Where Have I Been?

I have not updated this blog as frequently as I would have liked to or how I planned over the past couple of months because of a family emergency. In September my dad ended up in the hospital, and he was just recently released after a major surgery that resulted in a lot of life-changing adjustments and time in the ICU. At the same time, I began my first term of college, so the past couple of months I have not had time to read due to other obligations that took priority.

Now that he is home and recovering, I have a little more flexible time that I want to spend reading. There are a lot of books that I want to read, so reviews will be back shortly!

— Coleen

 

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Book Review: Her Body and Other Parties By Carmen Maria Machado

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★ ★ ★ ★

Her Body and Other Parties is a riveting 8-story collection that is a gritty, provocative debut. It’s a fusion of magical realism, horror, supernatural and fantasy that focuses on women’s lives and their bodies. In general, I am not fond of short story collections, but this is outstanding work. After each story, I had to take the time to process it, because they really make you think and view the world in a new perspective. It’s an original and electric collection of stories that I thoroughly enjoyed regardless of how disturbing some were because Machado’s storytelling is powerful, innovative, and like an otherworldly experience. You know when you discover an author’s work and realize it’s something you’ve been missing? Her Body and Other Parties is exactly that.

  1. The Husband Stitch — A retelling of the classic kid’s creepy story The Girl with the Ribbon Around Her Neck, where all women wear ribbons on some part of their body.
  2. Inventory — A list of sexual encounters told as a virus spreads across the world.
  3. Mothers — A disturbing, confusing tale about a woman who is given a baby by her lover who then leaves. It was difficult to depict what was real and what wasn’t in this. While strange and I didn’t quite comprehend it, I didn’t feel complied to because it was still intriguing.
  4. Especially Heinous — A reimagining with a dark supernatural-magical realism take on every episode of SUV. As a fan of Law & Order: SUV, I was interested in this novella, but it was the only story in the collection that I didn’t care to finish reading.
  5. Real Women Have Bodies — A haunting story about women who become invisible.
  6. Eight Bites — A narrator who has bariatric surgery and the sacrifice people make to be thin in today’s society, the impact it has on the mind and fellow females around us
  7. The Resident — An author spends some time at an artist’s retreat, where things take a strange, disturbing turn.
  8. Difficult at Parties — A look into a woman’s life after severe trauma and the aftermath when she starts to hear voices of actors in erotic films.

As expected with short story collections, there were some I enjoyed more than others, and some in this collection weren’t easily understood, but they were thought-provoking. Due to that, some descriptions for the stories were not easy to explain without giving away the plot.

A wife refuses her husband’s entreaties to remove the green ribbon from around her neck. A woman recounts her sexual encounters as a plague slowly consumes humanity. A salesclerk in a mall makes a horrifying discovery within the seams of the store’s prom dresses. One woman’s surgery-induced weight loss results in an unwanted houseguest. And in the bravura novella Especially Heinous, Machado reimagines every episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, a show we naively assumed had shown it all, generating a phantasmagoric police procedural full of doppelgangers, ghosts, and girls with bells for eyes.

Paperback, 248 pages
Published October 3rd 2017 by Graywolf Press

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I received a copy in exchange for an unbiased review from the publisher. All opinions are my own.

Book Review: The Blinds by Adam Sternbergh

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★ ★ ★

All across social media I read praise for The Blinds and seen it was a much-anticipated release, so when I had the opportunity to read it, I couldn’t wait to get started. Set in a secret rural Texas town, Caesura, but better known as The Blinds, is populated by dangerous criminals and innocents who’ve had their memories erased so they can have a second chance at a new life with new identities. When one of the residents commits suicide, no one is surprised, but a couple months later another is murdered, and residents want answers. The Blinds is a place harboring secrets that releases chaos when agents start investigating the little hidden away community.

Despite nearing 400-pages, The Blinds is a quick read that is told throughout a week’s time, each chapter titled a day of the week from Monday through Friday. While marketed as a thriller, I found this more as mystery-suspense with a noir western vibe and didn’t feel it had any substantial aspects of a thriller. That said, this was a dark story with a unique setting, complex characters, and overall an entertaining read that was a page-turner from the first page. There was an overwhelming dread for the characters and all the unknown that was going on within this little community they knew nothing about. As the story progressed, it felt like a plague was washing over the inhabitants and town, and I could not put it down for long in between reads because I wanted to know what was going on in The Blinds. Within the plot, there are sub-plots that merge as the story progresses until we reach the final chapter that became a little tedious but didn’t really impact my overall view on the book because it all weaved into a shocking conclusion.

Synopsis 

Imagine a place populated by criminals-people plucked from their lives, with their memories altered, who’ve been granted new identities and a second chance. Welcome to The Blinds, a dusty town in rural Texas populated by misfits who don’t know if they’ve perpetrated a crime, or just witnessed one. What’s clear to them is that if they leave, they will end up dead.

For eight years, Sheriff Calvin Cooper has kept an uneasy peace—but after a suicide and a murder in quick succession, the town’s residents revolt. Cooper has his own secrets to protect, so when his new deputy starts digging, he needs to keep one step ahead of her—and the mysterious outsiders who threaten to tear the whole place down. The more he learns, the more the hard truth is revealed: The Blinds is no sleepy hideaway. It’s simmering with violence and deception, aching heartbreak and dark betrayals.

Hardcover, 400 pages
Published August 1st 2017 by Ecco

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I received a copy in exchange for an unbiased review from the publisher. All opinions are my own.

Spookathon & October Reads

Anytime of year is a great time to read thrillers, but October is really the prime-time for me because it sets the mood, and with that comes readathons. Now I am not one who typically participates in them, but the Spookathon is one that I love and participate in since it began last year. It is hosted by three BookTubers: Bookerly, Paige’s Pages, and BooksandLala–you can view Shannon’s announcement video here.

As soon as I found out that it will be running from October 16th through October 22nd, I started to think about the challenges (which I’ll post below) and what my book selections will be. What I like about this readathon is that you aren’t under a lot of restrictions and don’t have to complete all the challenges, and you can read at your own pace.

The Challenges

  1. Read a thriller
  2. Read a book with a spooky word in the title
  3. Read a book based on a childhood fear
  4. Read a book with orange on the cover
  5. Read a book set in a spooky location

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For my choices, I chose Shadow of the Lions by Christopher Swann, which will be for the first challenge, and The Goblins of Bellwater by Molly Ringle checks off challenges 2, 4, and 5. I had a bizarre childhood fear that sharks would come out of the vents in pools while I was swimming, so I requested Jaws from my local library because it would be a great choice and I have yet to read it.

The Goblins of Bellwater released on October 1st, and it is the perfect read for this readathon! I had planned on posting a review for the release day, but it’s such a spooky, urban fantasy that I couldn’t resist saving it for the Spookathon. Whether you are participating or just looking for a new read, you really need to pick it up.

Shadow of Lions Synopsis 

How long must we pay for the crimes of our youth? It has been almost ten years since Matthias graduated from the elite Blackburne School, where his roommate and best friend, Fritz, fled into the woods, never to be heard from again, in the middle of their senior year. Fritz vanished just after an argument over Matthias’s breaking of the school’s honor code, and Matthias has long been haunted by the idea that his betrayal led to his friend’s disappearance.

Years later, after hitting the fast lane in New York as a successful novelist–then falling twice as hard–Matthias is stuck, a failure as a writer, a boyfriend, a person. When he is offered the opportunity to return to Blackburne as an English teacher, he sees it as a chance to put his life back together. But once on campus, Matthias gets swiftly drawn into the past, and is driven to find out what happened to Fritz. He partners with a curmudgeonly local retired cop and tries to solve the case, dealing with campus politics, the shocking death of a student, Fritz’s complicated and powerful Washington, D.C., family, and his own place in the privileged world of Blackburne.

The Goblins of Bellwater Synopsis

Most people have no idea goblins live in the woods around the small town of Bellwater, Washington. But some are about to find out.

Skye, a young barista and artist, falls victim to a goblin curse in the forest one winter night, rendering her depressed and silenced, unable to speak of what happened. Her older sister, Livy, is at wit’s end trying to understand what’s wrong with her. Local mechanic Kit would know, but he doesn’t talk of such things: he’s the human liaison for the goblin tribe, a job he keeps secret and never wanted, thrust on him by an ancient family contract.

Unaware of what’s happened to Skye, Kit starts dating Livy, trying to keep it casual to protect her from the attention of the goblins. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to Kit, Skye draws his cousin Grady into the spell through an enchanted kiss in the woods, dooming Grady and Skye both to become goblins and disappear from humankind forever.

I have a short pile of books that I want to read this month, but some are lengthy reads so I am anticipating getting through all of them.

Her Body and Other Parties by Maria Carmen Marchado, which is a short story collection that blends psychological realism and science fiction, comedy and horror, fantasy and fabulism; The Good Daughter by Karin Slaughter, which I am currently reading. If I have enough time and get through those books, I want to read Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier because I’ve heard it’s the perfect fall pick, and it’ll be my first time reading it.

Are you participating in the Spookathon? What is on your TBR for October?

 

Book Review: White Bodies by Jane Robins

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★ ★

White Bodies was genuinely creepy, but didn’t really reach the thriller factor for me. This was a novel that I couldn’t wait to dive into because the premise was promising, but it fell a bit flat. Between the writing style and the protagonist, Callie, I had difficulty getting engrossed into the story and didn’t reach for it when I wanted to read, but once it picked up, it was a suspense-filled page-turner. Callie is an unsettling character from the beginning–she catalogs her sister’s life, and at an early age started to eat belonging’s of her sister (hair, teeth, urine) to feel connected and closer to her–and while I understand it was a part of her portrayal, there was something about her personality and reading from her point-of-view that just made me so uncomfortable. Now I rated this 2 stars, I thought it was okay and I eventually got into it, and come the second half, it was intriguing and I had to find out what happened, but it was more of a 2.5 star read for me.

When Callie is introduced to her twin’s seemingly perfect new boyfriend, Felix, it quickly becomes apparent to Callie that her sister is being destroyed physically and mentally– and under Felix’s control and psychological hold. Things spiral out of control when Callie joins an internet support group for victims of abuse and their friends. Soon after, one of her acquaintances is killed by an abusive man, and then suddenly Felix dies.

It’s a slow build-up with more description and Callie’s thoughts rather than dialogue. In the first half, chapters alternated every so often to give a glimpse into the world when Callie and Tilda were kids, and what their unusual relationship was like as twins who are complete opposites. I thought that it brought insight and interesting backstory into the present and their characters. The second half was well paced and a page-turner! I found that I was picking it up more often to read compared to the beginning of the story since it was further along and developed. White Bodies is disturbing with tension and shock value, but I didn’t enjoy this as much as I expected. It most definitely will creep you out, and the ending brought an unexpected twist, but I wouldn’t necessarily pick this up to reread again.

Synopsis

Felix and Tilda seem like the perfect couple: young and in love, a financier and a beautiful up-and-coming starlet. But behind their flawless facade, not everything is as it seems.

Callie, Tilda’s unassuming twin, has watched her sister visibly shrink under Felix’s domineering love. She has looked on silently as Tilda stopped working, nearly stopped eating, and turned into a neat freak, with mugs wrapped in Saran Wrap and suspicious syringes hidden in the bathroom trash. She knows about Felix’s uncontrollable rages, and has seen the bruises on the white skin of her sister’s arms.

Worried about the psychological hold that Felix seems to have over Tilda, Callie joins an Internet support group for victims of abuse and their friends. However, things spiral out of control and she starts to doubt her own judgment when one of her new acquaintances is killed by an abusive man. And then suddenly Felix dies–or was he murdered?

Hardcover, 256 pages
September 19th 2017 by Touchstone

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I received a copy in exchange for an unbiased review from the publisher. All opinions are my own.

Book Review: Six Stories by Matt Wesolowski

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★ ★ ★ ★

A relatively short novel — only 225 pages — Six Stories is packed with a mighty punch; an original atmospheric story told in a series of six interviews by investigative journalist Scott King, as he attempts to discover the truth behind Tom Jeffries mysterious death at Scarclaw Fell twenty-years ago. Prior to reading Six Stories, I had recently discovered true-crime podcasts–such as Serial, which is frequently referenced to throughout–so I could not resist reading this book. This is one of those books where you want to go into it without knowing much aside from the blurb, and just let yourself get engrossed and experience the story. I finished reading and took a few days to write this review because I was stunned. If I had to sum it up in a quick sentence, it would be: a complex, clever literary thriller that at times left me feeling claustrophobic, and yet I could not stop reading.

This was unlike anything I have read before, because it is told in the form of a podcast transcript, so the first chapter (or rather, episode 1) took some getting used to because of the italics and format, but I adjusted to it easily come episode 2 as the story got going. It is authentic when it comes to reading like podcast transcripts, which at times did become tedious due to repeated information from previous episodes and King constantly interrupting during interviews to fill the readers in on further information backstory–however, it added to the conversational aspect and brought everything together in an engaging way. There were breaks in between interviews when we also get insight and the impact the events had on Harry Saint Clement-Ramsay, who’s father owns the land, and he is the one who found the decaying corpse of Tom Jeffries one year after his disappearance.

While a mystery-thriller, Six Stories does touch on the impact of bullying, friendships, rejection, manipulation, and similar issues during one’s youth, and the consequences to those actions along with the effect it has on others. I think in a sense, it was the base point of the beginning and what lead to the events that took place, and really puts into perspective that what you do does make an everlasting impact on the lives of those around you, and the author was attentive when it came to addressing that.

I found myself paying close attention to those being interviewed because I wanted to try to piece bits of information together and see where it lead to, if it were correct in the end. I did catch the clue in the second episode, which resulted into questioning the outcome that happened to be true, but it didn’t take away from the reading experience at all. If anything, I was eager to finish reading to find out how it actually unfolded. You can feel the underlying tension build as the episodes progress, and it is a mix of emotions from fear to anticipation because you want the truth.

Wesolowski’s is a natural writer, who crafted such a haunting, immersive podcast murder-mystery novel. I typically keep my reviews brief, but I think the length of this review shows just how much I loved this debut novel! Six Stories is a chilling and gritty narrative that will leave you horrified in the end.

Synopsis

1997. Scarclaw Fell. The body of teenager Tom Jeffries is found at an Outward Bound center. Verdict? Misadventure. But not everyone is convinced. And the truth of what happened in the beautiful but eerie fell is locked in the memories of the tight-knit group of friends who embarked on that fateful trip, and the flimsy testimony of those living nearby.

2017. Enter elusive investigative journalist Scott King, whose podcast examinations of complicated cases have rivaled the success of Serial, with his concealed identity making him a cult internet figure. In a series of six interviews, King attempts to work out how the dynamics of a group of idle teenagers conspired with the sinister legends surrounding the fell to result in Jeffries’ mysterious death. As every interview unveils a new revelation, you’ll be forced to work out for yourself how Tom Jeffries died, and who is telling the truth.

Paperback, 280 pages
Published June 1st 2017 by Orenda Books

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I received a copy in exchange for an unbiased review from the publisher. All opinions are my own.

Book Review: The Deaths of Henry King & Fütchi Perf

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★ ★ ★

Without a doubt, this fulfilled my need for some dark humor in my life. It was just what I needed to help me get out of a book slump I was in for two weeks. The Deaths of Henry King by Brian Evenson, Jesse Ball, and illustrated by Lilli Carré. For me this was an introduction into the creators of this collaboration, and after reading this, I looked into more of their work because I wanted more. Lilli Carré’s illustrations are phenomenal, and she quickly became a favorite artist of mine after discovering her work in this book. This is not exactly a graphic novel, but it is sort of a small illustrated book with short paragraphs and gravestone-rubbing-style art. The Deaths of Henry King, simply put, is about one character dying over and over in some grim, but comical situations.

At certain points, I would make anyone around me listen while I read a few pages because it was too good not to share. Some grim, some hilarious, and some outright ridiculous deaths. Death by a cheddar cheese wheel? Eating six and a half pounds of glass? A visit from an angel that rips his heart out through his throat? It all happens within the 160 pages of The Deaths of Henry King.

The hapless Henry King, as advertised, dies. Not just once or twice, but seven dozen times. Each death a new demise, from the comic to the grim to the absurd to the transcendent and back again. With text by Jesse Ball and Brian Evenson complimented by Lilli Carré’s macabre, gravestone-rubbing-style art, Henry King’s ends are brought to a vivid life.

Hardcover, 160 pages
September 12th 2017 by Uncivilized Books

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★ ★

Fütchi Perf is Kevin Czap’s first long-form in print, told through a handful of short comics combined to assemble like an album. Set in Cleveland, in a near-utopian future, there are themes of community, feminism, and a diverse world that is accepting and letting the good flourish. It’s filled with close-knit friendships, life-changing basement shows, and a joyous artistic community. I am torn because this was close to a 3 star read but closer to a 2.5 because of some reasons that I’ll discuss further in the review–but I did like this, just not as much as I hoped. I read this not once, but twice, because I felt like the first time wasn’t enough to extract all that the comic had to offer–and still, I am a bit perplexed. It is disjointed with little story, and has a lot going on between the color palette, and crowded pages. I definitely felt a little claustrophobic while reading this, which added to the second time around reading it to make sure I didn’t miss anything. The artwork is cartoony with a vibrant bubblegum palette, displayed in flashes of scenes, that was fitting to the setting and the idealized, euphoria atmosphere of Cleveland.

I felt like this is one of those comics that really makes you stop and question a lot on how we think, the way society is verse how we would possibly like it to be, or how other’s may envision possible solutions to real life problems. I did love the premise of this, the characters, and all the diversity that is within it–you can feel the heart that went into crafting Fütchi Perf–but I had such a hard time really getting into it because of the layout, which did lower the rating I had in mind.

What if the future began in a small, queer, punk music show in the basement of a Cleveland, Ohio house? Romantic friendships, über-chic culture, magical solutions, kid think-tanks, and more. Fütchi Perf might not depict a perfect future, but its slice-of-life vignettes—drawn in a glorious, kaleidoscopic two-color palette—visualize a Utopian dream that seems almost real, but perpetually out of reach.

Paperback, 88 pages
October 10th 2017 by Uncivilized Books

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I received a copy in exchange for an unbiased review from the publisher. All opinions are my own.

Book Review: We Love You, Charlie Freeman by Kaitlyn Greenidge

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★ ★ ★ ★

We Love You, Charlie Freeman is Kaitlyn Greenidge’s debut novel, originally published by Algonquin Books in March of 2016. A complex novel, Greenidge touches on history, race, family dynamics, science, and identity. Since I read this, I have not stopped thinking about it. A clever, poignant story that was compelling and at times a challenging read. There is always the feeling of tension that lies beneath the surface—how anything can happen at any moment, and you left waiting, just not knowing when all will break. Charlotte is a refreshing character; a sharp, witty voice in the midst of it all, trying to make sense of the world she is growing up in. Told through multiple point-of-views and timelines, this was the only flaw I had with the book— while I am not a fan of the switching back and forth, I did find it well-done and in a way, created the atmosphere and added to the story-telling.

Truthfully, I went into this story only knowing the synopsis, and afterward, I can say that I haven’t read anything quite like this. It’s full of risks and truth, so brilliantly written. It’s the first book I’ve read that makes me want to analyze, read it over, and have a conversation about the premise and topics. Kaitlyn Greenidge is a vibrant, powerful voice—We Love You, Charlie Freeman was an outstanding introduction into Greenidge’s work, and I can only hope to read more soon.

Synopsis

The Freeman family–Charles, Laurel, and their daughters, teenage Charlotte and nine-year-old Callie–have been invited to the Toneybee Institute to participate in a research experiment. They will live in an apartment on campus with Charlie, a young chimp abandoned by his mother. The Freemans were selected because they know sign language; they are supposed to teach it to Charlie and welcome him as a member of their family. But when Charlotte discovers the truth about the institute’s history of questionable studies, the secrets of the past invade the present in devious ways.

The power of this shattering novel resides in Greenidge’s undeniable storytelling talents. What appears to be a story of mothers and daughters, of sisterhood put to the test, of adolescent love and grown-up misconduct, and of history’s long reach, becomes a provocative and compelling exploration of America’s failure to find a language to talk about race.

Paperback, 342 pages
Published January 31st 2017 by Algonquin Books

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I received a copy in exchange for an unbiased review from the publisher. All opinions are my own.

Book Review: Everything is Flammable by Gabrielle Bell

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★ ★ ★

Sometimes funny, sometimes sad, and often relatable, Everything is Flammable is a graphic memoir with raw storytelling, and simple art. After her mother’s home is destroyed in a fire, Bell returns to her hometown in rural Northern California to help her mother get things in order and buy a new home. Spanning through one year and touching on issues such as anxiety, financial hardships, and a tenuous relationship with her mother, Bell’s humor and brutal honesty unfold into a profound memoir. While certain topics in this were at times difficult to read, I think Bell captures the overwhelming and uncertainty of anxiety and just going through life with it on top of dealing with anything else that comes along.

The beginning was like an small introduction into Bell and her life, before getting into the aftermath of the fire, which I liked because it gave the readers more insight into who she is. The characters were portrayed in such a way that by the end, you want to know more about them, and where they went from there. The artwork is simple, dark, and engrossing–I actually went back just look through the pages and appreciate it. Everything is Flammable is a well crafted graphic memoir that, more me, was just the beginning look into Bell’s work, and I look forward to checking out more in the future.

Synopsis

In Gabrielle Bell’s much anticipated graphic memoir, EVERYTHING IS FLAMMABLE, she returns from New York to her childhood town in rural Northern California after her mother’s home is destroyed by a fire. Acknowledging her issues with anxiety, financial hardships, memories of a semi-feral childhood, and a tenuous relationship with her mother, Bell helps her mother put together a new home on top of the ashes. A powerful, sometimes uncomfortable, examination of a mother-daughter relationship and one’s connection to place and sense of self. Spanning a single year, Everything is Flammable unfolds with humor and brutal honesty. Bell’s sharp, digressive style is inimitable.

Hardcover, 160 pages
Published June 6th 2017 by Uncivilized Books

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I received a copy in exchange for an unbiased review from the publisher. All opinions are my own.

 

 

 

 

Book Review: Broke Millennial by Erin Lowry

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★ ★ ★ ★

While I am pretty savvy when it comes to budgeting, I only know the basics. It is important to know all you can with finances, but I admit it has always overwhelmed me, so I was looking forward to reading this and gaining more insight and knowledge. Broke Millennial is a good read for cash-strapped 20 or 30-somethings, ready to stop living paycheck-to-paycheck and tackle those financial difficulties and situations. Broken down into 18 chapters and an epilogue, Lowry offers practical input on everything from budgeting to getting out of debt, to investments and retirement. You can either read from front-to-back, or skip ahead to sections that are best suited for your current situation. Each chapter ended in a brief, bullet-point breakdown to make sure you read everything that was covered.

As someone who has yet to graduate college, but is already thinking ahead, I found Lowry’s advice and guidance to be realistic and smart– without any condescending tones, it was like chatting with a friend who wanted to offer the best way to go about financial planning. I’ve already recommended this book to a few friends, and share bits of information whenever it happens to come up in a conversation. This was a lighthearted and at times funny, easy-to-maneuver financial self-help guide that removed the stress surrounded by finances– it is a great introduction with approachable steps at gaining control of your money.

Synopsis 

Broke Millennial shows step-by-step how-to guide to go from flat-broke to financial badass. Unlike most personal finance books out there, it doesn’t just cover boring stuff like credit card debt, investing, and dealing with the dreaded “B” word (budgeting). Financial expert Erin Lowry goes beyond the basics to tackle tricky money matters and situations most of us face #IRL, including:

• Understanding your relationship with moolah: do you treat it like a Tinder date or marriage material?
• Managing student loans without having a full-on panic attack
• What to do when you’re out with your crew and can’t afford to split the bill evenly
• How to get “financially naked” with your partner and find out his or her “number” (debt number, of course)…and much more.
Packed with refreshingly simple advice and hilarious true stories, Broke Millennial is the essential roadmap every financially clueless millennial needs to become a money master. So what are you waiting for? Let’s #GYFLT!

Paperback, 288 pages
Published May 2nd 2017 by Tarcherperigee

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I received a copy in exchange for an unbiased review from the publisher. All opinions are my own.