Mini-Reviews: Heartstopper Vol. 1, Super Chill, and Heavy Vinyl

Heartstopper, Vol. 1 by Alice Oseman
Rating: ★★★★★
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: October 2018
Source: Won in Alyssa’s giveaway!

Charlie, a highly-strung, openly gay over-thinker, and Nick, a cheerful, soft-hearted rugby player, meet at a British all-boys grammar school. Friendship blooms quickly, but could there be something more…?

Charlie Spring is in Year 10 at Truham Grammar School for Boys. The past year hasn’t been too great, but at least he’s not being bullied anymore, and he’s sort of got a boyfriend, even if he’s kind of mean and only wants to meet up in secret.

Nick Nelson is in Year 11 and on the school rugby team. He’s heard a little about Charlie – the kid who was outed last year and bullied for a few months – but he’s never had the opportunity to talk to him. That is, until the start of January, in which Nick and Charlie are placed in the same form group and made to sit together.

They quickly become friends, and soon Charlie is falling hard for Nick, even though he doesn’t think he has a chance. But love works in surprising ways, and sometimes good things are waiting just around the corner…

Okay, so I’ve been anticipating Heartstopper since approximately forever, and I finally got the chance to read it when I won Alyssa’s giveaway! I was about 99.9% sure that I would love this book to pieces, and I was correct.

I absolutely loved Charlie and Nick and all of the little interactions that they had. Watching Charlie fall for Nick and Nick fall for Charlie was just… so… cute. This is the most adorable, wholesome friends-to-(not quite yet)-lovers story, and it also does a great job of really subtly addressing a bunch of important topics like consent and how to be a good ally.

I’m so mad that it ended on that cliffhanger because I need to know what happens next.

Super Chill by Adam Ellis
Rating: ★★★☆☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: October 3, 2018
Source: Borrowed

From former Buzzfeed illustrator Adam Ellis comes a collection of autobiographical comics that follows a year in the artist’s life.

Adam’s comics deal with weightier topics like seasonal affective disorder and struggles with self-esteem, while also touching on the silly and absurd—like his brief, but intense obsession with crystals. With a bright, positive outlook and a sense of humor, Super Chill tells a story that is both highly relatable and intensely personal. 

I’ve been a fan of Adam’s comics since he worked for Buzzfeed, so I was pretty excited to find his book available on Hoopla. I already knew that I liked his art style and his sense of humor, so there wasn’t much of a surprise there. Like with most comic collections like this, there were some that I really enjoyed and some that I didn’t.

The ones I enjoyed were the ones I related to most, like the comics about Gudetama, Dr. Feelbad, and moms with wrapping paper. Some comics seemed to go on a bit long, though, and others I just didn’t really react to. That’s to be expected, though, and I’d still recommend this one if you’ve previously enjoyed Adam’s work.

Heavy Vinyl, Vol. 1 by Carly Usdin
Rating: ★★★★☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: April 10, 2018
Source: Borrowed

When Chris joins the staff at her local record store, she’s surprised to find out that her co-workers share a secret: they’re all members of a secret fight club that take on the patriarchy and fight crime!

Starry-eyed Chris has just started the dream job every outcast kid in town wants: working at Vinyl Mayhem. It’s as rad as she imagined; her boss is BOSS, her co-workers spend their time arguing over music, pushing against the patriarchy, and endlessly trying to form a band. When Rosie Riot, the staff’s favorite singer, mysteriously vanishes the night before her band’s show, Chris discovers her co-workers are doing more than just sorting vinyl . . . Her local indie record store is also a front for a teen girl vigilante fight club! 

Follow writer Carly Usdin (director of Suicide Kale) and artist Nina Vakueva (Lilith’s World) into the Hi-Fi Fight Club, where they deliver a rock and roll tale of intrigue and boundless friendship.

Heavy Vinyl is a super fun story about a group of crime-fighting record store employees in late 1990s New Jersey. It’s a great concept and I loved the setting (never thought I’d see an NJ Transit train in a graphic novel, but I did), the representation, and all of the characters. It also gave me a huge rush of nostalgia for the 90s!

The only reason I didn’t give this five stars was that I felt the resolution of the mystery was a little odd. It didn’t make a ton of sense to me, but I also feel like that wasn’t the point of this graphic novel, so I’ll let it slide. I’m excited to read the next volume and also happy that it coincides almost exactly with me finishing this one.

Have you read any of these books? Have you read any good MG recently?
Let’s talk in the comments!

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Book Review: Catch and Kill by Ronan Farrow

Catch and Kill by Ronan Farrow
Rating: ★★★★★
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: October 15, 2019
Source: Borrowed

In a dramatic account of violence and espionage, Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter Ronan Farrow exposes serial abusers and a cabal of powerful interests hell-bent on covering up the truth, at any cost.

In 2017, a routine network television investigation led Ronan Farrow to a story only whispered about: one of Hollywood’s most powerful producers was a predator, protected by fear, wealth, and a conspiracy of silence. As Farrow drew closer to the truth, shadowy operatives, from high-priced lawyers to elite war-hardened spies, mounted a secret campaign of intimidation, threatening his career, following his every move and weaponizing an account of abuse in his own family. 

All the while, Farrow and his producer faced a degree of resistance that could not be explained – until now. And a trail of clues revealed corruption and cover-ups from Hollywood, to Washington, and beyond. 

This is the untold story of the exotic tactics of surveillance and intimidation deployed by wealthy and connected men to threaten journalists, evade accountability and silence victims of abuse – and it’s the story of the women who risked everything to expose the truth and spark a global movement.

Both a spy thriller and a meticulous work of investigative journalism, Catch and Kill breaks devastating new stories about the rampant abuse of power – and sheds far-reaching light on investigations that shook the culture.

So far in 2020, I’ve given the books I’ve read an average of a little over three stars. I’ve been mostly indifferent to what I’ve read, and very few books have blown me away. I didn’t expect much when I picked up Catch and Kill. After all, it’s not like I particularly enjoy reading about rape, sexual assault, or Harvey Weinstein, but this book was incredible.

CATCH AND KILL: an old term in the tabloid industry for purchasing a story in order to bury it

In Catch and Kill, Farrow is relentless. He gives a voice to many of Weinstein’s targets while naming and shaming the seemingly countless people who worked to bury their stories. The conspiracy to hide the many rapes and sexual assaults perpetrated by Harvey Weinstein is more extensive than I’d ever imagined. From police officers to network executives, from attorneys to surveillance teams, the amount of work that went into making sure Weinstein’s actions stayed buried is mind-boggling.

This is a nonfiction book that never quite feels like nonfiction. It’s an amazing story of the struggle to bring down a notorious rapist when the entire media industry seems hell-bent on covering it up. Farrow’s journalistic integrity and refusal to give up this story are so admirable. Because the very thought of what Weinstein did is so sickening, I could never say that I enjoyed this book. But I think it’s a worthy and important read, and I’d give it more than five stars if I could.

Content warning for very matter-of-fact descriptions of rape and sexual assault.

Have you read Catch and Kill? Can you recommend any good investigative reporting books?
Let’s talk in the comments!

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Book Review: A Warning by Anonymous

A Warning by Anonymous
Rating: ★★★★★
Links: AmazonTBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: November 19, 2019
Source: Borrowed

An unprecedented behind-the-scenes portrait of the Trump presidency from the anonymous senior official whose first words of warning about the president rocked the nation’s capital.

I’ve been interested in Trump’s presidency since it began. A celebrity with no political experience running an entire country was bound to be an experience, and it certainly has been. Whatever your political beliefs, whether you agree with what Trump does or not, I think we can all agree that he’s a very different kind of president than we’ve seen before.

After slogging my way through Fire & Fury, more or less enjoying Fear, and being pretty satisfied with Proof of Collusion (my opinion of these Trump books was only going up), I was excited to get my hands (or, more accurately, I guess, my ears) on A Warning. Probably the most interesting thing for me, and for many people, is the anonymity of its author. I’d love to know who wrote it just so I can send them a thank you card, because this is definitely the best book on Trump’s presidency that I’ve had the pleasure of reading.

I think that the best thing about A Warning is that it’s not written by someone who disliked Trump from the beginning. It’s not written to be shocking. It doesn’t call for his removal from office — not because he’s doing well as a president, but because the consequences may be worse than the current situation.

What the book does very well is present information in a clear, organized manner. It’s not a rehashing of CNN and Fox News, either. While there wasn’t a ton of brand new information, the author does put everything in context, describing the daily inner workings of the White House and how things we already knew fit in.

I was a little worried that this book would be poorly written, but I was surprised to find it better-written than any other book I’ve read on Trump’s presidency. It flows nicely, it’s never awkward, and I wouldn’t be surprised if this was written by someone who writes professionally.

I’d recommend this to anyone curious about the inner workings of the White House, especially with the election coming up later this year.

Have you read A Warning? Have you read any good books recently about current events?
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Mini-Reviews: Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs? & Stiff

Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs? by Caitlin Doughty
Rating: ★★★★★
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: September 10, 2019
Source: Gift

Every day, funeral director Caitlin Doughty receives dozens of questions about death. What would happen to an astronaut’s body if it were pushed out of a space shuttle? Do people poop when they die? Can Grandma have a Viking funeral?

In Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs?, Doughty blends her mortician’s knowledge of the body and the intriguing history behind common misconceptions about corpses to offer factual, hilarious, and candid answers to thirty-five distinctive questions posed by her youngest fans. In her inimitable voice, Doughty details lore and science of what happens to, and inside, our bodies after we die. Why do corpses groan? What causes bodies to turn colors during decomposition? And why do hair and nails appear longer after death? Readers will learn the best soil for mummifying your body, whether you can preserve your best friend’s skull as a keepsake, and what happens when you die on a plane. Beautifully illustrated by Dianné Ruz, Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs? shows us that death is science and art, and only by asking questions can we begin to embrace it.

buddy read with my boyfriend!

I was immediately drawn to Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs? just because of the title. Luckily, I ended up getting it for Christmas, and I absolutely loved it. The book is written in a Q&A format, answering questions asked by children. The questions range from things like the titular “Will my cat eat my eyeballs?” to “Can I be buried with my dog?” and “Can we give grandma a Viking funeral?”

Everything is explained in a really straightforward, informative way without ever getting too heavy. Death is hard and it’s sad and it’s scary to think about our own mortality, but Doughty puts just enough humor in her answers that the book never gets weighed down.

I learned so much about death and dying from this book and now I’m just waiting to read Doughty’s other books.

Stiff by Mary Roach
Rating: ★★★★☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: April 17, 2003
Source: Borrowed

Stiff is an oddly compelling, often hilarious exploration of the strange lives of our bodies postmortem. For two thousand years, cadavers—some willingly, some unwittingly—have been involved in science’s boldest strides and weirdest undertakings. In this fascinating account, Mary Roach visits the good deeds of cadavers over the centuries and tells the engrossing story of our bodies when we are no longer with them.

I’ve seen Mary Roach’s books show up on a number of lists of best nonfiction, and after finishing (and loving) Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs?, I figured that Stiff would be a good place to start. I really thought that this book would focus on what happens to the body after we die, and it sort of does… but mostly it’s about all the different things a body can do after it dies.

Sure, you can be embalmed and buried in a casket, like many people do in the United States. But you can also donate your body to science — and what does that mean, exactly? What are the different paths your body can take if it’s donated to science? You can become an organ donor and save a number of lives. You can have a natural burial. You can be cremated and spend eternity in an urn or have your ashes scattered. Roach covers all of these possibilities and more.

The book is fascinating, and at times pretty disgusting. I have a pretty strong stomach when it comes to most medical stuff, but the section on the materia medica even made me nauseous, so just be prepared for that. Still, it was worth it to learn about ancient remedies, and now that I’m prepared, I’d actually like to learn more about it.

I’ve decided that all of Mary Roach’s books are now on my TBR and I just have to decide which one to read next.

Have you read either of these books? Have you read any good science-y nonfiction recently?
Let’s talk in the comments!

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Book Review: The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo

The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo
Rating: ★★★★★
Links: AmazonTBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: March 6, 2018
Source: Borrowed

A young girl in Harlem discovers slam poetry as a way to understand her mother’s religion and her own relationship to the world. Debut novel of renowned slam poet Elizabeth Acevedo.

Xiomara Batista feels unheard and unable to hide in her Harlem neighborhood. Ever since her body grew into curves, she has learned to let her fists and her fierceness do the talking.

But Xiomara has plenty she wants to say, and she pours all her frustration and passion onto the pages of a leather notebook, reciting the words to herself like prayers—especially after she catches feelings for a boy in her bio class named Aman, who her family can never know about. With Mami’s determination to force her daughter to obey the laws of the church, Xiomara understands that her thoughts are best kept to herself.

So when she is invited to join her school’s slam poetry club, she doesn’t know how she could ever attend without her mami finding out, much less speak her words out loud. But still, she can’t stop thinking about performing her poems.

Because in the face of a world that may not want to hear her, Xiomara refuses to be silent.

I tend to avoid hyped books like the plague. Show me a book with 33,760 ratings and a 4.43 star Goodreads average and I will probably be very apprehensive about reading it. When averages are that good, I get scared away. What if I’m the only person on the entire planet who dislikes it?

Well, that fear is what happened with The Poet X. I knew it was supposed to be amazing. I’d read countless reviews saying so. So, naturally, I didn’t read it for a good year and a half. And then the mood struck, and I checked out the audiobook, which is narrated by the author and is absolutely incredible.

I am blown away. I loved this so much.

Xiomara’s struggle with religion really reminded me of my own feelings when I was her age. I’d been raised in a religious family, I’d gone to 13 years of Catholic school, and all of a sudden it was like these things I’d grown up taking as fact were now questions in my mind. I think this is a 100% normal and healthy thing that happens in your late teenage years and it was so nice to see that struggle showcased in such a well-written book.

Another thing that I thought the book addressed well was sexism and underlying misogyny. I appreciated that, more than anyone else in her life, it was Xiomara’s mother who perpetuated the idea that women needed to be pure and perfect in order to be desirable for marriage. (Because, of course, heterosexual marriage is The Most Important.) Even seemingly innocuous things that Xiomara does, like using a tampon instead of a pad, cause issues. And when she’s caught kissing a boy? Oh no.

I can really go either way with books that are written in verse. A lot of the time, it just feels like sentences broken up into several lines, but it really, really worked here. The emotion was right there, in every word, and Xiomara just felt so real. I already have a hold on With the Fire on High and can’t wait until I have the chance to experience that book too.

Have you read The Poet X? Is it on your TBR?
Let’s talk in the comments!

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Book Review: Because Internet by Gretchen McCulloch

Because Internet by Gretchen McCulloch
Rating: ★★★★★
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: July 23, 2019
Source: Borrowed

A linguistically informed look at how our digital world is transforming the English language.

Language is humanity’s most spectacular open-source project, and the internet is making our language change faster and in more interesting ways than ever before. Internet conversations are structured by the shape of our apps and platforms, from the grammar of status updates to the protocols of comments and @replies. Linguistically inventive online communities spread new slang and jargon with dizzying speed. What’s more, social media is a vast laboratory of unedited, unfiltered words where we can watch language evolve in real time.

Even the most absurd-looking slang has genuine patterns behind it. Internet linguist Gretchen McCulloch explores the deep forces that shape human language and influence the way we communicate with one another. She explains how your first social internet experience influences whether you prefer “LOL” or “lol,” why ~sparkly tildes~ succeeded where centuries of proposals for irony punctuation had failed, what emoji have in common with physical gestures, and how the artfully disarrayed language of animal memes like lolcats and doggo made them more likely to spread.

Because Internet is essential reading for anyone who’s ever puzzled over how to punctuate a text message or wondered where memes come from. It’s the perfect book for understanding how the internet is changing the English language, why that’s a good thing, and what our online interactions reveal about who we are. 

You may have heard me mention once or twice that I’m really into linguistics. So into it, in fact, that it’s what my degree is in. I really love reading nonfiction about linguistics, but I’m often left disappointed. When I saw Because Internet pop up on my library’s “recently added” shelf, I couldn’t resist. I’ll admit that I was a tad skeptical. I mean… Because Internet is a pretty risky title. It’s either going to be cringy or amazing.

I’m happy to report that this book definitely falls at the “amazing” end up that spectrum.

Ever since I was an undergrad in my first Intro to Linguistics course, modern linguistics has intrigued me. I love how language changes over time, but there was never a course on the linguistics of the internet back then. This book was like a crash course in everything I find fascinating.

If you’ve ever wondered about the linguistics of…

  • ~*sparkle punctuation*~
  • Tumblr Emphasis™
  • lolcats, doge, and snek
  • lol
  • text-based emoticons and emoji
  • keyboard smashes
  • friendly vs. passive aggressive texts
  • or, really, almost anything else you could think of

… you’ll probably enjoy this book. If you’re a hardcore prescriptivist (someone who lives by language rule books and lectures people online about ending sentences with prepositions and splitting infinitives), you probably won’t enjoy it as much. McCulloch takes the language of the internet very seriously in this book and presents an in-depth analysis of its evolution.

I was blown away by not only how informative this book was, but also how much I enjoyed it! Excuse me while I go find five hundred more books to read on linguistics.

Have you read Because Internet? Do you have any interest in linguistics?
Let’s talk in the comments!

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Book Review: Bad Blood by John Carreyrou

Bad Blood by John Carreyrou
Rating: ★★★★★
Links: AmazonTBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: May 21, 2018
Source: Borrowed

The full inside story of the breathtaking rise and shocking collapse of a multibillion-dollar startup, by the prize-winning journalist who first broke the story and pursued it to the end in the face of pressure and threats from the CEO and her lawyers.

In 2014, Theranos founder and CEO Elizabeth Holmes was widely seen as the female Steve Jobs: a brilliant Stanford dropout whose startup “unicorn” promised to revolutionize the medical industry with a machine that would make blood tests significantly faster and easier. Backed by investors such as Larry Ellison and Tim Draper, Theranos sold shares in a fundraising round that valued the company at $9 billion, putting Holmes’s worth at an estimated $4.7 billion. There was just one problem: The technology didn’t work.

For years, Holmes had been misleading investors, FDA officials, and her own employees. When Carreyrou, working at The Wall Street Journal, got a tip from a former Theranos employee and started asking questions, both Carreyrou and the Journal were threatened with lawsuits. Undaunted, the newspaper ran the first of dozens of Theranos articles in late 2015. By early 2017, the company’s value was zero and Holmes faced potential legal action from the government and her investors. Here is the riveting story of the biggest corporate fraud since Enron, a disturbing cautionary tale set amid the bold promises and gold-rush frenzy of Silicon Valley.

In case you’re unfamiliar with the Theranos story, here’s a quick breakdown:

  • Elizabeth Holmes had an idea to create a small machine that could run several blood tests using a single drop of blood.
  • She convinced investors to contribute nine billion dollars to the company under the pretense that she already had a functional device.
  • She provided false data in demonstrations because the machine rarely worked.
  • Despite mounting evidence that the machine gave dangerously bad results (imagine getting a false positive in a blood test for prostate cancer or a false negative on an HIV test), she somehow finagled contracts to put her machines in Walgreens and Safeway.
  • As the company began to fall apart, Holmes and other Theranos higher-ups did everything in their power to hold on to their fraudulent device, including threatening their employees with lawsuits and attempting to convince the United States government that their laboratory didn’t need to meet standard requirements.

Bad Blood chronicles the incredible story of what happens when someone is willing to do just about anything to gain fame and fortune. I’d like to say that the sheer entitlement of the major players at Theranos came as a surprise, but it didn’t.

After working in the medical field for most of my adult life, I’ve met more than one person that I could see going down a path like this if they were given enough money. I’ve met more than one person who thought that government regulations shouldn’t apply to them because of one nonsensical reason or another. The amount of times I had to say, “NO, WE CAN’T DO THAT, THAT IS LITERALLY THE DEFINITION OF FRAUD” during seven years in a private practice means that I’ve lost most of my faith in any kind of for-profit healthcare institution. All of that is to say that while this is an absolutely mind-boggling story, I can also kind of see how it would happen.

I’m very happy that Theranos has been shut down and I’m looking forward to the results of the fraud trial. I don’t know if John Carreyrou plans to write any more books like this, but if he does, I’ll be first in line to read them.

Have you read Bad Blood? What’s the last really good nonfiction book you read?
Let’s talk in the comments!

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