4.5 Star Books · Book Reviews · Christian · memoir · non fiction

Scars and Stilettos: The Transformation of an Exotic Dancer by Harmony Dust

 

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Scars and Stilettos: The Transformation of an Exotic Dancer by Harmony Dust

Published: May 1, 2018 

Publisher: Monarch Books

Pages: 231

Genres: memoir, non fiction, Christian

Rating: 4.5 stars

Recommend to fans of: inspiring memoirs, Christianity helping people, sex industry workers looking for support/to get out of the life

Read with food: anything you find delicious and nourishing because you deserve to enjoy life in a healthy way

 

Synopsis:

At thirteen, after being abandoned by her mother one summer and left to take care of her younger brother, Harmony becomes susceptible to a relationship that turns out to be toxic, abusive, and ultimately exploitative. She eventually finds herself working in a strip club at the age of nineteen, and her boyfriend becomes her pimp, controlling her every move and taking all of her money.

Scars and Stilettos is Harmony’s stark, honest, and ultimately hopeful story of how God found her in that dark, noisy place, led her back out, and prompted her to help others who are trapped as she once was. It exposes the realities of the commercial sex industry and inspires hope that freedom and healing are possible for those involved. Harmony has since graduated magna cum laude from UCLA where she also completed an MA in Social Welfare, and now leads Treasures, an outreach and support group to women in the sex industry and victims of sex trafficking. Through the Treasures Trainings, she has provided training to help launch outreaches in over 120 cities on six continents.

 

Review:

I won this ebook for free through Goodreads Giveaways. Thank you to Goodreads, the author and publisher for the copy. As always, an honest review.

If you’re like me you’ll walk away from Scars and Stilettos inspired, a little ad, and wanting to tell everyone you know about Harmony’s story. She grew up in a very unstable and abusive home. She learned at a young age that her worth depended on other people’s opinions of her Boyd. Eventually she got into stripping to support herself and her pimp boyfriend.

I appreciated Harmony’s honest. She didn’t sugarcoat her life, nor did she give such graphic details purely for shock value. I found it interesting to learn why someone might get into the sex work industry, her life outside of her career, and what she really wanted for herself. Turns out, she was incredibly unhappy with her career and many other aspects of her life. The inspirational part begins when she starts going to church and slowly building her self esteem. The writing was inspiring, showing how her positive choices and help from others in her life led her to where she is today. Harmony now runs Treasures, a non profit outreach group for women in the sex work industry and victims of sex trafficking. I honestly can’t say enough great things about this memoir.

There are very few criticisms of Scars and Stilettos, except that I wish there was more about her transition after quitting stripping. The book seemed to skip over some of that.

Overall, an inspiring story that can help a lot of people.

 

 

About Treasures:

Our mission is to reach, restore, and equip women in the sex industry and victims of sex trafficking to live healthy, flourishing lives, and train others to do the same across the globe.

 

  • If you’ve been inspired by Harmony’s book and want more information about her organization, check out her website for the non profit Treasures

 

  • For a list of ways to get involved in a big or small way click here

 

  • Treasures even has an Amazon Wish List that makes it super easy to to help purchase items the organization needs to help so many women 

 

4 Star Books · Book Reviews · Middle Grade

Holes by Louis Sachar

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Another Random Question of the Review to start off with:

What book did you not enjoy the first time, but ended up loving as a reread?

 

Holes by Louis Sachar

Published: August 20, 1998

Publisher: Frances Foster Books ~ Scholastic for the paperback version

Pages: 240

Genres: middle grade

Rating: 4 stars

Recommend to fans of: books for the whole family, life lessons, character growth, redemption

Read with food: a tall glass of ice cold water

 

Synopsis:

A miscarriage of justice sends Stanley Yelnats to a harsh juvenile detention center. While the warden claims that the hard labor that the boys are subjected to is meant to build character, it becomes clear that she is really using the boys to hunt for a fortune buried by a Wild West outlaw. The outlaw’s story and a curse put on Stanley’s great-great-grandfather are part of a compelling puzzle that has taken generations to unravel.

 

Review: 

Way back in elementary school this book was required reading for me. I absolutely hated the book. I must have understood the general concepts, because I did well on all my tests. Straight A’s, thank you very much. #nerdalert However, I didn’t truly understand the nuances of the life lessons the author was trying to accomplish with the book. So I’m really glad the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge 2018 encouraged me to go back and reread this assigned book that I originally hated.

As an adult, I really enjoyed Holes. I’m not really a middle grade book reader, but it’s a book that people of all ages can enjoy and learn from. The relevant concepts introduced are child labor, jails, incarceration, the unfairness of the justice system and world in general, deceitful people, learning, personal growth, precious resources, friendship, and finding strength within yourself to accomplish great things. Wow! That’s a lot of hard hitting, important life lessons al jam packed into a middle grade book. No wonder it’s so popular.

I really enjoyed Holes and recommend you give it a read or reread. If you’re a parent, Holes could be a book you group read as a family, and discuss the relevant topics. Might even help explain some of the things going on in the media today.

4.5 Star Books · ARC Book Reviews · Book Reviews · contemporary fiction · contemporary romance · mystery

ARC Book Review | Ghosted by Rosie Walsh

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Shoutout to my wonderful mom who grows these gorgeous flowers featured in the photo. Thanks Mom!

 

Ghosted by Rosie Walsh

Published: July 24, 2018

Publisher: Pamela Dorman Books

Pages: 352

Genres: contemporary fiction, contemporary romance, mystery

Rating: 4.5 stars

Recommend to fans of: contemporary romance with a twist, complicated characters

Read with food: chocolate cake and tea

 

Synopsis: 

Seven perfect days. Then he disappeared. A love story with a secret at its heart.

When Sarah meets Eddie, they connect instantly and fall in love. To Sarah, it seems as though her life has finally begun. And it’s mutual: It’s as though Eddie has been waiting for her, too. Sarah has never been so certain of anything. So when Eddie leaves for a long-booked vacation and promises to call from the airport, she has no cause to doubt him. But he doesn’t call.

Sarah’s friends tell her to forget about him, but she can’t. She knows something’s happened–there must be an explanation.

Minutes, days, weeks go by as Sarah becomes increasingly worried. But then she discovers she’s right. There is a reason for Eddie’s disappearance, and it’s the one thing they didn’t share with each other: the truth.

Review:

I won this book for free through a Goodreads Giveaways. Thank you to the author and publisher as well. As always, an honest review.

I was a bit unsure about Ghosted before I started reading. Contemporary romance books have to wow me for me to enjoy them. And wow me, it did!

Sarah and Eddie meet along a countryside road one day, immediately feel a spark, and spend the next week together. They know they have something special. Eddie goes off on his previously planned vacation. Sarah never hears from him again. And this is where the mystery begins.

The premise drew me in and captivated my attention throughout the entire read. As with many contemporary novels, it was a quick, easy and enjoyable read. Ghosted brought up so many relatable questions. Do you trust your heart? Your instincts? What other people are telling you? Logic and reasoning? Or hold out for hope that the best will happen?

I really liked that a lot of the writing was in the form of letters – both formal and informal. Eddie writing to Sarah. Sarah writing to Eddie. Both of them writing to other people. Except, most of the letters go unread or at least without a response. The unsent letters form a sort of journal of their mental processes through all of this. The writing style works really well and is quite enjoyable to read.
I can’t say too much more without spoiling the book. I will say this, when you get to a certain unforeseen twist, everything will make perfect sense.

There was very little I didn’t enjoy. However when Sarah was moping around about missing Eddie, it became a bit redundant and annoying at times.

Ghosted has a little something for everyone. Romance, heartbreak, hardship, caregiving, and mystery. Give it a read!

 

Random Question of the Review:

Where’s your favorite place to read?

4.5 Star Books · biography · Book Reviews · True Crime

The Crate: A Story of War, Murder and Justice by Deborah Vadas Levison

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The Crate: A Story of War, Murder and Justice by Deborah Vadas Levison

Published: May 11, 2018

Publisher: WildBlue Press

Pages: 358

Genres: true crime, biography

Rating: 4.5 stars

Recommend to fans of: true crime, books that honor and tell the stories of Holocaust survivors, justice being done, anyone with a conscience 

Read with food: a homemade Hungarian dish to appreciate the author’s roots . . . which I recently found out that the author has listed on her website! So cool! Hungarian Recipes

 

Synopsis:

After surviving the horrors of the Holocaust – in ghettos, on death marches, and in concentration camps – a young couple seeks refuge in Canada. They settle into a new life, certain that the terrors of their past are behind them. They build themselves a cozy little cottage on a lake in Muskoka, a cottage that becomes emblematic of their victory over the Nazis. The charming retreat is a safe haven, a refuge from haunted memories.

That is, until a single act of unspeakable violence defiles their sanctuary. Poking around the dark crawl space beneath their cottage, they discover a wooden crate, nailed tightly shut and almost hidden from view. Nothing could have prepared them for the horror of the crate’s contents – or how the peace and tranquility of their lives would be shattered.

Now, their daughter, Deborah Vadas Levison, an award-winning journalist, tells the extraordinary account of her parents’ ordeals, both in one of the darkest times in world history and their present-day lives. Written in searing, lyrical prose, THE CRATE: A Story Of War, A Murder, And Justice examines man’s seemingly limitless capacity for evil… but also, his capacity for good.

Review:

Thank you to NetGalley, the author and publisher for a copy of the book. As always an honest review.

I cannot say enough wonderful things about the book. I’ve already recommended it to people, even before I had finished reading it. I will try my best to do the book and the people the justice it deserves in my review.

From the beginning I was blown away by the gorgeous poetic writing. I was captivated from beginning to end, as the author tells the story of her parents’ survival of the Holocaust, move to Canada, and eventual discovery of a woman murdered on their cottage property. The Crate is more than just the telling of crimes across history and their impact on people. It’s so impactful it’s almost intangible.

The author shares with us the stories of her childhood growing up in Canada with Jewish Hungarian parents who had survived the Holocaust. Through their stories we get a first hand look at the atrocities committed during the war, the strength of survivors, and effects these experiences had on their lives and their children’s lives. Her appreciation of her parents and their experiences is wonderful. She’s doing them a great justice by putting their stories down on paper. It is absolutely important that these stories, these individual human experiences are shared with the world before they are lost forever.

The book also tells the story of Samantha, the woman who was murdered and body was found hidden under the family’s cottage. The author related Samantha’s life experiences to some of the atrocities her parents experienced. After all, they’re all just human beings. The book honors Samantha’s memory. The chapters about Samantha didn’t pull me in as much as the rest. Possible because while they’re well researched, some aspects are not the author’s personal life experiences.

The book is incredibly insightful and does a great justice by telling the stories of her parents, the other Jewish people in the Holocaust, Samantha, and her family.
It shows humanity at its best and at its worst.
The Crate by Deborah Vadas Levison is on my unofficial must read book list of the year.

 

What books have absolutely impressed you lately?

 

4 Star Books · contemporary fiction · Literary Fiction

Book Review: The Woman Next Door by Yewande Omotoso

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The Woman Next Door by Yewande Omotoso

Published by Picador on February 7, 2017

Pages: 288

Genres: contemporary fiction, literary fiction

Rating: 4 stars

Recommend to fans of: novels that give older people a true voice

Read with food: Early Grey tea with milk 

 

Synopsis:

Hortensia James and Marion Agostino are neighbours. One is black, one white. Both are successful women with impressive careers. Both have recently been widowed. And both are sworn enemies, sharing hedge and hostility which they prune with a zeal that belies the fact that they are both over eighty.

But one day an unforeseen event forces the women together. And gradually the bickering and sniping softens into lively debate, and from there into memories shared. But could these sparks of connection ever transform into friendship? Or is it too late to expect these two to change?

Review:

Rarely do I finish a book and not have something to say about it. However, I’m struggling to find the words to properly sum up this book. I’m pretty sure that’s a good thing. 

The Woman Next Door tells the tale of two older women who are neighbors, but have been enemies for a long time. Set in South Africa, the story has a long history of tension and struggle behind it. 

One woman loses her husband, falls, and requires in home care. Another’s house need renovations, and so the two end of temporarily living together. It is the perfect set up for drama and lots of it. However, the writing and the characters are subtle and much more mature than that. Through their current situations, we learn about their lives. The good, bad, difficult, and celebratory. 

The author does the characters justice and gives them a wonderful voice to share their perceptions and experiences. 

The one major downside is that in the paperback version the pages are thick and weirdly textured, which I found annoying. If I left my bookmark fully inside the book, it made it really hard to find. Not that big of a deal, but annoying after it kept happening. 

I definitely recommend this subtle but wonderful novel. 

 

How often do you not have too much to say about a book?

What do you do about it? 

3.5 Star Books · Audiobooks · Book Reviews · humor · memoir

Book Review: Talking As Fast As I Can: From Gilmore Girls to Gilmore Girls and Everything in Between by Lauren Graham

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Talking As Fast As I Can: From Gilmore Girls to Gilmore Girls and Everything in Between by Lauren Graham

Published by Ballantine Books on November 29, 2016

Pages: 209

Genres: memoir, humor

Rating: 3.5 stars

Recommend to fans of: Gilmore Girls, memoirs with life lessons

Read with food: coffee, duh! Because . . . Lorelai in Gilmore Girls

 

Synopsis:

In this collection of personal essays, the beloved star of Gilmore Girls and Parenthood reveals stories about life, love, and working as a woman in Hollywood—along with behind-the-scenes dispatches from the set of the new Gilmore Girls, where she plays the fast-talking Lorelai Gilmore once again.

In Talking as Fast as I Can, Lauren Graham hits pause for a moment and looks back on her life, sharing laugh-out-loud stories about growing up, starting out as an actress, and, years later, sitting in her trailer on the Parenthood set and asking herself, “Did you, um, make it?” She opens up about the challenges of being single in Hollywood (“Strangers were worried about me; that’s how long I was single!”), the time she was asked to audition her butt for a role, and her experience being a judge on Project Runway (“It’s like I had a fashion-induced blackout”).

In “What It Was Like, Part One,” Graham sits down for an epic Gilmore Girls marathon and reflects on being cast as the fast-talking Lorelai Gilmore. The essay “What It Was Like, Part Two” reveals how it felt to pick up the role again nine years later, and what doing so has meant to her.

Some more things you will learn about Lauren: She once tried to go vegan just to bond with Ellen DeGeneres, she’s aware that meeting guys at awards shows has its pitfalls (“If you’re meeting someone for the first time after three hours of hair, makeup, and styling, you’ve already set the bar too high”), and she’s a card-carrying REI shopper (“My bungee cords now earn points!”).

Including photos and excerpts from the diary Graham kept during the filming of the recent Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life, this book is like a cozy night in, catching up with your best friend, laughing and swapping stories, and—of course—talking as fast as you can.

Review:

Everyone has been saying how amazing and hilarious Talking As Fast As I Can, is. I found it good, but not as great as all the hype.

Maybe it’s because while I enjoyed the TV show Gilmore Girls, I was not a super fan. So the behind the scenes look at the show wasn’t that interesting to me. The writing is also amusing, but not over the top hilarious.

The memoir does contain a lot of life advice that makes me think. I appreciated that. Lauren Graham talks about enjoying life as it’s currently happening, instead of spending all your time online. I found this especially poignant as I was outside enjoying the spring flowers and listening to this audiobook.

A bit underwhelming, but overall an enjoyable read.

 

I’ve been listening to a lot of audiobooks … especially memoirs read by the authors. #love 

 

Any recommendations for me?

 

What are your favorite memoirs?

5 Star Books · Book Reviews · Classics · Literary Fiction · Young Adult

Book Review: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

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A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith 

Published by Harper & Row in 1943

Pages: 493

Genres: fiction, classics, young adult, bildungsroman

Rating: 5 stars

Recommend to fans of: life changing books, classic literature that you will actually enjoy, coming of age novels

Read with food: roasted chestnuts and black coffee … treats of the era and enjoyed by France

 

Synopsis:

The beloved American classic about a young girl’s coming-of-age at the turn of the century, Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is a poignant and moving tale filled with compassion and cruelty, laughter and heartache, crowded with life and people and incident. The story of young, sensitive, and idealistic Francie Nolan and her bittersweet formative years in the slums of Williamsburg has enchanted and inspired millions of readers for more than sixty years. By turns overwhelming, sublime, heartbreaking, and uplifting, the daily experiences of the unforgettable Nolans are raw with honesty and tenderly threaded with family connectedness — in a work of literary art that brilliantly captures a unique time and place as well as incredibly rich moments of universal experience.

Review:

I had put the audiobook version of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn on hold at my local library … a year ago. I was hoping to read it for the 2017 Book Riot Read Harder Challenge. Obviously that didn’t happen. I read another book to meet that challenge. No big deal. I then figured that if I had waited this long, why not a bit longer to read it, and kept my place on the hold list at the library.

I am so glad that I did! A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is an amazing novel. A true literary classic that almost everyone can learn something from. 

I was captivated with Francie’s story from age 11 to 17. Her observations, intelligence, progressive nature, and life lessons are still relevant to me as an adult 100 years after the book takes place. I can absolutely see why people would read this multiple times. You could probably pick out a new life lesson with each reread. 

I can’t really say anything bad about this novel. Of course, there are some actions, societal rules, and words of the time that would be unacceptable today. But nothing that detracts from the story. 

I highly recommend this amazing novel! Don’t let the length deter your, it’s worth the time. 

 

Fun fact:

I learned a new word and book genre today, bildungsroman. Definition: a novel dealing with one person’s formative years or spiritual education. A sort of coming of age novel that focuses on psychological and spiritual growth. 

 

Also, bonus!

If you’re participating in the Great American Read, this is one of the books on the list. 

5 Star Books · Book Reviews

Book Review: Believe Me: My Battle with the Invisible Disability of Lyme disease by Yolanda Hadid

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Believe Me: My Battle with the Invisible Disability of Lyme disease by Yolanda Hadid

Published by: St. Martin’s Press on September 12, 2017

Pages: 288

Genres: memoir, autobiography, health

Rating: 5 stars

Recommend to: people living with chronic illness, caregivers, really almost anyone 

Read with food: watermelon, aloe and honey slush to nourish your body with a tasty treat 

 

Synopsis:

From the star of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills comes an emotional and eye opening behind-the-scenes look at her descent into uncovering the mystery of chronic Lyme disease.

In early 2011, just before her wedding to David Foster, Yolanda fell ill. From an outspoken, multi-tasking social butterfly she became trapped in a paralyzing mental cocoon. She suffered from severe debilitating fatigue, migraines, joint pain, anxiety, insomnia, Bell’s palsy, tremors, muscle weakness, severe brain fog, word retrieval difficulty, memory loss and intermittent loss of eyesight. As a diehard health fanatic, Yolanda always knew she had an infection in her brain, but due to the lack of proper diagnostic testing she landed in a dark maze of medical establishments that were quick to treat her symptoms but without clear answers to the cause. She fought tirelessly and traveled the world to find an answer; her determination left no stone unturned. Her perfect marriage became strained and let to divorce; but the strong bond with her children Gigi, Bella and Anwar was her motivation to fight through the darkest days of her life.

After a year of searching, discharged by Cedars Sinai with a chronic fatigue label, Yolanda Hadid was finally diagnosed with chronic neurological Lyme disease. She was honest, unapologetic, and raw in how she shared her battle with Lyme disease on The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills and her social media outlets. She received thousands of e-mails and letters, and met families who were suffering, lost, and scared, throughout her journey. She calls, gives advice, and lends support whenever she can to share her words of wisdom and hope.

In her book, Yolanda shares details of the western and holistic treatments she has done over the past five years, lab results, intimate details of her personal diary; her spiritual growth; the trials and tribulations regarding the stigma around chronic Lyme disease, how her relationships on camera and off have been affected by her illness; and how she uncovered the mystery of her own chronic disease through research, hard work and in a matter of fact and systematic fashion.

Review:

Let me start by saying this: I always have a blank sheet of paper as my bookmark to jot down notes as I read, to refer back to later while writing my book reviews. I didn’t write down any notes for this book. Not one! That wasn’t on purpose. I was completely engrossed in Believe Me, and forgot to do anything but read.

I’ve never watched the Real Housewives franchise, so I wasn’t coming into this book as a fan of the show. But I left this reading experience as a fan of Yolanda Hadid. Her strength, courage, tenacity, and kindness in the face of a very difficult chronic illness is inspiring. I learned so much about her journey and battle for health. She embraces conventional and unconventional medical treatments, doing her research to find out what may help her. I learned so much from this book, and I can’t recommend it enough. 

The only slight downfall that I should mention is that Yolanda had a lot of unconventional, untested by the FDA treatments, that cost a lot of money. I hope that people don’t randomly think to try all the treatments without extensive research and guidance by a health care provider. She does warm about this multiple times throughout. 

Believe Me is a book I will be thinking about for a long time. 

4 Star Books · Book Reviews

Book Review: The Last Black Unicorn by Tiffany Haddish

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The Last Black Unicorn by Tiffany Haddish

Published by: Gallery Books on December 5, 2017

Pages: 288

Genres: memoir, humor

Rating: 4 stars

Recommend to fans of: comedy, real talk, memoirs, books with good life advice

Read with food: corn on the cob … if you’ve read the book you will definitely get this 

 

Synopsis:

From stand-up comedian, actress, and breakout star of Girls Trip, Tiffany Haddish, comes The Last Black Unicorn, a sidesplitting, hysterical, edgy, and unflinching collection of (extremely) personal essays, as fearless as the author herself.

Growing up in one of the poorest neighborhoods of South Central Los Angeles, Tiffany learned to survive by making people laugh. If she could do that, then her classmates would let her copy their homework, the other foster kids she lived with wouldn’t beat her up, and she might even get a boyfriend. Or at least she could make enough money—as the paid school mascot and in-demand Bar Mitzvah hype woman—to get her hair and nails done, so then she might get a boyfriend.

None of that worked (and she’s still single), but it allowed Tiffany to imagine a place for herself where she could do something she loved for a living: comedy.

Tiffany can’t avoid being funny—it’s just who she is, whether she’s plotting shocking, jaw-dropping revenge on an ex-boyfriend or learning how to handle her newfound fame despite still having a broke person’s mind-set. Finally poised to become a household name, she recounts with heart and humor how she came from nothing and nowhere to achieve her dreams by owning, sharing, and using her pain to heal others.

By turns hilarious, filthy, and brutally honest, The Last Black Unicorn shows the world who Tiffany Haddish really is—humble, grateful, down-to-earth, and funny as hell. And now, she’s ready to inspire others through the power of laughter.

Review:

The Last Black Unicorn is hilarious, real and vulnerable. Tiffany shares the story of her life, from childhood to present day, in the laugh out loud funny way that only she can. First of all, I highly recommend listening to this as an audiobook. It’s read the author herself and makes the memoir that much better! Beware, some parts are NSWF, not safe for work, so wear those headphones people! 

I appreciated her genuine life story and advice along the way. As hilarious as the entire book is, there are also a lot of life lessons to be learned from her story.

Follow your dreams, keep working hard, don’t take sh*t from anyone, mange your money well, and believe that you are worth it.

I went into this book not knowing much about it. I kept hearing people recommend it online for it’s hilarity, so I decided to give it a try. So glad I did!

Just a warning for you all: they talk about sex a lot. She says the word penis, and all the other euphemisms for it, a lot. If that bothers you or if you have little kids listening, maybe not the book for you. But otherwise, do like I did and give the hilarious The Last Black Unicorn a listen … or a read.