Beware That Book

I actually stepped out of my genre comfort zone and read a teen thriller! This is a first for me, guys. I normally do not enjoy dramatic books that question my own sanity, not just that of the characters and Toten’s Beware That Girl certainly does just that.

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Beware That Girl by Teresa Toten
Published by Delacorte Press on May 31st 2016
Genres: Contemporary, Thriller, Romance, Friendship
Pages: 336
Source: Amazon // Goodreads // Barnes and Nobles

Final Review 3.5 out of 5 / 5 out of 5

★★★☆☆  /   ★★★★★

Kate O’Brien finds herself as the only scholarship student at New York City’s most prestigious all-girls high school, Waverly. Her admittance isn’t only for academics, Kate has many plans when it comes her to time at Waverly.
Olivia, a mysterious, pure-bread socialite in the making owns the hallways of Waverly, but she certainly has things to hide.
The two become unlikely friends, Kate using Olivia and Olivia using Kate. However, when a new, delicious male administrator comes into the pictures, all the girls are enthralled except for Kate–she knows that something is up.
Toten keeps her readers on the edge of their seat with this thrilling depiction of wealthy girls, forbidden love, and New York City’s secrets. Every chapter reveals something different as well as raises more questions than before. Some mysteries get solved, others remain a mystery.


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I don’t even really know where to begin with this book. Usually, when I read, I dog-ear pages so I can go back and retrieve quotes or passages that really spoke to me or that I thought embodied the text as a whole. This book does not have any dog-eared corners. And not because I didn’t enjoy it or it didn’t speak to me–quite the contrary actually. This book spooked me, just like it claimed it would.
Toten powerfully creates this twisted world that is part Gossip Girl, part Pretty Little Liars, and another part psychological thriller Gone Girl. You are right in assuming that this book will lead you on a mental wild goose chase of whodunit. I have given the book 3.5 stars not out of the book being bad, but out of my fear and bias towards it. Generally, I do not reach for this genre. I, in fact, abhorred Gone Girl even though it’s my boyfriend’s favorite movie. I don’t like horror, or thriller, or anything that can be described as “scary.” I don’t see a point in freaking myself out over something, especially something that is fucked up enough to be real. I read Toten’s story and pictured the New York that I know and could almost see it happening. The girls that are close enough to my age, all with their own bottles of pills and personal therapists, all taking drugs and drinking, all wanting to sleep with a teacher (I was in high school once!).
I also wanted to give the book an accurate 5 out of 5 rating for those that do enjoy this type of genre. Toten will blow you out of the water. The twists that she throws out at all corners are unlike any other that I’ve read (probably because I don’t read these types of books). The ending? Literally, did not see that coming. Other than the Valium-coated high school girls, nothing in this story seems overdone or cliched. Everything is a surprise.
I didn’t say anything, couldn’t trust my voice. After he locked up, we walked through the crowds in silence. Except, of course, everyone in Chinatown kept calling out his name and greeting him. I kept my mouth shut. I was too busy sucking back tears. Because not for the first time, but with more fervor than I could ever remember, dear Jesus I wished that I was someone else.
If only, if only…I could be anyone else (page 271).
There are certain things I want further explained (what happened with Johnny???) but alas those much-needed answers will never come. I think this is why I dislike thriller and dramatic genres as much as I do. There are characters that just randomly disappear, storylines that don’t end nicely, and a general unease after closing the book, not a sense of release. I suppose that this is how Kate feels, though. She never gets a sense of release. She is constantly on edge, worried that her past is going sneak up on her. She has so much to lose and could be in deep danger if she is found. But what secrets does she hide? What secrets does Olivia hide? And what secrets do they have together? Neither girl is allowed a happy ending; Toten’s story is too realistic to let that happen.
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Take One Drop of Pretty, and Call Me in the Morning

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wow. just, wow. I cannot get over this book. I am totally blown away by how unassuming Clark’s book is, resting neatly on the shelf in barns and noble where I purchased it, only to completely mind-fuck me with each page turn.

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The Regulars by Georgia Clark
Published by Atria/Emily Bestler Books on August 2nd 2016
Genres: Contemporary, Feminism, Friendship, Romance, Beauty
Pages: 400
Source: Amazon // Goodreads // Barnes and Noble

Final Review 5 out of 5

★★★★★

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Picture that episode of Sherlock where the victims of an unknown cause of death are to choose from two pills: one will kill you, the other lets you live. Now, The Regulars is certainly not that dramatic, but the choice of poison is still there. Would you drink a drop of Pretty, a powerful “drug” that once swallowed, turns the user into their most perfect, beautiful, “pretty” self.

Three friends, roommates Evie Selby and Krista Kumar, along with Willow Hendrickson, have been friends since their college days. Naturally living in NYC as three, young, talented, but unrecognized women can be difficult and bills need to be paid. Evie works at Salty, a magazine that seems loosely based on our world’s Cosmo. She is a lowly editor (wait, I want that job), but has dreams of writing big league stories on real women’s issues. Krista is a law-school dropout turned aspiring actress. She cannot seem to catch an acting break though and owes Evie quite a few dollars in bills. Finally, there’s Willow, who actually needs no help financially seeing as her father is a famous movie producer. She, instead, needs help finding her own, personal path of art without the help, and support, of her father.

When Krista is approached by an old classmate, whom she doesn’t recognize, and given a strange purple vial containing a liquid called “Pretty” the three girl’s lives will change. Pretty turns each user into their truest, best, most popular and overall prettiest self. It sheds pounds, gray hairs, unwanted overly large noses, and more. It changes hair color, length and texture, eye color, removes blemishes and even tattoos. It truly creates a person who is worthy of fashion magazines and prom queen titles.

Each woman takes Pretty for a different reason and therefore create their alter-egos. Krista becomes Lenka Penka, a beautiful aspiring actress who needs a new agent and new movie. Evie becomes Chloe Fontaine, a new face for Salty‘s new live show Extra Salty where Evie hopes to influence people politically. And Willow turns into Caroline for the simple reason of trying it. She later develops a method to her madness in using Caroline as a model in her photographs.

Love interests bloom, careers expand, and overall good things happen to those that are pretty, all while the three aren’t really themselves. So why bother going back? Why not have it all? The brains and personality of a Regular but the look and taste of a Pretty? Who’s even stopping them? They are young and hungry women, eager to make a name for themselves in the big city and they have a secret potion that is going to get them there.

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Take this fanart  “There’s no such thing as ugly”; I understand the message they are trying to send–a classic case of “everyone and everything is beautiful” and while they’re not wrong in wanting to believe that, Clark’s characters echo through my mind.

In a rational world, a hopeful world, there wouldn’t be anything described as ugly, but on a realistic level, there are many, many things holding that description and it doesn’t even have to be women! Certain Lularoe legging patterns, the world’s ugliest dog [okay, but all dogs are cute, right?], insects, deep-sea creatures, those toaster cars, the lovely and inevitable acne, and the list continues. It is horrendous that “ugly” is commonly used to describe people or features of a person whether it be their hair or their personality. So instead of writing another tale about women’s bodies through rose-colored glasses, Clark writes about the good, the bad, and of course, the ugly.

If you are interested in a refreshing tale that will completely take you by surprise, then I suggest you picking up this pink book. Sitting perfectly on the shelf, just like a little jar of Pretty, it screams simple but edgy, it has something to say and boy does Clark say it.

Evie’s, or should I say Chloe’s, makeup artist at Extra Salty, Marcello, asks the question Clark poses:

“Does that annoy you?” Marcello asked, dotting Evie’s skin with foundation. “The fact you’re not in charge of how you look?” (page 256)

Aren’t we all a little annoyed that we can painstakingly work on profiles, lip proportions, chin jut outs on a Sim character, but not on ourselves? Of course, we are! We’re realists! Someone is always going to want bigger boobs, less bushy eyebrows, curlier hair, and the opposites to go with those. So, of course, we’re mad that with a snap of fingers, our face is rid of acne, age spots, dark spots, scars, wrinkles, and anything else women are told is ugly. But of course, we can’t do that. There is no magic pill, serum, or drink; this isn’t Wonderland and we aren’t Alice. We are real and our “ugly” features are real too; they are a part of us. And when we take those away, are we really us anymore?

Evie doesn’t seem to think so when she becomes Chloe Fontaine for the first time, but she brushes it away quickly:

The most unusual inclusions were two subtractions: first, she no longer needed glasses…And second, her tattoo was gone. This struck her as odd: she was fond of her tat, but the ink had spread over the years and was sun-faded. By comparison, the space where it used to be on her forearm resembled pristine carved marble (page 94).

Two vital parts of her are missing: first, her glasses, a necessary accessory that she had been wearing since 10 years old, and then her tattoo, a permanent piece of art that she chose to get for some reason at some point, was now missing. Sure these are minor, and in a way, we have the availability to rid ourselves of poor eyesight (contacts, laser eye surgery) and bad tattoos (tattoo removal i.e. a saw), but Evie didn’t necessarily see either of those features as ugly but the Pretty did and in order for her to become her perfect self, she must be rid of anything ugly–including things that made her feel pretty at one point.

I myself have 5 tattoos, all that have deep meaning to me. The reader doesn’t know what Evie’s tattoo is, but it begs the question of whether or not tattoos are “pretty” enough to be included in someone’s Pretty form. Clearly, Evie’s wasn’t.


Moving on from Evie, Willow/Caroline is probably my favorite character in the story. Although Evie seems to dominate Clark’s world, Willow, to me, seems the most relatable. Evie is a pronounced feminist and woman-rioter. She has short hair, is a blogger, and denounces her Cosmopolitain-like magazine. Krista, on the other hand, is extremely bubbly and overall annoying. She only thinks of herself when taking the Pretty (well, I suppose all three women only think of themselves when taking the Pretty…) and doesn’t seem to want to do any good with it. Finally, there’s Willow, who although she doesn’t use her new beauty for good, per se, the reader watches as Pretty completely shuts her down–a normal reaction I presume to such an addictive and overwhelming drug.

She notes spot on that by becoming Caroline, this alter-ego of herself, she isn’t Willow anymore. It doesn’t bother her that she is no longer the daughter or friend or girlfriend people in her life care for because now she can feel like a “normal” person in the world; her anxiety and depression don’t cripple her on a daily basis–she can create a person who doesn’t have any mental illness at all and this is exactly what she does.

There was something about being Caroline that was so incredibly freeing. Caroline didn’t carry herself with an invisible shield. Sometimes Willow felt like she was always conducting two conversations with the world: the one that was spoken out loud, and the one she carried with her, inside her head. Caroline wasn’t like that. Caroline didn’t hide her body. Caroline didn’t double-check her statements to make sure they sounded smart. Caroline knew how to flirt. Caroline was liberated (page 202-03).

Willow as Caroline, of course, makes mistakes–all of the girls do. She does stupid things, ranging from completely ignoring her two best friends for days on end to flirting with her own boyfriend as a different person. All of this is in the name of art, though. Her photography is what separates her from her father’s Hollywood movies and her friends “adult” careers. She finds peace in her photography, so imagine the inner peace she gets from being Caroline and taking pictures? This all spirals out of control, obviously, and Caroline starts to take over. Who are the girls now without their alter-egos? What if they decide to never be their old selfs again?

“And I know you think makeup sets an unrealistic standard and yadda yadda yadda, but the way I see it, I’m just helping people bring out their inner goddess. I can’t make you beautiful, Chloe. I can just help you see, with a little color here and a little color there, that you are already beautiful” (page 257).

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Being Regular wasn’t enough though for the three women and others in New York who are taking Pretty. Though Marcello’s words resonate with all of us, and Evie when he tells her this, their beauty standards are still impeccably high. Once Evie and Krista transform into Chloe and Lenka respectively for the second time, they notice that some features are not as elegant or brilliant as before from their first transformation. Krista/Lenka’s eyes are not as sea-green and Evie/Chloe’s chin juts out a little more than she remembered. Is this the beginning of the Pretty becoming the Regular? If taken so many times, what is to say that the Pretty version completely takes over the Regular version and suddenly the Pretty is actually the Regular version? We are always going to find faults with our faces, bodies, hair. I have days where I feel completely and utterly badass–strutting myself down the streets, feeling unstoppable. But the next day, a simple 16 hours later or so, another woman can feel the same way–strutting down the sidewalk past me–and totally shatter my self-esteem. Why doesn’t my winged eyeliner look that great? Are those honey-colored highlights? I should try that! She worked it so much better than me today, I’m a failure. These feelings flipflop, interchanging and always coming as a surprise. That woman, though, that made me question myself, was probably questioning herself just the other day too. She must have seen another woman online, in a magazine or person, who seemed to have it all and broke her self-confidence in one blink.

We are so hard on ourselves. A war wages before our eyes when we look in the mirror.

Taking Pretty opened up Evie, Krista, and Willow’s eyes and certainly the readers. I did not enter this book expecting such harsh, but at the same time optimistic commentary on women’s bodies in today’s world. Clark’s story is fresh and honest, it is not a simple remedy tale–in fact, indirectly she recommends taking a little dose of Pretty. Without knowing what our most perfect, most pretty self looks like–and thus the disaster that follows with that–how are we to appreciate our true selves?

At first, Evie felt self-conscious of the way her stomach bulged over the satin hot pants’ tiny waistband, the way her arms seemed heavy and thick in the sleeveless gold top. But none of the other early risers even gave her a second look. Not because she didn’t matter, Evie realized. Because in New York, everything was permissible. No one cared what you wore, how you looked. Only you cared about those things.

Her body was back. And she felt good about it (page 363-65).

 

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Another Rant About Women’s Bodies

[Disclaimer: this is totally not a book review, just a little social piece I thought I’d share]

The new hit comedy, Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates, started another craze for me. Ever the fan of beautiful Aubrey Plaza and Anna Kendrick as well as sexy Zac Efron, seeing their movie was a must. Little did I know it would upset my stomach–not like the way some Tosh.0 episodes do, but in a much more unexpected way.

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As a budding 22 year old with too many plans for my future that I don’t know which one to pick, to say that I am “in shape” would be a disappointing understatement. Sucking it in is really the only ab exercise I do these days. So unless you count pudgy hourglass as a shape, then I am not in it. I have large breasts and a decently sized booty to match. My legs don’t go on for days, but are average and my arms could be more toned but eh. What remains is the centerfold of every woman: the stomach–I’m envisioning here the sound of canned screaming as if from a drive in movie back in the fifties when The Blob came at the screen. At times and at the right angle, I’m a size 8 to the passerby. Other times I’m so large i look five months pregnant (spoiler: I have gotten seats on the bus before by sticking out my gut and cradling it like any good unwed young mother would).

While hilariously well-written and starring an A+ cast, I walked out of the movie, tossing my empty giant-sized cherry limeade slushie in the trash, with whiplash about my own body. I wanted to love every aspect of it, but i couldn’t look Plaza and Kendrick in the face, only their one-eyed, rock hard midsections. I can’t blame them, and I don’t. They didn’t know this feeling of utter self-hatred would arise from their glorious on screen performance, and in fact both girls are so cool that if they had known, they probably would have stopped production, or at the least gained ten pounds in just their stomachs for me. However, their movie started a new body craze for me.

“I’m gonna work out” I told myself on the drive home in the rain. I can get washboard abs like they do (I can’t), I can get toned thighs and arms like they have (I can’t do that either). But I was on a mission. Soon I was thinking are diet pills really that bad? How easy it would be to get skinny by just swallowing a pill a day! I would love that! I began downloading workout apps on my phone and dreaming about running in the morning. However, I always hit snooze.

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Though they gave me reason to hate myself a little, Plaza and Kendrick couldn’t give me the one thing I really need: motivation. Furthermore, I got mixed signals. Cosmopolitan’s August covergirl, model Ashley Graham, talks about how amazing it is to model and still be a normal woman–that is a regular, average, size which is somehow deemed “plus-sized” in the business. For once in a long time, the queen of women’s magazine seemed to be edging towards accepting women as they are; what a game changer! Graham plowed through her interview with chic confidence and inspiration for every woman with a waist size thats double digits. She is awesome, to put it simply. She the Cosmo interviewer about her troubling past (all models seem to have it) and how she eventually found body peace: “A tireless body activist, [Graham is] never not preaching that beauty is beyond size.” The article features pictures of Graham’s sexy body at parties, on the runway, with husband and so on and it ends with Graham’s last tidbit of self-wisdom: “Everybody’s going to have an opinion. As long as I’m healthy and I feel good, that’s what matters.”

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This isn’t the only #BiggerGirlsMatter article the August issue of Cosmopolitan printed. Before Graham’s interview, Taffy Brodesser-Akner’s six-page piece “Stop the Absanity” sits nestled in at page 116. Here Brodesser-Akner assess the origin of our obsession with the midsection from Tamilee Webb’s Abs of Steel video became a hit in 1991 to today where “a rock-hard belly is the ultimate signifier of hotness and hard work” (121). If this is true, then I am neither of the these things. Now wait a second, I always considered myself at least one of those things! Hard-worker. I’m a hard-worker and my boyfriend calls me hot, so that has to count for something?

“This is a body part that is historically was hard, associated with men, and soft, associated with women. Now we, the women, just want our bellies hard. We want the softness eradicated like it was never there” (122).

So what is a girl to think? On one side, there’s Plaza and Kendrick along with every other female celebrity in LA with their thigh-gaps, and then Cosmopolitan features a bigger model and an anti-ab declaration. What side am I supposed to be on? Obviously the bigger side (both literally in weight and in population) because that’s where I fit. However, the fact that Graham is covered up on her cover and how her interview really only deals with her being bigger as the only reason for her success, it’s already sending mixed signals. I want to applaud Cosmopolitan for at least putting in some effort, but what’s stopping Cosmopolitan from featuring what they deem a “normal-sized” girl on cover of the September issue? I guarantee that they will because bigger girls, unless their last name is Kardashian, they do not get featured very often.

I suppose by now you’re wondering “Where is she going with this rant?” and honestly, I do not know. I suppose that’s the sad part. Every day I wake up with a different feeling about my body. Some days it looks killer and I’m the hottest chick around and some days I want to burn all my clothing, start eating only water (if I chew it, then I’m burning calories right?), and question why my boyfriend finds me attractive. The constant media whiplash of “Butts are Totally In Right Now” to “Women were supposed to be soft!” and also “You need to be skinny–end of story” certainly doesn’t help either. I truly think that the only way to find some body peace is to literally try everything and then push out anything that doesn’t work.

If your boyfriend thinks you look great and you love eating mac and cheese, then why stop? Does eating it make you feel good? Sure it does! It’s freaking cheese! I ain’t giving any of that up. Maybe I’ll stop eating bread with every meal, but I am not giving up gluten because Miley Cyrus said so. Candy is my kryptonite and I probably have dessert after 6 out of 7 dinners a week. Who cares? I need to learn to be happy with that regime because I know that anything different would make me unhappy. Watching my boyfriend get to have a milkshake while I have a kale smoothie for dessert? Kill me now.

So to the Aubrey Plazas and the Ashley Grahams alike, I salute you. You’ve found a way to be healthy, sexy, confident, sexy, beautiful, sexy and, most importantly, happy. One day I’ll get there. Let me just research 21 Day Fix while eating frozen yogurt first.