Poetry

Review: The Princess Saves Herself in This One

Cover of "The Princess Saves Herself In This One," featuring white lower-case text on a black background
Image from Amanda Lovelace

Title: The Princess Saves Herself In This One

Series: Women Are Some Kind of Magic #1

Author: Amanda Lovelace

Genre: Poetry

Trigger Warnings: Sexual assault, suicide, self-harm, violence, eating disorders, abuse

Back Cover:

A poetry collection divided into four different parts: the princess, the damsel, the queen, & you. the princess, the damsel, & the queen piece together the life of the author in three stages, while you serves as a note to the reader & all of humankind. Explores life & all of its love, loss, grief, healing, empowerment, & inspirations.

Review:

This is a book of poetry. I’ve never reviewed a book of poetry before. I’ve never actually read an entire book of poetry before. So here goes nothing.

I found these poems to be really good and really powerful because I’ve been in a lot of those situations. Amanda Lovelace talks about parental abuse and sexual assault, eating disorders and self-harm, heartbreak and abusive boyfriends. She strings words together in a relatable, powerful, and ultimately optimistic way.

Sure, not all the poems were so great. There were a couple that centered more on flowery language that didn’t actually say a lot. But for the most part, Amanda kept it raw and real. The order seemed disjointed at times, going from one subject to another and then back, but it takes the “princess” from broken and hurting to healing herself and even though it covers a lot of pain and heartache, it ends hopefully, looking forward.

A lot of the reviews on Goodreads criticize this book because there’s no particular rhyme or syllable count to the poems and “just pressing enter randomly isn’t a poem.” I had no problems with that for two reasons. First, I read it as an audiobook, so I had no idea where the line breaks were anyway and just heard it as the author spoke it. Second, when I write poetry I write it like that, too, and it’s a perfectly valid form of poetry in my book.

I might have had a different experience if I’d read it as a physical book instead of listening to an audiobook, but it was still a good read and I appreciated the power and the emotion in the poems. In my opinion, worth the read.

Women Are Some Kind of Magic:

  1. The Princess Saves Herself in This One
  2. The Witch Doesn’t Burn in This One
  3. The Mermaid’s Voice Returns in This One
Advertisements
Current Issues/Society

Review: Bright-Sided

Cover of "Bright-Sided," featuring a blue balloon on a yellow background.
Image from Barbara Ehrenreich

Title: Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking has Undermined America

Author: Barbara Ehrenreich

Genre: Current Issues/Society

Trigger Warnings: Extended discussion of breast cancer

Back Cover:

Americans are a “positive” people—cheerful, optimistic, and upbeat: this is our reputation as well as our self-image. But more than a temperament, being positive, we are told, is the key to success and prosperity.

In this utterly original take on the American frame of mind, Barbara Ehrenreich traces the strange career of our sunny outlook from its origins as a marginal nineteenth-century healing technique to its enshrinement as a dominant, almost mandatory, cultural attitude. Evangelical mega-churches preach the good news that you only have to want something to get it because God wants to “prosper” you. The medical profession prescribes positive thinking for its presumed health benefits. Academia has made room for new departments of “positive psychology” and the “science of happiness.” Nowhere, though, has bright-siding taken firmer root than within the business community, where, as Ehrenreich shows, the refusal even to consider negative outcomes—like mortgage defaults—contributed directly to the 2008 economic crisis.

With the myth-busting powers for which she is acclaimed, Ehrenreich exposes the downside of America’s penchant for positive thinking: On a personal level, it leads to self-blame and a morbid preoccupation with stamping out “negative” thoughts. On a national level, it’s brought us an era of irrational optimism resulting in disaster. This is Ehrenreich at her provocative best—poking holes in conventional wisdom and faux science, and ending with a call for existential clarity and courage.

Review:

I have never been red-pilled so hard in my entire life, so fasten your seatbelts, we’re about to go on a wild ride all about how you should read this book and also FUCK Calvinism.

(To clarify, I’m not talking about red-pilling in an incel sense, just in the sense that this book was the Matrix’s red pill that made me see all the lies in the world around me. Just so we have that straightened out. Fuck incels too.)

So what exactly is positive thinking? It’s not just thinking happy thoughts – it’s a combination of magical thinking and self-policing. Positive thinking pushes the belief that merely thinking a thought influences the world and affect your life (such as the “law of attraction“). It says that you can make good things happen to you by focusing on positive things (and conversely, that if bad things happen to you, it’s your fault because you were thinking about negative things). But in order to stay so positive, you have to relentlessly police your own thoughts to weed out any negativity that might come up – even if that “negativity” is a perfectly normal human response to a difficult situation.

Positive thinking has its roots in Calvinism, that idea that people are predestined to go to heaven or hell. How does that work, you ask? Calvinism has two main ideas about how to live your life – constant introspection to see if you’re a sinful person, and hard work. In the 1800s, the middle class didn’t have much of that hard work to do, so they were left with excessive introspection that tended to make people generally sickly without much of a diagnosis. A doctor person figured out that by encouraging positive thinking (called “new thought” then), he could “cure” this general malaise – his successor turned New Thought into a religion (Christian Science), and it spread from there. So yeah, Calvinism is behind these societal problems.

I had no IDEA how much this relentless positivity had affected America, especially in the business world, until Ehrenreich laid it all out for me. When she put it all out there plainly, it seemed positively ridiculous that you have all these smart, educated white-collar workers believing that the perfect job will come to them if they repeatedly imagine what that perfect job looks like. Or that people pay tens of thousands of dollars to “success coaches” who tell them to say positive things every morning and that will make you successful. It’s magical thinking, pure and simple.

Once upon a time, I was a witch. I believed that combining different herbs and rocks would make things happen, and that thinking certain patterns of words would change things. I gave up witchcraft when I realized it was all magical thinking and nothing I was doing had a success rate any better than chance. And people who subscribe to positive thinking are basically doing the same thing I was with my “witchcraft” – they’re just calling it “personal development” instead of literal magic.

One of the biggest ways I think positive thinking has undermined America, though, is in protests. Politically, I’m a leftist, and in a lot of leftist circles on the internet, people express a lot of surprise that workers aren’t getting up in arms about how company owners are screwing them over with layoffs, pay cuts, etc. After reading this book, I realized why – positive thinking has taught us to blame ourselves. If we got laid off or we didn’t get a raise, it’s because we weren’t thinking positively; the problem is with us, not the people who are doing it to us. We’ve been conditioned to roll over and blame ourselves for the greed of the 1%.

Now, before you think this is hit-it-out-of-the-park best book ever, though, there was one issue – the examples were unfocused. Ehrenreich would focus on telling a story, whether that’s about her breast cancer experience or the experience of the person who started the “new thought” that became positive thinking, and her point would get sidetracked in favor of details for the example. Don’t get me wrong, they were interesting examples, it just takes some brain work to hold onto the point through it.

That’s really a minor issue, though. Read the book. You will see so many things in a new light, and once you see how pervasive positive thinking is, you won’t be able to un-see it. You’ll notice it everywhere. And hopefully it will help you focus on what’s real instead of what’s positive.

Work and Business

Review: The 4-Hour Workweek

Cover of "The 4-Hour Workweek," featuring the pink silhouette of a person in a hammock between two palm trees on a pale orange background
Image from Tim Ferress

Title: The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9 to 5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich

Author: Tim Ferriss

Genre: Work and Business

Trigger Warnings: Strong language, gendered slurs

Back Cover:

What do you do? Tim Ferriss has trouble answering the question. Depending on when you ask this controversial Princeton University guest lecturer, he might answer: “I race motorcycles in Europe.” “I ski in the Andes.” “I scuba dive in Panama.” “I dance tango in Buenos Aires.” He has spent more than five years learning the secrets of the New Rich, a fast-growing subculture who has abandoned the “deferred-life plan” and instead mastered the new currencies-time and mobility-to create luxury lifestyles in the here and now. Whether you are an overworked employee or an entrepreneur trapped in your own business, this book is the compass for a new and revolutionary world.

Join Tim Ferriss as he teaches you:
– How to outsource your life to overseas virtual assistants for $5 per hour and do whatever you want
– How blue-chip escape artists travel the world without quitting their jobs
– How to eliminate 50% of your work in 48 hours using the principles of a forgotten Italian economist
– How to trade a long-haul career for short work bursts and frequent “mini-retirements”
– What the crucial difference is between absolute and relative income
– How to train your boss to value performance over presence, or kill your job (or company) if it’s beyond repair
– What automated cash-flow “muses” are and how to create one in 2 to 4 weeks
– How to cultivate selective ignorance-and create time-with a low-information diet
– What the management secrets of Remote Control CEOs are
– How to get free housing worldwide and airfare at 50-80% off
– How to fill the void and create a meaningful life after removing work and the office

Review:

If you’ve ever heard of Tim Ferriss, you know he has a Thing. That Thing is doing something spectacular, writing about how he did it, and making grandiose claims about how everyone can become spectacularly wealthy/pro athlete-level fit/a pro chef/whatever with minimal effort by following these steps. Pretty much everything he says sounds too good to be true.

And yet I was curious. I tried reading his The 4-Hour Body and got overwhelmed about a quarter of the way through. I tried reading his The 4-Hour Chef on audiobook and stopped two CDs in because the audiobook cut out half of the content in favor of saying “refer to this in the print or ebook copy.” And then I found this as an audiobook and decided to give it a shot.

In the beginning, Tim says this book is about “lifestyle design” – freeing yourself up for independence so you can make conscious decisions about doing what you want, not just what you have to do to make money. It’s not really about lifestyle design. It’s really about two things: starting a business and extended travel. Oh, sure, there’s stuff in there about negotiating a remote work agreement with your boss and reducing unnecessary stuff and whatnot, but the bulk of the book is spent on entrepreneurship and long-term travel advice.

Was it good? Well, yeah. Besides the grandiose claims that Tim Ferriss makes, there was a lot of solid advice about starting a business, including a lot of resources for all types of businesses. I especially liked his idea of a “muse” product, and I’m probably going to implement some of the stuff he brings up in my business and in product creation. I don’t have a lot of experience with travel, so I can’t judge a lot of that advice, but it sounds reasonable and actionable. And it was also inspiring – I know that I’m not interested in travel for as long as Tim talks about (6 months or more), but I am interested in shorter-term travel and listening to this book made me want to travel more (and get more excited about an upcoming trip I have planned).

There are two main drawbacks to this book. One, Tim makes a lot of assumptions about his target audience – mainly, that they’re a lot like him. This book is not written for disabled people, blue-collar workers, or poor people. And Tim is a little out of touch with regards to what’s affordable – before he started his lifestyle design and travel stuff, he was making $70,000 per month (yes, there are 5 figures in that number, and yes, it is per month. That is more than I have made in my entire life combined in a single month).

Also, I would not recommend reading this as an audiobook, at least not if you want to reference the many, many resources that Tim recommends. The audiobook spends a lot of time reading URLs that don’t do much good if you are listening while driving, like I do, and can’t write them down.

Overall, this was a pretty good book. The business section had some great advice, and if you’re interested in long-term travel, there’s probably some good stuff there, too. But take what Tim says with a grain of salt – he makes grandiose claims, but it’s highly unlikely everything is as easy (or as affordable) as he says it is.

Current Issues/Society

Review: Bullshit Jobs

Image from David Graeber

Title: Bullshit Jobs: A Theory

Author: David Graeber

Genre: Current Issues/Society

Trigger Warnings: None

Back Cover:

Be honest: if your job didn’t exist, would anybody miss it? Have you ever wondered why not? Up to 40% of us secretly believe our jobs probably aren’t necessary. In other words: they are bullshit jobs. This book shows why, and what we can do about it.

In the early twentieth century, people prophesied that technology would see us all working fifteen-hour weeks and driving flying cars. Instead, something curious happened. Not only have the flying cars not materialised, but average working hours have increased rather than decreased. And now, across the developed world, three-quarters of all jobs are in services, finance or admin: jobs that don’t seem to contribute anything to society. In Bullshit Jobs, David Graeber explores how this phenomenon – one more associated with the Soviet Union, but which capitalism was supposed to eliminate – has happened. In doing so, he looks at how, rather than producing anything, work has become an end in itself; the way such work maintains the current broken system of finance capital; and, finally, how we can get out of it.

This book is for anyone whose heart has sunk at the sight of a whiteboard, who believes ‘workshops’ should only be for making things, or who just suspects that there might be a better way to run our world.

Review:

What’s ironic is that I read this book entirely while I was at work. What’s sad is that while reading this, I realized I’ve only had one job in my life (waitress) that wasn’t a bullshit job. On the bright side, I feel less bad about goofing off on jobs where I don’t have enough work to fill an entire day.

Let me back up.

David Graeber makes the argument in this book that there are millions of white-collar jobs that should not exist, and the people who hold these jobs know it – he calls these jobs bullshit jobs. These are jobs that provide no benefit to society, often exist because of unnecessary bureaucracy, and frequently don’t have enough tasks to keep them busy for a full eight-hour day.

The book is peppered with footnotes. Many of them are simply side points that Graeber wanted to make but that didn’t fit into his main text, but some of them do cite actual research. Most of the book, though, is based on the testimonies of and interviews with people who hold various types of bullshit jobs. You hear the stories of people all over the world, in their own words, about how their jobs are useless and soul-sucking.

While I can’t speak from that angle (I don’t know a lot of people, let alone people open enough to talk about their bullshit job experience), I can definitely say that what Graeber talks about rings true to me. I work in marketing (a job that provides negative value to society, according to calculations in the book), and I have never had a marketing job that filled more than an hour or two per day. And yet at each job, I have tried to look busy the whole day, as some sort of unspoken social contract that my boss is paying for my time so I have to pretend to give it to them.

The first five chapters explained and dissected the phenomenon of bullshit jobs, and they were fascinating and engaging. I devoured them. Chapter six was dense, about the history of work, and though the topic was interesting, it took me a while to get through. Chapter seven actually suggested a solution to the bullshit jobs phenomenon (although making it clear that this book is about the phenomenon, not the solution).

If you have a bullshit job, or think you might have a bullshit job, this is an excellent book to read. You’ll gain some insight into the problem, why it happens, and why it keeps happening. You might end up understanding why people are dissatisfied with “great” jobs a little more than you’d expected.

Personal Development

Review: The Happiness Project

Cover of "The Happiness Project," featuring brown buildings with blue sky above them and the title in yellow text on the sky
Image from Gretchen Rubin

Title: The Happiness Project: Or Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun

Author: Gretchen Rubin

Genre: Personal Development

Trigger Warnings: Moralizing about food, discussion of serious illness

Back Cover:

Gretchen Rubin had an epiphany one rainy afternoon in the unlikeliest of places: a city bus. “The days are long, but the years are short,” she realized. “Time is passing, and I’m not focusing enough on the things that really matter.” In that moment, she decided to dedicate a year to her happiness project.

In this lively and compelling account, Rubin chronicles her adventures during the twelve months she spent test-driving the wisdom of the ages, current scientific research, and lessons from popular culture about how to be happier. Among other things, she found that novelty and challenge are powerful sources of happiness; that money can help buy happiness, when spent wisely; that outer order contributes to inner calm; and that the very smallest of changes can make the biggest difference.

Review:

I’m back to “reading” audiobooks since my morning commute is now 35 minutes. And I was super excited to find this as an audiobook, because I’ve been wanting to read it ever since I’ve heard about it. I’m all about making myself happier.

Gretchen Rubin planned for her happiness project by reading all the research she could get her hands on about happiness, both from scientists who study it and from less scientific works (like Aristotle, as she mentions in the title). Then she listed out a bunch of little things they said would make people happier, grouped them into categories, and set out to tackle one category each month. These “little things” included concrete things, like writing a novel, cleaning closets, and starting a collection, and intangible things like “be a treasure house of happy memories” and “be Gretchen.” Along the way, she discovered four “splendid truths” and one general maxim of happiness.

Overall, I liked this book. Gretchen is very open and honest about both times when things went well and times when she messed up (being human, she messed up a lot). She writes in a very engaging and relatable way, and (except for a few moments where I felt awkward for her as she described herself screwing up) I thoroughly enjoyed listening.

I also think some of her principles are good, too, especially her general happiness maxim – “To think about happiness, you have to think about feeling good, feeling bad, and feeling right in an atmosphere of growth.” Basically, to increase happiness, you have to consider what makes you feel good, what makes you feel bad, what makes you feel right (in a moral sense), and ways for you to grow. Which sounds both completely doable and like great things to consider when you’re trying to be happier.

And then we come to the problems with this book. Namely, Gretchen isn’t facing anything unchangeable that would cause her to be unhappy. She’s white and rich enough to live comfortably in New York City. She has a good marriage to a good man. She’s college-educated, working at her dream job (full-time writer), has many friends, and has no mental or physical illnesses whatsoever. She’s not facing poverty, discrimination, illness, or anything else that might make a “happiness project” less effective. She focuses purely on individual actions and completely ignores societal and systemic problems that cause most unhappy people to be unhappy.

There’s a whole essay I could write here on the problems of the Western individualist approach to health and happiness, but this is a review and not the place for it. I enjoyed reading this book, but I have doubts about its general applicability. I’d be much more interested to see a happiness project from someone poor, marginalized, and/or ill to see if individual actions really make that much of a difference when society is stacked against you.

Also, Gretchen’s happiness project sounded exhausting. She had to constantly put in so much mental energy to change the way she acted, reacted, and thought. I might incorporate some of her principles, but I doubt I’ll be doing one of my own anytime soon.

Fairy Tale

Review: Girls Made of Snow and Glass

Cover of "Girls Made of Snow and Glass," featuring a black background with spikes of ice or glass sticking up from the bottom and the title in white text
Image from Melissa Bashardoust

Title: Girls Made of Snow and Glass

Author: Melissa Bashardoust

Genre: Fairy Tale

Trigger Warnings: Death, blood, emotional abuse, mild body horror

Back Cover:

At sixteen, Mina’s mother is dead, her magician father is vicious, and her silent heart has never beat with love for anyone – has never beat at all, in fact, but she’d always thought that fact normal. She never guessed that her father cut out her heart and replaced it with one of glass. When she moves to Whitespring Castle and sees its king for the first time, Mina forms a plan: win the king’s heart with her beauty, become queen, and finally know love. The only catch is that she’ll have to become a stepmother.

Fifteen-year-old Lynet looks just like her late mother, and one day she discovers why: a magician created her out of snow in the dead queen’s image, at her father’s order. But despite being the dead queen made flesh, Lynet would rather be like her fierce and regal stepmother, Mina. She gets her wish when her father makes Lynet queen of the southern territories, displacing Mina. Now Mina is starting to look at Lynet with something like hatred, and Lynet must decide what to do and who to be to win back the only mother she’s ever known, or else defeat her once and for all.

Entwining the stories of both Lynet and Mina in the past and present, Girls Made of Snow and Glass traces the relationship of two young women doomed to be rivals from the start. Only one can win all, while the other must lose everything, unless both can find a way to reshape themselves and their story.

Review:

This may be the best fairytale retelling I’ve ever read. Girls Made of Snow and Glass is a retelling of Snow White, told from both “snow white” and the stepmother’s points of view, and it is fantastic.

First, there’s Lynet. The Snow White character in the story, she feels stifled by her overprotective father and would rather climb trees and scale the castle walls than be quiet and demure like her mother, the way her father wants her to be. She loves her father, but she also wants to be her own person, free from the shadow of the dead queen. She has an internal struggle between who she wants to be and who other people want her to be (which I found very relatable), and in the end she’s strong and courageous enough to make her own way in the world. I loved her.

Then there’s Mina, who, despite being the stepmother of the story, is far from evil. She was actually a very sympathetic character who knows she’s broken because she can’t love (and, she thinks, can’t be loved). I honestly didn’t root for Lynet to beat Mina because I cared about Mina, too. I wanted them both to win somehow.

If there’s a villain in this story at all, it’s Mina’s father, the magician Gregory. He’s cruel and cunning and selfish, and he has dark plans for Lynet that don’t get revealed until towards the end. He’s not even in most of the book, but his shadow hovers over Mina and she’s (rightfully) afraid of him.

The story alternates perspectives between Lynet and Mina. You get to see how Mina came to marry Lynet’s father and how having a glass heart incapable of love affected her life. You also get Lynet’s struggle between her love for her father and wanting to be who he wants her to be, and her desire to be her own independent person. Then circumstances cause the two women to clash. And while ostensibly the plot is about this clash between Mina and Lynet, with a little bit of politics and magic, it’s really more about the characters. How they’re feeling, how they think, how they react. Mina and Lynet are excellently written, and reading about their emotional journeys was fantastic.

And probably the best part – it has a happy ending!

Of course, the book isn’t perfect. Mainly when it came to the romance. I can’t even say that Lynet falls in love with someone, because the romance doesn’t get enough time or attention for that to really be shown. She likes this person and they kiss towards the end, so there’s definitely some romance going forward after the end of the book, but it was really sidelined during the main story and the love interest isn’t even in most of the book. I liked the romance, it was cute and I think it was a good way of showing Lynet growing up, but removing it would hardly have affected the story at all.

This book is amazing. It’s one of the best books I’ve read in a while, and probably one of the best fairytale retellings I’ve ever read. I loved how it was character-driven while still being a fantasy story and not neglecting either element. I enthusiastically recommend this book.

Current Issues/Society

Review: Deluxe

Cover of "Deluxe," featuring what looks like a McDonald's meal on a tray, but instead of McDonald's logo and colors, it is covered with Prada branding
Image from Penguin Random House

Title: Deluxe: How Luxury Lost its Luster

Author: Dana Thomas

Genre: Current Issues/Society

Trigger Warnings: None

Back Cover:

There was a time when luxury was available only to the rarefied and aristocratic world of old money and royalty. Luxury wasn’t simply a product, it was a lifestyle, one that denoted a history of tradition, superior quality and offered a pampered buying experience.

Today’s luxury marketplace would be virtually unrecognizable to its founders. Gone are the family-owned businesses dedicated to integrity and quality; the industry is now run by multi-billion dollar global corporations focused on growth, visibility, brand-awareness, advertising and above all, profits. Handcrafted goods are practically extinct, and almost all manufacturing has been outsourced to large factories in such places as China, where your expensive brand-name handbag is being assembled right next to one from a mass-market label that will cost substantially less.

Dana Thomas, a journalist who has covered style and the luxury business for The Washington Post, Newsweek and The New York Times Magazine from Paris for the past fifteen years, digs deep into the dark side of the luxury industry to uncover all the secrets that Prada, Gucci and Burberry don’t want us to know.

Traveling from the laboratories in Grasse, where the ingredients for Christian Dior and Prada perfumes are produced, to the crowded factories in China, where workers glue together “Made in Italy” bags by the thousands, Thomas explores the whole of today’s high-end shopping experience to answer some pressing questions: What is the new definition of luxury when advertising for this lifestyle is targeted mainly toward the mass market? What are we paying for when quality has given way to quantity? Can integrity survive in a corporate culture driven to meet regular growth and profit projections? Is luxury still the best that money can buy?

Review:

This promised to be a book in the vein of Bobos in Paradise – i.e. a fascinating and in-depth look at a social phenomenon. Plus, I see the appeal of luxury items and thought it would be a good read to learn more about the luxury industry. And Deluxe delivered on all fronts.

Let’s talk about what it covers, because there is a lot. The book starts off with a history of the luxury industry – how companies like Louis Vuitton got started and how artisans transitioned from making custom items for the 1% to mass-produced items for the middle class. It spends some time on the global luxury market, especially how Japan is a huge luxury consumer and China and India are on the rise. It goes over how celebrities made designer brands popular for the middle class and how the luxury shopping experience works now for the average person. It talks about how the genuine items are made and how the counterfeit industry works. It touches briefly on luxury designers working for “fast fashion” companies like H&M. And it finishes by exploring how luxury is done for the 1% of today, which is remarkably different from the shopping experience most people encounter.

Going into the book as someone who knew next to nothing about luxury items (I knew some brand names from social media and Google has to help me spell Louboutin), this book was a really comprehensive education – see the last paragraph for all the things you’ll learn. Plus, it’s absolutely fascinating. If you’re interested at all in luxury items, you’ll find this book interesting. And also probably find yourself wanting to purchase some luxury items.

In some ways, this book reads like a long, albeit entertaining, advertisement for luxury goods. The quality, the sophistication, the elegance and refinement all ooze through the pages and surround the luxury products with an aura of being the best. I’m in need of a new purse anyway, and reading this book made me wish I could afford a nice Hermes bag. But then in the second-to-last chapter, the author talks about fast fashion and how you can get items by famous designers for under $100 at places like H&M, which somewhat reduced my desire for designer clothes. (I would still love a Hermes bag, though.)

I found this book thoroughly engrossing, and not only did I learn a lot about the luxury industry (including the terrible conditions that make it unethical to buy affordable fakes), it made me wish I had enough money to experience luxury for myself.

I’ve gone on quite a bit on how much this book made me want to buy luxury items, and that was a big aspect of the book for me. It inspired a desire and a dream to experience the things the book talked about. But besides that, it was informative, entertaining, and absolutely fascinating. I highly recommend it.

Fantasy

Review: Ruin of Stars

Cover of "Ruin of Stars," featuring an ornate golden brooch with two arrows crossed in front of it
Image from Linsey Miller

Title: Ruin of Stars

Series: Mask of Shadows #2

Author: Linsey Miller

Genre: Fantasy

Trigger Warnings: Death, blood/gore, mentions of war, child abuse, fire

Spoiler Warning: This book is second in a series, so this review contains spoilers of the first book, Mask of Shadows.

Back Cover

As one of the Queen’s elite assassins, Sal finally has the power, prestige, and permission to hunt down the lords who killed their family. But Sal still has to figure out who the culprits are. They must enlist the help of some old friends and enemies while ignoring a growing distaste for the queen and that the charming Elise is being held prisoner by her father.

But there’s something terribly wrong in the north. Talk of the return of shadows, missing children, and magic abounds. As Sal takes out the people responsible for their ruined homeland, they learn secrets and truths that can’t be forgotten.

Review

This book was excellent. I absolutely loved the first book in the series, and Ruin of Stars was the perfect follow-up.

Let’s start with Sal. Sal is having an identity crisis – Erlend pushes a strict gender binary that they don’t fit into at all, and also how Nacean are they if they lost their home so young and don’t remember much of it? And they’re wrestling with the guilt of having killed so many people. They’re the same determined, angry, full-of-complicated-emotions Sal from Mask of Shadows, just with a lot more of the complicated emotions part. And even though they’re dealing with so much darkness, you just root for them.

Other people have said Sal’s talking about their gender identity gets boring, and I can see how it could, but as a nonbinary person I loved it because I have a lot of the same feelings.

You also get a lot more of some of the great minor characters in this book. Rath comes back, Maud gets a bigger role and so does Elise. All have distinct personalities and are generally fun to read (especially Maud’s boldness and smart mouth). The downside is you get almost nothing of the other Left Hand.

There is a lot more to the plot than you get from the back cover. North Star and Winter have retreated to Erlend and are working hard to not only reestablish Erlend, but take over Igna too. And they’re using some dark and brutal stuff to do that. Sal’s job is to stop them. And that’s really all I can say without spoilers. There’s a lot that happens. Political stuff takes a back burner as Sal’s solutions usually involve murder. (Which, admittedly, is probably the best way to solve these things because the Erlenians are perfectly fine with killing excessively to get what they want.) And there’s some huge twists at the end …

… which are actually my only real problem with the book. All of Sal’s motivation has been revenge for Nacea being destroyed, and in the last quarter of the book Sal learns some surprising things about Nacea. And then the book takes a sharp left turn. It goes from focusing on stopping a war/the evil magic the Erlenians are using and getting revenge to focusing on new information Sal’s learning about Nacea. On one hand, it makes sense, since grief for their country and a desire to avenge it are their main motivation. On the other hand, it’s done abruptly, and so much information is thrown at you at once that it’s hard to process it all – I found it harder to care about all the new stuff.

Besides that, though, the book was great, and it actually had a reasonably happy ending. It’s dark, definitely – I’d even say darker than the first book – but I tend to enjoy those kinds of books, and if you can handle darkness and murder I highly recommend you give both of these books a read.

The Mask of Shadows duology:

  1. Mask of Shadows
  2. Ruin of Stars
Personal Development

Review: The Lunatic Gene

Cover of "The Lunatic Gene," featuring the title in green text above a multi-colored double helix DNA strand
Image from Adam Shaw

Title: The Lunatic Gene: How to Make Sense of Your Life (alternatively subtitled The Reason Your Life will Never Make Sense)

Author: Adam Shaw

Genre: Personal Development

Trigger Warnings: Mentions of death, mentions of injuries

Back Cover:

Are you fed up with reading self-help books and not getting results? If so, this book is a hard-hitting, yet light-hearted voyage of discovery as to why your life will never make sense, because you live in a lunatic asylum. If you are feeling stuck, trapped, sleepless, anxious, depressed, or at a cross-roads in life, this book will help explain why, and what you can do to reduce the effects. It will also explain that all of these symptoms are messages from your body to enable you to change your life in very positive ways. This book is your guide to the trait which leads 99% of people into chaos and illness, and 1% to incredible, purposeful lives. If you are fed up with being part of the 99%, this book is for you.

Review:

What is the Lunatic Gene? I don’t know! The book never explains it. It’s very clear that the Lunatic Gene is not scientific at all, and it states some of the effects of the gene (what are they? I don’t know! It’s not clear), but it doesn’t tell you what the gene is.

Adam Shaw spends the first half of the book sharing his experiences (how are they relevant? I don’t know! He tries to tie them in but doesn’t do it very well) and trying to convince you that the Lunatic Gene is a thing, despite stating that it’s not a scientific discovery or genealogical fact. Then he spends the other half talking about how your brain/logic and heart/emotions disagree and how that causes problems, saying next to nothing about this Lunatic Gene.

And then he tries to convince you that heart disease happens because you don’t love yourself enough. Yes, really.

Not all of the stuff in here is bad. There’s actually some good insight into how suppressing or “bottling up” emotions that were overruled but “logic” causes problems and outbursts. But his solution to that is to listen to your heart more. (How do you do that? I don’t know! He doesn’t say what to do about it more than “follow your heart.”)

Also, my copy had no margins, so the first letter of every line was cut off and it was a nightmare to read. It was also difficult to read because none of it made sense. It didn’t fit together, the examples didn’t clear anything up, and I think there might have been advice in there somewhere? It’s a mess.

This book is very much … not great. It’s poorly written, poorly organized, and poorly formatted, some of its assertions are just outlandish, and it gives exactly zero concrete solutions to the issues it brings up. I’d say something here about the main message being not unique, but there’s like six “main messages” here that the book tries to cover in 44 pages and doesn’t give any of them enough page time to call it the main message. I can tell it’s trying, and it thinks it has something new, mind-blowing, and revolutionary, but it doesn’t.