Adult Book Reviews by Genre: Biography/Memoir

When Breath Becomes Air
Kalanithi, Paul
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

This memoir by a brilliant neurosurgeon who contracts lung cancer movingly describes the anguish of terminal illness from the doctor and patient perspectives simultaneously. An accomplished writer with an astonishing grasp of literature, he side steps all the easy answers and leaves the reader in love with life and astonished by living, not intimidated by disease.

Reviewer's Name: David R.
Into the Wild
Krakauer, Jon
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

September 1992, a young man named Chris McCandless is found dead in the Alaskan Wilderness and Jon Krakauer is determined to sniff out every clue as to why. Into the Wild follows the life of Chris McCandless, a young man who dropped everything and took to the road, and how he even ended up in Alaska in the first place; and although he is dead, the trail and influences he left behind live on in those he met. The story jumps around occasionally, but it is just extraordinary to me how a single young man was able to travel almost all of the United States by foot and hitchhiking, and then end up in Alaska where he lived in the Wild until August 1992. Krakauer interviews the people who Chris has interacted with, and all of them say that Chris changed their life for the better, even those who he only shared a car ride with. I personally enjoy this book because it makes you feel as if what he did was amazing and if you, too, need an adventure like that in your life. I definitely recommend this book to all readers since every single person can take something from this book, negative or positive.
Reviewer Grade: 11

Reviewer's Name: Joe T.
Stitches
Small, David
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

This is an autobiographical graphic novel of the author, David Small. The book focuses on his early childhood to early adulthood. It shows the progression of his relationship with his father, a doctor, and his mother, a homemaker in a very reserved and controlling dysfunctional household. As a young man, he ends up with a tumor on his neck that is removed but damages his vocal cords, and doctors say he won't speak again. Along the way, he discovers who his family and himself are and finds out more than he bargained for.

This book is very dark and the color scheme is perfect for the tone of this book as well, using black, white, and shades of gray primarily. The art is contemporary in its quality and color scheme but has a more retro feel to its style of art as well, especially in the faces, which gives it the feel of the era the book was set in. This book is the type of book you would be able to, and due to its page turn-ability you likely will, finish in one sitting. It's easy to get invested and feel all the emotions and heartbreak of the author along the way. It can be a bit hard to read since it is darker in its focus and has a realistic feel. It also has a few twists and turns along the way which help keep you even more entranced by the book. I really enjoyed reading it as a change of pace for myself since I typically deal in a bit lighter fair in terms of topics. It addresses issues of mental illness and controlling behavior well without being preachy or self pitying. I might not read this book again but I certainly won't forget it either. If you like dark, realistic graphic novels, this just might be your next favorite book!

Reviewer's Name: Will
The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo
Schumer, Amy
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

For whatever reason, I've read a lot of comedian/actor memoirs in the last few years, and this one has pretty similar fare as to what you'd find in, say, a Mindy Kaling or Tina Fey offering. For me, it's in the middle of the pack in terms of quality (Bossypants > Lower Back Tattoo > either of Kalings's books), but was still an interesting, funny listen. It's part anecdotes, part advice, part social commentary, and part random page filler. For instance, one chapter is her fictional funeral rider, which, while it was kind of funny, was mostly a waste of my time. In this book, Schumer's at her best when she's a little raw - telling a sad/funny story and just letting it be what it is.

Even though I mostly enjoyed the book, the editing was not so great. Schumer calls part of the female anatomy by the wrong name for the entirety of the book. I can't believe that no one noticed that. Also, she was constantly saying "remember earlier in the book when" which you know, yes, we do remember, we're capable of basic memory recall. The persistent references to earlier chapters made me think that she maybe thought this book was going to be read by 8-year-olds or something when they were clearly not the target audience.

I mean, if I learned anything from this book about Schumer herself, it's that she's kind of a ridiculous person. For example, in one chapter, she talks about her "genetic predisposition" to black out whilst drinking, and then she lists the drinks she would normally have on a night out in college:

2 beers while pregaming followed by
4 vodka martinis straight up or a little dirty
Various other drinks

It's not genetics, Schumer, it's the martinis.

With that being said, I do admire her courage in telling stories that were real and painful for her, especially since those stories might offer some solace for people in similar situations, or may help young women avoid those situations entirely. I also like that she's found a cause (gun violence, particularly as it pertains to women), and she isn't shy about sharing the facts or her opinions in the book. Overall, I found the book to be an enjoyable listen, and it helped pass the time on a longish car trip. 3 stars.

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Let's Pretend This Never Happened: (A Mostly True Memoir)
Lawson, Jenny
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Jenny Lawson’s memoir is heart wrenching and laugh-out loud funny, especially if you have been touched by friends or family dealing with mental health challenges. I listened to it in the car and nearly drove off the road laughing.
Jenny knows she has problems and this is her story of how they carved out the details of her life – from her taxidermist father to Victor, her husband, and everything in between. Her stream of consciousness storytelling style is perfect. I could relate to, and actually picture, the absurdity of many of her stories. It was enlightening to see life through the eyes of the person dealing with the severe anxiety, depression and other quirks, and not just from an outsider’s viewpoint, thinking “What’s WRONG with you?”
I felt better knowing there are others that are dealing with the same mental health issues and that my family and I are not alone. You will probably put your family back on the normal and sane spectrum after reading this. I didn't care for some of the language that was strewn through the book, but it is part of the culture.

Reviewer's Name: Robin
Awards:
I Like You Just the Way I Am: Stories About Me and Some Other People
Mollen, Jenny
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

By far the funniest book I have ever read. I laughed out loud throughout the entire book. I can not wait to read her new book and also watch her upcoming series about this book. Hilarious!!!!!!

Reviewer's Name: Shannon
Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail
Strayed, Cheryl
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

I finished this book about 3 weeks ago so my review is clouded by the passage of time. This book is written from the perspective of an inexperienced hiker embarking on a harrowing adventure. I often found myself wondering why she didn't just give up; how she could possibly have survived hiking in the snow and ice without succumbing to hypothermia or sustaining injury; how she could continue hiking on severely damaged feet; or how she could have hiked for an extended period of time without encountering the powerful thunderstorms so prevalent in the high country. Also, it was a bit long for my taste. Still it was very good and I recommended it especially to hikers and outdoor enthusiasts.

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
Night
Wiesel, Elie
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

I’ve always loved learning about the holocaust and people’s stories. Elie Wiesel's story is the best one I’ve heard yet. He puts so much emotion into his story and his writing and it makes you feel like you’re in the holocaust. Elie starts his story off by talking about his religion and the church he went to. His instructor, Moshe the Beadle had been gone for so long, and when he returned he had a story of a near death experience with the Nazi's. Of course, no one believed his “story” and they carried on with their lives as normal. One night they got real news that the Nazi's were coming the next morning and that’s when everything bad started happening.
All the walking, traveling, and suffering he went through was very interesting to read. My teacher read this book to the whole class in 8th grade and I instantly fell in love with it.
Reviewer Grade: 9

Reviewer's Name: Layla P.
Awards:
In the Country We Love: My Family Divided
Guerrero, Diane
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Diana Guerrero is a well known actor for her features in Orange is the New Black. Wanting to know more about an actor's background is what a normal person loves to find out, but Guerrero's family background is lonely and sad. Brave isn't the only word you can call Guerrero because she is more than that. Only being 14 when her family was deported, she had to live her life without any care from other people. This book isn't about her funny and stern character in Orange is the New Black but about how real the world actually is. She breaks down the wall most people don't see and shows her audience how tragic the world actually is. She wants to fight and succeed. She wants everyone to know that each individual is human and we all have feelings. She wants justice for her family.
Reviewer Grade: 12

Reviewer's Name: Jade D.
Marley and Me: Life and Love with the World's Worst Dog
Grogan, John
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Marley and Me is an amusing nonfiction novel that captures all of the adventures of John Grogan as he gets his dog Marley: a canine intent on misbehaving and causing as much destruction as he can. Marley raided the trash, stole and swallowed a gold necklace, closed a public beach, got kicked out of obedience school, and was the Grogans' best friend. Marley and Me is filled with humor, compassion, and love for the chaotic and affectionate dog. It's a very well-written book, and now I feel better about my own dog, who enjoys chewing the couch.

Reviewer's Name: A.M.
Awards:
A Work in Progress
Franta, Connor
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

A Work in Progress is an inspiring and well thought book for his targeted audience. Connor Franta is a well known YouTuber and this book is a memoir of his life. It goes in depth about his past, present, future, fears, etc. Connor is trying to find himself and he tells his readers to do the same. The concept of this autobiography is beautiful because he reaches out to the viewers and audience who have the same or similar struggles like him and helps the people who are having a hard time finding themselves in the world. Reading this book rethinks how you want to live your life and reach for your goals.
Reviewer Grade: 12

Reviewer's Name: Jade D.
Walchak, Shelley
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

A fishing book about an incredible woman fly fisherman.

Reviewer's Name: Paul Castenholz
Skyfaring
Vanhoenacker, Mark
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

This book was one of the best books I have read this year. I
would strongly recommend this book to anyone who would be interested in working in the travel or airline industry. This book really does make you see how it is like to fly a plane through the eyes of a pilot. The author explains it almost poetically and nicely splits the book into nine chapters that all compare flying to the name of the chapter. These chapters are: Lift, Place, Wayfinding, Machine, Air, Water, Encounters, Night, and Return. You will really realize that flying is an almost completely different experience for the pilot than it is for the passenger. For example, he points out that as a passenger, you spend the entire flight looking out a small window in the side of the plane but as the pilots, you get a different experience as you are looking out the front and have a better view of the earth. All in all, I thought that this was one of the best books I have read this year and I am sure you would enjoy it too.
Reviewer Grade: 7

Reviewer's Name: Kai K.
Awards:
In the Sanctuary of Outcasts: A Memoir
White, Neil
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

I admit, I didn't know much about leprosy before reading this book. I didn't realize that patients were segregated from society. I thought the disease had been eradicated decades ago! I was impressed with how Neil White told the story of the patients at Carville. Unlike the prisoners housed there, they didn't feel sorry for themselves. They just went on with their lives despite their disease. There was no reason to feel sorry for them.

What I didn't like about the book was Neil White's personal story. I do feel he was remorseful for taking money from innocent people to pay for his big dream of being a magazine publisher and living large. I just didn't like the examples he used when he was trying to express regret like when the first black family moved into his neighborhood or how he blackballed fellow students from joining his fraternity. The worse example was when White discussed how the patients had been disfigured by the disease and how he could "relate" because of the scar on his forehead. That passage really bothered me.

Reviewer's Name: Melissa
Empire of Deception: The Incredible Story of a Master Swindler Who Seduced a City and Captivated the Nation
Jobb, Dean
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

Leo Koretz was a con man operating in Chicago in the 1920s - he was basically like a 1920s version of Bernie Madoff. His crimes have faded into obscurity, so Jobb has decided to tell his story. Leo's story is juxtaposed with that of Robert Crowe, the would-be political climber who was sort of responsible for chasing Leo down and prosecuting him.

I listened to this book, and while it starts off pretty slow, it picks up when Leo starts his swindling, and stays somewhat fast paced and consistently interesting until the very end, when the author reveals the fates of all of the "players", and I didn't really care. I read somewhere that this book reads like a "fiction" book, and I wouldn't really agree with that statement - while it was interesting and paced considerably more quickly than many non-fiction books, if a fiction book spent several minutes/pages outlining the costs of jewelry that a con man gave to his wife (boooooooring), I'd throw that book across the room. Basically, this book was meticulously researched, but at something of a cost - there were a lot of details that felt pretty superfluous, and the details often interrupted the otherwise somewhat narrative flow of the book. I also could've done without the Robert Crowe parts...while Leo was a "real piece of work", Crowe just seemed like a massive jerk. All that aside though, it was a fun, fascinating listen. I liked it - 3 stars.

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Awards:
The Glass Castle
Walls, Jeannette
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

This memoir follows the tumultuous childhood of the author with upheaval and hardships almost too extreme to believe. Through living in extreme poverty, being in real danger medically, emotionally, and physically, Jeannette expresses her constant determination and shows how she copes with and still has deep love for her dysfunctional family. I finished this book very quickly because it is very hard to put down.

Reviewer's Name: Melissa
Night
Wiesel, Elie
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Elie Wiesel is a twelve year old Jewish boy living in Sighet, Romania in 1944 who loves to study the Talmud. When his instructor warns the people of the Nazi aggressors coming to threaten their peaceful lives, it is too late and Elie’s family is forced into ghettos. Elie and his father, Shlomo, are separated from the rest of their family and are sent to multiple concentration camps, just trying to survive. This is my second favorite book ever because it is written by Elie Wiesel himself and is about his life as a Holocaust survivor. I can’t even describe
how good this book is because once you realize it is nonfiction, it gives the book a whole new meaning. I highly recommend this book to everyone, but especially those interested in the Holocaust or books about it such as The Diary of Anne Frank. I picked this book because I love autobiographies about the Holocaust and it just really shocked me at how life for Jews during that time was.
Reviewer Grade: 10

Reviewer's Name: Joe T.
Eat, Pray, Love
Gilbert, Elizabeth
2 stars = Meh
Review:

Elizabeth Gilbert has everything a normal person wants: loving husband, country home, a great career, and much more. But for some reason she was not happy, instead she felt confused and lost in her own world of thoughts. So, through a painful process, she leaves behind everything (her marriage, job, home) and plans a year round trip to Italy, India, and Indonesia, hoping that traveling to these places will help her find herself. I began reading this book this year for a school assignment and I have to say I didn’t like it from the cover and the first few pages. What made it interesting was that Eat, Pray, Love is an auto-biography by Elizabeth herself about her journey for self-actualization and also that you are able to learn a little bit more about the culture of these countries. I recommend this book to those who are having trouble about knowing who they are in the world, but while I was able to be intrigued by the book and it did grab my attention, let’s just say it didn’t have me standing on the edge of my seat and isn’t one of the best books I’ve read this year.

Reviewer Grade: 10

Reviewer's Name: Joe T.
Awards:
Night
Wiesel, Elie
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas was a heartbreaking story, but it was a work of fiction. This story is just as sad, but is written by a holocaust survivor himself. This story will make you cry so beware. It made me cry, but was a complete eye opener to the history of WWII. This book is a classic and will satisfy all audiences with its moving story.

Reviewer Grade: 9

Reviewer's Name: Gerilyn M.
Awards:
Book Review: American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History
Kyle, Chris
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Anyone who knows me may realize that this is not my normal topic of interest. However, I do enjoying reading about different perspectives and life experiences from mine. That said, Chris Kyle and I have almost nothing in common as far as beliefs and interests go, but we do have love for country and loyalty to friends and family in common. Of course, he's about as tough as they come. Way tougher than me. I'm sure I would not have been able to do what he did even if I had wanted to. However, I found as I was reading this book that Kyle had a lot of interesting observations about the Iraq War from a front lines perspective. The stories were intense and engaging. I didn't get into the weapons geekery at all, but I'm guessing his target (har!) audience did. Really, a very good book about the front lines experience of a Navy SEAL.

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn

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