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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.



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!

Show Us Your Books – January Edition

Show Us Your Books – January Edition


Happy Show Us Your Books Day! This seems to have been a month of enjoyable but not spectacular books for me.


Surprise Me by Sophie Kinsella

Goodreads * Amazon

If you’ve read any Sophie Kinsella books before, you probably know what to expect – the premise is kind of silly and the main character is annoying (bordering on insufferable), but it’s a nice light read when you’re in the mood for some relaxing fluff. Unlike most of her other books, this one focuses on a married mother of twins, rather than the single girl trying to get her work and love life in order. Despite a total lack of likeable characters, I did appreciate that the plot wasn’t completely predictable. Kinda forgettable, but it serves the purpose when you’re in the mood for this kind of book.

(This book will be published in February. Complimentary e-book via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.)

The Listening Cure

Goodreads * Amazon

Okay, guys, parts of this book are a little out there, but I found it really interesting. The author is a doctor who really dives into the mind-body connection by having her patients do things like give a “voice” to their ailing body part or release pent-up emotions by beating up a pillow. The basic idea is that you subconsciously know a lot more about what’s causing your physical problems than you realize, and her techniques are intended to work around the mental roadblocks and help you figure out what your body is trying to tell you.

I do prefer her approach of figuring what’s going on in the patient’s life that might be causing the symptoms, vs the conventional doctor visit of “Your head hurts so take this pill.” I’m not sure I could get over the kind of kooky feeling of following her practices, though. For instance, saying “I am Crystal’s stomach. I feel (insert description here) because…. (whatever.)” I guess I’d have to experience being “diagnosed” that way in real life to see if it really worked. I wasn’t really a fan of the comic-style illustrations that are sprinkled throughout the book – they didn’t add anything that wasn’t already in the text and added a sort of goofy feel to it.

(Paperback was sent to me for consideration by the publisher.)

Down the Rabbit Hole by Holly Madison

Goodreads * Amazon

This was a total guilty pleasure read. I vaguely remember watching the Girls Next Door during its first season or two, but I didn’t have TV after I moved to Orlando in 2007 so I missed out on everything after that. Holly’s book offers a behind the scenes look at her life in the Playboy Mansion both during the reality show and her years of being one of Hugh Hefner’s girlfriends beforehand. While Holly seems quite intelligent, I have a feeling she either worked with a ghostwriter or had major editing help because this is pretty well-written for a memoir by a non-writer.

Given how glittery and candy-coated the Girls Next Door show was, it’s interesting to read the confession of how miserable Holly was most of the time. (Apparently Hef was pretty verbally abusive and super controlling, traits that were obviously never portrayed on-air.) Reading the book made me go back and dig up a couple of episodes on YouTube, and even makes me kind of want to read Kendra’s book, but my library doesn’t have it and there’s no way I’m actually paying for it, so… meh.

Since I’m sure you’re wondering, she very briefly describes her first night in the mansion (read: sex), but otherwise doesn’t say a lot about it. She does talk a lot about the lack of freedom (they had a 9 pm curfew), feeling totally interchangeable with the other girls, feeling trapped because she knew the stigma of being a girlfriend would always follow her, etc. I found the post-Playboy chapters kind of dull, but I get why she wanted to finish off with “I left and did a successful show and found love and made a baby, yay me!”

(library e-book)



Be sure to visit Life According to Steph and Jana Says to check out what dozens of other bloggers have been reading lately!

Show Us Your Books – November Edition

Show Us Your Books – November Edition


It’s time for the monthly Show Us Your Books link-up with Life According to Steph and Jana Says! I only have two reviews this month – it was one of those where I’d start a library book, get distracted by too much work, and then it would expire when I was only half finished and I’d have to re-join the waiting list. But hey, better two than none!


What Happened by Hillary Rodham Clinton

Goodreads * Amazon

Y’all, I cried listening to the intro to this. Who knew an entire year later would still feel like too soon? I teared up pretty much any time she mentioned blaming herself, letting people down. I learned that she considers the original kind of Goldfish crackers superior to the flavor blasted kind, and I’m not entirely sure that’s a platform I can get on board with.

This book is a pretty fascinating peek into what the whirlwind (or cluster….) campaign trail of 2016 was like from the inside. What she was thinking before stepping into the televised moments we saw, what she wish she’d said. It’s fairly long (I listened to the audiobook since she reads it), but it held my attention well for the most part. The chapter about Russia felt like it rambled on a little too long, but I can’t hold it against her. It must be nice to finally be able to say things without an orange idiot interrupting you with “Wrong.”

Listening to this was hard in that it stirred up a lot of anger and sadness and frustration that had dulled over the past year. It basically felt like reliving things I’d rather forget, but still a good read/listen. I can’t really say whether it was better than Hard Choices or not – they’re just too different.


Hello Sunshine by Laura Dave

Goodreads * Amazon
I mostly read non-fiction, but I like to pick up a novel now and then when one catches my eye. The description for this book on NetGalley appealed to me, since as bloggers I think we’re all pretty familiar with just how different some people’s social media portrayals are from their reality:

Sunshine Mackenzie is living the dream—she’s a culinary star with millions of fans, a line of #1 bestselling cookbooks, and a devoted husband happy to support her every endeavor.

And then she gets hacked.

When Sunshine’s secrets are revealed, her fall from grace is catastrophic. She loses the husband, her show, the fans, and her apartment. She’s forced to return to the childhood home—and the estranged sister—she’s tried hard to forget. But what Sunshine does amid the ashes of her own destruction may well save her life.

In a world where celebrity is a careful construct, Hello, Sunshine is a compelling, funny, and evocative novel about what it means to live an authentic life in an inauthentic age.

This was an enjoyable read – very much a beach read or a good airplane book. The plot is a little predictable in places, but still fun. I rarely say this, but I could’ve used an epilogue – a few too many loose ends for my taste.


Be sure to check out the link-up to see what dozens of other bloggers have been reading this month!