Review: Amsterdam Exposed: An American’s Journey into the Red Light District

Amsterdam Exposed - Final Cover (1).jpg
David Wienir. De Wallen Press, $13, 264p. ISBN 9780999355909.

Almost twenty years in the making is Amsterdam Exposed before author David Wienir finally presents his story of the renowned Red Light District, where tourists “come for the weed, stay for the hookers.” Nonetheless, Wienir makes it easy to be drawn into turn-of-the-millenium Amsterdam, as he spends his Thursdays studying international law at Vrije University and his six-day weekends trying to get window girls to talk to him. Amsterdam Exposed is an alluring memoir giving a glimpse down the streets illuminated by red lanterns, as well as into the man who teaches respect for the women who work there.

Wienir opens his memoir having just arrived in Holland for a fall semester studying international law abroad. Wienir brings with him an ulterior motive to write a book about the Red Light District, inspired by a prostitute in Reno who told him that “people forget we’re human,” a year and a half prior. Over the next four months, Wienir sets off to find prostitutes willing to help him with his book, and keeps a code for himself: never pay a prostitute to talk, and never sleep with one. He’s turned down by every woman he encounters except for two, only one of whom actually comes to help Wienir.

Emma is a twenty-five-year-old prostitute from Estonia. She lives two lives in that she does not allow her work life and her personal life to overlap. When Wienir meets Emma in the District, Emma is interested in befriending him, but does not readily talk to Wienir about her work. Wienir devotes time to building Emma’s trust in himself, and eventually reaches Emma while unknowingly invoking change in Emma’s personal outlook.

Wienir actively writes in a voice that weaves the then-current state of Amsterdam with his own story of his time spent. He creates rich and descriptive settings that shine on Wienir’s professional background, effortlessly leading the reader to think of Wienir’s voice as a lawyer in the future casually telling his story over the wining-and-dining of his own law associates. Amsterdam Exposed confidently takes a risqué topic out of a captivating environment and places it in one that is approachable, adventurous, and thought-provoking.


Excerpt from Amsterdam Exposed

On a brisk September morning, I put on a pair of blue jeans and a white T-shirt and
boarded a plane to Amsterdam. I traveled light. If necessary, I could do some shopping
in town.

Money was an issue, and the cheapest flight I could find was on Iceland Air. This
allowed for a three-day layover in Reykjavik. I had always dreamed of visiting Iceland
and decided to spend a few days there. With a copy of Let’s Go Europe serving as my
bible, I found a bed in the Salvation Army Guesthouse. Back then, there were two travel
guides in play, Let’s Go Europe and the Lonely Planet. Let’s Go Europe was the guide
of choice for students, effectively funneling everyone into the same hostels, restaurants,
landmarks, and clubs. Within minutes, I connected with a group of international
students. We spent the next three days touring waterfalls, enjoying the local cuisine,
and bonding.

On our final day, we visited the waters of the Blue Lagoon. There were six of us, from
six different countries. Submerged to our shoulders, we floated in silence, looking into
each other’s eyes and carving out the moment. After a night partying in Reykjavik, we
said our goodbyes, knowing we would never see each other again. That was OK. This
was just a layover. I continued on my journey refreshed, feeling as if I had visited the moon.

Goodreads | IndieBoundAmazon | Barnes & Noble | BAM


Wienir_Headshot_Final (1).jpg

About the Author 

David Wienir is a business affairs executive at United Talent Agency and entertainment law instructor at UCLA Extension. Before UTA, he practiced law at two of the top entertainment law firms where he represented clients such as Steven Spielberg and Madonna. His previous books include Last Time: Labour’s Lessons from the Sixties (co-authored with a Member of Parliament at the age of 23), The Diversity Hoax: Law Students Report from Berkeley (afterword by Dennis Prager), and Making It on Broadway: Actors’ Tales of Climbing to the Top (foreword by Jason Alexander).

Educated at Columbia, Oxford, The London School of Economics, Berkeley Law, and the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, David is married to Dr. Dina (to whom the book is dedicated), a pioneer of the cannabis movement who has been named “Queen of Medical Marijuana in LA” by Rolling Stone Magazine and is the inspiration for the Nancy Botwin character in the show Weeds.

Website | Instagram | Twitter | Goodreads

Advertisements

Review: From Little Houses to Little Women

Screen Shot 2018-03-30 at 11.45.39 AM

Screen Shot 2018-03-30 at 11.51.02 AM

From Little Houses to Little Women: Revisiting a Literary Childhood is arguably the most “bookish” book that has been recently published. Stemming from a childhood spent near the Ingalls’ family home in Kansas and a decision to visit places that inspired books like On the Banks of Plum Creek and By the Shores of Silver Lake, author Nancy McCabe presents a memoir reflecting on the impact that classic childhood novels have had on her.

Over her years of reading children’s classics, McCabe personalizes the actions or habits of the heroines that she reads about. As an adult, McCabe sees the sum total of who she has become, and writes each chapter of From Little Houses with commentary based on a book. As a child, McCabe remembers trying to imagine dialogue between the dandelions and tulips in her back yard, like Anne of Anne of Avonlea imagined dialogue between “the asters and the sweet peas and the wild canaries in the lilac bush and the guardian spirit of the garden.” As a preteen, McCabe wears her hair long because of how the protagonist of Plain Girl embraces her common, plain clothes and looks. These are just a few examples of how deeply literature seeped into McCabe’s character.

Truly conversational, From Little Houses is like sitting at a table with an old friend while she recounts her travels. But, not only are travels recollected; McCabe also expands on detail from the classics that she’s read to offer literary criticism and analysis. Though there would be a seeming prerequisite of having read the novels that McCabe discusses, it is not difficult to fully appreciate the strong relationship that McCabe has developed with the stories that she’s read and re-read, either as a child, as an adult, or as a mother to her daughter.

Part term paper, part travelogue, From Little Houses to Little Women: Revisiting a Literary Childhood is a slice of literary pie with promise to satisfy any true, devoted book worm who is willing to eat with the fork.


About the book

Nancy McCabe grew up in Kansas just a few hours from the Little House on the Prairie Ingalls family home. McCabe read Little House on the Prairie during her childhood and always felt a connection with Laura Ingalls Wilder. When McCabe was thirteen, she visited Wilder sites around the Midwest with her aunt, but didn’t again revisit the books that had so influenced her childhood until she was an adult. It was this decision that ultimately sparked her desire to visit the places that inspired many of her childhood book favorites, taking her on a journey through the Missouri of Laura Ingalls Wilder, the Minnesota of Maud Hart Lovelace, the Massachusetts of Louisa May Alcott, and even the Canada of Lucy Maud Montgomery.

From Little Houses to Little Women reveals McCabe’s powerful connection to the characters and authors who inspired many generations of readers. While traveling with McCabe as she rediscovers the books that shaped her and ultimately helped her to forge her own path, readers will enjoy revisiting their own childhood favorites as well.

About the Author

Nancy McCabe is the author of four memoirs about travel, books, parenting, and adoption, as well as a novel entitled Following Disasters. Her work has appeared in Newsweek, the Los Angeles Review of Books, Prairie Schooner, Fourth Genre, and many other magazines and anthologies, including In Fact Books’ Oh Baby! True Stories about Conception, Adoption, Surrogacy, Pregnancy, Labor, and Love, and McPherson and Company’s Every Father’s Daughter: Twenty-Four Women Writers Remember their Fathers. Her work has received a Pushcart Prize, and she has been recognized on Notable Lists in Best American anthologies six times.

Author Contact Links:  Website | Facebook | Blog | Goodreads

 
Purchase Links:  
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Kobo

RABT Book Tours & PR

 

Review: Educated

Screen Shot 2018-03-26 at 10.12.24 PM
Tara Westover. Random House, $28, 352p. ISBN 9780399590504.

When hearing a book described as a memoir, the thought that follows usually includes some semblance of “a personal reflection of a life over time.” Tara Westover, at a mere 31 years old, makes her book debut with a quite superlative memoir. Educated follows Westover’s upbringing as part of a survivalist family, through her questioning and outgrowth of her fundamentalist origin, and to her breakaway to self-confidence through higher learning.

Tara Westover was raised as one of seven siblings in a tiny Idaho town at the base of a mountain. Her father was paranoid about crossing paths with the government, and actively prepared for the “Days of Abomination” believing that the world would end at the turn of the century. Westover’s mother was a midwife and herbalist who was raised in a “normally functioning” home, but now largely supported her husband in silence for the best of her children. Westover received no formal education as a child, was never vaccinated, and to this day, doesn’t know her exact birth date – she wasn’t issued a birth certificate until she was nine years old.

As Westover grew up, she and her family saw head injuries, falls from the tops of mechanical equipment, motorcycle accidents and burns from explosions, and perceived all as God’s will. Westover had strained relationships with her parents and with one of her older brothers because of tempers, pride, and even mental sickness; it’s her broken family system with which Westover eventually struggles to reconcile. When Westover begins to see the possibility of a different life from her upbringing, she takes it upon herself to self-teach, and gains acceptance to Brigham Young University. Ten years later, she completes her doctorate in history at Cambridge University.

In addition to expertly writing a clear and fluid narrative, Westover effectively crafts noticeably strong chapter beginnings and endings. At a chapter’s end, the reader is continuously compelled to read into the next chapter, if even just a few lines of the first paragraph, before closing the book until the next opportunity to sit and read. Westover fully immerses her readers with vivid descriptions of not only her physical environment, but also her emotional environment.

Through Educated, Tara Westover communicates an important truth that is allowance for self-accomplishment through selfhood. “You could call this selfhood many things. Transformation. Metamorphosis. Falsity. Betrayal. I call it an education.”

Review: Wild

books0401zublin
Cheryl Strayed. Vintage Books, $16, 315 p. ISBN 9780307476074

If ever a motivator was needed to step outside of the “everyday grind,” or inspire a need for rejuvenation and embark on a new adventure, Cheryl Strayed’s memoir, Wild, meets every requirement.

Life sometimes brings moments of feeling lost, disorientated, or adrift in a static sea, after an unfortunate or emotional event. An experience like this is normally not voluntary, and is generally difficult to emerge from. Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail is the true story of how a 26-year-old woman found healing and reawakening after conquering an 1,100-mile hike on her own.

It was not until after Strayed divorced her husband, lost her mother to lung cancer, and experienced an addiction to heroin that she decided to attempt to hike a 1,100-mile portion of the 2,650-mile Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), beginning in the Mojave Desert and ending at the Bridge of the Gods in Washington. Important to note is the fact that after her divorce, Strayed, whose given name is Cheryl Nyland, legally changed her name to Cheryl Strayed in order to signify the times in her life that she’d really lost her way.

Strayed noticed a PCT guidebook at outdoor recreation outlet REI, and later found herself returning to the store to purchase the guidebook. Having never been backpacking before, she was driven to make the hike, not entirely sure how, or even why. Strayed soon after quits her job as a waitress, sells the majority of her possessions, and purchases an amateur’s set of supplies for what would become a three-month journey.

Within her memoir, Strayed tells two stories alongside each other: one of her journey along the PCT, and the other of her personal background, or what brought her to the trail. Both of Strayed’s stories show a struggle, and in the end, conquest over one actually brings Strayed to victory over both.

Strayed makes sure to communicate to the reader how much of a burden her backpack was on several, quite comical, occasions. Strayed dubs her backpack “Monster”, which she notes was 70 pounds at its heaviest, and 50 pounds at its lightest.  Either stuffed into or strapped onto Monster are fleece pants, a thermal shirt, a hooded anorak, two pair of wool socks, two pair of underwear, gloves, a sun hat, a fleece hat, rain pants, food for fourteen days, a sleeping bag, a camping chair, a headlamp, bungee cords, a water purifier, a stove, a canister of gas, a lighter, two cooking pots, utensils, a pair of sandals, a towel, a thermometer, a tarp, a mug, a snakebite kit, a Swiss Army knife, binoculars, a compass, a book telling how to use the compass, a first-aid kit, toiletries, a menstrual sponge, a lantern, water bottles, iodine pills, a saw, two pens, three books: The Pacific Crest Trail, Vol.1: California; As I Lay Dying; and Dream of a Common Language, and a sketchbook. Needless to say, Monster is our literal representation of Strayed’s struggle while on the PCT.

Perhaps more personal about Strayed’s struggle on the PCT is Strayed’s struggle to come to terms with her mother’s sudden death. Strayed writes that her mother passes away seven weeks to the day after being diagnosed with cancer, and how Strayed had carried a particular anger since losing her mother so soon. Being motherless causes Strayed to “instantly grow up and forgive her [mother’s] every motherly fault,” instead of gradually growing apart from her mother while concurrently realizing that her mother had raised Strayed to the best of her ability. Before her death, Strayed’s mother repeats to Strayed, “I’m with you always,” like she would when Strayed was a young girl.

Strayed captures perfectly the symbiotic relationship between carrying Monster on her back and anger in her heart in this quote: “I was amazed that what I needed to survive could be carried on my back. And, most surprising of all, that I could carry it,” (pg. 92). Ultimately, it is Strayed’s realization while closing in on her journey’s goal in Washington that her mother’s death didn’t have to be a burden of grief, but could be a burden of love, that releases her from her strayed struggle within.

Review: Global Mom: A Memoir

Melissa Dalton-Bradford. Familius Publishing, $18, 320p. ISBN 9781938301346

As a young mother of two small children, Melissa Dalton-Bradford was a professional musical theater actress preparing to step onto a Broadway stage when she received a phone call from Randall, her husband: he’d been offered the job, and it would take his family to Norway.

The idea wasn’t too unimaginable – after all, Bradford had lived abroad before, and she and Randall did want to raise their children in other countries – and what a perfect opportunity for their family! But the offer had come sooner than Bradford thought it would, and over the next twenty years, Bradford and her family would call eight different countries “home”.

Global Mom: Eight Countries, Sixteen Addresses, Five Languages, One Family is a wonderfully lively memoir of a woman who experiences first-hand the struggles and rewards of motherhood across the globe.

Dalton-Bradford dives right into her memoir with life in Norway. Her voice as an author begins as a voice that I would expect of a landmark writer, made an example of for her use of literary analogy. Reflective of Dalton-Bradford’s cheerful writing is her and her children’s lives through the young years. Dalton-Bradford tells of bundling her small children, Parker and Claire, in layer after layer of “vintertøy”, or winter clothing, before they run outside to play with the Norwegian children from whom they will gradually pick up the tongue of the nation. It is during these years in Norway that the Bradfords purchase the single possession that will act as the landmark of Dalton-Bradford’s many homes: a ten-foot long, three-foot wide, four-inch thick Norwegian dinner table, purchased as a memorial to five years that the Bradfords lived in Oslo. Throughout her memoir, Dalton-Bradford tells of sitting at the table for journal entries, projects, gatherings, homework assignments, and holiday dinners. When the Bradfords move to France, the table is lifted by a pulley through a second-story window into their new French home whose entrance is too narrow to accept the large piece of furniture.

Upon arrival in France, Parker and Claire experience struggles in schools in Versailles, thanks to their Norwegian foundations. This doesn’t stop Parker from growing to identify Paris as his true home, however. A move back to the States meets Dalton-Bradford’s children gritting their teeth at having to memorize an “Allegiance chant.” Claire hears all the other girls on the elementary school playground giggling with each other about somebody named, “Lizzy McGuire”, and goes home to tell her mother that they must get American television.

Subsequent years take the Bradfords again to Paris before yet another move to Munich. It is not until the few weeks between Paris and Munich that I believe Dalton-Bradford finds her true, personal voice as a writer. Dalton-Bradford experiences crisis, loss, and discouragement. I have not experienced motherhood – but the last few chapters of Dalton-Bradford’s memoir pull strings within me that I’m sure would’ve been tugged much harder if I had children of my own.

As an adventurer with desires to travel, absorbing Global Mom has moved me to realize that nothing really holds a person back from achieving their goals and living their dreams. Things happen along the way – life happens, it always does – but to have the strength, faith, and courage of a wife and mother who continually moved her family physically, while keeping them rooted emotionally, is something that I would every day envy for my own venturesome existence.