Category Archives: book reviews

A collection of book reviews for lovers of fiction, nonfiction, and everything in between.

Eleanor & Park Book Review

Ah, young love.  It’s confusing and random…built on the gravely foundation of one or two common interests that mean “we’re meant to be!”  It’s the flutter of seeing him in the hallway, the blushing that comes when he grabs your hand for the first time.  Notes passed in hallways, diary entries littered with hearts and monograms, stolen glances during class…For young lovers, those first few months are magical and breathtaking.  They’re filled with time spent exploring each other’s likes and dislikes, sharing favorite CD’s and books, and finding the small moments between chemistry and math to sneak away for a moment alone.

Set in the 1980’s among a background of comic books and great music (this book would be worth making into a movie for the soundtrack alone), Eleanor & Park is the story of two 16-year-olds, both outcasts in their own right, who find that where they best belong is with each other.   It’s a story about the innocence of young love, the naivete of believing it will last forever.  Much like the characters themselves, this book is cute on the surface, but the foundation of the story left me, well, unsatisfied.

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Meet Eleanor – a young new-to-town girl with fiery red hair and a personality to match.  Her style is frumpy, her body is unproportioned, and her attitude about the world has pretty much been ruined by her troubled family life.

Meet Park – a young Korean-American kid with beautiful green eyes, a great taste in comic books, and a quiet, reserved personality that makes him sexy in that soft mysterious way.  He’s not the most popular kid in school, though the popular kids have adopted him as one of their own, and most days his mind wanders among a soundtrack of 1980’s rock songs that pump out all the feels.

When Eleanor is practically forced to sit with Park on the bus one day on the way to school, an inevitable meet-cute happens, and the two begin a quiet, intimate courtship, fueled by a love of comic books and mix tapes.  I mean, how 80’s is that?

In the beginning, Eleanor and Park sit in comfortable silence, reading comic books together and listening to music.  Most of the dialogue is said in the characters’ heads, a detail I loved and found personally very relatable.  As they spend more time together on the bus and in school, a wonderful friendship begins to form that slowly, oh so slowly, transforms into something more.

It was at this moment that I stopped liking Eleanor & Park.

I wanted to like this book…I really did.  It wasn’t a traditional love story, which I liked.  The characters were flawed, which I also liked.  But at some point along the road to romance, I lost interest.  Eleanor began to frustrate me with her hot and cold personality and I became aggravated with how cold she was to Park at times.  Granted, her behavior is understandable considering what we learn about her background, but that really wasn’t even enough for me to like her.

Personally, Park made this book for me.  His kindness and understanding were traits beyond his years, and his adoration for Eleanor despite her insecurities made him an unlikely, albeit romantic, hero.  His moments of quiet where he talks about Eleanor in his head are enough to make every girl hope that some guy out there thinks of her that way…and his determination to make Eleanor happy at the risk of his own happiness gave Park’s character much more fluidity and growth than Eleanor who, in comparison, seemed rather flat.

Even Eleanor’s secondary plot with her step-father seemed out of place to me.  His actions didn’t seem justified…at least not enough.  After the reveal at the end (don’t worry, no spoilers!), I just felt cheated…like I missed something along the way that led to that moment.

Did I love Eleanor & Park?  No.  But, for the most part, I enjoyed it.  It’s a story that will churn up those feelings deep down that only arise when you rewatch Dawson’s Creek or Boy Meets World…it will remind you of those late-night talks, those stolen kisses before your parents get home, and that wonderful notion, however false it may be, that true love never ends.

Looking for a new book to read? Check in every Friday for a “Bee Happy” post, where I share reviews of books I’ve read or other book-themed lists.

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Kiss Me Like a Stranger Book Review

He was the music maker…the dreamer of dreams.  He brought some of our favorite characters to life, including Dr. Frankenstein, Willy Wonka, Leo Bloom, Sigerson Holmes, and Skip Donahue.  From his humble beginnings as a Shakespearean actor to his amazing collection of movies he made with Mel Brooks and Richard Pryor, Gene Wilder challenged the comic genre.  He pushed himself, pushed his directors.  He poured himself into each project, owning and enveloping each of his characters with all the energy he could muster.  He may have been a simple Midwestern boy at heart, but Gene Wilder was nothing if not a believer in the extraordinary.

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In his very intimate and personal autobiography, Kiss Me Like a Stranger, Wilder opens up and exposes his deepest secrets, talking about how his sick mother influenced his career path and his very real and emotional experiences with psychoanalysis.  He opens about his love affairs and marriages, including his sometimes tumultuous relationship with fellow comedian, Gilda Radner, and his difficult relationship with his adopted daughter, Katie.

While he does talk briefly about his projects and films, Kiss Me Like a Stranger is not a tell-all about a chocolate factory or a secret laboratory.  At its core, this book is about an actor’s search for truth, love, and acceptance.  It’s about mistakes and choices.  With eloquence and grace, it turns this larger-than-life comedian into a real person, a humble person.  A man who falls in and out of love, who struggles with raising a daughter not his own, and who – just like the rest of us – is just looking for love and fulfillment both personally and professionally.

Written about 10 years before his death, Kiss Me Like a Stranger is a frank, yet charming memoir that shows Wilder for what he truly was…a shy, gentle man who loved to make people laugh.  He was a dear friend, a doting husband, and a beloved actor who, like so many of his profession, had a series of serendipitous moments that propelled him, maybe unwillingly, into stardom.

 

Looking for a new book to read? Check in every Friday for a “Bee Happy” post, where I share reviews of books I’ve read or other book-themed lists.

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Becoming Unbecoming Book Review

I wouldn’t go so far as to say I’ve had a privileged life, but I have been lucky in so many ways.  I grew up in towns that were safe and friendly.  I have a loving and supportive family that has my back no matter what.  I have friends that I love dearly and who have helped me through some very rough times…I have a roof over my head, food in my cabinets, and a wonderful, funny, and amazing husband.

I’ve had good jobs that have given me incredible life lessons…I had an amazing education and have teachers I STILL keep in touch with even 10+ years later.  Sure, there have been some difficulties, but overall, I can’t say that my life – so far, at least – hasn’t been too bad.

Unfortunately, not everyone is so lucky.  Some people are gravely ill, others don’t have the support network of family and friends.  Some never really find happiness and others are so afraid of giving themselves to someone that they forever remain alone.  Some are abused, neglected, ignored, raped or tortured…and, perhaps saddest of all, must carry that around with them for the rest of their lives.

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In Becoming Unbecoming, a young girl growing up in 1977 finds herself on the receiving end of a series of violent acts for which she feels she is to blame.  The girl, Una, experiences gender violence, rape, and depression and lacks the ability to talk about it or find the help she needs.  Through image and text, Una asks what it means to grow up in a culture where male violence goes unquestioned and challenges a nation that doesn’t know how to punish the accuser or deal with the victim’s hurt.

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This is a beautifully sad book that is so important for everyone to read, girls and boys alike.  It’s a journey into the head a victim, a diary of sorts that’s so personal, you might even find yourself looking over your shoulder to make sure no one catches you reading it.

Told with amazing illustrations that perfectly encapsulate what it’s like to be alone and sad, Becoming Unbecoming is maybe one of the most important books I’ve ever read…and will certainly stay with me for a long time to come.

I am in no way qualified to give Becoming Unbecoming the review it deserves.  I am not a victim of rape or abuse and can’t even begin to think what it’s like to live with something like that.  But I do know what it’s like to hurt…I know what it’s like to be depressed.  I’ve hit rock bottom and I’ve worked my way out of it and it’s a bitch of a journey.  I know what it’s like to be at a loss for words…to want to say something so badly but unable to say anything.  To feel a sense of emptiness that seems to seep out of your skin, surrounding you in a blanket of sadness…

Yes, I know what that’s like…and chances are, some of you do, too.  And for those of us who have had to deal with hurt, depression, or even more traumatic life experiences that so few may understand, it’s so important to know that we’re not alone.  There’s help out there.  There’s love out there.  And if you can’t find it, open yourself up and let it come to you.

If there’s one thing I learned in Becoming Unbecoming, it’s that healing – in whatever form it may take – is a journey.  It’s in no way perfect, and is often a battle we don’t have the energy to fight.  And when society starts blaming the victim for elements out of their control, it becomes impossible to heal, to accept.  We must change the way we deal with transgressors and their victims.  We must have the courage to speak up and out against those who hurt us, and must find the strength within ourselves to help those who find it so hard to barely hold on.

We’re all in this together…and we all have the power to make a difference.  Whether you take time to volunteer at a shelter or start by just checking this book out of the library, chances are you’ll benefit from it.

Una’s story is raw and emotional.  Her illustrations are real and tragic.  This is a book that will sit with you, that will put things into perspective.  Ironically, it’s a book that may even encourage discussion.  In a word, Becoming Unbecoming is veracious.  It puts the truth right out there in big bold letters…and it’s up to us, as a reader…as a society…to hear the message.  Otherwise, as Una says, we are only united by silence.

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Looking for a new book to read? Check in every Friday for a “Bee Happy” post, where I share reviews of books I’ve read or other book-themed lists.

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A.L.I.E.E.E.N. Book Review

A.L.I.E.E.E.N., or Archives of Lost Issues and Earthly Editions of Extraterrestrial Novelties, was another book I discovered via My Ideal Bookshelf, recommended by cartoonist Zachary Kanin.  A collection of vignettes about aliens, told in an alien language, A.L.I.E.E.E.N. may be from a galaxy far, far away…but the morals and lessons are recognizable by any human.

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In his letter to the reader, author Lewis Trondheim talks about how he happened to stumble upon this otherworldly collection of tales.  While vacationing in the Catskills, Trondheim and his family came upon a grassy area that had been burned and covered with debris.  They were about to turn around and go back, but then he spotted a tattered, beaten-up comic book on the ground.  The title, the artist, and the language were all new to him.  Was this comic from another planet?  Was the debris from something outside of planet Earth?  Did a space ship create this burned perfect circle in the grass?

After reading the book, Trondheim got in touch with a publisher and submitted what appears to be the very first comic strip for extra-terrestrial children ever discovered on our planet.

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A rare artifact written in an alien language, A.L.I.E.E.E.N. is a collection of interwoven tales that prove that some stories are indeed universal…no matter how weird or bizarre they may seem.  Regardless of how many eyes, legs, or tentacles they have, it’s comforting to know that aliens also cry, laugh, smile, poop, and develop friendships.  They fall prey to peer pressure, have a great sense of humor, try to do good, and learn from their mistakes.  You may not know exactly what these little guys are saying, but through images and expressions, us humans can try to understand the workings of this alien world…and perhaps find comfort in the fact that, in reality, these lovable creatures really aren’t so different from us, after all.

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Looking for a new book to read? Check in every Friday for a “Bee Happy” post, where I share reviews of books I’ve read or other book-themed lists.

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Before the Fall Book Review

I love me a good survival story.  Whether it’s surviving a zombie apocalypse, traveling the Alaskan territories, or hiking the Amazon trail, I get such a high from humans beating all the odds to ensure their own survival.

Why?  I have no idea.  I guess subconsciously I desire to go on my own daring adventures…risking the elements and taking my body to the limit in the face of ultimate danger.  So far, camping in a park is about as rugged as I’ve gotten…but there’s still time!

Recently I went on a little trip to visit my alma mater and, since it’s about a 7 hour drive up to Marquette, MI, I stopped at my library to pick up a story to listen to on the way.  I knew it would have to be something that would keep me interested during those looooooong hours driving up through Wisconsin…so I needed something exciting, enticing, and engaging…

TO THE THRILLER SECTION I WENT!

Since I’d be driving by myself through the backwoods of Michigan, I didn’t want anything too scary, so I settled on a story about a plane crash called Before the Fall.

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Little did I know that this would turn out to be such a gem in the realm of survival fiction…told with such fluidity and honesty that I completely found myself engrossed in this amazing tale of strength and the human condition.

On a foggy summer night, eleven people board a small plane departing Martha’s Vineyard, heading for New York.  Sixteen minutes later, the unthinkable happens: the plane crashes into the ocean and most of the passengers disappear.  The only survivors are a down-on-his-luck painter named Scott Burrows and a young four-year-old boy, who is now the last remaining member of a wealthy and powerful family.

With chapters that weave between the aftermath of the tragedy and the backstories of the passengers and crew members, the reasons behind the accident begin to unfold…and as the media frenzy spirals out of control with false accusations and media outrage, the fragile relationship between the two survivors begins to grow and blossom…and truly is the beating heart of this story.

A unique POV story that gives almost every character a moment in the spotlight, Before the Fall aims to highlight the life of each passenger before they boarded that small plane from Martha’s Vineyard.  It puts into perspective how small events in their lives lead them to the pinnacle moment where most of them perished…and also highlights why Scott, a man who wasn’t even supposed to be on the plane at all, was one of the only ones to survive the horrific accident.

A bittersweet and tragic story about fate and human nature, Before the Fall is a spot-on novel about what humans – and the media – will do to survive.

 

Looking for a new book to read? Check in every Friday for a “Bee Happy” post, where I share reviews of books I’ve read or other book-themed lists.

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Daytripper Book Review

I picked up Daytripper on a whim.  I was looking for a new graphic novel to read and was just browsing through the small, yet substantial, graphic novel section of my local library.  I noticed the cover of Daytripper and was slightly intrigued.  I thumbed through it and the illustrations alone sucked me in.  When I got home and started reading, I had no idea what I was getting myself into…and little did I know I was about to embark on a book that would overwhelm me in every way possible.

After I read Daytripper, I just sat in my living room and cried.  I cried my bloody eyes out.  I went back and thumbed through it again, then cried some more.  It wasn’t that it was sad…it was just so beautiful, so profound.  On the surface level, it is a story about death…but if you really dig in deep, it’s so much more than that.  It’s a story about choices, about deciding to stay or go.  It’s a story about moments, about those events that change and shape your life, and those quiet intimate seconds you share with a loved one.  It’s a story about beginnings and endings and all the moments in between that help shape and mold us into who we are.

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The birth of Bras de Oliva Domingos was a miracle in and of itself.  The son of a famous Brazilian writer, Bras was born in the middle of a blackout and somehow survived.  Now, as a young adult, Bras is an inspiring writer himself, spending his days writing obituaries for the local paper…trying to find the moments, tell the stories, that made these people who they were while his story has barley just begun.

Throughout Daytripper, Bras tries to figure out his own stories…tries to piece together the moments that have helped shape his life.  Each chapter introduces us to someone important in Bras’s life, then ends with Bras’s death.  Each death comes about differently as a result of a choice Bras made.  Each chapter begs the question, “What is life and how, in death, is life valued?”.

This amazing story is accompanied with stunning watercolor illustrations, made to give you the feeling of moving through a dream.  A somewhat quiet comic with little dialogue, Daytripper relies on subtle glances, soft hugs, quiet moments to help tell the story.  It’s a lyrical, emotional and visual journey that uses those intimate moments to ask the big questions.

The message of Daytripper lies in the answer to a question we’ve all asked ourselves at one point:  What are the most important days of your life?  Is it the moment you’re born?  Is it when you meet your first love?  When you have your first kiss?  When you see your child in your arms?  When you finally find your dream job?  Or maybe the most important days are the days where nothing happens…when you see a bird in a tree or feel fresh rain on your face.  Maybe the important days are the ones you spend sitting on the couch with your loved one or just playing in the park with your dog.

Like all the best stories, Daytripper is a story about stories…about beginnings and endings.  It’s about choices, big and small, that shape us, mold us, create us.

Perhaps the best way to sum up Daytripper is with this interaction between young Bras and his father, taken from the book itself:

 

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My Story Book Review

At the tender age of 14, Elizabeth Smart was abducted at knife point from her family home in Salt Lake City, Utah.  For 9 months she remained missing, being raped, abused, and threatened daily by her captures, Brian David Mitchell and Wanda Barzee.  They hid in the western mountains, traveling through Utah, into California, and back to Utah again before Smart was eventually rescued by police in March 2003.

The story of her kidnapping and rescue efforts captured national attention.  Her face was on every news channel, in every newspaper, and you couldn’t eat or shop in public without hearing someone mention her name.

Nearly 10 years after her rescue, almost to the day, Smart released her memoir about her abduction and rescue.  Her book, titled My Story, chronicles the moments right before her abduction to the moments after the trial of her captures.  With great detail and amazing courage, Smart recounts the fear she felt upon seeing Mitchell in her room, the feeling of his knife at her back, and how scared she was during that long, dark walk up to Mitchell’s camp, where she would remain, just a mere 2 or so miles from her home,  for the majority of her capture.

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With heartbreaking tales of torture, abuse, greed, starvation, and sacrifice, Smart leads us on a journey back to her darkest days, doing her best to bring us into the moment, to feel the fear and pain she felt all those years ago.  In the 9 months she remained missing, Smart had no choice but to remain strong and fight, despite her situation, and her force, determination, and God-loving courage is so evident in this memoir that I had to keep reminding myself that this poor girl was only 14 when her life completely changed forever.

Unlike many child abduction stories, Smart’s story actually has a somewhat happy ending.  After her rescue, Smart became a strong activist and journalist, bringing the stories of other children into the public eye.  She founded the Elizabeth Smart Foundation, which aims to educate children about violent and sexual crimes and she currently works as a commentator for ABC News, mainly focusing on missing persons cases.  Now a happy wife and mother, Smart has made great and amazing strides to normalize her life after her abduction.

Told in her voice, in her way, (and read by her if you do the audiobook!), My Story is an empowering and emotional read that gives readers a glimpse into the personal life of one girl who was pushed unwillingly into the spotlight.

 

Looking for a new book to read? Check in every Friday for a “Bee Happy” post, where I share reviews of books I’ve read or other book-themed lists.

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