Tag: General Nonfiction

Nonfiction Mini Reviews (Nonfiction November 2018) and New Additions to my TBR

November 29, 2018 Blogger Events 11

Nonfiction November 2018


Another Nonfiction November (hosted by Katie at Doing Dewey, Rennie at What’s Nonfiction?, Julie at Julz Reads, Kim at Sophisticated Dorkiness, and me) is in the books! And, it was an awesome one. I read/listened to eight books and only one was a stinker. And, my favorite book of Nonfiction November was Dopesick by Beth Macy!

I usually use Nonfiction November to create my Nonfiction TBR for the coming year and I found some great books to get that started!

This post contains affiliate links (plus: here’s your Amazon Smile-specific affiliate link), through which I make a small commission when you make a purchase (at no cost to you!).

Nonfiction mini reviews

2018 Nonfiction November Mini Reviews

Big Game: The NFL in Dangerous Times by Mark Leibovich
Nonfiction – Sports (Released September 4, 2018)
400 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Library (Publisher: Penguin Press)

Plot Summary: Political writer Leibovich switches gears to go deep inside the NFL…with extensive access to Tom Brady and the Patriots.

My Thoughts: Mark Leibovich is the Chief National Correspondent for The New York Times Magazine focusing on politics and the author of This Town (my review), a look at the cultural landscape in Washington, D.C. I didn’t love This Town…but, I did love Leibovich’s dry, sarcastic writing style and his propensity to make fun of self-important big-shots. And, he does all that in Big Game…but, the targets are now self-important NFL owners (and there are some seriously eccentric personalities in this bunch) and Commissioner Roger Goodell. Leibovich covers concussions, Deflategate, owner/player/Commissioner dynamics, and more. It’s full of funny anecdotes about all the looney-tune personalities and hoopla surrounding the game…and doesn’t dig into the actual X’s and O’s of football too much, which I appreciated. There’s a big focus on the Patriots and my favorite person in the book is Tom Brady’s Dad…who seems like a down-to-earth guy who is flummoxed by his son’s somewhat woo-woo lifestyle. If you liked Jeanne Marie Laskas’ Concussion (my review), you’ll like this one!

“You guys are cattle and we’re the ranchers,” the late Dallas Cowboys president Tex Schramm once told Hall of Fame offensive lineman Gene Upshaw during a collective bargaining negotiation. It is an oft-quoted line that encapsulates the whole setup. Players get prodded, milked for all they’re worth, sold off, put out to pasture, and slaughtered. Implicit also here is that the cattle’s time is fleeting, like Not for Long football careers. “And ranchers can always get more cattle” is how Schramm’s quote concludes.

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott
Nonfiction – Memoir (Released January 1, 1994)
237 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Library (Publisher: Anchor)

Plot Summary: Lamott’s guide to writing well and living the writing life…based on writing workshops she taught.

My Thoughts: This was my maiden voyage with Anne Lamott and I had some pre-conceived notions about her because she often writes about faith. I thought she’d be wise and heartfelt…and serious. But, she totally surprised me with that last one! She’s relatable and funny…even irreverently funny, which I loved. I don’t have any grand writing ambitions, but I suspect this book would be invaluable to anyone who does. And, in her writing advice, I see many of the things I love to see in the books I read. Her overall message is: listen to your characters, they’ll show you the way. Sometimes she does get overly philosophical about “art,” but I loved it overall and would love to read more by her.

Your work as a writer, when you are giving everything you have to your characters and to your readers, will periodically make you feel like the single parent of a three-year-old, who is, by turns, wonderful, willful, terrible, crazed, and adoring. Toddlers can make you feel as if you have violated some archaic law in their personal Koran and you should die, infidel. Other times they’ll reach out and touch you like adoring grandparents on their deathbeds, trying to memorize your face with their fingers.

Dopesick by Beth Macy
Nonfiction – Investigative Journalism (Released August 7, 2018)
384 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it.

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Library (Publisher: Little, Brown)

Plot Summary: Beth Macy investigates America’s decades long opioid crisis, which is rampant in both rural and suburban areas in Central Appalachia.

My Thoughts: This book scared me sh*tless…there’s really no other way to say it. I knew America had an opioid crisis on its hands, but I had no idea how pervasive it was and that many people originally got addicted via doctor-prescribed painkillers. This book opened my eyes…and, as a parent, got me hoping that this trend will die a hard death by the time my children are old enough to encounter this stuff. Macy chronicles the many levels of failure in dealing with the opioid crisis…from drug companies, to law enforcement, to public policy makers, to doctors. It’s like the cigarette atrocity of this generation. Dopesick is a must read for parents…along with What Made Maddy Run, Girls & Sex, and Missoula…and is a good companion read for Hillbilly Elegy.

He remembered a dislocated coal miner from Grundy, Virginia, confessing that OxyContin had become more important to him than his family, his church, and his children. “It became my god,” the man said.

Driven by Julie Heldman
Nonfiction – Sports Memoir (Released August 22, 2018)
446 Pages
Bottom Line: Skip it.

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Author (Self-Published)

Plot Summary: The memoir of Julie Heldman, a top-ranked pro tennis player in the 1960’s – 70’s and the daughter of Gladys Heldman, a legendary figure behind-the-scenes of the tennis world (she founded World Tennis magazine and was partially responsible for the formation of the Virginia Slims women’s tour, the precursor to today’s WTA).

My Thoughts: I’m a huge tennis fan, which is why I gave this self-published memoir a shot. There was a ton of fascinating tennis history in this book…the battle for equal treatment of women on the pro tour, the personalities of legendary players from that time (ex: Arthur Ashe, Billie Jean King, Chris Evert), and the politics surrounding pros and amateurs. Driven also focuses on Julie’s relationship with her mother (Gladys) and Julie’s eventual battle with mental illness. Famous and beloved in the tennis world, Gladys was a bit of a Mommie Dearest behind closed doors. While somewhat interesting, Heldman beats a dead horse for close to 500 pages (an outrageous length for this book). Driven is desperately in need of an editor…to cut repetitions, to craft story arcs, and to improve the writing (some sections felt like she’d copied directly from her childhood diaries). The tennis history is what kept me reading, so unless you’re an avid tennis fan, there’s probably not much in here to make it worth wading through the muck.

I grew up in a family where the youngest and most demanding child was the world’s largest tennis magazine.

The Fifth Risk by Michael Lewis
Nonfiction (Released October 2, 2018)
219 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it.

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Library (Publisher: W.W. Norton)

Plot Summary: Lewis dives deep into the inner workings of murky government agencies (i.e. Department of Commerce, Department of Agriculture, etc) to explore the obscure risks the government grapples with every day.

My Thoughts: Michael Lewis is a master at making boring, tedious information sound fascinating and he did it again with The Fifth Risk. He shines a light on obscure people with important and interesting, but relatively unknown jobs within the federal government. He exposes risks that regular citizens probably never consider, but that the federal government works to mitigate every day (i.e. the electrical grid). And, he investigates the Trump transition (or lack thereof). There is an incredible amount of information packed into just over 200 pages…so much that the book felt like a brain dump at times. Despite being fascinated by almost everything he shared, I’m still unclear what his overall purpose is: is he trying to educate U.S. citizens about all the things government does for them / saves them from? Trying to expose Trump’s non-existent / unorganized transition? Figure out the biggest risks in government? Publicly recognize unsung government heroes? He seemed to have all these purposes at various times. Mostly, I took from it that I had no idea what certain parts of the government do…and now I know a little more. Also, it’s clear what side of the political aisle Michael Lewis identifies with…and he writes from that perspective.

Another way of putting this is: the risk we should most fear is not the risk we easily imagine. It is the risk that we don’t. Which brought us to the fifth risk. […] The fifth risk did not put him at risk of revealing classified information. “Project management,” was all he said.


American Radical: Inside the World of an Undercover Muslim FBI Agent by Tamer Elnoury
Nonfiction – War (Released October 23, 2017)
9 Hours, 42 Minutes
Bottom Line: Read it
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Purchased (Publisher: Dutton)

Plot Summary: Written under a pseudonym for the author’s safety, this is his story of working undercover for an elite counterterrorism unit following 9/11.

My Thoughts: Elnoury made a career change from going undercover in the drug world to undercover in the terrorism world. And, his story is absolutely chilling. It illuminates terrorism plots that were thankfully thwarted and characters who are the worst of the worst. But, the most interesting part about it for me was the exploration of Elnoury’s version of Islam and how he feels about those that practice the radicalized version of his religion. And, I wondered if the terrorists in this book read it and recognized themselves in it…and what that means for Elnoury’s safety.

Bad Blood by John Carreyrou
Nonfiction – Business / Investigative Journalism (Released May 21, 2018)
11 Hours, 37 Minutes
Bottom Line: Read it

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Library (Publisher: Knopf)

Plot Summary: The true story of the meteoric rise and spectacular fall of the Silicon Valley biotech startup, Theranos.

My Thoughts: My favorite types of business books are the explosive, behind-the-scenes tell-all kinds (DisneyWar by James B. Stewart, Those Guys Have All the Fun by James Andrew Miller, and House of Cards by William Cohen) and Bad Blood fits the bill. Though I did get lost in some of the science and engineering details, I was fascinated / horrified at the arrogance of Elizabeth Holmes, Theranos’s young CEO who viewed herself as the next Steve Jobs, and the lengths Theranos went to to create a “unicorn” despite the absence of a viable product. This one will make a great “Dad” gift for the holidays!

New Nonfiction to My TBR

Silence in the Age of Noise by Erling Kagge (November 21, 2017)
Recommended by Reading with Jade (it was her favorite nonfiction read so far this year)…this one caught my eye because I loved Quiet by Susan Cain (my thoughts) and I’ve become more and more interested in introversion as I’ve gotten older. 

A transformative account of an experience that is essential for our sanity and our happiness.

Whoever Fights Monsters by Robert Ressler and Tom Schachtman (May 1, 1992)
Recommended by Kazan at Always Doing…I love true crime and this by two guys that track serial killers.

The man who coined the term “serial killer”, Ressler is a modern-day Sherlock Holmes who combines observation and a knowledge of psychopathic personalities to draw profiles of unknown perpetrators that are astonishingly accurate descriptions based on various aspects of the crime itself.

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson (October 21, 2014)
Recommended by Tina at TBR, etc…I’ve obviously been hearing about this book for ages from many people, but Tina’s Instagram post was what really made me want to read it.

A powerful true story about the potential for mercy to redeem us, and a clarion call to fix our broken system of justice—from one of the most brilliant and influential lawyers of our time.

Operating Instructions by Anne Lamott (May 1, 1993)
Recommended by Sarah K, one of my blog readers (via my comments section)…I love honest accounts of motherhood and loved my first Anne Lamott this month (Bird by Bird).

The most honest, wildly enjoyable book written about motherhood is surely Anne Lamott’s account of her son Sam’s first year.

Dead Girls by Alice Bolin (June 26, 2018)
Recommended by Kelly at Stacked…she paired this one with Sadie by Courtney Summers, which I liked, in her Fiction / Nonfiction pairings post. More for my true crime TBR list, which is getting longer every minute.

A collection of poignant, perceptive essays that expertly blends the personal and political in an exploration of American culture through the lens of our obsession with dead women.

This Will Only Hurt a Little by Busy Phillips (October 16, 2018)
Recommended by Susie at Novel Visits…I’m all for a juicy celebrity memoir, especially one that’s great on audio!

A memoir by the beloved comedic actress known for her roles on Freaks and Geeks, Dawson’s Creek, and Cougar Town who has become “the breakout star on Instagram stories…imagine I Love Lucy mixed with a modern lifestyle guru.”

The Good Nurse by Charles Graeber (April 15, 2013)
Recommended by Tina at TBR, etc.…more for my true crime TBR!

After his December 2003 arrest, registered nurse Charlie Cullen was quickly dubbed “The Angel of Death” by the media. But Cullen was no mercy killer, nor was he a simple monster. He was a favorite son, husband, beloved father, best friend, and celebrated caregiver. Implicated in the deaths of as many as 300 patients, he was also perhaps the most prolific serial killer in American history.

What was your favorite read and top TBR add of Nonfiction November?

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My Favorite Nonfiction That Reads Like Fiction

November 20, 2018 Book Lists 17

Nonfiction November 2018


Today’s Nonfiction November (hosted by Katie at Doing Dewey, Rennie at What’s Nonfiction?, Julie at Julz Reads, Kim at Sophisticated Dorkiness, and me) topic is Reads Like Fiction (head over to What’s Nonfiction? for the link-up!):

Nonfiction books often get praised for how they stack up to fiction. Does it matter to you whether nonfiction reads like a novel? If it does, what gives it that fiction-like feeling? Does it depend on the topic, the writing, the use of certain literary elements and techniques? What are your favorite nonfiction recommendations that read like fiction? And if your nonfiction picks could never be mistaken for novels, what do you love about the differences?

This post contains affiliate links (plus: here’s your Amazon Smile-specific affiliate link), through which I make a small commission when you make a purchase (at no cost to you!).

Nonfiction That Reads Like Fiction

When people ask me for nonfiction recommendations, they often request something that “reads like fiction.” Personally, I don’t need my nonfiction to read like fiction to love it…but, I do love a good nonfiction that reads like fiction! I do feel like many of the iconic nonfiction books could be described as reading like fiction. 

For me, a nonfiction book reads like fiction if there is a strong story arc. If there are central characters whose fates you care about and the story has a beginning, middle and an end. Also, not being able to put it down helps!

Nonfiction That Reads Like Fiction

All Over But the Shoutin’ by Rick Bragg
Bragg’s memoir about his childhood growing up destitute, with an alcoholic and mostly absentee father, in rural Alabama. It’s one of my all-time favorite nonfiction books and Bragg is the author I’ve found that comes closest to Pat Conroy (if you’re a regular blog reader, you know how big a compliment this is coming from me!) so far.

The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson (my review)
The true story of the creation of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair and the serial killer masquerading as a doctor who cast a shadow over the proceedings. An excellent true crime / history mash-up and the book that many people would say is the epitome of nonfiction that reads like fiction (I think I agree).

Educated by Tara Westover (my review)
Westover’s memoir about growing up in a survivalist Mormon family who didn’t believe in public education and her journey to break the mold by getting her PhD at Cambridge University. Educated was recently named the #1 Book of 2018 by Amazon and Library Reads.

Forty Autumns by Nina Willner (my review)
Willner, an ex-U.S. intelligence officer covering East Germany, tells the true story of her family being separated by the Berlin Wall and their experience living in Communist East Germany. This one was my favorite book of last year’s Nonfiction November and would make a great pairing with Georgia Hunter’s We Were the Lucky Ones.

From the Corner of the Oval by Beck Dorey-Stein
This quarter life crisis memoir set in the world of politics might be my favorite audiobook of the year! It’s like listening to your fun friend who happens to have a job (stenographer) in the White House with access to the President give you all the very best anecdotes (plus, a good dose of her love life) over a glass of wine!

In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson (my review)
Told through the eyes of Martha Dodd, the US Ambassador to Berlin’s daughter, Larson paints a picture of how the German people remained oblivious as Hitler very gradually accumulated the power to enable him to pull off the Holocaust under their noses.

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt
The true story of the Savannah murder of Billy Hansen and the subsequent trial of antiques dealer and social gadfly Jim Williams. This one blends a suspenseful murder mystery with a portrait of an eccentric Southern town…and, I’m long overdue for a re-read.

My Salinger Year by Joanna Rakoff (my review)
The story of Rakoff’s experience as a young woman in the 90’s living in NYC and working at the literary agency representing reclusive legend, J.D. Salinger. But, this one reads like a coming of age novel with celebrity guest appearances! 

On Wings of Eagles by Ken Follett
The story of eventual Presidential candidate Ross Perot’s rogue rescue of his Electronic Data Systems employees after they were imprisoned in Tehren during the 1978 Iranian Revolution. One of those truth is stranger than fiction stories…that also reads like fiction.

Red Notice by Bill Browder
The true story of Browder’s experience as one of the first foreign investors in Russia after the fall of Communism and widespread privatization. This is one of the few nonfiction books that reads like a thriller.

The Girl Who Smiled Beads by Clemantine Wamariya (my review)
Clemantine was six years old when she and her older sister (Claire) were separated from their family during the Rwandan genocide and spent the next six years as refugees before being granted asylum in the U.S., and in Clemantine’s case, going on to get a degree from Yale. I kind of wish this one was actually fiction…

The Rules Do Not Apply by Ariel Levy (my review)
Current New Yorker staff writer Levy’s memoir of self-examination takes a brutally raw and honest look at her life including love, massive loss, and bad decisions.

What are your favorite nonfiction books that read like fiction?

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March 2018 Books to Read (and Skip)

March 15, 2018 Mini Book Reviews 39

March 2018 Books to Read


My March reading has so far been pretty similar to February! I’ve liked most of what I’ve read, but there isn’t a runaway standout. I did get let down by two trusted authors, which always makes me a special kind of sad, but overall a solid month!

In addition to my March 2018 Books to Read, stay tuned for my full review of Alternate Side by Anna Quindlen (coming a week from today).

Hosted by Modern Mrs. Darcy.
This post contains affiliate links (plus: here’s your Amazon Smile-specific affiliate link).

Read These

Bachelor NationBachelor Nation by Amy Kaufman
Nonfiction (Released March 6, 2018)
320 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Publisher (Publisher: Dutton Books)

Plot Summary: Kaufman, a L.A. Times reporter who covered The Bachelor franchise until ABC shut down her access because they weren’t pleased with what she was writing about the show, exposes the inner workings of The Bachelor franchise.

My Thoughts: I’m an unapologetic fan of The Bachelor and am fascinated by all the behind-the-scenes drama. So, I’m almost the perfect reader for this book (my downfall is that I already know a lot of this stuff from reading Reality Steve). Kaufman investigates The Bachelor‘s cultural place in America, how producers get contestants to give them good TV, how and why contestants think they fall in love over such a short period of time, what happens to the couples after the show ends…and, a history of dating shows (which should have been edited out). This best part of the book are the excepts from contestant Sharleen Joynt‘s journal she kept during filming…she clinically picks apart the psychology of the show while she’s in the middle of it. She’s brilliant and her take is articulate and well thought-out. Kaufman doesn’t really dish on contestant-specific gossip (who’s hooking up with whom, etc), but raises the overall curtain to reveal Oz. Beware if you want to preserve the fairytale because you’ll for sure be watching the show differently after reading it.

Everything is just so designed for romance, I can see how if you were single, didn’t necessarily know what you were looking for, couldn’t tell a deep connection from a superficial one, and were somewhat naive, hopelessly naive and not very cautious, you could fall in love. The focus is so on it all the time. You’re constantly prompted to talk about him, what you two share, how it makes you feel, how seeing him with the other girls makes you feel. There is no escape. – from Sharleen Joynt‘s journal

Laura and EmmaLaura & Emma by Kate Greathead
Fiction – Literary (Released March 13, 2018)
352 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Publisher (Publisher: Simon & Schuster)

Plot Summary: Laura, the somewhat quirky daughter of a blue-blood Upper East Side family, becomes pregnant after a one-night stand and wrestles with how to raise her daughter.

My Thoughts: The key to loving Laura & Emma is loving Laura’s voice and the writing style (which I did)…because there isn’t a ton of action to propel the story. It’s been compared to the TV show Gilmore Girls and I’d say that’s true with the story’s premise (single mother from a wealthy family trying to raise her daughter differently than how she grew up, but not totally disconnecting), but not at all in character or style. Laura is offbeat, but likable and funny in an awkward way (she reminded me of a less damaged version of Eleanor Oliphant). She’s uncomfortable with her family’s wealth, but her guilt doesn’t stop her from taking advantage of the benefits that come with it. The story is told in vignettes both momentous and mundane, which might turn some people off, but these hung together quite well to form a cohesive story (e.g. similar to Goodbye, Vitamin). However, the ending is perplexing to say the least. I’m still not sure what happened and it will probably annoy readers who don’t like things left open-ended. P.S. – there’s an entertaining, kooky grandmother…always a plus in my reading!

As she sat across the table from this Republican lobbyist lunatic, she thought of what her mother had said of marriage: Anything, anything, anything would be better than this. That’s how others viewed her current situation as a single mother, she realized. How else to explain their rationale in matching her with such maniacs? They saw her and Emma as incomplete, stray people, a free-floating fragment; the goal was to make them whole and anyone, anyone, anyone would be better than no one.

Tangerine by Christine ManganTangerine by Christine Mangan
Fiction – Literary (Released March 20, 2018)
320 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Publisher (Publisher: Ecco Books)

Plot Summary: Alice Shipley can’t figure out whether to be relieved or unsettled when her college roommate (Lucy Mason), who she hasn’t spoken to in over a year after a deeply disturbing incident, shows up on her doorstep in Tangier, Morocco, where she’s living with her new husband (John).

My Thoughts: Told in dual perspectives, Mangan’s debut novel is the story of a fraught, obsessive friendship and all the wreckage it leaves behind. Tangerine is a very specific type of book that I generally adore (and I did in this case!), but that probably isn’t for everyone. It’s kind of a page turner, but not in the traditional sense. It’s taut with emotional and psychological tension, but doesn’t have much action until the second half. Mangan generates all this tension through her writing style, which reminded me of Tender (my review), Sunburn (my review), and Based on a True Story (Spoiler Discussion). For virtually the entire book, I questioned who to trust, which kept me turning the pages, and the Moroccan setting makes the story even more enigmatic. P.S. – Don’t be fooled by this cover. It reminds me of Paula McClain’s Circling the Sun, which is straight-up historical fiction, but Tangerine does not read like historical fiction at all despite the 1950’s time period. 

Tangier and Lucy were the same, I thought. Both unsolvable riddles that refused to leave me in peace. And I had tired of it – of the not knowing, of always feeling as though I were on the outside of things, just on the periphery.

Skip These

Flight Attendant by Chris BohjalianThe Flight Attendant by Chris Bohjalian
Fiction – Mystery / Thriller (Released March 13, 2018)
368 Pages
Affiliate Link: Amazon
Source: Publisher (Publisher: Doubleday)

Plot Summary: When Cassie, an alcoholic flight attendant, finds her hook-up (Alex Sokolov) from the night before dead in a Dubai hotel, she questions whether she killed him during a blackout and, if not, wonders who did.

My Thoughts: Chris Bohjalian has been a reliable standby for me in the thriller department for the past few years (The Guest RoomThe Sleepwalker), but I think he stumbled with The Flight Attendant. I was initially interested in finding out what happened to Alex and what would happen to Cassie. How would she handle being questioned about Alex’s murder (given she makes terrible decisions most of the time)? Would she be charged with murdering him? But, as Alex’s story is gradually revealed, I became incredibly confused. Why he might have been killed is convoluted, yet it felt like white noise to me. That side of the story isn’t developed well at all…to the point that I didn’t really care. However, Bohjalian did a great job bringing the life of a flight attendant alive, which I enjoyed. Bohjalian has written a book a year for the past few years, which is a lot. I feel like he might’ve churned this one out too quickly…at the expense of quality.

She hoped her small joke would make him smile, but the truth of it made her cringe. It wasn’t merely the acknowledgment of her drinking; it was the reality that she was poisonous; she always risked diminishing the people she loved or might someday love. Too often she forced them to make the same bad choices she did or forced them from her life. Best case, she forced them to care for her.

Girls Burn BrighterGirls Burn Brighter by Shobha Rao (March 6, 2018)
DNF at 13%

This novel about female friendship set in India got a decent amount of publisher hype. I had trouble getting into the characters initially and my mind kept wandering. I felt like I was viewing the story from an airplane window at 50,000 feet instead of feeling immersed in it. Since then, I’ve heard it’s an incredibly brutal story, which I just don’t have in me right now.

What’s the best book you’ve read so far this month?

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Nonfiction November 2017 Mini Reviews and New Additions to my TBR

November 28, 2017 Blogger Events 16

Nonfiction November 2017

Another Nonfiction November (hosted by Katie at Doing Dewey, Lory at Emerald City Book Review, Kim at Sophisticated Dorkiness, Julz at Julz Reads, and me) is in the books! And, it was a good one. I read/listened to eight books and only two were stinkers (and, I was shocked about one of them).

I usually use Nonfiction November to create my Nonfiction TBR for the coming year and I found some great books to get that started!

This post contains affiliate links (plus: here’s your Amazon Smile-specific affiliate link).

2017 Nonfiction November Mini Reviews

After the Eclipse by Sarah PerryAfter the Eclipse by Sarah Perry
Nonfiction – True Crime/Memoir (Released September 26, 2017)
371 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Library (Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

Plot Summary: Perry’s mother was murdered when she was 12 years old…and Perry was in the house when it happened. Years later, she tries to find out who her mother was and who killed her.

My Thoughts: After the Eclipse is part true crime with a little The Glass Castle thrown in. Sarah grew up poor with an absentee father and had a close bond with her mother. The publisher’s blurb says the book is about Sarah getting to learn more about her mother following her death, but I thought it was more about finding peace in the aftermath of the murder and closure (i.e. finding out who killed her). It’s an incredibly powerful story with multiple eye-widening moments, but the story dragged a bit through the middle (between the murder and its immediate aftermath and finally finding the killer).

Black Dahlia Red Rose Black Dahlia, Red Rose by Piu Marie Eatwell
Nonfiction – True Crime / Investigative Journalism (Released October 10, 2017)
368 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Library (Publisher: Liveright)

Plot Summary: Eatwell investigates the famous and still unsolved 1947 Black Dahlia murder (young, aspiring starlet Elizabeth Short was found virtually bisected on a residential sidewalk in Los Angeles) and poses a theory about who the murderer was based on evidence that was suppressed at the time.

My Thoughts: The Black Dahlia murder occurred during a time when Los Angeles was rampant with corruption (including in the LAPD) and gangsters. And, this vivid setting and culture is very much a part of the murder and the book, making Black Dahlia, Red Rose feel like more than just a true crime “genre” book. The case itself is fascinating, as is the corruption that went on at the time and the re-examination of the evidence now…but, I did get bogged down in details a bit through the middle when the focus turned to corruption in the LAPD. If you liked In Cold Blood or American Fire, I think you’ll like this one!

Dear Fahrenheit 451 by Annie SpenceDear Fahrenheit 451 by Annie Spence
Nonfiction – Memoir (Released September 26, 2017)
256 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Library (Publisher: Flatiron Books)

Plot Summary: Spence, a public librarian, shares her “love letters and break-up notes” to her favorite books, as well as musings and rants about various aspects of her reading life…plus, a whole section of book recommendation lists.

My Thoughts: I recently tried reading My Life with Bob (the New York Times Book Review editor’s memoir of her reading life) and DNF’d it during the first half because it talked too much about esoteric books and got intellectually snobby one too many times. Dear Fahrenheit 451 is the anti-My Life with Bob! You’ve probably heard of most of the books she discusses and even read a few…and there’s no intellectual snobbery here. Spence is relatable, funny, and often snarky. The chapters are short and it’s a great book to pick up when you need something light and easy. Also – it will explode your TBR list…consider yourself warned.

Forty AutumnsForty Autumns by Nina Millner by Nina Willner
Nonfiction – History/Memoir (Released October 4, 2016)
416 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Library (Publisher: William Morrow)

Plot Summary: Willner, an ex-U.S. intelligence officer covering East Germany, tells the true story of her family being separated by the Berlin Wall and their experience living in Communist East Germany.

My Thoughts: Forty Autumns was my favorite book of Nonfiction November! It’s a look at communism and East Germany through the lens of one family’s experience. I learned a ton about life behind the Iron Curtain (a topic I’ve been fascinated with ever since seeing the East German women’s swim team dominate the 1988 Seoul Olympics) and the gut-wrenching fear and oppression the East Germans faced. I recently paired it with Georgia Hunter’s novel, We Were the Lucky Ones, in a Fiction / Nonfiction Pairing post. They’re similar stories about families fractured by war and an oppressive regime, just different countries and different wars. Like Hunter’s novel, Forty Autumns is highly readable despite it’s serious topic and touches the emotional heart-strings while giving you a history lesson.

How Reading Changed My Life by Anna QuindlenHow Reading Changed My Life by Anna Quindlen
Nonfiction – Memoir (Released January 1, 1998)
96 Pages
Bottom Line: Skip it.

Affiliate Link: Amazon
Source: Library (Publisher: Ballantine Books)

Plot Summary: Quindlen’s thoughts on her reading life and books she’s loved.

My Thoughts: This memoir was kind of all over the place and didn’t feel much like the Anna Quindlen I know and love. Some parts (personal memories of growing up a bookworm) were warm and relatable (typical Quindlen), while others read like an academic term paper. The silver lining is that it’s chock full of amazing, famous quotes about books and reading. I never thought I’d be recommending you skip an Anna Quindlen, but I am.

Strangers in their Own Land by Arlie Russell HochschildStrangers in Their Own Land by Arlie Russell Hochschild
Nonfiction – Politics (Released August 16, 2016)
351 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Library (Publisher: New Press)

Plot Summary: Liberal sociologist Hochschild went deep into Louisiana Bayou country to get to know some of the people who politically identify with the Tea Party.

My Thoughts: I’m really glad I read Strangers in Their Own Land, but it was different than I expected. It does delve into the reasons these particular people support the Tea Party (and hate the idea of government intervention and support, though they theoretically could benefit from it), but a large chunk of the book is about the environmental pollution of this area of Louisiana. The environmental piece was interesting reading, but I thought was a bit overdone given it was somewhat of a tangent. A logical “next book” if you liked Hillbilly Elegy.

Happiness Project by Gretchen RubinThe Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin
Nonfiction – Life Improvement (Released December 29, 2009)
301 Pages (Audio: 10 hours, 15 minutes)
Bottom Line: Read it / Listen to it
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Purchased (Publisher: Harper)

Plot Summary: Rubin dedicated a year of her life to focusing on the things that matter…thus her “Happiness Project.”

My Thoughts: The Happiness Project is a relatable exploration of figuring out what makes you happy and how to focus on those things in your daily life (her motto is basically sleep, workout, declutter…in my words). It’s filled with actionable, manageable, common sense tips that are easy to integrate into your life, but that we often forget to focus on (i.e. get more sleep). Plus, she throws in memorable quotes to keep you on track (i.e. “sleep is the new sex”, “take pleasure in an atmosphere of growth”). Sometimes she comes across as a “happiness bully” (her words) and I think she could drive me nuts to have as a friend, but overall it’s a great tool to help you hit reset on on your life.

UnbelievableUnbelievable by Katy Tur by Katy Tur
Nonfiction – Politics (Released September 12, 2017)
301 Pages (Audio: 7 hours, 46 minutes)
Bottom Line: Skip it

Affiliate Link: Amazon
Source: Library (Publisher: Dey Street Books)

Plot Summary: NBC News Correspondent Tur’s behind the scenes look at what it was like to cover Donald Trump’s political campaign.

My Thoughts: I’m always interested in the behind-the-scenes dirt from political campaigns…from either party…and you’d think the dirt from the Trump campaign would be exceptionally entertaining (maybe not the right word, but close enough). But, funnily enough, I don’t feel like I learned anything new from this book. Maybe because so much has already been reported by the media along the way or tweeted about by Trump himself, but I felt like Unbelievable was a re-hash of things I already knew…except maybe getting a better appreciation for the perpetual exhaustion of those involved in political campaigns.

New Nonfiction to My TBR

And the Band Played On by Randy Shilts (November 1, 1987)
Recommended by Melissa Firman…this one caught my eye because she paired it with The Heart’s Invisible Furies (my review) in her fiction / nonfiction book pairings.

Shilts tells the heroic stories of individuals in science and politics, public health and the gay community, who struggled to alert the nation to the enormity of the danger it faced.

Ghettoside by Jill Leovy (January 25, 2015)
Recommended by Kazan at Always Doing (via my comments section).

Ghettoside is a fast-paced narrative of a devastating crime, an intimate portrait of detectives and a community bonded in tragedy, and a surprising new lens into the great subject of murder in America–why it happens and how the plague of killings might yet be stopped.

Grocery by Michael Ruhlman (May 16, 2017)
Recommended by Joann at Lakeside Musing.

Cookbook author and food writer Ruhlman explores the evolution of the American grocery store and how it has affected what we eat. The author uses two of his Midwestern hometown grocery chains, Heinen’s and Fazio’s, and his memories of his father’s love of food and grocery shopping as the foundation for this engaging narrative.

The Girls of Atomic City by Denise Kiernan (March 5, 2013)
Recommended by Tara at Running N Reading.

The incredible story of the young women of Oak Ridge, Tennessee, who unwittingly played a crucial role in one of the most significant moments in U.S. history (the Manhattan Project).

On Writing by Stephen King (June 27, 2017)
Recommended by my friend and author of the fantastic book We Were the Lucky Ones, Georgia Hunter (along with a number of other people in the comments section of my Books about Reading and Writing post).

On Writing begins with King’s childhood and his uncannily early focus on writing to tell a story. King next turns to the basic tools of his trade and culminates with a profoundly moving account of how King’s overwhelming need to write spurred him toward recovery.

What was your favorite read and top TBR add of Nonfiction November?

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Five Days at Memorial by Sheri Fink: A Nonfiction Page Turner

November 10, 2016 Nonfiction 24

Five Days at Memorial, Sheri FinkNonfiction
Released September 10, 2013
558 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Library (Publisher: Crown)


Part portrait of a hospital trying to survive in the wake of disaster and part exploration of end-of-life care and euthanasia in the U.S., Five Days at Memorial reads like a thriller and is the first nonfiction book I’ve included on my Page Turners list.

Plot Summary

An investigative report into what happened during and immediately after Hurricane Katrina at New Orleans’ Memorial Medical Center…including allegations that doctors intentionally sped up death for some of the hospital’s sickest patients that they thought wouldn’t survive an evacuation.

Why I Read It

This was the book that got the most votes from my Nonfiction November Reading Options post…plus, it’s been on my TBR for a couple years now and I felt like the last person on earth who hadn’t read it.

Major Themes

End-of-life care, euthanasia, prioritization of medical care, disaster preparedness, aftermath of a disaster

What I Liked

  • I think it’s rare for nonfiction to feel like a fast-paced page turner, but this one did. Particularly in Part 1, which focused on the play-by-play of what happened in the hospital during and immediately following Hurricane Katrina.
  • Comparing Five Days at Memorial to The Martian might seem odd. But, I got the same frantic feeling as I did while reading The Martian; of putting out a fire just to have a new one crop up…and being on the edge of my seat wondering whether they’ll survive each new setback.
  • This book is about so much more than just the events at Memorial. It’s about end-of-life medical decisions, euthanasia, medical ethics, the prioritization of care and evacuation in a disaster, what happens to society when conventional standards break down in the face of disaster (i.e. sometimes a Lord of the Flies environment), bureaucratic incompetence, poor planning, lack of perspective and the wrath of the elements. It’s about how all this conspired to create a horrific situation requiring choices no human should ever have to make.

Memorial wasn’t so much a hospital anymore but a shelter that was running out of supplies and needed to be emptied.

  • Fink wrote the book in a way that, when I was in the heat of the moment (i.e. Part 1), I had sympathy for both sides and could see both sides’ logic. But, in hindsight (i.e. Part 2, which covered the subsequent investigation), the doctors’ actions seemed callous and wrong. This is probably similar to how the real-life situation felt to many who were involved or following it on the news and I appreciated Fink’s ability to make me feel the complexity of the real-life situation.
  • This book is a debate starter. The lack of a clear right answer to what happened at Memorial would make for some fantastic book club conversation.

What I Didn’t Like

  • It was overly long and I could’ve done without a few specific tangents in Part 2 (historical background on euthanasia and the entire Epilogue except what happened at NYU hospital during Hurricane Sandy).

A Defining Quote

Pou would later say that the goal in a disaster must be to do “the greatest good for the greatest number of people,” […]. But what does the “greatest good” mean when it comes to medicine? Is it the number of lives saved? Years of life saved? Best “quality” years of life saved? Or something else?

Good for People Who Like…

Investigative journalism, medical nonfiction, disaster scenarios, emotional gut wrenchers, debate starters

Other Books You May Like

Because of its fast paced, how-will-we-survive-what’s-thrown-at-us-next feel:
The Martian by Andy Weir

Because of its focus on how society responds to disaster:
One Second After by William R. Forstchen

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Two Additions to My 2016 Summer Reading Guide: Grunt and Before the Fall

June 23, 2016 Mini Book Reviews 19

I published my 2016 Summer Reading Guide at the end of May and will be adding more books to it throughout the summer. Here are two of my latest, though very different, additions…

Grunt, Mary RoachGrunt by Mary Roach
Nonfiction (Released June 7, 2016)
288 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Publisher (W.W. Norton) via NetGalley

Plot Summary: Grunt tackles the science behind some of a soldier’s most challenging adversaries—panic, exhaustion, heat, noise—and introduces us to the scientists who seek to conquer them.” (Goodreads)

My Thoughts: Mary Roach is known for delving deep into an odd topic (like what happens to cadavers in Stiff) and using her dry (and frequently morbid) humor to share her findings in a relatable way. In Grunt, she focuses on seemingly minor issues (many of which civilians encounter in their daily lives) that wreck havoc with the military and military issues that don’t get a lot of media attention, including bird strikes, hearing loss, diarrhea prevention, flies and sleep. Though she doesn’t shy away from topics that civilians (hopefully) won’t need to concern themselves with: submarine escape, bomb safety for the undercarriages of vehicles, and flame resistant clothing.

With one chapter focusing on each topic, Grunt reads like a short story collection. And as with most short story collections, I had my winners and losers. A chapter on war-related genital injuries and reconstructive surgery was thankfully free of the heavy military and scientific jargon that caused me to glaze over in some of the other chapters…and was predictably fodder for some funny anecdotes. And, a chapter on sleep was relatable and applicable to anyone. I was less enamored with chapters on flies and odors because of the previously mentioned science and military jargon overload. Though Grunt had some hiccups, I would recommend it to people interested in the military or with an appreciation for quirky knowledge and a flair for the ridiculous (which Roach helpfully points out to the reader at every opportunity). 

Before the Fall, Noah HawleyBefore the Fall by Noah Hawley
Fiction – Mystery/Thriller (Released May 31, 2016)
400 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Purchased (Publisher: Grand Central Publishing)

Plot Summary: A private plane carrying two important businessmen (one of whom is the Rupert Murdoch-like head of a 24 hour news network), their families, and a down-on-his-luck painter crashes off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard, leaving two survivors.

My Thoughts: Before the Fall, written by the creator of the TV show Fargo, has been hyped as “the thriller of the year” by many and has appeared on a number of the traditional media’s Summer Reading Guides. While I don’t feel quite as strongly about it, it is one of only two thrillers I’ve enjoyed all year.

Opening with the plane crash, the book works backwards and forwards to tell the stories of each passenger and those close to the crash’s aftermath. As with some other books that worked for me lately (The Expatriates, Only Love Can Break Your Heart), the mystery (i.e. why the plane crashed) serves as a catalyst to explore human emotions and behavior. The crux of this story is more about the people on the plane and what today’s media can do to a tragic story than the crash itself.

Unfortunately, the ending fizzled a bit for me. In the moment, I wanted it to be more and bigger than it was. But after reflecting, the lack of razzle-dazzle fits well with the book’s overarching point about how the 24 hour news cycle pumps up stories, squeezing every last ounce of possible ratings value from them, the truth be damned. Despite the ending, Before the Fall is a good choice for anyone who likes their thrillers to go beyond standard plot twists.

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Missoula by Jon Krakauer: A Discussion

November 5, 2015 Crime, Nonfiction 26

Missoula, Jon KrakauerNonfiction
Released April 21, 2015
386 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Purchased


Krakauer’s incredibly readable investigative journalism had me turning the issues of rape and the justice system over and over in my head and was almost a 5 star read for me (only a tedious final section prevented me from giving it that last half star). It would make for a meaty book club discussion.

Plot Summary

Krakauer explores rape and the justice system on college campuses through a look at several acquaintance rape cases at the University of Montana in Missoula.

Why I Read It

I’m interested in this particular issue and love Krakauer’s very readable investigative work (particularly Under the Banner of Heaven).

Major Themes

Rape (particularly acquaintance rape), criminal procedure, criminal and university justice systems, rape victim recovery

My Major Takeaways

It was difficult for me to critically review Missoula as a book because my mind was too consumed with the issues that Krakauer raised. So, I’m going with a discussion of those issues rather than a traditional review.

  • Acquaintance rape and stranger rape are vastly different animals…mostly as they pertain to the affects on the victim, her recovery, and the experience she is likely to have if the rape goes to trial. A victim of acquaintance rape could face the prospect of questioning whether a rape even occurred, having her character torn apart publicly, having people not believe her story, having a lower likelihood of putting the rapist behind bars, and blaming herself for what happened. Not to say that victims of stranger rape don’t deal with any of these issues, but I’d say it’s on a much lesser scale than for victims of acquaintance rape.
  • The incentives for prosecutors to take on rape cases are skewed in favor of defendants…prosecutors want to maintain a high win percentage and rape cases are notoriously difficult to win given their he said/she said nature (particularly acquaintance rape cases). So, prosecutors might choose not to press charges in cases that aren’t sure winners (i.e. many rape cases).
  • In fact, the entire justice system is skewed in favor of the defendant…which makes sense given the U.S. is an “innocent until proven guilty” nation. But, it’s tough on rape victims. A rape victim has no lawyer fighting for her personal interests (like a defendant does) and no say in how the prosecutor argues her rape case or if a proposed plea deal is acceptable. Defense attorneys are not bound by as stringent a set of ethical expectations and deterrents for telling the truth in court, and in many cases, will go to whatever length necessary to get their clients off.
  • Feeling empowered again is critical to a rape victim’s recovery and the ability to put the rapist behind bars goes a long way towards a victim regaining her sense of empowerment.
  • Title IX legislation included sexual assault directives for Universities…which required Universities to develop a system for handling sexual assault cases. Then, per a subsequent 2011 directive, Universities were required to use a lower standard of proof when trying rape cases within the campus system. Instead of the criminal “beyond a reasonable doubt”, Universities are to use “the preponderance of evidence” (aka “more likely than not”) as the standard of proof, meaning “just 51% of the credible evidence indicated that the accused had committed the offense.”

Lingering Questions

  • How do you balance the police’s responsibility to believe a rape victim’s story with its responsibility to protect the alleged rapist’s right to be “innocent until proven guilty”? The police need to create an accepting atmosphere to encourage terrified rape victims to come forward, but they also need to question the victims’ stories to respect the alleged rapist’s right to be “innocent until proven guilty”. It’s a tough balance.
  • How do you feel about the differing standards of proof for rape cases in the criminal vs. academic justice systems? Do you buy the rationale that the difficulty of putting a rapist behind bars through the criminal system makes it fair to use a lower standard of proof for the academic process given the worst possible punishment is merely expulsion from school (rather than jail time and a permanent criminal record)? 
  • The book doesn’t propose a solution to the the issues Krakauer raised. What type of solution do you think is necessary to ensure victims feel comfortable reporting rapes and that more rape cases get to be decided by a jury?

A Defining Quote

Police and prosecutors are morally and professionally obligated to make every effort to identify specious rape reports, safeguard the civil rights of rape suspects, and prevent the falsely accused from being convicted. At the same time, however, police and prosecutors are obligated to do everything in their power to identify individuals who have committed rape and ensure that the guilty are brought to justice.

Good for People Who Like…

Investigative journalism, exposes, narrative nonfiction, criminal justice system, psychology, books that make you think

Other Books You May Like

The Underground Girls of Kabul by Jenny Nordberg
Under the Banner of Heaven
by Jon Krakauer

Also check out Tara at Running N Reading’s review for a different style analysis of this book…including links to the real life news stories and pictures of some of the major players.

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Nonfiction November: Be the Expert…Books About the Kennedys

November 8, 2014 Bookish Posts, Books to Read, History, Nonfiction 16

Nonfiction November

This post is part of Nonfiction November hosted by Katie at Doing Dewey, Kim at Sophisticated Dorkiness, Becca at I’m Lost in Books, and Leslie at Regular Rumination. This week, the hosts asked us to Be the Expert, Ask the Expert, or Become the Expert on a topic of our choosing. I chose to Be the Expert by sharing 3 or more books that I have read and can recommend about the Kennedys.

I’ve always loved reading about the Kennedy family. You’ve got glamour, wealth, and very scandalous behavior…what’s not to love?! And, you can feel good about it all since you’re likely learning a fair amount of history in the process. The Kennedys are my quintessential “Biogossip” (i.e. biographies that are so gossipy that they read like Page Six) subjects and two of the books below are on my Biogossip Recommendations List.

Books about Jackie Kennedy…

Jackie Kennedy, America's Queen, Sarah Bradford, Conversations with John F KennedyAmerica’s Queen: The Life of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis by Sarah Bradford
My favorite biography of Jackie Kennedy.

Jacqueline Kennedy: Historic Conversations on Life with John F. Kennedy compiled by Caroline Kennedy
In 1964, Jackie Kennedy recorded seven interviews with historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. about her life with JFK. She is astonishingly candid (especially for such a private person) and divulges her true feelings about many public figures, as well as her experience with JFK. I read this in book form, but if I had to do it again, I would listen to it as well. I think it would be worthwhile to hear her tone of voice as she’s recounting her experiences.

Books about the Kennedy marriage…

Grace and Power, Sally Bedell Smith, Kennedy marriage, Kennedy Wives, Amber Hunt

Grace and Power: The Private World of the Kennedy White House by Sally Bedell Smith
Smith specializes in biographies of powerful and glamorous women (she’s also done Queen Elizabeth, Pamela Churchill Harriman, Princess Diana, and the Clinton White House years). Grace and Power is the most in depth book I’ve read on the Kennedy marriage, focusing on their short time in the White House.

Kennedy Wives: Triumph and Tragedy in America’s Most Public Family by Amber Hunt and David Batcher (Release Date: 12/2/14)
I’m cheating by including this one because it will be released on December 2nd and I haven’t read it yet. But, I do have an ARC and plan on reading it. I’ve always wondered how the Kennedy wives (all of them, not just Jackie) put up with the philandering behavior of their men and I’m hoping this book will give me some answers!

On to the good stuff…books about Kennedy scandals…

Bobby and Jackie Kennedy, C David Heymann, Nemesis, Ari Onasis, Peter Evans

Bobby and Jackie: A Love Story by C. David Heymann
Yes – you read that right – a behind the scenes look at Bobby (not Jack!) and Jackie Kennedy’s long rumored affair. Other Kennedy books I’ve read have vaguely alluded to a “more than friends” relationship between Bobby and Jackie. But, this is the first one to make a direct case with supporting evidence that the rumors were true. And the author is a well-respected expert on all things Kennedy.

Nemesis by Peter Evans
Nemesis explores Bobby Kennedy and Ari Onassis’ longtime, bitter rivalry and how Jackie was somewhat of a pawn in their game. Ari is portrayed as a glorified, albeit very successful thug and, Evans presents an interesting case for his involvement in Bobby Kennedy’s assassination. This claim is somewhat outrageous and I wonder if it’s true, but it’s definitely something to think about and anchors the many scandalous revelations in this book.

Books about JFK’s assassination…

11/22/63, Stephen King, JFK assassination, killing kennedy, bill o'reilly

11/22/63 by Stephen King
I’m cheating again…this book is technically historical fiction, but I learned so much about JFK’s assassination from it that I’m going to include it here with the appropriate caveat. It’s one of my all-time favorite books and explores what would happen if someone could travel back in time to try to stop the assassination of JFK.

Killing Kennedy by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard
Probably the best primer on JFK’s assassination. This is the book to read first if you’re a relative newcomer to this topic. It wasn’t my favorite because I read it after reading a lot of material on the assassination, so it felt a bit rehashed for me. But, it is the most straightforward and clearly laid out account of this historic event out of all that I’ve read…and I wish I’d read it first!

I’d love to hear about any other Kennedy books you would recommend! Interestingly, Musings from a Book Mammal chose the Kennedys as her topic as well and her list is almost completely different from mine, so check it out!

Book Review: Thank You for Your Service by David Finkel

December 11, 2013 Books to Read, Nonfiction, War 1

Thank You for Your ServiceNonfiction – War (Released October, 2013)
Bottom Line: Read it.
Link to this book on Amazon

Plot Summary:
An exploration of mental and emotional trauma facing soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan and the military’s efforts to curb this group’s high suicide rate.

My Thoughts:
Thank You for Your Service was named one of the Best Nonfiction Books of the Year by Publishers Weekly and one of the Top 10 Books of the Year by the Washington Post…and I wholeheartedly agree. I won’t say it’s the best nonfiction book I’ve read this year (only because it doesn’t beat The Boys in the Boat, which is my favorite nonfiction of 2013 so far), but it definitely claims the number two slot.

This is a heartbreaking and moving series of stories about various members of the 2-16 Infantry Battalion and their families dealing with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) following war zone deployments. These men, even though they came home without a physical scratch, gave their lives as they and their families knew them to our country. The soldiers experience crippling anxiety and migraines, violent tendencies, depression, and memory loss. These effects cause immense pain and hardship for the soldiers’ families, as they see their father/husband/brother turn into a completely different human being…and, in many cases, a monster…and the wives are generally left trying to hold the family together. One soldier’s wife said of her husband’s months long stay in a mental rehab center, “I’m pissed. […] He gets to go fishing. He gets to go out on weekends. […] I’m always here, taking care of everything. This is not why I got married and had kids, to do this on my own. I’d like to stay in a hospital for a couple of weeks. And sleep.”.

TBI (“the signature wound of war”, according to the military) is particularly relevant right now, as it is the same injury that football players have been suffering from and has been covered extensively in the media. While the football players’ TBI is caused by repeated flows to the head, the soldiers’ is caused by close proximity to repeated explosions.

Finkel’s writing style is powerful and made the soldiers’ situations seem very stark and real. He quickly switched back and forth between discussion of heavy feelings and emotions and mundane details of life. It reminded me of the sequence in the pilot episode of “Friday Night Lights” (the TV show) when the director cuts back and forth between scenes of Jason Street’s spinal surgery and the football game going on simultaneously. Finkel also included macabre things the soldiers do to make light of their situations, but are probably horrifying to anyone else. For example, one of the soldiers used his bullet hole ridden war helmet as his Halloween candy bowl, no doubt terrifying Trick or Treaters.

Though Thank You for Your Service is incredibly sad, I was completely engrossed and had trouble putting it down. It’s a totally unique look at the effects of war and is going on my Books for Guys and Best of 2013 / Holiday Gift lists.

You May Also Like:
Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain

Book Review: In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson

November 6, 2013 Books to Read, History, Nonfiction 0

In the Garden of BeastsNonfiction – History
Released May, 2011
466 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Purchased

Plot Summary

Told through the eyes of Martha Dodd, the US Ambassador to Berlin’s daughter, Larson paints a picture of how the German people remained oblivious as Hitler very gradually accumulated the power to enable him to pull off the Holocaust under their noses.

My Thoughts

In the Garden of Beasts tackles Hitler and the Holocaust from a totally different angle than the one in the history books (at least the ones I studied in school). He was able to capture how Hitler and the Third Reich managed to convince the German population that he was the best leader for their country and that he and his fellow Nazis did not have more sinister motives. A brilliant P.R. coup.

Martha Dodd loves to party and hangs out with numerous sketchy characters – including many prominent Nazi party officials, which adds intrigue to the more historical aspects of the story.

Larson also covers how William Dodd’s (the U.S. Ambassador) many warnings of the Third Reich’s increasingly alarming actions went generally unheeded by the U.S. State Department.

In the Garden of Beasts is a fascinating look at Hitler’s rise to power while the rest of the world sat on their haunches and is on my Book Club Recommendations List.