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

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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.

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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.

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Review: Antipodes

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Michele Bacon. Sky Horse Press, $18, 384p. ISBN 9781510723610.

Entry: antipodes. Noun. “Exact opposites.”

Such are Erin’s beginning and resulting understandings of happiness after leaving her A-list social status in her suburban Chicago high school to spend a semester in Christchurch, New Zealand. Mirroring her own New Zealand self-discoveries in her latest protagonist is author Michele Bacon, presenting Antipodes as her second novel.

As a very determined Ivy League medical school hopeful, Erin has every step for her next fifteen years mapped out: “Great school, great job, great life.” When Erin loses her position as captain of her high school swimming team, loses her boyfriend, and embarrasses herself at a party, she and her mother attempt to repair Erin’s perfect college application with a semester spent studying abroad.

Upon arrival in Christchurch, however, Erin is disheartened to find that she’s signed up for five months of having to get around town without a car, attending a school that doesn’t allow makeup or jewelry, sharing a small bedroom with the daughter in her host family, and being on a completely different time schedule than her best friend. As the months pass, Erin makes new friends and learns the value of family, sets a national swimming record, sees other beautiful parts of New Zealand, and picks back up a forgotten instrument, all while slowly realizing that she’s prioritized the wrong things in her attempt to find happiness.

Within her writing, Bacon consciously draws parallels between Erin’s physical journey and her personal journey. For example, Bacon uses Erin’s interests in astronomy to name the Moon as a constant, clearly reflecting opposite points of view from Erin’s Northern Hemisphere home in Chicago compared to the view from Southern Hemisphere Christchurch. Also, Bacon demonstrates a uniquely creative writing skill by using an interesting variation of divergent thematic patterning in her narrative. With every few forward-moving chapters proceeding from Erin’s flight to Christchurch, there is a backstepping, flashed-back chapter from before Erin’s flight to Christchurch. As Erin experiences New Zealand and ultimately begins to reflect on who she is and what her passions are, we see a glimpse of the seeming antipode of the current point in time.

Through fresh use of literary device with strong character development and vivid descriptions of setting, Antipodes is a masterfully written novel that shows that even when meaning and direction seems lost, it’s not such a long journey back to true purpose.


 

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About the Author

I was born in Trumbull County, the only square county in Ohio, where books were my favorite means of escaping an unhappy childhood. Writing was my transparent attempt to create the things I craved: big happy families, international adventures and unconditional friendship. From a young age, I was drawn to people’s stories, and I still want to know how you met your best friend or fell in love with your partner.

In high school, I embraced my inner geek and wrote my first novel. In college, there were short stories and still more novels. I graduated from The Ohio State University with a B.A. in English, with concentrations in critical theory and creative writing.

Full-time work sapped my creative brain for several years, but my professional life was one of reinvention. In state government, business management consulting, and nonprofit fundraising, I adapted easily and absorbed the languages of different professions. My last paying job was as an independent fundraising consultant for nonprofit organizations. That was seven years ago.

Since then, I have been writing and traveling (and, let’s be honest, chasing down small people who don’t like to wear clothes). I’ve traveled to all 50 states and dozens of other countries, always collecting pieces of characters and ideas for stories. I recently spent a year on sabbatical in Christchurch, New Zealand, where I may have left my heart at Ilam School. Now that we’ve settled back in the States, I’m writing for adults and young adults, exploring the Pacific Northwest, and baking like a fiend. (You’d thinking baking would be the same everywhere, but it’s not. Something is different about kiwi butter.)

When an idea strikes, I scrawl sweeping plot outlines, character idiosyncrasies, and ideas for scenes on the nearest blank spot of paper. My current manuscript was born of those torn slips of paper, used envelopes, lollipop wrappers, fuel receipts and–once–that little paper bit that keeps a nursing pad sticky until it’s time to use it. My manuscripts are better than the quality of papers where they began. Promise.

Outside of writing, I am a tabletop game enthusiast, passionate skier, and lover of prime numbers. I also am a mentor at the Moving Words Writing Clinic, and a freelance copyeditor.

I live in Seattle with my husband and three growing children.

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Review: Wild

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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.