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SUYB – November Edition

SUYB – November Edition

Happy Show Us Your Books link-up day! I missed posting the last couple of months, so I have a few more books to discuss than usual.

 

 

 



Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

Goodreads * Amazon

Arrgh, I have mixed feelings about this. I’m a HUGE HP nerd, but I put off reading this forever. On one hand, it’s really cool to revisit that whole world and learn about what happens in the future. On the other hand, the play format robs the reader of the world building and storytelling that make the original books so good, and the familiar characters didn’t really feel like themselves. Overall, I was pretty meh about it, which makes me sad.

 

An Anonymous Girl by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen

Goodreads * Amazon

 

I picked this up from Netgalley because it’s by the same two authors as The Wife Between Us, which I reviewed in October of last year. Like that book, this one is told from two different perspectives – Jessica and the psychologist running the ethics experiment that she stumbles into participating in. From the first chapter, I noticed that the writing style is great – lots of showing vs. telling, rich characters, just solid storytelling. It’s not as predictable as most books in this genre, and while it’s not a five star book, I’d give it a thumbs up as far as being worth reading.  It won’t be released until January, 2019, but the first three chapters are available for free on Amazon!

(Complimentary ARC via Netgalley)

 

I’ll be Gone In the Dark by Michelle McNamera

Goodreads * Amazon

It is a little weird to listen to/read a book about a murderer when you know the author died during its writing. There are a few chapters that were pieced together from the author’s notes and previous articles she’d written in order to finish the book, and those do stand out as a different writing style, but I can’t think of a better way they could have done it. I have to admit that while the book was interesting and really well researched, I wasn’t blown away by it, partly because I had high expectations due to all the hype around it. Worth reading if you like true crime stuff, but not a must read in my opinion.

 

 

The Glittering Court by Richelle Mead

Goodreads * Amazon

 

This is the first in a series of YA novels that was described as being similar to The Selection series, which was a fun, light read, so I decided to grab the first one from the library. I wasn’t really drawn in by the writing style, but I stuck it out and got drawn into the story. It turned out that what I thought was the plot of the book was only about the first third, so at least it wasn’t totally predictable. Overall, I liked it enough to get on the library waiting list for the next book in the series, but not so much that I’ll definitely read the third, too.

 

I Owe You One by Sophie Kinsella

Goodreads * Amazon

 

Sophie Kinsella is one of those authors whose books I keep picking up even though a lot have them have been lackluster. This one was a pleasant surprise. Her protagonists are usually insufferable, almost always because they’re pathological liars. but this one isn’t bad – she just starts out a little weak and evolves over time. This story revolves around family and the obligations that come with it, but also includes the usual romance aspect, too. It was a little slow in spots and I would have liked better character development, but overall it was a nice breezy read.

(Complimentary ARC via Netgalley)

 

 

Head over to Life According to Steph and Jana Says to check out the link-up and see what dozens of other bloggers have been reading lately!

Show Us Your Books – August Edition

Show Us Your Books – August Edition

 

Happy Show Us Your Books Link-up Day! Spoiler alert: I didn’t *love* anything I read this month. And I get really wordy in my reviews. (But that’s nothing new.) Here we go!

 

Bring Me Back by B.A. Paris

Goodreads * Amazon

Um, you guys? I read this back in June but forgot to include it in last month’s SUBY post because I completely forgot I read it. I re-opened it in mid-July and couldn’t figure out why my Kindle showed I was at the end. Didn’t I just read the first couple of chapters and then get distracted by something else? Nope.

This is one of those psychological thrillers where I figured out the twist REALLY early on, but then convinced myself that I had to be wrong. This does get bonus points for having a really good red herring, but overall it was just ok. The ending was a little too unbelievable to be satisfying. I reviewed “Behind Closed Doors” by the sane author back in August of 2016 (wow it doesn’t seem like that long ago!) and I think I enjoyed that one more. Not sure I’ll pick up a third one by this author, though.

(Complimentary e-book via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.)

 

Decluttering At the Speed of Life

Goodreads * Amazon

Clutter is something I’ve been dealing with in a major way lately. If you didn’t know, I’m living in my mom’s house while she’s in a nursing home, but a lot of factors have prevented me from ever really “nesting” here, mostly that she wants to move back home as soon as she’s strong enough to, and that I want to move back to Florida as soon as I can afford to. The main problem is that my mom has SO MUCH STUFF everywhere that there’s not really room for *my* stuff, too, so the house pretty much always looks cluttered. (For instance, since every dresser and closet is packed full of her stuff, I’ve picked up little plastic bins at the dollar store that I’ve organized socks, underwear, t-shirts, etc. into.)

I’ve also realized in the past year or so that unless an item either makes my life easier or is really useful, I’m probably not going to get that much joy out of it. Cute decorative thing? Meh. Extra phone charger that I can just leave in the car so I can keep my main one at home? SO WORTH IT.

So hey! A book on dealing with clutter!

This book strives to make decluttering really simple by establishing basic boundaries and practices. For example, if you have a sock drawer, you’re limited to the number of socks that will fit in that drawer. Seems obvious, but how many of us have tons of “homeless” objects because we have more than will fit into their designated space? Her methods remove most of the emotion from decluttering. Rather than “does this pair of socks bring joy to my heart?”, it’s more, “Okay, my sock drawer holds 20 pairs of socks, so which 20 do I use most often or like the most?”

You know how there are a lot of Self Help books that don’t really have revolutionary new ideas, but they still motivate you to change by whacking you over the head with basic things you already know (at least on some level) until they sink in? That’s where this book falls. It’s hard not to read a page about cleaning out your pantry without wanting to go check for expired food that might be lurking in yours.

I do wish they had included checklists in each section. Most chapters follow the structure of following a de-cluttering process in a specific room or area of your home. While the steps of the process are firmly stuck in your head by the end of the book, it would have been useful to have something to glance at as you worked on that room when you get overwhelmed and need a nudge in the right direction.

I did love the quote, “There’s a difference between something being useful and actually using something.” I also liked when she addressed people who may be dealing with physical limitations (from mobility disabilities to anxiety that makes things like decluttering super hard) with “Do what you can, whenever you can, as often as you can.” I can sometimes only handle 5 minutes at a time without getting overwhelmed and exhausted, but if I do those five minutes as often as possible, real progress happens.

I think that with this kind of book, it’s all about finding the one that offers a method that really speaks to you. If other decluttering books haven’t worked for you, this one is worth picking up – it might be the one that finally hits home. I liked it well enough, but it wasn’t one that resonated strongly with me.

(Complimentary review copy via NetGalley)

 

Girl, Wash Your Face by Rachel Hollis

Goodreads * Amazon

So.. this book. The cover and title caught my eye on NetGalley and it sounded kind of interesting, but I’ve been trying to only request books I REALLY want to read so I passed on it. But then I saw a couple of people highly recommend it online, so I went back like a month later and downloaded it. I am so sorry about how long this review is going to be, but….arrrrgh.

This is one of those instances where judging by how the author writes, I’m supposed to know who she is? But starting out, I have zero clue. I eventually deduce that she’s a lifestyle blogger, but… dude. I’ve been in this blogging thing since 1999, so I’ve seen more “famous” bloggers come and go than I can even begin to count, and bloggers with followers in the bazillions are a dime a dozen now. Given the “you probably think this and that about me” tone, I’m guessing the intended audience is mostly her blog readers, not the public at large?

I looked this up on Amazon to get the link for this post fairly early on in reading it, and noticed that 94% of its almost 3,000 reviews are 5 stars. Am I the only one that gets a little suspicious about that kind of thing? I mean, even Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (which is obviously the best one in the series) only has 76% five star ratings. I later learned that the author promised to reply to anyone who left a review and sent her a screenshot of it, so out of 300k Instagram followers, it totally makes sense that 1% were happy to type up some lavish praise in exchange for a message from someone they like following. (I read through a LOT of reviews to try to figure out what the hype was. I do find it amusing that most of the two and three star ones said it was either too religious or not religious enough.)

Overall, I was pretty “meh” on the book. The topics are kind of all over the place, it often feels more like a memoir than a self-improvement book (and a lot of her personal life stories seem pointless and mundane), and while the author seems to try to be relatable by sharing her “flaws” and referring to readers as “girl” and “sister” (?), she’s just… not. At one point she describes getting Bell’s palsy, which temporarily paralyzes part of her face, while on vacation in Paris. She literally says, “I’ve never felt sorrier for myself than in that moment” to describe when she was getting her photo taken in front of the Eiffel Tower because she had to wear sunglasses and couldn’t smile normally. I don’t know about y’all, but the most “poor me” moments of my life have totally been on multi-country European vacations, too.  (I learned from reading reviews that her husband used to be a Disney exec, so… they’re doing pretty okay in the dollars department. I feel like authors in that category often don’t understand how impractical their life advice might seem to other 99% of the population, and how we might be less impressed by your successes knowing how many huge advantages you had that helped you achieve them.)

I think that the main problem with books written by bloggers or YouTubers is that they have so many people who comment on everything they post saying how brilliant and perfect and inspirational they are that they begin to, at least on some level, truly believe it. Most people with even a moderate following can Instagram a picture of their morning coffee and get a hundred, “OMG I want to be you, you’re so perfect.” comments. Most chapters felt like she just wasn’t qualified to be offering advice on the topic she was covering. (The chapter on diversity is cringe-worthy, and the chapter on fitness is horrifying. She refers to losing weight as, “literally the easiest thing in the world.” Did you guys know that you just need to burn more calories than you consume? That’s it!)

She writes about how raw it feels to share with the book’s readers about things like the way she allowed herself to be treated in her first relationship (before the guy magically became awesome overnight and she wound up marrying him?), but the unhealthy relationship that it’s so embarrassing to write about? Sounds like almost any 19-year old’s first relationship. Of course you did stupid things to try to make sure he liked you – you were a teenager who had never been on a date! So many of the stories in the book are along those lines – completely un-noteworthy. Things you’d probably tell your best friend about when they happened, but not at all the kind of thing you’d still be talking about years later.

Overall? I think this would have been much better off as a memoir with a bit of “inspiration” mixed in than an attempt at giving advice. A good self improvement or motivational book is about the reader, while this is 95% about the author and 5% “You can, too!” Since the writing is clearly aimed at people who are already fans of hers, I think it would have been just as successful in sales if it was written as a memoir and could have avoided the “let me tell you how to live despite having zero qualification to do so” thing. Also might be better if she’d picked a side on it being a religious book or not, since as I mentioned above she seemed to annoy people on both sides by trying to straddle that line.

Again, sorry for the novel of a review, but the inflated ratings make me want to put a truly honest review out there to balance things out a tiny bit. I read a bunch of 1-3 star reviews that were like, “I saw that this was a bestseller and got amazing reviews so I bought it… am I the only person that doesn’t understand the hype?” I’m not trying to be harsh or look down on anyone who DID love it and got inspiration from it. That’s awesome. I just want to save others who get a few chapters in and start thinking, “This isn’t great. What am I missing? Everyone else seems to love it, it must get way better.” from wasting precious dollars and reading hours. I didn’t hate it, and some chapters were interesting to read, but it’s not the masterpiece that reviews seem to imply.

 

A note unrelated to the actual book: I will *never* request a title from this publisher again, because someone thought it was a great idea to put notes about the ARC being copyrighted material in the middle of the text on EVERY SINGLE PAGE. Advance copies generally have a note about it being an uncorrected proof and not quoting the text without checking the final copy at the very beginning of the book, but I’ve never seen one have anything after that, let alone on literally every page. To make it worse, something got messed up in the formatting so instead of “DO NOT DUPLICATE”, in the middle of a random sentence you’d have the word NOT (which often made me think the author was being sarcastic) and then in the middle of the next line, “DO DUPLICATE”. It’s impossible to get into a book when you’re trying to read a sentence and you get yelled at by caps lock words on LITERALLY EVERY PAGE.

 

 

Before now, my biggest pet peeve for ARCs was when the publisher didn’t at least give it a perfunctory run through Grammarly or something before releasing it into the world to thousands of reviewers, but this was so, so much worse. Imagine going to the screening of a movie and someone’s phone blaring the original Nokia ringtone every two minutes. At first you’re like “Wow, that’s annoying, but surely they’ll fix it soon?” but then no. Every two minutes. It rings during the quiet, sad moment. It rings during the hero’s dramatic monologue. You seriously consider just walking out of the theater after 20 minutes (or in my case, after 5% of the book), but you want to at least try to see what happens. Still, you can only put like 70% of your energy, at best, on trying to concentrate on the plot, because the other 30% of your brain is busy plotting ways to kill the idiot with the phone set to super loud ringer.

And it’s not like this is a new Harry Potter book or something. I’ve seen a couple of people mention it online, but it’s not a book with big hype. Chill, publisher dudes. Nobody was considering duplicating it. Judging by other ARC reviews I saw on NetGalley, they just annoyed the hell out of reviewers (and probably caused a TON of people to give up on trying to read it) for no reason. Uggggh.
(end rant)

(Complimentary review copy via NetGalley)

 

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle

Goodreads * Amazon

 

The recent movie adaptation made me want to re-read this, so I got the ebook from my library. I know we read it in 4th grade, and I may have re-read it sometime after that, but I had zero memory of what happens. Like, ZERO. And it was nothing at all like I expected, but still a fun re-read as an adult. I can’t help but wonder how much of it I understood as an 8 or 9-year old? I know it made a big impact at the time because it was so different from any other books I’d read, and even now when sci-fi and fantasy are way more prevalent, it stands out as unique. It wasn’t as amazing as I remember it being, but if you, too, haven’t read it in a few decades, it’s a fun way to pass an afternoon. (And I’d be curious if you have the same, “Wait, did I understand any of this as a kid?” reaction, too!)

 

That’s it for me this month! Head over to Life According to Steph and Jana Says to check out the link-up and see what dozens of other bloggers have been reading lately!

Show Us Your Books – July Edition

Show Us Your Books – July Edition

 

Happy Show Us Your Books link-up day! I’ve mostly been re-reading Harry Potter for the zillionth time these last few months, so my list is a little short. As usual, it’s of the “kinda weird nonfiction” genre. Just how I roll!

 

Gulp by Mary Roach

Goodreads * Amazon

Mary Roach’s books are always fun, fascinating, and a little gross. This one focuses on eating and digestion, and while its not my favorite of the author’s books so far (Stiff is easily the best, and I don’t remember much about Packing For Mars.), it was interesting enough and I enjoyed Roach’s clever wordplay that pops up throughout the text. I was bummed that the audiobook isn’t read by the author.

One of the first chapters is about pet food, which is obviously up my alley as a gold star cat lady. I was fascinated to learn that outdoor cats tend to be mousers or birders, but rarely both – they prefer one taste or the other.

This is one that Steph would refer to as “Passed the time just fine” – interesting enough, but not a must-read.

(Library Audiobook)

 

Spoiler Alert: You’re Gonna Die by Korttany Finn and Jacquie Purcell

Goodreads * Amazon

First of all, I find it kind of amusing that I read this while sick and drugged up by a ton of antibiotics. Spoiler alert: I survived.

This book is co-written by a Deputy Coroner and her writer friend, and was inspired by the coroner doing an AMA on a parenting forum. Thanks to that, it’s written as a Q & A, so it’s a good one to pick up when you only have short chunks of time for reading, since you can read one or two answers at a time without feeling like you’re losing track of a storyline.

Here are a few things I found especially interesting. (When I refer to “the author” below, I generally mean Jacquie, the coroner.)

*There is something known as the CSI Effect where jurors are now influenced by things they’ve “learned” from criminal drama shows, even though those aren’t very accurate. For instance, a lot of jurors now believe you need DNA evidence for a conviction because you see that in pretty much every crime show, but it’s really not necessary. They expect cases to be nicely packaged like they are on TV, so they’re hesitant to convict if all of the loose ends don’t tie up in a tidy bow, which just isn’t real life.

*The author worked to change a law in Virginia, which was pretty interesting. In most states, if someone dies long after an assault or abuse, the criminal charges can be changed to homicide. At the time, Virginia’s laws only allowed this to happen up to a year and a day after the original charges, but the author worked to get that limit removed.

I thought this was fascinating because it’s something I’ve never thought about at all. To be honest, I’m not sure how I feel about it. The man who inspired the case had been shot in the back almost 40 years prior, which caused him to become quadriplegic and require a respirator. He eventually died due to a kind of pneumonia that is caused by that respirator use. Since the cause of death was related to his injuries, she worked to have it changed to homicide. On one hand, that seems like SUCH a long time after the injury for the verdict to change. Assuming the shooter was like 20 at the time, he would’ve been 58 when the change occurred. On the other hand, it seems like an assault that damages someone’s quality of life to the extent this did should probably carry the same penalty as homicide, anyway. The topic has been tumbling around in my head since I read that section, though, so I thought I’d share.

*I never knew that jurors are sometimes brought in to determine cause of death (accident/natural/suicide/etc) when the coroner isn’t sure about how to call it.

*The author mentioned that when she has the body of a child in the morgue, she always leaves the lights on for them. I think we tend to think of people in death-heavy professions as being kind of numb to it all, so it was nice to read about her sweet gesture.

This book has an average of 4 stars on Goodreads and the Kindle version is currently only $1.99

 

The Power by Naomi Alderman

Goodreads * Amazon

My library hold on this finally came through, and I was excited to see what all of the buzz was about! The premise is that women suddenly develop the ability to shoot electric currents from their hands, and obviously that has a huge effect on the power dynamic between men and women. The whole book is a metaphor on several levels, and it’s such an interesting look at a lot of systemic things that we might not even notice.

The main part of the book is supposed to be a manuscript submitted by a male author long after this change happened. There are amusing notes from the author’s (female) mentor like (I’m paraphrasing) “It’s cute that you even included male police officers, but do you think the readers will just fetishize them?” One of my favorite passages in the main story is when a character turns on the TV and the female anchor is talking about economic predictions, and the male anchor just “laughs attractively” and says, “Now I don’t understand that kind of thing at all, but I’ll tell you what I do know about: apple bobbing!” (as they transition to a human interest story.)

I LOVED the first half of the book, but the latter half wasn’t as good – maybe due to plot, maybe due to the newness of the concept wearing off. This would be a great book club book, though, because it’s a lot of fun to discuss. I might even reread it eventually to see what else I catch in the text. (SO MANY METAPHORS). If you’ve read it, I’d love to hear your thoughts!

 

That’s it for me this month! Be sure to visit Life According to Steph and Jana Says to see what dozens of other bloggers have been reading lately!

 

Show Us Your Books – May

Show Us Your Books – May

 

 

Happy “Show Us Your Books” link-up day! I missed last month’s, so I’ve got some catching up to do! To be honest, I’ve spent most of this month re-reading Harry Potter yet again. (I’m like 2/3 through OOTP right now and just overwhelmed by how hard that year was for Molly Weasley. And also by the fact that this book says Lucius Malfory is 41, which means he was barely older than me when Draco started Hogwarts. WUT.)

 

 

ANYWAY… book review time!

(BTW – shout-out to whoever bought a bunch of stuff via one of my Amazon affiliate links recently. The commission credit got my cats a 12-pack of cat food, so you’re a VIP here at Casa Crystal.)

 

30 Before 30 by Marina Shifrin

Goodreads * Amazon

This book of essays explores the author’s escapades completing her list of 30 things to do before turning 30. I’ve always loved making to-do type lists (101 in 1001, bucket lists, etc etc) but I really suck at actually completing them. This was a fun read – fairly quick and packed with humor. It’s one of those books that was enjoyable but that I don’t have much commentary on. Would make a great airplane book.

 

 

How To Stop Feeling Like Shit by Andrea Owen

Goodreads * Amazon

This book was worth reading entirely for a quote that I highlighted:

“Life is hard. Not because we’re doing it wrong, but because life is hard.” – Glennon Doyle Melton

I don’t know about you guys, but I’ve had plenty of “WTF am I doing so wrong that this is my life?” moments. I really needed this quote as a reminder that sometimes it’s nothing I did – life just throws random things at you.

To be honest, I picked this up from NetGalley because I recognized the author’s name from some podcasts and was pretty sure I liked her. (I may have read her previous book? Probably not a great sign that I’m not sure?) This is one of those books that I had to read slowly because I needed time to digest it.

One kind of nit picky thing that bothered me – the book has a chapter on “catastrophizing”, but the author uses the term incorrectly. She uses it to describe the phenomenon of not being able to experience joy because you just keep thinking about all of the ways things could go wrong. Catastrophizing actually describes a thing people with anxiety disorders tend to do, where they take a fairly simple thing and blow it up to overwhelming proportions. (It’s kind of a subtle difference, not sure how to explain it better.) I learned the term back when I worked for Disney and had missed several weeks due to overwhelming anxiety and panic attacks, and I had to visit the company’s health services building to get clearance to return to work. (Standard procedure if you miss more than like a week.) I ended up missing an entire additional week of work because that appointment seemed SO SCARY. I would lie awake at night practicing answers to all of the probing questions I was sure they’d ask. I’d freak out about every possible detail. And finally, of course, when I did bring myself to go, the appointment was nothing – it took less than five minutes. Funny enough, that experience of catastrophizing vs reality was a huge help in dealing with anxiety, because it was such a clear example of how much my brain could blow something up that was truly going to be fine. A total tangent that’s barely related to the book, but I wanted to share in case anyone else might benefit from having a term to describe a thing they know they’re doing!

I liked that this was a bit of a different format than the usual “self improvement” genre book. Each chapter focuses on a fairly common thing that people tend to do without realizing how destructive it is. From isolating yourself during tough times to imposter syndrome to people pleasing, you’re likely to see yourself in some, if not most, of the chapters.

 

In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware

Amazon * Goodreads 

I picked this up at my thrift shop and read it one morning when I was home sick and couldn’t deal with the glow of a screen. Judging by the reviews, you’re either going to love this or hate it, and expectations seem to play into that quite a bit. Despite cover blurbs about it being scary, it’s… not. There’s definitely a tense feeling for at least the latter half of the book, but not that “omg this is so suspenseful I’m going to throw up” feeling and definitely not spooky or horror-y. That said, really thrilling thrillers leave me wanting an entire bucket of Xanax to eat like popcorn, so I liked the more mellow mystery of it. (It’s the same author as The Woman in Cabin 10, which also gets mixed reviews, but I haven’t read that one yet.)

It worked out perfectly as a sick day book, just don’t think TOO hard about the plot or the characters, or you’re likely to start poking all kinds of holes in the story.

 

Herding Cats by Sarah Andersen

Goodreads * Amazon

This book is mostly filled with Sarah’s comics, which I adore and find infinitely relaetable:

 

She also has a few sections on what it was like to be an artist on the internet back in the day vs. now, and tips for aspiring artists. You can find most of her work on her Instagram, so the actual book is probably best as a gift for someone who is either a big fan of her comics or that not-very-internetty friend who you know would love them but will never get around to clicking the link you sent her.

 

All We Ever Wanted by Emily Giffin

Goodreads * Amazon

I’ve enjoyed most of Emily Giffin’s books, so I requested this from Netgalley as soon as it popped up, but when I started reading it I worried it would be a DNF (did not finish) after the first page because I instantly disliked the narrator so much. I considered setting the book aside quite a few times during the first 1/3 or so because everyone was so unlikeable and I wasn’t that into the plot, but it got better about halfway through and I liked the last 10% or so quite a bit.

The book switches between three different narrators, offering both adult and teen points of view, and this is one of few books I’ve read that actually handles multiple narrators well. They’re distinct enough that you don’t get confused about whose chapter you’re reading, and it’s interesting to watch the story unfold from different angles.

This novel is VERY 2018, covering things like how smartphones have changed teenage culture so much, current politics, the definition of rape (as in “well, I said yes to kissing” not making anything else that happened okay by defaut), etc. Can’t decide if it being so full of current hot topics is a good or bad thing, but I do have a feeling that means it won’t age as well as books set in a less specific time frame.

Overall, I’m kind of “meh” on this one, if you average out my dislike of the first section and enjoyment of the latter part. Okay, but not up to the level of the author’s first few books by far. (This book will be published in June – I received an advance review copy via NetGalley.)

 

Amsterdam Exposed

Goodreads * Amazon

This book is supposed to be a look into Amsterdam’s Red Light District, one that goes deeper than the quick walk through that most tourists experience to satisfy their curiosity. I feel like I’m being super harsh, but given how things went when the author tried to collect info, there’s just not a book here.

I almost quit this on my second night of reading it because I could not deal with the author. For instance, he refuses to spend money to talk to the Red Light District prostitutes for the book because that would cloud things (?), yet buys the one woman who agrees to talk to him an expensive necklace as a gift. Because that’s totally different. So much of it comes off as a college boy who has taken Philosophy 101 trying to explain sex work to you. He approaches his research in a way that someone who studied law should know better than – by approaching the women while they’re trying to work in hopes they’ll give him material for his book. I don’t care what your line of work is – if some random stranger approaches you while you’re working and wants you to meet up to help him with a project with no benefit to you except “the chance to tell your story”, you’re going to be annoyed. Surely there were better ways of scoring interviews, especially since he was there for months. You probably wouldn’t have to befriend many locals before finding someone who was a friend of a friend of someone who worked in the Red Light District, thus opening the opportunity for an interview that doesn’t involve approaching them at work.

The other issue is that the story takes place in 1999 when the author temporarily moved to Amsterdam to study law and research the book. So much has changed since then, but from the introduction it seems like he’s been working on the book on and off ever since, so it was surprising to see some things pop up that should have been edited in that process (countless culturally insensitive remarks and terms like “transvestite”). If he’d prefaced the book with “Look, I realize that I sound like an absolute douchebag in this, but it was a long time ago and I was young.  I chose to preserve my original opinions in the book, though, because that’s what I was thinking at the time.”, I’d feel a little better about the awful things he spouts, but there doesn’t seem to be any self awareness regarding how it comes across now.

And on a weird note, he says he lost contact with one of the first people he met there because email wasn’t a popular thing yet. IN 1999??? I had a BLOG by then. Everyone I knew had been using email for at least 3 years at that point. There’s no way you didn’t have email, dude.

The whole “I’m an American man who was here for a few months, so I’m now going to totally explain the culture to you” is cringe-worthy enough, but then not even getting a diverse array of accounts from the women who work there makes it feel pointless. I wanted to hear from women who are there for different reasons, the one who has been there for a decade’s experience vs. that of the newbie, etc, not just from the one girl you were attracted to. Paint a more vibrant picture of the men who partake of the services. Talk to locals who work there in other ways, like bartenders or security. If you really want to get a story, there are so many ways, but half-heartedly wandering through the district after the woman you wanted to talk to stands you up just isn’t one of them. Maybe consider paying the women for their time? (gasp!)

The whole book leads up to getting one woman (who, of course, he wishes he could “save”) to share her story for the book, but when she finally does, it’s not that remarkable, just the average story of a person who has had a rough life. Despite the author’s infatuation with her, she doesn’t come across as likeable,  but the few pages that include her perspective on working in the Red Light District are fairly interesting, even if they’re basically what you’d expect.

Maybe he’s actually a good guy who just comes across horribly in his own book, but ugh, it was so frustrating to read. The sad thing is that the parts where he’s just describing the city aren’t bad. If he’d focused on writing about the city as a whole, in a kind of Bill Bryson “young man experiences foreign culture” way and just included a chapter on his fascination with the women behind the Red Light windows, it could’ve been good. Instead, we’re treated to the wisdom that you shouldn’t stick your finger in a prostitute’s butt without permission… not because that’s an awful thing to do to a person without consent, but because they’ll charge you triple. Thank goodness this dude is here to explain women to us, am I right?

(Complimentary review copy via NetGalley.)

 

Be sure to visit Steph & Jana to check out the link-up of book reviews from dozens of other bloggers.

Show Us Your Books – February

Show Us Your Books – February

Show Us Your Books link-up February book reviews

 

Before I get into this month’s book reviews, I wanted to pimp out a podcast I’ve been enjoying! In “By the Book”, the two hosts pick a different self help book every two weeks and live by its instructions. They’ve done the Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, The Secret, and more. It’s fairly new, but fun if you have either read the books they discuss or like the concept of someone else reading them for you and reporting back.

Onward!!

 

Educated by Tara Westover

Goodreads * Amazon

This book, y’all. It’s the memoir of a woman who was raised in a crazy fundamentalist/survivalist family that didn’t allow their children to go to school, see doctors, or for a long time, even have birth certificates. At ten years old, she’s helping her father collect heavy scrap metal from the junk yard – SUPER SAFE. After watching her older brother study at home and get into college, she starts to toy with the idea, and eventually escapes to a totally unfamiliar world.

Skip the next couple italicized sentences if you don’t want a minor spoiler, but it’s so crazy I can’t NOT share. When Tara finally does go to college and takes an art history course,  she raises her hand to ask the professor a question – there’s a word in the caption of a painting they’re studying that she doesn’t know, and she’s curious what it means. When she asks, everyone thinks she’s making a really distasteful joke, but she was serious. The word? Holocaust. Her home schooling was so non-existent that she thought Europe was a country, and that FDR might be a kind of forklift? 

I read most of this in one night – it’s riveting. I’ve read a couple of books by people who grew up in cults or fundamentalist families before, but the kind of interesting thing with Tara’s is that although her family was Mormon, it was more her father than the church setting the insane guidelines they lived by. You know that moment when you’re growing up when you realize that your parents actually DON’T know everything, and they’re just normal humans? Imagine that times a million.

So much crazy shit happens that you kind of wonder how her entire family didn’t die along the way. Important note– there are several fairly graphic descriptions of injuries that various family members sustain either working in the junkyard or from auto accidents. If you’re squeamish, be prepared to skip a few paragraphs when something bad happens. With that note in mind, if you have any interest in unusual memoirs or crazy off the grid survivalists or the whole “super sheltered religious kid discovers the real world” type of books, definitely pick this one up!

 

 

A Little Piece of Light by Donna Hylton

Goodreads * Amazon

You know your life has been rough when being sentenced to 25 years in prison is one of the best things that has ever happened to you.

Yes, I read not one but TWO not-so-cheerful memoirs this month! The first half of this one was much tougher to read than Educated – the author endures pretty much every kind of abuse you can imagine from the time she’s a child until she’s arrested at 19 for kidnapping and second degree murder. The childhood of abuse takes up about the first 1/3 of the book, and so many awful things happen to her one after the next that I wasn’t sure I could keep reading it. The next 10% or so covers the crime that landed her a prison sentence, but after that, things (mostly) start looking up for her.

Like Orange is the New Black, this memoir offers an inside look at the justice system and a woman’s experience in prison, but unlike OITNB, the author is a woman of color from a completely non-privileged background. There’s a lot of focus on just why so many women ended up there – desperation. Many were in for killing their abusers, and almost all had suffered abuse.

According to NetGalley, this is being made into a movie with Rosario Dawson portraying the author, so this is your opportunity to be one of those people who sighs about how different things were in the book. (The book will be released in June.)

I’ve Got This Round by Mamrie Hart

Goodreads * Amazon

This was exactly the book I needed last week/early this week when my stress level was super high. I haven’t read Mamrie’s first book yet, or really watched much of her YouTube (I’m mostly just familiar with her because I watched Grace Helbig back when she just did Daily Grace and no TV or movies or other things). The book is still enjoyable without being that familiar with her. Her stories are a lot of fun, and her writing is relateable even if her lifestyle isn’t. (I don’t know about you guys, but I don’t have the $ to drop on plane tickets to Spain for a Backstreet Boys cruise on a whim. Kinda fun to live vicariously, though.) This was a nice change of pace from the two depressing books above!

The only bummer was that my advance review copy didn’t have most of the photos that were supposed to punctuate the stories in the book; only about 10% had been added in, so I felt like I was missing out!

(I received a complimentary review copy via Netgalley)

 

Head over to Life According to Steph and Jana Says to see what dozens of other bloggers in the link-up have been reading lately!