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. 

IMG_20181113_123629_185

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!

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


IMG_20180923_074934_017

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!

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.

20180912_194944

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: Modern Lovers

Author: Emma Straub
Published: May 31, 2016
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
FLW Rating: 3/5

I read a review of this book recently that said something along the lines of ‘Emma Straub’s books always appear to bright and happy, but when you read them you realize that they are anything but’. After reading this book, I couldn’t agree more. I bought Modern Lovers mostly because I loved the bookstore, Books Are Magic, in New York City, which was founded by Emma Straub, but also because I love bright colors and love stories. The content of this book didn’t match the cover, and while that’s not necessarily a bad thing, I think the biggest warning sign I want to share with you is that this book is more about falling out of love than falling in love and that can be dark, sad, and messy.

Modern Lovers is the story of three very different couples – one heterosexual couple in the midst of a midlife crisis instigated by some ghosts of the past, one homosexual couple who has hit a bump in the road, and one teenage couple trying to figure out life and where they fit. These stories feel real and full of despair, as each character waivers between hopeful and hopeless with so much of their life left to live.

The book is extremely character driven and at first I was truly surprised by this. I expected more action, partially due to the bright and exciting cover, and at first was a bit bored with the story.  I think the key to enjoying this book is to try to put yourselves in the shoes of each character and see how much they are hurting. The writing in this book was well done, to the point that while I identified with noone, I could empathize with everyone.

If we’re being honest here, I don’t think the book was meant for me right now. I’m going through a stage of life full of hope and love and excitement for the future – I’m in a new city, with a new job, living with a boyfriend who I hope to marry soon(ish). A love story about falling out of love isn’t really the kind of book I’m here for right now. I guess my critique is that the cover should reflect the content of the book more than it did, but also if a book isn’t right for you right now, there’s really nothing you (or the author) can do, so I can’t knock it too much on that account.

Overall, this book was good. Not great, but also very much not bad. I enjoyed it and I felt for the characters, but man, a book full of hopeless situations isn’t quite what I wanted at the end of summer!

Have you read this book? What did you think?

 

Book Review: Ohio

Author: Stephen Markley
Published: August 21, 2018
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
FLW Rating: 2/5

I was so drawn to this book as a mash up of murder and social commentary — but I’m here to tell you it was neither. What I got out of this book was a very long and very wordy diatribe on modern America. To make it worse the pacing was uneven and the loose ends that made the plot intriguing never came together. Let me explain.

Ohio is the story of one night in the small town of New Canaan, Ohio, when four former classmates have returned home and somewhat accidentally run in to eachother. Told from the perspective of four distinct voices, each protagonist revists their past, while building up to the night of reunion, to form the full story of life today in America’s midwest.

IMG_20180823_131201_130

This story covered it all — 9/11, terrorism, the opioid crisis, domestic violence, gay rights, and honestly probably even more than this. Basically – this book tried to do it all (hence the length of almost 500 pages). My issue is that it didn’t do any of them well. Most topics were both skimmed over and brutalized. The story didn’t dig in to any topic in particular, but instead just created a sort of chaos of negativity. In the end I didn’t finish the book with a heightened sense of awareness on any given topic and that truly disappointed me.

In a book like this, I like to trace the story through the perspectives and guess as to how they will all come together. Near the end of the prologue, Markley established that there was an accident on the far end of town where, as it foreshadowed, all four story lines would unite. The first three stories got there, but the fourth never did. I wasn’t sure if I had missed it, but I discussed the book with a few other reviewers and they agreed, the plot never looped back to the accident at the end — which left me extremely confused and unsatisfied as the reader. In rereading the book description, it appears that the connection between each story was meant to be Rick, a classmate who died in Iraq, but even that didn’t feel like a common thread, more a random coincidence.

The pacing of the book followed a similar pattern — three first stories were slow, but led you to believe that they were headed towards a common climax. On the contrary, the fourth book was INSANE, fast paced, and went in a different direction. I’ll admit that in other books I’ve read recently, I’ve forgiven a slow start for an action packed and rewarding finish, but since the pieces didn’t come together in this case the action packed finish never paid off and was just a greater reminder of the uneven pacing in this book.

My advice to you (since we all interpret books differently so I wouldn’t say don’t read it), is to really prepare yourself. This book is dark, heavy, intricate, and complicated with a ton of sex, violence, politics, and drugs. It may be for you, but it is not for everybody.

Book Review: Sweet Little Lies

Author: Caz Frear
Published: August 14, 2018
Genre: Mystery
FLW Rating: 3.5/5
Goodreads Link

This book is one of those books that both bingeworthy and slow – when you know you need to get to the end of the story, but also feel like there’s no direction. Sweet Little Lies is my favorite kind of police procedural, in which the murder that’s being investigated has so much more to do with the detectives than the victim. And sometimes, say late summer when life is stressful, it’s exactly what you need.

Sweet Little Lies is a murder mystery/police procedural in which a woman is found dead, but the person she’s identified to be only existed for a short time. The mystery starts there – who was this woman? and why did she recreate herself? And as this story is unraveled, and connections start to be uncovered, a dark truth emerges.

IMG_20180809_180527_417

I personally have always been a fan of this type of story, so I’ve read my fair share. Trust me when I say that Sweet Little Lies is totally original! The story it uncovers is truly unique and complex, which makes devouring this book very entertaining. And that’s all I’ll say! I want you to enjoy for yourself!

HOWEVER, to pull off a book as complex as this, based on a mystery — which is to say the reader is scouring each word for clues — the details need to be clear. I have some questions — and I’m going to pose them here as questions, so if you’ve read this book and can answer them, please do, and if you’re considering reading this book maybe read for these details extra closely so you don’t end up confused like me!

GEOGRAPHY

Can someone explain to me geographically where the body was found vs. where her dad’s pub is located vs. where she grew up?

The geography of this book was very important to the story and, maybe I should have googled more of the locations, but sometimes when I’m so deep in a story, I don’t want to be taken out of it to use the internet. My issue was that I couldn’t fully picture where they were as they were bouncing around the United Kingdom. Her dad seemed to always be a 10 minute walk from one location, a 90 drive from another, and a flight from a third. I was always confused about the distances covered, which was a large part of the story.  The misunderstanding  is definitely due to my lack of knowledge of the region, but that shouldn’t play that big a role in understanding the story.

Conflict of Interest

Why was Cat “kept at arms length” but still allowed to work on the case a little bit? It seems like it should be an all or nothing deal.

It’s no secret, by this point in my review at least, that Cat Kinsella – the detective/ protagonist of our story –  was involved (by association) with the mystery she’s trying to solve. I would have expected that this would be uncovered by her coworkers and she would be removed from the case, but noone seems to acknowledge that fact. At the same time, Cat admits to being kept at arms length, possibly due to some psych issue she has. I was a) a little upset that the former psych issue was never really discussed, and b) so confused about her being kept at arms length but also not really stopped from doing any digging.

Overall, I loved reading an entertaining police procedural – they are just such comfort reads for me – and I really liked the direction Frear took this one in, allowing it to feel truly unique, but I was too distracted by the disconnect of certain details to fully appreciate this book to its potential. 3.5 Stars for me!

Book Review: What Happened

Author: Hillary Clinton
Published: September 12, 2018
Genre: Memoir (Political)
FLW Rating: 4/5

As I’ve mentioned on here before, I don’t usually read books about recent history. If we’re being honest, I bought What Happened mostly as a coffee table book – something to display on my shelf for eternity as a sign of who I voted for in 2016. I kind of intended to read it, but after a few months I resigned to my fate of not reading it. But then I started The Unread Shelf Project and made it a goal to finish all books purchased before 1/1/2018 this year – so here we are.

I ended up listening to this book on audio, and I have to admit, I teared up in the first chapter. I almost stopped listening because it still felt too soon, but I powered through and the rest of the book was matter of fact – which to me is the strength of this book. It’s a non emotional explanation of intents and mistakes of the 2016 Presidential Election. No antics, no tears, no need to respond to attacks. I found it really helpful for me to have it all laid out in a civilized manner, so I can finally put the election behind me and focus on the future.

What Happened is the story of the 2016 Presidential Election, from the perspective of Hillary Clinton. It feels like an attempt from Hillary to be open with her supporters and let us know the background of many scandals that didn’t get proper coverage, focus, or explanation during the campaign. She discusses what she’s doing now, what it’s like to be a female in politics, Russia and why it matters, and those damn emails. It’s a must read for anyone looking for closure from the craziness of 2016!

While there no denying that this is an “agenda pushing campaign book”, I found that it had a lot more than that to offer. I enjoyed learning more about Clinton’s research in to females in politics and her perspectives on being a working mom. I also really enjoyed learning more about the email scandal because the reporting on that was all over the place during the campaign. And while I had been warned that the book was all about Comey, I found his role in the book to be considerable but not to the point of annoyance. There were times when I agreed with Hilary, but also times that I disagreed, and I would encourage everyone to read or listen to this book with a grain of salt.

I listened to this book on audio – which I thought was a great way to do it. The obvious perk is that the book is read by Hillary Clinton herself. You can hear where she gets exasperated or excited or any various emotion you may miss in print. It felt very personal to hear her expressing her confusion over why people didn’t find her to be an open book when she was as open as she possibly could be. The other perk is that in a long book about politics, there are times when you may want to zone out – audio was perfect for this 😊. The downside is that this book is very uniquely structured in hardcopy. There are sub chapters and sub sections separated by a boldly formatted quotes. When these are read in audio, it can seem confusing since they don’t explicitly tell you the chapter is changing, but once you get used to it, it starts to make sense.

Overall, I’m glad I read this book. It was great for me for reflecting on the election and moving past it – the last section of the book focuses on where do we go know. The answer: always forward.

Book Review: The Book of Essie

Author: Meghan MacLean Weir
Published: June 18, 2018
Genre: Fiction/ YA
FLW Rating: 2.5/5

The Book of Essie is extremely popular right now – but it rubbed me the wrong way. The plot was simply too unoriginal for my taste, and all of the characters were too immature to enjoy reading about. I tried – I really did – but this one just didn’t do it for me.

The Book of Essie book is centered on Esther (Essie) Hicks, the youngest child in a religious family who stars in a reality series all about their life. Essie’s father is a pastor, so when Essie gets pregnant unexpectedly, the stakes are high as she works out what to do and what to tell the public.

The book was structured as three separate stories told by different characters- Essie, Liberty, and Rourke. Essie, as I mentioned, is the star of this show – the teenager who gets pregnant unexpectedly and has to figure out how to handle it. (She doesn’t have to, but if she wants things done on her terms, she does.) Liberty is an entertainment journalist who is interested in helping Essie, but also has a story of her own, which presents her with her own biased approach. Rourke, a classmate of Essie’s, may just be her way out. He has a secrets and hidden motivations as well, which make his side of the story enjoyable to read. Through Essie’s pregnancy, the three characters are forced to consider what they stand to gain, what they stand to lose, and what they truly want. There is no straightforward solution for any character, and therein lies the drama.

Beyond that, there is an underlying story of how did Essie get pregnant. It is clear that the answer is a secret for a reason, and as the details emerge each character is again faced with difficult decisions on what to do with the information they’ve obtained.

But herein lies my issue – each character acted with such short sightedness, naivite, and immaturity that I could hardly stand to continue reading this book. While Rourke was my clear favorite character, I just couldn’t stand watching him go along with the plans that were made. I know people have different pet peeves with characters, but mine is definitely characters who make immature decisions when honesty and maturity could solve the situation. That’s not a spoiler, just a general feeling.

This book had elements of scandal, reality television, and overbearing religious families, so I totally get the appeal and found this book entertaining. But ultimately I felt so disappointed by the lack of depth of this book. I felt like there could have been so much there, and somehow there just wasn’t.

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

Book Review: My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry

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

The July Challenge for The Unread Shelf Project was to “finish that series!” I don’t usually read series — the only series I’m in the middle of is Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache mysteries and in that case middle is a generous term. (I still have eleven of the twelve books to go..) So I decided to interpret the challenge as “finish that collection” and for me that meant read the last Fredrick Backman book that I own but haven’t read yet – My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry.


Author: Fredrik Backman
Published: June 16, 2015
Genre: Fiction
FLW Rating: 3/5

I’m just going to be up front about it – This book didn’t totally work for me. I’m not sure if it was me, or the book, or the timing and the circumstance, but this book felt flat for the first 300 pages, and finished with a big finish that still left me a little unsatisfied.

Fredrick Backman is (still) hands down a favorite author of mine. When I met him last month, he told me personally (while signing my copies of Us Against You and A Man Called Ove), that My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She’s Sorry is his personal favorite of his own books. I wanted to love it and run off in to the sunset with my feelings towards this author’s work, but I just can’t. However, I still plan to read Britt Marie was Here, and I plan to like it… and I’m here to tell you why.

My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She’s Sorry is a story about Elsa, her crazy grandmother, his unconventional family, and her quirky set of neighbors. Elsa is an eight year old girl who likes to describe herself as “different”, and struggles repeatedly with bullies at school. Her grandmother is Elsa’s only friend and helps her escape reality by introducing her to an imaginary world called “The-Land-of-Almost-Awake”. But when her grandmother dies somewhat unexpectedly, Elsa is left with nothing but unexplained sadness and a letter she must deliver to a particular person. This letter takes her on a journey to discover the personalities and personal histories of those around her, leading her to make one big decision.

IMG_20180720_183616_327

When we spoke, Backman said that he felt offended when people disliked Elsa — and I didn’t dislike Elsa but I think the faults I found with the book, stem from the book being narrated by an eight year old.

Throughout the book, I struggled to find consistency in her voice, which made identifying the tone and rhythm of the book more difficult. Particularly early on, there were moments of extreme sadness in the middle of an otherwise comedic story, and the surprise I felt at the change in tone pulled me out of the story more than it pulled me in to the characters. As I reflect on this, I noticed that this is somewhat typical of Backman’s books – to counter extreme sadness with an element of humor or hope, but it just didn’t work for me in this case.

Similarly, I found that I was having a hard time following all of the characters. Again, with Elsa being eight, not only was she learning along with the reader, but she just wasn’t the best story teller. She also used names, nicknames, and descriptions interchangably which felt very on brand for the character, but confused me as the reader. My advice for you reading this book: There was one page in which Elsa ran through who everyone in her building was – bookmark that page. I didn’t, and the rest of the book I spent wondering how people were connected. Serious suggestion for if this book gets reprintedPUT A MAP OF THE UNITS IN THE FRONT OF THE BOOK.  Again, having many characters seems typical in Backman’s work, but it just didn’t quite work here.

Once I made my way through the confusion, I did truly enjoy the plot. I think this book embodies the spirit of young adventure we all had as kids. I used to love scavenger hunts and this book certainly felt like I was back in the game! I mean really, is there a more satisfying arch than that? The end, as is the case in all good scavenger hunts, was both rewarding and eventful as well. It was action packed and full of emotion. While I wish Backman had spread those elements out over the course of the book, at least the book wasn’t completely lacking the action I was searching for.

One more thing – I liked that while this book was about Elsa, it also wasn’t about Elsa at all. It was about all what Elsa came to understand about those around her, including her mother, grandmother, and one very complicated chracter – Britt Marie. Which brings me back to my intro – despite not loving this book,  I am so excited to read another book about Britt Marie. To me, she felt like the understated point of this book, and I’m excited to see how Backman develops her in another book.

Overall, I think this book would make a fantastic movie. Putting faces to names would immensely help with the issue of losing track of the characters, and following Elsa around on her journey would bring me a lot of joy on the big screen. If you’re ready to enjoy the journey, I would definitely recommend this book, but take me as an example and don’t read it when all you really want to do is re-read your favorite police procedural.

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