Book Review: Calypso

When this book was first released last summer, many of the reviews included the words “different”, “darker”, or “more serious” in describing it in comparison to his other work. I am a huge David Sedaris fan so these words were major turnoffs to me in deciding to pick it up, but finally I threw it on on audio and I’ve been laughing ever since. What words would I use, you ask? Maybe “same old Sedaris humor, with a little less outrageousness, a little more timely political commentary, but definitely DEFINITELY the same amount of laugh out loud jokes.”

Calypso is the latest short story collection from David Sedaris – a true comic genius in my opinion. These stories are primarily autobiographical and range from conversations with family to observations on his travels. But knowing Sedaris, they’re never just straightforward stories. Each one will have you laughing out loud at the hilarity that can ensue when you view every day situations with the mind of David Sedaris.

In his previous works, Sedaris has let it be known that he’s very liberal, but he’s never totally come out right and talked about the present political climate. This book is different in that regard, and instead of using negative words like “dark” or “serious”, I want to highlight that this is one of the parts of the book I enjoyed the most. The chapter on the 2016 election titled “A Number of Reasons I’ve Been Depressed Lately”, and the chapter on the supreme court decision to legalize gay marriage (A Modest Proposal) are easily two of my favorites in this book — along with the nonpolitical US Travel Guide (Your English is So Good) and story of a man pooping on a plane (I’m Still Standing).


While we’re here, now seems as good a time as any to did a quick review of Holidays on Ice, David Sedaris’s Christmas collection. I was given this for Christmas and I quickly tore through it. The stories have all appeared previously in other collections, but luckily I didn’t remember any of them.  The stories aren’t specifically holiday themed, but they all mention Christmas at least once. These stories definitely contrast to the ones mentioned above. The ones in Calypso are kind of “haha” funny, but the ones in this collection struck me more as “holy crap, did you just say that?” funny. They’re hilarious in their outrageousness and inappropriate nature. I highly recommend them – especially “Season’s Greetings to Our Friends and Family!!!”, “Based Upon a True Story”, and “Jesus Shaves”- but please approach this book with your best not-easily-offended sense of humor, or this one may just rub you the wrong way. 🙂


Clearly I’ve been on  a bit of a David Sedaris trend recently, but I have to say I’ve really enjoyed them all. I listened to a lot of the stories in Calypso on audio (which I  highly recommend!), but flipping through the book to find some of the titles, made me want to reread it print sometime soon! I just can’t get enough!

Book Review: The Friend

Books that win awards are notoriously hit or miss for me. Anyone else? It feels like the people who decide on literary awards and I just may not be on the same page. Best seller lists and I, well that’s another story. I’ve recently ruled out reading anything from the Man Booker Prize list, but The National Book Award is still one I keep my eye on. All that to say, I picked up this book because it was nominated for the National Book Award, didn’t love it, and then had to ask myself, ‘why did you do that again?’

The Friend is a stream of consciousness letter from a grieving friend to the friend who passed away. While the narrator inherits his dog and deals with her and the dog’s emotions, she writes down all of her thoughts in the form of a letter to her lost friend.

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The first page was great. It’s quirky its weird, it sets up some intrigue, and it makes you feel excited about the epistolary novel to come. But to be honest, it goes downhill from  there. The plot never takes off, and neither, in my opinion does the character development. I was almost holding my breath, waiting for the other shoe to drop and twist to occur. I had some theories! I figured this is either a book within a book or at the end you’ll find out there never was a dog or a friend and the person’s actually a mental patient in a psych ward of a hospital. And for a second it looked like I was going to be correct — but then I wasn’t. And there wasn’t anything else to explain this frankly boring stream of consciousness.

Going back to my point of not being super literary in my reviews of Fun Home AND Circe (Man, I’m really on a roll right now), I think this book would have improved for me had I been a student of literature. When the narrator wasn’t talking about the dog, she was typically talking about writing in literally all forms: what it’s like to be an English teacher, to study English, to write a novel, to read famous works of literature. I think if I understood the references, I would have enjoyed it ten fold, but unfortunately I’m not.

So at the end of all this where are we? Still sitting here, scratching my head, and wondering who the heck decides on literary awards? Yes.

Book Review: Circe

Author: Madeline Miller
Published: April 10, 2018
Genre: Greek Mythology Retelling
FLW Rating: 3/5

I’ve never seen a more polarizing book gain so much popularity. I feel like that’s all I need to say about this book, but of course it’s not. Circe is a Greek mythology retelling, and I’ve gotten the feeling that people who know and like Greek mythology love this book and those who took a risk, hoping they’d be able to learn some things along the way hate it. I didn’t like it. I found glimmers of hope when I would recognize a character from my middle school English class, but overall I felt a little lost.

Circe is a greek mythology retelling from the perspective of the nymph/witch/enchantress, Circe. (I literally had to google that to make sure I got it right.) After Circe is banished from her home city for using her witchly powers, she sets up a home on a deserted island. The story unfolds as she lives there for millenia and recieves several visitors – some who bring her fortune, and some who do not.

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I have some very strong feelings about this book.

  1. Nostalgia is key. I literally only enjoyed the parts where I recognized a character from my middle school Greek Mythology classes. I don’t think  enough context is given for the unfamiliar reader to feel comfortable in reading this book.
  2. Knowing there is a glossary in the back is very important. There should seriously be this disclaimer on page one! It took me until about 2/3 of the way through, when I decided to check how many pages were left, to discover that there’s a glossary in the end. By that point I had gotten by with my google home or context clues, but had felt pretty frustrated.
  3. The first one hundred fifty pages is world building. If you’ve made it this far in keeping up with the characters, I would advise you not to be too discouraged that nothing has really happened, despite centuries passing like seconds. The action is still to come! BUT if by this point you’re not bonding with the characters, I think at this point it’s ok to DNF.

I know this review was a little more straightforward than normal (and really more of advisory), but as I said in the beginning, I’ve never seen such a polarizing book before and I have a lot of strong feelings about it! I think knowing the above would have helped me to enjoy this book more, so I just wanted to make sure you have the best experience possible.

As a final take, I’d say that I don’t think this book did a good enough job with providing me the context I needed to understand the characters or the story. If that was going to be the case, I think either the glossary should be more available (at least mentioned at the beginning) or readers who don’t know a lot about Odysseus should be warned to stay away from this book. The hype for this one was a little too contagious, so I think a lot of people who probably shouldn’t read this book decided to pick it up, and, I being one of them, were a little dissapointed.

P.S. If you feel like you want to dip your toe in the Greek Mythology pool, but this one doesn’t sound like it’s for you, try Silence of the Girls! I found that one a lot more approachable

Book Review: The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle

Author: Stuart Turton
Published: February 8, 2018
Genre: Fantasy
FLW Rating: 3/5

This book will definitely go down as one of the most unique books I’ve ever read. As you may have noted in my 2019 Goals post, I’m trying to steer back towards books in my comfort zone, because unfortunately books like this that were a little too unique for me aren’t totally working for me. (See My Year of Rest and Relaxation.)

The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle is the story of one man who wakes up in a different body every day, over the course of eight days, while he attempts to solve the question of who killed Evelyn Hardcastle. As he moves through his “hosts” he picks up clues and has to use the skills of his host of the day to his advantage to help him solve the mystery.

I read this book when I was traveling home to visit my parents, and when my mom asked me what I was reading, my first reaction was to say “it’s more of a game than a book.” That’s truly how this book felt. I felt engaged in a way where I felt like I was playing. I was looking out for clues and dangers, and watching my step to a certain degree. In a way it was a page turner, but it was also surprisingly cyclical and I felt like I could only read the book for so long without feeling like I was taking turns with some imaginary other player.

Overall, I must say that I really appreciated the author’s creativity with this book, the world and mystery he created, and the journey he took the reader on – I definitely don’t want to discount that. But unfortunately this book wasn’t for me. The rhythm was hard for me to handle for long periods of time, and the fantasy world was more exotic that I typically enjoy reading about.  While the story pulled me in, it ultimately wasn’t an experience that I enjoyed.

That being said, if you enjoy mystery and fantasy, I think you would like this book! And my best advice would be to not read any more reviews about it, and just get in to it. Discover this crazy world for yourself.

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: 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: 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.

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!