Two Trees Make a Forest

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐
Author: Jessica J. Lee
Genres: Non-Fiction, Memoir, History
Pub. Date: Jul. 2020 (read Jan. 2021)

I was really intrigued by the title and synopsis of this book and picked up a copy from my local bookstore. Soon afterwards it was shortlisted for Canada Reads 2021 and I was even more excited to read it!

Two Trees Make a Forest is Canadian author Jessica J. Lee’s second book. As the name suggests, it’s about her travels in Taiwan whilst trying to learn more about her grandparents past. Her grandparents were both Chinese, but immigrated to Taiwan where they raised their daughter, before eventually all settling in Canada. Lee grew up in close proximity to her grandparents, yet in many ways felt like she didn’t really know them. They talked little about the past and though her family held a close connection to Taiwan, Lee knew very little about their life there. After the death of her grandfather, the family discovered a letter he left behind about his past, inspiring Lee to visit Taiwan and learn more about both her family history, and the unique history of the island.

This was a well written book, but it was a struggle for me to finish it. I found Lee’s stories about her grandparents and family to be really interesting, however, they are really only a small piece of this book. Revisiting the title of the book, it does tell us that this book is as much about “Taiwan’s mountains and coasts” as it is about her family, but I guess I was just expecting something a little different. This is not a story of Lee following her roots around Taiwan, but rather Lee finding herself around Taiwan, while simultaneously coming to terms with the family history that has been in many ways lost to her.

Lee is an interesting storyteller and the book focuses just as much on Taiwan’s geographical history as it does her personal history. She talks about the history of the island the geographical uniqueness of it. Her love for Taiwan certainly shines through and I did learn some interesting facts about Taiwan and it’s history, but I also learned a lot more about Taiwan’s trees and mountains than I really bargained for. On paper, as an avid hiker, you would think I’d love it, but I’m not really a big non-fiction reader, and certainly not a history reader, so it just didn’t quite deliver on something I was excited about reading.

So it’s a bit of a hard book to rate because I did think it was good, I just wasn’t invested in it. I read everything about her family history, but I ended up skim reading a lot of the geographical information. Good, just not for me.

She Said

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐
Author: Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey
Genres: Non-fiction
Pub. date: Sep. 2019 (read Aug. 2020 on Audible)

I’m getting in a bad habit of not writing any reviews for a while and then doing them all at once, which definitely isn’t great for remembering the details. I’ll do my best, but it’s been about a month since I read this one.

I jumped right into She Said pretty much immediately after finishing Ronan Farrow’s book Catch and Kill about the same topic. It was a lot of reading to do about one sleezebag, but I think reading them back to back was a good call as I was already familiar with the large cast of characters that makes up the story.

While Farrow seemed to have more testimonies and evidence of criminal charges against Harvey Weinstein, Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey deserve a lot of credit for being the first to break the story. Journalists have been trying to break this story for decades and kept being stymied, so it definitely matters that these two women were finally able to do it and it really opened the door for others like Ronan Farrow to bring this man to task.

One of the most shocking and memorable parts of Farrow’s book for me was the extent that other people went to to cover up for Weinstein. In this book, it was more the silencing power of NDA’s and the strength in numbers that left the largest impression on me. Kantor and Twohey talked to so many women and it was almost impossible to get anyone to go on the record. The biggest factor was that most of the women had signed NDAs and no one was willing to break the silence without similar stories from other women to back them up.

Ashley Judd was one of the women who really helped break the story open and I found it meaningful that she was willing to finally open up about her experience to Jodi and Megan because it was the first time she’d been approached by female journalists. It was also meaningful that the journalists boss was also a woman and yet another reason why having women in leadership positions is so damn important. While NBC was running around like chickens trying to kill the story to protect Harvey, the women at the Times were actually doing something about it. Respect.

Overall the book covers a lot of the same things. If I have to hear one more story about Weinstein cornering a woman in his hotel room asking for a massage I’m going to puke. But I thought She Said did a way better job at exposing Lisa Bloom for being such a snake. Reading about her in Farrow’s book I was like, ‘oh wow Lisa, low blow’, but this book really goes into the depth of which she was involved in helping Weinstein and exposed how a woman who made her name supposedly standing up for women, was actually actively trying to discredit and slander them. In essence, she really sucks.

What I really liked about this book was that it didn’t just focus on Weinstein. There’s a good part of the book dedicated to how disgusting Matt Lauer is and an even larger part about Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony against Supreme Court Justice, Brett Kavanaugh. A lot of reviewers felt this was a bit of a tangent, but I’m actually so appreciative to the authors for choosing to include this. I followed Kavanaugh’s hearing pretty closely at the time and I had no idea how reluctant Blasey Ford was to actually come forward. She tried to back out of it so many times, but ultimately gave up her anonymity to speak up for Americans because she just couldn’t justify not doing it.

Blasey Ford is recognized as one of the most reliable and best witnesses for a recount of sexual assault. She presented herself incredibly well at the hearing, speaking eloquently and specifically about what had happened to her. Almost everyone, even republics, agreed she was a good witness. Then Brett Kavanaugh got up and threw and hissy fit and was still confirmed to the highest court of justice in America. It’s repulsive.

Where Christine Blasey Ford failed was in being the only one. What all the women in the Weinstein case understood was that you can’t take someone down with only one story. You can’t even take them down with 2 or 3, you literally need dozens. What does it say about our society that we are so against believing women. Even if Blasey Ford’s testimony wasn’t true, do we really want a supreme court justice that we have to question in such a way? Much less one that is OBVIOUSLY not unbiased, highly driven by emotions, and threw a fucking temper tantrum at his hearing. If anything, he’s unfit to be a judge because of his temperament, no further evidence needed.

Finally, the book ends with a retreat with all the women that had come forward with allegations coming together to reflect on their stories, how it felt to come forward, and how we need to support and believe each other. It was really a beautiful part of the book and made me so much more appreciative to the two journalists for their work. While Farrow wanted to break the story and expose Weinstein, I felt these two women had compassion. They care and empathize for the very fact that they are women. Whether or not you have a story of rape or harassment like the women in this book, literally every woman has a story. It may seem small or as Roxane Gay would say, not that bad (also a great anthology, read it), but they all matter.

Chase Darkness With Me

Rating:
Author: Billy Jensen
Genres: Non-fiction, True Crime
Pub. date: Aug. 2019 (read Sep. 2019 on Audible)
Narrated by: Billy Jensen

Chase Darkness was a bit of an impulse buy. It came up in my search of “best audiobooks of 2019” (or something along those lines) and as usual, I bought it because I thought the narrator sounded good.

I recently listened to Michelle McNamara’s audiobook, I’ll be Gone in the Dark, which I really liked, so I figured I give this one a try too. The non-fiction nature of true crime translates pretty well to audio format and I was not disappointed. What I did not realize until listening to this book though, is that the author, Billy Jensen, is actually the author that finished Michelle’s book after her death. So it made for a really interesting read because he references Michelle’s book throughout and spends a chapter discussing the capture of the Golden State killer, which had not occurred at the time of publication of I’ll be Gone in the Dark.

So I do feel a bit like I stumbled upon this whole fan base of true crime and citizen solved crimes. Billy Jensen is a journalist. Unlike Michelle, he wasn’t totally focused on solving one single case, although there were crimes that have stuck with him over the years that he would really love to see solved. But Jensen’s real focus was on solving crimes through crowd sourcing on social media. He was haunted by several criminals who have never been ID’d, despite the police having decent photos or videos of them. Billy wondered if any of these crimes could be solved using social media. He experimented a bit with crowd sourcing and suddenly he was actually helping solve crimes!

That does make it sound a little bit easier than it actually was. In many cases Jensen was not able to get an ID on the criminals or killers, but in other cases, sharing crime videos and photos on platforms like facebook, and targeting the audience to a radius around where the crime was committed, did actually result in positive ID’s of the criminal!

I found this book interesting because it does look at a variety of cases instead of just one, and there is the immediate satisfaction of finding the answer to crimes that are many years old. Plus it was interesting to learn about the frustrations Jensen faced when he either couldn’t get an ID, or worse, did get an ID, but never a conviction or even an investigation because the police just couldn’t build up enough evidence. It was interesting that some of the criminals were ID’d based not on facial recognition, but recognition of their size, voice, gait, or general demeanor.

I’m not going to discuss any of the cases in my review, there wasn’t any particular case that stuck out to me. Mostly it was just interesting learning about citizen investigations. I find true crime fascinating enough, but I’m definitely not an aficionado, though it was interesting learning about people that are. There’s definitely a huge portion of people out there that are obsessed with true crime and solving decades-old crimes. Jensen is one of them and did let his obsession take over his life, especially once he actually starting solving crimes and had the police and victim’s families actively approaching him for help.

The book did end a little earlier than I was anticipating, because the last part is dedicated to citizen solves and is basically Jensen advising people who want to get involved in citizen investigations. That’s personally not me, so I skipped the last bit, but still enjoyed the book overall. It’s narrated by the author and I thought he did a good job.

I do think it enhanced the experience that I had already read Michelle McNamara’s book, so I’d maybe recommend reading hers first, though definitely not necessary. Both books had similar topics, but offer different listening experiences.

The Witches are Coming

Rating: ⭐
Author: Lindy West
Genres: Non-fiction, feminist, essays
Pub date: Nov. 5th, 2019 (read Aug. 2019)

This is another review I should have published ages ago! The Witches are Coming was also really high on my list of most anticipated books of 2019 and I wasn’t expecting to get an arc, but then it changed publishers and I ended up swiping a copy on Netgalley.

I used to read these essay type books about feminist issues all the time, but it’s been ages since I’ve picked one up. They were starting to get a bit repetitive, but I really enjoy Lindy West’s second book. I was a little on the fence at first, but she killed it with some of her later essays and I really liked it.

I’m struggling to remember many of the essays now, but the one that stands out in my mind is ‘What Is an Abortion, Anyways?’ Abortion is so controversial and so relevant in the United States right now and I thought this was a really good thought piece about it. She also discusses the #metoo movement and how things having been changing in her essay ‘Anger is a Weapon’. Women can literally never win. We’re mobilized by anger at the status quo, only to then have that anger used against us. It’s so hard to pursue justice when you’re not allowed to be loud, angry, or passionate about it.

So please forgive me for not reviewing this sooner. I am fuzzy now on a lot of the essays, but I was definitely interested in what Lindy had to say. She’s perceptive, relevant, and relatable. I did read her first book Shrill, although I haven’t seen the TV show, but I think I may have liked this book even more than Shrill. Keep on writing and being awesome Lindy!

The Witches are Coming is available in stores Nov. 5th, 2019.

I’ll Be Gone in the Dark

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Author: Michelle McNamara
Genres: Non-fiction, True Crime
Pub date: Feb. 2018 (read Feb 2019 on Audible)

Don’t you love when you stumble upon a book that you never intended to read and you end of loving it? This is one of those books. I saw I’ll be Gone in the Dark in the Goodreads Choice Awards this year (it ended up winning in its category), but it’s so different from what I normally read that I never really considered picking it up.

Fast forward a few months and I stumbled across it on Audible. I’m extremely picky with my audiobooks and won’t listen to anything with a narrator that I don’t love. I’m even adverse to listening to books I think I’m going to love because I always fear they won’t be quite as good as an audiobook and prefer to read them as paperbacks. I stumbled across this book some way or another and I really liked the narrator because she reminded me of the old true crime tv shows I used to watch on TLC in high school. So I decided to give it a go and ended up being totally absorbed into this mystery!

I’ll be Gone in the Dark isn’t really in my wheelhouse, but I do have a weakness for a good true crime documentary as much as the next person. Gillian Flynn makes a good point in her introduction about how there’s a fine line when it comes to writing about true crime because you’re basically taking entertainment from someone else’s tragedy. McNamara does a wonderful job on this look at the Golden State serial killer because she brings press back to a case that was left unsolved without glorifying the killer.

This is both a look at the crimes of the Golden State serial killer and how he evaded capture for so long, as well as a look at the obsession that can be birthed out of unsolved mysteries such as this one. McNamara examines both the crimes of the killer, as well as her own fascination with unsolved mysteries and how this specific criminal wormed his way into her life and the impact it had on her.

I have to credit McNamara’s writing. She is extremely compelling and methodical about the details, without being gratuitous. I thought more of this book was going to be devoted to following up leads on the identity of the serial killer, but it was more of an in depth look at the crimes of the killer than anything else. Michelle does some posturing with Paul Holes on what the killers profession and history might be based on the way he moves around, but there’s not a lot of time devoted to looking at suspects. I have to give credit to McNamara’s writing for this because looking at suspects sounds way more compelling to me than simply looking at his crimes, yet her writing was super engaging anyways. I think this book was more about bringing this story back to the public eye to re-invigorate law enforcement’s investigation than anything else. And we certainly can’t fault her for that as the killer was finally caught just after the release of this book. No one credits the book as revealing new information that finally led to the capture of a man who evaded the authorities for more than 40 years, but I definitely think she deserves to be credited with shining the spotlight back on this case.

It’s an interesting book because Michelle did pass away before the completion of the book and it was completed by her lead researchers post humorously. It creates an interesting dynamic to the story when you know the writer is no longer here to pursue it and even so, Michelle is just so present throughout it. She invites the reader into both her investigation and her life.

The only thing I didn’t really like about this book was the formatting. The story is not told in chronological order, which made things a little confusing by audiobook (I was constantly consulting the table of contents to see what point of the timeline I was reading about). I’m not sure why this choice was made, the story is certainly compelling enough that it didn’t deter me from reading further, but I thought it was an interesting choice to format things this way.

But all in all, a great read! Audiobooks generally take me 2-4 weeks and I flew through this one in just 4 days!