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!

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!

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: 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.

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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.