• Book Reviews

    Maid: a book review

    No two persons ever read the same book. – Edmund Wilson

    4.5/5

    Have you ever read the reviews of a recent book you read/listened to and wondered if those readers read the same book or even read the entire book?

    Maid falls into this category for me. So many of the reviews missed the entire point of the book. As a matter of fact, they underscored just how deep our views of poverty and the working poor run.

    •    •    •    •

    Stephanie Land is a young single mother who found herself pregnant and in an abusive relationship with the child’s father. The book opens with her watching her daughter, Mia, take her first steps – in a homeless shelter.

    After 90 days, the maximum amount of time allowed to live in the shelter, Stephanie and Mia are moved into transitional housing which doubled as a halfway house. In a very uncomfortable scene, Stephanie’s mother and husband – visiting from Europe – help her move her belongings. The comments, the questions, and finally the expectation for Stephanie to pay for her own meal when she had $10 to her name, illustrated just how little of a support system she had.

    Stephanie found a job working as a maid, earning minimum wage minus gas money to travel from house to house. Between multiple government assistance plans, minimal child support, her jobs, and her side jobs, she barely scraped by every month. She was one emergency expense away from losing what little she had.

    More than once she was told “you’re welcome” by people in the grocery store line watching her use food stamps to pay for her groceries.

    Cue the reviewer comments criticizing her for never saying “thank you” and acting entitled.

    Have we really devolved that much? Where we expect a single parent to turn around in the checkout line and thank us after using government assistance to pay for groceries. How sad and ignorant.

    In the book Land did express her gratitude multiple times for the assistance they received, despite how often she was shamed and stigmatized. She wholeheartedly acknowledged that they would not have survived without the programs.

    •    •    •    •

    This memoir chronicles her struggles and tackles head-on, the stigmas of living in poverty and receiving government assistance. Her writing is excellent and if readers are willing to set aside their own opinions, it is very easy to slip into her shoes. My one critique would be the timeline – at times it was difficult to follow.

    I am glad for the help that Stephanie received. This book would not exist without it and the stigmas would continue. We need more books like Maid.

    And of course this book wasn’t all sadness and struggle – there were interesting and amusing parts as well. She pulled back the curtain and gave the reader a look into the world of house cleaning from a maid’s perspective. I know that I am going to be a better host for our cleaning service. Stephanie wrote about feeling invisible to her clients, despite the dirty work she did, and I never want someone feeling like that when they are in my own home.

    I also don’t want to end up in one of their memoirs. 

    Who would I recommend this book to? If you enjoyed Educated, Heavy, or Where the Crawdads Sing, you will enjoy Stephanie’s writing, strength, and resilience.

  • Book Reviews

    Book Review: The Farm

    The Farm – Joanne Ramos

    ✂️✂️✂️/5

    Welcome to the future – welcome to The Farm.

    Jane is a single mom and a struggling immigrant from the Philippines. She is presented with the opportunity to be a host and live at a luxury retreat of sorts – Golden Oaks.

    Massages, gourmet food, expert medical care, and generous pay with one caveat – you are pregnant as a surrogate for a wealthy family or individual and cannot leave the grounds. Oh, and you are continuously monitored. It’s a business and you are simply a host with a number instead of a name.

    Jane accepts the opportunity and leaves her daughter, Amalia, in the care of Ate, her cousin they are living with. While motivated to provide a better life for her daughter, Jane still struggles with losing contact with her daughter and the outside world.

    As a mother myself, my heart broke for Jane, especially when Golden Oaks used contact with her daughter as a means of control. The other hosts were in similar situations – missing family and significant others.

    Naturally the hosts bond and one by one you learn their own backgrounds and experiences at The Farm; some in more detail than others.

    This was where the book went sideways for me. I was initially captivated by the difficult choices Jane had to make and the big business of surrogacy. But as each host and their individual lives were introduced, the plot became crowded with characters and none of them felt well developed.

    When I finished the book I felt like something was missing. There was a lot of potential to examine the ethics of a surrogacy farm, the control of their bodies that the women gave up, race, imbalances of power, and motherhood and the sacrifices mothers make. The author briefly hit on all of these issues but almost seemed hesitant to fully weave them into the plot.

    Overall the book was written well and the concept was unique and creative. It was entertaining in parts – it just lacked depth.

    Thanks to NetGalley and Random House for the free e-ARC in exchange for my honest review.

  • Book Reviews,  Feminism,  Writing

    Shrill: a loud book review

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    Three years ago I sat in my car, in my driveway, listening to an old This American Life podcast. It was featuring a young woman working for an online publication who confronted her boss via email after his rant/article was published about fat women and the obesity epidemic. He never responded so she posted her own article.

    Listening to her read her writing brought tears to my eyes. I am not a crier but there I was because I felt her exhaustion from the endless pursuit to measure up to what men, women, society, the media, and internet trolls believe you should look like. People are cruel but unlike me, this young woman put herself out there online – it was her job.

    •     •     •     •

    I purchased Shrill: Notes From a Loud Woman because I had seen several people talking about the book on Instagram. After a few hilarious pages in, I realized that Lindy West was the young woman from the podcast that brought me to tears.

    First, the hilarity:

    Why is, ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ the go-to small talk we make with children? ‘Hello, child. As I have run out of compliments to pay you on your doodling, can you tell me what sort of niche you plan to carve out for yourself in the howling existential morass of uncertainty known as the future? … The answer was ballerina, or, for a minute, veterinarian, as I had been erroneously led to believe that ‘veterinarian’ was the grown-up term for ‘professional animal-petter’. I would later learn, crestfallen and appalled, that it’s more a term for ‘touching poo all the time featuring intermittent cat murder,’ so the plan was abandoned. (The fact that ANY kid wants to be a veterinarian is bananas, – by the way, whoever does veterinary medicine’s PR amoung preschool aged children should be working in the fucking White House.) Lindy West, Shrill

    But soon after that, West takes a hard right and tackles some of the toughest issues facing women today. Abortion, rape culture, fat-shaming, bullying, discrimination, misogyny, death, and grief – just to name more than a few.

    Her writing is raw, angry, and vulgar, but with touches of fantastic humor along the way. I stopped a few times wondering if these extremes were necessary, mainly because I was  hoping to let my 14-year-old daughter, Chaney, read this book. Spoiler: I’m not going to let her but I’ll be sharing passages with her.

    But back to the necessity – yes, it is necessary. Our culture and the world we are raising our daughters and sons in is that toxic. When our president is spewing taunts via Twitter at the suffering people of California in the midst of historic and horrific wildfires – yes, it is that toxic and necessary.

    •     •     •     •

    Necessary. I thought about our advice to Chaney in January after being assaulted at school. The old advice of kick them in the balls goes out the window when you are a tiny 14 year old girl and you are cornered, out of view, with no way out, and there is over a foot in height and 100 lb differential between him and her.

    Our advice to her if any other situation where she felt threatened should happen: SCREAM AND SCREAM PROFANITIES OVER AND OVER UNTIL YOU GET AWAY, HE BACKS DOWN, OR HELP ARRIVES. AND THEN SCREAM SOME MORE. Why would we, fairly typical parents, tell our daughter to curse loudly in public?

    Because people pay attention when a small, young woman is screaming profanity.

    Why? Because we are expected to be sweet, ladylike, compliant, quiet, and non confrontational, all with a smile. That is the gender norm. Something has to be wrong if she’s spewing profanity. So pay attention when you hear women like Lindy West.

    •     •     •     •

    When West is crass and profane, I don’t mind. Because it gets people’s attention. It is outside the norm of expected female behavior and whether you like it or you don’t, she grabs your attention to address issues that are that toxic.

    A recurrent theme throughout the book is Lindy living life as what the world would call “fat”. She’s in good health, she is smart, funny, and beautiful but that doesn’t matter to some – especially the internet trolls who have been absolutely relentless in their bullying of her. Death threats, rape threats, and the worst – a troll impersonating her father who had passed away. They were all means of harrassment. I honestly don’t know how she has endured so much of the vileness that the internet, and even some celebrities, have to offer.

    Lindy is an excellent writer and there wasn’t a part of this book that I did not enjoy. One of my favorite parts was when she took on comedy and comedians and their perpetuation of rape culture by making rape “jokes” a regular part of their comedy routines. I can’t believe I even had to type that.

    Her honesty is refreshing and we need more books like this one and Meaty. I truly hope that the paradigm begins to shift with this next generation but until then, I’ll be over here not being afraid to be shrill.

  • Book Reviews

    Meaty: a book review

    ✂️✂️✂️✂️/5

    We all have that friend. You know, the one that goes there and unapologetically says what needs to be said.

    Consider Samantha Irby that book friend.

    Meaty is a collection of essays ranging from dating, tacos, recipes, Crohn’s disease, diets, and unbelievable loss that Irby somehow manages to overcome. I laughed through the first few chapters and then it hit me – this woman has lived, lost, gained, and somehow came out on the other side as a beautiful person who is sharply funny and intelligent. She has a gift for taking even the worst and extracting the emotions and putting them into words.

    She is relatable even if she is shocking and raunchy at times. I had a few what?? moments while reading. But I believe that when someone endures tragedy, trauma, or another life changing event – they have earned the right to tell their story however they see fit. It’s not my job to censor their past or expression of their feelings about the event(s).

    Irby is a great writer even when she uses ALL CAPS TO MAKE A POINT. This is one of my writing annoyances but it didn’t bother me that much because at least she used them appropriately.

    Who would I recommend this book to? Well maybe I’m better off recommending who shouldn’t read this book – if you are easily offended, grossed out, or don’t like cursing – skip this one. If you enjoy acidic humor mixed with a steady dose of sarcasm to address some of life’s sad, funny, and unbelievable moments – this book is for you.

    If you enjoyed Shrill by Lindy West or My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh, you will love Meaty. An if you haven’t read these books, you should – after you read Meaty.

  • Book Club For Introverts,  Book Reviews

    Bitter Orange: a book review

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    The all-seeing eye. What has it seen? Nothing as interesting as the things I saw through the judas hole at Lyntons. But of course, the difference is privacy. The other women will complain and shout about being looked at without warning. But I think it is better to know when someone is watching rather than to live your life under an invisible gaze. Claire Fuller, Bitter Orange

    ✂️✂️✂️✂️✂️/5

    Is it possible to be reading and tread into psychological thriller waters without realizing such until you are immersed? Beautiful writing, rich imagery, a socially awkward woman, and a charismatic yet odd couple living in an old house with a history of its own make for an interesting plot. But the relationship dynamics of this trio were only the beginning.

    Told from Frances’ perspective as an old, dying woman with a failing memory, the reader is forced early on to decide if Frances is a reliable narrator. I decided she was because while her mind was fading, memories and the recounting of them are never 100% accurate. This turned out to be a common thread throughout the story.

    Frances is a 39-year-old woman who has little experience in the world. She spent most of her adult years isolated while caring for her ill mother. Throughout the book you get glimpses into their relationship and it does not appear to be a healthy one.

    Set in 1969, Frances’ mother has passed away and she takes a summer job at a crumbling British home. Her task: inventory the garden architecture and report back to the new owner, an American. Initially she believes she is alone in the house. And then she discovers Peter and Cara living below her.

    Peter has been hired to inventory the house belongings and Cara has traveled with him. Cara has a magnetic personality which often crosses into the outrageous. Frances begins to develop a friendship with the couple and appears to finally be experiencing the world.

    Remember the judas hole? Frances finds one in her floor that looks down into Peter and Cara’s bathroom. Between her stolen observations, afternoon picnics, and alcohol fueled dinners with the couple, she becomes obsessed.

    Cara has wild stories, Peter has contradictory versions, and Frances is haunted by her former life of isolation. The smartly dispersed psychological twists, sometimes only a sentence, make this book come to life. Multiple times I found myself stopping with a wait, what??

    •     •     •     •

    I enjoy unreliable narrators but rarely have I seen them written as well as Fuller does in this book. Combine that with the imagery, the detailed descriptions of the house and property, the character development, and the writing style – you have a unique and well crafted story. Fuller is a very talented writer and I’m looking forward to reading her other books soon.

    Because this plot shifts from present to past, there were a few times I missed the transition and had to reread to find my place in time. Or maybe that was the bourbon reading. This and a few loose ends were my only small annoyances with Bitter Orange.

    Who would I recommend this book to? Anyone who enjoys a well written book with unreliable narration and great plot twists. If you enjoyed Something in the Water, Where the Crawdads Sing, or Behind Her Eyes you will most likely enjoy Bitter Orange.

    •     •     •     •

    This book, about an introvert, was our Book Club for Introverts first pick. Our group is on Goodreads and is open to anyone. It was fun to read something shocking or surprising and then discuss it real-time in the chapter discussion threads. Almost like calling a friend but without the talking because, introverts.

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    Our book selection for December is Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty and we would love to have you join us. Look for my Instagram post soon where I’m giving away a copy of the book to two lucky book club members!

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