Thursday, February 21, 2019

Bad Blood by John Carreyrou



I don’t always read nonfiction, but when I do it’s for the hot tea.

On the surface, Bad Blood is the sensational story of  Elizabeth Holmes, a young ambitious college-dropout turned  CEO who used her access to wealth, power, privilege and influence to cause the downfall of Theranos, a billion dollar company.

As someone who has worked in a lot of offices and seen tons of office politics gone awry, there is something fascinating about hearing someone else’s workplace gossip, drama and scandals; all while knowing those in power are eventually held accountable. I mean it’s maddening some of the things the employees of Theranos had to live with in silence.

Elizabeth Holmes’ rise and fall from grace wasn’t that surprising to me. She had access to a world of wealth and privilege and while I appreciate Carreyrou not outright saying it--- and this probably isn’t fair to say ---it's not surprising that a conventionally attractive young woman who is undoubtedly smart and ambitious could easily pull in influencers. 

I’m not convinced Elizabeth Holmes set out to be a scammer. I think she got herself in too deep and tried to hide from the truth. She surrounded herself with people who refused to believe that she was over-promising because that would mean they sunk millions of dollars into false promises. I mean she was rubbing elbows with former secretary of states, Ex-CIA agents, tech millionaires and people who would later become aides in the Trump Administration.

It’s interesting that Carreyrou was put on the story by a mid-sized pathology blogger-- because pathology blogging is a thing. John Carreyrou makes a point to presents himself in the story as an enterprising investigative reporter who participates in clandestine meetings, goes toe-to-toe with lawyers and his editor to bring the truth to the surface.

Will Damron narrates the audiobook and I’ve been sort of so-so on some of the YA he has done, but his voice works for non-fiction, he has a very instructive quality and he went all in on the few moments that required a slightly cinematic touch.

I think her story of blind ambition, wealth and ego goes hand-in-hand with Billy McFarland from Fyre Festival, her face even appears in Fyre Fraud. Like seriously she and McFarland should do a TED Talk or appear on Celebrity Big Brother together or something . . .  when they get out of prison. Holmes hasn’t been convicted yet, but…come on.







Just as I finished this book ABC News released their podcast about Elizabeth Holes called The Dropout, I mean the podcast is okay, but they just scratch the surface of the story. It is interesting to hear the tapes from her deposition and you get to hear Elizabeth’s trademark voice. Carreyrou is in the podcast and I kind of feel like he should have been the entry point into the podcast since he broke the story.

Also, there is an HBO documentary which has an interesting visual style that I think will be interesting.

Based on how much Holmes reputation meant to her I bet she is fuming about all this.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Bird Box by Josh Malerman



Rating: ★★★ | 9 hrs. 8 min. | Horror | Harper Audio | Release Date: 5/13/14


From To All The Boys I've Loved Before to Crazy Rich Asians 2018 was the year more book adaptations skyrocketed into the pop culture zeitgeist. Bird Box came on the scene at the end of the year with the popular Netflix film that spawned its own memes and challenges.

Bird Box is a 20 Minutes Into The Future post-apocalypse story where people see something outside that makes them murderous. The book begins with Malorie and two 4-year-olds leaving an empty house and getting into a boat to head down the river blindfolded. Flashbacks from four years earlier are interspersed, showing how the panic started and how Malorie got to the house.

The tension builds as we learn how Malorie and her housemates have to suddenly navigate a world blindfolded. I liked the survivalist aspects of this book, I’ve kind of gotten into books that make me wonder how long I could survive on the canned food in my house.

What was missing for me was character development. It’s revealed early on there were once other people in the house where meet Malorie but they all felt like blank slates, I couldn't tell any of them apart or what their purpose was. I don’t read much horror so I don’t know if plot over character is a convention of the genre or that is just this book.

The audiobook was done by Cassandra Campbell, I've enjoyed her in the past but this wasn't my favorite performance of hers. It felt muted and didn't fully bring me into the story.

I have watched some of the Netflix movie and I enjoyed it so much better than the book.  Sandra Bullock is great and the movie fleshes out the motivations and creates connections between the characters in a way the book never did. 





The guy who wrote Bird Box's Netflix adaptation is also writing the Leigh Bardugo Netflix series and I can’t wait to see what he does with it.  He seems to have the ability to capture the spirit of a book without making it literal.



Saturday, January 19, 2019

End of The Year/Christmas Book Haul


It's been a while since I've done a book haul so here are the newest books decking my shelves !

Books Received For Christmas


  • Unmask Me If You Can by Shana Galen
  • Made Out of Stars by Meera Lee Patel
  • Brave Enough by Cheryl Strayed

Gift Card/Sale Purchases



  • A Conjuring of Light by V.E Schwab
  • A Recipe For A Perfect Christmas - move over Hallmark this is one of my favorite Lifetime Christmas movies.
  • Rich People Problems by Kevin Kwan
  • China Rich Girlfriend by Kevin Kwan
  • All The Light We Cannot See  by Anthony Doerr



Library





  • Bad Blood by Jon Carreyrou
  • Menagerie by Rachel Vincent



Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Books and Sensibility By The Numbers 2018 !

It's that time of the year again! All year long we track our reading and reviewing habits so we can crunch the numbers and pull some stats.



Here are some additional breakdowns

Retailers
  • 34% Audio Review Copies 
  • 24% Public Library
  • 20% Scribd.com
  •  8% Audible.com
  • 7% Barnes and Noble
  • 5% Fountain Bookstore
  •  2% Amazon.com
Publishers
  • 19% Macmillan
  • 18% HarperCollins
  • 16% Simon and Schuster
  • 16% Penguin
  • 11% Hachette/Hachette Audio
  •  5% Random House
  •  3% Harlequin
  •  3% Candlewick
  •  3% Disney Worldwide
  •  2%  Amazon Publishing
  •  2%  Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  •  2% Scholastic

Categories
  • 59% YA Fiction/Non-Fiction
  • 24% Adult Fiction
  • 17% Adult Memoir/Non-fiction
Other Stats
  • 40% of audiobooks narrated by  narrators of color
  • 49% 2018 Frontlist Titles
2017 vs. 2018
We reviewed 40% more book this year and our average rating is still at a solid 3.6. The format numbers are the same but it is worth noting that   Kat and I "hybrid-read" several books where we did them both in print and on audio.

I'm not surprised to see our non-YA numbers increase as we've both been exploring more genres this year, particularly nonfiction. I know there are a ton of narrative non-fiction titles I want to get to in 2019.

The diversity numbers line up with what we've done previously. This is probably the first year we've been able to say the books reviewed included transgender, lesbian and asexual characters.

Finally, Scribd is back on the scene as a resource for books. I stopped using Scribd after I realized it was skipping chapters on audio and I wasn't a fan of the limited reading, but once they reverted back to "unlimited" it seemed to find a solid place in my reading line-up.









Monday, December 31, 2018

How It Happened by Michael Koryta


Rating: ★★★★ | 10 hrs. 39 min. | Hachette Audio | Release Date: 5/15/18
I love a good mystery thriller and I picked this one up because I saw Christine Lakin was the narrator. Lakin only performs the first chapter of this book and her performance of Kimmy Crepeaux, a guilt-ridden down on her luck, small town twenty-something opioid addict confessing her role in a double murder, was a stand out and chilling performance. Robert Petkoff takes the lead for the rest of the book and captures the anguish and heartbreak that follows the gruesome confession. They both commit to the distinct New England accent without overdoing it.

In most crime stories getting the confession is the end of the story, but for FBI agent Rob Barrett it's just the beginning as he scours the small town of Port Hope, Maine to prove nothing about this crime is what it seems. Koryta makes excellent use of the setting and current events about class, false confessions, and opioid addiction to weave a mystery that forces Barrett to come to terms with what the truth really means.

I've never heard of Michael Koryta and based on what I've read online and seen in bookstores, at just 36 years old, he seems to be part of the new generation of authors behind the so-called "Dad Books" a la Dean Koontz, Lee Childs, and David Baldacci.

I also see on his website that Kroyta is an award-winning journalist, which is probably why Barrett's journalist love interest was portrayed realistically, HOWEVER this means the book fails the Audie Cornish test where the female journalist sleeps with a source.

Next time I need a page-turning read I know exactly where I'll turn.


Jess' 100 Words Or Less Reviews




I am still learning the ways of non-fiction and Redemption is my first dive into long-form journalism. Redemption takes a close look at Martin Luther King Jr's last 31 hours. As Rosenbloom details King’s movements there are all these moments when you realize King could have been anywhere else that day. Rosenbloom shines a light on the harsh realities about MLK that make him more of a man and less of a legend. I think the conversations we have today about class might be different if MLK had the chance to lead his movement for socioeconomic equality.





A deep dive into the extravagant, family drama and comedy of manners is exactly what we need right now and Crazy Rich Asian’s resurgence to the top of the charts is well deserved. I enjoy a book that takes me into another culture and while Rachel and Nick appear to be the stars of the movie’s marketing campaign, the book is less of a rom-com and more of an upbeat humorous family saga that works great in print and audio. *This book started as a poem and is partly based on Kwan's family memories. I think that leads to the offbeat structure of the book. I'm intrigued enough to continue the series.  I actually prefer this book on audio because to me the footnotes in the book are so distracting it feels like the publishers wanted to make sure this book appealed to Americans. I found it much more enjoyable to pick up on the cultural nuances by context clues.



I read The Woman In Cabin 10  because I heard it recommended as “female rage” book and I have to say--that’s not the book about female rage you want --this book is the book you want about female rage (though it is written by a dude).  When Elizabeth Kendall almost dies at the hands of her abusive ex-husband a cataclysmic paranormal event turns her existence upside down. The pacing, slow reveal, and melding of family life with paranormal elements reminded me a lot of Stephen King. It’s a genre-defying thriller that had me rooting for the anti-hero.*This book needs a more unique title. Carey's previous book The Girls With All The Gifts is a great title, but Somone Like Me can get lost in the shuffle.



Christian Thrillers have fascinated me since The Left Behind series. This timely story is about a young prosecutor speaking up about the uncle who sexually assaulted her as a child. At the same time, she meets a compassionate veteran  who is being stalked. The story never really melted together for me and the romance felt inevitable 







Colleen Coble’s The View From Rainshadow Bay is the story of Shauna, a grieving widow teaming up with Zach, the man responsible for her husband’s death to solve a string of murders and a conspiracy theory that threatens the whole town. I liked the complex relationship between Zach and Shauna as their shared grief turns to something more. Zach is a small town pilot- firefighter-skydiving rock climbing daredevil…he just has a lot going on. There is also a bit of twist that leads into the other books in the series that have me intrigued enough to keep going.






I'm pretty sure the first TV show I binge-watched on the internet was Pretty Little Liars and this book (which is published by Freeform) is Pretty Little Liars and Burn for Burn with a Southern twist. When a girl from the wrongs side of the tracks is bribed by her enigmatic grandmother to join the High Society of Magnolia County as a debutante. Que the kidnapping, blackmail, theft, lies, high-crimes and misdemeanors. It's an intriguing soapy teen drama that is that is all about plot; favoring twist and turns instead of details. 



The Scarlett Letters: My Secret Year of Men in an L.A. Dungeon by Jenny Nordbak



Rating: ★★ + .5 | 9 hrs. 11 min. | St. Martin's Press | Macmillian |  Release Date: 4/4/2017
 Jenny Nordbak's podcast, The Wicked Wallflowers Club, has been one of my favorite podcasts this year. Their author interviews are always a fun mix of craft talk, raunch, and bookish squee. After hearing Nordbak share a few snippets of her time as a dominatrix on the podcast I decided to check out her book to get the full story.

This memoir follows the two years in Nordbak's early twenties where she secretly trained and worked as a dominatrix at a BDSM dungeon in Los Angeles. Nordbak weaves together the events of her "vanilla" life with anecdotes about her sessions with clients as she becomes Mistress Scarlett. I found the peek into the BDSM scene fascinating and enjoyed getting to know the irreverent found family Nordbak creates for herself.

This book is pretty hardcore though, the content is not for the faint of heart--some of the fetishes her clients have are a lot.  Like there is a guy who liked to be forced to do disgusting things and she recounts all the gross things she and the others would think of for him to do.

While I liked this memoir the perspective kept nagging at me. While  Nordbak is definitely part of the scene and has her own personal struggles it's not clear to me why she is the one who gets to publish a book about this scene. Nordbak is only a dominatrix for two years and leaves because she loses the spark and soon after marries a man who is not in the scene. I feel like someone who was in the scene longer or more experienced could have written a more interesting book.

Many of the other characters we meet are more entrenched in the scene and I think they would have added more point-of-views on the BDSM lifestyle. Like the club's only male dominant who grew up in East Germany or the older desk mistress who is described as having as "seen some shit" or the  Black submissive who is often asked to act out slave or pimp/prostitute fantasies.  I wish it had been more like Orange Is The New Black which is both about Piper's story but also acknowledges others stories.

I did this on audiobook and Nordbak is a good narrator, she had a theater background so there is a performative quality to her narration. I do side-eye the fact that despite there being Scottish, British and German people in this book the only accent she does is an Asian one. She does it once to mimic a client and again as a joke and it just came off as really distasteful.



On the podcast, Nordbak mentions some TV happenings with her book and I think this would make a great Netflix dark comedy.

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