Bookish Tuesday, Non-Fiction

Nonfiction Book Club

After going through a bit of book club withdrawal over the evolution and loss of my former book club, I decided to start a new one at the bookstore with a focus strictly on works of nonfiction. Tonight is the sixth meeting and I can hardly believe it’s already been around that long! As nonfiction reviews seem to be the ones that are most followed from this blog, I figured I’d share with you the books that we’ve read and will be reading through the end of the year!

The very first meeting of the nonfiction book club, review can be found here.
Our second meeting – this one was met with some mixed reviews, most thought it tried a bit too hard to be the next Devil in the White City. Review can be found here.
Packing for Mars re-introduced me to Mary Roach and did, ultimately, inspire me to finish Stiff and Bonk after starting them for my other book club a few years ago. Overall, we found it enjoyable, but a bit too long – none of us were as curious as Mary was. Review can be found here.
This book really changed how I think about death – it also helped me handle my grief regarding the death of my grandmother. Overall, we liked it, but wish Caitlin had explored some death cultures and practices that differed more from her own. Review can be found here.
The Stowaway had us all talking about the 1920s and polar exploration, but ultimately we found it wanting – not much time was actually spend discussing or staying on Antarctica. Short read, but better suited to a long-form essay in a publication like the Atlantic instead of an actual book. Review can be found here.
Word by Word will be discussed by the group tonight! I just finished it (not even an hour ago) and I can’t wait to see what everyone thinks. Review for this one will be up on Sunday.
The Rise and Fall of Dinosaurs comes to the book club highly recommended by a former coworker and wonderful friends. We’re collectively excited to read it and I can’t wait to start it tomorrow! It’s one of my longest nonfiction science/history books yet – we’ll see how I do – hopefully I’ll finish it on time!
The Soul of an Octopus is one of my husband’s favorite books of the last few years and when I pitched it to the group, they seemed interested as well. Another one that I’m very excited to read.
Another former staff member and friend has recommended The Poison Squad to the group – the members of the book club seem most interested in science, history, and true crime and as this incorporates them all, I hope it’ll be a hit!

Any Recommendations?

While our list for the rest of the year is set (we won’t be meeting in December), we’re always looking for new and exciting titles to read. If you have any recommendations, please let me know! In order to keep costs down, we only read paperbacks released in the US, but if a book is available in hardcover only right now, we can always keep it on our list for consideration later! And if you’re in the greater Philadelphia area looking for a book club to join, stop by the Towne Book Center & Wine Bar, 220 Plaza Drive, Suite B3, Collegeville PA 19426 on any of the upcoming meeting dates to join us!

Biography, Book Club, History, Non-Fiction, Travel

The Stowaway by Laurie Gwen Shapiro

Another Nonfiction Book Club selection, this one was selected for my new Antarctica-loving friend, Lenore!

Synopsis

From the Back Cover:
It was 1928: a time of illicit booze, of Gatsby and Babe Ruth, of freewheeling fun. The Great War was over and American optimism was higher than the stock market. What better moment to launch an expedition to Antarctica, the planet’s final frontier?

Everyone wanted in on the adventure. Rockefellers and Vanderbilts begged to be taken along as mess boys, and newspapers across the globe covered the planning’s every stage. And then, the night before the expedition’s flagship set off, Billy Gawronski – a mischievous, first-generation New York City high schooler desperate to escape a dreary future in the family upholstery business – jumped into the Hudson River and snuck aboard. Could he get away with it?

From the soda shops of New York’s Lower East Side to the dance halls of sultry Francophone Tahiti, all the way to Antarctica’s blinding white and deadly freeze, Laurie Gwen Shapiro’s The Stowaway takes you on the unforgettable voyage of a plucky young stowaway who became a Jazz Age celebrity, a mascot for an up-by-your-bootstraps era.

Review

I was so excited to read The Stowaway – it sounded like such a fun adventure: kid stows away on a trip to Antarctica during the Jazz Age and Prohibition? Yes please! I love the 1920s, I love the flappers, I love everything about Gatsby-era NYC. But, as seems to be the case with my last few books and reviews, I found the synopsis just didn’t deliver as promised.

Don’t get me wrong, The Stowaway is a fun book – the story of our determined young man who doesn’t even think far enough ahead to bring a change of clothes when he swims to the frigid-water-bound-sailboat, would have been better suited to a long form article, perhaps in The Atlantic or another magazine structured for the form. At just about 200 pages, it felt like mostly filler of what was an otherwise unremarkable life (I’ve already forgotten our main subject’s name, Billy, I think?)

What promises to be an adventure of exploration is really only 25-30 pages in Antarctica, the rest of the book focuses on the journey (and the attractive and loose women encountered on said journey), and our wayward teenagers life before and after the expedition. While many of the others who sailed with Captain Byrd and were of note have already either a, written their tale, or b, been the subject of a biography, Billy’s story has ample material because of the detailed scrapbooks his mother kept throughout his life, as well as he correspondence with them from the journey.

The journey of one young man to Antarctica, who was kicked off of the expedition multiple times before finally being allowed to stay, has all the promise of a good book (and film material), but alas, I just don’t think there was enough to Billy’s life and story to warrant a full book about him and his singular act of rebellion and adventure.

Rating: 6 out of 10 stars

Available for purchase with free international shipping from Book Depository.

Fiction, Historical, Young Adult

Sky in the Deep by Adrienne Young

There are blurbs on this book from authors I love, and the description of it is Vikings meets Wonder Woman made it a “total Sarah pick” as our Macmillan sales rep told me. So of, course, eventually, I had to read it.

Synopsis

From the Back Cover:
Raised to be a warrior, seventeen-year-old Eelyn fights alongside her Aska clansmen in an ancient rivalry against the Riki clan. Her life is brutal but simple: fight and survive. Until the day she sees the impossible on the battlefield: her brother, fighting with the enemy – the brother she watched die five years ago.

Faced with her brother’s betrayal, she must survive the winter in the mountains with the Riki, in a village where every neighbor is an enemy, every battle scar possibly one she delivered. But when the Riki village is raided by a ruthless clan settling in the valley, Eelyn is even more desperate to get back to her beloved family.

She is given no choice but to trust Fiske, her brother’s friend, who sees her as a threat. They must do the impossible: unite the clans to fight together, or risk being slaughtered one by one. Driven by a love for her clan and her growing love for Fiske, Eelyn must confront her own definition of loyalty and family while daring to put her faith in the people she’s spent her life hating.

Review

This books makes me remember why I don’t read YA anymore, unless it’s one of my personal fab five: Sarah J. Maas, Leigh Bardugo, Renee Ahdieh, Marie Lu, or Ruta Sepetys (who, coincidentally all have books coming out in the next six months, all but one of which I already have advance copies for and the fifth has been promised!!). That’s it. That’s my YA short list. Am I missing out on other great titles? Of course I am. But I’m also the buyer of the adult books at the store and my free-choice reading time is incredibly limited, so I want my YA selections to be top notch. And with a blurb on the cover from Renee, along with the aforementioned Vikings and Wonder Woman comps, I figured this one was a pretty safe bet.

Alas, not so much. The cover is beautiful, the premise promising, the execution though… eh, not so much. Despite a strong showing of love and support, I just didn’t see all the things the other author fans raved about. I felt like the characters fell flat – I didn’t really get a sense of any of their personalities, nor that any of them had really changed, despite the fact that by book’s end, the world and warring factions were in a different position than when they started.

The world was also described as richly developed, which, shocker, it’s a forest. She’s really good at describing a wooded forest. Now, if you’ve never seen one, then yes, it’s very good. But I grew up in the Appalachian mountains of central Pennsylvania. I’m good on forests, thanks, as are most readers in the US, save for a few western states that are mostly deserts, but also sparingly populated.

And then the plot, again, meh. Romeo and Juliet in a vaguely Viking-inspired world. And while the brother-sister dynamic should play first fiddle, based on the description and established premise, it really didn’t feel like it was fully realized. And after the initial battle, up until the end battle, there really weren’t too many catalyzing events taking place. It was 250 pages of filler between two, admittedly well done, battle scenes.

All in all, I’ve discovered that any time a book comes to me with great amounts of hype, I’m likely to find it lacking and it often won’t meet my standards. I’m told time and time again by customers that I must read this book or that, and I have to struggle not to show my disgust each time I’m told that I would just love beyond measure Where the Crawdads Sing. No offence to Delia Owens (I hear she’s great), but I’m not going to read a number one Indie bestseller, I’m not going to read a book that’s high on hype, it’s just not how I do my reading.

So maybe, if Sky in the Deep had come to me with just a cool cover and an awesome synopsis, I might have felt differently. But I spent the entire book waiting for it to get as good as the authors and other booksellers promised, but ultimately, I found it completely wanting. While I was given a copy of the companion novel that releases this fall, I don’t think I’ll be one of the early readers. I wish Adrienne Young luck, but it’s just not for me.

Rating: 6 out of 10 stars

Available for purchase with free international shipping through Book Depository.

Contemporary, Fiction, Horror, Thriller

We Sold Our Souls by Grady Hendrix

A good friend loves Grady Hendrix’s books and so when I was looking to branch out and read a horror book on the beach, she told me I had to read We Sold Our Souls.

Synopsis

From the Back Cover:
Only a girl with a guitar can save us all. Every morning Kris Pulaski wakes up in hell. In the 1990s she was lead guitarist of Dürt Würk, a heavy-metal band on the brink of breakout success until lead singer Terry Hunt embarked on a solo career and rocketed to stardom, leaving his bandmates to rot in obscurity.

Now Kris works as night manager of a Best Western; she’s tired, broke, and unhappy. Then one day everything changes – a shocking act of violence turns her life upside down , and she begins to suspect that Terry sabotaged more than just the band.

Kris hits the road, hoping to reunite Dürt Würk and confront the man who ruined her life. Her journey will take her from the Pennsylvania rust belt to a celebrity rehab center to a satanic music festival. A furious power ballad about not giving up, We Sold Our Souls is an epic journey into the heart of a conspiracy-crazed, pill-popping, paranoid country that seems to have lost its very soul.

Review

We Sold Our Souls is what I’ve started calling pop-horror, pop culture inspired horror. It’s not monsters (well, not in the traditional sense), nor is it supernatural (again, not in the traditional horror sense), and it’s not really what I think of when I think of scare-you-sh*tless horror movies or novels. There’s some psychological suspense and other thriller aspects to it, but it is first and foremost rooted in the American ideal of the rock star and band-lore. Its US paperback is clearly styled off of Rolling Stone because that’s what Quirk Books wants you to be thinking about when you read it – juicy Rock ‘n’ Roll gossip.

My opinion on the books evolved significantly from when I started reading, finished reading, and then sat back and started thinking about how to review it. In the end, I wound up so displeased I returned it in exchanged for David Epstein‘s Sports Gene, back in my current “safe zone” of nonfiction. But I didn’t start off feeling that way. I started off excited – as Greater Philadelphia suburb resident, I was thrilled. I knew the places, the story started off strong, perfect day-at-the-beach type of read, interesting but not requiring much brain power.

As I got deeper into the story, parts of it just didn’t line up, which, definitely supposed to be a bit confusing and disorientating. The violence started to feel entirely gratuitous and not like a real threat any longer. The tension felt forced, but I was still invested in seeing how the story ended. I wanted to know if Kris and Terry had their face off. And when they did, it was great. Hellstock ’19 was crazy (especially reading this in July, a few months before it theoretically happens), though a few parts regarding sexual assault were glossed over which bothered me – I’m sick of throwaway storylines about assault where nothing is mentioned or resolved, almost like it didn’t happen.

And then the story ended. And it was not a satisfying ending. I do not need a happy ending, but a satisfying conclusion that fits with the tone of the rest of the book would be nice. Or a feeling like the world or people changed a bit would be good. But once I put it down and thought about it for a few days, I just kept thinking, what was the point? There’s multiple hours of my life I got tricked into giving up for a book that ultimately fell flat. I’m glad people love it, it’s just really not for me. I like to see some sort of character growth or world-change in my fiction books, especially since I read so few – I’d like it to feel meaningful.

Rating: 5 out of 10 stars

Available for purchase with free international shipping through Book Depository.

Bookish Tuesday

Favorite Reads of 2019 So Far

I’ve had a good reading year so far, better than previous years – I’ve only hated 3 books so far! But below are my favorites thus far – not necessarily published in 2019 but read in 2019. And surprisingly, only 1 work of nonfiction and 3 fiction.

Range by David Epstein

An enjoyable psychology/sociology minded book, it has been my favorite nonfiction of the year!

The Lost Queen by Signe Pike

My favorite fiction of the year – a sweeping tale of Arthurian Scotland that I’ve become low-key obsessed with.

The Royal Runaway by Lindsay Emory

A lighthearted royal romp along the lines of The Princess Diaries and The Royal We.

Nevernight by Jay Kristoff

I have finally finished Nevernight and am completely obsessed! I’m now powering through Godsgrave so that I can start Darkdawn immediately upon its release.

Business, Memoir/Autobiography, Non-Fiction, Psychology, Sociology, STEM

The Moment of Lift by Melinda Gates

In my new audiobook app, Libro.fm, as a bookseller I get advanced listening copies which is AMAZING! As I will pretty much only listen to nonfiction, I was sorting through my stockpiled titles one night before bed and came across The Moment of Lift which seemed like a good fit for the mood I was in.

Synopsis

From the Dust Jacket:
For the last twenty years, Melinda Gates has been on a mission to find solutions for people with the most urgent needs, wherever they live. Throughout this journey, one thing has become increasingly clear to her: If you want to lift a society up, you need to stop keeping women down.

In this moving and compelling book, Melinda shares lessons she’s learned from the inspiring people she’s met during her work and travels around the world. As she writes the introduction, “That is why I had to write this book – to share the stories of people who have given focus and urgency to my life. I want all of us to see ways we can life women up where we live.”

Melinda provides an unforgettable narrative backed by startling data as she presents the issues that most need our attention – from child marriage to lack of access to contraceptives to gender inequity in the workplace. And, for the first time, she writes about her personal life and the road to equality in her own marriage. Throughout, she shows how there has never been more opportunity to change the world – and ourselves.

Writing with emotion, candor, and grace, she introduces us to remarkable women and shows the power of connecting with one another. When we lift others up, they lift us up, too.

Review

I’m embarrassed to admit that before listening to The Moment of Lift, all I really knew about Melinda Gates was that she’s Bill’s wife. I did at least know that she had her own techie chops and is a woman of great importance in terms of charitable contributions and the running of the Gates Foundation. But I didn’t know who she was, didn’t know what her life was like, knew only what I read about her in business and philanthropy headlines. And my curiosity to know more about one of the world’s richest women inspired me to listen to The Moment of Lift.

Each time I go to type the title here, I want to type “Life” instead of “Lift,” which is kind of fitting because Melinda’s book is really about women around the world and how they’re choosing, or being forced, to live their lives. The Moment of Lift refers to the moment when a woman’s life changes in a way that finds her rising above a difficult situation or circumstance to make her way in the world with a greater sense of confidence, independence, or means. In a world dominated by patriarchical societies, women have spent millennia being secondary citizens, if citizens at all, and Melinda’s ultimate goal is to see all women reach their full potential of contributing to our global society.

But in order for that to happen, things need to change. Ultimately, through sharing her own experiences, and those of the women she’s met around the world, Melinda’s ultimate goal is to raise awareness of the continued struggle for women’s rights while also providing stories of how things are, actually, improving (despite certain headlines’ seeming evidence of the contrary). It’s the perfect book for anyone who’s felt bogged down by negativity but still wants to work towards changing the world and making it a better place, from the bedroom to the classroom to the boardroom.

Rating: 8 out of 10 stars

Available for purchase with free international shipping through Book Depository.

Non-Fiction, Psychology, Sociology

Range by David Epstein

In March I attended my first book buyer’s retreat and was grumbling about the fact that all the publishers were sending me fiction books – didn’t they know that some book buyers really prefer nonfiction? Until, finally, the last book arrived before I made my way up to Rhinebeck, New York – Range by David Epstein. I was THRILLED. And it was even more exciting when the only author whose book we were sent to attend the retreat, was the man himself. Needless to say, I fangirled, hard. And then quoted his own Atlantic article at him without realizing it… thankfully I got the details right.

Synopsis

From the Inside Flap:
What’s the most effective path to success in any domain? It’s not what you think.

Plenty of experts argue that anyone who wants to develop a skill, play an instrument, or lead their field should start early, focus intensely, and rack up as many hours of deliberate practice as possible. If you dabble or delay, you’ll never catch up to the people who got a head start. Butt a closer look at research on the world’s top performers, from professional athletes to Nobel laureates, shows that early specialization is the exception, not the rule.

David Epstein examined the world’s most successful athletes, artists, musicians, inventors, forecasters, and scientists. He discovered that in most fields – especially those that are complex and unpredictable – generalists, not specialist, are primed to excel. Generalists often find their path late, and they juggle many interests rather than focusing on one. They’re also more creative, more agile, and able to make connections their more specialized peers can’t see.

[…] Failing a test is the best way to learn. Frequent quitters end up with the most fulfilling careers. The most impactful inventors cross domains rather than deepen their knowledge in a single area. As experts silo themselves further while computers master more of the skills once reserved for highly focused humans, people who think broadly and embrace diverse experiences and perspectives will thrive.

Review

A jack of all trades is a master of none, but oftentimes better than a master of one.

While David doesn’t directly include the old rhyme in his book, it kept running through my head, every page I turned. For years, we are taught that if we want to excel at something, one has to start early and focus all of our energy into it. One cannot realistically decide to be a Olympian at 15, surgeon at 25, or an astrophysicist at 35 (as my dejected husband believes, his dream job, long story). Those lofty goals require years and years of dedication, or so we’ve always been told. But David starts off his book with a call back his first book, The Sports Gene, with the tales of 2 world class athletes, Tiger Woods & Roger Federer, the former a specialist, the latter a generalist, to turn society’s misconceptions on their heads.

Each chapter of Range covers a different topic, from sports to music, to mathematics instruction, emphasizing the underlying theme that those with a more general knowledge base are, essentially, able to problem solve better by using their disparate areas of knowledge to make connections between different scenarios and situations that benefit their ability to work and explore the world efficiently.

Some of the chapters focus on mastery of a particular skill within a larger field, i.e. trying lots of sports or instruments before focusing on one. And in these chapters, the examples offered are of people who found success in their chosen skill without having a known proclivity or outside influence encouraging them towards a particular activity or skill. Orphans in Italy who played musical instruments beautifully, those with no musical background taking quickly to the nuances of their instruments.

Conversely, he shows that how we learn greatly affects our ability to problem solve. Those who memorize, whether knowingly or not, have difficultly applying their knowledge across different types of problems and explaining their thinking or thought process (meta-cognition). He offers the example of chess grand masters who cannot adjust their thinking to asses a chessboard that has simply been rotated 90 degrees as well as mathematics students who appear to “learn” math skills but are really guessing until they receive the right feedback from the teacher.

I know the year is only half over, but Range is my favorite nonfiction book of the year and I don’t think there are many candidates for unseating it in my reading pipeline. I feel like it validates my life choices when it comes to what topics I pursued throughout my education as well as the employment opportunities I’ve taken. It’s difficult to shrug off your AP Stat teacher in high school when you drop his class for 2D Art and he tells you, the naive teen who wants to be a medical researcher what a big mistake you’re making. And it’s as if Range is looking back on teen me and saying, it’s okay. You made the right decision (it’s also been 12 years, I should probably just let it go at this point…)

From his discussion of sports (I played ice hockey), music (I’m a violist & composer), mathematics (I’m a math teacher who doesn’t shut up about number sense and mathematical theory when given the chance), am dual lingual (Wie geht es Ihnen?), and finished college with a history major focusing on American Legal History after having changed my mind half a dozen times (I started in biomedical engineering), and with 5 teaching certifications and 5 minors ranging from fine arts to chemistry.

I don’t say all of this with the intention of being a braggart, but because I’ve never really known what to do with all of my interests and which would be helpful in securing me a position/job/career. It seems every employment opportunity I’ve pursued, the organization (mostly schools) want specific areas of focus and experience. A generalized work history isn’t always what they’re looking for, but it is what I can offer.

And now I work at a bookstore, putting my vast general knowledge to use recommending books across a variety of genres and age ranges. And while I love it, staying in the same position is mentally taxing. It’s like I have a unique form of ADHD (along with actual ADHD…) And when my husband takes the jack of all trades rhyme to heart as well, it means that we have a house full of the spoils and accouterments related to all of our various interests – it was a necessity in our new house to have room for an art studio, space for a 1,000 book strong library with plenty of academic texts on everything from architecture and anthropology, and space for a motorcycle work shed out back.

In the old days, I feel like I would be an academic – the ivory tower would be the only place that would know what to do with me. I’d be like da Vinci or Jefferson (though not really because I’m a woman…), pursuing all sorts of different interests simultaneous and sequentially, jumping from one to the other as the interest arose. Right now I’d love to learn how to fly a Spitfire. But regardless of what I do, what I continue to do with my life, I’ll know that I can at least hold up one book, and many examples, of how my life is happier and better off for the vast array of my interests and knowledge. (That’s my viola, Kerry, my heavily-Post-it-ed advance copy of Range, and my pink-laced hockey skate below).

Rating: 10 out of 10 stars

Available for purchase with free international shipping through Book Depository.

Biography, Book Club, History, Non-Fiction

Death in the Air by Kate Winkler Dawson

Picking out books with my nonfiction book club is such fun. Death in the Air is very similar to Devil in the White City, or so I’m told, and it was a good fit for the nonfiction book club!

Death in the Air

Synopsis

From the Back Cover:
London was still recovering from the devastation of World War II when another disaster hit: for five long days in December 1952, a killer smog held the city firmly in its grip and refused to let go. But in the chaotic aftermath, another killer was stalking the streets. All across London, women were going missing – poor women, forgotten women. Their disappearances caused little alarm, but each of them had one thing in common: they had the misfortune of meeting a quiet, unassuming man, John Reginald Christie, who invited them back to his decrepit Notting Hill flat during that dark winter. They never left.

The Great Smog of 1952 remains the deadliest air pollution disaster in world history, and John Reginald Christie is still one of the most unfathomable murders of modern times. Journalist Kate Winkler Dawson braids these strands together into a taut and gripping true-crime thriller about a serial killer and an environmental catastrophe with implications that still echo today.

Review

Death in the Air really wants to be Devil in the White City according to my book club. I, on the other hand, have read many Eric Larson books (Isaac’s Storm, Dead Wake, In the Garden of Beasts), but I have not yet read his best known work so I feel my assessment of it is not clouded by a previous read.

I was first introduced to the Great Smog through the Netflix series The Crown and was instantly intrigued. With all the discussion today of climate change and environmental disasters, its worthwhile to know that what we’re experiencing today truly is not a new, or even a unique, occurrence. Smog has been a regular characteristic of London and is featured or mentioned in numerous works of English literature. But the Great Smog of 1952 is unique.

Before reading Isaac’s Storm I wouldn’t have considered weather history a great interest of mine. But it never ceases to amaze me how destructive natural forces can be. And while the smog is trigger by the activity of men, it is, at it’s root, an environmental phenomenon. The best parts of the book are those where the author focuses on the smog and how it affected every day Londoners.

The serial killer side of things, however, felt mismatched. He wasn’t really active during the smog, but it was when his crimes were exposed. I got the feeling the two narratives just weren’t as compatible as the author would like us to believe. I found myself frequently skimming the chapters of murder and savoring the chapters detailing the natural disaster.

All in all, not a bad book, and definitely an informative read, but the narratives felt like they should have been two separate books.

Rating: 7 out of 10 stars

Edition: Paperback – $15.99 – 9780316506830 – 368 pages – originally published October 2017, this edition published November 2018 by Hachette Books – average Goodreads rating 3.50 out of 5 stars – read in April 2019

Contemporary, Fiction, New Adult

The Royal Runaway by Lindsay Emory

I’m a sucker for a royal romance. And given my current requirement that all fiction I read must feature Scotland in some way shape or form (and oddly enough, be an imprint of Simon & Schuster, which is probably just a coincidence…), I picked up my long forgotten ARC of The Royal Runaway one night when I was looking for something, anything, that would hold my attention.

Synopsis

From the Back Cover:
Princess Theodora Isabella Victoria of Drieden of the Royal House of Laurent is so over this princess thing.

After her fiance jilted her on their wedding day, she’s back home, having spent four months in exile. AKA it’s back to putting on a show for the Driedish nation as the perfect princess they expect her to be. But Thea’s sick of duty, so when she sneaks out of the palace and meets a sexy Scot named Nick, she relishes the chance to be a normal woman for a change. But just as she things she’s found her Prince Charming, he reveals his intentions are less than honorable: he’s a spy and he’s not above blackmail. As they join forces to find out what happened the day her fiance disappeared, together they discover a secret that could change life as they know it.

Review

Is it perfect? Of course not. It falls into my favorite contemporary fiction sub-genre – royal fanfic. Often an ARC will feature a letter in the front from the author or editor and the letter in this one promised a book that I wouldn’t want to put down and would remind me simultaneously of The Princess Diaries and The Royal We. Two books I love. Well, she was right, I’m just, once again, disappointed it took me over a year of owning said ARC to read it. I started reading around 9pm and finished the book the following morning by 11am. It was the perfect rainy summer night romp.

Character-wise, Thea is definitely a new favorite. Super smart, with a great love of history (yay history buff protagonist!) and an even greater love of speaking her mind, she is just awesome. And Nick is Scottish. And also smart. And while initially annoyed by Thea, quickly comes to accept her for who she is and, doesn’t try to change her! Again, yay! It’s a great palette cleanser of a book, which is where most royalist fiction lives, and is genuinely a fun book.

Are there plot holes? Yes. Are most of the other characters in the book mostly one-note and not at all developed? Yup. But if you just want to escape real life for a couple of hours and you want a lighthearted book that doesn’t insult your intelligence, or you’re like me and just really love royalist fiction, look no further. It’s just a fun book.

Rating: 9 out of 10 stars

Edition: Paperback – $16.00 – 9781501196614 – 304 pages – published October 2018 by Gallery Books – average Goodreads rating 3.47 out of 5 stars – read June 2019

Book Club, Memoir/Autobiography, Non-Fiction, Travel

From Here to Eternity by Caitlin Doughty

Another book club pick! I’m really enjoying having a book club again, particularly one that reads exclusively nonfiction! This book was originally recommended by a former book store coworker and I can’t wait to tell her what everyone else thought of the book.

Synopsis

From the Back Cover:
Fascinated by our pervasive fear of dead bodies, mortician Caitlin Doughty embarks on a global expedition to discover how other cultures care for the dead. From Zoroastrian sky burials to wish-granting Bolivian skulls, she investigates the world’s funerary customs and expands our sense of what it means to treat the dead with dignity. Her account questions the rituals of the American funeral industry – especially chemical embalming – and suggests that the most effective traditions are those that allow mourners to personally attend to the body of the deceased. Exquisitely illustrated by artist Landis Blair, From Here to Eternity is an adventure into the morbid unknown, a fascinating tour through the unique ways people everywhere confront mortality.

Review

As someone who has lost their fair share of friends and family members, as well as pets, almost exclusively to cancer, I’ve never really come to terms with how we, in the US, process death. A friend, who is currently going to school to be a mortician/funeral director, introduced me to Caitlin Doughty, an L. A. based mortician and founder of the Order of the Good Death, a nonprofit organization that focuses on helping people come to terms with their mortality and make decisions regarding the care and keeping of their body after they die.

These facts, when the book club picked it, made me a bit wary – I’m still not entirely at peace with my grandmother’s passing in the fall. I don’t like to talk about death. I don’t like to talk about dead bodies. I have difficulty with viewings and other death-related occasions. But, with an open mind, I started reading, with the hope that Caitlin would help me develop a better relationship one of the only facts about our lives on earth – they will end.

My husband often says he wants a Viking funeral, or a Tibetan Sky Burial, and each time he brings it up, I ask him to stop. I can’t stomach it. But Caitlin has gone all over the world, and her own country, exploring different cultures’ death rituals. And maybe it’s her writing, maybe it’s the distance, but it is absolutely fascinating! I really could not put From Here to Eternity – the travel aspect also helped me stomach the content. And at times, I cried, but for good reasons – Caitlin expertly goes back and forth between being detached and un-emotional, to feeling all the things when listening to her coworker recount the circumstances of the loss of her unborn son.

People die all the time, and she also goes into why cremation has become such a large part of the modern funeral industry, as well as the monopolies, corruption, and out-of-date laws that govern the industry in the US. To say I learned something would be a massive understatement. I was freaked out significantly less than I anticipated being while reading Packing for Mars last month.

Rating: 9 out of 10 stars

Edition: Paperback – $15.95 – 9780393356281 – 272 pages – originally published October 2017, this edition published October 2018 by W. W. Norton & Company – average Goodreads rating 4.29 out of 5 – read in June 2019