ASK Musings

No matter where you go, there you are.

Reviews Archive

Saturday

8

December 2018

0

COMMENTS

Work Like a Woman by Mary Portas

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3 Stars

Best for: People looking for a bit of a memoir mixed in with some genuinely good ideas about improving our workplace.

In a nutshell: Author Mary Portas details her career struggles rising through the ranks of department store marketing and shares her thoughts for ways to improve the workplace so it works better for all of us — men and women.

Worth quoting: “But the irony is that the whole thing is deeply emotional: wanting to smash the competition and be top dog isn’t exactly unfeeling, is it?”

Why I chose it: I’ve been working from home since moving to the UK for my partner’s job, but just started a new office gig this week. I figured I could both use a refresher on how offices work and thought this one on how they could be improved would be a good place to start. I wasn’t totally wrong, but I wasn’t right, either.

Review:
Once again, I feel as though I’ve just read a book that could have been great with the right editor. Or a better outline. The book is part memoir, part instruction manual, part argument for policy changes. In the beginning, it seemed as though each chapter would start with a bit of Ms. Portas’s life, following it with what can be learned from this vignette. But life isn’t neat and tidy, so about halfway through she seems to drop this layout, and the book suffers for it, I think.

The main premise is that the the Lean In concept is kind of bullshit — that instead of changing ourselves to fit into office culture, office culture needs to change to meet the skills and needs of women. Ms. Portas is clear in saying that she doesn’t believe all women act in certain ways though; instead, she points out that both men and women can benefit if our offices are less focused on things like competition and the bottom line and more on collaboration and balance.

There is a lot of good in this book – the chapter where she shares her company’s culture statement could be useful, and in the end she offers tips for women in each decade of life (which isn’t necessarily super helpful in some cases, because it assumes a bit of a linear career progression). But I found it a bit frustrating that so very much of the book focused on accommodating childcare. I’d say maybe 1/4 to 1/3 of the book was really focused on this, as though this is the only issue that women face challenges with. And it obviously is a huge issue, but there wasn’t any recognition that one might need work balance for reasons other than caring for children or elderly parents. It seems to be a common world view, and I find it frustrating, as though other life pursuits or challenges don’t matter as much.

I was hoping this would be one of those books that I’d be recommending everyone read, but alas, it is not. Wasn’t a waste of time, but it’s definitely getting donated to the little library at my tube station next time I head out.

 

Friday

30

November 2018

0

COMMENTS

Nightblind by Ragnar Jónasson

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Three Stars

Best for: Completionists. Although if you’re not familiar with any of the characters in the series but like mysteries, you’ll probably enjoy this.

In a nutshell: A police officer (not our protagonist) is shot at an abandoned house. Had he stumbled upon a drug deal? Was the mayor involved? Or was something else going on?

Why I chose it: When I read the first in the series, I immediately bought the rest. And now I’m done. Woo!

Review:
After the new police inspector is found shot by the main character police officer Ari Thor, an investigation ensues, taking Ari Thor and his old boss, Tomas (assigned to assist the investigation) back to old possible crimes and new political ones. Throughout are excerpts from a diary of someone who had been committed to a psychiatric facility after a suicide attempt. But we don’t know who is writing the diary, or when.

This book focuses a bit more on Ari Thor than I’d like. I’m just not a fan of the character, or his girlfriend, really. In fact, I’m not sure I really like any of the characters, but I still enjoyed the story as it unfolded. I’m not sure what that means about the author — that he’s good at writing less than admirable characters and great at pushing plot forward? Or that he has a talent for plot but doesn’t realize his characters are pretty unlikeable? Unclear. But I enjoyed the book nonetheless.

I see that the author has moved on to a different series, focused on a different police officer, which I’ll probably check out at some point.

Tuesday

27

November 2018

0

COMMENTS

Self-Care for the Real World by Nadia Narain and Katia Narain Phillips

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Three Stars

Best for: Someone looking for a few more tips and suggestions on how to really take care of yourself.

In a nutshell: Sisters Nadia and Katia have ideas that they’d like to share with you, ostensibly organized into six categories (but not really).

Worth quoting:
“It’s not so much about what you’re eating as how you’re eating it. Are you eating from a place of love and nourishment? Or out of punishment, or ideas of good and bad?”

Why I chose it:
It looked pretty. But I should have known it might not be the best choice given the three blurbs were from Reese Witherspoon, Kate Moss, and Sienna Miller.

Review:
This book is definitely fine. It’s not offensive, it’s not pushing absurdity or dangerousness like GOOP. But it’s not really … held together with anything.

Theoretically it is divided into five sections: Love, Hope, Peace, Joy, and Light. But honestly, any of the suggestions could have been in any section. Some sections have recipes – why weren’t those all in the same place? I guess I just am not sure how the editing process worked, and maybe this is the best it could have been, but I see more potential here.

There are some ideas in here that I think are useful, and some tips and tricks. But I’m not really sure it needs to be an entire book. Maybe a website would have been better? With different categories? Unclear, but unless you’re a big Reese Witherspoon fan and you follow her recommendations to the letter, you can probably skip this one.

Tuesday

27

November 2018

0

COMMENTS

Whiteout by Ragnar Jónasson

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Four Stars

Best for: People who enjoyed his first three books.

In a nutshell: A young woman has fallen off (or jumped? Or been pushed from?) cliffs in the north of Iceland. The twist? Her sister and mother died at those same cliffs 25 years ago. So … what happened?

Why I chose it: I clearly have found a genre I love — Icelandic mysteries. And since something like 10% of the population of Iceland will write a book at some point, my guess is once I finish with his last book (sadness), I can move on to another similar author.

Review:
Asta has decided to return to the home she lived in when she was younger, when her father managed the lighthouse. When she was seven, her mother fell from the cliffs. Or perhaps was pushed? Then soon after, Asta’s sister falls from the same cliffs at only five years old. Asta’s father ends up in psychiatric care, and she is raised by an aunt.

At the home near the lighthouse, two older folks live, having kept the house for over 40 years, since their own mother was housekeeper there. The owner is a prominent businessman who inherited it from his father. A neighbor helps out as well, and all are together when it is revealed that Asta has died.

Was it an accident? Did she jump, following in her mother’s and sister’s footsteps? Was she pushed for what she may have known? Police officer Ari Thor and his wife travel to the town just before Christmas at the request of Ari’s former boss down in Reykjavik, as he needs help, and Ari doesn’t want to leave his pregnant girlfriend behind right at the holidays.

Really the only thing I didn’t enjoy in this book was the absence of Isrun, the journalist who has featured fairly prominently in the previous two books. But even with her missing, the book was a quick and enjoyable read.

Friday

23

November 2018

0

COMMENTS

Rupture by Ragnar Jónasson

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Four Stars

Best for: People looking for a bit of mystery set in an interesting place.

In a nutshell: Police officer Ari Thor is stuck in his town during a quarantine situation and looking into a 50-year-old mystery, while two seemingly unrelated crimes are looked into by journalist Isrun.

Why I chose it: After I read the first, I ordered all four others in the series. No regrets.

Review:
A baby is kidnapped. A recovered substance abuser is hit by a car. A man’s wife was beaten to death. A nephew is wondering if his aunt died by suicide or was murdered. Some of these stories might be related. How we find that out is interesting.

Ari Thor is less of an ass in this one. He’s a bit of a … blowhard? At one point he’s telling a story that affects someone else’s life and he chooses to stretch out the storytelling while that person is clearly distressed. I know the readers need to learn the story, but I feel that the author could have found a different way to do this. Unless, as I do suspect, the author doesn’t particularly like his protagonist.

I was excited to see that the same journalist from the second book has a big role to play. Her background and way of being is just more interesting to me, and I appreciate how she is woven into these stories.

When the twists of this particular story were revealed, I appreciated that while I didn’t figure them out, they weren’t entirely impossible to have sorted out. I don’t read these books in the hopes that I’ll sort out what’s happened; I just like reading stories set in interesting places. So far the outcomes are never totally outside the realm of possibility, but are surprising enough to be fun.

Wednesday

21

November 2018

0

COMMENTS

Black0ut by Ragnar Jónasson

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Four Stars

Best for: People looking for a bit of mystery set in an interesting place.

In a nutshell: Someone has been murdered, and the police and a highly motivated journalist are both on the story.

Why I chose it: I loved the first one in this series.

Review:
Ari Thor is a police officer living in a small town in far nothern Iceland. After someone is found murdered in a nearby town, he and his boss are called in to assist, as the victim lived nearby. As news comes out, journalist Isrun leaves Reykjavik to travel north and follow the story. She claims to have a tip, but she made it up, not knowing she might not be that far from the truth.

As in the first book, there are a lot of stories going on that may or may not be related. The story is also disturbing, and while I’m not going to get into details, the book should definitely have a trigger warner for references to sexual assault.

One thing this second book has convinced me of is that the main character Ari Thor is boring and an ass. He showed a bit of this in the first book when he just up and decided to move away without talking it over with his partner. In this one, he displays his jealousy and toxic masculinity more, and it did not amuse me. Basically, he’s an asshole. I can’t entirely tell, but I think the author wants us to like Ari Thor, and that’s fine. I don’t. But he features in only maybe 20% of the book, so it’s not a big deal. He’s more like the excuse for the story to exist as opposed to the main focus of it.

It’s entirely possible I’ve read this out of order, but I don’t think so. If you check Amazon, it calls this book three, but on the author’s website, I followed the Iceland release order, and it seems to flow directly from the previous book. I offer this up as a warning in case you choose to get into this series (Dark Iceland)

Monday

19

November 2018

0

COMMENTS

Make Time by Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky

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Four Stars

Best for: Those looking for some tips to help them focus their time.

In a nutshell: Two former Google folks offer their tips for making time for what matters (I mean, it’s right there in the title, and I couldn’t figure out a better way to say it).

Worth quoting:
“Trying to cram in just one more thing is like driving a car that is running out of gas: No matter how long you keep your foot on the accelerator, if the tank is empty, you aren’t going anywhere. You to stop and refuel.”

Why I chose it:
Assuming all the paperwork and such goes through, I should be starting a new job next month. For the past year I’ve been working from home, and only part time, so I’ve been able to do things like chores and exploring my new city on my own schedule. And before that, I didn’t work on Fridays for years. But my new job has a regular work week, so I’m going to have to work harder to be more intentional about how I spend my time.

Review:
The main premise of the book is this: we should pick a highlight for our day (work or personal life) that takes about 60-90 minutes; create an environment to have laser focus; make some changes to increase energy, and then reflect on the actions we’ve taken and if they’ve helped us focus on our highlight.

The book itself is well-designed. It’s a bit hefty, but it has illustrations and summarizes the four areas well. After presenting the basics behind each thesis, the authors offer tips on how to implement it. The suggestion isn’t that the reader incorporate all the suggestions, but that we try them out and reflect to see which work to help us make time for what we want to do with our days.

Some suggestions are ones I’ve heard before — deleting apps from phones that suck time but don’t add a lot to life, exercising a bit each — but the framework is different, and I like it. I’m going to try it out.

That said, a couple of reservations: this was created by two dudes. One does have children, but I would be interested in how this works for people who are primary caregivers of their children and don’t work outside the home. They do reference how some of this might be challenging to people who have newborns or other people they care for, but I could imaging being a bit skeptical. Additionally, for people who have very little control over their work schedule, some of the tips might be hard to implement, but I think it’s worth having a go.

Saturday

17

November 2018

0

COMMENTS

Atlas of Improbable Places by Travis Elborough and Alan Horsfield

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Four Stars

The Lost City of San Juan Parangaricutiro

Best for: People who enjoy books on world curiosities that don’t focus on making fun of or judging individuals. People who like books with three-four page chunks that can be read at once.

In a nutshell: The authors provide quick backgrounds on 51 places spread (very inequitably) across six continents, divided into categories of Dream Creations, Deserted Destinations, Architectural Oddities, Floating Worlds, Otherworldly Spaces, and Subterranean Realms.

Worth quoting:
N/A

Why I chose it: I’m always looking for places to add to my list of things I want to see in person. Plus, I like to learn about ostensibly weird shit.

Review:

When I was a teenager, my family took a trip to the pacific northwest, and went on the Underground Tour in Seattle. For those not familiar, part of the city closest to the water was raised at least a full story after a fire destroyed a bunch of buildings, putting shops and residences that were once at street-level down a dozen feet. The tour takes people through reconstructed older facades, and points out that the purple glass we walk over at street level was a way to allow light down to the still-functioning buildings below. I was fascinated.

A decade ago my sister and I visited Berlin and went on a tour of underground bunkers. I believe I found this one because, again, I like history but also unexpected and potentially weird things.

Neither of those items are listed in this book, but they aren’t that far off. The book includes some fantastical places (Hearst Castle), some disturbing ones — especially if you don’t like dolls — (Isla de las Muñecas), some truly bizarre ones (Darvata), and some sad ones (Oradur-sur-Glane). I’d only heard of maybe three of the places discussed in the book, and I want to go visit at least a few of them.

The book was generally good, but I have a couple of complaints keeping it from hitting five stars. The first is the distribution of sites. It felt a bit lazy to have so many concentrated in North America and Europe. There were also many in Asia, but only one in Africa, two in South America, and two in Oceania (and the one in Africa is mostly a criticism of art, which felt a bit off). The other is if you’re going to make a book focused on fascinating places, your pictures NEED TO BE IN FULL COLOR. I know it’s way expensive. But black and white photos do not in any way capture the vast majority of these locations. I finally had to just look up each place on my phone as I read a chapter. That seems unnecessary. Even with those two complaints, however, I would still recommend this book.

(I couldn’t help but think about the town of Paradise, California, as I read this book. Many, though not all, are abandoned spaces; some are that was as the result of some natural or unnatural disaster. And I wonder: in fifty years, will parts of the now-destroyed city in Northern California be added to this book? Or will they be featured in a different book, one focused on how cities can rebuild?)

Saturday

10

November 2018

0

COMMENTS

No Is Not Enough by Naomi Klein

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Three Stars

Best for: People still looking for answers to how we got here (i.e. got Trump) and some thoughts on ways to move forward.

In a nutshell: Trump’s election shouldn’t have been a surprise, and it doesn’t need to be the end of the world.

Worth quoting:
“If the goal is to move from a society based on endless taking and depletion to one based on caretaking and renewal, then all of our relationships have to be grounded in those same principles of reciprocity and care.”

Why I chose it: I keep looking for books to help me figure out a good way forward, and Junebug’s review suggested it’d be a good one. And it was, mostly.

Review:
I feel like there are two books here: a history book and a how-to book. And while the tag lines and blurbs are promoting the latter, the vast majority of it feels like the former to me. And that isn’t necessarily a bad thing, I just feel like lately I’m reading a whole lot of build up and not a lot of “now do this.” It’s especially frustrating when some of the things she warns us about not only happened but were way worse. I spent a fair amount of time in the first chunk saying “Oh honey, past you was a bit off, and not in a positive direction.”

That’s not to say there aren’t things in here that I learned. There’s a lot about US and world history I know nothing about, and haven’t sat with to connect all the dots, and to that end I think Ms. Klein does a mostly good job. However, at times it felt like a book that was trying to fit as much relevant information as possible without the best through-line. It could have benefited from some stronger editing and perhaps reorganization, though I appreciate she was trying to get this book out quickly as the Trump administration continued rolling over human and civil rights ad the environment.

The very last bit of the book focuses on options for going forward, but even there it feels a little … insufficient. She talks about the Leap Manifesto she was a part of putting together in Canada, but there isn’t a lot of how to try to reproduce that in the US or even within a state in the US.

I think I just want to know what to do. Does that make sense? And that’s a lot to put onto any author — or anyone, really — but at this point I’m tired of the history, at least the parts I’ve lived through. And that’s why for me this book is only three stars.

Monday

29

October 2018

0

COMMENTS

All You Can Ever Know by Nicole Chung

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Four Stars

Best for: Anyone interested in a beautifully written memoir that explores adoption, transracial adoption, race, and family.

In a nutshell: Author Nicole Chung was born to Korean parents in the US and adopted by a white couple. In this book, she explores what it meant to be one of the only Asian people around growing up, as well as how she connected with some of her birth family.

Worth quoting:
“People were not so simple; people could be and think and want many different things at once.”

Why I chose it:
I’ve seen so many people online raving about it.

Review:
This is a lovely book. When thinking about words that could describe it, I could also have gone with powerful, honest, or insightful. But I chose lovely because the writing is just that, as is the way the author handles complex and complicated issues.

Nicole Chung was born two months premature to parents who had moved to the US from Korea just five years prior to her birth. They already had one child together; they chose to place Ms. Chung up for adoption, but not through what we would probably think of as regular channels (i.e., an agency). Instead, someone working in the hospital knows the couple who would become Ms. Chung’s adoptive parents and alerts them to this possibility.

Ms. Chung is raised in the pacific northwest, in a part of Oregon with very few other Asian individuals. Her parents are always open about the fact of her adoption, but they don’t take steps to help Ms. Chung learn about her Korean heritage, and she doesn’t not pursue it independently much until she reaches college. Once she is married, she decides to see if she can get in touch with her birth family, motivated further when she learns that she may have a sister.

This book explores one story, and it is not claiming to be universal, but still, the issues it addresses can apply to so many of us, I think. There are obviously some specifics (e.g. the reality of transracial adoption) that may only be directly relatable to similarly situated individuals, but the overall concepts of belonging and family, about other possible life scenarios, about whether a choice was the best one (and if that is even the right question to ask), about how our families influence who we become, and even about nature vs. nurture, they all take up space here. I’ll be thinking about this one long after I pick up my next read.