Reading wrap-up #90: lost at sea, weird medical cases and a bad romance

As a reminder, here is how I rate my books:

  • (★★★★★): Loved it, won’t shut up about it for the foreseeable future
  • (★★★★): Really liked it, enjoyable experience
  • (★★★): Liked it enough, no strong opinions
  • (★★): Didn’t care for it, would actively discourage people reading it

Another few notes: I will warn if there are any spoilers with (start spoiler) and (end spoiler) so you know when to stop reading and pick up again if you don’t want to ruin the book for yourself. I no longer go out of my way to watch adaptions, but will continue to mention them and their general critiques (from Rotten Tomatoes) in my reviews. Finally, you can always check out my book review index page if you’re looking for my extremely important opinion on any book in particular.

Our Wives Under the Sea by Julia Armfield

A Leaky Manual on Living with Uncertainty: On Julia Armfield's “Our Wives Under the Sea”Rating: ★★★

Genre: Fiction, horror, contemporary

GoodReads rating: 3.94 / 5 (8,700 ratings)

Medium used: Audiobook (borrowed from the library)

Summary: “Miri thinks she has got her wife back, when Leah finally returns after a deep-sea mission that ended in catastrophe. It soon becomes clear, though, that Leah is not the same. Whatever happened in that vessel, whatever it was they were supposed to be studying before they were stranded on the ocean floor, Leah has brought part of it back with her, onto dry land and into their home. Moving through something that only resembles normal life, Miri comes to realize that the life that they had before might be gone. Though Leah is still there, Miri can feel the woman she loves slipping from her grasp.”

Warning: This book contains descriptions of medical maladies and body horror.

Thoughts: I had very high hopes for this book and I must say it let me down a little bit. I think I enjoy a more straight-forward underwater sci-fi such as Into the Drowning Deep rather than a higher concept one. I did like the fact that these two characters are gay but it has nothing to do with the plot: they simply are. Although the writing was great, I didn’t appreciate it as much as others have.

438 Days: An Extraordinary True Story of Survival at Sea by Jonathan Franklin

438 Days | Book by Jonathan Franklin | Official Publisher Page | Simon & SchusterRating: ★★★★

Genre: Non-fiction, survival, biography

GoodReads rating: 4.32 / 5 (8.900 ratings)

Medium used: Audiobook (borrowed from the library)

Summary: “On November 17, 2012, Salvador Alvarenga left the coast of Mexico for a two-day fishing trip. A vicious storm killed his engine and the current dragged his boat out to sea. The storm picked up and blasted him west. When he washed ashore on January 29, 2014, he had arrived in the Marshall Islands, 9,000 miles away—equivalent to traveling from New York to Moscow round trip.”

Warning: This book contains mention of suicide and medical maladies.

Thoughts: Would you look at that, another book about being lost at sea, this one non-fiction. This story was huge at the time and this journalist took all the respect and care to tell this incredible and heart-breaking story of the “real life Castaway.” Adventure survival books, especially at sea, are hard for me not to love. Solid read, but I usually prefer survival books about groups of people more.

The Sleeping Beauties: And Other Stories of Mystery Illness by Suzanne O’Sullivan

Suzanne O'Sullivan in conversation with Jessamy Calkin: The Sleeping Beauties — Midtown Scholar Bookstore-CafeRating: ★★★★

Genre: Non-fiction, science, psychology

GoodReads rating: 3.94 / 5 (1,200 ratings)

Medium used: E-book (borrowed from the library)

Summary: “In Sweden, hundreds of refugee children fall into a state that resembles sleep for months or years at a time. In Le Roy, a town in upstate New York, teenage girls develop involuntary twitches and seizures that spread like a conta­gion. In the U.S. Embassy in Cuba, employees experience headaches and memory loss after hearing strange noises during the night. These are only a few of the many sus­pected culture-bound psychosomatic syndromes—specific sets of symptoms that exist in a particular culture or environment—that affect people throughout the world.”

Warning: This book contains mentions of sexual assault and rape and descriptions of medical maladies.

Thoughts: This was a very fascinating read, if the synopsis alone doesn’t grip you, I don’t know what will. I loved that the author (a neurologist) travelled far and wide to these places to assess what was going on and what kind of treatment these people were being provided. This book doesn’t provide definite answers, but more examines how different cultures approach their unexplainable medical cases. Most of these cases had to do with women and young girls, so there was a lot of stigma about “hysteria” or overexaggerating symptoms surrounding these cases. On the other hand, Western medicine sometimes favors over-diagnosing in part because the U.S. medical system is for-profit (if there’s no market to shill anti-insomnia pills, create new symptoms). There is also a stigma around getting better because then others might look at you like you were never really sick. Although we can’t exactly measure what’s going on in a lot of these cases, there are plenty of other ailments we treat (such as depression) that can’t be measured either. My only critique of this book was that it got a bit repetitive and GoodReads reviews say that her first book is quite similar to this one but better.

After by Anna Todd

After We Collided | Book by Anna Todd | Official Publisher Page | Simon & SchusterRating: ★★

Genre: Fiction, romance

GoodReads rating: 3.71 / 5 (266,000 ratings)

Medium used: Audiobook (borrowed from the library)

Summary: “Tessa is a good girl with a sweet, reliable boyfriend back home. She’s got direction, ambition, and a mother who’s intent on keeping her that way. But she’s barely moved into her freshman dorm when she runs into Hardin. With his tousled brown hair, cocky British accent, tattoos, and lip ring, Hardin is cute and different from what she’s used to. But he’s also rude—to the point of cruelty, even. For all his attitude, Tessa should hate Hardin. And she does—until she finds herself alone with him in his room. Something about his dark mood grabs her, and when they kiss it ignites within her a passion she’s never known before. He’ll call her beautiful, then insist he isn’t the one for her and disappear again and again. Despite the reckless way he treats her, Tessa is compelled to dig deeper and find the real Hardin beneath all his lies. He pushes her away again and again, yet every time she pushes back, he only pulls her in deeper. Tessa already has the perfect boyfriend. So why is she trying so hard to overcome her own hurt pride and Hardin’s prejudice about nice girls like her? Unless…could this be love?”

Warning: This book contains mention of sexual assault and rape.

Thoughts: Ugh. Where to begin? I’ve watched some YouTube commentary videos of creators clowning on this series, but I wanted to see for myself why exactly this is so bad. I’ll start with my thoughts on the book and then move on to the movie. I can forgive a lot in a book if the plot is interesting and the sex is steamy, however this book had neither.

People’s biggest issue with this series is the abusive relationship between our two main characters. In the book, they literally scream at each other every other chapter. Hardin gets off on Tessa’s lack of experience, which I think is kind of yucky. Being so young and vulnerable, it feels like Hardin in some way was inflicting his will on her as she had not enough experience or knowledge to consent to certain activities. If your partner can’t be clear about what they want (she couldn’t even say the word “dick” during sex), maybe take a moment to regroup. I’m a sucker for the miscommunication trope (hello, one of my favorite books is Normal People), but not in a way where one party gets verbally cut off; miscommunication is more about misunderstanding.

Like I said earlier, there was no compelling plot and it could have been easily fixed. For example, both Tessa and Hardin had their dads walk out when they were young and although Hardin’s dad is back in his life, he’s not happy about it. Tessa keeps urging them to build a relationship but Hardin resists. Perhaps this could have been dissected more as Tessa projecting her own wishes on to Hardin to reconnect with her dad, but no such idea was explored. And it wasn’t even that sexy, Hardin literally came in his pants from one heavy petting session. There weren’t a lot of variety or descriptions in the scenes, so probably not much for an adult to get from this book in that realm.

All in all, for a 600-page book (?), I expected more and honestly came into this with an open mind, but it’s just as bad as people say.

Other adaptations: After (haha) reading the book, I rented the movie from YouTube. The production wasn’t bad and the actors were decent, they just didn’t have the best source material to go off of which made for a movie as uniquely bad as the book.

However, I’ll start with a few things that I liked…

  • The mom’s worry about Tessa going off to college was more founded in the movie than the book. In the book, she didn’t have much of a reason outside of her own mind and prejudices. In the movie, the mom’s breaking point was when Tessa’s roommate Steph says something along the lines of, “You don’t even need to worry about getting a fake ID, no places around here card.”
  • Steph’s love interest in the movie was a woman, which clearly made the mom uncomfortable as well but I loved
  • The movie did a great job of quickly establishing the nature of Tessa’s high school relationship by saying the most awkward thing possible: “Your brother’s cute” to which Tessa had to respond, “Oh, he’s my boyfriend.” In that short scene the movie did a much better job of putting a finger on what wasn’t quiet right in her relationship with Noah.
  • Instead of Tessa and Hardin buying their own apartment, they stayed in a professor’s place that Hardin was watching while they were on sabbatical: this made so much more sense to me

Now, the things I really didn’t like…

  • There was close to no character attributes I could name. The book was in first person from Tessa’s POV in which we actually got to see into her persona more, but the movie gave absolutely nothing. I’m not exaggerating when I say Tessa and Hardin must have shared less than 100 words in the movie when he claimed, “They could never be friends,” implying he had a crush on her. Any kind of opportunity for conversation was replaced with a music montage. There were so many freaking music montages, it was exhausting.
  • With that, the “romance” part seemed to come out of nowhere with so few exchanges between the two leads before they risk it all to be together. However, I reckon fans of the book or those who knew the plot from the trailer just wanted to get on with it.

As you see, there was some parts of the movie that improved on the book, but also messed up on the production side. If the writing was put to the front and not the insane number of music montages, this movie might have been worth something.

Needless to say, I wont be continuing with this series as these books are long and I assume it’s much of the same.

Have you read any of these?

Photo by Radu Marcusu.


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