ASK Musings

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Uncategorized Archive

Tuesday

6

February 2024

0

COMMENTS

The Paris Apartment by Lucy Foley

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3 Stars

Best for:
I’m not totally sure if I’m honest. It’s similar to her other books, but also not.

In a nutshell:
Jess is visiting her half brother Ben in Paris, but when she arrives, he’s nowhere to be found, and his cat has some blood on it.

Worth quoting:
N/A

Why I chose it:
Thought I’d round out the Lucy Foley catalog.

Review:
Hmmm. I nearly gave up on this book because it wasn’t holding my attention, but there is a twist that comes about 1/3 of the way through that brought me back in.

Like her other books, this one is told from the point of view of a few different characters, nearly all of whom live in the same apartment building in Paris, plus Jess, who is visiting her brother Ben. There is Sophie, who lives in the penthouse with her husband Jack, and who is quite the snob. There is Mimi, who is very young and a bit shy, and lives with a flatmate. Then there is Nick, who knew Ben from their university days, and got Ben the apartment. Finally the concierge, an older woman who lives on the ground flour and takes care of the building.

Jess sort of flees London, and tells Ben she’s going to crash with him for a bit. His last message to her before she arrives is a voice note giving her instructions for how to find the flat. But when she arrives a few hours later, there is no trace of him, but his keys and wallet are still in the flat.

The book jumps back and forth in time, following different perspectives wit the goal of figuring out what the hell happened to Ben. I’ll admit that the resolution was somewhat surprising and fairly satisfying, but overall the book just wasn’t that interesting to me.

What’s next for this book:
I will probably eventually listen to Foley’s books if another one is released, as it’s decent to listen to while on a run.

Tuesday

26

December 2023

0

COMMENTS

Murder on the Christmas Express by Alexandra Bendict

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Three Stars

Best for:
Those who enjoy a murder mystery in a locked location (in this case, a derailed train).

In a nutshell:
Roz, retired Met police officer, is heading north on the sleeper train to be with her daughter, who is giving birth up in Scotland. Instead, she finds herself on a derailed train, with a possibly murdered influencer.

Worth quoting:
N/A

Why I chose it:
My partner and I don’t exchange gifts at Christmas, except for one book, that we open on Christmas eve. This was his gift to me this year.

What it left me feeling:
Entertained but also sad.

Review:
CN (and the author includes this at the start of the book): sexual assault and rape do factor into at least one storyline within this book. The author is a survivor herself, and takes care with the subject, but obviously its good to know that in case that is a deal breaker for readers.

After delays due to a snowstorm, the train gets going with a much smaller number of people on board. They include a team hoping to make it to a university quiz program; a family with four children; an older man, his elderly mother, and their cat; an attorney, a woman traveling alone, our main character, and an influencer / reality star couple. Roz, the main character, is desperate to get up to her daughter, who has gone into early labor. After a raucous evening in the bar car, the train derails, and someone is discovered dead.

Overall this was a book that was basically right up my alley. It takes place on what in real life is the Caledonia Sleeper train, which runs from London up to various points in Scotland. I’ve taken it twice myself, including a few months ago when we moved to Scotland and needed a safe way to move our cats too. The main character is Scottish, and the coziness (though eventual claustrophobia) of a train traveling through the mountains during a snowstorm is something I hope to experience – though without the derailment. And murder. But it also explores the very real and devastating impact of sexual assault. I know, not exactly a Christmas story, but I think the book does a decent job of it.

The main drawback for me is some of the author’s writing. She has interesting, well-developed characters, and when she’s focusing on telling the story, it is riveting, but also told with care given the subject manner. But she really wedges in some fairly overwritten metaphors that really pulled me out of the story. There aren’t a lot, but enough that it was noticeable.

Recommend to a Friend / Keep / Donate it / Toss it:
Donate it

Wednesday

17

May 2023

0

COMMENTS

The Night She Disappeared by Lisa Jewell

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Four Stars

Best for:
People who enjoy thrillers. Not for people who are triggered by discussions of abusive partners.

In a nutshell:
Tallulah is 19 and lives with her mother, 1 year-old-son, and her boyfriend Zach. One night, Tallulah and Zach go missing, and the people they were with ostensibly didn’t know them very well. Tallulah’s mother Kim tries to figure what has happened, and is helped when new clues appear a year later.

Worth quoting:
N/A – Audio book

Why I chose it:
I enjoyed her other books I read this year.

What it left me feeling:
Satisfied and surprised.

Review:
CN: Intimate partner abuse

This was a great book, helped along by the voice acting in the version I listened to – narrated by Joanne Froggatt. Considering there were at least a half dozen women’s voices she had to do, she managed to make them so distinct that I could easily follow what was going on.

The plot itself is once again a back and forth in time. We keep moving from the disappearance (June 2017), forward to the investigation as it is reopened in August / September 2018, then back to the 2016/2017 academic year to help us understand more of the situation. But the basics are: Tallulah is a young mother who, in 2017, had only reunited with her son’s father about nine months prior. She is someone who keeps to herself, focusing on school and her child.

Scarlett is someone who Tallulah perhaps knew? Perhaps not? The story unfolds but Scarlett is the home that Tallulah and Zach are last seen at before they disappear. Zach is also seen as a doting father and boyfriend, but its possible that isn’t the case.

Kim is Tallulah’s mother, who is now caring for her son and desperate to figure out what has happened. And Sophie is the partner of the new headmaster of the school Tallulah and Scarlett attend, and also happens to be the author of many detective novels.

As with the other books I’ve read by this author, I could possibly see some of the twists coming, but nothing was so foreshadowed that it was obvious. And once again, the epilogue brought resolution to a side storyline that I didn’t know I needed resolution to, and was a disturbing little addition that I appreciated.

As an aside – Jewell is really good at writing creepy men. Sometimes they are outright violent, sometimes it’s more emotional, but I could see this book being triggering for anyone who has been manipulated and abused by a partner.

Recommend to a Friend / Keep / Donate it / Toss it:
Recommend to a friend

Thursday

13

April 2023

0

COMMENTS

Love, Pamela by Pamela Anderson

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Two Stars

Best for:
I’m not entirely sure. I hope her fans would enjoy it.

In a nutshell:
Pamela Anderson provides the Cliff’s Notes version of her biography.

Worth quoting:
N/A

Why I chose it:
When the limited series about the sex tape of Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee was released this year, Anderson was vocal in that she had not given her consent for her story to be told that way, so I chose not to watch the show. I thought I’d pick up her memoir to hear what she has to say about her own life in her own words, sort of as a way to counteract that.

What it left me feeling:
A bit sad

Review:
I appreciate that Anderson has been given a chance to speak for herself. She has made some decisions about how she presents herself publicly that some people don’t agree with (posing for Playboy, starring in a TV show where she mostly just wore a bathing suit), with those same people forming opinions about her that likely don’t align with reality. Some people probably know her for her association with PETA as well, which might also impact their views of her.

What these folks probably don’t expect, based on stereotypes, is that Anderson is very well-read, and very interested in literature, the arts, and all manner of activism.

I didn’t have much of an opinion on Anderson before reading this book; after reading it, I probably am less inclined to seek out her work. She’s clearly been through a lot in her life, and has managed to really take control of her future and build her own story, and I think that’s wonderful. I also don’t think we would enjoy spending time with each other.

Which is fine! That’s not the point of a memoir – it’s not about liking or disliking the author; it’s about the author sharing their version of their story, in the hopes that people who only know one part of them might know more. With that comes the risk, of course, that the knowledge will lead some people to become less of a fan, or less interested in the person in general, and that’s happened here. Prior to reading this, I would say I was truly ambivalent about Anderson until I saw that the TV series was made without her consent. Now … eh?

Many things led me to this conclusion – here are just a couple. She sounds very judgmental of women who choose medicated over unmedicated births (I also just generally cringe when people refer to one type of way of giving birth as natural, as though birth could be artificial). And this is yet another celebrity promoting crypto and blockchain. I feel like a lot of memoirs released in the last couple of years are not going to age well in this area… But also – this is a very short memoir. I appreciate she can share what she chooses, but it definitely felt a bit disjointed and a bit like the abridged version in a way that I haven’t experienced with most other memoirs.

When thinking of how to best sum up what I walked away with from this book, I come to this conclusion: like all people, Anderson is complex. She and I have next to nothing in common. I think people should leave her alone and not watch the tape that was stolen and published without her consent. And I likely will not really think about her again unless a story about her pops up in my news feed.

Recommend to a Friend / Keep / Donate it / Toss it:
Donate it

Saturday

1

April 2023

0

COMMENTS

The Heart of the Buddha’s Teachings by Thich Nhat Hanh

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Four Stars

Best for:
Those interested in learning more about Buddhism.

In a nutshell:
Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh shares an overview of some of the basic tenets of Buddhism.

Worth quoting:
I underlined and starred so, so much.

Why I chose it:
I’ve read some very basic writings on Buddhism many years ago; I’m not more interested in learning more to see if it is a spiritual path I’d like to learn more about.

What it left me feeling:
Calm.

Review:
I tend to think of Buddhists as people who take things in stride, so it was kind of funny to me that the program I use to write my book reviews kept throwing up error messages when I was trying to write this review. Lessons are available everywhere!

The first half of the book focuses on two major Buddhism teachings – The Four Noble Truths and The Nobel Eightfold Path. The second half looks at a variety of other Buddhist teachings in slightly less detail.

I appreciate Thich Nhat Hanh’s writing style. He takes concepts that are a bit challenging and provides analogies and examples that makes things a bit easier to digest. At the same time, I am definitely still a bit confused about … a lot. It’s clear I need to visit an actual Buddhism center and speak with others and learn from others outside of a book, but I think this book was a good place to start.

Recommend to a Friend / Keep / Donate it / Toss it:
Keep

Sunday

5

March 2023

0

COMMENTS

How to Kill Men and Get Away With It by Katy Brent

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Four Stars

Best for:
Anyone with a strong stomach and a desire to read a deeply disturbing but also kind of funny revenge fantasy. I had a fairly long travel day yesterday, involving two short flights but a lot of airport time. I started the book at 11:30. I finished it at about 5pm.

In a nutshell:
Content notes for the book and the review: sexual assault, pedophilia, murder, animal cruelty, probably a lot of other things

Influencer Kitty accidentally killed someone who was about to sexually assault her. And got away with it. Will this become a pattern?

Worth quoting:
“ ‘Ladies,’ he says, holding his glass up like he’s Leonardo DiCaprio in The Great Gatsby. If you think extremely average white men have a confidence they don’t deserve, imagine one with money who has been gushed over since he was about twelve.”

Why I chose it:
My partner spotted it in a bookshop and though it would be right up my alley.

What it left me feeling:
Stunned

Review:
I mean … this book is absurd. Obviously. Pretty much all the characters, including the main one, are pretty unlikable. Pretty, rich, vapid. Etc. And the book is violent as fuck (so probably not the healthiest media to consume). And there’s some sex scenes that were a bit racier than I was expecting (As someone who reads mostly non-fiction, or if its fiction, it’s often crime-based, I’m also forgetting that people like to read sex scenes. I just don’t expect them.) And the literal logistics of some things (like her ability to dismember a large man’s body) are doubtful.

But.

BUT.

In real life, I’m opposed to the death penalty. I think the prison industrial complex and the criminal punishments systems are deeply fucked.

In real life, I’ve also been cat called, and known numerous women who have been sexually assaulted by men who faced no repercussions. So a book that’s all about a woman who has had enough and just takes matters into her own hands? I found it pretty satisfying. The plot of the book also has some twists and some slightly unexpected moments, so it isn’t totally predictable.

The author in a note at the end acknowledges that there have been many recent looks at women as revenge / serial killers. I think this book succeeds where the film Promising Young Woman tried and failed.

Recommend to a Friend / Keep / Donate it / Toss it:
Donate it

Thursday

23

February 2023

0

COMMENTS

Miracles of Our Own Making by Liz Williams

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Three Stars

Best for:
Pagans interested in some of the history of the beliefs and practice.

In a nutshell:
Author Williams provides a multi-century overview of the beliefs, practices, groups, and secret societies that are associated with paganism in the UK.

Worth quoting:
“It is always worth your while to ask two questions: ‘how do we know?’ and ‘who said this first?’”

Why I chose it:
I find spiritual practices and belief systems outside the big three Abrahamic faiths to be quite interesting.

What it left me feeling:
Searching

Review:
I was raised vaguely Christian (like, my mom went to a church on Christmas and Easter until I was maybe six). I had a VERY Christian phase in 8th and 9th grade, but by college and after I was leaning more agnostic, with a brief exploration of paganism in the form of Wicca.

As I get older, I think that I’m getting a bit less rigid in some of my beliefs (though more rigid in others lol). Like, I don’t think I’ve ever seriously defined myself as atheist, because I can’t know. And it’s sort of arrogant to assume I do, or even can. But I find nature, and the power of nature, to be calming and inspiring, and so when I think about spirituality and religion, I think of that, and I’m more open to the ideas around it.

Which brings me to why I picked up this book. I was in a fairly tiny bookshop and this jumped out at me. I don’t know much of the history of different forms of paganism, and thought this would be an interesting bit of reading. And the first half was, but the second half, I don’t know, I found it hard to follow. It feels like it it would have worked better as an encyclopedia – each chapter, in the back half, has a lot of sub-headings of different groups or belief systems, and while Williams makes a solid effort to connect all of these things, it doesn’t totally work for me.

One thing Williams’s research makes clear is that there isn’t really a straight line or unbroken connection between ancient pagan belief systems and current paganism, despite what some claim. Modern practices draw from a lot, but Williams argues that they pull from what spoke to them. They aren’t partaking in something that’s been unchanged for centuries. I suppose that matters to some people, but I don’t know. I think one can learn a lot from a variety of beliefs and practices, and can put together something that feels right to oneself.

Recommend to a Friend / Keep / Donate it / Toss it:
Keep for reference

Tuesday

21

February 2023

0

COMMENTS

Queer Icons and Their Cats by Alison Nastasi and PJ Nastasi

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Three Stars

Best for:
People looking for a niche book that will each them a little bit a bout a bunch of queer folks, and also has pictures of cats.

In a nutshell:
The title pretty much sums it up.

Worth quoting:
N/A

Why I chose it:
My partner read it, and it looked pretty adorable. Also, cats!

What it left me feeling:
Vaguely disappointed

Review:
This is a tiny little coffee table-style book. It’s only about 100 pages and maybe 45 people are featured. There’s a photo of the person with a cat, and then a brief biography about the person. It’s pretty straightforward, however …

It’s not actually about people and THEIR cats. I’d say a good half of these folks just happened to be photographed with a cat once, or maybe adopted a cat at some point. Only a few of the feature people are like Freddy Mercury, who were definitely very much into their cats. That’s fine – the point is really to learn about the individuals, not their cats, but the book title seems to be a bit misleading.

That aside, I did enjoy learning about lots of queer folks who I was not familiar with, ranging across the past hundred years or so. Some people (like Mercury) are ones most people know about, but there were also older authors and overall queer pioneers that I’d never heard of. So that was cool.

Recommend to a Friend / Keep / Donate it / Toss it:
Keep – because again, cats!

Sunday

13

November 2022

0

COMMENTS

The Unseen Body by Jonathan Reisman

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Four Stars

Best for:
Those interested in the human body, but also books that can’t quite be categorized.

In a nutshell:
Author Reisman discusses different parts of the human body while also sharing his experiences with it, his experiences with patients, and … sometimes food?

Worth quoting:
“Empathy is not always easy, but it always matters.”

“The medical community’s ignorance, as well as our biases, means that the nutrition advice we give to patients changes constantly.”

Why I chose it:
I like kind of weird little books like this one.

Review:
Reisman went to medical school a bit later in life, so he had some time between university and medical school to travel, work other jobs, and get to know himself a bit, and I think that helps give this book a different feel than other books about the human body. It’s not ‘funny’ like a Mary Roach book, but it does have moments of humor. It’s more poetic, but it isn’t written like prose. It’s hard to label.

That said, it was fun to read. Each chapter focuses on one part of the body – usually an organ, though sometimes something like urine or our fingers and toes. In each chapter he shares some facts about the organ, but doesn’t deeply dive into it. Instead, he then usually shares a story of his experience learning about the organ, and a patient who he treated who had difficulties with that organ. He then often shares his own experience, though not often in expected ways. Many of the chapters, for example, talk about the organs as food (not the human version, obviously). For example, did you know that it is illegal in the US to sell lungs to humans for consumption as food? Has been since the early 1970s (and Scotland is mad, because Haggis includes animal lungs, so they can’t export it to the US).

The chapter on the brain I found to be most interesting, because Reisman doesn’t focus on what one might expect – say, dementia – but instead on the impact of altitude on the brain. He worked briefly in the Himalayas, and treated mild and severe altitude sickness. It was a fascinating chapter and a different take on the brain than what I’ve read in other books.

There is also a chapter on fat, and while it was a little challenging to read because he still uses words that pathologize weight, it was one of the more responsible and reasonable discussions I’ve seen a medical professional put in writing when talking about fat. The example of the patient he treated who was fat mostly focused on how poorly the medical community treats fat people, from doctors refusing to provide treatment to equipment not being accommodating to the size and weight of these patients.

This is probably closer to a 3.5 rating, but it’s just such an odd book sort of masquerading as a standard non-fiction popular science book that I rounded up for that.

Recommend to a Friend / Keep / Donate it / Toss it:
Donate it.

Sunday

14

August 2022

0

COMMENTS

Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro

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Four Stars

Best for:
Those who like deep, emotional, thoughtful novels that are more character driven than plot-driven.

In a nutshell:
Klara is an AF waiting to be chosen by a child.

Why I chose it:
Never Let Me Go remains one of my absolute favorite novels. I saw all the great reviews this one was getting and decided to pick it up.

Review:
It’s hard to speak about specifics in this book without spoiling it, so … I think I’m going to spoil it. Before the spoilers begin though, I can say that I enjoyed this book, I thought it was interesting and raised some amazing questions even beyond the one in the blurb: ‘What does it mean to love?’

Okay, now spoilers.

* * *

The only quibble I have with this book is the first part – the part set in the store. I understand why it is there, and it definitely does give us insight into not only Klara but the world that allows for a Klara to exist, but I didn’t enjoy reading it much. Once she was chosen by Josie, however, I was sucked in.

It wasn’t until the end of the book that I actually understood what ‘lifted’ meant (at least, I think), and that the decision to genetically alter the children was what killed Josie’s sister and was close to killing her, and that Rick’s mother had chosen not to follow that route. A society where this is not only normal but apparently a prerequisite for ‘success’ in life is terrifying. And the fact that it can lead to death – that parents are willing to risk death rather than allow their children to exist without genetic modification.

The concept of AFs (I assume Artificial Friends) is also terrifying. I mean, I get it – society seems to have gotten used to AI in things like website chatbots. But having one assigned as a friend, to watch over one’s child, essentially spying on them, but also maybe being their servant? Yikes. Especially given all we come to know about Klara and how she can think and feel. She is brilliant in so many ways, but she doesn’t have a full view of the world, and her obsession with and treatment of the sun as a god is fascinating but also feels almost child-like. She can gain knowledge but it seems as though she can’t quite gain the maturity that would allow her to be more like an adult. And maybe that isn’t a bad thing, because so many people become crueler and less hopeful as adults.

The ‘portrait’ storyline also lead me to actually drop my jaw. Like, the idea that the AF could learn who Josie was by interacting with and studying her for a few years, and then ultimately BECOME her was chilling. I’m not a parent but I still think I can understand the visceral appeal of having a way to not lose one’s daughter (reminds be of a film I watched on AppleTV earlier this year – Swan Song), but wow that seems so extreme.

And the very, very last few pages? Broke my heart.

There is so much going on in this world, and it’s amazing how Ishiguro can build this world where there really are only a handful of characters we get to meet. Nothing is so explicit, and there is very little exposition. And yet I can picture the home, the town, and the society so very clearly.

This book will stick with me for awhile.

Recommend to a Friend / Keep / Donate it / Toss it:
Recommend and Donate