Book Review #84: “Paper Girls Volume 1”

I first heard about this book from Sara’s review on her blog, The Bibliophagist!

I found my copy at 2nd and Charles in Newport News this summer.

One of the beautiful things about graphic novels is you get a great story, plus beautiful illustrations. The writing of Brian Vaughan and illustrating by Cliff Chiang did not disappoint!

This was a quicker read than I expected. The first night, I got through about a quarter of the book. The next time I picked it up, I got through another 10-15 pages. Last night, when I finished it at the chiropractor’s office, I’d flown through the rest of it in less than 30 minutes. All told, I think it was roughly an hour to 90 minutes for me. The illustrations in particular were incredible, and I wanted to keep turning the pages!

I was left with wanting to find Volume 2 immediately. However, I’m going be a responsible adult here, and wait a bit before purchasing the next one.

I loved the characters, and the adventure they are thrust into within minutes of the book’s opening. I also appreciated the setting – 1988 – and the “vintage” vibes and multiple references. I felt like I was watching everything unfold in the background.

Have you read any graphic novels?


5 out of 5 stars.


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Book Review #83: “The Stolen Sapphire: A Samantha Mystery”

I received this book through a fun gift exchange on Facebook. I’m part of several American Girl groups, and one of them started an Elfster gift exchange last year for Christmas. The group has done it three times since then. It’s been very popular!

I don’t remember ever reading this particular mystery, so I was thrilled to get it!

The book is a solid 171 pages, which is great for American Girl’s target audience of 8 years old and up. Being a mystery, it does have some frightening moments, but it’s also an easy ready, with shorter chapters and a good story.

Set two years after Samantha’s original books, she and Nellie set sail on the RMS Queen Caroline, headed for Europe. Now eleven years old, they want to have fun on the voyage, but are accompanied by a French tutor to help them keep up with their schoolwork while they miss school for two weeks. Along the way, they meet quite a cast of characters. When the legendary blue sapphire disappears, everyone on the ship is a suspect! And Nellie appears to be hiding something as well.

For years, Samantha’s character has been criticized as snobby, stuck-up, and privileged. Her original books are set in 1904, and it’s no secret that her family is wealthy and of high society. However, Samantha is kind, and reaches out to Nellie and her sisters, especially when they realize they have all been orphans due to their parents’ early demises.

This mystery was exciting. The first night reading it, I only made it through the first two chapters before going to sleep. However, the next night, the story was so engaging, I couldn’t put it down. Before I knew it, I had finished the book. I wanted to figure out who the thief was! For a book aimed at young girls, I loved how it was really hard to guess the real culprit. It was like I was playing detective with Samantha and Nellie, navigating the ins and outs of the ship, which was more modest than other ocean liners of the early 1900s.

I was pleased with this book. It has the right amount of character development, conflict, suspense, and mystery. I want to read the other Samantha mysteries now, and go back to re-read her original books, too.

4 1/2 out of 5 stars.


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Commentary #101: Sesame Street 50th Anniversary Special

The minute the 50th Anniversary Special was announced, I marked my calendar for November.

I was pleasantly surprised to find the full special posted on the PBS website for a whole week, from November 17th through the 24th. I watched it twice! And I experienced so many emotions!

I really enjoyed the story. Joseph Gordon-Levitt was a great host! And so many former cast members were a part of it. The songs were my favorite part, especially the performance of “Sing” at the end.

I’m planning to get it on DVD when it is released.

Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Book Review #82: “Janesville: An American Story”

This was one of the books I picked up through a generous Barnes and Noble gift card from my parents. I’ve always been interested in and fascinated by non-fiction and human-interest stories. Amy Goldstein was one writer I had not heard of that afternoon in August, but something called to me.

As I started reading, I felt an instant connection because of the setting – Wisconsin. Just the cover alone made me think of the snow-covered hills and woods at my cousin Ryan’s house in Hortonville when we visited in the late 1990s.

But this story is more than that. It’s about multiple families and their take on one thing, one monumental event – The GM plant closing in 2008. What follows is the next five years of how this town of industry claws its way back from the brink, and how so many people were affected by what is now known as the Great Recession.

I liked how Goldstein divided the book by year. It doesn’t always work out well this way, but the way she structured it was solid. Keeping up with the cast of characters was a bit challenging, but it was nice to have a list of them at the beginning, before you even start reading.

One of the biggest takeaways of this book is how large the ripple effect is. It not only affects the workers, it affects the unions, their marriages, their relationships, their families, their political focuses, and more. And still, by the end of the book, Janesville has reached 2013. Have things gotten better? It’s hard to say. Goldstein’s on-the-ground reporting, going deep into Janesville and its people, is amazing research. I could tell she really got to know the people in the book, as well as a sense of the whole community.

Goldstein also attempts to balance the light and dark, so to speak. She looks at the GM workers and those struggling with layoffs and disappearing industry. A few pages later, she ties in Mary, the well-to-do head of the local bank, who is fundraising and trying her best to help others, while she is at the top of the heap in terms of wealth. Goldstein also shines a light on Paul Ryan, other political candidates, and Governor Scott Walker.

As complex as this book is, I enjoyed it. I’m glad I read it. I felt a sense of understanding, but not empathy. In 2008, as the Great Recession was beginning, I was starting my sophomore year of college. I know I come from a family of privilege. My parents only had to worry a handful of times when the government shut down and my dad was furloughed.

That was certainly stressful, but not nearly as stressful, heartbreaking, and frustrating as watching your livelihood simply vanish. And trying to keep your house. Keeping your marriage and family together. Watching your teenage kids work one, two, three jobs to help out. Sometimes losing loved ones entirely, whether it was health issues brought on by stress, or not finding a way out other than wanting to end your life.

Website: amygoldsteinwriter.com

4 1/2 out of 5 stars.

Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Commentary #100: “What Mum Taught Me” – Boundaries

Image Credit: Psych Central

This post originated from a friend’s Facebook post. I found it on Thursday, October 24, 2019. A. saw it and felt compelled to share.

It was originally shared on Facebook by Leslie Gaar, Writer on October 10, 2018.

The photos / screenshots come from Erynn Brook’s Twitter account. I encourage everyone to read it in its entirety.

I read Erynn’s story. And re-read it. And I’ve been coming back to it nearly every day since stumbling upon it on October 24th.


One thing is for sure: Boundaries are hard. Setting boundaries is even harder. But, at 31, I feel much more at peace with myself because of the boundaries I have set for myself. Many of them are unspoken, for me and myself only, but there are others that I make known, loud and clear.

Why? Unlike Erynn’s awesome mom, I was taught to stick it out. To not quit. To not leave. To not ruin anything.

And I’m now realizing how damaging that is.


I understand why, in a way – My parents are of a different generation. Overall, I think they did a good job of raising me. I know, as an only child and born severely premature, they sheltered me and protected me fiercely.

But, I don’t want to raise my future child or children like my parents did. I want to do some things differently.

Like Erynn’s mom, I want my child or children to have choices, to feel like it’s normal to come to Al or me with anything at any time, to not feel like they are bothering us, to express their discomfort openly. And Al and I both agree that if our child or children call or text at any time, asking to come home, we will come immediately, no questions asked.

Two of my family members have this rule with their daughter – Call us at any time, and we will come get you. There won’t be any questions when we pick you up. There may be questions in the morning / after whatever happened, but there won’t be any questions from us at the time we come get you.


What do you think about this? Let me know in the comments.


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Book Review #80: “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets” *Re-Read*

Here’s my review of the first book:

I wasn’t anticipating it would be more than four months in between reviews, but hey, life happens. And I realized I didn’t want to burn myself out with reading the series back-to-back. 

Harry narrowly makes it back to Hogwarts for his second year. There are more adventures, and multiple misadventures, and it’s a thrill ride basically the entire time.

There’s more danger and conflict in this book. Originally, I declared this book as my favorite of the series the first time around. Re-reading it now, I can see why I thought that way. I love so many things about this one – The mystery of the Chamber throughout the book, the introduction of new characters, and not exactly knowing what’s going to happen next.

One of my favorite characters in this book specifically is Ginny Weasley. I won’t spoil anything for those who may not have read the book, but I adore her.

I’m looking forward to reading Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban soon!

5 out of 5 stars.

Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Commentary #99: Thoughts on Multi-Level Marketing (MLMs)

Image Credit: Reddit

Disclaimer: This post contains strong language.

I’ve been wanting to write a post about multi-level marketing for a while. But, I’ve resisted. They are everywhere.

Full disclosure: I’ve been swept up in them for a while. Not selling for any company, but buying from them and “supporting” friends.

Throughout my life, I was buying from MLMs and not really realizing it. This means that I have hosted a party, attended a party, or bought product from a seller or consultant.

  • Mary Kay
  • Avon
  • Thirty-One
  • Stella and Dot
  • The Pampered Chef
  • Pure Romance
  • Arbonne
  • Scentsy
  • Origami Owl
  • Jamberry
  • LuLaRoe
  • Young Living
  • Sseko Designs
  • Rodan + Fields

Along the way, I have been approached by consultants to try samples, buy product, or actually sell Cutco, Advocare, Plexus, Norwex, Jamberry, Young Living, Amway, and Sseko Designs.

Over the last several months, I have been researching MLMs. It all started with John Oliver’s piece – Multilevel Marketing. Al and I watch his pieces on YouTube every week. It’s funny, entertaining, but also well-researched and frighteningly real.

I felt sick after watching his piece on MLMs. I realized, in the span of 30 minutes, how much money I had FUCKING WASTED on shitty products for many, many years. I’m also grateful I resisted “investing” in any of these companies, meaning that I never signed up to sell anything. Sure, I hosted a few parties, but I never joined anyone’s team.

And I’m so glad I didn’t.

You see, many of these MLMs are like cults. You’re swept up into the world of the company, its culture, and their products. And it’s really, really hard to leave.

I’m so glad I didn’t pay money upfront to “start a business.” Sure, I bought a lot of product – Makeup, skincare, bags, nail strips, essential oils, diffusers, jewelry, clothing, and more.

I recently added up how much money in extra product I had in my house from Young Living. This included unopened essential oils, laundry detergent, cleaning products, makeup, skincare, and foaming hand soap. It was roughly $2,000.

I had it all out on my kitchen counter. And I wanted to throw up. $2,000 is a mortgage payment and then some.

All because I believed that paying for overpriced, “chemical-free” essential oil products would help my family be healthier. For more than TWO YEARS. I was buying product every month, to the tune of about $100 per month, sometimes up to $400 per month. I went back to my purchasing history and cried. I wasted so much of my hard-earned money.

Al actually asked me to stop using the YL detergent months ago because it wasn’t cleaning his clothes as well. That was the first light bulb moment for me.

Then, I started closely researching the cost of my products with Rodan + Fields, and LuLaRoe (LLR). There was so much money in my bathroom and my closet. R+F was costing me about $300 every eight weeks. My skincare regimen in their fancy bottles, and their tiny tube of LashBoost. The LashBoost alone was almost $70. Per tube.

After I joined a Facebook group called Sounds like MLM but ok, my eyes were opened even wider. There were WAY MORE MLMs than I ever imagined. This group has a master list that is literally pages long.

That’s how I discovered Sseko Designs was a fucking MLM, for example. At first, I felt hurt, betrayed even. Hardly anyone had attended the party I had thrown on Facebook earlier this year, and now I know why.

And then there are the lawsuits. One of the biggest reasons I wanted to stop buying R+F several months ago was because of the class-action lawsuit I discovered specifically about LashBoost.

Here are some of the details, from the Keller Rohrback Law Offices: Rodan + Fields LashBoost Litigation.

Another glorious thing I discovered was The Dream podcast. If you haven’t listened to it yet, I highly recommend it. You can find it on Stitcher and Apple Podcasts. Jane Marie is a gem, and I can’t wait to see what happens with Season 2.

I could go on for days about MLMs. They are some of the most deceptive “companies” out there.

What bothers me the most, however, is how predatory they are. They advertise, falsely, that you can make so much money so quickly. Yet, in my interactions with consultants trying to get me to join their teams, all the language is shady and vague. Many pitches are copied and pasted from their upline, or the people above them.

In my research, I’ve discovered that roughly 95 percent of people in MLMs don’t make any money. Zero. Zilch. Nada.

Google “income disclosure statement,” and immediately many MLM names come up behind it – Monat, It Works, Arbonne, Young Living, Beachbody.

For example, Monat’s income disclosure statement reads “A typical Participant in the Plan earns between Cdn $22 and $1,188 annualized.”

That’s NOTHING. Fucking nothing. Only $1,188 PER YEAR? And that’s Cdn – Canadian. Currently, 1 Canadian dollar equals 0.76 United States dollar. Quick math – I think that translates to $902.88 USD per year.

That’s not even enough to pay my mortgage for ONE MONTH.

And that $1,188 CDN doesn’t include costs incurred by hosting parties, participating in events, and purchasing products. So, very likely, a Monat partner will never see that $902.88 in a year.

I’ve heard horror stories of people, mostly women, (but men are targeted for MLMs, too) have accumulated THOUSANDS of dollars in debt from purchasing inventory. My Facebook Marketplace is full of people desperate to unload their excess stock of Young Living oils, unsold LuLaRoe clothes and leggings, Scentsy products, and more.

Bottom line: MLMs are designed to prey on vulnerable people – Women and men. And many are stuck in it for years. It’s all very sad, and infuriating.

However, there is some good news. At the beginning of October, AdvoCare and its former CEO agreed to pay $150 million and be banned from multi-level marketing to resolve Federal Trade Commission (FTC) charges that the company operated an illegal pyramid scheme.

My hope is the FTC continues to investigate these predatory companies and take action. Like many industries, however, there are lobbyists and politics involved. I’ve posted a link to the Direct Selling Association (DSA) below in my resources list.

So, what can you do about MLMs?

  • Become aware. Many MLMs follow similar models, and use similar language to get people to buy in.
  • If you know someone involved in an MLM, don’t try to convince them to get out or stop. It’s like being in an abusive relationship – Only the person involved can decide when they want to leave. No one else, sadly, can change their mind.
  • Research. A simple Google search brings up articles from various sources, including The Washington Post, CNN Money, and AARP.
  • If you are approached by someone to invest or buy in, don’t be afraid to ask questions. Be your own advocate. Use words such as MLM, multi-level marketing, direct sales, or pyramid scheme.
  • At craft fairs, farmers markets, and other local events, support your neighbors and their small businesses. I guarantee you it will be a better experience for everyone. The money you spend will help them grow and invest in their products, whether it’s handmade soap, hand-crafted jewelry, doll clothes, or locally-sourced food.
  • If you help organize craft fairs, fundraisers, or farmers markets, work to limit the number of MLMs that are allowed to participate. Some places and organizations have gone so far to ban them entirely. I’m not telling you what to do, but just be mindful of the businesses you want to attract and support.
  • “No” is a complete sentence.

Resources

Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂