Category Archives: Nonfiction

Books To Watch For In 2015: An Overview

This is the second year of Books to Watch For!  I got this idea after my friend Kathy started doing this last year (yes, I basically stole it—but with permission!).  You should stop by her site and see what she’s excited for, too.

This year, I also got incredibly ambitious.  I talked to many of my favorite authors to see (a) what they have planned for next year and (b) the books that they’re looking forward to.

As a reminder, each book is featured over the course of two days.  The first day is a synopsis and explanation for why I’m excited (although most of the time, it’s probably fairly self-evident—because, when Sara Blaedel, for example, releases a new book, I’m excited) and the second day is an interview.

Even more exciting, several of my favorites are releasing two books next year! It’s going to be a good year for people who are book-greedy like I am.

There are some amazing books ahead, so please let me know what you’re looking forward to.

 

Small Victories

Finished Small Victories by Anne Lamott.

Summary (from Goodreads):

From the bestselling author of Stitches and Help, Thanks, Wow comes her long-awaited collection of new and selected essays on hope, joy, and grace.

Anne Lamott writes about faith, family, and community in essays that are both wise and irreverent. It’s an approach that has become her trademark. Now in Small Victories, Lamott offers a new message of hope that celebrates the triumph of light over the darkness in our lives. Our victories over hardship and pain may seem small, she writes, but they change us—our perceptions, our perspectives, and our lives. Lamott writes of forgiveness, restoration, and transformation, how we can turn toward love even in the most hopeless situations, how we find the joy in getting lost and our amazement in finally being found.

Profound and hilarious, honest and unexpected, the stories in Small Victories are proof that the human spirit is irrepressible.”

I am a huge fan of Anne Lamott.  There are a ton of reasons for this, but they can generally be boiled down to this: she makes me want to be a better person (especially a kinder person) and she makes me feel like it’s incredibly possible for that to happen.

She’s very open about the fact that she’s not always a kind person herself, but she continually strives to do better (and from where I sit, it seems like she’s succeeded).

I’m loving her recent books, all slim volumes on faith (this is the third; it started with Help, Thanks, Wow, which I cannot recommend hard enough).

These are books for people who are a little leery of Christianity and who think that maybe every Christian is only a little bit kinder than the Westboro Baptist people.  They make me smile and cry and have faith that maybe at some point we’ll start to get it right.  And that maybe if the human race as a whole gets it right, we as individuals can, too.

Highly recommended.

Tiny Beautiful Things

Finished Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed.

Summary (from Goodreads):

Life can be hard: your lover cheats on you; you lose a family member; you can’t pay the bills—and it can be great: you’ve had the hottest sex of your life; you get that plum job; you muster the courage to write your novel. Sugar—the once-anonymous online columnist at The Rumpus, now revealed as Cheryl Strayed, author of the bestselling memoir Wild—is the person thousands turn to for advice.

Tiny Beautiful Things brings the best of Dear Sugar in one place and includes never-before-published columns and a new introduction by Steve Almond.  Rich with humor, insight, compassion—and absolute honesty—this book is a balm for everything life throws our way.

As you know, I don’t read very much nonfiction and I don’t read books that tend toward self-help at all—I’m not sure if you can count a collection of advice columns as self-help, but if you can, know that I generally don’t read them.  But a friend suggested I read this, and as it is a friend whose literary taste I trust, I thought, well, fine.

And then I started reading this.  Holy crap, you guys.  THIS BOOK.

Even if the questions didn’t apply to me, odds were that the answer would in some ways.  Her answers were always full of love and honesty and compassion.  She’s basically the kind of person I would like to be friends with.  (As I said on Facebook, I would pay good money to get periodic emails of advice and assurances that things would work out.  And, as she said in a column after I posted that—and I’m paraphrasing—chances are that things will end up all right because we pretty much all end up all right in the end anyway.)

Odds are really high that this book is going to become a Christmas present for a lot of people.

Highly recommended.

Alice and Freda Forever

Finished Alice and Freda Forever by Alexis Coe.  I received a copy from the publisher.

Summary (from Goodreads):

In 1892, America was obsessed with a teenage murderess, but it wasn’t her crime that shocked the nation—it was her motivation. Nineteen-year-old Alice Mitchell had planned to pass as a man in order to marry her seventeen-year-old fiancée Freda Ward, but when their love letters were discovered, they were forbidden from ever speaking again.

Freda adjusted to this fate with an ease that stunned a heartbroken Alice. Her desperation grew with each unanswered letter—and her father’s razor soon went missing. On January 25, Alice publicly slashed her ex-fiancée’s throat. Her same-sex love was deemed insane by her father that very night, and medical experts agreed: This was a dangerous and incurable perversion. As the courtroom was expanded to accommodate national interest, Alice spent months in jail—including the night that three of her fellow prisoners were lynched (an event which captured the attention of journalist and civil rights activist Ida B. Wells). After a jury of “the finest men in Memphis” declared Alice insane, she was remanded to an asylum, where she died under mysterious circumstances just a few years later.

Alice + Freda Forever recounts this tragic, real-life love story with over 100 illustrated love letters, maps, artifacts, historical documents, newspaper articles, courtroom proceedings, and intimate, domestic scenes—painting a vivid picture of a sadly familiar world.”

This book is absolutely heartbreaking.  It’s based on a true story, but one that I had never heard.

In the late 1800s, two women were in love.  Or at least one of them was.  And they were engaged to be married.  Except it was the late 1800s and they were two women.  So things didn’t go well when their families found out and they stopped talking, as their families demanded.  And then one of them ended up dead by the other one’s hand.

There are about a billion different ways this all could have been prevented, not the least of which is by one person (really, almost anyone who knew them) being aware of just how deep their friendship was and how unhinged Alice was at being denied access to Freda and stepping in to keep them separated.

While Alice’s story breaks my heart, she is not the hero of this story.  This story doesn’t have a hero but it has a ton of victims.

This book is so compelling and, while it’s incredibly short, it made me feel like I knew Alice and Freda.  A lot of research was obviously done, and it helps that things were included (love letters, court documents, etc).

This is an amazing book.  Highly recommended.

Bogeyman

Finished Bogeyman by Steve Jackson.  I received a copy for review from the author.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“A WildBlue Press original true crime story from the New York Times bestselling author of MONSTER and NO STONE UNTURNED, describing in dramatic detail and with heart-rending poignancy the efforts of tenacious Texas lawmen to solve the cold case murders of three little girls and hold their killer accountable for his horrific crimes.

As you know, I don’t read very much nonfiction.  This book makes me want to change that.

Before reading this, I hadn’t heard anything about David Penton, who is the titular Bogeyman.  I feel like now I know almost too much.  I don’t want to get melodramatic, but he’s one of those people who is just pure evil.

You should know that bad things happen throughout the course of the book but that Steve Jackson doesn’t really go into detail.  I mean, you know what happens, but it’s not gone into in lurid detail.

It’s obvious that Steve Jackson did a great deal of research into this, and that he talked to a lot of people.  While it seems that we hear about things mainly from the police officers’ perspective, we also hear from the victims’ parents and from a few people who had seen Penton and were nearly abducted but got away.  (Unfortunately, there aren’t many of them; he was able to take almost every child he came across.)

This book is not for the easily disturbed, but I found it fascinating.  Also, given all the smears that police officers are facing now, it was nice to read about these officers who went through so much to find this man who was preying on and killing children.  There were a lot of repercussions for them—mainly emotionally, although some marriages suffered as well—and they just would not stop until he was found, apprehended, tried and jailed.

Highly recommended.

Poll

I feel like I always complain about having too many amazing books and not enough time, and yet I keep acquiring more.  (Book blogger problems!)

So here are some of the books I have but haven’t read.  Which ones should I move up?  Which ones can wait a bit?

NONFICTION:

1)  Books, Movies, Rhythm, Blues by Nick Hornby

2)  Young Money by Kevin Roose

3)  Carsick by John Waters

4)  The Opposite of Loneliness by Marina Keegan

5)  A Year and Six Seconds by Isabel Gillies

ADULT:

1)  All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

2)  Never Tell by Alafair Burke

3)  The Divorce Papers by Susan Rieger

4)  Brutal Youth by Anthony Breznican

5)  The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult

NA:

1)  The First Comes Love trilogy by Katie Kacvinsky

2)  Caught Up in Her by Lauren Blakely

3)  Frenched by Melanie Harlow (a recommendation from a friend)

4)  Maybe Someday by Colleen Hoover

5)  The Marked Men series by Jay Crownover

YA:

1)  Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley

2)  The Vigilante Poets of Selwyn Academy by Kate Hattemer

3)  The His Fair Assassins trilogy by Robin LaFevers

4)  Every Day by David Levithan

5)  The Vanishing Season by Jodi Lynn Anderson

MG:

1)  Ida B by Katherine Hannigan

2)  Escape from Mr. Limoncello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein

3)  Counting by Sevens by Holly Goldberg Sloan

4)  Under the Egg by Laura Marx Fitzgerald

5)  May B by Caroline Starr Rose

I Said Yes To Everything

Finished I Said Yes To Everything by Lee Grant.  I received a copy from the publisher.

Summary (from Goodreads):

Born Lyova Haskell Rosenthal in New York City, actress Lee Grant spent her youth accumulating more experiences than most people have in a lifetime: from student at the famed Neighborhood Playhouse to member of the leg­endary Actors Studio; from celebrated Broadway star to Vogue “It Girl.” At age twenty-four, she was nominated for an Academy Award for Detective Story, and a year later found herself married and a mother for the first time, her career on the rise.

And then she lost it all.

Her name landed on the Hollywood black­list, her offers for film and television roles ground to a halt, and her marriage fell apart.

Finding reserves of strength she didn’t know she had, Grant took action against anti-Communist witch hunts in the arts. She threw herself into work, accepting every theater or teaching job that came her way. She met a man ten years her junior and began a wild, liberat­ing fling that she never expected would last a lifetime. And after twelve years of fighting the blacklist, she was finally exonerated. With cour­age and style, Grant rebuilt her life on her own terms: first stop, a starring role on Peyton Place, and then leads in Valley of the Dolls, In the Heat of the Night, and Shampoo, for which she won her first Oscar.

Set amid the New York theater scene of the fifties and the star-studded parties of Malibu in the seventies, I Said Yes to Everything evokes a world of political passion and movie-star glamour. Grant tells endlessly delightful tales of costars and friends such as Warren Beatty, Elizabeth Taylor, Grace Kelly, and Sidney Poitier, and writes with the verve and candor befitting such a seductive and beloved star.“

This book is absolutely captivating.  I haven’t seen very many of Lee Grant’s movies (although I’ve seen a few and plan to see more) but you don’t need to to appreciate this book or its stories.

After reading this, I get the feeling that Lee Grant would be a fantastic person to be friends with.  I also believe that there could be another whole book full of Hollywood stories; as fun as this one was, you can tell that it didn’t even scratch the surface of the things she could say.

Recommended.

In Which Kelly Tries Graphic Novels Again

Pretty recently, my Facebook friend Cindy Beth posted an article of five best graphic novels to try. I have not been a fan of this but I decided maybe I should give them another shot.

I picked the two that were complete novels (as opposed to part of an ongoing series).

The two I read were This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki and Andre the Giant by Box Brown.

Of the two, I prefered This One Summer, which isn’t surprising. I generally avoid nonfiction.

Andre the Giant is exactly what you’d expect: a biography of Andre the Giant, partially told via anecdote of those who knew him. I was hoping there’d be more on The Princess Bride (one of my most favorite movies) but I can’t complain. That was a few months of his life, so it’s unrealistic to expect more than I got.

The thing that sticks with me from that is an anecdote from Mandy Patinkin (and echoed from several others), just how sad his life was. Everywhere he went, people would stare. And generally they’d make fun. Apparently making The Princess Bride was a bit of a respite because no one stared at him.

This One Summer describes being a young teenager so perfectly. It’s about this girl whose parents are on the verge of splitting up and the three of them still go on vacation to the place where they go every summer. Rose’s summer BFF is a girl named Windy, who’s a little bit younger. Generally this isn’t a huge deal but Rose is a bit trapped between childhood and adolescence.

Rose is the biggest, moodiest brat. And it’s a hard, confusing summer.

I enjoyed both, but I think it’d be better if they were actual books. I won’t say I’ll never read another graphic novel, but I think for me, the stories matter more without the pictures. Even so, both these books are really good.

How To Be Lovely: The Audrey Hepburn Way Of Life

Finished How To Be Lovely: The Audrey Hepburn Way Of Life by Melissa Hellstern.

Summary (from Goodreads):

On many occasions, she was approached to pen her autobiography, the definitive book of Audrey Hepburn, yet she never agreed. A beloved icon who found success as an actress, a mother and an humanitarian, Audrey Hepburn perfected the art of gracious living.

More philosophy than biography, How to Be Lovely revisits the many interviews Audrey gave over the years, allowing us to hear her voice directly on universal topics of concern to women the world over: careers, love lives, motherhood and relationships. Enhanced by rarely seen photographs, behind-the-scenes stories, and insights from the friends who knew her well, How to Be Lovely uncovers the real Audrey, in her own words.

While she would have been the last to say so, Audrey Hepburn was an expert in the art of being a woman. How to Be Lovely imparts whatever wisdom and insight she found along the way to the millions who grew up, or will grow up, wanting to be just like her.

Published to coincide with Audrey Hepburn’s would-be seventy-fifth birthday, How to Be Lovely offers a rare glimpse into the woman behind the mystique and the definitive guide to living genuinely with glamour and grace.”

This book is basically full of Audrey Hepburn quotes (mostly by her, but a few are by her friends and family).  There are a few biographical notes, but not very many.

It’s probably not very surprising, then, that after reading this, all I wanted to do was watch Sabrina. (Yes, I know everyone’s favorite is either Breakfast at Tiffany’s or Roman Holiday or My Fair Lady, but mine’s Sabrina.)

I know a lot of people feel this way, but I absolutely love Audrey Hepburn.  (Probably second only to my love of Katharine Hepburn, who is probably slightly more attainable as a role model for me.)  She was in these great movies and people absolutely adored her, but she knew who she was and what she wanted and she followed that, even though it would have been easier to stay in Hollywood and make a ton of money.  (She walked away to spend more time with her kids growing up.)

I also very much respect the fact that she spent so much time helping other people in the world—especially children—through her work with UNICEF.

This book is super fast reading.  Recommended.

Film In Five Seconds

Finished Film in Five Seconds.  I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

In today’s jet-fuelled, caffeine-charged, celebrity-a-minute world, who actually has the time to watch a film from start to finish? Let’s face it, life’s too short. Now, Film in Five Seconds lets you fast-forward to the best bits so you can enjoy all your favourite movie moments in – literally – moments.

Design studio H-57 have taken over 150 iconic films and cut away all the useless details, boiling them down into ingenious pictograms and creating hilarious visual snapshots that are witty, provocative and to the point.

From Batman to Bridget Jones, Grease to The Godfather, King Kong to The King’s Speech, via slapstick, sci-fi and superheroes, you’ll laugh out loud as you identify some of the greatest screen moments of all time. This is the perfect book for film buffs and anyone with a sense of humour or a short attention span.”

This is the perfect present for anyone who loves movies.  There are over 150 pictures representing movies (ranging from classics to more recent films) and it’s incredibly fun trying to figure out what they are.

Some are incredibly easy and some had me kicking myself later.  This book is incredibly fun (except for the ones that made me hate myself for not guessing).

Recommended.