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Reviews of what you should be reading next.

The Arrangement by Robyn Harding

A Pretty Woman tale turns toxic and deadly in this provocative and riveting thriller of sex, obsession, and murder from Robyn Harding, the “master of domestic suspense” (Kathleen Barber) and the USA TODAY bestselling author of The Party and Her Pretty Face.

Natalie, a young art student in New York City, is struggling to pay her bills when a friend makes a suggestion: Why not go online and find a sugar daddy—a wealthy, older man who will pay her for dates, and even give her a monthly allowance? Lots of girls do it, Nat learns. All that’s required is to look pretty and hang on his every word. Sexual favors are optional.Though more than thirty years her senior, Gabe, a handsome corporate finance attorney, seems like the perfect candidate, and within a month, they are madly in love. At least, Nat is…Gabe already has a family, whom he has no intention of leaving.

So when he abruptly ends things, Nat can’t let go. She begins drinking heavily and stalking him: watching him at work, spying on his wife, even befriending his daughter, who is not much younger than she is. But Gabe’s not about to let his sugar baby destroy his perfect life. What was supposed to be a mutually beneficial arrangement devolves into a nightmare of deception, obsession, and, when a body is found near Gabe’s posh Upper East Side apartment, murder.

Emotionally powerful and packed with page-turning suspense, The Arrangement delves into the sordid, all-too-real world of shadowy relationships between wealthy, powerful men and the young women who are caught in their web.

Thanks to NetGalley for this ARC!

Before I read this story, I had no idea what a “sugar baby” was. Now I know, thanks to this mostly forgettable story by the author of THE PARTY. Everyone is entitled to a flopper sometimes, and this one is Harding’s.

Struggling college student Natalie joins the over-the-top world of sugar daddies and babies when she is literally on her last dollar and has nowhere to turn. She is lacking self-confidence, but once she is dressed in designer duds and has a gorgeous older man on her arm, she becomes a sensual viper, living it up and loving every minute of it – even the intimacy. Then Daddy has a change of heart and decides to give all his attention to his beleaguered wife and hippie daughter, so Natalie loses her mind. The rest of the book is about Natalie boozing it up, complete with crying jags, stalking, and unhealthy behavior. Then there is a murder; Natalie is blamed and faces jail time.

At this point the book becomes interesting due to the plot twist and further development of Gabe’s wife. Natalie is a one-dimensional whiny girl who is in over her head, and it was hard to become invested in her future. Gabe was a typical narcissist rich guy, and I could see him dumping Natalie a mile away.

Harding’s writing style is great as usual, but there wasn’t the usual suspense that she is known for in this book. Even the ending with the twist seemed to sputter out and die with no lasting effects. I’m sure there will be lots of people who think I’m nuts for not loving it – but we are all entitled to our own opinion. You can pick up your copy here.

 

The Pain of Suicide by Dr Jo-Ann Rowland

 

Every suicide is an individual tragedy whose origins challenge our mental capacity. Suicide is a global phenomenon. Each year there are over 800,000 reported suicides worldwide and that is expected to increase to over 1.5 million by 2020. More people attempt suicide than die from suicide. Family-member survivors and communities are left with many unanswered questions, not understanding why the person chose to commit suicide. Persons responding to suicide and suicide attempts are very often not prepared for what they encounter and this exacerbates the problem. This book looks at the struggles of a high-risk people group and presents interventions and postventions proffered in a consultation forum.

Thank you to Authoright for this ARC!

Dr Rowland’s concern for those lost to suicide is evident in this well-researched book. She concentrates on the suicide rate in Guyana, South America, since this little country had the highest number of suicides in 2012 and 2014. Further into the book she examines some insights into the suicidal mind, the effect of religion on those who want to kill themselves, and a discussion of “psychache”, the ongoing mental, emotional, and psychological emotions experienced by suicidal people.

Regarding Guyana, suicide has historically been a part of the Indian experience, with an average yearly number of about 123,000. There are various predisposing factors, such as culture and sociology, which the author explores further in other chapters.

Hopelessness and suicidal ideation are common threads amongst all races, with the thought being that counseling (both for the depressed person and bereavement) would be helpful. The stigma and grief are nearly unbearable, and the act should not be glamorized. Regarding this last statement, the World Health Organization created guidelines for media reporting of suicides such that a phenomenon called “suicide contagion” does not occur. These guidelines include not placing blame, calling the act “completed” rather than “successful”, and highlight alternatives to suicide. These may appear obvious, but there are stories in the book where friends and relatives seemingly ignored or didn’t understand multiple warning signs given off, and someone died as a result of this.

Dr Rowland’s research was conducted through meetings with both relatives of, and survivors of, suicide attempts. Her goal was to determine why the suicide rate in Guyana was so high and to see if she could make a difference in this number. Transcripts of her meetings were also analyzed independently by two Guyanese, who applied both cultural and academic reason to their analysis. Intervention strategies were discussed by a panel of doctors and social workers after the research findings were examined. Some of these intervention strategies included community care groups, parenting/coping skills, school-based programs, and the establishment of drug courts. This last item is quite important, for pesticides and drugs are used as a method for suicide. Many Guyanese are farmers and have ready access to agricultural chemicals.

Reasons discovered for suicide included depression, substance abuse, and family dysfunction. Family conflicts arose out of cultural differences between children and parents, or marriages where the husband did not support his wife adequately. Guyanese families are structured around the patriarchal system, and “culture shock” can occur when mothers need to work to support the family and the children are left alone with no caregivers.

Suicide survivors expressed the pain of being misunderstood and unsupported by parents or family. There is also a stigma so forceful that one parent “self-discharged” her minor child, claiming the embarrassment of the attempt was too much for the family to bear.

The author concludes that lack of coping skills devalues the meaning of life, and drive these hurting individuals to seek “peace” via suicide. The reasons are the same no matter what country one is from, and there is heartache (or psychache) within every culture.

Dr Rowland has set up an organization in Guyana called Ephrathah, built specifically to engage those who are hurting. Counseling and persona development programs are offered to help reach those who are in despair, regardless of ethnicity or community status. I feel this organization will go a long way to help these vulnerable individuals.

I commend Dr Rowland for giving of her time and interest so freely. She is truly a caring soul who is seeking to mitigate suicidal ideation not only in Guyana, but all over the world. Her research can be translated into any culture in any country and needs to serve as a wakeup call to those who may have suicidal friends or relatives. Mental health can be a challenge at any age or stage, and we must all be willing to give that extra attention to someone who is depressed or hurting. That little bit may go a long way in saving a life. Please take the time to read this book and understand more about suicide. You can get your copy here.

The Ministry of Truth by Dorian Lynskey

An authoritative, wide-ranging and incredibly timely history of 1984 — its literary sources, its composition by Orwell, its deep and lasting effect on the Cold War, and its vast influence throughout world culture at every level, from high to pop.

Nineteen Eighty Four isn’t just a novel; it’s a key to understanding the modern world. George Orwell’s final work is a treasure chest of ideas and memes — Big Brother, the Thought Police, Doublethink, Newspeak, 2+2=5 — that gain potency with every year. Particularly in 2016, when the election of Donald Trump made it a bestseller (“Ministry of Alternative Facts,” anyone?). Its influence has morphed endlessly into novels (The Handmaid’s Tale), films (Brazil), television shows (V for Vendetta), rock albums (Diamond Dogs), commercials (Apple), even reality TV (Big Brother). The Ministry of Truth is the first book that fully examines the epochal and cultural event that is 1984 in all its aspects: its roots in the utopian and dystopian literature that preceded it; the personal experiences in wartime Great Britain that Orwell drew upon as he struggled to finish his masterpiece in his dying days; and the political and cultural phenomenon that the novel ignited at once upon publication and which far from subsiding, has only grown over the decades. It explains how fiction history informs fiction and how fiction explains history.

Thanks to NetGalley for this ARC!

Be advised – if you loved 1984 you will also love the many companion works cited in THE MINISTRY OF TRUTH. 1984 was well-known and influential, but it was just one among many dystopian/utopian works during Orwell’s life. The author has definitely done his research and it shows. The beginning is heavy with politics, then smooths out about 20% in with excellent compare and contrast of HG Wells, Orwell, and Aldous Huxley.

Orwell admired Brave New World, up to a point. He had fond memories of being taught by Huxley at Eton in 1918; a classmate claimed Huxley had given Orwell a “taste for words and their accurate and significant use”. However, [Orwell] was unconvinced by Brave New World’s tyranny of gratification. He notes that there was no “power-hunger, no sadism, no hardness of any kind. (E)veryone is happy in a vacuous way….it is difficult to believe that such a society could endure”.

The author goes on to note that 1984 and BNW overlap in one area: the status of the proles, then provides more compare/contrast dialogue. This is what makes the book shine – thoughtful and erudite treatment of multiple dystopian works and the ways they matter.

Other authors whose history is intermingled with Orwell’s are included in this book. We will learn more about Yevgeny Zamyatin (who Orwell was accused of plagiarizing), Ayn Rand, and Jimmy Burnham. The movie THX1138 and Animal Farm are also discussed at length. Each of these chapters add another layer explaining the genius of the tortured and driven Orwell. As the book progresses, the politics and descriptions of war-torn London do so as well. Finally,  as the tubercular Orwell languishes in bed, post-war London starts its progression forward.

The second portion of the book brings 1984 into pop culture, and how the book affected music, movies, stagflation, and politics. Author Anthony Burgess compares his own blockbuster novel, A Clockwork Orange, to 1984 and shares his thoughts about Orwell. Time moves forward into the ‘60’s, ‘70’s and ‘80’s, with politics continuing to be at the forefront. McCarthyism rears its ugly head, if only for a moment. It is amazing how the author is able to use 1984 as the center of everything – this novel was much more influential than anyone could guess.

Altogether, this book is layered with anecdotes, political views, comparison, and original thoughts. If you are a fan of Orwell, you will adore this book. I certainly gained a new view of both Animal Farm and 1984 and plan to go back to re-read both. You can pick up your copy of THE MINISTRY OF TRUTH here.

Rosalind by Judith Deborah

There’s everyone else in the world. And then there is you.

World-class heart surgeon Dr. Peter Sutter runs his life with the instinctive precision of a master of the universe. But when he leaves the operating room, the only living thing waiting for him is a golden retriever. Then a chance encounter with an enigmatic woman changes everything.

Exploring the depths of Rosalind’s intoxicating body and captivating spirit, Peter quickly falls under her spell. Miraculously, the feeling is mutual.  But fate is waiting just around the corner. And it might be carrying a lead pipe.

Rosalind is a sensual, witty, moving story about the joy of real love, the surprise and delight of unexpected passion, and the transcendent power of human connection.

 

Thanks to NetGalley and the author for this ARC!

ROSALIND is a short, sweet story about emotions and life. The relationship between the main characters is heady and absorbing without being overly saccharine. I enjoyed reading about Peter and Rosalind so much that the ending really shocked me and made me think what I would do if I were in that position. The way the author presented the twist made it so much more anguishing than if she had done a great deal of foreshadowing. The book is so short that there isn’t much room for a lengthy buildup, but that is one of the more endearing qualities of ROSALIND.

The only fault I found with the book, necessary though it was to keep the plot captivating, was the fact that both Peter and Rosalind were two gorgeous, rich people with no care in the world. There were never any money issues, or instances of self-doubt (save in the beginning when Peter looks at himself with a critical eye as Rosalind goes off to the gym). The perfection was almost too perfect. However, perhaps that is what the author intended, to make the ending hit harder. If the characters had other struggles in their life, I may have thought the plot twist was par for the course. However, this could be a way of saying that despite money and looks, you never know what life is going to throw at you.

ROSALIND is a quick read with likeable characters and a thought-provoking ending. You can get your copy here.

 

The Perfect Girlfriend by Karen Hamilton

YOU’VE NEVER READ A LOVE STORY AS TWISTED AS THIS.

Juliette loves Nate.
She will follow him anywhere. She’s even become a flight attendant for his airline so she can keep a closer eye on him. They are meant to be.

The fact that Nate broke up with her six months ago means nothing. Because Juliette has a plan to win him back.
She is the perfect girlfriend. And she’ll make sure no one stops her from getting exactly what she wants.

True love hurts, but Juliette knows it’s worth all the pain…

 

Thanks to NetGalley for this ARC!

This book is so close to the diary of a stalker that you will be simultaneously appalled (jeez, that’s scary!), confused (why can’t she see that he doesn’t care for her?), and sympathetic (she really needs help, I hope she gets it). That combination of emotions didn’t work for me, as the feeling that overpowered everything was disgust. This woman just did not get it. The begging and pleading and duplicity were way too much for me to keep on going. That being said, I did finish the book despite my soul pleading for me to just DNF and move on. The author made a good showing, and I am sure there is a better second book in the works.

I will say the writing is good, the characters were mostly fleshed out and the twist at the end was something I didn’t see coming. The actual ending….meh. I felt that anyone who made it through the slog should have deserved better. The more I think about it, the more I call it a cop-out.

THE PERFECT GIRLFRIEND is one of the few books that I regretted spending time reading, even as I turned the pages. Perhaps if Juliette was less clingy (would that have diluted the story?) or if the book was shorter (there was a lot of plans and wailing and gnashing of teeth). At times it seemed as if the plot consisted of Juliette just breaking into places (some of which seemed nigh impossible) then vacillating between love and hatred for Nate. At least seven instances of that could have been removed to make the book go faster.

I think this book is one you will either love or hate – which one will you be? You can pick up your copy here.

Fukushima and the Coming Tokyo Earthquake by Tony Smyth

This book details the story of two earthquakes, one that has already happened and one that is imminent, and their consequences, not only for Japan but also for the rest of the world. It is structured in a way that ‘chunks up’ in sections, from local/national events through to global consequences.
The first section of the book tells the story of how a country that suffered atomic bombing ended up obtaining a third of its electricity from nuclear power, despite having the misfortune to be located in the most seismically active zone in the world. It then depicts the sequence of what happened in March 2011 after the tsunami struck.
Next, the book details recent peer-reviewed studies about radiation and its effect on human health. The following chapter reveals the full costs of nuclear power– an energy source that never comes in on budget and is incredibly expensive. The final part of this section of the book describes the inadequacy of storing spent nuclear fuel once a nuclear power station has been decommissioned.
The latter half of the book adopts a larger frame or viewpoint and looks at the use of nuclear and renewable energy in the context of world climate change and the widespread use of fossil fuels.
The final section of the book depicts a coming Tokyo earthquake and its consequences. A big earthquake in or near Tokyo is overdue. They usually happen every sixty to seventy years, yet the last one was in 1923. The author asserts that Japan will have to repatriate much of its treasury bonds which are held in the United States. The tsunami and meltdowns of 2011 represent the most expensive natural disaster in history. Even though Japan is the third biggest economy in the world, because of an estimated debt from the tsunami and Fukushima meltdowns of at least $500 million and weak indebted economy, it will struggle to pay this amount. The most obvious way to pay for rebuilding will be to sell stocks and treasury bonds held in the United States.
An earthquake striking Tokyo will hit right at the nerve centre of the country. All political and economic power is concentrated there.The headquarters of many global 500 companies, as well as all the powerful bureaucracies so vital to the country, are located in one central section of the capital. Most of Japan’s imports and exports are dispatched through Tokyo Bay. After a big quake, this area is likely to be crippled for some time. Moreover, much of Tokyo’s manufacturing takes place on reclaimed land in the Bay – land which tends to liquefy in a big quake.
This book argues that because of the fragile situation of world economies since 2008 (Lehman Bros etc), and the heavily indebted state of Japan’s finances post-tsunami/Fukushima, the only way that Japan will appeal to finance the enormous amount of post-quake rebuilding is to repatriate its investment in US government bonds and securities. This will have an immediate knock-on effect on the American economy and, soon after, most of the world’s economies.

 

Thanks to NetGalley for this book!

Tony Smyth has done his research. This book is full of facts and figures, with a good deal of opinion thrown in as well. His writing style is not too fussy, so I got into the cadence of words quickly while remaining interested throughout the litany of numbers. First off, I learned a good deal about seismic activity and how the buildings in Japan are created to withstand earthquakes. Some structures have fluid filled “shock absorbers” or sliding walls while others have complex structural cross-bracing which is designed to buckle while absorbing seismic energy.

Despite these measures, nothing could prevent the nuclear meltdown that occurred at the Fukushima power plant because there was no way to protect against the tsunami that devastated the area post-quake. Thousands of lives were lost, towns were washed away, and the land was (and still is) overrun with radioactive isotopes.

The author notes that the total costs of the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear meltdowns of 2011 make those events the world’s most expensive natural disaster. There are a lot of absolutes in this book, yet the author remains fairly neutral about nuclear power. There are plenty of reasons (global warming, cost of disposal, impact on the planet) to seek out alternatives, yet Smyth balances his words well and merely uses them as a warning, not a condemnation. More concerning are the politics of how the reactors came to be, regardless of the fact that many of them are superfluous.

The author speaks from experience; he lives in Japan and is familiar with the socio-economic climate and Japanese culture. Despite the business-heavy title, each facet of the country and the disaster is discussed in plain language that cannot help but affect the reader. Smyth heavily includes the human element, with heart-wrenching stories of parents waiting in vain for their children to get home or children worried about their elderly parents in the flood zone.

My main takeaway from this book was not fear for the future of Japanese business; instead it was fear for the future of mankind and our planet. The section of the book concerning global warming was extremely edifying, and as a result I will personally make an effort to reduce my global footprint.

I feel this is an important book to read on so many levels. Please pick up your copy here.

 

Man of the Year by Caroline Louise Walker

Beware the Man of the Year. You may praise him, resent him, even want to be him: but beneath the elegant trappings that define him, danger looms. Caroline Louise Walker’s stunning debut novel, for fans of Herman Koch’s The Dinner and Shari Lapena’s The Couple Next Door, delves into the increasingly paranoid mind of a man whose life as the most upstanding of citizens hides a relentlessly dark heart.

Dr. Robert Hart, Sag Harbor’s just-named Man of the Year, is the envy of his friends and neighbors. His medical practice is thriving. He has a beautiful old house and a beautiful new wife and a beautiful boat docked in the village marina. Even his wayward son, Jonah, is back on track, doing well at school, finally worthy of his father’s attentions. So when Jonah’s troubled college roommate, Nick, needs a place to stay for the summer, Hart and his wife generously offer him their guest house. A win-win: Jonah will have someone to hang with, and his father can bask in the warm glow of his own generosity.

But when he begins to notice his new houseguest getting a little too close to his wife, the good doctor’s veneer begins to crack. All the little lies Robert tells—harmless falsehoods meant to protect everything he holds dear—begin to mount. Before long, he’s embroiled in a desperate downward spiral, destroying the lives that stand in his way. It’s only the women in his life—his devoted office manager, his friends, his wife—who can clearly see the truth.

Biting and timely, Man of the Year races along at an electric pace, with a wicked twist that you won’t see coming.

Thanks to NetGalley for this ARC!

Fans of unreliable narrators – get ready to love this book. Each character looks out for himself (some more than others), tells lies, and behaves oddly, and they all desperately want to avoid punishment for the tragedy that happens in the latter half of the book. The author is generous with tropes (narcissism, infidelity, money, desperation) and it mostly works to create this sometimes fast-paced story. I was not sure if I hated or felt sorry for the main character, the eponymous Man of the Year.

The author is skilled at creating circumstances that change with perception. Each chapter is told in the point of view from each character, so the disconnect between perception is magnified. Some characters get to speak only once, which is jarring. I had to think for a moment or two when a minor character took over the narration. Some of these narrators are never heard from again; they tell their story just for the reader to see things from yet another angle.

Dr. Hart is a tragic figure, cuckolded by his son’s friend, who is staying with the family over the summer. The stereotypical “guest staying in the pool house” provides a convenient location for some activities that muddy the plot and/or provide tension. His wife Elizabeth seems self-centered and vacuous – I am not sure if that was what the author intended, or if she was written that way on purpose. I disliked her almost from the start and did not change my feelings when the book was finished.  However, I did end up disliking the rest of the characters towards the end, regardless of how the plot twisted. At that point, I was heartily sick of everyone’s machinations and drama and self-servitude.

I would give the book four and a half stars, for while the plot was engaging there were a few draggy spots and as mentioned above, some characters faded in and out. This fading caused me to disengage a bit when they reappeared since I thought they were on the fringe, not actually moving the story along.

You can get your own copy here.

Neon Prey by John Sandford (Davenport #29)

Lucas Davenport pursues a prolific serial killer who has gone undetected for years in the newest nail-biter by #1 NewYork Times bestselling author John Sandford.

It was a relatively minor criminal matter, all things considered, but enough that the US Marshals obtained a warrant to enter the home. They didn’t expect to unearth trophies from a score of killings.

Now Davenport is on the trail of a serial murderer, one who was able to operate for years without notice or suspicion. But there’s even more to this killer than meets the eye…

 

Thanks to NetGalley for this ARC!

It’s hard to believe that this is Davenport’s 29th adventure. He’s gotten shot, stabbed, punched numerous times, and suffered various other indignities. In NEON PREY he and his fellow Marshals Bob and Rae are hot on the heels of a cannibal. Multiple bodies have been found in the yard of Clayton Deese, and the Marshals want to ask him some questions. Deese, however, is not cooperating.

When Lucas and Co. discover that the livers from the bodies are missing, and the barbeque grill from Deese’s house has been used, they realize that they are not looking for a typical run-of-the-mill killer. Bob, Rae, and Lucas share the spotlight equally, which is different from previous books. It almost seems as though Lucas is part of the supporting cast rather than the main character. Even his “cop talk” is secondary to that of Bob and Rae.

Las Vegas is a quirky setting that provides both sparkle and squalor. There is a section of the book where Deese and his crew hang out at a friend’s ramshackle trailer. As I read on, I could hear the banjos from “Deliverance” in the background – it was that eerie!

My thoughts on this one is that it’s a firm middle-of-the-road Prey novel. What stood out for me was that Davenport seems to be feeling his age (both mentally and physically) here. No spoilers; but I was not ready for some of the plot twists. Kudos to the author for keeping his characters human with relevant emotions.

I’d love to know what you think of #29 – leave me a comment with your thoughts. You can pick up your copy here.

 

The Rise of the Ultra Runners by Adharanand Finn

An electrifying look inside the wild world of extreme distance running.

Once the reserve of only the most hardcore enthusiasts, ultra running is now a thriving global industry, with hundreds of thousands of competitors each year. But is the rise of this most brutal and challenging sport―with races that extend into hundreds of miles, often in extreme environments―an antidote to modern life, or a symptom of a modern illness?
In The Rise of the Ultra Runners, award-winning author Adharanand Finn travels to the heart of the sport to investigate the reasons behind its rise and discover what it takes to join the ranks of these ultra athletes. Through encounters with the extreme and colorful characters of the ultramarathon world, and his own experiences of running ultras everywhere from the deserts of Oman to the Rocky Mountains, Finn offers a fascinating account of people testing the boundaries of human endeavor.

Thanks to NetGalley for this ARC!

Ever wonder what an “Ultra” race is? These races generally are from 50-100 miles long and can take place over a track, a trail, or even Mount Everest. The runners are often quirky, driven, and focused. Obsessed too – maybe just a little.

The author describes his foray into the ultramarathon world and muses upon human endurance, doping, self-image, and morals, among other things. I will say that I was a bit dubious when he started running, as he didn’t really describe a strict training regimen per se. Yes, he is suffering during many races, but not many people would choose to abuse themselves the way he did to write a book. I’m alternately impressed and doubtful at the same time. That being said, we do learn (as he did) from his mistakes, such as wearing new shoes for the first time in a race and failing to fuel properly. The basic rules of ultras are the same as marathons, along with a healthy dose of mental fortitude plus a little insanity.

The racers are eager to share stories (and in some instances, their homes) with Finn, both before and after races. The author is adept at describing his transformation from a regular runner to one that can cover 100+ miles despite hallucinations and excruciating pain. Some of the descriptions of the “pain cave” (an ultrarunner term) made me cringe, then allowed me to feel grateful that an ultramarathon was not in my future. He becomes stronger physically and mentally as the book progresses. One good example he describes is about finding a place to sleep. During races that last more than a day, runners must bed down for the night before running again in the morning. Finn tosses and turns as he sleeps on the ground, or in his clothes. Later on, he comes to realize that he can sleep anywhere, because he has evolved to be comfortable with less. Finn often says that he may be becoming like the ultrarunners he is studying, then disavows that statement by saying how far he still has to go figuratively, before he can truly call them his tribe.

As in most elite sports, these athletes embrace pain and suffering. It is such a big part of their lives that if/when they become injured, they must come to terms with the fact that they may not know who they are without ultras in their life. One runner notes that she feels utterly bereft and needs to learn how to live a normal life, one without hours spent in motion.

Those who may enjoy this book the most are runners; however, anyone interested in hearing about how the human body can be forced to exceed boundaries will learn a lot from RISE OF THE ULTRARUNNERS. It is definitely a departure from most of the running books on the market.

Want your own copy? You can pick it up here.

Abused: Surviving Sexual Assault and a Toxic Gymnastics Culture by Rachel Haines

Two-year-old Rachel Haines didn’t know that she would be committing to twenty-one years of hard work, dedication, and perseverance as she jumped into the foam pit during her first “mommy and me” gymnastics class. She had no idea that one day she would become a two-time National Team Member, two-time National Champion, and a Division I college gymnast at the University of Minnesota. Nor could she have known that she had just signed herself up for serious injury, emotional distress, and continuous sexual assault by world-renowned trainer turned serial molester, Larry Nassar.

In Abused: Surviving Sexual Assault and a Toxic Gymnastics Culture, Rachel details her experiences as a competitive gymnast and the painful realities of being one of Nassar’s many victims. With honesty and candidness, Rachel shares how the sport she loved that gave her so much—friendships, accomplishments, a college education—is also tangled in a dangerously toxic culture that needs to be fixed. In a world that was setting her up for a lifetime of recovery, she tells how faith, family, and an army of survivors made healing possible.

 

Thanks to NetGalley for this ARC!

This story will grab you and not let you go until you reach the last word. It may even stay with you, with the atrocities and pressure that author Rachel Haines sustained buried deep in the back of your mind.

It is easy to think of gymnasts the same way we consider ballerinas: ethereal, feminine, able to perform superhuman feats of leaping and twisting that doesn’t seem possible. However, the two fields possess a few more similarities that are not so desirable. Both contain instances of eating disorders, perfectionism, toxic cultures….and abuse. In 2018 the prestigious New York City Ballet fired two male dancers after harassment charges had been brought against them. The history of abuse, both physical and sexual, is storied in the ballet world. Men (whether dancers or choreographers) hold all the power, and women are treated as second class citizens.

It seems that men hold all the power in gymnastics as well. Last year the horrific story about Larry Nassar’s hundreds of victims surfaced, which empowered other victims to come forward and share their story of the abusive culture they experienced. Coaches such as John Geddert and Bela Karolyi used their temper to mentally and physically abuse gymnasts under the guise of “encouragement” or to “toughen them up for competition”. The athletes were surrounded by a cloak of silence, looking inward and wondering if they were misreading Nassar’s “treatments”, which included taking pills and/or enduring digital manipulation (internal and external). As time went on, the gymnasts became inured to what was happening to them and accepted it as part of their lot in life. After all, they had chosen to be gymnasts, and to deny or expose this part would result in them being shunned or removed from the environment they knew and loved. As Haines notes, being a gymnast was her reason for living. No matter how painful or stressful it was, she was first and foremost, an elite athlete who performed gymnastics for a living. She knew of no other world, nor did she want to.

As Haines became more competitive, she sustained a horrific injury to her back (it was broken in multiple places) and had to work through pain on a daily basis. Nassar made sure to give her many “treatments” while telling her that while her back was injured, she was still cleared to perform her routines. As time went on, her legs grew numb. Her pre-competition ritual consisted of slathering immense amounts of Icy Hot on her legs, then punching them or cutting them so she would be able to detect a modicum of sensation. As I read further into the book, I was speechless at how she was able to keep performing (check out her videos on YouTube). Once, her legs betrayed her during competition. She bravely took a moment, then got back on the beam to complete her routine. If that is not courage, strength, pluck, bravery, and badassery, then I don’t know what is. Yet, through all of this, she was filled with self-doubt and impostor syndrome. Haines felt like she could never be equal to others and would often compare herself to other gymnasts. This left her wanting to be better, to be worthy, to be deserving.

Women are usually their own worst critics. The pressure Haines put on herself was unbelievable, as her fierce spirit held her in good stead throughout multiple years of practice, excruciating pain, and sexual abuse. Despite all her achievements, Haines still believed she was not good enough. This book will take you through her entire gymnastics journey, the highs and lows, the pain and the victories. It will also give you new respect for Haines and the other gymnasts who had to suffer through Nassar’s years of abuse. Haines bares her soul, her doubts, and her faith in this book, and I am sure it was not an easy task. Looking inward, then speaking out is one of the most intimidating things a woman can do; and Haines showed us her strength and wisdom, even as she confronted Nassar at his trial.

If this story does not move you or fill you with pride at how these women were able to overcome adversity, you had better check your pulse. Pick up your copy here.

 

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