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.)
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.)
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