Tag: Memoirs

Podcast Episode 21: Mary Laura Philpott (Author of I Miss You When I Blink)

May 29, 2019 Podcast 4

Episode 21, Mary Laura Philpott, Author of I Miss You When I Blink

 

In Episode 21, Mary Laura Philpott (author of I Miss You When I Blink) talks about women’s identity crises, how she pitched her book to publishers, her job at Parnassus Books…and shares “women who get women” book recommendations.

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The Best Nonfiction Audiobooks I’ve Listened to Lately

May 9, 2019 Annual "Best Books" Lists 11

Nonfiction Audiobooks

 

Nonfiction is my go-to for audiobooks…particularly lighter nonfiction (none of those dense history tomes for me!). I also listen to lots of backlist on audio, which is very different from my print reading habits. And, I’m sharing the best nonfiction audiobooks I’ve listened to lately (meaning in the first half of 2019) with you today.

One book missing from this list is I Miss You When I Blinkby Mary Laura Philpott because my listen was a “re-read” after reading the print version first. I reviewed the print version here, but I have to tell you the audio hit me even harder. I even changed my rating from 4 to 5 stars after listening to the audio. If you haven’t read this one yet, I highly recommend the audio (read by Philpott herself).

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The Best Audiobooks I Listened to in 2018 (Second Half)

December 27, 2018 Annual "Best Books" Lists 8

Best Audiobooks I listened to in the second half of 2018

 

My audiobook listening really picked up in the second half of this year…mostly because I balanced it better with my podcast listening. I tend to do this when I’m listening to audiobooks that are catching my interest more.

Here are my best audiobooks I listened to in 2018…the second half (check out my post on the best audiobooks I listened to in the first half of 2018 here)…

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!).

The Best Audiobooks I Listened to in 2018 (Second Half)

A Beautiful, Terrible Thing by Jen Waite (Memoir, Released July 11, 2017)
Waite’s memoir of her marriage to a psychopath / sociopath (Marco) is every wife’s nightmare come to life. There’s cheating and then there’s cheating as part of a pattern of psychotic or sociopathic behavior. Jen’s husband does the latter. She discovers Marco is cheating on her soon after having their first child. Then, she discovers a whole web of lies and starts to realize he’s not the man he seemed. I was absolutely riveted to this audio…I ignored new podcasts to listen, something I don’t normally do. Jen chronicles her slow process of realization and recovery, which definitely made me wonder if some people I know are also sociopaths.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

American Radical: Inside the World of an Undercover Muslim FBI Agent by Tamer Elnoury (Memoir, Released October 23, 2017)
Written under a pseudonym for the author’s safety, this is his story of working undercover for an elite counterterrorism unit following 9/11. 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…and what that means for Elnoury’s safety. Great pick fans of cloak and dagger.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Bad Blood by John Carreyrou (Business, Released May 21, 2018)
Bad Blood is the true story of the meteoric rise and spectacular fall of the Silicon Valley biotech startup, Theranos. My favorite types of business books are the explosive, behind-the-scenes tell-all kinds 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” whether or not they actually had a viable product.

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

From the Corner of the Ovalby Beck Dorey-Stein (Memoir, July 10, 2018)
This quarter life crisis memoir set in the world of politics is my favorite audiobook of the year! It’s like listening to your fun friend who happens to have a White House job (stenographer) with extensive access to the President give you all the very best anecdotes (plus, a good dose of her love life) over a glass of wine! It’s fun, snarky, and heart-felt and Beck is the rare “DC creature” who doesn’t take herself too seriously. Many Goodreads reviewers complained about the focus on her love life (and bad decisions), but I think it made her more endearing and relatable…and let’s get real, many of us (including me) have been there at some point in our lives! This is a great pick if you loved Who Thought This Was a Good Idea? by Alyssa Mastronmonaco or The Hopefuls by Jennifer Close (my review) and would make a great graduation gift.

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

How to Be Married by Jo Piazza (Memoir, Released August 18, 2017)
Piazza chronicles her own difficult first year of marriage as she travels to five continents learning about views on marriage in different cultures. This memoir is really part memoir and part travelogue. I’ve been drawn to books about marriage over the last few years (both fiction and nonfiction)…especially those that keep it real. And, Piazza definitely keeps it real, focusing on both the good parts and tough parts of a year of huge adjustment that often gets papered over with “newlywed bliss” expectations. She also explores the cultural rationale for certain types of marriage structures that Americans view as demeaning to women (i.e. polygamy). I can’t say I agree, but I do now have a better understanding of why women in some cultures participate in these types of traditions. Piazza comes across as independent, yet relatable and I loved her narration! Great choice for fans of Kelly Corrigan.

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

I’ll Be There for You: The One About Friends by Kelsey Miller (Television, Released October 23, 2018)
Yep, you guessed it…a behind-the-scenes history of Friends. This book is one big ball of 90’s nostalgia and, upon finishing it, I immediately started binge-watching Friends on Netflix. Not only do you get all the cute anecdotes you’d expect from a book like this, but there’s some interesting discussion about some ways the show is problematic when viewed through today’s cultural lens. An easy listen and a great gift for fans of Friends!

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Small Fry by Lisa Brennan-Jobs (Memoir, Released September 4, 2018)
This memoir from Steve Jobs’ first daughter that he alternately claimed and refused to claim for many years is first and foremost a coming of age story…it doesn’t read like a celebrity tell-all. It does highlight the incredible juxtaposition of Lisa’s and Steve’s daily lives…Lisa’s mom is a hippy artist and they live a very modest lifestyle. Jobs sporadically helps them out financially, but they can’t rely on any consistency. Jobs comes off as a weird, overly particular, arrogant, prick. He’s incredibly hot and cold with his daughter…almost toying with her. However, Lisa isn’t super likable either…giving the book an overall cold feeling. This inside look is fascinating, but I do think it could’ve been a hundred pages shorter. And, I would’ve liked more focus on the end of Jobs’ life…when Apple truly took off with the iPad, etc. and he was battling cancer, but maybe that’s to be found in a different book.

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

The Residence: Inside the Private World of the White House by Kate Andersen Brower (Politics, Released August 7, 2015)
This portrait of life in the White House for the first families is told from the perspective of the residence service staff. I love a good “behind-the-scenes of anything Presidential” book, especially one that doesn’t really get into politics…and I’ve read a lot of them. The household service staff brings a unique viewpoint, since they see the first families at their most unguarded. Perfect if you’re interested in the inner workings of the White House (especially if you liked Ronald Kessler’s books, In the President’s Secret Service and The First Family Detail)!

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

What are the best audiobooks you listened to in the second half of 2018?

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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.

Audiobooks

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 Audiobooks

August 7, 2018 Audiobooks 22

Favorite Nonfiction Audiobooks

 

Audiobooks are a relatively new addition to my reading life, but they’ve enabled me to read 25-30 more books each of the past two years…so, they’re a welcome addition! And, it seems many other readers are figuring out how to work audiobooks into their reading lives as well because audiobooks is the fastest growing segment of the publishing industry.

I initially didn’t think audiobooks worked for me because I tried listening to fiction while exercising and had trouble following the stories. Once I tried listening to nonfiction (generally lighter nonfiction) at other times of day (while driving, getting dressed and ready for bed, doing chores, etc), I was off to the races with audiobooks! So, I thought I’d share my favorite nonfiction audiobooks! And, if you’ve had trouble concentrating on audiobooks, I’d highly recommend trying some light nonfiction before giving up entirely!

And, I’ll continue to update this list as I find more great nonfiction audiobooks!

Latest Addition (September 6, 2018)

The Residence The Residence: Inside the Private World of the White House by Kate Andersen Brower
Nonfiction (Released August 7, 2015)
10 Hours and 16 Minutes
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Plot Summary: A portrait of life in the White House for the first families told from the perspective of the residence service staff.

My Thoughts: I love a good behind-the-scenes of anything Presidential book, especially the ones that don’t really get into politics…and I’ve read a lot of them. The household service staff brings a unique viewpoint, since they see the first families at their most unguarded. Perfect if you’re interested in the inner workings of the White House (especially if you liked Ronald Kessler’s books, In the President’s Secret Service and The First Family Detail)!

The List

Memoirs

Beautiful, Terrible ThingA Beautiful, Terrible Thing by Jen Waite
Memoir (Released July 11, 2017)
6 Hours and 41 Minutes
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Plot Summary: Waite’s story of her marriage to a psychopath / sociopath (Marco).
My Thoughts: There’s cheating and then there’s cheating as part of a pattern of psychotic or sociopathic behavior. Jen discovers her husband is cheating on her soon after having their first child. Then, she discovers a whole web of lies and starts to realize he’s not the man he seemed. I listened to this book on audio and was absolutely riveted…I ignored new podcasts to listen, something I don’t normally do. Jen chronicles her slow process of realization and recover, which definitely made me wonder if some people I know are also sociopaths. 

A Mother's ReckoningA Mother’s Reckoning by Sue Klebold
Memoir (Released February 15, 2016)
11 Hours and 31 Minutes
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Summary: Columbine shooter Dylan Klebold’s mother (Sue) shares her struggle following the shooting and Dylan’s suicide in this poignant memoir.

My Thoughts: I was initially skeptical of this one (would she just try to excuse her son’s actions?) and, while she did search for a “why?”, there was much more to this extremely complex story. I was riveted.

Born a Crime by Trevor NoahBorn A Crime by Trevor Noah
Memoir (Released November 15, 2016)
8 Hours and 44 Minutes
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Summary: The Daily Show host Trevor Noah’s memoir about growing up as a mixed race child in apartheid South Africa.

My Thoughts: Born A Crime is technically a celebrity memoir, but it’s actually not that at all. It is a heartfelt, funny, sad, and warm story about growing up as an outcast in an incredibly oppressive place.

Daring to DriveDaring to Drive by Manal al-Sharif
Memoir (Released June 13, 2017)
10 Hours and 17 Minutes
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Summary: al-Sharif started the campaign for women to drive in Saudi Arabia and this book is the story of her life as well as a stark portrayal of the oppression women face in Saudi Arabia.

My Thoughts: This is one eye-opening, heart-breaking read and is perfect for anyone who loved The Underground Girls of Kabul by Jenny Nordberg (my review).

Gift from the SeaGift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh
Memoir (Released 1955)
2 Hours and 26 Minutes
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Summary: Lindbergh reflects on motherhood and being a woman during her solo vacation in a beach house.

My Thoughts: My Mom gave me this slim book when I was pregnant with my first child seven years ago and it didn’t make much of an impact on me. But, Will Schwalbe made me want to try it again in his Books for Living. The second time, it spoke directly to my core…maybe because I had seven years of motherhood under my belt by then. A must read for every woman trying to balance being a mother with maintaining their own identity.

Glitter and GlueGlitter and Glue by Kelly Corrigan
Memoir (Released February 4, 2014)
5 Hours and 38 Minutes
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Summary: Corrigan’s shares her realizations about motherhood and her own mother while serving as somewhat of a surrogate mother to two Australian children who had lost their own mother.

My Thoughts: While Glitter and Glue didn’t blow me away quite as much as the first memoir I read by her (Tell Me More), I still relished sinking back into Corrigan’s signature brand of heartfelt, relatable, and sometimes irreverent observations about life and motherhood. Corrigan hadn’t given much thought to what it’s like to mother someone or quite appreciated her mother until she stepped into the role of surrogate caring for two children who had lost their own. If you like women’s life observations-type writing (think Anna Quindlen, Cheryl Strayed), Kelly Corrigan should be next on your list!

Lots of Candles Plenty of CakeLots of Candles, Plenty of Cake by Anna Quindlen
Memoir (Released April 24, 2012)
7 Hours and 7 Minutes

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Summary:
Anna Quindlen talks about her experience as a woman in her own life and applies it to women everywhere.
My Thoughts:
Listening to Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake was like seeing a therapist and falls into the same category as Cheryl Strayed’s Tiny Beautiful Things. Quindlen has such a grounded, practical outlook on life that really puts things in perspective and this book would have made my overall Best Books of 2017 list had it been published that year!

My Year of Running DangerouslyMy Year of Running Dangerously by Tom Foreman
Memoir (Released October 6, 2015)
6 Hours and 27 Minutes

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Summary:
After CNN Correspondent Tom Foreman’s daughter challenges him to train for a marathon with her, he ends up running 3 marathons, 4 half marathons, and an ultra-marathon in one year.
My Thoughts:
Not only is this memoir about an impressive running feat, but it’s a sweet story of a father and daughter connecting over a shared hobby.

Tiny Beautiful ThingsTiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed
Memoir (Released July 10, 2012)
9 Hours and 41 Minutes
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Summary:
A compilation of columns from Strayed’s time as the Dear Sugar advice columnist for The Rumpus.

My Thoughts: Strayed blends empathy, truth, bluntness, and humor to form a perfect blend of “yes, that’s exactly how it is” observations about life and useful, non-judgmental advice about how to live it. I’m generally not an advice column type of person, but this audiobook (read by the author) earned 5 stars from me!

Who Thought This Was a Good IdeaWho Thought This Was a Good Idea? by Alyssa Mastromonaco
Memoir (Released March 21, 2017)
5 Hours and 58 Minutes

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Summary:
The behind-the-scenes memoir by President Obama’s former Deputy Chief of Staff.
My Thoughts: 
Who Thought This Was a Good Idea? is technically a political memoir, but it really doesn’t include any politics. It’s more a juicy, behind-the-scenes look at working in the White House and on Obama’s campaign trail sprinkled with tips on making the most of your career…all told through the voice of someone you’d love to grab a glass of wine with!

Investigative Journalism

False ReportA False Report: A True Story of Rape in America by T. Christian Miller & Ken Armstrong
True Crime – (Released February 6, 2018)
10 Hours and 6 Minutes
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Summary:
The true story of a woman (Marie) who was charged with lying about a rape and the detectives who were responsible for her case.

My Thoughts: A False Report is excellent true crime mixed in with a bit of history of rape investigation and would make a great companion read to I’ll Be Gone in the Dark (my review).

Mockingbird Next DoorThe Mockingbird Next Door by Marja Mills
General Nonfiction (Released July 15, 2014)
8 Hours and 11 Minutes

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Summary:
Chicago Tribune journalist Marja Mills was improbably accepted by famously private Harper and Alice Lee when she visited Monroeville, AL for a story and ended up living next door to them.
My Thoughts:
This story is as much about Mills’ journey to friendship with the Lees as it as about Lee herself. As I was listening, I almost felt like I was in To Kill A Mockingbird. For a real treat, pair with Episode 172 of From the Front Porch podcast about Annie Jones’ visit to Monroeville and a breakdown of what’s happened with Harper Lee’s estate since she passed away.

Stranger in the WoodsThe Stranger in the Woods by Michael Finkel
General Nonfiction (Released March 7, 2017)
6 Hours and 19 Minutes
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Plot Summary: The true story about Christopher Knight, the man who lived alone in the Maine forest for 27 years before finally being arrested for stealing food and essentials from nearby vacation homes.

My Thoughts: This story is strange, but completely captivating. It’s like a mash-up between a wilderness story and a study of the introverted personality trait and came extremely close to making my overall Best Books of 2017 list.

What Made Maddy RunWhat Made Maddy Run by Kate Fagan
General Nonfiction – Sports (Released August 1, 2017)
7 Hours and 36 Minutes
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Plot Summary: The story of a seemingly perfect (if you looked at her Instagram account) teenager who commits suicide during her freshman year on the Penn State track team.

My Thoughts: This story is absolutely heart-breaking, but is a must-read for parents of young athletes…and, really, parents of all high-achieving young girls in the social media age.

What are your favorite nonfiction audiobooks?

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April and May 2018 Books to Read (and Skip)

May 15, 2018 Mini Book Reviews 18

April and May 2018 Books to Read

 

My reading was all over the place in April (because I was reading way ahead for my 2018 Summer Reading Guide), so you’re getting a double dose of books this month!

In addition to my April and May 2018 Books to Read, stay tuned for my full review of another April book, Circe by Madeline Miller (coming a week from today).

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

April and May 2018 Books to Read

Alternative Remedies for LossAlternative Remedies for Loss by Joanna Cantor
Fiction – Brain Candy (Released May 8, 2018)
320 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Publisher (Bloomsbury USA)

Plot Summary: When Olivia’s Dad brings his new girlfriend on a family trip to India only months after her Mom’s death from cancer, Olivia has to figure out how to navigate her grief and get her life back on track.

My Thoughts: I bet you wouldn’t expect a novel about grief to be a light, easy read, but Joanna Cantor’s debut novel is both! I flew through it in just a few days at the beach…and it was an excellent beach read despite the focus on grief. During the Prologue, I was wavering about whether or not to continue reading, then something completely unexpected and interesting happened that caused me to keep going…and I’m so glad I did. This element isn’t a huge focus of the plot, but it was the pivotal moment that got me engrossed in the book. Beyond Olivia’s grief, Alternative Remedies for Loss is a story about a family trying to figure out their new normal after the loss of their mother and a daughter trying to get to know who her mother was as a person, beyond her role as mother and wife.

When you knew what you wanted, everything became simpler, more streamlined.

book of the month may 2018How to Walk Away by Katherine Center
Fiction – Brain Candy (Released May 15, 2018)
320 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Publisher (St. Martin’s Press)

Plot Summary: After Margaret is in a tragic accident the night she gets engaged, she must figure out how to move forward and who she is post-accident.

My Thoughts: I’ve been on a streak lately with books about very serious topics that are handled in a light-hearted way…and that read like brain candy. Add How to Walk Away to that list (Alternative Remedies for Loss, Woman Last Seen in Her Thirties). How to Walk Away reminded me of a less ugly-cry spin on Me Before You. There’s a number of likable characters that I was rooting hard for, some romance, some humor, family drama, and a hopeful, inspirational tone. Admittedly, this is not the kind of book I normally enjoy (I usually like them extra dark and twisted), but all the unicorns and rainbows worked for me here. The ending is utterly ridiculous, but I would have been furious had it ended any other way (a sign of a true rom-com?). However, I could’ve done without the Epilogue. I have no idea why all these things I normally hate in books worked for me here, but they did and I no longer have to sheepishly admit I have nothing when people ask me for a “feel-good” book recommendation.

Needing to find reasons to live had forced me to build a life worth living. I would never say the accident was a good thing. I would never, ever claim that everything happens for a reason. Like all tragedies, it was senseless.

But I knew one thing for sure: The greater our capacity for sorrow becomes, the greater our capacity for joy.

So I went on, “That’s the thing you don’t know – that you can’t know until life has genuinely beaten the crap out of you: I am better for it all. I am better for being broken.”

Girl Who Smiled BeadsThe Girl Who Smiled Beads by Clemantine Wamariya
Nonfiction – Memoir (Released April 24, 2018)
288 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Book of the Month (Publisher: Crown)

Plot Summary: 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.

My Thoughts: The Girl Who Smiled Beads was one of my April Book of the Month selections and it came with rave reviews. The story is told in alternating timelines (Clemantine and Claire’s time as refugees and their later childhood / early adulthood in the U.S.) and the refugee portion is as heart-wrenching as you’d expect. What they went through is appalling. However, the U.S. portion was incredibly intriguing to me as Clemantine struggled with her conflicted feelings about her identity and the help she received in the U.S. (she was taken in by a white, suburban family and supported through high school before heading on to Yale). She understandably has different views about many everyday things (e.g., camping, marriage, etc) that were shaped by her experience. The writing is simple and hard-hitting, which is my kind of writing and fit this story well, but the alternating timelines pulled me out of the story a bit. I’d admittedly not learned much about the various refugee crises around the world and this book started to change that.

It’s strange, how you go from being a person who is away from home to a person with no home at all. The place that is supposed to want you has pushed you out. No other place takes you in. You are unwanted, by everyone. You are a refugee.

You Think It, I'll Say ItYou Think It, I’ll Say It: Stories by Curtis Sittenfeld
Fiction – Short Stories (Released April 24, 2018)
256 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Publisher (Random House)

Plot Summary: Novelist Curtis Sittenfeld’s (author of Prep, American Wife, and Eligible) first short story collection.

My Thoughts: Short stories are not my thing. I’ve only really loved two short story collections in my entire life (Beneath the Bonfire and Why They Run the Way They Do). I can now make that three because I adored this collection…it’s unquestionably 5 stars for me! The three collections I’ve loved all have one thing in common: the stories have something idiosyncratic in them, but are otherwise about mundane life. The stories in You Think It, I’ll Say It are mostly about otherwise normal relationships that have a hidden element of unconventionality or an awkward incident. They’re normal situations that end up taking unexpected turns…they’re relatable, yet surprising. I was completely invested in the characters in every story, which is a rarity for me with short stories. If you’ve been hesitant to try short stories, You Think It, I’ll Say It is a perfect first collection!

Oh, our private habits, our private selves – how strange we all are, how full of feelings and essentially alone.

April and May 2018 Books to Skip

I was very quick to DNF books over the past few months because I was trying to get through as many candidates for my Summer Reading Guide as possible. So, all my April and May skips are DNFs…

Campaign WidowsCampaign Widows by Aimee Agresti (May 22, 2018)
DNF at 6%

Honestly, I tried this so long ago and quit so early that I have zero memory of anything I did read or why I DNF’d it. Sorry!

 

 

Love and RuinLove and Ruin by Paula McLain (May 1, 2018)
DNF at 27%

I loved McLain’s The Paris Wife and Circling the Sun, but felt like I was slogging through Love and Ruin. Maybe it was because she went back to Hemingway a second time? I was reading it at the beach and that’s not the place you want to try to slog through a book!

 


That Kind of MotherThat Kind of Mother
 by Rumaan Alam (May 8, 2018)
DNF at 48%

I thought I’d love this novel about a woman who adopts the child of her nanny after she dies during childbirth because two of my top recommendation sources (Annie Jones from From the Front Porch podcast and Tyler Goodson, Manager at Avid Bookshop in Athens, GA) rated it 5 stars. Unfortunately, something felt off. I had trouble connecting with Rebecca (the main character), the observations about motherhood were kind of all over the map (maybe because it’s written by a man??), and I just couldn’t get fully immersed in it.

 

High SeasonThe High Season by Judy Blendell (May 1, 2018)
DNF at 20%

This novel was heavy on high society and museum board politics, which I found annoying and boring. Kind of like the mommy politics in Big Little Lies (my review) drove me crazy.

 

 

Italian PartyThe Italian Party by Christina Lynch (April 10, 2018)
DNF at 6%.
Ditto Campaign Widows.

 

 

 

What are the best April or May 2018 book you’ve read so far?

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Two Books Everyone Else Rated 5 Stars: Educated by Tara Westover and The Gunners by Rebecca Kauffman

May 10, 2018 Mini Book Reviews 16

There’s a good chance you’ve heard of both of these books because many people have rated them 5 stars. And, I really liked one and liked the other decently well. But, neither was a 5 star read for me. I liked Educated a lot and can’t point to any specific flaws in it, but it just didn’t have the extra oomph to push it from 4 to 5 stars. However, I did have some specific issues with The Gunners, which kept it at 3.5 stars for me.

Educated by Tara WestoverEducated by Tara Westover
Nonfiction – Memoir (Released February 20, 2018)
352 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Library (Publisher: Random House)

Plot Summary: Westover tells her story of 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.

My Thoughts: Imagine if you had to choose between getting an education (both the traditional kind and an education about life in general) and having a relationship with your family. That’s what happened to Tara Westover. Tara’s father insisted the whole family live “off the grid”…with no interaction with the government or modern medicine. Her journey to follow her passion for knowledge (both academic knowledge and common sense) and her battle with her family to be able to pursue an education is both heart-breaking and inspirational. I could feel Tara’s emotional tug-of-war over her own beliefs and the blood ties of her family…it was heart-wrenching. There are many parts that are hard to read…and that I’d have found totally unbelievable had this been fiction. If you liked The Glass Castle, Hillbilly Elegy (my review), and/or Under the Banner of Heaven (my reviewEducated should be next on your list!

Again I thought about the family. There was a puzzle in it, something unresolved. What is a person to do, I asked, when their obligations to their family conflict with other obligations—to friends, to society, to themselves?

The Gunners by Rebecca KauffmanThe Gunners by Rebecca Kauffman
Fiction – Literary (Released March 20, 2018)
261 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Library (Publisher: Counterpoint Press)

Plot Summary: A coed group of childhood friends (called “The Gunners”) gathers for the one of the members’ (Sally’s) funeral and tries to unravel what went wrong with their friendship group ages ago and what caused Sally to end her life.

My Thoughts: Many of my very best recommendation sources 5 star-loved The Gunners, so I was sure it would be 5 stars for me as well. Well…I liked it, but I did have some issues with it and I never considered rating it 5 stars (it’s getting 3.5 stars). I loved the story’s premise of a coed group of childhood friends coming back together in adulthood and secrets being revealed…it reminded me of Shotgun Lovesongs (my review), but Shotgun Lovesongs executed it better. The story meanders a bit in the beginning, but the story moves once the revelations begin. But, so many secrets are revealed that it felt like a game of whack-a-mole. And, I loved the characters, but the way they interacted in adulthood felt off…like the author was trying too hard. The adults tickle each other, Indian-wrestle, and tell scary stories (just like when they were kids), but all I kept thinking was “this is NOT how my childhood friends and I interact as adults…this just seems weird.” This coupled with the over-the-top whack-a-mole revealing of secrets made the story feel a bit contrived overall. For a different opinion, check out reviews at Novel Visits and Running N Reading.

“Sally taught me something about people that I never wanted to know.” Alice said, “What was that?” “That people can disappear,” Lynn said. “Right before your eyes. That you’ll never understand it and there won’t be a thing you can do about it.”

Have you read either of these popular books? What did you think?

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January Read It, Skip It: Grist Mill Road, Tell Me More, The Immortalists, Anatomy of a Scandal

January 18, 2018 Mini Book Reviews 24

Grist Mill Road, Tell Me More, The Immortalists, Anatomy of a Scandal


You may be familiar with my Read It, Skip It posts where I normally cover two books. I’m trying something different this month by rounding up all my January releases into one big Read It, Skip It post. What could give you a clearer picture of the January releases than that?!

Plus, if you’re thinking about tracking your reading this year, check out my “Rock Your Reading” Tracker! It automatically compiles all your reading stats into pretty Summary Charts and enables you choose better books by helping you track your recommendation sources.

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

Read These

Grist Mill Road by Christopher J YatesGrist Mill Road by Christopher J. Yates
Fiction (Released January 9, 2018)
352 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Publisher (Publisher: Picador)

Plot Summary: Two and a half decades after Patrick, Hannah, and Matthew were involved in a childhood crime in their hometown of Roseborn, NY, they meet again in New York City and have to grapple with what happened years ago.

My Thoughts: Yates’ debut novel, Black Chalk, was one of my favorite books of 2014 and I had high expectations for his sophomore effort. Though Grist Mill Road wasn’t perfect and I didn’t love it as much as Black Chalk, I couldn’t put it down. It’s the kind of book I could’ve read in one sitting if I had the time. It’s part coming of age story (reminiscent of My Sunshine Away) and part psychological thriller, while managing to remain literary (well…until the overly thriller-y ending). The opening Prologue reveals the big “what” of the story and will take your breath away, but the intensity doesn’t let up as you start to learn the “how” and “why.” I do wish Matthew’s backstory had been introduced earlier in the book and that certain storylines hadn’t been told in letter format. Nevertheless, Grist Mill Road is a solid choice if you like dark, twisty, literary thrillers about extremely complicated friendships (a la If We Were Villains).

That there must have been a thousand and one different ways I could have saved her that day. But what did I do? I did nothing.

Tell Me More by Kelly CorriganTell Me More by Kelly Corrigan
Nonfiction – Memoir (Released January 9, 2018)
256 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Publisher (Random House)

Plot Summary: Corrigan’s memoir is organized around the “12 hardest things she’s learning to say,” including “No,” “I don’t know,” and “I Was Wrong.”

My Thoughts: I absolutely adored (it’s my favorite 2018 release I’ve read so far!) this memoir that spoke to me in a “yes, that’s exactly how it is” way. She kicks things off with an essay that will touch the conflicted hearts of overtaxed moms everywhere and moves on to cover many big life issues (marriage, motherhood, illness, religion, friendship, grief, and loss) in a relatable and irreverently funny way. And, the second to last essay might even make you cry. Corrigan is a welcome addition to my “women who get women” club (current members include Anna Quindlen, Ann Patchett, and Cheryl Strayed) and I’d highly recommend Tell Me More to anyone who loved Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake or This is the Story of a Happy Marriage.

What Will didn’t point out, because he wanted me to arrive there on my own, was that his brand of acceptance wasn’t grim compromise or gritted-teeth tolerance. He was not suggesting that we roll over, but rather that we keep rolling, onward.

Skip These

The Immortalists by Chloe BenjaminThe Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin
Fiction (Released January 9, 2018)
352 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Publisher (Putnam)

Plot Summary: When a psychic in 1969 NYC tells the four Gold children the dates of their respective deaths, the information drives their choices for the rest of their lives.

My Thoughts: I’m definitely in the minority in not loving this debut novel. It’s getting lots of attention from the bookish media and love from some bloggers I normally agree with (Ann Marie at Lit Wit Wine Dine and Renee at It’s Book Talk). The beginning felt like The Rules of Magic: 1960’s/70’s NYC, a bit of magic, and young siblings trying to slide things by their parents. From that point on, the story is told in sections, one focusing on each of the four Gold children’s lives. These were hit and miss…I was engrossed in some parts (Simon’s and parts of Daniel’s) and kept tuning out during others (Klara’s and Varya’s). I didn’t care much about the sibling in the final section because he/she had been virtually absent for much of the book. That being said, the writing was great, so I would consider reading whatever Chloe Benjamin does next.

For so long, he hated the woman, too. How, he wondered, could she give such a terrible fortune to a child? But now he thinks of her differently, like a second mother or a god, she who showed him the door and said: Go.

Anatomy of a Scandal by Sarah VaughanAnatomy of a Scandal by Sarah Vaughan
Fiction (Release Date January 23, 2018)
400 Pages
Affiliate Link: Pre-Order from Amazon
Source: Publisher (Atria Books)

Plot Summary: When charismatic politician James is accused of a serious crime, his wife (Sophie) is forced to confront who he might be under his smooth veneer while the prosecutor (Kate) wrestles with her own past.

My Thoughts: Anatomy of a Scandal is a timely book (privilege, abuse of power, scandal, ego) and got a fair amount of pre-publication hype. While I expected the story to be fascinating, the telling of it fell flat. It reads easily, but is predictable and lacks subtlety and nuance in the serious issues it addresses. Every character is a cliche. By the second half, I was skimming just to see what would happen (nothing particularly interesting did).

She feels like laughing. James will be fine because he is the right type, he has done nothing illegal, and he has the prime minister’s patronage. She glances past him to the bookshelves on which Hilary Mantel’s pair of Cromwell novels sit: stories of an era in which a mercurial king’s favour was everything. More than four centuries have passed, and yet, in Tom’s party, there is still a flavor of life at court.

What are some of your favorite January 2018 releases?

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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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