Monthly Archives: December 2018

The Unwinding Of The Miracle

Julie Yip-Williams should not have been alive at age 37, when she was diagnosed with Stage IV colon cancer. She was born to Chinese parents in Viet Nam, right after the end of the war. She had cataracts that could not be surgically corrected in Viet Nam. Her paternal grandmother sent her parents to Da Nag, to a medicine man, to have Julie killed. The medicine man refused to do it. She ended up immigrating to the United States, where her vision was partially fixed at age 4.

Despite her visual limitations, she attended two prestigious colleges (Williams and Harvard). She became a lawyer, world traveler, and eventually met the man of her dreams and settled down with him in New York City, where they were raising their two young daughters.

Julie started writing her book after she was diagnosed. It details her four year battle with cancer. However, this is not just another “I’m-dying-young” memoir. This book goes so much deeper than that. This book is a brutally honest exploration of all the feelings that comes along with such a horrible diagnosis. Julie is unsparing in her writings. She doesn’t deny the anger, depression, and denial she had to fight, along with the disease. She openly discusses everything she feels. She talks openly about how hard it was for her and her family to deal with her diagnosis.

What I appreciated most about this book was her willingness to include the things that made her look bad – the mean thoughts, the crying, the anger. She is raw and honest. I appreciated that. The only thing I took a bit of an issue with is that she and her husband are wealthy. They are both attorneys, working at one of the biggest law firms in the country. They can afford to buy their neighbor’s apartment and turn it into one big one. They travel to exotic places. She contemplates spending $7,000 a month on an experimental drug, saying she can comfortably do that for a couple of months. While I don’t begrudge her the wealth she has worked so hard for, it skews the nature of her treatment. If she didn’t have the access to good health insurance, and enough money to afford a very expensive chemo drug, things would have been quite different for her. But I have to keep in mind that this book is about her journey through cancer, not anyone else’s. And she is writing about her circumstances.

I was so sad to learn that she died in March of this year. She was an amazingly talented writer and this book was a gut punch, but also a joy to read. She used her life as an example of what you can do when you are real. She talks about a lot of cancer support groups and blogs and websites where people put up false hope and false faces of happiness and denial because that is what this society expects from people suffering from terminal illness. I loved that she called them out for doing that and she refused to so the same. Making her cancer, and all the emotions that go with it – very real. And not always flattering.

I think that not only will this book stay with me, it will continue to resonate in me and it is one that I will revisit. It is filled with such wisdom and reality. I cannot recommend this book highly enough. I won this book and received no other compensation in exchange for this review. The opinions expressed herein are mine and mine alone.


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Raw Is Raw

My husband loves Wu-Tang Clan. I did not know much, if anything, about them when I met my husband. But, being with him, I have come to like them. So, when I saw that U-God wrote a memoir, I was totally down to read it. Full disclosure, U-God is not my favorite Wu-Tang dude. And no, my favorite is not Method Man, or Ghostface, or Rza, who are arguably, the most popular members of the group. My favorite is Inspectah Deck, who rap on Triumph is one of the best ever laid down.

Lamont Hawkins (U-God) grew up in NYC. He moved to Staten Island and lived in the projects. He was friends with Method Man and the rest of the crew growing up. They lived a hard life – drugs, guns, jail, poverty. But they never gave up on rapping. Eventually, with some hard work, they hit the big time.

I listened to this on audio book. And U-God reads it, which is interesting because he has a fairly thick accent. I found it interesting to hear stories of those guys coming up and getting his perspective on the other guys. I found some parts of the book grating. I don’t know if that’s a product of the writing style or the audio style, but I was annoyed at points by the rhythm.

Overall, however, I found this book interesting. I like reading memoirs and this one was good for putting me into a place totally out of my known world. U-God paints a vivid picture of the life he lead prior to the Wu-Tang Clan hitting the big time. You feel like you are on the streets and in the tenements with him. He is a story teller. And the stories are, for the most part, pretty fascinating. My favorite parts of this book are the ones where he talks about his life before fame and fortune. It gives you an understanding of what that life was like. The soul-crushing poverty, the crime (because there’s nothing else), the weird people, jail, the police. It’s all really vivid.

I would recommend this book, not necessarily if you are interested in the history of rap or Wu-Tang Clan, but if you are interested in reading about rising above adversity, it’s a good book.

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The Lost Girls

Robert Kolker dives into the case of the Long Island serial killer in Lost Girls. He looks at each victim and delves into their families – why they became escorts and prostitutes, how they ended up where they did, and why they were targets of this killer, who has never been caught.

I will admit, despite their being a list of characters in the back, I got lost in who was who and who was connected to who sometimes. The girls all worked under multiple names and they had kids and families, so sometimes the names got jumbled and confused. However, there are a couple of things about this book that make it a really important read.

The first thing is that these women/girls all came from hard-scrabble existences. They lived in poverty and saw being a prostitute as a way to quick cash and out of their socio-economic bracket. Despite what their friends and families have said, that is the one thing that binds them together. Whether they grew up in Maine, Maryland, North Carolina, or New York, they all had poverty, lack of education, lack of job opportunities, early motherhood, and bad parents as their common bonds.

The second point that Kolker makes – though almost always very subtly, is that if these women were ANYTHING but prostitutes/call girls, this case might have been solved. Or the outcome for Shannan Gilbert may have been different. Because Shannan was a prostitute and was on a call when she called 9-1-1, the police didn’t take her seriously. When the families of all the girls who were killed reported them missing, the police didn’t take them seriously. As soon as the police found out they were prostitutes, they didn’t seem to care about finding them – until their bodies were located. Then it became a big deal.

I liked this book. Kolker wrote it with care. He wants to readers to understand these girls’ lives – their complicated family situations, their poverty, their dreams, their ambitions. He writes them in a way that makes you care and makes you understand. I don’t condone prostitution, but I certainly understand how women can be driven to it. It’s an expression of power, though ultimately, it’s really not. That is how/why these women ended up dead.

As much as Kolker wrote the girls with an eye towards sympathy and understanding, he wrote the cops as attention-starved cynics, who just didn’t care about solving this case. The police did, in my opinion, a very slipshod investigation. I think that is why this case isn’t solved. I think it could be. But I don’t know if it ever will be.

I liked this book. It was well-written and tells a fascinating story. If you like true crime, you’ll like this book. I won this book and received no compensation in exchange for this review. The opinions expressed herein are mine and mine alone.

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Dark Sacred Night

Harry Bosch and Renee Ballard team up to solve a cold case in Dark Sacred Night, the latest from Michael Connelly. Harry is trying to solve the murder of a young woman who was killed in 2009. Her mother, Elizabeth, is staying with Harry (much to his daughter’s chagrin), after he helped her get sober. Ballard runs into Bosch in the station and gets sucked into the case Bosch is trying to solve. Bosch is also working a murder for the San Fernando Police Department that has far-reaching consequences.

The book is told from alternating points of view – Bosch and Ballard. The story comes to a surprising conclusion and the killer is not who I thought it would be. I have to say that, unlike so many other mystery/thriller authors I read, Michael Connelly has not put out a bad book. This book is not bad. In fact, I thought it was fantastic. It was tense and tightly wound. The plot moved quickly and even though the book is over 400 pages, it moves quickly and isn’t weighted down with any superfluous information.

I think one of the things I like most about Michael Connelly’s book is not only his attention to police procedural or legal details, but that, like Raymond Chandler, he makes Los Angeles a character. The city comes alive under Connelly’s hand. It provides as much important information and development as any other character would.

Dark Sacred Night does not disappoint. When I first heard that Ballard and Bosch were going to work together, I thought it was a marketing ploy. But this relationship worked. I liked their interactions and interplay.

Whether this is your 31st Michael Connelly book or your first, Dark Sacred Night will not disappoint. I highly recommend it.

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