Category Archives: Nonfiction

Between the World and Me

Finished Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“This is your country, this is your world, this is your body, and you must find some way to live within the all of it.”
 
In a profound work that pivots from the biggest questions about American history and ideals to the most intimate concerns of a father for his son, Ta-Nehisi Coates offers a powerful new framework for understanding our nation’s history and current crisis. Americans have built an empire on the idea of “race,” a falsehood that damages us all but falls most heavily on the bodies of black women and men—bodies exploited through slavery and segregation, and, today, threatened, locked up, and murdered out of all proportion. What is it like to inhabit a black body and find a way to live within it? And how can we all honestly reckon with this fraught history and free ourselves from its burden?

Between the World and Me is Ta-Nehisi Coates’s attempt to answer these questions in a letter to his adolescent son. Coates shares with his son—and readers—the story of his awakening to the truth about his place in the world through a series of revelatory experiences, from Howard University to Civil War battlefields, from the South Side of Chicago to Paris, from his childhood home to the living rooms of mothers whose children’s lives were taken as American plunder. Beautifully woven from personal narrative, reimagined history, and fresh, emotionally charged reportage, Between the World and Me clearly illuminates the past, bracingly confronts our present, and offers a transcendent vision for a way forward.”

I read this for book club, and found out about it because people were discussing it while I was reading Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee.  Some blogger friends of mine were saying that their experience reading this was going to make it much harder for them to read that book.

This is such an incredibly powerful book but as a warning, there were times for me reading this that I became really defensive.  (At every time that happened, I was able to remind myself that my job as a white person and an ally—or aspiring ally; based on my occasional reactions to this, I’m not 100% there yet—is to shut up and bear witness and that every instance where my reaction is to be, “But wait, not everyone…!” proves that we all still have a long way to go.)

Ta-Nehisi Coates is clearly brilliant, and his arguments are reasoned out.  This is such an important book, and I hope everyone will read it.

Highly recommended.

365 Days of Wonder

Finished 365 Days of Wonder by RJ Palacio.  I received a copy from the publisher for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“In the #1 New York Times bestselling novel Wonder, readers were introduced to memorable English teacher Mr. Browne and his love of precepts. Simply put, precepts are principles to live by, and Mr. Browne has compiled 365 of them—one for each day of the year—drawn from popular songs to children’s books to inscriptions on Egyptian tombstones to fortune cookies. His selections celebrate kindness, hopefulness, the goodness of human beings, the strength of people’s hearts, and the power of people’s wills. Interspersed with the precepts are letters and emails from characters who appeared in Wonder. Readers hear from Summer, Jack, Charlotte, Julian, and Amos.

There’s something for everyone here, with words of wisdom from such noteworthy people as Anne Frank, Martin Luther King Jr., Confucius, Goethe, Sappho—and over 100 readers of Wonder who sent R. J. Palacio their own precepts.”

I love this book and it appealed to me for the same reasons that Postsecret does: these sentences and thoughts all affect me.  Some are applicable to my life now and some aren’t but they’re all worth thinking about.

For people who aren’t sure this is something they’d enjoy, each month is also bookended by thoughts from Mr. Browne (the teacher from Wonder who solicited these precepts).  There are also notes from students in those chapters (including Auggie, the hero from Wonder).

This book is a fun stocking stuffer, especially if you pair it with Wonder.  I read that when it first came out and this makes me really want to re-read it.

Guns

Finished Guns by Stephen King.

Summary (from Goodreads):

In a pulls-no-punches essay intended to provoke rational discussion, Stephen King sets down his thoughts about gun violence in America. Anger and grief in the wake of the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School are palpable in this urgent piece of writing, but no less remarkable are King’s keen thoughtfulness and composure as he explores the contours of the gun-control issue and constructs his argument for what can and should be done.”

You probably already know whether you want to read this, based on your political affiliation and Stephen King’s.  If you’re a conservative, you probably should read it, but you won’t want to.  If you’re a liberal (as I am), it’s probably not necessary to read it because you already agree with it…but it’s still worth the read.

One thing you should know is that Stephen King owns guns.  (Which makes sense, given that he’s incredibly famous and that there are a lot of crazy people in the world.)  He’s not advocating for the government to take everyone’s guns; he’s proposing sensible changes (better background checks and delays; fewer rounds, things like that).

I don’t understand how people can say that guns aren’t at least partially to blame for these tragedies that keep occurring.  Even making people wait a couple days to be able to buy a gun could theoretically be able to put a stop to things.  (It’s easier to do horrible things in the heat of the moment and sometimes even a little time to stop and think is enough.  Obviously that wouldn’t stop all of them, but it certainly would stop a few.)

Recommended.

 

BEA Goals

So, BEA is next week.  (!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!)

I haven’t talked about it as much this year, but I am insanely excited.  The best part is that this is the first time one of my authors will be signing, so I will be helping with that.

I’ve also done my best to really scale back on what I’m going for.  I am so behind with books anyway, and the idea of coming home with a ton more—while exciting—is a little overwhelming.

SO, here at the 10 books I’m most excited to get.

1)  HELLO? by Liza Wiemer.  This is my author’s book, and I’ve already read it.  It’s amazing, and I am excited to have my VERY OWN COPY, signed to me.

2)  The Killing Kind by Chris Holm.  I’m a huge fan of his and this book sounds AMAZING.

3)  Tonight the Streets are Ours by Leila Sales.  Love her; need this.

4)  Lair of Dreams by Libba Bray.  I have been waiting what seems like 65 years for this; it’s the sequel to The Diviners.

5)  Truly Madly Famously by Rebecca Serle.  Famous in Love was one of the best books I got at BEA last year, and I need this book SO MUCH.  #TeamRainer

6)  Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo.  I’m using a line jump to get this.  I don’t know much about it, but it was compared to Ocean’s 11.  I’m in.

7)  Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling.  This will be my last get at BEA; I look forward to flailing all over her.

8)  These Shallow Graves by Jennifer Donnelly.  I’m in the mood for something creepy and this sounds perfect.

9)  Infinite In Between by Carolyn Mackler.  Compared to The Breakfast Club, so I’m in.

10)  My Secret to Tell by Natalie D. Richards.  I am a huge fan of hers and I’m so psyched for this.

Shirley, I Jest

Finished Shirley, I Jest by Cindy Williams.  I received a copy from the publisher.

Summary (from Goodreads):

Cindy Williams, best-known as half of the comedic duo of Laverne & Shirley, has had a wild and lively career in show biz. After spending years waiting tables, she landed her first big break with a role in American Graffiti as Ron Howard’s long-suffering girlfriend. This book is an engaging and heartfelt journey from Williams’s blue collar roots to her unexpected stardom—from being pranked by Jim Morrison at the Whisky a Go Go to the emotional rollercoaster of celebrity.”

Shirley, I Jest is basically a who’s who of famous people from the last few years.  While a large chunk of the book is devoted to Cindy Williams’ time on Laverne & Shirley, there are also some stories from American Graffiti and The Conversation, plus information on her brief encounters with Bob Dylan, Jim Morrison and Cary Grant (!!!!!!!).  Like some other celebrity books I’ve read recently, this also doesn’t really get into salacious gossip.  It’s more like examples of famous people I like being decent people.  (This makes me really happy; I don’t want to live in a world where celebs I like turn out to be horrible.)

This book is also an incredibly fast read—partially because it’s about 200 pages, including pictures, but mostly because it reads like Cindy Williams is just talking to the reader, sharing stories and conversations.

This is easily my favorite celebrity memoir.  It’s incredibly short (unfortunately) but thorough, and I hope there will be another volume at some point.

Highly recommended.

 

 

Girl in the Dark

Finished Girl in the Dark by Anna Lyndsey.  I received a copy from the publisher.

Summary (from Goodreads):

A gorgeous memoir of an unthinkable life: a young woman writes of the sensitivity to light that has forced her to live in darkness, and of the love that has saved her.

“Something is afoot within me that I do not understand, the breaking of a contract that I thought could not be broken, a slow perverting of my substance.”

Anna was living a normal life. She was ambitious and worked hard; she had just bought an apartment; she was falling in love. But then she started to develop worrying symptoms: her face felt like it was burning whenever she was in front of the computer. Soon this progressed to an intolerance of fluorescent light, then of sunlight itself. The reaction soon spread to her entire body. Now, when her symptoms are at their worst, she must spend months on end in a blacked-out room, losing herself in audio books and elaborate word games in an attempt to ward off despair. During periods of relative remission she can venture cautiously out at dawn and dusk, into a world that, from the perspective of her normally cloistered existence, is filled with remarkable beauty.

And throughout there is her relationship with Pete. In many ways he is Anna’s savior, offering her shelter from the light in his home. But she cannot enjoy a normal life with him, cannot go out in the day, and even making love is uniquely awkward. Anna asks herself “By continuing to occupy this lovely man while giving him neither children nor a public companion nor a welcoming home—do I do wrong?” With gorgeous, lyrical prose, Anna brings us into the dark with her, a place from which we emerge to see love, and the world, anew.”

This is such a scary story, because it’s so easy to think about what would happen if you started to experience these symptoms.  (And Anna experienced no symptoms whatsoever until all of a sudden fluorescent lights started to make her face feel like it was burning.  And then all light started to cause a problem.  And then all she could do was sit in absolute darkness for months.)

I can’t even imagine.  (Also, for added stress, picture how hard it is to actually be in pitch black darkness.)

Also, props to Anna, because she comes up with ways to stay occupied.  Because TV and books (electronic or otherwise are out), she plays a lot of mental games and listens to audiobooks.  And she is dating the world’s best guy, Pete, who carries a lot of the slack.

This is such an interesting story, and I hope there’s eventually a followup.  I hope we eventually learn what caused this and that she eventually gets cured.

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.

Recommended.

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.