Book Review: The Valedictorian of Being Dead

The Valedictorian of Being Dead: The True Story of Dying Ten Times to LiveThe Valedictorian of Being Dead: The True Story of Dying Ten Times to Live by Heather B. Armstrong

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Holy cow. This book.

The Valedictorian of Being Dead is Heather Armstrong’s story of recovery and it’s powerful. She’s long been known as a “mommy blogger” over at Dooce and has shared her life with readers for years. However, following her divorce and bitter custody, Armstrong actively worked to keep her crippling depression secret from everyone but her mother. With nothing working and no other options, she decides to try an experimental treatment meant to reset her brain by nearly killing it.

The book is well written though conversational — think of it as an extended blog post. Armstrong is both poignant and hilarious and I found myself laughing out loud and openly sobbing over the course of the book. It’s a quick read and I finished it in just a few hours. The writing is very detailed and some readers might not understand why Armstrong writes about the sound of shoes on the floor or the overpowering feeling of exhaustion. It’s almost something one has to have lived to understand.

The Valedictorian of Being Dead hit closer to home than I anticipated. While I don’t suffer from clinical depression, I do suffer from chronic illness and I’ve been having more flare-ups since December 2018. I know what it’s like to look down the tunnel and there’s no light. I know what it’s like to wonder “Is this all there is?” I know what it feels like to want to be dead. I know all these things and my heart goes out to everyone who fights this battle Every. Damn. Day.

This is a fantastic book for family members who don’t understand but want to learn more about the struggle faced by those with mental or chronic illness. Bottom line — this is a good book. It’s an important book. It’s a must read from me.


Book Review: Sole Survivor

Sole Survivor: The Inspiring True Story of Coming Face to Face with the Infamous Railroad KillerSole Survivor: The Inspiring True Story of Coming Face to Face with the Infamous Railroad Killer by Holly Dunn

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

We continue our true crime streak today.

I first came across Holly Dunn’s story a few years ago on an episode of 48 Hours. I was floored by her resilience then and when I saw she was writing a book to commemorate the 20th anniversary of her survival, I knew I had to read it.

Dunn is the sole survivor of a terrible serial killer known as the Railroad Killer. Angel Maturino Resendiz is suspected of killed 23 people across the United States and Mexico over a 20 year period. Through luck and quick thinking Dunn was able to live through her terrible encounter with the Railroad Killer and she’s gone on to help countless survivors of rape and violence.

While Dunn’s story is incredible and moving, the book was a bit long and more conversational in tone than well written. Some have complained the book glosses over the aftermath of the attack, which is true. If you wanted a book solely focused on the crime, this is not for you. This book is about Dunn’s recovery, her faith in God, and her life now. There is a heavy religious element to this book and readers need to be aware that there is some witnessing happening.

Overall it was not a bad book. Holly Dunn is an inspiration and a powerful survivor and that is worth more than anything.

Book Review: One Dumb Guy

The Kids in the Hall: One Dumb GuyThe Kids in the Hall: One Dumb Guy by Paul Myers

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“Individually, I think we’re all very smart. Just together as a group, we’re really just one dumb guy”- Mark McKinney

This official biography of one of the most influential sketch comedy troupes of all time is fascinating and incredibly well written. Let’s be honest, biography/memoir isn’t a genre that everyone loves; it can be dry and lacking but The Kids in the Hall: One Dumb Guy by Paul Myers is a standout in its category.

Paul Myers delves deep into the history of the troupe starting with how Bruce McCulloch, Mark McKinney, Dave Foley, Kevin McDonald, and Scott Thompson were drawn to comedy as children and teens dealing with traumatic and difficult lives. From there, he take the reader through the KITH’s rise in Toronto’s comedy scene and how their eventual discovery lead to a TV show the likes no one had seen before.

Myers does not mince words — as a long time “member” of The KITH, he knows the ins and outs of their history. and is able to lead the reader through the good times and bad, up to the present day. The KITH are a testament to truly loving your craft, and your friends, even when you hate both.

What make this book great is that The KITH were extensively involved in the production, providing interviews and anecdotes that add to the authenticity. My copy was an ARC version and didn’t include photos, though I hope Myers adds some in the future as they would be fantastic throwbacks. This is a must read for any fan of The Kids in the Hall. I consider myself to be one of their biggest fans and even I learned some new stuff! Don’t miss this one!

*I received an advanced electronic copy of this book courtesy of NetGalley.*

Book Review: Beauty in the Broken Places

Beauty in the Broken Places: A Memoir of Love, Faith, and ResilienceBeauty in the Broken Places: A Memoir of Love, Faith, and Resilience by Allison Pataki

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was given an advanced copy of this book through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

It’s scary to think that every single person on this planet could suffer a traumatic brain injury that will irreparably alter their plans for the future. Most of us get lucky and never have to face this conundrum, but Allison and her husband Dave are not so fortunate. Dave suffers a terrible stroke deep in his brain and must re-learn how to be a person again and at the same time, Allison gives birth to their first child while raising her husband from his own infancy.

Pataki writes with so much emotion–I could feel her agonies, her frustrations, her joys. This book was an incredible work. Even though I am not religious, I honestly sat back and thought about Pataki’s deep faith in God and what I would do in such a situation. I realized that I would pray to every deity out there. No sense in not stacking the deck in our favor. I love a book that makes me re-evaluate my own beliefs and goals in life. Pataki’s Beauty in Broken Places did just that. Fantastic!

Book Review: The Neuroscientist Who Lost Her Mind

The Neuroscientist Who Lost Her Mind: My Tale of Madness and RecoveryThe Neuroscientist Who Lost Her Mind: My Tale of Madness and Recovery by Barbara K. Lipska

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As the step-parent of a child with mental illness, I’ve often wondered what is really going on in his head. Granted, he suffers from autism as well, but there was so much cross-over between Barbara Lipska’s experiences and what I see with my stepson. The idea that every human is just one unlucky event away from madness is terrifying, but Lipska presents her story brush with mental illness factually and scientifically in a way that only a scientist could. Despite the clinical nature of some passages, Lipska could be any of us, her family could be my own as we deal with the changes in one of our own, and the story it frighteningly relatable.

I highly recommend this book to anyone dealing with mental illness in their family. I’ve already recommended it to a friend whose mother has dementia. It is a powerful passage into the psyche of someone in the throes of brain disease and it is a view not often granted to those on the outside.