Sunday, March 8, 2020

What I've Read Recently // February 2020

Know My Name: A Memoir by Chanel Miller
Adapted from Goodreads:
She was known to the world as Emily Doe when she stunned millions with a letter. Brock Turner had been sentenced to just six months in county jail after he was found sexually assaulting her on Stanford’s campus. Now she reclaims her identity to tell her story of trauma, transcendence, and the power of words.  Her story illuminates a culture biased to protect perpetrators, indicts a criminal justice system designed to fail the most vulnerable, and, ultimately, shines with the courage required to move through suffering and live a full and beautiful life.
What I thought: 10/10
This book was totally upsetting and totally uplifting. It is, without a doubt, worth your time and attention. The copy I read was checked out from the library and as soon as I was finished reading it, I ordered a copy for our home. I think everyone should read this book. The system is broken and the way victims are treated is outrageous. Miller does an unbelievable job of putting the reader in her shoes as she navigates her way through the days/years in the aftermath of her assault. Her voice, through her gift of the written word, is powerful and compelling. The subject matter is obviously challenging. With excellence and candor, Miller is able to put her experience on the page in a way that is honest, shocking, emotional, and also profoudly readable. I loved this book.

Inside Out by Demi Moore
From Goodreads:
In this deeply candid and reflective memoir, Demi pulls back the curtain and opens up about her career and personal life—laying bare her tumultuous relationship with her mother, her marriages, her struggles balancing stardom with raising a family, and her journey toward open heartedness.
What I thought: 6/10
I agree that Demi gave us a look inside --especially as it related to her early life and experience with her parents, childhood abuses, and abandonment --all linked to her parents' addictions and toxic relationships. It's no surprise that her "childhood" resulted in feelings of unworthiness, fear, and inability to connect interpersonally with others. These early-years passages were honest and unflinching and made me feel as though I understood what lead to her troubled adulthood. Having said that, I didn't find much beyond these first chapters to be impressed by. I found the tone of the storytelling to be shallow and lacking much self-reflection. There was a lot of blame placed elsewhere and not enough responsibility-taking. If you're looking for a great Hollywood memoir, read Stories I Only Tell My Friends by Rob Lowe instead of this.

Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, Her Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed by Lori Gottleib
Adapted from Goodreads:
As Gottlieb explores the inner chambers of her patients' lives -- a self-absorbed Hollywood producer, a young newlywed diagnosed with a terminal illness, a senior citizen threatening to end her life on her birthday if nothing gets better, and a twenty-something who can't stop hooking up with the wrong guys -- she finds that the questions they are struggling with are the very ones she is now bringing to her own therapist.
What I thought: 8/10
This was a great book! I thought it was funny, honest, warm, and useful. As a therapist, Gottlieb is full of compassion, patience, and wisdom. As a patient, she is vulnerable, uncertain, and self-doubting. Her writing style is conversational and in peeling back the curtain on both sides of the couch, she is able to show us what good therapy ought to look and feel like. As far as the writing style and format, I loved the movement between therapist, patient, and parent, and young professional. The passages are interesting, helpful, insightful, and entertaining. I certainly learned a lot as a side-effect of enjoying this book.

Good Girl, Bad Girl by Michael Robotham
Adapted from Goodreads:
A girl is discovered hiding in a secret room in the aftermath of a terrible crime. Half-starved and filthy, she won’t tell anyone her name, or her age, or where she came from. Six years later, still unidentified, she is living in a secure children’s home with a new name. When she initiates a court case demanding the right to be released as an adult, a forensic psychologist must determine if she is ready to go free. 
What I thought: 8/10
I very much enjoyed this psychological thriller! The story is told through the perspectives of Cyrus Haven, a forensic psychologist and Evie Cormac, the mysterious victim of unspeakable childhood trauma. The first in a series (that I can't wait to continue), this book revolves around the murder of a prominent young ice-skating champion. Robotham uses this compelling and suspenseful storyline to introduce the reader --in bits and pieces --to Evie's back story and Cyrus's own tragic past. All three of these strands are woven together in a natural flow that, while complicated, never feels forced or gimmicky. I look forward to the next installment to see how Cyrus and Evie continue to develop their relationship.

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead
Adapted from Goodreads:
Based on the real story of a reform school in Florida that operated for one hundred and eleven years and warped the lives of thousands of children, The Nickel Boys is the story of two boys sentenced to a hellish reform school in Jim Crow-era Florida.
What I thought: 9/10
This is a small book with a giant story to tell. While the characters and setting here are fiction, this book is based on the true and horrifying Dozier School for Boys in Florida which only recently closed its doors in 2011. Whitehead reveals so much heartbreak and tragedy in this work --it's tough to read; however, it deserves your attention and time. I loved Elwood and Turner who came to life on the pages and I know you will too. Remarkably, despite the horrendous injustice and brutality throughout, this book is also beautiful and full of grace. I hope you will pick it up.

The Orphan Master's Son by Adam Johnson
Adapted from Goodreads:
An epic novel and a thrilling literary discovery, The Orphan Master's Son follows a young man's journey through the icy waters, dark tunnels, and eerie spy chambers of the world's most mysterious dictatorship, North Korea. Part thriller, part story of innocence lost, part story of romantic love, The Orphan Master's Son is also a portrait of a world hidden from view: a North Korea rife with hunger, corruption, and casual cruelty but also camaraderie, stolen moments of beauty, and love.
What I thought: 6/10 (Listened on Audible)
Ugh. I'm so conflicted about this one... Occasionally, I really liked it and sometimes I absolutely hated it. For all the rest, I felt: meh. The story is certainly ambitious --spanning one man's life but squeezing in enough twists and turns for the character, Jun Do, that it felt easily like it could have been the lives of six men. I did not find the characters to be very believable --but I'm not altogether convinced that the author intended them to be. I found it difficult to distinguish imagination from fact-based research throughout the books description of life in North Korea. Perhaps I would have had an easier time understanding what I was supposed to glean from the book had story been set in a dystopian/fantasy setting versus the very real North Korea. Because Johnson presents his world as North Korea with such (misplaced?) conviction, I kept getting snagged up on having to swallow (ox protein, anyone?) the countless unbelievable details which left me feeling disconnected from the story (and fairly irritated too). So in the end, I'm left floundering. I really didn't enjoy much about this book.

The Opposite of Spoiled: Raising Kids Who Are Grounded, Generous, and Smart About Money by Ron Lieber
From Goodreads:
New York Times “Your Money” columnist Ron Lieber delivers a taboo-shattering manifesto that explains how talking openly to children about money can help parents raise modest, patient, grounded young adults who are financially wise beyond their years.
What I thought: 9/10
I found this book to be very readable which was a huge bonus because the topic is so important. Financial literacy is a life skill that any functioning adult needs to have in their toolbox --but so often, we leave these conversations with our kids unspoken. The other important takeaway for me here was the discussion about teaching gratitude to kids who are growing up in a household of abundance and comfort. The book covers a lot: charity, expenses, budgets, decision-making, etcetera. Not only does the book introduce real situations --Lieber also provides some tangible and applicable tools for giving our kids room to practice financial life skills before we send them into the world of consumerism and credit. I recommend this book to anyone desiring to raise adults. I wish I had read it when mine were 6-8 years old --but even at 13 and 14, there's still time to create a learning environment that will set them up for better success once they're on their own.

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