BOOK REVIEW: The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

32620332._SY475_Title: The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo

Author: Taylor Jenkins Reid

Audiobook Length: 12 hours and 10 minutes

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Genre: Fiction, Historical Fiction, Romance, LGBT, Contemporary

Read Start Date: April 11, 2022

Read Finish Date: April 15, 2022

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: Aging and reclusive Hollywood movie icon Evelyn Hugo is finally ready to tell the truth about her glamorous and scandalous life. But when she chooses unknown magazine reporter Monique Grant for the job, no one is more astounded than Monique herself. Why her? Why now?

Monique is not exactly on top of the world. Her husband has left her, and her professional life is going nowhere. Regardless of why Evelyn has selected her to write her biography, Monique is determined to use this opportunity to jumpstart her career.

Summoned to Evelyn’s luxurious apartment, Monique listens in fascination as the actress tells her story. From making her way to Los Angeles in the 1950s to her decision to leave show business in the ‘80s, and, of course, the seven husbands along the way, Evelyn unspools a tale of ruthless ambition, unexpected friendship, and a great forbidden love. Monique begins to feel a very real connection to the legendary star, but as Evelyn’s story near its conclusion, it becomes clear that her life intersects with Monique’s own in tragic and irreversible ways.

My Review: This book was written back in 2017, but I guess has had a resurgence of readers due to being a “booktok” recommendation (?). It is also, as of the writing of this review, on the NY Times Bestseller’s list. Needless to say, I had high expectations. Although “booktok” got it right this time, I had a really hard time writing a review of this book.

What do you say about something, when you liked everything, for no express reason? From the very first moment, I was captivated by this story. It was interesting. There was mystery (why did Evelyn choose Monique to ghost write her biography?). There was love (all be it, not in all of Evelyn’s marriages). There was friendship, betrayal, a glimpse into the “rich and famous”…

At the center of it all, a formative woman with a secret — she was bisexual at a time when that was not permitted.

You loved Evelyn, but you also loved to hate her. She was caring, but also at times selfish. Monique was interesting in her own way, even though her story was typical i.e., woman has husband, woman has mixed feelings about divorcing said husband (did I do the right thing, etc etc), woman finds in the end that she deserves true love (which she didn’t have with her ex).

The characters were well developed and seemed true to real people i.e., I could imagine that this was a book about a real person, or at very least based upon a real person.

I don’t want to say too much else, otherwise I will give away essential plot points. This book is highly recommended.

BOOK REVIEW: Murder in the Neighborhood by Ellen J. Green

60152986Title: Murder in the Neighborhood

Author: Ellen J. Green

Audiobook Length: 9 hours 38 minutes

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Genre: Nonfiction, True Crime

Read Start Date: April 7, 2022

Read Finish Date: April 10, 2022

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: On September 6, 1949, twenty-eight-year-old Howard Barton Unruh shot thirteen people in less than twelve minutes on his block in East Camden, New Jersey.

The shocking true story of the first recorded mass shooting in America has never been told, until now.

The sky was cloudless that morning when twelve-year-old Raymond Havens left his home on River Road.

His grandmother had sent him to get a haircut at the barbershop across the street – where he was about to witness his neighbor and friend Howard open fire on the customers inside. Told through the eyes of the young boy who visited Howard regularly to listen to his war stories, and the mother trying to piece together the disturbing inner workings of her son’s mind, Ellen Green uncovers the chilling true story of Howard Unruh – the quiet oddball who meticulously plotted his revenge on the neighbors who shunned him and became one of America’s first mass killers. With access to Howard’s diaries, newly released police reports and psychiatric records alongside interviews with surviving family members and residents of the neighborhood, A Murder in the Neighborhood will have readers of In Cold Blood, If You Tell and American Predator absolutely gripped.

My Review: I received this audiobook from Netgalley as an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Murder in the Neighborhood tells the story of the first recorded mass shooting in the US (which took place in 1949), from the perspective of 12-year-old Raymond Havens who witnessed the shootings and Freda Unruh, the killer’s mother.

Sitting here in 2022, with dozens of mass shootings have occurred in recent decades, the facts surrounding the first mass shooting in 1949, alarmingly, doesn’t seem shocking to me. What is clear, is that nothing has changed since 1949. Through a gripping narrative, the author explores not only the crime, but the events leading up to the crime. We get to see not only the aftermath, but Howard Unruh’s evolution from veteran to mass murderer.

I am not sure if the author intended it, but as I read this book, I could really see the parallels with the mass shootings taking place today, and it is honestly maddening that nothing has changed in 70+ years. This book is not only a story about an event in history, but also gives us a lens into our future.

I read a book recently that posited that people who commit suicide do so only when their chosen method of suicide is at hand. In other words, the method of suicide is intrinsically linked to the suicide itself. E.g. if Person X wants to shoot himself, but can’t find a gun, he will not just use another method, he will, in fact, not commit suicide at all.

This made me wonder whether mass killings are similar. What would have happened if Howard Unruh did not have access to guns? Would he have been able to shoot as many people? Would he have stopped at just the Cohens — the original intended victims? Unruh had planned to murder the Cohens for their ceaseless bullying, but Unruh describes that as he started shooting, he couldn’t stop. He just kept going. Shooting people, whether they had “wronged” him or not. He even killed 3 children for no reason. Now, if he had a knife, say, would he have been able to keep killing before someone stopped him? I guess we will never know.

The book seemed to be well researched, and I liked how this book not only discussed the hard facts surrounding the killings, but also went into the psychology of Unruh. As readers, we got to see the “why” (as ridiculous as his reasons were), not only the how. I also really liked the writing style of the author. It was written like a fiction book i.e. the telling of a story rather than a recitation of facts, which made it very easy to read.

If you are a true crime fan who otherwise reads mostly fiction (like me) I think this book is right up your alley.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Netgalley. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

BOOK REVIEW: Junk Science and the American Criminal Justice System by M. Chris Fabricant

59427482Title: Junk Science and the American Criminal Justice System

Author: M. Chris Fabricant

Audiobook Length: 12 hours and 15 minutes

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Genre: Nonfiction, True Crime, Science, Politics, Social Justice

Read Start Date: April 3, 2022

Read Finish Date: April 7, 2022

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: An insider’s journey into the heart of a broken, racist system of justice and the role junk science plays in maintaining the status quo.

From CSI to Forensic Files to the celebrated reputation of the FBI crime lab, “forensic scientists” have long been mythologized in American popular culture as infallible crime solvers. Judges and juries put their faith in “expert witnesses” and innocent people have been executed as a result. Innocent people are on death row today, condemned by junk science.

In 2012, the Innocence Project began searching for prisoners convicted by junk science, and three men, each convicted of capital murder, became M. Chris Fabricant’s clients. Junk Science and the American Criminal Justice System chronicles the fights to overturn their wrongful convictions and to end the use of the “science” that destroyed their lives. Weaving together courtroom battles from Mississippi to Texas to New York City, Fabricant takes the reader on a journey into the heart of a broken, racist system of justice and the role forensic science plays in maintaining the status quo.

At turns gripping, enraging, and moving, Junk Science is a meticulously researched insider’s perspective of the American criminal justice system. Previously untold stories of wrongful executions, corrupt prosecutors, and quackery masquerading as science animate Fabricant’s astonishing true-crime narrative. The book also features a full-color photo insert that illustrates the junk science explored by the author.

My Review: I received this audiobook from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

This book is really interesting and informative and tells several stories of innocent men convicted using “junk science” e.g. bite mark evidence. It is such a travesty of justice for innocent men to sit in prison for decades, or even be executed, because of “evidence” that isn’t even valid, while the real guilty party is allowed to live their life a free man.

The author is an innocent project attorney who works to get justice for these unfortunate men sitting in prison after being wrongfully convicted. The first person narrative of the author brings a personal perspective to the cases which are being analyzed in the book, and you can really sense the author is incensed over the injustice.

The book seems to also be well researched (in addition to maybe being first hand knowledge of the facts) and it is well written. I was engaged the entire way through, even though the overall message was somehow redundant — i.e., that junk science is garbage.

If you like true crime stories, and Netflix shows such as The Staircase, then you will definitely like this book.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Netgalley. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

BOOK REVIEW:Sonny: The Last of the Old Time Mafia Bosses, John “Sonny” Franzese by S.J. Peddie

58914879._SY475_Title: Sonny: The Last of the Old Time Mafia Bosses, John “Sonny” Franzese

Author: S.J. Peddie

Audiobook Length: 8 hours 22 minutes

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Genre: Nonfiction, True Crime

Read Start Date: March 26, 2022

Read Finish Date: March 27, 2022

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: Based on exclusive interviews before his death in 2020 at age 103, SONNY is the first and only authorized biography of legendary mob boss John “Sonny” Franzese, the head of the Columbo crime family and financier of the infamous film Deep Throat. An old school Mafioso, he kept silent on his nine decade career in organized crime, remaining loyal to the Mafia oath throughout 30 years in prison, until he finally agreed to talk to award-winning Newsday reporter S.J. Peddie for this groundbreaking, never-before-revealed account.

John “Sonny” Franzese reportedly committed his first murder at the age of fourteen. As a “made man” for the Colombo crime family, he operated out of his Long Island home specializing in racketeering, fraud, loansharking, and other illicit deeds he would deny to his dying day. His career in organized crime spanned over eight decades–and was sentenced to fifty years in prison for robbery charges. But even behind bars, Sonny Franzese never stopped doing business…

This is the true story of an old-school Mafioso as it’s never been told before. Newsday reporter S.J. Peddie interviewed Franzese in prison–and uncovered a lifetime of shocking secrets from the legend himself:

* How Sonny became friends with celebrities Frank Sinatra Jr., Rocky Graziano, and Sammy Davis Jr.
* Why FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover had a very personal interest in Sonny.
* How Sonny managed to juggle numerous affairs with women, including a famous model.
* How Sonny spent a third of his life in prison–and still managed to earn untold millions for the mob.
* How Sonny accidentally revealed some of his worst crimes–to a “friend” wearing a wire.

Through it all, Franzese refused to break the Mafia’s code of silence. Authorities believe he may have murdered, or ordered the murders of, forty to fifty people. Yet he earned a grudging respect from law enforcement and an absolute reverence from his fellow gangsters. Eventually he managed to outlive them all–until his death in 2020 of natural causes, a rare event in the Mafia. Thanks to a series of exclusive first-hand interviews with Newsday reporter S.J. Peddie, the astonishing life story of John “Sonny” Franzese can be told in all its bold, brutal, and blood-spattered glory. This is a must-read for anyone fascinated with Mafia history–and a rare look inside a criminal mind that has become the stuff of legend.

My Review: I received this audiobook from Netgalley as an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Wow what a story! This fascinating read kept me enraptured from beginning to end. I had no idea that there was an OG living until 103 (he died in 2020). Although he led a life of violence and crime (no one knows how many people he killed or ordered to be killed, although its probably a few dozen), John “Sonny” Franzese outlived most of the people in his life – including those who put him away. Despite being violent, Sonny had a very interesting life!

This book reads like it should be fiction, but it’s a true story! Yikes. I felt like I was reading something inspired by The Godfather, although in truth it was probably the other way around.

The way the author wrote this book was fantastic. This guy is a bad guy sometimes almost unabashedly so – I think we can all agree– but on the other hand, he is still a person, and the author gave Sonny a human quality. I even found myself chuckling a few times at what Sonny was saying, and even feeling kind of bad for him. One son (who was not his biologically, but his stepson who he adopted as his own) ran away into witness protection. Another son, a drug addict, snitched. In one poignant scene (paraphrasing), John (the snitch) was called into see the bosses and Sonny tells him – You can go and see them, and they might kill you. You don’t go and see them, they definitely will kill you. That’s how it was in Sonny’s life. You stick to the Mafia code, or they ice you. Sonny, despite his many trials and jail stints never once snitched. It must have felt like the greatest betrayal to have his sons do so.

I would definitely recommend this book, especially if you are into mafia movies.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Netgalley. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

BOOK REVIEW: The Shadow Glass by Josh Winning

58661569Title: The Shadow Glass

Author: Josh Winning

Book Length (Audiobook): 10 hours and 16 minutes

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Genre: Fiction, Fantasy, Science Fiction

Read Start Date: March 10, 2022

Read Finish Date: March 13, 2022

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: Jack Corman is failing at life. Jobless, jaded and facing the threat of eviction, he’s also reeling from the death of his father, one-time film director Bob Corman. Back in the eighties, Bob poured his heart and soul into the creation of his 1986 puppet fantasy The Shadow Glass, but the film flopped on release and Bob was never the same again.

In the wake of Bob’s death, Jack returns to his decaying childhood home, where he is confronted with the impossible — the puppet heroes from The Shadow Glass are alive, and they need his help. Tipped into a desperate quest to save the world from the more nefarious of his father’s creations, Jack teams up with an excitable fanboy and a spiky studio exec to navigate the labyrinth of his father’s legacy and ignite a Shadow Glass resurgence that could, finally, do Bob proud.

My Review: I received this audiobook from Netgalley as an ARC in exchange for an honest review. I wanted to read this book because it was likened to stories such as The Neverending Story, The Dark Crystal, and Labyrinth, all stories which I remember fondly from my childhood. From the very beginning of this book, I was enthralled. Jack Corman, son of film maker and creator of the Shadow Glass cult film Bob Corman, is desperate for money and intends to sell Dune, one of the puppets from the film. But when he arrives at his father’s home to collect the puppet after Bob Corman’s death, Jack finds more than what he bargained for. The puppets are alive! The world that his father created is real and it is in danger, and only Jack can save it.

To be honest, it’s a little hard to write a review about this book. I really liked it, but can’t place my finger exactly on what about it I liked (other than just everything!).

I was invested in the story. I was sad when characters died. I WANTED Iri to be saved. I was rooting for the evil puppets to get what was coming to them. This book made me feel so many things…much more than I was initially expecting.

I was never bored reading this book; it is action packed from beginning to end. The characters are also great, from the Shadow Glass fanboys to the Kettu puppets. Winning really captures the truth of these characters. I’m not sure if that makes sense, but I felt like I knew the characters, like nothing about them was fake. Fanboys really would help in the quest to save Iri. A warrior Kettu really would call Jack a a manchild. I don’t know…I just really liked it.

The narrator’s voice makes the book all the better; it was a pleasure to listen to.

I would definitely recommend this book, especially if you are into 80s nostalgia.

P.S.: I listed this as “science fiction” because that is how it is tagged on Netgalley, but honestly, I don’t see it. I didn’t see anything particularly “science” about this work of fiction. Fantasy seems to be the appropriate tag here.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Netgalley. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

BOOK REVIEW:Inside Animal Hearts and Minds: Bears That Count, Goats That Surf, and Other True Stories of Animal Intelligence and Emotion by Belinda Recio

36249732._SX318_Title: Inside Animal Hearts and Minds: Bear That Count, Goats that Surf, and Other True Stories of Animal Intelligence and Emotion

Author: Belinda Recio

Book Length (Audiobook): 4 hours and 41 minutes

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Genre: Nonfiction, Animals, Science

Read Start Date: March 6, 2022

Read Finish Date: March 7, 2022

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: As Charles Darwin suggested more than a century ago, the differences between animals and humans are “of degree and not of kind.” Not long ago, ethologists denied that animals had emotions or true intelligence. Now, we know that rats laugh when tickled, magpies mourn as they cover the departed with greenery, female whales travel thousands of miles for annual reunions with their gal pals, seals navigate by the stars, bears hum when happy, and crows slide down snowy rooftops for fun.

In engaging text, photographs, and infographics, Inside Animal Hearts and Minds showcases fascinating and heart-warming examples of animal emotion and cognition that will foster wonder and empathy. Learn about an orangutan who does “macramé,” monkeys that understand the concept of money, and rats that choose friendship over food. Even language, math, and logic are no longer exclusive to humans. Prairie dogs have their own complex vocabularies to describe human intruders, parrots name their chicks, sea lions appear capable of deductive thinking akin to a ten-year-old child’s, and bears, lemurs, parrots, and other animals demonstrate numerical cognition.

In a world where a growing body of scientific research is closing the gap between the human and non-human, Inside Animal Hearts and Minds invites us to change the way we view animals, the world, and our place in it.

My Review: I received this audiobook from Netgalley as an ARC in exchange for an honest review. The summary from Goodreads does a really good job of setting forth the subject matter of this book, so I won’t repeat it.

I really liked this book because it is fun, interesting, and light. With the world embroiled in the war in Ukraine, this book was exactly what I needed to forget, at least for a little while, that the world can be a cruel place.

This book is uplifting and fascinating. It is a great insight into our animal cousins, who are more intelligent and emotional than we often give them credit for. If you are an animal lover, then this book is definitely for you. If you aren’t an animal lover (yet), then this book is essential for you–hopefully it can change your mind!

10 Book Reviews

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Netgalley. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

BOOK REVIEW: Happy Single Mother by Sarah Thompson

cover248440-mediumTitle: Happy Single Mother

Author: Sarah Thompson

Book Length (Audiobook) : 5 hours 22 minutes

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Genre: Nonfiction, Memoir, Parenting & Families

Read Start Date: March 3, 2022

Read Finish Date: March 5, 2022

Brief Summary of the Plot from Netgalley and Link to Goodreads: Being a single mother wasn’t always part of the plan. The fear of it kept me and my family in a situation that wasn’t good for any of us. I never thought it could be the life change we all needed. Yes, it can be exhausting, lonely, and financially tough. But it can also be empowering and joyful, in ways you might never have imagined.

At first, I felt like a big failure. And how was I supposed to feed and clothe my children, keep a roof over our heads, and work wearing something other than pajamas, while also remembering to drink a glass of water at least once a week? But as I began to let go of other people’s expectations, I started to enjoy the freedom of being a single parent: I was liberated, empowered and able to be the authentic mother I wanted to be.

In this book, I share my own experience of single motherhood, alongside insights from fellow solo parents, child psychologists and other experts, providing reassurance and tips to help you:

Raise resilient, emotionally intelligent children

Manage your money

Navigate the world of dating

Forge meaningful friendships

Discover the untold joys of the single-mother life

From one single mother to another, this book celebrates solo parenting and tackles the issues that we face daily, offering a fresh perspective and practical advice for anyone who has ever felt the weight of disappointment and guilt at their single parent status, declared themselves a failure or worried about their children’s ‘outcomes.’

I hope reading about my experiences will help you feel excited and proud to be a single mother.

My Review: I received this audiobook from Netgalley as an ARC in exchange for an honest review. First off, I just love the color scheme of the cover. This is what initially drew my attention to the book, along with the title. As a new mother myself, I am very interested in reading stories about other mothers’ experiences with raising children. Even though I am not a “single mother”, the lessons / advice in this book is for mothers everywhere, because less face it, in most cases women do the lion’s share of the child rearing and household chores, even when not single.

I really liked how the book is a combination of both facts (it was obvious the author did extensive research) and personal stories. I also really liked how the author narrates the story herself. It added a personal touch, as she was essentially telling her own story.

The author mentioned at the beginning that the book was not only for single mothers, but in general for single parents. However, the book was fact heavy on only single women, and I would have liked to see some statistics on single parenting for same sex couples. The author explains a little bit why she didn’t include more about single dads:

To find the word single father in association with anything bad or even mildly questionable is almost impossible. ‘Single father is applauded for the awesome way he handled his daughter’s first period.’ Heralded one national newspaper in 2019. In the same paper, heartwarming photos show single dads and their children and ‘are single fathers irresistible?’ If this stuff isn’t what the eye roll emoji was made for, I don’t know what is. There is no getting around it. We single mothers occupy our very own Salem shaped hole in society’s heart.”

This rings true for me not only with single dad’s, but dads or men in general. Women are expected to be the main caregivers. So if a man so much as changes a single diaper, he’s up for the father of the year award.

The author also discusses how single mothers are not generally depicted favorably in media, television or movies e.g. why it was that mothers were gaining respect in society, but single mothers were still trapped in the time capsule? I really loved the imagery here when describing the concept of single motherhood: “a crumb that had been missed when feminism wiped the table.”

She goes on to say:

Where were the single mothers in our culture who were just normal and okay with children who were fine? The single women with children I saw all around me at school and at work, all of them literate with no obvious heroin problem? Why were single women characterized by their career success and healthy sexual appetite–we were all still basking in the after glow of Sex in the City–while single women who also happened to have children, were no where to be seen, and if they were, were almost always pariahs?”

I really liked how thought provoking this book was. I had never given it too much thought before–the disparity between single women and single mothers–as if the simple act of having children erased the woman as a person, leaving only behind the identity of “mother”. This book made me angry (at society) and impressed at the tenacity of the author and the other single mother’s who’s stories featured in this book.

This book is not only for mothers or single parents. This book is for EVERYONE! I highly recommend this book.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Netgalley. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

BOOK REVIEW: Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr

56783258._SY475_Title: Cloud Cuckoo Land

Author: Anthony Doerr

Book Length (Audiobook): 14 hours and 52 mins

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Genre: Fiction, Historical Fiction, Fantasy, Science Fiction

Read Start Date: January 27, 2022

Read Finish Date: February 2, 2022

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: Thirteen-year-old Anna, an orphan, lives inside the formidable walls of Constantinople in a house of women who make their living embroidering the robes of priests. Restless, insatiably curious, Anna learns to read, and in this ancient city, famous for its libraries, she finds a book, the story of Aethon, who longs to be turned into a bird so that he can fly to a utopian paradise in the sky. This she reads to her ailing sister as the walls of the only place she has known are bombarded in the great siege of Constantinople. Outside the walls is Omeir, a village boy, miles from home, conscripted with his beloved oxen into the invading army. His path and Anna’s will cross.

Five hundred years later, in a library in Idaho, octogenarian Zeno, who learned Greek as a prisoner of war, rehearses five children in a play adaptation of Aethon’s story, preserved against all odds through centuries. Tucked among the library shelves is a bomb, planted by a troubled, idealistic teenager, Seymour. This is another siege. And in a not-so-distant future, on the interstellar ship Argos, Konstance is alone in a vault, copying on scraps of sacking the story of Aethon, told to her by her father. She has never set foot on our planet.

My Review: This book is told from the point of view of various characters, who’s stories eventually come together in the end. Each story is connected through the long lost Greek story of Aethon, a man who wants to turn into a bird and fly to a heaven-like place called Cloud Cuckoo Land (hence the name of the book).

I read a lot of reviews which stated that Doerr’s language / description is overdone, but I actually like it. Especially in audiobook format, the descriptive language really flows nicely, like it’s singing to you.

As far as the individual storylines go, my favorite was that of Konstance. We meet Konstance as she is alone in a vault (save for the AI robot tasked with keeping Konstance safe), piecing together the story of Aethon, which had been told to her by her father. At the beginning of the book we do not know why Konstance is all alone on a interstellar ship hurtling through space, but we come to find out piece by piece. The twist at the end was very unexpected and left me a little annoyed, and with more questions then answers. I wanted more, but the book was over. Sigh.

While I was the least enamored with Anna’s storyline (I didn’t find it all that interesting), hers is perhaps the most important, as it is the catalyst for the story itself. Without her act of stealing the book of Aethon’s story, it would not have been damaged, rearranged out of sequence, and barely readable 500 years later. The physical state of the book is almost as important as the story itself, as the message of the story has been misinterpreted for years, the truth to be rediscovered only by children in the present day.

I don’t want to give too many spoilers, so I will just say that the way that the storylines are interwoven was really clever, especially that of Seymour and Konstance. In general, I really loved the characters and there were definitely tear-jerking moments in the stories of Omeir and Seymour.

Although fiction, each storyline, even that of Konstance, was believable. Each story could have really happened (or could really happen in the future). Therefore, I’m not sure why the book is marked as “fantasy” on Goodreads. This seems incorrect to me, but okay.

I would definitely recommend this book, especially if you liked Doerr’s other book, All the Light We Cannot See. You can check out my review of that book here.

BOOK REVIEW: Knocked Down by Aileen Weintraub

58604917Title: Knocked Down

Author: Aileen Weintraub

Audiobook Length: 9 hours and 8 minutes

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Genre: Nonfiction, Memoir, Autobiography

Read Start Date: February 23, 2022

Read Finish Date: February 25, 2022

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: Aileen Weintraub has been running away from commitment her entire life, hopping from one job and one relationship to the next. When her father suddenly dies, she flees her Jewish Brooklyn community for the wilds of the country, where she unexpectedly falls in love with a man who knows a lot about produce, tractors, and how to take a person down in one jiu-jitsu move. Within months of saying “I do” she’s pregnant, life is on track, and then wham! Her doctor slaps a high-risk label on her uterus and sends her to bed for five months.

As her husband’s bucolic (and possibly haunted) farmhouse begins to collapse and her marriage starts to do the same, Weintraub finally confronts her grief for her father while fighting for the survival of her unborn baby. In her precarious situation, will she stay or will she once again run away from it all?

My Review: I received this book from Netgalley as an ARC. To be honest, I requested this book in part because it was one of the few audiobooks available on Netgalley, but also because the cover is so eye popping! I love the pink. The title is also very apt. I interpret it to be a play on words. Instead of being “knocked up”, the author is “knocked down” by her “incompetent uterus”, which forces her to endure months and months of bedrest.

Having just given birth to my first baby 6 months ago, this book really resonated with me. Pregnancy is not easy, even when it is normal. I cannot imagine being stuck laying down for months on end! I really liked the author’s candor and humor throughout the memoir. If I had been in her position: everything seeming to fail around her, from her body, to her house, to her new marriage, I am not sure that I could have taken it with such a good nature, nor would I have been able to see the humor in it all.

I also liked that the book was not only about her pregnancy, but it also dived into the author’s past and took an honest look at the relationship with her parents and religion, and the conflicts inherent in both. I feel like this really rounded out the book and gave the reader more insight into the author as a person, not just a pregnant person.

The only con for me was the audiobook narration. It was so monotone, which did not suit the story. I was also not impressed with the accent that the narrator used when speaking the dialogue for Weintraub’s mother and father: she went for the stereotypical “Jewish” accent, which was a tad offensive.

Therefore, I would definitely recommend this book, but only in a written format.

10 Book Reviews

Professional Reader

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Netgalley. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

BOOK REVIEW: Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know About the People We Don’t Know by Malcolm Gladwell

43848929._SX318_Title: Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know About the People We Don’t Know

Author: Malcolm Gladwell

Audiobook Length: 8 hours and 42 minutes

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Genre: Nonfiction, Psychology, Self-Help, Sociology, Science, Business, Language, Communication

Read Start Date: February 9, 2022

Read Finish Date: February 11, 2022

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: How did Fidel Castro fool the CIA for a generation? Why did Neville Chamberlain think he could trust Adolf Hitler? Why are campus sexual assaults on the rise? Do television sitcoms teach us something about the way we relate to each other that isn’t true?

While tackling these questions, Malcolm Gladwell was not solely writing a book for the page. He was also producing for the ear. In the audiobook version of Talking to Strangers, you’ll hear the voices of people he interviewed–scientists, criminologists, military psychologists. Court transcripts are brought to life with re-enactments. You actually hear the contentious arrest of Sandra Bland by the side of the road in Texas. As Gladwell revisits the deceptions of Bernie Madoff, the trial of Amanda Knox, and the suicide of Sylvia Plath, you hear directly from many of the players in these real-life tragedies. There’s even a theme song – Janelle Monae’s “Hell You Talmbout.”

Something is very wrong, Gladwell argues, with the tools and strategies we use to make sense of people we don’t know. And because we don’t know how to talk to strangers, we are inviting conflict and misunderstanding in ways that have a profound effect on our lives and our world.

My Review: I listened to the audiobook version of this book and I have to say it was awesome. The audiobook is read by the author and also includes some bonus material e.g. recordings of the statements / incidents quoted in the book.

The book opens with the tragic story of Sandra Bland, a black woman, who commits suicide in jail after being arrested by an over zealous cop. She was originally pulled over for “failure to signal” after she changed lanes for the said cop without signaling, as he came up behind her. When the officer asks how she is, Bland responds that she is upset. The officer then asks her if she “is done”. Although the officer says that it was not meant in a sarcastic way, Bland takes it as such, escalating the traffic stop. When Bland lights a cigarette to calm her nerves, the officer asks her to put it out. She refuses. Escalating the traffic stop further, the officer tells her to get out of the car, because she had failed to follow his direction. Bland initially refuses. The incident was caught on the officer’s vest cam, and with the audiobook you can hear the actual tape.

The book dives into the potential reasons why this tragedy occurred. The author posits, for example, that when talking with strangers, people “default to truth”, in other words that we initially believe what a stranger is telling us, even if it is a lie. For most of us, the instinct is to believe, not distrust. Another example is “transparency”. Sometimes people are transparent and strangers can infer state of mind by actions, other times, people do not act as we think they should and so we misunderstand them. This is what happened in the case of Sandra Bland.

I really liked listening to the different stories that that author gave as support for his theory. Even if you don’t like, or agree with, the author’s theory, the stories were really interesting e.g. a cuban spy who no one suspected, the interrogation of KSM after 9/11, and the Amanda Knox story. What made it more interesting was the format. I can’t imagine reading this book in paper format. The quotes would have less impact when only read and not listened to.

I definitely recommend this book, but I think that it should be read as an audiobook.