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Staff Book Reviews by Genre: Biography/Memoir

Holidays on Ice
Sedaris, David
1 star = Yuck!
Review:

I listened to this book, most of which was read in a nasally, whiny voice. The initial stories about working as an elf at Christmas-time had tears of laughter pouring out of my eyes, Unfortunately, the book rapidly went downhill. This satire started out funny, but it kept going too long as if the author didn't know when to end the story. There were also some disturbing images that added absolutely nothing. The stories were sarcastic, but the bitterness in them really turned me off. Can't recommend it.

Reviewer's Name: Robin
Born a Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood
Noah, Trevor
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Trevor Noah's autobiography, which focuses on his childhood in South Africa, gives audiences a funny yet insightful look into life in South Africa before and after apartheid. The book is also a compelling mother-and-son love story. Noah's astute and comedic storytelling makes "Born a Crime" is a very smart and enjoyable read.

Reviewer's Name: Melina
Awards:
We Will Not Be Silent: The White Rose Student Resistance Movement that Defied Adolf Hitler
Freedman, Russell
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Russell Freedman's book chronicling the White Rose Resistance Movement is a brief but enlightening overview of the resistance to the Nazi's in WWII that will sure to spark interest in history for teens and adults. Freeman's work is always well researched, well written and he includes many interesting historical photos as well as an index, notes and a great selected bibliography for further exploration. Spoiler alert to parents, readers will encounter gruesome facts about the execution of the movements members, so parent pre-reading is advised. For ages 12 - 18.

Reviewer's Name: Barbara
Tranny: Confessions of Punk Rock's Most Infamous Anarchist Sellout
Grace, Laura Jane
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

I love this book with all my heart. As a longtime fan of Against Me!, it was so exciting to read about how the band started off, the positive and negatives of touring and recording, the growth, decay and rebirth of the band and how the entire time the primary figure that has driven Against Me! from the very beginning was struggling with her identity. I'm utterly in love.

Reviewer's Name: Cassie
Instant Mom
Vardalos, Nia
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Fans of Vardalos get a behind the scenes look at her (generally not-so) glamorous Hollywood life -- and a personal tale about her struggles with infertility and foster-adoption that transformed her in to the "Instant Mom" of the title. While most parents on this journey don't have to negotiate with the entertainment press, Nia's story is funny, sweet, and deeply relatable. She is currently an Adoption Ambassador for the Adoption Council of Canada (and the book does include some information for those starting their family adoption journey) but the story stays close to home, close to the heart, and is a charming personal tale of her family's origins.

Reviewer's Name: Rebecca O.
Book Review: Surviving Hitler: A Boy in the Nazi Death Camps
Warren, Andrea
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

There are a crap ton of holocaust books out there. That said, this is a good one. The author interviews a survivor and recounts his horrible tenure in the death camps. The result is riveting. This book is classified as juvenile, but it's best for upper elementary and older, including adults.

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
Awards:
Official Book Club Selection: A Memoir According to Kathy Griffin
Griffin, Kathy
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Kathy Griffin is remarkably well spoken. I enjoyed reading this book because it seemed like she was just talking to me. She dishes on celebrities, which is fun. It will come as no surprise that she's funny, but she's also very smart and loyal to her friends and family. Good memoir!

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
The True Tails of Baker & Taylor: The Library Cats Who Left Their Pawprints on a Small Town and the World
Louch, Jan
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Do you love libraries? Who doesn't? So everyone should love this book. Baker and Taylor are two Scottish Fold cats adopted by a small library in Nevada. This library has a mouse problem so Jan Louch, Assistant Librarian, researches good cat breeds for libraries. First Baker is adopted and the fun is doubled when Baker's nephew, Taylor, is added to the staff. Patrons, staff and even a fan club comprised of a 4th grade class add to these heartwarming tales. Adorable pictures complete the delightful mix.

Reviewer's Name: Cele
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
Skloot, Rebecca
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

This book tells three intertwining stories and spans decades, centering on an immortal line of human cells, taken from an African American woman named Henrietta Lacks in the 1950’s. She was afflicted with an aggressive form of cervical cancer, and through deception, gave her consent for the doctor to take cell samples. Her cell sample was coded as HeLa, and her real identity was not known. This event starts a fascinating, disturbing tale of medical ethics gone awry, capitalism in medicine, investigative journalism, and the contrasting lives of Lacks descendants.

The discovery of Henrietta’s immortal cancer cells, laid the foundation for most of the scientific discoveries we have made, and created a multi-billion dollar industry where her cells were sold all over the world as an infinite supply of scientific testing material. At the same time companies and hospitals were selling the HeLa cells, the Lacks family were living in extreme poverty, with no medical care. Author Rebecca Skloot bounces back and forth between Henrietta’s final days, and the present day, as she attempts to gain the trust of the Lacks family, discover who HeLa was, and how medical ethics were not always a reality. For a non-fiction book about cellular biology, it is a riveting detective story that also exposes medicines sordid past, and makes the reader question whether advancement of medicine is worth it at any cost.

Reviewer's Name: Michael
84, Charing Cross Road
Hanff, Helene
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

I really loved this book - a book of letters about books! With a little history thrown in about England after World War II. I like books that are composed of letters whether they are fiction or non-fiction. This particular book I enjoyed because just like Helene Hanff, I am a Anglophile and when I went to London, I just had to go to 84, Charing Cross Road. I knew the bookstore wasn't there, but I just had to still see the "spot". While reading this, I realized that there will never be another book like this. Not many people write letters anymore. Plus I don't think two complete strangers would connect like Helene and Frank did through letter writing. I highly recommend this book to anyone who loves books!

Reviewer's Name: Melissa M.
Book Review: The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo
Schumer, Amy
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

This was a very funny memoir. I enjoyed hearing about her childhood and her personal life because she was both forthright and self-effacing. I did, however, learn a bit too much about her lady parts. Also, the stand-up comedy sections didn't interest me as much. What you see is what you get. If you like Amy Schumer, you will like this book. If not, you won't.

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
A Life in the Wild
Turner, Pamela
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

A Life in the Wild is an engaging and well-written account of the research and expeditions of the great conservationist, George Schaller. Mr. Schaller's extensive research in some of the most remote areas of the world resulted in upwards of 9 nature reserves and national parks worldwide. Some of the creatures he helped protect are mountain gorillas, snow leopards, pandas, tigers, and many more. I enjoyed hearing about his adventurous expeditions, which the author recounts in a manner that makes you feel like you are really there with him.

This book is a juvenile nonfiction and best suited to higher elementary grade levels, but as an adult, I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
Awards:
Book Review: Yes Please
Poehler, Amy
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

I don't recommend this book to anyone completely stressed out. Amy Poehler is crazy busy and manic in her daily life. That's fine for her, but I was reading it during a stressful/manic period of my life and it wigged me out. Although it's a bit scatterbrained, it is a good book about her life with some very famous improv groups and tv shows.

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
Book Review: Weird Al: The Book
Rabin, Nathan
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Let it be said, I love Weird Al. I didn't get into his 80s stuff so much as his more recent work. "The Saga Begins" reintroduced me to his work and I happily dove into his back catalog. But, in my opinion, the best thing Al ever did was "White & Nerdy", with "Word Crimes" as a close second. And then there's the understated but totally awesome "Aluminum Foil", which starts out so benign that you start writing it off as a softball and then turns so decidedly weird in the middle that you can't help but say, "Al! You're hilarious!" But this review should really be about the book. It was great. Read it if you want, but far more important is to listen to his music.

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman
West, Lindy
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

If you aren't familiar with Lindy West, she is most famous for being a feminist on the internet... which is a lot harder than it sounds. After writing for The Stranger (Seattle's version of The Independent), Lindy went to work for Jezebel, where she became internet famous for writing about women's issues unapologetically. Because the internet can be a terrible place, and because she is not only a woman, but a fat woman, this led to her getting trolled on an EPIC level. Google "Lindy West trolls" (or, you know, just read this book) and prepare to be horrified. Shrill is the story of how all of it happens.

This was, by far, my favorite non-fiction read of 2016. It definitely blows away any other funny lady memoir I've ever read (and I LOVED Amy Poehler's and Tina Fey's books). West talks about really important issues (body image, puberty, abortion, sex, love, feminism) in a frank but funny tone. I listened to the book with my husband, and the narration (done by West) makes the raw moments more powerful and the funny moments more hilarious - it was spot on. We found ourselves stopping the book every 15 minutes or so to discuss. Lindy takes on rape jokes, fat shaming and internet trolls with a touch of vulnerability and a ton of hilarity, and I DARE you to try to read this book and not learn something about humanity in the process.

Ladies, this is a must read. Men who have ever met a woman, this is a must read. Trolls, THIS IS A MUST READ. As you've likely gathered, I feel that is a must read for pretty much everyone (though there is some "adult" content - see above re: sex, rape jokes, etc). If the best books make you feel something, then this is one of the best books: I laughed, I cried, I raged. 5 unreserved stars. I've already bought a copy for my mother.

Reviewer's Name: Britt
The Secret Rooms
Bailey, Catherine
2 stars = Meh
Review:

I really was intrigued by this book. It was promoted as a mystery and I love a good mystery. Especially a true-life mystery surrounding the death of John Manners, the 9th Duke of Rutland. In the beginning I was very intrigued and couldn't put the book down. But after awhile, I just couldn't take it anymore. Catherine Bailey took an interesting piece of British history and some how turned it into a tedious, uninteresting story. Plus, she never really delivered on all of the mysteries she found surrounding John Manners. I think this book could have been much more interesting with A LOT of editing. I do admit, I did learn some interesting tidbits. Not enough for me to recommend this book.

Reviewer's Name: Melissa M.
Awards:
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.
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:

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