Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Book Review: Amsterdam Exposed

I’ve been to Amsterdam and like most tourists, I curiously wandered to the Red Light District. And then quickly wandered back out. I was like so many tourists David Wienir describes in his travel memoir AMSTERDAM EXPOSED who excitedly want to take a peek, but are soon uncomfortable with the seediness of the women beckoning men from their windows.
I probably only saw five or six windows before I turned around. Wienir, on the other hand, strolled through the Red Light District almost every day of his stint as an exchange student in 1999 Amsterdam.
Fascinated by the women in the windows and determined to learn more about them as human beings, not just sexual objects, Wienir embarks on a quest to befriend some of them and write about their forays into the world’s oldest profession. He is immediately met with scorn as he tries to talk to the working women. Door after door is slammed in his face. Until he meets Emma, who reluctantly agrees to talk with him.
She stands him up over and over again, but he persists in trying to connect with her. Finally, she agrees and Wienir talks to the Dutch prostitute for hours one night at a bar. He has vowed not to have sex with any of the prostitutes in Amsterdam as he doesn’t want to taint the story he tells. Not surprisingly, though, he falls in love with Emma. He deems her a hooker with a heart of gold, much like Julia Roberts’ character in Pretty Woman (though Emma is not just starting her career in the sex industry, and she freely uses drugs). I think Wienir wanted to make her out to be more wholesome than she was — which ultimately fulfilled his fantasy of what the backstory of a prostitute might be.
He freely admits that Amsterdam’s prostitutes succeed because they entertain the fantasies of their customers. That is what they’re selling: fantasies. And Wienir realizes his fantasy by the end of the story.
I found the descriptions of Amsterdam to be spot on. The scene he paints of 1999 Amsterdam is exactly how I remember it. Wienir often takes groups of his fellow law students through the RLD and observes their discomfort as they wander through the narrow alleys just steps away from many of the working women standing half-nude in their doorways. If you’ve ever been to Amsterdam, you’ll feel like you’re there again. And if you haven’t — here’s your first glance at this timeless European city.
Despite Wienir’s predictable infatuation with Emma, there were several observations he made that were very insightful about the sex industry and the human psyche. For me, his comparison of the desensitization of sexuality and nudity to noncommital online dating today struck a chord. Of course, Wienir describes it much better than I can:
When you live in a city where you can have sex with any number of beautiful women anytime you want, for $25, something changes on an evolutionary level. With such easy access, even if one doesn’t indulge, the pursuit ends. There’s no glory in the conquest. There’s no chase. The mind is allowed to go elsewhere…
…The necessity and urgency for sex fades. For others, it’s the opposite. Their mind goes into overload and unleashes a veritable feeding frenzy. The phenomenon is similar to what happens to many guys on the Internet, through sites such as and others like it. They just can’t get enough. Women become disposable…
I found this insight fascinating. There were many passages and observations that Wienir made in AMSTERDAM EXPOSED that drew me in. I read the book in a single day. I knew he would fall in love with his prostitute, but I didn’t know why. But maybe that’s because it’s not my fantasy, nor my story to tell…

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Book Review: Nourished

More and more travel memoirs these days include chapters about food. And more and more books about cooking and food include exotic travel. The two go hand-in-hand and this combination is sure to increase within the book world as people expand both their physical and culinary journeys.

'Nourished' was a wonderfully written account of both. As a travel blogger, I was first drawn to the travel aspect, and Lia Huber did not disappoint. Her travel tales were immediately engaging. I started thinking about the places she included in this book and whether I should start planning trips to Costa Rica, Corfu, and New York City. I could practically taste them and feel the energy of each place and people as I read.

This is also a book about soul-searching. Much of her quest centered on her Christianity. Though this aspect of the book was not as interesting to me, I can certainly see the connections between her wanderings, cooking, and introspection. That's often why I travel: to see how a place changes me. To see how I grow. Just like Lia.

I received this book from Blogging for Books.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Book Review: The Lauras

  Sara Taylor's book The Lauras hooked me immediately. It begins with teenaged Alex hearing her parents argue -- just like she did most nights. But this night quickly becomes different when Alex's mother comes into her room and tells her they're leaving.

They embark on a journey that shows Alex who her mother is, and was, and has always been. Alex is exposed to the transient life of her mother who moved from one foster home to another, from one man to another, one state to another, one persona to another. Along the way, Alex's mother introduces her to one Laura after another who passed through her life.

Sara Taylor did an incredible job of describing the different "Lauras" that shaped Alex's mother into the woman who dragged her daughter away from her home and her father. Alex's despair and fear as her life is uprooted in physical and emotional ways is poignantly portrayed. I was scared for her at times. Angry and weary at other times. I had as much trouble understanding Ma as Alex did. She certainly presented a complicated world to her daughter. One the reader wishes they could save her from, even as we watch Alex grow stronger because of it all.

** I received this from Blogging for Books in exchange for my honest review.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Book Review: Without Explanation

I rarely write about the dangers and downsides of travel. Probably because I rarely have negative experiences, myself. That doesn’t mean they don’t happen. In Rod Jasmer’s terrifying memoir, Without Explanation: A True Story of Love and Loss in the Jungle, he describes the worst case scenario of a dream vacation that became a nightmare.

Jasmer and his wife, Valerie, traveled to Guatemala with another couple to hike in the jungle. It had been years since they’d traveled without their children and they were looking forward to their getaway. Once they arrived in Guatemala, they set out on their first trek, eager to get moving after the long journey and start exploring. They found their way to a remote Mayan temple, and there they watched the sun set on their first day in Guatemala. Unbeknownst to any of them, this would be Valerie’s last.

In the middle of the night, Jasmer was awakened by his wife’s strange breathing. Thinking she might be having a nightmare, he gently tried to wake her and quickly realized that something was terribly wrong with his wife. Her breathing was gurgled and she was unresponsive. He immediately began yelling for help and soon began administering CPR while their friends frantically tried to find help.

What followed was an ordeal that could only happen in a poverty-stricken country such as Guatemala. I was right there with Jasmer as he tried to convey the urgency of his situation to people unable to provide even the basic essentials to keep his wife alive.

I imagine the hospital Valerie went to as a cross between this rural Nicaraguan clinic and a more urban, substandard (by Western standards) hospital.

The “ambulance” ride was roughly the equivalent of a van, driven by park rangers with no medical training. The hospital they went to was deserted and was little more than a clinic with old, dirty equipment. It reminded me of a cross between the clinic I helped build in Nicaragua on a mission trip, and the hospital that we visited while I was there. To call it unsanitary is an understatement. There were puddles of antifreeze dripping from the burn ward, which was the only air-conditioned area. Labor and delivery amounted to a room full of twin beds, mattresses with stained, dirty sheets, and women dressed in bloody t-shirts and slips after having given birth. The day we went there, we distributed baby blankets and diapers. The women only stayed a few hours after giving birth and then went home with their babies.

It was experiences like these that I pictured the whole time I was reading Without Explanation. To the modern world, the conditions in Guatemala seem surreal. The lack of resources is overwhelming and though Jasmer describes it as factually as it happened, it seems like something that couldn’t possibly be true. How, in this new millennium, could a woman’s body be put into a loosely-crafted pine box and loaded into the bed of a pick-up truck too short to allow the back to close, to then be transported for hours in the Guatemalan sun? Like Jasmer, I was astonished to think that this could be the fate of someone — the fate of one’s spouse — on what was supposed to be a dream vacation. Except that I wasn’t astonished. I’d experienced extreme conditions like this in Nicaragua.

Jasmer’s account of his wife’s final hours and the subsequent ordeal of trying to get her body back home was heartbreaking. Wracked with guilt, Jasmer wondered whether she would have survived had she been in a country with adequate care. She died without explanation.

I couldn’t put this book down. It almost seemed like I was experiencing Jasmer’s ordeal in real time. He put the reader right there with him for each excruciating turn of events during an aspect of travel that I rarely consider: what if something goes horribly wrong?

Friday, August 11, 2017

Book Review of The New York Times: Footsteps

The New York Times: Footsteps

As a travel blogger, I completely understand how a place can shape a person's writing. It's why I write about travel; because places move and inspire me. The same obviously holds true for the authors studied in this book. Having another writer "walk a mile in their shoes" is such an invaluable look at what the author's may have felt and experienced while living in a place.

I've done that myself once. I traveled to Monroeville, Alabama and walked the abandoned streets where Harper Lee and Truman Capote spent their hot, summer childhoods. I sat in the spot where their treehouse stood (or as close to it as I could get) and imagined the view of small town life from there. The slow-moving rhythm of the Deep South and the prejudices and beliefs of the people who lived there. I've already written about it and thoroughly enjoyed reading what other writers had to say about the places these illustrious writers brought to life in their works.

Highly recommend this book!

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Book Review: The Story Cure

I've been toying with the idea of writing my memoir for a few years now. I've written parts; vignettes of different moments that all lead up to the whole story. I've taken a memoir class and joined writing groups. But something always stops me. I just can't get myself to sit down and do it. I opened the pages of The Story Cure, by Dinty W. Moore and vowed to follow his instruction and finish my book.

It didn't. It is full of great writing advice and examples. I liked the writing prompts, but I find whenever I do writing prompts that are supposed to bring back vivid memories and employ all the senses in my writing, they don't help me further with my memoir at all. The prompts have nothing to do with what I need to write.

So, I'm no further along in that regard. But I did enjoy the exercises and advice contained within this book. It's a great reminder that writing is work. Writing well is an art. Crafting stories is that people want to read is our goal. Now I need to get my butt in a chair and write!

** I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for my honest review.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Book Review: In Such Good Company

In Such Good Company by Carol Burnett

As a girl, I LOVED watching the Carol Burnett Show. The entire cast felt magical to me and the returning characters Carol and the gang transformed into made me feel like they were people I knew. Mrs. H-Wiggins, Mama's Family, and all the special guest appearances were the focal point of my week. I couldn't wait for the show and to Carol come onstage to greet her guests.

Carol always entered wearing a long dress and my mother and I waited to see and rate her dresses. It was the 1970's, so what can I say? Some were pretty; some were hideous. Reflective of the times, I think.

Carol Burnett seemed so warm and genuine that she was the first "movie star" I wrote to and I received an autographed black & white photo of her in return. I still have it.

Reading this book took me back to those shows. I loved reading about the behind-the-scenes stories and about the numerous stars who appeared on the show. It was a blast from the past and made me want to sit down and watch old re-runs again. What can I say? Carol Burnett is a classic. By reading her book or watching her show, I feel like I'm one of the gang; I'm in such good company.

*I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.