Book Reviews, Bookworm Blogging

The Education of a Coroner [review]

**Note: I received this book from Netgalley in exchange for my honest opinion. This in no way impacts my review**

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The Education of a Coroner by John Bateson
To be published by Scribner on August 15, 2017
368 pages. ISBN-13: 978-1-50116-822-2
Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️
[Goodreads[IndieBound[Author Website]

In the vein of Dr. Judy Melinek’s Working Stiff, an account of the hair-raising and heartbreaking cases handled by [Ken Holmes] the coroner of Marin County, California throughout his four decades on the job—from high-profile deaths to serial killers, to Golden Gate Bridge suicides.

cw: death, murder, sexual assault, rape culture, sexism, racism

It’s been a hot second since I’ve read some nonfiction and I was really looking forward to this book. I plucked it off Netgalley, thinking that it looked fascinating. From the beginning, it reeled me in. I think a lot of us find the concept of death fascinating, and the idea of what follows here, in the corporeal world, isn’t something I’ve thought much about, even though I’ve watched many crime dramas.

For instance, I had no idea what a coroner’s job entails. What I’ve gathered is that it’s a great deal of investigative work and a position that requires intensely strong people skills, observational skills, and strength. Coroners quite literally see it all, and they assist the police very closely in their work when a death doesn’t appear to be natural. It was really interesting to discover how the system operates after a person dies.

As much as I enjoyed Holmes’ anecdotes towards the beginning, things began to feel off to me about a quarter through the book. There’s one specific quote that set me off, in which Holmes completely discredits a woman’s rape allegation by saying that she was too heavy and not attractive enough to have been raped. He also throws in some casual racism regarding the situation.  I have no idea why the author thought this was appropriate to include because, to me, it discredits Holmes as a serious investigator. How many other alleged crimes has he shrugged off because of how a woman looks? He talks about the injustices that the dead face, but how about the living?

Holmes then went on to tell what he thought was a heartwarming, funny story about a late coworker who egged on a bartender by speaking in a “Middle Eastern” accent. In talking about a robbery that he experienced, Holmes explained that he didn’t pull out his gun because the store was “filled with women” who could have been hurt–as if he is only concerned with hurting women. And there was a horrifying story in which a man told Holmes that he was going to kill himself and Holmes did nothing.  In most instances it is required, if not legally then at the very least morally, to inform someone in a situation like that. Not only did Holmes keep this information to himself until after the fact–he also seemed not to express remorse for this decision, which struck me as shady and wrong.

In addition to all of that, I felt super uncomfortable about the fact that the book referred to all the deceased by name and revealed intimate information about their lives and families. Some of these cases were decades old, but some weren’t. I understand that most, if not all, of this information is probably public record, but it just felt really voyeuristic and like it was taking advantage of the deaths of all of these people just for the personal gain of these two men, Holmes and the author.

After these issues started creeping in, the book began to drag on for me. It’s less about the life of a coroner in general and more a memoir about one specific coroner’s career. It is also important to note that Holmes is a relatively privileged man working in an extremely privileged environment (“Marin ranks in the top one percent of counties nationwide in terms of affluence and overall health”) and that this is an extremely biased view of both life and death.

Generally an okay read and maybe something I’d recommend to folks interested in forensics, but I enjoyed it much less than I thought I would.

Thanks to all for reading! Do you plan to read The Education of a Coroner? Please share your thoughts in the comments. You can also find me on Twitter and Goodreads.

Book Reviews, Bookworm Blogging

Girl in Snow [review]

**I received this book from NetGalley in exchange for my honest opinion. This in no way impacts my review. Written on July 17, 2017.

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Girl in Snow by Danya Kukafka
To be published by Simon & Schuster on August 1st, 2017
ARC eBook edition, 368
pages. ISBN-13: 978-1-50114-437-0
Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️
Content Warnings: Domestic violence, pedophilia, stalking, animal death.

When a beloved high schooler named Lucinda Hayes is found murdered, no one in her sleepy Colorado suburb is untouched—not the boy who loved her too much; not the girl who wanted her perfect life; not the officer assigned to investigate her murder. In the aftermath of the tragedy, these three indelible characters—Cameron, Jade, and Russ—must each confront their darkest secrets in an effort to find solace, the truth, or both.

I haven’t really been looking forward to writing this review, because I have so many conflicting feelings and am not sure I’ll convey them properly–but hey, it’s worth a shot. There will be some spoilers in this review, as that is the only way I can properly discuss my thoughts.

The first thing that struck me was how lyrical the writing was. Kukafka has quite a way with words. Regardless of the content, each sentence seemed to flow beautifully and at times the book felt more like poetry than prose. For most of the book, I had on an ambient playlist in the background which only served to reinforce how beautifully written it was.

The second thing that struck me was how uncomfortable I felt about Cameron, who was clearly a stalker. Cameron is portrayed as innocent, well-meaning, lovesick, and mentally ill. He obsessively watches Lucinda at night and draws picture after picture of her. It’s clear he means her no harm, but he is still an extremely unsettling character and I felt very uncomfortable with the portrayal of stalking in this book–none of the other characters seem to care at all and it is never damned in any way. Cameron also makes multiple negative judgments about women’s bodies that make me extremely uncomfortable and are seemingly without purpose.

Russ is a weak-willed puppet of a police officer. His character development does make him somewhat redeemable, but he covered up the assault and battery that his former partner committed on a young woman, which really doesn’t put me in his corner. There are a lot of instances in this book that demonstrate the ability to love someone in spite of what they’ve done and I think this is meant to be one of those, but I dislike the way it was handled. Russ covers up Lee’s crime because he’s in love with him, we’re led to believe that Lee committed this crime because something happened between Russ and Lee. I don’t love the implication that internalized homophobia caused a man to beat a woman to a pulp because he almost held another man’s hand. I understand that all the characters are morally grey, but we already have enough poor portrayals of lgbtqia characters and I’m not psyched to see more.

Jade was the only main character I could even stand. She had plenty of faults and was imperfect, but had committed no crimes I could not forgive. Her screenplays were random and kind of annoying, but I understood their purpose. She was also voyeuristic, but in a far more acceptable way. I didn’t love her hatred of all other girls, but she seemed to hate everyone indiscriminately, so I gave her a pass on that.

Choosing a star rating was extremely difficult here. I wanted to give it two stars, as I was constantly making faces and shifting around uncomfortably while I read. But I think that discomfort was part of Kukafka’s intent. I don’t love what she used to achieve it, but I can appreciate that she’s a great writer. So I give her three stars for fantastic writing, subtracting the last two for content.

Thanks for reading! Have you read this book, or do you plan to? Let me know in the comments. You can also follow me on Twitter and Goodreads.

Book Reviews

The Goddess Revolution

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The Goddess Revolution by Mel Wells
Published by Hay House UK on June 7th, 2016
Kindle Edition, 291 pages, ISBN-13: 978-1-781-80712-5

Alright y’all, let’s dig in! My most recent read was The Goddess Revolution. I’ll admit, I was pretty excited for this one. The subheader reads “Make Peace with Food, Love Your Body and Reclaim Your Life.” Without getting too much into my issues, I’ll just say that I’ve struggled with my self-image just about as much as everyone else in the modern world has. While I’ve never hit any extremes, I have always struggled with eating in a healthy, moderate way and with feeling good about my body. So I was really excited to pick up Mel Well’s book and really hoped that it’d help me change my ways of thinking.

I definitely had a few problems with this book, but overall it was good! The main message really came down to this: listen to your body, listen to your feelings, and love yourself the way you are. Pretty straightforward and you’d think it would be common sense, but Mel really opened up my eyes to a lot of things I hadn’t focused on before.

She talks about paying attention to how you’re feeling when you’re eating, and how you’re feeling after you’re eating. I practiced this a little today and it actually helped me rein in myself a few times when I would have otherwise eaten more than I should have. This didn’t take a lot of willpower–I just thought “am I actually hungry?” And the answer was no, so I didn’t pick up a bag of chips. Of course, sometimes things are more complicated than that, but the little moments add up.

Life is short. Don’t miss out on 95 per cent of your life just to weigh 5 per cent less. –The Goddess Revolution, Mel Wells

The writing itself was pretty informal, and Mel definitely takes more of a coaching stance than a teaching stance. It’s like a 300-page pep talk! This manner of writing comes with some cons, however. The book was really a compilation of inspirational messages with some testimonials peppered in. And the testimonials were exactly that–I think they were meant to be stories the reader could connect to, but they really just came across as sales pitches. I didn’t feel like I was sharing another woman’s story so much as reading an advertisement for Mel’s skill as a life coach.

The ideas just didn’t really feel fully-formed to me. The transitions between chapters were jarring and I was never really sure what I was in for next. I definitely found some techniques to help me improve my own life, but I also really felt that it could use some more direction. I wish there had been some fun exercises or activities that I could have done while reading. It would have been nice if there was a little more about how to turn these principles into actions, but I also understand that a lot of it is just retraining your brain.

I did have one issue that I really wanted to address, and that was one instance of cissexism that rubbed me the wrong way. The phrase I had an issue with was “Got a vagina? Congratulations. You are officially a real woman.” This mindset completely erases the very real experiences of trans women, who are also goddesses, and trans men, who can have vaginas but certainly are not women. I don’t think this was intentional or malicious on Mel’s part, but it is something important to be aware of. I think that it’s important to keep in mind how your words can hurt and exclude others.

Anyway! Overall, I loved the message of this book. I’ll almost certainly read it again, as I really want to cement a lot of these ideas into my head and incorporate them into my lifestyle. Thanks Mel Wells for putting out a book that has hopefully benefited many people and will continue to do so!

Rating: ⋆⋆⋆