Category Archives: Nonfiction

Everybody, Always

Finished Everybody, Always by Bob Goff. I received a copy for review at ALA.

Summary (from Goodreads):

What happens when we stop avoiding difficult people and simply love everyone? 

In his wildly entertaining and inspiring follow-up to the New York Times bestselling phenomenon Love Does, Bob Goff takes readers on a life-altering journey into the secret of living without fear, care, constraint, or worry. The path toward the outsized, unfettered, liberated existence we all long for is found in a truth as simple to say as it is hard to do: love people, even the difficult ones, without distinction and without limits.

Driven by Bob’s trademark hilarious and insightful storytelling, Everybody, Always reveals the lessons Bob learned—often the hard way—about what it means to love without inhibition, insecurity, or restriction. From finding the right friends to discovering the upside of failure, Everybody, Always points the way to embodying love by doing the unexpected, the intimidating, the seemingly impossible. Whether losing his shoes while skydiving solo or befriending a Ugandan witch doctor, Bob steps into life with a no-limits embrace of others that is as infectious as it is extraordinarily ordinary. Everybody, Always reveals how we can do the same.”

This is an area I struggle with. OK, to be fair, I struggle with faith a lot, but I especially struggle with how to love my enemies. If I could love them, they wouldn’t BE my enemies. (Yes, I get that that’s the point. I GET IT, OK? But how do you love Nazis?)

At any rate, this book is a huge encouragement to me. Bob Goff makes it seem so simple, and I actually have questions I’d like to text him. (He literally has his phone number in the book. I can’t even imagine wanting to do that. My number and address are on my business cards and I try not to even think about that.)

This book is seriously incredible. It will make you want to change your life and personality. Highly recommended.

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How I Resist

Finished How I Resist, which is edited by Maureen Johnson and Tim Federle. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“An all-star collection of essays about activism and hope, edited by bestselling YA author Maureen Johnson.

Now, more than ever, young people are motivated to make a difference in a world they’re bound to inherit. They’re ready to stand up and be heard – but with much to shout about, where they do they begin? What can I do? How can I help?

How I Resist is the response, and a way to start the conversation. To show readers that they are not helpless, and that anyone can be the change. A collection of essays, songs, illustrations, and interviews about activism and hope, How I Resist features an all-star group of contributors, including, John Paul Brammer, Libba Bray, Lauren Duca, Modern Family’s Jesse Tyler Ferguson and his husband Justin Mikita, Alex Gino, Hebh Jamal, Malinda Lo, Dylan Marron, Hamilton star Javier Muñoz, Rosie O’Donnell, Junauda Petrus, Jodi Picoult, Jason Reynolds, Karuna Riazi, Maya Rupert, Dana Schwartz, Dan Sinker, Ali Stroker, Jonny Sun (aka @jonnysun), Sabaa Tahir, Daniel Watts, Jennifer Weiner, Jacqueline Woodson, and more, all edited and compiled by New York Times bestselling author Maureen Johnson.

In How I Resist, readers will find hope and support through voices that are at turns personal, funny, irreverent, and instructive. Not just for a young adult audience, this incredibly impactful collection will appeal to readers of all ages who are feeling adrift and looking for guidance.

How I Resist is the kind of book people will be discussing for years to come and a staple on bookshelves for generations.”

It is so easy to lose hope and feel overwhelmed. Things are scary and it seems like a lot of people are either ignoring it or actively celebrating it.

And it can be hard to keep resisting when it seems like it’s not doing very much good. You no sooner get your elected officials to stop doing one thing when they start doing something else.

This book is so needed because it (a) gives me inspiration to keep going and (b) reminds me that there are all kinds of different ways to resist. While voting, marching and calling elected officials are great and important, even taking a few minutes to post something on Facebook about the upcoming midterm elections counts.

This isn’t a normal time and we can’t pretend it is. All we can do is keep going and persist and resist. I am so thankful for this book. Highly recommended.

May Books I’m Excited For

1) If You Don’t Have Anything Nice to Say by Leila Sales (May 1)
2) The Way You Make Me Feel by Maurene Goo (May 8)
3) Puddin’ by Julie Murphy (May 8)
4) Surface Tension by Mike Mullin (May 8)
5) How it Happened by Michael Koryta (May 15)
6) How to Walk Away by Katherine Center (May 15)
7) Blood Runs Cold by Dylan Young (May 16)
8) The Outsider by Stephen King (May 22)
9) From Twinkle With Love by Sandhya Menon (May 22)
10) Listen to Your Heart by Kasie West (May 29)

Bonus: I’m reading Children of Blood and Bone and re-reading You for my book clubs and cannot wait to get to those.

Make Trouble

Finished Make Trouble by Cecile Richards.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“From Cecile Richards—the president of Planned Parenthood, daughter of the late Governor Ann Richards, featured speaker at the Women’s March on Washington, and “the heroine of the resistance” (Vogue)—comes a story about learning to lead and make change, based on a lifetime of fighting for women’s rights and social justice.

Cecile Richards has been an activist since she was taken to the principal’s office in seventh grade for wearing an armband in protest of the Vietnam War. Richards had an extraordinary girlhood in ultra-conservative Texas, where her hell-raising parents—her civil rights attorney father and political activist mother—taught their kids to be troublemakers. In the Richards household, the “dinner table was never for eating—it was for sorting precinct lists.”

She watched her mother, Ann, transform herself from a housewife to a force in American politics who made a name for herself as the straight-talking, truth-telling governor of Texas. But Richards also witnessed the pitfalls of public life that are unique to women, and the constant struggle to protect and expand equal rights—both exemplified by her marathon congressional testimony, where she held her own against hostile questions for five hours.

As a young woman, Richards worked as a labor organizer alongside women earning a minimum wage, and learned that those in power don’t give it up without a fight. Now, after years of advocacy, resistance, and progressive leadership, she shares her story for the first time—from the joy and heartbreak of activism to the challenges of raising kids, having a life, and making change, all at the same time. She shines a light on the people and lessons that have gotten her through good times and bad, and encourages readers to take risks, make mistakes, and make trouble along the way. Richards has dedicated her life to taking on injustice, and her memoir will inspire readers to hope and action.”

Saying “Things are hard now” is an understatement. We have a president who seems to be actively trying to strip away civil rights and who is engaging in dogwhistle politics at a rate that would be impressive if it weren’t scary and sad.

If you’re also a little disheartened at the way things are going, read this book. It’s a fast read and will inspire you.

Cecile Richards is a powerhouse. (Obviously–she’s part of a line of powerhouses that is extending in both directions; her [adult] kids are part of this tradition of service.) Most know her as the head of Planned Parenthood, but that’s only part of her legacy. She’s been a tireless advocate for women, but really also for basically everyone. She’s fighting to make things better and we need more people like her.

This book details her life and activism. It’s smart and warm, and yes, very inspiring. There’s a lot of wisdom to take away, but what’s really sticking out to me is the idea that we all need to work to keep things moving forward. It’s easy to think that the protections we’ve won means the battle is over but as the current administration shows, the battle can start back up again very easily.

Highly recommended.

Educated

Finished Educated by Tara Westover.

Summary (from Goodreads):

An unforgettable memoir in the tradition of The Glass Castleabout a young girl who, kept out of school, leaves her survivalist family and goes on to earn a PhD from Cambridge University

Tara Westover was seventeen the first time she set foot in a classroom. Born to survivalists in the mountains of Idaho, she prepared for the end of the world by stockpiling home-canned peaches and sleeping with her “head-for-the-hills bag.” In the summer she stewed herbs for her mother, a midwife and healer, and in the winter she salvaged in her father’s junkyard.

Her father forbade hospitals, so Tara never saw a doctor or nurse. Gashes and concussions, even burns from explosions, were all treated at home with herbalism. The family was so isolated from mainstream society that there was no one to ensure the children received an education, and no one to intervene when one of Tara’s older brothers became violent.

Then, lacking any formal education, Tara began to educate herself. She taught herself enough mathematics and grammar to be admitted to Brigham Young University, where she studied history, learning for the first time about important world events like the Holocaust and the civil rights movement. Her quest for knowledge transformed her, taking her over oceans and across continents, to Harvard and to Cambridge. Only then would she wonder if she’d traveled too far, if there was still a way home.

Educated is an account of the struggle for self-invention. It is a tale of fierce family loyalty, and of the grief that comes with severing the closest of ties. With the acute insight that distinguishes all great writers, Westover has crafted a universal coming-of-age story that gets to the heart of what an education is and what it offers: the perspective to see one’s life through new eyes, and the will to change it.”

This book is a memoir. I mention that because I can’t even tell you how many times I thought “THIS CANNOT BE TRUE” while I was reading it. Tara Westover is a miracle; I’m not sure there’s any other way to put it.

She and her siblings were “homeschooled.” I put that in quotes because they were taught to read, write and do simple math and that’s about it. She knew about her religion (they’re Mormons) and the most basic American history. She didn’t know anything else. Yet she managed to do well enough on her ACTs to get into Brigham Young University. Her freshman year, she encountered an unfamiliar word in a class and asked the professor what it meant. Her classmates were horrified; the professor was super annoyed because he thought she was joking.

The word was “Holocaust.” She had no idea what it was or that it had occurred.

If you need inspiration to change your life, read this. If you want to read about the resiliency of people, read this. If you even just want a really good book, READ THIS. It’s phenomenal.

Highly recommended.

Everything is Horrible and Wonderful

Finished Everything is Horrible and Wonderful by Stephanie Wittels Wachs.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“The space between life and death is a moment.
But it will remain alive in me for hundreds of thousands of future moments.’

One phone call. That’s all it took to change Stephanie Wittels Wachs’ life forever..

Her younger brother Harris, a star in the comedy world known for his work on shows like Parks and Recreation, had died of a heroin overdose. How do you make sense of such a tragic end to a life of so much hilarious brilliance?

In beautiful, unsentimental, and surprisingly funny prose, Stephanie Wittels Wachs alternates between her brother’s struggle with addiction, which she learned about three days before her wedding, and the first year after his death, in all its emotional devastation. This compelling portrait of a comedic genius and a profound exploration of the love between siblings is A Year of Magical Thinking for a new generation of readers.

A heartbreaking but hopeful memoir of addiction, grief, and family, Everything is Horrible and Wonderful will make you laugh, cry, and wonder if that possum on the fence is really your brother’s spirit animal.”

I didn’t really know Harris Wittels because I’m not super aware of standup comedy or most TV shows. I did watch Parks and Rec and I do remember his character on there. I remember when he died a few years ago, and it only registered because of Parks and Rec. I mention that because you don’t need to be aware of his life to love this book.

I deliberately chose to read it now, because I’m about to become older than my cousin, which is what I really wanted when I was little and it turns out that it is actually awful when it happens. I’ve been having a hard time with this birthday and I wanted to do something to mark it, and when I heard about this book, I thought, “Okay, awesome.”

The comparison to A Year of Magical Thinking is both super brave and incredibly deserved. The descriptions of grief in here are so accurate it took my breath away and yet there are also incredibly funny parts, too. (So basically, yes, it is like life.)

Yes, you’ll probably cry. But I promise you won’t cry the whole time and you’ll laugh at least as much. And you’ll probably feel—as I do—that you know Harris (and Stephanie) and that the world is worse without him.

Highly recommended.

Herding Cats

Finished Herding Cats by Sarah Andersen. I always forget how I categorize these.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“Sarah valiantly struggles with waking up in the morning, being productive, and dealing with social situations. Sarah’s Scribbles is the comic strip that follows her life, finding humor in living as an adulting introvert that is at times weird, awkward, and embarrassing.”

Sarah Andersen is me. I feel like every third cartoon is something that is so ridiculously me, it’s as if I drew it. (If I had any sort of artistic talent, WHICH I DON’T.) She’s smart and funny but also feels a lot (A LOT, THOUGH) and definitely seems to prefer animals to people. (This seems like an obvious preference, though, and I support it.

I know that we probably all went through a phase where we read cartoon books (Garfield collections, maybe, or Alison Bechdel’s famous cartoon collections*) and maybe outgrew them. Even if you think you have, definitely give these books a shot. They’re hysterical and they may make you feel less alone in the world. If they don’t apply to you at all, we’re probably not friends. ;)

For me? Every time I hear there’s a new collection, I immediately preorder them. It’s the best purchase of any given week and probably month. Highly recommended.

* = Oh, was that just me? I regret nothing.

I’ll Be Gone in the Dark

Finished I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara. I received a copy from the publisher for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“A masterful true crime account of the Golden State Killer—the elusive serial rapist turned murderer who terrorized California for over a decade—from Michelle McNamara, the gifted journalist who died tragically while investigating the case.

“You’ll be silent forever, and I’ll be gone in the dark.”

For more than ten years, a mysterious and violent predator committed fifty sexual assaults in Northern California before moving south, where he perpetrated ten sadistic murders. Then he disappeared, eluding capture by multiple police forces and some of the best detectives in the area.

Three decades later, Michelle McNamara, a true crime journalist who created the popular website TrueCrimeDiary.com, was determined to find the violent psychopath she called “the Golden State Killer.” Michelle pored over police reports, interviewed victims, and embedded herself in the online communities that were as obsessed with the case as she was.

At the time of the crimes, the Golden State Killer was between the ages of eighteen and thirty, Caucasian, and athletic—capable of vaulting tall fences. He always wore a mask. After choosing a victim—he favored suburban couples—he often entered their home when no one was there, studying family pictures, mastering the layout. He attacked while they slept, using a flashlight to awaken and blind them. Though they could not recognize him, his victims recalled his voice: a guttural whisper through clenched teeth, abrupt and threatening.

I’ll Be Gone in the Dark—the masterpiece McNamara was writing at the time of her sudden death—offers an atmospheric snapshot of a moment in American history and a chilling account of a criminal mastermind and the wreckage he left behind. It is also a portrait of a woman’s obsession and her unflagging pursuit of the truth. Framed by an introduction by Gillian Flynn and an afterword by her husband, Patton Oswalt, the book was completed by Michelle’s lead researcher and a close colleague. Utterly original and compelling, it is destined to become a true crime classic—and may at last unmask the Golden State Killer.”

I’ve always said that the best journalism (whether print or on the air) is the one where the reporter is almost invisible, where the story at hand gets the entire focus. I still believe that’s true, but I’ll Be Gone in the Dark is a notable exception. Michelle McNamara is all over this book, and the sections where we see her life and personality are my absolute favorites.

And on a related note, I think most readers would admit that when they read truly excellent books, they feel like they almost become friends with the characters. That happened to me in this case, only I felt like I had known Michelle for years and that we were great friends. I’m very sad that I’ll never get to meet her (she died in 2016).

She became obsessed with the man she dubbed the Golden State Killer (possibly more commonly known as the Original Night Stalker). He’s never been caught and no one even has any idea who he is. It’s not one of those cases where people are pretty sure it’s one of two or three people, only the evidence isn’t quite there to convict. There’s DNA evidence and it has exonerated most of the people where it’s like, “OMG I bet it’s [suspect name here].”

It reached the point where she remarked that she feels like there’s “a scream permanently lodged in my throat.” That’s accurate. Over the few days i spent reading this book, I felt incredibly freaked out. Noises outside made me jump. Normal noises inside made me jump. My skin actually crawled at one point (it’s a really unpleasant sensation; I do not recommend it).

Part of it is the writing style. It describes everything but holds back the worst parts…until it doesn’t. Every so often, there will be a sentence or paragraph that seems to punch you directly in the face, usually literally a breathtaking sentence. And then the narrative goes on.

This is an intense book, obviously, but it’s also a great one. Highly recommended.

Sister of Darkness

Finished Sister of Darkness: The Chronicles of a Modern-Day Exorcist by R.H. Stavis. I received a copy from the publisher for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“The world’s only non-denominational exorcist—the subject of a forthcoming major motion picture—tells her astonishing true story: a riveting chronicle of wrestling entities from infected souls, showing how pain and trauma opens us to attachment from forces that drain our energy . . . and can even destroy our humanity.

As a secular exorcist, Rachel H. Stavis has cleansed thousands of tormented people, from small children and Hollywood moguls to stay-at-home moms and politicians. But for many years, the horror screenwriter and novelist denied her gift. As a little girl, she began to see “monsters” floating around her bedroom or attached to other children. Told it was only her imagination, Rachel learned to ignore the things she saw.

But a series of events in adulthood forced her to acknowledge her unique ability and embrace her power to heal. Since then, Rachel has dedicated her life to helping others cast off the forces feeding off of us. Performing her services pro-bono, she quietly worked in the shadows, until she unknowingly revealed her work to a journalist, who told her story to NPR.

A unique look at demonology removed from religious dogma, Sister of Darkness recounts Rachel’s journey to becoming an exorcist and chronicles some of her most extreme cleansings cases, including those that put her and her clients in peril. Going deep into her world, we meet the diverse range of people she has helped—young, old, famous and not—in gripping stories of danger and sometimes sadness, that are ultimately about redemption. Rachel teaches us that there are a diverse range of “entities” surrounding us—some of these are playful or misguided, while some are dangerous and harmful. She introduces each of them and explains their power, helping us understand what is attacking and hurting us, and what we can do to protect ourselves.

Frightening, eye-opening, and utterly enthralling, Sister of Darkness brings to light a world ruled by destruction, chaos and fear, and the woman who bravely fights to protect those who seek her out.”

As a caveat, I love religious horror; it always freaks me out. But I don’t believe in demons or possession or the devil or any of the typical premises. So it’s both super obvious and very weird that I would want to read this book, right? And yet here we are.

This is a very interesting book, and Rachel Stavis tells it well. She is obviously more of an expert in this than I am, and if she says it’s real, who am I to be like, “Yeah…no, I don’t think there are entities everywhere and that almost literally all of us have been possessed at some point”?

So if you’re at all curious, absolutely check this out. It’s an insanely fast read, and you’ll almost definitely enjoy yourself. (Or get completely freaked out, which I mean, let’s face it, you’re not going to read this if you’re not a fan of scary things, right?)

And if there is a show about her performing an exorcism at the Cecil Hotel, I will absolutely watch.

The Line Becomes a River

Finished The Line Becomes a River by Francisco Cantu. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“For Francisco Cantú, the border is in the blood: his mother, a park ranger and daughter of a Mexican immigrant, raised him in the scrublands of the Southwest. Haunted by the landscape of his youth, Cantú joins the Border Patrol. He and his partners are posted to remote regions crisscrossed by drug routes and smuggling corridors, where they learn to track other humans under blistering sun and through frigid nights. They haul in the dead and deliver to detention those they find alive. Cantú tries not to think where the stories go from there.

Plagued by nightmares, he abandons the Patrol for civilian life. But when an immigrant friend travels to Mexico to visit his dying mother and does not return, Cantú discovers that the border has migrated with him, and now he must know the whole story. Searing and unforgettable, The Line Becomes a Rivermakes urgent and personal the violence our border wreaks on both sides of the line.”

This is an incredibly hard book to read. It’s written in a journalistic style–easy to read and understand, but at the same time, it’s left up to the reader to decide how they feel about illegal immigration. We see what happens to people who try and cross the border, as well as why they may choose to undertake such a risky journey.  There are also descriptions of the violence they’re fleeing (cartels). Again, not an easy book to read.

At the same time, though, it’s so important. We tend to forget that these are actual people and that it’s not just an intellectual exercise about how to deal with immigration. This book makes these stories heard and impossible to ignore.

Highly recommended.