Category Archives: Nonfiction

Chase Darkness With Me

Finished Chase Darkness With Me by Billy Jensen. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“Have you ever wanted to solve a murder? Gather the clues the police overlooked? Put together the pieces? Identify the suspect?

Journalist Billy Jensen spent fifteen years investigating unsolved murders, fighting for the families of victims. Every story he wrote had one thing in common―they didn’t have an ending. The killer was still out there.

But after the sudden death of a friend, crime writer and author of I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, Michelle McNamara, Billy became fed up. Following a dark night, he came up with a plan. A plan to investigate past the point when the cops had given up. A plan to solve the murders himself.

You’ll ride shotgun as Billy identifies the Halloween Mask Murderer, finds a missing girl in the California Redwoods, and investigates the only other murder in New York City on 9/11. You’ll hear intimate details of the hunts for two of the most terrifying serial killers in history: his friend Michelle McNamara’s pursuit of the Golden State Killer and his own quest to find the murderer of the Allenstown Four. And Billy gives you the tools―and the rules―to help solve murders yourself.

Gripping, complex, unforgettable, Chase Darkness with Me is an examination of the evil forces that walk among us, illustrating a novel way to catch those killers, and a true-crime narrative unlike any you’ve read before.”

If you’re into true crime in general or the podcast My Favorite Murder in particular, you know who Billy Jensen is. He helped finish Michelle McNamara’s book (I’ll Be Gone in the Dark) after her sudden death, and now he’s written his own book. He discusses the Golden State Killer, of course, and his search to identify the woman and three children found in barrels (his two most well-known cases) but he discusses other cases, too.

Perhaps most valuable, he discusses how people can help him solve cold cases. (There’s an addendum with tips, including important things not to do.) There’s also a conversation with Paul Holes, which is very fun for true crime buffs and fans of their podcast, The Murder Squad.

I know we have a lot of true crime books out now, and you may be feeling incredibly burned out on the topic. Billy Jensen’s book will likely help you turn that around. His writing style is engaging but it also is full of passion to get these cases solved and find answers for the victims’ families. It’s a combination that I think many people will…I don’t want to say “enjoy,” because this isn’t a particularly fun book to read. It’s full of many people’s worst moments. But if there’s one thing that I hope brings solace to those people, it’s knowing that others care as much as they do, and will not rest until they can find answers. Possibly the worst thing about grief is feeling like you’re the only person who remembers the person lost, and Billy Jensen is careful to keep the focus on victims and not on the murderer. (For example, most people can’t name the women that Ted Bundy killed, but everyone knows his name and appearance.)

I loved this book and I hope that we get a follow up. Highly recommended.


The Pretty One

Finished The Pretty One by Keah Brown. I received a copy for review. Isn’t the cover fabulous? I love it.

Pretty One Cover

Summary (from Goodreads):

“From the disability rights advocate and creator of the #DisabledAndCute viral campaign, a thoughtful, inspiring, and charming collection of essays exploring what it means to be black and disabled in a mostly able-bodied white America.

Keah Brown loves herself, but that hadn’t always been the case. Born with cerebral palsy, her greatest desire used to be normalcy and refuge from the steady stream of self-hate society strengthened inside her. But after years of introspection and reaching out to others in her community, she has reclaimed herself and changed her perspective.

In The Pretty One, Brown gives a contemporary and relatable voice to the disabled—so often portrayed as mute, weak, or isolated. With clear, fresh, and light-hearted prose, these essays explore everything from her relationship with her able-bodied identical twin (called “the pretty one” by friends) to navigating romance; her deep affinity for all things pop culture—and her disappointment with the media’s distorted view of disability; and her declaration of self-love with the viral hashtag #DisabledAndCute.

By “smashing stigmas, empowering her community, and celebrating herself” (Teen Vogue), Brown and The Pretty One aims to expand the conversation about disability and inspire self-love for people of all backgrounds.”

I initially accepted the pitch for this because I am obsessed with all things pop culture and because this is a voice that I don’t really hear that often. (I read books about and by Black authors, but I don’t know off the top of my head how many books by disabled authors I’ve read. Which means I don’t read enough of them. I would like recommendations.)

I’m so glad I did. Keah Brown and I have a lot of pop culture in common and I got almost all of her references. I had that sort of giddy “ME TOO!” reaction so many times in this book and it felt like I was making a new best friend.

But that’s not the real value here (although definitely come for the pop culture references, because they are perfection). Instead, it’s in her candid discussions about how it feels to be disabled (her words) in a world that not only is clearly not meant for you but which seems to purposely ignore you (and best) and grind you down every chance it gets.  The act of loving yourself and being kind to yourself becomes an actual revolutionary act, one of the bravest things you can do.

I loved this book so much and I hope this is the start of a long writing career. Keah Brown is my new favorite. Highly recommended.

They Called Us Enemy

Finished They Called Us Enemy by George Takei.

Summary (from Goodreads):

A stunning graphic memoir recounting actor/author/activist George Takei’s childhood imprisoned within American concentration camps during World War II. Experience the forces that shaped an American icon — and America itself — in this gripping tale of courage, country, loyalty, and love.

George Takei has captured hearts and minds worldwide with his captivating stage presence and outspoken commitment to equal rights. But long before he braved new frontiers in Star Trek, he woke up as a four-year-old boy to find his own birth country at war with his father’s — and their entire family forced from their home into an uncertain future.

In 1942, at the order of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, every person of Japanese descent on the west coast was rounded up and shipped to one of ten “relocation centers,” hundreds or thousands of miles from home, where they would be held for years under armed guard.

They Called Us Enemy is Takei’s firsthand account of those years behind barbed wire, the joys and terrors of growing up under legalized racism, his mother’s hard choices, his father’s faith in democracy, and the way those experiences planted the seeds for his astonishing future.

What is American? Who gets to decide? When the world is against you, what can one person do? To answer these questions, George Takei joins co-writers Justin Eisinger & Steven Scott and artist Harmony Becker for the journey of a lifetime.”

Like Room, the atrocities in here are narrated by a child. George Takei didn’t realize the full extent of what was happening when he, his parents and his two younger siblings were sent to Japanese internment camps (read: imprisoned) but that doesn’t make it any easier for the reader.

This book absolutely broke my heart. We’re never getting better as a country, are we? We’re still afraid of people who we deem as “other” and we just take turns with who that “other” is considered to be.

(George Takei is a lot more hopeful about this than I am; he also shares that the government apologized—decades later, Ronald Reagan officially apologized and George HW Bush issued reparations to the American citizens who were wrongly imprisoned due to their ancestry.)

This is not an easy book but it’s a very necessary one. Highly recommended.


Finished Outspoken by Veronica Reuckert. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

Are you done with the mansplaining? Have you been interrupted one too many times? Don’t stop talking. Take your voice back.

Women’s voices aren’t being heard—at work, at home, in public, and in every facet of their lives. When they speak up, they’re seen as pushy, loud, and too much. When quiet, they’re dismissed as meek and mild. Everywhere they turn, they’re confronted by the assumptions of a male-dominated world.

From the Supreme Court to the conference room to the classroom, women are interrupted far more often than their male counterparts. In the lab, researchers found that female executives who speak more often than their peers are rated 14 percent less competent, while male executives who do the same enjoy a 10 percent competency bump.

In Outspoken, Veronica Rueckert—a Peabody Award–winning former host at Wisconsin Public Radio, trained opera singer, and communications coach—teaches women to recognize the value of their voices and tap into their inherent power, potential, and capacity for self-expression. Detailing how to communicate in meetings, converse around the dinner table, and dominate political debates, Outspoken provides readers with the tools, guidance, and encouragement they need to learn to love their voices and rise to the obligation to share them with the world.

Outspoken is a substantive yet entertaining analysis of why women still haven’t been fully granted the right to speak, and a guide to how we can start changing the culture of silence. Positive, instructive, and supportive, this welcome and much-needed handbook will help reshape the world and make it better for women—and for everyone. It’s time to stop shutting up and start speaking out.”

There’s something for every woman in here. We’ve been trained our whole lives to take up the least possible amount of space, to be quiet and let the men speak. This book is about how to change that.

It doesn’t mean screaming, of course, but how to change the way we talk (I’m guilty of hedging and uptalk, definitely, and probably a little vocal fry) and how to stop hunching in on ourselves on mass transit (if the guys can sprawl, we can—at the very least—sit up enough to be able to take deep breaths).

There’s a lot that’s valuable in here but not everything is applicable to every reader. Even so, I’m certain that every woman will find this book incredibly important and possibly even life-changing.

Highly recommended.

The True Story of Jim the Wonder Dog

FInished The True Story of Jim the Wonder Dog by Marty Rhodes Figley. I received a copy for review at ALA.

Summary (from Amazon):

“Long before canine YouTube stars, Missouri laid claim to the Smartest Dog in the World: Jim the Wonder Dog, a Depression Era hunting dog that many believed was either a genius or possessed of clairvoyant skills. Evidence existed for both claims: Jim predicted seven Kentucky Derby winners and the winners of the 1936 World Series and presidential race, but the setter could also take direction in foreign languages (Italian, French, German, Spanish), shorthand, and Morse Code and recognized both colors and musical instruments. This is the true story of the dog that became known as Missouri’s Wonder Dog.”

As you know, I love dogs but I very rarely read about them because the dog almost always dies in the books and then I cry and it’s no good for anyone. (And yes, the dog dies in this one; it’s set around the Great Depression. But it’s not a good reason to miss this book, because you guys? Jim is magic. And you want to know about it.)

This was the last book I got at ALA; my friend Bekki and I walked right into an author signing for it. I mention that because I came very close to not reading this and not learning about Jim, and that would’ve been very sad. (The author signed the book to me in memory of Sam, which is the sweetest gesture ever and I will treasure this book.)

I can’t believe I haven’t heard this story before (and how is there not a movie?!). The book includes pictures of Jim (including a fantastic drawing on the endpaper) and source material so it’s clear that this actually IS a true story and not exaggerated.

I loved this book and I’m so happy that it came home with me. (I have this marked as middlegrade, but it’s appropriate for younger readers, too; this would be really fun to read to younger kids.)


So Here’s the Thing

Finished So Here’s the Thing by Alyssa Mastromonaco.

Summary (from Goodreads):

From the New York Times bestselling author of Who Thought This Was a Good Idea? comes a fun, frank book of reflections, essays, and interviews on topics important to young women, ranging from politics and career to motherhood, sisterhood, and making and sustaining relationships of all kinds in the age of social media.
Alyssa Mastromonaco is back with a bold, no-nonsense, and no-holds-barred twenty-first-century girl’s guide to life, tackling the highs and lows of bodies, politics, relationships, moms, education, life on the internet, and pop culture. Whether discussing Barbra Streisand or The Bachelor, working in the West Wing or working on finding a wing woman, Alyssa leaves no stone unturned…and no awkward situation unexamined.
Like her bestseller Who Thought This Was a Good Idea?, SO HERE’S THE THING… brings a sharp eye and outsize sense of humor to the myriad issues facing women the world over, both in and out of the workplace. Along with Alyssa’s personal experiences and hard-won life lessons, interviews with women like Monica Lewinsky, Susan Rice, and Chelsea Handler round out this modern woman’s guide to, well, just about everything you can think of.”

This is a really fun book of essays. It’s focused a lot more on pop culture than politics, so if the fact that it’s written by President Obama’s former deputy chief of staff is a stumbling block, don’t let that keep you from enjoying it.

But as much as I love talking about pop culture, it’s the political essays that I liked the most. Alyssa is a little bit older than I am, and the chapter on Monica Lewinsky is probably my favorite in the book. When that scandal was happening, I was a teenager and I didn’t pay that much attention. I’m pretty sure my attitude was roughly the same as everyone else’s (somewhat anti-Monica, making fun of her looks and that dress; very little feeling about Bill Clinton’s responsibility/culpability in the whole thing) which I’m ashamed of now. We didn’t really think about power differentials in the 1990s and we certainly didn’t do things like hold men accountable for their actions. (We barely do that now!). But I’m better now.

I also loved her brief list chapters (things in her bag and things on her nightstand, etc.). I don’t know what it is, but I absolutely love lists. I love making them but I also love reading other people’s. I guess it’s just interesting seeing what other people care enough to write down? (Or type, I guess; lists on paper can be rare now.)

This is a fast read, and I hope to read her first book soon. I have it; I just haven’t read it yet. (That would be the first sentence on my list of things I say most often, btw.)


Furious Hours

Finished Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee by Casey Cep.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“The stunning story of an Alabama serial killer and the true-crime book that Harper Lee worked on obsessively in the years after To Kill a Mockingbird.

Reverend Willie Maxwell was a rural preacher accused of murdering five of his family members for insurance money in the 1970s. With the help of a savvy lawyer, he escaped justice for years until a relative shot him dead at the funeral of his last victim. Despite hundreds of witnesses, Maxwell’s murderer was acquitted–thanks to the same attorney who had previously defended the Reverend.

Sitting in the audience during the vigilante’s trial was Harper Lee, who had traveled from New York City to her native Alabama with the idea of writing her own In Cold Blood, the true-crime classic she had helped her friend Truman Capote research seventeen years earlier. Lee spent a year in town reporting, and many more working on her own version of the case.

Now Casey Cep brings this story to life, from the shocking murders to the courtroom drama to the racial politics of the Deep South. At the same time, she offers a deeply moving portrait of one of the country’s most beloved writers and her struggle with fame, success, and the mystery of artistic creativity.”

This is divided into three sections. The first focuses on Willie Maxwell, the second on the lawyer who defended the man who murdered Maxwell and the third on Harper Lee. Each section is fascinating for different reasons and I think the book focuses on my three favorite things: true crime (section one), politics (section two) and literature (obviously section three). If there’s ever been something that’s more perfectly for me and my interests, I’m not sure what it is.

Like a lot of actively literate people, I love To Kill a Mockingbird and its author. I read Go Set a Watchman and I think I would’ve preferred this book be published. (I’m guessing that her notes and drafts really were destroyed—as she wrote to someone—because otherwise, this would’ve been released, too.)

I would have loved it if this were three books, each one a more thorough telling of each section of this book. It’s succinct and flows well, but I would’ve liked to learn more (and to spend more time with Harper Lee, which was probably my most favorite part).

Stay Sexy & Don’t Get Murdered

Finished Stay Sexy & Don’t Get Murdered by Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark.

Summary (from Goodreads):

The highly anticipated first book by Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark, the voices behind the #1 hit podcast My Favorite Murder!

Sharing never-before-heard stories ranging from their struggles with depression, eating disorders, and addiction, Karen and Georgia irreverently recount their biggest mistakes and deepest fears, reflecting on the formative life events that shaped them into two of the most followed voices in the nation.

In Stay Sexy & Don’t Get Murdered, Karen and Georgia focus on the importance of self-advocating and valuing personal safety over being ‘nice’ or ‘helpful.’ They delve into their own pasts, true crime stories, and beyond to discuss meaningful cultural and societal issues with fierce empathy and unapologetic frankness.”

This doesn’t really deal with true crime (there is very little discussion of murder and crime). Instead, it’s a collection of essays from Karen and Georgia. They discuss their lives and experiences (good and bad). It’s incredibly funny and completely heartbreaking. Karen’s chapter on her mom’s Alzheimer’s is especially devastating; so is Georgia’s chapter that details her experience with a photographer. (She discussed it a little bit on their podcast; this is in greater detail.)

The thing with this book (and their podcast) is that it fosters such a sense of community. We may have gone through the exact same thing, or something similar; we may just relate to the underlying feeling. But either way, this feels like a series of conversations with our best, oldest friend, the one we don’t talk to as much as we’d like to because we’re all so busy, where they say something that’s exactly how we’d been feeling but we didn’t have the words for it, and all you can say back is, “YES. Me, too. That’s exactly how it is for me.”

When I went to the live show in Baltimore, Karen read part of one of the chapters (“Karen’s Lecture on Self-Care”) and said, “You deserve to be happy, no matter what your brain tells you.” It felt like the entire theater audibly gasped but that reading is in the Audible version of this, and I didn’t hear the gasp there. (It still feels true.) I think we should all get that tattooed somewhere.

I love Karen and Georgia and their podcast and this book is the perfect example of why. It’s OK to not have it all together, so long as you’re trying to reach the point where you do. And it’s OK to follow your instincts, if your instincts are saying, “This is not safe. You need to go.”

And it’s OK to stay sexy and not get murdered.

Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls

Finished Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls by T Kira Madden.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“Acclaimed literary essayist T Kira Madden’s raw and redemptive debut memoir is about coming of age and reckoning with desire as a queer, biracial teenager amidst the fierce contradictions of Boca Raton, Florida, a place where she found cult-like privilege, shocking racial disparities, rampant white-collar crime, and powerfully destructive standards of beauty hiding in plain sight.

As a child, Madden lived a life of extravagance, from her exclusive private school to her equestrian trophies and designer shoe-brand name. But under the surface was a wild instability. The only child of parents continually battling drug and alcohol addictions, Madden confronted her environment alone. Facing a culture of assault and objectification, she found lifelines in the desperately loving friendships of fatherless girls.

With unflinching honesty and lyrical prose, spanning from 1960s Hawai’i to the present-day struggle of a young woman mourning the loss of a father while unearthing truths that reframe her reality, Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls is equal parts eulogy and love letter. It’s a story about trauma and forgiveness, about families of blood and affinity, both lost and found, unmade and rebuilt, crooked and beautiful.”

This is more of a collection of essays than an actual memoir.

I asked for this for my birthday because I loved the title and the cover, and because it was getting a lot of buzz. I didn’t know much else about it (I am a sucker for clever marketing). And I’m glad, because I ended up loving this book so, so much.

It’s intense and hard to read in a lot of parts; it’s also brilliant and funny.

This isn’t for everyone. It’s about a girl who essentially raised herself and who made what a lot of people would consider to be bad choices (but she does a great job of just presenting what happened and letting the reader make their own judgments…which honestly, I felt a little squeamish about, because, while I enjoy judging people more than I probably should, I also felt very uncomfortable doing so in this case).

I hope this is the start of a lot of books for T Kira Madden. I am here for all of them. Highly recommended.

Brave Face

Finished Brave Face by Shaun David Hutchinson.

Summary (from Goodreads):

Critically acclaimed author of We Are the Ants—described as having “hints of Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five (School Library Journal)—opens up about what led to an attempted suicide in his teens, and his path back from the experience.

“I wasn’t depressed because I was gay. I was depressed and gay.”

Shaun David Hutchinson was nineteen. Confused. Struggling to find the vocabulary to understand and accept who he was and how he fit into a community in which he couldn’t see himself. The voice of depression told him that he would never be loved or wanted, while powerful and hurtful messages from society told him that being gay meant love and happiness weren’t for him.

A million moments large and small over the years all came together to convince Shaun that he couldn’t keep going, that he had no future. And so he followed through on trying to make that a reality.

Thankfully Shaun survived, and over time, came to embrace how grateful he is and how to find self-acceptance. In this courageous and deeply honest memoir, Shaun takes readers through the journey of what brought him to the edge, and what has helped him truly believe that it does get better.”

I’m not a huge nonfiction person, but I will read anything that Shaun David Hutchinson writes. I knew going in that this would be an emotional read, and it was.

What I didn’t expect was how much I would laugh and cry and experience everything along with Shaun.

He’s only a couple of years older than I am, and I vividly remember how gay people were perceived in the 80s and 90s. (SPOILER: Not well. It wasn’t until Ellen came out that things started to turn around.)

It’s hard to grow up with this kind of constant messaging (erasure at best; damaging stereotypes at worst) and not internalize it; that’s what happened here.

At its core, this book details how you overcome that. And it details how NOT to overcome that.

It absolutely broke my heart in places but it’s also one of the best books I’ve ever read. Highly recommended.