From Prison Cells to PhD

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I had some credits I needed to spend on Audible, so I was browsing the memoir new releases. That’s when I found Stanley Andrisse’s From Prison Cells to PhD. As interesting as it looked from the description, I still not prepared for how much I absolutely LOVED this book. This is an absolute must read if you enjoyed Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy.

From Prison Cells to PhD by Stanley Andrisse
From Prison Cells to PhD by Stanley Andrisse

Stanley writes about his experience as a drug distributer and how that life landed him in prison. When he was young, Stanley’s father always told him, “It’s never too late to do good.” Although Stanley didn’t fully comprehend his father’s words, they would guide him throughout his life.

Stanley started selling drugs as a way to get money. He discovered that he could make good money quickly by selling drugs. As he built connections, he managed people and moved significant amounts of drugs in the midwest. He was convicted of two drug offenses before he decided to get out of the business.

When Stanley visited a friend, they got into his car and were promptly pulled over by police. The police found his friend’s bong. Because of a “three strikes” lifelong criminal law, Stanley was convicted and sentenced to ten years in prison. After he got out of prison, he earned a PhD and became a diabetes researcher for Johns Hopkins University.

Inside the Prison Experience

Prison traumatized many people convicted of felonies. Stanley faced harassment, violence, and death threats while in prison. He saw more than one person killed and struggled to sleep during his years in prison.

He was held in solitary confinement for a month, charged with “inciting a riot.” When he was before a board to determine if he would get up to eleven more months of solitary confinement, the man questioning him quickly realized how unfair the charges were. Stanley’s “crime?” He copied four pages to a sheet when printing things off in the prison library. He spent a month in solitary confinement for breaking an arbitrary rule about photocopies in the prison library.

Difficulties of Post-Prison Life

After prison, Stanley watched many friends return to a life of crime because it was hard for a felon to find honest work. As he searched for jobs, Stanley was turned away because no one wanted to hire a convicted felon.

The post-prison struggles weren’t limited to work, though. Stanley struggled with dating. If he told a woman too soon about his convictions, he never got the chance to build a connection before they left. If he told them too late, he was perceived as dishonest.

When Stanley finished his PhD, he appreciated the application process for becoming a researcher. These positions didn’t require a form where he’d have to check a box indicating that he’s a felon. They just wanted information about his qualifications. Only after he had a job offer did the HR department look into his history. Even with his prior conviction, he was hired as a researcher for Johns Hopkins University.

Education to Prevent Recidivism

Although outsiders are inclined to think Stanley’s story of success after prison is exceptional, he writes that he doesn’t want people to think he’s an exception to the rule. He founded P2P, a nonprofit that helps convicted individuals get education and employment after prison.

Stanley’s work focuses on the idea that education is the best way to prevent recidivism. Instead of continuing the punish people after they’ve served their sentences, colleges should help equip them for a life outside of crime.

Studies show that colleges that allow felons as students are no less safe than those that don’t. In fact, most violent crime on college campuses is perpetrated by individuals without criminal records. Universities should not deny a person’s application based on prior convictions.

Review Breakdown

Writing – This memoir was beautifully written. The style was easy to follow and Stanley presents his history and advocacy in a clear way.

Story – Stanley’s memoir was compelling from start to finish. I listened to this book over the course of three days, although I wanted to listen to it all in one sitting. He shares his life story in a fairly linear way, helping readers to see all the things that factored into his decisions.

Mature Content – There is language and violence throughout the book. Stanley also details years of work as a drug distributer. Although he handles topics suited for mature audiences, he does so in a way that isn’t overly graphic.

Likability of Author – Stanley was very likeable. He was remorseful about the crimes he committed and some of the less likeable things in his past. Although he balks at the idea of being called inspirational, I found him to be just that.

BONUS Audiobook Review – I always love listening to memoirs narrated by the author, and this was no different. It was great hearing his inflection and how he described events. I highly recommend this audiobook if you’re looking for a way to spend your Audible credits.

Quick Review

In his book From Prison Cells to PhD, Stanley Andrisse reflects on his crime, conviction, and post-prison life. He writes about all of the factors that led to his ten-year prison sentence and thoughtfully reflects on the ways the system leads to recidivism. If you enjoyed reading Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy, this book is an absolute must-read. For those who enjoy audiobooks, the Audible version of this book is exceptionally good. This is the best book I’ve read so far in 2021!

Daddy’s Prisoner

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I found this memoir while I was browsing through books on Scribd, looking for my next read. Although I was off-put by the title, I read the synopsis to find out what it was about. After reading a couple paragraphs about the years of abuse Alice suffered at the hands of her father, I decided to read the book.

Daddy's Prisoner by Alice Lawrence with Megan Lloyd Davies
Daddy's Prisoner by Alice Lawrence with Megan Lloyd Davies

Alice and her siblings were raised in a poor household with an ailing mother and an abusive father. She was the second oldest of several children. All the children were wild and unruly in school. At home, though, they were physically beaten by their father. Instead of working, her father collected benefits for each of the children to fund his lifestyle.

Alice’s father started sexually abusing her when she was young. When her mother had a hysterectomy after a dangerous birth, her father started raping Alice. He told her that now she’d have to have children for him. Alice got pregnant several times by her father and most of her pregnancies ended in miscarriage.

Even when questioned by family members and the police, Alice did not tell them who fathered her children. She believed that if she told anyone, her father would kill her mother. Because of this, she made up fictitious stories of affairs with unnamed local men.

Most Graphic Memoir I’ve Read

This was the most graphic memoir I’ve read. Although she didn’t describe everything in detail, there were some graphic descriptions of physical and sexual violence. In one chapter, she graphically describes a specific sexual assault.

Alice writes about her pregnancies, her miscarriages, and the early death of her infant daughter. She details abuse that continued despite her pregnancies. Her experience is unsettling.

I strongly recommend that people read this with caution. Although I typically handle a decent amount of graphic content in memoirs, the content in this memoir was deeply disturbing. Her situation was so bad and for so long. What her dad did was dreadful and unforgivable.

An Unhappy “Happy Ending”

Alice eventually escaped her father’s abuse. Shortly after getting away from him, she met her husband. While her father spread rumors and spewed venom, Alice moved on and began a family with her husband. She only told him a little bit about the abuse her father inflicted.

One night, though, she couldn’t take it any longer. She told her husband about the sexual abuse, the pregnancies, and the constant threat that her dad would kill Alice and her mother. Although he wanted to comfort her, Alice’s husband could not understand why she would continue to contact her parents after years of abuse.

They struggled a lot, especially when Alice wanted her mother to spend time with her children. Although Alice never left her children alone with her dad, Alice’s husband couldn’t handle the situation any longer. He left her.

After rooting for Alice to escape, it was disappointing to learn that she ended up in such an unhappy marriage situation. While this is often what happens, it was sad seeing almost no resolution to her situation. Her father was later imprisoned, but only for three months. It was anti-climactic, but I suppose that’s how life is sometimes.

Review Breakdown

Writing – The writing was okay. It wasn’t amazing, but it wasn’t necessarily bad, either.

Story – This was an interesting story. It was dark and graphic at points. However, the story was interesting enough to keep me reading.

Mature Content – There was so much sexual content, as well as language throughout the book.

Likability of Author – The author was likable. I mostly just felt sad for her and the situations she faced. I have a personal pet peeve about name-calling, so I was a little off-put by the fact she referred to her dad as “The Idiot” throughout the book. However, this is a mild name when compared to his evil.

Quick Review

Daddy’s Prisoner is a dark memoir that details the years of abuse Alice suffered by her father’s hand. In graphic detail, Alice writes about years of physical and sexual abuse. When her mother could no longer bear him children, Alice’s father turned to her. She became pregnant and miscarried several times. Although this book is dark, it is interesting. It is a good reminder that not all stories get tied up into a pretty bow in the end.

Free Cyntoia

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After watching a documentary about Cyntoia Brown, I looked up her memoir, Free Cyntoia. After an extensive trial, the jury convicted Cyntoia for the murder and robbery of Johnny Michael Allen. During her trial, prosecutors painted her as a hardened criminal. This directly led to her lifetime sentence. She would not be eligible for parole until she was nearly seventy years old!

Free Cyntoia by Cyntoia Brown-Long
Free Cyntoia by Cyntoia Brown-Long

For the first few years in prison, Cyntoia was extremely angry about her situation. A Christian university offered her a chance to complete a college degree from prison. During her college years, she became a Christian and settled into a routine in prison.

When Cyntoia’s picture and criminal case went viral online, she saw that the public viewed her in a different light. In these social media posts, Cyntoia was painted as a trafficking victim who killed an older man who paid her for sex. Cyntoia and her legal team realized she might have justification for a retrial, as the law had changed to provide leneancy in cases like hers.

As she fought for her freedom, she began a relationship with the man she ended up marrying. In prison, she advocated for women facing situations similar to her own. Although she was sorry for the murder, she wanted to provide value to the world outside of the prison. In 2019, the governor granted clemency to Cyntoia. Freed, Cyntoia went home to enjoy life with her new husband.

Revisiting the Past

Cyntoia exhausted all of her legal means after her conviction. When she ran out of appeals, clemancy was her only remaining option. Although the laws had changed since she was convicted at sixteen years old, she remained imprisoned.

An older boyfriend forced her into prostitution when she was sixteen years old. By today’s definition, she was trafficked. However, trafficking was not the hot topic back then that it is today. The courts merely saw her situation as prostitution, painting her as a hardened criminal.

Reading this, I began to wonder about how many people remain imprisoned although new standards would have set them free. Rehabilitated individuals may deserve another chance at freedom, even if they haven’t served their entire sentence.

No matter how you feel about marijuana use, you have to struggle a little with the fact that people remain incarcerated in states where marijuana is now fully legal. Our justice system must take a look at these situations (as well as the convictions of minors) to remedy situations where the law has changed.

Rehabilitation in Prison

Although many claim that prison is for both punishment and rehabilitation, it’s no secret that our justice system often fails to rehabilitate criminal offenders. Educational programs, therapy, and classes on life skills should be provided more consistently.

There will always be criminals who offend again. However, we should not stop investing in life change because of criminals who are unwilling to change. It’s especially important to continue to offer rehabilitation programs for individuals incarcerated at a young age.

Maybe I’m naive, but I think we need to do more to holistically treat people facing long-term prison sentences. Cyntoia’s story reminds us that true change is possible, especially when resources and opportunities are provided to people in prison.

Review Breakdown

Writing – The writing was excellent. Cyntoia provided great insight into the feelings surrounding each event in her life.

Story – This story was phenomenal. It was told in an easy-to-understand and linear fashion. The story was engaging from start to finish.

Mature Content – There was sexual content and descriptions of crime, although none of these were described in an especially graphic way. It would be suitable for older teenagers.

Likability of Author – I found Cyntoia extremely likable. Although she made major mistakes, I found myself rooting for her throughout the book. When she started to make positive changes, I was so happy for her. Is it weird to say that I was even proud of her?

BONUS Audiobook Review – I loved the audiobook version of this memoir. Although Cyntoia talked fast, I enjoyed hearing her inflection. She was very expressive, giving me a deeper look into her life story.

Quick Review

I cannot recommend this book enough. It was a great story with inspirational subject matter. If you’re interested in reading about the justice system in America, I highly recommend this book. It gives insight into the appeals process, prison life, and ways the social justice system can be improved in the future. Cyntoia’s story provides a model for rehabilitation of prisoners with long-term prison sentences.

Her Last Death

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When I stumbled upon Her Last Death, I was fascinated by the book’s description. In the short blurb I read, I discovered that it was a book about a woman who decided against seeing her mother on her deathbed. Susanna’s mother lived an excessive lifestyle marked by addiction and abuse. After saying goodbye several times to a mother who was always “dying,” Susanna had exhausted her capacity for goodbyes.

Her Last Death by Susanna Sonnenberg
Her Last Death by Susanna Sonnenberg

Susanna was the older of two daughters. Susanna’s grandparents supported her, her mother and her sister after their parents divorced. Susanna’s mother was promiscuous and addicted to cocaine. When she was still in middle school, Susanna’s mother offered her cocaine for the first time. Throughout her childhood, Susanna’s mother encouraged her to engage in sexual behaviors and abuse substances.

Addiction and promiscuity led Susanna’s mother to a life in constant crisis. As a habitual liar, she constantly told her daughters things that weren’t true. In one incident, she told her daughters that they were going to take a road trip because she had just been diagnosed with cancer and only had a few weeks to live. On this “farewell tour,” Susanna and her sister grieved the impending loss of their mother. This and other similar events became a constant drain on Susanna’s emotions.

When the news came that Susanna’s mother was in an accident, Susanna chose not to visit her in the hospital. She had already grieved her mother’s death several times and didn’t have the emotional capacity to do it again.

Breaking through Generational Dysfunction

Susanna’s mother encouraged her promiscuity. After her mother pressured her to start having sex, Susanna had her first sexual encounter with a teacher. The affair with her teacher lasted several years. When the relationship ended, Susanna made it her personal goal to sleep with as many people as possible.

Despite her goal, Susanna eventually married and settled down. Through a healthy marriage relationship, she learned the value of vulnerability and faithfulness. Despite her husband’s kindness, she struggled against the thought processes instilled by her mother.

I come from a long line of alcoholics. Alcoholism is something I have always known. However, I don’t drink as an adult. Part of this is because I’m a pastor in a “dry” denomination. A large part, however, is because I know how dangerous one sip of alcohol could be for me. One sip is all it would take for me to fall down the rabbit hole of addiction. I’ve struggled against the temptation to drink throughout my entire life.

As I read Susanna’s memoir, it was easy for me to judge her behavior. There are things she did that seem unimaginable to me. Yet when I consider her childhood and the horrors inflicted by her mother, I see how much she’s improved her life since her childhood.

Review Breakdown

Writing – Susanna’s writing style was erratic. However, the style fit well with the subject matter. The content was still understandable in the midst of the erratic writing.

Story – The story jumped between events without regard for chronological order. However, the erratic plotline worked, painting a picture of what childhood looked like when marked by drug abuse and madness. Her memoir aimed to explain why she didn’t go to her mother’s bedside and she met that aim.

Mature Content – There is a LOT of mature content. This book contains drug use, explicit language, and graphic descriptions of sexual acts.

Likability of Author – Despite some of her bad actions, the author was likable. At the core, she desired to do the right thing. Although her mother mocked her for being a “goody two-shoes,” I commend her for wanting to improve herself.

BONUS Audiobook Review – The audiobook was read by the author, which was great for understanding the tone of certain conversations. I almost always enjoy hearing the book read by the author, since it gives more life to the story.

Quick Review

Her Last Death provides an emotional memoir with an interesting storyline. It provides a glimpse at what it looks like to grow up with an abusive mother. This book is very graphic, however, so I cannot recommend it for young readers or for those who are sensitive to these things. Although I typically have a good stomach for graphic content, I personally struggled with portions of the book. If you’re unsure about reading a book with graphic content, The Glass Castle may be a better fit for a similar story.

The Five

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It was by chance that I stumbled upon this book, which was in my recommended reads on Scribd. I wanted to listen to an audiobook to pass the time while I was in bed with a migraine. I found myself immediately immersed in the lives of Jack the Ripper’s victims.

The Five by Hallie Rubenhold
The Five by Hallie Rubenhold

Ask anyone what they know about Jack the Ripper or his victims, and almost every single person will mention the fact that he killed prostitutes. But what would happen if I told you that he did not, in fact, kill prostitutes? Only one of his victims was an active prostitute at the time of her murder. What these five women have in common, in actuality, was the fact they were sleeping on the streets.

This book traced the lives of these five women. Mary Ann Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes, and Mary Jane Kelly all lived lives filled with joys and sorrows before the fateful nights each of them met with Jack the Ripper.

These women had an education, often beyond what was typical of the time. After having an affair with their neighbor, Mary Ann Nichols’ husband cast her onto the streets. Husbands, siblings, and other relatives cast out some of the other victims for no other reason than their alcohol addiction

Debunking the Prostitution Myth

The five canonical victims of Jack the Ripper were not all prostitutes. These women all wandered and slept on the streets at night, due to poverty or circumstance. Jack the Ripper killed the last victim, Mary Jane Kelly, in the room she rented for the night. The murderer chose to kill women who were defenseless and most likely asleep.

For three of the victims, there is no evidence that they ever participated in prostitution. They were homeless and some of them were alcoholics. However, none of the people who knew these women knew of any prostitution. One of the women had been a prostitute but had turned away from prostitution for some time before her death. Only the last victim, Mary Jane Kelly, was a prostitute at the time of her death.

Alcoholism and Sexual Ethics

During the late 1800s, most middle and upper-class people viewed a connection between alcoholism and loose sexual morals. Because prohibition and anti-alcohol movements were common, people looked down on those who chose to drink, viewing them as degenerates.

At that time, people assumed that any woman who was drinking was probably also selling herself. This assumption was stronger if the woman was living on the streets.

Because people saw a correlation between alcoholism, homelessness, and promiscuity, it was a natural assumption that the women killed by Jack the Ripper were prostitutes. The print media went to great lengths to paint these women as prostitutes. This was easier than admitting that any woman was at risk if she was out at night.

The workhouse was a place where a woman could get a bed for the night and some food in the morning. Unfortunately, these charities created terrible living conditions that often drove women out of their care. When a woman entered the workhouse, she surrendered all of her belongings. With no possessions to her name, she would leave the workhouse poorer than she was before.

Many women had no choice but to choose between the terrible conditions of the workhouse and the instability of life on the streets.

Review Breakdown

Writing – The author provided a well-researched and beautifully written book. The author shared the stories of these women in a way that kept me reading.

Story – This was a compelling, eye-opening account of how the victims of Jack the Ripper have been misrepresented for over a century. It’s horrifying how this poor representation has influenced the opinions of people for so long.

Mature Content – There are sometimes graphic descriptions of life on the street. The book also explores issues of sexual morals and prostitution. While not overtly graphic, this may not be a suitable book for younger teenagers.

Likability of Author – The author, as a biographer, was not a character in the book itself. However, she did a good job of presenting the lives of these women and her opinions on their treatment in a way that helped the reader identify with them.

BONUS Audiobook Review – The audiobook was read by a woman with an English accent, which helped to transport me to England in the late 1800s. It was read in a way that kept me immersed in the story and helped me grasp the details.

Quick Review

The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper is an amazing biographical look at the lives of these five women. If you’re a fan of true crime or crime history, this can be an exceptionally good read. Because this book explores the lives of five different women, it gives the reader smaller stories within the larger narrative of Jack the Ripper’s crimes. This made it a great read during my downtime on vacation and would make it a great read for anyone looking to read a little bit here and there.

Facing the Music

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I was looking for another memoir to read when I stumbled upon Jennifer Knapp’s memoir, Facing the Music. Jennifer was a contemporary Christian artist who was popular when I was a preteen. After a few years of recording with TobyMac’s record label, Jennifer Knapp seemingly dropped off the face of the earth. Her memoir shares that story.

Facing the Music by Jennifer Knapp
Facing the Music by Jennifer Knapp

Jennifer Knapp’s early life was fraught with difficulty. After her parents’ divorce, she lived with her father and step-mother, who was an abusive force in her life. To escape the difficulties at home, Jennifer poured herself into her love of music. She learned to play multiple instruments and ended up with a music scholarship.

To cope with stress, Jennifer became steeped in alcoholism and promiscuity. A concerned Christian classmate eventually led Jennifer to Christianity. Shortly after Jennifer became a Christian, her talent for music put her in the spotlight. A Christian friend helped her get music gigs, although she did not especially enjoy performing music. After landing a record deal, Jennifer found herself on the road constantly, with little time off. The pressures of being a Christian artist continued to mount until Jennifer left it all behind.

In the aftermath of her experience, Jennifer admitted to herself that she was gay. She began a relationship with her road manager, Karen, and the two of them moved to Australia. After years of shutting music out of her life, Jennifer faced the painful memories and ventured back into the music industry, this time as a secular performing artist.

The Pressures of the Christian Music Industry

Any person in the public eye is going to face pressure. But in the contemporary Christian music industry, the pressure is intense and shrouded in spiritual language. Because Jennifer was a single woman traveling around the country, she was expected to stay in the homes of local Christians as a means of keeping her accountable to Christian purity standards.

Whenever she slipped up in the smallest of ways, she would receive criticism for “not being a good Christian.” In one instance, she was too tired after travelling to go rafting with her host family. They, in turn, contacted her boss to express their concern over her un-Christian behavior.

Jennifer took note early on that homosexuality would not be tolerated in the Christian community where she found herself. Because of this, she did her best to not feel attraction toward anyone. When she began to form feelings for her road manager, though, she realized she needed to get away from the Christian music industry. Although she still maintains faith in the teachings of Jesus, she struggles with some of the teachings of the institutionalized church.

I related to Jennifer’s experience of pressure from the Christian community. As a pastor, I am expected to act and behave in a way that is pastoral. To an extent, that’s a good thing: it wouldn’t be good if I were out getting drunk or sleeping around or acting violently. But the pressure and the criticism leave no room for mistakes, real or perceived. Over time, that pressure adds up.

Christian Communities: Lead with Grace, not Condemnation

I was recently listening to a lecture by Terry LeBlanc, who said, “The curse is destroyed by Christ, but the church has picked it up!” The divisions created by the world are abolished by Christ, but sometimes Christians become a plague of their own.

Don’t get me wrong: I love the church and I love my Christian friends. After all, I am a Christian! But the church has all too often led with condemnation and judgment when Scripture asks us to drop our stones and extend grace. There should always be room for hard conversations, but when we are constantly looking for failures or picking apart the actions of another person, we miss opportunities to build meaningful relationships.

The church values extroversion, to a point where we are doing a major disservice to introverts. We must have grace and understanding for our brothers and sisters who gain energy from time alone. In high school and college, the times I have received the harshest criticism were times that I showed my more introverted side. Although I am usually loud and outgoing, my hobbies are largely solitary ones. In taking this time away from people, I was met with condemnation. I often worry about the criticism my more introverted friends and family receive from church communities.

Review Breakdown

Writing – I loved Jennifer’s writing. It was laced with humor, which showed off the fun sides of her personality.

Story – This was an interesting story that had me captivated from the start. I enjoyed the behind-the-scenes look at the contemporary Christian music industry. Jennifer’s retelling really allowed me to feel her emotions.

Mature Content – There was a small amount of profanity and non-graphic descriptions of promiscuity and alcohol addiction.

Likability of Author – I found Jennifer to be VERY likable. I liked her sense of humor and perspective.

BONUS Audiobook Review – The audiobook was read by Jennifer, so I got a better glimpse of her personality. I always enjoy hearing the authors’ inflexions as they reflect on the events of their lives.

Quick Review

This was an amazing, yet heartbreaking read. Jennifer forces Christians to think about their criticism of other believers, especially those in positions of leadership. Her love of music and her desire to share her heart come across throughout the entire book. For those disillusioned by the church, Jennifer’s book provides a voice to some of those frustrations.

Endopocalypse

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After being diagnosed with endometriosis last year, I have been increasingly interested in the stories of women who have suffered from this disease. While looking for such memoirs, I stumbled upon Endopocalypse and was drawn to its dramatic title, and its subtitle that reads: “It Won’t Kill You, but it will make You Wish You Were Dead.” Finally! Here was someone who got just how painful this disease is! I started reading and immediately found myself relating to the pain that Nicole Jones suffered.

Endopocalypse by Nicole A. Jones
Endopocalypse by Nicole A. Jones

In her memoir, Nicole Jones describes her deteriorating health due to endometriosis. At one time, Nicole was healthy and physically active. Over time, though, she began to suffer increasingly severe pain and gynecological symptoms. These symptoms quickly became all-consuming, disrupting her work and family life.

Nicole describes the doctor’s appointments, the differing diagnoses, and the lack of proper treatment for women suffering from endometriosis. She writes about the difficulties of balancing work and a major illness. The inability of doctors, coworkers, and family to take her pain seriously is a recurring problem in the months of pain described in this memoir.

No Happy Ending for Women with Endometriosis

The book ends on a sour note. Nicole has refused additional hormone therapy because the therapy is not proven to help endometriosis and comes with severe side effects. Her daughter and husband are angry with her for not taking the hormones, and she is forced to manage her pain.

There is no cure for endometriosis. For decades, doctors have used hormone therapies to try to mask the symptoms. Those experiencing only mild symptoms may find birth control pills manage their symptoms well. Others endure hormone injections (either Depo Provera or Lupron) that (1) are expensive, (2) don’t work, and (3) cause often long-term side effects.

My Own “Endopocalypse”

I was diagnosed with endometriosis in 2019 after a laparoscopic surgery in August. During the surgery, the doctor removed some of the endometriosis. He prescribed Orilissa, which was then denied by my insurance. My insurance insisted that I try Lupron injections first.

In my desperation, I was willing to try anything. Immediately following my Lupron injection, I went to the hospital because the injection was causing me to be dizzy and disoriented. But the next day I felt great. For five weeks, I felt relief from my endometriosis pain. The injection, however, was supposed to provide twelve weeks of relief.

The pain came back, and with a vengeance. As of writing this, I am waiting to see an endometriosis specialist. I have watched as my body has endured the side effects of this medication. Most notable is the damage done to my thyroid and the near-constant joint pain I now experience. Both of these are documented side effects. When I asked my doctor, he said the “only” side effect I would experience was hot flashes. Talk about a bait and switch!

The Solution I Wish the Author Had

As heartbreaking as Nicole’s memoir is, her experience is not abnormal for those suffering from endometriosis. Lack of qualified care causes many women to go untreated or mistreated.

Many women have found relief through excision surgery done by a qualified surgeon. On Facebook there is a group called “Nancy’s Nook.” Here, qualified doctors are listed. This way, patients can get the care they need from doctors with experience removing all of the endometriosis during surgery. Those who undergo excision from a qualified doctor often experience at least a decade of relief.

This Tuesday I see the “Nook” doctor for the first time. I have a lot of hope, although there are still a lot of questions. Can the damage done to my body by the Lupron be undone? Will the surgeon, though qualified, take me and my pain seriously? Like Nicole’s memoir, my story is still unfinished.

Review Breakdown

Writing – The writing was bad. Her writing read like it was written by a high school student, with sentence fragments and an excessive number of ellipses. I am also fairly judgmental toward anyone over the age of fifteen who uses the term “frenemy” to describe someone. She frequently referred to a coworker of hers as her “frenemy.”

Story – The story itself was interesting. It was a glimpse into the emotional and time-consuming process of getting a diagnosis of endometriosis and finding treatment. For those unaware of the pains of the process, this book gives helpful insight.

Mature Content – There is not much for mature content, beside graphic descriptions of medical problems and a fair amount of profanity.

Likability of Author – Nicole was immensely unlikable. Her husband seemed like a pretty terrible person, but some of her complaints about him made her sound petty. For example, she spent an extended amount of time writing about how one night she went to bed to watch TV. When he joined her, she said she could move to the living room, but he said he was okay with the TV. To her irritation, he pretty soon asked her to turn it down. This made her irrationally angry (as she readily admits). While this and her commentary on her relationships with other friends and family give insight into the emotionally taxing nature of this disease, her willingness to put these thoughts into writing was offputting. Again, her use of the term “frenemy” did not do anything to endear her to me.

Quick Review

This memoir is a helpful glimpse inside the experience of a woman suffering from endometriosis. Although it was poorly written and edited and provided an unflattering portrait of the author’s personality, I would still recommend it to those who want to understand what life is like for those suffering from endometriosis. Despite the extreme nature of her descriptions, I found her own experience with endometriosis to be very similar to my own.

The Glass Castle

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When I first saw previews for The Glass Castle, I knew it was a film I wanted to see. I mentioned the movie to my husband, who laughed as he read its synopsis. “So basically it’s a movie about your life?” he asked. When I saw that the movie was based on a memoir, I decided to pick up the book first. And while the details are eerily similar in many respects, Jeannette Walls has had a life much wilder than mine has ever been.

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

Jeannette Walls is the second of four children. Her father was a brilliant man who taught her and her siblings about math and science but also brought terror on them through his alcohol and gambling addictions. Their mother was an artist, but loved her art to the neglect of her parenting responsibilities. Together, her parents were a toxic combination that formed instability and turmoil for the children. They constantly moved around, living in poverty because of their parents’ choices.

In this memoir, Jeannette details moving from town to town and finally settling in her father’s hometown, where they bought a tiny house that was falling to pieces. Even in their poverty, their father believed that they would be able to build a castle out of glass one day. He carried the floor plans they had created for this castle, and the members of the family constantly added to these plans. In the backyard of their tiny, broken down house, the children dug a foundation for this castle under their father’s direction. However, life’s hardships required them to eventually fill it with trash. It is under these poor conditions that Jeannette and her older sister began to make plans to move to New York and start their lives apart from their parents.

A Heartbreaking Birthday Wish

One of the most powerful parts of this memoir was Jeannette’s recollection of her tenth birthday. Her dad took her outside to ask her what she wanted. He said he would get her anything, even if he had to die trying to get it.

Instantly she knew what she wanted, but she didn’t know if she should say it. As I listened to the audio recording of the book, I knew what she wanted, too.

Her dad pushed and begged her to tell him what it was that she wanted. Nothing was too big.

Finally, she told him: “Maybe you could stop drinking.”

I was driving to work as I listened to this part of Jeannette’s story, and I began to sob. Big, ugly tears. How many times have I wished that my own father might give up his addictions, for me? Oh, as an adult I know there’s so much more to addiction than selfishness. People use drugs and alcohol to numb unimaginable amounts of pain, but find themselves trapped by their addictive powers. But as a daughter, I want my dad to be my dad again. Sober.

Jeannette’s wish is heartbreaking not just because a ten-year-old girl wished for her dad to be sober for her birthday, but because that’s the wish of so many of us.

Skip the Movie and Read the Book

I ended up watching the movie, although my husband and I waited until after I read the book. There were a lot of things I liked about the movie, but I loved the richness of the book so much more.

The movie jumped around a lot more than the book did. While it probably made enough sense without having read the book, I felt like there were so many things in the movie that were underemphasized. Things that were important in the book seemed to be background images in the movie.

While my husband (who didn’t read the book) really liked the “present day” timeline in the movie, I did not. I felt like the time spent on it could have been used to make more sense of the things that happened in the book. Multiple stories from the book were combined into single scenes, making them lose their punch. For example, Jeannette’s birthday wish was turned into a plea for her dad to stop drinking when he returned home drunk one night.

That doesn’t mean there weren’t parts that touched me, though. One scene brought me to tears. Several others seemed to take on new life because I saw the film version. While I don’t think the movie is a complete waste of time, if you had to choose one or the other I highly recommend the book.

Review Breakdown

Writing – The writing was great. It carried the feel of the people and the story well.

Story – The story was intensely compelling from start to finish. While the last little bit seemed a little slower than the rest, it was still interesting and brought a feeling of resolution. It was a story that made me want to keep reading.

Mature Content – There was a lot of profanity (mostly used in quotes of Jeannette’s father). There was a fair amount of violence and gruesome depictions of the effects of alcoholism and poverty on a family. Jeannette also describes a few sexual abuse experiences, although not graphically.

Likability of Author – Jeannette was likable as I read this book. Occasionally her nearly-blind support of her father was frustrating. However, that support is understandable considering the bond between parent and child.

BONUS Audiobook Review – I always love when the audiobook is read by the author. It was great hearing Jeannette Walls read this book. It added extra life to the story hearing the inflection exactly as she intended it to be.

Other Books by Jeannette Walls – Dish: The Inside Story on the World of Gossip (2000); Half Broke Horses: A True-Life Novel (2009); and The Silver Star (2013).

Quick Review

The Glass Castle is an emotional and rewarding read, especially for adult children of alcoholics. I personally found it to be especially cathartic as I worked my way through Jeannette’s story, finding myself having many of the same emotions and experiences that she has had. This book was well-written and had a story that kept me interested throughout. Of the books I’ve read so far this year, this one may be my favorite.

Sickened

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Julie Gregory shares her heartbreaking story in Sickened. This memoir details the abuse she suffered at the hands of her mother, who subjected her to unnecessary medical testing. Known as Munchausen’s by Proxy, those who subject their children unneeded medical treatment gain a sense of importance and needed sympathy because of their roles as caretakers.

Sickened by Julie Gregory
Sickened by Julie Gregory

Julie was raised by her schizophrenic father and her abusive mother. Her mother started taking Julie to doctors for medical tests she did not need at a very young age. When they arrived at the doctor’s office, her mother would tell her to act sick. In elementary school, Julie began to realize that not all of the symptoms that her mother described were ones she really felt. Even so, she went along with her mother’s instructions. The medical tests became increasingly invasive as she got older. At one point, Julie’s mother even asked a doctor to do open heart surgery on her. When he refused, she became enraged.

The abuse extended outside of the doctor’s office. Julie’s mother would provoke her father into fits of rage. Blinded by his rage, he would beat his children. In one such incident, he nearly beat Julie to death. When Julie was in high school, her family’s home caught on fire while she was spending the night at a friend’s house. It was not until years later that she found out her parents set it on fire to claim the insurance money. This realization, among others, helped Julie to understand the extent to which her childhood was abusive. She sought counseling for her trauma and worked intentionally on her recovery.

The Failure of Adults in Julie’s Life

Besides her parents, many other adults failed Julie during her years of abuse. Most obvious were the doctors and nurses who treated her. While Munchausen’s by Proxy was relatively unknown at the time, the doctors should have noticed Julie’s lack of symptoms or positive medical results.

When Julie was thirteen and about to undergo some medical tests, she told a nurse that she didn’t need the tests because she wasn’t really sick. She told the nurse that her mom was forcing her to pretend. In response to this revelation, the nurse sedated her and continued with the test.

In high school, Julie went to talk to a counselor about emancipation. She told him about all of the abuse. When she arrived home, she found out that he had told her parents everything she had confided in him. She was beaten severely and then received counseling from the school counselor weekly for the rest of the year for her “overactive imagination.”

All of these failures by the adults in her life were heartbreaking to read about. Each time she tried to reach out and get help, her situation got worse in some way. It is my hope that if a child ever reaches out to me in my position in the church, I can get them help without making things worse for them.

Review Breakdown

Writing – Overall the writing was above average. At times it got very abstract, but I felt that it was a good glimpse into the mind of a very traumatized person.

Story – The story was very morbidly interesting. It had a good pace and kept my interest throughout the entire book. This is a story I will continue to think about for the weeks to come.

Mature Content – There is nearly too much mature content to list. The author uses abundant profanity and a slew of racial and derogatory slurs. While these are things that are coming out of her parents’ mouths, they are still contained in the pages of the book. There are also vivid descriptions of terrible abuse. This is certainly not a read for young readers or for the faint of heart.

Likability of Author – Reading this book, I wanted the author to win. I wanted her to get away from her parents. Although a reader from a healthier background may be frustrated by some of the decisions she made, I found her to be overall likable. It was inspiring to me that she was able to move past her abusive situation.

Other Books by Julie Gregory – My Father’s Keeper (2009)

Quick Review

Sickened was a very intense and interesting read. Once I picked it up, I did not want to put it down, despite its very mature content. I thought that its adult content offered a glimpse into the life of a severely abusive home. Although I have read books about other abusive situations, Julie Gregory’s book offers the unique perspective of a victim of Munchausen’s by Proxy. My main complaint is that the book finished on a cliffhanger that does not appear to be answered in her second book, My Father’s Keeper (according to reviews). I will likely be picking up her other book to read more of her story.

Cravings

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Last summer I read It Was Me All Along by Andie Mitchell and was incredibly inspired by her journey of losing over a hundred pounds. She found joy in cooking her own meals and living in moderation as a key to her success. When I read the summary of Cravings on Amazon, I thought I would find a similarly inspiring read. While still an interesting book, this book was not what I wanted it to be.

Cravings by Judy Collins
Cravings by Judy Collins

Judy Collins struggled with food her entire life. Between her binge eating and crash diets, she estimates that she has gained and lost over a thousand pounds over the course of her life. After her music career began to take off, she began purging her meals in an attempt to balance her binge eating with her desire to keep the pounds off. In the midst of her eating disorder, she suffered from severe alcoholism. In the end, she found that extreme measured eating and elimination of grains, starches, and sugar could help her control her eating.

“I want to suggest to you that if you are at all inconvenienced by your relationship to food, you should find a plan that might help you live with joy around your meals and in your life.”

Judy Collins

Between chapters sharing her personal journey, Judy wrote about the lives of the “diet gurus.” These gurus were those who invented or tried different diets, many of which she tried. The gurus she wrote about ranged from those living hundreds of years ago to the creators of Weight Watchers. All of the stories she wrote about had her own experience with the diet sprinkled into the story.

Not the Diet Memoir I Anticipated

The Amazon description of this book says that Judy Collins had an overeating problem that “nearly claimed her career and her life.” It says that she started a strict diet that “allowed her to maintain a healthy weight for years,” among other things.

Without knowing who Judy Collins is, I assumed that she had been overweight at some point in her life. The Amazon description of the book makes no mention of her bulimia, which is a theme throughout the book. Although it mentions “compulsive eating” and a “fraught relationship with food,” it is easier for a reader unfamiliar with her to assume she had an amazing weight loss story.

Near the beginning of the book, she made the claim that through her compulsive eating and crash dieting, she gained and lost over a thousand pounds. At first, I still had in mind that she must have lost some large amount of weight at some point.

Upon closer inspection, I started to view that number with skepticism when I (1) found out her peak weight was 140 pounds and (2) when I started to think about how during the course of a day a person’s weight can fluctuate as much as a pound or two. Depending on how obsessively I was to weigh myself, I could make that same claim in two years, and that’s just taking into consideration food and water.

Judy Collins Still Had Eating Problems

While I’m probably being a bit too critical of this number, I am still skeptical of a person writing about weight loss who never weighed more than 140 pounds. According to a BMI calculator, she would have to be shorter than 5’3″ to actually be overweight at 140 pounds. While I am unable to find her height online, Judy Collins appears to be an average height and was unlikely in the “overweight” category.

But all of this does not negate the fact that she had real eating problems. Her cravings, binge eating, bulimia, and alcoholism are all serious problems. The problem I have with this book is its dishonesty in promoting her weight loss. Even the first half of the book makes great claims about weight loss (giving the “gained and lost 1000 pounds” number). It’s just frustrating to find out halfway through the book that her peak weight was only 140 pounds.

A Seemingly Unreasonable Solution

After spending most of the book writing about her disordered eating, Collins spent an unsatisfactory amount of time writing about the solutions to her problems. In addition, the solution she found seems inaccessible for the average person.

For Judy Collins, the answer to her binge eating and alcoholism is “Greysheeters Anonymous.” It is the most restrictive meal plan that “Overeaters Anonymous” uses. This plan does not allow gluten, starches, and sugars. All food is supposed to be strictly measured by weight.

In one chapter about the solution, Collins wrote that she owns several food scales. She travels with them so that she is always able to weigh her food. When she eats out, she weighs her food to make sure she is staying within the limits of her diet. While she claims that this diet brings her freedom, I cannot imagine taking a scale into a restaurant and weighing my food before I eat and thinking, “Wow, I’m so free now!”

I’m glad it works for her, but this book did not offer much hope for someone looking for a diet that might work with a busy lifestyle. Perhaps I have been unfair in comparing Cravings to Andie Mitchell’s It Was Me All Along, but had this book been more like Mitchell’s book I may not have been so disappointed.

Review Breakdown

Writing – This memoir was not terribly written. However, it was not very impressive either. I personally thought that the chapters about the diet gurus were written better. My husband suggested that perhaps her editor felt freer to edit chapters that weren’t about her life. However, different styles of chapters can also seem to have different “levels” of quality, too. It’s possible the difference I felt was all in my head.

Story – I found the short stories about the diet gurus very engaging. Although the author’s own story was interesting, I thought there were points where she was very repetitive. Reviewers who have read multiple books by Collins point out that there is overlap between this and her other books.

Mature Content – The author writes about her son’s suicide, her alcoholism, and her lifelong eating disorder. This book may not be appropriate for all audiences.

Likability of Author – Personally, I did not find Judy Collins likable in this book. I am unfamiliar with her music or any of her other work. Had this book’s advertising not been so deceptive I would have likely enjoyed it and her more.

Other Books by Judy Collins – Trust Your Heart (1987), Amazing Grace (1991), Shameless (1995), Singing Lessons (1998), Sanity and Grace: A Journey of Suicide, Survival and Strength (2003), The Seven T’s: Finding Hope and Healing in the Wake of Tragedy (2007) and Sweet Judy Blue Eyes: My Life in Music (2011)

Quick Review

Cravings was not the diet book that I was expecting at all. I was skeptical of her claims after finding out that her peak weight was only 140 pounds. Judy Collins did have an unhealthy relationship with food between her bulimia, crash dieting, and alcoholism. However, the book’s claims that her diet helped bring her to a healthy weight seems like a stretch. Had this memoir been more upfront about Collins’ specific dieting issues, it may have reached its intended audience better. The story was interesting, though repetitive with average writing. With all of these things considered, I would only recommend this book to those who are fans of Judy Collins or who are interested in reading more about eating disorders.