Book Reviews: September 2019

Moving prep and general end of summer laziness kept me from reading very much, so I only read two books in September. Both reviews have abundant spoilers.

  • Girl, Wash Your Face by Rachel Hollis

  • Queen’s Shadow by E.K. Johnston


GIRL, WASH YOUR FACE BY RACHEL HOLLIS

I’m not even going to bother with a quick summary of this book. Does that tell you anything about how I felt about it? All my energy went into this negative review.

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When Girl, Wash Your Face first came out, I saw it all over Instagram but had no desire to read it. I forgot about it for ages, but recently came across a couple reviews on Goodreads that made me curious so I got it on Overdrive.

Note: At this point I stopped reading reviews. As a general rule I wait to read reviews until I’ve read the book and written my own thoughts. After I wrote this, I googled Hollis and starting reading more about her, because prior to reading this I had no idea what she does. It seems I’m not her only accuser of plagiarism and bad advice. Plus there are some delightful one star reviews on Goodreads that complain about the same problems I had, and go into the things I skipped because of how long this blog post was getting. I made about 60 bookmarks on Kindle as I read and ended up not referencing about half of them.

Before I get started on the negatives, I will be fair and go a bit more into the positives of the book. I don’t think Hollis is necessarily a bad person and she’s a pretty good writer. I’m just a bit confused as to why she thinks she was qualified for this book. Sure, she’s dealt with some traumatizing stuff (most chapters weren’t even on that) but she’s not a therapist. She could’ve just written this as more of a short memoir and then I’d have way more respect for it.

Hollis’ openness with the trauma in her life was the sole redeeming positive element of this book. Her brother’s suicide was sad to read about. I truly can’t imagine how hard it would be to find your sibling’s body at age fourteen and I respect her for moving forward with her life. She also talked about how that affected her relationship with her dad. I can also appreciate her honesty and growth about that; parental relationships can be hard to talk about. But I think the part I most appreciated her sharing was the experience as a foster and adoptive parent. That’s really the main thing that kept me from rating this as low as 0.5. She showed a dark side to a process that people hold up as worthwhile and honorable. As they should! Fostering and adopting is amazing work. Everyone knows it’s hard, and it’s important to know what makes it hard so I do appreciate Hollis’ transparency there.

Okay. Now for the negative stuff that makes me wonder why so many of my friends follow her on Instagram:

  1. This is a straight up bad self-help book.

    There is absolutely nothing here of any substance in that regard. It’s not original, it’s not helpful. It’s “tough love” smothered in privilege. It’s rehashed ideas that I’ve seen on Pinterest hundreds of time.

    An example is on page 34: “Comparison is the death of joy, and the only person you need to be better than is the one you were yesterday.” Teddy Roosevelt is credited with saying “Comparison is the thief of joy” so maybe give him a shout out there, Rachel. And I’m pretty sure there are many similarly worded Bible verses. Please, anyone, let me know if you’ve never heard the second half of the quote (“be better today than yesterday”) because I’ll be shocked.

    Her life advice was often immature. I’m not even 30 yet and I’ve learned that the quotes she spouts are not how life works. I mean, she references Tony Robbins. If that’s not a sign of weird, prosperity-gospel type “pay me $2,000 for a seminar and all your dreams will come true” advice to RUN from, I don’t know what is. (Edit: After I read up on her, I learned she speaks at a lot of MLM conferences. YIKES.)

  2. Hollis has an inflated sense of her own importance.

    On page 17, she says “I suppose if I’d been into homeschooling or knitting or photography or macrame, I would have used those things to try and better myself and boost up my friends. But I’m not into those things. I’m into lifestyle stuff, so I focus on creating content that falls under the banner of lifestyle media.”

    So is she saying that hobbies aren’t part of a lifestyle? How is homeschooling not a lifestyle? Are only things she likes worth of the “lifestyle” label? What exactly is her definition of lifestyle, is it only working out and running a business? She never acknowledged the importance of all the things she’s not personally into.

    Another example of her self-perceived importance was on page 94. “‘Hi, Rachel,’ they’d always begin (because apparently we call adults by their first names like hippies)!” This made me SO mad. She was talking about when she first started getting invited to speak at colleges around 2012, or maybe a little earlier (I couldn’t find the exact date) and people would use her first name to ask her questions. So she would’ve been 28-29? And she was upset that people around 20-21 called her by her first name? Oh my God, get over it. You weren’t their professor. I’m 29 and I would never expect someone in their early twenties to “respect” me like that. How fucking awkward.

    On page 24 she said “I am 1,000 percent one of the nerdiest people you’re likely to meet.” Referencing the Jedi twice doesn’t make you nerdy. Telling me multiple times how nerdy and relatable you are (congratulations on shaving your toes there Rachel) doesn’t make you nerdy and relatable. I lost count of how many times she told the reader how good she is at running at a business.

  3. Hollis’ goals showed her privilege.

    Her number one goal after starting her own business was to buy some bag that cost a thousand dollars. I don’t have a problem with that goal itself even though it’s not my style, but she fixated on that bag for years. YEARS. Most women don’t do that. They’re trying to pay down debt or build up a rainy day fund. She’s very privileged and ignored that fact constantly. And apparently her newest goal is a house in Hawaii by the time she’s 40 or something. So relatable.

  4. The story about her first year of dating her husband disturbs me.

    This might be my #1 problem with the book. Now, to be clear, I do respect the fact that she and her husband were willing to be open about a time when he was not great to her. That’s brave, especially for him. And it does seem like he later grew up and became a good partner. My problem is with the way she told the story. She talked about the emotional abuse, how he let his friends be rude to her, how she was basically just a booty call for a year, and how she gave her virginity to him so he would stay but he left...then it all ended when she finally had enough and stood up for herself one time. And then that’s it, that’s where she stops the story and essentially says “then it was all better, yay!”

    That is absolutely NOT how you leave that story for an impressionable audience. What if there’s some twenty-year-old reading it, saying to herself “That will be me, I can tolerate his treatment of me because one day it will get better”? I can ask that because ten years ago, I would have said that. I tolerated an emotionally shitty partner for years and at the time I looked for any excuse to justify it. Reading this would’ve just been proof to me that I was right. She even acknowledges this with “I hesitate to even tell you the ending because I don’t want anyone to stay in an unhealthy relationship with the hopes that it will become healthy.” (Pg. 92) Well Rachel, I can assure you that someone is doing this, because you failed to complete the story.

    Hollis really, and I mean REALLY, needed to delve into the work she and her husband had to do to get to a place of emotional respect. She needed to explain what new behaviors she expected from her husband and how he worked to prove that he would be different with his second chance. Because he either 1) had to change and grow up and work hard at it or 2) he had the capability to be a decent human the whole time, he just wasn’t doing it until she was over him. If it was the first option, readers need to know more. If it was the second option, then I can see why she didn’t go into how easy it was to move on because that makes his initial behavior extra shitty. (And no, a chapter about their sex life does NOT count as a way to tell readers how the emotional abuse stopped.)

  5. Hollis credits her success to the fact that she refused to take no for an answer.

    I believe that’s part of it, but she conveniently ignores luck. There are a million women out there just as talented and determined at what she does, but the only reason she succeeded while they didn’t is luck and privilege. (Besides, succeeding looks different for everyone and she doesn’t acknowledge that. Most people are happy with their careers and don’t need a million Instagram followers.) Anyone at the top of any industry has worked unbelievably hard, yes, but you don’t get things simply through hard work and wishing. Sometimes all the pieces just happen to fall into place. (Another hindsight edit: Her husband was some Disney executive. I can’t believe that her success came only from refusing to take no’s and not connections made in the industry.)

There you have it. I actually left a few points out simply because I was tired of talking about her. Other reviews on Goodreads have addressed the white privilege, body shaming, and vaguely self-serving Christianity if you want to read more. I’m perplexed at Hollis’ popularity and I definitely won’t be reading any more of her books.

Rating: 1.5/5 (I originally rounded to 2 stars but I ended up lowering it to 1 on Goodreads because I got more and more annoyed with it as I wrote out my thoughts.)

QUEEN’S SHADOW BY E.K. JOHNSTON

Queen’s Shadow is in the new Star Wars canon and takes place before Episode II, when Padme Amidala is transitioning from her role as Queen of Naboo to Galactic Senator.

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I might’ve liked this book a little better if I didn’t just read Dark Disciple. That one is my new gold standard for Star Wars books, so Queen’s Shadow had a lot to live up to and didn’t quite make it.

There were parts I really enjoyed. I liked seeing Padme adjust to Senator life, I loved her developing relationship with Bail Organa, and I appreciated that she tried to go to back to Tatooine when her term was over and save Shmi. (Is there a canon conversation out there of Padme telling Anakin that? I need to read/see it.) It also made me really happy when Padme remembered Qui-Gon’s sacrifice.

I thought the world-building was a little inconsistent at times. That was the biggest issue to me. I have two examples for you:

First, Sabe’s sexuality: “...Sabe found herself mesmerized by Kooib-s’s appearance. She didn’t always go for nonhumans, but it happened on occasion, particularly with interesting females.” Okay, so Sabe is bisexual and likes the occasional female with blue skin. That’s totally fine. The thing that didn’t line up, in my opinion, is that she’s just 18. Being 18 isn’t the issue - the issue is the timing. Johnston constantly impressed on the reader just how much training the handmaids had and how they were always with Padme. Sabe had spent the past four years of her life serving Padme ON Naboo where everyone is either human or Gungan, and before that had gone through years of training. So...when did she even have time to experiment? Maybe on her brief Tatooine mission, but it also sounded like she was constantly working? And she was living with Padme’s officer that she was just starting to like. It was just inconsistent and would jolt me out of the story. There were lots of little quotes like that, but this was my biggest “wait, what?” moment that I sat there trying to figure out the timeline. (I am ALL FOR more adult content/representation in Star Wars media, so I swear I’m not being a prude here.)

Another example: Johnston made it seem as though Padme’s decoy thing was still very useful. But...it wasn’t? In The Phantom Menace, Padme revealed herself to Boss Nass and there were dozens of people around. Gungans, Jedi, and her own top military leaders. Nute Gunray even learned about it by the end of Episode I. And in Episode II, the decoy thing did work long enough to save her life from Jango and Zam, but they immediately knew it was a decoy. So even if Padme and her handmaidens were very good at looking identical, that doesn’t mean it was some top-secret, highest-clearance-possible level stuff.

I dunno. I guess it was just a bit forced all throughout the book as being this huge part of Padme’s political life, when the movies made it seem like she only used it during events like invasion and possible assassination. It just goes back to the world-building not being seamless.

The ending seemed to leave the possibility of a follow-up book open, which I would of course read.

Rating: 3/5

Book Reviews: August 2019

I haven't really been in a hurry to get my August reviews posted. (Clearly, I started this weeks ago but didn’t publish until October 1st.) I only read two books and they were re-reads. Mainly what I have to say is that I still love this series.

  • The Golden Compass (His Dark Materials #1) by Philip Pullman

  • The Subtle Knife (His Dark Materials #2) by Philip Pullman


HIS DARK MATERIALS (#1 & #2) BY PHILIP PULLMAN

His Dark Materials is a young adult fantasy trilogy that follows Lyra, a young girl gifted with an instrument that tells the truth - no matter what it’s asked. As Lyra learns more about what the Church, Lord Asriel, and Mrs. Coulter are up to, she finds herself on an adventure that spans multiple worlds.

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I wanted to visit His Dark Materials again before the new HBO series begins on November 4th. (My books were packed when I took the above picture, minus book #3 which I had pulled out to read next.) I first read the series years ago in college, when I was assigned The Golden Compass in my SciFi/Fantasy class. It’s been long enough that reading them again almost felt like the first read, but all the major plot points did come back to me. The ending of The Amber Spyglass (#3) has stuck with me the most over the years, so I was mildly surprised to be reminded how little those characters/entities come into play in the first two books. The Authority, for example, is a huge part of the end and I think he was mentioned once in the first book? The Church is talked about a bit more, but mainly as a scary corporation that’s harming kids.

I truly love Will and Iorek and Serafina Pekkala. Lyra can be bratty at times, and she feels like a different character at the beginning of The Subtle Knife. But with the parents she has, I guess you can’t blame her for any attitude problems. They are actually the worst parents in all the worlds.

I like The Golden Compass for its more focused story - it’s all about Lyra and why she’s so important - and the The Subtle Knife for expanding the story and ending with a great cliffhanger.

Rating: 4/5 for each

Book Reviews: July 2019

July was hot and I read three books:

  • Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

  • A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

  • Dark Disciple by Christie Golden

Minor spoilers are in the Dark Disciple review.

LINCOLN IN THE BARDO BY GEORGE SAUNDERS

Lincoln in the Bardo mixes truth - President Lincoln’s son, Willie, died at the beginning of the Civil War - with the supernatural. Upon Willie’s death, the President visits his son’s grave and is unknowingly watched by ghosts all night long.

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I had some mixed feelings on this after reading it and I saw a lot of mixed reviews, too. Saunders is brilliant, the writing was stunning, and the characters memorable. Even so, it did drag a bit because it reads like a play and certain sections I had to force my way through. The book takes place in one night but it took me a couple weeks to finish.

Each ghost had one single thing they fixated on. One was obsessed with his pickle factory. Another ghost only stayed long enough to confess his infidelity to his wife and then - poof - his conscience was clear and he moved on. That’s why I can agree it’s a good book, because Saunders created an entire person’s history from just a few lines, and he did that dozens of times. The Reverend’s struggle to understand why he was in the bardo made him the most compelling character to me. (If you read it and start to get confused by all the names, it might help to remember that the Reverend, Hans Vollman, and Roger Bevins III are the three main ghosts.) Each story got me thinking about birth, death, and everything in between. If I was stuck in purgatory, what event would my soul fixate on? Missed opportunities?

At first I thought that it could’ve easily been about any other father/son duo out there and didn’t necessarily need to be about President Lincoln and Willie, but at the end the history and fantasy elements all tied together nicely.

These were my favorite lines:

“The tide ran out but never ran in, said Susanna Briggs.

The stones rolled downhill but never rolled back up, said Cynthia Hoynton.

You never in your life was given enough, said Miranda Debb.”

-and-

“...creeks running and popping beneath us as we lurched over groaning bridges of freshcut timber…”

-and since it was set in the Civil War, the references to slavery were particularly powerful-

“And yet, still: I had my moments. My free, uninterrupted, discretionary moments.

Strange, though: it is the memory of those moments that bothers me the most.

The thought, specifically, that other men enjoyed whole lifetimes comprised of such moments.”

Overall Lincoln in the Bardo is well worth the read; it’s nice to dig into something different every once in awhile.

Rating: 3.5/5 (Rounded to 3 on Goodreads)


A MAN CALLED OVE BY FREDRIK BACKMAN

Ove is a bitter old man, the kind of person no one wants as a neighbor. When a new family moves in, Ove finds himself pulled into their lives.

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Honestly there’s not much to say about this book. It’s cute, it’s easy to read, it hits you right in the feels, and I teared up a little bit at the ending. It’s just a pleasant, happy read. Sometimes that’s all you need, right? Ove’s grumpiness seemed a bit forced at times when it was obvious by his actions that he was a big softie, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying it.

Summer will be over soon but it would be a perfect beach read for anyone lucky enough to still have a vacation coming up. Unless you’re looking for a book that will put you in a bad mood, I don’t see how you can go wrong with this one.

Rating: 4/5

DARK DISCIPLE BY CHRISTIE GOLDEN

Dark Disciple takes place before Episode III. Created from unused Clone Wars scripts, it follows Jedi Master Quinlan Vos and bounty hunter Asajj Ventress as they team up to take down Count Dooku. The journey changes them both in ways they never saw coming.

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In my other Star Wars reviews I’ve made it clear that I like Disney taking over Star Wars. I enjoy all the new movies, minus a few (okay, many) weird scenes in The Last Jedi (the Luke/Rey/Kylo scenes are the best in that movie). That Vader scene in Rogue One makes me cry tears of joy and I love the new Vader comics that I’ve read. And let’s be real, there were so many authors and books in the EU that everyone had their own idea of canon. I’m happy there can be an “official” Star Wars story that’s easier for fans to learn. (Darth Plagueis is the only EU novel that remains canon in my mind, and it will until Disney replaces it.)

Dark Disciple is the fourth novel I’ve read in the new Star Wars canon, and it’s my favorite by far. (I did love the Vader appearances in Thrawn: Alliances but I think Zahn likes his own character best so Vader seemed a little off there.) Dark Disciple is simply everything that a Star Wars book should be: established characters felt exactly like themselves, new/less well-known characters were developed perfectly, the pacing worked, and it gave me that sense of Star Wars-y wonderment.

*moment of silence for The Sleeper, that scene broke my heart*

I had two issues with this book but they were minor enough that I still rated it 4.5. The first was Ventress in the last ⅓ of the book; it focused a little bit too much on her love for Vos so she seemed less badass. But I liked her ending overall. Secondly, I was happy that the book didn’t rely too much on previous Clone Wars story lines and just referred to Ventress’ relationship with the characters in passing, like Obi-Wan. The issue I had was that Ahsoka wasn’t mentioned at all. It was like she never existed as a common person they all knew and so that felt wrong.

This is truly Star Wars media at its best. I highly, highly recommend for people who have watched Clone Wars and anyone interested in Star Wars novels.

Rating: 4.5/5 (Rounded to 5 on Goodreads)

Book Reviews: June 2019

I finally got back into the swing of reading in June, thanks to having nothing on my calendar! May was weirdly busy so it was nice to be able to just get some stuff off my to-do list and chill in the evenings.

Very minor spoilers are in the reviews below.

My eight June books were:

  • Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick

  • The Chronicles of Narnia #1-7 by C.S. Lewis


DO ANDROIDS DREAM OF ELECTRIC SHEEP? BY PHILIP K. DICK

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is a classic in the sci-fi world. Rick Deckard, a bounty hunter, is on the hunt for androids - who look just like humans - that are determined to survive.

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Androids is always on those “must read sci-fi” lists, which is why I picked it up, but somehow I’ve managed to avoid spoilers so I went into it with no expectations. (I also watched Blade Runner for the very first time after reading it, so the movie never spoiled it for me either.) I think this is the type of book that was mind-blowing years ago but after watching shows like West World and Altered Carbon first, I’ve become a bit immune to the human/robot thing.

The part where it seems like the androids might have captured Deckard (at the police station) was my favorite part. It was the most tense action sequence in a book meant to be more thought-provoking.

There were a lot of threads that seemed to be left hanging - or not so much hanging, but I expected to go deeper into them. The emotion changing machines, Mercerism, and fake animals were all the focus at some point but then it would jump to the next thing and I felt slightly unsatisfied. By the end I was a bit confused on whether that empathy test was any good, but that’s okay because it seems like I was supposed to feel that way.

Once I finished it, I realized I adore the title. It’s kinda brilliant how well it sums up the themes. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? might be my favorite book title of all time. I recommend for all the sci-fi lovers of the world.

Rating: 3/5


THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA (#1-7) BY C.S. LEWIS

I’ve read all the Narnia books several times before, but it’s been years and I wanted to get into something mindless and entertaining. The books in my set are all about 200 pages; each one took me a day or so to get through depending on my mood.

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I prefer reading these in chronological order, not publishing order, because that’s how I read them the first time I went through the series. The numbers I reference will be chronological.

Narnia used to be one of my favorite series. I still love it, and I respect the Christian themes Lewis incorporated into these novels but I prefer books #3-6 now because he’s wayyyyy more subtle about religion than he is in #1, #2, and #7. As a kid, I didn’t really notice it as much but as an adult it’s a bit heavy handed to read; #1 is creation, #2 is Jesus and the resurrection, and #7 is end times and Armageddon. The middle four are just adventures with Aslan popping up here and there so you get more of the fantasy and less preaching. Narnia truly is a gem in children’s fantasy literature, so it’s probably unfair of me to even say this because Christianity is the overarching theme and Narnia wouldn’t be the same without it.

A quick note about each one is below.

#1) The Magician’s Nephew is the Narnia creation story, and I like the backstory of the Witch and the wardrobe. You even learn about the lantern here. Uncle Andrew is a giant dick.

#2) The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe is the most well-known of the series but it’s not my personal favorite. The chapters when all four kids first enter Narnia are absolutely wonderful, though.

#3) The Horse and His Boy is my favorite in the series as far as plot goes; I love the runaway story and Aravis but I was turned off by how Lewis represented the Calormen. Hwin is the real MVP.

#4) Prince Caspian has all four Pevensie children back again, and I kinda prefer this part of their adventure. They’re legends and slowly start to act like it and Caspian is tied with Lucy for my favorite human character. (Bringing up West World again…I did NOT realize that Ben Barnes was Caspian until I looked up clips from the movie after this re-read. He’s so hot as Caspian but Logan sucks.)

#5) The Voyage of the Dawn Treader has a million little adventures in one story, making this one the most fun to read. Reepicheep and Eustace bonding makes me smile.

#6) The Silver Chair has Puddleglum and he might be my favorite Narnian character of all. Bism and the Underworld are pretty fascinating, too. Maybe we’ll get to see more of that if we ever get a Narnia TV series.

#7) The Last Battle is the worst book in the series, in my opinion. At least there’s a unicorn.

Overall this series is lovely, it’s a classic for a reason. But I would be remiss if I didn’t bring up two things I’d noticed reading as an adult.

First off, the Calormen. Their whole portrayal is pretty racist. In the entire series there are only two “good” Calormen - Aravis and the soldier in #7. They’re the dark, devil-worshipping bad guys. The Calormen wiki page says that the name probably came from the Latin word “calor” for heat and they live in the desert so I’ll give Lewis a pass there. (Instead of them just being a letter off from “colormen.”) But name aside, it’s bad. In #7, the main group of characters literally use black face to disguise themselves.

Secondly, I have issues with how Susan ended up. Apparently kids were worried about Susan and Lewis wrote letters back in the day telling them she would (likely) eventually reach Narnia heaven on her own, but let’s focus on what’s actually in book #7. I don’t have a problem with her being excluded IF the only reason had been her pretending Narnia wasn’t real. She did that, and was rude to her siblings about it. Okay, that’s fine. She’s in denial, so she doesn’t get to visit. BUT! BUT! All her siblings and the other non-Narnian humans also look down on her because she’s interested in “nylons and lipstick and invitations.” Is this some mild slut shaming from Lewis? Vanity is not a great thing, but Susan sounds like a completely normal teenager to me. She’s one of the four great heroes of Narnia and she was an adult there - so why can’t she enjoy adult things in England too? And after all that, HER ENTIRE FAMILY DIES IN A TRAIN CRASH AND SHE’S ALL ALONE IN THE WORLD! But fake Aslan somehow makes it to Narnia heaven, so apparently everything is fine.

Honestly I think the above things simply come from the fact that they were written by a white, religious man in the 1950’s. At least this is a sign society is (slowly) progressing. I hate book #7, but the other six are lovely, cleverly written stories that will stand the test of time.

Ratings: 4, 4, 3.5, 5, 5, 5, and 1 star respectively.