Book Review: Unmask Alice by Rick Emerson

Unmask Alice by Rick Emerson
Rating: ★★★★★
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: January 5, 2021
Source: Borrowed
Two teens. Two diaries. Two social panics. One incredible fraud.

In 1971, Go Ask Alice reinvented the young adult genre with a blistering portrayal of sex, psychosis, and teenage self-destruction. The supposed diary of a middle-class addict, Go Ask Alice terrified adults and cemented LSD’s fearsome reputation, fueling support for the War on Drugs. Five million copies later, Go Ask Alice remains a divisive bestseller, outraging censors and earning new fans, all of them drawn by the book’s mythic premise: A Real Diary, by Anonymous.

But Alice was only the beginning.

In 1979, another diary rattled the culture, setting the stage for a national meltdown. The posthumous memoir of an alleged teenage Satanist, Jay’s Journal merged with a frightening new crisis—adolescent suicide—to create a literal witch hunt, shattering countless lives and poisoning whole communities.

In reality, Go Ask Alice and Jay’s Journal came from the same dark place: Beatrice Sparks, a serial con artist who betrayed a grieving family, stole a dead boy’s memory, and lied her way to the National Book Awards.

Unmask Alice: LSD, Satanic Panic, and the Imposter Behind the World’s Most Notorious Diaries is a true story of contagious deception. It stretches from Hollywood to Quantico, and passes through a tiny patch of Utah nicknamed “the fraud capital of America.” It’s the story of a doomed romance and a vengeful celebrity. Of a lazy press and a public mob. Of two suicidal teenagers, and their exploitation by a literary vampire.

Unmask Alice . . . where truth is stranger than nonfiction.

I love my job, but it can be a little monotonous sometimes. I code medical charts for an insurance company, and sometimes it’s really interesting and other times it’s 5,000 mind-numbing pages of nothing. So to keep my sanity, I’ll listen to something while I work. Sometimes it’s music, sometimes it’s an audiobook, sometimes it’s a podcast. One of my favorite podcasts is You’re Wrong About, and I’ve listened to almost all of the episodes. A few months ago, Sarah did a series on Go Ask Alice with Carmen Maria Machado and Rick Emerson. By the time it was done, I knew that I absolutely had to read this book.

Honestly, my mind is blown.

I never read Go Ask Alice when I was growing up. I definitely remember it always being on the shelf in my library’s YA section, but nothing about it really appealed to me. For good reason, it seems, based on what I learned in this book.

I’m not going to spoil anything, but this is an absolutely crazy story. For the first maybe 80% of the book, the author splits his story into so many seemingly unconnected threads. It’s clear that they’ll come together somehow, and I was just wondering how the different stories and different people connected. And when they did? Like I said, my mind was blown. You can maybe imagine a little bit of what happened when you hear that Go Ask Alice is a work of fiction. But the layers of deception, the way that it spread, and the effect that it had on society is almost unbelievable.

This is such a well-written and engaging account of what happened. It’s a story that feels more like fiction since it’s so crazy that a grown woman could behave so badly. It’s like the Bad Blood of publishing. I really can’t recommend it enough, regardless of whether you’re familiar with the source material.

P.S. I’m now reading Go Ask Alice and at roughly 30% in, I can say I’m not at all surprised to find out all of it was a lie.

Have you read Unmask Alice? Have you gotten any good recommendations from a podcast?
Let’s talk in the comments!

Find me all over the internet: Goodreads | Twitter | Bloglovin’

ARC Review: You Have a Match by Emma Lord

You Have a Match by Emma Lord
Rating: ★★★★★
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: January 12, 2021
Source: ARC via Netgalley
A new love, a secret sister, and a summer she’ll never forget.

When Abby signs up for a DNA service, it’s mainly to give her friend and secret love interest, Leo, a nudge. After all, she knows who she is already: Avid photographer. Injury-prone tree climber. Best friend to Leo and Connie … although ever since the B.E.I. (Big Embarrassing Incident) with Leo, things have been awkward on that front.

But she didn’t know she’s a younger sister.

When the DNA service reveals Abby has a secret sister, shimmery-haired Instagram star Savannah Tully, it’s hard to believe they’re from the same planet, never mind the same parents—especially considering Savannah, queen of green smoothies, is only a year and a half older than Abby herself.

The logical course of action? Meet up at summer camp (obviously) and figure out why Abby’s parents gave Savvy up for adoption. But there are complications: Savvy is a rigid rule-follower and total narc. Leo is the camp’s co-chef, putting Abby’s growing feelings for him on blast. And her parents have a secret that threatens to unravel everything.

But part of life is showing up, leaning in, and learning to fit all your awkward pieces together. Because sometimes, the hardest things can also be the best ones.

By this point, you may have noticed that I’m in a bit of a pattern of apologizing at the beginning of my reviews. This review is no exception, because I was approved for this ARC on Netgalley in July of 2020, this book released in January 2021, and here we are in October 2022 and I am finally posting my review. My apologies.

But I loved this book, okay? I think I’d probably love anything Emma Lord writes. I even love her Twitter feed! I love her love of Taylor Swift and fanfiction and her sense of humor. I love the stories she comes up with, her characters, her dialogue, all of it. So the fact that I loved You Have a Match is probably not very surprising.

There’s a lot to love about this book. Emma Lord’s writing style is so… charming. I don’t know if that’s the right word, but her books give me this warm, fuzzy feeling. In this book, family relationships take center stage as our main character finds out through a DNA test that she has a sister she didn’t know about. I’ll do a little digression here and say that I have done a DNA test and, given that I was never that close with my dad’s side of the family, I’m always paranoid that I’m going to find out I have a secret sibling! Up to this point, though, the closest relative I’ve found is a second cousin.

In addition to the whole sister thing, there’s a cute little friends-to-lovers romance on the side. We all know how I feel about those, so that was just a little added bonus.

All in all, You Have a Match is another great book from Emma Lord, and it’s cemented her place on my list of auto-read authors.

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for the free ARC of You Have a Match in exchange for my honest review.

Have you read You Have a Match? Is it on your TBR?
Let’s talk in the comments!

Find me all over the internet: Goodreads | Twitter | Bloglovin’

Book Review: Cribsheet by Emily Oster

Cribsheet by Emily Oster
Rating: ★★★★★
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: April 9, 2019
Source: Borrowed
From the author of EXPECTING BETTER, an economist’s guide to the early years of parenting

With EXPECTING BETTER, award-winning economist Emily Oster spotted a need in the pregnancy market for advice that gave women the information they needed to make the best decision for their own pregnancies. By digging into the data, Oster found that much of the conventional pregnancy wisdom was wrong. In CRIBSHEET, she now tackles an even great challenge: decision making in the early years of parenting.

As any new parent knows, there is an abundance of often-conflicting advice hurled at you from doctors, family, friends, and the internet. From the earliest days, parents get the message that they must make certain choices around feeding, sleep, and schedule or all will be lost. There’s a rule–or three–for everything. But the benefits of these choices can be overstated, and the tradeoffs can be profound. How do you make your own best decision?

It’s no surprise that being a new parent comes with a lot of new anxieties. After all, you’re responsible for this brand new life! Who thought it was a good idea to let you take this helpless baby home from the hospital? As my OB put it, it feels illegal that they just let you take a baby home from the hospital without even asking you if you know what you’re doing!

As an already very anxious person, I can’t say I was particularly surprised when I spent my son’s first six weeks worrying about literally everything. Was he gaining enough weight? Was he crying too much? Was he sleeping enough? It felt like everything was wrong all the time, and then I logged onto Twitter and saw another new mom tweet pretty much the same thing. One reply recommended this book, and so here we are.

The biggest thing I can say about this book is that it’s very easy to read. For a book that’s about breaking down data and research studies, I think that’s huge. This book doesn’t feel like nonfiction. It feels more like sitting down with your really knowledgeable friend and having them tell you, in a very non-biased way, all the pros and cons of a decision. It covers everything from rooming in at the hospital to sleep issues to potty training. About 75% of the book was relevant to me as a brand new mom, with a few chapters at the end that didn’t quite apply yet (but were nice to think about for the future).

This is not a book of parenting advice. It will not tell you whether you should sleep train or if you should breastfeed or formula feed. What it will tell you is whether the data says that sleep training works and whether it shows any long-lasting damage from letting your child cry it out while sleep training. It will tell you what the data says about the implications of formula vs. breast milk and if there’s any measurable difference in children over time. The author will also tell you about her personal experience with the decisions she made with her two children.

This book made me feel a lot better because, spoiler alert: turns out there’s not much you can accidentally do to screw up your kid. Every decision has its positives and negatives, and you can just do the best you can with the information you have. If you’re struggling with new parenthood, I’d recommend giving this book a try.

Have you read Cribsheet? What’s the best nonfiction book you’ve read recently?
Let’s talk in the comments!

Find me all over the internet: Goodreads | Twitter | Bloglovin’

Book Review: The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid
Rating: ★★★★★
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: June 13, 2017
Source: Borrowed

Aging and reclusive Hollywood movie icon Evelyn Hugo is finally ready to tell the truth about her glamorous and scandalous life.

When she chooses unknown magazine reporter Monique Grant for the job, no one in the journalism community is more astounded than Monique herself. Why her? Why now? Monique is not exactly on top of the world. Her husband, David, has left her, and her career has stagnated. Regardless of why Evelyn has chosen her to write her biography, Monique is determined to use this opportunity to jumpstart her career.

Summoned to Evelyn’s Upper East Side apartment, Monique listens as Evelyn unfurls her story: from making her way to Los Angeles in the 1950s to her decision to leave show business in the late 80s, and, of course, the seven husbands along the way. As Evelyn’s life unfolds—revealing a ruthless ambition, an unexpected friendship, and a great forbidden love—Monique begins to feel a very a real connection to the actress. But as Evelyn’s story catches up with the present, it becomes clear that her life intersects with Monique’s own in tragic and irreversible ways.

Last year, I read Daisy Jones & the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid. I loved it, but Evelyn Hugo had gotten so much hype that I was too scared to read it. Well, enter the Great Reading Slump of 2020 and I figured I didn’t have much to lose. Nothing was holding my interest anyway, so if I hated it, that would obviously be why.

Well, let me just say… this held my interest. Evelyn was an absolutely fascinating character, and I found her life story so interesting. I liked that she never claimed to be a good person and never tried to excuse the bad things she’d done. She fully owned every decision and every mistake and I aspire to someday be that self-assured.

As with Daisy Jones, Evelyn Hugo is told mostly through a series of interviews. I love this style of storytelling and Reid is so good at it. This book spanned several decades (and seven husbands) and I felt like I was right there with Evelyn through all of it.

And that twist at the end? I did not see that coming.

I’m not sure which of Reid’s other books I should read next, but I’m definitely not stopping here.

Have you read The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo? Is it on your TBR?
Let’s talk in the comments!

Find me all over the internet: Goodreads | Twitter | Bloglovin’

Book Review: Too Much and Never Enough by Mary L. Trump

Too Much and Never Enough by Mary L. Trump
Rating: ★★★★★
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: July 14, 2020
Source: Borrowed

In this revelatory, authoritative portrait of Donald J. Trump and the toxic family that made him, Mary L. Trump, a trained clinical psychologist and Donald’s only niece, shines a bright light on the dark history of their family in order to explain how her uncle became the man who now threatens the world’s health, economic security, and social fabric.

Mary Trump spent much of her childhood in her grandparents’ large, imposing house in the heart of Queens, where Donald and his four siblings grew up. She describes a nightmare of traumas, destructive relationships, and a tragic combination of neglect and abuse. She explains how specific events and general family patterns created the damaged man who currently occupies the Oval Office, including the strange and harmful relationship between Fred Trump and his two oldest sons, Fred Jr. and Donald.

A first-hand witness to countless holiday meals and family interactions, Mary brings an incisive wit and unexpected humor to sometimes grim, often confounding family events. She recounts in unsparing detail everything from her uncle Donald’s place in the family spotlight and Ivana’s penchant for re-gifting to her grandmother’s frequent injuries and illnesses and the appalling way Donald, Fred Trump’s favorite son, dismissed and derided him when he began to succumb to Alzheimer’s.

Numerous pundits, armchair psychologists, and journalists have sought to parse Donald J. Trump’s lethal flaws. Mary L. Trump has the education, insight, and intimate familiarity needed to reveal what makes Donald, and the rest of her clan, tick. She alone can recount this fascinating, unnerving saga, not just because of her insider’s perspective but also because she is the only Trump willing to tell the truth about one of the world’s most powerful and dysfunctional families.

One of these days, Donald Trump will learn that making a big fuss and trying to stop the publication of books about him only makes people want to read them more. Too Much and Never Enough would never have been on my radar if Trump hadn’t tried to block its publication, but I’m really glad that it got so much publicity and that I was miraculously able to get it from the library so quickly.

Donald today is much as he was at three years old: incapable of growing, learning, or evolving, unable to regulate his emotions, moderate his responses, or take in and synthesize information.

It’s no secret that I have some criticisms of our current president, and I’ve read many, many books about his presidency. Where Mary Trump’s book differs from the rest is both her background in clinical psychology and her knowledge of him in a personal context over the years.

I hope this book will end the practice of referring to Donald’s “strategies” or “agendas,” as if he operates according to any organizing principles. He doesn’t. Donald’s ego has been and is a fragile and inadequate barrier between him and the real world, which, thanks to his father’s money and power, he never had to negotiate by himself. Donald has always needed to perpetuate the fiction my grandfather started that he is strong, smart, and otherwise extraordinary, because facing the truth—that he is none of those things—is too terrifying for him to contemplate.

There are a lot of interesting little facts in this book about the dysfunction that is the Trump family. I was not at all surprised to learn what a toxic environment Fred Trump created. I almost felt bad at times, but then I remembered that a lot of people grow up in toxic families and don’t go on to become racist, misogynistic leaders of the “free” world.

The fact is, Donald’s pathologies are so complex and his behaviors so often inexplicable that coming up with an accurate and comprehensive diagnosis would require a full battery of psychological and neuropsychological tests that he’ll never sit for. At this point, we can’t evaluate his day-to-day functioning because he is, in the West Wing, essentially institutionalized. Donald has been institutionalized for most of his adult life, so there is no way to know how he would thrive, or even survive, on his own in the real world.

Honestly, this book was incredible. I don’t have a lot to say about it other than I’d highly recommend it if you’re interested in more background in the life and childhood of the president of the United States.

Have you read Too Much and Never Enough? Is it on your TBR?
Let’s talk in the comments!

Find me all over the internet: Goodreads | Twitter | Bloglovin’