Book Review #89: “The Less People Know About Us: A Mystery of Betrayal, Family Secrets, and Stolen Identity”

When I did a recent Tag post, I picked this book as “An intimidating book on your TBR.”

I wrote: “The Less People Know About Us: A Mystery of Betrayal, Family Secrets, and Stolen Identity by Axton Betz-Hamilton. I know the backstory behind this book, Betz-Hamilton’s memoir, from the Criminal podcast. (Make sure you listen to Episode 51 first, then Episode 125). I want it to be as amazing as I think it is, based on the podcast episodes that were so masterfully produced.”


As soon as I heard about Betz-Hamilton’s book on Episode 125 of the Criminal podcast, I added it to my wish list. I was so thrilled when I opened it as part of my Christmas gift from Al at the end of 2019.

It took me nearly six months to get to it, but I knew I was avoiding it. I had so many high hopes for this book, and I did not want to be disappointed.

Thankfully, this was not disappointing.


It’s hard to talk about this book without giving away certain things. But, I will say that I hope Betz-Hamilton writes more books. She did an incredible job with this. It’s such a personal story, and she truly turned it into action. She has done incredible work with helping identity theft victims for many years, while simultaneously trying to solve the mystery of identity theft in her own family.

If you’ve wanted to learn about identity theft, and its interesting history, this is a great book to read. Betz-Hamilton started her investigation with hardly any resources, and little law enforcement involvement. Times have certainly changed, and she helped educate many people along the way. Without her work, I don’t think identity theft would be as widely known or investigated now.

I related to this book in a few ways. Axton and I were both only children. I struggled with my relationship with my mom, especially as I became a teenager. But, I realize how good I had it. Axton lived in a version of hell under her mother’s roof until she went to college. I recognized so many signs of abuse, sadly.


The chapters were the perfect length. I flew through multiple chapters every night, and struggled with putting the book down.

It was so interesting to read about her life. This book spanned from before she was born up through the early 2010s. I really enjoyed the personal anecdotes, mixed in with academia and identity theft history. I’ve found myself searching for presentations she’s given. I’m hoping she’ll offer a course on identity theft. I want to learn more from her.

This is currently my favorite book of 2020. I’m always planning to re-read it next year.

5 out of 5 stars.


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Commentary #105: “I Wrote A Research Paper About The Publishing Industry … Here’s What I Found”

Image Credit: The Reedsy Blog

I thought Charis Rae’s research was so awesome, I wanted to share it!

Here’s the link to Charis Rae’s post: I Wrote A Research Paper About the Publishing Industry … Here’s What I Found


Charis brought up some excellent points and statistics. Here are a few of them:

  • Nearly 100,000 books were published by major publishing companies in the United States in the year 2019.
  • In 2018, more than 1.6 million books were self-published digitally and physically.
  • The odds of getting a publishing contract is 1 in 4 (25 percent), according to a 2014 report.
  • If you choose to self-publish with Amazon, you will get roughly 70 percent of the profits.
  • A traditionally published author will only receive 6-10 percent of the royalties.

Reading her analysis, it’s pretty obvious that self-publishing is the easiest way to get your book out to potential readers. However, you also face stiffer competition because there are far more self-published titles available by volume, and for less money. If you haven’t, just take a glance at Amazon Books, plus their Kindle Store. It’s overwhelming.

That said, there’s other booksellers, and publishers, than just Amazon. Many traditional book publishers still exist – HarperCollins, Hachette Livre, Penguin Random House, Macmillan, Simon & Schuster, Kodansha, Scholastic. In terms of other stores, there’s Barnes & Noble, Walmart, ThriftBooks, Books A Million, 2nd and Charles, Waterstones (UK), Strand Books, Book Depository, and even eBay.

In addition, you can also request Advanced Reader Copies (ARCs) through sites like NetGalley. Several of my friends have done that.

I was really impressed with Charis Rae’s research and analysis! I hope you take the time to read her post.

Also, consider your sources when you purchase books. Of course, I will always recommend borrowing books from the library or getting e-books if you’re into that (I’m not, but that’s just a personal preference). Amazon makes it really easy and convenient, but I encourage you to think outside the box a bit, and consider other sellers once in a while. For example, I bought a copy of Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson from a friend’s online store through eBay!


As for me and my writing journey, I’ve been studying both avenues for the last several years. I personally want to go the traditional route first, mainly for the experience because I’ve never attempted it. If I find myself struggling after a period of time, I’ll consider the self-publishing route. I’m excited to get my work out there!


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Commentary #102: “More Pizza And Fries? USDA Proposes To ‘Simplify’ Obama-Era School Lunch Rules”

Image Credit: Politico

NPR is one of my go-to sources. I’ve written several posts on articles from them. When I read this headline a while ago, I knew I needed to write about it: More Pizza And Fries? USDA Proposes To ‘Simplify’ Obama-Era School Lunch Rules


I also saw this article as a challenge to myself.

I’m not a parent.

I grew up with eating some school lunches, but most of the time I brought food from home, since my mom made big meals that turned into leftovers.

In elementary school, we learned about the food pyramid and how junk food was “bad.”

Since I graduated from high school in 2007, the rules and guidelines around school nutrition have changed. In addition, the United States weathered the worst economic downturn, among other things.

So, I wanted to dive in, do my research, and educate myself. And then share that education with you!


I’m not going to go into the entire history of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), but know that the USDA is the government agency that sets the rules for school nutrition. These rules apply to breakfast and lunch served in U.S. schools.

One of most landmark pieces of legislation on nutrition and schools has been the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. It became Public Law on December 13, 2010. It has not been amended since it was passed by the Senate on August 5, 2010.

However, at the end of 2018, Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced changes. The idea was to give schools “more flexibility in serving meals that kids will eat,” according to another article from NPR published on December 7, 2018.

Food and Nutrition Service (FNS)

USDA FNS – Nutrition Standards for School Meals

One of the biggest issues that people have with the new proposal is allowing any entree at any school could be served as an a la carte item for students. This means, if the proposal is made into a final rule, schools can offer pizza and burgers as an option every single day, if they choose. It’s a potential loophole to the previous rules that have mandated balanced school meals.

NOTE: While starting to write this post, I clicked on the link to the proposal from the Food and Nutrition Service on the Federal Register. I couldn’t access the Proposed Rule. There was an Editorial Note in its place, stating, “This document was withdrawn by the Office of the Federal Register because it was inadvertently placed on public inspection. The record will remain on public inspection through the close of business on Wednesday, January 22, 2020.”

This post is nowhere near finished. My research continues!

Book Review #72: “Columbine” *Re-Read*

I try my hardest to post Book Reviews within 24-48 hours after finishing the book. However, life has been pretty hectic recently. I finished Columbine in mid-April, just after the acknowledgment of it being 20 years since the tragedy. I’m just now posting my review.

I have a special connection with this book. The author, Dave Cullen, came to Longwood in the spring of 2010 as a guest lecturer. I was able to interview him for an article I wrote for the student newspaper, The Rotunda. He graciously signed my copy when I bought it at his lecture. It was strange, reading his message from March 17, 2010. That feels like a lifetime ago!

I’m glad I re-read this book. I remember how I felt after I read it the first time. Part of me wishes I’d re-read it before now, before nine years had passed. However, I still felt similar emotions as I did the first time.

I have to give major props to Cullen on his research and dedication to this book. This is one of the best accounts I’ve read of the events that occurred on April 20, 1999. And Cullen goes deeper than that. He covers the massacre, but also delves into the lives of the shooters, their families, and survivors.

It’s not perfect, but as someone who originally read memoir-style books such as The Journals of Rachel Scott: A Journey of Faith at Columbine High and She Said Yes: The Unlikely Martyrdom of Cassie Bernall years ago, when the tragedy was still relatively fresh (I was almost 10 when it occurred), I appreciate the time and effort Cullen devoted to this book.

If you haven’t read this book, I highly recommend it. Cullen makes it clear that he is a journalist first, and it’s evident throughout. His amount of sources is simply incredible. It’s very dense, and tough to read, but it’s an important work. I’m glad Cullen devoted many years to writing this book.

4 1/2 out of 5 stars.


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Book Review #71: “Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America” *Re-Read*

Nickel and Dimed

Image Credit: Goodreads

When I initially read this book, it was assigned reading for one of my very first college classes. I can’t remember which one, but this book left a profound impact on me. Slowly, I started reading more from Barbara Ehrenreich. However, this is the book that started it all.

I started college in the fall of 2007, about a year before the financial crisis that began in 2008. I believe I was assigned to read this book at a poignant time. I also believe I’m re-reading this book at another poignant time, at the beginning of 2019.

Going into re-reading this, I realized my copy of the book was updated with a new afterword, published in 2008. However, the overall concept – Studying low-wage jobs and attempting to understand their socioeconomic impacts – is nothing new. That’s part of the reason I was drawn to Matthew Desmond’s Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City.

Ehrenreich embarked on an experiment in 1998 – Trying to see if she, as a single, middle-aged woman, could survive as a waitress, a cleaner (hotel maid and house cleaner), a nursing home aide, and a seller / retail associate for a month, in three different cities. Each chapter explores a different type of job and a different city. She quickly realized the challenges with each one, and each city presented its own obstacles with housing, food, and assistance. Along the way, she met a variety of people working these jobs. A few were fortunate, but many were barely making ends meet. Several were working 2-3 jobs full-time, and still struggling with their incomes and their partner’s / spouse’s income(s) as well.

I won’t spoil anything, but she learns many lessons along the way. She discovers multiple issues with affordable housing, child care costs, fast food, health care, education, and the way these companies treat their employees.

I got a bit lost with the footnotes, statistics, and percentages, and glossed over a few of them toward the end. However, reading the updated afterword was important, and appreciated. This country has a lot to learn, still, in 2019. We need to treat employees, especially those earning the absolute minimum, better.

Overall, I’m glad I took the time to re-read this book. It’s a bit “dated” now, since Ehrenreich’s experiment started and concluded 21 years ago. However, it’s still relevant in many aspects today. And, like her, I’m grateful for everything I’ve had and worked for. This is a valuable book that will stay on my bookshelf forever.

4 out of 5 stars.


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Book Review #68: “Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City”

evicted

Image Credit: Amazon

I think I first heard about this book from friends on Facebook, who all said what a powerful book it was.

Then, author Matthew Desmond was interviewed by Terry Gross on NPR’s Fresh Air in April 2018. My local area, Hampton Roads in Virginia, was specifically mentioned in the interview regarding high numbers of evictions in three separate cities. It stung, and propelled me to want to learn more. As soon as possible.


I bought the book in August, and finally started it in late December. But once I started, I could not put it down. By the time we came home from the farm on December 26th, I’d flown through Part One. I was itching to go to bed that night, eager to dive in to Part Two. It only took me a few more nights of intense reading to finish it. I came away from it with a greater understanding, and appreciation, for being able to own my own home with my husband. It’s one of those books that makes me realize how good I have it, especially as a white woman with no children.

I’m drawn to books like this because of the human interest. I was reminded of the term “ethnography,” which is the systematic study of people and cultures. Author Matthew Desmond settled in Milwaukee, in the trailer park and other low-income neighborhoods, to not only interview people for the book, but to learn about their lives, and specifically what they go through day by day. The housing crisis and recession of the late-2000s began while he was conducting interviews, and it’s referenced in the book as well.

However, the housing crisis and recession are not all to blame here. It’s just one factor. There are many other factors involved with eviction and those who struggle with it. Landlords have profited by buying cheap, often dilapidated houses or buildings, charging rent, and then sometimes refusing to fix inherent problems in these properties. The tenants complain, nothing gets fixed, and rent can go unpaid or withheld. There are certain processes for evictions, but they vary greatly. There are voluntary and involuntary procedures. It’s definitely not black-and-white.

When someone is evicted, that goes on their record. It’s exponentially harder for parents with children to find an affordable place to live, and eviction(s) exacerbate that problem. Multiple evictions are even more problematic. It’s a vicious cycle, where parents want to protect their kids from negative influences and crime, but can’t break out of those areas because of their eviction record. Welfare benefits can also be affected. If you’re lucky to have a job, getting evicted can cause immense stress, affecting job performance and more. Choices have to be made, painfully – Pay rent, or the utilities, or the car repair, or a need for your kids. Kids are uprooted, shuffled, changing schools, and also stressed. It’s a horrible experience all around.

Desmond’s dedication to these interviews, living in their space, researching the processes and procedures, and soaking up everything he could about eviction shines through this book. It’s depressing, in more ways than one, but incredibly informative, educational, and eye-opening.

This is one of those books, in my opinion, should be studied and taught in schools, especially upper levels of high schools and colleges/universities. It’s an important issue that needs more focus, discussion, and change.

My eyes were opened widely to the multiple problems regarding eviction. I thought I knew a few things, but this book turned my thinking completely on its head. The book focused specifically on Milwaukee during a set number of years, but there are eviction problems and issues throughout the entire U.S.

That was one of the focuses of Desmond’s interview with Terry Gross – Thanks to receiving a MacArthur Foundation Genius Grant in 2015, Desmond has started The Eviction Lab, where a dedicated team of researchers and students from Princeton University are creating the first-ever eviction database in the U.S. At the time of the interview, in April 2018, the Lab had already collected 83 million records from 48 states and the District of Columbia.

The book was also awarded a Pulitzer Prize in 2017. That says something, too.

“Stabilizing a home has all sorts of positive benefits for a family,” Desmond said in the interview.

Desmond has written two other books, and co-authored one on race. I look forward to reading and seeing more from him.

5 out of 5 stars.


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Commentary #46: How The U.S. and Others Work with Mental Health Issues (Follow-Up to “A 700-Year-Old Haven for Mental Health”)

quote-on-mental-health-91-healthyplace

Image Credit: HealthyPlace.com

Back in October (Wow! Where did the time go?) I wrote a post about the amazing town of Geel, Belgium, and their remarkable approach to mental health and helping those in desperate need of care.


In case you missed it, here’s the link to the original post:


In my original post, I mentioned how I wanted to research how the U.S., other countries, and even other continents approach mental health issues, and how they are addressing them.

Are they like Geel? Or completely different?

It’s taken a long time to compile this research, so bear with me. My eyes have certainly been opened!


Through my research, it’s become clear to me that the United States in particular has a long, long way to go before reaching a place like Geel. Stigma is everywhere. However, I found some encouraging articles and resources.

The Washington Post published an article entitled Three innovative ways to address mental health issues in June 2014. This article focused primarily on children’s mental health, but this is as equally important, if not more so, to devote time and resources as adult mental health.

Published through Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama, the web page titled Community Recovery in the United States was intriguing. There are established programs modeled after Geel in the U.S., but only in certain states. This makes me wonder if there could be community recovery programs eventually established in every state, so that anyone can have access? Granted, this page has not been updated since 2009, but still, I like that these resources have been highlighted.

In Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Temple University has created a unique Rehabilitation Research and Training Center that focuses on helping those with psychiatric difficulties be independent in their communities: Temple University Collaborative on Community Inclusion of Individuals with Psychiatric Disabilities.


Around the world, there are several organizations that have mental health initiatives. However, there is still much work to be done to help those with mental disorders.

In an article from Wake Forest University in North Carolina from November 2009, Addressing mental-health issues around the world discussed the Mental Health Facilitators (MHF) program that started through a request from the World Health Organization (WHO).

From the Huffington Post in April 2016, Addressing Global Mental Health Challenges and Finding Solutions was a blog post about the author’s work with the International Medical Corps and other non-government organizations (NGOs) to help address these crises all over the world. In 2016, it’s incredibly sad that nine out of 10 that have mental disorders do not receive basic treatment.

Published on August 1, 2016 by the BJPsych Bulletin (Royal College of Psychiatrists, a charity registered in England, Wales, and Scotland), this fascinating article entitled Lessons to be learned from the oldest community psychiatric service in the world: Geel in Belgium was an exploration of the family foster care model that’s worked for so long.


On December 14th, I discovered some encouraging news from my own state of Virginia:

This was published by Richmond news station WRIC.

I read and re-read this article, at least three times. This proposal is full of promise, but it’s just a proposal. Thirty-one million dollars is good chunk of change, but I’m a bit skeptical. I hope it will come to fruition, but it’s going to take time.

I plan to keep following this particular story very closely.


In addition, here are other resources that you may be interested in:


Final Thoughts

It was frustrating and a bit disheartening to write this post, hence why it took so long to finally publish. As someone who has Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), it’s hard to read statistics and stories that show so limited resources, historically, being dedicated to mental health.

However, I’m happy that more attention is being given, and that more organizations are working every single day to make changes. I’m glad there are resources available to many, but it would be nice to see equal resources be available to all. That herculean effort takes time, money, and dedication.


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂