Review: A Beautiful, Terrible Thing

Behold! A negative review. I’m sorry.

For those who read me often, you’ll know that you don’t see bad reviews often on 29chapters. But yes…occasionally I do encounter a book that for whatever reason, did not offer me a pleasurable nor informative reading experience.

Perhaps you will read it and completely disagree. In the meantime…

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Review for "A Beautiful, Terrible Thing: A Memoir of Marriage and Betrayal" by Jen Waite (2017)

Rating: 1 out of 5 stars

After reading the description, I took the last word in the title, betrayal, and expected something mind-bending and completely unbelievable to compel me to read all 258 pages of this work. This book was neither of those things. Sure, Ms. Waite’s husband is guilty of being a cheating and lying jerk, but how is this different from thousands of other women and men whose lives are ruined by a partner’s infidelity? I also understand that she was deeply hurt by his actions (as I would be), but what is so remarkable here? Why is this a memoir? Who published this drivel?

Most of the first half of this book is made up of adolescent-ish, ‘dear diary’ prose, with “Before” and “After” scenes documenting the beginning, middle, and end of her marriage to Marco, an Argentinian bar tender, serial liar and cheater. Somewhere in all of this she discovers her husband is having an affair and we’re forced to watch as she goes back and forth with omg why omg why omg why this happened. We watch as she scours her husband and his mistress’ social media, phone records, an Uber account. It’s exhausting. It’s obsessive. It’s creepy. And after pages and pages of this, we also don’t care.

I also take issue with her use of ‘psychopathic’ to describe her husband’s behavior. Yes, he cheated on her and lied to her–but does this really make him a psychopath? What medical expertise does the author have to make such a diagnosis? Of course, we’ve all called at least one person we know ‘crazy,’ but the author spends a great deal of time in this book, with no medical expertise at all, utilizing Google searches, internet message boards, and a Wikipedia page to self-diagnose her husband’s mental condition and actions. Well alrighty then.

I don’t recommend this–no way, no how. Sorry.

Review: Cuz

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Review of "Cuz: The Life and Times of Michael A" by Danielle Allen (to be published on 5 September 2017)
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

“Cuz: The Life and Times of Michael A” is the true life story of the author’s younger cousin Michael, who was arrested at the age of 15 in Los Angeles for the crime of attempted carjacking. He was charged as an adult, served eleven years in prison, and was released in 2009. Three years later, his body was discovered in his vehicle, riddled with bullets.

Danielle Allen, an academic at Harvard University, peels away the layers of Michael’s troubled personal and family life and attempts to find an answer for why her cousin’s life came to such a tragic and violent end. She manages to write a really good background sociological perspective of Los Angeles, with its gangs, segregated neighborhoods, and history of mass incarceration that was very relevant to the discussion of the personal facts she presents. All in all, a very solid work that anyone who is interested in urban sociology would appreciate.

[Note: A free digital copy of this book was given to me by the publisher and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.]

Review: The Education of a Coroner

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Review for "The Education of a Coroner" by John Bateson (to be published on 15 Aug 2017)

Rating: 4 out of  5 stars

If “CSI” on CBS is a little too sunny for you and you prefer darker, grittier shows about real forensic science like HBO’s “Autopsy” or HLN’s “Forensic Files,” then this is the book for you. Right away it grabs you with its painstaking attention to detail about everything you want know (and more!) about the day to day life of a real coroner. Holmes opens his case files and discusses dozens of cases he’s worked in and around Marin County, California, where he served as the official coroner for many years. He discusses death investigations, how the cause and manner of a person’s death is determined, the evidence of various methods of homicide on the body, the ‘how’ of suicides (i.e., what really happens when people jump off the famed Golden Gate Bridge). Call me weird, but as a self-confessed forensic science fan my fascination with the subject matter here spurred be to finish it pretty quickly.

There were a few errors in the writing, but since this is an advance copy, I won’t mention them here. There’s really nothing bad I can say about this book. Definitely recommend if this is a subject of your interest.

[Note: A free, digital copy of this book was provided via the publisher, Scribner, and NetGalley in exchange for an honest opinion of this book.]

Review: The Story of Vicente, Who Murdered His Mother, His Father, and His Sister: Life and Death in Juarez

I’ve been on a nonfiction reading kick lately. A little real life adventure never hurt anyone anyone, does it? Anyway, on to my next book…

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Review for "The Story of Vicente, Who Murdered His Mother, His Father, and His Sister: Life and Death in Juarez" by Sandra Rodriguez Nieto (2015)

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

True crime/investigative journalism book that uses the murder by a young man of his parents and sister to explore many of the issues that plague Juarez, the infamous Mexican border city that’s only miles away from El Paso, Texas. Only the first few chapters discuss the actual details of the crime and what happens to Vicente in the aftermath (he only got a measly five years in prison, btw). It’s not Vicente’s fate that drives this book as much as its overarching message: that when violence occurs in a place with impunity, it effects everyone–including a 16-year-old who decides to slaughter his family.

Nieto spends the majority of the book breaking down the rampant political corruption, cartel wars, gang conflicts, and the other cogs of the machine that are the cause of the epidemic violence that go on in Juarez. At the height of the violence in 2010, there were 20 homicides a day and 8 kidnappings. It’s pretty shocking stuff. Brutal kidnappings, dead bodies left in the street, in front of schools, in neighborhoods. Criminals that walk right out of prison because well, umm, the guards left the door open. Oops. There’s also a chapter that discusses the joke of a police department Juarez has. How does a city rack up thousands of murders in one year? It’s because they don’t even bother to investigate. Case received, case closed. Next…

I recommend this book for anyone interested in current issues, particularly in Mexico.

Review: Boy Erased

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Review for "Boy Erased" by Garrard Conley (2016)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Just finished this book. Wiping away the tears. Whew…my allergies.

This is a beautifully written book. From the first couple of pages I was completely enthralled, not wanting to do anything but turn to the next page. Garrard Conley certainly has a way with words, his beautiful sentences coming from a place of so much pain and isolation, sadness that I did not have to be an LGBTQ individual to understand, to feel in the very depths of my soul.

This story is all about Garrard, a boy growing up in a super religious Missionary Baptist family in Arkansas, the son of a pastor. From the time he is an adolescent, he knows he is gay. He tries to pray it away, to talk to God about it, all to no avail. When he is ‘outed’ to his parents by a phone call while at college, his parents suggest a ‘cure’ for his ‘problem.’ With nowhere else to turn, he attends several sessions of Love in Action, a “sexual re-orientation” program that uses ‘conversation therapy’ to change gays and lesbians to back to straight people.

This book is not a linear narrative. Scenes from Conley’s life are interpersed with his memories of ex-gay therapy, and a couple of times I found myself putting the book down and thinking to myself: do people really believe this shit? According to LIA, homosexuality is a sickness, a result of the past sins of our family members, sexual abuse, a lack of sports participation, subconscious effeminizing influences, and too much of our mother’s meddling. It’s crazy. But at no time does Conley demonize the people who clearly wronged him, he simply tells the story in a way that leaves you no choice but to listen and feel. I loved that about this book.

I’d recommend this book to people who are interested in a narrative of the intersectionality of LGBTQ identity and religion. I am a Christian, and even though I am of a progressive and inclusive mindset, I gained a much deeper understanding for LGBTQ individuals who grew up in deeply religious communities.

Review: Dear Nobody: The True Diary of Mary Rose

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Review for “Dear Nobody: The True Diary of Mary Rose” by Gillian McCain and Legs McNeil (2014)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Dear Nobody was published after the 1999 death of the author, a girl named Mary Rose, who reportedly kept a 600+ page journal. This condensed version of her diaries chronicle roughly about 3 years of her life in harrowing detail as she struggles with low self esteem, drug addiction, sexual assaults, and living with cystic fibrosis. As a writer I was impressed with her ideas, the complicated pattern of her thoughts, the intricate way she expressed them. There’s not much of a narrative flow here, but that’s ok. I came into this fully expecting for Mary Rose to be happy one moment, and completely subdued in the next. Welcome to adolescence, folks…

With that said, this journal had a lot of extremely disturbing content. Mary Rose had a shitty home life, shitty parents, and no one to talk to about it. For 75% of the book, she’s either drunk or thinking about drinking, high or under the influence of some other drug. Her addiction is sad to watch. You watch her move from tragedy to tragedy in an increasing fog of drugs and alcohol and in the company of people (including her own family) who could have cared less about her. In between all of the drama she’s constantly in and out the hospital, fighting infections and just plain fighting for her life. You desperately want to hug her, to help her, to stop her from falling into an abyss. Whew.

I felt like the book was realistic, but I’m not quite sure if I believe that what’s presented here is exactly as she wrote it. The spelling is perfect, there’s no typos. Although the collaborators who put the book together claim that not a single word of text was changed, I have a hard time believing that it wasn’t touched by an editor in some form or another. If she was in the impaired mental state that she constantly refers to being in, I’m sure there’s a hiccup somewhere. But I’ll digress…

Anyway, do read this. This book is the Go Ask Alice for all of us who laughed and rolled our eyes 25 years ago at the end of that book and were still waiting for a real journal to happen out there. Look no further.

Review: So Sad Today

Happy 4th! Currently sitting in my den, curled up with my pooch, watching b&w episodes of The Twilight Zone marathon on Syfy. 🙂

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Review for “So Sad Today” by Melissa Broder (2016)

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

*puts book down*

Alrighty then…

These essays revel in their TMI-ness. If you aren’t ready for pages and pages of Broder’s musings on vomit, shit, nose-picking, masturbation, and the particulars of just about every kind of sex imaginable, you probably aren’t ready for this book. For me, the overshare was a bit annoying (I skipped the vomit fetish essay, no thnx), but I did manage to find some gems here that I liked. Her essay on working for a tantric sex guru was hilarious, and the very last essay on her anxiety disorder was quite moving.

The problem here is that I can’t take this book seriously. For me, the intended shock value of these essays takes away from the seriousness of this book as a whole. Toward the end, when Broder drops the witty one liners and gets real about her afflictions, the book actually becomes (dare I say it?) interesting. It shouldn’t be that way. Or should it? Either way, I think I’ll stick with her poetry. Or just reading her tweets.

Meh.