Book review: Wordcrime by John Olsson

Wordcrime by John Olsson
Rating: ★★★☆☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: May 1, 2009
Source: Borrowed

Tell kids not to worry. sorting my life out. be in touch to get some things.

Instead of being a simple SMS message, this text turned out to be crucial and chilling evidence in convicting the deceptive killer of a mother of two. Sent from her phone, after her death, tell tale signs announce themselves to a forensic linguist. Rarely is a crime committed without there being some evidence in the form of language. Wordcrime features a series of chapters where gripping cases are described – involving murder, sexual assault, hate mail, suspicious death, code deciphering, arson and even genocide. Olsson describes the evidence he gave in each one. In approachable and clear prose, he details how forensic linguistics helps the law beat the criminals. This is fascinating reading for anyone interested in true crime, in modern, cutting-edge criminology and also where the study of language meets the law.

In case you didn’t know, I majored in Linguistics in college. I love words, and especially how we use words to get a point across. A book like this, that takes a look at the seemingly simple variations in the way a text, diary entry, or letter is constructed, and what that says about its author, is right up my alley.

In this book, Olsson describes a number of cases that he’s worked on throughout the years. I’m not going to get into all of the cases in this book. The book is far too long for that and I don’t have that kind of time on my hands. What I do want to talk about is a couple cases that I thought were particularly interesting and one that made me very, very angry.

I think my favorite case was the one about how The Da Vinci Code was possibly plagiarized from three books by Lew Perdue. I found it fascinating that I had not only never heard of this case before, but that the judge ruled that The Da Vinci Code was not plagiarized when there were so many uncanny similarities between the two books!

Another case that I found particularly interesting was the one about a man who had written diary entries confessing to a crime that then stated that the entries were fabricated after the details of the case came out. The way that Olsson was able to prove the time period during which the diary entries were written was fascinating!

However, there was one case that made me very angry. As someone with a background in Linguistics that now works in a medical office, I feel that I have enough of a background to adequately comment on the “case of medical disinformation.”

Basically, in this case, a man sued a hospital because they failed to provide the records that he wanted. It sounds terrible, right? As patients, we’re entitled to copies of our medical information and doctors and healthcare systems are not allowed to deny reasonable requests. Any hospital you visit will have a form that you need to complete and sign if you want your records. Most private offices will have one too. This protects the doctor by making it very clear what exactly you want, because HIPAA is not something that doctors want to mess around with. There are hefty fines involved if you violate a patient’s privacy, and, depending on the kind of violation, jail time isn’t out of the question. There’s not really room for interpretation on a records request form. The hospital or doctor will release exactly what you tell them to, because doing anything else puts them at risk for a lawsuit.

In this case, the man request a copy of his chart notes. He received a copy of his chart notes. He believed his request should have given him access to his entire medical record, but here I am, from both a linguistics and medical administration standpoint, to tell you what exactly is wrong with this mindset.

Let’s start with some definitions.

Your chart notes are usually narrative paragraphs describing what was done to you at your visit. For example, I work in dermatology and our chart notes will be something like “Patient presents with 0.6 cm lesion on the left upper back, present for many years with recent change in color. Plan: Biopsy today — skin prepped with rubbing alcohol, biopsy performed by shave method, hemostasis via aluminum chloride, ointment and nonstick dressing applied. Wound care instructions given. Follow up pending pathology results.” If you request your chart notes, that’s what you’ll receive. It’s all very boring and not usually what people are expecting when they request chart notes, but we have to provide it if you want it.

Your complete medical record is much more detailed. In addition to chart notes, this includes the actual lab results, information we’ve sent to (or received from) other doctors relating to your care, copies of letters we’ve sent you, your prescription history, summaries of all your conditions, clinical photos… basically anything and everything you could ever think a doctor might keep on file. Even for people who’ve only been seen once, a complete medical record can easily be twenty or more pages.

In this case, the man wanted his complete medical record and believed the hospital should have understood that. However, if you have any understanding of HIPAA or privacy practices, you can see why the hospital would err on the side of caution and not provide more than what was explicitly requested. It’s really very sad, but hospitals and doctors get sued so frequently that they can’t take any chances. If they had given him his entire medical record when all he wanted was chart notes, it’s possible that he could have sued them for releasing his information without his consent.

So when the author of this book claims that the hospital should have been able to infer what the patient wanted when he requested the information, I just have to say… no. There’s a difference between having a degree in Linguistics and understanding the inner workings of the medical field. As my boss likes to say, “from a medical-legal standpoint…” what a patient intends to put on a records request is irrelevant. The only relevant information is what the patient actually signed for.

There’s also a very odd section in this case about how the man requested copies of videos from staff meetings because he thought his case might have been discussed. First of all, I can tell you that no sane doctor keeps videos of their staff meetings. It’s too much of a liability. But even if they did, sharing those videos with a patient would be a huge violation of HIPAA, subject to crazy fines, because I can almost guarantee that his was not the only case discussed. You’re not entitled to view discussions of other peoples’ medical information just because you think the doctor might have also talked about you. It’s absolutely outrageous that this man not only thought he was entitled to this, but also that the author of this book defended this as a reasonable request.

One of my biggest pet peeves is people who have no idea how the medical field works trying to make assertions about the way things should be done. It’s possible that there’s more to this case than the author let on, but based on just the language of the request alone, I can’t say that there was some huge conspiracy here. The hospital did what the hospital had to do, and I’m sorry that this man was confused about how records requests work, but that doesn’t mean that the hospital should break the law for him.

Anyway. That rant is over, and all in all, this book was fine. Olsson had some interesting things to say, but he could have used a good editor and, as illustrated in the records request case, sometimes just didn’t know what he was talking about. I think forensic linguistics is a very interesting field, but I’m sure there are better books about it than this one.

#mmd19: a book about a topic that fascinates you


Have you read Wordcrime? Are you interested in linguistics?
Let’s talk in the comments!

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Top Ten Tuesday: Unpopular Bookish Opinions

Happy Top Ten Tuesday! Today’s theme is unpopular bookish opinions, and this is one that I really had to think about! This seems like it’ll be quite a day for Top Ten Tuesday.


UNPOPULAR OPINION #1
Not every book about a controversial topic can be good

I’ve noticed that after pretty much every YA bestseller, a wave of similar books comes out. Take, for example, The Hate U Give. I loved that book. I thought it was a great story that was amazingly well-written. After the popularity of The Hate U Give, a number of YA books focusing on gun violence came out. While I’m sure many of those books were good, not all of them were.

Similarly, not every book about homosexuality, racism, religion, drug use, school shootings, etc. can be good. It seems like we’re almost expected to adore these books without question just because they’re about a difficult topic.

UNPOPULAR OPINION #2
I can’t support Cassandra Clare

Not only do I feel like the writing quality in The Mortal Instruments really went downhill midway through the series, but after learning about her behavior in general, I just can’t support her anymore. I’m not going to go into detail on everything she’s done, but please feel free to check out the links below:

UNPOPULAR OPINION #3
I hate it when romance novels end with a proposal or surprise pregnancy

I know, I know, I read a ton of romance. But when I read a romance novel, I expect to read something that adds to the genre, not something that recycles the most cliche plot lines of all time. I think that ending a romance novel with a proposal or pregnancy is probably the easiest way to wrap things up, and most of the time it just feels like the author couldn’t come up with anything better, so they were just like, “…and they all lived happily ever after, the end.”

UNPOPULAR OPINION #4
I was not a huge fan of Six of Crows

Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t hate it or anything. I just didn’t have any strong opinions on it. I enjoyed Bardugo’s Shadow and Bone and I’m excited to someday finish that series (and read everything else she’s written), but I think Six of Crows was just way too hyped for me and I expected more. It felt like every other YA fantasy I’d ever read, just with a more diverse cast of characters.

UNPOPULAR OPINION #5
All the Bright Places was not good

I’ve written a number of rants on what exactly is wrong with All the Bright Places, but I’ll summarize here: the main character is a smooth-talking mental illness (with no other character traits) and his love interest is overtly blamed for telling someone that he’s suicidal. The whole book glamorizes depression and idealizes suicide (he’s so dark and mysterious!) and I feel that it sends an incredibly harmful message to teens.

UNPOPULAR OPINION #6
Bragging avoiding certain genres or formats doesn’t make you cool

Every time I hear someone say something like, “I don’t read books with half-naked guys on the cover, I read real books” or “Listening to an audiobook doesn’t count as reading,” I just cringe. I don’t care what you’re reading or how you’re doing it. What’s important is that you’re enjoying yourself.

UNPOPULAR OPINION #7
I have no problem with an unlikable main character as long as they’re realistic

One of my favorite books of 2018 was Emergency Contact by Mary H.K. Choi. I loved how realistic the main character, Penny, was. A lot of reviewers have taken issue with Penny and hated the book because of her, and I get that. Penny is not perfect, not by a long shot. She says the wrong thing all the time and she’s not always likable. But what teenager is?

UNPOPULAR OPINION #8
Not every book needs a romance

Right about now, you’re probably thinking, “Whoa, whoa, what are you talking about? You mostly review romance books!” But it’s true. Not every book needs a romance. Sometimes sci-fi should just be sci-fi. Sometimes fantasy should just be fantasy. Sometimes a romance is entirely unnecessary and actually detracts from the story rather than adding to it.

UNPOPULAR OPINION #9
I have no interest in reading classic sci-fi novels

I remember very clearly a moment when a man walked up to me, completely unprompted, and said, “How can you call yourself a book blogger when you haven’t even read Dune?” I mean… first of all, sci-fi from the 1960s doesn’t interest me whatsoever, but also, I blog mostly about romance! I’m not sure what that book has to do with anything!

UNPOPULAR OPINION #10
I am not a fan of Penny Reid’s books

I’ve tried. I really have. I know that so many people adore her books, but I’ve enjoyed one of them and I’ve hated the rest. I one-clicked a lot of them when they were free on Amazon and so I’ll keep trying (eventually), but I was really disappointed by Neanderthal Seeks Human. Attraction is one of my least favorite books of 2019. And her Winston Brothers series has been hit or miss so far. Nothing against her personally, but her books are just not my favorite.


Did you do your own Top Ten Tuesday post today? Feel free to leave your link in the comments and I’ll check it out! What are some of your unpopular opinions? Let’s talk in the comments!

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Blog tour (+ interview!): Screen Queens by Lori Goldstein

Screen Queens by Lori Goldstein
Links: Amazon • TBD • GoodreadsB&N
Publication Date: June 11, 2019

The Bold Type meets The Social Network when three girls participate in a startup incubator competition and uncover the truth about what it means to succeed in the male-dominated world of tech.

This summer Silicon Valley is a girls’ club.

Three thousand applicants. An acceptance rate of two percent. A dream internship for the winning team. ValleyStart is the most prestigious high school tech incubator competition in the country. Lucy Katz, Maddie Li, and Delia Meyer have secured their spots. And they’ve come to win.

Meet the Screen Queens.

Lucy Katz was born and raised in Palo Alto, so tech, well, it runs in her blood. A social butterfly and CEO in-the-making, Lucy is ready to win and party. 

East Coast designer, Maddie Li left her home and small business behind for a summer at ValleyStart. Maddie thinks she’s only there to bolster her graphic design portfolio, not to make friends.

Delia Meyer taught herself how to code on a hand-me-down computer in her tiny Midwestern town. Now, it’s time for the big leagues–ValleyStart–but super shy Delia isn’t sure if she can hack it (pun intended).

When the competition kicks off, Lucy, Maddie, and Delia realize just how challenging the next five weeks will be. As if there wasn’t enough pressure already, the girls learn that they would be the only all-female team to win ever. Add in one first love, a two-faced mentor, and an ex-boyfriend turned nemesis and things get…complicated

Filled with humor, heart, and a whole lot of girl power, Screen Queens is perfect for fans of Morgan Matson, Jenny Han, and The Bold Type.

As a big fan of Morgan Matson and The Bold Type, I was really excited to get the chance to participate in a blog tour for Screen Queens! Instead of my usual review, I’m stepping out of my comfort zone and doing an author interview!

Thank you so much to Penguin Young Readers and Lori Goldstein for making this post possible!


What inspired you to write this book?

I love telling friendship stories. The core of my previous books is female friendship, and that’s one of the major themes of SCREEN QUEENS too. In SCREEN QUEENS I liked the idea of telling a story set in an environment that would be unfamiliar to all the main characters so they have to come together and navigate the landscape as one—it’s a precursor to what happens in college and of course also happens in summer camps, and intense friendships can form as a result despite the individuals being very different people. Obviously I was also heavily influenced by the #metoo movement, which had developed shortly before I started writing this book. Centering the story on the harassment that women in a male-dominated field like tech experience felt both timely and important, for technology and social media especially has such a strong impact on the lives of young adults.

You’ve previously written fantasy novels. What made you take the leap from fantasy to a contemporary about Silicon Valley?

I actually think it’s less of a leap and more of a gentle hop! With my BECOMING JINN series being a contemporary fantasy, it’s grounded in our normal, everyday world with a little bit (okay, more than a little!) of magic thrown in. But the foundation being in the contemporary world means that the transition to an all realistic story without a fantastic element felt entirely natural. While Azra in BECOMING JINN struggles with her magical destiny, it’s so tightly interwoven in the life she has in the non-magical world that she feels very much like any average teenager coming to terms with who she is and who she wants to be. Those issues are core for my main characters of Lucy, Maddie, and Delia in SCREEN QUEENS. And I think many would argue that Silicon Valley is a “fantastical” place all of its own!

I think it’s so great that you’ve written a book with such a feminist theme. Was there any reason that you decided to set this book in the male-dominated field of coding?

I’m inspired by all forms of entertainment and media, especially podcasts. One of my favorite podcasts is called StartUp by Gimlet Media, which chronicles the issues faced by new businesses, especially tech-based ones. The second season centered on two women trying to grow their dating app. The struggles they encountered as female founders, things their male counterparts didn’t have to, affected me. Such as offers of funding from venture capitalists coming with the strings of dinner, drinks, or more attached. This led me to books like Brotopia by Emily Chang and articles in places like The Atlantic that offered deep insights into what it’s like to be a woman in the field of tech. The harassment and discrimination is a big part of the reason women leave the industry, which happened to a very good friend of mine who left her career as a coder. And it is also a barrier—among many barriers—for women entering the field. We all know that jobs in the future will be those related to tech, and we need to encourage more young women to consider this option from a young age, something I never did.

Your book features three really different characters. Which one do you relate to most and why?

I loved the ability to create Lucy, Maddie, and Delia, three strong, smart women with very different backgrounds and personalities. Lucy is ambitious and ready to do whatever it takes to achieve her goals, including using connections and pushing the envelope. Maddie is a talented designer, but unlike Lucy, Maddie wants to be successful simply to be able to take care of her younger brother, the only person Maddie’s able to open herself up to emotionally. Delia is loyal and deeply invested in her family and best friend. Though wildly intelligent, she lacks confidence and constantly compares herself to others. I see myself in all of these characters. My younger self was closer to Maddie; I was shy as a kid, and friendships didn’t come easily to me. As I got older, that began to change, yet I had many of Delia’s issues of lacking self-esteem, confidence, and just trusting myself. Now, I have Lucy’s drive and determination, but it’s tempered by my history and the pieces of Maddie and Delia still lurking inside. As a team, the three young ladies form a whole, and that’s mirrored in my own life.

Unrelated to your book, are there any books that you’ve recently read that you’d recommend checking out?

Absolutely! One of my recent favorites is the YA contemporary NIGHT MUSIC by the incredibly talented Jenn Marie Thorne, which focuses on a young woman struggling to find her place among her musical prodigy family. Jenn has a way with words that always leaves me aspiring to do more with my own work. Another is just about to come out on July 2, an adult called WHISPER NETWORK by Chandler Baker, which is similar to SCREEN QUEENS in its themes of female empowerment. It centers on three lawyers in a corporate firm with a boss whose behavior crosses all the lines, and the women decide to take action. It tackles so much about being a working mom and dealing with sexual harassment and discrimination but with so much humor and skill that you can’t stop flipping pages. Finally, another summer release (August 6) that I was fortunate to ready early is the YA REMEMBER ME by Chelsea Bobulski. It’s Titanic meets The Shining, and it’s a swoon-worthy love story that goes back and forth between the 1920s and present day that’s the ultimate summer read.


About the Author

 

Lori Goldstein was born into an Italian-Irish family and raised in a small town on the New Jersey shore. She earned her bachelor’s degree in journalism from Lehigh University and worked as a writer, editor, and graphic designer before becoming a full-time author. She currently lives and writes outside of Boston. Lori is also the author of the young adult contemporary fantasy series Becoming Jinn (Feiwel & Friends/Macmillan). You can visit her online at www.lorigoldsteinbooks.com.


Have you read Screen Queens? Can you think of any other books about young women in traditionally male-dominated fields? Let’s talk in the comments!

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Book Review: The Encyclopedia of Early Earth by Isabel Greenberg

The Encyclopedia of Early Earth by Isabel Greenberg
Rating: ★★★★☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: October 29, 2013
Source: Borrowed

Before our history began, another now forgotten civilization thrived. The people who roamed Early Earth were much like us: curious, emotional, funny, ambitious, and vulnerable. In this series of illustrated and linked tales, Isabel Greenberg chronicles the explorations of a young man as he paddles from his home in the North Pole to the South Pole. There, he meets his true love, but their romance is ill-fated. Early Earth’s unusual and finicky polarity means the lovers can never touch.

As intricate and richly imagined as the work of Chris Ware, and leavened with a dry wit that rivals Kate Beaton’s in Hark! A Vagrant, Isabel Greenberg’s debut will be a welcome addition to the thriving graphic novel genre.

I had never heard of The Encyclopedia of Early Earth until Alex @ The Paperback Piano recommended it to me. I requested that my library add it to their collection, and surprisingly, I got an email only a few days later that it was ready for me! I really enjoyed this graphic novel.

Although it’s based on Bible stories and traditional folklore and mythology, The Encyclopedia of Early Earth is an incredibly creative and original story! It follows a Storyteller from the land of Nord who searches the world for the missing piece of his soul, featuring a god named BirdMan and his two children, Kid and Kiddo. I loved the stories, the characters (especially Kiddo!), and the touch of humor in the writing.

This is what a graphic novel should be — the artwork and the writing complemented each other, creating a really cohesive book that was just plain fun to read. The slightly fantastical spin on well-known stories (Noah and the whale and the Tower of Babel, for example) made it even more enjoyable. The only thing I could have wished for was a little bit deeper exploration of the overall premise. I loved the individual stories, but the actual “search for his soul” seemed to get lost in everything else that was happening.

I saw The One Hundred Nights of Hero in a local bookstore before I read this and I’m hoping it’s still there! I’d love to read more from this author.


Have you read The Encyclopedia of Early Earth? Is it on your TBR?
Let’s talk in the comments!

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Book review: Follow Me Back by A.V. Geiger

Follow Me Back by A.V. Geiger
Rating: ★☆☆☆☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: June 6, 2017
Source: Purchased

Tessa Hart’s world feels very small. Confined to her bedroom with agoraphobia, her one escape is the online fandom for pop sensation Eric Thorn. When he tweets to his fans, it’s like his speaking directly to her…

Eric Thorn is frightened by his obsessive fans. They take their devotion way too far. It doesn’t help that his PR team keeps posting to encourage their fantasies.

When a fellow pop star is murdered at the hands of a fan, Eric knows he has to do something to shatter his online image fast—like take down one of his top Twitter followers. But Eric’s plan to troll @TessaHeartsEric unexpectedly evolves into an online relationship deeper than either could have imagined. And when the two arrange to meet IRL, what should have made for the world’s best episode of Catfish takes a deadly turn…

Told through tweets, direct messages, and police transcripts. 

I had seen a lot of hype for this book when it first came out and when I saw the author signing at a book festival I went to last year, I figured I might as well buy it. It was probably the most awkward encounter I’ve ever had in my life, which I don’t fault the author for since it just illustrates what happens when you throw two introverts who’ve never met before together and expect them to interact. Anyway, it took me a while to finally pick it up, and… I have some thoughts.

First of all, Tessa is not like other girls and Eric is always taking off his shirt to show off his six pack, so it’s basically the same two characters as every other YA book that’s come out over the last decade. Sure, there are some differences. Tessa is agoraphobic and Eric is famous. They mostly converse through Twitter, and Tessa doesn’t know that the person she’s been talking to is actually her celebrity crush.

I didn’t think that I’d have a problem with the premise, but I kind of do. I don’t necessarily mind that a celebrity is hiding his identity when he talks with a fan for the first time. I get that. But Eric lets it go on for so long and he doesn’t seem to understand that it’s not okay to lie about who he is when he and Tessa become close enough to consider meeting in person. Eric also had such an attitude about his fans that I found it surprising that he would even entertain the idea of befriending one of them, especially a superfan like Tessa.

The side characters in the book are absolutely ridiculous. Tessa’s mother is a blatantly horrible person. (Like most YA parents, I guess.) Her therapist is awful. The person from her past that she’s so scared of? Something was definitely missing because that whole story didn’t make a bit of sense.

The “cliffhanger” at the end is actually painfully obvious if you’ve paid attention at all to what’s happened throughout the book. I even went ahead and read some spoiler-filled reviews of the sequel to confirm that this story ends exactly as I expected it to.

I can’t think of anyone I’d recommend this book to. I’m glad it’s off my shelf, but it’s already in my donate pile.

#killingthetbr: ten months on shelf


Have you read Follow Me Back? What about the sequel?
Let’s talk in the comments!

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