Heartfelt memoir about losing your home in the worst wildfire in decades. A Fire Story is sad but ultimately uplifting.
Multiple fires merged into a Northern California firestorm of epic proportions. The resulting burn area was the size of 15 Manhattans. Entire neighborhoods burned to the ground overnight. Warnings were mishandled so many survivors had virtually no time to take any belongings. Others didn’t escape in time.
The author, a graphic memoirist, uses his craft to document, in real time, the horrific experience of losing your home and all your stuff in a split second. While he is grateful his family is safe, he states,
“Well-meaning people say, ‘It’s just stuff.’ But it’s our stuff. Stuff we created. Stuff we treasured. Stuff from our ancestors we wanted our descendants to have. Stuff is a marker of time and memory. It’s roots.”
Wow, A Fire Story is so real! It throws the reader into a situation that, luckily, few will experience. It will make you appreciate your own stuff more. For myself, I live in a fire-prone area. We’ve been across the street, literally, from two major fires in two different homes and subject to voluntary evacuation orders. I have a bug-out bag of my family pictures and heirlooms ready to go. Are you ready?
If you have been toying with prepping for disaster as a New Year’s resolution, A Fire Story is an excellent shove in that direction. But it is also an exceptional look at human resilience and resourcefulness. I can’t recommend it highly enough. 5 stars!
Thanks to the publisher, Abrams ComicArts, and NetGalley for an advance copy in exchange for an honest review.
Posted in Graphic Novel, Non-fiction Tagged with: disaster, Mar 4 2019, memoir
Rewired is the story of how one doctor changed the ways amputated arms’ nerve ending are left to allow the amputee to actually feel the fingers of the prosthetic. It also shows what doctor’s feel when working with a patient.
Melissa is an animal lover. When her two dogs cornered a raccoon on her fence, she went out to encourage the raccoon to leave. The raccoon did but first bit her on one side of her right arm and then scratched the other side. At the small hospital in the Midwest near her home, her doctor, Dr. Seth, assured her that he could save her arm. After a series of medicines and surgeries, that proves to be impossible. Dr. Seth pilots a new type of surgery allowing Melissa to be able to feel her prosthetic’s fingers. She is the first in the world with this ability.
While Melissa’s story is fascinating, the best part is seeing the emotions of Dr. Seth as Melissa is going through weeks of painful surgeries. We think of doctors as omniscient. That they don’t have feelings. However, Dr. Seth has many feelings about how he has let his patient Melissa down. This is a very Christian book with Dr. Seth taking no credit personally for his innovative surgery but instead attributing all of his contribution to God.
Rewired is recommended as an inspirational story of how one physician overcame long odds to create a better prognosis for all arm amputees. 4 stars!
Thanks to Thomas Nelson for an advance copy in exchange for an honest review.
Posted in Christian, Non-fiction Tagged with: amputees, Jan 8 2019, memoir
Wondering how to deal with an annoying baby brother? Think What Would Cleopatra Do? 18-year-old Cleopatra married her 12-year-old brother so she could rule Egypt. Once her subjects got used to the idea, she basically erased her brother’s name on all historical and legal documents and took all the power for herself.
While that example might be a bit extreme, this book has many good examples to share. Using the real life stories of fifty famous woman to illustrate maxims on how to deal with everyday issues is an outstanding idea. The issues vary from facing failure to not being hot to learning your worth.
What Would Cleopatra Do? is an empowering read for young girls especially pre-teens just beginning their life journey. The lessons taught here—of loving yourself and not letting barriers stop your dreams—are powerful messages. The method of using famous historic women to display these values is smart and entertaining. Most of the stories are short at around five pages. The book is recommended for young girls and others needing a boost in our tumultuous world. 3 stars.
Thanks to the publisher, Scribner, and NetGalley for an advance copy in exchange for an honest review.
Posted in Non-fiction Tagged with: memoir, Nov 6 2018, short stories
Usually graphic memoirs are either funny or have good art but not both. Luckily, Super Chill: A Year of Living Anxiously has both laugh-out-loud (but embarrassingly familiar) slices of life and clearly beautiful artwork.
What if your memory foam pillow starts whispering about the worst events of your life? Your DNA results come back 37% chicken nuggets? You have just discovered the 100% most efficient and effective method for clean dishes (that every 20-year-old has found before you)? Hint: it involves a large trash can and a quick visit to Amazon.
As a nerd from birth, I resemble many of the life moments captured here. Why didn’t I see the humor in them at the time? Then create a web series and eventually write a book about them? Ahhh, the familar feelings of envy and regret…
Seriously, these comics are both true and funny! Highly recommended to anyone with a funny bone and/or a life (see Super Chill: A Year of Living Anxiously is inspiring me to be funny—at least I hope so—okay maybe I’m overthinking this—it must also be inspiring me to live anxiously—life gives and it takes away) 5 stars!
Thanks to Andrews McMeel Publishing and NetGalley for an advance copy.
Posted in Graphic Novel, Humor Tagged with: memoir, Oct 23 2018
She Wants It is a Hollywood film and television memoir by Jill Soloway. Jill is the writer/director of Amazon’s Transparent. Transparent is based on Jill’s real life.
Jill’s father was depressed and a mostly absent workaholic father during her childhood. After Jill and her sister, Faith, went to college, their parents divorced.
During an early morning phone call, Jill is the first family member to which her father comes out to as trans. Jill’s first thought is this is part of her story and she was going to tell it. If her father can become Carrie London, why can’t she become the film writer/director she always aspired to be?
Jill polished up an old script and it was green-lighted. After post-production is complete and Afternoon Delight is submitted to Sundance, Jill goes with Faith to meet their father for the first time as a woman. When her terminally ill aunt asks her to deliver a card to her father asking him not to dress as a woman at the aunt’s funeral, she begins writing Transparent.
She Wants It is a great memoir of how someone hurtles the obstacles of getting a screenplay developed in Hollywood. It also incorporates a bit about Jill’s life as a wife and mother of two. There are many psychological asides about life and her own journey to understanding the non-binary world. I was expecting more about the real-life childhood experiences of having a trans parent. However, for those looking for a Hollywood memoir, this is a good choice. It just wasn’t what I was looking for and I never felt connected to the author though her personal story is heartfelt. 3 stars.
Thanks to Crown Publishing and NetGalley for an advance copy.
Posted in Non-fiction Tagged with: Hollywood, memoir, Oct 16 2018
A true crime memoir that reads like a thriller! The takedown of the notorious street gang, MS-13, is described in Operation Devil Horns.
“A special agent is never—ever—off duty.”
MS-13 expanded from El Salvador throughout Central America to Los Angeles and finally San Francisco’s Mission District. Local cops were unable to stop the gang’s crime and violence. The city’s sanctuary status ties their hands. Sanctuary cities vow not to deport illegal aliens or help the federal government to do so, which takes away a significant law enforcement tool. The San Francisco Police Department was unable to deport illegals to break up the gang. Enter the feds.
Santini, a federal special agent, finds two gang members, Diego and Casper, to report on the gang’s activities. By threatening them with deportation and offering the carrot of legality and witness protection, he was able to turn two hardcore gang bangers into rats. His goal was to use the federal RICO statute, already used to break up mafia families, against the 20th Street MS-13 gang.
Operation Devil Horns is a superb book. It is perfect for true crime and mafia fans. However, it is also highly recommended for thriller readers. I loved getting a behind the scenes story about how gangs work and how law enforcement brings them down. 5 stars!
Thanks to the publisher, Rowman & Littlefield, and NetGalley for an advance copy in exchange for an honest review.
Posted in Mystery & Thrillers, Non-fiction Tagged with: memoir, Oct 9 2018, true crime
The wild wild West is alive and well high above Palm Springs in the Mojave Desert. Low Life in the Desert tells the allegedly true tale of Pioneertown in the early noughties.
David, an Australian journalist, moves to Los Angeles to be with his girlfriend, Boo, who is writing a Disney film about Australians. When he first arrives, they move into a pre-gentrified Venice Beach. The local police assure him that the best way to solve his problem with his rich, white, utterly insane crackhead neighbor is to shoot him and then drag the body onto his property. After respectively declining, the LA SWAT team uses tear gas to arrest the neighbor. Deciding they have had enough of Venice, they find LA real estate too expensive and decide to buy a house in the high desert.
Boulder House is a house literally carved from boulders and mountainside. On 17 and a half acres, the house is massive and includes a pool. All for $200,000. The nearest town is Pioneertown. Built in the 1940s to film the popular movie and later television westerns, the town is now full of iconoclasts, ex-cons and bikers. The residents stage a “shootout” every Sunday at dusk even when no tourists appear to watch. Low Life in the High Desert is the fish-out-of-water tale of David and Boo becoming desertized.
It is nice to read a memoir and to drop into the most exciting moments of someone else’s life. Low Life in the High Desert is a fascinating episodic look into life in the margins of society. However, the episodic nature is part of the problem with this book. Some episodes seem to have been added only to reach a certain page length. A story about Palm Springs’ gay, drunken Hollywood history and another about a burlesque museum don’t seem to fit into the main story at all. The main story is interesting, however, and worthy of 3 stars.
Thanks to the publisher, Scribe US, and Edelweiss+ for a copy in exchange for an honest review.
Posted in Non-fiction Tagged with: memoir, Sep 17 2018
“Making a no-budget indie film is like going to war. But you’re not General MacArthur storming the beaches with a force of a hundred thousand soldiers. Instead, you’re more like a small squad of Vietcong guerillas behind enemy lines, trying to complete an impossible mission using guile and your wits, the odds stacked against you. It’s risky, difficult, and dangerous. I can swear to it. I’ve been there.”
–from the prologue of True Indie.
Beginning with a middle school film called The Fish Movie, the author’s life was filled with dreams of filming Hollywood blockbusters. Borrowing money from his father at 18 to make his first feature film, Coscarelli sells it to Universal Studios for a cool quarter million dollars. Turning down a seven-year contract at Universal and previewing his first feature, Story of a Teenager, the same week as the blockbuster Jaws debuted brought his studio career to a swift end. He was 20 years old.
If you have any interest in film, this memoir is a fabulous backstage look at the process. It is also a great look at someone realizing his childhood dream. The writing style is excellent. It feels like your middle-aged neighbor is talking about his long-ago exploits. There are plenty of secrets from Coscarelli’s films. You can’t ask more from a Hollywood memoir than the story of a True Indie. 5 stars!
Now I just need to watch Phantasm again to truly appreciate the difficulties of filming on the down low with no budget. Okay, I’m back. The author was listed in the credits as the writer, director, cinematographer, and editor. His dad was the producer. Talk about True Indie! It was a much better experience watching the movie knowing some of the filming challenges. On to my favorite film by the author, John Dies at the End.
Thanks to St. Martin’s Press and NetGalley for an advance copy.
Posted in Non-fiction Tagged with: memoir, movies, Oct 2 2018
Who can forget the #1 villain in three seasons of the Apprentice? Omarosa really spills the t in Unhinged: An Insider’s Account of the Trump White House.
After a year serving in Trump’s White House, Omarosa is unceremoniously fired by Chief of Staff Kelly. Trump appears to know nothing about it. Trump’s family attempts to coerce Omarosa into not speaking out by offering her an equivalent annual salary of $150,000 for working on Trump’s reelection campaign. But they don’t know Omarosa!
Since Omarosa seemed anything but stupid in her Apprentice and Celebrity Apprentice appearances, it seems rather disingenuous of her to say she never noticed Trump’s racism or sexism. Her later assertation that she and Trump were using each other seems more accurate.
Some of the information here is shocking even to those inured by the unconventional Trump presidency. Drivers passing me on the freeway while I was listening to this book are excused from wondering about the crazy woman alternately laughing hysterically and screaming in astonishment at her car stereo.
I attempted to read the previous Trump tell all, The Fire and the Fury, earlier this year but it was a snoozefest. Unhinged: An Insider’s Account of the Trump White House is anything but. I listened to it at 1.5 speed because I just couldn’t wait for the next episode. Omarosa throws most of Trump’s family and close aides under the bus. Then backs up and runs over them again in true Suge Knight style. Here are just a few samples. Was there a missionary position component to Trump’s official spiritual advisor’s ministry with him? Is Kellyanne really not as dumb as she acts? Is Betsy Devos’ nickname Ditsy accurate because she is dumber than she acts (though that appears to be a pretty low bar)? Is Trump sliding into dementia? Does he go into day-long “nuclear” rages at perceived and actual slights? Are his early morning tweets just as much a surprise to his staff? Is Melania a great mother just waiting for the presidency to end to get a divorce? Is she using her clothing and body language to send a not-very-subtle signal to the Donald? All this and more are in Unhinged: An Insider’s Account of the Trump White House. Is it all true? Who knows, but I can guarantee that it is immensely entertaining! It is highly recommended for everyone who has wondered what life is, or could be, like in the Trump White House. 5 stars!
Posted in Non-fiction Tagged with: Aug 14 2018, memoir, Politics, tell-all
Multiple Eisner award winner Shannon Wheeler is not afraid to skewer everyone’s sacred goats from Trump to confederate flags in Memoirs of a Very Stable Genius.
Do Latin pigs speak Pig Latin? Would statues of bestiality be less controversial than confederate generals? How do angels describe their halos to get them back from Heaven’s Lost and Found Department?
Definitely not for children, Memoirs of a Very Stable Genius is consistently and irreverently funny. Some are one-page political cartoons. Others are multi-page short stories—some fiction and some seemingly true personal experiences of the author. About a third of the book is in color.
The book is dedicated to men with small packages and the author’s father. If that seems weird, this may not be the comic for you. It is funny and a good short read. 3 stars!
Thanks to the publisher, Image Comics, and Edelweiss+ for an advanced copy.
Posted in Mystery & Thrillers Tagged with: Jul 17 2018, memoir, Politics
Families are messed up. Even, maybe especially, famous ones.
The author of All the Answers is Michael Kupperman. He is a famous, Eisner Award-winning artist and writer. However, he continues to be haunted by his father’s aloof attitude toward him throughout his childhood and adolescence. The author believes that his father’s famous background as the longest running quiz kid may have mentally harmed his father from a young age.
Quiz Kids was a radio show during WWII and continued as a television show in the fifties. Joel Kupperman was the youngest quiz kid. He was a math wizard with a professed IQ of 200+. His mother was the stereotypical stage mother. She took him to nightclubs and together they hobnobbed with all the famous stars of the day (Milton Berle, Orson Welles, Rita Hayworth, Jack Benny, etc.).
All the Answers depicts the author’s perception of what happened to his father when suddenly thrust into fame. Unfortunately, his father never wanted to talk about his childhood and now cannot due to dementia. His grandmother’s scrapbooks provide some answers. But much of the book seems based more on speculation rather than fact. However, that is missing the point. The setting is Joel’s childhood but the mystery is how Michael will deal with his own unusual childhood. Will he become aloof with his own son or will he break the family dynamic?
All the Answers has a great plot that veers into many areas. It’s about families, fame’s costs, dementia, and child actor mental abuse. It is an extremely compelling read. I downloaded it and read it in one sitting. The art is fabulous.
I liked it more than Fun Home and could see other fans of that graphic novel also enjoying this one. Highly recommended. 5 stars!
Thanks to the publisher, Gallery 13, and NetGalley for an advanced copy.
Posted in Diane's Favorites, Graphic Novel, Non-fiction Tagged with: biography, May 15 2018, memoir
The Great American Outpost is a scattershot memoir of the North Dakota fracking oil boom and its impact on local residents.
In 2011, the first horizontal fracking oil well was drilled in North Dakota. What followed totally changed the laid back farming vibe of the state. Out-of-state workers flooded the area in search of unskilled and truck driving jobs paying upwards of $150,000 a year. Many were criminals, drunks and/or avoiding their child support orders. The jails were so full they had to take criminals to Montana to house them. With so many large trucks on the road, locals were dying regularly in traffic accidents. Enterprising locals upped their food prices over 100%. Housing was scarce. One English con man scammed international investors with a resident hotel Ponzi scheme.
While somewhat interesting, the Great American Outpost didn’t hold my interest throughout. It needed some editing to mine a coherent plot from its episodic stories of North Dakota’s oil rush. 3 stars.
Thanks to the publisher, Public Affairs/Perseus Books, and NetGalley for an advanced copy.
Posted in Non-fiction Tagged with: Apr 24 2018, memoir
Interesting, but pretentious, essays and memoirs about punk rock’s beginnings in England.
The essays here vary tremendously in readability and point of view. Quite a few emphasize the punk “scene” and how awesome it was for the writer to be a part of it. Others interpret punk as a reaction to glam (think New York Dolls and David Bowie in the late 70s). Some suggest the private school uniforms frequently worn by punk rockers at the time represent a rejection of the old fogies (30-year-olds) of 60s rock like the Rolling Stones.
Some of the ideas are good but a reader must wade through a lot of pretension to get to them. As a former punk rocker in 80s Los Angeles, I do recall that enthusiasm for making the music was more important than real talent for playing an instrument or singing. However, punk rockers were not pretentious at all. In fact, they were rebelling against the arrogant rich and those striving to be rich (like on the hit television shows of the time Dallas and Dynasty). The biggest negative for this collection is the absence of the music. Even the Sex Pistols, arguably the first punk rock band, were mentioned more for their appearance and lifestyle than their music.
I would recommend Punk is Dead more as a research source for a college class than for former punk rockers like myself. Sometimes it is best to leave the past in the past. 3 stars.
Thanks to the publisher, Zero Books, and NetGalley for an advanced review copy. Punk is Dead: Modernity Killed Every Night will be released October 27, 2017.
Posted in Non-fiction Tagged with: memoir, oct 27, punk rock
Heartfelt graphic memoir shares interesting insights about the trauma of having a sick child.
Spot 12 shares the author’s story of a child, Asa, who is born with trachea issues. It especially addresses the parents’ conflicting feelings when surgery may cause immediate pain to their child while only possibly providing long-term benefits. In the neonatal intensive care unit, no decisions are easily made. The struggle to protect a child that is fighting for its life so soon after birth is difficult for the strongest person. The author shares some of her own mental health issues resulting from the stress of the NICU. Included within this graphic memoir are illustrations that clearly show the feelings of the author. There is a comprehensive epilogue that continues the family’s story after its time in the neonatal unit.
Spot 12 makes the reader feel a part of the action rather than just an observer. It is a real page-turner as the reader rushes to discover the result of Asa’s stay in the neonatal intensive care unit.
Spot 12 is a great gift for any parent of a child going through health difficulties. It is also good for those readers who want to share someone else’s difficult life experiences. 3 stars.
I won this book in a Goodreads giveaway but that has not impacted my review.
Posted in Non-fiction Tagged with: memoir, premature birth
A heartfelt memoir of a powerful woman who was born a male.
Born into a physically and mentally abusive Catholic family in the late 1950s, Dennis always liked dresses and dolls. Despite his frequently drunk father’s beatings, Dennis grew up pursuing common Wisconsin hobbies like fishing and ice skating. But Dennis has a secret, he has always felt female. His clandestine wearing of female clothing and makeup during high school is eventually discovered forcing him to move to California after graduation. Dennis continues his downward spiral into sex, drugs and crime before finally realizing his dream of womanhood at age 50.
Self-Made Woman is an empowering tale of one person’s transformation. Not just from male to female but also from adolescent to adult.
Memoirs allow readers to view life through someone else’s eyes. There are few eyes as interesting as Ms. DuBois’. Self-Made Woman is recommended for those who have gender dysphoria and their loved ones. However, it is also an interesting read for anyone who wants to get out of their own skin for awhile.
Just a note, this book contains graphic sex and should only be read by 17+.
I received this book in a Goodreads giveaway but that has not impacted my review.
Posted in Non-fiction Tagged with: Lgbtqia, memoir, transgender