Category Archives: Nonfiction

Dead Wake

Finished Dead Wake by Erik Larson.  I received a copy from the publisher for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

On May 1, 1915, a luxury ocean liner as richly appointed as an English country house sailed out of New York, bound for Liverpool, carrying a record number of children and infants. The passengers were anxious. Germany had declared the seas around Britain to be a war zone, and for months, its U-boats had brought terror to the North Atlantic. But the Lusitania was one of the era’s great transatlantic “Greyhounds” and her captain, William Thomas Turner, placed tremendous faith in the gentlemanly strictures of warfare that for a century had kept civilian ships safe from attack. He knew, moreover, that his ship–the fastest then in service–could outrun any threat.

Germany, however, was determined to change the rules of the game, and Walther Schwieger, the captain of Unterseeboot-20, was happy to oblige. Meanwhile, an ultra-secret British intelligence unit tracked Schwieger’s U-boat, but told no one. As U-20 and the Lusitania made their way toward Liverpool, an array of forces both grand and achingly small–hubris, a chance fog, a closely guarded secret, and more–all converged to produce one of the great disasters of history.

It is a story that many of us think we know but don’t, and Erik Larson tells it thrillingly, switching between hunter and hunted while painting a larger portrait of America at the height of the Progressive Era. Full of glamour, mystery, and real-life suspense, Dead Wake brings to life a cast of evocative characters, from famed Boston bookseller Charles Lauriat to pioneering female architect Theodate Pope Riddle to President Wilson, a man lost to grief, dreading the widening war but also captivated by the prospect of new love. Gripping and important, Dead Wake captures the sheer drama and emotional power of a disaster that helped place America on the road to war.”

As you know, I don’t read very much nonfiction, but I’d heard very good things about Erik Larson and I jumped at the chance to read this book.

As he noted himself in the epilogue, there are a lot of misperceptions about the Lusitania and its deliberate sinking at the hands of the Germans during World War I.  I also thought that it was one of the immediate causes of our entering the war (although it took two more years, in reality).

One of the chilling things I learned while reading this was just how many times this was almost averted.  Depending on your perspective, everything went wrong (or right), and it led to this happening.  If weather conditions earlier had been different, or if a few incredibly small things had happened differently, the Lusitania never would have been torpedoed.

It’s incredibly sad to think about how many things had to come together perfectly to enable this.

I look forward to reading more of his books.


Extraordinary Guidance

Finished Extraordinary Guidance by Liza Wiemer.  She is one of my authors at Spencer Hill, but this is not one of my books and was written long before I met her.

Summary (from Amazon):

“”Liza Wiemer opens doors to the soul that few of us realize even exist. Read this book, explore its methods, and open yourself to the wisdom to which each of us is heir.”
Rabbi Rami M. Shapiro, author of Wisdom of the Jewish Sages

A complete guide for readers of any religion, Extraordinary Guidance  teaches how to contact the spiritual guides that watch over every soul and apply their wisdom for practical results in your everyday life as well as for a richer spiritual life.

In the late 1980s, channeling was the popular way to receive spiritual guidance. In the early ’90s, angels became accessible. Now we know we can go directly to the source–to the spiritual guides themselves–and Liza Wiemer reveals how everyone can contact his or her own spiritual guides for invaluable life guidance.

Extraordinary Guidance explains what spiritual guides are and provides easy and effective step-by-step instructions for connecting with them, including how to get in the right state of mind to talk with these powers that guide us. Through examples and personal anecdotes of her own spiritual guide, Wil, Wiemer shows how the discovery of the wisdom within enables people to make positive changes in their lives and help others to do the same, and, ultimately, to work toward bridging the gap between the spiritual and physical worlds.”

(This is going to be the world’s most unusual review.  Again, like I said, I’m Liza’s publicist for her novel and she is also now my friend.  I don’t take to people very easily, but I took to Liza right away.  She is one of the warmest, kindest and most genuine people I know.)

I don’t read very much nonfiction, and I read even less religion nonfiction.  But Liza is one of my authors, and I absolutely loved her debut YA novel HELLO? which is one of my books.  And while I don’t necessarily know about spirit guides, I knew that I was definitely drawn to this book.

So here’s the thing.  I don’t have much belief in New Agey stuff, and this definitely seemed like that.  But I know that Liza’s not crazy and I know that she isn’t the type to just make stuff up, so that left one possibility: that this is real.  Which is somehow even scarier.  (There is a chapter on potential blocks to talking to spirit guides; I have almost all of them.)

I asked Liza a question and got a very, very detailed answer of stuff that she couldn’t have known.  And yes, she’s not dumb so she could’ve intuitively guessed some answers, but…it helped.

So I guess I would say this: even if you’re skeptical, read this.  And if you feel a nudging toward it, like I did, listen to it.

Highly recommended.

American Murder Houses

Finished American Murder Houses by Steve Lehto.  I received a copy from the publisher.

Summary (from Goodreads):

There are places in the United States of America where violent acts of bloodshed have occurred.  Years may pass—even centuries—but the mark of death remains.
They are known as Murder Houses.

From a colonial manse in New England to a small-town home in Iowa to a Beverly Hills mansion, these residences have taken on a life of their own, gaining everything from local lore and gossip to national—and even global—infamy.

Writer Steve Lehto recounts the stories behind the houses where Lizzie Borden supposedly gave her stepmother “forty whacks,” where the real Amityville Horror was first unleashed by gunfire, and where the demented acts of the Manson Family horrified a nation—as well some lesser-known sites of murder that were no less ghastly.

Exploring the past and present of more than twenty-five renowned homicide scenes, American Murder Houses is a tour through the real estate of some of the most grisly and fascinating crimes in American history.”

This book is full of the most well-known (and relatively more obscure) murders in American history.  Most of them aren’t from serial killers, though—instead, as the title implies, these are houses that had crimes occur there.  Probably the most well-known is the Lizzie Borden house, although they also discuss the house in Amityville.  (You probably know that there was a reported haunting there, but before the Lutzes moved in, Ronald DeFeo murdered his parents and siblings.)

Each chapter focuses on a specific house and relays details about the crime (and the house), as well as suggestions for where to learn more about what happened there.  The chapters are generally more of a brief sketch than anything else, but because there are so many houses, if they went into incredible detail, the book would be far too long.


The World of Postsecret

Finished The World of Postsecret by Frank Warren.  I received a copy for review from the publisher.

Summary (from Amazon):

“An addictive collection of new full-color postcard secrets and app secrets from the author of the smash the #1 New York Times bestselling PostSecret books—with more secrets than any previous PostSecret book!

A decade ago, Frank Warren began a community art project that captured the popular imagination and became a worldwide obsession. He handed out postcards to strangers and left them in public places—asking people to share a secret they had never told anyone and mail them back to him anonymously. More than half a million secrets, 600 million hits to the award-winning PostSecret blog, and five huge bestsellers later, the PostSecret phenomenon is bigger than ever. By turns funny, heartbreaking, thoughtful, and moving, this compendium of graphic haiku offers an intimate glimpse into both individual private lives and into our shared humanity.

Included in this compelling new book are dozens of the best archived secrets from the original PostSecret app; inside stories about the most controversial secrets Frank Warren has received; moving text from the new PostSecret play, foreign secrets, “puzzle” secrets, and much more!”

I feel like everyone knows this, but I am a huge, HUGE fan of Postsecret.  I have all the books and a highlight of my week is when I get to check the website every Sunday.

I love it because while there are secrets that make me laugh and a few that make me cry, every week (and every book), I find several that make me feel less alone.  I think we can all get isolated by things and feel that we’re the only one who feels a certain way, and this website makes us feel like we actually aren’t as alone as maybe we thought we were.

I’m pretty sure that if one person has ever felt something, probably a bunch of other people have also felt it.  It’s good to know.

I’m sure by now, you know about Postsecret.  But in case you don’t, you should check it out.  I promise you won’t be sorry.

Highly recommended.

Yes Please

Finished Yes Please by Amy Poehler.

Summary (from Goodreads):

In Amy Poehler’s highly anticipated first book, Yes Please, she offers up a big juicy stew of personal stories, funny bits on sex and love and friendship and parenthood and real life advice (some useful, some not so much), like when to be funny and when to be serious. Powered by Amy’s charming and hilarious, biting yet wise voice, Yes Please is a book is full of words to live by.”

I don’t think it’s a surprise to anyone that I am a huge, huge fan of Amy Poehler.  I’d always liked her and then Parks and Recreation pushed it to a whole other level.

I was very excited to get a copy of this for Christmas, and I read it incredibly quickly (given the fact that I had houseguests for most of the time).

Like Martin Short’s memoir (I Must Say), this doesn’t really discuss negative celebrity stories.  I know t hat a lot of the time, the whole fun of these books is the fact that you learn salacious gossip, but I really appreciate the fact that with these two, it’s more “You know that celebrity you hope is really awesome? THEY ARE!”

I don’t want to live in a world where Tina Fey is a jerk.  I’m sorry, I just don’t.

And because of Yes Please, I am now more in love with Amy Poehler, too.  We learn a lot about her time on SNL and on Parks & Rec (more on SNL than Parks, but I think that’s only to be expected).  There’s also a lot of her improv background.  There isn’t very much on her personal life (which has to do with the fact that, as she says in her book, she doesn’t really like people “knowing [her] shit.”)

Highly recommended.

The Importance of Being Ernest

Finished The Importance of Being Ernest by Ernest Cline.

Summary (from Goodreads):

Ernest (Ernie) Cline has been Ernest his whole life and in this first slim (48 pages) volume, he begins to explain to us what that has meant in these poems intended for performance. This companion book to his CD, The Geek Wants Out, contains many of the same poems, notably: The Geek Wants Out, Dance Monkeys Dance, and Nerd Porn Auteur among others. It also contains three bonus poems not found on the CD. Cline’s work is simultaneously clever, witty, intelligent and 100% Airwolf! Some strong language and subject matter in some poems.

As you probably know, I was a huge, HUGE fan of Ready Player One, and I have been waiting impatiently for his next book.  Armada was supposed to be released this year, but now there’s no mention of it anywhere…

And then I found this.

This isn’t a novel.  It’s not even a book of poetry, per se.  It’s something you can probably read in half an hour, and is a set of random poems that are also really, really good and incredibly funny.  It also turns out that you can read/listen to them for free here.  (But I’m still okay with the fact that I bought it because MAYBE WE CAN GET ANOTHER BOOK SOON.)

For whatever it’s worth, my favorite is probably Cinema Verite (I over-relate) and my second favorite is everything else.  (But probably especially When I Was A Kid.)

If you’re not a fan of Ernest Cline’s yet, absolutely read this and then go buy Ready Player One and read it.  Immediately.

Highly recommended.


The Rocky Horror Treasury

Finished The Rocky Horror Treasury by Sal Piro and Larry Viezel.

Summary (from Goodreads):

Including behind-the-scenes stories, pull-out-items, photos, and sounds, this interactive book is a true Rocky Horror Picture Show Treasury.

This also included musical clips and some bonus items (a how-to guide for the Time Warp, a poster and a few other things).  There are also a bunch of gorgeous photos throughout.

You should know going in that this book is only 50 pages, so it’s definitely for the serious collector only.  You should probably also know that most of the “Did you know?” facts are things that you probably do know.  (If you love Rocky Horror enough to buy/ask for a 50-page book just because it’s something RHPS-related that you don’t already have, you probably know a lot of arcane trivia about it.)

Even so, this book is a great deal of fun and I loved the musical clips and photos.  (There were some behind-the-scenes ones I hadn’t seen before.)

Ultimately, I know this review doesn’t matter.  You either love the movie or you don’t, and either way, you don’t need any advice to know whether or not you want it.  I’m not sure this is something I’ll read more than once, but I definitely wouldn’t be surprised if I look at the pictures and play the songs on a regular basis.

It also definitely made me miss the movie, and I hope to rewatch it sometime soon.

I Must Say

Finished I Must Say by Martin Short.  I received a copy from the publisher.

Summary (from Goodreads):

In this engaging memoir, written with heart, wisdom, and a huge helping of hilarity, Martin Short shares stories of his life, revealing how a Canadian kid obsessed with American show business became the “comedian’s comedian” (Vanity Fair)

Martin Short is one of few celebrities in show business who has continually worked hard, found success, and kept his personal life intact. His memoir is a reflection on his diverse collection of experiences, both hilarious and heartbreaking.

Short takes us through his career, from his early years with Second City Toronto and Saturday Night Live to his movie stardom. He recalls how he developed some of his enduring characters—manic man-child Ed Grimley, slimy lawyer Nathan Thurm, and the large and bizarrely insensitive Jiminy Glick. Here, too, are his television appearances, from How I Met Your Mother to his Emmy-nominated role in Damages, as well as his stage productions, including his Tony Award-winning performance in Little Me. Throughout, Steve Martin, Tom Hanks, Nora Ephron, Frank Sinatra, and others friends and colleagues share the spotlight.

This deeply private man brings us into the circle of his family life, from raising his children to the legendary parties he and his wife have hosted. He recounts the pain of losing a brother and both parents by the time he was 20, and of the devastating death of Nancy, his wife of thirty years, in 2010. Despite the hardships, Short’s life has been full of laughter, and he remains perennially upbeat. In this wise and entertaining memoir, he shares his irrepressible joy.”

I was excited to read this, because I love three of Martin Short’s movies so, so much (Clifford and the two Father of the Bride movies).  But even if you’re not a fan of his somehow, there’s so much here to love.  He’s friends with so many of my most favorite celebrities (NORA EPHRON, you guys.  He knew Nora Ephron!) and has so many great stories to tell about everyone.  This is a deeply pleasant reading experience.  I know a lot of the time, we want to hear gossip about celebrities, but there isn’t gossip in this.  Instead, it’s more like, “You know these people you hope are awesome [Steve Martin, Billy Crystal, Diane Keaton]? THEY ARE.”

It’s impossible to read this and not completely love Martin Short (his friends call him Marty, but I’m going to stick with Martin).  Most of all, though, it’s a story of the great love he and his wife Nancy shared.  She died of cancer a few years back, but it’s so clear that they were so completely in love and meant to be.

Highly recommended.

Never Sleep Again

Finished Never Sleep Again by Thommy Hutson.

This book is basically the definitive oral history for the original A Nightmare on Elm Street.

Thommy Hutson spoke with Wes Craven, Robert Englund, Heather Langenkamp, Amanda Wyss and all the other stars (and behind the scenes people) for this book.  It’s a coffee table-sized book and is about 260 pages (not counting the acknowledgments and index) and there are a lot of gorgeous pictures and fun stories throughout.

There was a Kickstarter campaign for the book, and I was happy to be able to contribute.  I got my book in November—even better because it doesn’t look like it’s available on Amazon.

This book isn’t for everyone, but I really loved reading it.  I’ve seen the four hour long documentary on the entire series (also called Never Sleep Again) but even so, there were some stories here that I hadn’t heard.

Obviously this isn’t for everyone, but if you’re an Elm Street fan, you owe it to yourself to check it out.  It’s an incredibly good time and, as I said, the book is gorgeous.

Highly recommended.

Bleeding Orange (A Guest Post)

I received a copy of Bleeding Orange by Jim Boeheim for review from the publisher.  You know my feelings about sports, but what you may not know is that my coworker, Mitch Friedmann, went to Syracuse* and I knew that reading this book would make him incredibly happy.  So here is my coworker Mitch in his book blogging debut:

“I bleed orange.

It is not because I was born in Baltimore and I am a lifelong Oriole fan.

It is because I am a proud graduate of Syracuse University.

So I went into reading Jim Boeheim’s autobiography, “Bleeding Orange” written with long time Sports Illustrated write Jack McCallum, with a certain amount of bias.

I have found that Jim Boeheim fans fall into two distinct categories. Those who cannot stand him and think he is a whiner, a good recruiter and bad coach. Then there are those that worship the long-time Syracuse men’s basketball coach. I fall into the latter. However, I think those who fall into the first category would, after reading the book, find a new appreciation for the coach and what he has achieved over the last half century in Central New York.

The book begins with Boeheim’s humble up bringing in Lyon New York, the son of a mortician. How he walked onto the Syracuse basketball team in the mid-60’s and played alongside the great Dave Bing. Boeheim is frank about his playing ability, whether comparing himself to the Hall of Famer Bing or his fellow opponents. The story about how he nearly became the head coach at the University of Rochester before being hired at Syracuse is fairly well known.

However, the part that will interest fans the most is Boeheim’s interactions with his players and fellow coaches while at Syracuse. From his first teams with Roosevelt Bouie and Louis Orr to Leo Rautins to Pearl to Derrick Coleman to Carmelo. How he recruited these great players and what they were like on and off the court. It is clear which are his favorite players. While several pages are devoted to Gerry McNamara, there is little about other well-known Syracuse greats like Rafael Addison. Although he does admit he wished he could have done more with one of my favorite players of all time, Herman “Helicopter” Harried.

Boeheim does address the Bernie Fine scandal, (The Syracuse assistant coach was fired following sex abuse allegations. Fine was never charged and one of his accusers has since recanted his story), and some of the other off the court problems his players have faced over the years.

Jim Boeheim has accomplished a tremendous amount in his years on the bench.

“Bleeding Orange” does a great job of capturing the man that is Jim Boeheim and the spirit of Syracuse basketball.

Go ‘Cuse

Mitch Friedmann

Syracuse Class of ‘90″

* = unless you know Mitch, in which case, you DO know it.  His personalized license plate even tells you that he went to Syracuse.

Thanks, Mitch! :)  I don’t get many sports book pitches, but I will forward them all to you. :)