Review: Fun Home

Author: Allison Bechdel
Published: June 8, 2006
Genre: Graphic Memoir
FLW Rating: 4/5

Fun Home was my first graphic novel — and I think I’ve discovered a beautiful new (to me) genre. I’m one of those people other readers hate because I’ve sometimes disliked a memoir for feeling that it was too self involved. I know, I know, I should stop reading memoirs if those are my feelings. But more to the point, I’ve discovered that the genre of graphic novel memoirs can tell the story both so much more thorougly and so much more concisely. As someone who messaged me on instagram said, “all memoirs should be told as graphic novels.”

Fun Home is the autobiographical graphic memoir of Allison Bechdel, a homosexual writer currently living in Brooklyn, New York. Growing up Allison had a complicated relationship with her father and when he suddenly passed away, she is forced to reflect on her life with him in it and how it formed her in to the person she is today.

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As I mentioned above, I really loved how succinct this book was. I don’t think that’s normally a good thing to say about a book (“I loved how short it was”), but I’m viewing this thought as a reflection on the style and efficiency of story telling, more than a relief that it’s over. While the story was short, I felt like I was able to enjoy it more than a written book of similar length because I was discovering the story in so many ways – though art, through words in the photos, and then through the caption. It was engaging and kept me turning the pages until I read the whole thing in one sitting.

Specific to this story, one thing that didn’t work for me was the shear amount of literary references. I understand that they were necessary in telling Allison and her father’s story because of how much they were a part of that relationship, but for me as an engineer/contemporary reader, it was hard for me to understand a lot of the story, since it was deeply ingrained in older literature. I googled a few things, pieced the points together, and ultimately did enjoy the story, but I feel like I should throw that out there for you, and mention that if you have similar reading habits, maybe start with another graphic memoir with less literary references.

Overall, I really enjoyed Fun Home and learning about Allison and her father. I thought the story was beautiful illustrated and beautifully told. If I were better at older literature references or had received more context in the story, this book would have hit a little harder for me.

Book Review: Playing Through The Whistle

Author: S. L. Price
Published: October 4, 2016
Genre: Nonfiction
FLW Rating: 2.5/5

Aliquippa, Pennsylvania is a fascinating place. It’s one of the top two towns in the country to produce NFL players, but with one of the lowest average incomes. It’s a town that has truly been through it all and is a great way to learn about the last century of American History. That being said, the breadth of this book was both too wide and too narrow to be an enjoyable reading experience. I’ll explain more but first, the synopsis:

Playing Through The Whistle is the story of  Aliquippa, a suburb of Pittsburgh in Western Pennsylvania, that has been through it all. From steel mills and labor unions, to becoming WPIAL and State champions in both football AND basketball, to handling racial tensions and gang violence in the 80s, Aliquippa can serve as a microhistory of the 20th century in the rustbelt of America.

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To me a nonfiction book needs a cohesive plot, and in this case that storyline that flowed throughout the book was a modern day football game. But throughout the 450 page book, the modern day plot line only popped in to cover about 4 pages, and honestly didn’t add any value in my opinion because I didn’t really get enough of it to understand it’s significance. Part of me is also a little upset that the book was started with the modern day scene because I got excited about that aspect and then I never felt like it was fulfilled. Long story short, I felt like this book just lacked a story. (You won’t find this in my “Reads like Fiction” post later this week!)

To come back to what I said in the beginning – I felt like this book was both too wide and too narrow. The book spanned from the early 1900s to present day, but as the plot progressed through the century, the writing was incredibly detailed. I struggled with this because it meant there were so many names, and I wasn’t sure whose names to remember and whose names I could forget. Trust me, remembering all of them is not an option. Since the plot was so laser focused at times, it had to move quickly and I felt like I was both a little bored and a little rushed. I didn’t like the tempo!

Since I guess what I’m saying is that I wish this book were a little more focused on the story and told from a little higher of a level. I do think Aliquippa should receive the attention it deserves, so while I’m not sure I would tell you to read this whole thing, I want to share some of the highlights. If these pique your interest then by all mean, pick this one up! And let me know how you like it!

  • Aliquippa is on the forefront of labor unions – as the steelworkers needed to unionize to protect the worker’s rights
  • Aliquippa remained (relatively) above racial conflict until 1978!
  • Once the steel mills closed, there was a white migration out of Aliquippa that the town had to adjust to
  • The options for Aliquippa youth became football success or dealing on the streets
  • Two of the NFL players to come out of Aliquippa were Mike Ditka and Tony Dorsett

This (obviously) only skims the surface of what is covered in this book, but if it piques your interest check out this book! In my opinion, the book could have been done better and wasn’t my favorite book to read, tempo-wise, but there is so much to learn about Aliquippa and so much that can be learned from this story.

Book Review: The Nightingale

We made it! Thanks for hanging in there for four reviews this week! Back to Nonfiction November next week!


Author: Kristin Hannah
Published: February 3, 2015
Genre: Historical Fiction
FLW Rating: 5/5

If I’ve learned anything this year it’s that Kristin Hannah books are hard to pick up, but are so so worth it. They’re tough for two reason – the expectations are high and the page count feels astronomical. I’m so happy to say that The Nightingale lived up to the hype and the pages flew by, as I couldn’t get enough of the story.

The Nightingale is the story of two sisters during the German occupation of France in WWII. Each has different experiences, coming from completely different places in life.  Isabelle, the younger sister, has to flee from Paris and develops a great interest in joining the resistance, whereas Vianne, the older sister whose husband is off fighting in the war, would prefer to keep her head down and stay safe until the war is over. Their individual struggles during the war illustrate the heartbreaking and, honestly, terrifying years of WWII in France.

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Part of the hesitation for me in picking up this book is that I just feel so. damn. saturated on WWII historical fiction. I’ll do a post on all that I’ve read and my recommendations on that another time, but in general I’m enjoying learning about other periods of history and parts of the world. This book, however, was better than I could have hoped for a WWII historical fiction read. The characters were so compelling and the plot moved quickly through the time period, not leaving you time to dwell on the already known facts. There was love, there was loss, and I loved both the intensity of the scenes and the way the book was able to move on to keep spirits relatively high.

One of my favorite things about this book is that there is a twist in the end. Don’t worry, these reviews are always spoiler free, but I didn’t expect to enjoy the ending quite so much (I can get bored of tidy endings to historical fiction novels), and this one kept me tied in to the story until the final minute.

If you’ve read The Great Alone and aren’t sure you can handle another experience that’s quite so emotional, I would say this one is less emotional.  I teared up a little at certain parts, but it wasn’t like The Great Alone where I straight up bawled for the last 100 pages.

Overall, I would suggest you cast all doubts aside and pick up The Nightingale. This book was truly readable and compelling despite all my greatest reading fears! I’m glad I finally bit the bullet, so to speak, and went for it.

Book Review: Come With Me

Author: Helen Schulman
Published: November 27, 2018
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
FLW Rating: 3/5

I still cringe when I read the title. Ok I had just had to get that out. There is one scene in this book that was the absolute worst. It ended with the title, and I’ll never be free of that experience. I’m struggling with how to express how annoyed it made me because I truly really liked the rest of the book, it just takes me a minute to remember what actually happened in this book. But when I do.. oh, then I recommend it!

Come with Me is a modern story about a family living in Silicon Valley. Told through multiple perspectives, Come With Me is able to paint a picture of modern life through a moment of tragedy in a community.

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While writing that synopsis I wanted to write the word MODERN over and over and over. It just is so modern – it features a family in which the mother is the main source of income for the family; where the father is a former talented journalist in a world that doesn’t pay for media; and where the son in the family maintains a long distance relationship through the use of his smart phone. But the main point of conflict in the novel is an issue as old as time — depression and suicide.

I think the contrast between the modern world the characters are living in and the old as time story of depression of a teenage boy made the tragedy of this story that much more powerful. There wasn’t any cyberbullying or AI involved in his suicide, it was just a tragedy. And the responses from everyone in the community felt real.

As you can probably tell from this review, I really genuinely liked this book. But I feel the need to say that because it’s not an easy book to like. It took a while to get in to, and it’s not incredibly plot driven, and that scene. Ugh that scene. It just ruined it. I think this book has so much potential and if you are a contemporary fiction lover who can handle a bit of… sex? I would say definitely pick it up. But if you’re at all sensitive, I just have to keep it honest, this may not be the book for you. Or maybe it is, but when things get weird, just skip to the next chapter.

This book is out November 27th so if it sounds up your alley definitely check it out! Thanks so much to Harper Books for the free review copy – as always all opinions are my own.

Book Review: Our Homesick Songs

Author: Emma Hooper
Published: August 14, 2018
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
FLW Rating: 2/5

This book. I wanted to love it so badly (do I start all not great reviews this way?), but this is a classic case of the prose getting in the way of the story for me. The vagueness of the story and the uniqueness of the prose, led me to feel confused about what I was reading and if there’s one thing I hate, it’s to feel confused about a book. I can handle a little mystery but when I’m 80% through the book and still don’t totally know what I’m reading, I get a little upset.

Our Homesick Songs is about a family in a Canadian fishing village, but there’s one problem: there are no fish in the village. While the Connor parents go off to find an income in other places, their children are left to fend for themselves and cope in their own ways.

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Therein, in that synopsis, lies the problem. It’s a little too vauge – it’s not set in a specific time or a place, so the whole thing feels very anecdotal. While I was writing the synopsis I couldn’t stop thinking to myself “is it about a family in a fishing village with no fish?” Somehow it all just felt so damn metaphorical. Is it about all North American towns that rely on one source of industry? Literally no idea.

I find it really hard to review this book, because despite reading 90% of it (I know I gave up at a weird time), I don’t feel like I grasped what happened. It confused me, it frustrated me, I felt like I wanted to empathize with these people but I just couldn’t even tell what was real and what wasn’t.

Maybe the problem is that I’m reading too far in to it, or maybe I wanted more action and wasn’t quite in the mood for a character driven novel, or maybe, just maybe, I was experiencing a book hangover from Where the Crawdads Sing and I just couldn’t get in to any book that came next. Whatever it was, this one didn’t work for me.

Have you read this book? Let me know what you thought! (Thoughts that don’t agree with me are also welcome!)

 

Book Review: Where The Crawdad’s Sing

It’s happening! Four reviews in four days to finally catch up on my October reviews. Starting with… Where The Crawdad’s Sing!


Author: Delia Owens
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pub Date: July 10, 2018
FLW Rating: 4.5/5

Where the Crawdad’s Sing is a beautiful atmospheric novel demonstrating the strength of a young girl- the novel’s proagonist, Kya. Before reading it all I knew was that ‘people liked it’ as a general statement. Ultimately I enjoyed this novel and all of its complexities, but something about the writing held me more at bay than I’ve felt in similar novels.

Where the Crawdads Sing is the story of Kya, a young girl at the outset of the novel living in the marshlands in coastal North Carolina. As the story continues, Kya grows older, and is left by her family to fend for herself and make her way in life. When a man from the town is found dead, Kya becomes a suspect and her whole life is analyzed through the lens of those living in town, invoking an strong emotional response from everyone involved in the case.

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What I think most defines this book is its subtlety. In a recent post I compared Kya to Wavy of All The Ugly and Wonderful Things and Leni of The Great Alonebut the biggest difference to me is that the other two novels were a bit in your face with emotions and tragedies, whereas Kya’s strength always felt understated.  I enjoyed this aspect and think this was the strength of the book. I felt like “clues” were slowly being conveyed throughout the course of the book, so I kept having quiet “aha” moments. Nothing dramatic, but I was frequently feeling the emotion of “oh that makes sense in the context” and I kept being amazed at how beautifully these details were being conveyed. Everything about the story felt authentic and real.

To that end, I find that there’s something so powerful in a story about the fate of the helpless laying in the hands of someone who may not understand. While this can be a relatively common theme in modern day literature, I felt like this book was particularly well done.

I won’t spoil the ending for you, except to say that it stays true to both the tone and the theme of subtlety to the past page. There’s nothing worse than an unexpected change of tone, and I thought this book did an amazing job of maintaining the tone while still going out with a bang.

Overall, I highly highly recommend this book. I recommend it to anyone, whether you’re looking for a tear-jerker, a feminist novel, beautiful descriptive scenic writing, or a murder mystery. This truly has it all in perfect balance.

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!