Reviews: Books 51-60

Read: 60
To Go: 40

Book List:
51. Heads in Beds — Jacob Tomsky
52. Crazy Rich Asians — Kevin Kwan
53. The Spoiler — Annalena McAfee
54. A Lesson in Secrets — Jacqueline Winspear
55. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button — F. Scott Fitzgerald
56. Wallbanger — Alice Clayton
57. Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison — Piper Kerman
58. Lost Girls: An Unsolved American Mystery — Robert Kolker
59. In The City of Bikes: The Story of the Amsterdam Cyclist — Pete Jordan
60. The Journalist and the Murderer — Janet Malcolm

In order to try to catch up on my terribly delayed book reviews, I’m going to do mega posts of mini-reviews. Here are the reviews on books 51-60.


Finished reading: August 12, 2013

Jacob Tomsky never planned to go into hospitality. But, armed with a degree in philosophy and lacking career direction, he took a job as a valet parker for a luxury hotel in New Orleans, which started him on the path to a career in hospitality lasting over a decade. In Heads in Beds, he recalls everything from his time managing housekeeping to working the front desk at a large Manhattan hotel, and gives readers a taste of the industry they only thought they knew.

My sister had to read Heads in Beds for one of her hospitality classes, and her teacher apparently called it “terrible” for the industry. It’s likely true: Tomsky’s memoir contains no shortage of shocking stories of the retribution hotel employees have exacted on terrible customers (which are justified and usually hilarious). It also contains some tips to get the most out of your hotel experience, and will probably make you rethink how you interact with hotel staff. Heads in Beds was a consistently brilliant and hilarious read, which had me laughing so hard at times my neighbours could probably hear me.


Finished reading: August 15, 2013

In Crazy Rich Asians, Rachel Chu agrees to spend the summer in Singapore with her boyfriend Nicholas Young, imagining a humble family home, and quality time with the man she might one day marry. When she arrives, she finds that Nicholas’s house is actually palace-sized, and she’s dating the country’s most eligible bachelor, effectively putting a target on her back. In this world of outrageous splendour, Rachel meets Astrid, Nicholas’s cousin and Singapore’s It Girl; Eddie, another cousin whose family makes frequent appearances in Hong Kong’s socialite magazines; and Eleanor, Nicholas’s mother, who has strong opinions about who her son should be marrying—and in her mind, it’s definitely not Rachel.

I’d heard so many good things about Crazy Rich Asians, and it didn’t disappoint when I read it: the book was an absolutely delightful trip into the lives of the obscenely rich and quietly famous. It was also a really sweet love-story of sorts between the easily loveable Rachel and Nicholas. I’ve heard rumours circulating about a possible Crazy Rich Asians movie, and I’d definitely see it.


Finished reading: August 17, 2013

Tamara Sim, a journalist working at a British tabloid, is thrilled when she’s sent to interview veteran war correspondent Honor Tait for the tabloid’s sister publication. But in her initial interview, Honor proves a difficult subject: she’s cold and evasive, and Tamara wonders if she has something to hide. When Tamara starts digging into Honor’s past—her methods not entirely legal—she unearths a discovery that has devastating consequences for both women.

I didn’t enjoy The Spoiler as much as I thought I would, though I think it has more to do with my views as a journalist than as a reader. The book is set in England, where tabloid-style journalism and phone hacking were/are common and even accepted practices. While Tamara doesn’t go as far as phone hacking, she definitely gets up to no good in her pursuit to find out more about Honor Tait, like going to Honor’s apartment without warning to take part in a gathering she wasn’t invited to. And this is all to compensate for her own idiocy: she blows her initial interview by not reading Honor’s book, and asking terrible questions. I was actually cringing throughout (at Tamara, not the plot), which made it a difficult reading experience, and nearly impossible to sympathize with the main character.


Finished reading: August 18, 2013

In the summer of 1932 Maisie Dobbs accepts an undercover assignment from Scotland Yard’s Special Branch and the Secret Service. She poses as a junior lecturer at a college in Cambridge to monitor any activities that aren’t in the interest of Her Majesty’s Government. It seems to be a relatively uneventful position, but when the college’s controversial founder is murdered, Maisie connects his death to the suspicious comings and goings of some of the faculty and students under her surveillance.

I have to be completely honest: it’s been a while, and I’ve mostly forgotten the specific details of A Lesson in Secrets. But I do remember that it was eighth in a growing series, and I was able to read it without confusion, which I always appreciate when I accidentally read books out of order. I also remember really enjoying the story, and Maisie as a character, and immediately bookmarking the rest of the series on my Goodreads To-Read list. So. This has been the year’s vaguest review, I’ll bet.


Finished reading: August 18, 2013

In 1860, Benjamin Button is born an old man and mysteriously starts aging backwards. At the beginning of his life, he’s withered and worn, but as he grows younger he begins to enjoy life, going off to war, falling in love, and having a family. As his mind begins to devolve, he attends kindergarten, and finally falls into the care of his nurse.

I really don’t have much to say about Benjamin Button because it was so short. But it was a nice little story, and I definitely appreciated that I was able to get through it in about an hour. That’s always a plus!


Finished reading: August 24, 2013

The first night after Caroline moves into her fantastic new San Francisco apartment, she finds she can’t get any sleep; a rhythmic banging from her neighbour’s apartment is keeping her awake, and she’s got a pretty clear picture of what’s happening on the other side of her bedroom wall. After a couple of nights of the same thing, she marches over to confront Simon Parker, the neighbour she’s only heard but never seen, and finds that the sexual tension between them is as thick as the walls are thin.

Well, let’s get this out of the way: Wallbanger was probably what you’d call a naughty book, with a sort of thin plot. But it was also outrageously funny, and a generally enjoyable read. Simon and Caroline had their moments where they devolved into slightly ridiculous caricatures, but at their better moments they were an enjoyable, sweet couple worth rooting for. The insane pile-up of sex scenes at the novel’s conclusion seemed like a bizarre narrative choice, though.


Finished reading: August 31, 2013

Piper Kerman has a boyfriend, a career, and a loving family, barely resembling the young woman who delivered a suitcase of drugs ten years prior. But when the past catches up with her, she’s sentenced to fifteen months at the infamous correctional facility in Danbury. In Orange is the New Black, Kerman documents the time between her first strip search and her final release, and how she learned to navigate her strange new home, filled with its own rules and codes of behaviour.

In the middle of the summer I was looking for a new television show to watch, and I kept seeing OITNB gifs popping up on my Tumblr dashboard so I decided to watch it. It was a smart decision (the show is amazing), and one that made me interested in reading the source text. Of course Kerman’s memoir and the show differ a fair bit, but her story is no less interesting. Admittedly this is one of the books I’m having a hard time remembering the details of, but I do recall being shocked how mandatory minimum sentencing laws in the U.S. “war on drugs,” even with relatively small offenses, can achieve the opposite of what their intended purpose was: instead of reducing recidivism, it could increase it by sucking people into a system it’s hard to get out of without a support system like Kerman had. 


Finished reading: September 7, 2013

On a late spring evening in 2010, Shannan Gilbert ran screaming through the quiet oceanfront community of Oak Beach before going missing. Those who heard of her disappearance didn’t think much about it, and the Suffolk County Police seemed to have paid a similar lack of attention to the disappearance of a Craigslist sex worker. Seven months later, an unexpected discovery in a nearby highway-side bramble turned up four bodies, all evenly spaced and wrapped in burlap. None were Shannan. But like her, the four women were petite, in their twenties, came from out of town to work as escorts, and used Craigslist to advertise their services. In Lost Girls, Robert Kolker dives into the world of Internet escorts and the community of Oak Beach, where the body count has risen, the police have failed, and the neighbours are quickly turning on each other.

Wow. While I was reading Lost Girls I was absolutely captivated, first by the narrative and then by the amazing amount of work that would’ve gone into it. Kolker’s accounts of the five missing sex workers, Shannan, Maureen, Melissa, Megan, and Amber, and the Oak Beach community, were so detailed and spoke to an incredible amount of access. It resulted in an incredibly thorough, unputdownable read, which was one of my favourite nonfiction books of the year.


Finished reading: September 14, 2013

Pete Jordan writes about his love affair with Amsterdam, the city of bikes, all while unfolding the unknown history of the city’s cycling, from the craze of the 1890s to their role in the Nazi occupation, to the bike-centered culture the world knows today.

Every time I think of In The City of Bikes I’m reminded of TIFF lineups, because I read it while waiting for movie screenings. It made the annoyance of one or two-hour waits in the sweltering heat much easier to bear. Jordan’s account of the Amsterdam cyclist was enjoyable from start to finish, and jam-packed with information and the trademark Dutch cyclist sass (yes, that is a thing). Something surprising that Jordan makes note of in his novel is that, for all that’s been written about Amsterdam, there were no books dedicated to the city’s history of cycling; In the City of Bikes fills that void perfectly.


Finished reading: September 18, 2013

In The Journalist and the Murderer, Janet Malcolm focuses on the lawsuit between Jeffrey MacDonald, a convicted murderer, and Joe McGinniss, the author of Fatal Vision, to talk about the uneasy relationship between journalist and subject.

You never expect to find yourself sympathizing with a murderer, but I did when reading Janet Malcolm’s book. For those of you not familiar with the lawsuit she writes about, Jeffrey MacDonald gave journalist Joe McGinniss full access to his murder trial, even going so far as to make him part of the defense team so that he couldn’t be questioned by the Crown. MacDonald was led to believe by McGinniss, who treated him like a best friend and wrote him passionate letters, that McGinniss believed he was innocent. Instead, McGinniss published a startling book condemning MacDonald and declaring his obvious guilt, and MacDonald sued. The Journalist and the Murderer highlights the inherent challenges involved in the journalist-subject relationship, and also presents an interesting ethical question. Joe McGinniss was of course an extreme example, but in similar cases, how do you handle dealing with a subject that wants you to be on their side? How can you still get the story if you risk compromising the relationship with the subject of it?

– Kelsey

(P.S.: Blog makeover! First one since I started it in 2011.)


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