sam. Although his dialogue is peppered with curses and expletives, I found this to be realistic. There’s Clay, Sam’s mom’s new boyfriend, whose obsession with perfectionism and image makes Sam realize just how superficial her life has been. Fitzpatrick created a cast of characters that reflect people we all know in real life.

My Life Next Door is worth a read due to the diverse characters and important life lessons.

 

Perfect Chemistry

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Chemistry is a science class that most people have to take during high school in order to graduate. Chemistry also means the sexual tension that two people might feel toward each other. The word takes on both definitions in this book by Simone Elkeles.

Set in the suburbs of Chicago, Perfect Chemistry is the story of Brittany Ellis and Alejandro Fuentes. Brittany is the daughter of picture-perfect parents who has everything a girl could want, wealth, best friends and a boyfriend. Alex is of Mexican descent and a member of a local gang who owns a motorcycle and gives off an intimidating vibe. Both seem to fit the stereotypes of high school society- Brittany the gorgeous cheerleader and Alex the tough-guy rebel. But there is more to them then meets the eye. Brittany suffers from the insecurity of living up to her parents’ strict guidelines and taking care of her disabled older sister Shelley. Meanwhile, Alex struggles to protect his single mother and two younger brothers and experiences flashbacks to the night his father was killed. When the two are partnered for chemistry class during their senior year, their lives collide in ways that they never expected, and the chemistry between them flares up.

The story is told through alternating first person accounts of Brittany and Alex. I like when authors do this, because it provides more perspective to the plot. Elkeles creates believable characters in both Brittany and Alex, mostly though their inner dialogue. Brittany  describes how afraid she is that people will find out the truth about her home life, while Alex struggles with his effort to give his younger brothers a better life than he has. This gave their personalities depth and realism. Alex’s description of the Latina culture, including several Spanish phrases, adds some diversity as well.

There were parts of the story that I felt could have been omitted or shortened. For example, one chapter has Alex teaching Brittany how to properly drive her car and them spending the entire day together. While it seems to focus on developing their relationship, I felt like there had already been several interactions like that already in the book, and the whole section felt repetitive. The entire book is 368 pages, which seemed a little too long for me.

Some parts of the gang presence did not feel realistic to me. One instance is how Alex and his fellow gang members wear bandannas as a “uniform,” even to school. I know for a fact that my high school did not allow students to wear bandannas for that very reason. I don’t know if that rule varies depending on where in the United States you are.

I do recommend this novel for those who like stories about star-crossed lovers, but it might take some effort to get through the almost 400 pages.

 

 

 

 

Uncommon Type: Some Stories

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Tom Hanks has been one of my favorite actors since I was young. Toy Story and Forrest Gump were both staple movies of my childhood, and I was mystified that the person who played character with the Southern drawl was the same person who voiced the animated character of Woody. So when I found out Tom Hanks was coming to the Warner Theatre in  D.C. to promote his new book, Uncommon Type: Some Stories, I decided to go check it out.

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He and well-known author Ann Patchett talked for more than an hour about a wide variety of topics, including his experiences in the film industry, and how the literary world interweaves with the movie world. He answered several questions from the audience about how acting has affected his life, his family and his overall psyche. He didn’t hesitate to throw in a couple of curse words while he spoke, which I found realistic and relatable.

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While many celebrities usually debut in the writing world with memoirs, Hanks chose to write fiction for his first full-length book. Uncommon Type is an anthology that contains seventeen short stories. What links them all together is that each story contains a typewriter in some way, whether it be a brief mention or a main part of the story’s plot. The plots themselves differ widely and are set in several different decades, although there are some overlapping characters.

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I could see several of Hanks’ own personal experiences within the stories. One is about an actor trying to make it in the New York City, which is where Hanks first moved after graduating from college. Another one is about a Greek immigrant who has just arrived in America, which echoes the story Hanks told about how his father-in-law got to the United States. The writing style changes throughout the stories; some are written in first person and some in third person. The narrator or protagonist of the story also changes the tone. For example, one story that focuses on a 10-year-old boy describes details from a child’s perspective. The theme of typewriters comes from Hanks’ own hobby of collecting typewriters, highlighted in this segment from CBS This Morning. 

I mostly enjoyed the stories, but I felt like a lot of them lacked substance. Those ones had characters and settings, but not a clear plot line. It was almost as if some were bits and pieces of longer stories instead of their own, and others felt incomplete. Hanks does have some writing experience; he wrote the screenplay for 1996’s That Thing You Do! and some pieces for the New York Times and Vanity Fair. 

The typewriter aspect was the best part of the book. Its presence in all of the stories showed it was an object used by everyone, no matter their background or life circumstances; a common link. He pays tribute to the machines by including a picture of one before each story. It makes the book worth checking out.

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