ARC REVIEW: It’s All Absolutely Fine – by Ruby Elliot

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Title: It’s All Absolutely Fine
Author: Ruby Elliot

Genre: Graphic Novel, Non Fiction, Memoir
First published: January 31st 2017
Publisher: Andrews McMeel Publishing
Finished reading: January 15th 2017
Pages: 256
Rating 4qqq

“That’s what you need sometimes, whether it’s a dog or a cat or a jazzy lizard or something else entirely that provides you with some emotional respite when it’s all too messy – a tiny yet significant port in an almighty storm.”

*** A copy of this book was kindly provided to me by Netgalley and Andrews McMeel Publishing in exchange for an honest review. Thank you! ***

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I confess I don’t have a lot of experience reading graphic novels, but when I saw It’s All Absolutely Fine at Netgalley I was immediately intrigued by the promise of a combination of simple drawings and a down-to-earth description of the daily struggles of life with mental illness. It is a topic that has always interested me for various reasons… And It’s All Absolutely Fine is without doubt another title to add to my list of favorites talking about mental illness. Why? First of all, I found it really easy to connect to the little stories. Ruby Elliot shows life as it is without trying to hide the ugly parts, and I can really appreciate the sincerity of it all. This bundle switches between short essays and illustrations that show the reader Ruby’s experiences living with social anxiety and the daily struggles of life with mental illness. Simple drawings of sometimes ‘simple’ situations, but with a huge dose of sharp humor for maximum effect.

I think this illustration above gives just the right idea of what I’m talking about… Ruby Elliot‘s drawings are sometimes brutally honest, but they always feel 100% real. It’s both an entertaining and eye-opening read that will appeal both to anyone interested in the topic and fans of memoirs such as Furiously Happy.

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It’s All Absolutely Fine is both an honest and unapologetic account of Ruby’s daily struggle living with mental illness. She uses simple drawings and a few short essays to talk about themes like mood disorders, anxiety and issues with body image; all sprinkled with the right dose of humor. Each chapter talks about a different set of struggles, and every aspect is talked about openly without hiding the ugly parts.

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It’s All Absolutely Fine is a graphic novel and memoir that tries to both show what it is to live with mental illness and tell other people that it is okay to not feel okay. The drawings might be simple, but are brutally honest and have a dose of sharp humor for maximum effect. I really enjoyed reading this story and I think anyone interested in the topic would enjoy reading It’s All Absolutely Fine as well. Recommended!


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BOOK REVIEW: When Breath Becomes Air – by Paul Kalanithi

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Title: When Breath Becomes Air
Author: Paul Kalanithi

Genre: Non Fiction, Memoir, Health
First published: January 12th 2016
Publisher: Random House
Finished reading: November 18th 2016
Pages: 208
Rating 4,5qqq

“Human knowledge is never contained in one person. It grows from the relationships we create between each other and the world, and still it is never complete.”

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I have been reading more memoirs and non fiction reads than average in 2016, but Paul Kalanithi‘s story is without doubt one of the most powerful ones I’ve read this year and it deserves being nominated for Best Memoir in the Goodreads Choice Awards. When Breath Becomes Air is powerful, raw, emotional and simply heartbreaking… The story of a young neurosurgeon who lost his battle against cancer, a man who tried to write down the story of his life as he was trying to race against the clock. This rush especially shows in the last part of the memoir he managed to write himself, but that only makes this memoir more authentic and adds a whole other level to it. It’s hard to write about and/or criticize the work of a person whose life and dreams were cut short, and I have decided not to take in account the minor flaws in the prose and pace that might slow down the reading at points. The mismatched pace is a sign of a man who ran out of time, and desperately tried to finish what he had always wanted to do at some point in his life: write a book. If you are looking for a powerful memoir and don’t mind having a few packs of tissues ready, pick up When Breath Becomes Air. You won’t regret it.

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Paul Kalanithi was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer at the age of thirty-six, just as he as about to complete a decade worth of training as a neurosurgeon. Suddenly, his life went from making a living treating the sick and dying to being a patient himself… And just like that, the future he and his wife had imagined evaporated. In this memoir, he wrote about his connection to literature and questions about the virtuous and meaningful life, and how he ended up deciding to study to be a neurosurgeon. What makes life worth living in the face of death? What do you do when the future suddenly flattens out into a perpetual present?

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When Breath Becomes Air is without doubt one of the most powerful and emotional memoirs I’ve read this year. If you look critically, the prose might have a few minor flaws and the pace wasn’t perfect, but that is all soon forgotten if you just think about who wrote this story in the first place and his background. Paul Kalanithi was a man running out of time, and yet still determined to follow his dream and finally write his book as his legacy. Powerful throughout and the final part written by his wife was especially moving.

ARC REVIEW: The Honor Was Mine – by Elizabeth Heaney

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Title: The Honor Was Mine
Author: Elizabeth Heaney

Genre: Non Fiction, Memoir, War
First published: September 6th 2016
Publisher: Grand Harbor Press
Finished reading: September 3rd 2016
Pages: 272
Rating 5qqq

“Rather than being seen as protectors – as warriors have been viewed in past cultures – our current culture struggles with how to view combat veterans. The cultural dissonance about recent wars spills over into our feelings about soldiers, creating another layer of difficult struggle for soldiers who fought and served.”

*** A copy of this book was kindly provided to me by Netgalley and Grand Harbor Press in exchange for an honest review. Thank you! ***

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I was first approached back in August with the question if it would interest me to read The Honor Was Mine, a memoir written by a counselor to combat veterans, and I immediately went to Netgalley to request the title. The subject has always interested me and I even followed a course at Uni about the traumatic effects of war on soldiers… And basically this memoir left me speechless. It’s a brilliant and highly emotional personal account of Elizabeth Heaney‘s experience working with combat veterans that will most likely bring tears to your eyes. The story is a balanced mix of the thoughts/experiences of both soldiers and the author herself, which gives you a better insight to their world. The Honor Was Mine is without doubt a well written and emotional memoir and I have many quotes highlighted on my kindle. If you ask me, anyone who wants to understand the whole ‘veteran/soldier’ world better should read this memoir. You won’t regret it!

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Therapist Elizabeth Heaney came face-to-face with the unheard-of struggles and fears of the military service and their families after she left her private practice and decided to sign up to counsel them. Soldiers and veterans are often misunderstood and she decided to try and describe their complex and nuanced lives in a way that outsiders will be able to understand. Because emotions run deeply and a lot of soldiers seem to struggle readjusting to civilian life after returning from battling the enemy.

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It doesn’t happen often that a book leaves me speechless, but The Honor Was Mine is one of them. This memoir is about such an important topic, and on top of that it’s also well written and full of emotions. I personally don’t know anyone close who fought during a war, but my thoughts goes out to all the soldiers and veterans out there. If you want to learn more about the effects of war on veterans, I can definitely recommend The Honor Was Mine.

BOOK REVIEW: The Opposite Of Loneliness – by Marina Keegan

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Title: The Opposite Of Loneliness
Author: Marina Keegan
Genre: Non Fiction, Memoir, Short Stories
First published: April 8th 2014
Finished reading: June 11th 2016
Pages: 208
Rating 3,5qqq

“What we have to remember is that we can still do anything. We can change our minds. We can start over.”

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Those who follow my blog know I like to read a non fiction book or memoir every now and then, so I was excited when The Opposite Of Loneliness came up as one of my TBR jar picks. The story behind this memoir is actually quite tragic: the author Marina Keegan sadly passed away in 2012 after a car accident, and this collection has been created afterwards in her honor. Reading about the actual details is truly heartbreaking, but it doesn’t mean that this memoir gets a free pass to a full 5 star rating. Because if I have to be honest, I expected something better/different out of this short story and essay collection. First of all, I didn’t realize that part of this book is actually a collection of short fictional stories. I don’t mind reading fiction, but it wasn’t what I expected and most stories were a bit too cheesy, romantic or awkward for me. Especially since knowing about the author’s tragic end makes you read some stories under a different light (for example: in Cold Pastoral I felt awkward reading about a main character where her boyfriend dies, while her own boyfriend had to go through a similar situation.) Another story I found slightly disturbing is Reading Aloud, where an older woman reads aloud to a blind young man while she is completely naked. I know it’s fiction and all, but I think I could have gone without that mental image. My favorite of the fiction stories would probably be The Emerald City, since it’s not the typical contemporary romance story. It’s about an officer in Afghanistan who tells about his daily life and concerns to a girl back home. Challenger Deep was also really good. The non fiction section of this memoir is a little too short if you ask me, but provides some very interesting essays and is a satisfying ending to this read. In fact, I would probably have given The Opposite Of Loneliness a higher rating if it would have been just the non fiction essays… This memoir is without doubt still worth reading though.

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The young Yale graduate Marina Keegan was without doubt talented and it shows in this collection of essays and stories. Her essay The Opposite Of Loneliness is probably one of the most famous ones and is without doubt inspiring.

“Nobody wakes up when they want to. Nobody did all of their reading (except maybe the crazy people who win the prizes…). We have these impossibly high standards and we’ll probably never live up to our perfect fantasies of our future selves. But I feel like that’s okay.”

Only five days after she graduate magna cum laude from Yale, Marina died in a car crash. The people close to hear joined together to create this collection of her best short stories and essays. They are a mix of fiction and non fiction and explore different genres and writing methods.

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Like I said above, I really wanted to like this memoir even better, but there were quite a few fiction short stories I can’t say I enjoyed. Some were a bit disturbing, others made me feel awkward or were too much like a typical cheesy romance story (one even with a love triangle!). There were some exceptions though: especially The Emerald City and Challenger Deep stood out from the rest. The non fiction essays were excellent as well, and most likely ended up improving the rating. I would definitely recommend reading The Opposite Of Loneliness, just make sure to remember it’s not actually just a memoir and also included fictional short stories. That may avoid a similar reaction to the one I had when I was reading the fiction section….

BOOK REVIEW: Binge – by Tyler Oakley

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Title: Binge
Author: Tyler Oakley
Genre: Non Fiction, Memoir, Humor
First published: October 20th 2015
Finished reading: May 18th 2016
Pages: 307
Rating 4qqq

“No person, no matter how important society deems their relationship to you, has the right to denounce you for who you are.”

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Is it weird that somehow I end up reading memoirs of people I haven’ t really heard of most of the time? Because that’s what happened yet again when I decided to pick up my copy of Binge on a whim. The colorcul cover was enough to intrigue me, and even though I didn’t know much about Tyler Oakley beforehand, I still really enjoyed reading his story. These essays are quirky, feel brutally honest, sometimes uncomfortable but mostly hilarious. And the photos and Tweets are a nice touch as well! I’m not really into watching Youtube channels myself, but this memoir without doubt made me curious about his channel. I’m not sure Binge is for everyone and you have to like reading these kind of quirky memoirs and/or at least know a little about Tyler Oakley to properly enjoy it, but it is without doubt recommendable for the right person. The essays in general have a fast pace (except one or two around the middle) and basically are a mix of personal, witty, serious and funny stories about Tyler Oakley‘s life. The prose is quite easy to read as well!

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Tyler Oakley tells us all about his past and how he eventually became a pop-culture phenomenon and the most prominent GLBT voice on Youtube. Binge is a collection of essays about both Tyler as an awkward child growing up, Tyler coming out, Tyler during high school, Tyler during his Uni years and afterwards; each essay revealing a mix of personal mishaps and other hilarious or personal moments in his life no matter how awkward or potentially uncomfortable.

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I like reading memoirs and it doesn’t really matter to me if I actually know something about the person in question, which might sound a bit weird. I guess I care more about if the memoir itself is entertaining/interesting, and Binge is without doubt a very entertaining and quirky read. I don’t know a lot about Tyler Oakley and I have never seen his Youtube channel, but he comes over as a very interesting person I could definitely see myself hang out with. The essays are personal, brutally honest and for some people maybe even a little uncomfortable, but the stories are without doubt entertaining to read. Binge might not be for everyone, but definitely recommended for the right person.

BOOK REVIEW: Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? – by Mindy Kaling

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Title: Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?
Author: Mindy Kaling
Genre: Non Fiction, Humor, Memoir
First published: November 1st 2011
Finished reading: March 8th 2016
Pages: 222
Rating 3qqq

“One friend with whom you have a lot in common is better than three with whom you struggle to find things to talk about.”

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I have to confess I have never actually watched Mindy Kaling‘s TV shows and I don’t know a lot about her in general. Still, since I quite enjoyed reading her other book Why Not Me?, I decided to try Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? as well. This one was actually published a few years before Why Not Me?, and it shows. While this first memoir is still quite funny and I appreciate how honest she is about her life, it misses a so-to-speak spark to convert it into something special. The prose is easy to read and there were some funny moments, but overall Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? wasn’t nearly as funny as her other book. What started out well actually turned into a slowish read around the middle, but luckily things picked up later on. It is quite an entertaining read even though you are not familiar with her work, although I suspect the part where she talks about The Office is probably funnier if you have actually seen the show. Would I recommend it? Yes, because it’s quite a quick read despite the slow middle, entertaining and hilariously funny at points. If you haven’t read her second memoir yet though, read that one first.

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Mindy Kaling tells us the tale of how she grew up and makes some honest and refreshing observations during this journey. How was Mindy during high school and how did she try to achieve her dream? She is not afraid to admit any failures and even admits she isn’t the perfect person to give advice. Mindy is simply a a ‘girl next door’ who became famous… And she not only explains things about her view on romance, friendship, Hollywood and the perfect amount of fame, but also gives us an inside view of what it is like being a comedy screenwriter and creating The Office.

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Mindy Kaling has a way of writing down her story that feels honest, refreshing and is quite entertaining as well. While not as funny as the second memoir, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? is still worth reading if you are looking for a short and entertaining read. You will find some very interesting quotes while you are reading this book! I can really appreciate how down to earth she seems.

BOOK REVIEW: Furiously Happy – by Jenny Lawson

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Title: Furiously Happy
Author: Jenny Lawson
Genre: Non Fiction, Humor, Memoir
First published: September 22nd 2015
Finished reading: February 28th 2016
Pages: 329
Rating 4qqq

“Don’t make the same mistakes that everyone else makes. Make wonderful mistakes. Make the kind of mistakes that make people so shocked that they have no other choice but to be a little impressed.”

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I have been wanting to read more non fiction lately and this memoir by Jenny Lawson looked like an interesting choice. Now that I’ve read it I can say Furiously Happy is just that! If you want a good laugh, make sure to read this book. I never thought a book about mental ilness could be this funny… It truly is refreshing how Jenny Lawson openly tells us about how she tries to live with her mental ilness and I can see why her story can be inspiring to those who are in a similar situation. In this memoir funny moments are mixed with some more serious themes, but in such a way that it’s quite easy to keep reading. The pace slows down a bit in the middle (especially the part about her trip to Australia), but not enough for me to be really bothered by it. All in all it’s a really interesting and entertaining read if you are looking for something different. Just one last warning: reading it in public may cause people to look at you funny and think you lost you marbles because you might snort/giggle/laugh out loud manically while reading this book… Don’t say I didn’t warn you. 😉

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In this second memoir Jenny Lawson talks about her lifelong battle with mental illness. She decided that the best way to live with it all is to be furiously happy without limitations whenever she can. Even if that means kangaroos in her house, use her father’s taxidermist skills to have a stuffed raccoon at home, dress up her cats and other things that people might find odd. Her husband doesn’t always agree with her ideas, but it does lead to some very funny situations… Like she writes in her memoir:

“Most of my favorite people are dangerously fucked-up but you’d never guess because we’ve learned to bare it so honestly that it becomes the new normal. Like John Hughes wrote in The Breakfast Club, ‘We’re all pretty bizarre. Some of us are just better at hiding it.’ Except go back and cross out the word ‘hiding.'”

Jenny Lawson shows that there can always be found a way to learn to live with mental illness and to improve quality of life. Each person is unique and has to find their own way, but being ‘furiously happy’ has helped many people during the last few years.

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First of all, I really like the way Furiously Happy is written. It doesn’t happen often that I find myself laughing out loud while I’m reading a book, but this memoir is an exception. Jenny Lawson isn’t afraid to admit the ugly and embarrassing details, and this is part of the reason why this memoir works so well. Honest, hilarious, refreshing, entertaining… If you are looking for a new way to see mental ilness, Furiously Happy is definitely recommended.