Book Review: Bad Blood

Author: John Carreyrou
Published: May 21, 2018
Genre: Nonfiction
FLW Rating: 4.5/5

If you’re ready for a book to stun you and teach you so much about the world we live in, I highly recommend Bad Blood. I expect a lot out of the books I read, and with all the positive reviews surrounding this one, I went in to it very skeptical. It took a little while to hook me, but after that, I was done. I absolutely needed to know what happened. And you bet I’m going to spend the next week reading articles and listening to podcasts on what has happened since pub day!

Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in Silicon Valley is an exposee on the blood testing startup, Theranos and how they got from conception to breaking the law. Elizabeth Holmes, a Stanford drop out, founded a company with the intention of creating a device that could run multiple blood tests on  a single drop of blood. While the criminal trial is still unfolding, Bad Blood tells the story of the start up from its creation, to the point when it toed the line of questionable morality, to when it absolutely lost sight of that line. 

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One of the things I was skeptical about with this book was the layout. How was a book about a failed start-up going to keep my attention for three hundred pages? Through a narrative style arch is how! I was truly impressed with the suspense that was able to be conveyed, even though based on the fact that this book has been written, you know generally what “happened”. I was engaged and amazed as every stunt Holmes pulled was revealed to the reader.

What I believe I learned from the book is a) how far manipulation and closed doors can get you, and b) to never use a product that may impact my health of decisions about my health without an FDA certification. I’ll start with the first one — Holmes was a master of loopholes, and of only showing certain people what they need to see, so that they could never start to put the pieces together. It was truly astounding how many people started to see that there was a problem, but the problem they saw was out of their jurisdiction or a certain fear they had was being exploited to prevent them from raising the issue.

Along that note is the point of the FDA certification. That was really the sticking point for Theranos – their products were never FDA approved through a certain loophole. Legal loophole or not, I think that’s one thing that we as consumers are able to look out for and able to question, when it comes to medical devices and tests. It’s terrifying that their products avoided FDA regulation, but at least the FDA standards weren’t compromised even though so many other things were.

I highly recommend this book, and I hope I’ve piqued your interest! It’s an entertaining, well-crafted, and immensely well researched book. The stakes were high in this one with a criminal investigation ongoing, and Carreyrou certainly produced a winner.

October Reading Recap

You guys, I have totally failed you! (If you want to know why, check out Monday’s post!) I read five books last month and reviewed ONE. But anyway, here we are. I still think it’s worth summarizing the books from last month — and believe me, reviews are coming soon! Gimme a couple weeks to write them, but they’re all scheduled so in theory they will be written very soon.

Here’s what I read!

The Silence of the Girls
Rating: 4/5
Genre: Greek Mythology Retelling
Tone: Optimistic through trying times
Structure: Told mostly through the perspective of Achilles slave, with some other scenes thrown in there
Read if you like: Greek mythology, Circe, strong women

Where the Crawdads Sing
Rating: 5/5
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Tone: Dramatic, hopeful
Structure: Told primarily through the eyes of Kya, the protagonist
Read if you like: All the Ugly and Wonderful Things, Beartown, The Great Alone

Our Homesick Songs
Rating: 2/5
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Tone: 
Structure: Told from two points of view in two timelines – when the parents met and in present day
Read if you like: Little Fires Everywhere, Unique writing styles, Station Eleven

Come with Me
Rating: 3/5
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Tone: Sexually charged, sardonic
Structure: Told through the perspective of each family member
Read if you like: Books set in Silicon Valley, The Circle, Sourdough, Startup

The Nightingale
Rating: 5/5
Genre: Historical Fiction
Tone: Adventurous, loving, emotional
Structure: Told through the perspective of two sisters in different parts of France during WWII. They sometimes overlap, but are often separate
Read if you like: The Alice Network, All The Light You Cannot See, WWII historical fiction in general

Top Five Favorites: Nonfiction

It’s November! And I’m excited to be participating in Nonfiction November, so to kick that off, I wanted to share some of my favorite nonfiction reads. There are so many others I could mention, but I’ll leave you with five for now, and hopefully talk about more over the course of the upcoming month!

Each of the books below opened my eyes to a world I hadn’t known before and that is why I love reading. I’ll just write a few notes on the books here, but I’ll link to their Goodreads Page so if you’re interested, you can check them out there!

A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah

My high school had truly amazing history classes for a high school, and I read this one for a class called African Issues. This is probably the only book I read in high school that I read every page of on the day it was assigned, and enjoyed it. I was obsessed with this book and wanted to get Beah to come talk at our high school. Unfortunately Beah was in high demand and couldn’t make it, but the fact remains that learning about the Boy Soldiers and the Sudanese Civil War was life changing to someone growing up in Western Pennsylvania. Can’t recommend this book enough!

Dead Wake by Erik Larson

Erik Larson was a go to author for me after reading Devil in the White City in high school (it was a required summer reading selection!). I found Dead Wake to be insanely readable and eye opening. Larson is able to share intimate details from both a presidential romance and the experience of being in a German U-boat in WWI. It was a truly remarkable work of narrative nonfiction and I didn’t want it to end.

The Profiteers by Sally Denton

This book is the definition of an eye opener. In my senior year of college I took a course called “History and the Environment”. It was an absolutely fascinating class that tied things going on in nature, with those going on in politics. One major topic we focused on was the oil and the Iraq War. As an engineering major, some of this was over my head, but all the holes were filled in when I read The Profiteers. I read this right around the 2016 election and it felt so timely — and when the CEO of Exxon was appointed as Secretary of State, I felt that I understood the motives completely and knew exactly why I was not OK with it. If you want to be clued in to the financial motives spearheading politics, check this book out.

Ranger Games by Ben Blum

I haven’t read a slew of military nonfiction, but I imagine this is one of the most open and honest books in the genre out there. Written by a close cousin of Alex Blum, a former golden boy turned criminal by way of the army, the answer at the heart is what happened to Alex when he left home to become a U.S. Army Ranger. While this book is not for the feint of heart, its dives incredibly deep in to the psyche of our soldiers going through this intense training process. I really enjoyed it and recommend it to everyone I know.

Missoula by Jon Krakauer

I posted about this recently, but I’ll just repeat a bit of that here: This book is a nonfiction account of a town in Montana that had way too many rapes of high school and college students. Be prepared for a brutal read – this book takes you through trials where no details are spared, but if you want to know the facts about rape, read this book. I mean, let’s be honest, you don’t want to hear the facts necessarily (because they’re hard to hear), but they’re so important. I learned so much and my life has never been the same.

Do you read much nonfiction? Do you have any recommendations for me?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book Review: My Year of Rest and Relaxation

Author: Otessa Moshfegh
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Pub Date: July 10, 2018
FLW Rating: 3/5

You guys, I’m sorry. I’m sorry to my bank account since I bought this book. I’m sorry to all the lovers of this book out here… I didn’t love it. I wanted to! But I found it repetitive and for a book so original, surprisingly un-original.

My Year of Rest and Relaxation is the story of a very depressed millenial. By tricking her therapist in to prescribing her a series of sleep medications, she resolves to take a year off from working and normal life and sleep. The story comes from her life in the in between and the personal relationships she chooses to engage in or push away. Grab a front seat to the drama that is a year of life through the veil of a sleep medication cocktail.

I think my biggest issue with the book was that it didn’t meet any of my expectations — and not to any fault of the author, but in general I thought the book was about a burnt out millenial (which is comical), but instead the narrator was incredibly depressed form the death of both of her parents in quick secession. That’s not funny. I also read that the year of rest and relaxation it was assisted by her psychologist, but really she just abused the incompetence of the therapist she found online.. which is kind of funny, but also not funny.

Overall, I don’t know what I expected because honestly I thought she was going to sleep for a year (spoiler she doesn’t and you hear about her life in the times that she’s awake!), but the plot did nothing for me. and that ending. WHAT?! I needed more.

Call me old, maybe I am (I’m 29), but I wasn’t really feeling the jokes that were being made, and so this book didn’t land with me.

Have you read this? Let me know what you thought!

Book Review: Silence of the Girls

Author: Pat Barker
Genre: Greek Mythology Retelling
Pub Date: September 4, 2018
FLW Rating: 4/5

When I was first introduced to Greek mythology in the eighth, I loved Greek Mythology, but I remember finding it more difficult to read in high school. For that reason Greek mythology retellings have seemed daunting to me, so when others such as Michelle Miller’s Circe first came out, I avoided them. For whatever reason, I decided to select this book as my Book of the Month and luckily, it was so well written that the story was incredibly readable without losing historical accuracy (not that I would know, but I’ve read some positive reviews in that light online!).

The Silence of the Girls is a retelling of the Illiad from the perspective of one of the female slaves captured by the Greeks. When the Greeks take a city, they kill all the men (including pregnant women who may be carrying a male baby) and take all the women home as slaves or prizes. This is the story of one of those women, from the battle that destroyed her city, through a large portion of the war.

This book was a step outside of my comfort zone, but I’m all about that right now. If you’re hesitant about this book because you don’t know much about greek mythology – don’t be, Barker writes this book for everyone! – or because you don’t like magical realism – rest assured, all of the characters are humans who pray to gods, but they don’t have any actual magical powers – or because you’re nervous about sexual abuse of the women – there is some discussion of sexual abuse, but I didn’t find anything cringeworthy and I can be sensitive –  I say forget your fears and go for it. This is a beautiful unique book that is 100% worth reading!

Have you read this? Let me know what you thought!

Book Review: Autumn

First things first: I’m currently participating in the Unread Shelf Project 2018, hosted by Whitney at @theunreadshelf. This post reflects on the September Challenge, but you can look back at all the posts here


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I’m going to keep this review short and sweet – which is what this book was to me. Autumn can be described in so many ways — artistic, poetic, beautiful, and funny to name a few — but to me the dominating tone was sweet. The humor was sweet, the Daniel’s daydreams were sweet, and Elisabeth’s memories were sweet.

Autumn is the story of Elisabeth and Daniel – two friends, two generations apart. The story is told as Daniel lies in a hospital bed near the end of his life, and Elisabeth is there to be with him. Through glimpses in to different stages of their pasts and presents, Autumn shows us that age doesn’t matter in friendship. 

I hope that a review this short doesn’t give the impression that this books lacks substance, but I just felt like this book emoted more a feeling than story. So rather than piece together or pick apart the narrative, I just want to say that this book will warm your soul like a giant cup of hot apple cider, and make you smile like an apple cider donut. Soak this book up as you soak up the season, before it’s time to pick up Winter!

September Reading Recap

September was… busy! Although, for all the right reasons – I traveled to the East Coast for my grandmothers 99th birthday and to meet my newest (and only) nephew! Then continued on to Portugal for my very first solo international trip. It went really well, and as you can see below, I got a lot of quality time with my kindle and a glass of wine 🙂 When in Portugal, right!?

I read six books which is a ton for me considering none of them were audiobooks! Some great, some not as great, but overall a pretty good reading month — here’s what I read:

A Place For Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza
Rating: 5/5
Genre: Literary Fiction
Tone: Slow, Thoughtful, Tragic
Structure: Non-linear but with a relatively chronological timeline, before turning to a first person reaction
Read if you like: Beautiful writing, Family Sagas, Pachinko, An American Marriage

The Queen of Hearts by Kimmery Martin
Rating: 4/5
Genre: General Fiction
Tone: Bingeworthy, Dramatic, Youthful
Structure: Two points of view in two timelines
Read if you like: Greys Anatomy, Gossip Girl, The It Girl

The Witch Elm by Tana French
Rating: 4/5
Genre: Mystery
Tone: Dark, Gothic
Structure: Chronological first person from a single point of view
Read if you like: Tana French, Robert Galbraith, The Death of Mrs. Westaway

A Girl’s Guide to Missiles by Karen Piper
Rating: 3/5
Genre: Memoir
Tone: Quirky, Sarcastic, Long
Structure: First person chronological, although the voice changes as Piper grows up
Read if you like: Priestdaddy, Educated, Memoirs in general

Autumn by Ali Smith
Rating: 3/5
Genre: Literary Fiction
Tone: Contemplative, Hopeful, Sweet
Structure: Many stories blended together, no quotations around dialogue
Read if you like: Man Booker Prize Winners, Prose, Slow reads with a little humor

My Year of Rest and Relaxation
Rating: 3.5/5
Genre: Fiction
Tone: Repetitive, Sarcastic, Quirky, Repetitive (get it?)
Structure: First person with a linear timeline during periods of being awake over the year
Read if you like: Millenials – otherwise this book is totally unique.

Book Review: The Witch Elm

Author: Tana French
Genre: Mystery
Pub Date: October 9, 2018
FLW Rating: 4/5

How do you review the QUEEN? Tana French has been my favorite author for my whole adult reading life, so I feel a little wrong writing anything but a glowing review. This is also a tricky one to review since I’ve been so in love with French’s Dublin Murder Series, and this was her first standalone novel. This book was totally different than her others (mainly that you didn’t follow the lives of ANY detectives!) but I totally enjoyed it in its own right — I’m just also ready to read another Dublin Murder Series book next. 🙂

The Witch Elm is a dark and moody mystery that demonstrates the fact that you never know you can trust — including yourself, your long-term partner, or your closest family members. At the opening of the novel, Toby experienced a break-in and assault, leaving him helpless and with some potential permanent brain damage. While Toby is recovering by spending time with his dying uncle, a dead body is recovered at the house, and everyone in the family becomes a suspect. Written as less of a “Clue” who-done-it puzzle, and more of an internal psychological monologue, the reader follows along while Toby struggles to determine what he knows and what he’s tricked himself in to believing.

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Dinner alone in Portugal wasn’t so bad as I worked through a dramatic scene with this view and this delicious Sangria! (I actually didn’t want to leave so had a couple glasses of this wine and this was the only night of my trip I felt tipsy! Oops!)

What Tana French does well (understatement of the century), in all books, is writing group dynamics. My favorite book of hers is The Likeness, in which one of the detectives actually goes undercover to investigate a murder by living with a group of the victims friends. (A few people I know have their issues with this one, because it’s pretty unrealistic, but I think it’s a perfect demonstration of how masterfully French writes group dynamics.) In The Witch Elm, the “group” explored was primarily Toby and his two cousins, who he grew up with. Suspicion was cast in all directions, and my favorite part of the book was trying to identify the motives of each character.

What I struggled with was the use of monologues throughout the books. In some cases, like Emma in the Night, I kind of love a big monologue reveal, but after a while in this book, I started to feel like it was just one big series of monologues. Additionally, it felt like the direction of these monologues changed suddenly — all of a sudden Toby would have an idea and begin a full reveal on his current theory, then something would come up and he would begin another. An unintended consequence was that it made the book feel like a TV series. I actually had a moment when I thought to myself “I can’t wait to get home, so I can keep watching my show!” and then remembered that it was a book. Ha! That’s never happened to me before.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book – the mystery and the drama I had been hoping for was present, and ultimately I got lost in the story and couldn’t wait to pick up the book to keep reading every time I had the chance. I read this book while traveling solo and since every time I opened it I felt submerged in their world, it was the perfect book to keep me company!

This book comes out October 9th! Thanks to Viking Books and Netgalley for my advanced copy!

Book Review: A Girl’s Guide to Missiles

Author: Karen Piper
Genre: Memoir
Pub Date: August 14, 2018
FLW Rating: 3/5

A Girl’s Guide to Missiles was the fresh, witty, laugh out loud memoir I was searching for – until it wasn’t. And at first I was blown away with how much I was learning and how much I was enjoying this fresh new voice! But as the end got closer, the wit and humor seemed to have disappeared and I found myself feeling impatient for the ending.

A Girls Guide to Missiles is a memoir of Karen Piper’s life, from her childhood in China Lake — one of America’s secret military deserts — where her parents were working on the design of missiles during the Cold/Vietnam Wars. As Karen grows up and and tries to understand the world on her own terms, shes forced to answer many questions about where she was raised and how.

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The beginning of this book was my favorite – I was laughing out loud and underlining passages consistently. Karen’s understanding of how life/religion/politics worked as a child had me cracking up because really, she was so logical in an illogical world.

I also enjoyed learning about a period of history that isn’t yet well documented in either memoirs or fiction — the 1970s. To be honest with you, I know a lot more about the first half of the 20th century than the second. It always drove me nuts in history class when we would end the year right before we got to learn about the Vietnam War and I haven’t quite filled my reading life to make up for that! (Note to self: read more books set in the 1970/80s.) It was interesting to hear about Vietnam, and the American missile program, and even Nixon and Watergate.

Where the book lost me was after the second failed romantic relationship, when she wasn’t going anywhere fast, and the tone had shifted from comedic and witty to just kind of depressing. I was disappointed that a memoir that started so strong, didn’t maintain that momentum throughout, but I guess it’s the truth of what happened, and it needed to be written.

Overall, I think this is a fun memoir (especially the beginning) that’s pretty eye opening to what it was like on a military base in the 1970s — not a side of life we frequently see! If you’re at all interested in that or looking for a new perspective in a memoir, this book is certainly worth checking out!

Have you read this? What did you think?

Book Review: The Queen of Hearts

Author: Kimmery Martin
Genre: General Fiction
Pub Date: February 2018
FLW Rating: 4/5

I read a blog post – or maybe just an Instagram caption – recently where the author was sharing her frustration of people rating memoirs as 1 or 2 stars because they were too “self-centered/ self-absordbed.” Her point was that we, as reviewers, need to rate books based both on the category in which they exist and the goal/intent of the author in writing the book. I have my reservations about that as a blanket statement, but essentially, I think the logic applies well to this book, The Queen of Hearts. As Martin wrote in her Author’s Note, her goal for this book was to write something entertaining, involving her two loves of medicine and writing (she’s actually a full time ER doctor in her non-author life!). I feel like she took the words right out of my mouth, but of course I have to elaborate. To me, The Queen of Hearts was well written, complex, and entertaining — While there was nothing that blew me away in terms of writing or plot, I’ll happily reflect on it and recommend it to my friends who may be looking for an very solid page turner.

The Queen of Hearts is a story told in two parts – one being when the main characters, Zadie and Emma, were in their first intern year of Med School, and one later on when both women are successful physicians. During their school years, one of their classmates dies unexpectedly, and while Emma knows the full story, Zadie does not. That secret is constantly brooding beneath their friendship, and as Emma enters a turbulent stage of her career, the story being uncovered would mean her losing it all – her job, her best friend, and so much more.

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As I look back on this book the first thing that comes to mind is the plot line involving the shocking death of the classmate, but I need to highlight that as I was reading it, it was really the professional scandal that C is going through that hit me the hardest. With so many strong plotlines, being able to balance each and make them independently strong, is to me the sign of a well-structured book, and a testament to Martin’s writing, appealing to the humanity in us all.

Additionally, I liked that despite the sometimes-heavier subject matter, this book primarily stayed light and moved quickly. I credit this tone to the inclusion of the medical writing. The surgery, hospital, and emergency rooms scenes advanced the plot and added suspense, but also needed to be kept relatively short to avoid us non-medical personal becoming disinterested. Because of this, the medical scenes set the pace of the novel and kept the other sections moving at that pace too. The combination of the strong intersecting plot points along with the medical scenes made The Queen of Hearts unique from other books I’ve read recently, and truly a joy to read.

Overall, it gets a solid four stars from me – I was thoroughly entertained and appreciated both the complex plot and authentic medical knowledge contributions!

Have you read this one? What did you think?