AJ Mendez Brooks: Crazy is My Superpower

Three-time WWE Diva’s Champion A.J. Brooks’ Crazy is My Superpower is a literary memoir chronicling her unlikely rise from 100-pound nerd growing up in extreme poverty and enduring years of abuse to international sex symbol and professional wrestling champion (known as A.J. Lee). A.J. fought against stereotypes, forced the men in her industry to view her with respect, and inspired a huge fan base of over 2 million Twitter followers with her fierce independent streak.

Let me start this review by telling you:  I know ZIP about professional wrestling. I have friends who set up a ring in the backyard and held their own faux championships, but outside of that and Dwayne The Rock Johnson…nope. Nothing. NA to the freaking DA.

What I’m trying to say is…if you’re looking for a review from a well educated wrestling fan, run in the other direction. That is not me.

But there was a nerdy girl in Chucks on the cover of this book talking about mental illness, and I’m all here for that.

Another thing I’m here for? AJ Mendez Brooks is a girl who gives ZERO fucks. And I do mean zero. She has been through hell a million times over and just doesn’t have time for people’s shit. She is going to conquer this world, whatever she puts her mind to–through poverty and a mega dysfunctional family and her own bipolar disorder. She’s just gonna do it. Also, she thinks abandoned dogs are the greatest thing since sliced bread and I am DEFINITELY here for that.

There are two things that gave me pause:

There is a lot of “I’m not like other girls, I’m just one of the guys” going on. I get it, you’re a TomBoy who wrestles on TV, wears sweats, and doesn’t brush your hair all the time…but sometimes it got a little superior in attitude. (Also she kept calling her sweats “asexual sweats,” and that’s just…asexuals can be fashionable too, you know?)

Also, if there is a negative or derogatory term for mental illness, she used it. I did hesitate when requesting this book–not because of my lack of wrestling knowledge, but because of the title. It’s a little off putting to me. However, like I said, she just gives zero fucks. And in the end, she tells us why she uses the word ‘crazy’ so much. For her, the only way to reduce the stigma surrounding the word is to reclaim it.

I think AJ could probably eat me for breakfast and move on. I absolutely admire her strength of character. I don’t agree with everything she said in her memoir, but her quirky writing style had me entertained right up until the end. I loved her diary entries that were interspersed between the chapters, and the drawings (I think by her brother Robbie) were kick ass. If you’re a wrestling fan, comic book fan, or just general all around nerd, I think you’ll like this memoir.

Blogging for Books and Crown Publishing provided a copy of this book for unbiased review.

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Mental Illness Awareness Week 2016 #MIAW

I saw this video on Facebook this morning, and shared it with the following post. I’ve been trying to think of what to post today, and I think this is exactly how I need to kick this week off. Thank you, Neil. You’re an inspiration to us all.

This poem will make you laugh. It will make you sob. You might think “Wow! This guy is NUTS!”

Neil Hilborn has a bunch of these kinds of videos out, I encourage you to go watch them. He’s brilliant. And devastatingly sick. People with mental illness struggle every day with the things Neil talks about in this poem. It may be humorous, but it isn’t a joke. This is real life.

This is Mental Illness Awareness Week. Take some time to listen to people’s stories, like Neil’s. Tell yours, if you have one. Do some research, donate to organizations like NAMI, if you can. They are fighting for bills in Congress to help us get better health care for the mentally ill.

But most of all, instead of thinking “Wow! This guy is NUTS!” Try and think, “Wow, this guy is so brave! He has been to the edge again and again and again and he still can see colors. He still has hope.”

Help us reduce the stigma behind mental illness. Replace it with hope, and love, and the courage to keep fighting.

Thank you.


If you need help, please reach out to one of the following numbers. Or, for people like myself who have trouble calling, there is also a suicide prevention chat now.

http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/gethelp/lifelinechat.aspx

 

Wishful Drinking

In Wishful Drinking, Carrie Fisher tells the true and intoxicating story of her life with inimitable wit. Born to celebrity parents, she was picked to play a princess in a little movie called Star Wars when only 19 years old. “But it isn’t all sweetness and light sabres.” Alas, aside from a demanding career and her role as a single mother (not to mention the hyperspace hairdo), Carrie also spends her free time battling addiction, weathering the wild ride of manic depression and lounging around various mental institutions. It’s an incredible tale – from having Elizabeth Taylor as a stepmother, to marrying (and divorcing) Paul Simon, from having the father of her daughter leave her for a man, to ultimately waking up one morning and finding a friend dead beside her in bed.

You guys. Carrie Fisher is fucking HILARIOUS.

I’ve seen her interviews here and there, and I follow her on Twitter so I’m aware of her general snarkiness. But Wishful Drinking goes so far beyond that. Fisher’s rambling, barely-there train of thought is so rarely serious that it is hard to imagine her the same stoic Princess General from Star Wars.

Her memoirs are short–I finished them in just a few hours. But they are filled with funny anecdotes from her childhood as the daughter of two fabulously famous Hollywood icons. Then, as she grew older, her mental illness kicked in and her life mixed between stardom and addiction.

This is a must read for fans of Star Wars, those sharing similar brain pain as your own, or just goddamn incredible women. Most of us don’t know much about Carrie Fisher outside of those dual buns and blaster, and that really should change. She is so much more than that.

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MYSELF

MYSELF

You were holding something of mine,
Something in a closed, grey box,
And I couldn’t see what was inside until
I took it from you and
Laid it on the table.

The light from the window
Illuminated the box on the
Dark wood table–

I opened the lid.
I saw the child.
Burned.
A baby, as long as the inside of the box–
Crisp, dead, like petrified wood.

I didn’t want to believe.

I didn’t want to take the lid all the way off
And I didn’t want to touch the baby
And I didn’t know how to look at her.
But I didn’t want to give her away.

I handed the baby to
My father
And knew the lid needed to stay on.
He mustn’t see it–
This burned child;
He would only turn away in disgust.

I didn’t want him to be ashamed
Of me,
So I took it back.
I took her away from him
Because he really didn’t want her anyway.

I blew a small patch of skin onto her face,
And another by her ear,
Near the jawbone.
And I covered her body with a soft blanket.
A grey-blue blanket.

I picked her up
Out of the box,
Inside the blanket,
So I didn’t have to touch her burned skin
And I held her
And I knew I didn’t want you to have her, either.

I knew you wouldn’t know what to do with her.
You made sure she remained burned.
I made sure you kept her like petrified wood.

Where else could she go?
If she wasn’t burned,
If you didn’t hold her,
If the lid didn’t stay on the box,
If you didn’t keep her burned body inside the box
Where could she go?

Would it be all right if I held her?
Would the two of us have to remain alone
Forever?

What else,
My husbands,
My lovers,
What else can I give you
Besides custody of my burned self?

–Jessie Close, “MYSELF,” From Resilience:  Two Sisters and a Story of Mental Illness

Resilience: Two Sisters and a Story of Mental Illness

The Close sisters are descended from very prominent and wealthy ancestors. When the Close sisters were very young, their parents joined a cult called the MRA, or Moral Rearmament. The family was suddenly uprooted to a cult school in Switzerland and, ultimately, to the Belgian Congo where their father became a surgeon in the war ravaged republic, and ultimately the personal physician to President Mobutu. Shortly after the girls returned to the US for boarding school, Jessie first started to exhibit symptoms of severe bipolar disorder (she would later learn that this ran in the family, a well-kept secret). Jessie embarked on a series of destructive marriages as the condition worsened. Glenn was always by her side throughout. Jessie’s mental illness was passed on to her son, Calen. It wasn’t until Calen entered McLean’s psychiatric hospital that Jessie herself was diagnosed. Fifteen years and twelve years of sobriety later, Jessie is a stable and productive member of society. Glenn continues to be the major support in Jessie’s life.

In RESILIENCE, the sisters share their story of triumphing over Jessie’s illness. The book is written in Jessie’s voice with running commentary and an epilogue written by Glenn.

I am of two opinions on Resilience. Jessie Close shares an incredibly personal journey of her battle with rapid-cycling bipolar disorder. She also shares the alcoholism, self-destruction, and many marriages that came out of her periods of mania. Her son also suffers from a terrifying mental illness. The struggles in this book are enormous, and I applaud her fight and bravery for sharing such an intensely personal story.

However, this is not a well written memoir. It pains me to be critical of such a narrative, but from a review standpoint, it just doesn’t measure up to others I have read in this genre. The same sentences were often repeated twice, and the wording was often awkward. It is always frustrating to have such a mismatch between strong content and poor writing, especially in a book fighting to bring light to such an important subject.

I think the content wins out though. Glenn and Jessie are fighting to bring awareness and education to people and reduce society’s stigma through their organization Bring Change 2 Mind. Check them out this week for Mental Health Month!

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He Wanted the Moon

Texas-born and Harvard-educated, Dr. Perry Baird was a rising medical star in the late 1920s and 1930s. Early in his career, ahead of his time, he grew fascinated with identifying the biochemical root of manic depression, just as he began to suffer from it himself. By the time the results of his groundbreaking experiments were published, Dr. Baird had been institutionalized multiple times, his medical license revoked, and his wife and daughters estranged. He later received a lobotomy and died from a consequent seizure, his research incomplete, his achievements unrecognized.

Baird’s daughter, Mimi grew up mostly not knowing her father, as he was hospitalized when she was young. Fifty years later, a family member sent his manuscript and she knew his story must be told.

He Wanted the Moon is half Dr. Perry’s story, part Mimi’s. She bookends Perry’s manuscript with details of her life and the part he plays, but the most interesting part is definitely the manic genius that is Perry Baird. As he cycles into his own horrifying madness, he strives desperately to find a cure.

Up to this point, I’ve read mostly about the depressive side of bipolar disorder. I’ve never seen such an intense form of mania. This will be shocking to some of you–it shocked me! It’s part scary, part fascinating. He Wanted the Moon has been optioned for a movie with Brad Pitt, and I’m really looking forward to seeing how this is portrayed. Hopefully, the director and actors really study and respect those with mental illness–it has the potential to be a really great movie if they do!

This is another great brain geek book, but it’s also just a really great story. Kind of an adult Flowers for Algernon in reverse. The more Dr. Baird’s brain deteriorates, so his writing goes too, and it becomes harder to believe what you read. The study is both fascinating and sad, and it’s impossible not to feel for everyone involved.

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Blogging for Books provided this book for an unbiased review.

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Liar

I.

Am.

Shaking.

My goodness, was I even paying attention when I requested NetGalley ARCs for February? Two intensely emotional books due out on the same day?! What was I even THINKING?!

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Liar might be the most painful book I read all year, and it’s only the second month. Just…whoa. I don’t like trigger warning-ing (?) things unless they really merit them, but the publisher should just stamp TW in big red letters all over the cover. Guys, this book is no joke. Handle with care.

In his memoir Liar, Rob Roberge paints an extremely vivid picture of bipolar disorder and addiction. He uses the pronoun YOU, instead of writing in first or third person, to really get under the reader’s skin. You feel every single psychotic episode, every concussion, every cut, every manic moment. Also pay close attention to the dates. Every paragraph or section changes, further increasing the mania. One moment you might be in 1997, then 1912 rescuing dogs from the Titanic wreckage, then 2008, then 1972. This all happens within 2 pages. There are also subtle arrows pointing at famous suicides, and not so famous suicides, references to CTE, people with seizures, and drug addiction–all things point back to Rob’s all consuming disorder.

And it is disorder. This book held me in my own mania, and I’m serious when I tell you that this book is triggering. If you read it, find a way to cope with it. For me, it meant having my Invasive Thoughts Journal nearby, so I could purge those thoughts that were actually Rob from my mind.

I suppose this review comes off as negative, to anyone who doesn’t know how much I love getting inside people’s brains, but Liar is a work of shattered genius, and one I didn’t want to end for the sole purpose to keep Rob alive. Because to keep writing, he had to keep living, right? Let’s hope that Rob Roberge has several more books to go.

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NetGalley provided this ARC for an unbiased review. Also received book copy in Goodreads contest. Releases February 9. 

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All the Bright Places

I have to be honest with you, #ReadForMentalHealth is not an easy event to participate in. I hope all of you reading along with us are taking care of yourselves. Make sure to give your brain plenty of breaks, and don’t be afraid to walk away from a book if it is too triggering.

Yesterday’s choice, Wintergirls, was a race to the climax. How high can we go on the stress level? Today I chose a much different animal.

I wouldn’t say All the Bright Places is anti-stress. Because it definitely isn’t. It can be very triggering at times, so you need to be warned about that. But Jennifer Niven’s book is more like a gender-swapped manic-pixie-dream-girl story (except you still have the boy crushing on/trying to conquer the popular unattainable girl).

One thing this book DOES do well is show depression in two very different ways:  the constant, cyclical manic vs depressive bipolar type that Fitch has fought his whole life–giving him his warrior/rebel personality; and then the tragedy-fueled Violet, who doesn’t know what to do with all this pain suddenly weighing her down.

This sounds like a combination destined for disaster, but they pull each other…literally…off the ledge. How long is this kind of relationship sustainable, though? I questioned it through the entire book. Depression can be magnetic at times in relationships, but it isn’t always healthy, and it can be super dangerous. I definitely had on my adult pants for a lot of the book, and was very much concerned about both kids throughout the whole thing.

I might have liked All the Bright Places better if I hadn’t just read Wintergirls, but I couldn’t help comparing the two…and ALBP just couldn’t match up. Also…it really just felt like a gender-swapped Paper Towns set in Indiana (and they HATED on my home state the ENTIRE time), so it just fell a little flat. The concept is there, but it almost felt like she was just giving us textbook mental illnesses instead of really making them people, if that makes any sense. This book didn’t give me FEELS…and it should have.

Two Book Dragons.

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The Innocent Man

My husband has about a bazillion John Grisham books, so they make their way into my TBR list every now and then. I had expected fiction when The Innocent Man appeared next on the list, but nope. This was nonfiction.

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And the fact that this is a true story just royally pisses me off.

This is a story about two men, actually, who were tried AND CONVICTED, for a murder they did not commit. One was sentenced to life in prison, and the other, a man who was severely mentally ill, sentenced to the death penalty.

That’s horrible in itself, but that’s not even what made me so angry. Just the horrendous treatment of Ron, the abuse, the neglect. All of it. You have this bipolar, schizophrenic man in need of daily monitoring and he is repeatedly left to his own devices and constantly broken down and ridiculed. Grisham points out in almost every chapter where Ron will stop taking his medicine because he’s depressed or doesn’t understand what the medicine does (which is a symptom of his disease). And then he was in prison, the absolute abuse from the guards who knew how to push his buttons and make him collapse into a psychotic mess. Ugh. I just wanted to scream for someone to help him.

As far as writing style goes, I wasn’t a big fan. This was very reportish, not so much a story. There wasn’t much dialogue or live action, it was all very journalistic. Obviously I had very strong opinions about what I was reading, but it was a very boring read really. Also, Grisham kept going off on tangents about other cases and people out of nowhere. Unless you have a strong law background, those aren’t going to make a lot of sense.

This is probably a 2 star book for me. I have strong feelings about Ron for a few different reasons, but I didn’t really enjoy the book itself at all.