Category: Book Reviews

Blankets

Blankets
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Published: July 1, 2003
A coming of age autobiographical graphic novel written and illustrated by Craig Thompson. It's about his childhood memories and traumas, the Evangelical church that shaped much of his childhood and influenced his young adulthood, and his first love.

As far as I can tell, this is the first graphic novel that I ever read, and only because a friend recommended it. There's much about this story that I found I could relate to. The character describes his childhood traumas in such subtle but graphic details, without a lot of words but in a very impactful way nevertheless.

He writes about his relationship with his younger brother, which is equal parts loving and competitive.

He writes about his disillusion with organized religion, particularly his family's religion. As somebody who grew up in Sunday School, I can truly understand what he is trying to describe. Even if you didn't grow up in Sunday School, I suppose you can still understand his message. How his concept of God was rooted more in fear than in love. How church took up a whole lot of family time. How Christians are sometimes out of touch and out of reach, unable to truly connect with people who need them. How church can sometimes be filled with overused platitudes but, again, being unable to truly connect with people who are in pain.

For the writer, this resulted to a break with his relationship with his church, not necessarily with God. As he goes through young adulthood, he had a hard time reconciling his very natural, normal feelings with his Christian faith. My issues with organized religion was not resolved the same way his was, but I can definitely see where he is coming from.

A bulk of the story is also about his first love. It's cute, sweet, heart wrenching, tummy twisting all at the same time. Even the family issues of the girl he likes are described in such beautiful details, albeit without so many words. Going through all the stages of this first love brings back memories.

The illustrations were fascinating. Each page is a work of art that I really enjoyed looking at. It lent the story more emotions, like the writer is showing in both words and drawings the nuances of each moment. I think I enjoyed most the pages that had no words. The author had a way of using "silent" pages to let you breathe and feel for a moment before you move on. It's quite beautiful.

Overall, it's a beautiful book. I appreciated both the story and the artistic effort that went into each page.

Beautiful Boy

Beautiful Boy: A Father's Journey Through His Son's Addiction
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Published: September 4, 2018
A father writes about his son's addiction.

This is such a heart wrenching book to read. From start to end, even in those pages about the very bad moments when it seems all the love should be drained out and emptied because of the hurt and frustration, David's love for his son shines through on the pages. You read a lot about addiction but people forget that the families of addicts and alcoholics go through a lot too, and I appreciate being able to read such a well-written account of what their family went through together.

The tone of the whole book sounds like a parent thinking aloud. Memories go back and forth. You get the sense that the writer is showing his favorite memories of his son, not the big moments but the small moments that show who he was and is. He also falls into cycles of putting his guilt into words and then rationalizing his actions. I can only imagine the debilitating guilt that parents of addicts feel, and how it's hard to recognize where their shortcomings as parents end and their children's personal choice begins.

The author includes a lot of useful information in understanding the insidious nature of addiction in between recollections of Nic's childhood and his cycles of recovery and relapse.

Overall, there are a few things in the  book that I don't particularly like (such as the excessive rationalization of his parenting) but if I take the book as a whole, I really like  it. It reads like a gift because I can understand how difficult it must have been to write and to share with the world. I think it's beautifully written.

I read Nic Sheff's book Tweak after I finished reading this one, where he writes about his addiction, relapses and recoveries from his point of view. I'll write a separate review for that soon.

Sharp Objects

Sharp Objects
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Published: 2006
Reporter Camille Preaker returns to her hometown to cover the murder of two girls. Living with her family in their Victorian mansion dredges up unresolved childhood issues.

I picked up this book because I liked Gone Girl. I think that Gillian Flynn has a knack for exploring dysfunctional relationships. The main character of this book, Camille Preaker, is not the usual protagonist that people expect in stories. She's neither feisty nor virginal, she's quite unremarkable if viewed from the point of view of the other characters in the book. She doesn't stand out, she doesn't always speak out either.

I still like the character because I find her believable. The way that her childhood trauma was uncovered in the book is something I can relate to, and I guess that's what I like most about the character. She has serious issues that she's trying to work through and there are many ups and downs to it. The book shows how a child's fragile sense of self can be damaged by their parent's actions, which is often just perpetuated family dysfunction.

I also like how the book shows those subtle and not-so-subtle ways that women attack each other and are cruel and spiteful towards one another. I like how this theme winds through the different parts of the mystery, like a thread that is part of what ties the story up. It adds layers of dysfunction to already dysfunctional small town and family dynamics.

While I liked how the author created the web of relationships among the characters, I didn't like how the crimes were solved. The way the ending was written (more in the style of an Epilogue, a summary of events, rather than unfolding as a part of the story telling) felt like a cop out. Still, I did enjoy reading it, even if it started out slow and ended a little flat.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
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Published: July 29, 2008
Set in post-war London, 1946, writer Juliet Ashton is looking for inspiration for the next  book that she plans to write. She finds this inspiration when a native of Guernsey happens to find one of her old Charles Lamb books and starts a correspondence with her. In the course of exchanging letters, Juliet discovers the endearing book club called The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.

I have always loved epistolary novels. It feels like your imagination is working harder, piecing together the story in your mind as you read letters from different peoples' perspectives. Epistolary novels has its limitations and challenges, but when done right, it can have add a singularly beautiful touch in the story. Reading this story reminded me of my favorite epistolary novel, Daddy-Long-Legs. The book just radiates warmth and love.

The story is set in a time when London was picking itself up from the rubble of the war. This is the dark thread that weaves itself through the story, this very recently concluded World War II which left very deep scars in the national psyche. The story does not make light of the events of war. In fact, it's very touching how the details were woven in, such as how people had to make do with rationing of food and clothes, the maddening threat of being bombed, the blackout curtains, the rubble, the separated families... The characters in the book are so endearing that you tend to feel deeply the loss they grappled with in their own private spaces.

I wish that the letters were more descriptive of Guernsey, but it was sufficient to paint an idyllic setting in my mind. The characters were memorable and colorful, and their personal stories about the war were heartrending. Because of the book, I read and learned more about the Island of Guernsey and the 5-year period of Nazi occupation. I learned about how many of their children were evacuated to London, and how some of them were not able to come home after the war.

I loved the story of how the book club started, and I am reminded that no matter how different people are, they can find kindred spirits if they find themselves among fellow readers. I find it heartwarming how the members of the society found comfort and solace in each other and, though not all of them started out as readers, they all discovered the joy of books and sharing ideas. I like that the book shows how much more tolerant people can be when their minds are open and willing to learn and listen.

I enjoyed the love story as well, but I appreciated that it's not the focal point of the novel. I feel that I would be very much at home with the society, if it had been real.

I enjoyed this book from start to finish. It had me laughing and crying by turns. The wholesome, lighthearted humor interspersed with the very tender recollections of war was unforgettable. The story is a celebration of the human spirit, a reminder that even if there are many dark chapters in the story of the world, there are also good people that shine in such darkness, and that love and friendship can spring up in the most unexpected ways.

Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No To Take Control of Your Life

Boundaries Updated and Expanded Edition: When to Say Yes, How to Say No To Take Control of Your Life
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Published: October 3, 2017
Drs. Henry Cloud and John Townsend tackle the very common issue of boundaries and how healthy and unhealthy boundaries can affect every area of your life for good or bad.

I don't really like reading self-help books, but I tried this book out because it's on a subject matter that I want to understand better. Boundaries is a book that will help you understand what boundaries are and recognize if your boundaries are injured or unhealthy. This book offers a Biblical perspective on boundaries, and confronts the many spiritual-sounding misconceptions about boundaries especially among Christians.

There are important questions here such as whether God intended us to have healthy boundaries, how can you keep your boundaries intact while still being a loving person, how to deal with people who do not respect your boundaries, among others. It talks about boundaries at work, in a marriage, with kids, with friends, etc. I appreciate that the book tackled ways to identified injured boundaries in different settings, and offered practical ways on how to address these issues. It's not going to be easy, they didn't offer quick fixes, but the suggestions are Bible-based and practical. Doable, if you're willing to take ownership of the issue.

I wish I read this book earlier in life. It did, however, bring to my attention how our parents did their best to teach us how to establish healthy boundaries. Many of the lessons mentioned in the book, I recognized from my memory of my parents. Biblical principles are timeless, after all. Overall, this is a very helpful and insightful book.