Book Review: When Breath Becomes Air


When Breath Becomes Air

Paul Kalanithi

Random House

208 pages

There are always those books that are like a punch to the gut. The kind of book that resonates with you and sticks with you for a long time to come. This is one of those books.

Paul Kalanithi led an extraordinary life. At 36 years old, he was at the prime of his life. 10 years of non stop work to become a neurosurgeon was about to pay off when Kalanithi was plagued with debilitating back pain. He feared the worst but knew that the odds were in his favor. A terminal cancer diagnosis at 36 is almost unheard of. And yet, that’s exactly what it was. Stage IV lung cancer.

I loved how open and honest Kalanithi was. He shared the struggles he went through with his wife and how his marriage suffered initially, only to be strengthened by his battle with cancer. He shared the painful decisions he had to make about his life. How unbearable it is to go from having a life mapped out before you and then realizing that your time here is much shorter than you initially thought. Kalanithi and his wife Lucy had always planned on having children. Immediately, they were faced with the realization that it would be now or never. And then the question of his life’s work as a neurosurgeon. How can you give up on a career you’ve been building for over a decade? On the other hand, how can you spend what precious time you have left devoting your time and energy to such a demanding career?


When Breath Becomes Air had such a huge impact on me in a way I can’t really describe. I felt like I really got to know Kalanithi through his struggles and I really cared for him and grieved for him as well as his family. I was left with the feeling that the worl truly lost someone special. I loved this book in the sense that it really meant something to me, but I can only handle a book like this  every once in awhile.

Book Review: Dark Matter


Dark Matter

Blake Crouch


342 pages

If I were to say just one thing about this book, it is that it is a total MIND F**K. Which if you’ve heard even one thing about this book, then your probably already know. But trust me, it’s just one of those books that messes with you and then seeps into your life so you keep thinking about it.

I think this is the type of book that is good to begin without knowing too much, but for those of you that want to read an actual review, I’ll go ahead with it (but really, my recommendation is to just skip this review and go grab this book).

Jason Dessen is your typical middle age guy. He has a wife and child at home. He works as a college professor and when he’s not working, he’s doing just what you’d imagine–spending time with his family, having a quick drink at the local bar. Nothing too exciting but he’s happy. He had every intention of being someone important in the science field but his girlfriend got pregnant unexpectedly and now, years later, he and that girlfriend are happily married with a teenager.

But what would have happened if Jason had realized his dreams and had a big break through? Jason doesn’t know it, but apparently that’s what has happened, but in a parallel universe. And that’s where I end my synopsis, mostly because I could never articulate the actual premise of this book in a way that makes sense, but also because you just have to read it.

I read this book on a weekend getaway (it was actually a bachelorette party wherein I was away with my sisters and 11 other women. Yes, I am the stick in the mud that would prefer to spend a bachelorette party reading. Ha!). it was the perfect choice for a weekend read because it had me totally rapt. One of my sisters had already read it, so we had a great time discussing it and wondering how every single choice we made had been a different choice in our parallel worlds. And even now, a month later, I still find myself wondering about all of the other Mes out there.

If you’ve also read Dark Matter, I’d love to hear your thoughts on it. I hear it has been optioned for a movie.

Book Review: The Wangs vs. the World


The Wangs vs. the World

Jade Chang

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

368 pages

Charles Wang emigrated to the US as a young man and became a mogul in the cosmetics industry. Now, decades later, his business has come crashing down around him and his wealth has suddenly vanished. He is now forced to withdraw his teenage children Grace and Andrew from school and they, along with stepmother Barbra, embark on a cross county road trip to New York, where eldest daughter Saina lives.

This is a story written tongue in cheek, with a lot of humor. Those of you who follow me on Litsy (reviewsbylola) may even remember me posting about an infamous incident wherein the son Andrew is caught masturbating with ketchup packets. I mean, I seriously was dying during that part. There were other parts as well where I was laughing out loud. It’s that kind of book.

However, on the flip side, The Wangs also had a tendency to really drag at times. I think I would have been better served if I read a physical copy instead of an ebook, just because of my own personal idiosyncrasies and preferences, but to be honest, by the end of the books I was sick of their antics.

Another issue for me that ties in with my initial problem outlined above was that the characters weren’t as well drawn out as they could have been. I had a difficult time connecting with them because they just didn’t seem real to me, so I started to withdraw from the book. I would love to see where Jade Chang goes from here though. This is her debut novel and I think she has a lot to offer.

Also, as an aside, A+ on the cover!

Book Review: Behold the Dreamers


Behold the Dreamers

Imbolo Mbue

Random House

380 pages

Buzzfeed has dubbed it one of the “Incredible New Books You Need to Read This Summer.” Big shoes to fill, right? Behold the Dreamers is the story of Jende Jonga, an immigrant from Cameroon who is in the US with his wife Neni and their son. Jende and Neni struggle to build a life for themselves in New York City while also dealing with the scary reality of being deported back to Cameroon. Jende’s visa is expiring and he must wage a legal battle in order to stay in the U.S.

The year is 2007 and Jende gets a job working as a chauffeur for Clark Edwards, a bigwig at Lehman Brothers who lives the American Dream with his wife Cindy and their two sons. As Jende’s employment stretches in to months, the relationship he forms with the Edwards family becomes less defined.

Behold the Dreamers was one of those books that gave me endless questions to think about (PERFECT BOOK CLUB BOOK). I finished it a month ago and I have so many unresolved feelings. I usually have pretty clear cut feelings when it comes to the characters I read about, but the way these characters were fleshed out was so flawed and so real, that I find myself desperately pondering their motives. I feel almost unable to judge any of them. They all made horrible, disgusting decisions at times (some of these decisions were much worse than others) but I could see their motivations and understand them in a way that made me more forgiving.

I absolutely loved this book, and will definitely count it among my favorites of 2016. The themes and characters are so relevant to today’s society.


Book Review: My Dark Places


My Dark Places

James Ellroy

Random House Value Publishing

427 pages

James Ellroy was just a young boy in 1958 when his mother Jean was brutally murdered. Living in California at the time, James came home from weekend visitation with his father to find the cottage her and his mother shared swarming with police. From then on, James’s life was completely changed.

Having dealt with his parents’ bitter divorce, Ellroy explores in his memoir how the murder of his mother changed his perception of her over the years. At first, he seemed pleased to have her out of the way. His father held an unmasked contempt and hatred for his mother, so Ellroy no longer was forced to choose sides and could live happily ever after with his father. He realized pretty quickly though that maybe life with dad wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.

Ellroy struggled to find his place in the world, and the backdrop of his anger and lack of ambition was the death of his mother. As he finally found his place in the world, his career as an author began to take root, and he found himself feeling more empathy for the woman he hadn’t seen since he was 10 years old.

Eventually, Ellroy hooks up with the detective working Jean’s murder as a cold case, and the two strive to uncover what happened to her all those decades earlier. I won’t spoil it for you by letting you know whether they were successful, but it was great following their investigation.


I loved certain elements of this book. Ellroy was a huge fan of crime pulp fiction in the ’50s, and he used a lot of the jargon to really set the scene in that manner. I really loved that aspect and thought it was fresh and fun.

That being said, at over 400 pages I really felt this book could be edited to almost half that length. It started to feel never ending and I lost steam. On the flip side, I loved the combination of memoir and true crime. It worked really well, and Ellroy was able to break down the facts before interjecting his own thoughts and feelings into the narrative.

Book Review: All the Ugly and Wonderful Things


All the Ugly and Wonderful Things

Brynn Greenwood

Thomas Dunne Books

352 pages

This was touted as a “meth lab romance” when it was chosen as an August BOTM pick, and that’s really what drew me in–

Wavy is a young girl living with two abusive, good for nothing, drug addicted parents. She is often neglected and left to her own devices, and is befriended by an adult man Kellen, who works as a drug runner for Wavy’s father.

Wavy is very introverted, to the point where she doesn’t even talk. She is obviously a very intelligent girl, but people don’t know what to make of her. Over the years, as Kellen becomes her rock and the one person she knows she can rely on, Wavy slowly emerges from herself and finds her footing in the world.

Meanwhile, you still have the very seedy setting of a trailer compound where everyone fawns over Wavy’s father. No one seems at all fazed that Kellen is spending such an inordinate amount of time with a minor child, driving her around on his motorcycle and showing up at her house at all hours. It sounds creepy as hell I’m sure, and yet I found myself rooting for Wavy and Kellen.

All the Ugly and Wonderful Things spans over ten years, starting when Wavy was 8. {SPOILERS} And as time wore on and Wavy’s relationship with Kellen turned sexual, it almost seemed natural. And their relationship certainly didn’t feel sinister or wrong. And I began to wonder wtf was wrong with me that I wasn’t totally disgusted by their relationship.

I read some other reviews and chatter about this book as I finished it because I wanted to know whether I was alone in my feelings or not and I was relieved to see that I wasn’t. That was part of the reason I loved this book. It was one of those books that turned all my preconceived notions on their head and made me question how I truly felt. And it showed me that maybe everything isn’t as black and white as it appears. And I am still uncomfortable with how I feel.

I have to give a huge shout out to Book of the Month Club. I absolutely never would have chosen this book on my own. When it showed up as an August selection, I dismissed it straight off. And then I did a little digging, read some good reviews, went back and read the description multiple times, and ultimately decided to give it a shot. If you haven’t checked out BOTM yet, it is one of my favorite things ever. Check it out here.

If you’ve read All the Ugly and Wonderful Things, please share what your thoughts are!


Book Review: The Michigan Murders



The Michigan Murders

Edward Keyes

Open Road Integrated Media

Ypsilanti Michigan, 1960s. A serial killer began to target young girls in a college town. Reminiscent of something along the lines of Ted Bundy, the young coeds were all discovered dead after seemingly disappearing into thin air.

There were several factors of this story that drew me in and made it more than your typical true crime fare.

First off, the setting was intriguing to me. College campuses during the 1960s had become very liberating places. This was right before tides started to turn, before crimes like that of the Manson family made people become wary. The climate was one of safety and trust, and more than one victim was killed after hitchhiking with her killer, despite not knowing them at all.

MINOR SPOILER: Another interesting avenue was the killer himself. The fact that he ended up being more clean cut is what reminded me of Ted Bundy, and that drew my interest. It is frightening when you think that one of your own peers could brutalize you in such a way. I think we all expect cold blooded killers to look and act the part, and that wasn’t the case with this group of murders.

As far as true crime goes, The Michigan Murders wasn’t anything especially innovative or new, but it was well written and kept my attention. I read it after reading Maggie Nelson’s memoir The Red Parts, about the trial of her aunt Jane Mixer’s killer. Jane was originally included on the list of victims known as the Michigan Murders, and this book was originally published long before her true killer was discovered. The two books make great companion pieces.


I had two minor quibbles with The Michigan Murders. The first was that everyone in the book, including the victims and the killer, were given pseudonyms. I am not sure why that was done, as I have read a good amount of true crime and can’t think of any other true crime book where unilaterally all names were changed. It’s a minor issue, but I like to look up the various people on Google as I read to get a good visual in my mind (this book had no accompanying photos), so that made it more difficult and forced me to do a bit more research.

I also wish that the current published had added an update or epilogue (other editions may include a recent epilogue, I’m not sure). This book was originally published almost 40 years ago and no update has been written since the original publication. It would have been interesting to know what was going on with the victim’s families and the killer, not to mention the Jane Mixer angle could have been discussed.

Overall, if you are a fan of true crime, this is a solid read.

I received an egalley of this book in exchange for an honest review.