Book Review: Something Spectacular: The True Story of One Rockette’s Battle with Bulimia by Greta Gleissner (Audiobook narrated by Dina Pearlman)
Greta Gleissner finally achieved her lifelong dream of making a living just from her professional dancing. She landed the prestigious job of being a Rockette in the New York City show. She hoped that this newfound stability and prestige would cure her of her bulimia. What was there to binge and purge about when she was living her dream? But her eating disorder she’d had since a young age won’t just disappear because of her newfound success. Soon, her bulimia is putting her job–and her life–at risk.
I was immediately intrigued by the elements of this eating disorder memoir that make it different from the, sadly, so many others that exist. Greta’s eating disorder peaks in her 20s, not her teens. She was a Rockette, and she’s a lesbian. An eating disorder memoir about someone in their 20s in the dance industry who is also queer was very appealing to me. What I found was a memoir that gives insight to having an eating disorder, the impact of homophobia, and an inside look at the professional dance world told in a non-linear, honest, and engaging manner.
Greta tells her memoir in the framework of a play. There are scenes, acts, overtures, etc… This lets her address the story in a non-linear way that still makes sense. The overture, for instance, shows a dramatic moment when her eating disorder was at full tilt and destroying her life. Then she backs up to the few months before she became a Rockette. The time of auditioning then being a Rockette is interspersed with flashbacks to help us better understand her life. Finally, she enters an inpatient clinic, where we get flashbacks in the context of her therapy. It’s a creative storytelling technique that brings a freshness to her memoir.
Honesty without cruelty to herself or others is a key part of her narrative voice. Greta is straightforward, sometimes grotesquely so, about her bulimia and what it does to her. The eating disorder is not glamorized. Greta takes us down into the nitty-gritty of the illness. In fact, it’s the first bulimia memoir I’ve read that was so vivid and straightforward in its depictions of what the illness is and what it does. In some ways, it made me see bulimia as a bit of a mix between an addiction and body image issues. Greta was able to show both how something that was helping you cope can spiral out of control, as well as how poor self-esteem and body image led her to purging her food.
Greta also is unafraid to tell us about what goes on inside her own mind, and where she sees herself as having mistreated people in the past. I never doubted her honesty. Similarly, although Greta’s parents definitely did some things wrong in how they raised her, Greta strives to both acknowledge the wounds and accept her parents as flawed and wounded in their own ways. You can hear her recovery in how she talks about both them and her childhood. She has clearly done the work to heal past wounds.
The memoir honestly made me grateful the dancing I did as a child never went the professional route. It’s disturbing how pervasive body policing and addictions in general are in the dance world, at least as depicted by Greta. Similarly, it eloquently demonstrates how parents’ issues get passed down to the children, and sometimes even exacerbated. Greta’s mother was a non-professional dancer who was constantly dieting. Greta also loved dancing but her mother’s body image issues got passed down to her as well. Food was never just food in her household.
One shortcoming of the memoir is that Greta never fully addresses her internalized homophobia or how she ultimately overcomes it and marries her wife. The book stops rather abruptly when Greta is leaving the halfway house she lived in right after her time in the inpatient clinic. There is an epilogue where she briefly touches on the time after the halfway house, mentions relapse, and states that she ultimately overcame her internalized homophobia and met her now wife. However, for the duration of her time in the clinic and the halfway house, she herself admits she wasn’t yet ready to address her sexuality or deal with her internalized homophobia. It was clear to me reading the book that at least part of her self-hatred that led to her bulimia was due to her issues with her sexuality. Leaving out how she dealt with that and healed felt like leaving out a huge chunk of the story I was very interested in. Perhaps it’s just too painful of a topic for her to discuss, but it did feel as if the memoir gave glimpses and teasers of it, discussing how she would only make out with women when very drunk for instance, but then the issue is never fully addressed in the memoir.
Similarly, leaving out the time after the halfway house was disappointing. I wanted to see her finish overcoming and succeeding. I wanted to hear the honesty of her relapses that she admits she had and how she overcome that. I wanted to hear about her dating and meeting her wife and embracing her sexuality. Hearing about the growth and strength past the initial part in the clinic and halfway house is just as interesting and engaging as and more inspiring than her darker times. I wish she had told that part of the story too.
The audiobook narrator, Dina Pearlman, was a great choice for the memoir. Her voice reads as gritty feminine, which is perfect for the story. She also handles some of the asides and internal diatribes present in mental illness memoirs with great finesse.
Overall, this is a unique entry in the eating disorder memoir canon. It gives the nitty gritty details of bulimia from the perspective of a lesbian suffering from homophobia within the framework of the dance world. Those who might be triggered should be aware that specific height and weight numbers are given, as well as details on binge foods and purging episodes. It also, unfortunately, doesn’t fully address how the author healed from the wounds of homophobia. However, her voice as a queer person is definitely present in the memoir. Recommended to those with an interest in bulimia in adults, in the dance world, or among GLBTQ people.
4 out of 5 stars
Georgina Kincaid, Seattle’s best succubus, has been a foul mood ever since her break-up with author mortal, Seth Mortensen. Her demon boss, Jerome, has had enough of it and decides to outsource her to Vancouver for a job investigating a group of Canadian Satanists who are drawing the wrong type of attention to Hell. But when Jerome is kidnapped and all the Seattle area hellions lose their powers at the same time as the Satanists do a stunt in Seattle, Georgina starts to wonder if the Satanist group are more than just an annoyance. Maybe they’re part of some bigger plot. Oh, and also, she can now have sex with mortals without stealing any of their life force. Very interesting indeed.
A tight, intricate plot that links back to the previous books, steamy sex scenes, and an ever-expanding cast of diversely entertaining characters make this entry in the Georgina Kincaid series a delight.
Georgina’s whinyness after her break-up with Seth could get on the reader’s nerves if it wasn’t for the fact that her own friends and colleagues eventually call her out on it. Georgina is a well-rounded character with flaws, and being bad at break-ups is one of them. This book sees her go through the stages of a break-up in an interesting way, from rebounding to whining to anger to finally trying to come to terms with it and remain friends with Seth. The fact that Georgina then gets the ability to have sex with Seth without stealing his life force is a serious temptation. How she and Seth respond might rub some readers the wrong way, but Mead presents it in a very I understand how this could happen way. What happens makes sense within the context both of the story and of who Georgina and Seth are as characters. How they go on to deal with the consequences is also realistic. People don’t get away with things without consequences in Mead’s world, but they also aren’t perfect. Mead strikes the balance well.
The plot is complex and yet is a different problem from the previous books. Taking away powers and having the most powerful demon in Seattle gives the characters an interesting problem to address. Additionally, having Georgina travel to close-by Canada provides some great scenery changes, as well as some good laughs at the expense of the inept Satanist group.
The sex scenes range from brief one-offs with random men for feeding to unfulfilling sex with her bad-hearted rebound boyfriend to guilt-inducing passionate love-making with Seth. Some of the sex scenes are steamy, others a bit dull, and others heart-wrenching. It’s a realistic variety, although the reader does have to wait a while for the most passionate scenes.
One thing that bothered me a bit is that Georgina gets slut-shamed some for one of her brief hook-up choices. Yes, she makes the choice out of her heartbreak, but it’s her body her choice, and I don’t like that even a succubus, apparently, can get slut shamed. I also have to admit that I had figured out the final plot twist long before it happened, so although the plot is a bit complex, the big bad is predictable.
The overarching plot of the whole series, however, continues to grow in unexpected ways. I finished the book intrigued to continue on immediately to the next entry.
The audiobook narrator brings Georgina to life quite willingly, although she does pronounce a couple words, such as “panang,” rather oddly. However, she brings a perfect flow to the story. She also reads the sex scenes beautifully.
Overall, this is an engaging and rewarding entry in the series. Fans will welcome the new plot, variety of sex scenes, and growth of the overarching series plot.
4 out of 5 stars
Book Review: I Don’t Want to Kill You by Dan Wells (Audiobook narrated by Kirby Heyborne) (Series, #3)
Teenaged John Cleaver had his sociopathy under control but when his town was plagued with two different demons, he had to let it loose a bit to fight them. He invited the demon Nobody to come face off with him, but he and those around him are left wondering if Nobody is real or if John’s sociopathy has just gone out of control. Meanwhile the teenage girls of the town are committing suicide left and right, and John can’t help but wonder why he’s ever tried to save anybody.
This is one of only a few YA series that I’ve enjoyed reading. The paranormal/youth aspect are almost like a Dexter lite, which is enjoyable. I must say, though, that I was disappointed by the ultimate ending to the series. However, since I write up series review posts every time I finish a series, I’ll leave my analysis of the series as a whole to that post, which will be coming up next. For right now, let’s look at the final book on its own merit.
The plot this time around was disappointingly full of obvious red herrings. I knew within the first chapter where Nobody was hiding, and it was kind of ridiculous that talented, intelligent John was missing it. Similarly, I found the serial killer who John identified as who he could end up being if he made the wrong choices to be a bit heavy-handed. John was already well aware of the risks of his sociopathy from the very first book. It felt a bit unnecessary to make this such a strong plot point. It came across as preachy, which is something that this series had avoided so far. Similarly, John goes to see a priest at one point in his investigations, and his conversations with him felt a bit too heavy-handed, almost like the (known religious) Wells was preaching at the readers through the priest. Authors are allowed their opinions and perspectives, but preachiness is never good writing. Perspective and opinion should be shown eloquently through the plot and characters.
Speaking of characterization, John was still strongly written, but his mother and sister were another story. They felt less like they were doing what was logical and more like they were doing what needed to be done to move the plot forward. On the other hand, I really enjoyed John’s new girlfriend. She was well-rounded and realistic. Plus she was fit while being curvy, which I think is a great thing to see in a book.
In spite of the slightly obvious plot, I still was engaged to get to the end. Even though I knew whether or not there was a demon and who the killer was, I still deeply wanted to see how John would handle it. The audiobook narrator, Kirby Heyborne, helped with this momentum. His narration was just the right amount of tension while still remaining in a teenager’s voice. Be warned, though, that there is some yelling in the book, so the volume does spike considerably at a few points in the narration. You may want to keep the volume a bit lower than usual to accommodate this.
Unfortunately, where the plot ultimately ended up was deeply disappointing to me. It was not at all a satisfying ending, and from a mental illness advocacy perspective, I actually found it distressing. Whereas John’s sociopathy previously was handled with a lot of scientific understanding, I found the ending of this book to be completely out of touch with real sociopathy. While it wasn’t offensive per se, it drastically oversimplifies sociopathy, both its treatment and its causes, which is just as bad as demonizing it. I will address this issue more fully in the series review, but suffice to say that I found the ending to this book’s individual mystery and the series as a whole to be disappointing, particularly given the potential of the book.
Overall, then, this is an average book that wraps up an above average series. If you are someone who is fine with stopping things partway through, I’d recommend just stopping with the previous book in the series, Mr. Monster. But if you are interested in the overall perspective, this book is still an engaging read that doesn’t drag. It just might disappoint you.
3.5 out of 5 stars
The Nigerian-Biafran War (or the Nigerian Civil War, as it is also known) is seen through the intertwining lives of four different people. The daughter of a wealthy Igbo couple, Kainene, with a fierce business sense. Her fraternal twin sister, who is also the beautiful one, Olanna, an academic in love with a revolutionary-minded man named Odenigbo. Kainene’s boyfriend then fiancee, the white English writer Richard. And Ugwu. Olanna’s houseboy who came to them from a rural village. Their lives are irreparably impacted, and in some cases destroyed, by the war for a cause they all believe in, but that the world largely ignores.
I originally intended this Nigerian book to be my final read for the Africa Reading Challenge 2012, but even though I started it in November, the audiobook took over three months to get through, so it ultimately missed counting for the challenge. I thought it was much longer than my usual audiobook fare, but a quick check of the listen length shows that it is 18 hours and 56 minutes long, which is only about 7 hours longer than my norm. So why did it take me so long to finish? Well, I just didn’t enjoy it that much.
I believe I was expecting something else from Adichie, since I had previously read her book Purple Hibiscus (review), which is far more character driven than this novel. In this novel I would say the main character is actually the war, and that is something that simply does not work for my reading style. Perhaps also playing into this general feeling I got was the ensemble cast. Instead of getting to know just Olanna, for instance, and seeing her life before, during, and after the Nigerian-Biafran War, truly feeling as if I was her and living it through her, the reader is constantly jostled around among four different people. It left me unable to truly connect to any one of them, which left me feeling like they were just there as a device to let Adichie talk about the War. And it was truly an awful, horrible war precipitated by a genocide of the Igbo people, and it absolutely deserves to be talked about. It’s just for me this type of ensemble piece with the War as really the main character isn’t the best method for me to learn about a War or an atrocity. I prefer to get to know someone and see it through their eyes. Given what I had read of Adichie’s work before, I was expecting that level of connection, just with multiple characters, but that is just not what happens in this book. Perhaps it was too large, too sweeping, too much for one book. I’m not sure. But I was left without an emotional connection beyond the horror at the war atrocities, and that simply is not what I am looking for when reading a fictional piece set during a war.
As far as the plot goes, it was interesting but it was a bit confusing. Part of my confusion could have been because I listened to it, but from my understanding when I was listening, first there was an affair, then we jumped back to before the affair, then we jumped forward, then we jumped back to a different affair that came before the first affair. It was profoundly confusing. Particularly with a child referred to only as Baby (with no explanation about this for quite some time) who also randomly shows up and disappears. There was already so much going on with four different main characters and the war that this non-linear plot felt unnecessarily extraneous and confusing. However, it is possible that this plot is more clear when reading the print version, as opposed to the audio version.
The language of the writing itself is pretty, and I found periodic astute insights that I’ve come to expect and enjoy from Adichie. For instance,
Why do I love him? I don’t think love has a reason. I think love comes first, and the reasons come later.
Passages like these are what helped me enjoy the book to the extent that I did.
There is one plot point in the book that truly distressed me, so I feel I must discuss it. It is a spoiler though, so consider yourself spoiler warned for this paragraph. Throughout the book, the narration style is third person limited, which means that it is told in third person, but the reader knows what is going on in the main character’s head and is generally limited to that character’s perspective. The point of view is switched around among the four main characters, one of whom is Ugwu, the houseboy. We thus get to know him as the houseboy, he gradually grows up, and then later he is conscripted into the Biafran army. At this point, he participates in a gang rape on a waitress in a bar. I read a lot of gritty things. I routinely read books offering up the point of view of sociopaths or serial killers. I’m not averse to seeing the world through a bad person’s eyes, or through the eyes of a person who does bad things. But it has to be handled in the appropriate manner. I felt that there was entirely too much empathy toward Ugwu in the case of the gang rape. Adichie sets it up so that he walks in on his fellow soldiers gang raping this woman, and he says he doesn’t want to participate, they question his manhood, he admits in his head that he is turned on by the view of her pinned to the ground crying with her legs held apart having just been raped by a different soldier, and he participates. I think what disturbed me the most about this passage was how the narration makes it seem so ordinary. Like it’s something any man would do in that situation. Like it’s only natural he’d be turned on and get a hard-on from seeing a woman forcibly pinned to the ground so she can be gang raped by a bunch of men including himself. I think it’s awful to treat men like that. To act like they clearly are incapable of standing up for what’s right or that they’ll get a hard-on any time they see an orifice they can physically bang. Men are human beings and are entirely capable of thinking with more than their penis. Now, obviously there are men who rape, but there has got to be more going on there then I have a hard on and there’s a woman who I can stick it into. To treat rape that simply is a disservice to men and women’s humanity alike. Part of the reason why this reads this way is that we don’t know Ugwu well but we know him well enough to think that he’s an at least moderately decent young man. We don’t see a gradual downfall. No one holds a gun to his head or even implicitly threatens him with death if he doesn’t participate. It makes it seem like war makes men, even moderately good men, rape, as opposed to war simply providing more opportunities for rapists to rape. That is a perspective that I do not endorse, that I do not enjoy having sprung upon me in my literature, and that I found triggering as well. I was shocked to see it in a book by Adichie. Shocked and disappointed. It left me wishing I could scrub my brain of the book. Wishing for those hours of my life that I spent listening to it back.
Now, let me take a moment to speak about the narrator, Robin Miles. Miles is an astounding narrator. Her audiobook narration is truly voice acting. She is capable of a broad spectrum of accents, including Nigerian, British, and American, and slips in and out of them seamlessly. She easily creates a different voice for many different characters. I absolutely adored listening to her, in spite of not enjoying the book itself. Her performance of this book is easily a 5 star one.
Overall, though, the high quality narration simply could not make up for a story that failed to hit the mark with me on so many levels. It covers an important time period in Nigeria, and the highly important human rights issue of the genocide of the Igbo, but the style in which it does simply misses the mark for me. If this was all, I would still recommend the book to others who are more fond of a more impersonal, sweeping narration style. However, I also found the treatment of rape in the book to be simultaneously offensive and triggering. For this reason, I cannot recommend this book, although I do recommend the audiobook narrator, Robin Miles.
2 out of 5 stars
As you all know, the one reading challenge I host is the Mental Illlness Advocacy (MIA) Reading Challenge. Since we’re into the last week of the year, I’d like to post the 2012 wrap-up.
This year, I read 8 books that count for the challenge, successfully achieving the Aware level.
The books I read and reviewed for the challenge, along with what mental illness they covered, in 2012 were:
- The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell
4 out of 5 stars
- The Story of Beautiful Girl by Rachel Simon
4 out of 5 stars
- Barefoot Season by Susan Mallery
4 out of 5 stars
- Abject Relations: Everyday Worlds of Anorexia by Megan Warin
4 out of 5 stars
- A Long Way Down by Nick Hornby
4 out of 5 stars
- Haunted by Glen Cadigan
3 out of 5 stars
- January First: A Child’s Descent into Madness and Her Father’s Struggle to Save Her by Michael Schofield
4 out of 5 stars
- Germline by T. C. McCarthy
4 out of 5 stars
The books I read covered genres from scifi to thriller to memoir to academic nonfiction to historic fiction. I’m also a bit surprised to note in retrospect that all but one of these books received four stars from me. Clearly the books I chose to read for the challenge were almost entirely a good match for me. It’s no surprise to me that I enjoy running this challenge so much then.
The most unique book for the challenge was The Sparrow. The scifi plot of first contact with aliens was a very unique wrapping for a book dealing so strongly with mental illness. Most challenging was Abject Relations: Everyday Worlds of Anorexia, which was my first foray into university-level Anthropology. Something I’d like to see more of is more memoirs by parents of children with a mental illness, like January First: A Child’s Descent into Madness and Her Father’s Struggle to Save Her. That was an interesting, new perspective for me. I think I’d also like to read more schizophrenia books next year, as well as books that challenge the gender norms perceived of in certain mental illnesses, such as the idea that eating disorders are female or that alcoholism is male.
If you participated in the challenge this year, please feel free to either comment with your list of reads or a link to a wrap-up post. I’d love to see what we all successfully read this year!
And if the MIA Reading Challenge sounds like a good match for you, head on over to the challenge’s main page to sign up for the 2013 iteration!
Because life is so incredibly busy, I hadn’t been planning on participating in any of the many wonderful reading challenges in existence around the book blogosphere. (Beyond hosting my own, the Mental Illness Advocacy Reading Challenge, of course.) But when I received a GoodReads invitation to Socrates’ Finishing the Series Reading Challenge, I couldn’t resist because it fits in so well with my already established (in my head) reading goals for 2013. It’s incredibly simple. Choose a single (or multiple) book series you’ve previously started to finally finish reading during 2013. I already have a GoogleDoc of all the series I’m reading and was saying to myself, “Amanda, finish at least a few of these in 2013,” and doing that in the context of the fun that is a book blog reading challenge just makes me happy.
I’m currently reading 26 series. I know, I know. I’m not going to challenge myself to all of those, because then I’d only be reading series books all year. :-P But I am signing up for the highest level of the challenge: Level 3: 3 or more series.
So what am I pledging to finish?
- Georgina Kincaid series by Richelle Mead
#3 Succubus Dreamsreview 1/31/13, 5 stars
#4 Succubus Heatreview 12/25/13, 4 stars
#5 Succubus Shadows
#6 Succubus Revealed
- Y: The Last Man series by Brian K. Vaughan
#8 Kimono Dragons
#10 Whys and Wherefores
- Riders of the Apocalypse series by Jackie Morse Kessler
John Cleaver series by Dan Wells
#3 I Don’t Want to Kill Youreview , 3/2/13 3.5 stars
- The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell
#2 Children of God
Katherine “Kitty” Katt series by Gini KochI will not be finishing this series, due to severe dislike of the third book. It’s a permanent dnf.
#3 Alien in the Familyreview, 10/3/13 2 stars
#4 Alien Proliferation
#5 Alien Diplomacy
#6 Alien vs. Alien
#7 Alien in the House
#8 Alien Research
For the Katherine “Kitty” Katt series, it is not yet finished, so I’m only pledging to books that are projected to be published before the end of 2013.
I also reserve the right to give up on a series if it starts nose-diving before the end.
Phew! That’s a lot of books…but it would also make a serious dent into my series list. So fingers crossed that I have good luck with it.
If the challenge sounds like a good match for you, be sure to check out the official challenge page!
Alois used to work for the Ministry, but he felt stifled and quit. Now he steals chickens. One night the white owner of one of the large, walled-in houses he steals from stops him. He wants him to get a letter for him. A letter from Gabriel, a revolutionary leader who has been long-thought to be dead. Alois accepts for the money, but soon finds his whole world changing around him.
This book was a gift from a one-time friend who also enjoys African lit. She enjoyed it and thought I would, but remember that problem I mentioned in my last review where I don’t seem to like books other people recommend to me? Yeah. Still a problem. I do enjoy African lit, and I thought when I saw the cover and heard the title that this book would be more of a social justicey kind of plot. But it’s actually quite a bit of a political thriller, and I personally don’t like those. Putting that element aside, though, I am still able to review the quality of the book.
The plot takes the less common method of looking at political upheavals and developments through the eyes of an average person dragged into the situation. There are a few chapters that show us the president’s perspective, but primarily things are seen through Alois’s eyes. I think this is what made it readable to me, because honestly who cares about politicians? It’s the everyman that is interesting. The plot is also interesting in that it looks at both a past revolution and a present-day coup. That makes it more unique in the world of political thrillers.
The writing can only be described as flowery. For example:
In truth he saw her everywhere, but you couldn’t say to a woman, not one who was meant to be just your friend, “Here, I have brought you this tree because its branches moved as you do” or “see here this bucket, when the water falls from it I hear your voice. (page 104)
Pretty much the entire book has that kind of meandering, highly descriptive cadence. I know that works for lots of readers. It’s just not personally something I enjoy, and I did find it odd in a political thriller.
One thing that bothered me is that it’s never entirely clear what country in Africa this is. I think it might be a fictional country in the southern region of Africa. The author herself lived in Ghana for a time so perhaps the idea was inspired by Ghanaian culture, but not based on anything factual in Ghana. In a book like this, a political thriller, I prefer real countries. Or at least a clearly defined country. That might bother other readers less though.
Overall then, there are some aspects of this political thriller that make it unique in the genre. It examines both a past revolution and a current coup through the eyes of a non-political youth who was not alive for the previous revolution. The writing is surprisingly flowery for the genre, so fans should be aware of that difference going in. Recommended to fans of political thrillers looking for something different.
3 out of 5 stars